Benet McLean: Green Park

Sometime pianist and singer McLean focuses on his childhood study, the violin, in a dynamic set that mixes manouche, bop, folk and jazz fusion


I first saw Benet McLean 10 years ago when he played piano and sang with Jay Phelps’s Projections Of Miles sextet at Seven Arts Leeds. His performance was impressive. With a solid lineup of Phelps on trumpet, Soweto Kinch on tenor, Logan Richardson on alto, Tim Thornton on bass and Shane Forbes on drums, the veritable star of the band that night turned out to be McLean. In Green Park though, he’s no longer the pianist. Instead he plays violin, the instrument he apparently took up at the age of three. He’s supported by Duncan Eagles on tenor sax, Liam Dunachie piano, Rio Kai double bass and Portuguese drummer Zoe Pascal.

This is McLean’s fifth album as leader following The Bopped And The Bopless in 2016, Live At The 606 ( 2013), In The Land Of Oo-Bla-Dee (2010) and Clichés For Another Day (2005). It’s the first album in which he plays violin. The music is busy, generally fast-paced and intensive. While often abstract and experimental, it embraces a mélange of elements including jazz manouche, hints of hard and post-bop, folk and jazz fusion. All tracks are composed by McLean apart from Bobby Watson’s Fuller Love.

The opener, Blue Fingers, is something of a free-jazz jam. It has dramatic violin eventually synchronising with tenor sax, jerky soloing from B3 organ and unsettling background drums. It’s noisy, exuberant and unmelodic. In contrast, Lucy, starts with a more lyrical tenor and bass line. After the rest of the band comes in, McLean solos and picks up the opening theme to close the number. The pace slows with Red where Dunachie opens with whimsical piano and McLean swoops in with matching violin. Then piano and sax each solo delicately. Fuller Love has vamping piano, energetic and intertwined violin and tenor with brisk bass and drums underpinning the whole.

Forceful drums open Mr Bap. More synchronised violin and sax ensues with B3 organ adding meat. Kai solos on bass and Pascal delivers intricate drums before the whole band sails off into a different time signature before fading out. The Pharaoh is ethereal at times with floating violin, flute played by Eagles, cowbells and metronomic drum ticks. The last track, Jo, features more sax and violin in lockstep, piano soloing, urgent repeating violin, irregular staccato drums and a decelerating finish.

I should imagine live performances by this band will get audience feet tapping and for contemporary jazz violin aficionados, this album will be right up their street.

Blue Fingers; Lucy; Red; Fuller Love; Mr Bap; The Pharoah; Jo (44.44)
McLean (vn); Duncan Eagles (ts, f); Liam Dunachie (p, org); Rio Kai (b); Zoe Pascal (d). London, 2023.
Sea Mammal Records SM2301