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Fifth Element

Private release


 

I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love With Me

A Nightingale Sang in Berkely Square

It Might As Well Be Spring

I Love Being HHHHere with You

The Gentle Rain

There Will Never Be Another You

More Than You Know

September in The Rain/On a Misty Night

The Look of Love

Days of Wine and Roses

My Romance

My Shining Hour

Nina Richmond (vocals)

Dave Coules (tenor sax)

Dale Scaife (piano)

Dave Coules (tenor sax)

Ron Johnson (bass)

Glen Anderson (drums)

Recorded at Canterbury Music Company, Toronto. No date given. © 2020.

Self Produced. See www.fifthelementjazz.com

Nothing startlingly original happens on this disc. What does happen is more than 50 minutes of straightforward, unpretentious jazz played (and sung) by a highly competent group of experienced musicians; this is music full of the central values of the jazz tradition, like swing, direct emotion, improvisation, a blues influence, a Latin ‘tinge’ (to paraphrase Jelly Roll Morton) and a strong sense of group interaction. This Toronto-based band has been working together since 2016; it has absorbed much of jazz’s past (and present) and put it to distinctive and creative use.

Vocalist Nina Richmond has previously worked with both big bands and smaller groups and she sings with freshness, clarity, subtlety and a nice variety of colours. Tenor saxophonist Dave Coules (who is also responsible for the arrangements) is clearly a very accomplished musician, something which is evident both in his clever arrangements and his solos, which are varied but consistently imaginative. Pianist Dale Scaife is another who brings extensive experience to Fifth Element having worked widely across Canada and the USA. Ron Johnson, the group’s excellent bassist has worked professionally for almost half a century and played in a wide variety of jazz contexts. The final (in this run-down) member of Fifth Element, drummer Glenn Anderson brings to his work a background which has included work accompanying vocalists, spells with traditional bands and time spent in bands which paid tribute to Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five and the Benny Goodman Sextet.

The name of the band and of this, their first CD, is worthy of brief consideration. In the dominant pre-modern view of the world – derived from classical philosophy and modified by the theology of the Middle Ages - everything in the physical world was understood to be made up of the same four elements (fire, air, water and earth) in differing proportions. More sophisticated versions of this world view posited a fifth constituent, often referred to as the quintessence. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word thus: “a fifth essence existing in addition to the four elements, supposed to be the substance of which the celestial bodies were composed and to be latent in all things … (Alchemy) this essence, supposed to be able to be extracted by distillation or other procedures”; the same dictionary describes two figurative uses of the word thus: (a) “the most essential part or feature of some non-material thing” and (b) “the most typical example of a category or class…”. It is with such definitions in mind that I would describe the music of Fifth Element as ‘quintessential’ jazz. I don’t, that is, intend to suggest that this one of the great or ‘essential’ jazz recordings (as, for example, the finest recorded work of, say, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker or Miles Davis is); rather, I wish to suggest that in avoiding both passing fashions and the quasi-academic re-creation of earlier jazz styles while respecting ‘core’ principles of the jazz tradition, Fifth Element have put their own stamp on such values, and produced a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable disc.

I certainly found a great deal to enjoy here, including the vocals of Nina Richmond; not a flashy singer, she is unconcerned to be different for the sake of difference and is never in any way gimmicky; her attention to the lyrics brings genuine insight to her performances of standards such as ‘There Will Never Be Another You’ and ‘The Look of Love’ on both of which she makes one really believe the sentiments expressed in the songs. The work of bassist Ron Johnston and drummer Glenn Anderson at the heart of the rhythm section is exemplary, whether in the bossa nova patterns of ‘The Look of Love’ or the energetic yet subtle swing of ‘There Will Never Be Another You’. Pianist Dale Scaife shows himself to be a thoroughly literate musician, both as an accompanist behind Ms. Richmond or the tenor sax of Dave Coules, and also as an assured soloist. I particularly admire his solo and his duet with bassist Johnston in ‘The Gentle Rain’. His brief intro to ‘More Than You Know’ is a gem. Tenor saxophonist Dave Coules plays a series of top-class solos, his distillation (see above) of swing and bop idioms on tracks such as ‘My Romance’, ‘I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love With Me’ and ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkely Square’ is a delight. But the standards played on this album are nowhere treated as just a series of solos; the arrangements by Coules are inventive and yet leave room for the group’s clear inter-personal chemistry to find expression. I can’t imagine that anyone with a genuine interest in jazz would be disappointed by the music to be heard here.

Glyn Pursglove


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