Jake Baxendale and Jasmine Lovell-Smith: Sanctuary (Paint Box/digital outlets)

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Leaves of Grass Suite: Opening
Jake Baxendale and Jasmine Lovell-Smith: Sanctuary (Paint Box/digital outlets)
The title of this album lead by saxophonists Jake Baxendale and Jasmine Lovell-Smith became prescient when the world dived into various lockdowns.

The two three-part suites here -- Baxendale's Whitman-inspired Leaves of Grass and Lovell-Smith's title piece reflecting on her return to New Zealand after years abroad – were all conceived before those events but were recorded in a window of opportunity in July 2020.

And given the musical and emotional complexity of these pieces (as well as two stand-alone compositions) the 11-piece ensemble was on remarkable form to get these recorded in just two days.

As befits Whitman's Leaves of Grass, Baxendale's suite opens with a bucolic tone set by Anita Schwabe's piano and Lovell-Smith's soprano before the full horn section enters with an Ellington-like romanticism. Things become more swinging, energetic, bluesy and oddly woozy (trombone from Kaito Walley will do that to you) in the lengthy second part and – after a brief transitional piece by percussion player Hikurangi Schaverien-Kaa – we segue into the bluesy swing of I Sing The Body Electric which allows guitarist Aleister James Campbell to feature as well as that disciplined horn section (Ben Hunt's trumpet worth following).

It's a sharply conceived suite of discrete but integrated movements and – after Lovell-Smith's stand-alone, moody and understated Noche Obscura – we are into her Sanctuary suite which adopts a more melancholy tone as befits the idea behind it.

However as before – and this is why these two suites are so well paired – a sense of warm sentiment and romanticism emerges as the energy levels rise up and retreat, her soprano takes the mood back to reflection.

Then after a quiet interlude (the pause for thought during the return home) bass clarinets from Baxendale and Blair Latham usher in the passages of Strangely Familiar with that sense of slight unease the title suggests before things become more chaotic in the energetic finale as we segue into the lovely, resigned mood of Inevitable.

The album closes with Baxendale's Sleep: A Glimpse of Plimpse (sorry, no idea either!), a piece which evokes the disconnect from reality which shapeless dreams allow.

In a jazz world which often celebrates soloists – and both Baxendale (notably in The Jac) and Lovell-Smith (with her group Towering Poppies) have stood tall in that field – ensemble playing such as this is often underrated.

But this ensemble, having fine and challenginglydiverse material to work with, prove that there is much to be said for the evocative, cinematic breath of horns, guitar and a rhythm section working in unison to realise collective and individual visions.

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You can hear and buy this album at bandcamp here

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