Julian Argüelles – Tetra (2015)

Julian Argüelles - Tetra (2015)
Artist: Julian Argüelles
Album: Tetra
Genre: Contemporary Jazz, Fusion
Origin: Austria
Released: 2015
Quality: mp3, 320 kbps
Hugger Mugger (00:01:42)
Yada Yada (00:06:12)
Hurley Burley (00:07:36)
Hocus Pocus (00:07:00)
Nitty Gritty (00:10:36)
Asturias (00:08:15)
Fugue (00:05:40)
Iron Pyrite (00:10:22)


Since first coming to the attention of the UK jazz public in the late 1980s as the youngest member of the seminal Loose Tubes the saxophonist and composer Julian Arguelles has gone on to become one of this country’s most respected jazz musicians, a player, writer and arranger with an international reputation.

Since making his leadership début with the superb quartet album “Phaedrus” in 1991 Arguelles has recorded a string of albums in a variety of formats ranging from solo to big band. In doing so he has worked with leading jazz musicians from the UK, Europe and the US, maintaining a remarkably high standard of creativity throughout. It’s probably fair to say that all of the music that he has committed to disc is well worth hearing and that much of it is indispensable.

In 2014 Arguelles released “Circularity”, his first album in an orthodox jazz quartet setting since “Phaedrus” more than twenty years earlier. Released on the Italian Cam Jazz imprint “Circularity” was an excellent record featuring a stellar line up of Dave Holland on bass, Martin France at the drums and the late, great John Taylor on piano.

This was hardly the kind of line up that was going to go out on the road and with his passion for the quartet format renewed Arguelles set about about forming a new group featuring some of the UK’s top up and coming musicians. The new band was called Tetra and featured Kit Downes on piano, Sam Lasserson on double bass and James Maddren on drums, a pride of young lions who these days are nearly as busy as their illustrious predecessors.

“Tetra” is an album title as well as a band name and the eight pieces on the record were composed by Arguelles specifically for this line up. Originally conceived as a continuous suite but now broken down into separate entities the music to be heard on “Tetra” retains a strong sense of purpose, a quality that is no way undermined by the rhyming, sometimes jocular, tune titles. The quartet have been touring this music for some time and I was lucky enough to hear a sneak preview at the 2015 Cheltenham Jazz Festival when it was performed at a superb show at the Parabola Arts Centre by an extended line up featuring the core quartet plus George Crowley (tenor sax, bass clarinet), Percy Pursglove (trumpet & flugelhorn) and Kieran McLeod (trombone).

The album begins with the fleeting but attractive “Hugger Mugger” which features the ethereal sound of Arguelles on celeste alongside piano and bass, with Lasserson very much to the fore.
In keeping with the album’s origins of a suite the music segues almost imperceptibly into the following “Yada Yada” with Lasserson’s opening bass motif pointing the way. The piece has a strong rhythmic undertow throughout, thanks not only to Lasserson but also to Maddren’s colourful, polyrhythmic drumming and Downes’ intense piano grooves. The sturdy foundation established by his younger colleagues allows Arguelles room to swoop on soar on tenor as he combines a born improviser’s sense of adventure with a huge, burnished tone and an easy fluency rooted in years of experience. Between them these opening two tracks make for a terrific start to this exceptional new album.

Fragments of the suite concept that originally inspired the album remain in the solo introductions that presage some of the compositions. Thus Maddren ushers in “Hurley Burley” with a well constructed and highly musical drum feature. When he finally settles on a brisk cymbal pulse he points the way for Arguelles’ darting, mercurial soprano saxophone phrases and subsequent solo. Downes often doubles the leader’s melody lines but when finally unleashed the pianist delivers a joyously cascading solo.

It’s Arguelles himself who introduces “Hocus Pocus” with a sublime passage of meditative solo saxophone. Downes’ piano arpeggios then usher in a delightful lilting, folk like melody featuring Arguelles’ airy soprano. Lasserson takes the first conventional solo, his playing melodic and highly dexterous. Downes piano solo is flowingly lyrical but also highly inventive and is subtly propelled by Maddren’s brushed drums.

Although born in Birmingham Arguelles has roots in the Iberian peninsula and while the folk music of Portugal informed “Hurley Burley” it’s the sound of Spain that colours the ten and a half minute “Nitty Gritty”, the lengthiest track on the album. A reflective passage of solo piano from the excellent Downes introduces the piece before Arguelles’ tenor brings a brooding Spanish feel to the music, a sense of ‘duende’ if you will. The saxophonist’s playing is imperious on a solo that combines fluency with gravitas and that characteristically rounded tone. Downes’ own solo on piano keeps faith with the mood and Lasserson and Maddren turn in understated but totally sympathetic performances.

“Asturias”, inspired by the vocal folk music of north west Spain, continues the Iberian theme. Like the earlier “Hurley Burley” the piece is introduced by an extended solo passage from Maddren at the drums. The tune is very much a celebration of Arguelles’ roots with its joyous folk like melodies and the occasional references to jazz and popular standards (did I really catch snatches of “Blue Skies” and maybe even “Moon River” in there?). Lasserson takes the first solo at the bass and is typically tuneful and fluent. He’s followed by Arguelles, soaring magnificently on tenor. A word too for Maddren’s drumming, the quiet bustle of which is inventive and colourful throughout.

It’s over to Downes to introduce the complexities of the tricky “Fugue” which features some stunning unison passages incorporating the entire band. There’s some dazzling interplay between Arguelles on tenor and Downes at the piano on one of the album’s most intense and busy pieces.

At the septet performance in Cheltenham Arguelles informed us that the closing “Iron Pyrite” is loosely based upon the Stone Roses song “Fool’s Gold”, the result of a German radio commission which saw Arguelles creating jazz arrangements of British pop and rock songs. It opens with a bass and drum dialogue between Lasserson and Maddren, the groove that they eventually establish helping to underpin the tune and fuel the uninhibited soloing of Arguelles on tenor plus the spirited exchanges between Downes and Maddren – including the drummer’s own suitably volcanic solo.

“Tetra” is an excellent album that impresses with the quality of both the writing and the playing. It’s easily on a par with “Phaedrus” and “Circularity” and ranks right up there with Arguelles’ best work, performing with this superb young band certainly seems to have given him a new lease of life.

It’s almost impossible to think that an album this good was recorded in a single day and mixed in two, although given the fact that the material had obviously been comprehensively road tested maybe it’s not THAT surprising. Nevertheless hats off to engineers Alex Killpartrick and Steve Arguelles whose efforts support the group supremely well.
by Ian Mann