Tim Garland (from the album ReFocus, Edition Records) (by Chris Wheatley)
To fully appreciate ReFocus, the wonderful new album by British saxophonist Tim Garland, which is out now on Edition Records, a bit of history needs to be laid down. It has been nearly thirty years since the ashes of tenor saxophonist Stan “The Sound” Getz were poured from his saxophone case into the waters off Marina del Ray, California. Born in 1927, Philadelphia, PA, during his lifetime Getz recorded some of the warmest, most lyrical Jazz on record. Getz was also an addict, of various persuasions, and led a troubled life until the end. His contemporary, Zoot Zims, once famously said of Getz that he was ‘a nice bunch of guys’. Paradoxically, there was nothing schizophrenic about the man's music; Getz left behind a remarkably cohesive and joyous body of work.
In 1961 Stan Getz recorded Focus, an album which showcased his playing against the backdrop of a string orchestra. Composer and arranger Eddie Sauter provided the orchestral half, purposefully leaving gaps for Getz to improvise melodies as they played. Sixty years on, Tim Garland has undertaken the intriguing task of reimagining this classic record. ‘Repeated listening to the 1961 recording’ he says ‘brought home just how important it was, and I was hooked on the idea’. Tim Garland's own Jazz credentials are beyond doubt, having carved out an impressive discography both as a leader and collaborator with the likes of Chick Corea, Bill Bruford, and John Dankworth. For any Jazz fan, ReFocus is an enticing project.
Those familiar with the original will find Garland's interpretations revelatory. Once you get over the curious jolt which comes of hearing this music transformed, you can settle down for a hugely enjoyable ride. Perhaps ‘transformed’ is not quite the right word. It is, rather, akin to seeing an old friend, after an absence of years, dressed in new clothes and looking remarkably well. Followers of Garland's work will not be surprised to learn that ReFocus is no mere cash-grab. Opener “I'm Late, I'm Late” sets the template. It is the same and yet it is not. Indeed, throughout this record there is a distinct altering of perspective, and the effect is subtle, profound, and enticing. “I'm Late, I'm Late” itself is a wondrous, idiosyncratic journey, pulling to mind everything from the wild, inventive cartoon scores of Carl Stalling to Be-Bop classics and beyond. The strings are supple, a touch lighter and more airy than the original recording. Tim Garland's playing is effortlessly evocative. Like the best of the best, he makes the difficult sound easy.
Perhaps the most striking facet of ReFocus is how natural it all sounds. It cannot have been an easy task to approach such a venerated work with a view to injecting something new and distinct. Tim Garland and the assembled players are faultless. One of those players, incidentally, is guitarist Ant Law, whose album The Sleeper Wakes I recently had the pleasure of reviewing for this esteemed site. Law provides guitar here on “Jezeppi”, a remarkable cut, full of restlessly plucked strings, edgy violins, and some beautiful flights of melody. Garland's purposeful approach to this reimagining extends to reinvention of most of the actual song titles. Getz's “Night Rider,” for example, is presented here as “Night Flight.” Garland's take manages to be even more nerve-jangling and exciting than the original, propelled by urgency in some delightfully scattershot directions.
I can fully understand why some are put off by such ventures. There will always be hardliners who shudder at the thought of any alteration to, or revisiting of, the original. That said, I am equally sure that the majority will appreciate Tim Garland's vision and applaud his motives. This reviewer is firmly in the latter camp, and to miss out on ReFocus would be a crying shame. This record is no re-boot, it is a love letter to Stan “The Sound” Getz, to the crazy wonder of Focus and to the spirit of artistic experimentation. (Chris Wheatley)
Listen and buy the music of Tim Garland from AMAZON
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