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Friday, October 6, 2023

John Pope Quintet – Citrinitas (New Jazz and Improvised Music Recordings, 2023)

By Sammy Stein

Citrinitas is the second album from John Pope’s award-winning quintet, comprising Pope on double bass and percussion, Jamie Stockbridge on alto and baritone saxophone, Faye MacCalman on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Graham Hardy on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Johnny Hunter on drum kit and glockenspiel.

The name ‘Citrinitas’ comes from the mysterious alchemy of ‘yellowing’ that occurs in compounds, metals, ores, and other substrates and is appropriate as there are many subtleties that change within the music as the tracks develop. From the stellar opener ‘Free Spin’ with its big statement paraphrases and solos to the sensitive exploration of ‘Through The Earth’

All the pieces are new and captured as the quintet performed in Pope’s native Newcastle upon Tyne.

Sometimes fiery with unleashed energy and at others swinging, mysterious, and emotive, the music traverses a range of atmospheres, and emotions, the alchemy between the music and musicians serving to create something new.

The tracks represent a collection of music with spontaneous improvisation around compositional elements at its heart. ‘Citrinitas’ was conceived as a project to explore the potential of recording in performance, and a celebration of community and collaboration.

The accompanying documentary, filmed during rehearsal and performance for the album sessions, highlights the importance of connection, communication, trust, and friendship in creative music-making.

Outstanding solos are dotted throughout such as that of the sax and brass on ‘Through The Earth’ – which, incidentally, dissolves like a fractioning chemical mix, into various side winds and separate paths, intertwined but separated during the latter stages, before blending in an ensemble interaction.

‘Shadow Work’ is clever, mysterious, and smoochy, the bass line almost continuous, responded to by the drums while the brass and reeds interact around them creating a wonderful sense of unity before a pause, a breath while the instruments enter sparingly, the tinkly percussion offset by pips and blasts from brass and reeds before it evolves into a final phrase of togetherness – outstanding.

‘Citrinitas’ is a powerful statement from a band hellbent on celebrating the delight of interacting with fellow musicians. The energy and drive of the music is infectious and the leading bass lines provide powerful intersections around which the musicians gather and devolve, demonstrating the bass is not just a supportive instrument. At times, the bass dictates the rhythm and essence of a track and at other times, it supplies an idea, and the rest of the ensemble picks it up and runs.

The release is part of The New Jazz and Improvised Music Recordings project that was established during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, offering a creative output for musicians when live performance opportunities were unavailable and encouraging artist independence. Emphasizing sustainability for artists and music studios, the ethos of sustainability also carries through the production process by employing a carbon-neutral manufacturing plant and distributors, using recycled and biodegradable materials whenever possible. The album is supported by a Peter Whittingham Jazz Development Award from Help Musicians and is proudly performed and recorded in Newcastle. It represents the breadth and strength of the creative culture in Pope’s beloved city.

There are some magical moments on the album, such as the arco bass session during ‘A Procession of Heads’ and the full ensemble swing beats and the riotous solos vying with each other in the middle section of ‘World Dancer’ before it veers into counterpointed rhythms and mesmeric shifts in patterns. Or the improvisation around the Calypso of ‘Hiba’ and the crazy beats of ‘Quantum Stepper’. The constant surprises provided on this album are a lift for the heart and a make it a wonderful listen.

Citrinitas or ‘yellowing’ is one of the steps in the Magnum Opus – the mythical process of being able to turn base metal into pure gold. On this album, the quintet is closer to gold than they might imagine. I didn’t just like this album–I loved it and it is currently on repeat. I recommend it to anyone – do the same.