Barbara Thompson – saxophone; Jon Hiseman – drums; Peter Lemer – keyboards; Billy Thompson – violin; Dave “Taif” Ball – Bass. With guests Shona Brown – Flute; Apollo Saxophone Quartet and Rachel Calaminus – violin and viola.
(Barbara’s last recording. Released 2015. CD review by Jon Turney)
Barbara Thompson has been a luminous presence on the UK and European jazz scene, as composer, player and bandleader, since the 1970s. Against expectation, that presence dimmed only a little following her diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease in 1997. Performance and, I imagine, life in general became more confined. Yet, exploiting windows opened by evolving medication, she makes music still.
The results testify that raw determination and refined pharmacology can keep creativity alive under trying circumstances. Her first “farewell” tour was in 2001, and she toured again with Colosseum as recently as last year. And now, a decade after their previous release, here’s a new CD from her own band Paraphernalia.
It’s a fine addition to the band’s discography. The sound remains firmly in that corner of English jazz-rock where the energy comes from musical fervour, rather than heavy use of electricity. There is bass guitar, from Dave Ball, and long-standing keyboard partner Peter Lemer does evoke Joe Zawinul here and there. But there’s plenty of unprocessed piano, too, and the continual interplay between the front-liners – Thompson on saxes and Billy Thompson (no relation) on violin – is acoustic exuberance at its best.
That sound, especially when Barbara deploys her attractively dry soprano sax while Billy soars and swoops on the violin, is intense, and full of invention, aided by a rich variety of compositions – some sinuous (Straitlaced), some slinky (Saxey, The Smooch), some simply infectious (Spring Fever). There are tenor workouts, too, but marked by the leader’s preference for creating melody rather than dashing through chord changes. Jon Hiseman, who as usual produced the sessions, executes the often complex drum parts with military precision, and the soundscape is broadened by the advent of the Apollo Saxophone quartet on one track, and Shona Brown’s flute on a couple of others.
We won’t hear this music live, it seems, and there are a couple of tantalising fades that make one regret that all the more. But still very good to have the recording. It’s a thoroughly attractive CD, one that can brighten your day like an unexpected visit from an old friend.