When a young artist like Tom Arthurs—still only 26—gets feted as the Next Big Thing, the pressure to satisfy the technicolour expectations of media, record company and audience can really mess with his head. Next thing you know, he'll release an album which attempts to climb too high too fast... and then there's tears.
Following the wall-to-wall acclaim that greeted his 2003 debut album, Centripede, and his nomination as a Rising Star in the BBC Jazz Awards the following year, Arthurs could easily have fallen into this trap. So how good it is to report that with this, his second, long in gestation album, the trumpeter and flugelhornist demonstrates career management as measured, assured and mature as his playing and composing. The guy isn't aiming at an easy target, and he isn't going to be rushed. (Arthurs is fortunate, of course, to be surrounded by some wise and older heads—both within the F-IRE Collective, of which he is a longtime member, and on the Babel label, whose founder, Oliver Weindling, steers with a light touch, allowing artists to follow their own developing creative instincts).
Squash Recipe is the antithesis of a grandstanding, look-at-me album. It's pensive, understated, unflashy, mostly pastel-coloured chamber music, equal parts free improvisation and contemporary conservatoire—and an equal-footing collective effort between the musicians. (The members of the trio have been friends since they met in '01 at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada). Arthurs wrote three of the tunes on the disc, drummer/percussionist Joe Sorbara three, and pianist Bruce McKinnon two. (Brahms' “Exercise #15” additonally gets a brief, respectful mutation.)
Arthurs' opening “Overwrought,” a dislocated art-funk ostinato which is passed around all three musicians, is the most heated and upbeat track. It's exhilarating stuff, both cerebral and visceral, and a more star-hungry artist might have been tempted to maintain the groove through the album. But elsewhere the musicians converse softly with each other. Sorbara is heard clicking and tapping on percussion more often than he opens the throttle on the traps; Arthurs avoids fireworks in favour of full, fat, unhurried notes, though he lets fly with some glorious smears, growls and glisses on McKinnon's “Banffalo” and Sorbara's ”Cerebral Blip.” And McKinnon is at times positively Satie-esque.
Arthurs' career trajectory may be slow-burning, but the quiet achievement that is Squash Recipe is further evidence—along with his work with Arthurs.Hoiby.Ritchie and with Icarus' Ollie Brown—that it will sure enough reach the heights. In its own sweet time.
-- Chris May; allaboutjazz [dot] com (22/02/2006)
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