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Kensington Suite by Richard Underhill

This is by far the most difficult review I’ve written concerning any artist, but I’ll try to struggle through it!

My appreciation for Canada’s reigning Sax King, Richard Underhill stretches far beyond his subtle alto prowess and on through the solid ensembles he assembles on his projects right down to his indefatigable approach to every composition he offers. Hands down, Richard Underhill is the new unsung hero of this thing we like to call jazz!

If you read my review of his second release Moment In Time, it would not have taken you long to discover that I had become a die-hard fan, so I was quite eager to ‘ditto’ this new release once I opened my mailbox, knowing he’d have something great to share. However, I did not expect that Mr. Underhill was going to completely blow me away with the material presented in the genius of Kensington Suite.

Thus, my present plight!

Most of us who consistently study Lady Jazz and the Artists she births look for Seven primary elements: 1) Truth; 2) Transparency; 3) Courage; 4) Innovation; 5) Wisdom; 6) Humility & 7) Musicianship (which is an obvious ‘given’ but provides us necessary patience if he or she has the other six in place while still developing their chops!) Yet, the single component that separates the true virtuosos from the many great musicians who populate this genre is that Eighth wonder - Brilliance!

The unexpected, elastic sparkle of brilliance shimmers through every song - an endless tingle that dances down your spine and begs repeated listening over and again. Kensington Suite makes such contribution and Richard’s artistry positively equals the transcendent peaks made by Parker, Coltrane, Henderson and Brecker. This is jazz at its finest and being a veritable collector, I make no apologies for these comments.

Usually I provide an in depth analysis of every song in my reviews, complete with ‘play by play’ accounts of each musicians’ performance, but somehow doing so here would be insensitive - there is no dissection needed. Each and Every composition is satiated with bold exploration conferred upon by relentless musicians who perform every track as if their lives depended upon it. But here are a few quick notes:

If I had to pick a favorite musician from the pack, my hat would have to immediately tip toward drummer Joe Poole, who drives this band like a bus driver on steroids. His ‘techno-skeleton’ approach to every song is lethal. Given the oft-complicated material here, he’s able to bob and weave through six lanes of traffic, sometimes on two wheels! His incredible contribution to "Bike Lane" (track 2) will scare even the most ardent drum programmer into rethinking their approach to ‘drum-n-bass’ or jazz programming - I swear I hear 6 sticks on the ride cymbal!

Guitarists Eric St-Laurent & Reg Schwager (appearing on alternate tracks) both provide an edge to this project that takes Underhill’s writing to another planet and leaves them there. It’s their input that supplies the most of the brilliance mentioned earlier. Reg is a giant player equally comfortable revisiting Wes or exploring early McGlaughlin chops, but his tone is his own. St-Laurent is a futurist reminiscent of Dean Brown while carrying on the mantle of Scofield & Stern (listen to his splashing around in track 10) - soulful, bluesy, gritty and four more unprintable adjectives!

Organist Dave Restivo, who only appears on four tunes, is a maniac!! I found myself constantly programming my player to consider his songs first in rotation. You feel his spirit in every inversion - no chord is wasted or haphazardly thrown in - every note is pure heart.

The ministry of bassist Artie Roth furnishes the psychedelic glue that permits everyone to swing their guts out. His playing is earnest, articulate and energetic.

The track "A Day in The Park" (track 4) photographs his truest colors, shining brightly through everything said by everyone else. His solo on "Dreaming Big Dreams" (track 10) is the most sensitive I’ve heard since Stanley’s Return To Forever days. Bassist Brandi Disterheft sneaks her head in on two tunes, the opening "Meet Me in the Market" and the album’s most daring song, "Fire Dance" (track 8). Her patience and dexterity is the combustible fuel.

Rounding out this dramatis personae are percussionists Arline Morales & Mafata Lemphane with trombonist Scott Good and tenor saxophonists Chris Gale and Perry White, whose presence and superior skills dot every ‘I’ and cross every ‘T’ - leaving no stone unturned.

Emerging from the shadows of such great artistry is Underhill himself, never in the way, always accommodating and encouraging each performer with a seeming smile and zero ego. His solos are impeccable and his energy is true. He makes each excursion fun and enjoyable and provides plenty of explanation in the liners as to his methodology and the story behind the story of Kensington Suite.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this project much more than trying to describe why it’s so enjoyable. Why even the sound of this disc is amazing, thanks to the ears of producer Jono Grant and engineers Inaam Haq & Chris Dyck.

It was hard to pick a favorite track - but having a heart for swing, I keep running toward "In The Shadows" (track 3) and hitting ‘repeat!’ - dig Joe’s dancing drums, Dave’s uncanny organ and Underhill’s Insanity!

This is one amazing CD - and by the way - It’s up for the 2008 Juno Award (Canada’s Grammy). It should be in your player today!

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Richard Underhill
  • CD Title: Kensington Suite
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2007
  • Record Label: Stubby Records
  • Tracks: Meet Me in The Market, Bike Lane, In The Shadows, A Day in The Park, Cancao De Vila, Green Shift, The Things That You Need, Fire Dance, When I Miss You, Dreaming Big Dreams
  • Musicians: Richard Underhill (alto sax), Joe Poole (drums), Artie Roth (bass), Brandi Disterheft (bass), Scott Good (trombone), Dave Restivo (organ), Mafata Lemphane (percussion), Perry White (tenor sax), Eric St-Laurent (guitar), Reg Schwager (guitar), Chris Gale (tenor sax) Arline Morales (percussion)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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