Sandy Brown Jazz

Album Reviews 2017

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


By artist in alphabetical order:



Jason Yaeger and Jason Anick - United
Mark Langford, Phil Gibbs, Roger Skerman, Paul Anstey, Hugh Kirkbride - Exchange



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

David Binney - The Time Verses
Georgia Mancio and Alan Broadbent - Songbook



Nels Cline - Lovers
Trish Clowes - My Iris


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


Evan Parker, John Edwards, John Russell - Walthamstow Moon ('61 Revisited)
Escape Hatch
featuring Julian Argüelles - Roots Of Unity




Michael Jefry Stevens Generations Quartet - Flow
Mark Langford, Phil Gibbs, Roger Skerman, Paul Anstey, Hugh Kirkbride - Exchange
Camilla George Quartet - Isang


Mary Halvorson Octet - Away With You




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

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


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

Jihye Lee Orchestra - April
The Jeremy Lyons Ensemble - The Promise Of Happiness



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
Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier - The Colours Of Time
Mosaic - Subterranea



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


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

Noah Preminger - Meditations On Freedom



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


Jimmy Scott - I Go Back Home
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


Christine Tobin - PELT



Vein - The Chamber Music Effect


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

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



Jason Yaeger and Jason Anick - United








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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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: 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

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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

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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

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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

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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, 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

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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


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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.


Filipe Freitas

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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

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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

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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

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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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