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Adrian Riley reviews the Ollie Howell Quintet and Seven Pieces of Silver

You can't really blame Ollie Howell for name-dropping during one of his introductions, especially when that name is Quincy Jones. And it's not hard to see why the big band/jazz/pop maestro was smitten with this young drummer, because everything Ollie plays in this set of original compositions has a definite flowing groove. Although the melodies are very much of a familiar jazz style (many composed, he tells us, while recovering from brain surgery), his equally young band plays with a freshness and enthusiasm that's infectious.

As might be expected of a drummer-composer there are lots of drum solos but these are not treated as an opportunity for Howell to prove his virtuosity; rather to move the music along. In fact much of his playing is very restrained by the conventions of jazz, at times more akin to delicate percussion than a traditional kit performance, and the solos often build tension that then propels the remainder of the tune to its conclusion - it's a performance every bit as musical as the other instruments in the group.

The often fiery trumpet of Mark Perry is complimented by some wonderful sax work by Duncan Eagles, a blend of whispery sounds and frantic runs that unnervingly reach for notes that sound as if they might not actually exist. He solos like someone trying to find a new way of playing their instrument, which makes for a compelling listen and brings a real sparkle to the bands assured stage presence.

While the Ollie Howell Quintet just hint at the influence of such as the 1960s Miles Davis Quintet, Seven Pieces of Silver pay explicit homage to a previous era - the pianist-composer Horace Silver. Although Silver lived a good long life, he will forever be associated with his landmark recordings of the early 60s. Like many of the musicians who made their name on the Blue Note record label, his recordings have a magic combination of catchy melody and unique improvisation and he remains a by-word for a certain style of soulful jazz cool. His work continues to be influential and not just in the world of jazz - the piano riff that opens Steely Dan's 'Rikki Don't Lose That Number' is a direct lift from one of Silver's most famous compositions, 'Song For My Father'.

The septet don't try to replicate the Horace Silver recordings but instead use them as a launching off point for 'inspired by' compositions that hint at the originals. Such it is with 'Lube Sensor' for example - a twist on (and anagram of) the classic 'Senor Blues'. It's a wonderfully skewed and syncopated arrangement but it does seem a little churlish to deprive the audience of the original Silver sound. The aforementioned 'Song For My Father' therefore comes in a latin-esque 7/8 time rather than in 4/4 as originally written. The arrangement (all are by bassist Paul Baxter) is actually something of a triumph with its off-kilter rhythm and there's a fabulous section where the saxes and trumpet gradually layer solos building to a surprisingly melodic cacophony. This does appear to leave the audience somewhat flummoxed though, possibly in the manner of a pop concert crowd having turned up to hear a star's greatest hits only to find they're performed in a way that bears little relation to the original records. (It happens though - Bob Dylan's fans have come to expect this and would be surprised at a rendition that did sound something like the original.)

This approach means that pianist Graham Hearne isn't obliged to try and replicate some of Silver's funkily sparse playing but that doesn't stop him adding a flurry of Silver-esque stabbing notes during an entertaining solo early in the set. The sax solos are also a delight and the tunes give festival compere Alan Barnes opportunity to really show his ability - a man who appears to have absorbed 100 years of jazz tradition from which he constructs solos in surprising ways and with seemingly effortless technique. It's a solidly entertaining set by a highly competent band with strong arrangements but does cause you to wonder if jazz audiences don't always like the source material messed around with too much.

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