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March 2008

Alec Dankworth
If You’re Passing By…
Candid Records

In an era of hyperbole run riot, modesty can be a most becoming attribute. Alec Dankworth—yes, the son of British saxophonist John Dankworth and vocal icon Cleo Laine—fronts a delightfully restrained trio on If You’re Passing By … that mirrors the bassist’s appealing quiet-as-it’s-kept nature.

In contrast to the Generation Big Band that Dankworth has co-led with his father, Alec’s own trio generates its compact strength from the contributions of just two other highly regarded British players, guitarist Phil Robson and saxophonist Julian Arguelles. Interspersing Dankworth’s attractive originals with accommodating offerings from an eclectic crew (Bobby Troup, Abdullah Ibrahim, Jan Garbarek and Dave Brubeck), Passing By trains its brightest light on ensemble cohesiveness rather than individual instrumental prowess. (The leader’s moment in the sun, the unaccompanied “Minuet for Ray,” is just over a minute and a half.)

While only vaguely suggestive of such major bass-guitar-sax configurations, including those that united Jimmy Giuffre and Jim Hall and Lucky Thompson and Oscar Pettiford, the Dankworth trio shares a similar concern for dynamics and shifting tonal coloration. Arguelles makes the most of a consciously confined yet strikingly lyrical approach, particularly on tenor, while Robson manipulates both electric and acoustic guitars with immense taste that never threatens to slide into soothing banality. Dankworth, for his part, is an exceptional team player, placing the band’s unified sound before displays of his own virtuosity. The three-man/one-mind interplay that characterizes the best of the performances imparts the joy and rewards of collective music-making.

Originally published in March 2008
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