Django Bates: Quiet Nights

COMPOSERS: Django Bates
LABELS: Screwu
WORKS: Quiet Nights
PERFORMER: Django Bates (kbds, peck horn), Iain Ballamy (ts), Michael Mondesir (b), Martin France (d), Josefine Cronholm (v)
CATALOGUE NO: 70007 (distr. New Note)
Unhinged, semi-detached, off-kilter: Django Bates’s music is all these things. But has the 38-year-old Londoner gone straight and made a mainstream record with the proceeds of the richest prize in jazz music, Denmark’s £20,000 Jazzpar award? Not at all. Instead, he’s reupholstered some creaky old show tunes with his patent coating of whimsy, quiet anarchy and artful arranging. The master stroke was adding Swedish singer Josefine Cronholm: cool, clear, confident and a perfect foil to the band’s noodling.

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From the opener, ‘Speak Low’, Cronholm pulls the songs into sharp focus, balancing the band’s eccentric sound. Jobim’s ‘Quiet Nights’ is almost true save the tripping supper club drums; the wonderful ‘Hilili Hi Lo’ sounds like it was recorded in a fairground suffering from power surges. In ‘Solitude’, Cronholm’s fragile blue cadenza is interrupted by what might be a vintage peck horn warbling in the undergrowth. She persists during ‘Like Someone in Love’ while Bates and Co imitate someone trying to tune a radio. But this is not superficial tinkering, and once again Bates is undermining jazz mores to make music that is intelligent yet has a big heart. Garry Booth