Knowing that there is much good European Jazz that never makes it to the U.S. market, I was excited at the prospect of reviewing this collection from the UK label LINN. Although I have long been a fan of some of the fringe elements of British Jazz (Lol Coxhill, Derek Bailey and others,) I admit to being ignorant of recent developments in the mainstream arena. Unfortunately, the presence of award-winning English artists on this compilation of tracks from the label’s finest only increased my overall sense of disappointment with this effort. Ranging from sappy to silly, from rocky to schlocky, this collection is stuffed with the type of generic Jazz that fills restaurants across the U.S (and apparently the UK as well) on any given weekend night (I’m thinking this is must be where the "gourmet" epithet comes from.) Like the work of the local artists that frequents the walls of these culinary establishments (at no charge to the owner I might add,) the presence of Jazz music lends a supposed air of sophistication to the gustatory proceedings and, in so doing, compliments and completes the "gourmet" experience. Unfortunately the Jazz form doesn’t necessarily benefit mutually from this weary juxtaposition.
Gourmet Jazz does feature a couple of tracks worth investigating. The real standout on this CD is Martin Speake’s "JT’s Symmetrical Scale" an inventive exploration that immediately engaged my interest with its jazzy twist on minimalism. The layered saxes and off-kilter rhythms suggest that Speake’s CD Hullabaloo (from which this track is lifted) would be worth investigating. Also notable is an absolute pearl from Stephane Grappelli’s final days called "I Thought About You." Unfortunately, Grappelli’s violin sounds as if it was recorded in the back of a tour bus and the mix would seem to suggest that lone accompanist Martin Taylor added his guitar track sometime after the fact.
Not surprisingly in a compilation obviously focused on a commercial dinner audience, there are a number of vocal tracks featured here, all of which rate highly on the scale of underachievement. Although my interest was initially piqued by 2004 BBC Vocalist of the Year Ian Shaw’s gravelly Van Morrisonesque voice, the insipid lyric of the featured tune ("I could drink a case of you/ and still remain standing") left me supine. A vocal also brings this collection to a merciful close Barb Jungr’s rendition of Dylan’s "I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight" perfectly sums up the treacly approach of this label fundraiser.
There is a great deal of Jazz talent in evidence on this CD. Unfortunately, the majority is of the "Music Minus One" variety entirely predictable and decidedly stale. I expect gourmet cuisine to be fresh, original and redolent with flavor. At the risk of being called a purist, I venture to say that the offerings here only reinforce my belief that combining food and Jazz rarely leads to a gourmet musical experience. I’ll take my Jazz to go.