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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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In the Zone

Jazzizit JITCD 0847





1. In the Zone
2. The Story So Far
3. Operation Yardbird
4. Theme for Ernie
5. Take the D-Train
6. You Must Believe in Spirng
7. Fiasco
8. Young at Heart
9. Smile
10. Ca-Lee-So
Dave O'Higgins - Tenor sax, soprano sax
Tom Cawley - Piano
Sam Burgess - Bass
Sebastiaan de Krom - Drums
Martin Shaw - Trumpet (tracks 1, 5, 7, 10)


In jazz, technical facility can be a huge asset but also a dangerous temptation. Dave O'Higgins has all the technical facility anyone could need on saxophones and some of his solos feel like a never-ending torrent of notes. Thankfully, despite his facility, these torrents of notes are clearly shaped into meaningful solos. The same applies to drummer Sebastiaan de Krom, whose solo on Take the D-Train is perfectly formed as well as technically impeccable. Sometimes, perversely, it all seems a bit too perfect and one yearns for a few signs of human frailty, lest the music should seem to come too easily. But there's no doubting the thrill of much of the music on this album. Operation Yardbird, for example, is an exhilarating post-bop excursion, with Dave galloping away and the drummer going berserk, although the excellent pianist Tom Cawley takes a more measured approach. Many of the tunes are up-tempo, in boppish mode, and even on slow numbers like Theme for Ernie, Dave often doubles the tempo.

The band turns Michel Legrand's beautiful You Must Believe in Spring into a fast romp, although they inventively vary the tempo. When Dave eventually gets round to stating the tune, there is a touch of human frailty, as I think he gets the melody slightly wrong (but maybe he's just improvising freely). At least this track has some light and shade, whereas Fiasco is a relentless breakneck race with trumpeter Martin Shaw matching Dave's flow of notes. However, Young at Heart is a sax-and-piano duet which includes some pauses for breath, turning a rather mawkish tune into a near-masterpiece. In contrast, Charlie Chaplin's similarly sentimental Smile becomes a hectic race to the finish. The calypso mood of Ca-Lee-So evokes Sonny Rollins as much as its composer, Lee Morgan. In fact the album is designed as a tribute to great saxists like Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane. So the title-track includes a quote from Coltrane's Giant Steps in the melody, and Operation Yardbird sounds as twistingly complex as a Parker composition.

This is a very satisfying album, not just for the high level of musicianship but because the group works so well together. Having heard Dave with a less-good rhythm section at last year's Isle of Wight Jazz Festival, I can aver that he is best heard in top-class company, and he certainly has that here, inspiring him to some splendid work.

Tony Augarde


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