Review of Kafka's Dance, by Jon Turney for London Jazz:
ASQ (Arabella Sprot Quintet) – Kafka’s Dance
(Self-released. CD review by Jon Turney)
Here’s a nice calling card from a new voice on tenor saxophone recently graduated from Birmingham Conservatoire’s master’s course. ASQ are the Arabella Sprot Quintet , and the leader is joined by four other Birmingham players - Nick Dewhurst on trumpet, James Banner on double bas, Ric Yarborough on drums, and the comparative veteran Steve Tromans on piano.
It is actually her second CD – an earlier recording came from a quartet she ran while studying in Bristol a few years ago. This new offering shows a player growing in confidence enough to present a solo saxophone piece, Sphere, which draws on close study of Mark Turner. Her other main inspirations are Joe Lovano and Stan Getz and she shares with all three of those models an ability to muse lingeringly on the beauty of a line or unleash a burst of power just when it is needed.
All the compositions here are Sprot’s and they are the basis for a democratically improvised music, pretty free on the second track, Closer, generally more straightforward elsewhere. There is a lot of spirited interaction here, especially with Dewhurst’s trumpet, and plenty of variety. Cheeky Pint Blues is a fairly routine hard-bopper but the rest sound more contemporary. All five players acquit themselves well although Tromans’ keyboard work is not always well served by the electric piano sound he is confined to throughout. On acoustic piano, on the evidence of a recent gig, he likes to adopt a hard-hitting style that evokes Don Pullen but the electric timbre can sometimes make this approach lose definition– I’m guessing this was a budget constraint on this self-produced session rather than because it was the exact sound sought.
Generally, though, these tracks show youthful ambition very impressively realised. Fittingly, this comes across especially well on the closing two-part Kafka Suite, inspired by one of the leader’s literary heroes. Hard to say whether it will evoke anything Kafkaesque for many listeners, but it is an absorbing 17 minutes of music. Kafka’s Dance is a simple, slightly halting theme that ushers in a solo from Sprot built in unusually long phrases that float enticingly over the rhythm, and appropriate responses from Tromans and Dewhurst. Kafka’s Revenge sounds as if it will turn darker, but remains unexpectedly upbeat– with an impassioned excursion from Tromans and cheerfully jousting horns.
The leader, a German scholar, has just moved to Berlin in pursuit of her other career as a translator and tutor, but hopes to keep this band together. If this CD proves only the beginning for the quintet, it is an excellent foundation. Even if it doesn’t, it marks the emergence of a talent to watch.
Review of Kafka's Dance, by Peter Bacon, for 'The Jazz Breakfast':
ASQ is the Arabella Sprot Quintet – Arabella on tenor saxophone, Nick Dewhurst on trumpet, Steve Tromans on electric piano, James Banner on double bass and Ric Yarborough on drums. Arabella is a recent graduate from Birmingham Conservatoire’s jazz course, and the rest of the band is linked with the Conservatoire or with Birmingham.
All the compositions are Arabella’s but she stresses that ASQ is very much a musical collective in terms of ideas – she doesn’t want the four other musicians to feel this is her band. And that vibe is clear in what we hear – this is very much a band of five strong musical personalities and each contributes a lot. In among Arabella’s writing there are relatively free sections – track two, Closer, being a prime case in point.
The album opens with The Decoy, and a sparky, circling electric piano figure over which the twin horns map out the slower moving theme. The harmonies are tight and the sound palette rich. Bass, drums and piano provide the buoyant momentum over which Sprot and Dewhurst dance – there is a great dual horn improv at the close.
Sphere is a solo saxophone piece - four and a half minutes of solo sax without ever resorting to flashy scale running is not an easy thing to achieve, but Arabella’s ability to weave a structure and a story into her improvisation keeps Sphere very much a nicely rounded whole. Cheeky Pint Blues is a high-powered, hard-bop inclined piece of fun.
The album closes with the two-part Kafka Suite, split into Dance and Revenge. Everyone gets a chance to stretch out, with a marvellously busy solo from Steve Tromans just one of the high points. In the liner notes, Arabella writes: “Some time during the first week of my German degree, I realised that I wanted to be a jazz musician.” Of Kafka, she says “…he is at once predictable and zany. But it is his ability to focus his imagination that inspires me the most.”
On the strength of this album, I’d say Arabella and her band are taking those elements from Kafka and making some inspiring modern jazz music as a result. A thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating listen.