Recommended: John Garner Quartet – “Blue Fields”


John Garner - "Blue Fields"Violinist John Garner has a new album out, and it’s pretty damn fun.  Blue Fields consists mostly of covers, and the few originals it does possess will likely leave you wishing that his quartet had contributed a few more to the playlist.

Most notable in that regard is the wispy loveliness of “Tiny Grass Is Dreaming.”  For such an unassuming presence, it has a huge song in its heart, and even when the volume goes up, the tranquility stays locked in place.  There’s also the blues heavy “Deep Mahon” with its boots on the ground presence and a determined forward momentum that takes its time getting to where it’s headed.  This nicely contrasts with a rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Blue Motel Room,” which Garner’s quartet layers heavy with the blues, too, but lets the ballad do what a ballad does best by endowing it with a slowly swaying motion that needs never end.

The rendition of Joe Henderson’s “Caribbean Fire Dance” generates plenty of fury and the sense of things coming apart at the seams without sacrificing an innate tunefulness.  Even more intriguing, though, is the cover of Pearl Jam’s rock song “Jeremy,” which is given a smoky ambiance between fragmentary statements of the melody.

Also successful is a rendition of Lenny Kravitz’s pop song “Fly Away.”  It starts out weakly, following the path laid out by the original a bit too closely, but when the quartet breaks off from the melody, there’s an uptick in quality.  Most notable is the interaction between Toby Nelms and James Kenny on piano and bass.  Nelms’s solo drives the song into far more interesting territory, and the way Kenny’s accompaniment switches between spurring on and contradicting Nelms’s ideas is a huge bonus, and by the time Garner is halfway through a solo of his own, the song’s tepid opening is long forgotten.

A rendition of McCoy Tyner’s “Passion Dance” sees the quartet really breaking loose, both in terms of overall volatility, but also via Garner’s use of electronics.  Many of Tyner’s compositions from his classic 1967 release The Real McCoy are severely underused in today’s jazz songbooks, so it’s nice to see Garner not only taking a spin at it, but also sticking to the original’s game plan for the song’s first half.  It’s also nice when the quartet strays from the composition a bit and give it their own signature.  Drummer Dan Day really leaves his mark on this song.

At the opposite end of that spectrum, the album opens and closes with songs of a more gentle nature.  Garner begins with the introductions with a lovely rendition of Tan Dun’s title-track composition for the movie Hero, and he turns out the lights with a soundtrack rendition of a different sort… of Nobuo Uematsu’s “Blue Fields” for the video game Final Fantasy VIII.  The finale possesses a languorous beauty that fits the album to a tee, in all of its various states and all its various phases.

Go pick this one up.

Your album personnel:  John Garner (violin & electronics), Toby Nelms (piano, keys), James Kenny (double bass) and Dan Day (drums, percussion).

This album is Self-Produced.

Listen to album tracks at the artist’s Bandcamp page.

Jazz from the London scene.

Available at:  Bandcamp | eMusic | Amazon