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Out of the shadows

Chris Searle on Jazz - Jean toussaint

Jean Toussaint

Live in London and Paris

(Space Time Records)

Born in St Thomas in the Virgin Islands in 1960, Jean Toussaint grew up with calypso stomping in his veins.

As a teenager he was as student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and at 22 the sound of his tenor saxophone attracted the attention of the veteran drummer Art Blakey.

Between 1982 and '86 he was a member of one of Blakey's final versions of the Jazz Messengers, touring the world with confreres like trumpeter Terence Blanchard, pianist Mulgrew Miller and altoist Donald Harrison.

He decamped to Britain in 1987, where he has both performed and taught at Birmingham Conservatory and Trinity College of Music.

Not a prolific recording artist, he has been constantly underexposed and undervalued, so this very live album, cut partly in Paris at the Sunside in 2004 and partly at the 606 Jazz Club on the Fulham Road in 2008, is a welcome boost to his canon.

With him are his regular piano confrere Andrew McCormack, with bassist Larry Bartley and Troy Miller on drums.

Jerome Barde employs his own invented "Bardophone," a modified guitar, on two of the Paris tracks and Benet McLean takes the piano stool for the final track Round Midnight.

Toussaint leaps into the album on his soprano for the opener The Bean Counter, which according to the accompanying notes, is "a negative tribute to the greed and heartlessness of the international banking system," and the new millennium's equivalent of Duke Ellington's ironic Wall Street Wail of 1929, which put into the jazz consciousness the terrible social consequences of that year's financial crisis.

Toussaint unleashes some fiery torrid lines with subliminal pain in their timbre, while Miller simultaneously propels and answers them beside Bartley's relentless pulse.

It is a sound of our fiscal times with capital on its edge, and McCormack's choruses with their piled-up cadences tell us that something large is falling.

Toussaint's unaccompanied tenor at the outset of Random Discourse has echoes of another powerful hornman with his provenances in the Virgin Islands, the 80-year-old Sonny Rollins.

Toussaint shakes off his notes like an earnest prophet while McCormack's repeated chords build up a wall of fevered sound.

Chubby Rain is McCormack's jaunty tune, full of life and optimism and includes a ringing solo from Barde's Bardophone, weaving intricacy and springing movement.

The 14 minutes of Heian Yondan are Toussaint's sonic tribute to the Shokotan form of martial arts, and his tenor spurts a sense of proud defiance, his long solo gurgling with a muscled artistry while Miller stokes up the rhythmic engine.

McCormack takes over and the thinking energy of his chorus stretches far inside the listening ears, his notes chiming like besotted bells.

Toussaint returns to more blessed and Caribbean-edged ground to find the dedicatee of his own moving praise-song, Hymn (For Mother).

Switching back to soprano, he etches endearment and admiration in every note, often with a soaring peal of birdsong-like sound hover over bass and drums.

McCormack's tenderness of phrase and inventiveness sound almost classical in its realisation and beauty, reminding us of his recent performances with the London Symphony Orchestra, before Toussaint returns with his own loving theme.

On to a remembrance of a great trumpeter and fellow ex-Jazz Messenge, Mirage - a salute to the recently passed Freddie Hubbard, which is Toussaint's composition based upon Ellington's classic theme, Caravan.

Hubbard's horn excitation and all-out musical commitment is well recalled in the authoritative and bold flight of Toussaint's soprano anad McCormack's own rampaging choruses.

Miller's percussive volleys towards the close of the piece arouse a feeling of joy in a jazz life powerfully lived, and prompted me to remember Hubbard's signal anti-Vietnam war message of his 1971 album Sing Me A Song of Songmy.

The finale of many fine albums is also the finale of this one - Monk's Round Midnight, hauntingly comforting, smarting yet warmly humane.

Toussaint plays it as a rhapsody, with the beating heart of Bartley's bass close beside him, and followed by a pounding, echoing solo from McLean.

It's a resonating and enduring album, bringing Toussaint radiantly out of the shadows.


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