The summery sounds of cool jazz peaked in the late 1950s with the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s popular hit “Take Five.” Since then, the idiom’s breezy lyricism and light-touch rhythms have been bypassed by successive jazz generations, though legacy projects referencing founding figures like trumpeter Chet Baker and saxophonists Art Pepper and Gerry Mulligan have kept the form in the public eye.
In this context, alto saxophonist Allison Neale’s airy tone and melodic flow are something of a rarity in contemporary jazz. But as with her strongest influence Paul Desmond, there is a steely centre to her wispy tonal palette and the melodies she conjures from deep within make her music sound remarkably fresh.
Here she unpicks a mixed repertoire of American songbook staples and well-chosen jazz covers with an undemonstrative UK rhythm section featuring the experienced Dave Green on double bass and drummer Steve Brown. American guitarist Peter Bernstein delivers harmonic depth, rhythmic thrust and is a second lead voice. And though Neale and Bernstein had hardly met — the album was recorded in a single session while Bernstein was briefly touring the UK in 2019 — the blend of sax and guitar borders on magic.
The set begins with a lyrical “Darn That Dream” taken as a waltz and continues with an elegiac “Midnight Sun” supported by Green’s counterpoint bass. Neale’s alto curls round each theme with a pure tone, hints of vibrato round out lines with a sensuous touch and Bernstein’s gently strummed guitar adds velvet textures and supple ornamentation.
Other standards include the bossa nova number “Quietly There”, the medium lope “Lollipops and Roses” and the ballad “I Should Care”, a delightful sax/guitar duet which closes the set. But it’s the jazzier covers which make the album stand out. “Split Kick”, written by Horace Silver, fiendishly harmonises sax and guitar while Jimmy Raney’s “Motion” delivers twisty unison lines at pace. And as contrast, John Lewis’s “2 Degrees East 3 Degrees West” digs into the blues.
‘Quietly There’ is released by Ubuntu Records