By John Stevenson
With his fourth recording, All Seasons, pianist and keyboardist Emmanuel Waldron further cements his presence on the UK music scene, planting an unmistakable jazz flag in the soil.
Emmanuel has worked over the years with artists as diverse as Ronan Keating, Ola Onabule, Ruby Turner, George Duke and Kamelia Todorova, to mention just a few. He is the main keyboardist with the UK MOBO (Music of Black Origin) nominee and GMA award-winning, V9 Collective and has travelled on tour to more than 20 countries around the world.
On All Seasons, Emmanuel is joined by his wife Ruth, a highly accomplished singer, possessed of a crystal clear tone and formidable octave range. The musicians he has selected are equally dazzling. Drummer Troy Miller maintains a powerful pulse, while Carl Stanbridge takes care of business on upright and electric bass. Andre ‘Saxman’ Brown delightfully heightens and colours the mood of the compositions he plays on with beautiful solos on alto and tenor saxophone.
The CD begins with Just Messin’, a minute-long, freely improvised solo workout on the grand piano. Emmanuel struts his stuff in the upper and lower reaches of the ivories with flair and abandon. He follows this up with The Turnaround, arguably the most complicated composition of the album. Revealing mercurial right hand runs, Emmanuel and his band weave together a variety of harmonic textures and moods. Doubling on Hammond B3 organ and Wurlitzer electric piano, Big Blues City finds Emmanuel in a simultaneously soulful and funky vein, betraying discernible Les McCann and Joe Sample influences. Listeners will enjoy this like a Crusaders album from back in the day. The Carpenter (Beginning) is a lesson in what can be done with five deceptively simple chords. Emmanuel sets the scene by introducing a basic major key melody on the piano, joined by Troy and Carl’s simple shuffle groove which becomes progressively more complex. Stevie Wonder would be proud of Ruth’s interpretation of his soulful classic, Ribbon in the Sky. Ruth’s pristine tone is much in evidence here. Alto saxophonist Andre Brown complements the piece with visceral and supportive riffing. It’s an outstanding rendition.
Saviour, Like a Shepherd Lead Us, Dorothy Thrupp’s well-loved hymn, gets a venerational update with a distinctive jazz leaning. Troy Miller’s deft cymbal work and brushes cushion the tune, while Emmanuel’s warm chord choices envelop and caress the listener. The Carpenter (Interlude) features some tasteful and energetic piano with equally artful drumming. There’s a modal quality on Summer’s Dream, a soothing reverie led by Andre’s soaring alto saxophone. This piece certainly gives the listener an idea of Emmanuel’s undoubtable compositional range.
Ruth Waldron returns to the spotlight on an arresting and significantly re-harmonised take on the universally loved spiritual, Amazing Grace. Troy Miller’s sensitive brushes and Carl Stanbridge’s gently strolling upright bass act as a lush pocket for Emmanuel’s inspired improvisation and chord progressions. With The Carpenter (End), Emmanuel carries the five-chord theme through its paces, ending in a colourful synthesiser-shaded conclusion with intense drumming. Demonstrating his affinity for traditional jazz repertoire, Emmanuel and supportive sidemen give the well-loved standard, When I Fall in Love, a reverential reading. Cruise Control is full of creative tension, putting one in the mind of 1970s fusion groups like Chick Corea’s Return to Forever and Weather Report. Troy Miller improvises drum solos off Emmanuel’s piano, culminating in a dramatic fade-out on the left and right channels. In a word: Intriguing! Justifying what the CD says on the tin, a groove-laden God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is as festive in summer as it is at Christmas. Troy sets up a bouncy, buoyant beat for Emmanuel to get busy with.
All Seasons is Emmanuel’s most jazzy recording. It showcases a considerable breadth of influences – making him a man for all musical seasons.