Helena Kay’s KIM Trio: Golden Sands

Sonny Rollins and Chris Cheek inspired Scottish saxophonist plays her own melodic post-bop tunes with swing, Latin and ballad backgrounds


London-based tenor saxophonist Helena Kay has released her second album. It follows Moon Palace from 2018. All nine tracks have been composed by Kay, many of them while she was living in New York in 2020. Her trio comprises bassist Calum Gourlay (who leads his own quartet and big band) and David Ingamells on drums (Kate Williams, Brandon Allen). It’s been enhanced for this album to include guest pianist and friend, Peter Johnstone (Peter Johnstone Trio & Tommy Smith Quartet).

Kay, who received the Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year award in 2015, cites Sonny Rollins as an influence and is inspired by contemporary artists such as Melissa Aldana, Dayna Stephens and Chris Cheek. I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing her play in Issie Barratt’s Interchange Dectet and also Calum Gourlay’s quartet.

The titles of her new compositions reflect various episodes in her life. The whimsical opener, Amor Y Amargo (love and bitter in Spanish) is the name of a New York cocktail bar that Kay frequented when she lived there. The intervallic Xian Impressions, somewhat marred by an overlong passage of repetitive notes on piano partway, refers to a north London noodle place. It’s followed by the melodic Towards The Sun and then a rather wistful Carla, written in tribute to Carla Bley.

Da Dratsie is uplifting if not perky – it means the otter in Shetland dialect. (Kay’s father’s family is from Shetland and her granny still lives there.) Tuesday Club is dedicated to New York friends with whom Kay went to hear live jazz each week at the Village Vanguard. The highly reflective 20/20 refers to 2020 when she was living in the Big Apple and the contemplative title track comes from a bedtime song her grandmother used to sing. The smoky closer, Double 7, is “for all you darts fans”.

Kay’s delivery is artful, imaginative and self-assured while Gourlay, Ingamells and Johnstone are eloquent in their ensemble support and solo contributions.

Amor y Amargo; Xian Impressions; Towards The Sun; Carla; Da Dratsie; Tuesday Club; 20/20; Golden Sands; Double 7 (65.24)
Kay (ts); Peter Johnstone (p); Calum Gourlay (b); David Ingamells (d). East Lothian, 25 April 2022.
Sulis Records 001