Jim Rattigan: Duos

The English French-horn man plays duos on standards with pianists Ivo Neame and Hans Koller and guitarist Nick Costley-White


French-horn master Rattigan links up with two pianists and a guitar player on these three CDs, sold as a box set. It begins with Dialogues, a set of seven tracks with pianist Ivo Neame where the two improvise together on music by Glazunov, Billy Strayhorn and Wayne Shorter along with four compositions by Rattigan and one by Neame.

Rattigan has a pure tone and an overall approach and sound on French horn that is reminiscent of Dennis Brain, the horn player that recorded an unsurpassed version of Mozart’s horn concertos. Rattigan was a member of the RPO and has played with leading London symphony orchestras so the comparison is not as far-fetched as you might imagine.

Here he plays some astonishingly vivid and musically warm horn solos as he and Neame combine. On Chelsea Bridge they hardly reference the melody at all, choosing to improvise together throughout and producing interesting solo lines and fascinating harmonies. Shorter’s unique ballad Infant Eyes receives a rather fragmented reading with changes of tempo. I’m not sure this does much for the composition, but Neame’s piano solo is a real gem. Dialogues covers a hint of classical in Reverie and Elegy, four original compositions and a new look at two jazz master works.

The second CD, You Must Believe In Spring, offers a fresh look at 11 standards. Rattigan and guitarist Nick Costley-White improvise smoothly crafted lines on these pieces with a striking interpretation of Parker’s Mood and a new look at My Funny Valentine. These pieces are the most relaxed and melodic among the three discs. Rattigan manages to put his own spin on most of them, only breaking into a brisk tempo on I Could Write A Book. He traces Parker’s blues line in a bold manner, altering his usual approach by keeping faithfully to Bird’s blues much as the altoist played it himself – none too easy a feat on French horn.

Costley-White maintains the laidback approach, going with gentle, probing lines on acoustic guitar. His most adventurous solo is on Alone Together. Body And Soul is given a give-and-take interpretation by the two musicians, who gently toy with the melody – nothing like the approach heard from the many tenor saxophonists who have felt obliged to tackle it ever since Hawkins set the standard.

Arguably the best and most satisfying set of duets here is on disc three, Thelonious Monk. This is, perhaps, because Rattigan approaches all 10 pieces in a straightahead manner, much as I believe Monk intended them to be played. If you don’t play Monk exactly as he wrote his tunes to be performed, you are soon in trouble. Monk employed Julius Watkins on French horn on one of his Prestige records, in 1954, so there is a link. But it didn’t sound quite like this. The familiar jagged lines receive a new sound courtesy of Rattigan and the studied support of pianist Hans Koller, a Monk enthusiast. Koller mixes in just the right combination of straight, lyrical playing and jagged chords and keyboard runs in Monk mode. CD2, the standards album, may have the most popular appeal, but the Monk set will delight many hard boppers.

CD1: (1) [Dialogues] Reverie; Elegy; Chelsea Bridge; Ishaya; A Hero’s Path; Infant Eyes; Passing Point (41.24)
CD2: (2) [You Must Believe In Spring] Ligia; Very Early; Parker’s Mood; My Funny Valentine; I Could Write A Book; You Must Believe In Spring; How My Heart Sings; Alone Together; Lush Life; Falling Grace; Body And Soul (46.09) 
CD3: (3) [Thelonious Monk] Ruby My Dear; Pannonica; ’Round Midnight; Trinkle Tinkle; Light Blue; Ugly Beauty; Blue Monk; Monk’s Mood; Ask Me Now; Epistrophy (38.23)

Rattigan (frh) with (1) Ivo Neame (p). (2) Nick Costley-White (g). (3) Hans Koller (p). January & October 2022 & 10 June 2023.
Three Worlds Records 0014, 0016, 0017