Strange Fruit: Whole (Odd)

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Strange Fruit: Dream to Return
Strange Fruit: Whole (Odd)

A long time between drinks, as they say: more than a decade I think since this Auckland jazz group released an album - and that seems tardy or just plain careless.

Their two previous outings - the self-titled debut in 94 and Eavesdropping in 97 - were very enjoyable affairs and in Barbara Cartwright they had a vocalist who was sultry and memorable. So that means this one gets straight to the top of the pile - and it doesn't disappoint.

The opener Dream to Return lays out the territory: Cartwright's languid vocals, Steve Sherriff's equally easy sax lines, and it dispenses with a chorus in favour of a backing vocal coda. Really smart stuff.

Sherriff's playing is their aural fingerprint: sinuously melodic lines which are assured and unwavering. But also here is band leader John Key's piano which guides and probes, comps with more than mere chords or phrases, and takes canny solos which stretch - but not far - beyond the laid-back mood.

And this album is very much a mood piece: the soft Latin shuffle in Guided by Voices; the gentle and atmospheric quasi-funk of Reaching For the T (with Alex Griffith's solid bass beneath Key's trickling then increasingly muscular piano solo); the leisurely ballad RJP . . .

I don't think the sweet version of Elvis Costello's Alison works ("put out the big light" means this song is darker than the delivery it is given) but there's much to like about everything else. And the 80s-styled upbeat closer Hang Seng Surprise hints at another direction they could profitably explore.

This is jazz to go with your favourite wine, easy on the ear and yet worth paying attention to also.

I guess we'll hear from them again in 2019? Let's hope Strange Fruit (an inappropriate name if it refers to that tragic song) don't leave it quite so long next time. 

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Pimmy G. Mayfair - Aug 12, 2009

Hi Graham, I stumbled over this searching for another band called Strange Fruit as I own their 1982 LP entitled 'Debut' on President Records. Features Kiwi drummer Roger Sellers fresh from playing in Ian Carr's Nucleus I believe.. real tasty fusiony fare. Do you know it? 'Cos it's the only copy I've ever seen, presumably quite scarce..? BTW I met you once when I delivered a tape of my AK '90s band 'Think Tank' to you personally at the NZ Herald heh heh. Our guitarist was a mate of Julian and 'Braintree' at the time I think also.

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