This new quartet album – debuting tenor saxophonist Merritt with old hands bassist Sam Lasserson, pianist John Turville and drummer Jeff Williams – isn’t out until December. But in the spirit of this blog – to bring as much good music to your attention as soon as possible ahead of release – I thought I’d write about this fine record now.
It’s one of the best UK jazz recordings I’ve heard this year but I’ll try to curb my enthusiasm to give a bit more detail. Anatta, the title comes from Buddhism and means ‘no self’, is a Cool School record and relies on that diffident, seemingly casual cultured cold storage bebop style familiar from Warne Marsh, Lennie Tristano and vintage Lee Konitz records (in Williams there is a direct connection with Konitz).
Clever and very musically advanced the band play around with contrafacts that Merritt has written based on lines of Tristano, Marsh and Konitz plus the material also includes treatments of Monk, Eubie Blake and Thelonious Monk material and Merritt’s own tunes that match well.
Merritt, who studied at the Birmingham Conservatoire, has a softly spoken slightly gruff sound that navigates a lot of territory often manipulating little half scales and elaborative forays, almost pushing at the tune to reveal some hidden trapdoor. And he is elegantly backed by Williams, Turville and Lasserson.
You might think you have stepped back into the 1950s and entered in on some post-midnight jam session in New York when you hear this or even have found yourself transported into a photograph by someone like W. Eugene Smith. But it’s more a successful musical universe the four have created than any laboured sense of pastiche.
The album was recorded very crisply in a Willesden studio in London in June last year. Merritt, pictured above, sometimes crops up at Hannes Riepler’s Sunday night jam at the Vortex where I last saw him back in the summertime, so it’s worth popping along there some times to see if he turns up. Otherwise the quartet will play the Vortex, upstairs this time around, on 10 December. Other dates are here