Indigo Kid: II: Fist Full of Notes

A number of different elements are in play on guitarist Dan Messore's second Indigo Kid album. The broad musical terrain encompassed by Fist Full of Notes stems in part from the strong connections the travel enthusiast has made to Santa Teresa, Costa Rica and Pembrokeshire, West Wales, both of whose wild beauty has proved inspirational. Perhaps it's the textural richness of such places that also accounts for Messore's interest in electronics and effects, evidence of which can be heard on the new release. But don't get the wrong impression: Fist Full of Notes is very much a jazz guitar recording, one firmly locked into the tradition without being shackled by it.

There are moments on the album when names such as Bill Frisell and John Scofield might come to mind but the delicate touch of Messore's playing can just as easily evoke Jim Hall and Wes Montgomery. It's interesting, however, that while his well-developed skills are evident throughout, Messore doesn't dominate; if anything, he so generously shares the spotlight that in certain moments the release could be mistaken for one by the saxophonist.

Joining Messore are bassist Tim Harries, a veteran of Bill Bruford's Earthworks (1989-1993) and Steeleye Span (1989-2001), and saxophonist Iain Ballamy, who over the course of a three-decade career has played with just about everyone, it seems (among them Earthworks, Gil Evans, and Carla Bley), though the latter appears on but two of the album's ten pieces; the others feature saxophonist Trish Clowes (who, in fact, was introduced to Messore by Ballamy), herself a composer with a number of albums under her belt. Drummer Martin France rounds out the players on this hour-long set (check out “Mr Randall” for a sampling of his dynamic playing). Incidentally, Messore's association with Ballamy precedes the current album; the two met when the guitarist was working on his MA in jazz and composition at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, after which Ballamy produced Messore's 2012 debut recording, Indigo Kid 1, for Babel.

As fundamental as jazz is to the album, Fist Full of Notes is not exclusively a jazz album, something made clear when the opening “Snow on the Presellis” finds Messore operating in Latin-folk mode on both acoustic and electric guitars and adorning the arrangement with ambient swaths. Here and elsewhere, Clowes plays with a soft, burnished tone that on a melodic ballad such as “Waiting for Paula” makes her seem as if she's playing Joe Lovano to Messore's Scofield (her guttural wail on the free-flowing, psych-rock excursion “From Nowhere to Our Place” a clear exception). As if to accentuate even further the album's reach, the band plunges into a dub-inflected episode midway through the tune, with the guitarist seizing the opportunity to embellish his playing with an array of echo effects. Elsewhere, Ballamy drapes his robust tone all over the sultry ballad “The Healing Process” and re-emerges for the somewhat Coltrane-esque closer “Sketches in the Fabric.”

Whether Messore has been influenced by Frisell or not, “Carpet Boys” could easily pass for one of his compositions, and the playing on the track likewise possesses the loose feel documented in his playing with Joey Baron. In like manner, Scofield's spirit seems to infuse Messore in the blues-drenched, bent-note riffing he spreads across “The Bay.” Matters of influence notwithstanding, Fist Full of Notes impresses as an excellent collection of modern jazz quartet playing, one that amply repays one's time and attention.

September 2015