Songs of Solace and Reflection is released on 2nd December 2022
The Observer. Four Star Review.
Ben Crosland: Songs of Solace and Reflection review – a spontaneous lockdown reverie
In contemplative mood, the bassist showcases the rich talents of five fellow musicians – and his first writing for strings
Sat 3 Dec 2022
Albums recorded, prepared or merely dreamed up in the days of lockdown are still appearing. Like this one, they often differ in some way from the the artist’s previous work. Bassist and composer Ben Crosland is probably best known for his agile and witty jazz quintet treatment of the Ray Davies songbook. The tone is more subdued this time. The album’s 10 tracks suit the title well, most of them being musical impressions of people and places Crosland recalls and holds dear. There are only six musicians here, including Crosland on electric bass, but he always manages to get the best and to display their talents to advantage. The three soloists – Theo Travis (flute), Steve Waterman (trumpet) and Alan Barnes (clarinet) – all come up with some really gripping performances.
There’s no way of preparing for something like this, calling as it does for instant and sustained inventiveness. The remaining two players are Clare Bhabra and Deirdre Bencsik, violin and cello respectively. This is the first time Crosland has written for strings and, except for one pleasant passage of pizzicato, they have little chance to shine. Work in progress?
Ben Crosland ‘Songs Of Solace And Reflection’ CD (Jazz Cat) 5/5
Reflective practice is a philosophical theory that enables us to wonder at our own world, work, and ourselves. This album is the result of quite an intense period of reflection on Ben Crosland’s part and I suspect that the process has served to bring experiences into focus from many angles: people, place, relationships, and more. Such reflection leads perhaps to something unnoticed before.
During the enforced period of inactivity that was lockdown, Crosland found salvation in writing new music and some of the fruits of his labours are presented here in the form of one new composition and nine extraordinary arrangements of music from his back catalogue. The composer explains that the initial idea was inspired by a musician friend who sent him an arrangement of one of his tunes utilising digital, woodwind and strings. Just for fun, Ben thought he would have a go at arranging another of his own tunes for a similar ensemble. A demo recording was produced inspiring the music contained on this CD. Crosland settled on an unusual instrumentation for this album with Theo Travis (flute and alto flute), Steve Waterman (trumpet and flugelhorn) both of whom have featured regularly in other Crosland projects, together with Alan Barnes (clarinet and bass clarinet) Clare Bhabra (violin) and Deirdre Bencsik (cello) with the whole underpinned by the composer and bandleader on bass guitar.
There is inevitably a certain amount of reflective practice involved when revisiting anything from our past. In selecting the music to reinterpret, Crosland selected music that he felt would be consoling and comforting in nature, whilst at the same time conveying a certain cheery lightness “as an antidote to the times we were living through”. The music has an emotional connection not only for the composer and the dedicatees but also for the listener and, it is hoped, a sense of playfulness.
Crosland has a modest and unassuming personality which is reflected in both his compositions and his playing. It’s interesting to compare and contrast these newly-minted arrangements with the original versions, often appearing on albums by his trio Threeway featuring Waterman together with keyboard player Steve Lodder and it seems an entirely natural progression to rework those pieces for the larger ensemble. Here, I have in mind the enduring theme of ‘Song for Dorothy’, dedicated to Crosland’s late mother. The single new composition ‘Rockfield Lullaby’ is an utter delight and inspired by a family photograph of the composer’s first house ever lived in. The opening track ‘Sarah’s Trees’ is a tour-de-force for Travis’ flute and Barnes and Waterman are at their most playful best, throughout the album.
I imagine this music as a film soundtrack, a recurring thought as I listened. This is in no way intended to ‘damn with faint praise’. It is simply a mark of the expressiveness of the music. Perhaps it’s the presence of the flute which recalls John Cameron’s music for the film Kes.
Crosland always writes engaging, life-enhancing music and the songs on this album are no exception. It’s a delight from the first track to the last and the CD cover artwork is a perfect final touch.
Dinner Jazz with Mark Walker on Jazz FM. 30th November 2022.
with Sarah Chaplin on 15th December 2022.
Sarah interviews Ben Crosland about his album ‘Songs Of Solace And Reflection’
BBC Radio 3. Jazz Record Requests
With Alyn Shipton.