Album Review: What's New

Kind of Jazz

Matthew Ruddick, 24th March 2020


A return to how it all started.

Ian Shaw returns, not with a solo album on this occasion, but with a collaboration. Rather than record with the quartet that played on his last two albums, he has teamed up with tenor saxophonist Iain Ballamy and the superb young pianist, Jamie Safir. The resulting album, What's New, is very much a 'back to basics' jazz album. On his last recording, Shine Sister Shine, we noted that Shaw swung from jazz, to pop, to soul; there was less jazz, and more singer-songwriter. In the words of Shaw himself, 'This recording is a return to how it all started – and a discovery of the art of the great popular song.'

To the jazz critics that complain it's all been done before, this album provides the perfect riposte. The album predominantly features lesser-known standards; many of the songs were apparently the favourites of Ballamy's father, who passed away recently. There are a couple of more pop-oriented songs – Bacharach and David's You'll Never Get To Heaven and Alfie – but for the most part, the trio prefer to shine a light on songs that have not been covered so much in recent years.

The album opens with the title track. The first thing that struck me was the quality of the recording, which captures every nuance of Ballamy and Safir's playing, and Shaw's voice too. I've sometimes felt that Shaw's studio recordings fail to do justice to that magnificent voice, but this album succeeds, and makes you feel like you're in the room. Of note, the album was recorded 'live' in Cooper Hall and immaculately engineered by Ben Findlay, who has worked with the likes of Van Morrison.

Listen to What's New here.

Ellington's Prelude To A Kiss is fabulous; it must be a tough song to sing, but this a fine interpretation. There's also a wonderful, lengthy intro by Safir and Ballamy to enjoy. Once Upon A Summertime was originally written by Michel Legrand, Eddie Barclay and Eddy Marnay, and was rewritten in English by Johnny Mercer. Shaw sings in English, but captures the flavour of the French original, before handing over to Ballamy for a delightful solo.

If You Never Come To Me was written by Jobim, and features another fine intro by Ballamy and Safir, who later takes a solo of his own. I hadn't heard It Might As Well Be Spring by Rodgers and Hammerstein for some time, and it was good to be reminded of the witty lyrics, which Shaw brings to life, as always. Shaw's read of Alfie is gorgeous, supported by the superb Safir on piano, who impresses throughout. Ellington's Come Sunday is an instrumental, arranged by Ballamy and Safir, before Van Heusen and Cahn's I'll Only Miss Him When I Think Of Him brings the album to a close. Ballamy's playing sets the tone perfectly, and Shaw's interpretation is just stunning.

It's great to hear Ian Shaw in a trio setting once again, and also to see him reunite with Ballamy – who played with him twenty years ago. It's a fine pairing, and one I'd love to hear again. But Safir holds everything together with his exceptional playing, and it's good to learn that he'll be releasing his solo debut later this year. What's New has to be a contender for vocal album of the year. Outstanding! The album will be released on 3rd April on Silent Wish Records.