Steve Banks is ‘Emboldened’

Steve Banks has performed at venues across the UK and Europe including Birmingham Symphony Hall, CBSO Centre, London’s King’s Place, Mostly Jazz, Manchester Jazz and Cheltenham Jazz Festivals and Jazzahead! in Germany.

His captivating style and versatility have kept him much in demand for many successful music projects, most notably playing electric, acoustic, baritone and nylon string guitars on Sara Colman’s albums What We’re Made Of and Ink On A Pin, with credits as composer, co-composer and arranger. Both albums feature jazz sextet with string quartet and received high critical UK/US acclaim including Jazzwise Magazine’s ‘Top 10 albums of 2018’, ‘Best of Jazz on Bandcamp’ and 5 stars by UK Vibe.

Despite its title, ‘Fear’ is a gentle introduction to the music of Steve Banks. Rebecca Nash introduces the tune with bass support and washes of cymbal from drummer Mark Whitlam. The close harmonies of sax and guitar are fascinating to listen to with the added piano rounding out the sound. There is a controlled, thoughtful energy to this number with a distinct feeling of togetherness from the quintet. The sound changes to something more uplifting on ‘Belief’, with Banks, Nash and Crockatt establishing the theme from the opening bar before each pay off that theme to create some wonderful sounding solos backed by the terrific bass playing of Henrick Jensen. The transitions and interplay connecting guitar, guitar and sax are superb – as is the drumming from Mark Whitlam in the latter stages of the number.

‘Unity’ continues in a similar vein to the previous track but with Nash and Crockatt setting up the ‘Main Theme’ wonderfully on the ‘Prologue’. Rebecca Nash plays more of a supportive role on the ‘Main Theme’ as Banks and Crockatt swap solos on this bright, up-tempo number. There is a wonderful section where the bass steps forward over a repeating sax refrain before Banks takes over with a guitar lead. Again, the interactions between the musicians is what stands out: a genuinely collaborative approach to portraying the music.

‘Two Brothers’ is introduced by sax and piano, it is a beautiful melody which is picked with a gorgeous solo from Henrik Jensen on bass with support from pianist Rebecca Nash. The piano backdrop continues as Banks and Crockatt play wonderful, lyrical solo parts on this most elegant of numbers that grows, soars and then falls away. ‘Just Listen’ could have been this album’s title because that is just what the listener should be doing. This penultimate track has a different sound dynamic to what has gone before: more contemporary in style, a touch more angular but still maintaining the integrity of the interactivity of the band that has been displayed throughout Emboldened.

This very enjoyable debut release from Steve Banks closes with ‘Always For You And Forever Yours’, a captivating ballad. Steve Banks takes the lead here and his playing sounds sincere and emotionally connected. The melody moves between guitar, piano and sax as the sound develops and grows with a wonderful bass line that gives added depth of tone. This is a fitting end to an excellent album that simply reinforces just how good this ensemble is.

I have been very fortunate to be asked to review a number of good debut albums but Emboldened really does standout in terms of composition, musicality, and musicianship. Mike Gates writing for UK Vibe sums up this release very well:

This excellent debut album as leader is well worth the wait but what is most impressive is that it is delivered with an original voice. Banks conveys an authenticity that brings a fresh voice to the world of jazz. An invigorating listening experience with clearly defined energy and character, there is a delight in its originality. One of the main features throughout all of the tunes is how well the quintet communicate with one another. They seem to inspire the best from each other, making for some great soloing and sublime and cohesive interplay. With some wonderful writing and fabulous musicianship throughout, let’s hope it’s the first of many recordings for the guitarist. On this evidence, there’s a lot to look forward to.

And I thoroughly endorse what Mr Gates has written!

Emboldened is available now at Bandcamp for pre-order prior to its release on Friday, 26th May.

Musicians: Steve Banks – guitar; Rebecca Nash – piano; Sam Crockatt – saxophone; Henrik Jensen – double bass; Mark Whitlam – drums.

Tracklist: 1 . Fear. 2. Belief. 3. Unity (Prologue). 4. Unity (Main Theme). 5. Two Brothers. 6. Just Listen. 7. Always For You And Forever Yours.

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