Dominic Lash Quartet

Opabinia
Babel BDV 13122

Sophisticated samples of top-flight British Jazz – even if two of the quartet members are Spanish – Opabinia also demonstrates that bassist Dominic Lash has come into his own as a composer as well as a player. Oxford-based, although he usually gigs in London and has spent some time in New York, Lash has worked extensively with American trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum and Canadian drummer Harris Eisenstadt plus Britons like saxophonist Evan Parker and John Butcher.

Less gnarly than straight-ahead with a twist, the 11 tunes here flow with flexible looseness. Additionally they show off the sidemen’s skills to their best advantage. Not there is much question of sourcing invention and cooperation from the three others. Pianist Alexander Hawkins, who is part of the Convergence Quartet along with Lash, Bynum and Eisenstadt, also leads his own bands and has developed other long-term playing relationships. Now Barcelona-based, drummer Javier Carmona, who lived in London for a spell, plays with UK residents like guitarist John Russell. As for Madrid-born tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Ricardo Tejero, he’s been in the UK since 2001, working with experimenters like trumpeter Roland Ramanen.

Despite Carmona co-writing one tune there’s no hints of an Iberian influence on any of the tracks. Neither is there anything particularly British about them. Nor is Opabinia studded with bull fiddle fireworks. On the contrary, except for particular intros that rest on tropes such as harmonized string glissandi, wood-rending power plus cumulative string pulses, Lash rarely moves to the forefront. Instead the vanguard space is permeated with balanced solos from the pianist and reedist. All inventively combine to broaden the narrative as it progresses. Culmination is “Piano Part Two/Catachretic”, the more-than 14½-minute final track.

Carmona is equally accommodating and with his accompaniment losing none of its power as he slaps and clanks, Tejero and Hawkins are regularly given their head(s). Offering enough scope for the two are tracks such as “Play”, “Lullaby of the Limpet (For Ella)” and “Azalpho”. The last, for instance makes evident Tejero’s chameleon-like projections he moves among (Stan) Getzian smoothness and Sonny Stitt-like reed bites that meet rasping key action from the pianist. The second clips away like a standard Bebop line as gentling clarinet slurps coat stop-time piano riffs so that resulting product is swinging and smooth. As for the self-evident “Play”, Hawkins’ jumps and rolls keep things lively, only turning harsh as a way to stave off unrefined reflux and flutter-tongued vibrations from the saxophonist.

A mini-suite on its own, “Piano Part Two/Catachretic”, gains its title both from Hawkins’ exposition and the others response. Sombre and echoing, the keyboard introduction eventually gives way to well though-out swing plus dramatic cascades which intensifies the narrative. At the same time bubbling sax riffs comment on the piano work which latterly intersect with Tejero’s solo. As Lash’s precise scrubs hold the beat, and Carmona bell shaking and stick clanks join Hawkins in deconstructing the theme, the rewarding finale reaches a level of intensified drama.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Opabinia: 1. Isthmus 2. Play 3. Waiting for Javier/Luzern 4. Hallucigenia 5. Lullaby of the Limpet (For Ella) 6. Azalpho 7. Halt the Busterman 8. Wiwaxia 9. Double File 10. Anomalocaris 11. Piano Part Two/Catachretic

Personnel: Opabinia: Ricardo Tejero (tenor saxophone and clarinet); Alexander Hawkins (piano); Dominic Lash (bass) and Javier Carmona (drums)