Shapeshifters - Shapeshifters (Album Review)
Updated: Jan 24
25 January 2021
New Jazz Records
Album Rating 4 / 5
Live Potential 4.5 / 5
Solo Performances 5 / 5
Diversity in Songs 4 / 5
Favourite Songs Hiding Away, Mind Hoover, High Flyer
Shapeshifters are a contemporary jazz trio from Leeds, and their eponymous debut album displays three friends completely in touch with each other musically. There is plenty of trust in each other's ability, allowing the improvisation from all the musicians to glide and move through all the songs beautifully.
With Anna Chandler on alto saxophone, Sam Quintana on double bass and Steve Hanley composing and on the drums, the three have been amongst the local Leeds jazz scene for a while, having been involved in various projects including groups like Mansion of Snakes, Treppenwitz, Family Band and Wandering Monster.
The trio are holding a digital album launch on Mon 25th Jan which will feature footage from recent gigs, brand new live-in-the-studio videos and a wealth of interview content where they make sense of their creation. The album was recorded back in September 2019, and rather than continuing to delay the release until the situation improves. the trio felt that now is the time to launch the record.
They combine their musical backgrounds with influences from the likes of Charles Mingus, Fly Trio and the Tristano School, and the album features a mix of original material and unique takes on standard repertoire all produced through a coherent narrative. The group had this to say about the record:
"We formed Shapeshifters as a vehicle for challenging ourselves to improvise without compromise. The music on this record is the product of 18 months of playing together, constantly striving for fluidity, spontaneity and trust within the band."
'Hiding Away' is the standout track, Chandler has magnificent control on the alto sax and solos before starting an arpeggiating pattern that oscillates between Quintana's bass that struts in and echos off the tom fills from Hanley.
'Mind Hoover' starts with intrigue too, with Hanley using a beater to create a subdued ringing from the bottom hi-hat that evolves effortlessly into a fluttering brushes solo. He picks the sticks up and gains pace to the song, as Chandler plays some lovely lingering long notes before using the dynamics expertly to increase the intensity and back off when necessary.
When playing together they embrace spontaneity and are able to morph the direction of a piece at the flick of a switch. 'Dark Murmur' emphasises this with the flow between the trio, never ceasing at its driving speed, not chaotic but fluid with their improvising. Hanley's drum solo is spectacular here as well. Quintana's bass and Chandler's sax bounce off each other wonderfully in 'High Flyer' whilst their take on Miles Davis's 'All Blues' in 'Cliff Hangin'' has a fantastic energy to it that lives up to the original recording.
The group intended to release this debut alongside their first ever UK tour in spring 2020, and the proposed tour would have been an exciting chapter for the band, seeing them perform outside of Leeds for the first time. After waiting to choose the best time to release, they now have the support of Leeds-based label New Jazz Records run by composer/educator/trumpet player James Hamilton to support the Leeds scene. This record accompanies previous releases on the label from The Jamil Sherif Trio, Drawing Hands, Kevin Holbrough (featuring Dave Newton) and James Hamilton Jazz Orchestra.
Shapeshifters constantly challenge themselves to improvise fearlessly and unapologetically, and the results are magnificent - a fluent debut album of expert solos and togetherness in each pattern and phrase.
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