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REVIEW

Ben Crosland Quintet - Ben Crosland Quintet, ‘The Ray Davies Songbook’ at The Hive, Shrewsbury, 13 /10/ 2018. Rating: 4 out of 5 The real stars of the show were Davies’ timeless songs and Crosland’s imaginative, colourful & hugely inventive adaptations of them. Despite the source material this was totally authentic jazz.

Ben Crosland Quintet, ‘The Ray Davies Songbook’,
The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 13/10/2018.

It shouldn’t work should it? When I told friends that I was attending a gig where jazz musicians played jazz arrangements of Kinks tunes most people looked bemused, or even baffled.

But they’d never heard the Ben Crosland Quintet’s 2016 album “The Ray Davies Songbook” which presented a dozen of Davies’ best known Kinks songs in a jazz framework and succeeded brilliantly.

The musicians that electric bass specialist Crosland chose to help him put a fresh slant on Davies’ songs were Dave O’Higgins (tenor & soprano saxes), Steve Lodder (piano, keyboards), John Etheridge (guitar) and Sebastiaan De Krom (drums). All these were present tonight with the exception of Etheridge who is currently touring in North America with Soft Machine. Etheridge’s place was taken by Chris Allard, a highly versatile guitarist and a bandleader in his own right.

The Davies Songbook project was originally commissioned by Marsden Jazz Festival and the twelve selected arrangements were premièred at the 2015 Festival. Crosland had already been into the studio and recorded the material at this point and the results were released on the album “The Ray Davies Songbook”, issued on Crosland’s own Jazzcat record label in 2016. My review of the recording can be found here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/ben-crosland-quintet-the-ray-davies-songbook/

Huddersfield based Crosland has also appeared on the Jazzmann web pages as the leader of the group Threeway, a chamber jazz ensemble featuring Steve Lodder (piano, keyboards) and Steve Waterman (trumpet, flugelhorn). The trio’s delicate but tensile strengths are heard to good effect on the albums “Conversation” (2005) “Songs Of The Year” (2009) and “Looking Forward, Looking Back” (2014),  all of which placed the focus on original material. Meanwhile the Ben Crosland Brass Group featured an extended version of Threeway with the addition of Martin Shaw on trumpet and flugel plus Mark Nightingale and Barnaby Dickinson on trombones. This sextet line up released the album “An Open Place”, a collection of compositions inspired by the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, in 2012.


During the course of a lengthy career Crosland has also released a number of albums in more conventional jazz quartet / quintet formats, these featuring an impressive array of collaborators including saxophonists Alan Skidmore and Rod Mason. For me a personal favourite is 2004’s “Last Flight Out”, a quartet offering featuring Waterman, guitarist Stuart McCallum and drummer Dave Walsh. 

Crosland’s Ray Davies project has been very well received by critics and audiences alike and in commercial terms has been the bassist’s most successful recording to date. Crosland has also toured widely with the project and it was the quality of a performance in Birmingham, witnessed by Shrewsbury Jazz Network stalwarts Laurie and Debbie Grey, that led to this engagement at The Hive.

Laurie and Debbie’s good judgement was rewarded with another large turnout at The Hive and the audience members loved the all star quintet’s skilled and exciting interpretations of these familiar Kinks tunes. As I remarked in my review of the Davies Songbook recording;
  “The Crosland Quintet is not into artful or ironic post-modern deconstruction. Instead Crosland’s very obvious love of his source material shines through loud and clear but at the same he still manages to find something fresh and interesting to say within this context”

Tonight this was illustrated by the fact that with each piece that was played the original melody largely remained intact, and the audience members could still hear Davies’ lyrics in their heads, regardless of the changes in terms of tempo and harmony that Crosland and his colleagues brought to them. The individual soloists may have wandered thrillingly off piste but the quintet never lost sight of the course of a song. Many of the Kinks’ early hits were simple, riff based pieces making them ideal vehicles for jazz soloing, but some of Davies’ later, more sophisticated works also lent themselves well to Crosland’s interpretations. If anything Davies’ songs lend themselves better to jazz interpretations than those of the Beatles whose songs, under the watchful eye of George Martin, tended to be more tightly arranged and produced.

Also don’t forget that Davies was steeped in Music Hall and in the sounds of the big bands that played at the local Palais, as so evocatively chronicled in the latter day Kinks hit “Come Dancing”.
As Crosland explains;
“Strong grooves, a natural swing and strong evocative melodies characterise Ray Davies’ songs. I have attempted to harness those qualities in my arrangements”.

And so on tonight’s performance which began with “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion”, with O’Higgins on tenor and Allard on guitar exchanging melodic phrases on the opening and closing theme or ‘song’ statement while more extended jazz soloing came from the saxophonist, plus Lodder on keyboard, the latter adopting an acoustic piano sound. “The song lent itself to a straight-ahead swing treatment, albeit with some harmonic revision”  Crosland has commented.

Crosland has altered the feel of some of the songs but not their essential spirit. Here “Set Me Free” was recast as a jazz ballad with subtle bossa undertones with De Krom switching to brushes to support Lodder’s flowingly expansive piano lyricism. Electric bass specialist Crosland featured next, deploying his four string fretless model to deliver a liquidly lyrical solo. Finally we heard from Allard, who adopted something of a Frisell-like twang on his guitar.

“See My Friends”, with its Indian inspired drones, was the first of Davies’ songs to tap into the kind of Eastern mysticism that so fascinated the Beatles. Crosland has re-harmonised the piece and given it a 6/8 time signature. O’Higgins’ soprano sax solo evoked the drones of the original as he beguiled the audience in the manner of a snake charmer. Lodder’s piano solo brought a fresh rhythmic exuberance to the piece while Allard favoured a pure, ringing guitar sound for his solo.

An innovative arrangement of “Tired Of Waiting For You” found Crosland slowing the song down to deliver what he described as a “sleepy time version”, the treatment inspired by the song title. With Lodder adopting a church like organ sound on his keyboard while De Krom deployed mallets in atmospheric fashion throughout. Allard played the melody on sustain heavy guitar with O’Higgins supplying answering melodic phrases on tenor. Central to the performance was Crosland’s languid, melodic solo on electric bass, this followed by the melodic twang of Allard’s guitar.

Crosland explained that in their early days The Kinks consistently backed their hits with high quality B sides. Typical of these was “I Need You”, which Davies himself still includes in his own solo sets. Originally a high octane rocker Crosland has given it a fast blues boogie cum shuffle arrangement powered by O’Higgins raunchy tenor sax.  Solos her came from O’Higgins on tenor and Allard on bluesy guitar, reminiscent at times of John Scofield. Meanwhile De Krom’s forceful stick work drove the music forward with power and authority.

The success of the Davies Songbook project has led to Crosland arranging a second batch of Davies songs for a “Volume Two”, to be released in 2019. The “Volume Two” material had been premièred the previous evening, again at Marsden Jazz Festival, but the focus tonight was back on Volume One. Nevertheless Crosland still sneaked a couple of the new arrangements into tonight’s performance, including a languid, but relaxed and celebratory version of “Days”, a Kinks song that was also a hit for the late Kirsty MacColl. De Krom’s brushed grooves provided sensitive support for solos by Lodder on piano and O’Higgins on tenor.

A lengthy first set closed with the quintet upping the energy levels again with a funky, New Orleans inspired arrangement of “Everybody’s Going To Be Happy” with O’Higgins stating the theme on soprano prior to a rollicking piano solo from Lodder followed by Allard’s note bending bluesiness on guitar.

Set two commenced with a rousing arrangement of “A Well Respected Man” with solos from Lodder on piano and O’Higgins on tenor plus De Krom with a dynamic drum feature. Listening back to the album as I write it’s become clear that several of tonight’s performances differed substantially from the recorded versions, a credit both to the versatility of Crosland’s arrangements and the sheer adaptability of Davies’ songs.

Crosland has credited Lodder for the idea of the jazz / reggae arrangement of “Sunny Afternoon”  with its lilting piano and wah wah guitar here underpinning O’Higgins’ jazzy tenor sax soloing. Lodder and Allard subsequently enjoyed their own features on this infectious and crowd pleasing item.

Crosland’s adaptations of the Kinks’ songs have won the approval of that band’s original drummer Mick Avory (Davies himself has remained silent on the subject). Avory is currently a member of the Kast Off Kinks, not a tribute band exactly, but one formed entirely of former Kinks members that tours the country playing the Kinks repertoire. Crosland and Avory recently met up when the Kast Off Kinks played a show at the Grand Theatre in Wakefield.

We learnt this as Crosland introduced his arrangement of “All Day And All Of The Night”, the Kinks’ second hit. Propelled by a crisp bass and drum groove the piece included a spacey Rhodes solo from Lodder and an explosive guitar solo from Allard that saw him channelling his inner Dave Davies, at one point with only De Krom’s drums for company.

“Dead End Street” was one of Davies’ first ‘social comment’ songs, the cheeriness of the original arrangement helping to mask the bitterness, resentment and relevance of the lyrics. Crosland’s arrangement was more reflective, but still included incisive solos from Allard on guitar and O’Higgins on deeply probing soprano.

“David Watts”, a song also recorded by The Jam, represented a second preview of the “Volume Two” material with Lodder adopting a funky, almost clavinet like sound on keyboard, this locking in with De Krom’s rapidly brushed drum grooves and Crosland’s propulsive Motown style bass lines. This rhythmic drive helped to fuel excellent solos from Allard on guitar and O’Higgins on tenor, with Lodder also weighing in on keyboard, now using a more conventional Rhodes sound.

Crosland and his colleagues were not afraid to tackle the real ‘biggies’ of the Kinks repertoire. Next we heard what is probably Ray Davies’ best known song, the beautiful and evocative “Waterloo Sunset”. Needless to say the quintet more than did the gorgeous melody justice via Lodder’s solo piano introduction, Crosland’s gloriously liquid and melodic bass, ably supported by Allard’s guitar counterpoint,  and finally O’Higgins’s lyrical tenor.  Meanwhile De Krom provided sensitive brushed support throughout.

To end we heard the Kinks breakthrough hit, the hugely influential riff driven “You Really Got Me”. Crosland and his colleagues gave the old war horse a hard grooving, organ driven, soul jazz interpretation that served it well. Crosland’s underpinning bass and Loddder’s Hammond grooves helped to fuel solos from O’Higgins on lithe, piercing soprano sax and Allard on rock influenced, FX drenched guitar. Finally De Krom, a versatile drummer capable of both great power and admirable sensitivity, unleashed a volcanic drum solo that the near sell out audience loved.

Unfortunately there was no time for an encore as the venue was nearing its curfew but after fourteen songs played over the course of two lengthy sets nobody could complain of feeling short changed. This was an excellent performance, presented by Crosland with a wry, dry Northern wit, that included some superb playing from all members of the quintet. This was a great team effort and it would be invidious to pick out any one individual for special praise.

Arguably the real stars of the show were Davies’ timeless songs and Crosland’s imaginative, colourful and hugely inventive adaptations of them. Despite the source material this was a totally authentic jazz performance capable of satisfying hard core jazz fans in addition to any first time listeners drawn in by the Davies name. The arrival of “The Ray Davies Songbook Volume Two” will be awaited with much interest.

POSTSCRIPT;

In August 2015 I reviewed a performance by Ray Davies and his Band at Brecon Jazz Festival. The choice of Davies for a jazz festival seemed a little incongruous at the time but the show at the Market Hall was a terrific event with a surprisingly youthful looking Davies in fine form as he and his colleagues performed many of the hits from the Kinks back catalogue to the delight of a capacity audience.
I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed that performance and it also served as a reminder, as if any were needed, as to just how many great songs Davies has written. Like those of the Beatles the songs of the Kinks have become like a modern folk music, a part of the British national consciousness.
Davies’ appearance at a jazz festival now makes perfect sense in the wake of these brilliant adaptations of his songs by Ben Crosland and his quintet.

My thanks to Ben Crosland for speaking with me afterwards and listening to my suggestion that it would be a good idea for somebody to come up with a set of big band arrangements of Black Sabbath tunes. Can you imagine some of those killer riffs being blasted out by a big band with trombones and baritone saxes? I can just hear it in my head.
And don’t forget that the Sabs themselves admitted to being influenced by the sounds of Count Basie, which were introduced to them by their former manager, Jim Simpson.

 

 

 

Ben Crosland Quintet, ‘The Ray Davies Songbook’ at The Hive, Shrewsbury, 13 /10/ 2018.

Ben Crosland Quintet

Monday, October 15, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Ben Crosland Quintet, ‘The Ray Davies Songbook’ at The Hive, Shrewsbury, 13 /10/ 2018.
Photography: Photograph by Hamish Kirkpatrick of Shrewsbury Jazz Network

The real stars of the show were Davies’ timeless songs and Crosland’s imaginative, colourful & hugely inventive adaptations of them. Despite the source material this was totally authentic jazz.

Ben Crosland Quintet, ‘The Ray Davies Songbook’,
The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 13/10/2018.

It shouldn’t work should it? When I told friends that I was attending a gig where jazz musicians played jazz arrangements of Kinks tunes most people looked bemused, or even baffled.

But they’d never heard the Ben Crosland Quintet’s 2016 album “The Ray Davies Songbook” which presented a dozen of Davies’ best known Kinks songs in a jazz framework and succeeded brilliantly.

The musicians that electric bass specialist Crosland chose to help him put a fresh slant on Davies’ songs were Dave O’Higgins (tenor & soprano saxes), Steve Lodder (piano, keyboards), John Etheridge (guitar) and Sebastiaan De Krom (drums). All these were present tonight with the exception of Etheridge who is currently touring in North America with Soft Machine. Etheridge’s place was taken by Chris Allard, a highly versatile guitarist and a bandleader in his own right.

The Davies Songbook project was originally commissioned by Marsden Jazz Festival and the twelve selected arrangements were premièred at the 2015 Festival. Crosland had already been into the studio and recorded the material at this point and the results were released on the album “The Ray Davies Songbook”, issued on Crosland’s own Jazzcat record label in 2016. My review of the recording can be found here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/ben-crosland-quintet-the-ray-davies-songbook/

Huddersfield based Crosland has also appeared on the Jazzmann web pages as the leader of the group Threeway, a chamber jazz ensemble featuring Steve Lodder (piano, keyboards) and Steve Waterman (trumpet, flugelhorn). The trio’s delicate but tensile strengths are heard to good effect on the albums “Conversation” (2005) “Songs Of The Year” (2009) and “Looking Forward, Looking Back” (2014),  all of which placed the focus on original material. Meanwhile the Ben Crosland Brass Group featured an extended version of Threeway with the addition of Martin Shaw on trumpet and flugel plus Mark Nightingale and Barnaby Dickinson on trombones. This sextet line up released the album “An Open Place”, a collection of compositions inspired by the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, in 2012.


During the course of a lengthy career Crosland has also released a number of albums in more conventional jazz quartet / quintet formats, these featuring an impressive array of collaborators including saxophonists Alan Skidmore and Rod Mason. For me a personal favourite is 2004’s “Last Flight Out”, a quartet offering featuring Waterman, guitarist Stuart McCallum and drummer Dave Walsh. 

Crosland’s Ray Davies project has been very well received by critics and audiences alike and in commercial terms has been the bassist’s most successful recording to date. Crosland has also toured widely with the project and it was the quality of a performance in Birmingham, witnessed by Shrewsbury Jazz Network stalwarts Laurie and Debbie Grey, that led to this engagement at The Hive.

Laurie and Debbie’s good judgement was rewarded with another large turnout at The Hive and the audience members loved the all star quintet’s skilled and exciting interpretations of these familiar Kinks tunes. As I remarked in my review of the Davies Songbook recording;
  “The Crosland Quintet is not into artful or ironic post-modern deconstruction. Instead Crosland’s very obvious love of his source material shines through loud and clear but at the same he still manages to find something fresh and interesting to say within this context”

Tonight this was illustrated by the fact that with each piece that was played the original melody largely remained intact, and the audience members could still hear Davies’ lyrics in their heads, regardless of the changes in terms of tempo and harmony that Crosland and his colleagues brought to them. The individual soloists may have wandered thrillingly off piste but the quintet never lost sight of the course of a song. Many of the Kinks’ early hits were simple, riff based pieces making them ideal vehicles for jazz soloing, but some of Davies’ later, more sophisticated works also lent themselves well to Crosland’s interpretations. If anything Davies’ songs lend themselves better to jazz interpretations than those of the Beatles whose songs, under the watchful eye of George Martin, tended to be more tightly arranged and produced.

Also don’t forget that Davies was steeped in Music Hall and in the sounds of the big bands that played at the local Palais, as so evocatively chronicled in the latter day Kinks hit “Come Dancing”.
As Crosland explains;
“Strong grooves, a natural swing and strong evocative melodies characterise Ray Davies’ songs. I have attempted to harness those qualities in my arrangements”.

And so on tonight’s performance which began with “Dedicated Follower Of Fashion”, with O’Higgins on tenor and Allard on guitar exchanging melodic phrases on the opening and closing theme or ‘song’ statement while more extended jazz soloing came from the saxophonist, plus Lodder on keyboard, the latter adopting an acoustic piano sound. “The song lent itself to a straight-ahead swing treatment, albeit with some harmonic revision”  Crosland has commented.

Crosland has altered the feel of some of the songs but not their essential spirit. Here “Set Me Free” was recast as a jazz ballad with subtle bossa undertones with De Krom switching to brushes to support Lodder’s flowingly expansive piano lyricism. Electric bass specialist Crosland featured next, deploying his four string fretless model to deliver a liquidly lyrical solo. Finally we heard from Allard, who adopted something of a Frisell-like twang on his guitar.

“See My Friends”, with its Indian inspired drones, was the first of Davies’ songs to tap into the kind of Eastern mysticism that so fascinated the Beatles. Crosland has re-harmonised the piece and given it a 6/8 time signature. O’Higgins’ soprano sax solo evoked the drones of the original as he beguiled the audience in the manner of a snake charmer. Lodder’s piano solo brought a fresh rhythmic exuberance to the piece while Allard favoured a pure, ringing guitar sound for his solo.

An innovative arrangement of “Tired Of Waiting For You” found Crosland slowing the song down to deliver what he described as a “sleepy time version”, the treatment inspired by the song title. With Lodder adopting a church like organ sound on his keyboard while De Krom deployed mallets in atmospheric fashion throughout. Allard played the melody on sustain heavy guitar with O’Higgins supplying answering melodic phrases on tenor. Central to the performance was Crosland’s languid, melodic solo on electric bass, this followed by the melodic twang of Allard’s guitar.

Crosland explained that in their early days The Kinks consistently backed their hits with high quality B sides. Typical of these was “I Need You”, which Davies himself still includes in his own solo sets. Originally a high octane rocker Crosland has given it a fast blues boogie cum shuffle arrangement powered by O’Higgins raunchy tenor sax.  Solos her came from O’Higgins on tenor and Allard on bluesy guitar, reminiscent at times of John Scofield. Meanwhile De Krom’s forceful stick work drove the music forward with power and authority.

The success of the Davies Songbook project has led to Crosland arranging a second batch of Davies songs for a “Volume Two”, to be released in 2019. The “Volume Two” material had been premièred the previous evening, again at Marsden Jazz Festival, but the focus tonight was back on Volume One. Nevertheless Crosland still sneaked a couple of the new arrangements into tonight’s performance, including a languid, but relaxed and celebratory version of “Days”, a Kinks song that was also a hit for the late Kirsty MacColl. De Krom’s brushed grooves provided sensitive support for solos by Lodder on piano and O’Higgins on tenor.

A lengthy first set closed with the quintet upping the energy levels again with a funky, New Orleans inspired arrangement of “Everybody’s Going To Be Happy” with O’Higgins stating the theme on soprano prior to a rollicking piano solo from Lodder followed by Allard’s note bending bluesiness on guitar.

Set two commenced with a rousing arrangement of “A Well Respected Man” with solos from Lodder on piano and O’Higgins on tenor plus De Krom with a dynamic drum feature. Listening back to the album as I write it’s become clear that several of tonight’s performances differed substantially from the recorded versions, a credit both to the versatility of Crosland’s arrangements and the sheer adaptability of Davies’ songs.

Crosland has credited Lodder for the idea of the jazz / reggae arrangement of “Sunny Afternoon”  with its lilting piano and wah wah guitar here underpinning O’Higgins’ jazzy tenor sax soloing. Lodder and Allard subsequently enjoyed their own features on this infectious and crowd pleasing item.

Crosland’s adaptations of the Kinks’ songs have won the approval of that band’s original drummer Mick Avory (Davies himself has remained silent on the subject). Avory is currently a member of the Kast Off Kinks, not a tribute band exactly, but one formed entirely of former Kinks members that tours the country playing the Kinks repertoire. Crosland and Avory recently met up when the Kast Off Kinks played a show at the Grand Theatre in Wakefield.

We learnt this as Crosland introduced his arrangement of “All Day And All Of The Night”, the Kinks’ second hit. Propelled by a crisp bass and drum groove the piece included a spacey Rhodes solo from Lodder and an explosive guitar solo from Allard that saw him channelling his inner Dave Davies, at one point with only De Krom’s drums for company.

“Dead End Street” was one of Davies’ first ‘social comment’ songs, the cheeriness of the original arrangement helping to mask the bitterness, resentment and relevance of the lyrics. Crosland’s arrangement was more reflective, but still included incisive solos from Allard on guitar and O’Higgins on deeply probing soprano.

“David Watts”, a song also recorded by The Jam, represented a second preview of the “Volume Two” material with Lodder adopting a funky, almost clavinet like sound on keyboard, this locking in with De Krom’s rapidly brushed drum grooves and Crosland’s propulsive Motown style bass lines. This rhythmic drive helped to fuel excellent solos from Allard on guitar and O’Higgins on tenor, with Lodder also weighing in on keyboard, now using a more conventional Rhodes sound.

Crosland and his colleagues were not afraid to tackle the real ‘biggies’ of the Kinks repertoire. Next we heard what is probably Ray Davies’ best known song, the beautiful and evocative “Waterloo Sunset”. Needless to say the quintet more than did the gorgeous melody justice via Lodder’s solo piano introduction, Crosland’s gloriously liquid and melodic bass, ably supported by Allard’s guitar counterpoint,  and finally O’Higgins’s lyrical tenor.  Meanwhile De Krom provided sensitive brushed support throughout.

To end we heard the Kinks breakthrough hit, the hugely influential riff driven “You Really Got Me”. Crosland and his colleagues gave the old war horse a hard grooving, organ driven, soul jazz interpretation that served it well. Crosland’s underpinning bass and Loddder’s Hammond grooves helped to fuel solos from O’Higgins on lithe, piercing soprano sax and Allard on rock influenced, FX drenched guitar. Finally De Krom, a versatile drummer capable of both great power and admirable sensitivity, unleashed a volcanic drum solo that the near sell out audience loved.

Unfortunately there was no time for an encore as the venue was nearing its curfew but after fourteen songs played over the course of two lengthy sets nobody could complain of feeling short changed. This was an excellent performance, presented by Crosland with a wry, dry Northern wit, that included some superb playing from all members of the quintet. This was a great team effort and it would be invidious to pick out any one individual for special praise.

Arguably the real stars of the show were Davies’ timeless songs and Crosland’s imaginative, colourful and hugely inventive adaptations of them. Despite the source material this was a totally authentic jazz performance capable of satisfying hard core jazz fans in addition to any first time listeners drawn in by the Davies name. The arrival of “The Ray Davies Songbook Volume Two” will be awaited with much interest.

POSTSCRIPT;

In August 2015 I reviewed a performance by Ray Davies and his Band at Brecon Jazz Festival. The choice of Davies for a jazz festival seemed a little incongruous at the time but the show at the Market Hall was a terrific event with a surprisingly youthful looking Davies in fine form as he and his colleagues performed many of the hits from the Kinks back catalogue to the delight of a capacity audience.
I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed that performance and it also served as a reminder, as if any were needed, as to just how many great songs Davies has written. Like those of the Beatles the songs of the Kinks have become like a modern folk music, a part of the British national consciousness.
Davies’ appearance at a jazz festival now makes perfect sense in the wake of these brilliant adaptations of his songs by Ben Crosland and his quintet.

My thanks to Ben Crosland for speaking with me afterwards and listening to my suggestion that it would be a good idea for somebody to come up with a set of big band arrangements of Black Sabbath tunes. Can you imagine some of those killer riffs being blasted out by a big band with trombones and baritone saxes? I can just hear it in my head.
And don’t forget that the Sabs themselves admitted to being influenced by the sounds of Count Basie, which were introduced to them by their former manager, Jim Simpson.

 

 

 

Lorraine Baker - Eden Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Baker has come up with a very original sound that is emphasised by the way that she has situated her drums & percussion as the focal point of these arrangements. It’s an approach that works very well.

Lorraine Baker

“Eden”

(Spark! Records SPARK006)

“Eden” is the début album release as a leader by the young drummer, percussionist and bandleader Lorraine Baker.

Born in Kent Baker began playing drums at the age of twelve, making her first public performance as a member of a local swing band. She subsequently studied on the Jazz Course at Trinity Laban School of Music in London, graduating with first class honours in 2009.

Baker has been mentored by the acclaimed drummer and educator Jeff Williams and has worked extensively with saxophonist Julian Siegel, pianist Simon Purcell and vocalist Christine Tobin, appearing on the singer’s latest recording, “Pelt”. Baker has also played with bassist Dave Holland and multi-instrumentalist Gilad Atzmon. She has appeared on national radio and performed at numerous prestigious jazz venues and festivals. Baker also works as a freelance drum tutor and runs   the community project “Percussion School” in Chatham and Ramsgate. She has also worked as a tutor at the acclaimed Mediterranean Summer School.

The recording of “Eden” was supported with funding from the Jazz Services Recording Support Scheme, with further assistance coming from a successful Kickstarter campaign.

“Eden” pays homage to one of Baker’s drum heroes, the late great Ed Blackwell (1929-92), who played with saxophonist Ornette Coleman, trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Charlie Haden and many others.

“I have always admired the dance-like quality of Blackwell’s playing and his strong sense of melody” explains Baker.
She continues “I wanted to create my own version, taking existing tunes that featured him and re-imagining the arrangements in a modern setting, whilst showcasing my own style as an improviser”.

The project was also inspired by Baker’s collaboration with Dave Holland, a musician who had actually played with Blackwell. On one occasion Baker and Holland teamed up to play the tune “Guinea”, written by another Blackwell associate, Don Cherry.

The quartet that Baker has assembled to realise her vision includes her former mentor Liam Noble on piano, rising star Binker Golding on tenor sax and Paul Michael on electric bass. The latter also acts as Baker’s co-arranger on the tunes featured on this project.

Baker says of Michael’s contribution;
“Paul Michael has been a long term musical partner and I believe that he has an incredibly individual approach to improvisation and chordal accompaniment on electric bass. He is a key part of the project”.

This being a drummer’s album, paying tribute to the music of another drummer, it’s perhaps not too surprising that Baker’s playing is prominent in the mix throughout. Indeed the album commences with “Solo Intro” with Baker’s sticks dancing colourfully around the toms in a manner that would no doubt have brought a smile to Blackwell’s face.

The spirit of Africa was never far away from the New Orleans born Blackwell’s playing and the rhythms change as Baker’s introductory solo segues into “Dakar Dance”, a tune written by the German born vibraphonist and pianist Karl Berger. Berger moved to the US where he was a close associate of Blackwell, Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. Berger also played in a trio with Blackwell and Dave Holland and wrote “Dakar Dance” for that unit’s 1986 album “Transit”. It’s a bright, lively piece with vibrant, colourful, African style rhythms. Baker’s drums and percussion are right at the heart of the music alongside Michael’s springy, supple electric bass. Noble solos joyously in a piano style not necessarily always associated with him and Golding adds incisive shards of tenor sax melody.

“Thumbs Up” was written by the bassist and composer Mark Helias, who enjoyed a lengthy association with Blackwell during the drummer’s later years and also worked with Cherry.  As the title suggests the piece is fuelled by a powerful thumbed electric bass groove but there are plenty of twists and turns and breakneck changes of rhythm and tempo along the way as Baker brings her percussive skills to bear and Golding solos forcefully. Noble contributes another another barnstorming solo that seems to embrace both African and Caribbean elements. There’s also an extended feature for the leader’s drums and percussion, sometimes in dialogue with Michael’s bass.

Also by Helias “Pentahouve” is slightly less frenetic, but still highly rhythmic and grooving. “The more chilled ‘Pentahouve’ is a display of a beautiful melody written by Mark Helias” explains Baker, “I wanted to elevate the melody with a simple accompaniment, building gradually as layers overlap. The drums play almost continuously, picking up on the melody in different ways, highlighting yet never overpowering the tune and offering an emotive solo response at the conclusion”. Baker’s comments aren’t totally correct, there’s a delightful duo dialogue between Noble and Golding mid tune, but her own solo is colourful, highly distinctive and innately musical.

“Chairman Mao” comes from the pen of Charlie Haden and is underpinned by an insistent bass motif allied to sparse, rhythmic piano and long sax melody lines. All this allows Baker’s colourfully inventive drumming to come to the fore. There’s a hypnotic, trance like quality about the performance that’s sometimes reminiscent of the “zen funk” of Swiss pianist Nik Bartsch, but this music is more primal and more obviously African in origin. Golding and Noble both enjoy moments in the spotlight and both contribute hugely to the success of the piece.

The writing of Ornette Coleman himself is featured on “Blues Connotation” with its staccato rhythms and jagged, bluesy sax and piano lines. Michael’s rapid bass figures and Baker’s fidgety, energetic drumming combine to fuel an urgent, high octane solo from Golding, arguably his finest of the set. Noble’s piano solo is edgy, percussive and ultimately expansive as he stretches out exuberantly. Finally we hear from the leader with another effervescent drum feature.

Don Cherry’s “Mopti” was written for the group Old And New Dreams, a quartet of former Coleman alumni (Blackwell, Cherry, Haden and tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman) who were signed to ECM during the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. This piece appeared on the 1981 album “Playing” and is introduced here by a brooding but absorbing dialogue between Michael’s bass and Baker’s drums and percussion. Sax and piano eventually appear to add heft to one of Cherry’s most memorable melodic hooks. Baker’s drums and percussion continue to play a prominent role in the arrangement as Golding solos with power and authority. He’s eventually followed by the consistently inventive and impressive Noble whose darting runs surf the bubbling undertow of bass and drums.

The album then concludes as it began with a second brief episode of imaginative solo drumming from leader Baker.

Jeff Williams has described Baker as having “a unique style” and “not sounding like anyone else”. The self acknowledged debt to Blackwell aside Baker has come up with a very original sound that is emphasised by the way that she has situated her drums and percussion as the focal point of these arrangements. It’s an unusual approach that works very well and she receives excellent support from her three highly talented colleagues. “Eden” represents an excellent tribute to the late Blackwell but is also an assured début from the imaginative and highly capable Baker.

“Eden” also appears to have become a band name and Lorraine Baker’s Eden are currently undertaking an extensive tour of the UK. I’m looking forward to seeing this music played live in November at the EFG London Jazz Festival.

The full tour schedule is listed below;


12.10.18 - Oliver’s Jazz Bar, Greenwich
16.10.18 - St Ives Jazz Club, Cornwall *
17.10.18 - Restormel Arts, St Austell, Cornwall *
18.10.18 - Cafe Jazz, Cardiff *
7.11.18 - Brunswick Pub, Hove
8.11.18 - Ram Jam, Kingston **
9.11.18 - Ramsgate Music Hall, Kent **
11.11.18 - Jazz NE, Newcastle
12.11.18 - Kenilworth Jazz Club
14.11.18 - Lescar, Sheffield
15.11.18 - The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh ±
16.11.18 - Hot Numbers, Cambridge Jazz Festival ±
18.11.18 - The Lighthouse Bar, Deal
19.11.18 - Sproggits, Leeds
21.11.18 - Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London (EFG London Jazz Festival - afternoon show)
22.11.18 - Bonington Theatre, Nottingham ±
23.11.18 - Edda Arts Centre, Stockport ±
29.11.18 - Vortex Jazz Club, London (official album launch)

* Alex Merritt: Saxophone, ± Nadim Teimoori: Saxophone, ** Jon Harvey: Bass


Lorraine Baker: https://lorrainebaker.co.uk/

Eden

Lorraine Baker

Friday, October 12, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Eden

Baker has come up with a very original sound that is emphasised by the way that she has situated her drums & percussion as the focal point of these arrangements. It’s an approach that works very well.

Lorraine Baker

“Eden”

(Spark! Records SPARK006)

“Eden” is the début album release as a leader by the young drummer, percussionist and bandleader Lorraine Baker.

Born in Kent Baker began playing drums at the age of twelve, making her first public performance as a member of a local swing band. She subsequently studied on the Jazz Course at Trinity Laban School of Music in London, graduating with first class honours in 2009.

Baker has been mentored by the acclaimed drummer and educator Jeff Williams and has worked extensively with saxophonist Julian Siegel, pianist Simon Purcell and vocalist Christine Tobin, appearing on the singer’s latest recording, “Pelt”. Baker has also played with bassist Dave Holland and multi-instrumentalist Gilad Atzmon. She has appeared on national radio and performed at numerous prestigious jazz venues and festivals. Baker also works as a freelance drum tutor and runs   the community project “Percussion School” in Chatham and Ramsgate. She has also worked as a tutor at the acclaimed Mediterranean Summer School.

The recording of “Eden” was supported with funding from the Jazz Services Recording Support Scheme, with further assistance coming from a successful Kickstarter campaign.

“Eden” pays homage to one of Baker’s drum heroes, the late great Ed Blackwell (1929-92), who played with saxophonist Ornette Coleman, trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Charlie Haden and many others.

“I have always admired the dance-like quality of Blackwell’s playing and his strong sense of melody” explains Baker.
She continues “I wanted to create my own version, taking existing tunes that featured him and re-imagining the arrangements in a modern setting, whilst showcasing my own style as an improviser”.

The project was also inspired by Baker’s collaboration with Dave Holland, a musician who had actually played with Blackwell. On one occasion Baker and Holland teamed up to play the tune “Guinea”, written by another Blackwell associate, Don Cherry.

The quartet that Baker has assembled to realise her vision includes her former mentor Liam Noble on piano, rising star Binker Golding on tenor sax and Paul Michael on electric bass. The latter also acts as Baker’s co-arranger on the tunes featured on this project.

Baker says of Michael’s contribution;
“Paul Michael has been a long term musical partner and I believe that he has an incredibly individual approach to improvisation and chordal accompaniment on electric bass. He is a key part of the project”.

This being a drummer’s album, paying tribute to the music of another drummer, it’s perhaps not too surprising that Baker’s playing is prominent in the mix throughout. Indeed the album commences with “Solo Intro” with Baker’s sticks dancing colourfully around the toms in a manner that would no doubt have brought a smile to Blackwell’s face.

The spirit of Africa was never far away from the New Orleans born Blackwell’s playing and the rhythms change as Baker’s introductory solo segues into “Dakar Dance”, a tune written by the German born vibraphonist and pianist Karl Berger. Berger moved to the US where he was a close associate of Blackwell, Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. Berger also played in a trio with Blackwell and Dave Holland and wrote “Dakar Dance” for that unit’s 1986 album “Transit”. It’s a bright, lively piece with vibrant, colourful, African style rhythms. Baker’s drums and percussion are right at the heart of the music alongside Michael’s springy, supple electric bass. Noble solos joyously in a piano style not necessarily always associated with him and Golding adds incisive shards of tenor sax melody.

“Thumbs Up” was written by the bassist and composer Mark Helias, who enjoyed a lengthy association with Blackwell during the drummer’s later years and also worked with Cherry.  As the title suggests the piece is fuelled by a powerful thumbed electric bass groove but there are plenty of twists and turns and breakneck changes of rhythm and tempo along the way as Baker brings her percussive skills to bear and Golding solos forcefully. Noble contributes another another barnstorming solo that seems to embrace both African and Caribbean elements. There’s also an extended feature for the leader’s drums and percussion, sometimes in dialogue with Michael’s bass.

Also by Helias “Pentahouve” is slightly less frenetic, but still highly rhythmic and grooving. “The more chilled ‘Pentahouve’ is a display of a beautiful melody written by Mark Helias” explains Baker, “I wanted to elevate the melody with a simple accompaniment, building gradually as layers overlap. The drums play almost continuously, picking up on the melody in different ways, highlighting yet never overpowering the tune and offering an emotive solo response at the conclusion”. Baker’s comments aren’t totally correct, there’s a delightful duo dialogue between Noble and Golding mid tune, but her own solo is colourful, highly distinctive and innately musical.

“Chairman Mao” comes from the pen of Charlie Haden and is underpinned by an insistent bass motif allied to sparse, rhythmic piano and long sax melody lines. All this allows Baker’s colourfully inventive drumming to come to the fore. There’s a hypnotic, trance like quality about the performance that’s sometimes reminiscent of the “zen funk” of Swiss pianist Nik Bartsch, but this music is more primal and more obviously African in origin. Golding and Noble both enjoy moments in the spotlight and both contribute hugely to the success of the piece.

The writing of Ornette Coleman himself is featured on “Blues Connotation” with its staccato rhythms and jagged, bluesy sax and piano lines. Michael’s rapid bass figures and Baker’s fidgety, energetic drumming combine to fuel an urgent, high octane solo from Golding, arguably his finest of the set. Noble’s piano solo is edgy, percussive and ultimately expansive as he stretches out exuberantly. Finally we hear from the leader with another effervescent drum feature.

Don Cherry’s “Mopti” was written for the group Old And New Dreams, a quartet of former Coleman alumni (Blackwell, Cherry, Haden and tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman) who were signed to ECM during the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. This piece appeared on the 1981 album “Playing” and is introduced here by a brooding but absorbing dialogue between Michael’s bass and Baker’s drums and percussion. Sax and piano eventually appear to add heft to one of Cherry’s most memorable melodic hooks. Baker’s drums and percussion continue to play a prominent role in the arrangement as Golding solos with power and authority. He’s eventually followed by the consistently inventive and impressive Noble whose darting runs surf the bubbling undertow of bass and drums.

The album then concludes as it began with a second brief episode of imaginative solo drumming from leader Baker.

Jeff Williams has described Baker as having “a unique style” and “not sounding like anyone else”. The self acknowledged debt to Blackwell aside Baker has come up with a very original sound that is emphasised by the way that she has situated her drums and percussion as the focal point of these arrangements. It’s an unusual approach that works very well and she receives excellent support from her three highly talented colleagues. “Eden” represents an excellent tribute to the late Blackwell but is also an assured début from the imaginative and highly capable Baker.

“Eden” also appears to have become a band name and Lorraine Baker’s Eden are currently undertaking an extensive tour of the UK. I’m looking forward to seeing this music played live in November at the EFG London Jazz Festival.

The full tour schedule is listed below;


12.10.18 - Oliver’s Jazz Bar, Greenwich
16.10.18 - St Ives Jazz Club, Cornwall *
17.10.18 - Restormel Arts, St Austell, Cornwall *
18.10.18 - Cafe Jazz, Cardiff *
7.11.18 - Brunswick Pub, Hove
8.11.18 - Ram Jam, Kingston **
9.11.18 - Ramsgate Music Hall, Kent **
11.11.18 - Jazz NE, Newcastle
12.11.18 - Kenilworth Jazz Club
14.11.18 - Lescar, Sheffield
15.11.18 - The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh ±
16.11.18 - Hot Numbers, Cambridge Jazz Festival ±
18.11.18 - The Lighthouse Bar, Deal
19.11.18 - Sproggits, Leeds
21.11.18 - Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London (EFG London Jazz Festival - afternoon show)
22.11.18 - Bonington Theatre, Nottingham ±
23.11.18 - Edda Arts Centre, Stockport ±
29.11.18 - Vortex Jazz Club, London (official album launch)

* Alex Merritt: Saxophone, ± Nadim Teimoori: Saxophone, ** Jon Harvey: Bass


Lorraine Baker: https://lorrainebaker.co.uk/

Borderless - Borderless, Leominster Community Centre, Leominster, Herefordshire, 09/10/2018. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 an Mann enjoys the boundary crossing music of this quartet featuring Ahmed Mukhtar (oud), Camilla Cancantata (piano, trombone, voice), Sonia Hammond (cello) & Charlie Beresford (guitar, voice).

Borderless, Leominster Community Centre, Leominster, Herefordshire, 09/10/2018.

It’s not very often that I get the opportunity to walk to a gig, enjoy the music and then call in for a few pints in my local on the way home. But that’s just what I was able to do when the Borderless quartet visited my home town to present a programme of music described in the pre-show publicity as “boundary crossing”.

Borderless consists of the Iraqi born oud player Ahmed Mukhtar plus three musicians based in the Welsh Marches, cellist Sonia Hammond, guitarist and vocalist Charlie Beresford and pianist, trombonist and vocalist Camilla Cancantata.

I was attracted to the event by the presence of Beresford and Hammond who work regularly together as an improvising duo, releasing the richly atmospheric album “The Science of Snow” in 2015. They followed this with 2016’s “The Lightning Bell” for which the line up was expanded to a trio with the addition of pianist Carolyn Hume. “The Lightning Bell” also featured a guest vocal by Judie Tzuke, another musician who has taken up residence in the Marches. Beresford and Hammond then returned to the duo format for 2017’s “Each Edge of the Field”. All of these recordings have been reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann.

Beresford and Hume are also part of the improvising quartet Fourth Page which also features bassist Peter Marsh and percussionist Paul May. The group has released three albums, the most recent being “Ticks and Moans” from 2012, although a new Fourth Page album is mooted for early 2019.
The members of Fourth Page have also collaborated with percussionist Patrick Dawes and others under the name Crystal Moth. Beresford has also recorded as a solo artist, releasing the deeply personal album “Dark Transport” back in 2009. He has also worked with the multi-instrumentalist Mark Emmerson (piano, accordion, viola) under the name Five Turnings Duo.

 The classically trained Hammond studied at Birmingham School of Music and at the Royal Academy of Music in London. She is still involved with classical ensembles such as the Brecknock Sinfonia (for whom she is principal cellist) and the Castalia String Quartet. In 2014 she released a live solo recording of compositions by J.S. Bach. However Hammond has also worked extensively in other genres of music during an eclectic freelance career and has collaborated with solo artists such as Barb Jungr and Chloe Goodchild and with the bands Babysnakes and Ennui. She and Beresford are both members of the Radnor Improvisers collective.

Camilla Cancantata, who has previously recorded under the name Camilla Saunders, is also a member of the Radnor Improvisers and works regularly with Beresford. She is a musician who is dedicated to the art of improvisation but is also a composer of more formal works, many of these commissioned pieces. She also works in the fields of theatre and music education.

Born in Baghdad Ahmed Mukhtar studied the oud and Arabic percussion in Baghdad, Damascus and London and currently lives in what Cancantata described as “Darkest Dagenham”. He currently teaches the oud, percussion and Arabic music theory at various institutions around London, including SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies) and has authored several study books on these subjects. He has also worked in television, film and theatre as well as recording five full length albums.

I have to admit to approaching this concert with a degree of trepidation. Audience numbers in Leominster for jazz related music have often been pitiful in the past, I remember only a handful of people turning out to see Fourth Page at the Lion Ballroom back in 2012 – admittedly the then ongoing London Olympics may have presented something of a distraction. Tonight just over thirty audience members turned up and the cabaret style seating ensured that the room seemed pleasingly full, providing a good atmosphere for the performers. The usual raked seating had been packed away as the quartet had conducted an improvisation workshop prior to the concert performance which had seen around ten local people participating.

Introducing the performance Cancantata explained that despite the close links between some of the musicians this was the first time that the Borderless aggregation had actually played together as a quartet. The programme featured a mixture of set pieces for the individual musicians punctuated by passages of of what Cancantata described as “cross improvisation”. “It will be interesting to see where we meet and where we diverge” she mused.

It was Hammond that set the ball rolling with an unaccompanied passage of cello that saw her improvising around the music of J.S. Bach prior to her being joined by Beresford’s acoustic guitar for a duet that evoked memories of their highly atmospheric album recordings.

I’ve acquired a fondness for the sound of the oud thanks to the recordings of the Tunisian oud master Anouar Brahem and a recent live performance at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny by the Greek born guitarist and oud player Stefanos Tsourelis. Brahem and Tsourelis both bring the oud into a jazz environment, teaming it with bass and drums and writing original music, but Mukhtar’s playing was more rooted in the traditional folk music of his native Iraq. He was the next musician to enter the fray with a passage of solo oud, possibly the first time the lute like instrument has ever been played in Leominster.

Mukhtar then linked up with Cancantata, who was playing a Casio Privia electric keyboard, the property of the Community Centre. Apparently it had been the intention for her to play the Centre’s acoustic upright but this was so badly out of tune that an alternative had to be sought, which was a pity. In this first passage of collective improvisation Hammond added plucked cello bass lines before the piece resolved itself with Mukhtar picking out a folk melody on the oud.

Beresford has described Fourth Page’s music as consisting of “spontaneously composed songs” and his set piece here was exactly that. Commencing solo he deployed extended techniques on his acoustic guitar by placing objects under the strings ( I think one these was a teaspoon) to alter the sound of the instrument, a method that one time Jazzmann contributor Tim Owen described as being akin to prepared piano. One suspects that Beresford may have been influenced by experimental guitarists such as Keith Rowe and Derek Bailey in this regard. In any event it was hugely effective, especially when combined with Beresford’s semi spoken vocals, these subsequently joined by Hammond’s grainy, melancholic cello timbres and Cancantata’s backing vocals, whispered at first but also including Julie Tippetts / Maggie Nichols style ululations. Unfortunately while all this was going on there were also some unwanted audience whisperings which made it difficult to make any real sense of Beresford’s improvised lyrics, but it was all highly effective nevertheless.

The first half concluded with a group rendition of the traditional Iraqi folk song “Bant Al Shalabaya”, the arresting melody providing the framework for solos from Cancantata, Mukhtar and Hammond.

The second set placed a greater emphasis on the music of Iraq with Mukhtar doing more of the talking and starting things off with an unaccompanied oud performance of two traditional Iraqi folk songs written in the 10th and 12th centuries and now given the collective title “Old”.

The other members of Borderless then joined Mukhtar to improvise around a set of traditional songs from Baghdad, commencing with a duet between Mukhtar and Cancantata with Hammond later adding rich cello overtones as Beresford’s guitar answered Mukhtar’s oud melodies.

Cancantata’s set piece was a very brief passage of Keith Tippett / Myra Melford style solo piano as she swarmed all over the keyboard. “A Casio classic!” joked Beresford.

Next came the second passage of group improvisation, one which saw Cancantata switching to trombone, “hello, the plumbing’s arrived” quipped Beresford. Hammond and Beresford steered the piece, beginning in duo mode with Beresford using a bow on his guitar strings, the resultant sound a little like that of a metallic violin. Cancantata’s deep trombone sonorities complemented the sounds of cello and guitar to create music that was strangely beautiful and utterly compelling and which was eventually resolved by the entry of Mukhtar’s oud playing another traditional melody, this augmented by Cancantata’s wordless vocals. For me this was one of the most effective performances of the evening.

The concert concluded with the traditional Iraqi tune “Maly Shaghal Souq”, around which the quartet added a myriad of variations. Mukhtar picked out the melody on the oud, the lively and infectious tune acting as the jumping off point for solos from all four musicians. Cancantata’s trombone growl and Hammond’s percussive cello accompanied Mukhtar’s opening statement, this leading to solos from both Cancantata and Hammond, these punctuated by a feature for Mukhtar on the oud. Hammond’s solo included some stunning high register bowing, Beresford replying in kind by again deploying a bow during the course of his guitar solo.

Of course the most famous exponent of bowed guitar is Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin fame, but even Page looks like a mere dabbler compared to the extraordinary Norwegian guitarist Stian Westerhus. Page and Westerhus both deploy electric guitars so it was interesting to see Beresford apply the bow to the acoustic. It’s a technique that Beresford is currently making increasingly extensive use of and the results were fascinating, absorbing, highly musical and strangely beautiful.

On the whole the music of Borderless was well received by an appreciative and largely attentive audience. Music as adventurous as this doesn’t get performed in Leominster vary often and I was pleasantly surprised by how well the quartet were received. Mukhtar’s traditional folk melodies were readily accessible and helped to balance the more ‘avant garde’ elements brought to the table by the three British musicians.

The “boundary crossing” tag certainly lived up to its name. This was music that was impossible to classify as the four musicians dipped into the worlds of folk and ‘world’ music, jazz, poetry and free improvisation and classical and chamber music, blending the various components with great skill and fluidity. It was a shame that a ‘proper’ piano couldn’t be used as this would have helped to take the quartet’s multi-faceted explorations to another level.As it was it was the pieces featuring Cancantata on trombone that were arguably the most effective.

All in all the Borderless experiment was a considerable success and it is to be hoped that tonight’s performance, plus the one the following night at Gwernyfed High School in Three Cocks near Brecon were not just one off events. An album from this fascinating foursome would make for interesting listening.

 

 

 

Borderless, Leominster Community Centre, Leominster, Herefordshire, 09/10/2018.

Borderless

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Borderless, Leominster Community Centre, Leominster, Herefordshire, 09/10/2018.

an Mann enjoys the boundary crossing music of this quartet featuring Ahmed Mukhtar (oud), Camilla Cancantata (piano, trombone, voice), Sonia Hammond (cello) & Charlie Beresford (guitar, voice).

Borderless, Leominster Community Centre, Leominster, Herefordshire, 09/10/2018.

It’s not very often that I get the opportunity to walk to a gig, enjoy the music and then call in for a few pints in my local on the way home. But that’s just what I was able to do when the Borderless quartet visited my home town to present a programme of music described in the pre-show publicity as “boundary crossing”.

Borderless consists of the Iraqi born oud player Ahmed Mukhtar plus three musicians based in the Welsh Marches, cellist Sonia Hammond, guitarist and vocalist Charlie Beresford and pianist, trombonist and vocalist Camilla Cancantata.

I was attracted to the event by the presence of Beresford and Hammond who work regularly together as an improvising duo, releasing the richly atmospheric album “The Science of Snow” in 2015. They followed this with 2016’s “The Lightning Bell” for which the line up was expanded to a trio with the addition of pianist Carolyn Hume. “The Lightning Bell” also featured a guest vocal by Judie Tzuke, another musician who has taken up residence in the Marches. Beresford and Hammond then returned to the duo format for 2017’s “Each Edge of the Field”. All of these recordings have been reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann.

Beresford and Hume are also part of the improvising quartet Fourth Page which also features bassist Peter Marsh and percussionist Paul May. The group has released three albums, the most recent being “Ticks and Moans” from 2012, although a new Fourth Page album is mooted for early 2019.
The members of Fourth Page have also collaborated with percussionist Patrick Dawes and others under the name Crystal Moth. Beresford has also recorded as a solo artist, releasing the deeply personal album “Dark Transport” back in 2009. He has also worked with the multi-instrumentalist Mark Emmerson (piano, accordion, viola) under the name Five Turnings Duo.

 The classically trained Hammond studied at Birmingham School of Music and at the Royal Academy of Music in London. She is still involved with classical ensembles such as the Brecknock Sinfonia (for whom she is principal cellist) and the Castalia String Quartet. In 2014 she released a live solo recording of compositions by J.S. Bach. However Hammond has also worked extensively in other genres of music during an eclectic freelance career and has collaborated with solo artists such as Barb Jungr and Chloe Goodchild and with the bands Babysnakes and Ennui. She and Beresford are both members of the Radnor Improvisers collective.

Camilla Cancantata, who has previously recorded under the name Camilla Saunders, is also a member of the Radnor Improvisers and works regularly with Beresford. She is a musician who is dedicated to the art of improvisation but is also a composer of more formal works, many of these commissioned pieces. She also works in the fields of theatre and music education.

Born in Baghdad Ahmed Mukhtar studied the oud and Arabic percussion in Baghdad, Damascus and London and currently lives in what Cancantata described as “Darkest Dagenham”. He currently teaches the oud, percussion and Arabic music theory at various institutions around London, including SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies) and has authored several study books on these subjects. He has also worked in television, film and theatre as well as recording five full length albums.

I have to admit to approaching this concert with a degree of trepidation. Audience numbers in Leominster for jazz related music have often been pitiful in the past, I remember only a handful of people turning out to see Fourth Page at the Lion Ballroom back in 2012 – admittedly the then ongoing London Olympics may have presented something of a distraction. Tonight just over thirty audience members turned up and the cabaret style seating ensured that the room seemed pleasingly full, providing a good atmosphere for the performers. The usual raked seating had been packed away as the quartet had conducted an improvisation workshop prior to the concert performance which had seen around ten local people participating.

Introducing the performance Cancantata explained that despite the close links between some of the musicians this was the first time that the Borderless aggregation had actually played together as a quartet. The programme featured a mixture of set pieces for the individual musicians punctuated by passages of of what Cancantata described as “cross improvisation”. “It will be interesting to see where we meet and where we diverge” she mused.

It was Hammond that set the ball rolling with an unaccompanied passage of cello that saw her improvising around the music of J.S. Bach prior to her being joined by Beresford’s acoustic guitar for a duet that evoked memories of their highly atmospheric album recordings.

I’ve acquired a fondness for the sound of the oud thanks to the recordings of the Tunisian oud master Anouar Brahem and a recent live performance at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny by the Greek born guitarist and oud player Stefanos Tsourelis. Brahem and Tsourelis both bring the oud into a jazz environment, teaming it with bass and drums and writing original music, but Mukhtar’s playing was more rooted in the traditional folk music of his native Iraq. He was the next musician to enter the fray with a passage of solo oud, possibly the first time the lute like instrument has ever been played in Leominster.

Mukhtar then linked up with Cancantata, who was playing a Casio Privia electric keyboard, the property of the Community Centre. Apparently it had been the intention for her to play the Centre’s acoustic upright but this was so badly out of tune that an alternative had to be sought, which was a pity. In this first passage of collective improvisation Hammond added plucked cello bass lines before the piece resolved itself with Mukhtar picking out a folk melody on the oud.

Beresford has described Fourth Page’s music as consisting of “spontaneously composed songs” and his set piece here was exactly that. Commencing solo he deployed extended techniques on his acoustic guitar by placing objects under the strings ( I think one these was a teaspoon) to alter the sound of the instrument, a method that one time Jazzmann contributor Tim Owen described as being akin to prepared piano. One suspects that Beresford may have been influenced by experimental guitarists such as Keith Rowe and Derek Bailey in this regard. In any event it was hugely effective, especially when combined with Beresford’s semi spoken vocals, these subsequently joined by Hammond’s grainy, melancholic cello timbres and Cancantata’s backing vocals, whispered at first but also including Julie Tippetts / Maggie Nichols style ululations. Unfortunately while all this was going on there were also some unwanted audience whisperings which made it difficult to make any real sense of Beresford’s improvised lyrics, but it was all highly effective nevertheless.

The first half concluded with a group rendition of the traditional Iraqi folk song “Bant Al Shalabaya”, the arresting melody providing the framework for solos from Cancantata, Mukhtar and Hammond.

The second set placed a greater emphasis on the music of Iraq with Mukhtar doing more of the talking and starting things off with an unaccompanied oud performance of two traditional Iraqi folk songs written in the 10th and 12th centuries and now given the collective title “Old”.

The other members of Borderless then joined Mukhtar to improvise around a set of traditional songs from Baghdad, commencing with a duet between Mukhtar and Cancantata with Hammond later adding rich cello overtones as Beresford’s guitar answered Mukhtar’s oud melodies.

Cancantata’s set piece was a very brief passage of Keith Tippett / Myra Melford style solo piano as she swarmed all over the keyboard. “A Casio classic!” joked Beresford.

Next came the second passage of group improvisation, one which saw Cancantata switching to trombone, “hello, the plumbing’s arrived” quipped Beresford. Hammond and Beresford steered the piece, beginning in duo mode with Beresford using a bow on his guitar strings, the resultant sound a little like that of a metallic violin. Cancantata’s deep trombone sonorities complemented the sounds of cello and guitar to create music that was strangely beautiful and utterly compelling and which was eventually resolved by the entry of Mukhtar’s oud playing another traditional melody, this augmented by Cancantata’s wordless vocals. For me this was one of the most effective performances of the evening.

The concert concluded with the traditional Iraqi tune “Maly Shaghal Souq”, around which the quartet added a myriad of variations. Mukhtar picked out the melody on the oud, the lively and infectious tune acting as the jumping off point for solos from all four musicians. Cancantata’s trombone growl and Hammond’s percussive cello accompanied Mukhtar’s opening statement, this leading to solos from both Cancantata and Hammond, these punctuated by a feature for Mukhtar on the oud. Hammond’s solo included some stunning high register bowing, Beresford replying in kind by again deploying a bow during the course of his guitar solo.

Of course the most famous exponent of bowed guitar is Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin fame, but even Page looks like a mere dabbler compared to the extraordinary Norwegian guitarist Stian Westerhus. Page and Westerhus both deploy electric guitars so it was interesting to see Beresford apply the bow to the acoustic. It’s a technique that Beresford is currently making increasingly extensive use of and the results were fascinating, absorbing, highly musical and strangely beautiful.

On the whole the music of Borderless was well received by an appreciative and largely attentive audience. Music as adventurous as this doesn’t get performed in Leominster vary often and I was pleasantly surprised by how well the quartet were received. Mukhtar’s traditional folk melodies were readily accessible and helped to balance the more ‘avant garde’ elements brought to the table by the three British musicians.

The “boundary crossing” tag certainly lived up to its name. This was music that was impossible to classify as the four musicians dipped into the worlds of folk and ‘world’ music, jazz, poetry and free improvisation and classical and chamber music, blending the various components with great skill and fluidity. It was a shame that a ‘proper’ piano couldn’t be used as this would have helped to take the quartet’s multi-faceted explorations to another level.As it was it was the pieces featuring Cancantata on trombone that were arguably the most effective.

All in all the Borderless experiment was a considerable success and it is to be hoped that tonight’s performance, plus the one the following night at Gwernyfed High School in Three Cocks near Brecon were not just one off events. An album from this fascinating foursome would make for interesting listening.

 

 

 

Graeme Wilson Quartet - Abscondit Rating: 4 out of 5 Another impressive offering from Graeme Wilson. His writing is consistently adventurous, often playful, and explores a variety of jazz styles and genres. He is well served by an excellent quartet.

Graeme Wilson Quartet

“Abscondit”

(Pleasureland Records)

“Abscondit” is the second release from this quartet led by tenor saxophonist and composer Graeme Wilson. It represents a follow up to 2016’s excellent début “Sure Will Hold A Boat”, a recording favourably reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann.

The new album features the same line up as its predecessor with Wilson, who is also credited with flute and balofon, joined by Paul Edis (piano, keyboards), Andy Champion (acoustic & electric bass) and Adam Sinclair (drums & percussion). Sinclair and Champion are also involved in the production and engineering process. “Abscondit” appears on Wilson’s own record label, which takes its name from this quartet’s 2015 EP “Pleasureland”.

Originally from Glasgow Wilson spent over a decade in the North East of England, where his three colleagues reside,  before relocating again to Edinburgh. He has previously appeared on the Jazzmann web pages in reviews of albums by Edis’ sextet and by ACV, the jazz/prog combo led by Champion. Wilson has also worked with vocalist Ruth Lambert, guitarist Mark Williams,  composer and arranger John Warren, the saxophone quartet Saxophonics, and with the Glasgow Improvisers and Voice of the North jazz orchestras.

“Abscondit” presents eight new original compositions from Wilson recorded at various locations in Newcastle, Edinburgh and Gateshead. Once again the music is rooted in the jazz tradition but borrows freely and imaginatively from other musical genres to give the music an agreeably quirky and contemporary edge.

A case in point is opener “Hyvot Mill” which combines Scottish folk melodies with funky Rhodes driven grooves and extended bursts of fluent, jazzy tenor sax soloing from the leader. Edis (also a highly accomplished classical musician I’m told) here stretches out effectively on electric piano, adopting the classic Fender Rhodes sound.

“Profane Drawings of Trees” commences in classic Coltrane modal manner but takes plenty of twists and turns during its nine minute plus duration. Prog inspired changes of pace and clusters of notes combine with Latin inflections as Wilson, again on tenor, and Edis, on acoustic piano, once more deliver powerful and highly inventive solos. Champion’s muscular double bass helps to drive the music forward, at one point in conjunction with the leader’s tenor only. The bassist and drummer Sinclair are a supple and highly inventive rhythm section who offer powerful and responsive support to soloists Wilson and Edis. Sinclair also impresses on his own account with a dynamic drum feature in the closing stages of the piece.

Champion is also to the fore on “A Raised Eyebrow”, a duo recording featuring just tenor sax and double bass captured at Champion’s home studio in Gateshead. His rich, resonant and hugely dexterous double bass is the perfect foil for the leader’s conversational but authoritative tenor. There’s clearly a great rapport between Wilson and Champion on an inspired duet that holds the listener’s attention from start to finish.

The hard grooving “Why Are You Staring At Me?” finds the quartet striking out into quasi acid jazz territory as Champion moves to electric bass and Edis adapts an organ sound on his keyboards, coming over like a Geordie amalgam of Jimmy Smith, James Taylor and Dr. Lonnie Liston Smith. As ever the writing is multi faceted on another lengthy piece that is more than just a sax and Hammond jam as Wilson stirs in more prog and folk influences alongside the jazz flavoured meat and potatoes. There’s some mercurial organ soloing from Edis, a brief electric bass feature for Champion and plenty of muscular r’n’b flavoured tenor sax blowing from the leader. Exhilarating stuff.

“After School” is a vehicle for Wilson’s highly accomplished flute playing. The intro features multi-layered flutes, created either by studio overdubbing or live looping techniques. There’s a lively, lilting, Afro-Brazilian feeling about the music that is very uplifting with solos coming from the leader on flute and Edis on sparkling acoustic piano. This is also the piece that features Wilson on balofon and Sinclair on both kit drums and percussion. As is typical of Wilson’s compositions the piece takes plenty of twists and turns along the way and represents an intriguing and hugely enjoyable slice of musical exotica.

The cryptically titled “The Bings” demonstrates Wilson’s skill as a tenor sax balladeer, his tough but tender soloing complemented by shimmering Rhodes (Edis also solos), tasteful electric bass and subtle but colourful drums and percussion.

“The Bold Sammy” re-introduces the quartet’s funk leanings, juxtaposing them with some M-Base style complexities to give the music a feel that is more New York than Newcastle. Wilson solos with muscular, fluent authority above the tight, propulsive grooves laid down by his colleagues with Edis exhibiting similar powers of invention in a solo that deploys a variety of electric keyboard sounds. There’s also something of a drum feature for the consistently impressive Sinclair.

The closing “Friction Motor” is an invigorating acoustic jazz workout powered by Champion’s rapid bass walk and Sinclair’s dynamic drumming that features Edis’ cascading, highly physical McCoy Tyner-esque piano and the leader’s barnstorming tenor. Their powerful solos are punctuated by mind boggling but brilliantly executed stop-start interludes. There’s also room for a vigorously brushed drum feature from Sinclair and some dazzling “Flight Of The Bumblebee” styled unison sax and piano phrases.

“Abscondit” represents another impressive offering from Graeme Wilson. His writing is consistently adventurous, often playful, and explores a variety of jazz styles and genres, sometimes within the course of a single tune. Although he’s also an accomplished baritone saxophonist and bass clarinettist Wilson largely focusses on the tenor here and does so to good effect. That said, the single flute feature is also highly impressive and punctuates the album well.

Wilson is well served by an excellent quartet with the brilliant Edis frequently threatening to steal the show with some inspired soloing on both acoustic and electric keyboards. The powerful but supple and flexible rhythm section of Champion and Sinclair supplies the soloists with the fire and impetus they need, while impressing in their own right.

“Abscondit” is a very worthy follow up to “Sure Will Hold A Boat” and will hopefully receive a similarly positive response. The Graeme Wilson Quartet is more than simply a good ‘regional group’, these are musicians who deserve to be nationally known – and I’d assume that they’re a hugely exciting live act.

Abscondit

Graeme Wilson Quartet

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Abscondit

Another impressive offering from Graeme Wilson. His writing is consistently adventurous, often playful, and explores a variety of jazz styles and genres. He is well served by an excellent quartet.

Graeme Wilson Quartet

“Abscondit”

(Pleasureland Records)

“Abscondit” is the second release from this quartet led by tenor saxophonist and composer Graeme Wilson. It represents a follow up to 2016’s excellent début “Sure Will Hold A Boat”, a recording favourably reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann.

The new album features the same line up as its predecessor with Wilson, who is also credited with flute and balofon, joined by Paul Edis (piano, keyboards), Andy Champion (acoustic & electric bass) and Adam Sinclair (drums & percussion). Sinclair and Champion are also involved in the production and engineering process. “Abscondit” appears on Wilson’s own record label, which takes its name from this quartet’s 2015 EP “Pleasureland”.

Originally from Glasgow Wilson spent over a decade in the North East of England, where his three colleagues reside,  before relocating again to Edinburgh. He has previously appeared on the Jazzmann web pages in reviews of albums by Edis’ sextet and by ACV, the jazz/prog combo led by Champion. Wilson has also worked with vocalist Ruth Lambert, guitarist Mark Williams,  composer and arranger John Warren, the saxophone quartet Saxophonics, and with the Glasgow Improvisers and Voice of the North jazz orchestras.

“Abscondit” presents eight new original compositions from Wilson recorded at various locations in Newcastle, Edinburgh and Gateshead. Once again the music is rooted in the jazz tradition but borrows freely and imaginatively from other musical genres to give the music an agreeably quirky and contemporary edge.

A case in point is opener “Hyvot Mill” which combines Scottish folk melodies with funky Rhodes driven grooves and extended bursts of fluent, jazzy tenor sax soloing from the leader. Edis (also a highly accomplished classical musician I’m told) here stretches out effectively on electric piano, adopting the classic Fender Rhodes sound.

“Profane Drawings of Trees” commences in classic Coltrane modal manner but takes plenty of twists and turns during its nine minute plus duration. Prog inspired changes of pace and clusters of notes combine with Latin inflections as Wilson, again on tenor, and Edis, on acoustic piano, once more deliver powerful and highly inventive solos. Champion’s muscular double bass helps to drive the music forward, at one point in conjunction with the leader’s tenor only. The bassist and drummer Sinclair are a supple and highly inventive rhythm section who offer powerful and responsive support to soloists Wilson and Edis. Sinclair also impresses on his own account with a dynamic drum feature in the closing stages of the piece.

Champion is also to the fore on “A Raised Eyebrow”, a duo recording featuring just tenor sax and double bass captured at Champion’s home studio in Gateshead. His rich, resonant and hugely dexterous double bass is the perfect foil for the leader’s conversational but authoritative tenor. There’s clearly a great rapport between Wilson and Champion on an inspired duet that holds the listener’s attention from start to finish.

The hard grooving “Why Are You Staring At Me?” finds the quartet striking out into quasi acid jazz territory as Champion moves to electric bass and Edis adapts an organ sound on his keyboards, coming over like a Geordie amalgam of Jimmy Smith, James Taylor and Dr. Lonnie Liston Smith. As ever the writing is multi faceted on another lengthy piece that is more than just a sax and Hammond jam as Wilson stirs in more prog and folk influences alongside the jazz flavoured meat and potatoes. There’s some mercurial organ soloing from Edis, a brief electric bass feature for Champion and plenty of muscular r’n’b flavoured tenor sax blowing from the leader. Exhilarating stuff.

“After School” is a vehicle for Wilson’s highly accomplished flute playing. The intro features multi-layered flutes, created either by studio overdubbing or live looping techniques. There’s a lively, lilting, Afro-Brazilian feeling about the music that is very uplifting with solos coming from the leader on flute and Edis on sparkling acoustic piano. This is also the piece that features Wilson on balofon and Sinclair on both kit drums and percussion. As is typical of Wilson’s compositions the piece takes plenty of twists and turns along the way and represents an intriguing and hugely enjoyable slice of musical exotica.

The cryptically titled “The Bings” demonstrates Wilson’s skill as a tenor sax balladeer, his tough but tender soloing complemented by shimmering Rhodes (Edis also solos), tasteful electric bass and subtle but colourful drums and percussion.

“The Bold Sammy” re-introduces the quartet’s funk leanings, juxtaposing them with some M-Base style complexities to give the music a feel that is more New York than Newcastle. Wilson solos with muscular, fluent authority above the tight, propulsive grooves laid down by his colleagues with Edis exhibiting similar powers of invention in a solo that deploys a variety of electric keyboard sounds. There’s also something of a drum feature for the consistently impressive Sinclair.

The closing “Friction Motor” is an invigorating acoustic jazz workout powered by Champion’s rapid bass walk and Sinclair’s dynamic drumming that features Edis’ cascading, highly physical McCoy Tyner-esque piano and the leader’s barnstorming tenor. Their powerful solos are punctuated by mind boggling but brilliantly executed stop-start interludes. There’s also room for a vigorously brushed drum feature from Sinclair and some dazzling “Flight Of The Bumblebee” styled unison sax and piano phrases.

“Abscondit” represents another impressive offering from Graeme Wilson. His writing is consistently adventurous, often playful, and explores a variety of jazz styles and genres, sometimes within the course of a single tune. Although he’s also an accomplished baritone saxophonist and bass clarinettist Wilson largely focusses on the tenor here and does so to good effect. That said, the single flute feature is also highly impressive and punctuates the album well.

Wilson is well served by an excellent quartet with the brilliant Edis frequently threatening to steal the show with some inspired soloing on both acoustic and electric keyboards. The powerful but supple and flexible rhythm section of Champion and Sinclair supplies the soloists with the fire and impetus they need, while impressing in their own right.

“Abscondit” is a very worthy follow up to “Sure Will Hold A Boat” and will hopefully receive a similarly positive response. The Graeme Wilson Quartet is more than simply a good ‘regional group’, these are musicians who deserve to be nationally known – and I’d assume that they’re a hugely exciting live act.

Sara Colman - What We’re Made Of Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Situated in the hinterland somewhere between jazz and the territory of the singer songwriter this is a highly personal album that finds Colman carving out a niche that is very much her own.

Sara Colman

“What We’re Made Of”

(Stony Lane Records SLR1968)

Although born in Bristol vocalist, pianist, songwriter and musical educator Sara Colman is most closely identified with the Birmingham music scene. She studied classical music at the city’s Conservatoire before turning towards jazz, blues and popular music, settling in the region and becoming a popular figure with jazz audiences in the Midlands and beyond.

Although a popular performer Colman has hitherto been under recorded since making her début in 1998 with the album “Spellbound”, following this with “Ready” in 2009, more than a full decade later. Both these albums focussed on jazz standards plus jazzy arrangements of pop and rock tunes by writers such as Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and Carole King.

Fascinated by the process of songwriting Colman has since studied for an MA in the subject and as a result “What We’re Made Of” places a far greater emphasis on original material. The new album has been a long time in the planning and features an impressive supporting cast of musicians drawn from the Birmingham, Bristol and London jazz scenes.

Central to the project are guitarist Steve Banks,who is also Colman’s partner, and her long serving bassist and musical director Ben Markland. Key roles are also played by pianist Rebecca Nash, who handles the majority of the keyboard parts, and percussionist Adrian Adewale. Percy Pursglove adds welcome splashes of colour on trumpet and flugelhorn while Jonathan Silk provides sumptuous string arrangements as well as appearing behind the drum kit. The Carducci Strong Quartet appear on three cuts in a direct reflection of Colman’s classical background and there are also cameo appearances from bassist Jules Jackson and backing vocalists Emilia Martensson and Anthony Marsden, plus engineer Nick Dover and Stony Lane label owner Sam Slater.

I’ve been fortunate to witness Colman perform live on a number of occasions at festivals in Birmingham and Much Wenlock and have always found her to be a very warm and personable stage presence and a highly accomplished vocalist with great technical skills – in other words, a class act. These sets have typically mixed jazz standards with pop and rock covers and an increasing amount of original material, with bassist Markland a constant presence at all these shows.

The album opens with “It Begins”, written by Colman in conjunction with Silk, who provides the string arrangement played by the Carducci Quartet. The song is paced by Nash’s piano and also features the burnished tones of Pursglove’s flugel. Colman’s warm vocal sings the praises of the dawning of a new day, her simple but poetic lyrics a hymn to the beauty of nature. Silk’s string arrangements have been favourably compared to those of Robert Kirby on the Nick Drake albums “Five Leaves Left” and “Bryter Later” and there’s certainly a Drake like quality about this lovely opener.

The title track, with music and lyrics by Colman, finds Nash switching to electric piano (Rhodes) for an opening duet with the singer. Acoustic guitar, double bass and percussion are added to the equation, plus the choral backing vocals of Martensson, Marsden and Dover. The combination of instruments and voices lends a breezy Brazilian feel to the piece with instrumental solos coming from Nash on gently trilling jazzy Rhodes and Pursglove on fluent, warm toned trumpet. Colman’s emotive lead vocal sings of the importance of love to the human condition - “we are something more than every breath we take”.

Co-written by Colman and Banks and with a string arrangement by Silk “Heartsafe” has something of a Joni Mitchell feel about it. Paced by Banks’ baritone guitar Colman’s conversational vocal intones a lyric that I assume is a dedication to her young daughter. The singer’s voice is multi-tracked to create a choral effect. Adewale provides subtle percussive accompaniment, this complemented by Silk’s economic string arrangement for the Carduccis.

“Strange Meeting” is a setting of a Bill Frisell tune, originally written as an instrumental but here with words co-written by Colman and Hannah Hind. It’s an atmospheric piece, introduced by the sound of Pursglove’s breathy trumpet, accompanied by the rustle of Adewale’s percussion and Banks’ Frisell-like guitar. A Norma Winstone style lyric, written in the third person, intones the tale of a man who regrets losing the love of a woman who shone too brightly for him, a rueful tale of lost opportunities. Central to the lyric is the phrase “Seren Haf” - ‘summer star’ in Welsh. A ‘village chorus’ featuring the voices of Martensson, Marsden, Slater and members of the band combine to sing Frisell’s melody at one point, while the stand out instrumental contribution comes from Pursglove with his richly evocative trumpet work.

Colman includes a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want” as a homage to the Canadian born singer-songwriter’s seventy fifth birthday. Colman names this as one of her all time favourite songs and comments;
“I love the innocence and the simplicity of the love, the want for all good things, the profound awareness of how people work. It was a pleasure to cover this song”.
The jazzy arrangement, by Colman and Banks, features the core quintet of Colman, Banks, Nash, Markland and Adewale with Nash soloing on Rhodes and with Markland’s double bass playing a significant role.

“Open”, co-written by Colman and Banks and with a string arrangement by Silk, is an essentially acoustic performance, paced by Banks’ acoustic guitar and with the Carduccis plus backing vocalists Martensson and Marsden adding extra gloss to the arrangement. Again there’s something of a Mitchell-esque feel to the performance, with Coleman’s lyrics a plea for openness and transparency.

Banks switches to electric guitar, playing a prominent part in the arrangement, as guest Jules Jackson takes over the bass chair for the brooding “Trouble Out There” with its storm imagery and warnings of impending global environmental apocalypse. Silk occupies the kit as well as providing the string arrangement for the Carduccis.

Colman’s “Echoes” is a particularly personal song, a sad, but heartfelt and moving, dedication to a dead friend. The lyrics also make oblique reference to the demolition of the old Birmingham Conservatoire following the institution’s move to shiny new premises on the East side of the city, with its own jazz club, no less! A pared down arrangement features Colman’s emotive vocal, sympathetically accompanied by Nash’s acoustic piano and with Banks’ electric guitar and Markland’s electric bass providing atmospheric additional colour and texture.
Colman says of the song;
“As the building was being demolished my friend William died. We made a lot of music together in that building and each time another piece of it came away I imagined the echoes that had been absorbed into the walls flying out with the dust”.

The beguiling “Be Careful”, co-written by Colman, Banks and engineer Nick Dover embraces elements of jazz, folk and pop and incorporates something of a feature for drummer Silk in an arrangement that also includes Rhodes, acoustic guitar and double bass.

Colman and Nash combined to write “Dreamer”, with the singer providing the lyrics and the pianist the music. The performance is a sensitive duet for voice and acoustic piano with Nash’s flowing keyboard lyricism complementing Colman’s pure, elegant vocals and concise but poetic lyrics. I’m used to seeing Nash in the edgier environment of saxophonist Dee Byrne’s Entropi quintet and this piece serves as a welcome reminder of her versatility and skill as an accompanist.

The album concludes with another vocal and piano performance, a Colman arrangement of Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years”, a song that most readers will surely be familiar with. Colman alters the gender of the lyrics and accompanies herself at the piano, whilst receiving strategic vocal assistance from backing singers Martensson and Marsden.

“What We’re Made Of” has been a long time in the making. It’s an album that has clearly been a labour of love for Coleman, a fact that is reflected by the care that has been taken with the arrangements and the overall high quality of the production.

Those song writing studies have clearly paid off as evidenced by the quality of the original songs with their succinct, thoughtful and poetic lyrics, the words enhanced by Colman’s assured and relaxed vocal performances. The cast of accompanying instrumentalists and singers add greatly to the success of the record with everybody contributing immaculate performances.

Situated in the hinterland somewhere between jazz and the territory of the singer songwriter “What We’re Made Of” is a very personal album that finds Colman carving out a niche that is very much her own. It’s not an out and out jazz record and it’s a little too close to the popular music mainstream for my own personal tastes, but I can appreciate the care and skill that has gone into the making of this album. I’m certain that Colman’s many fans will derive great enjoyment from it, and I positively welcome the presence of so much original material. In this respect “What We’re Made Of” represents a considerable step forward.

 

 

What We’re Made Of

Sara Colman

Monday, October 08, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

What We’re Made Of

Situated in the hinterland somewhere between jazz and the territory of the singer songwriter this is a highly personal album that finds Colman carving out a niche that is very much her own.

Sara Colman

“What We’re Made Of”

(Stony Lane Records SLR1968)

Although born in Bristol vocalist, pianist, songwriter and musical educator Sara Colman is most closely identified with the Birmingham music scene. She studied classical music at the city’s Conservatoire before turning towards jazz, blues and popular music, settling in the region and becoming a popular figure with jazz audiences in the Midlands and beyond.

Although a popular performer Colman has hitherto been under recorded since making her début in 1998 with the album “Spellbound”, following this with “Ready” in 2009, more than a full decade later. Both these albums focussed on jazz standards plus jazzy arrangements of pop and rock tunes by writers such as Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and Carole King.

Fascinated by the process of songwriting Colman has since studied for an MA in the subject and as a result “What We’re Made Of” places a far greater emphasis on original material. The new album has been a long time in the planning and features an impressive supporting cast of musicians drawn from the Birmingham, Bristol and London jazz scenes.

Central to the project are guitarist Steve Banks,who is also Colman’s partner, and her long serving bassist and musical director Ben Markland. Key roles are also played by pianist Rebecca Nash, who handles the majority of the keyboard parts, and percussionist Adrian Adewale. Percy Pursglove adds welcome splashes of colour on trumpet and flugelhorn while Jonathan Silk provides sumptuous string arrangements as well as appearing behind the drum kit. The Carducci Strong Quartet appear on three cuts in a direct reflection of Colman’s classical background and there are also cameo appearances from bassist Jules Jackson and backing vocalists Emilia Martensson and Anthony Marsden, plus engineer Nick Dover and Stony Lane label owner Sam Slater.

I’ve been fortunate to witness Colman perform live on a number of occasions at festivals in Birmingham and Much Wenlock and have always found her to be a very warm and personable stage presence and a highly accomplished vocalist with great technical skills – in other words, a class act. These sets have typically mixed jazz standards with pop and rock covers and an increasing amount of original material, with bassist Markland a constant presence at all these shows.

The album opens with “It Begins”, written by Colman in conjunction with Silk, who provides the string arrangement played by the Carducci Quartet. The song is paced by Nash’s piano and also features the burnished tones of Pursglove’s flugel. Colman’s warm vocal sings the praises of the dawning of a new day, her simple but poetic lyrics a hymn to the beauty of nature. Silk’s string arrangements have been favourably compared to those of Robert Kirby on the Nick Drake albums “Five Leaves Left” and “Bryter Later” and there’s certainly a Drake like quality about this lovely opener.

The title track, with music and lyrics by Colman, finds Nash switching to electric piano (Rhodes) for an opening duet with the singer. Acoustic guitar, double bass and percussion are added to the equation, plus the choral backing vocals of Martensson, Marsden and Dover. The combination of instruments and voices lends a breezy Brazilian feel to the piece with instrumental solos coming from Nash on gently trilling jazzy Rhodes and Pursglove on fluent, warm toned trumpet. Colman’s emotive lead vocal sings of the importance of love to the human condition - “we are something more than every breath we take”.

Co-written by Colman and Banks and with a string arrangement by Silk “Heartsafe” has something of a Joni Mitchell feel about it. Paced by Banks’ baritone guitar Colman’s conversational vocal intones a lyric that I assume is a dedication to her young daughter. The singer’s voice is multi-tracked to create a choral effect. Adewale provides subtle percussive accompaniment, this complemented by Silk’s economic string arrangement for the Carduccis.

“Strange Meeting” is a setting of a Bill Frisell tune, originally written as an instrumental but here with words co-written by Colman and Hannah Hind. It’s an atmospheric piece, introduced by the sound of Pursglove’s breathy trumpet, accompanied by the rustle of Adewale’s percussion and Banks’ Frisell-like guitar. A Norma Winstone style lyric, written in the third person, intones the tale of a man who regrets losing the love of a woman who shone too brightly for him, a rueful tale of lost opportunities. Central to the lyric is the phrase “Seren Haf” - ‘summer star’ in Welsh. A ‘village chorus’ featuring the voices of Martensson, Marsden, Slater and members of the band combine to sing Frisell’s melody at one point, while the stand out instrumental contribution comes from Pursglove with his richly evocative trumpet work.

Colman includes a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want” as a homage to the Canadian born singer-songwriter’s seventy fifth birthday. Colman names this as one of her all time favourite songs and comments;
“I love the innocence and the simplicity of the love, the want for all good things, the profound awareness of how people work. It was a pleasure to cover this song”.
The jazzy arrangement, by Colman and Banks, features the core quintet of Colman, Banks, Nash, Markland and Adewale with Nash soloing on Rhodes and with Markland’s double bass playing a significant role.

“Open”, co-written by Colman and Banks and with a string arrangement by Silk, is an essentially acoustic performance, paced by Banks’ acoustic guitar and with the Carduccis plus backing vocalists Martensson and Marsden adding extra gloss to the arrangement. Again there’s something of a Mitchell-esque feel to the performance, with Coleman’s lyrics a plea for openness and transparency.

Banks switches to electric guitar, playing a prominent part in the arrangement, as guest Jules Jackson takes over the bass chair for the brooding “Trouble Out There” with its storm imagery and warnings of impending global environmental apocalypse. Silk occupies the kit as well as providing the string arrangement for the Carduccis.

Colman’s “Echoes” is a particularly personal song, a sad, but heartfelt and moving, dedication to a dead friend. The lyrics also make oblique reference to the demolition of the old Birmingham Conservatoire following the institution’s move to shiny new premises on the East side of the city, with its own jazz club, no less! A pared down arrangement features Colman’s emotive vocal, sympathetically accompanied by Nash’s acoustic piano and with Banks’ electric guitar and Markland’s electric bass providing atmospheric additional colour and texture.
Colman says of the song;
“As the building was being demolished my friend William died. We made a lot of music together in that building and each time another piece of it came away I imagined the echoes that had been absorbed into the walls flying out with the dust”.

The beguiling “Be Careful”, co-written by Colman, Banks and engineer Nick Dover embraces elements of jazz, folk and pop and incorporates something of a feature for drummer Silk in an arrangement that also includes Rhodes, acoustic guitar and double bass.

Colman and Nash combined to write “Dreamer”, with the singer providing the lyrics and the pianist the music. The performance is a sensitive duet for voice and acoustic piano with Nash’s flowing keyboard lyricism complementing Colman’s pure, elegant vocals and concise but poetic lyrics. I’m used to seeing Nash in the edgier environment of saxophonist Dee Byrne’s Entropi quintet and this piece serves as a welcome reminder of her versatility and skill as an accompanist.

The album concludes with another vocal and piano performance, a Colman arrangement of Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years”, a song that most readers will surely be familiar with. Colman alters the gender of the lyrics and accompanies herself at the piano, whilst receiving strategic vocal assistance from backing singers Martensson and Marsden.

“What We’re Made Of” has been a long time in the making. It’s an album that has clearly been a labour of love for Coleman, a fact that is reflected by the care that has been taken with the arrangements and the overall high quality of the production.

Those song writing studies have clearly paid off as evidenced by the quality of the original songs with their succinct, thoughtful and poetic lyrics, the words enhanced by Colman’s assured and relaxed vocal performances. The cast of accompanying instrumentalists and singers add greatly to the success of the record with everybody contributing immaculate performances.

Situated in the hinterland somewhere between jazz and the territory of the singer songwriter “What We’re Made Of” is a very personal album that finds Colman carving out a niche that is very much her own. It’s not an out and out jazz record and it’s a little too close to the popular music mainstream for my own personal tastes, but I can appreciate the care and skill that has gone into the making of this album. I’m certain that Colman’s many fans will derive great enjoyment from it, and I positively welcome the presence of so much original material. In this respect “What We’re Made Of” represents a considerable step forward.

 

 

Elftet - Elftet, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 28/09/2018. Rating: 5 out of 5 Guest contributor Trevor Bannister is blown away by the music of Elftet, the eleven piece ensemble led by the young vibraphonist and composer Jonny Mansfield.

Elftet
Progress Theatre, Friday 28 September 2018
 
Jonny Mansfield vibes & leader, James Davison trumpet & flugelhorn, Rory Ingham trombone, Tom Smith alto saxophone, Sam Rapley tenor saxophone & bass clarinet, Dom Ingham violin & vocals, Ella Hohnen Ford vocals & flute, Laura Armstrong cello, Oliver Mason guitar, Will Harris bass guitar, Boz Martin-Jones drums.
 
We can’t say that we weren’t warned. Just a few weeks ago Jonny Mansfield, appearing with Jam Experiment, accepted an invitation to join Jazz in Reading’s Bob Draper on the Progress stage for a brief interview to promote his forthcoming Elftet concert.
‘Why an Elftet?’ asked an incredulous Bob. ‘An eleven-piece band!’
‘It gives me the chance to write for a broad musical palette and to create colours and textures beyond what’s possible in a small group,’ replied Mansfield.
 
And how! Jonny’s self-effacing response gave no hint of the immense power that eleven musicians, at the top of their game on the penultimate night of a 13-gig national tour, can generate. To say we were blown away is an under-statement. It’s certainly no exaggeration to say that those privileged to be in the audience bore witness to the arrival of a major new instrumental and writing talent on the jazz scene. ‘It was like a breath of fresh air,’ remarked one stalwart of Jazz at Progress. For others, this writer included, it prompted memories of Messrs. Gibbs, Garrick and Westbrook in the nineteen-sixties and the later glories of Kenny Wheeler and Loose Tubes; bands which broke the established mould and added a new dimension to ensemble jazz.

Even in this day and age of heightened awareness of gender inequality, the jazz world is still dominated by all-male groups, where a female vocalist may be the only acknowledgement of women’s contribution to this area of music. Here, it was wonderfully refreshing to see two women, Ella Hohnen Ford and Laura Armstrong, absolutely intrinsic to the band line-up, performing as equal members of the ensemble and its improvising soloists, both of whose individual qualities added superbly to the unique sound of Elftet.
  
Mansfield may never have stepped into a sailing boat, as he admitted in his introduction to ‘Sailing’, but his impression of what he thought it might be like was the most perfect evocation of the experience that I can imagine. The blasts of Rory Ingham’s declamatory trombone launched the piece into motion. Alert to the challenges and ever-changing rhythms of wind and tide depicted by Mansfield’s arrangement, Ella Hohnen Ford, her wordless vocal blending beautifully with Dom Ingham’s violin, held a firm grasp on the tiller and brought the boat safely home. One couldn’t fail to be impressed by the startling originality of Mansfield’s writing, played with the spirit and gusto of a New Orleans street band, and the subtlety of the instrumental voicings. As he commented in his interview with Bob Draper, ‘Writing a tune is straightforward. Making it work for the ensemble takes a lot longer.’
 
Mansfield’s ear for putting together an interesting programme was fully in evidence in the next two numbers played back-to-back. ‘Falling’, a gentle lullaby inspired by ‘Golden Slumbers’ a poem by Thomas Dekker, contrasted brilliantly with ‘For You’, an almost pastoral piece, featuring the dazzling inventiveness of James Davison, winner of this year’s Musicians’ Company Young Musician Competition* on flugelhorn and the feather-light alto saxophone of Tom Smith. It finished with some stunning Gospel-like chords.
 
Sadly, ladybirds are now rare visitors to my garden. Mansfield’s next piece, ‘Wings’, an interpretation of the traditional nursery rhyme ‘Burnie Bee’, used his vibes in a gorgeous combination with Ella Hohnen Ford’s voice, the violin of Dom Ingham, Laura Armstrong’s cello and Sam Rapley’s bass clarinet to capture the exquisite beauty of this well-loved creature. But there is a darker aspect to this seemingly benign beetle, as Mansfield made clear in a vibes solo of growing intensity; it can exude a pungent fluid to ward off its enemies – ants, birds … people!
 
‘Flying Kites’ completed the first set. As with earlier pieces, Mansfield used the full resources of the ensemble, in this instance to create a vivid image of the joys and frustrations of flying a kite. The bass guitar of Will Harris anchored the kite firmly to the ground, while each player in turn helped to launch it into the sky; fantastic guitar from Oliver Mason, whose playing was a constant delight throughout the evening, pizzicato violin from Dom Ingham and a show-stopping drum solo from Boz Martin-Jones.
 
The second set opened with the thoughtfully reflective ‘Silhouette’, which amongst many delights featured a wonderfully free-form vibes solo by the leader with the rhythm section in support, the resonant tones of Sam Rapley’s bass clarinet and a ripping alto solo by Tom Smith.
 
Mansfield crowned the evening with ‘Tim Smoth’s Big Day Out’. This imaginative and extraordinarily ambitious suite, lasting a full forty-five minutes, featured the ensemble members as soloists or in a variety of instrumental groupings. The repetition of Mansfield’s seemingly simple vocal line, from which Ella drew scope for endless variations, linked the respective parts together. One was almost overawed by the emotional maturity and technical brilliance of each player and their determination to push the music to the utmost limits. Tom Smith’s (Yes, the play-on-words of the title scarcely disguises that this piece was written specifically for him as a tribute to his constant inspiration as a musician who always ‘questions what is possible’) unaccompanied alto solo, modelled on the work of American saxophone virtuoso Colin Stetson, held the audience spellbound as he extracted sounds from his instrument that no one could have imagined previously existed.
 
‘Present’, was written for fellow vibes player Jim Hart after he recommended that Mansfield read Eckhart Tolle’s ‘The Power of Now’. It brought the concert to rip-roaring close.
 
Jonny Mansfield is a worthy recipient of the 2018 Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize awarded to a graduating musician at the Royal Academy of Music who demonstrates excellence in performance and composition. This has led to a recording opportunity, which features Elftet with special guests, Chris Potter on saxophone, Kit Downes on Hammond organ and Gareth Lockrane on flute. The album will be released on Edition Records early next year.
 
On Saturday 13th October he will be leading Elftet at the Marsden Jazz Festival with the presentation of ‘On Marsden Moor’, a specially commissioned suite that combines the instrumental ensemble with song and spoken word. This will be recorded by BBC Radio 3 and broadcast at 11pm on Monday 12th November.
 
As ever, our thanks to the Progress Theatre ‘house-team’ for their hospitality and the excellent quality of the sound and lighting.
 
I should like to round-off this review with the following comment; written by Marc Edwards, but I feel sure, shared by many:
 ‘A fabulous night at Progress. With players, band-leaders and composers of this calibre, the future of new music, powered by such a breadth of influences is bright.’
 
* Other finalists in this competition included saxophonist Alex Hitchcock, and bassist Joe Downard, both of whom will be familiar to Progress audiences.


TREVOR BANNISTER

Elftet, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 28/09/2018.

Elftet

Friday, October 05, 2018

Reviewed by: Trevor Bannister

Live Review

5 out of 5

Elftet, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 28/09/2018.
Photography: Images by Zoë White

Guest contributor Trevor Bannister is blown away by the music of Elftet, the eleven piece ensemble led by the young vibraphonist and composer Jonny Mansfield.

Elftet
Progress Theatre, Friday 28 September 2018
 
Jonny Mansfield vibes & leader, James Davison trumpet & flugelhorn, Rory Ingham trombone, Tom Smith alto saxophone, Sam Rapley tenor saxophone & bass clarinet, Dom Ingham violin & vocals, Ella Hohnen Ford vocals & flute, Laura Armstrong cello, Oliver Mason guitar, Will Harris bass guitar, Boz Martin-Jones drums.
 
We can’t say that we weren’t warned. Just a few weeks ago Jonny Mansfield, appearing with Jam Experiment, accepted an invitation to join Jazz in Reading’s Bob Draper on the Progress stage for a brief interview to promote his forthcoming Elftet concert.
‘Why an Elftet?’ asked an incredulous Bob. ‘An eleven-piece band!’
‘It gives me the chance to write for a broad musical palette and to create colours and textures beyond what’s possible in a small group,’ replied Mansfield.
 
And how! Jonny’s self-effacing response gave no hint of the immense power that eleven musicians, at the top of their game on the penultimate night of a 13-gig national tour, can generate. To say we were blown away is an under-statement. It’s certainly no exaggeration to say that those privileged to be in the audience bore witness to the arrival of a major new instrumental and writing talent on the jazz scene. ‘It was like a breath of fresh air,’ remarked one stalwart of Jazz at Progress. For others, this writer included, it prompted memories of Messrs. Gibbs, Garrick and Westbrook in the nineteen-sixties and the later glories of Kenny Wheeler and Loose Tubes; bands which broke the established mould and added a new dimension to ensemble jazz.

Even in this day and age of heightened awareness of gender inequality, the jazz world is still dominated by all-male groups, where a female vocalist may be the only acknowledgement of women’s contribution to this area of music. Here, it was wonderfully refreshing to see two women, Ella Hohnen Ford and Laura Armstrong, absolutely intrinsic to the band line-up, performing as equal members of the ensemble and its improvising soloists, both of whose individual qualities added superbly to the unique sound of Elftet.
  
Mansfield may never have stepped into a sailing boat, as he admitted in his introduction to ‘Sailing’, but his impression of what he thought it might be like was the most perfect evocation of the experience that I can imagine. The blasts of Rory Ingham’s declamatory trombone launched the piece into motion. Alert to the challenges and ever-changing rhythms of wind and tide depicted by Mansfield’s arrangement, Ella Hohnen Ford, her wordless vocal blending beautifully with Dom Ingham’s violin, held a firm grasp on the tiller and brought the boat safely home. One couldn’t fail to be impressed by the startling originality of Mansfield’s writing, played with the spirit and gusto of a New Orleans street band, and the subtlety of the instrumental voicings. As he commented in his interview with Bob Draper, ‘Writing a tune is straightforward. Making it work for the ensemble takes a lot longer.’
 
Mansfield’s ear for putting together an interesting programme was fully in evidence in the next two numbers played back-to-back. ‘Falling’, a gentle lullaby inspired by ‘Golden Slumbers’ a poem by Thomas Dekker, contrasted brilliantly with ‘For You’, an almost pastoral piece, featuring the dazzling inventiveness of James Davison, winner of this year’s Musicians’ Company Young Musician Competition* on flugelhorn and the feather-light alto saxophone of Tom Smith. It finished with some stunning Gospel-like chords.
 
Sadly, ladybirds are now rare visitors to my garden. Mansfield’s next piece, ‘Wings’, an interpretation of the traditional nursery rhyme ‘Burnie Bee’, used his vibes in a gorgeous combination with Ella Hohnen Ford’s voice, the violin of Dom Ingham, Laura Armstrong’s cello and Sam Rapley’s bass clarinet to capture the exquisite beauty of this well-loved creature. But there is a darker aspect to this seemingly benign beetle, as Mansfield made clear in a vibes solo of growing intensity; it can exude a pungent fluid to ward off its enemies – ants, birds … people!
 
‘Flying Kites’ completed the first set. As with earlier pieces, Mansfield used the full resources of the ensemble, in this instance to create a vivid image of the joys and frustrations of flying a kite. The bass guitar of Will Harris anchored the kite firmly to the ground, while each player in turn helped to launch it into the sky; fantastic guitar from Oliver Mason, whose playing was a constant delight throughout the evening, pizzicato violin from Dom Ingham and a show-stopping drum solo from Boz Martin-Jones.
 
The second set opened with the thoughtfully reflective ‘Silhouette’, which amongst many delights featured a wonderfully free-form vibes solo by the leader with the rhythm section in support, the resonant tones of Sam Rapley’s bass clarinet and a ripping alto solo by Tom Smith.
 
Mansfield crowned the evening with ‘Tim Smoth’s Big Day Out’. This imaginative and extraordinarily ambitious suite, lasting a full forty-five minutes, featured the ensemble members as soloists or in a variety of instrumental groupings. The repetition of Mansfield’s seemingly simple vocal line, from which Ella drew scope for endless variations, linked the respective parts together. One was almost overawed by the emotional maturity and technical brilliance of each player and their determination to push the music to the utmost limits. Tom Smith’s (Yes, the play-on-words of the title scarcely disguises that this piece was written specifically for him as a tribute to his constant inspiration as a musician who always ‘questions what is possible’) unaccompanied alto solo, modelled on the work of American saxophone virtuoso Colin Stetson, held the audience spellbound as he extracted sounds from his instrument that no one could have imagined previously existed.
 
‘Present’, was written for fellow vibes player Jim Hart after he recommended that Mansfield read Eckhart Tolle’s ‘The Power of Now’. It brought the concert to rip-roaring close.
 
Jonny Mansfield is a worthy recipient of the 2018 Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize awarded to a graduating musician at the Royal Academy of Music who demonstrates excellence in performance and composition. This has led to a recording opportunity, which features Elftet with special guests, Chris Potter on saxophone, Kit Downes on Hammond organ and Gareth Lockrane on flute. The album will be released on Edition Records early next year.
 
On Saturday 13th October he will be leading Elftet at the Marsden Jazz Festival with the presentation of ‘On Marsden Moor’, a specially commissioned suite that combines the instrumental ensemble with song and spoken word. This will be recorded by BBC Radio 3 and broadcast at 11pm on Monday 12th November.
 
As ever, our thanks to the Progress Theatre ‘house-team’ for their hospitality and the excellent quality of the sound and lighting.
 
I should like to round-off this review with the following comment; written by Marc Edwards, but I feel sure, shared by many:
 ‘A fabulous night at Progress. With players, band-leaders and composers of this calibre, the future of new music, powered by such a breadth of influences is bright.’
 
* Other finalists in this competition included saxophonist Alex Hitchcock, and bassist Joe Downard, both of whom will be familiar to Progress audiences.


TREVOR BANNISTER

Liran Donin’s 1000 Boats - 8 Songs Rating: 4-5 out of 5 The album features a series of multi-faceted compositions that skilfully combine jazz with aspects of Middle Eastern and North African music. There are some excellent tunes here.

Liran Donin’s 1000 Boats

“8 Songs”

(Cavalo Records LDCD001)

Liran Donin is probably best known to British jazz audiences as the bassist of the mighty Led Bib, the long running, Mercury nominated quintet led by American born drummer and composer Mark Holub.

But there’s a lot more to Donin than that, the Israeli born, London based musician is also a prolific sideman, an increasingly in demand record producer, and now the leader of his own quintet, the band collectively known as 1000 Boats.

Donin studied jazz at Middlesex University after arriving in the UK from Tel Aviv and it was here that he met Holub and the other members of Led Bib. The success of the band has allowed Donin to broaden his interests and he has since worked as a sideman across a variety of musical genres. Among those with whom Donin has performed are rock and pop artists such as Chrissie Hynde and the American indie band We Go Magic. He has collaborated with BBC folk award winners The Unthanks and has also explored various types of world music through his work with Ethio-jazz vibraphonist Mulatu Astatke, tabla master Pandit Shardak Sahai and vocalist Aruna Sairam. He has also appeared on numerous film, radio and TV soundtracks and collaborated with choreographer Sivan Rubinstein.

There have also been more obvious jazz collaborations with British-Asian clarinettist Arun Ghosh and the short lived twin bass, twin drum collaboration Mustard Pie featuring Donin and fellow bassist Tom Herbert, and drummers Mark Holub and Seb Rochford, effectively a combination of the rhythm sections of Led Bib and Polar Bear fronted by Pinski Zoo saxophonist Jan Kopinski.

Donin is also forging a reputation as a dynamic and creative record producer, recently producing albums by contemporary jazz acts such as WorldService Project and Raph Clarkson’s Dissolute Society. He has also acted as a producer for the award winning Zambian/Scottish vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Namvula and is currently working on the second album by Indian born vocalist Ranjana Ghatak.

Donin’s musical and cultural background feeds into his solo project 1000 Boats. Despite the title the album actually features nine tracks, although only eight are actually composed by Donin, and the material is directly inspired by his “Israeli and Moroccan sub Saharan background”.

The personnel that Donin his chosen for his first solo project include his Led Bib colleague Chris Williams on alto sax, plus another jazz saxophonist, Josh Arcoleo on tenor. The Italian born, London based Maria Chiara Argiro, a band-leader in her own right, fills the piano chair and the group is rounded out by the versatile drummer and percussionist Ben Brown, of the group Bahla.

Led Bib are best known for their powerful blend of punk jazz or skronk but 1000 Boats is very different, with Donin’s writing including elements of folk and world music, in addition to the jazz components that the collective personnel bring to the project. The music may be less obviously “in your face” than Led Bib, but with two fifths of that band involved with this project there’s no shortage of power either.

The album commences with “I Can See Tarifa” with Donin’s powerful pizzicato plucking underscored by Argiro’s muscular piano arpeggios. The use of two saxophones, this time alto and tenor as opposed to the twin alto front line of Led Bib, allows plenty of room for polyphony and counterpoint as the fiery horns of Williams and Arcoloeo intertwine thrillingly in a constantly unfolding exchange of musical ideas. Brown’s drumming is crisp, powerful and consistently colourful and inventive on this attention grabbing opener.

Introduced by Argiro at the piano “The Story of Annette and Maurice”, written for Donin’s grandparents, is more considered and is possessed of a strong narrative arc, as the theme and title of the piece suggests. Bass, reeds and drums are added to the equation as the piece develops organically and logically, the momentum constantly ebbing and flowing. Donin’s melodic bass engages in dialogue with Argiro’s piano as Brown provides percussive commentary before the horns, now working in tandem, return to drive the music forward once more, bringing the intensity to a peak prior to a gentle, piano led coda.

“Alma Sophia”, dedicated to Donin’s young daughter, is a trio piece featuring Donin’s bass in conjunction with Argiro’s piano and Brown’s drums. A gentle intro featuring the leader’s melodic, but resonant, bass, Argiro’s lyrical piano and Brown’s brushed drums leads to a more vigorous second section with a dazzling piano solo from Argiro. Here the young Italian builds up an impressive head of steam, aided by Donin’s muscular bass playing and Brown’s nimble, colourful drumming. It’s a performance that has evoked comparisons of the work of another Israeli born bassist and composer, the New York based Avishai Cohen and his trio.

The dramatic “Tel Aviv to Ramallah” is introduced by a muezzin like sax wail and is obviously of Middle Eastern origin. It’s an immensely powerful piece, fuelled by Brown’s dynamic drumming and with Williams contributing a biting alto solo before linking up with Arcoleo. The leader’s bass enjoys a degree of prominence towards the close on a piece that is vaguely reminiscent of something that Gilad Atzmon’s Orient House ensemble might have attempted.

Credited to Argiro “Paws” is a charming three and a half minute solo piano interlude that effectively divides the album, and Donin’s own “8 Songs”,  into two halves. One suspects that the title is probably a pun on the word “pause”.

Argiro’s piece leads into “Noam, Sea and Sand”, another Donin composition that commences in piano trio mode. In the highly amplified sound world of Led Bib Donin has increasingly gravitated to using an electric bass, this solo album offers a welcome reminder of just how good an acoustic double bassist he really is. This track is case in point as Donin swarms all over his bass in the tune’s opening stages. The track itself skilfully combines melody and groove with excellent performances also coming from Argiro and Brown. The horns eventually join the party to provide additional heft in the closing stages.

With its beguiling folk inspired melodies “Gal and Osh” follows a similar trajectory and features more superb acoustic bass playing from the leader. Again the piece begins in trio mode before a sudden shift in gear leads into an exhilarating, hard grooving passage featuring the garrulous wail of the saxes. Finally there’s a gently lyrical coda for just bass and piano.

Argiro utilises prepared piano techniques, giving the music a distinctive African feel as she joins forces with Donin and Brown on the highly rhythmic “New Beginnings”. The piece also acts as something of a feature for the consistently excellent Brown as well as forming the introduction to the closing “FREE”.
This is a gloriously celebratory composition that teams driving rhythms with punchy, melodic horn lines and the soaring choral voices of Donin, Williams and Ranjana Ghatak. There’s a grandiose, transcendent quality about the music on this final cut that suggests the influence of Kamasi Washington.

With its family and cultural references “8 Songs” represents a very personal album for Donin but he has created a sound-world that is also readily accessible for others to explore. The album features a series of multi-faceted compositions that skilfully combine jazz with aspects of Middle Eastern and North African music. There are some excellent tunes here, some of them originally conceived with lyrics in mind, and the playing by all concerned is superb throughout. Donin’s skills as a producer also come to the fore with a pinpoint sound mix that ensures that everybody sounds good. “8 Songs” is one of the most invigorating new jazz albums that I’ve heard in a long while and represents a considerable triumph for Donin, one of UK jazz’s best loved and most successful imports.

1000 Boats will play a short series of live dates in the UK and Europe during October and November 2018. Schedule listed below;

12th October Liran Donin 1000s Boats   Willem Twee Nederlands
13th October Liran Donin 1000s Boats Rotterdam, Jazz Cafe Dizzys Nederlands
14th October Liran Donin 1000s Boats Germany (TBC)
2nd November Liran Donin 1000s Boats, Derby Jazz UK
9th November Liran Donin 1000s Boats Leeds University MasterClass,
22nd November,  Liran Donin 1000s Boats, London Jazz Festival QEH UK (supporting Bugge Wesseltoft)

8 Songs

Liran Donin’s 1000 Boats

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4-5 out of 5

8 Songs

The album features a series of multi-faceted compositions that skilfully combine jazz with aspects of Middle Eastern and North African music. There are some excellent tunes here.

Liran Donin’s 1000 Boats

“8 Songs”

(Cavalo Records LDCD001)

Liran Donin is probably best known to British jazz audiences as the bassist of the mighty Led Bib, the long running, Mercury nominated quintet led by American born drummer and composer Mark Holub.

But there’s a lot more to Donin than that, the Israeli born, London based musician is also a prolific sideman, an increasingly in demand record producer, and now the leader of his own quintet, the band collectively known as 1000 Boats.

Donin studied jazz at Middlesex University after arriving in the UK from Tel Aviv and it was here that he met Holub and the other members of Led Bib. The success of the band has allowed Donin to broaden his interests and he has since worked as a sideman across a variety of musical genres. Among those with whom Donin has performed are rock and pop artists such as Chrissie Hynde and the American indie band We Go Magic. He has collaborated with BBC folk award winners The Unthanks and has also explored various types of world music through his work with Ethio-jazz vibraphonist Mulatu Astatke, tabla master Pandit Shardak Sahai and vocalist Aruna Sairam. He has also appeared on numerous film, radio and TV soundtracks and collaborated with choreographer Sivan Rubinstein.

There have also been more obvious jazz collaborations with British-Asian clarinettist Arun Ghosh and the short lived twin bass, twin drum collaboration Mustard Pie featuring Donin and fellow bassist Tom Herbert, and drummers Mark Holub and Seb Rochford, effectively a combination of the rhythm sections of Led Bib and Polar Bear fronted by Pinski Zoo saxophonist Jan Kopinski.

Donin is also forging a reputation as a dynamic and creative record producer, recently producing albums by contemporary jazz acts such as WorldService Project and Raph Clarkson’s Dissolute Society. He has also acted as a producer for the award winning Zambian/Scottish vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Namvula and is currently working on the second album by Indian born vocalist Ranjana Ghatak.

Donin’s musical and cultural background feeds into his solo project 1000 Boats. Despite the title the album actually features nine tracks, although only eight are actually composed by Donin, and the material is directly inspired by his “Israeli and Moroccan sub Saharan background”.

The personnel that Donin his chosen for his first solo project include his Led Bib colleague Chris Williams on alto sax, plus another jazz saxophonist, Josh Arcoleo on tenor. The Italian born, London based Maria Chiara Argiro, a band-leader in her own right, fills the piano chair and the group is rounded out by the versatile drummer and percussionist Ben Brown, of the group Bahla.

Led Bib are best known for their powerful blend of punk jazz or skronk but 1000 Boats is very different, with Donin’s writing including elements of folk and world music, in addition to the jazz components that the collective personnel bring to the project. The music may be less obviously “in your face” than Led Bib, but with two fifths of that band involved with this project there’s no shortage of power either.

The album commences with “I Can See Tarifa” with Donin’s powerful pizzicato plucking underscored by Argiro’s muscular piano arpeggios. The use of two saxophones, this time alto and tenor as opposed to the twin alto front line of Led Bib, allows plenty of room for polyphony and counterpoint as the fiery horns of Williams and Arcoloeo intertwine thrillingly in a constantly unfolding exchange of musical ideas. Brown’s drumming is crisp, powerful and consistently colourful and inventive on this attention grabbing opener.

Introduced by Argiro at the piano “The Story of Annette and Maurice”, written for Donin’s grandparents, is more considered and is possessed of a strong narrative arc, as the theme and title of the piece suggests. Bass, reeds and drums are added to the equation as the piece develops organically and logically, the momentum constantly ebbing and flowing. Donin’s melodic bass engages in dialogue with Argiro’s piano as Brown provides percussive commentary before the horns, now working in tandem, return to drive the music forward once more, bringing the intensity to a peak prior to a gentle, piano led coda.

“Alma Sophia”, dedicated to Donin’s young daughter, is a trio piece featuring Donin’s bass in conjunction with Argiro’s piano and Brown’s drums. A gentle intro featuring the leader’s melodic, but resonant, bass, Argiro’s lyrical piano and Brown’s brushed drums leads to a more vigorous second section with a dazzling piano solo from Argiro. Here the young Italian builds up an impressive head of steam, aided by Donin’s muscular bass playing and Brown’s nimble, colourful drumming. It’s a performance that has evoked comparisons of the work of another Israeli born bassist and composer, the New York based Avishai Cohen and his trio.

The dramatic “Tel Aviv to Ramallah” is introduced by a muezzin like sax wail and is obviously of Middle Eastern origin. It’s an immensely powerful piece, fuelled by Brown’s dynamic drumming and with Williams contributing a biting alto solo before linking up with Arcoleo. The leader’s bass enjoys a degree of prominence towards the close on a piece that is vaguely reminiscent of something that Gilad Atzmon’s Orient House ensemble might have attempted.

Credited to Argiro “Paws” is a charming three and a half minute solo piano interlude that effectively divides the album, and Donin’s own “8 Songs”,  into two halves. One suspects that the title is probably a pun on the word “pause”.

Argiro’s piece leads into “Noam, Sea and Sand”, another Donin composition that commences in piano trio mode. In the highly amplified sound world of Led Bib Donin has increasingly gravitated to using an electric bass, this solo album offers a welcome reminder of just how good an acoustic double bassist he really is. This track is case in point as Donin swarms all over his bass in the tune’s opening stages. The track itself skilfully combines melody and groove with excellent performances also coming from Argiro and Brown. The horns eventually join the party to provide additional heft in the closing stages.

With its beguiling folk inspired melodies “Gal and Osh” follows a similar trajectory and features more superb acoustic bass playing from the leader. Again the piece begins in trio mode before a sudden shift in gear leads into an exhilarating, hard grooving passage featuring the garrulous wail of the saxes. Finally there’s a gently lyrical coda for just bass and piano.

Argiro utilises prepared piano techniques, giving the music a distinctive African feel as she joins forces with Donin and Brown on the highly rhythmic “New Beginnings”. The piece also acts as something of a feature for the consistently excellent Brown as well as forming the introduction to the closing “FREE”.
This is a gloriously celebratory composition that teams driving rhythms with punchy, melodic horn lines and the soaring choral voices of Donin, Williams and Ranjana Ghatak. There’s a grandiose, transcendent quality about the music on this final cut that suggests the influence of Kamasi Washington.

With its family and cultural references “8 Songs” represents a very personal album for Donin but he has created a sound-world that is also readily accessible for others to explore. The album features a series of multi-faceted compositions that skilfully combine jazz with aspects of Middle Eastern and North African music. There are some excellent tunes here, some of them originally conceived with lyrics in mind, and the playing by all concerned is superb throughout. Donin’s skills as a producer also come to the fore with a pinpoint sound mix that ensures that everybody sounds good. “8 Songs” is one of the most invigorating new jazz albums that I’ve heard in a long while and represents a considerable triumph for Donin, one of UK jazz’s best loved and most successful imports.

1000 Boats will play a short series of live dates in the UK and Europe during October and November 2018. Schedule listed below;

12th October Liran Donin 1000s Boats   Willem Twee Nederlands
13th October Liran Donin 1000s Boats Rotterdam, Jazz Cafe Dizzys Nederlands
14th October Liran Donin 1000s Boats Germany (TBC)
2nd November Liran Donin 1000s Boats, Derby Jazz UK
9th November Liran Donin 1000s Boats Leeds University MasterClass,
22nd November,  Liran Donin 1000s Boats, London Jazz Festival QEH UK (supporting Bugge Wesseltoft)

Camilla George - The People Could Fly Rating: 4 out of 5 She once again impresses as both an instrumentalist and a composer, while simultaneously broadening her musical horizons. It’s another impressive offering from one of the rising stars of British jazz.

Camilla George

“The People Could Fly”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0015)

“The People Could Fly” is the second album release by the London based alto saxophonist and composer Camilla George. It represents the follow up to her excellent 2017 début “Isang”, a critically acclaimed recording that helped to establish George as a popular and important figure on the UK jazz scene.

 Born in Nigeria George studied at Trinity College of Music and has also been part of the Tomorrow’s Warriors programme. Her tutors have included fellow saxophonists Jean Toussaint, Tony Kofi, Julian Siegel, Christian Brewer and Martin Speake. Her work has also been championed by Jason Yarde and Courtney Pine.

Besides her illustrious mentors George also cites alto sax giants Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley as significant influences, but even more important to her are Sonny Stitt and Jackie McLean with George naming Kenny Garrett as a more contemporary source of inspiration.

As a performer George has been part of the Nu Civilisation Orchestra, Jazz Jamaica and Courtney Pine’s Venus Warriors project. In 2014 she formed her own quartet, the members coming together through encounters on the Jazz Warriors scheme and at the late night jams at Ronnie Scott’s.  This was the group that appeared on “Isang” with the leader joined by pianist Sarah Tandy, bassist Daniel Casimir and drummer Femi Coleoso.

In February 2017 I saw the “Isang” quartet give an excellent live performance at Kenilworth Jazz Club, the date part of a UK tour promoting the album.  George is a hard working musician who has developed a following through regular gigging, and the critical acclaim for “Isang” has been backed up by a series of exciting live shows, including several major festival appearances.

“Isang” drew on a wide range of influences including George’s African and Caribbean heritage, plus musical inspirations such as Kenny Garrett and the ‘Great American Songbook’ - interpretations of the Garrett tune “Ms. Baja” and the standard “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” appeared alongside George’s original material on the début.

“The People Could Fly” sees George building upon the success of the earlier recording. The new album is a more tightly focussed, semi-conceptual affair that takes its inspiration from a book of African folk tales as George explains in her album notes;
“This album has been a real labour of love. It’s based on a book of African stories called “The People Could Fly” which are steeped in slavery. My mum used to read me these stories when I was a child and I have always been fascinated by them and really wanted to explore them further. You have the spirited trickster tales where the wily Bruh Rabbit outwits larger, stronger animals like the lion. There are tall tales filled with riddle and mischief, ghost tales which take a sinister turn and finally the tales of freedom. These stories were created out of sorrow but have been passed on to us with hearts that are full of love and hope. I see these stories as a celebration of the human spirit”.

She continues;
“The People Could Fly” was my favourite story from this collection of tales. The cover illustration showed men and women flying over the cotton fields. The idea behind it was that some Africans were magical and had the ability to fly, but through long enslavement lost that ability to fly away. This image is bitter-sweet for me as it is a fantasy tale of suffering and is a powerful testament to the millions of slaves who never had the opportunity to fly away.”

The new album sees George joined again by her core quartet of Tandy, Casimir and Koleoso, the latter sharing drumming duties with the great Winston Clifford. “Isang” featured the guest vocals of Zara McFarlane on one track but “The People Could Fly” finds George widening her sonic palette further with extensive guest appearances by guitarist Shirley Tetteh, vocalists Cherise Adams-Burnett and Omar Lye-Fook and trumpeter Quentin Collins, co-founder of the Ubuntu record label. The album is produced by pianist and composer Andrew McCormack.

“I knew from the moment I decided to write music for these amazing stories that I wanted to expand the sound of my band in order to realise the sounds that I had been hearing in my head” explains George. “I was keen to add to the horn section with trumpet and to have both a male and female vocalist as well as guitar, which is key to many of my compositions for this album.”

George’s comments are perfectly illustrated by the album’s opening track, “Tappin the Land Turtle” which features a sextet of George, Tandy, Casimir, Clifford, Tetteh and Adams-Burnett. The piece takes its cue from the singer’s introductory vocal chant of “Bakon colem Bakon cowbey, Bacon cowhubo, lebe lebe”, this forming the building blocks for subsequent instrumental solos from Tetteh and George, who both impress with their incisiveness and fluency. Tandy plays Rhodes throughout and there’s something of a drum feature for the excellent Clifford towards the end of the tune. This infectious blend of jazz and Afro-beat helps to get the album off to a spirited and exciting start.

Tandy moves to acoustic piano for the next piece which features a core quartet with Clifford at the drums. “He Lion, Bruh Bear, Bruh Rabbit” is more obviously steeped in jazz and bebop and includes solos from George on pure toned alto and from rising bass star Casimir, who delivers an adventurous but melodic double bass solo.

The same quartet also appears on “How Nehemiah Got Free” with Tandy again switching to Rhodes and Casimir playing electric bass. Again the piece is rooted in jazz, but, as the instrumentation suggests, includes elements of funk and fusion with Kenny Garrett a discernible influence. Clifford’s bustling, skittering grooves help to fuel thoughtful solos from George and Tandy.

“Little Eight John” sees the quartet augmented by the vocals of Adams-Burnett and is a jazz lullaby incorporating the somewhat scary lyric “Don’ talk n’ go to sleep / Eyes shut tight n’ don’ you peep / Keep still or he jus moans / Raw head an’ bloody bones”. The words are intoned by Adams-Burnett’s pure but soulful voice while melodic instrumental solos come from George on alto sax and Casimir on double bass. Tandy features on acoustic piano while Clifford deploys brushes throughout.

The title track re-introduces something of the African feel of the opener, courtesy of Tetteh’s guitar. But there’s still plenty of jazz in addition to a fusion element, thanks to Tandy’s Rhodes. Koleoso features in the drum chair and his subtle but colourful rhythms help to inspire the melodic solos of Tetteh and George.

Clifford is back with a powerful solo drum intro to launch the lively “Carry the Runnings Away”. Performed by the core quartet this jazz infused piece features George’s lithe, agile alto soloing plus a sparkling acoustic piano solo from the increasingly impressive Tandy. Casimir and Clifford combine swingingly to drive the music along at a fast clip with the bassist also joining the ranks of the soloists with a dexterous upright bass feature.

“The Most Useful Slave” represents a stark reminder of the concept behind the album as the sound of rattling chains introduces the piece and forms the backdrop to George’s opening sax incantations.
There’s a gravitas about this composition, and about George’s playing, that recalls the spiritual jazz of John Coltrane, plus a strong gospel element that conjures up images of the American south. Tandy again impresses with her gospel tinged lyricism on acoustic piano, while the rich, rounded, resonant tones of Casimir’s double bass come into brief prominence during the tune’s closing stages.

The album concludes with the only cover version of the set, an arrangement of the late US soul legend Curtis Mayfield’s “Here, but I’m Gone”. George says of her decision to interpret Mayfield’s work;
“’Here but I’m Gone’ is a commentary on the black social condition in America which I think is a perfect bookend to an album that starts with a tale of famine and suffering. And with recent political events I think it is even more poignant.”
The performances features a septet of George, Tandy, Casimir and Clifford plus Tetteh, Collins and Lye-Fook.  The latter provides a soulful and convincing rendition of Mayfield’s evocative, socially conscious lyrics, rich in street imagery and drug references. Collins takes the only real instrumental solo, his trumpet briefly flaring as he exchanges musical ideas with George. The saxophonist is hoping to further her appeal with this album and a successful cover such as this suggests that she will do just that, much in the manner of her tenor sax contemporary Nubya Garcia.

“The People Could Fly” is a very worthy follow up to the excellent “Isang” and its embrace of funk and soul elements suggests that George is capable of reaching out to a wider fan base while still retaining a strong jazz core at the heart of her sound. There’s an immediacy about George’s music that is capable of appealing to a younger, broader constituency, while keeping hardcore jazz fans onside. With “The People Could Fly” she once again impresses as both an instrumentalist and a composer, while simultaneously broadening her musical horizons. It’s another impressive offering from one of the rising stars of contemporary British jazz.

The People Could Fly

Camilla George

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

The People Could Fly

She once again impresses as both an instrumentalist and a composer, while simultaneously broadening her musical horizons. It’s another impressive offering from one of the rising stars of British jazz.

Camilla George

“The People Could Fly”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0015)

“The People Could Fly” is the second album release by the London based alto saxophonist and composer Camilla George. It represents the follow up to her excellent 2017 début “Isang”, a critically acclaimed recording that helped to establish George as a popular and important figure on the UK jazz scene.

 Born in Nigeria George studied at Trinity College of Music and has also been part of the Tomorrow’s Warriors programme. Her tutors have included fellow saxophonists Jean Toussaint, Tony Kofi, Julian Siegel, Christian Brewer and Martin Speake. Her work has also been championed by Jason Yarde and Courtney Pine.

Besides her illustrious mentors George also cites alto sax giants Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley as significant influences, but even more important to her are Sonny Stitt and Jackie McLean with George naming Kenny Garrett as a more contemporary source of inspiration.

As a performer George has been part of the Nu Civilisation Orchestra, Jazz Jamaica and Courtney Pine’s Venus Warriors project. In 2014 she formed her own quartet, the members coming together through encounters on the Jazz Warriors scheme and at the late night jams at Ronnie Scott’s.  This was the group that appeared on “Isang” with the leader joined by pianist Sarah Tandy, bassist Daniel Casimir and drummer Femi Coleoso.

In February 2017 I saw the “Isang” quartet give an excellent live performance at Kenilworth Jazz Club, the date part of a UK tour promoting the album.  George is a hard working musician who has developed a following through regular gigging, and the critical acclaim for “Isang” has been backed up by a series of exciting live shows, including several major festival appearances.

“Isang” drew on a wide range of influences including George’s African and Caribbean heritage, plus musical inspirations such as Kenny Garrett and the ‘Great American Songbook’ - interpretations of the Garrett tune “Ms. Baja” and the standard “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” appeared alongside George’s original material on the début.

“The People Could Fly” sees George building upon the success of the earlier recording. The new album is a more tightly focussed, semi-conceptual affair that takes its inspiration from a book of African folk tales as George explains in her album notes;
“This album has been a real labour of love. It’s based on a book of African stories called “The People Could Fly” which are steeped in slavery. My mum used to read me these stories when I was a child and I have always been fascinated by them and really wanted to explore them further. You have the spirited trickster tales where the wily Bruh Rabbit outwits larger, stronger animals like the lion. There are tall tales filled with riddle and mischief, ghost tales which take a sinister turn and finally the tales of freedom. These stories were created out of sorrow but have been passed on to us with hearts that are full of love and hope. I see these stories as a celebration of the human spirit”.

She continues;
“The People Could Fly” was my favourite story from this collection of tales. The cover illustration showed men and women flying over the cotton fields. The idea behind it was that some Africans were magical and had the ability to fly, but through long enslavement lost that ability to fly away. This image is bitter-sweet for me as it is a fantasy tale of suffering and is a powerful testament to the millions of slaves who never had the opportunity to fly away.”

The new album sees George joined again by her core quartet of Tandy, Casimir and Koleoso, the latter sharing drumming duties with the great Winston Clifford. “Isang” featured the guest vocals of Zara McFarlane on one track but “The People Could Fly” finds George widening her sonic palette further with extensive guest appearances by guitarist Shirley Tetteh, vocalists Cherise Adams-Burnett and Omar Lye-Fook and trumpeter Quentin Collins, co-founder of the Ubuntu record label. The album is produced by pianist and composer Andrew McCormack.

“I knew from the moment I decided to write music for these amazing stories that I wanted to expand the sound of my band in order to realise the sounds that I had been hearing in my head” explains George. “I was keen to add to the horn section with trumpet and to have both a male and female vocalist as well as guitar, which is key to many of my compositions for this album.”

George’s comments are perfectly illustrated by the album’s opening track, “Tappin the Land Turtle” which features a sextet of George, Tandy, Casimir, Clifford, Tetteh and Adams-Burnett. The piece takes its cue from the singer’s introductory vocal chant of “Bakon colem Bakon cowbey, Bacon cowhubo, lebe lebe”, this forming the building blocks for subsequent instrumental solos from Tetteh and George, who both impress with their incisiveness and fluency. Tandy plays Rhodes throughout and there’s something of a drum feature for the excellent Clifford towards the end of the tune. This infectious blend of jazz and Afro-beat helps to get the album off to a spirited and exciting start.

Tandy moves to acoustic piano for the next piece which features a core quartet with Clifford at the drums. “He Lion, Bruh Bear, Bruh Rabbit” is more obviously steeped in jazz and bebop and includes solos from George on pure toned alto and from rising bass star Casimir, who delivers an adventurous but melodic double bass solo.

The same quartet also appears on “How Nehemiah Got Free” with Tandy again switching to Rhodes and Casimir playing electric bass. Again the piece is rooted in jazz, but, as the instrumentation suggests, includes elements of funk and fusion with Kenny Garrett a discernible influence. Clifford’s bustling, skittering grooves help to fuel thoughtful solos from George and Tandy.

“Little Eight John” sees the quartet augmented by the vocals of Adams-Burnett and is a jazz lullaby incorporating the somewhat scary lyric “Don’ talk n’ go to sleep / Eyes shut tight n’ don’ you peep / Keep still or he jus moans / Raw head an’ bloody bones”. The words are intoned by Adams-Burnett’s pure but soulful voice while melodic instrumental solos come from George on alto sax and Casimir on double bass. Tandy features on acoustic piano while Clifford deploys brushes throughout.

The title track re-introduces something of the African feel of the opener, courtesy of Tetteh’s guitar. But there’s still plenty of jazz in addition to a fusion element, thanks to Tandy’s Rhodes. Koleoso features in the drum chair and his subtle but colourful rhythms help to inspire the melodic solos of Tetteh and George.

Clifford is back with a powerful solo drum intro to launch the lively “Carry the Runnings Away”. Performed by the core quartet this jazz infused piece features George’s lithe, agile alto soloing plus a sparkling acoustic piano solo from the increasingly impressive Tandy. Casimir and Clifford combine swingingly to drive the music along at a fast clip with the bassist also joining the ranks of the soloists with a dexterous upright bass feature.

“The Most Useful Slave” represents a stark reminder of the concept behind the album as the sound of rattling chains introduces the piece and forms the backdrop to George’s opening sax incantations.
There’s a gravitas about this composition, and about George’s playing, that recalls the spiritual jazz of John Coltrane, plus a strong gospel element that conjures up images of the American south. Tandy again impresses with her gospel tinged lyricism on acoustic piano, while the rich, rounded, resonant tones of Casimir’s double bass come into brief prominence during the tune’s closing stages.

The album concludes with the only cover version of the set, an arrangement of the late US soul legend Curtis Mayfield’s “Here, but I’m Gone”. George says of her decision to interpret Mayfield’s work;
“’Here but I’m Gone’ is a commentary on the black social condition in America which I think is a perfect bookend to an album that starts with a tale of famine and suffering. And with recent political events I think it is even more poignant.”
The performances features a septet of George, Tandy, Casimir and Clifford plus Tetteh, Collins and Lye-Fook.  The latter provides a soulful and convincing rendition of Mayfield’s evocative, socially conscious lyrics, rich in street imagery and drug references. Collins takes the only real instrumental solo, his trumpet briefly flaring as he exchanges musical ideas with George. The saxophonist is hoping to further her appeal with this album and a successful cover such as this suggests that she will do just that, much in the manner of her tenor sax contemporary Nubya Garcia.

“The People Could Fly” is a very worthy follow up to the excellent “Isang” and its embrace of funk and soul elements suggests that George is capable of reaching out to a wider fan base while still retaining a strong jazz core at the heart of her sound. There’s an immediacy about George’s music that is capable of appealing to a younger, broader constituency, while keeping hardcore jazz fans onside. With “The People Could Fly” she once again impresses as both an instrumentalist and a composer, while simultaneously broadening her musical horizons. It’s another impressive offering from one of the rising stars of contemporary British jazz.

Tristan - Tristan, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 30/09/2018. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Ian Mann enjoys this Dutch quintet's infectious blend of jazz, funk and soul.

Tristan, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 30/09/2018.

Black Mountain Jazz has established a good reputation for the variety of its programming, both at the regular club events that take place at the Melville Centre and at the annual Wall2Wall Jazz Festival that enlivens the town every early September.

BMJ’s far reaching and often adventurous scheduling has included a broad variety of jazz genres and has featured an equally diverse range of musicians. Welsh artists have always been well represented but BMJ has also hosted musicians from the London, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester Newcastle and other regional jazz scenes as well as welcoming international visitors from Argentina, Germany and Canada.

As if to illustrate the point this first club event following the 2018 Wall2Wall Festival saw the Melville Centre hosting the Dutch quintet Tristan with their blend of jazz, funk and soul. Fronted by vocalist Evelyn Kallansee Tristan also feature keyboard player Coen Molenaar, guitarist Guy Nikkels, drummer Sebastiaan Cornelissen and bass guitarist Frans Vollink.

Tristan’s sound is unashamedly retro, influenced by classic ‘acid jazz’ and by bands such as Incognito and Brand New Heavies, with Snarky Puppy a more contemporary source of inspiration. They have released four full length albums of original material, “Full Power”, “2nd Phase”, “Lifestyle” and “Live In Concert”, and their groove based music has also inspired a set of remixes, the album “Remixed 2016”. A fifth studio recording “The Spice Of Five” is due for release in April 2019.

With the exception of Nikkels all the members of Tristan are songwriters and their material is comprised of original songs in the jazz/funk/soul idiom, all of which feature convincing English lyrics. Tristan are regular visitors to Britain and their first two albums reached the number one position in the UK soul charts. The band also cite Tower of Power and Earth Wind & Fire as significant influences and their albums feature additional horns, percussion and backing vocals. Among the horn players who have contributed to Tristan’s recordings are the well known British jazz saxophonist Nigel Hitchcock and the big name American trumpeter Randy Brecker.

Tonight we heard the core quintet, “Tristan unplugged” as Kallansee described it. The band routinely play major festivals and halls that are much bigger than the Melville so they had turned down the volume a little in deference to the smallness of the venue and the presence of a predominately older, jazz club audience. Nevertheless there was still plenty of fire and passion about the group’s performance and the relative quietness of the mix made it possible to appreciate the subtleties of the playing, particularly from the principal instrumental soloists, Molenaar and Nikkels. 

Guitar, string synth sounds and shimmering cymbals announced the beginning of show opener “I’ll Be Around” before a typically funky groove kicked in and Kallansee added her soulful vocals. Molenaar, who has previously worked with Dutch prog rock guitar legend Jan Akkerman, deployed a two tier rack of Yamaha keyboards capable of generating a rich tapestry of sounds including acoustic and electric piano, organ, synth and string synth. His solo here embraced a classic ‘Rhodes’ electric piano sound as he shared the instrumental limelight with Nikkels’ sustain heavy guitar.

Introducing “Keep On”, a song from the band’s début album, Kallansee mentioned that this was the tune that British DJs first picked up on, giving the band generous airplay and helping to establish them in the UK. Buoyant grooves and an assertive vocal from Kallansee helped to keep the pot bubbling as Molenaar varied the angle of his attack with an acoustic piano style keyboard solo.

“Riverflow” maintained the energy levels while featuring drummer Cornelissen and guitarist Nikkels. Meanwhile “Lifestyle”, a song celebrating the band’s hard working, heavy gigging ethos saw Molenaar adopting the classic Hammond sound on his keyboards with a fiery organ solo.

The soul ballad “Lost” saw the group slowing things down a little and taking a comparative breather with bassist Vollink enjoying a short melodic cameo prior to a lengthy acoustic piano solo from Molenaar, the keyboard player skilfully shadowed by Cornelissen’s drums.

Batteries suitably recharged the band fired things up again with “Finally Found” with Kallansee’s powerful vocals matched by Nikkel’s searing guitar solo and Molenaar’s surging Hammond grooves.

Funk and reggae grooves combined on “Love Leads The Way” with Nikkels again impressing as the featured soloist. Elsewhere the guitarist proved to be an effective foil to Kallansee and the rest of the band courtesy of his choppy, rhythmic comping and chording.

An energetic first set ended with the confident soul strut of “Chainreaction” (no, not that one) with Kallansee’s vocals augmented by instrumental solos from Molenaar and Nikkels, with the keyboard player deploying a ‘Rhodes’ electric piano sound.

During the interval band, staff and audience members enjoyed slices of free pizza courtesy of the local franchise of Domino’s, who had sponsored the recent Wall2Wall Jazz Festival and are continuing their support of BMJ, so thanks very much to them.

Talking of Wall2Wall we also heard from BMJ spokeswoman Debs Hancock that the Festival had helped to raise around £550 for the Music Therapy scheme at Ty Hafan, the children’s hospice based in the Vale of Glamorgan. It is intended that BMJ and Wall2Wall will continue to support this very worthy cause and continue to strengthen the links between the jazz club and the charity. Well done to all involved in raising this excellent total.

Back then to the music and a slightly shorter second set that began with “Step Into The Bright Light”, with Molenaar’s feature deploying both electric piano and synth sounds. The keyboard player also seemed to act as the group’s musical director, one suspects that even though Tristan is a highly co-operative and collective institution he and Kallansee are still effectively the leaders.

Tristan continued on their jazzy, funky soulful journey with “Butterfly” and “Odds To Win” with Molenaar continuing to vary his keyboard sounds.

The infectious “Feet Back On The Ground” featured a rousing vocal from barefoot singer Kallansee. However the footwear, or lack of it, was by accident rather than design. Tonight was the last night of a UK tour with Tristan having gigged the previous night in Southampton. On Monday they were due to take the ferry back to Calais before driving on home to Holland. Much of the band’s stuff had already been packed away for the journey and when Kallansee came to look in her bag for her stage clothes she found two right shoes. Ah, the complications of the touring life.
On a more serious note let’s hope that bands like Tristan can continue to visit the UK post Brexit. Creatives everywhere are looking on in trepidation, fearful of the restrictions the future might bring, border controls, work permits etc.. It probably won’t matter much to corporate rock behemoths but once again I fear that jazz musicians will get the short end (that’s the polite version) of the proverbial stick.

“New Beginning” featured the melodic electric bass playing of Vollink plus a jazzy acoustic piano solo from Molenaar. Besides their stated influences some of the sophisticated jazz chording deployed by Molenaar and Nikkels reminded me of Steely Dan, as did the way they incorporated their solos into the fabric of the songs with instrumental breaks that were concise but fiery, succinct but inventive and highly skilled.

The second set concluded with the Hammond driven, James Brown style of funk of “Trouble”, which actually induced one or two audience members to get to their feet, me included. One suspects that in a less sedate environment than a jazz club in Abergavenny, and with a younger crowd in attendance, Tristan are more than capable of filling an entire dance floor. 

Nevertheless the listeners of BMJ had clearly enjoyed what they had heard and invited the quintet back for a well deserved encore. “Moontune” ensured that the groove continued until the very end and included some virtuoso Stanley Clarke / Jaco Pastorius style bass from Vollink.

Tristan were very different from the regular fare at BMJ but the audience listened with open ears and gave the band an excellent reception. There were one or two new faces in the audiences who were there specifically there to see them, which helped to give things a boost.

For myself I wasn’t too sure at first but soon found myself getting into it. Tristan’s blend of jazz, funk and soul is a style of music I largely stopped listening to a long time ago but in a live setting I quickly got into the groove and was highly impressed by the instrumental skills of the group’s members. Molenaar and Nikkels proved to be fiery and imaginative soloists, Cornelissen impressed throughout and Vollink dutifully kept the groove while seizing his occasional individual moments with aplomb.

As for Kallansee it was immediately clear that she had a powerful, soulful voice but she was singing through borrowed speakers which sometimes took the edge off her performance and made the lyrics difficult to decipher. Nevertheless she fronted the band well with energy and purpose, and her command of English, both as a lyricist and as an interlocutor between tunes, was exceptional.

My personal highlights were the solos of Molenaar and Nikkels and it’s possible that these two may have been afforded more instrumental space than usual due to the jazz club setting. If so they certainly grabbed their opportunities with both hands.

Tristan, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 30/09/2018.

Tristan

Monday, October 01, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Tristan, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 30/09/2018.
Photography: Photograph by Pam Mann.

Ian Mann enjoys this Dutch quintet's infectious blend of jazz, funk and soul.

Tristan, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 30/09/2018.

Black Mountain Jazz has established a good reputation for the variety of its programming, both at the regular club events that take place at the Melville Centre and at the annual Wall2Wall Jazz Festival that enlivens the town every early September.

BMJ’s far reaching and often adventurous scheduling has included a broad variety of jazz genres and has featured an equally diverse range of musicians. Welsh artists have always been well represented but BMJ has also hosted musicians from the London, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester Newcastle and other regional jazz scenes as well as welcoming international visitors from Argentina, Germany and Canada.

As if to illustrate the point this first club event following the 2018 Wall2Wall Festival saw the Melville Centre hosting the Dutch quintet Tristan with their blend of jazz, funk and soul. Fronted by vocalist Evelyn Kallansee Tristan also feature keyboard player Coen Molenaar, guitarist Guy Nikkels, drummer Sebastiaan Cornelissen and bass guitarist Frans Vollink.

Tristan’s sound is unashamedly retro, influenced by classic ‘acid jazz’ and by bands such as Incognito and Brand New Heavies, with Snarky Puppy a more contemporary source of inspiration. They have released four full length albums of original material, “Full Power”, “2nd Phase”, “Lifestyle” and “Live In Concert”, and their groove based music has also inspired a set of remixes, the album “Remixed 2016”. A fifth studio recording “The Spice Of Five” is due for release in April 2019.

With the exception of Nikkels all the members of Tristan are songwriters and their material is comprised of original songs in the jazz/funk/soul idiom, all of which feature convincing English lyrics. Tristan are regular visitors to Britain and their first two albums reached the number one position in the UK soul charts. The band also cite Tower of Power and Earth Wind & Fire as significant influences and their albums feature additional horns, percussion and backing vocals. Among the horn players who have contributed to Tristan’s recordings are the well known British jazz saxophonist Nigel Hitchcock and the big name American trumpeter Randy Brecker.

Tonight we heard the core quintet, “Tristan unplugged” as Kallansee described it. The band routinely play major festivals and halls that are much bigger than the Melville so they had turned down the volume a little in deference to the smallness of the venue and the presence of a predominately older, jazz club audience. Nevertheless there was still plenty of fire and passion about the group’s performance and the relative quietness of the mix made it possible to appreciate the subtleties of the playing, particularly from the principal instrumental soloists, Molenaar and Nikkels. 

Guitar, string synth sounds and shimmering cymbals announced the beginning of show opener “I’ll Be Around” before a typically funky groove kicked in and Kallansee added her soulful vocals. Molenaar, who has previously worked with Dutch prog rock guitar legend Jan Akkerman, deployed a two tier rack of Yamaha keyboards capable of generating a rich tapestry of sounds including acoustic and electric piano, organ, synth and string synth. His solo here embraced a classic ‘Rhodes’ electric piano sound as he shared the instrumental limelight with Nikkels’ sustain heavy guitar.

Introducing “Keep On”, a song from the band’s début album, Kallansee mentioned that this was the tune that British DJs first picked up on, giving the band generous airplay and helping to establish them in the UK. Buoyant grooves and an assertive vocal from Kallansee helped to keep the pot bubbling as Molenaar varied the angle of his attack with an acoustic piano style keyboard solo.

“Riverflow” maintained the energy levels while featuring drummer Cornelissen and guitarist Nikkels. Meanwhile “Lifestyle”, a song celebrating the band’s hard working, heavy gigging ethos saw Molenaar adopting the classic Hammond sound on his keyboards with a fiery organ solo.

The soul ballad “Lost” saw the group slowing things down a little and taking a comparative breather with bassist Vollink enjoying a short melodic cameo prior to a lengthy acoustic piano solo from Molenaar, the keyboard player skilfully shadowed by Cornelissen’s drums.

Batteries suitably recharged the band fired things up again with “Finally Found” with Kallansee’s powerful vocals matched by Nikkel’s searing guitar solo and Molenaar’s surging Hammond grooves.

Funk and reggae grooves combined on “Love Leads The Way” with Nikkels again impressing as the featured soloist. Elsewhere the guitarist proved to be an effective foil to Kallansee and the rest of the band courtesy of his choppy, rhythmic comping and chording.

An energetic first set ended with the confident soul strut of “Chainreaction” (no, not that one) with Kallansee’s vocals augmented by instrumental solos from Molenaar and Nikkels, with the keyboard player deploying a ‘Rhodes’ electric piano sound.

During the interval band, staff and audience members enjoyed slices of free pizza courtesy of the local franchise of Domino’s, who had sponsored the recent Wall2Wall Jazz Festival and are continuing their support of BMJ, so thanks very much to them.

Talking of Wall2Wall we also heard from BMJ spokeswoman Debs Hancock that the Festival had helped to raise around £550 for the Music Therapy scheme at Ty Hafan, the children’s hospice based in the Vale of Glamorgan. It is intended that BMJ and Wall2Wall will continue to support this very worthy cause and continue to strengthen the links between the jazz club and the charity. Well done to all involved in raising this excellent total.

Back then to the music and a slightly shorter second set that began with “Step Into The Bright Light”, with Molenaar’s feature deploying both electric piano and synth sounds. The keyboard player also seemed to act as the group’s musical director, one suspects that even though Tristan is a highly co-operative and collective institution he and Kallansee are still effectively the leaders.

Tristan continued on their jazzy, funky soulful journey with “Butterfly” and “Odds To Win” with Molenaar continuing to vary his keyboard sounds.

The infectious “Feet Back On The Ground” featured a rousing vocal from barefoot singer Kallansee. However the footwear, or lack of it, was by accident rather than design. Tonight was the last night of a UK tour with Tristan having gigged the previous night in Southampton. On Monday they were due to take the ferry back to Calais before driving on home to Holland. Much of the band’s stuff had already been packed away for the journey and when Kallansee came to look in her bag for her stage clothes she found two right shoes. Ah, the complications of the touring life.
On a more serious note let’s hope that bands like Tristan can continue to visit the UK post Brexit. Creatives everywhere are looking on in trepidation, fearful of the restrictions the future might bring, border controls, work permits etc.. It probably won’t matter much to corporate rock behemoths but once again I fear that jazz musicians will get the short end (that’s the polite version) of the proverbial stick.

“New Beginning” featured the melodic electric bass playing of Vollink plus a jazzy acoustic piano solo from Molenaar. Besides their stated influences some of the sophisticated jazz chording deployed by Molenaar and Nikkels reminded me of Steely Dan, as did the way they incorporated their solos into the fabric of the songs with instrumental breaks that were concise but fiery, succinct but inventive and highly skilled.

The second set concluded with the Hammond driven, James Brown style of funk of “Trouble”, which actually induced one or two audience members to get to their feet, me included. One suspects that in a less sedate environment than a jazz club in Abergavenny, and with a younger crowd in attendance, Tristan are more than capable of filling an entire dance floor. 

Nevertheless the listeners of BMJ had clearly enjoyed what they had heard and invited the quintet back for a well deserved encore. “Moontune” ensured that the groove continued until the very end and included some virtuoso Stanley Clarke / Jaco Pastorius style bass from Vollink.

Tristan were very different from the regular fare at BMJ but the audience listened with open ears and gave the band an excellent reception. There were one or two new faces in the audiences who were there specifically there to see them, which helped to give things a boost.

For myself I wasn’t too sure at first but soon found myself getting into it. Tristan’s blend of jazz, funk and soul is a style of music I largely stopped listening to a long time ago but in a live setting I quickly got into the groove and was highly impressed by the instrumental skills of the group’s members. Molenaar and Nikkels proved to be fiery and imaginative soloists, Cornelissen impressed throughout and Vollink dutifully kept the groove while seizing his occasional individual moments with aplomb.

As for Kallansee it was immediately clear that she had a powerful, soulful voice but she was singing through borrowed speakers which sometimes took the edge off her performance and made the lyrics difficult to decipher. Nevertheless she fronted the band well with energy and purpose, and her command of English, both as a lyricist and as an interlocutor between tunes, was exceptional.

My personal highlights were the solos of Molenaar and Nikkels and it’s possible that these two may have been afforded more instrumental space than usual due to the jazz club setting. If so they certainly grabbed their opportunities with both hands.

John Metcalfe - Absence Rating: 3-5 out of 5 It’s obviously a labour of love, and the way in which Metcalfe weaves acoustic and electric sounds together, playing most of the instruments himself, is undeniably impressive.

John Metcalfe

“Absence”

(Neue Meister – 0301130NM)

New Zealand born John Metcalfe is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer and arranger, who has worked in the latter capacity with such globally famous rock artists as U2, Coldplay, Peter Gabriel, Morissey, Simple Minds, the Pretenders and Blur. He has also arranged music for TV, film and theatre.

He grew up listening to the likes of Kraftwerk and Joy Division and was briefly a drummer in a high school band. In the 80s he moved to Manchester, first studying at Royal Northern College of Music before joining the ranks of The Durutti Column, the cult band led by vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Vini Reilly, and staying for three years.

Metcalfe’s involvement with Durutti Column drew him to the attention of Tony Wilson of Factory Records with whom he helped to establish the Factory Classical label, dedicated to presenting contemporary classical music by emerging British composers, among them a then young Steve Martland.

Metcalfe has always had a foot in both the rock and classical camps, the latter a legacy of his opera singing father. For thirty years Metcalfe has been the violist of the Duke Quartet, a group centred around the performance of contemporary classical music but one which has also appeared frequently on a variety of pop and rock sessions.

As a solo artist Metcalfe has explored the hinterland where classical and electronic musics meet, blurring the boundaries on albums such as “The Inner Line” (2004), “Scorching Bay” (2004), “A Darker Sunset” (2008) and “The Appearance of Colour” (2015).

“Absence”, his fifth full length album is different again, with the focus this time on more conventional song structures. It’s also a very personal work, partly inspired by the death of his father many years ago when Metcalfe was still at school. The more recent suicide of a close friend also feeds into “Absence”, an album of songs dealing less with death itself but the absence of loved ones and the ways in which they are remembered. The paintings of the early 20th century Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershoi are also an influence on the project.

Of the album Metcalfe says;
“One aspect of ‘Absence’ is an exploration of those moments around death, the minutes of brain activity once the heart stops, the electricity running out. Do we still have any kind of language? If so what thoughts do we have and what would we wish to say to those close to us. In a larger context the album can be interpreted as a set of stages through which two people might travel when one of them is dying. Although mainly set in the present the music also addresses the past, and life beyond loss.”

“Absence”, then is a kind of ‘concept album’ or song cycle. It’s not a jazz album as such although the personnel does include performers best known for their work as jazz musicians. The core trio features Ali Friend, of the group Red Snapper,  on double bass plus Daisy Palmer at the drums, who has played with Get The Blessing, Paloma Faith and Bristol based saxophonist Kevin Figes. Tom Cawley, of Acoustic Ladyland and Curios fame, plays piano on one track. More recently Cawley has worked as pianist and musical director for Peter Gabriel.

The person who gives voice to Metcalfe’s words is singer Rosie Doonan, another Gabriel protégée. Metcalfe first worked with Doonan on the 2016 four track EP “Wrapped” and “Absence” is the continuation of a fruitful working relationship, with Doonan contributing to the writing process on two of the ten pieces.

Other than the contributions of Doonan, Friend, Palmer and Cawley Metcalfe plays everything himself and also adds his own vocals to the proceedings.

Metcalfe’s “So Clear” commences the cycle and establishes the mood for the album. The leader’s ghostly, melancholic viola and subtle electronic embellishments underscore Doonan’s pure toned vocal incantations. On what is obviously such a personal work it’s unfortunate that the lyrics aren’t reproduced in full as part of the album packaging. Nonetheless the mood here seems to be one of contented resignation at the time of death, of a celebration of a life well lived and with happy memories for both parties to draw succour from. “We have / so much / my love”, sings Doonan at one point.

The absence of the printed lyrics may be explained by Metcalfe’s comment;
“Lyrics are so prescriptive, and I’m not a poet. I’ve tried to leave things open for the listener, to own it more themselves”.

Also by Metcalfe “Above the Waves of Crystal Water” ups the tempo as Friend and Palmer are added to the equation. Sequenced electronic rhythms combine with Palmer’s bustling drum grooves to provide an unstoppable, uplifting momentum as Metcalfe dips into the pop world that has sustained him for so long. There are hints of minimalism too, while Doonan’s sweetly soaring vocals are possessed of a folk inflected purity.

Co-written by Metcalfe and Doonan “Solitude” is one of the simplest and most direct songs on the album. Featuring the leader’s viola and piano in the arrangement Doonan’s vocals express the sorrow of bereavement and the loneliness it causes. “Those eyes, those smiles / Suddenly I / Solitude”. Yet it’s not quite all doom and gloom, as the song draws to a close Metcalfe offers a glimmer of future hope, “I dream / Open the door”.

Another co-write, “Feel The Land”, features Metcalfe’s own vocals in conjunction with Doonan’s.
The arrangement features Metcalfe playing a range of acoustic and electronic instruments as the track builds from simple beginnings to a wide-screen magnificence featuring multi-tracked vocals and propulsive bass and drum grooves.

Metcalfe’s “Boats and Crosses” describes the post-bereavement return to an empty house and features Cawley’s piano in an arrangement that also incorporates Metcalfe’s mournful viola and a particularly emotive vocal from Doonan. The spirit of the deceased seems to haunt the survivor. The second half of the piece sees a change of momentum and dynamics as drums and bass kick in, helping to create a mighty wall of sound behind the desolate wail of Doonan’s vocals. The ‘outro’ of the piece is based on a remix of the tune “Kite” by Friend’s ‘parent’ group, Red Snapper.

“The Sound Was Our Ocean” features an arrangement for piano, viola, double bass and simple percussion plus the voices of Doonan and Metcalfe. The circling, minimalist influenced melodic motifs complement the watery images of the words, “He fell into nothing, the sound was our ocean”.

The towering “Hymn” features layered choral vocals, grandiose church organ and subtle electronica, prior to a brief, sombre piano led coda.

“Twelve Days Later” (subtitled “Flood, Tide”)  features Metcalfe’s piano, viola and vocals.  Haunting, haiku like lyrical phrases are underpinned by a gently percolating recurring piano motif while the multi-tracked violas add an air of melancholy grandeur. This is the piece that kick started the “Absence” project and was initially written as a reaction to Metcalfe’s friend’s suicide. Among the lyrics are the lines; “He lay free, gone / This time let go / Keep him inside”. Metcalfe doesn’t have Doonan’s technical prowess as a singer but his sense of loss is palpable.

“When They Weep” utilises a melody written by Ben Murray in a dense full band arrangement that features Doonan’s layered vocals and Metcalfe’s keyboards and electronica, plus double bass and drums. Metcalfe’s lyrics address the subject of the acceptance of death.

Finally “See Me Through” with its gently bubbling synths, sweeping violas and dreamily layered vocals closes the album on a note of hope and reconciliation.

“Absence” isn’t a jazz album per se and as such may not appeal to all the readers of this website. It’s also a very personal record that touches, albeit sometimes obliquely, on some pretty distressing subject matter. It’s probably the most ‘personal’ album I’ve reviewed since Charlie Beresford’s “Dark Transport” back in 2009, although Metcalfe’s recording is closer to the musical mainstream. For comparisons go here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/charlie-beresford-dark-transport/

Nevertheless “Absence”, like “Dark Transport” is undoubtedly a success on its own terms, both artistically and as a cathartic exercise. It’s obviously a labour of love, and the way in which Metcalfe weaves acoustic and electric sounds together, playing most of the instruments himself, is undeniably impressive. So too are Doonan’s vocals, which are assured, flexible and confident and possessed of great purity of tone. She gets inside Metcalfe’s songs and imparts them with a considerable emotional impact. Friend and Palmer also make telling contributions, with the latter particularly impressive.

Absence

John Metcalfe

Friday, September 28, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Absence

It’s obviously a labour of love, and the way in which Metcalfe weaves acoustic and electric sounds together, playing most of the instruments himself, is undeniably impressive.

John Metcalfe

“Absence”

(Neue Meister – 0301130NM)

New Zealand born John Metcalfe is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer and arranger, who has worked in the latter capacity with such globally famous rock artists as U2, Coldplay, Peter Gabriel, Morissey, Simple Minds, the Pretenders and Blur. He has also arranged music for TV, film and theatre.

He grew up listening to the likes of Kraftwerk and Joy Division and was briefly a drummer in a high school band. In the 80s he moved to Manchester, first studying at Royal Northern College of Music before joining the ranks of The Durutti Column, the cult band led by vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Vini Reilly, and staying for three years.

Metcalfe’s involvement with Durutti Column drew him to the attention of Tony Wilson of Factory Records with whom he helped to establish the Factory Classical label, dedicated to presenting contemporary classical music by emerging British composers, among them a then young Steve Martland.

Metcalfe has always had a foot in both the rock and classical camps, the latter a legacy of his opera singing father. For thirty years Metcalfe has been the violist of the Duke Quartet, a group centred around the performance of contemporary classical music but one which has also appeared frequently on a variety of pop and rock sessions.

As a solo artist Metcalfe has explored the hinterland where classical and electronic musics meet, blurring the boundaries on albums such as “The Inner Line” (2004), “Scorching Bay” (2004), “A Darker Sunset” (2008) and “The Appearance of Colour” (2015).

“Absence”, his fifth full length album is different again, with the focus this time on more conventional song structures. It’s also a very personal work, partly inspired by the death of his father many years ago when Metcalfe was still at school. The more recent suicide of a close friend also feeds into “Absence”, an album of songs dealing less with death itself but the absence of loved ones and the ways in which they are remembered. The paintings of the early 20th century Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershoi are also an influence on the project.

Of the album Metcalfe says;
“One aspect of ‘Absence’ is an exploration of those moments around death, the minutes of brain activity once the heart stops, the electricity running out. Do we still have any kind of language? If so what thoughts do we have and what would we wish to say to those close to us. In a larger context the album can be interpreted as a set of stages through which two people might travel when one of them is dying. Although mainly set in the present the music also addresses the past, and life beyond loss.”

“Absence”, then is a kind of ‘concept album’ or song cycle. It’s not a jazz album as such although the personnel does include performers best known for their work as jazz musicians. The core trio features Ali Friend, of the group Red Snapper,  on double bass plus Daisy Palmer at the drums, who has played with Get The Blessing, Paloma Faith and Bristol based saxophonist Kevin Figes. Tom Cawley, of Acoustic Ladyland and Curios fame, plays piano on one track. More recently Cawley has worked as pianist and musical director for Peter Gabriel.

The person who gives voice to Metcalfe’s words is singer Rosie Doonan, another Gabriel protégée. Metcalfe first worked with Doonan on the 2016 four track EP “Wrapped” and “Absence” is the continuation of a fruitful working relationship, with Doonan contributing to the writing process on two of the ten pieces.

Other than the contributions of Doonan, Friend, Palmer and Cawley Metcalfe plays everything himself and also adds his own vocals to the proceedings.

Metcalfe’s “So Clear” commences the cycle and establishes the mood for the album. The leader’s ghostly, melancholic viola and subtle electronic embellishments underscore Doonan’s pure toned vocal incantations. On what is obviously such a personal work it’s unfortunate that the lyrics aren’t reproduced in full as part of the album packaging. Nonetheless the mood here seems to be one of contented resignation at the time of death, of a celebration of a life well lived and with happy memories for both parties to draw succour from. “We have / so much / my love”, sings Doonan at one point.

The absence of the printed lyrics may be explained by Metcalfe’s comment;
“Lyrics are so prescriptive, and I’m not a poet. I’ve tried to leave things open for the listener, to own it more themselves”.

Also by Metcalfe “Above the Waves of Crystal Water” ups the tempo as Friend and Palmer are added to the equation. Sequenced electronic rhythms combine with Palmer’s bustling drum grooves to provide an unstoppable, uplifting momentum as Metcalfe dips into the pop world that has sustained him for so long. There are hints of minimalism too, while Doonan’s sweetly soaring vocals are possessed of a folk inflected purity.

Co-written by Metcalfe and Doonan “Solitude” is one of the simplest and most direct songs on the album. Featuring the leader’s viola and piano in the arrangement Doonan’s vocals express the sorrow of bereavement and the loneliness it causes. “Those eyes, those smiles / Suddenly I / Solitude”. Yet it’s not quite all doom and gloom, as the song draws to a close Metcalfe offers a glimmer of future hope, “I dream / Open the door”.

Another co-write, “Feel The Land”, features Metcalfe’s own vocals in conjunction with Doonan’s.
The arrangement features Metcalfe playing a range of acoustic and electronic instruments as the track builds from simple beginnings to a wide-screen magnificence featuring multi-tracked vocals and propulsive bass and drum grooves.

Metcalfe’s “Boats and Crosses” describes the post-bereavement return to an empty house and features Cawley’s piano in an arrangement that also incorporates Metcalfe’s mournful viola and a particularly emotive vocal from Doonan. The spirit of the deceased seems to haunt the survivor. The second half of the piece sees a change of momentum and dynamics as drums and bass kick in, helping to create a mighty wall of sound behind the desolate wail of Doonan’s vocals. The ‘outro’ of the piece is based on a remix of the tune “Kite” by Friend’s ‘parent’ group, Red Snapper.

“The Sound Was Our Ocean” features an arrangement for piano, viola, double bass and simple percussion plus the voices of Doonan and Metcalfe. The circling, minimalist influenced melodic motifs complement the watery images of the words, “He fell into nothing, the sound was our ocean”.

The towering “Hymn” features layered choral vocals, grandiose church organ and subtle electronica, prior to a brief, sombre piano led coda.

“Twelve Days Later” (subtitled “Flood, Tide”)  features Metcalfe’s piano, viola and vocals.  Haunting, haiku like lyrical phrases are underpinned by a gently percolating recurring piano motif while the multi-tracked violas add an air of melancholy grandeur. This is the piece that kick started the “Absence” project and was initially written as a reaction to Metcalfe’s friend’s suicide. Among the lyrics are the lines; “He lay free, gone / This time let go / Keep him inside”. Metcalfe doesn’t have Doonan’s technical prowess as a singer but his sense of loss is palpable.

“When They Weep” utilises a melody written by Ben Murray in a dense full band arrangement that features Doonan’s layered vocals and Metcalfe’s keyboards and electronica, plus double bass and drums. Metcalfe’s lyrics address the subject of the acceptance of death.

Finally “See Me Through” with its gently bubbling synths, sweeping violas and dreamily layered vocals closes the album on a note of hope and reconciliation.

“Absence” isn’t a jazz album per se and as such may not appeal to all the readers of this website. It’s also a very personal record that touches, albeit sometimes obliquely, on some pretty distressing subject matter. It’s probably the most ‘personal’ album I’ve reviewed since Charlie Beresford’s “Dark Transport” back in 2009, although Metcalfe’s recording is closer to the musical mainstream. For comparisons go here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/charlie-beresford-dark-transport/

Nevertheless “Absence”, like “Dark Transport” is undoubtedly a success on its own terms, both artistically and as a cathartic exercise. It’s obviously a labour of love, and the way in which Metcalfe weaves acoustic and electric sounds together, playing most of the instruments himself, is undeniably impressive. So too are Doonan’s vocals, which are assured, flexible and confident and possessed of great purity of tone. She gets inside Metcalfe’s songs and imparts them with a considerable emotional impact. Friend and Palmer also make telling contributions, with the latter particularly impressive.

Gabrielle Ducomble - Across The Bridge Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Her blending of jazz with tango, chanson and folk influences has produced a hybrid that is very much her own. Her cool, elegant well enunciated vocals suit the music well.

Gabrielle Ducomble

“Across The Bridge”

(MGP Records – MGPCD020)

Born in Francophone Belgium Gabrielle Ducomble is a jazz vocalist and songwriter based in London.

Ducomble is a fairly recent recruit to the jazz ranks having started her music career as a pop singer, reaching the final of the French version of Pop Idol in 2003. She subsequently worked with Belgian pop artists Mimi Verderame, Jean-Louis Daulne and Lara Fabian.

Ducomble’s interest in jazz was sparked by Dee Dee Bridgewater’s album “Dear Ella” and the young vocalist moved to London to study jazz at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, graduating in 2009.

Following graduation Ducomble remained in London and has become an increasingly significant presence on the UK music scene. She is a versatile vocalist and her two previous albums “J’ai Deux Amours” (2011) and “Notes From Paris” (2014) explore a wide range of material, drawing on jazz, tango and French chanson, including songs written by such celebrated figures as Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, Michel Legrand and Astor Piazzolla. She has also performed specially themed shows including “The Michel Legrand Songbook” and “The Music of Claude Nougaro”.

Ducomble has toured widely in the UK playing many of the country’s leading jazz clubs and festivals and recently appeared on the BBC Radio 4 programme “Loose Ends”.

“Across The Bridge” represents something of a departure for Ducomble as she presents her first album of wholly original material following two albums of jazz arrangements of other people’s songs.

Ducomble says of her latest project;
“In recent years I have felt the desire to explore further my creativity in songwriting and to share with my audience messages that are close to my heart. This journey led me to cross the bridge from interpreting familiar repertoire to creating an album of my own original music. I invite you to enjoy the many musical influences and stories on this album and I hope this music will guide you in exploring places of passion and serenity”.

Joining Ducomble on her journey ‘across the bridge’ is an outstanding band featuring Nicolas Meier (guitars), Richard Jones (violin, viola), Nick Kacal (double bass) and Saleem Raman (drums), Ducomble’s regular working group. Guest appearances come from Fausto Beccalossi on accordion and Bill Mudge on keyboards. The album was funded by a Kickstarter campaign and appears on Meier’s own label, MGP Productions.

Ducomble wrote virtually all the music but has collaborated with a variety of lyricists. Album opener “Forest Boy” features the words of one T. Collison and addresses the theme of childhood and the subsequent loss of innocence and imagination that comes with adulthood. A folk tinged arrangement paced by Meier’s guitar features Ducomble’s pure, well enunciated vocals. Jones’ melancholic, soaring strings add depth and colour as Raman turns in a sensitive performance behind the kit.

“Where Is Home”, with music by Ducomble and a lyric co-written with B.Watts addresses the global housing crisis and the displacement of refugees. The arrangement is generally more forceful and rhythmic with Raman taking up the sticks in support of Ducomble’s passionate vocal. Jones’ fiery violin solo draws on both gypsy jazz and folk-rock.

“Les Terrasses De Riz De Jatiluwih” features a French lyric,  co-written with B.Mansion, that I’m not going to attempt to translate here. The sound is charming and authentic, instantly transporting the listener to the streets and cafés of Paris, with violinist Jones making a strikingly atmospheric contribution during the extended instrumental coda.

The lively “Ride”, with words by D.Gill, doesn’t have the lyrics reproduced on the album packaging but both the words and the music are joyous and uplifting, with Ducomble also taking the opportunity to demonstrate her scatting skills. There’s also a concise but nimble acoustic guitar solo from Meier, his first of the album despite him being at the heart of the majority of the arrangements.

“Like A Bridge Across Your Heart”, a tune based upon a tango, is more sombre with a melancholy lyric co-written by Ducomble and Watt that alternates between French and English. The sadness of the words is complemented by a dramatic instrumental arrangement featuring the intense, intertwining lines of Jones and guest accordionist Beccalossi. Ducomble says of the piece;
“I feel the spirits of Piaf and Piazzolla joined together in this song, it is like a statement of passion and turmoil”.

With both music and words by Ducomble “Tell Me Today” is calmer and more wistful. There’s a warmth and yearning in Ducomble’s voice that reminds me of the late, great folk artist Sandy Denny, albeit with a jazz twist.

Another sole writing credit for Ducomble “Circus” features another French lyric and begins in simple, pared down fashion with just Ducomble’s voice and Meier’s acoustic guitar. The rest of the band then kick in as the tune accelerates in exhilarating gypsy jazz fashion. As playful as its title might suggest the tune now races along with a coquettish scat vocal episode from Ducomble, a Hot Club style violin solo from Jones, and lively cameos from Kacal, Meier and Jones. Great fun, and a piece that’s guaranteed to be a live favourite, one would imagine.

“Valse Dans Le Parc” also features music and words by Ducomble, the lyric again being sung charmingly in French as Meier and Jones provide the instrumental highlights.

The Ducomble written “Is This It?” introduces an element of the blues to the proceedings. Kacal and Raman link up to provide an insistent, propulsive groove that fuels Ducomble’s playful, feisty rendition of the English lyric and Meier’s quirky guitar solo.

The album’s “bridge” theme is reflected in the use of Claude Monet’s “Le Pont Japonais”  on the front cover, with Ducomble reproducing the pose inside. Co-written by Ducomble and Meier the song “Les Nympheas” is also inspired by Monet’s work, particularly the famous painting “Water Lilies”, with the singer intoning the French lyric above a backdrop of circling guitar motifs, shimmering cymbals and atmospheric violin lines. Ducomble says of the piece and the inspiration behind it;
“For me, the reflective, dreamy water lilies symbolise many themes – nature, beauty and imagination to name but a few.”

With English lyrics by Collison and Watts “The Time Is Now” addresses environmental issues, calling on humanity to treasure and protect the planet. Introduced by Jones’ violin the arrangement incorporates elements of jazz, folk and pop and includes guest Bill Mudge on piano.

The album concludes with “Les Roses At Leurs Epines”, a French language song with a lyric by Ducomble and Mansion. Jazz fuses with Ducomble’s chanson roots in an attractive arrangement that incorporates an instrumental solo from Jones.

As befits its title “Across The Bridge” straddles linguistic and stylistic boundaries to deliver a pleasingly varied album of original songs. Although these days rooted in jazz Ducomble’s sweet, pure toned vocals avoid most of the “jazz singer” clichés (there’s actually precious little scat) and she’s equally convincing as a vocalist in both French and English.

For non-French speakers there’s a real exotic charm about the songs sung in French, which for me personally, conjures up happy memories of good times spent in France – and Belgium too! Very evocative.

Some of the English lyrics, particularly on the ‘issue’ songs come across as well meaning and worthy but a little naive; ‘sixth form poetry’ syndrome if you will.

But it’s the singing and playing that counts and I welcome an album of original material that doesn’t just lazily go for the ‘Great American Songbook’ approach. Ducomble has been honing her approach with her earlier interpretations of other peoples’ material and has brought some of that magic to her own songs. Her blending of jazz with tango, chanson and folk influences has produced a hybrid that is very much her own. Her cool, elegant well enunciated vocals suit the music well and she’s surrounded by a first class band, with Meier at the helm and with violinist Jones making a particularly significant contribution.

Ducomble has attracted a compelling amount of critical acclaim for the quality of her live performances and one can imagine these songs taking on a life of their own in a concert or club environment. She is currently touring the material with Meier, Jones and Kacal and listeners will be able to make up their own minds at the gigs listed below;

Gabrielle will be touring this autumn with her band featuring Nicolas Meier on guitar, Nick Kacal on double bass and Richard Jones on violin:

4th Oct: Dorchester Arts Centre
5th Oct: The Poly/Falmouth Arts Centre
6th Oct: Flavel Arts Centre, Devon
16th Oct: Watermill Jazz Club (& Emiliano Caroseli on drums)
17th Oct: Swansea Jazzland
18th Oct: Span Arts, Narbeth
19th Oct: Birmingham Symphony Hall Foyer
1st Nov: Ashcroft Arts Centre
2nd Nov: Calstock Arts Centre
3rd Nov: Creative Innovative Centre, Taunton
4th Nov: Colchester Arts Centre
16th Nov: St Paul’s, Cambridge
17th Nov: St George’s, Bristol
18th Nov: The Stables, Milton Keynes

 

Across The Bridge

Gabrielle Ducomble

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Across The Bridge

Her blending of jazz with tango, chanson and folk influences has produced a hybrid that is very much her own. Her cool, elegant well enunciated vocals suit the music well.

Gabrielle Ducomble

“Across The Bridge”

(MGP Records – MGPCD020)

Born in Francophone Belgium Gabrielle Ducomble is a jazz vocalist and songwriter based in London.

Ducomble is a fairly recent recruit to the jazz ranks having started her music career as a pop singer, reaching the final of the French version of Pop Idol in 2003. She subsequently worked with Belgian pop artists Mimi Verderame, Jean-Louis Daulne and Lara Fabian.

Ducomble’s interest in jazz was sparked by Dee Dee Bridgewater’s album “Dear Ella” and the young vocalist moved to London to study jazz at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, graduating in 2009.

Following graduation Ducomble remained in London and has become an increasingly significant presence on the UK music scene. She is a versatile vocalist and her two previous albums “J’ai Deux Amours” (2011) and “Notes From Paris” (2014) explore a wide range of material, drawing on jazz, tango and French chanson, including songs written by such celebrated figures as Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, Michel Legrand and Astor Piazzolla. She has also performed specially themed shows including “The Michel Legrand Songbook” and “The Music of Claude Nougaro”.

Ducomble has toured widely in the UK playing many of the country’s leading jazz clubs and festivals and recently appeared on the BBC Radio 4 programme “Loose Ends”.

“Across The Bridge” represents something of a departure for Ducomble as she presents her first album of wholly original material following two albums of jazz arrangements of other people’s songs.

Ducomble says of her latest project;
“In recent years I have felt the desire to explore further my creativity in songwriting and to share with my audience messages that are close to my heart. This journey led me to cross the bridge from interpreting familiar repertoire to creating an album of my own original music. I invite you to enjoy the many musical influences and stories on this album and I hope this music will guide you in exploring places of passion and serenity”.

Joining Ducomble on her journey ‘across the bridge’ is an outstanding band featuring Nicolas Meier (guitars), Richard Jones (violin, viola), Nick Kacal (double bass) and Saleem Raman (drums), Ducomble’s regular working group. Guest appearances come from Fausto Beccalossi on accordion and Bill Mudge on keyboards. The album was funded by a Kickstarter campaign and appears on Meier’s own label, MGP Productions.

Ducomble wrote virtually all the music but has collaborated with a variety of lyricists. Album opener “Forest Boy” features the words of one T. Collison and addresses the theme of childhood and the subsequent loss of innocence and imagination that comes with adulthood. A folk tinged arrangement paced by Meier’s guitar features Ducomble’s pure, well enunciated vocals. Jones’ melancholic, soaring strings add depth and colour as Raman turns in a sensitive performance behind the kit.

“Where Is Home”, with music by Ducomble and a lyric co-written with B.Watts addresses the global housing crisis and the displacement of refugees. The arrangement is generally more forceful and rhythmic with Raman taking up the sticks in support of Ducomble’s passionate vocal. Jones’ fiery violin solo draws on both gypsy jazz and folk-rock.

“Les Terrasses De Riz De Jatiluwih” features a French lyric,  co-written with B.Mansion, that I’m not going to attempt to translate here. The sound is charming and authentic, instantly transporting the listener to the streets and cafés of Paris, with violinist Jones making a strikingly atmospheric contribution during the extended instrumental coda.

The lively “Ride”, with words by D.Gill, doesn’t have the lyrics reproduced on the album packaging but both the words and the music are joyous and uplifting, with Ducomble also taking the opportunity to demonstrate her scatting skills. There’s also a concise but nimble acoustic guitar solo from Meier, his first of the album despite him being at the heart of the majority of the arrangements.

“Like A Bridge Across Your Heart”, a tune based upon a tango, is more sombre with a melancholy lyric co-written by Ducomble and Watt that alternates between French and English. The sadness of the words is complemented by a dramatic instrumental arrangement featuring the intense, intertwining lines of Jones and guest accordionist Beccalossi. Ducomble says of the piece;
“I feel the spirits of Piaf and Piazzolla joined together in this song, it is like a statement of passion and turmoil”.

With both music and words by Ducomble “Tell Me Today” is calmer and more wistful. There’s a warmth and yearning in Ducomble’s voice that reminds me of the late, great folk artist Sandy Denny, albeit with a jazz twist.

Another sole writing credit for Ducomble “Circus” features another French lyric and begins in simple, pared down fashion with just Ducomble’s voice and Meier’s acoustic guitar. The rest of the band then kick in as the tune accelerates in exhilarating gypsy jazz fashion. As playful as its title might suggest the tune now races along with a coquettish scat vocal episode from Ducomble, a Hot Club style violin solo from Jones, and lively cameos from Kacal, Meier and Jones. Great fun, and a piece that’s guaranteed to be a live favourite, one would imagine.

“Valse Dans Le Parc” also features music and words by Ducomble, the lyric again being sung charmingly in French as Meier and Jones provide the instrumental highlights.

The Ducomble written “Is This It?” introduces an element of the blues to the proceedings. Kacal and Raman link up to provide an insistent, propulsive groove that fuels Ducomble’s playful, feisty rendition of the English lyric and Meier’s quirky guitar solo.

The album’s “bridge” theme is reflected in the use of Claude Monet’s “Le Pont Japonais”  on the front cover, with Ducomble reproducing the pose inside. Co-written by Ducomble and Meier the song “Les Nympheas” is also inspired by Monet’s work, particularly the famous painting “Water Lilies”, with the singer intoning the French lyric above a backdrop of circling guitar motifs, shimmering cymbals and atmospheric violin lines. Ducomble says of the piece and the inspiration behind it;
“For me, the reflective, dreamy water lilies symbolise many themes – nature, beauty and imagination to name but a few.”

With English lyrics by Collison and Watts “The Time Is Now” addresses environmental issues, calling on humanity to treasure and protect the planet. Introduced by Jones’ violin the arrangement incorporates elements of jazz, folk and pop and includes guest Bill Mudge on piano.

The album concludes with “Les Roses At Leurs Epines”, a French language song with a lyric by Ducomble and Mansion. Jazz fuses with Ducomble’s chanson roots in an attractive arrangement that incorporates an instrumental solo from Jones.

As befits its title “Across The Bridge” straddles linguistic and stylistic boundaries to deliver a pleasingly varied album of original songs. Although these days rooted in jazz Ducomble’s sweet, pure toned vocals avoid most of the “jazz singer” clichés (there’s actually precious little scat) and she’s equally convincing as a vocalist in both French and English.

For non-French speakers there’s a real exotic charm about the songs sung in French, which for me personally, conjures up happy memories of good times spent in France – and Belgium too! Very evocative.

Some of the English lyrics, particularly on the ‘issue’ songs come across as well meaning and worthy but a little naive; ‘sixth form poetry’ syndrome if you will.

But it’s the singing and playing that counts and I welcome an album of original material that doesn’t just lazily go for the ‘Great American Songbook’ approach. Ducomble has been honing her approach with her earlier interpretations of other peoples’ material and has brought some of that magic to her own songs. Her blending of jazz with tango, chanson and folk influences has produced a hybrid that is very much her own. Her cool, elegant well enunciated vocals suit the music well and she’s surrounded by a first class band, with Meier at the helm and with violinist Jones making a particularly significant contribution.

Ducomble has attracted a compelling amount of critical acclaim for the quality of her live performances and one can imagine these songs taking on a life of their own in a concert or club environment. She is currently touring the material with Meier, Jones and Kacal and listeners will be able to make up their own minds at the gigs listed below;

Gabrielle will be touring this autumn with her band featuring Nicolas Meier on guitar, Nick Kacal on double bass and Richard Jones on violin:

4th Oct: Dorchester Arts Centre
5th Oct: The Poly/Falmouth Arts Centre
6th Oct: Flavel Arts Centre, Devon
16th Oct: Watermill Jazz Club (& Emiliano Caroseli on drums)
17th Oct: Swansea Jazzland
18th Oct: Span Arts, Narbeth
19th Oct: Birmingham Symphony Hall Foyer
1st Nov: Ashcroft Arts Centre
2nd Nov: Calstock Arts Centre
3rd Nov: Creative Innovative Centre, Taunton
4th Nov: Colchester Arts Centre
16th Nov: St Paul’s, Cambridge
17th Nov: St George’s, Bristol
18th Nov: The Stables, Milton Keynes

 

Get The Blessing - Bristopia Rating: 4 out of 5 A group that has established a signature sound but can’t help experimenting with its own identity, with consistently fascinating results.

Get The Blessing

“Bristopia”

(Kartel)

Originally formed way back in 1999 cult Bristol based outfit Get The Blessing have retained a stable line up throughout their career. Instigated by the group’s rhythm pairing of Jim Barr (electric bass) and Clive Deamer (drums) the band also includes saxophonist Jake McMurchie and trumpeter Pete Judge, both busy and popular presences on the Bristol jazz scene.

Barr and Deamer had already acquired a degree of fame in the rock world thanks to their involvement in the success of trip hop pioneers Portishead. Deamer has also drummed for Robert Plant and Radiohead. Meanwhile McMurchie and Judge brought an air of jazz authenticity to a quartet that have consistently defied classification. Get The Blessing, who take their name from the Ornette Coleman composition “The Blessing”, remain proud of their essentially chordless line up and their commitment to the art of improvisation - but their embrace of rock dynamics and electronics has not always endeared them to jazz purists.

However they have benefited from the musical history of Barr and Deamer with the group’s music also attracting the attention of adventurous rock fans. GTB inhabit that strange hinterland where jazz, rock and electronica meet, but they don’t really fit into any of the individual categories. And they’re certainly not ‘fusion’ in the old fashioned sense either. Instead they have created a distinctive soundworld that is very much their own.

GTB’s recorded début didn’t come about until 2008 when “All Is Yes” created quite a stir by winning the award for Best Album at the BBC Jazz Awards. Loud and brash the début evoked comparisons with Pete Wareham’s Acoustic Ladyland as both groups courted a younger demographic than the average British jazz listener.

GTB have always had an eye for a good hook, a punchy riff, and a powerful groove but, despite accusations to the contrary, they have always been capable of subtlety too. Their 2009 follow up “Bugs In Amber” saw the group expanding their emotional and dynamic range with horn players Judge and McMurchie experimenting with electronics to manipulate the sound of their instruments.
It’s a process that has continued on the group’s subsequent albums as GTB have continued to refine their sound and approach, as evidenced by “OC DC” (2012), “Lope and Antilope” (2014) and “Astronautilus” (2015).

The increasing use of electronics has resulted in their music acquiring a more noirish, filmic quality and this is something that has also expanded into the solo projects of both McMurchie (Michelson Morley) and Judge (Eyebrow). Meanwhile as a producer and studio owner, as well as a musician, Barr has always had a similar fascination with the nature, quality and treatment of sound.

As its title suggests GTB’s sixth album is a tribute to their home city of Bristol. “Sometimes you have to go away to see where you’re from”, they explain.

The album was recorded at Vale Studio in Worcestershire on vintage mics and with the group’s long term associate Tim Allen engineering. The band describe the recording process thus;
“We recorded as we have for the last two albums, dividing the time between prodding and poking at things we’d prepared in advance, and summoning up the spirits of invention from complete unpreparedness, unleashing little soundtracks for imaginary films. After three days we returned back to base camp to pick over the spoils, at which point the process became more like sculpting, Jim wielding the chisel and the rest of us jogging his elbows until we’re left with some beautifully strange shapes”.

It’s an illuminating comment, revealing GTB’s roots in improvisation and describing a process that sounds remarkably similar to the one that producer Teo Macero used to deploy in his work with Miles Davis. The reference to “little soundtracks to imaginary films” also intrigues; GTB’s music has always had a faintly dystopian Blade Runner -ish feel about it. “Bristopia” also features contributions from former Portishead guitarist Adrian Utley and from pedal steel specialist Margarethe Bjorklund, although it’s not easy to distinguish their contributions within the context of the overall sonic framework.

As fate would have it the imaginary soundtracks that the band crafted in the studios of Worcestershire and Bristol did end up becoming a genuine film score. At the time the album was being recorded the Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival approached GTB and their long term visual collaborator John Minton to explore the Bristol photographic archive to create “Bristopolis”, an abstract and poetic audio-visual tribute to the city of Bristol.

The band say of the project;
“We realised that some of the new music is the soundtrack for a real film after all, even stranger than the one in our heads. We get to play these new tunes live at a one-off happening for the Festival with John’s visual creation filling an enormous screen behind us. All begins to make (non)sense.”

Kicking off with the rousing “If It Can It Will” the new album is unmistakably a Get The Blessing record. Deamer and Barr unite to provide an unstoppable rumbling groove above which the horns combine to punchy, powerful effect. The ‘sculpting’ process adds layers of counterpoint as McMurchie solos gruffly on what sounds like baritone sax. Critics will cite that it’s “more of the same” but I can live with that. I’ve seen GTB perform live on several occasions and can vouch for them being a hugely exciting, and often very humorous, live act. This barnstorming opener is surely destined to become something of a live favourite.

Barr’s melodic electric bass steers “Cococloud” with its long, layered horn melody lines and splashes of dubby echo. Trumpet and tenor sax intertwine atmospherically, their sounds subtly distorted and manipulated.

“Cellophant” ups the energy levels once more with barking baritone sax and some suitably elephantine bellowing, the providence of which is uncertain, although the guitar of old Portishead mate Adrian Utley may well be in there somewhere. This a brief, but thrilling, squall of punk jazz violence with Barr wielding the proverbial chisel with great aplomb.

“Sunwise” begins with Deamer’s drums setting up a motorik groove with Barr locking in as Judge’s trumpet improvises around the insistent rhythmic patterns. There’s some pure jazz playing from Judge, plus a splash of vibraphone, but once again the overall sound of the piece is subtly and creatively mutated via Barr’s production processes. GTB’s music is a lot less predictable than some critics might have you believe.

It’s McMurchie’s turn to ride the groove on “Not With Standing”, his breezy sax underpinned by skittering brushed drums, melodic electric bass and a modicum of atmospheric sonic manipulation.

GTB have always had a great way with titles. The lively “Recorded For Training And Quality Purposes” recalls the forceful opener with its propulsive bass and drum grooves and punchy horn charts. Organ like sounds swirl in and out of the mix and Judge delivers one of his best solos of the set, his subtly vocalised trumpet soaring above the rhythmic ferment bubbling beneath.

Title track “Bristopia” commences with a threatening drum and electric bass duel that sounds positively dystopian, and that air of unease continues throughout. Utley’s guitar and McMurchie’s baleful sax add to the atmosphere of disquiet on a piece that suggests the edgy nature of 21st century Bristol.

Similarly “Rule Of Thumb” which recalls the trip hop experiments of fellow Bristolians Portishead, Massive Attack, Tricky and Roni Size as sax and trumpet screech around echoing, dubby grooves.

“The Second Third” is a pleasingly quirky, multi-faceted piece whose circling, interlocking motifs suggest the influence of minimalism. But there’s a sweeping ‘epic’ quality about the music too, with McMurchie the featured soloist.

“Tuathal” combines similar qualities with a more hard edged rhythmic backdrop that again hints at the trip hop past of Barr and Deamer. It’s not overt, but the trip hop sound is etched into the musical DNA of both Get The Blessing and their home city. Meanwhile the horns of McMurchie and Judge add an incisive jazz edge to the proceedings.

“The Grand Scheme Of Things” concludes the album on an atmospheric notes with the horns whispering among ambient, electronically generated drones. It’s close in spirit to some of the output of Eyebrow, Judge’s electro-jazz duo with drummer Paul Wigens.

I’ve been following GTB for ten years and have seen the group make small, but progressive, artistic steps with the release of each album. The only one I haven’t heard is “Astronautilus”, which somehow slipped the reviewing net.

Thus, for me, “Bristopia” is the deepest that the group have pushed into the world of electronically generated sounds and post production techniques. Working from essentially acoustic building blocks Barr and his colleagues have skilfully sculpted their compositions and improvisations into music that is multi-layered, multi-faceted and continuously interesting. It’s still instantly recognisable as GTB; this is a group that has established a signature sound but can’t help experimenting with its own identity, with consistently fascinating results.

As the title suggests there’s a filmic quality about the music, allied to a subtle acknowledgement of Bristol’s musical past, elements of which were created by members of the group.

I appreciate that GTB won’t be to everyone’s taste but fans of the band, such as myself, will find much to enjoy in the music of “Bristopia” and will be fascinated to listen to the band’s latest port of call on their ongoing voyage of musical discovery.

 

 

Bristopia

Get The Blessing

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Bristopia

A group that has established a signature sound but can’t help experimenting with its own identity, with consistently fascinating results.

Get The Blessing

“Bristopia”

(Kartel)

Originally formed way back in 1999 cult Bristol based outfit Get The Blessing have retained a stable line up throughout their career. Instigated by the group’s rhythm pairing of Jim Barr (electric bass) and Clive Deamer (drums) the band also includes saxophonist Jake McMurchie and trumpeter Pete Judge, both busy and popular presences on the Bristol jazz scene.

Barr and Deamer had already acquired a degree of fame in the rock world thanks to their involvement in the success of trip hop pioneers Portishead. Deamer has also drummed for Robert Plant and Radiohead. Meanwhile McMurchie and Judge brought an air of jazz authenticity to a quartet that have consistently defied classification. Get The Blessing, who take their name from the Ornette Coleman composition “The Blessing”, remain proud of their essentially chordless line up and their commitment to the art of improvisation - but their embrace of rock dynamics and electronics has not always endeared them to jazz purists.

However they have benefited from the musical history of Barr and Deamer with the group’s music also attracting the attention of adventurous rock fans. GTB inhabit that strange hinterland where jazz, rock and electronica meet, but they don’t really fit into any of the individual categories. And they’re certainly not ‘fusion’ in the old fashioned sense either. Instead they have created a distinctive soundworld that is very much their own.

GTB’s recorded début didn’t come about until 2008 when “All Is Yes” created quite a stir by winning the award for Best Album at the BBC Jazz Awards. Loud and brash the début evoked comparisons with Pete Wareham’s Acoustic Ladyland as both groups courted a younger demographic than the average British jazz listener.

GTB have always had an eye for a good hook, a punchy riff, and a powerful groove but, despite accusations to the contrary, they have always been capable of subtlety too. Their 2009 follow up “Bugs In Amber” saw the group expanding their emotional and dynamic range with horn players Judge and McMurchie experimenting with electronics to manipulate the sound of their instruments.
It’s a process that has continued on the group’s subsequent albums as GTB have continued to refine their sound and approach, as evidenced by “OC DC” (2012), “Lope and Antilope” (2014) and “Astronautilus” (2015).

The increasing use of electronics has resulted in their music acquiring a more noirish, filmic quality and this is something that has also expanded into the solo projects of both McMurchie (Michelson Morley) and Judge (Eyebrow). Meanwhile as a producer and studio owner, as well as a musician, Barr has always had a similar fascination with the nature, quality and treatment of sound.

As its title suggests GTB’s sixth album is a tribute to their home city of Bristol. “Sometimes you have to go away to see where you’re from”, they explain.

The album was recorded at Vale Studio in Worcestershire on vintage mics and with the group’s long term associate Tim Allen engineering. The band describe the recording process thus;
“We recorded as we have for the last two albums, dividing the time between prodding and poking at things we’d prepared in advance, and summoning up the spirits of invention from complete unpreparedness, unleashing little soundtracks for imaginary films. After three days we returned back to base camp to pick over the spoils, at which point the process became more like sculpting, Jim wielding the chisel and the rest of us jogging his elbows until we’re left with some beautifully strange shapes”.

It’s an illuminating comment, revealing GTB’s roots in improvisation and describing a process that sounds remarkably similar to the one that producer Teo Macero used to deploy in his work with Miles Davis. The reference to “little soundtracks to imaginary films” also intrigues; GTB’s music has always had a faintly dystopian Blade Runner -ish feel about it. “Bristopia” also features contributions from former Portishead guitarist Adrian Utley and from pedal steel specialist Margarethe Bjorklund, although it’s not easy to distinguish their contributions within the context of the overall sonic framework.

As fate would have it the imaginary soundtracks that the band crafted in the studios of Worcestershire and Bristol did end up becoming a genuine film score. At the time the album was being recorded the Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival approached GTB and their long term visual collaborator John Minton to explore the Bristol photographic archive to create “Bristopolis”, an abstract and poetic audio-visual tribute to the city of Bristol.

The band say of the project;
“We realised that some of the new music is the soundtrack for a real film after all, even stranger than the one in our heads. We get to play these new tunes live at a one-off happening for the Festival with John’s visual creation filling an enormous screen behind us. All begins to make (non)sense.”

Kicking off with the rousing “If It Can It Will” the new album is unmistakably a Get The Blessing record. Deamer and Barr unite to provide an unstoppable rumbling groove above which the horns combine to punchy, powerful effect. The ‘sculpting’ process adds layers of counterpoint as McMurchie solos gruffly on what sounds like baritone sax. Critics will cite that it’s “more of the same” but I can live with that. I’ve seen GTB perform live on several occasions and can vouch for them being a hugely exciting, and often very humorous, live act. This barnstorming opener is surely destined to become something of a live favourite.

Barr’s melodic electric bass steers “Cococloud” with its long, layered horn melody lines and splashes of dubby echo. Trumpet and tenor sax intertwine atmospherically, their sounds subtly distorted and manipulated.

“Cellophant” ups the energy levels once more with barking baritone sax and some suitably elephantine bellowing, the providence of which is uncertain, although the guitar of old Portishead mate Adrian Utley may well be in there somewhere. This a brief, but thrilling, squall of punk jazz violence with Barr wielding the proverbial chisel with great aplomb.

“Sunwise” begins with Deamer’s drums setting up a motorik groove with Barr locking in as Judge’s trumpet improvises around the insistent rhythmic patterns. There’s some pure jazz playing from Judge, plus a splash of vibraphone, but once again the overall sound of the piece is subtly and creatively mutated via Barr’s production processes. GTB’s music is a lot less predictable than some critics might have you believe.

It’s McMurchie’s turn to ride the groove on “Not With Standing”, his breezy sax underpinned by skittering brushed drums, melodic electric bass and a modicum of atmospheric sonic manipulation.

GTB have always had a great way with titles. The lively “Recorded For Training And Quality Purposes” recalls the forceful opener with its propulsive bass and drum grooves and punchy horn charts. Organ like sounds swirl in and out of the mix and Judge delivers one of his best solos of the set, his subtly vocalised trumpet soaring above the rhythmic ferment bubbling beneath.

Title track “Bristopia” commences with a threatening drum and electric bass duel that sounds positively dystopian, and that air of unease continues throughout. Utley’s guitar and McMurchie’s baleful sax add to the atmosphere of disquiet on a piece that suggests the edgy nature of 21st century Bristol.

Similarly “Rule Of Thumb” which recalls the trip hop experiments of fellow Bristolians Portishead, Massive Attack, Tricky and Roni Size as sax and trumpet screech around echoing, dubby grooves.

“The Second Third” is a pleasingly quirky, multi-faceted piece whose circling, interlocking motifs suggest the influence of minimalism. But there’s a sweeping ‘epic’ quality about the music too, with McMurchie the featured soloist.

“Tuathal” combines similar qualities with a more hard edged rhythmic backdrop that again hints at the trip hop past of Barr and Deamer. It’s not overt, but the trip hop sound is etched into the musical DNA of both Get The Blessing and their home city. Meanwhile the horns of McMurchie and Judge add an incisive jazz edge to the proceedings.

“The Grand Scheme Of Things” concludes the album on an atmospheric notes with the horns whispering among ambient, electronically generated drones. It’s close in spirit to some of the output of Eyebrow, Judge’s electro-jazz duo with drummer Paul Wigens.

I’ve been following GTB for ten years and have seen the group make small, but progressive, artistic steps with the release of each album. The only one I haven’t heard is “Astronautilus”, which somehow slipped the reviewing net.

Thus, for me, “Bristopia” is the deepest that the group have pushed into the world of electronically generated sounds and post production techniques. Working from essentially acoustic building blocks Barr and his colleagues have skilfully sculpted their compositions and improvisations into music that is multi-layered, multi-faceted and continuously interesting. It’s still instantly recognisable as GTB; this is a group that has established a signature sound but can’t help experimenting with its own identity, with consistently fascinating results.

As the title suggests there’s a filmic quality about the music, allied to a subtle acknowledgement of Bristol’s musical past, elements of which were created by members of the group.

I appreciate that GTB won’t be to everyone’s taste but fans of the band, such as myself, will find much to enjoy in the music of “Bristopia” and will be fascinated to listen to the band’s latest port of call on their ongoing voyage of musical discovery.

 

 

Tom Barford - Bloomer Rating: 4 out of 5 A highly accomplished album, “Bloomer” signifies the emergence of a major new talent with Barford impressing both as a soloist and as a composer.

Tom Barford

“Bloomer”

(Edition Records EDN1117)

The young saxophonist and composer Tom Barford was the recipient of the 2017 Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize, winning the approval of judges Evan Parker, Dave Stapleton and Nick Smart with Parker commenting; “We are witnessing the birth of a new star in the jazz firmament”.

Born into a musical family Barford began learning the saxophone at nine, later progressing into the ranks of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) and going on to study at the Royal Academy of Music, graduating from the Jazz Course with First Class Honours in 2017.

I first encountered Barford’s playing in 2016 when he led his quintet Asterope at Brecon Jazz Festival as part of the Brecon Jazz Futures programme curated by jazz educator Marc Edwards. The line up was essentially the same one that graces “Bloomer”, but the prolific Barford has written a whole raft of new material in the intervening two years, none of the compositions that were played at Brecon actually appear on this début.

“Bloomer” sees Barford joined by fellow Academy alumni Billy Marrows (guitar), Rupert Cox (piano), Flo Moore (double bass) and Dave Storey (drums), Asterope in all but name.

Besides this quintet Barford also leads a quartet featuring fellow tenor saxophonist Alex Hitchcock together with a rhythm section comprised of bassist Ferg Ireland and drummer James Maddren.

Barford is also a prolific sideman who has worked with groups led by pianists Barry Green and Alberto Palau, bassist Mark Trounson, trombonist Olli Martin and alto saxophonist Tom Smith. Barford and Martin were recently part of the Smith led septet that appeared at the 2018 Brecon Jazz Festival, an event that forms part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/saturday-at-brecon-jazz-festival-11-08-2018/

Others with whom Barford has worked include the Guy Barker Big Band and the London Super Sax Project. He has shared a stage with his saxophone mentors Evan Parker and Iain Ballamy and recently made a cameo appearance on “Juniper” the latest release from Stapleton’s Slowly Rolling Camera project.

Keyboard player and composer Stapleton is also the boss of Edition Records and part of the prize for winning the Wheeler Award is the opportunity to record an album for the label. With “Bloomer” Barford takes full advantage of his success to deliver a highly accomplished album that will surely place this hugely talented young musician firmly on the jazz map.  The album was recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios with engineer Alex Killpartrick ensuring that the finished product exhibits the high technical standards we have come to expect from Edition. Ballamy acts as producer and also plays a key role in the success of the recording.

Besides Parker and Ballamy Barford also cites the influence of US based saxophonists Seamus Blake and Chris Potter but the music on “Bloomer” is unmistakably British and very much Barford’s own.

The album kicks off with the title track, with Moore and Storey setting up an add meter groove around which Marrows and Cox sketch darting melodic phrases as Barford plays longer melody lines behind them. In what is evidently a well balanced and highly democratic group pianist Cox is the first to catch the ear before Barford embarks on a more extended tenor solo, initially in the saxophone trio format. The young award winner immediately impresses with his inventiveness and fluency and Storey also attracts the attention of the listener with some nimble and imaginative drumming.

Barford’s writing impresses with its variety and the following “Space To Dream” is echoey and atmospheric with the leader’s sax sounding vaguely Garbarek-like as Marrows adds ambient guitar washes and Cox glacial piano tinklings. Meanwhile Storey again impresses, this time in the role of colourist.

Unaccompanied piano introduces “Phizzwizard”, a pleasantly quirky piece that sees the leader switching to soprano sax. There’s a gentle, genial sense of whimsicality about the music that recalls the pastoral, folk tinged jazz that Ballamy, Django Bates, Julian Arguelles and Mark Lockheart all explored after the initial break up of Loose Tubes. A passage of unaccompanied guitar from Marrows is pretty and understated, subsequently leading to an uplifting exchange of melodic ideas between the guitarist and Barford on soaring, swooping soprano.

The lengthy “F Step” begins with the sound of Barford’s tenor in dialogue with Storey’s drums, a nod perhaps to near contemporaries Binker and Moses. Indeed there’s an edgy, urban urgency about the music with its M-Base type stylings and hip hop inspired grooves. Barford’s opening tenor salvo has been compared to the playing of a young Sonny Rollins and he’s matched in terms of both intensity and fluency by the solos of both Marrows and Cox, with the guitarist’s playing exhibiting a strong rock influence. Meanwhile Moore and Storey combine to give the music an unstoppable forward momentum.

Introduced by Cox at the piano “Music For An Imagined Film” features Barford on soprano, initially in a delightful extended duet with pianist Cox. Both musicians excel on a piece that combines a bucolic beauty with gently evocative cinematic imagery. The rest of the group only enter the picture fairly late in the piece, with Marrows’ icily elegant guitar adding another distinctive instrumental voice.

“Razztwizzler Ahead” is a rousing tenor led fanfare that segues immediately into “Razztwizzler” itself. Cox is credited with ‘piano’ but doubles up to make a small but judicious use of electric keyboards on the title track. Here he switches to a full on organ sound on one of the album’s most up-tempo pieces, one that toys with both funk and prog rock. Cox’s psychedelic Hammond sounds feature strongly as he shares the solos with Marrows’ turbo-charged blues rock guitar. Barford adds some punchy sax riffing but largely keeps a low profile as Cox and Marrows relish the opportunity to wig out.

By way of contrast “Ideology”, a succinct dedication to Iain Ballamy, sees Barford returning to more pastoral territory, his melodic saxophone meditations complemented by Marrows’ astute chording and the shimmer of Storey’s deft cymbal work.

Barford has a good way with a title and the album ends with the marvellously named “The Highly Strung Trapeze Artist”. The piece combines conventional jazz virtues with judicious splashes of electronic effects, the latter courtesy of Marrows’ guitar. Moore’s bass motif anchors the piece and she also gets to enjoy her only real feature of the album with a melodic double bass solo. The leader’s tenor also features on a piece that again exhibits an engaging quirkiness and which is as imaginative and multi-faceted as any on the album.

Taken as a whole “Bloomer” signifies the emergence of a major new talent with Barford impressing both as a soloist and as a composer. As a player he clearly has technique to burn but it’s his writing skills that suggest that he’s going to be a major presence on the British jazz scene for many years to come. The album explores a wide range of jazz styles, which makes for a varied and consistently engaging listen, but Barford puts his own stamp on all of them. He’s already developed a highly personal musical voice that is very much his own.

The leader receives excellent support from a hugely talented band of young musicians, some of them bandleaders in their own right, with Ballamy’s production ensuring that all are heard at their best. The standard of the musicianship is superb throughout with all the members of the quintet making substantial contributions to the success of the album.

Barford and the quintet will be touring in the UK to promote the album. For details of dates please visit http://www.tombarford.com

Bloomer

Tom Barford

Monday, September 24, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Bloomer

A highly accomplished album, “Bloomer” signifies the emergence of a major new talent with Barford impressing both as a soloist and as a composer.

Tom Barford

“Bloomer”

(Edition Records EDN1117)

The young saxophonist and composer Tom Barford was the recipient of the 2017 Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize, winning the approval of judges Evan Parker, Dave Stapleton and Nick Smart with Parker commenting; “We are witnessing the birth of a new star in the jazz firmament”.

Born into a musical family Barford began learning the saxophone at nine, later progressing into the ranks of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) and going on to study at the Royal Academy of Music, graduating from the Jazz Course with First Class Honours in 2017.

I first encountered Barford’s playing in 2016 when he led his quintet Asterope at Brecon Jazz Festival as part of the Brecon Jazz Futures programme curated by jazz educator Marc Edwards. The line up was essentially the same one that graces “Bloomer”, but the prolific Barford has written a whole raft of new material in the intervening two years, none of the compositions that were played at Brecon actually appear on this début.

“Bloomer” sees Barford joined by fellow Academy alumni Billy Marrows (guitar), Rupert Cox (piano), Flo Moore (double bass) and Dave Storey (drums), Asterope in all but name.

Besides this quintet Barford also leads a quartet featuring fellow tenor saxophonist Alex Hitchcock together with a rhythm section comprised of bassist Ferg Ireland and drummer James Maddren.

Barford is also a prolific sideman who has worked with groups led by pianists Barry Green and Alberto Palau, bassist Mark Trounson, trombonist Olli Martin and alto saxophonist Tom Smith. Barford and Martin were recently part of the Smith led septet that appeared at the 2018 Brecon Jazz Festival, an event that forms part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/saturday-at-brecon-jazz-festival-11-08-2018/

Others with whom Barford has worked include the Guy Barker Big Band and the London Super Sax Project. He has shared a stage with his saxophone mentors Evan Parker and Iain Ballamy and recently made a cameo appearance on “Juniper” the latest release from Stapleton’s Slowly Rolling Camera project.

Keyboard player and composer Stapleton is also the boss of Edition Records and part of the prize for winning the Wheeler Award is the opportunity to record an album for the label. With “Bloomer” Barford takes full advantage of his success to deliver a highly accomplished album that will surely place this hugely talented young musician firmly on the jazz map.  The album was recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios with engineer Alex Killpartrick ensuring that the finished product exhibits the high technical standards we have come to expect from Edition. Ballamy acts as producer and also plays a key role in the success of the recording.

Besides Parker and Ballamy Barford also cites the influence of US based saxophonists Seamus Blake and Chris Potter but the music on “Bloomer” is unmistakably British and very much Barford’s own.

The album kicks off with the title track, with Moore and Storey setting up an add meter groove around which Marrows and Cox sketch darting melodic phrases as Barford plays longer melody lines behind them. In what is evidently a well balanced and highly democratic group pianist Cox is the first to catch the ear before Barford embarks on a more extended tenor solo, initially in the saxophone trio format. The young award winner immediately impresses with his inventiveness and fluency and Storey also attracts the attention of the listener with some nimble and imaginative drumming.

Barford’s writing impresses with its variety and the following “Space To Dream” is echoey and atmospheric with the leader’s sax sounding vaguely Garbarek-like as Marrows adds ambient guitar washes and Cox glacial piano tinklings. Meanwhile Storey again impresses, this time in the role of colourist.

Unaccompanied piano introduces “Phizzwizard”, a pleasantly quirky piece that sees the leader switching to soprano sax. There’s a gentle, genial sense of whimsicality about the music that recalls the pastoral, folk tinged jazz that Ballamy, Django Bates, Julian Arguelles and Mark Lockheart all explored after the initial break up of Loose Tubes. A passage of unaccompanied guitar from Marrows is pretty and understated, subsequently leading to an uplifting exchange of melodic ideas between the guitarist and Barford on soaring, swooping soprano.

The lengthy “F Step” begins with the sound of Barford’s tenor in dialogue with Storey’s drums, a nod perhaps to near contemporaries Binker and Moses. Indeed there’s an edgy, urban urgency about the music with its M-Base type stylings and hip hop inspired grooves. Barford’s opening tenor salvo has been compared to the playing of a young Sonny Rollins and he’s matched in terms of both intensity and fluency by the solos of both Marrows and Cox, with the guitarist’s playing exhibiting a strong rock influence. Meanwhile Moore and Storey combine to give the music an unstoppable forward momentum.

Introduced by Cox at the piano “Music For An Imagined Film” features Barford on soprano, initially in a delightful extended duet with pianist Cox. Both musicians excel on a piece that combines a bucolic beauty with gently evocative cinematic imagery. The rest of the group only enter the picture fairly late in the piece, with Marrows’ icily elegant guitar adding another distinctive instrumental voice.

“Razztwizzler Ahead” is a rousing tenor led fanfare that segues immediately into “Razztwizzler” itself. Cox is credited with ‘piano’ but doubles up to make a small but judicious use of electric keyboards on the title track. Here he switches to a full on organ sound on one of the album’s most up-tempo pieces, one that toys with both funk and prog rock. Cox’s psychedelic Hammond sounds feature strongly as he shares the solos with Marrows’ turbo-charged blues rock guitar. Barford adds some punchy sax riffing but largely keeps a low profile as Cox and Marrows relish the opportunity to wig out.

By way of contrast “Ideology”, a succinct dedication to Iain Ballamy, sees Barford returning to more pastoral territory, his melodic saxophone meditations complemented by Marrows’ astute chording and the shimmer of Storey’s deft cymbal work.

Barford has a good way with a title and the album ends with the marvellously named “The Highly Strung Trapeze Artist”. The piece combines conventional jazz virtues with judicious splashes of electronic effects, the latter courtesy of Marrows’ guitar. Moore’s bass motif anchors the piece and she also gets to enjoy her only real feature of the album with a melodic double bass solo. The leader’s tenor also features on a piece that again exhibits an engaging quirkiness and which is as imaginative and multi-faceted as any on the album.

Taken as a whole “Bloomer” signifies the emergence of a major new talent with Barford impressing both as a soloist and as a composer. As a player he clearly has technique to burn but it’s his writing skills that suggest that he’s going to be a major presence on the British jazz scene for many years to come. The album explores a wide range of jazz styles, which makes for a varied and consistently engaging listen, but Barford puts his own stamp on all of them. He’s already developed a highly personal musical voice that is very much his own.

The leader receives excellent support from a hugely talented band of young musicians, some of them bandleaders in their own right, with Ballamy’s production ensuring that all are heard at their best. The standard of the musicianship is superb throughout with all the members of the quintet making substantial contributions to the success of the album.

Barford and the quintet will be touring in the UK to promote the album. For details of dates please visit http://www.tombarford.com

Alina Bzhezhinska - Inspiration Rating: 4 out of 5 “Inspiration” goes far beyond the bounds of the usual jazz “tribute” album. Bzhezhinska’s own compositions more than hold their own alongside the classics from Alice and John Coltrane.

Alina Bzhezhinska

“Inspiration”

(Ubuntu Music UBU008)

Harpist Alina Bzhezhinska was born in the Ukraine and studied art and classical music in Poland and the USA before settling in London. She has performed internationally with many leading orchestras and opera companies and is also an acclaimed tutor of her chosen instrument with teaching posts in London and Glasgow.

The versatile Bzhezhinska has also established a successful career as a jazz harpist and has worked with saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings and vocalist Niki King among others. She has twice recorded with the Stan Getz inspired New Focus ensemble co-led by the Scottish musicians Konrad Wiszniewski (saxophones) and Euan Stevenson (piano).

Bzhezhinska has also released her own album “Harp Recital” and recorded with the American harp ensemble Harp Fusion, but “Inspiration” represents her first one hundred per cent jazz recording. It’s an album that has attracted a compelling amount of critical acclaim and really put Bzhezhinska on the jazz map in Britain, and rightly so. 

Released in June this year “Inspiration” was recorded in 2017 and represents Bzhezhinska’s tribute to the memories of John and Alice Coltrane. Saxophonist John died in 1967 and remains one of the most influential of all jazz artists. His widow, Alice,  who died in 2007, was a pioneer of the jazz harp and a particularly significant source of inspiration for Bzhezhinska. “Inspiration”, the album, pays homage to them both, while celebrating the eightieth anniversary of Alice’s birth in 1937.

“I set myself on a mission to tell Alice and John Coltrane’s story in my own words, through my own interpretation of their music and through my own compositions. Coltrane is a true role model whose art was an example of endless potential and creative possibilities and whose life journey was dedicated to finding the meaning of human existence and universal consciousness”.

The ten pieces on “Inspiration” comprise of four compositions by Alice Coltrane, one by John, four Bzhezhinska originals and one group free improvisation. The quartet that Bzhezhinska has assembled for this project is an exceptional one with Tony Kofi featuring on soprano and tenor saxophones, Larry Bartley on double bass and Joel Prime on drums and percussion.

At the 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival Bzhzhinska and her quartet appeared as part of a triple bill paying tribute to the Coltranes at an event billed as “A Concert for Alice and John”, The other acts were saxophonist Denys Baptiste with his Late Trane project and the veteran saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, a living link to the Coltranes themselves. The event was nominated for ‘Best Live Experience of The Year’ at the 2018 Jazz FM Awards.

Unsurprisingly Bzhezhinska’s album focusses on the style of ‘spiritual jazz’ that John and Alice pioneered, music that still holds a mesmeric pull for both jazz musicians and jazz listeners. Superbly supported by a team of fellow Coltrane devotees Bzhezhinska more than does justice to the memories of the Coltranes and their combined musical legacy. The playing is superb throughout with the quartet channelling the spirit of their heroes, but still bringing plenty of themselves to the performances. The inclusion of Bzhezhinska’s own material ensures that the music transcends any allegations of ‘mere copying’.

The album commences with a trio of Alice Coltrane compositions, the first “Wisdom Eye”, being a tour de force from Bzhezhinska on unaccompanied harp. Her sound encompasses a pianistic depth that embraces the full dynamic range and expressiveness of the instrument.

The piece segues almost seamlessly into the modality of “Blue Nile” which adds drums and bass, and finally Kofi’s stately, spiritual, John Coltrane style soprano. It’s Kofi that takes the first solo, stretching out on the style of his mentor.  The colourful, other worldly timbres of Bzhezhinska’s harp provide an effective textural counterpoint.

The lively Latin flavours of “Los Caballos” feature Kofi on tenor and Prime on an exotic array of percussion. Played at a breakneck pace the unison riffs and melody lines are stunning with Bzhehinska’s harp again sounding almost pianistic at times. But there are freer moments too, including a powerful unaccompanied bass feature from Bartley mid tune.

Bzhezhinska’s first original composition offers a total contrast. “Spero” is a delightful, folk infused ballad played as a duet by Bzhezhinska and Kofi. The gentle ripple of the harp sounds like a mountain stream and contrasts well with the gentle melancholy of Kofi’s long, delicately probing soprano sax melody lines.

Also written by the leader “Annoying Semitones” adopts something of a Middle Eastern / North African feel, a reflection perhaps of Alice Coltrane’s fascination with Egyptology and other Eastern religions in the late 60s and early 70s. Occasionally there’s something of an Indian feel too, with the harp occasionally sounding a little sitar like. Played as a trio the piece emphasises Bzhezhinska’s virtuosity and versatility but there’s some terrific playing from Prime and Bartley too.

“Winter Moods” continues to find Bzhezhinska exploring her compositional voice. Bartley’s bass motif underpins the piece and there’s a fascinating dialogue between the leader’s harp and Prime’s delightfully detailed drums and percussion as Kofi again sits out. In many respects the piece is a feature for the drummer, and Prime acquits himself well with his wonderfully colourful playing.

“Following A Lovely Sky Boat” is credited as a group improvisation but ends up sounding something like a Coltrane composition. Bartley’s deep, grainy bowed bass contrasts well with the trills and shimmers of harp and percussion on the intro, but when the bassist puts down the bow he sets up an insistent pizzicato groove that forms the basis for Kofi’s probing soprano meditations. In a neat improvisational arc the piece comes full circle and finishes much as it began.

Bzhezhinska’s final original, “Lemky”, pays tribute to the tribe of that name from the Carpathian Mountains that was displaced from its homeland, never to return. Inspired by a piece of traditional music with the same name the melancholy sound of Bartley’s bowed bass again features on the intro and the piece is a fascinating amalgamation of folk inspired melody with the spiritual jazz style of the Coltranes. Kofi, on tenor, shares the solos with the leader on a piece that moves through several distinct phases, and at a little over eight minutes in length, forms one of the cornerstones of the album.

The quartet pay tribute to John Coltrane with his celebrated piece “After The Rain”. Bzhezhinska’s harp is the perfect foil to Kofi’s tenor sax incantations with Bartley also offering powerfully empathic support. Bzhezhinska says of the performance;
“John Coltrane’s ‘After The rain’ strikes me by its beauty, and I think it works wonderfully with the sound of rain and a storm that can be initiated on the harp so naturally”

The album concludes with a performance of Alice Coltrane’s “Journey in Satchinananda”, a nine minute odyssey that begins with a lengthy passage of unaccompanied pizzicato double bass from the excellent Bartley. A dramatic cymbal crash from Prime initiates the next part of the tune with Bzhezhinska reproducing Alice Coltrane’s trademark harp glissandi as Kofi embarks on a lengthy, searching soprano sax exploration, underpinned by a rolling, modal groove and Bzhezhinska’s ever evolving harp embellishments. The leader eventually takes over with her own solo, again producing an astonishing array of sounds from the harp.

Apart from the New Focus project this is the first time that I’ve heard Bzhezhinska on disc and I have to say that I’m hugely impressed. The sounds that she produces from the harp are little short of astonishing and include some unexpectedly dark timbres as she brings out the full sonic capabilities of the instrument. In her hands it has the range of a piano, while also hinting at the sound of other instruments such as guitar, sitar and more. It’s an orchestral approach that doubtless has its roots in the playing of Alice Coltrane, but Bzhezhinska has developed a personal style that is very much her own.

Immaculately engineered and produced (by Bzhezhinska and Kofi) “Inspiration” goes far beyond the bounds of the usual jazz “tribute” album. It impresses with its stylistic diversity, a quality greatly enhanced by the inclusion of Bzhezhinska’s own compositions, which more than hold their own alongside the classics from Alice and John Coltrane. There’s also the playing from all four protagonists which is sensational throughout. It’s easy to see why this album has been so well received by press and public alike.

Bzhezhinska is currently working on another project, “Afro-Harping”, which will pay tribute to that other great jazz harpist, Dorothy Ashby (1932 – 86).  The band for this will feature Prime, plus Gareth Lockrane (flute), Christian Vaughan (keyboards) and Julie Walker (double bass). Both the Coltrane and Ashby projects will be featured at the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival.

Inspiration

Alina Bzhezhinska

Friday, September 21, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Inspiration

“Inspiration” goes far beyond the bounds of the usual jazz “tribute” album. Bzhezhinska’s own compositions more than hold their own alongside the classics from Alice and John Coltrane.

Alina Bzhezhinska

“Inspiration”

(Ubuntu Music UBU008)

Harpist Alina Bzhezhinska was born in the Ukraine and studied art and classical music in Poland and the USA before settling in London. She has performed internationally with many leading orchestras and opera companies and is also an acclaimed tutor of her chosen instrument with teaching posts in London and Glasgow.

The versatile Bzhezhinska has also established a successful career as a jazz harpist and has worked with saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings and vocalist Niki King among others. She has twice recorded with the Stan Getz inspired New Focus ensemble co-led by the Scottish musicians Konrad Wiszniewski (saxophones) and Euan Stevenson (piano).

Bzhezhinska has also released her own album “Harp Recital” and recorded with the American harp ensemble Harp Fusion, but “Inspiration” represents her first one hundred per cent jazz recording. It’s an album that has attracted a compelling amount of critical acclaim and really put Bzhezhinska on the jazz map in Britain, and rightly so. 

Released in June this year “Inspiration” was recorded in 2017 and represents Bzhezhinska’s tribute to the memories of John and Alice Coltrane. Saxophonist John died in 1967 and remains one of the most influential of all jazz artists. His widow, Alice,  who died in 2007, was a pioneer of the jazz harp and a particularly significant source of inspiration for Bzhezhinska. “Inspiration”, the album, pays homage to them both, while celebrating the eightieth anniversary of Alice’s birth in 1937.

“I set myself on a mission to tell Alice and John Coltrane’s story in my own words, through my own interpretation of their music and through my own compositions. Coltrane is a true role model whose art was an example of endless potential and creative possibilities and whose life journey was dedicated to finding the meaning of human existence and universal consciousness”.

The ten pieces on “Inspiration” comprise of four compositions by Alice Coltrane, one by John, four Bzhezhinska originals and one group free improvisation. The quartet that Bzhezhinska has assembled for this project is an exceptional one with Tony Kofi featuring on soprano and tenor saxophones, Larry Bartley on double bass and Joel Prime on drums and percussion.

At the 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival Bzhzhinska and her quartet appeared as part of a triple bill paying tribute to the Coltranes at an event billed as “A Concert for Alice and John”, The other acts were saxophonist Denys Baptiste with his Late Trane project and the veteran saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, a living link to the Coltranes themselves. The event was nominated for ‘Best Live Experience of The Year’ at the 2018 Jazz FM Awards.

Unsurprisingly Bzhezhinska’s album focusses on the style of ‘spiritual jazz’ that John and Alice pioneered, music that still holds a mesmeric pull for both jazz musicians and jazz listeners. Superbly supported by a team of fellow Coltrane devotees Bzhezhinska more than does justice to the memories of the Coltranes and their combined musical legacy. The playing is superb throughout with the quartet channelling the spirit of their heroes, but still bringing plenty of themselves to the performances. The inclusion of Bzhezhinska’s own material ensures that the music transcends any allegations of ‘mere copying’.

The album commences with a trio of Alice Coltrane compositions, the first “Wisdom Eye”, being a tour de force from Bzhezhinska on unaccompanied harp. Her sound encompasses a pianistic depth that embraces the full dynamic range and expressiveness of the instrument.

The piece segues almost seamlessly into the modality of “Blue Nile” which adds drums and bass, and finally Kofi’s stately, spiritual, John Coltrane style soprano. It’s Kofi that takes the first solo, stretching out on the style of his mentor.  The colourful, other worldly timbres of Bzhezhinska’s harp provide an effective textural counterpoint.

The lively Latin flavours of “Los Caballos” feature Kofi on tenor and Prime on an exotic array of percussion. Played at a breakneck pace the unison riffs and melody lines are stunning with Bzhehinska’s harp again sounding almost pianistic at times. But there are freer moments too, including a powerful unaccompanied bass feature from Bartley mid tune.

Bzhezhinska’s first original composition offers a total contrast. “Spero” is a delightful, folk infused ballad played as a duet by Bzhezhinska and Kofi. The gentle ripple of the harp sounds like a mountain stream and contrasts well with the gentle melancholy of Kofi’s long, delicately probing soprano sax melody lines.

Also written by the leader “Annoying Semitones” adopts something of a Middle Eastern / North African feel, a reflection perhaps of Alice Coltrane’s fascination with Egyptology and other Eastern religions in the late 60s and early 70s. Occasionally there’s something of an Indian feel too, with the harp occasionally sounding a little sitar like. Played as a trio the piece emphasises Bzhezhinska’s virtuosity and versatility but there’s some terrific playing from Prime and Bartley too.

“Winter Moods” continues to find Bzhezhinska exploring her compositional voice. Bartley’s bass motif underpins the piece and there’s a fascinating dialogue between the leader’s harp and Prime’s delightfully detailed drums and percussion as Kofi again sits out. In many respects the piece is a feature for the drummer, and Prime acquits himself well with his wonderfully colourful playing.

“Following A Lovely Sky Boat” is credited as a group improvisation but ends up sounding something like a Coltrane composition. Bartley’s deep, grainy bowed bass contrasts well with the trills and shimmers of harp and percussion on the intro, but when the bassist puts down the bow he sets up an insistent pizzicato groove that forms the basis for Kofi’s probing soprano meditations. In a neat improvisational arc the piece comes full circle and finishes much as it began.

Bzhezhinska’s final original, “Lemky”, pays tribute to the tribe of that name from the Carpathian Mountains that was displaced from its homeland, never to return. Inspired by a piece of traditional music with the same name the melancholy sound of Bartley’s bowed bass again features on the intro and the piece is a fascinating amalgamation of folk inspired melody with the spiritual jazz style of the Coltranes. Kofi, on tenor, shares the solos with the leader on a piece that moves through several distinct phases, and at a little over eight minutes in length, forms one of the cornerstones of the album.

The quartet pay tribute to John Coltrane with his celebrated piece “After The Rain”. Bzhezhinska’s harp is the perfect foil to Kofi’s tenor sax incantations with Bartley also offering powerfully empathic support. Bzhezhinska says of the performance;
“John Coltrane’s ‘After The rain’ strikes me by its beauty, and I think it works wonderfully with the sound of rain and a storm that can be initiated on the harp so naturally”

The album concludes with a performance of Alice Coltrane’s “Journey in Satchinananda”, a nine minute odyssey that begins with a lengthy passage of unaccompanied pizzicato double bass from the excellent Bartley. A dramatic cymbal crash from Prime initiates the next part of the tune with Bzhezhinska reproducing Alice Coltrane’s trademark harp glissandi as Kofi embarks on a lengthy, searching soprano sax exploration, underpinned by a rolling, modal groove and Bzhezhinska’s ever evolving harp embellishments. The leader eventually takes over with her own solo, again producing an astonishing array of sounds from the harp.

Apart from the New Focus project this is the first time that I’ve heard Bzhezhinska on disc and I have to say that I’m hugely impressed. The sounds that she produces from the harp are little short of astonishing and include some unexpectedly dark timbres as she brings out the full sonic capabilities of the instrument. In her hands it has the range of a piano, while also hinting at the sound of other instruments such as guitar, sitar and more. It’s an orchestral approach that doubtless has its roots in the playing of Alice Coltrane, but Bzhezhinska has developed a personal style that is very much her own.

Immaculately engineered and produced (by Bzhezhinska and Kofi) “Inspiration” goes far beyond the bounds of the usual jazz “tribute” album. It impresses with its stylistic diversity, a quality greatly enhanced by the inclusion of Bzhezhinska’s own compositions, which more than hold their own alongside the classics from Alice and John Coltrane. There’s also the playing from all four protagonists which is sensational throughout. It’s easy to see why this album has been so well received by press and public alike.

Bzhezhinska is currently working on another project, “Afro-Harping”, which will pay tribute to that other great jazz harpist, Dorothy Ashby (1932 – 86).  The band for this will feature Prime, plus Gareth Lockrane (flute), Christian Vaughan (keyboards) and Julie Walker (double bass). Both the Coltrane and Ashby projects will be featured at the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival.

Sugarwork - Sugarwork Rating: 4 out of 5 An impressive piece of work which skilfully combines jazz with elements of electronic music, but without impairing the integrity of either.

Sugarwork

“Sugarwork”

(Self released, Harriphonic 1801)

Sugarwork is a new Scottish quartet led by pianist, composer and sound artist Paul Harrison. Born in Manchester but based in Scotland for many years Harrison is a significant presence on the music scene of his adopted homeland.

The group features some of the leading musicians on the Scottish jazz scene in the shapes of Phil Bancroft on tenor sax, Graeme Stephen on guitar and Stu Brown on drums and percussion. Harrison himself is credited with keyboards, piano, production, editing and mixing.

Released in June 2018 Sugarwork’s eponymous début draws upon the jazz backgrounds of its protagonists but also includes elements of electronica and rock music. Harrison says of the project;
“As well as being a jazz pianist I’ve long been into all kinds of music, particularly electronica. Having experimented with this element in various projects I wanted to bring it further into the foreground in a new context. I wanted to see if I could create a new band that uses jazz harmony, improvisation and loud electronic instruments without straying into jazz fusion. It’s been a gradual and exploratory process but we had fun bringing it to fruition and hope that listeners will enjoy the sounds and contrasts we’ve created.”

Harrison may be expanding into new areas but his credentials as a jazz pianist are impeccable having worked with vocalist Carol Kidd, saxophonists Dave Liebman, Chris Potter, Bobby Watson Paul Towndrow and Martin Kershaw and with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra.  He is also part of Trio Magico, a group dedicated to performing the music of the Brazilian multi-instrumentalist and composer Egberto Gismonti.

Together with Stephen and drummer Chris Wallace, Harrison was part of the contemporary organ trio Breach he and has also made earlier forays into the world of electro-jazz with the band Trianglehead. Currently Harrison and Brown work together as the “avantronica” duo Herschel 36, playing freely improvised electronic music.

Before turning to the music it’s worth noting that the artwork for the Sugarwork album features the photography of the Serbia based artist David Stanley. Further collaborations are planned, including a video to accompany the track “After The Forest, The Sky”.

The majority of the music on the album is written by Harrison and it’s his composition “Habit Control” that opens the record. Here the aggressive, chunky riffing of Stephen’s guitar and Bancroft’s tenor is combined with Brown’s glitchy, hip hop inspired beats with Harrison sculpting the overall sound. It’s an effective melding of acoustic and electronic elements with conventional jazz virtues merging effectively and convincingly into the electronic sound-scape. Bancroft’s tenor solo should be orthodox enough to keep most hardcore jazz fans happy, and the fact that it’s set against a swirling vortex of electronic sounds only adds to the fascination. Stephens also weighs in with some heavy guitar sounds on a track that sounds like Partisans jamming with Aphex Twin.

Sugarwork aren’t just about sound and fury. Harrison’s next piece “That Strange Summer” is more impressionistic and ambient with breathy tenor sax combining with gently shimmering guitar and keyboards. Stephen and Bancroft both get the chance to stretch out, each probing gently and atmospherically as Harrison again shapes the overall sound and structure of the music. There’s a noirish element about the music that would make it ideal for a film soundtrack, and it’s easy to see why Sugarwork are keen to make audio-visual collaborations with Stanley.

The piece actually chosen for such a collaboration is the following “After The Forest, The Sky”, which is very much a piece of two halves, whose extreme dynamics should offer plenty of scope to the prospective film maker. After a brooding and menacing guitar driven intro the piece erupts into a towering edifice of sound with Bancroft’s tenor soaring above a busily bubbling cauldron of FX drenched guitar and industrial style beats. Part two offers a complete contrast with long, mournful saxophone melody lines accompanied by sparse piano and delicately brushed drums. There’s now a real sense of spaciousness about the music that is totally at odds with the first half of the piece, and yet, strangely, it all works brilliantly.

The brief “Bad Data” is credited to all four musicians and I assume that the piece is a spontaneous group improvisation, representing a kind of extension of Harrison and Brown’s Herschel 36 duo. Here Bancroft’s saxophone interjections represent a vital humanising amongst the brutal, rolling electronic rhythms and textures generated by his colleagues.

Stephen takes over the compositional duties for “Goodbye Hello”, a piece that stays closer to conventional jazz with Bancroft excelling with a lengthy and very powerful tenor sax solo. Dynamic contrast is, again, an important element in the writing and during the tune’s quieter, more impressionistic moments there are hints of the kind of jazz / folk crossovers that both Stephen and Bancroft have explored in other contexts.

“Short Story Long” is another excellent illustration of Harrison’s ability to blend acoustic and electronic sounds. The piece evolves slowly and unhurriedly with Bancroft’s tenor initially leading the way, before handing over to Stephen’s gently meandering guitar. Brown’s playing is subtle and understated and sees him excelling in the colourist’s role as Harrison’s adds deft splashes of electronica on one of the album’s most atmospheric pieces.

“Spiral Confection” finds the band upping the energy levels once more with the dance and electronic elements playing a more significant part. Bancroft solos forcefully above a glitchy drum groove as electronic textures swirl around him. Stephens’ powerful guitar playing also plays a significant role.

Credited to all four musicians “The Stairs” is the album’s second collective improvisation. Bancroft’s tenor wails plaintively against an unsettling backdrop of industrial style noise that sounds like some arcane instrument of torture being cranked up.

The lengthy “Astralgia” wends its way through a variety of sonic landscapes during its fourteen and a half minute duration. A loosely structured intro expands on the unsettling mood generated by “The Stairs” prior to an insistent electro-acoustic groove being established, above which guitar, tenor and the leader’s electric keyboards soar and intertwine. Stephen heads for the stratosphere with a searing, rock influenced solo, followed by Bancroft on blistering tenor. Combining spiritual style jazz with Hawkwind like space rock this is powerful stuff that takes Sugarwork into the kind of musical area currently being explored by The Comet Is Coming and the like. The track ends atmospherically in what sounds like deep space, concluding the kind of astral journey suggested by the title.

The album concludes on an elegiac note with “The End One Day”, which places the serenity of Stephens’ elegantly plucked guitar into an increasingly unsettling electronic sound-scape (there are hints of that ratcheting sound from “The Stairs” again) prior to a peaceful reconciliation. The piece is credited to Harrison and is obviously through composed, but essentially it sounds like a Herschel 36 duo performance.

Sugarwork’s début is an impressive piece of work which skilfully combines jazz with elements of electronic music, but without impairing the integrity of either. There is plenty of excellent soloing from Bancroft and Stephen to keep the jazz purists happy and Brown is an impressive presence throughout. Interestingly Harrison doesn’t undertake any conventional jazz solos and is hardly heard at all on acoustic piano, yet it’s his overall musical vision and excellent command of the various electronic resources at his disposal that ensures that this album is such a success.

Jazz combined with electronica is hardly a rare thing these days and some listeners might think it has become something of a cliché. But few have fused the elements as successfully as Harrison and his colleagues have done here, with neither aspect of the music becoming compromised or diluted. As an album “Sugarwork” convinces on all fronts and one suspects that the band must be an intriguing and exciting prospect in the live environment.

Crucially, Sugarwork eschew the excesses of 70s jazz-rock fusion, something that Harrison was particularly keen to avoid.

 

 

Sugarwork

Sugarwork

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Sugarwork

An impressive piece of work which skilfully combines jazz with elements of electronic music, but without impairing the integrity of either.

Sugarwork

“Sugarwork”

(Self released, Harriphonic 1801)

Sugarwork is a new Scottish quartet led by pianist, composer and sound artist Paul Harrison. Born in Manchester but based in Scotland for many years Harrison is a significant presence on the music scene of his adopted homeland.

The group features some of the leading musicians on the Scottish jazz scene in the shapes of Phil Bancroft on tenor sax, Graeme Stephen on guitar and Stu Brown on drums and percussion. Harrison himself is credited with keyboards, piano, production, editing and mixing.

Released in June 2018 Sugarwork’s eponymous début draws upon the jazz backgrounds of its protagonists but also includes elements of electronica and rock music. Harrison says of the project;
“As well as being a jazz pianist I’ve long been into all kinds of music, particularly electronica. Having experimented with this element in various projects I wanted to bring it further into the foreground in a new context. I wanted to see if I could create a new band that uses jazz harmony, improvisation and loud electronic instruments without straying into jazz fusion. It’s been a gradual and exploratory process but we had fun bringing it to fruition and hope that listeners will enjoy the sounds and contrasts we’ve created.”

Harrison may be expanding into new areas but his credentials as a jazz pianist are impeccable having worked with vocalist Carol Kidd, saxophonists Dave Liebman, Chris Potter, Bobby Watson Paul Towndrow and Martin Kershaw and with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra.  He is also part of Trio Magico, a group dedicated to performing the music of the Brazilian multi-instrumentalist and composer Egberto Gismonti.

Together with Stephen and drummer Chris Wallace, Harrison was part of the contemporary organ trio Breach he and has also made earlier forays into the world of electro-jazz with the band Trianglehead. Currently Harrison and Brown work together as the “avantronica” duo Herschel 36, playing freely improvised electronic music.

Before turning to the music it’s worth noting that the artwork for the Sugarwork album features the photography of the Serbia based artist David Stanley. Further collaborations are planned, including a video to accompany the track “After The Forest, The Sky”.

The majority of the music on the album is written by Harrison and it’s his composition “Habit Control” that opens the record. Here the aggressive, chunky riffing of Stephen’s guitar and Bancroft’s tenor is combined with Brown’s glitchy, hip hop inspired beats with Harrison sculpting the overall sound. It’s an effective melding of acoustic and electronic elements with conventional jazz virtues merging effectively and convincingly into the electronic sound-scape. Bancroft’s tenor solo should be orthodox enough to keep most hardcore jazz fans happy, and the fact that it’s set against a swirling vortex of electronic sounds only adds to the fascination. Stephens also weighs in with some heavy guitar sounds on a track that sounds like Partisans jamming with Aphex Twin.

Sugarwork aren’t just about sound and fury. Harrison’s next piece “That Strange Summer” is more impressionistic and ambient with breathy tenor sax combining with gently shimmering guitar and keyboards. Stephen and Bancroft both get the chance to stretch out, each probing gently and atmospherically as Harrison again shapes the overall sound and structure of the music. There’s a noirish element about the music that would make it ideal for a film soundtrack, and it’s easy to see why Sugarwork are keen to make audio-visual collaborations with Stanley.

The piece actually chosen for such a collaboration is the following “After The Forest, The Sky”, which is very much a piece of two halves, whose extreme dynamics should offer plenty of scope to the prospective film maker. After a brooding and menacing guitar driven intro the piece erupts into a towering edifice of sound with Bancroft’s tenor soaring above a busily bubbling cauldron of FX drenched guitar and industrial style beats. Part two offers a complete contrast with long, mournful saxophone melody lines accompanied by sparse piano and delicately brushed drums. There’s now a real sense of spaciousness about the music that is totally at odds with the first half of the piece, and yet, strangely, it all works brilliantly.

The brief “Bad Data” is credited to all four musicians and I assume that the piece is a spontaneous group improvisation, representing a kind of extension of Harrison and Brown’s Herschel 36 duo. Here Bancroft’s saxophone interjections represent a vital humanising amongst the brutal, rolling electronic rhythms and textures generated by his colleagues.

Stephen takes over the compositional duties for “Goodbye Hello”, a piece that stays closer to conventional jazz with Bancroft excelling with a lengthy and very powerful tenor sax solo. Dynamic contrast is, again, an important element in the writing and during the tune’s quieter, more impressionistic moments there are hints of the kind of jazz / folk crossovers that both Stephen and Bancroft have explored in other contexts.

“Short Story Long” is another excellent illustration of Harrison’s ability to blend acoustic and electronic sounds. The piece evolves slowly and unhurriedly with Bancroft’s tenor initially leading the way, before handing over to Stephen’s gently meandering guitar. Brown’s playing is subtle and understated and sees him excelling in the colourist’s role as Harrison’s adds deft splashes of electronica on one of the album’s most atmospheric pieces.

“Spiral Confection” finds the band upping the energy levels once more with the dance and electronic elements playing a more significant part. Bancroft solos forcefully above a glitchy drum groove as electronic textures swirl around him. Stephens’ powerful guitar playing also plays a significant role.

Credited to all four musicians “The Stairs” is the album’s second collective improvisation. Bancroft’s tenor wails plaintively against an unsettling backdrop of industrial style noise that sounds like some arcane instrument of torture being cranked up.

The lengthy “Astralgia” wends its way through a variety of sonic landscapes during its fourteen and a half minute duration. A loosely structured intro expands on the unsettling mood generated by “The Stairs” prior to an insistent electro-acoustic groove being established, above which guitar, tenor and the leader’s electric keyboards soar and intertwine. Stephen heads for the stratosphere with a searing, rock influenced solo, followed by Bancroft on blistering tenor. Combining spiritual style jazz with Hawkwind like space rock this is powerful stuff that takes Sugarwork into the kind of musical area currently being explored by The Comet Is Coming and the like. The track ends atmospherically in what sounds like deep space, concluding the kind of astral journey suggested by the title.

The album concludes on an elegiac note with “The End One Day”, which places the serenity of Stephens’ elegantly plucked guitar into an increasingly unsettling electronic sound-scape (there are hints of that ratcheting sound from “The Stairs” again) prior to a peaceful reconciliation. The piece is credited to Harrison and is obviously through composed, but essentially it sounds like a Herschel 36 duo performance.

Sugarwork’s début is an impressive piece of work which skilfully combines jazz with elements of electronic music, but without impairing the integrity of either. There is plenty of excellent soloing from Bancroft and Stephen to keep the jazz purists happy and Brown is an impressive presence throughout. Interestingly Harrison doesn’t undertake any conventional jazz solos and is hardly heard at all on acoustic piano, yet it’s his overall musical vision and excellent command of the various electronic resources at his disposal that ensures that this album is such a success.

Jazz combined with electronica is hardly a rare thing these days and some listeners might think it has become something of a cliché. But few have fused the elements as successfully as Harrison and his colleagues have done here, with neither aspect of the music becoming compromised or diluted. As an album “Sugarwork” convinces on all fronts and one suspects that the band must be an intriguing and exciting prospect in the live environment.

Crucially, Sugarwork eschew the excesses of 70s jazz-rock fusion, something that Harrison was particularly keen to avoid.

 

 

Phronesis - We Are All Rating: 4-5 out of 5 As fresh, inventive and dynamic as ever, there’s still something very special and unique about Phronesis.

Phronesis

“We Are All”

(Edition Records EDN1118Y)

The release of a new album by Phronesis is always a major event on the jazz calendar. Founded by Jasper Hoiby, born in Denmark but for many years based in London, the trio made their recorded début in 2007 with the excellent album “Organic Warfare”. It has always been a source of personal pride for me that the Jazzmann identified the group’s potential straight away and I have followed their career with interest ever since. Now, more than a decade later Phronesis has become one of Europe’s most respected piano/bass/drums configurations and the trio has also made considerable inroads into the US market. This is a truly international band with a truly international reputation.

The current line up of the trio has been in place since “Green Delay”, the group’s second album release from 2009. Here Hoiby and drummer Anton Eger were joined by the British pianist Ivo Neame, who replaced the original incumbent Magnus Hjorth.

The first two albums appeared on the Loop record label founded by members of London’s Loop Collective but the group’s international breakthrough came when they moved to the Edition Record label. The group’s third release, “Alive”, a concert recording made at the now defunct Forge venue in London’s Camden Town attracted a compelling amount of critical acclaim and swelled the ranks of the trio’s already substantial following. Ironically the band’s biggest seller to date featured the playing of the hugely popular and influential American drummer Mark Guiliana, who was deputising for the unavailable Anton Eger.

Eger was back in the fold for all the trio’s subsequent releases beginning with 2012’s studio set “Walking Dark” and 2014’s “Life To Everything”, the group’s second live recording, this time recorded at a ‘Jazz In The Round’ event at London’s Cockpit Theatre.

In 2016 Phronesis released their next studio set “Parallax” while 2017 saw the appearance of “The Behemoth”, another concert recording which documented the trio’s collaboration with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band conducted by Julian Arguelles in a set of big band arrangements by Arguelles of existing Phronesis compositions. It was a tribute to the quality of the original writing that the pieces chosen lent themselves to the expanded format brilliantly and in November 2015 Phronesis, plus the FRBB conducted by Arguelles, played two brilliant concert performances in Frankfurt and London, the latter at Milton Court as part of that year’s EFG London Festival – and I was there! However it’s the earlier Frankfurt show that has been documented on disc.

In 2017 the members of Phronesis were involved with another collaboration, this time with the contemporary classical composer Dave Maric. The Cheltenham, Manchester and London Jazz Festivals of that year saw the trio performing Maric’s composition “Decade Zero” as part of an ensemble featuring eight string and woodwind players sourced from the ranks of the Engines Orchestra and directed by saxophonist, composer and educator Phil Meadows. It is to be hoped that one of these performances will also find its way on to an album. These live appearances also featured arrangements of existing Phronesis pieces and one of the shows was subsequently broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Now programme.

All this history brings us to the release of “We Are Now”, the trio’s most recent album and their eighth overall. Following their recent large ensemble collaborations it’s back to basics with the fifth studio recording from the core trio.

The album’s title is a reflection of the band’s evolution over the course of the last decade or so. Phronesis was originally the vehicle for Hoiby’s compositions exclusively but from “Walking Dark” onwards the group’s repertoire has also featured the writing of both Neame and Eger as this already highly interactive trio has become even more democratic. These days one doesn’t really think of Phronesis as Hoiby’s group but as a unified entity with a particularly strong group dynamic, now very much a partnership of equals.

‘Chemistry’ is a word that gets bandied about a lot with regard to musical ensembles but its one that is particularly applicable to these three musicians. Hoiby also leads the quintet Fellow Creatures and is a member of the trio Malija, Neame and Eger both lead their own groups and each is a prolific sideman. It’s fair to say that everything that these three players are involved with is of musical interest and as individuals all of them have appeared on some exceptional recordings – but there’s still something special, a real spark in the air, that only happens when the three of them get together as Phronesis. It’s no coincidence that no fewer than three of the band’s eight albums have been live recordings.

It’s this kind of collective rapport that the trio seek to express on “We Are All”, with the title expressing their wish for their spirit of mutual co-operation to be extended to humanity as a whole. The group’s recent large ensemble co-operations are also reflective of the trio’s desire to look outwards, despite being so tightly knit and inter-connected as a band.

They explain;
“More than ever before, we feel we have a responsibility to use whatever influence we have to voice environmental, political and social concerns, and use our creativity to raise awareness, to prompt discussion and to share a message, hopefully as a force for good. The history of civilisation is often told in terms of the struggle for power between nations and competition between nations for resources. The question is whether humans will have the ability to co-operate with each other in the future; whether we will have the capacity to ‘love our neighbours’ regardless of differences of race, religion or gender, and love and protect our planet in spite of the ravages of corporate capitalist society”.

That sense of unity is expressed in the album cover with its aerial photographs of crowds of humans, penguins, fish and forests, which all seem to take on similar forms when viewed from high above. The front cover shot varies across the different release formats (CD, vinyl, digital) with artwork designer Oli Bentley explaining;
“It was important for us to use multiple covers across the different release formats as we didn’t want to suggest a homogeneity of experience between everyone on earth – something just one image would suggest. But whatever environment we inhabit, whatever our lives are like, we are all sharing this one little blob of rock, bumbling through space”.

OK, I’ll buy the artistic argument, but I do wonder how the use of multiple ‘collector edition’ covers (two for the CD format) and of yellow vinyl squares with the band’s environmental and anti-capitalist concerns.

However I’ll let that go and concentrate on the music, which is as intense, complex, interactive and invigorating as anything Phronesis have hitherto produced. In the spirit of the album the compositional duties are split equally with each member contributing two pieces to the recording’s programme of six tracks. At a little over forty minutes in length the album as a whole is concise and tightly focussed and features plenty of the trio’s trademark dynamic interplay as powerful rhythms are allied with strong melodies to create richly stimulating music that remains readily accessible, transcending its technical demands and considerable complexities.

The album commences with Hoiby’s “One For Us”. Even before listening to the music I like the ambiguity of the title; does it refer to the insularity of this closest of jazz trios or to the album’s theme of humanity as a whole? I guess it’s the latter, but I’m intrigued by that element of doubt.
The music too, invites questions, the piece doesn’t begin like a typically upbeat Phronesis album opener; instead things start quietly with the gentle, lyrical sound of Neame’s unaccompanied piano, soon joined by the melancholy, cello like sound of Hoiby’s bowed bass. It’s only when the composer puts down the bow to play muscular but fluent pizzicato bass that the piece moves into more recognisable Phronesis territory, but still with plenty of twists and turns along the way as the trio skilfully build and diffuse tension, their collective interplay as dynamic and exciting as ever. There’s a mercurial piano solo from Neame accompanied by Eger’s frantically busy, but always engaging, drumming. Hoiby’s powerful but agile and melodic bass solo is augmented by the rapid clatter of sticks on rims. This is a piece that covers a lot of ground in its nine minute duration, moving from the dark and melancholic to the viscerally exciting and doing so in a manner that sounds uncontrived and thoroughly organic, an observation that acts as a tribute both to the quality and ingenuity of the writing and to the sheer brilliance of the playing.

Neame takes up the compositional reins for “Matrix for D.A.”, which he dedicates to the memory late author Douglas Adams, of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” fame. As his solo recordings have shown Neame’s writing tends to be complex and cerebral, although agreeably so. The press release accompanying my copy of the album describes this piece as “polyrhythmic and polymorphic” and the piece is as intricate and multi-faceted as anything that Neame has produced. The composer’s ongoing dialogue with Eger is a constant source of fascination throughout the piece. Eger is so much more than just a time keeper or even a just a drummer, this flamboyant but astonishingly creative musician is very much an equal partner in the unique Phronesis sound.

Eger himself contributes “The Edge” and reveals himself to be a sensitive and intelligent composer. The drummer switches to brushes as Hoiby solos both with and without the bow, his gently brooding arco work setting the tone for a melodic, but deeply resonant pizzicato solo. Neame’s fuller involvement then takes the trio into more animated, interactive territory as the piece gradually gathers momentum.

Neame’s “Emerald Horseshoe” develops out of the composer’s piano arpeggios and embraces elements of minimalism and folk melody before the pianist stretches out at length above Eger’s skittering, consistently compelling drum grooves.

The title of Hoiby’s “Breathless” is intentionally double-sided, referring to his wonder at the beauty of the natural world, while lamenting the toll humanity is taking on its resources. It commences with the lonely sound of the composer’s unaccompanied double bass before introducing one of his most attractive melodies. Piano and bass exchange melodic phrases while Eger deploys brushes almost throughout. Possessed of a pastoral beauty this is Phronesis at their most unadorned and emotionally direct.

The album concludes with “Eger’s” “The Tree Did Not Die”, which he dedicates to the survival of the Redwoods of Muir Woods, California. Musically it’s the most radical piece on the album with the trio adding an element of electronica to their sound, something that reflects Eger’s recent experiments with a new quartet featuring British musicians Dan Nicholls (keyboards), Matt Calvert (guitar, keyboards) and Rob Mullarkey (electric bass), this group having made its live début at London’s Vortex Jazz Club in April 2018. Meanwhile Neame was also heard deploying electric keyboards to convincing effect on his latest solo album “Moksha” (Edition, 2018).
“The Tree…” is a largely hard grooving piece that features a fascinating array of acoustic and electronic sounds with Hoiby playing both pizzicato and bowed bass, Neame deploying both acoustic piano and electric keyboards and Eger laying down drum grooves inspired by hip hop and electronic dance music. It all works surprisingly well, sacrificing nothing of the band’s essential integrity yet hinting at adventurous new areas for them to branch into on future projects.

Most bands, regardless of musical genre, tend to start with a burst of creativity but gradually run out of energy and ideas. It’s a process that’s less pronounced in jazz than in rock but nevertheless Phronesis remain one of the few groups in any sphere to consistently buck this trend. They set the bar high with “Organic Warfare” but have still managed to progress artistically year on year, and more than a decade in show no signs of slowing down or slackening off. Their recent large ensemble collaborations and this new experiment with electronic sounds are indicative of a band that refuses to rest on its collective creative laurels.

But as “We Are All” joyously demonstrates the threesome’s core acoustic ‘piano trio’ sound is as fresh, inventive and dynamic as ever. Despite the considerable individual achievements of its members elsewhere there’s still something very special and unique about Phronesis.


Phronesis are currently on tour in the UK and Europe. Forthcoming dates as below;


Saturday 20th October – Jazz & the City Festival, Salzburg, Austria
Tuesday 30th October – Watermill Jazz, Dorking, UK
Wednesday 31st October – Capstone Theatre, Liverpool, UK
Thursday 1st November – Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, UK
Friday 2nd November – The Sage, Gateshead, UK
Saturday 3rd November – CBSO Centre, Birmingham, UK
Sunday 4th November – Band on the Wall, Manchester, UK
Saturday 24th November – Cambridge Jazz Festival, UK

We Are All

Phronesis

Monday, September 17, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4-5 out of 5

We Are All

As fresh, inventive and dynamic as ever, there’s still something very special and unique about Phronesis.

Phronesis

“We Are All”

(Edition Records EDN1118Y)

The release of a new album by Phronesis is always a major event on the jazz calendar. Founded by Jasper Hoiby, born in Denmark but for many years based in London, the trio made their recorded début in 2007 with the excellent album “Organic Warfare”. It has always been a source of personal pride for me that the Jazzmann identified the group’s potential straight away and I have followed their career with interest ever since. Now, more than a decade later Phronesis has become one of Europe’s most respected piano/bass/drums configurations and the trio has also made considerable inroads into the US market. This is a truly international band with a truly international reputation.

The current line up of the trio has been in place since “Green Delay”, the group’s second album release from 2009. Here Hoiby and drummer Anton Eger were joined by the British pianist Ivo Neame, who replaced the original incumbent Magnus Hjorth.

The first two albums appeared on the Loop record label founded by members of London’s Loop Collective but the group’s international breakthrough came when they moved to the Edition Record label. The group’s third release, “Alive”, a concert recording made at the now defunct Forge venue in London’s Camden Town attracted a compelling amount of critical acclaim and swelled the ranks of the trio’s already substantial following. Ironically the band’s biggest seller to date featured the playing of the hugely popular and influential American drummer Mark Guiliana, who was deputising for the unavailable Anton Eger.

Eger was back in the fold for all the trio’s subsequent releases beginning with 2012’s studio set “Walking Dark” and 2014’s “Life To Everything”, the group’s second live recording, this time recorded at a ‘Jazz In The Round’ event at London’s Cockpit Theatre.

In 2016 Phronesis released their next studio set “Parallax” while 2017 saw the appearance of “The Behemoth”, another concert recording which documented the trio’s collaboration with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band conducted by Julian Arguelles in a set of big band arrangements by Arguelles of existing Phronesis compositions. It was a tribute to the quality of the original writing that the pieces chosen lent themselves to the expanded format brilliantly and in November 2015 Phronesis, plus the FRBB conducted by Arguelles, played two brilliant concert performances in Frankfurt and London, the latter at Milton Court as part of that year’s EFG London Festival – and I was there! However it’s the earlier Frankfurt show that has been documented on disc.

In 2017 the members of Phronesis were involved with another collaboration, this time with the contemporary classical composer Dave Maric. The Cheltenham, Manchester and London Jazz Festivals of that year saw the trio performing Maric’s composition “Decade Zero” as part of an ensemble featuring eight string and woodwind players sourced from the ranks of the Engines Orchestra and directed by saxophonist, composer and educator Phil Meadows. It is to be hoped that one of these performances will also find its way on to an album. These live appearances also featured arrangements of existing Phronesis pieces and one of the shows was subsequently broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Now programme.

All this history brings us to the release of “We Are Now”, the trio’s most recent album and their eighth overall. Following their recent large ensemble collaborations it’s back to basics with the fifth studio recording from the core trio.

The album’s title is a reflection of the band’s evolution over the course of the last decade or so. Phronesis was originally the vehicle for Hoiby’s compositions exclusively but from “Walking Dark” onwards the group’s repertoire has also featured the writing of both Neame and Eger as this already highly interactive trio has become even more democratic. These days one doesn’t really think of Phronesis as Hoiby’s group but as a unified entity with a particularly strong group dynamic, now very much a partnership of equals.

‘Chemistry’ is a word that gets bandied about a lot with regard to musical ensembles but its one that is particularly applicable to these three musicians. Hoiby also leads the quintet Fellow Creatures and is a member of the trio Malija, Neame and Eger both lead their own groups and each is a prolific sideman. It’s fair to say that everything that these three players are involved with is of musical interest and as individuals all of them have appeared on some exceptional recordings – but there’s still something special, a real spark in the air, that only happens when the three of them get together as Phronesis. It’s no coincidence that no fewer than three of the band’s eight albums have been live recordings.

It’s this kind of collective rapport that the trio seek to express on “We Are All”, with the title expressing their wish for their spirit of mutual co-operation to be extended to humanity as a whole. The group’s recent large ensemble co-operations are also reflective of the trio’s desire to look outwards, despite being so tightly knit and inter-connected as a band.

They explain;
“More than ever before, we feel we have a responsibility to use whatever influence we have to voice environmental, political and social concerns, and use our creativity to raise awareness, to prompt discussion and to share a message, hopefully as a force for good. The history of civilisation is often told in terms of the struggle for power between nations and competition between nations for resources. The question is whether humans will have the ability to co-operate with each other in the future; whether we will have the capacity to ‘love our neighbours’ regardless of differences of race, religion or gender, and love and protect our planet in spite of the ravages of corporate capitalist society”.

That sense of unity is expressed in the album cover with its aerial photographs of crowds of humans, penguins, fish and forests, which all seem to take on similar forms when viewed from high above. The front cover shot varies across the different release formats (CD, vinyl, digital) with artwork designer Oli Bentley explaining;
“It was important for us to use multiple covers across the different release formats as we didn’t want to suggest a homogeneity of experience between everyone on earth – something just one image would suggest. But whatever environment we inhabit, whatever our lives are like, we are all sharing this one little blob of rock, bumbling through space”.

OK, I’ll buy the artistic argument, but I do wonder how the use of multiple ‘collector edition’ covers (two for the CD format) and of yellow vinyl squares with the band’s environmental and anti-capitalist concerns.

However I’ll let that go and concentrate on the music, which is as intense, complex, interactive and invigorating as anything Phronesis have hitherto produced. In the spirit of the album the compositional duties are split equally with each member contributing two pieces to the recording’s programme of six tracks. At a little over forty minutes in length the album as a whole is concise and tightly focussed and features plenty of the trio’s trademark dynamic interplay as powerful rhythms are allied with strong melodies to create richly stimulating music that remains readily accessible, transcending its technical demands and considerable complexities.

The album commences with Hoiby’s “One For Us”. Even before listening to the music I like the ambiguity of the title; does it refer to the insularity of this closest of jazz trios or to the album’s theme of humanity as a whole? I guess it’s the latter, but I’m intrigued by that element of doubt.
The music too, invites questions, the piece doesn’t begin like a typically upbeat Phronesis album opener; instead things start quietly with the gentle, lyrical sound of Neame’s unaccompanied piano, soon joined by the melancholy, cello like sound of Hoiby’s bowed bass. It’s only when the composer puts down the bow to play muscular but fluent pizzicato bass that the piece moves into more recognisable Phronesis territory, but still with plenty of twists and turns along the way as the trio skilfully build and diffuse tension, their collective interplay as dynamic and exciting as ever. There’s a mercurial piano solo from Neame accompanied by Eger’s frantically busy, but always engaging, drumming. Hoiby’s powerful but agile and melodic bass solo is augmented by the rapid clatter of sticks on rims. This is a piece that covers a lot of ground in its nine minute duration, moving from the dark and melancholic to the viscerally exciting and doing so in a manner that sounds uncontrived and thoroughly organic, an observation that acts as a tribute both to the quality and ingenuity of the writing and to the sheer brilliance of the playing.

Neame takes up the compositional reins for “Matrix for D.A.”, which he dedicates to the memory late author Douglas Adams, of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” fame. As his solo recordings have shown Neame’s writing tends to be complex and cerebral, although agreeably so. The press release accompanying my copy of the album describes this piece as “polyrhythmic and polymorphic” and the piece is as intricate and multi-faceted as anything that Neame has produced. The composer’s ongoing dialogue with Eger is a constant source of fascination throughout the piece. Eger is so much more than just a time keeper or even a just a drummer, this flamboyant but astonishingly creative musician is very much an equal partner in the unique Phronesis sound.

Eger himself contributes “The Edge” and reveals himself to be a sensitive and intelligent composer. The drummer switches to brushes as Hoiby solos both with and without the bow, his gently brooding arco work setting the tone for a melodic, but deeply resonant pizzicato solo. Neame’s fuller involvement then takes the trio into more animated, interactive territory as the piece gradually gathers momentum.

Neame’s “Emerald Horseshoe” develops out of the composer’s piano arpeggios and embraces elements of minimalism and folk melody before the pianist stretches out at length above Eger’s skittering, consistently compelling drum grooves.

The title of Hoiby’s “Breathless” is intentionally double-sided, referring to his wonder at the beauty of the natural world, while lamenting the toll humanity is taking on its resources. It commences with the lonely sound of the composer’s unaccompanied double bass before introducing one of his most attractive melodies. Piano and bass exchange melodic phrases while Eger deploys brushes almost throughout. Possessed of a pastoral beauty this is Phronesis at their most unadorned and emotionally direct.

The album concludes with “Eger’s” “The Tree Did Not Die”, which he dedicates to the survival of the Redwoods of Muir Woods, California. Musically it’s the most radical piece on the album with the trio adding an element of electronica to their sound, something that reflects Eger’s recent experiments with a new quartet featuring British musicians Dan Nicholls (keyboards), Matt Calvert (guitar, keyboards) and Rob Mullarkey (electric bass), this group having made its live début at London’s Vortex Jazz Club in April 2018. Meanwhile Neame was also heard deploying electric keyboards to convincing effect on his latest solo album “Moksha” (Edition, 2018).
“The Tree…” is a largely hard grooving piece that features a fascinating array of acoustic and electronic sounds with Hoiby playing both pizzicato and bowed bass, Neame deploying both acoustic piano and electric keyboards and Eger laying down drum grooves inspired by hip hop and electronic dance music. It all works surprisingly well, sacrificing nothing of the band’s essential integrity yet hinting at adventurous new areas for them to branch into on future projects.

Most bands, regardless of musical genre, tend to start with a burst of creativity but gradually run out of energy and ideas. It’s a process that’s less pronounced in jazz than in rock but nevertheless Phronesis remain one of the few groups in any sphere to consistently buck this trend. They set the bar high with “Organic Warfare” but have still managed to progress artistically year on year, and more than a decade in show no signs of slowing down or slackening off. Their recent large ensemble collaborations and this new experiment with electronic sounds are indicative of a band that refuses to rest on its collective creative laurels.

But as “We Are All” joyously demonstrates the threesome’s core acoustic ‘piano trio’ sound is as fresh, inventive and dynamic as ever. Despite the considerable individual achievements of its members elsewhere there’s still something very special and unique about Phronesis.


Phronesis are currently on tour in the UK and Europe. Forthcoming dates as below;


Saturday 20th October – Jazz & the City Festival, Salzburg, Austria
Tuesday 30th October – Watermill Jazz, Dorking, UK
Wednesday 31st October – Capstone Theatre, Liverpool, UK
Thursday 1st November – Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, UK
Friday 2nd November – The Sage, Gateshead, UK
Saturday 3rd November – CBSO Centre, Birmingham, UK
Sunday 4th November – Band on the Wall, Manchester, UK
Saturday 24th November – Cambridge Jazz Festival, UK

Sara Dowling - Two Sides Of Sara Rating: 4 out of 5 Dowling has an extraordinary voice that combines technical prowess with considerable emotional impact This is.an album that can be recommended to all fans of accomplished vocal jazz.

Sara Dowling

“Two Sides of Sara”

(Self Released SD1802)

Sara Dowling is a London based vocalist and songwriter who is considered to be something of a ‘rising star’ on the UK jazz scene. Her 2015 début album “From Shadows into Light”, recorded with a quartet featuring pianist Rob Barron, bassist Jeremy Brown and drummer Matt Home, attracted a compelling degree of critical acclaim and has ensured that Dowling has become one of the most in demand vocalist on the British jazz scene, with an increasingly busy engagement schedule. Among those to sing her praises are musicians Guy Barker (trumpet) and Nigel Price (guitar) plus journalist Sebastian Scotney of London Jazz News.

Dowling developed an early love of jazz via her late father’s record collection, which included albums by such jazz greats as pianists Errol Garner, Art Tatum, Fats Waller, George Shearing, Bud Powell and Wynton Kelly plus saxophonists Lester Young and Ben Webster.

Classical music was also on the agenda and after taking up the cello at primary school in Cornwall the young Dowling was awarded a scholarship to study the instrument at the prestigious Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester. She subsequently moved on to graduate from the Royal Northern College of Music and worked regularly in orchestras, including the Halle, as a classical cellist.

By this time Dowling was becoming increasingly disillusioned with the restrictions of the classical music world, finding little room for self expression in the disciplined environment of the orchestra. She even quit music for a while, becoming a teacher at a comprehensive school in Bolton.

Dowling’s love of jazz was rekindled by a chance visit to the Matt & Phred’s Jazz Club in Manchester when she got up to sing a song during a jam session and never looked back. Here was the form of self expression that she had been seeking and in 2010 she quit her teaching job to become a professional musician.

Drawing inspiration from such iconic singers as Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O’Day, Billie Holiday, Betty Carter and Nancy Wilson the young vocalist began to hone her craft - “learning the nuts and bolts of jazz, building a repertoire, listening and absorbing” as Dowling puts it.

This process culminated in the release of “From Shadows into Light”, which featured two of Dowling’s original songs (one co-written with Rob Barron) alongside a well chosen selection of standards. Dowling’s writing skills have also allowed her to supplement her income by composing material for advertising, television and film.

However Dowling’s second album finds her focussing exclusively on standards material. “I love singing standards” she declares, “this record was intentionally meant to be a good old-fashioned jazz album”.

“Two Sides…” features Dowling performing with two different musical partners, pianist Gabriel Latchin and organist Bill Mudge. In LP terms the two musicians get a side of seven songs each, with the selections featuring Latchin up first.

Dowling has been singing with Latchin since 2015 and it’s clear that the pair have already established an excellent rapport. Their partnership is modelled on that of Ella Fitzgerald and Ellis Larkins, the initial inspiration for the making of this record.

Latchin is one of the best young mainstream pianists in the country and leads his own trio featuring bassist Tom Farmer and drummer Josh Morrison. My review of his début album “Introducing Gabriel Latchin Trio” can be read here
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/gabriel-latchin-trio-introducing-gabriel-latchin-trio/

Latchin has also recorded with vibraphonist Nat Steele and has worked as a sideman with saxophonists Ronnie Cuber, Jean Toussaint, Grant Stewart and Alex Garnett and with vocalist Salena Jones. He has also played with large ensembles such as the London Jazz Orchestra and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. One of his most prestigious engagements came in December 2016 when the American bassist, composer and band-leader Christian McBride selected him as an accompanist at a major one off event at London’s Wigmore Hall, a concert that also featured the voice of opera singer Renee Fleming.

Dowling speaks glowingly about Latchin’s abilities, describing him as ‘world class’. Of the recording process for this album she says;
“Gabriel and I didn’t need walls or windows separating us that day. We recorded right next to each other in the same room and had complete trust in each other’s performances. His musical knowledge and deep understanding of this music never ceases to amaze me!”.

That intimacy is reflected in the singing and playing. Both Dowling and Latchin are unfussy performers who resist the temptation to over-embellish the material, each serves the selected songs faithfully.

Dowling is a vocalist who puts the emphasis on careful phrasing, her singing is well enunciated and she largely avoids the scat vocal clichés. That’s not to say that her singing is inflexible or unadventurous. Instead Dowling sings with great vivacity, really getting inside a song and drawing out the full meaning out of the lyrics, “I deliver the lines in the way an actress would” she explains.  Her voice embraces a considerable dynamic range, a quality that enhances the expressiveness of her delivery.

The material was selected with Fitzgerald and Larkins in mind, pieces that they might have chosen to play. “Songs that sit on a tempo that allows the pianist to play at a slow lilting stride” explains Dowling.
Latchin impresses with his intelligence and sensitivity, his playing uncluttered and his occasional solos lyrical, melodic and intelligent -, but at all times with that vital spark that helps to bring the music alive.

The intimate duo format doesn’t really allow for a song by song analysis but I’m sure readers can imagine the sound of the following songs;

1. Isn’t It A Lovely Day (Irving Berlin)
2. It’s Crazy (Richard Rogers / Dorothy Fields)
3. I’m So Glad There Is You (Jimmy Dorsey / Paul Mertz)
4. After You get What You Want (Irving Berlin)
5. Lost In The Stars (Kurt Weill / Sidney D. Mitchell)
6. Will You Still Be Mine (Matt Dennis / Tom Adair)
7. Some Other Time (Leonard Bernstein / Betty Comden, Adolph Green)

Dowling’s voice possesses an agreeable degree of bluesiness and this quality of her singing is brought out even more in her series of duets with organist Bill Mudge. Mudge is a busy presence on the London jazz scene as both an organist and a pianist but my only previous sighting of him had been a 2015 EFG London Festival appearance when he was part of Toy Rokit, an experimental trio that played an engaging lunchtime set at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Dean Street. Mudge played keyboards and electronics alongside Mark Rose (electric bass) and Chris Nickolls (drums).

For this session Mudge plays a vintage Hammond organ and the unusual combination of this instrument plus voice works extremely well. In this format Dowling’s vocals are earthier, bluesier and a little more sassy and theatrical. If the session with Latchin is concerned with sophistication and elegance this collaboration with Mudge is more about soulfulness and having a good time, and for much of the time Dowling and Mudge sound as if they’re having a ball. Not that the session is devoid of light and shade, a heartfelt rendition of “I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry” is hauntingly effective.

In this pared down duo context all the nuances of the Hammond are brought out by the engineering team of Steve Pringle and Alex Bonney with Mudge producing an extraordinary range of sounds, colours and timbres from the instrument. His consistently colourful and inventive playing when allied to Dowling’s voice is a revelation. Who would have thought that the combination of just voice and Hammond could work so well?

An eclectic collection of material finds Dowling and Mudge teaming up on the following songs;

8. You Turned The Tables On Me (Louis Alter / Sidney D. Mitchell)
9. Mountain Greenery (Richard Rogers / Lorenz Hart)
10. I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry (Jule Styne / Sammy Cahn)
11. Miss Brown To You (Richard A. Whiting / Ralph Rainger, Leo Robin)
12. Great Day (Vincent Youmans / Edward Eliscu, Billy Rose)
13. You Came A Long Way From St. Louis (John Benson Brooks / Bob Russell)
14. Sleepy Time Down South (Clarence Muse / Leon & Otis Rene)

“Two Sides Of Sara” is a very classy album from a highly accomplished vocalist. To be honest it’s a little too mainstream for my personal tastes but there’s no doubt that Dowling has an extraordinary voice that combines technical prowess with considerable emotional impact. She’s a performer whose singing will give great pleasure to a substantial number of listeners.

Unashamedly retro as it may be there’s also an adventurous side to this album, particularly in the collaboration with Bill Mudge. I don’t think I’ve heard a vocal and Hammond duet before and Dowling deserves praise for exploring this unusual combination so successfully. It’s always a treat to hear a vintage Hammond, particularly in such good hands as Mudge’s, so this side of Sara gets the nod from me. Not that there’s anything wrong with the beautiful set featuring Dowling and Latchin, which is equally effective, if a little more conservative.

Overall this is an album that can be recommended to all fans of accomplished vocal jazz.

 

Two Sides Of Sara

Sara Dowling

Friday, September 14, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Two Sides Of Sara

Dowling has an extraordinary voice that combines technical prowess with considerable emotional impact This is.an album that can be recommended to all fans of accomplished vocal jazz.

Sara Dowling

“Two Sides of Sara”

(Self Released SD1802)

Sara Dowling is a London based vocalist and songwriter who is considered to be something of a ‘rising star’ on the UK jazz scene. Her 2015 début album “From Shadows into Light”, recorded with a quartet featuring pianist Rob Barron, bassist Jeremy Brown and drummer Matt Home, attracted a compelling degree of critical acclaim and has ensured that Dowling has become one of the most in demand vocalist on the British jazz scene, with an increasingly busy engagement schedule. Among those to sing her praises are musicians Guy Barker (trumpet) and Nigel Price (guitar) plus journalist Sebastian Scotney of London Jazz News.

Dowling developed an early love of jazz via her late father’s record collection, which included albums by such jazz greats as pianists Errol Garner, Art Tatum, Fats Waller, George Shearing, Bud Powell and Wynton Kelly plus saxophonists Lester Young and Ben Webster.

Classical music was also on the agenda and after taking up the cello at primary school in Cornwall the young Dowling was awarded a scholarship to study the instrument at the prestigious Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester. She subsequently moved on to graduate from the Royal Northern College of Music and worked regularly in orchestras, including the Halle, as a classical cellist.

By this time Dowling was becoming increasingly disillusioned with the restrictions of the classical music world, finding little room for self expression in the disciplined environment of the orchestra. She even quit music for a while, becoming a teacher at a comprehensive school in Bolton.

Dowling’s love of jazz was rekindled by a chance visit to the Matt & Phred’s Jazz Club in Manchester when she got up to sing a song during a jam session and never looked back. Here was the form of self expression that she had been seeking and in 2010 she quit her teaching job to become a professional musician.

Drawing inspiration from such iconic singers as Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O’Day, Billie Holiday, Betty Carter and Nancy Wilson the young vocalist began to hone her craft - “learning the nuts and bolts of jazz, building a repertoire, listening and absorbing” as Dowling puts it.

This process culminated in the release of “From Shadows into Light”, which featured two of Dowling’s original songs (one co-written with Rob Barron) alongside a well chosen selection of standards. Dowling’s writing skills have also allowed her to supplement her income by composing material for advertising, television and film.

However Dowling’s second album finds her focussing exclusively on standards material. “I love singing standards” she declares, “this record was intentionally meant to be a good old-fashioned jazz album”.

“Two Sides…” features Dowling performing with two different musical partners, pianist Gabriel Latchin and organist Bill Mudge. In LP terms the two musicians get a side of seven songs each, with the selections featuring Latchin up first.

Dowling has been singing with Latchin since 2015 and it’s clear that the pair have already established an excellent rapport. Their partnership is modelled on that of Ella Fitzgerald and Ellis Larkins, the initial inspiration for the making of this record.

Latchin is one of the best young mainstream pianists in the country and leads his own trio featuring bassist Tom Farmer and drummer Josh Morrison. My review of his début album “Introducing Gabriel Latchin Trio” can be read here
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/gabriel-latchin-trio-introducing-gabriel-latchin-trio/

Latchin has also recorded with vibraphonist Nat Steele and has worked as a sideman with saxophonists Ronnie Cuber, Jean Toussaint, Grant Stewart and Alex Garnett and with vocalist Salena Jones. He has also played with large ensembles such as the London Jazz Orchestra and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. One of his most prestigious engagements came in December 2016 when the American bassist, composer and band-leader Christian McBride selected him as an accompanist at a major one off event at London’s Wigmore Hall, a concert that also featured the voice of opera singer Renee Fleming.

Dowling speaks glowingly about Latchin’s abilities, describing him as ‘world class’. Of the recording process for this album she says;
“Gabriel and I didn’t need walls or windows separating us that day. We recorded right next to each other in the same room and had complete trust in each other’s performances. His musical knowledge and deep understanding of this music never ceases to amaze me!”.

That intimacy is reflected in the singing and playing. Both Dowling and Latchin are unfussy performers who resist the temptation to over-embellish the material, each serves the selected songs faithfully.

Dowling is a vocalist who puts the emphasis on careful phrasing, her singing is well enunciated and she largely avoids the scat vocal clichés. That’s not to say that her singing is inflexible or unadventurous. Instead Dowling sings with great vivacity, really getting inside a song and drawing out the full meaning out of the lyrics, “I deliver the lines in the way an actress would” she explains.  Her voice embraces a considerable dynamic range, a quality that enhances the expressiveness of her delivery.

The material was selected with Fitzgerald and Larkins in mind, pieces that they might have chosen to play. “Songs that sit on a tempo that allows the pianist to play at a slow lilting stride” explains Dowling.
Latchin impresses with his intelligence and sensitivity, his playing uncluttered and his occasional solos lyrical, melodic and intelligent -, but at all times with that vital spark that helps to bring the music alive.

The intimate duo format doesn’t really allow for a song by song analysis but I’m sure readers can imagine the sound of the following songs;

1. Isn’t It A Lovely Day (Irving Berlin)
2. It’s Crazy (Richard Rogers / Dorothy Fields)
3. I’m So Glad There Is You (Jimmy Dorsey / Paul Mertz)
4. After You get What You Want (Irving Berlin)
5. Lost In The Stars (Kurt Weill / Sidney D. Mitchell)
6. Will You Still Be Mine (Matt Dennis / Tom Adair)
7. Some Other Time (Leonard Bernstein / Betty Comden, Adolph Green)

Dowling’s voice possesses an agreeable degree of bluesiness and this quality of her singing is brought out even more in her series of duets with organist Bill Mudge. Mudge is a busy presence on the London jazz scene as both an organist and a pianist but my only previous sighting of him had been a 2015 EFG London Festival appearance when he was part of Toy Rokit, an experimental trio that played an engaging lunchtime set at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Dean Street. Mudge played keyboards and electronics alongside Mark Rose (electric bass) and Chris Nickolls (drums).

For this session Mudge plays a vintage Hammond organ and the unusual combination of this instrument plus voice works extremely well. In this format Dowling’s vocals are earthier, bluesier and a little more sassy and theatrical. If the session with Latchin is concerned with sophistication and elegance this collaboration with Mudge is more about soulfulness and having a good time, and for much of the time Dowling and Mudge sound as if they’re having a ball. Not that the session is devoid of light and shade, a heartfelt rendition of “I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry” is hauntingly effective.

In this pared down duo context all the nuances of the Hammond are brought out by the engineering team of Steve Pringle and Alex Bonney with Mudge producing an extraordinary range of sounds, colours and timbres from the instrument. His consistently colourful and inventive playing when allied to Dowling’s voice is a revelation. Who would have thought that the combination of just voice and Hammond could work so well?

An eclectic collection of material finds Dowling and Mudge teaming up on the following songs;

8. You Turned The Tables On Me (Louis Alter / Sidney D. Mitchell)
9. Mountain Greenery (Richard Rogers / Lorenz Hart)
10. I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry (Jule Styne / Sammy Cahn)
11. Miss Brown To You (Richard A. Whiting / Ralph Rainger, Leo Robin)
12. Great Day (Vincent Youmans / Edward Eliscu, Billy Rose)
13. You Came A Long Way From St. Louis (John Benson Brooks / Bob Russell)
14. Sleepy Time Down South (Clarence Muse / Leon & Otis Rene)

“Two Sides Of Sara” is a very classy album from a highly accomplished vocalist. To be honest it’s a little too mainstream for my personal tastes but there’s no doubt that Dowling has an extraordinary voice that combines technical prowess with considerable emotional impact. She’s a performer whose singing will give great pleasure to a substantial number of listeners.

Unashamedly retro as it may be there’s also an adventurous side to this album, particularly in the collaboration with Bill Mudge. I don’t think I’ve heard a vocal and Hammond duet before and Dowling deserves praise for exploring this unusual combination so successfully. It’s always a treat to hear a vintage Hammond, particularly in such good hands as Mudge’s, so this side of Sara gets the nod from me. Not that there’s anything wrong with the beautiful set featuring Dowling and Latchin, which is equally effective, if a little more conservative.

Overall this is an album that can be recommended to all fans of accomplished vocal jazz.

 

Enemy - Enemy Rating: 4 out of 5 This is one of the most exciting acts on the current jazz scene, a group still expanding the seemingly limitless possibilities of the piano trio.

Enemy

“Enemy”

(Edition Records EDN1112)

A somewhat belated review for this eponymous début recording from Enemy, the international trio featuring pianist Kit Downes, drummer James Maddren and double bassist Frans Petter Eldh.

It’s tempting to think of Enemy as the continuation of the Kit Downes Trio, featuring Maddren and double bassist Calum Gourlay, that released the Mercury nominated album “Golden” back in 2009. But whereas the original trio was very much centred around Downes’ writing Enemy is a much more democratic and interactive group with compositional duties divided pretty much equally between the pianist and Eldh. The bassist also has a considerable hand in the production process, a reflection of his alternative role as a producer and re-mixer in the world of electronic music.

“Enemy” is the first out and out ‘piano trio ‘album that Downes has released since “Golden” bearing in mind that 2011’s “Quiet Tiger”, credited to the trio, often saw the group expanded to a quintet with the addition of James Allsopp (reeds) and Adrian Dennefeld (cello).

Downes has recorded frequently since 2009 as both a leader and a sideman in a variety of formats ranging from solo piano or organ to big band (Troykestra). A versatile and open minded musician his output has embraced a similarly broad panoply of musical styles but with the emphasis on jazz and contemporary classical music. Maddren has been involved with several of Downes’ projects and is arguably the most in demand young jazz drummer in the UK, having already appeared on literally dozens of albums.

Petter Eldh was born in Gothenburg, Sweden but studied at the Rhythmic Conservatoire in Copenhagen with Django Bates. He first became familiar to British jazz audiences through his work with Bates’ Beloved Trio. Eldh is now based in Berlin (where he seems to have acquired the additional name Frans) and has become a significant presence on that city’s music scene. His other projects included Amok Amor, an international quartet featuring the American trumpeter Peter Evans, and Speak Low, his collaboration with the Swiss vocalist Lydia Cadotsch.

In May 2018 I witnessed a double bill featuring Speak Low and Enemy at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, an experience that whetted my appetite for Enemy’s long awaited début album release. The recording doesn’t disappoint and includes many of the pieces that were featured at Cheltenham.

Things commence with Eldh’s composition “Prospect of K” which neatly encapsulates what this trio is all about. The composer’s taut, thrusting bass introduces the piece, quickly joined by Maddren’s stuttering, bustling drum grooves, these sometimes simulating the rhythms of hip hop and electronic dance music. Downes’ piano cuts a mercurial swathe through the busy rhythmic undergrowth. For all its tightness of focus this is music that rarely stays in one place for long and the piece undergoes several changes of pace, yet never loses its essential edge and energy.

Downes’ own writing is similarly vibrant and colourful, as evidenced by his own “Race The Sun” which keeps the pot bubbling with its powerful and vigorous rhythms and darting, percussive piano phrases. Guest Ruth Goller (aka Mrs Downes) adds a distinctive smattering of electric bass into a mix that also features a subtle soupçon of post production work from Eldh.

Eldh shows that he is capable of subtlety with “Figo”, a piece whose melody makes teasing reference to Gershwin’s “Someone To Watch Over Me”. Maddren deploys brushes for the first time and the composer’s bass soloing is both melodic and lyrical. It’s not an out and out ballad performance, the composition is too quirky and whimsical for that and also acquires something of the trio’s trademark energy in its later stages.

Also from the pen of Eldh “Brandy” features the soloing of another guest as the core trio is joined by Lewis Wright, of Empirical fame, on vibraphone. Wright and Downes are long term musical associates and recently collaborated on the duo album “Duets”, credited to Wright’s leadership and featuring the vibraphonist’s compositions. Here Wright brings a lustrous shimmer to the proceedings that contrasts well with the core trio’s edgy, crackling energy.

Credited to Downes “Low Hanging Fruit” combines quirky, riffy written passages with bursts of improvisation, adding high pitched electronic flourishes along the way. At a little under two minutes in in length it’s the album’s shortest track but manages to cram a lot of information into its brief duration. On first listening I thought that it was longer than it actually is.

Downes’ “Jinn”, introduces another guest, cellist Lucy Railton, the pianist’s colleague in the duo Tricko and a one time member of his quintet. She adds colour, texture and subtlety to a piece otherwise distinguished by its restless energy. Stark and rapid contrast, often within the course of a single tune, is something of an Enemy speciality.

Eldh’s “Children With Torches” is another piece that borrows from the rhythms of hip hop and dance music and combines playfulness with an edgy, urban feel,  withthe core instruments of piano, bass and drums again augmented by a hefty, but judicious, slice of post production. But for all that it’s Downes’ turbulent, cascading piano solo mid tune that really catches the ear.

Downes takes up the compositional reins for the rest of the album. His “Ruster” is one of the recording’s gentler tunes but is still bright and full of interest with Maddren’s colourful, neatly detailed drumming an integral part of the proceedings. Eldh’s melodic but resonant bass also plays a prominent part in an arrangement that also features the composer’s flowing piano lyricism.

At a little under nine minutes in duration “Politix” is by some way the lengthiest piece on the album and features the recording’s final guest. Chris Montague, Downe’s one time colleague in the contemporary organ trio Troyka, add his multi-faceted guitar skills to the proceedings on a piece that ebbs and flows in the best Enemy fashion. Montague’s spiralling guitar inventions combine well with Downes’ sparkling piano soloing, with the ever flexible and imaginative rhythm pairing of Eldh and Maddren also adding much of interest.

Writing about the trio’s rendition of album closer “Faster Than Light” at Cheltenham I compared their performance of this tune with label mates Phronesis at their best. Eldh’s muscular bass combines well with the percussive sounds of Downes’ piano and Maddren’s breathtaking polyrhythmic drumming to create something aurally spectacular. Maddren also shines with a dazzling extended drum feature, the only one on the album.

But the most memorable thing about this final track, and the album as a whole, is the sheer energy and vivacity of the fiercely interactive musical exchanges. The presence of the pugnacious Eldh gives Enemy’s music an ‘attitude’ that Downes’ earlier trio didn’t really possess. Eldh’s command of electronic music rhythms and techniques, plus his subtle, but inventive, use of post production also adds an extra dimension to this current band. 

Enemy’s début album was a long time coming, and this review even longer, but the music has been well worth waiting for. This is one of the most exciting trios on the current jazz scene, a group still expanding the seemingly limitless possibilities of the piano trio.

Enemy

Enemy

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Enemy

This is one of the most exciting acts on the current jazz scene, a group still expanding the seemingly limitless possibilities of the piano trio.

Enemy

“Enemy”

(Edition Records EDN1112)

A somewhat belated review for this eponymous début recording from Enemy, the international trio featuring pianist Kit Downes, drummer James Maddren and double bassist Frans Petter Eldh.

It’s tempting to think of Enemy as the continuation of the Kit Downes Trio, featuring Maddren and double bassist Calum Gourlay, that released the Mercury nominated album “Golden” back in 2009. But whereas the original trio was very much centred around Downes’ writing Enemy is a much more democratic and interactive group with compositional duties divided pretty much equally between the pianist and Eldh. The bassist also has a considerable hand in the production process, a reflection of his alternative role as a producer and re-mixer in the world of electronic music.

“Enemy” is the first out and out ‘piano trio ‘album that Downes has released since “Golden” bearing in mind that 2011’s “Quiet Tiger”, credited to the trio, often saw the group expanded to a quintet with the addition of James Allsopp (reeds) and Adrian Dennefeld (cello).

Downes has recorded frequently since 2009 as both a leader and a sideman in a variety of formats ranging from solo piano or organ to big band (Troykestra). A versatile and open minded musician his output has embraced a similarly broad panoply of musical styles but with the emphasis on jazz and contemporary classical music. Maddren has been involved with several of Downes’ projects and is arguably the most in demand young jazz drummer in the UK, having already appeared on literally dozens of albums.

Petter Eldh was born in Gothenburg, Sweden but studied at the Rhythmic Conservatoire in Copenhagen with Django Bates. He first became familiar to British jazz audiences through his work with Bates’ Beloved Trio. Eldh is now based in Berlin (where he seems to have acquired the additional name Frans) and has become a significant presence on that city’s music scene. His other projects included Amok Amor, an international quartet featuring the American trumpeter Peter Evans, and Speak Low, his collaboration with the Swiss vocalist Lydia Cadotsch.

In May 2018 I witnessed a double bill featuring Speak Low and Enemy at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, an experience that whetted my appetite for Enemy’s long awaited début album release. The recording doesn’t disappoint and includes many of the pieces that were featured at Cheltenham.

Things commence with Eldh’s composition “Prospect of K” which neatly encapsulates what this trio is all about. The composer’s taut, thrusting bass introduces the piece, quickly joined by Maddren’s stuttering, bustling drum grooves, these sometimes simulating the rhythms of hip hop and electronic dance music. Downes’ piano cuts a mercurial swathe through the busy rhythmic undergrowth. For all its tightness of focus this is music that rarely stays in one place for long and the piece undergoes several changes of pace, yet never loses its essential edge and energy.

Downes’ own writing is similarly vibrant and colourful, as evidenced by his own “Race The Sun” which keeps the pot bubbling with its powerful and vigorous rhythms and darting, percussive piano phrases. Guest Ruth Goller (aka Mrs Downes) adds a distinctive smattering of electric bass into a mix that also features a subtle soupçon of post production work from Eldh.

Eldh shows that he is capable of subtlety with “Figo”, a piece whose melody makes teasing reference to Gershwin’s “Someone To Watch Over Me”. Maddren deploys brushes for the first time and the composer’s bass soloing is both melodic and lyrical. It’s not an out and out ballad performance, the composition is too quirky and whimsical for that and also acquires something of the trio’s trademark energy in its later stages.

Also from the pen of Eldh “Brandy” features the soloing of another guest as the core trio is joined by Lewis Wright, of Empirical fame, on vibraphone. Wright and Downes are long term musical associates and recently collaborated on the duo album “Duets”, credited to Wright’s leadership and featuring the vibraphonist’s compositions. Here Wright brings a lustrous shimmer to the proceedings that contrasts well with the core trio’s edgy, crackling energy.

Credited to Downes “Low Hanging Fruit” combines quirky, riffy written passages with bursts of improvisation, adding high pitched electronic flourishes along the way. At a little under two minutes in in length it’s the album’s shortest track but manages to cram a lot of information into its brief duration. On first listening I thought that it was longer than it actually is.

Downes’ “Jinn”, introduces another guest, cellist Lucy Railton, the pianist’s colleague in the duo Tricko and a one time member of his quintet. She adds colour, texture and subtlety to a piece otherwise distinguished by its restless energy. Stark and rapid contrast, often within the course of a single tune, is something of an Enemy speciality.

Eldh’s “Children With Torches” is another piece that borrows from the rhythms of hip hop and dance music and combines playfulness with an edgy, urban feel,  withthe core instruments of piano, bass and drums again augmented by a hefty, but judicious, slice of post production. But for all that it’s Downes’ turbulent, cascading piano solo mid tune that really catches the ear.

Downes takes up the compositional reins for the rest of the album. His “Ruster” is one of the recording’s gentler tunes but is still bright and full of interest with Maddren’s colourful, neatly detailed drumming an integral part of the proceedings. Eldh’s melodic but resonant bass also plays a prominent part in an arrangement that also features the composer’s flowing piano lyricism.

At a little under nine minutes in duration “Politix” is by some way the lengthiest piece on the album and features the recording’s final guest. Chris Montague, Downe’s one time colleague in the contemporary organ trio Troyka, add his multi-faceted guitar skills to the proceedings on a piece that ebbs and flows in the best Enemy fashion. Montague’s spiralling guitar inventions combine well with Downes’ sparkling piano soloing, with the ever flexible and imaginative rhythm pairing of Eldh and Maddren also adding much of interest.

Writing about the trio’s rendition of album closer “Faster Than Light” at Cheltenham I compared their performance of this tune with label mates Phronesis at their best. Eldh’s muscular bass combines well with the percussive sounds of Downes’ piano and Maddren’s breathtaking polyrhythmic drumming to create something aurally spectacular. Maddren also shines with a dazzling extended drum feature, the only one on the album.

But the most memorable thing about this final track, and the album as a whole, is the sheer energy and vivacity of the fiercely interactive musical exchanges. The presence of the pugnacious Eldh gives Enemy’s music an ‘attitude’ that Downes’ earlier trio didn’t really possess. Eldh’s command of electronic music rhythms and techniques, plus his subtle, but inventive, use of post production also adds an extra dimension to this current band. 

Enemy’s début album was a long time coming, and this review even longer, but the music has been well worth waiting for. This is one of the most exciting trios on the current jazz scene, a group still expanding the seemingly limitless possibilities of the piano trio.

Nigel Price Quartet - Nigel Price Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 08/09/2018. Rating: 4 out of 5 Price’s love of the music is infectious and his skill and commitment helps to give the music vibrancy and contemporary relevance.

NIGEL PRICE QUARTET, THE HIVE MUSIC & MEDIA CENTRE, SHREWSBURY, 08/09/2018.

Shrewsbury Jazz Network’s September presentation saw them hosting guitarist Nigel Price, who was leading a punchy, hard swinging quartet featuring the talents of organist Liam Dunachie, drummer Steve Brown and tenor saxophonist Vasilis Xenopoulos.

Price has a particular fondness for leading organ combos in either the trio or quartet format and previous incumbents of the organist’s seat have been Jim Watson and Pete Whittaker with Ross Stanley currently occupying the chair on a regular basis. In Stanley’s absence local lad Liam Dunachie, born in Ludlow but now based in London, stepped into the breach and acquitted himself brilliantly. Dunachie has previously stepped into Stanley’s shoes with trombonist Dennis Rollins’ acclaimed Velocity Trio. He also leads his own organ trio, with whom he recently appeared at the Three Choirs Festival in Hereford.

Price regularly augments his regular organ trio with a saxophonist and the Greek born Xenopoulos has played with Price’s groups many times. I recall reviewing a show by Price, Stanley, Xenopoulos and drummer Matt Home at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny back in October 2014. Alex Garnett is another saxophonist who has regularly played played and recorded with Price over the years. Tonight Xenopoulos was fully integrated into the group and wasn’t obviously a ‘guest’ - hence the quartet billing, although Price does still sometimes perform trio shows.

Indeed Xenopoulos and Price, under the group name XPQ, recently released the standards album “Sidekicks” which pays homage to the great guitar/saxophone combinations of jazz from Jim Hall and Sonny Rollins through Kenny Burrell and Stanley Turrentine to the UK’s own Dave Cliff and Geoff Simkins and Morrissey / Mullen. The album was recorded with bassist Dario Di Lecce and tonight’s drummer Steve Brown.

The guitarist is a good candidate for the ‘hardest working man in jazz’ award. His tours tend to be extensive, covering all areas of the UK, and he was also the organiser of the 2018 Swanage Jazz Festival, taking up the reins after nobody else was prepared to take it on.

Former soldier Price was a relatively late comer to the ranks of professional jazz musicians but has wasted little time since. He was once a member of Hammond guru James Taylor’s long running JTQ before running his own organ based groups. Price also spent a lengthy tenure with the acid jazz outfit The Filthy Six. He has recorded with Van Morrison and with jazz vocalist Georgia Mancio and is a regular member of the Ronnie Scott’s house band.

Price lists a broad range of guitarists as influences including Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Jimmy Raney, Pat Martino and John McLaughlin but is most obviously in thrall to the first named. His music is rooted in bebop and Price has the technical facility to do it justice and to put an agreeably contemporary slant on it. He has a particular affinity for the art of the contrafact, re-inventing jazz and bebop standards in highly inventive fashion and granting the resultant new compositions sly and witty titles. Examples of these are to be found on Price’s “Heads & Tales” series of recordings.

Price has recently had his Arts Council funding cut which has placed several dates on his current under threat. However tonight represented better news with a large turn out for this stellar quartet. Even while I was checking in five ‘walk ups’ came in just behind me and The Hive was filled to capacity making for a great, listening atmosphere with the audience highly supportive and appreciative of the band.

Price chose to ease his audience in gently and gradually with the jazz standard “Indian Summer”, written by Victor Herbert. A passage of unaccompanied guitar introduced the piece with Price subsequently joined by brushed drums, subtle organ bass lines and subdued tenor sax. Only later did the momentum began to build as Brown switched to sticks and Price began to demonstrate his formidable soloing abilities with a feature that combined lithe, bebop inspired phrasing with sophisticated chord patterns. Xenopoulos, too, began to stir the pot with a fluent, quote laden solo that hinted at just how forceful a player he can be. Dunachie then took his first extended solo of the night on his two manual Nord C2D electric keyboard, the instrument providing a good approximation of the classic Hammond organ sound. Guitar and saxophone then coalesced on a reprise of Herbert’s theme.

“Stealing Time” represented the first contrafact of the evening, a Price composition based upon the chords of Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low”, with the title taken from the “time a thief”  line in the Ogden Nash lyric. Xenopoulos took the first solo on tenor, moving fluently up through the gears accompanied by Price’s expert comping and Brown’s propulsive, Latin inflected drumming. He was followed by Price and Dunachie with Brown also enjoying a series of vivid and powerful drum breaks. The consistently swinging Brown is a musician who always plays with a smile on his face and is arguably the best mainstream jazz drummer in Britain. Always in demand he was something of a fixture at the Titley Jazz Festival, which ran in nearby Herefordshire for five successful years from 2010 to 2014 inclusive, playing with such well loved musicians as saxophonists Alan Barnes and Art Themen.

Next came an instrumental arrangement of the song “Sweet Georgie Fame”, written by vocalist and pianist Blossom Dearie in conjunction with Sandra Harris. The piece began quietly with Price’s languorous guitar and Xenopoulos’ gently smoky tenor. But like so many of Price’s arrangements the tune started out in one place and ended up in quite another as the momentum once again began to build via solos from Dunachie, Xenopoulos and Price, with the saxophonist’s skilfully constructed solo really ramping up the power as it progressed.

The Henry Mancini song “Dreamsville” may be one of his lesser known compositions, but it’s a popular one among jazz guitarists. It’s been in Price’s repertoire for quite some time and is also a favourite of the North Wales based Trefor Owen. Once more it was a piece that built from quiet beginnings with Brown deploying brushes to accompany Xenopoulos’ opening theme statement before taking up the sticks for the increasingly animated solos from Price and Xenopoulos.

A superb first set concluded with a lively rendition of the Price contrafact “Blue Genes”, based on the chords of Duke Pearson’s “Jeannine”. The boppish head featured some dazzling unison passages for guitar, organ and tenor with Brown’s sizzling cymbals helping to provide a scalding swing throughout the piece. Price led off the solos with some dazzling single note runs combined with his usual chordal sophistication. Xenopoulos and Dunachie both delivered high powered solos and Brown wrapped things up with a dynamic drum feature. It was a great way to conclude a brilliant first half.

Set two kicked off with a Price variant on “Body And Soul” but this was very different to Coleman Hawkins’ classic tenor sax ballad reading of the original tune. Price’s contrafact was far more upbeat and swinging with solos from Price, Xenopoulos and Dunachie plus an explosive series of drum breaks from Brown as he traded phrases with the other three musicians.

Horace Silver’s “Silver Serenade” was a typically melodic piece from the master pianist and composer with Brown initially playing with brushes. The change to sticks came as Xenopoulos took off with a solo liberally peppered with quotes. He was subsequently followed by Dunachie and Price.

The inclusion of a Wes Montgomery tune was almost inevitable with Price choosing his own arrangement of “Four On Six” and changing the time signature from four to six. This self imposed complexity didn’t stop the piece from swinging, while providing the launch pad for solos from Price, Xenopoulos and Dunachie. It concluded with a rousing feature from Brown, who had been a dynamic presence throughout, stoking the fires during Xenopoulos’ solo together with Price’s rapid fire comping.

“Detour Ahead”, written by the American guitarist Herb Ellis, represented the only true ballad of the night and was introduced by an extended passage of unaccompanied guitar from the leader followed by a theme statement from Xenopoulos. Orthodox jazz solos from Price, Dunachie and Xenopoulos with the saxophonist adding an element of epic grandeur in the closing stages of the piece. Interestingly the tune was recently selected as the title track of young London based guitarist Nick Costley-White’s début album.

“Straight No Bounce” concluded the second set, a Price amalgamation of Thelonious Monk’s “Straight No Chaser” and Charlie Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce”. I thought about calling it “Yorker” joked cricket fan Price. Alternating bars from each tune the quartet’s performance was both boppish and bluesy with the impressive Xenopoulos delivering a barnstorming tenor solo. After the gig several audience members expressed the opinion that the Greek is arguably the best mainstream tenor player in the UK at the moment. Price followed with a typically fluent solo, contorting his fingers into almost impossible chord shapes. Local hero Dunachie then unleashed his inner Jimmy Smith with a wailing, gospel infused organ solo before Brown rounded things off with a scintillating series of colourful drum breaks.

The thoroughly deserved encore was called by Xenopoulos, a version of the standard “Darn That Dream” that included solos from Price, Xenopoulos and Dunachie.

With the music rooted in the bebop era there was nothing radical about tonight’s performance but the sheer skill, verve and energy of the playing made this a night to remember. Price’s love of the music is infectious and his skill and commitment helps to give the music vibrancy and contemporary relevance. He was of course helped by an absolutely terrific band with the near capacity audience also adding to the atmosphere. Price presented the show with good humour and a sometimes caustic wit, some of his asides were highly amusing. It all made for a great all round package that was greatly appreciated by the jazz lovers of Shropshire and beyond.

My thanks to Vasilis Xenopoulos for speaking with me afterwards. He really is a great addition to the UK jazz scene.

Nigel Price Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 08/09/2018.

Nigel Price Quartet

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Nigel Price Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 08/09/2018.
Photography: Photograph by Pam Mann.

Price’s love of the music is infectious and his skill and commitment helps to give the music vibrancy and contemporary relevance.

NIGEL PRICE QUARTET, THE HIVE MUSIC & MEDIA CENTRE, SHREWSBURY, 08/09/2018.

Shrewsbury Jazz Network’s September presentation saw them hosting guitarist Nigel Price, who was leading a punchy, hard swinging quartet featuring the talents of organist Liam Dunachie, drummer Steve Brown and tenor saxophonist Vasilis Xenopoulos.

Price has a particular fondness for leading organ combos in either the trio or quartet format and previous incumbents of the organist’s seat have been Jim Watson and Pete Whittaker with Ross Stanley currently occupying the chair on a regular basis. In Stanley’s absence local lad Liam Dunachie, born in Ludlow but now based in London, stepped into the breach and acquitted himself brilliantly. Dunachie has previously stepped into Stanley’s shoes with trombonist Dennis Rollins’ acclaimed Velocity Trio. He also leads his own organ trio, with whom he recently appeared at the Three Choirs Festival in Hereford.

Price regularly augments his regular organ trio with a saxophonist and the Greek born Xenopoulos has played with Price’s groups many times. I recall reviewing a show by Price, Stanley, Xenopoulos and drummer Matt Home at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny back in October 2014. Alex Garnett is another saxophonist who has regularly played played and recorded with Price over the years. Tonight Xenopoulos was fully integrated into the group and wasn’t obviously a ‘guest’ - hence the quartet billing, although Price does still sometimes perform trio shows.

Indeed Xenopoulos and Price, under the group name XPQ, recently released the standards album “Sidekicks” which pays homage to the great guitar/saxophone combinations of jazz from Jim Hall and Sonny Rollins through Kenny Burrell and Stanley Turrentine to the UK’s own Dave Cliff and Geoff Simkins and Morrissey / Mullen. The album was recorded with bassist Dario Di Lecce and tonight’s drummer Steve Brown.

The guitarist is a good candidate for the ‘hardest working man in jazz’ award. His tours tend to be extensive, covering all areas of the UK, and he was also the organiser of the 2018 Swanage Jazz Festival, taking up the reins after nobody else was prepared to take it on.

Former soldier Price was a relatively late comer to the ranks of professional jazz musicians but has wasted little time since. He was once a member of Hammond guru James Taylor’s long running JTQ before running his own organ based groups. Price also spent a lengthy tenure with the acid jazz outfit The Filthy Six. He has recorded with Van Morrison and with jazz vocalist Georgia Mancio and is a regular member of the Ronnie Scott’s house band.

Price lists a broad range of guitarists as influences including Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Jimmy Raney, Pat Martino and John McLaughlin but is most obviously in thrall to the first named. His music is rooted in bebop and Price has the technical facility to do it justice and to put an agreeably contemporary slant on it. He has a particular affinity for the art of the contrafact, re-inventing jazz and bebop standards in highly inventive fashion and granting the resultant new compositions sly and witty titles. Examples of these are to be found on Price’s “Heads & Tales” series of recordings.

Price has recently had his Arts Council funding cut which has placed several dates on his current under threat. However tonight represented better news with a large turn out for this stellar quartet. Even while I was checking in five ‘walk ups’ came in just behind me and The Hive was filled to capacity making for a great, listening atmosphere with the audience highly supportive and appreciative of the band.

Price chose to ease his audience in gently and gradually with the jazz standard “Indian Summer”, written by Victor Herbert. A passage of unaccompanied guitar introduced the piece with Price subsequently joined by brushed drums, subtle organ bass lines and subdued tenor sax. Only later did the momentum began to build as Brown switched to sticks and Price began to demonstrate his formidable soloing abilities with a feature that combined lithe, bebop inspired phrasing with sophisticated chord patterns. Xenopoulos, too, began to stir the pot with a fluent, quote laden solo that hinted at just how forceful a player he can be. Dunachie then took his first extended solo of the night on his two manual Nord C2D electric keyboard, the instrument providing a good approximation of the classic Hammond organ sound. Guitar and saxophone then coalesced on a reprise of Herbert’s theme.

“Stealing Time” represented the first contrafact of the evening, a Price composition based upon the chords of Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low”, with the title taken from the “time a thief”  line in the Ogden Nash lyric. Xenopoulos took the first solo on tenor, moving fluently up through the gears accompanied by Price’s expert comping and Brown’s propulsive, Latin inflected drumming. He was followed by Price and Dunachie with Brown also enjoying a series of vivid and powerful drum breaks. The consistently swinging Brown is a musician who always plays with a smile on his face and is arguably the best mainstream jazz drummer in Britain. Always in demand he was something of a fixture at the Titley Jazz Festival, which ran in nearby Herefordshire for five successful years from 2010 to 2014 inclusive, playing with such well loved musicians as saxophonists Alan Barnes and Art Themen.

Next came an instrumental arrangement of the song “Sweet Georgie Fame”, written by vocalist and pianist Blossom Dearie in conjunction with Sandra Harris. The piece began quietly with Price’s languorous guitar and Xenopoulos’ gently smoky tenor. But like so many of Price’s arrangements the tune started out in one place and ended up in quite another as the momentum once again began to build via solos from Dunachie, Xenopoulos and Price, with the saxophonist’s skilfully constructed solo really ramping up the power as it progressed.

The Henry Mancini song “Dreamsville” may be one of his lesser known compositions, but it’s a popular one among jazz guitarists. It’s been in Price’s repertoire for quite some time and is also a favourite of the North Wales based Trefor Owen. Once more it was a piece that built from quiet beginnings with Brown deploying brushes to accompany Xenopoulos’ opening theme statement before taking up the sticks for the increasingly animated solos from Price and Xenopoulos.

A superb first set concluded with a lively rendition of the Price contrafact “Blue Genes”, based on the chords of Duke Pearson’s “Jeannine”. The boppish head featured some dazzling unison passages for guitar, organ and tenor with Brown’s sizzling cymbals helping to provide a scalding swing throughout the piece. Price led off the solos with some dazzling single note runs combined with his usual chordal sophistication. Xenopoulos and Dunachie both delivered high powered solos and Brown wrapped things up with a dynamic drum feature. It was a great way to conclude a brilliant first half.

Set two kicked off with a Price variant on “Body And Soul” but this was very different to Coleman Hawkins’ classic tenor sax ballad reading of the original tune. Price’s contrafact was far more upbeat and swinging with solos from Price, Xenopoulos and Dunachie plus an explosive series of drum breaks from Brown as he traded phrases with the other three musicians.

Horace Silver’s “Silver Serenade” was a typically melodic piece from the master pianist and composer with Brown initially playing with brushes. The change to sticks came as Xenopoulos took off with a solo liberally peppered with quotes. He was subsequently followed by Dunachie and Price.

The inclusion of a Wes Montgomery tune was almost inevitable with Price choosing his own arrangement of “Four On Six” and changing the time signature from four to six. This self imposed complexity didn’t stop the piece from swinging, while providing the launch pad for solos from Price, Xenopoulos and Dunachie. It concluded with a rousing feature from Brown, who had been a dynamic presence throughout, stoking the fires during Xenopoulos’ solo together with Price’s rapid fire comping.

“Detour Ahead”, written by the American guitarist Herb Ellis, represented the only true ballad of the night and was introduced by an extended passage of unaccompanied guitar from the leader followed by a theme statement from Xenopoulos. Orthodox jazz solos from Price, Dunachie and Xenopoulos with the saxophonist adding an element of epic grandeur in the closing stages of the piece. Interestingly the tune was recently selected as the title track of young London based guitarist Nick Costley-White’s début album.

“Straight No Bounce” concluded the second set, a Price amalgamation of Thelonious Monk’s “Straight No Chaser” and Charlie Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce”. I thought about calling it “Yorker” joked cricket fan Price. Alternating bars from each tune the quartet’s performance was both boppish and bluesy with the impressive Xenopoulos delivering a barnstorming tenor solo. After the gig several audience members expressed the opinion that the Greek is arguably the best mainstream tenor player in the UK at the moment. Price followed with a typically fluent solo, contorting his fingers into almost impossible chord shapes. Local hero Dunachie then unleashed his inner Jimmy Smith with a wailing, gospel infused organ solo before Brown rounded things off with a scintillating series of colourful drum breaks.

The thoroughly deserved encore was called by Xenopoulos, a version of the standard “Darn That Dream” that included solos from Price, Xenopoulos and Dunachie.

With the music rooted in the bebop era there was nothing radical about tonight’s performance but the sheer skill, verve and energy of the playing made this a night to remember. Price’s love of the music is infectious and his skill and commitment helps to give the music vibrancy and contemporary relevance. He was of course helped by an absolutely terrific band with the near capacity audience also adding to the atmosphere. Price presented the show with good humour and a sometimes caustic wit, some of his asides were highly amusing. It all made for a great all round package that was greatly appreciated by the jazz lovers of Shropshire and beyond.

My thanks to Vasilis Xenopoulos for speaking with me afterwards. He really is a great addition to the UK jazz scene.

Jam Experiment - Jam Experiment, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 31/08/2018. Rating: 5 out of 5 "An amalgam of pure musical gold". Guest contributor Trevor Bannister is knocked out by the youthful energy and "sense of fun and musical adventure" of Jam Experiment.

Jam Experiment
 
Friday 31 August, Progress Theatre, Reading
 
Rory Ingham trombone, Dominic Ingham violin & voice, Toby Comeau keyboard, Joe Lee bass, Jonny Mansfield drums
 
Hot foot from a marathon recording session in Wales and a triumphant European tour taking in Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow and other points East, Jam Experiment took to the stage of the Progress Theatre in ebullient spirits on Friday 31 to open a new season of Jazz at Progress. Formed four years ago, the band has already notched up huge critical acclaim from its numerous club appearances at such venues as Ronnie Scott’s and the Vortex, the stages of the London and Cheltenham Jazz Festivals, its radio broadcasts for Radio 3 and Jazz FM and inaugural CD, “Jam Experiment”.
 
The band is fronted by the irrepressible Rory Ingham, winner of the Rising Star Award in the 2017 British Jazz Awards. He commands a trombone chair in both NYJO, with whom he played at this year’s Proms in an ambitious programme devoted to the music of George Gershwin, Stan Kenton and Laura Jurd, and the Syd Lawrence Orchestra. It came as no surprise to learn that he cites Peter Kay as being high on his list of comedy heroes.
 
Dominic Ingham, dead-pan-faced Laurel to his more ebullient brother’s Oliver Hardy, completes the front-line on violin and voice, his ear finely tuned from early childhood training in the Suzuki method of playing. Toby Comeau whose background included an enriching experience as a chorister at Truro Cathedral before an attraction to jazz took root, plays keyboard. He is joined in the rhythm section by Joe Lee, a fellow chorister at Truro, whom Toby inspired to take up bass. Jonny Mansfield completes the line-up on drums; vibraphonist with NYJO and the 2018 recipient of the prestigious Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize awarded to a ‘graduating musician at the Royal Academy of Music who demonstrates excellence in performance and composition’.
 
This stellar line-up of emerging jazz talent, each a product of either the Royal Academy of Music or Guildhall School of Music, and with an average age of about 21, clearly take their music seriously. That they are equally determined to have a ball creating it and sharing their sense of fun and musical adventure with the audience, became immediately obvious with the opening bars of ‘Richie’s Scalp’; a ‘raising-of-the hairs-on-the-back-of-the neck’ sensation induced by Rory Ingham’s soulfully declamatory trombone. What an opening number! Dominic’s amplified violin matched the trombone for volume but took the theme into more linear territory; eerie swirling lines fuelled by the funky rhythm section.
 
Quite how “Quay – the ‘Sunnies with Melbourne flair” - inspired Joe Lee to write a tune of that title is perhaps best left unexplained. No matter. A beautifully evocative violin solo blossomed from the composer’s fulsome bass line, with trombone, keyboard and drums adding their respective musical colours to the sound-scape.
 
‘Theaker’s Barn’, drew yet another gem from the Jam Experiment’s box of delights with Dominic Ingham taking an instrumental line with his appealingly light and airy voice; the sort of thing at which Norma Winstone excels. It blended perfectly with the mellow tones of Rory’s trombone and the intricate backgrounds conjured by Messrs Comeau, Lee and Mansfield. Can you think of any other male performers who use their voice in this way? Answers on a postcard to Jazz in Reading please.
 
Toby Comeau further demonstrated the writing strengths of the band members with a beautiful sound portrait of ‘Appledore’, the West Country town famed for the quality of its shipbuilding, while Jonny Mansfield’s hypnotic ‘Ichi Ni’ (one, two, three in Japanese and a neat play on words - ‘Itchy Knee’. Get it?) brought the first set to a close.
 
The resounding clatter of the end-of-interval bell summoned the faithful from the liquid attractions of the bar and back to the Progress auditorium, where MC for the evening Bob Draper held centre-stage in the company of Jonny Mansfield. What better way of publicizing the next Progress gig than an interview with the protagonist himself. This promises to be an intriguing event; an eleven-piece band – Elftet – including strings, giving full rein to what no less a jazz authority than Alyn Shipton has described as ‘strikingly original music’. Friday 28 September is a date to place in the diary!
 
The conversational style of Mansfield’s writing shone through ‘BMTC’, the opening number of the second set. As if to say, ‘Hey guys, let’s see where this will take us’, ideas bounced about freely giving the arrangement a wonderful sense of spontaneity and providing a perfect launching pad for Mansfield’s superlative workout on drums.
 
I can only describe ‘Tin’, the third of Mansfield’s compositions, as a gorgeous multi-layered tapestry of sound, bearing the indelible thread of Dominic Ingham’s voice and Toby Comeau’s keyboard extemporization.
 
Dominic Ingham’s ‘Hop the Hip Replacement’ hit an altogether brighter groove, as the tongue-twisting title implies, while ‘Bonsai’, with the simplicity of its lyric and compelling bass line, should take its place as a modern-day lullaby.
 
‘Get It On Target’, featuring a dazzling solo by Toby Comeau and a final effort by Rory Ingham to lift the roof may have brought the evening to its ‘official’ close but there was no way that Jam Experiment could leave the stage without an encore. They duly obliged and only then did the audience reluctantly accept that the gig had come to an end and that they would have to make their way home.
 
In a process of musical alchemy Jam Experiment have blended their individual talents within the proverbial jazz melting pot with a good measure of contemporary influences and the addition of a fistful of Yorkshire grit. When left to cool in the fresh breezes of the English West Country the result is an amalgam of pure musical gold. Catch the band when you can!
 
Thanks are due to the Progress team for their warm hospitality, efficient service and the high quality of the sound and lighting, and Marc Edwards of ‘Brecon Jazz Futures’ for his instrumental role in bringing Jam Experiment to the Progress Theatre.
 

Jam Experiment, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 31/08/2018.

Jam Experiment

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Reviewed by: Trevor Bannister

Live Review

5 out of 5

Jam Experiment, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 31/08/2018.
Photography: Photograph by Zoë White

"An amalgam of pure musical gold". Guest contributor Trevor Bannister is knocked out by the youthful energy and "sense of fun and musical adventure" of Jam Experiment.

Jam Experiment
 
Friday 31 August, Progress Theatre, Reading
 
Rory Ingham trombone, Dominic Ingham violin & voice, Toby Comeau keyboard, Joe Lee bass, Jonny Mansfield drums
 
Hot foot from a marathon recording session in Wales and a triumphant European tour taking in Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow and other points East, Jam Experiment took to the stage of the Progress Theatre in ebullient spirits on Friday 31 to open a new season of Jazz at Progress. Formed four years ago, the band has already notched up huge critical acclaim from its numerous club appearances at such venues as Ronnie Scott’s and the Vortex, the stages of the London and Cheltenham Jazz Festivals, its radio broadcasts for Radio 3 and Jazz FM and inaugural CD, “Jam Experiment”.
 
The band is fronted by the irrepressible Rory Ingham, winner of the Rising Star Award in the 2017 British Jazz Awards. He commands a trombone chair in both NYJO, with whom he played at this year’s Proms in an ambitious programme devoted to the music of George Gershwin, Stan Kenton and Laura Jurd, and the Syd Lawrence Orchestra. It came as no surprise to learn that he cites Peter Kay as being high on his list of comedy heroes.
 
Dominic Ingham, dead-pan-faced Laurel to his more ebullient brother’s Oliver Hardy, completes the front-line on violin and voice, his ear finely tuned from early childhood training in the Suzuki method of playing. Toby Comeau whose background included an enriching experience as a chorister at Truro Cathedral before an attraction to jazz took root, plays keyboard. He is joined in the rhythm section by Joe Lee, a fellow chorister at Truro, whom Toby inspired to take up bass. Jonny Mansfield completes the line-up on drums; vibraphonist with NYJO and the 2018 recipient of the prestigious Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize awarded to a ‘graduating musician at the Royal Academy of Music who demonstrates excellence in performance and composition’.
 
This stellar line-up of emerging jazz talent, each a product of either the Royal Academy of Music or Guildhall School of Music, and with an average age of about 21, clearly take their music seriously. That they are equally determined to have a ball creating it and sharing their sense of fun and musical adventure with the audience, became immediately obvious with the opening bars of ‘Richie’s Scalp’; a ‘raising-of-the hairs-on-the-back-of-the neck’ sensation induced by Rory Ingham’s soulfully declamatory trombone. What an opening number! Dominic’s amplified violin matched the trombone for volume but took the theme into more linear territory; eerie swirling lines fuelled by the funky rhythm section.
 
Quite how “Quay – the ‘Sunnies with Melbourne flair” - inspired Joe Lee to write a tune of that title is perhaps best left unexplained. No matter. A beautifully evocative violin solo blossomed from the composer’s fulsome bass line, with trombone, keyboard and drums adding their respective musical colours to the sound-scape.
 
‘Theaker’s Barn’, drew yet another gem from the Jam Experiment’s box of delights with Dominic Ingham taking an instrumental line with his appealingly light and airy voice; the sort of thing at which Norma Winstone excels. It blended perfectly with the mellow tones of Rory’s trombone and the intricate backgrounds conjured by Messrs Comeau, Lee and Mansfield. Can you think of any other male performers who use their voice in this way? Answers on a postcard to Jazz in Reading please.
 
Toby Comeau further demonstrated the writing strengths of the band members with a beautiful sound portrait of ‘Appledore’, the West Country town famed for the quality of its shipbuilding, while Jonny Mansfield’s hypnotic ‘Ichi Ni’ (one, two, three in Japanese and a neat play on words - ‘Itchy Knee’. Get it?) brought the first set to a close.
 
The resounding clatter of the end-of-interval bell summoned the faithful from the liquid attractions of the bar and back to the Progress auditorium, where MC for the evening Bob Draper held centre-stage in the company of Jonny Mansfield. What better way of publicizing the next Progress gig than an interview with the protagonist himself. This promises to be an intriguing event; an eleven-piece band – Elftet – including strings, giving full rein to what no less a jazz authority than Alyn Shipton has described as ‘strikingly original music’. Friday 28 September is a date to place in the diary!
 
The conversational style of Mansfield’s writing shone through ‘BMTC’, the opening number of the second set. As if to say, ‘Hey guys, let’s see where this will take us’, ideas bounced about freely giving the arrangement a wonderful sense of spontaneity and providing a perfect launching pad for Mansfield’s superlative workout on drums.
 
I can only describe ‘Tin’, the third of Mansfield’s compositions, as a gorgeous multi-layered tapestry of sound, bearing the indelible thread of Dominic Ingham’s voice and Toby Comeau’s keyboard extemporization.
 
Dominic Ingham’s ‘Hop the Hip Replacement’ hit an altogether brighter groove, as the tongue-twisting title implies, while ‘Bonsai’, with the simplicity of its lyric and compelling bass line, should take its place as a modern-day lullaby.
 
‘Get It On Target’, featuring a dazzling solo by Toby Comeau and a final effort by Rory Ingham to lift the roof may have brought the evening to its ‘official’ close but there was no way that Jam Experiment could leave the stage without an encore. They duly obliged and only then did the audience reluctantly accept that the gig had come to an end and that they would have to make their way home.
 
In a process of musical alchemy Jam Experiment have blended their individual talents within the proverbial jazz melting pot with a good measure of contemporary influences and the addition of a fistful of Yorkshire grit. When left to cool in the fresh breezes of the English West Country the result is an amalgam of pure musical gold. Catch the band when you can!
 
Thanks are due to the Progress team for their warm hospitality, efficient service and the high quality of the sound and lighting, and Marc Edwards of ‘Brecon Jazz Futures’ for his instrumental role in bringing Jam Experiment to the Progress Theatre.
 

Bansangu Orchestra - Bansangu Orchestra Rating: 4 out of 5 Bansangu’s musical circumnavigation of the globe is certainly a thrilling listening experience. Despite the diversity the album coheres very strongly as a whole.

Bansangu Orchestra

“Bansangu Orchestra”

(Pathway Records PBCD0121)

Bansangu Orchestra is a large ensemble that was founded in 2014 by saxophonist Paul Booth, guitarist Giorgio Serci and trumpeter Kevin Robinson, all well known figures on the UK music scene. Serci was the guitarist with Booth’s recent international jazz ensemble Patchwork Project and it’s tempting to think of Bansangu as the logical extension of this, but scaled up to big band / orchestral proportions. Bansangu members Davide Mantovani (bass) and Satin Singh (percussion) were also members of the earlier, smaller group.

That said Bansangu Orchestra is ultimately a more democratic unit with several members of the ensemble contributing to the compositional and arranging processes. However it’s Booth, the band’s musical director and the composer of two of the album’s nine pieces, who emerges as the Orchestra’s de facto leader.

The Bansangu name is derived from a saying by the highly respected and influential Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira who would compliment his band mates with the phrase “Ban San Goo”, meaning “Band Sounds Good!”.

Under Booth’s directorship the Bansangu Orchestra line up as follows;

Paul Booth – tenor & soprano sax, flutes, accordion, melodica, percussion, voice, keyboards

Sammy Mayne – alto sax, flute
Jason Yarde – alto & soprano sax
Richard Beesley- tenor sax, clarinet
Gemma Moore – baritone sax,  bass clarinet


Ryan Quigley – trumpet & flugelhorn
Shanti Paul Jayasinha – trumpet & flugelhorn
Steve Fishwick – trumpet & flugelhorn
Kevin Robinson – trumpet & flugelhorn (1,4,6,7,9)
Andy Greenwood _ trumpet & flugelhorn (2,3,5,8)

Barnaby Dickinson – trombone
Trevor Mires – trombone, pedal effects (1,2,4,5,6,7,9)
Robbie Harvey – trombone (3,4,6,7,9)
Martin Gladdish – trombone (2,3,5,8)
Richard Henry – bass trombone, tuba

Giorgio Serci – guitar, oud
Alex Wilson – piano (except 4)
Davide Mantovani- electric bass
Satin Singh – percussion (1,2,5,6,7,8)
Edwin Sanz – percussion (3)
Rod Youngs – drums (1,4,6,7,9)
Tristan Banks – drums (2,3,5,8)

Guests;

Oli Rockberger – piano, vocals (4)

Jonathan Meyer – sitar (2)

Seckou Keita – kora (6)

The album’s liner notes include brief anecdotes from the individual composers giving something of an insight into the inspiration behind each tune. First up is Booth’s “Cross Channel”, a two part composition with the first instalment inspired by a visit to Lebanon and the rhythms that he heard there. Part two explores rhythms more closely associated with the Afro-Cuban tradition and introduces a new, angular melody. The piece is introduced by Serci on unaccompanied oud, who helps to establish an authentic Middle Eastern feel. Fishwick’s trumpet then probes intelligently above the rhythmic undertow established by Serci in conjunction with Singh, Youngs and Mantovani. As the piece develops dense Western harmonies are introduced and the music takes on an authentic big band feel before Booth, on tenor sax, emerges as the second featured soloist. His contribution is typically assured, intelligent and fluent. Wilson’s piano plays an increasingly important role in the second half of the piece which also includes a dynamic drum feature for Youngs.  Simultaneously intelligent and invigorating Booth’s kaleidoscopic composition gets the album off to an excellent start.

Bansangu’s début takes its listenership on something of a world tour. Next up is a visit to India with “The Long Road”, written by Jayasinha and featuring guest Jonathan Mayer on sitar. The composer makes effective use of the colours and timbres available to him in the Bansangu line up with Moore’s bass clarinet prominent in the arrangement. Mayer’s sitar evokes memories of the “Indo-Jazz Fusions” pioneered by his father John Mayer and continued by Jonathan. Here Mayer’s dialogue with Yarde’s soprano sax is particularly engaging, while Singh’s tablas also add an element of Eastern exotica to the arrangement.

Pianist Alex Wilson is an acknowledged master of Latin American musical styles and has recorded a number of albums under his own name exploring various aspects of the genre and sometimes blending it with jazz, African and Caribbean elements. Wilson was also part of Booth’s Patchwork Project and is the ideal pianist for the globe-trotting Bansangu Orchestra.
Wilson’s “Currulao Cool” was originally for a small group and the pianist jumped at the opportunity of arranging it for a large ensemble and describes the piece as “an exploration of the Pacific Coast Afro-Colombian music tradition in a jazz context.” Specialist Latin percussionist Edwin Sanz is drafted in to provide the authentic currulao percussion that both drives the tune and gives it its title.
Jayasinha’s flugel solo is relaxed, breezy, colourful and fluent and stretches further into the instrument’s upper register as his feature progresses. He is complemented by some rousing big band charts in the first section of this lengthy piece, Next we hear a virtuoso passage of solo piano from Wilson that demonstrates his thorough knowledge of Latin American piano styles. Finally we are treated to a vibrantly colourful,  high energy, big band climax.

The album’s only vocal item features the singer and pianist Oli Rockberger singing his own song “My Old Life”. Rockberger has recorded a series of albums for Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind record label and this piece is sourced from his 2017 album “Sovereign”. Like Wilson Rockberger relished the chance to have his composition recorded by a large ensemble, in this case in an arrangement by Paul Booth. Rockberger speaks of the combination of “power and finesses” in Booth’s arrangement,  and it’s true that the music serves Rockberger’s singing and songwriting well. The song, with its theme of nostalgia, combines wistfulness with a hipster-ish world-weariness and includes winning instrumental solos from Quigley on trumpet and Rockberger himself on piano.

“Takes Three to Samba” was the first piece written specifically for the Bansangu Orchestra and comes from the pen of guitarist Serci. In his notes the composer tells of how he first met Booth when the pair were part of the touring band of the Polish singer and songwriter Basia. Their shared passion for arranging led to the dream of founding a “world music orchestra”, this leading to the formation of Bansangu. Written on the Basia tour bus Serci describes his piece as being “a samba in ¾ and it features poly-chords and poly-rhythms”. Led off by the composer’s guitar it’s a vibrant piece full of colourful horn arrangements and suitably exotic rhythms. Mires leads off the solos with a rousing trombone feature and he’s followed by the composer with an agile guitar solo featuring slippery runs and choppy chords. Drummer Tristan Banks is also featured in what sounds like a percussive stand off with Satin Singh. Booth may well be involved as well!

The tune “Choice Is Yours” was originally written by the Orchestra’s Italian born bassist Davide Mantovani and originally appeared on his solo album “Choices”, released in 2012 and reviewed by the Jazzmann here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/choices/
The “Choices” album featured Booth and it was the saxophonist who suggested to Mantovani that he arranged “Choice Is Yours” for Bansangu. The original recording featured kora soloist Madou Sidiki and that role is taken here by Seckou Keita. In this new arrangement it’s fascinating to compare and contrast the different string sounds of soloists Keita on kora and Serci on guitar. The other featured soloist, perhaps appropriately, is Booth himself on tenor sax.

Next up is co-founder Kevin Robinson’s arrangement of the Doors song “Light My Fire”. The trumpeter’s arrangement is inspired by the Jose Feliciano version of 1968 and Robinson first adapted it for performance by the Jazz Jamaica All Stars circa 2002. It has now undergone a further transformation in the hands of Bansangu. Robinson has given the piece a distinctive ska / reggae groove with Moore’s baritone initially prominent in the arrangement. It’s a delightfully joyous and vibrant interpretation enlivened by punchy horn arrangements and a searing alto solo from Sammy Mayne, plus an exuberant piano solo from the irrepressible Alex Wilson. It’s a great version of the tune, and one that rescues it from the cheesiness of the cabaret circuit.

Booth’s “The Village” explores the world of Celtic folk music, an area not frequently investigated in the big band format. The composer features his own accordion and flute in the arrangement but the instrumental honours go to Barnaby Dickinson with a thrillingly virtuosic trombone solo that demonstrates his extraordinary agility on the instrument. There are some thrilling ensemble passages too that are sometimes reminiscent of something that Salsa Celtica might have attempted.

The album concludes with “The Reason”, written by trombonist Trevor Mires, a stirring example of contemporary big band jazz with a strong funk undertow. The composer opens the soloing, subtly mutating the sound of his trombone via an effects pedal. Drummer Rod Youngs is also featured as is the supremely versatile Wilson at the piano.

Bansangu’s musical circumnavigation of the globe is certainly a thrilling listening experience as the band throw Lebanese, Cuban, Indian, Colombian, Brazilian, West African, Jamaican and Celtic elements into the mix, alongside plenty of actual, proper jazz. Yet, despite the diversity the album coheres very strongly as a whole.

Booth rightly praises his the versatility of his fellow musicians and one suspects that witnessing Bansangu live would be a highly stimulating and exciting experience. Listeners in the South East will get the chance to see the band when they launch the CD at on Friday September 21st 2018 as part of the Margate Jazz Weekend.

Bansangu Orchestra

Bansangu Orchestra

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Bansangu Orchestra

Bansangu’s musical circumnavigation of the globe is certainly a thrilling listening experience. Despite the diversity the album coheres very strongly as a whole.

Bansangu Orchestra

“Bansangu Orchestra”

(Pathway Records PBCD0121)

Bansangu Orchestra is a large ensemble that was founded in 2014 by saxophonist Paul Booth, guitarist Giorgio Serci and trumpeter Kevin Robinson, all well known figures on the UK music scene. Serci was the guitarist with Booth’s recent international jazz ensemble Patchwork Project and it’s tempting to think of Bansangu as the logical extension of this, but scaled up to big band / orchestral proportions. Bansangu members Davide Mantovani (bass) and Satin Singh (percussion) were also members of the earlier, smaller group.

That said Bansangu Orchestra is ultimately a more democratic unit with several members of the ensemble contributing to the compositional and arranging processes. However it’s Booth, the band’s musical director and the composer of two of the album’s nine pieces, who emerges as the Orchestra’s de facto leader.

The Bansangu name is derived from a saying by the highly respected and influential Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira who would compliment his band mates with the phrase “Ban San Goo”, meaning “Band Sounds Good!”.

Under Booth’s directorship the Bansangu Orchestra line up as follows;

Paul Booth – tenor & soprano sax, flutes, accordion, melodica, percussion, voice, keyboards

Sammy Mayne – alto sax, flute
Jason Yarde – alto & soprano sax
Richard Beesley- tenor sax, clarinet
Gemma Moore – baritone sax,  bass clarinet


Ryan Quigley – trumpet & flugelhorn
Shanti Paul Jayasinha – trumpet & flugelhorn
Steve Fishwick – trumpet & flugelhorn
Kevin Robinson – trumpet & flugelhorn (1,4,6,7,9)
Andy Greenwood _ trumpet & flugelhorn (2,3,5,8)

Barnaby Dickinson – trombone
Trevor Mires – trombone, pedal effects (1,2,4,5,6,7,9)
Robbie Harvey – trombone (3,4,6,7,9)
Martin Gladdish – trombone (2,3,5,8)
Richard Henry – bass trombone, tuba

Giorgio Serci – guitar, oud
Alex Wilson – piano (except 4)
Davide Mantovani- electric bass
Satin Singh – percussion (1,2,5,6,7,8)
Edwin Sanz – percussion (3)
Rod Youngs – drums (1,4,6,7,9)
Tristan Banks – drums (2,3,5,8)

Guests;

Oli Rockberger – piano, vocals (4)

Jonathan Meyer – sitar (2)

Seckou Keita – kora (6)

The album’s liner notes include brief anecdotes from the individual composers giving something of an insight into the inspiration behind each tune. First up is Booth’s “Cross Channel”, a two part composition with the first instalment inspired by a visit to Lebanon and the rhythms that he heard there. Part two explores rhythms more closely associated with the Afro-Cuban tradition and introduces a new, angular melody. The piece is introduced by Serci on unaccompanied oud, who helps to establish an authentic Middle Eastern feel. Fishwick’s trumpet then probes intelligently above the rhythmic undertow established by Serci in conjunction with Singh, Youngs and Mantovani. As the piece develops dense Western harmonies are introduced and the music takes on an authentic big band feel before Booth, on tenor sax, emerges as the second featured soloist. His contribution is typically assured, intelligent and fluent. Wilson’s piano plays an increasingly important role in the second half of the piece which also includes a dynamic drum feature for Youngs.  Simultaneously intelligent and invigorating Booth’s kaleidoscopic composition gets the album off to an excellent start.

Bansangu’s début takes its listenership on something of a world tour. Next up is a visit to India with “The Long Road”, written by Jayasinha and featuring guest Jonathan Mayer on sitar. The composer makes effective use of the colours and timbres available to him in the Bansangu line up with Moore’s bass clarinet prominent in the arrangement. Mayer’s sitar evokes memories of the “Indo-Jazz Fusions” pioneered by his father John Mayer and continued by Jonathan. Here Mayer’s dialogue with Yarde’s soprano sax is particularly engaging, while Singh’s tablas also add an element of Eastern exotica to the arrangement.

Pianist Alex Wilson is an acknowledged master of Latin American musical styles and has recorded a number of albums under his own name exploring various aspects of the genre and sometimes blending it with jazz, African and Caribbean elements. Wilson was also part of Booth’s Patchwork Project and is the ideal pianist for the globe-trotting Bansangu Orchestra.
Wilson’s “Currulao Cool” was originally for a small group and the pianist jumped at the opportunity of arranging it for a large ensemble and describes the piece as “an exploration of the Pacific Coast Afro-Colombian music tradition in a jazz context.” Specialist Latin percussionist Edwin Sanz is drafted in to provide the authentic currulao percussion that both drives the tune and gives it its title.
Jayasinha’s flugel solo is relaxed, breezy, colourful and fluent and stretches further into the instrument’s upper register as his feature progresses. He is complemented by some rousing big band charts in the first section of this lengthy piece, Next we hear a virtuoso passage of solo piano from Wilson that demonstrates his thorough knowledge of Latin American piano styles. Finally we are treated to a vibrantly colourful,  high energy, big band climax.

The album’s only vocal item features the singer and pianist Oli Rockberger singing his own song “My Old Life”. Rockberger has recorded a series of albums for Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind record label and this piece is sourced from his 2017 album “Sovereign”. Like Wilson Rockberger relished the chance to have his composition recorded by a large ensemble, in this case in an arrangement by Paul Booth. Rockberger speaks of the combination of “power and finesses” in Booth’s arrangement,  and it’s true that the music serves Rockberger’s singing and songwriting well. The song, with its theme of nostalgia, combines wistfulness with a hipster-ish world-weariness and includes winning instrumental solos from Quigley on trumpet and Rockberger himself on piano.

“Takes Three to Samba” was the first piece written specifically for the Bansangu Orchestra and comes from the pen of guitarist Serci. In his notes the composer tells of how he first met Booth when the pair were part of the touring band of the Polish singer and songwriter Basia. Their shared passion for arranging led to the dream of founding a “world music orchestra”, this leading to the formation of Bansangu. Written on the Basia tour bus Serci describes his piece as being “a samba in ¾ and it features poly-chords and poly-rhythms”. Led off by the composer’s guitar it’s a vibrant piece full of colourful horn arrangements and suitably exotic rhythms. Mires leads off the solos with a rousing trombone feature and he’s followed by the composer with an agile guitar solo featuring slippery runs and choppy chords. Drummer Tristan Banks is also featured in what sounds like a percussive stand off with Satin Singh. Booth may well be involved as well!

The tune “Choice Is Yours” was originally written by the Orchestra’s Italian born bassist Davide Mantovani and originally appeared on his solo album “Choices”, released in 2012 and reviewed by the Jazzmann here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/choices/
The “Choices” album featured Booth and it was the saxophonist who suggested to Mantovani that he arranged “Choice Is Yours” for Bansangu. The original recording featured kora soloist Madou Sidiki and that role is taken here by Seckou Keita. In this new arrangement it’s fascinating to compare and contrast the different string sounds of soloists Keita on kora and Serci on guitar. The other featured soloist, perhaps appropriately, is Booth himself on tenor sax.

Next up is co-founder Kevin Robinson’s arrangement of the Doors song “Light My Fire”. The trumpeter’s arrangement is inspired by the Jose Feliciano version of 1968 and Robinson first adapted it for performance by the Jazz Jamaica All Stars circa 2002. It has now undergone a further transformation in the hands of Bansangu. Robinson has given the piece a distinctive ska / reggae groove with Moore’s baritone initially prominent in the arrangement. It’s a delightfully joyous and vibrant interpretation enlivened by punchy horn arrangements and a searing alto solo from Sammy Mayne, plus an exuberant piano solo from the irrepressible Alex Wilson. It’s a great version of the tune, and one that rescues it from the cheesiness of the cabaret circuit.

Booth’s “The Village” explores the world of Celtic folk music, an area not frequently investigated in the big band format. The composer features his own accordion and flute in the arrangement but the instrumental honours go to Barnaby Dickinson with a thrillingly virtuosic trombone solo that demonstrates his extraordinary agility on the instrument. There are some thrilling ensemble passages too that are sometimes reminiscent of something that Salsa Celtica might have attempted.

The album concludes with “The Reason”, written by trombonist Trevor Mires, a stirring example of contemporary big band jazz with a strong funk undertow. The composer opens the soloing, subtly mutating the sound of his trombone via an effects pedal. Drummer Rod Youngs is also featured as is the supremely versatile Wilson at the piano.

Bansangu’s musical circumnavigation of the globe is certainly a thrilling listening experience as the band throw Lebanese, Cuban, Indian, Colombian, Brazilian, West African, Jamaican and Celtic elements into the mix, alongside plenty of actual, proper jazz. Yet, despite the diversity the album coheres very strongly as a whole.

Booth rightly praises his the versatility of his fellow musicians and one suspects that witnessing Bansangu live would be a highly stimulating and exciting experience. Listeners in the South East will get the chance to see the band when they launch the CD at on Friday September 21st 2018 as part of the Margate Jazz Weekend.

Nick Costley-White - Detour Ahead Rating: 3-5 out of 5 A good introduction to his abilities as a guitarist, composer and interpreter. The leader is well supported by an excellent band who all make telling contributions to the overall success of the music.

Nick Costley-White

“Detour Ahead”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0010)

Nick Costley-White is a young guitarist and composer and an active presence on the London jazz scene. A graduate of the jazz course at the Guildhall School of Music (where his guitar tutors included Colin Oxley, Phil Robson, John Parricelli and Mike Outram)  he is a versatile musician who is capable of performing across a variety of jazz genres.

Besides leading his own groups Costley-White has worked as a sideman with such well established musicians as saxophonists Martin Speake, Stan Sulzmann and Pete Hurt, trumpeter Steve Fishwick and drummer Jeff Williams. He has recorded with rising stars Henry Spencer (trumpet) and Tommy Andrews (alto sax) plus the group Snowpoet, co-led by vocalist/lyricist Lauren Kinsella and bassist/multi-instrumentalist Chris Hyson.

Costley-White is also a member of the Dixie Ticklers, a young sextet who put a modern twist on classic trad jazz and New Orleans material. Together with Dixie Ticklers clarinettist Dom James he’s the founder of the Jazz Nursery organisation, currently based at the Iklectik Arts Lab in Waterloo.

As Costley-White’s CV suggests he’s a musician with a genuine and ongoing love of the jazz tradition but who remains firmly rooted in the present day. His début recording as a leader sees him fronting a core quartet comprised of some of London’s leading young jazz musicians and comprises Matt Robinson on piano, Conor Chaplin on double bass and Dave Hamblett at the drums. On some pieces the group is augmented by multi reeds player Sam Rapley,  here specialising on bass clarinet.

“Detour Ahead” features six original compositions by Costley-White together with two outside items, the title track, written by fellow guitarist Herb Ellis, and the Cole Porter classic “Just One Of Those Things”, which opens the album.

Costley-White seeks to combine the virtues of the ‘Great American Songbook’ with a more modern aesthetic rooted in the contemporary London jazz scene as he explains;
“What’s crucial for me in this group is that the musicians play in a contemporary style that is rooted in the fundamentals of playing traditional jazz harmony and rhythm. The melding of these two aspects is what I try to balance when writing music specifically for these players. Through this process I hope to express my own voice within this idiom which I fine endlessly inspiring”.

In November 2016 I enjoyed a performance by Costley-White at Iklectik that formed part of that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. The guitarist was leading a trio featuring Chaplin and drummer Dave Ingamells in a programme that explored the music of Jerome Kern and Cole Porter.

Porter is obviously a touchstone for the young guitarist and “Just One Of Those Things” featured in that set and kicks things off here. Costley-White says of his interpretation;
“’Just One Of Those Things” is a wonderfully witty and clever song by the great Cole Porter. Further twists and turns in the arrangement keep the listener on their toes whilst the soloists dig into every corner of this beautifully harmonic song”.
The performance sees Costley-White and his colleagues setting their stall out. The leader features a ‘classic’ jazz guitar sound, clear and pure and with little distortion or recourse to electronic effects. His opening solo is full of lithe melodic lines and sophisticated chording, somehow managing to sound reassuringly old fashioned and pleasingly contemporary at the same time. The leader is followed by Robinson who delivers a sparkling piano solo propelled by Hamblett’s crisp and busy drumming. Then it’s back to Costley-White for more melodic variations on Porter’s classic tune.

The first original, “Loads Of Bar Blues,” is a contemporary exploration of the classic blues structure that informs so much great jazz. Costley-White continues to favour that classic, clean, orthodox jazz guitar sound while occasionally hinting at the influence of Metheny and Frisell. Again the leader takes the first solo, his languid melodicism followed by the consistently inventive Robinson at the piano. Meanwhile Chaplin and Hamblett inject a vital urgency to the proceedings with the latter’s nimble, neatly detailed drumming a constant source of interest. Indeed Hamblett enjoys a substantial feature in the closing stages of the tune.

“Swing State” introduces a Monk-like quirkiness and sees the ever resourceful Robinson taking the first solo. He’s followed by the leader with his slippery, agile, bebop inspired guitar runs. Hamblett’s neatly energetic drumming keeps everything ticking over and he also enjoys a series of brisk drum breaks as he exchanges phrases with Costley-White and Robinson.

A passage of unaccompanied acoustic guitar introduces Herb Ellis’ title track with Costley-White eventually joined by Chaplin’s rounded bass and Hamblett’s delicately brushed drums. Chaplin steps out of the shadows to deliver a delightfully melodic bass solo while Costley-White subtly explores the contours of the piece in this elegant trio performance. Ellis’ song, also credited to John Frigo and Lou Carter, was famously covered by pianist Bill Evans and by singers ranging from Billie Holiday to Cecile McLorin Salvant. Costley-White’s interpretation sits well with such illustrious company.

The original “Thinky Pain” is a dedication to the American comedian (and occasional guitarist) Marc Maron. Costley-White describes the piece as “a portrait in three parts” and the performance sees the distinctive sound of Sam Rapley’s bass clarinet added to the equation.
The first section features Costley-White’s unaccompanied acoustic guitar, playing what the composer describes as “an open palette of clustered chords”.
The rhythm section, plus Rapley, then join the proceedings adding “a steady travelling pulse whilst the polytonal theme is slowly unwrapped and explored through further improvisations”. These include an expansively lyrical piano solo from Robinson and an intriguing and inventive bass clarinet solo from Rapley, whose playing represents a good representation of the flexibility and range of his chosen instrument.
Of the third section Costley-White says; “The final section strips us back to just the double bass, and gradually all the instruments, harmonies and rhythms are stacked on to one another, building a rich and beautifully dissonant sound world. As if from nowhere the final chord is struck, peacefully resolving all tensions”. It may all appear a little academic but it’s highly effective and strangely beautiful.  Rapley’s bass clarinet is a particularly key component in the process as he combines effectively with Robinson on piano.

Rapley also appears on “The Kernel”, another of the album’s more contemporary post bop pieces. Relatively brief at a little over three minutes it includes a concise solo from Robinson with the pianist shadowed by Hamblett’s drums. Costley-White retains a comparatively low profile, only coming to prominence in the final stages of the tune.

“Bridges” commences with an exquisite dialogue between Costley-White on guitar and Robinson on piano. The addition of bass and drums steers the music into more conventional jazz waters with Chaplin contributing another excellent double bass solo, melodic and dexterous. The leader follows on guitar, with a solo that combines conventional jazz sophistication with an agreeably contemporary urgency.

The album concludes with “My Number One” which signals a brief sidestep into fusion style territory with Robinson moving to electric piano and adopting a classic Fender Rhodes sound.
The keyboard man spars joyously with Costley-White, whose sound here is more obviously ‘electric’, but without sacrificing any of the fluency and elegance that is always apparent in his playing.

“Detour Ahead” is an album that reveals two sides of Costley-White’s talent. I don’t know if there is a vinyl version of the recording but in effect ‘Side A’, i.e. tracks one to four, highlights the guitarist’s skill as an interpreter of jazz standards and as a writer of original pieces in that vein.
‘Side B’ i.e. tracks five to eight presents Costley-White in a more contemporary light with Rapley adding a distinctive additional instrumental voice to the proceedings.

Personally I’m more drawn to the second half of the album but there will also be many listeners who will find it easier to relate to what I have dubbed ‘Side A’. Indeed Costley-White himself has stated that he is finding himself drawn ever more strongly to interpreting the subtleties of the standards repertoire.

“Detour Ahead” represents a good introduction to his abilities as a guitarist, composer and interpreter and the leader is well supported by an excellent band who all make telling contributions to the overall success of the music.

Costley-White, Robinson, Chaplin and Hamblett will be touring the album extensively in the UK during September, October and November 2018 with dates listed below;


NICK COSTLEY-WHITE QUARTET ON TOUR;


03/09/18 - NCW4 @ Peer Hat Jazz, Manchester
04/09/18 - NCW4 @ The Spotted Dog, Birmingham
05/09/18 - NCW4 @ The Lescar, Sheffield
07/09/18 - NCW4 @ Hampstead Jazz Club, Hampstead
08/09/18 - NCW4 @ The Bear Club, Luton
13/09/18 - NCW4 @ Future Inns, Bristol
15/09/18 - NCW4 @ Zeffirelli’s, Ambleside
20/09/18 - NCW4 @ The SoundCellar, Poole
23/09/18 - NCW4 @ Southampton Modern Jazz Club
27/09/18 - NCW4 @ Silvershine Jazz Club, Smethwick
29/09/18 - NCW4 @ Jazz at Heart, Headingley
03/10/18 - NCW4 @ Jazzland, Swansea
04/10/18 - NCW4 @ Café Jazz, Cardiff
05/10/18 - NCW4 @ Con Cellar Bar, Camden
17/10/18 - NCW4 @ House Concert, Edinburgh
18/10/18 - NCW4 @ The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
21/10/18 - NCW4 @ Sela Bar, Leeds
23/10/18 - NCW4 @ The Mad Hatter, Oxford
24/10/18 - NCW4 @ Mill Hill Jazz Club, Mill Hill
30/10/18 - NCW4 @ St Ives Jazz Club, St Ives
08/11/18 - NCW4 @ The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh
09/11/18 - NCW4 @ The Blue Arrow, Glasgow

Detour Ahead

Nick Costley-White

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Detour Ahead

A good introduction to his abilities as a guitarist, composer and interpreter. The leader is well supported by an excellent band who all make telling contributions to the overall success of the music.

Nick Costley-White

“Detour Ahead”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0010)

Nick Costley-White is a young guitarist and composer and an active presence on the London jazz scene. A graduate of the jazz course at the Guildhall School of Music (where his guitar tutors included Colin Oxley, Phil Robson, John Parricelli and Mike Outram)  he is a versatile musician who is capable of performing across a variety of jazz genres.

Besides leading his own groups Costley-White has worked as a sideman with such well established musicians as saxophonists Martin Speake, Stan Sulzmann and Pete Hurt, trumpeter Steve Fishwick and drummer Jeff Williams. He has recorded with rising stars Henry Spencer (trumpet) and Tommy Andrews (alto sax) plus the group Snowpoet, co-led by vocalist/lyricist Lauren Kinsella and bassist/multi-instrumentalist Chris Hyson.

Costley-White is also a member of the Dixie Ticklers, a young sextet who put a modern twist on classic trad jazz and New Orleans material. Together with Dixie Ticklers clarinettist Dom James he’s the founder of the Jazz Nursery organisation, currently based at the Iklectik Arts Lab in Waterloo.

As Costley-White’s CV suggests he’s a musician with a genuine and ongoing love of the jazz tradition but who remains firmly rooted in the present day. His début recording as a leader sees him fronting a core quartet comprised of some of London’s leading young jazz musicians and comprises Matt Robinson on piano, Conor Chaplin on double bass and Dave Hamblett at the drums. On some pieces the group is augmented by multi reeds player Sam Rapley,  here specialising on bass clarinet.

“Detour Ahead” features six original compositions by Costley-White together with two outside items, the title track, written by fellow guitarist Herb Ellis, and the Cole Porter classic “Just One Of Those Things”, which opens the album.

Costley-White seeks to combine the virtues of the ‘Great American Songbook’ with a more modern aesthetic rooted in the contemporary London jazz scene as he explains;
“What’s crucial for me in this group is that the musicians play in a contemporary style that is rooted in the fundamentals of playing traditional jazz harmony and rhythm. The melding of these two aspects is what I try to balance when writing music specifically for these players. Through this process I hope to express my own voice within this idiom which I fine endlessly inspiring”.

In November 2016 I enjoyed a performance by Costley-White at Iklectik that formed part of that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. The guitarist was leading a trio featuring Chaplin and drummer Dave Ingamells in a programme that explored the music of Jerome Kern and Cole Porter.

Porter is obviously a touchstone for the young guitarist and “Just One Of Those Things” featured in that set and kicks things off here. Costley-White says of his interpretation;
“’Just One Of Those Things” is a wonderfully witty and clever song by the great Cole Porter. Further twists and turns in the arrangement keep the listener on their toes whilst the soloists dig into every corner of this beautifully harmonic song”.
The performance sees Costley-White and his colleagues setting their stall out. The leader features a ‘classic’ jazz guitar sound, clear and pure and with little distortion or recourse to electronic effects. His opening solo is full of lithe melodic lines and sophisticated chording, somehow managing to sound reassuringly old fashioned and pleasingly contemporary at the same time. The leader is followed by Robinson who delivers a sparkling piano solo propelled by Hamblett’s crisp and busy drumming. Then it’s back to Costley-White for more melodic variations on Porter’s classic tune.

The first original, “Loads Of Bar Blues,” is a contemporary exploration of the classic blues structure that informs so much great jazz. Costley-White continues to favour that classic, clean, orthodox jazz guitar sound while occasionally hinting at the influence of Metheny and Frisell. Again the leader takes the first solo, his languid melodicism followed by the consistently inventive Robinson at the piano. Meanwhile Chaplin and Hamblett inject a vital urgency to the proceedings with the latter’s nimble, neatly detailed drumming a constant source of interest. Indeed Hamblett enjoys a substantial feature in the closing stages of the tune.

“Swing State” introduces a Monk-like quirkiness and sees the ever resourceful Robinson taking the first solo. He’s followed by the leader with his slippery, agile, bebop inspired guitar runs. Hamblett’s neatly energetic drumming keeps everything ticking over and he also enjoys a series of brisk drum breaks as he exchanges phrases with Costley-White and Robinson.

A passage of unaccompanied acoustic guitar introduces Herb Ellis’ title track with Costley-White eventually joined by Chaplin’s rounded bass and Hamblett’s delicately brushed drums. Chaplin steps out of the shadows to deliver a delightfully melodic bass solo while Costley-White subtly explores the contours of the piece in this elegant trio performance. Ellis’ song, also credited to John Frigo and Lou Carter, was famously covered by pianist Bill Evans and by singers ranging from Billie Holiday to Cecile McLorin Salvant. Costley-White’s interpretation sits well with such illustrious company.

The original “Thinky Pain” is a dedication to the American comedian (and occasional guitarist) Marc Maron. Costley-White describes the piece as “a portrait in three parts” and the performance sees the distinctive sound of Sam Rapley’s bass clarinet added to the equation.
The first section features Costley-White’s unaccompanied acoustic guitar, playing what the composer describes as “an open palette of clustered chords”.
The rhythm section, plus Rapley, then join the proceedings adding “a steady travelling pulse whilst the polytonal theme is slowly unwrapped and explored through further improvisations”. These include an expansively lyrical piano solo from Robinson and an intriguing and inventive bass clarinet solo from Rapley, whose playing represents a good representation of the flexibility and range of his chosen instrument.
Of the third section Costley-White says; “The final section strips us back to just the double bass, and gradually all the instruments, harmonies and rhythms are stacked on to one another, building a rich and beautifully dissonant sound world. As if from nowhere the final chord is struck, peacefully resolving all tensions”. It may all appear a little academic but it’s highly effective and strangely beautiful.  Rapley’s bass clarinet is a particularly key component in the process as he combines effectively with Robinson on piano.

Rapley also appears on “The Kernel”, another of the album’s more contemporary post bop pieces. Relatively brief at a little over three minutes it includes a concise solo from Robinson with the pianist shadowed by Hamblett’s drums. Costley-White retains a comparatively low profile, only coming to prominence in the final stages of the tune.

“Bridges” commences with an exquisite dialogue between Costley-White on guitar and Robinson on piano. The addition of bass and drums steers the music into more conventional jazz waters with Chaplin contributing another excellent double bass solo, melodic and dexterous. The leader follows on guitar, with a solo that combines conventional jazz sophistication with an agreeably contemporary urgency.

The album concludes with “My Number One” which signals a brief sidestep into fusion style territory with Robinson moving to electric piano and adopting a classic Fender Rhodes sound.
The keyboard man spars joyously with Costley-White, whose sound here is more obviously ‘electric’, but without sacrificing any of the fluency and elegance that is always apparent in his playing.

“Detour Ahead” is an album that reveals two sides of Costley-White’s talent. I don’t know if there is a vinyl version of the recording but in effect ‘Side A’, i.e. tracks one to four, highlights the guitarist’s skill as an interpreter of jazz standards and as a writer of original pieces in that vein.
‘Side B’ i.e. tracks five to eight presents Costley-White in a more contemporary light with Rapley adding a distinctive additional instrumental voice to the proceedings.

Personally I’m more drawn to the second half of the album but there will also be many listeners who will find it easier to relate to what I have dubbed ‘Side A’. Indeed Costley-White himself has stated that he is finding himself drawn ever more strongly to interpreting the subtleties of the standards repertoire.

“Detour Ahead” represents a good introduction to his abilities as a guitarist, composer and interpreter and the leader is well supported by an excellent band who all make telling contributions to the overall success of the music.

Costley-White, Robinson, Chaplin and Hamblett will be touring the album extensively in the UK during September, October and November 2018 with dates listed below;


NICK COSTLEY-WHITE QUARTET ON TOUR;


03/09/18 - NCW4 @ Peer Hat Jazz, Manchester
04/09/18 - NCW4 @ The Spotted Dog, Birmingham
05/09/18 - NCW4 @ The Lescar, Sheffield
07/09/18 - NCW4 @ Hampstead Jazz Club, Hampstead
08/09/18 - NCW4 @ The Bear Club, Luton
13/09/18 - NCW4 @ Future Inns, Bristol
15/09/18 - NCW4 @ Zeffirelli’s, Ambleside
20/09/18 - NCW4 @ The SoundCellar, Poole
23/09/18 - NCW4 @ Southampton Modern Jazz Club
27/09/18 - NCW4 @ Silvershine Jazz Club, Smethwick
29/09/18 - NCW4 @ Jazz at Heart, Headingley
03/10/18 - NCW4 @ Jazzland, Swansea
04/10/18 - NCW4 @ Café Jazz, Cardiff
05/10/18 - NCW4 @ Con Cellar Bar, Camden
17/10/18 - NCW4 @ House Concert, Edinburgh
18/10/18 - NCW4 @ The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
21/10/18 - NCW4 @ Sela Bar, Leeds
23/10/18 - NCW4 @ The Mad Hatter, Oxford
24/10/18 - NCW4 @ Mill Hill Jazz Club, Mill Hill
30/10/18 - NCW4 @ St Ives Jazz Club, St Ives
08/11/18 - NCW4 @ The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh
09/11/18 - NCW4 @ The Blue Arrow, Glasgow

Slowly Rolling Camera - Juniper Rating: 4 out of 5 The album stays true to SRC’s core values with its skilfully crafted soundscaping, infectious grooves and wide-screen cinematic narratives.

Slowly Rolling Camera

“Juniper”

(Edition Records EDN 1115)

“Juniper” is the third album from Slowly Rolling Camera, the ensemble led by keyboard player, composer and Edition Records label owner Dave Stapleton. It follows the group’s eponymous début from 2014 and the follow up, “All Things”, which appeared in 2016.

SRC is based around the core trio of Stapleton, drummer Elliot Bennett, and producer/sound artist Deri Roberts. On the first two albums this nucleus also included the charismatic vocalist and lyricist Dionne Bennett (no relation to Elliot as far as I’m aware) and the group were routinely referred to as a jazz / nu soul outfit.

The first two albums were essentially song based and with Dionne Bennett as the focal point SRC developed into an exciting live act with an appeal that reached beyond the usual jazz demographic. I recall seeing them deliver a particularly exciting live performance in the club environment of the Rich Mix venue at the 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival. It was almost like a rock gig.

With Dionne Bennett’s soulful vocals and emotive lyrics spearheading the band and contrasting effectively with the electronic soundscapes generated by Stapleton and Roberts the music of SRC was frequently compared to that of Bristol based trip hop pioneers Massive Attack and Portishead, and justifiably so. By the time of that 2016 Rich Mix appearance the band looked increasingly assured and confident and capable of reaching out to a wider musical constituency.

Since those heady days Dionne Bennett has left SRC and now seems to be fronting her former band The Earth once more. I’ve not been able to establish the reasons behind this but in any event Slowly Rolling Camera have retrenched and returned to their instrumental roots.

Stapleton, Elliot Bennett and Roberts, the latter also a talented saxophonist, go back a long way having been students together at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama and they still regard themselves as a Cardiff based band.

Leader Stapleton first came to my attention as the leader of the punchy, hard hitting DSQ, a quintet containing Elliot Bennett that updated the classic hard bop sound for the 21st century, releasing three albums between 2005 and 2010.

His other projects have included “The Conway Suite” (2005) a duo work that featured Stapleton on church organ alongside Roberts on saxophone and “Dismantling The Waterfall” (2008), a series of piano duets with that extraordinary musical maverick Matthew Bourne.

If those two releases represented the more experimental side of Stapleton’s output then “Catching Sunlight” (2008) and “Flight” (2012) saw him edging further away from the conventional American style jazz of DSQ and into a more obviously European sound-world that embraced both jazz and classical influences. The music on both albums was possessed of a strong pictorial quality that reflected Stapleton’s burgeoning interest in photography and cinema. Tellingly “Catching Sunlight” was subtitled “Music For An Imaginary Film”.

With Dionne Bennett on board the first edition of SRC was different again but the new, all instrumental, version of the band harks back to those cinematic visions. Stapleton has said of Slowly Rolling Camera;
“Originally the band formed as an instrumental led project, merging progressive jazz beats with a more cinematic and produced sensibility. What emerged was something totally unexpected and epic, shaping the music and production more and more around Dionne Bennett’s expansive and rich vocal. However for this new album we wanted to re-ignite that early vision whilst retaining those production values. This album draws on all the musical and personal experiences we’ve had over the past fifteen years whilst engaging audiences with a blend of strong melodies, rhythmical hooks and improvisation. Without those earlier experiments and the first few albums this would never have happened.”

The core members of SRC have always drawn upon a pool of other musicians, most of them close Edition label associates, to help them realise their musical vision. On “Juniper” the supporting cast includes guitarist Stuart McCallum, trumpeter Neil Yates, bassist Aidan Thorne and saxophonists Nicolas Kummert and Mark Lockheart. There are also cameo roles for three younger musicians associated with the Edition label, namely Tom Barford (tenor & soprano sax), James Copus (trumpet) and Sam Glaser (alto sax).

All of the music on “Juniper” is written by Stapleton and the album commences with the title track. The composer’s sparse introductory acoustic piano is quickly joined by gentle, ambient electronica and the icy shimmer of McCallum’s guitar. SRC’s music is routinely compared to that of the Manchester based Cinematic Orchestra, of which McCallum is a member and his presence on this album does much to validate those comparisons. “Juniper” gradually gathers momentum as Stapleton switches to electric keyboards and Elliot Bennett establishes a hip hop style drum groove.
Even with Dionne Bennett gone SRC’s signature style is readily recognisable with Stapleton’s dark hued synth textures helping to shape the music alongside Elliot Bennett’s grooves and beats. The band’s sound remains thoroughly contemporary, drawing on modern dance music and electronica, but nevertheless Dionne Bennett’s departure has also allowed them to partially return to their jazz roots. This is expressed by the fact that there are recognisable instrumental solos on this album with this opening track containing a startlingly inventive guitar feature from McCallum that transports the listener to deep space in a manner similar to a jazzier and more imaginative Pink Floyd. Later there’s some powerful tenor sax reminiscent of the spiritual jazz of John Coltrane.

Stapleton’s multi-faceted keyboards and Elliot Bennett’s skittering, electronica influenced grooves remain at the heart of the following “Helsinki Song”, which also features a passage of incisively melodic soprano saxophone. McCallum’s semi-acoustic guitar also plays a key role in this ever evolving piece and there’s also another powerful passage of tenor saxophone. Individual solos aren’t credited so it’s difficult to apportion due credit with regard to the two saxophonists.

The brief “A Thousand Lights” begins in impressionistic fashion, with the sound of Stapleton’s gently shimmering keyboards and Roberts’ ambient electronica suggesting a particularly atmospheric film soundtrack. The arrival of a tenor saxophone briefly muddies the waters but overall this a beguiling and beautifully melodic piece that some have compared favourably to the music of Erik Satie.

“Hyperloop” mixes the influences of minimalism and contemporary electronica but is enlivened and humanised first by the addition of punchy brass and reeds, initially playing collectively but later including a brief cameo from a tenor sax soloist. McCallum then takes over with a powerfully imaginative guitar solo, this yielding in time to second saxophone solo, this time played on soprano.
Bennett’s drum grooves and Stapleton’s keys form the backbone of the music but the piece eventually resolves itself with a brief passage of unaccompanied electronics, presumably courtesy of Roberts.

The majority of these pieces are multi-faceted, mixing the sounds of acoustic and electric instruments and embracing changes of mood and pace to create a strong narrative arc and a distinct cinematic quality. A case in point is the seven minute “Crossings” which emerges from gently atmospheric beginnings to embrace a lilting soprano sax solo, angular hip hop style grooves, and a rather grittier tenor sax excursion.

The brief “Nature’s Ratio” acts as a beguiling interlude that features the ethereal twinkle of Stapleton’s keyboards and the distinctive folk influenced sound of Yates’ trumpet.

“The Outlier” combines muscular contemporary grooves with punchy brass and reeds with solos for tenor and soprano saxes. It’s a satisfyingly complex track incorporating odd meter rhythms, elements of minimalism and even brief snatches of folk melody.

Yates’ trumpet whisper returns on the closing “Eight Days” with its seductive mix of electric and acoustic sounds, this time with the latter predominating. There’s an authoritative, beautifully constructed tenor sax solo mid tune, this followed by Yates’ sumptuous trumpet as McCallum concentrates on acoustic guitar.

With the departure of Dionne Bennett SRC’s chance of breaking through to a wider, more general audience has probably gone with her. However one suspects that Stapleton and his colleagues are probably not too concerned about that.

With the absence of vocals and song-like structures “Juniper” could almost be the work of a different band and it’s certainly likely to hold a greater appeal to regular jazz listeners. Nevertheless the album stays true to SRC’s core values with its skilfully crafted soundscaping, infectious grooves and wide-screen cinematic narratives. Stapleton’s keys are at the heart of the music as they combine with Roberts’ sound artistry to create a constantly evolving sonic landscape that nods towards a variety of musical genres plus the influence of film noir. Roberts is a less overt presence than previously but remains a key component of the band’s sound, as does Bennett’s drumming with its ready embrace of contemporary grooves and rhythms.

SRC’s pool of guest musicians all make excellent contributions, particularly McCallum, Yates and the two main saxophonists Lockheart and Kummert. All of these contribute solos that are rich in terms of colour, imagination and inventiveness while fitting superbly into the instrumental framework so carefully and skilfully created by SRC’s core trio.

It’s very different to the band’s first two albums but in its own way is a total artistic success. It will be interesting to see which direction Slowly Rolling Camera decides to follow next.

 

 

Juniper

Slowly Rolling Camera

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Juniper

The album stays true to SRC’s core values with its skilfully crafted soundscaping, infectious grooves and wide-screen cinematic narratives.

Slowly Rolling Camera

“Juniper”

(Edition Records EDN 1115)

“Juniper” is the third album from Slowly Rolling Camera, the ensemble led by keyboard player, composer and Edition Records label owner Dave Stapleton. It follows the group’s eponymous début from 2014 and the follow up, “All Things”, which appeared in 2016.

SRC is based around the core trio of Stapleton, drummer Elliot Bennett, and producer/sound artist Deri Roberts. On the first two albums this nucleus also included the charismatic vocalist and lyricist Dionne Bennett (no relation to Elliot as far as I’m aware) and the group were routinely referred to as a jazz / nu soul outfit.

The first two albums were essentially song based and with Dionne Bennett as the focal point SRC developed into an exciting live act with an appeal that reached beyond the usual jazz demographic. I recall seeing them deliver a particularly exciting live performance in the club environment of the Rich Mix venue at the 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival. It was almost like a rock gig.

With Dionne Bennett’s soulful vocals and emotive lyrics spearheading the band and contrasting effectively with the electronic soundscapes generated by Stapleton and Roberts the music of SRC was frequently compared to that of Bristol based trip hop pioneers Massive Attack and Portishead, and justifiably so. By the time of that 2016 Rich Mix appearance the band looked increasingly assured and confident and capable of reaching out to a wider musical constituency.

Since those heady days Dionne Bennett has left SRC and now seems to be fronting her former band The Earth once more. I’ve not been able to establish the reasons behind this but in any event Slowly Rolling Camera have retrenched and returned to their instrumental roots.

Stapleton, Elliot Bennett and Roberts, the latter also a talented saxophonist, go back a long way having been students together at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama and they still regard themselves as a Cardiff based band.

Leader Stapleton first came to my attention as the leader of the punchy, hard hitting DSQ, a quintet containing Elliot Bennett that updated the classic hard bop sound for the 21st century, releasing three albums between 2005 and 2010.

His other projects have included “The Conway Suite” (2005) a duo work that featured Stapleton on church organ alongside Roberts on saxophone and “Dismantling The Waterfall” (2008), a series of piano duets with that extraordinary musical maverick Matthew Bourne.

If those two releases represented the more experimental side of Stapleton’s output then “Catching Sunlight” (2008) and “Flight” (2012) saw him edging further away from the conventional American style jazz of DSQ and into a more obviously European sound-world that embraced both jazz and classical influences. The music on both albums was possessed of a strong pictorial quality that reflected Stapleton’s burgeoning interest in photography and cinema. Tellingly “Catching Sunlight” was subtitled “Music For An Imaginary Film”.

With Dionne Bennett on board the first edition of SRC was different again but the new, all instrumental, version of the band harks back to those cinematic visions. Stapleton has said of Slowly Rolling Camera;
“Originally the band formed as an instrumental led project, merging progressive jazz beats with a more cinematic and produced sensibility. What emerged was something totally unexpected and epic, shaping the music and production more and more around Dionne Bennett’s expansive and rich vocal. However for this new album we wanted to re-ignite that early vision whilst retaining those production values. This album draws on all the musical and personal experiences we’ve had over the past fifteen years whilst engaging audiences with a blend of strong melodies, rhythmical hooks and improvisation. Without those earlier experiments and the first few albums this would never have happened.”

The core members of SRC have always drawn upon a pool of other musicians, most of them close Edition label associates, to help them realise their musical vision. On “Juniper” the supporting cast includes guitarist Stuart McCallum, trumpeter Neil Yates, bassist Aidan Thorne and saxophonists Nicolas Kummert and Mark Lockheart. There are also cameo roles for three younger musicians associated with the Edition label, namely Tom Barford (tenor & soprano sax), James Copus (trumpet) and Sam Glaser (alto sax).

All of the music on “Juniper” is written by Stapleton and the album commences with the title track. The composer’s sparse introductory acoustic piano is quickly joined by gentle, ambient electronica and the icy shimmer of McCallum’s guitar. SRC’s music is routinely compared to that of the Manchester based Cinematic Orchestra, of which McCallum is a member and his presence on this album does much to validate those comparisons. “Juniper” gradually gathers momentum as Stapleton switches to electric keyboards and Elliot Bennett establishes a hip hop style drum groove.
Even with Dionne Bennett gone SRC’s signature style is readily recognisable with Stapleton’s dark hued synth textures helping to shape the music alongside Elliot Bennett’s grooves and beats. The band’s sound remains thoroughly contemporary, drawing on modern dance music and electronica, but nevertheless Dionne Bennett’s departure has also allowed them to partially return to their jazz roots. This is expressed by the fact that there are recognisable instrumental solos on this album with this opening track containing a startlingly inventive guitar feature from McCallum that transports the listener to deep space in a manner similar to a jazzier and more imaginative Pink Floyd. Later there’s some powerful tenor sax reminiscent of the spiritual jazz of John Coltrane.

Stapleton’s multi-faceted keyboards and Elliot Bennett’s skittering, electronica influenced grooves remain at the heart of the following “Helsinki Song”, which also features a passage of incisively melodic soprano saxophone. McCallum’s semi-acoustic guitar also plays a key role in this ever evolving piece and there’s also another powerful passage of tenor saxophone. Individual solos aren’t credited so it’s difficult to apportion due credit with regard to the two saxophonists.

The brief “A Thousand Lights” begins in impressionistic fashion, with the sound of Stapleton’s gently shimmering keyboards and Roberts’ ambient electronica suggesting a particularly atmospheric film soundtrack. The arrival of a tenor saxophone briefly muddies the waters but overall this a beguiling and beautifully melodic piece that some have compared favourably to the music of Erik Satie.

“Hyperloop” mixes the influences of minimalism and contemporary electronica but is enlivened and humanised first by the addition of punchy brass and reeds, initially playing collectively but later including a brief cameo from a tenor sax soloist. McCallum then takes over with a powerfully imaginative guitar solo, this yielding in time to second saxophone solo, this time played on soprano.
Bennett’s drum grooves and Stapleton’s keys form the backbone of the music but the piece eventually resolves itself with a brief passage of unaccompanied electronics, presumably courtesy of Roberts.

The majority of these pieces are multi-faceted, mixing the sounds of acoustic and electric instruments and embracing changes of mood and pace to create a strong narrative arc and a distinct cinematic quality. A case in point is the seven minute “Crossings” which emerges from gently atmospheric beginnings to embrace a lilting soprano sax solo, angular hip hop style grooves, and a rather grittier tenor sax excursion.

The brief “Nature’s Ratio” acts as a beguiling interlude that features the ethereal twinkle of Stapleton’s keyboards and the distinctive folk influenced sound of Yates’ trumpet.

“The Outlier” combines muscular contemporary grooves with punchy brass and reeds with solos for tenor and soprano saxes. It’s a satisfyingly complex track incorporating odd meter rhythms, elements of minimalism and even brief snatches of folk melody.

Yates’ trumpet whisper returns on the closing “Eight Days” with its seductive mix of electric and acoustic sounds, this time with the latter predominating. There’s an authoritative, beautifully constructed tenor sax solo mid tune, this followed by Yates’ sumptuous trumpet as McCallum concentrates on acoustic guitar.

With the departure of Dionne Bennett SRC’s chance of breaking through to a wider, more general audience has probably gone with her. However one suspects that Stapleton and his colleagues are probably not too concerned about that.

With the absence of vocals and song-like structures “Juniper” could almost be the work of a different band and it’s certainly likely to hold a greater appeal to regular jazz listeners. Nevertheless the album stays true to SRC’s core values with its skilfully crafted soundscaping, infectious grooves and wide-screen cinematic narratives. Stapleton’s keys are at the heart of the music as they combine with Roberts’ sound artistry to create a constantly evolving sonic landscape that nods towards a variety of musical genres plus the influence of film noir. Roberts is a less overt presence than previously but remains a key component of the band’s sound, as does Bennett’s drumming with its ready embrace of contemporary grooves and rhythms.

SRC’s pool of guest musicians all make excellent contributions, particularly McCallum, Yates and the two main saxophonists Lockheart and Kummert. All of these contribute solos that are rich in terms of colour, imagination and inventiveness while fitting superbly into the instrumental framework so carefully and skilfully created by SRC’s core trio.

It’s very different to the band’s first two albums but in its own way is a total artistic success. It will be interesting to see which direction Slowly Rolling Camera decides to follow next.

 

 

John Bailey - Oneiric Sounds Rating: 3-5 out of 5 "Oneiric Sounds" has clearly been a labour of love for Bailey. The compositions are consistently interesting and include many influences ranging from jazz to folk to contemporary classical music.

John Bailey

“Oneiric Sounds”

(Outhouse Records OUTHOUSE 03)

John Bailey is a Lancashire based guitarist and composer who holds an MA in Jazz Performance from the Leeds College of Music. Born in Huddersfield Bailey first played in heavy metal bands before turning to jazz and classical music.  He performs regularly in the North of England with his trio and quartet and has also toured with the operatic tenor Russell Watson and worked with Sting on the latter’s “The Last Ship” project.

“Oneiric Sounds” is Bailey’s third album as a leader and his most ambitious work to date. It follows two earlier small group recordings, “Black Ship, Bright Sea” and “Heart Horizons”.

Now, I have to admit that before this album dropped through my letterbox I’d never heard of John Bailey, but anybody who can persuade such jazz heavyweights as British saxophonist Julian Arguelles and Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen to appear on his album is definitely worth paying attention to.

Bailey’s two star guests don’t actually play together. Each appears on a separate suite of music recorded at different sessions. The movements of each suite are then punctuated by four improvised passages featuring Bailey, Arguelles and others under catch all title “Oneiric”.

Besides Bailey, Andersen and Arguelles the recording also features the talents of Richard Iles (flugelhorn, trumpet), Tim France (tenor sax), Garry Jackson (electric & acoustic bass), Simon Chalk (violin), Mark Chivers (viola) and Nick Stringfellow (cello). Drumming duties are shared by Richard Kass, who performed on the Andersen session, and Eryl Roberts who performed alongside Arguelles.

Bailey says of the album title;
“The word ‘Oneiric’ means ‘dream like. When I was conceiving the album I had no really strong angle from which I was working. The more I thought about the music the more I slipped into a dream world where meanings, intent and strange threads of dialogue which were rooted in perception came together. I found myself trying to transcribe the architecture of my dream world, mostly waking dreams and unusual experiential things.”.

The music is heavily influenced by the films of Andrei Tarkovsky and also the art of Albrecht Durer, particularly his depictions of the natural world. Regarding these sources of inspiration Bailey comments;
“I should mention here with absolute honesty that I discovered relationships between Tarkovsky and Durer after I had come to both of them independently of one another and found that Tarkovsky actually referenced Durer in one or two of his films. I feel that this album is, for me, the soundtrack that accompanies that relationship, and their relationship to me.”

Bailey’s notes in the press release that accompanies this album shed additional light on the inspirations behind the individual tracks while fellow guitarist Carl Orr’s succinct album liner notes provide further illumination from a peer’s perspective.

The album commences with “The Large Turf”, a piece named after a Durer painting and played by a quintet of Bailey, Andersen, Iles, France and Kass. It also features the three string players, Chalk, Chivers and Stringfellow who add both folk and classical elements to the music. The piece is notable for an exceptional double bass solo from Andersen that combines a huge tone with an acute melodic sense and a formidable dexterity. Andersen is one of the world’s greatest, and most recognisable, double bass soloists and he’s in terrific form here. Bailey, playing a solid bodied classical guitar also impresses as does the arrangement as a whole, with the playing of Iles also hinting at the influence of the Northern brass band tradition.

Played by the same combination of musicians the title of “The Human Trap” references the Peter Breugel painting “Winter Landscape With Skaters and a Bird Trap”. Breugel’s work prompted Bailey to reflect upon the fragility of human life and man’s role in the context of nature. The music is suitably panoramic in scope and remarkably rich in terms of colour and texture. Iles’ flugelhorn playing has something of the majesty of Kenny Wheeler about it and France also weighs in with a succinct, carefully constructed tenor solo. Bailey also allows himself some solo space with a flowing guitar solo possessed of a crystalline beauty. But there’s also a drama about the piece as a whole that reflects the savage beauty of Breugel’s landscape.

The brief “Oneiric 1” is the first of the four improvised pieces and here features a trio of Bailey, Arguelles and Roberts. Arguelles specialises on soprano saxophone throughout the album and here his dancing, spiralling arabesques are complemented by Bailey’s nimble guitar phrases and Roberts’ astute percussive shadings.

“Grize Dale”, named after that location in the Lake District is a beautiful dialogue between Bailey and Andersen with the two main protagonists sometimes augmented by sweeping string textures courtesy of Chalk, Chivers and Stringfellow. For me, the strings are something of a syrupy distraction, the real heart of the piece, and thus its chief treasure, is the central dialogue between Bailey and Andersen with its combination of jazz, folk and classical influences. It’s sometimes reminiscent of Andersen’s work with guitarist Ralph Towner on the 1993 ECM album “If You Look Far Enough”, credited to the pair plus percussionist Nana Vasconcelos.

Durer’s Vision” is inspired by the painter’s work “Dream Vision” with its images of apocalyptic floods. Played by jazz quintet and strings the piece has a restlessness and urgency about it with Iles’ trumpet and France’s tenor playing prominent roles in the arrangement. Andersen delivers another exceptional solo, this time darker in tone, accompanied by Bailey’s cleanly picked guitar and the insistent tapping of Kass’ cymbals. Bailey then embarks upon a solo of his own before handing over to Iles on Harmon muted trumpet.

“Oneiric II” is the second of the improvised fragments, again delivered by the trio of Bailey, Arguelles and Roberts. The owl like hooting of Arguelles’ soprano is shadowed by Bailey’s slippery guitar lines and Roberts’ always apposite drum commentary.

“You Be The Wolf” is the last movement of the suite featuring Andersen and takes its title from Bailey’s young daughter and the childhood game in which she wanted her father to ‘be the wolf’ and chase her. The music reflects Bailey’s musings on the freedom of a child’s imagination and the later compromises that child will have to make to become an accepted member of adult society. Kass’s cymbals introduce the piece, again played by jazz quintet and strings, with the opening passages expressing something of the urgency implied in the title. The arrangement is characteristically rich and full of colour. Something of the early energy is dissipated via a delightfully melodic Andersen solo, the bassist handing over to France whose tenor solo has something of an anthemic quality, which then carries over into a final passage featuring Iles’ soaring trumpet against the lush backdrop of the strings. The richness of the arrangement is a reflection of Bailey’s love of art and nature.

The second suite, this time featuring Arguelles, commences with “White Day”, the title not derived from snowfall but from the prospect of “a big white blinding new day, a blanc canvas”. Bailey’s guitar introduces the piece which is played by a sextet also featuring Arguelles, Iles, France, Jackson and Roberts, plus strings. Bailey praises Arguelles for the technical facility of his playing and “the sheer quality of his ideas”. These qualities, apparent throughout the saxophonist’s distinguished career, are manifested here as he trades solos with Bailey with Arguelles’ playing helping to propel the guitarist to new heights. The other musicians also impress in a typically thoughtful and characterful ensemble arrangement.

“Oneiric III” is the penultimate of the improvised interludes, again performed by the trio of Arguelles, Bailey and Roberts. The saxophonist’s probings, at first tentative but then increasingly confident and garrulous, are faithfully shadowed by Bailey and Roberts with the piece ending with a bout of authentic free playing.

The title of “Shivering Sky” comes not from a storm but “watching the clouds, birds and other non grounded things move slowly across the sky”. From this came the observation that behind the blue is black space, a shiver inducing thought. Played by jazz sextet plus strings the piece has an appropriately airy quality and incorporates a burnished, magisterial trumpet solo from Iles.
Meanwhile Arguelles’ contribution as a soloist is also hugely impressive

“Oneiric IV” is the last of the improvised episodes and introduces a different combination of instruments as Bailey and Arguelles are joined by Iles on trumpet and Jackson on double bass, these two given considerable prominence in the ensuing musical conversation.

“To Sleep Perchance To Dream” takes its title from the well known Shakespearian quote (from Hamlet) and ties in directly with Bailey’s concept of the Oneiric world where even death may not guarantee relief from human suffering. Consequently there’s a subtly melancholic quality about a highly effective arrangement featuring Arguelles’ gently keening soprano sax alongside richly layered strings.

“Feelings In Dusk” is another of Bailey’s tunes with its roots in nature, in this case the unity between colour, light, smell and the stillness of the air at dusk in the countryside of Northern England. A colourful but subtle arrangement attempts to express these sensory pleasures with the solos shared between Arguelles on soprano and Iles on muted trumpet.

The final piece, “Sunrise With Sea Monsters” is inspired by an unfinished painting by J.M.W. Turner and the range of unrealised possibilities that the work invokes. A vibrant arrangement helps to ensure that the album ends on an upbeat note with solos coming from France and Arguelles in the first phase of the piece. A passage of unaccompanied guitar from Bailey then leads into a quieter second half featuring Arguelles’ oboe like soprano, plus a greater role for the strings

“Oneiric Sounds” has clearly been a labour of love for Bailey and, on the whole, the album works very well. The compositions are consistently interesting and include many influences ranging from jazz to folk to contemporary classical music and the arrangements have been painstakingly prepared. All the musicians play well with the two star guests, Arguelles and Andersen,  both making massive contributions. Bailey himself is a relatively low key presence, he takes comparatively few solos, but nevertheless his guitar is right at the heart of the music.

Some listeners may find “Oneiric Sounds” a little bloodless – there’s little conventional jazz swing- and the overall concept a little too lofty. I have to admit that there were occasions when I found the strings a little too distracting or cloying, notably on “Grize Dale” which would have worked far better as a simple duet between Bailey and Andersen.

However “Oneiric Sounds” has much to recommend it and the positives far outweigh the negatives. For many listeners the presence of Andersen and Arguelles alone will be enough with many of the album’s best moments coming from them.

“Oneiric Sounds” is available from;

https://www.johnbaileymusic.co.uk/

http://www.john-bailey-music.bandcamp.com/album/oneiric-sounds

Oneiric Sounds

John Bailey

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Oneiric Sounds

"Oneiric Sounds" has clearly been a labour of love for Bailey. The compositions are consistently interesting and include many influences ranging from jazz to folk to contemporary classical music.

John Bailey

“Oneiric Sounds”

(Outhouse Records OUTHOUSE 03)

John Bailey is a Lancashire based guitarist and composer who holds an MA in Jazz Performance from the Leeds College of Music. Born in Huddersfield Bailey first played in heavy metal bands before turning to jazz and classical music.  He performs regularly in the North of England with his trio and quartet and has also toured with the operatic tenor Russell Watson and worked with Sting on the latter’s “The Last Ship” project.

“Oneiric Sounds” is Bailey’s third album as a leader and his most ambitious work to date. It follows two earlier small group recordings, “Black Ship, Bright Sea” and “Heart Horizons”.

Now, I have to admit that before this album dropped through my letterbox I’d never heard of John Bailey, but anybody who can persuade such jazz heavyweights as British saxophonist Julian Arguelles and Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen to appear on his album is definitely worth paying attention to.

Bailey’s two star guests don’t actually play together. Each appears on a separate suite of music recorded at different sessions. The movements of each suite are then punctuated by four improvised passages featuring Bailey, Arguelles and others under catch all title “Oneiric”.

Besides Bailey, Andersen and Arguelles the recording also features the talents of Richard Iles (flugelhorn, trumpet), Tim France (tenor sax), Garry Jackson (electric & acoustic bass), Simon Chalk (violin), Mark Chivers (viola) and Nick Stringfellow (cello). Drumming duties are shared by Richard Kass, who performed on the Andersen session, and Eryl Roberts who performed alongside Arguelles.

Bailey says of the album title;
“The word ‘Oneiric’ means ‘dream like. When I was conceiving the album I had no really strong angle from which I was working. The more I thought about the music the more I slipped into a dream world where meanings, intent and strange threads of dialogue which were rooted in perception came together. I found myself trying to transcribe the architecture of my dream world, mostly waking dreams and unusual experiential things.”.

The music is heavily influenced by the films of Andrei Tarkovsky and also the art of Albrecht Durer, particularly his depictions of the natural world. Regarding these sources of inspiration Bailey comments;
“I should mention here with absolute honesty that I discovered relationships between Tarkovsky and Durer after I had come to both of them independently of one another and found that Tarkovsky actually referenced Durer in one or two of his films. I feel that this album is, for me, the soundtrack that accompanies that relationship, and their relationship to me.”

Bailey’s notes in the press release that accompanies this album shed additional light on the inspirations behind the individual tracks while fellow guitarist Carl Orr’s succinct album liner notes provide further illumination from a peer’s perspective.

The album commences with “The Large Turf”, a piece named after a Durer painting and played by a quintet of Bailey, Andersen, Iles, France and Kass. It also features the three string players, Chalk, Chivers and Stringfellow who add both folk and classical elements to the music. The piece is notable for an exceptional double bass solo from Andersen that combines a huge tone with an acute melodic sense and a formidable dexterity. Andersen is one of the world’s greatest, and most recognisable, double bass soloists and he’s in terrific form here. Bailey, playing a solid bodied classical guitar also impresses as does the arrangement as a whole, with the playing of Iles also hinting at the influence of the Northern brass band tradition.

Played by the same combination of musicians the title of “The Human Trap” references the Peter Breugel painting “Winter Landscape With Skaters and a Bird Trap”. Breugel’s work prompted Bailey to reflect upon the fragility of human life and man’s role in the context of nature. The music is suitably panoramic in scope and remarkably rich in terms of colour and texture. Iles’ flugelhorn playing has something of the majesty of Kenny Wheeler about it and France also weighs in with a succinct, carefully constructed tenor solo. Bailey also allows himself some solo space with a flowing guitar solo possessed of a crystalline beauty. But there’s also a drama about the piece as a whole that reflects the savage beauty of Breugel’s landscape.

The brief “Oneiric 1” is the first of the four improvised pieces and here features a trio of Bailey, Arguelles and Roberts. Arguelles specialises on soprano saxophone throughout the album and here his dancing, spiralling arabesques are complemented by Bailey’s nimble guitar phrases and Roberts’ astute percussive shadings.

“Grize Dale”, named after that location in the Lake District is a beautiful dialogue between Bailey and Andersen with the two main protagonists sometimes augmented by sweeping string textures courtesy of Chalk, Chivers and Stringfellow. For me, the strings are something of a syrupy distraction, the real heart of the piece, and thus its chief treasure, is the central dialogue between Bailey and Andersen with its combination of jazz, folk and classical influences. It’s sometimes reminiscent of Andersen’s work with guitarist Ralph Towner on the 1993 ECM album “If You Look Far Enough”, credited to the pair plus percussionist Nana Vasconcelos.

Durer’s Vision” is inspired by the painter’s work “Dream Vision” with its images of apocalyptic floods. Played by jazz quintet and strings the piece has a restlessness and urgency about it with Iles’ trumpet and France’s tenor playing prominent roles in the arrangement. Andersen delivers another exceptional solo, this time darker in tone, accompanied by Bailey’s cleanly picked guitar and the insistent tapping of Kass’ cymbals. Bailey then embarks upon a solo of his own before handing over to Iles on Harmon muted trumpet.

“Oneiric II” is the second of the improvised fragments, again delivered by the trio of Bailey, Arguelles and Roberts. The owl like hooting of Arguelles’ soprano is shadowed by Bailey’s slippery guitar lines and Roberts’ always apposite drum commentary.

“You Be The Wolf” is the last movement of the suite featuring Andersen and takes its title from Bailey’s young daughter and the childhood game in which she wanted her father to ‘be the wolf’ and chase her. The music reflects Bailey’s musings on the freedom of a child’s imagination and the later compromises that child will have to make to become an accepted member of adult society. Kass’s cymbals introduce the piece, again played by jazz quintet and strings, with the opening passages expressing something of the urgency implied in the title. The arrangement is characteristically rich and full of colour. Something of the early energy is dissipated via a delightfully melodic Andersen solo, the bassist handing over to France whose tenor solo has something of an anthemic quality, which then carries over into a final passage featuring Iles’ soaring trumpet against the lush backdrop of the strings. The richness of the arrangement is a reflection of Bailey’s love of art and nature.

The second suite, this time featuring Arguelles, commences with “White Day”, the title not derived from snowfall but from the prospect of “a big white blinding new day, a blanc canvas”. Bailey’s guitar introduces the piece which is played by a sextet also featuring Arguelles, Iles, France, Jackson and Roberts, plus strings. Bailey praises Arguelles for the technical facility of his playing and “the sheer quality of his ideas”. These qualities, apparent throughout the saxophonist’s distinguished career, are manifested here as he trades solos with Bailey with Arguelles’ playing helping to propel the guitarist to new heights. The other musicians also impress in a typically thoughtful and characterful ensemble arrangement.

“Oneiric III” is the penultimate of the improvised interludes, again performed by the trio of Arguelles, Bailey and Roberts. The saxophonist’s probings, at first tentative but then increasingly confident and garrulous, are faithfully shadowed by Bailey and Roberts with the piece ending with a bout of authentic free playing.

The title of “Shivering Sky” comes not from a storm but “watching the clouds, birds and other non grounded things move slowly across the sky”. From this came the observation that behind the blue is black space, a shiver inducing thought. Played by jazz sextet plus strings the piece has an appropriately airy quality and incorporates a burnished, magisterial trumpet solo from Iles.
Meanwhile Arguelles’ contribution as a soloist is also hugely impressive

“Oneiric IV” is the last of the improvised episodes and introduces a different combination of instruments as Bailey and Arguelles are joined by Iles on trumpet and Jackson on double bass, these two given considerable prominence in the ensuing musical conversation.

“To Sleep Perchance To Dream” takes its title from the well known Shakespearian quote (from Hamlet) and ties in directly with Bailey’s concept of the Oneiric world where even death may not guarantee relief from human suffering. Consequently there’s a subtly melancholic quality about a highly effective arrangement featuring Arguelles’ gently keening soprano sax alongside richly layered strings.

“Feelings In Dusk” is another of Bailey’s tunes with its roots in nature, in this case the unity between colour, light, smell and the stillness of the air at dusk in the countryside of Northern England. A colourful but subtle arrangement attempts to express these sensory pleasures with the solos shared between Arguelles on soprano and Iles on muted trumpet.

The final piece, “Sunrise With Sea Monsters” is inspired by an unfinished painting by J.M.W. Turner and the range of unrealised possibilities that the work invokes. A vibrant arrangement helps to ensure that the album ends on an upbeat note with solos coming from France and Arguelles in the first phase of the piece. A passage of unaccompanied guitar from Bailey then leads into a quieter second half featuring Arguelles’ oboe like soprano, plus a greater role for the strings

“Oneiric Sounds” has clearly been a labour of love for Bailey and, on the whole, the album works very well. The compositions are consistently interesting and include many influences ranging from jazz to folk to contemporary classical music and the arrangements have been painstakingly prepared. All the musicians play well with the two star guests, Arguelles and Andersen,  both making massive contributions. Bailey himself is a relatively low key presence, he takes comparatively few solos, but nevertheless his guitar is right at the heart of the music.

Some listeners may find “Oneiric Sounds” a little bloodless – there’s little conventional jazz swing- and the overall concept a little too lofty. I have to admit that there were occasions when I found the strings a little too distracting or cloying, notably on “Grize Dale” which would have worked far better as a simple duet between Bailey and Andersen.

However “Oneiric Sounds” has much to recommend it and the positives far outweigh the negatives. For many listeners the presence of Andersen and Arguelles alone will be enough with many of the album’s best moments coming from them.

“Oneiric Sounds” is available from;

https://www.johnbaileymusic.co.uk/

http://www.john-bailey-music.bandcamp.com/album/oneiric-sounds

Nik Bartsch’s Ronin - Awase Rating: 4 out of 5 Singularly original music that is superbly played and produced. Bartsch has developed a strand of music that is undoubtedly his own.

Nik Bartsch’s Ronin

“Awase”

(ECM Records ECM 2603)

Nik Bartsch, born 1971, is a Swiss pianist and composer based in Zurich. He studied piano and clarinet as a child before concentrating on linguistics, philosophy and musicology during his time at a student at Zurich University.

Strongly influenced by minimalist and avant garde composers such as Steve Reich, John Cage and Morton Feldman Bartsch formed his first group, Mobile, in 2001, releasing the album “Ritual Groove Music” on the Tonus Music record label, the first of six recordings for the Bern based company.

In 2006 Bartsch signed to the prestigious Munich based label ECM which increased his profile considerably and transformed him into a significant presence on the international jazz scene. “Awase” is his sixth album for the label and represents a continuation of the unique musical path he has been exploring since 2001.

Bartsch’s music operates at the interface of jazz and contemporary classical music with minimalism a clearly discernible influence. The title of that first album, “Ritual Groove Music”, is both highly descriptive, and something of a mission statement. There’s a strong air of spirituality about Bartsch’s music, which has sometimes been described as “Zen Funk”. His compositions evolve slowly and organically, making use of recurring, but subtly mutating, grooves and motifs. Nothing is rushed, giving the music a meditative quality that many listeners find to be strangely beautiful.

Bartsch’s main creative outlets are the groups Ronin and Mobile, the two outfits representing different ways of interpreting Bartsch’s compositions. Ronin is the “Zen Funk” outlet and currently features the enigmatically named Sha (born Stefan Haselbacher) on alto sax and clarinet, Thomy Jordi on four string electric bass guitar and the long serving Kaspar Rast, who has worked with Bartsch since the début, on drums. Previous members of the group, hitherto a five piece, have included Bjorn Meyer on electric six string bass and Andy Pupato on percussion.

Meanwhile Mobile is a wholly acoustic unit that currently includes Sha and Rast plus percussionist Nicolas Stocker. The group sometimes operates as Mobile Extended with the addition of a string quintet featuring two cellos. As the shared personnel might suggest there are many similarities between Ronin and Mobile with several of Bartsch’s pieces being interpreted by both groups. Indeed Bartsch himself has said;
“We’ve always taken the position that the compositions can be played by both groups-Mobile or Ronin- to bring out different aspects of the music”.
Some pieces have been recorded by both groups, as is the case with some of the items on this recording.

Bartsch’s “modular” approach to music is reflected in his titles, each piece is a “Modul” with its own specific number. This ascetic, intellectual, purely functional approach to tune titling is designed to focus the listener’s attention on the structure and spirituality of the music with the composer eschewing descriptive titles that might affect the interpretation of the music, presumably by both his fellow players and his listeners.

Meanwhile the album title “Awase” is a term derived from the martial art of Aikido and means “moving together”, an apt description of Ronin’s collective ethos.

Now, I’ll admit to not always quite “getting” Nik Bartsch. I’ve heard some of his earlier albums and found them a little too repetitive for my tastes, although there’s no denying that he has developed a unique and very personal sound.

However a brief solo piano performance from the man at Union Chapel, Islington as part of the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival was utterly compelling and has forced me to look at Bartch’s music with a fresh eye and to listen with a more open ear. My account of that London performance can be read as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-saturday-november-18th-2017/

Turning now to the new album which commences with “Modul 60”, a piece previously recorded by the Mobile Extended ensemble on the 2015 album “Continuum”. The composer says of the piece;
“When we did ‘60’ with Mobile I was hearing it in a very chamber music way and it radiated a sort of bitter-sweet atmosphere. With Ronin it has a sparseness, an emptiness and a roughness that I really like. In the studio Manfred (Eicher,  label boss and producer) and I had the idea that it would be nice to play it as a sort of ‘quote’ bringing the story forward from ‘Continuum’. So this new version starts around the middle of the composition”.
At a little over five minutes in length the piece is a good, and eminently accessible, introduction to the Ronin sound. It develops out of Bartsch’s almost subliminal interior piano scrapings and economical chording to embrace the softly plaintive cry of Sha’s alto sax as Rast adds atmospheric, and occasionally dramatic, percussion.

At over eighteen minutes in length “Modul 58” is the album’s ‘magnum opus’.  Bartsch explains that “In Ronin terms it’s built upon a simple pattern cycle, just five against seven, and the same motif even, but it created such an interesting form”. He also mentions the influence of the tribal music styles that he and the group admire and describes the piece as “a kind of metric mantra which keeps loading itself up until we get to the more open part. You can hear, almost ironically, the simplicity of the two rhythms but you cannot match them at the same time. In its direction and its energy this piece still feels new to me, although there is something about it that seems archaic.”
The first section continues the meditative mood established by the opening “Modul 60” as the sounds of Bartsch’s dampened piano strings – his work ‘under the lid’ is consistently atmospheric and inventive – combine with Rast’s percussion shadings and the whispering and keening of Sha’s alto. The piece then gathers momentum in the second section with the propulsive interlocking generated by piano, electric bass, bass clarinet and drums grooves showing just where that “Zen Funk” label came from; at times the rhythms are almost reminiscent of those generated by contemporary electronic dance music. The momentum is punctuated by shorter, quieter passages and instruments drop in and out of the mix – there’s a stunning passage of unaccompanied bass clarinet from Sha- but essentially the piece is all about forward motion and the listener can really immerse themselves in the groove – and even more so in live performances one would imagine. With Bartsch’s hypnotic piano motifs and Rast’s powerful drumming driving the band Ronin is capable of building up an impressive head of team, such is the relentlessness of the playing that older listeners may be reminded of a jazzier version of Neu!’s “Hallogallo”.

Calm is restored with Sha’s composition “A”, the first time one of his pieces has been included on a Ronin album. It builds gently from a circling motif featuring just the composer’s breathy alto and Bartsch’s piano, subsequently joined by bass and drums, that develops in the classic Ronin manner yet retains something of the simplicity and accessibility of a rock anthem, it’s certainly constructed around the same sort of dynamics.

The lengthy (thirteen minutes) “Modul 36” emerges from the gentle rumblings of the leader’s piano arpeggios with Bartsch subsequently joined in a compelling dialogue by Jordi’s melodic, guitar like electric bass. It’s a piece that was originally recorded for Ronin’s ECM début, “Stoa”, back in 2006 but here places a greater emphasis on the ensemble playing, Bartsch having been featured as a (relatively) conventional soloist on the earlier version.
“Yes, it was a conscious decision to choose this piece to mark this quartet album, but also as a kind of new beginning, and to show how things have developed. In terms of structure and detail the compositional aspects remain but the group feeling is very and the energy more voodoo-ish perhaps”.
And he’s right, once Jordi sets up a hypnotic groove the band play with the kind of feverish intensity associated with Miles Davis’ electric bands, yet sounding totally different. Sha’s shamanic reed incantations are particularly absorbing as the band grooves relentlessly behind him.

“Modul 34” was written back in 2002/3 yet receives its recorded première here. “Sometimes pieces just have to wait until they are ready – or we are ready” Bartsch explains, “part of the challenge with ‘34’ was not to allow it to become too busy on the one hand, or too formal on the other.”
Initially “34” sounds almost pastoral with its rippling piano arpeggios and circling bass clarinet motif but before too long the group are setting up a typically infectious groove that they proceed to develop and embellish with characteristic inventiveness. Again it’s a totally focussed ensemble performance with each member of the band fully attuned to Bartsch’s artistic vision and serving the music faithfully.

The album concludes with the eleven minute “Modul 59”, a more contemplative offering that bookends the album effectively. Here there’s a greater emphasis on atmosphere and gradual development but even so a groove emerges that is both propulsive and compulsive, this embellished by Sha’s melodic interjections. Bartsch himself says of the piece;
“It begins from basic ideas, in this case to do with triplets, and builds until it becomes a sort of polyrhythmic, polyphonic carpet of sound. We’ve rehearsed and developed it extensively, and it still keeps surprising us.”

Listening with fresh ears in the light of Bartsch’s performance at Union Chapel I found myself becoming increasingly absorbed in this music, and it’s certainly the most enjoyable Bartsch album that I’ve heard to date. There’s no doubt that the Swiss has developed a strand of music that is undoubtedly his own, rich, rhythmic and, almost despite the composer’s highly intellectual approach, highly accessible to a surprisingly large number of people.

It’s not jazz in the conventional sense, and in this regard will only suit so many ears, but there’s no doubt that this is singularly original music that is superbly played and produced. It’s distinctive enough and enjoyable enough to earn a recommendation from me, although I appreciate that it’s an album that may hold little appeal to some listeners. For myself I’m at last beginning to see the appeal of Bartsch’s brand of musical Marmite.

Nik Bartsch’s Ronin will play at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club on Monday, November 19th 2018 as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. Details here;

https://www.ronniescotts.co.uk/performances/view/4806-nik-bartschs-ronin

Awase

Nik Bartsch’s Ronin

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Awase

Singularly original music that is superbly played and produced. Bartsch has developed a strand of music that is undoubtedly his own.

Nik Bartsch’s Ronin

“Awase”

(ECM Records ECM 2603)

Nik Bartsch, born 1971, is a Swiss pianist and composer based in Zurich. He studied piano and clarinet as a child before concentrating on linguistics, philosophy and musicology during his time at a student at Zurich University.

Strongly influenced by minimalist and avant garde composers such as Steve Reich, John Cage and Morton Feldman Bartsch formed his first group, Mobile, in 2001, releasing the album “Ritual Groove Music” on the Tonus Music record label, the first of six recordings for the Bern based company.

In 2006 Bartsch signed to the prestigious Munich based label ECM which increased his profile considerably and transformed him into a significant presence on the international jazz scene. “Awase” is his sixth album for the label and represents a continuation of the unique musical path he has been exploring since 2001.

Bartsch’s music operates at the interface of jazz and contemporary classical music with minimalism a clearly discernible influence. The title of that first album, “Ritual Groove Music”, is both highly descriptive, and something of a mission statement. There’s a strong air of spirituality about Bartsch’s music, which has sometimes been described as “Zen Funk”. His compositions evolve slowly and organically, making use of recurring, but subtly mutating, grooves and motifs. Nothing is rushed, giving the music a meditative quality that many listeners find to be strangely beautiful.

Bartsch’s main creative outlets are the groups Ronin and Mobile, the two outfits representing different ways of interpreting Bartsch’s compositions. Ronin is the “Zen Funk” outlet and currently features the enigmatically named Sha (born Stefan Haselbacher) on alto sax and clarinet, Thomy Jordi on four string electric bass guitar and the long serving Kaspar Rast, who has worked with Bartsch since the début, on drums. Previous members of the group, hitherto a five piece, have included Bjorn Meyer on electric six string bass and Andy Pupato on percussion.

Meanwhile Mobile is a wholly acoustic unit that currently includes Sha and Rast plus percussionist Nicolas Stocker. The group sometimes operates as Mobile Extended with the addition of a string quintet featuring two cellos. As the shared personnel might suggest there are many similarities between Ronin and Mobile with several of Bartsch’s pieces being interpreted by both groups. Indeed Bartsch himself has said;
“We’ve always taken the position that the compositions can be played by both groups-Mobile or Ronin- to bring out different aspects of the music”.
Some pieces have been recorded by both groups, as is the case with some of the items on this recording.

Bartsch’s “modular” approach to music is reflected in his titles, each piece is a “Modul” with its own specific number. This ascetic, intellectual, purely functional approach to tune titling is designed to focus the listener’s attention on the structure and spirituality of the music with the composer eschewing descriptive titles that might affect the interpretation of the music, presumably by both his fellow players and his listeners.

Meanwhile the album title “Awase” is a term derived from the martial art of Aikido and means “moving together”, an apt description of Ronin’s collective ethos.

Now, I’ll admit to not always quite “getting” Nik Bartsch. I’ve heard some of his earlier albums and found them a little too repetitive for my tastes, although there’s no denying that he has developed a unique and very personal sound.

However a brief solo piano performance from the man at Union Chapel, Islington as part of the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival was utterly compelling and has forced me to look at Bartch’s music with a fresh eye and to listen with a more open ear. My account of that London performance can be read as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-saturday-november-18th-2017/

Turning now to the new album which commences with “Modul 60”, a piece previously recorded by the Mobile Extended ensemble on the 2015 album “Continuum”. The composer says of the piece;
“When we did ‘60’ with Mobile I was hearing it in a very chamber music way and it radiated a sort of bitter-sweet atmosphere. With Ronin it has a sparseness, an emptiness and a roughness that I really like. In the studio Manfred (Eicher,  label boss and producer) and I had the idea that it would be nice to play it as a sort of ‘quote’ bringing the story forward from ‘Continuum’. So this new version starts around the middle of the composition”.
At a little over five minutes in length the piece is a good, and eminently accessible, introduction to the Ronin sound. It develops out of Bartsch’s almost subliminal interior piano scrapings and economical chording to embrace the softly plaintive cry of Sha’s alto sax as Rast adds atmospheric, and occasionally dramatic, percussion.

At over eighteen minutes in length “Modul 58” is the album’s ‘magnum opus’.  Bartsch explains that “In Ronin terms it’s built upon a simple pattern cycle, just five against seven, and the same motif even, but it created such an interesting form”. He also mentions the influence of the tribal music styles that he and the group admire and describes the piece as “a kind of metric mantra which keeps loading itself up until we get to the more open part. You can hear, almost ironically, the simplicity of the two rhythms but you cannot match them at the same time. In its direction and its energy this piece still feels new to me, although there is something about it that seems archaic.”
The first section continues the meditative mood established by the opening “Modul 60” as the sounds of Bartsch’s dampened piano strings – his work ‘under the lid’ is consistently atmospheric and inventive – combine with Rast’s percussion shadings and the whispering and keening of Sha’s alto. The piece then gathers momentum in the second section with the propulsive interlocking generated by piano, electric bass, bass clarinet and drums grooves showing just where that “Zen Funk” label came from; at times the rhythms are almost reminiscent of those generated by contemporary electronic dance music. The momentum is punctuated by shorter, quieter passages and instruments drop in and out of the mix – there’s a stunning passage of unaccompanied bass clarinet from Sha- but essentially the piece is all about forward motion and the listener can really immerse themselves in the groove – and even more so in live performances one would imagine. With Bartsch’s hypnotic piano motifs and Rast’s powerful drumming driving the band Ronin is capable of building up an impressive head of team, such is the relentlessness of the playing that older listeners may be reminded of a jazzier version of Neu!’s “Hallogallo”.

Calm is restored with Sha’s composition “A”, the first time one of his pieces has been included on a Ronin album. It builds gently from a circling motif featuring just the composer’s breathy alto and Bartsch’s piano, subsequently joined by bass and drums, that develops in the classic Ronin manner yet retains something of the simplicity and accessibility of a rock anthem, it’s certainly constructed around the same sort of dynamics.

The lengthy (thirteen minutes) “Modul 36” emerges from the gentle rumblings of the leader’s piano arpeggios with Bartsch subsequently joined in a compelling dialogue by Jordi’s melodic, guitar like electric bass. It’s a piece that was originally recorded for Ronin’s ECM début, “Stoa”, back in 2006 but here places a greater emphasis on the ensemble playing, Bartsch having been featured as a (relatively) conventional soloist on the earlier version.
“Yes, it was a conscious decision to choose this piece to mark this quartet album, but also as a kind of new beginning, and to show how things have developed. In terms of structure and detail the compositional aspects remain but the group feeling is very and the energy more voodoo-ish perhaps”.
And he’s right, once Jordi sets up a hypnotic groove the band play with the kind of feverish intensity associated with Miles Davis’ electric bands, yet sounding totally different. Sha’s shamanic reed incantations are particularly absorbing as the band grooves relentlessly behind him.

“Modul 34” was written back in 2002/3 yet receives its recorded première here. “Sometimes pieces just have to wait until they are ready – or we are ready” Bartsch explains, “part of the challenge with ‘34’ was not to allow it to become too busy on the one hand, or too formal on the other.”
Initially “34” sounds almost pastoral with its rippling piano arpeggios and circling bass clarinet motif but before too long the group are setting up a typically infectious groove that they proceed to develop and embellish with characteristic inventiveness. Again it’s a totally focussed ensemble performance with each member of the band fully attuned to Bartsch’s artistic vision and serving the music faithfully.

The album concludes with the eleven minute “Modul 59”, a more contemplative offering that bookends the album effectively. Here there’s a greater emphasis on atmosphere and gradual development but even so a groove emerges that is both propulsive and compulsive, this embellished by Sha’s melodic interjections. Bartsch himself says of the piece;
“It begins from basic ideas, in this case to do with triplets, and builds until it becomes a sort of polyrhythmic, polyphonic carpet of sound. We’ve rehearsed and developed it extensively, and it still keeps surprising us.”

Listening with fresh ears in the light of Bartsch’s performance at Union Chapel I found myself becoming increasingly absorbed in this music, and it’s certainly the most enjoyable Bartsch album that I’ve heard to date. There’s no doubt that the Swiss has developed a strand of music that is undoubtedly his own, rich, rhythmic and, almost despite the composer’s highly intellectual approach, highly accessible to a surprisingly large number of people.

It’s not jazz in the conventional sense, and in this regard will only suit so many ears, but there’s no doubt that this is singularly original music that is superbly played and produced. It’s distinctive enough and enjoyable enough to earn a recommendation from me, although I appreciate that it’s an album that may hold little appeal to some listeners. For myself I’m at last beginning to see the appeal of Bartsch’s brand of musical Marmite.

Nik Bartsch’s Ronin will play at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club on Monday, November 19th 2018 as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. Details here;

https://www.ronniescotts.co.uk/performances/view/4806-nik-bartschs-ronin

Dave Manington’s Riff Raff - Challenger Deep Rating: 4 out of 5 Sometimes simple, sometimes complex, often playful but always interesting this is a well crafted selection of original songs and compositions that are superbly realised by Manington and his team.

Dave Manington’s Riff Raff

“Challenger Deep”

(Loop Records Loop 1030)

A somewhat belated review for this second album from bassist and composer Dave Manington’s sextet Riff Raff. “Challenger Deep” was released in May 2018 and represents the long awaited follow up to 2013’s “Hullabaloo”.

The personnel remains the same with the leader joined by vocalist and lyricist Brigitte Beraha plus the instrumentalists Tomas Challenger (tenor sax), Ivo Neame (keyboards), Rob Updegraff (guitar) and Tim Giles (drums, percussion). All are long term collaborators and Neame and Giles were also part of an earlier Dave Manington Quartet (also featuring saxophonist Mark Hanslip) that released the album “Headrush” on the Loop label back in 2008.

Manington is one of the great unsung heroes of British jazz, a founder member of the both the Loop and E17 jazz collectives and a prolific, versatile and much in demand sideman who has worked across a variety of musical genres ranging from jazz to rock and pop to TV and film soundtracks.

His jazz credits include recordings with Neame, saxophonists Tori Freestone and Tommy Andrews and with the groups The Button Band (led by guitarist and composer Andrew Button)  and Solstice, a co-operative sextet featuring Beraha and Freestone. He has also performed with a string of other famous saxophonists including Julian Arguelles, Marius Neset, Mark Lockheart, Tim Garland, Iain Ballamy, Tony Woods, Peter King and Alan Barnes plus pianist Gwilym Simcock, trumpeter Yazz Ahmed and vocalist and songwriter Gwyneth Herbert.

“Challenger Deep” builds upon the success of the earlier “Hullabaloo” as Riff Raff continue to hone an increasingly distinctive group sound with Neame this time abandoning acoustic piano altogether and concentrating solely on electric keyboards (Fender Rhodes, mellotron and Hammond organ). Of the nine new Manington compositions five feature the adventurous wordless vocalising of Beraha while a further four tracks are more conventional songs featuring lyrics written by the singer with Manington remarking;
“I first collaborated with Brigitte in 2008 for a Loop Collective Festival and she has been a member of the group and a trusted co-writer ever since, contributing beautiful lyrics to many of my compositions”.

Of the album itself Manington says;
This is my third album as a leader and I feel it’s the ultimate expression of my music. Shaped and led by my compositions, but with plenty of freedom to explore, the band now plays so well as a unit after five years together that we can push each other to the limits of our energy and creative powers”.

He emphasises the group’s “strongly unified band sound” and “creative rapport” and references the fact that he, Giles and Updegraff all went to school together and have thus been a rhythm section for over twenty years, this unit forming “the heart of the band”. Of the guitarist and drummer he eulogises; “between them they have a rich and diverse textural palette, high energy and powerful, always empathetic, never overwhelming, they are musicians of exceptional quality”.
That last phrase also applies to Riff Raff as a whole, the sextet is a superbly balanced unit that more than does justice to Manington’s rich, imaginative and varied compositions.

The album commences with “Dr. Octopus”, Manington’s tribute to the late, great Joe Zawinul, keyboard player, composer and co-founder of Weather Report. Manington’s liner notes shine a light on the provenance of each tune and he cites Weather Report as “one of my favourite bands and a big influence on me in my formative years”. Of the title he says ”I still find it incredible that Zawinul could play so many keyboard parts at once so I decided that he must have eight arms – like the baddie from Spiderman”.
It’s left to Neame to fulfil the Zawinul role in this multi-faceted composition that successfully homages Weather Report without ever sounding like them. Slavish copying or pastiche is not Manington’s style but his piece still successfully navigates its way through a variety of styles, moods and tempos in a way that Zawinul himself would have been proud of. The focus is largely on the ensemble sound and Riff Raff is particularly well balanced in this respect as Neame and Updegraff provide rich colours and textures and Maington and Giles provide the snappy propulsion. Beraha’s soaring wordless vocals provide a particularly distinctive component, sometimes sharing the melody line with Challenger’s saxophone, at other times exchanging phrases with it. The tenor man takes the only real solo of the piece as he stretches out incisively.

The title track is named after the ocean trench in the Pacific rather than after the group’s saxophonist, although I’ve often suggested to Tom that he should adopt “Challenger Deep” as a band name. Now his mate seems to have beaten him to it by using it for a composition. Manington speaks of the composition as being “more of a mood piece, with the low bass riff and slow, otherworldly melody trying to capture the strange beauty and calm of the deep ocean. Imagine all the weird fish and creatures unknown to science swimming past in the darkness.”
The introduction is suitably atmospheric with Challenger’s breathy tenor sax allied to Giles’  brushes and mallet rumbles and the spooky, deep sea sounds of Neame’s keyboards and Updegraff’s guitar FX. Gradually that melody emerges, underpinned by the leader’s bass and featuring Beraha’s floaty, wordless vocals. The leader allows himself some solo space with a melodic bass feature underpinned by Neame’s shimmering keyboards and Giles’ subtle but exotic drum and percussion sounds. Challenger then takes up the reins on tenor before Beraha’s voice heads another ensemble section, this followed by the sounds of Updegraff’s FX drenched guitar. Collectively the musicians conjure up the mysterious, deep ocean feel that Manington was looking for. This is colourful, richly textured music that is almost orchestral in its scope as the five instruments plus voice conjure a rich panoply of exotic and fascinating sounds.

“I like to take the listener on a journey, to tell a musical story” says Manington as he describes the aptly named “The Iliad”, a piece he also refers to as “a bit of an epic, written in several contrasting sections.” The piece is, indeed, suitably episodic, developing out of a funky Rhodes driven groove to embrace the kind of breezy wordless vocalising that Flora Purim brought to the first edition of Return to Forever. Updegraff then embarks on an engagingly rambling solo, sketching melodies above a still funky underlying groove. Then it’s the turn of Neame to stretch out on Rhodes, dovetailing neatly with Beraha’s vocals. Manington himself comes briefly to the fore and Updegraff cranks his guitar up once more just before the close. The underlying funkiness is a constant throughout and the blend of voice and instruments also reminded me at times of the much loved and much missed (at least by me) group Turning Point, led by another bassist, the late, great Jeff Clyne and featuring vocalist Pepi Lemer. Oh, god, was it nearly forty years ago?

Following the complexities of the opening three pieces the first song of the album, “Free Spirit”, comes as something of a breath of fresh air. Manington describes it as “one of the most direct, uncomplicated songs I’ve written” and also praises Beraha’s “fantastic heartfelt lyrics”. The composer states that he “decided not to bow to the temptation to over-arrange it” and the result is a piece that communicates through its economy and simplicity. Beraha sings her own words with great feeling, this allied to a high level of technical expertise. The intentionally sparse backing at first features only the sound of guitar, later joined by double bass and eventually drums. Neame’s keyboards only enter when Updegraff takes a gently meandering guitar solo. In the context of the album as a whole it’s a song that makes a considerable emotional impact.

It’s back to the compositional nitty gritty with “Prime Numbers”, a piece that Manington describes as being “based on a sequence of seven bars of 7/8 – also containing plenty of threes and fives”. Muso-speak aside it’s a perky and infectious piece that positively relishes in its complexities with a percolating groove and underlying vocal drone allowing Challenger the opportunity to stretch out with some urgency on spiky, belligerent sounding tenor as Neame alternates between Hammond and Rhodes, soloing on the latter.

The second song of the album, “Random Acts Of Kindness” was inspired by the online blog of the same name. Introduced by Giles’ colourful and distinctive percussion in conjunction with Challenger’s smoky tenor sax the piece has something of a Brazilian vibe; but overall it’s more oblique than the earlier “Free Spirit”, the unusual subject matter giving the piece more of an ‘art song’ feel. Beraha also deploys wordless vocals, combining well with both Manington and Challenger, but the instrumental honours go to Updegraff with a spiralling guitar solo in which he exhibits an admirable inventiveness and fluency.

“Dangerpig” takes its name from the superhero alter ego of Manington’s young son, Freddie. Introduced by Beraha’s pure wordless vocals in conjunction with Challenger’s sax and Giles’ brushed drums the piece eventually veers off into choppier waters, Neame’s Hammond leading the way. Giles’ propulsive grooves are overlain with bursts of almost free jazz noise with Beraha sometimes deploying extended vocal techniques as Neame conjures up a variety of dirty, unconventional sounds from his keyboards and Challenger blows some earthy tenor sax. I bet it goes down a storm, live.

Manington’s children also inspired the song “Thagomizer”. Asked by his kids to write a tune about dinosaurs the bassist came up with this piece named after “the spiky bit on the end of a Stegosaur’s tail”. It was left to Beraha to “rise to the challenge of writing lyrics about this prickly subject matter”. Surprisingly the singer was able to come up with something that works surprisingly well, her words also acting as an allegory for the divisions in contemporary society. There are further free-ish passages with the musicians summoning up an intriguing array of sounds from their instruments, with solo honours going to Manington with a brief bass cameo and Neame with an extended passage on twinkling Rhodes.

The closing track sees Manington returning to simpler virtues with a beautiful ballad – albeit in 5/4.
“I wrote some simple bass chords, but the song really came to life when Brigitte added her beautiful melancholic lyrics, and Tom his fantastic quirky saxophone solo” explains the composer. It’s difficult to disagree with his assessment on another intentionally simple arrangement that mirrors the earlier “Free Spirit”. Beraha first sings her words - which have a timeless, folk like quality about them - above the sound of the leader’s otherwise unaccompanied bass. In truth Challenger’s subsequent tenor solo is ultimately lovely and lyrical rather than quirky, some of the most beautiful playing he has ever committed to disc. Meanwhile Neame and Updegraff offer highly effective and atmospheric soundscaping. One can imagine this piece being played as a calming encore, sending the audience home relaxed and happy, despite the apparent sadness of the lyrics.

This second Riff Raff album has been a long time coming but it’s been well worth the wait. There’s seventy minutes of music here but the inventive and colourful compositions and arrangements, allied to some excellent playing, ensure that the listener’s attention rarely flags. Sometimes simple, sometimes complex, often playful but always interesting “Challenger Deep” is a well crafted selection of original songs and compositions that are superbly realised by Manington and his team who bring a real orchestral quality to the music of the sextet, a trait shared by Weather Report. Yet despite the comparisons with WR and RTF Riff Raff’s sound is still unmistakably British, thanks in part to Beraha’s Norma Winstone like vocals and lyrics, Winstone surely being another touchstone for this band. With “Challenger Deep” Manington and friends have come up with another album to be proud of.

Challenger Deep

Dave Manington’s Riff Raff

Monday, August 06, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Challenger Deep

Sometimes simple, sometimes complex, often playful but always interesting this is a well crafted selection of original songs and compositions that are superbly realised by Manington and his team.

Dave Manington’s Riff Raff

“Challenger Deep”

(Loop Records Loop 1030)

A somewhat belated review for this second album from bassist and composer Dave Manington’s sextet Riff Raff. “Challenger Deep” was released in May 2018 and represents the long awaited follow up to 2013’s “Hullabaloo”.

The personnel remains the same with the leader joined by vocalist and lyricist Brigitte Beraha plus the instrumentalists Tomas Challenger (tenor sax), Ivo Neame (keyboards), Rob Updegraff (guitar) and Tim Giles (drums, percussion). All are long term collaborators and Neame and Giles were also part of an earlier Dave Manington Quartet (also featuring saxophonist Mark Hanslip) that released the album “Headrush” on the Loop label back in 2008.

Manington is one of the great unsung heroes of British jazz, a founder member of the both the Loop and E17 jazz collectives and a prolific, versatile and much in demand sideman who has worked across a variety of musical genres ranging from jazz to rock and pop to TV and film soundtracks.

His jazz credits include recordings with Neame, saxophonists Tori Freestone and Tommy Andrews and with the groups The Button Band (led by guitarist and composer Andrew Button)  and Solstice, a co-operative sextet featuring Beraha and Freestone. He has also performed with a string of other famous saxophonists including Julian Arguelles, Marius Neset, Mark Lockheart, Tim Garland, Iain Ballamy, Tony Woods, Peter King and Alan Barnes plus pianist Gwilym Simcock, trumpeter Yazz Ahmed and vocalist and songwriter Gwyneth Herbert.

“Challenger Deep” builds upon the success of the earlier “Hullabaloo” as Riff Raff continue to hone an increasingly distinctive group sound with Neame this time abandoning acoustic piano altogether and concentrating solely on electric keyboards (Fender Rhodes, mellotron and Hammond organ). Of the nine new Manington compositions five feature the adventurous wordless vocalising of Beraha while a further four tracks are more conventional songs featuring lyrics written by the singer with Manington remarking;
“I first collaborated with Brigitte in 2008 for a Loop Collective Festival and she has been a member of the group and a trusted co-writer ever since, contributing beautiful lyrics to many of my compositions”.

Of the album itself Manington says;
This is my third album as a leader and I feel it’s the ultimate expression of my music. Shaped and led by my compositions, but with plenty of freedom to explore, the band now plays so well as a unit after five years together that we can push each other to the limits of our energy and creative powers”.

He emphasises the group’s “strongly unified band sound” and “creative rapport” and references the fact that he, Giles and Updegraff all went to school together and have thus been a rhythm section for over twenty years, this unit forming “the heart of the band”. Of the guitarist and drummer he eulogises; “between them they have a rich and diverse textural palette, high energy and powerful, always empathetic, never overwhelming, they are musicians of exceptional quality”.
That last phrase also applies to Riff Raff as a whole, the sextet is a superbly balanced unit that more than does justice to Manington’s rich, imaginative and varied compositions.

The album commences with “Dr. Octopus”, Manington’s tribute to the late, great Joe Zawinul, keyboard player, composer and co-founder of Weather Report. Manington’s liner notes shine a light on the provenance of each tune and he cites Weather Report as “one of my favourite bands and a big influence on me in my formative years”. Of the title he says ”I still find it incredible that Zawinul could play so many keyboard parts at once so I decided that he must have eight arms – like the baddie from Spiderman”.
It’s left to Neame to fulfil the Zawinul role in this multi-faceted composition that successfully homages Weather Report without ever sounding like them. Slavish copying or pastiche is not Manington’s style but his piece still successfully navigates its way through a variety of styles, moods and tempos in a way that Zawinul himself would have been proud of. The focus is largely on the ensemble sound and Riff Raff is particularly well balanced in this respect as Neame and Updegraff provide rich colours and textures and Maington and Giles provide the snappy propulsion. Beraha’s soaring wordless vocals provide a particularly distinctive component, sometimes sharing the melody line with Challenger’s saxophone, at other times exchanging phrases with it. The tenor man takes the only real solo of the piece as he stretches out incisively.

The title track is named after the ocean trench in the Pacific rather than after the group’s saxophonist, although I’ve often suggested to Tom that he should adopt “Challenger Deep” as a band name. Now his mate seems to have beaten him to it by using it for a composition. Manington speaks of the composition as being “more of a mood piece, with the low bass riff and slow, otherworldly melody trying to capture the strange beauty and calm of the deep ocean. Imagine all the weird fish and creatures unknown to science swimming past in the darkness.”
The introduction is suitably atmospheric with Challenger’s breathy tenor sax allied to Giles’  brushes and mallet rumbles and the spooky, deep sea sounds of Neame’s keyboards and Updegraff’s guitar FX. Gradually that melody emerges, underpinned by the leader’s bass and featuring Beraha’s floaty, wordless vocals. The leader allows himself some solo space with a melodic bass feature underpinned by Neame’s shimmering keyboards and Giles’ subtle but exotic drum and percussion sounds. Challenger then takes up the reins on tenor before Beraha’s voice heads another ensemble section, this followed by the sounds of Updegraff’s FX drenched guitar. Collectively the musicians conjure up the mysterious, deep ocean feel that Manington was looking for. This is colourful, richly textured music that is almost orchestral in its scope as the five instruments plus voice conjure a rich panoply of exotic and fascinating sounds.

“I like to take the listener on a journey, to tell a musical story” says Manington as he describes the aptly named “The Iliad”, a piece he also refers to as “a bit of an epic, written in several contrasting sections.” The piece is, indeed, suitably episodic, developing out of a funky Rhodes driven groove to embrace the kind of breezy wordless vocalising that Flora Purim brought to the first edition of Return to Forever. Updegraff then embarks on an engagingly rambling solo, sketching melodies above a still funky underlying groove. Then it’s the turn of Neame to stretch out on Rhodes, dovetailing neatly with Beraha’s vocals. Manington himself comes briefly to the fore and Updegraff cranks his guitar up once more just before the close. The underlying funkiness is a constant throughout and the blend of voice and instruments also reminded me at times of the much loved and much missed (at least by me) group Turning Point, led by another bassist, the late, great Jeff Clyne and featuring vocalist Pepi Lemer. Oh, god, was it nearly forty years ago?

Following the complexities of the opening three pieces the first song of the album, “Free Spirit”, comes as something of a breath of fresh air. Manington describes it as “one of the most direct, uncomplicated songs I’ve written” and also praises Beraha’s “fantastic heartfelt lyrics”. The composer states that he “decided not to bow to the temptation to over-arrange it” and the result is a piece that communicates through its economy and simplicity. Beraha sings her own words with great feeling, this allied to a high level of technical expertise. The intentionally sparse backing at first features only the sound of guitar, later joined by double bass and eventually drums. Neame’s keyboards only enter when Updegraff takes a gently meandering guitar solo. In the context of the album as a whole it’s a song that makes a considerable emotional impact.

It’s back to the compositional nitty gritty with “Prime Numbers”, a piece that Manington describes as being “based on a sequence of seven bars of 7/8 – also containing plenty of threes and fives”. Muso-speak aside it’s a perky and infectious piece that positively relishes in its complexities with a percolating groove and underlying vocal drone allowing Challenger the opportunity to stretch out with some urgency on spiky, belligerent sounding tenor as Neame alternates between Hammond and Rhodes, soloing on the latter.

The second song of the album, “Random Acts Of Kindness” was inspired by the online blog of the same name. Introduced by Giles’ colourful and distinctive percussion in conjunction with Challenger’s smoky tenor sax the piece has something of a Brazilian vibe; but overall it’s more oblique than the earlier “Free Spirit”, the unusual subject matter giving the piece more of an ‘art song’ feel. Beraha also deploys wordless vocals, combining well with both Manington and Challenger, but the instrumental honours go to Updegraff with a spiralling guitar solo in which he exhibits an admirable inventiveness and fluency.

“Dangerpig” takes its name from the superhero alter ego of Manington’s young son, Freddie. Introduced by Beraha’s pure wordless vocals in conjunction with Challenger’s sax and Giles’ brushed drums the piece eventually veers off into choppier waters, Neame’s Hammond leading the way. Giles’ propulsive grooves are overlain with bursts of almost free jazz noise with Beraha sometimes deploying extended vocal techniques as Neame conjures up a variety of dirty, unconventional sounds from his keyboards and Challenger blows some earthy tenor sax. I bet it goes down a storm, live.

Manington’s children also inspired the song “Thagomizer”. Asked by his kids to write a tune about dinosaurs the bassist came up with this piece named after “the spiky bit on the end of a Stegosaur’s tail”. It was left to Beraha to “rise to the challenge of writing lyrics about this prickly subject matter”. Surprisingly the singer was able to come up with something that works surprisingly well, her words also acting as an allegory for the divisions in contemporary society. There are further free-ish passages with the musicians summoning up an intriguing array of sounds from their instruments, with solo honours going to Manington with a brief bass cameo and Neame with an extended passage on twinkling Rhodes.

The closing track sees Manington returning to simpler virtues with a beautiful ballad – albeit in 5/4.
“I wrote some simple bass chords, but the song really came to life when Brigitte added her beautiful melancholic lyrics, and Tom his fantastic quirky saxophone solo” explains the composer. It’s difficult to disagree with his assessment on another intentionally simple arrangement that mirrors the earlier “Free Spirit”. Beraha first sings her words - which have a timeless, folk like quality about them - above the sound of the leader’s otherwise unaccompanied bass. In truth Challenger’s subsequent tenor solo is ultimately lovely and lyrical rather than quirky, some of the most beautiful playing he has ever committed to disc. Meanwhile Neame and Updegraff offer highly effective and atmospheric soundscaping. One can imagine this piece being played as a calming encore, sending the audience home relaxed and happy, despite the apparent sadness of the lyrics.

This second Riff Raff album has been a long time coming but it’s been well worth the wait. There’s seventy minutes of music here but the inventive and colourful compositions and arrangements, allied to some excellent playing, ensure that the listener’s attention rarely flags. Sometimes simple, sometimes complex, often playful but always interesting “Challenger Deep” is a well crafted selection of original songs and compositions that are superbly realised by Manington and his team who bring a real orchestral quality to the music of the sextet, a trait shared by Weather Report. Yet despite the comparisons with WR and RTF Riff Raff’s sound is still unmistakably British, thanks in part to Beraha’s Norma Winstone like vocals and lyrics, Winstone surely being another touchstone for this band. With “Challenger Deep” Manington and friends have come up with another album to be proud of.

Julian Arguelles - Tonadas Rating: 4-5 out of 5 The writing is rich and melodic, sometimes complex but always engaging, and the standard of playing from all four musicians is exceptional. Another milestone in Arguelles’ glittering career.

Julian Arguelles

“Tonadas”

(Edition Records EDN1116)

The Birmingham born saxophonist Julian Arguelles first came to prominence in the late 1980s/early 1990s as a member of the seminal Loose Tubes, the young twenty plus ensemble that also spawned such significant British musicians as Django Bates, Iain Ballamy, Mark Lockheart and Martin France.

Like Arguelles all these have charted a path from young tyros to comparative elder statesmen, but all have done so by following a consistently creative path, and none more so than Arguelles whose solo career has found him releasing a string of excellent albums in a variety of formats ranging from solo to big band and working with leading jazz musicians from the UK, Europe and the US,  maintaining a remarkably high standard of creativity throughout. 

Arguelles’ début recording as a leader was released in 1991 and announced the arrival of a major new presence on the British jazz scene. “Phaedrus” was a quartet album that revealed Arguelles’ huge talent as a writer as pianist John Taylor, drummer Martin France and bassist Mick Hutton helped to give voice to his multi-faceted compositions. 

Subsequent releases saw Arguelles successfully exploring a wide range of instrumental configurations as he turned his back on the classic quartet format until 2014 and the release of the album “Circularity” on the Italian Cam Jazz imprint. This superb recording featured an all star British cast of France at the drums, US domiciled Dave Holland on double bass and the late great John Taylor on piano. 

This was hardly the kind of line up that was likely to go out on the road and with his passion for the quartet format renewed Arguelles set about about forming a new group featuring some of the UK’s top up and coming musicians. The new band was called Tetra and featured Kit Downes on piano, Sam Lasserson on double bass and James Maddren on drums, a pride of young lions who these days are nearly as busy as their illustrious predecessors.

In 2015 the new quartet released “Tetra”, the album, on Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings label. The record was right up there with Arguelles’ best, a beguiling mix of sophisticated writing and great playing. I was also fortunate enough to witness a superb performance of the album material at the Parabola Arts Centre as part of the 2015 Cheltenham Jazz Festival by an extended line up which saw the core quartet augmented by George Crowley (saxophones, bass clarinet), Percy Pursglove (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Kieran McLeod (trombone). The core group also gigged regularly and I subsequently enjoyed a performance by the four piece Tetra at The Hive Arts Centre in Shrewsbury in June 2016.

It’s tempting to see the quartet that appears on “Tonadas” as an extension of the Tetra group, but the new album sees the dropping of the ‘Tetra’ name, a move to the Edition record label and a change in the piano chair with Downes replaced by Ivo Neame, of Phronesis fame.

Arguelles and Neame first worked together when the saxophonist guested with the collaborative trio Escape Hatch, featuring Neame, bassist Andrea di Biase and drummer Dave Hamblett.  Arguelles was also responsible for the big band arrangements of a selection of Phronesis tunes that appeared on the live recording “The Behemoth” (2017), a collaboration between the Phronesis trio and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band conducted by Arguelles.

The in demand rhythm section of Lasserson and Maddren remains in place and in many ways it’s business as usual for Arguelles who delivers another set of excellent compositions with the writing further enhanced by the superb playing of all concerned.

The album title simply means “Tunes” and the individual track titles are also all in Spanish as Arguelles continues to explore his Iberian roots, a process that began with “Asturias” and other pieces on the “Tetra” album. The press release mentions the influence of Nordic jazz too, perhaps in an oblique reference to Arguelles’ previous outing on Edition, an international trio collaboration with Portuguese pianist Mario Laginha and Norwegian percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken that released the beautiful album “Setembro” in 2017.

The music on “Tonadas” is generally more robust than the chamber jazz of “Setembro” and that Spanish influence is immediately apparent on the lively opener “Alala” which is introduced by the sound of Neame’s unaccompanied piano but which soon expands to embrace the leader’s supremely fluent and pure toned tenor allied to Maddren’s busy, colourful drumming and Lasserson’s grounding but propulsive double bass. The leader’s tenor swoops and soars as arresting melodies combine with complex rhythms to create a sophisticated, beguiling blend of contemporary jazz. Arguelles takes the first solo, probing deeply but always remaining eminently accessible. He’s followed by Neame who brings with him something of the feverish creativity that informs the music of Phronesis in addition to his own solo projects. Lasserson is also featured, his melodic sense and huge tone revealing why he has developed into one of the UK’s most sought after contemporary bassists.

“Alfama” is altogether gentler and features Neame on supremely lyrical piano as Arguelles moves between tenor and soprano saxophones, soloing with customary grace and fluency on the latter. Based around one of Arguelles’ most seductive melodies there’s a relaxed quality about the performances but also a highly developed exploratory sense that gives the music some much needed grit, and which prevents it from ever becoming soporific.

Lasserson’s unaccompanied bass introduces “Bulerias”, setting up the groove that forms the backbone of the piece. The leader’s swirling tenor and Maddren’s busy, colourful drumming evoke images of flamenco while Neame positively sparkles at the piano with a vibrant, rhythmic solo. The leader then stretches out joyously and powerfully on tenor above the rhythmic ferment bubbling beneath as Maddren continues to feature strongly.

“Tonadilla” (meaning “Little Tune”) slows things down and is a beautiful ballad that commences with the sounds of Lasserson’s melodic but deeply resonant double bass and Neame’s thoughtful and lyrical piano. Arguelles features on soprano sax, his long notes behind the other players in the introductory stages deployed to great atmospheric effect. Later he solos plaintively on the straight horn, reaching ever more deeply into the melancholic beauty that imbues this lovely, folk tinged composition.

On this well programmed album “Barrio Gotico” (“Gothic Quarter”) increases the energy levels once more. The piece opens with a series of darting, fleet footed exchanges with Maddren’s drums particularly prominent in the arrangement. Arguelles then stretches out on tenor fuelled by Lasserson’s rapid bass groove and Maddren’s nimble drumming. The leader is followed by a tumbling solo from Neame, the pianist’s bravado complemented by the still hyper-active rhythm section. Finally Maddren is let loose with an effervescent drum feature.

Arguelles moves to soprano for the similarly lively “Alegrias”, with Maddren’s drums and percussion, including the sound of the cajon, again providing colourful support. Indeed part of the tune consist of a sprightly dialogue between the saxophonist and the drummer in the kind of set piece that must consistently ‘wow’ audiences at the quartet’s live shows. Neame’s piano solo is scarcely less animated, with Maddren continuing to act as the perfect foil.

“Sevilla” wells up from Arguelles’ opening sax incantations to lead the listener around the labyrinthine alleyways of the titular city in an energetic performance featuring the leader’s tenor and with Maddren turning in another dynamic performance. There are allusions to flamenco and other Spanish musics allied to lengthy, virtuoso solos from both Arguelles and Neame on the album’s lengthiest track – and one of its many stand outs.

The album concludes with “Tia Mercedes”, a beautiful ballad dedicated to Arguelles’ recently deceased aunt,  There’s a Moorish inflection in the cry of the leader’s soprano sax as he laments his loss, accompanied at first only by Neame’s measured and sensitive piano and later by bass and brushed drums.

I think that I’m correct in saying that this is Arguelles’ fourteenth album as a leader but the release of a new solo recording from Julian Arguelles always represents a major event in the UK jazz calendar and “Tonadas” is no exception. The album maintains the astonishingly high standards of creativity that Arguelles has continued to achieve from “Phaedrus” onwards and confirms his mastery of the classic saxophone plus piano/bass/drums format. The writing is rich and melodic, sometimes complex but always engaging, and the standard of playing from all four musicians is exceptional. The quartet make it all sound easy and effortless (I’m sure it’s not) and a classy production only serves to enhance their efforts.

Despite the Spanish influence the music avoids all the ‘Sketches of Spain’ and flamenco jazz clichés, the inspiration is implied rather than overt, and the music sounds all the better for it.
“Tonadas” is a superb contemporary jazz album and another milestone in Arguelles’ glittering career.

The Julian Arguelles Quartet will be touring in the UK and Ireland during September 2018, dates as below;

1st Sept, Leeds (Seven Jazz)
2nd Sept, Manchester (Band on the Wall)
5th Sept, London (Pizza Express Soho)
6th Sept, Leicester (Jazz House)
7th Sept, Craven Arms, Shropshire
8th Sept, Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire
20th Sept, Birmingham (East Side Jazz Club)
21st Sept, Brighton (The Verdict)
22nd Sept, Dublin

Go to http://www.julianarguelles.com/calendar for details on where to buy tickets and current gig list.

 

Tonadas

Julian Arguelles

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4-5 out of 5

Tonadas

The writing is rich and melodic, sometimes complex but always engaging, and the standard of playing from all four musicians is exceptional. Another milestone in Arguelles’ glittering career.

Julian Arguelles

“Tonadas”

(Edition Records EDN1116)

The Birmingham born saxophonist Julian Arguelles first came to prominence in the late 1980s/early 1990s as a member of the seminal Loose Tubes, the young twenty plus ensemble that also spawned such significant British musicians as Django Bates, Iain Ballamy, Mark Lockheart and Martin France.

Like Arguelles all these have charted a path from young tyros to comparative elder statesmen, but all have done so by following a consistently creative path, and none more so than Arguelles whose solo career has found him releasing a string of excellent albums in a variety of formats ranging from solo to big band and working with leading jazz musicians from the UK, Europe and the US,  maintaining a remarkably high standard of creativity throughout. 

Arguelles’ début recording as a leader was released in 1991 and announced the arrival of a major new presence on the British jazz scene. “Phaedrus” was a quartet album that revealed Arguelles’ huge talent as a writer as pianist John Taylor, drummer Martin France and bassist Mick Hutton helped to give voice to his multi-faceted compositions. 

Subsequent releases saw Arguelles successfully exploring a wide range of instrumental configurations as he turned his back on the classic quartet format until 2014 and the release of the album “Circularity” on the Italian Cam Jazz imprint. This superb recording featured an all star British cast of France at the drums, US domiciled Dave Holland on double bass and the late great John Taylor on piano. 

This was hardly the kind of line up that was likely to go out on the road and with his passion for the quartet format renewed Arguelles set about about forming a new group featuring some of the UK’s top up and coming musicians. The new band was called Tetra and featured Kit Downes on piano, Sam Lasserson on double bass and James Maddren on drums, a pride of young lions who these days are nearly as busy as their illustrious predecessors.

In 2015 the new quartet released “Tetra”, the album, on Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings label. The record was right up there with Arguelles’ best, a beguiling mix of sophisticated writing and great playing. I was also fortunate enough to witness a superb performance of the album material at the Parabola Arts Centre as part of the 2015 Cheltenham Jazz Festival by an extended line up which saw the core quartet augmented by George Crowley (saxophones, bass clarinet), Percy Pursglove (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Kieran McLeod (trombone). The core group also gigged regularly and I subsequently enjoyed a performance by the four piece Tetra at The Hive Arts Centre in Shrewsbury in June 2016.

It’s tempting to see the quartet that appears on “Tonadas” as an extension of the Tetra group, but the new album sees the dropping of the ‘Tetra’ name, a move to the Edition record label and a change in the piano chair with Downes replaced by Ivo Neame, of Phronesis fame.

Arguelles and Neame first worked together when the saxophonist guested with the collaborative trio Escape Hatch, featuring Neame, bassist Andrea di Biase and drummer Dave Hamblett.  Arguelles was also responsible for the big band arrangements of a selection of Phronesis tunes that appeared on the live recording “The Behemoth” (2017), a collaboration between the Phronesis trio and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band conducted by Arguelles.

The in demand rhythm section of Lasserson and Maddren remains in place and in many ways it’s business as usual for Arguelles who delivers another set of excellent compositions with the writing further enhanced by the superb playing of all concerned.

The album title simply means “Tunes” and the individual track titles are also all in Spanish as Arguelles continues to explore his Iberian roots, a process that began with “Asturias” and other pieces on the “Tetra” album. The press release mentions the influence of Nordic jazz too, perhaps in an oblique reference to Arguelles’ previous outing on Edition, an international trio collaboration with Portuguese pianist Mario Laginha and Norwegian percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken that released the beautiful album “Setembro” in 2017.

The music on “Tonadas” is generally more robust than the chamber jazz of “Setembro” and that Spanish influence is immediately apparent on the lively opener “Alala” which is introduced by the sound of Neame’s unaccompanied piano but which soon expands to embrace the leader’s supremely fluent and pure toned tenor allied to Maddren’s busy, colourful drumming and Lasserson’s grounding but propulsive double bass. The leader’s tenor swoops and soars as arresting melodies combine with complex rhythms to create a sophisticated, beguiling blend of contemporary jazz. Arguelles takes the first solo, probing deeply but always remaining eminently accessible. He’s followed by Neame who brings with him something of the feverish creativity that informs the music of Phronesis in addition to his own solo projects. Lasserson is also featured, his melodic sense and huge tone revealing why he has developed into one of the UK’s most sought after contemporary bassists.

“Alfama” is altogether gentler and features Neame on supremely lyrical piano as Arguelles moves between tenor and soprano saxophones, soloing with customary grace and fluency on the latter. Based around one of Arguelles’ most seductive melodies there’s a relaxed quality about the performances but also a highly developed exploratory sense that gives the music some much needed grit, and which prevents it from ever becoming soporific.

Lasserson’s unaccompanied bass introduces “Bulerias”, setting up the groove that forms the backbone of the piece. The leader’s swirling tenor and Maddren’s busy, colourful drumming evoke images of flamenco while Neame positively sparkles at the piano with a vibrant, rhythmic solo. The leader then stretches out joyously and powerfully on tenor above the rhythmic ferment bubbling beneath as Maddren continues to feature strongly.

“Tonadilla” (meaning “Little Tune”) slows things down and is a beautiful ballad that commences with the sounds of Lasserson’s melodic but deeply resonant double bass and Neame’s thoughtful and lyrical piano. Arguelles features on soprano sax, his long notes behind the other players in the introductory stages deployed to great atmospheric effect. Later he solos plaintively on the straight horn, reaching ever more deeply into the melancholic beauty that imbues this lovely, folk tinged composition.

On this well programmed album “Barrio Gotico” (“Gothic Quarter”) increases the energy levels once more. The piece opens with a series of darting, fleet footed exchanges with Maddren’s drums particularly prominent in the arrangement. Arguelles then stretches out on tenor fuelled by Lasserson’s rapid bass groove and Maddren’s nimble drumming. The leader is followed by a tumbling solo from Neame, the pianist’s bravado complemented by the still hyper-active rhythm section. Finally Maddren is let loose with an effervescent drum feature.

Arguelles moves to soprano for the similarly lively “Alegrias”, with Maddren’s drums and percussion, including the sound of the cajon, again providing colourful support. Indeed part of the tune consist of a sprightly dialogue between the saxophonist and the drummer in the kind of set piece that must consistently ‘wow’ audiences at the quartet’s live shows. Neame’s piano solo is scarcely less animated, with Maddren continuing to act as the perfect foil.

“Sevilla” wells up from Arguelles’ opening sax incantations to lead the listener around the labyrinthine alleyways of the titular city in an energetic performance featuring the leader’s tenor and with Maddren turning in another dynamic performance. There are allusions to flamenco and other Spanish musics allied to lengthy, virtuoso solos from both Arguelles and Neame on the album’s lengthiest track – and one of its many stand outs.

The album concludes with “Tia Mercedes”, a beautiful ballad dedicated to Arguelles’ recently deceased aunt,  There’s a Moorish inflection in the cry of the leader’s soprano sax as he laments his loss, accompanied at first only by Neame’s measured and sensitive piano and later by bass and brushed drums.

I think that I’m correct in saying that this is Arguelles’ fourteenth album as a leader but the release of a new solo recording from Julian Arguelles always represents a major event in the UK jazz calendar and “Tonadas” is no exception. The album maintains the astonishingly high standards of creativity that Arguelles has continued to achieve from “Phaedrus” onwards and confirms his mastery of the classic saxophone plus piano/bass/drums format. The writing is rich and melodic, sometimes complex but always engaging, and the standard of playing from all four musicians is exceptional. The quartet make it all sound easy and effortless (I’m sure it’s not) and a classy production only serves to enhance their efforts.

Despite the Spanish influence the music avoids all the ‘Sketches of Spain’ and flamenco jazz clichés, the inspiration is implied rather than overt, and the music sounds all the better for it.
“Tonadas” is a superb contemporary jazz album and another milestone in Arguelles’ glittering career.

The Julian Arguelles Quartet will be touring in the UK and Ireland during September 2018, dates as below;

1st Sept, Leeds (Seven Jazz)
2nd Sept, Manchester (Band on the Wall)
5th Sept, London (Pizza Express Soho)
6th Sept, Leicester (Jazz House)
7th Sept, Craven Arms, Shropshire
8th Sept, Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire
20th Sept, Birmingham (East Side Jazz Club)
21st Sept, Brighton (The Verdict)
22nd Sept, Dublin

Go to http://www.julianarguelles.com/calendar for details on where to buy tickets and current gig list.

 

Jure Pukl - Doubtless Rating: 4 out of 5 Another strong offering from Pukl. Straddling the cusp between composition and improvisation the album is consistently engaging and the playing is excellent throughout.

Jure Pukl

“Doubtless”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4724)

Jure Pukl is a tenor saxophonist, composer, improviser and band leader from Slovenia who is now based in New York City.

He studied both jazz and classical saxophone in Austria (at the universities of Vienna and Graz) and in the US (the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston).

I first encountered Pukl’s playing in 2010 when he brought his Slavic Soul Trio featuring bassist (and Whirlwind label owner) Michael Janisch and Austrian drummer Klemens Marktl to the much missed Dempsey’s in Cardiff. I’ve kept an eye on his career, and that of Marktl too, ever since and later that year reviewed Pukl’s début album “EARchitecture”, which was recorded in Brooklyn and featured a New York based band including pianist Aruan Ortiz, bassist Rahsaan Carter and drummer Marcus Gilmore. Guests included trumpeter Jason Palmer, another Janisch associate, and rapper Raydar Ellis.

Like Janisch Pukl is a musician who leads something of a ‘Trans-Atlantic’ existence,  frequently collaborating with musicians from both Europe and the Americas. His 2017 Whirlwind release “Hybrid” featured pianist Matija Dedic, bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Johnathan Blake. It was a recording that saw Pukl expanding his instrumental palette to include soprano saxophone and bass clarinet and was also notable for a guest appearance on tenor saxophone by Pukl’s wife, the Chilean born musician Melissa Aldana. “Hybrid” was another strong album but slipped through the Jazzmann’s reviewing net, apologies to Jure for the omission.

Hot on the heels of “Hybrid” comes “Doubtless”, Pukl’s second offering for Whirlwind, which sees him specialising on tenor sax once more. He’s joined in a two tenor front line by Aldana and the album features a stellar American rhythm section comprised of Joe Sanders on upright bass and Gregory Hutchinson at the drums. The album was recorded in Slovenia and mixed and mastered in New York, making it a true Trans-Atlantic project.

The daughter of a professional jazz saxophonist Aldana is a band leader in her own right. Born in Santiago she, too, studied at Berklee before settling in New York but still retaining links with her homeland. As a leader Aldana has released four albums under her own name, making her début in 2010. The last two releases have featured her Crash Trio with Chilean bassist Pablo Menares, with the drum chair occupied first by the Cuban Francisco Mela and later by the German born Jochen Rueckert. Aldana has visited the UK to play a headline show at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival.

Pukl says of this collaboration with his wife;
“It’s very improvised, and every number sounds different at every gig. Joe can change things so much, including time signatures, so we have to react in the moment. But it’s great to switch the vibe, we go for it and the audience feels it. Once we’ve checked out the pieces we then purposely let them go, and I’ve found so much freedom in this – we all become transformers for where the music wants to take us. I don’t know many saxophone couples who like to perform together, but with me and Melissa it feels natural, we have a similar tenor vocabulary and that energy unites us. So in this quartet we create harmony, counterpoint…and Joe has an amazing harmonic ability too, alongside his and Greg’s deep sense of rhythm. The sound is incredibly full.”

The album title reflects Pukl’s faith in this musical alliance as he explains;
“I have realised how important it is to play with people you love and respect. They love you back and it takes the music to a higher level. It’s magic being on the road with these guys. What we create is something that people,  and not just jazz audiences, connect with. This band brings together everything that we are, and it works. It’s kinda amazing!”

Indeed there’s no denying the power of the album which kicks off with the title track, this commencing with a spirited discussion between the two tenors before Sanders and Hutchinson join the party. As Pukl states the music is free-wheeling with plenty of opportunities for freedom and self expression. In person performances are indeed likely to be very different from those documented on disc. Sanders and Hutchinson make a powerful but supple and responsive rhythm team who create an excellent framework for Pukl and Aldana to create their improvisations around. Here the two tenors engage in an ongoing conversation rather than trading solos as in the ‘cutting contests’ of the past but both individually and collectively they have much to say.

“Doves” is dedicated to Pukl’s mother, who was seriously ill at the time of the recording but has now, happily, recovered. Once again the two tenors open the piece, this time working in unison, their joint statement of the theme underpinned by bass and vaguely martial drums. This time round the initial theme statement gives way to individual solos with those of the two saxophonists bisected by a feature for Sanders on double bass. Hutchinson’s dynamic drumming gives the entire performance a tightly focussed energy.

“InterSong” finds the foursome exploring an old Ornette Coleman composition. The free jazz pioneer is surely a touchstone for all the members of this chordless quartet. The piece begins with an intimate but animated conversation between the two tenors, subsequently joined by Sanders and Hutchinson in the Haden/Blackwell roles as the two saxophonists continue to spar with each other in this gritty homage to Coleman.

It’s the turn of the rhythm section to introduce Sanders’  “Eliote”, a piece written by the bassist in honour of his young son. The sparky opening section features the composer’s huge tone and dexterous finger work in lively dialogue with Hutchinson’s bright, restlessly inventive, sharply detailed drumming. The mood is celebratory while the style harks back to Africa thanks to the vibrant rhythms and arresting saxophone melodies. Sanders takes the first solo, his playing vigorous and supremely agile before handing over to Pukl and Aladana who engage in vivid dialogue, their short, interlocking phrases fuelled by an irresistible bass and drum groove.

“Compassion” slims the group down to a trio, so no difficulties identifying the tenor soloist here. As other commentators have noted some indication of the soloing order on the CD packaging would have been useful as an aid to identification, and the apportioning of credit accordingly. As Pukl has noted he and Aldana share a similar musical vocabulary and it’s not always easy to be definitive as to who is playing at any specific time. But enough of the cavils, this is a supremely atmospheric saxophone trio performance with Pukl’s brooding tenor sensitively supported by Sanders’ deeply resonant bass and Hutchinson’s understated but empathic drums and percussion. The drummer’s role here is that of colourist rather than powerhouse.

The supple grooves of the Aldana composed “Elsewhere” underpin one of the most accessible pieces on the album, the darting sax melodies combining with Sander’s buoyant bass and Hutchinson’s restlessly inventive drumming. Sanders takes the first solo before the two saxophonists take it in turns to stretch out. On an album that was recorded in a single day the whoops of joy heard at various moments during the performance suggest that the piece was largely improvised, there’s certainly a vibrant spontaneity about the playing here.

The title of “The Mind And The Soul” might suggest a debt to Coleman Hawkins but the style of the playing is firmly rooted in the style of Ornette Coleman. Acerbic, slightly slurred sax incantations are underpinned by muscular but melodic bass with Sanders taking the only real solo of the piece. Hutchinson’s drumming is colourful and inventive but never imposing as it wanders around the periphery of the music.

The brief “Where Are You Coming From?” is a duet between Pukl and Sanders that is introduced by the latter’s bass. The piece is a reprise of a lengthier full band track on the “Hybrid” album and features Pukl’s folk/Latin tinged melodicism in an alternative pared down format. It’s a delightfully intimate duo performance than more than justifies its inclusion here.

The album ends on an upbeat note with the energising “Bad Year – Good Year”, another piece to embrace something of a Latin feel, a nod, perhaps, to Aldana’s origins. The fluid grooves generated by Sanders and Hutchinson inspire solos from both saxophonists and there’s also an engaging dialogue between the members of the rhythm team.

“Doubtless” represents another strong offering from Pukl. Straddling the cusp between composition and improvisation the album is consistently engaging and the playing is excellent throughout. Pukl and Aldana combine well and have the kind of intuitive chemistry that one would expect from a married couple, That said Sanders and Hutchinson are equally brilliant as a team, this supremely adaptable and versatile rhythm section seems to act like a single entity, providing the two saxophonists with exemplary support. Sanders and Hutchinson are both superb technicians and every nuance of their playing is captured on a typically excellent Whirlwind Recordings production.  Even more crucially they have a great rapport as a unit and it’s something that they are able to share with the husband and wife team of Pukl and Aldana, the two halves of the quartet combining to create a dynamic and convincing single entity.

The lack of conventional, straight-ahead swing may deter some listeners but all fans of adventurous contemporary jazz should find much to enjoy here. One suspects that the quartet’s live performances would prove to be even more exciting.

Incidentally, the cover artwork is a painting by the celebrated jazz vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant.


Doubtless

Jure Pukl

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Doubtless

Another strong offering from Pukl. Straddling the cusp between composition and improvisation the album is consistently engaging and the playing is excellent throughout.

Jure Pukl

“Doubtless”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4724)

Jure Pukl is a tenor saxophonist, composer, improviser and band leader from Slovenia who is now based in New York City.

He studied both jazz and classical saxophone in Austria (at the universities of Vienna and Graz) and in the US (the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston).

I first encountered Pukl’s playing in 2010 when he brought his Slavic Soul Trio featuring bassist (and Whirlwind label owner) Michael Janisch and Austrian drummer Klemens Marktl to the much missed Dempsey’s in Cardiff. I’ve kept an eye on his career, and that of Marktl too, ever since and later that year reviewed Pukl’s début album “EARchitecture”, which was recorded in Brooklyn and featured a New York based band including pianist Aruan Ortiz, bassist Rahsaan Carter and drummer Marcus Gilmore. Guests included trumpeter Jason Palmer, another Janisch associate, and rapper Raydar Ellis.

Like Janisch Pukl is a musician who leads something of a ‘Trans-Atlantic’ existence,  frequently collaborating with musicians from both Europe and the Americas. His 2017 Whirlwind release “Hybrid” featured pianist Matija Dedic, bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Johnathan Blake. It was a recording that saw Pukl expanding his instrumental palette to include soprano saxophone and bass clarinet and was also notable for a guest appearance on tenor saxophone by Pukl’s wife, the Chilean born musician Melissa Aldana. “Hybrid” was another strong album but slipped through the Jazzmann’s reviewing net, apologies to Jure for the omission.

Hot on the heels of “Hybrid” comes “Doubtless”, Pukl’s second offering for Whirlwind, which sees him specialising on tenor sax once more. He’s joined in a two tenor front line by Aldana and the album features a stellar American rhythm section comprised of Joe Sanders on upright bass and Gregory Hutchinson at the drums. The album was recorded in Slovenia and mixed and mastered in New York, making it a true Trans-Atlantic project.

The daughter of a professional jazz saxophonist Aldana is a band leader in her own right. Born in Santiago she, too, studied at Berklee before settling in New York but still retaining links with her homeland. As a leader Aldana has released four albums under her own name, making her début in 2010. The last two releases have featured her Crash Trio with Chilean bassist Pablo Menares, with the drum chair occupied first by the Cuban Francisco Mela and later by the German born Jochen Rueckert. Aldana has visited the UK to play a headline show at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival.

Pukl says of this collaboration with his wife;
“It’s very improvised, and every number sounds different at every gig. Joe can change things so much, including time signatures, so we have to react in the moment. But it’s great to switch the vibe, we go for it and the audience feels it. Once we’ve checked out the pieces we then purposely let them go, and I’ve found so much freedom in this – we all become transformers for where the music wants to take us. I don’t know many saxophone couples who like to perform together, but with me and Melissa it feels natural, we have a similar tenor vocabulary and that energy unites us. So in this quartet we create harmony, counterpoint…and Joe has an amazing harmonic ability too, alongside his and Greg’s deep sense of rhythm. The sound is incredibly full.”

The album title reflects Pukl’s faith in this musical alliance as he explains;
“I have realised how important it is to play with people you love and respect. They love you back and it takes the music to a higher level. It’s magic being on the road with these guys. What we create is something that people,  and not just jazz audiences, connect with. This band brings together everything that we are, and it works. It’s kinda amazing!”

Indeed there’s no denying the power of the album which kicks off with the title track, this commencing with a spirited discussion between the two tenors before Sanders and Hutchinson join the party. As Pukl states the music is free-wheeling with plenty of opportunities for freedom and self expression. In person performances are indeed likely to be very different from those documented on disc. Sanders and Hutchinson make a powerful but supple and responsive rhythm team who create an excellent framework for Pukl and Aldana to create their improvisations around. Here the two tenors engage in an ongoing conversation rather than trading solos as in the ‘cutting contests’ of the past but both individually and collectively they have much to say.

“Doves” is dedicated to Pukl’s mother, who was seriously ill at the time of the recording but has now, happily, recovered. Once again the two tenors open the piece, this time working in unison, their joint statement of the theme underpinned by bass and vaguely martial drums. This time round the initial theme statement gives way to individual solos with those of the two saxophonists bisected by a feature for Sanders on double bass. Hutchinson’s dynamic drumming gives the entire performance a tightly focussed energy.

“InterSong” finds the foursome exploring an old Ornette Coleman composition. The free jazz pioneer is surely a touchstone for all the members of this chordless quartet. The piece begins with an intimate but animated conversation between the two tenors, subsequently joined by Sanders and Hutchinson in the Haden/Blackwell roles as the two saxophonists continue to spar with each other in this gritty homage to Coleman.

It’s the turn of the rhythm section to introduce Sanders’  “Eliote”, a piece written by the bassist in honour of his young son. The sparky opening section features the composer’s huge tone and dexterous finger work in lively dialogue with Hutchinson’s bright, restlessly inventive, sharply detailed drumming. The mood is celebratory while the style harks back to Africa thanks to the vibrant rhythms and arresting saxophone melodies. Sanders takes the first solo, his playing vigorous and supremely agile before handing over to Pukl and Aladana who engage in vivid dialogue, their short, interlocking phrases fuelled by an irresistible bass and drum groove.

“Compassion” slims the group down to a trio, so no difficulties identifying the tenor soloist here. As other commentators have noted some indication of the soloing order on the CD packaging would have been useful as an aid to identification, and the apportioning of credit accordingly. As Pukl has noted he and Aldana share a similar musical vocabulary and it’s not always easy to be definitive as to who is playing at any specific time. But enough of the cavils, this is a supremely atmospheric saxophone trio performance with Pukl’s brooding tenor sensitively supported by Sanders’ deeply resonant bass and Hutchinson’s understated but empathic drums and percussion. The drummer’s role here is that of colourist rather than powerhouse.

The supple grooves of the Aldana composed “Elsewhere” underpin one of the most accessible pieces on the album, the darting sax melodies combining with Sander’s buoyant bass and Hutchinson’s restlessly inventive drumming. Sanders takes the first solo before the two saxophonists take it in turns to stretch out. On an album that was recorded in a single day the whoops of joy heard at various moments during the performance suggest that the piece was largely improvised, there’s certainly a vibrant spontaneity about the playing here.

The title of “The Mind And The Soul” might suggest a debt to Coleman Hawkins but the style of the playing is firmly rooted in the style of Ornette Coleman. Acerbic, slightly slurred sax incantations are underpinned by muscular but melodic bass with Sanders taking the only real solo of the piece. Hutchinson’s drumming is colourful and inventive but never imposing as it wanders around the periphery of the music.

The brief “Where Are You Coming From?” is a duet between Pukl and Sanders that is introduced by the latter’s bass. The piece is a reprise of a lengthier full band track on the “Hybrid” album and features Pukl’s folk/Latin tinged melodicism in an alternative pared down format. It’s a delightfully intimate duo performance than more than justifies its inclusion here.

The album ends on an upbeat note with the energising “Bad Year – Good Year”, another piece to embrace something of a Latin feel, a nod, perhaps, to Aldana’s origins. The fluid grooves generated by Sanders and Hutchinson inspire solos from both saxophonists and there’s also an engaging dialogue between the members of the rhythm team.

“Doubtless” represents another strong offering from Pukl. Straddling the cusp between composition and improvisation the album is consistently engaging and the playing is excellent throughout. Pukl and Aldana combine well and have the kind of intuitive chemistry that one would expect from a married couple, That said Sanders and Hutchinson are equally brilliant as a team, this supremely adaptable and versatile rhythm section seems to act like a single entity, providing the two saxophonists with exemplary support. Sanders and Hutchinson are both superb technicians and every nuance of their playing is captured on a typically excellent Whirlwind Recordings production.  Even more crucially they have a great rapport as a unit and it’s something that they are able to share with the husband and wife team of Pukl and Aldana, the two halves of the quartet combining to create a dynamic and convincing single entity.

The lack of conventional, straight-ahead swing may deter some listeners but all fans of adventurous contemporary jazz should find much to enjoy here. One suspects that the quartet’s live performances would prove to be even more exciting.

Incidentally, the cover artwork is a painting by the celebrated jazz vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant.


Stefanos Tsourelis Trio - Stefanos Tsourelis Trio, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 29/07/2018. Rating: 4 out of 5 Ian Mann enjoys the music of guitarist, oud player and composer Stefanos Tsourelis and his trio and takes a look at their debut album "Native Speaker".

Stefanos Tsourelis Trio, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 29/07/2018.

Born in Larisa, Greece guitarist, oud player and composer Stefanos Tsourelis began playing music at ten years of age, initially studying the Greek lute before moving on to oud and guitar. He became a professional musician at seventeen playing guitar and oud in various musical contexts across his native land, ranging from jazz clubs to theatres.

In 2005 Tsourelis moved to London, where he still lives, and continued his guitar studies, with the jazz guitarist Mike Outram featuring amongst his numerous tutors. A highly versatile musician with a broad range of influences Tsourelis has performed on guitar and oud across a wide range of genres including jazz, rock, funk and world music.

I’d previously heard his playing, on oud, on “Via Maris”, the second album from the ongoing world jazz collective Melange, led by cellist Shirley Smart. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/melange-via-maris/

As a guitarist Tsourelis features as a guest on “The Absent”, the 2016 début album from pianist and composer Emily Francis and her trio. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/emily-francis-trio-the-absent/

He is currently a member of saxophonist Julian Costello’s world jazz ensemble Vertigo Trio in which he plays guitar and oud alongside the leader on soprano sax and Adam Teixeira on tabla and percussion.

Other notable jazz musicians with whom Tsourelis has worked include flautist Gareth Lockrane and the saxophonists Duncan Eagles and fellow Greek Vasilis Xenopoulos.

As a bandleader Tsourelis has fronted the world music ensemble Anosis and currently leads his own acoustic and electric trios as well as performing in a duo setting with fellow guitarist Benjamin Gasiglia Katz.

The group that Tsourelis brought to BMJ for his début performance at the club was essentially his acoustic trio, the group that recorded his début album as a leader “Native Speaker”, which was released in 2017. Drummer / percussionist Eric Ford plays on the album and tonight’s line up was completed by Kevin Glasgow on six string electric bass. Glasgow is the regular bassist with Tsourelis’ electric or ‘fusion’ trio in which the leader plays electric guitar. The electric band, which also features drummer Emiliano Caroselli, plays a different repertoire to the acoustic group so despite the closeness of the musicians Glasgow wasn’t previously familiar with all of tonight’s material, which made his excellent contribution all the more impressive.

“Native Speaker” features bassist Dave Jones, a vastly experienced London based musician who hitherto has managed to slip underneath my radar. He makes an excellent contribution (on electric bass) to “Native Speaker”  and it was tunes from that album that made up the bulk of tonight’s two sets, alongside a couple of impressive new compositions that have already been earmarked for the trio’s next recording.

I don’t recall seeing the oud played live before, or certainly not to this extent. Having recently been enchanted by the exceptional “Blue Maqams” album, released on the ECM label by Tunisian oud master Anouar Brahem (and featuring Django Bates on piano) I was particularly keen to enjoy the experience of seeing the instrument played ‘in the flesh’.

Many Western European listeners may not be familiar with the oud, the Middle Eastern or North African lute, which can be found in various forms all along the Eastern and Southern shores of the Mediterranean.

Tsourelis’ instrument was made in Turkey and has eleven strings, the top or bass string being single, the others arranged in pairs. Tsourelis was kind enough for me to take a close look at his model, which was manufactured around fifteen years ago. What immediately struck me was how light the instrument is, especially compared to a guitar. Yet despite its apparent fragility the oud still makes an impressively big and incisive sound, even without the pick up that Tsourelis deployed during the concert.

The qualities of the oud were immediately demonstrated on the opening number, “Mystery Blues”, which was written by Tsourelis, as was all of tonight’s material, and sourced from the début album.
The leader’s improvised, unaccompanied oud intro eventually ushered in Ford’s mallet rumbles and trademark foot operated cowbell sounds. The drummer, probably best known as a member of the Partikel trio led by Duncan Eagles, has an extensive knowledge of jazz and world music rhythms, thus making him an ideal fit for the Tsourelis trio with its beguiling blend of jazz and Mediterranean sounds. The leader also combined effectively with Glasgow as the lines of the oud and Glasgow’s guitar like six string electric bass intertwined mesmerically. Both string players were to enjoy lengthy and virtuosic solos but the interplay between the seventeen strings was equally impressive.

“Nostalgia”, the opening track on the “Native Speaker” album, saw Tsourelis switching to his Takemine six string acoustic guitar. The leader’s solo improvised introductions were something of a feature of the evening and this piece began with a passage of unaccompanied solo guitar. Tsourelis later informed me that the tuning was no different to that of a standard Western acoustic guitar, as might be used in folk or country music, yet in his hands it sounded undeniably exotic and obviously ‘Middle Eastern’. With Ford and Glasgow on board the trio made an impressively powerful sound despite the fundamentally acoustic context with Ford’s busy and propulsive drumming fuelling compelling solos from Tsourelis and Glasgow, prior to a dazzling drum and percussion feature.

A newer piece, “El Divo”, was introduced by a brief dialogue between the leader’s guitar and Glasgow’s bass and introduced a more orthodox jazz feel to the proceedings. Glasgow took the first solo, his fluid, guitar like sound sometimes reminiscent of the great Steve Swallow. He seemed to strike up a good understanding with Ford, with whom he entered into an absorbing dialogue before handing the baton over to Tsourelis. The leader’s solo found him using more conventional jazz and bebop chords than previously and also saw him making judicious use of an array of foot pedals- reverb, delay, chorus – and so on. Once again the piece was crowned by a drum feature from the excellent Ford, always an attention grabbing figure in whichever context he performs.

Tsourelis returned to the oud for the rousing set closer “The Desert”, another tune from the début album. An improvised oud intro was followed by a stunning solo from the leader accompanied by Glasgow’s supple but propulsive bass lines and Ford’s energetic and exotic percussion.

“Jen’s Tune”, dedicated to a former girlfriend, opened the second set with Tsourelis back on guitar. This subtle, folk tinged composition incorporated solos from Tsourelis and Glasgow plus a closing drum feature from Ford, who deployed brushes throughout.

“Calm Sea”, inspired by the shores of the leader’s native Greece, was an atmospheric ballad that revealed Tsourelis to possess a Metheny-like gift for melody. Tsourelis cites the American as an influence alongside a broad range of other guitar greats including Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, Wes Montgomery, Jeff Back, Jimi Hendrix and Steve Ray Vaughan plus deceased cult figures such as Danny Gatton and the Canadian Lenny Breau.

The new composition “Interplay” increased the energy levels once more. Aptly titled the piece featured some stunningly complex high energy unison passages from Tsourelis and Glasgow before moving on to the individual solos. Tsourelis’s feature was a fascinating amalgam of jazz chords and Middle Eastern exotica that again made intelligent use of the guitarist’s range of effects. Glasgow’s astonishingly agile bass solo was a reminder of the formidable technique that has won him work with saxophonists Tommy Smith and Tim Garland, guitarist Nicolas Meier, drummer Asaf Sirkis and organist John Paul Gard, among others. He is also a member of the collaborative trio Preston, Glasgow, Lowe.

Tsourelis moved back to oud for another new tune titled “The Exhibition” which emerged from an unaccompanied oud intro into a frenetic oud solo featuring Tsourelis’ fleet finger work accompanied by Glasgow’s pulsating bass grooves and Ford’s dynamic drumming; the latter leading to an explosive drum feature underpinned by interlocking oud and bass patterns.

There was to be no letting up as the trio entered the home straight. The title track of the “Native Speaker” album presented a beguiling mix of gently rippling arpeggios punctuated by the kind of chunky riffing that acted as a reminder of Tsourelis’ love of rock guitar, even in this essentially acoustic context. Ford’s characteristically busy drum feature actually happened mid tune, before Tsourelis ramped up the energy levels even further with a climactic final guitar solo.

I was impressed by the way in which the Abergavenny audience responded to this programme of all original music played on exotic and unfamiliar instruments. They listened intently throughout and now responded with great enthusiasm, prompting Tsourelis and his colleagues to return to the stage for a thoroughly deserved encore.

This proved to be “Fluid”, the closing track on the “Native Speaker” album. After the pyrotechnics of “Interplay”, “The Expedition” and “Native Speaker” this cool ballad defused the tension gently and effectively with Ford deploying brushes and Glasgow delivering a suitably liquid and melodic bass solo before the last word went to the leader on guitar.

Tsourelis, Ford and Glasgow seemed to be genuinely surprised and gratified at the warm reaction that they received and this was an excellent gig for them and one of the best that I’ve seen at BMJ.
Tsourelis is a brilliant player of both his chosen instruments and it was particularly enjoyable for me to see the oud being played at such close quarters.

My thanks to Stefanos for talking me with me at length and for the gift of a copy of “Native Speaker”. He’s a genuinely nice guy with an excellent command of English. Incidentally, the album comes from a remark of Ford’s. The first version of the trio featured Tsourelis, Ford and an Italian bass player prompting the drummer to remark; “I’m the only native speaker here”.

Featuring the distinctive artwork of Alban Low on the cover the album also sounds excellent in the home listening environment. Seven of the ten tracks were played tonight and the album also includes two forceful and energetic oud powered pieces, “Phyrigian Major” and “Squares”, which both feature some typically dynamic and virtuoso playing with some terrific interplay between the three musicians. As its title might suggest “Leafy Gardens” is rather different, altogether more gentle and with a greater focus on pure melody. Tsourelis plays guitar here, combining well with Ford’s neatly detailed drums and percussion and Jones’ softly percolating bass. Available from iTunes and Bandcamp via Tsourelis’ website the album is highly recommended.
http://www.stefanostsourelis.com

Stefanos Tsourelis Trio, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 29/07/2018.

Stefanos Tsourelis Trio

Monday, July 30, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Stefanos Tsourelis Trio, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 29/07/2018.

Ian Mann enjoys the music of guitarist, oud player and composer Stefanos Tsourelis and his trio and takes a look at their debut album "Native Speaker".

Stefanos Tsourelis Trio, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 29/07/2018.

Born in Larisa, Greece guitarist, oud player and composer Stefanos Tsourelis began playing music at ten years of age, initially studying the Greek lute before moving on to oud and guitar. He became a professional musician at seventeen playing guitar and oud in various musical contexts across his native land, ranging from jazz clubs to theatres.

In 2005 Tsourelis moved to London, where he still lives, and continued his guitar studies, with the jazz guitarist Mike Outram featuring amongst his numerous tutors. A highly versatile musician with a broad range of influences Tsourelis has performed on guitar and oud across a wide range of genres including jazz, rock, funk and world music.

I’d previously heard his playing, on oud, on “Via Maris”, the second album from the ongoing world jazz collective Melange, led by cellist Shirley Smart. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/melange-via-maris/

As a guitarist Tsourelis features as a guest on “The Absent”, the 2016 début album from pianist and composer Emily Francis and her trio. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/emily-francis-trio-the-absent/

He is currently a member of saxophonist Julian Costello’s world jazz ensemble Vertigo Trio in which he plays guitar and oud alongside the leader on soprano sax and Adam Teixeira on tabla and percussion.

Other notable jazz musicians with whom Tsourelis has worked include flautist Gareth Lockrane and the saxophonists Duncan Eagles and fellow Greek Vasilis Xenopoulos.

As a bandleader Tsourelis has fronted the world music ensemble Anosis and currently leads his own acoustic and electric trios as well as performing in a duo setting with fellow guitarist Benjamin Gasiglia Katz.

The group that Tsourelis brought to BMJ for his début performance at the club was essentially his acoustic trio, the group that recorded his début album as a leader “Native Speaker”, which was released in 2017. Drummer / percussionist Eric Ford plays on the album and tonight’s line up was completed by Kevin Glasgow on six string electric bass. Glasgow is the regular bassist with Tsourelis’ electric or ‘fusion’ trio in which the leader plays electric guitar. The electric band, which also features drummer Emiliano Caroselli, plays a different repertoire to the acoustic group so despite the closeness of the musicians Glasgow wasn’t previously familiar with all of tonight’s material, which made his excellent contribution all the more impressive.

“Native Speaker” features bassist Dave Jones, a vastly experienced London based musician who hitherto has managed to slip underneath my radar. He makes an excellent contribution (on electric bass) to “Native Speaker”  and it was tunes from that album that made up the bulk of tonight’s two sets, alongside a couple of impressive new compositions that have already been earmarked for the trio’s next recording.

I don’t recall seeing the oud played live before, or certainly not to this extent. Having recently been enchanted by the exceptional “Blue Maqams” album, released on the ECM label by Tunisian oud master Anouar Brahem (and featuring Django Bates on piano) I was particularly keen to enjoy the experience of seeing the instrument played ‘in the flesh’.

Many Western European listeners may not be familiar with the oud, the Middle Eastern or North African lute, which can be found in various forms all along the Eastern and Southern shores of the Mediterranean.

Tsourelis’ instrument was made in Turkey and has eleven strings, the top or bass string being single, the others arranged in pairs. Tsourelis was kind enough for me to take a close look at his model, which was manufactured around fifteen years ago. What immediately struck me was how light the instrument is, especially compared to a guitar. Yet despite its apparent fragility the oud still makes an impressively big and incisive sound, even without the pick up that Tsourelis deployed during the concert.

The qualities of the oud were immediately demonstrated on the opening number, “Mystery Blues”, which was written by Tsourelis, as was all of tonight’s material, and sourced from the début album.
The leader’s improvised, unaccompanied oud intro eventually ushered in Ford’s mallet rumbles and trademark foot operated cowbell sounds. The drummer, probably best known as a member of the Partikel trio led by Duncan Eagles, has an extensive knowledge of jazz and world music rhythms, thus making him an ideal fit for the Tsourelis trio with its beguiling blend of jazz and Mediterranean sounds. The leader also combined effectively with Glasgow as the lines of the oud and Glasgow’s guitar like six string electric bass intertwined mesmerically. Both string players were to enjoy lengthy and virtuosic solos but the interplay between the seventeen strings was equally impressive.

“Nostalgia”, the opening track on the “Native Speaker” album, saw Tsourelis switching to his Takemine six string acoustic guitar. The leader’s solo improvised introductions were something of a feature of the evening and this piece began with a passage of unaccompanied solo guitar. Tsourelis later informed me that the tuning was no different to that of a standard Western acoustic guitar, as might be used in folk or country music, yet in his hands it sounded undeniably exotic and obviously ‘Middle Eastern’. With Ford and Glasgow on board the trio made an impressively powerful sound despite the fundamentally acoustic context with Ford’s busy and propulsive drumming fuelling compelling solos from Tsourelis and Glasgow, prior to a dazzling drum and percussion feature.

A newer piece, “El Divo”, was introduced by a brief dialogue between the leader’s guitar and Glasgow’s bass and introduced a more orthodox jazz feel to the proceedings. Glasgow took the first solo, his fluid, guitar like sound sometimes reminiscent of the great Steve Swallow. He seemed to strike up a good understanding with Ford, with whom he entered into an absorbing dialogue before handing the baton over to Tsourelis. The leader’s solo found him using more conventional jazz and bebop chords than previously and also saw him making judicious use of an array of foot pedals- reverb, delay, chorus – and so on. Once again the piece was crowned by a drum feature from the excellent Ford, always an attention grabbing figure in whichever context he performs.

Tsourelis returned to the oud for the rousing set closer “The Desert”, another tune from the début album. An improvised oud intro was followed by a stunning solo from the leader accompanied by Glasgow’s supple but propulsive bass lines and Ford’s energetic and exotic percussion.

“Jen’s Tune”, dedicated to a former girlfriend, opened the second set with Tsourelis back on guitar. This subtle, folk tinged composition incorporated solos from Tsourelis and Glasgow plus a closing drum feature from Ford, who deployed brushes throughout.

“Calm Sea”, inspired by the shores of the leader’s native Greece, was an atmospheric ballad that revealed Tsourelis to possess a Metheny-like gift for melody. Tsourelis cites the American as an influence alongside a broad range of other guitar greats including Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, Wes Montgomery, Jeff Back, Jimi Hendrix and Steve Ray Vaughan plus deceased cult figures such as Danny Gatton and the Canadian Lenny Breau.

The new composition “Interplay” increased the energy levels once more. Aptly titled the piece featured some stunningly complex high energy unison passages from Tsourelis and Glasgow before moving on to the individual solos. Tsourelis’s feature was a fascinating amalgam of jazz chords and Middle Eastern exotica that again made intelligent use of the guitarist’s range of effects. Glasgow’s astonishingly agile bass solo was a reminder of the formidable technique that has won him work with saxophonists Tommy Smith and Tim Garland, guitarist Nicolas Meier, drummer Asaf Sirkis and organist John Paul Gard, among others. He is also a member of the collaborative trio Preston, Glasgow, Lowe.

Tsourelis moved back to oud for another new tune titled “The Exhibition” which emerged from an unaccompanied oud intro into a frenetic oud solo featuring Tsourelis’ fleet finger work accompanied by Glasgow’s pulsating bass grooves and Ford’s dynamic drumming; the latter leading to an explosive drum feature underpinned by interlocking oud and bass patterns.

There was to be no letting up as the trio entered the home straight. The title track of the “Native Speaker” album presented a beguiling mix of gently rippling arpeggios punctuated by the kind of chunky riffing that acted as a reminder of Tsourelis’ love of rock guitar, even in this essentially acoustic context. Ford’s characteristically busy drum feature actually happened mid tune, before Tsourelis ramped up the energy levels even further with a climactic final guitar solo.

I was impressed by the way in which the Abergavenny audience responded to this programme of all original music played on exotic and unfamiliar instruments. They listened intently throughout and now responded with great enthusiasm, prompting Tsourelis and his colleagues to return to the stage for a thoroughly deserved encore.

This proved to be “Fluid”, the closing track on the “Native Speaker” album. After the pyrotechnics of “Interplay”, “The Expedition” and “Native Speaker” this cool ballad defused the tension gently and effectively with Ford deploying brushes and Glasgow delivering a suitably liquid and melodic bass solo before the last word went to the leader on guitar.

Tsourelis, Ford and Glasgow seemed to be genuinely surprised and gratified at the warm reaction that they received and this was an excellent gig for them and one of the best that I’ve seen at BMJ.
Tsourelis is a brilliant player of both his chosen instruments and it was particularly enjoyable for me to see the oud being played at such close quarters.

My thanks to Stefanos for talking me with me at length and for the gift of a copy of “Native Speaker”. He’s a genuinely nice guy with an excellent command of English. Incidentally, the album comes from a remark of Ford’s. The first version of the trio featured Tsourelis, Ford and an Italian bass player prompting the drummer to remark; “I’m the only native speaker here”.

Featuring the distinctive artwork of Alban Low on the cover the album also sounds excellent in the home listening environment. Seven of the ten tracks were played tonight and the album also includes two forceful and energetic oud powered pieces, “Phyrigian Major” and “Squares”, which both feature some typically dynamic and virtuoso playing with some terrific interplay between the three musicians. As its title might suggest “Leafy Gardens” is rather different, altogether more gentle and with a greater focus on pure melody. Tsourelis plays guitar here, combining well with Ford’s neatly detailed drums and percussion and Jones’ softly percolating bass. Available from iTunes and Bandcamp via Tsourelis’ website the album is highly recommended.
http://www.stefanostsourelis.com

The Reading Dusseldorf Jazz Ensemble - The Reading Dusseldorf Jazz Ensemble, Reading Fringe Festival Main Stage, 25/07/2018. Rating: 5 out of 5 They hit the groove with the opening number and during the course of three sets held the near capacity audience spellbound with music of truly world class quality.

The Reading Dusseldorf Jazz Ensemble
 
Reading Fringe Festival Main Stage, Reading Station Hill Plaza
 
Wednesday 25 July
 
Stuart Henderson (trumpet & flugelhorn), Reiner Witzel (alto saxophone), Pete Billington (keyboards), Raph Mizraki (bass & electric bass), Simon Price(drums).
 
‘How long have the band been together?’ I was asked by one of several curious bystanders who were drawn to the Main Stage of the Reading Fringe Festival as the sound of five jazz musicians in rehearsal drifted ‘pied piper-like’ across Reading Station Plaza early on Wednesday evening.

‘About two hours,’ I replied.

‘Two hours!’ he gasped. ‘That’s amazing. What is it about jazz that guys can get-it-together like that?’
 
With that, he continued on his way in puzzled amazement, promising that he would try to return for the concert at the appointed time.

In truth I hadn’t been entirely honest with my response. Four of the musicians play regularly under the leadership of Stuart Henderson and are well known to local jazzers as the Stuart Henderson Quartet. But, alto saxophonist Reiner Witzel had only flown into Heathrow from Dusseldorf a few hours earlier, giving him just enough time to meet the guys at Stuart’s home, and to check into his Friar Street Hotel, before making the sound-check and rehearsal at the Main Stage.
 
And to explain the background to this unique occasion a little further; Stuart had played as a guest with Reiner’s Dusseldorf Jazz Ensemble in Dusseldorf on 30th June, in a hugely successful concert which also featured guest soloists from Haifa and Chemnitz - each guest representing a community with which Dusseldorf is twinned. Reiner’s appearance in Reading, which he first visited thirty years ago as a youthful member of a big band, reciprocated that event to forge an additional link of friendship between Reading and Dusseldorf.
 
In the circumstances the musicians could easily have settled for a programme of well-worn standards familiar to themselves and the audience. But no, this was a special occasion, not just in terms of the link between Reading and Dusseldorf, but also as an opportunity to showcase the original writing talents of Stuart and Reiner, and to present jazz at its best and most challenging as part of Reading Fringe Festival. They hit the groove with the opening number, Reiner Witzel’s ‘Northern Fields’, and during the course of three sets held the near capacity audience spellbound with music of truly world class quality.
 
The contrast between the protagonist’s writing styles made for fascinating listening. Witzel, sometimes dark and brooding, captured the pulse of life in a Charles Mingus-like fashion of startling sounds and shifting times and rhythms with the brilliantly evocative ‘Tales of a Century’, ‘Nomansland’ and ‘Hafenhunde‘ (The Dogs of The Port)
 
Henderson, on the other hand, revealed a much lighter touch with début outings for three very lyrical pieces. His arrangement of ‘Sumer Is i-cumen in’, written down by a monk in Reading Abbey in about 1240, said to be ‘the earliest existing example of harmonized secular music’ and indelibly inscribed in the primary-school-day memories of generations of Reading children, was a pure delight – a medieval four-part round in jazz bossa-nova style - and a fitting tribute to the recent re-opening of Reading Abbey. ‘Reflections’, featuring the gorgeous piano of Pete Billington, was the sort of wistfully romantic ballad that sadly nobody seems to write any more – except, thankfully, Stuart Henderson. ‘Three Rivers’ beautifully captured the flow and various moods of Reading’s principal rivers, the Thames, Kennet and Holy Brook.
 
‘Voyage’ and ‘Gibraltar’, two post-1960 classics from respectively Kenny Barron and Freddie Hubbard, gave everyone free-rein to exercise their ‘jazz-chops’. Fiery alto from Witzel, blistering trumpet runs from Henderson, who revived the lost art of growling plunger mute to outstanding effect, and understated swing from Billington. Alert to every shift in gear Raph Mizraki’s rich-toned bass held the rhythm section firmly in place in partnership with the explosive drumming of Simon Price.
 
It was an evening rich with surprises, none more so than the inclusion of two numbers from Miles Davis ‘electric’ repertoire, ‘Tutu’ and ‘Shh Peaceful/It’s About That Time’. Though Miles’ innovations with electronic instruments in the late-1960s and onwards divided fans and critics alike, they had a lasting influence on jazz, giving birth to the entirely new genre of ‘jazz fusion’. I can still vividly remember the spine-tingling experience of listening to ‘In A Silent Way’ on its release in 1970. And yet, to my knowledge, unlike titles such as ‘So What’ or ‘Walkin’’ from earlier albums, nobody actually plays anything from the ‘electric’ bands.
 
Why not? Of course, at the time we didn’t know, and could never had imagined, that ‘In A Silent Way’ was painstakingly created in the editor’s cutting room from hours and hours of tape, while ‘Tutu’ took the innovation a stage further and Miles played over the lush pre-recorded arrangements of Marcus Miller. Playing the tunes ‘live’ naturally presents quite a challenge, but not one to be missed by the Reading Dusseldorf Jazz Ensemble!
 
The results were outstanding. The band drew on its entire bank of sound resources to deliver each piece; Witzel’s haunting alto, and Henderson’s sparse trumpet interjections, overlaying the kaleidoscopic background of Mizraki’s slap bass, the celestial effects conjured from Pete Billington’s keyboard, and the hypnotic beat of Simon Price’s drums. The band not only remained faithful to the original feel of the albums, we had the bonus of the spontaneity which only comes in a ‘live’ performance.
 
‘Swagmeister’, a dedication to Stuart’s son who informed his father about the word ‘swag’ to be the ultimate in cool, brought a fantastic evening to a swinging close, and the audience to its feet in rapturous appreciation. As one happy punter commented, ‘I’ve listened to jazz in New York and all over the world. This ranks with the best I’ve ever heard!’. Hear hear!
 
The Reading Fringe Festival Main Stage, a remarkable structure of inflated plastic, seemed to hold the ominous promise of a weight-reducing sauna at the beginning of the evening. To everyone’s surprise it proved to be perfect for the performance, with an atmosphere of its own that grew as the evening progressed – the next best thing to playing outdoors on a beautiful mid-summer’s evening. Sound and lighting were handled magnificently by the resident Technical Team, while the Front of House Team engendered the welcoming and ‘can’t-do-enough-for-you’ spirit of Reading Fringe Festival.
 
Thanks are due to the Reading Dusseldorf Association for their support and to Paul Johnson of ‘Jazz in Reading’ who ensured that all the strands of organization were firmly drawn together to make the event possible.
 
Reiner Witzel took his flight back to Germany early on Thursday morning in advance of working on a cruise departing from Hamburg later in the day – such is the schedule of an internationally based musician. Stuart Henderson & Company can be seen at their resident spot at the Retreat on the last Sunday of each month – don’t miss the opportunity to see them in action.
 
Can we look forward to a further episode in the jazz-link between Reading and Dusseldorf and further involvement with Reading Fringe Festival? The interest and goodwill are certainly there, so why not!


TREVOR BANNISTER

The Reading Dusseldorf Jazz Ensemble, Reading Fringe Festival Main Stage, 25/07/2018.

The Reading Dusseldorf Jazz Ensemble

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Reviewed by: Trevor Bannister

Live Review

5 out of 5

The Reading Dusseldorf Jazz Ensemble, Reading Fringe Festival Main Stage, 25/07/2018.
Photography: Photograph by Zoë White

They hit the groove with the opening number and during the course of three sets held the near capacity audience spellbound with music of truly world class quality.

The Reading Dusseldorf Jazz Ensemble
 
Reading Fringe Festival Main Stage, Reading Station Hill Plaza
 
Wednesday 25 July
 
Stuart Henderson (trumpet & flugelhorn), Reiner Witzel (alto saxophone), Pete Billington (keyboards), Raph Mizraki (bass & electric bass), Simon Price(drums).
 
‘How long have the band been together?’ I was asked by one of several curious bystanders who were drawn to the Main Stage of the Reading Fringe Festival as the sound of five jazz musicians in rehearsal drifted ‘pied piper-like’ across Reading Station Plaza early on Wednesday evening.

‘About two hours,’ I replied.

‘Two hours!’ he gasped. ‘That’s amazing. What is it about jazz that guys can get-it-together like that?’
 
With that, he continued on his way in puzzled amazement, promising that he would try to return for the concert at the appointed time.

In truth I hadn’t been entirely honest with my response. Four of the musicians play regularly under the leadership of Stuart Henderson and are well known to local jazzers as the Stuart Henderson Quartet. But, alto saxophonist Reiner Witzel had only flown into Heathrow from Dusseldorf a few hours earlier, giving him just enough time to meet the guys at Stuart’s home, and to check into his Friar Street Hotel, before making the sound-check and rehearsal at the Main Stage.
 
And to explain the background to this unique occasion a little further; Stuart had played as a guest with Reiner’s Dusseldorf Jazz Ensemble in Dusseldorf on 30th June, in a hugely successful concert which also featured guest soloists from Haifa and Chemnitz - each guest representing a community with which Dusseldorf is twinned. Reiner’s appearance in Reading, which he first visited thirty years ago as a youthful member of a big band, reciprocated that event to forge an additional link of friendship between Reading and Dusseldorf.
 
In the circumstances the musicians could easily have settled for a programme of well-worn standards familiar to themselves and the audience. But no, this was a special occasion, not just in terms of the link between Reading and Dusseldorf, but also as an opportunity to showcase the original writing talents of Stuart and Reiner, and to present jazz at its best and most challenging as part of Reading Fringe Festival. They hit the groove with the opening number, Reiner Witzel’s ‘Northern Fields’, and during the course of three sets held the near capacity audience spellbound with music of truly world class quality.
 
The contrast between the protagonist’s writing styles made for fascinating listening. Witzel, sometimes dark and brooding, captured the pulse of life in a Charles Mingus-like fashion of startling sounds and shifting times and rhythms with the brilliantly evocative ‘Tales of a Century’, ‘Nomansland’ and ‘Hafenhunde‘ (The Dogs of The Port)
 
Henderson, on the other hand, revealed a much lighter touch with début outings for three very lyrical pieces. His arrangement of ‘Sumer Is i-cumen in’, written down by a monk in Reading Abbey in about 1240, said to be ‘the earliest existing example of harmonized secular music’ and indelibly inscribed in the primary-school-day memories of generations of Reading children, was a pure delight – a medieval four-part round in jazz bossa-nova style - and a fitting tribute to the recent re-opening of Reading Abbey. ‘Reflections’, featuring the gorgeous piano of Pete Billington, was the sort of wistfully romantic ballad that sadly nobody seems to write any more – except, thankfully, Stuart Henderson. ‘Three Rivers’ beautifully captured the flow and various moods of Reading’s principal rivers, the Thames, Kennet and Holy Brook.
 
‘Voyage’ and ‘Gibraltar’, two post-1960 classics from respectively Kenny Barron and Freddie Hubbard, gave everyone free-rein to exercise their ‘jazz-chops’. Fiery alto from Witzel, blistering trumpet runs from Henderson, who revived the lost art of growling plunger mute to outstanding effect, and understated swing from Billington. Alert to every shift in gear Raph Mizraki’s rich-toned bass held the rhythm section firmly in place in partnership with the explosive drumming of Simon Price.
 
It was an evening rich with surprises, none more so than the inclusion of two numbers from Miles Davis ‘electric’ repertoire, ‘Tutu’ and ‘Shh Peaceful/It’s About That Time’. Though Miles’ innovations with electronic instruments in the late-1960s and onwards divided fans and critics alike, they had a lasting influence on jazz, giving birth to the entirely new genre of ‘jazz fusion’. I can still vividly remember the spine-tingling experience of listening to ‘In A Silent Way’ on its release in 1970. And yet, to my knowledge, unlike titles such as ‘So What’ or ‘Walkin’’ from earlier albums, nobody actually plays anything from the ‘electric’ bands.
 
Why not? Of course, at the time we didn’t know, and could never had imagined, that ‘In A Silent Way’ was painstakingly created in the editor’s cutting room from hours and hours of tape, while ‘Tutu’ took the innovation a stage further and Miles played over the lush pre-recorded arrangements of Marcus Miller. Playing the tunes ‘live’ naturally presents quite a challenge, but not one to be missed by the Reading Dusseldorf Jazz Ensemble!
 
The results were outstanding. The band drew on its entire bank of sound resources to deliver each piece; Witzel’s haunting alto, and Henderson’s sparse trumpet interjections, overlaying the kaleidoscopic background of Mizraki’s slap bass, the celestial effects conjured from Pete Billington’s keyboard, and the hypnotic beat of Simon Price’s drums. The band not only remained faithful to the original feel of the albums, we had the bonus of the spontaneity which only comes in a ‘live’ performance.
 
‘Swagmeister’, a dedication to Stuart’s son who informed his father about the word ‘swag’ to be the ultimate in cool, brought a fantastic evening to a swinging close, and the audience to its feet in rapturous appreciation. As one happy punter commented, ‘I’ve listened to jazz in New York and all over the world. This ranks with the best I’ve ever heard!’. Hear hear!
 
The Reading Fringe Festival Main Stage, a remarkable structure of inflated plastic, seemed to hold the ominous promise of a weight-reducing sauna at the beginning of the evening. To everyone’s surprise it proved to be perfect for the performance, with an atmosphere of its own that grew as the evening progressed – the next best thing to playing outdoors on a beautiful mid-summer’s evening. Sound and lighting were handled magnificently by the resident Technical Team, while the Front of House Team engendered the welcoming and ‘can’t-do-enough-for-you’ spirit of Reading Fringe Festival.
 
Thanks are due to the Reading Dusseldorf Association for their support and to Paul Johnson of ‘Jazz in Reading’ who ensured that all the strands of organization were firmly drawn together to make the event possible.
 
Reiner Witzel took his flight back to Germany early on Thursday morning in advance of working on a cruise departing from Hamburg later in the day – such is the schedule of an internationally based musician. Stuart Henderson & Company can be seen at their resident spot at the Retreat on the last Sunday of each month – don’t miss the opportunity to see them in action.
 
Can we look forward to a further episode in the jazz-link between Reading and Dusseldorf and further involvement with Reading Fringe Festival? The interest and goodwill are certainly there, so why not!


TREVOR BANNISTER

Beats & Pieces Big Band - Ten Rating: 4 out of 5 Beats & Pieces remain a hugely exciting and vital presence on the UK jazz scene. They have lost none of their youthful energy, irreverence and verve and on this evidence are playing better than ever.

Beats & Pieces Big Band

“Ten”

Efpi Records FP029)

“Ten” is a special release issued to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Manchester based Beats & Pieces Big Band.

The ensemble is directed by composer Ben Cottrell who explains the raison d’etre of this album thus;
“On 27 January 2008 I asked thirteen friends and fellow students to a rehearsal room at Manchester’s Royal College of Music to play through some tunes I’d written for big band. Beats & Pieces Big Band emerged. Exactly ten years on from that first meeting we invited an audience of friends, family and key supporters to the same RNCM rehearsal space for a special anniversary gig, documented here. On behalf of all the Beats & Pieces musicians past and present thanks for a fun first ten years; we hope there’ll be many more to come”.

The Jazzmann has always been a champion of the band since the release of its eponymous début EP back in 2010, my review of the recording being the first one they’d received outside the city of Manchester. I was impressed by the band’s youthful energy and dynamism and by the punk like attitude they exhibited, releasing the album on their own independent EFPI label and packaging the EP in a cool cardboard sleeve made entirely from recycled materials.

B&PBB were already an exciting live prospect and the rest of the jazz world quickly started to catch up with the group and their music. In 2011 they were awarded the prize for European Young Jazz Artists of the Year at the Burghausen Jazz Week in Germany. The resultant prize money helped to finance the recording of the band’s first full length album, the aptly named “Big Ideas”, which was released in 2012.

Despite the ironing out of a few rough edges this was still a hugely exciting recording that brought the band to the attention of the national jazz audience and saw B&PBB taken under the wing of the London based Serious organisation. The band became regulars on the UK festival circuit appearing at London and Manchester Jazz Festivals, the Mostly Jazz Festival in Birmingham and the Hay literary festival among others.

In 2015 B&PBB released their second full length album “All In”, the title of which emphasised their collective ethos. Another excellent recording prompted a further batch of touring including more festival appearances. More recently the band have been on tour in North America as part of their tenth anniversary celebrations.

In addition to following the progress of B&PBB the Jazzmann has also been supportive of the individual projects of some of its musicians, including guitarist Anton Hunter, saxophonist Sam Andreae and trumpeter Nick Walters, and of the EFPI label in general.

Musicians have come and gone within the B&PBB ranks over the years but the majority of the founding members are still present. For the performance documented on this disc the line up was as follows;

Ben Cottrell – director
Anthony Brown, Oliver Dover, Tom Ward – saxophones
Richard Foote, Simon Lodge– trombones
Rich McVeigh – bass trombone
Owen Bryce, Graham South, Nick Walters – trumpets
Anton Hunter – guitar
Richard Jones – piano, Rhodes
Stewart Wilson – bass
Finlay Panter – drums

Essentially this is a live album, recorded in front of a supportive audience, and it’s clear from the outset that ten years on the band have lost none of their youthful zest and vitality. The energy levels start high and remain there, it must have been one hell of a night, wish I could have been there.

B&PBB have never sounded like an orthodox big band -”we’re just a band that happens to be big”, as the group themselves say. They have always drawn on many influences including jazz, rock (notably Radiohead), contemporary classical and electronic music. They’ve been described as a ‘21st century Loose Tubes’ but despite similarities of attitude and approach Cottrell plays down the comparison citing instead the influence of big band composers and arrangers such as Matthew Herbert, Colin Towns, Maria Schneider and even Gil Evans.  However of all the big band composers and arrangers it’s the Canadian born, New York based Darcy James Argue who has been the most inspirational, another musician with highly contemporary sensibilities.

With this being both a live recording and something of a career retrospective it comes as no surprise to find that some of these pieces have already appeared on previous B&PBB recordings. However this in no way lessens, or detracts from, the excitement of his hugely vibrant and enjoyable recording – and there’s a fair amount of brand new material too. Cottrell favours snappy one word tune titles, a reflection of B&PBB’s punk/indie rock aesthetic. Indeed Cottrell has been quoted as stating that another key influence on the band was Pete Wareham’s pioneering punk jazz outfit Acoustic Ladyland who cut a swathe across the UK jazz scene back in 2005 or so. B&PBB began as an attempt to reproduce the Ladyland aesthetic on a bigger scale.

With the exception of one piece written by Panter the entire repertoire is composed and arranged by Cottrell commencing with the new tune “Nois”. I seem to remember that the title is a Portuguese word meaning “Us”, which sums the B&PBB ethos very nicely. In any event the tune comes roaring out of the blocks courtesy of the powerful riffing of Hunter’s cranked up electric guitar. He’s quickly joined by Panter’s dynamic, brutal drumming before the rest of the band pile in with clipped horn phrases augmenting Hunter’s ongoing sonic assault. The guitarist’s taut riffing is a constant almost throughout the piece but the only orthodox jazz solo comes from Walters who exhibits an admirable power and fluency with a bravura trumpet solo. Taken all together it makes for a terrific, and hugely exciting, start.

“Jazzwalk” first appeared on the “Big Ideas” album and features a broadly similar arrangement to the studio recording. Wilson’s electric bass starts things off and his patterns help to shape the structure of the piece. The combined horns make an impressively big sound and their collective power is a significant factor throughout the album. Following a short dialogue between Wilson’s bass and Panter’s drums the first solo comes from Dover on alto sax (the recorded version featured founding member Sam Healey) who whinnys incisively against a powerful horn and drum driven backdrop. Hunter then takes the opportunity to cut loose on electric guitar, exhibiting a strong rock influence and veering close to heavy metal at times.

“Three” also appeared on “Big Ideas” and retains its natural and obvious place in the running order here. It’s not quite as high octane as the first two items but still packs a punch with its brooding, unsettling arrangement augmented by searching solos from Walters on trumpet (he also features on the studio recording) and Ward on baritone sax. The band then ramp up the energy levels with a frenetic closing section.

“Rain” reveals a contemporary classical music influence, notably that of minimalist composer Steve Reich. Cottrell’s piece is inspired by Reich’s pioneering composition “It’s Going To Rain” and is centred around Jones’ mesmerically recurring Rhodes motif. It’s a more forceful rendition than the studio version with a harder and more propulsive groove. Wilson’s electric bass pulse frees up Jones to take an extended Rhodes solo that is variously spacey and funky. He’s effectively shadowed by Panter’s busy drumming.

“Time” is a new piece written by Panter and arranged by Cottrell that begins with the sound of the composer’s drums which usher in a brooding, vaguely unsettling arrangement paced by Panter’s skittering, hip hop influenced grooves. Rich horn voicings both augment, and contrast with, the contemporary rhythms and electronic textures (presumably generated by either Jones or Hunter), while the solo honours go to trumpeter Graham South with a skilfully structured feature that gradually builds in intensity.

“Broken” appears on both the début EP and on “Big Ideas”. The two versions are substantially different but each features guest female vocals and electronics from two different sets of invitees. The 2018 version of “Broken” is equally atmospheric with Hunter’s guitar soundscaping shaping the piece while Brown reprises his plaintive tenor sax solo from the “Big Ideas” version, his playing slowly growing in intensity on this slow burning, lighter-waver of a tune.

Panter’s drums launch “Pop”, a Cottrell composition apparently inspired by Quincy Jones’ string arrangements for Michael Jackson. The drummer maintains a buoyant, highly propulsive groove throughout and the horn arrangements are simultaneously both lush and powerful with Walters again the featured soloist on trumpet, playing both with a mute and with an open bell.

“Toan” was the first piece that Cottrell ever wrote for B&PBB and appeared on the début EP. Naturally it just had to feature here and is introduced by Jones with an extended passage of broodingly lyrical solo acoustic piano. The pianist then sets up a groove that forms the basis for the longer second section with its rousing big band style horn charts and rumbustious rhythms. There’s a hint of klezmer about Brown’s incisive soprano sax solo, this followed by an absorbing passage featuring just the three trombones in an animated exchange of interlocking lines and phrases; a stunning set piece that includes McVeigh’s tuba like rasps.

The new tune “Banger” is urged in by Hunter’s turbo-charged guitar and features a typically propulsive bass and drum groove. This helps to fuel a dirty sounding Rhodes solo from Jones that combines sci-fi sounds with an underlying funk. Meanwhile the horns race each other breezily on a relentlessly upbeat tune that is surely destined to become a favourite in the B&PBB canon.

Finally we hear “Hendo”, the tenth and final track on this hugely enjoyable album. The piece first appeared on “All In” and is introduced by Wilson’s electric bass which is soon joined by carousing horns; but it’s Wilson’s groove that shapes the flow of the piece and helps to fuel the biting soprano sax solo from Dover and the gloriously rousing ensemble passages in which Hunter’s guitar remains a vital, if unruly presence.

“Ten” reveals that after a decade of existence and despite several changes of personnel Beats & Pieces remain a hugely exciting and vital presence on the UK jazz scene. They have lost none of their youthful energy, irreverence and verve and on this evidence are playing better than ever. More importantly the quality of the newer material suggests that composer Cottrell still has much to say in the context of B&PBB and the band should be around for a few more years yet, maybe for a second decade if we’re lucky.

Ten

Beats & Pieces Big Band

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Ten

Beats & Pieces remain a hugely exciting and vital presence on the UK jazz scene. They have lost none of their youthful energy, irreverence and verve and on this evidence are playing better than ever.

Beats & Pieces Big Band

“Ten”

Efpi Records FP029)

“Ten” is a special release issued to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Manchester based Beats & Pieces Big Band.

The ensemble is directed by composer Ben Cottrell who explains the raison d’etre of this album thus;
“On 27 January 2008 I asked thirteen friends and fellow students to a rehearsal room at Manchester’s Royal College of Music to play through some tunes I’d written for big band. Beats & Pieces Big Band emerged. Exactly ten years on from that first meeting we invited an audience of friends, family and key supporters to the same RNCM rehearsal space for a special anniversary gig, documented here. On behalf of all the Beats & Pieces musicians past and present thanks for a fun first ten years; we hope there’ll be many more to come”.

The Jazzmann has always been a champion of the band since the release of its eponymous début EP back in 2010, my review of the recording being the first one they’d received outside the city of Manchester. I was impressed by the band’s youthful energy and dynamism and by the punk like attitude they exhibited, releasing the album on their own independent EFPI label and packaging the EP in a cool cardboard sleeve made entirely from recycled materials.

B&PBB were already an exciting live prospect and the rest of the jazz world quickly started to catch up with the group and their music. In 2011 they were awarded the prize for European Young Jazz Artists of the Year at the Burghausen Jazz Week in Germany. The resultant prize money helped to finance the recording of the band’s first full length album, the aptly named “Big Ideas”, which was released in 2012.

Despite the ironing out of a few rough edges this was still a hugely exciting recording that brought the band to the attention of the national jazz audience and saw B&PBB taken under the wing of the London based Serious organisation. The band became regulars on the UK festival circuit appearing at London and Manchester Jazz Festivals, the Mostly Jazz Festival in Birmingham and the Hay literary festival among others.

In 2015 B&PBB released their second full length album “All In”, the title of which emphasised their collective ethos. Another excellent recording prompted a further batch of touring including more festival appearances. More recently the band have been on tour in North America as part of their tenth anniversary celebrations.

In addition to following the progress of B&PBB the Jazzmann has also been supportive of the individual projects of some of its musicians, including guitarist Anton Hunter, saxophonist Sam Andreae and trumpeter Nick Walters, and of the EFPI label in general.

Musicians have come and gone within the B&PBB ranks over the years but the majority of the founding members are still present. For the performance documented on this disc the line up was as follows;

Ben Cottrell – director
Anthony Brown, Oliver Dover, Tom Ward – saxophones
Richard Foote, Simon Lodge– trombones
Rich McVeigh – bass trombone
Owen Bryce, Graham South, Nick Walters – trumpets
Anton Hunter – guitar
Richard Jones – piano, Rhodes
Stewart Wilson – bass
Finlay Panter – drums

Essentially this is a live album, recorded in front of a supportive audience, and it’s clear from the outset that ten years on the band have lost none of their youthful zest and vitality. The energy levels start high and remain there, it must have been one hell of a night, wish I could have been there.

B&PBB have never sounded like an orthodox big band -”we’re just a band that happens to be big”, as the group themselves say. They have always drawn on many influences including jazz, rock (notably Radiohead), contemporary classical and electronic music. They’ve been described as a ‘21st century Loose Tubes’ but despite similarities of attitude and approach Cottrell plays down the comparison citing instead the influence of big band composers and arrangers such as Matthew Herbert, Colin Towns, Maria Schneider and even Gil Evans.  However of all the big band composers and arrangers it’s the Canadian born, New York based Darcy James Argue who has been the most inspirational, another musician with highly contemporary sensibilities.

With this being both a live recording and something of a career retrospective it comes as no surprise to find that some of these pieces have already appeared on previous B&PBB recordings. However this in no way lessens, or detracts from, the excitement of his hugely vibrant and enjoyable recording – and there’s a fair amount of brand new material too. Cottrell favours snappy one word tune titles, a reflection of B&PBB’s punk/indie rock aesthetic. Indeed Cottrell has been quoted as stating that another key influence on the band was Pete Wareham’s pioneering punk jazz outfit Acoustic Ladyland who cut a swathe across the UK jazz scene back in 2005 or so. B&PBB began as an attempt to reproduce the Ladyland aesthetic on a bigger scale.

With the exception of one piece written by Panter the entire repertoire is composed and arranged by Cottrell commencing with the new tune “Nois”. I seem to remember that the title is a Portuguese word meaning “Us”, which sums the B&PBB ethos very nicely. In any event the tune comes roaring out of the blocks courtesy of the powerful riffing of Hunter’s cranked up electric guitar. He’s quickly joined by Panter’s dynamic, brutal drumming before the rest of the band pile in with clipped horn phrases augmenting Hunter’s ongoing sonic assault. The guitarist’s taut riffing is a constant almost throughout the piece but the only orthodox jazz solo comes from Walters who exhibits an admirable power and fluency with a bravura trumpet solo. Taken all together it makes for a terrific, and hugely exciting, start.

“Jazzwalk” first appeared on the “Big Ideas” album and features a broadly similar arrangement to the studio recording. Wilson’s electric bass starts things off and his patterns help to shape the structure of the piece. The combined horns make an impressively big sound and their collective power is a significant factor throughout the album. Following a short dialogue between Wilson’s bass and Panter’s drums the first solo comes from Dover on alto sax (the recorded version featured founding member Sam Healey) who whinnys incisively against a powerful horn and drum driven backdrop. Hunter then takes the opportunity to cut loose on electric guitar, exhibiting a strong rock influence and veering close to heavy metal at times.

“Three” also appeared on “Big Ideas” and retains its natural and obvious place in the running order here. It’s not quite as high octane as the first two items but still packs a punch with its brooding, unsettling arrangement augmented by searching solos from Walters on trumpet (he also features on the studio recording) and Ward on baritone sax. The band then ramp up the energy levels with a frenetic closing section.

“Rain” reveals a contemporary classical music influence, notably that of minimalist composer Steve Reich. Cottrell’s piece is inspired by Reich’s pioneering composition “It’s Going To Rain” and is centred around Jones’ mesmerically recurring Rhodes motif. It’s a more forceful rendition than the studio version with a harder and more propulsive groove. Wilson’s electric bass pulse frees up Jones to take an extended Rhodes solo that is variously spacey and funky. He’s effectively shadowed by Panter’s busy drumming.

“Time” is a new piece written by Panter and arranged by Cottrell that begins with the sound of the composer’s drums which usher in a brooding, vaguely unsettling arrangement paced by Panter’s skittering, hip hop influenced grooves. Rich horn voicings both augment, and contrast with, the contemporary rhythms and electronic textures (presumably generated by either Jones or Hunter), while the solo honours go to trumpeter Graham South with a skilfully structured feature that gradually builds in intensity.

“Broken” appears on both the début EP and on “Big Ideas”. The two versions are substantially different but each features guest female vocals and electronics from two different sets of invitees. The 2018 version of “Broken” is equally atmospheric with Hunter’s guitar soundscaping shaping the piece while Brown reprises his plaintive tenor sax solo from the “Big Ideas” version, his playing slowly growing in intensity on this slow burning, lighter-waver of a tune.

Panter’s drums launch “Pop”, a Cottrell composition apparently inspired by Quincy Jones’ string arrangements for Michael Jackson. The drummer maintains a buoyant, highly propulsive groove throughout and the horn arrangements are simultaneously both lush and powerful with Walters again the featured soloist on trumpet, playing both with a mute and with an open bell.

“Toan” was the first piece that Cottrell ever wrote for B&PBB and appeared on the début EP. Naturally it just had to feature here and is introduced by Jones with an extended passage of broodingly lyrical solo acoustic piano. The pianist then sets up a groove that forms the basis for the longer second section with its rousing big band style horn charts and rumbustious rhythms. There’s a hint of klezmer about Brown’s incisive soprano sax solo, this followed by an absorbing passage featuring just the three trombones in an animated exchange of interlocking lines and phrases; a stunning set piece that includes McVeigh’s tuba like rasps.

The new tune “Banger” is urged in by Hunter’s turbo-charged guitar and features a typically propulsive bass and drum groove. This helps to fuel a dirty sounding Rhodes solo from Jones that combines sci-fi sounds with an underlying funk. Meanwhile the horns race each other breezily on a relentlessly upbeat tune that is surely destined to become a favourite in the B&PBB canon.

Finally we hear “Hendo”, the tenth and final track on this hugely enjoyable album. The piece first appeared on “All In” and is introduced by Wilson’s electric bass which is soon joined by carousing horns; but it’s Wilson’s groove that shapes the flow of the piece and helps to fuel the biting soprano sax solo from Dover and the gloriously rousing ensemble passages in which Hunter’s guitar remains a vital, if unruly presence.

“Ten” reveals that after a decade of existence and despite several changes of personnel Beats & Pieces remain a hugely exciting and vital presence on the UK jazz scene. They have lost none of their youthful energy, irreverence and verve and on this evidence are playing better than ever. More importantly the quality of the newer material suggests that composer Cottrell still has much to say in the context of B&PBB and the band should be around for a few more years yet, maybe for a second decade if we’re lucky.

Floating Circles Quartet - Eleven Yesterdays Ago Rating: 3-5 out of 5 It’s good to hear the clarinet being used in this very contemporary context and this EP bodes well for the quartet’s future.

Floating Circles Quartet

“Eleven Yesterdays Ago”

(Self Released Digital EP)

Aidan Pearson – clarinet
Dom Stockbridge – guitar
Jonny Wickham – bass
Arthur Newell - drums

Floating Circles Quartet is a new, young group led by London based clarinettist and composer Aidan Pearson.

A musician with a foot in both the jazz and classical music camps Pearson studied jazz at London’s Guildhall School of Music where his tutors included saxophonists Martin Speake and Martin Hathaway, flautist Gareth Lockrane and pianist Malcolm Edmondstone. Among the ensembles with which Pearson has played are Tomorrow’s Warriors, led by bassist Gary Crosby, and the Southbank Sinfonia.

As a sideman, sometimes also playing saxophone, Pearson has played at many of London’s leading jazz venues with musicians such as pianist Peter Edwards,  rising star guitarist Rob Luft and big name Americans Marcus Roberts (piano) and Jason Marsalis (drums).

As a composer Pearson has written for classical ensembles ranging from wind quartet to full orchestra in addition to writing for jazz groups. He is the sole composer for Floating Circles Quartet, the line up of which also features Dom Stockbridge on guitar, Jonny Wickham on double bass and Arthur Newell of the drums.

Of the four only Newell has appeared on the Jazzmann web pages before, this when he played on the recent album release “Anecdotes II” by bassist and composer Matthew Read’s trio. Pearson, Read and Newell were all at the Guildhall together and it was my review of Read’s album that prompted Pearson to get in touch with me with a view to my reviewing the début release from Floating Circles Quartet. In the meantime my review of “Anecdotes II” by the Matthew Read Trio can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/matthew-read-trio-anecdotes-ii/

The début recording from Floating Circles Quartet is a four track EP titled “Eleven Yesterdays Ago” which will be released shortly and will be available via Soundcloud and Bandcamp.

Pearson describes his group as a jazz/ambient quartet and cites Mammal Hands, Andy Sheppard and Brian Eno as sources of inspiration. I’ve been lucky enough to listen to the music in advance of the official release date and although I can see where Pearson is coming from with that comment none of these influences is particularly overt. Instead Floating Circles Quartet have already created their own distinctive sound, one that draws on jazz, classical, folk and even rock influences. Their music is laid back and self effacing, unforced, unhurried and unmistakeably English.

The EP commences with the seven and a half minute “Always We Can Meet” which begins with an unaccompanied guitar intro before evolving slowly and organically with Stockbridge’s gently circling, pointillist guitar motifs combining effectively with Wickham’s bass and Newell’s understated but agile drumming to create subtly interlocking rhythms above which Pearson’s clarinet is free to soar. Pearson’s clarinet sound is pure and light, sometimes almost sounding like a flute (possibly Lockrane’s influence) or a soprano saxophone. As he floats above the delicate lattice of rhythms generated by his colleagues I’m reminded of the role of Jack Wyllie’s saxophone in Portico Quartet, albeit in a more pastoral setting. The inventive and versatile Stockbridge later takes over the reins with a succinct guitar solo.

The second piece, “Distrait Mountaineer” is of similar duration and introduces itself in atmospheric fashion with Pearson’s unaccompanied clarinet quickly joined by Stockbridge’s spacey guitar and Newell’s cymbal shimmers. With Stockbridge deploying his guitar effects subtly and effectively the piece retains its other worldly feel throughout, even during the relatively conventional guitar and clarinet solos that follow.

At a little over two and a half minutes in length the title track is much more concise and is positively jaunty in comparison. The piece commences with a lively and melodic dialogue between Pearson and Stockbridge before the rhythm joins in, keeping the grooves sparse and simple with Newell deploying brushes. Pearson solos briefly with Stockbridge’s guitar later coming to the fore for an even shorter cameo. It’s all very charming, but over far too soon.

The final piece, “Grandfather’s Clock”, commences with a solo guitar intro, with the echoey twang of Stockbridge’s atmospheric playing recalling Bill Frisell. Pearson’s clarinet playing deploys both the earlier flute like tones and a deeper, woodier sound of the kind more often associated with jazz. Nevertheless it’s still a million miles from New Orleans, or even Acker Bilk. Wickham’s melodic double bass is given a moment in the spotlight while Newell’s neat cymbal work combines with the guitar to approximate the sound of the workings and chimes of the titular clock’s mechanism.

It’s been a bit weird for me reviewing this music from a series of Soundcloud links rather than the usual CD but there is much to enjoy here. Pearson has developed an unusual and very personal sound on clarinet and he’s given excellent and highly sympathetic support by the other members of the Floating Circles Quartet. Stockbridge has absorbed the influence of Frisell, Rosenwinkel and others, while Newell impresses throughout, particularly with his exquisite cymbal work.

I found the group’s music absorbing and often beautiful, though I can appreciate that there are some listeners who may find their undemonstrative ‘chamber jazz’ approach a little bloodless. For me, it’s good to hear the clarinet being used in this very contemporary context and this EP bodes well for the quartet’s future. I’d certainly welcome the opportunity of seeing them play this music live, but suspect that at this point in their career they rarely play outside London. Let’s hope that the release of this EP helps to spark a wider interest in the band across the UK as a whole.

Eleven Yesterdays Ago

Floating Circles Quartet

Monday, July 23, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

EP Review

3-5 out of 5

Eleven Yesterdays Ago

It’s good to hear the clarinet being used in this very contemporary context and this EP bodes well for the quartet’s future.

Floating Circles Quartet

“Eleven Yesterdays Ago”

(Self Released Digital EP)

Aidan Pearson – clarinet
Dom Stockbridge – guitar
Jonny Wickham – bass
Arthur Newell - drums

Floating Circles Quartet is a new, young group led by London based clarinettist and composer Aidan Pearson.

A musician with a foot in both the jazz and classical music camps Pearson studied jazz at London’s Guildhall School of Music where his tutors included saxophonists Martin Speake and Martin Hathaway, flautist Gareth Lockrane and pianist Malcolm Edmondstone. Among the ensembles with which Pearson has played are Tomorrow’s Warriors, led by bassist Gary Crosby, and the Southbank Sinfonia.

As a sideman, sometimes also playing saxophone, Pearson has played at many of London’s leading jazz venues with musicians such as pianist Peter Edwards,  rising star guitarist Rob Luft and big name Americans Marcus Roberts (piano) and Jason Marsalis (drums).

As a composer Pearson has written for classical ensembles ranging from wind quartet to full orchestra in addition to writing for jazz groups. He is the sole composer for Floating Circles Quartet, the line up of which also features Dom Stockbridge on guitar, Jonny Wickham on double bass and Arthur Newell of the drums.

Of the four only Newell has appeared on the Jazzmann web pages before, this when he played on the recent album release “Anecdotes II” by bassist and composer Matthew Read’s trio. Pearson, Read and Newell were all at the Guildhall together and it was my review of Read’s album that prompted Pearson to get in touch with me with a view to my reviewing the début release from Floating Circles Quartet. In the meantime my review of “Anecdotes II” by the Matthew Read Trio can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/matthew-read-trio-anecdotes-ii/

The début recording from Floating Circles Quartet is a four track EP titled “Eleven Yesterdays Ago” which will be released shortly and will be available via Soundcloud and Bandcamp.

Pearson describes his group as a jazz/ambient quartet and cites Mammal Hands, Andy Sheppard and Brian Eno as sources of inspiration. I’ve been lucky enough to listen to the music in advance of the official release date and although I can see where Pearson is coming from with that comment none of these influences is particularly overt. Instead Floating Circles Quartet have already created their own distinctive sound, one that draws on jazz, classical, folk and even rock influences. Their music is laid back and self effacing, unforced, unhurried and unmistakeably English.

The EP commences with the seven and a half minute “Always We Can Meet” which begins with an unaccompanied guitar intro before evolving slowly and organically with Stockbridge’s gently circling, pointillist guitar motifs combining effectively with Wickham’s bass and Newell’s understated but agile drumming to create subtly interlocking rhythms above which Pearson’s clarinet is free to soar. Pearson’s clarinet sound is pure and light, sometimes almost sounding like a flute (possibly Lockrane’s influence) or a soprano saxophone. As he floats above the delicate lattice of rhythms generated by his colleagues I’m reminded of the role of Jack Wyllie’s saxophone in Portico Quartet, albeit in a more pastoral setting. The inventive and versatile Stockbridge later takes over the reins with a succinct guitar solo.

The second piece, “Distrait Mountaineer” is of similar duration and introduces itself in atmospheric fashion with Pearson’s unaccompanied clarinet quickly joined by Stockbridge’s spacey guitar and Newell’s cymbal shimmers. With Stockbridge deploying his guitar effects subtly and effectively the piece retains its other worldly feel throughout, even during the relatively conventional guitar and clarinet solos that follow.

At a little over two and a half minutes in length the title track is much more concise and is positively jaunty in comparison. The piece commences with a lively and melodic dialogue between Pearson and Stockbridge before the rhythm joins in, keeping the grooves sparse and simple with Newell deploying brushes. Pearson solos briefly with Stockbridge’s guitar later coming to the fore for an even shorter cameo. It’s all very charming, but over far too soon.

The final piece, “Grandfather’s Clock”, commences with a solo guitar intro, with the echoey twang of Stockbridge’s atmospheric playing recalling Bill Frisell. Pearson’s clarinet playing deploys both the earlier flute like tones and a deeper, woodier sound of the kind more often associated with jazz. Nevertheless it’s still a million miles from New Orleans, or even Acker Bilk. Wickham’s melodic double bass is given a moment in the spotlight while Newell’s neat cymbal work combines with the guitar to approximate the sound of the workings and chimes of the titular clock’s mechanism.

It’s been a bit weird for me reviewing this music from a series of Soundcloud links rather than the usual CD but there is much to enjoy here. Pearson has developed an unusual and very personal sound on clarinet and he’s given excellent and highly sympathetic support by the other members of the Floating Circles Quartet. Stockbridge has absorbed the influence of Frisell, Rosenwinkel and others, while Newell impresses throughout, particularly with his exquisite cymbal work.

I found the group’s music absorbing and often beautiful, though I can appreciate that there are some listeners who may find their undemonstrative ‘chamber jazz’ approach a little bloodless. For me, it’s good to hear the clarinet being used in this very contemporary context and this EP bodes well for the quartet’s future. I’d certainly welcome the opportunity of seeing them play this music live, but suspect that at this point in their career they rarely play outside London. Let’s hope that the release of this EP helps to spark a wider interest in the band across the UK as a whole.

Onyx Brass - Onyx Noir Rating: 3-5 out of 5 A highly accomplished and very sophisticated piece of work. An interesting and innovative recording with much to recommend it and plenty of fine moments to enjoy.

Onyx Brass

“Onyx Noir”

(NMC Recordings NMC D237)

Niall Keatley, Alan Thomas – trumpets
Andrew Sutton –  french horn
Amos Miller – trombone
David Gordon-Shute - tuba

Onyx Brass is a five piece brass ensemble that specialises in performing contemporary chamber music. The group, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2018, is well known for supporting new music and has commissioned and performed the world premières over 150 new works from a wide range of composers including such well known names as Michael Nyman, John Tavener and Steve Martland.

Onyx Brass has toured worldwide and been featured regularly on BBC Radio 3. The ensemble also see music education as an important part of their work and have regularly led workshops and master-classes at educational establishments all across the UK and further afield, including the Juilliard School of Music in New York.

Onyx have recorded a number of discs in which they interpret the music of classical composers from various epochs. One, “Time to Time” from 2011, features the voice of the American baritone Mark Steele. Onyx work regularly with singers, particularly choirs both professional and amateur.

Away from the group the individual members of Onyx Brass are active orchestral musicians with permanent posts in such prestigious institutions as the BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra of the English National Opera, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and the English Chamber Orchestra. Individually and collectively they are well respected throughout the classical world with the esteemed conductor and educator Richard Dickins among the many to sing their praises.

To celebrate their 25th anniversary the ever adventurous Onyx Brass explore the world of jazz with a new album, “Onyx Noir”, that celebrates the work of British jazz composers. The seeds of the project date right back to 1994 as trombonist Amos Miller explains in the album’s liner notes;
“In 1994 I was a participant in the Banff International Jazz Summer School, where one of the tutors was Kenny Wheeler. I was completely smitten by both his music and his playing, and thought that, one day, I might have the courage to approach him to write a piece for our newly formed quintet. Fast forward to 2012, when I was fortunate enough to be playing on Gwilym Simcock’s amazing album “Instrumation”, and this long held idea was suddenly given life. Having persuaded Gwilym to agree to write something for us I was then chatting to the drummer Martin France at a tea break and mentioned my long held dream to ask Kenny to write a brass quintet piece. Martin immediately gave me Kenny’s phone number and said ‘call him now, and tell him I said so!’.
Kenny was grace personified and agreed, with the caveat that it might take him some time. Less than three weeks later he phoned back with the news that he’d already finished it! Having Kenny and Gwilym on board made it easier to approach the other legends on this album, all of whom have been astoundingly generous and enthusiastic about the project. The commissioning side of this project has been entirely self funded by Onyx Brass and, we would like to put on record our heartfelt gratitude to the composers for their generosity, both of time and talent.
There is currently a golden era in British jazz and we felt that it was important, not just from a brass chamber music perspective, but also from a wider classical music point of view, that this well of talent should be tapped to create music in a jazz idiom, using each composer’s unique understanding of melody, harmony and rhythm, but playable by classical musicians. The commissioning brief for each composer was simple; something around five minutes and do whatever you want! We are completely thrilled by the results, and hope you have as much fun listening to it as we have had playing it.
This album is dedicated to the memory of Kenny Wheeler.”

As Miller says the commissioned composers have bought fully into the project and the CD booklet includes brief insights from the writers into their individual pieces. The album is subtitled “Jazz Works for Brass Quintet”.

The album commences with Simcock’s “Stomper”, the pianist and composer’s first piece for brass quintet despite Simcock’s habitual straddling of the jazz / classical boundaries. Simcock found writing for an ensemble containing a french horn (an instrument that he also plays himself) particularly interesting and his piece concentrates on the rhythmic possibilities of the ensemble with Sutton’s french horn and Gordon-Shute’s tuba both playing a prominent part in the arrangement. Yet this is still unmistakably a classical ensemble, there are none of the pumping grooves and strident soloing of the New Orleans brass band tradition, an area of music that is becoming an increasingly overcrowded field. Indeed Onyx’s rather more subtle use of rhythm and counterpoint on this two part composition from Simcock makes for a refreshing change with the focus very much on ensemble playing rather than conventional jazz soloing.

Next up is “Holy Chalcedony”, written by the supremely versatile electric bass player Laurence Cottle. “Chalcedony is the technical word for Onyx” explains Cottle “and this gospel infused tune takes us on a short walk from a village church to Funksville, Arizona”. As its composer suggests there’s an authentically church like feel to the opening of the piece with its warm and elegant horn voicings conveying a suitably ecclesiastical atmosphere. The pace subsequently quickens, with the tuba again playing a prominent role, as the tune takes on more of an American gospel feel, whilst still studiously avoiding the New Orleans marching band clichés.
Onyx Brass have recently issued a video to accompany this track which can be viewed here;
: https://youtu.be/NZcweYdofns

Miller provides the liner notes for the late Wheeler’s “1 for 5”, a typically playful and enigmatic Kenny title. The piece is divided into two distinct movements that re-imagine two of his earlier pieces, “Pretty Liddle Waltz” and that modern day jazz standard “Everybody’s Song But My Own”.
As Miller points out “harmonically, rhythmically and melodically they could only be from the Wheeler pen”. The arrangements and sumptuous and offer ample evidence of “Wheeler’s deep understanding of brass instruments”. Sharp eared jazz listeners will doubtless recognise the melodies of the earlier works.

Like Simcock the saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes is another artist who transcends the jazz/classical divide, notably with her genre blurring Emulsion Festival, now in its sixth year.
Her piece is “The Mighty Pencil”, which she dedicates to the victims of the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting and of which she says;
“I wrote this piece to encourage the fine members of Onyx Brass to have fun with incorporating improvisation into the mix! And pencils are essential to creatives everywhere…”
The members of Onyx rise to the improvisatory challenge on a piece with a freely structured intro but still possessing plenty of recognisably written melodies, these encouraging some excellent interplay, some of it no doubt improvised, between the members of the quintet.

Trombonist Mark Nightingale’s piece “For Rosie” was originally written as part of a suite for jazz trombone and chamber orchestra for the International Trombone Festival in Aarhus, Denmark in 2009. The piece is dedicated to the composer’s daughter (then aged 8) and has been re-arranged specifically for Onyx Brass. Gently interweaving melody lines lead to a statement of the main theme by french horn. The mood is warm, reflecting the tenderness of a father towards his young daughter. Nightingale’s notes make reference to “a cascading interlude and key change” plus “a short recapitulation rising through a crescendo before the coda, in which the music gradually melts down to a final tonic chord”.

Pianist Jason Rebello appears to have taken the commission brief literally. Of his piece “Inevitable Outcome” he says “the music was allowed flow and be what it wanted to be, and it is the inevitable outcome of my life experiences to date”. Rebello is something of a musical polymath whose career has embraced jazz, soul and rock (most famously as part of Sting’s band) but he comes from a classical background, a fact that is reflected in the sophistication of his writing here. His piece is rich in terms of both melody and rhythm and makes effective use of the quintet’s formidable technical abilities.

Tuba player David Powell is best known to jazz listeners as a member of the mighty Loose Tubes but he also has a parallel classical career playing in various London based classical ensembles. The title of “Symbols at your Door” comes from the childhood counting song “Green Grow the Rushes-o” and was chosen simply because Onyx Brass has five members. Powell plays down his abilities as a composer stating that “the piece grew out of material from a simple choral psalm setting I wrote a few years ago”. There’s a beautiful, calming quality about the piece, which includes a delightfully meditative tuba solo from Gordon-Shute. Powell also includes “a little triple time tango section, based on a chord sequence from my musical hero Astor Piazolla”. It’s so skilfully integrated that there’s no discernible interruption to the mood and flow of this unexpectedly lovely and contemplative piece.

Pianist Liam Noble admits that his “Imaginary Dance” is his first ever through composed piece.  “Finding structural devices to replace the ‘shut your eyes and listen’ approach of improvisation was an interesting experience” he observes. The writing was dictated by “imagining what a dancer might like to happen next” he explains. Gordon-Shute’s tuba again plays a key role in an arrangement that gravitates from the contemplative to the lively and exuberant. “Onyx Brass dance through this with impeccable and raucous aplomb” notes the composer.

The album takes its title from trumpeter and composer Guy Barker’s piece “Onyx Noir”. The composition has its roots in Barker’s love of cinema and particularly film noir. Inspired by his fondness for the genre and of the soundtracks that accompanied the films Barker wrote an ambitious mini-suite for orchestra and jazz ensemble called “Sounds in Black and White” that appeared on his 2002 cinema themed album “Soundtrack”. Faced with a commission for a brass quintet Barker found himself drawn back to this musical area to create a piece “that was atmospheric and smoky, but still quite intense”. Onyx Brass realise Barker’s ambitions admirably in a sumptuous performance with the five instruments blending and dovetailing seamlessly on an arrangement with an appropriately noirish quality that expertly navigates a number of thematic and emotional variations with great aplomb. The tuba again plays an important role but, as is befitting in a composition by Barker, there’s some excellent trumpet playing too, although it’s impossible to single out individuals.

Saxophonist Mick Foster’s “Hamlet Stories” compresses three short movements into a single performance. These are separated into three tracks on the CD. The first “combines lyrical thematic ideas and spiky rhythms”, the second picks up one of the themes to create “a rhythmic riff idea”, while the third “contains a stately tune, which builds in volume whilst being heard in several keys”.Apparently the inspiration for the work is not Shakespeare but instead the name of the main shopping street in Westcliff on Sea where Foster lives!

Similarly bassoonist/saxophonist Colin Skinner presents a three part composition “Firebox”, with each movement being named after a different steam locomotive. The first movement, “Hetton Colliery Lyon” even includes suitable sound effects (I wouldn’t like to speculate as to the source of these) as Onyx brass depict one of the earliest British locomotives toiling in the coal yard. It’s a surprisingly melodic piece which combines an underlying bluesiness with a nod to the Northern brass band tradition.
Skinner’s individual movements are more clearly delineated than Foster’s had been. “Sunny South Sam” is so called after a nickname for the Southern Railway and depicts one of the company’s locomotives hauling a train to the seaside. The mood is suitably bucolic and nostalgic, like an old picture postcard brought to life.
Finally we hear “The Federal Express”, named after a through train linking Boston, MA and Washington DC. A slick, breezy arrangement summons up images of the service steaming through the night as the passengers enjoy the luxury of the Pullman coaches. The music mimics American big band jazz and the ‘Jazz Age’ with great aplomb, the five instruments delivering an admirably full sound on one of the most accessible and swinging pieces on the album.

Guitarist Mike Walker, Simcock’s colleague in the acclaimed Anglo-American quartet The Impossible Gentlemen was approached by Miller to do an arrangement of the TIG piece “When You Hold Her”.
In Walker’s words;
“Creativity got the better of me and it ended up being an entirely different piece with nods to the old piece. The title speaks for itself. Onyx Brass play it beautifully”.
And he’s right, Onyx Brass play Walker’s gorgeous melody with studied cool and considerable elegance. There’s an almost hymn like sense of calm about the piece, allied to a gentle sense of yearning. It also sounds unmistakably English.

Onyx Brass have been described as “the classiest brass ensemble in Britain” and I have no quibble with the classical music reviewers who have made this claim for the quintet. I also have the utmost respect for the opinions of Richard Dickins, a great admirer of the ensemble and their work.

There’s no doubt that “Onyx Noir” is a highly accomplished and very sophisticated piece of work. The playing is superb throughout and the quality of the recording is further enhanced by the engineering and production team of David Lefeber and Suzanne Stanzeleit.

But there’s no getting away from the fact that this is essentially a classical recording and despite the impeccable jazz credentials of the featured composers committed jazz listeners may find themselves missing many of the conventional jazz virtues, such as prolonged instrumental solos and a sense of swing.

For all the rhythmic virtuosity and variation brought to the group by Miller and Gordon-Shute I still found myself longing for the presence of bass and drums to give the music a kick up the backside, and sometimes for a chordal instrument, such as a piano, too.

Ultimately, for all its class and skill regular jazz listeners may find “Onyx Noir” a little too polite, and at seventy six minutes arguably a little over-long too. Nevertheless it’s an interesting and innovative recording with much to recommend it and plenty of fine moments to enjoy.

 

 

Onyx Noir

Onyx Brass

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Onyx Noir

A highly accomplished and very sophisticated piece of work. An interesting and innovative recording with much to recommend it and plenty of fine moments to enjoy.

Onyx Brass

“Onyx Noir”

(NMC Recordings NMC D237)

Niall Keatley, Alan Thomas – trumpets
Andrew Sutton –  french horn
Amos Miller – trombone
David Gordon-Shute - tuba

Onyx Brass is a five piece brass ensemble that specialises in performing contemporary chamber music. The group, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2018, is well known for supporting new music and has commissioned and performed the world premières over 150 new works from a wide range of composers including such well known names as Michael Nyman, John Tavener and Steve Martland.

Onyx Brass has toured worldwide and been featured regularly on BBC Radio 3. The ensemble also see music education as an important part of their work and have regularly led workshops and master-classes at educational establishments all across the UK and further afield, including the Juilliard School of Music in New York.

Onyx have recorded a number of discs in which they interpret the music of classical composers from various epochs. One, “Time to Time” from 2011, features the voice of the American baritone Mark Steele. Onyx work regularly with singers, particularly choirs both professional and amateur.

Away from the group the individual members of Onyx Brass are active orchestral musicians with permanent posts in such prestigious institutions as the BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra of the English National Opera, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and the English Chamber Orchestra. Individually and collectively they are well respected throughout the classical world with the esteemed conductor and educator Richard Dickins among the many to sing their praises.

To celebrate their 25th anniversary the ever adventurous Onyx Brass explore the world of jazz with a new album, “Onyx Noir”, that celebrates the work of British jazz composers. The seeds of the project date right back to 1994 as trombonist Amos Miller explains in the album’s liner notes;
“In 1994 I was a participant in the Banff International Jazz Summer School, where one of the tutors was Kenny Wheeler. I was completely smitten by both his music and his playing, and thought that, one day, I might have the courage to approach him to write a piece for our newly formed quintet. Fast forward to 2012, when I was fortunate enough to be playing on Gwilym Simcock’s amazing album “Instrumation”, and this long held idea was suddenly given life. Having persuaded Gwilym to agree to write something for us I was then chatting to the drummer Martin France at a tea break and mentioned my long held dream to ask Kenny to write a brass quintet piece. Martin immediately gave me Kenny’s phone number and said ‘call him now, and tell him I said so!’.
Kenny was grace personified and agreed, with the caveat that it might take him some time. Less than three weeks later he phoned back with the news that he’d already finished it! Having Kenny and Gwilym on board made it easier to approach the other legends on this album, all of whom have been astoundingly generous and enthusiastic about the project. The commissioning side of this project has been entirely self funded by Onyx Brass and, we would like to put on record our heartfelt gratitude to the composers for their generosity, both of time and talent.
There is currently a golden era in British jazz and we felt that it was important, not just from a brass chamber music perspective, but also from a wider classical music point of view, that this well of talent should be tapped to create music in a jazz idiom, using each composer’s unique understanding of melody, harmony and rhythm, but playable by classical musicians. The commissioning brief for each composer was simple; something around five minutes and do whatever you want! We are completely thrilled by the results, and hope you have as much fun listening to it as we have had playing it.
This album is dedicated to the memory of Kenny Wheeler.”

As Miller says the commissioned composers have bought fully into the project and the CD booklet includes brief insights from the writers into their individual pieces. The album is subtitled “Jazz Works for Brass Quintet”.

The album commences with Simcock’s “Stomper”, the pianist and composer’s first piece for brass quintet despite Simcock’s habitual straddling of the jazz / classical boundaries. Simcock found writing for an ensemble containing a french horn (an instrument that he also plays himself) particularly interesting and his piece concentrates on the rhythmic possibilities of the ensemble with Sutton’s french horn and Gordon-Shute’s tuba both playing a prominent part in the arrangement. Yet this is still unmistakably a classical ensemble, there are none of the pumping grooves and strident soloing of the New Orleans brass band tradition, an area of music that is becoming an increasingly overcrowded field. Indeed Onyx’s rather more subtle use of rhythm and counterpoint on this two part composition from Simcock makes for a refreshing change with the focus very much on ensemble playing rather than conventional jazz soloing.

Next up is “Holy Chalcedony”, written by the supremely versatile electric bass player Laurence Cottle. “Chalcedony is the technical word for Onyx” explains Cottle “and this gospel infused tune takes us on a short walk from a village church to Funksville, Arizona”. As its composer suggests there’s an authentically church like feel to the opening of the piece with its warm and elegant horn voicings conveying a suitably ecclesiastical atmosphere. The pace subsequently quickens, with the tuba again playing a prominent role, as the tune takes on more of an American gospel feel, whilst still studiously avoiding the New Orleans marching band clichés.
Onyx Brass have recently issued a video to accompany this track which can be viewed here;
: https://youtu.be/NZcweYdofns

Miller provides the liner notes for the late Wheeler’s “1 for 5”, a typically playful and enigmatic Kenny title. The piece is divided into two distinct movements that re-imagine two of his earlier pieces, “Pretty Liddle Waltz” and that modern day jazz standard “Everybody’s Song But My Own”.
As Miller points out “harmonically, rhythmically and melodically they could only be from the Wheeler pen”. The arrangements and sumptuous and offer ample evidence of “Wheeler’s deep understanding of brass instruments”. Sharp eared jazz listeners will doubtless recognise the melodies of the earlier works.

Like Simcock the saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes is another artist who transcends the jazz/classical divide, notably with her genre blurring Emulsion Festival, now in its sixth year.
Her piece is “The Mighty Pencil”, which she dedicates to the victims of the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting and of which she says;
“I wrote this piece to encourage the fine members of Onyx Brass to have fun with incorporating improvisation into the mix! And pencils are essential to creatives everywhere…”
The members of Onyx rise to the improvisatory challenge on a piece with a freely structured intro but still possessing plenty of recognisably written melodies, these encouraging some excellent interplay, some of it no doubt improvised, between the members of the quintet.

Trombonist Mark Nightingale’s piece “For Rosie” was originally written as part of a suite for jazz trombone and chamber orchestra for the International Trombone Festival in Aarhus, Denmark in 2009. The piece is dedicated to the composer’s daughter (then aged 8) and has been re-arranged specifically for Onyx Brass. Gently interweaving melody lines lead to a statement of the main theme by french horn. The mood is warm, reflecting the tenderness of a father towards his young daughter. Nightingale’s notes make reference to “a cascading interlude and key change” plus “a short recapitulation rising through a crescendo before the coda, in which the music gradually melts down to a final tonic chord”.

Pianist Jason Rebello appears to have taken the commission brief literally. Of his piece “Inevitable Outcome” he says “the music was allowed flow and be what it wanted to be, and it is the inevitable outcome of my life experiences to date”. Rebello is something of a musical polymath whose career has embraced jazz, soul and rock (most famously as part of Sting’s band) but he comes from a classical background, a fact that is reflected in the sophistication of his writing here. His piece is rich in terms of both melody and rhythm and makes effective use of the quintet’s formidable technical abilities.

Tuba player David Powell is best known to jazz listeners as a member of the mighty Loose Tubes but he also has a parallel classical career playing in various London based classical ensembles. The title of “Symbols at your Door” comes from the childhood counting song “Green Grow the Rushes-o” and was chosen simply because Onyx Brass has five members. Powell plays down his abilities as a composer stating that “the piece grew out of material from a simple choral psalm setting I wrote a few years ago”. There’s a beautiful, calming quality about the piece, which includes a delightfully meditative tuba solo from Gordon-Shute. Powell also includes “a little triple time tango section, based on a chord sequence from my musical hero Astor Piazolla”. It’s so skilfully integrated that there’s no discernible interruption to the mood and flow of this unexpectedly lovely and contemplative piece.

Pianist Liam Noble admits that his “Imaginary Dance” is his first ever through composed piece.  “Finding structural devices to replace the ‘shut your eyes and listen’ approach of improvisation was an interesting experience” he observes. The writing was dictated by “imagining what a dancer might like to happen next” he explains. Gordon-Shute’s tuba again plays a key role in an arrangement that gravitates from the contemplative to the lively and exuberant. “Onyx Brass dance through this with impeccable and raucous aplomb” notes the composer.

The album takes its title from trumpeter and composer Guy Barker’s piece “Onyx Noir”. The composition has its roots in Barker’s love of cinema and particularly film noir. Inspired by his fondness for the genre and of the soundtracks that accompanied the films Barker wrote an ambitious mini-suite for orchestra and jazz ensemble called “Sounds in Black and White” that appeared on his 2002 cinema themed album “Soundtrack”. Faced with a commission for a brass quintet Barker found himself drawn back to this musical area to create a piece “that was atmospheric and smoky, but still quite intense”. Onyx Brass realise Barker’s ambitions admirably in a sumptuous performance with the five instruments blending and dovetailing seamlessly on an arrangement with an appropriately noirish quality that expertly navigates a number of thematic and emotional variations with great aplomb. The tuba again plays an important role but, as is befitting in a composition by Barker, there’s some excellent trumpet playing too, although it’s impossible to single out individuals.

Saxophonist Mick Foster’s “Hamlet Stories” compresses three short movements into a single performance. These are separated into three tracks on the CD. The first “combines lyrical thematic ideas and spiky rhythms”, the second picks up one of the themes to create “a rhythmic riff idea”, while the third “contains a stately tune, which builds in volume whilst being heard in several keys”.Apparently the inspiration for the work is not Shakespeare but instead the name of the main shopping street in Westcliff on Sea where Foster lives!

Similarly bassoonist/saxophonist Colin Skinner presents a three part composition “Firebox”, with each movement being named after a different steam locomotive. The first movement, “Hetton Colliery Lyon” even includes suitable sound effects (I wouldn’t like to speculate as to the source of these) as Onyx brass depict one of the earliest British locomotives toiling in the coal yard. It’s a surprisingly melodic piece which combines an underlying bluesiness with a nod to the Northern brass band tradition.
Skinner’s individual movements are more clearly delineated than Foster’s had been. “Sunny South Sam” is so called after a nickname for the Southern Railway and depicts one of the company’s locomotives hauling a train to the seaside. The mood is suitably bucolic and nostalgic, like an old picture postcard brought to life.
Finally we hear “The Federal Express”, named after a through train linking Boston, MA and Washington DC. A slick, breezy arrangement summons up images of the service steaming through the night as the passengers enjoy the luxury of the Pullman coaches. The music mimics American big band jazz and the ‘Jazz Age’ with great aplomb, the five instruments delivering an admirably full sound on one of the most accessible and swinging pieces on the album.

Guitarist Mike Walker, Simcock’s colleague in the acclaimed Anglo-American quartet The Impossible Gentlemen was approached by Miller to do an arrangement of the TIG piece “When You Hold Her”.
In Walker’s words;
“Creativity got the better of me and it ended up being an entirely different piece with nods to the old piece. The title speaks for itself. Onyx Brass play it beautifully”.
And he’s right, Onyx Brass play Walker’s gorgeous melody with studied cool and considerable elegance. There’s an almost hymn like sense of calm about the piece, allied to a gentle sense of yearning. It also sounds unmistakably English.

Onyx Brass have been described as “the classiest brass ensemble in Britain” and I have no quibble with the classical music reviewers who have made this claim for the quintet. I also have the utmost respect for the opinions of Richard Dickins, a great admirer of the ensemble and their work.

There’s no doubt that “Onyx Noir” is a highly accomplished and very sophisticated piece of work. The playing is superb throughout and the quality of the recording is further enhanced by the engineering and production team of David Lefeber and Suzanne Stanzeleit.

But there’s no getting away from the fact that this is essentially a classical recording and despite the impeccable jazz credentials of the featured composers committed jazz listeners may find themselves missing many of the conventional jazz virtues, such as prolonged instrumental solos and a sense of swing.

For all the rhythmic virtuosity and variation brought to the group by Miller and Gordon-Shute I still found myself longing for the presence of bass and drums to give the music a kick up the backside, and sometimes for a chordal instrument, such as a piano, too.

Ultimately, for all its class and skill regular jazz listeners may find “Onyx Noir” a little too polite, and at seventy six minutes arguably a little over-long too. Nevertheless it’s an interesting and innovative recording with much to recommend it and plenty of fine moments to enjoy.

 

 

Orjan Hulten Trio - Live At Bas, 14 October 2017 Rating: 3-5 out of 5 This long running musical alliance is very much a trio of equals with each individual member emerging with considerable credit. A welcome reminder of Hulten’s talents.

Orjan Hulten Trio

“Live at Bas, 14 October 2017”

(Artogrush OCD-011)

The Swedish saxophonist and composer Orjan Hulten first came to my attention as part of a quartet led by the Greek born guitarist and composer Tassos Spiliotopoulos.

Spiliotopoulos spent several years living in London, becoming a popular and significant presence on the UK jazz circuit, before moving to Stockholm in 2013. The guitarist wasted little time in immersing himself in the Swedish jazz scene and in 2016 released the superb album “In the North” with his “Swedish Band”, a quartet featuring Hulten, bassist Palle Sollinger and drummer Fredrik Rundqvist. This was Spiliotopoulos’ third album as a leader and his most accomplished recording to date.

Hulten played a big part in that record’s success and was part of the band that Spiliotopoulos brought to the UK for a short tour later in 2016. Having already been impressed by the album I was further delighted by the quartet’s performance at the Queens Head in Monmouth, one of the best gigs that I have ever seen at the venue. The band featured Spiliotopoulos, Hulten, new bassist Filip Augustson and the guitarist’s old friend and sometime boss Asaf Sirkis at the drums.

The success of that tour, and the good impression that Hulten made on it, led to the Swede returning to the UK in 2017 leading his own quartet Orion, featuring Augustson, drummer Peter Danemo and keyboard player Adam Forkelid. This unit have released a series of excellent albums including “Radio In My Head” (2010), “Mr Nobody” (2013) and “Faltrapport” (2016), all on the Swedish Artogrush imprint.

Alongside Orion, which places an emphasis on through composed material, Hulten has also worked regularly in the more improvisatory context of the saxophone trio – indeed the Spiliotopoulos “Swedish Band” was effectively the Hulten trio augmented by the guitarist, but with the focus placed firmly on Spiliotopoulos’ writing. Nevertheless the Hulten Trio has released a number of albums in its own right, including another live set “In The City” (2009) recorded at the Glenn Miller Jazz Club in Stockholm.

For this latest recording, captured at Stockholm’s Bas Club on 14th October 2017 as part of the city’s Jazz Festival, Hulten is joined by Filip Augustson on double bass and Fredrik Rundqvist at the drums. Hulten’s brief liner note explains;
“A very special thanks to Fredrik Nordstrom who prepared this recording without our knowledge and therefore saved it for the world”.

The material features four originals by Hulten and two by Augustson, plus one outside item each from those celebrated jazz composers Ornette Coleman and Joe Henderson.

The trio commence with their interpretation of Coleman’s “Lonely Woman”, ushered in by Rundqvist’s atmospheric solo drum introduction featuring the rumble of mallets, the shimmer of cymbals and the ringing and chiming of small percussion. Hulten picks out Coleman’s melody on tenor, shadowed by Augustson’s grainy arco bass as Rundqvist offers busily brushed support. The mood of the piece is suitably dolorous while the style of the performance is rooted in the kind of avant garde jazz that the hugely Coleman pioneered. The overall effect is haunting and strangely beautiful. Augustson’s use of the bow is reminiscent of the work of arco bass specialist David Izenzon, a member of Coleman’s classic 1960s trio along with drummer Charles Moffett. This trio issued two classic live albums documented at the Gyllencirkelt jazz club in Stockholm in December 1965. Known to English speaking jazz fans as “At The Golden Circle, Stockholm Volumes 1 and 2” these recordings were issued on the famous Blue Note label and may well have been an inspiration for Hulten and his colleagues.

The fragile, melancholy mood continues into the introduction of Augustson’s “Turtle Dance”, which begins as a three way discussion between Hulten’s wispy tenor sax, Augustson’s virtuoso double bass picking and the patter and rustle of Rundqvist’s drums and percussion. It’s likely that this first section is entirely improvised, one can sense the musicians listening to each other and responding accordingly. Later the composer establishes a bass motif that grounds the rest of the piece and forms the anchor for Hulten’s melodic tenor sax explorations as Rundqvist continues to provide typically colourful and imaginative percussive accompaniment. The drummer’s idiosyncratic, highly detailed playing is a source of delight throughout the album.

Hulten’s own “Rubato” finds the saxophonist digging deeper in a manner that has invited comparisons with Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. His probing takes place against an ever evolving backdrop of double bass and drums with Augustson later taking an impressive pizzicato solo as the ever inventive Rundqvist chatters around him.

Also by Hulten “Diggin’ The Birds” has a title that also suggests the influence of Charlie Parker. Still on tenor the saxophonist’s playing is more forceful and strident here with Coltrane and Rollins again springing to mind. Augustson and Rundqvist keep pace with the leader, their brisk rhythms helping to drive the tune with the latter’s busy, colourful drums coming to the fore on more than one occasion.

Augustson’s pizzicato bass introduces Henderson’s “Y Tovadio La Quiera”, his melodic bass motif providing the backbone of the tune as Hulten stretches out on tenor and Rundqvist explores his kit with another restlessly inventive percussive performance. Augustson is later released from his anchoring role to deliver a virtuoso solo of his own before Hulten takes up Henderson’s infectious melody once more and improvises around it. The piece finally resolves itself with a return to the sound of unaccompanied double bass.

Hulten’s “Old Friend, New Friend” is a tune that has been in the trio’s repertoire for some time with another version appearing on the “In The City” release. Dedicated to “John and Alice” it’s presumably a homage to the Coltranes and there’s a suitable feeling of ‘spiritual jazz’ about the piece as Hulten stretches out on tenor around a strong and arresting melodic theme. Augustson is also featured on pizzicato double bass, his tone big and resonant, his soloing powerful and fluent.

“April, April”, subtitled “Lick the Ground” is another Hulten tune that appeared on the “In The City” recording. It’s an attractive, bop influenced piece with another strong theme that provides soloing opportunities for Hulten and Augustson in addition to a typically quirky, colourful and inventive drum feature from Rundqvist. Together with the Henderson piece this features some of the most conventional ‘jazz’ playing on the album.

The album concludes with the Augustson composed “Miniatyr” which is introduced by Rundqvist at the drums. He’s subsequently joined by Hulten’s slightly plaintive sounding tenor and the composer’s resonant double bass. Hulten sketches the melody thoughtfully, shadowed by bass and the rustle of brushed drums plus neatly detailed percussive embellishments. The mood is unexpectedly gentle and reflective.

Although less rewarding in the home listening environment than Hulten’s more considered quartet albums “Live At Bas” is nevertheless a welcome reminder of Hulten’s talents as a saxophonist and improviser, the same observation applying equally to Augustson and Rundqvist.

Like many live recordings it was probably best experienced ‘in person’ but there’s still much to enjoy about an album that includes some excellent playing from all three protagonists. This long running musical alliance is very much a trio of equals with each individual member emerging with considerable credit.

But for new listeners to Hulten’s music I’d probably direct you in the direction of his latest quartet recording “Faltrapport” (also Artogrush) first.

Thanks to Fredrik Nordstrom for documenting this performance and let’s hope for another visit to the UK from Orjan Hulten in the not too distant future.

Live At Bas, 14 October 2017

Orjan Hulten Trio

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Live At Bas, 14 October 2017

This long running musical alliance is very much a trio of equals with each individual member emerging with considerable credit. A welcome reminder of Hulten’s talents.

Orjan Hulten Trio

“Live at Bas, 14 October 2017”

(Artogrush OCD-011)

The Swedish saxophonist and composer Orjan Hulten first came to my attention as part of a quartet led by the Greek born guitarist and composer Tassos Spiliotopoulos.

Spiliotopoulos spent several years living in London, becoming a popular and significant presence on the UK jazz circuit, before moving to Stockholm in 2013. The guitarist wasted little time in immersing himself in the Swedish jazz scene and in 2016 released the superb album “In the North” with his “Swedish Band”, a quartet featuring Hulten, bassist Palle Sollinger and drummer Fredrik Rundqvist. This was Spiliotopoulos’ third album as a leader and his most accomplished recording to date.

Hulten played a big part in that record’s success and was part of the band that Spiliotopoulos brought to the UK for a short tour later in 2016. Having already been impressed by the album I was further delighted by the quartet’s performance at the Queens Head in Monmouth, one of the best gigs that I have ever seen at the venue. The band featured Spiliotopoulos, Hulten, new bassist Filip Augustson and the guitarist’s old friend and sometime boss Asaf Sirkis at the drums.

The success of that tour, and the good impression that Hulten made on it, led to the Swede returning to the UK in 2017 leading his own quartet Orion, featuring Augustson, drummer Peter Danemo and keyboard player Adam Forkelid. This unit have released a series of excellent albums including “Radio In My Head” (2010), “Mr Nobody” (2013) and “Faltrapport” (2016), all on the Swedish Artogrush imprint.

Alongside Orion, which places an emphasis on through composed material, Hulten has also worked regularly in the more improvisatory context of the saxophone trio – indeed the Spiliotopoulos “Swedish Band” was effectively the Hulten trio augmented by the guitarist, but with the focus placed firmly on Spiliotopoulos’ writing. Nevertheless the Hulten Trio has released a number of albums in its own right, including another live set “In The City” (2009) recorded at the Glenn Miller Jazz Club in Stockholm.

For this latest recording, captured at Stockholm’s Bas Club on 14th October 2017 as part of the city’s Jazz Festival, Hulten is joined by Filip Augustson on double bass and Fredrik Rundqvist at the drums. Hulten’s brief liner note explains;
“A very special thanks to Fredrik Nordstrom who prepared this recording without our knowledge and therefore saved it for the world”.

The material features four originals by Hulten and two by Augustson, plus one outside item each from those celebrated jazz composers Ornette Coleman and Joe Henderson.

The trio commence with their interpretation of Coleman’s “Lonely Woman”, ushered in by Rundqvist’s atmospheric solo drum introduction featuring the rumble of mallets, the shimmer of cymbals and the ringing and chiming of small percussion. Hulten picks out Coleman’s melody on tenor, shadowed by Augustson’s grainy arco bass as Rundqvist offers busily brushed support. The mood of the piece is suitably dolorous while the style of the performance is rooted in the kind of avant garde jazz that the hugely Coleman pioneered. The overall effect is haunting and strangely beautiful. Augustson’s use of the bow is reminiscent of the work of arco bass specialist David Izenzon, a member of Coleman’s classic 1960s trio along with drummer Charles Moffett. This trio issued two classic live albums documented at the Gyllencirkelt jazz club in Stockholm in December 1965. Known to English speaking jazz fans as “At The Golden Circle, Stockholm Volumes 1 and 2” these recordings were issued on the famous Blue Note label and may well have been an inspiration for Hulten and his colleagues.

The fragile, melancholy mood continues into the introduction of Augustson’s “Turtle Dance”, which begins as a three way discussion between Hulten’s wispy tenor sax, Augustson’s virtuoso double bass picking and the patter and rustle of Rundqvist’s drums and percussion. It’s likely that this first section is entirely improvised, one can sense the musicians listening to each other and responding accordingly. Later the composer establishes a bass motif that grounds the rest of the piece and forms the anchor for Hulten’s melodic tenor sax explorations as Rundqvist continues to provide typically colourful and imaginative percussive accompaniment. The drummer’s idiosyncratic, highly detailed playing is a source of delight throughout the album.

Hulten’s own “Rubato” finds the saxophonist digging deeper in a manner that has invited comparisons with Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. His probing takes place against an ever evolving backdrop of double bass and drums with Augustson later taking an impressive pizzicato solo as the ever inventive Rundqvist chatters around him.

Also by Hulten “Diggin’ The Birds” has a title that also suggests the influence of Charlie Parker. Still on tenor the saxophonist’s playing is more forceful and strident here with Coltrane and Rollins again springing to mind. Augustson and Rundqvist keep pace with the leader, their brisk rhythms helping to drive the tune with the latter’s busy, colourful drums coming to the fore on more than one occasion.

Augustson’s pizzicato bass introduces Henderson’s “Y Tovadio La Quiera”, his melodic bass motif providing the backbone of the tune as Hulten stretches out on tenor and Rundqvist explores his kit with another restlessly inventive percussive performance. Augustson is later released from his anchoring role to deliver a virtuoso solo of his own before Hulten takes up Henderson’s infectious melody once more and improvises around it. The piece finally resolves itself with a return to the sound of unaccompanied double bass.

Hulten’s “Old Friend, New Friend” is a tune that has been in the trio’s repertoire for some time with another version appearing on the “In The City” release. Dedicated to “John and Alice” it’s presumably a homage to the Coltranes and there’s a suitable feeling of ‘spiritual jazz’ about the piece as Hulten stretches out on tenor around a strong and arresting melodic theme. Augustson is also featured on pizzicato double bass, his tone big and resonant, his soloing powerful and fluent.

“April, April”, subtitled “Lick the Ground” is another Hulten tune that appeared on the “In The City” recording. It’s an attractive, bop influenced piece with another strong theme that provides soloing opportunities for Hulten and Augustson in addition to a typically quirky, colourful and inventive drum feature from Rundqvist. Together with the Henderson piece this features some of the most conventional ‘jazz’ playing on the album.

The album concludes with the Augustson composed “Miniatyr” which is introduced by Rundqvist at the drums. He’s subsequently joined by Hulten’s slightly plaintive sounding tenor and the composer’s resonant double bass. Hulten sketches the melody thoughtfully, shadowed by bass and the rustle of brushed drums plus neatly detailed percussive embellishments. The mood is unexpectedly gentle and reflective.

Although less rewarding in the home listening environment than Hulten’s more considered quartet albums “Live At Bas” is nevertheless a welcome reminder of Hulten’s talents as a saxophonist and improviser, the same observation applying equally to Augustson and Rundqvist.

Like many live recordings it was probably best experienced ‘in person’ but there’s still much to enjoy about an album that includes some excellent playing from all three protagonists. This long running musical alliance is very much a trio of equals with each individual member emerging with considerable credit.

But for new listeners to Hulten’s music I’d probably direct you in the direction of his latest quartet recording “Faltrapport” (also Artogrush) first.

Thanks to Fredrik Nordstrom for documenting this performance and let’s hope for another visit to the UK from Orjan Hulten in the not too distant future.

Nightports with Matthew Bourne - Nightports w/Matthew Bourne Rating: 4 out of 5 Bourne's virtuoso playing is at the heart of this recording but the contribution of the Nightports duo shouldn’t be overlooked as they sculpt Bourne’s improvisations into something vital and new.

Nightports with Matthew Bourne

Nightports w/Matthew Bourne

(Leaf Records BAY 108CD)

Any project involving the pianistic maverick Matthew Bourne is likely to be of interest. Bourne has long been part of the jazz, improv and experimental music scene in Leeds and beyond, playing both acoustic and electric keyboards, either as a soloist or as a frequent collaborator with the UK’s leading improv musicians.

His latest collaboration finds him co-operating with the duo Nightports, musician-producers Adam Martin, based in Leeds, and Mark Slater, based in Hull. The duo have previously recorded a series of EPs, often in conjunction with vocalist Emily Lynne, as well as appearing on a number of compilation albums featuring jazz and experimental music.

As this album’s notes declare in a re-iteration of Nightports’ manifesto;
“Nightports is based on a simple but unbreakable role of restriction; only sounds produced by the featured musician can be used. Nothing else. These sounds can be transformed, distorted, translated, processed and reprocessed, stretched, cut, ordered and reordered without limitation. Nightports is all about amplifying the characteristics of the musician – celebrating what’s particular about them, finding sounds that nobody else can make, constructing a complete sonic weave, that however radical the transformations, still bears the watermarks of its origin.”

This all Yorkshire production appears on the Leeds based Leaf record label and was recorded over the course of three sessions at two different locations in the county, the first at Bourne’s home near Keighley, the others at Besbrode Pianos in Leeds.

The album notes say of the recording sessions;
“The recordings coax hitherto unheard sounds from a range of pianos - decrepit dusty uprights holding their own against the attack and precision of a modern concert grand. 
At Besbrode’s, pianos were chosen that had character, a story to tell; beautifully imperfect instruments that behaved in unexpected ways. In the first session, a blue-green aluminium Rippen baby grand from 1959 with a muted, warm sound; a rosewood Clementi pianoforte fronted with deep-red pleated fabric; a 1907 mahogany Bechstein Model E with profound bass; a Broadwood Golden Square piano whose 200th birthday had recently passed; and a Ritmüller grand from 1922 with bright, percussive attacks. For the second session, pianos were selected that brought new sounds and told different tales. Lurking in a corner, an 1874 Collard & Collard upright made of rosewood with silk panels produced (untreated) a snare drum. Contrasting that, a modern jet-black Toyama grand with polyester finish gave an angular, bright and cutting attack. A rosewood Rud. Ibach Sohn from 1910 and an unrestored Steinway Model A from 1898 with a sound weighted by its years – nostalgic, imperfect, encrusted.
Besbrode’s is a toy-box of inspiration but proved to be challenging as a place to record. The process of making the album was like shooting a film: small segments captured piece by piece to be sequenced and layered later on. Each piano sounded, felt and smelt different. Each had its own story; things it could do, things it couldn’t. Each piano enticed Matthew to play in a certain way; each had its own grain to be captured and celebrated”.


The album credits Bourne with “original piano performances” and Martin and Slater with “synths and programming” plus production and mixing. As regards composition all the tracks are credited as being written by Matthew Bourne, Adam Martin & Mark Slater but have their roots in Bourne’s initial piano improvisations.

The nine pieces that comprise the album embrace a variety of musical moods and styles ranging from the ambient and ethereal to the hard driving and percussive, the rhythms sometimes reminiscent of contemporary electronic and dance music. But despite the sonic manipulations of Martin and Slater the source of the music is always recognisable as being pianistic and some of the material is downright beautiful. Despite the electronic elements this remains a very warm and human record.

The first piece, ironically titled “Exit”, features the sound Bourne’s piano enhanced by the subtle electronics of Martin and Slater. The piece is surprisingly rhythmic and forceful, the source sounds of the percussive effects presumably being the body of the piano and the dampening of the strings. Even without the electronic embellishments Bourne has always treated the piano as an “entire instrument” and approached with an unbridled physicality.

“Window”, one of the three pieces recorded at Bourne’s home possesses a chilly beauty, presumably inspired by the view from Bourne’s house overlooking the moors above Keighley. Martin and Slater ensure that their contributions are subtle and unobtrusive, essentially this is a lovely, spacious solo piano performance augmented by gently atmospheric electronica.

Recorded at the same location “White-Shirted” is totally different in feel as Bourne attacks the interior of the piano with gusto as prepared piano sounds combine with electronica to produce a sonic landscape that is simultaneously harsh, percussive and glitchy. The piece passes through several different phases incorporating a variety of rhythms while retaining a relentless percussive attack. One of the lengthiest items on the album it later metamorphoses into a long, atmospheric closing section with doomy, gothic piano chords augmented by ghostly percussive sounds.

“This Trip” lowers the temperature again, an icy, ambient piece centred round a recurring, arpeggiated piano motif and augmented by twinkling, spacey electronica. It’s reminiscent of Eno’s “Another Green World” album and maybe Philip Glass and Michael Nyman too - in any event it’s strangely beautiful.

“Annie” renews the percussive attack with Bourne again focussing his attentions “under the lid”. Eventually more conventional piano sounds emerge as the piece enters a more atmospheric and reflective second phase. The it’s back to percussion and electronica with some of the most radical manipulations we’ve heard thus far.

This being an album recorded in Yorkshire I’d like to think that by calling the sixth track “Over” the trio are making an oblique cricket reference. The music marks a return to the chilly, spacey Eno-esque ambience of “This Trip”. Again it’s evocative and hauntingly lovely.

“Look Me In The Eye” begins as a riff fest of piano generated percussive sounds that both compels and excites. It’s followed by a slower, more atmospheric section featuring droning electronica underpinned by a gentle but steady rhythmic pulse. This track is the closest the album gets to the world of contemporary electronica inhabited by Aphex Twin and the like.

The final piece to be recorded at Bourne’s house is “Fragile Years”, a gentle but dark edged and vaguely unsettling piece whose central motif is embellished by spooky electronica. Melancholy beauty is again the order of the day.

The album concludes with the aptly titled “Leave” which promises to drift off into the ether on a cloud of wispy electronica before being punctuated by a series of increasingly brutal block chords from Bourne. The second half of the piece marks a return to the powerful piano generated percussive sounds featured elsewhere on the recording as the piece eventually builds to a skewed, but curiously anthemic climax, teasing the listener along the way, prior to a slow electronic fade.

Bourne is a musician who consistently takes listeners out of their comfort zone, me included. But I have to say that I found this album curiously compulsive with its mix of moods and skilfully crafted combinations of acoustic and electronic sounds. Bourne’s technical facility is beyond question but he’s a musician who is consistently testing his own limits. His virtuoso playing is at the heart of this recording but the contribution of the Nightports duo shouldn’t be overlooked as they sculpt Bourne’s improvisations into something vital and new.

This is no ordinary ‘solo piano’ album and it won’t be to everybody’s taste but I’m sure that there will be many listeners who will find it as compulsive as I did, including curious rock and electronic music fans. One can imagine these pieces being played on Radio 3’s Late Junction programme and appealing to that audience.

Material from the album was performed on three pianos with live manipulations at Middleton Hall in Hull as part of the City Of Culture programme.  On hearing this recording I wish could have been there.

Nightports w/Matthew Bourne

Nightports with Matthew Bourne

Friday, July 13, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Nightports w/Matthew Bourne

Bourne's virtuoso playing is at the heart of this recording but the contribution of the Nightports duo shouldn’t be overlooked as they sculpt Bourne’s improvisations into something vital and new.

Nightports with Matthew Bourne

Nightports w/Matthew Bourne

(Leaf Records BAY 108CD)

Any project involving the pianistic maverick Matthew Bourne is likely to be of interest. Bourne has long been part of the jazz, improv and experimental music scene in Leeds and beyond, playing both acoustic and electric keyboards, either as a soloist or as a frequent collaborator with the UK’s leading improv musicians.

His latest collaboration finds him co-operating with the duo Nightports, musician-producers Adam Martin, based in Leeds, and Mark Slater, based in Hull. The duo have previously recorded a series of EPs, often in conjunction with vocalist Emily Lynne, as well as appearing on a number of compilation albums featuring jazz and experimental music.

As this album’s notes declare in a re-iteration of Nightports’ manifesto;
“Nightports is based on a simple but unbreakable role of restriction; only sounds produced by the featured musician can be used. Nothing else. These sounds can be transformed, distorted, translated, processed and reprocessed, stretched, cut, ordered and reordered without limitation. Nightports is all about amplifying the characteristics of the musician – celebrating what’s particular about them, finding sounds that nobody else can make, constructing a complete sonic weave, that however radical the transformations, still bears the watermarks of its origin.”

This all Yorkshire production appears on the Leeds based Leaf record label and was recorded over the course of three sessions at two different locations in the county, the first at Bourne’s home near Keighley, the others at Besbrode Pianos in Leeds.

The album notes say of the recording sessions;
“The recordings coax hitherto unheard sounds from a range of pianos - decrepit dusty uprights holding their own against the attack and precision of a modern concert grand. 
At Besbrode’s, pianos were chosen that had character, a story to tell; beautifully imperfect instruments that behaved in unexpected ways. In the first session, a blue-green aluminium Rippen baby grand from 1959 with a muted, warm sound; a rosewood Clementi pianoforte fronted with deep-red pleated fabric; a 1907 mahogany Bechstein Model E with profound bass; a Broadwood Golden Square piano whose 200th birthday had recently passed; and a Ritmüller grand from 1922 with bright, percussive attacks. For the second session, pianos were selected that brought new sounds and told different tales. Lurking in a corner, an 1874 Collard & Collard upright made of rosewood with silk panels produced (untreated) a snare drum. Contrasting that, a modern jet-black Toyama grand with polyester finish gave an angular, bright and cutting attack. A rosewood Rud. Ibach Sohn from 1910 and an unrestored Steinway Model A from 1898 with a sound weighted by its years – nostalgic, imperfect, encrusted.
Besbrode’s is a toy-box of inspiration but proved to be challenging as a place to record. The process of making the album was like shooting a film: small segments captured piece by piece to be sequenced and layered later on. Each piano sounded, felt and smelt different. Each had its own story; things it could do, things it couldn’t. Each piano enticed Matthew to play in a certain way; each had its own grain to be captured and celebrated”.


The album credits Bourne with “original piano performances” and Martin and Slater with “synths and programming” plus production and mixing. As regards composition all the tracks are credited as being written by Matthew Bourne, Adam Martin & Mark Slater but have their roots in Bourne’s initial piano improvisations.

The nine pieces that comprise the album embrace a variety of musical moods and styles ranging from the ambient and ethereal to the hard driving and percussive, the rhythms sometimes reminiscent of contemporary electronic and dance music. But despite the sonic manipulations of Martin and Slater the source of the music is always recognisable as being pianistic and some of the material is downright beautiful. Despite the electronic elements this remains a very warm and human record.

The first piece, ironically titled “Exit”, features the sound Bourne’s piano enhanced by the subtle electronics of Martin and Slater. The piece is surprisingly rhythmic and forceful, the source sounds of the percussive effects presumably being the body of the piano and the dampening of the strings. Even without the electronic embellishments Bourne has always treated the piano as an “entire instrument” and approached with an unbridled physicality.

“Window”, one of the three pieces recorded at Bourne’s home possesses a chilly beauty, presumably inspired by the view from Bourne’s house overlooking the moors above Keighley. Martin and Slater ensure that their contributions are subtle and unobtrusive, essentially this is a lovely, spacious solo piano performance augmented by gently atmospheric electronica.

Recorded at the same location “White-Shirted” is totally different in feel as Bourne attacks the interior of the piano with gusto as prepared piano sounds combine with electronica to produce a sonic landscape that is simultaneously harsh, percussive and glitchy. The piece passes through several different phases incorporating a variety of rhythms while retaining a relentless percussive attack. One of the lengthiest items on the album it later metamorphoses into a long, atmospheric closing section with doomy, gothic piano chords augmented by ghostly percussive sounds.

“This Trip” lowers the temperature again, an icy, ambient piece centred round a recurring, arpeggiated piano motif and augmented by twinkling, spacey electronica. It’s reminiscent of Eno’s “Another Green World” album and maybe Philip Glass and Michael Nyman too - in any event it’s strangely beautiful.

“Annie” renews the percussive attack with Bourne again focussing his attentions “under the lid”. Eventually more conventional piano sounds emerge as the piece enters a more atmospheric and reflective second phase. The it’s back to percussion and electronica with some of the most radical manipulations we’ve heard thus far.

This being an album recorded in Yorkshire I’d like to think that by calling the sixth track “Over” the trio are making an oblique cricket reference. The music marks a return to the chilly, spacey Eno-esque ambience of “This Trip”. Again it’s evocative and hauntingly lovely.

“Look Me In The Eye” begins as a riff fest of piano generated percussive sounds that both compels and excites. It’s followed by a slower, more atmospheric section featuring droning electronica underpinned by a gentle but steady rhythmic pulse. This track is the closest the album gets to the world of contemporary electronica inhabited by Aphex Twin and the like.

The final piece to be recorded at Bourne’s house is “Fragile Years”, a gentle but dark edged and vaguely unsettling piece whose central motif is embellished by spooky electronica. Melancholy beauty is again the order of the day.

The album concludes with the aptly titled “Leave” which promises to drift off into the ether on a cloud of wispy electronica before being punctuated by a series of increasingly brutal block chords from Bourne. The second half of the piece marks a return to the powerful piano generated percussive sounds featured elsewhere on the recording as the piece eventually builds to a skewed, but curiously anthemic climax, teasing the listener along the way, prior to a slow electronic fade.

Bourne is a musician who consistently takes listeners out of their comfort zone, me included. But I have to say that I found this album curiously compulsive with its mix of moods and skilfully crafted combinations of acoustic and electronic sounds. Bourne’s technical facility is beyond question but he’s a musician who is consistently testing his own limits. His virtuoso playing is at the heart of this recording but the contribution of the Nightports duo shouldn’t be overlooked as they sculpt Bourne’s improvisations into something vital and new.

This is no ordinary ‘solo piano’ album and it won’t be to everybody’s taste but I’m sure that there will be many listeners who will find it as compulsive as I did, including curious rock and electronic music fans. One can imagine these pieces being played on Radio 3’s Late Junction programme and appealing to that audience.

Material from the album was performed on three pianos with live manipulations at Middleton Hall in Hull as part of the City Of Culture programme.  On hearing this recording I wish could have been there.

Jeff Williams - Lifelike Rating: 4 out of 5 This isn’t a band that’s prepared to sit on its laurels, each performance challenges the musicians and pushes at the boundaries of the written material. A highly worthwhile listening experience.

Jeff Williams

“Lifelike”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4721)


The American drummer and composer Jeff Williams was born in 1950 in Mount Vernon, Ohio but made his name on the jazz scenes in Boston and New York City. I first heard and enjoyed his playing on a series of 1970s albums by groups led variously by saxophonist Dave Liebman, pianist Richie Beirach and bassist Frank Tusa.

Williams has also worked with an impressive roster of other major jazz artists during his long career including lengthy stints with saxophonists Stan Getz and Lee Konitz. He has also performed with Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie, Cedar Walton, Art Farmer, Michel Petrucciani, Randy Brecker, Paul Bley, John Abercrombie, John Scofield, Kenny Barron, Tony Malaby, Dave Holland, Tom Harrell, Bill McHenry, Joe Lovano. Ted Curson, Jerry Bergonzi and many more. It’s an impressive list.

The album “Coalescence”, his leadership début, appeared in 1991 but by this time Williams had dropped off my radar only to re-emerge again in the 21st century thanks to his collaborations with the British musicians Martin Speake (alto sax) and Barry Green (piano). Other UK based musicians with whom he has worked include Nikki Iles, Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, Hans Koller and others.

Williams first came to the UK in 2003 following his marriage to the American writer Lionel Shriver. The author was already based in Britain at this time and was reluctant to leave so the couple began an ongoing Transatlantic existence with Williams continuing to maintain homes in both London and New York.
 

The drummer has continued to work with both American and British musicians and the last few years have been a particularly prolific and productive period for him with the release of a number of albums variously featuring his ‘New York’ and ‘London’ bands.

2011 saw the release of “Another Time”, his début for bassist Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings label. This excellent album featured the American musicians John O’Gallagher (alto sax), Duane Eubanks (trumpet) and John Hebert (double bass). The quartet subsequently toured Britain to considerable critical acclaim in 2012 with the fruits of their labours being documented on a second Whirlwind release, the live album “The Listener”, recorded at The Vortex Jazz Club in London. I was lucky enough to witness and review a performance by this stellar line up on the final night of that tour at The Cross in Moseley, Birmingham.

Besides his ‘American Quartet’ Williams has also run his own British quintet, the first edition of which included the twin saxophone front line of Josh Arcoleo (tenor) and Finn Peters (alto) alongside Phil Robson on guitar and Sam Lasserson on double bass. I was fortunate enough to see a hugely exciting performance by this incarnation of the group at a crowded Green Note in Camden Town as part of the 2013 EFG London Jazz Festival. The music of this particular group was documented on the live album “Concert In The Amazon”, recorded in Brazil at the Manaus Jazz Festival and released as a limited edition CD on Williams’ own Willful Music imprint  http://www.wilfulmusic.com

In early 2015 I witnessed and reviewed the current incarnation of the Williams Quintet at a concert at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham. By this time pianist Kit Downes had replaced the unavailable Finn Peters to complete the line up that appears on “Outlier”. That performance, a double bill with saxophonist Mike Fletcher’s trio with whom Williams also plays, included some of the “Outlier” material alongside items from the back catalogue of Williams’ ‘American’ group. 

In January 2018 Williams brought the current edition of his quintet with O’Gallagher, Arcoleo, Downes and Lasserson to The Hive Music & Media Centre in Shrewsbury for a “state of the art”  performance that is the subject of a review elsewhere on this site and from which the above introductory paragraphs have been lifted.

At the time of the Shrewsbury performance (promoted by Shrewsbury Jazz Network) this new live album, “Lifelike”, had been recorded but not released. The recording documents a performance at that much loved institution the Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, London in June 2017. For this event the core quintet was supplemented by the Portuguese trumpeter and composer Goncalo Marquez, a musician whom Williams had met when touring in Portgual with bassist Demian Cabaud’s group in 2016.

Williams explains the album title thus;
“Lifelike is another way of saying ‘Live’. The word is usually ascribed to inanimate objects and I always found that humorous. Basically I felt that this recording has ‘life’ in it, the kind of ‘life’ embodied in a live performance”.

Although the bulk of the material has appeared on previous recordings Williams’ writing allows considerable scope for improvisation, therefore no two renditions of any particular piece will ever be completely the same. Throw in an additional instrumental voice in the shape of Marquez and “Lifelike” represents a unique document.

The recording commences with “Under The Radar”, a tune from the “Another Time” album that Williams describes as “a six bar blues”. The performance begins with the unaccompanied sound of the leader’s drums, played with bare hands I would say. Williams colourful drum patterns are quickly augmented by Lasserson’s muscular, but subtle, bass lines as this now well established rhythm partnership engage in an absorbing dialogue. Williams finally picks up his sticks as the horns enter the fray, briefly sketching the theme before shading off into individual solos, Marquez going first, probing thoughtfully to begin with before stretching out more forcefully in an impressive display encompassing power, intelligence and technique. He’s shadowed by Downes’ piano as Lasserson and Williams provide fluid, colourful rhythmic support with the leader’s nimble cymbal work a particular point of interest. Marquez is followed by Downes, whose solo follows a similar trajectory. Interestingly this piece was first recorded by Williams’ chordless American quartet but the always excellent Downes very much makes it his own here with a solo that combines imagination and inventiveness with great virtuosity.

“The Interloper” first appeared on Williams’ most recent studio album “Outlier”. Williams explains the inspiration behind the tune as being; “someone who is oblivious to his surroundings and is always the last to leave the party”  adding “it came to me in various playful rhythmic permutations”.  He also acknowledges that the piece has “a Monkian sensibility, though it wasn’t intentional, the melody dictated the form, making the structures unusual and challenging to maintain for soloing”.  Nevertheless his colleagues rise superbly to that challenge with the two saxophonists featuring back to back and at length with the powerful, fluent Arcoleo laying down the gauntlet on tenor. O’Gallagher responds in kind, with one particularly dynamic passage underscored by Williams’ volcanic, restlessly inventive drumming. It’s thrilling stuff, a musical white knuckle ride.

Also from the “Outlier” album “Dream Visitor” was initially inspired by Miles Davis’ “Spanish Key” from the seminal “Bitches Brew” album. In this incarnation it’s centred around Lasserson’s bass line and cleverly shifts key centres throughout allowing each soloist a different tonality to explore. And explore they do with concise but fiery solos coming from Marquez, Arcoleo and O’Gallagher. Bassist Lasserson also features briefly as a soloist before adopting a more overtly funky bass line above which the horns exchange ideas in thrillingly garrulous fashion before spontaneously coalescing just before the close. “The overall trajectory is mapped out, but that horn figure just happened”, explains Williams.

Originally written in the 1990s the tune “Lament” subsequently resurfaced on the “Listener” album and has remained in Williams’ repertoire since. It’s a highly personal composition, dedicated  to a former drum student named Peter whose life fell into disarray before his tragic and untimely demise in an accident. This version begins with the sound of Lasserson’s unaccompanied bass, later joined in sombre dialogue by Downes’ piano before O’Gallagher sketches the melody. We then hear Downes’ lyrical, subtly blues tinged piano, accompanied by the swish of the leader’s brushes. “The rubato section of ‘Lament’ is almost like a fugue’ Williams explains, “Peter was from New Orleans and so the beginning is like a funeral service, while the swing section is like the second line that celebrates the deceased”. The dramatic, two part “Lament” with its quiet, sombre introduction contrasting with the louder second section has always been a hugely effective live item. Williams’ tunes are always involving and here the second part sounds more genuinely celebratory than the previous incarnations I’ve heard where the intensity of O’Gallagher’s alto soloing has always seemed to me to express the composer’s anger at an early and unnecessary death. Nevertheless there’s still plenty of fire in the solos here as O’Gallagher and Arcoloeo lock horns, lashed forward by the leader’s dynamic drumming.

“Borderline” is another 90s piece revived and re-invented by the current group. This version begins with sound of Williams’ drums, unaccompanied at first but with his colourful promptings subsequently answered by Arcoleo as the pair embark upon a spirited, but absorbing musical conversation.  A bright, punchy theme subsequently emerges as the ensemble temporarily coalesces prior to further solos from Lasserson on virtuoso double bass, unaccompanied at first, but later joined in dialogue by the patter of the leader’s drums before Downes eventually takes over, again in conversation with Williams. The piece resolves itself with a brief ensemble reprise of the main theme.

Marquez’s piece “Cancao do Amolador” is the only non-Williams composition in the set. The pair performed the tune with Cabaud in 2016 and the piece is a showcase for the leader’s peerless trumpeting, initially in a freely structured dialogue with Williams. The horns then combine on a chorale like theme that acts as the springboard for further trumpet pyrotechnics from the composer, still in conversation with Williams. There’s an unmistakably Iberian feel about the music with Marquez’s writing and playing evoking comparisons with Miles Davis and “Sketches of Spain”. The piece progresses through a passage of ensemble playing with the horns chorusing above the rolling rhythms generated by Downes, Lasserson and Williams and there’s a brief passage where Downes piano comes to the fore prior to a more formal group finale.

The title of the closing “Double Life” reflects both Williams’ Atlantic hopping lifestyle and the “second life that I gave the tune by reworking it”. It may also refer the shift from waltz time to double 4/4 that occurs part way through the piece. Downes, Lasserson and Williams introduce the piece in piano trio mode but are soon joined by the horns with a catchy hook that combines with a buoyant groove to set the mood for the performance. O’Gallagher and Arcoleo trade powerful solos while Downes matches them for fluency, inventiveness and intensity. Lasserson impresses once more at the bass and there’s a closing flourish from the leader at the drums.

Williams has a fondness for live recordings, believing them to catch the very spirit of jazz and “Lifelike” performs this function admirably. Many of these tunes may have been recorded before but they have never sounded exactly like this, while my numerous visits to Williams live shows over the years provide ample evidence that his compositions, written at the piano, are constantly evolving and remain fertile vehicles for improvisation.

Williams’ themes are often complex and the uncompromising nature of his group’s performances make for challenging, but still readily accessible listening. Some listeners may be a little frightened by the intensity of it all but most genuine jazz fans should find much to enjoy about Williams’ music, not least the playing itself which is superb throughout.

Besides the undoubted technical ability there’s a refreshing attitude about the Williams group, this isn’t a band that’s prepared to sit on its laurels, each performance challenges the musicians and pushes at the boundaries of the written material with intense, adventurous, fluent solos imbued with colour, imagination and intelligence.

At the heart of it all is Williams himself who plays with great technical facility and a steely intelligence that pushes and challenges his colleagues and gets the best out of them. His own playing brings out the full potential of the standard drum kit, the broad range of sounds and rhythms that he generates helping to propel his band mates to fresh heights. Despite the presence of previously released material “Lifelike” still represents a highly worthwhile listening experience.

Lifelike

Jeff Williams

Monday, July 09, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Lifelike

This isn’t a band that’s prepared to sit on its laurels, each performance challenges the musicians and pushes at the boundaries of the written material. A highly worthwhile listening experience.

Jeff Williams

“Lifelike”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4721)


The American drummer and composer Jeff Williams was born in 1950 in Mount Vernon, Ohio but made his name on the jazz scenes in Boston and New York City. I first heard and enjoyed his playing on a series of 1970s albums by groups led variously by saxophonist Dave Liebman, pianist Richie Beirach and bassist Frank Tusa.

Williams has also worked with an impressive roster of other major jazz artists during his long career including lengthy stints with saxophonists Stan Getz and Lee Konitz. He has also performed with Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie, Cedar Walton, Art Farmer, Michel Petrucciani, Randy Brecker, Paul Bley, John Abercrombie, John Scofield, Kenny Barron, Tony Malaby, Dave Holland, Tom Harrell, Bill McHenry, Joe Lovano. Ted Curson, Jerry Bergonzi and many more. It’s an impressive list.

The album “Coalescence”, his leadership début, appeared in 1991 but by this time Williams had dropped off my radar only to re-emerge again in the 21st century thanks to his collaborations with the British musicians Martin Speake (alto sax) and Barry Green (piano). Other UK based musicians with whom he has worked include Nikki Iles, Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, Hans Koller and others.

Williams first came to the UK in 2003 following his marriage to the American writer Lionel Shriver. The author was already based in Britain at this time and was reluctant to leave so the couple began an ongoing Transatlantic existence with Williams continuing to maintain homes in both London and New York.
 

The drummer has continued to work with both American and British musicians and the last few years have been a particularly prolific and productive period for him with the release of a number of albums variously featuring his ‘New York’ and ‘London’ bands.

2011 saw the release of “Another Time”, his début for bassist Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings label. This excellent album featured the American musicians John O’Gallagher (alto sax), Duane Eubanks (trumpet) and John Hebert (double bass). The quartet subsequently toured Britain to considerable critical acclaim in 2012 with the fruits of their labours being documented on a second Whirlwind release, the live album “The Listener”, recorded at The Vortex Jazz Club in London. I was lucky enough to witness and review a performance by this stellar line up on the final night of that tour at The Cross in Moseley, Birmingham.

Besides his ‘American Quartet’ Williams has also run his own British quintet, the first edition of which included the twin saxophone front line of Josh Arcoleo (tenor) and Finn Peters (alto) alongside Phil Robson on guitar and Sam Lasserson on double bass. I was fortunate enough to see a hugely exciting performance by this incarnation of the group at a crowded Green Note in Camden Town as part of the 2013 EFG London Jazz Festival. The music of this particular group was documented on the live album “Concert In The Amazon”, recorded in Brazil at the Manaus Jazz Festival and released as a limited edition CD on Williams’ own Willful Music imprint  http://www.wilfulmusic.com

In early 2015 I witnessed and reviewed the current incarnation of the Williams Quintet at a concert at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham. By this time pianist Kit Downes had replaced the unavailable Finn Peters to complete the line up that appears on “Outlier”. That performance, a double bill with saxophonist Mike Fletcher’s trio with whom Williams also plays, included some of the “Outlier” material alongside items from the back catalogue of Williams’ ‘American’ group. 

In January 2018 Williams brought the current edition of his quintet with O’Gallagher, Arcoleo, Downes and Lasserson to The Hive Music & Media Centre in Shrewsbury for a “state of the art”  performance that is the subject of a review elsewhere on this site and from which the above introductory paragraphs have been lifted.

At the time of the Shrewsbury performance (promoted by Shrewsbury Jazz Network) this new live album, “Lifelike”, had been recorded but not released. The recording documents a performance at that much loved institution the Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, London in June 2017. For this event the core quintet was supplemented by the Portuguese trumpeter and composer Goncalo Marquez, a musician whom Williams had met when touring in Portgual with bassist Demian Cabaud’s group in 2016.

Williams explains the album title thus;
“Lifelike is another way of saying ‘Live’. The word is usually ascribed to inanimate objects and I always found that humorous. Basically I felt that this recording has ‘life’ in it, the kind of ‘life’ embodied in a live performance”.

Although the bulk of the material has appeared on previous recordings Williams’ writing allows considerable scope for improvisation, therefore no two renditions of any particular piece will ever be completely the same. Throw in an additional instrumental voice in the shape of Marquez and “Lifelike” represents a unique document.

The recording commences with “Under The Radar”, a tune from the “Another Time” album that Williams describes as “a six bar blues”. The performance begins with the unaccompanied sound of the leader’s drums, played with bare hands I would say. Williams colourful drum patterns are quickly augmented by Lasserson’s muscular, but subtle, bass lines as this now well established rhythm partnership engage in an absorbing dialogue. Williams finally picks up his sticks as the horns enter the fray, briefly sketching the theme before shading off into individual solos, Marquez going first, probing thoughtfully to begin with before stretching out more forcefully in an impressive display encompassing power, intelligence and technique. He’s shadowed by Downes’ piano as Lasserson and Williams provide fluid, colourful rhythmic support with the leader’s nimble cymbal work a particular point of interest. Marquez is followed by Downes, whose solo follows a similar trajectory. Interestingly this piece was first recorded by Williams’ chordless American quartet but the always excellent Downes very much makes it his own here with a solo that combines imagination and inventiveness with great virtuosity.

“The Interloper” first appeared on Williams’ most recent studio album “Outlier”. Williams explains the inspiration behind the tune as being; “someone who is oblivious to his surroundings and is always the last to leave the party”  adding “it came to me in various playful rhythmic permutations”.  He also acknowledges that the piece has “a Monkian sensibility, though it wasn’t intentional, the melody dictated the form, making the structures unusual and challenging to maintain for soloing”.  Nevertheless his colleagues rise superbly to that challenge with the two saxophonists featuring back to back and at length with the powerful, fluent Arcoleo laying down the gauntlet on tenor. O’Gallagher responds in kind, with one particularly dynamic passage underscored by Williams’ volcanic, restlessly inventive drumming. It’s thrilling stuff, a musical white knuckle ride.

Also from the “Outlier” album “Dream Visitor” was initially inspired by Miles Davis’ “Spanish Key” from the seminal “Bitches Brew” album. In this incarnation it’s centred around Lasserson’s bass line and cleverly shifts key centres throughout allowing each soloist a different tonality to explore. And explore they do with concise but fiery solos coming from Marquez, Arcoleo and O’Gallagher. Bassist Lasserson also features briefly as a soloist before adopting a more overtly funky bass line above which the horns exchange ideas in thrillingly garrulous fashion before spontaneously coalescing just before the close. “The overall trajectory is mapped out, but that horn figure just happened”, explains Williams.

Originally written in the 1990s the tune “Lament” subsequently resurfaced on the “Listener” album and has remained in Williams’ repertoire since. It’s a highly personal composition, dedicated  to a former drum student named Peter whose life fell into disarray before his tragic and untimely demise in an accident. This version begins with the sound of Lasserson’s unaccompanied bass, later joined in sombre dialogue by Downes’ piano before O’Gallagher sketches the melody. We then hear Downes’ lyrical, subtly blues tinged piano, accompanied by the swish of the leader’s brushes. “The rubato section of ‘Lament’ is almost like a fugue’ Williams explains, “Peter was from New Orleans and so the beginning is like a funeral service, while the swing section is like the second line that celebrates the deceased”. The dramatic, two part “Lament” with its quiet, sombre introduction contrasting with the louder second section has always been a hugely effective live item. Williams’ tunes are always involving and here the second part sounds more genuinely celebratory than the previous incarnations I’ve heard where the intensity of O’Gallagher’s alto soloing has always seemed to me to express the composer’s anger at an early and unnecessary death. Nevertheless there’s still plenty of fire in the solos here as O’Gallagher and Arcoloeo lock horns, lashed forward by the leader’s dynamic drumming.

“Borderline” is another 90s piece revived and re-invented by the current group. This version begins with sound of Williams’ drums, unaccompanied at first but with his colourful promptings subsequently answered by Arcoleo as the pair embark upon a spirited, but absorbing musical conversation.  A bright, punchy theme subsequently emerges as the ensemble temporarily coalesces prior to further solos from Lasserson on virtuoso double bass, unaccompanied at first, but later joined in dialogue by the patter of the leader’s drums before Downes eventually takes over, again in conversation with Williams. The piece resolves itself with a brief ensemble reprise of the main theme.

Marquez’s piece “Cancao do Amolador” is the only non-Williams composition in the set. The pair performed the tune with Cabaud in 2016 and the piece is a showcase for the leader’s peerless trumpeting, initially in a freely structured dialogue with Williams. The horns then combine on a chorale like theme that acts as the springboard for further trumpet pyrotechnics from the composer, still in conversation with Williams. There’s an unmistakably Iberian feel about the music with Marquez’s writing and playing evoking comparisons with Miles Davis and “Sketches of Spain”. The piece progresses through a passage of ensemble playing with the horns chorusing above the rolling rhythms generated by Downes, Lasserson and Williams and there’s a brief passage where Downes piano comes to the fore prior to a more formal group finale.

The title of the closing “Double Life” reflects both Williams’ Atlantic hopping lifestyle and the “second life that I gave the tune by reworking it”. It may also refer the shift from waltz time to double 4/4 that occurs part way through the piece. Downes, Lasserson and Williams introduce the piece in piano trio mode but are soon joined by the horns with a catchy hook that combines with a buoyant groove to set the mood for the performance. O’Gallagher and Arcoleo trade powerful solos while Downes matches them for fluency, inventiveness and intensity. Lasserson impresses once more at the bass and there’s a closing flourish from the leader at the drums.

Williams has a fondness for live recordings, believing them to catch the very spirit of jazz and “Lifelike” performs this function admirably. Many of these tunes may have been recorded before but they have never sounded exactly like this, while my numerous visits to Williams live shows over the years provide ample evidence that his compositions, written at the piano, are constantly evolving and remain fertile vehicles for improvisation.

Williams’ themes are often complex and the uncompromising nature of his group’s performances make for challenging, but still readily accessible listening. Some listeners may be a little frightened by the intensity of it all but most genuine jazz fans should find much to enjoy about Williams’ music, not least the playing itself which is superb throughout.

Besides the undoubted technical ability there’s a refreshing attitude about the Williams group, this isn’t a band that’s prepared to sit on its laurels, each performance challenges the musicians and pushes at the boundaries of the written material with intense, adventurous, fluent solos imbued with colour, imagination and intelligence.

At the heart of it all is Williams himself who plays with great technical facility and a steely intelligence that pushes and challenges his colleagues and gets the best out of them. His own playing brings out the full potential of the standard drum kit, the broad range of sounds and rhythms that he generates helping to propel his band mates to fresh heights. Despite the presence of previously released material “Lifelike” still represents a highly worthwhile listening experience.

David Ferris Septet featuring Maria Vali - Alphabets Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Ferris’ writing is impressively mature and the singing, playing and production consistently first rate. All in all it’s a début that Ferris can be justly proud of.

David Ferris Septet featuring Maria Vali

“Alphabets”

(Self Released)

David Ferris is a Birmingham based pianist, organist and composer and is a graduate of the acclaimed Jazz Course at the city’s Conservatoire, something of a breeding ground for imaginative young jazz musicians.

Originally from Cornwall Ferris also studied with the National Youth Jazz Collective founded by saxophonist, composer and educator Issie Barratt and credits his attendance at two of the NYJC’s summer schools as the inspiration for going on to Birmingham to study the music to degree level. His tutors have included fellow pianists Nikki Iles, John Turville, John Taylor, Liam Noble and Hans Koller, saxophonists Mark Lockheart, Martin Speake, Mark Turner and Joe Lovano, bassists Dave Holland and Percy Pursglove and drummers John Hollenbeck and Jeff Ballard.

As an in demand sideman on both piano and organ Ferris has featured on the Jazzmann web pages on several occasions, initially as a student as part of the annual Birmingham / Trondheim Jazz Exchange at Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Playing piano he was part of the acoustic Jazzlines trio that opened for US alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett’s band at Birmingham Town Hall in 2015. This trio has subsequently evolved into Tell Tale, a piano trio inspired by Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau and featuring bassist James Banner and drummer Ric Yarborough.

Also in 2015 he featured on piano as part of a quintet co-led by saxophonists Amy Roberts and Richard Exall in a performance that formed part of the ‘jazz strand’ at the Three Choirs Festival in Hereford. Ferris has also played and recorded with the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra and appears on “Green”, the excellent début album from trumpeter and composer Tom Syson.

As an organist Ferris has performed with Zwolfton, a quintet of former Birmingham Conservatoire students led by tenor saxophonist Claude Pietersen who specialise in jazz interpretations of the music of Anton Webern, Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg, the group of composers collectively known as “The Second Viennese School”.

Ferris recorded on organ as part of guitarist and composer Ben Lee’s band, appearing on Lee’s excellent début solo album “In The Tree”, released in 2016. These two also perform with drummer Billy Weir as part of the Larry Goldings inspired organ trio Ferris, Lee, Weir.

Ferris has also gigged extensively with the funk organ trio Three Step Manoeuvre, featuring Lee and drummer Ben Reynolds, and appears on their 2016 début album “Three Step Strut”.

“Alphabets” represents Ferris’ recording début as a leader and features his septet, a collection of mainly Birmingham based musicians that includes Hugh Pascall (trumpet), Richard Foote (trombone), Chris Young (alto and baritone saxes), Vittorio Mura (tenor and baritone saxes) Nick Jurd (bass) and Euan Palmer (drums). They are joined by Estonian born guest vocalist Maria Vali on a selection of original compositions by Ferris that include settings of words by the famous poets Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, WB Yeats and WH Auden.

It’s an ambitious but largely successful project that has been greeted with considerable critical approval. The album was partly financed by Help Musicians UK, the organisation that grants the annual Peter Whittingham Award with Arts Council England funding the subsequent tour (which took place in March 2018, the album found its way to me sometime later).
The album commences with the instrumental “Chorale” which immediately establishes Ferris’ credentials as a composer and arranger. Initially we hear just the four horns in a beautiful, quasi chamber/orchestral setting before the rest of the band come in on this multi faceted piece. Ferris’ writing is impressively free of cliché and it’s Jurd’s melodic double bass that takes the first solo before the horns return, vying for supremacy in thrilling fashion as Palmer drums up a storm behind. No solo from Ferris you’ll notice, instead he’s the glue that unselfishly holds the ensemble together.

Ferris and Vali first worked together on the Birmingham / Trondheim Jazz Exchanges when the Tallinn based singer was studying in Norway. She infuses the bitter words of Ted Hughes’ “On Crow Hill” with a chilly beauty, accompanied only by Ferris’ sympatico piano. She later reprises the stanzas in an ensemble context which emphasises the flexibility and sheer musicality of her vocalising. Again Ferris demonstrates his arranging and orchestrating skills, the seven musicians plus Vali make an impressively big and powerful sound. But there’s also room allowed for individual expression as Young delivers a lengthy, skilfully constructed alto solo that progresses from thoughtful, delicate probing to incisive full on blasting yet does so in a manner that sounds perfectly natural and unforced.

Ferris next turns to the writing of the Irish poet Seamus Heaney. Like Hughes his words are rooted in nature but Heaney’s landscape is less harsh and unforgiving and this is reflected in Ferris’ arrangement, the warm, rich horn textures giving the music an authentically bucolic quality. Vali delivers a coolly elegant vocal that again demonstrates her flexibility and range while Pascall impresses with a fluent, lyrical trumpet solo that unfolds gradually and gracefully. Ferris allows himself some solo space with an expansive piano solo that exhibits similar qualities.

The title track also features the poetry of Heaney, the words of which describe the poet’s experiences of learning to read and write and subsequently falling in love with words and language while learning the rules and traditions of literature. It’s a lengthy text encompassing some sixteen stanzas so the focus here is very much on Vali’s voice, albeit with space found for another incisive saxophone feature, this time from Mura on tenor whose playing becomes increasingly full blooded as his solo progresses, creating an effective contrast with the more reflective vocal sections.

Ferris continues to mine Irish literature for his setting of W.B. Yeats’ “The Hawk”, a brooding, swirling piece whose arrangement seems to owe more to previous jazz and poetry projects (Westbrook, Garrick etc) than the rest of the collection. Vali delivers the poet’s words above the fan-faring of the horns in the manner of an incantation prior to an improvised trombone solo from Foote underscored by the loosely structured rhythms generated by Ferris, Jurd and Palmer with the latter’s drums playing a prominent part in a passage that contains some of the free-est playing on the album. The piece resolves itself with a closing vocal passage that reprises part of the first section.

The album’s second wholly instrumental piece is “Fred”, Ferris’ dedication to one of his musical heroes, the great American pianist and composer Fred Hersch. The piece is very much a celebration of Hersch with its uplifting melodies, bright ensemble arrangements and delicately sparkling piano solo. With further features for saxophone and drums it’s a welcome reminder of the instrumental abilities of the core septet.

The album concludes with a joyous, rollicking interpretation of W.H. Auden’s “The Willow-Wren and the Stare”. Vali’s playful vocal performance is augmented by a lively, percussive piano solo from Ferris. The horns carouse like a mini big band and the excellent Palmer is again featured at the drums.

“Alphabets” represents an impressive leadership début from Ferris. His writing is consistently engaging and the playing and singing is excellent throughout. Wanting to write for Vali’s voice but not trusting himself as a lyricist he decided to turn to the works of others and “some of the most beautiful words I know”. This proved to be a wise and inspiring choice with the excellent Vali more than doing justice to the words of Heaney, Hughes, Yeats and Auden.

Jazz and poetry won’t be to everybody’s taste but there’s nothing “earnest” or “worthy” about Ferris’ music, it all sounds a perfectly natural and unforced and most jazz fans should find much to enjoy in these performances. Ferris’ writing is impressively mature and the singing, playing and production consistently first rate. All in all it’s a début that Ferris can be justly proud of.

 

Alphabets

David Ferris Septet featuring Maria Vali

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Alphabets

Ferris’ writing is impressively mature and the singing, playing and production consistently first rate. All in all it’s a début that Ferris can be justly proud of.

David Ferris Septet featuring Maria Vali

“Alphabets”

(Self Released)

David Ferris is a Birmingham based pianist, organist and composer and is a graduate of the acclaimed Jazz Course at the city’s Conservatoire, something of a breeding ground for imaginative young jazz musicians.

Originally from Cornwall Ferris also studied with the National Youth Jazz Collective founded by saxophonist, composer and educator Issie Barratt and credits his attendance at two of the NYJC’s summer schools as the inspiration for going on to Birmingham to study the music to degree level. His tutors have included fellow pianists Nikki Iles, John Turville, John Taylor, Liam Noble and Hans Koller, saxophonists Mark Lockheart, Martin Speake, Mark Turner and Joe Lovano, bassists Dave Holland and Percy Pursglove and drummers John Hollenbeck and Jeff Ballard.

As an in demand sideman on both piano and organ Ferris has featured on the Jazzmann web pages on several occasions, initially as a student as part of the annual Birmingham / Trondheim Jazz Exchange at Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Playing piano he was part of the acoustic Jazzlines trio that opened for US alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett’s band at Birmingham Town Hall in 2015. This trio has subsequently evolved into Tell Tale, a piano trio inspired by Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau and featuring bassist James Banner and drummer Ric Yarborough.

Also in 2015 he featured on piano as part of a quintet co-led by saxophonists Amy Roberts and Richard Exall in a performance that formed part of the ‘jazz strand’ at the Three Choirs Festival in Hereford. Ferris has also played and recorded with the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra and appears on “Green”, the excellent début album from trumpeter and composer Tom Syson.

As an organist Ferris has performed with Zwolfton, a quintet of former Birmingham Conservatoire students led by tenor saxophonist Claude Pietersen who specialise in jazz interpretations of the music of Anton Webern, Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg, the group of composers collectively known as “The Second Viennese School”.

Ferris recorded on organ as part of guitarist and composer Ben Lee’s band, appearing on Lee’s excellent début solo album “In The Tree”, released in 2016. These two also perform with drummer Billy Weir as part of the Larry Goldings inspired organ trio Ferris, Lee, Weir.

Ferris has also gigged extensively with the funk organ trio Three Step Manoeuvre, featuring Lee and drummer Ben Reynolds, and appears on their 2016 début album “Three Step Strut”.

“Alphabets” represents Ferris’ recording début as a leader and features his septet, a collection of mainly Birmingham based musicians that includes Hugh Pascall (trumpet), Richard Foote (trombone), Chris Young (alto and baritone saxes), Vittorio Mura (tenor and baritone saxes) Nick Jurd (bass) and Euan Palmer (drums). They are joined by Estonian born guest vocalist Maria Vali on a selection of original compositions by Ferris that include settings of words by the famous poets Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, WB Yeats and WH Auden.

It’s an ambitious but largely successful project that has been greeted with considerable critical approval. The album was partly financed by Help Musicians UK, the organisation that grants the annual Peter Whittingham Award with Arts Council England funding the subsequent tour (which took place in March 2018, the album found its way to me sometime later).
The album commences with the instrumental “Chorale” which immediately establishes Ferris’ credentials as a composer and arranger. Initially we hear just the four horns in a beautiful, quasi chamber/orchestral setting before the rest of the band come in on this multi faceted piece. Ferris’ writing is impressively free of cliché and it’s Jurd’s melodic double bass that takes the first solo before the horns return, vying for supremacy in thrilling fashion as Palmer drums up a storm behind. No solo from Ferris you’ll notice, instead he’s the glue that unselfishly holds the ensemble together.

Ferris and Vali first worked together on the Birmingham / Trondheim Jazz Exchanges when the Tallinn based singer was studying in Norway. She infuses the bitter words of Ted Hughes’ “On Crow Hill” with a chilly beauty, accompanied only by Ferris’ sympatico piano. She later reprises the stanzas in an ensemble context which emphasises the flexibility and sheer musicality of her vocalising. Again Ferris demonstrates his arranging and orchestrating skills, the seven musicians plus Vali make an impressively big and powerful sound. But there’s also room allowed for individual expression as Young delivers a lengthy, skilfully constructed alto solo that progresses from thoughtful, delicate probing to incisive full on blasting yet does so in a manner that sounds perfectly natural and unforced.

Ferris next turns to the writing of the Irish poet Seamus Heaney. Like Hughes his words are rooted in nature but Heaney’s landscape is less harsh and unforgiving and this is reflected in Ferris’ arrangement, the warm, rich horn textures giving the music an authentically bucolic quality. Vali delivers a coolly elegant vocal that again demonstrates her flexibility and range while Pascall impresses with a fluent, lyrical trumpet solo that unfolds gradually and gracefully. Ferris allows himself some solo space with an expansive piano solo that exhibits similar qualities.

The title track also features the poetry of Heaney, the words of which describe the poet’s experiences of learning to read and write and subsequently falling in love with words and language while learning the rules and traditions of literature. It’s a lengthy text encompassing some sixteen stanzas so the focus here is very much on Vali’s voice, albeit with space found for another incisive saxophone feature, this time from Mura on tenor whose playing becomes increasingly full blooded as his solo progresses, creating an effective contrast with the more reflective vocal sections.

Ferris continues to mine Irish literature for his setting of W.B. Yeats’ “The Hawk”, a brooding, swirling piece whose arrangement seems to owe more to previous jazz and poetry projects (Westbrook, Garrick etc) than the rest of the collection. Vali delivers the poet’s words above the fan-faring of the horns in the manner of an incantation prior to an improvised trombone solo from Foote underscored by the loosely structured rhythms generated by Ferris, Jurd and Palmer with the latter’s drums playing a prominent part in a passage that contains some of the free-est playing on the album. The piece resolves itself with a closing vocal passage that reprises part of the first section.

The album’s second wholly instrumental piece is “Fred”, Ferris’ dedication to one of his musical heroes, the great American pianist and composer Fred Hersch. The piece is very much a celebration of Hersch with its uplifting melodies, bright ensemble arrangements and delicately sparkling piano solo. With further features for saxophone and drums it’s a welcome reminder of the instrumental abilities of the core septet.

The album concludes with a joyous, rollicking interpretation of W.H. Auden’s “The Willow-Wren and the Stare”. Vali’s playful vocal performance is augmented by a lively, percussive piano solo from Ferris. The horns carouse like a mini big band and the excellent Palmer is again featured at the drums.

“Alphabets” represents an impressive leadership début from Ferris. His writing is consistently engaging and the playing and singing is excellent throughout. Wanting to write for Vali’s voice but not trusting himself as a lyricist he decided to turn to the works of others and “some of the most beautiful words I know”. This proved to be a wise and inspiring choice with the excellent Vali more than doing justice to the words of Heaney, Hughes, Yeats and Auden.

Jazz and poetry won’t be to everybody’s taste but there’s nothing “earnest” or “worthy” about Ferris’ music, it all sounds a perfectly natural and unforced and most jazz fans should find much to enjoy in these performances. Ferris’ writing is impressively mature and the singing, playing and production consistently first rate. All in all it’s a début that Ferris can be justly proud of.

 

Alyn Cosker - K P F Rating: 4 out of 5 “K P F” may be a highly personal album but it’s one capable of appealing to a broad fan base and is a recording that Cosker can be justifiably proud of.

Alyn Cosker

“K P F”

(Nyla Recordings NYLA01CD)

Alyn Cosker is the most in demand drummer on the Scottish jazz scene. He helps to provide the rhythmic drive behind the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra led by Tommy Smith and is also a prolific sideman in a plethora of small group settings. Among the leading Scottish musicians with whom Cosker has recorded are saxophonists Smith, Paul Towndrow and Konrad Wiszniewski, trumpeter Colin Steele, bassist Euan Burton and pianist Euan Stevenson. Crossing the border he has also worked with the English musicians Quentin Collins (trumpet) and Ed Jones (saxophones). Cosker has also worked with the American vibraphonist Joe Locke and away from the jazz field played in the band co-led by Mercury Music Prize nominees Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanergan.

A music graduate of the University of Strathclyde Cosker is also an aspiring composer and released his solo début, “Lyn’s Une” back in 2009. That recording is reviewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/alyn-cosker-lyns-une/

“K P F” has been a long time coming but it’s certainly been worth the wait. Like it’s ambitious, if slightly sprawling, predecessor it reflects Cosker’s versatility and broad ranging musical tastes. The Scottish music scene is particularly notable for the cross pollination between jazz and folk musicians. In more populous England the two genres largely keep themselves to themselves but the comparatively smaller scene in Scotland, particularly in Edinburgh, allows for a healthy element of cross fertilisation with many Scottish jazz musicians eager to explore their folk roots.

Like its predecessor “K P F” covers a broad stylistic range embracing elements of jazz, folk and rock. Cosker himself plays some piano as well as drums and percussion and the album features a core group of Steve Hamilton (piano, keyboards), Davie Dunsmuir (electric guitar) and Colin Cunningham (electric bass) with percussionist Marcio Doctor also making a substantial contribution to the music.

A wide variety of guests grace individual tracks including big jazz names such as Joe Locke, Tommy Smith and Paul Towndrow, plus folk/pop vocalist Eddi Reader of Fairground Attraction fame.

All of the material, including the lyrics, was written by Cosker and, as on “Lyn’s Une”, the sources of inspiration are often highly personal. Cosker’s liner notes provide valuable information and insight with regard to the individual tracks beginning with the opening “Serenity” which the drummer began writing just after the release of “Lyn’s Une” but only completed just prior to this current recording. Based upon the prayer of Serenity it features an extended line up including several guest musicians. Cosker himself plays some piano and the cast includes Laurence Cottle replacing Cunningham on electric bass, Towndrow on alto sax, Adam Bulley on mandolin, Fiona Hamilton on fiddle and Kirsty Johnson on accordion. The piece acts as a kind of overture, a musical depiction of a sunrise underpinned by a recurring piano motif as Dunsmuir’s guitar and Towndrow’s alto yearn and soar, reaching for the skies. There’s an air of Eastern mysticism about it that, for me, recalls 70s cult prog rockers Jade Warrior. As the music continues to develop it takes on a more obvious Celtic folk influence with Fiona Hamilton’s fiddle coming to play an increasingly significant role in the arrangement. Overall it’s a dramatic and stirring introduction.

“Yatey Ate” is dedicated to the memory of band leader Tim Barrella who was born in Sunderland but based in Glasgow. The young Cosker played regular Sunday afternoon jazz sessions with Barrella’s band and the tune title comes from the leader calling tune number eighty eight in the pad (rather improbably it was ‘MacArthur Park’) in a broad Wearside accent. The piece features the core group and dives deeply and unapologetically into fusion territory with Dunsmuir’s searing electric guitar to the fore as Cosker unleashes his inner Billy Cobham in a powerhouse drumming performance. The leader describes Dunsmuir as his “musical right hand man” and on this evidence it’s easy to see why. Steve Hamilton’s electric piano solo cools things down temporarily as he embraces the classic Fender Rhodes sound,  before quickly ramping up the energy levels once more. Complex, but exciting, this is a supremely invigorating piece of music featuring some superb playing all round.

The song “Dragons” feature guest vocalist Rachel Lightbody, born in Chicago but now based in Glasgow and firmly established on the Scottish music scene. Although primarily a jazz vocalist Lightbody is as versatile as the other musicians on the Caledonian scene. “Dragons” isn’t a jazz performance as such, despite the presence of guest Cottle’s liquidly melodic bass as he shares the instrumental soloing with Tommy Smith’s emotive, eloquent tenor sax. Cosker drums with admirable restraint and also adds some piano and percussion but the main focus is on Lightbody’s yearning but flexible vocal, which variously echoes Joni Mitchell and Sandy Denny in a compelling vocal performance.

The leader’s military style drumming introduces the lengthy instrumental “Purely Intertwined” which celebrates “the notion that love and friendship are purely intertwined”. Again there’s a fusion-esque feel about the piece courtesy of Dunsmuir’s electric guitar and Steve Hamilton’s electric keyboards. Dunsmuir takes the first solo, his taut, but imaginative playing again displaying a strong rock influence. A more obvious jazz presence comes in the form of the great Joe Locke who solos with his customary fluency on vibes. Tommy Smith has worked extensively with Locke and it was presumably him that introduced the American to Cosker. Also featuring as a soloist is Steve Hamilton, again on electric piano. As befits the title Cosker is a powerful but supportive presence throughout while the closing dovetailing of Dunsmuir’s guitar lines with Locke’s mercurial vibes helps to epitomise the tune title.

“K P F” is dedicated to Cosker’s fiancée, Kirsty Johnson, who played accordion on “Serenity”. The title stems from a uniquely personal inspiration, as Cosker explains;
“Her grandad played a special part in her life (along with the rest of her family). When they were kids he had a car that contained KPF in the registration plate. He would always state it stood for ‘Kirsty’s Pretty Face’. Couldn’t agree more”. Cosker may be a percussive powerhouse, but he’s a big softy at heart.
The piece itself is very brief, a minute and a half in duration, but is a charming cameo featuring a solo acoustic piano performance from Cosker that is simple but effective. In the context of the album as a whole the piece acts as an attractive and functional interlude.

“Hee Haw Twice” picks up the pace again with the core quartet plus Doctor heading into broadly fusion-esque territory once more. Cosker’s working group have opened for John McLaughlin (who was knocked out by them apparently) and as Dunsmuir’s electric guitar takes flight it’s easy to see why. Steve Hamilton sparkles on acoustic piano, thus ensuring favourable comparisons with the Impossible Gentlemen, albeit with a degree of additional percussive exotica. Cosker also allows himself the opportunity to feature his drumming in a dynamic performance behind the kit.

“When We Were Young” signals a return to song based territory with guest vocalist Eddi Reader singing Cosker’s words on “a song I wrote for things moving on in life…let’s raise a glass to it!!”
Reader gives an emotive vocal performance, imbuing Cosker’s lyrics of love and nostalgia with an appropriate gravitas. Chas McKenzie adds country tinged acoustic guitar while Cosker’s musician father, Jim, provides the elegant piano solo.

“The Adventures Of Feskelar” is dedicated to Cosker’s cocker spaniel and is a suitably playful piece introduced by the composer’s volcanic drumming and featuring a springy, propulsive electric bass line from Cunningham. Cosker even imagines his canine companion flying through the solar system in his own “little spaceship”. Dunsmuir’s guitar solo is appropriately turbo-charged as Steve Hamilton reaches for the stars on acoustic piano.

“Could Be Fate” is another tune written to reflect the nature of the human experience and to “celebrate enjoying whatever road life takes you on”. Again it features the core group and although the octane levels are lower than on the previous piece there’s still a languid, seductively funky groove about the music. Steve Hamilton delivers a wry, pleasantly rambling solo on electric piano while Cunningham adds liquid, melodic Jaco Pastorius inspired electric bass. Dunsmuir’s guitar weaves its way in and out of the piece while the leader is constant presence behind the drum kit, prompting and cajoling before featuring strongly in the tune’s closing stages.

The title of “Shoogly Paw” comes from a phrase used by Cosker’s future father in law to describe the playing of fleet fingered instrumental soloists. The energy levels are ramped up once more with another bold lunge into fusion-esque territory. Tommy Smith’s tenor features prominently – echoes here of his own ‘Karma’ group in which Cosker and Steve Hamilton both played. Smith shares the solos with Dunsmuir’s stratospheric electric guitar and the pair also exchange ideas, underscored by Cosker’s incendiary drumming.

The album ends with the song “Two Stars In The Sky” which was written “for anyone who has lost something special in their life”. Featuring Cosker on piano the piece features a wistful, throaty vocal from guest singer Fraser Anderson. It’s poignant and emotive and its simplicity represents a striking and effective contrast to the complexity of much of the instrumental music that has preceded it.

“K P F” represents an impressive artistic statement from Cosker. It’s a more focussed album than its predecessor, based as it is around the jazz-rock sound of the core group, all of whom play superbly throughout with Dunsmuir in particularly impressive form. It’s this side of the music that is most likely to be presented in subsequent live performances.

The song based items are very different, yet still sit well within the framework of the album, there’s no sense of them jarring or feeling out of place or context. The guest vocalists, Lightbody, Reader and Anderson all deliver excellent, moving performances which also serve to highlight Cosker’s abilities as a songwriter and lyricist as well as a composer of often tricky instrumental music. The juxtaposition between the simple and the complex works well throughout the album. All of Cosker’s guests make distinctive and effective contributions and add something positive to the music.

“K P F” may be a highly personal album but it’s one capable of appealing to a broad fan base and is a recording that Cosker can be justifiably proud of. It may have been a long time coming but it’s certainly been well worth the wait.

 

K P F

Alyn Cosker

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

K P F

“K P F” may be a highly personal album but it’s one capable of appealing to a broad fan base and is a recording that Cosker can be justifiably proud of.

Alyn Cosker

“K P F”

(Nyla Recordings NYLA01CD)

Alyn Cosker is the most in demand drummer on the Scottish jazz scene. He helps to provide the rhythmic drive behind the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra led by Tommy Smith and is also a prolific sideman in a plethora of small group settings. Among the leading Scottish musicians with whom Cosker has recorded are saxophonists Smith, Paul Towndrow and Konrad Wiszniewski, trumpeter Colin Steele, bassist Euan Burton and pianist Euan Stevenson. Crossing the border he has also worked with the English musicians Quentin Collins (trumpet) and Ed Jones (saxophones). Cosker has also worked with the American vibraphonist Joe Locke and away from the jazz field played in the band co-led by Mercury Music Prize nominees Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanergan.

A music graduate of the University of Strathclyde Cosker is also an aspiring composer and released his solo début, “Lyn’s Une” back in 2009. That recording is reviewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/alyn-cosker-lyns-une/

“K P F” has been a long time coming but it’s certainly been worth the wait. Like it’s ambitious, if slightly sprawling, predecessor it reflects Cosker’s versatility and broad ranging musical tastes. The Scottish music scene is particularly notable for the cross pollination between jazz and folk musicians. In more populous England the two genres largely keep themselves to themselves but the comparatively smaller scene in Scotland, particularly in Edinburgh, allows for a healthy element of cross fertilisation with many Scottish jazz musicians eager to explore their folk roots.

Like its predecessor “K P F” covers a broad stylistic range embracing elements of jazz, folk and rock. Cosker himself plays some piano as well as drums and percussion and the album features a core group of Steve Hamilton (piano, keyboards), Davie Dunsmuir (electric guitar) and Colin Cunningham (electric bass) with percussionist Marcio Doctor also making a substantial contribution to the music.

A wide variety of guests grace individual tracks including big jazz names such as Joe Locke, Tommy Smith and Paul Towndrow, plus folk/pop vocalist Eddi Reader of Fairground Attraction fame.

All of the material, including the lyrics, was written by Cosker and, as on “Lyn’s Une”, the sources of inspiration are often highly personal. Cosker’s liner notes provide valuable information and insight with regard to the individual tracks beginning with the opening “Serenity” which the drummer began writing just after the release of “Lyn’s Une” but only completed just prior to this current recording. Based upon the prayer of Serenity it features an extended line up including several guest musicians. Cosker himself plays some piano and the cast includes Laurence Cottle replacing Cunningham on electric bass, Towndrow on alto sax, Adam Bulley on mandolin, Fiona Hamilton on fiddle and Kirsty Johnson on accordion. The piece acts as a kind of overture, a musical depiction of a sunrise underpinned by a recurring piano motif as Dunsmuir’s guitar and Towndrow’s alto yearn and soar, reaching for the skies. There’s an air of Eastern mysticism about it that, for me, recalls 70s cult prog rockers Jade Warrior. As the music continues to develop it takes on a more obvious Celtic folk influence with Fiona Hamilton’s fiddle coming to play an increasingly significant role in the arrangement. Overall it’s a dramatic and stirring introduction.

“Yatey Ate” is dedicated to the memory of band leader Tim Barrella who was born in Sunderland but based in Glasgow. The young Cosker played regular Sunday afternoon jazz sessions with Barrella’s band and the tune title comes from the leader calling tune number eighty eight in the pad (rather improbably it was ‘MacArthur Park’) in a broad Wearside accent. The piece features the core group and dives deeply and unapologetically into fusion territory with Dunsmuir’s searing electric guitar to the fore as Cosker unleashes his inner Billy Cobham in a powerhouse drumming performance. The leader describes Dunsmuir as his “musical right hand man” and on this evidence it’s easy to see why. Steve Hamilton’s electric piano solo cools things down temporarily as he embraces the classic Fender Rhodes sound,  before quickly ramping up the energy levels once more. Complex, but exciting, this is a supremely invigorating piece of music featuring some superb playing all round.

The song “Dragons” feature guest vocalist Rachel Lightbody, born in Chicago but now based in Glasgow and firmly established on the Scottish music scene. Although primarily a jazz vocalist Lightbody is as versatile as the other musicians on the Caledonian scene. “Dragons” isn’t a jazz performance as such, despite the presence of guest Cottle’s liquidly melodic bass as he shares the instrumental soloing with Tommy Smith’s emotive, eloquent tenor sax. Cosker drums with admirable restraint and also adds some piano and percussion but the main focus is on Lightbody’s yearning but flexible vocal, which variously echoes Joni Mitchell and Sandy Denny in a compelling vocal performance.

The leader’s military style drumming introduces the lengthy instrumental “Purely Intertwined” which celebrates “the notion that love and friendship are purely intertwined”. Again there’s a fusion-esque feel about the piece courtesy of Dunsmuir’s electric guitar and Steve Hamilton’s electric keyboards. Dunsmuir takes the first solo, his taut, but imaginative playing again displaying a strong rock influence. A more obvious jazz presence comes in the form of the great Joe Locke who solos with his customary fluency on vibes. Tommy Smith has worked extensively with Locke and it was presumably him that introduced the American to Cosker. Also featuring as a soloist is Steve Hamilton, again on electric piano. As befits the title Cosker is a powerful but supportive presence throughout while the closing dovetailing of Dunsmuir’s guitar lines with Locke’s mercurial vibes helps to epitomise the tune title.

“K P F” is dedicated to Cosker’s fiancée, Kirsty Johnson, who played accordion on “Serenity”. The title stems from a uniquely personal inspiration, as Cosker explains;
“Her grandad played a special part in her life (along with the rest of her family). When they were kids he had a car that contained KPF in the registration plate. He would always state it stood for ‘Kirsty’s Pretty Face’. Couldn’t agree more”. Cosker may be a percussive powerhouse, but he’s a big softy at heart.
The piece itself is very brief, a minute and a half in duration, but is a charming cameo featuring a solo acoustic piano performance from Cosker that is simple but effective. In the context of the album as a whole the piece acts as an attractive and functional interlude.

“Hee Haw Twice” picks up the pace again with the core quartet plus Doctor heading into broadly fusion-esque territory once more. Cosker’s working group have opened for John McLaughlin (who was knocked out by them apparently) and as Dunsmuir’s electric guitar takes flight it’s easy to see why. Steve Hamilton sparkles on acoustic piano, thus ensuring favourable comparisons with the Impossible Gentlemen, albeit with a degree of additional percussive exotica. Cosker also allows himself the opportunity to feature his drumming in a dynamic performance behind the kit.

“When We Were Young” signals a return to song based territory with guest vocalist Eddi Reader singing Cosker’s words on “a song I wrote for things moving on in life…let’s raise a glass to it!!”
Reader gives an emotive vocal performance, imbuing Cosker’s lyrics of love and nostalgia with an appropriate gravitas. Chas McKenzie adds country tinged acoustic guitar while Cosker’s musician father, Jim, provides the elegant piano solo.

“The Adventures Of Feskelar” is dedicated to Cosker’s cocker spaniel and is a suitably playful piece introduced by the composer’s volcanic drumming and featuring a springy, propulsive electric bass line from Cunningham. Cosker even imagines his canine companion flying through the solar system in his own “little spaceship”. Dunsmuir’s guitar solo is appropriately turbo-charged as Steve Hamilton reaches for the stars on acoustic piano.

“Could Be Fate” is another tune written to reflect the nature of the human experience and to “celebrate enjoying whatever road life takes you on”. Again it features the core group and although the octane levels are lower than on the previous piece there’s still a languid, seductively funky groove about the music. Steve Hamilton delivers a wry, pleasantly rambling solo on electric piano while Cunningham adds liquid, melodic Jaco Pastorius inspired electric bass. Dunsmuir’s guitar weaves its way in and out of the piece while the leader is constant presence behind the drum kit, prompting and cajoling before featuring strongly in the tune’s closing stages.

The title of “Shoogly Paw” comes from a phrase used by Cosker’s future father in law to describe the playing of fleet fingered instrumental soloists. The energy levels are ramped up once more with another bold lunge into fusion-esque territory. Tommy Smith’s tenor features prominently – echoes here of his own ‘Karma’ group in which Cosker and Steve Hamilton both played. Smith shares the solos with Dunsmuir’s stratospheric electric guitar and the pair also exchange ideas, underscored by Cosker’s incendiary drumming.

The album ends with the song “Two Stars In The Sky” which was written “for anyone who has lost something special in their life”. Featuring Cosker on piano the piece features a wistful, throaty vocal from guest singer Fraser Anderson. It’s poignant and emotive and its simplicity represents a striking and effective contrast to the complexity of much of the instrumental music that has preceded it.

“K P F” represents an impressive artistic statement from Cosker. It’s a more focussed album than its predecessor, based as it is around the jazz-rock sound of the core group, all of whom play superbly throughout with Dunsmuir in particularly impressive form. It’s this side of the music that is most likely to be presented in subsequent live performances.

The song based items are very different, yet still sit well within the framework of the album, there’s no sense of them jarring or feeling out of place or context. The guest vocalists, Lightbody, Reader and Anderson all deliver excellent, moving performances which also serve to highlight Cosker’s abilities as a songwriter and lyricist as well as a composer of often tricky instrumental music. The juxtaposition between the simple and the complex works well throughout the album. All of Cosker’s guests make distinctive and effective contributions and add something positive to the music.

“K P F” may be a highly personal album but it’s one capable of appealing to a broad fan base and is a recording that Cosker can be justifiably proud of. It may have been a long time coming but it’s certainly been well worth the wait.

 

Gethin Liddington’s Goodkatz - Gethin Liddington’s Goodkatz, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 01/07/2018. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Two sets of excellent music delivered in very challenging conditions, with some excellent group playing and soloing all round.

Gethin Liddington’s Goodkatz, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 01/07/2018


Tonight’s performance represented a collaboration between the local jazz club, Black Mountain Jazz and the annual Abergavenny Arts Festival. It had been the intention for BMJ to present an all day series of events on the final day of the Arts Festival.

Unfortunately the first of these, which would have seen BMJ promoter Mike Skilton interviewed by journalist and broadcaster Rhys Phillips on the subject of ‘Jazz Appreciation’ had to be cancelled. Nevertheless the remaining two events proved to be extremely successful, culminating with this
well attended and hugely enjoyable performance by the quintet Goodkatz, led by trumpeter Gethin Liddington.

Liddington is a popular presence on the jazz scene in South Wales and beyond. He’s a highly versatile musician who has played across a variety of jazz genres from the traditional to the avant garde. Liddington has recorded with bands led by trombonist Gareth Roberts, pianist Dave Jones and bassist Paula Gardiner. He has been a featured soloist with the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD) Big Band, the Cardiff based Capital City Jazz Orchestra and the one off Slice of Jazz Orchestra that performed at the 2017 Brecon Jazz Festival. Liddington’s avant garde credentials include performances and recordings with ensembles led by pianist Keith Tippett and saxophonist Paul Dunmall.

Liddington has formed a particularly productive alliance with fellow trumpeter and South Walian Ceri Williams. Liddington plays in Williams’ New Era Reborn Brass Band and the pair front Chop Idols, a supremely entertaining quintet that pays homage to trumpet greats such as Clark Terry and Dizzy Gillespie, while also bringing plenty of themselves to the music. Chop Idols proved to be popular visitors when they performed at BMJ in March 2018 with many jazz fans turning out again to hear this new quintet.

Goodkatz specialises in jazz from an earlier epoch than that honoured by Chop Idols. Here Liddington goes back to the music of the 1920s, 30s and 40s as he pays tribute to the Dixieland and swing eras. Joining the trumpeter in the front line of this venture is saxophonist/clarinettist Ceri Rees, leader of the Capital City Jazz Orchestra. Goodkatz also features Chop Idols pianist Richard West, double bassist Donnie Joe Sweeney and drummer Greg Evans, all of them busy and popular presences on the South Wales jazz scene.

Tonight’s performance was billed as presenting “feel good, infectious, toe-tapping jazz” in a “family friendly” atmosphere and this was exactly what it did with Liddington presenting the show with a ready wit and bonhomie. The audience included a number of ‘first timers’ who had seen the event advertised whilst attending the main Arts Festival. Hopefully they enjoyed what they heard and will return to BMJ in the future. The audience reaction certainly suggested that they did.

Liddington and Rees founded Goodkatz with the intention of playing this much loved music with passion and intensity, feeling that many performers in the same style have interpreted the music too tamely. It’s also interesting to note that a whole generation of much younger players have also come to the music with the same approach, notably the highly skilled musicians forming part of the scene surrounding Kansas Smitty’s in London. There’s something of a trad and swing revival going on in the English capital with musicians and audiences approaching the music without any inhibitions or hang ups and rediscovering something of its original spirit.

Brecon Jazz Festival used to advertise itself as being “New Orleans Beneath the Beacons”. On a sweltering July evening it was “New Orleans Beneath the Blorenge” in Abergavenny as band and audience boiled in temperatures more suited to the Crescent City than the Black Mountains.

Fortunately the music was ‘hot’ too as the quintet kicked off with saxophonist Lester Young’s composition for the Count Basie Orchestra, “Lester Leaps In”. This was a marvellously swinging interpretation featuring some dazzling interplay between Liddington on trumpet and Rees on tenor sax as Sweeney and Evans laid down a suitably propulsive groove, further enlivened by West’s inventive keyboard embellishments. Concise but fluent solos came from Rees, Liddington and West as the evening got off to an excellent start.

West is a hugely inventive and imaginative pianist whose solos often threaten to undermine the horn players he works with. His unaccompanied piano introduction to Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’” demonstrated his mastery of a plethora of jazz piano styles and also included something of Fats’ trademark humour. Meanwhile Rees had switched to clarinet, adopting a bluesy tone on the instrument as it intertwined with Liddington’s trumpet in a fine example of New Orleans style counterpoint. Rees also took the first solo, which included a virtuoso sustained single note at one juncture. He was followed by the leader on trumpet, West at the piano and Sweeney on melodic double bass.

A splendidly swinging “All Of Me” featured a trumpet and tenor front line above a vigorous groove and included a Louis Armstrong inspired by vocal from Liddington. I’ve seen Gethin play on many occasions in various contexts but I think this was the first time that I’d ever heard him sing! But the real highlights were instrumental, including the spirited horn interplay between Liddington and Rees and the gutsy, r’n’b style tenor solo from the latter. The leader weighed in with some bravura, high register trumpeting as West continued to dazzle at the keyboard. A swinging outro featuring the dovetailing of the twin horn attack helped to ensure that this item was particularly well received by the crowd.

Liddington hadn’t brought his distinctive four valved flugel horn along but this didn’t prevent him from demonstrating his skills as a balladeer. For the standard “Out Of Nowhere” Rees vacated the stage and the subsequent quartet performance served as a feature for Liddington on muted trumpet. His playing was soft, fragile and vulnerable on a bossa style arrangement that transported the Abergavenny audience to Rio and the other Sugar Loaf. The leader’s gentle lyricism was matched by similar solos from West at the piano and Sweeney on double bass.

Rees returned, this time on clarinet, for a second well known Fats Waller tune, this time “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”. West introduced the piece at the piano before being joined by the New Orleans horn stylings of Liddington and Rees. The latter took the first solo on clarinet, followed by Liddington whose virtuoso trumpeting was at one point accompanied only by Sweeney’s double bass. Further solos came from West and Sweeney before the two horns coalesced again towards the end of the song.

To close the first set the quintet remained in New Orleans mode for “Slow Boat To China” (retitled “Slow Goat To Blaenau” for the local audience!). Rees and Liddington featured on clarinet and trumpet respectively while ‘Professor’ Richard West again demonstrated his knowledge of the New Orleans piano tradition. Liddington also added a chorus of vocals.

The second set embraced something of an Ellington theme as the quintet commenced with the Duke’s “In A Mellow Tone”, adopting a more mainstream jazz feel with solos coming from Rees on tenor, Liddington on trumpet and West on piano.

The group slimmed down to a quartet again for “Days Of Wine And Roses”, beginning in ballad style with an introductory duo dialogue between trumpet and piano. The addition of bass and drums added momentum and swing to the music with Evans’ brushed grooves fuelling further solos from Liddington and West. Subsequently the drummer traded fours with Liddington, enjoying a series of briskly brushed breaks before the piece resolved itself with the leader’s unaccompanied trumpet cadenza.

Liddington then left the stage as Rees returned to feature his clarinet playing on the standard “The World Is Waiting For A Sunrise” which included solos from Rees and West and a further series of brushed drum breaks from Evans, this time exchanging ideas with Rees.

The Seattle born Sweeney is a versatile musician who also leads his own group, Donnie Joe’s American Swing, in which he plays guitar and sings. This line up has made a previous appearance in Abergavenny at the annual Wall2Wall Jazz Festival. Here Sweeney’s vocals were featured, alongside his bass playing, on another Ellington tune, “Just Squeeze Me”, which also included instrumental solos from Liddington on trumpet, Rees on clarinet and West at the piano.

There was more Ellington as the quintet delivered a barnstorming version of “Caravan”, the piece introduced by a dazzling passage of unaccompanied piano from the excellent West that combined ornate, almost baroque, flourishes with a welcome touch of humour. The pianist established a Latin groove that was taken up by a whistle blowing Evans as Liddington and a tenor toting Rees dovetailed on the familiar theme prior to taking individual solos. West delivered another display of stunning virtuosity with a more conventional jazz solo before entering into an absorbing and exciting dialogue with Evans’ drums, their exchanges underpinned by Sweeney’s anchoring bass.
The two horns then combined on the head, mutating it into “Sweet Georgia Brown” and back again during a rousing, swinging closing section which the crowd loved.

It was back to New Orleans for the closing “Dinah”, delivered in a swinging style that Liddington described as “Louis Prima -esque”. Trumpet and clarinet delivered the theme in Crescent City style with Liddington also singing the lyrics prior to pithy solos from himself and Rees and an unaccompanied piano feature from West. This proved to be the last number of the evening and ended an excellent night of music making on an energetic note. Given the almost tropical temperatures, and with both band and audience flagging an encore was never likely but this didn’t imply any lack of appreciation for the music. Liddington and his colleagues were very well received and ensured that Abergavenny Arts Festival ended on a high note.

Certainly nobody could accuse of Liddington and the Goodkatz of short changing their audience. They had delivered two sets of excellent music in very challenging conditions, with some excellent group playing and soloing all round. My only reservations (as with Chop Idols previously) would be with regard to the vocals, which I felt added little to the experience, although others may disagree. These pieces did start out as songs after all, before jazz soloists turned them into primarily instrumental vehicles.

Earlier in the day, and also part of the Arts Festival, West and saxophonist Martha Skilton had co-ordinated “Jazz for Little ‘Uns”, an interactive musical presentation for two to four year olds designed to introduce the joy of jazz to young children. This proved to be a very successful and enjoyable event with fifteen toddlers and their parents taking part. It’s now hoped that a similar event will be added to the programme for the forthcoming Wall2Wall Jazz Festival which will take place from 30th August to 2nd September 2018.


Gethin Liddington’s Goodkatz, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 01/07/2018.

Gethin Liddington’s Goodkatz

Monday, July 02, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Gethin Liddington’s Goodkatz, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 01/07/2018.

Two sets of excellent music delivered in very challenging conditions, with some excellent group playing and soloing all round.

Gethin Liddington’s Goodkatz, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 01/07/2018


Tonight’s performance represented a collaboration between the local jazz club, Black Mountain Jazz and the annual Abergavenny Arts Festival. It had been the intention for BMJ to present an all day series of events on the final day of the Arts Festival.

Unfortunately the first of these, which would have seen BMJ promoter Mike Skilton interviewed by journalist and broadcaster Rhys Phillips on the subject of ‘Jazz Appreciation’ had to be cancelled. Nevertheless the remaining two events proved to be extremely successful, culminating with this
well attended and hugely enjoyable performance by the quintet Goodkatz, led by trumpeter Gethin Liddington.

Liddington is a popular presence on the jazz scene in South Wales and beyond. He’s a highly versatile musician who has played across a variety of jazz genres from the traditional to the avant garde. Liddington has recorded with bands led by trombonist Gareth Roberts, pianist Dave Jones and bassist Paula Gardiner. He has been a featured soloist with the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD) Big Band, the Cardiff based Capital City Jazz Orchestra and the one off Slice of Jazz Orchestra that performed at the 2017 Brecon Jazz Festival. Liddington’s avant garde credentials include performances and recordings with ensembles led by pianist Keith Tippett and saxophonist Paul Dunmall.

Liddington has formed a particularly productive alliance with fellow trumpeter and South Walian Ceri Williams. Liddington plays in Williams’ New Era Reborn Brass Band and the pair front Chop Idols, a supremely entertaining quintet that pays homage to trumpet greats such as Clark Terry and Dizzy Gillespie, while also bringing plenty of themselves to the music. Chop Idols proved to be popular visitors when they performed at BMJ in March 2018 with many jazz fans turning out again to hear this new quintet.

Goodkatz specialises in jazz from an earlier epoch than that honoured by Chop Idols. Here Liddington goes back to the music of the 1920s, 30s and 40s as he pays tribute to the Dixieland and swing eras. Joining the trumpeter in the front line of this venture is saxophonist/clarinettist Ceri Rees, leader of the Capital City Jazz Orchestra. Goodkatz also features Chop Idols pianist Richard West, double bassist Donnie Joe Sweeney and drummer Greg Evans, all of them busy and popular presences on the South Wales jazz scene.

Tonight’s performance was billed as presenting “feel good, infectious, toe-tapping jazz” in a “family friendly” atmosphere and this was exactly what it did with Liddington presenting the show with a ready wit and bonhomie. The audience included a number of ‘first timers’ who had seen the event advertised whilst attending the main Arts Festival. Hopefully they enjoyed what they heard and will return to BMJ in the future. The audience reaction certainly suggested that they did.

Liddington and Rees founded Goodkatz with the intention of playing this much loved music with passion and intensity, feeling that many performers in the same style have interpreted the music too tamely. It’s also interesting to note that a whole generation of much younger players have also come to the music with the same approach, notably the highly skilled musicians forming part of the scene surrounding Kansas Smitty’s in London. There’s something of a trad and swing revival going on in the English capital with musicians and audiences approaching the music without any inhibitions or hang ups and rediscovering something of its original spirit.

Brecon Jazz Festival used to advertise itself as being “New Orleans Beneath the Beacons”. On a sweltering July evening it was “New Orleans Beneath the Blorenge” in Abergavenny as band and audience boiled in temperatures more suited to the Crescent City than the Black Mountains.

Fortunately the music was ‘hot’ too as the quintet kicked off with saxophonist Lester Young’s composition for the Count Basie Orchestra, “Lester Leaps In”. This was a marvellously swinging interpretation featuring some dazzling interplay between Liddington on trumpet and Rees on tenor sax as Sweeney and Evans laid down a suitably propulsive groove, further enlivened by West’s inventive keyboard embellishments. Concise but fluent solos came from Rees, Liddington and West as the evening got off to an excellent start.

West is a hugely inventive and imaginative pianist whose solos often threaten to undermine the horn players he works with. His unaccompanied piano introduction to Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’” demonstrated his mastery of a plethora of jazz piano styles and also included something of Fats’ trademark humour. Meanwhile Rees had switched to clarinet, adopting a bluesy tone on the instrument as it intertwined with Liddington’s trumpet in a fine example of New Orleans style counterpoint. Rees also took the first solo, which included a virtuoso sustained single note at one juncture. He was followed by the leader on trumpet, West at the piano and Sweeney on melodic double bass.

A splendidly swinging “All Of Me” featured a trumpet and tenor front line above a vigorous groove and included a Louis Armstrong inspired by vocal from Liddington. I’ve seen Gethin play on many occasions in various contexts but I think this was the first time that I’d ever heard him sing! But the real highlights were instrumental, including the spirited horn interplay between Liddington and Rees and the gutsy, r’n’b style tenor solo from the latter. The leader weighed in with some bravura, high register trumpeting as West continued to dazzle at the keyboard. A swinging outro featuring the dovetailing of the twin horn attack helped to ensure that this item was particularly well received by the crowd.

Liddington hadn’t brought his distinctive four valved flugel horn along but this didn’t prevent him from demonstrating his skills as a balladeer. For the standard “Out Of Nowhere” Rees vacated the stage and the subsequent quartet performance served as a feature for Liddington on muted trumpet. His playing was soft, fragile and vulnerable on a bossa style arrangement that transported the Abergavenny audience to Rio and the other Sugar Loaf. The leader’s gentle lyricism was matched by similar solos from West at the piano and Sweeney on double bass.

Rees returned, this time on clarinet, for a second well known Fats Waller tune, this time “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”. West introduced the piece at the piano before being joined by the New Orleans horn stylings of Liddington and Rees. The latter took the first solo on clarinet, followed by Liddington whose virtuoso trumpeting was at one point accompanied only by Sweeney’s double bass. Further solos came from West and Sweeney before the two horns coalesced again towards the end of the song.

To close the first set the quintet remained in New Orleans mode for “Slow Boat To China” (retitled “Slow Goat To Blaenau” for the local audience!). Rees and Liddington featured on clarinet and trumpet respectively while ‘Professor’ Richard West again demonstrated his knowledge of the New Orleans piano tradition. Liddington also added a chorus of vocals.

The second set embraced something of an Ellington theme as the quintet commenced with the Duke’s “In A Mellow Tone”, adopting a more mainstream jazz feel with solos coming from Rees on tenor, Liddington on trumpet and West on piano.

The group slimmed down to a quartet again for “Days Of Wine And Roses”, beginning in ballad style with an introductory duo dialogue between trumpet and piano. The addition of bass and drums added momentum and swing to the music with Evans’ brushed grooves fuelling further solos from Liddington and West. Subsequently the drummer traded fours with Liddington, enjoying a series of briskly brushed breaks before the piece resolved itself with the leader’s unaccompanied trumpet cadenza.

Liddington then left the stage as Rees returned to feature his clarinet playing on the standard “The World Is Waiting For A Sunrise” which included solos from Rees and West and a further series of brushed drum breaks from Evans, this time exchanging ideas with Rees.

The Seattle born Sweeney is a versatile musician who also leads his own group, Donnie Joe’s American Swing, in which he plays guitar and sings. This line up has made a previous appearance in Abergavenny at the annual Wall2Wall Jazz Festival. Here Sweeney’s vocals were featured, alongside his bass playing, on another Ellington tune, “Just Squeeze Me”, which also included instrumental solos from Liddington on trumpet, Rees on clarinet and West at the piano.

There was more Ellington as the quintet delivered a barnstorming version of “Caravan”, the piece introduced by a dazzling passage of unaccompanied piano from the excellent West that combined ornate, almost baroque, flourishes with a welcome touch of humour. The pianist established a Latin groove that was taken up by a whistle blowing Evans as Liddington and a tenor toting Rees dovetailed on the familiar theme prior to taking individual solos. West delivered another display of stunning virtuosity with a more conventional jazz solo before entering into an absorbing and exciting dialogue with Evans’ drums, their exchanges underpinned by Sweeney’s anchoring bass.
The two horns then combined on the head, mutating it into “Sweet Georgia Brown” and back again during a rousing, swinging closing section which the crowd loved.

It was back to New Orleans for the closing “Dinah”, delivered in a swinging style that Liddington described as “Louis Prima -esque”. Trumpet and clarinet delivered the theme in Crescent City style with Liddington also singing the lyrics prior to pithy solos from himself and Rees and an unaccompanied piano feature from West. This proved to be the last number of the evening and ended an excellent night of music making on an energetic note. Given the almost tropical temperatures, and with both band and audience flagging an encore was never likely but this didn’t imply any lack of appreciation for the music. Liddington and his colleagues were very well received and ensured that Abergavenny Arts Festival ended on a high note.

Certainly nobody could accuse of Liddington and the Goodkatz of short changing their audience. They had delivered two sets of excellent music in very challenging conditions, with some excellent group playing and soloing all round. My only reservations (as with Chop Idols previously) would be with regard to the vocals, which I felt added little to the experience, although others may disagree. These pieces did start out as songs after all, before jazz soloists turned them into primarily instrumental vehicles.

Earlier in the day, and also part of the Arts Festival, West and saxophonist Martha Skilton had co-ordinated “Jazz for Little ‘Uns”, an interactive musical presentation for two to four year olds designed to introduce the joy of jazz to young children. This proved to be a very successful and enjoyable event with fifteen toddlers and their parents taking part. It’s now hoped that a similar event will be added to the programme for the forthcoming Wall2Wall Jazz Festival which will take place from 30th August to 2nd September 2018.


Roller Trio - New Devices Rating: 4 out of 5 “New Devices” lives up to its name with the members of Roller Trio embracing technology to expand the group’s sound, and doing so imaginatively and intelligently.

Roller Trio

“New Devices”

(Edition Records EDN 1114)

“New Devices” is the long awaited third album from the Leeds based threesome Roller Trio.
Products of the Jazz Course at Leeds College of Music the group seemed to emerge fully formed with the release of their eponymous début album on the F-ire Presents imprint in 2012.

The album garnered a considerable degree of critical acclaim and was nominated for both the Mercury Music Prize and the MOBO Award for Best Jazz Act. Attracting attention beyond the usual jazz parameters the group also acquired an enviable reputation for the quality of their exciting live performances.  I was fortunate enough to witness them at a packed out, standing room only show at The Vortex as part of the 2012 London Jazz Festival (also featuring Pixel and WorldService Project) and as part of a double bill with Polar Bear at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival the following year. 

December 2014 saw the release of the trio’s keenly anticipated second album, “Fracture”,  which was supported by a successful crowd funding campaign and released on the trio’s own Lamplight Social imprint. Musically the album built upon its predecessor’s success but, almost inevitably, it wasn’t able to achieve quite the same kind of critical and commercial impact.

The group have since re-trenched with founder members James Mainwaring (saxes) and Luke Reddin-Williams (drums) joined by new guitarist Chris Sharkey, who takes over from original member Luke Wynter.  Originally from the North East Sharkey also studied at Leeds at around the same time as his colleagues and brings a wealth of experience to the trio.
Sharkey was a key member of the critically acclaimed but now sadly defunct Trio VD, had a brief spell as a member of Acoustic Ladyland (appearing on the fourth and final album “Living With A Tiger”) and was also part of bassist Andy Champion’s electric trio Shiver. He also acts as a producer, with the group WorldService Project among those calling on his services in this capacity. Sharkey has also been commissioned as a composer as part of London Jazz Festival’s “Learning & Participation” programme, writing for the amateur Make It / Break It Ensemble at the 2016 Festival.

The arrival of Sharkey has given Roller Trio a shot in the arm with “New Devices” generating a healthy degree of critical approval. The re-invigorated group were also widely praised for their exciting and powerful performance at the 2018 Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

Roller Trio come from the same lineage as UK ‘punk jazz’ acts such as Acoustic Ladyland, Polar Bear, Led Bib and Trio VD and have always borrowed substantially from related genres such as rock, hip hop and electronica.  As a group they have always enhanced their sound with the use of electronic technology with both Mainwaring and Wynter ‘treating’ the sounds of their instruments on “Fracture”.

The arrival of Sharkey sees the trio taking this process further with the individual members also credited with synths and programming in addition to their principal instruments. The music includes sounds sampled from the night life of Leeds. Sharkey is also credited with electric bass, which adds further weight and depth to the group’s sound.

Despite their increasing reliance upon electronics and gadgetry “New Devices” actually explores “people’s confused relationship with technology and the public participation in self- surveillance”.

Mainwaring explains further;
“We couldn’t have made this album without technology, the devices used in music making and the online communication, yet we’re concerned about the future and the impact social media will have on the next generation. Do we really have a grip on our relationship with technology?”

All the pieces are credited to ‘Roller Trio’ suggesting a mix of collaborative writing and collective improvisation. For the first two albums the group’s preferred method of working was to fashion compositions out of collective improvisations and jamming and one suspects that their MO remains similar, despite the change of personnel and the additional technology.
However the previous albums also included individual credits for some pieces, suggesting that existing ideas were brought in to the studio and subsequently developed by the group.

Opener “Decline Of Northern Civilisation” sets the tone, beginning with a fanfare of spooky, Blade Runner style synths prior to settling on a powerful sax driven riff around which the electronic elements swirl and shift. Reddin-Williams lays down a powerful, technology enhanced groove but in the best Roller Trio tradition the music never stays in one place for long, shading off into a brief passages of electronically enhanced free improvisation prior to an excoriating sax barrage from Mainwaring as the beats clatter around him.

There’s more spooky synths on the introduction to “Milligrammar” which delves even deeper into the world of electronica. Despite the presence of Sharkey in the band’s ranks it’s rare for him to adopt a conventional guitar sound. Instead his role appears to be more that of a sonic architect, constantly shaping and manipulating the band’s sound.  At a time when contemporaries Portico Quartet seem be pulling back from their explorations into the realms of electronica the new look Roller Trio seem to be diving further in. The factor that unites both bands is the deployment of the saxophone as a humanising presence.

Roller Trio’s music is ethereal and gritty by turns, often in the course of a single tune. Mainwaring delivers a towering saxophone solo on “A Whole Volga”, often with only Reddin-Williams’ volcanic drumming for company.  Nonetheless this powerhouse display is bookended by alternately ethereal and glitchy electronica.

“Mad Dryad” effectively combines acoustic and electronic sounds and confirms that Roller Trio have retained their collective ear for a catchy riff or tune. This is an energetic, joyous performance, delivered with power and conviction.

By way of contrast the dark and brooding “Enthusela” demonstrates Roller Trio’s mastery of the more sombre side of the electro-acoustic landscape. Unsettling textures combine with anthemic riffs and grooves to create a sound-scape that charms and disturbs in equal measure.

Ditto “The Third Persona” with its chilly synthscapes and ghostly guitar chording, the kind of Twin Peaks inspired sound-scape inhabited by Cardiff based bassist and composer Aidan Thorne’s group Duski. The eerie piping of Mainwaring’s soprano sax is the aural equivalent of a torch beam attempting to illuminate, and find a path through,  a swirling, billowing musical fog.

“Sever So Slightly” develops from Sharkey’s introductory bass line to create an atmosphere of alienation and menace, in keeping with the theme of the album overall. Reddin-Williams shapes a monolithic groove around which saxes and electronics intertwine, the textures becoming ever more dark, powerful and unsettling.

“Nobody Wants To Run The World” explores similar territory but with greater energy and power. The sound is more up-front and confrontational, as evidenced by Mainwaring’s gutsy sax solo and Sharkey’s Fripp like guitar. Roller Trio’s music suggests several reference points, from the prog rock of King Crimson to the brooding trip hop of Portishead to the synthesised soundscapes of Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream.

The closing “Dot Com Babel” even throws some old school Terry Riley style minimalism into the mix before eventually hitting upon a catchy sax melody allied to a ferocious electronically enhanced drum groove as the trio go for the jugular in the album’s closing stages.

“New Devices” lives up to its name with the members of Roller Trio embracing technology to expand the group’s sound, and doing so imaginatively and intelligently. When I first heard that Sharkey had joined the group I was expecting something more guitar orientated but instead it’s Mainwaring who emerges as the most distinctive instrumentalist in the conventional sense. Instead Sharkey makes his mark more as a texturalist and colourist and overall shaper of the band’s sound, also acting as part of the engineering and production team. Amazingly there are no orthodox guitar solos as such.

This is an album that expands Roller Trio’s musical horizons but retains enough familiar reference points from previous incarnations to satisfy the band’s existing fan base.  Meanwhile it’s possible that their deeper excursions into the world of electronica may win them a whole raft of new supporters.

Nevertheless, impressive as the album is one still senses that the best place to enjoy the music of Roller Trio is in the live environment. Let’s hope that the move to Edition, now a major jazz independent, will help them to facilitate a national tour in support of this exciting new music.

 

New Devices

Roller Trio

Friday, June 29, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

New Devices

“New Devices” lives up to its name with the members of Roller Trio embracing technology to expand the group’s sound, and doing so imaginatively and intelligently.

Roller Trio

“New Devices”

(Edition Records EDN 1114)

“New Devices” is the long awaited third album from the Leeds based threesome Roller Trio.
Products of the Jazz Course at Leeds College of Music the group seemed to emerge fully formed with the release of their eponymous début album on the F-ire Presents imprint in 2012.

The album garnered a considerable degree of critical acclaim and was nominated for both the Mercury Music Prize and the MOBO Award for Best Jazz Act. Attracting attention beyond the usual jazz parameters the group also acquired an enviable reputation for the quality of their exciting live performances.  I was fortunate enough to witness them at a packed out, standing room only show at The Vortex as part of the 2012 London Jazz Festival (also featuring Pixel and WorldService Project) and as part of a double bill with Polar Bear at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival the following year. 

December 2014 saw the release of the trio’s keenly anticipated second album, “Fracture”,  which was supported by a successful crowd funding campaign and released on the trio’s own Lamplight Social imprint. Musically the album built upon its predecessor’s success but, almost inevitably, it wasn’t able to achieve quite the same kind of critical and commercial impact.

The group have since re-trenched with founder members James Mainwaring (saxes) and Luke Reddin-Williams (drums) joined by new guitarist Chris Sharkey, who takes over from original member Luke Wynter.  Originally from the North East Sharkey also studied at Leeds at around the same time as his colleagues and brings a wealth of experience to the trio.
Sharkey was a key member of the critically acclaimed but now sadly defunct Trio VD, had a brief spell as a member of Acoustic Ladyland (appearing on the fourth and final album “Living With A Tiger”) and was also part of bassist Andy Champion’s electric trio Shiver. He also acts as a producer, with the group WorldService Project among those calling on his services in this capacity. Sharkey has also been commissioned as a composer as part of London Jazz Festival’s “Learning & Participation” programme, writing for the amateur Make It / Break It Ensemble at the 2016 Festival.

The arrival of Sharkey has given Roller Trio a shot in the arm with “New Devices” generating a healthy degree of critical approval. The re-invigorated group were also widely praised for their exciting and powerful performance at the 2018 Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

Roller Trio come from the same lineage as UK ‘punk jazz’ acts such as Acoustic Ladyland, Polar Bear, Led Bib and Trio VD and have always borrowed substantially from related genres such as rock, hip hop and electronica.  As a group they have always enhanced their sound with the use of electronic technology with both Mainwaring and Wynter ‘treating’ the sounds of their instruments on “Fracture”.

The arrival of Sharkey sees the trio taking this process further with the individual members also credited with synths and programming in addition to their principal instruments. The music includes sounds sampled from the night life of Leeds. Sharkey is also credited with electric bass, which adds further weight and depth to the group’s sound.

Despite their increasing reliance upon electronics and gadgetry “New Devices” actually explores “people’s confused relationship with technology and the public participation in self- surveillance”.

Mainwaring explains further;
“We couldn’t have made this album without technology, the devices used in music making and the online communication, yet we’re concerned about the future and the impact social media will have on the next generation. Do we really have a grip on our relationship with technology?”

All the pieces are credited to ‘Roller Trio’ suggesting a mix of collaborative writing and collective improvisation. For the first two albums the group’s preferred method of working was to fashion compositions out of collective improvisations and jamming and one suspects that their MO remains similar, despite the change of personnel and the additional technology.
However the previous albums also included individual credits for some pieces, suggesting that existing ideas were brought in to the studio and subsequently developed by the group.

Opener “Decline Of Northern Civilisation” sets the tone, beginning with a fanfare of spooky, Blade Runner style synths prior to settling on a powerful sax driven riff around which the electronic elements swirl and shift. Reddin-Williams lays down a powerful, technology enhanced groove but in the best Roller Trio tradition the music never stays in one place for long, shading off into a brief passages of electronically enhanced free improvisation prior to an excoriating sax barrage from Mainwaring as the beats clatter around him.

There’s more spooky synths on the introduction to “Milligrammar” which delves even deeper into the world of electronica. Despite the presence of Sharkey in the band’s ranks it’s rare for him to adopt a conventional guitar sound. Instead his role appears to be more that of a sonic architect, constantly shaping and manipulating the band’s sound.  At a time when contemporaries Portico Quartet seem be pulling back from their explorations into the realms of electronica the new look Roller Trio seem to be diving further in. The factor that unites both bands is the deployment of the saxophone as a humanising presence.

Roller Trio’s music is ethereal and gritty by turns, often in the course of a single tune. Mainwaring delivers a towering saxophone solo on “A Whole Volga”, often with only Reddin-Williams’ volcanic drumming for company.  Nonetheless this powerhouse display is bookended by alternately ethereal and glitchy electronica.

“Mad Dryad” effectively combines acoustic and electronic sounds and confirms that Roller Trio have retained their collective ear for a catchy riff or tune. This is an energetic, joyous performance, delivered with power and conviction.

By way of contrast the dark and brooding “Enthusela” demonstrates Roller Trio’s mastery of the more sombre side of the electro-acoustic landscape. Unsettling textures combine with anthemic riffs and grooves to create a sound-scape that charms and disturbs in equal measure.

Ditto “The Third Persona” with its chilly synthscapes and ghostly guitar chording, the kind of Twin Peaks inspired sound-scape inhabited by Cardiff based bassist and composer Aidan Thorne’s group Duski. The eerie piping of Mainwaring’s soprano sax is the aural equivalent of a torch beam attempting to illuminate, and find a path through,  a swirling, billowing musical fog.

“Sever So Slightly” develops from Sharkey’s introductory bass line to create an atmosphere of alienation and menace, in keeping with the theme of the album overall. Reddin-Williams shapes a monolithic groove around which saxes and electronics intertwine, the textures becoming ever more dark, powerful and unsettling.

“Nobody Wants To Run The World” explores similar territory but with greater energy and power. The sound is more up-front and confrontational, as evidenced by Mainwaring’s gutsy sax solo and Sharkey’s Fripp like guitar. Roller Trio’s music suggests several reference points, from the prog rock of King Crimson to the brooding trip hop of Portishead to the synthesised soundscapes of Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream.

The closing “Dot Com Babel” even throws some old school Terry Riley style minimalism into the mix before eventually hitting upon a catchy sax melody allied to a ferocious electronically enhanced drum groove as the trio go for the jugular in the album’s closing stages.

“New Devices” lives up to its name with the members of Roller Trio embracing technology to expand the group’s sound, and doing so imaginatively and intelligently. When I first heard that Sharkey had joined the group I was expecting something more guitar orientated but instead it’s Mainwaring who emerges as the most distinctive instrumentalist in the conventional sense. Instead Sharkey makes his mark more as a texturalist and colourist and overall shaper of the band’s sound, also acting as part of the engineering and production team. Amazingly there are no orthodox guitar solos as such.

This is an album that expands Roller Trio’s musical horizons but retains enough familiar reference points from previous incarnations to satisfy the band’s existing fan base.  Meanwhile it’s possible that their deeper excursions into the world of electronica may win them a whole raft of new supporters.

Nevertheless, impressive as the album is one still senses that the best place to enjoy the music of Roller Trio is in the live environment. Let’s hope that the move to Edition, now a major jazz independent, will help them to facilitate a national tour in support of this exciting new music.

 

Mark Kavuma - Kavuma Rating: 0 out of 5 Vibrant, energetic and eminently enjoyable. The playing, from some of the UK’s leading jazz musicians, is excellent throughout.

Mark Kavuma

“Kavuma”

(Ubuntu Music – UBU007)

Born in Uganda the trumpeter and composer Mark Kavuma is a bright young presence on the London jazz scene.  His current projects include the leadership of his own quartet and of the sextet The Banger Factory, an extended edition of the smaller group. He also leads the Floor Rippers, the hip hop infused house band at The Hootenanny in Brixton. As an educator he acts as a professional tutor for the Kinetika Bloco community band.

As a sideman he was worked with Jean Toussaint’s Young Lions, Jazz Jamaica and the Nu Civilisation Orchestra. He has also been featured as a guest soloist with Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra and has toured with world music stars Mulatu Astatke and Salif Keita.
He has also been part of the pit orchestra at several theatre productions.

In 2013 I briefly witnessed the playing of Kavuma at that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. He was playing on the Barbican Freestage as co-leader of a quintet also featuring saxophonist Ruben Fox. Effectively the group were supporting the Wayne Shorter Quartet, who later appeared in the Barbican’s Main Hall.

The Kavuma / Fox quintet also featured pianist Rick Simpson, bassist Mark Lewandowski and Empirical drummer Shaney Forbes.
I was impressed by what I heard remarking at the time;
 “A sharply dressed band playing in the punchy be-bop/hard bop style made famous by the Blue Note label. Fox and Kavuma proved to be bright, hard hitting soloists with plenty to say and pianist Simpson excelled as both soloist and accompanist. The music was propelled by the driving rhythms of Lewandowski and Forbes and proved to be extremely enjoyable.  In keeping with the spirit of the day the quintet’s set included a number of Wayne Shorter compositions alongside pieces by Miles Davis and other jazz and bebop standards. I’d wager that this energetic and highly promising young quintet is a popular live draw in the jazz clubs of the capital”.

My observations are endorsed by the press release accompanying this album which references the influence on Kavuma and his colleagues of classic Blue Note and Prestige recordings of the 1950s.

Those colleagues include his old school friends, saxophonist Ruben Fox and guitarist Artie Zaitz. The personnel that appears on this recording also includes bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer Kyle Poole plus a second saxophonist, the comparative veteran Mussinghi Brian Edwards. Rising star pianist Reuben James appears on all but one of the album’s seven tracks while tap dancer Michela Marino Lerman guests on the closing track, “Church”.

Kavuma’s original writing is rooted in his life experiences. Opener “Into The Darkness” was first conceived when Kavuma was still in his teens and commences with a salvo of unaccompanied drumming, courtesy of Kyle Poole. Kavuma’s riff based theme, with James prominent in the arrangement, then provides the jumping off point for powerful solos from Edwards on tenor, Kavuma himself on trumpet and Fox on second tenor. All three play with a remarkable intensity and fluency with the shouts of their bandmates urging them on. The album’s liner notes mention the influence of Wayne Shorter on this composition but there’s also a Coltrane-esque intensity about the soloing while the busy, energetic Poole drives the music forward in a manner that channels the spirit of the great Art Blakey.

Kavuma’s version of the song “Carolina Moon” was inspired by his and Edwards’ shared passion for the music of Thelonious Monk. Originally written in the 1920s by Joe Burke and Benny Davis the song was first recorded in 1928 by the crooner Gene Austin before becoming a pop hit for Connie Francis some thirty years later. Somewhere along the line Thelonious recorded a version of it which Kavuma and Edwards discovered on a Monk box set. Kavuma’s group take Monk’s arrangement as the basis for their interpretation and the master’s influence is obvious throughout.
There’s some excellent ensemble playing and an agreeably Monk like quirkiness within a swinging arrangement that includes agile, eloquent solos from Edwards and Kavuma. The inclusion of a new musical voice as Zaitz solos on guitar, an instrument not present in Monk’s arrangement of the tune,  helps the Kavuma group to stamp their own identity on the piece.

“Modibo” was written in honour of an elderly Malian musician who befriended Kavuma and Edwards during the course of a tour. It commences with the virtuosic unaccompanied bass of Chaplin, who subsequently combines with Poole to set up an irresistible groove as the horns combine to generate an arresting, Blue Note style head. Out of this emerges Zaitz’s scintillating, fleet fingered, blues infused guitar solo, his fluency and eloquence reminiscent of the great Grant Green. Kavuma picks up the baton and runs with it as he delivers a concise, but impactful, trumpet solo. The conversation is then taken over by the two tenors in a series of earthily fluent exchanges.

By way of contrast to the rollicking, celebratory “Modibo” the next piece, “Babar G”  is a lush, beautiful ballad that presents a very different side of Kavuma’s writing and playing. Here the trumpeter’s tone is initially plaintive and vulnerable, but still eloquent and fluent. James also impresses with his lyricism at the piano and there’s also some smoky, tender tenor sax balladeering.
The music gradually builds in intensity before falling away again to resolve itself in a solo trumpet cadenza.

“Papa Joe” is dedicated to one Joe Morgan, Kavuma’s first music teacher. The piece announces itself with a Blakey like drum roll that helps to establish the mood of this lively swinging piece, that Blue Note and Prestige influence again obvious throughout. The leader takes the first solo in bright and incisive fashion. His individual influences aren’t mentioned but one suspects that Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard are both in there somewhere. Fox follows on gruff, soulful tenor while James also impresses at the piano, with liner note writer Jake Zaitz mentioning Errol Garner as an influence.

Kavuma grew up with church music and the album includes an arrangement of the 19th century hymn tune “Abide With Me”, the text written by Henry Francis Lyte and the tune by William Henry Monk, the latter presumably not related to Thelonious! This version begins with an extended, expertly constructed solo drum passage from Poole that ranges from great delicacy to an almost elemental power. The later horn fanfares carouse in the spirit of Charles Mingus, Lester Bowie, Charlie Haden and Carla Bley. Kavuma’s Christian faith is obviously very important to him, but to these ears there’s also a degree of subversiveness about the arrangement.

The album concludes with a track titled “Church” that actually pays homage to the late night jam at The Haggerston in East London, an event that has taken place every Sunday for the last twenty years. Kavuma has been part of this nocturnal congregation since he was a teenager. This alternative ‘church’ gives the tune its title. There’s a joyous, celebratory feeling about the music with tap virtuoso Lerman dancing a series of aurally dazzling swift heeled breaks, accompanied only by the, huge, swinging sound of Chaplin’s double bass. These episodes are punctuated by similarly spirited outbursts from the horns with more conventional jazz solos subsequently coming from tenor sax and trumpet. Poole enjoys a further series of drum breaks, this time on his own, before the whole band, including Lerman, jam on the outro prior to a rousing, almost New Orleans style coda. Great fun.

And fun is what Kavuma is all about. Here is a jazz musician who unashamedly wants to give his audiences a good time. It’s an admirable sentiment that finds its way into the music. As an album “Kavuma” may be unapologetically derivative and wear its Blue Note influences on its sleeve but it’s also vibrant, energetic and eminently enjoyable. Kavuma also brings plenty of himself to the proceedings, particularly on the final two tracks, which are actually the most distinctive on the album. The playing, from some of the UK’s leading jazz musicians, is excellent throughout and the vitality that the players bring to the music once again reflects their prowess as a live act.

Audiences will get the chance to check this music out in the live environment when the album gets its official launch at Ghost Notes in London on 19th July 2018.
Please visit http://www.markkavuma.com for further details.

Kavuma

Mark Kavuma

Monday, June 25, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

0 out of 5

Kavuma

Vibrant, energetic and eminently enjoyable. The playing, from some of the UK’s leading jazz musicians, is excellent throughout.

Mark Kavuma

“Kavuma”

(Ubuntu Music – UBU007)

Born in Uganda the trumpeter and composer Mark Kavuma is a bright young presence on the London jazz scene.  His current projects include the leadership of his own quartet and of the sextet The Banger Factory, an extended edition of the smaller group. He also leads the Floor Rippers, the hip hop infused house band at The Hootenanny in Brixton. As an educator he acts as a professional tutor for the Kinetika Bloco community band.

As a sideman he was worked with Jean Toussaint’s Young Lions, Jazz Jamaica and the Nu Civilisation Orchestra. He has also been featured as a guest soloist with Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra and has toured with world music stars Mulatu Astatke and Salif Keita.
He has also been part of the pit orchestra at several theatre productions.

In 2013 I briefly witnessed the playing of Kavuma at that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. He was playing on the Barbican Freestage as co-leader of a quintet also featuring saxophonist Ruben Fox. Effectively the group were supporting the Wayne Shorter Quartet, who later appeared in the Barbican’s Main Hall.

The Kavuma / Fox quintet also featured pianist Rick Simpson, bassist Mark Lewandowski and Empirical drummer Shaney Forbes.
I was impressed by what I heard remarking at the time;
 “A sharply dressed band playing in the punchy be-bop/hard bop style made famous by the Blue Note label. Fox and Kavuma proved to be bright, hard hitting soloists with plenty to say and pianist Simpson excelled as both soloist and accompanist. The music was propelled by the driving rhythms of Lewandowski and Forbes and proved to be extremely enjoyable.  In keeping with the spirit of the day the quintet’s set included a number of Wayne Shorter compositions alongside pieces by Miles Davis and other jazz and bebop standards. I’d wager that this energetic and highly promising young quintet is a popular live draw in the jazz clubs of the capital”.

My observations are endorsed by the press release accompanying this album which references the influence on Kavuma and his colleagues of classic Blue Note and Prestige recordings of the 1950s.

Those colleagues include his old school friends, saxophonist Ruben Fox and guitarist Artie Zaitz. The personnel that appears on this recording also includes bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer Kyle Poole plus a second saxophonist, the comparative veteran Mussinghi Brian Edwards. Rising star pianist Reuben James appears on all but one of the album’s seven tracks while tap dancer Michela Marino Lerman guests on the closing track, “Church”.

Kavuma’s original writing is rooted in his life experiences. Opener “Into The Darkness” was first conceived when Kavuma was still in his teens and commences with a salvo of unaccompanied drumming, courtesy of Kyle Poole. Kavuma’s riff based theme, with James prominent in the arrangement, then provides the jumping off point for powerful solos from Edwards on tenor, Kavuma himself on trumpet and Fox on second tenor. All three play with a remarkable intensity and fluency with the shouts of their bandmates urging them on. The album’s liner notes mention the influence of Wayne Shorter on this composition but there’s also a Coltrane-esque intensity about the soloing while the busy, energetic Poole drives the music forward in a manner that channels the spirit of the great Art Blakey.

Kavuma’s version of the song “Carolina Moon” was inspired by his and Edwards’ shared passion for the music of Thelonious Monk. Originally written in the 1920s by Joe Burke and Benny Davis the song was first recorded in 1928 by the crooner Gene Austin before becoming a pop hit for Connie Francis some thirty years later. Somewhere along the line Thelonious recorded a version of it which Kavuma and Edwards discovered on a Monk box set. Kavuma’s group take Monk’s arrangement as the basis for their interpretation and the master’s influence is obvious throughout.
There’s some excellent ensemble playing and an agreeably Monk like quirkiness within a swinging arrangement that includes agile, eloquent solos from Edwards and Kavuma. The inclusion of a new musical voice as Zaitz solos on guitar, an instrument not present in Monk’s arrangement of the tune,  helps the Kavuma group to stamp their own identity on the piece.

“Modibo” was written in honour of an elderly Malian musician who befriended Kavuma and Edwards during the course of a tour. It commences with the virtuosic unaccompanied bass of Chaplin, who subsequently combines with Poole to set up an irresistible groove as the horns combine to generate an arresting, Blue Note style head. Out of this emerges Zaitz’s scintillating, fleet fingered, blues infused guitar solo, his fluency and eloquence reminiscent of the great Grant Green. Kavuma picks up the baton and runs with it as he delivers a concise, but impactful, trumpet solo. The conversation is then taken over by the two tenors in a series of earthily fluent exchanges.

By way of contrast to the rollicking, celebratory “Modibo” the next piece, “Babar G”  is a lush, beautiful ballad that presents a very different side of Kavuma’s writing and playing. Here the trumpeter’s tone is initially plaintive and vulnerable, but still eloquent and fluent. James also impresses with his lyricism at the piano and there’s also some smoky, tender tenor sax balladeering.
The music gradually builds in intensity before falling away again to resolve itself in a solo trumpet cadenza.

“Papa Joe” is dedicated to one Joe Morgan, Kavuma’s first music teacher. The piece announces itself with a Blakey like drum roll that helps to establish the mood of this lively swinging piece, that Blue Note and Prestige influence again obvious throughout. The leader takes the first solo in bright and incisive fashion. His individual influences aren’t mentioned but one suspects that Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard are both in there somewhere. Fox follows on gruff, soulful tenor while James also impresses at the piano, with liner note writer Jake Zaitz mentioning Errol Garner as an influence.

Kavuma grew up with church music and the album includes an arrangement of the 19th century hymn tune “Abide With Me”, the text written by Henry Francis Lyte and the tune by William Henry Monk, the latter presumably not related to Thelonious! This version begins with an extended, expertly constructed solo drum passage from Poole that ranges from great delicacy to an almost elemental power. The later horn fanfares carouse in the spirit of Charles Mingus, Lester Bowie, Charlie Haden and Carla Bley. Kavuma’s Christian faith is obviously very important to him, but to these ears there’s also a degree of subversiveness about the arrangement.

The album concludes with a track titled “Church” that actually pays homage to the late night jam at The Haggerston in East London, an event that has taken place every Sunday for the last twenty years. Kavuma has been part of this nocturnal congregation since he was a teenager. This alternative ‘church’ gives the tune its title. There’s a joyous, celebratory feeling about the music with tap virtuoso Lerman dancing a series of aurally dazzling swift heeled breaks, accompanied only by the, huge, swinging sound of Chaplin’s double bass. These episodes are punctuated by similarly spirited outbursts from the horns with more conventional jazz solos subsequently coming from tenor sax and trumpet. Poole enjoys a further series of drum breaks, this time on his own, before the whole band, including Lerman, jam on the outro prior to a rousing, almost New Orleans style coda. Great fun.

And fun is what Kavuma is all about. Here is a jazz musician who unashamedly wants to give his audiences a good time. It’s an admirable sentiment that finds its way into the music. As an album “Kavuma” may be unapologetically derivative and wear its Blue Note influences on its sleeve but it’s also vibrant, energetic and eminently enjoyable. Kavuma also brings plenty of himself to the proceedings, particularly on the final two tracks, which are actually the most distinctive on the album. The playing, from some of the UK’s leading jazz musicians, is excellent throughout and the vitality that the players bring to the music once again reflects their prowess as a live act.

Audiences will get the chance to check this music out in the live environment when the album gets its official launch at Ghost Notes in London on 19th July 2018.
Please visit http://www.markkavuma.com for further details.

Sloth Racket - A Glorious Monster Rating: 0 out of 5 An impressive document in its own right, full of an exploratory, vibrant, creative energy and capturing Sloth Racket at their inimitable best.

Sloth Racket

“A Glorious Monster”

(Luminous Records LU010)

“A Glorious Monster” is the third studio album on the Luminous label from the quintet Sloth Racket, a group of musicians drawn from the London, Manchester and Leeds jazz scenes and led by the baritone saxophonist, composer and improviser Cath Roberts. The band also includes Sam Andreae( alto sax), Seth Bennett (double bass) and brothers Anton Hunter (guitar) and Johnny Hunter (drums).

Sloth Racket first performed at the 2015 Gateshead International jazz Festival as the result of a commission by Jazz North East.  They established an immediate rapport and the success of that event convinced Roberts that Sloth Racket should become a semi-regular working band. Further festival appearances plus a UK tour followed and a début album, “Triptych”, was released to considerable critical acclaim in 2016. This was followed in 2017 by the appropriately named “Shapeshifters” which saw the band continuing to explore the interface where composed and improvised music meets.

Sloth Racket’s music typically features the group improvising around Roberts’ compositions. These are intentionally sparse and rudimentary, often presented as graphic scores, and essentially represent ideas or basic frameworks around which the band can structure their improvisations. Roberts’ pieces habitually change shape in the course of the group’s live performances, a quality that makes the title of their second album particularly apposite. It is demonstrated further by the group’s live recording “See The Looks On The Faces”, a cassette only release on the Tombed Visions label, which features radically different versions of pieces from the band’s first two studio albums captured at live shows in Norwich and Cambridge. It even includes two versions of the piece “Edges” (from “Shapeshifters”) which differ substantially from each other as if to illustrate the point.

The personnel of Sloth Racket also form the core of Favourite Animals, a scaled up version of the original band with the following musicians added to the line up;
Julie Kjaer – bass clarinet, flute
Tom Ward – bass clarinet, flute
Dee Byrne – alto sax
Graham South – trumpet
Tullis Rennie – trombone
The resultant ten piece toured the UK as part of a double bill with Anton Hunter’s own large ensemble Article XI in December 2017 with the Birmingham performance reviewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/article-xi-favourite-animals-double-bill-hexagon-theatre-mac-birmingham-05-/
Both ensembles include shared personnel and both released eponymous début albums to coincide with the tour.

A highly active presence on the London jazz and improvised music scene Roberts’ other projects have included the septet Quadraceratops and the quartet Word of Moth plus the improvising duo Ripsaw Catfish, another collaboration with guitarist Anton Hunter.  Elsewhere Roberts performs with the Madwort Saxophone Quartet, led by saxophonist Tom Ward, the eight piece improvising saxophone ensemble Saxoctopus and in a duo with trombonist Tullis Rennie, plus numerous other one off and ad hoc collaborations. 

Together with alto saxophonist Dee Byrne Roberts is the co-founder of Lume, a musician led organisation originally devoted to giving improvising musicians a platform on the London music scene. It has since expanded to incorporate the Luminous record label and has facilitated two successful Lume Festivals in 2016 and 2017.

“A Glorious Monster” was recorded in November 2017 at Blueprint Studios in Salford with Alex Bonney engineering. At the time the band were in the middle of a tour in support of the “See The Looks On The Faces” release and had given some of the “Glorious Monster” material a first public outing at a gig at The Peer Hat in Manchester the previous evening.

It had originally been intended that the new album should be uplifting and optimistic but the material that Roberts came up with was pretty much the opposite, in her own words “dark, heavy and/or downtempo”. Following on from the Peer Hat show the single day session at Blueprint found the band involved in “a process of orientation, deconstruction and communal improvisation around just how this music was going to sound”. The results are as absorbing and intriguing as anything Sloth Racket have come up with, even though the music could hardly be described as an ‘easy listen’.

Opener “Animal Uprising”, the title perhaps referencing the larger version of Sloth Racket, is taut and angular, commencing with a fanfare from the twin saxes plus Anton Hunter’s guitar. Bass and drums subsequently enter and the music gathers an edgy momentum with Andreae’s alto worrying and whinnying away above the rhythmic and textural backdrop created by his colleagues. He subsequently solos at length, his urgent probing complemented by busy drums and bass as the music temporarily goes into saxophone trio mode. That sense of fractious, urgent energy persists in a series of edgy, abrasive exchanges between the members of the group with saxes, guitar and drums all involved. Later still the music acquires an almost anthemic quality as Roberts unleashes one of her most powerful riffs as the band members coalesce on a stirring, written theme. It’s an impressive beginning featuring Sloth Racket’s trademark blurring of the lines between composition and improvisation allied to some excellent playing. Despite its improvisatory nature there’s a steely sense of purpose about Sloth Racket’s music.

The ethereal shimmers of Johnny Hunter’s cymbals introduce the title track and his drum kit remains at the heart of the quintet’s introductory explorations. The piece is more obviously improvised and freely structured than the opener with pecked saxes and cat scratch guitar both distinctive components, their ruminations initially tentative and introspective before becoming more agitated and fractious. The two saxes then combine to set up the juggernaut of a riff that threatens to resolve the piece before eventually dissipating to make way for a more reflective finale.

“The Gazer” commences with a passage of free improvisation featuring bowed bass, pecked saxes and the rustle of drums and percussion. Eventually a modicum of structure emerges as the twin saxes intertwine, shadowed by bass and drums. Bennett’s bass becomes the fulcrum around which the shadowy improvisations of his colleagues take place with the interplay between Roberts and Andreae a constant source of fascination, as is Anton Hunter’s spidery guitar. The piece resolves itself with a delicate, unexpectedly beautiful coda featuring Andreae’s alto sax.

The final cut, “Octopus”, begins with a passage of free improvisation centred around the pecking and rasping of the saxes, Anton Hunter’s scratchy guitar and the patter of Johnny Hunter’s drums as extended techniques abound. Gradually a semblance of order emerges but the music remains fiercely interactive. Eventually the twin saxes coalesce with Hunter’s guitar to generate another gargantuan riff which in turn provokes a powerful baritone solo from Roberts as the music takes on an almost punk like intensity, but punk still very much rooted in the jazz avant garde.

“A Glorious Monster” represents another impressive statement from Roberts and Sloth Racket. Their music won’t appeal to everybody but I, for one, continue to find the balance that they strike between the composed and the improvised a constant source of fascination. Their music is constantly evolving, rarely settling in one place for long and the transitions between the free and the structured are skilfully and seamlessly handled. With its deployment of written riffs and themes it’s a more accessible album than “Shapeshifters” and seems closer in spirit to the début, “Triptych”.

No doubt these pieces will have mutated again in live performance but “A Glorious Monster” is an impressive document in its own right, full of an exploratory, vibrant, creative energy and capturing Sloth Racket at their inimitable best.

A Glorious Monster

Sloth Racket

Friday, June 22, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

0 out of 5

A Glorious Monster

An impressive document in its own right, full of an exploratory, vibrant, creative energy and capturing Sloth Racket at their inimitable best.

Sloth Racket

“A Glorious Monster”

(Luminous Records LU010)

“A Glorious Monster” is the third studio album on the Luminous label from the quintet Sloth Racket, a group of musicians drawn from the London, Manchester and Leeds jazz scenes and led by the baritone saxophonist, composer and improviser Cath Roberts. The band also includes Sam Andreae( alto sax), Seth Bennett (double bass) and brothers Anton Hunter (guitar) and Johnny Hunter (drums).

Sloth Racket first performed at the 2015 Gateshead International jazz Festival as the result of a commission by Jazz North East.  They established an immediate rapport and the success of that event convinced Roberts that Sloth Racket should become a semi-regular working band. Further festival appearances plus a UK tour followed and a début album, “Triptych”, was released to considerable critical acclaim in 2016. This was followed in 2017 by the appropriately named “Shapeshifters” which saw the band continuing to explore the interface where composed and improvised music meets.

Sloth Racket’s music typically features the group improvising around Roberts’ compositions. These are intentionally sparse and rudimentary, often presented as graphic scores, and essentially represent ideas or basic frameworks around which the band can structure their improvisations. Roberts’ pieces habitually change shape in the course of the group’s live performances, a quality that makes the title of their second album particularly apposite. It is demonstrated further by the group’s live recording “See The Looks On The Faces”, a cassette only release on the Tombed Visions label, which features radically different versions of pieces from the band’s first two studio albums captured at live shows in Norwich and Cambridge. It even includes two versions of the piece “Edges” (from “Shapeshifters”) which differ substantially from each other as if to illustrate the point.

The personnel of Sloth Racket also form the core of Favourite Animals, a scaled up version of the original band with the following musicians added to the line up;
Julie Kjaer – bass clarinet, flute
Tom Ward – bass clarinet, flute
Dee Byrne – alto sax
Graham South – trumpet
Tullis Rennie – trombone
The resultant ten piece toured the UK as part of a double bill with Anton Hunter’s own large ensemble Article XI in December 2017 with the Birmingham performance reviewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/article-xi-favourite-animals-double-bill-hexagon-theatre-mac-birmingham-05-/
Both ensembles include shared personnel and both released eponymous début albums to coincide with the tour.

A highly active presence on the London jazz and improvised music scene Roberts’ other projects have included the septet Quadraceratops and the quartet Word of Moth plus the improvising duo Ripsaw Catfish, another collaboration with guitarist Anton Hunter.  Elsewhere Roberts performs with the Madwort Saxophone Quartet, led by saxophonist Tom Ward, the eight piece improvising saxophone ensemble Saxoctopus and in a duo with trombonist Tullis Rennie, plus numerous other one off and ad hoc collaborations. 

Together with alto saxophonist Dee Byrne Roberts is the co-founder of Lume, a musician led organisation originally devoted to giving improvising musicians a platform on the London music scene. It has since expanded to incorporate the Luminous record label and has facilitated two successful Lume Festivals in 2016 and 2017.

“A Glorious Monster” was recorded in November 2017 at Blueprint Studios in Salford with Alex Bonney engineering. At the time the band were in the middle of a tour in support of the “See The Looks On The Faces” release and had given some of the “Glorious Monster” material a first public outing at a gig at The Peer Hat in Manchester the previous evening.

It had originally been intended that the new album should be uplifting and optimistic but the material that Roberts came up with was pretty much the opposite, in her own words “dark, heavy and/or downtempo”. Following on from the Peer Hat show the single day session at Blueprint found the band involved in “a process of orientation, deconstruction and communal improvisation around just how this music was going to sound”. The results are as absorbing and intriguing as anything Sloth Racket have come up with, even though the music could hardly be described as an ‘easy listen’.

Opener “Animal Uprising”, the title perhaps referencing the larger version of Sloth Racket, is taut and angular, commencing with a fanfare from the twin saxes plus Anton Hunter’s guitar. Bass and drums subsequently enter and the music gathers an edgy momentum with Andreae’s alto worrying and whinnying away above the rhythmic and textural backdrop created by his colleagues. He subsequently solos at length, his urgent probing complemented by busy drums and bass as the music temporarily goes into saxophone trio mode. That sense of fractious, urgent energy persists in a series of edgy, abrasive exchanges between the members of the group with saxes, guitar and drums all involved. Later still the music acquires an almost anthemic quality as Roberts unleashes one of her most powerful riffs as the band members coalesce on a stirring, written theme. It’s an impressive beginning featuring Sloth Racket’s trademark blurring of the lines between composition and improvisation allied to some excellent playing. Despite its improvisatory nature there’s a steely sense of purpose about Sloth Racket’s music.

The ethereal shimmers of Johnny Hunter’s cymbals introduce the title track and his drum kit remains at the heart of the quintet’s introductory explorations. The piece is more obviously improvised and freely structured than the opener with pecked saxes and cat scratch guitar both distinctive components, their ruminations initially tentative and introspective before becoming more agitated and fractious. The two saxes then combine to set up the juggernaut of a riff that threatens to resolve the piece before eventually dissipating to make way for a more reflective finale.

“The Gazer” commences with a passage of free improvisation featuring bowed bass, pecked saxes and the rustle of drums and percussion. Eventually a modicum of structure emerges as the twin saxes intertwine, shadowed by bass and drums. Bennett’s bass becomes the fulcrum around which the shadowy improvisations of his colleagues take place with the interplay between Roberts and Andreae a constant source of fascination, as is Anton Hunter’s spidery guitar. The piece resolves itself with a delicate, unexpectedly beautiful coda featuring Andreae’s alto sax.

The final cut, “Octopus”, begins with a passage of free improvisation centred around the pecking and rasping of the saxes, Anton Hunter’s scratchy guitar and the patter of Johnny Hunter’s drums as extended techniques abound. Gradually a semblance of order emerges but the music remains fiercely interactive. Eventually the twin saxes coalesce with Hunter’s guitar to generate another gargantuan riff which in turn provokes a powerful baritone solo from Roberts as the music takes on an almost punk like intensity, but punk still very much rooted in the jazz avant garde.

“A Glorious Monster” represents another impressive statement from Roberts and Sloth Racket. Their music won’t appeal to everybody but I, for one, continue to find the balance that they strike between the composed and the improvised a constant source of fascination. Their music is constantly evolving, rarely settling in one place for long and the transitions between the free and the structured are skilfully and seamlessly handled. With its deployment of written riffs and themes it’s a more accessible album than “Shapeshifters” and seems closer in spirit to the début, “Triptych”.

No doubt these pieces will have mutated again in live performance but “A Glorious Monster” is an impressive document in its own right, full of an exploratory, vibrant, creative energy and capturing Sloth Racket at their inimitable best.

Frank Harrison and Brigitte Beraha - The Way Home Rating: 3-5 out of 5 An intimate, thoughtful, well crafted and often very beautiful album.

Frank Harrison and Brigitte Beraha

“The Way Home”

(Linus Records LRCD04)

Pianist Frank Harrison and vocalist Brigitte Beraha are both regular presences on the Jazzmann web pages.

Harrison is arguably best known to jazz audiences as a member of multi-instrumentalist Gilad Atzmon’s quartet the Orient House Ensemble but he has also enjoyed a fruitful solo career releasing a series of accomplished piano trio albums with various rhythm section partners, the recordings including “First Light” (2006), “Sideways” (2012) and “Lunaris” (2014), all of which are reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann. The semi-official “Live At The Verdict” (2015), recorded at the celebrated Brighton venue features his current trio of bassist Dave Whitford and drummer Enzo Zirilli.

Others with whom Harrison has recorded include guitarist Louis Stewart, saxophonists Alan Barnes and Tommaso Starace, drummer Asaf Sirkis and vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Sarah Gillespie plus the ensembles Quadro (with vocalist Georgia Mancio and bassist Andy Cleyndert) and Talinka, led by singer and songwriter Tali Atzmon.

As a sideman he was worked with guitarist John Etheridge and with a host of famous British saxophonists including Peter King, Julian Arguelles, Julian Siegel, Don Weller and Iain Ballamy plus the Pole, Maciej Sikala.

Beraha first came to my attention with the release of her second solo album “Flying Dreams” back in 2008. Strongly influenced by the great Norma Winstone Beraha has blossomed into one of the UK’s most adventurous and accomplished vocalists who has performed as a very welcome guest on recordings by pianists Ivo Neame and Geoff Eales, trumpeters Andy Hague and Reuben Fowler and saxophonist Ed Jones among others. She is a key member of the co-operative ensembles Babelfish and Solstice and of Riff Raff, the sextet led by bassist and composer Dave Manington. She has also worked with the trumpeter and composer Yazz Ahmed.

A particularly prolific collaboration has been with the pianist and composer John Turville, the pair releasing the duo album “Red Skies” in 2013 and also touring extensively. “Red Skies” also included a guest appearance on tenor sax by the late, great Bobby Wellins while the duo’s live performances have sometimes featured contributions from a much younger saxophonist, the hugely versatile George Crowley.

2018 has seen Beraha guesting on “Criss Cross”, the recently issued duo album from pianist Alcyona Mick and saxophonist Tori Freestone. She also appeared at Cheltenham Jazz Festival as part of the all female ensemble Interchange, founded and co-ordinated by saxophonist, composer and educator Issie Barratt.

Beraha has been an important member of the Loop and E17 musicians’ collectives and is generally a busy and creative presence on the UK jazz scene. As well as being an enterprising and versatile vocalist Beraha is also an accomplished song writer and lyricist who has had a considerable creative input to the recordings she has been involved with, often adding her lyrics to the music of others.

It’s tempting to regard this collaboration between Beraha and Harrison as the natural successor to her partnership with Turville. Several of the pieces on “The Way Home” are jointly written by Harrison and Beraha alongside a number of sole credits. The only genuine ‘outside’ item is a solo piano interpretation of “You Can’t Go Home Again”, written by the American composer and arranger Don Sebesky.

The packaging for “The Way Home” suggests that the album might be a conceptual affair but instead it appears to be just a collection of songs. It commences with “The Man Who Cycled From India For Love”, a co-write with music by Harrison and words by Beraha. The lyrics tell the true story of a man who cycled 7,000km from India to Europe in 1977 to be with a Swedish tourist he’d fallen in love with.  The couple in question are now married and settled in Sweden with their son. The family in question heard the song on Youtube and visited the UK to attend the album launch at Kings Place, London. It’s a heart warming story.
The performance is eerily beautiful with Beraha’s yearning yet flexible vocals complemented by Harrison’s crystalline piano. Beraha’s lyrics are possessed on a genuine poetic quality but her wordless vocalising is equally effective as is Harrison’s judicious use of synthesisers and samplers to create splashes of additional colour and texture.

“Falling”, another joint collaboration, features Beraha at her most Winstone like as she delivers a lyric that is again genuinely poetic thanks to its economy and simplicity, these qualities helping to make it also both beautiful and evocative. Harrison’s piano is again at the heart of the arrangement but once again he deploys tasteful electronica to add depth and colour and there’s also a subtle, low key contribution from guest percussionist Enzo Zirilli.

“For Fred (and Robert)” is credited to Harrison alone and features Beraha’s soaring wordless vocals floating above the pianist’s circling motifs and more expansive soloing. I’m not sure who the dedicatees are, but would hazard a guess at the acclaimed American jazz pianist Fred Hersch.

“The Broken Lantern” is another collaboration between Harrison and Beraha. Again, the beauty of Harrison’s melody and the lyricism of his playing is enhanced by Beraha’s words and singing. Her lyrics evoke an image of a cracked, dusty lamp “Who will see only cracks, And miss the most perfect light, Shining through the broken glass” she asks. It’s an invitation to “Wisely choose how to stare at the world”.

The product of a cosmopolitan upbringing Beraha has long been admired for her ability to sing, and write, convincingly in other languages. The joint composition “Magica Nostra” features her effective singing of her own Italian lyrics. There’s also some soaring wordless vocalising plus a flowingly lyrical piano solo from Harrison.

An arrangement of Don Sebesky’s “You Can’t Go Home Again” appeared on Harrison’s 2006 début album “First Light”, which featured bassist Aidan O’Donnell and drummer Stephen Keogh. Here Harrison revisits the piece as a solo piano performance with his unhurried, lyrical playing again bringing out the full beauty of Sebesky’s tune, itself based on a theme by Rachmaninov.

Solely credited to Beraha “Day By Day”, with its confessional lyrics, has something of the feel of a Joni Mitchell song about it, and despite the lovelorn despair expressed in the first two verses the song concludes on a more positive note. Life goes on.

Harrison’s title track has no lyrics but is possessed of a gorgeous melody that provides the inspiration for the delightful interplay between the composer’s piano and Beraha’s non verbal vocals. A soupçon of electronica enhances an arrangement that draws on jazz and minimalist influences.

“De Retour” presents another example of Beraha’s multi-lingual skills and is a setting, with lyrics in French, of a work by the poet Maud Hart. Beraha’s arrangement incorporates spooky, unsettling electronica from Harrison allied to the vocalist’s semi-sung, semi-spoken rendition of the poet’s words.  As the tune gathers momentum and takes a more optimistic turn we are also treated to more of Beraha’s joyous wordless vocalising. Apparently Hart made the trip from Alsace to attend the duo’s London launch gig.

The album concludes with Harrison’s “Two Tone Tune”, another piano and wordless vocal set piece that some have compared to the Azimuth trio featuring vocalist Norma Winstone, pianist John Taylor and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler that recorded a series of albums for ECM in the 1970s and 1980s. Here the third musical voice comes from guest harmonica player Patrick Bettison (he’s also a highly accomplished electric bass specialist). The piece is comparatively brief and economical with Bettison shadowing Beraha’s vocal lines rather than performing as a soloist, his role is essentially textural.

“The Way Home” is an intimate, thoughtful, well crafted and often very beautiful album. Its ‘chamber jazz’ aesthetic and slightly rarefied atmosphere won’t appeal to all listeners but nevertheless it’s an album that many will enjoy and it has certainly been well received by my fellow jazz commentators.

It’s a recording that will enhance Beraha’s reputation as one of the UK’s leading vocalists and lyricists and confirms Harrison’s status as one our top pianists. His subtle use of electronica is effective and does nothing to detract from the superior quality of his piano playing. Meanwhile the production and engineering (by Dougal Lott and Andrew Tulloch) ensures that both performers are heard at their best.

The material on “The Way Home” was recorded two years ago and reports from recent live gigs suggest that the duo are now incorporating a raft of new material into their live performances. Frank Harrison and Brigitte Beraha can be seen and heard at the Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire on Friday 20th July 2018.
See http://www.hermonchapel.com or http://www.frankharrison.net

The Way Home

Frank Harrison and Brigitte Beraha

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

The Way Home

An intimate, thoughtful, well crafted and often very beautiful album.

Frank Harrison and Brigitte Beraha

“The Way Home”

(Linus Records LRCD04)

Pianist Frank Harrison and vocalist Brigitte Beraha are both regular presences on the Jazzmann web pages.

Harrison is arguably best known to jazz audiences as a member of multi-instrumentalist Gilad Atzmon’s quartet the Orient House Ensemble but he has also enjoyed a fruitful solo career releasing a series of accomplished piano trio albums with various rhythm section partners, the recordings including “First Light” (2006), “Sideways” (2012) and “Lunaris” (2014), all of which are reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann. The semi-official “Live At The Verdict” (2015), recorded at the celebrated Brighton venue features his current trio of bassist Dave Whitford and drummer Enzo Zirilli.

Others with whom Harrison has recorded include guitarist Louis Stewart, saxophonists Alan Barnes and Tommaso Starace, drummer Asaf Sirkis and vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Sarah Gillespie plus the ensembles Quadro (with vocalist Georgia Mancio and bassist Andy Cleyndert) and Talinka, led by singer and songwriter Tali Atzmon.

As a sideman he was worked with guitarist John Etheridge and with a host of famous British saxophonists including Peter King, Julian Arguelles, Julian Siegel, Don Weller and Iain Ballamy plus the Pole, Maciej Sikala.

Beraha first came to my attention with the release of her second solo album “Flying Dreams” back in 2008. Strongly influenced by the great Norma Winstone Beraha has blossomed into one of the UK’s most adventurous and accomplished vocalists who has performed as a very welcome guest on recordings by pianists Ivo Neame and Geoff Eales, trumpeters Andy Hague and Reuben Fowler and saxophonist Ed Jones among others. She is a key member of the co-operative ensembles Babelfish and Solstice and of Riff Raff, the sextet led by bassist and composer Dave Manington. She has also worked with the trumpeter and composer Yazz Ahmed.

A particularly prolific collaboration has been with the pianist and composer John Turville, the pair releasing the duo album “Red Skies” in 2013 and also touring extensively. “Red Skies” also included a guest appearance on tenor sax by the late, great Bobby Wellins while the duo’s live performances have sometimes featured contributions from a much younger saxophonist, the hugely versatile George Crowley.

2018 has seen Beraha guesting on “Criss Cross”, the recently issued duo album from pianist Alcyona Mick and saxophonist Tori Freestone. She also appeared at Cheltenham Jazz Festival as part of the all female ensemble Interchange, founded and co-ordinated by saxophonist, composer and educator Issie Barratt.

Beraha has been an important member of the Loop and E17 musicians’ collectives and is generally a busy and creative presence on the UK jazz scene. As well as being an enterprising and versatile vocalist Beraha is also an accomplished song writer and lyricist who has had a considerable creative input to the recordings she has been involved with, often adding her lyrics to the music of others.

It’s tempting to regard this collaboration between Beraha and Harrison as the natural successor to her partnership with Turville. Several of the pieces on “The Way Home” are jointly written by Harrison and Beraha alongside a number of sole credits. The only genuine ‘outside’ item is a solo piano interpretation of “You Can’t Go Home Again”, written by the American composer and arranger Don Sebesky.

The packaging for “The Way Home” suggests that the album might be a conceptual affair but instead it appears to be just a collection of songs. It commences with “The Man Who Cycled From India For Love”, a co-write with music by Harrison and words by Beraha. The lyrics tell the true story of a man who cycled 7,000km from India to Europe in 1977 to be with a Swedish tourist he’d fallen in love with.  The couple in question are now married and settled in Sweden with their son. The family in question heard the song on Youtube and visited the UK to attend the album launch at Kings Place, London. It’s a heart warming story.
The performance is eerily beautiful with Beraha’s yearning yet flexible vocals complemented by Harrison’s crystalline piano. Beraha’s lyrics are possessed on a genuine poetic quality but her wordless vocalising is equally effective as is Harrison’s judicious use of synthesisers and samplers to create splashes of additional colour and texture.

“Falling”, another joint collaboration, features Beraha at her most Winstone like as she delivers a lyric that is again genuinely poetic thanks to its economy and simplicity, these qualities helping to make it also both beautiful and evocative. Harrison’s piano is again at the heart of the arrangement but once again he deploys tasteful electronica to add depth and colour and there’s also a subtle, low key contribution from guest percussionist Enzo Zirilli.

“For Fred (and Robert)” is credited to Harrison alone and features Beraha’s soaring wordless vocals floating above the pianist’s circling motifs and more expansive soloing. I’m not sure who the dedicatees are, but would hazard a guess at the acclaimed American jazz pianist Fred Hersch.

“The Broken Lantern” is another collaboration between Harrison and Beraha. Again, the beauty of Harrison’s melody and the lyricism of his playing is enhanced by Beraha’s words and singing. Her lyrics evoke an image of a cracked, dusty lamp “Who will see only cracks, And miss the most perfect light, Shining through the broken glass” she asks. It’s an invitation to “Wisely choose how to stare at the world”.

The product of a cosmopolitan upbringing Beraha has long been admired for her ability to sing, and write, convincingly in other languages. The joint composition “Magica Nostra” features her effective singing of her own Italian lyrics. There’s also some soaring wordless vocalising plus a flowingly lyrical piano solo from Harrison.

An arrangement of Don Sebesky’s “You Can’t Go Home Again” appeared on Harrison’s 2006 début album “First Light”, which featured bassist Aidan O’Donnell and drummer Stephen Keogh. Here Harrison revisits the piece as a solo piano performance with his unhurried, lyrical playing again bringing out the full beauty of Sebesky’s tune, itself based on a theme by Rachmaninov.

Solely credited to Beraha “Day By Day”, with its confessional lyrics, has something of the feel of a Joni Mitchell song about it, and despite the lovelorn despair expressed in the first two verses the song concludes on a more positive note. Life goes on.

Harrison’s title track has no lyrics but is possessed of a gorgeous melody that provides the inspiration for the delightful interplay between the composer’s piano and Beraha’s non verbal vocals. A soupçon of electronica enhances an arrangement that draws on jazz and minimalist influences.

“De Retour” presents another example of Beraha’s multi-lingual skills and is a setting, with lyrics in French, of a work by the poet Maud Hart. Beraha’s arrangement incorporates spooky, unsettling electronica from Harrison allied to the vocalist’s semi-sung, semi-spoken rendition of the poet’s words.  As the tune gathers momentum and takes a more optimistic turn we are also treated to more of Beraha’s joyous wordless vocalising. Apparently Hart made the trip from Alsace to attend the duo’s London launch gig.

The album concludes with Harrison’s “Two Tone Tune”, another piano and wordless vocal set piece that some have compared to the Azimuth trio featuring vocalist Norma Winstone, pianist John Taylor and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler that recorded a series of albums for ECM in the 1970s and 1980s. Here the third musical voice comes from guest harmonica player Patrick Bettison (he’s also a highly accomplished electric bass specialist). The piece is comparatively brief and economical with Bettison shadowing Beraha’s vocal lines rather than performing as a soloist, his role is essentially textural.

“The Way Home” is an intimate, thoughtful, well crafted and often very beautiful album. Its ‘chamber jazz’ aesthetic and slightly rarefied atmosphere won’t appeal to all listeners but nevertheless it’s an album that many will enjoy and it has certainly been well received by my fellow jazz commentators.

It’s a recording that will enhance Beraha’s reputation as one of the UK’s leading vocalists and lyricists and confirms Harrison’s status as one our top pianists. His subtle use of electronica is effective and does nothing to detract from the superior quality of his piano playing. Meanwhile the production and engineering (by Dougal Lott and Andrew Tulloch) ensures that both performers are heard at their best.

The material on “The Way Home” was recorded two years ago and reports from recent live gigs suggest that the duo are now incorporating a raft of new material into their live performances. Frank Harrison and Brigitte Beraha can be seen and heard at the Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire on Friday 20th July 2018.
See http://www.hermonchapel.com or http://www.frankharrison.net

Matt Anderson Quartet - Rambling Rating: 3-5 out of 5 An impressive statement from Anderson that reveals him to be an excellent composer and arranger as well as a highly fluent and eloquent saxophone soloist.

Matt Anderson Quartet

“Rambling”

(Jellymould Jazz JM-JJ030)

Matt Anderson is a Yorkshire born, London based saxophonist and composer who has worked with guitarists Jamie Taylor and Jiannis Pavlidis and pianist Mark Donlon among others. He studied at Leeds College of Music and at the Royal Academy of Music, his tutors including a veritable list of famous jazz names from both sides of the Atlantic. Besides the names mentioned above he has performed with many of the UK’s leading jazz musicians, again a list too exhaustive to reproduce in full here.

In 2014 Anderson was featured on the début album by Jamie Taylor’s Outside Line quartet. In the same year he made his own début as a leader fronting the Wayne Shorter inspired Wildflower Sextet, a stellar group of young British musicians drawn from the Leeds and London scenes including rising star Laura Jurd on trumpet plus guitarist Alex Munk, pianist Jamil Sheriff, bassist Sam Vicary and drummer Sam Gardner. In January 2015 I enjoyed a live performance by this line up at The Hive Music & Media Centre in Shrewsbury, with my subsequent review also taking a look at the group’s début album, also released on the Jellymould Jazz imprint.
That article can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/wildflower-sextet-the-hive-music-media-centre-shrewsbury-17-01-2015/

It was in 2015 that Anderson, playing tenor saxophone, and Jiannis Pavlidis on guitar recorded the duo album “Alone Together”, released on New Jazz Records and currently only available as an on line release on Bandcamp. https://mattandersonjiannispavlidisduo.bandcamp.com/releases

In 2017 he was the winner of the Dankworth Prize for Jazz Composition and his new quartet album “Rambling” places a greater emphasis on his original writing than the earlier “Wildflower” release. The new album fuses jazz and folk influences and is a reflection on Anderson’s rural upbringing in the North Yorkshire moors and his love of walking and the British countryside.

“Rambling” features a core quartet of Anderson on tenor and alto saxes,  Peter Lee on piano, Will Harris on double bass and Jay Davis at the drums. Several pieces feature a larger ensemble with trumpeter Nick Malcolm, trombonist Owen Dawson and guitarist Aubin Vanns appearing on half of the album’s ten tracks.

The guests feature on the opening “Jig, Jag, Jug” which commences with the warm textures of an unaccompanied horn chorale, an allusion, possibly to the Yorkshire brass band tradition. But this multi-faceted piece quickly changes direction as the rest of the band enter the proceedings, establishing a vibrant, Latin inflected groove that is punctuated by more reflective episodes featuring Vanns on guitar and Anderson himself on tenor. There’s also some exquisite interplay between the horns with Malcolm proving to be a significant presence. This is a piece that ebbs and flows effortlessly, reflective perhaps of the Yorkshire landscape, and it’s the composition that helped to win Anderson the Dankworth Prize.

The press release accompanying the album mentions the influence of Scandinavian jazz and this is reflected in the title of “Nordic Blues”, a gently brooding piece that features the ramblings of Vanns’ elegant, inventive blues infused guitar. He solos with a cool, effortless fluency. Anderson himself responds on slow burning alto above the economic grooves of the rhythm section as Malcolm and Dawson add weight to the ensemble sound while providing a welcome splash of extra colour and texture.

The guests then take an extended rest as the core quartet take over for the next three tracks, beginning with the reflective “October Ending”. Lee’s sombre and economical solo piano intro sets the tone before Anderson’s tenor smoulders effectively above the subtle rhythms and colourations of Harris and Davis. The bassist adds a concise, melodic solo before handing back to the leader. Anderson’s soloing, punctuated by a brief passage from Lee, becomes increasingly anthemic as the energy levels subtly increase. The piece then resolves itself with a gently atmospheric and reflective coda.

“Count Up / Tune Down” is an Anderson composition based on John Coltrane’s “Countdown”, a kind of ‘contrafact’ if you will. It offers an alternative view of Coltrane with Anderson and the quartet avoiding mere pastiche. Lee gets the chance to shine with a thoughtful piano solo while the leader is assured and fluent, but never bombastic, on tenor as the spirit of Coltrane is filtered through a bucolic English lens.

Harris’ bass introduces “It’s Later Than You Think”, another lyrical and reflective item played in the style of a ballad with Anderson’s gently keening sax leading the way. Harris’ bass solo is both lyrical and melodic while the leader explores in delicately probing fashion in a style that has variously been compared to that of Wayne Shorter and Mark Turner. Lee adds a succinct solo and pithy, subtly witty piano commentary while Davis is the epitome of tasteful restraint with the brushes.

Anderson has performed in New Zealand, an experience that doubtless informs the title of “Long White Cloud (Interlude). The guest horn players return to help fashion a ghostly opening horn chorale with the instruments treated to a dash of echo from recording engineers Alex Bonney and Peter Beckmann. One can indeed imagine the Southern Alps wreathed in cloud. Subsequently an angular groove emerges which provides the framework for an agile trombone solo from Dawson, again treated to a dash of echo, that fades out far too soon on a piece that appears to be an edit of a much longer group performance.

Davis’ colourful drumming introduces “Metaphorical Gardening”, another quartet item with extended solos from Anderson and Lee that give both musicians the scope to demonstrate their abilities. It’s Lee’s lengthiest excursion to date and a good illustration of his abilities as soloist.

“The Ayes Have It” is the final quartet offering and this time it’s Harris’ turn to introduce it with a dexterous passage of unaccompanied double bass. Subsequently he establishes a propulsive groove that helps to fuel some of Anderson’s most powerful soloing of the set. Mixing bop flavourings with more contemporary influences the piece also incorporates a more freely structured central section featuring Lee’s thoughtful pianism before ultimately taking a more muscular turn once more.

The title of “Norrebro” again suggests a Scandinavian influence. It also marks the return of the guest musicians to the fold with Malcolm delivering a memorable trumpet solo, combining beauty and fluency with imagination and inventiveness. Lee, too impresses, with an expansive but typically thoughtful contribution at the piano. Anderson is characteristically eloquent on saxophone and there’s also a feature for the excellent Davis at the drums, in addition to some fine ensemble playing.

The album concludes with a brief reprise of the opening “Jig, Jag, Jug” with the horns of Anderson, Malcolm and Dawson again intertwining while underscored by the rhythm section.

“Rambling” has been well received by other commentators and it represents an impressive statement from Anderson that reveals him to be an excellent composer and arranger as well as a highly fluent and eloquent saxophone soloist. Everybody plays well although I’d have liked to have heard a little more from Lee as a soloist, without the guests on board one suspects that the quartet’s live shows will allow the pianist more of an opportunity to demonstrate his abilities.

That said the collective presence of the guests is a very welcome one. Some of the album’s most effective pieces are those featuring a sextet or septet and the blend of Anderson’s sax with the other two horns is particularly captivating.

Everybody involved on the album can take great pride in their contribution but ultimately it’s Anderson’s record and he acquits himself superbly throughout. If there’s a quibble it’s that the music occasionally sounds a little bloodless and overly academic, but one suspects that many of these pieces will take on a life of their own in live performance.

Anderson and his quartet will launch the album on 20th June 2018 at The Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, London and will then be touring extensively during the rest of the year with forthcoming live dates listed below;


Matt Anderson Quartet - ‘Rambling’ Album Launch Vortex Jazz Club London 20/06/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet The Flute and Tankard Cardiff, Wales 27/06/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet Matt and Phreds Manchester 28/06/18 9:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet 1000 Trades Birmingham 29/06/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet HEART Leeds 30/06/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet St. Ives Jazz Club St. Ives 28/08/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet The Bristol Fringe Bristol 29/08/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet SoundCellar Poole, Dorset 30/08/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet The Jazz Bar Edinburgh 03/10/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet Scat 23 Jazz Glasgow 04/10/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet Hackensack Cardiff 01/11/18 8:00pm


More information at http://www.matt-anderson.org.uk

 

Rambling

Matt Anderson Quartet

Friday, June 15, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Rambling

An impressive statement from Anderson that reveals him to be an excellent composer and arranger as well as a highly fluent and eloquent saxophone soloist.

Matt Anderson Quartet

“Rambling”

(Jellymould Jazz JM-JJ030)

Matt Anderson is a Yorkshire born, London based saxophonist and composer who has worked with guitarists Jamie Taylor and Jiannis Pavlidis and pianist Mark Donlon among others. He studied at Leeds College of Music and at the Royal Academy of Music, his tutors including a veritable list of famous jazz names from both sides of the Atlantic. Besides the names mentioned above he has performed with many of the UK’s leading jazz musicians, again a list too exhaustive to reproduce in full here.

In 2014 Anderson was featured on the début album by Jamie Taylor’s Outside Line quartet. In the same year he made his own début as a leader fronting the Wayne Shorter inspired Wildflower Sextet, a stellar group of young British musicians drawn from the Leeds and London scenes including rising star Laura Jurd on trumpet plus guitarist Alex Munk, pianist Jamil Sheriff, bassist Sam Vicary and drummer Sam Gardner. In January 2015 I enjoyed a live performance by this line up at The Hive Music & Media Centre in Shrewsbury, with my subsequent review also taking a look at the group’s début album, also released on the Jellymould Jazz imprint.
That article can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/wildflower-sextet-the-hive-music-media-centre-shrewsbury-17-01-2015/

It was in 2015 that Anderson, playing tenor saxophone, and Jiannis Pavlidis on guitar recorded the duo album “Alone Together”, released on New Jazz Records and currently only available as an on line release on Bandcamp. https://mattandersonjiannispavlidisduo.bandcamp.com/releases

In 2017 he was the winner of the Dankworth Prize for Jazz Composition and his new quartet album “Rambling” places a greater emphasis on his original writing than the earlier “Wildflower” release. The new album fuses jazz and folk influences and is a reflection on Anderson’s rural upbringing in the North Yorkshire moors and his love of walking and the British countryside.

“Rambling” features a core quartet of Anderson on tenor and alto saxes,  Peter Lee on piano, Will Harris on double bass and Jay Davis at the drums. Several pieces feature a larger ensemble with trumpeter Nick Malcolm, trombonist Owen Dawson and guitarist Aubin Vanns appearing on half of the album’s ten tracks.

The guests feature on the opening “Jig, Jag, Jug” which commences with the warm textures of an unaccompanied horn chorale, an allusion, possibly to the Yorkshire brass band tradition. But this multi-faceted piece quickly changes direction as the rest of the band enter the proceedings, establishing a vibrant, Latin inflected groove that is punctuated by more reflective episodes featuring Vanns on guitar and Anderson himself on tenor. There’s also some exquisite interplay between the horns with Malcolm proving to be a significant presence. This is a piece that ebbs and flows effortlessly, reflective perhaps of the Yorkshire landscape, and it’s the composition that helped to win Anderson the Dankworth Prize.

The press release accompanying the album mentions the influence of Scandinavian jazz and this is reflected in the title of “Nordic Blues”, a gently brooding piece that features the ramblings of Vanns’ elegant, inventive blues infused guitar. He solos with a cool, effortless fluency. Anderson himself responds on slow burning alto above the economic grooves of the rhythm section as Malcolm and Dawson add weight to the ensemble sound while providing a welcome splash of extra colour and texture.

The guests then take an extended rest as the core quartet take over for the next three tracks, beginning with the reflective “October Ending”. Lee’s sombre and economical solo piano intro sets the tone before Anderson’s tenor smoulders effectively above the subtle rhythms and colourations of Harris and Davis. The bassist adds a concise, melodic solo before handing back to the leader. Anderson’s soloing, punctuated by a brief passage from Lee, becomes increasingly anthemic as the energy levels subtly increase. The piece then resolves itself with a gently atmospheric and reflective coda.

“Count Up / Tune Down” is an Anderson composition based on John Coltrane’s “Countdown”, a kind of ‘contrafact’ if you will. It offers an alternative view of Coltrane with Anderson and the quartet avoiding mere pastiche. Lee gets the chance to shine with a thoughtful piano solo while the leader is assured and fluent, but never bombastic, on tenor as the spirit of Coltrane is filtered through a bucolic English lens.

Harris’ bass introduces “It’s Later Than You Think”, another lyrical and reflective item played in the style of a ballad with Anderson’s gently keening sax leading the way. Harris’ bass solo is both lyrical and melodic while the leader explores in delicately probing fashion in a style that has variously been compared to that of Wayne Shorter and Mark Turner. Lee adds a succinct solo and pithy, subtly witty piano commentary while Davis is the epitome of tasteful restraint with the brushes.

Anderson has performed in New Zealand, an experience that doubtless informs the title of “Long White Cloud (Interlude). The guest horn players return to help fashion a ghostly opening horn chorale with the instruments treated to a dash of echo from recording engineers Alex Bonney and Peter Beckmann. One can indeed imagine the Southern Alps wreathed in cloud. Subsequently an angular groove emerges which provides the framework for an agile trombone solo from Dawson, again treated to a dash of echo, that fades out far too soon on a piece that appears to be an edit of a much longer group performance.

Davis’ colourful drumming introduces “Metaphorical Gardening”, another quartet item with extended solos from Anderson and Lee that give both musicians the scope to demonstrate their abilities. It’s Lee’s lengthiest excursion to date and a good illustration of his abilities as soloist.

“The Ayes Have It” is the final quartet offering and this time it’s Harris’ turn to introduce it with a dexterous passage of unaccompanied double bass. Subsequently he establishes a propulsive groove that helps to fuel some of Anderson’s most powerful soloing of the set. Mixing bop flavourings with more contemporary influences the piece also incorporates a more freely structured central section featuring Lee’s thoughtful pianism before ultimately taking a more muscular turn once more.

The title of “Norrebro” again suggests a Scandinavian influence. It also marks the return of the guest musicians to the fold with Malcolm delivering a memorable trumpet solo, combining beauty and fluency with imagination and inventiveness. Lee, too impresses, with an expansive but typically thoughtful contribution at the piano. Anderson is characteristically eloquent on saxophone and there’s also a feature for the excellent Davis at the drums, in addition to some fine ensemble playing.

The album concludes with a brief reprise of the opening “Jig, Jag, Jug” with the horns of Anderson, Malcolm and Dawson again intertwining while underscored by the rhythm section.

“Rambling” has been well received by other commentators and it represents an impressive statement from Anderson that reveals him to be an excellent composer and arranger as well as a highly fluent and eloquent saxophone soloist. Everybody plays well although I’d have liked to have heard a little more from Lee as a soloist, without the guests on board one suspects that the quartet’s live shows will allow the pianist more of an opportunity to demonstrate his abilities.

That said the collective presence of the guests is a very welcome one. Some of the album’s most effective pieces are those featuring a sextet or septet and the blend of Anderson’s sax with the other two horns is particularly captivating.

Everybody involved on the album can take great pride in their contribution but ultimately it’s Anderson’s record and he acquits himself superbly throughout. If there’s a quibble it’s that the music occasionally sounds a little bloodless and overly academic, but one suspects that many of these pieces will take on a life of their own in live performance.

Anderson and his quartet will launch the album on 20th June 2018 at The Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, London and will then be touring extensively during the rest of the year with forthcoming live dates listed below;


Matt Anderson Quartet - ‘Rambling’ Album Launch Vortex Jazz Club London 20/06/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet The Flute and Tankard Cardiff, Wales 27/06/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet Matt and Phreds Manchester 28/06/18 9:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet 1000 Trades Birmingham 29/06/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet HEART Leeds 30/06/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet St. Ives Jazz Club St. Ives 28/08/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet The Bristol Fringe Bristol 29/08/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet SoundCellar Poole, Dorset 30/08/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet The Jazz Bar Edinburgh 03/10/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet Scat 23 Jazz Glasgow 04/10/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet Hackensack Cardiff 01/11/18 8:00pm


More information at http://www.matt-anderson.org.uk

 

The Dissolute Society - Soldiering On Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Brave, original, adventurous and uncompromising music that the committed listener can draw a great deal from. The best music isn’t always ‘easy’.

The Dissolute Society

“Soldiering On”

(Babel Records BDV16145)

The Dissolute Society is the name given to the eight piece vocal and instrumental ensemble led by the British trombonist, composer and educator Raphael Clarkson.

Clarkson is best known as a member of the anarchic punk jazz quintet WorldService Project, led by keyboard player and composer Dave Morecroft, and has been with the band since its inception, appearing on all of its recordings.

Away from WSP Clarkson leads a busy and productive musical life across a variety of genres. His other projects include The Vanderbilts, a contemporary cross discipline project with keyboard player Elliot Galvin and dancer Kasia Witek. He’s also a member of the freely improvising Spreckles Brass Ensemble and of The Old Bone Band who specialise in the trad and swing jazz of the 1930s and 40s.

It’s an eclectic mix that extends into Clarkson’s educational work which has seen him acting as a workshop leader for various London based projects involving children with special educational and social needs.

He has also worked with various theatres and as a sideman / session musician across a variety of musical genres ranging from jazz and hip hop to classical and opera.

The breadth of Clarkson’s musical background is brought into focus on “Soldiering On”, a highly personal recording that deals with the subjects of love, loss and family and personal history. The subject matter is largely autobiographical with Clarkson’s liner notes declaring “this album is in many ways the story of my life thus far, and while it is highly personal my hope is that it resonates with you in some way”.

The album was recorded in March 2016 but the music had already been premièred at a packed out Vortex as part of the 2015 EFG London Jazz Festival, a performance that I was fortunate enough to witness and which was reviewed as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-2015-second-sunday-22-11-2015/
The music has subsequently been performed at Cambridge Jazz Festival and at scaled down Dissolute Society Trio gigs in Bristol, London and Brighton.

Many of the musicians who appeared at The Vortex also play on the album, including Clarkson’s father Gustav on viola. The core line up on the recording features;

Raph Clarkson – trombone, vocals
Fini Bearman – vocals
Laura Jurd – trumpet
Naomi Burrell – violin
Zosia Jagodzinska – cello
Gustav Clarkson – viola
Phil Merriman – keyboards / synth bass
Simon Roth – drums

The album also includes guest performances from Huw Warren on piano and accordion, Mia Marlen Berg and Joshua Idehen on vocals and Mike Soper on trumpet. Warren, who performed with the band at The Vortex, appears on the majority of the tracks and is virtually a fully fledged member of the ensemble. 

The music and words on “Soldiering On”  are largely written by Clarkson but the album also includes compositions by two of the trombonist’s mentors,  the pianist John Taylor and the trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. It had originally been the intention for Taylor to perform on the album but his untimely death in July 2015 prevented this from becoming a reality. The album is dedicated to Taylor’s memory and also to the memory of Clarkson’s mother Micaela Comberti (1952 – 2003), an accomplished violinist and baroque and early music specialist.


The album consists of fifteen movements and commences with “Opening ( A Journey)” which explores the effects of the second world war and the emigration of Clarkson’s German Jewish grandmother who lived in Palestine for many years. Bearman gives voice to Clarkson’s words, written from the point of view of a child trying to understand his grandmother’s experiences. Bearman’s voice is flexible, her vocals sometimes semi-spoken, in this melange of jazz and poetry. The music utilises the contrasting sounds of brass and strings to create a rich tapestry of colours and textures.

The theme continues into “Grandma” which emerges from a free jazz eruption featuring Bearman’s extended vocal techniques, the rustle of Roth’s drums and percussion and the rasp of the leader’s trombone. Bearman’s extraordinary rendition of the lyrics is unsettling, there’s an other worldly sense of dislocation, as if Clarkson’s grandmother is trying to speak to the young Raph through a crowd of radio static, an impression that the fidgety, sometimes eerie instrumental accompaniment only encourages. It’s possible that this approach has been adopted as a comment on the subject of dementia.

The opening trio of thematically linked movements flow into one another and the third, “Reborn/4am/The Teddy Bear” addresses the subject of bereavement from the point of view of a six year old boy grieving for his dying mother. It’s almost unbearably personal with Clarkson’s adding his own voice to that of Bearman with a semi-spoken narrative that embraces both the deeply spiritual and the everyday mundane - “cabbie’s prattle”, “Barnet General”.  The bleakness of the subject matter is reflected in a superb musical arrangement encompassing ghostly, grainy strings, scratchy percussion and almost subliminal trombone and synth drones.

The album enters more conventional territory with the John Taylor composed instrumental “In February” which introduces Warren to the fold for the first time, his flowing, crystalline piano playing evoking memories of Taylor on a delightful piece embracing elements of jazz, folk and chamber music. Warren is joined in a series of uplifting exchanges by violinist Naomi Burrell, a musician whose playing encompasses both jazz and the baroque.

“For J.T.” is Clarkson’s homage to Taylor, a tribute in both words and music featuring Warren’s limpid piano and Clarkson’s recitation of his own words praising both Taylor the musician and Taylor the man “a humble,giving, magic musician”. Clarkson then picks up his trombone and joins Warren in an instrumental coda, the rounded, melancholy tones of the trombone imparting a hymn like gravitas to the music. Taylor remains an inspirational figure to several members of the Dissolute Society, particularly Merriman and Roth who, together with Clarkson, were tutored by Taylor at York University.

Almost as influential, and inextricably linked with Taylor, is the late, great Kenny Wheeler (1930 – 2014). Wheeler’s composition “Kind Folk” is included here in an arrangement featuring lyrics written by Clarkson and delivered by Bearman alongside a rousing trombone solo from the leader and a soaring trumpet solo from Jurd. There’s also a sparkling piano solo from Warren in the John Taylor role. Meanwhile the sound of the strings adds a folk element to the music that is commensurate with the title of a tune that Clarkson has described as his all time favourite.

Clarkson has cited the influence of European classical composers on his music, these including Schoenberg, Bartók and Stravinsky. An arrangement of a traditional Hungarian Folksong also reflects Clarkson’s European heritage and is a tune that was also adapted by Bartók for one of his piano pieces. Clarkson’s arrangement is unexpectedly dark and features his own trombone alongside Jagodzinska’s cello, allied to the other strings, plus Warren’s piano. There’s also a highly atmospheric, freely improvised outro featuring dark , grainy textures.

The art of improvisation is also central to “And It Ends When It Needs To”, the two part tribute to Keith and Julie Tippetts who both tutored Clarkson at Dartington College in Devon. The first part features Warren’s piano and Clarkson’s recitation of his own evocative lyrics which speak of  “a couple in spirit” and of “mutton chops and ringlet hair”, neatly summing up Keith and Julie, while also singing the praises of the Devon landscape.
Part 2 is more obviously improvised by the trio of Clarkson, Jurd and Bearman with the singer deploying some of Julie’s adventurous vocal techniques. Bearman also sings Clarkson’s words from Part One, casting them in a very different light.
There’s a certain poignancy in hearing this again in the light of Keith’s current illness following a recent heart attack.

“Interlude 1” continues the improvised theme with an adventurous passage of free improvisation featuring Warren at the piano, including the use of prepared piano sounds and other ‘under the lid’ techniques.  He’s joined by Norwegian guest vocalist Mia Marlen Berg whose voice swoops, soars and unsettles, closer in spirit to Julie Tippetts than even Bearman had been.

This segues into an ensemble arrangement of Taylor’s title track with Warren’s piano again prominent in the arrangement. The lyrics, delivered by Bearman, return to the theme of war. Warren features as a soloist but there also some gloriously powerful ensemble passages. Clarkson has cited the influence of experimental jazz big bands such as Charles Mingus and Loose Tubes on his writing.

“Interlude 2” is another duo improvisation between Warren and Marlen Berg with the pianist again deploying extended techniques while the singer sometimes treats the sound of her voice electronically. It’s atmospheric, unsettling and vaguely Nordic in feel.

Briefer than the first Interlude the piece segues into “I’m Sorry”, one of the stand out pieces from that Vortex set in 2015. There the vocals were performed by Bearman but here it’s Marlen Berg with a similarly theatrical rendition of a piece that is inspired by that  very British characteristic of the unnecessary apology for things that are patently not your fault. Amusing, but almost painfully insightful it’s one of the most arresting pieces on the album and features adventurous vocal techniques allied to some rip roaring ensemble playing. It’s not always comfortable listening but it’s undeniably attention grabbing and compelling.

Jurd’s trumpet pyrotechnics then lead the way into “Find The Way Through” which features almost funky grooves, and the rap vocals of guest artist Joshua Idehen, who I presume was the ‘mystery rapper’ at the Vortex show Meanwhile Bearman delivers the main lyric with its theme of adopting a positive approach in the face of personal adversity. It’s by far the most uplifting lyric on the album and can be read as Clarkson finally coming to terms with his personal inner demons. His often disturbing personal story seems to have found a happy ending at last.

That sense of reconciliation continues into the appropriately titled “Closing” (sub title “Tomorrow”) which features Merriman’s almost hymnal keyboard drone and the extraordinary wordless vocals of Marlen Berg. Later Roth sets up a cerebrally funky groove which is allied to jagged strings, punchy brass and soaring wordless vocals. Guest trumpeter Mike Soper combines with Jurd on a series of thrilling exchanges as the piece builds to a rousing, uplifting and cathartic climax.

As an album “Soldiering On” represents a remarkable piece of work. It’s obviously highly personal and deeply cathartic and its defiantly uncompromising stance won’t endear it to all listeners. It’s a recording that makes no concessions to its potential audience yet it’s one that all its participants thoroughly buy into and give it their full commitment.

The album brings together a diversity of musical styles incorporating jazz, folk and classical elements and ranges from the densely written to the freely improvised. All elements of Clarkson’s emotional and musical DNA are here with the former also finding expression through his very personal lyrics, which in many cases can rightly be considered as poetry.

“It’s certainly one of the most difficult things I’ve listened to all year” remarked Thomas Rees when reviewing the album for Jazzwise Magazine. However he wasn’t entirely dismissive, praising several individual pieces while adding “it’s an album that requires several listens to get your head around”.

Perhaps because I’d seen the music played live I found that I enjoyed the album rather more and found myself immersing myself in the music in much the same way as I might a good, but challenging novel. “Soldiering On” features a cast of characters ranging from Clarkson family members to more public figures such as Taylor, Wheeler and the Tippetts and it’s possible to listen to the recording in a narrative way, the literary comparisons encouraged by Clarkson’s very personal words.

Some may dismiss “Soldiering On” as self indulgent, but for me it represents brave, original, adventurous and uncompromising music that the committed listener can draw a great deal from. The best music isn’t always ‘easy’.

On that basis I’m not going to recommend it to everyone but there are many listeners who should find something rewarding in this highly individual mix of music, poetry and autobiography.

 

Soldiering On

The Dissolute Society

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Soldiering On

Brave, original, adventurous and uncompromising music that the committed listener can draw a great deal from. The best music isn’t always ‘easy’.

The Dissolute Society

“Soldiering On”

(Babel Records BDV16145)

The Dissolute Society is the name given to the eight piece vocal and instrumental ensemble led by the British trombonist, composer and educator Raphael Clarkson.

Clarkson is best known as a member of the anarchic punk jazz quintet WorldService Project, led by keyboard player and composer Dave Morecroft, and has been with the band since its inception, appearing on all of its recordings.

Away from WSP Clarkson leads a busy and productive musical life across a variety of genres. His other projects include The Vanderbilts, a contemporary cross discipline project with keyboard player Elliot Galvin and dancer Kasia Witek. He’s also a member of the freely improvising Spreckles Brass Ensemble and of The Old Bone Band who specialise in the trad and swing jazz of the 1930s and 40s.

It’s an eclectic mix that extends into Clarkson’s educational work which has seen him acting as a workshop leader for various London based projects involving children with special educational and social needs.

He has also worked with various theatres and as a sideman / session musician across a variety of musical genres ranging from jazz and hip hop to classical and opera.

The breadth of Clarkson’s musical background is brought into focus on “Soldiering On”, a highly personal recording that deals with the subjects of love, loss and family and personal history. The subject matter is largely autobiographical with Clarkson’s liner notes declaring “this album is in many ways the story of my life thus far, and while it is highly personal my hope is that it resonates with you in some way”.

The album was recorded in March 2016 but the music had already been premièred at a packed out Vortex as part of the 2015 EFG London Jazz Festival, a performance that I was fortunate enough to witness and which was reviewed as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-2015-second-sunday-22-11-2015/
The music has subsequently been performed at Cambridge Jazz Festival and at scaled down Dissolute Society Trio gigs in Bristol, London and Brighton.

Many of the musicians who appeared at The Vortex also play on the album, including Clarkson’s father Gustav on viola. The core line up on the recording features;

Raph Clarkson – trombone, vocals
Fini Bearman – vocals
Laura Jurd – trumpet
Naomi Burrell – violin
Zosia Jagodzinska – cello
Gustav Clarkson – viola
Phil Merriman – keyboards / synth bass
Simon Roth – drums

The album also includes guest performances from Huw Warren on piano and accordion, Mia Marlen Berg and Joshua Idehen on vocals and Mike Soper on trumpet. Warren, who performed with the band at The Vortex, appears on the majority of the tracks and is virtually a fully fledged member of the ensemble. 

The music and words on “Soldiering On”  are largely written by Clarkson but the album also includes compositions by two of the trombonist’s mentors,  the pianist John Taylor and the trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. It had originally been the intention for Taylor to perform on the album but his untimely death in July 2015 prevented this from becoming a reality. The album is dedicated to Taylor’s memory and also to the memory of Clarkson’s mother Micaela Comberti (1952 – 2003), an accomplished violinist and baroque and early music specialist.


The album consists of fifteen movements and commences with “Opening ( A Journey)” which explores the effects of the second world war and the emigration of Clarkson’s German Jewish grandmother who lived in Palestine for many years. Bearman gives voice to Clarkson’s words, written from the point of view of a child trying to understand his grandmother’s experiences. Bearman’s voice is flexible, her vocals sometimes semi-spoken, in this melange of jazz and poetry. The music utilises the contrasting sounds of brass and strings to create a rich tapestry of colours and textures.

The theme continues into “Grandma” which emerges from a free jazz eruption featuring Bearman’s extended vocal techniques, the rustle of Roth’s drums and percussion and the rasp of the leader’s trombone. Bearman’s extraordinary rendition of the lyrics is unsettling, there’s an other worldly sense of dislocation, as if Clarkson’s grandmother is trying to speak to the young Raph through a crowd of radio static, an impression that the fidgety, sometimes eerie instrumental accompaniment only encourages. It’s possible that this approach has been adopted as a comment on the subject of dementia.

The opening trio of thematically linked movements flow into one another and the third, “Reborn/4am/The Teddy Bear” addresses the subject of bereavement from the point of view of a six year old boy grieving for his dying mother. It’s almost unbearably personal with Clarkson’s adding his own voice to that of Bearman with a semi-spoken narrative that embraces both the deeply spiritual and the everyday mundane - “cabbie’s prattle”, “Barnet General”.  The bleakness of the subject matter is reflected in a superb musical arrangement encompassing ghostly, grainy strings, scratchy percussion and almost subliminal trombone and synth drones.

The album enters more conventional territory with the John Taylor composed instrumental “In February” which introduces Warren to the fold for the first time, his flowing, crystalline piano playing evoking memories of Taylor on a delightful piece embracing elements of jazz, folk and chamber music. Warren is joined in a series of uplifting exchanges by violinist Naomi Burrell, a musician whose playing encompasses both jazz and the baroque.

“For J.T.” is Clarkson’s homage to Taylor, a tribute in both words and music featuring Warren’s limpid piano and Clarkson’s recitation of his own words praising both Taylor the musician and Taylor the man “a humble,giving, magic musician”. Clarkson then picks up his trombone and joins Warren in an instrumental coda, the rounded, melancholy tones of the trombone imparting a hymn like gravitas to the music. Taylor remains an inspirational figure to several members of the Dissolute Society, particularly Merriman and Roth who, together with Clarkson, were tutored by Taylor at York University.

Almost as influential, and inextricably linked with Taylor, is the late, great Kenny Wheeler (1930 – 2014). Wheeler’s composition “Kind Folk” is included here in an arrangement featuring lyrics written by Clarkson and delivered by Bearman alongside a rousing trombone solo from the leader and a soaring trumpet solo from Jurd. There’s also a sparkling piano solo from Warren in the John Taylor role. Meanwhile the sound of the strings adds a folk element to the music that is commensurate with the title of a tune that Clarkson has described as his all time favourite.

Clarkson has cited the influence of European classical composers on his music, these including Schoenberg, Bartók and Stravinsky. An arrangement of a traditional Hungarian Folksong also reflects Clarkson’s European heritage and is a tune that was also adapted by Bartók for one of his piano pieces. Clarkson’s arrangement is unexpectedly dark and features his own trombone alongside Jagodzinska’s cello, allied to the other strings, plus Warren’s piano. There’s also a highly atmospheric, freely improvised outro featuring dark , grainy textures.

The art of improvisation is also central to “And It Ends When It Needs To”, the two part tribute to Keith and Julie Tippetts who both tutored Clarkson at Dartington College in Devon. The first part features Warren’s piano and Clarkson’s recitation of his own evocative lyrics which speak of  “a couple in spirit” and of “mutton chops and ringlet hair”, neatly summing up Keith and Julie, while also singing the praises of the Devon landscape.
Part 2 is more obviously improvised by the trio of Clarkson, Jurd and Bearman with the singer deploying some of Julie’s adventurous vocal techniques. Bearman also sings Clarkson’s words from Part One, casting them in a very different light.
There’s a certain poignancy in hearing this again in the light of Keith’s current illness following a recent heart attack.

“Interlude 1” continues the improvised theme with an adventurous passage of