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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove



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TONY WOODS PROJECT

Wind Shadows

33 Records 33JAZZ195

 

 

  1. Driftwood
  2. Air
  3. The North Wind Doth Blow
  4. Bitter Sweet
  5. Dilemma
  6. Transformation
  7. Wind Shadows
  8. French Sweet
  9. Acceptance

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 again".

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.

 

Tony Augarde 



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