Nick Granville Group: Refractions (Rattle Jazz)

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Nick Granville Group: Ornette-Ology
Nick Granville Group: Refractions (Rattle Jazz)

Some months ago New Zealand guitarist Nick Granville answered our Famous Elsewhere Jazz Questionnaire on the strength of what was then his forthcoming album Refractions.

Well, that album has now arrived so we direct you back to his answers here because it also gives you a potted biography of his creativity and past work, which means we don't have to do it again now.

At that time Granville acknowledged this album was influenced by his admiration for John Scofield and anyone who is familiar with Sco's tune titles (which he told me his wife think up, as if to get himself off the hook) might note the amusing similarity here.

Among the quirky titles on Refractions are Shuffleupagas, Pinched Nerve, Tossed Salad and Scrambled Eggs, Ornette-Ology, New Orleans on a Long Lead and Muddy Side Up.

Here -- with saxophonist Roger Manins, bassist Olivier Holland and drummer Ron Samsom who seem to have become Rattle Jazz's in-house dream team -- Granville certainly brings much of Sco's melodic angularity and slurry wit to his playing on material like the slippery blues of Shuffleupagas and the chipping rhythms of Gloves Off.

But there's some earthy blues here too in the brittle and bruised New Orleans on a Long Lead which strips itself right back a couple of times in its nine-plus minutes and lets Granville sting'n'slur and Manins get a little darkly bluesy'n'woozy (it's been a long night in the Seventh Ward) then Holland walk those ill-lit streets in a solo which sounds like furtive footsteps. Then Samsom and Granville start bring it al back home, Samsom delivering some taut rolls and off-kilter emphasis.

It's terrific.

And so is the equally bluesy if rather more benign Muddy Slide Up which takes the familiar and turns it upside down.

Both the fluid Pinched Nerve and (obviously) the more stately and serious Ornette-Ology refer more to Ornette Coleman than Sco in their idiosyncratic variations on blues forms, but in many ways they also sound the more conservative pieces here.

These musicians -- that generation between young players and senior statesmen -- are constantly finding individual modes of expression within established forms or the tropes of those they admire, and Refractions (the perfect title for what is here) exemplifies that.

This is a fine album but there are certainly places where you wonder what they might come up with if they step just that bit further away from their preconceived thinking. 

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