- 1. Mushroom Effect (05:06)
- 2. The Winkel Picker (08:33)
- 3. Alien Landscape (08:48)
- 4. Mr Mish Mash (07:31)
- 5. Computers (04:41)
- 6. Six Degrees (05:57)
- 7. Emotional Baggage (08:30)
- 8. Both Sides Now (05:51)
Compassionate Dictatorship is a four piece band co-led by guitarist Jez Franks and saxophonist Tori Freestone. “Cash Cows” is their second album and follows in the wake of “Coup D’Etat” (also FMR) released in 2007.
Franks divides his time between London and Leeds and is a graduate of Leeds College of Music where he now teaches. He has played with a number of musicians on the London scene including members of the F-ire, Loop and E-17 collectives. My own familiarity with his previous work comes from live and recorded appearances with Yorkshire based tenor titan Rod Mason and with trumpeter Tom Arthurs’ group Centripede.
Freestone is also a Leeds graduate and is gradually establishing herself on The London scene moving in similar musical circles to Franks. I recently enjoyed her performance at the 2010 Cheltenham Jazz Festival where she appeared on flute as part of trumpeter Rory Simmons’ ensemble Fringe Magnetic.
If anything I know more about the band’s rhythm pairing. Danish born bassist Jasper Hoiby is something of a Jazzmann favourite for his work with a whole raft of bands including his own trio Phronesis plus Kairos 4tet, the Ivo Neame Quartet and Jim Hart’s Gemini. Drummer Ben Reynolds has recorded with the Loop collective bands Fraud, Fringe Magnetic and the John Turville Trio. Since “Cash Cows” was recorded Reynolds has been superseded by another famously busy musician the brilliant James Maddren who is concurrently working in groups led by pianists Gwilym Simcock and Kit Downes, guitarist Jonathan Bratoeff and others.
“Cash Cows” consists of six originals with the composing duties shared between Franks and Freestone, the guitarist being the main contributor. There are also two “outside tracks”, “Computers” by Salisbury based guitarist and songwriter Pete Aves and a superb Freestone arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” which closes the album.
With their guitar/saxophone front line Compassionate Dictatorship are sometimes reminiscent of the brilliant Partisans, a comparison that is re-enforced by their tricky, complex, yet thoroughly accessible music. Both groups favour jagged, mercurial melody lines and clever, time shifting rhythms. Compassionate Dictatorship are less obviously rock influenced than their more experienced colleagues who boast the explosive Gene Calderazzo at the drums and as yet neither Franks nor Freestone can match the compositional prowess of Julian Siegel or Phil Robson. Having said that “Cash Cows” is still a thoroughly enjoyable album with much to engage the listener.
Franks’ opening “Mushroom Effect” is typical of the group’s sound with a slippery, sparky theme stated by Freestone, a surprisingly powerful and forthright tenor player for those of us who’ve only heard her on flute. Hoiby and Reynolds are correspondingly busy in the rhythm section with the big toned and boned bassist soloing briefly. Franks’ intelligent chording and comping is a good foil for his front line partner on this interesting and energetic opener.
Also by Franks “The Winkel Picker” is full of long languid saxophone and guitar lines with Hoiby and Reynolds imparting just the right amount of propulsion. Franks is the first soloist here weaving his way through some intricate patterns before Freestone follows him with a slow burning solo on tenor.
Franks’ “Alien Landscape” is a kind of abstract ballad with Freestone on feathery soprano floating airily above Reynolds’ busily brushed rhythms. Hoiby again impresses with a resonant, lyrical solo and Franks guitar probes thoughtfully on his own solo. The latter stages of the tune are something of a feature for Reynolds whose drumming manages to be busy and restrained simultaneously. Paradoxical as that may seem the track as a whole is both elegant and effective.
The mood changes with the playful “Mr Mish Mash”. Here the group take the chance to rock out with Freestone blowing strongly above powerful but agile funk and rock rhythms. Franks gets low down and dirty on guitar but there are fleeting, more obviously jazz passages too. Great fun.
Aves’ “Computers” unwinds slowly and coolly. There’s a song like quality and it may well be that the piece originally had a set of lyrics. Freestone’s tenor states the theme, there’s a brief solo from Hoiby and a beguiling solo from Franks, probably his best of the set. It’s the kind of persuasive piece that gently brings you under its spell.
Co-written by Franks and Freestone “Six Degrees” is a return to the tricky math jazz of the opener with Franks’ quirky comping giving the composition a delightfully mischievous edge. His solo is also engagingly idiosyncratic and the rest of the group join in the fun with relish.
Franks’ “Emotional Baggage” begins as a tender ballad with Freestone’s warm tenor, contrasting nicely with Franks’ coolly fluid guitar. Hoiby’s bass growl and Reynolds’ neatly understated drumming complete the picture but the tune gains a greater urgency as Freestone pushes at the parameters, probing and exploring before everything is resolved pretty much symmetrically.
Finally Freestone’s arrangement of Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” with the saxophonist on keening, flute like soprano is just lovely and ends the album on a gorgeous note.
“Cash Cows” is a sturdy slice of contemporary British jazz, not quite distinctive enough to be regarded as a classic but eminently enjoyable nevertheless. The discovery of Freestone as a highly accomplished saxophonist is a considerable bonus. She exhibits great versatility and a surprising amount of power throughout.
Ian Mann - the Jazz Mann