First House


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First House was a group of young British jazzers that featured star pianist Django Bates (remember the British magazine The Wire falling all over itself to make him, Andy Sheppard, and Courtney Pine the "new thing" in jazz [read: the new Brit hope]), and these are his first "commercial" recordings. All good and well. But First House was also a powerhouse improvising unit of young men who were not destined or even willing to take the easy way out: They traveled neither the road of neo-traditionalism nor the outsider's firebrand of "free jazz." As evidenced here, Ken Stubbs is, for a young man in his 20s, a brilliant composer. His works mark the majority of what is collected here. He understands dynamics, tension, texture, color, intervals, and most of all melody. His sense of these elements is complex but deeply satisfying. (Check the melody in "The Journeyers to the East.") As a saxophonist, he is talented as well, though a few more years on the soprano to establish his individual identity wouldn't hurt: He comes from the Coltrane/Shepp school, and you can hear both of those men in every line he plays. His alto playing, however, is not only individual -- it's stellar. Bates, despite the stupid critical acclaim of him being a "savior" of British jazz, is a fine pianist who comes from the Andrew Hill and Mal Waldron schools of lyricism. One can also hear the influence of late-era Bill Evans in his improvised ideas. The other two, Mick Hutton and Martin France, make for a solid if generic rhythm section. But these musicians blow and blow hard, and when they're not blowing they're swinging, and when they're not swinging they're improvising on one of Stubbs' outlandish melodies and carrying it out to the edges of its viability, as in "Grammenos" and "Bridge Call." This is an exciting and auspicious debut; it's too bad there aren't more recordings from this band.

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