With the risk of a crude simplification, after the 60' hard bop style's development there have been two schools of jazz: the one continuing this tradition, and the myriad other styles embracing the sounds and rhythms of more current styles of pop music. Depending on who you might be asking the hard bop and post-bop styles are either in the heart of "jazz language" or a relic of the past. In any case a hard bop musician never risks being labelled as anything else than the real McCoy "jazz-jazz".
The aforementioned stereotypical view gets a new spin on bass player Nathan Francis' second album Diamond back, where the jazz tradition brings together generations of musicians across the Atlantic. Nathan Francis' quartet combines the up-and-coming players of the (altogether too sparse) Helsinki jam session scene with the seasoned veterans of the venerated UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra. This experience gained in the heat of the battle is more than evident in the tight rhythm work of the ensemble. Drummer Aleksi Heinola is fast becoming one of the hardest swinging musicians in Helsinki!
Diamondback presents us with both originals and standards. Unsurprisingly, the playing is somewhat freer on the latter. A beautiful example of this is Francis' and saxophonist Manuel Dunkel's duet on the classic I'll Be Seeing You. The originals by Francis reveal his firm grip on the tradition of jazz composition in addition to his capability of laying down the essential bottom end for the music. Just as in a jam session the main action on this album happens on the up-tempo tunes. These cats sure like to burn!
The San Francisco native Francis is clearly not one of those bandleaders with oversized egos as many of the songs don't feature a bass solo at all. Moments like the bass intro to the tune Playa de las Canteras hints that we might have benefited from a little bit of this kind of old-fashioned egotism.
It happens that every now and then the globalized music scene provides us with wonderful quirks such as a young U.S musician moving to Helsinki to study the jazz tradition. But on Diamondback the generational or geographical gap is nowhere to be heard. That is the power of tradition.
Nathan Francis: Diamondback
Nathan Francis, bass
Aleksi Heinola, drums
Riitta Paakki, piano
Manuel Dunkel, saxophone
Ajabu! Records, 2022