Tristan Banks presents ‘View From Above’

View From Above is the debut album from drummer Tristan Banks who is also the manager and curator of the renowned Verdict Jazz Club in Brighton. For support he called upon long-standing musical friends Paul Booth, John Crawford and Davide Mantovani, all fine musicians in their own right, to play ten of Tristan’s own compositions.

The album title track gets things underway with the wonderful tone Paul Booth’s bass clarinet. The rhythm section drive the tune while Paul plays a mix of sax and bass clarinet over the top. John Crawford then picks up the main theme while Tristan plays repeating patterns on the drums. This is an energetic opening number and gives a good feel for the style of jazz Tristan likes to write. ‘Ex Machina’ is a contemporary groove led funk number with repeating sax and piano phrases that certainly had my head nodding along in appreciation.

The tune ‘Flex’ takes the listener down the Latin vibed route built around the cyclical sax sound from Paul Booth. John Crawford joins in with a similar playing style before introducing a stylistic variation where the sound becomes more contemporarily jazz with tinges of Latin – a clever piece of fusion writing. The drumming, again is very good, but I felt that the bass is a little too low in the mix, it is there but I really had to listen out for it. ‘Possible Bossa’ takes the tempo down a notch and the dynamic becomes softer with a more lyrical sounding Paul Booth on sax – a delightful, well-written tune.

For ‘Dust Devil’ Paul Booth plays soprano sax giving the listener another texture to take on board. Here I can pick out the bass lines of Davide Mantovani and they work so well against John Crawford’s piano ostinato section towards the end of the tune, which comes to a sharply controlled finish. Mantovani provides the bass line groove to ‘Flutter’ and there is a great section where bass, piano and sax play in unison before the sax takes off again on the melody before finishing off with a repeating motif.

Booth breaks out the flute for ‘Capelinhas’ (the only reference I can find to the tune’s title is that Capelinhas is a monogenetic volcano located on the western coast of Faial Island in the Azores). This number certainly has an energy about it but is not what I would describe as volcanic. As with other tunes on the album this is built around repeating phrases over which Paul lays out the melody. What makes it all work so well is how tight the group sound with instruments dropping in and out of the composition seamlessly giving the impression of flowing piece that feeds on itself.

‘Polycephaly’ (the condition of having more than one head) is, for me, one of the standout tracks on View From Above. This is a multi-layered number that makes good use of tonal variation, timbre and contrasting punchy, angular sections against those parts that are smoother, more melodic in structure. There is a real energy to this tune but also moments where things calm a little to give the listener time to breathe. ‘Cidade Alta’ is another vibrant flute led number with rippling drumming from Tristan, excellent piano section from John Crawford and solid bass playing from Davide Mantovani. That brings us to the closing track ‘Tempesta’ with its Latin based sound, which mixes energetic sections with those of a less urgent nature. This is a good example of how Tristan’s writing fuses different jazz styles to create something that works on more than one level.

Tristan Banks has said that:

The idea was to push the acoustic jazz quartet format to the limit, being able to re-image the possibilities that the classic saxophone, piano, bass, drums line-up can manifest, and by being conscious of the sonic traditions that are typically replayed to confirm the listeners tastes while avoiding the genres timbral clichés.

I believe that he has achieved that intention and in doing so has produced a fine debut album aided by high calibre musicians who have absorbed his writing and play with a passion deserving of being heard. This is an exciting album to listen to, it is full of colourful energy and wonderful melodies and I hope Tristan Banks has more material to commit to disc in the future.

View From Above is out on the Ubuntu Music label and is available as a digital download, a CD or on vinyl from Bandcamp from 31 March, 2023

Musicians: Tristan Banks – drums, percussion; Paul Booth – tenor, soprano saxophones, flute, bass clarinet; John Crawford – piano; Davide Mantovani – acoustic, electric bass.

Tracklist: 1. View From Above. 2. Ex Machina. 3. Flex (for Dexter). 4. Possible Bossa. 5. Dust Devil. 6. Flutter. 7. Capelinhas. 8. Polycephaly. 9. Cidade Alta. 10. Tempesta.

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