Sandy Brown Jazz

Album Reviews

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By artist in alphabetical order:

A
Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids - We Be All Africans
Actis Dato Quartet
- Earth Is The Place

Harry Allen - For George, Cole and Duke
Kris Allen - Beloved
Julie Tippetts and Martin Archer - Vestigium
Julian Argüelles - Tetra
Ehud Asherie - Shuffle Along

B
Balancing Act - Balancing Act
Tom Bancroft: Trio Red - Lucid Dreamers
Angus Bayley - Scrapbook
Beats And Pieces Big Band - All In
Alan Benzie Trio - Travellers' Tales
David Berkman - Old Friends And New Friends
Sarah Bernstein Quartet - Still / Free
The Bird Architects - The Phantom Power Awakens
Adam Birnbaum, Doug Weiss, Al Foster - Three Of A Mind
Andy Schumm and The Bix Project Band - Bix Off The Record
Samuel Blaser - Spring Rain
Blazing Flame - Murmuration
Helen Bledsoe and Alexey Lapin - Ghost Icebreaker

The Michael Blum Quartet - Chasin' Oscar
Bruno Heinen and Kristian Borring - Postcard To Bill Evans
Joshua Breakstone - 2nd Avenue: The Return Of The Cello Quartet
Frederico Britos presents The Hot Club of America - When Grappelli Meets Latin America

Stu Brown - Stu Brown's Twisted Toons Vol. 2
The Bullingdon Jazz Quartet

 

C
Liane Carroll - Seaside
Phil Chester Group - Open Door Samba
Circus FM - Circus FM
City Boys Allstars - Personal Thing
Eleonora Claps - Stars
Romain Collin - Press Enter
Colours Jazz Orchestra plays the music of Ayn Inserto - Home Away From Home

Patrick Cornelius - While We're Still Young
Matt Criscuolo - Headin' Out
Sam Crockatt Quartet - Mells Bells

D
The Danish Jazz Quartet - On The Road

Joëlle Léandre/Benoit Delbecq/Francois Houle - 14 rue Paul Fort, Paris
Delta Saxophone Quartet with Gwilym Simcock - Crimson
Catina DeLuna - Lado B Brazilian Project
Alex Webb and the Copasetics - Call Me Lucky
Corrie Dick - Impossible Things
Ivo Perelman and Whit Dickey - Tenorhood
Phil Donkin - The Gate
Kit Downes - Tricko


E
The Peter Edwards Trio - A Matter Of Instinct
Empirical
- Connection

Entropi - New Era

Charles Evans - On Beauty
Gil Evans Project - Lines Of Color
Eyebrow - Garden City


F
Richard Fairhurst and John Taylor - Duets
Fat-Suit - Atlas
Christian Finger - Ananda
Nick Finzer - The Chase
The Clare Fischer Big Band - Pacific Jazz
Clare Fischer - Out Of The Blue
Adam Birnbaum, Doug Weiss, Al Foster - Three Of A Mind
Christian Frank / Deniss Pashkevich Duo - Close

Tori Freestone Trio - El Barranco
Simon Frick - Solo

 

G
Elliot Galvin Trio - Punch

Slava Ganelin, Alexey Kruglov, Oleg Yudanov - Us
Slava Ganelin and Lenny Sendersky - Hotel Cinema
The Ganelin Trio - Russian New Music In China, Live In Shenzhen
Laszlo Gardony - Life In Real Time
Alex Garnett's Bunch Of 5 - Andromeda
The George Gee Swing Orchestra - Swing Makes You Happy
Get The Blessing - Astronautilus
The Stan Getz Quartet - Live In Europe
Girls In Airports - Fables

Go Go Penguin - Man Made Object
Calum Gourlay - Live At The Ridgeway
Milford Graves and Bill Laswell - Space/Time - Redemption
Devin Gray - RelativE ResonancE

Danny Green Trio - Altered Narratives
The Tom Green Septet - Skyline
Stephen Grew - The Lit & Phil Suite

 

H
Pat Halcox - Remembering Pat Halcox
The Jeff Hamilton Trio - Great American Songs Through The Years
Scott Hamilton and the Jeff Hamilton Trio - Live In Bern

Jason Palmer & Cédric Hanriot - City Of Poets
Lafayette Harris Jr - Hangin' With The Big Boys
Patrick Hayes Electric Ensemble (PHEE) - Back To The Grove
Phil Haynes - Sanctuary
Bruno Heinen and Kristian Borring - Postcard To Bill Evans
Fred Hersch - Solo
The Fred Hersch Trio - Sunday Night At The Vanguard
Chris Hodgkins and Dave Price - Back In Your Own Backyard
Jasper Høiby - Fellow Creatures
Mike Holober - Balancing Act
Joëlle Léandre/Benoit Delbecq/Francois Houle - 14 rue Paul Fort, Paris

Johnny Hunter Quartet - While We Still Can
Alex Hutton Trio - Magna Carta Suite

 

I
The Impossible Gentlemen - Let's Get Deluxe
Indigo Kid II
- Fist Full Of Notes

Mikko Innanen - Song For A New Decade
Jon Irabagon - Behind The Sky
Aaron Irwin Quartet - A Room Forever

 

J
Michael Janisch - Paradigm Shift
Jazz At The Movies - Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Ochion Jewell Quartet - VOLK
Mike Jones Trio - Roaring
J-Sonics - Different Orbits

 

K
Goran Kajfeš Subtropic Arkestra - The Reason Why Vol. 2

Manu Katché - Unstatic
Almut Kühne, Gebhard Ullmann, Achim Kaufmann - Marbrakeys
Juliet Kelly - Spellbound Stories
Josh Kemp - Rare Groove
Ernie Krivda - Requiem For A Jazz Lady

Slava Ganelin, Alexey Kruglov, Oleg Yudanov - Us
Almut Kühne, Gebhard Ullmann, Achim Kaufmann - Marbrakeys

 

L
Don Laka - Afro Chopin
Brian Landrus Trio - The Deep Below
Helen Bledsoe and Alexey Lapin - Ghost Icebreaker
Milford Graves and Bill Laswell - Space/Time - Redemption
Ant Law - Zero Sum World
John Law's New Congregation - These Skies In Which We Rust
Joëlle Léandre/Benoit Delbecq/Francois Houle - 14 rue Paul Fort, Paris

Let Spin - Let Go
Michelle Lordi - Drive
Frank Lowe Quartet - Outloud
Jon Lundbom and Big Chord Five - Jeremiah

 

M
Mammal Hands - Floa
Ivo Perelman, Mat Maneri, Joe Morris - Counterpoint
Mads Mathias - Free Falling
Ken Mathieson's Classic Jazz Orchestra - Clarinet Gumbo
Pete McCann - Range
Roy McGrath Quartet - Martha

Benet McLean - The Bopped And The Bopless
Charles McPherson - The Journey
Lauren Meccia - Inside Your Eyes
Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier - Chasing Tales
Pat Metheny - The Unity Sessions
Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny
Charles Mingus - Live In Europe 1975
Ivo Perelman, Mat Maneri, Joe Morris - Counterpoint
Misha Mullov-Abbado - New Ansonia

 

N
Kyle Nasser - Restive Soul
National Youth Jazz Orchestra - NYJO Fifty
Patrick Naylor - Days Of Blue
Ivo Neame - Strata
Pete Neighbour - Back In The Neighbourhood
Liam Noble - A Room Somewhere
Curtis Nowosad - Dialectics

 

O
Carl Orr - Forbearance
Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier - Chasing Tales

 

P
Jason Palmer & Cédric Hanriot - City Of Poets
Mike Parker's Unified Theory - Embrace The Wild
Partikel - String Theory
Christian Frank / Deniss Pashkevich Duo - Close
David Patrick Octet - Igor Stravinsky The Rite Of Spring
Alastair Penman - Electric Dawn
Ken Peplowski - Enrapture
Vitor Pereira Quintet - New World
Ivo Perelman, Mat Maneri, Joe Morris - Counterpoint
Ivo Perelman and Whit Dickey - Tenorhood
Oscar Perez - Prepare A Place For Me
Leslie Pintchik - True North
Mikkel Ploug Trio - At Black Tornado
Plunge - In For The Out

Noah Preminger - Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground
Noah Preminger - Pivot Live At The 55 Bar
Preston-Glasgow-Lowe - Preston-Glasgow-Lowe
Chris Hodgkins and Dave Price - Back In Your Own Backyard
Printmakers - Westerly

 

R
Sun Ra And His Arkestra - Gilles Peterson Presents .. To Those Of Earth And Other Worlds
Zoe Rahman - Dreamland
Shez Raja Collective - Gurutopia

Jemal Ramirez - Pomponio
Sam Rapley - Fabled
Buddy Rich - Birdland
Matt Ridley Quartet - Mettã
Phil Robson - The Cut Off Point
Roller Trio - Fracture

 

S
Roy Sainsbury's Rhythm Chiefs featuring Dave Newton - You Said It
Nick Sanders Trio - You Are A Creature
Emily Saunders - Outsiders Insiders
Maria Schneider Orchestra - The Thompson Fields
Andy Schumm and The Bix Project Band - Bix Off The Record
Scottish National Jazz Orchestra with Makoto Ozone - Jeunehomme
Slava Ganelin and Lenny Sendersky - Hotel Cinema
Benny Sharoni - Slant Signature
Shatner's Bassoon - Shansa Barsnaan
Sloth Racket - Triptych
Tassos Spiliotopoulos - In The North
Terell Stafford - BrotherLEE Love
Matthew Stevens - Woodwork

Euan Stevenson and Konrad Wiszniewski - New Focus On Song
Zhenya Strigalev - Never Group

Stryker / Slagel Band (Expanded) - Routes

 

T
Richard Fairhurst and John Taylor - Duets
Rogier Telderman Trio - Contours
The 14 Jazz Orchestra - Nothing Hard Is Ever Easy
Katie Thiroux - Introducing Katie Thiroux
Keith Tippett - Mujician Solo IV, Live In Piacenza

The Keith Tippett Octet - The Nine Dances Of Patrick O'Gonogon
Julie Tippetts and Martin Archer - Vestigium
Tipping Point - The Earthworm's Eye View
Colin Towns Mask Orchestra - Drama

Tom Bancroft : Trio Red - Lucid Dreamers
Dan Trudell - Dan Trudell Plays The Piano

 

U
Almut Kühne, Gebhard Ullmann, Achim Kaufmann - Marbrakeys

 

V
Marcos Varela - San Ygnacio
Vein
featuring Dave Liebman - Jazz Talks

Marlene VerPlanck - The Mood I'm In
Hristo Vitchev Quartet - In Search Of Wonders
Lou Volpe - Remembering Ol' Blue Eyes (Songs of Sinatra)

Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny

 

W
The Ernie Watts Quartet - Wheel Of Time
The Weave
- Knowledge Porridge

Alex Webb and the Copasetics - Call Me Lucky
Adam Birnbaum, Doug Weiss, Al Foster - Three Of A Mind

Jeff Williams - Outlier
Euan Stevenson and Konrad Wiszniewski - New Focus On Song
Woven Entity - Woven Entity

Y
Slava Ganelin, Alexey Kruglov, Oleg Yudanov - Us

 

 

Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids - We Be All Africans

Album Released: 27th May 2016 - Label: Strut Records - Reviewed: July 2016

Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids We Be All Africans

Idris Ackamoor (alto saxophone, voice); Bajka (voice): plus a much larger personnel unidentified.

This summer Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids album, We Be All Africans is a treat to savour.  Spin it at a party and everyone will still be dancing at dawn.

Click here to listen to an introduction to the album.

Alto sax player Idris Ackamoor formed the original Pyramids with Margo Simmons in the early 1970s.  Simmons played flute, she was good too.  They met as students in Ohio, formed a band (as you do) and left America for Paris (the Art Ensemble of Chicago, along with a multitude of other Black American musicians, had already made the journey).  Once in Europe Ackamoor and Simmons travelled on to Africa for what they described as a ‘cultural odyssey’.  This first version of The Pyramids were over before the 1980s had even begun though not before recording three albums one of which, King Of Kings, I remember passing through my vinyl collection around the time my first child was born.  She is now an adult and, Clive, I think it may have ended up at your place.  Who knows, I’m sure we don’t.

Mr Ackamoor went on to San Francisco and formed an extensive theatre, music and dance project in the Bay Area which is still operating decades later.  As it seems to be the way of things, a band that was a band can become a band again if you hang around long enough.  By 2012 there was evidence of interest in Idris Akamoor’s 1970’s recordings.  He reformed The Pyramids and they are back touring again.  I can’t tell you the precise line-up on We Be All Africans because that kind of detail doesn’t seem to be available right now.  What I do know is that it was recorded in Berlin in 2015 with an Asian singer/poet called Bajka.  I’d like to also be able to give details of the grandstanding percussion ensemble who shake and carry this music with ease but I can’t with any certainty.  There’s kit drums, a range of hand-drums, marimba, someone playing mbira (who actually knows what they’re doing with it), all kinds of rattles and maracas.  Listen up to We Be All Africans, and for the moment at least, rely on your ears to tell you what’s there.

The title track is a repeat refrain, as light on the ears as it is on the feet.  And I don’t mean that it has no depth.  It is a song of the Diaspora.  There is Akamoor’s grainy alto plotting the swing of the thing, just like Dudu Pukwana did on those early recordings with Chris McGregor and The Blue Notes way back in Durban, South Africa before they exiled to Europe in the 1960s.  There’s also a neat violin solo that makes a strong play up and into the groove, slicing the beaten and the blown, giving the voices a chance to chase the air.  It is the title track, the opening track, and it defines The Pyramids message – go back far enough and there is Africa.

Track 2 is Epiphany, and for me this is where I could spend a lot of time. There’s no vocal, this is Idris Ackamoor the saxophone player, bolstered by a band with a big electric bass (it’s not Richard Bona, but it could be), popping space synth, more horns and a chorus of drums which are still echoing Africa.  Rather than Pukwana, there is a touch of Carlos Ward about this.  Ackamoor parades a lyrical melody that gets well beyond simply being tuneful.  Later, on the track Clarion Call, he breaths a similar hypnotic melodic strand as if it were an unguarded confessional moment.  Ah, but on Epiphany, as the title suggests, there’s an element of discovery, renewal, a re-telling of the music each time they hit the theme.  There’s also a funky little break where the whole band swagger and stagger beats and high notes, a modest manifestation but one which carves out carousal.

Click here to listen to Epiphany.

They close down even tighter on drum conversations on Rhapsody In Berlin.  This music is not taking place in Lagos, instead they are close to the Brandenburg Gate.  A sense of place is perhaps what this record is all about.  Africa is not just a continent, it’s a sense being.

The other central track on this recording points to another strong influence.  Silent Days begins with the words, “Walking in a galaxy, through the universe”; suddenly Ackamoor and Bajka sound as if they have stepped straight out of one of Sun Ra’s travelogues, no wonder Gilles Peterson has picked up on them.  The great June Tyson, who sung with the early Sun Ra Arkestra, is tight into Bajka’s delivery.  The unison singing on Silent Days could fit like a space suit in the Marshall Allen version of the Arkestra which is still touring, still soaring today.

I will be hanging on to We Be All Africans.  Of course it comes with references to other musicians but that doesn’t hold back the core message.  It is dance music, with some deep saxophone holding forth.  It has a narrative of how one Black American who spends most of his time in San Francisco can still hang out for Africa, for France and Germany, and for the whole wide world in which we live and breathe.

At a time when some people want to raise our borders, this joyous affirmation of a “common cradle” of humanity is refreshing.  Hail, Nigeria’s Fela Kuti, South Africa’s Blue Notes, Dudu and Dyani.  Hail, Abdullah Ibrahim, Hugh Masekela, Kippie Moeketsi, Miriam Makeba, the Rail Band from Mali, the great drum master Tony Allen, Manu Dibango and Jonas Gwangwa.  Hail them all, and hail Idris Ackamoor and Strut Records for bringing out this great positive slice of life.

Click here for details and to sample.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Actis Dato Quartet - Earth Is The Place

Album Released: 29th June 2015 - Label: Leo Records - Reviewed: September 2015

Actis Dato Quartet Earth Is The Place

 

Carlo Actis Dato (tenor & baritone saxophone, bass clarinet); Beppe Di Filippo (soprano & alto saxophone); Matteo Ravizza (double bass); Daniele Bertone (drums, percussion).

I’ve always liked Carlo Actis Dato since I first encountered his dexterous horns nearly twenty years ago as part of the magnificent Italian Instabile Orchestra. When his Atipico Trio brought out their recording Allegro Con Brio ((Leo Records CD LR 400) in 2004 I got to write the liner notes. Carlo Actis Dato has clocked up a large amount of recordings for Leo, he’s also made a stack for the Italian label Splasc(h). What I do know is this: Earth Is The Place steps out like a brand new reason for bringing out another album. This band has all the vitality of a heady street pageant.

Click here for a short sample.

Ah, how quickly I fall into the trap, writing the kind of ‘rattlesnakes’ the front cover warns of. It’s easy to get caught up in the whole joyous paraphernalia of performance that goes with Actis Dato, to the point where it is possible to miss out on the seriously subtle interplay between four musicians of character. For instance the opening passage of Kerala has double bass and percussion carefully weaving baritone saxophone and soprano saxophone into a melodic thread, as if the two reeds were delicate gold embroidery. Contrast this piece with the opening two tracks Immigrati and Gipsy Cembalon which place the quartet in the mix between samba and tango and a liberal jaunt of calypso.

Carlo Actis Dato and his long time compatriot Beppe Di Filppo can often appear like jokers when in fact their music retains a grounded intent, albeit theatre is never far away. The title Earth Is The Place is a reference to Sun Ra’s Space Is The Place. Another musician whose dress sense and descriptions always belied the Mardi Gra’s procession.

For instance the party that opens the first track, Immigrati, has at its central hub a roaringly rejoiner, this twisted tangle of a tenor solo becomes press-ganged by percussion. The pace is never dropped but the dialogue, what is actually coming out of the frontline, is closer to the confessional than these fun and games suggest. Likewise Correva L’anno initially sounds as if its birth place is a backstreet bazaar yet the quartet convert their cause to multi directional percussion spread across some fiery debate. The tactic is also applied to Himba, where what is beaten out is a touch-and-go treasure, hand drum to cymbal, rimshot to brush stroke. In-between all these bright melodies, seemingly bounced straight out of Actis Dato’s head, there is this desire to constantly change tack. It’s impossible to ignore these guys, the implication of the next question is already being asked in what is currently happening.

Click here for a video of the band playing Himba.

At just over 70 minutes in length Earth Is The Place is value for money. But it doesn’t feel long for the sake of it. At track 9 we have already gone through the fifty minute mark; 1 20 Sosia Saddam begins with a bowed bass solo, deep dark wood wired.  It has to be heard; a sonorous song without the need for words. The music cannot possibly stop at this point. As the piece stretches into a longer form there are the sounds of the human voice; shouting, banging, the drum making a mark in the ground, a torn baritone scrap of a repeated melodic fragment is left out in the alto wind like some old prayer flag. I’m not able to explain Actis Dato’s thinking behind this piece, explanation is not necessary, it is compelling listening.

The very final track, number 11, is also the shortest on the album. Titled Shadows, it evolves a final drum kit tour-de-force from Daniele Bertone. Again the piece feels purposeful, as if it has to be included. Behind the intense batterie of percussion the horns evoke an Albert Ayler refrain, the whole thing twists and turns into a I-feel-finished finale. An honourable ending to another deliciously maverick recording.

Carlo Actis Dato is a one off, there’s nobody else who quite does it the Dato way. Humour, sure, quirky, undoubtedly, but that stuff always leads somewhere else, plus his bass clarinet and baritone sax can crack open a joke and reveal a harder centre. The quartet with Matteo Ravizza and Daniele Bertone has only been around for the last few years, the original band with Enrico Fazio and Fiorezo Sordini (bass and drums) can still be found on You Tube. If the Carlo Actis Dato Quartet is new to you I recommend going straight to Earth Is The Place. Other planets may be available at a later date.

Click here for a video of the band rehearsing Albania.

Click here for details and the track listing.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk              

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Harry Allen - For George, Cole and Duke

Album Released: 7th April 2015 - Label: Blue Heron Records - Reviewed: June 2015

Harry Allen For George Cole and Duke

'Great Songs by George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Duke Ellington' is how this recording is shown on the front of the album that I received early in May. The music is great and the musicians playing it are all also great.  This is excellent Mainstream jazz, and for once all of the compositions are likely to be well known by the majority of people who listen to this recording.  The musicians may not be so well known, but they all deserve to be. They are Harry Allen (tenor saxophone), Ehud Asherie (piano), Nicki Parrott (bass and vocals), Chuck  Redd (drums and vibraphone) and special guest on 3 of the tracks, " Little Johnny " Rivero (shakere, conga and bongo).

I can honestly say that there are no tracks on this recording that are not as good as others, I have played this album a number of times and have failed to find anything that is not played to an excellent standard. Harry Allen plays a very muscular style of  saxophone and is equally at home on up beat numbers as well as the ballads.  The recording starts off with Always True To You In My Fashion by Cole Porter and this helps set the standard for the remaining 12 tracks.

The choice of tracks is interesting, Ellington's Purple Gazelle and Gershwin's By Strauss are two examples,  they are  compositions that do not get recorded very often.  Nicki Parrott sings very well on In A Mellow Tone, How Long Has This Been Going On ?  and Mood Indigo and she also plays a mean bass. The inclusion of "Little Johnny" Rivero on percussion injects a Latin sound to the three tracks that he is on, perhaps he provides the "Spanish Tinge" that Jelly Roll Morton was so fond of?

Both the pianist, Ehud Asherie, and drummer/ vibraphonist, Chuck Redd, play their parts well and the result is a classic example of Mainstream swing that shows off both the skills of the composers and the talents of the performers.   I recommend this recording very highly. 

Click here to sample the album.

Vic Arnold. 

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Kris Allen - Beloved

Album Released: 17th June 2016 - Label: Truth Revolution Records - Reviewed: August 2016

Kris Allen Beloved

Kris Allen (alto and soprano saxophones); Frank Kozyra (tenor saxophone); Luques Curtis (bass); Jonathan Barber (drum set).

Sometimes you put a recording through your sound-system-of-choice and the music makes an immediate match with your ears.  And so it was for me with Kris Allen’s Beloved.  This is a quartet who hold a lot of promise and absolutely no waste.  What we have are four highly skilled musicians who have stripped away the superfluous in order to source their own secrets.  If and when they disclose a little bit more they could be coping with a much higher profile. The drummer, Jonathan Barber is definitely going to be in demand.

This is how a quartet does it when they are focused and not just playing another session.  Here are ten scored ‘jazz compositions’ by the alto sax player Kris Allen.  They have come to break these scores open and expand them.  It does not happen on every track, but the success rate is nevertheless high.  On this recording Allen has dispensed with piano.  Instead, two melodically mature horn men individually twist tunes in and out of shape with assurance.  They have differing approaches yet come on like team-duo when the line demands. 

In Jonathan Barber they have a clever head, a drummer who bounces rhythm, moves emphasis and action to provide description. He has deft, sly strokes which work up against his patterning footwork giving smart hi-hat signals like an additional drum. Barber’s ears are sonic to his bass player companion.  Luques Curtis must have grown up listening to Mingus.  He is constantly stringing out a bass directive on the spot, plucking wonderful long extensions which carry the whole crew, at the same time fixing the bottom line of the no-chord quartet. On track two, Mandy Have Mercy, the double bass is totting up notes like a game of poker.

If Let Freedom Ring, Destination Out, New And Old Gospel mean anything to you then you will be able to plot Kris Allen’s influence easily enough.  They are all recordings by the master alto sax player Jackie McLean who died in 2006.  These days his name does not get mentioned as much as it should.  As well as producing a discography that plots the course of a Charlie Parker influenced alto from bebop to modal via Charles Mingus through to a subsequent encounter with Ornette Coleman (who played second horn trumpet to McLean on New And Old Gospel), Mr McLean was also an educator; the founder of jazz studies at the Hartford Artists Collective and the University of Hartford.  This is where Allen met McLean and began studying with him.

Jackie McLean was a diamond in the mine.  An outstanding iconic player with a signature squashed sound that was totally unique to himself.  He was always the reference point for those who knew the real thing.  Kris Allen recognised his importance and listening to the Beloved album it is possible to hear the echo of their relationship.

On Bird Bailey the quartet feel their way through a cut-up of the Charlie Parker songbook which hints at McLean’s own obsessiveness with Bird.  Allen and Kozyra sharply slice these quotes.  Once I stopped trying to second guess Bird’s Ornithology and just let the two horns get on with it, Bird Bailey made perfect sense.

Beloved contains three quite different ballads: The title track is the stand-out, a beautiful peon to the leader’s partner, the pianist Jen Allen.  Lord Help My Unbelief is an exercise in slow breath control blowing on a written-through hymn to the ether.  And then there is More Yeah.  This one is all over in just three minutes, the band seem to close down on it.  It fades like mist on heat.  Such a shame because it begins in a very unhurried fashion with a tasty elegant bass introduction spreading forth across the two dexterous unison horns feeding off the sonorous wood of the instrument.  The fade suggests there was more in the can, it certainly feels as if they could have stretched things a lot further.

Click here to listen to the title track, Beloved.

For my money it’s ‘the up-tempo swingers’ (I sometimes feel like using colloquial retro language) which spark this session and give the Kris Allen Quartet the McLean connection.  The first two horn breaks on the album opener, Lowborn are superb.  The alto comes first, tearing up the chart and putting a new message on the stand.  Kris Allen is accurate, he leaps, he squeals, he comes all the way down the instrument then hits the top.  He is telling tales though he calls them 'proverbs'.  No one is going to talk over him, this is sculptured soloing.  Then comes Kozyra’s tenor sitting on his tail and producing more magic, albeit with a slightly more studied approach.  When they get back to the head both saxophones are swapping the dots between each other.  It doesn’t sound difficult, even though it is.

Towards the end of the session, on track eight, there is a genuine sax dual.  Hate The Game has the two horns chasing each other’s fireworks.  What I like about their approach is that they keep things light and airy.  Jonathan Barber’s drums are never muddled.  He is on their case throughout, yet he knows where the pulse is at all times which allows the frontline to sing with confidence.

The closer, Threequel, is a neat example of contemporary bop, it contains all the well known clichés – the bass solo breaking with the drum kit, the double horn melody tuned-in to a locked up tandem, the alto and tenor solos preaching perfection in a language we understand but can’t pronounce. You’ve almost certainly heard the formula before but music doesn’t always have to be a discovery, sometimes when the form is already known, the art is in the love of it.

Click here to listen to Threequel.

Kris Allen has made a good start here.  I’ve just about finished writing but I’ll still be listening.  It would be good to hear Beloved at a gig this side of the Atlantic.  I am sure Connecticut has its home attractions, but Kris, in your own words More Yeah; cross the pond and really convince us.  

Click here for details and to sample. Click here for Kris Allen's website.
                       

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

 

 

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Julian Argüelles - Tetra

Album Released: 16th October 2015 - Label: Whirlwind Recordings - Reviewed: December 2015

Julian Arguelles Tetra

'Tetra' is the name of the album and also the band led by Julian Argüelles (saxophones and celeste); with Kit Downes (piano), Sam Lasserson (double bass) and James Maddren (drums) and highlights the fact that this is a quartet rather than a big band which Argüelles has often been associated with in the past. 

In a recent interview for London Jazz News, Argüelles explains how he was influenced in his early years by playing in the European Youth Jazz Orchestra at the tender age of 14 where he met other musicians who played avant-garde music, played  in small groups and improvised without inhibition.  Argüelles has gone on to play in many bands, large and small, and with many other great musicians and his talents have been recognised by audiences, critics and award givers around the world.  As well as performing Argüelles is a skilled composer, arranger and teacher being associated with a number of music colleges in the UK and has recently been appointed as professor of jazz saxophone at the University of Performing Arts and Music in Graz, Austria. 

At the EFG London Jazz Festival in November he conducted the Frankfurt Radio Big Band and Phronesis as they played his arrangements of Phronesis’s music.  The younger members of Tetra seem destined to have highly successful musical careers of their own and have all received critical acclaim for their efforts in various bands. They have been playing with Argüelles for about 3 years, touring the UK and abroad and as Argüelles noted "It feels like a real band; it feels comfortable".

Click here for an introductory video.

All the compositions on the album are by Argüelles; the first track, Hugger Mugger is a short, dreamy, slow trio between bass, celeste (a keyboard instrument best known for the opening of Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy) and piano. Track 2, Yada Yada, starts without a break, the tempo increases slightly and saxophone and drums join the mix.  While the phrase ‘yada yada’ in English implies boring repetition the feel of this piece is anything but and has a distinctly Asian feel to it.

Hurley Burley begins with a leisurely drum solo, the tempo increases and all the other instruments join in, a little hesitantly at first, then at full tilt with breathless solos from piano and saxophone and the track is followed without a break by Hocus Pocus, a piece, reminiscent of music for a ballet, a dancer flitting from one side to the other; there are solos from bass and piano.  Track 5, Nitty Gritty the last of the reduplicative titles, begins with solo piano but is soon joined by the beautifully melodic saxophone that Argüelles is well known for. 

Click here for a video of the band playing Nitty Gritty.

The next track, Asturias, is the only one that is not entirely original as it is based on the traditional music of the Spanish region of Asturias; it begins with some lively drumming followed by saxophone, bass and piano as each is highlighted before coming together for feel good finale.  Fugue begins with the piano which sets the theme and is then joined by the saxophone, playing initially in unison, but latterly in a conversation, double bass and drums add their contributions before finishing in unison again. It is interesting to compare this Fugue with those of Bach (click here).  The final track of the album is called Iron Pyrite (a mineral commonly known as ‘Fool's Gold’) and begins with a duet between double bass and drums, the saxophone introduces a lively melody followed by a foot-tapping solo and then piano and drums have alternating solos until the saxophone returns with the melody and ensemble finale.

Despite the rather obscure track titles, this is great music from a great band and everything we have come to expect from Julian Argüelles. 

Click here to sample the album.

Howard Lawes

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Ehud Asherie - Shuffle Along

Album Released: 8th April 2016 - Label: Blue Heron Records - Reviewed: June 2016

Ehud Asherie Shuffle Along

Ehud Asherie, piano

I believe jazz is a profound music.  It springs out of a variety of circumstances.  I don’t take it lightly.  In my view (and this is hardly controversial), like so much of what is pitched within America, the roots of jazz are found in the cultural cut of what has happened to its Black population since the beginning of the old ‘New World’.  Not the full story perhaps, but certainly the central one.  This recording, Shuffle Along is part of the detail of the state of the art of piano in jazz.  Critically, Shuffle Along is about a pianist, Ehud Asherie, making a recording in 2015 of (and here comes the subtitle), Solo Piano Interpretations from Blake and Sissle’s 1921 Broadway Musical.  Before I go there, I’ll try to clarify the significance and the context.

The story of the piano in jazz is the length of a long involved and evolving history of music which I can’t tell well in one paragraph, but let’s do it anyway:  I’ll flag early ragtime, segue into Harlem stride piano, then tick off Chicago, New York, Philly and the minstrel effective coming from the transformation of dance bands into jazz orchestras, be-bop and hard-bop, digress through various revivals of so called ‘traditional jazz’ (New Orleans, Dixieland etc), the classism of the modal model, the whole-tone clusters of free jazz, possibly junk the keyboard and all its chords then bring it back centre stage to play the blues, turn electric, go fusion and, somewhere along this brilliant continuum, go way out across the Atlantic into the heartlands of old Europe and work our way through the whole notated framework of scores and manuscripts.  If you’ve got this far, you already know the names of the key stylists so I won’t list them.  It’s breath taking, yet the piano is not a blown instrument, it is tuned percussion.

And that is the point, I am listening to this new, truly remarkable recording of tunes composed by the pianist Eubie Blake for the very first Broadway musical written by Black writers and performed by an all Black cast.  Ehud Asherie is not Black; he was born in Israel in 1979 and emigrated to the United States with his family when he was nine.  I don’t really care about that, what I know for sure is that Ehud Asherie is one of the most important piano players in America today.  I realise that what I am hearing on this new album is not a piano ‘style’ but the integrity of being a musician bound to an enduring keyboard history.  In 2016, without a word of a lie, I can easily say that Ehud Asherie has made the definitive contemporary piano statement in a jazz styling we know as ‘swing’ or ragtime.  Okay, I can say it, but Ehud Asherie’s album is so much more than that.  For me, irrespective of the obvious implications of the material itself, this solo piano recording is so vigorously articulated, so positioned and poised, so in the zone of extending great jazz improvisations, I cannot be doing with counting off all the influences.  Mr Asherie is beyond all that, what we have here is jazz piano of the very highest order.  The weight of this music is not in the past or even in the style, rather it is about the current currency of today.  Ehud Asherie is the real deal.

Those readers who picked up on my April review of Ken Peplowski’s Enrapture album will have a little prior knowledge of my enthusiasm for this pianist.  Now, in this solo setting, it is easy to just become enveloped by what is happening from the Asherie piano.  There are nine tracks and each one is a short, concentrated presentation of all those original Eubie Blake ingredients procured and played as if Mr Asherie is handling precious objects.  The opening, Gypsy Blues, is a brave beginning; there is no obvious fancy dancing.  The title belies the sophisticated chord progression and lyrical melody line, his rendering is exquisite.  The touch is slightly louche with an unhurried delicacy which is rhythmically true.  Another word I want to use is ‘balanced’ – Ehud Asherie walks the talk, putting in an emphasis here and there, balancing the timbre but without any kind of drama, just folding the note, taking his time to snag the corners as he goes along.

Click here to listen to Gypsy Blues from the album.

There are two versions of I’m Just Wild About Harry, (I wonder if Manning Serwin copped a little of Harry when he wrote A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square a decade later?)  Asherie’s first version starts with a ripple but develops into a tour de force; again he doesn’t give the game away.  This is a pianist with everything to say but he has no need to say it all at the same time.

For me there are three truly stellar performances on the album; I’m Cravin’ For That Kind of Love, Bandana Days and If You’ve Never Been Vamped By A Brownskin.  (The title of the latter, if you don’t choose to unpack the context, is a hard moniker to reconcile in 2016.  I guess in 1921 it had a different kind of shock value as a Broadway song written by two Black songwriters.)  What these trio of tunes all have in common is a stride piano technique underlying the compositional framework; but at completely different angles. Ehud Asherie is playing sleight of hand.  On Cravin’, the innate beauty of the quirky melody is never passed over, yet there’s a lot more detail stuff going on. 

Click here for a video of Ahud Asherie playing Bandana Days live with Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet.

My father brought me up listening to Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith, so I’ve always had a thing about how ‘stride’ breaks down.  Later, when I bought myself some ears of my own, I heard Jaki Byard’s piano alongside Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Charles Mingus.  I caught the way Mr Byard sneaked stride piano into the most unlikely places, I became completely hooked. And I know writers describing Ehud Asherie understandably want to touchstone James P. Johnson and Art Tatum, but I think he’s closer to Byard. Take for example Bandana Days; it starts with a neat, really neat introduction.  It could be going almost anywhere other than the direction it actually takes.  Like Byard on Mingus’s version of Take The A Train, once Asherie gets into his stride he finds what he wants from it, takes it to town and then simply let’s go.  When Ehud Asherie plays Brownskin he rests on the rhythm but, all the time is folding in little individual masterpieces.  At no time does it sound like he’s showing off.  There is a natural pace to the proceedings, which Michael Steinman in his sleeve notes refers to as “the lost art of the Saunter”.

The final track on the Shuffle Along album is Love Will Find A Way.  On You-Tube there’s a memorable 1978 version of Eubie Blake in his 90’s, playing the tune in concert.  I recommend taking in both Asherie and Blake’s versions. Asherie’s 2015 ‘interpretation’ touches the eloquence of the material with a deep reading of what is, in effect, a lost song.  Off the top of my head I can’t remember another contemporary version.  Love Will Find A Way is certainly not the usual candidate for the old cliché American Songbook.  Here at the end of this brilliant album Ehud Asherie places pathos into the music, moving the piano-song into a slow, slow, orbit.  For me, it could stay on my system just continually going round.


Click here to listen to Hear Ehud Asherie playing I’m Just Wild About Harry solo (& other tracks). Click here for details and to sample.

Click here for Eubie Blake live in 1978 playing and singing Love Will Find A Way. Click here for Jaki Byard with Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy live in Oslo 1961 and Take The A Train

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Tom Bancroft : Trio Red - Lucid Dreamers

Album Released: 29th April 2016 - Label: Interupto Musici - Reviewed: May 2016

Tom Bancroft Trio Red Lucid Dreamers

Tom Bancroft is a Scottish-based musician whose main instrument is the drums. He is also a composer, band leader, educator, record label boss…. an all-round jack-of-jazz-trades, in fact. He has been around for a while and has been involved with all sorts of musicians and projects. Trio Red is just one of his outlets. The other members of the trio are Tom Cawley on piano and Per Zanussi on bass. Lucid Dreamers is the group’s second album release.

A piano trio led by the drummer is a rarity (a drum trio?) and one might expect the drums to be more to the fore than in groups led by, say, Bill Evans or Brad Mehldau. In fact, Bancroft is quite restrained – no long drum solos, though some nice short ones. However, although much of the focus is still on the piano, it does not dominate and drums and bass get much more of a say than in the usual sort of piano trio. This gives a percussive, rhythmic feel to many of the tracks. Hint of Wood, for example, the third track on the album, sees all three instruments (including piano) mimicking the tapping of wood on wood in a brilliantly original but accessible piece of music making. The track is a joint composition by the trio – indeed, five of the ten tracks on the album are jointly composed which again emphasises the equality of sound in the band.

Another jointly composed track, Howdy Doody, sees a swinging, rocking beat gradually emerging, and Cawley again playing in an angular, percussive style slightly reminiscent of Thelonious Monk. Interestingly, the next track is the Charles Mingus composition, Jump Monk, on which Cawley gets the opportunity to channel his inner Monk (and Zanussi his inner Mingus) to the full. It is the most conventionally jazz piece on the album and it is an indication of the group’s versatility that they can play – and play brilliantly – straightforward modern jazz as well as the more adventurous stuff.

It would be wrong, though, to characterise Cawley as a Monk clone since he has his own distinctive style. This is seen to full effect on the first track of the album, Saturday Afternoon (with Sophie), a Bancroft composition which recalls time spent with his daughter when she was a child. It has a marvellous jaunty, jerky theme and Cawley improvises brilliantly in a number of different idiosyncratic styles. His virtuosity is also on display on the next track, Lift Off, an excitingly fast tempo piece by the American musician, Thomas Chapin.

Click here to listen to Saturday Afternoon With Sophie

A feature on some of the tracks is the use by Zanussi of a bow on his bass. This gives an extra dimension to the music, for example, on the penultimate track, Acoustica Electronica, and particularly on the final (and title) track, Lucid Dreamers. This was originally written by Bancroft for the Georgian National Big Band (that is, Georgia in the former Soviet Union, not the American one) and was due to be played by the Band when Bancroft was in Tbilisi in the late 1990s. “There had recently been a civil war in Georgia”, says Bancroft, “and there were still bullet holes all over the city. The piece is about going through a war and coming out the other side”.

For reasons not entirely clear, the Georgian National Big Band did not play the piece - which is their loss because it is a fine piece of music. It is divided into three parts: the first part, Song, is slow and reflective with a touch of John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet about it. The second part is called War and introduces a more menacing mood. The tension is effectively built up, the sound gets louder, the notes grow more numerous until it becomes difficult to believe that only three musicians are making such a hell of a noise. This gradually fades into the final part, Re-Birth, which turns into a jaunty, hopeful tune, swinging and rocking and carrying the listener along. There are hints of other tunes there – the carol, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, for example.

Trio Red is embarking on a mini tour in May which culminates in a date at London’s Vortex Jazz Club on 17th May – full details are on the band’s website (click here).

And click here for a video of Trio Red performing Evolving Pattern, a piece not on the album, but which gives some idea of what the group can do.

Click here for details and to sample Lucid Dreamers.

Robin Kidson

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Angus Bayley - Scrapbook

Album Released: 1st September 2016 - Label: Spark! Label - Reviewed: September 2016

Angus Bayley Scrapbook

Angus Bayley (piano), Paul Trippett (bass), Dave Hamblett (drums), Nick Sigsworth (violin), Daisy Watkins (viola), Alaric Taylor (trumpet), Kieran McLeod (trombone).

This is a Scrapbook.  It is the only word on the cover, underlined and dropped into the middle of the artwork.  Presumably it is the intention to use the word to describe both the album and the band which originally came together in 2013.  I have always thought of a Scrapbook as a place of personal memorabilia and ideas.  As I listen to Angus Bayley’s nine compositions collected here it seems to me that is exactly what I am listening to, one man’s Scrapbook, the album as a compendium of his current position. 

Angus Bayley is a scientific researcher and an inventor of sorts.  Here it’s his tunes like Wrioter (correct spelling), Space Walk and Singer Man, all of which are neat discoveries and creative ideas that have percolated within his keyboard and come preserved in this interesting ensemble.  If you track down Mr Bayley online you’ll find examples of all three pieces in a kind of demo format.  I also found on YouTube the trombone player, Kieran McLeod, conducting a room full of brass performing Wrioter.  Buy the album and you will hear the difference the rest of the Scrapbook septet have brought to these initial conceptions.

Dave Hamblett, the drummer, has popped up on a number of sessions reviewed on this website.  It is plainly obvious why this is the case from one single listen-through of this new album.  When he is present Mr Hamblett is like glue.  Give the guy the opportunity and he holds this rather unorthodox line-up (two strings, trombone and trumpet, no reeds) together with a funky nonchalance, poking and prodding in all those spare corners.  When Paul Trippett’s double bass is discreetly locked into the drummer’s rise and fall they make for a rhythm section that makes sense of these rather quirky, elastic tunes.  What do I mean?

Scrapbook begins with Alex’s Song, built on a repeating refrain which could have come from a minimalist composer like Steve Reich. When I heard the opening few bars I thought that minimalism might be the direction of travel (which would have been interesting) but once the bone and the horn are in it dissolves into a bright contemporary bop thing.  Trippett applies a bass break which lifts it nicely and once Hamblett is in, clicking the ride cymbal, the piece settles down gliding into a light groove.  Mr Bayley obviously has a liking for his ‘Steve Reich’ refrain and introduces it again at the end.  I think if he had loosened up the arrangement he’d have found there was more in that refrain than repetition.  Certainly Henno that follows it allows everybody to caper a bit and that works a treat. It isn’t all like that. 

Click here to listen to Henno.

The previously mentioned Wrioter features trumpet and trombone acting the role of a superior brass band playing a melody which could have been taken from a Charles Wesley Hymnal.  It is extremely upright and English.  When Angus Bayley drops in a couple of lone piano solos it gives a focused dynamic.  I think a little more freedom would have helped to have taken things further, particularly for Hamblett and Trippett, who aren’t able to the touch the ground and which is a pity.

To my mind the standout performance is easily Triads.  The title gives the game away as to its construction, which allows the personnel in the Scrapbook line-up to play to their strengths.  The introduction has Alaric Taylor’s trumpet pressing out the written melody, and he pulls it off with aplomb.  The Bayley piano is juggling the chords beneath him. The ensemble sound is full, the strings hold a cluster, ironically like a synthesiser.  Hamblett is able to get on top of it with Trippett leaving the path free for Kieran McLeod to tuck in a soulful trombone break in amongst those Triads.  At which point they abruptly end.  You can almost feel it, Mr McLeod could have let go a fat slice of J. J. Johnson at this point, but instead Triads stops in its tracks.  He’s damn good, McLeod, I wonder why they went for such a cut-off?

The final two tracks, Steam and Tides contain melodies poised on the piano. Hamblett shuffles them, Trippett holds on to them; Bayley handles them like precious objects.  I am sure they are to him, but if you are going to form a septet around such compositions they have to be given up and allowed to fracture under whatever the other players can bring to your music. Steam is worthy of another shot at some point in the future.  When Angus Bayley produces his own solo it could really pirouette and dazzle but here I feel it tends to get dragged down by the arrangement.

Yes, this is Scrapbook in name and Scrapbook by nature, a depositary of fragments and ideas.  And for that I give Angus Bayley credit.  I would much sooner someone step forth with fresh thinking than merely trot out the same old, same old.  If not all of this music is yet fully formed, there is still a lot here which could blossom under further enquiry.  This septet is now currently on tour.  By the end of it they may well have a collective understanding of where they want to take this music.  I believe they can fashion a future for it.

Click here for Angus Bayley soloing on Glide.

http://www.sparklabel.com/abscrapbook.html
http://scrapbook-music.com/

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Beats And Pieces Big Band - All In

Album Released: 8th June 2015 - Label: Efpi - Reviewed: August 2015

Beats and Pieces All In

 

This is the second album by the Manchester based big band following on from their 2012 recording Big Ideas.

The CD comes in a recycled cardboard cover with a paper insert with tiny photographs of the band's 14 members; however it does not include any details of the tracks other than their titles. There are seven tracks and all but one are composed and arranged by Ben Cottrell, the band’s director. The one cover track is David Bowie’s Let’s Dance.

Beats & Pieces consists of 3 on saxophones, 3 on trumpets, 3 on trombones, Anton Hunter plays guitar, Patrick Hurley on keyboards (piano/Rhodes), Harrison Wood on bass, and Finlay Panter on drums. The band describes itself as a band that has grown big rather than a big band and they all met as students in Manchester and know each other well both socially and musically. They were influenced by such diverse musicians and singers as Michael Jackson, Bjork and Radiohead to Duke Ellington, Gil Evans and Loose Tubes.They have been the recipients of many jazz awards and performed in a number of European countries.

Click here for an introductory video to the album.

A rousing start with a tune called rocky (this is not a typo as all the track titles are in lower case). This introductory track is heavy on the percussion front with a rhythmic cacophony using distant snatches of melody all played at a fast pace and ending abruptly. The next track, pop, again has percussion to the fore with the melody on the guitar moving to a superb muted trumpet from Nick Walters which weaves through the background and then leads into a faster tempo as all instruments join. It ends with hardly a break before rain starts with a sweet gentle taster melody on keyboards which the brass joins and takes further building into a blend of guitar/organ/bass.

Click here to listen to pop

havmann is the composer’s reflection on Antony Gormley’s statue in a fjord in Norway and the track does have an ethereal ‘other world’ quality. Foremost on this track is an excellent unusual solo on flugelhorn by Graham South.

Click here to listen to havmann

hendo has a 1970s disco beat with Anton Hunter’s twangy guitar and Sam Healey’s soprano sax, but altogether more of a big band feel. We have lots of atmosphere with let’s dance. A very slow start using just percussion which is then joined by bass and brass exploding the pace a little, but is never fast, all concluding in a melodic finale. In fact, I prefer this cover version to David Bowie’s original.The final short track is fairytale which has a tender melody and complementary brass playing and does leave you with a feeling of wanting more.

All In was recorded over four days in 2014. It was tracked almost entirely live with few overdubs and with the whole band in the same large room, ensuring everyone was in visual contact with everybody else at all times to create as much of an on-stage  feel as possible. The musicians’ solos were very well performed, however, I liked some tracks better than others, as in some I felt the musicians were competing rather than complementing each other, but this could just be the arrangement. The breaks between the tracks were very short and therefore one track seemed to blend into the next despite the changes of pace. I would imagine from the band’s reputation that hearing some of these tracks played at a live show could give you another view altogether

Click here for details and to listen to all the tracks on the album.

Beats and Pieces are:
Ben Cottrell : director, Anthony Brown, Sam Healey, Ben Watte : saxophones
Owen Bryce, Graham South, Nick Walters : trumpet, Ed Horsey, Simon Lodge, Rich McVeigh : trombone
Anton Hunter : guitar, Patrick Hurley : piano, Harrison Wood : bass, Finlay Panter : drums

Tim Rolfe

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Alan Benzie Trio - Travellers' Tales

Album Released: 24th April 2015 - Label: Alan Benzie Trio - Reviewed: September 2015

Alan Benzie Trio Travellers' Tales

 

Even before I listened to this first album from talented Scottish musician Alan Benzie, I felt I might be in for a treat as the artwork on the CD cover was very inspired indeed.

Alan Benzie actually started out playing the violin as an 8 year old and in his teens switched to the piano. Benzie was the first winner of the Young Scottish Musician of the year in 2007 and went on to study at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, becoming the first British musician to win the Billboard Award. The album was recorded with the other members of the trio, Andrew Robb, on bass and Marton Juhasz on drums. All the tracks are composed by Benzie and his inspiration was his travels, the landscape of his native Scotland and Japanese animation. The music has its roots in European and American jazz with influences from impressionist piano music, Scottish and Japanese folk and film music. As Benzie says: "... all the tunes have a story behind them. Glass, From A to B and Old Haunts are informed by direct experience and my reflections on them and are grounded in the real world. A Wandering Mist and Frog Town On The Hill are very much the realm of the traveller in my head, and hence quite fantastical.”

There are ten tracks on the album some short and others long and Benzie plays on a Steinway borrowed from Neil McLean. The recording and mixing by Stuart Hamilton and the mastering by Calum Malcolm add to the quality of this production from Castlesound studios in Scotland.

As the day starts with dawn, so does this album with a track called appropriately Hazy Dawns.  It is a quiet opening with brush work on drums and cymbals from Juhasz and short repeated melodies from Benzie giving an impression of a slow, misty daybreak in Japan. This is followed by Glass with Robb’s bass taking the lead with complex melodies from Benzie and good light cymbal work from Juhasz. After a stirring bass solo from Robb, the whole piece picks up speed but ends in a quieter lyrical slowing down.

Click here to listen to Glass played at a live performance.

From A to B follows on without much of a gap and I nearly thought it was part of the previous track but the tempo changes to softer piano and brushes with occasional bass interventions. Piano solos from Benzie abound and the complementary playing by the other members of the trio gives excellent support.

Click here for a video of the Trio playing From A to B.

Leaf Skeletons is a beautiful short and lightly played piano solo from Benzie. As Benzie states on the CD cover notes, “I like to think of the longer tunes as resembling diary entries, quite narrative in style. The shorter ones are perhaps more like images, just a glimpse of a moment in time” and this track is one of those intense brief images.

Frog Town On The Hill has a dance type melody (perhaps a Latin or Calypso? overtone) emphasised by Juhasz’s hand drumming with solos from bass and piano which are like a dialogue.

Click here for the video of Frog Town On The Hill.

Old Haunts has an old fashioned, old world feel, and cascading notes on the piano along with the excellent accompaniment by bass and percussion give the tune a laid back evening atmosphere. Western Embers is a short track with a slow piano solo and a haunting melodic line which leads directly into a longer track called A Wandering Mist. This track has lovely cymbal and bass playing which highlights how well these musicians play as a trio, each musician having small feature sections which are worked into the overall composition.

Midnight Café has a bluesy feel and is an appropriate title to a relaxed track. The last track is Stony Shore and this has to be the most Scottish sounding of all these tracks. The cymbal work gives the impression of the waves with the rise and fall of the piano melodies flowing over and round the stones on shore and Robb on bass providing timely deeper movements.

For some, this album may be a bit light on improvisation, but for me this has to be one of the best debut albums for some time from a young musician (Benzie is still only 25). The other members of the trio are classy too and they do all work well together; they must be great to see and hear at a gig.

Click here to sample the album.

Tim Rolfe

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David Berkman - Old Friends And New Friends

Album Released: 22nd June 2015 - Label: Palmetto Records - Reviewed: October 2015

David Berkman Old Friends and New Friends

 

David Berkman (composer, piano); Dayna Stephens (soprano & tenor saxophones); Billy Drewes (alto & soprano saxophones); Adam Kolker (soprano, alto & tenor saxophones, clarinet & bass clarinet); Linda Oh (bass); Brian Blade (drums).

This is a session, a quality session, though a session nonetheless. Putting together a one-off session in the studio with really top-draw players can occasionally produce stunning results. I am reminded of Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section, an album of such scorching excellence it should be in every serious jazz collection. The alto player Art Pepper, whose ‘straight life’ was full of curves, went out and literally ‘borrowed’ Miles Davis’s current piano, bass and drum team, the one with Philly Joe Jones, Paul Chambers and Red Garland. With minimum preparation he proceeded to charm a fabulously brilliant recording out of the uncertainty of the situation. If David Berkman’s Old And New Friends doesn’t quite hit those heights, hell it still deserves a serious listen; this is Americana as Americana is.

The key ‘borrowed’ personality in Berkman’s crew is drummer Brian Blade, probably best known for his outstanding work with Wayne Shorter. A percussionist of detail, design and clarity, he’s got to be among the finest drummers in the USA. So, he’s a good catch. Blade and Berkman go back a long way, though the drummer is not part of the pianist’s regular band. Berkman explains: “As luck would have it, he had something cancelled while I was planning this project and called to say that he would be available to record in two weeks”. Even the cymbal work as the band cruise into the opening track Tribute is a deft series of strokes that plant the right conditions for Adam Kolker’s first soprano sax solo of the session. Blade has got him marked. The band then dip into Berkman’s own eloquent study of the line with the percussion feeding the piano a filigree of counted crosses. Fingers fly. 

Another standout moment is the beginning of Past Progressive. Mr Berkman’s assured so-slow lean on the piano introduction is straight out of the Bill Evans technique of chord progression. So what? Well, in the immediacy of the moment he is again tracked by Brian Blade’s subtle edge on the cymbals, allowing Linda Oh to drop the double bass line under the whole thing as if it were conversation. By the time the horns bring forth their own contribution the bassist has already dictated the conditions on which this melody operates. She has set the scene for them; alto, soprano and tenor place the colour and finish the picture. This is unselfish group music.

A crucial aspect of this session is that David Berkman decided to play it with three reeds. Alongside Adam Kolker is tenor player Dayna Stephens and altoist Billy Drewes. Way back, I remember Billy Drewes cropping up alongside Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell on Paul Motian’s ECM album Psalm. Some sessions stick in the mind. Billy Drewes is again in good company though here he is the one who provides the abstraction part.  Not overtly maybe, but when there is a chance to glance the edge it comes real enough giving the reed ‘choir’ a classy rich density throughout. 

Dayna Stephens has an album just out under his own name, Reminiscent. He is a classic mainstream American tenor player; splitting hairs with the changes, tearing up the ground before him. His solo on Up Jumped Ming is a gear changer opening space for Brian Blade to pile in a drum solo that counts maths straight out the window. I particularly like the end of this drum dance. There is a brief pause, as if calm is restored, then the tenor takes the band to the last bar and it is over. It’s neatly done.

Interestingly the final track on the album is called Psalm. Is it a direct reference to that Paul Motian recording that Billy Drewes played on in the 1980’s? The 2014 Psalm begins as a setting for piano, which in turn reveals Linda Oh’s bass, allowing her to paraphrase the proceedings.  She’s damn good. Psalm is completed by the reeds orchestrating the dénouement. It’s pretty but it feels like a very soft landing to a session that, throughout, has been made of sterner stuff.

Jazz is always going to be in the moment however tight or otherwise the preparation. Old Friends And New Friends is tight, perhaps too tight in places for my taste, arranged beyond the necessity to do so. I have a sense that the importance of this recording for David Berkman will be determined by where it leads to. Track 6, No Blues No Really No Blues, is a short pithy piano trio version of the same piece played collectively on track 2. The rather awkward title belies the clarity of ease that the band as a whole brings to reading/improvising the extended version – choral horn voicings and a standout soprano solo from Adam Kolker. I’d suggest that maybe the answer as to where Mr Beckman is going in the future is broken on the back of which version of No Blues he really wants to work with.  Meanwhile there is quality stuff happening.

Click here to sample the album. Click here for a video of David Berkman playing Along Came Betty with his Trio in 2001.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk               

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Sarah Bernstein Quartet - Still / Free

Album Released: January 2016 - Label: Leo Records - Reviewed: March 2016

Sarah Bernstein Quartet Still Free

Sarah Bernstein Quartet: Sarah Bernstein (violin); Kris Davis (piano); Stuart Popejoy (electric bass); Ches Smith (drums)

If anyone caught my review of Devin Gray’s band last August you may remember the pianist Kris Davis.  She has got to be among the most interesting keyboard players in the USA right now.  Her two handed/two lead line technique is a real pleasure in itself, coupled with the clarity that she projects into her playing, I knew I wanted to hear this CD before I had even got as far as Sarah Bernstein, the leader.

Still/Free is the opening track.  It is an extended miniature built on a slow four note refrain; I played it several times before moving on to the rest of the album. The pacing, the poise, the undercurrent beneath the violin and piano from the bass and drum kit percussion is so exact, though the freedom is tangible.  It takes around three minutes for Sarah Bernstein to fall into the first solo – literally as if she simply lets herself go free, not in any frenetic sense, just this simple slipping away, bowing something that sounds like a gentle, precise conversation.  Davis/Popejoy/Smith smooth the underlying surface, seemingly with the least amount of effort.  There is no ‘look at me’ about any of these performances, this is four musicians angling an adagio out of a beautiful, barely-there composition and then subtly rewriting what was written as they do so. 

The track that follows, Paper Eyes, maintains this feeling of explorative meditation.  This is the opposite of doing nothing, but what you do do is done without hurry; violin and piano play off each as if they are a pared down chamber orchestra devoid of a score and left simply with intention.  Music like this speaks slowly yet dives deep and leaves a mark. I understand why there is a significant number of European musicians who have chosen to go to Brooklyn and embrace the Downtown Scene in New York.  For the last couple of years the sax player Ingrid Laubrock, who used to be London based, has hung out in the Big Apple with Kris Davis and drummer Tom Rainey.  Downtown jazz is still fed by little basement gigs which percolate creativity.  Hey, Ornette Coleman spent decades as a hidden inhabitant. 

In January Sandy Brown Jazz featured a review of Noah Preminger’s Quartet recorded live at the 55 Bar in Greenwich Village, there’s also another inventive low budget night out going on at the Cornelia Street Cafe just round the corner.  Downtown works because there is a well developed serious scene; what maintains the momentum comes from the willingness on the part of audience and musicians alike to keep things fresh.  Feel free to ride with an idea, fashion it and let it develop over time, it’s that kind of ethos.    The result generates a pool of people who are available to sustain an organic approach to music making.

The Sarah Bernstein Quartet feels formed but still very flexible.  The track Cede is the most conventional piece on the album.  It snaps along to what is clearly a pre-written arrangement with violin and piano strung out in unison, bass and drums time-signaturing the parts on a melody line. Then come three neat solos one after the other.  They spring from the arrangement allowing each musician to take a throw of the dice.  Bernstein goes first, a brief tight inscription which is then picked up by Kris Davis who riddles the content with all kinds of comment and possibilities; she is pianistic.  This is almost a ‘Bop’ arrangement, yet Davis manages to delineate a solo which frees herself up from such conventions.  It is a cracker, taking a moment and pushing it beyond what’s rolling.  Then Stuart Popejoy’s bass solo signals his own speech from the piano whilst drawing back on Bernstein’s arrangement.

The next two tracks are called Nightmorning and 4=.  Both of which I take to be improvisations, though there might be some written material tucked in there somewhere.  In the final analysis it comes down to how you hear them not how they were conceived. This quartet music is made from its own component parts, I hear it as some of the most eloquent ‘modern jazz’ to have come my way recently.  And I am defining ‘modern’ as in ‘today’, not in the past, and ‘jazz’ as coming from a history of music constantly in a state of reinvention through improvisation.

But we cannot leave this Sarah Bernstein recording without referring to the penultimate track, Jazz Camp.  It cunningly uses a spoken text descriptor throughout the ten minute duration; literally questioning the motivations for making music:  We don’t control this/something happens/and it becomes/true, real/or less so....  Sarah Bernstein was in Anthony Braxton’s Creative Music Orchestra in 2011 and played on a couple of his recordings, among them Trillium E from his opera series, released on the New Braxton House label in 2012.  I have not got the space to detail this project, though you can click here for an excerpt of the opera on You Tube.  The fascinating thing is Anthony Braxton has his own history of combining text and improvisation.  Back in 1994 I initially struggled with his Composition 193 and Composition 194, both of which use a commentary superimposed into an abstracted soundscape.  It was my problem not his.  Like the majority of Anthony Braxton’s work they are not in fact ‘difficult’, provided the listener stops making them so!  Sarah Bernstein’s Jazz Camp uses text in a similar way to Braxton’s original ethos, and the result?  Intriguing, and yes, a humorous departure from the rest of the album.  I can lighten up. 

The short final track on Still/Free is Wind Chime, a coda of consideration, a reflective statement to an album rich in colour and invention.  Thank you, I haven’t finished with this music by a long way.

Click here for information and to listen to a sample. Click here for Sarah Bernstein's website.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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The Bird Architects - The Phantom Power Awakens

Album Released: 26th January 2016 - Label: Foxy - Reviewed: March 2016

The Bird Architects The Phantom Power Awakens

The Bird Architects: Aaron Standon (alto saxophone, electric guitar); Peter Evans (electric 5 string violin); Mark Turner (Buffalo bass); Marco Anderson (drums).

Let’s be clear about the saxophone/guitarist, Aaron Standon, I count him as practically my brother, he isn’t but we are long time buddies.  And yes, the violinist Peter Evans is a friend of mine.  I am not exactly impartial, I realise that.  The other two Architects are a different kettle of fish, Marco Anderson I’ve met a few times, but that’s all it amounts to and hey, I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to Mark Turner or even nodded to the guy from across a crowded room.  So, maybe on the strength of my non-relationship with Mr Turner and only a passing handshake with Mr Anderson I can claim a degree of objectivity regarding this new album, The Phantom Power Awakens.

The opening track is Happy Birthday Bill, written to celebrate Bill Frisell’s 50th birthday.  I am sure the Brilliant-Bill, a standout alt-jazz guitarist with a bluegrass heart, would be chuffed to receive this greeting on such an auspicious day, though the music sounds closer to Bill Laswell, the great funk/dub-jazz bassist and producer.  No matter, whichever Bill gets this birthday gift, he’s going to be a winner.  Happy Birthday Bill does not play about. It slams your ears to the ceiling and they stay there.  Bass and drums batter a fast 4/4, the bassline, a wriggly eel encircling the sax/violin riff, does not go away. There is fierce content in this performance, which the Architects compress into a massive blast: a bigbeat that feels eternal, a huge strong dynamic, silk smooth soloing that is both ‘out’ and ‘in’ with one central natty riff that propels everything forward. Mr Standon is a formidable guitar player yet here he chooses to dedicate a tune to another guitarist by leading the action on alto saxophone.  It’s the kind of quirky juxtaposition I like; and the alto sax feels explosive.

This album stacks up as one extended power driven epic experiment.  The band passes through wholly improvised sections, like the cathartic Impending And Unexpected, to tightly composed cliff hangers such as (I know why people go to) Switzerland.  Then you come up against a thin sliver of something called Structural Damage which is less than a minute longAnd in that brief passing is contained delicate violin transformed into electronic noise, feedback, boom-bass, scattered percussion.  It is debris smeared into sound; a spoiling of processed anarchy so harsh it frays its own state of play.  But because these guys are Architects they then recycle the content into the introduction to Furlongs Dash, a key composition.

Furlongs Dash is a Peter Evans tune that I first heard played in 2005 and has been on all the band’s recordings ever since.  For me, this is the crux of the architecture on offer here; it has literally been refined detail by detail over decades.  Furlongs Dash always was a tricky task, a tricky ask.  The version on The Phantom Power Awakens is introduced by a sophisticated guitar part rather than their usual violin.  The quartet is a stripped down orchestra and we are left listening to a ‘difficult’ composition re-composed to an autographed improvisation.  The Bird Architects' music has needed time and to their credit, that is what these four guys have invested in.

Click here for the band playing Furlongs Dash.

The final track, Shift Key, is an abstracted slice of jazz/metal which has all the hallmarks of Frank Zappa’s legacy.  An album like The Phantom Power Awakens should not only shake up the phantom but everyone else as well.  In 2016 I don’t know whether that is possible, the whole world seems polarised between sleepwalking and a terrible disturbance.  Wherever the ‘Phantom’ may come from, our reality is turbulent tremor.  We pause for music and listen, despite those who would have us close down our ears to creativity.  So, how come The Bird Architects have arrived at their particular bend in the road?

The band has been operating with this exact same line-up since the mid 1980’s, though there was something like a ten year gap.  Since 2004 they have played regularly together yet only played a handful of gigs.  They bizarrely turned up on the Isle of Wight supporting Hawkwind at their annual HawkFest and got a great reception, then disappeared.  They played the improvisers holy grail, the Vortex in London, spooked the audience into shocked exhilaration and were gone.  In 2008 they released an album called Gone on Slam Records.  The title was/is fact - they play loud and leave quietly.  All the time they are regularly rehearsing, literally underground, only to resurface, present a new portfolio and disappear again.  They have two outstanding soloists in Standon and Evans, plus the Anderson/Turner drum’n’bass configuration which yields weight and a finesse of energy.

Aaron Standon is (in my view) one of the top five alto saxophone players in the UK.  On The Phantom Power Awakens his saxophone turns Switzerland into sonic sorcery yet overall his sax is not on display as much as his guitar playing.  It is not in dispute, he is undoubtedly an extraordinary guitar player – put your ears to Shift Key and it is blatantly obvious you are not listening to a saxophone player for whom the guitar is a ‘second instrument’.  Sometimes one instrument gets more prominence than another.  Then of course there is, Peter Evans, truly an electric violin player.  We are not merely talking about an amplified violin.  You can find other contexts to hear him play the acoustic instrument, but it is as an electric player that he transforms beyond his peers.  To hear his 5 string cut-out solid bodied violin spring the trap on the Happy Birthday Bill riff is to aurally witness the real meaning of fusion.

If your music can be hung under the banner of ‘jazz-rock’ and you are coming to this band for the first time it will be a genuine treat because they are the personification of deep power-jazz.  Here are seven tracks recorded on a digital two track, literally basement tapes from Bristol bursting with exuberance.  Even if that is not quite your bag, you still might want to give them a listen.  Exhilarate your senses.  For those people who are already aware of the Architects, this new recording is not only Bill Frisell’s birthday present, but yours too. Enjoy.

Click here for details and to sample.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.com.        

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Adam Birnbaum, Doug Weiss, Al Foster - Three Of A Mind

Album Released: 10th February 2015 - Label: Daedalus Records - Reviewed: April 2015

Birnbaum Weiss Foster Three Of A Mind

Adam Birnbaum is a pianist based in New York. For the past six years, he has been an integral part of the Al Foster Quartet. Foster was the drummer with Miles Davis in the latter part of the trumpeter’s career, and has also recorded with the likes of Sonny Rollins and McCoy Tyner.

Birnbaum has recorded several albums under his own name. Three of a Mind is his latest offering and he is joined by his boss, Al Foster, on drums and Doug Weiss, the bassist with Foster’s Quartet. The album is very carefully not labelled as the work of the Adam Birnbaum Trio (or, even, the Al Foster Trio) – all three musicians get equal billing – but it is clearly Birnbaum’s show and he has written all but two of the album’s nine tracks.

Reading Birnbaum’s CV brings home just how much jazz has changed in the last thirty or so years. Born in Boston in 1979, his first interest was classical music. He graduated from Boston College with a degree in computer science but spent much of his time practising piano – increasingly, jazz piano. He then went to the Juilliard School in New York where he was one of the first graduates of the School’s new jazz programme. In 2004, he won the American Jazz Piano Competition and became the American Pianists Association Cole Porter Fellow in Jazz. In 2006, he received the first ever “Special Mention” prize at the Martial Solal Jazz Piano Competition in Paris.

So, no more learning your trade in sleazy night clubs or dingy theatres. No more endless practising in the woodshed. Jazz is now very much part of the Academy with degree courses, fellowships and formal competitions. And there is a touch of the Academy about Birnbaum’s playing – technically proficient, precise, clean – but he can also swing and improvise. Above all, he can write a good tune.

One of his most intriguing compositions on the album is Dream Song#1: Huffy Henry. This is an excerpt from a longer piece, Dream Songs, a suite “made possible by a New Works grant from Chamber Music America” (there you go, the Academy again) and inspired by John Berryman’s poetry. It is a spiky, edgy blues, with subtle changes in mood from sinister to playful, which captures some of the spirit of Berryman’s poems.

The opening track on the album is the upbeat Binary which has a distinctive rock rhythm and develops nicely to make a satisfyingly cohesive whole. This is followed by Dream Waltz, a slower but still gently swinging piece with more than a touch of Bill Evans about it. Indeed, there are several times on the album when you feel you could be back in the Village Vanguard in 1961 – and that’s a compliment, not a sneer.

Click here to listen to Binary.

Thirty-Three is an angular blues piece with a complex theme and a nod to Thelonious Monk. Rockport Moon is an elegant, beautifully played ballad. Stutterstep is foot tapping piano trio jazz at its best though it is a shade too long and exhausts itself before the end. Kizuna is another upbeat tune with a slight Latin feel.

The two pieces not composed by Birnbaum are by Al Foster. Brandyn is named after the drummer’s son and has a complicated time signature with changes of mood and tempo allowing all three musicians to show off their considerable virtuosity. Parts of it sound a bit like the Modern Jazz Quartet minus Milt Jackson. Ooh, What You Do To Me, the final track, romps along very satisfactorily with drums more to the fore than on the other pieces.

Weiss and Foster give unobtrusive support throughout. They play some short solos but they are heard to greatest effect in some marvellous interplay between all three musicians. This takes the form of imaginative call-and-response sequences, or passages when no one voice is to the fore but all three blend seamlessly and satisfyingly together. The interplay on Dream Waltz is particularly memorable. That sort of group improvisation can only come from musicians who are used to playing with each other night in, night out. It is the most distinctive feature of the whole album and can sound spookily psychic at times – three of a mind indeed.   

Click here to sample the album.

Click here for a video of the trio playing Three For One (not on the album) live in Israel.

Further information – including samples of some of the tracks – can be found on Adam Birnbaum’s website: click here.

Robin Kidson

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Samuel Blaser - Spring Rain

Album Released: 27th April 2015 - Label: Whirlwind Recordings - Reviewed: May 2015

Samuel Blaser Spring Rain

 

Samuel Blaser is a Swiss trombonist. On Spring Rain, he is joined by three other musicians: Russ Lossing on keyboards, Drew Gress on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. The trombone, of course, has an honourable history in jazz. Even so, a trombone-led quartet is still something of a rarity and, as such, has one significant advantage – it doesn’t sound like much else around.  

Spring Rain is a tribute to the music of the late Jimmy Giuffre, an American jazz musician and composer prominent in the 1950s and 1960s. He is best known for a highly popular type of folk-jazz – one of his compositions, The Train and the River, opens the classic film, Jazz on a Summer’s Day. But Giuffre also had a keen interest in free jazz and, in the sixties, led an experimental trio with himself on clarinet, Paul Bley on piano and Steve Swallow on bass. The trio were particularly interested in exploring forms of group improvisation. It is this free jazz, group improvisation side of Giuffre that Blaser wants to honour on Spring Rain. Steve Swallow himself makes a contribution to the liner notes.

The term “free jazz” may put some people off but this isn’t wild and angry, hooting and honking. For the most part, Blaser sticks to the conventional tonal range of the trombone – and even when he doesn’t, his experimenting is always melodic and absorbing. Many of the tunes are played in a slow and measured – even quiet – way. It is often difficult to tell when composition ends and improvisation begins.    

So, listening to the album is a satisfying and interesting experience but a jazz fan might ask – is it jazz or modern classical music? And then a supplementary: does it matter? It clearly does not matter to Samuel Blaser who says: “…you can’t categorise my music in one space. I want people to know that there is jazz, blues, classical music, beautiful melodies and no boundaries”. Amen to that.
 
Most of the twelve tracks on the album are Blaser compositions and they tend towards the contemporary classical music end of the spectrum. A track like Homage, for example, sounds like the sort of test piece a young aspiring trombonist might play on BBC Young Musician of the Year. It is a short piece for solo trombone which allows Blaser to show off his considerable virtuosity.

The title track, Spring Rain, has all four musicians contributing to a sound picture of rain in all its manifestations: the plopping sound of individual rain drops, the quiet hush of drizzle, the gush of heavier rain. All of the musicians are seeking to coax new sounds from their instruments but this isn’t experimenting for its own sake – everything is done with the purpose of enhancing the soundscape of spring rain.

Of the other Blaser compositions, Missing Mark Suetterlyn is a passionate, tumultuous piece with a slight blues feel to it which builds to a satisfying conclusion. Umbra is a joint composition with Russ Lossing and is a short duet for piano and trombone where the trombone plays wistfully against more ominous notes from the piano. The First Snow is a louder piece with Lossing on synthesisers sounding a bit like Herbie Hancock.

Trippin’ is another piece for solo trombone and is more recognizably jazz than many of the other tracks. You can tap your feet to it for a start. Blaser uses a mute and sounds at times like Miles Davis or even early Cotton Club Ellington. Blaser’s complete control of his instrument is on full display and he often makes the trombone sound like a full brass band rather than just one instrument. Counterparts is a jagged, urgent piece with some neat interplay between trombone and drums.

There are three Giuffre compositions on the album. Cry Want is a trombone/piano duet and is a slow, dark piece with a very distinctive and sombre theme played on piano. Scootin’ About really does scoot about in an up tempo, lively, even amusing way. Trudgin’, on the other hand, trudges but there is an engaging steady rhythm and a bluesy feel to it.

Finally, there are two Carla Bley compositions. Bley is the ex-wife of Paul Bley and the current partner of Steve Swallow, all of which serves to emphasise the Jimmy Giuffre connection. Temporarily is definitely jazz, rhythmically and melodically. It has a South African township jazz feel to it and some vigorous and effective acoustic piano work by Lossing. Jesus Maria is the last and longest track on the album. It is also probably the most conventionally jazz piece with the bass being much more prominent than on other tracks. It is a quiet, thoughtful piece which develops in a very satisfying and absorbing way.

Click here for a promotional video from Whirlwind Recordings introducing Spring Rain  

You can see Samuel Blaser playing Cry Want live if you click here.

Samuel Blaser is bringing a trio to the Cheltenham Jazz Festival on 2nd May - Click here for details.

Robin Kidson

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Blazing Flame - Murmuration

Album released: May 2016 Label - Leo Records: Reviewed July 2016

Blazing Flame Murmuration

Steve Day (voice, Thai drum, rattle, bells, pebbles, H20-percussion), Keith Tippett (piano), Julie Tippetts (voice, rattle), Aaron Standon (alto saxophone), Peter Evans (5 string electric violin), Julian Dale (double bass, cello, singing bowls), Anton Henley (drums, percussion) special guest Bill Bartlett (flute on tracks 3, 5, 6, and 12).

Steve Day is a writer and a poet. His published books include Ornette Coleman: Music Always and Two Full Ears: Listening to Improvised Music. He contributed the chapter Free Jazz to Masters of Jazz Saxophone, edited by Dave Gelly, and he produces liner notes for labels such as Leo, FMP and Splasch. He reviews new albums regularly for this website and is currently writing a book about the Russian jazz group, the Ganelin Trio. Murmuration is also his fourth album and his second with his group Blazing Flame. A busy man.

For this album he has, once again, brought together a formidable group of jazz improvisers including the internationally respected Keith Tippett and Julie Tippetts, the outstanding saxophonist Aaron Standon and violinist Peter Evans, and on some tracks the flute of Bill Bartlett. Julian Dale and Anton Henley provide their completely empathetic contributions to the work and I particularly like the way Julian Dale's bass has been used and balanced in the mixing.

If you search for 'Blazing Flame' and 'Murmuration' you will probably find it categorised under the 'Avant Garde' label, whatever that might mean these days. One thing is certain, it should not be labelled 'Easy Listening', the work requires your attention. The music is improvised around Steve Day's poetry. Thankfully the words are provided with the album and you will need to read and think about them to grasp their meaning. Steve delivers the words in a spoken / sung voice that you might find an acquired taste. In the past, his voice has been likened to that of Tom Waites, but as the album progresses you recognise is distinctiveness and it works well in conjunction with the gifted voice of Julie Tippetts. The title track plus Bed Of Straw at track 2 and In Darkness at track 7 are sung by Julie Tippetts.

The album opens with Off The Coast of Fukishima. Steve Day appropriately describes Keith Tippett's piano break after the first verse as being 'like a sudden thunder storm and it hangs there rumbling as if time has stood still.' Aaron Standon's saxophone interacts nicely with Keith Tippett's piano and Julian Dale's bass goes on to pair effectively with Peter Evans's violin.

Click here to listen to Off The Coast Of Fukishima.

Bed Of Straw is a short track that has Julie Tippetts's great voice weaving its way above the violin. As Steve Day says: 'Julie sang Bed Of Straw in one take .. It certainly doesn't have anything like a 'blues' form though the effect is the same. Julie brings her own power to the song, which is about the fragility of safety .. it is just Julie creating a moment of sorrow, the strings weep with her'. Child And Adult at track 3 has Steve and Julie above bass and drums telling of the streetwise child - 'Age is never an excuse, it is merely a milestone. Sometimes the wisdom of children dissipates as people grow older'.

Murmuration, the title track, is based on the word given to the swarming of starlings above the Somerset levels. It opens with an interaction between piano, bass and violin that I find completely effective in describing the gathering and swooping of these birds and when Julie Tippetts's voice enters it too floats and soars until the piano, bass and violin again gently close the piece. Edgehill, the first battle of the 1642 English Revolution in which it is believed 1,500 people were killed, is a reflection on the horror of that battle with marching drums under Steve's words and Bill Bartlett's flute. The track progresses to descriptive mêlée of 'free' improvisation but in which each musician seems 'in tune' with each other.

Portrait Of Dora Maar is a reflection on the portrait of the photographer painted often by Picasso. Steve and Julie's voices trade lines and Aaron Standon paints in saxophone colours. In Darkness begins quietly with Julie Tippetts's voice above the bass and with Keith Tippett's piano making statements, and Peter Evans's violin weaves its way into the closing bars. Aaron Standon's alto flies into Jay at track 8 with Steve and Julie staccatoing the lyrics with drum, piano and violin: 'A jay keeps clear of magpies, squawking and making such a fuss ....A 'J' stands for jazz, Body and Soul, Night and Day, Round Midnight came the owl, in the morning came the jay. '.

The Ripple Effect begins with ripples and with violin and bass introducing Steve's poem. Stone Circle is another take on a previously recorded track and it opens with a nice alto solo above percussion and Steve and Julie's voices tell of stone circle, druids, solstice, equinox and the passage of time until they hand back the track to saxophone, violin, bass and percussion. Now Put On The Pink is a brief, unaccompanied piece for two voices, an affirmation towards the LGBT community, whilst the final track, Ceremony, has an atmospheric, satisfying closure to the album from piano and violin.

Vittorio, reviewing the album for the Italian Music Zoom says: 'Poetry and music come together in a single set ... The words and music make for a hard impact which is out of the ordinary ... The atmosphere is charged with tension, giving an additional depth to the lyrics.'

Considering how rarely the Blazing Flame musicians come together, I think that Murmuration shows a natural affinity between them. On this album the group has achieved a compatibility between words and music, between the musicians themselves and through the mixing that makes the album well worth spending time with.

Click here for details. Click here for Steve Day's website.

Ian Maund           

 

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Helen Bledsoe and Alexey Lapin - Ghost Icebreaker

Album released - 26th January 2015: Label - Leo Records: Reviewed April 2015.

Helen Bledsoe album

Helen Bledsoe (flute); Alexey Lapin (piano).

Helen Bledsoe is a classical flute player with credentials, she plays with the renowned ensemble Musikfabrik who are based in Cologne. If you are interested in contemporary music and composition – Harry Patch and beyond, you are likely to have come across Musikfabrik, they did dates in the UK last year. As for Alexey Lapin, he’s a Moscow based pianist, an improviser, though not exclusively.

I’d suggest that music should not be marketed in tight boxes – this CD recorded live in St Petersburg in December 2012 has something to offer ears which have been exposed to jazz and might, just might, be up for hearing musiciansexplore improvisation not from the starting point of the blues, or a standard from the American songbook, or a mode or riff, but simply from the potential afforded by the instruments involved. Helen Bledsoe is a virtuoso flutist with a vast technical vocabulary. With Ghost Icebreaker she’s left the score at home, she stands before us with her instrument and a pianist imbued in the art of improvisation. Given that’s the scenario, check it out, its maybe worth one more paragraph and a three sentence summary at the end.

I am assuming that the seven tracks presented on Ghost Icebreaker are in the order they were performed live in concert. It sounds probable. The first piece, Snow is an introduction. Bledsoe and Lapin have played together off-and-on for ten years but they don’t take each other for granted. Snow is a ‘Good evening’, a taut enquiry of each other; the final, shortest track, Into Thin Air appears to be an acknowledged resolution. The forty minutes in-between these two pieces offer an intense, brittle foray into the possibilities of the piano and flute. If-you-will, a conversation using breath, finger placement, precise dexterity, tuned percussion on black and white keys, scale, melodic fragmentation, enquiry and imagination; what you build up you breakdown, what is broken down is reformed, give and take, backwards and forwards. Isn’t that what the great Bebop genius Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker was doing as Igor Stravinsky sat in the audience on 52nd Street cheering him on? Well, almost. For me, the real treat in listening to Bledsoe is the tremendous control she has over her instrument, one that is notoriously difficult in all dynamics. That control gives both her and Lapin a vast pallet for improvisation.

Helen Bledsoe and Alexey Lapin are not asking for anything from us other than open minds. In 2015 that could be consider a big ‘ask’. These are not easy times for ‘open minds’. Give Icebreaker a break; thank goodness some sounds still make us shiver with pleasure.

Click here for Ghost Icebreaker on Leo Records. Click here for a video of Helen Bledsoe demonstrating flute technique. Click here for a video of Helen Bledsoe and Alexey Lapin playing Impromptu no. 8 for Flute and Piano. Click here for Helen Bledsoe's website.

Steve Day  stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk     

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The Michael Blum Quartet - Chasin' Oscar

Album released: 17th June 2016 - Label: Michael Blum Music - Reviewed: August 2016

Michael Blum Quartet Chasin Oscar

Born in Great Neck, New York, Michael Blum’s parents encouraged him to study guitar from a young age, his father being a classically-trained guitarist with a passion for jazz, his mother an enthusiastic singer. By the age of 21, Blum had already released his debut album, Initiation, accompanied by the same trio appearing on this subject album, Chasin’ Oscar, i.e. Jim Stinnett on bass, pianist Brad Smith and drummer Dom Moio. Blum followed Initiation with his vocal debut, Commitment, in 2015.

It was on long drives each week to see his mentor, the bassist Jim Stinnett, when Blum was able to listen without interruption to Oscar Peterson’s music, mainly the 1964 album We Get Requests, with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Ed Thigpen. Blum became inspired to “learn to play the guitar like Oscar Peterson played the piano”, as he puts it.

“One of the things I really love about Oscar is his ability to do anything on his instrument,” adds Blum. “He could play fast or slow, hard or soft, pretty or nasty, bebop or blues – but he only played those elements that were perfect in the moment. He’s sorrowful and sometimes joyous; invigorating and sometimes solemn. Listening to him is always interesting, and I wanted to emulate his emotional range in my musical homage.”

Blum put his idea for this album to Jim Stinnett who wholeheartedly embraced the project and began by recommending Peterson’s 1970 Tristezo on Piano and instructed Blum to learn the title track’s solo note for note. Blum spent the next 18 months practising it, together with several other Peterson solos, for six to eight hours a day, learning the pieces by ear instead of transcribing them.  Several of the tracks on Chasin’ Oscar feature Blum performing faithful re-creations of Peterson’s original piano solos.

Blum and Stinnett first began collaborating over three years ago while Blum was still a student at Dartmouth College, and Blum describes their relationship thus: “When I first met Jim, he saw something in me that I don’t think anyone had before. He recognised that I had all this passion and raw talent, but I didn’t know how to hone or channel it. Working with Jim has been a growing experience technically, emotionally and mentally because he always believes that I can do anything, even before I believe it. Having him around gives me the confidence to pursue my goals. Without him, I’d probably be aiming lower.”

And now all this inspiration and dedication has resulted in a great album which kicks off with an intricate piece, Peterson’s original Nightingale, followed by Gershwin’s soulful I Loves You Porgy, You Look Good To Me with Stinnett’s wonderful “walking” bass, and The Girl From Ipanema providing a groovy bossanova. Of particular note are the breath-taking note-for-note runs on Tristeza. Jim Stinnett contributed two of his original compositions to the album, i.e. the relaxed Pine and an atmospheric Whisper.

A couple of numbers, East Of The Sun and Tenderly, feature Blum as vocalist, with his straightforward and unembroidered crooning, somewhat reminiscent of Chet Baker in this reviewer’s opinion.

The nine tracks on Chasin’ Oscar are:

  1. Nightingale (Oscar Peterson)
  2. I Loves You, Porgy (George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, DuBose Heyward)
  3. You Look Good To Me (Seymour Lefco, Clement Wells)
  4. The Girl From Ipanema (Antonio Carlos Joabim, Vinicius de Moraes, Norman Gimbel)
  5. East of the Sun (And West of the Moon) (Brooks Bowman)
  6. Tristeza (Haroldo Lobo, Niltinho)
  7. Pine (Jim Stinnett)
  8. Tenderly (Walter Gross, Jack Lawrence)
  9. Whisper (Jim Stinnett)

Click link to sample the album.:

Click here to view Michael Blum and Jim Stinnett playing Nightingale (this reviewer’s favourite track!).

Click here for a live video of the Quartet and with Michael singing East Of The Sun (And West Of The Moon).

Michael Blum’s style is deeply rooted in jazz and, with his next album, Expansion, he will venture further afield into jazz fusion. He asserts that he is less interested in the genre of his music, more in the emotion it arouses: “At the end of the day, my goal is to make music that reaches people.” In 2015, Michael was named the "Rising Star" guitarist in DownBeat Magazine's 63rd Annual Critics Poll.

Click here for Michael Blum's website.

 

June Bastable

June Bastable is the wife of the late jazz musician, Johnny Bastable. She is a writer and author of two books Some People and These People available from Amazon, Waterstones, etc.

 

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Joshua Breakstone - 2nd Avenue: The Return Of The Cello Quartet

Album released: 19th May 2015 - Label: Capri Records - Reviewed: March 2016

Joshua Breakstone 2nd Avenue

The dazzling guitarist Joshua Breakstone not only has an instrumental style as distinct as his own fingerprints, he has also perfected a unique ensemble sound he can now call his own. 2nd Avenue, and as its subtitle proudly states, finds Breakstone reconvening his cello quartet. As on his acclaimed 2014 album, With The Wind And The Rain, the fleet fingered guitarist is joined by Mike Richmond on cello, bassist Lisle Atkinson and the drummer Andy Watson.

There are 9 tracks in all on this album, four of the nine highlight Breakstone’s adroit playing with the classic guitar, bass and drums trio set up, whilst the majority of the tracks bring the cello to the fore whilst still being guitar-led.

Plucking the cello pizzicato style, Richmond, in effect, becomes the horn for Breakstone to both interact and play off. Whilst this setup is not new to jazz music; some people will remember the classic Wes Montgomery / Sam Jones partnership; here, Breakstone and company bring a bright contemporary feel to the concept utilising a range of tempos and masterful solos throughout.

One track was composed by Breakstone which is the last on the album called, 2nd Ave: Blues For Imahori, and is dedicated to a great friend of Breakstone’s. Others are standards, such as I Wish I Knew, I’m An Old Cowhand, The Lamp Is Low, Cannonball Adderley’s Home, Dexter Gordon’s Evergreenish, Lee Konitz’s Thingin, Sonny Clark’s My Conception, and then there is bassist Lisle Atkinson’s Hit It.

Click here to listen to Blues For Imahori.

The first track, Thingin, sets the scene for what we hear in later tracks featuring the cello/guitar where they are mainly complementary, but sometimes differing octaves, with complex rhythms and melodic interchanges. On Home, we have repeated chords on guitar overlaid with the cello until the guitar takes on the lead. It also features solos from all musicians. I’m An Old Cowhand has whimsical and fast guitar playing which the cello and bass both match giving clear accurate notes and unusually, where cello is both bowed and plucked.

Click here for a video of I'm An Old Cowhand played at Smalls in 2013.

Track 4, I Wish I Knew, is slow in tempo with relaxed playing by Breakstone, for that late evening feel. Evergreenish, is a track that swings and gives full exposure to Breakstone’s range of playing. It has a break in the middle for more pizzicato cello from Richmond which provides contrast to the other interchanges between the musicians. The title track is the last on the album, and has neither a fast nor slow pace to it. Breakstone plays throughout the length of the track, which has lots of percussion and bass giving a resonant backdrop to the guitar. So a good track to finish on.

I have been a fan of Bob DeVos and Breakstone’s guitar playing reminded me of Bob. Breakstone’s playing has a rich tone and clarity. It is still rare to hear a cello in jazz though not unknown as mentioned earlier. Richmond’s playing used the full range of the instrument from the lower registers to the higher ones and each featured in different ways. This album needs listening to on a number of occasions and in doing so, you can peel away the layers, each giving a different and enjoyable veneer on superb musicianship.

Click here for a video of the Quartet playing Baubles, Bangles and Beads (not on the album)

Click here for details.

Tim Rolfe

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Frederico Britos presents The Hot Club of America - When Grappelli Meets Latin America

Album released: 7th April 2015 - Label: 3 Knocks Entertainment - Reviewed: July 2015

Frederico Britos album

The main man on this recording is a very versatile Uruguayan violinist Frederico Britos. The music played is the style of The Hot Club of France and the musicians are from various parts of Latin America.  They are Frederico Britos (violin), Jorge Garcia (guitar), Felix Gomez (piano), Edwin Bonilla (percussion), Renyel Rivero (bass) and Carlomagno Araya (drums).  In addition to these 6 there are a further 16 musicians who guest on a number of tracks on this recording. One of the guests is the singer Cecile McLorin Salvant who sings La Vie En Rose in English and French. 

Click here to listen to Dark Eyes from the album.

The music that has been chosen will be familiar to all those people who have been brought up on the music that was played and recorded by "Le Quintette du Hot Club de France", but the Latin Americans have put their own interpretation to it. As an example, there was no piano on most of the original recordings, but it has been put to good use on this recording. However, what some people will miss is the lack of a powerful guitarist in the Reinhardt mould. That is not to say that the guitarist on this recording is not very good, he is a fine player, but there are too few solos and not very much interplay with the violin.

The first track that sets the mood for the album  is The Sheik of Araby and there follows a further 11 tracks, all recorded in the same vein.

Click here to listen to The Sheik Of Araby.

Tracks include Djangology,  Honeysuckle Rose and no collection would be complete without a version of Nuages. I found the music enjoyable, and also sufficiently different to the original so that it had a fresh sound to it. Having said that, it is probably a recording that people who love Latin American music would prefer to dance to, rather than sit and listen to. An enjoyable recording.

Click here to sample the album.

Vic Arnold

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Stu Brown - Stu Brown's Twisted Toons Vol. 2

Album released: 24th June 2016 - Label: Cadiz Music - Reviewed: July 2016

Stu Brown's Twisted Toons Vol 2

Glasgow Based drummer and composer, Stu Brown, released his critically acclaimed debut album, The Stu Brown Sextet, Twisted Toons – The Music of Raymond Scott in 2009, a tribute to the maverick bandleader, composer, inventor and electronic music pioneer. Brown’s follow up release, Twisted Toons Vol. 2, features an expanded line up including his current live septet of Daniel Paterson (violin), Tom MacNiven (trumpet, slide trumpet and lap steel guitar), Brian Molley (tenor sax, clarinet, and flute), Martin Kershaw (clarinet, bass clarinet and alto sax), Paul Harrison (piano, keyboards, synths, fart samples(!), and Mario Caribe (double bass) with special guests Emma Roche on flute and piccolo and Allan McKeown on acoustic guitar and ukulele.

Twisted Toons Vol. 2 delves deeper into the world of cartoon soundtracks including the pioneering work of Carl Stalling, whosebrilliantly detailed scores accompanied the antics of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Co., as well as the equally ground breaking music of Scott Bradley, which underscored the slapstick violence of Tom and Jerry and the Tex Avery cartoons. Most of this music has never been recorded or performed live since the original cartoons were made.

Stu Brown spent many hours watching cartoons, listening to soundtrack reissues and painstakingly transcribing some of his favourite scores. There are 17 tracks on the album; some pretty short, but still enjoyable as you can be taken back to when you first heard these in your youth at the cinema or when they were repeated on television. Some of the tracks are complete scores, such as Zoom and Bored from Roadrunner and Mouse For Sale which is from Tom and Jerry.

The CD, in keeping with the music, has a cartoon look with notes on each track and short biographies of the original composers, Carl Stalling and Scott Bradley. I will not critique each track, some of which are mere snippets of toon, but here is a complete track listing:

1. The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down (Loony Tunes Theme);
2. Powerhouse (Carl Stalling Style);
3. Carl Stalling Jungle Medley;
4. Like Strange (Music cue from Ren and Stimpy);
5. Goblins in the Steeple;
6. Holiday Playtime (Ren and Stimpy again);
7. Mouse For Sale (Tom and Jerry Score);
8. Rabbit Fire/Screwball Wabbit Theme;
9. Creepy Walking Theme;
10. Zoom and Bored (Roadrunner Score);
11. Hawaiian Beach (From Spongebob Squarepants);
12. Tales From The Far Side;
13. Huckleberry Robot;
14. Dixieland Droopy (Droopy Score);
15. Happy Go Lively (Ren and Stimpy);
16. Porky in Wackyland (Porky Pig Score);
17. Merrily We Roll Along (Merrie Melodies theme).

An unusual example is Goblins In The Steeple which has a quirky yet catchy rhythm with some lovely keyboards, sax and brass sections standing out and an exceptional clarinet section. Mouse For Sale is a tale in a melody with many changes of lead instruments / pace / mood all with an underlying main melody augmented by a car horn! Rabbit Fire is another quirky melody broken by some lovely sax and keyboard solos.

Hawaiian Beach features trumpeter Tom MacNiven’s debut on lap steel guitar, and he made a good job of playing it, you could have been in Hawaii! Zoom and Bored belies its title as there is nothing boring about this fast paced atmospheric track featuring violin, trumpet and clarinet to great effect. Tales From The Far Side even features the voice as an instrument with some very haunting violin passages mounting to an edgy mid-section and yet a gentle finish.

Dixieland Droopy is a rollercoaster of fast Dixieland passages broken by slower dance sections and these changes of pace were beautifully interspersed. Needless to say, Porky in Wackyland is just that! Lots of strange instrumental interruptions (including voice and fart noises), there is nothing straightforward here until it ends in a classic ‘big movie’ style.

The first track and last track are both short and bookend the album nicely with a well-known rousing intro and a very well-known finish too. All in all, this is an entertaining (and clever) album which gives the mistaken impression that you are listening to a whole orchestra rather than the band listed above. This is fun with a great variety of quick change rhythms and pace from all the instruments featured.

Click here for details and to sample.

Click here for a video of Stu Brown's Raymond Scott Project The Penguin from an earlier outing in 2008.

Tim Rolfe

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The Bullingdon Jazz Quartet

Album released: July 2016 - Label: Self production - Reviewed: August 2016

The Bullingdon Jazz Quartet

Alvin Roy (clarinet), Alexander Hawkins (piano), Jez Cook (bass guitar on tracks 1,2 and 7), Roger Davis (bass on tracks 3,4,5,6 and 8), Charlie Stratford (drums).

These musicians play regularly with various bands at 'The Bully', the Bullingdon Arms in Oxford. For this album they got together at the SAE Studios in Littlemore, Oxford for a one-take session recording 8 tracks of 'Standards'. The SAE Institute was founded in 1976 and has since grown to become the world’s largest, industry-focussed creative media educator with 54 campuses in 26 countries. The studios are a 'state-of-the-art' education facility and the recording was undertaken by students at the Institute. There are occasional problems with the mixing, but overall, this is a relaxed, straight ahead album.

It feels like the band is warming up as Van Heusen's It Could Happen To You opens the set and they are more settled as they move into an enjoyable take on the traditional C.C. Rider with a nice opening from Alexander Hawkins before Alvin Roy states the tune. Alvin has a lovely clarinet tone, honed over years of playing with his various bands through which have passed many UK musicians including Alan Littlejohn, Ray Crane and Tony Milliner. His playing is imaginative, across the register with trills and flourishes and the occasional reference to other tunes.

Stella By Starlight follows and then a slow version of I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good) with a nice solo from Alexander Hawkins who in 2016 was awarded 'Jazz Instrumentalist Of The Year' at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards. I hadn't realised before how similar the opening of the latin flavoured Sombrero Sam is to The Beatles' Can't Buy Me Love. Alexander Hawkins has mainly played to the setting of the session but here he gets low down and dirty in a steady, driving solo. Click here to listen to Sombrero Sam.

The music slows again for Jerome Kern's Yesterdays before moving into I Cover The Waterfront (on the liner notes it says 'I Covered The Waterfront' but then I guess Alvin Roy has played it a few times!). The album closes as the band comes out with Alexander Hawkins leading them into a swinging version of Oscar Pettiford's Blues In The Closet.

The liner note says that the band 'got together to record these tracks just for the fun of it ... I hope you will enjoy listening (to the numbers) as much as the musicians enjoyed recording them.' This is a recording that doesn't set out to be a Top Ten 'dazzler', but if you like your jazz laid back and uncomplicated, this could suit you. It will probably suit the customers at The Bully in between bands.

Click here for details.

Ian Maund           

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Liane Carroll - Seaside

Album released: 18th September 2015 - Label: LINN Records - Reviewed: October 2015

Liane Carroll Seaside

Liane Carroll's ninth album is about nostalgia, about the sea and its various links to her life. Liane is a singer comfortable with her voice, it goes where she wants it to go, does what she asks it to do. Witness the scatted Almost Like Being In Love and her seemingly simple interpretation and phrasing of I Cover The Waterfront accompanied by Rob Luft's fine guitar solo.

Liane was born in Hastings on the Sussex South Coast. When her friend Joe Stilgoe told her he had written a song that he thought said a lot about her and her environment, she listened, and cried, and 'decided there and then to theme the whole album around my love of living in Hastings' choosing 'songs that might have something to do with the coast, and the weather and boats, and fishing ...' The song was the opening title track, Seaside, a nostalgic reminder with a fairground roundabout introduction before Liane brings in her clear, sensitive lyrics. 'Come kiss me quickly, and make it as sweet as the days when we we used to play. Come kiss me quickly, we might not have long, but we'll always have the seaside.' She cried on hearing it, and she is able to move us too..

Click here for Liane singing Seaside.

The mood changes for Almost Like Being In Love, she says: 'I always announce this song as "Almost Like Being In Hove" which is of course another town on the South Coast'. The song opens as Liane swings with Steve Pearce's bass and Ian Thomas's drums. She scats through the middle of the tune, at first unaccompanied and then with the rhythm section. Bring Me Sunshine is a revelation. The Morecombe and Wise theme tune is taken slowly and again demonstrates Liane's ability to phrase a song. She says: 'I was born in 64 so had most Saturday evenings sitting on the couch with my mum, nan and grandad, eating coleslaw sarnies (it was so posh then) and watching Morecombe and Wise, this song reminds me of that feeling.'

Click here for a snatch of Bring Me Sunshine.

The funky Nobody's Fault But Mine bursts in with a wake up call from Julian Siegel's saxophone that works with Liane to set the mood throughout the number as well as contributing a solo that carries the tune through to Liane's powerful closure. What has the song got to do with the sea? Thirty years ago Liane was pushing her daughter along the promenade in her pushchair when a seagull dropped a memory.

Alison Krauss's Get Me Through December reminds Liane of a ferry trip to France when she played the tune over and over. 'Get me through December, I promise I'll remember, Get me through December so I can start again.' A beautiful song beautifully sung with an apt guitar solo from Mark Jaimes. The touching, soul song Mercy Now has an arrangement by Evan Jolly who provides the horns with Rob Leake, Andy Wood and James McMillan. '.. I love my father but he could use a little mercy now. And my brother, he could use a little mercy now ...'. Liane shares the piano parts on the album with Mark Edwards and Malcolm Edmonstone who has arranged and plays on the touching Wild Is The Wind, another showcase for Liane's voice and ability to interpret a song.

Click here to hear the introduction to Wild Is The Wind.

Next up is that version of I Cover The Waterfront mentioned earlier. Guitarist Rob Luft was recommended to Liane by James McMillan who produced the album at his studio in Hastings. Liane describes Rob as: 'ridiculously young, but with a mature soul.' My Ship follows. Liane lived on a boat in the 1980s and says: 'I used to play this on accordion, up on deck, smoking fags, drinking wine, and eating corn on the cob ... I can taste it all now.' As a listener, I am moved each time I hear Liane hit the word 'and' in the lyric ' .. and rubies fill each bin, and the sun sits high ...'

The album ends with the hymn / anthem For Those In Peril On The Sea. I thought this was a strange interpretation of the song as compared with other numbers it is taken 'straight'. Liane says: 'I grew up surrounded by fishermen and women, and realised what a special community it was. I have sung this 'hymn' so many times ... I just wanted to thank the fisher folk of Hastings, and subsequently around the world to know that we want them to be safe on the seas.' Despite my initial reservations, strangely the song kept returning to my head after the album had finished.

I think that Seaside is an outstanding album that shares with us the talents of one of our best jazz singers.

Click here to sample the album.

Ian Maund

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Phil Chester Group - Open Door Samba

Album released: 3rd February 2015 - Label: Self Release - Reviewed: May 2015

The Phil Chester Group Open Door Samba

This group consists of Phil Chester (soprano, alto and tenor saxophones), Bob Quaranta (piano), Ian Froman (drums), Leo Huppert or Joe Fitzgerald (bass), Katie Jacoby (violin), and Tomas Ulrich (cello). These later two only play on a few tracks. All of the tracks were composed by Phil Chester, and they were recorded in 2014.

Phil Chester has played saxophone in New York City's Ed Palermo Big Band for over twenty years, and  his group are regular players at Park Avenue Christian Church in Manhattan. Phil's father was a preacher in the southern-based Church of Christ, so it is not surprising that a number of compositions on this recording have a religious bias.

While all of the musicians perform well, the overall effect for me was that I found the music dull and instantly forgettable  Perhaps it is a matter of too much Sacred and not enough Secular? There are 12 tracks on this recording and it was not until I reached track 12, Cactus Blues that the recording came to life. Perhaps there is too much soprano saxophone for my liking, and the violin and cello did not add to the end result.

Mark S. Tucker at acousticmusic.com writes: 'Open Door Samba is exactly the sort of album I used to haunt Platterpuss Records (a store either in Hermosa Beach or Paradise, I forget which) in search of in the 70s, a well-ordered jumble of myriad influences so artfully wrought that one forgot that aspect while wallowing in hedonistic pleasures and intellectual analysis (itself a form of hedonism), both in equal measure, neither dominating (click here for his review).

Matthew Forss of the insideworldmusic.blogspot says: 'Phil Chester, creates a moving instrumental album of jazzy concoctions with a good dose of South American grooves, American sensibilities, and cheery Latin arrangements for a rousing and inventive result. The music is bouncy, meditative, dance-friendly, and soothing ... The fluttering sax sounds are emotive and display a blend of bluesy urgency and a happy beach day.' (click here).

While I am sure that this recording will be well received by some people, it just did nothing for me.

Click here to sample the album.

Vic Arnold. 

 

 

Circus FM - Circus FM

Album Released: 1st December 2014 - Label: RN Records - Reviewed April 2015

Circus FM album

Circus FM consists of a collaboration between Scottish singer Flora Munro, guitarist/songwriter Roger Niven, and session drummer Graham Walker. On this particular EP there are a number of guests, who are respected session musicians including Brad Lang (bass), Gary Plumley (sax), and from Jools Holland’s R & B Orchestra, Derek Nash (sax), Winston Rollins (trombone) and Chris Storr (trumpet).

Flora is a session singer and performer who was influenced by the sounds of the 1920’s from an early age.  Her voice, though suited to jazz, is enriched by influences from a love of funk, soul and R & B. Roger and Graham started playing together in bands in the north of Scotland then moved to London with progressive rock band “A Million People”.  When the band split, Roger returned to Scotland and has been involved in a wide variety projects with diverse styles, whilst Graham worked as a London-based session drummer touring and recording with Gary Moore, George Harrison, Mick Jagger and BB King.

This EP showcases the musicianship and connection between these three.  The four tracks, all written by Roger, are: The Day’s Too Dark, Man Down, Deja Blue and the final track which is released as a single, It’s All Good.

The Day’s Too Dark, starts with some lovely and evocative sax playing which has a “bluesy” feel whilst Flora’s voice is very plaintive, clear and does justice to the lyrics. Man Down has some clever lyrics, employing the dark humour that the west of Scotland is known for, including the double entendres.  The accomplished guitar work complements the voice with some subtle drumming keeping the piece together.

Deja Blue - This song highlights Flora’s voice with a quiet classy guitar accompaniment and restricted drumming and has a ‘late evening’ feel. It’s All Good is the fastest of the tracks, with lively percussion, good organ and bass playing, with some wonderful solos.  Flora’s voice joins in for some quick melody and then leaves the instruments to enjoy themselves.

This EP punches above its weight, with good musicians, writing, recording and production belying their professed session musician status.  I hope this taster will lead to another longer project from these three.

Click here to sample the album

Tim Rolfe                            

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The City Boys Allstars - Personal Thing

Album released: 5th June 2015 - Label: CD Baby - Reviewed: August 2015

City Boys Allstars Personal Thing

The American band The City Boys Allstars (from New York City) may be unknown to a lot of people in the UK, it consists of a group led by Mike Merola (guitar), with the following: Al MacDowell (bass), Rob Clores (keyboard), Nick Saya (drums), Daniel Sadownick (percussion), Tony Kadleck and Lew Soloff (trumpets), Andy Snitzer, "Blue Lou" Marini and Tom "Bones" Malone, (saxes), Tom "Bones" Malone also plays trombone. Vocalists are Bill Kurz, Angel Rissoff and Horace Scott and a special guest, Robert Ross plays slide guitar on one track.

There are 12 tracks on this recording, the first, and in my opinion, the best, is Birdland by Joe Zawinul, the remainder were written by members of the group. Birdland is a great jazz track which swings and starts off the recording very well, but, after this track, the rest of the recording turns into a mixture of Soul, R&B, and Jazz-Rock.

Check out this video of the Allstars playing Testimony (not on the album) that gives a flavour of the band (click here).

Reading information that came with the album, the Allstars are all top session men and have played with among others, Blood, Sweat and Tears, the Blues Brothers, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and Ornette Coleman. While the standard of playing is fine, I found that apart from the afore mentioned Birdland, there is nothing that I found interesting or memorable, not helped by plenty of "la, la, la's". It is interesting that leader, Mike Merola, was recently inducted into the New York Blues Hall of Fame, which perhaps emphasises the Blues element of this recording.

I am sure that a number of people will enjoy this musical offering more than I did (or perhaps not) - click here to listen to the album and see what you think - try Will Have To Do and Baby or perhaps Thru The Glass.

The recording is dedicated to the memory of trumpeter Lew Soloff who died of a heart attack in March 2015, shortly after this recording was made. Lew came from New York City and studied at the Eastman School of Music and the Juilliard School. He worked with Blood, Sweat & Tears from 1968 until 1973 having previously played with people like Prior to this, he worked with Gil Evans, Maynard Ferguson, the Manhattan Jazz Quintet and the Mingus Big Band.

Click here for the album.

Vic Arnold

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Eleonora Claps - Stars

Album released: 15th October 2015 - Label: Red Desert Records - Reviewed: March 2016

Sometime ago I remember reading that a politician should always be aware of what is in the background when their photograph is taken. An unfortunate background might send an unintended 'message' to someone looking at the picture. The former Labour leader, Ed Miliband, eating a bacon sandwich was made much of in the press, although the image had nothing to do with his party's policies. The image that Eleonora Claps has chosen for her debut album Stars is also interesting. It shows her smoking. Perhaps the intention was for her to look 'sultry', or to echo Marlene Dietrich's persona in Angel. It is a bold choice as some non-smokers, or those who argue that smoking is not good for a singer's voice, might not be attracted by the picture.

As with the Ed Miliband picture and his party's policies, Eleonora's image has nothing to do with her music or the technical production of the album. Born in Milan, Italy, Eleonora's interest in music began in her teenage years when she started studying drums and percussion. She performed and recorded as a drummer in various rock, pop and jazz bands, touring Italy and Europe and on moving to the UK, decided to expand her musical experience and studied jazz singing. This album features nine tracks and reflects a fascinating choice of tunes from Lennon and McCartney and Simply Red to Dvořák. To my ear, the album is a 'curate's egg'; good in parts and pianist John Crawford and Eleonora herself are credited with the arrangements. The personnel are: Eleonora Claps (vocals), John Crawford (piano, backing vocals), Andy Hamill (bass, harmonica) and Andres Ticino (percussion).

Sting's song I Burn For You opens the album and introduces us to the tone of Eleonora's voice with its Italian accent. It is well paced with a little double-tracking of her voice and reflects her experience in popular music. It ends suddenly as do one or two other tracks. The title track Stars is a catchy, melodic composition by Eleonora with an atmospheric harmonica solo from Andy Hamill.

Click here to listen to Stars.

Nini is the Dvořák number arranged by Eleonora and sung in Italian with percussive shakers from Andres Ticino and a nice solo from John Crawford. I warmed more to Eleonora's voice singing in her native language. All of the tunes have Latin arrangements and I enjoyed Life, another of Eleonora's compositions, that moves along smoothly with another fine solo from Andy Hamill, this time on bass.

Click here to listen to Life.

Simply Red's Holding Back The Years does not work for me. The underlying rhythm draws on the original but I do not think that the voice and the vocal arrangement are any match for those of Mick Hucknall, and the percussion sounds quite odd in places. When Love Breaks Down originally by Prefab Sprout leaves out the instruments and has some multi-tracking vocals from Eleonora and John Crawford. Again, personally, I found this arrangement disappointing. The Brazilian number E' Com Esse Que Eu Vou which follows at track 7 has Eleonora moving back out of the English language into (?) Spanish, and has a nice catchy rhythm and an equally catchy solo from John Crawford with Andy Hamill underpinning it on bass.

Time After Time is the popular Cyndi Lauper number, not the Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn song. It has a very interesting opening with bass and percussion and I think it works well. A nice interpretation with well-paced vocals. The final track is Eleonora's version of Lennon and McCartney's Dear Prudence with multi-tracked vocals from Eleonora and John Crawford who also plays guitar. I thought this version was OK, but was left with the impression that the album would have been better ending with the previous track.

I think we shall be hearing more of Eleonora Claps, and her own songs on this album, Stars and Life, in particular show a potential for successful songwriting.

Click here for details and to sample the album. Click here for Eleonora and the John Crawford Quintet performing Nini at the 606 Club.

Ian Maund

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Romain Collin - Press Enter

Album released: 12th October 2015 - Label: ACT - Reviewed: February 2016

Romain Collin Press Enter

Romain Collin (piano, sound design & programming); Luques Curtis (double bass); Kendrick Scott (drums); plus Mino Cinelu (percussion); Megan Rose (vocals); Jean-Michel Pilc (whistles); Grey McMurray (guitar); Laura Metcalf (cello). 

Oh, yes. This has not come from nowhere.  I see that, I hear that.  When Wayne Shorter advised Romain Collin to Press Enter the brevity of the advice was telling and succinctly positive.  What anyone else says is rather beside the point.  Mr Collin has undoubtedly got to do this, to play this, it hardly matters what I think about it.  Listen to this Frenchman based in America, it becomes obvious that this music is driven out of one individual’s prime need to move forward, it sounds a totally necessary requirement, to play the part.  The bare fact is Press Enter is made up of compositions, but in the experience of listening to them it is like putting your ear to a conversation that has to be heard simply because it is there in front of you; a man has something pressing to say and somehow you are compelled to hear it.  This is an art felt entry and cannot be ignored.

I have good friends who are pianists.  It feels as if I have been listening to the piano all my life.  All those pianists who inhabit my home with their recordings, the maestros with fingers that look as if they have been stretched to stalks compared to my own stubby little hands.  The welling up of the hammered harp; 52 white keys and 36 black, the press and release of those precise pedals beneath the feet, the possibilities in the awe of a sustain chord.  So what is it to be, the grandeur of Art Tatum or an awful rendition of Chopsticks?  There, that is a way to begin a review.  And strange as it might read, I am not making any claims for Romain Collin being ‘the best’, ‘the greatest’ etc, such statements seem unnecessarily conclusive and do not make a lot of sense.  All I can truthfully say is, there is immediacy to this music which requires attention.  The only two things I can do is describe what I’ve heard, and provide some basic information about Mr Collin.  After which you too must decide whether you wish to Press Enter.

Click here for an introductory video.

99 the starter track is only just over two minutes long.  The piano is in repetition, like a pulse, the drums are a big 4/4 with filler rolls rumbling a tumble, there is a wordless vocal line in the back of the mix. 99 is the sound of a pianist signing a melody straight through a rhythm section.  He completes the action and the piece finishes abruptly. Clockwork could be a continuation of 99 but isn’t. The melody is pirouetted by the piano, Luques Curtis’ double bass holds a drone underneath and Kendrick Scott’s drums are interactive.  When Mr Collin builds his solo it is Jarrettesque in that funky way Keith Jarrett developed with Jack DeJohnette and Gary Peacock.

Raw, Scorched And Untethered is the longest track, rightly so it builds from another repeated circle. A melodic line that carries the whole six minute sequence back inside itself. There are several pauses, as if the trio come to the edge, and collectively move on. The studio sound at the Clubhouse, Rhinebeck, New York is very bright and clear.  The piano is right at the front of the mix with the drums close up as if they come from the same hand.

Holocene is a tune by Justin Vernon, the singer-songwriter behind the alt-folk rock band Bon Iver. For the first few bars the melodic line is solo piano played out and then given emphasis by cymbals and a slip of ambient guitar. Romain Collin moves the melody into rhapsody without lifting the tune away from its origins. Kids features an additional musician, the pianist Jean-Michel Pilc, here, not playing any keyboard.  His role is to whistle.  It introduces a sense of frailty. 

Webs; this is not frail.  Of all the tracks on Press Enter it is the one that travels the furthest. The big melody line is present but it is exploratory.  The initial refrain is offered up as if the intention is symphonic.  Roman Collin “has composed orchestral scores for motion pictures”, so perhaps Webs may have originated from that context.  By the end Kendrick Scott has pitched his drum kit into the very centre of proceedings.  It is as if the pianist clothed the drummer in a web. San Luis Obispo is to all intents and purpose solo piano ‘enhanced’ by some kind of ‘sound design’.  I am sure many people would consider this a ‘pretty’ tune; Mr Collin doesn’t chose to disturb it. On this occasion San Luis Obispo is not a starting point for abstracting the melody, harmony or pulse, it is played straight, almost untouched like a present that has not been played with.  Maybe this is a piece that Romain Collin will come back to at some future date.

Event Horizon is a short sound collage using the voices of men from The Innocence Project, an American non-profit organisation which assists people who have been wrongfully convicted to seek justice through the use of DNA evidence.  There is an air of stillness about the music, it carries words of pain, desperation and sadness.  We are perhaps only too aware that as well as pressing Enter, there is also a need to create an Exit for people.  
The Line (Dividing Good and Evil Cuts Through The Heart Of Every Human Being) is a title worthy of consideration, especially as it comes immediately after The Innocence Project collage.  Mino Cinelu, the French percussionist who worked with Miles Davis in his ‘come back’ band in the early 1980’s, is a guest on this track. The percussion is the dividing line; the piano ripples and seems to soften the centre space.  We are told ‘The Line’ in the title cuts but this piano is a ‘marker’, it carries no blade and strikes no lethal wound, though I hear a sense of resolution in the final note.

‘Round About Midnight is probably Thelonious Monk’s most well-known composition.  It was written with some input from Duke Ellington’s trumpeter, Cootie Williams, later Bernie Hanighen wrote lyrics, though neither are credited here.  Sometimes it feels as if every jazz musician on the planet has come up against Round Midnight.  Monk’s own solo version is (in my view) the definitive performance, but the Miles Davis study in stealth, with an arrangement by Gil Evans and a band including John Coltrane, is a beautiful diamond in the dark.  And a leftfield classy croon worthy of mention is Robert Wyatt’s quirky version of ‘Round About Midnight from five or six years ago.  In 2007 Romain Collin graduated from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, so it is interesting that he decided to record this particular multi-covered composition out of all the seventy plus Monk tracks available, and did so solo.  I think it is actually the best track on the album.  He spins the melody yet at the same time moves fractionally away from it, folding up the final with all the etiquette of a man who has enjoyed where he has just been.

Click here to sample the album and for details. Click here for Romain Collin's website.


Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk  

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Colours Jazz Orchestra plays the music of Ayn Inserto - Home Away From Home

Album released: 15th September 2015 - Label: Neukland Records - Reviewed: November 2015

Colours Jazz Orchestra Home Away From Home

Colours Jazz Orchestra is one of Italy's most formidable Big Bands. On all but two tracks, this recording by the band features the music of Ayn Inserto. Ayn Inserto was born in Singapore and moved to California when she was 14, where she became very active in the church choir playing the organ. She was introduced to jazz by the group Manhattan Transfer, and she was influenced by the work of Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner and other piano giants. She attended California State Hayward where she was taught by trombonist/arranger Dave Eshelman; she became a member of the New England Conservatory and was a protégé of trombonist Bob Brookmeyer. She is now an associate professor of jazz compositions at Berklee College of Music. Home Away From Home is her third album release. 

The members of the band are: Ayn Inserto (composition and conductor), Simone La Maida, Maurizio Moscatelli, Filippo Sebastianelli, Antonangelo Giudice, Marco Postacchini (saxophones), Giorgio Caselli, Luca Giardini, Giacomo Uncini, Samulele Garofoli, Jeff Claassen (trumpets), Massimo Morganti, Carlo Piermartire, Luca Pernici, Pierluigi Bastioli (trombones), Emilio Marinelli (piano), Luca Pecchia (guitar), Gabriele Pesaresi (bass), and Massimo Manzi (drums).

There are seven tracks on the recording and the music is described as 'Contemporary Big Band'. The influence of Bob Brookmeyer's big band work is evident in places.  There is quite a lot (or so it seemed to me) of saxophone on this recording but as criticaljazz.com says: 'The top heavy (and I mean that in the best possible sense ) brass section allows for the punch and clarity that pushes a deceptively subtle dynamic tension across compositions such as "You're Leaving? But I Just Got Here" along with "Down A Rabbit Hole."

The opening track, You’re Leaving? But I Just Got Here, starts out with drums and soprano sax and Luca Gardini's trumpet solo stands out. It is followed by Recorda Me with its gentle tenor sax introduction, written Joseph Arthur Henderson and commissioned by the Office for the Arts at Harvard and by the Harvard Jazz Band. Hang Around, at track 3 is based on a theme by Hirofumi Nojiri and brings an invitation to dance whilst featuring solos from Simone La Maida’s alto sax and Massimo Morganti’s trombone.

Ayn Inserto's attitude to solos is interesting, she says that she steers away from conventional jazz arrangements in which a series of soloists improvise over the same short tune. 'Instead, a soloist improvises over a continually unfolding narrative. The idea that an improvised solo should serve the piece as a whole was central to Brookmeyer's teaching. "He really didn't want you to just stick a solo in there," says Inserto. "The soloist is there to take us to the next part of the piece. Bob would ask, 'You put a soloist here, what's the purpose? What are you going to give the soloist to help him or her relate to the tune?' "

The album description says how Inserto's "spark" is fully evident on Home Away From Home: 'the ecstatic, helter-skelter breaks for drums and horns and the weave of simultaneous trumpet and soprano sax solos on opener You're Leaving? But I Just Got Here; the melancholy tone-poem harmonies of Wintry Mix; an evocative deconstruction of the Joe Henderson classic Recorda Me; the playful funk of Hang Around; the lovely melody and languid waltz rhythm of La Danza Infinita.'

La Danza Infinita; Down A Rabbit Hole and Five Dance take us to Wintry Mix at track 7 which starts out with a sombre piano solo but then the tempo is gradually picked up and lifted by the sax section. I particularly enjoyed the final track, Subo, written by Daniel Rosenthal with Massimo Morganti's trombone introduction. Ayn Inserto says she: likes to "end with something simple — we put the band through enough torture." Thus the salsa romp "Subo" that ends "Home Away From Home."

Clearly, the composer has fallen in love with Italy and this recording shows that well with Ayn Inserto and her talented musicians delivering an album that takes us out of the standard big band charts.

Click here to sample the album.

Vic Arnold          

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Patrick Cornelius - While We're Still Young

Album released: 19th February 2016- Label: Whirlwind Recordings - Reviewed: April 2016

Patrick Cornelius While We're Still Young

This album is the sixth and latest album by the critically acclaimed, award-winning saxophonist and composer Patrick Cornelius and brings together seven of the most accomplished young artists in contemporary jazz in order to breathe life into a suite of new original music inspired by poetry of literary icon A.A. Milne.

While attending the Berklee School of Music in Boston, Cornelius met drummer Kendrick Scott, bassist Peter Slavov and trombonist Nick Vayenas and he has recorded previous albums with the three over the past 15 years. Trumpeter Jason Palmer is also an old friend from Boston. Pianist Gerald Clayton and guitarist Miles Okazaki were Cornelius’s classmates at graduate school, and tenor saxophonist John Ellis was an early inspiration from Cornelius’s first days in New York City.

Cornelius’s personal connection to the sweet, whimsical verses in this timeless collection When We Were Very Young spans several generations. They were read first by his grandmother to his mother as a baby, and then by his mother to him and his brothers in turn. At the birth of Cornelius’s first child, Isabella, the family’s copy was passed down to him, so he could continue the tradition.

Cornelius states that, “From the very first time I started reading these poems to Isabella, I remember an instant desire to write music inspired by each individual vignette.” Cornelius continues, “My goal for this project was to select a handful of individual poems from When We Were Young and write programmatic movements inspired by the imagery that each evokes using my breadth of my experiences as a musician.”

There are 6 tracks on the album with the longest, Vespers, at 10.40 minutes and the shortest, Lines And Squares, at 2.48 minutes, the rest of the tracks range from just over 7 minutes to just touching on 10, making a total playing time of 47.37 minutes.

The first track is Sand Between The Toes which has a slow brass band start from the wind instruments which leads into a hotter pace with the percussion and alto sax which is joined by the trombone. It has a joyful vibe throughout. Water Lilies is like Monet’s painting rendered in musical form. Some delicate piano playing with some soulful trumpet and soprano sax, clearly play this cohesive melody. 

Click here to listen to Sand Between The Toes.

Click here to listen to Water Lilies.

Jonathan Jo is more upbeat with the brass starting at quite a pace with a catchy melody. There is interesting interplay between the instruments with some lovely solos. The Invaders is another slower track with a tuneful melodic start with restrained brass and some great bass clarinet and beautiful sax.

Lines And Squares, is the 5th track and as stated earlier the shortest and the least favourite as it contains some disjointed playing and did not work for me, but the last track, Vespers, features a nice, haunting, keyboard start with other instruments joining in which the guitar really shines and invokes a Spanish Flamenco feel.

Click here to listen to Vespers.

Overall a nicely played and produced album with some great artwork by Alban Low of the musicians and illustrations like the ones from the original A.A. Milne book.  

Click here for details and to sample.

Tim Rolfe

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Matt Criscuolo - Headin' Out

Album released: 3rd March 2015 - Label: Jazzeria Records - Reviewed: May 2015

Matt Criscuolo Headin OutMatt Criscuolo (alto saxophone); Tony Purrone (guitar); Preston Murphy (bass); Ed Soph (drums).

If you are interested in modern jazz stretching beyond be-bop, delivering sharp music with technically clean solos, this recording could be your cup of tea (or Bourbon shot).  There’s plenty of premier playing in evidence.

Alto sax player, Matt Criscuolo, is billed as leading this quartet “with Tony Purrone”.  It is significant Tony Purrone is a guitar player.  There’s no keyboards, the guitar does the whole job – diamond bright fast soloing, alternate lead lines, a wealth of specialist chord changes, a lock on rhythm to the bass and drums who are master-classing the swing-thing like it’s never gone out of fashion.  ‘Out’ of fashion?  The album’s called Headin’ Out.  In the 1960’s another alto sax player, the forever mercurial genius that was Eric Dolphy, produced a revered classic, Out To Lunch, as well as Out There and Outward Bound.  I can’t believe a player like Matt Criscuolo isn’t alluding to Dolphy on this recording.  In Mr Dolphy’s case the ‘Out’ signalled that he was literally playing ‘outside’ the standard chord changes and harmonic framework.  On Headin’ Out Tony Perrone invents plenty of chord structures but there is more than one way out of most situations.  For instance, there’s a smart reading of Sippin’ At Bells, written by a twenty-one year old Miles Davis, put together in 1947 for himself and Charlie Parker.  Bird was playing tenor sax rather than his usual alto on this session, Miles’s debut as leader. On the Criscuolo/Purrone version the saxophone/guitar breaks slice into the original riff cutting it up for breakfast, disposing of the cluster chord sequence and literally heading out into a new ascetic.

The fact that Criscuolo and Purrone choose to slit Sippin’ is a pointer to how switched on they are to framing their own music.  Throughout most of this session Purrone’s guitar is a genuine blade runner, his own two compositions Karma At Dharma and R 5 10 Select, catch his dazzle-at-speed technique.  Okay, occasionally the momentum is so damn fast its clear the guy is not just playing ‘out’.  This sounds like rehearsed and practiced-into-place-music, nothing wrong with that of course, but it belies the spontaneity ethic of playing outside the harmonic frame, a different thing. 

Tony Purrone most definitely is a tour de force; the old Randy Weston standard, Little Niles is stretched out to the margins in the solo parts, with Criscuolo towards the end, tonally orchestrating air through his reed in crescendos of sound keeping Purrone’s guitar itching for action.  Once the guitarist hits it, those six strings take over and blister, not in some heavy metal frenzy, this is punctuated classy jazz guitar and it seems to have the effect of allowing Matt Criscuolo’s alto to find the full story when he’s back in and blowing.  Next up, they repeat the trick.  By the time these two soothsayers get to the final couple of minutes of Criscuolo’s interestingly structured At Night, I’m utterly convinced about how far they’re heading.  Both sax and guitar are reeling-in abstracted sound.  I’d be interested to hear the sax player begin this piece from the same place he finishes it.  Here, in the finality of At Night, he is making new music.

I’m listening to a band who seek to make subtle deviations from, what amounts to a classic string driven post-bop quartet.  For example, there are nine tracks yet on only one, Centripetal, does the saxophone actually make its entry from the get-go.  On all the others, guitar or bass dictate the introduction at the beginning of the piece.  Matt Criscuolo apparently opens doors for others, but once inside he is blowing bold gold saxophone in order to find the way out.  In my view, if Criscuolo is truly serious in continuing his quest to be Headin’ Out, at some point he’ll need to create even more space for himself.  I would like to hear him in an open trio of saxophone, bass and drums.  For musicians like him there are always going to be choices, for the moment, Sippin At Bells will do very well.  Make mine a cup of tea.

Click here to listen to Miles Davis’s Sippin’ At Bells (1947) and click here to listen to Matt Criscuolo Sippin’ At Bells (2014).

Click here to sample the album.             

Steve Day    
stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk   
 

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Sam Crockett Quartet - Mells Bells

Album released: 29th January 2016 - Label: Whirlwind Recordings - Reviewed: March 2016

Sam Crockatt Mells Bells

The British tenor player Sam Crockatt recorded this album on a single day in June 2014 following a number of live concerts. In doing so, he teamed up again with some of the UK's leading young jazz talents - Kit Downes (piano), Oli Hayhurst (double bass) and James Maddren (drums). Their first album Howeird won album of the year in the Parliamentary Jazz Awards 2009. Sam, a member of the London-based Loop Collective) has collaborated with many current exponents of jazz improvisation. The eight numbers on the album are all Sam's original compositions.

Sam started playing jazz when he was 10. He says: 'In the beginning it was all about the clarinet and listening to Louis Armstrong, Sydney Bechet, and Jimmy Noone. Over the next few years I switched to saxophone and began listening to John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter and realised I was hooked! Since then I've completed a degree in jazz from the Royal Academy of Music and played in venues all over the UK including Ronnie Scott's, The Albert Hall, the Jazz Cafe, and the Sage Centre. I've also appeared six times at the Paradise Jazz Festival in Cyprus, performed at the Brecon Jazz Festival with Pete King and Julian Arguelles, and taught on the Global Music Foundation Summer School in Tuscany alongside US piano great Edward Simon.'

In approaching Mells Bells, Sam says: 'I like to think as texturally as I can - hearing various melodies over and over in my head - to achieve as many combinations of sound as I can. And I know these guys will take my ideas off into new areas.'

With 8 numbers over 52 and a half minutes, there is time to develop each track and so Canon which opens the album at 7.25 minutes begins with a lyrical theme by solo saxophone followed by piano, then bass and finally drums establishing the canon rotation underscored by the bass and drum staccato. Sam's saxophone builds the next part before Kit Downes' beautiful, intricate piano phrasing takes the first solo. The band is clearly working smoothly together as the sax takes over ending in a slow fade. The Masterplan follows and there is a nice middle section with the tenor playing in a low register with bass and drums before taking a foot-tapping change with the piano in support until Kit's improvisation kicks in until everyone winds down. I Found You In The Jam at track 3 has a title that reminded me of my father who always dug out the whole strawberries from the strawberry jam, but here I guess it is a different jam. Oli Hayhurst's bass leads in with James Maddren's drums quietly in the background for almost 2 minutes before Sam plays in a lovely theme on saxophone and develops it until the piano comes forward to take a melodic improvisation before passing the tune back to the saxophone. A winning track.

Click here for an introductory video.

The title track, Mells Bells, opens with solo drums, not bells, for almost a minute, broken by a few bars of saxophone and piano, who return shortly after with the 'bells'. The description of Sam's inspiration for the piece says: 'The initially cacophonic and then swirling beauty of church bell peals, witnessed from a vantage point above his Somerset home village (Mells), provided the inspiration for an outing which highlights this ensemble's creative vibrancy and free spirit; clanging and chiming with both celebratory and audacious ebulliance.' If you want to hear why Kit Downes is regarded as a top jazz pianist, it is demonstrated here, and listen to James Maddren's drumming beneath Sam Crockatt's saxophone solo, nicely placed by Alex Bonney's sensitive mixing. Breath at track 5 is the shortest piece at 4.52 minutes, slow, gentle saxophone with bass and piano commenting now and then and some lovely higher register phrases at around 2.30 minutes. A Stroll On The Knoll, a nice title, is a little faster, saxophone out for a stroll beside the bass with drums keeping company.

The stroll leads to track 7, Tiny Steps, Top Of the Mountain. I am reminded of a book I read for my French Literature exam where an older man climbs a mountain steadily while his young companion runs and soon wears himself out. These tiny steps are the older man's experience, steady, and bringing to bear references to earlier jazz themes of the older man's times and you are assured that they will reach the top of the mountain. Oli Hayhurst's bass solo completes the climb. An engaging track with some nice solos from Sam and Kit. The Land That Time Forgot concludes the album with saxophone and piano passing to bass and drums and each of the quartet balancing with each other as the theme riffs forward. The longest track at 8.43 minutes, it gradually builds with solos from Kit Downes and Sam Crockatt to a fitting finale. As Sam said: 'I know these guys will take my ideas off into new areas.' and they and he do.

An impressive, enjoyable album from the Sam Crockatt Quartet. Seek it out.

Click here to listen to Canon.

Click here to sample the album and for details.

Ian Maund

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The Danish Jazz Quartet - On The Road

Album Released: 24th June 2016 - Label: Storyville Records - Reviewed: July 2016

Danish Jazz Quartet On The Road

Leif Juul Jørgensen (clarinet), Jesper Lundgaard (bass), Søren Kristiansen (piano), Alex Riel (drums).

When this CD hit my in-tray I admit to a feeling of some glee. The Danish Jazz Quartet consists of clarinet and rhythm section. In my past musical life, 30-odd years  were spent working in a clarinet trio or quartet line-up quite often so this was like giving my cat a bowl of double cream.

The album was recorded live in Germany late last year in front of an enthusiastic audience and the repertoire and style of the music are about as “straight-ahead” as you can get which is fine with this reviewer. It was a pleasure to hear some good, honest and uncomplicated jazz.

Clarinettist Leif and drummer Alex are both in their mid-70s but you’d hardly know it when they kick off with that fine old jam session stalwart Undecided

Bass player Jesper is younger but like the above pair has had the benefit of working in Copenhagen, a city which like Paris, has hosted many top American musicians for decades, giving local lads a chance to listen, learn and even play with some legendary names.

Pianist Søren, the “baby” of the group at 54, has developed a post-bop style on top of his classical training and has accompanied the likes of Art Farmer and Harry Edison.

Mopping their brows, after the Charlie Shavers vehicle, the boys launch into If I Had You which is taken at a romping lick. An out-of-tempo clarinet intro. clearly shows Ed Hall’s strong influence on Leif although his tone tends generally to be more Artie Shaw.

The quartet’s only nod to a more modern era is Oscar Pettiford’s Bohemia After Dark where Alex is given his head in a dramatic drum solo.

Despite a little confusion over the key at the beginning, Lullaby of Broadway features some nice piano from Søren and showcases his more modernistic approach. He declares that after being an Oscar Peterson devotee for most of his career he has recently incorporated more lyrical phrasing, influenced by Bill Evans.

Mean to Me and Lady be Good are both jazz standards. Perhaps familiarity sometimes hides what excellent numbers they are and the group treats them with the respect they deserve.

These experienced Danish professionals don’t attempt to re-invent the wheel every other chorus - they play to their strengths - a listenable and likeable selection of numbers in the mainstream tradition.

Click here for details. Click here for the band's website.

Jamie Evans

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Delta Saxophone Quartet with Gwilym Simcock - Crimson

Album Released: 26th February 2016 - Label: Basho Records - Reviewed: May 2016

Delta Saxophone Quartet Crimson

Gwilym Simcock (pianoforte); Graeme Belvins (soprano saxophone); Pete Whyman (alto saxophone); Tim Holmes (tenor saxophone); Chris Caldwell (baritone saxophone) .

Before this.  Before we go Crimson, I’ll quickly refer to the Delta Saxophone Quartet’s previous album called Dedicated To You, But You Weren’t Listening featuring music by Soft Machine.  The title is a Hugh Hopper composition from the absolutely seminal standout album, Soft Machine Volume Two, recorded back in 1969.  The song title was used a year later for Keith Tippett’s second album on the Deram label.  The original Softs version was cradled in curious lyrics amid a quirky melody line; as well as being very special music I always admired this particular song’s title.  The idea of a dedication seemingly ignored or possibly totally unknown to the dedicatee, has intrigued me for decades.  Okay, so now there’s an opportunity to actually listen, which as you will read, is not something I have always done.

What we have here are five pieces from the catalogue of the long running prog rock band King Crimson, plus an additional prologue, A Kind of Red written by Gwilym Simcock, who was commissioned by the Delta Saxophone Quartet to arrange the entire project.  I come to this album with the advantage of not knowing the King Crimson originals.  King Crimson always were an acquired taste.  Their first album In The Court Of The Crimson King came out in October 1969, right between Miles Davis’s In A Silent Way and the follow-up, Bitches Brew, which was released less than a year later.  These two monumental albums took over my world for a period and, apart from Robert Fripp’s comparatively short involvement in Keith Tippett’s Centipede, I never did find time to hear what the king of all things crimson was actually doing.

So, what follows is a review of the Delta Saxophone Quartet with Gwilym Simcock.  I can shed no light on King Crimson and I don’t really think Delta Sax do either, though it is easy to imagine the fast up/down opening riff on The Great Deceiver as a big wind-up when played on electric guitar.  It sounds damn fine when played at 100 mph by four saxophones too.  Crimson is an impressive concentrated reeds recital, approached in a similar way as a contemporary classical commission. 

Each of the five KC originals come loaded with themes which mean that on any one piece soprano, alto, tenor and baritone reeds are tasked with tracking an embroidery of scored music travelling in multiple directions.  What I hear is something of itself – for instance the second track VROOM/Coda: Marine 475 is a tricky swirl of saxophones with a resolution that comes off Simcock’s own piano (or pianoforte, so say the sleeve notes).  The third track, The Night Watch, is given a clever grandstand opening with the quartet circling a secretive piano figure.  The shortest track is called Two Hands which places the focus on Graeme Blevins's soprano saxophone.  Technically he has the straight horn sorted.

Never at any moment do I feel as if I am listening to ‘versions’ of other music, nevertheless all of us borrow from our own belief systems.  Mr Simcock’s own composition, A Kind of Red is a neat case in point.  It also poses a question.

Gwilym Simcock gave the quartet this bright, very melodic reference point to start proceedings – it has a cleaner, clearer structure than any of the other tracks, and of course references yet another Miles Davis album, the breathtaking modal model that is A Kind of Blue.  Why provide a passing glance to Miles Davis when considering Robert Fripp’s King Crimson?  The fact that the name of Miles Davis keeps popping up all over this review is perhaps significant. A Kind of Red is a neat play on words, and whilst it does not draw down much in musical terms from what Richard Williams refers to as, ‘The Blue Moment’, it does provide, intentionally or not, this Crimson project with an in-built gravitational reference. 

Click here for an introductory video of Delta Saxophone Quartet promo featuring A Kind of Red.

A Kind of Blue has its own complexity but even I, a far from formal ‘musician’ in any sense of the word, have a basic understanding of Miles’s intention to literally scale down the music in order to free up the playing of his sextet.  A Kind of Red is not modal but it does wear a ‘jazz’ hat, not totally present throughout all the KC material presented here.  Gwilym Simcock leads the piece from his own piano and then turns it over to Delta Sax to place their own mark on it.  For me, A Kind of Red is writ large on this session.  It is almost like a permission statement, do unto the rest what you do to my own.

The Delta Saxophone Quartet and Gwilym Simcock have produced a fascinating album of saxophone music.  One of the interesting aspects is that primarily Crimson focuses on the ensemble rather than the soloist. Despite Gwilym Simcock’s obvious core central involvement this is primarily not one person’s vision.  Reeds breathe song like the human voice.  The music is complex in places, yet contains a tangible humanity.  This is one dedication that is well worth listening to.

Click here for details and to sample.          

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

 

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Catina DeLuna - Lado B Brazilian Project

Album Released: 4th September 2015 - Label: CD Baby - Reviewed: April 2016

Catina DeLuna Lado B Brazilian project

The superlative musicians are: Catina DeLuna (vocals, piano, body percussion, arrangements), Otmaro Ruiz (piano, accordion, arrangements), Larry Koonse (guitars), Edwin Livingston (bass), Aaron Serfaty (drums).

With special guests: Alex Acunha (percussion), Bob Sheppard (flute), Nick Mancini (marimba), Mike Shapiro, Clarice Cast, Greg Beyer (percussion), Choir: Afton Hefley, Adrianne Duncan, Francis Benitez, Naomi Taniguchi, Maya Ruiz, Pam McLean, Catina DeLuna, Nick Mancini, Jason Luckett, Otmaro Ruiz.

Born and bred in Brazil, Catina DeLuna began playing piano and singing from an early age. After graduating with a BA in Brazilian Popular Music from the UNICAMP University in Sao Paulo, she instigated two important bands: Arire, as pianist, singer and arranger, and Serenata Brasiliera in which she performed Brazilian classics from the 1920s and 1930s whilst dressed in authentic period costume.

After relocating to the United States, Catina earned her Master’s degree from Northern Illinois University where she became visiting scholar, and now, having moved to Los Angeles she teaches privately and at the Silver Lake Conservatory and the Los Angeles Academy. Catina has also toured in Japan and Singapore and has worked as voice-over artist in many radio and television commercials.

Venezuelan-born Otmaro Ruiz, Catina’s collaborator and arranger on this Lado B Brazilian Project album, is a pianist, arranger and educator.  Based in Los Angeles since 1989, Ruiz has worked alongside such greats as Arturo Sandoval, John McLaughlin, Tito Puente, Billy Cobham’s Spectrum 40 Band, Frank Gambale, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, Frank Morgan and Robben Ford, and was Dianne Reeves’ pianist and musical director for five years. He has led his own exciting and innovative Crossover Latin Jazz groups in addition to many well-received albums.

In private life, Catina DeLuna and Otmato Ruiz are also husband and wife, and together they have revitalised Brazilian jazz on Lado B Brazilian Project. (Lado B means “Side B” or “flip side”).

One thinks of Brazilian music as Carnaval, samba and bossa nova, but this album goes further.  The eleven sumptuous tracks on this album range from early styles to present jazz fusion with new interpretations of classics by such as Antônio Carlos Jobim, Milton Nascimento, Pixinguinha, Egberto Gismonti and several others.

To pick out just a few from this superb album, the first track has the melody and lyrics of Lavadeira do Rio layered on top of an instrumental performance of Maracatu. This clever ploy is rendered all the more beautiful by Catina DeLuna’s flawless voice, which sometimes just follows the melody without words: so thrilling to hear such perfect pitch.  And speaking of “words”, the fact this album is mostly in Portuguese only adds to the exotic mystery and sexiness of the whole experience.

Garota De Ipanema (Girl from Ipanema), provides a different take on the original Jobim piece, being re-harmonised, re-timed, and with some gorgeous instrumentals as well as DeLuna’s glorious pure voice following the melody with and without words. Click here for Catina DeLuna’s website and this particular track on the home page

O Canto Da Ema is somewhat unusual!  Here we have DeLuna’s voice, crystal clear as a spring waterfall, accompanied only by her own “body percussion”!   

The eleven tracks are: Lavadeira do Rio and Maracatu, Garota De Ipanema, Cavalo Marinho (Baiaio Barroco), Contrato de Separação, Chovendo Na Roseira, Estrela Azul, O Canto Da Ema, Encontros e Despedidas, Lamentos, Quase Frevo, Fotografia.

The whole album is joyful, exciting, innovative, beautiful, dreamy, elegant, exotic, emotional at times: a must for anyone who loves Brazilian or Latin fusion.

Click here for an introductory video. Click here to sample the album.

June Bastable

June Bastable is the wife of the late jazz musician, Johnny Bastable. She is a writer and author of two books Some People and These People available from Amazon, Waterstones, etc.

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Corrie Dick - Impossible Things

Album Released: 20th November 2015 - Label: Chaos Collective - Reviewed: April 2016

Corrie Dick Impossible Things

Corrie Dick (drums), Joe Webb (wurlitzer/organ), Matt Robinson (piano), Laura Jurd (trumpet), Joe Wright (saxophones/whistle), George Crowley (saxophone), Felix Higginbottom (percussion), Conor Chaplin (bass), Alice Zawadzki (vocals).

If you are going to record a debut album, a good place to start is to get on board other outstanding musicians, particularly people you know and play with. Another good idea is to engage a mix and mastering engineer like Alex Killlpartrick. Then if you are going to record your own compositions, make them interesting.

And so Glaswegian drummer Corrie Dick is off to a good start. The lyrics on this album are by Corrie except for Six Impossible Things where they are by Lewis Carroll and arranged by vocalist Lauren Kinsella, Farewell Modhachaidh where Corrie and Lauren have written them together and Soar which is a poem by Alice Zawadzki. Corrie has studied traditional music in Ghana and Morocco as well as his native Scotland, and some of the tracks on the album reflect that experience.

Soar starts the eight tracks off with keyboards, the bass and underlying drums as the others enter. A dreamy, rich tune that introduces Alice's spoken love poem, with a solo from Matt Robinson that merges into a brittle statement from George Crowley's saxophone. Corrie explains that the tune is a 'cry of appreciation to the inspirational and great Mike Walker who once said to me "if you allow yourself to fall, you allow yourself to soar" ... I hope to have captured the intense surging emotion of Mike's own music here.'

Click here to listen to Soar.

King William Walk is dedicated to Corrie's father, Willie Dick. Corrie says: 'I love the interplay between bassist Conor Chaplin and pianist Matt Robinson throughout this and it also features a great joint solo from Laura Jurd and George Crowley.' The tune has a folk-like introduction from the keyboard and continues with a really appealing melody as the drums and bass come in and then the whistle establishes the scene. Corrie is right about the bass and piano as he is about Laura Jurd and George Crowley's playing. Alice's brief vocals are completely in place. A canny track and Willie Dick should be proud.

Six Impossible Things, from which the album title is drawn, was inspired by Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland. "Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things." "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." The music fits the scene in a film noir sort of way. Alice's voice is impossibly beautiful as she elaborates the lyrics collated from some of Corrie's favourite quotes from the book. The inspired arrangement draws you in as the band play their parts. So far, I have not picked out Corrie's own playing but by this time, you appreciate how his drums are shaping the music.

Annamarrakech at track four reflects Corrie's visits to Morocco with his girlfriend, Anna. 'We are always drawn to places with great traditional music ... After a few nights I sat in and the local musicians were thrilled that I could play their music and invited me to play again and again ..'. The track begins with Corrie's drums and what evolves is flavoured by but not totally adherent to that traditional music. I really like Laura Jurd's trumpet solo as well as Corrie's drumming here. Farewell Modhachaidh takes us back to Scotland and the home of Corrie's grandparents with a slower pace and more gentle lyrics from Lauren Kinsella. Corrie uses the phrase 'the music breathes beautifully' about this track and that captures the essence of it perfectly.

Lock Your Heart Up was written for saxophonist Joe Wright, but Corrie says: 'Just before we recorded I read Joe a Kafka short story and Joe, an intensely giving musician at the worst of times came out with this almost unbearably emotional solo.' It is Matt Robinson's piano that lightly introduces the piece with that lovely voice of Alice's backed up vocally by the rest of the band. The piano's tempo changes with drums, percussion and the full band until Joe's solo flies out fast on top. What Has Become Of Albert? is the penultimate track. Who is Albert? Corrie says: 'Albert, basically, is an imaginary dragon. But I guess it's a metaphor for something I will only share for the right price!' Joe Webb's organ solo is nicely placed and Laura Jurd's trumpet weaves in and out of vocals and ensemble. The closing minutes with piano, bass and trumpet are exquisite.

Don't Cry is a lullaby. Corrie says: 'I couldn't end this album any other way than with a reflective calm-after-the-storm moment.' Alice sings the lullaby and everyone else adds a full, atmospheric middle section that gives way to piano, bass and a trumpet solo that reminds us how good Laura Jurd is.

I really like this album. I find Corrie Dick's Impossible Things compelling, beautifully written, arranged and played. As a debut album it promises many good things to come and introduces Corrie as a talented musician whose music many will appreciate. Highly recommended.

Click here for details and to sample.

Ian Maund

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Phil Donkin - The Gate

Album Released: 9th March 2015 - Label: Whirlwind Recordings - Reviewed: March 2015

Phil Donkin albumWith the release of his album The Gate on 9th March, bass player Phil Donkin is on tour through the UK. Is he worth going to hear? Yes, I should certainly say so.

The personnel for the album are saxophonist Ben Wendel, pianist Glenn Zaleski, drummer Jochen Rüeckert and bassist, composer, leader Phil Donkin. Unfortunately Rüeckert is not available for the tour but don't let that put you off; the formidable James Maddren will be sitting in for the first two dates and Colin Stranahan for the rest.

So what can you expect? Some tight small group playing with lyrical offerings from saxophonist and pianist and an underlyingpresence of a creative bass and steady, sometimes exploratory drums.

The album is twelve tracks long over an hour and twelve minutes. All of the tunes are compositions by Phil Donkin except Introspection by Thelonious Monk and the concluding Prelude No 23 in F Major by Shostakovich. It was recorded in Brooklyn in 2013.

Opening fairly gently with La Jurone, Wendel and Zaleski take their solos and Donkin winds up the piece with a bass solo. The second track, Macon Groove, also shows us that we are going to hear Phil Donkin soloing through the album. This tune is named after the street in Brooklyn, New York City where Donkin lived when he moved there from London. The tune 'displays his ability to play an extremely nimble melody, somehow resonant of Warne Marsh and Lennie Tristano.' Wendel and Zaleski take enjoyable bop solos . Track three, The Gate, is slow and beautiful - I love Ben Wendel's saxophone solo on this number and Glenn Zaleski plays along with some minimal but unpredictable piano until he picks up the tune. Donkin jumps into Introspection with bass and drums and this piece 'particularly shows some of the rhythmic subtelties that Donkin is known for, as well as his uncanny ability to glide effortlessly through forms and time changes with poise, elegance and muscularity' and I would add that Jochen Rüeckert also makes an effective contribution on this track.

Rather than working my way through the whole twelve tunes, I would pick out Butterfingers which starts out with Donkin bass-picking and Wendel saxophone-picking beside him with a brief nod to All The Things You Are before the saxophone sets out to explore the tune. One For Johnny at track nine starts with a walking bass line and then the saxophone strolls alongside the piano, then Zaleski wanders off light-footed on his own path before the saxophone ambles back in. The album ends with a classical composition by Shostakovich. This is nice. Prelude No 23 in F Major features Donkin's bass over the piano and saxophone. I don't always like the way classical pieces are arranged for jazz, but these short 2.50 minutes work well for me.

Phil Donkin says: 'I wanted to create a programme of music that anyone can enjoy, but doesn't dumb down to a notion that non-jazz audiences need to be condescended to. I think good music regardless of genre communicates on a human level, and the dividing forces that have been created artificially by the music press and industry now dictates how people are allowed to enjoy and receive music. I think that notion is wrong and I want my music to defy it.'

I like this album. If you get the chance to go to one of the gigs, take it. Click here to sample the album.

Ian Maund

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Kit Downes - Tricko

Album released - 29th June 2015: Label - Coup Perdu - Reviewed June 2015

 

Kit Downes Tricko

By allowing incremental change, all decisions for the music come from a place of choice rather than from necessity. As a result this means that none of my initial ideas survived, though each would lead, piece by piece, to the completion of the entire record.Kit Downes.

Tricko, the new album by pianist Kit Downes and cellist Lucy Railton is named after the ensemble of which they form the core. They have beenworking together for a while now, developing the music captured on this recording.  Kit’s musical journey has layered success on success with a variety of explorations through different groups since his days at the Royal Academy of Music. You can guarantee there is always something fresh and absorbing to hear. Lucy Railton first met Kit at the Academy. Her study ofcontemporary classical music led to a wider interest in experimental music, particularly improvisation and electronic composition. She is curator of the London Contemporary Music Festival.

Jinn opens the album, complex, textured piano underpinned by the cello, closing lightly, airily, suitably named after the ‘smoke spirit that is impossible to catch as it slips endlessly out of reach’. Alliri reflects the influence of the composer Ravel. Kit plays in two keys at the same time and says: ‘It is about pairs of things, dancing together, pulling and pushing away and towards each other’. The piece begins with the cello before the piano enters and then the cello continues a steady pace and emerges from time to time as the piano dances - a track where it is clear how well the two instruments complement each other.

Click here to listen to Alliri.

Waira is named after Japanese folklore and a mountain where 'a demon lurks and evokes rainfall in the Japanese mountains’. Gentle cello and sensitive piano playing. The title track, Tricko, follows and is described as ‘a study in voice leading, with pivot notes within chords, stepping from one to another, slowly changing, giving it a jaunty, entrancing feel.’ The jauntiness initially comes from the cello and almost seems to inspire the piano to trip along on its own jaunty journey. Perhaps at times I hear Ravel again over Kit’s shoulder. Ihno is slow and thoughtful - ‘it utilises different ranges of the cello to conjure something slow and ancient’ - is a fair description.

Arcane, in contrast, sees both instruments leap into the tune, playfully interacting in what is described as ‘a magician’s piece, picking rhythmic patterns out of hats’, until the piano develops a strong ending that it hands over to the cello for the final word. Helkalen closes the album. The tune is ‘named for a town very far to the north, very cold, far from the rest of the world and rarely visited.’ It is at this point that the cello reminds me of Ravel’s Trio in A Minor, it seems that the Frenchman’s spirit is never far away.

You can get a taste of Helkalen in this recording (click here) that has input from Alex Killpartric who produced and recorded Tricko with Kit Downes.

Tricko is an album to listen to. A work of substance. There is a clear cross-over between classical music and jazz brought together by this thing called ‘improvisation’ but giving music names here is less relevant than the satisfaction of the result. An investment of your time and attention will be well rewarded. The album is another successful addition to Kit’s compendium of work, clearly in no small part down to the collaboration with Lucy Railton.

The album is available on CD and LP from 29th June.

Click here for more information.

Ian Maund               

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The Peter Edwards Trio - A Matter Of Instinct

Album released: 17th June 2016 - Label: www.peteredwardsmusic.co.uk - Reviewed: July 2016

Peter Edwards Trio A Matter Of Instinct

Peter Edwards (piano / Fender Rhodes); Max Luthert (bass); Moses Boyd (drums)

Since graduating from Trinity Conservatoire in London in 2009, Peter Edwards has been racking up the awards. He was nominated in the MOBO Awards for 'Best Newcomer' and then picked up the Jazz FM Award for 'Breakthrough Act' in 2015 along with the Parliamentary Jazz 'Newcomer' Award. Drummer Moses Boyd has echoed that in 2016 picking up the same two awards in his duo with saxophonist Binker Golding. Max Luthert, the third member of the trio, is much sought after for his work as a bass player. With Edwards he is part of Zara McFarlane's band and his associations are many, in particular his co-leadership of Partikel. With all these gongs and plaudits the portents for Peter Edwards's second album following 2014's Safe And Sound are good.

The album brings us eight tracks, all written by Peter Edwards. Samba City takes us straight into a fast, catchy Latin number with a brief bass/drum duet after the piano outing and some nice drum work from Moses Boyd. The ballad Loved Ones, a light, lyrical, romantic piece, was written to recognise the support Peter has received from family and friends. At track 3, Groove Swing Funk ripples out and contains all the elements in the title, and now you can hear why the pianist's playing attracts attention.

Click here to listen to Groove Swing Funk.

We get The Runaround at 4, the tune morphing in fast from the track before and packed with pianistic ideas. Moses Boyd's drums feature towards the end - I like his work on this album. Peter Edwards switches to Fender Rhodes for the title track, A Matter Of Instinct, another attractive composition with elements of Latin/Funk. The move to electric piano works well here bringing a change of texture.

Click here for a video of the Trio in the studio playing A Matter Of Instinct.

Flying High again has Latin rhythms beneath another light, lyrical piece with some swinging piano from Edwards. Down But Not Out is a beautiful, slow ballad in waltz time, charged with feeling, and here Max Luthert's bass is just right as it enters for a solo. Written by Peter Edwards about facing adversity, this composition begs for recognition of being a 'Standard'. And so the final track, Escape Velocity, takes us out with a riff and a final taste of piano, drums and bass into fade.

Click here to listen to Down But Not Out.

There is no doubt that Peter Edwards writes and plays appealing, lyrical music. His background with Tomorrow's Warriors, his work with Abram Wilson's quartet and his compositions and arrangements for vocalist Zara McFarlane all contribute to the heart of this album. A Matter Of Instinct is pretty sure to be a popular album. If I have a query it is about the mixing where I would have liked the level of the bass and drums to have been reduced slightly, but each to his own.

Peter Edwards says: "So much of music is about instincts. I've faithfully followed my own instinctive musical voice when devising each track on this album."

Click here to listen to the album. Click here for purchase details and to sample.

Ian Maund

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Empirical - Connection

Album released - 1st June 2015: Label - Cuneiform Records: Reviewed - April 2016

Empirical Connection

Empirical: Nathaniel Facey (alto sax), Lewis Wright (vibraphone), Tom Farmer (double bass) and Shaney Forbes (drums).

When it comes to young jazz bands there are not many that can boast a better combined CV than Empirical with three "Young Jazz Musician" annual awards from the Worshipful Company of Musicians, a MOBO award for "Best Jazz Act" and being chosen as "Golubovich Jazz Ensemble" at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire.

Connection is their fifth album and the fascinating picture on the album cover shows each band member clasping the wrist of his neighbour to form a square, perhaps illustrating the mutual support and inspiration they provide each other.  The band embrace and develop "Free Jazz"; which from its beginnings in the 1960s, referred to as the "New Thing", grew out of bebop and modal jazz styles and was pioneered by the likes of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman among others.

Click here for an introductory video on the making of Connection.

The album has ten tracks, five of which are written by Farmer, three by Wright and two by Facey.  Initiate The Initiations starts the proceedings with some interesting percussion pieces and even when the alto sax joins in there are phrases which sound like bells chiming. Track 2, Anxiety Society, has Facey developing a simple melody in all sorts of directions before Wright takes over with some soothing vibraphone.  Stay the Course cleverly mixes rhythms, styles and combinations of musicians that keep the listener guessing about what comes next.

Track 5, Lethe is a beautiful, slow, melody in the same vein as John Coltrane's Naima; the word "Lethe" in classical Greek means "oblivion", "forgetfulness" or "concealment".  In The Maze, alto sax and vibraphone are clearly trying different strategies to find the way out, however neither seem to succeed and when double bass and drums try to help they all appear to end up in a heap with no hope of escape. Track 8, The Two-edged Sword, is a fast paced piece with alto sax and vibraphone taking the lead in turns.

Click here to listen to The Two-edged Sword.

Mind over Mayhem is another track where rhythms and styles are mixed, making a fairly simple melody far more interesting.  The last track, It's Out Of Your Hands, begins slowly with lots of vibrato on the vibraphone followed by alto sax developing some rich and satisfying chords and a very pleasing finale to the album.

Empirical are widely regarded as one of the leading jazz bands around and with the same line-up for eight years their brand of innovation is seemingly effortless.  They have recently conducted a further experiment with a pop-up jazz lounge in a London tube station providing free entertainment to commuters, or anybody who cared to listen. Anyone with an interest in jazz will want to hear Empirical's music and their latest album is unlikely to disappoint.

Click here for details and to sample. Click here for the Empirical website.

Howard Lawes

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Entropi - New Era

Album released - 1st June 2015: Label - F-IRE presents: Reviewed - June 2015

Entropi New Era

Saxophonists Dee Byrne and Cath Roberts have worked in collaboration to successfully establish LUME, a regular night of improvised music in London that takes place weekly at Long White Cloud in Hackney, and monthly at the Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston. This May and June, LUME is on tour in the UK featuring Dee and Cath's bands Entropi and Quadraceratops. Quadraceratops released their absorbing self-titled debut album in 2014, now we have Entropi with their equally engaging debut album.

The music features Dee Byrne on alto saxophone and the compositions are all hers. Andre Canniere plays trumpet, Rebecca Nash, piano, Olie Brice, double bass, and Matt Fisher, drums. The compositions explore the notions of chance and fate, our relationship with space and the cosmos and the unpredictable and insecure nature of existence.

The opening track, New Era, takes the idea of a new dawn emerging from uncertainty through the use of open-ended sections that give rise to group interaction. Chaos gives way to a partnered riff that gives way to an extended lyrical solo from the saxophone backed by Rebecca Nash's keyboard until Andre Canniere's trumpet solo continues to explore the piece. The track is engaging, beneficial to the beginning of any album, and it easily holds the listener's attention, working well in establishing from the beginning the album's concept. Mode For C is inspired by John Coltrane's composition Miles Mode. This time the saxophone and piano set a rhythmic pace with the trumpet joining in and takeing over from the sax. Suddenly the pace slows and the trumpet hovers above the piano - nice playing from Andre Canniere. By this stage, I appreciate how well balanced technically is the recording, and how the bass and percussion contribution can be appreciated.

In Flux 'explores unpredictability through abruptly shifting musical environments, creating radically different feelings. Rebecca Nash's piano solo, delivered in a modal setting, offers a sense of release.' But before that, there is some sensitive lyrical saxophone from Dee that deserves mention, and a moving trumpet solo from Andre.

Orbit is described as 'exploring the ever-changing and insecure nature of existence.' An atmospheric vibraphonic keyboard solo opens the piece to be joined by saxophone and trumpet 'in conversation' as a repeated motif from keyboard and percussion hold a steady course. This track brings a chance for Matt Fisher to do some personal exploration. His brushes also take us into Exploration Part I which continues the idea of a journey into the cosmos where it 'directly explores notions of outer space (for Dee Byrne a means of contextualising our existence'), particularly the idea of rocks weaving between each other in an asteroid belt, sometimes creating collisions'. A very engaging piano, bass and drums extended introduction illustrates all that, before the saxophone weaves between and Olie Brice and Matt Fisher deliver effective solos.

Click here to listen to the beginning of Exploration Part 1.

Crippled Symmetry explores the notion of chance encounters - do they happen by chance or is some kind of synchronicity at work? The musicians are all given individual phrases of varying lengths that meet at various points in the piece and then diverge. 'This is followed by a cathartic rock section that perhaps expresses frustration and the inability to find answers to all these questions.' These concepts describe the idea, but musically the gentle introduction needs to be heard, and then yes, the drums and sax rock out with the piano until it is sax and trumpet / piano and trumpet.

Exploration Part II continues the cosmic journey with that vibraphonic keyboard from Orbit, trumpet and saxophone sway over crisp percussion until Space Module, the final track, is, indeed, otherworldly. Extraterrestrial, maybe, but not alien, and with a pleasing midway keyboard solo from Rebecca Nash.

Click here to listen to the beginning of Crippled Symmetry.

Entropi's New Era is an engaging album that signals the presence of a talented, creative band with imaginative, enjoyable compositions from Dee Byrne. If you get the chance to hear them play live, go. If not, then the album certainly stands on its own as an impressive debut performance.

Click here to sample the album

Ian Maund

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Charles Evans - On Beauty

Album released - 2nd February 2015: Label - Ninety Nine Records - Reviewed July 2015

Charles Evans On Beauty

Charles Evans (baritone saxophone); David Liebman (soprano saxophone); Ron Stabinsk (piano); Tony Marino (bass).

On Beauty was recorded in Pennsylvania last year. Before I heard it I noted that the previous recording by the same line-up was called Subliminal Leaps. It is a title so damn similar to Giant Steps, John Coltrane’s seminal game-changing album from 1959, it cannot be coincidence. Anyone who places himself in such company must be confident about what they are doing. The name ‘Charles Evans’ didn’t mean anything to me. I’d missed him.There’s so much going on its possible to become distracted. Yet when I took my first glance at the black and white photograph on the sleeve of On Beauty it grabbed my interest. A muted portrait using light and shadow; a side shot of a head and shoulders of a saxophone player, caught in the moment before beginning to play.

Later there were no reservations. The first three minutes of this album contain the finest baritone saxophone playing I have ever heard recorded. I had started the car, put the CD into the slot and was confronted with something amazing, three minutes of unaccompanied virtuoso baritone saxophone under the title of Introduction. From the start it was obvious what I had to do. I stopped the car in a lay-by and didn’t move again until the end of the final track. Sure, I was now late, but l heard On Beauty for the first time and, well .... it was, to my ears, beautiful.  Stunning, to encounter baritone saxophone, a difficult instrument, played across the whole range of reeds to the point of elegance and grandeur. Harry Carney, Gerry Mulligan and Pat Patrick all have a place in the baritone story – and now Charles Evans is creating new ground for the telling of the sequel. Best not to hesitate, this is unquestionably a crucial recording.

The acappella prelude to Introduction segues into the full quartet. There is nothing standard about this band of four. From the beginning they conceive themselves as two duets at any one time, though the instrumental composition of each duet varies at key points. David Liebman originally came through to a wider international public with Miles Davis in the 1970s, he is now a celebrated maestro of the soprano saxophone, alongside him is Ron Stabinsky, piano and Tony Marino, double bass. And if the drum-less line-up sounds rather chamber-jazz, the music could be said to fit that kind of description in places.  I am slightly wary of the term in this context, because despite the ‘ceremony’ attached to these performances, the formality of feeling is not rigid nor held in traction to a manuscript, yet it most definitely concedes to form.

Charles Evans is taking his quartet into a deep, daring place of extemporising new music out of a combination of precise composition and detailed improvisation.  The fact that he chooses to refer to these pieces as Movement I, Movement II (totalling IV), complete with Interlude I, Interlude II and finishing with the closer Ending Beauty, demonstrates both the continual strict pace of these performances as well as their erudite nature.  Ending Beauty is a culmination, a gathering up of all that has gone before.  The mutual support, the interaction of four individual voices, the blown, the plucked, the struck; the tight weave of their finality, and at the closing down of this recorded recital, Ron Stabinsky’s piano evokes a sense of the ending of beauty. How can that be?  Click here to listen to Ending Beauty.

Nowhere in any of the material that I’ve read concerning Charles Evans have I found reference to Zadie Smith’s 2005 novel On Beauty.Strange, the British writer won the Orange Prize for Fiction for the book back in 2006. Set in the academia cultural fog of a fictionalised Harvard University called Wellington, the story is a critique of class, gender and racial politics. Of course, I don’t actually know whether Ms Smith’s novel is known to Mr Evans. It should be. Consider this: Ornette Coleman famously named a gloriously fragile ballad, Beauty Is A Rare Thing. You’ll find it on the This Is Our Music (Atlantic) album. Zadie Smith’s novel could in part be about the rarity of beauty in our everyday lives. Quite how much Zadie Smith was aware of Ornette Coleman’s tune, again, I’ve no idea. I guess she did, she’s hip to the trip.  The whole ethos of her book is that what constitutes ‘beauty’ is not an agreed formula.

Charles Evans’ album is dense harmonically. It peels off patterns in the upper register of his horn so that he and David Liebman are joined in a surprising unity of breath for two horns at the opposite end of the sonic spectrum. In my book they sound beautiful together, however, I don’t like Abba and other people do. Soprano and baritone saxophone are not usually considered musical partners. Here they travel a long journey together (and not for the first time), it is as if they emanate from the same place of situ. The characters, Howard Belsey and Monty Kipps from Zadie Smith’s story do the distance too, but empathy is a weak solution for these fictionalised fellow travellers.  

Before finishing with this review I would encourage readers to find time to click onto YouTube and hear the Charles Evans Quartet playing the title track from Subliminal Leaps, recorded live in concert a year prior to On Beauty - click here. The performance has the same acute presence; the overwhelming detail coming off the two saxophones and parallel piano/double bass duet is what makes for Giant Steps, Subliminal Leaps or indeed, On Beauty. Call it what you will. This is how great music eventually becomes a mysterious encounter; true beauty is a place where you run out of words.  

Click here for a video of Charles Evans talking to David Liebman about On Beauty.

Click here to sample the album.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk 

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Gil Evans Project -Lines Of Color

Album released - 17th March 2015: Label - ArtistShare - Reviewed October 2015

Gil Evans Project Lines Of Color

This album, part of Ryan Truesdell’s award-winning Gil Evans Project, follows on from Truesdell’s debut album, Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans, which won a posthumous Grammy Award for Gil Evans and which the New York Times described as “extraordinary”.

Lines of Color is the second step in Truesdell’s endeavour to reveal more hidden strata in Gil Evans’ musical legacy. This album was recorded live at the GEP’s annual week-long engagement at Jazz Standard in NYC in 2014 and consists of eleven original Gil Evans arrangements and two original Gil Evans compositions, Time of the Barracudas (with Miles Davis) and Gypsy Jump.

Click here for a brief introductory video.

Throughout the week’s recordings, The Gil Evans Project presented almost fifty of Evans’s works, most of which were performed live for the first time. In Truesdell’s own words, “Live performance allows Gil’s colours and the overtones of the music to sound and blend in the room in a way that you can’t get from a close-mic studio recording. Live recording captures this intangible energy that is created when music is performed for an audience; it gives listeners a sense of the magic that happens when the notes are lifted off the page by these amazing musicians.”

And, yes these musicians are just that – amazing, totally amazing and breathtaking!  With more than two dozen of these accomplished performers, some of New York’s finest, including Lewis Nash, Donny McCaslin, Steve Wilson, Ryan Keberle, Marshall Gilkes and Scott Robinson, it is very difficult to pick out any one of them for extra praise. However, it must be said that Wendy Gilles is a sympathetic, tender and laid-back vocalist, perfect for this ensemble on Can’t We Talk It Over, the Easy Living Medley (comprising Easy Living, Everything Happens To Me and Moon Dreams) and, last but not least, Sunday Drivin’.   

The eleven tracks on this album afford the listener a truly beautiful sound, an enthusiastic, involved audience and inspired performances, and include, in addition to the five already mentioned above, Bix’s Davenport Blues, Avalon Town, Concorde, Greensleeves (one you may recognise as originally arranged by Evans for guitarist  Kenny Burrell), Just One Of Those Things and a superb How High The Moon.

Click here for a video of the band playing How High The Moon.

Thanks to Ryan Truesdell and his fabulous jazz orchestra, Gil is still swinging!

Click here for a video of the band playing Concorde.

Click here for details of the album. Click here for more information about the Gil Evans Project. For more information on Gil Evans, click here.

June Bastable

June Bastable is the wife of the late jazz musician, Johnny Bastable. She is a writer and author of two books Some People and These People available from Amazon, Waterstones, etc.

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Eyebrow - Garden City

Album released - 2nd February 2015: Label - Ninety Nine Records - Reviewed March 2015

Eyebrow Garden CityEyebrow: Paul Wigens (drums, percussion, violin), Pete Judge (trumpet, electronics, tuba), on two tracks only: Jim Barr (baritone guitar, bass guitar & bass pedals).

Pete Judge plays trumpet in Get The Blessing.  The quartet rightly made a big impact this time last year with a recording called Lope and Antilope, a bright, tight thing which I decided to buy over the counter on a whim.  I’m still listening.  Some people said ‘Lope’ doffed a jazz hat to Ornette Coleman.  Not me.  In my view this was a band that had said ‘goodbye’ to their influences.  Since then I’ve done some work myself with Jim Barr, the bass player with that blessed four-piece.  Mr Barr also turns up on two tracks on this Eyebrow recording.  Okay, so I have a very slight connection with these musicians.  You can keep that in mind if you want to, but in my book Garden City will make its own way in the world whatever my words come up with. 

See, Garden City is New Build.  A contained composition constructed from improvisation across seven tracks.  The best way of listening to this album is as a whole rather than as separate pieces.  Titles like Thaw and Scrim are indicators of movements within a larger construct, Paul Wigens marking the passage of time with precise percussion figures.  The opening Blind Summit begins with a multiple electro-trumpet fanfare, percussion rolling and tolling as if making space for itself.  Then the full drum-kit entry comes with a balancing act on four beats.  It signals the beginning of a bass-drum guideline through an ambient electro-sound board.  Later on Lustre, Paul Wigens’ clever use of shakers and tom-tom beats turns rhythm into a second melodic line.  This is New Build, a new way of approaching spontaneity in the studio.    

Track four is Mr Choppy, I’ve no idea to whom the title refers, what I do know is that the trumpet that comes in over the top of Paul Wigens’ thirty-seven second drum intro is sonic.  It is double-tracked, or something like it, delayed and played against itself.  It would take a Techy to tell you.  The fact is the music is so damn beautiful; the reason why the power of sound can literally speak not simply play to us. Judge judges it too, the poignancy of the phrasing is fibril, teased to ease its own tension.  Kenny Wheeler could take his horn to such an improvised setting (Springheel Jack comes to mind,) and I guess Miles Davis’ Tutu is also an influence.  Eyebrow are beyond all that, this is truly their thing.  Paul Wigens is nothing like a ‘jazz drummer’ but his artful beat-breaks are his alone.  They are not what we would expect and what we expect is not what this music requires.  Here there is a trumpet needing little else other than an audience’s ears.

Click here to listen to Mr Choppy from the album.

I took track four almost at random, so I’ll finish with Pinch Point, because it is the final place to go on this recording.  The squeezed pinched point that gives admittance to a note through a bell of brass.  If you are interested in contemporary trumpet playing you need to hear what is going on at this point.  Pete Judge is playing the essence of the melody, the part left after fragmentation, the fragility of a squeezed phraseology.  This guy is not a big blower.  Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman’s trumpeter and compatriot, played a small pocket cornet, it looked squashed and sounded squashed.  Judge’s horn looks conventional but sounds as if the air it contains is thick with essence.  At this point music becomes extremely personal and I don’t intend to put words in his mouth but this is small detail written extremely large.

Click here to listen to Pinch Point.

The title, Garden City refers to Bristol; the roads cross here, urban and urbane, the countryside seen from the city centre.  Paul Wigens and Pete Judge have made a recording which is both elegant wasteland and industrially green; electronic, patterned with beats yet oddly blow-able.  Right now it feels like essential listening.      

Click here for a video of Eyebrow playing live. Click here to sample the album.

Steve Day stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk   

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Richard Fairhurst and John Taylor - Duets

Album Released: 7th August 2015 - Label: Basho Records - Reviewed: August 2015

Richard Fairhurst and John Taylor Duets

The death of pianist John Taylor following a heart attack onstage in Segré, north-west France, on 17th July 2015 came as a shock. It also opened up a widespread acknowledgement of his talent that had previously been unheralded outside the jazz world.

John recorded this album, Duets, with Richard Fairhurst, back in September 2013, the result is a captivating interaction between two very talented pianists. Their collaboration began in 2010 at The Steinway Festival they went on to play at the Festival on two other occasions, and Richard also joined John for John's 70th birthday concert with the BBC in 2012. They began by exploring the music of Bill Evans 'keen that the project should avoid standards, explore harmony and understatement but also feel more contemporary'. Three of Evans's compositions, Very Early and the unexpectedly relevant, Turn Out The Stars and Re: Person I Knew appear on this album. John's long time association with the late Kenny Wheeler is also touched in the Wheeler tune Sly Eyes, and Pete Saberton's 3 P's Piece - Parts 1 and 2 - is also here. Other compositions are by Richard and John.

Pete Saberton is remembered in the gentle opening piece Epitaph to Sabbo, a nice introduction to the two Saberton pieces that follow uninterrupted, and playing that immediately lets us hear the empathy that exists between the two pianists. There is little predictable here, the improvisations taking the scenic route. Richard Fairhurst's Open Book comes in lyrically with its theme at track 4, developing sensitively.

Epitaph to Kenny precedes Kenny Wheeler's Sly Eyes. The brief Epitaph uses an underlying plucked motif to give a rhythmic background to the other piano. I really like the structure of this album in which Fairhurst and Taylor's compositions introduce the works of the other composers - it works well. Sly Eyes starts fast but the lyricism is retained as the tune marches on.

John Taylor's Evans Above is the introduction to the three Bill Evans compositions. The longest piece on the album (7.27 minutes) Evans Above is a delight, rich in ideas and harmony. Very Early captures the attention and draws you into its light waltz time; Turn Out The Stars starts minimally with gentle, sensitive playing again as the beautiful ballad emerges and is then explored, and Re: Person I Knew is equally involving. The track title came from Bill Evans's live album from The Village Vanguard recorded in 1974. The name of the album (and its title-track) is an anagram on the name of Orrin Keepnews, who produced for Evans while he was signed with Riverside Records, and who was one of his earliest supporters).

Duets finishes with Richard Fairhurst's Growth In An Old Garden, a considered work, played with feeling and it works as a fine conclusion to a well produced album.

I find Duets to be a totally absorbing, creative, enjoyable and satisfying album. Inevitably, and appropriately, it will be seen as a milestone in John Taylor's career, but I hope the tragedy of his passing will not result in people overlooking Richard Fairhurst's important and talented involvement. Speaking to Jazzwise magazine, Richard said: 'I think the main aim for us was to achieve a blend within the overall sound of the music that had the unity of one instrument being heard - two pianos as one.' That they did. Richard also said: 'All the pianists and musicians I know, from different generations are aware of and appreciate John's contribution to jazz in the UK and in Europe and that is the right place to be as a musician.'

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Ian Maund

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Fat-Suit - Atlas

Album released: October 2016 - Label: Equinox - Reviewed: September 2016

Fat-Suit Atlas

Whereas a group of musicians is usually referred to as a band or orchestra, the word collective is actually the collective noun for a collection of nouns, however in recent times the word 'collective' has been used to describe a band that varies in size according to circumstances and has been adopted by Fat-Suit. 'Outfit' is another word used to refer to a band and the name Fat-Suit apparently stems from a comment describing them as a large outfit. 

Enough semantics; the fixed part of Fat-Suit is: Murray McFarlane (trumpet and flugelhorn), Alex Sharples (trumpet and flugelhorn), Scott Murphy (tenor and soprano saxophone), Liam Shortall (trombone), Mhairi Marwick (violin), Utsav Lal (keyboards), Alan Benzie (keyboards), Craig McMahon (keyboards), Dorian Cloudsley (electric and acoustic guitar), Andrew Cowan (electric guitar), Angus Tikka (bass guitar), Martyn Hodge (percussion and drum pad), Stephen Henderson (percussion), Mark Scobie (drums), Ewan Laing (drums); and for this album the guest musicians are: Megan Henderson (vocals), Izzie Pendlebury (clarsach - Gaelic harp), Katie Rush, Adam Sutherland, Ailsa Taylor (violin), Sarah Leonard, Christine Anderson (viola), Alica Allen, Rachel Wilson (cello), Phil Hague, Glyn Forrest (marimba).

Fat-Suit originated within the Glasgow-situated Royal Conservatoire of Scotland where Modern Jacobite, Dr. Tommy Smith is the professor heading the Jazz Department and several of the musicians have played in the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra. Atlas is released by Equinox Records, a new label featuring mainly contemporary, Scottish music and committed to promoting new talent.  The album was recorded in the intimate surroundings of the Cottier Theatre in Glasgow in 2015. 

Commentators have described Fat-Suit music as a mix of Folk, Jazz, Funk and Dance and the press release from Equinox cites American bands Snarky Puppy and Vulfpeck as influences along with the Scottish band GoGo Penguin.  Interestingly, John Fordham, the Guardian jazz critic, recently awarded Snarky Puppy a rare 5 stars for their latest album, Culcha Vulcha, almost apologising for the fact that he had done this despite the album containing little in the way of explicit improvisation and maybe this bodes well for bands such as Fat-Suit's which are pretty much in the same vein. On the other hand a letter from Eddie Lawes (no relation) in Jazzwise magazine headlined "No GoGo area..." bemoans the current trend of jazz being "transformed into a mindless opiate for brainless, collective, hedonism". It seems likely, and it must be both artistically and commercially sensible for the new, young musicians of Fat-Suit to want to play music that appeals to their contemporaries; less youthful jazzers will find the music somewhat different to what they are used to, but evolution in Jazz, like everything else is inevitable.

The album consists of ten tracks with some rather obscure titles starting with Colours Burst Behind Closed Eyes; this title may be a line from a poem about love by Avery Robertson called Born at Last.  The music starts with strings playing a repeated motif with all the other instruments gradually becoming involved, reaching a crescendo and then fading away again - this is very much an introduction to the album.  The title of the second track is Mr Hinomaru, which is a name given to the national flag of Japan. The music starts with heartbeat-like gentle thudding before string plucking gives it a typical Japanese feel - presumably Izzie Pendlebury's clarsach taking the place of the traditional Japanese koto - before the horns arrive with a lovely, upbeat melody which then gives way to marimba and a swooping, soaring violin solo.  This piece really demonstrates the multi-layered richness of sound achievable with a beautiful arrangement and large ensemble. 

The next track, Sparks, begins conventionally with percussion, guitar and horns and then, taking a cue from the title, electronic effects are used to explore various interesting avenues employing different instruments. Muscle In My Link features keyboard solos and conversations with big band style backing. Track 5, For The Wicked is also the name of a Romanian Nu-Metal band - lots of black clothes and tatoos in the style of Black Sabbath. The Fat Suit track certainly includes some great electric guitar and the finale shows they can rock with the best of them.  Twister Clouds is a contrapuntal piece with some lovely piano and saxophone melodies played simultaneously over familiar sounding arrangements of Joe Zawinul's composition Birdland performed originally by jazz fusion band Weather Report. 

In contrast Cowfords is Scottish folk music at its most sublime and highlights the exquisite violin playing of Mhairi Marwick who hails from Fochaber where Cowfords is situated.  Messiah Complex, the title of the next track, suggests delusions of grandeur and is a brisk, rhythmic piece showcasing sections of the band and with several short solos giving individuals their moment of glory. Track 9 is called Septimus and begins with some tricky drumming but then settles into a lovely, swaying and brassy melody before highlighting a solo on electronic keyboard and the string section.

Click here for a live performance of Messiah Complex.

Track 10 has the most bizarre title, The Poor Brooks' Humble Fish Farm, and yet despite this inscrutability the music is a symphonic poem that provides both a memorable conclusion to the album and final example of the multi-layered, richness of sound which comes from such a large ensemble.

This album is full of wonderful, intelligent music, composed and played by some of the best young musicians in Scotland, it is varied in style containing folk and rock as well as some very good jazz music. The Fat-Suit collective has up to 26 musicians and an ensemble of this size, when well-drilled as they are and playing great arrangements, produces a huge, exciting sound that well justifies Atlas as a name for the album. For those of us who do not live close to Glasgow it may be a long time before we can experience a live performance from Fat-Suit but in the meantime Atlas provides an excellent alternative.

Click here for an introductory video.

Howard Lawes

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Christian Finger - Ananda

Album released - 4th November 2015: Label - Planet Arts/ Pony Canyon - Reviewed January 2015

Christian Finger Ananda

“Ananda” is Sanskrit for “the world is bliss”, and this is what Christian Finger and his band want to show with their new album which is 13 tracks with a total length of nearly 78 minutes and comes with some informative sleeve notes for each track. Twelve musicians have been involved in creating the music; Christian Finger on drums, Vadim Neselovskyi on piano and Adam Armstrong on double bass play on every track, Dave Stryker and Pete McCann on guitar, the Mivos String Quartet with additional violin from Zach Brock feature on many of the tracks while Bobby Harden provides vocals and Jeff Ballard on drums feature on single tracks.

Production of the album was successfully funded via Kickstarter in 2012 and released in October 2014. As described by Finger the style of the album is not "standard jazz" but "combining the American jazz tradition with a European sensibility", the inspiration is world music with each track representing a different place that Finger has visited or imagined journeys that are yet to be undertaken. The sleeve notes by Bob Blumenthal are excellent at providing insight into musical influences and technical details and it is difficult for a reviewer to avoid plagiarising his text.  Finger's hope/aspiration for the album is "that the music will transport the listener to an expanded state of consciousness, leaving him or her with the understanding that we are not alone, and to experience the world as a blissful place" and it is perhaps no coincidence that Ananda was also the name of one of the principal disciples of the Buddha.

Click here for the original video which was used for the Kickstarter appeal and which introduces us to Christian Finger, the band and the music.

The musical journey starts in Africa with African Skies, Linear Lives and features piano and violin in contrast to track 11 which is called African Skies, Drumming Lives: Boubacar's Sons which is dominated by a drum duet between Finger and Ballard.  Perhaps it was a vision of Africa that provided Finger with the stimulus to leave his home country of Germany and begin a new stage in his life. Track 2, Truth Waltzed In, is peaceful and melodious reflecting his life in Germany while the title track, Ananda, celebrates his new life in New York featuring some virtuoso violin from Zak Brock.  Nights Beyond India pays tribute to John McLaughlin's group Shaktiin which Finger's drumming evokes the sounds of the tabla.  Two Faces is the only vocal track on the album and describes a "beautiful and difficult time" with a former girlfriend.  Track 7 is called For Now, is inspired by New York and is subtitled "When Sonny meets Wayne" which probably says it all. 

The next two tracks, conjure up images of the religious processions which take place in Spain before Easter, full of symbolism and mysterious ritual.  The string playing is superb but all members of the band are excellent in this pulsating, sinuous piece. Not Gone, Not Forgotten is contemporary, classical music featuring Finger and the Mivos String Quartet and highlights the breadth of Finger's compositional talent with a nod towards Mozart.  The last two tracks are called In's Weltenall 1: Into the Sky and In's Weltenhall 2: Endless Stars and deal with the ultimate journey from Earth and into the universe.  Endless Stars was inspired by the Austrian composer, Alban Berg's Violin Concerto, written in 1935 and was the last piece he completed; it features Finger and the Mivos String Quartet in classical mode.

This is a very interesting, thought provoking and enjoyable album that includes both very modern jazz and contemporary classical music and while the listener may not be transported quite as far as the composer hopes there is certainly music, with a little imagination, to fill your mind with fascinating images and lasting 78 minutes you should also feel really good about its value for money.

Click here to sample Christian Finger's album Ananda.


Howard Lawes

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Nick Finzer - The Chase

Album Released: 21st July 2015 - Label: Origin Records - Reviewed: September 2015

Nick Finzer The Chase

American trombonist Nick Finzer went to The Eastman School of Music and was mentored by Wycliffe Gordon before he relocated to New York City where he gained a Masters Degree from the Julliard School of Music. This is his second recording as leader and he says: 'I wanted this album to focus on the personalities of the band. I write to challenge myself, but I made sure that on this recording there would be plenty of room to highlight these incredible players. We've all known each other for so long and/or crossed paths so often in our careers that a special relationship has developed between us that I think you can clearly hear. I may compose the music but I want everyone involved to bring their own ideas and feelings to it. There's so much more to this music than what's just on the page. Being open to the contributions of others is how it comes alive.'

Vic Arnold reviews this album for us:

Nick Finzer is not a name that I am familiar with, however, he may very well have a legion of followers. The following musicians appear on this, his latest recording.  Nick Finzer (trombone), Lucas Pino (alto, and tenor saxophones, and bass clarinet), Alex Wintz (guitar), Glenn Zaleski (piano), Dave Baron (bass), and Jimmy Macbride (drums). 

Click here for a video of the band playing The Chase from the album.

There are 11 tracks on the recording, all composed by Nick Finzer. Nick is a familiar face in the contemporary jazz scene and he has played in Ryan Truesdell's Gil Evans Project as well as working with such people as Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Frank Wess and Lewis Nash. 

While the standard of playing on this recording is very good, and some of the compositions are enjoyable, there are some that did not work for me. Steadfast and Search For A Sunset both feature Lucas Pino on bass clarinet and in my opinion this instrument does not do any favours to the two compositions. Others hear these two tracks differently. One review says: 'On “Steadfast,” he pairs his muted trombone with Pino’s bass clarinet, producing rich, velvety melodies that dissolve over the top of Macbride’s brushed snare. On “Search For A Sunset,” he aligns Wintz’s guitar and Pino’s tenor saxophone in a dense harmonic passage that moves in gentle, deliberate steps beneath his own poignant trombone solo.' Unfortunately we can only share the samples of these tracks for you to make up your own mind.

The first track, Life Happens is very enjoyable with some good playing by all of the musicians and While You're Gone has got some interesting muted trombone.

Click here for a video of the band playing the album track All Hype.

Perhaps with the release of this recording other musicians may feature the trombone on a more regular basis. It does seem at present to be an overlooked instrument.  I do think that there is enough good jazz on this album for it to do well, and I hope that it gets the publicity it deserves, despite my statement that to my ears, some of the tracks could have been a little livelier.  If you like the trombone and this style of contemporary jazz, give it a listen, you will probably be pleasantly surprised.    

Click here to sample the album.

Vic Arnold          

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Clare Fischer - Out Of The Blue

Album Released: 29th September 2015 - Label: Clavo Records - Reviewed: January 2016

Clare Fischer Out Of The Blue

This collection of 6 original compositions and 8 cover versions from the late Clare Fischer has American, Latin and European influences and are all previously unheard recordings curated by his son, award winning Producer, Composer and Arranger, Brent Fischer. The Fischers are joined by Peter Erskine and Mike Shapiro, both on drums. We also have two guest vocalists for the title track, Denise Donatelli and John Proulx. Brent Fischer provides the percussion and the bass on the tracks.

The Fischers have had a fascination and interest in astronomy, they have their own telescope, and the title track was named after Pluto’s largest moon Charon when it came into view – “out of the blue”. The CD has some good notes on the background to the project and each track.

Clare Fischer has often been thought of as being ahead of his time. His keyboard work on this album sets a new model for 21st century jazz as the art form matures into its second century. He has a knack of conjoining multiple songs into one track to bring them together in a unified theme. I like the Fischers' approach to recording music; as Brent Fischer states, “When he (Clare) was recording, he felt that emotional content was always strongest during the first or second take, even if it meant minuscule imperfections were kept for the greater good of a heartfelt performance”. Brent still takes this approach today.

Track 1, Love’s Walk, is based around Clare Fischer’s morning walks with his wife Donna, and has a nice pace throughout. I imagined this being set to a film of a cat walking. Good clear piano with beautiful harmonies pulled together with the insistent but relaxed beat. Track 2 is a Brazilian piece, Tema do Boneco de Palha (Theme of the Straw Doll) made famous in 1963 by the guitarist Rosinha de Valenca which has a nice Latin rhythm and excellent keyboards backed by complimentary percussion. Track 3 is a medley of When You Wish Upon A Star and Someday My Prince Will Come which works well as a unified theme. A brilliant blend of two well-known classics played on solo piano whilst interspersing differing tempos of the same tunes is masterful.

Starbright follows and is an early song that was not recorded until later in Clare Fischer’s life. The playing has a sharpness or clarity of the notes and is a great jazz number, and then track 5, Two for the Road, has a very classical feel to the piano solo.

Track 6, Cascade of the Seven Waterfalls, has background Latin percussion with catchy keyboard playing and is followed by the title track, Out of the Blue, where the vocalisation with the two accompanying voices add to the harmonies in a positive and complementary way, like an additional instrument.

Track 8, Millbrae Walk, is another song based on walks around the area north of San Francisco and is a faster pace, more like a jog - a deep bass start with drums which lends an ‘underground’ atmosphere. Good keyboard playing with very clear notation accompanied by restrained percussion. Track 9, Amor em Paz; is a slow piano solo and aptly named. An epic story telling piece that is also short and sweet. Track 10, Squatty Roo is longer where the playing is so complementary with all the instruments blending together. Track 11 is Django Reinhardt’s Nuages played with a slower than normal tempo which makes it interesting, and at track 12, Novelho is a fast paced number with some great bass playing and keyboards and includes a couple of drum solos.

Track 13, 49 (Larry Ford) is a well-played and composed tribute to a late friend of Clare’s who died aged 49, again another superb piano solo.

Click here to listen to 49 (Larry Ford).

The final track is a spontaneous medley of Luiz Bonfá's Carnaval/A Felicidade/Samba de Orfeu written for Marcel Camus' 1959 film Orfeo Negro (Black Orpheus). Clare Fischer was one of the first musicians to bring Brazilian music to North America more than 50 years ago so it is fitting for a final track. There is a slow start before the Latin rhythms get going to provide another beautiful mix with the transitions fairly transparent.

This is a superb album; the technicalities of the piano playing are demonstrated wonderfully which makes me want to listen to this repeatedly and to explore all the intricacies of the harmonies, the “clear as a bell” piano and keyboard notes and all the complementary accompaniments.

Click here to sample the album.

Tim Rolfe

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The Clare Fischer Big Band - Pacific Jazz

Album Released: 6th October, 2014 - Label: Clavo Records - Reviewed: February 2015

Clare Fischer Big band Pacific JazzTo listen to the Clare Fischer Trio playing Nigerian Walk click here.

I don't hear much about Clare Fischer. He's little known amongst the pantheon of post-bop gods, and yet Herbie Hancock drew so heavily on his ideas that he has said “I wouldn't be me if it wasn't for Clare Fischer”. A classmate of mine travelled to California one summer to study arranging with him, and returned to tell me how the man's crunchy harmonies were 'my sort of thing', but as a jazz student I was up to my eyeballs in listening suggestions and it's taken me until now to check him out in earnest. Sadly, in the few years between, Fischer died, and his big band record Pacific Jazz is released posthumously.

The album rounds off a sixty-five-year career in jazz and pop music, stretching from Detroit, Michigan where he wrote for vocal quartet The Hi-Lo's in the 1950s to his final days in Los Angeles. In his youth he played piano on records by Bud Shank and Joe Pass, and since gathered his jazz credentials playing and arranging for Dizzy Gillespie, Art Pepper, Donald Byrd and Stan Kenton. A fair part of his work was with electric keyboards, and his astuteness to the onward march of time allowed him to extend his career into pop and soul, where he was responsible for many of the orchestral backdrops on recordings of Prince, Paul McCartney and Celine Dion. As a leader, he carved himself a niche in latin jazz (particularly with his group Salsa Picante in the 1980s) and large-ensemble writing, on which he collaborated for the latter half of his career with his son Brent Fischer. Clare and Brent's partnership finally produced this Pacific Jazz album.

The first thing evident after the drum fill into their version of Cherokee is Clare's colourful palette of harmonies; he takes Ray Noble's tune, traditionally a fast, joyful swinger, and squeezes it through his own array of dissonances that manages nonetheless to keep the song's light spirit. There is harmonic intrigue in every single track, whether originals like Passion (written when he was only sixteen) or material from Duke Ellington (Cotton Tail and a delicate Mood Indigo) and the Beatles (an alarmingly dark Eleanor Rigby). Brent has clearly woven much of his father's knowledge into his own style; in the booklet, he calls their relationship “an epic journey that would gradually allow me to see music from his unique perspective”. He pays tribute with his own compositions New Thing and Son of a Dad, showing a more modern, funky edge than Clare's work not light-years away from the Yellowjackets and Brecker Brothers.

Funk, swing and ballads alike, these people care deeply about feel and groove. The various rhythm sections give the ensemble a buoyancy that can make the densest harmonies seem easy and casual. Their synth-ridden soundscape harks back somewhat to the 1980s, but although I prefer my jazz more acoustic, I found the beat too infectious to make a problem of it. The horns are on tight form throughout, athletic at times but always honouring the Fischers' orchestrations with a sensitive blend of sound (a favourite passage of mine is the final head of Mood Indigo, giving the melody to Bob Carr's plaintive bass saxophone with a thin cushion of woodwind above). There are bigger surprises, too: Son of a Dad has Rob Verdi honking cheekily up through the floorboards on contrabass sax, and perhaps the boldest move comes in Sad About Nothing Blues when trumpeter Carl Saunders and trombonist Scott Whitfield put their duelling horns down and continue with their voices; the band falls out from under in mid-chorus and leaves them to scat bass lines for each other, before powering back in with a vengeance. Just when I've started to second-guess a tune's trajectory, a humorous touch like this throws me right off course.

Soloists are not short of opportunity. There are a couple of cases as in the opening Cherokee where, for me, the improv falls short of the written material in terms of interest, but there are plenty of enjoyable spots elsewhere: Steve Huffsteter plays a deeply lyrical flugelhorn solo on Blues Parisien, veteran tenor saxophonist Bob Sheppard spins out inventive lines over the final Ornithardy and, of course, Clare's keyboard work shines. His playing shows a whole other set of influences than his writing: the percussive touch and comic use of space nod to Monk and Ahmad Jamal; the melodic lines have a logic in common with Lennie Tristano; his carefully harmonised solo rendition of Gershwin's I Loves You Porgy, though he might have denied it, does remind me of Bill Evans.

Clare Fischer, with all his invention and individuality, was clearly a unique musician whose skills are belied by his modest fame. Plenty who have outdone him in renown, like Hancock, have undoubtedly taken leaves out of his manuscript book, and his contribution stretches far beyond jazz into popular music, so that few people in the Western world have not probably heard records touched by his orchestrations or influenced by his style. Pacific Jazz marks the end of a long career, and here, with his son and a crowd of trusted performers, he is remembered with an album that maps out his imagination in enough detail to be enjoyed both by avid fans and newcomers. I'd rather like to get that lesson now, but his music will have to do, and here it is in a neat, elegant package.

Click here to listen to Eleanor Rigby.

Click here to sample the album.

Rob Brockway

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Frank / Pashkevich Duo - Close

Album Released: 11th September 2014 - Label: Gateway Music - Reviewed February 2015

Out of the cold climate comes the warmth of this new album by Danish guitarist Christian Frank and Latvian saxophonist Deniss Pashkevich. Recorded in January 2014, the ten tracks are compositions by both musicians and written for a duo performance. The album is described as 'All about tranquility, pauses and reflection based on modern jazz, swing , avant garde, funk and improvisation elements', quite a mixing pot.

Click here for a short video of Christian and Deniss talking about their music.

Christian and Deniss met at an artist seminar in Copenhagen in 2010 and momentarily decided to stay in contact. Their debut album, Outlook, was recorded in Latvia as a Quartet with Claus Kaarsgaard (double bass) and Artis Orubs (drums) and was released the following year. Click here to sample Outlook. One review of Outlook said:

'As a band, they have created a piece of frost bitten jazz. There are sketchlike numbers where Frank and Pashkevich test ideas. There are also unifying numbers where the melody becomes the supporting element. They are not afraid to experiment ... The music moves ahead intimately and floatingly. The encircling time stands still. There is a cool melancholy that does not get icy, thanks to the great collaboration of the quartet. The music may very well be frost bitten but when you are from Denmark and Latvia, you are familiar with the cold. You need the cold seasons as a counterbalance to summer’s heat.'

Click here for a short video of the Duo in concert in 2013.

Now comes Close. Click here for a video made at the Restaurant Dārzs in Spīķeri, in September 2014 with the gentle introduction that leads us into the title track of the album.

The second track, too, is a restful piece - Major and Minor. Click here for a live performance of Major and Minor from the album.

Circle pushes the boundaries a little, still played gently but with Deniss exploring the sound potential of his sax alongside Christian's slow guitar notes. Skatiens features a dreamy guitar introduction picked up by the saxophone and some fine melodic playing by the saxophonist. In Three follows lyrically at a slightly faster pace - this is a really catchy ballad and a track that is sure to be popular on the album. The first few notes of Why So made me think they were going to play It Never Entered My Mind, I was wrong. Bass notes from the guitar part-way through Flower allow the saxophone to improvise above them, and the final track Gardener, once again sees the guitar taking it slow and the saxophone making a breathy exit.

If you sample the album (click here) you will soon get a feeling for the atmosphere of this recording. It is good to hear jazz that comes from other countries, other climates, and this album introduces us here in the UK to some restful, enjoyable playing that demonstrates a productive, imaginative and empathetic collaboration across The Baltic.

Ian Maund

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Tori Freestone Trio - El Barranco

Album released: 15th July 2016 - Label: Whirlwind Recordings - Reviewed: September 2016

Tori Freestone Trio El Barranco

Tori Freestone (saxophone), Dave Manington (bass), Tim Giles (drums).

It's good to have Tori Freestone's Trio back with another recording. It was in 2014 that they released In The Chop House and Tori subsequently wrote about the title track and My Lagan Love for our in depth 'Full Focus' series (click here). This is the same trio and they know each others' work well; the early days of meeting in the Chophouse are behind them.

It was time for another album. Tori says: 'Whenever we go back into the studio, its so great to have a couple of days enjoying making music together. The more we tour in the UK and internationally the more the new ideas start to flow and develop, taking us up onto another level to where we can't wait to put this down on a new album.' The inspiration for the title is Tori's fondness for El Barranco de Masca in Tenerife with its beautiful, moutainous terrain and it's Tori's own artwork of that place that is found on the sleeve illustration. The recording has improvisations that are often first takes, and two of the nine tracks, The Press Gang and Identity Protection were commissioned for the EFG London Jazz Festival.

The album opens with Dave Manington's dancing bass introducing El Barranco and then Tori Freestone's relaxed tenor lyrically exploring the landscape. From the beginning you can tell that the players are comfortable, working off each other's ideas; saxophone and bass conversing and the drums pitched at the right level. The two commissioned pieces follow. The Press Gang opens with a folk-flavoured soulful saxophone against a rumble of drums and bass and the bass in turn picks up the piece for a while with the saxophone commenting behind. Identity Protection is a far more spritely folk-based outing led by the saxophone and then slowing into something more dreamy and the bass and drums come to the front but never drowning the saxophone which goes out working its way into a repeated phrase.

Click here to listen to El Barranco.

All Or Nothing At All is of course that well-known standard with its theme stated by saxophone and bass. I sometimes quote trumpeter Gerry Salisbury who said that he likes to hear a standard and to see what a musician does with it. Tori Freestone and Dave Manington make their improvisations on the tune with changes in tempo and tempos referencing back to the theme from time to time. Challenger Deep is one of two Dave Manington compositions and opens with what is described as a 'thrummed '60s soul bass riff' that underwrites the slow, soulful, 'deep' lead from the saxophone. Quetzalcoatlus is the second composition by the bassist. The title apparently refers to 'the largest prehistoric flying animal that ever lived' and indeed it flies off albeit lighter than you might expect of such a large creature. The bass solo flies nicely too.

A Charmed Life at track 7 opens with a gentle bass solo and then the saxophone echoes the theme from the bass with another wistful solo that becomes more complex as the piece progresses showing how well the saxophonist can use her instrument and imagination in improvisation. The penultimate track is Cross Wired. From its repeated opening phrase it tumbles forward with what is aptly described as having 'changing rhythms and moods'. The album closes with a reprise of The Press Gang which this time goes back to its traditional folk roots with Tori on violin and vocals.

I have scarcely mentioned drummer Tim Giles in this review and that is an omission. His playing is well-balanced and empathetic and although this is Tori Freestone's Trio, the three members each contribute to what is another interesting, varied and enjoyable recording.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Click here for Tori Freestone's website.

Ian Maund           

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Simon Frick - Solo

Album released: 5th May 2015 - Label: Boomslang Records - Reviewed: June 2015

Simon Frick Solo

 

Simon Frick (violin, effects).

Anyone who records a solo violin album covering not one, but four separate tracks by Metal bands, Nirvana, Guns N’ Roses, System Of A Down and Dream Theater is trying to make a point.  A hundred years ago in 1986 the Kronos Quartet recorded Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze.  Two  violins, viola and cello, a standard (sic) acoustic string quartet line-up playing a rock gemstone alongside contemporary composers, Philip Glass and Conlon Nancarrow.  At the time it turned a few ears mauve, but even back then the Class of '86 saw it as no big deal.  Hendrix’s own purple crucible had already shot through the whole wall of sound in under 3 minutes.  Twenty-nine years later Simon Frick plays Kurt Cobain’s Smells Like Teen Spirit.  Nirvana were a very special band, Teen Spirit a throw of the dice performance, I’ve got no issue with the sourcing.  Frick strips the song of its context.  This blunted paean to youth (like an aural Rebel Without A Cause) comes clean, a violin’s internal texture scraping improvisation from skeletal song form; it’s an intriguing beginning.

Click here for Simon Frick playing Smells Like Teen Spirit.

The problem for me is that once Mr Frick moves on to the three other lesser rock anthems he seems to turn himself into a one-man-tribute-band, slowing down the pace of experimentation merely for the sake of impersonation.  I call this a ‘problem’ because that leaves the remaining eight, shorter self-composed pieces for electric violin and effects trailing in the wake of the default ‘rock-riff’ position.  Even on the self-composed track Human, the get-go starts like a leftover from a garage band session before transforming into a really interestingly detailed miniature study of electricity, harmony, controlled harmonics and dynamics.  Come on, let’s focus on six good reasons to pick up on Simon Frick.

The six self-composed tracks on Solo which cut into a deeper vein are Veilchenalkowohl, Internal Bleeding, Escape, Dazed, Medium and Nachtlied. In each case they scan across sound as a camera views vision; the inherent possibilities of the compositions content are angled for new information.  Here, rather than demonstrating effects, Simon Frick actually plays them.  Veilchenalkowohl is a thin web investigation of a melodic line.  Frick stretching a secret into knowledge.  For me the best track on the album is Internal Bleeding, only a shade over three minutes long.  In that short space of time the music mourns its own brief duration.  The beautiful bowed melody is poignant and unadorned.  Frick exercises care and attention on the content in a way that is almost liturgical, this could go a lot, lot further. 

There is more here than meets the ear.  Escape drones like a new Balkan dance; a percussion hit to the body of the violin, the strings fold out across the speakers with a savvy pristine presence.  It sounds like music with a history.  Dazed pitches a treated bass line under and above an ambient melody.  Medium is medium only in so far as there is a sense of something in the soundscape that could develop further in the future.  In under two minutes and without effects Nachtlied closes down the recording with solemnity.  Like the death of beauty, more terrible and lovely than intense volume.

In my view the electric violin is defined in the work of L Shanker, Billy Bang and Leroy Jenkins, creators-all; genuinely, cutting edge experimental music sourced through the electric violin.  In a different way, over the last twenty years Mat Maneri and Mark Feldman have also redefined the instrument.  In the UK, the phenomenal Peter Evans and Dylan Bates are current virtuosi improvisers of the instrument.  Simon Frick has a duo with American pianist Dave Helbock, which is a very different prospect to the Solo album (click here). There is more about this man than is evidenced here.  It will be interesting to keep track on where things go for this Austrian musician.        

Click here to sample the album

Steve Day  stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk     

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Elliot Galvin Trio - Punch

Album Released: 29th - Label: Edition Records - Reviewed: August 2016

 

Elliot Galvin Trio Punch

Elliot Galvin (piano, kalimba, melodicas, accordion, cassette player, stylophone); Tom McCredie (double bass); Simon Roth (drums, percussion, glockenspiel).

I’ve always had a sneaking regard for Edition Records, they are an inventive label, releasing music which vaguely falls within the contemporary ‘jazz’ context yet at the same time always pushing at what that might actually constitute.  For Edition ‘jazz’ is not a repetition of the past and their rationale for experimentation takes different forms, often quirky.  Punch is no exception.

Punch is the album title and opening track.  This is a Punch as in those unlovely lovable ‘Punch & Judy’ characters that reveal the male puppet as a psychopathic misogynist. The album actually opens with 44 seconds of sampled archive speech introducing Mister Punch ‘The Wife Beater’ and already the funny side of things has turned instantly dark.

Punch the performance is a smouldering piano trio taking a clipped count that has Galvin, McCredie and Roth pouring on climax after climax across fast repetition which gives away breaks to a sampled female ‘puppeteer’ – “Oh yes you did, didn’t he boys and girls”.  The three way duck and dive through Elliot Galvin’s composition and acoustic beat blocks is mesmerising until it ends with the awful, tragic sampled statement, “Now that does it, you’ve knocked the baby down the stairs.” The whole thing is over in the time it would take me to walk to the nearby corner-shop.  Punch is a brilliant uneasy opening.  It carries weight yet is lightly drawn, it holds child’s play up as a conduit for horror, it paraphrases the ridicule riddle of abuse.  Yes, all of this, and then Punch permissions piano, bass and drums to drive through an audacious theatre of music.  And that’s only the first of ten tracks.

Next up is Hurdy-Gurdy, written for accordion and transposed for the trio, albeit with a squeeze-box prologue.  Yes, strange but totally blistering. Elliot Galvin’s opening solo entry is finger busting and then like Punch, the trio power drive is given a run of breaks but this time they are filled by Mr Roth flipping his snare with snazzy brush rolls, in turn we get Tom McCredie’s stoic double bass setting up the accordion entry.  This accordion is seriously good and gimmick free. The piano entry and statement is of maestro proportions, Galvin’s old much loved accordion is a more humbling companion, wheezing and puffing like an instrument which knows its own way home.  The Hurdy-Gurdy experience is played out in four minutes and works wonders.  Two down, and I feel compelled to stay with the recording. 

Click here for a video of the band playing a live performance of Hurdy-Gurdy.

Tipu’s Tiger which follows is a genuine curiosity, using kalimba and glockenspiel to augment the trio’s front line instruments.  The unfolding, rippling aural depiction of a wooden musical automaton from the V&A depicting a British colonial soldier being eaten by a tiger is yet another strong 'Punch'.  The music, like the wooden tiger statue, appears to be an almost innocent dedication to a delightfully grotesque 18th century object commissioned by the Tipu Sultan of Mysore in Southern India.  In fact neither Punch or Tipu’s Tiger, or this unique trio, are playing for laughs.  Elliot Galvin’s album is a piano trio wired to a muse that is essentially extremely hard, both in character and execution.

The whole album was recorded at an old ex-Soviet era radio station called the Funkhaus in what was East Berlin. It is a building of beautiful wooden rooms with great, natural, warm acoustics.  It looks one thing yet holds colder memories too.  This juxtaposition of dark and light, innocent and abuse, love and hate run right through the content of the Punch session. Even musically this cross-cut between two positions is not just eluded to but boldly sought out.  For example on track five, Blop, Galvin plays two self-customised melodicas, one standard the other detuned by a quartertone.  The result is a kind of weird klezmer type dance which is over and gone at speed.  In the going it passes from night to day.  In so doing it is a brief, modest piece of music darkening the shade of shadow.

Click here for a video of Blop.

But this juxtaposition holds like twisted wire; track seven is 1666 which references the year of the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London, evoking some of the sense of catastrophe that must have been felt at the time.  However the deep cut is more recent history.  It is the reading of Brecht/Weill’s Mack The Knife that seals the dark deal.

The song originates from the Threepenny Opera which was originally staged in Berlin in 1928.  Witty, satirical and bold in its critique of the rise of fascism, by 1931 Bertolt Brecht had written an additional final verse to underline the play’s opposition to the Nazi Party.  Two years later, 1933, Hitler was in power and Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht had to leave for America. Mack The Knife has been covered by everyone, from Bobby Darin to Louis Armstrong, Sting and Nick Cave.  In the 1980s the great Russian improvisers, the Ganelin Trio, still circumnavigating an Iron Curtain and a Berlin Wall, regularly played Mack as an encore in both The East and The West, sending-up both the humour and their own defiance.  I now know these encores well.  But here, a couple of decades on, Elliot Galvin goes completely in the opposite direction.  I am in awe of this performance.  The Elliot Galvin Trio strip sentiment and play-acting from the melody, offering it up instead as a slow staccato elegy, taking what ridicule there is left into a head-on crash with inherited damnation.  From Tom McCredie’s heavy, heavy, heavy bowed bass at its entry point, then the crunching power piano, through to the final short drum rolls and glockenspiel, played by Roth like a clock running out of time, I have to tell you this is a performance of some magnitude.  For me this is the Punchline to this album.  Right now, it feels like mandatory listening.

This is where I would have stopped.  This is not where Elliot Galvin chooses to end things.  The initial description coming up might make the final track sound like a throwaway, it isn’t. Cosy begins with a solo piano melody augmented by the band providing a whistled unison chorus-line.  A little sweet pretty tune, you could perform it for small children and not frighten them.  It then strikes up.  Cosy hits pay dirt, thumping out like Johnny Parker’s piano gymnastics with Humphrey Lyttelton’s band on the old 1950’s Joe Meek’s production of Bad Penny Blues. Hey, which way damnation? Not in this direction!

I was not been expecting this Punch.  It gave my head a crack.  It’s true, I had heard Elliot Galvin before, with the drummer Mark Sanders playing some decent improv.  Perhaps I should have expected it coming.  In many ways Punch is far more radical.  I strongly recommend the whole session.

Click here for details and to sample.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

 

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Slava Ganelin, Alexey Kruglov, Oleg Yudanov - Us

Album Released: Spring 2016 - Label: Leo Records - Reviewed: June 2016

Ganelin Kruglov Yudanov Us

Vyacheslav 'Slava' Ganelin (piano, electronics); Alexey Kruglov (soprano, alto & tenor saxophones, bassett-horn, alto sax mouthpiece); Oleg Yudanov (drums, percussion).

At the end of last year I wrote a review of Russian New Music In China, Live In Shenzhen by Ganelin, Kruglov and Yudanov, I still haven’t been able to let go, and doubt that I will for many months to come.  However a full year has not yet gone by and the trio have released yet another concert.  This time recorded in Moscow at the DOM cultural centre in front of a home crowd who, unlike the Chinese audience, know very well what these three musicians are capable of producing. It is a whole-through concert, no breaks just one unfolding performance using pre-written and improvised, commentary; plus two encores. 

Ganelin, Kruglov and Yudanov  have called the central track, That’s Us. And so it is.  Though of course, in structure (ie. whole-through ‘suite’), line-up (ie. keyboards, saxophones and percussion) and recording approach (ie. live concert as opposed to studio recording), this trio closely resembles the original band known as the Ganelin Trio or Ga-Ta-Che, as some people fondly refer to Slava Ganelin, Vladimir Tarasov and Vladimir Chekasin.  Via Leo Records, it was this trio that, at the end of the 20 Century, brought to the West an understanding of just how advanced the avant garde scene had become in Russia despite the limited access to support under the Soviet system.  This was all before Cold War relations had thawed, or at least before the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.  Okay, all that stuff needs to said.  Which is a shame in a way because what I really want to do is write about the new album, Us.

Sometimes, like the previous Shenzhen album, the old classic Ganelin Trio recordings, such as Catalogue and Ancora Da Capo, are difficult to manoeuvre around.  They have to be mentioned because of the enormity of their importance.  And on that note (sic) I suppose in 2016, Slava Ganelin would have made it easier for himself, and everybody else’s expectations, if his new band had been a quartet not a trio.  Personally I don’t think that is possible.  It is there in the deep inner intention of the man, he can’t escape it anymore than the listener can.  What he plays today is still informed by the gravitas of his triangular music making – three musicians hitting off each other, turning predetermined structures into a spontaneous experience.

For me the big achievers on the Us recording are Alexey Kruglov and Oleg Yudanov, who are positioned alongside Ganelin occupying the same roles as Vladimir Chekasin and Vladimir Tarvsov.  Press start and Vyacheslav Ganelin ripples something which is wonderfully discursive, almost casual in its creativity.  The fact that Kruglov curls his tenor horn out and under this easy, pensive piano introduction to produce a long, superbly elegant solo which sets the seal on everything that is to follow, demonstrates that Alexey Kruglov is a visionary and, importantly in this context, his own man.  When this mix of brilliance is eventually brought to an end at just before the ten minute mark it is Oleg Yudanov’s percussion which turns the tide. A spread of sound hit, hammered, struck, deftly flicked and beaten through with a touch which is almost tantric.  Oleg Yudanov was the drummer with Jazz Group Arkhangelsk (Archangel), the legendary ensemble that created a whole plethora of ‘new jazz’ in Siberia without bothering to advertise their actions in the West.  He is a master-drummer, who reminds me of the great Tony Oxley, in technique and rhythmic structure.  As far as I know, the two drummers have never met.

That’s Us is not epic in the way that the original Ganelin Trio nearly always were, but that does mean it does not provide a platform for stunning music.  This 21st trio is informed and knowledgeable, older certainly, experienced, even Alexey Kruglov has travelled his own distance, but they still employ shock tactics.  Never think you know what’s coming.  A third of the way through Ganelin produces a keyboard choir which sounds positively Transylvanian - an orgy of organ which has Kruglov and Yudanov dancing on top of the gigantic sound as if under a gothic spell.  Except it isn’t as crass as that; it is a perfectly placed interlude, and I found myself laughing out loud.  It is possible to laugh.  Later all three musicians will curve a serious three way dialogue which is totally mesmerising.  Although not credited on the sleeve, Slava Ganelin is using one of his many string instruments (it’s probably guitar, but I can’t be sure because he’s also using the piano interior).  Towards the end the pianist plays something which feels almost ancient and hymnal.  Throughout it all Alexey Kruglov is ‘soloing’ on his alto mouthpiece; squashed kisses, hisses and whispers.  It should sound ridiculous.  When I read what I’ve written down even I think it looks absurd on the page, but it isn’t to the ears: the solemnity of a chord structure against playful reeds refusing to pay homage, a percussion pattern which could have come from Africa rather than Siberia.  This is how it has always been with Slava Ganelin’s music.  We listen to a trio spiking in a humorous edge even in the face of what would seem to all intents and purposes sacred and profane.

At the very end, Alexey Kruglov finds one of his fabulous tenor solos that reaches out across all that has gone before.  This is in Moscow but it could be Nordic music, it could be anywhere in this world that knows the meaning of saxophone discovery.  Oleg Yudanov’s drums and cymbals are also there, piling on the fury and the fantastic.  I kid myself I have some awareness of at least part of the total journey this particular group of musicians have been on and this is as good as the best of it.  They finish and of course there is applause.

The two short(ish) encores that complete the album should not be written off as fillers.  Encore 1 is a decisive piano solo, complete with Ganelin’s old bassett keyboard still providing a rumbling bass-line.  Clearly this music has a compositional framework yet the performance explores beyond such boundaries.  Encore 2 is a drone circulating from Kruglov’s horns; piano and percussion gradually knit their own garment around it.  The beauty of the piece is that it retains the length of a miniature, a song without a voice pressed into less time than it takes to waste a prayer on sadness.  In their own quiet way these three musicians complete themselves, a stunning ending to a great concert.  So impressive.


Click here for Ganelin, Kruglov, Yudanov live in concert in Oslo (promo).

Click here for album details and to sample.

Click here for Ganelin, Kruglov, Yudanov playing live in concert in Moscow (full concert).          

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Slava Ganelin and Lenny Sendersky - Hotel Cinema

Album Released: June 2016 - Label: Leo Records - Reviewed: August 2016

Slava Ganelin Lenny Sendersky Hotel Cinema

Slava Ganelin (Korg MicroStation, computer Dell keyboards); Lenny Sendersky (alto and soprano saxophones).

Over the last eighteen months Slava Ganelin, legendary keyboard player and pianist with the Ganelin Trio has been on a roll, check out other Sandy Brown Jazz reviews.  Leo Records has been busy too, this single track forty-five minute live performance was recorded in Tele-Aviv on April 7th 2016.  By the 23rd June the CD, complete with artwork, came through my letterbox.  I thought I was fast, Ganelin is faster.

Hotel Cinema is both the title of the album and the name of the venue in which it was recorded, right in the centre of Te-Aviv in Dizengoff Square.  It’s a fairly intimate gig.  This live recording is different from any in-concert session I’ve heard by Slava Ganelin, and I’ve heard lots.  There is no grand piano here, only electric keyboards and the reeds player was completely unknown to me until the album arrived.  On Hotel Cinema Lenny Sendersky plays alto and soprano saxophone.  He used to be based in Copenhagen but is now living in Tel-Aviv, in 2013 he released his own album, Desert Flower, with guitarist Tony Romano and has also recorded with trumpeter, Randy Brecker. 

The Lenny Sendersky saxophone is nothing remotely like Vladimir Chekasin from the Ganelin Trio or Alexey Kruglov, who Slava Ganelin has been recording and touring with recently.  Chekasin and Kruglov are prestigious players who drive to the edge, they are improvising composers, they are steeped in jazz-lore, instant on-the-spot musicians who share absurdity and tragedy as being mutually dependent.  Like the finest Japanese Noh character actors they inhabit their own worlds. 

My knowledge of Lenny Sendersky is much more restricted, he is undoubtedly a special player.  He can leap the line of his horn and emote at the very depth of Ganelin’s new composition but, unlike Chekasin and Kruglov, at no time does he take Vyacheslav Ganelin to the edge.  Chekasin would often push his compatriot to the point of departure, let him fall in order that he would be forced to devise his own creative rescue.  Maybe that is not something Ganelin wants anymore, hell’s teeth, he has had to deal with that expectation on all of his key recordings.  However uncomfortable that might be, that edge has given the pianist an innate ability to deal with the constant frisson of danger inhabiting the beauty of his most famous performances. This great keyboard wizard has thrived on being placed off-centre.  Lenny Sendersky is eloquent and fits this new scored music like a classical soloist; Daniel Barenboim could use a player of this magnitude. 

If the above analysis appears as if I am disappointed with Hotel Cinema, I’m not.  What I value from any musician is to play beyond expectation and that is what Ganelin is doing here.  Hotel Cinema is an orchestral suite without an orchestra.  In the promo for the album, Leo Feigin writes: “I could write.... that this is a new symphonic work performed by the 50-piece Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra and nobody could tell the difference.” Slava Ganelin being Slava Ganelin has produced a vast orchestra from a table-top Korg keyboard and Dell computer programme.  The sound is huge and authentically of the moment, using no pre-recorded material.  This is not karaoke; strings, percussion, horns, reeds and crucially, electricity, burst forth as symphony.  No one could deny the man the authenticity and audacity of his own creation.  Okay, but the purpose of a review is not to merely marvel at the wonders of real time computerisation.  What is the end result?  What is the music like?

Hotel Cinema is formal, there is a beginning, a middle and an end.  Initially the opening prelude is smooth, spread out to reflect a wide-angle film set, credits could roll across the orchestration, gradually the music pans wide, Mr Sendersky’s reeds piping melody, sometimes blurring, at others haunting a deep shimmering chord.  A major strength of his playing here is that he folds his flurries on top of each other as if piling sound on sound.  In the central arena of this cinematic study Ganelin introduces melody after melody, billowing in grandeur and opulence only to feed into it rattles, literally shaken like a beggar asking for your leftovers so they can survive another night with essentials.  There is a wind and disembodied voices.  There is treated tuned percussion rushing riffs over a fanfare of horns; hard, loud, big percussion as threatening as Wagner, then something like Stravinsky’s wholly un-innocent innocent, Petrushka with Sendersky blowing a single note, pulling it into a purpose.  Two thirds of the way through there is a long moment of just alto saxophone pleading to be reconciled, followed by an ‘acoustic guitar’ (yes, a computerised guitar) which could have fooled me into thinking Ralph Towner had turned up in Tel-Aviv.  And behind that pluck of nylon are voices, mixed back, a people kept back.  The final minutes of Hotel Cinema are broken into by improv cracking at the score before Ganelin lets the air in and his synthesised epilogue is cradled by a horn motif.

A reviewer has to deal with indications; I don’t claim to know the full story.  Slava Ganelin’s Hotel Cinema with Lenny Sendersky is, on one level, an entertainment:  “It is a balmy evening in the centre of our beautiful city of trade and commerce.  Tonight Ganelin the great Russian musician, now resident here with us in this shared new land of ours called Israel, he is performing tonight, giving us a concert with this new guy, Lenny Sendersky.  It’s a nice night for music.  Jazz, at least I think that’s what it’s called, though someone said he had written a symphony.  Sure, sure, Ganelin was once in that trio with Tarasov and that awkward fellow Chekasin. They say the Ganelin Trio were subversives. No, I don’t know either, but Ganelin he is now a good man, to be trusted.  This little concert is a simple affair, it will be fun, perhaps we can all go and have a meal later.  You like falafel?”

And that is how it is, on one level.  But I don’t take Vyacheslav Ganelin lightly.  Hotel Cinema is more than make-believe.  I’d suggest this is as serious a piece of music as any Ganelin has been involved in.  And whilst it does not have the emotional impact of Catalogue or Ancora Da Capo, or even last year’s stunning Live In Shenzhen, it would be foolish to underestimate the man.  I strongly recommend an aural visit to the Hotel Cinema, perhaps skip the meal afterwards.

Click here for a video of Slava Ganelin and Lenny Sendersky playing live in Jerusalem in 2015.

Click here for details and to sample.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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The Ganelin Trio - Russian New Music In China - Live In Shenzhen

Album Released: October 2015 - Label: Leo Records - Reviewed: December 2015

The Ganelin Trio Live in Shenzhen

The Ganelin Trio:  Vyacheslav Ganelin (piano, synthesiser, drums, percussion); Alexey Kruglov (alto & soprano saxophone, basset-horn): Oleg Yudanov (drums, percussion, percussion, gongs).

Live In Shenzhen is a critical recording for all sorts of reasons, history being one of them.  The original Ganelin Trio (keyboards extraordinaire Vyacheslav Ganelin, along with Vladimer Tarasov, drums and Vladimer Chekasin, saxophones) were/are undoubtedly the most important band to (literally) come out of the Soviet Union. If Ganelin literally carried the name, Tarasov and Chekasin’s were an exceptional determining presence, undoubtedly this was trio-music.   Together their 1978 albums Poco-A-Poco and Catalogue; Live In East Germany (Leo Records CD LR 101 and 102) were groundbreaking musically to Western ears.

These recordings were produced under circumstances which are the stuff of spy novels.  But this is not fiction, just hard fact: tapes having to be smuggled out of the ‘Iron Curtain’ to the West by a German tourist, KGB minders accompanying the trio on their trips abroad to ensure no one defects, discussions in code, hidden recordings, instant gigs played in semi-secrecy.  And all the time the music – these compositions with grand walls of intense sound and melody, built and re-built by three musicians who turned themselves into an orchestra.

I have not the space in a single review to tell their full story.  Another time.  Today we have a new trio, recorded in China in 2014 also released by Leo Records.  The label has produced over 600 recordings since Poco-A-Poco. It has been a long road.  So, Vyacheslav Ganelin now finds himself in Shenzhen, China.  He is a man used to playing his music in, let’s just say, difficult circumstances.

The Chinese Government has banned a number of Western musicians from playing in the country.  On the face of it, Bon Jovi, the Maroon 5 and Björk don’t appear to represent a huge threat to the People’s Republic of China. Sure, Björk has her own distinct way of directing the calculus in music, but the ban has nothing to do with music.  It seems to me that if you go around making positive statements about the Dali Lama and ‘Free Tibet’ as Björk did in 2008, the Chinese authorities dismiss your credentials.  As far as I know Vyacheslav Ganelin, Alexey Kruglov and Oleg Yudanov have not uttered a word on the subject of Tibet. Years ago Steve Kulak made the observation that: “The Ganelin Trio is light years beyond politics yet inescapably formed by it.”  He’s right, escape is unavoidable yet this new Ganelin Trio managed to successfully play in Shenzhen and let their music do the talking.  This live double album is so damn critical because on the 22nd October 2014 what blew in off the stage in Shenzhen was nothing short of a fully liberated Russian art form called ‘New Music’.  Who said what to whom, I am not party to.  However you hear it this is a performance transformed in front of a rapturous reception by a Chinese audience who appear to have understood the implications.  Let’s stake out the music.

Disc one starts with Signature, a forty-two minute solo epic from Mr Ganelin.  The title states the content.  If you know his work you would recognise the player immediately.  Vyacheslav Ganelin sits at a grand piano, on the top in front of him is a single synth, next to it is a small box of percussion, to his right two tom drums and double cymbals. From this starting position his Signature is drawn as clear as a contract.  The piano and synth begin micro tonally testing the weight of each note, gradually letting a melody line out to play, building a galaxy of colour.

Click here for a brief video of Vyacheslav Ganelin in Shenzhen.

For instance I like how Ganelin designates the role of the cymbal in this context.  It is not an accessory.  His right hand literally gathers your ear to key into the pattern of the cymbal while his left hand fingers a line; like laying a trail to be followed later. And step by step, leap by leap Ganelin takes us through the curve of a composition sustained by the imagination of momentary intervention.  For example, at around 25 minutes he gets into signalling his position with a tiny little bell, a kind of tinkle interacting with a rattle.  If a bell could flutter the air that is what is happening here.  This may read rather whimsically; compared to the grand extemporisation that surrounds this tinkling bell it might be the case, yet the result underlines the distance in the music.  It is actually a beautiful moment.  A touch on the proceedings that holds no pressure.  Signature is a circle; it ends as it begins with the examination of detail in sound and silence.  Such a circle is not exactly resolved by where we started, instead Vyacheslav Ganelin deftly completes the journey with a natural ending.  The four tracks that follow introduce the other two thirds of this new trio and do not involve Mr Ganelin.  This is an introduction to new collaborators.

Alexey Kruglov is his own man yet one thing he shares in common with the Ganelin Trio’s original reeds player, Vladimer Chekasin, is that he plays more than one saxophone at the same time.  The great Rahsaan Roland Kirk ‘popularised’ this technique.  It wasn’t merely a trick then, and in the right hands (and mouth) it is not just a party-piece now. Mr Kruglov uses double or triple horns for noise generation and as a way of creating a dual harmony and melody line.  Sounds of Russian Metaphor is a good example of the application of dual horns. Mr Kruglov and Oleg Yudanov previously recorded Russian Metaphor on the album of the same name back in 2007 with double bassist Igor Ivanuskin. The Shenzhen version has been abstracted by the intervening years.  It is a consummate duet. The next three tracks are simpler:  Starting Point is alto sax and drums/percussion dialogue.  Echoes of Poetry becomes an interlude of reflection, a song sung through saxophone and held together by strokes of precise percussion rather than beat. The closing track on the first disk Discussion is a four minute musical conversation, it makes the point – in Russian; the reeds and drums speak their mother-tongue, no words are used.

Click here for a brief video of the Trio playing at the 4th OCT-LOFT Jazz Festival in Shenzhen. .

How wonderful is wonder?  Disc Two has one track, Timeless.  The world is full of contradiction.  On this occasion Timeless is actually just over forty minutes in length. The first time I heard the recording, I immediately pressed repeat and listened to the evolutionary recital all over again. It is a performance that could be indefinite in length despite the fact that it passes through various incarnations. The introduction is exquisitely simple – East meets West, almost the groove of Blue Note Records direct from the turntable.  Count time, hey, jazz as we understand it; after four minutes a short piano that ripples a homage to guys like Horace Silver and Sonny Clark.  But the Ganelin Trio was never built to merely do ‘hard bop’ with finesse.  At ten minutes they reach a plateau of contemplation. Ganelin and Kruglov switching back and forth with stories without language.  Ganelin’s use of synthesiser is a huge edifice in the mist.  Kruglov’s bass clarinet momentarily introduces new colour, sound as vision.  At around 29 minutes there is an intense three-way improv encounter giving way to a piano break which five minutes later is brought to a conclusion by Kruglov’s searing high register doubling altos. This catharsis opens the composition out into a new movement. The end is like finality has been found wanting; a synth hurling sound against the acoustic keyboard, saxophones speaking in multiple translations.  Rain on rain, a veritable downpour of beats, bells and cymbal singing.

In 2012 Leo Records put out my album Strewn With Pebbles which included the song, China Is A Superpower.  My piece of satirical banter played off America and China, making the final comment: But when they’re fixing the criteria/ let’s not be too superior/ about the merits of democracy.  I’m glad the new Ganelin Trio got this gig in the People’s Republic.  And of course, musicians, just like everybody else, always operate in a context of the where and what and why of the evolving world in which we live. Vyacheslav Ganelin has creatively negotiated such territory all his life. Live In Shenzhen is a critical concert without compromise.  Truly on their own terms this new Ganelin Trio have created yet another stellar performance equal to the history of their legendary name.    

Click here for more details and to sample the album.

Steve Day  www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Laszlo Gardony - Life In Real Time

Album Released: 7th July 2015 - Label: Sunnyside Records - Reviewed September 2015

Laszlo Gardony Life In Real Time

Laszlo Gardony is a jazz pianist who was born in Hungary and studied music at the Bela Bartok Conservatory in Budapest. He won a scholarship to Berklee College of Music in 1983 and, after graduation, stayed on in America. He came first in the Great American Jazz Piano Competition in 1989. He has a long and distinguished CV which includes playing with the likes of Miroslav Vitous, Dave Holland, Tommy Smith and David “Fathead” Newman. He is now a Professor of Piano at Berklee.

Life in Real Time is eight tracks recorded live at the Berklee Performance Centre last September. Gardony is joined by five other musicians, most of whom are on the Berklee faculty: Yoron Israel (drums), John Lockwood (bass), and no less than three tenor saxophonists – Bill Pierce, Don Braden and Stan Strickland. Strickland also plays bass clarinet on a couple of the tracks.

The album is mainstream contemporary jazz at its best. It is beautifully recorded (chapeaux to the recording engineer, Alex Rodriguez) in front of an enthusiastic audience. Most of the tracks are Gardony compositions – and most are upbeat, foot tapping crowd pleasers. The presence of a live audience encourages the musicians – particularly the saxophonists – to stretch themselves and compete with each other in an “anything you can do, I can do better” spirit which makes for some very exciting music.

Things get off to a rousing start with Bourbon Street Boogie. It has a memorable main theme with a touch of Horace Silver about it. Both Bill Pierce and Don Braden take confident, technically accomplished solos. Gardony also plays a short solo which mixes boogie woogie with a bit of Mr. Silver again.

Click here for a video of the sextet playing Bourbon Street Boogie live.

Breakout begins with an absorbing drum solo which builds slowly from a gentle start to a tour de force of sound and tempo. There is a pause before the main theme is played very briefly and then Braden and Pierce take turns to play blistering, competitive solos which briefly lapse into some Ayler-type squawking. Gardony takes a liquid, light fingered solo with some nice interplay between piano, drums and bass. The whole piece finishes with a great cacophonous, crowd pleasing climax ending on one sustained note.

The third track, Gemstones, has a rock-latin beat with a foot tapping, head rocking theme which brings us back to Horace Silver territory. Bill Pierce and Gardony take the solos – Gardony, in particular, shows off all his virtuosity with playing that gradually builds into something very exciting but melodic and full of intriguing sounds. The piece finishes with all three saxophonists improvising together – it could go very wrong but, somehow, it doesn’t.

Lullaby of Birdland is the old George Shearing standard taken at a slightly slower and heavier tempo than usual with a distinct latin tinge. Both Braden and Gardony take solos which play around the main theme in an original and imaginative way.

Next up is an arrangement of the old spiritual, Motherless Child, taken at quite a lick; Gardony’s arrangement was apparently inspired by the Richie Havens version performed at Woodstock. Stan Strickland plays bass clarinet on the piece and takes a solo.

Now, the bass clarinet has had a bit of a chequered history in jazz and has never really caught on. Its most celebrated exponent was Eric Dolphy; and Miles Davis featured a bass clarinet on Bitches Brew. More recently, Courtney Pine has taken up the instrument. To me, the bass clarinet has always seemed too ponderous an instrument for jazz. However, Strickland’s playing comes close to changing my mind. His fingering is agile and he makes it sound a much lighter instrument than, say, Dolphy. His solo has some lovely swoops down into the instrument’s rich lower register.

Click here to listen to Motherless Child.

The next track, New Song, also features Strickland on bass clarinet. At times, he uses it very effectively as part of the rhythm section. His solo is light and subtle for the most part and the playing in the lower register makes a very mellow and satisfying sound. There is some (mercifully short-lived) Dolphy-type honking but, on the whole, Strickland’s bass clarinet work is one of the highlights of the whole album. The track also has a memorable main theme; and a clear and confident solo from John Lockwood on bass.

The Other One is an upbeat blues with more competitive sax solos, including one from Stan Strickland showing he can hold his own on tenor sax as well as bass clarinet.

The final piece, Out on Top, takes us back to the Horace Silver, rock-latin feel of earlier tracks. It has quite a complicated rhythm and quite a complicated main theme. Don Braden takes a sustained and imaginative solo where he pushes himself to ever greater virtuosic heights. Gardony responds with an equally exciting solo before the track ends in another improvised cacophony (not without humour) from the saxophones which gradually slows down to a nice finish. The audience applauds enthusiastically.

Click here to sample the album.

Click here for more information about Laszlo Gardony on his website.

Robin Kidson

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Alex Garnett's Bunch Of 5 - Andromeda

Album Released: 26th January 2015 - Label: Whirlwind Recordings - Reviewed March 2015

Alex Garnett AndromedaAlex Garnett's Bunch of 5 are a quintet of fine musicians that certainly delivers the punch implied from the name.  Apart from Garnett himself, tenor saxophone is played by American Tim Armacost who has extensive experience not only of the New York jazz scene but with musical ventures in India and Japan. Liam Noble on piano, is excellent as ever and brings to the band his extensive experience of accompanying such great tenor saxophonists as Tim Whitehead, Bobby Wellins and many more.  London based, American record producer Michael Janisch is on double bass and Royal Academy of Music graduate James Maddren on drums.

Andromeda is only the second album by Alex Garnett as band leader although of course he has played in many great bands and supported many other musicians touring the UK and abroad for more than 20 years.  His first album, Serpent was described by John Fordham in the Guardian as an "unexpected gem" and "tightly swinging, updated hard bop" and Andromeda carries on in a similar vein with new compositions and two new arrangements of old favourites. 

There are eight tracks with just over 60 minutes of playing time.  So Long has a good melody inspired by Benny Golson and nice solos from each saxophone in turn.  Charlie's World is dedicated to 2 year old Charlie Garnett and begins with what could be a saxophone rendition of  a squeaky toy or the cry of a child; piano and double base provide some calming influence before the saxophones return improvising around the catchy theme.  Title track Andromeda is dedicated to our neighbouring galaxy; there is a leisurely Latin feel taken up first by the piano and then by some mellow saxophone before both saxophones play in chorus demonstrating the special sound that comes from two tenor saxophones playing together.

The mischievously titled Delusions of Grandma is a fast tempo piece featuring a conversation between the two saxophones which seems to lead to an argument that is resolved by a drum solo.  Early Autumn is a classic piece, first played by Stan Getz in Woody Herman's "Second Herd" and Garnett and Armacost have come up with a really beautiful version for this album.  Her Tears  is a gently rocking, recent Garnett composition featuring another great piano solo and duetting saxophones while Holmes really swings with a toe-tapping tune evoking the hustle and bustle of the city.  The final track, I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm by Irving Berlin, arranged by Garnett, is a high speed treatment of this well known tune and demonstrates the virtuosity of all the band members. 

It is clear that Alex Garnett excels at both playing and composing great jazz music - the only pity is that he hasn't had the time to produce more than two albums.  However he does play regularly at Ronnie Scott's and other venues and should be well worth a visit.

Click here to sample the album.

Click here for Alex Garnett's website.

Howard Lawes

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The George Gee Swing Orchestra - Swing Makes You Happy

Album Released: 15th January 2015 - Label: Rondette Jazz - Reviewed : April 2015

George Gee Swing Makes You HappyThis is George Gee’s 8th album and he has led bands for over 30 years.  This album on a new label contains 19 tracks from George Gee and his collaborator and musical director, the composer/arranger and trombonist David Gibson who provides five original compositions and undertakes all the arrangements, plus three tracks from Chick Webb’s repertoire.  As George states “David and I are truly kindred spirits who agree that swing is a living, growing and evolving art form”.  Other band leaders have achieved an orchestral sound with only five or six horns, the key to which is a combination of dynamic arrangements and horn men with big, bold sounds.  The orchestra here consists of a nine-piece ensemble.  Additional to these nine are two vocalists, who feature on nearly half of the tracks on the album.  A strong influence on Gee and Gibson is their love and respect for Count Basie.  The orchestra does follow in the Basie tradition (he was George’s mentor) with relentless swing, unfettered exuberance and perfect execution.  There are four songs here associated with Basie, three of which utilise John Dokes’ vocals.

The band consists of George Gee (Bandleader), David Gibson (Musical Director and trombone), Hilary Gardner (vocals), John Dokes (vocals), Ed Pazant (alto sax), Michael Hashim (tenor sax), Anthony Lustig (baritone sax), Andy Gravish (trumpet), Freddie Hendrix (trumpet), Steve Einerson (piano), Marcus McLaurine (upright bass) and Willard Dyson (drums).  Together they produce a larger than you would have thought sound with good clear vocals.  All the solos are well played backed by the bass and drums.  So overall, I liked the mix of vocals and instrumental solos, particularly the baritone sax playing.

As you would expect with “swing” all the tracks are fairly fast paced and real “foot tappers”.  In this case, they are all short and bouncy numbers very reminiscent of the “big band era” utilising all the instruments but with a modern clean and clear sound. The 19 tracks, range in playing time from 2 minutes 28 seconds to 6 minutes 22 seconds which adds up to about 69.5 minutes in total for this album.  So it is value for money if you like your jazz to have that big band sound.

To try to comment on each track would mean repeating myself as there are good performances from the vocalists and all the musicians when they undertake their solos on the tracks and they all play together as a very tight group under George’s leadership. Tracks I found of note were:

Track 2, Bedrock, composed by David Gibson with a lovely piano solo from Steve Einerson and sax solos from Pazant and Lustig and track 6, I Knows which again features the piano of Steve Einerson with Marcus McLaurine’s bass. Track 12 is an instrumental version of the Sinatra classic It Was A Very Good Year with a superb tenor sax solo, and it made a welcome change from the usual versions. Track 13, That’s No Joke, has great solos from Lustig on baritone sax and Gibson on trombone, and track 18 A Tribute to Someone featuring the trumpet of Hendrix with a slower and sweet melody was also very noteworthy.

It is difficult to find something original to say about swing, but this album will make a joyful contribution to keeping it alive and exposing it to wider audience.

Click here to sample the album. Click here for an introductory video.

Tim Rolfe                            

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Get The Blessing - Astronautilus

Album released: 18th September 2015 - Label: Naim Jazz - Reviewed: November 2015

Get The Blessing Astronautilus

Get The Blessing: Jake McMurchie (tenor & baritone saxophone, electronics); Pete Judge (trumpet, flugelhorn, piano, electronics); Clive Deamer (drums, percussion); Jim Barr (bass, Bass V1, electronics, organ).

Some people still don’t get it.  The quartet, Get The Blessing, are among the most mercurial small groups using improvisation-fused-composition to come out of the UK since Mark Lockheart and Seb Rochford formed Polar Bear way back. Apparently some people’s gripe is that Get The Blessing use electronics and have a bass and drums team that comes from megaband, Portishead, and that this makes the music Rock/Pop. Well, this is the year 2015, jazz plugged into the national grid decades ago and the Jim Barr-Clive Deamer partnership is beyond categorisation.  If the Blessing’s fifth album, Astronautilus doesn’t cure the critics it becomes a problem for ‘some people’, not the band.

Much has already been made of the simple dedication given to Ornette Coleman that goes with this recording. It doesn’t hurt to remind everyone of Ornette, who died back in June this year. The fact is that Astronautilus plants the quartet some distance from their initial fascination with the great alto player/improviser/composer. This is English music, recorded in isolation down in windswept Cornwall. This is English music, drawing as much from a Keith Tippett-Soft Machine axis than from anything born in ForthWorth, Texas. This is English music, pitching the arrangement of the trumpet/sax themes into a modern equivalent of Hugh Hopper’s old fuzz box set-up that fast forwards forty years to Radiohead and Massive Attack into something distinctly Ronnie Scott’s at the Old Place. Bristol and Cornwall are just a couple of hundred miles away from London’s Soho.  New York’s SoHo is a thousand miles the other side of The Pond, a long stretch from what is happening here. This is English music and it damn well counts for something.

The opening track Phaenomena grasps the nettle and stings.  Played loud it feels phenomenal containing a trumpet/sax theme to erupt matter and meaning into the pit of your stomach.  Driving across the top of the Mendips in the dark I cranked the volume right up until the inside of my car was a soundtrack to the elements. Jake McMurchie’s crunched composed tenor sax break is played through a distort pedal. The man sounds as if he has broken loose from the centre of the earth. Jim  Barr’s bass(es) booming, the Deamer-drummer is pushing big patterns off the kit, it is shattering; all over in little more than three minutes. No American band I know would (or maybe would even want to) fuse the weight of attitude and electronics to such grand fanfare themes. Get The Blessing throb the pastoral in concrete block.

Click here to listen to Phaenomena.

And though Phaenomena is a strong initial statement, it is nonetheless only the starter. The next three tracks, Carapace, Monkfish and Conch all build on this beginning but they break differently.  Carapace (I checked the name, it’s something to do with the shell of small sea creatures) is one of the two longer tracks on the album taking it’s time to carefully build to its fizzing finale where the end is brought low to the deep by bass and drums. In the centre there are all sorts of interesting things happening.  Pete Judge’s trumpet blows to the letter of the law on the melody line. He has a truly personal timbre. Dry and clean, reminding of me of Marc Charig (from all those old Keith Tippett, Elton Dean classic recordings on Ogun Records). 

Next up, Monkfish, is a miniature. Some people have said the title refers to Thelonious Monk, I don’t really know but I doubt it. Whatever, in the time it takes to boil an egg the Quartet have delivered a stunning composition that keeps to the score yet blows a gale getting there. With Conch we are back on the beach. The slow opening ring of Jim Barr’s electric bass playing both the note and the gigantic space that is left behind it. The man tilts time. This is England brooding under a retreating high tide. Clive Deamer’s drums beat the echo of the two horns, treated by the floating flotsam and jetsam they have put into their electronics. The beauty of Conch is that it doesn’t go anywhere, it just hangs on the Barr bass lines like the Cornwall coast under siege from the sea. What follows is a different day. Cornish Native is pumping rhythm with a topline of electro-blowing off the brass and horn. I’ve got no map of the recording session so I’m guessing, I think there is a treated organ in there somewhere. And no, of course this does not reference a Jimmy Smith funky R & B Hammond organ, as I said we are in England’s core.  The bass-pattern is still one mighty groove overlaid by crash and burn from somewhere in the instrumentation of Mcmurchie, Judge and Deamer.

Click here to listen to Cornish Native.

Cut to a melody line, firstly picked out by guitar, then joined by tenor sax and trumpet (untreated). It could be close to Brit legends like Ian Carr and Mike Westbrook. I haven’t checked the facts with the band so I don’t really know for sure. What I can say is that Nautilius is a written-through line, it relies on its success not through an act of improvisation but by simply having its melody stretched out, literally taking its own time to unfold.  And yes, Jake Mcmurchie and Pete Judge place the tune out there as if this were an instantly composed reverie.

If I’m honest, I’m not sure about Green Herring. It contains something like a fanfare, something like a ‘rhythm guitar’ introduction and something like a time change half way through. I’m happy to hear Herring and learn to love it.  Right now it merely takes me to.....

Hayk, a poised, lean length of experimental sound-sculpture. All seven minutes sink below the surface structure, the quartet passing ‘the blessing’ from one to another as if engaged in secular ritual. At the very beginning Pete Judge’s trumpet preens the air rocking the ropes of the bass. There is an electro fuzz creasing these acoustics, and yes, enhancing the context. Ornette Coleman’s long time compatriot Don Cherry would have understood (and approved) of this weighting given his use of electricity alongside organic instrumentation.  As Hayk builds beyond its middle moment it is as if the bass/drums slowly enact physically with the two burnished horns. When the sound is finished it is wired and rubbed clean. Finally, Get The Blessing sign off with Sepia, a track that literally blurs these edges beautifully.  Brian Eno could have produced this endgame. He didn’t, Get The Blessing did.  In my view Astronautilus amounts to essential listening.

Click here to listen to Hayk.

Click here for track list and to sample the album.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk               

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The Stan Getz Quartet - Live In Europe 1972 [CD and DVD]

Album released: 2nd February 2015 - Label: Salvo Sound and Vision - Reviewed: February 2015

Stan Getz Quartet album

This package of a CD and DVD from Salvo Sound and Vision has given me a few challenges. It is one of a series of a series of CD/DVD sets that includes Duke Ellington At The Cote d'Azur, Dr John Live In Europe 1995 and Charles Mingus Live In Europe 1975. We shall review the Mingus package next month.

First of all the positives. This is a recording of a live performance from the Montreaux Jazz Festival in 1972. The Quartet has great musicians - Stan Getz (saxophone), Chick Corea (piano), Stanley Clarke (bass) and Tony Williams (drums). Each musician, as you would expect, plays well to a very enthusiastic audience, and there are some impressive solos along the way. This is also valuable archive material from over forty years ago.

Stan Getz had emerged from his bossa nova period on the 1960s and was beginning explorations with fusion. A booklet with the album contains reflections by Chick Corea who says: 'I got to make music with my friends and my musical heroes. This DVD is a snippet of the many gigs we played together - but a precious document, especially for the well-shot images of the one and only Tony Williams ... Around 1967, I was making my way in New York City, playing as much as I could with the best musicians I could find ... I got the call to join the Stan Getz Quartet, replacing Gary Burton ... Stan helped me and encouraged me and even liked playing my compositions ...'

Chick then went on to play with Sarah Vaughan, Miles Davis, Dave Holland and Stanley Clarke. ' ...but there was this 'dry' period in '71 when I heard that Stan had a tour booked but no band as yet. I called Stan and offered to bring musicians that I knew he would love to play with, as I did. That turned out to be Stanley, Tony and, for a few gigs, Airto Moreira. The quartet version of this band is what you have here with the Montreaux performance.'

The recording runs for just over an hour and the tracks are: Captain Marvel; Day Waves; Lush Life; Windows; I Remember Clifford; La Fiesta and Time's Lie.

Some of the video is available on YouTube. Click here for Captain Marvel; Click here for Day Waves; Click here for Lush Life; Click here for Windows; Click here for an audio of Times Lie from a different recording.

So why does the package challenge me? Basically it is the recording. The CD and DVD are of the same performance. The recording is in a variety of audio formats - PCM stereo; Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. The DVD can also be viewed in a choice of formats. Despite, or maybe because of this, the sound seems unbalanced to me at times. On the CD track Lush Life I thought the piano sounded too prominent against Stan's solo, and there are times when it sounds as though the microphone has been placed close to Stanley Clarke's bass. You can see on the video the number of microphones that have been deployed and the film cameras that are moving around and so the opportunity for capturing the sounds would have been there. I have not yet seen any other reviews and I look forward to what others think.

As someone has said to me, 'This is a live recording from way back in 1972!' Perhaps I shouldn't expect so much. Perhaps my ears deceive me. You can make up your own mind when you watch the video tracks that I have linked to above on YouTube - (There are some other video clips on YouTube from the session that are really poor!). Try it and see - if you would like to own it you can buy the CD and DVD together on Amazon for £11.99, not a bad price for an archive recording of some great musicians.

Click here for details.

Ian Maund

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Girls In Airports - Fables

Album Released: 18th September 2015 - Label: Edition Records - Reviewed: November 2015

Girls In Airports FablesThis album betrays the group’s origins as it’s a bit like Danish style and furniture, less is more.  There are no included notes and the nine tracks are all less than six minutes each making for a total of approximately 38 minutes of music.  This is their fourth album release and their first international label edition.  Although there are “Girls” in the group’s name, they are in fact five guys from Copenhagen’s bohemian and fertile artistic community.  

Formed by a group of friends and fellow students, initially gigs were local and on the small side.  One early concert was in a small record shop located in the hip Norrebro district where the band is based.  Two promoters, one a Chinese agent and the other from Brazil, came along to check them out but as the shop was packed, they had to listen from outside.  Nonetheless, they must have been impressed as the band was offered tours in China and Brazil.  

The band consists of Martin Stender on saxophone who seems to produce the original compositions and then the rest of the band develop the theme. Lars Greve is on sax and clarinet, Mathias Holm on keyboards, Victor Dybbroe on percussion, and finally Mads Forsby on drums.

Without any management or record deal, they have also toured in South Korea, New York, Germany, Portugal, London and Belfast.  Fables was partly influenced by Charlie Mingus, and Mingus was an early working title for this album.  His composition Fables of Faubus was playing in the background when this album was being made. The title track is intriguing, and the percussion features strongly, there are short snatches of melody, played beautifully on the clarinet with a counterpoint later in the track of loud improv., from the saxes.

With the next track, Sea Trail, the percussion opens the track, with melodic slow sax and clarinet, which conjures up a picture of mist rolling in on a sea shore, and then in Randall’s Island, again the percussion features as it starts the track with gives a slow beat with long notes played on the keyboards.  We have some melodies that explore the hinterland and return, others just going off at a tangent, but those of us that remember electronic music from the 70s may well like this track.

Track 4 is Mammatus, again a slower number with the clarinet starting a slow solo and then joined by keyboards and rolls of percussion which finish the track. Aftentur provides a haunting sax solo after a drumming introduction, with lots of echo and reverb making an appearance holding the melody into the distance and restarting it, and is followed by Aeiki, another percussion laden track that lends a ‘tribal’ feel with highlights from the saxophones and keyboards.

Click here to listen to Aeiki.

Dovetail, at track 7 does what as it says in the title as there seems to be little of a break between this and the previous track.  The percussion drives the track throughout, with quiet melodies from the wind instruments which even seem to mimic birds. Track 8,Yola, has the keyboards prominent, playing repetitive notes with low notes from the sax with some background percussion which takes over towards the end of the track. The final track, Episodes, has slow repeated rhythms with all the instruments taking turns to reinforce the overall melody.

This album is very interesting with experimental music that seems introspective yet exudes youthful vitality and 70s electronica overtones.  All the musicians play a part in producing this short, but enjoyable to listen to collection of individualistic music.

Click here to sample the album.

Tim Rolfe

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Go Go Penguin - Man Made Object

Album Released: 5th February 2016 - Label: Blue Note Records - Reviewed: May 2016

Go Go Penguin Man Made Object

Go Go Penquin: Rob Turner (drums); Chris Illingworth (piano); Nick Blacka (double bass).

These guys have a confidence about the direction in which they are heading and it shows.  This new Blue Note Records album, by band-of-the-moment Go Go Penguin has a front cover that contains a symbol but no title, no words; on the back there is a list of tracks.  That’s it, a confident gesture.  If you want the names of the musicians or the band and album titles, they are not available at first glance.  If you are ‘into’ what Turner, Illingworth and Blacka are doing, the cover symbol says it all, no words, and for sure the music is immediate.  I think I’ll type some sentences rather than just provide a symbol ....

This is primarily an acoustic piano trio, but people really need to come at this music without thought to Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Thelonious Monk, or even the mercurial Cecil Taylor.  Go Go Penguin are a band that begins with right NOW.  The three-way is not separate dialogue – drums/piano/double bass act as a unit.  What is happening comes pressed through a single motivator.  By the time you have got to the final track, Protest, you will have heard great music but it has little to do with any of those piano trio leaders listed above. 

Click here for a video of Go Go Penguin playing Protest live in New York.

I read the ink, the band themselves seem to be dropping the name of Aphex Twin (Richard D. James), but the way I hear them that old sequencer in the shadows is as much real use to getting a handle on Penguin as leafing through their record company’s back catalogue.  Sometimes a particular group of musicians can come together and it suddenly, quite simply, makes sense.  They get beyond their backgrounds.  The CV is not required.

Go Go Penquin have not yet totally dispensed with the history of the piano trio but they don’t need it in the way, say, Brad Mehldau does.  (Nothing wrong with Mr Mehldau, I require my fix of Bill Evans too.)  These Penguin people are younger guys and they are drawing down sound as much from contemporary electronics as from jazz.  A track like Unspeakable World bleeps as if it is feeding off a mobile.  Once I reschedule my own ears, even a circuit break could potentially offer us an avalanche – track after track begins to make a total purposeful descent.  Everything is taut, each one is only the length it takes to serve its intention.  There is nothing superfluous.... or as long as I’d like it to be, but that’s my problem not theirs.

For all I know Weird Cat springs from a loaded bass line that Nick Blacka could have clung to during his time with Nat Birchall, it is like a peon promise to an old would-be mystic, yet as soon as Mr Illingworth’s piano enters he straightens out the curve.  Rob Turner’s quality drums touch down (as they do all over this session) and Weird Cat becomes drawn into itself. 

All the tunes are anthems of one kind or another, mantra melodies that are not simply placed there in order to be on parade, each one in its own way is tight to a predetermined demand.  The drive coming of Rob Turner’s drum kit is constant.  Constantly rolling, constantly inventive, constantly beating beat after beat, hit, hit, hit, constantly disturbing the air ahead of him. The album title, Man Made Object alludes to robotics.  The way they splay out these big themes against a pile of percussion could have come processed through machines but in fact has been transferred from IT software to an acoustic setting, a terrible oddity but utterly truthful.  (Yes, Nick Blacka is using an effects pedal on his double bass – believe me, that doesn’t count as electric in 2016.)  There is a hard ‘Logic’ here, which if you know anything about this modus operandi, I am talking literally.  Yet they are not afraid of a basic Heath Robinson approach.  I am told that Chris Illingworth used kitchen roll to dampen the piano strings on the track Smaara.  It worked a treat.  Compared to what I’ve seen thrown inside grand pianos over the years this paper/cardboard encounter sounds harder than stone.  Yet Smaara is like a throbbing lullaby, disturbed, whilst at the same time containing an internal particle of peace.  Smaara is for me the most impressive track; even the final distortion is not robbed of theme and dream. There are no nightmares here, no cop-outs either.  Even today peace is not an outdated purpose, nor peaceful protest a process to be shut down.    
I started this review with the track Protest and I’ll end with it too.  Played loud Protest feels enveloping.  In taking on Go Go Penguin music it would be the very worst thing to underestimate the importance of the essential clarity contained inside Turner and Blacka’s power-grip on proceedings.  They provide a hard detail.  Protest could be considered a secular Mass, a huge matrix of melody which Stadium audiences could chant like tribes (perhaps they already do).  The green light can turn red.  Chris Illingworth’s piano only just avoids veering dangerously close to Ludovico Einaudi in places (Branches Break).  The danger of an inappropriate collaborator is only a bad idea away, the whole thing teeters on the edge of collapse.  The avalanche will either signal a new beginning or possibly the end. 

Click here for a video of Branches Break.

This trio is at their crucial point of departure. Right now I’m convinced, they are on a magnificent roll.  I for one believe this Object is positive proof.  For all the Man Made clustering of electronic appropriations Nick Blacka’s double bass lines still pull and pluck a deep heartening statement.  Mr Turner’s drums are the collective’s signature’s seal, he has already thrown out the beatbox.  Chris Illingworth's piano aggregates anthems into the future.  Eventually, he will be the decider.  In truth I have no understanding of why the trio use the monicker Go Go Penguin, I am not sure it really matters, listen to Man Made music.  It tells me all I need to know.

Click here for details (Man Made Object is also available on vinyl).

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.com.    

 

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Calum Gourlay - Live At The Ridgeway

Album Released: 4th March 2015 - Label: Two Rivers Records - Reviewed: April 2015

Calum Gourlay Live At The Ridgeway

A solo double bass album is not a frequent discovery amongst new releases but this recording by Calum Gourlay is the exception. It will be of particular interest I imagine to other bass players and those who have an affinity with the bass in jazz music, but certainly worth a listen by everyone. The recording was made during a live performance in Calum’s home in London in December 2014 and the audience response is clearly appreciative. The album is one of the two first releases by the Two Rivers Records label.

Calum Gourlay is originally from Glasgow and I first came across him some years ago when he, keyboards player Kit Downes and drummer James Maddren formed the outstanding Kit Downes Trio on leaving the Royal Academy of Music in 2008. The three had built up a close relationship during their time in London and that came across strongly both in their work together and as individual musicians. Each has gone on to play a major part in today’s UK jazz scene and Calum is much in demand playing with a number of key bands including the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra,  John Scofield, Martin Speake and many others.

Ornette Coleman’s Ramblin’ opens the set and showcases Calum Gourlay’s talent in bringing different textures to the piece, and Chairman Mao by fellow bassist Charlie Haden follows before Calum plays my favourite of the eight tracks with an interpretation of Thelonious Monk’s Rhythm-a-Ning with a multi-paced improvisation that lives up to the title. Next up is another Monk track, Monk’s Mood, which together with a later track, Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now are slower numbers allowing the bass to take its time feeling its way through the music.

The two compositions by Calum himself work well. What Is This Thing Called Life? Is a steady, rhythmic, enjoyable number, but it is Hendrix that fascinates. Hendrix is a bowed, almost-avant-garde, yet still accessible piece that creates an interesting soundscape, quite different to the rest of the album.

The final track, Duke Ellington’s Solitude, is a splendid choice to complete the recoding that illustrates Calum’s imaginative interpretation of the piece as the track progresses. You can listen to a version of Calum playing Solitude if you click here – and I would recommend that you do as it gives a flavour of what you might expect from an interesting album.

Here is an intriguing solo album by one of today’s talented jazz musicians that demonstrates why he is held in so much respect by so many.

Calum Gourlay - Live At The Ridgeway is available here where you can listen to Ramblin' and samples of Chairman Mao and Both Sides Now.

Ian Maund

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Milford Graves and Bill Laswell - Space/Time - Redemption

Album released: 26th February 2015 - Label: Tum Records - Reviewed: June 2015 (Double CD)

Bill LASWELL mILFORD gRAVES ALBUM

Milford Graves (drums, percussion); Bill Laswell (basses).

Valerie Wilmer, the name should be known by everyone with an interest in the creative story of jazz, wrote a crucial book, As Serious As Your Life. It is the definitive account of the people and music that made up the 1960/70’s avant garde of “America’s only art form”. My battered 1987 copy of the book has a cover with a monochrome photograph taken by the author. Milford Graves is pictured drumming at an open air gig on 7th Avenue in Harlem in 1971. The drum kit, even by percussion standards of the time is magnificently vintage, and includes an old gong strung on a stand. Later, in 1999, when I caught Milford Graves playing with John Zorn at the Vision Festival in New York, the same kit, albeit with an additional bass drum, was being battered into a rumble. On the new Tum Records album there is a 2014 photograph of Graves and Bill Laswell playing at The Stone in New York and that old basic drum kit is still in service. The incredible thing is, throughout all these decades there has never been anything in the least bit basic about the drumming of Milford Graves.

Click here for a video of Bill Laswell, Milford Graves and John Zorn playing live.

Mr Graves was a key innovator within the percussion vanguard of 1960’s free jazz. The almost mythical Giuseppi Logan Quartet and the New York Art Quartet, cutting edge figures such as Albert Ayler and Sonny Sharrock - they all had the Graves drum kit rattling the air behind them. I was keen to review his new recording with legendary bass maestro/producer Bill Laswell because, although the two men are distinctive originals who dictate their own sonic paths, both musicians thrive on adapting to new environments. Mr Laswell is a traveller of ambient, jazz noise, rock and hardcore funk; a real wild card. Trying to compare and contrast his career (from Last Exit to Africa, to Herbie Hancock to Brian Eno) is like arguing blue isn’t green, when it may well be the case. 

After I got the disk I lived with it for several days propped up on my desk without opening the packet. I was trying to hear what I couldn’t hear before I heard it. I had a feeling that whatever I encountered on Space/Time-Redemption was going to be different to my imagination. The title almost gave the game away, this was going to be music placed in a new open space rather than a residency called home. When I eventually plugged in my ears I was not disappointed.  Milford Graves is a drummer who does not keep time, rather he makes time into space. And Bill Laswell does not play bass he produces an environment from the bass. The first track Eternal Signs is well named. There is a looped melody coming off Laswell’s instrument that drops across Graves’ drumming like a mediation soundtrack; as if the sitter is being constantly prodded to stay focused and count breadth by the easy drum roll emanating from the vintage kit. Eternal Signs literally signposts where this session is travelling to. 

Click here to listen to Eternal Signs.

The second track called Sonny Sharrock (dedicated to the guitarist with whom both men once worked), erupts with slack tom-toms – they boom, they talk back, as if a mere flat hit is not sufficient. A whole chime of clang and echo spills off the gongs and cymbals calling for (I assume) the kind of redemption referred to in the album title. I personally wouldn’t put a lot of faith in redemption, however what I hear is too beautiful to squabble over. This is great music played by ordinary men transformed into whatever it takes to become giants.

Bill Laswell usually plays an old Fender Precision bass guitar. A dark body, I don’t think it’s quite standard, but I’ve never been able to get close enough to check the detail. The ins and outs of his sound are not in the guitar itself but in the peddles and effects rigged up to it. On Space/Time-Redemption he has this underwater sound.  He could be dressed like a frogman and recording from the bottom of a swimming pool.  Recently I was talking to premier UK bassist/producer, Jim Barr as we were mixing some music.  I suggested we go for a bass sound “somewhere between Bill Laswell and Hugh Hopper” (from Soft Machine). ' Yes', Mr Barr drily replied, 'between them they define electric bass'. Okay, no swimming lessons required then!

The penultimate track on this album is Autopossession; it has an elongated percussion platform ending with two beats against four beaten out on tuned metal, it sounds like South African Township music, maybe Transvaal. Bill Laswell has said that this new recording is influenced by “recent experiences in Africa”. A statement which drew me back to Valerie Wilmer’s book in which she quotes Milford Graves: “You pick up the drum and you think of the Black man....You generally think of Africa....this is really his culture.  And just as anything else by the Black people has been suppressed, so the drum has been along with it.” Could such an idea be a clue into what Graves and Laswell mean by ‘redemption’ in this album’s title?

In essence the five tracks on Space/Time-Redemption make up a fifty minute tone poem cut into segments. The two longest tracks, Another Space and Another Time (tracks 3 and 5) are almost certainly from the same extended jam. Miles Davis used the same technique way back in the 1970’s for his super funk recordings Agharta and Pangaea. And Laswell is famous for his remix on Miles Davis’ Panthalassa album; a deep dive sound-collage of classic electric tracks. I have no doubt, Space/Time-Redemption is a very special recording; it’s not going to go away. This album is a classic long listen in anybody’s book.

Click here for details.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Devin Gray - RelativE ResonancE

Album Released: 2 February 2015 - Label: Spark Label - Reviewed: February 2015

Devin Gray RelativE ResonancE

 

Devin Gray (drums); Chris Speed (tenor saxophone, clarinet); Kris Davis (piano); Chris Tordini (bass).

There’s a five year old grainy black and white film on YouTube featuring Devin Gray’s Relative Resonance playing live in New York. I like it.  The music is experimental, probably not fully formed. It’s a band beginning its thing. They waited half a decade to bring out the RelativE ResonancE recording featuring all Devin Gray compositions. I guess you could say the completed product is relative to that original unpolished short movie still doing the rounds out there in the ether. 

Click here for a Relative Resonance video live 5 years ago in black & white.

Devin Gray tells a story about picking up on the name Relative Resonance after listening to the late great drummer Tony Williams give a masterclass involving tuning drums: “Tony was talking about ..... getting the “relative resonance” right between the top and bottom heads so that the drums will speak or sing. I thought about that idea as a universal philosophy that extends to an entire band.”  So, the relativity of relationships seems a good place to start checking out this recording.

Listening to Devin Gray’s New York quartet I’m immediately aware of the four ‘personalities’ involved. And although the opener, City Nothing City, is all over in three minutes it is long enough to make the ears aware that relative to other bands, these individuals cut a difference. The pianist, Kris Davis brings a pared technique to this session; she plays dexterous lines giving emphasis to composition and improv in relative measure, yet I can’t hear any chords coming off the keyboard. It makes for a very open kind of music, as if I’m listening to an additional virtuoso horn without sustain. It’s wonderfully liberating. Gray’s percussion plays the internal beat of the ‘melody’ line over the drum kit, as well as punching and shaking his kit up rhythmically.

Click here for a brief introductory video.

Reeds maestro, Chris Speed seems to favour bands led by drummers. I last caught him live with the idiosyncratic percussionist, Jim Black. In Relative Resonance Mr Speed’s presence is like the missing jig-saw piece; when he’s blowing he means it, when he’s absent he’s missed, and when he’s back in, there is completion. The final C(K)ris is Chris Tordini, the bass player. He’s new to me but he sounds like a heavy pulse in the heart of things. Although City Nothing City is a short signature for all four players Mr Tordini is already imprinting his bass deep into the bottom albeit Devin Gray is at pains to underline the fact that it’s his name on the cover.There’s no real need. By the time we hit the second track In The Cut the situation is already obvious. All four signatories are crucial to what’s going on. This is group music of a high order. Relative to each other, these musicians are independent, singular and track their own way through composition, yet they are a collective.

Click here to sample City Nothing City.

Notester (is that ‘no tester’ or maybe aligned to ‘protester’ – intriguing title) is my favourite track. Written in parts; each player having their own ‘part’, not necessarily played conterminously. Two minutes into Notester, Kris Davis is repeating a four note piano figure used to back drop Gray’s percussion. The two are starkly independent of each other yet sonically essential. The pianist then places her keyboard into the centre of the mix, with Chris Speed’s clarinet soloing another story. At about five minutes there is a hammer on hold from Mr Tordini’s double bass which becomes a fixed throb. It reverberates against Gray’s expansive clang-and-bang-a-bang percussion, pierced by Chris Speed’s horn. It is a mercurial device. Over the final two minutes of Notester the top is taken off the music by Speed producing a drone mantra similar to Eric Dolphy’s bass clarinet on John Coltrane’s India from the Impressions album (recorded at the Village Vanguard in 1961).

Here in New Jersey in 2014 Devin Gray and three musicians called C(K)ris, heap on a sound that is of its own time yet speaks from somewhere back in the collective psyche of jazz improvisation. Even the avant garde moves forward carrying the resonance of its own history. RelativE ResonancE has eight tracks, three of which are straight tunes (sic) whilst the other five use the ‘parts’ method. For me the end result remains curiously consistent throughout. By the time I got to Relative Resonance (For Tadd Dameron), the other ‘tune’, I was totally engaged in the pleasure of hearing four musicians bouncing lines from one to another. The fact that I was back on a more regular constructed composition did not count for much. The title track flowed beautifully in the same way as the playing does throughout the whole album. Tadd Dameron seems an unlikely dedicatee considering he was a traditional bop composer, arranger and pianist. There are lots of good things about Tadd Dameron, but on the surface at least, he’s the direct opposite of what is going on in the Devin Gray Quartet.This band use no single ‘arranger’, just four musicians working with the material put before them.

Describing music is sometimes like tasting air, possible for sure, yet ultimately there is no short-cut to actually listening. What Devin Gray does has to be heard. Playing on this level is unique; my words only imply what could be there for other people. Every day brings a new jazz perspective; this session is not what you already know. It is hard to be more accurate than that. As Devin Gray has noted it is indeed a RelativE ResonancE.  I am not sure why he wrote the capitals as they appear. If the idea is to emphasise the letters that are in the same position in both words I’d have thought RElativE REsonancE was more appropriate. It’s not my call, all I know is the music is terrific!

Click here for the album on Bandcamp where you can also sample the tracks.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Danny Green Trio - Altered Narratives

Album Released: 18th March 2016 - Label: Oa2 Records - Reviewed: May 2016

Danny Green Trio Altered Images

“I have always been the type to immerse myself in one genre of music, artist or composer for months to years at a time. From Nirvana, ska and Latin jazz, to Brazilian music, straight ahead jazz and Wagner operas, all these different musical phases that I went through help shape who I am as a pianist and composer.”  So Danny Green explains his musical influences in a nutshell.

Born in San Diego in 1981, Danny Green grew up in an academic family. His mother, now retired, was a teacher, and his father a professor of biology at the University of California San Diego.

Green began piano lessons as a child and at age 12 became interested in grunge rock but, after joining a ska band, “Ska was the first style of music that I got into that featured improvisation, and I remember being so excited listening to the solos,” he recalls. “My first experience improvising was in my ska band; I had no clue what I was doing, but I just followed my intuitions and went for it.”

And then, on viewing The Buena Vista Social Club documentary, a passion for Cuban son inspired him to join local salsa bands whilst at the same time writing in the Latin jazz idiom.  He was further influenced by guitarist/composer Guinga, pianist Marcos Silva, guitarist/composer Chico Pinheiro, and drummers Edu Ribeiro and Marcio Bahia.

Later studying under Rick Helzer, Green went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Jazz Studies at San Diego Station University, where he was awarded “Outstanding Graduate” and “Alumni to Watch”.

This inspired and truly original album Altered Narratives, which follows on from the success of the trio’s After the Calm, features the long-standing personnel of the Danny Green Trio, i.e. bassist Justin Grinnell and drummer Julien Cantelm, both successful in their own groups, and widely sought-after musicians in the San Diego/Southern California/West coast scene. The drums and bass know when to stay in accompanist mode, but when they do come to the fore it only goes to enhance the sound with some great brush-work and thrumming rhythm.

Other musicians on this album comprise the string quartet led by violinist Antoine Silverman and includes Max Moston, violin, Chris Cardona, viola and Anja Wood, cello.  Click here for a video introduction to the album and to see them at work in the studio.

Altered Narratives offers eleven original and gloriously lyrical and fluid Danny Green compositions inspired by different phases of the composer’s life, the middle three pieces (5, 6 & 7) featuring the addition of Antoine Silverman’s string quartet, as described above, and creating a beautiful, warm sound. 

Click here to listen to Chatter From All Sides from the album.

October Ballad is, as the title suggests, romantic, nostalgic and dreamy; Second Chance tells of Green’s love of 19th century European classical music, and 6 a.m. is a sort of hommage to and is reminiscent of Chick Corea, and the same can be said of Porcupine Dreams.

Click here for a video of the band playing Second Chance live in 2014.

The sheer variety in the eleven tracks is something to behold, each one with its own distinctive personality. These melodies are very hummable and stay in the mind.

This reviewer’s favourite track out of a superlative collection has to be the thrilling and tongue-in-cheek I Used to Hate the Blues:

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Titles on Altered Narratives (links are provided to live videos of 6 a.m.; Katabasis and Serious Fun).

1)   Chatter From All sides;
2)   The Merge;
3)   October Ballad;
4)   6 a.m;
5)   Second Chance;
6)   Katabasis;
7)   Porcupine Dreams;
8)   Benji’s Song;
9)   I Used To Hate The Blues;
10) Friday At The Thursday Club;
11) Serious Fun

Click here for Danny Green's website.

 

June Bastable

June Bastable is the wife of the late jazz musician, Johnny Bastable. She is a writer and author of two books Some People and These People available from Amazon, Waterstones, etc.

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The Tom Green Septet - Skyline

Album Released: 2 February 2015 - Label: Spark Label - Reviewed: February 2015

Tom Green Septet Skyline

Here comes an album I have been waiting to hear and it doesn't disappoint. You can hear a great band play live and sometimes it might not transfer to an album recording, but Tom Green's Septet has nailed it.

The Septet is: Tom Green (trombone), Sam Miles (tenor saxophone), Sam James (piano), Scott Chapman (drums), Matthew Herd (alto and soprano saxophones), James Davison (trumpet and flugelhorn) and Misha Mullov-Abbado (double bass).

Tom Green was the first trombonist to be admitted to post-graduate study at the Royal Academy of Music. He won the 2013 Dankworth prize for Jazz Composition, and Dame Cleo Laine has said of his work: 'Some of the most exciting original new music I have heard for a long time'. His music has been described as 'inspired by writers for large ensemble, thinking in long arcs, and in harmonies which are rich and full. The Septet in his sound world is not so much scaled up small group as scaled down big band, tight, unified ...'. In the past two years the Septet has toured the UK consistently gathering acclaim and followers and has performed at festivals in Switzerland, Italy and Tunisia.

Tom says: 'I have always been fascinated by light, colour, balance and harmony, both in nature and in music. On Skyline, many of the tracks are inspired by the interaction between natural landscapes and light in some way (Winter Halo, Mirage, Arctic Sun). I have attempted to use improvisation as a compositional tool to help tell the story of each tune, rather than using traditional head-solo-head structures. The huge advantage of composing for jazz musicians is that you can use improvisation as a means to take the compositions to a different place, but while still leaving each individual musician to decide the arc of a solo and how they reach that place in the composition. The range of colours and textures I can get out of those four horns is very exciting to work with as a composer, because I have at my disposal the core instruments found in a large ensemble'.

Click here for a video with Tom introducing the band and the album.

The result, of course, will depend not just on the quality of the compositions and arrangements but also on the standard of the musicians and in the Tom Green Septet, the standard is high. As for the compositions, they are accessible, engaging and imaginative. Tom says: 'I value melody above all else .. so I really hope all the melodies are memorable ...' They are.

Click here for a video of them playing Equilibrium live back in 2012.

The beautiful composition Equilibrium is the second track on the album which begins with Sticks And Stones, a good introduction as it illustrates the level of music you can expect for the rest of the album. The recording balance is spot-on and trumpeter James Davison and Scott Chapman on drums give us joyful solos. Listen out for another fine trumpet solo from James Davison on Equilibrium. Arctic Sun starts out with drums and bass setting the temperature, the piano easing its way in, and then the horns come along to grow the piece into what could so easily sound like a big band before Tom solos and the two saxophones interweave. Peace Of Mind is gently introduced by piano and trombone and expands with the band joining in until the piano and trombone take over again.

Click here to listen to Sticks and Stones.

Mirage again begins with trombone and piano, and trombone and saxophone solos stand out in an arrangement that is holding its hand up asking to become a standard. The well-established standard Skylark appears at track six. I have heard the band play this arrangement in live performances and I'm glad it has been included on the album. The saxophone picks up the melody and James Davison takes it forward with a great solo before Sam James treats us to an equally fine piano solo. Winter Halo comes in with Matthew Herd's wistful soprano sax, followed by trombone and gentle sax from Sam Miles. The album ends with D.I.Y., inspired partly by a friend of Tom's who almost electrocuted himself changing a light bulb and partly by the sounds of New Orleans second line parades.

Tom Green's trombone brings substance as well as classy solos and it is Tom's arrangements and the way he writes for the four-horn section that brings that big band feeling.

It is always easy to leave out credits for the rhythm section, but Scott Chapman and Misha Mullov-Abbado deserve recognition for the way they pull together the arrangements - listen to Misha's solo on Winter Halo and Scott's playing on Sticks and Stones. If I wore a hat I would also take it off to Alex Killpartrick for the way he has recorded and mixed this album.

By now you will have gathered that I like this recording. It may be early in the year, but for me this has to be one of the most enjoyable, satisfying and outstanding albums of 2015.

Click here for more about the album.

Click here for our Profile of Tom Green.

Ian Maund

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Stephen Grew - The Lit & Phil Suite

Album Released: July 2015 - Label: Self-Produced - Reviewed: August 2015

Stephen Grew The Lit & Phil Suite

Stephen Grew, Kawai grand piano.

In 2004 I was given an excellent Slam Records CD called Pianoforte featuring UK pianists, Keith Tippett. Howard Riley, Pat Thomas and Stephen Grew. The first three are regulars on my listening cycle but Mr Grew, who had contributed a starkly uninhibited solo piece called Magnesium to the set, had somehow dropped off my radar until the strangely titled, The Lit & Phil Suite came through the letter box. It turns out the Literary & Philosophical Society in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne is the largest independent library outside of London open to the public. The Lit and Phil is right next to Newcastle's Central Station. Only a train journey away from all of us, if you can afford the fare. And I assume the Kawai grand piano used on this recording comes within the content.

This may be a self produced no-frills no-label production but the sound quality is diamond sharp with the Kawai sounding as good as any Steinway. You could begin to start discussing at length, but this is a short review. We did not want to ignore a recording just because it doesn’t have the usual distribution facilities (if you want it, £6.50 including P&P direct from Mr Grew stepgrew@gmail.com). 

Stephen Grew's music is not easy but he is one of the most original pianists I’ve heard in both conception and technique. The Lit & Phil Suite is four tracks long, number 1 lasting twenty-two minutes and the other three taking up a further twenty minutes. There is a small amount of manipulation of the internal structure of the piano, however for the most part what we are listening to is intense solo keyboard extemporisation, often rhythmically dense against a masterful double handed linear narrative eschewing any form of conventional melody. It’s rather akin to listening to a tuned drum solo for forty minutes. Put another way, if Evan Parker played piano it might sound like this (this statement is, of course, merely an indicator not sworn fact).

I get a lot from Evan Parker and I believe Stephen Grew is going to grow on me again too. Such concentrated progression and focus represents decades of discipline. Grew’s head-on dynamics are outside Cecil Taylor, Simon Nabatov or Marilyn Crispell or any of the other great improv pianists that spring to mind. That could make The Lit & Phil Suite an important find, albeit hard to penetrate. If you are interested in exploring this music then you are going to have to put in a bit of time.

Check out the You Tube clip of Mr Grew playing solo at the Manchester Jazz Festival in 2011 to hear what you’ll be letting yourself in for (click here). For a day or so this piano sharpened my ears. I’ll be living with the edge.


Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk      
   

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Pat Halcox - Remembering Pat Halcox

Album Released: 27th April 2015 - Label: Lake Records - Reviewed: June 2015

Remembering Pat Halcox album

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Paul and Linda Adams at Lake Records for the wealth of British jazz history they have rescued and released, and this excellent double album of music from trumpeter Pat Halcox is a very good example.

The collection is admirable on several fronts. It brings together all the shades of Pat's technique and style in a variety of settings. It also features him in the company of many British musicians who might not be readily available on albums these days, and it is good to be able to hear them now. Apart from headlining names such as Kenny Ball, Monty Sunshine, Chris Barber, Ottilie Paterson, Alex Welsh, and Art Hodes, these tracks include Bill Greenow (saxophone), Vic Pitt (bass), Colin Kingwell (trombone), Ian Wheeler (alto saxophone), Roy Crimmins (trombone) and John Slaughter (guitar), to name but a few. Paul Adams has also selected some real gems amongst this compilation that showcase the talent that was Pat Halcox. The album tracks are also well-placed in that they move between styles and moods ensuring surprises, and it also includes a comprehensive ten-sided booklet of notes and pictures.

Pat Halcox is best known for his many years playing with Chris Barber, a partnership that began in 1953 and continued for 55 years. The album notes ask: 'Was Chris Barber the ideal band leader for Pat Halcox or was Pat Halcox the ideal sideman for Chris Barber? The answer is probably 'yes' to both sides of the question'. The first disc in this set is titled Mr Halcox and Mr Barber, and the sound of the early Barber band is faithfully reproduced on numbers such as the opening New Orleans Hop Scop Blues and Who's Sorry Now. Pat's muted trumpet is there behind Ottilie Paterson on the unforgettable I Love My Baby from 1958 and it is nice to hear Alex Welsh playing trumpet beside Pat with Chris's sidemen on Blue Turning Grey Over You from 1962, with Alex singing the lyrics. Shine is primarly a duet with Pat Halcox and Kenny Ball and the two trumpeters bring out good things in each other.

Georgia On My Mind is one of the real gems. Sensitive, beautiful playing. It comes from 1976 with Chris Barber (trombone), John Crocker (tenor sax), Ian Wheeler (alto sax), Johnny McCallum (guitar), Jackie Flavelle (bass) and Graham Burbidge (drums). Starting very slow, it gives us a magnificant trumpet solo and an equally fine guitar solo. A track that is worth the money on its own amongst the twenty-eight on this release. One or two tracks on this disc are not actually from the Barber stable and come from the 1980s with Pat Halcox very much in the lead, he always seemed content to let Chris be up-front as Al Fairweather did with Sandy Brown. These tracks, including Buddy Bolden's Blues with Johnny McCallum, John Slaughter (guitar), Vic Pitt (bass) and various drummers show us another side of Pat that gives him a chance to take impressive, extended solos.

Disc two, Pat Plays Away features the trumpeter in other company, largely, but not entirely in the Trad groove. Give Me Your Telephone Number from 1992 is with Colin Kingwell's Jazz Bandits and foot-taps away, Rosetta (1980) has a rousing solo from Bill Greenow's saxophone (Don Ewell plays piano and Alyn Shipton bass). Tin Roof Blues has Wally Fawkes (soprano sax), Art Hodes (piano), Andy Brown (bass) and Stan Greig (drums) and I Found A New Baby with Roy Crimmins (trombone), John Barnes (clarinet, alto and baritone saxes), Fred Hunt (piano), Jim Douglas (guitar), Ron Mathewson (bass) and Lennie Hastings (drums) stomps away for a rocking six minutes with solos from John, Pat, Roy and Lennie with John Barnes contributing a solid bari solo as well his clarinet piece.

Stepping outside the Trad genre at track 10 comes Woody Herman's Apple Honey with Pat, John Crocker and Mel Thorpe steaming on reeds, Roger Munns (piano), Johnny McCallum (guitar), Vic Pitt (bass), Pete York (drums). If you thought Pat Halcox was just about Trad jazz this is an eye-opener.

Pat Halcox passed through the departure lounge in February 2013. Amongst this collection are styles that will suit a wide audience, I have to admit that I was particuarly pleased to discover Pat Halcox's work with Johnny McCallum. Whatever the setting, this compilation shows respect for one of the UK's popular and talented trumpet players.

Click here to sample the album.

Click here for more information on the Lake Records page.

Ian Maund

 

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The Jeff Hamilton Trio - Great American Songs Through The Years

Album Released: 6th January 2015 - Label: Capri Records / Indie Japan - Reviewed: March 2015

Jeff Hamilton Trio albumImagine the scene. You and some friends have gone to a restaurant. In one corner is a jazz trio; piano, bass and drums. They are playing tunes you recognise. After a while, a friend leans across the table. “The pianist is good. I think I’ll buy their CD.”

One way to make a sure an album will be popular is to fill it with Standards and this album has many. Although it is called American Songs Through The Years, the years in question do not include more contemporary music. Another way to make it popular is to play those tunes well without making them too outfield, and that is the case here too.

American Jeff Hamilton is the drummer for this working trio that has played together for more than ten years. Jeff is also co-director of the Clayton-Hamilton Jass Orchestra and has worked with Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson and Diana Krall. Tamir Hendelman, born in Israel and now based in America, is the pianist and Christoph Luty the bass player. The album mainly features the pianist, but there is some good solo playing from Luty, and Hamilton has his solo spots too.

This is not the first album from the Trio, From Studio 4 Cologne Germany in 2013 received some good reviews and with other albums by the Trio is available as a download.

The tracks include: Falling In Love With Love; Tenderly; The More I See You; It Could Happen To You; Someone To Watch Over Me; Thou Swell; You Took Advantage Of Me; I Thought About You;  All Or Nothing At All and How Long Has This Been Going On.

It Could Happen To You is an interesting arrangement in that the tune is taken fast. I was not sure that this would work, but it does. All Or Nothing At All is similarly taken at a fairly fast pace.

Someone To Watch Over Me has an interesting arrangement with Christoph Luty playing the full Introduction as a bass solo before taking out his bow to ease into Tamir's piano taking up the melody. Similarly Luty's solo bass leads us into I Thought About You. This is a relaxed, experienced trio playing some well-loved tunes imaginatively and accessibly.

Click here for a video of the Trio playing Isn't It Romantic back in 1997.

Great American Songs Through The Years is the result of an arrangement between Capri Records and All Art Promotions in Japan to license the CD and is a limited edition of 2,500 copies. At £19.61 from Amazon it is rather expensive, but Capri Records are trying to negotiate with Japan for the album to be available as a download like others from the Jeff Hamilton Trio.

Click here to sample the album.

Ian Maund

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Scott Hamilton and the Jeff Hamilton Trio - Live In Bern

Album released: 20th October 2015 - Label: Capri Records - Reviewed: November 2015

Scott Hamilton and Jeff Hamilton Live In Bern

Tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton and drummer Jeff Hamilton, who have both graced the jazz scene with their artistry for the past four decades, are not biologically related, but their mutual understanding and passion for swinging mainstream jazz could make one believe they are brothers under the skin!

“Pairing Scott and Jeff has been a long-time dream of mine,” says Capri Records President, Thomas Burns,  going on to explain that Jeff has made many recordings for Capri as leader of his dynamic trio, as co-leader with The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and also as sideman on a number of other sessions.  When Scott and Jeff were approached to record together for Capri, they grasped the opportunity with enthusiasm.

And so, on this sparkling collection, which was recorded at Marians Jazzroom a week after the quartet performed at the International Jazz Festival Bern, they are captured together for the first time.  Joining Scott Hamilton and Jeff Hamilton are the two stalwarts of Jeff’s trio, pianist Tamir Hendelman, and bassist Christoph Luty both masters of inspired improvisations and seamless support.

This album is an absolute joy: it takes us on a magic carpet ride through a collection of beautiful and nostalgic jazz standards, such as the dreamy September in the Rain, All Through the Night (hear that weaving sax and a witty quote from Don’t Get Around Much Any More), Max Waldron’s torchy and wistful Soul Eyes (reminiscent of, but composed for Coltrane long before, Bernard Herrman’s theme from the film Taxi Driver), Richard Rogers’s This Can’t Be Love (with a quote from Pennsylvania 6500), Benny Carter’s introspective Key Largo (fleeting quotes from Mona Lisa and Leroy Anderson’s Plink, Plank, Plunk!), the up-tempo There’ll Be Some Changes Made, superb sobbing saxwork and inspired piano on Harry “Sweets” Edison’s Centrepiece, plus a wonderful rendition of the Billy Strayhorn’s lesser-known or, at least, lesser-played number, Ballad For Very Tired and Very Sad Lotus Eaters!

Click here to listen to Soul Eyes.

More gems include You And The Night And The Music (lovely bass solo and a cheeky quote from the Mexican Hat Dance), Dizzy Gillespie’s Wood‘n You (fabulous drumming and piano here, plus a subtle quote from ‘Round Midnight), and Jeff Hamilton’s composition Sybille’s Day – lovely piano on this track!   

Click here to listen to Wood'n You.

A  special mention must be made of a stand-out version of Dizzy Gillespie’s fabulous and exciting The Champ - a favourite of this reviewer’s from the very early 1950s. It has to be mentioned here that the sleeve note incorrectly credits Alan Hawkshaw as the composer of The Champ – those musos amongst you will know that Leeds-born Hawkshaw did indeed compose a similarly titled piece years later in the 1970s for a pop group (The Mohawks), but the track on this album is definitely Dizzy Gillespie’s original composition from 1951!

Click here to listen to The Champ.

But back to the business in hand – this marvellous collection of great tunes provides the jazz-lover with an aural box of delights – dip in anywhere and be soothed and/or thrilled. 

Mainstream jazz is still swinging!

Click here to sample the album in iTunes. Click here for more details.

June Bastable

June Bastable is the wife of the late jazz musician, Johnny Bastable. She is a writer and author of two books Some People and These People available from Amazon, Waterstones, etc.

 

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Lafayette Harris Jr - Hangin' With The Big Boys

Album released: 6th May 2016 - Label: Airmen Records - Reviewed: September 2016

Lafayette Harris Jr Hangin With The Big Boys

Lafayette Harris Jr (piano), George Delancey (bass), Will Terrill (drums), Houston Person (tenor sax), Antoine Drye (trumpet), Caleb Curtis (alto sax), Jazzmeia Horn (vocals), Noel Simone Wippler (vocals).

Pianist Lafayette Harris Jr has impressive credentials, having worked with Roswell Rudd and Cindy Blackman. Also I am told he visited Britain with the late bebop giant, drummer Max Roach, so I was expecting some high-quality sounds. Is that what we get? On the whole, Yes.

Lafayette has a distinctive and melodic style, sometimes with delayed phrasing. On occasion, he seems to be stumbling to catch up with himself but in an appealing manner. On this album there are six of his own originals and one by his alto sax player Caleb Curtis. To balance the mix he has included four standards, one a piece of timeless Ellingtonia.

If, like me, you only appreciate female vocalists when they are of the Billie/Ella calibre it is probably best to approach certain tracks with caution. I think to kick off the album with Blue Skies as a vehicle for the two singers to generally mess about, is probably a false start. It is confusing, slightly off-key at times and doesn’t do justice to a classic Irving Berlin composition.

Nevertheless, all is redeemed on the next track with a ravishing version of Ellington’s In A Sentimental Mood, featuring the  breathy-toned tenor of veteran Houston Person, whose phrases are as smoky as a tumbler of Jack Daniels.

The title tune, Hangin’ with the Big Boys, is given a sprightly work-out for alto and trumpet, the inventive playing of Antoine Drye is especially notable. Alto man Caleb Curtis’s own composition The Wheelhouse is a lively romp for its creator, once more with some sparkling trumpet playing.

Drinking Wine Blues is a feature for singer Jazzmeia Horn (what a great name) while her co-vocalist, Noel Simone Wippler adds her voice to the ensemble on Little Kevin’s Embrace. Another outstanding ballad interpretation comes from the tenor man in The Very Thought of You, a gorgeous Ray Noble tune fully and reverently honoured.

Apparently all the musicians featured here are New York-based and these days Lafayette likes to work in venues in or near the Big Apple.

Apart from my little niggle above, the album is well worth lending an ear, for the leader’s distinctive piano and some super tenor from Houston Person who, it must be said, rather steals the show.

Tracks: Blue Skies; In A Sentimental Mood; Hangin’ With The Big Boys; We In The House; Don’t Worry About It; The Zombie Blues; Little Kevin’s Embrace; Drinking Wine Blues; The Wheelhouse; The Very Thought of You; They All Laughed.

Click here for details and to sample.

Click here for Lafayette Harris Jr's website.

Jamie Evans

Jamie Evans manages a website remembering the late clarinettist Alan Cooper - click here.

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Patrick Hayes Electric Ensemble (PHEE) - Back To The Grove

Album released: 23rd May 2015 - Label: phee.com - Reviewed: July 2015

Patrick Hayes Electric Ensemble Back To The Grove

 

Originally from Bournemouth, Patrick Hayes studied Jazz Trombone at the Royal Academy of Music, London and Studio Music and Jazz at the University of Miami - Coconut Grove in Miami is the location behind the title of his new album Back To The Grove. He has performed and recorded with a wide range of pop and jazz musicians including Phil Ramone, the James Taylor Quartet, Gerard Presencer and Guy Barker, and the bands he has played with are equally varied and include NYJO, the London Jazz Orchestra, the London City Big Band, Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra, University of Miami Concert Jazz Band, Troyk-estra and Glenn Miller UK. His experience of playing with big bands is clearly evident on this album.

Back To The Grove is Patrick’s debut album under his own name. Of the seven tracks, five are his own compositions. You Get The Picture is a John Scofield number and Estate is by Bruno Martino. As for the musicians on this album, they vary track by track having been recorded at various times during 2014, but the talent Patrick has pulled in is formidable. Some top-of-the-pile UK musicians appear including James Gardiner-Bateman (saxophone), Reuben Fowler and Tom Walsh (trumpet), Matt Robinson (keyboards), Gareth Lockrane (flute) and two of my favourite unsung singers – Harriet Syndercombe-Court and Billy Benjamin Boothroyd.

Click here for an introductory video to the album

Crackin’ The Whip opens with percussion and bass and leads into a catchy, funky ensemble out of which James G-B emerges with a nice solo that sets things up for Rob Luft’s electric guitar, by now you are clapping or foot tapping. The band joins in again to drive along with drums and congas and effective touches of electronica. This is an impressive opening track and John Scofield’s You Get The Picture keeps up the pace so we almost have a segue from one piece to the next. Ed Richardson’s drums are key to these and other tracks that follow. Matt Robinson’s Fender Rhodes carries this second track along and again Rob Luft shows us how an electric guitar can lift a piece while the band holds the energy underneath.

Click here for a video of Crackin’ The Whip filmed at the album launch.

Back To The Grove has the brass and woodwind creating atmosphere, the percussion telling us this has a Latin touch and then a lovely flute solo from Gareth Lockrane confirming the fact. I love Reuben Fowler’s short flugelhorn solo that follows. As the tune slows, Patrick Hayes takes a trombone solo until the background vocals echo the title. Bruno Martino’s Estate swells its entrance into Billy Boothroyd’s vocal. If you have never heard Billy sing, here’s your chance. Why this guy has not recorded his own album beats me. Matt Robinson takes the central piano solo and for this track we have a large ensemble with violins and cellos filling out the arrangement.

Click here for Back To The Grove live.

Night In The Gables upbeats the Latin with a ‘Pow’ and Harriet Syndercombe-Court’s vocal precedes a lovely flute solo from Gareth Lockrane, breaking for a percussive episode from Jonathon Ormston, Alice Angliss and Ed Richardson. Safe In Berlin slows for a great duo introduction from Laurence Ungless (bass guitar) and Rob Luft (electric guitar) and Patrick Hayes and Rob Luft solo effectively on trombone and guitar. The album ends with Barkham, where a steady percussion brings in shades of Shaft, Earth Wind and Fire and Weather Report until James Gardiner-Bateman takes an alto-saxophone solo that shows why he is so much in demand these days.

Click here to listen to Safe In Berlin

In my opinion, Back To The Grove is a ‘must have’ album. It will have wide appeal, it is joyous and  uplifting, and the enthusiasm of the musicians is tangible. No small credit is down to the stunning arrangements by Patrick Hayes and by Reuben Fowler for You Get The Picture. If the Patrick Hayes Electric Ensemble has more in their catalogue, bring it on.

The album is available from phee1.bandcamp.com , itunes and Amazon where you can sample the tracks.

Click here for a video of PHEE playing We Can Work It Out (not on the album) live at the Jazz Cafe London.

Ian Maund

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Phil Haynes - Sanctuary

Album released: 11th September 2015 - Label: Babel Label - Reviewed: October 2015

Phil Haynes Sanctuary

Phil Haynes is a drummer based in Pennsylvania. He is a veteran of the New York City jazz scene and has recorded with many musicians including Anthony Braxton, Dave Liebman, David Kikoski and others whose names are more well-known across the Pond.

Haynes leads the trio No Fast Food with saxophonist Dave Liebman and bassist Drew Gress and the 'jazz grass' string band Free Country, but he is also known for his solo percussion work as we discover on this album Sanctuary. The album was recorded on a relatively small kit with only five drums and a modest number of cymbals, but he has also incorporated percussion from an array of implements and 'found instruments'.

The album's 27 short pieces are organised into five thematic movements taken from four hour-long sets recorded over two days at SFB Radio. In a period of practice in his cellar apartment he honed his approach. He says: 'My problem with a lot of free performance is that it becomes run-on sentences instead of interesting and effective composition worth sitting down and analyzing. A composer's job is to take a few ideas and develop them fully in a way that captures people's imaginations.'

It seemed logical to ask a drummer to talk about the album for us, and so David Ingamells has listened to the recording and says:

Phil Haynes uses a variety of techniques: all manner of beaters, hands on drums/cymbals, fingernail scrapes, blowing/overblowing of pipes, stick scraping cymbals (squeaks in Track 1, I Awaken:Spirits), bottles of water. He clearly has a global, all-embracing attitude to percussion and styles, ranging from Japanese traditional play music (Track 10, Kabuki), Jazz (Track 11, III Western Habits: Longer Shorter), 20th Century Classical music (eg. Phillip Glass etc.) (Track 2, Aqua).

Some pieces represent the title quite literally (Track 2, Aqua, using bottled water), some dip into connotations for the words used and are therefore evocative (Track 1, I Awaken:Spirits, celestial, flute-like sounds / Track 3, Rapid Eye Movement, fast and jittery), and others are more abstract, bordering on 'absolute' music in their title and content (Track 11, Track 8,Sympathetic Membranes ).

Some pieces also refer to established styles of music which are absolute (Track 26, V al Coda: Bop Be – Jazz) and others which are not (Track 21, Cha-Cha Cha – Ballroom Dance). He retains our interest partly by changing his sound-world and aesthetic intention so frequently, and some pieces are structured as a narrative (i.e. have clear beginnings, middle and ends) and others seem to be dropping into a music for a brief period of time, as if this music continues whether we listen to it or not.

Click here to listen to the tracks Kabuki and Longer Shorter from the album.

Overall, I think Phil Haynes is successful in the effects he uses; the fact that the listener could easily get lost in a sea of abstraction in the absence of melody and harmony is addressed by changing so often, and using such a variety of sounds. Having listened to this with headphones, I would have liked to have heard him use more of the 'soundstage' (in other words, the sounds could have been made in more places in the soundscape), but this didn't interfere with being able to comprehend the content of the overall sound; also, this may have limited him bearing in mind the circumstances of the recording.

Click here to listen to Track 9: Wind In The Chime

Click here for the album on Phil Haynes own Corner Store Jazz website.

David Ingamells

Drummer David Ingamells graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2013 with a 1st Class Honours degree. He is currently a Fellow at the Guildhall School and amongst many others, he plays regularly with the London City Big Band, Henry Spencer's Juncture and the Philip Clouts Quartet who have recently released the album Umoya. Click here for David's website.

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Bruno Heinen and Kristian Borring - Postcard To Bill Evans

Album released: 11th September 2015 - Label: Babel Label - Reviewed: October 2015

Bruno Heinen and Kristian Borring Postacrd To Bill Evans

Has there ever been a more influential modern jazz pianist than Bill Evans? Probably, but, even so, it does seem sometimes that the current crop of up and coming jazz pianists all have at least a little bit of Bill in their DNA.

As the title implies, Postcard to Bill Evans is an album which is explicit about the debt. The pianist, Bruno Heinen and guitarist, Kristian Borring, take a number of Evans tunes and reinterpret them in a way that isn’t some slavish pastiche but a genuine reworking for a contemporary audience. “Bill Evans was my way in to jazz”, says Heinen,

“…at 18 years old, my uncle (Johannes Heinen – a Koln based jazz pianist) gave me a copy of Sunday at the Village Vanguard. At the time I was only playing classical music (and hadn’t checked out much jazz at all), but that album opened my ears to a whole new way of thinking. I was drawn first to his sound and classical approach. I transcribed most of his solos from that album, and began the work of learning the language.”

Heinen went on to study classical piano at the Royal College of Music, and took his jazz Masters at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama where he was taught by the late John Taylor. He now teaches at the Guildhall. The Danish guitarist, Kristian Borring, studied jazz guitar at the Conservatorium Van Amsterdam before also ending up at the Guildhall and meeting Heinen there. Both musicians are now based in London.

The pairing of piano and guitar inevitably brings to mind the duets between Evans and guitarist, Jim Hall. Although Borring is clearly influenced by Jim Hall, he has his own style; and both Borring and Heinen are at pains not to be seen as merely copying the original Evans-Hall partnership. They have, for example, chosen compositions which were not those generally played by Evans and Hall together.

Bill Evans has become famous for a reflective way of playing which favours slower tempos and the creation of mood and emotion rather than ostentatious technical virtuosity; a style which owes as much to Debussy and Ravel as to Jelly Roll Morton. But he could also swing – sometimes pretty vigorously. And it is this more upbeat, playful Evans which Heinen and Borring are, for the most part, seeking to remember. Take the first track, for example, Time Remembered, an Evans composition from 1962. Heinen begins with a typical piece of Evans piano, creating a mood of slightly melancholic nostalgia. Borring gently ups the beat before both instruments - either together or soloing - launch into a gently swinging, foot tapping and very enjoyable performance.

The tempo is kept up on the next track, Peri’s Scope, from 1959. The main theme is a memorable one which takes some quite unexpected directions proving that Evans could be an interesting and accomplished composer as well as a great stylist. 34 Skidoo is more typical Evans, a dreamy ballad creating a mood of relaxed contemplation – and is, incidentally, another great tune. Piano and guitar play off each other very effectively. The fourth track, Interplay, is a jaunty blues with some great piano-guitar interplay sounding almost Bach-like, albeit Bach as filtered through Jacques Loussier.

Five is another upbeat piece with an edge reminiscent of Thelonious Monk. Again, there is an almost telepathic interplay between the two musicians which turns into something like the work Jim Hall did with another musical partner, Jimmy Guiffre, in the late fifties: light, cool, clever.

Epilogue/Some Other Time is two tunes taken together: Epilogue is an Evans composition in his slow, thoughtful mode which Heinen plays beautifully in a liquid avalanche of notes. This turns into Leonard Bernstein’s Some Other Time played by both piano and guitar.

Displacement is a 1956 composition by Evans played at quite a quick tempo and notable for Borring’s Wes Montgomery chords. Postcard to Bill is composed by Bruno Heinen and begins with a slowish but effective guitar solo. The piano comes in and the beat steadily increases into a foot tapping, swinging, absorbing performance. Show Type Tune is back to Bill Evans and was written in 1962. It has a bossa nova beat, Heinen plays a jaunty solo, and Borring stretches out confidently on his solo sounding at times like Joao Gilberto on those Stan Getz records.

The final track is a live performance of the Jerome Kern standard (and Bill Evans favourite), All The Things You Are, recorded at the Vortex Jazz Club in London. Both Heinen and Borring let rip with some confident solos but also play marvellously together in a sort of staccato counterpoint.

The whole album does Bill Evans proud. I reached down for my own copy of Sunday at the Village Vanguard and reminded myself of what a truly great musician Bill Evans was.

Click here for an introductory video.

Click here to sample the album.

Robin Kidson

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Fred Hersch - Solo

Album released: 4th September 2015 - Label: Palmetto Records - Reviewed: May 2016

Fred Hersch Solo

Fred Hersch (piano).

On reading the accompanying promotional notes to this album the phrases "vessels of his supremely graceful invention" and "slow-blooming epiphany" filled this reviewer with a sinking feeling. But US pianist Fred Hersch almost certainly doesn't write his own blurb and any keyboardist who includes Monk and Ellington as major influences and who has worked and recorded with Stan Getz, Joe Henderson, Art Farmer, Gary Burton and many more almost legendary musicians, deserves respect and attention. 

He celebrated his 60th birthday last year with a live solo concert and recorded the seven tracks here which include two originals and five versions of quite well-known compositions. In my imagination, I asked Mr Hersch if he would mind my referring to him by his diminutive monicker? "Right" said Fred.

I had listened to Fred previously in the classic trio format of piano, bass and drums, and he had impressed very favourably as a swinging keyboard man in the finest Bill Evans/Keith Jarrett/Oscar Peterson tradition but with a quirky contemporary twist.

This solo offering has a somewhat different approach, some tracks being thoughtful, meandering and introspective. 

Fred suffered from a possibly mortal illness in 2008 which left him in a coma for two months, without muscular function and unable to play at all. Listening to his blistering technique on this album, he has certainly made a full recovery.

My top pick is Monk's In Walked Bud. Fred's version of this widely played song (based on the chord sequence of Blue Skies) is one of the more conventional offerings and the sound of the Nine Foot Yamaha Concert Grand (1995) in a Catskills church setting is really sublime. The beautiful instrument is given a full work-out from its resonant bass keys to the vibrant sounds of the very top register. Some of the counterpoint on this number marries classical sounds to Thelonious's unique dissonance. Very much a case of 'Monk meets J S Bach'.

Click here for a video of Fred Hersch playing In Walked Bud.

Caravan, written by Juan Tizol but always associated with the Duke, is taken slowly and certainly captures an impression of camels loping through the desert.

A lovely Jerome Kern number, The Song is You, is also played at a slow almost ballad-style tempo, probably the way it was intended to be heard before the bebop speed merchants commandeered it.

Click here for a video of Fred playing The Song Is You.

The opening and longest offering is a Jobim medley, Olha Maria/O Grande Amor which Fred treats in an appropriately lyrical fashion. It is no easy feat for a solo pianist to capture the feeling of steamy, tropical Brazil without any percussion assistance but the implied samba pulse is always there in the background. 

A surprising choice is a song written by Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now, not a number one would expect on a jazz album. Fred gives it a languorous treatment and it is enjoyable enough considering its original provenance.

Sadly, Fred's own two compositions have little appeal to my ears. Many years ago a friend who had been listening to one of Keith Jarrett's solo releases, the Koln Concert, coined the phrase "Jarretting about", by which he meant long piano extemporisations which could induce longueurs in the listener. 

No disrespect was intended to an exceptionally fine musician like Keith but in Pastorale and Whirl for me there are echoes of a little "JA". The former is a homage to Schumann which frankly, I think goes on with little point. Likewise, the latter track which is at least up-tempo but seems to go nowhere slowly.

Click here to listen to Whirl.

A gifted pianist like Fred is assured of a top rank in swinging and conventional trios and the fact that he chooses to try different directions is all to his credit. 

Click here for details and to sample.

Jamie Evans

Jamie Evans manages a website remembering the late clarinettist Alan Cooper - click here.

 

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The Fred Hersch Trio - Sunday Night At The Vanguard

Album released: 12th August 2016 - Label: Palmetto Records - Reviewed: September 2016

The fred Hersch Trio Sunday Night At The Vanguard

The Fred Hersch Trio: Fred Hersch (piano), John Hébert (bass), Eric McPherson (drums).

Track Listing: A Cockeyed Optimist, Serpentine, The Optimum Thing, Calligram, Blackwing Palomino, For No One, Everybody's Song But My Own, The Peacocks, We See, Solo Encore, and  Valentine.

I generally prefer “live” recordings which have a spontaneity about them over tracks recorded in a studio as the musicians are in charge of how they play the tune, and as Fred says “the acoustics of The Vanguard allow for whisper-soft playing and yet the sound magically fills the room.” The venue is over 80 years old and is known as “The Village Vanguard” in New York. Hersch visited there in 1976 to hear the great Dexter Gordon play on his return from a tour of Europe. He thinks it is the best place in the world to play with a piano trio and it has become his second home.

The present trio have recorded a number of well-received albums over the past seven years following on from the 2012 album Alive At The Vanguard, which collected some awards. This current album, according to Hersch, almost did not happen, as he had doubts about making a second live recording at the venue. But it was the sound check that decided him to assemble the recording team and go ahead with the recording over a weekend in March of this year. He states, “that I had a feeling that some special music was going to happen”, and after listening to the CD I have to agree with him.

Over the years, Hersch has performed and recorded with such notables as Stan Getz, Joe Henderson, Billy Harper, Toots Thielmans and Art Farmer. On this outing we have 10 tracks in all, 5 composed by Hersch and the remaining five which are covers of more unusual numbers from well-known authors. The longest track is over 10 minutes and the shortest at just over 3.

The first track is Rogers' and Hammerstein's, A Cockeyed Optimist, which has a slow subdued start on the piano flowing into a smooth melody which increases in pace as the bass and drums join and meld beautifully with the intricate rhythms which cascade from the piano, before slowing again towards the end of the track.

This is followed by four tracks composed by Hersch, Serpentine, The Optimum Thing, Calligram, and Blackwing Palomino. Of these, Serpentine is a somewhat dark and mysterious tune that keeps changing course, and just when you think you have the melody, it changes again - intricate playing on the piano with some laid back bass in the middle of the track. Blackwing Palomino is a tune in celebration of a type of pencil and is a swinging number with the drums coming to the fore, however they do not overwhelm the bass or piano but complement it.

Moving on, there is a version of the Paul McCartney song, For No One, which is exquisitely played and interpreted by Hersch. It starts and stays sensitive and is almost a solo performance on a melodic piano with subtle brushed drums and bass. Kenny Wheeler’s Everybody’s Song But My Own and Jimmy Rowle’s The Peacocks are nicely covered with intricate playing showing the full range of Hersch’s expertise.

Click here for a live performance by the Trio of The Peacocks in 2015.

Monk’s We See has a bright racing start which changes pace and is guided back by the commanding bass and hardworking drums to the main theme which has some neatly syncopated piano playing by Hersch. The album’s last track is a solo by Hersch called Valentine which is a haunting piece, showing off the intricacy and clarity of his piano playing and is a fine end to an excellent album.

Click here for a video of a live performance of Valentine.

Click here for details and to sample.

Tim Rolfe

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Chris Hodgkins and Dave Price - Back In Your Own Backyard

Album released: 6th April 2015 - Label: Bell CDs - Reviewed: May 2015

Chris Hodgkins Dave Price album

If albums came in a tin, this one would deliver exactly what it says on it. Here we have a trio of trumpet, piano and bass (occasionally two basses) playing numbers like Drop Me Off In Harlem, Struttin' With Some Barbecue, Sunday, Buddy Bolden's Blues and Almost Like Being In Love. The album should appeal to many.

This is a departure from previous albums by Chris Hodgkins Present Continuous and Future Continuous made with bassist Alison Rayner and guitarist Max Brittain, partly because this is a conscious return to interpreting early jazz and partly because it involves Chris's regular band of Dave Price (piano) and Erika Lyons and/or Ashley John Long (bass).

There are those who will know Chris Hodgkins from his work as Director of the UK jazz support organisation, Jazz Services. He is,of course, also an accomplished jazz trumpeter. When he retired from Jazz Services in 2014, Chris returned to his native Wales to record this album - hence the title Back In Your Own Backyard. He has played with Dave, Erika and Ashley on his visits to Wales over the past seven years. Having received awards for his services to jazz at the British Jazz Awards in 2002 and 2013, Chris also received a Services To Jazz Award in 2015 at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards. He currently hosts a weekly show on Jazz London Radio.

Information with the album says: 'Aside from two originals and the poignant Black Butterfly, the repertoire suggests a formulaic Mainstream set that one might hear at a jazz party. But that narrow assumption vanishes once the music begins, for Chris, Dave, Erika and Ashley offer serene yet searching chamber jazz, refreshing improvisations on familiar songs.'

I find this partly true, Dave Price has a light touch and his piano takes the tunes out of the American roots, but Chris's trumpet recalls the origins with nods to Louis Armstrong in tracks like A Kiss To Build A Dream On and Black Butterfly whilst Swinging At The Copper Beech, written by Chris and Max Brittain has a muted trumpet solo reminiscent of Ellington and other big bands of that time. 'Searching chamber jazz' is rather misleading in some respects as it doesn't reflect the way many tunes on the album swing.

The tracks A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square and Black Butterfly effectively feature two double bass lines. The sleeve notes only credit Ashley John Long on Black Butterfly but the track has a bowed and plucked bass playing together to nice effect and Chris's trumpet captures the emotion of the piece beautifully. Altogether there are seventeen tracks on this album, value for money indeed, stand out tracks for me are A Kiss To Build A Dream On, Struttin With Some Barbecue with its extended solo trumpet introduction, the dreamy Angel Eyes sounding like a film noir soundtrack, Black Butterfly, Swinging At The Copper Beech, and Buddy Bolden's Blues where the trumpet states the theme alongside a strolling bass before Dave Price joins in economically before taking a leisurely solo. The album ends appropriately with Just Friends in which each musician takes a bow but also shows how far this is a collective project.

Click here for details of the album - CDs are available direct from Chris and the album will be available digitally from 5th May 2015. Click here for the following tracks on YouTube: Sweet Hearts On Parade; Angel Eyes; Sunday.

Click here for Chris Hodgkins's website where his gig list and other information is available.

Ian Maund

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Jasper Høiby - Fellow Creatures

Album released: 15th July 2016 - Label: Edition Records - Reviewed: July 2016

Jasper Hoiby Fellow Creatures

Where do I start?! Possibly with the list of musicians, all of them out of the top drawer: Jasper Høiby (double bass and composer), Mark Lockheart (saxophone), Laura Jurd (trumpet), Will Barry (piano) and Corrie Dick (drums). Say 'Jasper Høiby' and one thinks of his trio work with pianist Ivo Neame and drummer Anton Eger in Phronesis, or with Kairos 4tet; this time he pulls together a different combination to play a range of his compositions. He says: 'With this project it was very important for me to explore things that I wouldn't be able to with Phronesis and so, although I still think the record has things in common with the trio, it is also in many ways, an attempt to break away and try new ground with this band. The music here may seem less explosive at first, but I hope some of its subtlety and richness will be revealed by repeated listens.'

The album was recorded in January 2016 at The Village Studio in Copenhagen, Denmark, Jasper's birth city. He moved to the UK in 2000 to attend the Royal Academy of Music and over the last sixteen years has emerged as one of the leading bass players on the jazz scene performing not just with Phronesis, first formed in 2005, but with a host of other leading musicians.

It is also important to understand the concept behind the album. Jasper says: 'My wish was to tell a story with a whole record, and to cherish that intimate relationship between an album and its listener that used to be commonplace, perhaps a return to the days when you would listen through from start to finish, again and again, until you grew to know every single note, space and emotion and it became part of your inner world, your personality even. Secondly, the titles and to some extent the writing are inspired by a brilliant book by Canadian author Naomi Klein called "This Changes Everything". The book talks about what we have to do to make sure that we don't devour this beautiful planet, along with all its natural resources. It discusses how we can seize this environmental crisis and transform our failed economic system to build something radically better for everyone.'

Folk Song opens the album with a solo bass introduction and then Laura Jurd's clear trumpet leading out into a haunting melody and through some collective, imaginative improvisation over a folk story that quietens to piano and back to trumpet led theme. The title track, Fellow Creatures, follows, again introduced by the bass. The trumpet and saxophone and then the piano interact above a solid working from bass and drums. There is a tendency to listen to the horns, but you need to hear what Corrie Dick is doing on drums too. There is a lot going on in this track and you appreciate what Jasper Høiby means about the need to listen again. World Of Contradictions at track 3 is introduced quietly by Will Barry's piano and then the saxophone and trumpet in unison. Jasper's bass is firmly in your consciousness and his short duo with piano is sensitive and melodic.

Click here for Jasper's website where you can listen to the track Fellow Creatures.

Track 4 is Little Song For Mankind and again there is a compelling piano and bass introduction. The horns are absent until later on this track and there is a chance to appreciate the fine interaction between piano, bass and drums. Song For The Bees comes next - with a busy opening from bass, saxophone and trumpet. I am listening to how well this album has been recorded and mixed with Corrie Dick's ticking drums placed just right and Jasper's bass work clearly appreciated. I really like the horns' song on this number. Tangible begins proudly with saxophone, trumpet and bass. The simple theme is repeated and then the bass solo reminds us why we're here, and once again bass and piano absorb our attention. I am loving Will Barry's piano contributions to this album. Collective Spaces is the shortest track on the album at just over 3 minutes and again the saxophone and trumpet conversations play out against a finely balanced bass and drums.

At track 8, Suddenly, Everyone. One by one the instruments join the theme but then come and go making their contributions along the way. Mark Lockheart takes a nice sax solo before handing the baton to Laura Jurd who gives us some excellent trumpet on this track. Jasper's bass solo is quietly accompanied by piano and drums, and then suddenly, everyone is in there before the bass closes the track. Before, another short track, brings an intriguing bass and low register sax introduction to what is primarily a bass and sax duet with a solo from Mark Lockheart. The album concludes its ten tracks with Plastic Island and some out-take talk as the tune starts. Bass and drums give a funky rhythm against which the horns work out with piano pop-ups. A fitting end to a fine album.

Fellow Creatures is full of compelling compositions and spot-on playing. It is recorded and mixed beautifully and I think it achieves everything Jasper Høiby intended for an album that works well from one track to another, and although it is satisfying on the first listen, can only benefit from hearing again.

The album is dedicated to Jasper's older sister, Jeanette, who sadly died earlier in 2016. It couldn't be a more fitting tribute.

Fellow Creatures is released on the Edition Records label on 15th July as a CD and download. I recommend it to you. Click here for a brief video introduction. Click here for details and to sample.

Ian Maund

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Mike Holober - Balancing Act

Album released: 13th May 2016 - Label: Palmetto Records - Reviewed: February 2016

Mike Holober Balancing Act

Balancing Act are Mike Holober (piano); Kate McGarry(voice); Marvin Stamm (trumpet, flugelhorn); Dick Oatts (alto and soprano saxophone, flute); Jason Rigby (tenor saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet); Mark Patterson (trombone); John Hebert (double bass); Brian Blade (drums).

Arranged and produced by Mike Holober, that’s what it reads on the sleeve and by the time I reach the shimmering orchestration of the final track, When There Were Trains, I can almost see the pianist’s hand raised in the air to wave out a nicely nuanced ending to music which seems to have simply glided through my ears.  This is a smooth operation and one I allowed myself to enjoy. 

Look at the line-up:  Dick Oatts on alto saxophone, a positive stellar stalwart of the legendary Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, as important an icon in New York as the statue of liberty herself.  Then comes the great Brian Blade on drums; if you caught my review last October of David Berkman’s recent album you’ll understand the significance.  No argument, these musicians are deluxe definite. No jazz buff ought to deny themselves the opportunity to listen to the difference a crack team bring to a session.  Mike Holober selected this line-up carefully from people he knows well.  Marvin Stamm’s brass has a very precise palette which reminds me of Kenny Wheeler.  Kate McGarry’s voice is a whispered particle, and yes, she’s recorded Norma Winstone material in the past, though she is her own person, no question.  Mr Holober’s own piano contains a long lyrical line that covers time and motion – there’s nothing tense about his playing, any sense of a tight grip falls from his fingers. 

Balancing Act is a title well considered, there is a terrific sense of internal proportion within these performances.  The weighing up of each moment, even something like the Mark Patterson’s trombone break delivered with a swagger on the starter track Book of Sighs, feels as if it breathes direct from the song rather than being imposed upon it.  These are seasoned American ‘jazz’ players who have found a session which is exactly positioned between the intentions within the superbly crafted writing and the art of extemporising.  This is all their music, I am quite sure of that.

Five of the tracks are written by Mike Holober and a sixth by his compatriot, tenor player Jason Rigby providing the key contribution, Idris, in memory of the great funky drummer Idris Muhammed.  There are also two ‘standards’.  In my view, Mike Holober should have dispensed with them in favour of his own writing.  His own songs like Book of Sighs, Grace At Sea and When There Were Trains are truly evocative studies....., damn it, they are a caress of the spirit from experienced musicians who have put aside ‘the session’ in favour of articulating the elemental. And the truth is, I am sucker for a smart horn section expanding over a drummer who is riveting the rhythm underneath them. 

Click here to listen to When There Were Trains.

There are multiple examples of the state of the art here.   On Grace At Sea Jason Rigby’s tenor saxophone statement coolly whirls out of the section like he has the wind in his sails. On Canyon the horns balance the reeds and brass solos to classy effective affect because the section playing is creaming the colours too.  It is why I described Idris as a key track, it is the only one on the album that doesn’t involve voice.  What Idris does is enable the listener to put all those clean horn/brass arrangements into their own lead line without ‘balancing’ off of Kate McGarry’s singing.  She is undoubtedly special, but so too are Oatts, Rigby and Patterson, and of course Mr Blade. Idris is nicely judged.

Click here for Mike Holober playing Canyon live in 2014.

I’ve said the two non-band originals on this album don’t work as well as the material by Mr Holober and Mr Rigby.  The first, Billy Joel’s song Lullabye: Goodnight My Angel nearly makes the transition.  At almost eight minutes in length, it uses voice throughout but no words until the final sixty seconds.  Until that point the arrangement intriguingly repeats the central melodic line, almost like romanticised minimalism, and plants a short piano solo into the proceedings as if Debussy was given the gift of Brian Blade’s subtle percussion.  The arrangement produces an absorbing ambient abstraction.  In my view, it is a pity Kate McGarry felt the need to sing Billy J’s words at the end of the track.  His words sound fey; the dénouement disappoints. The other non-original is Piece of My Heart a classic song from 1967 that Erma Franklin, Aretha’s sister, absolutely turned into turbo on the original definitive recording (Janis Joplin muscled in on the song a year later).  Marvin Stamm’s trumpet break on this Balancing Act version is nicely timed, but overall the song feels out of place, like walking into the wrong room at a party.

Even this quibble is an indicator of how much I rate the rest of what is happening on this absorbing album.  Mike Holober’s writing, lyrics as well as music, come from someone who has his own landscape-muse somewhere out in the wide yonder of America.  I value the sense of wonder this band bring to that material.  There’s an innate drama about Balancing Act which comes from experience, musically sure, and crucially the living of a life.

Click here for details.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk    

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Johnny Hunter Quartet - While We Still Can

Album released: 1st July 2016 - Label: Efpi Records - Reviewed September 2016

Johnny Hunter Quartet While We Still Can

Johnny Hunter (drums), Ben Watte (tenor saxophone), Graham South(trumpet) Stewart Wilson (double bass).

There are some great new drummers based in the UK who are currently out (and on) the traps and scoring highly in my little notebook; Johnny Hunter is among the frontrunners. 

What’s New Editor, Ian Maund first put me on to Mr Hunter about a year ago when he gave me a ‘blind ear test’ listening to the Quartet’s first album Appropriations whilst we sipped Earl Grey tea in his living room.  A couple of months later I caught Johnny Hunter playing in Nat Birchall’s band on their Invocations session.  This year Ian sent me Cath Roberts’ Sloth Racket disk Triptych, with Mr Hunter in the drum chair (reviewed in April 2016).  You know, Triptych is an album big on improv.  Like all good music it demands as much from the listener as it does the ensemble.  Pin the ears back, you’ll be rewarded with peach playing.  Johnny Hunter’s drumming puts form into the frame when just about everyone else in The Sloth is stretching out to the maximum.

Hunter’s own Quartet is a very different equation.  Like Kris Allen’s band that I reviewed last month, this is a smart quartet that is not using piano or guitar; there are no chords.  Johnny Hunter has composed all the music and there is nearly as much scored material as improvisation.  But the lack of piano releases the harmony-melody line coming off the two horns, and the double bass underneath is periodically surfacing and diving to the bottom, whale-deep.  And the gorgeous solos.  Of course, those simpatico solos I’ll get onto them.  You see, let’s talk drums.

I am coming to regard Johnny Hunter as serious crème de la crème and it is not just about his playing, though he is a hell of a technician. His whole approach to the role of the drummer is a dynamic one, he arranges any band he is in through his drum kit.  He’s such an articulate percussionist, even on a track like Misty’s Tail, which features a fabulously rounded, slowly-extending trumpet solo from Graham South. The way into the horn is the seductively restrained, slightly laid-back flop of Hunter’s sticks prodding at the imaginations of his compatriots like an orchestral conductor.  Even when the focus is off him, and for sure both South and Ben Watte on tenor sax have some very fine moments on this session, you can’t help but be aware of The Drummer-Hunter.  And it’s not about him battering his kit for attention, it’s just that he is a class act who is influencing the angles of a performance. 

The version of Clockwork-Shy on the new album is considerably different to the live cut on YouTube (click here). It was recorded three months after the filmed gig and the album track has a lean spacey introductory drum solo not present on the live session.  Even this solo is not an ego thing, the guy is playing music on a drum kit.  He’s actually setting-up a scene for Graham South, Ben Watte and Stewart Wilson to inhabit.  Anyone watching the YouTube clip can visually grasp his way of working by literally seeing his whole approach to accompaniment: through his body-mass, the flick of the sticks on the snare, the bass drum’s muted thud like a full-stop.

At the moment my favourite twelve minutes on the While We Still Can session are track 2 / track 3, Bass intro to..., Ayça.  The first three minutes are given over to a pensive double bass solo reminiscent of the legendary Charlie Haden.  Never mind that I allude to one of the great innovators of the instrument, Stewart Wilson signs his own signature.  When the whole band break cover into the startling performance that is Ayça, it feels as if everyone involved is squeezing the muse for most of the moisture in the particles.  There are several terrific time changes, emphasised and displaced.  Both horns carry their own very different stories; South’s trumpet is an unfolding airborn sonnet and Watte’s tenor comes hewed from a rougher place, a spitting taut tone carrying a fully realised release of enquiry.

Click here for the Quartet playing Ayça live.

Most of the music on While We Still Can is immediate – the opening Overture and the (almost) title track, While You Still Can, are foxy, almost classic arrangements with their own singular twists – though While You has an outstanding breathy bellow of a solo from Watte with Hunter putting down a big ‘four’ behind him.   On the other hand the two final tracks signal that Johnny Hunter is still after the narrative of things.  Sum Dim is not recognisably Japanese but it is a taster menu of curiosity.  Graham South is asked to expand his breath control to the very brink of the possible. There are some amazing small-ensemble leaps, dark drones, short snappy funky interludes which are then defused and then re-energised.  This is what I want from 2016 musicians, the willingness to create new sound textures and make them mean something.

It is worth saying that Alex Bonney did the mixing on this session.  I’ve come across him a few times now – he did an incredible job on Zhenya Strigalev’s Never Group album which we reviewed in April and on the Sloth Racket session referred to earlier.  The Johnny Hunter Quartet recorded their album “in an afternoon” at Greenhouse Studios, Stockport.  I like that attitude in musicians, to simply go in, take off your coat, know what you have to do and just get on with it. But the mixing, even for a so say, simple quartet, may take slightly longer.  It is about separation, warmth, tone, detail and diligence.  Bonny is good, if you want specific proof try the track Reprise.

Perhaps the most cerebral track has to come at the end. It is not always the case, yet it must be so.  Reprise is a dry night; it opens at the pace of darkness with the odd squeal coming off the horns and the bass creaking like a door without oil. The melody line is bowed by Mr South, he’s way down the line like a lost soul that has nowhere to inhabit except the earth that runs through a man’s fingers.  It is all over in under four minutes, it does not take that long to lose a sense of the here and now.  I would like to say thank you to the Johnny Hunter Quartet for finishing an excellent recording in this manner of passing. There’s no flamboyance, just the short journey to the edge.  While We Still Can should be heard While You Still Can. 

Click here for details and to sample.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Alex Hutton Trio - Magna Carta Suite

Album released: 10th July 2015 - Label: F-IRE - Reviewed August 2015

Alex Hutton Magna Carta Suite

 

Alex Hutton was inspired to compose this album when walking near Runnymede which, as we all know, is where the Magna Carta was signed 800 years ago in 1215 by King John!

Alex Hutton is an established pianist. After completing a BA Hons degree in American Studies (culminating in a semester in New York studying the sociology and development of Bebop) he moved to London in the mid 1990s where he won a full scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama for an intense year of post grad jazz study. Since then, he has worked with many leading musicians including Jim Mullen, Bobby Wellins, Art Themen, Pete King, Dave O Higgins and Dave Green. Pete Wareham.

The Magna Carta Suite is his fourth album.

But is it all jazz?  At first hearing, it could be pigeon-holed as classical and/or mediaeval or even folk music, with the sonorous bowed bass, baroque flute and cor anglais blending with the delicate piano and drums.

On further listening, the beautifully relaxed cohesiveness takes over and one wonders at the mastery of Alex Hutton (piano); Yuri Goloubev (bass); Asaf Sirkis (drums); with Liz Palmer (Baroque flute); Liesbeth Allart (cor anglais) and, last but not least, Neil Sparkes performing hypnotic spoken vocals on tracks 11 and 12: Thoughts Bear Heirs to Memory and As Sunlight Passes (Old Yew).   

Click here for a video introduction.

These musicians are of the finest calibre, and Alex Hutton himself a composer of quiet creativity, draws on many colourful threads – of jazz, classical and folk!  There are the slow introspective tracks, e.g. Old Yew Tree and King John’s Hunting Lodge, and then, more lively, jig-type pieces, e.g.The Barons and June 15th 1215, putting one in mind of an English village green.

Click here to listen to part of The Barons.

Most of these pieces play for no longer than one or two minutes, except for two which run at over six minutes each, i.e. track 5 Gutenburg Press with its reflective and fluid piano, and track 6 Gunpowder and Compass driven by the insistent drumbeat, wonderful wide-ranging piano arpeggios and plucked bass.

Click here to listen to part of Gunpowder and Compass.

Altogether the running time for this album is 39 minutes, short by the usual standards, but it is well worth hearing over and over again. 

So, the question remains!  Is it all jazz?  Oh yes, indeed! It’s another kind of fusion: mediaeval jazz!

Click here to sample the album.

Click here for more about Alex Hutton and the album.

June Bastable

June Bastable is the wife of the late jazz musician, Johnny Bastable. She is a writer and author of two books Some People and These People available from Amazon, Waterstones, etc.

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The Impossible Gentlemen - Let's Get Deluxe

Album released: 1st July 2016 - Label: Basho Records - Reviewed: August 2016

The Impossible Gentlemen Let's Get Deluxe

Mike Walker (guitar, dog whistle), Gwilym Simcock (piano, keyboards, french horn, flugel horn, accordion, vibraphone, marimba, percussion), Iain Dixon (soprano sax, tenor sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto flute), Steve Rodby (bass), Adam Nussbaum (drums).

The word 'supergroup' was coined in the late 1960's and referred to rock music bands formed of individually excellent musicians; early examples included Cream and Blind Faith; who came together for a brief period, produced some great music and live performances but then split with each individual following their own musical direction.  Clearly jazz musicians are a more pragmatic bunch than rock musicians, often playing regularly in several different bands and as far as we know, most of the artistic toys stay in the pram.  The Impossible Gentlemen are regularly referred to as a 'supergroup' but unlike the rock music supergroups of old they show every  sign of durability and increasing success.

The band is built on a partnership between Gwilym Simcock and Mike Walker, both exceptional musicians and as they demonstrate for the first time on this album, a formidable composing and arranging team.  Adam Nussbaum is a founder member of the band and a hugely experienced American drummer, Steve Rodby on double bass is another American musician with an exceptional CV (including album production), whilst new recruit Iain Dixon plays a wide variety of saxophones, clarinets and flutes. Previous albums: The Impossible Gentlemen (2011) and Internationally Recognised Aliens (2013) received praise from critics and audience alike and this latest album seems destined for even greater acclaim, already critics have awarded four and five stars in their reviews.

Mike Walker describes the ambition for the album as "to draw on a wider palette of sounds using melodies and counter-melodies, interweaving through the improvisations to form a broader narrative as a whole".  This desire was realised with the addition of Iain Dixon to the band and also by inviting the Crumbleton Strings to play on a couple of tracks.

The first track on the album is also the title track and wastes no time in demonstrating the strengths of band; the music is rich and melodious, double bass and drums provide a strong framework which other members of the band decorate with lovely solos, none more so than Mike Walker on his electric guitar. 

Click here to listen to the title track Let's Get Deluxe.

The second track, It Could Have Been A Simple Goodbye, was written before the untimely death of jazz pianist, John Taylor but is dedicated to him during the band's live performances; it certainly has an elegiac feel to it, particularly when Simcock plays simple chords alone while Walker's melancholic guitar strikes just the right tone.

Click here for a video of the band playing A Simple Goodbye live with an introduction by Gwilym Simcock and Mike Walker.

Next comes the interestingly titled A Fedora For Dora which may or may not have something to do with a poem called Adorable Dora published in the book, Mind Control by Mort Walker and John Newcomb; whether there is a connection or not the footnote in the book seems very apt for this cheerful, upbeat track which is "To share your joy makes the joy more joyful". Track 4, Miniature,  the shortest track, starts with some acoustic guitar, continues with some very pretty, music box style piano, and is over all too soon.  Terrace Legend relates, in music, the story of  folk hero, Neil Baldwin, some-time circus clown, preacher and Stoke City Football Club kit man and the subject of an inspirational, BAFTA award winning TV documentary. Many instruments are involved in this beautifully arranged piece including great percussion, string ensemble and roars from a football crowd; Walker's wailing guitar provides drama while Simcock's piano is reflective, the finale is an inspirational crescendo as everyone joins in.

Dog Time could well refer to those hot, sultry days of summer when it is far better to chill out rather than engage in anything energetic, the music is slow, funky and shimmers like a heat haze, however Walker's guitar does generate some distinctly canine sounds which could point to another reason for the title; Simcock plays multiple keyboards on this track and Rodby's bass is heard to great effect.  Hold Out For The Sun begins with a cheerful melody from Simcock's piano, Nussbaum keeps a busy rhythm throughout and Dixon's woodwind enriches the group sound while Rodby and Walker contribute some short solos.

Click here to listen to Hold Out For The Sun.

Tracks 8 and 9 are called Intro To Propane Jane and Propane Jane respectively, a marching rhythm soon gives way to some simply fantastic rock music with Walker a tour de force on electric guitar.  The last track, Speak To Me Of Home, has a folksy feel to it and features Dixon on bass clarinet; Simcock's piano is as melodic as ever and brings the album to a calm and thoughtful ending.

Building on the success of their first two albums and their 2013 Parliamentary Jazz Award, this remarkable band is going from strength to strength.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Howard Lawes

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Indigo Kid II - Fist Full Of Notes

Album released: 13th July 2015 - Label: Babel Label - Reviewed: August 2015

Indigo Kid II Fistful Of Notes

Dan Messore is a young jazz guitarist involved in a number of projects, one of which is performing and recording as the Indigo Kid. He released a first album under this moniker three years ago and now returns as Indigo Kid II with a new collection, Fist Full of Notes. He is joined by Trish Clowes on tenor sax, Tim Harries on bass, and Martin France on drums.

Like so many young jazz musicians these days, Messore has had an academic training, with a MA in jazz and composition from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. One of his tutors was saxophonist, Iain Ballamy, who plays on two of the tracks on Fist Full of Notes.

Messore is a technically impressive guitarist who has clearly absorbed influences from all the modern masters – Metheny, McLaughlin, Frisell…. but his frame of reference goes well beyond jazz to include folk (you can hear guitarists like Richard Thompson and Bert Jansch in his playing, for instance) and rock. He is no mere copier, however, and brings his own individual style to the music.

The album opens with Snow on the Presellis, a title which reflects a love of the landscape of West Wales. The track begins with a folk influenced theme which includes some intriguing rhythmic changes and call-and-response work between sax and guitar. The beat gradually changes to something more latin-tinged and there is a strong, Metheny-type guitar solo, before the folk theme reasserts itself. A gentle electronically generated sound hovers in the background; the use of electronic effects is one of the features of the whole album but it is never overdone and adds a whole new dimension to the music.

Click here for a sampling of the album..

Waiting for Paula is a more conventional jazz piece with a lovely, lyrical main theme, and imaginative solos from both Clowes and Messore. The electronics come into play again giving a pleasing liquid feel to Messore’s solo.

The third track, Carpet Boys, is the longest and most complex piece of the whole album and is partly a memorial to Messore’s late father. It progresses through a number of different themes but keeps returning to a marvellous slow rock rhythm with Martin France engaging in some loud but knife-sharp drumming. Messore plays in a variety of styles – did I hear Hank Marvin at one point? Perhaps not, but I did hear Carlos Santana. The whole piece builds to an exciting crescendo and then, from out of nowhere, a sci-fi electronic sound emerges with Clowes playing a great solo against it. The now electronically enhanced crescendo continues with a distinctly 1970s prog-rock feel – indeed, at one point, I thought I’d slipped back into a Hawkwind concert, circa 1972. The prog-rock influence is heard on other tracks as well – perhaps it’s no accident that both Tim Harries and Iain Ballamy have played with the great Bill Bruford, such an eloquent proponent of prog- and jazz-rock.

Click here to listen to Carpet Boys.

All Hands to Dance and Skylark is another track which begins with a very English folk-type theme and then morphs into something upbeat and latin with Clowes playing another great solo, reminiscent of Stan Getz.

From Nowhere to Our Place begins with a distinctive didgeridoo sound but then turns into a piece of 1960s psychedelia – like early Pink Floyd or the Byrds in their Eight Miles High incarnation. It is a brilliantly exciting piece of music with France keeping up an irresistible drum rhythm. As with so much of contemporary music labelled “jazz”, one is left wondering about the usefulness of modern music categories but who cares when you have work of this quality and drive.   

The Healing Process is another piece which memorialises Messore’s father. It features Iain Ballamy on tenor sax and is recognisably jazz, albeit jazz with an electronic music component. There is some nice duetting between Ballamy and Clowes. Mr. Randall majors on the electronics and builds to a heavy, but surprisingly pleasing, aural assault. A structure of sorts is provided by some brilliant drumming from Martin France. Quiet Waters is a short piece which reprises the folk/latin vibe of previous tracks.

The Bay is another piece of rock with an English folky feel to it. The track includes some effective bass work from Tim Harries whose CV includes a stint with Steeleye Span – which comes as no surprise given the folk rock feel of some of the tracks.

The final track - Sketches in the Fabric – brings Iain Ballamy back on tenor sax. The opening theme sounds a bit like the old carol, We Three Kings of Orient Are. There are interesting and subtle changes in tempo, and some absorbing interplay between guitar and sax.

Dan Messore has his own website at www.danmessore.com which has samples of his work, including some of the tracks on Fist Full of Notes. There is also some useful information on the Babel Label website (click here).

Robin Kidson

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Mikko Innanen - Song For A New Decade

Album released: 26th February 2015 - Label: Tum Records - Reviewed May 2015 [2 CDs]

Mikko Innanen Song For A New Decade

Mikko Innanen (alto & baritone saxophones, Indian clarinet, Uilleann chanter, nose flute, whistles, percussion); William Parker (1st album only); Andrew Cyrille (drums).

Andrew Cyrille is among the iconic drummers of the last 40 plus years.  Working notably with Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and, critical to this recording, an overlooked legend of the alto saxophone, Jimmy Lyons, who surely must have inspired a young Mikko Innanen, though the Helsinki based musician wouldn’t have been old enough to hear the great man live.  In the 1980’s Lyons recorded for the Black Saint label and William Parker and Andrew Cyrille were his bass and drums team.

The last time I caught Andrew Cyrille live was not in New York.  The man in the hip shades and Hawaiian shirt was sat behind a borrowed drum kit in downtown Gloucestershire, UK with tenor sax maestro, Paul Dunmall.  I remember the gig because for the first thirty minutes Mr Dunmall exorcised a tangle of ghosts through his horn while Andrew Cyrille sat motionless, simply listening to this torrent of tenor complexities.  When the drums eventually broke cover they lifted up all the available music in the air and brought each constituent part together; an awesome performance that belied the situation.  The first opportunity I get to hear Andrew Cyrille with Mikko Innanen I’m going to take it.  The playing on the double album, Song For A New Decade, is outstanding.  One of the reasons for this depth of quality is the acute attention given by each musician to each musician.  I’m pleased that Sandy Brown Jazz doesn’t use a ‘star’ based system for grading recordings, if that were the case this one would get the whole night’s sky.

Mikko Innanen is from Finland but spends a lot of time in New York.  I don’t know what’s driving him but he’s a man on the move.  He’s half the age of Andrew Cyrille, but this is a reeds player who spent his formative years listening to the recorded music of the Great Saxophone Trinity (Bird, Coltrane, Ornette).  So, Mr Innanen has done all the big listening stuff and is now on his own case.  The first disk is 58 minutes of Innanen and Cyrille playing eight pieces in a trio with bassist William Parker, a magic musician so seriously riveting I could write reams.  Seven of these pieces use short sparse composed statements.  This material acts as a starter, harking back to the format of Ornette Coleman’s classic trio recording, At the Golden Circle Stockholm.

Innanen’s title track, Song For A New Decade makes use of a delightful ‘head’, plus an additional composed riff, before all three musicians move into an inaction articulated with great panache.  This is NOT frenetic music, neither is it passive; improvised, certainly, erratic, definitely not.  The second track, The End Is A Beginning has all the calm elegance of Ornette’s Morning Song.  I am not suggesting Mikko Innanen is some kind of ‘sound twin’, it’s just that you can hear the journey.  The one piece the Trio play containing no pre-written material is Look For The Red Door; eloquent, ordered and utterly of its own making.  Cyrille’s tight tom-tom pulse throbs a backdrop against Innanen’s song-like use of Indian clarinet, enabling William Parker’s plucked bass to ripple a road straight through with all the assurance of a seasoned traveller.  It is a stunning recital. 

On the second disk there is a different modus operandi, equally inventive.The intimate encounter between Mikko Innanen and Andrew Cyrille consists of a continuous 54 minute duet, albeit divided into six separate ‘songs’.  Songs For This Decade (note the slight title change for this disk) is ultimately rewarding because of the sense of trust established.  This is not a battle, rather a joint adventure.  Here are two men, a 37 year old Fin (known, but not that known), a 76 year old Black American (one of the true master drummers of the avant garde).  Musicians from such different backgrounds and life experiences, yet they come together so empathetically. Song 1 is a glorious beginning.  Mikko Innanen’s horn improvising a declaration of intent under which Andrew Cyrille rolls like a one man Black church urgently rap clapping the preacher to greater heights. Song 2 builds a dialogue; reeds stretch and pinch, tighten and come loose; percussion in detail: tom-tom, bells, high hat used as speech rather than rhythm, gong marking an open meditation.  Song 3 hovers between the two musicians like a microtonal web.  Bewilderingly nose flute and a rattle of percussion produce music of exceptional delicacy and beauty.

Song 4 has Cyrille pressurising a compressed drum roll to the point where it picks apart your ears so intently they are alert to every tap, stroke and flurry coming off the kit.  Then comes Innanen’s entry; like a long Buddhist prayer-horn way up in the Himalayas reverberating to a single second of silence.  Song 5, drums tumble, rolling over and over until they patter as hard rain.  Song 6 starts with a different type of percussion solo, wood and skin beating a melody.  The younger man delivering hard boiled alto; together Innanen and Cyrille complete the set speaking in volumes without drowning out tenderness.

Nearly an hour long, this whole dialogue has had its roots in the great John Coltrane/Rashied Ali drum duet, Interstellar Space.  As inspiring as that was, that was 1967.  Decades have passed into a new millennium; j-music moves on and we are now included in that journey.  Sun Ra, that mesmerising sage of a bandleader, used to tell the guys in his band: “Give up your death.”  Meaning free yourself up to the point where your music produces life.  I don’t claim to fully understand such implications but it sounds awesome, in Songs For This Decade I feel Innanen and Cyrille are close to that aspiration.

An Afterword: Tum Records, the Helsinki company who are responsible for this release, should be congratulated on the excellence of the CD production.  Quality line notes, photography and the use of Markus Konttinen’s painting, ‘Dark Story’, for the cover design make for an integrated, high standard package. 

Click here for an introduction to Mikko Innanen. Click here for bBiographical information on Mikko Innanen, Andrew Cyrille and William Parker. Click here for Student Studies – Cecil Taylor, Jimmy Lyons, Andrew Cyrille & others.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Jon Irabagon - Behind The Sky

Album released: 15th September 2015 - Label: Irabbagast Records - Reviewed December 2015

Jon Irabagon Behind The Sky

Jon Irabagon is an American saxophonist who is starting to make quite a name for himself. He is a past winner of the Thelonious Monk Saxophone Competition, and DownBeat has named him as one of their Rising Stars. He is involved in a wide range of different projects and groups – check out his website for details (click here) – including playing with the Dave Douglas Quintet. Behind the Sky sees him leading his own group which, besides himself on tenor and soprano sax, includes Luis Perdomo on piano, Yasushi Nakamura on bass, and Rudy Royston on drums. Irabagon has composed all 11 tracks on the album. On three of them, the group is joined by the veteran trumpeter, Tom Harrell.

There is a strong experimental, avant garde side to Irabagon’s playing but on Behind the Sky, he has chosen to work in a more mainstream mode. “The songs are meant to be recognisable and enjoyable”, he says, “where many of my other records deal with philosophical and experimental ideas, Behind the Sky goes back to basics and aims for hard swinging, deep grooves and detailed group interaction”.

So, Behind the Sky is straightforward, contemporary American jazz played by accomplished and versatile musicians. It has a strong rhythmic pulse, helped by some superb drumming by Rudy Royston, another DownBeat Rising Star.  

Many of the tunes on the album deal with themes of grieving and how we deal with loss. Irabagon says that “I lost a couple of loved ones and mentors in a short amount of time, and the music I had been writing began to reflect different aspects of dealing with those losses”. The album is by no means sad or mournful, though. Most of the tracks are upbeat and joyful; presumably, the intention is to celebrate lives led fully, rather than to mourn their passing. Take the first track, One Wish, for example, which swings along very nicely in a light, easy going way with solos from Irabagon and Luis Perdomo on piano.

Click here to listen to One Wish.

The next track, The Cost of Modern Living, is an upbeat number with a latin feel and some virtuosic playing from all four musicians, particularly Royston on drums. Music Box Song (For When We’re Apart) is a slower, more reflective number with a particularly effective section where Irabagon plays long, almost languid notes against vigorous, note-filled playing by Perdomo. The whole builds to a satisfying and exciting climax.

Still Water brings Tom Harrell into the mix and a whole new dimension is added to the music. Harrell is in his late sixties but, on the evidence of his blowing here, his chops are in fine condition. Something about his playing on the track reminded me of the late Ian Carr in his prime. There is some great interplay between Harrell and Irabagon, and very effective variations in tempo.

Click here to listen to Still Water.

Obelisk also includes Harrell and is one of the high points of the whole album. The duetting between Harrell and Irabagon is marvellous and sounds a little bit like the playing of Eric Dolphy and Freddie Hubbard on Out to Lunch.

Sprites has Irabagon on soprano sax in a light, upbeat mood. His solos display complete mastery of the instrument, and the rhythm section is on fire with Royston once again in terrific form.

Lost Ship at the Edge of the Sea is a duet between Irabagon on soprano again, and Perdomo. Perdomo plays some fine solo improvisations reminiscent of Keith Jarrett. There are sections where both sax and piano improvise together in a most absorbing and satisfying way.

Mr. Dazzler is another swinging, swaggering track, not without humour, with Irabagon back on tenor. Eternal Springs features Harrell again, with Irabagon on soprano sax. The piece really comes alive when Harrell and Irabagon improvise together with vigorous backing from Royston on drums.

100 Summers is perhaps the most original track on the album. It begins with the group (but not Harrell) playing together in an intense but reflective mood. There is a sudden change then to a more rhythmic, brighter vibe; an unmistakable sense of wistful nostalgia pervades the whole piece.

The final piece is the title track: Behind the Sky (Hawks and Sparrows). Irabagon plays both soprano and tenor – not à la Roland Kirk, I think, but double tracked.  “The two voices symbolise yourself alongside the experiences with and love for the ones you’ve lost”, explains Irabagon. The main theme is one of the most memorable of the whole album and Irabagon’s solos are particularly intense and heartfelt.

Click here to listen to Behind the Sky (Hawks and Sparrows).

Click here to sample the album.

Robin Kidson

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Aaron Irwin Quartet - A Room Forever

Album released: 2nd November 2015 - Label: Aaron Irwin - Reviewed: January 2016

Aaron Irwin Quartet A Room Forever

As stated in Time Out: "...everyone knows that New York City is the best jazz town in the world", and whether this is true or not there is definitely a very active jazz scene in the city with many remarkable musicians based there.
Aaron Irwin on clarinet and his fellow band members; Matthew McDonald (trombone), Pete McCann (guitars) and Thomson Kneeland (bass) are all part of this community and as well as being highly qualified academically they perform regularly in various bands as leaders or sidemen (I have included links to their various websites).  

A Room Forever is Irwin's sixth album since 2006, when he produced the acclaimed Into the Light, and is inspired by a book of short stories authored by Breece Pancake (1952 - 1979).  Irwin relates that he was drawn to Pancake's bleak depictions of the inhabitants of West Virginia, which were reminiscent of characters from his own rural upbringing. West Virginia is a state in the Appalachian Mountain region of the USA whose inhabitants were noted for their rugged independence and self-reliance but who suffered considerable deprivation during periods of recession in their mining and rurally based industries.  Pancake's writing has been likened to that of Hemingway and Steinbeck who are well known for writing about the themes of love, struggle and wilderness.

Pancake committed suicide at the age of 26 and his work was only published as a book after his death.  A book published in 2004 by Thomas E Douglass entitled A Room Forever: The Life, Work and Letters of Breece D'j Pancake provides a detailed portrait of Pancake's short life.  There are twelve tracks on Irwin's album, each one named after one of Pancake's short stories, but unfortunately there is no further information and so those of us who are not familiar with these literary works will be none the wiser without reading the book or searching the internet.

Click here for a brief video introduction.

The fascinating, eponymous, title track is reminiscent of a traditional American song (e.g. On The Banks Of The Wabash, Far Away -although that is an Indiana song) played on a musical box that needs re-winding.  One can imagine entering a room that the inhabitants have recently vacated leaving just the musical box running - these sounds come from McCann's guitar and the effect is compounded by some eerie clarinet and trombone. 

Click here to listen to A Room Forever.

The second track In The Dry starts with a very regular pulse on guitar but continues with a lovely, lilting melody from Irwin's clarinet.  Track three, The Salvation of Me begins with the clarinet setting a rhythm but this time it's some really gorgeous trombone from McDonald that provides the melody and the track really demonstrates how well balanced this combination of instruments is with all four musicians supporting each other beautifully. 

Track five, Trilobites has another pleasing melody from Irwin which converts to improvisation; McCann plays acoustic guitar this time in contrast to previous tracks where electronics have been used.  Track six, The First Day of Winter features Kneeland's bass and once again the members of the quartet combine sensitively to produce a real treat.  The Honored Dead varies the mix with a duet between bass and guitar which continues as first McDonald and then Irwin demonstrate their improvisational skills, and track nine, The Scrapper, has a different, feel to it, more like a dance (reminiscent of Bob Fosse) and more sophisticated in terms of rhythm and chord structure and a really good solo from Kneeland on bass. 

Track ten is entitled Hollow which is a feature of the hilly, wooded, West Virginian landscape, typically hard to access and inhabited by the poorer inhabitants of the area; the music starts with a rather melancholy bass and has a repeated theme on clarinet which could be birdsong.  Track eleven, Time And Again, is completely different to all the others with more or less free and robust improvisation from all four of the musicians while the last track, The Mark concludes the album with some calm, ethereal clarinet playing from Aaron Irwin.

While this music can stand alone and is really enjoyable without knowledge of the stories that were it's inspiration it would be fascinating to know a little more and it does seem a shame that no information about Breece Pancake and his literature has been included with the album, nevertheless, this is an album from a really great sounding quartet which should have wide appeal. 

Click here to sample the album.

Anybody interested in the Culture and Values of West Virginia could try http://cjhenderson.co/ACulturalViewofWVShort.pdf

Howard Lawes

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Michael Janisch - Paradigm Shift

Album released: 2nd October 2015 - Label: Whirlwind Recordings - Reviewed December 2015

Michael Janisch Paradigm Shift

Michael Janisch (bass, electric bass, percussion, electronics, effects), Jason Palmer (trumpet), Paul Booth (tenor saxophone, flutes, bass clarinets, didgeridoo, percussion, hand claps ), Leo Genovese (piano, keys/synths, effects), Colin Stranahan (drums), Alex Bonney (electronics).

They might not be everyday household names (Paul Booth and Colin Stranahan are from the USA, Leo Genovese from Argentina), but make no mistake, the people on this recording are skilled musicians. Michael Janisch's project stretches over two CDs with tracks from a couple of minutes to somewhere around fifteen minutes, stuff that's 'out there' to single instrument focussed interludes to a bebop based audience acclaimed outing.

Its basis is a live quintet recording over two nights at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho with effects addedduring and after the performance. The whole album of 14 tracks on Janisch's Whirlwind label runs for some 90 minutes, so I shall not take each track one by one. London-based American Michael Janisch is responsible for the compositions as well as some fine bass playing on the recording.

The term 'Paradigm Shift' was popularised by American Physicist, Thomas Kuhn, to describe fundamental changes in the basic concepts and experimental practices of a scientific discipline - in this case, music / jazz.

At times the music can sound dissonant and raw, or skin-tingling, whatever your particular take, but either way it is compelling. Other tracks are intriguing - take the shorter solo / duet interludes that draw you in and deliver atmospheric music that is enhanced with well-measured effects. Examples are the bass-led Rage at track 4 with its background effects, the Outro Be Free at track 7, Colin Stranahan's drum Intro Terra Firma on Disc 2, and The JJ I Knew at track 4. Two of these are only available on the album and not as downloads.

The first CD concentrates on a Paradigm Shift suite - four movements with an Intro and Outro and an Interlude that showcase Janisch's compositional imagination and the skilled improvisation of Palmer and Booth. Track 2, the appropriately named Dance Party moves along with the improvisations taking turns to display their moves. There are tracks, for example, Celestial Dictator at 3, that reflect influences that come from Janisch's personal response to issues such as corporate wealth and rule, racism and religion.

Click here to listen to previews of the Paradigm Shift Suite.

The second CD, Mike's Mosey, continues the flavours of the first before moving to different territory, including that 15 minutes bebop piece Crash at track 5, a piece that I particularly enjoyed.

Click here to listen to the track Mike's Mosey. Click here to sample other tracks on Disc 2.

This is an album of substance that requires repeat listening to absorb, but it is a testament to Janisch and his musicians that it deserves that attention.

Ian Maund

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Jazz At The Movies - Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Album released: January 2016 - Label: Down Home Records - Reviewed March 2016

Jazz At The Movies Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Jazz At The Movies is a band led by the multi-talented Chris Ingham who apart from playing the piano is also a music producer, academic, composer and author. The band has been "formed specifically to interpret movie themes and soundtrack songs" from a range of cinema films and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is their second album, the first entitled Jazz At The Movies was released in 2012.  The first album is still available and both albums may be purchased together at a special price (click here)

Other members of the band are Joanna Eden (vocals) who apart from her own career was instrumental in developing that of the multi-award winning singer Sam Smith; Mark Crooks (saxophone, clarinet) who won the Young Jazz Player of the Year award in 1991 and has been playing constantly ever since in bands big and small; Rev. Andrew Brown (bass) who combines being a church Minister with being a professional jazz bass player and has accompanied many of the UK's leading players, and George Double (drums) who teaches at Trinity College, London, and has extensive credits for West End musical theatre productions as well as supporting prominent singing stars and jazz musicians.  

Jazz fans looking for an album of original jazz movie soundtracks may wish to consider alternatives as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang contains interpretations and arrangements of 15 songs and tunes, some of which were written as jazz, but others are simply very good music. One well known jazz standard is the song More Than You Know which was sung by Billie Holiday in 1939 and Sarah Vaughan in 1964 and has been performed by many bands over the years; however the Kiss Kiss Bang Bang album notes mention the film The Fabulous Baker Boys in which the song was sung by Michelle Pfeifer. 

The first and last tracks on the album, featuring Crooks on clarinet, are beautifully played arrangements of some of the best film score music available, namely Prelude from Psycho and Love Music from Vertigo, both of which were originally composed by Bernard Hermann and scored for an orchestra.  All the other tracks except track 14 are songs with Joanna Eden on solo vocals. Track 14 is a wonderful duet between Eden and Ingham singing South American Getaway, composed by Burt Bacharach and featured in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Joanna Eden has her work cut out to compare favourably with the great singers who have performed some of the songs on this album and she does very well, she is ably supported by Crooks on sax or clarinet and the rhythm section of the band is excellent. Track 2, Close Enough For Love has very nice solos from Crooks and Ingham; track 4 Sooner Or Later has a very sultry feel to it and was intended to conjure up the image of a smoky nightclub and seductive singer. This song was performed by Madonna at the 1991 Oscar ceremony where it won Best Original Song. 

The title track of the album, track 5, was composed by John Barry to be the title track of the James Bond film Thunderball, but was withdrawn because the title of the film did not appear in the song.  Track 8 is Put The Blame On Mame which is perhaps best known for Rita Hayworth's gyrating hips in the 1947 film Gilda.  Track 9 I'd Rather Have The Blues is a less well known song, originally sung by Nat King Cole, and Joanna Eden's version is beautifully bluesy, very well complemented with some moody clarinet from Crooks.  Track 10 Chovenda Na Roseira was one of the few good things about a film called The Adventurers which was universally panned by critics, audience and even the film's director when he appeared on "Desert Island Discs". The song has a Brazilian Latin Jazz style which Eden recreates well with a sax solo from Crooks. 

Track 12, The Man That Got Away, lost out to Three Coins In A Fountain at the 1954 Oscars but nevertheless is one of the all time great movie songs sung by Judy Garland in A Star is Born with a really powerful performance; Eden performs a very nice version of this song, once again supported very ably by Crooks.  Track 13, When I Look In Your Eyes, won Diana Krall the 2000 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance although the original was sung by Rex Harrison in Dr. Dolittle.  This is a lovely song and Eden's performance certainly does it justice.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is an interesting selection of some great film music and songs from a very polished and experienced quintet.  Some of the tracks chosen for the album have been performed by some of the greatest singers and/or actors in living memory accompanied by large orchestras and inevitably the sound achieved by Jazz At The Movies will not be the same as film and music fans might remember from the originals or subsequent performances.  Additionally some of these previous performances, either on film or at award ceremonies involve memorable theatrical performances which are obviously not available from an audio CD. Judging from published reviews, Jazz At The Movies have appeared at clubs such as Ronnie Scott's and provide great live entertainment, which should be well worth seeing if they appear at a venue near you.

Click here for details and to sample the album. Click here for Chris Ingham's website.

Click here for a video of the band in performance playing Meglio Stasera (not on this album).

Howard Lawes

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Ochion Jewell Quartet - VOLK

Album released: 29th September 2015 - Label: Bandcamp - Reviewed: July 2016

Ochion Jewell Quartet VOLK

Band members are Ochion Jewell (tenor saxophone), Amino Belyamani (piano), Sam Minaie (bass) and Qasim Naqvi (drums).  Lionel Loueke (guitar) guests on tracks 7 and 8.

It would be convenient to suggest that the title of this folk music inspired album says it all and it is fascinating to speculate why the German word volk is used and also, why VOLK is in capital letters? We do not know. Ochion (pronounced 'ocean') Jewell says: "Folk music is not music for music's sake, these traditions mean more than that.  You have music that's been written for weddings and funerals and war and for when a boy becomes a man. This music seems to really mean something to the people and defines something about their culture, rather than just being music you can sell tickets for."  

Jewell was born in Kentucky, famous for its Appalachian folk music and Bluegrass which has roots in music from the British Isles and incorporates elements of Afro-american jazz, but it seems that very little of this tradition existed in the area where he was raised. Jewell first studied classical saxophone at the University of Louisville but moved to the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), with its Herb Alpert School of Music, where he was able to experience a very extensive range of musical styles and cultures from all over the World and where he met his future band members.

The Ochion Jewell Quartet's first album was released in 2011 entitled First Suite for Quartet; VOLK is the second album with the same line-up and was released in 2015.  Another element of the back-story to VOLK is that it was financed from a settlement received following Jewell's wrongful police arrest and detention in New York which left him suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The music on the album is divided into four suites, each of which is inspired by music from different parts of the world.

The first suite has two tracks. The first, inspired by Andalusian pentachord music, is called At The End Of The World, Where the Lions Weep which may be a quote from the film A.I. where the speaker goes on to say "Here is the place where dreams are born"; the second is called Pathos / Logos, two Greek words that mean a feeling of pity or sadness and the principle of divine reason respectively. These feelings or concepts set the scene for the album, the music of these first two tracks, while not freely improvised, is certainly avant-garde and although Jewell's saxophone takes a leading role all the musicians have opportunities to shine which they take with alacrity.

Click here for a video of the band in the studion playing At The End Of The World, Where the Lions Weep.

The second suite of four tracks starts with a piano (played by plucking the strings) and mournful saxophone playing the beautiful melody of a Finnish folk song called Kun Mun Kultani Tulisi (Shall My Darling Come?) and tells the story of a woman waiting for her lover in vain. Next is a lively Irish jig with lots of drum and bass and a strong rhythm which dissipates after a few minutes to be replaced by a lovely bass solo from Sam Minaie, which in turn is replaced by a bluesey, swinging saxophone solo from Ochion Jewell who then passes the baton to Amino Belyamani for some excellent straight ahead piano and finally a crashing finale.

The third and fourth tracks in this section are composed by Jewell, Pass Fallow, Gallowglass, a Scottish style song about a warrior class where bagpipes are replaced by the bowed bass of Sam Minaie who duets with the saxophone while Radegast, from eastern Europe evokes a pagan festival in the style of Stravinski's Rite of Spring, lots of percussive piano playing, wailing saxophone and primitive energy. 

Click here for a video of Radegast.

The next section features the wonderful guitar playing of Lionel Loueke and the focus moves to Northwest Africa with Gnawa Blues, real foot-tapping stuff designed to get you dancing, lots of call and response phrases where the musicians communicate with each other. Fans of this type of music could travel to Essaouria in Morocco where there is an annual world music festival and lots of Gnawa music. The Master is a Jewell, 10-bar blues, composition, described by him as "in your face hard bop", incorporating the exciting drumming of the Ewe people of West Africa where different size drums represent different members of the family and great solos from Jewell and Loueke. 

The last section, or suite, begins with the unmistakable refrain of Oh Shenandoah played on bowed bass and saxophone and announces that the international tour is over; piano with drum brushes take up the melody of this very well known song.  The last track is Black Is The Colour (Of My True Loves Hair) played beautifully and with little embellishment by Jewell alone, a little like a lone piper on a mountain in Scotland where the tune is believed to have originated.

This album is brimming with beautiful and interesting music and while there is a general theme inspired by world folk music, there is a great deal of excellent jazz as well as the occasional hint of Ochion Jewell's, and other band members' classical music education.  Jewell has highlighted the international nature of his musicians with Belyamani from Morocco while Minaie has Persian and Naqvi, Pakistani roots.  All are now based in New York and one can only hope that the band will travel to the UK in the not too distant future.

Click here for details and to sample. Click here for more information on Ochion Jewell's website.

Howard Lawes

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Mike Jones Trio - Roaring

Album released: 15th July 2016 - Label: Capri Records - Reviewed: August 2016

Mike Jones Trio Roaring

Mike Jones (piano), Katie Thiroux (bass), Matt Witek (drums).

Mike Jones is a new figure in the jazz piano genre to this reviewer although he has several albums to his name before this one. The keyboards man likes to be known as “Jonesey” and I can perhaps be excused my unfamiliarity on learning that he earns a crust (and hopefully for him, a nice big tasty one) playing in a Las Vegas hotel as MD and general factotum to the comedy/magic duo, Penn and Teller who are extremely popular and highly regarded on the other side of the Pond.

He has studied at Berklee  but you would be unlikely to hear of Jonesey in a more conventional jazz  outlet having spent the past 15 years in a full-time show business job but still sticking to his jazz leanings.

The album pays homage to compositions in the Great American Songbook all composed in the Roaring 20s and includes some very well-known material. The CD was recorded in New York in four hours including lunch and nearly all the tracks are first takes.

Jonesey’s influences are Dave McKenna, Oscar Peterson, with touches of Errol Garner's left hand, and the locked-hands chordal approach of George Shearing.

I have heard him doing a very passable left-hand walking bass-style McKenna impression on video but there are no examples here. That is unsurprising really. Why would one throw money into the Hudson by hiring a top bassist like Katie Thiroux and then cancelling her out?

Representative of the style of  the album is the first and longest track, Yes Sir, That’s My Baby. This number has probably never been played at such a slow tempo and is almost languid, with many funky Peterson style touches and a pleasing bass solo.

Home was written in 1931 so shouldn’t really be in this collection. I forgive this inaccuracy as I’m always a sucker for this lovely tune which Jonesey and drummer, Matt Witek, interpret as well as it deserves.

Irving Berlin’s I’ll See You In Cuba, is given as one might expect a Cuban treatment and again the pianist and his percussionist link and work seamlessly together.

In a totally different mood, another Berlin classic, What’ll I Do, is a solo piano piece. Plaintive and reflective, it is the only slow ballad here and the pianist resists too many technical tricks and really gets inside the composer’s unhappy but here unheard lyrics of a lost romance and the melancholy of a lonely former lover.

One can clearly discern all the pianist’s influences - the Peterson funky virtuosity , the McKenna scintillating right-hand runs and the Garner comping. Commendable as it all is I wished he would push himself up a level  and meld all these styles into his own individual sound. He certainly has the technique and potential.

But having said that, this album offers a most enjoyable outing by a trio who are having fun. Great straight-ahead music by performers who can definitely do the business.

Tracks: Yes Sir, That’s My Baby; If I Had You; I’ll See You In Cuba; Home; Mean To Me, I Found A New Baby; Me And My Shadow; What’ll I Do; I Can’t Believe That I’m In Love With You; Am I Blue.

Click here for details. Click here to sample (scroll down the page).

Jamie Evans

Jamie Evans manages a website remembering the late clarinettist Alan Cooper - click here.

 

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J-Sonics - Different Orbits

Album released: 20th November 2015 - Label: Lyte Records - Reviewed: December 2015

J-Sonics Different Orbits

J-Sonics: Matt Telfer (tenor sax, soprano sax), Andy Davies (trumpet, flugelhorn), Clement Regert (electric and nylon string guitars), Mike Flynn (bass guitars), Jon Newey (congas and percussion), Gabor Dornyei (drums) and Grace Rodson (vocals on tracks 2, 4 and 7).

I like this debut album from J-Sonics. The band recorded it live over a single weekend at London's Wax Studios in Dalston and the creative energy is tangible.

The album is all the more interesting because it incorporates a range of genres with some fine solos for good measure and while there are original compositions and others you might still not recognise, that doesn't matter.

The album opens with Mike Flynn's Push, the beat slowly opening out into sax-led riffs and your foot is tapping. This is not sit-still music and the small band is sounding like something bigger. Matt Telfer's saxophone solo drives the band along before Clement Regert brings in his guitar. A dynamic first track. Malheiros and Bertrami's Partido Alto follows with Grace Rodson bringing latin vocals flavours and I appreciate how well-balanced is this recording. Matt Telfer picks out a nice solo with a well-suited use of soprano sax.

Track 3 is Mike Flynn's Sing Your Own Anthem with guitar lead and trumpet stating a theme before the tenor sax and trumpet solos evolve and at track 4, Grace Rodson's voice comes back for Samba House - what it says on the tin, Mike Flynn's bass guitar clearly grooving underneath and some nice trumpet from Andy Davies.

Click here for a video of the band playing Samba House with Grace Rodson.

We reach track 5, Mr Clean written by Mike Flynn and Rodriguez Perez and Andy Davies trumpet and sax riff the introduction, Mike Flynn plays bass guitar into the trumpet solo and Gabor Dornyei gets some exposure on drums.

Casa Forte follows at 6 with a samba guitar handing over to one of those Spanish trumpet sounds. The tenor sax leaves the Spanish taste behind and takes a solo. The trumpet gets the message and follows until the whole band hands the tune back to the guitar and the coda.

Click here to listen to the band playing Casa Forte in 2013.

Grace returns for João Donato and Gilberto Gil's catchy Bananeira with Andy Davies taking the trumpet solo.

Click here for a video of the band playing Bananeira.

Track eight is Clement Regert's 12 Labours, presumably a Herculean piece, but the trumpet solo handles it well and John Newey uses congas effectively to add further colour to the piece. The penultimate track, Little Ben, is taken steadily with solos from trumpet and saxophone until the album closes with the band's J-Sonics Theme. This in itself tells us the type of music they play, just in case you haven't been listening.

This album with its catchy themes and the Earth Wind and Fire type rhythms keeping things going in the background - (Do you remember how EW&F had everything moving on stage when they performed?) - is full of life. Party on.

Click here to sample the album.

Ian Maund

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Goran Kajfeš Subtropic Arkestra - The Reason Why Vol. 2

Album released: 26th February 2015 - Label: Headspin Recordings - Reviewed July 2015

Goran Kajfes Reason Why Vol 2

Goran Kajfeš (trumpet); Per ‘Rusktrask’ Johansson (baritone, alto & soprano saxophones, clarinet, flutes); Jonas Kulhammar (tenor & soprillo saxophone, clarinet, flute); Jesper Nordenstrom (keyboards); Andreas Soderstrom (guitars); Reine Fiske (electric guitar, keyboards); Robert Ostlund (electric guitar, keyboards); Johan Berthling (electric & acoustic bass); Johan Holmegard (drums, percussion); Jose Gonzalez (voice).

The Reason Why Vol 2 (and yes, there is a volume 1 if you want to seek it out) is by the Goran Kajfeš Subtropic Arkestra; initially I thought this Swedish based band’s use of the ‘Arkestra’ moniker referenced Sun Ra. It doesn’t, not really, these guys are far too organised. No matter, Sun Ra’s open secret was always to leave a certain amount of things to chance, travelling the spaceways was full of ups and downs. This Subtropic Arkestra is World Music not Space Music. Listening to the Goran Kaifes Subtropic Arkestra they possibly have a closer affinity to Don Cherry. Catch the trumpter’s 1970/80 work when he was mixing with people on the Swedish scene like Bernt Rosengren and Maffy Falay. Throughout most of this period Mr Cherry was based in Stockholm and Skane in the north of the country. 

Actually, the description of Don Cherry being ‘based’ anywhere is almost a contradiction in terms, the man was a nomad, a world traveller, a great non-African Griot of a musician, capable of drawing down music from all over the globe. A music that started out with Ornette Coleman travelled to a place in his head that defined the term ‘multiculturalism’. Don Cherry arrived somewhere way beyond terminology. So, here we have fellow trumpeter Goran Kajfeš aspiring to a similar facility; to meet people of other cultures and connect with their indigenous rhythms, scales, harmonies and, probably most importantly, their vibe. The Subtropic Arkestra is picking up from Brazil, Turkey, the Cameroons, the Balkans and Uncle Sam’s USA. And whilst I don’t think anyone is claiming that Goran Kajfeš is running as decisive a dance as the mighty Don Cherry, nevertheless, the Subtropic Arkestra are intent on getting to party at a festival near you. I wouldn’t turn up my nose or turn off my ears to such an invitation.

The Reason Why Vol 2 kicks off with Dolkuz Seki/Esmerim, a melody credited to Don Cherry’s old drummer Okay Temiz. I don’t think I know the original version though it doesn’t surprise me that it is an Okay Temiz tune. Okay was much better than ‘okay’, he used to swing an improvisation as if re-writing Klezmer for a Turkish wedding soundtrack (which he probably was). Having said that, the Subtropics don’t hang around either, North Africa beckons and Esmerim would stand up to strutting stuff down in an old bazaar in Casablanca. A funky electric bass pumps more than simply the scale, the drums rotate a clatter of drop rolls between your feet yet stay firmly on the four on the floor, there’s a jive about the guitar. This is dance music, albeit with a top-line of nifty horns and a generous sandwich of fizzing keyboards straight down the middle. No one is pretending to have found eternity but I am sure the Arkestra could keep this up well past midnight and meet me in the wee-wee hours.

On New Track we arrive in the Cameroons but the rhythm party quickly inhabits a funky city that Goran Kajfeš has found in his imagination. The groove is broken into, shaken and then left to carry the frontline. Kajfeš’ trumpet is a real pierce-through-gold sound, riffing and blasting, with the reeds issuing forth like a much bigger sax section. It does not prepare you for what follows. The prize draw on this recording is Milton Nascimento’s A Lua Girou. It changes the pace and places the Subtropic Arkestra in a very different territory. Melody as a brass chant; Goran Kajfeš shows the real strength of the voicing’s brimming off his trumpet as well as the multiple reeds carried between Per ‘Rusktrask’ Johansson and Jonas Kulhammer (who at one point plays a soprillo, a curved piccolo sax). The plaintive Brazilian melody doesn’t go anywhere, it stays put, piling up harmonies. Even in the midst of a party it is possible to play music that provides an explanation. Is this the reason, why? I assume Goran Kajfeš has the answer to that question. It feels on A Lua Girou something is being asked of the listener. Goran Kajfeš’ band plunder the melody like a pushy, playful ensemble with serious intent.

Grizzly Bear is an American indie guitar band. By the time the Subtropics have reached a cover of the American band’s song Yet Again they are on the home straight. The Subtropics have found themselves an anthem they can make their own. The horn fanfare bursts like vibrant Township music. Johansson’s baritone saxophone solos over the top of what sounds like Californian surf-music reverb guitar before doubling back to the brass arrangement and ringing it of some more power. Lighten up, it’s fun, the final track and worth seeking out. Why? I’ll tell you. It’s the same principle as Miles Davis taking a piece of popular fluff like Bye Bye Blackbird written in 1926 and thirty years later turning it into a neat jazz classic alongside John Coltrane on the Round About Midnight album. It’s just that in the Subtropics case, they didn’t wait thirty years to liberate Yet Again; they give the chords and harmonies a good day out, a massive improvement on the original. And if it is not exactly classic, it surely rocks the house.

Click here to listen to Yet Again.

The Reason Why Vol 2 is the 2015 version of the Subtropic Arkestra. Catch them now because having listened to this album I think it is very possible that Goran Kajfeš is going to take them to even higher places. Perhaps outer space figures on their itinerary after all.

Click here for a video of the Subtropic Arkestra playing live.

Click here to listen to Miles Davis playing Bye Bye Blackbird

Steve Day    
stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk     

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Manu Katché - Unstatic

Album released: 22nd April 2016 - Label:Anteprima Productions - Reviewed: May 2016

Manu Katche Unstatic

Manu Katché (drums, vocals); Ellen Andrea Wang (upright bass, vocals); Jim (James Watson) Watson (piano); Tore Brunborg (saxophone); Luca Aquino (trumpet); plus Nils Langren (trombone); Abraham Rodriguez Mansfarroll, Joel Hierrezuelo Balart, Inor Esteban Sotolongo Zapata (percussion).

You have probably heard Manu Katché, you might not realise it, but you have.  He has played his way through rock royalty’s mainstream (Sting, Peter Gabriel, Jeff Beck, Joni Mitchell) and featured on a ton of film scores.  In my case, I first caught up with him when he was with Jan Garbarek in the early 1990’s.  No one is arguing, Monsieur Katché is a percussionist of experience and it shows on this album, a slice of life that starts with a rumba and ends with a verbal late night Presentation of his band.  I definitely would put this music on ...... if my life required a movie soundtrack.  And these days, that situation can happen to anyone of us.  Someone has gotyou recorded on their mobile, you’re only an internet posting away from pitching your actions against an aural backdrop.

Here is a scenario: You have visitors, the odd couple from next door, people you like, but in truth, the conversation is travelling to the detail of their next holiday in the South of France, you need just a hint of horns and percussion to keep you engaged.  Whatever you select it must not obliterate the atmosphere.  For me the real head-up on Unstatic is the title track.  It has this floating trumpet line comparable to Clifford Brown’s intoxicating Embraceable You.  It does not curve and catch like Brownie’s horn, and there are no strings, but it’s real enough.  Underneath Jim Watson is on a subtle organ groove.  Not too dangerous, on the other hand those left hand fingers are pumping primetime beneath the surface. Mr Watson and Manu Katché manage these moments like they are tossing a ball backwards and forwards.  Katché can climb up on the beat even when he’s laid back.  I guess that’s why Joni and the others like him.  By the end of Unstatic Tore Brunborg’s saxophone is alive to the situation, shaping and polishing the finish.  It works well, the visitors don’t hear all this filigree but the important thing is, you do.

As for me, I can’t hear the flamenco in Flame&co but it is a smooth ride through the night full of nice little touches that if you are ready for them, infiltrate your feet.  I like the orchestration, it pulses without puncturing the ambiance.  The bar is empty except for a couple of guys standing down the far end.  They don’t look like trouble but you can never tell.  Flame&co fills the spot with a keyboard and brass bounce.  These are melodies, they resonate riffs in an ever so slightly rocky landscape.  There is an inner strength in this track, you are almost waiting to hear Donald Fagen come in and drawl one of those quirky Steely Dan songs. 

Let’s leave the bar, outside the night plugs into the metropolis; City begins with Jim Watson back on organ, flexing a funk feel with reed/brass stabs.  Watson gets in a short solo, which should have been extended.

The alto saxophone is a distinct singular reed. In the right hands it can Blossom, touch a tenor and get past it.  Here it blows without any opposition.  A dreamy statement, no need to interfere as such.  Blossom is one of those smooth sultry lounge lizard outings where the piano peels notes in your ears and a classy drummer like Manu Katché can make it work despite the background effect.  There’s a casual vocal line put on by bassist, Ellen Andrea Wang, and Katché himself.  I’d have preferred to hear Tom Waits join them, still sitting at the bar, it’s okay.  What follows is Daze Days, another tender alto sax ballad.  And for sure this is ‘easy listening’, as in easy to listen to; that does not imply it is simple.

I wasn’t in the studio but I can hear them saying it: “We now need to up the tempo.”  The result is Rolling.  A session like this is formulaic, it operates to a strict brief.  My guess is that no one present would argue with that, intentionally it is scored for its solos as well as its structure.  It is what it is, classy swinging funk that is not going to overcrowd anyone.  Rolling contains smart orchestrations allowing the brass to come through and put the steamer on.  There’s a neat trumpet break with Mr Watson’s organ getting the rev’s up.  It is a real shame, the main event to roll from Rolling is Nils Langren’s trombone, but he’s only given a chorus; as he begins to really articulate they fade the ending.  It’s like, damn, that was just happening!  This is especially frustrating because what comes next is a track called Ride Me Up which has a similar feel.  It’s as if the whole band are having to start from scratch again.  Jim Watson plants a tasty electric piano into the mix.  For me, he’s good-news on this album.

We are now sneaking up on closing time, a short ballad sequence; Trickle is a slowly measured piano theme which has the air of Manu Katché’s former boss about it; Jan Garbarek would have fitted in easily here.  Filmatic, stylised, it fades like romance fades in Nordic noir.  And we arrive at only one tune away from the Presentation.  Double bass signals Out of Sight, a late night stroll back to the underground car park.  Watch the lights, watch your back, it’s been a good evening let’s not spoil it now.  Four figure snare, step up the pace.  There is a crushed brass refrain which keeps things on the straight path.  These two good fellas: Luca Aquino (trumpet) and Nils Langren (trombone) could have come out of the dark a lot more on this recording; when they do get to spray colour on the proceedings it works well.

As I say, I would definitely put this music on...... if my life required a movie soundtrack. 

Click here for an introductory video.

Click here for details.

 

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Juliet Kelly - Spellbound Stories

Album released: 22nd June 2015 - Label: Purple Stiletto Records - Reviewed July 2015

Juliet Helly Spellbound Stories

UK vocalist Juliet Kelly's latest project Spellbound Stories is her fourth album and is a set of songs based on some of her favourite novels. For Kelly, one of the things that drew all of the novels together was that they all involved some element of magic, mystery and the supernatural. Something that she tried to bring out in the arrangements and which also includes tracks mixed by Seb Rochford and Dilip Harris. The album features pianist Nick Ramm, bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer Eddie Hick.  

Click here for a video introduction.

Spellbound Stories is an album, which was born from a love of reading as a child. Having read the tale of Juliet’s Greek adventure creating Forbidden Fruit, which was to be the beginning of the album, I was thrilled to hear it. The originality of forming an album, each song, inspired by a favourite book, sparked an interest in me.

The sound on the album connects both early jazz and the more modern edge of the genre. The balance is satisfying, I never find myself wanting more of one or the other. Kelly is clearly a fan of an irregular time signature, but this doesn’t get in the way of the lyrical content or the soloist intentions.

Click here to sample Little Things from the album.

The reverb soaked opening of Ghosts is a highlight of Spellbound Stories. Kelly’s voice overwhelmed my ears to the point where it took me a while to realise I was holding my breath. The last thing I was expecting to hear was a traditional ballad. The wordless melody is situated beautifully in the middle of the album. Just having Kelly’s voice stripped back made me appreciate its beauty once again. Nick Ramm’s playing is exquisite, his solo is delicate and dedicated.

Magic and Mystery does what it says on the tin.  It took me back to watching ‘The Magic Roundabout’. I enjoyed the colourful images that Kelly’s composition brought me as I listened. Manjeet Singh Rasiya plays tabla on this piece, it’s effortless, yet has such a powerful place on the track.

Spellbound Stories ends with Forbidden Fruit.  Juliet Kelly has written this solid tune with a hint of darkness. It’s a satisfying finisher.

Click here to sample Wuthering Heights from the album.

I would love to see this album performed live, not only because I imagine Juliet really lights up the stage, but also because, I want to know more about each story behind each track.

Click here to sample the songs from a live performance at The Forge in London.

Click here for more details.

Harriet Syndercombe-Court

Harriet Syndercombe-Court is a graduate of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, a session and backing vocalist and teacher.
The Diamond Skyline Orchestra and Pandoras Jukebox

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Josh Kemp - Rare Groove

Album Released: October 2015 - Label: Josh Kemp / Fulltone Music - Reviewed: January 2016

Josh Kemp Rare Groove

Josh Kemp (tenor saxophone), Steve Fishwick (trumpet), Ross Stanley (Hammond B3 organ); Chris Higginbottom (drums); Jez Franks (guitar).

I was lucky enough to catch the launch of this album at e17 Jazz on the 28th October 2015. It was a low-key affair. Steve Fishwick was unable to make the gig and the CDs had not yet been delivered to Josh but the band played their socks off. It was a fine gig. I guess it sometimes happens that way, despite the planning you are wrong-footed and yet everything goes better than expected.

This is Josh Kemp's third album, Kukus, his Quartet recording with Tim Lapthorn came out in 2003 and Tone Poetry in 2014. Rare Groove adds a Hammond organ to the line up and there are times when the texture that this brings works well. Josh had been developing the tunes on this album over a period of time and the set contains some pleasant surprises. There are three Standards among the eleven tracks - The More I See You, (You'd Be) So Nice To Come Home To and Easy To Remember. One of the surprises is Bach's Air On A G String. Classical numbers are always risky to mess with but I found this arrangement very engaging.

The album races off with trumpet and saxophone together playing the boppish Shrift. Steve Fishwick solos, fingers fast over the valves, followed by Josh Kemp's exploration before Ross Stanley enters with the Hammond and Chris Higginbottom plays a few bars on drums. The track introduces the band and the tone well. Spin at track two starts with a Kenton-like theme and features a nice solo from Josh. After the rest of the band do their thing, the set moves on to Turn On The Dark, a catchy, rhythmic, funky number. Again there are engaging solos and Jez Franks is featured on guitar.

Click here for a video of Josh playing Spin at the 606 Club in 2012 with a different band.

The More I See You is at track 4 with Josh Kemp stating the tune before his improvisation sets off, lyrical and appealing. The pace changes as the Hammond draws out the notes, the change does not work quite so well for me and I feel that this is very much the saxophone's track. Stirred Not Shaken, a play on the James Bond quip, follows. Organ, sax and trumpet work in the piece well together.

Click here for a video of the band playing Stirred Not Shaken.

That surprise of Air On A G String comes next, taken slowly and showcasing Josh Kemp's talent. Take It Or Leave It has a steady, amiable introduction and features the Hammond and the guitar in partnership with the saxophone. Angel Of The North slows things down with Steve Fishwick's trumpet spelling out the theme, an attractive piece that allows Steve, Josh and Ross to venture into the tune's possibilities.

Click here for a video of the band playing Angel Of The North.

At track 9 is Me Time with the two Standards (You'd Be) So Nice To Come Home To and Easy To Rememberclosing the album. Chris Higginbottom lays down some worthy percussion on So Nice To Come Home To that launches Josh Kemp's saxophone solo and Easy To Remember dances slowly, lights low, cheek to cheek and then takes you home.

This album is a credit to Josh Kemp, his playing and arrangements. The band's tour during November 2015 should have brought them many new friends.

Click here to sample the album. Click here for Josh Kemp's website through which the album is available.

Ian Maund

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Ernie Krivda - Requiem For A Jazz Lady

Album Released: 30th October 2015 - Label: Nova Sales & Distribution (UK) Ltd - Reviewed: January 2016

Ernie Krivda Requiem For A Jazz Lady

It is certainly true that Krivda’s tenor sax has a very unusual sound. Assertive, strong, with an "extended vibrato", it might seem a little harsh to ears attuned to the softer tones of many tenor players. Krivda's sound is emotive, husky, abrasive at times, but ceaselessly inventive, evocative and romantic!

Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1945, Ernie Krivda, encouraged by his father, began playing the tenor saxophone at age 6, and by 1963 he had joined the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra as a professional. During the 1960s he played in the bands of Eddie Baccus and Bill DeArango. Later he became leader of the Smiling Dog Saloon house band, sharing the stage with Chick Corea, Elvin Jones, Herbie Hancock, Ella Fitzgerald and Jackie Wilson, to mention just a few.

Mentored by Cannonball Adderley, Krivda was introduced to Quincy Jones which meeting led to recording and touring after which he moved to New York and signed a contract with Inner City Records. Many albums followed, to great critical acclaim. Krivda remains as Artistic Director of the Cuyahoga Community College Jazz Studies Programme in Cleveland, Ohio. Amongst his gigs was a tribute to Stan Getz which included the first performance of Eddie Sauter’s Focus since Getz played it in 1961. According to the generous sleeve notes provided with this album, Krivda explains his musical roots thus: “We are a mix of the influences of the cities that surround us.  Geographically, Cleveland is central to Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Detroit, Toledo, Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Chicago…”

Lovingly graced by Ernie Krivda on tenor sax together with his outstanding accompanists, i.e. pianist Lafayette Carthon, drummer Renell Gonsalves and bassist Marion Hayden, Requiem For A Jazz Lady ranges the human spectrum of emotions, conveying a sense of the warmth and feel of those times, without any lyrics whatsoever. A veritable song without words!  Kriva sums it up, thus, “Like the musicians you hear on this recording, there is a way of playing together, a way of relating and bonding with music that is special to me. There remains a remnant of the regional approach to musical communication that is dear to me and a big part of my approach…”

Recorded in a state-of-the art studio at Cuyahoga Community College's Tommy LiPuma Center for Creative Arts, Requiem for a Jazz Lady is a love letter to his home city, a homage not only to the fertile Cleveland jazz scene of the 1960s, but also and mainly to Beverly Jarosz, a teenage jazz singer who was murdered in 1964 just as her star was beginning to rise. Even today, more than 50 years later, the case remains unsolved. The sadness is implicit in the almost organic atmosphere that pervades some of the album's seven songs which include the sole jazz standard, I'll Close My Eyes.

Click here for a video of Ernie Krivda playing I'll Close My Eyes in 2013.

Sometimes known as “the iron lung of Cleveland, Ohio”, Krivda’s button-busting prowess with “circular breathing” is very evident on the first track The Remarkable Mr Black.  Then comes the bluesy Great Lakes Gumbo (“gumbo” referring to the mix of influences, as described above), a waltzy Little Face, the more upbeat Emerald, plus the lyrical Questions, all original Krivda compositions, each redolent in atmospherics.

Click here for a video of Ernie Krivda playing The Remarkable Mr Black in 2013.

The eponymous, final track, Requiem for a Jazz Lady, (reminiscent in some respects of Lonely Man) is heart-breaking in its husky, musky, smoky, raw sexiness and a yearning sense of loss – and those few raspy notes send shivers down the spine!  This piece should certainly have lyrics and become a jazz standard!  Definitely this reviewer’s favourite and most-played track out of the seven gorgeous and superlative renditions on the album.

Click here to sample the album. Click here for more details. Click here for Ernie Krivda's website.

June Bastable

June Bastable is the wife of the late jazz musician, Johnny Bastable. She is a writer and author of two books Some People and These People available from Amazon, Waterstones, etc.

 

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Almut Kühne; Gebhard Ullmann; Achim Kaufmann - Marbrakeys

Album Released: March 2016- Label: Leo Records - Reviewed: April 2016

Kuhne, Ullmann, Kaufmann - Marbrakeys

Almut Kühne (voice); Gebhard Ullmann (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet); Achim Kaufmann (piano).

The word Marbrakeys is not found in any language, until now.   Almut Kühne invented it in the firmament of recording.  That’s a powerful thing to do, create a new word.  Written down the plural ‘name’ looks as if it might have decades of history.  A neat polite family surname perhaps; the colourful album cover, an interesting fix on a window into a slightly surreal home of people who have taken on the art of living. 

From the inside black and white photograph she, Almut Kühne, appears to be a renaissance woman, there is nothing of the hippy about Ms Kühne.  She is dressed in a simple dark suit as is Achim Kaufmann; classic features, and that is how the music of the Marbrakeys first curves, like a conventional gesture of goodwill.  This could be a formal song recital; precision piano accompaniment from Mr Kaufmann alongside Gebhard Ullmann, supplying a tenor saxophone counter melody, fluctuating as if composed for the purpose.  And then, Almut Kühne’s expressive voice, a song of the Marbrakeys or perhaps The Folks Who Live On The Hill.  But it isn’t is it?  And that is what makes this album so interesting.  Nothing you hear is quite what it seems to be.

That opening song rendition of the Marbrakeys is, by the final track relieved of its convention and transformed to double the length.  By track 10, Marbrakeys breaks open with the kind of angular piano/bass clarinet duet which comes from improvising gymnasts.  Gebhard Ullmann is puncturing two note melodies, Achim Kaufmann proposing avenues of harmonic progression and there, central like Liberty herself, is Almut Kühne’s voice returning to ghost the ears.  Initially Kühne sounds innocent enough, but then she begins to unravel a story of which I am unable to translate with any knowledge, yet it feels as if contained within is a dark sobriety.  And my only response is to treat this music with some kind of reverence.  Music that begs to be heard again even though it would be largely unrepeatable were it not for the fact that it had been recorded. For me, the Marbrakeys offers an extremely bold statement about the current place of the improvised voice. Between Marbrakeys track 1 and Marbrakeys track 10 there is also a lot of other music to be had.

All of this album is transformative, it moves through a sound sequence with such a rich inner logic.  Here are four examples:  Fainting Lilies is the third track in. It extends the opener and its successor as if stretching scale in every sense of the word.  Achim Kaufmann’s piano runs paralleled to Kühne’s line, Ullmann’s tenor saxophone acts like a touchstone.  The performance evolves with plucked piano traced by long breaths through the voice and horn toward a beautiful sedate resolution.  Gebs Path is initially a duet of piano and voice, a language of glossolalia clicks with Kaufmann threading his way toward a snippet of a melody line.  At which point Gebhard Ullmann’s tenor enters, becoming Gebs Path, in purpose and name.  In just over five minutes it is high order improv judged with precision.  Almost in the middle of the set is Humble Heart; beginning with a stand-alone tenor saxophone in bruised relief, piano holding up the other instrument as one dancer does another.  Ullmann and Kaufmann are so close. (A new duet album released by Leo Records called Geode comes highly recommended).  On Humble Heart Almut Kühne squeezes into the small gap left by her colleagues and, as a trio, Kühne/Ullmann/Kaufmann deliver a truly mesmerising angled songline elegy.  This is music worthy of respect.

Gebhard Ullmann and Achim Kaufmann have been on my radar for years, but I came to Almut Kühne with little prior knowledge.  What I do know is there has to be a personal journey to something as good as this, I hope to find out more.  The human voice within spontaneous composition is a line in the sand.  My friend and collaborator, Julie Tippetts, is acknowledged as one of Europe’s foremost singers operating within improvisation in contemporary music.  She is the very wind through the trees. The place of the female voice in this music is, of course, not a new phenomena.  A small number of other key people are Jeanee Lee, Joan La Barbara, Yoko Ono and Meredith Monk, each one quite different, yet inhabiting part of that history.  So let’s be clear, Almut Kühne, Gebhard Ullmann and Achim Kaufmann are not claiming their trio is some kind of breakthrough.  They work from a within a precedent, however that does not prevent Marbrakeys from being a critical statement.  It is. This music is a bold creative encounter by three musicians who have sourced a secret. Life with the Marbrakeys is good for the ears, I’m still going to be listening.   

Click here for details and to sample.

Click here for a video of Almut Kühne and Gebhard Ullmann live in Germany 2015. Click here for a video of Almut Kühne solo at the 35th Anniversary in Berlin in 2014.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Don Laka - Afro Chopin

Album Released: 30th October 2015 - Label: Nova Sales & Distribution (UK) Ltd - Reviewed: October 2015

Don Laka Afro Chopin

Don Laka (piano, Roland xv 5080, TX 802, Vocoder, Motif XS8 Jv, S760 sampler, MKs 70, Jx3p, Juno 106, OBXA, Emu Planet Earth, D550, 5 string bass on other tracks and percussion); Pat Mokoka (5 string bass); Oupa Makhubela (guitar); Rob Watson (drums on all tracks); Sello Montoedi (drums); Aiyo Solanke (tenor sax and Soprano sax on all tracks); Percy Mbonani (tenor sax); Julius Nkuna (percussion).

And now for something, in theory, slightly different - Kwaii Jazz and Chopin. I am always slightly sceptical about the fusion of jazz and classical music and how succussfully it can be achieved. There are exceptions but starting with a well known classical piece sets a challenge for an improviser.

Take track 1 Etude No.3 (Big Mountain), you will know the theme which bookends the track. The central improvisation with Aiyo Solanke's sax takes us away into the realms of interesting South African improvisation, but the beginning and end have been too frequently played as background music and I personally I would have preferred not to have had them played more or less straight. Similarly, Prelude No 20 (Izulu) which follows is Barry Manilow and Take That's Could It Be Magic, the theme of which has been popularised endlessly and once again it bookends some nice piano improvisation by Don Laka. Waltz in A flat Major (I Sing For You) has less of this 'sandwich' effect. It starts gently with Laka's piano before the sax picks up the theme before returning to Don Laka's enjoyable piano solo and then a fine sax solo. Prelude No 1 (Hope) picks up the pace and we are back to the 'sandwich' with a tasty filling of piano before the sax and percussion lead out with South African flavours to the crusts. Nocturne In F minor (Oh Such A Beautiful Place) rolls on from the previous track with the soprano sax working towards piano and saxophone solos to a taste of High Life rhythms.

Click here to listen to Prelude No 20 (Izulu).

Don Laka is a multi platinum selling artist, accomplished classical guitarist and self-taught pianist and is known in South Africa for expanding musical boundaries. His Kwaii Jazz fuses South African Jazz and chord structures and rhythms of Marabi and Kwela music. In a previous album, Destiny, he fused hip-hop, traditional rhythms, classical music and pop. He was producer on Hugh Masekela's Black To The Future and Sixty albums and they received a GRAMMY nomination in 2013 for the album Jabulani.

Prelude No.3 in G Major (Ramsedi) comes in slowly at track 6 before the tune takes on a Latin American rhythm, a track nicely engineered with elements at several different levels with the keyboard solo taking a vibraphonic touch. Mazurka No1 in A Minor (Imbazo) begins with rolling drums and piano theme and a pace that quickens through the piano and sax solos. Prelude No15 in Db major (My Heart Sings); Waltz In C major (Pretty Shades Eyes) - a satisfying piano led piece in the expected waltz time, and Mazurka in F# minor (Dusty Streets), take us to the final Prelude 7 in A minor (Take A Short Left) and another piece you will recognise.

I am not entirely convinced that the album successfully expands music boundaries as much as it might have done. The improvisations are certainly worth hearing, but for me, perhaps the setting of them inside tunes that are piped out regularly as pop classics holds them back in that 'easy-listening' arena.

Click here for a video with Don Laka talking about Kwaii Jazz.

Click here to sample the album and for the track list.

Ian Maund

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Brian Landrus Trio - The Deep Below

Album Released: 16th June 2015 - Label: Palmetto Records / Red - Reviewed: December 2015

Brian Landrus Trio The Deep Below

A low woodwind virtuoso, Brian Landrus began playing saxophone at the age of 12 and was performing professionally at 15. His instruments of choice are the baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, bass flute and bass saxophone.

Having been voted a Rising Star in Downbeat Critics’ Poll for several consecutive years, Brian Landrus previously earned his Bachelor’s degree in saxophone performance at University of Nevada-Reno and two Master’s degrees at New England Conservatory, one in jazz composition and the other in jazz saxophone. He is currently working on a PhD in classical composition at Rutgers University and finishing a concerto for baritone sax and another for bass clarinet.  Downbeat sums up his talents thus: “Landrus plays with gentle authority, his pliable, distinctive tone built on expressive devices like vibrato, multiphonics and pitch blends. He has a way of connecting notes with subtle slides and graceful glisses, embellishing melodies with turns and trills that build momentum and scream good taste.”  Amen to that!

Brian Landrus founded his own label, BlueLand Records, in 2011. First releases were Traverse, Mirage and Capsule. The New York Times praised Landrus and Mirage thus: “the tenderness in his playing feels as warm and accessible as his writing.”

Landrus has toured the world with Esperanza Spalding’s band and contributes to Ryan Truesdell’s Grammy Award-winning Gil Evans Project, and in addition, has played with some of the world’s great musicians: Bob Brookmeyer, Jerry Bergonzi, Rufus Reid, Danilo Perez, Frank Kimbrough, Maria Schneider, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Martha Reeves, The Coasters, The Drifters, amongst many others.  Based in Brooklyn, he still finds the time to teach at the 92Y School of Music in New York City and The Lagond Music School in Westchester, New York.

On this latest album, The Deep Below, Landrus is joined by two superb musicians, Lonnie Plaxico on acoustic bass and Billy Hart on drums who interact with such superb sympathy yet, at the same time, individuality.  Brian Landrus has this to say about them: “With Lonnie and Billy, it’s never just a job – they’re too honest and organic as musicians. They’ve played together for decades, but my album Traverse was their first recording together, surprisingly.  Billy is an amazing interpreter – he has power but also romance.  He likes to keep it loose, but he’s more about playing the music than soloing.  He keeps it classy.  Lonnie has this precise articulation that I’ve always loved, and he grooves so deeply.  He’s in my Kaleidoscope band, too, and he is a wise, collaborative help in the studio. I always like working with players who are way above me – it raises me up.”

Most of the tracks on this album are original compositions; two of these, Fly and Ancient, are collaborations with Lonnie Plaxico. Inventive and tuneful, all these new pieces stay in the mind, get under the skin. 

Click here to listen to Fly.

Just A Fading Memory brings us a thoughtful and heartfelt solo on bass clarinet, and the torchy Will She Ever Know is such a beautiful, haunting melody played on the bass flute that it screams out for some lyrics (which may actually have already been composed).  This song should become a jazz standard if there’s any justice in the world!  Remember, you read it here first…

Three tracks on The Deep Below are jazz classics: a husky and gorgeous rendition of Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Lady; a quickstep baritone sax solo on John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and an absolutely stunning baritone sax version of the Billie Holiday-inspired torch-song I’m a Fool To Want You which is so heart-wrenching as to bring a tear to this jaded reviewer’s eye!

Click here to listen to Sophisticated Lady.

This album gives us a whole new, very different, sound and furthermore demonstrates so beautifully how bass instruments can also be dreamy and lyrical instead of  providing the usual heavy stabilising support to ensemble-work. 

Yes, Brian Landrus has a new fan – and this reviewer nominates The Deep Below as the Album of the Year!

Click here to sample the album.

June Bastable

June Bastable is the wife of the late jazz musician, Johnny Bastable. She is a writer and author of two books Some People and These People available from Amazon, Waterstones, etc.

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Ant Law - Zero Sum World

Album Released: 16th February 2015 - Label: Whirlwind - Reviewed: March 2015

Ant Law Zero Sum World

Here is a new album that I like. London-based guitarist Ant Law plays regularly with bands that including those of Tim Garland, Jason Robello, Gwilym Simcock and Asaf Sirkis. He is also known as a pioneer of the ‘perfect fourths’ tuning system. On this, his second album, he has brought together a group of well-respected UK musicians – Michael Chillingworth (reeds), Ivo Neame (piano), Tom Farmer (bass) and James Maddren (drums) and they tested out the content of this album extensively on tour before going into the studio. In concept, Zero Sum World sounds complicated. The music sounds good.

 The ‘Zero Sum Game’ comes from mathematics or economics where the gain of one player is offset by the loss of another player, equaling the sum of zero. For instance, if a person plays a single game of chess with someone else, one person will lose and one person will win. The win (+1) added to the loss (-1) equals zero. In a Zero Sum World, no one can profit without someone else’s loss. So is it a ‘concept album’? Ant Law says: ‘Zero Sum World for me is balanced – some of the music is dense and dissonant – there are moments where the entire band improvises freely together. At other times (like the start of the album) only one instrument is playing at any given time. There’s some swing and a blues too amongst the other less standard forms. In this way the album is a concept album, as indicated by the title.’

The title track opens the album gently with reeds joined at a slow tempo by bass and drums followed by piano and guitar creating some rich textures as the sound increases and then falls away. Prelude features Ant Law’s guitar with bass and drums, a lyrical piece that morphs into Waltz where piano and saxophone dance giving way to nice solos from Ivo Neame, Tom Farmer and Ant Law. Mishra Jathi is a South-Indian rhythm piece. Law’s compositions have been described as ‘often tricksy and rhythmically shifting’ and that is so here – a good thing, which Chillingworth and Neame explore well. I like the way Michael Chillingworth briefly uses the bass clarinet at times to add colour during tracks on this album.

Those who read this website already know of my respect for drummer James Maddren who makes an important contribution to this album with his ability to provide complex and sympathetic percussion.

Asymptotes (a geometric term) has the guitar fooling me into thinking the word means It Could Happen To You, but not for long, Ivo Neame’s piano takes the tune away with fast fingers. Parallel People works its way into a steady bass riff against which the saxophone and drums run alongside each other. Triviophobia is apparently about taking things too seriously, in particular the arts, and especially music. This is a foot-tapper with an extended guitar solo that draws you in. It is a long piece at 8.20 minutes that allows the saxophone to take over as all the while, drums and bass keep the toes tapping on. Leafcutter and Symbiosis 14:21:34 grew out of the idea of multiple rhythms co-existing, as with symbiosis in biology (Ant Law studied Physics at Edinburgh University). There is melting-pot of changing rhythms here – I’d doff my cap to James Maddren if I wore one, and as Chillingworth picks up the clarinet with guitar in partnership the sounds change too. The initial Folk feel of Symbiosis soon moves elsewhere. Monument is the longest track at almost nine-and-a-half minutes and a tribute to international guitarist Ben Monder with whom Ant Law has studied. Blues is a well-chosen track to end on, well-underwritten by Tom Farmer's bass, Ivo Neame's bluesy piano and saxophone and guitar wrapping things up.

I find this a satisfying album, varied, interest-holding, and demonstrating the team talents of very able musicians with something to say. The album signposts Ant Law as a worthy composer and guitarist, and here, I think, he has the right ingredients.

Click here to sample the album.

Ian Maund

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John Law's New Congregation - These Skies In Which We Rust

Album Released: 13 April 2015 - Label: 33Xtreme - Reviewed: March 2016

John Law These Skies In Which We Rust

In 2011, the British composer and pianist, John Law, discovered that his teenage daughter, Holly, had been writing “…the most astonishing poetry. Reading through a collection she asked me to look at, I found I was particularly moved by one, 'These Skies In Which We Rust', which has, for me, an image at the end of great power and mystery. I decided to do a new album, with new compositions, three of which would be based on her poems.

This double CD, named after Holly’s poem, is the result. Eleven longish tracks, all Law compositions, are played by a trio of Law on piano, keyboard and glockenspiel, Yuri Goloubev on double bass, and Laurie Lowe on drums. The young British saxophonist, Josh Arcoleo, joins the trio on four of the tracks.

At the core of These Skies In Which We Rust is melodic contemporary jazz with a strong rhythmic pulse and some strikingly memorable and original tunes. But like so many European jazz musicians, John Law has taken on influences from a range of other genres which enrich the music and take it to a new level of sophistication and interest. One influence is electronic music, a genre which Law has explored in more detail in his Boink! project. So, for example, the first track on the album, When Planets Collide, begins and ends with a very effective electronic soundscape conjuring up images of outer space. In between the electronics, an insistent rock-like riff, played over and over again, drives the music on. Incidentally, rock is another genre which Law has effectively integrated into his music; and the use of repetitive and compelling riffs is a feature of many of the tracks on the album.

The other track on which electronic music is to the fore is Incarnadine Day (Track 4, CD 2). This is one of the three compositions inspired by Holly Law’s poems, the texts of which are included in the (beautifully presented) packaging of the CD. The poem is about 9/11 and the music is often suitably dark, although not without a kind of hope. Josh Arcoleo plays sax on the track – there is one particularly effective passage when the sax is electronically enhanced to produce a spectral echo. The instruments and the electronics work together in an effective and integrated way. Click here for a video of a live performance of the track.

Law is classically trained and has performed and recorded in a classical music context. His playing has been praised by Alfred Brendel, no less. And classical music is another strong influence on These Skies In Which We Rust. This is seen most obviously in the title track (Track 5, CD 1) which uses a sample from the Brahms Requiem and then manufactures a jazz theme and improvisation from it on top of another of those insistent rock beats. It is an original and splendid piece of music. Bach has long been a composer whose music is peculiarly suited to a jazz treatment but who’d have thought you could do the same with Brahms?

The classical influence is seen on a number of other tracks – there is, for example, a Philip Glass/Steve Reich minimalism feel to tracks such as Set Theory (Track 2, CD 2), Conical (Track 3, CD 2), and To Do Today: To Die (Track 4, CD1). Set Theory also has a remarkable piano solo from Law which is so fast and dexterous that it sounds almost like one of Conlon Nancarrow’s experiments with player pianos.

Law also draws on the music of other cultures. The Music of the Night (Track 3, CD 1), for example, was inspired by an outdoor concert of African music which Law saw on holiday in France. Laurie Lowe plays an African ibo drum on this, and Arcoleo conjures up the sounds of a tropical night on his sax. Conical (dedicated to Law’s previous drummer, Asaf Sirkis) uses the South Indian Konnakol rhythmic system.

Interesting and complicated rhythms run through the whole album, particularly in To Do Today: To Die which includes a little chant rather like the one in Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, but in English accents and electronically enhanced.

I Sink Therefore I Swam (Track 1, CD 2) has another complex but foot tapping beat – click here for a live performance video.

Perhaps the most conventionally jazz piece on the album is the final track, I Hold My Soul To The Wind which swings along nicely and has a gentler beat than some of the other tracks. There is some great interplay between Law and Goloubev, reminiscent of the playing of Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny on Beyond the Missouri Sky. The piece is inspired by another Holly Law poem and she joins the trio in some lovely wordless singing.

Click here for details and to sample. Click here for John Law's website.

Robin Kidson

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Léandre/Delbecq/Houle - 14 rue Paul Fort, Paris

Album Released: August 2015 - Label: Leo Records - Reviewed: December 2015

Leandre Delbecq Houle 14 rue Paul Fort, Paris

Joëlle Léandre (double bass); Benoit Delbecq (piano); Francois Houle (clarinets).

Joëlle Léandre is one of the great European bass players.  I think she first dropped a note into my ear when Anthony Braxton’s Ensemble played the Victoriaville Festival in Canada in 1988.  Evan Parker was also in the line-up.  Braxton himself was concentrating on soprano saxophone at the time and Joëlle Léandre was bowing beneath the pair of them as if from somewhere underground.  She is one of those players you would be foolish to ignore.  I’ve caught her with pioneers like Steve Lacy, Fred Firth and Derek Bailey; she has just about played with everybody.  Her 1999 recording, Joëlle Léandre Project, with Paul Lovens and Richard Teitelbaum is among the finest Leo Records releases in the catalogue (in my opinion).  That being the case, this very intimate concert with Benoit Delbecq (piano) and Francois Houle (clarinets) in a private house in Paris is an utter delight – European improvisation as sonorous art form.

As Leo Feigin states in his background info for 14 rue Paul Fort, Paris: “To be outstanding one does not have to be loud.”  This trio produce seven studies that are intricate music puzzles, each one containing their own particular resolution yet there is no great fanfare of achievement. Paris is a modest session deceptively so.  The power to create musical form out of instant interaction is demonstrated here as if this were a masterclass in abstraction. I doubt that was the intention, it absolutely convincingly remains the outcome.

There are no titles to the seven tracks other than the venue address.  I’ll briefly take us through what Léandre/Delbecq/Houle have to offer.

Track one begins so quietly, like morning pitched in darkness. Plucked bass, high register clarinet singing and the interior of the piano offering tuned percussion.  It is profoundly captivating, taking the ears along a beautiful line toward a measure of melody which grows out of this tender grip on music.  This first track is the longest on the album at just over 13 minutes. The recital, and that’s what it is, feels as if it is over before it has begun such is the intention to detail. In the last few minutes Houle stirs his clarinet and the piece comes into focus; there is a close connection with Evan Parker’s saxophone techniques - breath control, use of silence and lip pressures.  Yet, Francois Houle is no copyist.  The end comes short, all three musicians finish as if in no doubt.

Track two is airy, Léandre’s bass bowing a siren song, Delbecq’s piano sketching composition as if he has instantly found it in his head. About half way through the trio press a dance-like reverie before prepared piano spreads out a possible new path which in-turn breaks down into something approaching a ‘jazz’ solo.  This could be close to an American pianist, someone like Paul Bley.  It never quite gets that far, finishing like the fading of sleep before slumber.

Track three is a duet, Houle and Léandre in dialogue. Each player has their own story.  Continual conversation that never talks over each other even though they overlap.  Clarinet and double bass take 5 minutes to bring this thing together. Neither party is declamatory.  It is a partnership founded on common ground.  This music eschews ‘difficulty’, there’s no catch, no contest, no points to prove; just the rewards of a shared musicality based on the freedom of expression.  Again, the completion comes naturally, a duet that is comfortable to the last.

Track four Benoit Delbecq and Francois Houle have a fine duet on You-Tube and have recorded together before (Because She Hoped 2011).  At the rue Paul Fort they present a short 4 minute interlude of their combined extended techniques using prepared piano (wood and rubber wedges placed within the piano in the style of John Cage) and reed manipulation.  Of course, if they were so inclined they could take a performance like this on a much longer journey.  The fact that they don’t goes to emphasise that it is not just popular song that can benefit from a brief encounter.  It is a clever example of miniature.

Click here to listen to Benoit Delbecq and Francois Houle playing Cliché's from the 2011 album Because She Hoped.

Track five brings the trio back together again.  Joëlle Léandre carefully bowing all kinds of subtle low thunder behind Monsieur Delbecq’s piano which cradles a kind of spontaneous étude out of thin air. It is another example of improvisation taking no longer than the extension of its logical end.  Finally, in this case, clarinet and piano signal off each other for that last note.

Track six begins with a beautiful droned melody.  It sounds like something past history has put to sleep only to be awakened for those special occasions.  The type of song a family encourage the oldest person in the room to sing when the fire is glowing and the brandy is deep dark. Léandre/Delbecq/Houle hold onto the melody, collectively slurring it a little, enjoying both the harmony and the dissonance before leaving it to find its own way home.  At 14 rue Paul Fort, Paris on 24th November 2013 the audience warmly show their appreciation. 

Such a response ushers in a short encore.  Track seven travels slowly with serenity over no great distance; a house in Paris out on the 14 arrondissement.  I looked the venue up on the map.  I wonder why I did that.  The gig is over, but we have a recording of double bass, piano (wire and wood) and clarinet (blown low, high and higher).  Even if like me you didn’t go to the concert there’s no need to miss out on this recorded treasure trove. Trés bon!

Click here for a video of a Joëlle Léandre solo in Paris 2014

Click here for details and for a brief sample.


Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk                

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Let Spin - Let Go

Album Released: 23rd October 2015 - Label: Efpi Records - Reviewed: December 2015

Let Spin Let Go

Let Spin: Chris Williams (alto saxophone); Moss Freed (guitar); Ruth Goller (bass); Finlay Panter (drums).

Click here for an introductory video.

Oh way back in 1976, the great bass player Charlie Haden recorded a duet album with the pianist Hampton Hawes called As Long As There’s Music. Among the tunes was Rain Forest written by Hampton Hawes. It is beauty in simplicity made complex.  Piano and double bass spread out a long melodic line, interweaving together; Hawes's bright black keys stabbing at the top, Haden’s detailed delineated eloquence all low power and pathos.  The music speaks more decisively than words. That Haden-Hawes recording has never had big billing but it is known to those who know.  Ruth Goller is one of those. Let Spin’s new Let Go album starts with her tune I Like To Sound Like A Rainforest, a memorial to Charlie Haden written on the day of his death, 11th July 2014. Fr me, Ruth Goller’s Rainforest is without a doubt the best moment on Let Go.  This opening movement of music is cut deep, there’s a reason to play it; Goller’s bass leads, the rest of the band have no choice but to rise and fall with her.

Click here for a video of the band playing I Like To Sound Like A Rainforest.

I found Walt’s Waltz that follows a disappointment.  The faux theme comes from Chris Williams who also plays in the band Led Bib.  This piece doesn’t feel as if it is leading anywhere; like someone abandoned at the Brixton Academy after a night trying to catch up with a little old rock and roll.  I think my main problem is the drums.  Finlay Panter seems to adore bouncing round putting in ‘fills’ at every opportunity.  King Crimson might snap him up for a tour should the need arise – that would be a CV gig to be sure.

Click here to listen to Walt's Waltz.

But, let’s spin another track.  We come back to Ruth Goller, her second contribution is All Animals Are Beautiful, another really interesting structure. There’s a kind of dub decision on the opening, space for the bass to blog a riff that drops with a throb. Keep on her case; a bit further on the composition becomes overwhelmed by a load of extraneous electric guitar, sort of Glastonbury after-dark.  Stick with it through this interruption and the bass line is found still working on the curious loping loop. There is everything to play for here.  Dub depends on the gap that is left, not on how many notes are thrown into it. To my mind Bill Laswell is the arch-duke at placing four bass strings into a thing and Ruth Goller has some of that ‘feel’ in her playing. To my mind the members of Let Spin are playing on different stages.

Click here to listen to All Animals Are Beautiful.

Contrary to what some critics have said Let Spin are not even remotely ‘punk’.  Punk was/is a radical tough fast blast.  Where does that leave the Spin’s ‘jazz’ connection?  For me jazz is the human condition; blues and soul music improvised out of its birth place into a whole new dimension.  There used to be a revered jazz writer at the New Yorker called Whitney Balliett.  He described jazz as “The Sound of Surprise”.  A music that asks something more from both listeners and musicians alike.  It is the antithesis of progressive rock’s mix of complexity and electricity galvanised into grandiose composition; and on this recording Let Spin sound to me like a band who have decided a prog grand plan is where they want to pitch their tent.  Chris William’s Killing Our Dreams, Moss Freed’s E.V.A. and Rothko’s Field, Finlay Panter’s Disa and Rotation, all mesh into that streamline prog-paradise. (Click here to listen to Disa). Look, if that’s your bag then Let Go is maybe worth taking to your speakers.  I won’t be joining you, but on the evidence of her two compositions, Ruth Goller could place her bass in an entirely other country and offer us a surprise or two.

Click here to listen to Rothko's Field.

Writing a review can tie up a tongue.  Whatever I write is only ever ‘a view’.  As I’ve indicated, I did get some positives out of a couple of the tracks.  Overall, I can’t say the album does a lot for me.  I’m a believer.  I’m coming from a certain place, no doubt these guys are too, but we’re unlikely to meet up this time round.  Maybe on another occasion; there is an interesting live concert posted on You Tube of Let Spin at the Südtirol Jazz Festival.  They sound like a totally different band to the one on Let Go.  Both the gig and the album were recorded in 2014 with the same line-up.  It must be that Alpine air that makes the difference.   

Click here for Let Spin playing live at the Südtirol Jazz Festival 2014.

Click here to sample the Let Go album.

Click here for Charlie Haden and Hampton Hawes playing Rain Forest

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Michelle Lordi - Drive

Album Released: 24th July 2015 - Label: Creeper Records - Reviewed: August 2015

Michelle Lordi Drive

Reviews contain a lot of personal opinions. This website receives more vocal albums than we have space to include and so I try to take a 'triage' approach to them, only including albums that I think might have something particular of interest to readers. The result is that quite a lot of albums I receive are not featured on these pages.

I debated for some time about whether to include this album from Michelle Lordi, and in the end, decided to talk about how I hear its 'pros' and 'cons' because I think that Michelle has a voice that deserves recognition. Michelle Lordi is based in Philadelphia, as are the musicians on her second album, Drive. Her first album, Michelle Lordi Sings, came out in 2014 and on that she is accompanied just by Tom Lawton (piano) and Aleck Brickman (bass). On Drive there is an extended band that includes Grammy-nominated pianist Orrin Evans, who appears on three tracks, tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna, pianist Tom Lawton, bassist Madison Rast, and drummer Dan Monaghan.

The tracks on the album are mainly standards including You're My Thrill, My Ship, I Fall In Love Too Easily and Ghost Of A Chance, but there are also arrangements of If I Only Had A Heart from The Wizard Of Oz and the title track, Drive, the 1984 hit from The Cars.

My first reason for including this album is that I responded to Michelle's voice which I feel has 'quality' to it that caught my attention. She can hit and hold a long note so that she is able to control and phrase a song imaginatively, shortening a word or morphing it into another with feeling.

Click here to listen to her singing I Get Along Without You Very Well in 2012 (not on the album).

The second reason is that I enjoy the contribution by the pianists, bassist and saxophonist on the album, their solos have something to say, and they and Michelle clearly interact rather than a band that is just there to support the vocalist. Listen to Van Heusan and Burke's Imagination that has Michelle duetting with Madison Rast's bass (click here) or the standard My Ideal (click here).

However, there are some things about the album that did not work for me. I did not warm to Dan Monaghan's percussion, perhaps because of the mixing, perhaps because of the arrangements. That is a personal thing, others might disagree - click here to listen to True Love from High Society to see what you think and where you also can listen to solos from Larry McKenna and Tom Lawton. Neither did the title track Drive inspire me. The arrangement intentionally takes it very slowly (click here to listen) and I have to say I prefer the original with all the emotion The Cars conveyed. My third regret is that the latter part of the album is mainly slow ballads and for me that lacked variation.

So, I guess for me, it's the proverbial curate's egg, but I do look forward to hearing more from Michelle Lordi. It would be interesting to hear her 'take' on the music of some other song writers like Fran Landesman, perhaps.

Click here for more details and to sample the album.

Ian Maund

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Frank Lowe Quartet - Outloud

Album Released: 19th August 2014 - Label: Triple Point Records - Reviewed: December 2015
(Vinyl special limited collector's edition - double LP)

Frank Lowe Outloud

Frank Lowe Quartet: Frank Lowe (tenor & soprano saxophone, flute, voice, percussion, congas, balafon, whistles, harmonica, miscellaneous small instruments); Joseph Bowie (trombone, congas); William Parker (double bass), Steve Reid (drums); plus on 2 tracks Ahmed Abdullah (trumpet).

I shivered when Ian at Sandy Brown Jazz handed over to me Frank Lowe’s Outloud vinyl double album package.  Even before listening to the music the ‘presentation’ told me this is a recording that some very ‘faithful’ people have believed in.  Each vinyl record carries weight as well as sound. The extensive detail of the accompanying booklet, Inside Outlook is an achievement in itself.  Quality printing and layout, a succession of well researched essays, rare monochrome photography by Val Wilmer and Omar Kharem.  Writers include Ed Hazell and Ben Young, plus the reeds player J.D. Parran, who I first encountered playing with Thomas Chapin and Anthony Braxton twenty years ago.  Mr Parran writes a fascinating exposition on Frank Lowe’s approach to tenor saxophone playing.  (“Right at the end of untitled 1 he quotes that first motif up an octave..... a technical feat.  Fingerings won’t do it without vocal placement.  It’s almost like what Cat Anderson would do on the trumpet at the end of one of Duke’s pieces.”) 

And, so who is Frank Lowe? He arrived in New York in 1971 having spent his early years growing up in Memphis.  Over the next decade he became one of the key post-Coltrane tenor players on the New York loft scene and an important ingredient within Don Cherry’s music of that period.  He also had stints with Alice Coltrane and others.  Lowe played on two of Mr Cherry’s classic albums Relatively Suite and Brown Rice. The Inside Outlook booklet documents Frank Lowe’s impact across the emerging ‘free jazz’ scene.  It is stuff full of insightful information shedding light on Frank Lowe’s playing methods.  One example is the period he spent with Sun Ra and his Arkestra in New York in the mid '60s prior to his main move to NYC in the '70s.  At this time he was looking to extend his technique; it is clear the Sun Ra experience enabled him to approach his horn experimentally, literally sitting in with Arkestra luminaries, saxophone giants John Gilmore and Marshall Allen.

There’s also a sparse cryptic interview with Bert Wilson who gave Lowe sax lessons in San Francisco in the late '60s.  Wilson describes the man as well as the musician.  You can’t have one without the other; there was a certain vulnerability about Frank Lowe.  “The thing is he was so tense all the time that there was no in-between for him.... The sincerity and intensity that he brought to the music was as great as anybody’s....  that ability to push his heart and soul into his horn.  That’s why I liked Frank.”  On stage he could be “really wild” privately he was “a sweetheart”.  Eventually Lowe got caught by heroin addiction; the poverty of ‘shooting up’ crushing him.

I have a modest collection of Frank Lowe recordings – Fresh, The Flam, Exotic Heartbreak, Death In Paradise, Bodies & Soul, Vision Blue, and that tumultuous record he made with John Coltrane’s drummer Rashied Ali, Duo Exchange.  Plus one other, a much later recording; in 1996 the New York poet Jayne Corteze released a spoken word album on Harmolodic/Verve called Taking The Blues Back Home, it was a stunner few people remember.  Jayne Corteze called her band The Firespitters and among their number was Frank Lowe.  The fact is the session had the heat of a crucible and Mr Lowe’s tenor sax fired a surprisingly melodic flare against Corteze’s deep edge of the alphabet.

That was then, Mr Lowe was riding high.  Outloud takes us back to the start of the story.  The year is 1974.  The first vinyl album was recorded at Rashied Ali’s Survival Studio down on Greene Street, NYC, the second album only a stone’s throw away at Sam Rivers’ famous loft premises, Studio Rivbea.  All of the tracks on the first album were originally intended as the basis of a ‘suite’ called Act of Freedom, the follow up to Mr Lowe’s debut Black Beings.  That never happened, instead Lowe released a completely different recording called Fresh.  For decades the material on Outloud was carefully preserved on reel-to-reel.  Triple Records have now made it available.  Here comes a sonic breakdown:

untitled 1 has a simple enough structure – (1) the head, (2) the improvisation and (3) the head repeated.  Frank Lowe wasn’t using the ‘head’ theme as the source for improvisation it merely represents a signal to start and end the performance.  The middle ground is the fertile land.  William Parker’s double bass comes out of the starting gate like a dog hunting hare.  The short head-theme has a restricted number of notes in order that the ‘freed’ improvisation can have the widest possible palette.  Frank Lowe on his first instrument, tenor sax, and Joseph Bowie, trombone, run parallel lines throughout, initially using short stabs building over ten minutes into long streaks of hard, hardening music. You will either like it or loathe it, there is no middle ground.  The intense emotional musicality won me over years ago.

The second track Vivid Description begins with the voice of Rashed Ali, (John Coltrane’s drummer) engineering the session, queuing in the start.  I like the fact that this has not been edited out of the tape, it gives the recording an intimate feel.  The Tracks Vivid Description, Listen and untitled 2 are completely ‘free’ improvisations without predetermined structure.  Here’s a few pointers: William Parker’s double bass, plucked and bowed, acting as a guide to the direction of travel; voice used in a similar way as some tribal music, to exhort, encourage and instruct; small hand percussion and bells to generate space in the rhythmic cycles; the occasional use of soprano saxophone and flute – Frank Lowe always, always returning to the tenor sax, like the instinct for home. 

The first album ends with Mr Lowe coming on like a preacher repeating the phrase “Outloud, outloud” over and over – it could be my ‘vivid’ imagination but we are almost baptised in the bowl of the trombone and the reed of the horn. A word about trombonist, Joseph Bowie.  He’s the brother of the late great Lester Bowie, the trumpet maestro from the Art Ensemble of Chicago.  For those people who know Joseph Bowie only via the band Defunkt, his playing on Outloud will be a revelation.  Defunkt was formed in 1978, four years after these Frank Lowe sessions.  Musically they come from very different places, geographically New York City is common ground.  Defunkt was (and occasionally still are) a slick slice of R&B/funk/disco.  In the 1980’s they scored a hit with a not-quite-James Brown thing called Thermonuclear Sweat.  Critically of interest is the journey a musician can make.  Joseph Bowie stayed with Mr Lowe for another two years after the Outloud sessions. He played on two other Lowe recordings, Fresh and The Flam before changing trains for tight arrangements, watertight keys and dance grooves that move the feet and the floor.  Sure, of course, in the right circumstances Defunkt make a case.

The second album of the Outloud recordings is, if anything, more stretched to the extreme in shape, even further away from The Funk.  Half way through the track, Whew, William Parker takes a solo, his bass bowing out of the band as if pulled from a conversation into eloquence.  On the final track untitled 3 the quartet are joined by Ahmed Abdullah on trumpet.  Somewhere in the middle he takes a trumpet break, blowing like a be-bop ballad, there are no chords underneath him, his horn curves like an innocent lone voice. The sound of sobbing, music from deep within.

The meticulous presentation of Frank Lowe’s Outloud will enable serious study. Using the highest production values Triple Point Records have done a magnificent job in making this music available. Frank Lowe was a special musician who deserves to be remembered, this recording is a fitting tribute to his dynamic vision.

You can listen to the album on YouTube:

Outloud Side A (click here); Outloud Side B (click here); Outloud Side C (click here); Outloud Side D (click here). This gives you a taste but does not represent the quality of the packaging or the vinyl recording.

For further details click here. For UK price and purchase click here.

References:
Jayne Cortez & the Firespitters (featuring Frank Lowe) Talk To Me (for Don Cherry) - click here.
Defunkt Thermonuclear Sweat - click here.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk             

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Jon Lundbom and Big Chord Five - Jeremiah

Album Released: 10th February 2015 - Label: Hot Cup Records - Reviewed: April 2015

Jon Lundbom Jeremiah album

Jon Lundbom (guitar); Jon Irabagon (soprano saxophone); Bryan Murray (tenor & balto! saxophones), Moppa Elliott (bass), Dan Monaghan (drums) + Justin Wood (alto saxophone, flute); Sam Kulik (trombone).

These guys aren’t kidding. To offer us the name of a biblical old testament prophet as a CD title, then complete the trick by providing a medley of traditional ‘Wiccan Prayer Songs’ arranged from a collection by “America’s leading authority on witchcraft” is, well, at least not your everyday Gershwin. 

Jon Lundbom and his band Big Five Chord crash and burn their way through the opening track The Bottle as if their business is jazzas a new found way of sanctifying the art of harmolodics (Ornette Coleman’s take on dissonance).  There are chords here you wouldn’t find in a reef knot; by the time Lundbom hits the spiky guitar solo-thing I’m already completely won over.  But it doesn’t end there, the guitar seizure is quickly followed by Bryan Murray emptying the bile of the balto! saxophone all over the studio floor.  What a marvellous mess!  A balto! saxophone?  The exact definition is not available but it sounds beautifully ugly. 

Click here to listen to The Bottle from the album.

Next up the Big Five Chord propel themselves into the slightly more orthodox, less troubling Frog Eye, with all the confidence of men who have met the ghost of Jerry Myer somewhere down in late night Brooklyn.  We are only two tracks into Jeremiah and I appreciate why the old prophet may have wept.  There is a straight horn soprano sax interlude that corners the instrument into a curve that isn’t of its own making.  Brilliantly it sets things up for plucky sophisticated ‘jazz’ guitar solo that must have been invented in the dark.  This is music founded in Americana blues and then twisted as surely as right and wrong can become left and right.

Click here to listen a live recording of Frog Eye.

On Scratch Ankle we get a lot more than five chords – the band bursts forth from a fairly tight arrangement into a dance and a half of majors and minors; everyone is talking at once whilst at the same articulating a common story.  A band can only make this successful if somewhere inside the throng there is a mutual understanding of what constitutes their music.  ‘Ankle’ ends with trombone and reeds pressing out a torrent of their own testament, strangely, totally logical even to an outsider.

Click here to Scratch Ankle played live.

Get as far as the fourth track, First Harvest, and things take on a very different note.  The thunder and lightning softens to pale blue to be replaced by a rich, yes, let’s say rather elegant orchestration of a melody.  It is scored and offered up, then carefully given back to us by some subtle horn combinations and harvested with care and attention by Bryan Murray’s tenor sax.  I could stay here a lot longer than eight minutes.

Another change is in the air once the Weccan Prayer Song Medley comes round.  The title is likely to be a reference to Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting by Charles Mingus though there is nothing stated in the Lundbom package confirming the connection.  However, my ears tell me it must be so – an extraordinary double bass solo inhabits the ‘Weccan Prayer’, as if the great bass player had been raised from the dead, which is just the kind of jive Mingus would probably have been up for.  Interestingly the track preceding ‘Prayer Song’ is Lick Skillet which is constructed from extended trombone playing techniques produced by guest musician, Sam Kulik.  Jimmy Knepper, who played trombone in the Mingus band, would have had something to say on the subject of this breath and lip sync.  Probably positively rude, and that’s a compliment.  The fact that Kulik also provided the arrangement for the Weccan Prayer Song Medley says to me that Jeremiah The Prophet keeps good company.

Jeremiah ends with a live track called Screamer.  That title doesn’t do it justice; this is not heavy metal overload.  To my ears it doesn’t scream so much as simply take Jon Lundbom’s guitar twice round the block looking for a way home.  ‘Simply’ might seem an odd description for such a mercurial player and band leader. Throughout most of Jeremiah Lundbom’s axe is central, always doing stuff without grandstanding the show.  Screamer is an opportunity to hear Jon Lundbom and his sidekick, Bryan Murray, blow some guitar and tenor sax together; simplicity only in the sense of intention.  It works, as does the whole caboodle. Not your regular prophetic sermon, hell, I didn’t fall asleep in the pew.  The Big Chord Five is the apocalypse gone voodoo.  Keep listening.

Click here to sample the album.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk   

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Mammal Hands - Floa (CD and DVD)

Album Released: 27th May 2016 - Label: Gondwana Records - Reviewed: July 2016

Mammal Hands Floa

Mammal Hands is a British trio made up of Nick Smart on piano, Jordan Smart on saxophones, and Jesse Barrett on drums and tabla. Floa is a follow up to their debut album, Animalia, released on the Manchester-based Gondwana label some 18 months ago.

Like so many young European bands, Mammal Hands leaven the jazz in their music with a number of other influences. According to their publicity material, these influences include Sufi and shamanic African trance music, Irish and Eastern European folk music, Steve Reich and Philip Glass, and contemporary electronica. The band, though, is much more than the sum of its influences – it has managed to meld all these different forms into a highly individual music which is also accessible, rhythmically exciting and completely absorbing.

At the heart of their music is the use of repetitive, often hypnotic riffs – rather like the repetitive patterns in the minimalist music of Reich and Glass. The riffs include some very attractive melodies – the band certainly knows how to write a good, memorable tune. The opening track, Quiet Fire, for example, has lovely, lilting melodies which are played through a series of riffs gradually modulating and changing. Both sax and piano play these riffs – sometimes, the same riff, sometimes a different, contrapuntal riff. There is some improvisation by the sax on top of the riff but this is limited. Even so, Jordan Smart plays some marvellous yearning and wistful Garbarekian sax on the track.

Click here to listen to Quiet Fire.

The next track, Hillum, also has attractive melodies with a strong folk music feel. The music gradually increases in tempo and volume to a frantic yet controlled climax before returning to the main theme played hypnotically over and over again. These repetitions could be boring but are actually highly effective and utterly absorbing.

Hourglass sees Jordan Smart on soprano sax. There is a particularly effective passage where he plays and improvises with a slight eastern flavor against a repetitive, gradually changing pattern played on piano. The sax becomes more and more free but still stays within the spirit and arc of the music. The use of the tabla by Jesse Barrett emphasises the eastern feel.

Click here for a video of the band playing Hourglass.

Think Anything has a Dave Brubeck vibe – Take Five and all that. There are some more great melodies and riffs; and a piano solo which becomes ever more complex. The whole piece, like so many of the tracks on the album, fits together in a most satisfying way.

In the Treetops apparently started life as a pattern tapped out on a metal stool top. The sax, urged on by some compelling drumming, plays a staccato riff against which the piano and a string section create a more languid mood. The whole piece has an African feel and is meant to conjure up the forest canopy and looking over the treetops. Eyes That Saw the Mountain is another folk influenced piece with the drums making something of a rock beat. Jordan Smart plays some blistering soprano sax.

Kudu is named after a type of African antelope and the trio play melodies and riffs which jump from theme to theme rather like an antelope. The piece builds to a crescendo where the sax improvises frantically against an equally frantic piano/drum riff as if the antelope is running scared from some predator. It is a most effective piece of music – the stand out track of the whole album.

Click here to listen to Kudu.

The Falling Dream is a short piece “influenced by hip-hop sampling techniques, using looped patterns…” and echoing the wistful mood of some of the other tracks. The final track, Shift, is almost a summary of what’s gone before – hypnotic riffs, effective changes in tempo, folk and eastern music influences, superb technical skill, great melodies….. It’s an appropriate finale to a most absorbing set of original contemporary music played with skill and flair by three musicians most definitely going somewhere.

Click here for details and to sample. Click here for more information on the band's website.

Robin Kidson

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Mads Mathias - Free Falling CD and DVD)

Album Originally Released: 15th September 2015 - Label: Calibrated - Reviewed: November 2015

Mads Mathias Free Falling

Would I recommend this album? Yes - check out the links below. I have one 'but', and that is because from a jazz perspective, I think there is a missed opportunity here. As a vocal album Free Falling delivers what many people will enjoy, a gently swinging, engaging recording with some up-tempo numbers and a ballad or two. So why do I say 'a missed opportunity' I'll try to explain ...

Back in 2008/2009, trombonist 'Fessor' Ole Lindgreen introduced me to an album by a group from Denmark named the Six City Stompers. The band featured Mads Mathias (vocal, saxophones); Peter Marrot (trumpet, flugelhorn); Peter Rosendal (følehorn marching trombone, piano); Regin Fuhlendorf (banjo, gui, lapsteel); kasper Tagel (bass) and Morten Ærø (drums, percussion). Of their debut album, Work Around The Rules, I wrote: 'Six City Stompers are unusual in that here are six young people playing and interpreting standards and also writing new music in a straightahead way not often associated these days with musicians of their age.' I really liked the album.

Work Around The Rules was followed in 2011 by Miss Floridor, and although it didn't grab me quite so much, there were some nice interpretations on numbers such as Didn't He Ramble (click here). Now Mads Mathias has Free Falling out under his own name. He promoted it at gigs in the UK in 2015 and will be back in 2016. The album is primarily a vocal album. The songs reflect the experience of Mads' other music with the Stompers in that they swing gently (except for one or two, such as the title track, where the tempo is upped). You think that the song could well have been featured in musical shows, but you can't remember which. Of course, you can't, because all the songs are written by Mads except for the Standard, Sugar.

Click here for an introductory video to the album.

The other Stompers are there, but the album is a grander project. A large orchestra / big band backs six of the eleven tracks with some pleasing arrangements and a quintet is featured on four tracks. The slow, closing track, Colourblind, just has Mads with bassist Morten Ankarfeldt on bass. Mads' voice is very engaging with well-judged phrasing and on the title track he is joined by vocalist Sinne Eeg.

So why do I say a 'missed opportunity'? Mads Mathias is a very able saxophonist (he also plays piano and trumpet) and his Stompers are equally jazz-versatile, but on this album, there is for me a noticeable lack of instrumental solos. Take Sugar; I find myself waiting for the saxophone to cut loose but just towards the end we simply get a brief couple of bars from the trombone. The opening track Fool For Love is well chosen as a number to draw you in (click here for the video) and is followed by Favourite Kind Of Girl that has saxophone and piano solos that illustrate what might have been. Don't Look At Me at track 3 also features a nice, albeit fairly brief saxophone solo. Track 5, the attractive ballad What Is Time features the breathy clarinet of Elith 'Nulle' Nykjær at the introduction and briefly during the song. Fair enough, the focus for the rest seems to have been on the arrangements, it is just that for me, I would have liked perhaps one or two less tracks and more musicians given space to work around the rules.

Click here for a live performance of Man In The Moon on DR2 Dagen TV.

Click here for a video of Mads singing the song Free Falling at a live gig with an extended saxophone solo.

Click here for the track list and to sample the album.

Ian Maund

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Ken Mathieson's Classic Jazz Orchestra - Clarinet Gumbo CD and DVD)

Album Originally Released: 8th September 2014 - Label: Lake Records - Reviewed: August 2015

Ken Mathieson's Classic Jazz Orchestra Clarinet Gumbo

 

The Classic Jazz Orchestra has been going for just over ten years, but it has only been since 2008 that its personnel stabalised with the current line-up: Billy Hunter (trumpet); Phil O'Malley (trombone); Dick Lee (clarinet, soprano and alto saxes); Konrad Wisziewski (tenor sax); Martin Foster (clarinet, bass clarinet and baritone sax); Tom Finlay (piano); Roy Percy (bass) and KenMathieson (drums and arrangements). In this recording they welcomed American clarinettist Evan Christopher as a special guest. Evan was born in California, but has been based in New Orleans, on and off, since 1994. He has studied the New Orleans clarinet tradition, especially of the Creole players, and plays Albert System clarinets, those favoured by clarinettists from that historic city. Ken Mathieson was the resident drummer at the famous Black Bull Club near Glasgow for fifteen years, there he supported many famous musicians including Bud Freeman, Wild Bill Davison, Sonny Stitt, Bobby Hackett, Al Cohn, Ruby Braff and Teddy Wilson. The music on the album arose out of a concert in the 2013 Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival.

There are thirteen tracks on the album, five by Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet's Moulin à Café and other tracks come from the Ellington camp with Lament For Javanette, Charlie The Chulo, and Harry Carney's Pelican Drag. The Mingus number Jelly Roll is there too. The band's repertoire is described as 'expanding rapidly to include a wide range of jazz styles from regtime to hard bop and beyond - Morton to Mingus ..'

Click here to listen to Lament For Javanette.

Ken Mathieson says: 'Stop And Go was written for Jelly's abortive big band ... it's score ... contained no space for solos. I had to re-voice it for our slightly different instrumentation, so I made room for solos ... to lighten the textures, but otherwise it follows Jelly's score pretty faithfully.'

Click here to listen to Stop And Go.

Ken goes on to talk about the Charles Mingus number: 'I thought it might be appropriate to write a chart on Mingus's affectionate piece Jelly Roll. However, I was stuck for an idea about how to structure the chart until I wondered if Morton and Mingus had ever met and, if they had, what their conversation would have been about. It struck me that they were both argumentative, strong-willed individuals with mighty egos, so it wouldn't have been a conversation; more likely a fierce argument about who was the most influential character in the development of jazz and possibly a punch-up too. So my chart mirrors that with Jelly's opening salvo showing 'how jazz should be played', followed by Evan's two choruses of New Orleans clarinet, before Mingus gradually asserts his 'bebop-and-beyond' argument through solos by Tom, Phil and Konrad before showing how his melody should be voiced in tight modern jazz harmonies.'

Click here to listen to Jelly Roll.

Banjo player Eddie Edwards listened to the album for us and writes:

'I listened to this CD several times before reading the sleeve notes, and enjoyed it a lot. The sleeve notes are comprehensive and give a great insight into the recordings and their inspiration. Many of the tracks will be unfamiliar to the average jazz fan but this should not put one off. It was obviously very well arranged and would probably be best listened to live. All the musicians are absolutely first rate and Ken Mathieson obviously has a passion for the finer points of jazz orientated music. It is very foot tapping as should be the case with dance based jazz. Tracks that stood out for me were, Dardanella which has some great clarinet improvisation and Charlie The Chulo which again includes lots of great improvisation. On a personal note, I would have enjoyed more ensemble off the cuff improvisation. But this is a good dance orientated CD and one that makes good listening if you are into analysing your music or like a dance band sound.'

Click here to listen to Dardanella.

Click here for details, full track list and to sample the album.

Ken Mathieson responds:

Many thanks for the review of Gumbo. By and large it's a pretty fair and factual piece but (some .. traditionalist) musicians don't seem to understand that letting a 6-piece frontline indulge in loads of collective improvisation will make for a pretty incoherent CD. They also don't seem to grasp that an arranger's band might just feature quite a lot of writing. But more astonishing is that they, of all people, haven't clocked that a brief study of the alternative takes of the classic Jelly Roll Morton Red Hot Peppers' sides reveals that the only discernible differences lie in ornamentation: the consistency of shape in individual solos and ensemble parts suggests that most of it was written out. And when you compare the Peppers sides to Jelly's earlier and later solo piano versions of the same tunes the similarities are even more striking. Over the 2 decades in which he recorded, he obviously had a very set way of playing his own compositions which he carried over to his band recordings.

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Pete McCann - Range (CD and DVD)

Album Released: 18th September 2015 - Label: Whirlwind Records - Reviewed: October 2015

Pete McCann Range

The American guitarist Pete McCann has been playing guitar ever since childhood when his parents encouraged him with music in the home and music lessons at school and summer camps.  He went on to study jazz guitar at university in North Texas, graduating in 1989, and then moved to New York to follow a career in music where he gradually built a reputation, playing in various bands, working in studios and teaching.  Now after over 25 years living in New York he has become an acclaimed member of the NYC jazz scene having played on over eighty albums as sideman working with such great names as Kenny Wheeler, Dave Liebman, Lee Konitz, Patti Austin, Brian Blade, Bobby Previte and the Maria Schneider Orchestra.

Pete McCann also teaches at the City College and New School in New York City.  As band leader McCann has released four albums, the first in 1998, and for about four years he was also part of Gregg Bendian's Mahavishnu Project which authentically recreated the original '70s excitement of John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra, and which was endorsed by the great man himself.  McCann cites McLaughlin as a great influence along with, in his formative years, several guitar greats such as Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass and Lenny Breau.

For his fifth album as leader, released on Whirlwind Records, McCann has brought together some fine musicians from New York; the personnel are  Pete McCann (electric and acoustic guitar), John O'Gallagher (alto sax), Henry Hey (piano, Rhodes piano and organ), Matt Clohesy (electric and acoustic bass) and Mark Ferber (drums).  The album is called "Range" and one assumes that this title has been chosen to emphasise the varied styles of music on the album - in a previous interview in 2010 (click here) McCann explained “I'm trying to explore all the different avenues relating to jazz that I can, I'm sorry if they don’t fit into the traditional categories we’re all used to, such as ‘fusion,’ ‘straight ahead,’ ‘avant garde,’ or ‘Latin', I don’t care about any of that, I just want to play music, and whatever I feel like writing that day is what comes out; and all of the different types of music that I've listened to throughout my life are also going to come out, though not necessarily directly. There’s no finite set of rules or regulations that you have to adhere to in order to play jazz guitar.”

Click here for introductory video.

There are ten tracks on the album commencing with Kenny which of course pays tribute to the great Kenny Wheeler, recently departed, and who McCann worked with at about the time one of Wheeler's most famous songs Everybody's Song But My Own was released by the Kenny Wheeler Quintet. Track 2, Seventh Jar, demonstrates well the improvisational skills of the band, dealing with a difficult rhythm but still sounding relaxed and interesting. Realm, could imply to the listener a sphere of influence, real or imagined, and interestingly the tune sounds familiar; those with an encyclopaedic jazz brain would probably instantly link it to some classic track or musician but the rest of us will just have to take it at face value and enjoy the solos on sax and drums.  To The Mountains highlights both guitar and bass and is a very slow, reflective piece in stark contrast to Mustard where keyboards are to the fore followed by some classic rock guitar reminiscent of bands from years ago and finishing with a joyful crescendo of all the musicians playing together.

For those of us not familiar with the term, a dyad is a set of two notes which guitarists use in rock and other music; track 6 is called Dyad Changes which could be an academic exercise but as all the instruments take part (Hey plays the Rhodes piano on this track) this is also an interesting and unusual piece. Numinous (evoking a feeling of mysticism or the sublime) continues the intellectual theme, the piece being played using a whole tone scale (i.e. no semi-tones as occur in conventional scales) and has a hypnotic feel to it.  Bridge Scandal refers to the historic, specifically New York event when traffic jams were created for political purposes and McCann uses the guitar very effectively to suggest the chaos and outrage which must have been widespread at the time.  

Rumble is dedicated to the saxophonist Lee Konitz, born 1927 and amazingly still recording, most recently for Whirlwind Records, while the last track Mine is Yours is a beautifully, melodic track with McCann using acoustic guitar to great effect.

Range, as mentioned before, is an album of varied styles, mostly jazz with some interesting exceptions but above all it has been put together by intelligent musicians and will repay repeated listening to appreciate the intricacy of the music. 

Click here to sample the album.

Click here for Pete McCann's website.

Howard Lawes

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Roy McGrath Quartet - Martha (CD and DVD)

Album Released: November 6th 2015 - Label: JL Music - Reviewed: December 2015

Roy McGrath Quartet Martha

Roy McGrath (tenor saxophone), Joaquin Garcia (piano), Kit Lyles (bass), and Gustavo Cortinas (drums)

Martha is dedicated to the memory of Roy McGrath's late grandmother, Martha Albelo. The recording has eight tracks and seven of them were written by Roy McGrath. All four of the musicians live and play in Chicago, and they all teach in one form or another.  The recording is described as an emotional farewell to Martha as well as being a spiritual awakening signifying a new beginning for Roy.

Click here for a video introduction to the album.

The first track is Cole Porter's Night and Day which is a composition that I like, however, to me it lacked most of what I have come to like in jazz, it did not swing! I have played this recording at least three times and while the musicians are all fine players, something seems to be lacking.

Click here to listen to Night And Day.

On some tracks the drummer is very loud when the material being played did not seem to me to justify the volume. On Patty Cakes  there are a further four percussionists, but why they are there is not explained, and they do not seem to enhance the music.

Click here to listen to Patty Cakes.

Rue Nov.7 was written during an extended tenure in New Orleans but once again the music is rather dull. The final track is Kintsugi which is based on the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with lacquer resin dusted with powdered gold. A well known theme for jazz!  I feel that I have not got anything from this set of tracks and that I have been rather negative towards this recording. I am sure that there will be a number of people that will enjoy this recording, but it was not for me. Another reviewer says: 'There is nothing hesitant in the playing of Roy McGrath. He is brilliant, forthright and plays with the awesome finesse of a musician wise beyond his years (click here). Try the tracks linked here and see what you think.

As Vic says, Roy McGrath is from Chicago although he was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He recently received a Masters Degree at Northwestern University and is a professional pianist as well as a masterclass lecturer. The album is described as 'reflecting all the ambits of relationships: Healing, love loss, dishonour, spirituality, gratitude ..' so other tracks include titles such as Maybe, Please Don't Lie and Spirit Of The Living God.

Click here for a video of the band playing Spirit Of The Living God.

Vic Arnold

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Benet McLean - The Bopped And The Bopless (CD and DVD)

Album Released: 10th June 2016 - Label: 33Xtreme - Reviewed: June 2016

Benet McLean The Bopped and the Bopless

It was only a short while ago that I heard Benet McLean playing outstanding violin at Ronnie Scott's Club with Partikel's String Theory. Now here he is back on piano and vocals for an equally enjoyable album with Duncan Eagles (saxophone), Jonathan 'The Wolf' Harvey (bass) and Saleem Raman (drums). Various tracks are augmented with guests that include Gareth Lockrane (piccolo and flute), Noel Langley (trumpet), Ashley Slater (trombone), Jason Yarde (saxophone) and Isabella-Maria Asbjørnsen (harp).

Benet is known for piano playing that draws on a wide range of influences. Singer Ian Shaw has said: 'When Benet sings and plays, something so precise, virtuosic, soulful and swinging happens, it's almost unnerving.' And yet Benet trained at the Royal College of Music as a concert violinist, mentored by the likes of Yehudi Menuhin and he has performed with musicians such as Jean Toussaint and Sir Simon Rattle. This is his fourth album.

Benet's composition The Bopped And The Bopless opens the album with a saxophone riff that takes us into a vocal that (almost) makes me think of what it would be like if Donald Fagan were rapping, but Duncan Eagles soon takes his saxophone off into a solo until Benet's piano pulls you in with its energy, imagination and references. The end is a joyful 'all join in'. I Waited For You is the Gil Fuller number as arranged by Dizzy Gillespie with a solid opening that gentles into a slow, enunciated vocal by Benet with atmospheric 'sounds off'. Post-vocal the piano solo is a joy. The Planets is a short solo by its composer, bassist Jonathan Harvey, and the result is a multi-layered pleasure.

The Ruts' 1979 number Baylon's Burning takes us straight into a punk opening but then the piano and vocal rock out with full background underlay and some driving drumming by Saleem Raman that swells everyone into a full-on outro. Benet's Lucy starts out with shades of Manhatten Transfer with wah-wah vocal over the top. I found this vocal introduction really effective and it leads nicely into a bass, piano and drums section before Benet sings and scats with piano rhythmically leading us out. Introduction To Polly is Isabella-Maria Asbjørnsen's brief harp introduction to Polly, a beautiful ballad by Benet on piano and and with lyrics that I wish had been printed in the liner notes.

The album ends with two Benet McLean compositions. Electric Bopland dischordantly riffs into a vocal that references the album title and takes us into a fascinating arrangement with pop-up contributions from the band and then everything slows down for Shizannah with a chorus based on Faure's Pavane. The vocals are clear but again I should have liked them in the liner notes. This is another considered, imaginative arrangement that works well and is better heard than described.

The Bopped And The Bopless is an inspired album with imaginative arrangements and that draws on a cornucopia of influences to deliver a truly satisfying listening experience. Early reviews from others suggest a mixed response, to which I can only suggest that the album deserves further listening. Hopefully more sampling will be available online for you to make up your own mind.

Click here for details and to sample when the album is released. Click here for Benet's website where you can also view his artwork.

Click here for a video of Benet and his band playing Electric Bopland live in 2013.

Ian Maund     

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Charles McPherson - The Journey (CD and DVD)

Album Released: 17th February 2014 - Label: Capri Records - Reviewed: March 2015

Charles McPherson The JourneyCharles McPherson (alto saxophone); Keith Oxman (tenor saxophone); Chip Stephens (piano); Ken Walker(bass); Todd Reid (drums).

Charles McPherson has been a modest man throughout his entire career.  He’s not about to change that.  On this session, under his own name, he generously elects not to play on one track in order to highlight the skills of tenor saxophone player, Keith Oxman, who helped arranged the gig in the first place.  ‘Other people’ always seem to figure.  Talk ‘Charles McPherson’ and it’s not long before two other people with the same first name crop up in conversation: Mingus and Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker. 

McPherson’s alto sax was the ‘ghost horn’ used on Clint Eastwood’s film Bird, a fine biopic of Charlie Parker.  As for McPherson’s time with Charles Mingus, it was at the point when the great bassist/composer was also working with celebrated reed players like Eric Dolphy and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.  No one set out to make it so, but such stellar musicians surrounding McPherson tended to mask the exceptional talent of the ‘modest man’. 

McPherson is an A-List player; he can hit fast intricacies on Bebop classics (witness his skilful race-around Bird’s Au Privave on this new recording), play tender ballads with an edge (the duet with pianist Chip Stephens, I Should Care is a study in style, with the content seemingly pulled casually out of the ether).  He also writes and extends his own compositions, for example the title track here, The Journey.  It sounds effortless, exceptionally so.

In some ways this session came along like one hundred and one others, it looks like an everyday jazz story.  Famous soloist, now in his later years, hits town, in this case Denver, teams up with local band, plays a gig, gets involved in some workshops, records material that everyone brings to the table and ... moves on.  And yes, that is often the way of things. But, no one should be under the misapprehension that fine music cannot come out of such regular on the road encounters.  Here Todd Reid and Ken Walker, drum and bass, are sharp and inventive, most definitely not going through the motions. And neither is Chip Stephens; this pianist is not ‘bar room’ – he is a big inventive theatre, improvising time and space; swing, swept into verse and chorus with everything to play for.  As for Keith Oxman’s tenor saxophone, it’s a brilliant foil for Charles McPherson, still the star soloist.  A modest man, who at 75 finds it the perfect timing to let the genie deliver straight through his curved horn.

I wasn’t planning to begin the year with this self effacing legend of the alto saxophone but I’m very pleased to have spent time listening to this recording date from Denver.  Sometimes unwrapping the unassuming can produce a box of delights.
  
Click here to listen to The Journey. Click here for the trailer for the biopic film Bird with Charles McPherson’s alto saxophone soundtrack and Forest Whitaker acting the role of Charlie Parker.

Click here to sample the album.

Steve Day stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk         

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Lauren Meccia - Inside Your Eyes (CD and DVD)

Album released: 6th January 2015 - Label: Prevenient Music / CD Baby - Reviewed: February 2015

Lauren Meccia Inside Your Eyes

Lauren Meccia is a vocalist and a saxophone player. On Inside Your Eyes she is backed by Donald Vega, piano, and Mike Frost, bass. There are also a number of other musicians who play drums and percussion, plus on track 11, a violinist and a cello player.

The music is a mixture of standards from such as Burt Bacharach, Irving Berlin, and Harold Arlen, plus originals from members of the group. Tracks include the standards How High The Moon, Cheek To Cheek, and You Don't Know What Love Is as well as Herbie Hancock's Butterfly, Jobim's One Note Samba and Bacharach and David's What The World Needs Now.   Lauren Meccia has a good voice which she is able to change slightly to get the most out of each song that she sings, some have more of an edge to them than others.

Click here to listen to the track I Can't Make You Love Me from the album.

The pianist, Donald Vega, plays in a very muscular style, he comes originally from Nicaragua and has been playing jazz piano for many years. He emigrated to America when he was fourteen and began learning jazz at The World Stage with his mentor Billiy Higgins. Mike Frost is not only the bass player, but also a bandleader, arranger and composer. His photograph inside the album cover bears a striking resemblance to author and comedian, Ben Elton. He owns Spirit Music where the album was recorded and mastered.

Click here for an introductory of video of Lauren and the Mike Frost band including How High The Moon and Charlie Parker's Donna Lee.

There are 12 tracks on the recording, 11 are vocals, the other track is called Atlantis, this is an instrumental and Lauren plays a soprano saxophone on this one. It gives it a rather ethereal sound. She also plays the soprano on one or two other tracks, and an alto on another. The music is relaxing and never dull, Lauren's voice has been compared to Norah Jones, Eva Cassidy and Ella Fitzgerald although I am not sure if that is the case. Others may agree.  I particularly liked One Note Samba, Atlantis and Over the Rainbow.  This is certainly a singer that deserves to be heard and I will watch her progress with interest. 

Click here to sample the album. Click here for Lauren's website.

Vic Arnold

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Pat Metheny - The Unity Sessions (CD and DVD)

Album Released: 6th May 2016 - Label: Nonesuch - Reviewed: August 2016

Pat Metheny The Unity Sessions

I have only recently stopped reading a book in which the protagonist, Edmond Dantes, a once innocent and honourable young sailor, is reunited with one of his most bitter adversaries after many years apart. This rival thought him dead, having orchestrated a devious plan to have him thrown in jail and rot the rest of his life away. However, Dantes miraculously survives and escapes from prison, undergoing a huge personal transformation at the hands of his cell-mate, the Abbe Faria, whose worldly education and enormous hidden treasure allow him to completely disguise himself in the face of his former enemies. Playing the part of an esteemed and sophisticated raconteur in order to deceive one of his rivals, Dantes suggests that the newly-painted pictures adorning his apartment are less beautiful because they have not become old yet, and subsequently, lack that special quality with which aged items are often revered.

Although a rather cynical statement in itself, the protagonist at the very least indicates that the passing of time has a certain affect on numerous aspects of our lives. In the case of The Unity Sessions, Pat Metheny’s latest double-CD release, the passing of time has turned the combination of the guitarist’s new band and new compositions into a magnificent force.

I was fortunate enough to review Kin (<->), the first album by Metheny’s Unity Group in 2014, and despite some spirited playing and memorable new songs, I thought that the recording itself felt somewhat lacklustre. Simply put, The Unity Sessions is undoubtedly what that album should have been, including a range of compositions spanning some of Metheny’s newer Kin material and some older favourites.

After a year or so of intensive touring (150 or so dates), the Unity Group converged upon a small theatre in New York, to play two sets of their very much ‘broken-in’ repertoire one last time. The ensuing performance was captured on video and recorded live, released first on DVD and subsequently as this two-disc album. Metheny himself states:

“… I realized that the music we played during the two days of filming … truly illuminated how far we had come as a band during our time together. It is an unusual hybrid of being a ‘live’ record of a well-honed performing ensemble, but with a kind of looseness that the situation offered, that got us to a very special place that is captured so beautifully by my longtime recording engineer Pete Karam … It totally captures the best of what made our time together as a band so far such a fun and satisfying experience.”

Metheny fans will certainly not be disappointed with the sheer range of sonic worlds explored on this record.  The first disc kicks off with the gorgeous Adagia, showcasing the guitarist’s sensuous touch on nylon strings, whilst Sign Of The Season harkens back to his previous Group’s symphonic masterpiece, 2007’s The Way Up, incorporating invigorating crescendos and intriguing softer sections. Fans may also recognise similarities to a much earlier Metheny recording The First Circle, as we hear lush cymbal rolls and various piano ostinati.

Click here for a video preview of the album.

Saxophonist Chris Potter shines through the entire recording, participating in a break-neck speed duet on the old jazz standard Cherokee, warding off any bebop purists who might dare question his ability or respect towards the much revered masters who came before him. His strong and prominent tone add extra weight to new Metheny ballads, such as the gorgeous This Belongs To You, at times recalling the guitarist’s former long-time sparring partner Michael Brecker.

Click here for a video of Pat Metheny playing This Belongs To You.

Old hits such as Phase Dance and Minuano are heard as part of an intriguing acoustic guitar medley, showcasing his uncanny ability to inject new life into melodies through subtle harmonic twists and variations. Similarly, another stand-out track is the 13 minute odyssey Come And See, which begins with the now infamous 42-string Pikasso guitar, created by master luthier Linda Manzer, one of Metheny’s long-time associates.  The timbre of the instrument is truly something to hear, conveying a remarkably Asian sound, over which Potter skilfully improvises. Drummer Antonio Sanchez and bassist Ben Williams provide rock-solid support throughout all of the performances, with Giulio Carmassi providing necessary textural additions through various pieces of hand-percussion and the like.

There truly is something for everyone on this album, be it in old favourites or newer compositions – no matter what the setting, Metheny’s band brim with vitality and energy from start to finish, making this recording essential listening for even the most casual fan.

Click here for details and to sample.

Cameron Skerrow

Click here for our profile of guitarist Cameron Skerrow

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Charles Mingus - Live In Europe 1975 - CD and DVD (CD and DVD)

Album Released: 2nd February 2015 - Label: Salvo Sound & Vision - Reviewed: March 2015

Charles Mingus Live In EuropeThis is another release in the Sound and Vision series following on from the Stan Getz CD and DVD which was reviewed last month. Unlike the one on Stan Getz this CD and DVD have different material except for one track that is different musically, as it has guest musicians.

The musicians are Charles Mingus (bass), Don Pullen (piano), Dannie Richmond (drums), George Adams (tenor sax, flute and vocals), and Jack Walrath (trumpet).  These five were the line-up for the two albums, Changes One and Changes Two produced in 1974. Gerry Mulligan (baritone sax) and Benny Bailey (trumpet) guest on the last two tracks on the DVD.  The majority of the numbers were composed by Mingus except the last one on the CD and DVD.  

The package contains a booklet that has some good notes on Mingus. There are 9 tracks on the CD and 5 on the DVD.  The track that is on both is Goodbye Pork Pie Hat. I do not think you can compare the sound on the CD with the sound on the DVD. The majority of the tracks on the CD were produced in the studio whilst the DVD was recorded at a live performance 40 years ago. I listened to the CD through a full hi-fi setup and although the DVD has a number of sound choices (as did the TV), it was still coming through a large format TV with small speakers, perhaps a sound bar would have helped or filtering the sound through the hi-fi system - but you could spend all weekend fiddling with the combinations rather than listening to the music! Bearing in mind that this was recorded 40 years ago, you have to make allowances, even if you cannot hear clearly what Mingus is saying on the introductions to the numbers on the DVD.  

The visuals on the DVD were okay for 1975 but sometimes lacked sharp focus and some basic errors that you do not see these days (e.g. numerous shots of camera crew). Sometimes also the clarity of the brass was not as good as the bass and piano. The original DVD film lists the musicians after each number and the last track had to be individually selected from the playlist as it did not play automatically as part of the overall programme, which made it curiously, more like a bonus track.

The track listings are CD: Pithecanthropus Erectus, Tijuana Gift Shop, Haitian Fight Song, Reincarnation of a Love Bird, Better Get Hit in your Soul, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, Moanin’, Gunslingin’ Bird, and I’ll Remember April (Live). On the DVD, the tracks are Devil Blues, Free Cell Block F ‘tis Nazi USA, Sue’s Changes, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat and Take the ‘A’ Train.

As Charles Mingus is one of the most important and prolific figures in 20th century music, he is generally referred to just by just his surnameas with other notable musicians of the period. Charles Mingus had a mix of races for grandparents and I wondered if this influenced the range of music that he produced and which fitted no racial or cultural stereotype at the time. He was classically trained and also taught composition at the State University of New York.

My favourite track seems to be the one on both the CD and DVD, Mingus’s Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, his tribute to Lester Young, a slower “bluesy” number rightly featuring the tenor sax of George Adams. This is obviously a requiem piece but furnished with a nicely structured and measured melody.  On the DVD there are some good solos from all, especially the guest musicians, Gerry Mulligan and Benny Bailey who’s playing really added to the depth of the piece.

Click here for the Goodbye Pork Pie Hat video on YouTube.

Another track to note on the DVD is Devil Blues, where George Adams provides raspy and dry vocals and a curious sound made by his tongue like a North African woman does during a celebration.

Sue’s Changes, is an intriguing and lengthy track featuring changes of pace (slow and fast sections) as well as changes of style. There is a good trumpet solo and a wonderful interlude with piano and bass playing beautifully together as a combo. During these solos and combinations the other musicians even had time to “light up”, how times have changed!

Click here for the video of Sue's Changes. Click here for Devil Blues.

On the CD, the first track Pithecanthropus Erectus, provides a nice, quiet, mysterious start with each instrument joining and leaving, followed by a discordant passage of improvisation dissolving into a trumpet solo. There is also a complementary piano and bass combo with intricate melodic sections. The constant changes in pace keep you listening. With the 4th track of the CD, Reincarnation of a Love Bird, we have an interesting intro with all musicians playing the same melody, followed later with an intricate saxophone solo from George Adams.This track has a strong flow which is unusually neither fast nor slow. Another CD track of note is the last one, I’ll Remember April, the only live recorded track, and which features the usual fast pace of the band with their favoured brass section start and an outstanding piano solo aided by the strong bass beat keeping all the musicians in line.

Overall I think the package is good value and I enjoyed most of the tracks on the CD and DVD.

Click here for details.

Tim Rolfe                            

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Misha Mullov-Abbado - New Ansonia

Album released: 28th August 2015 - Label: Edition Records - Reviewed: September 2015

Misha Mullov-Abbado New Ansonia

Since he graduated from the Royal Academy of Music, the talented bass player Misha Mullov-Abbado has quietly been building a respected reputation in the jazz community. Now he releases his first album on Dave Stapleton’s Edition label and on New Ansonia he is in the company of friends, people he plays with regularly – Matthew Herd (alto saxophone), Tom Green (trombone), Jacob Collier (piano) and Scott Chapman (drums) with James Davison (trumpet and flugelhorn), Nick Goodwin (electric guitar), Viktoria Mullova (violin) and Matthew Barley (cello) on some tracks. Misha also plays French horn and bass guitar on the album. Just looking at the range of instruments gives us a clue to the depth of this production – the album has been produced by Misha in partnership with pianist Julian Joseph. As far as technical merit is concerned, the recording and mixing reflect the skills of Alex Killpartrick, and he knows what he is doing – this album demonstrates why he is so sought after. The sound is really well balanced so that you can fully appreciate each instrument's contribution.

Misha is the son of the late Italian conductor, Claudio Abbado and Russian violinist Viktoria Mullova. He was winner of the 2014 Dankworth Prize for jazz composition and the 2014 Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize. He co-runs the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra and plays with the Tom Green Septet, Ralph Wyld’s Mosaic, the Tom Millar Quartet and the Liam Dunachie Quartet and his compositions have appeared in various prestigious places including the Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Ballet School and his Clarinet Concerto was permiered in Cambridge by Joseph Shiner.

So much for the pedigree, what about the album? New Ansonia is an absolute delight.

Except for September, all of the music is by Misha and the voice of his double bass on the album is compelling. The first track, Circle Song, starts with birdsong introducing piano and bass. It draws you in from the beginning. The rest of the band picks up the melody and then Misha takes a beautiful, lyrical bass solo that establishes his credentials early in the set. Matthew Herd follows with an equally lyrical solo on alto sax before the band wraps things up for the coda. Lock, Stock and Shuffle, changes the tempo and swings out from the start. This is big band in a small package. Matthew Herd takes an early alto solo and takes off impressively until Jacob Collier trips in lightly with his piano, gradually building the piece before handing over to Scott’s drum kit.

Click here to listen to Circle Song.

Real Eyes Realise Real Lies at track three slows things down. The arrangement is full and textured with James Davison’s flugelhorn added to the front line. Jacob Collier takes a nice piano piece that leads into Tom Green’s smooth, round trombone solo. The title track, New Ansonia, changes the mood yet again with underlying rhythmic Earth Wind and Fire touches - more of them later. Bass and piano solos make effective explorations and the trombone insists on a firm beginning to the end. There is no space between tracks 4 and 5 as New Ansonia morphs into the strangely named Satan, Oscillate My Metallic Sonatas. The track juggles mood and dynamics in an impressive arrangement that needs to be absorbed as a whole.

Ode To King Michael has an even stranger opening with horse whinney and voice but develops into an intriguing mixture of styles before merging into the very poignant Heal Me On This Cloudy Day. I love Misha’s French horn on this track stating the theme and the arrangement that brings in Viktoria Mullova’s violin and Matthew Barley’s cello and which does justice to a beautiful composition that Misha wrote for his father’s funeral.

Yes, the penultimate track, September, is that Earth Wind and Fire number brilliantly arranged for this jazz group whilst retaining its original sense but making room for the individual instruments to express their own creativity. Misha’s bass solo is outstanding and perfectly supported by Scott Chapman’s percussion.

Click here for a video of the quintet playing September at the 606 Club in 2014.

Which takes us to Just Another Love Song, an almost eleven-minute satisfying conclusion to the album. Opening with just the bass for the first minute and a half, the piano joins with a gentle, romantic theme picked up by trombone and saxophone as the tune builds, subsides and passes sensitively from trombone to saxophone, builds again, settles, builds, moves to bass, piano and drums, builds with the full ensemble, and fades.

Click here to listen a selection from the band playing Just Another Love Song, Heal Me On This Cloudy Day and Real Eyes Realise Real Lies at The Elgar Room.

This debut album is a testament to a very talented bassist, composer, arranger and bandleader. New Ansonia is a pleasure, it has a persuasive, satisfying appeal that should lead to Misha Mullov-Abbado reaching the wide audience he deserves.

Click here to sample New Ansonia.

Ian Maund

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Kyle Nasser - Restive Soul

Album released: 24th March 2015 - Label: Aisa - Reviewed: June 2015

Kyle Nasser Restive Soul

There he was, Kyle Nasser, minding his own business, doing Economics and Political Philosophy at Harvard, thinking of a career in investment banking (as you do) when Hank Jones came into his life. That’s Hank Jones, legendary jazz pianist, ex Miles Davis sideman, brother of Elvin and Thad. He visited Harvard in his late 80s to teach and play a concert and made quite an impression on young Kyle whowas already a jazz fan and amateur musician:

“Seeing him in peak form and expressing joy through music at such an advanced age was really deep. We took him out to dinner, ended up playing a three-hour session, and then he asked us to take him home so that he could get in some practising before bed. That left a huge impression and reinforced that I should do this. I didn’t have any old investment banker friends that seemed very happy.”

So, after graduating from Harvard, Nasser abandoned the banking life and went to study at Berklee College of Music. He then embarked on a career in jazz and Restive Soul is his debut album. He leads a quintet made up of himself on tenor and soprano saxophone, Jeff Miles on guitar, Dov Manski on piano, Chris van Voorst on bass, and Devin Drobka on drums.

Restive Soul is contemporary mainstream jazz, elegantly played with a strong, if complex, rhythmic pulse. Jazz places such a premium on innovation and newness that I suspect some jazz fans might accuse Restive Soul of not being “challenging” enough. However, “challenging” can be a synonym for “unlistenable” and, whatever else might be said of it, Restive Soul is definitely listenable music. Some might call it “smooth”, which is another one of those ambiguous jazz adjectives (jazzective?) but it isn’t. There is plenty of bite there, and the more one listens to Restive Soul, the more spiky and memorable it becomes. Much of the bite is provided by Jeff Miles’s excellent and often acerbic guitar. He is the master of several styles and is not averse to employing some very effective, Derek Bailey-like plinkety-plonk.

Click here for a video of the band playing Restive Soul taken at a slower pace than on the album.

All of the pieces on the album were composed by Nasser. The first track is called For Rick B. and honours the late Rick Britto, one of Nasser’s music teachers in his home town of New Bedford, Massachusetts. It begins with the sax and guitar playing the main theme together against a strong upbeat rhythm. Sax and guitar solos follow with the tempo changing from fast to slower, then back to fast again in an intriguing way.

The beat slows altogether for the next track – Angelique – with some wistful sax, a restrained piano solo, and absorbing interplay between piano, bass and drums. Miles stretches out on guitar, coaxing some interesting, but always relevant, sounds.

The title track takes us upbeat again with a foot tapping rock rhythm. There’s another excellent guitar solo ranging from full-on rock to plinkety plonk. The tempo slows for the sax solos and there is some neat interplay between sax and piano. The fourth track, Shadow Army, begins with a martial beat which brought to mind Shostakovich’s Leningrad symphony. The piece then develops into something quite complex with the martial rhythm giving way to more peaceful and restrained passages and even some blues tinged intervals. Miles manages to make his guitar sound like static at one point. One feels a story is being told….

Gyorgi Goose is named after Gyorgy Ligeti, the composer, and is another complex piece which repays repeated listenings. Again, the rhythm ranges all over the place – there’s a bit of Latin, some slower passages, and parts where there is no discernible beat at all. There is an intriguing free jazz middle passage with all instruments playing together building up to a dissonant crescendo of noise resolved by what sounds like a trumpet fanfare but which is actually sax and guitar playing together.

Radiator Lady is a more conventional piece with a memorable tune, a strong upbeat, and guitar, sax and piano solos. Trip to Lester’s has nothing to do with Lester Young but is a homage to Lester Grinspoon, emeritus Harvard professor and “marijuana activist”. Nasser used to go to discussion sessions at his house and the piece tries to capture the spirit of those occasions with the instruments sounding like they are conducting conversations.

Whitestone is an attempt to capture New York seen at sunset from the Whitestone Bridge. It has the disjointed feel of some of the other tracks. Piano, bass and drums are more to the fore – there is even a rare drum solo. Ecstatic Repose is “a depiction of how the mind can be frenetic while the body is at rest”. The beat varies but is never particularly fast, with Miles making interesting noises off. There’s a relaxed and absorbing sax solo. So, plenty of repose but not too much ecstasy.

Click here for a video of the band playing Ecstatic Response.

The final track – Rise – was written by Nasser together with Jacob Bor. Nasser is on soprano sax, channeling John Coltrane – that’s the “My Favourite Things” Coltrane, not wild and free Coltrane. It’s an upbeat end to the album both in rhythm and spirit.

Further details of Restive Soul are on Kyle Nasser’s website: http://kylenasser.com/

Click here to sample the album.

Robin Kidson

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National Youth Jazz Orchestra - NYJO Fifty

Album released: 13th November 2015 - Label: Whirlwind Recordings - Reviewed: January 2016

The National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) was founded in 1965 by Bill Ashton OBE to give young musicians under 25 the opportunity to rehearse, write and perform big band jazz. Some of the biggest names in British jazz have passed through its ranks including Guy Barker, Mark Nightingale, Gerald Presencer and Amy Winehouse. To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the Orchestra has recorded this double album of 19 tracks played by a total of 30 musicians plus four guest artists: Zoe Rahman, Julian Siegel, Mark Nightingale and Gareth Lockrane. That’s a big big band.

Cynics might wonder why they should shell out for music played by young, presumably inexperienced, amateurs. They might concede that it’s good to support the training and development of the next generation of musicians but still be left with the feeling that they are somehow getting second best with a youth orchestra – why not save the pennies for the fully trained, professional real thing?

NYJO FIFTY triumphantly proves these (admittedly, imaginary) cynics wrong. By any standards, including the very highest, this is superb big band jazz – superbly arranged, superbly played, superbly packaged. There is no need to make special allowances for youth, or, indeed, anything else. The second CD in particular shows just how versatile and technically accomplished these young musicians can be. The tracks are a sort of history of big band styles from Goodman and Dorsey, through Ellington and Basie to the bebop big bands of Dizzy Gillespie and the like. (More contemporary big band music is reserved for CD1, more of which later).

The playing is helped by some great arrangements, particularly by Mark Armstrong, the NYJO’s music director. His arrangement of the old standard, St Louis Blues is outstanding and the Orchestra attack it with all the thrilling fervour and enthusiasm of youth. There is some excellent solo work from Tom Gardner on trumpet, Jim Gold on alto sax, and David Dyson on drums.

Another Mark Armstrong arrangement which stands out is of the Michel Legrand classic, What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?, which is quite conventional -  commercial, even - but also sumptuous and beautiful. The Orchestra’s singer, Jessica Radcliffe, takes the vocals on this. Her style is slightly reminiscent of Norma Winstone – very English with each syllable carefully enunciated so that you hear every word. Her phrasing and timing are immaculate. She also sings on the final track of CD2 which is a Bill Ashton composition, Finding My Feet. This has clever lyrics, worthy of Cole Porter or Sondheim; and some great tenor sax work from David Healey.

Other highlights of CD2 include a virtuosic trombone solo from Mark Nightingale on his own composition, He’s Just My Bill; and two “battles of the saxes” in the tradition of the great big bands of the past: the first on Never the Twain when Jim Gold and Sam Glaser pit their alto saxes against each other, and the second on Going Dutch with David Healey and Tom Ridout competing on tenor saxes.

If CD2 shows the Orchestra in traditional big band mode performing old and newer standards, then CD1 is a much more contemporary offering. Here, the musicians tackle some fiendishly difficult scores written by some of the leading jazz composers of the day – Zoe Rahman, Julian Siegel, Jason Yarde, and Kit Downes, for example.

Siegel takes a solo on his own composition, Mama Badgers which is a spiky and complex piece with abrupt changes in tempo, mood and tone. The Orchestra carries it off with aplomb. Some of the ensemble playing takes the breath away. There are also solos by Owen Dawson on trombone, David Dyson on drums and Rob Luft on guitar. Luft, in particular, is a real star in the making with an engaging rock guitar style which adds so much to the Orchestra’s sound when it plays these contemporary pieces. Click here for NYJO playing Mama Badgers live back in 2013.

Zoe Rahman plays piano on her composition, Red Squirrel, another complex piece – urgent and dramatic with a solo by Sam Glaser on alto and a nice, free jazz chaotic ending. A word, too, for the thrilling ensemble and solo work on Jason Yarde’s catchy and absorbing composition, Sub Hub Hubbub.

CD1 also includes compositions by current or recent band members – No Pau De Acucar by Owen Dawson stands out here with its gentle bossa nova beat and solos by James Copus on flugelhorn and Luft on guitar, playing in rock mode again but also in a softer Joao Gilberto style.
   
A final word to that cynic: the NYJO musicians may be young but some of them are experienced enough and good enough to have already embarked on professional careers as jazz musicians. As Sir John Dankworth once said of a previous incarnation of the NYJO, “forget the word youth, this is one of the best bands you will ever hear”.

Click here for a promo video introducing NYJO FIFTY. Click here to sample the album.

Further details about the National Youth Jazz Orchestra are on their website (click here)

Robin Kidson

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Patrick Naylor - Days Of Blue

Album released: 27th February 2015 - Label: DistroKid.com - Reviewed: June 2015

Patrick Naylor Days Of Blue

Patrick Naylor is probably best known in London where he plays regularly in an Islington cocktail bar and as a member of one of several bands including the Julian Costello Quintet, David Beebee's Gaya, Vipers Dream, Soundial, Brasil Universo and the Gypsy Dreamers.  He is also a teacher of guitar to students of all ages at school and adult education institute, a session musician and a composer and performer of music for film and TV.

Days of Blue is an album with Naylor as leader and a band made up with members of the other bands with which he has been associated.  Those playing on all the tracks, apart from Naylor himself on guitar, are Ian East (saxophone), David Beebee (piano / double bass) and Milo Fell (drums / percussion).  Alex Keen plays double bass on tracks 5.6.7 and 9 while on tracks 2 and 4 Natalie Rozario plays cello, Sophie Alloway plays drums and Daniel Tepper plays accordion.  There are also vocal contributions from Stephanie O'Brien on track 2 and Sara Mitra on track 4.  The album cover has artwork by Claire Kastruc and features a cartoonish character clinging to a lamp-post during a very strong wind and surrounded by red clouds. The image is very striking although the relationship to the music is somewhat ambiguous.

The first track, Baba, is a simple tune, clearly influenced by eastern music; the second, Naggar is much more interesting commencing with a beautiful melody from the accordion and continues with a gently swinging vocal before moving into a guitar and cello duet. Rifferama, as might be expected, features repeated phrases throughout, sometimes with guitar and saxophone in unison, but in this track it is the percussion which comes to the fore and illustrates how Naylor highlights a different member of the band on each track. 

The title track Days Of Blue features Sara Mitra on vocals and Natalie Rozario on cello. The singing and rhythm is reminiscent of an Astrud Gilberto number while the Latin cello is very interesting.  

Click here for a video of the band playing Rifferama.

Blue Morning, the longest track on the album begins with some thoughtful guitar and then with double bass and sax transforms into a great blues with plenty of scope for soloing which Naylor exploits to the full.  Track 6, Waiting, has a rather mournful sax evoking a rain-soaked street scene, probably with a 'private eye' in the shadows. In  Restless the guitar establishes the melody with the piano taking the lead solo this time.

Click here for a video of the band playing Blue Morning.

Lost Song has a duet between guitar and saxophone before each performs solo in turn. After Dark begins with piano and saxophone in party mood and this continues throughout apart from a short solo from the guitar, while in the final track Vamp, the guitar takes the lead, featuring various electronic effects with excellent support from drums and percussion.

Days of Blue is a very entertaining, eclectic album featuring several very good musicians.  The album was launched at the Green Note venue in London which is well known, not only for jazz but also roots and world music and should appeal to a widespread audience.

The album is included in the Daily Telegraph's '18 Best Jazz Album's of 2015' list at the beginning of June.

Click here to sample the album.

Click here for further information about Patrick Naylor.

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Ivo Neame - Strata

Album released: 15th June 2015 - Label: Whirlwind Recordings - Reviewed: July 2015

Ivo Neame Strata

Ivo Neame graduated as a jazz pianist from the Royal Academy of Music in 2003 and has had a career as bright as the "Brilliant Ale" brewed by the Shepherd Neame family brewery. Apart from the bands that he has led Neame has also been a member of eleven other bands, probably reaching a zenith with Phronesis and their album A Life to Everything which has received widespread acclaim throughout the world. Phronesis, although led by bassist Jasper Høiby, is regularly referred to as a piano trio and was described by John Newey of Jazzwise as “the most exciting and imaginative piano trio since EST” (the Esbjörn Svensson Trio).

For this album Strata we have a quintet with Neame (piano, keyboard and accordion), Tori Freestone (saxes/flute), Jim Hart (vibraphone), Dave Hamblett (drums) and Tom Farmer (bass).

Click here for an introductory video.

The album starts with a track called Personality Clash, (presumably not referring to members of the band!), which has piano and vibraphone, each seeking to outdo the other at a fast pace before the calming influence of the saxophone is introduced.  The title track, Strata, begins with single notes and chords, gradually builds as all the instruments join in and then continues with a fanfare-like saxophone theme; and as implied by the title this is a many layered piece, complex but great to listen to.

Click here for a video of the Quintet playing Strata at the SoundCellar in Poole in 2014.

OCD Blues has the saxophone taking a leading role while piano and vibraphone converse and mirror improvisations and then about five minutes in we get some very soft, tinkly notes on the piano and bowed vibraphone creating a mystical feel.  Miss Piggy is a pleasant piece that probablyhas little to do with the anarchic Muppets and having heard OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?) Blues, we have Crise de Nerfs (which may be translated as 'nervous breakdown'), a track that highlights Jim Hart on vibraphone and Tori Freestone on flute.

Eastern Chant is a great piano trio piece with Neame, Farmer and Hamblett combining to great effect while Folk Song features Neame on accordion imparting a slight Balkan feel to the beginning and end of the piece while Freestone plays saxophone in a contrasting fashion as the rhythm changes to something quite different. The last track, Snowfall, effectively conjures up a winter landscape with saxophone winds and tinkly, piano key snow but also features a solo on Tom Farmer's double bass.

Click here for a video of Eastern Chant at the same Soundcellar gig as above.

This is a complex and interesting album which rewards repeated listening to discover its depth and subtleties and has plenty of Ivo Neame piano for those who know him best through Phronesis, but also some quality playing from other band members who come together as a very well drilled unit.  The album launch gig at a packed Vortex Jazz Club in London was very well received where no doubt sales were enhanced because each purchase included a home-made chocolate brownie!

Click here to sample the album.

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Pete Neighbour - Back In The Neighbourhood

Album released: 2015 - Label: Self Release - Reviewed: April 2015

Pete Neighbour Back In The Neighbourhood

This is an interesting recording and certainly it is one that contains a wealth of good old fashioned swinging jazz. Pete Neighbour plays clarinet very much in the Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw style with perhaps a touch of Buddy Defranco. Although Pete was born in Great Britain, he now lives in South Carolina and he spends much of his working year entertaining on cruise ships run by the Silversea luxury line. There are 12 tracks on this recording, all of them are well known jazz standards, and the quality of the music is very high.

The musicians are, Pete Neighbour (clarinet); Nat Steele (vibraphone); David Newton (piano); Jim Mullen (guitar); Tom Gordon (drums) and Andrew Cleyndert (bass). On two tracks, You Make Me Feel So Young, and What Will I Tell My Heart?, the featured  vocalist is Louise Cookman.

The recording starts and ends with two bright and breezy toe tappers, I Want To Be Happy and After You've Gone. There are some tracks taken at a slower tempo and they are also very good, especially Boulevard Of Broken Dreams and Duke Ellington's wonderful Come Sunday from his Black Brown and Beige suite.

I found that Nat Steele's vibraphone playing is really outstanding, he sounds more like Milt Jackson to me than Lionel Hampton, but whoever he sounds like, his playing certainly adds colour to the recording. All of the musicians play very well and in my opinion there is not a track that I did not enjoy. If you like your jazz to be honest swinging and tuneful, look no further than this excellent recording of Pete Neighbour and his friends, you will not regret it.  

Click here for more information and to sample the album.

Vic Arnold. 

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Liam Noble - A Room Somewhere

Album Released: 25th May 2015 - Label: Basho Records - Reviewed: July 2015

Liam Noble A Room Somewhere

This is Liam Noble’s second solo recording in 20 years. Liam has worked in a vast range of contexts including as a sideman on award winning projects with Julian Siegel, Christine Tobin and Mark Lockhart as well as in a transatlantic ensemble with Zhenya Strigalev. He now feels that it is time to strike out alone again. The CD has a photo of Liam accompanied by a colourful toy parrot. Liam’s explanation of his companion is as follows: 'I have always been slightly ambivalent about publicity photographs. A portrait only occasionally reveals anything of the person in the picture. I decided I needed an accomplice, a kind of visible version of the internal me – something like a macaw. Hopefully, because I am in the picture people will recognise me, and because the macaw is in the picture they will get the gist of the music.” He states: “I deliberately avoided writing any music for this session. I liked the idea of a solo record where improvisation is at the heart of it."

The album consists of 4 improvisation tracks - Major Major, Now, I Wish I Played Guitar and Now and Then which is an overdubbed track and so a 'double improvisation'.  Several tracks are themed around other instruments being interpreted by the piano; some more obviously than others. The album also has Liam’s take on a number of jazz standards e.g. Round Midnight, as well as the title track Wouldn’t It Be Lovely…to have a Room Somewhere from My Fair Lady

Click here to listen to Round Midnight.

We also have Paul Simon’s Tenderness, Kenny Wheeler’s Sophie and even one classical number - Elgar’s Salut D’Amour.  Overall, Liam’s influences seem to range across the whole spectrum of musical tastes - at times the music reminded me of Erik Satie. It takes a brave and accomplished musician to deliver on such an eclectic mix of melodies. His approach, Liam says, to some of these standards, is akin to skiing down a slalom course when most of the poles have been removed and the rest replaced at random.

The first track, Major Major is dark and mysterious with lots of bass notes reminding me of a drum solo and is cleverly simplistic. Moving on to the title track, Wouldn’t It Be Lovely, this starts with only snatches of the recognisable melody until the near the end of the track, when the full melody emerges. This is a refreshing and modern take on a well-known tune that branches off into something new.

With Six White Horses, Liam cleverly imitates a banjo playing the tune on the piano, which is especially obvious at the start and later nearer the conclusion of the track. Paul Simon’s Tenderness, is the slowest track and is a wonderfully sympathetic version. Liam’s playing has a light feel which conveys gentle emotion through the melody. Liam’s interpretation of Sophie has his playing skipping over and around the notes of the melody, hiding and revealing it in turn.

Click here to listen to Six White Horses.

Other tracks are Directions (Zawinul), There is No Greater Love (Jones/Symes) and Body and Soul (Heyman/Sour/Eyton/Green). I liked the playing and the humour conveyed in the interpretations of some of these standards. Let us hope it is not another 20 years before we have another solo album Liam Noble.  

Click here to sample the album.

Tim Rolfe                        

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Curtis Nowosad - Dialectics

Album Released: 17th March 2015 - Label: Manitoba / Cellar Live - Reviewed: March 2015

Curtis Nowosad Dialectics

This is Curtis Nowosad's second album and it is labelled "straight ahead jazz", or as the liner notes call it "neo hard bop". 

Click here for a video of the band playing Dialectics.

The group consists of Curtis Nowosad (drums), Jimmy Greene (tenor and soprano saxophones), Derrick Gardner (trumpet), Steve Kirby (acoustic bass), and Will Bonness (piano).  There are nine tracks on the recording, one written  by Wayne Shorter, one by Thelonious Monk and the last track is a version of I Remember You, a pop hit from the 1960s recorded by Frank Ifield. The recording plays for forty-nine minutes.

Most of the tracks are the work of  Curtis Nowosad. Curtis is currently studying and performing in New York. Drummer, composer, and bandleader he ‘became recognized as the face of a new generation of jazz players in Winnipeg, playing in a variety of situations, as well as lending his talents to other genres. His debut album, The Skeptic and the Cynic, was released in late 2012 and he recently recorded with pianist Kenny Barron in Brooklyn, New York.’

Click here for a video of the band recording Wayne Shorter's Speak No Evil for the Dialectics album featuring Derrick Gardner's trumpet and Jimmy Greene on tenor saxophone.

If your taste in jazz is hard bop, neo or not, I am sure that you will find much to enjoy here. The quintet are all very competent musicians and they all come from  Winnipeg , Canada.  They have been playing together in various configurations since 2009. Of the tracks that I found most enjoyable, Gleaning and Dreaming features the soprano saxophone played in a mellow manner. I like this instrument but it can sound very strident in the hands of some players. 

Gleaming and Dreaming was picked up by the Manhattan School of Music Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra last December. Click here for a video of their first read-through conducted by Jim McNeely, and with a soprano saxophone solo by Matt Woroshyl.

But what of the title Dialectics?  The liner notes state that track 3, Dialectics, is 'a hexatonically-inspired funk groove that practically shouts' Modern Jazz'.  So, now you know.  Of the other tracks they all have something to offer and apart from the fore-mentioned Gleaming and Dreaming, I did find track I Remember You enjoyable, perhaps listening to the tune brought back memories from the 1960's although I never did rate Frank Ifield too highly .

Click here for Curtis's website. Click here for the album.

Vic Arnold      

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Carl Orr - Forbearance

Album released - 2015: Label - www.carlorr.com: Reviewed - February 2016

Carl Orr Forbearance

Guitarist Carl Grant Orr has a substantial jazz history. In 1984 -1985 he was at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA; he has taught guitar at The Australian Institute of Music, Brunel University, Middlesex University, London Centre Of Contemporary Music and The Academy of Contemporary Music, and he has recorded eight albums as leader. You will also find him on recordings by Billy Cobham, George Duke, Ernie Watts, Randy Brecker, Gary Husband and Bennie Maupin. His long association with Billy Cobham is witnessed in this, Carl's latest album with Cobham playing drums on the track John and Evelyn.

Despite this back story, and despite the presence on the album of some prestigious jazz musicians such as trumpeter Freddie Gavita, Carl tells me 'It’s not a jazz album, so it will grievously disappoint from that perspective, but, it’s a finely-crafted showcase of my playing and composing with the intention of appealing to a large audience without an ounce of compromise.'

Well, it is true that the album is different from other jazz recordings by Carl and draws on many other genres, but it certainly does not disappoint and does give us that showcase of his playing. The line-up varies from track to track, some of the eleven with a number of contributing musicians, others - the title track Forbearance and the closing track Precious Baby Boy are solo guitar and Cherryville is in the company of fellow guitarist Tristan Seume. The music was recorded between June 2013 and October 2014.

The album opens beautifully with Forbearance, quiet melodious acoustic guitar introduced by bell-like harmonics and underlying rhythm. American Daydream takes us firmly into American folk music in the company of Grant Windsor (piano, organ), Giovanni Pallotti ( double bass), Francesco Mendolia (drums) and Joao Caetano (percussion). The duet Cherryville is a faster, short jig that morphs into Lennon and McCartney's Mother Nature's Son with vocals by Jasmine Nelson. The band is extended here to include Grant again (piano), Steve Pearce (double bass), Mark Fletcher (drums), Oliver Langford and Emma Smith (violins), Max Baillie (viola), Ian Burdge (cello), Freddie Gavita (trumpet), Nichol Thomson (trombone), Graeme Blevins (tenor saxophone) and Dave Lee (French Horn). This is a nice arrangement, full of tone and atmosphere that emphasises the variety that you will find on the album.

How Can I Say? at track 5 opens with Freddie's trumpet taking us into a catchy romantic theme that would work well with visual footage, Carl's guitar playing above the background. Another nice arrangement.

Click here to listen to How Can I Say?

John And Evelyn with Billy Cobham guesting on drums is a gentle piece led by Grant Windsor's sensitive piano. Cobham's drums are percussive against the romantic dance of the band. Ride The Elephant at track 7 features Carl's guitar in a quartet with Windsor, Pearce and Fletcher, shades of mountain music with a steady rhythm and atmosphere with Grant Windsor's bansuri playing (the South Asian flute made from a single hollow shaft of bamboo with six or seven finger holes). People Need Healthcare, Not Guns reflects Carl's Buddhist philosophy (see Carl's website). It is another opportunity to focus on his guitar playing an attractive piece accompanied by Gavita, Thomson and Blevins. The traditional West Fork Girls opens a toe-tapping square dance with stomps and Curtis Stansfield playing melodica. This is get-up-and-join-hands-dance music for sure and far too short at 2 minutes!

Click here to listen to West Fork Girls.

Ironbridge, the penultimate track brings us Carl's guitar with the strings of Langford, Smith, Baillie and Burdge again. Beautiful, gentle acoustic guitar with another attractive theme. Most of the tunes on this album are compositions by Carl Orr and if you are a guitar teacher, you should check them out. The album closes with the reflective guitar lullaby Precious Baby Boy.

O.K. So not strictly a 'jazz' album, but a jazz musician playing what has been described by Walter Kolosky (John McLaughlin biographer) as “A stunningly beautiful feast for the ears”. Carl says: 'The album can be purchased directly from my website (www.carlorr.com), via the Paypal buttons. The purchaser doesn’t need to have a Paypal account.'

Ian Maund            

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Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier - Chasing Tales

Album released - 23rd February 2015: Label - MGP Records

Pete Oxley Nicolas Meier Chasing TalesPete Oxley and Nicolas Meier are impressive guitarists. The imaginative title of their latest release, Chasing Tales, is a play on telling stories and the way the two work together on this duo-guitar album. This is a follow-up album to their 2012 album Travels To The West.

Most of the twelve tracks are compositions by either Pete or Nicolas, and the sleeve notes helpfully tell us the order in which the guitarists take solos on each track. A graduate of Leeds Jazz College in the1980s, Pete Oxley moved to Paris for ten years and returned to the UK in 1997. Two years later, in partnership with drummer Mark Doffman and Raph Mizraki, Pete set up Oxford’s contemporary jazz club ‘The Spin’ and formed the house band for the club. His other releases have been The Play Of Light in 2002 with Argentinean guitarist Luis D’Agostino folowed in 2006, by a further, live album Double Singular. Pete leads the band Curious Paradise.

Nicolas Meier is a Swiss guitarist based in the U.K. where he has played with a long list of well-known jazz musicians. His compositions draw on a love of Turkish, Eastern music, Flamenco and Tango all mixed with jazz. His Trio with special guests released the album Kismet in 2013 and with a larger band, From Istanbul To Ceuta With A Smile in the same year.

This album will appeal to many listeners. Variety comes not just from the different composition styles but also from the range of guitars used by the duo. We hear nylon string, steel, slide, acoustic, fretless, baglama and glissantar guitar across the album, and again the instruments are notated on the sleeve notes in relation to the solos. Take The Bridge that has the 'wha' of Nicolas's glissantar behind Pete's synth, steel, slide and nylon. Breezin' On has a fretless solo and synth, steel and nylon chasing each other, slowing to a Pat Metheny-tinged touch followed by almost 'verbal' synth. Pete Oxley's Chasing Kites has an attractive, melodic Latin flavour and the only composition not by either guitarist, Uzun Ince Bir Yoldayim (by A. Veysal) brings us Turkey and the East to end the album.

Click here for a video interview about the album where you can also hear some of the music.

There is the perhaps inevitable, occasional squeak of guitar string that might for some interrupt the flow, but I found that Chasing Tales was rewarded by repeat listening. The sleeve notes say: '... there was a great spontoneity about this project: in a rush of energy the music was written, arranged, rehearsed, recorded, mixed and mastered within three months. Now allow these tales to unwind in the imagination of your mind ...' Click here to sample the album.

Ian Maund

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Jason Palmer & Cédric Hanriot - City Of Poets

Album Released: 20th May 2016 - Label: Whirlwind Recordings - Reviewed: July 2016

Jason Palmer & Cedric Hanriot City Of Poets

Cédric Hanriot (piano); Jason Palmer (trumpet); Donny McCaslin (tenor saxophone); Michael Janisch (double bass, electric bass), Clarence Penn (drums).

Trumpeter, Jason Palmer is becoming a regular feature in Sandy Brown What’s New.  Last month Jamie Evans caught him in a review of the Noah Preminger album, Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground.  In January I had also reviewed a Preminger and Palmer album, Pivot.  Both sessions are rooted in the delta blues.  Bukka White, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Robert Johnson might initially appear to be a long way from Olivier Messiaen’s 7 Modes of Limited Transportation, which forms the musical structure of City Of Poets.

I admit I’m in slightly deep water here, and I wouldn’t class myself as a strong swimmer.  We are talking about seven different symmetrical intervals each sharing the same reference point for both the beginning and end.  And yes, it’s somewhat more complex than that - hey, I can’t be writing a book.  The point is the blues also contains a central tenet, that the beginning and end curve toward each other over a specific count.  Granted, sometimes it becomes very unspecific, which is exactly what happens on City Of Poets.  This Quintet play the earth, it is a total triumph.  I can make such a statement without hesitation because this band (born out of a French/American jazz exchange project) is a genuine cracker.

The French pianist Cédric Hanriot is new to me, but I’m now going to enjoy finding out more.  On City Of Poets he has the hands of the catalyst.  Hanriot is up there with Ehud Asherie; among the very top of the current crop of creative piano maestros.  His lead partner here, the outstanding Jason Palmer, is talk of the town.  And Donny McCaslin, the sax player on David Bowie’s bow-out album Black Star is a revelation.  That album is going to be his calling card, yet here on The Soldier’s Tale he produces an extended solo that is utterly crushing, as complex as mathematics, as direct as a green light.  It is beyond the Black Star

Clarence Penn is one of those flexible classy drummers that beats like you breathe.  His Intro at the git-go on The Priest’s Tale is pulse snapping from the first count.  Break after break he cracks, simply driving forward.  Which of course brings us to Michael Janisch.  Over the last few years he has created such a strong scene, not just around his own playing (he is a constant deliverer of dangerous double bass – witness the opening gambit of his Intro to The Detective’s Tale), but in his ability to freshen up creatively the whole business of producing new jazz in and out of the UK.  This recording belongs easily as much to Janisch as it does to Palmer and Henriot.  Mr J and I are not buddies but City of Poets is already my album of the year (so far). 

Whereas Palmer and McCaslin hang out at the 55 Bar in New York, the City Of Poets session was recorded at London’s Pizza Express Jazz Club, a similar low lit basement with nice acoustics.  I guess it was not the most obvious venue to choose, nevertheless it has proved to be a good choice and I’m sure Michael Janisch had a lot to do with it.

The compositions all take their inspiration from characters in Dan Simmon’s four novels in the Hyperion Cantos series.  I’m reviewing the music, not the novels, but I’d recommend them for further investigation.  Track three, Intro to The Poet’s Tale contains a completely sumptuous trumpet solo which introduces The Poet's Tale proper.  The word ‘contains’ is exactly how it sounds; cupped, cradled, held up as a precious object.  It curls through Messiaen’s Limited Transportation system as if you didn’t know the technique was there.  Palmer The Poet is brass, he pours forth constructing an edifice. The English Romantic poet, John Keats figures in the Dan Simmons’ Hyperion mix.  I have not foggiest idea how much Jason Palmer is actually into Keats, who is commonly quoted with the phrase “A thing of beauty is a joy forever...”, but his solo in this relatively small London jazz club is certainly an example of beauty.  ‘Forever’ suggests an extremely long survival rate, at least we have it recorded.

My favourite track: Cédric Hanriot plunges into The Scholar’s Tale with almost Wagnerian proportions, others will know better than me how that sits with Messiaen.  The piano lifts with tremendous gravitas, a fantastic cavernous sound captured by the engineer, Luc Saint-Martin, inside the low ceiling basement, subsequently mixed by Alex Bonney; it is propelled with power through my speakers.   The Scholar’s Tale is an unfolding composition, propositioned by subtle moves throughout all five musicians.  By the end Cédric Hanriot places the group with a tantalising enquiry of improv within a score. 

Donny McCaslin is a saxophone gift – his reed partnership with Palmer’s trumpet feels classic.  Palmer is the burnished long line, Mr McCaslin, literally a breathtaking harmoniser.  Donny McCaslin carries an internal flame which acts like a beacon.  Later, on The Detective’s Tale he gets into a complex interaction with his compatriots, twisting circles within those Messiaen intervals.  Mr Caslin does a lot of studio ‘session-work’.  You would expect well-honed professionalism, he is much more than that.  The construction here is total engagement, the saxophone voices with dexterity, a bold interrogation of the music.  His soloing on The Consul’s Tale is wide open, generous too, by the time Jason Palmer puts his purchase on the composition all he has to do is elucidate the content.  He does it with ease.  Gold stars too for the Janisch and Penn partnership who underpin proceedings as if this is their regular gig.  It could get that way.

Click here to listen to Hyperion Mode VI (The Consul's Tale).

Look, City Of Poets is a 2016 state of the art jazz quintet line-up.  By the time they hit the final track, The Shrike, they are transformative, just like the character in Simmons’s book which provides the title.  Right now Jason Palmer is making a lot of recordings, he’s going to be big news.  Catch him on City Of Poets.  You might have missed the gig at Pizza Express, that’s no reason to miss out on the music altogether.  To quote Keats: “thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad in such ecstasy!”  How’s that?

Click here for details and to sample (particularly the Intros).

Click here to listen to other tracks from the album.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Mike Parker’s Unified Theory - Embrace The Wild

Mike Parker album

Album Released: 9th March 2015 - Label: Self Release - Reviewed April 2015

Bass player and bandleader Mike Parker is a native New Yorker who moved to Poland a few years ago, setting up home in Krakow where he has brought together some very talented jazz musicians. Embrace The Wild comes over to me as a bop-grounded album upon which the musicians grow their own. I find it very listenable, satisfying and very worthy of repeated playing. Highly recommended.

Mike Parker’s Unified Theory: Mike Parker (double bass), Dawid Fortuna (drums), Bartek Prucnal (alto saxophone), Slawek Pezda (tenor saxophone), Cyprian Baszynski (trumpet).

Kobra Kai Dance Remix has solid bass and drums underneath a give and take between the saxophones with the trumpet along for the ride. The saxophone solos then take off imaginatively and dance over the ever-solid rhythm section. Riffs into discord see the trumpet re-enter and everyone does their own thing and still the bass and drums keep that undercurrent firmly in place. The piece, Mike Parker’s take on 8 themes from 3 compositions by Bartek Prucnal, finally riffs down.

Hopped-Up-Pop is a slower piece. The bass on this album is clearly present, constructively so, and Mike Parker takes a solo on this track that shows his talent for underpinning a band that lives up to its ‘unified’ name on well thought through arrangements. Cyprian Baszynski’s trumpet sounds good. Mike says that this is “My imagined story of a man in the later years of his life reminiscing about all the fun and excitement of his youth.”

Hermit The Dog is also introduced by bass and drums and then the close-knitted saxes and trumpet travel in parallel. The saxophone solo that follows could be the album title, embracing the wild, but still showing fine controlled playing. Now Dawid Fortuna drives his drums against the bass until the band riffs in and trumpet and saxes interweave.

Sendoff For Sendak surprises with a bowed bass slow introduction, then the bow is put aside as a gentle tenor saxophone takes up the theme, joined by the alto and then the trumpet. The piece is a tribute to children’s author Maurice Sendak (Where The Wild Things Are) and a musical homage to Ravel and Mingus. The saxophones and trumpet see us out.

Click here for a video of Sendoff For Sendak played live.

Piwa i Bona is dedicated to Krakow party culture and in particular to ‘a party at the infamous Jadro Jazzu’. This is a bass-driven vehicle for Cyprian Baszynski’s fine trumpet solo with saxes riffing behind until the wild party begins, stopping eventually for a superb bass solo with handclaps. All Saints comes in three movements. Mike says this is “a reference to Polish religious devotion, haunting statues of Jesus’s Apostles, the summoning of the dead, and a tribute in three movements to ‘musical saints’ Maurice Ravel, John Coltrane and Miles Davis”. The trumpet emerges from a wistful horn introduction in part one, the pace picks up in part two with Slawek Pezda taking the first solo fast and Dawid Fortuna taking the second solo on drums. Part three slows back down for a gentle Ravelesque, trumpet-led, seven minute, absorbing finale.

Fine band. Fine album. Click here to sample the album.

Ian Maund

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Partikel - String Theory

Album released - 11th May 2015: Label - Whirlwind Recordings: Reviewed - July 2015

Partikel String Theory

At the heart of most good jazz is a good tune. That’s why jazz returns for inspiration over and over again to the old standards which, whatever else may be said of them, always deliver a good tune. One of the many strengths of Partikel’s new release, String Theory, is that it’s packed with memorable original melodies, most of them composed by the group’s leader, Duncan Eagles.

Partikel is a trio with Eagles on saxophones, Max Luthert on bass and Eric Ford on drums. On String Theory, their third album, they are joined by a string quartet with Benet McLean and David Le Page on violins, Carmen Flores on viola and Matthew Sharp on cello. Eagles says that:

“…I did not want to use the strings as just backing or padding. I wanted the string quartet to be as involved as possible and have a number of opportunities for the two ensembles to interact and improvise together.”

He carries this off brilliantly. Throughout the album, there is no sense that the strings are an add-on – they are integrated fully into the music. Indeed, Benet McLean often takes a solo and has all the makings of a superb jazz violinist.

Like much contemporary jazz these days, String Theory tumbles over into other genres, including rock, western classical music (the string quartet helps here) and Indian music – Eric Ford uses a tabla on some of the tracks to great effect. There is always a powerful rhythmic pulse, however, and a focus on strong, easily understood melodies.

The album opens with Clash of the Clans – Part 1, which intersperses an upbeat rock theme with a slower, more gentle melody in a way which is constantly absorbing. Eagles improvises confidently; and Benet McLean takes a Grappelli-like solo on violin. Clash of  the Clans – Part 2 (Seeking Shadows) sees the trio on its own and has some reflective bass solo work from Max Luthert, together with Eagles on soprano sax and an electronically generated echo sounding very Jan Garbarek. Clash of the Clans – Part 3 (Midnight Mass) brings the strings back, playing a lovely lyrical theme, the sort of thing you might hear on Sunday afternoons on Radio 2. This is disturbed, however, by some free jazz work between sax and strings. This intelligent mixing together of genres and tempi within single pieces is a feature of many of the tracks and is another of the album’s strengths.

The fourth track, Shimmer, again contrasts a staccato, upbeat theme against a slower, more lyrical one. McLean plays a solo which stretches the violin a bit beyond Stephane Grappelli. The next track, Introduction to the Buffalo, is a Benet McLean composition which is also played by him on solo violin and is straight (and very good) contemporary classical music. The Buffalo itself is the stand out track of the whole album. It has a distinctive Indian feel to it with Eric Ford playing the tabla as well as a conventional drum kit. The main theme sounds something like that classic of British jazz, Black Marigolds (composed by Michael Garrick - now there’s a man who could write a tune - and performed by the Don Rendell/Ian Carr Quintet). Eagles plays soprano sax and sounds at times uncannily like Don Rendell. He plays a beautiful solo accompanied first by tabla and bass, and then the strings. McLean also plays a great solo, making the violin sound as if it was invented on the sub-continent.  

Bartering with Bob is played by the trio alone and is a piece of hard bop, with a raw, very live feel and includes impressive solos from all three musicians. The River is another carefully thought through piece which conjures up a river on a summer’s day. Eagles makes his soprano sax sound almost flute-like at times and the strings are particularly effective with some swooping, note-bending playing.Wray Common has Ford back on tabla but the whole piece has an English pastoral feel to it. Vaughan Williams himself might have been proud of some of the writing for strings and, like The River, “all the live murmur of a summer’s day” is brought to life. But there is also some spiky jazz in there and, once again, the piece benefits from the tension between different musical styles.

Body and Soul is the old Johnny Green standard given the full Partikel treatment with Indian and classical music flavours. Cover is clean West Coast cool jazz played by the trio itself. The final track, The Landing, takes us back to territory explored in Track 1 with a touch of rock, ethereal electronics, and more excellent improvisation from Eagles.  

Click here for an introductory video.

String Theory manages to be both accessible and innovative at the same time, a trick which much contemporary jazz often finds difficult to pull off. It is constantly interesting and holds the attention from beginning to end.

Partikel also have their own website - click here.

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David Patrick Octet - Igor Stravinsky The Rite Of Spring

Album released: 19th September2015 - Label: Independent Release - Reviewed: November 2015

David Patrick Octet The Rite Of Spring

Those of us who grew up listening to rock music and the occasional popular classic may well have been frog-marched to a performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring by a well meaning friend who wanted to broaden minds with something avant-garde.  If you were lucky enough to see the ballet and orchestral work performed simultaneously you were probably blown away by the excitement and spectacle of an amazing performance and it is probably etched into your brain even now. However when first performed in 1913, opinion was polarised with different factions within the audience attacking each other and the orchestra.  Subsequently The Rite of Spring has been recognised as one of the most important and popular pieces of classical music of the 20th century, has been recorded more than a hundred times and performed all over the world.

Stravinsky's masterpiece and his use of complex rhythms, timbres and dissonance did not escape the notice of jazz musicians and several, such as Ornette Coleman, Alice Coltrane and Hubert Laws have been inspired to include themes from The Rite of Spring in their own music.  Other classical pieces have also been used, interpreted or re-arranged by jazz musicians including Duke Ellington (Nutcracker and Peer Gynt), Jacques Loussier (Bach) and Miles Davis (Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez becomes Sketches of Spain) but in general reaction from critics and audience have been mixed with questions being asked as to whether classical music can be re-arranged satisfactorily as jazz.  Sketches of Spain actually won the 1961 Grammy Award for Best Original Jazz Composition but one wonders whether Rodrigo, who was not over enamoured with the Davis version of his music, appreciated the irony of the award.  Stravinsky wrote a piece for the Woody Herman Orchestra called Ebony Concerto, but the general consensus was that the music was more classical than jazz.

While Stravinsky himself recorded a version of The Rite of Spring with the Columbia Philarmonic Orchestra in 1960, perhaps the greatest orchestral version is by Leonard Bernstein, conducting the New York Philarmonic Orchestra, recorded in 1958 and Stravinsky's reaction was reported to be "Wow".  The album cover of that LP shows the orchestra with over 100 members, the vast majority playing stringed instruments of all shapes and sizes and this is often cited as the classic interpretation of the composition.  However Stravinsky had also prepared other arrangements, including one for just two pianos which he and composer Claude Debussy played together in 1912, and so it may be assumed that the piece may be performed satisfactorily by ensembles of different sizes.

David Patrick has spent over two years orchestrating and planning his The Rite of Spring project. The recording took six months and the first performance was at the Jazz Bar in Edinburgh exactly 100 years after the first performance of the composition in Paris.  David Patrick’s project was performed again this year at the Edinburgh Festival to rave reviews and widely acclaimed by the audiences.  Patrick has totally re-orchestrated the piece for his octet to provide as authentic an interpretation of the original as possible and then discreetly included some fine solo improvisations which have a distinctly jazzy feel.  While this combination may generate similar criticism to that directed at Sketches of Spain the difference between the two approaches is that Patrick's version is true to the original with jazz components added while Davis tended to alter the original considerably.

Click here for a video of the Octet in performance.

The piece consists two acts divided into sections as follow:

Act 1 entitled "Adoration of the Earth" 
1. Introduction
2. Spring Fortune-Telling (Prophesies of Spring)
3. Dances of the Young Maidens
4. Game of Abduction
5. Spring Khorovod (Round Dance)
6. Game of the Rival Tribes
7. Procession of the Sage
8. The Sage
9. Dance of the Earth

Act 2 entitled "The Great Sacrifice"
10. Introduction
11. Mystical Games of the Young Maidens (Walking in Circles)
12. Wedding Song of the Chosen One
13. Evocation of the Forefathers
14. Performance of the Ritual of the Forefathers
15. Great Sacred Dance

The music varies from sweet melodies to violent, stabbing, dissonant chords and percussion.  The dance sections are understandably rhythmic while the game sections are sometimes frenetic conveying a competitive melee, sometimes slow and mysterious.  Stravinsky's original version lasted about 35 minutes while Patrick's arrangement including solo improvisations lasts 50 minutes.  Those familiar with the classical piece will no doubt quickly identify the jazz solos but others may well find this more difficult as most fit very well with the character of the original.  Exceptions to this general rule are solos which occur in sections 13; here the saxophone solo has a real swing to it followed by a bass solo and 14 where the squeaky sounds are difficult to identify.

David Patrick clearly has great respect for Stravinsky and his music having spent a huge amount of time on the orchestration even going to the trouble of having the section titles re-translated.  The musicianship evident from the recording is really excellent with all the sophistication and complexity of the original reproduced as faithfully as possible.  Some purists may find the insertion of additional solo improvisations a little irksome but in general it works well and gives individual musicians a chance to shine.  This is a piece of music which should appeal to a wide audience and will provide enjoyment for years to come.

Personnel are David Patrick (piano and orchestration), Sam Coombes (flute, soprano and alto saxophones), Brian Molley (B flat clarinet, soprano, alto and tenor saxophones), Calum Robertson (E and B flat clarinets, bass clarinet), Tom MacNiven (trumpet and flugelhorn), John Kenny (alto, tenor and bass trombones), Andrew Robb (contrabass) and Ole Seimetz (drums).  Credit is also noted for Diljeet Bhachu (alto flute and piccolo).

The album cover and notes are decorated by the stunning art of Adrian Wiszniewski and the section titles have been re-translated from the original Russian by Dr Lara Ryazanova-Clarke.

Click here to sample the album.

Further information is available at  David Patrick's website (click here)

Howard Lawes

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Alastair Penman - Electric Dawn

Album released: 20th November 2015 - Label: Sospiro Noir - Reviewed: March 2016

Alastair penman Electric Dawn

From bizarre to beautiful, I find saxophonist Alastair Penman's new album Electric Dawn totally engaging. For me, I think it achieves two difficult things - successfuly setting a solo instrument within electronica rather than having members of a band interacting with each other, and secondly the effective flavouring of jazz with classical music. It is, as you might have guessed, a constructed album, but more of that in a moment.

Alastair Penman has a Masters’ degrees in both Information and Computer Engineering (University of Cambridge) and Saxophone Performance (Royal Northern College of Music). He plays in both classical and jazz settings, including with the Philharmonia Chamber Orchestra, Ardente Opera, The Beethoven Ensemble, Ensemble BPM and Cambridge Touring Opera. He has received awards from the City Music Foundation, Countess of Munster Musical Trust, the RNCM (Fewkes and Harwood Scholarships) and St Catharine’s College (Music Tuition and Dudley Robinson Awards). 

In a jazz setting, Alastair has played at Montreux, London and Tarrega Jazz festivals and at venues including Budapest Jazz Club, Casa del Jazz (Rome) and The Bull’s Head (Barnes). Alastair has performed with jazz greats Mike Gibbs, Steve Waterman, Clare Teal, Mark Nightingale, Gareth Lockrane, Julian Arguelles, Liane Carroll, Issie Barratt and John Helliwell.

Of the construction of Electric Dawn, Alastair says: 'Having studied Information and Computer Engineering before turning to music as a full time vocation, it seems natural that I have used my engineering skills to enhance the music that I create, leading me to explore the fusion of acoustic and electronic music. I endeavour to make this fusion as natural as possible, allowing the electronic effects and techniques to augment and extend the acoustic instruments rather than dominate or overpower them.'

Electric Dawn started as a project to create a suite of music. Since then, and with support from John Harle who produced the album, Alastair says: 'the individual movements have been extensively re-written and expanded into pieces in their own right.'

The 12 tracks on this album vary considerably in length and style. The opening Supernova is a brief introduction to the way saxophone and electronics work together. Deconstruct, composed by Jenni Watson, initially has words spoken by Tom Scholes set against various reed instruments, almost classically inspired, lyrical and swelling.

Click here for an introductory video for Electric Dawn.

Ghost Train is arranged by John Harle with a sharp change of mood, the electronics establishing a firm bass line against which reeds and 'orchestration' develop a strong, steady theme. John Harle's son Daniel's Higher, at track 4 brings in the bizarre with what I can only describe as 'fairground electronics', a firework display of sound, into which the soprano saxophone wanders. And then Graham Fitkin's composition Glass is beautifully played, as Alastair says: ' .. a simple piece that grows out of two opening chords ... with beautiful soprano saxophone melody set against a rich backdrop of saxophones and bass clarinet supported by the piano part.' The piece is short and leads into the longer, equally compelling Wayfarer with its riffed introduction becoming the background and eventually giving way half way through to a mixed saxophone interplay and rising theme.

Click here to listen to Swan Island which comes towards the end of the album.

Hail, a Geoff Sheil composition, ' ... takes a range of electronic sounds and layers them, much like sheets of hail. The saxophone becomes part of the texture with challenging and relentless staccato line. The other meaning of Hail - as in a cry - gives the impetus for contrasting moments of singing melodicism in the solo part.' By now, the listener will have appreciated Alastair's skilled reeds playing interweaving with the electronics. Lake Of Dreams is a composition of Alastair's, a beautiful saxophone melody played against a full, swelling background. I found the three and a half minutes of this track particularly moving. And so to Sandbox, another haunting Penman composition with saxophone interplay - ' ... the title, Sandbox, is a reference to the programming term that refers to a safe environmentin which to try out new ideas.'

Click here for a video of Alastair performing Hail at St Catharine's College.

The lovely Swan Island is a tune by Norwegian jazz saxophonist Marius Neset and arranged by Alastair Penman. Alastair says: 'This arrangement for alto saxophone, bass clarinet and synthesizers puts a more 'classical' slant on the work, although the influence of Scandanavian folk and jazz music is still abundantly clear.' Alastair Penman's Broadside is a happy folk dance of a tune with a slapped background under the various reeds that dance across it. The final track, Hypernova by Alastair, rumbles into space where the saxophone soars clear and strong until it fades into silence.

In my opinion, this is an accomplished, outstanding album. Highly recommended.

Click here to sample the album. Click here for details.

Ian Maund

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Ken Peplowski - Enrapture

Album released: 16th February - Label: Capri Records - Reviewed: April 2016

Ken Peplowski Enrapture

Ken Peplowski (clarinet, tenor saxophone); Ehud Asherie (piano); Martin Wind (bass); Matt Wilson (drums).

On one occasion the writer Will Friedwald wirily observed that, “(Ken) Peplowski sounds the way (Benny) Goodman might if he had kept evolving, kept on listening to new music, kept refining his sound, polishing his craft, and expanding his musical purview into the 21st century.”  In other words, Mr Peplowski doesn’t sound at all like Benny Goodman.  In my view, he is a real improvement on the older model.

Benny Goodman was a man of his times and so is Ken Peplowski.  Mr P often gets saddled with the label ‘mainstream’ which he is forced to carry around like an old coat.  He travels way beyond such lazy thinking; Peplowski is actually a musician who justifiably betrays the boxes into which he is categorised.  Sure he swings on fast stuff, and he’s as smooth as a single malt on a ballad, but this guy has corners on him that are deliberately hard to see around.  There’s a clarity in his playing which is bewitching.  He seems to reel off polished phrases as if they are thrown away, but they never are.  The new album, Enrapture is a no-frills thrill; truly one of those special recordings modestly purporting to be the product of “a working band”.

Along with Evan Christopher, Ken Peplowski is among the very top ‘jazz’ exponents of the Bf clarinet in the world.  I have no doubt that’s how it is.  The first time I caught Mr Peplowski live was around two decades ago.  He was playing with guitarist, Howard Alden and the legendary drummer, the late great Jake Hanna.  On that occasion the old Woody Herman percussion-powerhouse was wearing a tatty baseball hat and only had two borrowed drums – bass and snare plus a minimal amount of cymbals – a high-hat and a small ride.  Hell, it was one of those devastatingly fabulous percolating gigs that stays with you forever. Peplowski blowing with all the detail of a master raconteur; Alden scurrying counter harmonies primed by fat chords that hang in the air like light; and all the time, Jake Hanna deftly shuffling the pack on a couple of tubs that most drummers would have given up on.

Fast foward to Enrapture, which begins with an early Duke Ellington nugget called The Flaming Sword.  The Peplowski performance contains a lot of that vim and vigour that I remember from my original encounter with Mr P and Jake Hanna.  On the new album Matt Wilson is on drums (he took over from Paul Motian in the final version of Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra).  On The Flaming Sword Wilson captures a calypso and runs it tight behind Peplowski’s eloquence with the bouncing Ellington line coming off Ehud Asherie’s astute piano.  Barney Bigard played clarinet on the original 1940 version.  He was an ace player who had both swing and speed, nevertheless the cut and thrust of this new take is a revved up good news story.  By the time the Peplowski quartet arrive at Matt Wilson’s solo at the tail end of the opener it feels robust and true.  Mr Wilson is a drummer’s drummer – a long time ago, when he was first making a name for himself, he was playing with Ornette Coleman’s tenor player, Dewey Redman.  He always has had the ability to stretch the percussive contradictions in jazz.  Avant garde to bopping mainstream as well as the swing thing.  On this session with Ken Peplowski, the drum role is a tasteful class act of invention.  I was compelled to play The Flaming Sword through several times before I could go on to the rest of the album.

Each of the next four tracks could be considered ballads, though the first might be referred to as ‘mid tempo’ (retro terminology).  On An Affair To Remember Ken Peplowski is playing tenor saxophone – it is an exquisite performance, the tenor-reed melted and kept warm on a melody, treated as if it all ‘song’ is sung through the bell of a saxophone.  There’s a terrific chemistry between the horn and piano.  If Mr P was not the curator of the clarinet’s legacy, this would have been his other full-time profession.  When I initially heard An Affair I came out of the reverie slowly.  I was about to replay it and then Martin Wind began the bass introduction to John Lennon’s Oh, My Love, a duet for clarinet and double bass.

Oh, My Love is the shortest track on the album – Peplowski and Wind play the song straight through just as Lennon did originally.  It is a simple song and the clarinet and bass don’t complicate it, they don’t improvise with it, they don’t try to do anything other than play into the depth of the song.  It is, of course, startling; unadorned and unsettlingly beautiful. The two ballads that follow are Cheer Up, Charlie, which again features tenor sax, followed by another clarinet showcase, the Noël Coward standard that used to be in the repertoire of Ol’ Blue Eyes, I’ll Follow My Secret Heart.  Both steal showtime, Vegas and Broadway, they press chord progression and scale into a performance that intones the night.  Anthony Newley’s Charlie isn’t residing in a Chocolate Factory, this is classic noir, the heart has many helpers and re-harmonising a melody so it separates slightly is one of them.  Four quite different examples of the art of the small group ballad, delivered one after the other.  Sure, they are intoxicating, but they are never cloying. It’s capital J Jazz.

The next two tracks are where Ken Peplowski places his bet.  Enrapture and Twelve are his credit rating. The title track, Enrapture is by one of the best kept secrets in jazz composition, the pianist Herbie Nichols.  I first got into Herbie Nichols via the recordings made by Steve Lacy, Misha Mengelberg, Hans Bennink and Roswell Rudd.  Enrapture is special because Mr Nichols never actually recorded the piece himself.  Like his contemporary Thelonious Monk, there is a brilliant unorthodoxy behind Herbie Nichols.  Ken Peplowski’s take is to start with the melodic line; for Ehud Asherie to comp the chords off-centre so they plop in behind like full stops that don’t stop; for Matt Wilson’s drums to literally ‘compass’ the tune direction and throw asides into the mix.  The whole thing is done and dusted in under five minutes.  It is a classic bravura performance.  Wouldn’t it have been good if Steve Lacy’s soprano had still been with us to twist the tune alongside Peplowski?  Yes, is the answer.

Click here to listen to the title track Enrapture.

Twelve is the other brain teaser, a quickstep twelve tone exercise written by Peter Erskine famous, for among other things, drumming in Weather Report.  Twelve tone technique is about equalising whatever twelve notes are present within a given chromatic scale.  The Peplowski quartet approach the task as a collective improvisation, hitting the twist on Schoenberg serialism as if it were a crash course in Bop. Again Mr P is featured on tenor saxophone and the whole deal is from a fierce fast count; incisive, Asherie and Peplowski comparing phrases, swinging them at speed, all musicians producing cameo comment.  Twelve feels like a hell of a ride.  It is above my pay grade to comment on whether it strictly succeeds in delivering the mathematics of twelve tone composition, what I do know is, it makes for a great ‘jazz’ performance.

There are three other tracks on this album: another fragile crumbling ballad called When October Goes; an exceptional incision into Vertigo Scene D’Amour, originally written for the classic Hitchcock film, here picked open with every nuance accented; and to finish, a dignified dance through Fats Waller’s corny crooner Willow Tree.  The latter contains a bowed double bass blues break from Martin Wind setting off the final Ken Peplowski clarinet closure with Matt Wilson.  Enrapture is fresh air, a smart session delivered with great integrity.  I can lighten up too, it’s fun.

Click here for details and to sample.

Click here for a video of Ken Peplowski, Evan Christopher, Howard Alden and Ehud Asherie live. Click here for a video of Duke Ellington playing The Flaming Sword.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk                  

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Vitor Pereira Quintet - New World

Album released: 22 February 2016 - Label: F- IRE Presents - Reviewed: March 2016

Vitor Pereira Quintet New World

Vitor Pereira Quintet: George Crowley (tenor sax); Chris Williams (alto sax); Dave Hamblett (drums); Andrea Di Biase (double bass); Vitor Pereira (guitar, composing).

Any band in 2016 which produces an album with an opening track titled Age of Austerity is playing for the moment, not ducking issues and taking the times head on. In his CD liner notes, Vitor Pereira’s first sentence refers to “songs with socio-political implications”; what you actually hear from the git-go is capital letter Jazz.

Dave Hamblett’s drums are facing up the beat and giving a saxophone platform for George Crowley’s tenor and Chris Williams’s alto to pour forth written lines that juggle melody over and above the leader’s guitar.  It is a very bright beginning for such a subject matter.  Mr Pereira has a noteworthy, clean sound, and his guitar leads from underneath, so that when he does secrete a solo he breaks through with an eloquent edge, like a slit through a skein, a near perfect incision; a bold stroke that begs no applause.  He gets it anyway, at least from me, crouched over my laptop practicing my spelling of his name.

Click here for a video of the band playing Age Of Austerity.

There is a lot that is written down in Vitor Pereira’s New World.  It is a statement of fact in the credits:  ‘All compositions and arrangements by Vitor Pereira’.  The Portuguese guitarist, now based in London, has scribed eight extremely tight tunes and assembled a band that allows them to open up to release surprises.  It is hard for me to understand that 45 years exist between John McLaughlin’s jaw-dropping debut recording Extrapolation and Vitor Pereira’s New World.  McLaughlin’s album blueprinted a whole new design plan for guitar, reeds, and drum kit.  Recorded with John Surman on saxophones, Brian Odges, bass, and the great Angular Apron drummer, Tony Oxley; Extrapolation came out before Mr McLaughlin went to the United States. It is a landmark recording and one of its many attributes is that it carries only a nod to Blue Note Americana.  See, I’ve got no problem with the home of Grant Green and Kenny Burrell, but there are other ways at coming to the J-word.  John McLaughlin had that figured in 1969 and although Vitor Pereira does not extrapolate from the same hymn sheet (there is too much actual ‘composition’ to run that close), nevertheless the Vitor Pereira Quintet are clearly playing away from tired and tested formulas.

Vitor Pereira does not need me or anyone else to bring on the ghost of John McLaughlin in relation to his own guitar work.  The vital thing about Pereira’s quintet is they sound independent.  What he does share with the early McLaughlin approach is a deft display of light and shade which he uses to interrogate his material.  The astute use of fuzz through the Telecaster on Empire of Lies provides a sharp shape across the clatter-pattern of Hamblett / Di Baise’s rhythm section.  The whole thing shakes, breaks, and shakes again, giving George Crowley’s tenor the impetus to round on the riff and blow pass it.  He’s good. 

Click here for a video of the Vitor Pereira Quintet at the Vortex playing Empire of Lies.

Bohm’s Hologram is another crucial cut, spreading the ensemble right across the composition.  It’s combination music, the sound is the band not the solo.  Theoretical physicist, David Bohm from whom the title originates, was interested in the relationship between the explicate and implicate order of consciousness.  Ah, maybe this is fertile ground for jazz! 

Click here for a video of the Vitor Pereira Quintet playing Bohm’s Hologram.

To my ears, there is a standout track on this album, Simple Disguise hits an exposed nerve.  The tune begins innocently enough; Di Biase’s bass glides the crack onto one of Pereira’s repeating melodic riffs.  Chris Williams’s sax comes on all squashed up, squeezing into his alto entrance a bold declaration.  He’s done this before, but here it’s deep in the bend of the horn.  I like it a lot.  The last time I heard him in detail was in the quartet, Let Spin.  I wasn’t sure where that particular band were heading, but this ‘disguised’ solo is lucid with a purposeful punch – raise the roof and then you stand up and sing.  What he is actually doing is positioning the quintet for the key exposure, which comes directly after the solo.  The band collapses the composition into a kind of meditation.  I suggest this has to be the heart of the matter. The quintet create an open area and Pereira uses the space to ruminate his guitar line without fixture, only to recapture the written dots later, given time he adjusts their placement. 

For me Simple Disguise is the best track on the album simply because it grows away from itself. Mr Pereira does what all serious jazz musicians have to do, and that is give away their own written arrangement.  Yes, of course you set it up but to get the best from it you must leave it to become whatever can be extrapolated from it.  Certainty is never the improviser's sought experience; it is in fact the trap to be avoided.

Click here for the Vitor Pereira Quintet playing Simple Disguise live at Olivers.

Not only is there some very clever thinking behind the playing on this album, the cover artwork is also to be recommended.  It has a clear contemporary visual statement on the title; the planet in microdots.  Vitor Pereira himself writes in his liner notes that “our world is in desperate need of a new one.”  A renewable world is an encouraging concept which will require renewed thinking to make it happen.  Right now I am going to listen to Simple Disguise one more time.  If a ‘jazz composer’ can give up what he has written in order to fulfil what he (or she) is inherently seeking, maybe the technocrats could find a way to give up their doctrines and disguises too. Good luck to the Vitor Pereira Quintet, and to the rest of us.

Click here for details.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk                  

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Ivo Perelman. Mat Maneria, Joe Morris - Counterpoint

Album released: 18th September 2015 - Label: Leo Records - Reviewed: January 2016

Ivo Perelman, Mat Maeri, Joe Morris - Counterpoint

Ivo Perelman (tenor saxophone), Mat Maneri (viola), Joe Morris (guitar):

Tuesday: First Time of Listening: This recording begins with what sounds like the inverted tremor of two instruments soaring into rapture.  To my ears it is a beautiful beginning to things; the best of places to start from.  Tenor saxophone and viola deliver a Counterpoint of conversation without uttering a word.  Three minutes later we are in a different place, with viola gliding to touch a staccato guitar line that neither flinches or finishes; a spontaneous tabulation of two instruments, underneath, the breath of the saxophone is held in place as if cushioning the tension.  The horn is in check but not checkmated.  Ivo Perelman blowing softly, balancing on the edge of alacrity!!!  Heaven help us, in the space of four and a bit minutes the piece gradually turns upside down with the three-way combination now on its head, seemingly perfected.  Music like this is of such a high order. Review it?  At best, all I can do is report from it.

Wednesday: Third Time of Listening:  Consider the meaning of ‘counterpoint’.  It used to go something like this: ‘independent musical lines played consecutively within the same harmonic structure’. In the context of this new recording by Ivo Perelman, Mat Maneri and Joe Morris the only problem with such a definition is the word ‘independent’.  Although none of the music was pre-written or arranged prior to performance the interdependence of the individual lines, instantly composed in ‘counterpoint’ is staggering not because I’m unaware of their capabilities, I am very familiar with all three musicians, yet this time they have surpassed even my high expectations.  I played the album to a musician friend of mine who took some convincing on my part to concede he was not listening to compositions written to a formal score.  The effect is Mr Maneri’s viola can take on the cluster of a second horn.  Joe Morris becomes a composition map maker in sound.  Ivo Perelman’s intention was to, “...set it up so I would be challenged – so It wouldn’t sound like me.”  He’s right in so far as Perelman gives up the role of soloist to the art of the Counterpoint.  

Thursday: Fifth Time of Listening:  There are ten ‘parts’ to this recording, ten tracks, most of them count as miniatures.  There is only one long track, Part 4, coming in at just over 9 minutes, double the length of most of the others. Brevity calls for compression, it’s a good discipline. 

In my view this is the most impressive recording Ivo Perelman has produced for a couple of years and it’s not as if he hasn’t been busy.  The fact that Mr Perelman has been prepared to build the equality of this Counterpoint encounter with Maneri/Morris into his own improv ethic says a lot for his willingness to adapt and seek out a situation. 

Four of the tracks are duets between Ivo Perelman (tenor saxophone) and Mat Maneri (viola) the other six are trios with the addition of Joe Morris, a guitar player of distinction who I have long held in high regard.  Over the years he has virtually pared his playing down so it is free of anything that resembles ‘personality’.  I mean that positively; he is clean - in tone, in technique and stylistic articulation. His intro to Part 5 shudders with an emotion that could not be described as ‘heart felt’ rather, the grasp of the gasp is in the manner of execution. Listen to him annunciate the precise filigree of melody against the two competing lines of tenor sax and viola on Part 7; it is like indulging the ears in aural Sanskrit.  If the classic Jim Hall and the radical Derek Bailey, two game-changing guitarists from opposite ends of the improvising spectrum, ever came together it would be in the form of Joe Morris.

Friday:Sixth Time of Listening: I need to say something about Joe Maneri, Mat Maneri’s father.  Joe Maneri died in 2005 aged 82, he was a one of those special saxophone players who only ever played according to his own internal muse.  An initial consideration might suggest his abiding interest in microtonal music and improvisation points to similarities with Ivo Perelman; to my mind they were very different players, though they obviously shared common interests.  The fact remains, one of Joe Maneri’s most important (later) recordings is Three Men Walking (ECM Records) recorded with Mat Maneri and Joe Morris. And listening to tracks like Part 6 and Part 9 from Counterpoint demonstrate how close Perelman is able to respond to the impulse of Maneri senior without any hint of impersonation. As Joe Morris has said:  “It’s not possible to play saxophone, guitar and viola with the density of a piano, bass, and drums combination.  And therefore it’s not necessary to bother trying.” 

(Click here to listen to the Joe Maneri Quartet Live featuring Mat Maneri)

Different men with a different sound, yet Ivo Perelman’s true value as an improvising musician is his ability to close the gap between his own experiment and that of Joe Maneri using a line-up drawn directly from the older player’s portfolio.  The more I listen the more I hear; Counterpoint is a genuine treat.     

Click here for more details and to listen to a short sample of Counterpoint.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk    

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Ivo Perelman and Whit Dickey - Tenorhood

Album released: 29th June 2015 - Label: Leo Records - Reviewed: July 2015

Ivo Perelman Tenorhood

Ivo Perelman (tenor saxophone), Whit Dickey (drums).

Ivo Perelman plays tenor saxophone. He is a true technician. His comprehension of his own bodily function (breathing, blowing, sucking, finger placement – lungs, stomach) in relation to the instrument feels deafening. The earth moves under him. Ivo Perelman approaches concerts and recordings not with tunes, he uses no predetermined plan other than not to use one. Whatever the line-up, whoever his compatriots are on the day in question, either alone or with others, Ivo Perlman explores a period of time in a room unencumbered by composition; what went before, what comes later are not the concern. This is not a new art form, this has been a dedication over decades. Whatever else he may play in a private space, in performance or in recordings the principle holds true, the immediate sound is without reference to pre-composition. Me, and other people like me, and no doubt others who are not like me but who are still interested in Ivo Perelman, will have had the opportunity to hear hundreds of such performances. The man is a frequent flyer. 

The drummer, Whit Dickey has been on many journeys with Ivo Perelman in all sorts of combinations. Tenorhood is certainly not their first set of duets together. So what makes this one different to all the other times these two men have set out on an unplanned journey together? Just because people have the same travelling companions, even if they take the same route, difference is multiple. I don’t know the circumstances, but what I hear is an intense study between two men engaged in instant composition in the same place without regard to anything other than each other. Drums and cymbals paced out like plotting a track, tenor saxophone spoken for like the human voice.These are utterly convincing performances.

However, it is a decision taken after the recording that I find perplexing. Tenorhood makes a change to Ivo Perelman’s usual rationale, he names five out of the six tracks after famous iconic tenor saxophone players. Hank Mobley, Ben Webster, John Coltrane, Albert Ayler and Sonny Rollins are name checked within the five titles, the sixth track, Tenorhood is perversely a short, snappy, rather classy signature-style drum solo from Mr Dickey. Neil Tesser, who writes the sleeve notes, has a good stab at trying to link what is going on under the titles For Mobley and For Webster to their particular dedicatees, however the truth is neither track has much to do with the names on the titles in terms of style or reference points. And although it is relatively easy to make links in relation to For Coltrane, For Ayler and For Rollins, this is due to the fact that Perelman’s own regular pallet contains elements of all three players. As Neil Tesser states: “He hadn’t planned on celebrating either his instrument or the fraternity it has inspired.  And he didn’t conceive these improvisations with the dedicatees in mind...”  

Interestingly Mr Perelman didn’t choose to name his contemporary tenor peers who regularly play in the context of spontaneous extemporary music (people like John Butcher, Peter Brötzmann, Paul Dunmall and Charles Gayle). Perhaps they are far too close. For me, Ivo Perelman dedicating a huge cavern of sound balanced across an extended octave range has not much to do with Ben Webster, whose own tenor touch, though large, grew from the chord and settled on a ballad like a bee collecting nectar from a flower. Both valid approaches to playing a tenor saxophone, but with little in common. Hank Mobley on the other hand operated almost exclusively within the hard-bop genre. He made his name with the Jazz Messengers and recorded regularly for the Blue Note label. I doubt that Mobley would have ever cut it with Perelman. Naming other tenor players becomes a distraction – Ivo Perelman is his own man, and whether it’s the great Sonny Rollins or the roaring rant of Peter Brötzmann, the great strength of all these players is in their individuality.

Based on the evidence of the music alone, Tenorhood is another opportunity to hear a dramatically recorded encounter between a brilliant shift-the-riff percussionist and a tenor player versed in playing beyond the boundaries of his instrument. Together they endeavour to come to the art of improvisation without any pre-arranged baggage. Unfortunately in my view, Ivo Perelman’s ‘after the event’ decision to name-drop other saxophone titans as track titles gets in the way of the individuality of the music he had so sought to arrive at without pre-conceptions. It feels like he fell into his own trap.         

Click here for a video of Ivo Perelman, Walt Dickey and Michael Bisio live at the Vision Festival in 2012

Click here to sample the album.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Leslie Pintchik - True North

Album Released: 25th March 2016 - Label: Pintch Hard Records - Reviewed: April 2016

Leslie Pintchik True North

Leslie Pintchik (piano), Steve Wilson (alto and soprano sax), Ron Horton (trumpet and flugelhorn), Scott Hardy (bass), Michael Sarin (drums), Satoshi Takeishi (percussion).

I have to admit that US pianist Leslie Pintchik was unknown to me until now but her biographical thumbnail reveals that she has a respectable body of work behind her, including several albums.  Ms Pintchik has an academic background which she forsook to pay her jazz piano dues in many insalubrious dumps. Her vivid anecdote of a particularly awful gig in a Brooklyn bar when she had to jump quickly away while a drunk threw up over her keyboard, resonates strongly with this reviewer who also served time as a young pianist in many equally unappealing south London pubs and clubs. Now to more pleasant matters, 

Ms Pintchik's six-strong group play 10 tracks, six of which are her own compositions and to balance the mix, four well-known standards. All her own are pleasant and thoughtful interpretations in a strongly Latin/Brazilian mood.

Let's Get Lucky  kicks off with one of the leader's own tunes which sets the style of the album - a samba feel with clever and restrained contributions from all concerned. 

Tumbleweed and Just Sayin', two more  Pintchik tunes, follow; the former is a relaxed offering with some nice percussion work from Takeishi, while the latter track ups the tempo with some crisp work from just the quartet with no horns.

Imagine is a reworking of the former John Lennon iconic song although I think Ms Pintchik's ambitious harmonic structures seem to detract from rather than expand the strength of the original.

Crooked as a Dog's Hind Leg changes the mood in an admirably arranged 12-bar blues sequence. It allows the soloists to let rip with some excellently constructed statements.  

The album title tune, True North, is an accomplished work-out by the sextet and the reworking of Falling in Love Again from waltz time to 4/4 was an inspired move and does justice in its own way to Marlene Dietrich's version from the film "The Blue Angel".

Discreet and Charade, the latter based on the score of the movie, also changed from 3/4 to 4/4, receive the wistful and harmonically interesting Pintchik treatment but I feel a live Boston rendition of For All We Know  (obviously a non-original) fails to do the business. If you have never heard Billie Holiday's heart-breaking performance of this composition not long before her early death, it might be different. Comparisons, as they say, are odious but Lady Day at her most poignant is a hard, if not impossible, act to follow, instrumental or vocal. The Pintchik treatment fails to impress me, not particularly helped by over-enthusiastic percussion work. 

Kick-ass jazz True North certainly ain't but the group offers accomplished low-key music, relaxed and harmonically appealing and some intelligent and lovely piano from the leader - well worth a hearing, maybe over a late bedtime beverage when one is feeing blue and sentimental?

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Click here for a video of the Leslie Pintchik Trio playing For All We Know live.

Jamie Evans

Jamie Evans manages a website remembering the late clarinettist Alan Cooper - click here.

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Oscar Perez - Prepare A Place For Me

Album Released: 13th October 2015 - Label: Myna Records - Reviewed: February 2016

Oscar Perez Prepare A Place For Me

Oscar Perez is an American pianist and composer, born and currently based in New York. On Prepare a Place for Me, he is joined by Thomson Kneeland on bass and Alvester Garnett on drums. Alto saxophonist, Bruce Williams, also joins the band on five of the nine tracks.

Prepare a Place for Me is straightforward contemporary piano jazz, melodic with a strong, if sometimes convoluted, rhythmic pulse. There is nothing here to frighten the horses. Three things, however, save it from the run of the mill. First, Perez’s playing style which is original and absorbing. There is a faint latin tinge there but not as much as one might expect given his Cuban heritage. Second, some great tunes, all but two of which are original Perez compositions. Finally, the technical accomplishment of the musicians, all of whom are masters of their instruments.

The album begins with the upbeat Perez composition, Just Everything, which has a complex rhythm but soon settles into a vigorous and exciting groove. There is something of John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet here. The melody and improvisations often go to some unexpected places which makes for an absorbing listening experience.

The second track is Perez’s arrangement of the Thelonius Monk standard, ‘Round Midnight. Again, the beat is complicated and the musicians just about hang on to it in a way which is often quite thrilling. The arrangement has a latin flavour to it; and Perez’s playing is idiosyncratic with a staccato, percussive feel and some interesting little runs – rather like Monk, in fact, but a development of Monk rather than an impersonation. He uses part of the Miles Davis arrangement of the tune to good effect.

The bluesy Headin’ Over, another Perez original, sees Bruce Williams join the band on alto sax. He adds another dimension to the playing with some confident improvisations in various styles – sometimes Cannonball Adderley, sometimes Ornette Coleman. He also plays on the next track, Snake Charm, which, as the title suggests, has an eastern vibe. It is a complicated tune which must have been difficult to play but the musicians carry it off with aplomb. There is some lovely interplay between Perez and Williams.

Williams drops out of the next two tracks. Message To Monterey, has a pretty, upbeat, foot tapping tune and some fine drum work by Garnett. The Nearness of You is an arrangement of the Hoagy Carmichael ballad. Perez played it at the Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition in 2014 and it helped him win second place. The tempo varies in an interesting way from gentle and reflective to something more swinging. The interplay between the three musicians is quietly impressive – as it is on the other tracks. Perez places a lot of emphasis on this interaction and says: “When you’re younger, you’re out to impress with your playing, aiming to turn heads. But now I feel that the emphasis is on just making the music all it can be – not concentrating on sounding as impressive as possible as an individual but on trying to make the other players sound great. I want the vibe to be as communal as can be, and I think that’s when music – especially jazz improvisation – thrives.”

Click here to listen to Message To Monterey.

Williams returns on Prepare a Place for Me, the title track. There is a strong religious element in Perez’s CV. He has served for many years as music director of St. Edwards Church in Harlem, for example, and is accompanist for the Nightingale/Bamford Gospel Choir. Prepare a Place for Me is inspired by this religious, gospel background. It goes through several different moods – reflective, bluesy, urgent – which seamlessly run into each other. There are solos from all four musicians and the track has a hypnotic ending with Perez and Kneeland playing a simple figure over and over again, and Garnett drumming beautifully on top of this. Click here for a video of the quartet playing Prepare a Place for Me.

Mushroom City uses a Brazilian baiao rhythm and has a memorable solo from Williams on alto. The final piece, Song for Ofelia, is unlike any of the other tracks. Perez has this to say about it: “This song has a special place in my heart. I wrote it many years ago after the passing of my grandmother, Ofelia Betancur. She was the matriarch of the entire family and showed incredible strength through many of life’s difficulties. My daughter Ofelia has her same spirit.”

The first part of Song for Ofelia sounds a little like the Psalm section of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme with Alvester Garnett being very Elvin Jones-ish. The playing becomes very intense until the mood is broken by a change to a slightly more upbeat tempo and some further great interaction between alto and piano. It ends with a mesmerising theme repeated several times.

Click here for more information on Oscar Perez and his music – including a rendering of Snake Charm.

Click here to sample the album.

Robin Kidson

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Mikkel Ploug Trio - At Black Tornado

Album Released: 13th April 2015 - Label: Whirlwind - Reviewed: April 2015

Mikkel Ploug At Black TornadoAt Black Tornado is the seventh album by Mikkel Ploug either as a member of a band called "Equilibrium" or the "Mikkel Ploug Group".  Whereas Equilibrium is a band with voice and horns to complement Ploug's guitar, the trio is made up of long-standing collaborators Jeppe Skovbakke on double bass and Sean Carpio on drums.  Details of previous recordings can be found if you click here.

At Black Tornado sounds rather a dramatic title for the album until you realise that this is simply the name of the recording studio. The wind theme continues as the album is being released by WhirlwindRecords and the picture on the CD case shows wind turbines behind a canoeist but this seems to be as far as the wind theme goes, the reason for the canoeist is unclear.  All the tracks are composed by Mikkel Ploug except Comacina Dreaming which is by Joachim Badenhorst (horn player in Equilibrium).

Click here for an introductory video.

The album was recorded in a single session with the musicians playing together as if they were playing to an audience rather than in a studio.  The first track Waking Up is a very relaxed piece, slightly reminiscent of Albatross by Fleetwood Mac and flags up the fact that this album is a fusion of styles rather than simply jazz. 

Click here to sample 1.37 minutes of Waking Up.

The title of the second track, Comacina Dreaming, refers to a dream that the composer had while staying on an island in Lake Como in Italy and in this case the music has a strong melody and brings to mind something from "The Shadows" (a classic instrumental band of the 1960s).  Track three called North begins with minor chords and simple rhythms on the guitar but proceeds to highlight improvisations on the double bass; and the following track, The Arch is a short track based on harmonies that were recorded in a church, featuring free expression from all three musicians and it would have been interesting to have more to see how this approach develops. 

Major Flows is an up-tempo, rock style number that features solos from both double bass and guitar, whilst track six, West, starts in dramatic fashion with double bass and drums pounding out ominously, but being barely more than two minutes long the listener is left wanting more just as it finishes. The title of the seventh track, Orange, is a reference to the way the composer visualises chords as colours with orange mixed from cheerful red and yellow and Drops, is an example of onomatopoeia in that the word describes the sound of the music; both tracks have a nice repartee between drums and guitar while the double bass maintains an up-tempo rhythm throughout with a definite swing style on the latter track.

The next track is called The Rowing Club and introduces a finger picking guitar style while the penultimate track on the album, Clear Thought slows the tempo again promoting a reflective mood.  The final track, Belo, refers to the town of Belo Horizonte in Brazil where the composer performed in 2013; the music seems to include short snatches from other tunes and is perhaps a summary of influences.

Unfortunately there is no information on the CD case to give any insight into the music but quoting from the Whirlwind Records website, Mikkel explains the background to the album as  "The album was a sort of homecoming for us; a zone that occurs when the three of us come together and make music. It was also time for us to record again as a trio and focus our attention on that sound. We've done a lot of playing with wonderful musicians over the years, but for this record we wanted to document just the three of us and our development as a unit with our own identity. We're not in a rush with the music and we're very content in each other's company while still surprising and inspiring each other every time we play— it's a great situation to be in. I feel all this comes through in the music." So clearly a very personal musical statement but audience members or album buyers may be left wondering what to make of it all.

The Mikkel Ploug Trio started a short tour of the UK on 23 March with an excellent gig for a very enthusiastic audience at The Oxford, Kentish Town Road in London.  Mikkel Ploug is a very good jazz guitarist and the interaction between him and the other band members amply demonstrated the deep understanding they have of each others' playing.  Jeppe Skovbakke on double bass played some very interesting solos himself and Sean Carpio on drums was the model of a thoughtful and considerate drummer keeping the volume at just the right level. Talking to the band before the show, their mutual respect for each other was very evident; despite playing various forms of music with other bands they most enjoy playing together and experimenting with different styles.  Talking about the album they hope that their music will appeal to a wider audience without having targeted any particular section and so there is less solo improvisation on the album than at the live gigs because they wanted to highlight the trio playing together rather than any one member of it. Talking about other guitarists that he admires Mikkel Ploug unsurprisingly listed Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell but others, less well known included Kurt Rosenwinkel and Ben Monder.  

The next night they played a set at Ronnie Scott’s Club supporting the Bireli Lagrene Gypsy Project, a Django Reinhardt influenced band led by guitar viruoso Bireli Lagrene.  The contrasting styles of Mikkel Ploug and Bireli Lagrene proved to make an interesting night and the sold-out club, looking forward to Lagrene's strong rhythms and masterful solo improvisations gave warm applause for Ploug's thoughtful, melodic playing.  

For jazz fans At Black Tornado could probably be improved by including some additional, typical jazz content and having heard the band play live it is clear that they are very capable of well crafted solos and improvisations but it may be that the uncomplicated and subtle melodies as recorded on the album will appeal to a wider audience which will give them the greater exposure and recognition that they deserve.

Click here to sample the album.

Howard Lawes

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Plunge - In For The Out

Album Released: 22nd April 2015 - Label: CD Baby - Reviewed: February 2016

Plunge In For The Out

The band "Plunge" is led by trombonist, Mark McGrain, graduate of Berklee College of Music, Boston, USA who went on to author the Berklee Guide to "Music Notation" but who is now resident in New Orleans.  "Plunge" was founded in 1996 and In For The Out is the fourth album from the band following on from Falling With Grace, Dancing On Thin Ice and Tin Fish Tango.  For this album the personnel are Tom Fitzpatrick (tenor sax and flute), Tim Green (saxello and baritone sax), Kirk Joseph (sousaphone), Simon Lott (drums and electronic percussion), James Singleton (double bass), Robert Walter (organ) and Mark McGrain (trombone and alp-horn). 

Unusual but welcome are extensive notes about the inspiration for the album and each track. The name of the album recalls a phrase used by an old friend and means that it is prudent to plan for the dismantling of something which is only ever temporary. The inspiration for the album was the life of Mark McGrain's brother Tim who sadly died after a long illness.

Given the sensitivity of the context the description of each track is copied from Mark McGrain's composer's notes:

"The album opens with The Jilt (track 1 - trombone, organ, sousaphone, drums), an odd measured, tripped-up stumble over the threshold of indisputable fact.  It’s the slap against the cheek; the ice hitting the spine.  It’s the crash we didn’t see coming; that moment when we come face to face with our own mortality and it both startles and scares us. Monkey Mitts (track 2 – trombone, organ, sousaphone, drums) is a reference to a comment my brother Tim once made during a conversation we had concerning the chaos and apparent incompetence on the part of government in the early days after the federal flood of 2005.  Tim explained that after all, “monkeys are flying the plane.”  This song is about the maniacal hand of fate; the trickster’s prank; demons at play and ultimately about blame—denial, and anger.  It’s always those pesky monkeys, right?"

Click here to listen to The Jilt.

"The next track, Schoolie’s Day (track 3 – trombone, tenor sax, organ, sousaphone, drums) is about understanding; the process of gaining the knowledge and wisdom to see, as clearly as possible, what’s ahead. Falling With Grace (track 4 – solo trombone) is about calmly accepting that which will unfailingly come to pass. With The Speed of Darkness (track 5 – trombone, tenor sax, baritone sax, organ, double bass, sousaphone, drums) I’ve tried to convey the sense of panic resulting from accelerating physical decay.  No matter how well prepared one may be, it seems nonetheless to be a shock when reality hits. I watched my brother from a time when he could walk nearly normally. Then, gradually he became awkward, soon clumsy, and eventually dependent upon a cane - two canes - braces.  He would fall and it was very difficult to get him back up again.  With his mobility so drastically hampered life was getting bleak from limitation.  Then came the wheelchair - a total game changer.  It made my brother a new man being able to cruise his neighborhood and take walks with friends - giving kids rides. Second Man Suit (track 6 – trombone, organ, double bass, sousaphone, drums) was composed with that transition in mind." 

"As Angels Roar (track 7 – trombone, saxello, tenor sax, double bass, drum) is an expression of the sense of injustice and the pain in recognizing the terminal truth of death. If As Angels Roar is the dark cloak of doom, track 8, Beyond the Night (trombone, tenor sax, baritone sax, double bass, drums), is the catharsis of believing in something more; that one’s legacy will outlive the decaying body - a good reason to push onward.  Track 9, Exit Strategy (trombone, flute, baritone sax, double bass, drums with hands),is about planning one’s final campaign - tying up loose ends and defining what one stands for.  For my brother Tim, that meant standing up for the disparaged and disenfranchised. He recognized the non-abating trend of economic isolation between the world’s wealthy and it’s impoverished and he practiced empathy and unity.  Hence the title of track 10, Hymn To The End Of Rampant Disparity, Entropy Suite Part 1 (trombone, tenor sax, baritone sax, double bass, drums)."

"On track 11, Bear And Eagle Meet Raven (trombone, double bass, drums) the native American totems representing knowledge and intelligence (Bear and Eagle were my brother’s totems) meet up with the mercurial trickster (again those pesky monkeys); end game, the dance of death.  The final blow is cast in track 12, Too Weak to Exhale (alphorn, double bass, drums) as the body fails itself, unable to release the toxins of it’s own making. With Love Alone (track 13 – trombone, saxello, tenor sax, double bass, drums) was composed for, and performed at my brother’s memorial.  It’s about release and the idea of ascension.  In this case a gentle release as the soul lets go.  It’s about growing wings.  This track features the late Tim Green on saxello. Tim passed away not long after this recording.  Though deeply missed, Tim’s ethereal voice and lithesome soul continue to inspire. Birmingham Songo (track 14 – trombone, tenor sax, organ, sousaphone,) is a celebration of freedom gained and the legacy shared by one who brought so much joy to us in life..  As a final reminder, though, of the vastness of forever, An Unspannable Divide (track 15 -- solo sousaphone) plays out the final echoes resounding, so long as our lore and ritual perpetuate them."

Mark McGrain, New Orleans 23rd March 2015

The style of the music on the album divides pretty much into two with one half (tracks 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 14) providing infectious melodies from horns and organ and funky rhythms from sousaphone and double bass.  There is also some great percussion, particularly on track 5 which is essentially a drum solo and track 14 where an Afro-Cuban style is evident and lovely solos from trombone and organ and on the Latin tinged track 9 flute and baritone sax.  The other tracks (4, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 15) have a much freer style with lots of improvisation, sometimes solo, sometimes in various combinations. These latter tracks are uncompromising and difficult to appreciate but complement those that are more accessible.

Music has a unique ability to sound the way emotions feel and this album is a very interesting personal statement by a composer and musician in memory of his brother. It is very well worth listening to simply as an album of music but knowing the inspiration for it adds a great deal.

Click here to sample the album.

Click here for the extensive background notes to the album and the tracks.

Howard Lawes

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Noah Preminger - Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground

Album Released: 6th May 2016 - Label: self release: www.noahpreminger.com - Reviewed: June 2016

Noah Preminger Dark Was The Night Cold Was The Ground

Noah Preminger (saxophone), Jason Palmer (trumpet), Kim Cass (bass), Ian Froman (drums)

Regarding personal taste in the field of painting, books, music and other forms of artistic endeavour most of us have a cut-off point, usually with age, where we feel we have become out of touch with an artist’s conception. In one of this reviewer’s favourite art forms, jazz, when the music went “free” from the late ‘60s onwards, I felt it had abandoned all the aspects that I found so appealing - swing, discipline, discernible patterns and sequences and, although, in its best manifestations, jazz was not usually all that popular, the “free” movement certainly alienated many former followers. But, hey, what did some critics say about Charlie Parker when he burst on the scene?

When Noah Preminger’s latest album arrived on my desk I viewed it with some trepidation. Noah, a 29-year-old US musician had already been given many critical plaudits since he cut his first CD at the age of 21 and has an impressive CV, having played and/or recorded with Billy Hart, Dave Holland, John Patitucci, Fred Hersch, Joe Lovano and many more fine musicians. 

What was of great appeal to these ears in this collection is the fact that Noah had chosen to go back to one of the primal forms of the music, the Delta Blues. As one would expect, the musicians here are all young (to this old stager anyway) and approach their art in a modern manner. 

Noah claims that the Delta Blues reflect all the characteristics he wants in his own playing - sincerity, story-telling and an urgency to get his message across and all the nine tracks here include the music of Willie Johnson, Bukka White, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Robert Johnson and more.

Nevertheless anyone expecting a pastiche of the old blues recordings with a touch of modernism will be disappointed because he has taken the soul and spirit of the music and played it in his own original way. 

Recorded at the Sidedoor Jazz Club in Old Lyme, Connecticut, but with no audience, Noah attempts to take the essence of the old bluesmen, who he admits, have absolutely nothing in common with his own life in 21st century America and attempts to emulate the feeling and sincerity of the old timers which he sees as lacking in so much modern music.

The quartet sticks to a conventional personnel format with the double bass usually anchoring the performances bebop-style while allowing soloists and percussion to take off into their own interpretations.

Click here for the introductory video.

The title track, Blind Willie Johnson’s Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground kicks off with a plaintive saxophone lament. For some reason the type of sax is never specified although it sounds like a tenor, strongly reminiscent of a Sonny Rollins throaty tone with echoes of Jimmy Guiffre. Noah and trumpeter, Jason Palmer, trade phrases with each other.

Another iconic song, Trouble in Mind, is a reverential treatment and is given the most conventional arrangement on the album. Superb trumpet work from Jason really gets inside what can be a clichéd composition. If I had a quid for every time I played this number in my active performance days I would indeed be rich. But it never sounded quite like this! 

Click here to listen tothe second track Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues.

I Am The Heavenly Way gets almost a hot gospel work-out and Jason once more blows up a tempest rather than a storm with his blazing technique. The delightfully named Black Snake Moan, a Blind Lemon Jefferson song, has a funky New Orleans feel to it while Future Blues enables Ian Froman to show his mettle with a rolling drum approach. 

The proceedings conclude with a hymn-like version of I Shall Not Be Moved.  This reviewer was surprised to learn that this was a Mississippi John Hurt song. It always appeared to be the anthem of political protest and was often sung on many protest marches - more Pete Seeger than Delta, one could say. Noah and the band approach the song with slow dignity and it is an appropriate ending to a fine collection of nine tracks.

My initial trepidation was completely dispelled and I found that casting aside any foregone conclusions I thoroughly enjoyed this homage to the sound and spirit of the Delta Blues. Without actually copying, the Preminger group managed to get inside and reflect an important phase of jazz music’s development. 

Click here for details

Jamie Evans

Jamie Evans manages a website remembering the late clarinettist Alan Cooper - click here.

 

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Noah Preminger - Pivot Live At The 55 Bar

Album Released: 6th October 2015 - Label: noahpreminger.com - Reviewed: January 2016

Noah Preminger Live At the 55 Bar

Noah Preminger (tenor saxophone); Jason Palmer (trumpet); Kim Cass (double bass); Ian Froman (drums).

I have to start this review with Booker T. Washington White, or Bukka White as he is usually known - one of the great delta blues singers and slide guitar players.  Bob Dylan’s recording of White’s Fixin to Die Blues was, I’m almost sure, my first introduction to the singer.  Bukka White wrote the song around 1940, I must have heard Dylan’s version some twenty-five years later, and here it is again, Noah Preminger using the melody line as a basis for an extended improvisation at the 55 Bar in Greenwich Village, New York in July 2015.  Bukka White didn’t have the finesse and technique of his peers like Robert Johnson and Son House, it didn’t matter, what he did have was an innate ability to literally drive his beaten up national steel guitar right across the tracks of a tune.  He was a tough man in harsh times and it was all there in his music.

Noah Preminger’s tactics on this recording seem initially simple; take two of Bukka White’s best known blues.  Each one is stretched over half an hour in length and recorded in a small club that’s familiar.  Ensure there is a piano and bass team who can space out the beat yet imply where it is at any given time.  Next, bring in a trumpet player of real intelligence as your top-line foil and dispense with a piano altogether in order to bypass chord structures.  Finally get a class-act engineer who believes in you to catch the outcome - the recording quality is bliss, right up close and personal with all the detail intact; there’s a couple of detailed bass solos that throb with tension.  Having done all that, the collective willingness of the quartet to progress the playing does the rest.  This band absolutely shake it down to the last note.

Between them Noah Preminger and Jason Palmer divide Parchman Farm Blues in two.  Mr Preminger begins by abstracting Bukka White’s original line before taking off into his own implications.  He keeps pressing forward, cannoning across the curve formed by the bass and drums.  In the promo blurb Ornette Coleman is name-checked because there are a few Ornette quotes sprinkled throughout the performance.  Yet, overall I think Noah Preminger is more like Sonny Rollins.  He shares Rollins’ utter determination not to leave a line alone until he has consolidated it.  He is looking for the trick, the key, constantly backwards and forwards, cutting up the sound and re-drawing it again.  The interesting thing is that once Jason Palmer takes over, Parchman Farm Blues almost begins all over again.  The music is a single statement but suddenly it has collected a spare dry sound, a new voice, one that tells the same story from a different standpoint.  Kim Cass and Ian Froman adjust their bass/drums propulsion to take account of Palmer’s elegant lyrical trumpet.  No flourish, simply a fine brass improviser braying in the New York night.

If Parchman Farm Blues is a damn good first half, then Fixin to Die Blues is a truly seasoned second half.  A band in tune with themselves and the material.  The delta blues is not boogie, for me it has always felt like a source for the letting go of baptism for the vein of water of secular prayer.  This time, right at the beginning Preminger and Palmer harmonise the fragment of melody, carrying it home together.  I’d have liked to have heard more of this dual direction.  Thirty minutes down the line, at the very end of the Fixin to Die Blues improv, they play out Bukka White’s lament together as if it were a grindstone wheel.  Right alongside each other, the tenor horn and the trumpet, they play the blues to the point where I wish they could have found the reason inside themselves to have pressed the duet forward as a double hander.  No matter, job done.  In the doing of it, Mr Preminger traces his Ornette Coleman references via Rollins’ The Bridge all the way to the Mississippi, and the rest of his band curve their corners knowing the angle in the rhythm and harmony of the mighty river.

Perhaps the Noah Preminger Quartet’s Pivot might look as if it is just another jazz bar recording.  Truly, I don’t hear it like that.  What is going on here comes from this generation’s design on the hard intimate ear that came out of the deep old blues.  Such depth needs a club not a concert hall.  In this next twelve months, leading up to the election of a new President, America would be just a cheap Global Power if it forgot to listen to the sanctity of the blues heritage.  Out of slavery came the truth of why men and women in that ‘land of the free’ have needed to ponder their own reasons for Fixin to Die.  Noah Preminger and his compatriot Jason Palmer is American jazz today.  I am glad they went back to Greenwich Village to pivot the blues.  Every art has its own history, here is the present tense.

Click here to sample the album.

Click here for details. Click here for a video of the Noah Preminger Quartet playing at the club in March 2015.

Click here for Bukka White's Fixin To Die.


Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk  

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Preston - Glasgow - Lowe : Preston - Glasgow - Lowe

Album Released: 29th April 2016 - Label: Whirlwind Recordings - Reviewed: June 2016

Preston Glasgow Lowe album

Preston-Glasgow-Lowe are David Preston on guitar, Kevin Glasgow on six-string electric bass, and Laurie Lowe on drums. They have been playing together since 2012 and Preston Glasgow Lowe is their eponymous debut album.

The trio specialises in jazz rock with a strong electronic music dimension - as well as playing guitar, David Preston is also credited in the liner notes with “additional synthesizers, programming and mixing”. The result is a complex but richly textured sound picture in which it is sometimes difficult to pick out who is playing what – apart from Lowe’s drumming, that is, which drives the music forward and makes for a listening experience which encourages vigorous tapping of feet. 

The trio’s jazz rock credentials are established with the very first track, Colour Possesses, which has insistent and compelling riffs enhanced by overdubs and interesting electronic effects. Two models come to mind – the first is minimalist classical music in the manner of, say, Steve Reich or Philip Glass; the second is seventies prog rock, with shades of Yes (and its underrated guitarist, Steve Howe), King Crimson and Emerson, Lake and Palmer – indeed, a sound is generated towards the end of the track which sounds just like Keith Emerson in full flow on organ.

Click here to listen to Colour Possesses.

Colour Possesses was written by David Preston, as were six of the other tracks on the album. With his guitar and synthesizer duties as well, it is tempting to see Preston as your main man but this would be misleading since both Glasgow and Lowe have plenty of opportunity to shine and add their own distinctive contributions. The second track, for instance, Elephant and Castle is a Kevin Glasgow composition with an attractive main  theme and some very impressive bass solo work.

Everything in Everything is one of the Preston pieces and features him really stretching out on guitar with some effective overdubs. The hummable main theme sounds like something you might hear in a James Bond film.

The Priory is by Glasgow and is one of the longest tracks on the album. It features some neat drumming from Laurie Lowe including an absorbing solo. Again, there is an insistent Steve Reich type riff which gradually changes to something quite frantic and discordant until the tension is gloriously released and a gentler tune takes over - rather like a threatening man suddenly becoming nice.

Track 5, Song to the Citadel, is a slightly softer piece which swings along very nicely with more excellent bass work from Glasgow. Preston plays some fine guitar moving dazzlingly up and down the frets creating a pleasing liquid sound. The next track, C:/>PU (where do they get these names from?) is back to prog rock with an interesting staccato Morse Code motif, a complex tempo, and some loud rock guitar. Click here for a live performance of the piece.

Tracks 7 to 10 make up one extended piece called Within You. The first part is a skillful guitar solo from Preston embracing a variety of idioms – Spanish, classical, as well as different jazz guitar styles. This leads into the second part which is notable for a long drum solo which manages to grab and, more importantly, keep the listener’s attention. The final part is like a summary of all that’s gone before on the album with intriguing electronically generated sounds as well as the trademark riffs and prodigious playing. At times (and not only on this track), the three musicians almost seem to wallow in their virtuosity in the certain knowledge that they can do virtually anything with string, fret and stick.

The final track, The Anvil, is another Kevin Glasgow composition which feels like the trio has separated out the main components of its style so that a particularly jazzy first half is followed by a hard rock second half which is thrillingly frenetic.

All in all, then, Preston Glasgow Lowe is superb and accessible jazz rock played by three technically accomplished, but also brilliantly imaginative musicians. 

Click here for an introductory video. Click here for details and to sample.

Click here for more information about Preston-Glasgow-Lowe.

Robin Kidson

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Printmakers - Westerly

Album Released: 11th May 2015 - Label: Basho Records - Reviewed: June 2015

Printmakers Westerly

In today’s musical world, it is becoming increasingly rare to encounter a group of musicians whose talents have uniquely fused together to create a truly individualistic sound. Whilst some ensembles regularly interchange and introduce new participants, there are few real ‘bands’ today that stay together for any true length of time by way of a steadfast membership. Oftentimes within jazz a specific scrutiny is placed on a player having a very detailed knowledge of the language of the music, a study of which should ultimately result in an emphasis and celebration of their own distinctive identity. Perhaps it is this scrutiny and the musicians’ awareness of it that causes many groups to end up sounding like a sum of their parts rather than an interconnected and utterly inimitable unit. Some jazz bands record an album, tour and then disband, with players often leaving to become involved as side-men with other ensembles. Indeed, some never really stay together long enough to really investigate any uniqueness in sound they may have, be it through the mix of their personalities, exploring original compositions or interpreting existing material.

Fortunately, there is no such lack of cohesive identity on the Printmakers debut album, Westerly. Comprised of some of the finest British jazz musicians on the domestic and international scene today, this recording consists of a mix of originals by pianist Nikki Iles and ECM vocalist Norma Winstone, mixed with a number of contemporary popular and jazz standards. Joining the duo are guitarist Mike Walker, drummer James Maddren and saxophonist Mark Lockheart. The group very successfully tease out new and exciting colours on each piece – this is certainly not a “blowing session” for the musicians to boast their abilities, nor is it fully composed or without risk.

The album opens with A Breath Away, a haunting showcase for the husky vocals of Norma Winstone, before propelling forwards into an energetic solo section displaying the group’s significant dynamic range. Ballads on this recording include Westerly, an Iles original with interesting and romantic images of cowboys and the American Midwest. This and Steve Swallow’s City Of Dallas bear a striking resemblance, the latter containing a distinctively humorous drunken “swagger” to it. Two Grey Rooms, a Joni Mitchell original, is profoundly touching and tender, not least because of the nostalgic twangs emanating from Walker’s country-inspired guitar playing, as well as Lockheart’s sensitive saxophone solo.

Click here to listen to Westerly with Mark Lockheart and Mike Walker's beautiful saxophone and guitar solos.

Paul Simon's I Do It For Your Love is approached in more of a contemporary fashion, with a captivating level of harmony certainly not found in any popular songs today. 

Click here to listen to I Do It For Your Love.

The Glide, a playful and intriguing composition by Ralph Towner, has something of a fun ‘bounce’ to it before evolving into a classy medium swing groove. Tideway, a contemporary bossa inspired by a trip to Norma Winstone’s house on the edge of the sea, mixes darker and lighter moments that Walker and Lockheart fluently explore with their own individualistic sounds. Under the Canopy is another “straight-8s” composition that, despite displaying similar roots to Tideway, is less Jobim-esque and at times more tango-like, with a distinct personality evoked through prominent bass-clarinet figures. Two of the more energetic performances on the album come in the form of the raucous High Lands (featuring a distortion-laden guitar solo from Walker) and John Taylor’s joyous O. The latter begins with a free intro, showcasing the band’s unique ability to interact and develop compelling ideas.

Overall, this is a very promising album from a very exciting group of improvisers. The choices in repertoire alone are individualistic enough, and suggest a level of intelligence and careful consideration towards each member’s musical ‘voice’ which, when combined together, create something of a signature sound. Walker’s guitar and Iles’ piano never clash, as is commonplace within many a jazz performance, whilst Maddren and Watts provide rock-solid and highly secure support underneath. Lockheart’s beautiful saxophone interjections often act as something of a foil to Winstone’s nostalgic storytelling and, whilst mostly found doubling melody lines, it is difficult to imagine the recording without it.

One small criticism is that to me, Norma Winstone’s voice occasionally sounds slightly stretched, although this is outweighed by the many intriguing and endearing compositions, in addition to the musicians’ incredibly high levels of improvisational skills and sensitivity. Well worth exploring!

Click here to sample the album.

Cameron Skerrow

Cameron Skerrow is a graduate of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, a guitarist and teacher.

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Sun Ra And His Arkestra - Gilles Peterson Presents ... To Those Of Earth And Other Worlds

Album Released: 30th October 2015 - Label: Strut Records - Reviewed: November 2015

Sun Ra and his Arkestra To Those Of earth and Other Worlds

Yet another Sun Ra double album, and Gilles Peterson deserves a thank you for gathering together this superb double album of material. If it seems close on Strut Records’ recent release of Marshall Allen’s collated In The Orbit Of Ra (already reviewed earlier this year) it doesn’t matter.

The DJ Gilles Peterson is not the kind of guy to waste time, he hasn’t here. To Those Of Earth And Other Worlds is a comprehensive collection covering Sun Ra classics, like a definitive version of We Travel The Spaceways and a previously unreleased live take of Space Is The Place (John Gilmore’s tenor sax igniting the Universe), as well as true definitive rarities: a blistering live fragment called Moog Solo (live in France) and The All Of Everything (from Night Of The Purple Moon, which I’ve never been able to get my hands on before, my ears hearing it for the first time). There are old Sun Ra ballroom ballads; the rare Doo-Wop single Dreaming which was given to Peterson by John Peel, and Black Sky And Blue Moon, from the hard to fine The Nubians of Plutonia recording. Both are weirdly old-time yet futuristic, as intoxicating as dancing with Josephine Baker in a Martha Graham stage set with Ginger Rogers turning up in a space-suit.

Click here for Black Sky And Blue Moon from The Nubians of Plutonia.  

Overall there are 34 tracks, no one is short-changed here. For me finding The All Of Everything was like finding precious metal. I think Sun Ra is playing a synthesiser, though for all I know it could be some kind of electric harpsichord. There is no singing, no horns. The keyboard has bass and hand drums alongside in the mix. Half way through a flute is added, probably Marshall Allen. The point is musically, whatever the individual detail, the performance offers us the opportunity to focus on this great bandleader playing for himself, touching the gravity of his own music. Duke Ellington never ventured to place his precious fingers on the kind of keyboards that Sun Ra used, but these two peers (born within fifteen years of each other) shared similar skills. They were primarily orchestrators and composers, yet able to place themselves as soloist on material that is almost minimal in structure. Both pianists were relatively economical in technique yet absolutely devastating in what they actually conveyed. The All Of Everything has that kind of title and contains that range of depth.

I suppose if you wanted to be ‘picky’ about Gilles Peterson’s choice of tracks it could be said that he has tended to favour the ‘exotic’ rarities, particularly the big song based mantras (Calling Planet Earth, Mystery, Mr Ra, Strange Worlds) as well as the afore mentioned favourites Spaceways and Space Is The Place. I understand why, because he has unearthed (sic) real gems. However, there is no representation of the Sun Ra Arkestra playing any standards. Man, this band could run that stuff to the cleaners!!!  For instance, in 1989 the Arkestra (with all their gold star horns in the line-up – Pat Patrick, Marshall Allen, Danny Ray Thompson, James Jackson and the magnificent John Gilmore) recorded Gershwin’s But Not For Me for the Italian Black Saint label. Not only did Gilmore and crew stake out the tune in a way that would make a bow-tie man like Wynton Marsalis acknowledge their destiny, Sun Ra produced at least three piano breaks that James P Johnson would have wanted for himself. Yes, I know, Sun Ra’s oeuvre is so enormous it is hardly fair to carp about the absence of ‘covers’ when precious rare tracks abound.  I suppose what I’m pointing out is that Sun Ra and his many orchestras were not solely tied into an embrace of Space. Ironically, title accepted, Peterson does include the 1960 Sun Ra and His Myth-Science Arkestra performance of Space Loneliness.  This is an original Sun Ra blues played straight, smoking a George Hudson trumpet break and John Gilmore tenor solo that would have conquered Texas in the right circumstances. What a joy.

It would also be stupid on my part not to mention India, an absolutely historic track. Hey, Mr Peterson this really is the Earth And Other Worlds. It is a karma-tic sensation.  In 1956 John Coltrane was still a year away from releasing a record under his own name, Ornette Coleman had two more years to go before his debut.  In 1956 India was part of Sun Ra’s album ‘Supersonic Jazz/Supersonic Sounds’, a totally unique recording for the time (actually for any time). It was marketed and distributed as an ‘indie’, it contained the first recorded example of an electric piano on vinyl (Sun Ra was using a very early Wurlitzer), and the subject matter itself was electric. Mahatma Gandhi had been assassinated eight years previously. Sadly such killings were to be reflected in how America was to respond to Civil Rights throughout the next decade. The part that Sun Ra played in highlighting that ‘change’ is well documented, long before a kid adopting the surname Dylan wrote the song The Times They Are A Changing on an acoustic guitar. There’s an argument to be said that Sun Ra reached Saturn before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. He certainly plugged a piano into an amplifier long before Herbie Hancock came to the same conclusion. Listening to India today is rather like ‘an imagining’; crashing cymbals introduce a lopping rhythm suggesting a caravan crossing a continent, there is tympani not tabla, the Wurlitzer soundtracking colours, it could be '76 rather than '56.

Click here to listen to India.

Look, I know Sandy Brown Jazz has given the thumbs up before to various Sun Ra Arkestra recordings. All I can say is that Gilles Peterson leaves us no alternative but to do so again, a truly superb compilation.

Click here to listen to Space Loneliness from Sun Ra and His Myth-Science Arkestra (1960).

Click here for track list and to sample the album when it is released.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Zoe Rahman - Dreamland

Album Released: 17th June 2016 - Label: Manushi Records - Reviewed: August 2016

Zoe Rahman Dreamland

Since 2001, when she released her first album, the British pianist, Zoe Rahman has won some of the most glittering prizes in contemporary music. Her 2006 album, Melting Pot, for example, won Jazz Album of the Year at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards and was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, no less. The album, Kindred Spirits, won Best Jazz Act at the 2012 MOBO awards. She has been a judge for the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year, and is currently touring with Courtney Pine performing music from their duo album, Song (The Ballad Book).

Dreamland is her sixth album on her own Manushi label and her first completely solo piano recording. “I’ve been playing solo gigs for a long time”, she says, “so have built up a repertoire of tracks that I wanted to record and people kept asking me on gigs when I was going to record a solo album. Playing solo is very exposed and is both liberating and daunting, as it’s so much more open than working with other musicians. There’s so much scope in the instrument to create different sounds and rhythms and I draw inspiration from musicians who use the instrument like an orchestra”.

If a solo album can be daunting to play, it can also be daunting to listen to as well. Dreamland, though, is a joy from beginning to end. Rahman knows exactly how to pace a solo set – a fast piece is usually followed by a slower, more reflective track; a jazz or bluesy composition is followed by a piece influenced by other music traditions: folk, classical, Indian; and her own compositions are interlaced with those by a range of other writers. None of the tracks is particularly long (14 tracks in 50 minutes playing time) but, again, the well-judged pacing ensures an even mix of long and shorter pieces. All this means that the attention never wanders – and even if it does, you can always just sit back and marvel at Rahman’s impeccable technique.

The album gets off to the best possible start with the wonderfully original Red Squirrel, a complex piece full of notes, constantly changing and constantly inventive, exactly mimicking the jumpy, jerky movements of a squirrel. The National Youth Jazz Orchestra recorded Red Squirrel for its 50th anniversary album (reviewed on the website in January). Click here for Zoe Rahman playing the piece live with her trio.

This is followed by the lovely, slightly bluesy Fast Asleep, written by Rahman for her son. Then The Sheikh, written by Jessica Jennifer Williams and including some curiously effective plucking of the strings inside the piano. There’s a touch of Horace Silver in the playing with an infectious, foot tapping rhythm.

Kar Milono Chao Birohi is an arrangement of a song by the Bengali writer, Rabindranath Tagore and is a nod to Rahman’s part Bengali heritage. Zantastic is a short, up tempo piece again written for Rahman’s son. The style is boogie woogie, but not as we know it. The Epicentre was partly inspired by a recent spell as artist inresidence with the Lincolnshire Youth Big Band. It starts off more as a contemporary classical music piece with a great sense of drama but gradually settles into something more rhythmic and jazzy with a hard edged blues feel.

These Foolish Things is an absorbing rendition of the old standard with Rahman’s trademark note-filled ornamentation and trills up and down the scales. The shadow of Thelonious Monk is never far away. Perhaps appropriately, the influence guiding J’Berg appears to be that great South African pianist, Abdullah Ibrahim but Rahman is too original and interesting a musician to be a slavish follower of any other stylist. The main influence at work in Zoe Rahman is Zoe Rahman.  

Crystal Clear is almost a pop song - an indication of how Rahman can write and play in a wide variety of styles. The Calling is a jaunty but quite complicated piece with interesting changes of direction and a showcase for Rahman’s considerable virtuosity. A Single Petal of a Rose is by Duke Ellington and is played in an Ellington style but with plenty of Rahman’s passion and drama.

Sunset in Blue is a great, foot-tapping tune by Abdullah Ibrahim, superbly played. On the Road is another Rahman original with all sorts of typical Rahman flourishes: interesting changes in direction, compelling rhythms, ornamental trills - but also completely absorbing. Finally, For Anais is named after Rahman’s niece and is a slower, more reflective piece which builds to an effective climax. It’s a nice ending to an absorbing album full of invention, drama and fun played by a brilliant composer and musician.

Click here for details and to sample.

For further information, click here for the Manushi Records website or here for Zoe Rahman’s own website.

Robin Kidson

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Shez Raja Collective - Gurutopia

Album Released: 15th April 2016 - Label: First Orbit Sounds Records - Reviewed: May 2016

Shez Raja Gurutopia

Shez chose the venue, which adjoins a highly regarded restaurant, where we were both made to feel really welcome. Shez now lives in London but was born in the Wirral, which he carefully explained is a peninsula between the rivers Dee and Mersey in northwest England and close to Liverpool. His mother is English but his father was born in the Punjab, famous for Bhangra music and Shez has fond memories of the traditional raga songs his father used to sing at home. Shez's musical journey began with classical violin at junior school and made good progress until, as a young teenager, he discovered rock music, switched to bass guitar, joined a band and gigged around the clubs in nearby Liverpool.  Although he now plays guitar, Shez still retains a lot of affection for the violin.

On leaving school Shez gained a place at the prestigious Leeds College of Music where he studied advanced music theory and played tabla, a traditional percussion instrument from the Punjab area, playing folk / rock / world music in bands such as "Elephant Talk". On graduating from Leeds College of Music Shez moved to London, resumed his guitar playing and worked as a session musician and sidesman with many different bands.  Shez's own playing was inspired by great guitarists such as jazz-fusion pioneers Stanley Clarke and Weather Report bassist Jaco Pastorious, founder member of super-group Bela Fleck, Victor Wooten, and slap bass master, Marcus Miller. Shez also much admires John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra and the jazz violin played by Jerry Goodman and Jean-Luc Ponty.

Shez recalls that he played with many musicians during his early years in London but in particular he met up with the young jazz violinist, Pascal Roggen, from New Zealand, recently graduated with a Masters degree from London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama and in 2007 the Shez Raja Collective was formed with the vision of creating exciting multi-genre music. Collaboration with Pascal has led to far flung tours to New Zealand and elsewhere. Gurutopia is Shez Raja's fifth album and continues in the indo-jazz-funk vein of his previous work bringing highly accessible and likeable music to a potentially wide audience.  

For Gurutopia the core band is Shez Raja on guitar, Monika Lidke, voice, Chris Nickolls on drums, Pascal Roggen on violin and Vasilis Xenopoulos on saxophone. Alex Stanford and Steve Pringle share keyboard duties with the latter also playing Fender Rhodes while Randy Brecker on trumpet and Mike Stern on guitar feature on two tracks each. These latter two are highly lauded American musicians with extensive experience in both rock and jazz music but that is to take nothing away from all the other band members who are all excellent in their own fields - Shez Raja clearly knows how to construct a band and stellar musicians are more than willing to participate, both in studio sessions and in upcoming live performances which are to include John Etheridge on guitar at the London 606 Club album launch and Arun Ghosh and Soweto Kinch at subsequent gigs (for details click here).

Gurutopia has eight tracks starting with Rabbits featuring Mike Stern in which the initial and final groove consists of repeated rhythmic phrases which set the scene for Stern's lovely solo improvisation. Track 2 called Maharaja introduces some very recognisable and catchy South Asian rhythms, syncopated electronics from Alex Stanford, fascinating violin from Pascal Roggen and exactly right alto saxophone from Vasilis Xenopoulos; all of which is very good to dance to. Song For John has Monika Lidke vocalising what could well be a lullaby and Pascal Roggen plays some beautiful Gaelic tinged violin in a tune written by Shez for his 4 year old son who is himself an aspiring musician. My Imaginary Friend is a bouncy tune, heavy on the wah-wah pedal and includes a drum solo. Sketches of Space introduces the trumpet of Randy Brecker in a series of anthemic sections followed by a solo with perhaps a nod to Miles Davis's Sketches of Spain.

Click here for a video of the band playing Sketches Of Space at the Hideaway in 2014.

Track 6 starts fairly calmly, again with repeated melodic phrases, before Mike Stern's guitar takes the listener back to the rock band guitar solos of a previous era justifying the title RocknRolla and named after the Guy Ritchie film of the same name.

Click here for a video of the band playing RocknRolla at the Hideaway in 2015.

Track 7 brings back the trumpet of Randy Brecker and the title Prime Time gives a clue to the time signatures of the piece which involve prime numbers. Shiva Mantra heralds the return of Monika Lidke singing a lilting melody in a faintly Latin style together with a great saxophone solo from Vasilis Xenopoulos; a tune written by Shez following a trip to his father's homeland.

The Gurutopia album was launched at the 606 Club in London on 21st April 2016 and although Randy Brecker and Mike Stern were missing the band included a special guest in the person of guitarist John Etheridge. Much amusement ensued after Shez claimed John Etheridge was being paid by the note as anybody who knows Etheridge's extremely enthusiastic playing will know that he plays a great many notes! Shez Raja has a great rapport with his audience, cracking jokes, prancing around the stage and playing the guitar like a showman. In his introduction Shez asked the audience if they were ready for an Indo-jazz-funk fusion experience, they were, they got it and really enjoyed it.

The Shez Raja band is a great live act and well worth catching at a gig if possible but if you can't get to a gig then the album is a very good alternative.  To some people today's jazz might typify music that is outdated and boring, but Shez Raja's jazz is anything but; it can make you dance and laugh and like the big, yellow sun on the album cover really brightens up your day.

Click here to sample the album.

Howard Lawes

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Jemal Ramirez - Pomponio

Album Released: 11th January 2016 - Label: First Orbit Sounds Records - Reviewed: May 2016

Jemal Ramirez Pomponio

Jemal Ramirez is a San Francisco based jazz drummer, who states his purpose “Is to promote instrumental music within the lives of people of all ages”.  To this end he has put together a stellar jazz group to perform on this debut album, comprising of Warren Wolf (marimba and vibraphone), Howard Wiley (saxophones), Joel Behrman (trumpet), Matthew Clark (piano), John Shifflett (double bass), and Joe Santos (percussion).  Jemal has appeared at a number of jazz festivals and performed at various venues and teaches in San Jose, California as a band director and private percussion teacher to 200 public school music students.

Pomponio is a name for an early Californian rebel or bandit and also an Italian name.  Jemal comments in the album’s notes, “Using this name as the title of my first album felt personal for me in my life’s journey through music and my family background.  My family is mostly in California now, but four generations ago parts of me were in Italy, Mexico, California and Texas.”  The album consists of 11 tracks, two of which are composed by musicians in the group, these are Back In The Swing Of Things by Warren Wolf and Lodi Huggins by Joel Behrman.

The title track comes first, which is always logical to me but some albums seem to have title tracks just about anywhere.  Here we have a rousing start with a Latin rhythm throughout; notable are the great marimba playing, trumpet, percussion and alto sax.  Track two is titled In Case You Missed It, with a driving upbeat rhythm and solos from Warren Wolf and Matthew Clark.  

Click here for a video of the band playing In Case You Missed It.

Prince Of Darkness is the third track, and has a slower start by the double bass before interchanges between trumpet/piano and then the sax takes over followed by the vibraphone.  Track 4, Back In The Swing Of Things, does what it says in the title and swings with restrained playing in parts yet with that “big band” feel and some intricate sax playing.  Alone And I follows and here there is relaxed playing on vibraphone and piano with some lovely playful interaction between the two players with interwoven melodies.  The sixth track is called Citadel, and it kicks off with some interesting drum work before the brass takes over followed by vibraphone, trumpet and piano.  Some great individual solos here.  

Track 7, Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Huesen's But Beautiful, is very melodic, rhythmic with the marimba joined by the sax and piano, and I have to agree with the title.  Crisp and clear notes fall over each other in quick succession.  The eighth track, Tell Me Why, contains some hauntingly beautiful sax work, reminding me of Boney James, and which lends the track a forlorn feel.  The bass drives this track with the other instruments supplying melodies flowing into and from the background.  

Click here for a video of the band playing But Beautiful.

J’Ouvert at track 9, starts with a drum intro, before the bass takes over.  The vibraphone/marimba playing gives it a calypso feel and there is a great drum solo.  In Waltz For Monk, the piano is to the fore (as you would expect with this title), however some nice sax with the percussion keeps it all together.  I was not so keen on the start of the final track, Lodi Huggins, but the track really took off when the piano came in with the bass and drums, accompanied by solos from the trumpet, sax, and piano.

The album notes give a good background to Jemal Ramirez and information on each track plus a photo of each musician.  This is a proper Jazz album with a good mix of instruments played well.

Click here for details and to sample.

Tim Rolfe

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Sam Rapley - Fabled

Album Released: 12th March 2015 - Label: Self Release - Reviewed: April 2015

Sam Rapley FabledFabled: Sam Rapley (saxophone / clarinet), Matt Robinson (piano), Alex Munk (guitar), Conor Chaplin (bass), Will Glaser (drums).

Since Sam Rapley graduated from the Royal Academy of Music he has been busy playing with bands such as Troykestra and Teotima and writing the score for the independent film Duet, which was accepted into the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. We first came across Sam before he started at the Royal Academy and even at that stage in his career the potential was clear (click here for our Profile of Sam).

Sam formed the band Fabled in 2014 from a group of friends who themselves are each playing regularly on the UK jazz scene. Sam says: 'We have found a unified and unique way of interacting with each other, born through the years of collaborative music making. Taking inspiration from Debussy, Tom Jobin, Sarah Vaughan and Bon Iver, the group explores the wealth of textures, harmonies and grooves available in the traditional quintet setting.'

This might only be a four-track EP, but it is worth every minute and puts down a strong marker for reeds player Sam Rapley.

The first track High Mayfield immediately draws you in with the band giving way to Alex Munk's guitar before Sam brings in a lyrical saxophone before passing the baton to Matt Robinson's piano. Then it is Conor Chaplin's bass in tandem with interesting guitar work from Alex. Finally the band wraps up this attractive tune fading out with guitar, saxophone and piano.

Click here to listen to High Mayfield.

The tune Tears comes in two parts. Part one begins with a tinkling piano and then this time Sam enters on delicate clarinet and it is the clarinet that carries most of this wistful track. Will Glaser's drums are sympathetic and piano and guitar do just what they need to do to underwrite the theme. When the guitar enters at about 5 minutes in, the emotion heightens as Alex draws in the rest of the band to wring out the tune. Part two is a shorter piece that starts quietly with piano with Sam joining in to develop a motif that expands as the band takes it to the end

Click here to listen to Tears Part One and Tears Part Two.

Yellow Card has Sam back on solo saxophone for the introduction. The band emerge quietly before Matt's piano explores the theme giving way to saxophone again firmly underscored by drums and bass, and Sam pushes the tune before settling back to take the band out together.

Click here to listen to Yellow Card.

Click here to listen to the album.

I find this an engaging EP that is well worth hearing and that signposts the way to more good things to come.

Ian Maund

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Buddy Rich - Birdland

Album Released - 25th May 2015: Label - Wienerworld - Reviewed: July 2015

Buddy Rich Birdland

The eleven rare, previously unreleased and all-original tracks on this compilation were recorded at a number of venues on a portable tape deck, with various attachments and a couple of mics, by Alan Gauvin (alto/soprano/flute), a member of the Buddy Rich "Killer Force" band during the late 1970s. Gauvin made these recordings not for posterity, but merely to hear how he came across in such hallowed company.

It's so marvellous when you think that, all these years later, they were rediscovered and dusted off to provide the background music to Whiplash, the 2015 Academy Award-winning film.  Since then, it has become the most downloaded Buddy Rich album in recent history.

All the musicians on this superlative collection are masters of their chosen instruments, which is why Buddy Rich coined the name "Killer Force" for this, his all-time favourite band, stating publicly it was "the best he ever had".  Personally, I would be hard-pressed to pick any one of the musicians out. The piano parts are intricate and thrilling, the trumpets soar, saxophones sob, trombones glide, the bass pulses through, and, of course, Buddy Rich drives the band, not just keeping time, but blending his drums with one or more of the other instrumentalists.

Well, OK, OK - if I AM pressed, I would concede that Barry Keiner (piano) on Just Friends and CTA;  Keiner again on I Hear a Rhapsody having a kind of musical battle with Buddy (to the amusement of the audience); the cascading trumpets on Three Day Suckers, all stand out andstay in the memory. However, this album is so packed with goodies that I felt like a child in FAO Schwartz: spoilt for choice indeed!

It's a lot of fun spotting quotes of other tunes amongst the complex arrangements, and there are several on this album: for example,  Mairsie Doats (loving the humour) and Honeysuckle Rose pop up during Just Friends; then, imagine the thrill when Hot House suddenly and briefly appears on CTA. Make it your business to find these - and more...

Most of the numbers on this album are familiar: the eponymous Birdland; Milestones; Mexicali Nose; Just Friends (a heartbreakingly beautiful  rendition); CTA; God Bless the Child; I Hear a Rhapsody; and the glorious Parthenia, composed and arranged by another great drummer, Shelly Manne, which is probably my favourite out of all these eleven tracks.

Finally, some people believe that the drum-kit is the least musical of all the orchestral instruments but, as aficionados of this genius maestro will say, Buddy's drums sing!!

And how amazing it is that this great man never learned to read music!

Click here to sample the album.

June Bastable

June Bastable is the wife of the late jazz musician, Johnny Bastable. She is a writer and author of two books Some People and These People.

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Matt Ridley Quartet - Mettã

Album Released - 26th February 2016 : Label - Whirlwind Recordings - Reviewed: April 2016

Matt Ridley Quartet Metta

Matt Ridley (double bass), Jason Yarde (soprano saxophone), John Turville (piano),George Hart (drums).

This is the second release by bassist Matt Ridley, his first album Thymos came out back in 2013. The title, Mettã, gives some indication to the theme, it is a Pali word in Theravadin Buddhism defined as the strong wish for the welfare and happiness of others. Essentially mettã is an altruistic attitude of love and friendliness as distinguished from mere amiability based on self-interest. The seven original tracks on the album, including the title track, are, in Matt Ridley's words: 'considered, composed/improvised music which might transport and entertain both listeners and players, creating and involving all in an awareness of the present - that's something I feel strongly about.' Significantly, the album was recorded in just a single day at the end of December 2014 in a studio in Sussex. That in itself requires the friendship, co-operation and goodwill of mettã.

Beginning with Music To Drive Home To, a title that you might expect to come at the end, John Turville's piano opens the track in contemplation until Jason Yarde's beautiful soprano sax floats in and around. The piano climbs alone to the towards the top of the keyboard with Matt Ridley's bass underneath and occasional, gentle statements from the drum kit before Jason returns. This is light a candle and relax music with a band that is clearly working in harmony. Lachrymose at track two, a sad, tearful title, opens with Matt's bass and John's piano and then Jason's soprano bleeds slowly, the saxophonist squeezing emotion before handing over to the piano which lightens the mood with drums and bass recorded alongside at just the right level. The saxophone flies away with a solo that is handed over to Matt for a bass solo until the rest of the band rolls in.

Mental Cases, an interesting, unexplained title at track three, rhythmically lifts the tempo and has the whole band setting out the stall until the piano explores the tune with fine playing from John Turville. Jason Yarde's solo captures the theme until the ending slows, underpinned by the double bass. Strange Meeting starts out with the piano almost providing a suitable background theme for Brief Encounter. Sax and piano work particularly well together on a lyrical, engaging track that once again gives Matt Ridley a chance to take his double bass on a solo. For the mood, I'll quote Laura Jesson in Brief Encounter who says: 'I stared out of that railway carriage window into the dark and watched the trees and the telegraph posts slipping by. And through them I saw Alec and me. Alec and me, perhaps a little younger than we are now, but just as much in love and we have nothing in the way.'

Click here to listen to Mental Cases.

The Labyrinth at track five, piano light and fast, saxophone weaving, bass bowed this time and then the bow put away to accompany the engaging saxophone and piano solos.

Click here to listen to the bowing section from Labyrinth.

And so to the title track. Initially Mettã almost anticipates the title of the next and final track, Ebb And Flow, but evolves into a contemplative piece from which the double bass emerges allowing Matt Ridley to express his composition morphing to saxophone and drums. Ebb And Flow itself concludes the album with the piano lapping at the bass player's shore and the soprano sax breezing in and then fine solos from John Turville and Jason Yarde.

Click here to listen to Ebb And Flow.

I think this album really works well and achieves what Matt Ridley sets out to do in giving the listener 'considered music that entertains'. I find it an engaging and satisfying experience with imaginative compositions, fine recording and mixing and some beautiful playing, particularly by Jason Yarde and John Turville.

Click here for details and to sample.

Ian Maund

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Phil Robson - The Cut Off Point

Album Released - 18th May 2015: Label - Whirlwind Recordings - Reviewed: July 2015

Phil Robson The Cut Off Point

 

The essence of this album from guitarist Phil Robson is how well do guitar and Hammond organ work together? The positive answer has come to me by the time I hear track two, Second Thoughts, a lyrical piece composed by Phil. In fact, the majority of tracks are written by Phil Robson, the exception being Dave Liebman’s Dimi And The Blue Men.

Phil Robson has released other solo albums and as well as being a member of the band Partisans, has played beside Kenny Wheeler, Mark Turner, Billy Hart, Barbara Streisand, Django Bates and in his regular work with singer Christine Tobin. On The Cut Off Point he is joined by Ross Stanley on Hammond organ and Gene Calderazzo on drums. They had toured together last summer putting together the material for this album, described as ‘influenced by the jazz eminence of Pat Martino, Wes Montgomery and John McLaughlin, but also with a heavier rock-grooving predilection.’ Writing in The Guardian, Dave Gelly says: ‘You soon get used to the absence of a bass, although a bit more punch in that department from the mighty B3 Hammond Organ might have helped.’ I didn’t find this, I thought the Hammond substituted well for the bass.

After a fast Thief, the opening track, the gentler Second Thoughts and the Liebeman interactive piece, Dimi And The Blue Men, Vintage Vista sounds more unstructured until a theme emerges from the guitar which explores the instrument’s character against the organ’s backdrop textures.

Astral, at track 5, described as having ‘lofty spatiality’, surges away with Phil and Ross taking turns with some nice solo contributions and Gene Calderazzo takes his turn in front too, a chance to acknowledge the sympathetic drumming throughout the album. The track was written with the late Kenny Wheeler in mind.

Click here for a video of the Trio playing at The Fleece during their tour last summer. The first tune, Lament, is not on the album but they follow it with The Cut Off Point and Vintage Vista.

The Cut Off Point, the title track, is mooted as having ‘effervescent angularity’. Whatever. For me it has a beautiful, quiet guitar opening reminding me of Here’s That Rainy Day but moving into its own territory, and here the underlying Hammond again sets the atmosphere as Phil Robson plays some beautiful laid back guitar. The Hammond emerges letting Ross Stanley follow the mood. A worthy title track.

Which leaves two other Robson compositions, Berlin and Ming The Merciless. Berlin has that ‘rock-grooving predilection’ that squeezes music from both guitar and organ while Ming is not nearly as merciless as the title suggests and completes a satisfying album.

Phil Robson says: ‘I always loved the organ trio tradition and wanted to be part of it for many years, but I was waiting for the time when I felt I could really bring my own thing to it and with the right people. With this band and album, I really felt I’d reached that time.

Organ trios are not everyday fare in today’s jazz menus, but this one is a plat du jour.

Click here to listen to sample tracks from the album

Click here for more details and to listen to the opening track, Thief.

Ian Maund

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Roller Trio - Fracture

Album Released - 8th December 2014 : Label - Lamplight Social Records - Reviewed: February 2015

Roller Trio Fracture

Roller Trio: James Mainwaring (tenor & soprano saxophone, electronics); Luke Wynter (guitar); Luke Reddin-Williams (drums).

The last time I caught James Mainwaring’s saxophones was in June of last year when I did a review for this website of SPACE F!GHT!’s mini‘SCI-FI’ recording.  They put in their own exclamation mark, an unexpected touch, as was the music.  I held onto the album, a short weird trip, with moments of delight, danger and spooky stuff.  The Roller Trio feels a lot more grounded.  Fracture is the album title but I don’t know where the break actually is. 

Doris, the second track in, well, she’s as neat and composed as her name.  Tenor sax tightly controlled, dexterously jumping the design of the piece; pitch, tone and touch enunciated cleanly, even at speed.  This is very technical playing.  I might not be able to hear the fracture but the roll of Roller takes Doris for a dance that is dressed-up tidy and accurate.  Roll a flat surface, produce a fast dance, this could be electric ballroom.

Click here for a video of the band playing Doris at the Brudenell Social Club, Leeds in 2014.

Dancing Doris is followed by Low Tide and High Tea; the latter is an example of the current Roller Trio showcase.  It has, what I now take to be their signature style: fast, melodic, unison playing (in this case) built around a Luke Wynter riff that shifts in and out of the action as if his guitar is built for a modern purpose.  The trio have released this track as a ‘single’.  From a commercial point of view, what’s on display in High Tea does have pop-music polish along with a radio-friendly mixed delivery. 

Click here to listen to High Tea.

Low Tide is a much more dark affair; a short one minute Indian alaap-like introduction to its companion piece – this feels as if it has the potential for a deeper dive, with dissonance in the harmonies.  Maybe next time.  Ironically the final track on the session, Tightrope, could be an indicator that this is a future route for the trio.  It has an open drone which I suspect was at least initially improvised; the whole thing moves as if dragging a sharp edge through its delivery.  At the point where it stopped it should have cut deep.  It doesn’t, it stops instead.  There are other pieces on Fracture which sound precisely written and are executed with skill but leave me still waiting for the fracture in the title.

Reviewing music is only ever opinion.  I think I may have got completely the wrong idea about what is being produced here.  The Roller Trio sound to me like a stadium rock band in need of a singer.  I know next to nothing about Muse, Radiohead or Manic Street Preachers, but there are plenty of people who do.  The Rollers have already been nominated for the Mercury Prize Awards.  The next step is their move.

Click here to sample the album.

The album is also available on vinyl.

Steve Day stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk     

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Roy Sainsbury's Rhythm Chiefs featuring Dave Newton - You Said It

Album Released - August 2016 : Label - Crieff Records - Reviewed: September 2016

Roy Sainsbury's Rhythm Chiefs You Said It

Jazz did not begin as a self-conscious art form. It evolved in dance halls, night clubs and whore houses as a music to dance to, have a good time, tap your feet. It was music from the other side of the tracks with a risqué reputation which proved irresistible to rebels of all stripes. Unfortunately, jazz has a tendency to want to forget these roots, to tame the music and divert it into the concert hall, to make it a music of the mind rather than the body and soul.

Jazz’s focus on improvisation means that it puts a premium on innovation, always wanting something new. At times, the innovation has been such that jazz has escaped any sort of mass audience and become the creature of a small intellectual elite – “that modern malice” said Louis Armstrong, “…you got no tune to remember and no beat to dance to”. Philip Larkin (who reviewed jazz for the Daily Telegraph as well as being a poet and university librarian) fashioned these tendencies in jazz into an influential (though not entirely convincing) argument against the whole modernist canon.

Actually, I rather like “that modern malice” – love it in fact. One of the problems with Larkin’s argument is that, in jazz as in other “arts”, today’s outrageous avant garde becomes tomorrow’s mainstream; yesterday’s innovation is today’s cliché. Even so, it is good to be reminded now and then of the roots of jazz and that, at heart, it is a music to be enjoyed by its listeners without too much in the way of thinking about it.

Which brings us to Roy Sainsbury’s new album, You Said It, as joyful an affirmation as you’re likely to hear these days of jazz as foot stamping, head shaking, having-a-good time entertainment to be wholeheartedly enjoyed by both performer and audience.

Sainsbury is a guitarist (performer and teacher) originally from Bristol but now based in the Midlands. He is joined on the album by his “Rhythm Chiefs” who are Dave Newton on piano, Charlie Wright on tenor sax, Bryan Corbett on trumpet and flugelhorn, Tom Hill on bass and Malcolm Garrett on drums.

The inspiration behind the album is Count Basie (now there was a crowd pleaser) or, more specifically, his small group work rather than the big band stuff. Sainsbury says that:

“…at the early age of fourteen, my father took me to Bristol’s Colston Hall to a concert by the Count Basie Orchestra. I had recently acquired my first guitar and I remember being mesmerised by the Basie rhythm section with guitarist Freddie Green glueing it all together. Many years later, one of my guitar students introduced me to a Basie small group album which captured the same spirit. Since then I have wanted to make an album inspired by the Basie small group…”

The album is mainly jazz standards but played with affection and skill and an engaging freshness, particularly in the improvisations. Sainsbury, by and large, is content to play the Freddie Green role strumming away in the background “glueing it all together”. He does, however, play a short but effective solo on the Sonny Rollins composition, Tenor Madness (track 3); and he has contributed two of his own compositions – the opening title track You Said It, and the closing track, Wendy’s Blues, named after his wife.

One of the interesting features of the album is the way in which six musicians manage to sound like a much bigger band. This is partly down to Wright and Corbett who both have full round tones. Wright’s Ben Webster type style is shown to particularly good effect on Webster’s own Did You Call Her Today? (track 7). Corbett is a superbly accomplished musician whose confident and imaginative solos can be heard throughout the album – check out his improvisations on I Thought About You (track 2), and the old chestnut, On A Slow Boat To China (track 8).