Groove Razors podczas koncertu inaugurującego ich pierwszy album
Founded in 2009 by pianist and composer Tomasz Zyrmont and drummer Laurie Lowe, musically this ensemble presents something of a mixed bag, both stylistically and generically. Zyrmont’s songs are obviously accomplished pieces of writing and were performed with great verve and fluency. But it was just how generically permissive, or flexible, his compositions seemed that made them so engaging. Aside from the more obvious funk and R&B-inspired grooves and rhythms that typify much jazz-fusion, there was also a tendency (most apparent in ballad numbers such as ‘Blask’ and ‘Ballad for Venus’) towards a more ambient, relaxed sound. It hinted at the more commercially ‘accessible’ genres of chillout or even smooth jazz. These slower numbers were fairly standard as far as ballads go, but they stood out in large part due to frontman Alan Short’s sensitive and often-mesmerising saxophone playing. Indeed, while his spoken introductions may have betrayed an air of befuddled unworldliness, Short’s playing (whether on alto sax or flute) was generally stunning. As for the remaining members of the quintet, Lorenzo Bassignani was reliable and inventive on bass, and special guest Alex Hutchings often stole the show with his guitar solos.
The group was at its best in those songs that successfully combined, or juxtaposed, constituent elements of this ambient ballad style with material that was more upbeat or rhythmically complex. It gave the musicians the opportunity to explore and exploit a truly broad expressive range. Short’s melancholic sax solo at the start of ‘Inspired Thoughts’, for instance, sounded almost like it belonged on a film noir soundtrack. But this gave way every so often to a more buoyant melodic riff, before lapsing into extended upbeat improvisation (again, Short’s screaming alto was quite something to experience). The riveting and darkly introverted ‘Night with You’, which followed, exaggerated the process but in reverse. A driving, repetitive melodic figure played in unison at the start dissolved into a hypnotic web of melodic figurations in the keyboards. On second listening, you can hear how these two different musical ‘worlds’ are alternated and developed (although I wonder if that initial unison riff becomes too repetitive when it’s heard again later in the song). ‘Spinning Groove’, whose rapid opening almost threatened to spin out of control, suddenly descended into a wonderfully broad, electronic soundscape before being recombined with Lowe’s unrelenting drum strokes.
What makes these numbers stand out is the way in which Zyrmont has crafted them into genuinely self-contained pieces that are also full of stylistic, generic and textural variety. This becomes more apparent through repeated listening, and at the same time as revealing deeper complexities within the music, the Groove Razors’ eponymously titled album successfully captures that same sense of tight, yet spontaneous ensemble playing that was so impressive live. No doubt this is thanks in large part to producer and recording engineer Norbert Skopinski, and for me ‘Night with You’ and ‘Blask’ stand out in particular.
Inevitably, however, the one thing you always miss on studio recordings are those little moments of improvisation that can make a live performance so special. Short’s saxophone fanfare while duetting with Hutchings in ‘Duke Dance’ (which doesn’t actually appear on the album) was pure musical irony. Similarly, Hutchings’ and Zyrmont’s conversational duet in ‘Tatitatune’ (which closed the first half) was compelling to say the least. For a band that was only formed last year, it was great to witness each of these musicians simultaneously interacting and engaging with this stylistically varied musical material with such conviction. It spells exciting developments for the future.
By James Savage-Hanford