- The North Wind Doth Blow
- Bitter Sweet
- Wind Shadows
- French Sweet
Tony Woods - Saxes, alto clarinet, wood flute, hulusi
Mike Outram - Electric guitar
Rob Millett - Vibes, marimba, gongs
Andy Hamill - Double bass, harmonica
Milo Fell - Drums, percussion
I tend to be suspicious of any group that calls itself a "project",
as this can be a pretentious way of saying "Look how adventurous
and pioneering we are!" However, I can make an exception in the
case of the Tony Woods Project, as their music is genuinely adventurous
and pioneering. In fact I was so impressed by this album that I went
to hear the group playing live when I was on holiday recently in the
Isle of Wight. And they are as interesting live as they are on disc.
This is actually the group's third album, although the personnel
has been through some changes since the first CD, High Seas,
which had a different guitarist and drummer. Tony Woods is a multi-instrumentalist
who plays all kinds of saxophones as well as various exotic instruments
such as the hulusi, a Chinese reed instrument.
The variety of his instruments is matched by the variety of his music,
which embraces elements of jazz, folk, rock, the classics and world
music. These elements are interwoven attentively into an engrossing
mixture. The moods range from gentle lyricism to extrovert rock: the
latter often provided by guitarist Mike Outram, who can come across
like a heavy guitarist of the Jimmy Page school. This occasionally
becomes too noisy, so I tend to prefer the quieter, folksy pieces.
The CD begins with Tony Woods on alto clarinet in Driftwood,
a subtly melodic tune, where we first hear the interplay between Tony
and vibist Rob Millett which accounts for much of the band's appeal.
Tony Woods transfers to soprano sax for Air, an appropriately
airy piece which opens with swirling unaccompanied saxophone. When
the whole group comes in, they play a jazz-rocky piece which sounds
rather like a folk tune before it turns into disorderly free-form.
Tony's sleeve-note quotes Eric Dolphy: "When you hear music,
after it's over, it's gone in the air; you can never recapture it
The North Wind Doth Blow is derived from a children's song
and starts with Woods playing the hulusi, which has a timbre that
suggests bagpipes as well as the pan-pipes. Rob Millett's marimba
adds to the plaintive atmosphere. Tony switches to the alto sax for
a yearning solo. The sleeve-note says that Bitter Sweet is
"After the poem by George Herbert...'I will lament and love'."
The wood flute sounds ethereal, and then comes another folky tune
which for a while develops into folk-rock until Andy Hamill's harmonica
calms things down.
Dilemma is another whirling tune which sounds traditional
but poses no dilemmas: you can simply sit back and enjoy it, although
part of this track seems to be distorted with a fuzzy recording. Transformation
is a sprightly number into which Mike Outram's solo injects some hints
of guitar heroics. Bassist Andy Hamill is featured on the title-track,
with guitar and vibes adding a delicate chiming background. Then the
Outram guitar speaks out assertively.
French Sweet has the alternative title of "Giving jazz
a bad name", which is what an audience member shouted out when
the Tony Woods Project played it at the Greenwich Jazz Festival. But
it actually asserts the good name of jazz by showing how adaptable
the music can be. This 13-minute piece passes through various contrasting
stages, including meditation, unison jazz-rock, a powerful drum solo
from Milo Fell backed by a slightly irritating ostinato, an eloquent
vibes solo, and a conversation between guitar and saxophone. The closing
Acceptance features a philosophical Tony Woods on alto sax
and a thoughtful Mike Outram on guitar.
This band's music virtually defines the word "eclectic"
but it is able to combine so many styles because the players are remarkably
versatile. The resulting CD is already one of my albums of the year.