Edition Records has rapidly established itself as one of the most vital UK jazz imprints. Co-owner, pianist and composer Dave Stapleton also happens to be one of its most dynamic signings. Working out of Cardiff, he’s paused his regular quintet line-up to initiate what's presumed to be a one-off project.
Possible comparisons between Edition and the revered ECM label become even more marked here, as Flight inducts the Brodowski String Quartet, as well as the Norwegian tenor saxophonist Marius Neset. Right away, this sets up the potential for an evocative soundscape of the type for which ECM has long been renowned. This need not be a disadvantage.
Flight is already the prolific Stapleton’s eighth release as a leader. The inclusion of Neset is astute, given that his Edition debut Golden Xplosion caused such a stir in 2011. The so-called Third Stream genre has been amalgamating spheres of jazz and classical music since the 1950s, and even though such elements have lately become more naturally integrated, their joining still provokes a sense of wariness in both listening camps.
All of the pieces are Stapleton originals, and the session was recorded in Copenhagen, where Neset currently resides. There’s a feeling of suite-like progression as the varied emotional states are layered one on another, an unsurprisingly filmic character. Even though much of the album is inwardly gazing, there are repeated outbreaks of jazz toughness.
Stapleton’s writing for strings suggests an acquaintance with the works of Gavin Bryars and Arvo Pärt. This is principally due to a pervading aura of studied calm, an exquisitely mournful nature. The Brodowskis open alone for two minutes before Stapleton’s quartet joins for Polaroid, imposing a degree of lustiness, once Neset’s feathery tenor introduction has further enhanced the mood. The title-cut is also brief, and devoted to string expression. It’s followed by the introspective Henryk, which curves up to a passionate climax.
Neset is frequently the featured voice, with Stapleton acting as landscaper, and the periodic outbursts of intensity are all the more compelling when surrounded by periods of placidity. Two of the album’s lengthiest pieces conclude, with dignified string-preening evolving towards a strafing flourish. Neset takes a blistering solo, as Dave Kane flays his bass strings brutally and Stapleton delivers emphatically jabbing phrases. Eventually, the strings re-establish a brooding suspension.
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Dave Stapleton keeps quietly adding strings to his bow, such as his exciting quintet of fresh faces, his prolific composing, and the creation of a record label (Edition) that has enlisted one of Europe's great young sax discoveries in Marius Neset. Flight is an impressionistic venture for jazz group and strings on which the formidable Neset guests. Stapleton's string-quartet writing doesn't exactly push melodic envelopes here, but it links narratives to a subtle balance of forceful postbop and Jan Garbarek-like folk-jazz. Neset's tenor sax arrives quietly in a slowly cycling strings theme at first, but soon erupts over Dave Kane's assertive bass-playing and exciting Finnish newcomer Olavi Louhivuori's drums. It could have been trimmed a shade, but it's another leap forward for a fast-developing European jazz original. FOUR STARS --The Guardian
Combining the sounds and textures of jazz quartet and string quartet is a tricky business, and there are moments here when the two seem about to come unstuck. At least that's how it felt to me. But these are compensated by the many more moments of absolutely gorgeous togetherness, especially when Dave Stapleton's piano steals among the gentle murmurings of the Brodowski Quartet. Marius Neset's tenor saxophone and Olavi Louhivuori's percussion add a sizable dash of astringency to the mixture which, when it isn't overdone, works beautifully. The long final piece, "North Wind", with its shifting moods and quiet finale, is most impressive of all. --Observer
Jazz projects with strings can be dull and worthy, but pianist Stapleton's writing for both the Brodowski String Quartet and his own jazz quartet, who together form the ensemble for this recording, satisfies on every level. It's a suite of 10 parts with a strong northern-European feel, reinforced by the presence of Norwegian sax star Marius Neset. There's a debt to Gorecki and Arvo Part, and at 74 minutes it goes on a bit, but the pay-off is worthwhile. FIVE STARS --Independent on Sunday