Dave O’Higgins & Rob Luft: Pluto / Dave & Judith O’Higgins: Omicron

Saxophonist Dave O'Higgins pairs with guitarist Rob Luff and wife Judith in sets contrasting semi-abstraction with 1960s tough-tenor duos

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Three years ago, saxophonist Dave O’Higgins and guitarist Rob Luft released the critically acclaimed album O’Higgins & Luft Play Monk & Trane. Their new album comes from a totally different place, a world composed by O’Higgins and Luft, who wrote five and two of the pieces here respectively; the remaining two songs hark back to their Monk and Trane affiliations.

Rod Youngs remains on drums, the Hammond organ of Scott Flanigan now replaced by the piano of Ross Stanley and the bass of Misha Mullov-Abbado.

O’Higgins is the driving melodic voice, his often urgent, thrusting sound pushing confidently through the title track and Giant Steps, for example, with Luft a consistently quiet, chiming voice in support. Solo, Luft blossoms, as on his own atmospheric South Wind and the bossa nova Gayestski, where his fluid, nebulous lines echo Bill Frisell in their semi-abstraction.

It is in the contrast of the two leaders’ sounds – the directness of the saxophone cushioned by the echoing guitar – and with that of Ross Stanley’s confident piano too, that makes this set such a success. But another key element is that much of the material was recorded in just one take, with no overdubs or second attempts. That sense of immediacy can be felt throughout.

In another contrast, Dave and partner Judith present a new take on the swinging tough-tenor duos of the 1960s, the three-track Omicron EP to book-end their successful His’n’Hers debut album from 2020. The title track – a Donald Byrd original – suitably sums up their good-humoured collaboration in an end-of-alphabet fashion, Ralph MacDonald’s funky Mister Magic is a strong crowd-pleaser, and their own Calypso Collapso is a good and colourful choice.

Also available is a Christmas single: Robert Wells and Mel Tormé’s The Christmas Song, better known perhaps as Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire (Ubuntu UBU0127), taken oh-so slowly and in traditional seasonal mode. Let’s hope they manage to complete another full album soon.

Discography
Pluto
Pluto; South Wind; Giant Steps GTI; Gayetski; Everything’s Under Control; Vague Recollection; Four In One; Ballad For Barry; One For The Six (55.41)
O’Higgins (ts); Rob Luft (elg); Ross Stanley (p); Misha Mullov-Abbado (b); Rod Youngs (d). Brixton, London, 9 January 2022.
Ubuntu Music UBU0126
Omicron
Omicron; Mister Magic; Calypso Collapso (17.17)
Dave O’Higgins, Judith O’Higgins (ts); Graham Harvey (p); Jeremy Brown (b); Josh Morrison (d). Brixton, London, 10 January 2022.
Ubuntu Music UBU0114