The Barcelona-based jazz label Fresh Sounds Records have released A Song For You, the debut album from UK guitarist Tom Ollendorff. Since being awarded the Yamaha scholarship for outstanding jazz musicianship in 2015, Ollendorff has honed his craft on the UK and European jazz circuits to become a rising star and much sought-after player. He has been lending his compelling skills to a range of high-profile projects and performing with respected artists and ensembles including Geoff Simkins, Dave Cliff, Huw Warren, James Maddren, Jeff Williams, Ari Hoenig, Or Baraket, and Bill McHenry.
On A Song For You, Tom Ollendorff’s distinctive style and flair for both composition and improvisation shine through in droves, teaming up with a dynamic band consisting of Marc Michel on drums and Conor Chaplin on bass. This long-standing trio have an innate understanding of each other’s musical idiosyncrasies, which becomes very evident in during the improvisational passages on the album. The result is a series of engaging and hypnotic grooves, interweaving reoccurring themes and subtly allowing enough space for each individual player to showcase their undeniable talent.
The paragraph above was provided in the press release received prior to the album’s release, so do these words match what I heard on the album? In a word yes, they do. Eight of the nine tracks are written by Tom Ollendorff, something I always find bravely refreshing from a debut album, with track six being a cover of Vernon Duke’s ‘Autumn in New York’.
‘A Song For You’ opens the proceedings and not only gives the listener a flavour of the playing style but also introduces each member of the trio. There is some wonderful bass playing from Conor Chaplin with supporting drumming from Marc Michel. What is evident from the off is that although this might be Tom Ollendorff’s debut album it is clearly a collaborative effort with each player having their own melodic line to follow which gels into cohesive whole that works!
‘Spring’ has an energy to it that though understated is clearly there. There is a recurring theme in this tune which, once you have heard it, adds an element of familiarity even on the first listen through. It is the bass that provides the recurring motif in ‘Not in These Days’ and as in the opening number Conor Chaplin is given room to develop his playing as Tom provides the more supporting role with Marc Michel again playing from within the music adding his own layer of colour to this very well-written piece.
‘XY’ is, for me, the standout track on this album. The tempo is more upbeat, the bass playing is superb throughout, as is the drumming. This is a terrific toe tapping number that is driven along by a band that really does “have an innate understanding of each other’s musical idiosyncrasies”. This is the longest track on the album, but it flies by and before you know where you are you are reaching out for the repeat button. Vernon Duke’s ‘Autumn in New York’ has, on the record label’s website, been compared to “Al Haig’s once heard, never forgotten one on his 1957 Counterpoint album, Jazz Will-O-The-Wisp”. I have to say that I much prefer Tom’s rendition in large part because of his arrangements for the bass and drums both of whom have their own melodies which give added depth to this popular tune. I also feel that Tom’s cover is more nuanced than that of Al Haig, more evocative of that seasonal change where light and shade become more pronounced as the colours shift from the bright greens to the autumnal hues that make autumn so interesting.
‘Aare’ is a tributary of the High Rhine and the longest river that both rises and ends entirely within Switzerland. It is also the seventh track on A Song For You. Marc Michel gets his opportunity to stretch out and he takes this to good effect. It is the drumming that adds energy to this tune while the guitar of Tom Ollendorff and bass of Conor Chaplin provides the undercurrent that keeps the tune moving forward. There are two ‘Etudes’ on this album and both are beautiful examples of this musical form. Both are reflective, contemplative tunes that give something a little different to the overall shape of the album. There is also a short outro, ‘These Days’, that has a soundscape feeling about it that very gently brings the album to a close.
I very much enjoyed this album on the first listen through, but it is only on subsequent plays that I began to recognize just how beautifully written A Song For You is. The structure of the album is well balanced, the writing and playing clean, engaging, and infectious. This is an album I want to listen to again and again. There is a groundswell of talented young British jazz musicians releasing intelligent but accessible jazz music and I look forward to hearing more from Tom Ollendorff and his like in the future.
The band plan to take the live circuit by storm as the world emerges from this period of lockdown. Speaking on this and of the new album Ollendorff comments:
I am incredibly excited to be getting back on the road to celebrate the release of this album, especially after a year of such limited opportunities to play live. Our tour is going to all corners of the UK and I can’t wait to be reunited with audiences across the country. Fresh Sound New Talent have released some of my favourite jazz records, and it is a thrill for me to be joining the long list of incredible artists who are associated with the label. I really hope you enjoy the record.
Tom Ollendorff – guitar; Conor Chaplin – bass; Marc Michel – drums.
01. A Song For You
03. Etude 1
04. Not in These Days
06. Autumn in New York
08. Etude 3
09. These Days