London-based jazz singer, Esther Bennett, has teamed up with her friend and pianist, Terence Collie, to produce a charming and highly personal EP of new music. The title, Safe Place, derives from the autobiography of the saxophonist Dick Heckstall Smith, in which he describes being on stage as "the safest place in the world”.
The project started when Bennett tried her hand at contrafact - writing a new composition based on the chord changes of an existing tune, but with a new arrangement. Two tunes came out of this process, based on All Of Me and Well You Needn't. Around the same time, she came across a gorgeous instrumental composed by Collie entitled End Of Summer, and suggested that she add lyrics to this piece, too. Collie agreed it was a good idea, and suggested they record an EP together.
The two leaders are well-known in the London jazz community and set about assembling a fine band to work on the project, including Richard Sadler on bass, Sophie Alloway on drums, Duncan Lamont Jr. on flute and saxophone, Hannah Horton, who contributes baritone and tenor saxophone and Matt Hodge on percussion.
Style-wise, the EP is mixed, and demonstrates that Bennett's warm, smoky voice is well-suited to a variety of styles; what links them, I think, is the personal nature of Bennett's lyrics. Collie's End Of Summer is a lovely tune, based on a simple, but highly effective melody from the pianist. Bennett's lyrics touch upon the mixed feelings as we approach the September of our lives, and there are lovely solos from Lamont Jr. on flute, and Collie himself.
Wandering Lost is just as good. Collie switches to electric piano on this one, giving the song a more acid jazz groove, while Alloway provides the song with a crisp beat. The style really suits Bennett, who shines here, and the lyrics focus on fertility and youth. There's a fine baritone solo from Hannah Horton to enjoy, before Bennett comes back in.
Please (Save Me) is an older Bennett composition, and features her trademark humour about the lifestyle choices facing a musician. "The introductory bars of this song are stolen almost entirely from those of Wayne Shorter's Beauty & the Beast," Bennett notes, "though you wouldn't recognise them in their new home."
Yellow Label Stuff is based on Monk's Well You Needn't, and is the only contrafact to make the EP. There's some social commentary in the lyrics, which hint at the hard times faced by so many - including musicians - during the pandemic. The band work up a fun Latin groove, and Bennett takes a scat solo, too. Personally, I felt Bennett's other lyrics were more subtle, and more effective, but it's enjoyable nonetheless.
The EP closes with the heartfelt Forever Now (Ode To Duncan), dedicated to the late Duncan Lamont Sr., which is played more straight-ahead, and features his son on soprano saxophone and a swinging solo by Collie, too.
Safe Place is a highly enjoyable mini-album. I'd love to hear Bennett do more of the acid-jazz style material, or work with Collie on more joint compositions. A post-pandemic project, perhaps?