Olie Brice Quintet: Day After Day

Issued on the fine British label Babel, Day After Day is the assured sophomore effort from double bassist Olie Brice, whose debut set Immune To Clockwork caught the ear of many when it surfaced in 2014. The new one's a strong quintet outing that sees the leader, a well-known quantity on the British jazz scene, joined by cornetist Alex Bonney, saxophonists George Crowley and Mike Fletcher, and drummer Jeff Williams on six compositions rich in personality and well-suited to the talents of all involved.

The press text cites Julius Hemphill and Oliver Lake as figures one might associate with Brice's material, in its bluesier moments especially, but to these ears it more suggests linkages to Ornette Coleman's classic quartet (circa The Shape of Jazz to Come and Change of the Century) and The Art Ensemble of Chicago. Williams and Brice power his compositions with an enthralling rhythmic drive that's limber and loose yet also locks in with precision. There are times when Williams' pulse calls to mind Billy Higgins or Ed Blackwell, while the saxophonists wail with a keening, Ornette-like conviction alongside Bonney's Cherry-esque blowing. It's hard not to hear Brice and Williams as some modern-day equivalent to Haden and Blackwell the moment the rambunctious “Red Honey Yellow Honey” gets rolling at full steam, and the deftness with which the duo pauses in preparation for another soloist's entrance proves mesmerizing. The set-ending title track, on the other hand, serves up an emotionally expressive dirge that in the quintet's elastic shaping suggests the distance separating the AEC and Brice's outfit is small indeed.

The band's a flexible unit that gives powerful voice to the leader's melodic material while also invigorating it with bold individual statements and free playing. Compositionally, sharply defined themes and structures are in place, but they're never so restrictive that the musicians don't have ample room to maneuver. The opening “Aunt Nancy's Balloons,” for example, affords all five liberal avenues for expression when the tune's form declares itself more as an undercurrent than explicit framework. The bluesy, sing-song melodicism of “If You Were the Only Girl in the World” unfurls at a slower tempo that allows for a clearer appreciation of the members' interplay.

In short, this is music that regularly soars in large part due to the fluid interactions between the five. All three of the front-line players elevate Brice's material with inventive playing, and witnessing the chemistry on display provides no small amount of pleasure and satisfaction. There's nothing redundant, by the way, about having two saxophonists involved when the contrasts between them are often pronounced; it's not uncommon for a coolly calibrated solo by one to be followed by a fiery turn by the other. Needless to say, Brice is stellar throughout, whether contributing an arco solo to one piece or locking in with Williams at a furious tempo during another.

August 2017