Karen Sharp’s smokey-with-an-edge tenor sound announces itself over Nikki Iles’ languid piano chords on the verse of Cole Porter’s Get Out of Town. Then Sharp breezily sketches out the familiar theme over Steve Brown’s bustling drums before Iles and Dave Green on bass join in with headlong momentum, launching a straight-ahead set that bristles with energy.
There are a couple of totemic standards, All of You, Night And Day. Lesser know gems from pens of jazz greats such as Monk, Ron Carter, Tom Harrell, Danny Zeitlin nestle alongside a sprinkling of originals from Sharp and Iles. It makes for a varied set with plenty of space for expansive and thoughtful improvising. Everything gets a twist and a considered arrangement. Ron Carter’s Little Waltz is introduced by Dave Green’s bass and a sparse, tense exchange with tenor. The simple device of a piano-tenor duo on the head of Quiet Now means the gently propulsive entrance of bass and drums gives it an extra emotional charge. They ease their way into the standards with a crisp vamp or sideways feint, Sharp’s fluid delivery greeting them like old friends.
This band know each other well and are peerless musicians, so they quickly work their magic with these materials. Dave Green’s sound and feel are an easy-to-miss joy throughout, making the most direct of swinging grooves pulse with life. Nikki Iles’ accompanying is a constant delight, nudging Street, finding the perfect voicing to complement a phrase or adding colour and tension. On her own Iris, there’s a typically lyrical and shapely solo, skittering runs dancing across the pulse and sweeping lines carving melodic arcs. There’s another distilled gem on Quiet Now, all held breath and just-so phrases.
This is Karen Sharp’s band and her voice is to the fore. Some of the highlights are provided by her own writing. Terminus starts with a plaintive motif that develops and evolves, returns and is elaborated with folk tinged embellishments, the band gradually stoking the intensity until a burst of soloing can’t be contained any longer. This is a fine set, the sound of top drawer band enjoying the music and each other’s company.
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