Amid the general euphoria and high-octane wackiness with which the performances of Loose Tubes lit up the London jazz scene in the second half of the 1980s, Julian Arguelles’s saxophone solos were always a highlight: calm, beautifully shaped, emotionally resonant. He was still in his teens, diminutive and boyish-looking, when he first appeared with that extraordinary collective, but his playing already possessed a maturity that suggested a long and rewarding career to come.
After Loose Tubes disbanded in 1990 (they’re reforming in May for dates at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival and Ronnie Scott’s) he formed an octet which made two albums that stand among the most stimulating documents of their time: Skull View (Babel, 1997) and Escapade (Provocateur, 1999) are full of memorable composing, resourceful arranging and fine improvising from the likes of Mike Walker (guitar), Mario Laginha (piano) and Django Bates (tenor horn). Arguelles managed to make the ensemble reflect his own qualities. This is music that manages to be supremely lyrical while staying cliche-free, and in which exquisite textures are coaxed from a seemingly limited palette. If you can find the discs, they’ll repay the investment.
Now he has a new album out: Circularity, on the Rome-based CamJazz label, in which he is joined by the pianist John Taylor, the bassist Dave Holland and the drummer Martin France. Back in 1990 Taylor and France featured on Arguelles’s recording debut as a leader, a quartet album on the Ah Um label called Phaedrus (on which Mick Hutton was the bassist), and the drummer was also present on the octet albums.
Arguelles is 48 now, no longer a precociously gifted youngster but a musician of poise and substance, equally eloquent on his soprano and tenor instruments, fully at home in this A-team company, capable of providing a set of compositions that play to his own strengths while providing a challenge for his companions, each of whom performs to the height of his known abilities. I don’t suppose Taylor has ever played an ungraceful note in his life, while Holland — a US resident since answering Miles Davis’s siren call in 1968 — gives every sign of enjoying the chance to play with compatriots. France keeps the whole thing cooking with a wonderfully light touch and an unflagging rhythmic imagination.
And if, like me, you have a weakness for jazz inflected by what Jelly Roll Morton famously called “the Spanish tinge”, meaning such things as John Coltrane’s “Ole”, Gil Evans’s “Las Vegas Tango”, Albert Mangelsdorff’s “Never Let It End” and Charlie Haden’s “Song for Che”, you’ll enjoy the Arguelles quartet’s “Unopened Letter”, which starts in the time-honoured manner with double-stopped bass strums and soprano trills and works its way through an exemplary seven minutes of intense but never forbidding collective invention.
* The photograph above is from the sleeve of Circularity, and was taken by the recording engineer, Curtis Schwartz. Left to right: John Taylor, Dave Holland, Julian Arguelles and Martin France.
Another “tinge” record that can be warmly recommended is Alec Dankworth’s 2005 album Spanish Accents, which also features Julian Arguelles alongside Phil Robson, Chris Garrick and others.
Also on Basho records is Julian’s “Momenta” from 2008, with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band and Gwilym Simcock. Takes a few plays for its charms to unwind, but fine writing and arranging.
I shall certainly look out for Circularity.
Saw Julian recently with his quartet featuring the wonderfully talented Kit Downes. What made this gig particularly unusual was that no amplification was used whatsoever. Once your ears adjusted to the natural sound it was a very refreshing, and indeed, cleansing experience. Special praise to the bassist Sam Lasserson, and especially the drummer James Maddren, who happened to be a pupil of Martin France at one time
I first saw Julian (then Crook) performing aged 11 with the Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra’s second band. You could tell he had something special even at that tender age. I think I may have even reviewed the concert for the Birmingham Post. Julian’s “As Above, So Below” album has, in my view, to be ranked alongside the very best British large ensemble jazz pieces, up there alongside Mikes Westbrook and Gibbs. It’s a really cohesive work with hauntingly beautiful string writing and some excellent soloing with Julian often echoing John Surman at his best.
Nice piece on the new Julian Arguelles ‘Circularity’ CD; thank you. I have enjoyed his playing since the Loose Tubes days and bought the new CD last week as soon as I spotted it on the shelf in Ray’s Jazz and saw the company he is keeping – Martin France, Dave Holland and John Taylor fully merit your ‘A’ team description. It’s really good and has been a regular visitor to my CD player over the last few days.
The earlier releases you mention – particularly the two octet albums – are really good too. The Spanish feel you are attracted to is much in evidence on the Gil Evans-inspired ‘Las Ramblas’ from ‘Skull View’ (fine guitar playing from Mike Walker), and ‘Escapade’ is, I think, just one of the best British jazz recordings of the last 15 years or so – nice to see a nod to it in the title of one of the pieces on ‘Circularity’, ‘Another Escapade’. I would also recommend a couple of other recordings made around the same by a group featuring Julian Arguelles but led by the trumpet player Colin Steele, ‘Twilight Dream’ (2001) and ‘The Journey Home’ (2003). Both feature lovely compositions by the leader, superb playing by Steele, Arguelles and the pianist Dave Milligan, and an appealing Celtic feel (as befits recordings made in a studio in Pencaitland). I haven’t heard much of Colin Steele since these two releases, but both are recommended to anybody who enjoys listening to Julian Arguelles.
Way back in 1992 Julian Arguelles was part of the line-up on Tommy Smith’s excellent ‘Paris’ album.