‘British Standard Time’ arranged by Alex Webb

With no prospect of any live shows during the pandemic, Hampstead Jazz Club commissioned a very special album which will raise money to support the musicians who have helped establish the North London club among the capital’s most respected venues.

One of the most versatile and in-demand pianists in British jazz, Alex Webb cut his teeth working with an illustrious array of singers including David McAlmont and China Moses. Having spent much of his career focusing on the Great American Songbook, he came up with the original idea for British Standard Time.

Press release

What we have is four vocalists covering fifteen, mainly, pop songs in a jazz style: the question is, how does it sound? And, more importantly, does it work?

Rod Temperton’s ‘Give Me The Night’ was the title track for Jazz guitarist George Benson’s album release back in 1980. This time around the vocal is provided by Tony Momrelle and there is a slight rasp to his delivery that sounds good on this number. However, as good as the voice is, it is the horns that are the stars of this track, particularly Andy Davies on trumpet. Recognition is also due to Flo Moore who plays a very strong bass line throughout. ‘Lullaby Of Birdland’ is so well known – according to George Shearing the only one of his many compositions that people do know – I did wonder why it was included on the album. First, it is a great tune well sung by Carroll Thompson, Flo Moore’s bass playing is, again, very good as is the arrangement by pianist Alex Webb. Second, this is one of those jazz standards that will appeal to non-jazz fans and, perhaps, encourage them to explore the art form more widely.

Album design by Pete Gardner

‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ is one of two tracks that, when looking through the tracklist, I really wasn’t sure could work: I was wrong. Jo Harrop’s voice is rich and warm with its blues styling, but it is the blend of the original U2 tune with Miles Davis’ ‘All Blues’ from the 1959 Kind Of Blue album that is the real revelation. The musicianship is first class and the arrangement superb – I played this repeatedly after the first hearing before moving on to the next track ‘Slipaway’. Luca Manning takes over as vocalist and what a voice! The vocal range and tone are a joy. The backing is full of drive and energy with the saxes being given free reign to show off their evident talent.

‘Try A Little Tenderness’ was written back in 1932 and this version, in style, has a classic era feel about it. The singing from Carol Thompson is very easy on the ear, the piano accompaniment is perfectly matched, and the trumpet sound is so sweet. The bass line is great as is the drumming from Sophie Alloway: another good number. Jo Harrop takes over on John Martyn’s ‘The Man In The Station/I Don’t Want To Know’ with its light Bossa Nova beat. I liked the use of the organ on this track and the sax playing is, as one might expect, very good. ‘Breakfast For Two’ opens with the guitar of Ciyo Brown before Carroll Thompson’s sultry vocals kick in with support from Alex Webb at the organ. This is a wonderfully paced ballad with a great guitar solo section.

Rag ‘n’ Bones Man’s ‘Human’ is a very distinctive tune and at the time it was released stood out for its unique sound. This is the second of the two tracks that I was unsure as to how it would work. Luca Manning is the vocalist on this cover and, again, what a voice! – this artist is a bit of a revelation to me and I will be checking him out further. The track opens with a gorgeous bass solo from Flo Moore – a player I have admired since first hearing her live with Grammy nominated singer Beverley Beirne. The horn arrangement for this number is exemplary, as is the trombone of Nathaniel Cross and that bass line runs solidly underneath. This, for me, is the standout track of the album. The Alex Webb original, ‘Moments’, with Jo Harrop has a tough act to follow but she manages it with this up-tempo number that I think is a good contrasting style to ‘Human’. Leo Richardson plays a bright sounding flute that lifts the tune further and Ciyo Brown adds some nice guitar work that gives an additional layer of sound.

Tony Momrelle is the vocalist on ‘The Very Thought Of You’ with piano and guitar accompaniment. As with ‘Try A Little Tenderness, this track has a classic jazz era sound to it. The sax solo is wonderful and when the rest of the horn section join in the overall sound is full throated and very engaging. ‘Mad About The Boy’ is one of my favourite songs and Carroll Thompson does it justice. Jamie McCredie is on guitar for this one and I do like his sound. Andy Davis plays a beautiful solo and I also enjoyed Sophie Alloway’s playing on this this track. Lionel Bart segueing into Amy Winehouse for tracks twelve and thirteen looked interesting and, as it happens, sounded interesting too. The two tracks, ‘As Long As He Needs Me’ and ‘Love Is A Losing Game’ are different stylistically but linked lyrically. Jo Harrop delivers both numbers in her own inimitable manner helped by strong arrangements and excellent backing from the musicians.

Luca Manning sings Paul Weller’s ‘You Do Something To Me’ from his Stanley Road album. The tonal variation is very enjoyable as is the arrangement: strong where it needs to be and nicely laid back to allow the vocals room to breathe. The final number on British Standard Time goes to Elvis Costello’s ‘Almost Blue’ sung by Jo Harrop partnered by long time musical associate Jamie McCredie. This is a stunning tune on which to end the album and Jo’s tone is simply beautiful.

Covering other people’s work can be a risky strategy, particularly when that work is from another genre and are very-well known and in some cases stand-out tunes. Alex Web should be applauded for his arrangements of the fifteen tracks included on British Standard Time. He should also take recognition for choosing four vocalists who have done the tunes selected justice. The musicians playing on this album are superb and bring Alex’s arrangements to life. To answer the questions, I set at the beginning of this review, how does it sound? Absolutely brilliant! And does it work? Oh yes and some! I have had the privilege to review some good albums this year and this is right up there with the very best and could be, with mainstream airplay, the album that opens up jazz to those who think that jazz music is not for them.

British Standard Time on Lateralize Records has its digital release and Premier at Cadogan Hall on Friday, 5th November, 2021 with a CD release scheduled for early in the New Year.

Musicians:

Alex Webb – piano, organ, MD; Jo Harrop, Luca Manning, Tony Momrelle, Carroll Thompson – vocals; Tony Kofi – soprano, alto and baritone sax; Leo Richardson – tenor sax, flute; Andy Davies – trumpet, flugelhorn; Nathaniel Cross – trombone; Ciyo Brown – guitar (tracks 5, 7, 9 and 10); Jamie McCredie – guitar (tracks 11 and 14); Flo Moore – electric and acoustic bass; Sophie Alloway – drums, percussion.

 Tracklist:

1. Give Me The Night (Temperton) Tony Momrelle. 2. Lullaby of Birdland (Shearing) Carroll Thompson. 3. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Clayton-Mullen-Bono-The Edge) Jo Harrop. 4. Slip Away (Dankworth-Dearlove) Luca Manning. 5. Try A Little Tenderness (Campbell-Connelly-Woods) Carroll Thompson. 6. The Man In The Station/I Don’t Want To Know (Martyn) Jo Harrop. 7. Breakfast For Two (Webb-Charles) Carroll Thompson. 8. Human (Rag’n’Bone Man-Hartman) Luca Manning.  9. Moments (Webb) Jo Harrop. 10. The Very Thought of You (Noble) Tony Momrelle. 11. Mad About The Boy (Coward) Carroll Thompson. 12. As Long As He Needs Me (Bart) segue into 13. Love Is A Losing Game (Winehouse) Jo Harrop. 14. You Do Something To Me (Weller) Luca Manning. 15. Almost Blue (Costello) Jo Harrop.

All arrangements by Alex Webb

Produced by Jamie McCredie

Executive Producer Mayank Patel

Recorded at Gorilla Studios, Battersea and Qube Studios, Park Royal

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