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. 

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