Sandy Brown Jazz

Album Reviews 2017

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Click here for BOOK and PERFORMANCE REVIEWS

Click here for Reviews published prior to 2017 and for the full Reviews Index

 

By artist in alphabetical order:

 

A

Jason Yaeger and Jason Anick - United
Mark Langford, Phil Gibbs, Roger Skerman, Paul Anstey, Hugh Kirkbride - Exchange
Martin Archer, Graham Clark, Stephen Grew, Johnny Hunter - Felicity's Ultimatum
Martin Archer, Seth Bennett, Corey Mwamba, Peter Fairclough - Sunshine! Quartet

 

B

Chris Barber's Jazz Band - Barber In Detroit
Beekman
- Vol. 02

Martin Archer, Seth Bennett, Corey Mwamba, Peter Fairclough - Sunshine! Quartet
Big Bad Wolf - Pond Life
David Binney - The Time Verses
Brass Mask - Live
Georgia Mancio and Alan Broadbent - Songbook

The Button Band - Emilie

 

C

Martin Archer, Graham Clark, Stephen Grew, Johnny Hunter - Felicity's Ultimatum
Nels Cline - Lovers
Trish Clowes - My Iris

Avishai Cohen - Cross My Palm With Silver
Chris Corsano, Sylvie Courvoisier, Nate Wooley - Salt Task
Chris Corsano, Sylvie Courvoisier, Nate Wooley - Salt Task

D

Laura Dubin Trio - Live At The Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival

E

Samuel Eagles' SPIRIT - Ask Seek Knock
Evan Parker, John Edwards, John Russell - Walthamstow Moon ('61 Revisited)
Escape Hatch
featuring Julian Argüelles - Roots Of Unity

Bill Evans and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra - Beauty & The Beast


F

Martin Archer, Seth Bennett, Corey Mwamba, Peter Fairclough - Sunshine! Quartet
Nick Finzer - Hear & Now

 

G

Freddie Gavita - Transient
Michael Jefry Stevens Generations Quartet - Flow
Camilla George Quartet - Isang
Polly Gibbons - Is It Me ... ?
Mark Langford, Phil Gibbs, Roger Skerman, Paul Anstey, Hugh Kirkbride - Exchange

Frank Gratowski and Sebi Tremontana - Live At Španski Borci
Martin Archer, Graham Clark, Stephen Grew, Johnny Hunter - Felicity's Ultimatum

 

H

Mary Halvorson Octet - Away With You
Martin Archer, Graham Clark, Stephen Grew, Johnny Hunter - Felicity's Ultimatum

I

 

J

Jones Jones - The Moscow Improvisations

 

K

Omar Sosa and Seckou Keita - Transparent Water
Frank Kimbrough
- Solstice

Mark Langford, Phil Gibbs, Roger Skerman, Paul Anstey, Hugh Kirkbride - Exchange

L

Mark Langford, Phil Gibbs, Roger Skerman, Paul Anstey, Hugh Kirkbride - Exchange
Ingrid Laubrock
- Serpentines

Jihye Lee Orchestra - April
Mark Lewandowski - Waller
The Jeremy Lyons Ensemble - The Promise Of Happiness
Humphrey Lyttelton - Dusting Off The Archives - Rare Recordings : 1948-1955

 

M

Madwort Saxophone Quartet - Live At Hundred Years Gallery
Stuart McCallum and Mike Walker - The Space Between
Donny McCaslin - Beyond Now
Georgia Mancio and Alan Broadbent - Songbook
The Mark Masters Ensemble - Blue Skylight
Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier - The Colours Of Time
Brian Molley Quartet - Colour And Movement
Meg Morley - Through The Hours
Mosaic - Subterranea
Martin Archer, Seth Bennett, Corey Mwamba, Peter Fairclough - Sunshine! Quartet


N

Bill Evans and the National Scottish Jazz Orchestra - Beauty & the Beast

 

O

John O'Gallagher Trio - Live In Brooklyn
Miles Okazaki - Trickster
Pete Oxley
and Nicolas Meier - The Colours Of Time


P

Evan Parker, John Edwards, John Russell - Walthamstow Moon ('61 Revisited)
Pavillon
- Strong Tea

Noah Preminger - Meditations On Freedom

 

Q

 

R

Sun Ra - Singles: The Definitive 45's Collection 1952-1991
Evan Parker, John Edwards, John Russell - Walthamstow Moon ('61 Revisited)

 

S

Jimmy Scott - I Go Back Home
Bill Evans and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra - Beauty & The Beast
Sloth Racket - Shapeshifters
Solstice - Alimentation
Omar Sosa
and Seckou Keita - Transparent Water

Mark Langford, Phil Gibbs, Roger Skerman, Paul Anstey, Hugh Kirkbride - Exchange
The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra - Effervescence
Henry Spencer and Juncture - The Reasons Don't Change

Colin Steele Quintet - Even In The Darkest Places
Michael Jefry Stevens Generations Quartet - Flow

 

T

Christine Tobin - PELT
Ralph Towner - My Foolish Heart
Frank Gratowski and Sebi Tremontana - Live At Španski Borci


U

V

Vein - The Chamber Music Effect

W

Nasheet Waits Equality - Between Nothingness And Infinity
Stuart McCallum and Mike Walker - The Space Between

Kenny Warren Quartet - Thank You For Coming To Life
Anna Webber's Simple Trio - Binary
Patrice Williamson and Jon Wheatley - Comes Love
Ian Wheeler - Remembering Ian Wheeler
Mark Whitfield - Grace
Patrice Williamson and Jon Wheatley - Comes Love
Chris Corsano, Sylvie Courvoisier, Nate Wooley - Salt Task

 

Y

Jason Yaeger and Jason Anick - United

 

 

Z

 

 

 

Jones Jones - The Moscow Improvisations

Album Released: 19th April 2016 - Label: Not Two Records - Reviewed: June 2017

Jones Jones The Moscow Improvisations

Mark Dresser (double bass); Larry Ochs (tenor & sopranino saxophones); Vladimir Tarasov (percussion).

‘Supergroup’ is old rock music terminology.  I know no one in Jones Jones thinks of themselves in those terms.  Nevertheless, each one of these musicians has been involved in critical groundbreaking music in important ensembles outside of double Jones.  The interesting thing is if you mention the classic Anthony Braxton Quartet (Braxton, Crispell, Dresser, Hemingway), the Rova Saxophone Quartet (Ochs, Ackley, Raskin, Voight) or the Ganelin Trio (Ganelin, Tarasov, Chekasin), despite the game-changing music produced by each of these bands, there’s no guarantee that people today will make the connection.  Pity, I can’t stress enough just how groundbreaking those three early 1980’s strands of history are to the development of the post-new wave of avant garde jazz today. Dresser, Ochs and Tarasov, otherwise known as 'Jones Jones', are no throw-back to past glories.  They inhabit our millennium as contemporary Global nomads.  They each have homes, they chose to travel. 

The Moscow Improvisations was recorded in September 2009 but only released almost exactly a year ago.  Neither the band nor the album has a mighty publicity machine behind them, not even a slightly mighty publicity machine.  Sometimes you just have to keep going.  (It’s worth noting that the Rova Saxophone Quartet have been doing that for 40 years with only one personnel change.)  For a variety of reasons I couldn’t get hold of a copy of The Moscow Improvisations recording until recently one fell into my lap.  Since then I’ve been plugged-in on a daily basis.  When the ‘keep going’ gets this good I have no choice other than to write about the result.

There is something about Vladmir Tarasov. He is a drummer with tremendous spread.  Listen to him and he seems to stretch across a distance of intuitive percussive possibilities, always landing on the right spot for exactly the right reason.  Yes, he’s about time and the rhythmic nudge.  Yes, he can ratchet up the dynamic to almost feral proportions yet never lose control.  But most of all it is his entire soundboard.  He can allocate each drum, cymbal and bell its own bespoke tonal circumference. His cymbal bowing has awesome tonal accuracy.  The ultra-high notes of double bass and bowed percussion sing in unison.  Later on, during the track, Jonesnost, the acoustic frequencies pitch into electricity though there are no wires, no Bluetooth, just the height of sound.

On the opening track, Ionization Jones, Tarasov and Dresser engage in non-verbal conversation.  This is not anything like a drum/bass rap.  Instead it is an extraordinary aural transaction which could be described as orchestral were it not for the difficulty in believing it could be so.  Larry Ochs doesn’t enter until about 3.25 minutes.  The first time I heard Ionization Jones I got a shock when I suddenly heard his horn emerge. I had been so absorbed in what Mr Dresser and Mr Tarasov were creating that I had missed Mr Ochs (and he’s a saxophonist with definite presence).  Once in the mix the squeezed sopranino leans on the ears as if offering a map as to where the other two members of Jones Jones are taking the ears.  On occasions this is a string quartet metamorphosed into an improvising trio – strung out on a double bass, an entire percussion section configured by a single soloist and a reeds maestro for whom ‘blowing’ is only part of his art (Larry Ochs is a recognised painter, but that’s not what I’m referring to). Together they roll notes and time, roll sound into a ball of string wound loosely around a world owned by all – or no one.  It’s simply all there to be heard.

But this foray into the art of sophisticated improv is by no means the full story. When the gate is opened on Perpetuo Mojo Jones there is Tarasov’s ride cymbal pinging 6’s and 7’s, leaving room for Larry Ochs’ tenor sax to come straight through eager as space travel.  Mark Dresser and Vladimir Tarasov become  wrapped up in the same movement.  It is almost as if there is an air pocket bursting among them.  The trio groan as a ripple from a gong burst.  Credit for part of the force of the momentum has to go to Mark Dresser.  He is a truly exceptional improviser and a catalyst, able to provide a complete breakdown of the double bass; all the component parts spiriting the muse of his protagonists.  His instrument speaks wood and wire through many languages.  Mr Dresser becomes interpreter, impersonator and real-time sound manipulator; a diviner of scales, a crack in the aural ceiling.  And whereas Ionization gave forth a huge abstracted rationale for detailed dialogue, in contrast Perpetuo Mojo has the ‘big violin’ on a pizzicato springboard.  It literally extends forward as if from a great height.  All these tracks are ‘live’ but the sound quality is crystal clear. Perpetuo Mojo is under five minutes in length, as near as this trio get to Ochs being ‘allowed’ the role of a tenor giant, but it’s not like that, not really.  Dresser and Tarasov ascend over this perpetual motion providing the second and third equal parts to the whole piece.  Right now, that’s how I hear it.

The Moscow Improvisations has a central performance.  Right in the middle there is Jones Tolstoyevitch Jones, a twenty minute stretch of continuous improv, double the length of Ionization, or for that matter the final track Dialectical Jones. It is actually timeless.  Leo Tolstoy’s zeitgeist novel, War And Peace is a tome by virtue of its character-driven narrative placed into the detailed ethics of consequence and history.  And so the Tolstoyevitch improv of the Jones Jones album is begun by Larry Och’s focused probing tenor, only to be detoured by his compatriots.  Such discoveries are spread out in three directions until finally ending back with Och’s horn settling old scores into a new one.  But as with the whole of The Moscow Improvisations, no one musician can be said to act alone.  Even when Mr Dresser or Mr Tarasov take off independently, producing huge individual soundscapes out of trio-activity there is always the sense of it being grafted onto the mythic ‘Jones’, this character they share in common.  Jones Jones is a ‘sound’ identity carrying a three-way creative musical passport which they improvise across borders.  They travel the distance, the name not only present in the tracks of their titles, but also in each ‘collective’ performance.    

The Moscow Improvisations deserves recognition for what it is, a landmark recording.  Sure, there are loads of words that could be written on the connection between these two radical Americans and the ex-drummer of a legendary Russian (Lithuanian) trio who in their own way contributed to breaking down walls between East and West.  At a time when so many people seem prepared to build barriers it is significant that Jones Jones, specialists in bridge building, are Anglo-American/Russian.  They are their own Diaspora, yet what we have here is a performance which goes beyond even that.  In my view it is another giant step forward.  Music like this is today and tomorrow.  Mark Dresser, Larry Ochs, Vladimir Tarasov are aural architects who play out the harmonies in the world’s dissonance – here is the articulated evidence.  I know, it’s a lot of words, but I mean them.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk 

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The Button Band - Emilie

Album Released: 2017 - Label: Self Release - Reviewed: June 2017

The Button Band Emilie

Andrew Button (guitar), Andrew Woolf (tenor sax), Dave Manington (bass), Marek Dorcik (drums).

Guitarist Andrew Button graduated from the Jazz course at Middlesex University in 2005 and went to New York to study with guitarist Brad Shepic. Back in the UK and based in London he has played with many contemporary bands and musicians including Gareth Lockrane, Jim Mullen, Led Bib, James Allsopp, Tori Freestone, Dave Manington, Tim Giles and NYJO, for performances in London’s West End and in many different rock and pop projects. He recently travelled to Kenya to play with many fine musicians in Nairobi. He has a regular Sunday lunchtime gig at Mirth, Walthamstow.

This is the Button Band’s second album, their self-named debut album was released in 2015. The title is named after Andy’s small daughter, Emilie. Founded in 2012, the band members have been playing together for a good while and this shows in their understanding of what each is doing, as those who have caught them on their recent UK tour will have discovered. All four members make regular appearances on the London jazz scene and the band was featured in the 2016 London Jazz Festival. They describe their music as: ‘ ... blends melodic content with sophisticated forms and incorporates elements of various genres from country, blues and South-African township jazz to angular post bop’. The music on the album is largely composed by Andrew Button.

As an introduction, click here for a video of the band playing Regroup from the album in St. Austell on their recent tour.

It is that Township flavour that is reflected in the opening track No No, saxophone and guitar duetting on the theme before the guitar solos, neatly accompanied by Dave Manington's bass, with the drums fitting easily behind until Andrew Woolf's saxophone solo takes over, initially languid and then exploring the theme until the guitar joins for the outro. The Leg begins with a bass solo before sax and guitar state the riffing theme and then take their solos and Dave Manington's bass leads towards an abrupt end. Apart from the solos, one of the things I particularly like about this album is the way bass and guitar work together while the drums underwrite what they do.

Click here for a video of the band playing The Leg.

Victorian Dogs at track three sways in with guitar and saxophone and the guitar work leaves its impression before bass and drums take over centre stage. What A Pity quietens the mood as the saxophone plays the gentle theme over a repeated guitar motif. Andy Button's guitar solos over busy drums until the saxophone returns.

Click here for a video of the band playing What A Pity in St Ives.

Regroup is another slow number that waltzes in to the saxophone. Guitar and bass again carry ideas forward and on this track the bass moves nicely with Andrew Woolf's very pleasing tenor solo. Brinkmanship begins with fast bass from Dave Manington intercepted by saxophone and bass. The 'angular post-bop' track works well after its slow predecessor with some fine guitar and saxophone work against Marek Dorcik's percussion. Nothing At All slows again with an attractive melody led by the saxophone and then steps out maintaining its light attraction through the solos that follow. Which brings us to the final, title track. Emily is the popular song composed by Johnny Mandel, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, the title song to the 1964 film The Americanization of Emily, but here it is Emilie for Andy's little daughter. Dave Manington's bass takes over the theme with a lovely, extended solo before the saxophone and guitar sing their songs.

Click here for a video of the band playing Emilie in St. Austell on their recent tour.

Emilie will be available as a CD through Andrew Button's website (click here) and in a few weeks time on itunes, and so it might not get early attention through publications and the general 'publicity machine', but it is a well recorded album that definitely should be heard more widely and confirms the credentials of a fine group of musicians.

Ian Maund

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Nick Finzer - Hear & Now

Album Released: 10th February 2017 - Label: Outside In Music - Reviewed: June 2017

Nick Finzer Hear & Now

New York award-winning composer, arranger, and trombonist Nick Finzer, will certainly delight the admirers of both traditional and modern jazz with his new release, Hear & Now, a politically-charged body of work that envisions to make us aware of the turbulent days we’re living in.

To sculpt his third recording as a bandleader and composer, Finzer, who was mentored by the great Steve Turre at Juilliard and admits a fascination for the music of Duke Ellington, reunites the same sextet that appears on his previous album, The Chase (Origin Records, 2014). According to another of his mentors, the highly respected Wycliffe Gordon, Nick is “a new voice in the pantheon of upcoming trombone greats in the making”. He is a constant presence at top jazz clubs and concert halls, where he frequently performs with Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra; Lucas Pino’s No Net Nonet; Ryan Truesdell's Gil Evans Project; Bob Stewart’s Double Quartet, and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, among others.

The sonorous spells can be felt immediately in the opening tune, We The People, a stylish post-bop pleasure of rare quality and unmitigated class, whose blues connotations and arrangement bring us the best of Turre and Kenny Garrett. Its dimension is expanded with sparkling improvisations by Finzer, pianist Glenn Zaleski, and guitarist Alex Wintz, all of them mesmerizing in their gestures.

Click here for a video of the studio recording of We The People.

Transcendent piano chords give The Silent One the epithet of a prayer. Flowing with articulate musicianship, the tune presents a muscled rock guitar comping during Finzer's solo, and piano harmonic conduction for Lucas Pino to demonstrate how to make a saxophone solo sound interesting. The only cover in the recording is Duke Ellington’s lullaby-ish Single Petal Of A Rose, a homage to Finzer’s key influence, which is melodically co-driven by Pino’s bass clarinet and bundled up in wha-wha effects.

Seated on the bass pedal of Dave Baron and the undeviating drumming of Jimmy MacBride, the clement Again And Again shows a perfect understanding between pianist and guitarist who succeed in the articulation of their interventions. It all ends up in a dauntless horn-led collective improv. Racing to the Bottom, another post-bop explosion, that does what its title calls out. The fast pace allows the soloists to adventure from one extremity of the scale to the other.

Unhurried breezes show up in a quasi-sequential triple dose with the demure New Beginnings, a marriage between jazz and avant-pop, Lullaby For An Old Friend, written for a friend who passed away, and Love Wins, a dainty hymn that celebrates marriage equality.

Click here for a video of the beautiful Lullaby For An Old Friend.

Superbly produced by Ryan Truesdell (Gil Evans Project), Finzer’s music feels alive, flaring up with colour and legitimacy within an assured direction. After listening to Hear & Now, it’s not difficult to conclude that Finzer deserves to be known as ‘21st Century’s trombone sensation’.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Click here for Nick Finzer's website. Click here for Filipe Freitas' interview with Nick Finzer.

Filipe Freitas jazztrail.net

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Kenny Warren Quartet - Thank You For Coming To Life

Album Released: 17th March 2017 - Label: Whirlwind Recordings - Reviewed: June 2017

Kenny Warren Quartet Thank You For Coming To Life

Kenny Warren Quartet: Kenny Warren (trumpet); JP Schlegelmilch (piano); Noah Garabedian (double bass); Satoshi Takeishi (drums).

I don’t know much about any of these guys.  They’re based in Brooklyn.  Sometimes I get the impression the whole world’s decided to decamp to Brooklyn.  That’s assuming they can get into the USA in the first place.  The state of things hasn’t stopped this line-up playing a few dates in Tokyo recently.  2 X 2 men on a mission playing in tight unison; what I hear is totally linear movement.  The Kenny Warren Quartet are fast.  There’s an emphasis, the time, the dynamic; four instrument-voices play like one.  Each track is held in a common grip.  On that basis alone, all four display impressive technique.  I like the fact that Mr Warren stands with his trumpet and no other brass and no reeds; he’s got something to say and he says it. 

These are written through compositions which run into gripping solo work – think early Freddie Hubbard/Lee Morgan and then throw away the comparison.  Satoshi Takeishi’s drums are relatively busy, with tom-toms tuned super-tight. You can’t ignore him, but hey, I wouldn’t want to. Noah Garabedian has his double bass dug well in, plus pianist, JP Schleglmilch is a strong sharp suit.  I did some detective work around Kenny Warren and he’s got his trumpet in a number of projects.  This quartet could seal it for him.

The two opening tracks Stones Changes and Huge Knees are real burners. And Stones has a lovely non-flamboyant acappella trumpet précis acting as a blueprint for all that’s to come.  The solo horn’s few bars draw the ear in, relax that initial opening moment.  And then they’re off smoothly punching a refrain to the back of the Bunker Studios located between Hooper Street and Union Avenue. It might just as well be between the devil and the deep blue sea.  No fuss, fine stuff.  Music.

Click here for a video of Stones Changes.

Let’s talk the third track, Iranosaurus Rex.  For my money, this is the one that could pick up some attention. Not because of the name, though it’s a strange image mix that could have several interpretations.  (It may allude to the overall album title, Thank You For Coming To Life, I simply don’t know their intention.  Perhaps Persian prehistory, it’s a rich vein.)  But listen to the music, let it become the starting experience, offered without any gimmicks.  The piano introduction picks out an ephemeral elegiac melody which is ‘accompanied’ by blown breath through the trumpet.  Shhhhhhhoishhhhhh, a hint before the entrance of trumpet, bass and percussion join the keyboards in a recital of, what I can only interpret as a requiem. About half way through Mr Schlegelmilch is pressing out the melody, the keyboard becoming a precise bell, the trumpet ‘haunting’ the background.  They then change places; gradually the Takeishi/Garabedian team offer glancing blows to their compatriot’s slowly unfolding frontline.  The pace is nicely judged; Kenny Warren blowing through his horn once again towards the final ‘letting go’ of the music, which has entwined around them like a shroud. 

Although Iranosauras Rex is different to the rest of the album, it feels as if it has a place in this band.  In another era Wayne Shorter could have spoken his soprano through this performance and made it fit perfectly. The next two tracks, Hala Hala and Cheese Greater, are post-bop with that ‘whole group’ dynamic I referred to earlier.  I like the fact that Schlegelmich lays out occasionally to allow trumpet, bass and drums a non-choral space.  The pianist is also not above planting his own action centre stage.  In the middle of Hala Hala he cuts into the direction and drops the bop, turning the delivery into some tricky time changes until everyone free-wheels back to the starter’s signature.  Cheese Greater is a tightly overlapping performance with a couple of useful breaks featuring piano and trumpet, which on a good night probably attract woops and whistles.  I’d be with them.

The album’s finale is Every Moment Is Born Lives And Dies.  Yes, that’s the sum of it. This time, perhaps surprisingly given the tune’s title, it doesn’t feel like elegy.  If flugelhorn was involved I’d start making a pitch for Kenny Wheeler, but since the ‘Kenny’ in question is W-Warren and he’s playing trumpet I won’t, even though the great KW played sonic trumpet too.  Okay so Every Moment does have a smear of melancholia in the opening aesthetic, yet there’s a curve of buoyancy about the performance.  Intriguingly (and this apparent ‘straight’ jazz quartet produce a fair share of intriguing moments) the ending is brought up short.  Every Moment dies, the pulse, gone.

Whirlwind have found another fascinating recording from across the Brooklyn Bridge. At the moment, over in our side of the pond there’s new trailblazing trumpets like Laura Jurd and Rory Simmons, through to classic guys like Steve Waterman and Loz Speyer.  Kenny Warren should take the opportunity to come and look around and at the same time set up a few quartet gigs. His Thank You For Coming To Life is a serious session which really lightens up. Mr Warren, you’d win friends in the UK.  Meanwhile thanks to you for this impressive slice of life recording. 

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk 

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Avishai Cohen - Cross My Palm With Silver

Album Released: 5th May 2017 - Label: ECM - Reviewed: June 2017

Avishai Cohen Cross My Palm With Silver

Avishai Cohen, an intuitive Israeli trumpeter, is one of the most proficient voices of the creative jazz scene. Imagination and passion for exploration are constant aspects in his music, which also benefits from a deliberate openness and compositional adroitness.

Cohen, who has given the first steps at the age 10 while performing with the Young Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston and performed/recorded with saxophonist Mark Turner, pianist Kenny Werner, and keyboardist Jason Lindner. His versatility allows him to play with French-Israeli pop singer Keren Ann, the amazing rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Indian tabla master Zakir Hussain.

His second recording for ECM, Cross My Palm With Silver, is a 5-track delight that shines through the impeccable effort and rapport of a quartet with Yonathan Avishai on piano, Barak Mori on double bass, and the sought-after Nasheet Waits on drums.

Pulsating at a 3/4 tempo, Will I Die Miss? Will I Die? mixes sketches of Spain with Middle Eastern scenarios. Cohen plays the melody on a crystalline upper register, accommodating it on top of the relentless chordal arrangement of Yonathan. Nasheet appends his beautiful work on cymbals and the drumming bubbles with elegance while Mori sticks to his rhythmic task after uttering the melody. His textures, simultaneously warm and airy, are ideal for the trumpeter’s lucid laments. Although leisurely paced, Theme For Jimmy Greene exemplifies how to create and release tension with exceptional acuity. It feels crushingly emotional thanks to Cohen’s long notes within beautiful short phrases.

Click here for a video of Will I Die, Miss? Will I Die?

Wandering over a path that avoids major startles, 340 Down is a quiescent piano-less interaction. Only momentaneously, Mori comes to light with an ostinato that matches the last phrase delivered by Cohen. Shoot Me In The Leg boasts an introductory piano section where Yonathan serves up punctilious melody, complex swirling phrases, exquisite chords and arpeggios, and polyphonies, before settling in a cyclic arrangement of voicings. These are combined with bass and drums to better attend to Cohen’s exultant phrasing and pitch range. At this point, the quartet fascinates through a hallucinogenic momentum that penetrates straight into our brains. Yonathan brings cool comping ideas throughout Cohen’s solo and then takes off to blur the line between melodic lines and harmonic underpinnings. The layers of sound are gradually reduced for the ending, and the bandleader ends up alone, centered on a melodic phrase that reappears cyclically.

On the closing number, 50 Years And Counting, we find Cohen soloing with all his heart. His attacks are composed of intervallic refinement, majestic gestures, and visceral breakthroughs entailing non-stop emotional impact. In contrast, Yonathan inflicts melodic ideas expressed with a feathery stylishness in his improvisation. This piece lets us immerse in a state of zen, from which I didn’t want to wake up.

Defying convention, Cross My Palm With Silver embraces impressionism as it explores the edges of form and freedom. This is Avishai Cohen at the top of his game.

Click here for an introductory video.

Click here for details. Click here for Avishai Cohen's website.

Filipe Freitas jazztrail.net

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Polly Gibbons - Is It Me ... ?

Album Released: 21st April 2017 - Label: Resonance Records - Reviewed: June 2017

Polly Gibbons Is It Me?

Polly Gibbons is a talented singer/songwriter, confirmed by her nomination for Vocalist of the Year at the 2017 Jazz FM Awards and having supported George Benson and Gladys Knight on their tour last year, including two critically acclaimed performances at the Royal Albert Hall.

Her debut album, My Own Company, released in 2014 was followed by her 2015 recording, Many Faces of Love.  She has recently toured the USA and performed in leading UK jazz clubs, including Ronnie Scott’s. This latest album, Is It Me…? contains 11 tracks plus a bonus track, and three of the tracks are original compositions, with the rest a mix of standards.

As Polly Gibbons states: "This album is very exciting for me as it feels like my style is evolving.  It has seven horns on half of it, and also a wonderful quintet featuring James Pearson".

James Pearson is her collaborator (he co-wrote the 3 original tracks) and musical director.  I like his approach to the arrangments as in the example You Can’t Just… where as he explains, "“I like to keep it minimal while the singer is singing, maybe a few little textures and fills. There is always time for the band to shine."

To mention some of the band members besides James Pearson, on piano there is Tamir Hendelman, who has played with lots of stars including Barbra Streisand; Shedrick Mitchell on Hammond organ who played keyboards for Whitney Houston; Graham Dechter on guitar; Kexin Axt on bass; Ray Brinker on drums and on saxes and flute there are, Bob Sheppard, Brian Scanlon and Keith Bishop.

Click here for an introductory video.

The opening track is Thomas Dolby’s The Ability to Swing, and it does, with stand-out piano and sax solos and Polly’s vocal range demonstrated from the start.  The second track, You Can’t Just…, is one of the original compositions and whilst the lyrics are worth listening to with their gutsy vocals, the trumpet, guitar and sax all contribute to this number.  

Click here for a video live performance of You Can't Just ....

Gary McFarland’s Sack Full Of Dreams follows and is softer and gentler with good backing from guitar and organ.  Track 4 is the standard, Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams. Originally from the Depression era it is nonetheless back to swing here with uplifting vocals that complement the lyrics.  This cover version succeeds in its own right.  

We then have Wild Is The Wind which comes from a 1957 film about a love triangle on a Nevada ranch; with contemplative piano and complementary vocals producing a good atmospheric track.  Track 6 is a slightly slower than usual cover of Basin St. Blues with the bass getting a chance to solo as well as the trumpet.  This track has an interesting change of pace in the middle. Midnight Prayer gives Polly a chance to show her full vocal range with great organ accompaniment.  Other tracks are, Is it Me…? Pure Imagination, Aretha Franklin’s Dr. Feelgood, which contains a great guitar solo and clear vocals, I Let a Song Go Out Of My Heart and the bonus track Don’t Be On The Outside.

Click here to listen to Ability To Swing.

I think Polly’s voice can do justice to slow and faster numbers in a variety of styles.  The album has clear vocals with a good range although I personally prefer her singing softer numbers.  The album has a good mix of tracks with excellent cover notes by James Gavin and is well arranged and produced.

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

Tim Rolfe

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Meg Morley - Through the Hours

Album Released: 1st March 2017 - Label: Self Release - Reviewed: June 2017

Meg Morley Through The Hours

Meg Morley is a professional Australian pianist-improviser living in London, primarily working as a full-time pianist with the English National Ballet School. On the strength of this solo EP, her venture into recording her jazz compositions and improvisations is packed with potential.

Born in Melbourne, Australia, Meg began her studies as a pianist early with support from her mother, a professional singer. Meg completed a Masters degree at the University of Southern Queensland, where she was awarded Distinctions for the AMEB's A.Mus.A and L.Mus.A diplomas, won national competitions and bursaries, and performed with a professional Australian orchestra. She completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Jazz Improvisation at Melbourne's Victorian College of Arts and began teaching piano and improvisation at Melbourne Girls Grammar and Firbank Grammar whilst performing and playing for the Australian Ballet and the Australian Ballet School. She moved London in 2010.

As well as playing full time with the English National Ballet School, she has performed with rising talents like Louise Bartle from Bloc Party and established stars such as Tina May. She has worked with Matthew Bourne's New Adventures, the Rambert Dance Company at Sadler's Wells, the Royal Ballet School, and has regularly accompanied classes at the world famous Pineapple Studios in Covent Garden. As a member of the UK's premier samba band, Rhythms Of The City, she has performed at the O2 Brixton Academy and toured with them in Poland for SambaFest 2012.

In January 2016 Meg became a resident pianist at The Kennington Bioscope, an internationally acclaimed silent film organisation supported by Academy Award winner Kevin Brownlow at The London Cinema Museum.

Through The Hours, released in March, is a prelude to a new trio album of original compositions featuring Richard Sadler on double bass and Emiliano Caroselli on drums, to be released later this year. The five tunes, in total lasting almost 27 minutes, are a joy. Pianist Kit Downes sums up the album saying: "A beautiful collection of solo piano pieces - each one starting down a path that you think you know the end of, but then twisting into new and unexpected areas. Subtle voicings and elegant turns of phrase make this EP a really absorbing listen."

The album begins with Rush Hour and yet it has a gentle, lyrical opening before a rumble in the bass leads to a hustle-bustle of notes until the piece slows to its ending. Drift lightly dances in, balletic, I guess, and I can imagine Meg playing this for one of the romantic silent movies at the Bioscope. The video chosen to go with it, however, stays with dance imagery.

Click here for a video interpretation of Drift.

In Your Shadow and its simple theme confirms the gentle, lyrical nature of this album that would live comfortably among Standards. If you need to lie back and relax, put this on. The penultimate track, Little Miss, picks up the tempo after a quiet start and I suddenly realise my foot is tapping as the number swings on whilst keeping faith with the overall character of the album. The title track, Through the Hours, closes the album, trickling in notes that continue their trickling over a bass motif, water over stone. It is the longest track at 7.35 minutes and changes its flow over that time - I seem to have used a different analogy to the title, but there are chiming references in the tune that put me straight. And so it is with each of these tracks - the images that come are yours.

Meg says: 'Four of these pieces were originally created for an Australian tour with Australian composer-pianist Rae Howell in late 2015. The title track, Through the Hours, was written whilst living in a loft in Kennington near the river Thames where I could hear the chimes of the Big Ben through my window.'

This is an album that listeners will enjoy and come back to again. It is an excellent introduction both to Meg Morley's jazz and the trio album promised for later in the year. Through The Hours is launched on 7th June at 7.30pm at the 1901 Arts Club London.

Click here for details and to sample the album which is also available from CD BabyAmazon and iTunes.

Click here for Meg's website.

Ian Maund

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Samuel Eagles' SPIRIT - Ask Seek Knock

Album Released: 7th July 2017 - Label: Whirlwind Recordings - Reviewed: June 2017

Samuel Eagles SPIRIT Ask Seek Knock

It often seems these days that “fusion rules” and that the only way jazz can progress is by borrowing from other musical forms. This can produce some wonderful music but it can also dilute the jazz spirit to the extent it sometimes seems to disappear altogether. It’s good, therefore, to listen now and then to something contemporary which is unashamedly jazz. And it is straightforward, unadulterated jazz that’s provided by British alto saxophonist, Samuel Eagles and his band, SPIRIT, on Ask Seek Knock, their debut album on Whirlwind. Joining Samuel Eagles in the band are his brother, Duncan (tenor sax), Sam Leak (piano), Ralph Wyld (vibraphone), Dave Hamblett (drums) and Max Luthert (bass). (For some reason, Luthert does not get a mention on the album’s sleeve). Also present on two of the eight tracks is tenor saxophonist, Jean Toussaint, who has been something of a mentor to Samuel Eagles.

The album kicks off with the upbeat Eternity Within My Soul, which, like all the other tracks is an original Samuel Eagles composition. It begins with the two saxes playing against a jagged riff provided by Sam Leak on piano with able support from the rest of the rhythm section. Both saxes dovetail nicely with each other, and then Samuel takes an effective solo on alto. Ralph Wyld on vibes also solos. The inclusion of a vibraphone in the sextet brings an interesting dimension to the music, and Wyld has a distinctive style as well as impressive technique.

The second track, Changed, Changing Still, is a slower, more reflective piece with an absorbing bass/vibes duet and another Samuels Eagles solo (well, it is his band). He has an attractive sound and improvises with skill and confidence.

Hear His Voice has a memorable melody and brings Jean Toussaint to the mix on tenor. Both he and Samuel Eagles take solos which go off in all sorts of interesting directions. They also engage in some collective and competitive improvisation.

Click here for a video of the band performing Hear His Voice.

Hope in the Hills was prompted by an adventure in Italy when the band’s bus broke down and nearby campsite owners came to the rescue providing accommodation, food and repairs. “We were stranded for four days in the most perfect place possible” says Eagles. An insistent piano riff drives the track forward over interesting shifts in rhythm and some moody sax.

The Twelve is another great tune with a lively solo from Sam Leak. Dreams And Visions Of The Son is the second track with Jean Toussaint. The piece moves through a number of different phases driven by a strong drumming performance from Dave Hamblett. Both tenor and alto interact to great effect.

Click here for a live performance of Dreams And Visions Of The Son. This was taped at last year’s London Jazz Festival and does not include Jean Toussaint.

The penultimate track, SPIRIT, is distinguished by a particularly imaginative solo from Samuel Eagles, and an absorbing interlude of call and response between piano and vibes.

The final (and title) track, Ask, Seek, Knock, sees the saxes playing against a repetitive piano riff. Wyld’s solo swings in the great tradition of the vibraphone in jazz.

 

Click here for a video of the band playing Ask, Seek, Knock live at the 2016 London Jazz Festival.

More details are on Samuel Eagles’ website - click here. Click here for more details when the album is released in July.

Robin Kidson

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Sloth Racket - Shapeshifters

Album Released: 12th June 2017 - Label: Luminous - Reviewed: June 2017

Sloth Racket Shapeshifters

Sloth Racket: Cath Roberts (baritone saxophone); Sam Andreae (tenor saxophone); Anton Hunter (guitar); Seth Bennett (double bass); Johnny Hunter (drums).

This is certainly one way to arrive at open-ended improv while using a standing start of four ‘compositions’:  Take the band out on the road, play five dates, give them some pointers, a bit of written ‘starter’ stuff, keep it all flexible and see what happens.  After which, travel back to Salford and record what you are left with.  Call the first track Edges and you are at least preparing everyone for what is going to be an incision.  It is one way of doing it and perhaps the methodology most likely to get ‘a result’.  There’s no fakery about this music.  Nothing false or simply dressed up to win votes.  You hear, what is.  If, as a listener, you are squeamish about a music that offers no compromise to ‘convention’, move on now to what you’re sure will tickle your fancy.  However, Sloth Racket’s second album Shapeshifters is well worth enquiry.  It literally sharpens up on the creative edge of improvisation.  It is not just about getting to somewhere else, it’s about embracing the Edges of each player’s own innovation. What does it feel like to place yourself in danger?  Scary, on a stage in front of an audience who doesn't necessarily know your modus operandi; do it again the next night, 100 miles further along the road having forced down yet another limp take-away pizza.  

Okay, the very beginning is reeds and bowed strings; they purr at the bottom and gradually straddle the middle as if stretching the gut.  And then strangely, so gently, tip into a melody which has no tonic and is brought to its own centre by what can only be an intense awareness of the gap between each component part.  Such a process demands a wry concentration on ‘the sound of things’.   In its own way this is instant orchestration.  I’d describe Cath Roberts as an audio alchemist who has mixed her own ingredients into a potent quintet setting.  By the time we are half way through I’m fixed on Anton Hunter’s guitar which is paring away the middle.  He can do ‘big guitar’, but not here.  Rather he’s creating this fine ripple of lines behind what is being left by the horns.  On the whole, Sloth Racket lay to waste any idea of rhythm section and soloists.  Hear the whole and you hear the point. 

Just when I believed they had reached the end of Edges, they actually had.  It felt like justice had been done.The way Tracking begins it seems as if Johnny Hunter (drums) and Seth Bennett (bass) are about to count time. To my ears, they don’t.  Instead they set up this drifting groove that moves across the surface, not randomly, but certainly in a way that is nudged into place by splitting the difference between them.  Mr J. Hunter flicks beats at his brother’s guitar like he’s been doing since they were kids.  Mr A. Hunter’s crushed chords are fuzzed with tiny circles of picked notes that stick to Sam Andreae’s tenor sax like flies.  They are literally tracking towards the baritone which emotes what amounts to a solo of gospel-gone-gothic.  Tracking is definitely worth a few instant repeat listens; five lines of improv up against one another close around composition. The third piece is titled Bark.  Funny, I don’t hear a dog, nor feel the surface of a tree.  It is not even hard, not in any firm sense.  Sloth Racket is a collective who can pass extremely light-as-a-feather sounds between each other to tantalising effect. Their first album Triptych was like that.  I wonder whether Cath Roberts did a lot of listening to the Art Ensemble of Chicago, who were/are jugglers of miniatures within the bigger picture.  And yeah, Roscoe Mitchell’s use of baritone might be a clue (or it might not).

Finally there are thirteen minutes of Shapeshifters, which moves through an adroit range of sound images.  Get about 3 or 4 minutes into the piece and it feels so concentrated.  There’s a switch to a double bass passage which shapes the frame of activity.  Seth Bennett has centred himself on this session (as he did with Martin Archer’s Sunshine! Quartet recording, reviewed last month).  Here he paves the way for Anton Hunter’s guitar to untangle a gift of strings.  We pass through waves of reeds, percussion and a melodic sonnet of multiple droplets of orchestration ..... until right at the end a ‘shape’ rocks out and completes on a neat four beats.  

For sure, the whole album is idiosyncratic.  Shapeshifters is a deliberate attempt to avoid the rules.  What rules exist are homemade.  Shift the shape because that is the rationale.  Not to shift means not to play ball.  This means rejection is a constant; shift what you have, don’t let it retain what was originally there.  It’s an abstraction. Now for me, on some front, abstraction is a given.  We are now in 2017, how can any of us, in any area of our lives, continue to deal out the day in same old way it’s been done for centuries?  It’s just not possible.  To some digital degree we all have to shift our shapes because the world we reside in is in flux.  And that is just the point; we live in a context.  Like all of us, Sloth Racket exist in a world where Picasso has already painted his lover at all angles within the same picture.  And James Joyce first wrote ‘free’ of the full-stop a hundred years ago.  Virginia Woolf abstracted the pattern of The Waves in her novel of the same name way back in 1931, around the same time as Barbara Hepworth sculpted a musician who seemingly had no movement.  Sloth Racket are playing their gigs in a context, in the same bewildering country where the old Spontaneous Music Ensemble used to regularly shift a ton of music from the middle ground of Soho out to suburbia.   

Truly shifting the shape, especially when you are using the same ‘tools’ as those who have already stood in your shoes, becomes harder as time moves on, unless you can find a new context. So where does this leave Sloth Racket’s Shapeshifters?  I hear it as I hear it, and I perceive it to be a music I want to get close to.  Ms Roberts’ baritone has escaped Gerry Mulligan even if the ebb and flow has not quite shaken off Anthony Braxton and Pat Patrick, or possibly more to the point, Hornweb Saxophone Quartet who are much closer to home.  But on Tracking, the dark drone baritone of Cath Roberts surfaces against Sam Andreae’s tenor without recall to other people’s past.  And Shapeshifters is an achievement I’d want to cheer.  That intoxicating finale at the end of Tracking is beauty re-shaped. 

I don’t know of anyone who thinks the next decade is going to be easy.  Musically, and in every other way, it isn’t.  This is what I finish on: may we always continue to shift the balance towards creative new beginnings.  That is what I think this band are attempting; I for one need to continue to listen to where it’s going to lead.  For to lead somewhere, Sloth Racket surely will.

Click here for a video of Shapeshifters played live by Sloth Racket at The Vortex.

Click here for details and to sample Edges from the album. Click here for Sloth Racket's website.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk         

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Freddie Gavita - Transient

Album Released: 28th April 2017 - Label: Froggy Records - Reviewed: June 2017

Freddie Gavita Transient

Freddie Gavita (trumpet / flugelhorn), Tom Cawley (piano), Calum Gourlay (bass), James Maddren (drums).

Some people's debut album takes quite a while to appear. That's not a bad thing - getting the right material, band and recording arrangements is worth waiting for. And so it is with Freddie Gavita's first album under his own name. The musicians he has recorded with are some of the best.

Freddie's own CV is inspiring - still young, he has been a member of Ronnie Scott's Jazz Orchestra now for ten years, but this graduate from the Royal Academy of Music and the National Youth Jazz Orchestra has been leading his own band, working with Fletch's Brew and regularly plays with Ronnie Scott's Club house band - to list just a few. He has also played with a list of known musicians as long as your arm: Joe Locke, Kenny Wheeler, Stan Sulzmann, Gregory Porter, Curtis Stigers, Paloma Faith .....

We first profiled Freddie and his music six years ago (click here). Born in Norwich in 1985, music has been around Freddie for years. At the time of our profile, Freddie told how his grandfather is a keen clarinettist and pianist and although he doesn’t play professionally ‘my mother cites him as the provider of the musical gene for my generation.’

'When I was seven I decided to take up the trumpet,' Freddie says. 'Actually, it was an accident. I thought the teacher said ‘trombone’ and I rather liked the sound of that, and was slightly surprised when he presented me with a much smaller mouthpiece! I’d been playing piano for a year and had already worked out the blues chord sequence from my Grade 1 piano book. My mum bought me a cassette of the Louis Armstrong Hot Fives and Sevens. Within a few months I could sing all of Louis’ solos from memory!'

Freddie met up with bassist Calum Gourlay and drummer James Maddren at the Royal Academy; he has also played with Tom Cawley's Quartet, and so the musicians on this album understand each other well. At the time of writing our Profile, we noted that as yet, Freddie had not recorded with his quartet – "I’d love to make a record with the guys", Freddie said, "it’s just a case of writing the right music and getting the guys together. I wouldn’t be interested in making something that wasn’t completely unique, so I feel it’s worth waiting to try and develop towards that. Yet again, money is an issue!" The money issue was resolved by Freddie finding 150 backers on Kickstarter to fund this album. Now he says: "This is the album I've always wanted to make. It captures the band in full flow and shows what I'm all about as a trumpeter and as a composer. There are no egos in this band, we're just four musicians listening intently to make each other sound as good as we can. It's the spirit of community that makes jazz great, and we're searching for this connection between us and also with the listener. We're taking risks, but we do it together in trust."

Click here for a video introduction to the album.

Strimming The Ham kicks off the album well with drums, piano and then trumpet and immediately the listener can hear how well co-ordinated the group is. By the time of Freddie's solo we are well onboard and know that his tone, technique and ideas are worth sticking around for. The following track, Turneround, is dedicated to trumpeter Richard Turner. Freddie says: 'I wrote the piece in memory of Richard Turner who sadly passed away five years ago. He was the first musician I met in London when I moved here; he was a beautiful soul; kind, generous, a real innovator on the trumpet and really made his mark on the scene in a short space of time.' We are treated to a solo from Calum Gourlay's double bass before Tom Cawley and Freddie bring in their compelling solos and James Maddren completes the solo sequences with his perfect, restrained contribution.

Click here for a video of a live performance of Turneround.

Like Turneround, all the compositions on this album are inspired by events, places and people that have had an effect on Freddie Gavita's life. We do not know who or what inspired Beloved at track 3, but it is a beautifully sensitive track. After an introduction, Freddie solos slow, feeling the notes as he goes before handing the tune to Tom's piano for a while. Which brings us to Yearning and an imaginative extended trumpet solo before the piano takes the improvisation on into a short drum solo. At this point it is timely to give credit to the recording, mixing and mastering of Curtis Schwartz who has not only nailed the sound on this album, but allows us to fully appreciate the exquisite bass and drum work of Calum Gourlay and James Maddren. Sprezzatura is a happy tune that trips out with trumpet notes tumbling into a nice bass solo and then a trumpet / drums conversation to the outro.

The Vow starts with a bass and drum motif and then a slow, low trumpet, then piano, repeating a simple phrase over which the trumpet plays. Despite the simplicity, there is a warmth and feeling that carries forward into the trumpet explorations. The piano then feels its way with bass and light percussion through what becomes one of the longer tracks on the album at nearly nine and a half minutes - and worthy of the time it is given. Lion-O begins with James Maddren's cymbals and his solo drums return after trumpet and piano state the theme. At just under 4 minutes this is almost a 'bridge' between tracks. Iverson Oddity picks up the pace for a while behind the trumpet and then the piano solos into a trumpet journey that shows Freddie Gavita's range before Calum Gourlay brings in his bass for a while.

Pull Your Socks (Up) is the penultimate track, catchy, bright and lyrical with an equally light piano solo, bass and drums tripping along behind. The album closes with a blues, The Buffalo Trace, slow sensitive trumpet picked up by Calum's bass and Tom's piano solos. Just right.

Click here for a video of a live performance of Pull Your Socks Up. You can listen to The Buffalo Trace on Freddie's website's Music page.

Was this debut album worth the wait? Absolutely. Freddie was right to hang on until he had everything in place and the result is a testimonial to his and his band's talent. It will be an album I shall always look forward to playing again - I think you will too - buy it.

Click here for details. Click here for Freddie Gavita's website.

Ian Maund

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Brian Molley Quartet - Colour And Movement

Album Released: 22nd April 2017 - Label: BGMM - Reviewed: June 2017

Brian Molley Quartet Colour And Movement

Brian Molley (tenor and soprano sax, flute, clarinet and bass clarinet), Tom Gibbs (piano), Mario Caribe (double bass / guitar) and Stuart Brown (drums / percussion).

This new album is a pot pourri of tempo, style and musical key, just the thing for the aspiring musicologist to get their teeth into, but as Brian Molley points out in the notes accompanying the album you don't have to be an expert to appreciate the music. 

On top of all this esotericism many of the twelve tracks have rather obscure titles; track 1 is called Electric Daisy, best known as one of the biggest electronic dance music festivals held in the USA; track 4, Pushkar Push refers to a city in India where thousands of camels are traded at an annual fair, and track 10, A Borboleta, translates as 'The Butterfly' and is a Brazilian Christmas carol. 

Molley (tenor and soprano sax, flute, clarinet and bass clarinet) and his band, Tom Gibbs (piano), Mario Caribe (double bass / giitar) and Stuart Brown (drums / percussion) hail from Scotland but have travelled to the USA (via Made in the UK) and India (British Council) which has led to direct influence and joint ventures with local musicians.

In October 2015 the Quartet made their first trip to India to perform at Jodhpur RIFF in Rajasthan. While there, they played their own music but also collaborated on a programme of new music with Rajasthani musicians from the Manganiyar Community. During the tour, the Quartet gave concerts in Kolkata, Delhi and Bangalore. The quartet returned to Rajasthan to perform again at RIFF in 2016, working once more in collaboration with their Indian counterparts, Asin Khan Langa, Bhungar Khan, Sadiq Khan and Latif Khan. The combined groups also recorded an album of Molley’s original compositions fused with Rajasthani folk music. Journeys In Hand is scheduled for release in summer 2017. The group has been touring Colour And Movement around the UK through April and May 2017 and will return to India once again, to perform at Madras Jazz Festival, Chennai.

Click here to listen to the track Jacksonville from the album.

This album, the band's second, has each track with a different tempo and key. While it is obvious that some tracks have unusual tempos it is certainly beyond this reviewer's competence to identify them and anyway it would be a shame to spoil the plot. All the tracks are arranged by Molley and he has composed nine of them. 

For me it is track 7, Cheer Up Charlie, by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley which sums up this album; this is a sad song but it has a beautiful melody and Molley and the band play it with great sensitivity, giving us the sort of music that one never tires of, not overly sentimental but thoughtful and reflective.  Some of the other tracks on this album are Saanj In The Blue City with echoes of Bollywood, That Old Black Magic by Arlen and Mercer which is given a very sophisticated arrangement, and Duke Ellington's Solitude.

Click here to listen to Solitude.

In short, this is an album to keep dipping into, a friendly sort of album that will stay with you for a long time.

Click here for Brian Molley's website. Click here for details and to sample the album.

Howard Lawes

 

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Bill Evans and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra - Beauty & The Beast

Album Released: 28th October 2016 - Label: Spartacus Records - Reviewed: June 2017

Bill Evans NYJO Beauty & the Beast

Bill Evans (soprano & tenor saxophone - soloist);  Reeds: Martin Kershaw (alto), Paul Towndrow (alto), Tommy Smith (tenor, composer, arranger), Bill Flemming (baritone); Trumpets: Ryan Quigley, Ewan Mains, Lorne Cowieson; Tom MacNiven; Trombones:  Chris Greive, Kevin Garrity, Michael Owers, Lorna McDonald; Tuba: Andy McKreel; Rhythm Section: Steve Hamilton (piano), Kevin Glasgow (electric bass), Alyn Cosker (drums).

I wonder if Tommy Smith ever has a moment when he listens to Beauty & The Beast and wishes he’d taken on the soloist role himself?  He’d originally written the ‘jazz suite’ for David Liebman and for sure there’s a context.  Mr Liebman and Bill Evans have a similar saxophone pedigree (Miles Davis) and therefore synergy for this job.  Liebman had already performed a ‘version’ of Beauty & The Beast with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. 

Take a tour through Tommy Smith’s own story and we all know he’s not short of successful milestones himself.  But, we’re not talking racehorses here.  Sax players are not bred for the furlong.  Bill Evans (the saxophonist, rather than the pianist) is not given enough credit for his contribution to the 1981 Miles Davis live ‘comeback’ album We Want Miles. Listening to this live SNJO recording of Beauty & The Beast, no one can argue that Mr Evans doesn’t inject a sense of ferocious barnstorming elegance to the Dundee concert.  Nonetheless, these days Tommy Smith must rank as an international soloist of an extremely high order and I’m not so sure he couldn’t have cut the cloth at least as sharp as his American guest.

Beauty & The Beast is divided into seven ‘parts’, and Part 1 shakes like one almighty earth-move.  William D. Evans scorches the ears, I mean really fires up the soprano, presses it close to an eclipse, but .... there’s also another truism about this superb live date; the total weight coming off Alyn Cosker’s drums and Kevin Glasgow’s bass guitar, is as heavy as hell’s cornerstone.  Electric bass counts for something positive.  Strewth, Glasgow/Cosker roll the rocks away like turning stones to tissue.  There are no light landings here.  Tommy Smith’s arrangements create a giant smack in the mouth which the SNJO exploit with a fabulous authentic funk, neither wasted nor superfluous.  Bill Evans has lined up with the Brecker Brothers Band as well as his own high energy Soulgrass outfit, but could they cut the Scots?  The closer the ears get to Glasgow/Cosker you know this is truly a Beauty & The Beast of a combination. 

Part 2 begins with Bill Evans’ soprano pouring out a touching-the-stars soliloquy against well scripted charts interpreted with genuine finesse by the orchestra.  The contrast to the opening is made all the more lethal because they don’t stay still.  Both composition and performance gradually take on power until the whole thing descends into a beautiful mesh of controlled chaos. The bridge into Part 3 opens into new territory.  Steve Hamilton’s piano positions a dense keyboard break.  Mind and hands extend the territory he’s been given setting Mr Evans up for one of his signature tenor solos.  Tommy Smith supporters will know that Hamilton has been one of his long-term collaborators.  There’s a ‘Bop’ unity that undoubtedly continues to exist somewhere in their collective psyche and it’s - Hard.  Hard won, hard fought, hard to ignore, containing no soft centre.  It needs a Bill Evans (or a David Liebman) to get on it, and once again Alyn Cosker has the whole declaration pinned down tight.

The part of Part 4 that grips my ears is the acappella sax break which springs from an orchestral introduction.  Turn up the volume and witness a march into darkness that comes out the other side.  The break is a demon. It only lasts just over a minute and half, a great shame because for my money it should have gone on way beyond that. I’ve been listening to Bill Evans for decades, yet never heard him grab a moment to define his playing so deftly as he does here.  I don’t believe great music is ever really about a ‘performance’, eventually, almost inevitably, it has to be the ‘self’ siphoned through an instrument.  That’s how you have to hear Evan Parker or Bird, or Trane, Ornette, Braxton, Pee-Wee Russell and Getz.  And that’s how I hear Bill Evans on Part 4.  Once he’s scratched the surface with the unaccompanied solo, he uses it to drive into the rest of the Tommy Smith composition.  Half way through he produces a second solo as if seeking to grab his own spirit back from among the charts enacted underneath him.  It’s why I wonder what Mr Smith himself could have brought to this moment had he been his own soloist.  Hearing Bill Evans flying through this conduit is terrific, yet it feels like an act of tremendous generosity on the part Smith, the writer.

The shortest track is Part 5.  A class act, a shade short of four minutes. Grasp that fat tuba introduction; an arrangement Gil Evans might have come up with, then the tenor turns a phrase that spooks a solo into this ballad; a special ‘jazz’ trick of putting all the ingredients together (the chords, the harmonies, the melody) and curving them into an improvised variant. It’s a masterclass against a sophisticated arrangement designed with attention to detail.  And yes, I’m going to call it, Andy McKreel on tuba is a genuine colourist. 

The penultimate Part 6 grows out of the residue.  Once Bill Evans gets his head around the modest start of things he gathers up his made-for-measure mojo and cuts into the clarification of the reeds.  Hear the stonking solo. Hear it. Hear it !  This is what is supposed to happen. Part 7 is a soprano gift.  Set within a shimmering arrangement, the straight horn whispers and then pipes up like a bird at the top of the register.  Steve Hamilton’s piano is all grace and favour. The whole orchestra seal the deal.  And finally we get to hear the audience at Dundee’s Cair Hall applaud what has just gone down, damn right too.  I wish I’d been there. 

The sound quality of this ‘live’ performance is diamond.  It’s mixed and mastered by Jan Erik Kongshaug at Rainbow Studios, Oslo.  Those of you who have invested their ears in the ECM catalogue will know the name.  This Tommy Smith/Spartacus project has its own production values.  Jan Eik Konshaug has given him a clean feed without blunting the edge; its high order audio. Here at Sandy Brown Jazz we got to Beauty & The Beast a little late.  The album was released in October last year.  An ace performance which has rather been over looked (odd since the cover design by Bill Evans has interesting graphics which grab the eyes).  There’s almost a sense of “let’s just put it out there and see what happens” about the whole thing.

The original tale of Beauty & The Beast dates back to the mid-eighteenth century.  There’s no reference to the subject on the sleeve, no attempt to equate tracks to the storyline.  For all practical purposes the album title is incidental, it might just as well have been called The Dundee Concert. Yet despite the sparse information and lack of linkage between title and subject matter it feels like a case of ‘let the music do the talking’.  Compositionally, the arrangements, the sheer orchestral bravado, as well as Bill Evans’ towering central spotlight, all add up to another special night out with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra.  Tommy Smith is on a roll, a couple of years ago the SNJO’s Jeunehomme Mozart Piano Concerto album took up a lot of time in my ears, Beauty & The Beast is going exactly the same way.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Steve Day  www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Miles Okazaki - Trickster

Album Released: 7th April 2017 - Label: Pi Recordings - Reviewed: June 2017

Miles Okazaki Trickster

Miles Okazaki (guitar), Craig Taborn (piano),  Anthony Tidd (bass), Sean Rickman (drums).

Miles Okazaki is an American musician based in New York City. He is known for his versatile approach to the guitar, his rhythmic approach to improvisation and composition, the variety of styles he plays and his work in contemporary music theory. He has received many awards as a guitarist throughout his early years, including being placed 2nd in the Thelonious Monk International Guitar Competition. He has taught guitar and rhythmic studies at the University of Michigan since 2013.

Writing about music invites comparisons, references to influences or stylistic similarities and writings about jazz has tended to enthusiastically accept that invitation.  But with Miles Okazaki’s Trickster I’m not so sure that such comparisons would be helpful. 

Genres are defined by their conventions; recognisable, recurring elements and structures.  The worst of what gets called 'jazz' plods through these conventions adhering to a prescribed set of ideas that do little more than present and commodify ‘cool’ or refer us back to some sort of heyday.  However, when alive and kicking, and at its best, jazz understands its own conventions and refuses to be constrained by them and, in this way, can be subversive.  If jazz is therefore about conventions, the question for any jazz musician is what to do with them. 

It’s clear from the outset that Miles Okazaki is a deep thinker as well as a skilled musician. His book The Fundamentals of Guitar sets out many of his ideas, techniques and obsessions and these are all present on Trickster (also worth a look are the wonderful YouTube videos that accompany the book - are there any other guitar tuition videos that mention Fibonacci?).  The album revels in poly-pulses, counterpoint and mathematical logic and is clearly the product of a great deal of serious thought.

But Trickster is more than just a title; the notion is central to the music, which rejects simple solutions in favour of ambiguity.  This is emphasised in the sleeve notes with a quote (from Lewis Hyde) that challenges any reliance on binary opposition, because “…tricksters will cross the line and confuse the distinction.”    There is therefore a playfulness at work, there are slights of hand and misdirection, little is as it seems.

As a member of Steve Coleman’s Five Elements, Miles Okazaki seems to have fully embraced the M-Base approach, a “way of thinking about creating music”.  The concept emphasises personal growth, creativity and experience and draws upon myth, philosophy, science and culture, as roots into the creative process.  Trickster is true to this, exploiting all the elements that one might associate with M-Base: rhythm, improvisation, interplay and juxtaposition.  It also draws inspiration from a wide range of stories and myths, from an equally wide range of cultures, the compositions therefore offer a musical meditation on the metaphysical, on states of change and states of being.   

The compositions explore thematic ideas as well as structures, rhythm and harmony, all providing material that gives rise to intricate improvisation and interplay.  The themes reflect Okazaki’s guitar style and, despite the thought and analysis that has gone into their creation, feel like an improvisation that the whole group has collectively and spontaneously arrived at.  Structure is important to Okazaki. He points out in his sleeve notes that: “I’ve always believed that working within constraints focuses creativity”.  Dance is only possible because of the restrictions imposed by gravity and dance is fun because it appears to defy gravity.   On Trickster, the individual and collective improvisation creates incredible tension and considerable drama, slowly erupting from the theme and structure, exploiting its logic, embracing and defying its gravitational influence.  The conventions of jazz are here, but its doctrines have been thoroughly challenged, its dogma dispensed with.     

Click here for a video introduction for the album.

The musicians are clearly committed to the ideas and thinking behind the creative process, their contributions and skill totally attuned. On the aptly named Mischief, Okazaki explains that “Different people will hear the playful rhythm differently”.  Throughout the piece the acoustic guitar, the bass and drums provide a poly-pulse accompaniment which provides ample space for Craig Taborn’s piano to unfurl its stories into the flow of complex rhythms. Taborn is perfect for the project and brings a seemingly effortless, tunefully rhythmic intelligence.

The West, provides an eerie space for Sean Rickman’s drums, which sing and dance very effectively, evoking thunder and Black Elk’s ‘sacred clown’.  Throughout the album, the music deliberately sidesteps strict conventions of ‘lead’ instruments and ‘rhythm section’ so that each contribution is a unique contribution to the whole.   

Anthony Tidd’s bass is a restrained powerhouse, a counterpoint and, it must be said (in concert with Rickman’s drums), a real funk.  On Eating Earth, there is a restlessness to his playing, the piece deliberately refuses to settle but at the same time Tidd lays down a funky feel somewhere far beyond a groove; very much in all the pockets yet, somehow also suspended above them.  Cut this song through and you’d see its pattern repeated infinitely: “… the whole contained within the part”.

The Calendar builds slowly through a harmonic structure that expresses the journey of the moon, myths and Egyptian gods.  The guitar searching out the beacons and bouncing off the shifting mutations, becoming increasingly intense and complex, before waning. 

Trickster moves beyond many of the accepted conventions of jazz.   There is a very real sense of something very important existing amongst the flow of beautiful rhythms.  It’s as if the album were a beautiful mythical story, about rhythm and about complexity, told to a child.

Click here for a video of a live performance of the track Kudzu from the album.

Click here for details and to sample the album. Click here for more about Miles Okazaki on his website.

Aaron Standon

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Corsano, Courvoisier, Wooley - Salt Task

Album Released: 1st December 2016 - Label: Relative Pitch - Reviewed: May 2017

Corsano, Courvoisier, Wooley Salt Task

Drummer Chris Corsano, pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, and trumpeter Nate Wooley are three inveterate improvisers who joined forces in Salt Task, another hallucinating trip into arduous avant-garde galaxies.

All the members of the trio have been very active lately, participating in a variety of recordings and performing live with regularity. The versatile Corsano, whose collaborations can range from Bjork to Evan Parker, is a member of the powerhouse quartet led by the Portuguese saxophonist Rodrigo Amado, which also features American saxophonist Joe McPhee and bassist Kent Kessler. Besides recording with the avant-rock trio Rangda, he keeps on teaming up with saxophonist Paul Flaherty, a longtime collaborator.

Wooley launched great records in duo with multi-reedist Ken Vandermark and released Argonautica (Firehouse 12 Records, 2016) with a hot sextet that includes cornetist Ron Miles, pianist Cory Smythe, keyboardist Jozef Dumoulin, and drummers Rudy Royston and Devin Gray. Last year, Courvoisier put all her musical passion in Miller’s Tales (Relative Pitch, 2016), an avant-jazz delight cooked in partnership with her violinist husband Mark Feldman and featuring saxophonist Evan Parker and electronics wiz Ikue Mori. This year, she could be heard in Crop Circle (Relative Pitch), recorded in duo with the nonconformist guitar sensation Mary Halvorson.

Salt Task opens with the revolutionary title track, a 20-minute-piece that erupts with dense contrapuntal cogitations simultaneously driven by the trio. After the opening section, the musicians usually interact two by two, exploring different sonic possibilities and moods until reaching the final section, where the trio strikes again. Depending on the setting, one may float serenely over idyllic landscapes, march at the sound of a military trumpet, startle with ominous low-pitched piano vibes, revolve around cyclic ideas, or become energized through piano-drums sweeps and thunders.

Eminently percussive, Last Stat displays extra alternative textures with Corsano in the spotlight. He reproduces the sound of a plastic trashcan rolling down the street while Courvoisier strums the piano strings to make it sound like a stale harp. Wooley contributes with airy sounds and rapid attacks that often uncover playful melodies.

Tall Stalks conveys admiration through Wooley’s muted phrases on top of Corsano’s combustible rhythm flows and Courvoisier’s unflagging textures. She creates tension by continually hitting the same key with her left hand.

The gently atmospheric Stalled Talks finishes the album with a circumspect narrative flow, probing techniques of meditation that feel intense on one side and tranquilizing on the other.

The inventive trio wisely plays with textural agitations and composures, arranging them with freedom, responsibility, and an evident musical insight that makes them first-rate avant-gardists.

Click here for details.

Click here for a video of the trio playing live in 2015.

Filipe Freitas jazztrail.net

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Frank Gratowski and Sebi Tramontana - Live At Španski Borci

Album Released: 18th November 2016 - Label: Leo Records - Reviewed: May 2017

Frank Gratowski and Sebi Tremontana Live At Spanski Borci

Frank Gratkowski (alto saxophone, bass clarinet, Bb clarinet); Sebi Tramontana (trombones).

I wanted to do this particular review just because the music got under my skin.  It doesn’t purport to be ‘important’ or some kind of stylistic breakthrough, but in an off-hand, modest matinee of a performance it could be just that if you let it.  Live At Španski Borci, is a delicious example of how instantly music can be created, how it can be presented with no frills yet still retain an inherent quality, and how it can spark new things in the ears despite the fact that you have heard these players many times before and believe you understand, or are at least simpatico, with their rationale. 

I suppose, I was also drawn to the cover artwork by Sebi Tramontana – a rough and ready drawing of a man’s drooping arm hanging out of, what? A shell on legs?  A monster mouth?  Mr Tramontana’s own arms are critical to his music.  Trombone players use the whole length of one arm to control their sound and use the other in a positioning V shape, to grip and literally face-up to the instrument. Look carefully at the cover picture and the two short legs of this figure appear tethered together, restricted.  The very opposite of what is happening musically.  And finally, for me, the other delight in relation to the sleeve is the notes. There’s an interesting ‘I’m-hung-up-with-critics’ trailer of words by Steve Beresford.  A humorous  frolic using Flann O’Brien as a starting point.  However, the real deal is the two short paragraphs contributed, firstly by Gratkowski about Tramontana, the second a Tramontana piece describing Gratkowski.  Like the music, they read in the manner of instant, intimate reflections.  As if they’ve been asked to write them on scraps of paper just prior to publication. Frank writes:  “It has a beautiful playfulness... The connection between us is almost mysterious....” Or try this from Sebi:  “Spending my time with him is enriching.  Frank is a bottomless pit.  Human and artistic.  A great musician.  My friend.”  Wouldn’t anyone want to have that said about them from someone they’ve gigged and recorded with for almost twenty years?

Listen to these fifteen “Instant songs”, the longest 5.28, the shortest 2.10, and they feel as if they naturally arrived as the artwork that surrounds them. The titles that peg these duets to the page read like descriptors of each performance – Time and Space, Dancer, Singer, Series of Dramatic Events, Nocturne, Homage.  Each one an individual little story, sometimes boldly burlesque like Series of Dramatic Events, which involves overblown reeds masking as a choir alongside the bone acting the role of both clown and grand narrator.  Others such as Singer and Deceiver, convey a single idea pitched but not played beyond its staying power.

The crack that is Deceiver, edgy, ragged, fractured, could in other hands and hearts end up clogging up the ears, like listening to neighbours arguing about the volume.  That doesn’t happen, instead it’s a glimpse of potential danger before its reached fulfilment.  We don’t know if there’s any long term deceit, meanwhile intrigue is cooked up on the spot.  To taste, bitterness can be soured by something sweet.  Singer contains no vocal song, but you know what they mean, this is a tune that could go either way – to the conservatoire or the coffee-house open-mic night.  And I appreciate the title is given as a singular, not plural.  This is tea for two taken from a common tea pot (in a manner of speaking). A song sung through two horns-of-plenty. Another special quality about this recording is that it harks back to the work of other musicians who have also walked this lonely road.  At no time is there impersonation, yet Frank Gratkowski touches on the spirit of people like Elton Dean, Lol Coxhill and Mike Osbourne. 

As Gratkowski/Tramontana press into the sound pad of their instruments it’s as if the well-tempered trombone of the great Roswell Rudd has broken free once more to take up his place alongside John Tchicai or maybe even, Steve Lacy.  These were all touch and go pioneers with personal vocabularies.  Technicians, certainly, but more importantly great non-vocalised storytellers. Among the final twenty minutes of the Španski Borci performance Gratkowski and Tramonta seem to hold up a joint discussion of reed and trombone language as if it were a trophy.  They have cracked their own code and this is their simple reward.  To play the gig. 

Empathy begins with smears of tongue and breath control flushed through metal.  Frank Gratkowski is the one with the lead lines, Sebi Tramonta doing his own thing.  “I’m in agreement with you, Frank.”  Yet forever Sebi is lengthening his arm out to try to find a scale beyond the bottom of the bone.  By the final fifth minute they have reached common ground.  They play out their joint satisfaction.  A couple of minutes further down the line this odd couple embark on a Homage of whistles, coughs and mouthpiece distortions.  What kind of Homage is this? And then they settle like two old birds on a perch.  To reference Flann O’Brien again, its two birds swimming on a perch rather than swinging on one.  I find it a lovely, lively moment. This is the wonderful “bottomless pit” of music.  I kept my tea in the cup; little in the way of tunes, the bare essentials of chromatic truth, but in their place is enacted a fertile playfulness of madcap magic and kindred spirit.  It’s true, I didn’t tap my feet or dance to my boiling kettle.  I can’t hum a melody line or give you the chord changes.  If music depends on these things to define the rationale then pass up on Frank Gratkowski and his buddy, Sebi Tramontana, it is way, way too late to change them now.  On the other hand, if you feel like taking an hour out to genuinely feast on a couple of masters of improvisation here’s an excellent place to begin.

Click here for details and a short sample.

Click here for a video of Gratkowski and Tramontana playing live in December 2009

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Ralph Towner - My Foolish Heart

Album Released: 3rd February 2017 - Label: ECM - Reviewed: May 2017

Ralph Towner My Foolish Heart

Ralph Towner (solo guitar).

Resourceful acoustic guitarist Ralph Towner has been an exemplary case of productivity and dedication since his first appearances in the early 70s. His virtuosity is patented in a variety of recordings whose listenings will disclose the incomparable sound and accurate technique that make him unique.

Towner was a co-founder of Oregon, a world-fusion chamber jazz group that also included the versatile experimentalists Collin Walcott, Paul McCandless, and Glen Moore. In this particular band, his instrument was not only the guitar but also the keyboards. He was also a crucial member of the new age ensemble led by the American saxophonist Paul Winter, during its early phase.

In 1973, he started a collaborative association with the record label ECM and that fruitful liaison was extended until the present time. In truth, My Foolish Heart is his 23rd album as a leader/co-leader on the cited label and is now out to prove him in top form. On this new record, Towner returns to the solo format 11 years after Time Line (ECM, 2006). Since then, he has recorded with guitarists Slava Grigoryan and Wolfgang Muthspiel, as well as with the Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu.

Charged with Third Stream improvisation, Pilgrim opens the recording with strong folk influences that are definitely not American but rather Eastern. Through the passionate melodies of I’ll Sing to You, the guitarist exhibits his technical brilliance translated into stylish fingerpicking, shivering trills, and modern classical lyricism. The enormous facility in combining melody and harmony in a smooth, seamless manner comes to our attention again in Saultier, which feels less folk and more postbop.

The title track, a bright rendition of a widely-known jazz standard, is delivered with sentimental melancholy, naturally contrasting with the stunning Clarion Call where the rich sounds of a 12-string guitar infuse a transcendental beauty. My soul was filled with these hypnotic, often percussive reverberations modulated with delay effect, and decisive guitar slides and harmonics. Connotations with world music and progressive jazz are easily identifiable and can be heard again in the shorter Binding Time.

Click here for a video of Ralph Towner playing a solo version of My Foolish Heart in Argentina. The video is a bit unsteady but it gives us an idea of the guitarist's work.

Different moods are those of Dolomiti Dance, steeply folk in its most traditional current, and Rewind, another compound of jazz and classical with splashes of Brazil fragrances, in the same line of Toquinho.

Another eclectic paragon is Blue As In Bley, a piece composed for the late pianist Paul Bley that overflows with enigmatic multi-coloured tones resultant from postbop, classical, folk, and blues.

Ralph Towner has enough inventive qualities to never step on clichés. Whether extemporizing his own originals, working as a sideman, or digging selected jazz standards with circumstantial vision, Towner is always immensely vibrant in his musical approach.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Filipe Freitas jazztrail.net

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The Mark Masters Ensemble - Blue Skylight

Album Released: 17th February 2017 - Label: Capri Records - Reviewed: May 2017

Mark Masters Ensemble Blue Skylight

Mark Masters is an arranger/bandleader who formed his first ensemble in 1982. He founded the non-profit organisation called “The American Jazz Institute” and has previously recorded tributes to Jimmy Knepper, Clifford Brown, Dewey Redman and others.

This album has an attractive reproduction of Edward Hopper’s 1957 painting, “Western Motel”. Sleeve notes are by trumpeter Tim Hagans and there are 11 tracks, all arranged by Mark Masters. The album is a homage to bassist Charles Mingus and saxophonist Gerry Mulligan using perhaps their lesser known compositions. The tracks alternate starting with a Mingus composition called Monk, Bunk and Vice Versa and finishing with two Mulligan tunes. So the full track listing from track 2 is Out Back of the Barn, So Long Eric, Wallflower, Peggy’s Blue Skylight, Strayhorn 2, Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love, Apple Core, Eclipse, Birds of a Feather, and finally, Motel.

The band is a tight group and even with changes in personnel for specific tracks, the quality of the playing is first class. Mark Masters’ arrangements give all a chance to shine. So we have Gary Foster (alto sax), Jerry Pinter (tenor and soprano saxes), Gene Cipriano (tenor sax), Adam Schroeder (baritone sax), Ed Czach (piano), Putter Smith (bass), and Kendall Kay (drums). On tracks 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 Ron Stout (trumpet) and Les Benedict (trombone replace Cipriano and Schroeder.

The recording for the CD was on April 18, 2015 and it was finally released on February 17 of this year, so was the wait worth it? I should say so as the first track Monk, Bunk and Vice Versa swings along with good bouncy solos throughout backed by the bass of Putter Smith and the drums of Kendall Kay.

Track 2 Out Back of the Barn, has a bluesy feel from Cipriano’s tenor and the lyrical piano of Ed Czach. Track 4 Wallflower has soft gentle percussion with Czach’s clear and delicate piano, making this a beautiful track to listen to. Track 6 Strayhorn 2 has Schroeder’s baritone sax in a duet with Czach’s piano in a relaxing and atmospheric piece and track 7, Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love, has a recurring melody repeated by different instruments. The trombone of Benedict gives a melancholy feel to this gentle rhythmic track. Track 8 Apple Core is the longest on the album, swinging with a persistent melody at a fast pace from the saxes of Pinter and Foster. I nearly forgot to mention the great solo trombone playing of Les Benedict on track 3 - So Long Eric.

To sum up, Masters has used his arranging skills to allow spirited playing by the members of his ensemble of lesser known compositions from Mingus and Mulligan. He even manages to get a “big band” sound from a smaller number of musicians.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Tim Rolfe

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Archer, Bennett, Mwamba, Fairclough - Sunshine! Quartet

Album Released: 19th May 2017 - Label: Discus - Reviewed: May 2017

ArcherBennettMwambaFaircloughSunshineQuartet

Martin Archer (alto & sopranino saxophones); Corey Mwamba (vibraphone); Seth Bennett (double bass); Peter Fairclough (drums).

Peter Fairclough’s title for the opening track, Four Free To One, has its roots way back in the old world’s wording of true groundbreaking innovative UK indie labels like Ogun Records.  ‘One too free for’ could count in a crossover of rhymes which have little alignment to beats or bar lines yet still swing the mother and the father.  It raised a smile on my face.  And Sunshine! Quartet is exactly what you want to hear when the going gets tough.  A ray of sunlight in darkness as a class act comes forth and pirouettes across the ears.

There are four tracks, credited to each of the players involved.  It was recorded in the same studio just over a week before Martin Archer’s other sizzling quartet recording reviewed this month, Felicity’s Ultimatum.  If you think Sunshine! Quartet is going to be similar ground, it isn’t.  Yes, there are four of them, a different four other than Mr Archer, and yes, it is another mesmerising performance, and yes, the sleeve graphics come from the same source, however Sunshine! Quartet declares a ‘jazz’ consciousness, one which the Felicity line-up eschews. 

Both approaches are valid and I’d be hard pressed to give a preference.  I did not refer to the J word in Felicity’s review.  To not use it in any discussion of Sunshine! Quartet would be to miss an important element.  On Four Free To One Martin Archer’s alto horn produces a carnage as close to Jackie McLean’s dissection of a jazz standard as it's possible for an Englishman to get.  It’s that sound of an internal vibration in the horn; fabulously unsettling and comfortingly compelling at the same time.  Peter Fairclough’s drums really rattle around him.  Precise, but twice as hectic in the way that ‘jazz’ contains the inherent spirit of crash and burn. 

On It’s Not Finished (a long decisive workout, nearly twenty minutes in duration), Seth Bennett centres his double bass, to wrap his fingers around the scales as if Charles Mingus himself had returned to the living. And finally, the great Corey Mwamba, whose vibraphone has designed space for people like Nat Birchall, Orphy Robinson and Robert Mitchell, now explores the J-word ticket in a duet with Seth Bennett recalling the empathy of bass/vibes masters like Richard Davis and Bobby Hutcherson.  To get this close, and then do your own thing is a stroke, not of luck, but something far more meaningful.

Seth Bennett’s composing credit on this session is Alsten (I think the name is probably a reference to an island connected to the Norwegian coast by the elegant Helgeland Bridge).  The fact is, Alsten the composition, crystallises the essence of a place or person.  For my money it’s a track worth anyone’s investigation.  It carries its creativity with slow, formidable grandeur.  The sort of recording that ECM’s Manfred Eicher excels in, except that Martin Archer’s production, along with David Watts' engineering, is less ‘formal’.  The Archer’s Quartet do not engage in ‘take’ after ‘take’ to arrive at this sound.  Listen through this twelve minute ballad track and there is a natural warmth that comes through by not being overworked.  The beauty is in it simply being played.  Initially Seth Bennett holds a bowed drone, Mr Fairclough uses mainly beaters throughout, the saxophone reed is lip suction tight to the melody opening up a well of measured vibraphone cross hatching across Bennett’s ‘woody’ double bass as he reverts to plucked notes for the duet. Even when Mr Archer’s alto falls into his own articulate solo, Corey Mwamba surrounds him with measurement in the backdrop.  They never give Alsten away.  They play the intention. 

On this their closing number, Sunshine! Quartet have produced an outstanding performance that holds its own integrity together.The driver for me when I come to a Martin Archer recording is only partly about the question: ‘do I like it’?  I do; because I admire someone who is constantly seeking a new context for the next idea.  I like it because whatever ‘it’ actually is, Sunshine! Quartet is not the same animal as Felicity’s Ultimatum or for that matter Story Tellers, which we reviewed in November 2016, or Engine Room Favourites or Martin Archer’s ongoing collaborative work with Julie Tippetts.  Each of these projects is unique.  And for me the real driver is not simply that they are different from each other, but this changing process is not done purely for the sake of it.  Mr Archer constantly re-evaluates the material, the muse, and designs accordingly.  He is not hemmed in by his own past.

In the scheme of things Sunshine! Quartet should give him a bigger profile.  It’s a quartet with a reasonably orthodox line-up.  There are four ‘composed’ works worried and woven through with extremely sophisticated improv.  These are all guys who carry a certain amount of ‘reputation’; the playing is of a mountain high standard.  Each of these tracks carries its own individual construct.  Yet it seems to me that Martin Archer is another example in the UK (other names like Paul Dunmall, Steve Beresford, Maggie Nicols, Loz Speyer, Pat Thomas come spinning off the top of my head) whereby brilliant ‘street-up’ musicians who have constantly forged truly mindbending original work over long, long periods are overlooked.  Last night I was at a gig (in the south of England) and I mentioned Mr Archer’s name to a ‘status’ musician, who said he had “never come across him.”  Whaaaat!  Okay, it’s a rant.This is an album you could seriously get involved in. It’s not ‘difficult’, this is UK ‘jazz’ at its creative best, it carries its own certification of class.  Martin Archer produced it.  Get down onto his website and order a copy. Keep the keeper alive.

Click here for details and to sample.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Archer, Clark, Grew, Hunter - Felicity's Ultimatum

Album Released: 19th May 2017 - Label: Discus - Reviewed: May 2017

Archer Clark Grew Hunter - Felicity's Ultimatum

Martin Archer (alto, sopranino & baritone saxophones); Graham Clark (violin); Stephen Grew (piano); Johnny Hunter (drums).

Amanda’s Drum is the opening track, I’ve no information about Amanda especially as the percussion on the album belongs to ‘Johnny’s drum’.  It is Mr Johnny Hunter himself who crashes onto the scene at this party.  If you’ve been reading in-between the lines of the Sandy Brown Jazz website over the last 18 months you’ll already know he is one of our favourite drummers.  This album goes a long way to explaining why.The quartet line-up on Felicity’s Ultimatum is sonically balanced (plus, the whole album has 10 track titles naming particular women and their possessions – in Felicity’s case it isn’t an object, but a demand and she gets the title track).

The vivid presence of Stephen Grew broods over this album, a detailed pianist capable of restraint as well as full-on crescendo; a player who keeps a low profile yet is among the most deeply inventive pianists in the UK.  His solo album Lit & Phil Suite, reviewed in August 2015, is worth catching.  Here in Martin Archer’s quartet Felicity sessions he acquits himself with aplomb, tirelessly sparking events whilst still holding up the middle ground, spraying tough and tender lines with purpose. Graham Clark’s violin is a smart addition.  He’s a member of Archer’s small big band, Engine Room Favourites, and a number of other Discus projects.  Years ago I used to catch Mr Clark in Bristol.  He seemed to play every gig possible, and ended up in Europe in a late version of Daevid Allen’s Gong.  Here he bows with stealth. 

On the short, Jane’s Ruin, it begins with Hunter and Grew stoking a fire of repeats and then you detune your ears to an awareness of Mr Clark’s strings gradually harmonising the picture until he is countering their statements.  On Bessie’s Greens, in effect a ‘Bird’ Parker abstraction for Martin Archer, the violin turns the tables and produces a coda of guile and smooth grit.  It’s beautifully executed. Of course, there is no bass player.  I’m a believer in bass players, but sometimes if a substitution is made, or even, heaven forbid, the daring do of leaving the bottom end totally empty, what you get is a space.  And space can be just as productive as filling it with time and motion.  What you get on Felicity’s Ultimatum is a lot of light and air around Martin Archer’s sopranino and alto horns, particularly when chorusing with violin.  When they need something deep down underneath there’s the occasional use of baritone sax to burnish the bottom. 

It also means that the Hunter-Drummer designs his own line – Sonya’s Goat could be modern be-bop if they let it, but the drums are constantly re-folding the rhythm round a circular improv catching on the hop the composition element.  I’m not saying a bassist couldn’t have found a home here, but leaving the vacancy allows for an open door policy when it comes to running the voodoo down (so to speak).

Okay, right in the centre of the running order is Masayo’s Experiment, one of two improvised workouts.  I can reveal the worse kept secret ever, that Masayo Asahara is someone very close to Martin Archer’s heart, particularly since they share the same initials.  Love it.  Masayo’s Experiment sounds different to the other tracks.  Same line-up, same recording session, but twice the length of most of the companion pieces, it positively tracks forth like searching for its own story.  They wait for each other.  Right at the beginning there’s this hint of strings and horn testing weight and wait.  How long is he going to hold that note?  How heavy is he going to make the irruption? Mr Grew’s entry seems to settle things down for a while, but damn, he drops out again.  It is Martin Archer getting in touch with his Masayo Asahara which propels the quartet forward and it is Johnny Hunter flicking cymbals and fast hi-hat that presents everyone with a firm basis to heave in a dramatic central cascade.  Turn it up! The foursome become ferocious.  For a while they sound invincible until they eventually break down into a keyboard abstraction.  And they grow space between them as if the empty quarter were additional colour.  Mr Archer takes time out on each of his three horns.  A reminder that despite his reputation as a producer/composer, he’s actually a soloist with a very broad range; a systematic sax maestro.  Masayo’ Experiment leaves the speakers with Clark’s violin taking on what amounts to the classical form.  I wonder what he’d be like in a Kronos Quartet set-up?

My tip for listening to an album is always listen to the last track.  How musicians choose to end a session is as important as how they begin.  Agnese’s Fan (as in those whirring electric things, essential to life in Thailand if not in Derbyshire) begins almost silently.  Agnese does not whir. There’s a filigree of Johnny Hunter percussion, cracking wood, low rushed rolls, soft strikes, crushed touches on cymbal bells.  Unison lines from Clark/Archer throughout; Grew gracing a counter melody from in-between the air pockets.  They all arrive at the end together, unhurried, harmoniously true, speaking through instruments which deliver an Ultimatum that I can only guess at.  I don’t need to know the detail.  I have just played Agnese’s Fan four or five times.  If they have the time to take five and half minutes to play it, I certainly have half an hour to examine my own response.  This is music.  No one has come here to mark time.

Once more Martin Archer has produced another fine and detailed thing.  He’s been around a long time but some people finally come into themselves just at the point when the hot chocolate is being poured for them.  There’s nothing sickly sweet about Felicity’s Ultimatum.  This is a definitive Ultimatum delivered by a different kind of quartet.  And it is music conceived out of a history but only possible because it is played as of NOW.  I’m even going to suggest that if Sandy Brown were alive today he could be taking his clarinet to Sheffield.  He never stood still.  To maintain the mainstream it has to have fresh water, to be continually on the move, alive to organisms, eventually it will sublimate itself to the oceans.  At which point we have to encounter the deep.

Click here for details and to listen to a sample.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk 

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Big Bad Wolf - Pond Life

Album Released: 16th July 2017 - Label: Self Release - Reviewed: May 2017

Big Bad Wolf Pond Life

Owen Dawson (trombone); Rob Luft (guitar); Michael De Souza (Fender bass VI); Jay Davis (drums).

Big Bad Wolf describe their music as 'featuring washy guitars, ambient vocals, brassy hooks and deep grooves…'. Graduates of the jazz courses at the Royal Academy of Music and Leeds College of Music, you will hear them playing with other groupings, but in Big Bad Wolf they have developed their own style with an unusual combination of instruments that really works. Pond Life is their debut album; the official launch is not until July, but they are currently on tour (dates below).

Canary opens the set with skipping guitar and trombone joined by bass and drums as the theme emerges. The guitar sets a light tone while the trombone flows lyrically underneath. The bass and drums are nicely placed, but then the album is recorded and engineered by Alex Killpartrick and I'd expect nothing else. As the track reaches an atmospheric middle section voices are added repeating until the end of the track. As Steve Day says in another review on this site, the final track on an album can be as important as the first - Canary as the first track is important because it certainly draws the listener in. The Plight Of The Typewriter as the final track, well, we'll see.

Before that, there is Flats In Dagenham - I really must talk to these guys about where the titles come from. Flats is as engaging as Canary, opening with mellow trombone and interspersed with trickling guitar and background voices. Rob Luft's guitar effects that develop on this track are absorbing and the change into the final section with low repeated trombone riff and then the repeated theme takes the tune out nicely.

Click here to listen to Flats In Dagenham.

Frog at track 3 hops along with the guitar before swelling into what could be music from a much larger band and it is the guitar again that later changes the mood and pace with a repeated motif before Owen Dawson's full trombone comes in with its own ideas. By now, I am certain that this is an album that will bear repeated listening, and as the longest track, Quiet Coach (9.16 minutes), begins with its beautiful trombone statement, the certainty is confirmed. There are lyrics voiced again in the background; trombone and guitar sustain the mood as the bass guitar enters at just the right point before a gentle, extended trombone solo until the guitar changes the mood as the music expands to the close.

Click here for a video of the band playing Quiet Coach.

Hopkins' Choice has another light guitar entry with the recording developing the band's presence as Owen's trombone jauntily joins in and stretches out as the band dance the tune to an abrupt end. Grassfish, (where do these titles come from?) is another atmospheric number with the trombone taking us into lyrics - I find the use of the band's voices totally appropriate in adding to the overall effect. It is the guitar that eventually leads the band with an opening out of the tune to its conclusion. Pond Life, the title track, is an appealing track full of variation and the arrangement deserves credit.

Which brings us to that other 'important' last track, The Plight Of The Typewriter. The effective use of trombone, guitar, bass, drums and voice is encapsulated again in this number and it does illustrate what the album and the band is about. Big Bad Wolf's description of 'featuring washy guitars, ambient vocals, brassy hooks and deep grooves…' goes some way to describing the music, but you need to hear some of it to appreciate it. Hopefully with the samples in this review you can.

I think Pond Life is a triumph for a debut album. It introduces a talented band, distinctive, well-arranged, compositions and in collaboration with Alex Killpartick's engineering an overall package of pleasure. The band have seven gigs left on their current tour. Catch them if you can. If not, seek out the album when it is available.

Click here for a video of the band playing Canary.

Click here for the Big Bad Wolf website. The album will be officially released on the 16th July but for now head over to their website and sign up to the mailing list to hear about the album when it becomes available!

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Humphrey Lyttelton - Dusting Off The Archives - Rare Recordings 1948-1955

Album Released: 26th May 2017 - Label: Lake Records - Reviewed: May 2017

Humphrey Lyttelton Dusting Off The Archives

There are 23 tracks plus 2 bonus tracks on this great compilation from Lake Records, so I won't even attempt to list or describe them all. I should add, however, that there is a comprehensive booklet by Paul Adams with personnel details, recording dates, and information about each of the tracks. The bonus tracks, Ain't Misbehavin' and After You've Gone, are from a home produced 78 rpm record. More about them later.

Paul Adams' liner notes begin with a description of how Humph 'powered out of the 1940s on the crest of a steadily building wave of interest in traditional jazz ... (that) had become a full-scale revival by 1950.' We read about Humph's bands through this time and how he had 'very little serious competition until Chris Barber's band emerged from the collapse of Ken Colyer's jazzmen in 1954.' So this is a very formative collection of recordings until that time.

Paul continues: 'The recordings on this CD are indeed rarities. They come from a miscellaneous collection of broadcasts, out-takes and private recordings. Most were dubbed from acetates rather than tape so a lot of restoration was required - acetates are soft plastic and the fact that they have survived for over 65 years, let alone be playable, is quite remarkable. In most cases they are the only copies. With an issued record you can often have two or three copies and take the best bits and edit them together. No chance of that here! Despite the technical limitations they have generally cleaned up well and what shines through is the power and quality of this hugely significant band.'

Let's talk about some of the tracks - not necessarily in sequential order. Bad Penny Blues (track 12 from April 1952 and a live performance) is quite different to the hit single that eventually emerged from Joe Meek's studio production. Johnny Parker is great on piano, Humph's solo strays around more and George Hopkinson's drums are less driving than Stan Greig's on the later recording. Doctor Blues (track 16 from July 1952 is a little more 'New Orleans', and has a lighter feel lifted by Wally Fawkes who was absent on the Bad Penny Blues track. 'The track was recorded for Parlophone three months later, but never issued at the time. It was never recorded again.' Walkin My Baby Back Home (track 18 from September 1952) has Neva Raphaello singing the words and Humph soloing nicely on muted trumpet. Singing The Blues (track 19 from the same session) is Humph's interpretation of the beautiful Bix Beiderbecke number. Johnny Parker takes a short piano solo, but this is mainly about Humph's trumpet improvisations.

There are some changes made for Memphis Shake (track 22 from 1955) which has Bruce Turner on alto sax and John Picard on trombone filling out the sound more, but Wally Fawkes' clarinet is ever present waeving in and out of the tune. By the time we get to Pretty Baby (track 23, September 1955), Jim Bray is on bass and Stan Greig on drums had moved down from Edinburgh. The track features excellent playing from Humph and Bruce Turner on alto. Skipping back a few tracks, I should mention I Wonder (track 4) this is from 1948 and features a warm and sensitive solo from Humph. The band has Wally Fawkes (clarinet), Harry Brown (trombone), George Webb (piano), Nevil Skrimshire (guitar), Les Rawlings (bass) and Dave Carey is playing drums. In a way, this reflects the essence of this album. Recorded the day after George Webb and Dave Carey joined the band, it is reminds us that Neville Skrimshire was around at the time.

And so to the 2 'bonus tracks'. Bob Saunders was a sound engineer who worked at a West End studio in the early 1950s. 'He would put his own stuff and radio recordings on to acetates and sell them,' writes Paul Adams. Ain't Misbehain' and After You've Gone are two such tracks from a cocert where the personnel, date and venue are not known, despite 'extensive efforts by Lyttelton devotees .. to narrow it down.' The recording is probably 1954 or earlier and it is not Humph's regular band, and the last chord of Ain't Misbehavin' indicates a bigger band of which the group fronted by Humph is just a part. A mystery that someday might be resolved by someone who was there? They are enjoyable versions of the tunes with good pace, featured clarinet, piano and trombone, cohesive playing and Humph, as Paul Adams says: 'more than holds his own.'

This is an album that those interested in the early days of UK trad jazz and Humphrey Lyttelton's story will certaoinly want to hear.

Click here for details and samples.

Ian Maund

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Brass Mask - Live

Album Released: 21st April 2017 - Label: Babel - Reviewed: May 2017

Brass Mask Live

Brass Mask is a band lead by Huddersfield born, London based saxophonist and Loop Collective member, Tom Challenger.  Live is the band's second album, following on from Spy Boy released in 2013 to some good reviews.  

The material that Challenger has composed and arranged for the band is inspired by the street music of the New Orleans Mardi Gras parades and in particular the music of the Mardi Gras Indians, a large part of which has only recently come to light via unofficial, live recordings appearing online.  Challenger also has interest in music from Africa and the Caribbean as well the use of electronics for samples and loops which he has incorporated into the album at the post-production stage.

The Brass Mask lineup for the Live album differs slightly from that for Spy Boy and includes Loop Collective members Alex Bonney (trumpet), Rory Simmons (trumpet) and Dan Nicholls (organ, percussion); Tomorrows Warriors brothers Nathaniel Cross (trombone) and Theon Cross (tuba); George Crowley (saxophone, clarinet), John Blease (drums, percussion) and Jon Scott (percussion). The Live album was recorded at London's Servants Jazz Quarters by Alex Bonney who also did the mixing, additional production by Tom Challenger and the striking cover design is by  Dan Nicholls, all Loop Collective members and the album is released under the Babel label. 

The first track is called Francilia + Shallow Water and commences with some hard to define electronic sounds and percussion replaced by a saxophone funeral dirge embellished with improvised passages from the brass instruments. It is followed in quick succession with a lively version of the Lil' Liza Jane, an American folk song dating back to the early 20th century, or even before, which has become a well loved standard of New Orleans style brass bands.  The Bague, is an exuberant ensemble piece led by trumpeter Rory Simmons, inspired by the music of Haiti, with so much happening it is almost impossible to take it all in and must have really shaken the Servants Jazz Quarters to its foundations.

Click here to listen to The Bague.

Next comes a traditional New Orleans marching band piece called Indian Red which speeds up half way through to give a very quick stepping march, it finishes with rattling and whirring reminiscent of some voodoo ritual.  The next track, I Thank You Jesus, is also a march but this time for a funeral, the drums and tuba emphasising a mournful rhythm while the improvised wailing and weeping comes from brass and reeds. 

Nyodi features the tuba of Theon Cross as the foundation while other instruments improvise around him in various combinations to give a hypnotic performance. 

[Click here to listen to a version of Nyodi on Soundcloud]

The next track, The Merman, has more voodoo strains before an unrelenting rhythm prompts thoughts of some infernal machine from Fritz Lang's Metropolis.  The last track, Francis P, begins with a sound like a bell tolling before the band create a soundscape suggesting urban life, speeding up, slowing down like the traffic, a keyboard solo is frenetic followed by a furious contrapuntal duet between two trumpets before finally some order is restored in the form of a melody but the album ends with more voodoo style electronic sounds which could be swarming bees.

So often having been to a great, live gig you buy the album and then, when you play it at home it is a little disappointing because the excitement of the live performance is missing.  On the other hand some live recordings also fail to do justice to the performance because the recording equipment and environment probably leave a little to be desired.  However with this album, the performance sounds absolutely wonderful and great credit to Alex Bonney for the recording and mixing, because not only is the excitement of the live performance captured but it is almost as if you have a live band playing in your living room and like a live band, every time you hear them, it seems slightly different.  Tom Challenger should have a real winner with this album, not only are his arrangements and compositions really good but the members of the band are so clearly enjoying what they are doing that the result is truly a joyful celebration of the New Orleans Mardi Gras.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Click here for an earlier video from 2014 featuring Brass Mask playing at Cafe Oto.

Click here for our Tea Break chat with Tom Challenger.

Howard Lawes    

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Mark Lewandowski - Waller

Album Released: 7th April 2017 - Label: Whirlwind Recordings - Reviewed: May 2017

Mark Lewandowski Waller

Another month, another fine release from Whirlwind Recordings. This UK-based record company must be one of the most innovative and prolific popularisers of contemporary music around at the minute. Its founder and boss, Michael Janisch, is the John Hammond/Norman Granz/Ahmet Ertegun of our day.

Waller is a tribute to Fats Waller from the British bassist, Mark Lewandowski. Fats Waller belongs firmly in the “Jazz As Entertainment” category. As such, there are perhaps many jazz fans out there who have dismissed him as a figure not to be taken too seriously. However, Lewandowski’s contemporary take on the music releases Waller from the comic stereotype and shows him not only to be a consummate musician but a composer of subtle and brilliantly constructed melodies. Lewandowski does not stray too far from Waller’s original style – he says of the music, “I wanted to approach it with respect. Fats’ music is frequently loud, exuberant, even obnoxious at times, as well as wistful and elegant; so I really wanted to strip it down…”

Lewandowski is joined by two other British musicians who have been round the block a few times: Liam Noble on piano, and Paul Clarvis on drums. Together, they apply a number of different modern jazz styles to Waller’s songs. They do so with both respect and a sense of humour which Fats would surely have appreciated. The net result is that familiar (hackneyed, even) melodies are given a new lease of life as if they were being heard and appreciated for the first time.

The album begins with Lulu’s Back in Town which is introduced by a rather eerie and scratchy extract from a radio broadcast by Waller in 1938. It’s an effective and oddly moving touch. Lewandowski, Noble and Clarvis then come in with some contemporary loose improvisation before launching into a fairly straight, swinging rendition of the familiar tune. As the track proceeds, Noble introduces more modern piano styles – a bit of bebop here, some fashionable dissonance there – together with some neat interplay particularly with Clarvis’s drums. The drumming is one of the highlights of the album. Clarvis uses brushes throughout and keeps perfect time, as well as playing brilliantly off the other musicians and contributing his own improvisatory style.

Click here to listen to Lulu’s Back in Town.

The second track is labelled I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead….Suzannah! and is a fusion of two separate tunes. It begins with Lewandowski, sounding a little like Charlie Haden, playing the tune (or tunes?) backed by drums. The tempo gradually increases until Noble suddenly bursts in with some frantic piano. He displays all his considerable virtuosity with a bravura performance which includes some almost classical sounding passages. There is humour there as well in what Lewandowski calls “Liam’s playful unpredictability”.

There is also a classical feel to Jitterbug Waltz with Noble moving effortlessly from Jacques Loussier playing Bach to Dave Brubeck playing West Coast Cool without ever renouncing a gentle swinging tempo.

Blue Because of You is taken at a very fast pace with some nice call and response between the musicians and a short but effective bowed bass solo. In contrast, Fair and Square… In Love, is treated as a slow ballad in which Noble gets to channel his inner Bill Evans and where the spaces between the notes become almost as compelling as the notes themselves. This is followed by Cinders which also has a slow but attractive bluesy tempo.

It’s a Sin to….Write a Letter is another intelligent amalgamation of two tunes with piano and bass comfortably dovetailing with each other, and Clarvis making interesting percussive sounds as well as vocalising little grunts and hums. Have a Little Dream on Me is a bass solo in which Lewandowski gets to show off his considerable skills.

Track 9 is a version of one of Waller’s most famous compositions, Ain’t Misbehavin'. The tune is performed fairly straight with a gentle swing. The musicians play off each other very effectively with some imaginative and absorbing improvisation. The cliché about breathing new life into an old tune has never been more true. The same goes for the next track, Honeysuckle Rose, another Waller favourite again introduced by a crackly extract from an old recording. The musicians briefly play the tune with a slightly latin beat and jagged notes.

The final track is called Surprise Ending. The said surprises come thick and fast: first, the track is not a Fats Waller song, it’s the Jelly Roll Morton number, Why? Second, as well as playing bass, Lewandowski sings (and whistles). Most surprising of all is that Lewandowski has a fine singing voice – a light tenor in the style of a swing era crooner. Once again, the sense of humour which underlies the whole album shines through. The track ends on a single bass note. It’s a fitting finale to a most absorbing and well thought through album.

Lewandowski, Noble and Clarvis are currently on tour during May with a busy schedule around the UK. Check out Lewandowski’s website for the dates - click here. The website also contains details of how to get hold of the album, as does the Whirlwind website - click here.

Click here to sample the album.

Robin Kidson

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Jason Yaeger and Jason Anick - United

Album Released: 10th March 2017 - Label: Inner Circle Music - Reviewed: April 2017

Jason Yaeger and Jason Anick United

Jason Yeager (piano); Jason Anick (violin, mandolin); Greg Louhman (double bass); Mike Conners (drums); John Lockwood (double bass tracks 5 & 9); Jerry Leake (percussion tracks 5 & 9); Jason Palmer (trumpet tracks 5 & 9); Clay Lyons (alto saxophone track 2); George Garzone (tenor saxophone track 7).

I’ve never heard of these two guys, the two Jason’s, piano and violin/mandolin.  In such circumstances I become a stranger in a strange land.  The album’s called United.  Close friends, probably; what are they saying?  What’s their context?  Why are they doing that?  The presence of George Garzone on one track, called Turbulent Plover intrigues me.  I’m almost sure the last time I encountered this tenor sax giant was when he was with Ornette Coleman’s former electric bassist, Jamaaladeen Tacuma; a completely different band proposition to the one on offer here.  The trumpeter Jason Palmer is also on a couple of tracks.  I’ve rated his playing with Noel Preminger and Cédric Hanriot, both tell opposite stories to each other, and hell’s teeth, what’s happening here is different again.

The opening track Achi, written by pianist Jason Yeager, catches the ear with the first solo, played on piano by the composer.  You can hear it in the confident manner he dribbles the notes into the space and then just holds off them to reflect on their sound.  I almost wish he’d started with the solo rather than the theme.  Why?  Because the same thing happens when Jason Anick’s violin folds into the space – everybody, including Greg Loughman’s bass and Mike Conners' drums seem to lighten up.  What’s ‘written’ on a musical score is like words, you can’t take them back, no you damn well can’t, whereas some solo space in jazz, when thrown over chord changes give you options.  The encouraging thing about Achi is that Yeager and Anick take up their own options.

Click here to listen to Achi.

Next up is Bird’s Eye View and Yeager/Anick ask Clay Lyons’ alto sax to step up and provide the Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker perspective.  The guy only plays on this one track.  I wish he’d hung around for the whole session.  He pumps up the power.  Just prior to the alto entry there’s a neat fiddle break, all finesse and finely third stream.  Lyons leans on this when he pours in the saxophone but it’s infuriating, because he’s obviously got more to say, but he’s cleaned out by the arrangement.  I hope the studio wasn’t a long journey for Mr Lyons, perhaps he was going to do the family food shop on the way home.

Jason Palmer gets a little longer for his guest appearance.  Well Red is a good crack.  Over its 5 minute plus length it’s not delivered straight, there’s a quirky theme that bounces into place and is set up by Palmer, there’s a Brubeckesque time signature for pianoforte, and the trumpeter has to theme his horn across it.  A complicated conceit by the composer (Anick) which nevertheless hatches some genuine creativity from the content.  The tasty truth is that Jason Palmer is back for another track. Harlem Hoedown is the longest outing on the album and it cuts deep.  Tub thumping counting the ‘head’ melody over a tricky time signature, which sets up Jason Palmer’s early entry. 

His trumpet is angular even when soaring.  He can crush notes as he descends, he almost has a reed player's ability to squeeze out a multiple language.  He generates a head of steam which enables the other two Jasons leading this session to take up the action when it comes to their own showcase breaks.  The switch of rhythm sections is interesting.  Jerry Leake is busy, busy, busy, piling on detail, determined to find space.  His percussion break over a bass and piano figure is a fast thing.  Hoedown?  They’re in Massachusetts, so it’s hoedown, and there’s alliteration with Harlem, yet that’s New York.  I guess these guys can call it what they want. Whatever the name, I’ll have some of that.

This name, Zbigniew Seifert, might not mean a great deal to people new to jazz, so it’s pleasing to have a couple of this string pioneer’s compositions included here. Mr Seifert died young but in the time he had available he went some way in rearranging expectations about the violin in a jazz context.  In the 1970’s he played with Tomasz Stańko, Joachim Kühn, Philip Catherine and others.  Stillness is short.  Stillness is often short in the living of it, so it is here; a deft eulogy from one violinist to another.  However that’s not the end of this digression because the track Turbulent Plover, which I referred to in the opening paragraph, was also a Seifert composition.  It is incendiary.  For starters it begins as a duet chorus with just George Garzone’s tenor saxophone lit up by balanced breath control against Mike Connors' drums, breaking up cross beats socked against a shimmering ride cymbal marking time in twos. When Yeager, Anick and Loughman join them it feels like a fast ride but Anick’s solo does Seifert proud.  Turbulent, sure; invigorating, absolutely.  The fact that Mr Garzone gets to open out at the end is another plus.  He’s one brilliant voiceover tenor; pity he had to leave the session to join Clay Lyons’ shopping trip home.

There’s a couple tracks which don’t make it for me.  In my view, a version of George Harrison’s pleasant tune Something, played as a mandolin/piano duet, doesn’t stand up well against the avatar action they generate on Turbulent Plover.  Nor do I see the point of Yeager and Anick producing yet another summary of All Blues, the staple track from Kind Of Blue.  Somehow I doubt whether Miles Davis would buy into that either (though I’ve no hotline to check out the worth of such a statement.)

Click here for Something played live.

The fact is there’s plenty of ‘Plus’ on United.  The Zbigniew Seifert connection is a smart move and the guests bring zing to the session. I absolutely know the violin to be an improvising instrument.  Jason Anick makes a tight case for his own playing, particularly when he’s pushed into the sonics by Palmer and Garzone.  The opener, Achi, is Jason Yeager; smooth and assured.  Harlem Hoedown demonstrates he can cut rough too.  There’s more to come from these two leaders. 

Click here for a video introduction to the album.

Click here for details and samples. Click here for Jason Yeager's website.

Click here to listen to Zbigniew Seifert – solo violin, Kind Of Time

Steve Day  www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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David Binney - The Time Verses

Album Released: 10th February 2017 - Label: Criss Cross - Reviewed: April 2017

David Binney The Time Verses

Long-revered altoist phenomenon David Binney, born in Miami in 1961 and raised in California, is certainly proud of having created a very personal style within modern jazz. In the course of his remarkable career, he has joined forces with other ingenious artists such as Chris Potter, Bill Frisell, Donny McCaslin, Craig Taborn, Uri Caine, Scott Colley, Edward Simon, Brian Blade, and Kenny Wollesen.

Those collaborations spawned truly exhilarating albums - Free to Dream (Mythology, 1998), Welcome to Life (Mythology, 2004), Out of Airplanes (Mythology, 2006), and Graylen Epicenter (Mythology, 2011) that should be on the shelves of any jazz lover. The brand new The Time Verses, released on Criss Cross label, is now out to join them.

Besides his own projects, Binney has been very busy as a sideman. In the past, he was part of part of several bands such as Lost Tribe (with guitarists Adam Rogers and David Gilmore, bassist Fima Ephron, and drummer Ben Perowsky), Lan Xang (with saxophonist Donny McCaslin, bassist Scott Colley, and drummer Jeff Hirschfield or Kenny Wollesen), and the renowned orchestras of Gil Evans and Maria Schneider. He’s also a sought-after producer and the quality of his work is mirrored not only in his own releases, but also in Scott Colley’s The Architect of the Silent Moment (CAM Jazz, 2007) and most of Donny McCaslin’s albums, including the latest Beyond Now (Motema, 2016).

His compositional structure and patterns are immediately identifiable in Walk, which flows with a rock pulse for a while until decelerating toward an oneiric passage efficiently controlled by the rhythm section. The final part thrives with cyclic harmonic sequences, so appropriate for Binney’s resolute attacks and imaginative phrases replete with intervallic wisdom. Vocal samples and electronics are tastefully added.

Airing a folk-ish melody, Arc is a ballad that grows athletic muscle throughout Binney’s improvisation, returning to the soft primary movements in order to conclude. However, the Zen trophy goes to Seen, a soaring balm for the spirit and mind, earnestly sung by Jen Shyu, who also wrote the lyrics. After Opsvik’s empathic solo, Binney sets off on a soulful, quasi-metaphorical improvisation that defies time and space. His wise sense of resolution, especially after ‘outside’ flights, is a rare gift.

A jittery intro of sax and drums in The Reason To Return seems to push us into heavier territories. Despite being more saturated in color, the tune remains faithful to the bandleader’s philosophy as he embarks on edgy declarations congested with melodic awareness, well followed by Weiss’s graceful rhythmic drives and Sacks' exciting piano swirls.

Where Worlds Collide is a typical-Binney creation, well structured from roots to branches and rejoicing with plenty of life. Weiss enchants with his percussive clear-sightedness, and after the tremendous saxophone bursts, Sacks shows why he’s one of the most rhythmically daring pianists on the scene. This particular tune features guest saxophonist Shai Golan on the theme statement.

A bracing swing takes hold of Fifty Five whose title makes reference to the 55 Bar in New York where this quartet often plays. The tune intersects Binney’s fluid language with moods of Wayne Shorter and Sam Rivers.

The Time Verses gives us everything we could expect from a visionary saxophonist of multiple talents and resources as David Binney. His endless energy works together with an inspired creativity and sharp focus, and this is his most brilliant work in years.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Filipe Freitas jazztrail.net

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Evan Parker, John Edwards, John Russell - Walthamstow Moon ('61 Revisited)

Album Released: 2017 - Label: Byrd Out (Vinyl) - Reviewed: April 2017

Walthamstow Moon album cover

Evan Parker (saxophones); John Edwards (double bass); John Russell (guitar). This is a limited edition vinyl album of 300 copies.

In Last Orders, the Graham Swift novel, a story told in flashbacks, the central character is dead.  The ashes of ‘Jack Dodds’ are taken by his old comrades from Bermondsey to Margate to be sprinkled in the sea.  Old Kent Road, Dartford, Gravesend, all these evocative place names are sprinkled through the book, just like Jack. 

This vinyl creation has something of Graham Swift’s novel about it.  In November 1961 John Coltrane played the Granada Theatre in Walthamstow, East London.  He was leading a stellar band; Eric Dolphy, McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman and Elvin Jones.  Evan Parker tells the tale of how he, aged 17, took off with his mate from Ashford, Kent in a beaten up Ford Popular to make the journey round the North Circular.  They weren’t casting ashes to the wind but the car gave up the ghost in Acton and the two young men arrived in Walthamstow by tube just in time to catch both sets by the John Coltrane Quintet. 

55 years later, Mr Parker takes his two mates, John Russell and John Edwards, back to the preserved Granada Theatre in Hoe Street, E17, now being gradually restored and renamed Mirth, Marvel & Maud, to play out the memories of that historic gig in their own private concert.

John Coltrane - to my mind, if there was ever a high priest amongst the annals of what I understand as jazz, then it is he.  Coltrane; he is The One.  Yet, now, here in the UK, 2017, we are found continually waiting for our own Godot to step forward.  We, who listen to improvised music know, that amongst our own, Evan Parker is the catalyst, the reeds player, who for over 40 years has given this music a new language.  Even so, Evan Parker waits for no man.  Fitting then, that for a second time it is Mr Parker who makes the comparatively short journey from Kent to Walthamstow to the site of an encounter with the unknown.  Even after all these gigs together, they cannot guarantee that this will be like the last.  And it is totally understandable that Parker, Edwards and Russell sound especially special, as well as truly, unequivocally like themselves.  This trio is certainly uncertain as well as indefinitely definite, and if they are not quite the massive icon that became ‘Coltrane’ it is because this whole journey has always been about finding yourself, rather than the ghost of gods or other humans .... even amongst those who reside on the same plain.

John Russell’s guitar technique has sometimes been compared to the late Derek Bailey’s guitar deconstructions, and of course Mr Bailey was one of Evan Parker’s original accomplices in the whole reconstruction of what was once understood as ‘free improvisation’.  If you’re that interested in the story of how Mr Bailey and Mr Parker fell out with each other there are places on the Net that will tell you, and if you’re not interested you don’t need it told right here. For me the positively  important fact is, putting personalities to one side, all these great musicians (the original Spontaneous Music Ensemble collective, together with the whole European scene coming via the Globe Unity Orchestra and beyond) created (amongst other things) a collective music that was actually a sound platform, not a notated or orthodox western harmonic system. 

John Russell, who took a few lessons from Derek Bailey early on, is sufficiently different in his break with conventional guitar technique to not bother anyone about it.  Mr Russell certainly imposes a radically new colour palette to his tuning whilst maintaining a ‘chordal’ framework which continually bends my ears.  About 18 months ago I caught these three at a gig nowhere near Kent or the North Circular.  The occasion wasn’t as momentous as the Walthamstow Moon event but sure enough they came game-on; nobody said anything, everybody played like they were rebuilding three brains, we all applauded, and not for the first time, we went home wondering how it was done.

There’s always someone who wants to try to explain.  I hope I’m not going to fall into that trap here.  I’ve been listening to Evan Parker since I knew I needed to (decades ago).  The more I hear him, the less I can say about him other than he is probably the one player in the UK who leaves me speechless.   Here on the Moon live recording I am again lost for words.  I am not boasting, it’s no big deal, but I have hundreds of recordings featuring Evan Parker’s tenor and the soprano.  Every year I add more.  And yes, I do have my own special favourites, but actually that’s not what it is really about.  Always better simply to just put my hand in amongst them and bring out whatever is grasped and play the mass of it. Hear the air.  The route out of temperance.  Or the Saturnine Aspect, to borrow one of these titles as a description.  Or maybe, it is to do what Stuart Broomer once referred to as count “....the phantom pitches, the adding and subtracting of the ear’s ring modulator.”  To actually dive into that continuous beavering away at breath and finger placement.  And in the case of John Russell and John Edwards, the plucking vital strand of Mopomoso, here in all but name.

If you think you know Evan Parker there is nothing on Walthamstow Moon (’61 Revisited) which you would not recognise from before; his confounded dominance, his total focus, the sour stringency, the splintering, the line drawn in the space between his ear and yours.  Yet I can’t say otherwise, you will want to hear this one too.  It will interact with you like The Topography Of The Lungs.  Astound you, but not like last year’s As The Wind astounds you, but astound you nonetheless.  Cry jazz at you like Leaps In Leicester, yet offer nothing remotely close to Lester Young, or in this case, Dolphy and Coltrane.  It will rush at you like Imaginary Values whilst not containing the weighted balance of the Guy/Lytton axis. Take Walthamstow Moon on its own terms.  By all means revisit John Coltrane in 1961, India, Naima, and Impressions, true blue-blues in abstract is still alive at the Village Vanguard; box-set after box-set is some kind of holy grail.  So you won’t find Chasin’ The Trane at Mirth, Marvel & Maud, but here on this new slice of vinyl (which has fascinatingly intricate artwork by Oliver Bancroft) is another inspired recording by Evan Parker, John Russell and John Edwards.  There are only 300 copies, get one while you can still afford it.

Click here for a video of Evan Parker, John Russell, John Edwards playing live at The Vortex in 2013.   

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Patrice Williamson and Jon Wheatley - Comes Love

Album Released: 25th April 2017 - Label: Riverlily Records - Reviewed: April 2017

Patrice Williamson and Jon Whetley Comes Love

The new album by Boston based jazz vocalist Patrice Williamson is a tribute to the Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass collaboration which produced 6 albums where all of these tracks can be found.  The CD will be released on April 25th as this will mark 100 years since Ella was born.  Patrice’s fellow Berklee College of Music faculty member, Jon Wheatley, joins her for this set of 12 songs.

The album is from Williamson’s own Riverlily Records (named after her mother Lillie Rivers Williamson) and produced by pianist /composer Helen Sung.  Williamson states “I started listening to recordings of Ella during my sophomore year in college, and I haven’t stopped.  Jon has a vast knowledge of all the great jazz musicians and jazz guitarists, including Joe Pass.  Our goal was to present how Ella and Joe have inspired our own musical development”.  The series of tributes explore a different facet of Ella’s career from small bands to orchestra.  There is also a narrative through the choice of songs which reflects a woman’s journey from loneliness to love, and from lost love to resilience and joy which lends the songs a compelling theme.

Williamson also makes the point that “she found herself particularly drawn to her (Ella's) work with Pass due to its vulnerability and purity, without the assistance of bass or drums”.  However, Williamson does play the flute on tracks 1 and 12.  The only other “instrument” employed would be her use of ‘scat singing’, using the vocals as an instrument of improvisation with sounds instead of words. If you like this form of singing then the title track, Comes Love and the closing number One Note Samba will be to your taste.  

Click here to listen to the title track, Comes Love.

The opening track is Toots Thielmans’ Bluesette.  This sets the scene for the next two tracks, Comes Love, and 'Tis Autumn, conveying the feelings of infatuation that lead to falling in love.  The next track, I May Be Wrong (But I Think You’re Wonderful), is arranged by pianist Helen Sung, to evoke the giddy and uncertain feelings of a new love.  

Click here for a video of Patrice and Jon playing You Turned The Tables On Me.

The following tracks reflect the feelings when a relationship is in trouble, starting with the reflective and questioning Duke Ellington’s Take Love Easy, and then by Billy Eckstine’s I Want to Talk About You.  Things start to get a bit heated with Joe McCoy's Why Don’t You Do Right? but Williamson’s version of Benny Goodman’s Don’t Be That Way, is in contrast to the Fitzgerald / Pass recording which is soothing and not sung with sardonic exasperation of the vocals here. The subsequent tracks illustrate that the relationship is over with Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life, You Turned the Tables on Me, By Myself and One Note Samba.

The whole album is extremely interesting bringing clear vocals and clean guitar together with an excellent purity and simplicity.  The flute additions lend another layer of intricate and pure melody to a couple of the tracks and the impression is indeed that Ella and Joe Pass have inspired this thoughtful homage; Jon Wheatley’s guitar paying complements Patrice’s voice.  I liked the fact that, as with the original Ella Fitzgerald / Joe Pass partnership, both musicians made an equal contribution to what I hope will be a continuing collaboration.

Comes Love is released at the end of April.

Tim Rolfe

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Nasheet Waits Equality - Between Nothingness and Infinity

Album Released: 4th November 2016 - Label: LaborieJazz - Reviewed: April 2017

Nasheet Waits Equality Between Nothingness And Infinity

Reinforcing his credentials as a bandleader, Nasheet Waits, an impressive drummer from New York, releases a stimulating album on the French label Laborie Jazz.

The percussionist has a flair for straight-ahead jazz and avant-garde categories but moves with equal confidence in post and neo-bop styles. His father, Freddie Waits, was also a respected percussionist who played with jazz giants such as McCoy Tyner, Pharoah Sanders, Lee Morgan, Kenny Barron and Andrew Hill. However, he never officially recorded as a leader.

Nasheet, commonly called “Heavy” Waits, has collaborated with Antonio Hart, Mark Turner, Andrew Hill, Fred Hersch, David Murray, Jason Moran, and Steve Lehman, while more recently, his groundbreaking drumming techniques were put at the service of Logan Richardson, Miroslav Vitous, Avishai Cohen, Tony Malaby, and Ralph Alessi.

In his new album, philosophically entitled Between Nothingness and Infinity, he leads the completely renewed quartet Equality, which comprises high-caliber artists such as alto saxophonist Darius Jones, pianist Aruan Ortiz, and bassist Mark Helias. They replace Logan Richardson, Jason Moran, and Tarus Mateen, respectively, who were in the recording of the previous album Infinity (Fresh Sound New Talent) in 2008.

Waits’s Korean Bounce couldn’t be a more exciting opening, boasting an exuberant pulse that works as a recipient for Ortiz’s timely piano voicings and Jones’s rugged saxophone lines, intentionally imbued of Oriental flavor.

Helias’s Story Line flows through African-tinged percussive spells. The theme statement is supplied in unison by sax and piano, and the riveting improvisations make us alert at all times. Jones, whose slightly dissonant contortions are never gratuitous or frivolous, proves he’s a quick-witted explorer while Ortiz’s rhythmic sense and levels of inventiveness thrust him into the limelight of modern pianism.
 
An uncanny dark mood envelops the title track, a solemn piece composed by the bandleader to be performed by piano trio formation. It opposes the Parisian charm of Andrew Hill’s Snake Hip Waltz whose bohemian feel is instantly absorbed. The amiable melodies blown by Jones, who opts for a post-bop language, encounter Ortiz’s titillating voicings. The pianist’s movements demand clever and intuitive responses from Waits, who nails it.

In Sam Rivers’s Unity, you’ll find Jones and Ortiz dialoguing over a well-heeled bass-drums incitement while Nasheet is breathtaking on toms and cymbals. Envisioning a diversity of pace and colour, the quartet delivers Kush, a leisurely waltz that recalls Bill Evans, and Parker’s Koko, and which has sufficient rhythmic variations to sound fresh. In the latter, Waits follows Ortiz’s piano mosaics, carrying his chattering percussive vibes before Helias embarks on a frantic walking bass that seems to ask for bebop scales, a request that Jones immediately refuses, engaging instead in an alternative and more interesting soloing concept with focus on timbre.

Nasheet Waits unwraps an extraordinary body of work that brings us the best of modern jazz, serving as a showcase for his vibrant driving grooves and impeccable compositions. This is a hidden treasure that every fan of contemporary jazz should look for.

Click here to listen to Hesitation.

Click here for details and to sample the album. Click here to sample the album on Soundcloud.

Filipe Freitas jazztrail.net

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Colin Steele Quintet - Even In The Darkest Places

Album Released: 17th March 2017 - Label: Gadgemo Records - Reviewed: April 2017

Colin Steele Quintet Even In The Darkest Places

Trumpeter Colin Steele's first recording in 1999, with Cathie Rae providing the vocals, was a Tribute to Chet Baker but it was the noughties (2000-2009) that brought Steele and his quintet  rave reviews for a string of albums as well as their live performances and a BBC best album award in 2004 for The Journey Home. Steele's final album of the decade, Stramash, featured an additional string quartet as well as a piper highlighting the Scottish pedigree of the band.  One commentator at the time hailed Steele's band as a Scottish supergroup blending traditional music with modern jazz to provide something both distinctive and extremely effective. 

During 2009 Colin Steele toured with a theatrical show called A Funny Valentine based on the life, music and drug addiction of Chet Baker;  many will know that Chet Baker suffered damage to his mouth and had to relearn how to play the trumpet before continuing with his career.  In a cruel twist of fate, Colin Steele also had to relearn his trumpet playing following a disastrous change of technique which damaged his mouth and rendered him unable to earn a living.  Luckily friends rallied round and after a period of several years Colin Steele is back on the music scene with this new album and gigs following 2016 appearances in Aberdeen and Edinburgh, and with Fife and Aberdeen in 2017 where he played the music of Miles Davis - one fervently hopes that any future parallels between Steele and Davis, unlike that with Baker, are entirely positive.

The current Colin Steele quintet has long term collaborators Michael Buckley on saxophones, Dave Milligan on piano and Stu Ritchie on drums, while Calum Gourlay on bass is a newer member of the band.  The album has seven tracks, all composed by Steele and arranged by Milligan.  The album has a colourful, stylised, bioluminescent fish from the deep ocean on the front cover and more coloured lights on the back; showing that colour can be found, even in the darkest places, perhaps a metaphor for the help Colin Steele has received to get him through a dark period in his life. 

The first track, I Will Wait For You, starts with trumpet and saxophone in unison, playing a catchy melody. Saxophone and then trumpet solos are more reflective, but towards the end the piano sounds triumphant with enthusiastic backing from the rest of the band suggesting that whatever the wait was for it was well worth it. Many have stood on the shores of Loch Ness looking for a legendary creature;  track 2, Looking For Nessie has trumpet and then saxophone playing brief melodies before a brisk marching tune alters the mood followed this time by a bluesy solo from Gourlay on bass and then Buckley on saxophone. 

Suite For Theo is a tune written for Colin Steele's youngest child and the long trumpet solo is understandably emotional. Dave Milligan's beautifully judged piano follows, leading into a reprise of the melody followed in turn by solos on drums and saxophone, excited playing from the whole band fades into a lullaby from the piano as the finale. The next track, Robin Song, was written as a personal thank you for the generous help rendered to Colin Steele during his misfortunes, it is a beautiful melody that certainly sounds heartfelt, solos from Steele, Gourlay and Milligan retain the essential melodic feel of this charming piece. 

Independence Song, as might be expected, has the feel of a traditional Scottish ballad, becoming increasingly joyful at the end.  There Are Angels is "dedicated to all those who helped Steele through his darkest hours" and Steele's playing seems particularly inspired; Milligan's piano is excellent.  The last track, Down To The Wire, is perhaps the most interesting on the album and also the longest. It begins with a jazzy conversation between soprano saxophone and piano, then a melody in a traditional Scottish style follows that is explored, dissected and embellished by the soprano saxophone; the piece proceeds very pleasantly with various combinations in harmony until, with a sudden change of mood, the quintet does a great job of sounding like a big band, with fast tempo piano, trumpet and saxophone solos in the best bebop tradition before a frenetic finale.

Those who have become interested in jazz during the last few years will have probably never heard of Colin Steele although that is less likely if you live "north of the border".  Those that do remember his previous music will remember beautiful melodies inspired by, but not over-reliant on the music of Scotland, real jazz trumpet influenced by the likes of Chet Baker, Lee Morgan and Miles Davis and an ensemble that was both relaxed and empathetic.  The great news is that Colin Steele is back with more lovely melodies, more great jazz and a band that perfectly complements his style, moreover a band whose members, particularly Dave Milligan who did the arrangements, are all excellent in their own right. 

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Click here for Colin Steele's website

Howard Lawes     

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Chris Barber's Jazz Band - Barber In Detroit

Album Released: 5th May 2017 - Label: Lake Records - Reviewed: April 2017

Chris Barber In Detroit

Chris Barber (trombone, leader), Pat Halcox (trumpet), Monty Sunshine (clarinet), Eddie Smith (banjo), Dick Smith (bass), Graham Burbidge (drums), Ottilie Patterson (vocals).

The last time I heard The Big Chris Barber Band was at the Colston Hall in Bristol the year after trumpeter Pat Halcox had died. The concert hall was full as Bourbon Street Parade, as always, brought on the band. Chris is amazing. He will be 87 years old on 17th April this year; he still plays a mean trombone, he still has a formidable tour schedule (click here) and he can still fill a venue.

The first time I heard the Barber band was at Wimbledon Town Hall and I was still at school. Even then the town hall was full; we were all fresh, musicians and audience; boys' hearts stopped when Ottilie Patterson sang raw and dirty; jazz was the music of the young then, and that was the band that you can hear on this album. If you think I exaggerate, look at the photograph of the band in the liner notes taken by the Golden Gate bridge during this 1959 tour.

Paul Adams' liner notes are comprehensive and valuable. Paul says: 'This is not a classic Chris Barber album, but a historically important one.' The USA tour was itself significant. A Musicians' Union ban on American artists appearing in Britain was becoming more relaxed allowing 'swaps' to take place. Freddy Randall's band had 'swapped' with Louis Armstrong, but as Paul points out, Chris's band was the first to tour extensively in a 'swap' for Woody Herman. Reproducing the music from this Detroit gig was a challenge. 'The basic problem was that the recordings were made from a single microphone placed high above the band. This meant that there was a lot of ambient noise from the auditorium, a certain 'boominess' and a lack of clarity'. Dave Bennett and Paul Adam's audio engineering has eventually brought us something we can enjoy.

The other background story is that ' ... apparently the band didn't know they were being recorded. Whoever recorded it arranged for it to be issued on LP. It appeared on the GONE label in the USA pertaining to be by 'The All American Ramblers' ... Chris Barber came across the LP in Joe's Record Shop in New York and realised by the tunes that it was his band - "we played Bobby Shatfoe and I didn't think any other bands - let alone American groups - were doing at the time."

There are many Barber favourites amongst the 12 tracks recorded in Detroit on 22nd February, 1959 - Bourbon Street Parade, Bobby Shaftoe, The Old Rugged Cross, Chimes Blues, Panama, Didn't He Ramble ... From the outset this is clearly a live performance, some numbers being captured better than others; we know the arrangements so I'll pick out a few salient points. The first is the energy coming from the band. Bobbie Shaftoe is taken at a very fast, almost unnatural, pace; Pat Halcox's solo on My Old Kentucky Home shows what a fine trumpet player he was, and Barber's slide trombone drives the number along - you appreciate his musical influence on the band on this and other numbers that follow. The Old Rugged Cross is, of course, Monty Sunshine's showpiece, briefly but nicely interpreted here; Chimes Blues brings good solos from all the front line and has that catchy 'chiming' interplay at the end; Saratoga Swing, one of the longer tracks, also features great solos packed with feeling from the front line. Chris launches fast into Sweet Sue with extended trombone solos and Eddie Smith gets to feature his banjo; Savoy Blues captures perfectly the early years of the UK Trad. of the time and Didn't He Ramble sends the audience home in 'feel-good' historic fashion with Graham Burbidge's drums introducing the slow march and jaunty follow up before the track fades.

Because of the recording set up in Detroit, Ottilie Patterson was not featured, and so the album makes up for this with six bonus tracks recorded in 1957 and 1958. Paul Adams says: 'No album from this era would be complete without a contribution from Ottilie so I trawled through my recordings to see if there was anything I could use ... Fortunately I had tapes of two concerts from the Manchester Free Trade Hall containing unused tracks. These concerts were also recorded using a single microphone ... We have no indication of what Ottilie might have sung on the Detroit concert. It would not be until 1961 that a recording of Ottilie singing Big Bill Broonzy's Too Many Drivers would appear on record.'

After the band plays I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair, the 25 year old Irish vocalist sings the metaphoric Too Many Drivers. Three and a bit months later she is singing Lowdown Blues accompanied empathetically by the Barber trombone and stomping a vocal duet with Chris on It's Got Me Going. The Ellington / Hodges instrumental Jeeps Blues features solos from Pat Halcox, Chris Barber and, briefly, Monty Sunshine and the album swings breezily to a close with High Society with Monty Sunshine taking his version of the Johnny Dodds solo. (Did you know that the first couple of bars were frequently quoted by saxophonist Charlie Parker in his improvisations?).

This album might not have the clarity of a studio recording but it really captures the essence of the Barber band's live performances at a time when their music was fresh, new and inspirational to young audiences in the 1950s. As a historical record of the time it is an important addition to the catalogue.

Click here for details and to sample the album which is released on 5th May.

Ian Maund

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John O'Gallagher Trio - Live In Brooklyn

Album Released: 16th December 2016 - Label: Whirlwind Recordings - Reviewed: April 2017

John O'Gallagher Trio Live in Brooklyn

John O’Gallagher (alto saxophone); Johannes Weidenmueller (bass); Mark Ferber (drums).

You know, I do like a SESSION.  The rationale for Live in Brooklyn is not rocket science.  Alto sax, bass and drums; all downtown genius players who know each other; book the band into a club, tell them they have 50 minutes to touch the moon.  Between each musician there’s a pile of riffs and fragments which they know how to get the most out of; then simply record them getting on with it.  Welcome to the John O’Gallagher Trio, let’s describe the action, firstly with this video introduction to the album - click here.

Prime is a fabulously weird, weird start.  Weidenmueller/Ferber’s drums and bass run a lopping looping 5/7 time, a bit after the style of Blackwell/Haden on those original Atlantic albums for the Coleman Quartet.  John O’Gallagher’s alto horn also has some of that about it too – he’s not rushing the melody line yet at the same time he’s got a squeeze on the reed which could blow raspberries if that was his intention.  Prime is almost a ballad in that they pace it slow – stretch then yawn, speed up the sax line, tumble the drums and counterpoint the bass.  Weee!  This has got to be the most fun thing I’ve heard all week, all month, maybe over the last six months.  Mark Ferber presses out incredibly tight compressed rolls which then simply float off into that metered beat.  To be honest, I can’t count with any form of precision on the signature.  But they do, I swear they do, and as they rummage around in Johannes Weidenmueller’s bass solo at the end, you might just as well count the stars.  Prime segues into...

Extralogical Railman, which is an anagram of Bird’s famous Relaxin’ At Camarillo.  You've got to hand it to O’Gallagher for coming up with that title.  For those of you familiar with Charlie Parker’s tune you can actually just recognise Camarillo as they first spin into the head, but it’s soon off down the Extralogical railtrack and you quickly lose any sense of the Yardbird in its wake.  For me, what follows is an extraordinarily outstanding six minutes of alto playing – breath control, tonality, speed, ideas a-go-go.  Devil may care, after all this time someone new comes along and you know damn well they have the whole stockpile covered.  It’s not just the name of the leader on the headline, Mark Ferber rattles a sparkle-finish traps kit into an abandon gallop of cross hatching, with Mr W’s bass plotting a course straight through the middle only to burst out of his own confines.

Credulous Intro is a three minute display of undulating solo alto before the double bass joins in, taking time to measure things prior to the whole glorious construction melting into Credulous proper.  It is a minor niggle that the bass could have had a touch more prominence in the mix.  Strange, because this is Michael Janisch’s label; he can usually be relied on to ensure a perfect bass response.  No matter, I re-dial my ears and Credulous turns and trails a triangular pattern of colours, initially slowly drifting on a double bass extemporisation against spatial drums.  And then John O’Gallager is back, talking to you like a man who has the truth of things in amongst the fake blues.  How do I get to how good this is?  It has some of that quality of certain preachers, you know, those real Holy modal soothsayers who profit out of prophecy yet, by some quirk of constant practice, suddenly hit on heaven’s highway. It all ends with percussion shaking, shuffling and rumbling like the darkness embedding itself into the middle of midnight.  Play-on John O’Gallagher Trio, head first into.....

Blood Ties, another one of those sneaky little rhythm counts which feel as if they’re all nudge and shove; bass and drums looking to get in to wet the baby’s head.  Something like that. Mr G’s pouring himself through his horn, using the whole embouchure and length of the alto to get at the good stuff inside his own head.  Another fine drum break.

Nothing To It is a modest enough statement. Well, it comes with a heady head-melody which positively circles time around, creating a sound web.  This track almost counts as a straight line, though by most people’s standards it would be a trip through the Rocky Mountains. Mark Ferber makes the most of drumsticks as claves, taps a snare drum like hammering nails, there’s a far too low down bass popping some strange scale Mr Weidenmueller found in amongst his fingers and then John O’Gallagher calls it Blood Ties and decides to keep it in the family and come again with the up-and-over head melody which correlates with.....

The Honeycomb, which also happens to be the title of a previous O’Gallagher studio album on Whirlwind Records.  This trio have been working this theme for a few years now.  There’s an excellent live version on YouTube (though still, with a low bass mix).  Over the years, repeatedly coming back to a familiar ‘head’ melody line is sometimes regarded as lazy.  For me, a short simple phrase containing a rhythmic jerk and twist, though not too detailed, can take quality improvisers a long, long way.  That’s how it is here with John O’Gallagher’s Trio.  I think there’s probably a twelve-tone development in the construction, but that’s not really how my brain works.  What I do know is The Honeycomb ends this session on the high it has maintained all the way through.

Click here for a video of The Honeycomb played live.

If you think this counts as a rave review you’d be right.  This is a SESSION, seemingly casual, put together in a small performance space called Seeds Jazz Club, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.  But at heart this is a trio of heads and minds, what I hear on this recording is totally convincing music of the highest order.  I don’t know whether I’ll ever get the opportunity to catch them perform live.  Who knows?  The world throws up some strange jokers in the pack.  Michael Janisch is involved somewhere along the line so maybe we’ll all get the opportunity.  Meanwhile – John O’Gallagher Trio, Live In Brooklyn, brilliant!   

Click here for details.

Click here for John O'Gallagher's website.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Vein - The Chamber Music Effect

Album Released: 21st April 2017 - Label: Unit Records - Reviewed: April 2017

Vein The Chamber Music Effect

The days of rigid boundaries between jazz and classical music have long gone – if they ever existed in the first place. We are currently going through a particularly fertile period of cross-fertilisation between the two genres, to the extent that one wonders sometimes if we can do away with any distinctions altogether. A recent and good example of this cross pollination in action is The Chamber Music Effect, the latest release by the Swiss trio, Vein.

Vein are three classically trained musicians: Florian Arbenz on drums, his twin brother, Michael Arbenz on piano, and bassist, Thomas Lähns. The trio has steadily built an international reputation, not least for their collaborations with stellar American saxophonists, Greg Osby and Dave Liebman.

The Chamber Music Effect sees the musicians return to their classical music roots. The album has eight original compositions which seek to fuse the language and techniques of classical chamber music with those of jazz. In Florian Arbenz’s words, the influence of chamber music “makes our interplay even more varied, compact and innovative and sharpens our musical profile. Combined with various chamber music structures, it complements and extends the very heart and soul of Vein’s playing philosophy: interplay and the greatest possible equality for all members”.

The end result is definitely at the jazz end of the spectrum (perhaps we can’t let go of these distinctions after all!) – and accessible, rhythmic jazz at that. Yet there is something very interesting and original about Vein. Most jazz trios are dominated by the piano with bass and drums largely there to provide the beat. But Vein really live out that philosophy of “the greatest possible equality for all members”. That striving for equality is seen straightaway on the first track of the album, the Florian Arbenz composition, Boarding The Beat. All three instruments play a full part in the music; none dominate. The whole piece has a jaunty rhythm and a most attractive catchy theme, reminiscent of some of the wonderful tunes that the late Michael Garrick used to turn out.

Michael Arbenz wrote the second track, Prelude, and his piano playing here often has a classical feel. But it is the bass playing of Lähns which is particularly notable – innovative and energetic, with some great interplay with the piano. The track swings along nicely with, again, a light catchy tune.

Poème de Nuit, another Michael Arbenz composition, is perhaps the most “classical” track on the album. It has a much slower rhythm than the previous tracks with all three instruments working together to create a slightly sinister atmosphere. The notes gradually get higher and the tension slowly builds in a most effective way. One is expecting the tension to be relieved in spectacular fashion but our expectations are confounded and the music fades away. It is a piece which a Debussy or a Falla could have written.

In Medias Res is an upbeat number with some virtuosic bass-piano interplay punctuated by short but loud drum explosions. This being a Florian Arbenz composition, he also gives himself a more extended place in the limelight with a nicely judged drum solo. He manages to create different sound textures in a compelling and absorbing way.

The intriguingly titled Ode To The Sentimental Knowledge (Florian Arbenz again) is like Poème de Nuit in that it works to create a mood – gentle, reflective, dreamlike. The piano-bass interplay is again exceptional, making a sort of conversation and bringing to mind the collaborations of Bill Evans and Scott LaFaro.

Sheherazade (Michael Arbenz) begins with an extended solo by Florian on tabla which establishes a distinctive eastern vibe with an attractive, foot tapping beat. Later on the track, there is a marvellous duet between tabla and bass with the two instruments perfectly complementing each other. Michael Arbenz contributes some virtuosic and original piano playing.

Pastorale is by Thomas Lähns who plays some highly effective bowed bass, making it sound like a cello. It is a slower piece than many of the other tracks creating a reflective mood which is sometimes disturbed by discordant notes and a rather eerie sound when Lähns moves into a higher register. If this is a pastorale, then there is a chain saw murderer lurking in the woodshed…..!

The final track, Ballet of the Monkeys, is an upbeat Michael Arbenz composition which is a sort of summary of the Vein style: virtuosic playing, catchy themes, crisp drumming and, above all, that equality between the three instruments. It’s a fitting climax to a well thought out and absorbing album.

Click here for an introductory video for The Chamber Music Effect:

Click here for details. For further details, go to the Vein website at: http://www.vein.ch/ where there are also samples of the tracks on The Chamber Music Effect.

Robin Kidson

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Georgia Mancio and Alan Broadbent - Songbook

Album Released: 23rd April 2017 - Label: Roomspin Records - Reviewed: April 2017

Georgia Mancio and Alan Broadbent Songbook

Georgia Mancio (voice and lyrics); Alan Broadbent (piano and music); Oli Hayhurst (double bass); Dave Ohm (drums and percussion).

I wrote about the background to this album last month, but it is worth reminding ourselves of how it came about. Vocalist Georgia Mancio said: 'About 20 years ago, when I worked at Ronnie's, Simon Woolf recommended I listen to Irene Kral as I was just starting singing. That led me to the sublime duo albums she made with Alan Broadbent. In 2012, I sent Alan an email asking if he ever wanted to do any UK gigs with a singer totally unknown to him! That led to some duo gigs the following year and later the start of our songwriting partnership.' The result, Songbook, is released on 23rd April - Alan Broadbent's 70th birthday. They launch the album on 2nd April at Gateshead International Jazz Festival and on 3rd April they are headlining at Ronnie Scott's.

Alan Broadbent is recognised as a leading jazz pianist, composer and arranger with credits as impressively far-ranging as Diana Krall, Natalie Cole, Woody Herman, Johnny Mandel, Paul McCartney, Chet Baker, Warne Marsh, Bud Shank, and iconically Irene Kral and Charlie Haden’s Quartet West. Georgia Mancio has established herself as a popular and prominent vocalist who has worked with Bobby McFerrin, Ian Shaw, Sheila Jordan, Gwilym Simcock and Liane Carroll and stages her own international annual voice festival - ReVoice!

Georgia and Alan discovered that they have a mutual appreciation of the Great American Songbook, clearly reflected in this recording. Alan invited Georgia to write a lyric for The Long Goodbye - an evocative piece originally conceived for Charlie Haden’s Quartet West. It coincided with Georgia’s final visit to her father’s house and became ‘The Last Goodbye’ on the Songbook album - a subtly emotional story of loss and coming of age. One song organically led to another and in a prolific nine month period they reimagined some of Alan’s earlier recorded work.

Click here to listen to Alan playing an instrumental version of The Long Goodbye.

You would think that the first two titles on the album, The Journey Home and The Last Goodbye, would come at the end. In fact, they are about memories, a theme throughout the album, and they introduce us to the light touch of both vocalist and pianist and Oli Hayhurst's gentle double bass. The Last Goodbye says 'I passed by the house just today. It seemed to have something to say. The gates were all worn and the pathway was torn and yet I still hoped you'd be there.The lights that you hung from the tree, the flowers you planted for me, the shoes you once wore they were right by the door and so I still hoped you'd be there ...'. Welcome to Georgia Mancio's touching lyrics.

Click here for a video introduction to the album.

Someone's Sun swings gently in a tune that could work in a stage show and Alan Broadbent's piano ripples through the middle section. Cherry Tree is another song about memories. It would be easy to forget that these lyrical tunes are originally Alan Broadbent instrumental compositions. One For Bud, opening with Dave Ohm's drums and a vocalese approach from Georgia, is clearly about pianist Bud Powell and Georgia sings 'I went to work - 9 to 5. I concentrated on the boss and his jive. His patter and zeal held no inch of appeal compared to Bud.' and the piano solo swings into a double bass outing and then to a piano - drums 'conversation'.

Georgia brings sad lyrics to the slow Hide Me From The Moonlight, one of those tunes that asks for words about lost love, and Forever waltzes its way through a song about taking notice of now: 'Children, they think they'll stay children forever and never get bigger and better. What do they know? Tell them just to go slow. Playtime lasts for so long then they too will grow.' Close To The Moon fits well into an album named Songbook, one of those laid back, softly swinging tunes that belongs to the crooners and Where The Soft Winds Blow, originally written by Alan when he was seventeen, is nicely paced through a song about youth looking forward and an old man wondering where time has gone - 'So we ebb and flow, where the soft winds blow.'

Just Like A Child at track 11 trips lightly, with Latin-like touches, and is perhaps one of my favourite tracks on the album for the way the lyrics and piano fit and the way Dave Ohm's drums carry the tune along. Here again we have a 'looking back', 'We're all frantically coping, intervening between death and birth, Open up your mind and go back, think just like a child!' The album appropriately closes quietly and slowly with a beautiful lullaby of memories, presumably for Georgia's father, Lullaby For MM. 'These are the memories I'll always hold as I grow old, dear father.'

Georgia Mancio has written some superb life-drawn lyrics that she sings with clarity and feeling. They bring pictures to Alan Broadbent's music in such a way that the album could equally be named 'Picturebook', and most of all we can hear the empathy between pianist and vocalist. Oli Hayhurst and Dave Ohm's contribution is 'just right', integrating with the song sensitivities and sometimes adding their individual ingredients to season the dish.

Songbook is released on Roomspin Records on 23rd April.

Click here for Georgia's website where you will find purchase details and click here to listen to samples of the tracks.

Ian Maund

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Langford, Gibbs, Skerman, Anstey, Kirkbride - Exchange

Album Released: 15th January 2017 - Label: Freetone Records - Reviewed: March 2017

Langford, Gibbs, Skerman, Anstey, Kirkbride - Exchange

Mark Langford (bass clarinet, tenor saxophone); Phil Gibbs (electric guitar); Roger Skerman (drums); Paul Anstey and Hugh Kirkbride (double bass).

Mark Langford who plays reeds on this album is a friend of mine.  Let’s get that out of the way.  It is as it is.  So what?  Here is another statement as clear as the sun rising, if you are interested in UK collective ‘jazz’ improvisation you are going to want to hear this recording.  I put inverted comas around the word ‘jazz’ because after all these years I’ve become sensitive concerning its usage, I endeavour to choose the word with care – there are no pre-composed ‘tunes’ on Exchange.  What is heard comes scrambled through the skills of the participants.  Each of the eight pieces is the result of their spontaneous interactive development and is rooted in all that came out of the 1960’s clash within the new-wave of avant-garde jazz.  So if you need a peg on which to place it historically, an obvious one is the mercurial work of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Albert Ayler, who were not only operating out of ‘jazz’ but correspondingly pushing at the boundaries of contemporary ‘art’ music. 

That all took place around fifty years ago, histories are useful only up to a point.  Exchange is new millennium music and the second release on the Freetone label.  Just as the first album, Fringe Music, took its title from a Bristol music venue, likewise Exchange.  In both cases, the words go beyond a sense of place. 

An instant Exchange of ideas between players is a key ingredient within an improvised music where no prior composing is involved.  There has to be a constant ‘flow’ of information; through dynamics, pitch, rhythmic displacement, emphasis, volume and intention, as well as rejection.  Improv demands immediate listening, selection, reaction, creation and an Exchange between all contributors.  The ‘demand’ is counterintuitive, a passive act of freedom.  How free are we within any action any of us undertakes?  How do musicians assimilate the whole sound in situ, on the spot?  Listening to the long circling improv of Stream, it is possible to glimpse five musicians taking on a collective act of spontaneous performance.  It is a high order encounter.  There is no attempt to retain this music other than through the recording of it.  To try to transcribe it would be a waste of time because all the worth is bound up in the essential essence of its instant creation.  You can’t reproduce what is only momentarily present.  Any attempt to write ‘the dots’ on a manuscript would result in ..... dots, not music.

Over the album’s whole 40 minutes, Langford, Gibbs, Skerman, Anstey and Kirkbride undertake a genuine transference of ideas.  By the time Phil Gibbs hurls his electric guitar into the colossal uncharted feedback of Trag, he has established sufficient understanding and trust to hold the centre ground.  Perhaps, even for the listener it is unsurprising that on Fizzle, the follow-through track, it is the Anstey and Kirkbride bass duo which eventually opens out the encounter.  Years ago, the great tenor player Archie Shepp used the phrase ‘Fire Music’ to describe jazz improvisation.  Mr Shepp was alluding to not only the political moment (Civil Rights), but also to the creative action, the act of playing serious impromptu music.  Bright, hot, dangerous even, magnetic to the senses, relevant to the time of its burning.  Yet ultimately, ‘fire’ leaves behind only a charred remains.  Recording such encounters go some way to saving the moment.  Rather like taking a photograph, it is not the reality itself but a representation of it.  I would suggest this is another aspect of the Exchange Langford, Gibbs, Skerman, Anstey and Kirkbride sign-up to.  The shortest track on Exchange is Chaser a beautiful duet between Hugh Kirkbride and Paul Anstey.  The two double bass in stereo separation, way beyond any manuscript score reading, totally tuned to a dual muse.  It isn’t difficult. It’s just a delightfully positive encounter.   

Mark Langford, Phil Gibbs and Paul Anstey all played on the earlier Fringe Music. The change of line-up for Exchange - placing Hugh Kirkbride’s additional bass and the flexible drum kit of Roger Skerman directly alongside electric guitar and tenor sax/bass clarinet is a terrific boost.  The bass duet at the centre; a low rubble never far from the surface.  Bowed, picked, balanced, they recall the path forged in the late 1970’s by the UK’s legendary John Stevens, who with his electric band, John Stevens’ Away (an off-shoot of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble [SME]) created a narrow access route into the notoriously difficult area of ‘free music’.  Personally I never heard it as ‘notoriously difficult’ but I acknowledge many did.  Away’s use of both double bass and electric bass guitar placed an emphasis on pulse which was not always present in SME.  Here, the double, double bass version of Anstey and Kirkbride make for a similar narrow space to squeeze through, and it reveals a close encounter. 

Mark Langford currently plays with the super-electric violinist Peter Evans in Blazing Flame Quintet, but back in the day he was a founder member of Bristol Music Coop which had a similar ethos to the Stevens muse.  As for Paul Anstey, his history is closely associated with the hard-bop of Spirit Level, a band from almost the same period.  The fact is none of these musicians look back.  In the last decade Mr Anstey has taken his double bass into the heart of ‘open’ improvisation and partnered guitarist, Phil Gibbs, well known for his association with tenor sax ‘giant’, Paul Dunmall.  Mr Gibbs is probably the musician who has ‘travelled’ the longest distance in the last twenty years.  Initially a ‘rock’ guitarist who came to ‘jazz’ via John McLaughlin, he has reached an ‘inner’ virtuosity, labelling him is superfluous.  On Exchange he is all things to everyone but always, essentially his own voice.

Exchange travels through a phenomenal level of interplay.  Mark Langford is undoubtedly out there on his own among his peers.  He should be far better known nationally.  The bass clarinet is not an easy reed, to produce extended detailed soloing requires enormous fortitude as well as personal vision.  Hear Deep End; to follow Langford’s lines dropping into the abyss through that long black stick is to touch the bottom of the ocean.  The full depth.  It’s like you suddenly find yourself as the aural witness to a passage of private angst made public.  Exchange is not your ordinary-Joe encounter.  It always takes time to feel comfortable with a stranger.  Okay, as I said, Mark Langford is my friend.  I have to put that aside, the fact of the matter is this ensemble have produced the kind of recording which could do for 2017 what Cath Roberts’ Sloth Racket album, Triptych did for collective improv in 2016.  I can say that easily, and I’ve never met Cath Roberts. 

Click here for details and to sample the album      

Click here for examples of Mark Langford’s playing on Soundcloud. Click here for a written interview with Phil Gibbs.

Steve Day  www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Nels Cline - Lovers

Album Released: 26th August 2016 - Label: Decca - Reviewed: March 2017

Nels Cline Lovers

Innovative, ingenious, and thought-provoking are all suitable descriptive words to define the 61-year-old American guitarist Nels Cline. With an instinctive inclination to explore, Cline has consolidated his position as one of the most exciting contemporary guitarists and bandleaders out there. His career embraces a variety of styles and projects, and his busy schedule includes recording with the brand new Big Walnuts Yonder and Eyebone, and performances with Scott Amendola Band and at the Alternative Guitar Summit (solo).

A few years ago, he was shaping the progressive folk-jazz of Quartet Music, probing modern creative directions alongside Tim Berne and Vinny Golia, offering robust layers to the alternative country-rock of the Chicago-based band Wilco, blowing our minds with his subliminal avant-garde group Nels Cline Singers, and roaming unrestrictedly with his fellow, and much different guitarist, Julian Lage, with whom he associated in 2014 to record Room. Lage is part of the all-star ensemble gathered by Cline to perform in Lovers, his debut on Blue Note Records.

Under the conduction of trumpeter-arranger Michael Leonhart, the recording session counted on stars such as vibraphonist Kenny Wollesen, violinist Jeff Gauthier, horn players Seven Bernstein, Ben Goldberg, and Alan Ferber, harpist Zeena Parkins, bassist Devin Hoff, and Nels’s twin brother Alex Cline in the drummer’s chair. The very personal selection of songs conveys an unexpected romanticism, so atypical of Cline's former projects.

Click here for an introductory video for the album.

Besides a few beautifully orchestrated standards such as Glad to Be Unhappy, Secret Love, Why Was I Born?, and Invitation, which was immaculately arranged with sounds and rhythms associated with Sun Ra, the recording brings us five originals by the bandleader. Hairpin & Hatbox captivates due to a sweet melody placed on top of balmy harmonies, while the dreamy The Bond, interlacing acoustic and electric sounds, ends with a chord progression proper of a pop song.

Click here for a video of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's Why Was I Born?

Other rich interpretations of compositions from disparate artists are included: Jimmy Giuffre’s blues-rooted Cry Want starts with a solo guitar ostinato, gradually being thickened with background layers of instrumentation; Sonic Youth’s Snare, Girl is handled with a tribal rhythm, straight melody, and psychedelic vibes; Gabor Szabo’s 6/4-metered Lady Gabor, spiced by Zeena Parkin’s harp, flows assertively with groove.

Completely divergent in mood It Only Has To Happen Once, a song by the eclectic duo Ambitious Lovers, is propelled by steady beats, gaining a chill-out mood and a propensity for tango in the same line of Thievery Corporation.

This is one of those typical cases where the past is brought into the present with completely different colors, blurring the line of time and genre. Nels Cline's conscientious dedication to this album is quite evident. Shifting musical tastes, polished arrangements, and a combination of textures and flows, are put to work in Lovers, providing safe listenings.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Click here for Nels Cline's website.

Filipe Freitas jazztrail.net

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Noah Preminger - Meditations On Freedom

Album Released: 2017 - Label: Independent Release - Reviewed: March 2017

Noah Preminger Meditations On Freedom

Jason Palmer (trumpet); Noah Preminger (saxophones); Kim Cass (double bass); Ian Froman (drums).

This is what the American tenor sax player Noah Preminger has written on the album cover of Meditations On Freedom:  “At this time of disruptive and divisive change in our nation, I felt compelled to create these jazz meditations .....  We hope this work generates reflection on the fragile and precious freedoms we must fight to preserve and extend to everyone who lives in this country.” 

As long ago as 1958 Sonny Rollins felt similarly ‘compelled’ to write The Freedom Suite; a year later Charles Mingus did the same with Fables Of Faubus and later still, Coltrane, Alabama. They weren’t looking to politicise but sometimes we end up with little choice in the face of society’s undoing.  Noah Preminger’s Meditations are not verbal.  This album draws on the edifice of jazz and blues through nine tracks, five are self-composed. 

To my ears Sonny Rollins hangs over this session like a guiding principle.  Whether the material is self-written or drawn from the popular music songbook matters not.  The crucial ingredient is where it should be, in the playing.  Each one of these performances is turned into the equivalent of a deep sorrow-song.  So, it has come to this, America has to once more play the blues for real; a country at the crossroads.  Like Sonny Rollins before him, Noah Preminger finds himself ‘compelled’ to act.  Which means in their case, pick up the horn and blow.    

The first time I heard Mr Preminger was early last year when I reviewed his album Pivot which focused on the music of the old blues maestro, Bukka White.  At the time I described White as “.... a tough man in harsh times and it was all there in his music.”  What a difference a year makes.  I am now listening to Mr Preminger again, still in a band with the exact same compatriots.  They are now the guys in harsh times, and it shows in this exceptional album of hard and brittle music. 

They begin with a reading of Bob Dylan’s Only A Pawn In Their Game.  It sets the premise of this album.  A Dylan song might seem an obvious place to start given the intention of the album.  Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come arrives as the third track, another lone rider still trying to find the truth of its own statement.  Here the obvious has no place.  The best of it all, the heartening truth about the Noah Preminger Quartet is they never simply just play the damn thing.  They are serious jazz reflectors – they take a melody and reach down into it and pass the shape of the contents through a process of refraction.  Rarely does it stay as written.  Here, Only A Pawn is absolutely not ‘only’, rather it is a fully conceived meditation which connects body, mind and soul through a tenor sax and trumpet duet on the first verse before linking up bass to drums and delivering on the heart of the matter.  It is so deliberately slow, poignant to the point of secular prayer, a sound like men asking for another chance to live again.  Asking it for themselves rather than anyone else, asking it through their instruments, asking their own inner understanding to recognise the validity of saxophone, trumpet, bass and drums. I had to press pause after the first hearing.  How can you not but wait when you have just heard a band weep through music?

To my knowledge, surprisingly Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come was never played by Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra.  Nevertheless the Noah Preminger Quartet bring a mini-version of the Haden orchestral project to this great song.  Until now I had never realised how close Preminger’s tenor is to Dewey Redman’s.  Preminger and Palmer pour through it like a river checked by stones and chasms.  Last year Jason Palmer’s trumpet adorned his City Of Poets session with Cédric Hanriot.  Now his playing on Meditations On Freedom tightens his fix on things. I am already signed up to saying that (in my opinion) Jason Palmer is currently the number one trumpet player in the USA.  And that’s no punt against Wynton, I like the guy.  It’s just that Mr Palmer has managed to get past the Miles Davis legacy in a way that few others have.  Miles Davis weighs heavily on the shoulders of every trumpet trekker in the Beloved country.  Like Don Cherry before him, Palmer takes the by-pass and gets around The Man.  There’s a short track on Meditations called Women’s March which has the trumpet skipping across it as if this is child’s play, which it certainly isn’t.  Truly it’s a delightful, fast pick-me-up.

The central track on this session is Noah Preminger’s own study in stillness, Mother Earth.  Like Only A Pawn In Their Game, it is treated like an in-and-out breath exercise, a meditation in every sense of the word. Kim Cass, double bass, and Ian Froman’s percussion provide a transforming sense of balance on a soliloquy which holds little internal pace of its own.  Another band might have taken the decision to dispense with a rhythm section.  Fabulously, that wasn’t the case here.  Bassist and drummer count for something, in every sense.  I played Mother Earth to a close friend of mine who rightly pointed out that the absence of piano in the line-up meant bass/drums act like a guide to the two horns, not with notes or chord structures, but by intuitively extending the length of the melody (which contains a hint of Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely).  The whole performance is stretched out at differing lengths.  It’s a superb improvisation. 

Meditations On Freedom cannot be dismissed as just a hastily put together response to a political situation.  It’s not like that at all.  I don’t need to comment here.  It is clear to me that Meditations On Freedom is one treasure trove of a jazz response to current times – and yes, you can trace a history back to Sonny Rollins and beyond if you want.  That may be so, we know history as history, not as a mediator’s bargaining chip, nor even a guru’s meditation, history has gone and this is where we are today. I’d recommend getting your ears close to this session.  As far as I know, it’s only available through Noah Preminger’s website (click here).  I wouldn’t let that put you off.

Click here for the Noah Preminger Quartet (Preminger, Palmer, Kass, Froman) playing Dark Was the Night, Cold Was The Ground from their earlieralbum (not on Meditations On Freedom).  
  

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra - Effervescence

Album Released: 24th February 2017 - Label: Spartacus Records - Reviewed: March 2017

Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra Effervescence

Produced by Tommy Smith. Reeds: Helena Kay (alto/clarinet), Adam Jackson (alto), Samuel Tessier (tenor), Michael Butcher (tenor), Heather Macintosh (baritone). Trumpets: Tom Walsh, Sean Gibbs, Joshua Elcock, Christos Stylianides, Cameron T Duncan, Tom Clay Harris. Trombones: Michael Owers, Liam Shortall, Kevin Garrity, Richard Foote. Rhythm Section: Joe Williamson (guitar), Fergus McCreadie, Pete Johnstone (piano), David Bowden (acoustic bass), Stephen Henderson (drums).

Effervescence is the third album from a young Scottish jazz orchestra under Tommy Smith’s sure direction. The album has photos of the musicians presented in bright bursts of colour, but there are no track notes.  However, there is a full list of the 20 musicians that make up sections of the orchestra.

The album has 8 tracks, 7 of which are by some of the greats in jazz (e.g. Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Chick Corea, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie) and one which is an original composition (Tam O’Shanter) from the pen of trumpeter/composer Sean Gibbs.  

The skills of respected arrangers Florian Ross and Christian Jacob have worked their magic on Jerome Kern’s The Way You Look Tonight, Chick Corea’s Humpty Dumpty and Bud Powell, and Miles Davis’s Nefertiti.Other tracks include Woody Herman’s Apple Honey, Benny Golson’s Blues March, and Dizzy Gillespie’s Things To Come.

It has been fourteen years since the inception of the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra (TSYJO) and in that time the orchestra has been a platform for some of the most exciting young jazz musicians in the UK. This album follows that pattern as the present ensemble includes multiple award-winners and critically acclaimed individuals who have already won recognition and approval from fans, commentators and their peers.

The soloists are given plenty of room and opportunity to show their skills on all 8 tracks, albeit sometimes more briefly than you may wish, and for these younger musicians to show this much confidence and accomplishment this early in their careers means that you forget the ‘youth’ label and concentrate on the musicianship instead.

All the tracks were enjoyable to listen to and it is hard to pick a favourite, be it the guitar of Joe Williamson on Humpty Dumpty and Tam O’Shanter to the tenor sax of Michael Butcher on Apple Honey and Nefertiti, the drums of Stephen Henderson on various numbers but in particular on Humpty Dumpty and Things To Come, or the trumpets of Sean Gibbs and Christos Stylianides on Blues March, to the bass of David Bowden.  I also liked the piano playing of Fergus McCreadie and Pete Johnstone.  

The variety of pace from furious Things To Come to the more sedate Nefertiti and the excellent arrangements for the orchestra give the numbers extra shots of modern life and showcase individual members to advantage. An excellent blend.

The orchestra’s current members’ energy and enthusiasm will ensure that the future of jazz is alive and well.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Click here for the Orchestra's website.

Tim Rolfe

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Mark Whitfield - Grace

Album Released: 24th January 2017 - Label: Marksman Productions - Reviewed: March 2017

Mark Whitfield Grace

Mark Whitfield (guitar); Davis Whitfield (piano); Mark Whitfield Jr (drums); Yasushi Nakamura (bass); Sy Smith (vocals).

Mercurial guitarist Mark Whitfield got the jazz world’s attention during the '90s, when the New York Times considered him ‘The Best Young Guitarist in the Business’. Despite speaking a vocabulary of his own, his style is still influenced by his mentor George Benson, the one who recommended him to the organist Jack McDuff. Mark not only has collaborated with jazz legends such as Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Stanley Turrentine, Ray Charles and Jimmy Smith, but also with recent stars like Sting, Chris Botti, Diana Krall, and Roy Hargrove.

Incursions on soul-jazz, hard-bop, and fusion can be easily spotted in Mark’s style. However, he doesn’t stick to a particular style, also venturing himself in the rock music territory with sporadic performances with Dave Matthews' Band. Only three years after his graduation at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, Mark started recording for major labels such as Warner Bros. and Verve. Released on the latter label, his 1994 album True Blue got critical acclaim and displayed an all-star lineup composed of Branford Marsalis on saxophones, Kenny Kirkland on piano, Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Rodney Whitaker on bass, and Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts on drums. Prior to that recording, he had the privilege to be joined by jazz monsters like Kenny Barron, Ron Carter, and Jack DeJohnette in Patrice (Warner Bros., 1991).

After sharing the stage so many times with his two sons (also Berklee graduates), Mark decided to record his 12th album, Grace, with them. The Japanese bassist Yasushi Nakamura, who won the title ‘honorary Whitfield family member’ from the patriarch, joins the pianist Davis Whitfield and the drummer Mark Whitfield Jr. The brothers' names were also announced for trumpeter Freddie Hendrix's upcoming concerts and the drummer was summoned by pianist Orrin Evans for his latest album #knowingishalfthebattle.

Grace was released on Mark’s own label, Marksman, just like his previous Songs Of Wonder, a softhearted celebration of Stevie Wonder’s hits, featuring trumpeter Chris Botti and guitarist John Mayer.

Comprising only originals, the new recording kicks in with the straight-ahead Afro Samurai, a fusion cocktail made of funk, R&B and jazz. If Mark shows rapid reflexes, Davis exceeds all the expectations with an excitingly groovy solo. All the spirit of the blues is put into the 32 bars of Blues D.A.. While Mark configures the theme, Davis and Nakamura improvise emotion.

Marks’ guest, Sy Smith, offers her vocal skills in the title track, Grace, a pure contemporary R&B creation with polyrhythmic feel. Despite the sugary taste, it was Double Trouble that satisfied me most through its props and embellishments flying over a swinging bass line. Here, the impulsive drumming of Mark Jr. becomes unstoppable, even during Mark’s brisk improvisation. At the minute five, a change of mood takes effect and a modal approach is put in practice before the final step.

Click here for a video of the Whitfield Family Band playing Grace at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in April 2016.

Momentarily suspending the high impetus, Space Between Us, a slow-moving waltz is laid down. The band then plunges into a gripping crossover jazz with Fortress, where the joyous tones are directly connected with the addition of well-designed funk-rock elements. The beautiful, rich melodies are superimposed on the hot rhythms in a multi-colored celebration of past and present.

The ‘family’ is perfectly connected in Grace, mixing the wisdom of experience with the irreverence of the youth. Synergy is their key for success and I'm sure Mark doesn't regret giving this opportunity to his gifted sons. Long live the family!

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Filipe Freitas jazztrail.net

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The Jeremy Lyons Ensemble - The Promise Of Happiness

Album Released: 5th December 2016 - Label: Phia records - Reviewed: March 2017

Jeremy Lyons Ensemble The Promise Of Happiness

Jeremy Lyons collected together a dectet of musicians for the first Brilliant Corners jazz festival in Belfast in 2014, however his debut album, Vestige, featured just a quartet.  BBC Radio Ulster Jazz presenter Linley Hamilton described him as "key to the development of jazz in the province; a force for change, a creative generator of original music". 

Lyons studied jazz at Leeds College of Music and Middlesex University and is now based in London. The music for his second album, The Promise of Happiness, has been many years in the making, partly inspired by his time living and working in South Korea. although there is little trace of any explicitly Korean music in the album, and he has returned to a bigger band format.

This time, an eleven piece band playing on the album is led by Jeremy Lyons (soprano and tenor saxophone) and includes regular members of  his London based quartet, Ben McDonnell (guitar) and Buster Birch (drums), colleagues from university days, Hans Koller (piano) and Dave Whitford (double bass) and other very well regarded, London based musicians, Tom Harrison (flute and alto saxophone),  Jon Shenoy (clarinet and tenor saxophone), Noel Langley (trumpet and flugelhorn), Yazz Ahmed (trumpet and flugelhorn), Patrick Hayes (trombone) and Sarah Williams (tuba and bass trombone). 

All the tracks on the album were composed by Jeremy Lyons, and the titles suggest a long journey over a long period of time starting with Tattletale (meaning 'tell-tale' and written in 1996), New Openings, Shinbu (a Japanese word relating to military might), Disquiet, Upward Lift, So Long, Suwon (a regional capital city of South Korea), The Promise of Happiness and Old Haunt Revisited (written in 2015). 

The first track features solos from Noel Langley on trumpet and Hans Koller on piano, the main theme of the piece lacks an easy melody, is reminiscent of bells ringing, and the large band provides some pleasing harmonies and backing to the solos.  New Openings starts with a lovely rhythmic piece which is soon replaced by a contrasting theme. Dave Whitford provides a nice solo on double bass followed by the alto sax of Tom Harrison backed by just the rhythm section, the rest of the band join in towards the end but the sax has the last word. The next track starts with a repeated and rather frantic motif from the piano while Jeremy Lyons' tenor sax solo seems to be a calming influence; backing from the band is in unison and slowly dies away to a peaceful conclusion. 

Disquiet features a solo from Patrick Hayes on trombone sounding fabulous over an afro-cuban type rhythm and a conversation between Buster Birch on drums and the rest of the band.  The next track, Upward Lift, starts with an appropriately optimistic theme, followed by solos from Ben McDonnell on guitar and Jon Shenoy on tenor sax interspersed with some big band style harmonies. 

So Long, Suwon features Yazz Ahmed on flugelhorn and although the piece starts with some reflective piano from Hans Koller, the flugelhorn is just the right instrument to convey the sadness involved in leaving a place or person that has meant a lot and Ahmed plays it beautifully.  The title track has Jeremy Lyons changing to soprano sax, there is another guitar solo from Ben McDonnell and the piece reaches a dramatic climax with the whole band sounding impressive.  The album finishes as it started with a piano solo from Hans Koller whose playing throughout the album is interesting and inventive, and there are some nice harmonies from the band.

All the tracks have been arranged by Lyons and he has shared out the solos very equitably with every member of the band, except Sarah Williams, getting at least one solo, and only Lyons himself, Koller and McDonnell playing two. Given the quality of the musicians, the solo improvisations do not disappoint, as for the album as a whole there are sections where this biggish band delights, generating drama and  excitement and more of this would be welcome; there is certainly promise and it is to be hoped that Jeremy Lyons's music generates even greater happiness in the future.

Click here to listen to the album.

Further details at www.jeremylyons.co.uk, the album is available as a download from bandcamp, cdbaby, amazon and itunes.

 

Howard Lawes     

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Solstice - Alimentation

Album Released: 9th December 2016 - Label: Two Rivers Records - Reviewed: March 2017

Solstice Alimentation

Tori Freestone (tenor sax, soprano sax, flute); Brigitte Beraha (voice); John Turville (piano); Jez Franks (guitars); Dave Manington (bass); George Hart (drums).

Although only released in 2016, this recording comes from a studio session in December 2014. These are skilled musicians who know each other well from the East London music scene, but some also lead their own bands or play and record with other ensembles. The play list here is also a bit like an 'American supper' where the musicians have brought their own compositions to the party.

'Alimentation' is defined as 'The act or process of giving or receiving nourishment' and the band says how 'they have now come together united by a shared love of music and food to write and eat collectively'.  They have a unified sound drawing on influences from Brazil, New York, and France such as Hermeto Pascoal, Edward Simon and Pierre de Bethmann, whilst retaining a uniquely British identity.  Their culinary and musical explorations come together with the release of this debut album and it is not surprising therefore that the first two tracks are called Ultimate Big Cheese and Mourning Porridge.

Click here for a trailer video for the album

And so the first course is Dave Manington and Brigitte Beraha's Ultimate Big Cheese opening warmly with Brigitte's voice drawing you in and Tori Freestone's flute floating behind the Brazilian flavours before she serves up a beautiful solo. A well considered opening track that tells you it is worth staying around for the rest of the meal. Mourning Porridge is a contribution from pianist John Turville. I have heard Jez Franks play guitar before, but his solo on this track caught my attention and Brigitte and Tori, this time on saxophone, together build a bridge to a nice bass solo from Dave Manington. The Anchor Song is the only 'borrowed' piece, originally by Björk, it is arranged by Dave Manington and opens with a sensitive solo piano. Brigitte's voice and Tori Freestone's sax then work through this beautiful folk song with the band picking up the pace for the second part and another bass solo from Dave Manington. Dave Manington deserves credit for this arrangement, but then the arrangements on this album generally are out of the top drawer.

Click here for a video of The Anchor Song played live in Salisbury.

I am just three tracks in of the nine and I can already tell you this is an album well worth your attention.

Jez Franks's Tilt arrives at track four. It is his guitar that trickles in the number but he is soon joined by the others for an initial jaunty piece that makes way for a clear, wordless voicing from Brigitte Beraha and a fine solo from John Turville's piano with bass and drums nicely placed in the mix. A word here for the engineering and mixing - for example, listen, if you can, to the way George Hart's drums are placed at the end of the final track, Unspoken, where they are busy, and you are aware of their effectiveness, but they don't overpower the band. Tori Freestone's first recipe for the feast is Avocado Deficit. Simmer slowly to start with piano and saxophone and then add voice. Bring to the boil. Thoughtfully placed in the middle of the album, the mood changes with slightly angular composition and I like the taste of Tori Freestone's truly scrumptious saxophone solo. Brigitte Beraha brings Her Words, Like Butterflies, another folk-based song where the words at times reminded me of Joni Mitchell, and John Turville delights again with his piano solo.

At track 7, Tori Freestone's Universal Four comes in lightly like a sorbet and behind Brigitte's recurring vocal riff the mix allows you to pick out the contributions of the others - if we stay with the food analogy, it is like being able to taste the different background flavours. Drummer George Hart, whose solo has taken us out of the previous track, brings along Solstice as his contribuition to the menu. 'They danced by the light of the moon' sings Brigitte. Initially this sounds like poetry set to music but the music swells until John Turville's piano takes a dance on its own before Jez Franks enters with a powerful guitar solo and the band bring the piece to a discordant end that eases away with faint percussion. Which leaves us with Brigitte Beraha's Unspoken where voice and guitar bring that taste of Brazil again as Brigitte sings of 'that cycle of life'. Jez Franks takes a guitar solo that once more makes me really appreciate his contribution to this album. Tori Freestone also returns with a fine saxophone solo as a lagniappe before the ensemble gathers together, collect their coats and make their way home.

Alimentation does just what it sets out to do - build some fine music by talented musicians around a concept. Returning to that food analogy, it is well cooked and mixed with many interesting flavours and served with style.

Click here to listen to The Ultimate Big Cheese. Click here to sample the album

Click here for the Solstice website.

Ian Maund

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Jihye Lee Orchestra - April

Album Released: 24th February 2017 - Label: Jihyemusic - Reviewed: March 2017

Jihye Lee Orchestra April

Jihye Lee (voice, composer); Elzbieta Brandys (flute); Shannon LeClaire (alto sax, clarinet, flute); Allan Chase (alto & soprano sax); Rick DiMuzio (tenor & soprano sax, clarinet); Bob Patton (tenor sax, clarinet); Bob Patton (tenor sax, clarinet); Ben Whiting (baritone sax, bass clarinet); Bijon Watson, Jeff Claassen, Rich Given, Greg Hopkins (trumpets); Sean Jones (flugelhorn); Jeff Galindo, Rick Stepton, Artie Montanar (trombones); Peter Cirelli (bass trombone); Bruce Bartlett (guitar); Alain Mallet (piano); Jiri Nedoma (piano on Sewol Ho); John Lockwood (double bass); Mark Walker (drums); Ricardo Monzon (percussion).

There are some great ‘jazz’ orchestras that have come out of Boston in the last few decades.  Two of the best, the JCA Orchestra and the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, are fuelled by original composer/arrangers, Darrell Katz and Mark S. Harvey respectively.  I am not going to tell you that the Jihye Lee Orchestra is as up there with those guys, on the other hand neither should this album be dismissed as a debut which only promises greatness at a later date.  This is now and April comes early.  April is as April is; a breakthrough into spring.

For the poet T.S. Eliot, April was “cruellest month”.  In April 2014 the Korean Swol ferry sank and 300 passengers were killed.  Although Jihye Lee takes this terrible tragedy as her central theme, the April album possesses a form of bitter-sweet renewal.  Across the six extended compositions she orchestrates a eulogy with heartfelt positivism. 

Encounter the first track April Wind (actually written prior to the Sewol sinking) and immediately the performance feels assured.  I don’t really know, but I detect the influence of Kenny Wheeler’s brilliant arrangements for his own extended work, Music For Large And Small Ensembles.  Wheeler’s voicings for Norma Winstone on that recording are echoed here in Ms Lee’s use of wordless vocals, in addition, Sean Jones’ flugelhorn on You Are Here (Every Time I Think Of You) is pure ‘Kenny’ precision.  The live Youtube version of April Wind is almost preferable to the one on the disk.  The Youtube band are students and the arrangement is slightly more compressed, yet it feels as if it cuts deeper.  Drummer, Tiago Michelin snaps the kit with more clout than Mark Walker on the recording. It’s a critical factor in a jazz orchestra, keep the drummer on it.  That’s why Kenny Wheeler brought the powerful Peter Erskine into his ‘large ensemble’, and why Ellington and Basie name-checked guys like Rufus Jones and Papa Jo Jones. 

Click here for the video of April Wind.

The recorded personnel are drawn largely, though not exclusively, from the faculty of Berklee College of Music, who deserve credit for getting behind this first big-band recording by Jihye Lee.  Prior to coming to America, Jihye Lee had previously only been involved in South Korean folk and popular music.  Ms Lee is already making headway fast.  The writing and composing are as much a product of her new found experience and the integration of the ‘written’ and the ‘impromptu’ (the nuts and bolts of jazz orchestration) are, for the most part, convincing.  The three central extensions, Sewol Ho, Deep Blue Sea and Whirlwind have gravitas in the groove.  Clearly pianist Alain Mallet, reeds player Rick DiMuzio and the withering alto / lithe clarinet of Shannon LeClaire, are all prime contributors.  They certainly aren’t shy to solo, I’d have liked to have heard more from them.  I got the most out of this album when I turned the volume up all the way.

Look, there are a couple of niggles I have with the recording.  The first, visually, the second, musically.  I know, I know, sleeve covers should eye-catch.  Okay, so Jihye Lee is younger than the rest of the orchestra and she’s got a slinky red dress but she’s the only posed ‘visual’ used - in three different versions.  For an album based around a massive tragic event it seems I’m being told different things. And musically?  In places it’s all a bit Berklee, not enough Jihye Lee.  What people like Carla Bley, Maria Schneider and Darrell Katz don’t bring to the score is completion.  In my opinion there needs to be room to move.  Don’t tell the musicians everything.  The full story should never appear on the manuscript.  Listen to any Gil Evans’ arrangement for Miles Davis and you’ll hear deliberate cracks and spaces.  I wonder if Berklee ever discuss European orchestrators, like Alexander Von Schlippenbach or Keith Tippett?  Or if they need to stay home-grown, how about getting down with arrangers like John Zorn and Butch Morris? 

All that aside, there’s enough on April to keep me engaged.  When I whack up the volume on Sewol Ho it leaps into life.  Half way through Jeff Galindo breaks forth a terrific surge of sound, positioning his trombone on top of Greg Hopkins’ trumpet.  It seems to me Mr Galindo is a one-man masterclass in getting through to the blues.  And later when Ben Whiting (bass clarinet) and Shannon LeClaire (Bb clarinet) turn in a counterpoint it becomes a close run thing as to who is leading who. 

Click here for Sewol Ho.

Of the orchestrations, Deep Blue Sea holds the jewel; just over 3 minutes in, Rick DiMuzio takes a tenor saxophone solo cradled within a sublime setting. For me, Whirlwind is the standout performance, chiefly because it carries a number of different moods which knit together with kinetic energy.  There’s a daring piano break across a punching Bernstein-like orchestration followed through by Rick DiMuzio’s tenor stepping forward to capture the climate of the piece.

Click here for the video of Deep Blue Sea.

April demonstrates this is a band leader with ideas. The actual writing is the strongest attribute.  This is no time for any of us to sit still.  Jihye Lee is on to something.  I guess she could do the logical thing and be tempted into film scores.  With a debut like this, she will probably have the sharks and sirens offering all kinds of inducements.  And for sure, it’s a medium that sometimes produces spectacular results. Economically, putting a new authentic creative jazz orchestra on the road right now is not easy, especially with the social temperature at freezing.  The fact is that I think that's where Jihye Lee will find what is beyond.  May April be your spring. 

Click here for details and to sample the album. Click here for the CD details.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Madwort Saxophone Quartet - Live At Hundred Years Gallery

Album Released: 24th February 2017 - Label: Efpi Records - Reviewed: March 2017

Madwort Saxophone Quartet Live at Hundred Years Gallery

The saxophone is the jazz instrument par excellence. Its fluidity and tonal range make it ideal for the rhythms, moods and improvisatory nature of the music. An additional advantage is that it comes in a number of different forms with musicians being able to choose options from soprano down to baritone and beyond. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the idea of having an ensemble made up solely of saxophones is one which has established a place in jazz. The concept usually takes the form of a saxophone quartet with combinations of alto, tenor and baritone. The most high profile is probably the World Saxophone Quartet which has included top class saxophonists like David Murray amongst its members, but there are also more avant garde ensembles such as ROVA; and mainstream groups like the 29th Street Saxophone Quartet.

All these bands are American but now comes a British version of the concept in the form of the Madwort Saxophone Quartet. Live at Hundred Years Gallery is their debut album. The Quartet is led by Tom Ward on alto and includes Andrew Woolf on tenor, Chris Williams (alto and soprano), and Cath Roberts (baritone). Ward is also the composer of all eleven tracks on the album. As with so many jazz musicians these days, all four Quartet members are involved in a multitude of other bands and projects.

Tom Ward says that the Quartet is “about exploring the saxophone as a percussion instrument, taking the players to their limits and creating a state of concentration, excitement and danger…” Most of the tracks on the album work by one or more of the instruments (usually including Cath Roberts’s baritone) generating a rhythm, and the other instruments then playing on top of that in intricate contrapuntal patterns and improvised solos. The whole effect is innovative, often mesmeric and always absorbing.

The album kicks off with After Joshua which introduces the listener to the complex rhythms and interactions of the Quartet’s music. It is an up tempo piece with a staccato beat and an effect rather like a train gradually drawing to a halt, then starting off and getting all its working parts going - then stopping again.

The second track, Maps, has a contemporary classical feel at times, a reminder that the saxophone quartet is something with which classical music composers have experimented. It also has some brief free jazz with a very pleasing effect when the more structured and melodic themes of the piece gradually re-emerge from the undifferentiated, multi-instrument noise.

Click here for a video of a live performance of Maps.
 
Birds is a wonderful evocation of individual and collective bird song which Messiaen himself might well have created. Creeping Commercialism is a frenetic piece which conjures up images of cities like New York complete with squeaking car horns and a sort of Mad Men sensibility. The freneticism continues with Shard which has a repetitive, staccato theme gradually and subtly changing in a manner reminiscent of the minimalism of a Steve Reich or Philip Glass.

Click here for a video of the Quartet playing Shard live.

On the Opening of a Dwarf Sunflower is taken at a slower pace than many of the other tracks and is more melodic and conventional. It is also very short but beautiful in its own way. Chresmomancy is back to complex interplay and staccato themes with the instruments almost sounding at times as if they’re imitating people having a conversation – or an argument. Mad Giant Bee is a splendid piece of wild, free jazz which sounds like…well, a mad bee, and is not without humour.

Sieve of Eratosthenes is named after a technique for determining prime numbers and presumably reflects Tom Ward’s interest in mathematics. It has two quite distinct parts, the second of which brings the baritone sax to the fore. Cath Roberts plays very effectively against a repetitive pattern from the other instruments which gradually gets louder and more intense, until it dissolves into a brief, multi-instrument free-for-all.

Islands in the Green has an attractive, plaintive theme which is repeated throughout whilst a complex pattern is gradually built up around it. You can see the Quartet playing Islands in the Green live here.

The final track is Handbuilt By Robots which begins by setting up a sort of shimmer of saxophones. This grows louder and more intricate until, gradually, something more rhythmic and jaunty emerges. The playing becomes quieter and quieter until the instruments are hardly playing at all - and then the track ends. It’s an impressive finale to a most interesting and satisfying album.
 
Although the album was recorded live, there is strangely no applause. Indeed, there is very little extraneous noise at all, a tribute to Alex Bonney who has done a fine job in recording, mixing and mastering the whole thing.

For further details – including how to buy the album – click here for the Efpi Records website where you can also sample the track After Joshua.

Click here for the band's website.

Robin Kidson

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Escape Hatch featuring Julian Argüelles - Roots Of Unity

Album Released: 25th November 2016 - Label: Whirlwind Recordings - Reviewed: March 2017

Escape Hatch Roots Of Unity

Julian Argüelles (saxophones); Ivo Neame (piano); Andrea Di Biase (double bass); Dave Hamblett (drums).

I casually glanced at the note from Ian, What’s New editor, and saw the title Roots Of Unity.  I assumed I was in for a roots reggae/jazz session – ‘Roots’ and ‘Unity’ are central to Jamaican reggae.  Okay, I salute the memory of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and the great body of roots reggae music ..... but that has got nothing whatsoever to do with what’s going on here.  Roots of Unity, as the overall album title, refers to “....any complex number that gives 1 when raised to some positive integer power n.”   I readjust my thinking.  This is where we truly begin. The title track is composed by the creative magnet that is Ivo Neame, the superb UK pianist taking time off from the international no-borders piano trio, Phronesis. The other key composer within Escape Hatch is the bassist, Andrea Di Biase.  Both of these guys are into numbers.

When it comes to the use of numerical ideas in music, one of the long time core catalysts has been Anthony Braxton.  Those of you familiar with Mr Braxton’s territory of composition might assume he has some influence on this session which is literally ‘rooted’ in a binary centre.  As far as I can detect he doesn’t.  This session by the trio, Escape Hatch (Ivo Neame, Andrea Di Biase and Dave Hamblett), with the addition of classy saxophone extraordinaire Julian Argüelles, owes about as much to Professor Braxton as they do to reggae.  Where The Professor piled numerous systemised compositions in parallel within a single performance, Escape Hatch seek “an overarching accessibility” through “complexity and underlying logic”.  Anthony Braxton certainly favours complexity, but has never been too concerned with “accessibility”, whereas Ivo Neame and Andrea Di Biase pay little attention to parallel numbering, preferring the challenge of – one.  

The power of the mathematical, like the air we breathe, is always present.  For the most part, we just get on with it.  Having spent two paragraphs saying what Roots of Unity isn’t, my advice is to come to this utterly compelling music by not getting hung up on the “positive integer power n.”  Rather, open the ears to the truly enormous possibilities of interplay offered up by this fabulous jazz quartet.  They present nine compositions, five as sublime extended workouts, four as short-form performances.  A brand new classic jazz session, and I’m going to find it impossible not to keep coming back to it for months to come.

Dave Hamblett is a drummer who I noted down in my book years ago.  I’ve got to tell you, this sounds to me like the band that he’s been aching for.  He projects such a constant residue of rhythms across this album there is absolutely no mess to clear up.  He can afford to deliver his own drumming unencumbered by the need to cover the soloist.  Time is metered out, broken down, counted, subtracted, spread out like a polished fine dance.  His fit with Andrea Di Biase’s double bass is a unifying presence throughout.  On the incisive spread which makes up the track Resignation, Hamblett presses on the action like a man hitting the peak of the high mountain whilst setting out not to attract attention to himself. He does, only by virtue that he cannot be denied his place.  The clicks come as he pirouettes around the centre beat, hustling Di Biase’s pull-off bass strings, getting underneath Neame’s piano investigations, lifting the lid on a cracking melody.

Look, let’s start at the starter.  The longest track is Hysterical Revisionism, at over ten minutes, the longest track.  It contains just about everything. A short smouldering piano prelude which leads into Julian Argüelles's floating saxophone like it’s going to stay on top for the duration, but it gives way to a pattern of crossed chords which I cannot interpret for you, except to say they open up an early piano solo which is so separated and sure of its strength it eventually crumbles back into the quartet like an athlete finishing first.  And what’s so Hysterical is that everyone just carries on revising the Revisionism.  Mr Argüelles is working a lot with Neame right now.  He is producing the next Phronesis album for Edition Records.  It is obvious that the two men share a chemistry.  Hysterical Revisionism demonstratively makes the case for Escape Hatch to retain this quartet line-up into the future.

Click here for Hysterical Revisionism, track 1 on Roots of Unity

Perhaps for me the track that seals the deal is Today, Tomorrow, Never, a ballad commentary “on (the) migrants’ struggle for a better life”.  A sorrowful, yet heartening musical statement, that feels strong and positive, assured in its own  articulation within the clutter of half-truths and lies now clouding the current climate.  I guess the presence of the word Never in the title gives an indication of how limited is the optimism felt by composer, bassist Andrea Di Biase.  Yet the Quartet’s performance is so free of superfluous ornamentation.  Here on Roots Of Unity, both piano and reeds ripple a potency out of their own take on what’s going on.  This is an instrumental affirmation that doesn’t require words to speak with insightfulness.  Perhaps it is the close fit of the titles, but there are echoes of one of Ornette Coleman’s late-period melodic masterstrokes, Yesterday, Today And Tomorrow.  He recorded several versions but the one he did with pianist Geri Allen had a bold delicacy.  The future as a place of hope was a constant theme for Mr Coleman.  And I hear it here too; in the final piano break of Escape Hatch’s Today, Tomorrow, Never Ivo Neame brings a certain determination into play.  I acknowledge the Coleman connection might only be in my head, not theirs.  Nevertheless, Mr Di Biase and Mr Neame arrive at a similar place.  Even when music is contained by numbers it cannot help but be an impression.

One of the strengths of this album is that each track is allowed to take the length of time it takes.  So that the previously mentioned Hysterical Revisionism, plus the title track, and others like Moonbathing and La Strega, stretch out their development in sways of flux and influx, whereas History Repeating and Common Multiple are brief, they make their point and then close down.  The former, a reprise variant of Revisionism’s chord structure, the latter a resolute fix on the root of Roots Of Unity.  They are indicators, giving clues to what’s going on without saying twice what is already said perfectly well once.  Brevity demonstrates a mark of confidence in themselves and the listener.  This IS Escape Hatch.

Roots Of Unity is a recording that reveals additional information the longer the ears are given over to it.  There is an inner equation here that adds up to more than the sum of its parts.  Whatever Phronesis has waiting round the corner, it cannot take away from the fact, Roots Of Unity album is outstanding.  (Plus, special gold star to Dave Hamblett, drums.)

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Click here for a video of a club gig in Oxford with the Escape Hatch Trio March 2016

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

 

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Michael Jefry Stevens Generations Quartet - Flow

Album Released: 21st October 2016 - Label: Not Two Records - Reviewed: February 2017

Generations Quartet Flow

New York pianist, composer, and bandleader Michael Jefry Stevens has a remarkable aptitude: he moves equally well in post-bop and avant-garde genres. His solid musicianship, deserving a wider exposure, spans more than twenty years, not only leading projects under his own name but also as a member of creative groups. In all these bands, he has the company of his longtime associate and indispensable modern bassist Joe Fonda. Examples are: The Fonda-Stevens Group, a notable quartet/quintet led by the inseparable duo; The Mosaic Sextet with the prolific trumpeter Dave Douglas, and Conference Call, a bold project featuring the German saxophonist / clarinetist Gebhard Ullmann.

The cited duo joins forces once again in the Generations Quartet, an irresistible new collective that also features the renowned saxophonist, visual artist, and poet Oliver Lake, co-founder of the free-funk African-jazz ensemble World Saxophone Quartet with David Murray, Julius Hemphill, and Hamiet Bluiett. As a true explorer, Lake has his name forever associated with a few mandatory albums of the improvised genre released between the '70s and '90s, cases of Heavy Spirits, Expandable Language, and Virtual Reality: Total Escapism.

Rounding out the group is the much younger Emil Gross, an Austrian drummer who tries to get the visibility he deserves and gain his place in the avant-jazz scene. Flow, their vehement new album, was recorded live in Bielefeld, Germany, in October 2015.
 
Lake contributes with a couple of powerful originals. One of them is the opening track, Rollin, where Fonda holds out an intrepid bass groove to start, receiving promptly back up from Gross and Steven. The latter makes use of a clever comping, full of rich rhythmic intention, and his improvisation comes up with Latin seasoning. Still, the show belongs to Lake, who boasts his disconcerting sound and fluid phrasing peppered by occasional wild exteriorizations.

Also liberating yet distinct in terms of motion and attitude, Steven’s Mantra #2 is a spiritual voyage suffused with clamours. It was connected through individual and collective creative moments in order to gain the expression of a healing prayer delivered with uplifting tranquility.

Click here to listen to Mantra #2.

The hyperkinetic title track, Flow, another expeditious product from the saxophonist’s mind, displays all his intensity, vision, and expansive language. The band crafts assorted textures with articulated ideas, doing the same in Fonda’s densely ordered Read This, a polyphonic wallop with transitional sections and rhythmic accent patterns succeeding one after another.

Not everything here is so explosive, though, since there’s space for a dazzling ballad, La Dirge De La Fleur, set in motion by the classical cascades of Steven’s solo piano and enriched by Fonda’s magical improvisation.

Flow is a wholly unique venture and lives up to the hype. Each musician seems to be able to read their equal’s minds, and consequently, their moves. It’s this unstoppable communication, together with off-kilter moods and entrenched musical consistency, that makes this recording so special. I look forward to hearing more of Generations Quartet in a near future.

Click here for the website, for details and to sample. Click here for UK purchase details.

Filipe Freitas jazztrail.net

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Omar Sosa and Seckou Keita - Transparent Water

Album Released: 24th February 2017 - Label: World Village - Reviewed: February 2017

Omar Sosa and Seckou Keita Transparent Water

Omar Sosa (keyboards, electronics, vocals, percussion); Seckou Keita (kora, vocals, percussion); Gustavo Ovalles (percussion); Mieko Miyazaki (koto); Wu Tong (sheng, bawu); E’Joung-Ju (geomungo); Dominique Huchet (bird EFX).

I have now listened to Transparent Water multiple times.  I wish I knew more about it.  ‘World Music’ is an awkward term, actually why pick on ‘World Music’, all labels are difficult suggestions for creativity and Omar Sosa, from Cuba and Seckou Keita from Senegal don’t push the description. But listening to the thirteen reflective pieces which make up this album cannot do anything else but make you aware of the width and circumference of the planet and the mix of cultures that must ‘improvise’ with each other when they are brought together from Venezuela, Japan, France, Beijing and the African Diaspora.  In this context the label ‘World Music’, however awkward I am with diluting traditions, is totally valid because Sosa and Keita are truly travellers.  ‘The mix’ represents their lives as men on a continual road to the next place.  And I, with my low carbon footprint of travel, know little of the experience of finding a new daily home next to a stone or under a tree, maybe an abandoned car park in downtown whatever-town-this-is.  The mix of physicality and spirituality, journeying through the night like modernity’s magi.  All those years ago, the great Don Cherry showed me it was possible; listening to Transparent Water I recognise the reasons.

There are thirteen tracks on this album, each one a stopping off point. Dary, a joyous beginning, a piano melody poured out over a kora and a sloop of percussion.  In The Forest begins with something like an enchantment, the performance gives itself time to make up the soundscape.  Omar Sosa’s piano recalls Abdullah Ibrahim’s meditative improvisations. Black Dream is a song, maybe to ancestors.  Seckou Keita tells a story which I am unable to translate, yet have no need to.  It is not necessary to know each other’s dreams sentence by sentence to still appreciate their complexity. Then comes another note pinned to a signpost; Mining-Nah sounds like a love song, integrating rhythmic hand percussion with all the sway of an easy stopover.  And the pitch is plucked intensity. 

These are songs we recognise the world over.  They should not be difficult to embrace. Tama-Tama is a piano led recital which falls into a vocal line with all the logic of rehearsed recital. For a man who has no god to pray to, Another Prayer fits my karma.  No need to pray for me, though there is nothing to prevent me enjoying yours.  This one has no words, some things are better left unsaid. Fatiliku, the title, I think it is Swahili. The song is a ripple over a subtle bouncing centre with Keita’s koto answering his own call and response.  I wish Johnny Dyani were alive to play double bass on this. 

Click here for an extract of Tama Tama. Click here for an extract from Fatiliku.

What follows is like an interlude, Oni Yalorde, a pause to sing with accompaniment, a short song that doesn’t ask to be extended.  The phrase Peace Keeping is often used to mean the exact opposite of the words used.  No such intention on the part of Omar Sosa and Seckou Keita. It begins with electrics, like the wind coming off the North African night.  If a piano could throb this is what it might sound like. Slowly.  From a bar or maybe somewhere more private. As for Moro Yeye it waits like a call in wild places, to be answered by a chant and a percussion break on djembe.  Like everything else about Transparent Water, there is no hurry, just purpose. Recaredo 1993 celebrates the 50th anniversary of a very special bottle of cava.  Ah, clearly some points on this journey are more exclusive than a travel bus car park.  The shortest track is Zululand.  Such a place has a much longer tale than that which is told here.

And so Sosa and Keita finish in West Africa via Columbus, Ohio USA. Thiossane, pronounced ‘cha-sahn’, dedicated to the Thiossane Insititute of Dance, Music and Culture.  Thirteen tracks that trek the globe.

Steve Argüelles, brother of the sax player, Julian Argüelles, is now based in Paris.  He was the original drummer with Loose Tubes and, maybe more significantly in this context, spent time with the later version of Dudu Pukwana’s Zila.  Steve Argüelles is the producer for Transparent Water and also was behind the desk for Omar Sosa’s previous albums Mulatos and Afreecanos.  I throw this in as a fact to demonstrate that lots of recordings, like life’s journey, counteract expectations.

Omar Sosa and Seckou Keita are touring the UK in November 2017.  By that time a lot of ‘Transparent Water’ will have flowed under any number of bridges by then.  My guess is that some of that water could get quite murky, Sosa and Keita could be just what we need by the Autumn.

Click here for an interview with Seckou Keita.

Click here for details.            

Steve Day  www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Ingrid Laubrock - Serpentines

Album Released: 16th December 2016 - Label: Intakt - Reviewed: February 2017

Ingrid Laubrock Serpentines

German-born, Brooklyn-based saxophonist, Ingrid Laubrock, an active hipster within the modern creative jazz scene, who knows how to prod and when to loosen up, doesn’t stop to amaze me with her projects (Anti-House, Sleepthief, Octet, Paradoxical Frog, Ubatuba). She started playing saxophone in London, where she lived between 1989 and 2009 and did a postgraduate jazz course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, before moving to New York.

Among her numerous collaborations, we find giant improvisers such as Anthony Braxton, Kenny Wheeler, Muhal Richard Abrams, and William Parker.

Following a great duo record with the inventive drummer Tom Rainey, she presents five brand new compositions in the company of a debutant group. In Serpentines, she explores diverse sonorous landscapes and never sounds the same twice, giving her peers – trumpeter Peter Evans, pianist Craig Taborn, drummer Tyshawn Sorey, koto player Miya Masaoka, tuba player Dan Peck and electronics wizard Sam Pluta – the opportunity to intervene with fantasy, cohesiveness, and reverie.

The opening tune, Pothole Analytics, is split in two parts, working as an invitation for a variety of textures and calculated structures that will come next. The first part is sparse in movements, organic in its musical intercessions, and uniform in intensity. It moves in a sort of limbo, promising to explode any time with a provocative tangibility. The second part brings us the scintillating effervescence we always expected on the first one. The vivid interactions, suffused with irony and the polyphony generated by Laubrock, Evans and Peck, can be described as a 'controlled cacophony' where no one stands out but the collective. Constantly searching for balance and carefully eschewing altercation, Masaoka and Taborn sketch agitated figures while Sorey confidently takes the rudder in his hands, propelling the starship into the vastness of space.

Their spectrum gets darker in the obscure Chip In Brain, a quasi-cinematic experience of startling textures. Surreptitiously, the tune evolves into a dreamy aura with the contribution of Pluta’s effects, Evans’s long notes, and Masaoka’s gentle touches.

Squirrels, a modern hymn, blossoms with tortuous lines of soprano sax and trumpet. Lurking in the corner, Peck’s tuba is attached as a guideline while Taborn balances everything with his monster creativity and freedom, well accompanied by Sorey’s fleet drumming. To better define the sections, unisons are injected as interludes, and the tune culminates with a diptych of Masaoka’s strumming and Pluta’s noise, before assuming the form of a prodigious march.

Chimerical and explorative, the title track, Serpentines, bursts with rhythm, becoming cautiously atmospheric as the textures weaved by Taborn, Sorey, and Pluta invite Peck’s low vibes. The bandleader resumes the melodic contours with the help of Masaoka’s exotic sounds.

Accurately composed and wrapped in fantastic chemistry, Serpentines reaffirms Laubrock as an indispensable figure in the contemporary jazz. New York is her home, but this music has no borders, showing solid, serpentine roads paved with freedom and discipline, expansions and contractions, composure and convulsion.

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

Click here for Ingrid Laubrock's website.

Filipe Freitas jazztrail.net

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Camilla George Quartet - Isang

Album Released: 13th January 2017 - Label: Ubuntu Music - Reviewed: February 2017

Camilla George Quartet Isang

Camilla George (alto saxophone); Sarah Tandy (piano); Daniel Casimir (bass); Femi Koleoso (drums); special guest, Zara McFarlane (vocal) on Ms Baja.    

Today, this sounded like the only music I wanted to hear.  The Camilla George Quartet draw you in to their music from the beginning.  It’s a very honest recording; clean, no fuss, but with all the filigree that you need from sax, piano, bass and drums when its early in a new year and you’re desperate to hear someone, somewhere say something truthful.  A little reassurance.  There’s a Ben Okri quote on the sleeve: “Who can dream a good road and travel on it?”  And this morning the music in my ear seems to come from a gang of four who have translated the dreams of the dark night into a wake-up call to turn 2017 into a journey. 

The drum kit breaks; opening piano chords split. Sarah Tandy is a pianist who exposes the possibilities of the keyboard even when she’s setting the scene for someone else, and then there’s this bravura alto sax playing the fine line between melody and the start of a potential solo.  And once Ms George begins to pull away from the rest of the band it is immediately obvious that she’s a top notch soloist with ideas a-plenty, yet she too has done her listening to get to this point.

Isang is an Efik/Ibibio, Nigerian word related to ‘journey’.  It is the title of the first album to come out under Camilla George’s own name, though she’s spent time with Tomorrow’s Warriors and Jazz Jamaica.  She’s right to put this quartet together.  She’s a generous leader, everybody gets a pop at the action, but make no bones about it, Camilla George is right to have her name on the label, this is an alto player who can really stir the pot.  I hear Bird and Art Pepper and Dudu Pukwana.  She slips Salt Peanuts and Rollins’s Don’t Stop The Carnival into her calypso Lunacity.  Joe Harriott must have figured in her thinking at some point.  Coltrane hangs over the swing imbued within The Night Has A Thousand Eyes.  All these people matter, yet at the same time are set aside in the flurry to gather up the concentration projected into the reading of her self-composed, Dreams of Eket.  It is near perfection. The alto horn is as eloquent as Rumi verse creating the setting for Daniel Casmimir’s short, studied bass commentary which unfolds to allow the leader to deliver a soliloquy of tenderness throughout the entire length of the rest of the song.  Camilla George, this is ballad playing at its best!

Click here to listen to Lunacity on Soundcloud.

The other tasty original which slow burns a showcase on this session is Song For Reds.  Limpid and languishing, an after-hours portrait of Camillia George’s father. The alto sax curves the tune blue For Reds, only to blow the ballad monochrome, as if it had just been pulled out of a Prestige label album sleeve.  Femi Koleoso plays tidy slinky brushes against the leader's horn and they’re given neat emphasis when he stops for the duration of Sarah Tandy’s pithy, impressionistic piano interlude, only to pick-up on the sax as it re-enters and puts the finishing touch to the portrait.  It’s clever little details like this that make the journey taken on Isang such a smooth ride.

I suppose the track that might be chalked up for radio air-play is Ms Baja, written by Kenny Garrett, and featuring Zara McFarlane’s voice as a scat-sung second horn line.  It’s the kind of thing that Courtney Pine used to do with Cleveland Watkiss.  It works well enough for sure.  I guess if it had been down to me I’d have encouraged Camilla George to keep the focus on her own front line horn.  There’s nothing wrong with Zara McFarlane, far from it.  On her 2012 album, If You Knew Her, she produced an arrangement of the old Junior Murvin/Clash classic Police And Thieves, which stole the show.  It remains an ever-so sophisticated pertinent piece of Brit-jazz news narrative. And on Ms Baja, voice and horn harmonise the Garrett line with terrific panache.  It’s just that Camilla George’s sax is on such a high-end roll on this session, to the point that it makes me eager to get back to her unadorned reed.

On the final track, Mami Wata Returns/Usoro, Sarah Tandy switches to electric piano and things get subtly funky.  Ms George turns on the tap and the others flow with her.  It’s a little over six minutes in length and could so easily have stretched to twelve without being harmful to anyone.  This modest quartet have put together an album, that on its own terms, declares a major saxophone voice who can also compose according to her requirements.  Right now, I need to check them out a whole lot more.  The Camilla George Quartet are currently on tour, it’s February, why not make the best use of winter.  Try and catch them if you can.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Click here for a video of the Camilla George Quartet playing live in 2015.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Laura Dubin Trio - Live At The Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival

Album Released: 6th January 2017 - Label: Cdbaby - Reviewed: February 2017

Laura Dubin Trio Live at the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival

This album comprises of the two recorded sets that the Laura Dubin Trio performed at the festival during the summer of 2016. The early set is on disc 1 and the later set on disc 2, which also contains a trailer for a full concert DVD, the sheet music for Something’s Cookin' plus 3 photos of the trio and the CD cover notes for each track. The DVD of their performance at the festival is available separately.  

Laura Dubin started attending the festival as a teenager, so to perform at the event was a career achievement. Laura has crowd-funded a previous album and this is also how this double CD release was financed. Both CD’s include original compositions, a few previously released, rearranged tracks, some Great American Songbook standards, pieces of classical music that have been arranged for a jazz trio, and a few compositions by other great jazz musicians.  This is quite a variety to showcase Laura’s musical background and the jazz musicians that have influenced her.  There are 21 tracks in total containing 27 separate compositions of which 10 are from Laura.

The trio consists of Laura on piano, her husband Antonio H. Guerrero on drums and Kieran Hanlon on bass. There is great interplay between the members of the trio and they are given ample opportunity to also show their skills in a number of solos.

Disc 1 kicks off with Steve Allen’s This Could Be The Start of Something Big, which is very upbeat with some intricate keyboard work and a nice bass solo towards the end and illustrates the interplay previously mentioned between the members of the trio.  Track 3, Ode to O.P., is a homage to Oscar Peterson, a primary influence of Laura’s.  This a swinger with cascading piano which provides good backing to a bass solo and highlights the playful interactions between the musicians.  

Track 4 is a medley of Ravel’s Prelude From Le Tombeau de Couperin and Rogers and Hammerstein’s My Favourite Things, so we have a dramatic first half with fast and punchy playing which continues into the second part where the bass  is played with the bow providing a nice contrast and ending with an excellent drum solo.  It should not work but does.  

Click here for a video of My Favourite Things from the CD release concert.

Track 7, Fats Waller’s Handful Of Keys shows Laura’s full potential in this piano-only track which includes a number of piano styles - stride, barrelhouse, waltz and touches of Erroll Garner and Bach.  

The following track is Beethoven’s Sonata No.8 'Pathetique', which has small additions of other melodies interspersed throughout.  This is played at a fast pace with a nice interaction with Guerrero on drums.  We finish the first CD with Laura's own composition, Anxiety, which has differing rhythms and speeds which gradually build up, then slow again with the cycle repeating, utilising a good undelaying melody.

Click here for a video of the Trio playing the Beethoven Sonata.

Disc 2, starts with Laura’s composition, Something’s Cookin’, which is another swinging track with an intricate melody played with great accompaniment from bass and drums, both providing solos.  Invention For Nina pays homage to Nina Simone, and is one of the fewer, slower melodic tracks featuring Bach influences and is played beautifully.  Donald Brown’s New York is both fast and brash in the playing and composition, invoking the hustle and bustle of that city.  A bouncy bluesy number called Kelly Green, has bowed bass slowing things down and offering contrast.  We then have another medley consisting of Debussy’s Reflets Dans l’Eau with Gershwin’s Our Love Is Here To Stay which has a slower staccato piano, and is my favourite of the medleys.

Click here for a video of a live performance of Kelly Green.

The second disc’s final track is called Barcelona and is where Laura has performed and where she met her husband.  It obviously has a Spanish feel and is a rousing track to end the CD.

This is a very tight trio and these two CD’s show their range and influences with Laura perhaps favouring faster tempos for her live sets, displaying to advantage her careful, complex and clear playing whilst also managing to show the talents of the other two members of the trio.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Tim Rolfe

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Christine Tobin - PELT

Album Released: 25th November 2016 - Label: Trail Belle Records - Reviewed: February 2017

Christine Tobin PELT

Christine Tobin (voice), Phil Robson (guitars), Liam Noble (piano, prepared piano, rhodes), Gareth Lockrane (flutes), Richard Jones (violin), Kate Shortt (cello), Dave Whitford (double and electric bass), Lorraine Baker (drums tracks 1 & 4), Simon Lea (drums on 3,5,6,7,9, 10), (Thebe Lipere percussion and Steve Arguelles drums on track 11).

Christine Tobin's 2014 album A Thousand Kisses Deep made a great impression on me. Until then, I had never warmed to Leonard Cohen's songs, but listening to Christine's interpretations and arrangements live and then on CD, completely converted me. I was glad that I had discovered the poet before he passed through the Departure Lounge in November 2016.

In 2015, Christine moved to New York and I caught up with her for a Tea Break item in August 2016 when she was looking forward to the launch of her new album, PELT, that November at London's Pizza Express Jazz Club. 'The songs are all original compositions. The lyrics and poems are by poet Paul Muldoon and music and arrangements by myself,' she said. And so I am introduced to another poet - and Christine chooses her poets well. Muldoon's words are printed in the booklet that comes with the CD and the album title comes from the poem, Pelt:

The rain rattled the roof of my car like holy water on a coffin lid, holy water and mud landing with a thud
though as I listened the uproar would fade to the stoniest of silences ... They piled it on all day till I gave way
to a contentment I'd not felt in years, not since that winter I'd worn the world against my skin, worn it fur side in.

By now, readers will have recognised from the list of personnel that Christine's usual collaborators, Phil Robson and Dave Whitford are onboard, together with other musicians with whom she has recorded before - the talents of Liam Noble, Gareth Lockrane, Kate Shortt, Thebe Lipere, etc. are all here.

Zoological Positivism Blues opens the album with wonderfully percussive rhythms introducing and then backing the vocals that make way for a stretching guitar solo, and then Wind And Tree slows gently to piano and voice in a song about relationship. On track 3, the mood crashes into San Simeon a piece describing images of celebrity and a place, San Simeon: 'Julius ''Groucho'' Marx lines up his duck walks through San Simeon / Winston Spencer Churchill likens himself to Virgil after San Simeon ...'. The keyboards have the solo platform here and afterwards I am left thinking that, like much of poetry, I need to explore further the intent behind the words.

Click here to listen to Wind And Tree.

After Me at track 4 is a gentle love song: ' ... No one will give you a second glance after me ...', and carries some nice flute, piano and guitar, I really enjoyed the guitar solo that picks up the mid section. Promises Promises starts with Richard Jones's violin and Kate Shortt's cello. The poem is one of my favourites in this collection and at times I hear occasional touches of Joni Mitchell in Christine's vocals: 'I am stretched out under the lean-to of an old tobacco shed on a farm in North Carolina. A cardinal sings from the dogwood for the love of marijuana. His song goes over my head there is such splendour in the grass ....'. Credit too to Liam Noble's lovely piano work on this one and the strings lend their part nicely to the mood.

Click here to listen to Promises Promises.

Which brings us to Longbones, with a strong bass undertone feet-tapping voodoingly behind the occasionally double-tracked vocals and occasional howls: 'When she came to me that night in Damascus Street she was quite beside herself. Her father was about to die and his mirror was covered with a sheet so his spirit might not beat against it but fly as spirits fly ...'

Click here to listen to After Me.

The Big House sings a tale against a mix of strings and flute told by 'I was only the girl under the stairs' who notices 'something is wrong' and a squire who dies. Once again Gareth Lockrane's flute and the strings float through and around the story. It is Gareth too who opens the title track, Pelt, with plucked bass handing over to piano before Christine slowly sings the words. The piano gently bridges to the last verse and just as gently wraps up the song. I'd Know You Anywhere says: 'We've never met before but I'd know you anywhere' and sets itself against a world of ways of meeting - mobiles / cell phones, the clock at Waterloo, rolled up newspapers, the lion in Trafalgar Square. Phil Robson's guitar plays the solo with everyone taking the tune out alongside Christine.

Big Idea has a strange bowed and plucked beginning that rocks into guitar, bass, and drums - 'Hey Galileo what's the big idea?' The instrumental mid-section is a rocking outing with a riff borrowed from rock 'n' roll - 'Hey Stephen Hawking what's the big idea?' And then the dreamy Horses and the voice I have come to know as Christine Tobin's. It is a short piece that says: 'I'm trying to remember, as best I can, if I'm a man dreaming I'm a plowhorse or a great plowhorse dreaming I'm a man.' and Phil Robson again takes us out lyrically with his guitar. The album ends quietly with the instrumental arrangement for Pelt.

Like A Thousand Kisses Deep, this album is as much about the words as the music. The relationship between the music, the arrangement and the story behind the poem is central, one needs to enhance the other. Christine Tobin seems to have a way of achieving that. A one-time listen is nowhere near enough it can only be an introduction. Read the words, listen again and you can come to know the real substance of PELT.

Click here to listen to Zoological Positivism Blues.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

This is not a track on the album but click here for a video of Christine Tobin, Phil Robson, Liam Noble, Dave Whitford, Simon Lea, Kate Shortt and Thebe Lipere playing live at The Vortex in 2009.

Ian Maund

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Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier - The Colours Of Time

Album Released: 2nd February 2017 - Label: MGP Records - Reviewed: February 2017

Pete Oxley and Nicolas meier The Colours of Time

The Colours Of Time is the third album from the guitar duo of Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier, a couple of great musicians whose output in terms of albums has been prodigious over the last few years.  Pete Oxley has been a member of bands such as New Noakes Internationals and more recently Time Is Of The Essence, which perhaps not coincidentally has the same name as an album by saxophonist Michael Brecker with Pat Metheny on guitar. 

Nicolas Meier's bands include the nu-metal Seven7, Modern Guitar Orchestra and The Meier Group and his catalogue contains 20 albums produced in little more than a decade.  Meier's album Orient from 2005 won him the Grand Jury Prize at the Juan les Pins Jazz Festival and he repeated this success with his own group in 2015. 

Both Oxley and Meier are members of Eclectica.  Whereas Oxley graduated from Leeds College of Music and spent formative years in France, Meier graduated from the Conservatoire de Fribourg in Switzerland and then reinforced his love of jazz, that grew from visits to the Montreux Festival, at Berklee College in Boston, USA.

Meier and Oxley have run jazz clubs; Meier in Guildford where he teaches at the Academy of Contemporary Music and Oxley in Oxford where his Spin Club was voted Best Live Jazz Venue at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards in 2012.  Oxley's music has been influenced by the Brazilian composer and guitarist Egberto Gismonti as well as jazz greats such as Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock and John Schofield; Meier has embraced music from around the world, in particular Turkey, the home country of his wife Songul Yilmaz-Meier, a professional artist who painted the striking album cover on this latest album. He has also played with rock bands such as the Jeff Beck Band, Live in Tokyo 2014.

In a conversation with Nicolas, he explained to me that his international travels have introduced him to a range of music forms and in particular the music of Turkey, the home of his in-laws, which has a particular structure based on smaller intervals between notes than a semitone, which is the case with Western music.  Very small intervals are called 'microtones' and are played, in Nicolas Meier's case, using fretless guitars.  In Indonesia he met Dewa Budjana, leader of a very popular band called Gigi, which led him to compose the tune Dewa which incorporates sounds of Indonesia.  Nicolas also talked about his work in the UK where he is a performance tutor at the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford, he teaches both metal and jazz techniques and runs jazz workshops for aspiring young musicians.  Nicolas spoke warmly of his musical partnership with Pete Oxley which is both mutually supportive and challenging, they use a variety of guitars which adds depth and interest to their performance and recordings, they also enjoy working as a quartet and are looking forward to a 35 date tour in the UK followed by further gigs in Europe.

Nicolas Meier has clearly taken Frederic Chopin's view that "nothing is more beautiful than the guitar, save perhaps two", to extremes.

A feature of the The Colours Of Time album is the variety of guitars played by both musicians which are identified on the album cover alongside each track.  These include acoustic, electric, nylon strings, steel strings, jazz guitar, glissentar (or oud) and fretless guitar.  A second feature is that this is a double album with Oxley and Meier playing all new material as a duo on CD1 while CD2 contains music from a quartet with Paul Caviaciuti on drums and Raph Mizraki on acoustic and electric basses. Two of the tracks on CD2 are new, the rest have been released as duo versions on previous albums, Travels To The West and Chasing Tales

Click here for a video introduction to the album.

CD1 starts with the Oxley composition, The Key Of Klimt, inspired by the remarkable symbolist paintings of the artist Gustav Klimt, perhaps best known for striking figures, bright colours and the use of gold leaf, Oxley's music is similarly vivid with lovely harmonies and perhaps sets the tone for the whole album which is not distinctly jazzy but beautiful music played by jazz musicians.  Meeting Dewa by Meier recalls the popular music of Indonesia as might be played on the tuned percussive instrument called a gamelan, however a guitar solo is used to enlarge on what is possible with a gamelan.  The great jazz pianist Bill Evans improvised Peace Piece in 1958 and Oxley's A Piece For Peace is similarly evocative, lamenting the suffering that so many have had to endure in recent times. Meier then lightens the mood with the folkdance style Waltz For Dilek which includes solos from both players. 

Princes' Islands, refers to a group of islands offshore from Istanbul and which in the past were home to an ethnically diverse population, Meier's composition immediately transports the listener to the eastern Mediterranean and his use of fretless guitar enables him to play authentic music from the region which is characterised by microtones (i.e. tonal increments less than a semi-tone).  Oxley's In Restless Repose certainly has a disturbing and slightly sinister feel to it featuring synthesiser, changes to tempo and rhythm and solo improvisations from both players.  Oxley's next tune pays homage to his former teacher, now master stringed instrument technician and historian, Zachary Taylor - Song For Z.T. features the extra versatility that comes with the use of a 7-string guitar.  The track Sahara uses the fretless Glissentar to provide an authentic taste of music from northwest Africa while the next track Bosphorus is a lovely melody, sounding much like a love song.  The final track on CD1 is called First Day Of Spring, a time to lift the spirits but with a brisk tempo suggesting time passing and opportunities that could be missed.

CD2 has two newly composed tracks, Oxley's Purple Panther mixes pink and blue to give a couple a classic jazz guitar solos which are very well supported by drum and bass in this quartet format, while Meier's Fethiye Crossroads, combines the traditional music of Turkey with western music and solo improvisations suggesting cultural differences and competition between one lifestyle and another.  Tracks 1 to 5 were first recorded on the Chasing Tales album as guitar duo performances, these are The Followers, Looking West, Chasing Kites, Riversides and Tales Track 7, Breeze, was first recorded on the live album, Travels To The West. These tracks demonstrate a different style, although recorded in a studio they have the feeling of live performance about them, drum and base impart a much more obvious rhythm and Chasing Kites includes a drum solo.  Both Breeze and Riversides include a solo from Meier on glissentar but in the latter the style is more disco than folkdance, although none the less enjoyable for that. 

It has been clear for some time that jazz music in its broadest sense includes music from all over the world and Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier have jumped at the chance to exploit this reality and bring really interesting and beautiful music to the ever changing and expanding jazz audience.  As is so often the case with jazz this music deserves repeated listening to fully appreciate the intricacies that  these great musicians bring to their performance.  It is clear that Oxley and Meier have great musical rapport, both supporting and challenging each other to reach even greater heights.

Click here and follow the link for further details, samples and the tour list for the coming months.

Howard Lawes     

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Henry Spencer and Juncture - The Reasons Don't Change

Album Released: 27th January 2017 - Label: Whirlwind Recordings - Reviewed: February 2017

Henry Spencer The Reasons Don't Change

Henry Spencer (trumpet, flugelhorn), Nick Costley-White (guitar), Matt Robinson (piano, Rhodes, Wurlitzer, melotron), Andrew Robb (bass), David Ingamells (drums), the Guastalla Quartet - John Garner, Marie Shreer (violins), Agata Darashkaite (viola), Sergio Serra (cello) on track 9.

There is always that risk, when you have been won over by a band playing live, that their album doesn't come up to that experience. Not here. I think this album is outstanding.

Some years ago, trumpeter Barney Lowe, who leads the London City Big Band, told me I should hear Henry Spencer. I first found Henry and Juncture in an upstairs room at a London pub; that is when I was first won over, particularly moved by Henry's playing on a tune called Joanne's Diary. The tune is on this album. The last time I heard Henry and Juncture play was in 2016 at Ronnie Scott's club. There have been trailers and samples of this album online, but they are no substitute for the complete package which benefits from being heard as a whole, and here I have to credit the studio engineering and mixing by George Murphy, Charlie Morton and Dave Darlington.

The first track on an album is important; this is where the listener meets the music and the musicians, where your attention is caught - or not. The first track on this album is called Introduction/Hindsight Can Wait. Like Louis Armstrong's West End Blues, it starts with a formidable trumpet solo. Within thirty seconds you are listening to Henry Spencer's technical skill, creativity and emotional expression - and you'll know that is why I use a word like 'outstanding'. The track also confirms that this is not just about Henry, but that he has with him talented musicians who have developed an understand from working together over a number of years and who make their own valuable contributions.

The ten tracks on the album, all composed by Henry, are engaging. They are named as a response to his way of dealing with specific personal experiences, but the listener is invited to respond to them in their own way. On The Bridge is introduced by Matt Robinson's single note piano with Henry Spencer's flugelhorn bringing in the gentle theme. The balance in the recording as the other instruments come in is why I credited the engineering earlier. About half way through we begin to hear that emotion again in Henry's playing - do you remember the expression Miles Davis put into his Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain albums? The piano solo leads us into a swelling ensemble before the tune ends on that single piano note. Eulogy (Goodbye Old Chap) is led by a strong trumpet that merges into the ensemble and then melts into Nick Costley-White's fine, extended guitar solo until the ensemble explorations return to the theme.

Click here to listen to On The Bridge.

And then Joanne's Diary. Horn and piano lead us to Andrew Robb's bass and Matt Robinson's lovely piano solo, picked up in turn by the guitar. Listen to how well David Ingamells drums are brought into the mix. Knock Back, Knocked Forward is, for me, one of the highlights on the album. A repetative piano motif underwrites the entry to Henry's captivating trumpet solo before we move on to Nick's guitar solo and leave with that piano riff once again taking us out. Never Draw A Line makes room for a bass solo from Andrew Robb quietly accompanied by Nick's guitar. The tenderness is taken up by piano and then the flugelhorn wistfully fades without drawing the line.

Still Open To Confusion comes as a surprise in tempo and introduces one of the themes that seems to stay in the memory from this album. There is some exquisite trumpet playing by Henry Spencer on this track with plenty of space for Matt Robinson's piano. Remember Why seems like a gentle progression from the previous track. I have written before about the ability Henry Spencer seems to have to literally squeeze emotion from his trumpet and we hear that again here. Piano and guitar have their enjoyable conversation on this track and it is worth taking time to listen to the work of the bass and drums behind them.

Click here to listen to a demo extract from Still Open To Confusion made in preparation for the album.

Hopeless Heartless is one of the most beautiful and engaging tracks on this album. With the strings of the Guastalla Quartet this could be music for a movie soundtrack. Matt Robinson's piano solo leads us to Henry's touching flugelhorn storytelling and surely it cannot just be me that feels the emotion that I hear. We leave the album with The Survivor And The Descendant with its changing rhythms and ideas and Henry's high notes leading the ensemble into and out of the theme.

Click here to listen to Hopeless Heartless.

Barney Lowe told me I should hear Henry Spencer. I think you should too. Henry Spencer is a special talent and this album from Juncture is a treat.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Ian Maund

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Trish Clowes - My Iris

Album Released: 27th January 2017 - Label: Eden River Records - Reviewed: February 2017

Trish Clowes My Iris

Trish Clowes (saxophones), Chris Montague (guitar), Ross Stanley (organ, piano); James Maddren (drums).

My Iris, released on the 13th January 2017 sets the bar very high for British small group jazz releases this year. What’s going on in this band equates to some kind of magic.  And for sure the gift that is Ross Stanley’s Hammond keyboard has a crucial role, as does the guitar of Chris Montague, playing his best recording date so far (in my opinion), robust and intricate on the opening One Hour, spare and spooked on the follow-up, Blue Calm.  Then there are James Maddren’s drums, brushed and struck as if beaten by a propeller measuring the length of the ocean.  All play their part – we’ll get to the tasty set-piece, Tap Dance (For Baby Dodds) five paragraphs further on from here.  Unsurprisingly it is Trish Clowes herself who calls the tune. 

A couple of years ago it looked likely she was going to break through glass ceilings and concrete floors, she has largely succeeded in making that happen by her own sheer creativity and organisation.  Now with the release of My Iris, an album with such a compression of articulated vision, I can’t believe she isn’t going to be recognised as a critical European player and composer.    Trish Clowes’ soprano and tenor saxophones are already TC (Top Cat). 

Click here for Trish Clowes introducing My Iris

Where to start? How about A Cat Called Behemoth since we’re on the subject. Behemoth is apparently a giant cat character in ‘The Master & Magarita’ by Mikhail Bulgakov.  I don’t know the story, though I understand an organ comes into it somewhere emitting “a strange chromatic squeak”.  Well, speak as you find, I don’t hear any squeaks coming off of Ross Stanley’s Hammond.  A Cat Called Behemoth is a wonderfully weird piece of music making.  Each of the three front line players give individual recitals which are weaved in tight to James Maddren’s prod and pushing percussion.  For me it is Trish Clowes herself who delivers the initial delicacies, mainly because she’s confident with her own eloquence and strips the quirky line of over complication.  She holds in her hands the only instruments that are blown in this band, the breadth of her breathing floods through the improv.  Under and over, Ross Stanley’s keyboard is a real soundboard; a funky feel-good that has nought to do with Jimmy Smith’s The Cat.  Mr Stanley turns on gothic grandeur, mock Bach without ridiculing the source.  The guy has just been awarded the British Jazz Awards prize for his use of organ in the miscellaneous instrument category.  His work within My Iris is amble proof of why it was a good decision. 

The trick within A Cat Called Behemoth is that it is stalking in a number of different directions.  Chris Montague’s guitar maintains a closed brevity, riding single notes across the spacy groove.  Sure, when he solos he’s scattering complexity in a number of directions, but because he’s held back until now, he’s earned the right to knit a short weave of six strings.  There’s a version of this tune on Youtube with a quintet line-up, including Maddren and Montague.  It’s a real tight classy catch; piano, no organ, tasty double bass, no organ-bass pedals.  Give it a listen, it will take you some of the way there, but it demonstrates by default the mystery of the My Iris line-up when exercised around Stanley’s Hammond (click here).  Trish Clowes is ever so slightly unsettling in his presence, or so it seems to me, and that being the case, it gives the action a dramatic quality.  This is a music of substance.

Let’s go to Muted Lines, another spacy composition, the only non-Clowes original, written instead by Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian, currently composer in residence with the London Symphony Orchestra.  The track comes with a story I haven’t got the room to tell, but here’s a short briefing: A 16th century Armenian poem by Nahapel Kuchak which Trish Clowes whisper-sings because it is about an exile’s “unsingable songs”.  The irony of singing what can’t be sung represents a lot of what is going on here.  Being able to articulate what could be thought of as out of reach, these are after all by definition, Muted Lines.  The suggestion is that this is the current predicament.  We must achieve peace, where there is none.  Find hope where there is only sorrow, a voice where there is an uncanny silence.

What follows Muted Lines is Tap Dance (for Baby Dodds), which Clowes considers a ‘sister’ tune to Muted.  As everyone knows, Baby Dodds was the ace drummer with King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band and Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five (I owe my father for bringing me up on this stuff though I mustn’t now become diverted from my task).  Trish Clowes’ own story goes that she was transcribing a Dodds drum break at the same time as briefing Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian on the My Iris project.  Personally, I can’t understand why Clowes was transcribing Baby Dodds solos and breaks, because as far as I know Warren Dodds never played a transcription in his life.  I guess that shouldn’t prevent Trish Clowes from having a go, the end result sure beats Frank Zappa tapping with his fingers on the top of a mixing desk in the middle of John Cage’s 4.33 (the so-say ‘silent’, composition).  Clowes’ Tap Dance gets very close to Baby Dodds without going anywhere near the Creole Jazz Band or the Hot Five (I just had to play them as comparisons).  So, I like this Tap Dance because it acknowledges and pays homage to the start of things without becoming retro.  I like the rest of the album because it honours what there is to come.

Click here to listen to King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band with Baby Dodds

On Be A Glow Worm the action is rooted in a workout that could have been a tenor hard-bop blow, but is instead circumnavigated as an alt-riddle of fragments, the fractures spliced into verses; Clowes and Montague ducking and weaving around each other in search of ‘The Light’.  To Be A Glow Worm means you are the light, and the abrupt ending feels like an acknowledgement of that fact.  In Between The Moss And Ivy is a linear ballad which is poised and blown clean of superfluous activity, leaving each part of the quartet to come together, holding the brittle melody intact as if it is the ‘other-side’ of the opening track, One Hour, which itself had so slowly unfolded sound and rhythm onto my ears right at the start of My Iris.  An intriguing beginning which fulfilled the function of a prologue; it contained just enough of the whole to make me want to listen-up without giving away the secrets to be shared. 

Trish Clowes has thrown down a challenge to herself with this album.  The bar is set, there is no way back from this height, neither can she stop still.  There will have to be something else to come.  My Iris buys her some time. 

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Jimmy Scott - I Go Back Home

Album Released: 27th January 2017 - Label: Eden River Records - Reviewed: February 2017

Jimmy Scott I Go Back Home

Jimmy Scott, who died in 2014 aged 88, had one of the most distinctive voices in jazz. A hormonal imbalance meant that his voice never really broke. He used this to his advantage and developed an unusual counter-tenor singing style. After early success in the fifties, contractual difficulties began to plague his career and he dropped out of sight. He made a comeback in the nineties, becoming something of a cult figure. I Go Back Home is his last album. It was recorded in 2009 but has only recently been released.

The brainchild of German producer, Ralf Kemper, I Go Back Home does Jimmy Scott proud. A full scale symphony orchestra plays on all twelve tracks together with an impressive rhythm section of Kenny Barron (piano), Michael Valerio (bass) and Peter Erskine (drums). Various guest artists are featured including the likes of James Moody, Joey DeFrancesco and Dee Dee Bridgewater. Phil Ramone produced the mixes, and the physical packaging of the album is superb.

It has to be said that Scott’s voice is not the all-conquering instrument of his younger days. But its very fragility adds a poignant, compelling dimension to the music, rather like some of Billie Holiday’s late recordings. His singing has a heartfelt, yearning quality, a longing for past youth and past loves, perhaps, and regret at lost opportunities. Most of the tracks are old standards but Scott manages to make them sound brand new and invests the sometimes rather hackneyed words with real meaning and passion. And he hits the notes. All in all, it’s an impressive performance by any standards let alone from a frail man in his eighties.

The album begins with a moving rendition of the old spiritual, Motherless Child. Scott’s heartfelt vocals are supported by some fine, soulful Hammond organ playing from Joey DeFrancesco. Martin Gjakonovski and Hans Dekker replace Valerio and Erskine on bass and drums respectively. Click here for a video of Jimmy Scott giving a live performance of Motherless Child.

The second track is the old standard, The Nearness of You which, as with most of the other tracks, has a lush orchestral arrangement. It also has some 'proper jazz' with the rhythm section really swinging at times. The actor, Joe Pesci, joins Scott on some of the vocals. This may appear a somewhat bizarre pairing but, actually, Pesci has a great voice which sounds eerily like Scott’s at times.

Pesci sings on another of the tracks, Folks Who Live on the Hill (Track 11). This is billed as a “Tribute to Jimmy Scott” and Scott does not actually sing on it at all so Pesci has to carry the whole performance himself – which he does triumphantly. Again, the similarity to Scott’s voice in younger days is uncanny. The track also features the on-form Joey DeFrancesco on a muted, Miles Davis sounding trumpet.

Track 3, Love Letters, is another old standard but given a foot tapping bossa nova treatment. The late Brazilian guitarist, Oscar Castro Neves, plays on the track and also sings (in Portuguese) either solo or with Scott. The effect is rather like one of those Getz-Gilberto collaborations from the sixties. Joey DeFrancesco contributes some more Hammond organ; and Gregoire Maret plays a short evocative harmonica solo.

On the next track, Easy Living, Scott doesn’t so much sing the lyric as talk it, Rex Harrison style. Occasionally, he bursts into song and that combination of talk-sing is surprisingly effective. Even when he is talking the lyric, Scott’s phrasing and diction are immaculate. Joey De Francesco plays organ again and takes a longer solo than on other tracks. DeFrancesco’s work is one of the highlights of the whole album and leaves one wondering why the Hammond organ is not heard more often in contemporary jazz.

On Someone To Watch Over Me, Scott is joined by Renee Olstead. Scott’s contribution is minimal so it’s really Olstead’s show. She has a great voice which, like Joe Pesci’s, is similar to Scott’s. She manages to make something distinctive of the rather 'pop' sounding arrangement and familiar words. Kenny Barron contributes a short but well-judged solo. Kenny Barron is also to the fore on How Deep Is The Ocean which, like Love Letters, is given a bossa nova makeover. Barron’s solo swings along effortlessly; and Oscar Castro Neves plays guitar again.

Scott’s vocal on If I Ever Lost You is particularly heartfelt; you know exactly how he would feel if he ever lost you. Till Bronner is the guest artist and his breathy trumpet solo contributes something a bit more contemporary to what is otherwise a conventionally lush arrangement. For Once In My Life is taken at a more stately pace than the Stevie Wonder version. Scott is joined by Dee Dee Bridgewater and they duet together effectively. Bob Mintzer plays some nice tenor sax. I Remember You is another Jimmy Scott-less “Tribute to Jimmy Scott” sung by Monica Mancini (Henry’s daughter). Again, the tempo is bossa nova with Oscar Castro Neves on guitar, and Arturo Sandoval playing some great flugelhorn.

Everybody Is Somebody’s Fool was originally recorded by Scott in the fifties with Lionel Hampton. You can listen to the original version - click here. The version on I Go Back Home is as poignant as the original but in a different way. Years of life experience separate the two versions making the later rendition sound like the musings of an older, wiser man rather than a wistful youth. There is a fine, too brief sax solo from the late James Moody and, as usual, sterling support from Joey DeFrancesco on Hammond organ. Scott hits the final high note right on the button.

Click here for Jimmy Scott singing Everybody Is Somebody’s Fool in his later years – this isn’t the version on I Go Back Home, but similar. The final track on the album is Poor Butterfly for which Scott adopts his talking/singing style. Again, phrasing and timing are perfect. Gregoire Maret contributes a harmonica solo which slots perfectly into the whole piece.

Performances by jazz legends at the end of their careers often disappoint but Jimmy Scott managed to keep going and deliver powerfully right to his death. I Go Back Home is a fitting tribute to a great talent.

A film documenting the making of I Go Back Home will be shown in the UK later this year. Click here for a trailer which also acts as an introduction to the album itself.

For further details of the album, go to the Eden River Records website, or click here for CD, MP3 or vinyl purchase information.

Robin Kidson

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Mosaic - Subterranea

Album Released: 18th November 2016 - Label: Edition Records - Reviewed: January 2017

Mosaic Subterranea

Ralph Wylde (vibraphone), James Corpus (trumpet, flugelhorn), Sam Rapley (clarinet, bass clarinet), Cecilia Bignall (cello), Misha Mullov-Abbado (double bass), Scott Chapman (drums, percussion).

Mosaic is a six-piece band led by vibraphone player Ralph Wylde. Formed in 2014, it brings together in this debut album young musicians who have been making a name for themselves over the past few years. Ralph Wylde, a graduate from the Royal Academy of Music, was the winner of the 2015 Kenny Wheeler Prize and picked by Jazzwise Magazine as 'one to look out for'. Ralph says: 'Winning the Kenny Wheeler Prize, having been so inspired by his music, was a real honour, and the opportunity it gives me to release this record on Edition is incredibly exciting ... 'Subterranea' has allowed me to bring together some of my favourite musicians, and breathe life into the music.'

Aside from this band, and this album, Ralph Wylde plays with a variety of other contemporary projects including those of Yazz Ahmed, Sam Eagles, Rick Simpson, JJ Wheeler and Troykestra. Of the 7 tracks on this album, two of which are 'Interludes', the title track won the 2015 Dankworth Prize for Jazz Composition. They are all Ralph's own compositions.

The album opens with White Horses. Ralph explains that it is influenced by the music of Steve Martland and Steve Reich: 'The opening chords are a response to Reich's City Life, and the more rhythmic sections reflect Martland's Horses Of Instruction. The latter is also where the title derives from, albeit adapted to present an image of waves breaking.' The opening chords are rich, giving way to a riff from the vibes and the brass entering and stretching the tune. The bass and drums underscore a slow, extended outing from Sam Rapley's clarinet and eventually he passes the piece to Ralph's vibes solo before the chords return to close the track.

Kaira Konko takes its name from a scout lodge in Soma, The Gambia. Ralph explains that it places an emphasis on community and refuge. 'This piece aims to capture the contrast between the harsh reality of life in parts of Africa, and the sanctuary that is Kaira Konko ('Hill of Peace'). Cecilia's cello begins this beautiful theme with flavours of Ravel and joined by the vibraphone, they completely capture the concept described by Ralph. Clarinet and trumpet come in dancing lightly and it is James Copus's rippling trumpet that next takes a solo, presumably reflecting the less peaceful realities until the vibes bring reassurance whilst in the background clarinet and trumpet state a recurring motif.

The first two tracks have been 8 minutes and 12 minutes long and the first Interlude takes 4.28 minutes, beginning like a flight of bees, flies or birds and harmonics float through the air. The piece is an atmospheric soundscape that fades away to the title track, Subterranea. Ralph Wylde describes it as 'conjuring images of underground rivers and caves'. Vibes, light percussion and bass allow the bass clarinet, trumpet and cello to take us down where Misha Mullov-Abaddo's bass provides a very rewarding solo. An empathy of clarinet, bass and drums carries the track along and then hand over to the vibes to explore the journey until the band surfaces into daylight. Interlude II at just over 3 minutes is another tonal soundscape. I am not sure whether these interludes are intended to atmospherically bookend Subterranea, but that is the effect.

Cryptogram is a musical cryptogram - Ralph says: 'The pitches used in both the melodic line and chords are derived from my name. This idea was passed on to me by composer Patrick Nunn who has recently completed a series of cryptograms himself.' Sparse vibraphone notes and percussion start out the piece, gathering pace as the bass enters, and then trumpet, and the clarinet which floats along with a few historic references until a clear run-filled trumpet solo from James Copus. The pace stops and here the drums effectively carry rhythms that underpin the notes chosen by the rest of the band.

Reprise uses material from several of the pieces on the album, drawing them together into a unified finale. Starting with references to the soundscapes, some beautiful textures from cello and vibes, a lyrical reminder from trumpet and clarinet, and a short staccato ending.

This is a thoughtful, satisfying and accomplished album that should extend Ralph Wylde's reputation. He has chosen his musicians well and the arrangements on Subterranea allow each of them to contribute effectively to the whole.

Click here for a video introduction to the album.

Click here for details, to sample the album and to listen to Cryptogram.

Ian Maund

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Ian Wheeler - Remembering Ian Wheeler

Album Released: 25th November 2016 - Label: Lake Records - Reviewed: January 2017

Remembering Ian Wheeler

Ian Wheeler's talent and contribution to British jazz was significant and this 2 CD compilation from Lake Records is a timely reminder of how easy it can be to forget those who have helped to build the history of the music. Fortunately we have some of their recorded playing preserved - it is worth taking time to listen to it.

Ian Wheeler played clarinet, alto and soprano saxophones and harmonica, and examples of his work with all those instruments are covered in this collection which ranges from 1954 to 2000. There are twenty tracks on each CD played by various personnel in the bands of Ian Wheeler himself, Ken Colyer, Chris Barber, Hefty Jazz, the Sims-Wheeler Vintage Jazz band, the Ian Wheeler - Sammy Rimington band and a band brought together by Lake Records in May 2000 comprising Ian Wheeler, Tony Pringle (cornet), Ole 'Fessor' Lindgreen (trombone), Ray Foxley (piano), Keith Stephen (guitar), Ray Cansdale (bass) and Paul Adams (drums).

Ian Wheeler was born in London in 1931. He started out on banjo, moved on to guitar and then in Charlie Connor's band, changed to clarinet. He formed his first band, the River City Jazz Band, in 1952 when he was 21. A year later he joined Mike Daniels, but a bout of TB put him in hospital. Paul Adams's liner notes tell us: 'Ian told me that ... he wasn't sure he would continue to play so he organised and paid for a recording session. The engineer was John R.T. Davies and the musicians were Chris Barber's band without Chris.' These are the first 2 tracks on this album where we can hear Ian duetting with both Monty Sunshine and Pat Halcox.

The TB didn't stop his career and by the end 1954 he was playing in Ken Colyer's band, replacing Acker Bilk and turning professional. The four tracks with the Colyer band come from 1959. When Ian's friend trombonist Mac Duncan left Colyer, Ian left too and put together a band with Acker's trumpet player, Ken Sims. We have two tracks from 1960, Bye And Bye and Savoy Blues which were 'rescued' from a box of tapes by Lake Records. There is some nice playing by Mac Duncan on a steady, foot-tapping Savoy Blues with Ken Sims's growling trumpet before Ian's clarinet takes a solo. Unfortunately the band ended up in a car crash and Ian was hospitalised, but Monty Sunshine had now left the Barber band and Chris Barber came calling. Ian joined them in 1961 and we have 5 tracks from 1962 to 1965 to capture that period.

In 1968, Ian moved to the West Country and set up a scuba diving business and carried on playing with a band of his own until in 1973 when he teamed up with trumpeter Rod Mason. Also living in the West Country was trumpeter Keith Smith and together Ian and Keith formed Hefty Jazz, and we are lucky to have two tracks, Sweet Lorraine and S'Wonderful, from this great band in this collection. I love the smooth, rounded sound Ian Wheeler captures on Sweet Lorraine and it is nice to hear Peter Ind on bass, particularly his solo on Savoy Blues. Dick Wellstead takes the piano solos - Keith Smith is not present on these 'Quartet' recordings.

Ian Wheeler's work with reeds player and flutist Sammy Rimington emerged from links through Hefty Jazz and the compilation has 9 tracks from 1978 when they co-led a band with Ralph Laing (piano), Wayne Chandler (banjo, guitar), Harvey Weston (bass) and Tony Allen (drums). In 1979, Chris Barber called again, this time to ask Ian to replace Sammy Rimington! It was now the Chris Barber Jazz and Blues Band and track 18, Alligator Hop with Ian duetting with clarinettist John Crocker, is from this time. Whilst with Chris, Ian worked on other projects and a set of recordings under his own name was made in 1993 bringing together again Rod Mason and Fessor Lindgreen with Ray Foxley (piano), Vic Pitt (bass) and Colin Bowden (drums) and on Melt Down, we can hear Ian Wheeler on harmonica after a strong solo statement from Rod Mason and on each side of a brief, assured solo from the Danish trombonist. (Ian's recording Ian Wheeler at Farnham Maltings was voted the best new jazz recording of 1993 by the Music Retailers Association).

The next chronological track on this album is from 1996 when Chris Barber was on tour and the track South captures for posterity Ian, Acker Bilk and John Crocker on the recording with the three clarinets intertwining and soloing - John solos first, Ian second and Acker third (they should go from left to right on your stereo). From the Lake Records Jazz Band recording from 2000, don't miss Ian's lovely, sensitive clarinet solo on Hollandaise.

Ian Wheeler spent his final years running a pottery and gift shop in Polperro, Cornwall with Maria, his second wife. He died on the 27th June 2011. You can read his obituary here and Paul Adams's liner notes that come with these 2 CDs are comprehensive - together with this collection of his recordings spanning 46 years, we have a deserved tribute to a fine musician.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Click here for a video of Ian Wheeler playing When The Saints Go Marching In with the Barber band in 1965 (not on the album).

Ian Maund

 

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Sun Ra - Singles: The Definitive 45's Collcetion 1952 -1991

Album Released: 25th November 2016 - Label: Strut Records - Reviewed: January 2017

Sun Ra Singles

Released as a 3 CD digipack, a 3 LP set, and 10 x 45’s box-set, the collection features Sun Ra, John Gilmore, Pat Patrick, Marshall Allen, Billie Hawkins, The Qualities, Yochanan, Cosmic Rays, Hattie Randolph and many more.

Oh glory be, if this isn’t the most outer reaches of outer space then we are light years from home. Here are sixty-five tracks dating back to just about the start of time (for some of us).  Sun Ra and his Arkestra!  I’ll come clean, The Heliocentric Worlds Of Sun Ra - Volumes 1 & 2 for ESP Records, released in 1965 like two examples of intelligence from another outer planetary connection, are among my prize possessions.  

A unique group of white British ‘progressives’ had a very particular understanding of early, Black American ‘jazz’.  Whether that conjecture included Sun Ra is probably beyond my (non) pay-grade.  What I know as fact is that a man named Herman Blount was playing piano for Fletcher Henderson between 1946-47, and he wasn’t on another planet.  In 1952, Sun Ra changed his name from Herman Blount to Le Sony’r Ra. In the same year, two great Scots, Sandy Brown and Al Fairweather, played Squeeze Me at their early Usher Hall Concert, and since then the whole ‘British’ understanding of jazz has connected with (dare I say) a ‘European’ perspective of the J-word.  As Willie Shake observed, time has both its entrances and exits.

Rightly this Sun Ra Singles collection looks back in order to dance forward.  And for that we have to inhabit Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit and the thin edge of the universe.  At times Singles is right-on brash-trash; garish, bold as brass and a fairground for the blues.  On occasions it feels like a collection of out-takes from a car boot sale, but the nuggets....  The bright gold that is Saturn and Velvet, both (possibly) left-overs from the Jazz in Silhoutte album, offer up a piercing light in a dark universe.  If a track like the Cosmic Rays with Sun Ra and Arkestra playing Daddy’s Gonna Tell You No Lie sounds like high pressure Doo-Wop, that’s because it is, and if Outer Space Plateau comes over like early solo improvisations on electric keyboards fused into a weird reeds arrangement owing nothing to no one, that’s exactly what it is.  And believe me, that makes both tracks especially special. 

Click here to listen to Saturn.

It also asks that we grab hold of the fact that throughout the late 1950’s and much of the 60’s, Black Americana music was having to straddle the strange duplicity of racist radio airplay, McCarthyism and the strangle hold of the commercial white dominated record companies. Sun Ra applied himself to breaking down the systems that ruled the music machine in the USA.  He had little choice; the entertainment business was full of negativity when it came to ‘race records’.  Sun Ra literally took himself and his band off to Saturn to get free of it. 

Last year, when I first caught up with Le Sun Ra and his Arkestra’s take on Great Balls Of Fire on Youtube, the performance initially sounded like an extremely polite Bossa.  Dig deeper and it begins to take on the appearance of a paraphrase of the Otis Blackwell/Jack Hammer song, which clocked up well over a million sales for Jerry Lee Lewis.  The song became synonymous with ‘wild man’ rock 'n' roll, yet here it is poached like an egg, conservatively mainstream under Sun Ra’s presentation; a huge irony considering the totally avant-garde direction in which Sun Ra’s space travel would go.  ‘Wild’ in the Jerry Lee context had nothing to do with radical music and everything to do with ‘what sells records’.  Sun Ra had nothing to do with what sells records and everything to do with radical music.  Except that for the Arkestra, at this point in time, Great Balls Of Fire achieved neither purpose. Covers, like Balls of Fire and Gershwin’s A Foggy Day, were like masks – the face may be disguised but the fact that the mask is worn indicates an intention to present a problem.  It’s important that these tunes exist because they demonstrate the complete arc of Sun Ra’s interest.  He was after all, an artist of both the bizarrely ridiculous and the seriously unfathomable.

Click here for Le Sun Ra and His Arkestra Great Balls Of Fire.

There is a lot to savour in this extremely well packaged Singles collection – fantastical gems like The Bridge, or the curious mantra which curls through the corners of Rocket # 9 (which stops abruptly in its edit as if someone has pulled the power switch).  Then there is Blues On Planet Mars, a deconstruction of down-home R & B, to the point where it literally squeals, a special rare cruise through the single version of Mayan Temple unencumbered by much of its later orchestration and delivered by cranked electricity and broken percussion.  Temple probably would have been my favourite track on the whole collection if it weren’t for Disco 2021, which reacts to the ears like a counter balance to jiving in a straight line.  And then comes the original version of Nuclear War (“If they push that button, your ass gotta go.... radiation, mutation....”).  It is damn obvious that Sun Ra meant what he said.  The refrain became a regular concert inclusion.  For sure, no candidate played it during last year’s chase to the White House, they were too busy tipping the juke-box to Jerry Lee’s Great Balls Of Fire.

Like the Gilles Peterson Presents... Sun Ra album which we reviewed in November 2015, Singles is a case of Strut Records doing us all a favour and getting down into the archives and delivering yet another fabulous collection of material from one of the true innovators of ‘Great Black Music’ (Lester Bowie’s accurate term for jazz).  If not all the tracks neatly fit into the definition of ‘great music’ or even ‘jazz’, well, it’s really down to how you hear it.  Take out the ear plugs, listen at a decent volume and you’ll behold visionary music.  I would suggest that it is a requirement of Sandy Brown Jazz to always cover Sun Ra.  And if you encounter a little Doo-Wop along the way, tap your feet and don’t simply wait for Nuclear War.  Good luck.

Click here for details and to sample.

Click here for The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra Volume 2.              

Steve Day  www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Donny McCaslin - Beyond Now

Album Released: 14th October 2016 - Label: Motema - Reviewed: January 2017

Donny McCaslin Beyond Now

Widely acclaimed saxophonist, Donny McCaslin, a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, started to show enormous compositional and improvisational capabilities very early, namely in 1998, when he released his debut album Exile and Discovery. Other aesthetically rigorous works such as The Way Through, Soar, and In Pursuit all became intimately connected to a miraculous phase in his career that turned this Californian promise into a highly respected voice within the new jazz scene. During that period, collaborations with modernistic luminaries like Ben Monder, Antonio Sanchez, David Binney, Orrin Evans, Scott Colley, and Billy Drummond, were fundamental to make his spectacular tenor sound fly high.

After experimenting with the trio format in Recommended Tools, and the large ensemble in Declaration, the sax man changed direction by introducing an innovative quartet - Jason Lindner on keyboards, Tim Lefebvre on electric bass, and Mark Guiliana on drums - whose distinctive groove and several influences were on the basis of the cerebral and caustic albums, Casting for Gravity and Fast Future. In the meantime, his name was heavily uttered when he was heard in David Bowie’s swan song, Blackstar, a happening that only increased his notability and also included the other members of his quartet.

Returning to a personal project, McCaslin reunites the Fast Future quartet and spices even more the old recipe by adding a few influential guest musicians to play on selected songs. Unsurprisingly, the nine tracks on Beyond Now intelligently combine a variety of variables that catapult McCaslin to the vanguard of the modern jazz. 

The opening tune, Shake Loose, pulses with hypnotic rhythmic chops and feels simultaneously urban and futuristic. With strong influences of pop-rock, jazz, and electronic music, the quartet proliferates a penetrating tension that remains elevated until its release through expansive harmonic progressions and the attractive melody of the chorus. A comparable approach is used in the melodious and patiently-driven Bright Abyss, another fantastic original that quickly connects to our senses through a sober, alert, and provocative instrumentation. The emotional grandeur brought into its final section, which is magnified by voices, has become McCaslin’s signature over the years.

Work with David Bowie must have been a great honour for these musicians. Grateful for the opportunity, they've agreed in the recording of two of his songs: A Small Plot of Land, featuring Jeff Taylor on vocals and Nate Wood on guitar, is a depressive chant whose inaugural regular beats gain a stronger perspective as Guiliana introduces richer drumming maneuvers; and Warszawa, which is strongly anchored in Lindner’s obscure interventions, becoming a suitable prop for McCaslin’s infatuations.

Click here to listen to A Small Plot Of Land featuring Jeff Taylor.

Click here for a video of Warszawa.

The quartet dabbles in ambient-electronic allures through the addition of Deadmau5’s Coelacanth 1, in which the quartet attempts to describe the beauty, but also the dangers of a distant planet; and Mutemath’s Remain, a soulful blend of electronic, pop, and gospel that left me in a state of inebriant ecstasy. 

Glory only reinforces the bandleader’s dexterity as a composer and improviser, and at the same time features Lindner in a beautiful solo piano instance. The intensification of the closing harmonic cycles brought in more of the saxophonist’s swirling explorations.

McCaslin’s sound and ideas remain fresh and original, and Beyond Now stands a few steps ahead of the present time. It doesn’t only feel like a tribute to Bowie, but also as a reverent nod to boundless styles and freedom of expression. The band sounds tighter than ever, and as a pioneer of this type of fearless fusion, the saxist solidifies the present by keeping an eye in the future. After all, Donny is a jazz giant, a reputation founded on his own merit.

Click here for a video preview of the album. Click here for purchase details. Click here for Donny McCaslin's website.

Links:Website: http://donnymccaslin.com/

Filipe Freitas jazztrail.net

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Mary Halvorson Octet - Away With You

Album Released: 28th October 2016 - Label: Firehouse 12 Records - Reviewed: January 2017

Mary Halvorson Octet Away With You

Originally from Brookline, Massachusetts, and now based in Brooklyn, New York, Mary Halvorson, a skillful guitarist, unpredictable improviser, gifted composer, and unavoidable figure of the avant-jazz current generation, has been very active in New York since 2002.

The 36-year-old guitarist did her jazz studies at the Wesleyan University and the New School, which gave her extra tools to develop a very unique sound and a bold musical concept that has no parallel in the modern and diversified world of jazz. Her outstanding features include rich harmonic designs, which sound simultaneously twisted and beautiful, and an out-of-the-box improvisational vision that encompasses complex patterns, audacious phrases, and dazzling atonal and polytonal approaches.

Highly in-demand in the last couple of years, the unconventional Halvorson has participated in several recordings as a sidewoman in addition to the release of her first solo album, Meltframe, and a few audacious duo and trio projects that she leads and co-leads, like her own trio (with John Hébert and Ches Smith), Secret Keeper (with Stephan Crump), The Out Louds (with Ben Goldberg and Tomas Fujiwara), and Thumbscrew (with Michael Formanek and Tomas Fujiwara). Other relevant collaborations include but are not limited to fantastic musicians such as Anthony Braxton, Marc Ribot, Jessica Pavone, Tom Rainey, Taylor Ho Bynum, Peter Evans, Nate Wooley, and Tim Berne.

To give the most appropriate course to her tempting new album, Away With You, Halvorson brought together an extraordinary octet. The resultant body of work confers on her, once and for all, the statute of large-ensemble leader. The band members are the same as she gathered in 2013 for the release of Illusionary Sea, with the addition of Susan Alcorn on pedal steel guitar. It comprises Ingrid Laubrock on tenor saxophone, Jon Irabagon on alto saxophone, Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Jacob Garchik on trombone, John Hébert on bass, and Ches Smith on drums.

Evincing a more melodic and cerebral approach than her previous works, the recording starts with Spirit Splitter (No. 54), a distortedly symphonic volcano that spills rapturous counterpoints and steamy exchanges. Saxophonist Jon Irabagon puts his best foot forward, showing why he’s considered an outstanding improviser. Halvorson brands her quirky, tense chords right after a reverberant collective improvisation packed with horn sounds.

Click here for a video of the Octet playing Spirit Splitter live at The Stone, New York City, in June 2016.

Her probing guitar dominates Away With You (No. 55), a frolicking avant-pop piece that also counts on trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson’s unpretentious speeches and Ches Smith’s freethinking yet methodical drumming. The Absolute Outmost (No. 52) features Susan Alcorn playing her pedal guitar steel in a meditative way. Halvorson, opting for unusual sounds, and John Hébért, who bows the bass accordingly, join her until the fourth minute, time when the reeds erupt and a flamboyant rhythm is installed. Ingrid Laubrock excels with a portentous solo that encompasses melodious lines, hints of bop phrasing, and explosive temper.

Other notable tunes are Fog Bank (No. 56), a suspenseful piece sculpted by guitar, bowed bass, and trombone; Safety Orange (No. 59), an exquisite guitar-horn irreverence played at 3/4 tempo; and the conclusive Inky Ribbons (No. 53), an unattached melodic song embellished by beautiful guitar interactions and featuring the reedists by turns.

Away With You is Halvorson’s most enlightened and maturest work so far. The gallant sonic tapestry weaved through the fabulous arrangements enhances the collective rather the individual. Still, sectional free forms and ravishing improvisations remind us that Halvorson’s uncanny knack for playing out of standardized zones remains intact. For our contentment!

Click here to listen to the album. Click here for purchase details. Click here for Mary Halvorson's website.

Filipe Freitas jazztrail.net

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Frank Kimbrough - Solstice

Album Released: 5th January 2017- Label: Pirouet Records - Reviewed: January 2017

Frank Kimbrough Solstice

Frank Kimbrough is a New York based pianist and a member of the Maria Schneider orchestra.  This ongoing musical relationship has resulted in a number of Grammy award-winning projects, and one of Maria’s compositions is the last track on his new album, Solstice.  

Frank Kimbrough himself has some 20 critically acclaimed albums under his own name.  In 1992, Kimbrough helped found the Jazz Composers Collective, an organisation that lasted for 13 years.  He also has an on-going nine-year stint teaching at the Juilliard School.  On this recording, he is joined by bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Jeff Hirshfield and they have been playing together for over 20 years.  As Frank states, “I selected compositions that speak to me in ways that are unique and personal. Jay and Jeff didn’t know what we were going to play and didn’t see the music until we arrived at the date.  There was almost no discussion and no rehearsal - we simply began to play”.  Most of the pieces are first takes.

There are 9 tracks to enjoy; the longest being the title track, Solstice, at just over 8 minutes.  The only original composition is the 6th track, called Question’s The Answer.  The CD package has four photographs of a variety of woodland foliage however there are no track notes until the back which lists the musicians, the tracks and the composer of each track.  The full track listing is as follows:

1. Seven by Carla Bley
2. Here Comes the Honey Man by George Gershwin
3. Solstice by Maryanne de Prophetis
4. The Sunflower by Paul Motian
5. Albert’s Love Theme by Annette Peacock
6. Question’s The Answer by Frank Kimbrough
7. From California With Love by Andrew Hill
8. El Cordobes by Annette Peacock
9. Walking by Flashlight by Maria Schneider

The first track, Seven, ably demonstrates that you do not need lots of instruments to produce good music.  A gentle but insistent start features restrained piano playing with gaps where background instruments space the piano melody which dominates progressively.  Here Comes The Honey Man is slow paced with repeated melody lines from the piano and bass each taking turns to lead.  The understated percussion adds depth at another layer.  All three musicians play as one with increasing pace before the piano finishes the track on its own.  

The title track, Solstice, has lovely clear melodic piano with subtle bass and drums joining and keeping the melody flowing.  The bass takes over half way through the track to produce a wonderful solo before the piano returns.  This is a track that is very relaxing to listen to.  

Click here to listen to Solstice.

With The Sunflower, we hear more percussion with a solo from Jeff Hirschfield, plus one from Anderson’s bass.  This track has a discordant and disjointed melody from drummer/composer Paul Motian but it works well.  Albert’s Love Theme is another very relaxing track with light, sweet and moody high refrains from the piano.  

Track 6, The Question’s The Answer, is a faster track with a complex series of notes falling over each other and running around a melodic theme.  The piano is very much the lead instrument here but well backed by bass and drums.  From California With Love has lots of cascading notes on the piano, with again the bass and drums providing support.  

El Cordobes was written by Annette Peacock for the Spanish bullfighter Manual Benitez Perez, and has more dramatic playing with the piano providing the changes in tempo and intensity.  This track has a very modern feel to it.  The last track is Walking By Flashlight.  I like the original orchestral version but this pared down version played by Kimbrough, supported by the soft brushes used on the drums, is also highly enjoyable, with its beautiful, clean, easy melody.

These musicians play brilliantly off each other and the balance in the playing is superb considering the spontaneous way the album was recorded.  A relaxing CD where even the complex sounds simple and minimalist.

Click here for details and to sample the album. Click here for an interview with Frank Kimbrough.

Click here for purchase details.

Tim Rolfe

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Anna Webber's Simple Trio - Binary

Album Released: 25th October 2016 - Label: Skirl Records - Reviewed: January 2017

Anna Webber's Simple Trio Binary

Anna Webber ( tenor saxophone, flute); Matt Mitchell (piano); John Hollenbeck (drums).

I’m coming in a little late in the day, this is Anna Webber’s second album on Skirl Records, Binary being the follow up to 2014’s Simple, recorded with the same line-up.  The more my ears have hung out with Binary the more I’m damn sure I want to peddle back and pick up on Simple

Over this last year it’s just been the way of things, I seem to have found myself listening to a lot of trios; obviously piano trios, but other kinds of three way partnerships too.  At the beginning of 2016, I was working on a book about the incredible Russian triptych that constitutes the legendary Ganelin Trio.  Their line-up was saxophones-keyboards-drums and hey, that’s what we have here on Binary.  Last month Sandy Brown Jazz featured tenor sax giant Ivo Perelman’s massive Art Of The Improv Trio series.  Back in October What’s New published my review of the soprano sax star, Jane Ira Bloom’s Early Americans trio album which, like Anna Webber, has strong Brooklyn, New York connections - although Ms Bloom’s line-up is saxophone-bass-drums.  The popularity of three way configurations feels more than coincidental.  Maybe, there’s a financial element to it (I understand the importance of the ‘Economy’, it would be stupid not too) though in my view the real trio-driver is that serious improvisers value the inherent close connection that comes with a three way split.

Running through Binary’s intricate pattern of performances are six short exercises titled Rectangles1a,1b, 2, 3a, 3b, 3c.  They don’t appear in that order.  God forbid it was ever that easy, instead Webber scatters them across the set-list like seedlings of other, longer improvisations.  Rectangles 2 is the album opener, all sharp corners, blades of sax sound splitting hairs with John Hollenbeck’s abstracted drumming as precise as surgery. Matt Mitchell’s piano dances like Thelonious Monk.  Three intricacies caught in a box.  They then wade into a piece called Impulse Purchase (strange but true, I bought the recently released final album by Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra on the Impulse label on the same day as I received Anna Webber’s recording). Impulse Purchase is a fourteen minute examination of the relationship between three classy improvisers circling each other until they finally arrive totally entwined.  If that sounds hard work, as far as I’m concerned it is pure pleasure.  What could be a mish-mash of uncertainty in the hands of less articulate players is in fact a journey of robust sound construction.  A great listen, and to use Ivo Perelman’s definition, truly, a fine example of “the art of the improv trio”.

Click here to listen to Rectangles 2.

The other exciting discovery about finding Anna Webber’s music is down to her use of flute.  Tug of War is for me the key track.  This is flute, piano and percussion slicing through the obvious predictions of such a line-up and arriving in lots of different spaces and aural soundscapes; bewildering, esoteric, venturesome, there is a sense of tugging at the tunes – stretching the sound shape so it morphs into a guise of music which only exists in the moment of its making.  That description would hold up for everything on this album.  None of it will be heard live again in this form.  A recorded album is just that, a record of a past encounter.  When listening to an improvisation which has been ‘preserved’, it is always pertinent to approach the outcome as if this is the first and last time you will ever hear it.  The flute, an instrument which can sometimes drift into pastoral air, is given body and soul by Anna Webber. Tug of War is a tough, exciting encounter, this flute doesn’t float, Webber weights it down forcing a clarity from the instrument which makes it feel vitally alive and dextrous, heaving wind onto the piano breaks and reacting to the crack coming off the drum kit.

The title track, Binary, begins with solo piano before being joined by an aerated tenor harmony drone. Those first two minutes as Matt Mitchell establishes this sober ballad-like melody within the confines of this trio are integral. ‘Three’ in binary  mathematics is represented as 11 (or “one, one”).  I have absolutely no idea exactly how Anna Webber is using the word Binary.  It is an ‘in’ word right now – travelling across disciplines and collecting different interpretations of meaning.  Perhaps it is this that attracts its usage to this collection of fascinating performances.  Certainly as the title track emerges from the piano shell it takes on numerous shapes within Anna Webber’s Simple Trio.  The simplicity of the initial study being gradually transformed by the continual, exquisite interaction between the piano-reeds-percussion.  By the time Anna Webber is extemporising through her tenor sax at the end of the piece, Binary seems to have undergone a complete change of colour.  The numbers too might well have reached an altered state, I wouldn’t really know, I was always lousy at maths.

Click here to sample the album on Bandcamp.

Sometimes a session comes completely new to the ears.  I hear it as an alert; I’ve got to go there now and I’ll be waiting for the next one.  Perhaps above all the instruments associated with improvisation, the tenor saxophone is the one that carries the weight of its own history as a burden.  Even before John Coltrane it was a heavy thing, over the last fifty years the ton of tenor offerings have grown to enormous proportions.  Anna Webber’s album has a fresh sense about it.  She carries history lightly and mathematics with ease.  On Binary the tenor talks in a recognisable language yet there are strong new accents.  I’d suggest Ms Webber’s flute is a brand new voice, I’ve had to listen up, there is serious stuff going on here. Matt Mitchell and John Hollenbeck reach into the trio’s Rectangles as if they are surgeons undertaking operations.  This is a three way trio each with its point.  I’d recommend spending a bit of time with this band.

Click here for details and to sample.

Click here for Anna Webber’s website.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Stuart McCallum and Mike Walker - The Space Between

Album Released: 25th November 2016 - Label: Edition Records - Reviewed: January 2017

Stuart McCallum Mike Walker The Space Between

Salfordians and Mancunians probably need no introduction to this guitar duo, who have both entertained and educated residents, students and visitors for many years.  Stuart McCallum graduated from the University of Salford where Mike Walker was a tutor and both are now tutors at the Royal Northern College of Music.  Mike Walker is perhaps best known for his work with the band led by Nikki Iles, The Printmakers, and with Gwilym Simcock in the band, The Impossible Gentlemen, who released an album recently called Let's Get Deluxe which received many excellent reviews. 

Stuart McCallum has worked extensively with a variety of other musicians including his Cinematic Orchestra colleague, Richard Spaven and has released albums under his own name including  Distilled in 2011 and City in 2015.  Both these albums demonstrate McCallum's thoughtful and measured approach to his music that produces melodic sound panoramas often enhanced by orchestral elements such as string sections.  In City, co-written and performed with and produced by drummer, Richard Spaven, he demonstrated his ability to sensitively accompany vocalists and in a previous album with Mike Walker entitled Beholden the music was described in the Guardian as "quiet but compellingly lyrical".  Another venture was the writing of a score for the ballet Ultimate Form choreographed by Kenneth Tindall and performed by Linder Sterling at Tate Modern in London.

The photograph on the front cover of The Space Between is of High Force waterfall in Teesdale, water cascading through a rocky canyon before crashing into the river below, which might suggest music that is both noisier and more turbulent than McCallum fans have been used to.  There are nine tracks on the album, six compositions by McCallum and three by other composers although track 5 which is an excerpt from Debussy's String Quartet in G minor is arranged by McCallum.  On the album, Stuart McCallum plays acoustic guitar and electronics while Mike Walker plays electric guitar. A string quartet of Laura Senior and Gemma South (violin), Lucy Nolan (viola) and Peggy Nolan (cello) play on tracks 1, 3, 6 & 7. 

The first track on the album is paradoxically called And Finally; there is a percussive rhythm throughout suggesting perhaps an Irish dance and McCallum's acoustic melody is joined by the string quartet before Walker's improvised section on electric guitar. The second track is Alfie, written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David for the 1966 film starring Michael Caine and famously sung by Cilla Black; McCallum and Walker provide a lovely version with changes in tempo and dynamics that enhance this very famous, romantic song. 

Click here for a live video version of Alfie from a house concert in March 2016 with Mike introducing the tune.

Moment Us is multi-layered, mellow jazz which McCallum is well known for, incorporating electronics and string quartet, and building to crescendos that give the impression of a much larger ensemble while Yewfield, referring to a Creative Retreat in the Lake District has a distinctly folk-music style.  Track 5 is an arrangement for guitars of Debussy's String Quartet in G minor and is a very short piece of very nice guitar playing. The title track, The Space Between, begins with some electronica and string quartet, McCallum introduces some classical style guitar while Walker harmonises with the string quartet which soars beautifully as string quartets do so well;  the meaning of the title track is explained as "expressing McCallum and Walker’s abiding love of melody and space, their friendship and respect, and the multifarious sounds and timbres that their instrument has to offer". 

Next comes As the Trees Waltz, a very agreeable dance tune that will have you swaying, like the trees in the wind. McCallum provides the melody while Walker pitches in with some high register electric guitar solo.  My Ideal has been performed as vocal or instrumental by several jazz greats such as Chet Baker, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, and this guitar version seems just as interesting and worthwhile. Which takes us to the last track called Sky Dancer, a much more upbeat piece with a distinct North African feel incorporating percussion and some great jazz guitar from Walker while McCallum provides the ever more insistent rhythm.

Superficially this album could just be described as some enjoyable guitar playing, but when it is really listened to, the richness of the music and the variety of influences is revealed and is very rewarding.  Stuart McCallum is clearly a very good composer, arranger and musician which should fill his tutor at the University of Salford with considerable pride while Mike Walker, as ever, delivers masterful performances, seemingly effortlessly.

Click here for an introductory video.

Click here for details and to sample.

Howard Lawes     

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Beekman - Vol. 02.

Album Released: October 2016 - Label: Ropeadope Records - Reviewed: January 2017

Beekman Vol 02

Yago Vazquez (piano, electric Rhodes); Pablo Menares (bass); Rodrigo Recabarren (drums); Kyle Nasser (tenor & soprano saxophones).

Strange name isn’t it? 'Beekman'; take a look at the cover of Vol. 2 which has a mythical woodpecker-like bird with a slightly extended beak surrounded by miniature naked figures riding the feathered creature as if it were a unicorn or a surreal horse. Weeee-ird! Beek or Beak, better put the music on. 

This album opens with Canción Al Licor De Ave, the first few bars have a rippling piano figure, which in turn is joined by a tenor sax melody, played soft and warm as those jazz reed guys used to do when soft and warm was the byword for the tenor saxophone. (I won’t mention the names because you already know them.) Canción Al Licor De Ave is the only composition on the album written by Beekman’s drummer, Rodrigo Recabarren, but there’s no-prize to know why it comes first. It’s an elegantly plotted composition with a band performance to match. The two Chileans, Pablo Menares and Recabarren, are a sensuous pairing; gliding bass and drums with finesse inside a distinct rhythmic ‘jazz’ orthodoxy. I suppose I just mean they are a clean springboard. Their groove comes from a true touch, not a hard slam. And Yago Vazquez’s piano and Kyle Nasser’s saxophone, both borrow from giants who have stood on the same stage long before they knew the word ‘gig’, yet now make it sound so certainly their own. 

Click here to listen to Canción Al Licor De Ave.

Canción is a performance that enables me to feel good on a dark wet day and sets me up for the rest of the album. But, Beekman the bird, as in Carolina Arevalo’s intriguing artwork, drew me into the Peruvian jungle in a way that I could not have imagined. What a person thinks of as ‘strange’ is really only your own lack of knowledge. I digress, Moved By Clouds is the second track on the album. It has a clever time signature and another nifty tenor feature which opens up the door to piano. Mr Vazquez’s grand keyboard has a smart, smooth hurdle over the chords and until he breaks back on Kyle Nasser’s tenor - which is somewhere between the late Michael Brecker and the very current sax star Chris Potter, a modest musician who eloquently talks through his reeds. Is this what Kyle Nasser means by Moved By Clouds? Something about a wisp of transparent white in the wind, yet they fill up the sky. He moves in a straight line down the scale, yet he’s parting gifts, smart flourishes which keep the ears guessing the eventual outcome. And again Mr Recabarren is patterning the drum figures, containing the band, keeping the quartet pecking at the composition, Beekman’s beak sharp and probing.

Click here to listen to Moved By Clouds.

It’s not all clipped and edged – the bass player, Pablo Menares contributes a ballad composition which has a short, precise bass passage, hardly a solo as such, rather En Otro Lugar feels like somewhere else; a late night melody for saxophone and piano behind double bass and brushed drums, plus pinged cymbals, offering up a threaded cushion of percussion. It is a performance of creative touches, Recabarren cutting off a dynamic with just a flick-tip of his hi-hat, Vazquez smudging his left hand chord for emphasis. 

This ear to detail is present throughout Vol. 2, when Yago Vazquez switches to his Rhodes electric piano on Something Unsettled it doesn’t feel like a gimmick, more a man who just wants to sing with a different partner for the sake of the sound alone. Or the fact that they bother to give Kyle Nasser’s twisting acappella tenor study time. On the Intro to Verdict’s Out the horn is given its own track and title, I guess because they realise how good it really is – like saying, “Listeners, we know you’re going to want to pick this little gem out, so we’ve made it easy for you.” Pablo Menares's second composition on Vol.2 is Perdón, the Spanish word for ‘sorry’. I have always thought the S-word a rather brave statement. Well worth saying if you really mean it, and totally redundant if you don’t. Somewhere in Menares’s life he means it, this performance is a slow burn lyrical ballad that breathes humanity without saying another single word. Once again Kyle Nasser circles the song through his horn – playing the line, improvising on the intervals rather than the melody. It’s followed by a tender, balanced solo over a speciality drum part, Menares himself drawing down a thumbed bassline leading to one of Valquez’s piano breaks which, not for the first time on this recording, reminds me of someone special like Victor Feldman. I think it’s as much to do with the touch as the notes themselves. You know how some pianists can cry a piano, Yago Vazquez is able to do that. He sobs like grown men do when they hurt.

Click here for a video of Beekman playing Perdón.

I came to the curiously named Beekman without any prior knowledge. I’ve played Vol.2 numerous times over the last couple of weeks. Late at night with a small drop of liquid in the glass and only my ears softening the darkness; early in the morning with the first cup of tea and a brisk laptop keyboard typing the first trash of the day which later gets deleted. Beekman, Vol.2 still kept surfacing. I’ll be keeping this one. Right now we all need reminding that there is an antidote to harshness, that we can do so much better with beauty than the callous call of bullies. Try a little Beekman this winter. Enjoy.

Click here for details and to sample.

Click here for the Beekman website and to hear selections from the album.

Steve Day www.stevedaywordsandmusic.co.uk

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Pavillon - Strong Tea

Album Released: 4th November 2016 - Label: Pavillon Records - Reviewed: January 2017

Jim Rattigan Pavillon

Jim Rattigan is a French horn player with an impressive CV which, in addition to six years with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, also includes playing on soundtracks for the James Bond and Lord of the Rings films, accompanying a range of artists from Adele to Carla Bley, and working in various bands led by Mike Gibbs. In 2010, he formed his own 12 piece band called Pavillon (the French word for the bell of the horn) to record Strong Tea “as a 50th birthday present to myself”. For reasons not entirely clear, the album has only recently been released. Pavillon is also currently on tour playing tracks from the album plus some newer pieces.

In addition to Rattigan, the band includes Martin Speake (alto sax), Andy Panayi (tenor sax), Mick Foster (baritone sax), Percy Pursglove (trumpet and flugelhorn), Steve Fishwick (trumpet), Robbie Robson (trumpet), Jeremy Price (tenor trombone), Sarah Williams (bass trombone), Hans Koller (piano), Dave Whitford (bass), and Gene Calderazzo (drums).

The French horn is not an instrument normally associated with jazz. Apparently, it is a difficult instrument to learn and play, and does not have the flexibility often required in jazz. You wouldn’t know this from hearing Rattigan’s playing on Strong Tea. He is able to exploit the benefits of the instrument – mainly, that beautiful mellow tone - whilst playing superb, often intricate, solos. He is also a most accomplished composer and arranger – all the tracks on the album are his own work. (Incidentally, there is an interesting interview with Rattigan in the December issue of Jazz Journal in which he describes the technicalities of his chosen instrument).

The first track on Strong Tea is Parkwood Fair which begins with a short bass solo from Dave Whitford. Gene Calderazzo joins him on drums and gradually, a jazz-rock rhythm emerges. Rattigan plays an imaginative solo with an occasional echo from a muted trumpet. Calderazzo drives the whole thing on with some effective drumming. There are teasing little snatches of the whole band playing – it’s almost like a wild animal is being kept on a leash. It’s a very effective way of building up excitement and anticipation. Eventually, the leash is let slip and the whole band comes into its own. There are few things more thrilling in jazz than a big band in full flow. The rhythm changes towards the end of the track towards something more Ellington than Bitches Brew, an indication of how confident Rattigan is in marshalling the resources of a big band into any number of different styles.

Dulwich Park, the second track, has a jaunty, memorable tune. The arrangement has some complex touches which the band carries off with aplomb. There are virtuosic solos from Rattigan, Andy Panayi on tenor sax, and Percy Pursglove on flugelhorn.

The title track, Strong Tea, has a nice swinging beat and a touch of the late lamented Brotherhood of Breath about it. As with Parkwood Fair, Rattigan’s solo is accompanied by occasional echoes from a muted trumpet. It’s a nice and effective touch. There are also solos from Steve Fishwick on trumpet, Martin Speake on alto sax, and Hans Koller on piano.

Won Over the Eight has a bluesy, sultry feel with the whole ensemble in full cry. The tension is built in a most effective and exciting way. Rattigan’s solo is particularly heartfelt and thrilling. The whole piece is an object lesson in how to write and arrange for a large ensemble.

The final track, 24/7, is a punchy, quite complex piece which, again, builds and releases tension in a series of climaxes. Mick Foster takes a solo on baritone sax, another instrument which can be cumbersome but not in the hands of Foster who has a nice tone and can be as flexible as any tenor or alto. Jeremy Price plays a confident solo on trombone, Robbie Robson solos languidly but effectively on trumpet, and Rattigan again performs wonders.

The album is quite short by modern standards – five tracks taking just under 40 minutes in total. Perhaps it’s another indicator of Jim Rattigan’s musicianship (and showmanship) that he leaves the audience wanting more.   

Click here for a short video of Jim Rattigan introducing the tour. Click here for a video of Pavillon performing live. They are playing a piece called Mung Beans (not on the Strong Tea album).

Click here for more information about Jim Rattigan and Strong Tea, including samples of the tracks.

Click here for details and to sample the album.  

Robin Kidson

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These reviews are the personal impressions/opinions of each reviewer. Where we can, we provide links to samples of the albums so that readers can make up their own minds.

© Sandy Brown Jazz 2015-2017

 

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