Neil Swainson: Fire In The West

Renowned for his work with others, notably George Shearing, the 60-something Canadian bassist makes his second leader date after 35 years


British Columbia native Swainson recorded his first album, 49th Parallel, back in 1987. This release is his second, a full 35 years later. The bassist leader states on the sleeve note that as a long-time enthusiast for 1950s bands like those of Miles Davis, Art Blakey, and Horace Silver he wanted to shape his compositions around that stylistic post-bop conception.

It works well enough, with some very crisp, biting ensembles where front-line soloists Brad Turner on tenor and Kelly Jefferson on trumpet jump out neatly to solo in turn, just like Horace and company used to. If these sturdy compositions by Swainson lack anything it is the inspired, memorable melodies that Silver, Blakey, and Miles came up with. Still, the charts here are straightahead, nicely varied in tempo and they swing.

Some people might regard this music as retrograde, but I don’t think so. Bop, and the hard bop that grew from it, are timeless and sound much the same today as they did when they arrived in the 1940s and 50s. But also, these soloists, along with Renee Rosnes on piano, are contemporary in their approach and sounds. Rosnes is particularly sparkling in her solo excursions and both front-line men are inventive. The leader takes some solos on bass, not too many and his sound is rich and warm.

Best of a good set is Fire In The West (an uptempo swinger), Fool’s Gold (a neat ballad) and Silver Mine, a downhome piece dedicated to Horace. Here is a band of today that plays contemporary flourishes and incorporates the best of the stylings of the past. The front line might not be as distinguished as the one on Swainson’s first album where he employed Joe Henderson and Woody Shaw, but they are right in the centre of a continuing tradition. I do hope we don’t have to wait another 35 years for Swainson’s next leader date.

Fire In The West; Fool’s Gold; Cascades; Standing Back; Fell Among Thieves; Kyushu; Late Afternoon; Near North; Gone Away; Silver Mine (59.12)
Brad Turner (t); Kelly Jefferson (ts); Renee Rosnes (p); Swainson (b); Lewis Nash (d). Langley, BC, 18 & 19 November 2021.
Cellar CM111821