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Tom Ollendorff
A Song For You

by Robin Kidson




Tom Ollendorff


Tom Ollendorff is a young, up and coming British guitarist and composer based in London. He was awarded the Yamaha scholarship for outstanding jazz musicianship in 2015. Since then, he has established himself as a professional musician, Tom Ollendorff A Song For Youtouring extensively and playing with a range of artists including Geoff Simkins, Jeff Williams, James Maddren, Ari Hoenig and Bill McHenry. He has also led his own groups and is a visiting tutor at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. Tom has recently released his debut album on the Fresh Sounds label. It’s called A Song For You.

A Song For You is an illustration of just how international jazz has become, both as art form and business. So, Ollendorff is joined on the album by Irish born Conor Chaplin on bass and Frenchman Marc Michel on drums. The album was recorded in Wales for Fresh Sounds which is a Spanish record label based in Barcelona. The executive producer of the album is a Spaniard, Jordi Pujol, the owner of Fresh Sounds.

Fresh Sounds has an interesting history. It was founded by jazz fan Pujol in the early 1980s and began by reissuing classic American albums by the jazz greats: Armstrong, Ellington, Parker and the like.  But in 1993, it started to build a catalogue of original releases including albums by a variety of American artists. The most notable of these was Brad Mehldau, some of whose first outings were on the Fresh Sounds label backed by Spanish musicians. The label has gone on to release albums by other leading American musicians such as Ethan Iverson, Jon Irabagon, Chris Cheek, Bill McHenry and Robert Glasper. It is yet another illustration of jazz’s globalisation that American performers looked, and continue to look, all the way to Barcelona for support and recording opportunities. The Fresh Sounds catalogue also includes internationally known Spanish jazzers like Tete Montoliu and Perico Sambeat, as well as artists from other parts of the world. Tom Ollendorff says that Fresh Sounds “have released some of my favourite jazz records, and it is a thrill for me to be joining the long list of incredible artists who are associated with the label”.


A Song For You has nine tracks, all but one composed by Tom.Here is a short introductory video to the album.




The style is straight ahead contemporary jazz: unhyphenated, melodic, with a clear rhythmic pulse. If there is hybridisation, it is perhaps with classical music rather than rock or folk or any other genre. That classical influence is seen most clearly on a track such as Etude 1 on which Tom plays solo guitar without accompaniment. It is a short but attractive piece of contemporary classical music, nicely played.


Here's a video of Tom playing Etude 1 live (though without an audience).






Conor Chaplin

Etude 1 is one of a series of etudes which Tom has written. Track 8 on A Song For You is a performance of Etude 3 on which the guitarist is joined by Conor Chaplin and Marc Michel. Again, this is more contemporary classical than jazz but none the worse for that. (There are performances of the other etudes on You Tube).

As well as the classical touch, there is a hint of Pat Metheny in Tom's playing (though it has to be said there is probably a trace of Metheny in a lot of contemporary jazz guitarists). However, Tom is by no means some sort of Metheny clone. His style is very much his own.


Conor Chaplin


The Metheny influence can perhaps be heard most clearly in the album’s title (and opening) track, A Song For You. This has a bright, gentle melody with some effective changes in rhythm. Tom's improvising quickly moves away from a Metheny-type smoothness to something more distinctive - slightly rougher but nonetheless attractive and taking things off in unexpected directions. Tom also gives space to a compelling solo on bass from Conor Chaplin.



Listen to A Song For You






Tom Ollendorff’s compositional and improvisational skills are to the fore again on Spring which is a joyful upbeat piece with some slower, more contemplative interludes. There are also some freer passages but the whole thing fits together in a very satisfying way, stitched together by Marc Michel’s imaginative drumming. Not In These Days is the longest track on the album. It begins slowly with a mix of smooth and jagged elements underscored by a two-note repeating bass figure from Conor Chaplin which adds a slightly ominous note. The mood then changes and the beat quickens with a bass solo accompanied by some energetic background drumming. Tom comes in with a solo which becomes more urgent and free before the opening slower mood reasserts itself. The track ends on a lyrical note with the guitar playing a hypnotic riff over and over again with some double tracked embellishments.


Listen to Not In These Days.




XY is proper jazz, an upbeat number on which all the musicians get to show off their chops and hit a compelling groove. Tom in particular is on sparkling form channeling the guitar greats – Kessel, Montgomery, Jim Hall, Joe Pass - through some scintillating playing. Conor contributes a classic bass solo, and there is some great interplay between drums and guitar. I was playing this track on headphones recently and was tapping my feet so violently that my wife, 'Jenny-Hates-Jazz', got so annoyed she had to take her hearing aid out…. see (or hear) what I mean.





Autumn in New York is the Vernon Duke standard and is the only track not written by Tom. It gently swings along and the guitarist dances around the tune to great effect with confident, liquid phrasing. Aare is an upbeat number with quite a complex melody and rhythm. Nevertheless, it is easy on the ear and on the tapping foot. Marc Michel gets to shine with an Marc Michelexpressive drum solo.


Marc Michel


The final track is a brief coda, These Days. It’s a continuation of Not In These Days with Tom repeating the simple but hypnotic riff from the end of that track, supplemented by a range of electronic effects. It’s a slow and wistful piece and nicely rounds off a most promising debut from a guitarist of whom we will surely hear more.

I confess that, when I first listened to A Song For You, I wasn’t particularly stirred but this is an album which rewards repeated listenings during which one begins to appreciate its many virtues: arresting tunes, glittering improvisations, and skillful playing from all three musicians. There’s something interesting going on with Tom Ollendorff and I will follow his career with interest.


Click here for details of how to get hold of the album from Fresh Sounds Records, or details and samples are on Amazon (click here).

Click here for Tom Ollendorff’s website.


Tom Ollendorff




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