Album of the Week \\ Tenderlonious sounds at home in his House-inspired album ‘Hard Rain’

14th June 2019
Ammar Kalia reviews the third album from 22a founder and Ruby Rushton bandleader, Tenderlonious

One of the makers of a great Jazz talent has always, paradoxically, been the ability to not play jazz and to do it well; just look to Herbie Hancock and his funk explorations, Robert Glasper in hip-hop, Donald Byrd and soul. With his latest solo record, London-based producer and multi-instrumentalist Ed Cawthorne, aka Tenderlonious, now lays claim to these ranks, morphing his flute-based spiritual Jazz into the groove-heavy Detroit house reminiscent of Theo Parrish and Moodymann.

Cawthorne’s third solo effort, ‘Hard Rain’, is no ham-fisted attempt at bedroom production, cynically seeking to lay claim to the increasing dancefloor appetite for Jazz. Rather, it is a measured and studied effort in the art of grid music. Gone are the free-form improvisatory solos and raucous energy of Cawthorne’s work with his group Ruby Rushton. Here, he takes inspiration from the rigid, beat-matched boundaries of computer production, feeding moments of freedom through the system, rather than aiming to tear it apart at the seams.   

Where Cawthorne’s last solo record, with his label’s 22archestra, sought to expand on the myriad layering of the producer’s software through intricate instrumentation, on ‘Hard Rain’ he lets the minimalism of his electronics do the talking. Opening number ‘Casey Jnr’ is pure Theo Parrish, coupling a subterranean synth-bass with an infectiously simple repeated piano chord sequence and a languorous J Dilla-style beat. It’s perfect afternoon headphone listening or a dancefloor gateway to more thumping selections.

As the record continues, the classic house influence develops, channeling Larry Heard on the squelching synths of ‘Buffalo Gals’, as well as nodding to Hancock’s ‘Headhunters’ days in the sparse brightness of his sound. Things get deeper on the album’s title track, meandering pensively through a rumbling bassline and splashing cymbals while ‘Another State Of Consciousness’ wouldn’t go amiss in the heightened moments of a Four Tet live set, pitting gnarled arpeggios against one another, vying for top-billing among a crumbling drum beat.

Cawthorne’s own flute playing is noticeably absent from the first half of the record, as if purposefully making the point that ‘Hard Rain’ is a stylistic departure from his Jazz work. Yet, when the flute bursts through in trills of billowing melody on ‘Aesop Thought’ it is a joyous moment, reminding the listener of Cawthorne’s knack for acoustic arrangement, this time enhanced through the shuffling electronic backing.

It is in this deft blending of Jazz melody with house-influenced backing that Cawthorne finds his groove. Rather than riff on the legacies of Parrish, Heard and Kerri Chandler, this is Cawthorne’s own take, bringing in his experiences of the London Jazz scene and formative nights like Plastic People’s Co-Op to create a new meaning for the dancefloor. The vibe continues on the Bobby Hutcherson-referencing vibraphone of ‘Workin Me Out’, perfectly bringing in another chopped-and-screwed J Dilla-beat to sit beneath fragments of a vocal sample.

Closing on the ambient, smoke-fuelled horns of ‘Almost Time’, Cawthorne showcases why he is often described as “the busiest man in Jazz” – his restless creativity allows him to meander freely through the rich African American improvisatory lineage of Jazz, all the way to its modern day expressions in the communal, dancefloor-euphoric music of house.

Words: Ammar Kalia 


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