Mike Lee: Above the Battleground

This is a nicely surprising record. The lines are solid and everyone concerned makes strong individual contributions, but it is the group feeling that jumps out at you. To appreciate what good bass lines Ben Allison plays you have to focus on him. Ditto for Matt Ray’s piano and Tim Horner’s drums. I do prefer Lee’s muscular tenor work to his soprano and clarinet-in fact I think we may need legislation about tenormen doubling on soprano-but everything else about this record is a smile.

I have heard a bit of Tim Hagans before and I really enjoy his approach, sort of like an updated Art Farmer (from Farmer’s trumpet days). Ray is impressive as a soloist but even more as a tasteful comper. The whole group just listens so well-folks despairing about the state of the art who spend their time choosing between a twenty-third Blakey record or a seventeenth Lee Morgan may find solace here.