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:



Rez Abbasi - Unfiltered Universe
Jason Yaeger and Jason Anick - United
Mark Langford, Phil Gibbs, Roger Skerman, Paul Anstey, Hugh Kirkbride - Exchange
Martin Archer, Graham Clark, Stephen Grew, Johnny Hunter - Felicity's Ultimatum
Martin Archer, Seth Bennett, Corey Mwamba, Peter Fairclough - Sunshine! Quartet
Tim Armacost - Time Being
Gilad Atzmon And The Orient House Ensemble - The Spirit Of Trane
Zem Audu - Spirits



Chris Barber's Jazz Band - Barber In Detroit
Alan Barnes and David Newton - Ask Me Now
Jeff Barnhart and Spats Langham - Thanks For The Melody
Django Bates Belovèd - The Study Of Touch
Beekman - Vol. 02

Martin Archer, Seth Bennett, Corey Mwamba, Peter Fairclough - Sunshine! Quartet
Big Bad Wolf - Pond Life
David Binney - The Time Verses
Brian Blade And The Fellowship Band - Body And Shadow
Blazing Flame Quintet - The Set List Shuffle
Jane Ira Bloom - Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson
Anouar Brahem - Blue Maqams
The Brass Funkeys - Rabble Rouser
Brass Mask - Live
Sam Braysher with Michael Kanan - Golden Earrings
Georgia Mancio and Alan Broadbent - Songbook
The Button Band - Emilie



Liane Carroll - The Right To Love
Matt Chandler
- Astrometrics

Martin Archer, Graham Clark
, Stephen Grew, Johnny Hunter - Felicity's Ultimatum

Nels Cline - Lovers
Trish Clowes - My Iris

Avishai Cohen - Cross My Palm With Silver
Ben Cohen - Remembering Ben Cohen Vol. 2
Chris Corsano, Sylvie Courvoisier, Nate Wooley - Salt Task
Chris Corsano, Sylvie Courvoisier, Nate Wooley - Salt Task



Mike Daniels - Remembering Mike Daniels
Josephine Davies - Satori
Deep Tide Quartet - See One, Do One, Teach One
Laura Dubin Trio - Live At The Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival


Samuel Eagles' SPIRIT - Ask Seek Knock
Evan Parker, John Edwards, John Russell - Walthamstow Moon ('61 Revisited)
Entropi - Moment Frozen

Escape Hatch
featuring Julian Argüelles - Roots Of Unity

Kevin Eubanks - East West Time Line
Bill Evans and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra - Beauty & The Beast


Martin Archer, Seth Bennett, Corey Mwamba, Peter Fairclough - Sunshine! Quartet
Favourite Animals - Favourite Animals
Alan Ferber Big Band - Jigsaw
Nick Finzer - Hear & Now
Fraser And The Alibis - Fraser & The Alibis
Satoko Fujii - Aspiration



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

Frank Gratowski and Sebi Tremontana - Live At Španski Borci
Martin Archer, Graham Clark, Stephen Grew, Johnny Hunter - Felicity's Ultimatum
Trevor Watts and Stephen Grew Duo - All There Is



Mary Halvorson Octet - Away With You
Fred Hersch - Open Book
Peter Horsfall - Nighthawks
Martin Archer, Graham Clark, Stephen Grew, Johnny Hunter - Felicity's Ultimatum


Vijay Iyer Sextet - Far From Over



Jones Jones - The Moscow Improvisations



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

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



Mark Langford, Phil Gibbs, Roger Skerman, Paul Anstey, Hugh Kirkbride - Exchange
Jeff Barnhart and Spats Langham - Thanks For The Melody

Ingrid Laubrock - Serpentines
Jihye Lee Orchestra - April
Mark Lewandowski - Waller
The Andrew Linham Jazz Orchestra - Weapons Of Mass Distraction
The Gareth Lockrane Big Band - Fistfight At The Barndance
Rob Luft - Riser
The Jeremy Lyons Ensemble - The Promise Of Happiness
Humphrey Lyttelton - Dusting Off The Archives - Rare Recordings : 1948-1955



Madwort Saxophone Quartet - Live At Hundred Years Gallery
Christian McBride Big Band - Bringin' It
Stuart McCallum and Mike Walker - The Space Between
Donny McCaslin - Beyond Now
Georgia Mancio and Alan Broadbent - Songbook
Delfeayo Marsalis - Kalamazoo: An Evening With Delfeayo Marsalis
The Mark Masters Ensemble - Blue Skylight
Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier - The Colours Of Time
Mezcla - Mezcla
Tom Millar Quartet - Unnatural Events
Yoko Miwa Trio - Pathways
Brian Molley Quartet - Colour And Movement
Thelonious Monk Quintet - Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960
Meg Morley - Through The Hours
Meg Morley Trio - Can't Get Started
Mosaic - Subterranea
Martin Archer, Seth Bennett, Corey Mwamba, Peter Fairclough - Sunshine! Quartet


Bill Evans and the National Scottish Jazz Orchestra - Beauty & the Beast
Larry Newcomb with Bucky Pizzarelli - Living Tribute
Alan Barnes and David Newton - Ask Me Now



Larry Ochs Sax And Drumming Core - Wild Red Yellow
John O'Gallagher Trio - Live In Brooklyn
Dave O'Higgins - It's Always 9.30 In Zog
Miles Okazaki - Trickster
Pete Oxley
and Nicolas Meier - The Colours Of Time


Terry Pack's Trees - heart of oak
Evan Parker, John Edwards, John Russell - Walthamstow Moon ('61 Revisited)
- Strong Tea

Deniz Peters and Simon Rose - Edith's Problem
Larry Newcomb with Bucky Pizzarelli - Living Tribute
Verneri Pohjola - Pekka
Noah Preminger - Meditations On Freedom
Hayden Prosser - Tether





Sun Ra - Singles: The Definitive 45's Collection 1952-1991
Michael Rabinowitz - Uncharted Waters
Freddy Randall And His Band - My Tiny Band Is Chosen (The Parlophone Years 1952 - 1957)
Leo Richardson Quartet - The Chase
Deniz Peters and Simon Rose - Edith's Problem
Evan Parker, John Edwards, John Russell - Walthamstow Moon ('61 Revisited)



San Francisco String Trio - May I Introduce To You
Jimmy Scott - I Go Back Home
Bill Evans and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra - Beauty & The Beast
Geoff Simkins Trio - in a quiet way
Mark Langford, Phil Gibbs, Roger Skerman, Paul Anstey, Hugh Kirkbride - Exchange
Sloth Racket - Shapeshifters
Tommy Smith - Embodying The Light
The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra - Effervescence

Solstice - Alimentation
Omar Sosa
and Seckou Keita - Transparent Water

Henry Spencer and Juncture - The Reasons Don't Change

Colin Steele Quintet - Even In The Darkest Places
Nat Steele - Portrait Of The Modern Jazz Quartet
Michael Jefry Stevens Generations Quartet - Flow



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




John Vanore - Stolen Moments: Celebrating Oliver Nelson
Vein - The Chamber Music Effect
Marcus Vergette - The Marsyas Suite



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

Kenny Warren Quartet - Thank You For Coming To Life
Kamasi Washington - Harmony Of Difference
Sam Watts - Mime Music
Trevor Watts and Stephen Grew Duo - All There Is
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
Tony Woods Project - Hidden Fires
Chris Corsano, Sylvie Courvoisier, Nate Wooley - Salt Task



Jason Yaeger and Jason Anick - United



Lukas Zabulionis - Changing Tides





Anouar Brahem - Blue Maqams

Album Released: 13th October 2017 - Label: ECM - Reviewed: December 2017

Anouar Brahem Blue Maqams

Anouar Brahem (oud); Dave Holland (double bass); Jack DeJohnette (drums); Django Bates (piano).

Anouar Brahem first crossed my path when my partner bought Madar, his second ECM album, which he recorded with Jan Garbarek and Ustad Shaukat Hussain in 1992.  The oud dates back to the 9th century and Anouar Brahem’s Madar was my first introduction to the instrument.  Sometimes I take a while to catch up.  I don’t think we actually put our ears to it until midway through that final decade of the 20th century. Since Madar we’ve been a long way with the oud.  If you’re interested in the breadth of the instrument’s historical perspective, I’d particularly recommend Adel Salameh’s The Arab Path To India with Salameh on oud and K Sridhar playing sarod.  However, right now we have Blue Maqams, and this album represents a different place. 

If you know Anouar Brahem’s playing then I gotta tell yer, Blue Maqams is unlike anything else you’ve heard from the maestro to date. And if Mr Brahem is new to you this is the perfect place to begin.  An unusual statement to make when you consider this is now his eleventh album for ECM. I make it due to the presence of Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette.  It’s the first time Mr Brahem has involved a bass and drum team on one of his recordings (Palle Danielsson and Jon Christensen were featured on Khomsa, but not throughout, and not in with the same intent).  Holland and DeJohnette cover a lot of ground, yet there’s always a hint of a serious contemporary jazz ascetic, and Blue Magams represents an object lesson in what constitutes a sublime line into the art of drum/bass eloquence. 

In reality Anouar Brahem has started all over again.  He’s positioned himself inside a ‘J-word’ quartet, albeit one that is working outside boundaries.  And to complete this act of transformation he has added the piano of Django Bates.  It’s a ‘chess’ move that might have people slowly shaking their heads in disbelief.  Shake no more.  Django Bates brings to this session, a considered lyrical certainty that opens up the music to all kinds of interpretations.  Not only is it necessary to reappraise Brahem, on the evidence here, Django Bates himself is deserving of a mighty new assessment.  He offers both an instant insight into Anouar Brahem’s intentions whilst at the same time fitting into the Holland/DeJohnette partnership like his name was Chick Corea.

Click here for a video introduction to the album.

Actually, to listen to the way Mr Bates falls into his lone three minute plus solo entry to The Recovered Road To Al-Sham, he’s at a place I haven’t heard Corea, or even Jarrett, inhabit in recent years.  A slow rhythmic repeat of the left hand against the right hand’s pointed potent melody is positively cosmic.  You can tell Bates is lucid and on the right ‘road’ because when Anouar Brahem’s oud eventually picks up the theme from him it is as if the pianist has already understood the pathos of the melody.  Django Bates has done the work, leaving the oud to grasp a visceral improvised soundscape from this setting.  We get buzzing drones, quick licks, plucked long deep lute lines of storytelling angling into the bottom of the unfretted neck.  I’d hesitate to call this a ‘jazz’ solo but I guess there are guys who would.  When Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette finally enter for the last quarter of this performance they transform The Recovered Road into so-subtle funk.  It is Tunis turned into Manhatten (Avatar Studios, 441 West 53rd Street to be precise).  Unlike the Anouar Brahem I know from Madar, Thimar, and certainly not Astrakan Café, this is a new landscape and one that I welcome.

Blue Maqams begins with the appropriately named Opening Day, and although initially commencing with unaccompanied oud this already feels taut.  There’s a harder pluck/more ‘guitar’ gut (it isn’t, but I’m talking impressions).  There’s a short interlude in the middle with just piano and oud harmonising the melody, and it’s the keyboard that offers romanticism.  This oud is splitting hairs, coming on New York, touching a tougher place. The final cradle of this composition has the full quartet literally Opening up the Day. Look for it and you’ll hear it.  It’s a bold and brilliant start.

La Nuit gets a gold star for its introduction.  Mr Bates circling and rippling through and across Brahem’s picked variant melody, pinging and holding the notes; Holland and DeJohnette adding eggshell cracks into the mix.  (I wonder if anyone has ever told Jack DeJohnette how good he is at grace-glancing off cymbals?  They must have after all this time.)  The initial focus of La Nuit is piano and oud, but put an ear to how Holland and DeJohnette hold sway on their entries.  It’s like feeding the mystic, throwing accurate punches in darkness. I like a big shout for sure, yet La Nuit reminds me it’s the poise in the moment that really provides the breath.  And it’s the breath that keeps us all alive.

'Maqams'?  A melodic scale (mode).  The title track has the oud picking a maqam against a wisp of DeJohnette.  When I first heard Anouar Brahem all those years ago spilling beans into Ustad Shaukat Hussain’s tablas - Sebika or Jaw. Oh, it was thrilling stuff; still is.  But you know, twenty years on, to hear this laid back pull-off PLUCK pick into the Jack DeJohnette swish and pulse, it makes me feel like asking what took them so long?  DeJohnette beats across the oud.  He stops. The oud continues and then the super drummer is back, not being ‘super drummer’, just hitting it damn right. 

Another fine thing about this new session is that Brahem quotes from his past without carrying on living there. Bahia is a track originally featured on Astrakan Café.  When Mr Brahem begins his re-enactment for Blue Maqams it doesn’t sound too far from the Caf, even singing the melody softly as he did on the original.  But that’s not where it stays, in comes David Holland’s sonorous double bass binding around the hook, and those funky drum patterns emerge; the oud stretches forth as if given renewed strength.  Old men look back; wise men see their past and then walk forward. 

Django Bates does not contribute to Bahia.  Not so with the other past ‘quote’, Bom Dia Rio, recognisably Bates. For me, Bom Dia Rio is the track which places Django back into the tango and positions Anouar Brahem within the ‘jazz’ canon. It begins rather like Bahia. The oud alone, a desert whispering voice, and then Bates, Holland and DeJohnette enter like the evening tide - the swell, then the wave that sweeps all before them.  There’s a classic Dave Holland solo circulating drum beats – for a few minutes it could be any one of those diamond quartets he has led over the last forty years. Except that what builds from the bass solo is serious J-word oud coming on wonderfully strung out (for certain, he’s been listening to guitarist Kevin Eubanks with Holland).  This is nu-oud. Transformative.  And underneath Mr Bates is fabulously inspiring; doing what really ace jazz pianists do – setting up the ensemble while at the same time playing their own gobsmacking variant that makes you want to keep pressing the repeat button.  It’s a nine minute study in empathetic group playing and really it could have been double the length. 

I guess things had to make way for Persepolis’s Mirage, built on a tightly disguised blues pedal point.  There’s a strong figurative piano break here too.  Right now it sounds like a career best – but hey, it’s Django Bates, and I could think of a few that come into that category.

Look, this album has nine tracks and that means nine reasons why you definitely need to check this session out.  A true meeting of minds.  Blue Maqams takes the ears to places they haven’t been to before, whilst at the same time there’s aural recognition of what’s going on.  Anouar Brahem has visionised a great album and then gone right ahead and recorded one.  Tunis, Manhatten, Chicago, Beckenham, maybe Munich too, it’s all there.  Now disregard the place names and just switch onto awesome music.

Click here for details.      

Steve Day

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Kamasi Washington - Harmony Of Difference

Album Released: 16th November 2017 - Label: Young Turks - Reviewed: December 2017

Kamasi Washington Harmony Of Difference

Kamasi Washington (tenor saxophone); Ryan Porter (trombone); Dontae Winslow (trumpet); Cameron Graves (piano); Brandon Coleman (keyboards); Miles Mosley (acoustic bass); Thundercat (electric bass); Ronald Bruner Jr. (drums); Tony Austen (drums).

After the enormous acclamation received with the triple-album The Epic in 2015, Los Angeles saxophonist Kamasi Washington returns with Harmony of Difference, an EP that showcases six compositions deftly arranged to encompass such different styles as post-bop, smooth jazz, psychedelic soul, funk, and gospel.

For this concise (total time is 31:54) yet impactful body of work he relies on many of the bandmates who helped him to conceive The Epic, namely, trombonist Ryan Porter, pianist Cameron Graves, keyboardist Brandon Coleman, acoustic bassist Miles Mosley, electric bassist Thundercat, and drummers Ronald Bruner Jr. and Tony Austen. Trumpeter Dontae Winslow is the new addition here, replacing Igmar Thomas, while leading vocalist Patrice Quinn joins the influential choir that enriches “Truth”, the 13-minute spacey opus that closes the record.

Click here for a video for Truth.

Despite sharing an identical melody as the opening tune “Desire”, set as an ambient soul-jazz trance with chill-out harmonies and cool solos, this piece is expanded with additional sonic layers that include an 8-piece string section, guitar, vibraphone, flute, an extra sax (alto), and stately vocals. Embracing a fully-fledged symphonic poise, the tune revolves around the melody at first but speeds up conveniently for Kamasi’s solo, favourably challenged by guitarist Matt Haze’s pretty annotations and Graves’ responsive and diametrically opposed harmonic layouts. In the final section, ornamental guitar and dreamy horn ostinatos function as pigment intensifiers.

Only sinning for their too short duration, the remaining compositions trigger instant empathy and connection, revealing the strong bond between Kamasi and his peers. If “Humility” is a demonstrative spiritual exaltation suffused with plenty of joy and excitement and featuring fervent if succinct improvisations from piano, trumpet, and tenor, “Knowledge” is a seductive, danceable manifestation of the spirit, propelled by sweet-tempered funky bass lines and a fulfilling patterned rhythm. The improvisations belong to Ryan Porter and the bandleader.

Perspective” boasts an outlandish, hypnotic intro before settling in a zone dominated by R&B and retro funk. It will make you clap your hands. As usual, the melody in the chorus is simple and attractive, a procedure also followed on “Integrity”, an unanticipated 100% Brazilian samba song with cuíca sounds included and a hard-driving groove.

Kamasi Washington, whose music remains passionate and poignant, exteriorizes his musicality with feeling and manages to attract followers from opposite sides of the jazz spectrum. He does this with a deep understanding of the past and an eye in the future.


Click here for details and to sample the album. Click here for Jazztrail review.

Filipe Freitas

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Rez Abbasi - Unfiltered Universe

Album Released: 6th October 2017 - Label: Whirlwind Recordings - Reviewed: December 2017

Rez Abbasi Unfiltered Universe

Rez Abbasi (electric guitar); Rudresh Mahanthappa (alto saxophone); Vijay Iyer (piano); Johannes Weidenmueller (double bass); Dan Weiss (drums); Elizabeth Mikhael(cello).

In January 2015 I reviewed Rez Abbasi’s acoustic album, Intents and Purposes on the Enja label.  I liked it a lot.  The recording nagged at my ears off-and-on for months.  He took John McLaughlin’s Resolution, a Mahavishnu Birds Of Fire track, and set the piece up unplugged.  I’d keep on going back to Mr Abbasi’s acoustic version.  It sparks, yet at the same time I kept hearing an electric guitarist trying to get out.  I independently hunted out his albums Things To Come and Suno Suno and the electricity of Rez Abbasi caught fire, I became totally convinced.  With the release of Unfiltered Universe here’s the aural proof, Rez Abbasi is one mega serious musician.  Miles Davis might have married him if he’d thought it would have got the guitarist into his later-band line-ups.  As it is, the presence of Rudresh Mahanthappa’s alto and Vijay Iyer’s piano provide perfect foils.  Bob Dylan once wrote, “You can’t buy a thrill”, Steely Dan agreed with him; I’m here to tell you, shell out on Unfiltered Universe, there are thrills aplenty, it will repay the investment.

The opening line of Propensity grabs at the gap of expectation.  The hook is immediate, followed quickly by Mahanthappa’s exquisite alto break speaking volumes (play it loud).  The Abbassi guitar stings as it gradually takes over.  Consummate stuff.  The two musicians are somehow wired up to an identical muse.  Where Mahanthappa raps his reed through ever circling arpeggios both musicians talk truth to the moment.  After Mahanthappa, the guitar wades in on repeat riffs.  Except this is a different voice, and Rez Abbasi has suddenly found space to string his own interest in ‘Carnatic music’ into knots binding so tight no one is going to untie him. 

The Tunisian oud player, Anouar Brahem has just released an album on ECM (also reviewed this month) with Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette and Django Bates.  Their album, Blue Maqams takes a different path at ‘filtering’ their context within an East/West fusion perspective.  Both albums succeed.  Both cover a massive distance.  But unlike Brahem’s session, which shadow dances ‘blue’ into ‘blues’ yet goes down deep into both territories, Rez Abbasi’s Propensity cuts straight through tradition.  His electric guitar, plus Mahanthappa’s alto sax, are surgically equipped to by-pass Carnatic whilst at the same time acknowledging its presence.  They draw from the tradition but play right into their own agenda.  And let’s not overlook bass, drums, piano, and the cello wildcard; the ensemble hold onto the action as if gripped by force of circumstance.  They seemingly have no choice but to become the catalyst of whatever Abbasi gives them.  By the time Vijay Iyer takes a short piano break Propensity has already burnt all the bridges between this band.  Almost a shocking start, the sheer physicality of this beginning is moveable, it asks something of the listener.  Initially, how do you respond to such viral music?

Click here to listen to Propensity.

(Carnatic music is from Southern India.  It is traditionally centred around a vocalist, often using violin and a tambura drone.  Percussion is usually via the mridangam rather than tabla.  The mridangam is a double headed hand-drum played across the lap.  Because the Carnatic form is derived from vocal composition, the ‘improvisation’ turns on a different (though related structure) to that of the more familiar sitar/tabla raga form associated with Indian virtuosos like Ravi Shanker and Vilayat Khan.  On Unfiltered Universe Rez Abassi draws inspiration from the Carnatic music tradition but doesn’t attempt a hybrid. There’s ‘nuance’, but what I actually hear is ‘jazz’.  If catching traditional Carnatic music is of interest I’d recommend a listen to Aruna Sairam.)

A title track usually carries a name for good reason.  I like this one.  I can’t be sure of the meaning but Unfiltered Universe is a slow blast and the moniker offers us infinite possibilities.  The track begins with hardly anything, then a refrain filters through, a lyrical twist of Iyer and Mahanthappa paralleling a fragile melody line with Elizabeth Mikhael’s cello providing a deepening undercurrent.  Her presence on this recording is not central, yet there are key moments throughout the album when her cello surges into a space as a lightening rod to the activity of others.  She is ambient-positive, not a tambura drone exactly, yet she chords dissonance into harmony and out the other side.  A subtle shift, a lift, a drop, it makes for a fine musical membrane. The double U titletrack has two smart solos. Rez Abbasi goes first, his guitar pierces with a deliberation; the epitome of refinement.  The other solo break from Vilayat Khan is all nudge and flow.  In a short space of time it ripples and speaks the length of the jazz tradition.  Recorded last year, nonetheless, his work on this album could almost be a dedication to Geri Allen (who died in June this year).

Unfiltered Universe is not just infinite possibilities, it suggests a mix of multitudes, rather than a firewall, there’s a willingness to bring ‘stuff’ on.  There’s one short track, under two minutes in length; Thoughts is solo electric guitar sounding like an alto horn.  This is an articulate ‘effects’ platform.  A guitar can harness electricity like no other instrument.  Mr Abbasi gives us his instant Thoughts.  It’s like a few wise words left in the air as someone walks out of the room.  The evidence is here; Rez Abbasi doesn’t ever ‘take over’ his own album, rather he’s playing the whole band, particularly Rudresh Mahanthappa.  These two musicians are in unison to a common denominator.

For me the key performance here is Turn Of Events.  Another title that speaks to the content.  For sure there are significant prewritten compositional elements in this piece, it also contains its own nod to Carnatic discipline.  Yet this intensely orchestrated shape of ‘jazz’ (yes, I’ll use the word) largely ‘turns’ on internal ‘events’ – the spontaneous interplay between all six musicians. I suppose one of the things I like about it is each player's apparent ability to stand back from their own input whilst at the same time being totally unafraid to ‘turn’ the tables when required.  A good example is when Abbasi and Mahanthappa swap currency with each other – horn to strings, strings to horn, unwinding the melodies without unravelling them.  Know what I mean? You don’t have to break the thread in order to untie the knot.

Rez Abbasi has put together a rash of fascinating bands over the last few years.  This one has got to rank with the best of them.  There are seven tracks on this session, each one has an individual unity whilst at the same time segueing into each other to make up a collective fifty-two minute Universe of adventure. Take the trip.

Click here to listen to Thin King from the album.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Steve Day 

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Tony Woods Project - Hidden Fires

Album Released: 27th November 2017 - Label: Marquetry Records - Reviewed: December 2017

Tony Woods project Hidden Fires

Hidden Fires is the fourth album from the Tony Woods Project; it has no liner notes and there are 8 tracks, with the longest being 12 minutes.  Of these 8 tracks, 7 were composed by Woods and the 8th is based on a traditional folk song but arranged by Woods.

Click here for a video of the band playing Hidden Fires on the Ayala Show in 2016.

The previous albums have more or less the same musicians since the Project was formed in the mid-nineties with Robert Millett on vibes/marimba, Andy Hamill on bass, Mike Outram on electric guitar, Milo Fell on drums and Tony Woods on a range of wind instruments including the penny whistle.

Tony Woods, a saxophonist and jazz educator with his wife, singer Nette Robinson, is also a member of the south-west London jazz collective Way Out West.  He has frequently performed with Michael Garrick both live and in the recording studio in large and small ensembles.  Some of the tracks have a folk feel and this may be because Woods is the son of renowned folk musician and concertina player Rollo Woods.  As Woods says, “One thing I try to achieve with this music is the sense of narrative, not in terms of words, but more that the music is going somewhere, so there’s a narrative thread in the written tunes and also the improvisations.  And that’s whether it’s in a free, abstract way or over the chord changes”.

The opening number Queen Takes Knight has a clarinet that weaves through the melody played by the other band members until the vibes take over.  I like this track but cannot pin down why I do.  This is followed by Igneous Rock, and the start reminded me of an Irish jig before morphing into much slower and thoughtful playing with Woods showing his skill and the range of his playing as it picks up pace.  The excellent vibes playing in the slower interludes seem to pull the melody apart and put it back together again.  The contrast between the faster and slower pace work well. 

Bonfire Carol is a traditional, dark folk song which is beautifully arranged here by Woods into a slow rich evocative melody.  Metamorphic, starts with a melody played on a penny whistle with a contrasting bass solo and is a nice breezy number. It has a mix of musical styles and instruments which climax into a joyful end.  Gargantus and Pantagruel are based on comic stories by Rabelais and were commissioned for an art exhibition at the Walton Riverhouse.  Gargantus has a nice slow smokey sax with a constant slow beat of a drum and with the vibes and guitar both contributing to the melody as it progresses, ably helped by interesting bass melodies.  On this track, however, the musical story has an improv. ending which is a stark contrast to the rest, yet this is possibly the most narrative track for me.  With Pantagruel, this again has a folksy feel in parts and a dance feel in other parts but gets very “modern” as it is played.  

The title track, Hidden Fires, has a lively interplay between the sax, vibes and guitar before the sax takes over with powerful playing by Woods prior to the percussion taking the lead.  This is a mellow track with an uplifting ending.  The last track is called Firelight with haunting vibraphone, clear clarinet and the bass making this a relaxing lyrical number with which to conclude the set.

There are a number of tracks here that have great contrasts between hard/fast and slow/soft playing which makes for a great listening experience and some unusual bass melodies contrasting with the higher registers of the wind instruments.  I found it difficult to pick a favourite track, but the starting track and the ending track topped and tailed the album well and all of this album merits much repeat playing.

Click here for details.

Tim Rolfe

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Mezcla - Mezcla

Album Released: 21st June 2017 - Label: Mezcla / Bandcamp - Reviewed: December 2017


Michael Butcher (saxophone); Joshua Elcock (trumpet); Ben MacDonald (guitar); Alan Benzie (keys); David Bowden (bass and compositions); Stephen Henderson (drums and percussion).

Originally from London, bassist David Bowden moved to Scotland in 2011 to study on the Jazz course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. He graduated with first class honours, won the 2015 Yamaha Jazz Scholarship award, and with the band Square One, won the Peter Whittingham Award that same year. In 2017 David was named the BBC Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year.

His main musical focus currently is leading the acclaimed world/jazz fusion ensemble ‘Mezcla’ for which he composes the music, much of which is influenced by his time studying music in Ghana. The band is drawn from some of Scotland’s gifted jazz musicians who fuse influences from West Africa to Latin America and beyond. Mezcla's music ‘is distinguished by its uplifting melodies, shimmering textures, and visceral improvisation’. David is also a member of the Fergus McCreadie Trio and has played with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, Fat-Suit, Doscan, the Don Paterson Situation and the Enrico Zanisi Trio.

The band released this self-titled debut EP at the Glasgow Jazz Festival and it has been featured on BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Radio 3. The four tracks, Chrysalis, The North Cape, Happy Monkey Dance and Malarone Dreams bring us a taste of a good 26 minutes of the band's music.

Chrysalis opens the album with percussion and bass rhythms and hints of West Africa before the keyboards add a smooth texture to the theme. The saxophone then quietly weaves, the trumpet makes a slow statement over a few bars and the rhythms return. This is excellently co-ordinated music. The lyrical, tripping keyboard solo from Alan Benzie follows, hands over to another lyrical solo from the sax and all the while drums, guitar and bass keep the underlying rhythms rolling until the band restate the theme. The rhythms return to close the track.

Click here to listen to Chrysalis.

The North Cape has the bass swelling out of drums with lone snatches of trumpet, the music fades to a quiet keyboard before swelling again and Michael Butcher's saxophone brings a variety of sensitivities to its solo. Ben MacDonald's guitar gets a chance to take an extended enjoyable outing until the theme returns quietly and a light lone keyboard closes.

Happy Monkey Dance is well named. It has the drums setting the dance rhythm as the catchy theme comes in with its West African High Life steps and Ben MacDonald's guitar takes an extended fast and dextrous solo that eventually gives way to Joshua Elcock's trumpet joined in time by saxophone and keys. Underneath, David Bowden's bass holds the thing together, and then it is over to Stephen Henderson to shine on his drum kit before the theme closes down the dance.

And then Malarone Dreams. Guitar slow with bass and percussion, heralding a dreamy combination of trumpet, saxophone and keys. The trumpet wistfully solos over bass and keyboards, the riff picked up by the guitar. Alan Benzie's keyboards lightly explore ideas until the rest of band join with the theme gradually fading as the EP ends.

The fact that this is just an EP with 4 tracks might mean that it doesn't get the attention it deserves, and yet for a fiver (and only £4 digitally!), it is worth every penny. The compositions are so enjoyable and the arrangements well thought through so that the flavours of the music are tasteful. The musicians blend the ingredients so that you appreciate the complete dish. In Spanish, 'Mezcla' can mean a 'mixture' as in 'The chef used a delicious mixture of ingredients' hence my analogy. Other bands, musicians and tunes have been named 'Mezcla' and David Bowden's music is a worthy reflection of the Latin Jazz from Cuba that many people will enjoy. I hope there will be a full CD coming somewhere down the line, but in the meanwhile, taste and savour this.

Click here for details and to listen to the album.

Click here for David Bowden's website.

Ian Maund

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Gilad Atzmon And The Orient House Ensemble - The Spirit Of Trane

Album Released: 27th October 2017 - Label: Fanfare Jazz - Reviewed: December 2017

Gilad Atzmon The Spirit Of Trane

This year marks the 50th anniversary of John Coltrane’s death. With the possible exception of Philip Larkin (“metallic and passionless nullity” was one of the nicer things he had to say about him), Coltrane has had a pretty good press. Indeed, in my opinion there is a form of writing about Coltrane whose main characteristic is hyperbolic hagiography rather than sober critical reflection.

You don’t have to buy in to the hyperbole, though, to recognise that Coltrane was a superb and interesting musician whose influence can be seen all over contemporary jazz. There are also many John Coltranes – from the pop lyricism of My Favourite Things, for example, to the hippy spirituality (or “long-winded and portentous demonstrations of religiosity”: Larkin again) of A Love Supreme; from the Blue Note hard bop of Blue Train, to the free jazz of Ascension.

Gilad Atzmon’s new CD, The Spirit of Trane, is a tribute to John Coltrane’s more lyrical side, the Coltrane of ballads, the sentimental Coltrane. Atzmon mainly plays tenor and soprano sax on the album and is joined by Frank Harrison (piano), Yaron Stavi (bass) and Enzo Zirilli (drums). Several of the tracks also feature the Sigamos String Quartet (Ros Stephen and Marianne Hayes (violins), Felix Tanner (viola) and Laura Anstee (cello)).

The album kicks off with Duke Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood. Coltrane played this on his 1962 collaboration with the Duke. Atzmon plays soprano sax, an instrument Coltrane made very much his own.  There is a marvellously lush string accompaniment which sounds like a full orchestra rather than a quartet. The whole has a touch of Charlie Parker With Strings about it and, sure enough, it turns out that Bird’s work with strings was an early influence on the young Atzmon. Yaron Stavi plays a short but very effective solo on bass. Atzmon’s timing and dynamics are spot on and the whole is a beautifully conceived piece of music which could be appreciated by jazz and non-jazz fans alike – even P. Larkin might have liked it.

Click here for a video of Atzmon and the other musicians playing In A Sentimental Mood.

Track 2 is another ballad, the Bronislaw Kaper standard, Invitation, which Coltrane played on the album Standard Coltrane. Atzmon takes up the tenor on this one, and there is some notable playing by Frank Harrison on piano. The string arrangement is wonderfully judged – a gentle wash behind the main ensemble.

The third track, Minor Thing, is the longest on the album (11 minutes plus) and also perhaps its centerpiece. It is an original Atzmon composition and pays tribute to the A Love Supreme phase of Coltrane’s career. There is no string accompaniment. Atzmon plays tenor but there are also short multi-instrument interludes – either double tracked or Atzmon 'doing a Roland Kirk'. It has a complex rhythm and the playing is much freer than on the other tracks. Frank Harrison takes a solo in his own distinctive style. Despite its length, the piece is an absorbing one which compels throughout.

The Mal Waldron composition, Soul Eyes, brings in the strings once again in another lush arrangement. A word here for Ros Stephen who wrote all the superb string arrangements on the album. It might be a heresy to say this but Coltrane’s tone could be a little….harsh (“nasty”, according to Larkin). Atzmon’s tone on both tenor and soprano is much smoother, even on his freer improvisations. He still retains, however, something of Coltrane’s technical facility, that ability to race up and down the scales.

Blue Train is one of Coltrane’s more memorable compositions and Atzmon’s version on Track 5 is a worthy homage. It is one of the more upbeat pieces on the album with Atzmon back on soprano – and impressively so – and some nicely judged playing from Harrison.

Another famous Coltrane composition, the ballad, Naima, is the highlight of the whole album with Atzmon’s soprano soaring above yet another beautiful string arrangement. Again, Charlie Parker With Strings comes to mind. The whole piece serves to emphasise what a marvellous tune Naima is.

The third Coltrane composition on the album, Giant Steps, sees both Atzmon and Harrison really stretching out with some brilliant and imaginative improvising. Atzmon never just copies Coltrane but manages to convey, yes, the spirit of Coltrane in his own style.

The final track is the Jimmy McHugh ballad, Say It (Over and Over Again), and is a summary of what makes The Spirit of Trane such a satisfying listen: lush string arrangements, warm but virtuosic playing by Atzmon (on tenor for this track), lyrical piano from Frank Harrison, and discreet, bang-on-the beat from bass and drums. 

Click here for a video introduction to the album.   Click here for details and to listen to Soul Trane.

Gilad Atzmon is playing some live dates with the Oriental House Ensemble in December including:

Friday, 1st December: Lighthouse, Poole
Wednesday, 6th December: Grimsby Jazz, Grimsby
Friday, 8th December: Fleece Jazz Club, Stoke-by-Nyland, Suffolk
Wednesday, 13th December: Stratford Arts House, Stratford-on-Avon

Robin Kidson

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Django Bates Belovèd - The Study Of Touch

Album Released: 3rd November 2017 - Label: ECM - Reviewed: December 2017

Django Bates Beloved The Study Of Touch

Django Bates (piano); Petter Eldh (double bass); Peter Bruun (drums).

In the late 1970s I caught a young Django Bates in a couple of early gigs with a band led by a fine soprano/tenor/baritone player called Steve Mulligan.  For me, they were one of those youthful combinations that somehow get logged in the memory.  At the time, these two musicians made me feel like the earth had moved.  It was obvious even then that Django Bates was hyper good; a Bill Evans-touch and a Gil Evans-head. He went on to form the legendary Loose Tubes, became a winner of the prestigious Danish Jazzpar Prize, a composer of totally original ‘jazzworks’ and a significant presence in Europe.  He has performed with everybody from Dudu Pukwana and Bill Bruford, to George Russell and Tim Berne. As for Steve Mulligan, I know he’s still around, I met him briefly at The Vortex this year.  And if the stars had been in the right galaxy I should be writing about him too.  Ah, c'est la vie.

Django Bates’ Belovèd has been in existence almost ten years now.  Mr Bates was teaching at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen and met Petter Eldh and Peter Bruun.  Together they produced the Beloved Bird album in 2010 and two years later Confirmation.  Both tipped hats to Charlie Parker.  Last summer Manfred Eicher at ECM took Belovèd to Norway to spend time in Jan Erik Kongshaug’s famous Rainbow Studios in Oslo.  The result is The Study Of Touch.  Right now the Django Bates Saluting Sgt. Pepper album, recorded with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, has been getting all the media profile, but I’ll say this: when the dust has settled and DB’s recording career is accessed in definitive detail (and that day will surely come) the year 2016 when this was recorded is going to be remembered for The Study Of Touch

This time out there is only one Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker title, Passport, which jumps with a seductive vigour.  It’s possible to play a potential ‘Yardbird’ alto solo inside your own head to Belovèd’s version of Passport.  The great Bird would have whooped at his own opportunities presented by this short homage, probably stretching it out even further on Bates’ follow-up track Slippage Street.  Of the total of eleven tracks, five were previously on the Confirmation album.  That might at first seem perverse, but not so.  Sadness All The Way Down, Giogiantics, Little Petherick, Senza Bitterness, We Are Not Lost, We Are Simply Finding Our Way and Peonies As Promised are all totally reworked variants of those titles from the 2014 album.  The Belovèd bandbook is in a continuous state of development, nothing is final, everything is adapted, nothing is static. This is demonstrated by the fact that the album is bookended by Sadness All The Way Down and its smiling relative Happiness All The Way Up which is most definitely not any kind of identical twin. 

There are a couple of versions of Peonies As Promised around if you go looking.  The skeleton melody of Peonies can never be completely As Promised, not unless the undertaking was that this particular bouquet always comes in different colours.  Out of the versions I know, the one on The Study Of Touch is the definitive despite coming in at under five minutes. Maybe it’s the compression that opens this touch study into truly speaking its romanticism yet it doesn’t give the whole game away. Tender but tough.  I track Petter Eldh’s double bass line to the point where it feels like Charlie Haden is among us.  Eldh runs a little curve into the corner at the end of his lines, just enough to make it feel that Peter Bruum’s brush strokes on the snare are both gentle, yet decisive.

Click here for a video of Peonies As Promised played live.

A word about the title track, the longest on the session though it doesn’t feel overtly stretched.  Touch is exactly as the title describes.  In Peter Høeg’s novel Borderliners, the character Biehl says this:  “When I speak, you should listen, first and foremost to my pauses.  They speak louder than my words.”  The piano entry on The Study Of Touch comes down on a four note phrase and holds it; hands hover and there’s a pause. Eldh and Bruum fill in the space with ‘touch and go’ flicks of air which merge into music.  Double bass and piano produce a line in unison and gradually let it lengthen.  A cunning little funk spasm writes a signature that balances out the recital whilst returning to those four ‘paused’ notes.  Yes, it’s lyrical; it’s a Study that holds sway, more importantly it gradually builds back into itself.  The original four note phrase provides the architectural strength.  It is art of the piano delivered with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of self-knowledge.  A musician only gets to play like this if time has been on their side. Leftfield, right mind. 

This is the album every musician aspires to make; the one that truly identifies the sheer quality of their contribution as a major player.  The Study Of Touch is up there in the pantheon of all those great piano trio albums that act as milestones in the jazz canon.  Not because it is related to Bill Evans’ Live At The Village Vanguard or Keith Jarrett’s At The Blue Note collection, or in a whole different set of perspectives, Oscar Peterson’s terrific Night Train, which is often given short shrift, Paul Bley’s barely noticed Memoirs, Geri Allen’s unjustly ignored Twenty One, the first Ovary Lodge album from Tippett, Babbington and Perry that has all but disappeared, Monk’s Underground, a magnificent session which rarely gets a mention, or The Duke’s controversial Money Jungle. And that’s without getting into the labyrinth of arguably the current most radical ‘piano trio’, the Australian band, The Necks. The Study Of Touch is important precisely because it is Django Bates.  He has sat in front of ECM’s founding fathers, Manfred Eicher and Jan Erik Kongshaug, lifted the lid and produced an evolving study of classic piano trio music that is unique to himself.  It is a beautiful thing.

Click here for a video introduction to The Study Of Touch.

The whole Study Of Touch session is the album Manfred Eicher played to Anoar Brahem when he recommended Django Bates as pianist for the Blue Maqams album (also reviewed this month).  It comes as no surprise to me that Mr Brahem needed little convincing.  I assume that if you’ve got as far as reading this review you must have a vague interest in jazz piano.  Come on, it’s December, give yourself a Christmas gift, Touch is a treat.  I don’t know whether you deserve a prezzie, Django Bates doesn’t mind either way.  This album convinces on every level.  Start your new year resolution here.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Steve Day

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Delfeayo Marsalis - Kalamzaoo: An Evening With Delfeayo Marsalis

Album Released: 29th September 2017 - Label: Troubadour Jass Records - Reviewed: December 2017

Delfeayo Marsalis Kalamazoo

When it comes to jazz dynasties some you could name include the Coltranes and the Brubecks but when it came to awarding the US National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master honour this was given uniquely to the whole Marsalis family in 2011, Ellis, Wynton, Delfeayo, Jason and Branford.  Delfeayo Marsalis is an internationally acclaimed trombonist, composer, producer and educator and in 2016 he won Best of the Beat awards for himself as contemporary jazz artist and for his album Make America Great Again as Best Contemporary Jazz Album. That album has been described as "a soundtrack for America's current social climate and Make America Great Again runs the gamut of emotions from gutbucket to grandiose, New Orleans brass band funk to classic big band swing" and "With a rollicking big band that plays with an attitude that would make Duke Ellington proud, this is a wily protest record showing how much of what goes on today is lip service".

Kalamazoo - An Evening With Delfeayo Marsalis is Delfeayo Marsalis's seventh album and the first one to be recorded live. It is called Kalamazoo because it was recorded there at the Dalton Center Recital Hall, Western Michigan University. Apart from Delfeayo Marsalis on trombone the band features Ellis Marsalis Jr. (Delfeayo's father) on piano, Reginald Veal on bass and Ralph Peterson on drums. 

Education and history are all important to Delfeayo Marsalis and earlier in the day Delfeayo had held a masterclass for local children and pictures of this are included in the album notes. He is patently of the opinion that part of the strength of jazz is that older musicians teach younger musicians and pass on a special insight which informs future performance.  Many of the tracks on this album are classic standards made famous by the great jazz bandleaders of the past, the first is Tin Roof Blues, played originally by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings in 1923 and then later by Louis Armstrong. On this album the style is very laid back which provides a great opportunity to demonstrate that slow jazz can be just as great as fast jazz. 

Autumn Leaves has been recorded many times and famous versions include those of Bill Evans and Cannonball Adderly; it is one Delfeayo Marsalis's favourites and he notes that the chord progressions are easy to listen to and it's one of the few minor-key songs that sounds happy.  Track 3 is My Funny Valentine, forever associated with Chet Baker's voice and trumpet. This is a very thoughtful version with father and son combining beautifully to produce something which is both tender and romantic.

Other classics are track 5, If I Were A Bell, from the musical Guys and Dolls; previous versions have been by Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald, and track 7 It Don't Mean A Thing by Duke Ellington; both tracks have Ellis Marsalis playing major solos in a light hearted style while Delfeayo's solos are the more considered. In apparent contrast there is the theme tune from the children's TV programme Sesame Street (which not everybody knows is actually a 12-bar blues!).  The Secret Love Affair was composed by Delfeayo Marsalis. It deals with the plight of African Americans in 1935 and the abuses they suffered during the dominant culture; it is an 11-bar blues with alternating major and minor keys and the trombone perfectly evokes a mood of struggle and adversity. 

Track 8 is an amusing introduction to track 9. Blue Kalamazoo is a spontaneous composition, improvised with no rehearsal or advanced planning and includes Christian O'Neill Diaz on vocals and Madison George on drums who were the only members of the audience brave enough to participate and of course they received huge applause.

The last track is another classic, Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans, original played by Louis Armstrong in 1947 and which the band plays like a lullaby, Delfeayo using his mute to create a wah-wah sound in his solo.

This warm, friendly album by a top class quartet is a lot different to Delfeayo Marsalis's previous album where he led the Uptown Jazz Orchestra. The highlight has to be Delfeayo's trombone playing and it is interesting to hear how this instrument sounds playing famous tunes which have generally been played with other instruments.  This CD may well be the perfect seasonal gift for trombone players and those that prefer their jazz to be recognisable and familiar.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Howard Lawes

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Tim Armacost - Time Being

Album Released: 24th February 2017 - Label: Whirlwind Recordings - Reviewed: November 2017

Tim Armacost Time Being

Tim Armacost (tenor saxophone); Robert Hurst (bass); Jeff Tain Watts (drums); David Kikoski (piano).

American saxophonist/composer Tim Armacost has established an enviable path within the populated jazz panorama both as a leader, sideman, and co-leader of groups such as the New York Standards Quartet and Brooklyn Big Band.

His newest outing, Time Being, is the first on the Whirlwind Records and features Robert Hurst on bass, Jeff Tain Watts on drums, and pianist David Kikoski who joins the trio only on a few selected tracks. The rich sound and vibrant timbre of the saxophonist is immediately patented on the opening tune, Alawain, a virile bost-bop excursion set up in trio where the levels of energy skyrocket. Hurst begins soloing upfront before falling into a hooky groove that sounds even catchier when in the company of Watts’ creative powerhouse drumming. On top of that, the bandleader weaves expressive phrases embellished here and there with Eastern colors.
The title track displays the dark-toned tenor working in synch with the bass. One can feel an apparent relaxation that finds resistance in the African arrhythmias of the fidgeting drummer, while the experienced bassist enjoys freedom, whether rambling with insouciance, whether swinging the old-fashioned way.

There are three distinct pieces baptized with the title Sculpture, each of them probing a sense of strange liberation within their structured experimentation. Sculpture #1: Phase Shift feels like a bop tune working in the guise of a modern improvisatory routine; Sculpture #2: Tempus Funkit swings more than funks, opting to ululate with tempo fluctuations; Sculpture #3: All the Things You Could Become in the Large Hadron Collider, the last track on the album, has a vibrancy that stems from a (de)conversation between Armacost and Kikoski, which occurs with the harmonic progression of All The Things You Are as a point of departure. In tandem, they extract dizzying effects from their winged yet remarkably coordinated interplay.

Click here to listen to Sculpture #1: Phase Shift

Moods and paces are constantly altered from one tune to another. Thus, if The Next 20 delves into balladic zone, gaining contours of a jazz standard, especially by the action of Kikoski’s harmonic smoothness, 53rd St. Theme, based on Monk’s 52nd Street, calls for classic bop while tingling through slowdowns and accelerations in tempo.

The two non-originals are utterly exciting. Thelonious Monk’s Teo provides enough punch and accent, not only thriving with the unpredictable ideas that keep bursting from the bandleader’s instrument, but also with the eight-bar improvised exchanges between Watts and his peers. No less vigorous, Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman is subjected to a delightful arrangement, starting with Hurst and Armacost echoing the phrases of each other while Watts pushes forward with consistency by employing his typically unhinged rhythms.

Tim Armacost knows how to pull emotions out of his playing. This record authenticates him as an adventurous composer, and the last pair of songs described above show how imaginative he can be when tackling a classic tune.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Filipe Freitas

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Satoko Fujii with Wadada Leo Smith, Natsuki Tamura & Ikue Moriik - Aspiration

Album Released: 2017 - Label: Libra Records - Reviewed: November 2017

Satoko Fujii Aspiration

Satoko Fujii (piano); Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet); Natsuki Tamura (trumpet); Ikue Mori (electronics).

I own a stash of Wadada Leo Smith albums, at least half of which I shelled out for at a time in my life when the price of an album burnt the pocket.  The first one I purchased was the 1978 great black ‘white’ album, Divine Love on ECM.  Pre-dredlocks and the name ‘Wadada’ not printed on the cover.  It still occupies a special place in my home.  I think I got it a year after its release, from a little store that is now a burger bar. 

Early on Smith made a number of special recordings before he ever got to ECM.  I’m not going to be tempted to discuss those special Kabell label sessions or the AACM solo and ensemble projects.  Nor will we take into account the later power jewels of Yo Miles! with Henry Kaiser and the likes of Zakir Hussain and Greg Osby, nor his incredible influential Golden Quartet.  I’ll fleetingly name drop the more recent triumphs of Ten Freedom Summers (2012) and America’s National Parks (2017); the acclaim that comes with being a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a Downbeat Critic’s Poll winner, the fact that last year he won the big deal, Doris Duke Artist Award.  If all goes according to plan Sandy Brown Jazz hopes to produce a special feature on Wadada Leo Smith in 2018; so let’s leave that detail till then.  Enough to say, Wadada is one mighty phenomenal musician.  That has to be the starting position with someone of his stature, even if he is a modest man.

Aspiration is, strictly speaking, a Satoko Fujii led session ‘featuring’ Wadada, Tamura and Mori.  Although the great Japanese pianist is exactly that - great, I guess even she has to cope with the magnitude of Wadada Leo Smith’s presence on this recording date. Be clear, we are entering into the territory of visionary giants.  Aspiration is well named, an album consisting of six complete compositions, each one germinated via on-the-spot improvisations out of which comes a flowering-reaching heights of soaring wind blown brass, a piano which at times sounds as if it has been given wings, all framed within Ikue Mori’s discreetly vital use of electronics.  The muse at play, produces a spire that towers tall.

Intent: The first sound is a lone gorgeous squashed trumpet note, the confidence behind the pitch is literally breathtaking.  Once two horns hit-on the phrasing it is as if the line is written with the same extended hand.  Not so, but sounds so.  Fujii’s concert piano entry is strong, like Beethoven.  It is not Beethoven.  Mori’s electronics zap across without fully filling the space. Space is the fifth member of this band.  We hear a signal of Intent.  Friends, we listen for the duration; we too will ride this imagination.  Here’s a pointer.  Of the many delights associated with Wadada’s technique is his fluency in killing a note.  He comes off the end of a phrase with the same amount of detailed deliberation that he came onto it.  For the listener it is as if we have been given music with a backdrop that has form, we could potentially physically embrace this language.

Liberation:  The shortest track, is at least half the length of each one of the other five. Again the Wadada trumpet is the central force, circling and imbibing air, bold yet at the same time barely ripe, a tone like a measured chant squeezed through a gap given up by Tamura’s horn, producing a soundstory, the narrative of which we can only guess at. Mori’s electrics tickle the senses; she is a colourist with electricity that could be the slip that covers ceramic. Satoko Fujii saves her entry - plucks but doesn’t touch the keys until a third through.  Stay with her.  She is there waiting, providing a quiet moment before crashing a massive chordal wave down onto the brass as if bringing Hokusai to life in an ocean of Liberation.

Floating: This really is the floater.  Tamura leaves it three minutes before he’s calling his ancestors.  Wadada doesn’t make a sound until just short of five minutes into things.  Prior to the trumpeters, Ikue Mori has placed an ambient surface across the ears.  She is like an echo to Brian Eno Floating above a graduated drone within the inner harp of Fujii’s piano.  I think that’s how it works.  No matter, Floating is so damn holistic who does what is hardly the point.  Take in the sense of this act of four musicians in tune with each..... they are simply (!) able to suspend music as if it were an installation.  I think its Natsuki Tamura’s horn at the end, singing a melody that could have come from a lover’s heart.  Does that read as soft centred?  For me, he blows like a sonnet.

Aspiration:  The title track begins as a piano solo.  The nearest I know to this piece of the treasure trove is Marilyn Crispell.  I dare say I could be listening to Marilyn Crispell and then refer to Satoko Fujii.  Such references only tell us we are not alone.  I’ve heard it said before, being a creative musician can be such a lonely life.  This is nothing like the blues, nevertheless the pitch has the same core.  Wadada Leo Smith never lost his roots in the Mississippi Delta.  When it’s this good you carry a whole life with you.

Click here to listen to Aspiration.

Evolution:  The beginning of Evolution is extreme trumpet.  It could be Bill Dixon, but he’s dead and ain’t on this session.  It’s not Wadada Leo Smith, so it must be Natsuki Tamura.  Voice, and suck, press and pinch, bruise a blown diaphragm, acute mastery of embouchure; Mr Tamura takes a couple of minutes to evoke the very beginning of life.  There’s the briefest of pauses before all four musicians play a melody from out of nowhere and take us into the evolving journey of species and antithesis! About half way through a virtuoso piano break evolves which could be the definition of what all know as the complete jazz piano tradition and Wadada frames it with a solo of his own that feels like it must be possible to make the sun more brilliant or the good earth run deeper – you know, organic, a rich seam of sound so beautiful it almost hurts. 

Evolution leads into......
Stillness:  As the title suggests, this piece draws on microtonal music, again with Tamura (I think) setting the scene. Wisps of electric ‘rain’, the piano placing a chordal framework for the Wadada horn to initially speak about all the stuff that has come down from Hubbard, Booker Little and Brownie, Lester B and Miles, Cherry, and maybe even Dizzy in Tunisia when he was feeling sanguine.  It’s an evocation right at the end, conscious or unconscious, it’s a lovely way to finish.

Recently I’ve heard a lot of genuinely heartening, precious music.  This one is different.  It will reside with me, somewhere near to America’s National Parks and..... Divine Love.  Utterly staggering, one towering Aspiration that will enter the pantheon of what we understand to be exceptional life changing music.  It was probably just another ordinary day in a studio that had housed lots of sessions and then something absolutely extraordinary happened.  Thank you.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Steve Day

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Christian McBride Big Band - Bringin' It

Album Released: 22nd September 2017 - Label: Mack Avenue - Reviewed: November 2017

Christian McBride Bringin' It

Christian McBride (bass); Ron Blake (tenor sax, flute); Steve Wilson (alto and soprano sax, flute); Todd Bashore (alto sax, flute, piccolo); Carl Maraghi (bari sax, bass clarinet); Dan Pratt (tenor sax, flute); Freddie Hendrix, David Lee, Frank Greene, Nabate Isles (trumpets); Steve Davis, Michael Dease, James Burton, Joe McDonough (trombones); Douglas Purviance (bass trombone); Rodney Jones (guitar); Xavier Davis (piano); Melissa Walker (vocals); Quincy Phillips (drums).

Click here for a video introduction to the album.

Every record put out by the world-class jazz bassist Christian McBride is well worth checking out. After digging Live at the Village Vanguard with his trio, the bassist returns to the big band format with Bringin’ It, an honourable follow-up to the 2011 Grammy Award winner The Good Feeling.

What does McBride bring us this time? Originals? Jazz standards? Elated post-bop classics? Well, the answer is 'yes' to all of that, and he does it with an impressive cohort of artists and outstanding soloists, many of them retrieved from the first experience, including saxophonists Ron Blake and Steve Wilson, trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, trombonists Steve Davis and Michael Dease, as well as pianist Xavier Davis and vocalist Melissa Walker.

Gettin’ To It, the first of three reshaped old originals by the bassist, flows with soulful energy, coloured with Rodney Jones’ funk-oriented guitar chops and filled with lots of jabs and hooks thrown in by the improvisers. Hendrix sounds magisterial in his brave trumpet ululations and then Jones applies all his bluesiness to an individual statement, well backed by a trombone/baritone ostinato.

Freddie Hubbard’s Thermo is a triumphant, engaging, post-bop vehicle for the soloists, who take us to the golden era of jazz without leaving aside the buoyant twists of modernity.

McBride’s remaining compositions, Youthful Bliss and Used ‘Ta Could, are both colourful but inhabit different worlds. The former, including a bass discourse with bright melody and groove, cultivates a post-bop idolization with occasional delicate ripples of soul and Latin for extra colour, while the latter is a celebratory waltz with plenty of Mingus’ moods. Another punch in the stomach arrives with McCoy Tyner’s Sahara, exuberantly set in motion by Quincy Phillips’ mallet drumming together with free-floating woodwinds, and then leaning on a 6/8 groove with vibrant horn unisons atop. Striking improvisations from piano and alto saxophone occur over modal harmonic progressions while Phillips finishes off what he had started, resorting to his classy rhythmic deftness.

Click here for a video version of Used 'Ta Could played live at The Lincoln Centre with Wynton Marsalis.

Wes Montgomery’s groovy Full House starts with packaging all the original guitaristic steam in Jones’ well-measured solo, passing by Carl Maraghi’s magnetic baritone before the epic finale. The vivacity felt here opposes the more tranquil vibes of the jazz standards I Thought About You and In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning.

The vocal warmness of Ms. Melissa Walker is quite something on Djavan’s Brazilian hit “Upside Down” (the original version is called “Flor de Lis”), and also polishes up “Mr. Bojangles”, a tune by the American country artist Jerry Jeff Walker, here brought up with interesting rhythmic details and a leisurely swing.

Suffused with striking arrangements and turning the ensemble's grandiose sense of unity to its advantage, Bringin’ It is a tour-de-force album that substantiates how a modern big band can sound so stalwart and effulgent at the same time.

Click here for details and to sample the album

Filipe Freitas

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Entropi - Moment Frozen

Album Released: 15th September 2017 - Label: Whirlwind Recordings - Reviewed: November 2017

Entropi Moment Frozen

Dee Byrne (alto sax and compositions); Andre Canniere (trumpet); Rebecca Nash (piano); Olie Brice (double bass); Matt Fisher (drums).

I missed out on Dee Byrne’s debut album New Era and so was particularly pleased to have the opportunity to wrap my ears around this follow-up.  I had a certain ‘concept’ in my head about Dee Byrne which now needs to be completely revised having spent time with Moment Frozen.  I had her filed along with Cath Roberts (from Sloth Racket etc).  Together they are the founding instigators of LUME – check out this pioneering collective (click here). I had lazily assumed Byrne would be operating in the same territory.  This was foolish, Dee Byrne is her own person.  All eight tracks on Moment are written by her; each one is individual and could be filed under ‘new classic jazz’.  Each to their own, but there’s no sense of Roberts and Byrne being cut from the same cloth.  Why should there be?

The Moment Frozen opener, Stelliferous Era, is a wonderful explicit arrangement featuring the Byrne alto spacing the melody in a funky, melodic pas-de-deux carried by Andre Canniere’s trumpet, ‘the rhythm section’ grooving the ensemble in a way that is damn close to the old Dave Holland Quintet when the M-Base alto, Steve Coleman, regularly checked into Kenny Wheeler’s horns.  Running through the whole of Moment Frozen is a distinct design detail that is informed by Miles, Herbie, Holland and De Johnette. 

This Entropi session reflects a lot of listening to that zeitgeist era and converting it into a nu-cold sweat.  Call it L-Base, I’ll tell you what, it’s anything but ‘frozen’.  There’s the real treat of Rebecca Nash’s electric piano.  It paces the distance of Interloper while the two horns escape wild and free. 

Click here for a video of the band playing Interloper.

On It’s Time, the keyboard shakes down a strong solo in preparation for the Byrne/Canniere partnership to swap short stories in a series of breathtaking breaks.  Listen up, it’s the reason your mother gave birth to you, so that you could hear it. (Yes Fred, I exaggerate for the purpose of emphasis; a criticism that can’t be levelled at Dee Byrne and Andre Canniere who are the epitome of funky truth).

This whole album is a class act, but there’s one track here that stands out like a testimony to a 2017 jazz aesthetic that if the Mercury prize really meant anything Entropi would go to the front of the queue – In The Cold Light Of Day is an ‘epic’ which deserves the weight and interpretation of the word. What starts off as an Olie Brice bass solo, full of piquancy and slow drama, ends thirteen minutes later having laid out a quintet performance which is both brittle in its gradual unravelling of each player's specific contribution, yet fluent in the direction to the mystery of its gaping finale.  The end cuts off like the planned Cassini crash into the surface of Saturn.  Not for the first time, Mr Canniere’s trumpet is a restrained symphonic masterstroke yet don’t ignore Dee Byrne’s alto; Sun Ra must have got involved from somewhere out in the ether and sent a sound like this to Byrne in order stir the air of their shared self-made universe. 

Why more people aren’t talking about her is another odd and dispiriting example of a malaise currently rife within the British jazz scene. On any serious analysis of what constitutes a British jazz sensation Dee Byrne should be a prize contender. In The Cold Light Of Day is essential listening; set aside some quality time to take in its dimensions.

When track number eight sweeps out through the hi-fi, it feels as if the ears have been gliding high.  We hit an air pocket just before energy burns, loses height and dissolves. Rebecca Nash takes an early solo which doesn’t get lost beneath its own complexity; an eloquent performance across a chord structure which has had some genuine thought applied.  There is no hint of a hidden ‘lift’ from the American Songbook.  We not left honing the practice of identifying Autumn LeavesLeap Of Faith is newly minted; and it is a beautiful natural performance measuring the restrained power of this ensemble.

Click here to listen to the band playing Leap Of Faith.

Technically Moment Frozen has a rich rounded mix by Alex Bonney.  The album was recorded at Wincraft Studios in Gloucestershire; I kid you not, it could be Rudy Van Gelder’s legendary old place, such is the potency of the tones and subtle clarity.  Dee Byrne has taken real care and attention in producing this fine session. My hope is that it will be repaid with appropriate recognition.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Steve Day 

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Nat Steele - Portrait Of The Modern Jazz Quartet

Album Released: 22nd September 2017 - Label: Trio Records - Reviewed: November 2017

Nat Steele Portrait Of The Modern Jazz Quartet

This debut album consists of 9 tracks taken from the original repertoire of the Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ) which was formed in the 1950’s led by pianist/arranger John Lewis, and from 1955 also included vibraphonist Milt Jackson, Percy Heath on double bass and Connie Kay on drums.  The original 1950s band was famous for bringing jazz out of the clubs and into the concert hall with their mix of jazz and classical music.  The CD liner notes say that the “aim in making this album was not to produce a carbon copy of the MJQ, but to bring to life the vision” of the original MJQ.  After much discussion between the new members of the band, who are mostly bebop influenced, it was decided to use the MJQ’s earlier repertoire as this was predominantly bebop based.

The background to Nat Steele's Quartet dates back to 2009 when a band was founded by Michael Garrick OBE and called “MJQ Celebration”.  When Michael Garrick passed away in 2011, the double bassist Matt Ridley took over the role of leader until 2016 when Nat took control and reformed it as “Portrait of the Modern Jazz Quartet”.  Nat Steele is a self-taught vibraphonist and this new band consists of pianist Gabriel Latchin, double bassist Dario Di Lecce and Steve Brown on drums.  This album was made the day after their first gig at Ronnie Scott’s.  With so much material there was not time for multiple takes, so what you hear on the album in many instances is the first version that was recorded.  The album therefore has a joyous spontaneity about it much like a live recording.

The longest track is the full La Ronde Suite at 9 minutes 50 and the shortest is Cole Porter’s All of You arranged by John Lewis, as were most of the other tracks.  Dizzy Gillespie’s Woody ‘N’ You has a lively melodic swinging start with Nat on vibes, including piano and drum solos.  The Golden Striker has intricate bell like vibes with superb piano interludes.  

During the La Ronde Suite, each musician gets a chance to shine with a fast and furious piano start followed by an atmospheric and relaxed section from the bass, which then gives way to a fast and clear vibraphone with a catchy drum section prior to the blended finish.  Autumn in New York has beautifully soft brush playing, lyrical vibes, conjuring up leaves falling, with piano and bass carrying the melody softly through a totally relaxing number.  Occasional notes evoke traffic and city noise background without breaking the tranquil rhythm.

Click here to listen to Autumn In New York.

Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise, is another wonderful arrangement with a great bass solo.  In this track you can hear the musicians' sensitivity towards each other’s playing.  I’ll Remember April, is a faster track, with the piano and bass combining well before the vibes take up the melody which slows towards an abrupt end.  With Django there is a quiet haunting intro before the vibes pick up the pace which then slows again towards the end.  

Click here to listen to Django

Bag’s Groove is another catchy number by the great vibraphonist Milt Jackson, where obviously the vibes take centre stage.  Cole Porter’s All Of You is a slower paced track to close with an almost ethereal melody showcasing the vibes.

Click here for a video of a live performance of Bags' Groove by the band.

A great debut album, well balanced and with good musicians showing their playing ability throughout the album.

Click here for details.

Tim Rolfe

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Mike Daniels - Remembering Mike Daniels

Album Released: 1st December 2017 - Label: Lake Records - Reviewed: November 2017

Remembering Mike Daniels

This new album from Lake Records is well titled as I know from discussion and correspondence how many people remember UK trumpeter and bandleader Mike Daniels. When he passed away a year ago (18th October 2016) one correspondent wrote to us recalling how: 'Back in 1957 I was frog marched into the smoke filled back room of the Star Hotel West Croydon by two friends. Mike Daniels and the Delta band were playing 'Hiawatha Rag' - the Watney's 'Red Barrel' beer flowed steadily, duffle-coated blokes and black-stockinged girls were leaping about in frenzied jiving styles and from then on I became totally hooked on Jazz clubs and the Classic jazz style that Mike and the Delta band performed with such passion!'

Lake Records have again compiled a collection of classic UK traditional jazz with 20 tracks by Mike's Delta Jazzmen and 2 by the Big Band covering the years 1958 to 1965 with a variety of personnel and with informative liner notes as usual by Lake's Paul Adams. This is a 'Limited Edition' so it will only be around for a while. As Paul points out, Mike Daniels' recordings were also strangely limited - 'up until 1982 ... there had been six singles, one EP and one LP by the Delta Jazzmen and one LP by the Big Band. Apart from one single and one LP they were all for minority labels, some only producing 99 copies'. A further album was recorded for the American Stomp Off label in the 1990s. The material on this new CD 'comes from a variety of sources including most notably John R.T Davies and Jem Wilyman. Almost without exception it reveals good, quality performances by a band which knew how to play, was cohesive and packed a punch'.

Mike Daniel's Delta Jazzmen came together in 1948. During the 1950s they were reflecting the classic style of King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, early Louis Armstrong and a touch of Bix Beiderbecke. Their following grew during the 1950s with Mike happy to lead the band from within and their ensemble playing reliable. By 1956 they had established traditional jazz band instrumentation with Mike putting together the Big Band in the mid-1960s, but keeping the two bands going was not easy. Later in the 1960s, Mike moved to Majorca. He came back to play a few gigs with the band in 1985 and staged an annual gig for the band before he returned permanently to the UK in 1992. Another correspondent wrote to us saying: ''I last saw Mike at the Spice of Life pub, London, where the Delta Jazzmen had a Friday lunchtime session. The band didn't perform much after that and Mike eventually retired because he felt his playing was not as good as it should be. I admire that". Mike Daniels finally retired in 2013. Mike's singer Doreen Beatty does not feature on these instrumental recordings.

The tracks on the album are not all in date order, but taking them year by year: The six 1958 / 1959 tracks feature an early Delta Jazzmen lineup of Mike Daniels (trumpet); Gordon Blundy (trombone); John Barnes (clarinet); Des Bacon (piano, clarinet); Geoff Walker (banjo); Don Smith (sousaphone, double bass) and Arthur Fryatt (drums) playing I'm Coming Virginia (nicely paced à la Bix with some nods to that earlier recording), West End Blues (slow, with Gordon Blundy's drawn out trombone solo), Freeze 'n' Melt (fast and toe-tapping), Misty Morning (featuring Des Bacon on piano and Mike on muted trumpet), I'm In The Market For You and John Barnes' Busy Saying Nothing with a clarinet lead in and solo by the composer.

The 1960 sides Ponchartrain Blues and a fast You Made Me Love You have Geoff Over on banjo; Jelly Roll Morton's Froggie Moore is also taken at pace with John Picard featured on trombone and Morton's Shreveport Stomp is taken lightly without trumpet, trombone and banjo but with John Barnes clarinet and Des Bacon's piano carrying the number. From 1961, Geoff Walker returns on banjo for four of the five tracks and Terry Thompson (clarinet, tenor saxophone) and Phil Franklin (drums) on the other. Sweet Mama swings out with a touch of humour; Louisiana has Gordon Blundy taking his trombone into a nice solo from Mike Daniels; The Chant is followed by Aunt Hagar's Children and then Duke Ellington's East St. Louis Toodle-Oo features the signature muted trumpet in a well-placed solo.

Three later 1963 tracks appear first on the album - High Life, Blues With A Feeling (with a fine trumpet solo from Mike Daniels) and Stevedore Stomp followed by You're Driving Me Crazy and Mable's Dream from 1962. It is interesting that they have been chosen to open the album as to me they have a distinctly different sound to the earlier tracks and I wonder if they come from a different source. The Temperence Seven of course had a recording hit with You're Driving Me Crazy a year earlier in 1961, I'm not sure that this arrangement betters it but the solos do.

The two Big Band Tracks from 1965 are What Do You Want Me To Do? and I'd Love It featuring Mike Daniels, John Chilton, Jake Spalding (trumpets); Ben Cohen (cornet); Keith Nichols, Trevor Adams (trombones); Jack Hughes, Chris Walker (alto saxophones, clarinets); George Bere, Terry Thompson (clarinets, tenor saxophones); Des Bacon (piano); Geoff Over (banjo); Don Smith (sousaphone, double bass) and Phil Franklin (drums). They work well to close the album with their 'full' sound, although the recording quality seems to me to have been 'well rescued' by Lake, but they do give us a sense of the change of direction Mike was developing before heading for Majorca.

Once again, Lake has brought us some important archive recordings from mid-century UK jazz. Listening again I really appreciated the playing of core members of the band including Gordon Blundy's trombone, Des Bacon's piano and of course Mike Daniels himself. The quality of playing of the Delta Jazzmen makes one wonder why there were not more recordings made. There are many admirers of Mike Daniels and I know that they will welcome this collection.

Click here for details and to listen to Sweet Mama, West End Blues and I'd Love It.

Ian Maund

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The Gareth Lockrane Big Band - Fistfight At The Barndance

Album Released: 25th August 2017 - Label: Whirlwind Recordings - Reviewed: October 2017

Gareth Lockrane Big band Fistfight At The Barndance

British jazz flautist, Gareth Lockrane, is involved in a variety of different projects and endeavours, one of which is leading his own big band. The band has around twenty members, including some of the cream of the current British jazz scene. Although Lockrane has recorded many times in a number of settings, Fistfight At The Barndance is the debut album of his big band. It has eleven tracks, all composed and arranged by Lockrane. That’s eleven tracks, 78 minutes worth of exuberant, joyful, upbeat straight-ahead jazz – even the ballads can’t contain themselves for long before a foot tapping beat breaks out.

In the sleeve notes, Lockrane lists his influences as “film music, rock, cop show funk, Indian raga sounds, gospel, soul and classical music”. “Cop show funk” is not a category you’ll find in many dictionaries of music but, after listening to the album, you’ll know exactly what he means. Some of the tracks do have the feel of theme tunes to American TV cop shows of the sixties and seventies. This is not to deride them – far from it; the era threw up a whole set of memorable tunes and Lockrane follows that honourable tradition with a vengeance. It’s no accident that Lockrane has a degree in film composition.

Click here for a video trailer for the album.

The first (and title) track is a case in point. It is a lovely piece of jazz-funk which could well have served as the theme of Starsky and Hutch or Ironside. Lockrane blows some agile flute and immediately displays his complete mastery of the instrument. There is also great Hammond organ playing from Ross Stanley. Barnaby Dickinson takes a beautifully judged solo on trombone. The track is a tribute to Lockrane’s late father who was an accomplished harmonica player and had a 6/8 blues riff up his sleeve which he imagined accompanying the said barndance fistfight. Lockrane uses the riff as the basis of the track.

The second track, Do It, is another upbeat piece with solos from Trevor Mires on trombone and Graeme Blevins on tenor sax; and some tasty guitar from Mike Outram. There is a particularly effective bit of call and response between the band and the percussion of Ian Thomas and Hugh Wilkinson. 

We’ll Never Meet Again is a lush ballad which could almost have come out of the swing band era of Tommy Dorsey and the like. One almost expects a Sinatra to suddenly burst into song – except that the tune veers off in unexpected, but constantly melodic, directions in a decidedly contemporary style. The beat quickens from time to time as if the band can’t help breaking out into faster rhythms and has to be restrained. There are virtuosic solos from Lockrane and Outram. On the Fly is back to cop show funk with solos from Lockrane, Steve Fishwick on trumpet and Paul Booth on tenor sax. Booth’s contribution in particular is admirably adventurous – not the sort of thing you would hear from a Tommy Dorsey band or on an Ironside-type theme tune. A word too for Ryan Trebilcock’s bang-on-the-beat bass.

Stutterfunk does what it says on the tin in a complex, more-is-more arrangement which the band carries off with aplomb. James Gardiner-Bateman takes a solo on alto sax; and Ross Stanley gets to channel his inner Jimmy Smith in some splendid Hammond organ.

Click here to listen to a live recording of Stutterfunk.

Forever Now is another ballad but with the band having once again to be kept on its leash. There is some neat interplay between Lockrane and Nadim Teimoori on flutes. Teimoori also takes a solo on tenor sax. Lockrane cites Oliver Nelson as an influence and there is something particularly Nelsonish about this track.

The intriguingly named Aby7innia is big band bebop at its best with more than a touch of Dizzy Gillespie (another Lockrane hero) in both the arrangement (fast and complex) and the playing (virtuosic). Even the title has a Dizzy feel to it. Henry Collins takes the Gillespie role in an inspired trumpet solo; and Graeme Blevins plays some nice tenor sax. Ian Thomas gets to shine on drums in a call-and-response sequence with the band in full flight. Roots is a striking piece of down-and-dirty bluesy funk, again with a nod to Oliver Nelson. Mark Nightingale, trombone maestro, takes a relatively long but characteristically brilliant solo. Outram plays some funky guitar; and Teimoori solos adventurously on tenor. Mel’s Spell was inspired by the playing of Mel Lewis and sees solos from Lockrane and Stanley (on piano).

Click here for a video of the band playing Mel’s Spell live.

One for Junia begins with Lockrane playing flute in an Indian style but it isn’t long before the band is let off its leash and moves comfortably into another piece of complex but melodic, upbeat, straight ahead jazz. Lockrane and Sam Mayne (on alto) take solos. The final track, 5B3 Boogie, is also the shortest track and is distinguished by eloquent solos from Steve Fishwick on trumpet and Richard Shepherd on baritone sax.

The whole album was recorded in just one day and is a joy from start to finish. It’s difficult to see how such life affirming music could provoke fistfights of any kind, least of all at a barndance – except perhaps between competing schools of barndance and jazz purists …

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

Robin Kidson

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Deep Tide Quartet - See One, Do One, Teach One

Album Released: 15th Septemver 2017 - Label: Discus Music - Reviewed: November 2017

Deep Tide Quartet See One Do One Teach One

Martin Archer (tenor and sopranino saxophones, bass clarinet); Kim Macari (trumpet); Laura Cole (piano); Walt Shaw (percussion and live electronics).

This album is the third in the series of ‘Quartet’ albums that Martin Archer has released on the Discus label.  Not only is it a double CD package, this specific line-up is the one that Mr Archer is putting out on the road.  There’s also a note that states:  “We suggest you treat this collection as two separate albums to be heard at different times.”  Taking them at their word I’m writing about disc B first.  Why?  When I first got into music I always began with the B-side – Stone Free, which backed Hendrix’s debut single Hey Joe, was definitely the real all-day anthem. Reelin’ Feelin’ Squeelin’ was the weirdly wonderful B-side to Soft Machine’s first (pop) ‘45’ Love Makes Sweet Music.

Put on Deep Tide Quartet’s B disk and the first thing you come up against is the gigantic drone of Song For Gato Barbieri; piano clanging against electronics and fuzz scraping in a vice.  Then comes Martin Archer, playing tenor saxophone instead of his usual (sic) alto.  And for sure he could almost get away with passing himself off as the authentic Argentinean tenor maestro at Passport Control - if it was solely down to the sound of his horn.  Heaven help the boy, this needs to be played as loud as your neighbours can stand it.  Awesome.

What comes next is the self titled Deep Tide, an improvisation which begins eerily, oscillating electrics which almost gradually disappear from the ear, except for a rippling drift like a tide washing up on shingle.  Tenor and trumpet enter debating nonsense, not so much arguing as feeding off each other’s amazement that they are in such deep water.  I first came across Kim Macari and her trumpet when she played with Archer on last year’s magnificent Story Tellers album.  Back then she had a longer surname.  The two horn deal of Deep Tide Quartet is one of the key ingredients of this new recording.  Archer/Macari squash up their harmonies together, often breaking out in a duet solo (if you get my meaning).  On DC Blues, they parade across the ears like a two-person cortege for ghosts.  The blues came to Sheffield and they called it the Deep Tide Horns. 

I Am Here/Phone#2 is ‘written’ by pianist, Laura Cole.  It sounds like an improvised investigation built on open doom chords.  There are all kinds of small sounds, a short exposé, comments and filigree, probably ‘cut-up’, plus Mr Archer’s sopranino comes into play along with a ‘treated’ tenor (at least I assume it’s had some sound manipulation).  This could be an extension of I Am Here/Phone#1 from disk A. It is the only track which has a title common to both ‘albums’.  They are related though they could be distant cousins. The Imploder, Fishers And Farmers, Twopenny Hitch, Crackerjacker Favours are all improvisations. They could be pre-composed but in fact ARE compositions in the sense that each is placed one after another, grafted together to make up a relationship.  The Imploder is almost a drum clinic; part Art Blakey, part Han Bennick, and I guess all Walt Shaw.  Laura Cole’s piano is... well, it implodes!  And Martin Archer even finds a melodic riff to add to the mix that might be a message from the Jazz Messengers. F&F and Twopenny Hitch morph into a dedicated Art Ensemble Of Sheffield; circular Sirus sopranino (F&F), low-fi electronics (Hitch). In Crackerjack Favours Laura Cole’s piano creeps up on the two horns.  She takes time tying a knot in which to bind them, only to find Mr Archer plays Harry Houdini, escaping with his tenor into another territory.  There’s a residue of music left in the keyboard.  The piano talks under the trumpet as if translating what’s gone before.  Crackjack wins a prize. It ends without hurry, complete and utterly spellbinding.

A word about Walt Shaw. He’s a long time wild card collaborator on Archer projects - Orchestra Of The Upper Atmosphere and Engine Room Favourites.  His percussion installation is usually somewhere between a vast, or small stack, of stuff to hit. Usually there’s no bass drum.  What a percussionist chooses not to use is as important as what he does.  Remember this is a quartet without a bass player.  One of Mr Shaw’s other regular bands is WHM, a trio with no bassist. The track Migration/Flight comes from his larger graphic score series Migration (see Shaw with the Birmingham Improvisers Orchestra).  The Deep Tide Quartet treat their particular Migration like opening a vein.  A hard scalded wound, scrapings through a contact mic, over-blown reeds, a form of exorcism with cheap rich pickings and no bottom; I love it. The final two minutes on the B disc is Wayne’s World.  It is a bright new day, melody with chords, time signature, a hummable refrain – and a fade out ending after a couple of minutes. It’s all that’s required. But of course this is not the end, I’ve been saving the A disc for that role.

The A disc begins with Just A Moment In Time a short Archer/Cole written-through composition played alone by Laura Cole, her piano peeling off the melody as if preparing to dive into the depths.  Which is exactly what she is about to do.  I can reveal that an hour later the whole Deep Tide Quartet bring disc A to a close with One More Moment In Time.  The same tune, still written through, still less than two and half minutes, and as conventionally beautiful as the Laura Cole solo performance which began the album (except for those of us who, the day before, took matters into their own hands and played the B disc first).  Between the two Moment ‘chamber’ pieces, the other nine tracks are all improvisations one way or another.  ‘Graphic scores’ are used for Kim Macari’s Arundel#1 and Arundel#2 as well as Walt Shaw’s The Anne Tree.  There’s a series of photographs used to direct the improv on I Am Here/Phone In Rice#1, and three additional Martin Archer tracks clearly have their roots in improv, with compositional elements added.  Two other tracks play-out as spontaneously evolving-in-any-direction improv.

‘Graphic scores’ are an imprecise art.  They act as a visual stimulus but they don’t necessarily stipulate notes, keys and all the other condiments that make up music.  Graphics are starting blocks that signal the direction of creative ....improv.  And hey, Walt Shaw has no bass drum because he’s playing across the music not punctuating it with a predetermined time count (I didn’t ask him, but it’s what I hear).

I gotta tell yer, both these discs are one big adventure.  Disc B fires Song For Gato Barbieri as an accurate bull’s eye from the start.  It influenced my perspective on all that followed.  Disc A nurtures eleven tracks that grow out of their individual Moment(s) In Time.  ‘Each one’ is See One, Do One, Teach One, adding up to ‘Hear eleven ones’!  During the Sandy Brown Jazz 2017 summer Martin Archer provided the guest appearance in the Editor’s ‘Tea Break’ conversation.  It was, in my opinion, the most interesting chat we’ve had on the website.  The current crop of albums flowing out of his Discus label represent some kind of high.  Discus is to Sheffield what Motown was to Detroit, Blue Note to New York and ECM to Munich. I tell it like I hear it, See One, Do One, Teach One is yet another fabulous thing. Buy one.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Steve Day

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The Andrew Linham Jazz Orchestra - Weapons Of Mass Distraction

Album Released: October 2017 - Label: Andrew Linham Jazz orchestra - Reviewed: November 2017

Andrew Linham Jazz Orchestra Weapons Of Mass Distraction

Tommy Andrews, Phil Meadows, Riley Stone-Lonergan, Jonny Chung, Andrew Linham (saxophone, clarinet); Barney Lowe, Miguel Gorodi, Sam Warner, Matt Roberts, Andy Hall (trumpet and flugelhorn), Rosie Turton, Tom Green, Chris Saunders, Barney Medland (trombone), Tom Millar (piano), Rich Perks (guitar), Andrew Robb (bass), Dave Ingamells (drums).

Andrew Linham certainly knows how to write a good tune. If you like big band music played by some of the best young UK jazz musicians with tunes you will go away humming, then treat yourself (or a friend) to this one. After all, winter is coming. This is music to warm you and lift the spirit.

If you look through the list of musicians above, you should recognise many of them from their own bands or from playing with other key bands on the UK jazz scene. If you don't, I suggest you check them out further. Getting them all together at the same time for this recording is an achievement in itself.

Andrew Linham is a multi-talented, award winning graduate of Leeds College of Music. He is formidable on the baritone sax; he composes, arranges and is involved in several bands including those he leads himself. He is also heavily involved in youth theatre and this year co-wrote a great version of The Wind In The Willows that was performed at the Queens Theatre, Hornchurch. He also has an infectious sense of humour that you will find reflected throughout this album. There are stories behind most of the tunes he has written. Take the track Waitress Winking as one example. Apparently Andrew was dressed for an event as a member of the group ABBA - white flared jump suit and high heels. Going to the bar in costume he got something in his eye and the waitress thought he was winking at her. Embarrassed, he then tripped over his high heels. The story is captured in the music for the track.

The arrangements are also intriguing. There seem to be so many aspects and references built seemlessly into the music. At one moment you are listening to a bolero rhythm and then guitarist Rich Perks is taking a Brian May Queen-like solo.

The album kicks off with Screaming Abdabs with Jonny Chung soon stepping out with a tenor saxophone solo while the band drives along behind. Phil Meadows takes the soprano saxophone solo and then Sam Warner the trumpet outing and already we are hearing the quality of the arrangement and musicianship.

Click here to listen to Screaming Abdabs.

Sharking In The Chalet slows things down with Tommy Andrews leading the catchy theme on soprano sax before others pick it up. The first solo comes in lightly from Tom Millar on piano until the full band emerges and then it is back to the soprano sax to beautifully weave its way before the band returns to the theme. I Arsque You This begins briefly with raucous voices and then the band stamps its way into the theme and it is Rosie Turton's trombone that surfaces for a solo.

Dinosaur Face is a lovely ballad and one of my favourite tracks because of all the elements built into it. The story behind it is an occasion when at traffic lights, Andrew Linham saw a couple kissing on one side of the road and on the other a woman whose face showed her disapproval.

There is a nice bass solo from Andrew Robb before a brief guitar intervention from Rick Perks leads into statements from several instruments until the whole band swells the music and finally the piano brings everyone down. A great arrangement. Pyrrhic Victory has solo bass that leads us into a tune that somehow reminds me of I Want To Be Like You from The Jungle Book movie but once again it would be misleading to tie the tune to one idea as there are a few woven in here. Tom Green has a chance to feature his trombone and Tommy Andrews his clarinet. Big Bertha's Quarter To Twos is more of a humorous interlude - it imagines Big Bertha in the early hours rather the worse for wear and having lost her shoes - naturally, there is a chance to bring in the baritone sax after Riley Stone-Lonergan has set the scene on saxophone.

Apples Aren't The Only Fruit questions whether apples were the only fruit in the Garden Of Eden - were there no bananas? The track opens with a funky guitar that leads into a full band that then gives way to a steaming solo from Andrew's baritone before Rich Perks' guitar soars away and Chris Saunders trombone lays down the rhythms. Imagine Earth Wind and Fire on stage in full flow. Don't Mention Janet riffs out with something like the Hot Lunch rhythms from Fame and it is Riley Stone-Lonergan's creative saxophone that plays away until the band drives out. Henchmen Live The Shortest Lives is a reflection on the short disposable lives of gangsters' henchmen in movies. Miguel Gorodi's beautiful flugelhorn, slow and reflective, is featured and reminds us what a truly excellent musician this guy is.

Waitress Winking I described at the beginning of this review. It has another catchy theme and like the final tune on this album is one you will remember. It works well enough without knowing the story behind it but it adds that extra element if you picture the event. Rosie Turton takes the trombone solo again and Andrew Linham the expressive saxophone solo that leads into an almost 'circus' image as the clown-like fall occurs.

I Remember Fenton is a beautiful ballad to end the album. Named after a retired bandleader Andrew worked with, Riley Stone-Lonergan's saxophone leads the band into a theme that will stay in your head long after the music ends, and Rick Perks' guitar takes the tune out just to make sure.

Click here to listen to I Remember Fenton.

Weapons Of Mass Distraction as a title for the album begs all sorts of puns, but it is sufficient to say this is an enjoyable, memorable, accessible album that deserves to be heard. And if you know someone who would like a little gem with a sparkling band for Christmas - here is your answer.

Click here for Andrew Linham's website and album purchase details.

Ian Maund

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Trevor Watts and Stephen Grew Duo - All There Is

Album Released: January 2017 - Label: Discus Music - Reviewed: October 2017

Trevor Watts and Stephen Grew All There Is

Trevor Watts (alto and soprano saxophones); Stephen Grew (Kawai mini grand piano).

This duet session by Trevor Watts and Stephen Grew has one of the best recorded sounds I’ve heard in ages; it captures the top, middle and bottom of this music with a precise clarity. Shaun Blezard was at the desk, Lancaster Baptist Church the location..... the sound quality is a stone built sonic, without wave or reverb.  This is really listening to music, not the room.  If this is All There Is then it is enough, because it is wonderfully generous on lots of levels. 

But first I digress: Trevor Watts – his name is forever linked to John Stevens and the groundbreaking free improvisation work of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME) and the subsequent electric ensemble, Amalgam.  At the time I took in as much I possibly could of that huge body of music, live and on record, yet as important as those projects were, (and they were crucial to the UK scene), for me Trevor Watts is always associated with someone else; the Ghanaian multi-instrumentalist, Nana Tsiboe.  They began playing together at the tail end of the 1970's and were still linked up at end of the 1990's.  Their one ECM album, A Wider Embrace, featuring the Moiré Music Drum Orchestra, was for a significant period, the only record in town in our house.  Crucially the content of that album was in the title, the width of their embrace was serious pan-African, with lyrical composition and improvisation hand in glove.  In 2002 Trevor Watts returned to free-improv recording 6 Dialogues with pianist Veryan Weston.  It is that recording which may well have sowed the seed for what Watts and Grew are playing on All There Is.

The new album from January 2017, could be thought of as ‘a closer embrace’ and the gloves are off.  This is the redoubtable Trevor Watts in all his manifold compliance to his two main reeds, alto and soprano, played in the context of ‘free improvisation’.  If we needed any reminding just what an extraordinary player Watts is, witness the first three minutes of the opening, Shepherd’s Return, as he hangs the straight horn on Stephen Grew’s hands and then shapes a masterclass recital out of the silence of that Baptist chapel; it is truly mesmerising.  As for Stephen Grew, he’s a pianist who has brought about his own return to the public arena with telling effect.  Back in May, I caught him last on the fine Discus session, Felicity's Ultimatum.   The ‘closer embrace’ of All There Is favours Mr Grew’s freeform perspectives.  The one to one encounter enables him to literally freely form-a-form out of the presenting situation. The piano folds rhythm into multiples, gallops arpeggios, signals exits and entrances, hammers highlights into clusters, yet.... his ear is on Watts’ case the entire time.  The two men refer to themselves as a duo, and be of no doubt, this is indeed duet-music.

Trevor Watts and Stephen Grew aren’t against each other, this is collaborative creativity.  Take the title track; it sits half way through this session; almost double the length of the other six pieces.  All There Is feels so potent yet is utterly devoid of histrionics.  Moving through parallel lines, call and response and into short single breaks, the two men propose possible ways forward to each other, signal a simile without making it obvious (to the point I realise I am making that assumption). There seems to be a dual generosity between them, enabling each musician to progress their response to the other, modified maybe, but giving permission to implode a moment where necessary, or escalate  a fragment into a longer form.   Either way, Watts waits for Grew, to fill a space, to land a point of view; then catches that response and in an instance re-fashions it.  Similarly, Grew will lay down a thread of harmonies which can be picked apart by either instrument. Sometimes there’s a crack of concentrated sparseness, for example around 14.28, when the saxophone just lightly but tightly holds a note over the piano as if it were a transparent covering of comfort.  I guess that’s it, a sense of  humanity about this encounter which exudes positivity.

A track that illustrates the fine balance in this partnership is Tunnels. I’ve no idea what the significance of any of the titles are to these performances.  I have found myself listening specifically to Tunnels over and over again.  In the final four/five minutes piano and alto ride through taut and fast.  They cross over each other as if in an enclosed space from which they are forced to burrow out of at speed.  Whether I get this impression because the title suggests this idea to me, or it’s a mind-game of my own making, I don’t know.  I can’t second guess Watts and Grew. What I do know is, Tunnels is a condensed compression of the agility and skill of these two great players.  What is also clear is that here in this tight space, form can be fashioned from a fragment; a hunch, a suggested riff not necessarily designed for the purpose yet becoming a hobbled hitch into an extended encounter.  And the underground ‘tunnelling’ produces a music which is very ‘full’, maybe another reason why this session is ‘a closer embrace’.

There is something slightly ironic about All There Is.  It might be as the title suggests that this album contains the complete ‘works’ recorded at Lancaster Baptist Church on the 18th and 20th January 2017.  In which case, the title makes sense.  However, anyone who has encountered Trevor Watts or Stephen Grew will know, All There Is isn’t all there is; between them they have a wealth of music, past and present.  Both musicians have long histories; there is nothing, absolutely nothing here, that suggests to me this is where things have to end.  This is a sumptuous reeds and piano encounter that is going to garner a lot of praise - as long as people are listening.  Ah, yes, who is listening?

Click here for details and to listen to Tunnels.

Steve Day




Alan Ferber Big Band - Jigsaw

Album Released: 14th September 2017 - Label: Delta - Reviewed: October 2017

Alan Ferber Big Band Jigsaw

Alan Ferber, John Fedchock, Jacob Garchik, Jennifer Wharton (trombones): John O'Gallagher, Rob Wilkerson, John Ellis, Jason Rigby, Chris Cheek (saxophones): Tony Kadleck, Scott Wendholt, Alex Norris, Clay Jenkins (trumpets): Anthony Wilson (guitar): David Cook (piano, keyboards): Matt Pavolka (bass):  Mark Ferber (drums): Rogerio Boccato (percussion).

Besides being a skillful trombonist, the Grammy award nominee Alan Ferber is a magical arranger and a focused bandleader. These true gifts make him an inevitable figure in the contemporary jazz universe. As a leader, he got notoriety for conducting a vibrant nonet whose album Roots & Transitions was definitely one of the most irresistible I had the chance to tackle last year. The same sense of fulfilment applies to Jigsaw, his seventh album of originals, recorded with a 17-piece big band that includes some of the most enlivening jazz artists on the scene.

The superior quality that results from these compositional vision-meets-ravishing arrangements is fully felt on the first track, Impulso, an absolutely impulsive, gritty scorch established within a sumptuous, contemporary setting. Flowing at a moderate pace with a Latinized cool spirit, the tune finds the band wading into striking interplay before each soloist begins to express what's going on in their minds, starting with the bandleader, then saxophonist John O’Gallagher, and finishing with trumpeter Alex Norris, who finishes the story.

Guitarist Anthony Wilson handles the introductory section of a song that he wrote, She Won’t Look Back. He employs slightly dissonant chords modelled by acerbic sound effects, a tactic that beautifully fits the languid air surrounding this half-dreamy, half-conscious pop fantasy. Here, the bass of Matt Pavolka is particularly highlighted.

Reveries of freedom arrive with the title track, and the more abstract, free-form overture obtains a bold avant-gardish tonality created by the kinky sounds flowing from David Cook’s keyboards. In addition to the enticing rhythmic contortions, one can indulge in O’Gallagher’s highly expressive saxophone improvisation filled with volcanic episodes, and there’s also time for a spontaneous percussive escapade by Mark Ferber, Alan’s twin brother.

Contrasting with this last tune, we have the silkiness of North Rampart, a weeping ballad that besides being intelligently harmonized and orchestrated, exhibits a catchy melody imprinted on the head.

Click here to listen to North Rampart.

There’s also the Latin-tinged breezes of Paul McCandless’ Lost in the Hours, which acquires a pronounced Brazilian feel, considerably intensified through the action of percussionist Rogério Boccato, especially during the improvisations of trombonist John Fedchock and saxophonist Rob Wilkerson.

Muted trombones and trumpets prepare the ground for the soulfully groovy vibe that sustains Get Sassy, a brassy piece reminiscent of Mingus’ exultations, where the amazing teamwork eases the glorious blend of traditional and modern elements. A different concoction is achieved for Clay Jenkins’ Late Bloomer, artistically devised to contain unpretentious swinging jazz and brawny rock passages.

Jigsaw is a kaleidoscopic, up-to-the-minute jazz album that doesn’t need frivolous pyrotechnics or radical asymmetries or complicated meters to sound marvellous. It rather uses a genuine reciprocity between the highly committed musicians who, under the keen direction of Alan Ferber, provide another lovely and contagious big band record.

Click here to sample the album. Click here for UK orders.

Filipe Freitas





konik - Angel Pavement

Album Released: 29th July 2017 - Label: Free Tone Records - Reviewed: October 2017

konik Angel Pavement

Mark Langford (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet); Dominic Lash (double bass); Roger Telford (drums).

J.B. Priestley published his novel Angel Pavement in 1930. I recently read it for the first time when I was given this album to review.  It’s an amusing story, full of deftly written descriptions of the lives and loves of characters.  Set against the backdrop of what history describes as The Great Depression, eventually the people and their employment go bust. Roger Telford suggested borrowing the name for this trio recording.  A different twist to the title is emphasised by Lizzie Langford’s sunlit wet-paint sleeve cover, tracking a golden yellow haze of hills across a landscape awash with storm clouds.  Before you get to the music, it’s as if you’ve already heard it. Angelic without reliance on religion; organic and hard, in its own way, intensely satisfying.  Like reading a good book.

The album is made up of six improvisations, the shortest is six minutes, the longest, the title track, just over eleven.  Although a work of total improv it feels almost like a straight jazz session.  It’s as if these pieces have had all their pre-composed ‘heads’ removed, leaving just ‘the pure’ form of collective improvisation.  What is immediately obvious is that these three speak as one – Mr Telford’s percussion is positioned as an equal and although he doesn’t dice with ‘straight’ time playing, nonetheless he has a way of injecting the exact movement necessary for each track.  Like a man crumpling a large loaf of bread with his bare hands to provide a trail for others to follow.  This trio carry their detailed performances forward. 

Sea Orchid, the opener, from the start operates like a bigger splash.  The title came about after the recording, yet its appropriation is warranted, the closing bass clarinet section is breathly, graceful, like swimming for pearls.  I recently heard a 2017 ‘big name’ reeds player holding forth live on bass clarinet.  He turned the instrument into a second saxophone.  If you are going to double up your arsenal it has to be for its own sake.  With ‘big name’ there was none of the wit or presence on display here on the coda of Sea Orchid.  Mr Langford seems to dissolve himself into his reeds, waits for the moment and then elucidates; projecting the woody depth of song form without words.  So fine.  So very fine.

Dominic Lash first crossed my path when he was playing in the Roland Ramanan Tentet in 2010.  They brought out an album on the Leo label, London.  It was one of those recordings that abides with you for months.  It opened with a squeal and closed with a compressed composition, a bit like the old Brotherhood Of Breath.  Mr Lash then surfaced again in my slip stream a couple of years later when he was running a quartet of his own which included the pianist Alexander Hawkins.  They brought out a CD on Babel called Opabina, one of the first albums I reviewed for the Sandy Brown Jazz website.  He’s a bass player with a natural ability to create inner open secrets. On the track Piece In Our Time he hangs out under Langford’s introductory tenor, composing a parallel plucked performance which gradually knits the trio into instant composition.  The ending with bowed double bass and drones is a full circle to the imaging that went on at the start of the Piece. Leaving aside the obvious allusion to the irony of Neville Chamberlain’s misreading of Hitler’s intentions, the album’s track three performance is so much of a ‘piece’.  Structurally it is true to itself (or at least, that’s how I hear it).

Mark Langford is my tenor sax player of choice.  He grinds music out of his reeds like each day matters, yesterday has gone and tomorrow will be dealt with when/if it arrives.  You hear the now, not the past and not even the future.  At the beginning of Walking The Plank there are fast flutters which segue into a series of glancing riffs as if on a habitual search for structure that never quite appears.  Then comes the play of ideas, the testing of lengths, high thrill trills.  Mr Telford’s drum kit is carefully hammering around the horn as if clearing The Plank of any obstruction.  On Farmyard, although totally abstracted, there is almost something ‘down-home’ about the core of the tenor playing – I’ve heard Mr Langford play the blues, and whilst he doesn’t touch Texas-Americana here, it would be possible to reach out to the devil at the crossroads and feel the force of that history.  This might be an Angel Pavement but there’s also a darkness on the edge of this music which is pleasurably scary.

Switch reeds, turn up the ears; go Balance On The Scales and adjust your settings.  Here Mark Langford takes the bass clarinet to places it was never intended to inhabit, a far country.  Playing off Lash’s bowed bass, the two deep forces enter a twilight world of droned sonics; over seven minutes they explore the floor until they come up together patterning a fragment they found down there, like archaeologists working in the dark.

This actually is, the Angel Pavement. Walk here and the company you keep transcends the merely ordinary.  Telford tapping toms, Lash pulsing the senses through double bass, while all the time the bass clarinet is charting out an active area on this Pavement. Langford hits a high and from here begins to compose on the spot an eloquent melodic path which in a different context would be considered ‘formal’. It is a rich seam and Dominic Lash recognises it for what it is.  The double bass becomes simpatico to the reed.  We are roughly half way through and from here on the trio take on a three way ‘fix’.  Roger Telford shuffling the content of his drum kit to gain the best advantage point, the bass picking a passage through the wealth of textural patterning from the clarinet.  There is no resolution, they end simply as an antidote to continual repetition.  The track, Angel Pavement is a magnificent achievement; a musical statement which transcends its own intentions.

I don’t know Dominic Lash.  I’ve met Roger Telford a couple of times.  Mark Langford and I are friends.  I’m putting all that aside.  Such things don’t really come into it when the ears are asked to face up to the kind of performances on this album.  I was recently at a studio with Mark Langford and for some reason which he could not quite figure out he’d left the mouthpiece of his bass clarinet at home.  He was therefore restricted to playing tenor saxophone throughout the whole session.  I remember offering up some platitude like, “Ah, well you’ll be able to concentrate, no swapping around.”  He genuinely looked worried, his reply, almost an aside, went something like this:  “No, it’s a pity, Steve.  I’m getting so much out of the wood at the moment, I feel at a bit of a loss.”  Listening to Balance On The Scales and Angel Pavement I can appreciate his dilemma.  Neither of these performances could simply be transferred to a different reed.  konik (no capitals), if that really is their collective name, don’t make it easy for themselves, but then neither do they make it difficult for the listener.  Langford, Lash and Telford have produced an extraordinary example of the art of improvisation.  If you too are in any way sympathetic to this rationale of music making I would urge you to re-invest the price of a cheap cinema ticket, stay at home, turn up the volume and listen to some great music instead.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Steve Day




Rob Luft - Riser

Album Released: 28th July 2017 - Label: Edition Records - Reviewed: October 2017

Rob Luft Riser

Rob Luft (guitar); Joe Wright (tenor saxophone); Joe Webb (Hammond organd, piano, harmonium); Tom McCredie (bass); Corrie Dick (drums).

We are very lucky to have some very talented jazz guitar players in the U.K. and Rob Luft is one of them. This is his debut album under his own name and he is joined by four other talented young musicians who have been making a substantial impression on the current scene.

Originally from Kent and now based in London, Rob Luft graduated from the Royal Academy of Music in 2016. He has played with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra; with The Deco Ensemble that he co-founded in 2013 to re-imagine the music of Astor Piazzolla’s Nuevo Tango; he is a winner of the prestigious Kenny Wheeler Music Prize and was placed second in the 2016 Montreux Jazz Guitar Competition. He is a member of Byron Wallen’s “Four Corners”, Martin Speake’s “Mafarowi” and Enzo Zirilli’s “Zirobop” and is part of the band Big Bad Wolf. He appears on Liane Carroll’s 2015 release Seaside, on Brazilian singer Luna Cohen’s 2016 album November Sky, and on the 2015 debut album from Enzo Zirilli, Zirobop. He took time out with us for a Tea Break back in November 2016 when he was looking forward to recording this album.

Now with Riser, Rob says: “Riser marks the first occasion on which I’ve released a selection of my original songs. I have always considered myself as being primarily a performer and secondly a composer and feel more at home standing on the kind of “Riser” that can be found in London’s jazz clubs rather than sitting at home writing music.”

Click here for an introductory video for Riser.

All of the numbers on this album are compositions by Rob except Shorty which was written with Tom McCredie and Corrie Dick.

Night Songs opens the set with some fast guitar and percussion introducing the theme before the tune opens out and stretches out. Rob's guitar establishes its credentials in the solo against the swell of the band and Corrie Dick's persistent drums underlie a repeated motif. The title tune, Riser, is next up. It is a really engaging melody mainly spelt out with hints of Africa and developed by Joe Wright's saxophone until the guitar floats in with its part and the Hammond fills beneath the motif to the end.

Click here to listen to Beware!

Beware! at track three haunts its way into a Scottish-sounding air making way for an effective guitar solo before finalising back to the repeated riffs of the air. Slow Potion is a brief, slow, gentle emerging of guitar and ensemble before the guitar plays out the wistful tune over a quietly textured arrangement.

Click here to listen to the opening of Slow Potion.

Different Colours Of Silence swells to a lovely, slow theme from guitar and saxophone with a pace that picks up and is explored by the saxophone as the motif continues underneath. The track more or less morphs into the gentle and lyrical Dust Settles and its appealing guitar solo and arrangement. The jointly composed and slightly funky Shorty comes next and everyone contributes their individual personality to the arrangement and effects to make this an intriguing number that, Tardis-like, makes the band seem bigger than you think.

Blue, White and Dreaming has another lyrical theme where keyboard and guitar take the tune on its dream and St. Brian I which follows does not break the mood as the saxophone tunefully opens the way for the guitar solo and then leads the band through the outro. We Are All Slowly Leaving completes the set opening with solo guitar arpeggios. This is the longest track on the album at 8:15 minutes it could equally be titled 'We Are All Slowly Entering' but they do all eventually leave and fade away

This is an album in Rob Luft's name and although he says that he sees himself as 'being primarily a performer and secondly a composer' he should be proud of both his playing and the compositions he has brought to this recording. But it would be wrong to leave you with just that; this is an album where each band member is contributing to the whole character and effect of the album. It seems that the arrangements have been developed to create a distinctive signature. When you listen to the tracks again, you hear more of what is going on - that in itself signals substance. This is an impressive debut album by Rob Luft and reaffirms his place in our jazz music wonderland.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Ian Maund




Fred Hersch - Open Book

Album Released: 8th September 2017 - Label: Palmetto Records - Reviewed: October 2017

Fred Hersch Open Book

Fred Hersch (piano).

Open Book is another wonderful opportunity to get in touch with the compelling and always emotional music of Fred Hersch, an established pianist who, playing solo, presents three originals and four selected covers of disparate nature.

The gifted musician confesses in the booklet notes of his 11th solo release that what gives him more pleasure lately is sitting down at the piano and letting it flow to see what happens. That’s exactly the sensation we get when this record is spinning. It starts by conveying a delicate intimacy in its opening tune, “The Orb”, an original and very personal composition whose touching lyricism is freed by the magic touch of his fingers as he couples melodic and harmonic richness. Everything is surrounded by a glorious sense of dreaming.
Plainsong” is another original composition that reflects this state of melancholy, generating an idyllic crossing between jazz and classical genres. Its structure has nothing to do with “Through The Forest”, a ruminative 19-minute free improvisation that explores imaginary paths and trails of a secret forest. There are amazement, abstracted reverie, and dazzle in the depiction, but also mystery and an intermittent tension that is mostly created by the deep-sounding chords unhooked with the left hand.

Jobim’s “Zingaro”, also known as “Portrait in Black and White”, shows up with a heavenly aura, carrying all that crushing sentiment in the beautiful melody and harmonic progression. Benny Golson’s classic “Whisper Not” is dissected with wisdom and perceptiveness, and then reconstructed with adventurous melodic counterpoint and ruling staccato voicings that, in an early stage, make difficult the perception of which tune we are listening to. The main melody only becomes clearly discernible when we reach the final shout chorus.

In turn, Monk’s “Eronel" theme is delivered when most expected. Holding on to its natural bop gaiety, Hersch’s rendition exerts inventive rhythmic variations, stout phrases enriched with exciting passage notes and attractive motifs. It diverges from Billy Joel’s lyric poem “And So It Goes”, which, interpreted with elegance, closes the album with a romantic touch.

Click here to listen to Eronel.

As a curiosity, the previous solo album by Fred Hersch, precisely entitled Solo, also included one Jobim and one Monk song, and closed with a pop/rock piece, in that case, Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides, Now”. Regardless of that observation, Open Book is another story and a wonderful one, replete with fantastic moments that should be enough to make you explore it with no reservations.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Filipe Freitas




Terry Pack's Trees - heart of oak

Album Released: 23rd June 2017 - Label: Symbol Records - Reviewed: October 2017

Terry Pack's Trees Heart of Oak

My wife doesn’t like jazz. I am only allowed to play my jazz records (a) through headphones or (b) when she’s out. She was out the other night so I took the opportunity to play the DVD version of Heart of Oak, the debut album by Trees, a Brighton based group led by bassist and composer, Terry Pack. She came home early and caught me at it but watched for a few minutes and then said, “I rather like this; it isn’t jazz, though. Perhaps that’s why I like it”.

I like Heart of Oak as well. I wouldn’t entirely agree that “it isn’t jazz” – there are enough signs that a jazz sensibility is at work both in the arranging and playing. I suppose you could call it “jazzish” which is a term that could be applied to much contemporary music labelled as jazz. This is the case particularly in Europe where jazz has renewed itself by hybridising with other genres including rock, folk and classical. The result is often the proverbial dog’s breakfast; but sometimes, very interesting and exciting music emerges. Which is the case with Heart of Oak.

In the words of Terry Pack, Trees is “an unfeasibly large ensemble” of around 60 musicians and singers of varying age and experience, including professional players. Not all 60 musicians play on all the tracks on Heart of Oak but there are enough to make a big band sound – sometimes, a very big, big band sound.

The album itself has 10 tracks with a total playing time of over 75 minutes. In addition to the audio CD, the package also includes a DVD with live performances of most of the tracks plus a bonus track, El Pueblo Unido.

Much of the jazz in Heart of Oak is of the jazz-rock variety; I was reminded particularly of the British jazz rock of the early 1970s – the days of Nucleus, Mike Gibbs, Neil Ardley and the like. There are also traces of prog rock from the same era, plus a strongish dose of high end pop and more than a nod to the English folk music tradition. The overall result is intricate, highly rhythmic, melodic music which can be enjoyed by a wide range of people – except, perhaps, by those who like their jazz exclusive and esoteric, only to be appreciated by a knowledgeable elite.

Jazz can be a very masculine endeavour, performed by men to be played back by men on complicated audio equipment whilst their wives are out. One of the striking things about Trees is the number of women involved, not only in the choir of mainly female voices but also in the players and soloists. Although most of the pieces were written and arranged by Terry Pack, three of the tracks are the work of Hilary Burt who also plays flute in the ensemble.

The album kicks off with The Long Man/The Holy Well. Like many of the other pieces on the album, the track is inspired by places in the Sussex landscape. It begins with an electronically enhanced wash of sound which leads into female voices singing a lyric written by band member, Imogen Ryall after a poem by Sir Edward Dyer. The song and tune would not be out of place as the theme of a James Bond movie. It is backed by a wordless chorus of female voices, a characteristic feature of the Trees style. It is a very effective piece of music making but you’d be forgiven for wondering where the jazz is – until, suddenly, the beat picks up and Gabriel Garrick plays a superb, beautifully judged solo on flugelhorn. Proper jazz! Later in the piece, there are equally strong solos by Mark Edwards on synthesiser, James Osler and Enrico Pinna on guitars, and Beccy Rork on soprano sax.

The second track, Simeon, is by Hilary Burt. It has a foot tapping beat, a memorable tune and more sterling solo work by Derek Beebee on electric piano, Charlotte Glasson and Philippe Guyard on tenor saxes, and Terry Pack himself on electric bass. Click here to see a live performance.

The Ridge is another Sussex-inspired piece by Pack. It has a nice, lyrical tune interspersed with more memorable solos particularly from Enrico Pinna on guitar, Andy Pickett on tenor sax, and Paul Nieman on trombone. Pantaleon is dedicated to the Argentinian composer, Astor Piazzola – Pantaleon is his middle name. It’s “a kind of tango”, perhaps inevitably. The Story So Far is a Hilary Burt piece – of all the memorable tunes on the album, this is the one that most insistently lodges in the brain. It has another sung lyric with the choir sounding like the sixties vocal group, The Fifth Dimension; and solos from Glasson and Rork which fit snugly into the whole.

Scarborough Fair is a Pack-arranged version of the old folk song. It is a big band arrangement which quickly leaves the spirit of the original behind – “the arrangement soon took on a life of its own and led me a merry dance”, according to Pack. The band really stretches out with searing electric guitar from James Osler, some effective exchanges between Jack Kendon on trumpet and Gabriel Garrick on flugelhorn, and another nicely judged contribution from Charlotte Glasson, this time on soprano sax. Click here to see a live performance of the track.

Baka is another Hilary Burt piece with an African feel to it and a complex 6/4 time signature. Friston To Cuckmere brings the brass instruments of the ensemble to the fore. At times, it sounds like an English brass band with a touch of Mike Westbrook. It develops a thrilling, insistent rock beat with an awful lot going on including the spoken narration of a poem by Rudyard Kipling, first by a male voice, then a female one.

The title track, Heart of Oak is another brassy sounding piece which, at one point, morphs into something which Dizzy Gillespie might have played with his big band in his latin period. Gabriel Garrick plays a virtuosic Gillespie-type solo on trumpet.

After all the big band, big sounds, the final track, Haven: The River’s End, is a short reflective piece with a distinctive Indian vibe featuring Kate Hogg on bansuri, Enrico Pinna on acoustic guitar, and Eddie Myer on double bass.

The bonus track on the DVD, El Pueblo Unido, has all the characteristics of the Trees style: the big band sound, memorable riffs, the insistent upbeat rhythm (driven, this time,  by Eddie Myer on bass), the wordless female chorus, and, of course, great solo work – from Julian Nicholas on tenor sax and Jack Kendon on trumpet. Click here to see the live performance on the DVD.

Categories can illuminate, but they can also mislead. Whether Heart of Oak is jazz, pop, jazz-rock or just jazzish isn’t the point. What matters is that it’s a superb, brilliantly conceived piece of music. I like Heart of Oak; I like it a lot. What’s more, my wife likes it. And there can be no higher praise than that.

For more information about Trees plus details of how to get hold of the album and samples of some of the tracks, click here for their website. It’s also worth checking out their You Tube channel here.

Robin Kidson



The Brass Funkeys - Rabble Rouser

Album Released: 18th September 2017 - Label: Boom Baboon Records - Reviewed: October 2017

The Brass Funkeys Rabble Rouser

Rob Smith, Matt Letts (trumpets); Dave Robinson (saxophone); Vij Prakesh, Tom Green (trombones): Rob Slater, John Caddick (sousaphones); Scott Jowett (drums); Chris Brice (percussion) and with guests Jack Banjo Courtney (trumpet); Chris Saunders (trombone).

... and now for something a little bit different! A contemporary, young brass band with their own compositions that holds true to a New Orleans sound. They have been around since 2011, and this is their second album (the self-titled The Brass Funkeys came out in 2014). They have appeared at many of this year's Festivals - Glastonbury; North Sea Jazz Festival; Bestival; Wilderness and you might have caught them at the London Jazz Festival; Hootenanny; Richmix; the Shoreditch Blues Kitchen or last year in support of Dr John.

Perhaps the best way to introduce them and their music is this video of them playing Dirty Harry, one of the tracks on Rabble Rouser - click here. You can see why their infectious enthusiasm drives a song along and how they are able to layer new ideas on traditional rhythms.

If you go to the band's YouTube page their tongue-in-cheek approach picks up on that sense of fun, describing themselves as: 'The Brass Funkeys are a performing monkey troupe that escaped the New Orleans circus; hitchhiked east in a hot air balloon; landed in the Atlantic and swam ashore in England. Having raided the store room of a colliery band for pristine trombones, trumpets and sousaphones they are now on the loose making the sounds of the music they so missed; funk, reggae, hiphop, thrashjazz and more... '

They also perform as a marching / street band - click here for them playing in London's Brick Lane. If you haven't caught up with the audience response yet, then here is the album. What do you get for your money? 13 tracks of varying lengths covering 53 minutes of play time with original compositions and a couple of unexpected covers. It starts with a lumbering sousaphone plus percussion before a solo trumpet brings in the rest of the brass to a tune called Goblins, and sounding like the title, they step in time. It is the trumpet again that comes in to explore a line across the band.

Click here to listen to Goblins.

Pacha Mama is slow and steady. She is a fertile Andes goddess 'whose shrines are hallowed (heavy) rocks, or the boles of legendary trees ... an independent deity who has her own self-sufficient and creative power to sustain life on this earth'. Here she has an attractive, embracing fertile arrangement with a skipping trumpet and dancing saxophone, in a well-balanced recording where each instrument has its place in the whole. David Battenberg's Life Of Cakes begs the question of its origin, a life of, not a love of cakes? Whatever, a tasty trombone solo comes in the middle of this multi-coloured confection described by the band as 'the soundtrack to a man stuffing himself full of baked goods in the middle of the rainforest'. Because of some of the videos, I had initially expected the band to be 'looser' on this recording but I was wrong, here is another track that shows the complete compatibility that underlies this 'fun' outing. Which brings us to the cover of Gorillaz' Dirty Harry, the track we tasted in the introduction to this review, and then on to Asiro - a dancing brass melody over a sousaphone riff, full and ripe for the trombone and trumpet solos that emerge.

We can get down to Bizness by sharing a buzzing video of this busy track - click here.

Honeydripper is the funky number by singer / songwriter Royce Wood Junior from his album The Ashen Tang. The Brass Funkeys slow strut a low down, wa-wa approach to the number before Clave Maria introduces the second appearance of trombonist Chris Saunders (who was featured in Dirty Harry) for a Latin influenced, carnival-parading, number where the percussion also hits the spot.

Underdub starts out slow with the tune spelt out by the trumpet. By now you know that this album is a tuneful, toe-tapping pleasure and on this number with its imaginative production that presumably excludes overdubbin the point is proven.

Dynamo Blues with its funky riff is happier than a blues tune and the trombone grooves across the middle and Zambezi is a very fast, fun cover of the old Lou Busch standard with the band partying in unison with solo outings along the way. La Sable enters to the sousaphone with tinkling percussion and a romantic tango taking the lead into a French vocal and a saxophone instead of an accordion. The source you will know better as the Yves Montand song Les Feuilles Mortes (Autumn Leaves) - click here for the lyrics. 'Et la mer efface sur le sable Les pas des amants désunis'. Which goes something like: ''And the sea wipes out from the sand the footprints of the separated lovers'. P.I.T.A. (Prakash In The Attic) clearly belongs to the trombonist and ends this superb set on a jaunty collective interwoven with saxophone until everyone slows down to let Vij Prakesh out of the attic, but not for long!

If this review doesn't show how much I enjoy this album, then I haven't written it properly. The examples, the tasters, that you can get from the links reflect the whole, the complete package. The Brass Funkeys are a real pleasure to hear and inspire with the life in their music, arrangements and compositions. I have yet to hear them play live, but it is on my agenda. We can be uplifted on their current tour which continues through October and November in Oxford, Bournemouth, Bristol, North Cornwall, Cambridge, Reading, Manchester, Newcastle and Leeds ending up at Ronnie Scott's Club on 10th December. Click here for the dates and details where you can also sample some of the tracks on the album.

Click here for more details of the album.

Ian Maund





Deniz Peters and Simon Rose - Edith's Problem

Album Released: September 2017 - Label: Leo Records - Reviewed: October 2017

Deniz Peters and Simon Rose Edith's Problem

Deniz Peters (piano); Simon Rose (baritone and alto saxophones)

I’d finished writing the October review for the Trevor Watts/Stephen Grew (saxophone and piano) album, All There Is, and the following morning a copy of Edith’s Problem by pianist Deniz Peters and saxophonist Simon Rose arrived in the post.  I was immediately intrigued; two piano and saxophone recordings both centred on improvisation with no prior composition.  I began to listen to Edith’s Problem and I realised that, like the Watts/Grew session, the recording quality is outstanding.  Pin-drop clarity.  I sat and consumed the whole of the Peters/Rose recording in one sitting, I couldn’t move from the room.  After over 50 minutes of music, my immediate response was to put the whole album back through the speakers and listen again.  Because? Because though I initially thought I’d write a 'compare and contrast' review with Watts/Grew, it became immediately obvious that these two albums, despite initial similarities, are totally different. 

What does this tell us?  Improvised open-ended encounters, far from locking musicians into a common human response, enables the individuality of the players to move into personal places not directly dictated by the instrument. Well, at least that‘s my perception. This review of Edith’s Problem is shorter than usual because I find myself unable to write anything beyond how absolutely bewitchingly beautiful this music is.

There is an intense brevity in the construction of the Peters/Rose performance despite the 50 plus minute duration.  The shuddering sense of this minimalist piano and the horns has soundtracked me for days, as if I have a new pulse emerging.  The title is based on Edith Stein’s book On The Problem of Empathy.  Right now I’ll leave others to read the book.  I’m staying with this empathetic music. 

Simon Rose has been off my radar for several years, he’s been active in dance and electronics, usually in solo or duet situations.  I don’t think Deniz Peters has crossed my path before, I’m not sure. I don’t really know.  The nearest equivalent I can think of to Edith’s Problem is the terrific soundtrack for the Shutter Island movie made up of a mix of pieces by John Adams, Max Ricter, Lou Harrison and John Cage.  Unsettling, scarred by beauty.  Trapping the ears in the need to listen; a vast territory given up to ghosts and imagination. 

Edith’s Problem has seven tracks they hang as a whole but they can be taken in small individual pieces if you prefer.  I hear the album in three parts.  The first is made up of tracks 1 to 4, Between Parts 1 & 2, Hinges and Resonance Part 1.  These pieces are so barren; lean, clean music, extraordinarily aerated, dry as desert, so slow and singularly free of the movement that carries them forward.  Simon Rose is holding long stretches of sound – notes, clusters, dissonance, tiny timbral drones – shafts of lyricism, scraps of resonating reed through metal.  He is an aural welder – the baritone saxophone taken underground to burn off the oxygen. Deniz Peters places his piano out there in this space, planting a minimal trail of struck single notes, sometimes ‘prepared’ in the manner of John Cage, often simply hung out to dry like a man drip-feeding shingle with suck and blow.

The second part of the album is generated by track 5, appropriately called Shifts; sounds of feverish activity, the baritone borrowing the bottom from the keyboard.  They wait for each other.  Move forward as if they are conducted to do so, yet there is no baton, no mark on a manuscript, only the empathy, seemingly unproblematic.  Shifts changes the position of action.  Until this point piano and saxophones have produced an achingly responsive dual recital, now they divide.  Not to part, but they are animated, acting out miniature fragments of solo space.  Resonance Part 2 picks up the feel of its earlier companion piece, yet it sits under Shifts like a continuation.  It doesn’t splice from Part 1; the alto horn cracks as if hurt, there is oscillation rolling around the inside of the piano, very small sparks of notes coming off the prepared interior.  Eventually it’s like a common breath.

Finally the third section, entitled Parting, brings all these murmurings together.  It is ‘au revoir’ rather than ‘goodbye’; containing a similar contemplation, slow, methodically sounding out – until the music leaves, as if through the backdoor. Deniz Peters and Simon Rose began playing together for the first time a few days prior to making this recording.  It appears they it hit it off.  To be honest, I’m not convinced Edith Stein ever had a problem, at least not this particular one.  This is a recording which holds a huge amount of gravitas in a comparatively small space.  With a minimum amount of notes, from a single grand piano and two saxophones, all things are possible.  Yet we don’t require everything.  This album does not provide ‘all things’, just what is required.  And it is this that gives Edith’s Problem gravitas. No big issue.

Click here for details and to sample the music.  

Steve Day 





San Francisco String Trio - May I Introduce To You

Album Released: 8th September 2017 - Label: Ridgeway Records - Reviewed: October 2017

San Francisco String Trio May I Introduce To You

Click here for a video introduction to the album.

May I Introduce To You, is a 50th anniversary tribute to the the Beatles classic album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band from three of The Bay Area’s talented artists calling themselves the San Francisco String Trio.  The Trio consists of guitarist Mimi Fox, violinist Mads Tolling and bassist/vocalist Jeff Denson and all the trio members have had critically acclaimed albums as bandleaders in their own right.  

Mimi Fox is New York born and claims a huge variety of musical influences from her youth onwards.  Mads Tolling was born and raised in Copenhagen and began his musical career as a classical soloist before switching to jazz and attending Berklee in 2000.  Jeff Denson met Mads Tolling at Berklee, whilst taking an arranging class. Jeff was also in a trio called Minsarah before they joined Lee Konitz as his rhythm section on his album Deep Blue in 2007.  All three musicians are improvisers / arrangers at the California Jazz Conservatory and have a love of the Beatles work.  Mimi Fox remembers the album from growing up in New York.  Denson taught a class on the Beatles at the California Jazz Conservatory.

The album is primarily an instrumental recording - only three of the songs have vocals - and the order of tracks does not follow the Beatles original.  The original had 13 tracks, the extra one being a reprise of the title track, so we kick off with When I’m Sixty-Four which has a swinging violin intro with guitar/bass backing, before the guitar takes over. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds follows giving us the chance to hear Tolling’s technique of both bowing and plucking his violin.  This is a gentle interpretation of the song with a blend of recognisable parts of the melody with some improvisation, and it works well.  

The first track that contains vocals is Fixing A Hole and Denson’s vocals suit the track well.  George Harrison’s Within You Without You has Tolling’s violin playing the main theme with nice bass from Jeff Denson, and Mimi Fox’s guitar can imitate an Indian sitar very well on some of these tracks.  With A Little Help From My Friends, is a slower instrumental version, (you can hear Tolling’s classical background sometimes in his playing and stands in well for the missing vocals), and has the violin leading with the melody and releasing it at times to the bass and guitar.  A definite Latin feel to this version of Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite comes from Fox’s guitar, but the violin leads the melody.  You could do a decent Argentinian tango to this track.

Click here to listen to For The Benefit Of Mr Kite.

Lovely Rita has more improvisation on the original theme and the trio blends well together.  The violin with guitar, reminded me of Stephane Grappelli who I recall once seeing being backed by Martin Taylor on guitar. This indeed, is a lovely version of the original track.  Getting Better is the second track to have vocals by Jeff Denson and there is a short vocal intro before the instruments take over, again with some well blended improvisation over the original theme.

Good Morning Good Morning has an introduction that has an interesting staccato section with the musicians answering and echoing each other on the violin and bass.  This is an unusual and lovely track.  She’s Leaving Home has a guitar main melody, slow and atmospheric and conveys the melancholy of the original song.  The third track to contain vocals by Denson is A Day In The Life, which captures the minutiae of daily life and the instrumental part has improvised sections with measured and a beautifully played guitar harmonising with the other instruments.  Jeff Denson has a great voice for this track.

We end the album with the original title track, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band;  a slower but very well constructed improvisation on the original theme.  The tempo varies to fast and then slow again and ends with a sharp, abrupt cut.

As mentioned above the original Beatles album had 13 tracks but with the improvisation added to the original songs this may come out to the same playing time as the original album.  The violin mostly takes on the main melody, often joined by the bass and all upheld by the guitar.  However, on She’s Leaving Home, Fox is on the guitar playing unaccompanied except for overlaid guitar tracks. There are no liner notes but there are two track listings.  I may have mentioned it before, I am not a fan of lots of improvisation but this trio has won me over.  An album that should be listened to again as there are lots of detailed contributions from all the musicians.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Tim Rolfe





Jeff Barnhart and Spats Langham - Thanks For The Melody

Album Released: 22nd September 2017 - Label: Lake Records - Reviewed: October 2017

Jeff Barnhart and Spats Langham Thanks For The Melody

Jeff Barnhart (vocals, piano, enthusiastic enducements); Spats Langham (vocals, banjo, guitar, ukelele, responses to inducements).

There is a sentence at the end of the album's liner notes: 'As working musicians separately and together Jeff and Spats have recorded and appeared on more Lake CDs than any other artist'. These guys have been round the block. More than that, they have been good friends for many years. This is their second album together and its setting is that relaxed familiarity from musicians who know each other well (We Wish We Were Twins was recorded in 2015). Added to which Jeff describes a recording set up where the piano was 'three floors away from the recording control which involved running a lot of cables ... Paul (Adams at Lake Records) had no visual contact with us ... but it enabled the two of us to simply sit in the room, relax and make music.'

Jeff Barnhart started playing piano professionally when he was just 14 in a restaurant in his home state of Connecticut, U.S.A. Since then he has gained an international reputation and averages around 40 weeks a year on the road. As well as leading bands in the U.K., he works with a plethora of others and has been described as 'the premier stride pianist in the USA.' Tom 'Spats' Langham is equally busy, you seem to see his name everywhere. He started to play ukelele 'as soon as his fingers were big enough', turned to the banjo when he was 10 and was playing with his first bands at 14. He has become a much loved part of the UK traditional jazz scene and has played with many bands including The Temperence Seven, The Pasadena Roof Orchestra, Acker Bilk, ... the list is long.

Thanks For The Melody has 20 tracks. Value for money. There are many you will know: Mississippi Sandman, Wait 'Til You See 'Ma Cherie', Stompin' 'Em Down; Just An Hour Of Love; Don't Bring Lulu; Lulu's Back In Town; Ghost Of A Chance .... What is nice is that Jeff Barnhart, who wrote the album's liner notes, comments on many of the tracks and why they are here. So sit back, relax and tap your toes.

The opening title track was originally recorded by the Temperence Seven in 1963 but never released. A Beautiful Lady In Blue originally written as a waltz by J. Fred Coots really cracks along, you'd have a job waltzing to this, and the vocals and Spats' banjo solo sum up the happy time being had by this duo! Mississipi Sandman saunters along and gives Jeff an extended piano solo and the jaunty Wait 'Til You See Ma Cherie (one of my favourite Bix Beiderbecke numbers) has Spats taking the vocals and Jeff the solo where I expect Bix to come in, before he hands over to some fancy finger picking in a solo from his fellow musician.

Poor Papa is new to me. It is a 1920s number originally sung by 'Whispering' Jack Smith; if George Melly never recorded it I'd be surprised! Stompin' 'Em Down is one of the few numbers without vocals and lives up to it title. Mary (What Are You Waiting For?) is that well-known romantic number from Bing Crosby's repertoire; Dapper Dan is another 1920s number originally from Eddie Cantor but here we have the 'enthusiastic inducements and responses' from Jeff and Spats referred to on the album cover: 'If I lose my gal in Baltimore, that won't make me sore (no sir!) There's another can fill the bill waiting for me down in Louisville (she must be a ....) ...'.

Singing In The Rain comes as a surprisingly fast, humorous number followed by the slow Delta Bound. Just An Hour Of Love is another from my Bix/Tram memories and here it is taken faster and not as light as I like it, but each to his own. Bouncin' Around bouncies around as an instrumental and Happy-Go-Lucky You is a pretty number sung by the Broken Hearted Me - a song from the 1930s it featured in Bing Crosby, Ed Kirkeby and the Pasadena Roof Ochestra play lists. Then we have the two 'Lulu' numbers. Jeff and Spats share the vocals on Don't Bring Lulu that morphs into Lulu's Back In Town and it is nice to be reminded of the clever 1925 lyrics to Don't Bring Lulu.

How Could I Be Blue is a lesser-known Razaf/ Wilson tune and Halfway To Heaven could again be taken out of the PRO/Temperence Seven catalogue ('Then she meets me halfway, halfway up that pathway, That's halfway to heaven and you'). Ghost Of A Chance has Spats singing the lyrics with just Jeff's piano accompaniment to another Crosby favourite that has been recorded by the world and his / her wife. Temptation Rag has the two musicians ragging in an empathetic instrumental partnership with some impressive playing by Spats, and Some Sweet Day has touches of Fats Waller in its increased tempo middle section before it romps away only for Jeff to finish with low down lyrics. The album ends with Irving Berlin's Waiting At The End Of The Road and is introduced by 'Whistling' Jeff Barnhart in tribute to another Bing Crosby number and a fitting end to the recording.

This recording will certainly be popular with those who have a fondness for 1920s music. It is happy reflection of that era by a popular and relaxed duo who clearly work together well.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Ian Maund



Leo Richardson Quartet - The Chase

Album Released: 6th October 2017 - Label: Ubuntu Music - Reviewed: October 2017

Leo Richardson Quartet The Chase

Leo Richardson (saxophone); Rick Simpson (piano), Mark Lewandowski (bass), Ed Richardson (drums) with guests Quentin Collins (trumpet) and Alan Skidmore (saxophone).

It is a well known maxim that you can't judge a book by its cover, whether this applies to CD covers is debatable but in the case of The Chase by the Leo Richardson Quartet, one has the feeling that the cover very well suggests what the music will be like. Leo Richardson himself looks splendid in a smart jacket and tie playing a formidable tenor sax while the album title pays homage to bebop exponent Dexter Gordon's album of the same name. Other tracks on the album commemorate more giants of jazz such as Joe Henderson with Blues For Joe, Horace Silver with Silver Lining and Alan Skidmore's Mr Skid, written by Leo Richardson for Alan and with this track actually featuring Alan Skidmore himself. 

Leo Richardson is a top grade saxophonist and clarinettist, graduating with 1st class honours from Trinity College in 2013 where his tutor was Jean Toussaint, who incidentally supplies the album notes. His band members are pianist Rick Simpson, Mark Lewandowski on double bass and Ed Richardson on drums, all having graduated from top London colleges and becoming part of the thriving London jazz scene playing with some of the best bands around and with regular dates at venues such as Ronnie Scott's. The music played by the band  has been classified as straight-ahead, contemporary hard bop. 

The first track, Blues For Joe, unlike many people's idea of a blues, has a really fast tempo, a catchy tune and establishes straight away that this is a band that can really deliver the goods with exciting solos from Leo Richardson and Rick Simpson. In a live setting it would certainly have the audience cheering and clapping. 

Click here to listen to The Chase on Soundcloud.

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers is another of Leo Richardson's influences and Demon E,  with Quentin Collins joining the band on trumpet and delivering a great solo, is a lovely, swinging number that reminds us of that link.  Collins is very evident again in The Curve which is described in the album notes as "blues with a bridge", it provides ample opportunity for some very pleasing solos over a vigorous rhythm.  The title track is Richardson's take on the Dexter Gordon classic and features amazing dexterity and precision from Rick Simpson on piano and there is also a rapid-fire drum solo from Ed Richardson. 

Click here to listen to The Curve on Soundcloud.

In complete contrast Elisha's Song is a wistful and sentimental ballad beautifully played by Leo Richardson. In complete contrast again, Mambo provides musical sections where band members play solos or duets, beginning with some very gentle double bass from Mark Lewandowski before Richardson's bebop saxophone takes over to be replaced again by a contemporary duet between drums and piano.

Silver Lining is, of course, a tribute to the "Grandpop of Hard Bop", and this tune has the same style of rhythm, melody and soloing that Horace Silver employed to great effect. The last track on the album, Mr Skid, is a tribute to Alan Skidmore who joins the band for this piece which will surely please all lovers of jazz tenor saxophone and it is entirely appropriate, given Skidmore's Impressions Of John Coltrane album, that this album cover has a quote from John Coltrane "You've got to look back at the old things and see them in a new light".

The press release accompanying this Ubuntu Music released album states "this album will surely both entertain and delight anyone who wants the real deal in quintessential hard-bop jazz music" and they are absolutely right.

Click here for a video introduction. Click here for details and to sample Blues For Joe.

Click here for Leo Richardson's website.

Howard Lawes




Jane Ira Bloom - Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson

Album Released: 8th September 2017 - Label: Outline - Reviewed: October 2017

Jane Ira Bloom Wild Lines


Jane Ira Bloom (soprano saxophone); Dawn Clement (piano); Mark Helias (double bass); Bobby Previte (drums); Deborah Rush (voice).

Click here to listen to Alone And In A Circumstance as an introduction to the album.

If you caught the Sandy Brown Jazz review of Jane Ira Bloom’s Early Americans album back in October last year, this new double album may appear as an ‘almost’ sequel.  Six of the tracks featured on this new double album were also present on the Americans album.  Whereas last year’s recording was a trio album with no keyboard, Wild Lines has the added dimension of Dawn Clement’s piano, plus on the second disc, the actor Deborah Rush is ‘narrating’ extracts from the poetry of the great Emily Dickinson (1830-1886).  This is where the spike spikes. 

Emily Dickinson may be a 19th century wordsmith placed in a 21st century ‘jazz’ environment, but you better be sure there’s a relevance in the cut and thrust of this dialogue. Catch the space in-between thought and meaning, immediately you’re dealing with a radical.  I came late to Emily Dickinson – it was a matter of two or more beat poets before the beatitudes.  Then to beat, or not to beat?  Too beat.  When I eventually realised the dark arts gave up Emily Dickinson there were beats a-plenty.  Because although her language is delivered with all the gentility of loose leaf tea strained for a bone china, these are Wild Lines.  More tea, vicar?  Nah, give me the kettle; this album may be about improvising Emily Dickinson, the focus is ‘improvising Jane Ira Bloom’.  Wild Lines run between these two renaissance women.

For example, how about One Note From One Bird; a reference to Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker, at least fifty years before he was born?  Not quite a prophecy, but certainly a synergy.  The full weird line (with the original upper and lower case) reads: One note from One Bird Is better than A Million Word – A scabbard Needs Has – holds But one Sword.  If any poem visually looked like one of Bird’s great alto solos this must surely be it.  And as for Jane Ira Bloom, she purchases a sound out of her soprano sax with the assured confidence that the notes can be perfect even at this height.  This particular piece is drawn like a sweep of an arc.  The line’s linear language brooks no alternative.  Bloom absolutely defines the solo entry, literally in flight; not any old bird.... but a dozen notes from a soaring eagle. 

Try another example, Dangerous Times; here come the Dickinson words, delivered by Deborah Rush without ornate emphasis:  I lived on Dread – To Those who know The stimulus there is Danger....  Bobby Previte’s guiding ghost percussion sets the scene, joined by a slow, slow bowed bass, stretched like wire across something malleable, then the fix of a soprano-in-Bloom – a secular psalm haunting Dread’s redemption.  And it’s not overdone, it’s just simply done.  That is, simple if you know how.

When I reviewed Early Americans last year I described Mind Gray River as a “....standout performance.... going down with all the grace of good and evil.”  Listening now to the Disc 1 version of the composition on Wild Lines, which doesn’t carry any Dickinson narrative, I’d say it is slightly defused by Dawn Clement’s piano, an instrument not present on the Early Americans recording.  However, go to Mind Gray River on Disc 2 and it is cut out of the same clay, a study in the relationship between tension and relief.  Previte and Elias provide an elastic hold on this music. And Clement’s keyboard is left sparse and angular, a blade to an incision of poetry which states, “I felt a Cleaving in my Mind – As if my Brain had split......”  This is a ‘Gray River’ turned as dark as a starless night.  No aurora necessary, just the mind, or as Dickinson puts it, with “sequence ravelled out of Sound.” There is a fancy for the blues, blues hurting the soul, blues as rough forgiveness, blues when the form becomes as sophisticated as sin itself.  Such sorrow is turned into defiance on the next track.  Cornets Of Paradise has the both the narrator and the band in a storm cuttingperformance, “Over and over, like a Tune.”  Bobby Previte “Drums off the Phantom Battlements” as the leader’s saxophone strips Dickinson’s words from the page and puts them out as a soprano reed singing in the grip of an Americana baptism.  (Or something akin to it).

The actual “Sound” on Wild Lines Disc 2 is found in the fascinating intricacies of the Jane Ira Bloom Quartet playing against, as well as with, words.  These are usually delivered flat to crease their own curves as well as the music.  That is except for the closer; Richard Rodgers’ 1935 standard, It’s Easy To Remember.  Here, played acappella on soprano as a bookend to both discs.  It’s not the first time Ms Bloom has chosen to finalise a session with a solo signature.  This album titles Emily Dickinson, but the signature, the unadorned solo horn performance singles out song, emphasising that when it comes down to it, this recording is actually about one of the most unique soprano saxophone players working in the USA today. Certainly Jane Ira Bloom should be congratulated on producing an album of prowess and substance.  Thanks for the review copy, I’d have bought it anyway.

Click here for a video of Jane Ira Bloom, Mark Helias and Bobby Previte playing Singing The Triangle live.

Click here for details and to sample the album. Click here for Jane Ira Bloom's website.

Steve Day






Kevin Eubanks - East West Time Line

Album Released: 7th April 2017 - Label: Mack Avenue - Reviewed: September 2017

Kevin Eubanks East West Time Line

Kevin Eubanks (guitar); Nicholas Payton (trumpet); Orrin Evans (piano, Rhodes); Dave Holland (bass); Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts (drums); Bill Pierce (saxophone); Rene Camacho (bass); Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith (drums); Minu Cinelu (percussion).

It’s not uncommon to see the American guitarist Kevin Eubanks leaning on funk, soul, pop, and R&B to obtain the right flavours for his bending jazz style. Born in Philadelphia, Eubanks attained the peak of his career in the '80s, when he was part of the legendary Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. In the '90s, and for 15 years, he became the bandleader of The Tonight Show With Jay Leno while making an effort to maintain his solo career alive. Eubanks is also a reliable sideman whose work goes from avant-garde (with Oliver Lake) to progressive post-bop (with Dave Holland and Billy Hart) to more traditional jazz (with Diane Reeves). Recently, he has set his guitar on fire in Orrin Evans’ #knowingishalfthebattle.

His new record, East West Time Line, is divided into two distinct parts, each of them comprising five tracks and a different band. 

The first five tunes are all originals played in the company of amazing East Coast artists like Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Orrin Evans on piano and Rhodes, Dave Holland on bass, and Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts on drums.

The opening piece, “Time Line”, a bright, infectious fusion of post-bop and jazz-funk, bursts with a hard-swinging stamina and burning activity. The bandleader doesn’t waste time and shows off his advanced technique through the use of octaves, creamy harmonic sequences, intervallic erudition, and steadfast phrasing.

Click here to listen to Time Line.

Watercolors” is a 3/4 acoustic demonstration of musical faculty. It’s an Eubanks’ original composition despite carrying the same title and mood of Pat Metheny’s 1977 tune of the same name. Although the pace is not winged, there’s a palpable energy overflowing from the consonant arrangement and enhanced by Payton’s terrific solo.
The Fender Rhodes of Evans, whose chord progressions take us to the universes of pop and soul, dominates the first half of “Poet”. For the second half, he switches to acoustic piano, exuding tranquil sound waves with the contribution of Holland and Watts. A distinct intensity emanates from “Carnival”, a pulsating crossover jazz experience with two unequal passages.

Click here to listen to Poet.

Absent from the two tunes mentioned above, Payton returns for “Something About Nothing”, an atmospheric but still groovy funk-rock-jazz excursion.

The last five tunes are renditions of songs chosen from different musical spheres, featuring a West Coast band composed of saxophonist Bill Pierce (also a former Jazz Messenger), bassist Rene Camacho, drummer Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith, and French percussionist Minu Cinelu. 
They dug Ellington’s “Take The Coltrane” with a half-funky half-Latin feeling, Chick Corea’s “Captain Señor Mouse” with a hazy straight-ahead adhesive label affixed, and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” with happy vibes. However, it was through the moving standard “My One and Only Love”, where Pierce exceeded the limits of beauty in his improvisation, and the jazzified “Cubano Chant”, a tune of melodic slickness composed by Eubanks’ uncle, Ray Bryant, that the band captivated me the most in this second set.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Filipe Freitas

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Vijay Iyer Sextet - Far From Over

Album Released: 25th August 2017 - Label: ECM - Reviewed: September 2017

Vijay Iyer Sextet Far From Over

Vijay Iyer: piano; Graham Haynes: trumpet, cornet; Steve Lehman: alto saxophone; Mark Shim: tenor saxophone; Stephan Crump: bass; Tyshawn Sorey: drums.

Vijay Iyer is a tour-de-force pianist, improviser, and composer whose innovative concepts about music got him a wide legion of jazz fans.
To materialize the ten new original compositions included on Far From Over, his fifth ECM album, he opted to trust his recurrent rhythmic partners Stephan Crump and Tyshawn Sorey, respectively bassist and drummer, and enlisted the resourceful saxophonists Steve Lehman and Mark Shim, as well as the trumpeter Graham Haynes for a spectacular frontline.

The introductory section of “Poles” is launched with solo piano, to which bass and drums join before the luxuriant entrance of the reedists, who infuse striking counterpoint to the already bombastic groovy flow. Iyer’s incisive comping and rhythmical expression work in synergistic communion with Crump and Sorey, who respond with sturdiness to Lehman’s pungent language full of steep accentuations. In opposition to the altoist, Haynes, less adrenalized and more embraceable, contemplates with pleasure first and then explores before wrapping up.

Both the grandiose title track and the pushful “Good On the Ground” gallop energetically by employing vigorous rhythms. While the former, dishing out majestic polyphonies over a beautiful textural matrix, gives the opportunity to the horn players to shine individually and collectively, the latter, seems to have been made for an action movie with heart and bravery as key factors. It eventually glides into jazzy ground to sustain Shim’s infectious phrasing, Iyer’s extemporaneous runs and mordacious note aggregations, and Sorey’s powerful rhythmic cramps.

Click here to listen to the title track.

A fluid post-bop interpretation suffused with an impeccable rhythmic sense defines “Down To The Wire”, which features Shim’s dark timbre and impressive power of argumentation. Crump and Sorey, always working side by side for a steadfast navigation, weave a ductile layer that serves Iyer’s flexible ideas. Eloquent and adjustable, the pianist excels in his vibrant attacks.

Airing danceable and unambiguous vibes, “Into Action” serves as a vehicle for Haynes and the bandleader to extemporize their creative thoughts. Even if we find some rhythmic connotations with “Nope”, an urban jazz-funk piece where Iyer adventures himself on the Fender Rhodes, this tune stands on a completely different shelf.

Click here to listen to Nope.

Quieter moods may be enjoyed not only on “For Amiri Baraka”, a poetic stance that expands harmonically in a classic trio format, but also on “Wake”, whose innocuous movements convey the lethargy of awakening from a heavy sleep, and “Threnody”, where the initial cerebral serenity is shaken by Lehman’s cutting-edge expansiveness.

Far From Over propagates revolutionary sound waves with the visceral earnestness that has been always associated with the pianist’s work along all these years. Vijay Iyer's compositional style translates into a vortex of possibilities in terms of rhythmic intensity, challenging time signatures, and interactive action, which are all unmistakable features of this authentic and consummate jazz artist.

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

Filipe Freitas

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Michael Rabinowitz - Uncharted Waters

Album Released: 12th May 2017 - Label: Cats Paw Records - Reviewed: September 2017

Michael Rabinowitz Uncharted Waters

Michael Rabinowitz (bassoon); Nat Harris (guitar); Ruslan Khain (double bass); Vince Ector (drums).

This name was new to me.  I had not come across Michael Rabinowitz before. And I guess bassoons are rare in our neck of the woods, though Sun Ra had Marshall Allen doubling on bassoon occasionally and Anthony Braxton has included bassoon in some of his larger ensembles.  Anyone familiar with the work of Lindsay Cooper, of Henry Cow/Robert Wyatt’s extended stories, will know how awesome this long double baritone reed can be in the right leftfield hands and mouth.  And though they didn’t use bassoon, double reeds were also prominent in the music of Charles Lloyd and Dewey Redman.... I’m not suggesting Michael Rabinowitz comes from the same place as any of those champions.  Nevertheless, I’ve been listening to Mr Rabinowitz off and on for about three weeks.  There was no accompanying background material with my ‘review’ CD, and I decided to rely on what I was hearing rather than search out stuff.

The immediate impression is that Rabinowitz’s bassoon is played by a working composer/small group bandleader with a diverse interest in ‘covers’ which spring from not-your-usual songbook.  The Uncharted Waters album has four of his own pieces and five by others - Duke’s Caravan excepted, the other four ‘non-originals’ are all un-standard standards – So Do It, a Wes Montgomery tune setting the scene for Rabinowitz’s guitar partner, Nat Harris; the cabaret country of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s How Insensitive; Art Farmer’s The Third (originally a two trumpeter showcase for Farmer and Donald Byrd); and When Sonny Gets Blue, a 1950’s best seller for Johnny Mathis – the original title used the spelling, ‘Sunny’.  I guess Michael Rabinowitz is giving a tweak in the direction of Sonny Rollins – there’s a few other nods in the great man’s direction on Harold’s Blues and the final track, Calypso Joe.

Listening to this bassoon-led quartet there’s an element of contemporary American Hard Bop behind the technique, if not the actual sound.  This is a gimmick-free recording.  The bassoon is not there as a curiosity.  The nearest comparison I can make is the relationship between Art Blakey and Wayne Shorter.  For sure that early 1960’s line-up of the Jazz Messengers was trumpet, tenor sax, piano, bass and drums, a different prospect to bassoon, guitar, bass/drums, but I’m talking about Blakey accenting polyrhythmic drumming to encase Shorter’s cerebral melodies. In that specific sense, although a lot more laid back, the Rabinowitz quartet recording is built on a similar relationship. On the ‘heads’, Vince Ector’s drums are the foil, detailing the pulse, tracking the line. 

The opening, Uncharted Waters, is a bit of a misnomer.  There’s a detailed ‘score’ charting the soloing.  On the familiar Caravan theme, both drummer and guitarist relive the melody of its central role; to my ears it feels as if they push their leader into getting underneath Ellington’s tune.  I wish they’d been given a little more room to explore the ‘uncharted waters’ residing within the composition.  But Kiki’s Theme, written for Rabinowitz’s mother, gets my vote.  The bassoon introduction is a subtle study, rather like a gone-to-ground Gerry Mulligan pitching for centre space. In doing so the scene is set for Nat Harris to take a short, but nevertheless telling solo that abstracts the picture.

In reviewing music it’s important to actually ‘review’ what’s there, not what you’d necessarily like to be there.  (I know, guilty as charged.)  Do that, and the ears sometimes find new pleasures. Track six is an example: Jobim’s How Insensitive – to quote the song, “What can you say when a love affair is over?”  Let’s not talk about the song; Michael Rabinowitz doesn’t sing it, he quite expertly redraws the discourse into a deep recital.  The whole measure is touch and go, bassoon provides the melody leading to a brief double bass break which marks the thing; like a question that requires no answer.  Mr Ector’s little hi-hat slaps add commas to the sentence so that Nat Harris’ guitar starts critically unwinding the wire around a spring.  Neat as natural.  And another final fine bassoon break, requiring an embouchure exercise that makes the mouth twitch.  The physicality of blowing bassoon as opposed to saxophone is different.  I used to know a guy (now, sadly, dead) who played oboe, bassoon and... tenor saxophone (plus piano and guitar).  I remember he once commented about the reeds, “One is a love affair, the others are like kissing pencils.”  Which is which? All I know is this, the sheer bassoon facility Michael Rabinowitz has achieved in a ‘jazz’ context is remarkable.  He flows like a sax and his instrument has a warm woody ‘plop’ on the articulation of each note.

Listening to this album, I’ve appreciated spending a little time outside my usual unusual habitat.  In many ways, for me this recording is another country.  And I’m not talking about the bassoon, that’s just Rabinowitz’ reed, end of story.  What these guys have is an idea of who they are.  Surely, that is what is asked of any one of us?  Uncharted Waters is an album that does what it does without a lot of grandstanding.  How Deep Is The Ocean? A smart question, also, maybe, a tune for next time, a further fathom.  There’s interesting music here, I recommend the diving board.

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

Steve Day

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Meg Morley Trio - Can't Get Started

Album Released: 31st July 2017 - Label: CD Baby - Reviewed: September 2017

Meg Morley Trio Can't Get Started

Meg Morley (piano), Richard Sadler (double bass), Emiliano Caroselli (drums).

In March 2017, pianist Meg Morley released a solo EP, Through The Hours, that we reviewed in June. At the time we said: 'On the strength of this solo EP, her venture into recording her jazz compositions and improvisations is packed with potential'. It was a fine introduction to this trio album that follows.

If you checked out the EP, you will know that Meg is a professional Australian pianist-improviser living in London. She completed a Masters degree at the University of Southern Queensland, where she was awarded Distinctions for the AMEB's A.Mus.A and L.Mus.A diplomas, won national competitions and bursaries, and performed with a professional Australian orchestra. She also took a Postgraduate Diploma in Jazz Improvisation at Melbourne's Victorian College of Arts and began teaching piano and improvisation at Melbourne Girls Grammar and Firbank Grammar whilst performing and playing for the Australian Ballet and the Australian Ballet School.

She moved London in 2010 where she plays full time with the English National Ballet School, but her interests and her pereformance is varied. She has performed with rising talents like Louise Bartle from Bloc Party and established stars such as Tina May; with Matthew Bourne's New Adventures; the Rambert Dance Company at Sadler's Wells and  the Royal Ballet School, and has regularly accompanied classes at the world famous Pineapple Studios in Covent Garden. As a member of the samba band, Rhythms Of The City, she has performed at the O2 Brixton Academy and toured with them in Poland for SambaFest 2012.

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

Her trio album finds her in the company of bassist Richard Sadler, whose experience is also varied (Sam Kelly; Ray Davies; Neil Cowley Trio; ISQ) and Italian drummer Emiliano Caroselli who adds additional influences from Cuba where he lived and studied in Havana. The three first came together in 2014 when they recorded MIA Panboola's album Searching Not Finding which also featured Meg's compositions.

'Can't Get Started' is an album title that invites a corny response, so I'll avoid that; suffice it to say that they do. Perhaps the title comes from the album cover where they seem to have forgotten their instruments.

There are 10 tracks on the album, all compositions by Meg Morley. The title track, Can't Get Started opens the set, and the title is explained by the intentional hesitant ends to initial sequences. Then Meg pulls it together with a piano solo before the bass then the drums establish their identities. D.C.M. follows with a solo drum introduction before Meg's reflective piano plays a pretty ballad with the bass coming through at times to pick up on the mood. Caged initially reflects Meg's classical influences and keyboard arpeggios and double bass lines build a more generic middle section. Meandering trips in over the piano keys and there is plenty of space given again to the double bass while Emiliano's drums are placed effectively and well.

Click here for an introductory video for the album.

Rush Hour is a tune that appeared on the solo EP, now written for trio. The effect remains the same as I described it before in that it has a gentle, lyrical opening before a rumble in the bass leads to a hustle-bustle of notes until the piece slows to its ending. In this version, the use of the drums and double bass add an underlying urgency. Polly (Part 1) suggests that we might expect a Part 2, but it is not on this album. The track is brief at just over a minute, a repeated theme that might well accompany an action sequence in one of Meg's silent film accompaniments. Life Coaching, on the other hand, is the longest track on the album and sees a change in tone and is perhaps the track I enjoyed most on the album because of the varied and unexpected styles it mixes up. It starts out with a clear slow Blues piano until the drums signal a change of tempo and the three musicians bring a complexity that again changes for the piano, then bass and then drums to each develop their own ideas. Meg's happy piano from 5.32 is a complete contrast to the opening Blues.

Invention in D has piano and bass interplay to a simple, dancing, theme that reminds me of the beginning to Dance From Gelderland scene in the movie A Knight's Tale (another 'invention').

The Folk Hymn at track 9 has a piano theme that swells and ebbs, and the bass underpins the rhythm as the piano plays crisply and then on to reflect the rhythm. The final track, Song Without Words, is an attractive, romantic tune true to its title - it just asks for words to be added. Someone should.

If Meg Morley's solo album was 'packed with potential', so is this debut Trio album. There is no mention on Meg's website of where the Trio goes from here, no gigs seem to be scheduled apart from them having performed a semi-improvised score for silent film footage in July and a potential tour with an original score for several film festivals in 2018. It would be good to see and hear them nurture and share their improvising talents in live performance as they clearly work together well. This album should not be a 'one off'.

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

Ian Maund

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Geoff Simkins Trio - in a quiet way

Album Released: 2nd June 2017 - Label: Symbol - Reviewed: September 2017

Geoff Simkins Trio in a quiet way

The trio consists of Geoff Simpkins (alto sax), Nikki Iles (piano) and Dave Green (double bass).  

I always like a trio that uses other instruments (in this case; bass and piano) instead of drums as the rhythm section.  This trio of old friends have played with each other in various groups over the years and the CD notes are written by each of the trio members.  There are 9 tracks and the longest, the old standard Make Someone Happy, runs for nearly 9 minutes and shortest, For DJC, for 3 minutes 39 seconds. For DJC and is the only track composed by the trio as a tribute to Dave Cliff, the jazz guitarist who has not been in the best of health lately and is well regarded by all of the jazz world. These two tracks top and tail the album.  

Two of Geoff’s favourite composers are Earl Zindars and Kenny Wheeler, so we have Wheeler’s Old Ballad and Zindars’ Elsa and Sareen Jurer.  For improvisation over standards,Geoff has included Lee Konitz’s Friend-Lee, a seldom recorded number, which uses the John Klenner and Sam Lewis classic, Just Friends, as a base, and was originally recorded in 1931 by Red McKenzie.  

The other 2 tracks are Beija Flor, which Geoff thinks is Portuguese for 'Humming Bird' and was composed by Nelson Cavaquinho and Mooch Too Early, which was written by Josh Rutner from the New York band Respect Sextet and moulds Charlie Parker’s demanding line from Moose The Mooche on to the constantly shifting harmonic framework of Bill Evans' Very Early.  Geoff states about the repertoire, “having put the tracks into the order that I felt was best for the album, I realised that this was, in fact, exactly the order that we’d recorded the music on the day.”

The CD booklet has a photo of the trio and it reflects the enjoyment they had in recording this album.  Mentioning photographs, I was puzzled by the picture of a boulder on the actual CD that had a red cast/tone and repeated within the CD case which shows it with a green colouration.

Starting as mentioned above with Make Someone Happy, this is a different interpretation of a standard; there is wonderful interplay with gentle piano, joined by the sax and later the bass.  With the next tack Elsa, the same comments apply, but it also has a solid bass solo section.  Old Ballad features another piano introduction with bass accompaniment.  These work well off each other and the sax blends and melds with both.  The melody is never lost whichever instrument is following it.  

Another track that I enjoyed was Beija Flor, which was beautifully rhythmic and melodic; with prominent sax that pulls along the other instruments as well as the tune itself.  Sareen Jurer has frequent tempo changes and intricate passages which allow each instrument to solo for a period.  For DLC was a gently contemplative number to end with and I wished it had been a bit longer.

in a quiet way seems an appropriate title for this Trio's album.  Their beautiful, seamless improvisation works well and they obviously know how to interact off each other.  The playing feels gentle, not rushed and very “at ease”, music that can flow through you and surround you.

Click here for details.

Tim Rolfe

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Blazing Flame Quintet - The Set List Shuffle

Album Released: 26th May 2017 - Label: Leo Records - Reviewed: September 2017

Blazing Flame Quintet The Set List Shuffle

Steve Day (voice, hand percussion, slide whistle), Peter Evans (5 string electric violin), Mark Langford (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet), Julian Dale (double bass, cello), Anton Henley (drum kit, percussion).

The reviews that have been written about this album conjure up images of a curate's egg accompanied by toast with Marmite. Some like parts of it, some either love it or hate it. Selwyn Harris in Jazzwise magazine gives it short shrift but Italian critic Vittorio says: 'It's a project that works by real musicians and a poet who plays / sings inspired verses'. At the end of the day, we all have our own opinions and differences in taste, but is good to open our ears to new sounds and see (hear) what we think. Blazing Flame Quintet has also been on tour with this album, and as with the album reviews, the tour has received different responses. It is to their credit that the Vortex Jazz Club in London has booked them again to return in 2018 and they are making return visits to Cafe Kino in Bristol.

Steve Day is a regular contributor to this website and has stressed that he doesn't want that to affect what I write about this album and so I shall try to describe what I hear and give you the chance to decide for yourselves - Marmite or Strawberry Jam.

The album is a challenge because it comprises three different aspects.

In a way it takes us back to Poetry and Jazz, born in the 1920s with poets like Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot but very much a part of Jack Kerouac and Bob Kaufman's 'Beat' generation. That means that the poetry is a central part. The verse itself is complicated and so to respond to it, listener or musician, you have to have some grasp of its intention.

David Amran, Jack Kerouac's musical colleague is quoted as saying: 'We never once rehearsed. We did listen intently to one another. Jazz is all about listening and sharing. I never drowned out one word of whatever Jack was reading or making up on the spot. When I did my spontaneous scatting [...] he would play piano or bongos and he never drowned out or stepped on a word or interrupted a thought that I or anyone else had when they joined us in these late night-early morning get-togethers. We had mutual respect for one another, and anyone who joined us received the same respect.'

Secondly, the music is improvised. Peter Evans, Julian Dale and Anton Henley have played with larger ensembles of Blazing Flame before. They know the name of the game. Mark Langford is new to the line-up, but you would never know. These are very talented musicians who not only play fine solos but who respond and understand each other well.

Thirdly, and you don't see this on the album, is performance. Steve Day's voice is not like that of most vocalists, but he also performs his poetry with the enthusiasm and actions at times reminiscent of Mick Jagger or Joe Cocker. This is worth mentioning in discussing the album because of the unseen dynamic that takes place between Steve's approach and the response it brings from the musicians.

It might help to illustrate this with a video of the band playing Loach Song at Ashburton Live in August 2017 (click here) where the band attracted an audience of around 100 people who responded enthusiastically to the gig.

This gives a flavour of the Quintet's music and also the challenge of absorbing and appreciating the words. It is unfortunate that the album's liner notes do not come with the verse printed out as this is a key to appreciating the album (they are available on Steve Day's website - click here - where you will also find details of live gigs). Steve has given us some background to one of the tracks in an article he wrote for What's New a few months ago about the track Over The Brow Of The Green Hill (click here). You can read Steve's description and listen to the track at the same time and in doing so get some grasp of the story behind the track and how it is presented.

Click here for a video of the band recording the track King Of The Rain for the album in the studio. This is one of several tracks that has 'driving rhythms' and shows the band working together. Other tracks such as Coal Black Buddah, Over The Brow Of The Green Hill and and Loach Song also develop that persuasive rhythmic drive.

Music in all its different forms and styles will appeal to listeners differently. It is healthy that we have a wide choice and the opportunity to explore new approaches. Marmite or strawberry jam - taste it and see.

The Set List Shuffle from Blazing Flame Quintet is available from Leo Records - click here for details and to sample the album.

Ian Maund

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Tom Millar Quartet - Unnatural Events

Album Released: 15th September 2017 - Label: Spark! Label - Reviewed: September 2017

Tom Millar Quartet Unnatural Events

The early jazz pioneers learned and developed their craft in whorehouses and dancehalls. The CV of Tom Millar, the British-based jazz pianist, shows just how far jazz has moved up in the world since those early days. He was born in Australia but grew up in London. He read music at King's College, Cambridge then went to the Royal Academy of Music from where he emerged with a Master’s degree in jazz piano. Hardly the path to greatness of a Jelly Roll Morton or an Earl Hines. And yet these musicians would have had no trouble in recognising the music on Millar’s new album, Unnatural Events, as jazz. It has all the rhythmic and improvisational qualities that one expects and wants from jazz. It is also accessible, as crowd-pleasing as anything from Morton or Hines or any of those other pioneers. Light, airy, beautifully played and full of good tunes (all composed by Millar), Unnatural Events is a most promising debut from a musician who is clearly going places.

The Tom Millar Quartet is Millar on piano, Alex Munk (guitar), Misha Mullov-Abbado (bass), and Mike Clowes (drums). The vocalist, Alice Zawadzki, also joins the band on two of the tracks.

The album kicks off with Azura Days inspired by a trip around the Mediterranean. It’s a lively, foot-tapping start with Alex Munk in sparkling form on guitar, and some interesting interplay between his playing and Millar’s liquid piano. The Seafarer begins with a short but effective bass solo from Mullov-Abbado. The other musicians join in and, at first, the mood is tranquil but gradually something more ominous emerges as if a storm is in the offing. Then the beat picks up – the storm didn’t come to anything, apparently, and all’s well with the world. It’s a very well worked out piece of music.

The title track, Unnatural Events, again begins with the bass playing a simple but memorable riff. Millar says that the composition was “my response to a suggestion from trumpeter Dave Douglas to try writing pieces from different starting points each time – this was one of my first compositions to come out of a bass line.” It’s an upbeat number with Munk playing some striking pizzicato guitar. He also plays electric sitar. Strangely, this does not add an Indian feel to the music; the effect is more futuristic like the theme tune of some sixties sci-fi tv serial. There is a bluesy tinge to Millar’s playing with some Brubeck touches, and the track ends with a drum solo backed by little piano runs and guitar exclamations.

Power Chord Thing has some wonderful tunes with Millar playing, well, 'power chords'. The rhythm is complex with, once again, effective piano/guitar interplay. Choro has Alice Zawadzki singing wordlessly, using the voice as another instrument. Her contribution adds a light, ethereal quality, reminiscent of Norma Winstone. Millar’s solo builds very nicely and his exchanges with Mullov-Abbado’s bass are particularly impressive.

Inversnaid is a setting of the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins with Zawadzki singing the words. It’s a piece of sophisticated upbeat jazz, urban (urbane, even). This is good at reflecting the liquid wateriness of the poem but jars slightly with Hopkins’ central message which is all about wildness and rural simplicity: “Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet”. But, remove the context and don’t pay much attention to the words and Inversnaid becomes a very attractive piece of contemporary jazz.

On Woad, all the musicians really stretch out with great solos from Millar, Munk and particularly Mullov-Abbado. The virtuosic, bang-on-the-beat drumming of Mike Clowes is also well to the fore.

The final track, Park Hill, is a ballad with a very hummable tune. There are traces of country music here and a bit of contemporary pop. Munk and Mullov-Abbado duet, sounding all the world like a Charlie Haden/Pat Metheny collaboration. The piece finishes with Millar playing the main theme alone. It’s a fitting end to a carefully constructed album which repays careful and repeated listenings. 

When he was recording the album, Millar made a short video as part of a crowd funding campaign. You can watch it if you click here. Unnatural Events will be launched at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London on 20th September 2017. The band is touring extensively over the following weeks - for a full list of tour dates click here.

Click here for details of the album and to sample tracks. For more information about Tom Millar, click here for his website.

Robin Kidson

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John Vanore - Stolen Moments: Celebrating Oliver Nelson

Album Released: 14th July 2017 - Label: Acoustical Concepts - Reviewed: September 2017

John Vanore Stolen Moments

John Vanore (conductor, arranger, trumpet (3); Tony Kadleck (trumpet, flugelhorn); Augie Haas (trumpet, flugelhorn); Jon Owens (trumpet, flugelhorn); Dave Ballou (trumpet, flugelhorn); Steve Wilson (alto, soprano sax, flute); Bob Malach (tenor sax, bass clarinet); Ryan Keberle (trombone); David Taylor (bass trombone); George Barnett (French horn); Adam Unsworth (French horn); Jim Ridl (piano); Greg Kettinger (guitar); Mike Richmond (bass); Danny Gottlieb (drums); Beth Gottlieb: percussion (El Gato).

When I bought my first copy of Blues And The Abstract Truth I thought I was buying into greatness, the title was enough. Those words seemed to embody the very definition of ‘jazz’ – Oliver Nelson had somehow captured the reality.   On hearing the original classic version of Stolen Moments for the first time, with Eric Dolphy’s defining flute solo and the stellar ensemble orchestration of the chorus line, it was like confirmation of The Duke, The Count, Mingus and Coltrane – Blues And The Abstract Truth was, indeed the summarising title of this music, not just their music but mine too; this IS what I knew to be THE Truth – it did not come in straight lines, it couldn’t be confirmed or confined on a manuscript score..... though it could be ‘arranged’.  These were blues arrangements, not anything like the refined rough cut I heard it from Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker through to Billie Holiday and back to Bessie Smith.  Me and my pals were all Chasin’ The Trane, but it had arrived in a refurbished, sophisticated station. And I, skinny white know-it-all from Bristol via Essex, had better understand why this Blues And The Abstract Truth had a sound like Black choristers, yet was defining itself as abstract.

So here’s the truth.  Right now, today, I’m not listening to Oliver Nelson and Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers and all the other giants who inhabited THE Abstract Truth, instead it’s a crew of established 2016 session guys who have packed their bags to play MRS Studios, at Legacy’s old base, just off of Times Square in the heart of New York.  We are not downtown, this is Manhattan near as damn it.  And abstract or not, Oliver Nelson had already made the journey to the bright lights even in his short lifetime.

John Vanore, who conceived this tribute to Oliver Nelson, has not tried to reproduce Abstract; the track, Stolen Moments is its only representative.  Instead he has drawn music from across Oliver Nelson’s canon, as a writer, but also as arranger; St Louis Blues through to Greensleeves.  Personally I’d have dispensed with the English pastoral pageant, and gone for something like Emancipation Blues (after all there are no tracks from the sorely underrated early Nelson album, Afro/American Sketches).  Vanore does include the actual track Blues And The Abstract Truth; the iconic title comes from Mr Nelson’s follow-up album, More Blues And The Abstract Blues, on which, ironically, Oliver Nelson never played himself, confining himself to writing, arranging and producing.

John Vanore’s choice of opening track is Self Is Needed; a typically simple flowing Nelson melodic score which has terrific verve and a strong current that leads straight to a Steve Wilson alto break, placed plumb central to the performance.  Mr Wilson was with Chick Corea’s Origin – his non-electric band in the 1990’s.  I caught Wilson with Dave Holland’s Quartet (I think) just prior to the Corea gig.  At the time I hoped he’d stay with Holland, alas it ended up that he and Chris Potter played ‘musical chairs’ between the two leaders.  Steve Wilson’s involvement on this Stolen Moments session is important in the same way that Eric Dolphy’s presence was to Nelson.  He brings space and light every time he makes an entry into a music which, at its heart, is based on simple melodic motifs, orchestrated into swing.  That ‘heart’ should not be thought of as unworthy of the soloist.  Johnny Hodges and all those great Ellington interpreters bathed in the richness of The Duke’s melodies.  On I Hope In Time A Change Will Come Steve Wilson restricts his central role to playing the melodic line over two choruses, taking on Oliver Nelson’s part on the original version, which, like Self Help, comes from Nelson’s 1970’s Martin Luther King tribute album, Black, Brown And Beautiful.

At the core of this new recording is El Gato.  Oliver Nelson had arranged Gato Barbieri’s music for the infamous movie, Last Tango In ParisEl Gato was written to honour the Brazilian tenor giant.  John Vanore has devised an atmospheric version of this music, which feels cinematic from the start.  It is the longest track and needs to be.  Pat Metheny’s old drummer, Danny Gottlieb is on traps throughout the session.  On El Gato he is joined by his wife Beth Gottlieb, a renowned percussionist in her own right.  The pairing provides a tasty rattle inside the rhythm box; it means that when Bob Mallach’s tenor and the Wilson alto get sparking the ghost of Barbieri there’s not only a playback to the past, but a twist of the exotic to cruise against.  Brazil is close at hand, we are where we are, a holistic world.  Gato Barbieri in his prime was all fire and brimstone.  (Catch his contribution to the very first Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra album on Impulse.)  Bob Mallach manages to touch down on this aspect of the great man’s muse just long enough to contextualise what Barbieri was all about without losing sight that this session is actually an Oliver Nelson tribute.

Nothing is ‘stolen’ here – what John Vanore has done is produce in his own words a “reimagined” music of Oliver Nelson.  What you borrow, you give back; Nelson was most definitely owed his day of remembrance and Mr Vanore has given up this new recording to that memory.  John Vanore has been heading up a band called The Abstract Truth for years.  This is no flirtation with a favourite.  So much happens on this reimagining that it has to be heard not just read about – Jim Ridl’s piano, Dave Ballou’s trumpet on St Louis Blues, the lock-in of Mike Richmond’s bass to Danny Gottlieb’s drums.  This is an album to be recommended in its own right, and if it sends the listener back to the Oliver Nelson originals you still won’t want to give up the album that took you there. No, nothing is stolen here, not one moment.

Click here for a sample compilation from the album. Click here for John Vanore's website.

Steve Day 

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Sam Watts - Mime Music

Album Released: 7th July 2017 - Label: Spark! Label - Reviewed: July 2017

Sam Watts Mime Music

Sam Watts (piano and accordion), Mike Fletcher (alto saxophone, flute, clarinet), James Davison (trumpet, flugelhorn), Kieran McLeod (trombone), Lucia Capellaro (cello), Thomas Seminar Ford (guitar, banjo), Flo Moore (double bass) and Ben Brown (drums, percussion).

Mime Music was recorded in 2015 but has only just been released on Spark!, a label which was created in 2014 by a couple of Royal Academy of Music alumni, J.J. Wheeler and Tom Green.  Sam Watts also attended the Royal Academy of Music, graduating with an MA in Jazz Piano and winning the 2012 Humphrey Lyttelton prize.  He follows in the footsteps of some wonderful modern jazz pianists such as Ivo Neame, Kit Downes and Gwilym Simcock and one imagines that having such illustrious predecessors does concentrate the mind providing both reassurance that anything is possible but also that there is a lot to live up to. 

Watts' first album in 2011 was as part of the band Eh Joe with the Portuguese singer Mila Dores with whom he has collaborated for many years after they met at Leeds College of Music. In 2016 he was a member of Brazilian singer Luna Cohen's band on her album November Sky.  As well as these collaborations Sam has acted as sideman in several bands; been musical director for a show celebrating the career of Judy Garland and composed a portfolio of his own music.  His broad and diverse range of musical influences includes Duke Ellington (which provides a huge scope); Astor Piazzolla, an Argentine composer who developed a new tango style incorporating elements of both jazz and classical music; Tom Waits, an innovative American genre bending musician and Arvo Part, an Estonian composer of religious and classical music. Another source of inspiration for Watts is film with the use of the word 'mime' in this album title suggesting music to accompany a visual drama or scene.  The scene on the album cover is an original picture by Mirry Stolzenberg and shows a white horse jumping through a hoop in a shadowy, surreal hall inside a large building, perhaps alluding to the last track of the album called In Dreams.

Mime Music, Sam's debut album under his own name, has fourteen tracks, although one is a brief introduction and three are just short interludes, all are composed by Sam.  Track 1, Overture, is very much in the manner of an introduction with a drum roll followed by a typical, silent film style opening. The link to film is even more apparent in track 2 called recalling Fellini's film of the same name which mixes fantasy with reality, in this case Watts mixes accordion music in the waltzing style of Nino Rota (composer of the soundtrack of ) with something far more jazzy such as one might expect from the the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

Almost Sunset is a reflective piece, without a discernible melody but combining piano and the cello of Lucia Capellaro to great effect and evoking that magical time of twilight.  A short interlude on guitar is followed by a piece simply called Tango which really highlights the strength in the depth of this band, lovely melodies from cello and trumpet are interspersed with piano solo all the while maintaining a great tango rhythm.  Next comes Love Song with cymbals providing an eerie opening but giving way to a far more romantic piano and cello. Optimistic horns are short lived and the ending suggests that, as in A Midsummer Nights Dream, the course of love never did run smooth.

A very short, cacophonous interlude precedes The Kite which has a lovely piano melody, reminiscent of a French film, the name of which is forgotten but with music that drifts from side to side just as a flying kite would do.  Track 9 is called Rag and as the name suggests is a homage to Ragtime and the Hot Jazz of the early 20th century with Watts' piano forming the backbone of the piece while other instruments, including Ford's banjo, provide some entertaining high jinks.  Another brief interlude in the style of a brass band is followed by Lament, dedicated to double bass player Charlie Haden. It begins slowly with the cello and one or more horns then gives way to a mournful double bass solo gently supported by piano and then some serious flamenco style lamenting on guitar with horns wailing and cymbals crashing before the original theme returns. 

Radio is a brief boogie woogie interlude before some gentle piano begins a piece called Birds and evokes a scene with birds wheeling about the sky, a flute perhaps represents a young bird leaving the nest and taking flight and after some hairy moments on the ground rises up to join the others in joyful flight.  The last track In Dreams, is the longest and has something of a New Orleans style about it with trombone and guitar solos and several other instruments having the chance to shine, including Watts himself on accordion.

Mime Music seems very much a journey through Sam Watts' own personal compendium of favourite, many and varied musical styles.  He has put together a really interesting band and uses it to great effect while all the time setting the tone with piano and accordion.  His compositions are always interesting and very effective in conjuring up a picture or scene in the listener's mind with the brief track titles providing clues.  A very nice album that is both intelligent and entertaining, for further information see Sam's website - click here.

Click here for details and to sample Tango from the album.

Howard Lawes

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Dave O'Higgins - It's Always 9.30 In Zog

Album Released: 8th September 2017 - Label: JVG - Reviewed: September 2017

Dave O'Higgins It's Always 9.30 In Zog

Dave O’Higgins (tenor and soprano saxophones); Graham Harvey (piano and Fender Rhodes); Geoff Gascoyne (double bass); Sebastiaan De Krom (drums).

I was pleased when this review copy came through the post.  Dave O’Higgins has been around for a long time now, he’s always there yet at the same time, just like 9.30, early morning or mid-evening, he’s the kind of player that is often taken for granted.  He’s a brilliant technician; O’Higgins can fit into all sorts of tasty situations, from literally Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles to the Brubecks, yet throughout all the comings and goings for six years he’s kept his own quartet on the road playing a contemporary be-bop to hard bop that swings the chandeliers.

Whereas his peers, the ‘Class of 1980’, Tommy Smith, Courtney Pine, Andy Sheppard ... have all gone on to find their very different individual distinctive voices, Dave O’Higgins is acknowledged as being a damn fine player (the self-penned third track on the album is called Alien With Extraordinary Ability, the words written on his American work visa), yet he’s never quite garnered the same critical praise as the others.  Here’s the lowdown:

I’ll pick out particular tracks, but before I do I want to describe the overall feel and sound of this session.  It’s nearly noon but the blinds are drawn tight, I’ve got a low light over the laptop keypad, that’s all; my second pint glass of water at my left wrist, a tower-block stack of disks at the elbow,  It's Always 9.30 In Zog has been coming out the speakers since.... about 9.30 and is now coming around for the third time.  It’s a zone of piano breaks and tenor solos, with Sebatiaan De Krom’s hi-hat pinched into the middle of the swing, sometimes a Fender Rhoes electric piano breaks in like Herbie Hancock had landed out there across the corridor, there’s that quake that comes with hearing soprano saxophone sound like its being poured out of a big glass cylinder, Geoff Gascoyne’s double bass going back and forth, jumping the fences on the scale. 

(You know about Mr Gascoyne don’t you?  I would have said he’s been jumping double bass session routes since before I was born, but he’s younger than me, so it can’t be so.  Sometimes his session work has been for people who I couldn’t listen to even in the dark, yet you hear the bass placed like a plum on the tongue, and there’s no argument, it’s beautiful music.)  There’s no such caveat in Zog.  Even when the tracks mesh in the middle, the whole rush of this torrent of tunes is a continuous soundtrack, turning on staggering solos which grow out from their swinging structures. I put my ears to the floor and rattle my own head; stretch back again for the chorus.  I haven’t heard better new bop than this since I was with the Hallbergs in Denmark.  See, this is it about Dave O’Higgins, it’s not that he’s a revolution, or that he’s “found his own sound”, or that he advertises a particular make of reeds, it’s simply that he can’t stop himself being a harbinger on horns.

The rational for 9.30 In Zog is that of the twelve tracks, eight them are O’Higgins originals.  Normally he bases his workouts on other people’s ‘tunes’, Zog has pushed him into coming up with self written starting points, albeit that New Resolution inherently signals John Coltrane’s Live At The Village Vanguard as a default position.  Who cares?  I don’t, it’s in the manner of the territory; the crucially important thing is that all four players mark out the ground on which they operate.  They score the session with such verve and commitment it matters not that from time to time you hear a tipping touch to Coltrane, maybe Joe Henderson.  This music comes from somewhere, of course there’s going to be map references.  The way the O’Higgins band treat the standard, Autumn Serenade, it could have been a long lost grab at those American songbook classics on Coltrane’s Atlantic series. It isn’t.  Catch the way One For Big G breaks open in a series of twists and turns only to allow Graham Harvey’s piano to float out a tightly procured finger massage over the piano keys, eventually leading straight into a solo soprano song-trap, pitched squashed and incendiary.  In turn the soprano sets up Gascoyne to provide a conquering bass break, it’s a gift!  This could be late in the evening at 47 Frith Street, except, again, it isn’t, instead according to the O’Higgins riddle it’s 9.30 In Zog and I for one, rather like that.

Click here for a video of the band recording the number Morpheus for the album.

A couple of months ago, in another place and time zone, I caught Sebastiaan De Krom’s drums with Tommy Smith’s quartet on the tribute album to John Coltrane called Embodying The Light.  Here’s a word or two about Mr De Krom’s contribution, his percussion profile makes a significant difference to both The Light and In Zog.  We all know there’s a multitude of different ways a percussionist can come at a drum kit.  The spatial approach which seems to place time in the air; there’s the staggered thunder of Hard Bop; tight beat to bar; Ellington swing, unfussy yet constantly crisp and nifty; rock power thrash; and how do you hit in a hurry and still keep it exactly ‘on’ pulse?  De Krom’s approach is one that is distinctly musical – his cymbals are set low so that when he strikes it’s not so much a curve, more a precise blow coming off a flick.  The high-hat is time-keeper and director, Seb De Krom has all the action covered.  He places emphasis through a compressed roll, like unfolding a tight fist, or makes a single rim-shot blow reach underneath everyone.  The title track is a prime example, Dave O’Higgins could be writing his own horn arrangement as a big band, but it is as a quartet it comes; a smooth snap drive straight down the middle of things – drums, crack and break, (repeat) crack and break. 

The album ends with Easy Living. I grew up with my father playing the Billie Holiday/Teddy Wilson classic – it’s been around a long time and that’s how the Dave O’Higgins Quartet play it – and I've got to say, here’s a tenor saxophone that’s not proving anything other than he loves this song.  So do I.

The artwork to this recording is just like the music.  Judith O’Higgins has based the sleeve on the same rationale used by Reid Miles at Blue Note.  The cover shot angle of a fly-over contains a fabulous curve, as does the music.  The font and lettering is as it should be, clarity without fuss, just like the music.  It may be 9.30 In Zog, but this ensemble is anytime of the day and night as far as I’m concerned.

Click here for a video Trailer for the album. Click here for more details of the album.

Steve Day

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Sam Braysher with Michael Kanan - Golden Earrings

Album Released: 1st September 2017 - Label: Fresh Sound New Talent - Reviewed: September 2017

Sam Braysher Golden Earrings

Sam Braysher (alto saxophone), Michael Kanan (piano)

Here is a debut album where only one of the tracks is an original composition by Sam Braysher. The other nine are his interpretations of well and lesser know numbers by people like Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern and Tadd Dameron. You will recognise some of the tunes (Dancing In The Dark; What'll I Do), but this is a project where two lovers of Standards and the Great American Songbook have sought out lesser known numbers and brought them into the light. How many of you heard of the Charlie Parker tune Cardboard, for example?

Sam Braysher says: 'By listening to original recordings, learning lyrics and consulting published sheet music, I have tried to access the composer's intention ... we tried to use this as our starting point for interpretation and improvisation, rather than existing jazz versions ... Our approach to recording was fairly old fashioned: just three microphones in a room with a nice piano; no headphones and no edits.'

Sam Braysher is a talented musician. He graduated in 2011 with a first class honours degree from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, before undertaking a two-year Guildhall Artist Fellowship at the School. He is a Chartered Surveyor's Prize winner and he also won the UK Jazz Radio Young Performer's Award in 2010. London-based, he now has a busy freelance career playing a wide range of music, from the Great American Songbook to traditional jazz and swing, contemporary repertoire and new music as well as leading his own Quartet. He teaches instrumental lessons at three schools in East London as well as privately, and has also taught jazz saxophone to undergraduate music students at City University London. Sam has always taken an interest in exploring lesser known material from the Great American Songbook and his essays on the music of various musicians can be found on his website.

In recent years, Sam has developed an association with the respected New York pianist, Michael Kanan. Michael is much sought after to accompany singers such as Jimmy Scott and Jane Monheit as well as a juggling a busy schedule with other bands. It is fortunate that he is able to find time to come to the UK to play with Sam during September for the tour accompanying the album release. Michael is recognised as an authority on the Great American Songbook so his partnership with Sam fits nicely.

It is also interesting that this is the first time that the iconic Barcelona-based record label Fresh Sound New Talent has produced an album by a British bandleader (other signings have included Brad Mehldau, Robert Glasper, Ambrose Akinmusire and Kurt Rosenwinkel).

The album opens with Dancing In The Dark the theme spelt out simply by piano and saxophone and then developed richly and lyrically by the saxophone before returning to the theme. Charlie Parker's Cardboard follows with the piano and sax bopping in tandem and the interplay that follows works particularly well. Track three is an Irving Berlin Waltz Medley based on the tunes What'll I Do; Always; and Remember. It takes a while for the theme for What'll I Do to emerge from saxophone imrpovisation; Always is a Michael Kanan solo played pretty much straight, and Remember features a pleasing piano / saxophone interplay.

BSP is Sam Braysher's composition at track four. He explains how it is a contrafact (a new melody written over an existing chord sequence) based on Cole Porter's Love For Sale. Taken quite fast the interplay allows both instruments to surface with ideas and there is a fine piano section here by Michael Kanan. Duke Ellington's All Too Soon is one of the longer tracks with a saxophone lead into slow waltz time and sensitive saxophone improvisation. Michael Kanan again takes a piano solo while the theme returns from time to time by the saxophone. Sam Braysher says Of Love In Vain: 'I love the original version from the film Centennial Summer. We begin with Kern's verse and end with a coda that is sung in the film but does not appear in the sheet music I have for this. Perhaps it was added by the film's orchestrator's? So much for getting the composer's original intention!'. The tune is taken like a light dance. In Otto Preminger's romantic musical Centennial Summer, a less successful follow up to Meet Me In St Louis, the song Of Love In Vain was not seen as one of the main songs - All Through The Day was the popular number nominated for an Academy Award. We can see here how Sam has brought back to life a tune less loved.

Click here for an introductory video.

The Scene Is Clean is a Tad Dameron number and is described by Sam as: '... probably the most harmonically dense composition to feature here.' I find this one of the most enjoyable tracks on the album. Both piano and saxophone interplay beautifully and here is Sam Braysher's signature, lyrical, interpretive style. I have never heard of Nat 'King' Cole's composition Beautiful Moons Ago, a sad, sweet number, another drawn up from somewhere by Sam from the 'Lost and Found' and which features Michael Kanan's piano and more sensitive playing from Sam Braysher. Golden Earrings, the title track, comes from a 1947 romantic spy movie. The tune is sung on screen by Murvyn Vye, but it was Peggy Lee who had it as a hit. The piano cascades an entry to the rhythm picked up by the sax for the theme. There are no vocals here but you can hear how the words fit: 'There's a story the gypsies know is true / That when your love wears golden earrings / She (He) belongs to you / An old love story that's known to very few / But if you wear those golden earrings / Love will come to you.' The saxophone plays faster over a steady piano that in its turn explores the tune.

The last tune is a short (just under 2 minutes) version of Way Down Yonder In New Orleans. A happy, interplayed interpretaion of the old standard. Sam says: 'This take features more joint soloing and we finish by playing Lester Young's masterful 1938 solo in unison.'

In some ways this album is a 'project' as Sam explains above, and as he implies in that quotation, the overall effect is of an informal session with two musicians who understand the music just getting together to play. For me, the album's strength is in the interplay, the counterpoint that Sam and Michael achieve. The result is an accessible recording that will be enjoyed by a wide audience and of interest to those who have not previously come across these lesser known tunes by great songwriters. Maria Cristina Mena put it nicely: 'The piano keys are black and white but they sound like a million colors in your mind'. I have heard Sam fly away with some beautiful solos at live gigs and if you get the chance to go to the live sessions on the tour promoting this album, you should take the opportunity - and some change to buy the album.

Click here for details and to sample the album. Click here for Sam Braysher's website. Click here for Michael Kanan's website.

Ian Maund

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Marcus Vergette - The Marsyas Suite

Album Released: May 2017 - Label: Leo Records - Reviewed: July 2017

Marcus Vergette The Marsyas Suite

Tom Unwin (piano); Roz Harding (alto saxophone), Janna Bulmer (cello); Lucy Welsman (cello) and Marcus Vergette (double bass).

I picked up on the story of Marsyas a couple of years ago.  The unlikely entry was via the work of Evan Parker, the saxophone ‘transformer’ extraordinaire.  The sound sculptor had brought his tenor and soprano horns to a recording called Marsyas Suite on the El Negocito label, along with bass player Peter Jacquemyn.  I’d recommend it to your ears; literally a carving out of music against a backdrop of a Greek myth concerning the physical flaying of a shepherd called Marsyas.

Greek myth, Greek legend, Greek literature, I am no expert on the subject and I find Titian’s painting of The Flaying of The Marsyas hard to look at even in its stylised form.  Beautiful torture; it is undoubtedly a magnificent painting depicting the literal skinning of a man by the god of music, Apollo.  Titian’s late sixteenth century masterwork is a slaughterhouse of humanity, made more terrible by how exquisite the brushwork is formed against the detail.  How do you explain it?  A beautifying of torture as a form of shock and awe, the stripping of skin with blades or a fire bomb?  Lighten our darkness with a crucifixion cut into the flesh. 

A couple of years on and Leo Records release an album with almost an identical title, this time by a quintet led by Marcus Vergette.  To play the Parker/Jacquemyn session and the Marcus Vergette album back to back is an interesting experience.  The first is totally improvised whilst the latter is written through composition albeit with improvised passages.  Both take the story of Apollo’s bloody revenge upon the shepherd Marsyas, who dared to challenge the Greek god to a musical dual playing a ‘flute’ (or maybe a double ‘reed’ flute). 

Whilst the Parker album is four duos, plus Jacuemyn and Parker each taking a solo track featuring full-on improv techniques, the Vergette recording is almost in the form of ‘chamber jazz’, albeit with hints of be-bop and Mingus.  I guess if Gunther Schuller were alive I’d be describing this as ‘Third Stream Music’ (check him out).  I’m rattling on about this comparison because:

(a) These two recordings have quite independently taken inspiration from the same source yet arrived at totally different sound palettes. (Although Evan Parker has since indicated to me that he wasn't aware at the time of recording the improvisation that the Marsyas theme was going to be used with it.) 

(b)  The subject matter is disturbing because we are dealing with extreme violence literally cut into art.  Aural art, predetermined, at least in the subject matter, yet improvised (Parker/Jacuemyn), part improvised (Vergette).

Marcus Vergette’s The Marsyas Suite is a lovely thing, it gradually unfolds over 70 minutes.  The opening Mount Olympus is a swirl of strings played by Janna Bulmer and Lucy Welsman, the two bowed cellos offering glancing blows which could have come from Messian’s End Of Time.  Slice the shimmer, the strings are turned over by pianist Tom Unwin’s boppish chord frame and Roz Harding’s eager alto saxophone.  And it’s jazz I’m hearing; the chords and the rudeness of crude swing.  Welcomed like a familiar friend.  In places Harding sounds as if she’s just blown in from Brooklyn instead of the West Coast (of England).   Then there’s Mr Vergette’s double bass, as authoritative as a horn, (the 60 second solo introduction to Day feels as if this is a musician preparing to lay down the law). Night follows Day giving emphasis to this habit of throwing the skeletons of standards into a soundpool.  Disarming, yet at the same time strangely engrossing. Started I Can’t Get is literally an inside-out version of its American standard source material. 

Click here for a video from a live performance of part of the Suite.

By the 12th track, Flaying, Unwin and Harding are cauterizing an elegy; that is until the alto reed is given over to blowing against Mr Vergette’s bass strings which smack against the neck of his instrument.  They are bowed off into Poor Old Marsyas, and we know it is carnage.  Piano and cellos hold it slow with an episodic sympathy of symphony. I appear to be talking individual tracks because the album gives you that option, but The Marsyas Suite is structured as one continuous performance.  Having heard it half a dozen times, that is how I prefer to come to it too.  Until the final moment, cut away like an edit.

Click here for a second video from the live performance of the Suite.

This album is engrossing.  My interest is in the music, yet the power of the subject matter draws you back.  What Marcus Vergette’s ensemble has achieved with this recording is to evoke a terrible catharsis.  Even as they modulate between an aural encounter close to ‘jazz’ form and a tantalising rondo which escapes me, something far, far away from such considerations, the Evan Parker/Peter Jacuemyn recording is not like that at all.  The intense rapture of the duo is visceral, a circular breathing gasp grasping for life.  Form is in the action. 

So, to Marcus Vergette; I find a certain solace in these strings, a power present in a music that carries the weight of the jealously of terror.  I keep returning to it as if it won’t let me go.  I have to hear it yet again, as if checking my own equilibrium.  How strange, listening to a music which almost hides its hurt.  This is a recording for our turbulent times.  Hear it. 

Click here for Marcus Vergette's Marsyas Suite on Leo Records. Click here to sample Evan Parker & Peter Jacquemyn Marsyas Suite on El Negocito Records (2015).

Click here for a video discussing the painting by Titian.

Steve Day 

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Lukas Zabulionis - Changing Tides

Album Released: 21st October 2016 - Label: Curling Legs Records - Reviewed: July 2017

Lukas Zabulionis Changing Tides

Lukas Zabulionis (saxophone, composer), Ivan Blomqvist (piano), Arne Martin Nybo (guitar), Kristian B. Jacobsen (bass), Per Kamfjord (drums), special guests on various tracks : Astri Hoffmann Tollaas (cello), Øystein Kjøstad Fjeldbo (electronics), Henrik Lødøen (percussion).

Click here for an introductory video.

Lukas Zabulionis is an outstanding young Norwegian jazz saxophonist and composer, with a family background that goes back to Lithuania. His latest CD, Changing Tides, includes nine original compositions, all inspired by the sea, and played by Lukas and his excellent quintet.

This is the music of fjords, broad skies and the midnight sun. Lukas Zabulionis inhabits the contemporary Nordic jazz landscape with an approach that is clearly melodic and often haunting, but his band also maintains a spark and energy that can light up the long Nordic nights. Engaging compositions allow for interesting improvisation and spirited interplay from a well-knit ensemble. The overall aesthetic is very appealing, and Changing Tides provides a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience throughout. Highly recommended!

Click here for a video taster of the recording of track 7 - Downwind Sailing.

Steve Kershaw (Steve Kershaw leads the British/Danish/Swedish jazz trio Stekpanna)


Lukas Zabulionis has lived in Sandefjord since he was 7 years old. After graduation at Sandefjord high school, he attended musical studies at Toneheim Folk High School in 2011. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in jazz performance in 2016 at Jazzlinja, the department of Jazz at Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim (NTNU). His debut album, Changing Tides, is inspired by ECM's contemporary jazz aesthetics from the 1970's and linked to the work of Jan Garbarek. The thinking behind the release can also be linked to ideas that originated in the romanticism in the 1800s, where the music is marked by longing, mystery and love with great emphasis on colours and contrasts.

Click here to listen to Song Of The Stormy Petrel (track 3).

On his website, Lukas carries the following description of the music: 'This is a story about setting out to unknown and distant places, hoping to find warmth and love ... The album showcases a composer and saxophonist who has a keen sense of elegant and melodic lines. Underneath lie rich contrasting harmonies that vary in moods from melancholy, sad and longing to happy and joyful with a sense of optimism. The characteristic style and tone of the young saxophonist has a broad emotional register and when he is not playing lyrical or energetic solos, he naturally blends into the soft carpet of sound that the band puts behind'.

Click here to listen to the final track The Seafarer.

Click here for details of the album. Click here for Lukas Zabulionis' website.

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Hayden Prosser - Tether

Album Released: 12th May 2017 - Label: Whirlwind Recordings - Reviewed: July 2017

Hayden Prosser Tether

Hayden Prosser (bass, electronics); Philipp Gropper (tenor saxophone); Elias Stemeseder (piano); Max Santner (drums).

The white on pink cover is sharp, cut up angles.  The music is sharper still, in a manner of speaking.  Sharper still or still sharper?  We shall see, perhaps even hear.

I was interested in Hayden Prosser even before I’d got down to listening to his music.  He originates from Somerset but is now based in Berlin.  I guess because I live in Somerset, or at least more-or-less, I was slightly intrigued by this guy’s decision to leave.  Distance often plays a necessary factor in an individual’s life.  The other key protagonist on this recording is Elias Stemeseder, who had done a similar journey, upped and moved from New York to Berlin.  Okay, I’m going to review the music, but music is not made in isolation to its environment.  Where you physically place yourself on the map is important.  If it were not so migration wouldn’t be the big deal it’s become for a lot of people.

Tether is an acoustic album but there’s a lot of electronics involved.  I suppose it could be described as a migration between electronics and unplugged.  Much of the composition is transposed from laptop; there’s an implicit electricity about the way the acoustic music unfolds. And there’s a sliver of electronics on the tracks, Undo, All and Before Now which belies their origins.  Recorded at Studio P4 Funkhaus, Berlin, mixed and edited by Alex Bonney back in London, that’s just one of the journeys present here. The album title Tether is taken from a recording by Plaid, a well-known London based electronics duo who I had never heard of.  Sometimes it’s like that, I realise I just don’t know.

Hayden Prosser’s Tether has eleven tracks although I think the album is best approached as a continuous piece.  There’s a lot of music here, I’m going to give a brief descriptor of each track because only in that way can I hope to convey the breadth of this startling debut recording.

Undo begins with Elias Stemeseder’s light as a feather piano with Philipp Gropper’s tenor sax a fey recital in the distance.  Could be Claude Debussy; it isn’t.  But it’s not long before Max Santner is deploying a rattling of brushes.  He’s undermining melody if that’s how you see the world, but Mr Prosser’s environment is not really about the embroidery of tunes.  He’s after something far more ephemeral, albeit he’s not afraid to write a topline.  Maybe it is inherent in the title – we Undo what we create, set it free.  Something like that.  Before they’ve finished Gropper’s tenor puts down a tenor solo which expands the instrument.  The quartet are working Prosser’s writing but not bound to it.

Glas is a mirror image.  Again they begin with piano.  For a moment it is a refuge.  A short passive improvised enquiry springing out of a statement. Prosser/Santner put a pulse in there and then it’s over.  Justunder a minute of flavours of favours and then comes.....

All, almost a cut-up of riffs.  It’s written (I think) and then sliced, leaving each instrument to take the piece they need.  I gotta say, I like Max Santner’s pacing.  He is able to capture rhythmic figures as if they were running hares.  Proof is positive on the smear of electrics.

Click here to listen to All.

Before Now has a miniature ‘arrangement’ going on.  It could be a loop.  Might well have been a loop.   Real time, gone.

Seasons could act as an introduction.  It has a conventionality about it.  If you only heard Seasons you’d get the wrong idea.  That said, there’s a weaving, scattering tenor saxophone break toward the end that comes on like Wayne Shorter blowing sound-shapes or maybe even, Steve ‘m-base’ Coleman.

Out Of This supplies a longer lean into another temporary place of refuge – at first I thought Stemeseder, Prosser and Santner had become a ‘piano trio’ such was the languid pulse of this lovely thing.  Philipp Gropper then joins in towards the end – giving the piece a signature.

Remainder is a minute’s worth of improv; over and out.  Blowout blown, rattle and bang.  I’d have wanted it to grow more, not stop – but then I wasn’t there, they were.

Overturn could have been Seasons part two but they don’t allow themselves that easy avenue.  Instead it is the bigger sister to Remainder and as such produces a tight tangle of four-way action, where you have to listen as well as read, have to feel as well as rehearse.

Click here to listen to Overturn.

Small Chance is another crack into a crooked minute and by now I’m beginning to believe Hayden Prosser is really into surprise.  Again, I’d have called it to double and stretch but he knows what he’s doing.  A minute it may be, but it’s a great minute’s worth.

Click here for a video of Small Chance.

Rounds starts on a high and gets higher.  They are now elongating the improvisations within the midst of those funky repeat riffs.  Chiming piano, phat-tenor tonguing, Prosser’s double bass covering the role of loops, Mr Santner’s drums laying down milestones.  Rounds, layers of live interactions, one on top each other in real time. Yeah!  (There was no one else in the room when I said it.)

All (Reprise) is the final miniature. A snippet of piano melody brought back to touch base, think of it as a tethering.

Tether by Hayden Prosser is full of facts which are often on a dual trajectory. He’s a young man on the move, playing double bass but fascinated by digital experiment, seeking stillness but never still, exploring the technicalities of composed music but responding to total improv as if it were composed.  The seeking out of instant insistency; rehearsing his own pre-determined riddles. It all makes sense and no sense, and for this I give him a lot of credit.  For this precise theatre of a recording Hayden Prosser was in Berlin, in the future possibly not.  No need to be tied or tethered.  This is wonderful music deserving of much, much more investigation.  A creative musician could build a high tower from here.  Here is the start of a long journey, if Hayden Prosser wants it.

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

Steve Day

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Zem Audu - Spirits

Album Released: 16th June 2017 - Label: Origin Records - Reviewed: July 2017

Zem Audu Spirits

Zem Audu (saxophone), Mike Stern (guitar), Benito Gonzales (piano), Ben Williams (bass), John Davis (drums).

I first came across saxophonist Zem (Azemobo) Audu in 2008 when he graduated from London's Trinity College of Music, won first place in the Worshipful Company Of Musicians Jazz Competition, was nominated for a Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Jazz Saxophonist, and was awarded a Yamaha Jazz Scholars prize. I was particularly impressed by his talent at the time and now here we are nine years later with Zem established in America and releasing his first full-length debut album (he released a digital EP in 2016, Visions).

Zem worked with a number of musicians in the UK before he decided to move to the United States and since then he has been gaining international recognition. Born in Nigeria, raised in London, and now living in Brooklyn, Zem has played and recorded with many of the worlds finest musicians including Jason Moran, Miss Lauryn Hill, The Bleachers, Hugh Masekela, Plan B, Paloma Faith, and the Skatalites. His debut recording is described as: 'Inviting you to feel the atmosphere of the city streets, the blazing sunshine of the Caribbean, and the soulfulness of Nigerian culture, the visceral impact of his experiences with a wide-range of musical greatness'. The eleven tracks on the album are all Zem's compositions.

Neon Nights opens the album with flavours of Earth Wind and Fire rhythms soon moving into the catchy saxophone stated theme. The balance between instruments plays well. The saxophone holds the rhythm as it explores lyrically above it. Mike Stern's funky electric guitar takes over swinging and swelling until the saxophone retakes the theme and leads the ensemble out to fade. An eight-and-a-half-minute, captivating introduction to the album. Big Qi at track two starts with solo sax setting a repeated toe-tapping motif for the band to follow and Ben Williams' insistent bass drives on under Mike Stern's solo and is still there as Zem takes his sax out to play.

Click here to listen to Big Qi.

Muso at track 3 is a fairly fast ballad where the bass, drums and piano underscore Zem's saxophone interpretations of the theme and then we get the light touch of Benito Gonzales' piano solo, another sax outing and then a great restrained bass solo. On Bird a piano riff repeats below a saxophone with its South African heritage and this time we have keyboards from Benito to dance the tune on. And so to the title track, Spirits. Bass, then piano playing repeated chords, saxophone enters with a motif, lightly tripping drums, saxophone and guitar twinning, the guitar let loose and we have 'the atmosphere of the city streets' described above with the saxophone weaving its way through the traffic. An impressively arranged and played track.

Flow at track 6 brings a touch of that 'Caribbean sunshine'. I particularly like the way the bass has been mixed in most of the tracks on this album and the way the drums are balanced with it. Neither are lost and they make a substantial contribution to the textures.

Click here to listen to Flow.

On Flow you can appreciate how well the bass and drums work with Benito Gonzales' piano solo. Dragon has a repeated descending piano riff with the saxophone checking out the possibilities; Bamijo has a particularly attractive theme and appealing solos from guitar, sax and piano in turn; Arcade opens with a pinball-playing guitar and the saxophone seems to be wondering which machine to play, so a bass solo decides until the sax feels happy to work the slots.

Click here to listen to Bamijo.

Moths is a well-titled penultimate track with the drums then sax fluttering and then the horn stretches out against African rhythms again. The guitar gets a chance to squeeze out a nice extended solo that draws Zem's sax back in for a conversation and a solo outing for John Davis' drums. And that brings us to Nebula, a gentle end to the album with really pleasing lyrical solos from Benito Gonzales and Zem Audu.

I recommend this album to you. It is a joyful recording that has so much going for it. The compositions are enjoyable and the arrangements well considered and varied in their flavours. The musicians are completely in accord and individually contribute to the overall success of the album either in solos or ensemble and I don't know who engineered the album but they deserve full credit for both the recording and the mixing.

Click here for details and to listen to the album.

Click here for a video of Mike Stern's comments on the album. Click here for Zem's website.

Ian Maund

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Larry Newcomb with Bucky Pizzarelli - Living Tribute

Album Released: 2nd June 2017 - Label: Essential Messenger Records - Reviewed: July 2017

Larry Newcomb with Bucky Pizzarelli Living Tribute

The latest recording from the New York based guitarist and his quartet, or should I say quintet as the 91 year old guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli plays on 7 out of the 11 tracks, is dedicated to friends and family including his spiritual guru Prem Rawat. The album’s notes detail to whom the songs are dedicated and give some pointers why. Out of the 11 tracks on the album, 4 are Standards, the oldest from 1932, and 7 are originals written and arranged by Larry himself.  Although this is mostly an instrumental album there are two songs with vocals by Leigh Jonaitis.

The quartet comprises Eric Olsan on piano, Dmitri Loesnik on bass and Jimmy Madision on drums with Larry himself on guitar and they are joined by vocalist Leigh Jonaitis and guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, who was one of Larry Newcomb’s music teachers.

The set starts with I Remember You at an unusually fast tempo with harmonious guitar and swinging piano. This is followed by another classic, the lively You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To, which contains a superb drum solo and well balanced guitars.  Alone Together features every instrument well but has a particularly notable bass section. Later on the album there is some more excellent bass playing by Dmitri Loesnik on the track, Crossing Over. 

Morningside Heights is dedicated to Bucky Pizzarelli and named after the neighbourhood where Larry and his wife, Mary lived for 5 years.  On this track the guitar playing keeps the momentum going whilst each member of the quartet performs a highlight session and the whole track showcases Larry Newcomb’s excellent swinging arrangement.  Another of Larry’s own compositions, Band of Brothers, is dedicated to Larry’s three sons, and is a joyful and charmingly intricate track with guitar and piano complementing each other.  

I have to mention the two tracks with vocalist Leigh Jonaitis, which are One Heart Ain’t As Great As Two and the Latin feeling Love Is Here.  The vocals bring another dimension with some clever lyrics and a beautifully modulated clear voice adding to the quartet’s already skilful playing.  

The album comes to an end with Horace Silver’s Peace.  This is a slower and gentler number with brushed drums and soulful guitar and piano bringing this album to a languorous conclusion.

Although there was improvisation on some of the tracks it was more difficult to spot as the playing by all musicians was so smooth.  It was an easy album to listen to with strong melodic lines throughout, timely solos and a range of solid beats and lyrical rhythms. Somehow the words I have written do not seem to reflect my overall enjoyment in listening to the release!

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Tim Rolfe

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Liane Carroll - The Right To Love

Album Released: 22nd July 2017 - Label: Quiet Money - Reviewed: July 2017

Liane Carroll The Right To Love

Liane Carroll (piano, vocals), Mark Edwards, Malcolm Edmonstone (piano), Mark Jaimes (guitars), Kirk Whalum (saxophone), Loz Garratt, Roger Carey (bass), Ralph Salmins, Russell Field (drums), James McMillan (producer and trumpet on the title track).

Liane Carroll is one of the UK's favourite jazz vocalists. With good reason. The Right To Love is her tenth album and follows on from the excellent 2015 release, Seaside, which is always a pleasure to return to. For this album Liane has chosen a mix of Standards and perhaps lesser known songs, but the theme that runs through them takes a look at love in its many forms. Liane says: 'I wanted to make the fourth album with James something where we could explore some of the less obvious attitudes towards love. And in a time where intolerance to race, sexuality and religion seems to have raised its ugly head again it seemed appropriate for us to make this statement'.

The album opens with Kirk Whalum's saxophone taking us into a full, lush version of Hoagy Carmichael's Skylark and a beautifully paced vocal supported by guitar and keyboard. The sax returns later with a solo that picks up on the feeling in Liane's singing. The first track on an album is important as it either does or doesn't draw you in. This does. In hearts. The Right To Love, the title track and originally written about inter-racial marriage was suggested to Liane by Gregory Porter's pianist, Chip Crawford and is an emotional statement bridged by a trumpet solo from James McMillan.

Click here for an introductory video with Liane playing and singing The Right To Love.

It's A Fine Line is a beautiful song out of Nashville from Mike Willis. The original Fine Line by Mike is a simple, sensitive, guitar and voice song (click here) from the album Pendulum Groove: A Revelation Of The Heart of which Mike says: 'The songs on this album chronicle my struggle to overcome the challenges of my marriage breaking down in October 2015. I've tried to include songs, both new and old, that resonate with the five stages of the human experience of processing grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance'. Liane's version is a more full, soulful and strong presentation but the message remains.

If You Go Away is the Jacques Brel song. The lyrics are by Rod McKuen, a too often forgotten poet from the 1960s whose poems and lyrics were often set to music. His own recordings of his work brought his distinctive voice and in Liane's version, her distinctive voice is just as recognisable. You Don't Know What Love Is is one of those songs so popular with many torch singers. Liane savours the words and the piano, bass, guitar and drums are completely compatible with a nice guitar solo from Mark Jaimes. Goin' Back is a 1966 number by Gerry Goffin and Carole King often associated with Dusty Springfield's version. When Carol King heard it, she said Dusty`s version was so perfect she just cried. Dusty had it played at her funeral. 'I think I'm goin' back To the things I learned so well in my youth, I think I'm returning to The days when I was young enough to know the truth ...So catch me if you can I'm goin' back.' Liane sings the song swelling the middle section.

Stevie Wonder's Lately is a lovely version by Liane with minimal, hesitant instrumental backing. The words 'They always start to cry' were always strung out by Stevie Wonder and carried much of the feeling. Liane stretches them too but balances them with the surrounding lyrics and maintains the feeling. Hoagy Carmichael's music returns with Georgia On My Mind and Liane interprets it in her own way simply accompanied by Mark Jamies' guitar and some scatting. In The Neighbourhood is a Tom Waits song. It is appropriate to the theme of Liane's album where she makes us aware of our surroundings. It is worth looking up the wonderfully descriptive lyrics. Here's a sample: 'Well, Big Mambo's kicking his old greyhound And the kids can't get ice cream 'cause the market burned down And the newspaper sleeping bags blow down the lane And that goddamn flatbed's got me pinned in again In the neighborhood ...'

The album closes with another Hoagy Carmichael Standard, I Get Along Without You Very Well. Here it is dedicated to Liane's mother, Clare, who passed away in 2016. We all know the words, or should, and it sits very appropriately on this album about love.

The album will be launched in Hastings on July 22nd with a big band and strings at St Mary In The Castle. Liane will feature it again on August 1st and 2nd at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho. If you have the opportunity to catch her singing these tunes live, you should take it and you will undoubtably buy a copy of the album there. Otherwise go in search of this fine album that you can continue to enjoy and appreciate.

Click here for a video of Liane singing Skylark.

Ian Maund

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Yoko Miwa Trio - Pathways

Album Released: 12th May 2017 - Label: Ocean Blue Tear Music - Reviewed: July 2017

Yoko Miwa Trio Pathways

Born in Japan, Yoko Miwa moved to the US in 1997 to study at Berklee where she is now a Professor of Piano. She is also a performer, mainly on the Boston jazz scene but with a broader national and international reputation. On Pathways, her latest album, she plays with Will Slater on bass and her husband, Scott Goulding on drums.

Miwa has an attractive and accessible style in the modern Jarrett/Mehldau mode with more than a touch of rock populism. She is also an accomplished composer and four of the eight tracks on Pathways are Miwa originals. The first track, however - the cleverly titled Log O’Rhythm - is by Marc Johnson, one-time bassist with Bill Evans. It begins with a compelling, repetitive figure which subtly modulates rather like a Philip Glass piece. Miwa then improvises some great gospel-jazz in a duet with Will Slater who plays some impressively nimble bass. The whole thing is driven by an infectious beat provided mainly by Scott Goulding’s excellent drumming.

To see a live performance of Log O’Rhythm, click here.

The second track is the Miwa composition, Lickety Split, which has a distinctively Dave Brubeck feel complete with memorable melodies and interesting time signatures. The piece is taken at quite a lick and, like the rest of the album tracks, sets the feet tapping. Miwa’s improvisations often take off in unexpected but delightful directions with little flurries and an occasional flash of dissonance. Both Slater and Goulding take absorbing solos.

Click here for a live performance of Lickety Split.

Next up is the Joni Mitchell number, Court and Spark. Miwa sticks close to the original with an evocative folk rock beat driven by an interesting drum shuffle from Goulding. Miwa’s solo work is particularly satisfying here with some touches of Keith Jarrett complexity and an engaging bluesy feel.

The Goalkeeper is another Miwa original. It was inspired, apparently, by the doings of a neighbour’s cat playing with a ball, and is appropriately playful with a swinging, good time feel. It is probably the most conventional track on the album but none the worse for that. After You is the second Marc Johnson composition on the album. Slater’s agile bass work is to the fore again and there is some effective call-and-response between drum and piano. The tune is original and memorable with complex rhythms and a compelling drive.

Click here to listen to The Goalkeeper.

Track 6 is the Miwa-penned Lantern Light. The beat is contemporary rock and the tune has the feel of a good pop ballad with a particularly dramatic edge to it. Someone ought to set words to it and give it to some contemporary pop star – it would be a hit. Miwa’s solo work is forceful – she doesn’t do Bill Evans introspection – and there is some interesting interplay between drum and piano with Goulding playing almost in a military style adding to the drama of the whole piece.

Another Miwa piece, Was It Something I Said?, is the penultimate track, taking as its inspiration a comment made by a waiter. This is a playful blues with a foot tapping, good time feel which the trio takes at full tilt. It is one of those jazz performances where the music seems to take over the musicians – matter over mind (or something like that).

The best is left to last – a rendering of the Beatles’ Dear Prudence. Arguably the best jazz interpretation of a Beatles' song is Brad Mehldau’s Blackbird. Well, Miwa’s version of Dear Prudence is as good as that. As with Court and Spark, Miwa has the good sense not to stray too far from the original retaining its rock beat, for example. Her improvising also never loses sight of the original tune, but her trademark touches are well to the fore – the little liquid flourishes, the occasional discordance, and the forceful attack. Will Slater is replaced by Brad Barrett on bass for this one track and, together with Goulding, gives sterling and energetic support. It’s a great ending to a thoroughly enjoyable album which consistently engages the listener’s attention even on the longest pieces. It easily bears repeated listenings, revealing new dimensions and delights to savour each time.

Click here for details and sample the album.

For more details about Yoko Miwa, and more information about how to get hold of the album, click here for Yoko's website.

Robin Kidson

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Verneri Pohjola - Pekka

Album Released: 2nd June 2017 - Label: Edition Records - Reviewed: July 2017

Verneri Pohjola Pekka

Verneri Pohjola (trumpet); Tuomo Prättälä (electric piano : Fender Rhodes); Teemu Viinikainen (guitar); Mika Kallio (drums); Antti Lötjönen (bass).

The Dragon of Kätkävaara is a title ripe for frightening bedtime story reads.  It begins this album in style; trumpet, subtle as a whisper in the dark, a gossamer web yet strong.  There’s a constant intention forming around the embouchure, against the electricity of big guitar, and it ends with coda-clicks feeding into silence as if there is nothing left to say.  Of course there is, but it’s under wraps.  I knew I was going to hit on this horn as soon as Verneri Pohjola began.  The circling riffs, looping dynamics, drum patterns that stretch, a high-hat rising and falling on tight time ... and that trumpet, bursting into brass cast in metal.  Metal as in the musical genre.  But of course, this is only the first track and there is plenty more to come.

Verneri Pohjola is the son of the late Pekka Pohjola, bass player and composer with the Finnish '60s / '70s prog-rock band Wigwam. (No, I hadn’t heard of them, but then I was never into prog-rock from Finland or anywhere else come to that).  All of the tracks on Pekka are compositions by Pohjola senior.  The second piece, First Morning has the structure of prog-rock if not the sound.  That being the case I don’t feel the need to start investigating Nordic rock music; in a way I don’t think that’s the point of this heir apparent recording.  In Finland Verneri Pohjola is established in his own right.  According to the Verneri’s liner notes, father and son had a very different rationale to music: “.... he had ... a ‘one truth’ of how his tunes should be.  And he never made any changes to them.  My approach has been different; I don’t see one truth in music .... I’m an improviser and I thrive on opposing ideas.”

Click here to listen to First Morning.

From the evidence of this album Verneri Pohjola is not only an improviser but also an experimenter.  Glue-in to what’s going on and it’s possible to pick out the material where the guy is literally trying stuff out.  His ambient trumpet has a way of descending on a melody or pattern.  There’s a sense of needing to reshape fixtures.  I think I can detect where this necessity might have sprung from.  To my ears, the structure of the written source material still carries a lot of the excess baggage contained within those gatefold sleeves on early Virgin, Chrysalis and Harvest record labels. Teemu Viinikainen’s electric guitar occasionally runs away with his own licks. It’s as if the guitarist has given his sound to the instrument rather than to himself.  (A musician I work with told me recently he personally had to acknowledge the music before his instrument could.  Initially this might appear obvious but the more I’ve thought about it, the more telling the observation seems to be.) 

What keeps me on board with this album is Pohojola Jr’s actual trumpet.  On almost all the tracks, that bright bruising horn is given space to emote; when that happens, this band become special.  For me, the most successful tracks are Madness Subsides and Benjamin.  Here is where Pohjola comes through with stealth and direct intent.  Madness is in essence a slow blues, introduced by electric guitar arpeggios and bass parts.  They signpost the soundscape on which the leader’s horn operates.  Bassist, Antti Lötjönen is responsive, becoming tellingly effective in an open and expansive manner; drawing a picture in the dark arts of the bass register.  Verneri Pohjola’s own entry comes in under sparse percussion.  He then fuses the whole character of the piece giving it depth and horizon.   Benjamin is better still, the arrangement is clean.  The trumpet is in from the git-go sketching circles of sound.  Covering the backdrop, guitar hyperactivity is replaced by a sparse robust approach from Tuomo Prättälä’s Fender Rhodes.  Again the trumpet states the melody, holding it close as if containing a message. 

In my opinion it illustrates the stark difference between the unfailing wonder of Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way, a place of textural enquiry and subtle jazzfunk, vs the phenomena of 1970’s concept album hyperbole.  Maybe this is what Pohjola meant when he referred to his father’s approach to music as being ‘strict’.  Once the old prog-rock ‘concept’ became established there was usually nowhere to go, whereas for Verneri Pohjola, “There’s always a new version out there waiting to be discovered.”

This new album is about one man trying to come to terms with a father for whom he had mixed emotions.  “I don’t think of Pekka as my father, since we didn’t have so much contact in my childhood.”  As he puts it, “It only added to the pressure to achieve in my own right.  It would have been easy to ride on his success, but I definitely did not want to do that.”  For his sake I hope Verneri Pohjola feels he has now been to ‘that place’ and that he can move on.  The trumpet on this album is his personal jewel in a ‘foreign’ landscape.  Next time it should be his own First Morning in a different country. Possibly still Finland, but a different country nonetheless.  He’s paid his tribute to the man he found hard to call father, good luck with the rest of the music that is out there.

Click here for a video introduction to the album. Click here for details and to sample the album.

Click here for Verneri Pohjola's website.

Steve Day         

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Tommy Smith - Embodying The Light

Album Released: 14th July 2017 - Label: Spartacus Records - Reviewed: July 2017

Tommy Smith Embodying The Light

Tommy Smith (tenor saxophone); Pete Johnstone (piano); Calum Gourlay (double bass); Sebastiaan de Krom (drums).

Dear Lord is the short track, the ballad, on John Coltrane’s Transition album recorded in 1965.  There was a little period in my life when Dear Lord took me over.  Back in the '70s, living in a legal squat but with no proper heating, rock bands rehearsing in the room across the hall from mine, as well as above me, like steam rollers laying tarmac, John Coltrane seemed the embodiment of sanity.  Dear Lord was the place I went to in order to hear myself as a tenor saxophone. Dear Lord is so beautiful, even now it feels like rain and sun have combined.  When I looked at the track listings for Tommy Smith’s new album and saw Dear Lord I wondered how he could eclipse it.  And of course, he doesn’t.  Tommy Smith’s lovely take on Lord is even shorter than the original.  He doesn’t attempt to do anything different, doesn’t fight it, doesn’t smother it with new notes, he just plays that exquisite melody with all the skill and grace he can bring to the proposition.  There’s no point in saying anything different, this too is beautiful. 

You better believe it.  Tommy Smith.  Sometimes it comes back to this; after all the orchestral suites, the interviews, all the collaborations with famous people, the commissions, the arrangements both practical and musical, a successful musician has to ‘return to sender’.  Who sent you on this journey?  It’s 50 years since John Coltrane died, time certainly for Tommy Smith to pull an A1 quartet out of his sharp suit pocket and record ‘A Dedication To John Coltrane’.  As I have stated elsewhere in this month’s 'What’s New', for a sax player it is nigh on impossible to get around the legacy that is John Coltrane. Don’t even try to; Embodying The Light is a much more truthful response.  Simply, embrace the one who gave you motivation and enlightenment. But, hey, even so, only do this when you are absolutely sure that by doing so you have something to bring to the table.

Tommy Smith offers up both light and darkness, a man of his word (and sound).  No one can take away from Mr Smith what he has achieved.  As a sixteen year old kid way back in 1983 Smith recorded his first album Giant Strides (a nod to Coltrane’s Giant Steps).  It was good too, people began talking. Back in the day, I can remember going to see Ornette Coleman (or was it Braxton?) playing on London’s South Bank and Tommy Smith opening the gig with a small group.  There was a buzz around him though murmurings came in tow.  There are always those who have put-your-own-people-down-responses to child prodigy.  Well, Tommy Smith is still here and he’s proved his worth, done everything that anyone could ask of him.  Now he chooses to ‘embody the light’, referencing his own original source for the journey.  This album is such a delight.  When I recently reviewed Mr Smith’s suite, Beauty And The Beast, which featured the American, Bill Evans as soloist, I mused on whether Smith should have taken on that central role himself.  Listening to Embodying The Light, its starkly obvious that he could have done, what’s more (in my opinion), he should have done.

Let’s go first to Summertime, Gershwin’s money earner, recorded literally thousands and thousands of times by musicians of every genre imaginable.  Coltrane did his bit for the Gershwin estate on the 1960 Atlantic album My Favourite Things.  Despite the presence of McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones, this whole session owes a fair bit to Coltrane’s last sojourn with the Miles Davis band.  To comprehend John Coltrane you have to take in Miles Davis going modal. During this whole period diatonic scales were the rails on which Trane drove. Tommy Smith plugs into a feverish Summertime because he’s making a point. He cracks the melody at a fast pace using similar measures to Coltrane.  Summertime always adapts to circumstances, acting as one of the modal testers on Embodying The Light.  Placed smack in-between The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost (from Coltrane’s Meditations, which contra to the passive title was the ‘out’ recording which finally imploded the ‘classic’ Coltrane quartet) and Embodying The Darkness, a Smith composition which acts as a Janus double to the title track.  Where there is light, look long enough and you will find darkness. 

This Summertime is no everyday ‘jazz’.  It pulses.  Plugs the gap. Stings like a wasp in dry heat.  Whereas the trinity of Father, Son & Spirit is alchemical phat-thunder, a gnawing at the bone of a prayer to whoever’s there, Summertime crosses the ears easily, morphed into one classic shape.  A piano solo spraying a confetti of notes, chords cupped in the hands each one a present of sorts, double bass peaking on the scale of the line, the drum solo as tight as a knot, and Tommy’s tenor telling the truth that there’s no point trying to keep up with him, he’s not taking the janitor’s dog for a walk. Once they get to Embodying The Darkness Tommy Smith’s saxophone is the sound in the dark.  The flowing conversation of an adult who knows he’s gone for good.  If all this sounds rather esoteric, it is only if you want it to be.  You see, this music is the direction home. 

Tommy Smith, Pete Johnstone, Calum Gourlay and Sebastiaan de Krom have produced a recording which is so easy to enjoy.   His compatriots are chosen to spark.  At this moment bassist Calum Gourlay is in more bands than you can shake a stick at, with good reason, he’s a deeply musical rhythmic inventor. Pete Johnstone, a first call pianist with a vein straight to McCoy Tyner, and the Belgium drummer, Sebastiaan de Krom, a percussionist who can collapse time as well as make it work damn hard.

Tommy Smith closes down his homage to Coltrane with Transition, the title track from my original vinyl Impulse record containing Dear LordTransition always was something else, one of those Trane visitations to the blues that transcends the description.  And Tommy Smith hurls himself into the deep density of the soundquake as if he was born to play it.  Maybe he was, maybe we all were, except that this guy actually can do it (for us).  That’s how it feels.  Watch the concert performance on YouTube, it’s all there.  Any saxophonist who releases a specific album of John Coltrane material is not asking for an easy ride.  I haven’t given him one either, it’s just that Mr Smith has achieved something fundamentally fabulous.  I don’t have to justify it further and neither does he.

Click here for details. Click here for the video on YouTube of Embodying The Light.

Click here for the original recording of Dear Lord by John Coltrane.

Steve Day 

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Matt Chandler - Astrometrics

Album Released: 26th May 2017 - Label: 33 Records - Reviewed: July 2017

Matt Chandler Astrometrics


Matt Chandler (guitar), Ross Stanley (Hammond organ), Eric Ford (drums).

Astrometrics is guitarist Matt Chandler's third album following on from After Midnight released in 2009 and It Goes Like This released in 2011.  The band on this album is an organ trio with Ross Stanley playing the organ and Eric Ford on drums.  Both of these musicians have successfully played in other bands, Ross Stanley with the peripatetic Nigel Price band for example, who completed a mammoth UK tour in 2016 and Eric Ford with Partikel who have played widely in Europe and as far afield as China. The name of the album is an anagram of the band members' first names but Astrometrics is also the science of celestial measurement so the picture on the album cover of the Egyptian pyramids, which are aligned with the star Polaris, is an acknowledgement of this.

Organ trios became popular in the 1950's with Jimmy Smith being one of the most famous and prolific organists playing with guitarists such as Wes Montgomery on two albums and Kenny Burrell on a very many albums between 1957 - 1994.  These days they are still popular, not least because you get a lot of music for your money. In his press release Matt Chandler states "I wanted to do an album that was in keeping with the organ trio tradition but with a newer take on it and with material that was not composition heavy, where the music and the players "just get down to it".  It's really a celebration of our skills and how our skills work together". 

What this approach has resulted in is music with not much melody but lots of very skillful improvisation.  The first track, Funk Work, starts with a familiar sounding, simple toe-tapping melody, with Chandler and then Stanley exploring various improvisational strategies, Ford keeps everything interesting with impressive drumming.  Both of the next two tracks, The Sting and El Diablo, seem to begin with some bass guitar, there is a lot of rapid fire improvisation, guitar and organ conversing from time to time but not a lot of space.

[Click here for a video of the trio playing live. Only El Diablo from this set is on the album].

The next track, Doctor's In The House, is perhaps a little more like the organ trio music of yesteryear with an attractive melody and latin type rhythm while Intricate Facade opens with a dramatic crescendo from drums and organ but settles into a rather laid back, electronically enhanced guitar with the organ concentrating mainly on long chords and drums sounding like distant cannon fire. 

Scene Of No Scene starts with a cheerful melody played first on guitar and then organ, guitar and organ then take it in turns to improvise, Eric Ford working very hard on the drum kit as he does on the next track, 5 Bar Short, where he releases a positive fusillade of beats.  Dirty Rat is a fast tempo number where all members of the band get to solo and the last track, harking back to the melody of Scene Of No Scene is called A Change Of Scene (of No Scene) and is a charming and very relaxed piece and a lovely way to end the album.

Matt Chandler mentioned in his press release that this album "was not composition heavy", in other words melodies are relatively sparse and there is a lot of high octane improvising from both Chandler on guitar and Stanley on organ. Eric Ford's drumming is consistently powerful and impressive. Chandler talks about musicianship skills and musicians working together and the band certainly delivers on these aspects.

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Click here for further information on Matt Chandler's website.

Howard Lawes

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Thelonious Monk Quintet - Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960

Album Released: 16th June 2017 - Label: Sam Records - Reviewed: July 2017

Thelonious Monk Quintet Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960

Thelonious Monk Quintet: Thelonious Monk (piano); Charlie Rouse and Barney Wilen (tenor saxophones); Sam Jones (double bass); Art Taylor (drums).

Click here for a short video introduction.

From an historical point of view, this recording is special, a precious find. About four years ago Zev Feldman, François Lê Xuân and Fred Thomas contacted Laurent Guenoun, curator of writer and soundtrack producer Marcel Romano’s archive (Miles Davis’ Ascenseur Pour L'échafaud plus a whole lot more). They were interested in examples of recorded music by the French tenor sax player, Barney Wilen who had played on the Ascenseur soundtrack. One thing led to another.  In amongst all the other paraphernalia of Romano’s life’s work were these July 1959 tapes of Thelonious Monk’s complete session for Roger Vadim’s version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960.  Music which has never been released on record before. 

Back in 1959 the Monk soundtrack session had been secured by Romano in the manner of a fisherman trying to tempt an old pike to take the bait.  It had been a bad period all round for the pianist; a dodgy drugs bust the previous year screwed him up with depression, hospitalization and betrayal, drying up his work in New York.  Romano had been hanging onto the fishing line since the summer of 1958.  By February 1959, now back in front of an audience, Thelonious Monk recorded a live At Town Hall concert with his bespoke Orchestra.  This was not a permanent fixture, in fact a rare context for Monk and one he’d been pleased with.  However the gig received a bit of a pasting in some quarters (sorry guys, what is there not to like about At Town Hall?).  The fact is by the time Marcel Romano got to waving around a contract for Vadim’s film soundtrack Thelonious Monk was not ‘in the mood’.  When he did eventually sign on the dotted line he could not (maybe, would not) compose specific new material.  The result is that there is one new blues and a short version of the old hymn By And By; the rest are well known Monk originals. 

If that was the end of the story, the Thelonious Monk contribution to Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 would perhaps not garner the excitement it does to my ears.  As it is I’m desperate to get to the point, because what we have here is aural evidence into the inner workings of one of jazz’s truly great maestros.  This Dangereuses album package has so much going for it I recommend anyone who has got this far with this review to get on-line and buy the CD instantly; here’s the reason why.

1.  The two versions of Rhythm-a-Ning are among the very best studio ‘takes’ of this Monk classic.  [Yep, of course, I know the original version with Gerry Mulligan – I wrote, “among the very best”.]  The two-tenor frontline of Charlie Rouse and Barney Wilen jump from the traps as an inspired formation team.  Drummer, Art Taylor and bassist, Sam Jones offer a mighty sting in the tail; Monk himself is interpolating a twist of irregular in-fills, at the same time demonstrating that unorthodoxy in chord placement allows magic to be made.  On both ‘takes’ his solos are in fabulous non-alignment.

2.  The ‘master’ version of Pannonica on Disk 2 is a ‘must go to’ listen for Monk aficionados.  Originally recorded with Sonny Rollins on the brilliant Brilliant Corners session three years before, the melody line had given Mr Rollins a few headaches.  By the time the Dangereuses session came to fruition Charlie Rouse had the track honed and delivered like a sworn marriage vow (he played with Monk for over ten years).  Say what you want, Sonny Rollins is a god whereas Charlie Rouse, a mere angel, but serious ears will take Mr Rouse’s short modest delivery as being something close to being genuinely sublime.  The tenor horn underneath beautifully compliments his boss’s slow trickling ripple along the elongated length of the line - empathy begets everything.  Monk’s own performance on the master is a jewel. And of course this package comes complete with two solo takes and an edited quartet Pannonica.  There’s plenty for the ears to study.

3.  Light Blue is a Monk tune that hasn’t had a lot of coverage.  My favourite version is from 1963, live at the Newport Jazz Festival.  However, on Dangereuses what we get is an insider’s ear of what happens when Thelonious Monk is struck by happenchance.  There are three versions, a ‘master’, an ‘edit’ and a fourteen minute tape run called Light Blue (making of).  It’s a composition with an esoteric internal time count.  At Newport, four years on from the Dangereuses session, drummer Frankie Dunlop played a deft casual count, which is only carried by Rouse and Monk. Drums ‘n’ bass lope the thing forward with a loose sleepy shuffle which doesn’t attempt to signal the signature.  They were wide awake.  Maybe they were just aware of Art Taylor’s ‘time-trial’ on Dangereuses Liasons. 

Warming up at the start of the first ‘take’, Taylor plays a pattern which doesn’t bear any specific relation to the internal hook of the melody.  The two are in juxtaposition, particularly the bass drum, however this doesn’t prevent Monk telling Taylor this is exactly what he requires.  What follows on making of is Mr Taylor attempting to hit the circumference to Monk’s circle.  They eventually complete a ‘take’.  Does it work?  For my money better to go to the Newport recording, or Monk with Johnny Griffin in 1958 where the gracious Roy Haynes shadow plays drums to make clever clearance of the difficulties. Nonetheless, listening to the Dangereuses recording voice-over, with the man-himself insisting that Taylor’s beat will work if the drummer only perseveres with precision, is a lesson in nerves. Hell, you could base a whole drum clinic around this little insight.

4. Finally, I’d point to the versions of Crepuscule With Nellie, Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are and Well You Needn’t.  Let’s be clear, Crepuscule, written for his wife Nellie, was a tune that always took on something of near sacred proportions for Monk, such was his dependency on her.  The second ‘take’ version on disk 1 is a fine personal statement without closing on the version on Monk’s Music, recorded two years before with John Coltrane.  In other circumstances the other two tracks would both be serious contenders but for the fact that the awesome Ba-Lue with Sonny Rollins must get the prize and of the many versions of Well You Needn’t, probably the one with Coltrane has to be definitive.  (Monk enthusiastically calling out John Coltrane’s name to solo is such a heady moment.  And what follows is such a show-stopping redrawing of the tune, what do you do?  It’s difficult to get past those guys.)  But, here we go, the full unedited version of Needn’t presented here should definitely be regarded as a ‘must hear’.  The Taylor/Jones axis swings, Monk himself (who composed the piece way back in 1944) signals places for all the ‘parts’ as if he were juggling balls in the air.  And Charlie Rouse sounds at ease as well as dexterous and bright.  This is a genius presiding over a masterwork.  As for Ba-Lue, on the Monk/Sonny Rollins session Brilliant Corners, Mr Rollins was joined by Ernie Henry; on Dangereuses it’s Barney Wilen with Mr Rouse.  They fit like an argument that has only agreement left.  The solos and the unison heads are joined at the hip (so to speak).  Monk too is totally ‘on’ throughout, by being ‘out’.  No one strikes the blues at such an acute angle.  Playfully unpredictable, yet holding an inner personal  assurance that this truly is Monk.

In a strange kind of way I now don’t hear Dangereuses Liasons 1960 as a soundtrack.  I did see the movie many years ago, but it’s faded and deleted.  I now feed my ears with this session, the music feels so bold and beatific.  I don’t wish to hear it reduced to background wallpaper, however iconic the visual content. 

I don’t use the word lightly, Thelonious Monk is one of the true geniuses of jazz (full stop).  And the present tense is still true of a dead man. As I referred to Coltrane and Rollins, like them Thelonious Monk can’t be replicated.  When I hear other pianists playing his quirky, puzzling, curiously profound creations I wonder why they bother.  The maestro has already made them so utterly his own; riffs-in-a-riddle, so utterly personal, yet symphonic in implications.  Copying Picasso doesn’t take you forward (in my view). Dangereuses Liasons 1960 is a glorious gift we had no right to expect after all this time.  What is jazz?  This is.  Too important to turn away.

Click here for details.

Steve Day

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Ben Cohen - Remembering Ben Cohen Vol. 2

Album Released: 2nd June 2017 - Label: Lake Records - Reviewed: July 2017

Remembering Ben Cohem album

The name of cornettist Ben Cohen comes up in correspondence to this website from time to time, often in connection with other ensembles, but he is not fêted in the way we recognise many other jazz musicians. It is gratifying that Lake Records are putting this right with this limited series of compilations. Vol. 1, featuring Ben Cohen with Brian White's Magna Jazz Band was released in 2014 and I quote Paul Adams from the liner notes:

'He came to public attention when he joined Chris Barber’s New Orleans Jazz Band in 1950. From 1950 until his death in 2002 Ben Cohen became highly regarded as a fiery ‘hot’ player in the early Louis Armstrong mould. He played in the bands of Alex Revell, Cy Laurie, Ian Bell, The Temperance Seven, Mike Daniels and many others. Keith Nichols used him on his recreations of 1920s bands. Ben Cohen recorded for LAKE as a member of the Sonny Dee All Stars and Laurie Chescoe’s Goodtime Jazz. This CD sees him with Brian White’s Magna Jazz Band on previously unreleased tracks from 1979, 1984 and 1987. It is good, swinging jazz in the Chicago style and shows why Ben Cohen was so well regarded by musicians and jazz fans alike'.

Click here for further details and to sample Vol. 1.

We should also note the nature of these 'limited series' that are only around for a while: 'These are CDs of music or musicians which are not expected to be volume sales, but which deserve to be heard'.

On Vol. 2 we are treated to the recordings mentioned in the liner notes of Vol. 1. There are 14 tracks with The Sonny Dee (aka Stan Daly) All Stars: Ben Cohen (cornet/vocals); Pete Hodge (trombone); Al Newman (clarinet/tenor saxophone); Austin Malcolm (piano); Bob Painer (bass) and Stan Daly (drums) - all recorded in May 1990.

The remaining 3 tracks with Laurie Chescoe's Goodtime Jazz were recorded in September and October 2000 and feature: Ben Cohen (cornet); Dave Hewett (trombone / cornet); Al Gay (clarinet); Stan grieg (piano); John Stewart (guitar / banjo); Pete Skivington (bass) and Laurie Chescoe (drums).

As usual with Lake CDs, Paul Adams includes useful historical liner notes. Stan Daly formed a first version of the All Stars in the 1960s. He spent a period in the USA playing with Condon associated musicians and was drummer for Harry Gold's Pieces Of Eight band. The All Stars used written arrangements leaving spaces for improvised solos. Paul says: 'I was surprised when Ben surfaced in Stan Daly's band as I knew that he wasn't really a reading musician .... Recently I spoke to Keith Nichols - who had also played in the All Stars - Keith's response was "Ben did read a bit, but he only just scraped through in the Mike Daniels Big Band and also a couple of times I used him in a ten piece situation. But his wonderful soloing made up for it all"

The 14 tracks with Sonny Dee are all standards. Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone romps away the first track with Ben Cohen in early with his solo. The music has been mixed well and everyone's contribution can be appreciated. Mama's Gone Goodbye is a tune I know less well and Al Newman's nice clarinet leads into a muted trombone solo from Pete Hodge before Cohen's cornet cuts in. Everybody Loves My Baby stomps and Cohen's cornet and Hodge's trombone growl; I Cried For You and Blue And Broken-Hearted follow with Ben Cohen setting the slow swing blues for the band on the latter. I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me picks up the foot tapping ensemble again with the front line all taking their solos and Bob Paine allowed a brief bass break. I Want A Little Girl is sweet with tenor solos from Al Newman, a nice trombone contribution from Pete Hodge and vocals from Ben Cohen. Somehow I think it would have held the mood better without the vocals. Spain and Glad Rag Doll follow in true trad style as is Roses Of Picardy with its trombone entry and At Sundown maintains the swinging tempo, Cohen cuts in sharply and Austin Malcolm once again shows his light touch on the piano.

If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight is one of my favourite tunes. The trombone carries the melody, Ben Cohen provides the words, and the tenor sax, cornet and piano do their bit but I think the tenderness of the Mound City Blue Blowers' 1929 version of One Hour is hard to better (check it out on YouTube). Ain't She Sweet is nicely played by the piano, bass and drums while everyone else takes a rest before Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me crashes in with the drums opening the way for the solos that swing us neatly into the ensemble and out of the Stan Daly set on the album.

Ten years later and we have the tracks with Laurie Chescoe's Goodtime Jazz. Paul Adams says: 'Although Ben was on the mend following a stroke he joined Laurie Chescoe's band and we set up a recording session at The Stables in Wavendon. We had got a few tracks down on the first day and had started the second day when there was an almighty crash and there was Ben lying on the floor ... fortunately (?) he had only fallen off the edge of the stage ... we reconvened a couple of months later ...'. The recording is also valuable in that it features two other late, excellent jazz musicians, Stan Greig and Al Gay.

The tracks are a little mixed up on the sleeve notes. Stardust is at track 15 (not Heebie Jeebies as stated in the liner notes) and is an excellent cornet duet shared by Ben Cohen and Dave Hewett with some beautiful piano playing by Stan Greig. One of my favourite tracks on this album and worth hearing. Heebie Jeebies follows at track 16 with Dave Hewett, this time on trombone, easing us in. Pete Skivington's bass is featured after Ben states the theme and the trombone then treats us to another solo before Ben Cohen shows his 71 years are no problem to his playing - amazing too if he had recently had a stroke. Potato Head Blues is the final track with more great playing from Ben reflecting Armstrong through his notes. Al Gay's clarinet seems a little far back in the mix but Stan's piano is there doing justice. Ben plays the clear classic phrases that lead the ensemble to the end.

For those who remember Ben Cohen, this will inevitably add to their collection. For others it is a taste of one of the lesser featured trad jazz musicians who with his strong, clear cornet and talent made a valuable contribution to British jazz.

Click here for details and for track samples.

Ian Maund


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Jones Jones - The Moscow Improvisations

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

Jones Jones The Moscow Improvisations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Steve Day 

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The Button Band - Emilie

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

The Button Band Emilie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ian Maund

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Nick Finzer - Hear & Now

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

Nick Finzer Hear & Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for details and to sample the album.

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

Filipe Freitas

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Kenny Warren Quartet - Thank You For Coming To Life

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

Kenny Warren Quartet Thank You For Coming To Life

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

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

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

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

Click here for a video of Stones Changes.

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

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

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

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

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Steve Day 

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Avishai Cohen - Cross My Palm With Silver

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

Avishai Cohen Cross My Palm With Silver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for an introductory video.

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

Filipe Freitas

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Polly Gibbons - Is It Me ... ?

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

Polly Gibbons Is It Me?

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for an introductory video.

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

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

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

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

Click here to listen to Ability To Swing.

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

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

Tim Rolfe

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Meg Morley - Through the Hours

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

Meg Morley Through The Hours

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for a video interpretation of Drift.

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

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

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

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

Click here for Meg's website.

Ian Maund

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Samuel Eagles' SPIRIT - Ask Seek Knock

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

Samuel Eagles SPIRIT Ask Seek Knock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Robin Kidson

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Sloth Racket - Shapeshifters

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

Sloth Racket Shapeshifters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Day         

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Freddie Gavita - Transient

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

Freddie Gavita Transient

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for a video introduction to the album.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ian Maund

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Brian Molley Quartet - Colour And Movement

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

Brian Molley Quartet Colour And Movement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to listen to Solitude.

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

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

Howard Lawes


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

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

Bill Evans NYJO Beauty & the Beast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Steve Day

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Miles Okazaki - Trickster

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

Miles Okazaki Trickster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for a video introduction for the album.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron Standon

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Corsano, Courvoisier, Wooley - Salt Task

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

Corsano, Courvoisier, Wooley Salt Task

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for details.

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

Filipe Freitas

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Frank Gratowski and Sebi Tramontana - Live At Španski Borci

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

Frank Gratowski and Sebi Tremontana Live At Spanski Borci

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for details and a short sample.

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

Steve Day

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Ralph Towner - My Foolish Heart

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

Ralph Towner My Foolish Heart

Ralph Towner (solo guitar).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Filipe Freitas

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The Mark Masters Ensemble - Blue Skylight

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

Mark Masters Ensemble Blue Skylight

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for details and to sample the album.

Tim Rolfe

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Archer, Bennett, Mwamba, Fairclough - Sunshine! Quartet

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for details and to sample.

Steve Day

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

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

Archer Clark Grew Hunter - Felicity's Ultimatum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for details and to listen to a sample.

Steve Day 

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Big Bad Wolf - Pond Life

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

Big Bad Wolf Pond Life

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

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

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

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

Click here to listen to Flats In Dagenham.

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for a video of the band playing Canary.

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

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

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

Humphrey Lyttelton Dusting Off The Archives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for details and samples.

Ian Maund

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Brass Mask - Live

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

Brass Mask Live

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

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

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

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

Click here to listen to The Bague.

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for details and to sample the album.

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

Click here for our Tea Break chat with Tom Challenger.

Howard Lawes    

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Mark Lewandowski - Waller

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

Mark Lewandowski Waller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to sample the album.

Robin Kidson

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Jason Yaeger and Jason Anick - United

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

Jason Yaeger and Jason Anick United

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

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

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

Click here to listen to Achi.

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for Something played live.

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

Click here for a video introduction to the album.

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

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

Steve Day

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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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