Sharp Little Bones ‘Volumes I & II’ featuring Tony Kofi

All I know of Sharp Little Bones comes from their website:

Sharp Little Bones is the brainchild of bassist and composer Simon Paterson. Joined by MOBO nominated, multi-BBC Jazz and Parliamentary Jazz Awards winner Tony Kofi, they are a quartet of virtuosos playing brand-new compositions that are tight, energetic, catchy, and melodic. Well experienced in entertaining audiences, their sound has fresh, contemporary appeal: live acoustic forces rooted in bebop and blues, embellished with tasteful electronics and warm, analogue synth textures: an eclectic audio melting pot of jazz, funk, blues, and bop. Taking the listener on an eventful excursion of harmonic, melodic and rhythmical delight, this is music composed and improvised for feet, heart, and mind.

Volume I gets underway with two tunes in odd time signatures: ‘Ury Bop’ is played in 7/8, while ‘Layli’s lullaby ‘ is played in 7/4 (useful things liner notes) but to a non-musician like myself I could not tell. The first track has some very nice unison playing from Paul Deats on Rhodes and saxophonist Tony Kofi. The soloing is very good, I very much like Simon Paterson on bass, as the drumming from Andrew Wood. ‘Layli’s Lullaby’, as one might expect from the title, is a gentler affair with Kofi leading wonderfully on the sax. Deats and Paterson add their own tone to the melody when their time comes while Wood cuts through with his drumming. What is clear on the first two tracks is that we are listening to a well worn path in terms of the way the tunes are structured and played but with a more contemporary sound.

‘Stranger Danger’ is an up-tempo bop number Kofi and Deats sound so relaxed and comfortable on this number that ends with Wood on a well-played drum solo. ‘Brie en Croute’ highlights Wood’s ability with brushes and cymbal. The bass line is spacious but rich in tone and complements the piano playing of Deats on this all-too short ballad. ‘Chromatose’ was, according to Stuart Nichlson’s liner notes, “written to explore quartal harmony and chromatic shifts”: the result is an atmospheric sound on which Tony Kofi plays a delightful lyrical melody.

The sound profile changes to something quite different on ‘Hiddenness’ with a “dirty” sounding opening tenor sax line from Kofi. Wood breaks in with a strong drum solo before Kofi reappears playing that “dirty” groove mixed with something more lyrical. This tune plays with sound dynamics very well and makes for a fascinating listen. Volume I closes with ‘Downfall’ and its synth intro. The tune sounds relatively simple played in a very relaxed manner with each of the musicians given room to explore the melody. Paterson’s solo is elegantly impressive and delivers a beautifully paced tonal contrast to the playing sax of Kofi.

‘Roo’s Blues’ is the first of the six tracks that make up Volume II and it is another relaxed number but this time with blues styling that works very well. Kofi sets up the simple sounding refrain which Deats then develops with the melody played on the Rhodes. Kofi and Deats lead on this number with excellent rhythmic support from Paterson and Wood. ‘Mackerel Sky’ has a catchy repeating phrase with a strong bass line groove over which Kofi plays out the melody: a great toe-tapper of a tune. There is a familiarity to ‘Troll Stroll’ in the way that it is structured, which means that it gets into the listeners head very quickly. This number is a throwback to a mid-century jazz style but with added soundscapes that keep it contemporary.

‘Sorceress’ builds off a bass line ostinato with a mellow sax sound woven over the top. There is more use of an electronic soundscape that gives an added depth of sound to Kofi’s playing. I like the way this number is layered with each stratum bringing a different sound texture to sum of its parts. ‘Trailblazing’ is a slow atmospheric composition where notes are sounded and allowed to hang in the air before moving on. The interplay between bass and sax here is sublime and the shift in dynamics, when the sound becomes freer in style with added electronics and sparse piano, breaks the mood of the tune in an intriguing way. ‘Blue Finger’ finishes off disc two nicely with what the liner notes describe as a “throwaway jazz blues”. Simon Paterson plays another great solo section before going into unison with Deats on keys. Tony Kofi nails the melody throughout with Andrew Wood going about his drumming duties without fuss or favour but always with confidence.

This debut album on the Ubuntu label is a very good example of contemporary composition and playing with a firm nod the classic jazz era. As a trio release it would have stood up well but Paterson’s decision to bring in saxophonist Tony Kofi raises the album to another level. I do hope that this two disc set brings Sharp Little Bones the recognition I believe they deserve. This is a band I will definitely be keeping an ear open for in the future and if the opportunity arises to see and hear them live I will take it!

Sharp Little Bones Volumes I & II is available through Bandcamp, from 26th May, in digital, CD, and vinyl formats.

Musicians: Tony Kofi – tenor Sax; Simon Paterson – upright and electric bass; Paul Deats – piano, rhodes and synthesiser; Andrew Wood – drums.

Tracklist: Volume I: 1. Ury Bop. 2. Layli’s Lullaby. 3. Stranger Danger. 4. Brie en Croute. 5. Chromatose. 6. Hiddenness. 7. Downfall. Volume II: 1. Roo’s Blues. 2. Mackerel Sky. 3. Troll Stroll. 4. Sorceress. 5. Trailblazing. 6. Blue Finger.

All compositions by Simon Paterson

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