Jazz Cat Records was founded by Ben Crosland in 1995. Albums featuring some of the best known names on the British and International jazz scene have been released during the years that followed. Jazz Cat remains a very active label and continues to produce and promote recorded jazz.
JAZZ CAT RECORDS 1995 - 2023
Songs of Solace and Reflection
Chamber Jazz with a Classical Sensibility
In common with every musician I know, I found the two-year desert of lockdown a difficult time. The sense of dislocation from everything you held dear artistically was palpable. We all searched for our own escape routes from boredom, isolation and depression. A number of my musical friends worked remotely, employing cutting edge software to share music and video files with other musicians so as to produce the illusion of live performance on multi screens, often to wondrous effect. I had neither the expertise nor the technical know how to do that. My salvation was writing new music. And quite a lot of it. These recordings are the product of some of that endeavour. The catalyst for this music was a recording of an arrangement of a piece of mine sent to me, unexpectedly, by a good friend and great musician, Jeremy Platt, in which he had employed, digitally, woodwind and strings. It sounded wonderful and set in train a thought process. That led to me thinking that I would have a bash at arranging one of my tunes for a similar ensemble, just for fun. I decided upon flute, clarinet, flügelhorn, string quartet and bass. Rod Mason is an extraordinary multi-instrumentalist and a very close friend. His salvation during lockdown was home recording in his attic studio. I sent my arrangement to Rod and his demo recording of it sounded lovely. I had never arranged strings before and was making it up as I went along. It seemed to work. I did another arrangement, sent it to Rod and that worked. I just carried on doing further arrangements and the realisation dawned that I might have an album in the making, but that it would be very different from anything that I had ever recorded before.In total, I wrote nine arrangements of tunes from my back catalogue and composed one new tune, Rockfield Lullaby, inspired by a photo of myself as a baby with my mum at Rockfield, the first house I ever lived in. To see whether my hopes were well founded, I sent some of Rod’s recordings to Theo Travis, a superb flautist, with whom I have been working in my Ray Davies Songbook project for some time now. He was enthusiastic and recommended a violinist, Clare Bhabra, and a cellist, Deirdre Bencsik, with whom he had previously worked, who, he said, would be perfect for this project. He was right. I contacted them and sent them Rod’s recordings. They really liked them. Alan Barnes and Steve Waterman were obvious choices for the clarinet and flugelhorn chairs. They liked Rod’s recordings. So I had a band. I had been working with Andrew Tulloch on my Solway Stories recording and knew him to be an outstanding sound engineer. He was the man for this recording. He really liked the concept and recommended Livingston Studios in Wood Green, London as being the perfect place to record this music. He was right. He has been a constant in this project, recording the music which we performed live over two days, editing, mixing and mastering it. His work has served the music perfectly.
In deciding which tunes to arrange, I instinctively felt that they should be consoling and comforting in nature, but with a lightness that might cheer, an antidote to the times that we were living through. So I selected those pieces with a particular emotional connection or a sense of playfulness. Sarah’s Trees is a tune I wrote to celebrate the life of Sarah Lucas, wife of Mike,who founded the Marsden Jazz Festival. Sarah sadly died in 1997. Mike later told me that her favourite place was up on the hillside above Marsden amongst her favourite sycamore trees, looking down and surveying the expanse of the Colne Valley. Cowgill Lament is dedicated to Oliver Statham, a school friend who went on to become a champion cave diver but who sadly took his own life at a dreadfully young age. He is buried in Cowgill churchyard near Sedbergh. The Gothics is the house in the Colne Valley where my father was born. Walkin’ the Cat is a fun piece inspired by a sculpture at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. I have retitled Hymn for Peace (originally Hymn for Christmas) as a response to the terrible events in Ukraine. In Memoriam is another piece inspired by a sculpture at YSP. I hope that it resonates well with those who have suffered loss during the pandemic. Song For Dorothy is a piece written many years ago for my mum. Heartland was inspired by the victory of Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, a victory that was the fifth magnificent gold medal for Redgrave. Peter the Wolf is dedicated to Peter Maguire, a wonderful musician, a great friend and a real ladies’man. I struggle to find the words adequately to thank these fabulous musicians for all their hard work, commitment and artistry. This was a glorious two days’ recording. Finally, I express my sincere thanks to Judith Yarrow for the beautiful painting that graces the cover of this album. She took the trouble to travel to Marsden and walk up to Sarah’s Trees so that she could see them prior to producing her work. I earnestly hope that those who listen to this music, conceived and created in lockdown,find comfort, consolation and enjoyment in it.
LONDON JAZZ NEWS
John Fordham writes: Plenty of turning points in the spellbinding story of jazz have come about as solutions to technical conundrums rather than intentions to paint new pictures in sound challenges like trying to shoehorn a catchy tune into the whirlpool of five-four time for Dave Brubecks legendary Take Five, or improvising off dizzyingly fast-changing note-rammed chords to spark Charlie Parkers bebop revolution; or seeing what would happen if modes and Indian raga forms replaced jazzs familiar Broadway-song harmonies on Miles Davis Kind of Blue.
Ben Crosland the Yorkshire musician now entering his fourth decade as an acclaimed composer/bandleader with a warmly accessible repertoire, and a go-to bass guitarist for innumerable northern rhythm sections is as awestruck an admirer of such breakthroughs as any jazz artist. But he also knows what he does best, as an unaffectedly lyrical composer of direct and evocative melodies that draw in the uninitiated and the jazz cognoscenti alike.
'I cant write clever music' is, as ever, this subtle craftsmans amiable deflection when quizzed about his methods. 'I write tunes, and thats it, really and if an idea can bring about a nice tune, thats good enough for me'. But Croslands latest album Songs of Solace and Reflection, on his own Jazz Cat label illuminates exactly whats deceptive about that characteristically unassuming observation. The composer has revisited his own extensive back-catalogue for this project, but from very different perspectives to the ones that guided the original interpretations because this lineup features classical string players instead of a jazz rhythm section, and three superb improvising soloists in reeds virtuoso Alan Barnes (playing clarinet and bass clarinet throughout this set), Miles Davis-inspired flugelhornist Steve Waterman, and flautist Theo Travis.
The music embraces evocations of verdant Yorkshire valleys, wistful reveries ushered in by cello and woodwind, springy waltzes, a tender hymn for Watermans flugelhorn, understated funk, and in the closing moments a jaunty blues reminiscent of the late great Stan Traceys uptempo swingers. People with a special place in Croslands life and memories always drift in and out of focus too the dreamy Sarahs Trees is dedicated to the late wife of Mike Lucas, founder of Marsdens long-running jazz festival, Cowgill Lament to the memory of a remarkable but short-lived schoolfriend, while Song for Dorothy is a valediction for his mother that he has now recorded three times in different forms. The albums cover is a delicate painting Crosland commissioned from a widely-exhibited landscape artist and friend, Judith Yarrow. Only one song, Rockfield Lullaby is a new piece written for this recording, but it has an old theme the name of the first house the composer lived in as a baby. Im a sentimental man, Ben Crosland will freely admit. Some people are, some people arent. I want to say what Ive got to say, and if people like it, great, and if they dont, so be it.
Crosland is rightly proud of Songs of Solace and Reflection, and feels that it comes closest to the feelings that have preoccupied him in these recent turbulent years. When we talk on the phone for LJN, I remind him of the conversation we had 18 months earlier, on the release of his autobiographical album Solway Stories, inspired by car journeys in the north and Scotland with his beloved late mother. That was an album motivated by loss (Dorothy Crosland died in 2019, at 102), but perhaps so is the new release, in its way but this time the loss of freedoms, working opportunities, and companionship occasioned by the pandemics lockdowns.
'I think thats true', Crosland agrees. 'Doing Solway Stories was part of a grieving process, which helped me remember my mum as she was when she was active and healthy, and I think this recent project is about grieving for loss of gigs and musical connections, because it was conceived and arranged in the lockdown when there was nothing else to do!'
But if the album is part of a grieving process, its far from a sombre one. The arrangements for violinist Clare Bhabra and cellist Deirdre Bencsik are animatedly vibrant, Croslands fluent basslines hum, and the improvisations of Barnes, Waterman and Travis span mellow long-tone tenderness, agile double-tempo bebop, and unpredictably unfolding narrative lines that fix your attention on what the next ingenious turn might be. So was this sophisticated ensemble sound something that the composer had imagined from the start?
'Actually, the whole project came about completely unexpectedly,' Crosland says. 'Jeremy Platt, a fine musician who had been in my quartet, sent me an arrangement out of the blue, of a song of mine called Dulce Cor, from Solway Stories its Latin for sweetheart, and it was played at my mums funeral. But Jeremy had reworked it for woodwind and strings, albeit synthetically, and I thought, goodness, that sounds fantastic. It set me thinking about what woodwind, strings and a flugelhorn might sound like, so I wrote an arrangement of one of my pieces for that instrumentation and gave it to my great friend Rod Mason, an amazing musician who plays saxophone, flute and clarinet, and not only that taught himself to play brass during lockdown. Rods other lockdown distraction was recording in his home studio, so he played all the parts in my arrangement live, except for synthesised strings. After that he and I did about four or five more, and I started to think I might have an album'.
DIGEST OF PRESS QUOTES
‘There are only six musicians here, including Crosland on electric bass, but he always manages to get the best and to display their talents to advantage. The three soloists – Theo Travis (flute), Steve Waterman (trumpet) and Alan Barnes (clarinet) – all come up with some really gripping performances’.
Dave Gelly, The Observer 4 stars
‘Crosland always writes engaging, life-enhancing music and the songs on this album are no exception. It’s a delight from the first track to the last and the CD cover artwork is a perfect final touch.’
Alan Musson, UK Vibe 5 stars
‘Songs of Solace and Reflection is an impressive piece of work and the care and love that Crosland has put into it are apparent throughout…The success of the album also owes much to Crosland’s qualities as a composer of great melodies, there are some truly gorgeous tunes here and these are well served by some exceptional arrangements and playing.’
Ian Mann, The Jazz Mann 4 stars
‘Stylistically, the album sits between classical and jazz, combining orchestral instrumentation with jazz-orientated compositions interlaced with passages of improvisation, and Crosland’s electric bass juxtaposed against the woodwinds, brass and strings. It’s captivating, fresh-sounding music of depth and warmth and should appeal to both jazz and classical followers’.
Elliott Marlow-Stevens, Jazz Journal
‘It is often the case that the best designed things in our everyday lives get taken for granted because they so perfectly fit their purpose. There might be a danger that the perfection of these tunes could become overlooked because they so ideally fit their purpose. I have seen several very positive critical reviews of the album and would urge the reader to discover its joys for themselves. If I’d reviewed this last year, it would have easily made the best-of list.’
Chris Baber, Jazz Views
‘Stylistically, SOSAR belongs to that undervalued sub-genre, chamber jazz: scored jazz-flavoured compositions interlaced with passages of improvisation, and with Crosland’s electric bass juxtaposed against shimmering woodwinds, brass and strings…Beautifully played and well recorded, SOSAR is an album that reveals its true nature slowly over time and rewards repeated and careful listening’.
Jon Clay, Jazzwise
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