No, I didn’t find this one down the back of the sofa or behind a radiator, it’s just that good news travels slowly while bad news travels fast. Take A Moment Apart from Questio Io has been around for about a year, but it was only recently that project leader Michael Owers threw a copy of the CD at me from a passing car. Yes, he really is that busy.
Owers is a jazz musician based in Edinburgh who is firmly established as a first-call trombone player who’s graced a variety of ensembles and performances with his gregarious presence. He’s shared studio and stage with, among others, the ebullient Brass Jaw, the irrepressible Young Pilgrims and, more recently, Rachel Newton. He’s a regular member of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra with solid jazz credentials and vision, but a distinctly eclectic personal outlook.
If his group project Questio Io is awkwardly named, then there is nothing unwieldy about the music on Take A Moment Apart. As a composer, Owers has a gentle, considerate relationship with melody, and the tunes on this recording are generally played with a comforting lightness of touch.
The opening bars of Questintro suggest the strong influence of the folk/jazz crosstalk that is so prevalent now on the Scottish music scene. Early proponents such as Lau and leading examples such as Aidan O’Rourke’s Hotline project are bound to echo through subsequent explorations, but Owers and company bring something distinctly tangential to the mix.
A Good Time To Call picks up the strong melodic thread, but its time signature is stamped throughout by a regular pulse implying a continuous engaged tone. It’s a musical pun that threatens to outstay its welcome before morphing in and out of the mix. More importantly, it prepares the listener for a diversity of ideas that draw equally from the reassuring charm of Scottish folk song and the restlessness of improvisational jazz.
The wordplay continues with the following tracks, Steve Gadd’s Dad Parts One and Two. Part one is full of complex dynamics that sound like the hero of Fairport’s A Sailor’s Life had sailed into the present century in order to be part of something much more exploratory than an aimless life on the seven seas. Part Two has a lot of the same density, but seems more interested in tuneful engagement than ambience and atmospherics.
This a recording full of music that is a thought-stream of ideas linked by great presence of mind and firm navigational sensibilities. The emotional barometer of How I Feel About You is a bit of a manic joyride, although it never completely goes off the scale. Get It Together along with Down to The Ground are among the strongest tracks, if only for the sunny, smiley, up-and-at-em disposition of the former, and the cheerful intellect of the latter. Both are a salutary reminder that the trombone can drive a feelgood tune along with the best of them, and say new things as a solo instrument without resorting to anything other than the musicality of the player.
Owers wrote all the music with lyrics to the vocal parts written and sung sweetly by Gillian Fleetwood. The rhythm section of Charlie Stewart on double bass and Greg Barry on drums keep everything together with richly patterned shapes of their own, and contributes significantly to the consistently warm feel of the album.
Fleetwood on clarsach adds delicacy to the Owers’ agreeable melodies, while Innes Watson’s speculative guitar swoops in and out, a bit like an osprey hunting a deep loch for rich pickings. Cameron Maxwell manfully tweaks the technical stuff on synth here and there, but I have to say (sorry men) that it’s Laura Wilkie on fiddle who is responsible here for some of the most distinctive and original playing on that instrument you are likely to hear this side of Kinross.
Take A Moment Apart is heartily recommended by 1320Radio in the hope that it does not suffer the fate of many a similarly overlooked treasure. We also want to encourage readers to keep their eyes and ears open for the next one. You wouldn’t want to miss it.