Xhosa Cole, CD – Know Them Know Us & a visit to Bristol

This album by Xhosa Cole has been a fixture in my playlist for the early part of the Autumn. One angle would be to see it as a celebration of the strength of the home grown scene in Birmingham, with Xhosa’s regular quartet comprising Jay Phelps on trumpet, James Owston on bass and James Bashford on drums joined on three tracks by Soweto Kinch and Reuben James, both of whom hail from the second city, and the recording released on the city’s Stoney Lane Records. That’s all true of course, but what’s kept it on my playlist is the strength of the playing. This is a thrilling, inventive set.

Play from the beginning and first Woody Shaw’s Zoltan and then Ornette Coleman’s Blue’s Connotation grabs the listener by the ‘scruff of the ears’ and pitches them into a exciting loose but tight swirl through the themes, with exchanges of phrases, fractured rhythms and drive from Owston and Bashford somehow creating an irresistible momentum. Then a Rogers and Hart standard Manhattan breezes in, an intimate fluid reading of the theme from Cole’s tenor a prelude to a viscerally thrilling solo from James on piano, that builds and builds from an repeating and evolving motif he finds to stretch the tension. Close your eyes and its hard not to imagine yourself in a cellar bar somewhere in Manhattan.

The title of the CD is a direct invitation to understand Cole as showing his respect and immersion in origins of this music. There’s a Monk tune, Played Twice, Tadd Dameron’s On a Misty Night and Lee Morgan’s Untitled Boogaloo to go alongside those by Woody Shaw and Coleman, the giants on whose shoulders Xhosa and his band aspire to stand.

On this showing, they’re doing a good job. There’s a freshness and freedom to their playing that’s kept me coming back as well as a fidelity to the spirit of these tunes. They can do sweet and lush, the first phrases of On a Misty Night would make anyone sigh, and switch to free-wheeling, unleashed intensity as quartet, guaranteed to get a crowd whooping. This is one to check out if you haven’ already.

I’m writing this now as Cole is out and about on tour.

The eagle -eyed will spot the date in Bristol on 2nd of November at the new ‘Fringe in Round’ session in Clifton, that gig has Ruth Hammond doing a solo set first. This will be a treat tickets available here

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