In 2005 when Mancunian keyboard player John Ellis first conceived the idea of creating a real book of tunes written solely by jazz composers from the North West, he couldn’t have guessed that things would have come this far. With Real Book North West successfully in circulation, a lengthy supporting UK tour, and now this Jazz Services funded CD available to buy, the project has been one the most successful and daring promotions of regional jazz for some time.
Competing with the tradition real book of standards that includes ‘Body and Soul’ and ‘Take the A Train’ is a tall order, but really anyone seeing it that way is kind of missing the point. Real Book North West is a complementary addition to any regional jazzers gigging repertoire, as well as being a way for national and even international players to hear more of the original music that has come out of the North West over the years.
On this CD we are presented with a selection of 15 of the publication’s best offerings and by its very nature it’s a mixed bag of ideas and moods that range from Ulrich Elbracht’s joyfully uplifting ‘Anything You Like’ to Simon Picton’s spiky, film noir inflected ‘Blue Chilli’. With a line up that includes Andy Schofield (saxs), Mike Walker (gtr), Les Chisnall (p), Steve Berry (bs) and Dave Walsh (dr), the standard of playing on this recording is predictably high. This quintet is made up of the region’s premiere instrumentalists and listening to this album it is evident that there is a long musical history and established empathy between all of them. Having seen this group play at the launch of the Real Book several years ago and last summer on the Manchester leg of their national tour, it is obvious that this project mean a lot to them. Throughout, the playing is passionate and considered, and highlights do come thick and fast. It is especially good to see promising emerging composers such as bassist Matt Owens on the track-list alongside the more established writers like Mike Walker or Les Chisnell, who both actually deliver some of recordings’ best writing and delivery. Chisnell’s ‘Shadow of a Dream’ stands out as being a particularly potent blend of melancholy and reverential beauty.
Overall this is an essential CD for anyone who has any sort of an interest in the North West’s ever growing jazz pedigree. Compositions are both broad in scope and encouragingly original, undoubtedly proving that they can hold their own on bandstands wherever the real book may find itself in the years ahead.