British Standard Time is a new album commissioned by the excellent Hampstead Jazz Club, with the aim of helping musicians who struggled during the course of the lockdown. The album draws on the Great British Songbook, an idea devised by pianist, songwriter and arranger, Alex Webb. It was originally devised as a showcase for the talents of singer Jo Harrop, but eventually included three additional singers – former Incognito frontman Tony Momrelle, Caroll Thompson – who has more of a reggae background – and emerging star, Luca Manning.
The band is almost a who’s who of the British jazz scene, and features Alex Webb on piano, Tony Kofi and Leo Richardson on saxophones, Andy Davies on trumpet and flugelhorn, Nathaniel Cross on trombone, Ciyo Brown and Jamie McCredie on guitars, Flo Moore on bass and Sophie Alloway on drums. What a line-up!
Tony Momrelle kicks off the proceedings with a smooth, swinging version of George Benson’s Give Me The Night, written by the late, great Rod Temperton. The song works well in this re-imagined format, and Momrelle also contributes a lovely version of The Very Thought Of You, playing it straight on this occasion.
Carroll Thompson is perhaps best-known as a reggae singer, but has also done session work with the likes of Sting, Chaka Khan and M People, to name but a few. Try A Little Tenderness is sung in its original form, a far cry from the version sung by Otis Redding. It’s interesting to hear the original lyrics, but it’s hard to escape the comparison with Redding, and this version falls a little flat. Her takes on Lullaby Of Birdland and, in particular, Mad About The Boy, are superb, however, and well worth a listen.
Luca Manning has been making quite a splash of late, and his contributions here demonstrate what all the fuss is about. He delivers a slow and sultry version of Johnny Dankworth’s Let’s Slip Away, lingering over the words to good effect. Even better is his version of Rag’n’Bone Man’s Human, which is given a jazz makeover, and features a fine bass intro by the impressive Flo Moore.
But it’s Jo Harrop who steals the show on British Standard Time. It’s hard to imagine combining Miles Davis with U2, but her arrangement of I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For is one of the highlights here. She also combines two John Martyn tunes to great effect, and likewise links a Lionel Bart tune, As Long As He Needs Me, with Love Is A Losing Game, by Amy Winehouse.
She also sings on Moments, one of two Alex Webb originals on this album; it a gorgeous song, and holds its own in this exalted company. And she brings the album to a close with Almost Blue, which was written by Elvis Costello for Chet Baker. Costello thought that Baker’s version was “too dark”, but would no doubt love Jo Harrop’s read, which is closer to the Pacific Jazz sound that he had in mind when writing the song.
Overall, this is a fine collection, and assembled for a good cause, too. The album comes out on CD on 21 July on Lateralize Records. Check it out, please.