So, what does a jazz vocalist do with their time during an enforced lockdown due to COVID-19? If you are Esther Bennett you engage in the art of writing contrafact (a new musical composition built out of an already existing one, most often a new melody overlaid on a familiar harmonic structure). Then one day you come across a recording of an instrumental composition, written and performed by your good friend and colleague, pianist Terence Collie, a beautiful composition entitled ‘End of Summer’. You then contact said good friend, ask if he is happy that you write lyrics for his tune – he is – and before you know where you are you are you are putting together an EP with ‘End of the Summer’ as the opening track.
‘End of Summer’ is a beautiful track, mellifluent in its construction, with a wonderful warm tone from the piano of Terence Collie matched by Esther Bennett’s vocals. The flute of Duncan Lamont Jr. captures that essence of summer’s progression into autumn. The double bass of Richard Sadler and the drums of Sophie Alloway give the tune a solid foundation on which to shine. The tempo changes for track two, ‘Wandering Lost’, with its lilting Bossa Nova rhythm. The lyrics evoke a sense of loss, or potential loss, tinged with sadness and maybe regret? Esther’s vocal has harder edge to it that matches the sentiment of the lyric, but it is the sax playing of Hannah Horton that really lifts this tune and gives it an element of hope.
‘Please (Save Me)’ put me in mind of a cabaret show number – dark stage with one single spotlight on the singer. The focus is on the piano and vocals in the opening section with great use of chords and stop start playing. When the lyrics mention “jazz clubs” the sax joins in with the pulsing bass line provided by Richard Sadler underpinning the melodic line – he also gets the chance to solo. There is a terrific scat section that brings the number to a close with all the musicians coming together to fill out the sound: this is a wonderful swinging number, a standout track.
‘Well You Needn’t’, written by Thelonious Monk, provides the harmonic structure of ‘Yellow Label Stuff’ – the tune that first grabbed my attention on the initial listen through. The tempo and rhythm are so uplifting, driven by Sophie Holloway on drums and Matt Hodge on percussion. Duncan Lamont Jr. provides the sax on this number and provides very well indeed before handing over to the equally impressive Terence Collie. The is a sense of manic about this song, not in the playing but in the lyrics and how they are put across. This is a song born out of lockdown and on the edge of stir-crazy: just about the standout track with ‘Please (Save Me)’ a very close second.
The EP ends with ‘Forever Now (Ode to Duncan)’ an upbeat number played at an up-tempo pace with confidence from a band that were not in the same room when this EP was recorded: the tracks were recorded individually and remotely by each musician, as were the vocals. Terence Collie mixed, engineered and produced the album and full credit must go to him for producing such an enjoyable end result. I hope what has been created here might fill out to an album at some point in the future and if it does I for one would be at the front of the queue for placing an order.
Tracklist: 1. End Of Summer. 2. Wandering Lost. 3. Please (Save Me). 4. Yellow Label Stuff. 5. Forever Now (Ode to Duncan)
Esther Bennett: Vocals
Terence Collie: Acoustic piano, keyboards, synth bass (track 2)
Richard Sadler: Double bass
Sophie Alloway: Drums
Matt Hodge: Percussion (tracks 2, 4)
Duncan Lamont Jnr: Flute, tenor saxophone (track 4), soprano saxophone (track 5)
Hannah Horton: Baritone saxophone (track 2), tenor saxophone (track 3)
Mixed and produced by Terence Collie
Safe Places was released as a digital download February 17, 2021 and is available via Bandcamp