Mike Bell | Jazz on the Rails (March 2023)

1.Jazz On The Rails 2.Words Unspoken Notes Unplayed 3.Pulling Out The Stops 4.And Then? 5.Another Time, Another Place 6.Mood Swings 7.Catching The Drift 8.Quirky Blues 9.Till The Last Goodnight

Mike Bell – piano

Record label: Sacem Records

Recorded in Luxembourg

Mike Bell got his start in pop music and country rock, recording and touring with Albert Lee, Dr. Hook and Marty Wilde, as well as Benny Gallagher (Gallagher & Lyle) and Pick Withers (Dire Straits). During a 13-year period with Albert Lee and Hogan’s Heroes, he made many appearances throughout Europe, including the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1992 and London’s Ronnie Scott’s jazz club. In 1989, he was part of the band Live Report, which represented the United Kingdom in the Eurovision song contest in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Bell draws inspiration from the golden years of jazz and musicians such as John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Benny Golson and, in particular, Oscar Peterson.

After his other jazz album published in 2018, “Just For The Record”, he publishes this “Jazz On The Rails” where he signs all the songs on the album. With this work Bell returns to his original love, jazz. The album was recorded in the studio that he owns in Luxembourg.

The origin of the title is, as Bell himself explains: “… a memory of the jazz that I grew up listening to, the jazz of an earlier generation that was largely less complex than much of jazz music today. A friend of mine once said she hated it when music went off the rails. I understood exactly what this meant and borrowed the idea from the album title: “Jazz On The Rails.”

I’ll start by saying that I don’t know who plays the drums and double bass, physical or electronic, (I’m guessing it’s Bell himself). The credits of the album do not mention anything about it.

The title song of the album, “Jazz On The Rails” is a clear exponent of the type of jazz that Bell likes, fundamentally the jazz of the 50s and 60s.

“Words Unspoken, Notes Unplayed” takes a 180 degree turn. Bell plays an electric keyboard that doubles as an electric guitar. In the middle of the song the piano enters, adding seriousness and then returning to the initial funk again.

“Pulling Out The Stops” is a song with a similar register to the first, in a medium tempo like that one, although it evolves at a faster pace.

The album continues with a ballad titled “And Then?” that transmits a classic sound mixed with modern jazz, the result of which is a beautiful and evocative song.

Again a change of register, “Another Time, Another Place” with an electric keyboard, which gives the sensation of a 70s pop song.

The longest track, “Mood Swings,” begins with some beautiful acoustic piano chords. Halfway through the song, the electric keyboard and drums enter, following the same line of argument without breaking the atmosphere for a while to give way to another phase of the song, something more rhythmic, which fits perfectly with what has been heard so far, and ends with relaxed way. A very interesting topic.

“Catching The Drift” with the acoustic piano brings us a melody that straddles classicism and modernism. Good topic.

“Quirky Blues” as its name indicates, is a blues, a good blues, the kind that makes your feet move.

Bell describes his songwriting this way: “When writing the compositions for the album, my method is always to sit at the piano and play/record, and on a good day something happens that I never fully understand. The piece begins to take shape as I begin to play and finds its way to a conclusion through meandering themes. At first I have no idea where it will end.

This is how improvised jazz works in virtuoso solos and the same goes for an entire composition when approached in the same way. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by how a composition happened and wonder where that came from. The best example is the last song on the album “Till The Last Goodnight.” With this slow and very relaxing song the album ends.

Bell subtly captures many ideas and moods in this album, which is very pleasant to listen to.

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