Monday, May 13, 2013

Alexis Cairns “This Is New To Me” album review

Citing her early influences when growing up in Newcastle in the 1980’s as the saxophone solos on Huey Lewis and the News and Duran Duran songs, Alexis Cairns began playing clarinet whilst in middle school. She swapped instruments three years later to saxophone and gained a grounding in performance in a number of local concert bands. Studying the early development of jazz, and exposure to the music of Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and Duke Ellington whilst studying for A-levels, led to a love of jazz which has persisted to this day. Moving to Leeds to study at the university and Leeds College of Music created a number of teaching and performance opportunities. Her debut album “This Is New To Me”, featuring Alexis on tenor saxophone, Al MacSween on piano, Emlyn Vaughan on bass and Kris Wright on drums, consists of tracks written by Alexis with arrangements by the three other members of her quartet.  “Third Time Lucky” and “Flux Capacitor” are vibrant and brisk in their approach featuring comfortable soloing and crisp production. Slightly funkier in character, “Just Izz” illustrates the influence saxophonist Michael Brecker has on her sound. Anyone familiar with the “Heavy Metal Be-Bop” album will be familiar with that distinctive resonance. “This Is New To Me” flows elegantly with sumptuous phrasing, whilst “That’s How It’s Gonna Be” swings infectiously.

By this time the listener may realise that whatever the character of the tune, the personality of the playing remains a constant. This is testament to the excellence of the saxophone playing on this release, that an individual voice has become recognisable. The pace mellows for “The Visitor” and “To Have and To Hold” which feature tantalizing bass and piano soloing with seductive saxophone lines which bring to mind Coltrane at his most passionate. In terms of compositional influence, Pat Metheny is referenced as a major authority, and there is an essence of pure Metheny in many of these arrangements; an amalgamation of various international styles which insert additional texture. As Alexis herself recommends on her website, listen to “Song for Bilbao” by Michael Brecker to get an idea of where some of these tunes have gained encouragement.  The Brecker influence can be heard again on “Driving Force” which is propelled along over groove laden phrasings, whilst “Matter of Convenience” is evocative of early, tender Herbie Hancock.
Making comparisons such as these does not mean to say that these arrangements are derivative in any way, as no music is produced in a vacuum, but these are an intelligent blend of influences given their own personality. The album closes with “Zetec” another charming, enigmatic piece and one which further gives credit to the idea that the diverse influences that have gone into the playing here have been used to create an album of original pieces that will unquestionably act as influences to other prospective musicians. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Interview - Alexis Cairns

Last week I caught up with Alexis Cairns for a chat about her album and what she is up to at the moment. If you have not had the chance to listen to her album, it is all original compositions, with varied infulences, well worth a listen. Photo Credit Gavin Freeborn Mark Beirne-Smith - So why the debut album now?Alexis Cairns - I graduated from Leeds College of Music in 2006 and started teaching a year later. I have always enjoyed composing and one of the benefits of teaching is the long holidays in the summer, so I began writing for the album in the summer of 2009 and finished in 2010. We then recorded the album in April 2011.
Mark Beirne-Smith - Where was the band formed?Alexis Cairns -  We all went to LCM but at different times; Al and I were in the same year. I had seen all three guys perform live with other projects and was impressed with their playing and interaction with others. Emlyn and I had done one or two trio gigs beforehand and I shared a house with Kris for a short time.
Mark Beirne-Smith - What is this album saying?Alexis Cairns - I wanted to get back into writing and do something creative alongside my day job. Eight of the tunes were written over the two summers and the other two during my time at college. Some were inspired by what was happening at the time of composing, for example “To Have and to Hold” came about when my sister was wedding dress shopping in Leeds.
Mark Beirne-Smith - What would you say were your influences?Alexis Cairns -  Not only do I enjoy composing but I am a saxophonist first and foremost. I am a huge fan of Michael Brecker and have been since I was at school. I would love to be able to play just half as good as him! I got into John Coltrane a lot when I was at college, listening to Blue Train, Giant Steps and Coltrane's Sound on a loop for months on end. Other players I admire are Cannonball Adderley, Bob Berg and Dexter Gordon. Composition-wise I enjoy listening to works by Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis and Joey Calderazzo.

This is New to Me cover art
Photo Credit Gavin Freeborn
Mark Beirne-Smith - Where can the album be bought?Alexis Cairns - - It can be bought via BandCamp
or if anyone wants the physical CD they can email me via my website, and receive a signed disc through the post.

Mark Beirne-Smith - Do you like Marmalade?
Alexis Cairns - Err, yes?! Wouldn't say no.

Gig Preview

This Sunday there is a latin vibe at Seven Jazz with Sonando Libre, leda by Al Macsween – piano, with
Kenny Higgins- bass
Sam Bell- percussion
Sam Gardener- drums
If your looking for some lively jazz in Leeds to shake up the bank holiday, check this band out all details are here: