Unlikely Being – Chris Bowden (2018)

  • Chris Bowden – alto sax
  • Jim Watson – piano and keys
  • Chris Dodd – bass
  • Neil Bullock – drums

With

  • Bryan Corbett – trumpet
  • Tom Chapman – percussion

Recorded 9/2017 Vibe Records

Chris has been a fixture on the British jazz scene for a long time and his back catalogue is a sporadic and diverse one. This album of new compositions is his first as a bandleader since 2002’s Slightly Askew.

New Crobuzon. The opening singing bowl and percussive scratches from percussionist Chapman heralds a free cadenza-like opening that leads to a dark groove with lovely muted bass, cluster piano and an attractive head featuring Chris and guest Bryan Corbett on trumpet. Bryan’s solo is mysterious and eloquent with shades of the electric Miles. The chord sequence provides shafts of sunlight that all of the soloists exploit. The energy and interaction produced by these musicians in the studio setting is nothing short of bewildering and must be even more so live.

We Are Alive has a Chick Corea/Yellowjackets style of melody that is both highly accessible and complex. We are treated to a masterclass of interaction between Watson, Dodd and Bullock with rhythms and harmonies dancing into flights of fancy that is irresistible. Bowden himself stamps his authority with a solo of coruscating scales and polyrhythms. A showcase for Neil Bullock is a natural development within the track and showcases his jazz chops in ways his more well-known drum features don’t allow him to do. The Zawinul-esque end to the chart is a charming end to this uplifting track.

Pollock Painting like the art is both simple and complex. A dry groove with slippery melody is a perfect vehicle for the musicians to express themselves and create patterns from their interaction. The trumpet solo is a real treat and again is redolent of Miles of the 80’s punk jazz. 

Looking Back is a change of direction with a more acoustic and lighter touch. The Stand out solo for me is from the bass. Chris Dodd is a bass soloist that doesn’t fall into the overused tropes of the Jaco clone or six-string pyrotechnics. He is simply a musical player with a great melodic and rhythmic sense which is an equal match to anyone in the band. 
Ridiculous Itinerary is another outing with Bryan Corbett. The modal fast groove expertly uses an odd time signature that is so natural that few would notice. The juxtaposition of the drum and bass with floaty melody is again expertly handled by the band. The fx trumpet solo is another delight and takes the track off to a distant galaxy without leaving it marooned.

The final offering is We Talked and is of a more conventional jazz bent than the rest of the album. It speaks of simple beauty and like the rest of this album is a tribute not only to Chris’s playing but also his writing and inspiration of the musicians he has assembled.

Unlikely Being is for me an epic journey both dark and light. Chris’s skill as a composer of melody and harmony have produced a canvass for all the performer’s to display their art and the result is a painting that always intrigues and entertains with each encounter.

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