Sam Crowe Group – Towards the Centre of Everything ★★★★

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Whirlwind Recordings WR4632
Sam Crowe (p, Fender Rhodes, kys), Will Vinson (as), Adam Waldmann (ss), Will Davies (g), Alan Hampton (b, el b), Mark Guiliana (d) and Emilia Mårtensson (v). Rec. February 2012

With his remarkably assured debut Synaesthesia in 2011, the Londonbased pianist Sam Crowe looked like a young man with a big future as a bandleader. As with his sax sideman Adam Waldmann, he is an openminded contemporary musician but with a love of soulful, song-like melody. An ex-Trinity student, Crowe kicks on with an even more impressive effort that has a real drive and free-flow energy about it. That’s got something to do with the turnaround in personnel. Joining up are a few young New York heavyweights, primarily the rhythm section of Gretchen Parlato sideman Alan Hampton on bass and Mark Guiliana on drums. Waldmann sounds excellent on soprano and shares horn duties with the more rhythmically intense, bop-orientated British New Yorker Will Vinson on alto.

The John Taylor-influenced pianist’s background on the Bristol scene comes a little to the foreground on the updated acoustic drum ’n’ bass-ish ‘The Global Brain’ and there are nods to Radiohead via Brad Mehldau on ‘Back Into the Earth’ that also features Emilia Mårtensson’s wordless vocal as well as an excellent contribution from the Pat Metheny-esque guitarist Will Davies. Crowe’s themes are deceptively simple, built on briefly outlined vamps and melodies, but perfectly set up a fluidity in group interplay for the improvisational passages. Thoroughly recommended.

– Selwyn Harris