Vicky Tilson Quartet – Mojo Risin’ ★★★

F-ire Presents F-IRE CD79

Have you ever bought an album and put it on in the car one day and then never taken it out of the CD player because you love listening to it so much? This is one of those albums. My whole review could stop right here, but I’m guessing you probably want to know a bit more, like who’s playing on it and what sort of jazz it is. Mojo Rising is west country-based double bassist Vicky Tilson’s third album, and she has written all the material on it. Her quartet features Dee Byrne on alto, Stuart Fiddler on guitar and Reinis Axelsson on drums.

It is a joyous adventure from start to finish, passing through some splendid scenery to a place far from home. The opening track, ‘Only the Brave’ gives a clue as to what sort of intrepid travellers this band is composed of, Byrne and Fiddler’s equally firm tone and laconic phrasing brilliantly juxtaposed. ‘Black Dog’ is no doubt a nod to a bleaker frame of mind, with Byrne’s horn at the outset sounding ratty and obstreperous, while Tilson patiently leads her away into a lighter swung feel momentarily, before Fiddler gives advice from a more latin perspective, accented by Axelsson’s crisp Cuban patterns, delivering the horn in an infinitely better state of mind than it started out. ‘Better Late Than Never’ is very aptly named, as I wasn
t as keen on it to begin with, but its modest gospelesque tune eventually got right under my skin, and it’s the one I’m most likely to sing along to. There’s space, understatement and pathos throughout the album, as well as proper story-telling, vigorous vamps, gutsy bluesy moments, as well as an irresistible funkiness here and there. The line-up is so secure and supportive of one another, they are all able to stretch out and bask in the accompaniment of the other three. I say secure, but I don’t mean safe - they’re all taking risks, but it doesn’t ever sound forced or wayward.

The core of the album lies in ‘Headlovin’’, incisive and complex harmonically while coming across as simple and highly funky. The dissonant combination of the bass figure with jangly guitar chord tones and then the main tune over the top works like a jazz version of a song by The Fall (which in my book is high praise!), through which Byrne embroiders a solo of shifting patterns and moody fuzz. Fiddler responds with an equally reckless solo before reverting to the main riff. Actually, for all the harmonic interest on this track, it’s the drumming that really brings it alive, especially during the extended outro where the band members trade with each other, swapping the urgent rock feel for a languid swung one, slipping between each other effortlessly in short snappy bursts until it’s just bass and drums left before the final reprise of the main tune. Awesome stuff.

By way of contrast, we are given ‘Pas de Tout’, which starts as a gracious elegy with arpeggiated guitar backings and a slow, dark melody on alto. I love how this develops, picking up momentum and vigour, handing over to bass and guitar to work it into an easygoing meandering minor piece. The chord sequence offers a lovely workout; the saxophone comes back soulful and vivid, with Tilson then weaving her own brand of magic before it draws to a mellow close.

I think of the album is like one of those tasting menus, comprising nine courses in total, where nothing’s over salty or rich, it’s all beautifully judged, the flavours are inspired and delectable, and when you’ve eaten it all, you want to go back to the beginning and start all over again. Tilson makes it all sound very easy, but like every album, Mojo Risin’ represents a tremendous feat of writing, playing, mixing, mastering and sound design. Be sure to give it a listen!

– Sarah Chaplin

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