Accompanied by a variety of instruments, samples and a trio of female singers, The National Jazz Trio Of Scotland returns with sleek and hushed songs on Standards: Volume III.
Bill Wells has made his name by his collaborations and his experimentations, which often take him to pry the envelope of pop music to great result, at first, Standards: Volume III may seem like a more straightforward affair to fans (and some deal of confusion to unaware jazz heads), there’s a very sensual and quiet feel to a lot of this record but it’s not to say that it lacks any push or drive; Wells melodies arouse attention as much as they float around.
‘Alive and Well’ rocks gently with keyboards and samples that reverb and slightly distort, they sway around an alarm clock percussion, all giving the feel of waking to a bright day, over the song the singer echoes half-affirming, half-cynical lyrics in a lush and resigned fashion; a combination and formula that’s put to winning effect time and time again on the albums quieter moments.
From the gorgeous plucking on ‘Rare Species’ to the chiming of ‘Buchanan Street’ and the double bass walk of ‘Getting Out’, we really hear Wells draw from his wealth of knowledge on dynamics and melody.
The compositions on this album remind of Osaka Bridge, the superb collaboration with Maher Shalal Hash Baz released in 2006, the songs themselves feel like they come from a similar place, trading the droning and squeaky horns for more subdued contributions from harps and the ever present trio of angelic singers.
Glockenspiels and varied percussion sway on the bossa nova tinged ‘Surprising Word’, and Wells and co. manage to delight and play with such worldly sounds that upon hearing it, you feel you could be pacing late night Tokyo via a Brazilian beach, lamenting desperately over the girl from Ipanema.
But the really admirable thing is that although he draws so easily and effortlessly from these places, Wells never gets lost, he never indulges to the point where it overshadows and his mission and themes always remain around the corner, being re-introduced gracefully, just when it starts to be hidden.
He also fails to needlessly extend or drag out ideas, roughly about half of the tracks on this album fall below two-minutes, and their succinct playtime feels natural and actually accents the longer tracks by not over reaching themselves, something that I can imagine being done quite easily on some of these shorter features.
On first listen, Standards: Volume III could appear to be a glossy but unwavering pop album, but upon repeated listens this record is a richly endearing effort for fans and casual listeners alike.
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Words: Matthew Thomas