Andy Aitchison Quartet.
For many years the violin in jazz was associated in the public mind almost exclusively with Stéphane Grappelli, the masterful musical partner of guitarist Django Reinhardt in the Quintet of the Hot Club of France. Such was his world-wide popularity after the re-launch of his career in the 1970s that few other names ever rose far above the surface. That situation has changed over the past two decades partly because of the increasing interest in the many fine gypsy jazz groups to be heard in Europe, often featuring brilliant violinists. One of the finest of these is Andy Aitchison.
Inspired by hearing a Hot Club recording in his early teens, Andy was just 14 when he started playing violin in the cafes of his home town, the historic naval city on the south coast of England. After moving to London in the 1980s, he joined The Kimbara Brothers and toured all over the UK for several years. He also began to perform with established jazz artists such as guitarist John Etheridge and vocalist Tina May. Through Dave Kelbie, the rhythm guitarist on this CD, Andy met and played with two leading European gypsy jazz guitarists, Fapy Lafertin and Angelo Debarre, and with the Balkan music group Szapora. He still performs from time to time with The Morellos, a violin-guitar-double bass trio that he formed in the 1990s. In recent years he has performed extensively with the gypsy jazz guitar master Lollo Meier in the UK and Europe and has found demand for his talents in Italy where he has appeared with guitarist Jacopo Martini and multi-instrumentalist Attilio Troiano.
The album title You Ain’t Never is also the title of the opening track, a medium–tempo minor key swinger written by the leader. Bassist Paul Moylan takes the first solo over minor blues chord changes, gradually building from straight walking lines to more complex rhythmic figures before passing the baton to Jeff Green. His guitar enters with a relaxed four-note phrase, worthy of Charlie Christian, leading to a series of pleasing melodic lines that gradually step up the pressure. Aitchison begins his violin solo with two choruses of gentle probing around the minor blues form before digging in hard and deep with some robust double-stop riffs that propel the number to an upbeat conclusion.
The sultry, yearning quality of the ballad Willow Weep for Me has made it a timeless favourite among jazz artists with many classic recordings from Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald to Cannonball Adderley and Wes Montgomery. Ann Ronell wrote its music and lyrics in 1932 while she was dating George Gershwin. The harmonies of its opening two bars are the same as those of a classic 12-bar blues while its bridge section features a series of four descending chords with a dramatic Spanish feel. Andy Aitchison started his musical career as a guitarist with a particular interest in blues before devoting his attention to jazz on the violin and this early influence shines through in his soulful statement of the melody – economical and expressive. After a brief bluesy guitar-and-violin interlude, Jeff Green takes up the narrative with strong, confident guitar lines and with a brief respectful nod to Wes Montgomery along the way.
A delightful mid-tempo Six Appeal transports us back to June 1940 and the classic recording by the Benny Goodman Sextet with Charlie Christian. Aitchison and Green play those two roles with consummate ease, enjoying some musical banter as they alternate choruses towards the end. Andy Aitchison’s double-stops on the melody and the medium slow tempo brings an unusual poignancy and forgotten depth to Duke Ellington’s Just Squeeze Me, a song that more commonly gets a bright treatment. Other highlights include Sidney Bechet’s seldom-heard Blues In The Air, Aitchison’s finely nuanced statement of the melody on Night and Day, with every note receiving his full expressive attention; Paul Moylan’s arco bass together with Dave Kelbie’s rhythm guitar recalling how Stars Fell On Alabama; Green’s full-bodied guitar chords behind Aitchison’s superb violin on I Can’t Get Started. The inspired, swinging violin and guitar solos on the album closer, It’s Only a Paper Moon, will leave the listener replete and happy after an excellent musical feast.
As Andy Aitchison has already appeared on many recordings, it is perhaps a surprise that this CD is the first to bear his own name. It was well worth waiting for, as this album has a sound and a character all of its own. A glance at the instrumentation – violin, solo guitar, rhythm guitar and double bass – and one could reasonably assume that this is yet another album in the Hot Club idiom based around Grappelli’s lyrical violin and Reinhardt’s flamboyant acoustic guitar. But Aitchison has looked elsewhere for his inspiration and the music on this album has its roots in the American swing jazz of the late 1930s and the 1940s and, in particular the recordings of the Benny Goodman Sextet with Goodman’s clarinet and Charlie Christian’s electric guitar as the dominant front-line sound. Here Aitchison substitutes his violin and, like Goodman, has found the ideal guitarist as his musical partner. The arrangements include shout choruses and great hard-driving riffs from the violin, while the rhythm guitar owes more to Alan Reuss and Freddie Green than to Matelot Ferré and Joseph Reinhardt.
A word or two about the performers. Jeff Green is a master of swing jazz guitar. He exists in a firmament that includes Charlie Christian, Oscar Moore, Grant Green, Kenny Burrell, Herb Ellis and Wes Montgomery and shares their ability to play truly swinging phrases that are always perfectly placed. Totally fluent in the language of jazz, he is an economical soloist who never plays too many notes, but consistently delivers clear musical statements and solos that tell a story. No doubt these were the qualities that brought Jeff Green to the attention of Stéphane Grappelli, with whom he toured for several years. For the past 12 years Jeff has played a Yamaha AEX 1500 archtop guitar, from which he produces the beautiful, rounded sound that we hear throughout this album.
Double bassist Paul Moylan is one of those musicians that not only enjoys playing in many different styles and idioms but is successful in them all. His career takes in the Balkan music ensemble Szapora and Hot Club groups (both of these invariably alongside his long-standing colleague Dave Kelbie), a recent duo CD with guitarist Dominic Ashworth, and various Klezmer groups. He has also played in the pit of West End productions of Oliver! , Oklahoma! and Into the Woods and, as a composer, has written six musicals and co-wrote with family members Playing With Myself, which they performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Dave Kelbie’s rhythm guitar work provides the rhythmic and harmonic foundation for the music on this album. Maintaining a rock-steady pulse, he sometimes departs from the characteristic rhythm with a quasi-tango flavour or a couple of stop-time choruses. Dave has had the opportunity to learn his craft at first hand from leading Gypsy jazz guitarists such as Fapy Lafertin and Angelo Debarre for whom he has organised several tours in the UK through his company Lejazzetal, founded in 1989. It record label now has 12 CDs in its catalogue and his tireless promotion of Gypsy jazz, Hungarian and Balkan music has played a major role in popularising these genres in the UK. In recent years Kelbie’s reputation as a master of rhythm guitar has become international due to his extensive touring with Evan Christopher’s Django a la Creole.
Finally, there can be little doubt that this album will firmly establish Andy Aitchison up there alongside the leading violinists on today’s music scene. His command of the instrument is immense and he has developed a rich palette of musical colours -
expressive sounds such as those joyous double-stop riffs on a shout chorus or the light scraping of the bow on the strings at the end of a ballad – that give his music a conversational quality, that elusive feeling that he is speaking to just you alone.