Alex Merritt/Steve Fishwick Quintet (new album ‘Mind-Ear-Ladder’, and tour dates) – London Jazz News

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Mind-Ear-Ladder is the quintet’s debut album co-led by saxophonist Alex Merritt and trumpeter Steve Fishwick, (Fresh Sound New Talent). The album puts a new spin on a classic jazz sound – Blue Note from the 1960s. Both musicians are also looking forward to tour dates in Bristol, Birmingham and Hove. Reporting by John Bungey.

Alex Merritt and Steve Fishwick. photo credit Eleonora Zwierzchowska

“We met a long time ago at a Ronnie Scott jam session,” says the trumpeter Steve Fishwick of his collaborator, the tenor saxophonist Alex Merrit, “and we liked to play each other. It was like, ‘You sound good…you sound good too. Let’s try to do some gigs together. After a while, it’s ‘Well, that’s fun. It works.’ So if we want to do this more seriously, we’re going to have to write our own music.

And now, some nine years later, after a lockdown delay or two, that meeting of musical talent has paid off on record with the album Mind-Ear-Ladder. Cue a round of warm applause from the UK jazz media. With four tunes each by Merritt and Fishwick and one by the pianist Jean Turville, the band takes the hard bop spirit of 1960s Blue Note and gives it a 21st century twist. There are rhythmic and harmonic ideas and some classical notes that distinguish this music from the days of Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard. Among the highlights: Merritt’s soft and creamy tone on My BalladTurville’s elegant and imaginative piano on Pablo-ishFishwick’s reputation for his soaring, flamboyant trumpet enhanced by the beautifully named Dr Wu, what’s wrong with you. Ensemble passages also burn, powered by Steve’s twin brother, Maston drums and bassist Mick Coady.

“We’re using a familiar sound world for a live audience with these slightly different reference points – pushing the boundaries a bit,” Merritt explains. The only headache for some was the title, Mind-Ear-Ladder. Fishwick struggles to explain: “As a musician, I think you have to have the notes in your mind – in your imagination – before you play them. You should be able to play your instrument in your head. So Mind has the idea. The ear is able to hear it in real time. Scale refers to where the artist is in this process – because you are always trying to improve. You are always trying to reach the next level. Fishwick smiles. “So in a nutshell, that’s what it means.”

The band’s approach evolved into playing Kenny Dorham tunes “and things we really liked from the lore – Warne Marsh or Jerry Bergonzi,” Merritt says. “I guess we kept that in mind when we wrote.”

Fishwick adds: “What interests me is playing in the jazz tradition and continuing to play swing and stuff like that, but you’re trying to create a modern language… There’s a lot of music – and it can be great music – but sometimes he tries to throw too much of that stuff out the window.

Both have had the pleasure of taking their songs on tour and discovering that the public hasn’t lost the taste for live jazz. “I’m just glad I can do it,” Fishwick says, “because there was a moment during the pandemic — and I think it crossed every musician’s mind — ‘Oh my word, maybe be that we can never do again. Maybe there won’t be any more concerts. But the audience is healthy. It seems like people want to go out.

Mind-Ear-Ladder is released by Fresh Sound New Talent, originally a Barcelona-based reissue label now releasing new recordings. On the occasion of 30 years of Fresh Soundand anniversary, Merritt is producing an album featuring UK-based musicians on the label which will be released later this year. Fishwick, Tom Ollendorff, Alex Hitchcock, Sam Braysher, Ronan Perrett, Adele Sauros, Conor Chaplin and Jay Davis are all involved.

Merritt says the style is quite contemporary, drawing on musical ideas developed with the quintet and written with the musicians’ personalities in mind. “Steve and I wrote some new material for it, which was a lot of fun,” Merritt says. There are also hopes of another quintet recording; it seems that this partnership still has a long way to go.

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Mind-Ear-Ladder is published by Fresh Sound New Talent

TOUR DATES: The quintet will play Bristol Fringe Jazz on April 27; Birmingham Jazz, April 29; St Andrew’s Church, Hove, June 24; alexmerritt.co.uk/gigs/

LINK: Alex Merritt spoke to LJN about The Shed, a series of jazz seminars on Zoom by the saxophonist and his guests in this INTERVIEW

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