(4 / 5)
Chet Baker, Miles Davis and Malcolm Strachan. My playlist this morning, as I endure another Groundhog Day of lockdown in the UK – to try to rise above the doom and gloom of the 24 hour TV news and across the internet, by letting some fabulous jazz trumpet wash over me like a warm bath.
Two legends in that trio of names, of course, and a new name many may not have yet come across, in Mr Strachan. He’s a Scottish trumpeter, an in-demand session player and a founder member of the UK’s “first-call” horn section The Haggis Horns.
Those boys also go out as a full band peddling tasty funk and funk-jazz wares under that moniker and have their own record label too. In fact, we have our sticky mitts on the next Haggis Horns album already – so keep ‘em peeled for that review soon.
On their label comes, “About Time”, Malcolm’s sublime debut solo album. Nine choice cuts, all original material written and arranged by Malcolm, who also produced the record.
His core quartet is MS on trumpet and flugelhorn, fellow Haggis Horns member George Cooper on piano, Erroll Rollins on drums and double bassist Courtny Tomas.
Here, joined by guests Atholl Ransome on tenor sax’, (another Haggis Horns member), Rob Mitchell on baritone sax’ (of The Abstract Orchestra) and Danny Barley on trombone.
Strings are courtesy of Richard Curran (arrangements by Phil Steel), and completing the line-up is one of the finest percussionists in Europe, Karl Vanden Bossche, whose CV is a who’s who of music stars he has worked with. Such as Incognito, Robert Palmer, Joss Stone, The Gorillaz, Sade and Blur. Karl and Malcom met when they toured with Mark Ronson.
In the last 20 years, Malcom’s career has brought him work with Mark Ronson, Amy Winehouse, Jamiroquai, Jess Glynne, Martha Reeves and jazz sax’ legend Lou Donaldson, to name but a few.
Malcom goes back to his jazz roots for the debut album – his love of jazz comes from his parents. At the age of seven, he was gifted a trumpet from his jazz musician Dad, and he was hooked.
He played in youth orchestras and at jazz summer schools, and soaked up his father’s record collection, listening to the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey, learning to improvise and to solo by ear.
At 18, he enrolled at Leeds College of Music, also immersing himself in the city’s acid jazz, funk and soul scene. He graduated in 1996, making his recording debut in 1999, with The New Mastersounds.
Jazz has always been his musical passion and the concrete foundations of the session career, which has mainly focused on funk, soul and pop.
But for this record, he’s back to the first love of his life, jazz, and very much all invested. It is a fine debut. The material is top notch and his playmates are a tight fit, as gifted as Malcolm is on that horn.
The set opens with six minutes and 17 seconds of “Take Me To The Clouds”, which sets the tone with its light and airy arrangement, the subtle strings and Malcolm’s warm tone on the horn.
Puts me in mind of a typical Dave Grusin soundtrack cut. George Cooper’s gorgeous solo moment not too far away from Grusin’s deft touch on piano. Mr Cooper is a huge bonus on this album.
“Mitchell’s Landing” picks up the pace a tad, with Latin flavours, the baritone sax anchoring the track nicely. Atholl Ransom’s tenor sax and Malcolm’s horns lock together tightly.
“Better Late Than Never”, is more of an ensemble horn piece, still with Latin vibes, nice solos from Malcolm and George.
Chet Baker may well have grabbed sweet ballad, “Just The thought Of You” for himself, if he were still around, methinks. Malcolm’s work on this one sorts the men out from the boys, in terms of UK horn players. Sensitivity combined with the feel, and an obvious love for his art.
“Time For A Change” nails an infectious hook and would be ripe for a sync’ deal for TV and movie soundtracks, to my ears. Bass, drums and piano are the engine on this one. One of the strongest and most commercial tracks of this collection, but might benefit from losing a minute or more, at six minutes and 36 seconds long.
“I Know Where I’m Going”, is another track not to miss here. Cool as cucumber, the under-stated strings add value and create a 70s soul feel, while Malc’s rasping horn work adds to the vintage vibes.
Time for some late night, smoky blues-jazz with the laid back piano-led ballad “Aline”, the only track that didn’t float my boat. The sombreness seemed slightly out of place among the other eight cuts. Personal taste, I guess.
“Uncle Bobby’s Last Orders” restores the BPM, and again, bass, drums and piano make a big difference to the track. Malcom’s horn lines, on this track and across this set, have zero fat on them. The arrangements are faultless.
Back to ballad territory to close proceedings , with “Where Did You Go?”, which sounds like it could be a cover from The Great American Songbook, and some 1940s classic from a Bogart or Cary Grant movie love scene. But no, it’s another Strachan original, and very nice it is too.
I would have liked at least one track with a vocal on it, but for an all-instrumental jazz album, I can say that it held my attention for most of its 50 minutes.
If Blue Note style jazz is your thing, and you recognise sheer class when you hear it, this is most certainly worth seeking out. Likely to be among my “Best albums of 2020” picks at the end of this year, and I will probably not be alone on that…
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’