Jazz breaking news: It's only just begun: Josh Arcoleo dazzles at the launch of his debut record

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Sometimes it's just so natural.

Winner of the Royal Academy of Music's inaugural Kenny Wheeler prize with his first record out as part of the award, sitting out front the great JBs saxophonist and arranger Pee Wee Ellis among the full house in the Vortex, and a fine band to his side, tenor saxophonist Josh Arcoleo leaned back and just let it all hang out at the Dalston venue last night.

Playing at the launch of new Edition records album Beginnings, released just two days before, with Phronesis pianist Ivo Neame, Kit Downes Trio bassist Calum Gourlay and KDT drummer James Maddren, Arcoleo was not one bit fazed by the high flying company, the same band that appears with him on his excellent debut album. Suddenly saxophone is where it's at on the Brit-Jazz scene.

With a sound a little like the spiritual JD Allen and equipped with his own bag of wonderfully evocative tunes Arcoleo came ready to slay the audience not with sheer firepower but with a fist inside a velvet glove. The title track ‘Beginnings’ was despite its title kept to the end of the first set, which followed a beautifully textured cocktail hour set downstairs from Alcyona on the recently tuned upright piano and the supremely rhythmic Paul Clarvis on drums, both now nicely settled into their weekly residency.

Arcoleo (the ‘l-eo’ tripping lightly of the tongue), unlike the up-for-it Blink pair, by contrast is a complete newcomer although as a teenager he picked up valuable touring work as a sideman to Pee Wee Ellis. There's clearly something in the water down Avalon way. Just 22, Arcoleo turned many a head among Jazzwise writers last year when the crystal ball was consulted for ones to watch in 2O12, and this performance more than lived up to the scribes’ predictions. With the unjaundiced optimism of youth, a wealth of good tunes of his own to hand, the means to deliver it and a communicative romanticism that recalls hints of a young Iain Ballamy, Arcoleo would be interesting just out of curiosity to hear with just bass and drums as JD Allen does on I Am I Am.

Arcoleo keeps it simple in the writing department, avoiding the cliches of big bruising anthems, twee pastoralism and the ineffable between-the-lines ruminating debutants can itch away at. With the magisterial Gourlay as his polestar picking out the middle of the chords and the hugely impressive Neame finding the tonic and points of transition, and floating beyond the bar lines on dazzling runs, Maddren was left dangling amiably enough to kick along which Arcoleo knew how to handle coming in as late as he dared listening to Neame's hints and feints,letting the melody linger. It could have been a sentimental journey but instead was a beautifully conceived statement of intent. The shaggy Gourlay was wonderfully composed and played the bass like some sort of braveheart Alex Salmond would have been proud of. The best bit was the multi-directional Interstellar Space-type episode when Maddren and Arcoleo summoned the spirit of Rashied Ali and Coltrane for five minutes of sheer abandon, a brazier fierce enough you'd almost think to warm the wintriest of nights. – Stephen Graham

The Josh Arcoleo Quartet play the North London Tavern in Kilburn on 19 February and the Jazzwise To The Power of 15 festival at Ronnie Scott’s on 15 March 

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