Eagles is probably best-known for his work with Partikel, but his CV incorporates collaborations with a range of bands and soloists, including the Benet McLean Band, the Ollie Howell Quintet, Mark Perry, and with his brother Samuel’s quintet. Citizen, the first album under his own name, has just been released on the Ropeadope label. This session, promoted by the Teignmouth Jazz and Blues Club, was the last date on the south-west leg of a national promotional tour, which continues until 29 March. (For details of the rest of the tour refer to duncaneagles.com/concerts.)
The music space upstairs at The Bronx is long and relatively narrow, but the acoustics are good, and the sound of the quartet – Eagles (soprano and tenor saxes), Matt Robinson (keyboard), Max Luthert (bass) and Dave Hamblett (drums) – came across warm, well-balanced and well-defined, even with a fairly minimal amplification kit.
The set list included the tracks from Citizen but there were other pieces, including “92 Days” (which has been recorded and may be on the band’s next album), “The Path Is Narrow”, a brisk bop piece, and a beautiful version of the old standard “My One and Only Love” with an entrancing solo by Robinson that was one of the highlights of the evening. Robinson contributed an equally gorgeous extended introduction to “Midnight Mass” with an appropriately gospel tinge to some of the chords and even, I thought, a faint hint of Copland at one point. The piece evolved a processional feel which was deeply atmospheric, appropriately underpinned by muffled drums.
“Folk Song”, although separated from “Mass” by two tracks on the album, immediately preceded it at this session, forming an effective diptych. The lilting theme was augmented by crepuscular piano chords and given an added emotional edge as Eagles adopted a highly expressive huskier tone.
There was no shortage of driving, fluent development of the compositions (all penned by Eagles) but there was also much to be appreciated in the colours and textures each member of the quartet employed. Examples included the opening passage of “Conquistador” with its rich bass intro, Hamblett working subtly with mallets on cymbals then the whole kit, and Robinson laying out soft electronic tones, briefly switching from the pure piano setting he used for the rest of the time. Eagles picked up the soprano at one point but otherwise stayed with the tenor, modifying his tone according to the mood of the composition, from gritty bop to a distilled sound that recalled Coltrane at the time when he was aiming to evoke the oboe, but always achieving a satisfying blend of logical musicality and real feeling.
If you are able to catch one of the later dates in the tour, give yourself a treat and go. Failing that, there’s always the CD, where the band is augmented by guitarist Dave Preston.