All the tracks on Jazz On The Rails are original, composed and played by Mike himself. An accomplished pianist, Mike takes a lot of his inspiration from The Golden Era of jazz with greats like Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Benny Golson and, in particular, Oscar Peterson.
However, despite an early love for jazz Mike’s career moved in the direction of pop music, in particular Country Rock where he has recorded and toured with Albert Lee and Dr. Hook and Marty Wilde. Mike has also toured with Benny Gallagher (Gallagher & Lyle) and Pick Withers (Dire Straits). There were many appearances across Europe including The Montreux Jazz Festival in 1992 and London’s Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club.
Jazz On The Rails is the second jazz album from Mike Bell following his 2017 release Just For The Record. It achieved a notable level of airplay in Europe which encouraged Mike to record another album and return to his first love, Jazz.
The album’s title track gets things underway with at a nice mid-tempo pace with Mike playing over a steady drum beat. This is very much in the straight-ahead jazz style that references The Golden Era that inspired Mike’s compositions. ‘Words Unspoken, Notes Unplayed’ has a very different feel to the opening track: funkier, played on an electric keyboard. Again a mid-tempo number that changes direction when the piano comes in and the piece takes on a more serious sounding tone before returning to the funk vibe of the opening section.
‘Pulling Out The Stops’ is a great contrast number with the higher notes playing off against those in the lower register that are heard in the opening bars. Following on from that is good solid piano playing with keyboard undertones for accompaniment, a nice touch! ‘And Then?’ slows everything down with a beautiful melody that, to my ears, has a classical music styling that I enjoyed hearing. ‘Another Time, Another Place’ brings in another change of pace and style set against a repeating, loop like drum beat. This, for me, has a 70s feel about it which adds another layer to the overall sense of the album.
Back to the piano for the opening bars ‘Mood Swings’, which lives up to its title. I like the piano and keyboard combination on this number but find the drumming a distraction until the tempo and style changed around the six minute mark, when it made a bit more sense to me. The introduction of the horn sound added another colour to the tonal palette but there is a slight sense of too much being put into the mix on this one. ‘Catching The Drift’ makes good use of light and shade, loud and soft. There are nicely played runs, that don’t get overplayed, that contrast well with the more spacious sections. This is a strong solo piano track that, for me, works well and sounds good.
The final two tracks of Jazz On The Rails begins with ‘Quirky Blues’, which I was really enjoying until the drums kicked in. I am not against the use of drums but on this occasion I feel that the piano playing was good enough and strong enough to stand on its own. ‘Till The Last Goodnight’ brings the album to a close on a slow tempo with a gentle melody and an appropriate drum rhythm. This tune is played throughout in warm tones on the keyboard and is a pleasant way to wind down the album.
When I first received notice of this album I was expecting a solo piano release and I believe that much of the writing is strong enough to be played solo at the piano. However, I did enjoy the use the keyboard with its contrasting sound but the same can not be said for the drumming, which I found intrusive at times. This is a good solid performance from Mike Bell but occasionally I thought that the balance of the composition was out somewhat, but this really would not stop me listening to this release again.
Jazz On The Rails is available from Bandcamp
Tracklist: 1. Jazz On The Rails. 2. Words Unspoken, Notes Unplayed. 3. Pulling Out The Stops. 4. And Then? 5. Another Time, Another Place. 6. Mood Swings. 7. Catching The Drift. 8. Quirky Blues. 9. Till The Last Goodnight.
All compositions written, played and recorded by Mike Bell in Luxembourg.