ESMOND SELWYN With PAUL SAWTELL/BILL COLEMAN/TONY RICHARDS - Renegade [2 CD set] (Slam 291; UK) Featuring Esmond Selwyn on guitar, Paul Sawtell on keyboards, Bill Coleman on bass and Tony Richards on
This is more of a straight ahead jazz session than I usually review but no less creative. This is Esmond Sylwyn's fourth date for the Slam label and the second one with his quartet. Most of the songs here are standards. I listened to a wealth of more mainstream jazz in the seventies when I first got into jazz and was studying its long history.
After a few decades of ignoring it, I've been again checking out a variety of of more inside musicians and sessions. Considering that I am not familiar with any of the members of this quartet, I must admit that they are pretty amazing.
Right from the gitgo on "Fine and Dandy" the quartet is off and swinging furious with smoking solos from all four members of this great quartet. Considering what little recognition Mr. Selwyn has garnered here, I am astonished by each of his solos on this long two disc set. He is just incredible.
Both he and Mr. Sawtell on piano are gifted musicians and sound
wonderful throughout, sometimes trading lines with immense craft and
passion. There are a few standouts here like "Blue Monk" (by
Thelonius Monk), Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island" and Miles
Davis' "All Blues". Nothing like an unknown legend to get those
blindfold test fans guessing.
A recent review of this double live CD from one of the UK's most respected guitarists praises Esmond Selwyn's clean picking, abundance of ideas, and a tone to die for from his ES 175 with Charlie Christian pickup, and his website contains fulsome tributes from (among many others) George Coleman (you sound great, boy!) and Frank Sinatra's guitarist Tony Mottola (these days my pleasure is listening to great players like yourself), yet
Renegade's sleeve-note writer, Digby Fairweather, is somewhat
rueful about Selwyn's undersung status in the jazz pantheon, quoting the late alto player Bruce Turner to illustrate his point: "There is no route to greatness in British jazz". There is, however, a simple explanation for this apparent neglect: he plays an instrument that , arguably more than any other in jazz, has undergone a sea-change in the technology that produces the sounds available to it, and as a consequence, the technique of its practitioners, since the rise of rock music in the late 1960s.
Selwyn's models (listed by Fairweather as Tal Farlow, George Van Eps and Joe Pass) are simply not those commonly cited by most contemporary
guitarists, raised on the music of Carlos Santana, Lowell George, Jimi
Hendrix and post-rock-era jazz guitarists such as Bill Frisell, John
Scofield, Mike Stern et al.
Nevertheless, listening to Selwyn barrelling his way through seven exhilarating choruses of this album's opening track,‘Fine and Dandy' does induce a kind of nostalgia for the days of clean, fleet solo runs, especially when, as here, the guitarist in question is as well versed in what Fairweather calls "the sunny major-key vocabulary of swing and its predecessors" as in the advanced harmonic lines and devices that distinguished bebop.
Throughout a nicely balanced set that includes accommodating standards (All the Things You Are, Just One of Those Things etc.) as well as jazz classics and bop staples (Blue Monk, All Blues, Yardbird Suite),
Selwyn breezes confidently through a series of joyous, exuberant but
consistently musicianly solos, competently shadowed by pianist Paul
Sawtell, bassist Bill Coleman and drummer Tony Richards,to the audible satisfaction of an enthusiastic audience. Those wishing to hear Selwyn in an organ-trio setting, moreover, might like to investigate
another Slam CD, The Middle Half, on which Selwyn plays alongside
organist John-Paul Gard and drummer Robin Jones. Great
playing like this should never really go out of fashion.