Album Review: What's New


Stephen Graham, 18th January 2020

"To be able to sing these songs with one of Ronnie Scott’s favourite horn players, Iain Ballamy – whose song choices on this collection were inspiring and meaningful – and who played with Cedar Walton and me exactly twenty years ago on my US release, In A New York Minute was pure joy."

That is how Ian Shaw feels about this soon to be released highly characterful standards strewn album that will appeal to connoisseurs and newcomers to jazz alike.

Containing a dozen classic songs, the presence of Hampstead Jazz Club scene luminary Will Young pianist Jamie Safir enhances the essence of the conversation between saxophone and voice, his accompaniment observational and knowing throughout.

Ian, speaking on Jason Solomons' BBC Radio London show yesterday, mentioned that many of the songs on the album were favourites of Iain's late father and their inclusion he told the broadcaster is a dedication to him.

Recorded in Somerset, a county that has been home to Ballamy for many years, opener the Johnny Burke-Bob Haggart song What's New? is a surprisingly bravura epic that shows Shaw's power. You'll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart), the perky Bacharach/David livener that is getting the early radio play so far, by contrast displays his manifold lightness of touch. Prelude to a Kiss, for me the best of all these fine tracks delves deep into the heartland beat of jazz most and yet throughout that pulse lingers long and true.

You Stepped Out of a Dream allows Shaw to be both raw and tender while Once Upon a Summertime, Jobim's If You Never Come to Me, a lovely treatment of the Rodgers and Hart song I Wish I Were in Love Again, and equally appealing Some Other Time, It Might as Well Be Spring and Sixties favourite Alfie (Bacharach again) all deliver moments to savour. A brooding Come Sunday and the romantic I'll Only Miss Him When I Think of Him show the quality of the choices is consistent right until the end.

The title song What's New? goes back to Bob Crosby who recorded it with his orchestra in the 1930s. This album however has a timeless quality to it because it is built on the art of song itself rather than a period in time, something that every great instrumentalist like Iain Ballamy or David Murray or Sonny Rollins or Benny Golson know only too well is at the heart of jazz improvisation and interpretation whether a voice is involved or not. Collaborative rapport is essential in grasping the impact that is considered and delivered throughout. Covered many times What's New? is as familiar as Shakespeare and Sinatra made it his own in the late-1950s on the very sad Only the Lonely. Shaw's approach is not to wring out every last drop of pathos, far from it, he wrestles with its coiled power and in his hands is more a celebration than an outpouring of random desperation and loss. He does not indulge himself or overdo the melodrama. In the song the lyrics are very simple and very telling. Old lovers meeting each other, the protagonist steering between desperation and self-realisation, the killer line in this latter regard, 'Probably I'm boring you'. There is an ambivalence in what happened between the lovers but one thing is for sure only the protagonist is doing the outpouring, our not hearing the response of rejection adding to the pathos.

There is a new Shaw to be heard here even among familiar friends and songs as he communes with the art of song on an even deeper level than ever before extracting and delivering fresh insights along the way.