Jake Baxendale & Jasmine Lovell-Smith – Sanctuary

Album art by
Eden Fainberg

Sanctuary is a collaborative album featuring works by New Zealand jazz composers Jake Baxendale and Jasmine Lovell-Smith for an eleven-piece ensemble, to be released on Lovell-Smith’s label Paintbox Records.

The material on the album was developed as part of a live performance residency named the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra at the now-defunct Wellington venue the Tuatara Third Eye. The musicians featured on the album are a multi-generational cast of favourite collaborators from the Wellington jazz scene. With the inclusion of flute and bass clarinet along with traditional winds, brass and rhythm, the ensemble has a rich, chamber-like texture, yet maintains the fluidity and agility that are typical of small group jazz, allowing space for the improvising voices of each musician.

The album is centred around two suites, one by each composer. The opening work is Baxendale’s three-part suite ‘Leaves of Grass’ (named for the poetry of Walt Whitman). The other major work of the album is Lovell-Smith’s ‘Sanctuary’, a suite in three continuous movements presented as a single track bracketed by two more Lovell-Smith compositions.

Let’s start with the album’s opening suite ‘Leaves of Grass’. The first thing to comment on is the sound produced by Lovell-Smith on the alto sax: sumptuously fluid. There is a pastoral quality to the ‘Opening’ movement that I really like. The supporting piano work of Anita Schwabe along with Hikurangi Schaverien-Kaa on drums also stand out but this is strong ensemble playing that fills the listening space. ‘A Chant of Pains and Joy’ begins in melancholia with Jake Baxendale’s sorrowful alto sax but then morphs into a more upbeat sound with a bright sounding piano. However, the mood dips again with some terrific trombone playing from Kaito Walley. There is a lot packed into this movement and it really needs to be listened through more than once to fully appreciate what is happening: the ebb and flow, light and shade, and stylistic variations. ‘Drum Taps’ is a well-played drum solo that acts as an interlude before the third and final movement ‘I Sing the Body Elect’, which is a terrific upbeat blues style number featuring wonderful guitar playing from Aleister James Campbell.

‘Noche Oscura’, written by Jasmine Lovell-Smith, changes the mood of album with its affecting poignancy. As with the album’s opening piece this is an ensemble number with little in the way of light but the variations in shade are stunning and evocative. The suite ‘Sanctuary’ comes in at a little under nineteen minutes in length and makes full use of all eleven players that make up the ensemble. The composition is breath-taking in its scope, emotional pull, stylistic and tonal variations, with musicianship to match. Each soloist plays their part to the full in this suite but Blair Latham’s baritone sax towards the latter part of the final movement is an absolute joy. ‘Sleep (A Glimpse of Plimpse)’ is the final track of Santuary and is described in the press pack as “an evocative postscript to the album” a description I am not prepared to argue with.

Composers/saxophonists Jake Baxendale and Jasmine Lovell-Smith are a new pairing to me, but I hope that will not remain the case for long. If you need a label for this jazz style, then I would suggest chamber-jazz – of the highest order. Numerous big name jazz musicians have, over the years, written music influenced, structurally, by classical music and they have been joined by a growing number of contemporary artists who are doing the same. Where this album stands out is in the way that all eleven of the musicians employed blend so well to create a sum greater than its parts.

Tracklist:

1 – Leaves of Grass I – Opening. II – A Chant of Pains and Joy – Drum-Taps. III – I Sing the Body Elect. 5 – Noche Oscura. 6 – Sanctuary I -Optimism – interlude II – Strangely Familiar III – Inevitable 7 – Sleep (A Glimpse of Plimpse).

Musicians:

Jasmine Lovell-Smith – soprano saxophone/compositions; Rachelle Eastwood – flute; Ben Hunt – trumpet; Jake Baxendale – alto saxophone and bass clarinet/compositions; Louisa Williamson – tenor saxophone; Kaito Walley – trombone; Blair Latham -baritone sax and bass clarinet; Aleister James Campbell – guitar; Anita Schwabe – piano; Chris Beernink – bass; and Hikurangi Schaverien-Kaa – drums.

Sanctuary is available now from Bandcamp

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