Chris Parker, London Jazz
Like the trio's previous Mulberry Tree album, Visions and Vistas (2008), Soul Story combines powerfully assured, often downright rollicking playing with a rare sensitivity born from their long mutual acquaintance (they have been playing together since their days at the Royal Academy of Music).
'Passionate, lyrical and always engaging' is how the 606's Steve Rubie puts it, and this album's title suite might have been specially composed by leader/pianist Peter James to prove him right: as James himself points out, his 'music represents a spiritual journey' from earthliness to 'a life-affirming transformation', and the gospelly ring and controlled exuberance that characterise the trio's more up-tempo playing, and the tenderness and grace of the album's quieter moments ('Ocean's Lament' an 'environmental cry against humanity's pollution', 'Warmth of the Sun' a memorable closer) provide pleasing contrast and variety in a carefully arranged programme, all written by James.
Bassist Jeremy Brown is exemplary in both accompanying and soloing roles, and the brisk, subtle contributions of drummer Thomas Hooper (aptly described by him as 'framing' James's pieces) drive the whole with vigour and elegance. James's compositions draw on everything from classical to latin music, freeish to more groove-based jazz, exploring what he calls 'the tensions between form and freedom', and Soul Story is an immediately attractive but consistently rewarding album, and a great appetiser for the band's rousing live performances.
Chris Parker, London Jazz, June 2011