The UK label Babel has been nurturing unique talent for the better part of twenty years, judiciously releasing only about a half-dozen albums in a given year. Many of their artists play on the fringes of jazz and some go way beyond the pale. AVC are hardly outliers but neither is the quintet a predictable, formulaic group as their second release Busk clearly demonstrates. AVC's debut outingFail In Wood (Jazzaction, 2010)showed a raw potential that has been fully realized on this sophomore collection. Leader/bassist Andy Champion has worked with some significant players including, Andy Sheppard, Marc Ducret and Marilyn Crispell and has penned seven of the eight original pieces on Busk.
"Degree Absolute" has many of the elements that characterized AVC's initial outing but the skills have sharpened considerably. Keyboardist Paul Edis's restrained electronics give way to Graeme Wilson's tenor sax in a dream sequence brought to life by Wilson's long lines and the fluid playing of guitarist Mark Williams. In contrast, Wilson honks and chops his way through "Nutmeg Suite," an angular fusion piece. Changing pace and genre yet again, "She Sad It Ugly" opens with acoustic piano shifting quickly to a rock theme; penned by saxophonist Graeme Wilson the piece is a showcase drummer Adrian Tilbrook's deft ability to direct the group dynamic as solos and collective passages move in and out of the picture.
Wilson's baritone sax on the ballad "Second Season" creates a dark moody atmosphere in contrast to "Giant Mice." The latter enters some treacherous terrain with electronic noise giving way to a progressive rock theme that is reminiscent of Bill Bruford's time with Yes. The tempo shifts down again at the outset of "Never Ever" with its lullaby-like motif but Wilson and Edis ramp the piece up diverting it to a rhythm & blues theme. The funky "What's for Breakfast" is the most communal piece on Busk and allows Wilson some free blowing time along with more standout playing from Tilbrook.
Throughout Busk, Champion is content to allow his band-mates the vast majority of solo time. Only on the closer"Dust Red"does Champion gives himself a bit of the spotlight and it clearly illustrates his range on bass. AVC are a top notch group of musicians and Champion a versatile and complex composer. The growth that's evident in a short span of time is a promising sign for the future. Saying that Busk has something for everyone dilutes the impact of this collection as a whole. The song cycle invokes a multi-faceted musical journey that is well worth the complete ride.
Track Listing: Degree Absolute; Nutmeg State; She Said It Ugly; Second Season; Giant Mice; Never Ever; What’s For Breakfast; Dust Red.
Personnel: Andy Champion: double bass; Graeme Wilson: saxophone; Mark Williams: guitar; Paul Edis: keyboards; Adrian Tilbrook: drummer.