The previous outing from O’Higgins & Luft was the critically well-received O’Higgins & Luft Play Monk & Trane released in 2019. There is one track apiece from Monk and Coltrane on this album with all other numbers are written by either Dave O’Higgins or Rob Luft. There is also a shift in the band line-up with Ross Stanley on piano replacing organist Scott Flanigan and the addition of Misha Mullo-Abbado bassist, which will make for a different sound.
The album opens with the title track written by O’Higgins and played in a straight-ahead jazz style that pays tribute to the tenor sax players of the past, the players Dave will have listened to as he developed his own approach to the music. Most noticeable is how the dynamics of the sound have changed, compared with the earlier album, with Ross Stanley’s piano lines: more open and brighter. Rob Luft’s ‘South Wind’ follows, which I think has a more contemporary sound and contrasts nicely with the writing of O’Higgins. The sax lines are delightful, as are those written for the piano with Rob Luft providing a bed of sound over which Ross Stanley plays. Robs’s own solo is very good and he moves around the fretboard with ease and skill.
Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’ with added GTI is, of course, familiar but with this arrangement it has a freshness that ensures it is not just another copy. The interaction between piano, sax and guitar is excellent, as is the support from Rod Youngs and Misha Mullo-Abbado, and Rob Luft brings something different to this oft interpreted tune. ‘Gayetski’, another Luft tune, has a Latin flavour and begins with a simple sounding guitar, piano and bass section that opens out when the sax begins to play. This is a terrific number that blends washes of sound with melodic lines all underpinned with a bass pulse provided by Misha.
‘Everything’s Under Control’ is the next O’Higgins number and it picks up the tempo and changes the mood from the previous track. Dave and Rob both play exciting lead lines but it is the piano, bass, and drums that drive this this tune: a real toe-tapper that will go down very well when played in the jazz clubs – and I really enjoyed Misha’s bass solo on this one. ‘Vague Recollection’ has a jutting, angular feel about it with moments of calm. The effect can be mildly unsettling but also exciting as the band move towards a free style jazz but pull back. There is a lot to listen to on this track, variations in pitch, tone, volume and style: I love it! Mrs SimplyJazzTalk less so, she is definitely a straight-ahead melody girl.
The Monk reference comes through ‘Four In One’, a great lively tune, unmistakably Monk but also very much O’Higgins & Luft. Wonderful sax and guitar lines as well as drumming from Rod Youngs. Ross Stanley sound like he is letting go here and there is another strong solo from Misha on bass. This is a thoroughly enjoyable cover of Monk’s tune and I did put it on repeat. ‘Ballad For Barry’ is, as one might expect from the title, a ballad and a beautifully played one at that. The guitar work is sublime with the bass notes of Misha just cutting through before his solo. The effect created by O’Higgins and Luft when they play together is breath-taking and whoever Barry is, or was, this ballad was played with feeling.
Pluto finishes with what sounds like a Monk inspired piece written by Dave O’Higgins. ‘One For The Six’ is lively, features some terrific trades between sax and drums, wonderful guitar lines and driving piano, bass and drums. This is the final chance on this album to hear the undoubtable skills of this group of musicians but it has been suggested that there will be an extensive UK wide tour next year and I, for one, hope to get to hear this very good album played live.
Pluto is available to purchase via Bandcamp
Musicians: Dave O’Higgins – tenor sax; Rob Luft – guitar; Ross Stanley – piano; Misha Mullo-Abbado – bass; Rod Youngs – drums.
Tracklist: 1. Pluto. 2. South Wind. 3. Giant Steps GTI. 4. Gayetski. 5. Everything’s Under Control. 6. Vague Recollection. 7. Four In One. 8 Ballad For Barry. 9. One For The Six.