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5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful second album from a classy quartet, 11 Mar 2013
This review is from: Places - Aquarium (Audio CD)
WITH their eponymous album (Babel Label, 2011), Aquarium presented a mature and distinctive debut on the UK's vibrant contemporary jazz scene. `Places', their much-anticipated follow-up on Jellymould Jazz, confirms that this quartet of creative, hard-working musicians, led by pianist and composer Sam Leak, is continuing to develop a very special and captivating sound. Leak clearly puts heart and soul into his writing, as well as his playing; the emotion and conviction are there for all to hear across these eight originals - from the dark openings of `Milan', through the almost anarchic `Scribbles and Scrawls', to the feel-good of `Daybreak'.

James Allsopp gives an assured lead on tenor, offering rich tone and beautifully fluent melodies, as well as wonderfully screeching episodes! When Allsopp introduces another angle - bass clarinet - it hints at English folksong (I'm thinking 'Finzi, Vaughan Williams') creating a mood sometimes mysterious, but always delightful. Calum Gourlay (bass) and Joshua Blackmore (drums), now both familiar names on the circuit, must be a dream to work with - close-knit yet adventurous, and evidently `in tune' with the many melodic and rhythmic twists and turns that are conjured by Leak and Allsopp. Some may call this `chamber' jazz, but that perhaps belies the fact that this is inspired and stimulating original music of the highest calibre.

The opening title track, `Places', initially suggests (as does `Marrakech') an old standard favourite, with Allsopp providing its lyrical melody, but soon growing into something more complex and pacey. `Milan' builds with a troubled undercurrent, eventually transforming into a second section of delicate, piano-led positivity. `Scribbles and Scrawls' barges in abruptly, with a terrific free and lively swagger (reminiscent of the superb `Evensong' on their debut album, with similar abandon over hymn-like piano sequences!). `February' steals in, bringing with it the most luxurious bass clarinet soloing (Maurice Jarre's `Lara's Theme' comes to mind in places!) against Blackmore's impressive, feathery and persistent brushwork. `Clutter' is infectious, Gourlay scampering all over it, before `Catherine Grove' agitatedly bursts through (Leak reveals an unpleasant back-story to this, when he was attacked at knife-point in this area of London). Nevertheless, it provides a piece characterised by a relentless momentum, with excellent piano improvisation from Leak, and the whole quartet providing an exciting urgency. This studio recording ends on an even keel with the bright and breezy `Daybreak'.

Concluding the album is a bonus track - a great live broadcast of `Milan' from London Jazz Festival, courtesy of BBC Radio 3's `Jazz Line-Up', prompting us (as if needed) to catch this quartet on their UK tour which accompanies this album release.

Very highly recommended.
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