The Full Circle Quartet: The South Downs Suite

Romantic salute to chalky southern England has saxophonist Josephine Davis reminding, in keeping with the pastoral mood, of Jan Garbarek


There is a long-standing tradition for artists of all disciplines to be influenced by their environment. After all, the natural world is an obvious and ready-made stimulant. Sometimes that influence may be expressed in a very subtle way and at other times it is totally dominant. The South Downs Suite veers very much in that latter direction.

The South Downs Suite is not the vision of one, but four musicians inspired by living and working in and around the South Downs of England. For those unfamiliar with the geography, the South Downs is the newest of all the national parks to be created. Conceived in 2010, the park stretches from Winchester in the west to Eastbourne in the east. It traverses the counties of Hampshire, West Sussex and East Sussex. It’s unique for its chalk hills, chalk stream rivers and where the park touches the coast, its white cliffs such as those found at Seven Sisters and Beachy Head.

There have been other musical responses to the South Downs, the most recent being a classical composition by Ed Hughes, professor of composition at the University of Sussex, to mark the tenth anniversary of the park. To my knowledge, this album by the Full Circle Quartet is the first jazz-orientated piece to be composed. Poetry and paintings are also part of this creative collaboration.

The Full Circle Quartet comprises Josephine Davies, who was voted jazz instrumentalist of the year in the 2019 Parliamentary Jazz Awards; pianist Joss Peach, a BAFTA Award winning television composer; double bassist Terry Pack, session musician and composer with nearly 50 years of professional playing; and drummer Angus Bishop, session musician and composer.

Whilst some of the tracks are specific to a location, such as Amberley, Selborne, Seven Sisters and Cathedral (be that Winchester, Chichester or Arundel?), others have a more generic feel e.g., Chalk And Flint, One January Morning and River Runs.

The music ranges from being cinematic, gentle, moody, brooding and romantic to ethereal; but it’s never simplistic or idealistic. This is the South Downs in all its seasons and moods and those who know it well would rarely use the term bucolic.

Whilst I hesitate to single out individual musicians, the soprano and tenor saxophone playing of Josephine Davies is outstanding. There are strong hints of Jan Garbarek here, but that is not to detract from the very fine playing of the remainder of the quartet. This was a difficult piece to compose and even more difficult to execute well. In all respects, the Full Circle Quartet have succeeded in creating an intelligent, creative and moving suite of music. Whilst it succeeds as a piece of jazz music it will also appeal to other tastes.

Oasis; Pathways; The Dance Of The Dragonfly; River Runs; Amberley; Cathedral; Chalk And Flint; Selborne; One January Morning; For Now/Jack And Jill; La Belle Dame De Belle Tout; Seven Sisters; A Walk In The Woods (77.00)
Josephine Davies (ss, ts); Joss Peach (v, p, pc); Terry Pack (v, b); Angus Bishop (d, pc). The Playroom, Arundel, West Sussex 1, 2 November 2022.
New Leaf NL003