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Reviewers: Don Mather, Tony Augarde, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby

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The Key to it All…

Diving Duck DDRCD 006




1. This Heart of Mine
2. Skating in Central Park
3. I’ll Close My Eyes
4. Where Are You?
5. Melody for a Bass
6. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
7. Confusion
8. Bye Bye Blackbird
9. Django
10. The Key to it All
11. What Happened Next?
John Horler – Piano
Sam Burgess – Bass
Mike Smith – Drums

Let us now praise the unsung heroes who supply us with live jazz at countless venues. Usually they are tireless workers who don’t do it for the money but simply for the love of jazz. One such venue is Watermill Jazz at Dorking in south-east England, which presents a varied programme of jazz every week. One session in February 2006 featured pianist John Horler’s new group, the Modern Jazz Trio, and this CD captures most of that performance.

The band’s title may remind you of the Modern Jazz Quartet, and Horler is obviously a fan of that group, since he includes two of its tunes here – both written by John Lewis. Django is one of the MJQ’s masterpieces – a tune which opens with a gentle introduction, leading into a bouncy theme underpinned by a memorable double-bass pattern. Here John Horler plays that pattern on the piano, giving the tune a new feeling but keeping its seductive appeal. Bassist Sam Burgess plays a splendid solo here – and the live recording actually makes the bass solos audible. John Horler’s solo covers the gamut from tenderness to funkiness, with a satisfyingly clean keyboard touch. John Lewis’s Skating in Central Park is a lovely waltz, given melodious attention in the trio’s performance.

Of the other tracks, five are jazz standards and the rest are Horler originals. The standards have often been played – perhaps too often, so that they could become stale, but in the trio’s hands they come up fresh and new. Even Bye Bye Blackbird, a tune I hate because it is so hackneyed, is given new life by Horler’s unusual chordings and imaginative soloing, which includes a burst of double time. Another highlight is Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, which Horler starts with the sort of enigmatic introduction that Erroll Garner loved. Again, the melody is given new vividness by the pianist’s unexpected turns. Sam Burgess’s bass solo is thoughtful and well-structured.

Sam Burgess is one of the revelations of this CD. His work throughout the album is excellent – both in solo and accompaniment. John Horler wrote Melody for a Bass specially for Sam and he makes the most of the opportunity to show his paces as a mature and confident musician. Mike Smith is no slouch either. The former drummer with the BBC Big Band supplies just the right backup on every tune, and he really shines in the final track, a tour-de-force which John wrote just for him.

There was a time when "British jazz" was almost a term of abuse but those days are long gone. This group consists of three world-class players who can challenge all comers. Their music is extremely skilful, but it is also (dare I say it?) very beautiful.

Tony Augarde


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