Jazz in the UK: May 2023 Album Releases

We welcome Nick Lea, editor of Jazzviews.net, for a monthly column recapping some of the key releases from the UK jazz scene this May. Want to know more about any of the albums? Head to his site for the full reviews.

There have been some great albums released in the UK this month, honed and perfected by musicians from a diverse array of musical backgrounds and bringing something original and unique to proceedings.


One of the most important things that goes into making such compelling music is the compatibility of the members of the band. When the chemistry is right the music flows freely and seemingly effortlessly.

This is certainly true of the new album Narrations, from tenor saxophonist Duncan Eagles who has brought together a collection of original pieces that, while telling their own tales, are in fact chapters that link together to tell the complete story.

The compositions by Eagles are robustly constructed and yet never predictable. It can be a balancing act when composing in such a manner not to allow the music to become too clever and to stifle itself in its own complexity. Eagles manages to overcome this pitfall with some strong melodies, and sound structural guidelines for the band to follow. As such the music is held together with no little conviction and startling interplay from all. 

The rhythm section works superbly as a unit and particularly impressive is the playing of pianist Tomasz Bura, whose wonderful introduction to ‘Local Hero’ sets things up beautifully for the leader’s plaintive entry on tenor. The saxophonist and pianist also work empathetically on the lovely ballad ‘Rosebush’ that also features fine contributions from the bass and drums partnership of Max Luthert and Zoe Pascal.

Returning To Myself

Duncan Eagles is also heard on another album released in May, that of vocalist Laura Lantano with her debut album Returning To Myself. A delightful album of original songs penned by Laura and arranged for voice, piano and saxophone, the music has a directness that is deeply affecting. The songs touch on life, love and loss, and the poignant ‘All Is Not Lost’ has a powerfully delivered vocal from Lantano.

The line up allows for the intricately arranged songs to shine through with Sam Leak on piano a tower of strength and saxophonist Eagles shadowing the vocal line with his own melodic statements that never intrude on the lyrics or their meaning.

Sharp Little Bones

Making their debut recording on Ubuntu Music is Sharp Little Bones Volumes I & II comprising of the house rhythm section of Peggy’s Skylight who are joined for the occasion by saxophonist Tony Kofi. Leaving his alto in the case, Kofi treats us to some meaty tenor playing.

‘Stranger Danger’ is a bop tune that bassist Simon Paterson (who incidentally wrote all the material) composed; it’s a contrafact on one of his own pop tunes and is clearly right up his street, delivering a spectacular solo. 

Lest things should become a little too familiar and comfortable, the groups judicious use of both acoustic and electronic instruments is beautifully demonstrated on the ballad ‘Downfall’ in which Paterson’s electric bass gets a restrained and lyrical solo, and the bassist is heard to fine effect again on ‘Sorceress’.

Pianist Paul Deats does a sterling job throughout whether on acoustic piano or synth, but it is his Rhodes on ‘Blue Finger’ that is particularly infectious.

There are thirteen tracks over two CDs with no sign of self indulgence or another overlong album in sight. In a single nine hour session, most of the tracks were single takes, the band were obviously having a good time and it would have been rude of them not to share the results with us.

Degrees of Freedom

Another recording that features a fine quartet is Phil Bancroft’s Degrees Of Freedom featuring an impressive set of original music that does not pull any punches. Bancroft’s aim was, he says, “to explore compositions with more structured chord sequences and how this meets elements of freedom within the music.”

Degrees Of Freedom by Phil Bancroft Quartet

The saxophonist himself plays with gusto, and the sheer exuberance of his playing is exhilarating. Pushing at the boundaries within the framework of each composition there is an incendiary exchange with tenor and drums on ‘Findlay MacDonald Ate My Hamster’.

It is interesting to hear how the compositions structure the music, but that it is the musicians who shape it and decide its form.

This interaction is exemplified on the excellent ‘Who Cares About The B-Test?’ and the cleverly conceived ‘Larry De Lux And The Temple of Zoom’ that begins ‘out’ before moving ‘in’.

Paul Harrison’s piano accompaniment on ‘Is That You Gladys In The Conservatory?’ is impeccable as the saxophonist turns in another strong contribution. This is robust jazz that exudes a feeling of warmth and camaraderie.


The same can be said of Circeo from the Dave Storey Trio in an intriguing set that thoroughly investigates the history of the sax/bass/drums trio.

With compositions from tenor saxophonist James Allsopp the music ranges from free sounding saxophone excursions that touch on late period Coltrane on ‘Gemelli’ and Sonny Rollins on the calypso inspired ‘Joe’.

The drive and flow of the bass and drums team of Conor Chaplin and Dave Storey ensure the music remains firmly grounded, and in a set that closes with a ballad in a lovely reading of ‘Body And Soul’ the lesson comes full circle in a most satisfying manner.

At Pizza Express Live In London

Staying with the tenor saxophone a little while longer, no round up of May’s releases would be complete without a mention of Scott Hamilton’s latest album on the newly formed Pizza Express Live imprint.

A little bit of poetic licence to include this by the US tenor man, but Hamilton has been adopted as one of their own by UK audiences, and he did reside in England for a short while. The recording At Pizza Express Live In London does also feature one of the finest accompanying British trios.

You’ll all know what to expect with this and cannot fail to be disappointed. Deeply swinging mainstream jazz featuring a programme of standards performed to perfection but always with a surprise or two along the way.

Jazz Suite Inspired by Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood

Making a welcome return this May in the first reissue on vinyl since 1976 was the Stan Tracey Quartet’s classic recording Jazz Suite Inspired by Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood. 

This album will be held dear by many a jazz fan of a certain age, but is one of those recordings that should be heard by everyone that has an interest in the development of Jazz in Britain.

An album that – perhaps above all others – showed that British jazz could step out of the shadow of the American masters and dare to be different, producing music that was completely original.

Stan’s compositions are unlike anyone else’s in jazz, although his processing of influences is undoubtably discernible, and the quartet play the music with a conviction and passion that is tangible. 

There can be few moments as jaw dropping as Bobby Wellins’ saxophone on ‘Starless And Bible Black’, and here along with the other seven compositions that make the recording we can hear history in the making.

That’s your May recap from the UK!

Thanks to Nick for putting this together, and feel free to hop over to Jazzviews.net for more reviews, or join their Friday newsletter for the latest in new album releases.

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