Alex Clarke Quartet play a Mirage

The album Mirage by the Alex Clarke Quartet was released in the July of 2018 so why wait until 2021 to write a review? Well, it all started with an email from friend, mentor and co-broadcaster Maurie Kemp who had emailed about the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year:

“… I was really pleased to see a musician that I have followed for years through my visits to the Pershore Jazz Festival appear as a finalist.  I first saw Alex Clarke when she sat in with Amy Roberts, just aged 15, then each year with other groups until she led her own group, and this year she was due to co -lead a group with Alan Barnes.  She is so versatile in her music styles ranging from New Orleans to Modern …”

With the wonder of the BBC iPlayer, I caught up with the broadcaster’s jazz competition, liked what I heard, jumped on to the interweb at alexclarkejazz.co.uk and ordered the CD.

The Alex Clarke Quartet play nine tracks, one of which is written by Alex herself, with some of covers not being the usual suspects that one might find on a debut CD. Alex plays saxes and flute; Tom Kincaid is at the piano but is also responsible for recording and mixing the album. Ed Harrison plays bass with support from Eryl Roberts from behind the drum kit.

The album opens with ‘Almost Like Being in Love’ by Frederick Loewe and the first thing of note is just how warm and rounded the tone from Alex is. That tone is also reflected in the bass playing of Ed Harrison. This is a good steady opener from what sounds like a well-rehearsed quartet. ‘Wave’ sees Alex switch to the flute for this Jobim number. This is a lovely melody, light and airy, that floats along with each of the quartet getting opportunity to solo except the drummer who plays a wonderful supporting role throughout.

The title track, ‘Mirage’, is a Tubby Hayes number and again that full round tone of the sax stands out. I particularly like the piano of Tom Kincaid on this number and even Eryl Roberts gets the chance to put his drums to the fore on this track. ‘I’ll Follow My Secret Heart’ slows proceedings down and is beautifully played throughout with bass player Ed Harrison standing out for me on this one. The tempo picks up for the Sonny Rollins tune ‘Sonnymoon For Two’. This is the type of tune that you will hear played and enjoyed in jazz clubs up and down the country. The piano and sax take the lead on the melody, but the bass and drums also make their presence known: a terrific quartet set number to hear.

I like the arrangement on ‘What is This Thing Called Love’ by Cole Porter, the bass leading the sax and drums into the tune with what sounds like relatively simple phrasing before the tune is filled out by the quartet collectively. This is a great tune with each of the musicians taking turns to weave in and around the melody – it may be a cover but when played this well it really does not matter. ‘A Sleepin’ Bee’ is a wonderful number that follows on nicely from the previous track. Another strong example of how good this quartet is with the sax and piano interplay punctuated by the drums all supported by that solid double bass.

Back to the flute for Alex on her own composition ‘Tres De Catorce’. This is a well written piece in the Bossa Nova style with Eryl Roberts nailing the Afro-Cuban beat. This is punchier than ‘Wave’ (track 2 on the album) and is, in my opinion, the better of the two tracks for being so. ‘Just the Way You Look Tonight’ rounds off this thoroughly enjoyable album the standard of playing being as high as it has been throughout.

So why wait until 2021 to review this album? Because I have only just become acquainted with the playing of Alex Clarke; her performance at the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year impressed me and I wanted to hear more. She has clearly paid her dues on the live circuit and deserves whatever support I, and people like me, can give. ‘Mirage’ is a good solid debut album and Alex has formed a strong quartet. I should like to hear more of her own compositions and a lesser reliance on covering jazz standards, however well delivered. At the end of the Young Musician competition Nubya Garcia – a fine saxophonist in her own right – commented positively on the standard of playing on show, a compliment I could not disagree with. If those performances reflect the strength of British Jazz now, then the future for British Jazz bodes very well indeed and Alex Clarke should be a part of that future.

The album Mirage can be purchased from Alex Clarke at Alex Clarke Jazz, where you can also read more about young British Jazz saxophonist and flautist.

Track listing: 1 – Almost Like Being in Love; 2 – Wave; 3 – Mirage; 4 – I’ll Follow My Secret Heart; 5 – Sonnymoon For Two; 6 – What is This Thing Called Love; 7 – A Sleepin’ Bee; 8 – Tres De Catorce; 9 – Just the Way You Look Tonight.

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