Ed Jones ‘For Your Ears Only’ CD Review by Sammy Stein

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Ed Jones has been a well-connected musician for many years and worked with a huge range of musicians ranging in style from free jazz pioneers to contemporary and modern jazz. His collaborators have included John Stevens, Evan Parker, Horace Silver, Clifford Jarvis, Jason Rebello, Orphy Robinson, Claire Martin, Don Weller and Monk Liberation Front to name but a very few and he has played for The Blockheads, Larry Bartley’s Justus, Chaka Khan, Tina Turner, George Benson, Jamie Cullum, Bootsie Collins amongst many more. His own projects included Incognito, Us3, and Nostalgia 77.

His first quartet, the originally named “Ed Jones Quartet” were the first band to play at the Jazz Café, London in 1988 and he was a regular performer on the Acid Jazz scene at clubs such as The Wag and Dingwalls. He has recorded several albums and appeared on many. In 2005 he formed Killer Shrimp with Trumpeter Damon Brown and in 2016 he formed the Free Improvisation Trio Bad Ash with Mark Sanders (Drums) and Mark Lewandowski (Double Bass), the group toured the UK with support from The Arts Council Of England with collaborations along the way with Matthew Bourne, Paul Dunmall, and Corey Mwamba, Alex Bonney and Nick Malcolm. International projects include working with Scandinavian Trio Stekpana, Finnish trumpeter and composer Mika Myllari and Tokyo London Jazz connection with Yutaka Shina (piano). He has also composed for BBC Jazz on 3 and the Bath Festival. These are only a few of the projects Ed Jones has been involved in but importantly, In 2011 he formed a new acoustic contemporary jazz quartet (this one) which is currently touring and they released their first recording “For Your Ears Only” in Autumn 2017

John Fordham in The Guardian wrote of Ed’s playing, “A formidable saxophonist. Ed Jones may have hit his highest profile through his work with bands US3 and Incognito, but he’s an improviser to his fingertips, a player of forceful imagination, and one of the UK’s most distinctive saxophonists. And Chris Parker of Jazzwise commented that, “The vigorous, sometimes downright volcanic tenor sound of Ed Jones has long been one of the great live delights of British jazz. His barnstorming ‘terrier with a rat’ approach raises the music’s temperature whenever he solos”.

I have seen Ed play a few times with Kitty La Roar and Nick Shankland at Scarfe’s Bar in Rosewood Hotel, London but I misjudged him because in this setting, he was playing as a supporting musician. I have only recently learned more about this musician’s vast musical range. Here, he comes back to one of his favourite formations – the jazz quartet and is joined by Ross Stanley (Dennis Rollins, Guy Barker, Jamie Cullum, Liane Carroll, Norma Winstone, Jacqui Dankworth band, Tom Jones, Paloma Faith, Goldie, Simply Red to name a few) on piano, Tim Giles ( 5tet Fraud, Kenny Wheeler, Iain Ballamy, Matt Bourne, Jamie Cullum, Leverton Fox and Twelves) on drums, Riaan Vosloo (Jamie Cullum, Nostalgia 77, James Allsop/Ross Stanley quartet, Richard Fairhurst’s Triptych) on double bass and Brigitte Beraha ( jazz vocals tutor, Guildhall School of Music, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and the Royal Welsh College of Music) on vocals. The choice of these high calibre musicians may hint at the quality potential but in truth, nothing can quite prepare the listener for the energy and engagement this album brings and with it, the exposition of arrangements and compositional wizardry which Ed Jones brings along with his playing.

The CD itself is a revelation of hard bop (though not always in this style), controlled and creatively led playing. It is a lesson from a formidable player who demonstrates here not only his prowess with more than one member of the woodwind family but also his compositional and arrangement skills.

‘Nomadology’ kick starts this CD and it is a track full of surprises. Little changes in tempo and rhythm work wonders on the relatively simple theme and following the introduction from bass, piano and drums, Ed’s sax rolls in over the top, working the theme with variation and emphasis. The piece develops into a cross between easy listening and hard bop, with the latter emphasised by some pretty nifty key work from Jones, underpinned always by rock steady support from the other musicians. The off-beat in the bass on occasion is really effective and there is space allowed for a lovely, deliciously textural piano solo from Ross Stanley, who deftly demonstrates why he was the perfect choice for this CD. ‘Pandora’s Box’ is filled with contrasts between the very harmonic sections and the opposition of rhythms and progressions from the leading sax and support. Ed almost pushes the sax to its limits at one point and the notes screech almost to silence before the sound returns, strong and pure. Again, a great piano solo is delivered before the band return as a homogenous blend.

‘Starbright’ is introduced by the band before the vocals, gentle, clear and breathy, telling the story of tombs, shadows and stars before the bass solo over piano chords, and the atmosphere changes slightly before a progression from the piano leads into a solo with bass supporting – a lovely and clever interchange and reflection in the composition and arrangement. The piano takes the energy level up with chords and emphatic strikes before the vocals enter again and the atmosphere is taken down to gentler levels. The airiness of the voice adds contrast to the steady depth of the instruments and there is a lovely conversation of voice and sax for a while in the final section. ‘Marielyst’ starts with a drum solo which heralds the different feel to this number, Tim Giles showing why he was inducted into the royal Academy’s Honours list in 2016. The drumming is very engaging and varied. All too soon it is joined by the piano – not too soon because the piano is anything less than excellent but because the drum solo is so enjoyable, and sax. The number builds and develops, gaining both volume and momentum. Around 13 minutes of beautiful, reflective, intuitive and beautiful jazz is given over to the listener bit by bit, in layers, in small snippets and larger pieces until the track’s wholeness is revealed when it all comes together to create a oneness.  The longer the track goes on, the more you realise you are listening to a group who understand and bounce off each other yet allow space too. This is a great track and some of the solos are insane, Ed Jones reminiscent of Rufus Harley in some aspects or maybe Kirk The number contains delicacies of texture which reveals layers underneath with each listen. I am not even sure if the players realise the depth of some of the sections here and the delight with which discoveries are made with each consecutive listen.

‘Solstice’ is a contrast composed by Riaan Vosloo with its quiet bass opening before a cymbal crash comes and then piano and sax. The theme is quiet, the only slight distraction the reediness in Ed’s playing, but it also shows a musician more concerned about the effect of the whole and recording in the moment than the minutae of technicalities. In the latter half of the track, the sax takes on a life of its own, via the very capable hands of its player and there is a sense of energy and drive. The contrast between the niceties of the swinging, waltzy rhythms and the more free-flowing sections works really well.

‘Ebb and Flow’ for me is the jewel in the crown of a CD which by this point is already way beyond impressive. It begins with a gorgeous bass and sax discussion with percussion light and airy, then piano joins the conversation, imposing some decorum with harmonic chords before the conversation again takes over across but not obliquely to the piano, which maintains its presence. There then develops an (almost) free form jazz number which serves to show the range and depth of the box of tricks this quartet possess and know how to use. Each theme worked in by sax or piano is dissipated and put together again in different forms whilst still working round chords of the same root (or approximately in one or several places). A complete surprise and for me, verification of what I always suspected lurked behind the relatively sane playing I have observed from Ed Jones in the past – and the inspired short solos from piano, bass and drums also work well in this track.  The piano is manic at one point and drives with force whilst the drums pick up the energy and transfer them to the noise level, bass develops and adds to sections, especially when the piano develops the theme of a downward chord progression over which the sax enters and Jones adds his magic, bringing the total free wheeling aspect into an almost coherent format but maintaining that wonderful sense of freedom which only very experienced players can combine. A wonderful track.

I thoroughly enjoy listening to this CD and for me, this was a revelation and a surprise in so many ways. Ed veers away from the mundanacity of the paths which some of his contemporary acid jazz players chose. Jones has a strong individuality which is imprinted on his playing. There is also the sense of subtle influences of great players such as Wayne Shorter in some places and there is a sense he was weaned on Kirk and Coltrane. If you have ever wondered what good bop music is or how it is played, checking this out is probably a great place to start.

Personnel: Ed Jones tenor/soprano saxes. Composer tracks 1,2,3,4,6 – Ross Stanley: Piano – Riaan Vosloo : Double Bass/Composer Track 5 – Tim Giles: Drums – Brigette Beraha: Vocals/Lyrics Track

Bookings: ejqmusicuk@gmail.com – Website : www.edjonesjazz.co.uk  – Soundcloud: www.soundcloud.com/ed_jones  – Facebook:   www.facebook.com/edjonessax – For Your Ears Only Links: https://www.kudosrecords.co.uk/release/iacd022/ed-jones-quartet-for-your-ears-only.html  –  https://impossiblearkrecords.bandcamp.com/album/for-your-ears-only

Photos: Ed Jones and (c) info: all rights go to original recording artist/owner/photographer(s)

Last modified: July 15, 2018