‘Two For The Road’ from Tara Minton & Ed Babar

Australian harpist Tara Minton and British double bass player Ed Babar are to release their new album, Two For The Road, on January 28th 2022 on Trudy Kerr’s label Jazzizit. The release serves as a follow up to Tara’s 2020 solo album Please Do Not Ignore The Mermaid, on which Ed provided bass, and features a specially commissioned piece of art for the album cover by Paya Lehane.

In January 2021, inspired by the great jazz duo albums, Tara and Ed resolved to record their own contribution to the artform: Two For The Road. The repertoire was carefully selected from The Great American Songbook and the modern British Jazz Canon to capture the pair’s love of travel and life on the road. A notable composition chosen was Dave Holland’s ‘Dream Of The Elders’ whose spiritual lyrics Tara greatly admired. Originally penned by Norma Winstone, Tara was granted special permission by Norma and Dave, to record them under the new title, ‘What We Have To Be’.

The album is topped and tailed by two pieces written by album producer Geoff Gascoyne. ‘Life In A Bubble’ has an ethereal quality about it with pure sounding wordless vocals from Tara Minton accompanying herself on the harp supported by Ed Babar on bowed bass. The epilogue that completes the album is more of the same but without the vocals and greater emphasis on the bass. Between these two tracks are the “The Great American Songbook and the modern British Jazz Canon” numbers that make up this album.

Album artwork by Paya Lehane

‘On The Sunny Side Of The Street’ is a slow tempo cover of this very well known and oft recorded tune. The vocals are crystal clear, and each plucked note of the harp can be heard clearly. Ed Babar’s bass is played with matching quality and note placement: a great start. The musician who I first heard play harp on a jazz record was Dorothy Ashby (check out Dorothy Ashby: Four Classic Albums Plus on the Avid Jazz label) and it is her composition ‘Games’, with its Bossa Nova style percussion from Bulgarian Lilia Iontcheva, that highlights just how well a well-played jazz harp can sound. ‘What We Have To Be’ is the first of the two tracks that feature saxophonist Stan Sulzmann and, as one might expect, his playing is perfectly matched to the style of this album: laid back, spacious, precise and beautifully paced – this is, quite simply a sumptuous sounding number and Tara’s tonal variation vocally is a joy.

The sultriness on the vocal delivery of ‘Caravan’ is so apparent against the bass line that you can feel the heat. When the vocals drop out the tune’s mood changes and becomes lighter with great lines from both harp and bass with neither outshining the other: a real collaboration. I have heard so many versions of this jazz standard, but this really does stand out amongst some of the best. ‘You Go To My Head’ is a popular song written in 1938 and has been covered by many in both the jazz and pop music styles.  This is a very good jazz cover with harp, bass, and percussion coming together to create a wonderful backdrop to Tara’s vocals, including a wonderful scat section.

Thelonious Monks ‘’Round Midnight’ is another jazz standard that has been covered by so many in the world of jazz I had to wonder how Tara and Ed were going make this version their own. As with other tunes on this album it is the pared back approach to the tune that gives it a different feel. There are flourishes of notes, but not too many, to contrast against that openness that these two musicians convey throughout this album and I do appreciate how the tunes are allowed to breathe: refreshed without losing sight of the original composition. ‘Whirlpool’ is Sulzmann’s second, and final, appearance on this album and, as with tack four, his blowing is so well controlled, paced and with a wonderful tone that contrasts so well with Tara’s wordless vocals.

‘The Shadow Of Your Smile’ opens with a bowed bass against a descending harp sound before the vocals and percussion join in to deliver a delightful Afro-Cuban style number. The vocal delivery is so good I just had to hit the repeat button. ‘Jazz Autographs’ is a relatively simple sounding duet with an all the time in the world feel about: time to enjoy and relish the tune. Lennon and McCartney’s ‘Blackbird’ is another very well played duet with some beautiful soaring vocals from Tara that reflect so well the idea of a bird in flight. The album’s title track precedes that ‘Life In A Bubble Epilogue’ already referred to. Henry Mancini wrote ‘Two For The Road’, which references collecting songs and memories through the year. All the styles already mentioned elsewhere in this review are on display in this one song: the clarity of playing, the use of plucked and bowed bass for accompaniment and contrast; the tone colours of Tara Hinton’s voice along with the richness of her harp playing.

In the press release I received with this album someone has written “In Two For The Road Tara’s harp style has matured with a richness of language and melodic fluency that is rare on her instrument.” I cannot comment on how her sound on this album compares with earlier works as this is the first time I have heard Tara Minton play, but I have no hesitation in agreeing with the phrase “richness of language” because it is there for all to hear. But let’s not forget that this is not a solo album and Tara has been wise in choosing Ed Babar to accompany her because he too has a “richness of language” in his playing that is also apparent when listening to this album.

This is one of those albums that, as a reviewer, I am so grateful to have been sent to comment on. The two lead instrumentalists as a duet are more than capable of carrying a tune but when you then selectively throw into the mix Stan Sulzmann on tenor and Lilia Iontcheva on percussion, the music takes on an added dimension without losing the album’s signature style: that openness of tune that allows the notes to be heard, where nothing can hide, and the listener can clearly hear the essence of the tune.

Two For The Road released on January 28th 2022, on Jazzizit Records available via Bandcamp

Musicians: Tara Minton – harp/vocals; Ed Babar – double bass; Stan Sulzmann – tenor saxophone; Lilia Iontcheva – percussion.

Tracklist: 1. Life In A Bubble – Geoff Gascoyne. 2. On The Sunny Side Of The Street – Jimmy McHugh arr. Geoff Gascoyne. 3. Games – Dorothy Ashby arr. Tara Minton. 4. What We Have To Be – Dave Holland & Norma Winstone. 5. Caravan – Juan Tizol arr. Tara Minton. 6. You Go To My Heat – Fred Coots arr. Tara Minton. 7. ‘Round Midnight – Thelonious Monk arr. Tara Minton. 8. Whirlpool – John Taylor arr. Tara Minton. 9. The Shadow Of Your Smile – Johnny Mandel arr. Tara Minton. 10. Jazz Autographs – John Williams arr. Tara Minton. 11. Blackbird – Lennon & McCartney arr. Tara Minton. 12. Two For The Road – Henri Mancini arr. Tara Minton. 13. Life In A Bubble Epilogue – Geoff Gascoyne

Produced by Geoff Gascoyne
Recorded at Lightship 95 Recording Studio in April 2021 by engineer David Holmes.

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