The Jazz Mann | Faith BrackenburyBecki Biggins QuartetHenry Lowther’s Still WatersPhil Donkin’s MasterfrownBen Thomas / Julian Martin QuartetBATL QuartetTrish Clowes’ My IrisGareth Roberts QuartetShirley SmartAcrobatPeter EhwaldHaftor Medboe / Jacob KarlzonHenry Lowther’s Still WatersSid Peacock & Surge OrchestraGabriel Latchin TrioDave Jones QuartetScopesThe Sirkis / Bialas International QuartetDave Storey TrioChubeUncanny ValleyGet The BlessingJim Blomfield TrioChris PotterFragmentsKevin MacKenzieThe Steve Fishwick / Alex Garnett QuartetThe Roger Beaujolais Italian TrioDuncan Eagles QuintetTheon CrossBenjamin CroftPatchwork Jazz OrchestraJohn TurvilleTony Kofi SextetAdam Glasser QuartetRymdenHuw Warren TrioBinker Golding and Elliot GalvinBryan Corbett / Tom Hill QuartetVarious ArtistsOrjan Hulten OrionNick MalcolmKathrine Windfeld Big BandGilad Atzmon & The Orient House EnsembleWandering MonsterMark LockheartELDA featuring Kari Eskild HavenstromLaura ColeKevin LawlorHelena Kay’s KIM TrioRob ClearfieldTord Gustavsen TrioSarah GillespieAndy HagueChet BakerJean Toussaint SextetSwing Style QuartetMalijaSteve Fishwick Quintet featuring Grant StewartVarious ArtistsMetamorphicVitor Pereira QuintetJosephine DaviesAnt Law QuintetDevin GrayFrançois Bourassa QuartetRoz HardingDave Jones QuartetThe Matt Wates SextetFlying MachinesDakhla BrassWalter Smith III & Matthew Stevens QuintetNew York All-StarsItamar BorochovFabledAlan Barnes / Remi Harris / Tom MooreBen Crosland QuintetLorraine BakerBorderlessGraeme Wilson QuartetSara ColmanElftetLiran Donin’s 1000 BoatsCamilla GeorgeTristanJohn MetcalfeGabrielle DucombleGet The BlessingTom BarfordAlina BzhezhinskaSugarworkPhronesisSara DowlingEnemyNigel Price QuartetJam ExperimentBansangu OrchestraNick Costley-WhiteSlowly Rolling CameraJohn Bailey - KnifeAngelBecki Biggins Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 19/05/2019.Henry Lowther’s Still Waters, Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton, 18/05/2019.ValueBen Thomas / Julian Martin Quartet, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 14/05/2019.Brandon Allen / Tim Lapthorn Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 11/05/2019.Trish Clowes’ My Iris, Gateway Arts & Education Centre, Shrewsbury, 01/05/2019.Gareth Roberts Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 28/04/2019.Long Story ShortMake Your StandSeptuor de Grand MatinHaftor Medboe / Jacob Karlzon EPHenry Lowther’s Still Waters, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 12/04/2019.Valley of AngelsThe Moon and IDave Jones Quartet, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 09/04/2019.ScopesAsaf Sirkis / Sylwia Bialas International Quartet, The Hive, Shrewsbury, 06/04/2019.BoscoChube, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 31/03/2019.Uncanny Valley, Hexagon Theatre, Midlands Arts Centre (mac), Birmingham, 28/03/2019.Get The Blessing, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 22/03/2019.Strange Beauty (Every Way OK)CircuitsFragmentsThe Ballad of Future JoeMarshian Time SlipBarba LungaDuncan Eagles Quintet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 09/03/2019.Fyah10 Reasons To…The Adventures of Mr PottercakesHead FirstTony Kofi Sextet “A Portrait of Cannonball” at Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 22/02/2019.Adam Glasser Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 24/02/2019.Reflections & OdysseysHuw Warren Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 12/02/2019.Ex NihiloBryan Corbett / Tom Hill Quartet ‘Ready for Freddie’, The Hive, Shrewsbury, 09/02/2019.To Be Here NowMinusgraderReal Isn’t RealLatencyGilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble, ‘Spirit of Trane’, Progress Theatre, Reading, 18/01/2019.Wandering MonsterDays On EarthShiny/ThingsEnoughLast Days of SummerMoon PalaceWherever You’re Starting FromThe Other SideWishbonesComing of AgeLive in London Volume IIJean Toussaint Sextet, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 14/12/2018.Swing Style Quartet, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 11/12/2018.Malija, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 08/12/2018.Steve Fishwick Quintet featuring Grant Stewart, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 23/11/2018EFG London Jazz Festival, Friday 16th November 2018.The Two FridasVitor Pereira Quintet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 10/11/2018.In the Corners of CloudsLife I KnowDirigo Rataplan llFrançois Bourassa Quartet, 1000 Trades, Birmingham, 04/11/2018.SupermoodDave Jones Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 28/10/2018.Matt Wates Sextet, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 19/10/2018.New LifeMurmurIn CommonBurnin’ In LondonBlue NightsShort StoriesAlan Barnes/ Remi Harris/Tom Moore, Yardbird Arts, Victory Hall, Clows Top, Worcestershire 16/10/18.Ben Crosland Quintet, ‘The Ray Davies Songbook’ at The Hive, Shrewsbury, 13 /10/ 2018.EdenBorderless, Leominster Community Centre, Leominster, Herefordshire, 09/10/2018.AbsconditWhat We’re Made OfElftet, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 28/09/2018.8 SongsThe People Could FlyTristan, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 30/09/2018.AbsenceAcross The BridgeBristopiaBloomerInspirationSugarworkWe Are AllTwo Sides Of SaraEnemyNigel Price Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 08/09/2018.Jam Experiment, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 31/08/2018.Bansangu OrchestraDetour AheadJuniperOneiric Sounds | Review | The Jazz Mann

Accessibility Menu

REVIEW

Faith Brackenbury - KnifeAngel Rating: 0 out of 5 With its combination of jazz, folk and contemporary classical elements “KnifeAngel” represents an impressive piece of work that manages to be beautiful, disturbing and thought provoking – all at once.

Faith Brackenbury

“KnifeAngel EP”

(Lonely Duck Records)

Faith Brackenbury – violin, composer, Martin Speake – alto saxophone, Alex Maguire – piano,
Rob Luft – guitar, Oli Hayhurst – double bass, Will Glaser - drums

Violinist and composer Faith Brackenbury was initially classically trained but has since diversified into the worlds of jazz and folk. She studied jazz at Birmingham Conservatoire and has since collaborated with numerous leading jazz musicians, notably alto saxophonist Martin Speake with whom she formed the improvising duo Zephyr.

Brackenbury also plays viola, piano and hammered dulcimer as part of the long running folk duo Brackenbury & Neilson alongside accordionist John Neilson. The pair released their début album, “Crossings”, on the Monoline record label in 2018.

Her other activities include the multi-media project The Four Susans (the name a Vivaldi pun) and a music and poetry project celebrating the life and work of the war poet Wilfred Owen. “Wilfred & Susan; War and Love” features spoken word and the music of a string trio led by Brackenbury.

She is currently working on “The Birds Suite”, a jazz based work inspired by “The Conference of The Birds”  by twelfth-century Sufi poet Farid Ud-Din Attar. The suite is due to be performed by a quintet comprised of Brackenbury and Speake plus pianist Alex Maguire, bassist Calum Gourlay and drummer Dave Storey. Keen eyed readers will recall that “Conference of The Birds” was also the title of a classic ECM album by bassist and composer Dave Holland.

Brackenbury has also performed with the indie/classical artist Tiny Leaves (aka Joel Nathaniel Pike) and appears on his most recent album release “Notes On Belonging” (Pegdoll Records, 2018).
She has also written music for the theatre company Silent Monkey.

In October 2018 Brackenbury collaborated with the Newcastle based band Archipelago as part of their ‘Between Waves’ project geared to promoting women in  music. Her pieces “Earth” and “Tidal” can be heard on the “Between Waves” compilation album, which also features works from three other female artists, Rosie Frater-Taylor, Lisette Auton and Fran Bundey.

Turning now to Brackenbury’s “KnifeAngel” project, a four part suite lasting for approximately half an hour that was inspired by Alfie Bradley’s KnifeAngel sculpture of the same name, created from amnesty knives.

Brackenbury’s liner notes shed further light on the inspirations behind the music;
“I came across the KnifeAngel sculpture purely by chance in early 2016 at the British Ironworks Centre near Oswestry, Shropshire. At that point it was still under construction by artist Alfie Bradley and the Save a Life, Surrender Your Knife campaign was in full swing in conjunction with the knife amnesty across UK constabularies. I was amazed at how Alfie had collected, cleaned and blunted each weapon that he used to create the 26ft tall, ten ton, KnifeAngel, then deeply moved to see that messages from relatives to lost loved ones were being engraved onto some of the blades. The sculpture is a symbol of tragic beauty, a message of hope conveyed in ominously dark material. Watching its gradual creation inspired me to compose music which merely touches on the myriad of emotions experienced in such devastating loss of life.”

The music is dedicated to “the memory of knife crime victims and their families” and the project is supporting Birmingham mother Alison Cope’s Joshua Ribera Achievement Awards, established in memory of her late son Joshua, aka Depzman, a charity that helps young people who are excluded from mainstream education to express their musical and artistic talents.

The album cover also includes the following quote from Nelson Mandela;
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate then they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

The musicians that Brackenbury chose to give voice to her music represent a stellar sextet of players with Brackenbury on violin joined by Martin Speake (alto sax), Alex Maguire (piano), Rob Luft (guitar), Oli Hayhurst (double bass) and Will Glaser (drums).

Brackenbury had previously worked with both Luft and Glaser in Speake’s quartet Mafarowi and this familiarity led to all the music being documented on either the first or second take. Brackenbury is quick to praise the sight reading skills of her colleagues but she also delights in the “raw energy and intuitive performances from all involved”.

The music on “KnifeAngel” is based upon strong melodies, these providing the platform for collective improvising and individual soloing.

“Part I” emerges from Hayhurst’s solo bass introduction, joined by the almost subliminal sound of Brackenbury’s violin and then by Maguire’s piano and Glaser’s mallet rumbles.  As the full ensemble gradually become involved this opening section is the aural equivalent of a particularly spectacular and beautiful sunrise, the daylight finally breaking through as a buoyant groove is established and Brackenbury’s folk tinged violin assumes the melodic lead. Subsequent solos come from Speake on alto, Luft on guitar, Maguire on piano and Brackenbury herself on violin. All of these are relaxed and supremely fluent, the overall mood of the piece being lighter than its subject matter might suggest. Out of the knife amnesty and the creativity of Bradley and Brackenbury springs hope.

“Part II” is gentler and more reflective, with the composer describing the piece as a “wistful ballad”. Brackenbury states the initial melodic theme on violin, in conjunction with Maguire at the piano. The fragile mood established by the duo is retained following the introduction of the rest of the ensemble. Brackenbury takes the first solo on slightly mournful sounding violin, her lines subtly answered by Maguire’s beguiling piano counter-melodies. The rapport between these two is excellent throughout. Hayhurst follows with a highly melodic bass solo before Speake and Luft subtly combine in a similar fashion to Brackenbury and Maguire.

The ballad segues into “Part III” which commences with a gently brooding and atmospheric bass and drum dialogue before Hayhurst and Glaser establish a rocky, percolating groove that forms the basis for a lithe, slippery guitar solo from Luft that is answered by the percussive tumbling of Maguire’s piano counterpoint. This is thrilling stuff that embodies the “raw energy and intuitive performances”  of which Brackenbury has spoken, with Maguire introducing elements of the freer playing he practises elsewhere. Brackenbury’s violin then restores a modicum of calm, while still embracing an element of wilful dissonance as she saws at the strings. A rousing ensemble climax featuring Glaser’s dynamic drumming also sees Speake’s bitingly incisive alto sax coming to the fore.

The final movement sees Brackenbury and the sextet calming things down once more as “Part IV” is introduced by the gentle, contemplative sounds of unaccompanied piano. It’s all very minimal on a piece that Brackenbury describes as a “cyclical meditation”. The mood of fragile contemplation is maintained as other instruments are added with Brackenbury, Luft and Speak subtly joining the proceedings. Eventually the piece builds to an anthemic grandeur as the ensemble develop Brackenbury’s strong melodic theme.

With its combination of jazz, folk and contemporary classical elements “KnifeAngel” represents an impressive piece of work that manages to be beautiful, disturbing and thought provoking – all at once. Brackenbury’s writing is consistently absorbing and the performances by all six musicians are uniformly excellent, with the playing of Maguire and Luft, in particular, really catching the ear.

It’s actually a shame that there isn’t more of it but nevertheless “KnifeAngel” remains an immersive and important listen. It’s hoped that Brackenbury will be able to take the KnifeAngel ensemble out on tour, which will be well worth catching if it comes off. In the meantime “KnifeAngel” is a work that Brackenbury and her colleagues can be justifiably proud of.

The recording appears on Brackenbury’s own Lonely Duck label and is available at;
https://faithbrackenbury.bandcamp.com/releases

KnifeAngel

Faith Brackenbury

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

EP Review

0 out of 5

KnifeAngel

With its combination of jazz, folk and contemporary classical elements “KnifeAngel” represents an impressive piece of work that manages to be beautiful, disturbing and thought provoking – all at once.

Faith Brackenbury

“KnifeAngel EP”

(Lonely Duck Records)

Faith Brackenbury – violin, composer, Martin Speake – alto saxophone, Alex Maguire – piano,
Rob Luft – guitar, Oli Hayhurst – double bass, Will Glaser - drums

Violinist and composer Faith Brackenbury was initially classically trained but has since diversified into the worlds of jazz and folk. She studied jazz at Birmingham Conservatoire and has since collaborated with numerous leading jazz musicians, notably alto saxophonist Martin Speake with whom she formed the improvising duo Zephyr.

Brackenbury also plays viola, piano and hammered dulcimer as part of the long running folk duo Brackenbury & Neilson alongside accordionist John Neilson. The pair released their début album, “Crossings”, on the Monoline record label in 2018.

Her other activities include the multi-media project The Four Susans (the name a Vivaldi pun) and a music and poetry project celebrating the life and work of the war poet Wilfred Owen. “Wilfred & Susan; War and Love” features spoken word and the music of a string trio led by Brackenbury.

She is currently working on “The Birds Suite”, a jazz based work inspired by “The Conference of The Birds”  by twelfth-century Sufi poet Farid Ud-Din Attar. The suite is due to be performed by a quintet comprised of Brackenbury and Speake plus pianist Alex Maguire, bassist Calum Gourlay and drummer Dave Storey. Keen eyed readers will recall that “Conference of The Birds” was also the title of a classic ECM album by bassist and composer Dave Holland.

Brackenbury has also performed with the indie/classical artist Tiny Leaves (aka Joel Nathaniel Pike) and appears on his most recent album release “Notes On Belonging” (Pegdoll Records, 2018).
She has also written music for the theatre company Silent Monkey.

In October 2018 Brackenbury collaborated with the Newcastle based band Archipelago as part of their ‘Between Waves’ project geared to promoting women in  music. Her pieces “Earth” and “Tidal” can be heard on the “Between Waves” compilation album, which also features works from three other female artists, Rosie Frater-Taylor, Lisette Auton and Fran Bundey.

Turning now to Brackenbury’s “KnifeAngel” project, a four part suite lasting for approximately half an hour that was inspired by Alfie Bradley’s KnifeAngel sculpture of the same name, created from amnesty knives.

Brackenbury’s liner notes shed further light on the inspirations behind the music;
“I came across the KnifeAngel sculpture purely by chance in early 2016 at the British Ironworks Centre near Oswestry, Shropshire. At that point it was still under construction by artist Alfie Bradley and the Save a Life, Surrender Your Knife campaign was in full swing in conjunction with the knife amnesty across UK constabularies. I was amazed at how Alfie had collected, cleaned and blunted each weapon that he used to create the 26ft tall, ten ton, KnifeAngel, then deeply moved to see that messages from relatives to lost loved ones were being engraved onto some of the blades. The sculpture is a symbol of tragic beauty, a message of hope conveyed in ominously dark material. Watching its gradual creation inspired me to compose music which merely touches on the myriad of emotions experienced in such devastating loss of life.”

The music is dedicated to “the memory of knife crime victims and their families” and the project is supporting Birmingham mother Alison Cope’s Joshua Ribera Achievement Awards, established in memory of her late son Joshua, aka Depzman, a charity that helps young people who are excluded from mainstream education to express their musical and artistic talents.

The album cover also includes the following quote from Nelson Mandela;
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate then they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

The musicians that Brackenbury chose to give voice to her music represent a stellar sextet of players with Brackenbury on violin joined by Martin Speake (alto sax), Alex Maguire (piano), Rob Luft (guitar), Oli Hayhurst (double bass) and Will Glaser (drums).

Brackenbury had previously worked with both Luft and Glaser in Speake’s quartet Mafarowi and this familiarity led to all the music being documented on either the first or second take. Brackenbury is quick to praise the sight reading skills of her colleagues but she also delights in the “raw energy and intuitive performances from all involved”.

The music on “KnifeAngel” is based upon strong melodies, these providing the platform for collective improvising and individual soloing.

“Part I” emerges from Hayhurst’s solo bass introduction, joined by the almost subliminal sound of Brackenbury’s violin and then by Maguire’s piano and Glaser’s mallet rumbles.  As the full ensemble gradually become involved this opening section is the aural equivalent of a particularly spectacular and beautiful sunrise, the daylight finally breaking through as a buoyant groove is established and Brackenbury’s folk tinged violin assumes the melodic lead. Subsequent solos come from Speake on alto, Luft on guitar, Maguire on piano and Brackenbury herself on violin. All of these are relaxed and supremely fluent, the overall mood of the piece being lighter than its subject matter might suggest. Out of the knife amnesty and the creativity of Bradley and Brackenbury springs hope.

“Part II” is gentler and more reflective, with the composer describing the piece as a “wistful ballad”. Brackenbury states the initial melodic theme on violin, in conjunction with Maguire at the piano. The fragile mood established by the duo is retained following the introduction of the rest of the ensemble. Brackenbury takes the first solo on slightly mournful sounding violin, her lines subtly answered by Maguire’s beguiling piano counter-melodies. The rapport between these two is excellent throughout. Hayhurst follows with a highly melodic bass solo before Speake and Luft subtly combine in a similar fashion to Brackenbury and Maguire.

The ballad segues into “Part III” which commences with a gently brooding and atmospheric bass and drum dialogue before Hayhurst and Glaser establish a rocky, percolating groove that forms the basis for a lithe, slippery guitar solo from Luft that is answered by the percussive tumbling of Maguire’s piano counterpoint. This is thrilling stuff that embodies the “raw energy and intuitive performances”  of which Brackenbury has spoken, with Maguire introducing elements of the freer playing he practises elsewhere. Brackenbury’s violin then restores a modicum of calm, while still embracing an element of wilful dissonance as she saws at the strings. A rousing ensemble climax featuring Glaser’s dynamic drumming also sees Speake’s bitingly incisive alto sax coming to the fore.

The final movement sees Brackenbury and the sextet calming things down once more as “Part IV” is introduced by the gentle, contemplative sounds of unaccompanied piano. It’s all very minimal on a piece that Brackenbury describes as a “cyclical meditation”. The mood of fragile contemplation is maintained as other instruments are added with Brackenbury, Luft and Speak subtly joining the proceedings. Eventually the piece builds to an anthemic grandeur as the ensemble develop Brackenbury’s strong melodic theme.

With its combination of jazz, folk and contemporary classical elements “KnifeAngel” represents an impressive piece of work that manages to be beautiful, disturbing and thought provoking – all at once. Brackenbury’s writing is consistently absorbing and the performances by all six musicians are uniformly excellent, with the playing of Maguire and Luft, in particular, really catching the ear.

It’s actually a shame that there isn’t more of it but nevertheless “KnifeAngel” remains an immersive and important listen. It’s hoped that Brackenbury will be able to take the KnifeAngel ensemble out on tour, which will be well worth catching if it comes off. In the meantime “KnifeAngel” is a work that Brackenbury and her colleagues can be justifiably proud of.

The recording appears on Brackenbury’s own Lonely Duck label and is available at;
https://faithbrackenbury.bandcamp.com/releases

Becki Biggins Quartet - Becki Biggins Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 19/05/2019. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Biggins' “It’s A Man’s World" show is one with the potential to appeal to a wide audience while retaining enough genuine jazz and blues elements to keep the purists happy.

Becki Biggins Quartet, “It’s A Man’s World”, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 19/05/2019.


Becki Biggins – vocals, John-Paul Gard – organ, Ben Waghorn – tenor & baritone saxophones, flute, Andy Tween - drums

Originally from Shrewsbury BeckiBiggins began singing with a local youth big band before studying tenor saxophone at Leeds College of Music. She later returned to singing, collaborating on a series of ‘smooth jazz’ recordings with musician, DJ and producer Paul Hardcastle.

Biggins has also released a more orthodox jazz album “The + VE” which features pianist and arranger Laurie Holloway and his trio with Dave Olney on bass and Harold Fisher at the drums. She has also worked regularly with pianist and musical educator Malcolm Edmonstone.

Now based in Chepstow and the mother of two young children Biggins has been ‘off the scene’ for a while but is now making a return to the musical front line.  In 2018 she appeared at the annual Wall2Wall Festival Dinner at Abergavenny’s Angel Hotel performing with a trio led by pianist Guy Shotton and featuring bassist Nick Kacal and drummer Alex Goodyear. The standards based set from this one off quartet was so well received by the audience that it quickly became a cast iron certainty that Biggins would be invited back to play at one of BMJ’s regular club nights with her own band.

The “It’s A Man’s World” project has its roots in a series of duo performances that Biggins played at various Bristol restaurants in the company of organist John Paul Gard. It was Gard who suggested putting a full, permanent band together, first recruiting saxophonist Ben Waghorn and later drummer Andy Tween, both leading figures on the Bristol music scene.

Biggins first conceived the idea of the “It’s A Man’s World” show some ten years ago but only now, with the formation of the quartet, has she been able to put it into practice. The basic concept is that Biggins will sing songs historically sung by men, written by men, or written about men but sing them from the perspective of a modern, feminist woman, reclaiming them if you will. Even Biggins’ stage attire was in accordance with the theme, white shirt, black trousers and braces, all very mannish, but with a very girly pair of shoes. There was no way anybody was really going to mistake her for a bloke!
Even the band were in on the act, Gard sporting a “Jimmy Smith tie” and a very striking pair of patterned ‘ winkle picker’ style shoes.

Tonight’s appearance followed a hugely successful performance of the same show at the famous Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, London, an event reviewed very favourably by Poppy Koronka writing for London Jazz News.

Biggins is clearly an artist who has accrued something of a following. Tonight the audience was the largest for a BMJ event for many years and the Melville Theatre was virtually sold out. Only Gilad Atzmon has come close to approximating these numbers in recent years.

In truth the concept behind the “It’s A Man’s World” show isn’t quite as profound as it might first appear. In many ways it’s just an excuse for Biggins and her band to perform some of their favourite songs, albeit songs from across a broad range of the musical spectrum. This wasn’t a run of the mill jazz standards gig.

In keeping with the theme of the evening Biggins kicked off with a song indelibly associated with Frank Sinatra, an aplha male vocalist if ever there was one. “I Got You Under My Skin” found Biggins putting a seductive, feminine slant on the song, her vocals accompanied by the sounds of brushed drums, smoky tenor sax and Gard’s two manual Viscount organ. In this bass-less quartet the bass lines are played by Gard’s feet by means of a pedal board. Indeed the sight of Gard’s dancing toes has become something of a feature of his performances and helped to inspire the name of his former band, Pedalmania.

Biggins was also quick to acknowledge the influence of iconic female writers and performers with her version of “The Very Thought Of You” being inspired by the late, great Ella Fitzgerald. Here Biggins included a verse of scat singing in tribute to Ella while instrumental solos came from Waghorn on tenor and Gard on organ.

Next up was another Sinatra associated song, “The Lady Is A Tramp”, which was introduced by the duo of voice and organ, serving as reminder of the origins of this project. Sung in the first person by Biggins this arrangement also included some rarely heard additional verses plus an instrumental solo from Waghorn on tenor.

Biggins paid homage to Peggy Lee with a version of the song “Black Coffee”. “Enjoy the melancholy” said Biggins by way of introduction, taking a long drink of red wine before delivering a bluesy vocal that helped to give the music a real after hours feel, a quality enhanced by the rollong drone of the Viscount and Waghorn’s smoky tenor soloing.

The noirish mood was continued into “The Meaning Of The Blues”, another piece introduced by an organ and vocal duet and with the performance overall imbued with a very effective moody, brooding quality.

By way of contrast a playful “Teach Me Tonight”, as inspired by the version by Nancy Wilson, included some bravura vocalising from Biggins as she captured the succinct sexiness of the lyrics.

Moving away from the jazz and blues repertoire the quartet offered their version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” with Waghorn moving between flute and tenor sax as Biggins and the band put their own blues and Latin stamp on the song with instrumental features for Tween, Gard and Waghorn, the latter now back on tenor.

The first set closed with the Biggins original “I’m Giving Up On You” a song sourced from the composer’s “D.I.Y.  EP”. This is a  a home recording on which Biggins sings and plays everything herself. The instrumentation includes saxes and other woodwinds, keyboards and various household implements. Biggins studied saxophone at music college before deciding to concentrate on singing. She names the late Michael Brecker as her all time saxophone hero and Biggins herself sometimes still plays some tenor on gigs, the Festival Dinner being one such example. With Waghorn on board she doesn’t play it in this band but there’s no doubting the fact that Biggins is a considerable all round musical talent.
As for the song itself it was inspired by the lazy ex-husband of one of Biggins’ friends and is a witty piece of songwriting with something of the feel of a jazz standard about it. Tonight Waghorn’s tenor solo matched the forcefulness of Biggins’ amusing but caustic lyrics.

Set two commenced with the trio playing a jazzy, funky arrangement of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark” with Biggins making a diva’s entrance to sing the lyrics, followed by instrumental solos from Gard on organ and Waghorn on tenor.

Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” has been an increasingly popular vehicle for jazz performers in recent years, their interest perhaps piqued by the death of Glen Campbell. Here Waghorn featured on flute, soloing on the instrument alongside Gard on organ.

Biggins expressed her admiration for the songwriting of Billy Joel, choosing to cover the little known ballad “Through the Long Night”, the title track of Joel’s “Glass Houses” album. Her vocals, allied to the instrumental arrangement, helped to generate an authentic late night feel that matched the mood of the song perfectly. Here, as elsewhere during the course of the evening, I was impressed by the interplay between Biggins’ voice and Waghorn’s tenor, the saxophonist variously skilfully shadowing or echoing the singer’s vocal melody lines.

Biggins spoke warmly of her time working with pianist and arranger Laurie Holloway and dedicated “Close Your Eyes” to the memory of Holloway’s late wife, the singer Marion Montgomery. Biggins brought something of Montgomery’s warmth and playfulness to a performance propelled by Gard’s organ pedal bass lines that also included a scat vocal episode from the leader plus instrumental solos from Waghorn on flute and Gard on organ. Finally we enjoyed a neatly constructed drum solo from the excellent Tween which was along way removed from the booming beats and powerful rhythms that he one supplied to folk/rock superstar Seth Lakeman.

The singer returned to her “D.I.Y. EP” for another pithy and witty original. “You Should Be Married By Now” is pure autobiography, written from the perspective of a thirty year old mother of two in a stable relationship who is still harassed by friends and family who trot out ‘that phrase’ with dreary regularity. An appropriately playful arrangement featured Waghorn moving between baritone and tenor saxes.

A Nat King Cole inspired cruise down “Route 66” saw Biggins successfully navigating the lyrics while suitably hard driving solos came from Waghorn on tenor, Gard on organ and Tween at the kit, with a second drum feature.

Voice and organ ushered in a slowed down gospel arrangement of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You”, which to these ears was a considerable improvement on the Vegas style original with r’n’b style tenor and church style organ taking the instrumental honours.

The inevitable encore was a raunchy, bluesy romp through Peggy Lee’s “I’m a W.O.M.A.N” with Biggin’s fiercely defiant declaiming of the lyric fuelled by Tween’s sturdy, solid backbeat while Gard and Waghorn took the opportunity to cut loose on organ and tenor for the last time.

The audience reaction was the most animated and enthusiastic that I’ve seen at BMJ. Obviously the familiarity of much of the material helped but so did the quality of the performances. Gard, Waghorn and Tween are all supremely accomplished musicians who had previously endeared themselves to BMJ audiences. They all played superbly throughout and delivered fluent and exciting solos. It’s rare to see a singer backed by an organ trio, as opposed to the more conventional piano trio, and this helped to make the Biggins band particularly distinctive with the blend of jazz, blues and gospel elements enabling the band to stand out from the pack.

But most of all the audience loved Biggins, who presented the show with wit, charm and warmth. As well as being a highly accomplished vocalist she’s also a vibrant and bubbly personality with a very natural ‘everywoman’ or ‘girl next door appeal’. The performance wasn’t perfect by any means, but the occasional false start or mis-remembered lyric was soon forgotten, thanks to the sheer force of Biggins’ personality. Her enthusiasm is infectious, she’s a musician who is also a huge music fan with a love for, and affinity with, a broad range of music across a variety of genres.

The “It’s A Man’s World Show” is one with the potential to appeal to a wide audience while retaining enough genuine jazz and blues elements to keep the purists happy. Biggins and the band have another sold out Pizza Express show scheduled at the end of June when they will appear at the Holborn venue. For full details of Becki Biggins’ touring schedule please visit http://www.beckibiggins.com

Finally my thanks to Becki for talking with me at various junctures during the course of the evening. During the course of our conversations we discovered a mutual love for the music of Steely Dan. Maybe Becki will include a version of her favourite Dan song, “Pearl Of The Quarter” in the set the next time I see her.

 

 

 

Becki Biggins Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 19/05/2019.

Becki Biggins Quartet

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Becki Biggins Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 19/05/2019.
Photography: Photograph of Becki Biggins sourced from the Black Mountain Jazz website http://www.blackmountainjazz.co.uk

Biggins' “It’s A Man’s World" show is one with the potential to appeal to a wide audience while retaining enough genuine jazz and blues elements to keep the purists happy.

Becki Biggins Quartet, “It’s A Man’s World”, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 19/05/2019.


Becki Biggins – vocals, John-Paul Gard – organ, Ben Waghorn – tenor & baritone saxophones, flute, Andy Tween - drums

Originally from Shrewsbury BeckiBiggins began singing with a local youth big band before studying tenor saxophone at Leeds College of Music. She later returned to singing, collaborating on a series of ‘smooth jazz’ recordings with musician, DJ and producer Paul Hardcastle.

Biggins has also released a more orthodox jazz album “The + VE” which features pianist and arranger Laurie Holloway and his trio with Dave Olney on bass and Harold Fisher at the drums. She has also worked regularly with pianist and musical educator Malcolm Edmonstone.

Now based in Chepstow and the mother of two young children Biggins has been ‘off the scene’ for a while but is now making a return to the musical front line.  In 2018 she appeared at the annual Wall2Wall Festival Dinner at Abergavenny’s Angel Hotel performing with a trio led by pianist Guy Shotton and featuring bassist Nick Kacal and drummer Alex Goodyear. The standards based set from this one off quartet was so well received by the audience that it quickly became a cast iron certainty that Biggins would be invited back to play at one of BMJ’s regular club nights with her own band.

The “It’s A Man’s World” project has its roots in a series of duo performances that Biggins played at various Bristol restaurants in the company of organist John Paul Gard. It was Gard who suggested putting a full, permanent band together, first recruiting saxophonist Ben Waghorn and later drummer Andy Tween, both leading figures on the Bristol music scene.

Biggins first conceived the idea of the “It’s A Man’s World” show some ten years ago but only now, with the formation of the quartet, has she been able to put it into practice. The basic concept is that Biggins will sing songs historically sung by men, written by men, or written about men but sing them from the perspective of a modern, feminist woman, reclaiming them if you will. Even Biggins’ stage attire was in accordance with the theme, white shirt, black trousers and braces, all very mannish, but with a very girly pair of shoes. There was no way anybody was really going to mistake her for a bloke!
Even the band were in on the act, Gard sporting a “Jimmy Smith tie” and a very striking pair of patterned ‘ winkle picker’ style shoes.

Tonight’s appearance followed a hugely successful performance of the same show at the famous Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, London, an event reviewed very favourably by Poppy Koronka writing for London Jazz News.

Biggins is clearly an artist who has accrued something of a following. Tonight the audience was the largest for a BMJ event for many years and the Melville Theatre was virtually sold out. Only Gilad Atzmon has come close to approximating these numbers in recent years.

In truth the concept behind the “It’s A Man’s World” show isn’t quite as profound as it might first appear. In many ways it’s just an excuse for Biggins and her band to perform some of their favourite songs, albeit songs from across a broad range of the musical spectrum. This wasn’t a run of the mill jazz standards gig.

In keeping with the theme of the evening Biggins kicked off with a song indelibly associated with Frank Sinatra, an aplha male vocalist if ever there was one. “I Got You Under My Skin” found Biggins putting a seductive, feminine slant on the song, her vocals accompanied by the sounds of brushed drums, smoky tenor sax and Gard’s two manual Viscount organ. In this bass-less quartet the bass lines are played by Gard’s feet by means of a pedal board. Indeed the sight of Gard’s dancing toes has become something of a feature of his performances and helped to inspire the name of his former band, Pedalmania.

Biggins was also quick to acknowledge the influence of iconic female writers and performers with her version of “The Very Thought Of You” being inspired by the late, great Ella Fitzgerald. Here Biggins included a verse of scat singing in tribute to Ella while instrumental solos came from Waghorn on tenor and Gard on organ.

Next up was another Sinatra associated song, “The Lady Is A Tramp”, which was introduced by the duo of voice and organ, serving as reminder of the origins of this project. Sung in the first person by Biggins this arrangement also included some rarely heard additional verses plus an instrumental solo from Waghorn on tenor.

Biggins paid homage to Peggy Lee with a version of the song “Black Coffee”. “Enjoy the melancholy” said Biggins by way of introduction, taking a long drink of red wine before delivering a bluesy vocal that helped to give the music a real after hours feel, a quality enhanced by the rollong drone of the Viscount and Waghorn’s smoky tenor soloing.

The noirish mood was continued into “The Meaning Of The Blues”, another piece introduced by an organ and vocal duet and with the performance overall imbued with a very effective moody, brooding quality.

By way of contrast a playful “Teach Me Tonight”, as inspired by the version by Nancy Wilson, included some bravura vocalising from Biggins as she captured the succinct sexiness of the lyrics.

Moving away from the jazz and blues repertoire the quartet offered their version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” with Waghorn moving between flute and tenor sax as Biggins and the band put their own blues and Latin stamp on the song with instrumental features for Tween, Gard and Waghorn, the latter now back on tenor.

The first set closed with the Biggins original “I’m Giving Up On You” a song sourced from the composer’s “D.I.Y.  EP”. This is a  a home recording on which Biggins sings and plays everything herself. The instrumentation includes saxes and other woodwinds, keyboards and various household implements. Biggins studied saxophone at music college before deciding to concentrate on singing. She names the late Michael Brecker as her all time saxophone hero and Biggins herself sometimes still plays some tenor on gigs, the Festival Dinner being one such example. With Waghorn on board she doesn’t play it in this band but there’s no doubting the fact that Biggins is a considerable all round musical talent.
As for the song itself it was inspired by the lazy ex-husband of one of Biggins’ friends and is a witty piece of songwriting with something of the feel of a jazz standard about it. Tonight Waghorn’s tenor solo matched the forcefulness of Biggins’ amusing but caustic lyrics.

Set two commenced with the trio playing a jazzy, funky arrangement of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark” with Biggins making a diva’s entrance to sing the lyrics, followed by instrumental solos from Gard on organ and Waghorn on tenor.

Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” has been an increasingly popular vehicle for jazz performers in recent years, their interest perhaps piqued by the death of Glen Campbell. Here Waghorn featured on flute, soloing on the instrument alongside Gard on organ.

Biggins expressed her admiration for the songwriting of Billy Joel, choosing to cover the little known ballad “Through the Long Night”, the title track of Joel’s “Glass Houses” album. Her vocals, allied to the instrumental arrangement, helped to generate an authentic late night feel that matched the mood of the song perfectly. Here, as elsewhere during the course of the evening, I was impressed by the interplay between Biggins’ voice and Waghorn’s tenor, the saxophonist variously skilfully shadowing or echoing the singer’s vocal melody lines.

Biggins spoke warmly of her time working with pianist and arranger Laurie Holloway and dedicated “Close Your Eyes” to the memory of Holloway’s late wife, the singer Marion Montgomery. Biggins brought something of Montgomery’s warmth and playfulness to a performance propelled by Gard’s organ pedal bass lines that also included a scat vocal episode from the leader plus instrumental solos from Waghorn on flute and Gard on organ. Finally we enjoyed a neatly constructed drum solo from the excellent Tween which was along way removed from the booming beats and powerful rhythms that he one supplied to folk/rock superstar Seth Lakeman.

The singer returned to her “D.I.Y. EP” for another pithy and witty original. “You Should Be Married By Now” is pure autobiography, written from the perspective of a thirty year old mother of two in a stable relationship who is still harassed by friends and family who trot out ‘that phrase’ with dreary regularity. An appropriately playful arrangement featured Waghorn moving between baritone and tenor saxes.

A Nat King Cole inspired cruise down “Route 66” saw Biggins successfully navigating the lyrics while suitably hard driving solos came from Waghorn on tenor, Gard on organ and Tween at the kit, with a second drum feature.

Voice and organ ushered in a slowed down gospel arrangement of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You”, which to these ears was a considerable improvement on the Vegas style original with r’n’b style tenor and church style organ taking the instrumental honours.

The inevitable encore was a raunchy, bluesy romp through Peggy Lee’s “I’m a W.O.M.A.N” with Biggin’s fiercely defiant declaiming of the lyric fuelled by Tween’s sturdy, solid backbeat while Gard and Waghorn took the opportunity to cut loose on organ and tenor for the last time.

The audience reaction was the most animated and enthusiastic that I’ve seen at BMJ. Obviously the familiarity of much of the material helped but so did the quality of the performances. Gard, Waghorn and Tween are all supremely accomplished musicians who had previously endeared themselves to BMJ audiences. They all played superbly throughout and delivered fluent and exciting solos. It’s rare to see a singer backed by an organ trio, as opposed to the more conventional piano trio, and this helped to make the Biggins band particularly distinctive with the blend of jazz, blues and gospel elements enabling the band to stand out from the pack.

But most of all the audience loved Biggins, who presented the show with wit, charm and warmth. As well as being a highly accomplished vocalist she’s also a vibrant and bubbly personality with a very natural ‘everywoman’ or ‘girl next door appeal’. The performance wasn’t perfect by any means, but the occasional false start or mis-remembered lyric was soon forgotten, thanks to the sheer force of Biggins’ personality. Her enthusiasm is infectious, she’s a musician who is also a huge music fan with a love for, and affinity with, a broad range of music across a variety of genres.

The “It’s A Man’s World Show” is one with the potential to appeal to a wide audience while retaining enough genuine jazz and blues elements to keep the purists happy. Biggins and the band have another sold out Pizza Express show scheduled at the end of June when they will appear at the Holborn venue. For full details of Becki Biggins’ touring schedule please visit http://www.beckibiggins.com

Finally my thanks to Becki for talking with me at various junctures during the course of the evening. During the course of our conversations we discovered a mutual love for the music of Steely Dan. Maybe Becki will include a version of her favourite Dan song, “Pearl Of The Quarter” in the set the next time I see her.

 

 

 

Henry Lowther’s Still Waters - Henry Lowther’s Still Waters, Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton, 18/05/2019. Rating: 4 out of 5 Ian Mann enjoys the music but laments the small audience turn out as he offers his own perspective on the current tour by trumpeter and composer Henry Lowther's Still Waters quintet.

Henry Lowther’s Still Waters, Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton, 19/05/2019.


Henry Lowther – trumpet & flugelhorn, Pete Hurt – tenor saxophone, Barry Green – piano,
Dave Green – double bass, Jon Scott – drums.


Tonight’s event was part of an extensive tour by the long running Still Waters quintet led by trumpeter and composer Henry Lowther.

The group’s Reading date in April 2019 was covered by my co-writer Trevor Bannister but I so enjoyed the quintet’s most recent album release, 2018’s “Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe”, that I felt compelled to see the band perform the music live myself and to offer my own perspective on it.

Trevor’s account of the Reading performance, which featured Paul Clarvis in the drum chair, can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/henry-lowthers-still-waters-progress-theatre-reading-berkshire-12-04-2019/

Meanwhile my review of the “Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe” album is here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/henry-lowthers-still-waters-cant-believe-wont-believe/

The following paragraphs, containing some of Lowther’s biographical details and my personal recollections of his music making, have been lifted directly from that review in a cut and paste process that I like to refer to as ‘Jazz Will Eat Itself’.


“Born in Leicester in 1941 trumpeter, violinist and composer Henry Lowther is one of the great unsung heroes of British music. In his childhood he played cornet with Salvation Army and colliery bands while also learning classical violin at the behest of his mother.

On leaving school Lowther moved to London to study classical violin at the Royal Academy of Music but soon abandoned this to embrace the vibrant jazz and rock scene of the capital with the trumpet now his principal instrument.

The prolific Lowther worked with anybody and everybody including Manfred Mann, John Mayall and Cream bassist Jack Bruce. In 1969 he appeared at the famous Woodstock festival as part of drummer Keef Hartley’s band.

Inspired by the Indo-Jazz experimentations of violinist John Mayer Lowther began to embrace jazz more wholeheartedly and began lengthy associations with the bands led by saxophonist John Dankworth, pianist Mike Westbrook and trombonist and composer Mike Gibbs, the last of these still ongoing.

Lowther was an in demand session musician at this time appearing on many pop and rock albums. He even led a ‘horn section for a hire’ that went by the cheeky moniker of Tower of Lowther. I seem to recall first hearing his playing on classic prog rock albums like Egg’s “The Polite Force” and Caravan’s “For Girls Who grow Plump In The Night”. He’s played with rather more famous names too including George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Bryan Ferry and Van Morrison.

In the intervening years Lowther has become more associated with jazz and is particularly well known for his work with large ensembles, including bands led by Mike Gibbs, Graham Collier, Michael Garrick, George Russell, Gil Evans, Hermeto Pascoal, Scott Stroman, Kenny Wheeler, Frank Griffith and others. He has performed regularly with the BBC Concert Orchestra and was once a member of the jazz big band led by Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts.

In recent years I’ve enjoyed witnessing performances by Lowther as a member of bands led by Gibbs and Wheeler, Stan Sulzmann’s Neon Orchestra and the most recent edition of the Dedication Orchestra. In 2017 he was part of the jazz orchestra that toured the UK under the leadership of reeds player and composer Julian Siegel.

Lowther has been a professional musician for over fifty years and thus it’s practically impossible to list all of his achievements. His current activities include writing and playing for the London Jazz Orchestra, performing with guitarist Jim Mullen’s Great Wee Band and experimenting with free improvisation as part of a trio with violinist Satuko Fukada and guitarist John Russell.

All this in addition to his to his long running quintet Still Waters, a group that serves as an outlet for Lowther’s small group writing. Incredibly it’s been over twenty years since the group’s 1997 début “I.D.” which appeared on drummer Paul Clarvis’ Village Life imprint – as does this long awaited follow up.

I remember buying a copy of “I.D.” back in the day and I still love the album, as did many others for it was very well received. The 1997 edition of Still Waters included Lowther and Clarvis plus bassist Dave Green, saxophonist Julian Arguelles and pianist Pete Saberton. The album included seven Lowther original compositions, a version of the Rodgers & Hart song “It Never Entered My Mind” and a stunningly beautiful Arguelles arrangement of Gustav Holst’s “In The Bleak Midwinter”, my favourite piece of Christmas music.

Despite the hiatus between recordings the band has continued to be active and I recall enjoying a set by the quintet at the 2008 Brecon Festival featuring Lowther, Clarvis, Green and Saberton with Pete Hurt replacing Arguelles on saxophone.

I also remember seeing Lowther play a standards gig with a local rhythm section led by Abergavenny based drummer John Gibbon. This took place in a pub at Goodrich, Herefordshire and was part of a short tour of South Wales and the borders featuring this one off quartet. This was before my writing days and is therefore undocumented but it’s likely that the band also featured bassist Erika Lyons and pianist Phil Mead. Gibbon used to organise similar tours on a regular basis with guest soloists coming up from London to spend a week gigging in the Welsh Marches. They all seemed to love it. Other illustrious visitors included saxophonists Ray Warleigh, Danny Moss and Duncan Lamont and trumpeter Dick Pearce.

Returning now to the 2019 edition of Still Waters which features Lowther, Clarvis, Green, Hurt and pianist Barry Green, the latter a highly capable replacement for Pete Saberton who sadly passed away in 2012”.


Back to tonight’s show which saw the unavailable Clarvis replaced by Jon Scott, who has been the occupant of the drum chair for several of the dates on the current tour. Tonight he made an excellent contribution to the success of the music.

This evening’s performance represented my first visit to the Arena for a Jazz at Wolverhampton production for over two years. The strand was founded by the dynamic Alison Vermee following her departure from the Edge Arts Centre in Much Wenlock, Shropshire where she had developed a hugely successful jazz programme that saw such international stars of the music as Bobo Stenson, Tord Gustavsen, Fred Hersch, Ralph Towner and Tomasz Stanko visiting this seemingly remote rural location and playing to full houses.

In 2013 Alison moved to the Arena bringing with her a similar momentum as capacity crowds flocked in for sell out performances by the likes of Zoe Rahman (who became the Jazz programme’s patron), Tord Gustavsen, Phronesis, Jean Toussaint and The Impossible Gentlemen.

However when Alison moved to a new job with the Arts Council the energy levels seemed to dissipate with audience numbers starting to fall and with the programme becoming increasingly reliant on emerging musicians rather than established names. In these difficult economic times I suspect that the withdrawal of funding may have been an issue but there’s no doubt that Alison’s dynamism was sadly missed. Following her departure I found myself somewhat ‘out of the loop’ as far as Jazz at Wolverhampton was concerned but as far as I know there was no programme at all in 2018.

2019 has seen an attempt to revive the Jazz at Wolverhampton strand under the chairmanship of Steve Evans. The organisation has already promoted successful events featuring Zoe Rahman and Steve Fishwick at its new HQ at Newhampton Arts Centre in another part of the city. The duo of Kit Downes and Tom Challenger also played there and saxophonist Iain Ballamy and his quartet are due to visit the NAC on June 14th 2019.

Tonight’s return to the Arena was therefore a one off event and only came to my attention courtesy of Trevor Bannister’s review of the Still Waters show at Reading. Despite an earlier performance by the group in Hereford the Wolverhampton show fitted more comfortably with my reviewing schedule, and besides I was pleased to return to the Arena, with its superb Yamaha grand piano and excellent acoustics. It’s a venue that has produced so many memorable jazz performances in recent years.

Unfortunately tonight’s performance was very sparsely attended with only around twenty listeners dotted around the 150 seater auditorium, making it difficult for any kind of real atmosphere to be created. Not, however, that this detracted from the quality of the music. One would expect nothing less than excellence from this stellar group of musicians, particularly as they were largely playing music from the pen of Lowther, a consistently interesting and witty composer, as evidenced both by “I.D.” and “Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe”.

Tonight’s show commenced with the title track from the most recent album, a composition that Lowther dedicated to “sceptics everywhere”. Scott introduced the piece at the drums, his mallet rumbles leading into a group statement of the hymn like theme. Solos came from the leader on trumpet followed by Hurt on tenor.  Barry Green’s lyrical piano solo segued into Dave’s bass feature as the group switched into piano trio mode with Scott displaying an admirable delicacy with the brushes.

“T.L.” was dedicated to the memory of the late Birmingham based drummer Tony Levin, with whom Lowther once played. Lowther and Hurt’s unison theme statement provided the basis for fluent solos from both men. The latter’s sinuous, richly inventive solo had something of Wayne Shorter about it.  Barry Green was also featured at the piano, displaying his customary inventiveness and lightness of touch at the keyboard.

The writing skills of Pete Hurt were also featured. The saxophonist leads his own seventeen piece Jazz Orchestra, the line up including both Lowther and Scott, with whom he released the excellent album “A New Start” in 2016. He has also issued a couple of earlier small group recordings. Hurt’s composition “Capricorn” again emphasised the quality of the blend between his tenor and Lowther’s trumpet, the joint theme statement leading to lucid individual solos from both players. The rapport between Lowther and Hurt is reflected by that of Barry and Dave Green, whose absorbing piano and bass dialogue here served as a welcome reminder that the pair have recorded successfully in a duo format. Following Dave’s melodic bass solo Scott impressed with a neatly constructed drum feature. The horns of Lowther and Hurt then coalesced once more, prior an unexpected piano trio coda.

“Amber” is Lowther’s dedication to Barry Green’s young daughter of the same name. Tonight serving as a feature for the pianist this delightful ballad was ushered in by a passage of unaccompanied piano from Barry, with the addition of Dave’s languid bass and Scott’s brushed drums then prompting a further passage in trio format. Lowther then soloed on poignant, Harmon muted trumpet, followed by Hurt on tenor and Dave Green on melodic double bass.

The first half concluded with the excellent “Something Else”, a piece inspired by Lowther’s travels to Morocco and the music of the Gnawa people. The trumpeter played with Gnawan musicians at the Rabat Jazz Festival and although he didn’t deliberately set out to write a piece in this vein the memory of the experience, particularly the Gnawans’ use of huge metal castanets (or qraqebs), stayed with him and expressed itself via this composition. Hurt’s unaccompanied tenor sax introduction established a suitably exotic ‘Gnawan’ feel while Scott’s insistent sticks on hi-hat replicated something of the sound of the qraqebs. Lowther took the first solo on trumpet, accompanied only by bass and drums, before handing over for a dialogue between Scott and Barry Green, the pianist standing up to work ‘under the lid’, striking and plucking the strings. Finally Hurt returned to the fray, the sounds of his tenor ushering us into the break.

A shorter second set commenced with the only standard of the night as the quintet presented their interpretation of “Too Young To Go Steady”, written by Jimmy McHugh and with lyrics by Harold Adamson. Lowther stated the theme on trumpet before handing over to Hurt for the first solo. The saxophonist was followed by Barry Green at the piano before Lowther returned to solo at greater length on trumpet, followed by Dave Green at the bass.

Two Lowther compositions from the “I.D.” album completed the performance. The first, “Golovec”, was written in honour of a forest in Slovenia where the composer once walked and was introduced by the sound of Dave Green’s unaccompanied bass. The sound of this, in conjunction with Scott’s mallet rumbles, seemed to capture the spirit of being lost in the depths of the forest. The beautiful folk like theme again featured the rich blend of horns, with Lowther making his only outing of the evening on flugelhorn and also soloing fluently on the instrument. Others to feature included the two Greens on bass and piano.

The evening concluded with “White Dwarf”, an astronomically inspired composition that provided some of the spikiest music of the evening. More loosely structured than anything else heard thus far the piece prompted some fiery interactions including the leader’s trumpet solo with only Scott’s drums for company.  Similarly Hurt’s outing on tenor accompanied by Dave Green’s vigorously bowed bass.  Barry Green’s solo, accompanied by pizzicato bass and brushed drums was rather more conventional but it was Jon Scott’s drum feature that threatened to steal the show. This was a skilfully controlled solo that expertly ratcheted up the tension, steadily gaining momentum as Scott progressed from brushes to sticks, deploying one of each at the mid point. It elicited the biggest cheer of the night, on an evening when it seemed to fall to me to encourage my fellow audience members in applauding individual solos. As Scott’s solo reached a peak of energy Lowther and Hurt returned to centre stage to lead the final theme restatement.

All in all this was an excellent evening of music making, the only downside being that so few people were there to see it. The Still Waters tour had been supported by the West Midlands Jazz Network and with so many gigs in the immediate geographical area including Hereford, Birmingham,  Coventry, Telford and Oswestry perhaps the potential audience had been spread too thinly. Despite the lack of atmosphere the playing and writing couldn’t be faulted and having enjoyed both Still Waters albums so much I was pleased to have made the effort to come out to see and hear the music being performed live.The star rating reflects the quality of the music, rather than the success of the evening as an ‘event’.

My thanks to Sam Fleming, the Marketing Officer at the Arena Theatre, for providing me with my press ticket, it was good to catch up with her again after a lengthy interim. It was also good to meet up with photographer John Watson and I’m grateful to him for granting permission for me to use his striking black and white image of Henry Lowther to illustrate this review.

I was also able to meet with Steve Evans for the first time and I wish him and his colleagues at Jazz at Wolverhampton well as they attempt to restore the series to its former glory at their new home at the Newhampton Arts Centre. I hope to attend the Iain Ballamy event there in due course.

In the meantime there are still two dates to go on the current Still Waters tour, these being;

2019
May 23rd: Leicester – The Musicians Venue & Bar, LE1 2DE
May 24th: Wakefield – Sorts Club Eastmoor, WF1 3RZ

Henry Lowther’s Still Waters, Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton, 18/05/2019.

Henry Lowther’s Still Waters

Monday, May 20, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Henry Lowther’s Still Waters, Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton, 18/05/2019.
Photography: Photo copyright John Watson / http://www.jazzcamera.co.uk

Ian Mann enjoys the music but laments the small audience turn out as he offers his own perspective on the current tour by trumpeter and composer Henry Lowther's Still Waters quintet.

Henry Lowther’s Still Waters, Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton, 19/05/2019.


Henry Lowther – trumpet & flugelhorn, Pete Hurt – tenor saxophone, Barry Green – piano,
Dave Green – double bass, Jon Scott – drums.


Tonight’s event was part of an extensive tour by the long running Still Waters quintet led by trumpeter and composer Henry Lowther.

The group’s Reading date in April 2019 was covered by my co-writer Trevor Bannister but I so enjoyed the quintet’s most recent album release, 2018’s “Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe”, that I felt compelled to see the band perform the music live myself and to offer my own perspective on it.

Trevor’s account of the Reading performance, which featured Paul Clarvis in the drum chair, can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/henry-lowthers-still-waters-progress-theatre-reading-berkshire-12-04-2019/

Meanwhile my review of the “Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe” album is here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/henry-lowthers-still-waters-cant-believe-wont-believe/

The following paragraphs, containing some of Lowther’s biographical details and my personal recollections of his music making, have been lifted directly from that review in a cut and paste process that I like to refer to as ‘Jazz Will Eat Itself’.


“Born in Leicester in 1941 trumpeter, violinist and composer Henry Lowther is one of the great unsung heroes of British music. In his childhood he played cornet with Salvation Army and colliery bands while also learning classical violin at the behest of his mother.

On leaving school Lowther moved to London to study classical violin at the Royal Academy of Music but soon abandoned this to embrace the vibrant jazz and rock scene of the capital with the trumpet now his principal instrument.

The prolific Lowther worked with anybody and everybody including Manfred Mann, John Mayall and Cream bassist Jack Bruce. In 1969 he appeared at the famous Woodstock festival as part of drummer Keef Hartley’s band.

Inspired by the Indo-Jazz experimentations of violinist John Mayer Lowther began to embrace jazz more wholeheartedly and began lengthy associations with the bands led by saxophonist John Dankworth, pianist Mike Westbrook and trombonist and composer Mike Gibbs, the last of these still ongoing.

Lowther was an in demand session musician at this time appearing on many pop and rock albums. He even led a ‘horn section for a hire’ that went by the cheeky moniker of Tower of Lowther. I seem to recall first hearing his playing on classic prog rock albums like Egg’s “The Polite Force” and Caravan’s “For Girls Who grow Plump In The Night”. He’s played with rather more famous names too including George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Bryan Ferry and Van Morrison.

In the intervening years Lowther has become more associated with jazz and is particularly well known for his work with large ensembles, including bands led by Mike Gibbs, Graham Collier, Michael Garrick, George Russell, Gil Evans, Hermeto Pascoal, Scott Stroman, Kenny Wheeler, Frank Griffith and others. He has performed regularly with the BBC Concert Orchestra and was once a member of the jazz big band led by Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts.

In recent years I’ve enjoyed witnessing performances by Lowther as a member of bands led by Gibbs and Wheeler, Stan Sulzmann’s Neon Orchestra and the most recent edition of the Dedication Orchestra. In 2017 he was part of the jazz orchestra that toured the UK under the leadership of reeds player and composer Julian Siegel.

Lowther has been a professional musician for over fifty years and thus it’s practically impossible to list all of his achievements. His current activities include writing and playing for the London Jazz Orchestra, performing with guitarist Jim Mullen’s Great Wee Band and experimenting with free improvisation as part of a trio with violinist Satuko Fukada and guitarist John Russell.

All this in addition to his to his long running quintet Still Waters, a group that serves as an outlet for Lowther’s small group writing. Incredibly it’s been over twenty years since the group’s 1997 début “I.D.” which appeared on drummer Paul Clarvis’ Village Life imprint – as does this long awaited follow up.

I remember buying a copy of “I.D.” back in the day and I still love the album, as did many others for it was very well received. The 1997 edition of Still Waters included Lowther and Clarvis plus bassist Dave Green, saxophonist Julian Arguelles and pianist Pete Saberton. The album included seven Lowther original compositions, a version of the Rodgers & Hart song “It Never Entered My Mind” and a stunningly beautiful Arguelles arrangement of Gustav Holst’s “In The Bleak Midwinter”, my favourite piece of Christmas music.

Despite the hiatus between recordings the band has continued to be active and I recall enjoying a set by the quintet at the 2008 Brecon Festival featuring Lowther, Clarvis, Green and Saberton with Pete Hurt replacing Arguelles on saxophone.

I also remember seeing Lowther play a standards gig with a local rhythm section led by Abergavenny based drummer John Gibbon. This took place in a pub at Goodrich, Herefordshire and was part of a short tour of South Wales and the borders featuring this one off quartet. This was before my writing days and is therefore undocumented but it’s likely that the band also featured bassist Erika Lyons and pianist Phil Mead. Gibbon used to organise similar tours on a regular basis with guest soloists coming up from London to spend a week gigging in the Welsh Marches. They all seemed to love it. Other illustrious visitors included saxophonists Ray Warleigh, Danny Moss and Duncan Lamont and trumpeter Dick Pearce.

Returning now to the 2019 edition of Still Waters which features Lowther, Clarvis, Green, Hurt and pianist Barry Green, the latter a highly capable replacement for Pete Saberton who sadly passed away in 2012”.


Back to tonight’s show which saw the unavailable Clarvis replaced by Jon Scott, who has been the occupant of the drum chair for several of the dates on the current tour. Tonight he made an excellent contribution to the success of the music.

This evening’s performance represented my first visit to the Arena for a Jazz at Wolverhampton production for over two years. The strand was founded by the dynamic Alison Vermee following her departure from the Edge Arts Centre in Much Wenlock, Shropshire where she had developed a hugely successful jazz programme that saw such international stars of the music as Bobo Stenson, Tord Gustavsen, Fred Hersch, Ralph Towner and Tomasz Stanko visiting this seemingly remote rural location and playing to full houses.

In 2013 Alison moved to the Arena bringing with her a similar momentum as capacity crowds flocked in for sell out performances by the likes of Zoe Rahman (who became the Jazz programme’s patron), Tord Gustavsen, Phronesis, Jean Toussaint and The Impossible Gentlemen.

However when Alison moved to a new job with the Arts Council the energy levels seemed to dissipate with audience numbers starting to fall and with the programme becoming increasingly reliant on emerging musicians rather than established names. In these difficult economic times I suspect that the withdrawal of funding may have been an issue but there’s no doubt that Alison’s dynamism was sadly missed. Following her departure I found myself somewhat ‘out of the loop’ as far as Jazz at Wolverhampton was concerned but as far as I know there was no programme at all in 2018.

2019 has seen an attempt to revive the Jazz at Wolverhampton strand under the chairmanship of Steve Evans. The organisation has already promoted successful events featuring Zoe Rahman and Steve Fishwick at its new HQ at Newhampton Arts Centre in another part of the city. The duo of Kit Downes and Tom Challenger also played there and saxophonist Iain Ballamy and his quartet are due to visit the NAC on June 14th 2019.

Tonight’s return to the Arena was therefore a one off event and only came to my attention courtesy of Trevor Bannister’s review of the Still Waters show at Reading. Despite an earlier performance by the group in Hereford the Wolverhampton show fitted more comfortably with my reviewing schedule, and besides I was pleased to return to the Arena, with its superb Yamaha grand piano and excellent acoustics. It’s a venue that has produced so many memorable jazz performances in recent years.

Unfortunately tonight’s performance was very sparsely attended with only around twenty listeners dotted around the 150 seater auditorium, making it difficult for any kind of real atmosphere to be created. Not, however, that this detracted from the quality of the music. One would expect nothing less than excellence from this stellar group of musicians, particularly as they were largely playing music from the pen of Lowther, a consistently interesting and witty composer, as evidenced both by “I.D.” and “Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe”.

Tonight’s show commenced with the title track from the most recent album, a composition that Lowther dedicated to “sceptics everywhere”. Scott introduced the piece at the drums, his mallet rumbles leading into a group statement of the hymn like theme. Solos came from the leader on trumpet followed by Hurt on tenor.  Barry Green’s lyrical piano solo segued into Dave’s bass feature as the group switched into piano trio mode with Scott displaying an admirable delicacy with the brushes.

“T.L.” was dedicated to the memory of the late Birmingham based drummer Tony Levin, with whom Lowther once played. Lowther and Hurt’s unison theme statement provided the basis for fluent solos from both men. The latter’s sinuous, richly inventive solo had something of Wayne Shorter about it.  Barry Green was also featured at the piano, displaying his customary inventiveness and lightness of touch at the keyboard.

The writing skills of Pete Hurt were also featured. The saxophonist leads his own seventeen piece Jazz Orchestra, the line up including both Lowther and Scott, with whom he released the excellent album “A New Start” in 2016. He has also issued a couple of earlier small group recordings. Hurt’s composition “Capricorn” again emphasised the quality of the blend between his tenor and Lowther’s trumpet, the joint theme statement leading to lucid individual solos from both players. The rapport between Lowther and Hurt is reflected by that of Barry and Dave Green, whose absorbing piano and bass dialogue here served as a welcome reminder that the pair have recorded successfully in a duo format. Following Dave’s melodic bass solo Scott impressed with a neatly constructed drum feature. The horns of Lowther and Hurt then coalesced once more, prior an unexpected piano trio coda.

“Amber” is Lowther’s dedication to Barry Green’s young daughter of the same name. Tonight serving as a feature for the pianist this delightful ballad was ushered in by a passage of unaccompanied piano from Barry, with the addition of Dave’s languid bass and Scott’s brushed drums then prompting a further passage in trio format. Lowther then soloed on poignant, Harmon muted trumpet, followed by Hurt on tenor and Dave Green on melodic double bass.

The first half concluded with the excellent “Something Else”, a piece inspired by Lowther’s travels to Morocco and the music of the Gnawa people. The trumpeter played with Gnawan musicians at the Rabat Jazz Festival and although he didn’t deliberately set out to write a piece in this vein the memory of the experience, particularly the Gnawans’ use of huge metal castanets (or qraqebs), stayed with him and expressed itself via this composition. Hurt’s unaccompanied tenor sax introduction established a suitably exotic ‘Gnawan’ feel while Scott’s insistent sticks on hi-hat replicated something of the sound of the qraqebs. Lowther took the first solo on trumpet, accompanied only by bass and drums, before handing over for a dialogue between Scott and Barry Green, the pianist standing up to work ‘under the lid’, striking and plucking the strings. Finally Hurt returned to the fray, the sounds of his tenor ushering us into the break.

A shorter second set commenced with the only standard of the night as the quintet presented their interpretation of “Too Young To Go Steady”, written by Jimmy McHugh and with lyrics by Harold Adamson. Lowther stated the theme on trumpet before handing over to Hurt for the first solo. The saxophonist was followed by Barry Green at the piano before Lowther returned to solo at greater length on trumpet, followed by Dave Green at the bass.

Two Lowther compositions from the “I.D.” album completed the performance. The first, “Golovec”, was written in honour of a forest in Slovenia where the composer once walked and was introduced by the sound of Dave Green’s unaccompanied bass. The sound of this, in conjunction with Scott’s mallet rumbles, seemed to capture the spirit of being lost in the depths of the forest. The beautiful folk like theme again featured the rich blend of horns, with Lowther making his only outing of the evening on flugelhorn and also soloing fluently on the instrument. Others to feature included the two Greens on bass and piano.

The evening concluded with “White Dwarf”, an astronomically inspired composition that provided some of the spikiest music of the evening. More loosely structured than anything else heard thus far the piece prompted some fiery interactions including the leader’s trumpet solo with only Scott’s drums for company.  Similarly Hurt’s outing on tenor accompanied by Dave Green’s vigorously bowed bass.  Barry Green’s solo, accompanied by pizzicato bass and brushed drums was rather more conventional but it was Jon Scott’s drum feature that threatened to steal the show. This was a skilfully controlled solo that expertly ratcheted up the tension, steadily gaining momentum as Scott progressed from brushes to sticks, deploying one of each at the mid point. It elicited the biggest cheer of the night, on an evening when it seemed to fall to me to encourage my fellow audience members in applauding individual solos. As Scott’s solo reached a peak of energy Lowther and Hurt returned to centre stage to lead the final theme restatement.

All in all this was an excellent evening of music making, the only downside being that so few people were there to see it. The Still Waters tour had been supported by the West Midlands Jazz Network and with so many gigs in the immediate geographical area including Hereford, Birmingham,  Coventry, Telford and Oswestry perhaps the potential audience had been spread too thinly. Despite the lack of atmosphere the playing and writing couldn’t be faulted and having enjoyed both Still Waters albums so much I was pleased to have made the effort to come out to see and hear the music being performed live.The star rating reflects the quality of the music, rather than the success of the evening as an ‘event’.

My thanks to Sam Fleming, the Marketing Officer at the Arena Theatre, for providing me with my press ticket, it was good to catch up with her again after a lengthy interim. It was also good to meet up with photographer John Watson and I’m grateful to him for granting permission for me to use his striking black and white image of Henry Lowther to illustrate this review.

I was also able to meet with Steve Evans for the first time and I wish him and his colleagues at Jazz at Wolverhampton well as they attempt to restore the series to its former glory at their new home at the Newhampton Arts Centre. I hope to attend the Iain Ballamy event there in due course.

In the meantime there are still two dates to go on the current Still Waters tour, these being;

2019
May 23rd: Leicester – The Musicians Venue & Bar, LE1 2DE
May 24th: Wakefield – Sorts Club Eastmoor, WF1 3RZ

Phil Donkin’s Masterfrown - Value Rating: 4 out of 5 Striking an almost perfect balance between composition and improvisation and adventurousness and accessibility this is an excellent second outing as a leader from Donkin.

Phil Donkin’s Masterfrown

“Value”

(nWog Records 026)

I’m indebted to bassist Phil Donkin for providing me with a review copy of this recently released album when we talked at the Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham following his appearance there with saxophonist Tom Challenger and drummer Oliver ‘Oli’ Steidle under the collective name Uncanny Valley. My account of that performance can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/uncanny-valley-hexagon-theatre-midlands-arts-centre-mac-birmingham-28-03-20/

Born in Sunderland Donkin studied jazz at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, graduating in 2003. He quickly established himself as in demand bassist on the UK jazz scene and I first became aware of his playing as part of the trio led by pianist and composer Gwilym Simcock. Others with whom he has worked included pianist Ivo Neame, vocalist Brigitte Beraha, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and saxophonists Julian Arguelles, Evan Parker, Christian Brewer, Tim Garland , Stan Sulzmann and Seb Pipe. During this time he also established a still ongoing musical relationship with the Norwegian saxophonist and composer Marius Neset.

The Simcock connection was particularly profitable in terms of raising his profile and Donkin subsequently moved to Brooklyn, New York City, establishing himself as a musician with an international reputation and working with such jazz heavyweights as  guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel, Nir Felder, Ben Monder and John Abercrombie,  pianists Marc Copland, Edward Simon, Shai Maestro and Kevin Hays, multi reeds player Chris Speed and drummers Bill Stewart, Ralph Peterson and Nasheet Waits.

Donkin’s début recording as a leader, “The Gate”, was recorded with a New York based band featuring saxophonist Ben Wendel, pianist Glenn Zaleski and drummer Jochen Rueckert and was released on Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings in 2015. My account of a live show by this quartet at Dempsey’s in Cardiff in March 2015, which also took a look at the then new album, can be viewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/phil-donkin-quartet-dempseys-cardiff-04-03-2015/

Donkin has since settled in Berlin, where he has become a major figure on that city’s jazz and improvised music scene. His collaborators have included Steidle, trumpeter Bastian Stein and trombonist Nils Wogram, on whose nWog label this second album from Donkin appears.

The move to Berlin has seen Donkin exploring more experimental areas of jazz, including free improvisation, these tendencies being reflected in the recent Uncanny Valley performance. It’s probably fair to say that “Value” is a more adventurous recording than “The Gate”, good as that was.

Donkin’s début still had its roots in what has now become conventional ‘post bop’ and featured an orthodox line up of saxophone, piano, bass and drums. “Value” takes more chances and sports an unusual and distinctive international line up featuring the German musicians Joris Roelofs on bass clarinet and Wanja Slavin on alto sax, together with the all British rhythm pairing of Donkin on bass and Martin France at the drums.

The chordless line up and the unusual front line combination of bass clarinet and alto sax offers plenty of scope for unusual colours and textures within the music whilst also allowing considerable freedom for bass and drums, with the leader’s liberated bass often coming to the fore in the arrangements.

The first four tracks of the new album collectively form the “Zealot Suite”, composed, like all the other pieces, by Donkin.

Part 1 “Psycho Babble” commences with an extended dialogue between Donkin and France, the pair responding creatively to each others’ ideas with the leader’s bass subtly shaping the flow of the music. The addition of Roelofs and Slavin adds even greater interest to the already fascinating rhythmic patterns established by Donkin and France and as the piece progresses there’s a real sense that this is a genuine four way exchange rather than the usual ‘soloists plus rhythm section’ situation. The reeds sketch darting, scurrying melody lines while the bass and drums are no less active, with the always impressive France particularly busy.

A further extended dialogue between Donkin and France acts as the bridge into Part 2, “Master Frown”, the composition that gave its name to the band. The sense of dialogue remains strong through an absorbing exchange between Donkin and Roelofs before the whole band comes on board, the music racing forward with a heady joyousness that’s decidedly at odds with the title.

A passage of unaccompanied double bass presages Part 3, “Tonal Grimace”. Donkin’s playing remains at the heart of the piece as France provides a skittering brushed drum groove as the two reeds dance lightly and lithely around them, subsequently enjoying their own impish dialogue with a series of lively, playful exchanges.

The suite concludes with Part 4 “Jiblet” which kicks off with the two reeds picking up where they left off and continuing to enjoy a series of spirited changes above the busy polyrhythmic flow generated by Donkin and France. It’s great fun and very exciting, the four musicians wearing their virtuosity lightly to crate music that is both technically dazzling and highly entertaining.

A stunning passage of unaccompanied bass introduces the title track, “Value”. There’s a slightly more conventional jazz feel about this track as the reeds spar once more, vying with each other for excellence in a series of dizzying exchanges, above rhythmic grooves that first crawl and then race, with France again turning in a terrific performance.

“Crown of Thorns” flirts with both courtly elegance and spiky dissonance before Donkin and France set up an unstoppable groove that provides the impetus for the sharp, punchy phrasing of the reeds. But this being a Donkin composition it isn’t really that simple, with further changes of style and pace coming before the close. The leader is a writer who likes to keep both his musicians and his listeners on their toes.

“Enemy” bristles with energy and intent and is another excellent example of the now well established Masterfrown sound. Muscular, but supremely agile, bass and drum grooves now fuel scintillating individual solos from Slavin and Roelofs as the pair both stretch out at length. There’s also an extended solo from Donkin, his virtuoso playing underscored by France’s colourful and consistently inventive drumming.

An excellent album concludes with “Numb Worm”, the album’s most reflective and atmospheric track. At times it almost sounds like an avant garde “Last Post” as Slavin’s alto pipes emotively against a backdrop of mallet rumbles and grainy bass clarinet. Meanwhile while Donkin wields the bow for the first time, his tone rich and dark and almost cello like.

“Value” represents a highly impressive offering from Donkin. More focussed and compact than his début it boasts a highly distinctive group sound that is a tribute to both the abilities of the musicians involved and the quality of Donkin’s writing. The quartet find a wealth of interesting things to say within the context of what might have seemed a restrictive chordless line up. Instead we have n album that is both adventurous and highly accessible, despite its avant garde trappings. It’s hard to resist the sheer joy and inventiveness of some of these performances, there is always something going on melodically or rhythmically to catch the listener’s ear.

Part of the success is also down to the engineering team who combine to capture all the colour and nuance of this exceptional music. This too is an Anglo-German collaboration with Tito Knapp recording the music in Berlin, Alex Bonner mixing it in London and Adrian von Ripka doing the final mastering at the famous Bauer Studios in Ludwigsburg.

Striking an almost perfect balance between composition and improvisation and adventurousness and accessibility this is an excellent second outing as a leader from Donkin. Let’s hope he’s able to bring this band over to tour in the UK. I’d love to see this music being performed live.

 

Value

Phil Donkin’s Masterfrown

Friday, May 17, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Value

Striking an almost perfect balance between composition and improvisation and adventurousness and accessibility this is an excellent second outing as a leader from Donkin.

Phil Donkin’s Masterfrown

“Value”

(nWog Records 026)

I’m indebted to bassist Phil Donkin for providing me with a review copy of this recently released album when we talked at the Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham following his appearance there with saxophonist Tom Challenger and drummer Oliver ‘Oli’ Steidle under the collective name Uncanny Valley. My account of that performance can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/uncanny-valley-hexagon-theatre-midlands-arts-centre-mac-birmingham-28-03-20/

Born in Sunderland Donkin studied jazz at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, graduating in 2003. He quickly established himself as in demand bassist on the UK jazz scene and I first became aware of his playing as part of the trio led by pianist and composer Gwilym Simcock. Others with whom he has worked included pianist Ivo Neame, vocalist Brigitte Beraha, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and saxophonists Julian Arguelles, Evan Parker, Christian Brewer, Tim Garland , Stan Sulzmann and Seb Pipe. During this time he also established a still ongoing musical relationship with the Norwegian saxophonist and composer Marius Neset.

The Simcock connection was particularly profitable in terms of raising his profile and Donkin subsequently moved to Brooklyn, New York City, establishing himself as a musician with an international reputation and working with such jazz heavyweights as  guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel, Nir Felder, Ben Monder and John Abercrombie,  pianists Marc Copland, Edward Simon, Shai Maestro and Kevin Hays, multi reeds player Chris Speed and drummers Bill Stewart, Ralph Peterson and Nasheet Waits.

Donkin’s début recording as a leader, “The Gate”, was recorded with a New York based band featuring saxophonist Ben Wendel, pianist Glenn Zaleski and drummer Jochen Rueckert and was released on Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings in 2015. My account of a live show by this quartet at Dempsey’s in Cardiff in March 2015, which also took a look at the then new album, can be viewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/phil-donkin-quartet-dempseys-cardiff-04-03-2015/

Donkin has since settled in Berlin, where he has become a major figure on that city’s jazz and improvised music scene. His collaborators have included Steidle, trumpeter Bastian Stein and trombonist Nils Wogram, on whose nWog label this second album from Donkin appears.

The move to Berlin has seen Donkin exploring more experimental areas of jazz, including free improvisation, these tendencies being reflected in the recent Uncanny Valley performance. It’s probably fair to say that “Value” is a more adventurous recording than “The Gate”, good as that was.

Donkin’s début still had its roots in what has now become conventional ‘post bop’ and featured an orthodox line up of saxophone, piano, bass and drums. “Value” takes more chances and sports an unusual and distinctive international line up featuring the German musicians Joris Roelofs on bass clarinet and Wanja Slavin on alto sax, together with the all British rhythm pairing of Donkin on bass and Martin France at the drums.

The chordless line up and the unusual front line combination of bass clarinet and alto sax offers plenty of scope for unusual colours and textures within the music whilst also allowing considerable freedom for bass and drums, with the leader’s liberated bass often coming to the fore in the arrangements.

The first four tracks of the new album collectively form the “Zealot Suite”, composed, like all the other pieces, by Donkin.

Part 1 “Psycho Babble” commences with an extended dialogue between Donkin and France, the pair responding creatively to each others’ ideas with the leader’s bass subtly shaping the flow of the music. The addition of Roelofs and Slavin adds even greater interest to the already fascinating rhythmic patterns established by Donkin and France and as the piece progresses there’s a real sense that this is a genuine four way exchange rather than the usual ‘soloists plus rhythm section’ situation. The reeds sketch darting, scurrying melody lines while the bass and drums are no less active, with the always impressive France particularly busy.

A further extended dialogue between Donkin and France acts as the bridge into Part 2, “Master Frown”, the composition that gave its name to the band. The sense of dialogue remains strong through an absorbing exchange between Donkin and Roelofs before the whole band comes on board, the music racing forward with a heady joyousness that’s decidedly at odds with the title.

A passage of unaccompanied double bass presages Part 3, “Tonal Grimace”. Donkin’s playing remains at the heart of the piece as France provides a skittering brushed drum groove as the two reeds dance lightly and lithely around them, subsequently enjoying their own impish dialogue with a series of lively, playful exchanges.

The suite concludes with Part 4 “Jiblet” which kicks off with the two reeds picking up where they left off and continuing to enjoy a series of spirited changes above the busy polyrhythmic flow generated by Donkin and France. It’s great fun and very exciting, the four musicians wearing their virtuosity lightly to crate music that is both technically dazzling and highly entertaining.

A stunning passage of unaccompanied bass introduces the title track, “Value”. There’s a slightly more conventional jazz feel about this track as the reeds spar once more, vying with each other for excellence in a series of dizzying exchanges, above rhythmic grooves that first crawl and then race, with France again turning in a terrific performance.

“Crown of Thorns” flirts with both courtly elegance and spiky dissonance before Donkin and France set up an unstoppable groove that provides the impetus for the sharp, punchy phrasing of the reeds. But this being a Donkin composition it isn’t really that simple, with further changes of style and pace coming before the close. The leader is a writer who likes to keep both his musicians and his listeners on their toes.

“Enemy” bristles with energy and intent and is another excellent example of the now well established Masterfrown sound. Muscular, but supremely agile, bass and drum grooves now fuel scintillating individual solos from Slavin and Roelofs as the pair both stretch out at length. There’s also an extended solo from Donkin, his virtuoso playing underscored by France’s colourful and consistently inventive drumming.

An excellent album concludes with “Numb Worm”, the album’s most reflective and atmospheric track. At times it almost sounds like an avant garde “Last Post” as Slavin’s alto pipes emotively against a backdrop of mallet rumbles and grainy bass clarinet. Meanwhile while Donkin wields the bow for the first time, his tone rich and dark and almost cello like.

“Value” represents a highly impressive offering from Donkin. More focussed and compact than his début it boasts a highly distinctive group sound that is a tribute to both the abilities of the musicians involved and the quality of Donkin’s writing. The quartet find a wealth of interesting things to say within the context of what might have seemed a restrictive chordless line up. Instead we have n album that is both adventurous and highly accessible, despite its avant garde trappings. It’s hard to resist the sheer joy and inventiveness of some of these performances, there is always something going on melodically or rhythmically to catch the listener’s ear.

Part of the success is also down to the engineering team who combine to capture all the colour and nuance of this exceptional music. This too is an Anglo-German collaboration with Tito Knapp recording the music in Berlin, Alex Bonner mixing it in London and Adrian von Ripka doing the final mastering at the famous Bauer Studios in Ludwigsburg.

Striking an almost perfect balance between composition and improvisation and adventurousness and accessibility this is an excellent second outing as a leader from Donkin. Let’s hope he’s able to bring this band over to tour in the UK. I’d love to see this music being performed live.

 

Ben Thomas / Julian Martin Quartet - Ben Thomas / Julian Martin Quartet, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 14/05/2019. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 A welcome return to Brecon Jazz Club for this quartet playing their imaginative jazz arrangements of tunes associated with films and TV series.

Ben Thomas /  Julian Martin Quartet, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 14/05/2019.

Ben Thomas – trumpet, Julian Martin – piano, Erika Lyons – double bass, Paolo Adamo – drums

Tonight’s event represented a welcome return to Brecon Jazz Club for this quartet following an earlier successful performance at the Club’s previous venue, the Bar at Theatr Brycheiniog in May 2016, three years ago to the day.

Once again Thomas and Martin presented a programme of jazz arrangements associated with film and television, a reflection of the interests of both the co-leaders in the visual arts. The only line up change saw the Bristol based drummer Paolo Adamo replacing Greg Evans at the kit.

Something of the background to this project can be read in my review of the previous show here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/ben-thomas-julian-martin-quartet-brecon-jazz-club-bar-theatr-brycheinog-bre/

Tonight’s arrangements came from the pen of the Cardiff based Martin, a musician whose professional career includes writing incidental music for films, documentaries and children’s TV plus the mysterious genre known as “Library Music”.  In addition to this Martin is an acclaimed teacher and workshop leader as well as being an accomplished and popular jazz pianist on the South Wales live music circuit. 

A number of items from the previous performance found their way into tonight’s repertoire but Martin had clearly been working on some new arrangements too and tonight’s show was warmly appreciated by a pleasingly substantial audience at The Muse.

The first set commenced in lively and playful fashion with Martin’s cleverly syncopated arrangement of the theme from “Top Cat”. This included an opening solo from Martin himself on keyboard, deploying the acoustic piano sound that he maintained for the rest of the gig, with further features coming from Thomas and Lyons.

Although it was primarily Thomas who acted as the quartet’s spokesman Martin couldn’t help himself recalling his boyhood obsession with Audrey Hepburn as he introduced Henry Mancini’s theme to the film “Charade”. The piece was ushered in by a passage of unaccompanied piano, subsequently joined by double bass and brushed drums. Thomas’ trumpet solo began in mellow fashion, but gradually gathered momentum and intensity, becoming increasingly emotive with its use of blues inflections and slurred notes as Adamo switched to sticks. Subsequent solos came from Lyons on double bass and Martin himself on piano.

The tune “It Could Happen To You” was featured in a 1994 film starring Nicholas Cage and Bridget Fonda. Here Thomas stated the theme on trumpet before embarking on the first solo, followed by Martin and Lyons. Formerly Erika Howard the bassist was a professional jazz musician on the London scene in the late 70s and early 80s before moving to the Welsh Borders. She remains a supremely accomplished bass player and a consistently interesting and melodic soloist, as epitomised by her frequent features throughout the course of this evening.

From the 1965 film starring Michael Caine came John Barry’s theme for “The Ipcress File”, according to Martin only the second best John Barry theme tune - “but you try jazzing up ‘Dances With Wolves’” he explained. But Martin’s ‘jazzing up’ of “Ipcress” was just fine as he took the first solo, this followed by Thomas’ expressive, gently brooding trumpet.

From the first Superman film came “Can You Read My Mind”, a surprisingly moody and atmospheric piece of music considering its inclusion in the soundtrack of a Hollywood blockbuster.
Martin and Lyons introduced the piece as a duo, subsequently joined by brushed drums and further pensive trumpet musings from Thomas. Although a highly accomplished performer of standards the trumpeter’s output as a leader of his own projects is darker edged and more experimental and a sense of melancholy has increasingly come to imbue his increasingly technically assured playing, even on occasions such as tonight. At numerous junctures during the evening the bitter-sweet nature of his playing variously reminded me Chet Baker, Miles Davis and even Tomasz Stanko. Following a successful recent tour with Italian pianist Davide Logiri his ‘chops’ were in particularly good nick.

That said the first half ended on a cheery note with a breezy romp through the theme tune to the 1970s animated TV series “Roobarb and Custard”, with trumpet replicating the old synth melody line and with Martin soloing on piano above Lyons’ rapid bass walk and Adamo’s crisply marching drum grooves.

The opening tune of the second set came as something of a surprise, an arrangement of The Beatles’ “When My Guitar Gently Weeps” that was particularly well received by the Brecon audience. Solos came from Martin and Thomas and we subsequently learned that George Harrison’s song had appeared on the soundtrack of the cult film “Withnail and I”.

There was another Beatles connection to the next piece, an arrangement of the theme song from the ‘kitchen sink’ drama “A Taste of Honey”, the film starring Rita Tushingham. Thomas revealed that he knew the song from the version by Herb Alpert, a factor that came out in his playing as he shared the solos with Martin.

The theme from “The Godfather” was given a delightful jazz ballad arrangement which was notable for a wonderfully melodic bass solo from Lyons and her further exchanges with Martin’s piano. Thomas’ solo incorporated more of that pensive melancholy as Adamo deployed brushes throughout and Lyons flourished the bow at the close, for the second number in a row.

The theme from “M*A*S*H”, or “Suicide Is Painless” featured Thomas stating the theme and providing inventive variations upon it prior to an expansive piano solo from Martin. The pianist is a consistently fluent and imaginative soloist and it’s a shame that we don’t see him more often on the South Wales jazz scene. This piece was also notable for the first extended drum feature from Adamo, who hitherto had been content to provide flexible and intelligent support, never imposing but always quietly adding to the music. This was another item that was particularly well received and which seemed a particularly appropriate choice, given that it was once memorably covered by the Manic Street Preachers from just down the road in Blackwood.

A late insertion into the programme was Martin’s arrangement of the song “Secret Love”, included in the set tonight as a tribute to the recently departed Doris Day (1922-2019). Performed in a fast paced, fiercely swinging arrangement this was a celebration rather than a lament and featured lively solos from Thomas, Martin and Lyons and a vigorous set of drum breaks from Adamo as he traded phrases with the other instruments, with even Lyons getting in on the act.

The quartet maintained the energy levels as they rounded things off with “Soul Bossa Nova” from the 1999 Austin Powers movie with more ebullient soloing coming from Martin and Thomas.

Such was the audience response that the quartet remained on stage for an obviously unscheduled encore. After some debate this proved to be “Bye Bye Blackbird”, which is probably included in a film somewhere, even if nobody actually knew what it might be. In any event it allowed each member of this talented quartet to express themselves for one last time with solos coming from Martin, Thomas and Lyons and with Adamo again trading choruses with his bandmates.

Listeners who wish to hear more of Julian Martin are directed to the jam sessions that he runs at The Gate in Cardiff on the last Tuesday of every month.

Meanwhile Brecon Jazz Club’s next event will be a Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama showcase on June 11th 2019 at The Muse. This will feature music from two different trios, one led by alto saxophonist Rachel Head and the other by pianist Michael Blanchfield. Please visit http://www.breconjazzclub.org for full details.

Ben Thomas / Julian Martin Quartet, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 14/05/2019.

Ben Thomas / Julian Martin Quartet

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Ben Thomas / Julian Martin Quartet, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 14/05/2019.
Photography: Photograph of Ben Thomas sourced from the Brecon Jazz Club website http://www.breconjazzclub.org

A welcome return to Brecon Jazz Club for this quartet playing their imaginative jazz arrangements of tunes associated with films and TV series.

Ben Thomas /  Julian Martin Quartet, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 14/05/2019.

Ben Thomas – trumpet, Julian Martin – piano, Erika Lyons – double bass, Paolo Adamo – drums

Tonight’s event represented a welcome return to Brecon Jazz Club for this quartet following an earlier successful performance at the Club’s previous venue, the Bar at Theatr Brycheiniog in May 2016, three years ago to the day.

Once again Thomas and Martin presented a programme of jazz arrangements associated with film and television, a reflection of the interests of both the co-leaders in the visual arts. The only line up change saw the Bristol based drummer Paolo Adamo replacing Greg Evans at the kit.

Something of the background to this project can be read in my review of the previous show here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/ben-thomas-julian-martin-quartet-brecon-jazz-club-bar-theatr-brycheinog-bre/

Tonight’s arrangements came from the pen of the Cardiff based Martin, a musician whose professional career includes writing incidental music for films, documentaries and children’s TV plus the mysterious genre known as “Library Music”.  In addition to this Martin is an acclaimed teacher and workshop leader as well as being an accomplished and popular jazz pianist on the South Wales live music circuit. 

A number of items from the previous performance found their way into tonight’s repertoire but Martin had clearly been working on some new arrangements too and tonight’s show was warmly appreciated by a pleasingly substantial audience at The Muse.

The first set commenced in lively and playful fashion with Martin’s cleverly syncopated arrangement of the theme from “Top Cat”. This included an opening solo from Martin himself on keyboard, deploying the acoustic piano sound that he maintained for the rest of the gig, with further features coming from Thomas and Lyons.

Although it was primarily Thomas who acted as the quartet’s spokesman Martin couldn’t help himself recalling his boyhood obsession with Audrey Hepburn as he introduced Henry Mancini’s theme to the film “Charade”. The piece was ushered in by a passage of unaccompanied piano, subsequently joined by double bass and brushed drums. Thomas’ trumpet solo began in mellow fashion, but gradually gathered momentum and intensity, becoming increasingly emotive with its use of blues inflections and slurred notes as Adamo switched to sticks. Subsequent solos came from Lyons on double bass and Martin himself on piano.

The tune “It Could Happen To You” was featured in a 1994 film starring Nicholas Cage and Bridget Fonda. Here Thomas stated the theme on trumpet before embarking on the first solo, followed by Martin and Lyons. Formerly Erika Howard the bassist was a professional jazz musician on the London scene in the late 70s and early 80s before moving to the Welsh Borders. She remains a supremely accomplished bass player and a consistently interesting and melodic soloist, as epitomised by her frequent features throughout the course of this evening.

From the 1965 film starring Michael Caine came John Barry’s theme for “The Ipcress File”, according to Martin only the second best John Barry theme tune - “but you try jazzing up ‘Dances With Wolves’” he explained. But Martin’s ‘jazzing up’ of “Ipcress” was just fine as he took the first solo, this followed by Thomas’ expressive, gently brooding trumpet.

From the first Superman film came “Can You Read My Mind”, a surprisingly moody and atmospheric piece of music considering its inclusion in the soundtrack of a Hollywood blockbuster.
Martin and Lyons introduced the piece as a duo, subsequently joined by brushed drums and further pensive trumpet musings from Thomas. Although a highly accomplished performer of standards the trumpeter’s output as a leader of his own projects is darker edged and more experimental and a sense of melancholy has increasingly come to imbue his increasingly technically assured playing, even on occasions such as tonight. At numerous junctures during the evening the bitter-sweet nature of his playing variously reminded me Chet Baker, Miles Davis and even Tomasz Stanko. Following a successful recent tour with Italian pianist Davide Logiri his ‘chops’ were in particularly good nick.

That said the first half ended on a cheery note with a breezy romp through the theme tune to the 1970s animated TV series “Roobarb and Custard”, with trumpet replicating the old synth melody line and with Martin soloing on piano above Lyons’ rapid bass walk and Adamo’s crisply marching drum grooves.

The opening tune of the second set came as something of a surprise, an arrangement of The Beatles’ “When My Guitar Gently Weeps” that was particularly well received by the Brecon audience. Solos came from Martin and Thomas and we subsequently learned that George Harrison’s song had appeared on the soundtrack of the cult film “Withnail and I”.

There was another Beatles connection to the next piece, an arrangement of the theme song from the ‘kitchen sink’ drama “A Taste of Honey”, the film starring Rita Tushingham. Thomas revealed that he knew the song from the version by Herb Alpert, a factor that came out in his playing as he shared the solos with Martin.

The theme from “The Godfather” was given a delightful jazz ballad arrangement which was notable for a wonderfully melodic bass solo from Lyons and her further exchanges with Martin’s piano. Thomas’ solo incorporated more of that pensive melancholy as Adamo deployed brushes throughout and Lyons flourished the bow at the close, for the second number in a row.

The theme from “M*A*S*H”, or “Suicide Is Painless” featured Thomas stating the theme and providing inventive variations upon it prior to an expansive piano solo from Martin. The pianist is a consistently fluent and imaginative soloist and it’s a shame that we don’t see him more often on the South Wales jazz scene. This piece was also notable for the first extended drum feature from Adamo, who hitherto had been content to provide flexible and intelligent support, never imposing but always quietly adding to the music. This was another item that was particularly well received and which seemed a particularly appropriate choice, given that it was once memorably covered by the Manic Street Preachers from just down the road in Blackwood.

A late insertion into the programme was Martin’s arrangement of the song “Secret Love”, included in the set tonight as a tribute to the recently departed Doris Day (1922-2019). Performed in a fast paced, fiercely swinging arrangement this was a celebration rather than a lament and featured lively solos from Thomas, Martin and Lyons and a vigorous set of drum breaks from Adamo as he traded phrases with the other instruments, with even Lyons getting in on the act.

The quartet maintained the energy levels as they rounded things off with “Soul Bossa Nova” from the 1999 Austin Powers movie with more ebullient soloing coming from Martin and Thomas.

Such was the audience response that the quartet remained on stage for an obviously unscheduled encore. After some debate this proved to be “Bye Bye Blackbird”, which is probably included in a film somewhere, even if nobody actually knew what it might be. In any event it allowed each member of this talented quartet to express themselves for one last time with solos coming from Martin, Thomas and Lyons and with Adamo again trading choruses with his bandmates.

Listeners who wish to hear more of Julian Martin are directed to the jam sessions that he runs at The Gate in Cardiff on the last Tuesday of every month.

Meanwhile Brecon Jazz Club’s next event will be a Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama showcase on June 11th 2019 at The Muse. This will feature music from two different trios, one led by alto saxophonist Rachel Head and the other by pianist Michael Blanchfield. Please visit http://www.breconjazzclub.org for full details.

BATL Quartet - Brandon Allen / Tim Lapthorn Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 11/05/2019. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Ian Mann enjoys the music of this new quartet co-led by tenor saxophonist Brandon Allen and pianist Tim Lapthorn and looks ahead to their forthcoming debut album.

BRANDON ALLEN / TIM LAPTHORN QUARTET, THE HIVE MUSIC & MEDIA CENTRE, SHREWSBURY, 11/05/2019.

Brandon Allen – tenor saxophone, Tim Lapthorn – keyboard, Tim Thornton – double bass, Dave Ingamells - drums

Tonight’s performance represented a third visit to The Hive as a leader or co-leader by the Australian born, London based, tenor saxophonist Brandon Allen.

In 2014 Allen fronted a quartet featuring pianist Steve Melling and the Midlands based rhythm section of bassist Tom Hill and drummer Miles Levin with the focus then firmly on the standards repertoire.
Review here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/brandon-allen-with-the-steve-melling-trio-the-hive-music-media-centre-shrew/

In 2017 he returned with his Gene Ammons Project, celebrating the music of the late and rather neglected American saxophonist, in the company of Ross Stanley on keyboards, Arnie Somogyi on double bass and Matt Home at the drums.
Review here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/brandon-allen-quartet-plays-gene-ammons-the-hive-music-media-centre-shrewsb/

That same quartet subsequently appeared on the album “The Gene Ammons Project”, a recording that garnered considerable acclaim from the critics, including myself. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/brandon-allen-the-gene-ammons-project/

Allen also leads a sextet featuring Stanley on keyboards, Sam Mayne on alto sax and flute, Mark Nightingale on trombone, Sam Burgess on double bass and Ian Thomas at the drums - a fairly regular working unit but one that is yet to record.

Allen has also appeared on the Jazzmann web pages as the co-leader, with British trumpeter Quentin Collins, of a hard hitting quartet featuring Stanley on organ and Enzo Zirilli on drums. This band, also sometimes known as Drugstore Cowboy, released the highly enjoyable album “What’s It Gonna Be?” in 2011 and  followed this in 2015 with the deceptively titled “Beauty in Quiet Places”.  Other sightings of Allen have been in the bands of guitarists Nigel Price, Chris Allard and fellow Aussie Blake Wilner and of drummers Dylan Howe and Clark Tracey. He has also been part of Sax Appeal, led by fellow saxophonist Derek Nash.

Allen also enjoys a high profile engagement as part of the London based quintet led by the American bassist and composer Kyle Eastwood, a band that also includes Collins on trumpet and flugel, Andrew McCormack on piano and Chris Higginbottom at the drums. This line up appears on Eastwood’s most recent album release “In Transit”, which also features contributions from Italian saxophonist Stefano Di Battista on alto and soprano. 

In addition to his jazz output Allen is also a prolific session musician who has appeared with a wide variety of pop, soul and rock acts. He is also an acclaimed educator, offering private tuition as well as holding a Professorship at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. A brief foray into music promotion also saw him organising London’s Highgate Jazz Festival.

Tonight’s band, dubbed the BATL Quartet is a new project that tonight teamed Allen with co-leader Tim Lapthorn plus two of the most prolific young rhythm players on the London jazz scene, bassist Tim Thornton and drummer Dave Ingamells.

I first became of Lapthorn over a decade ago thanks to two excellent trio albums released on the Basho Record label, 2004’s “Natural Language”, featuring bassist Tom Herbert and drummer Patrick Levett, and 2006’s “Seventh Sense” with the new rhythm team of Arnie Somogyi on bass and Stephen Keogh at the drums. At around this time I saw Lapthorn’s trio perform an early evening show at St. Cyprian’s Church in Marylebone, London, one of a series events organised by Christine Allen of Basho Music.

I also recall seeing the trio of Lapthorn, Somogyi and Keogh opening for Cedar Walton at Ronnie Scott’s at the 2010 London Jazz Festival. Indeed Lapthorn is something of a fixture at Ronnie’s, often forming part of the Ronnie Scott’s All Stars group that frequently opens the show for illustrious overseas visitors. I’ve also heard Lapthorn perform with Somogyi’s Ambulance group and as part of bands led by vocalist Georgia Mancio, saxophonist Josh Kemp and electric bass specialist Laurence Cottle.

BATL differed from the other groups that Allen has brought to The Hive in that the emphasis today was very much on original material from the pens of the co-leaders, with Allen claiming the lion’s share of the credits. I’ve always regarded Allen as a particularly incisive and hard hitting soloist but tonight’s performance revealed a gentler side to his playing, something encouraged by his growing fascination for the music of Stan Getz.

From that trio show at Ronnie’s I recall Lapthorn being a particularly self effacing performer so it came as no surprise that he left all of the announcing duties to Allen, and in many respects it was difficult not to think of BATL as essentially Allen’s band.

Allen and Lapthorn have worked together for sixteen years and play together regularly in various line ups at Ronnie’s, so the formation of the BATL Quartet very much feels like a natural progression, particularly as the saxophonist has started to compose more and requires an outlet for his writing. Apparently the regular rhythm section features Somogyi and the young drummer Lloyd Haines, the latter a graduate of the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff. Nevertheless Thornton and Ingamells, both highly competent and versatile players, seemed to fit in easily tonight on the first date of a tour that will resume at the end of May when Allen returns from a series of dates in France with Kyle Eastwood.

Tonight’s performance commenced with Allen’s “Gone But Not Forgotten”, a dedication to the late Graham Wood, the late Australian pianist who was something of a mentor to Allen in his early years. Wood was the founder of Perth Jazz and the first head of the jazz department at the Western Australian Academy of the Performing Arts in Allen’s home city of Perth. Most of tonight’s originals were very much ‘in the tradition’ and this Allen composition had something of the feel of a standard about it. Appropriately the piece began in piano trio mode with Lapthorn taking the first solo, adopting an electric piano sound on his Roland keyboard. Allen followed on tenor with Thornton also chipping in at the bass.

Also by Allen “Lazy Day” boasted a suitably sunny and breezy melodic theme that provided the jumping off point for a solo that saw the composer probing more deeply as he stretched out on tenor. He was followed by Lapthorn, who now favoured a more conventional acoustic piano sound.

BATL’s début album, recorded live at London’s Pizza Express Jazz Club in March 2019 is due for release in June 2019 and will be titled “Gone But Not Forgotten”. It will include Lapthorn’s “Return To Life”, a lively Latin-esque piece that tonight featured the composer again adopting an electric piano sound that somehow reminded of the CTI records of the 1970s. Following Allen’s introductory theme statement Lapthorn took the first solo at the keyboard. Whenever I’ve seen him play live he has performed shoeless, and tonight was to prove no exception. Allen weighed in with a powerful tenor solo, urged on by the driving rhythms generated by Thornton and Ingamells. Thornton’s feature saw him displaying a real agility and dexterity on the bass, as well as a strong melodic sense as he quietly sang along with his solos.

The first cover of the evening was the beautiful John Coltrane ballad “Dear Lord”, originally recorded in 1965 but released posthumously in 1970 as part of the “Transition” album. It’s a piece that Allen had played at Ronnie’s as part of a Coltrane tribute and tonight featured Allen’s nuanced and textured ballad playing alongside further solos from Lapthorn on acoustic piano and Thornton on melodic double bass.

Coltrane was obviously a huge influence on Allen but his love of the playing of Stan Getz was also expressed in an Allen original titled “Running Away With Me”, that also drew inspiration from pianists Chick Corea (particularly the composition “Captain Marvel”) and Bill Evans. Allen’s tenor sound was softer than of yore, reflecting that Getz influence, as he shared the solos with Lapthorn on acoustic piano and Ingamells with a neatly constructed drum feature.

Set two commenced with another Allen original, this time paying tribute to another famous musician and with the punning title “A Corea In Music”(groan). As befits the title this was a cheerful piece with a catchy theme that prompted solos from Lapthorn on electric piano, Allen on tenor and Thornton on bass.

Also by Allen “A Little Love Song” was a jazz waltz inspired by the music of Weather Report- “I hope we sound like an acoustic version of that band” explained Allen. This was a lovely, melodic ballad that saw Ingamells playing with brushes almost throughout as Thornton took the first solo followed by Lapthorn, who actually deployed an electric piano setting. The musically subsequently gained greater momentum as Allen stretched out more expansively on tenor.

A further Allan composition was dedicated to his infant son, Theodore. This was a playful and relaxed piece that reflected the happiness and pride of the new father with solos again coming from Lapthorn on electric piano, the composer on tenor and Thornton on bass. The latter impressed throughout the evening and was given plenty of opportunity to express himself as a melodic and highly convincing bass soloist. Thornton is also a bandleader himself with two album releases to his credit.

Lapthorn’s compositional contribution to the second set was the ballad “Cuckoo”, which he introduced with an extended passage of unaccompanied acoustic piano. With Ingamells again deploying brushes Allen adopted the classic tenor ballad sound, his tone rounded and slightly breathy, with subtle blues inflections. Meanwhile the composer was flowing and lyrical on acoustic piano.

Finally Allen’s “Frack The Right”, a titled with lightly veiled political implications, saw Allen finally unleashing a harder edged sound with a strident tenor solo that recalled the classic hard bop sound, while also sneaking in a suggestion of wilful, avant garde dissonance. Lapthorn favoured an acoustic piano sound as he too stretched about above the propulsive grooves generated by Thornton’s rapid bass and Ingamells’ insistent ride cymbal.

The quartet remained on stage to deliver the deserved encore, Allen’s arrangement of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Picture In Black And White”, as inspired by the version by Joe Henderson. That said it was still in keeping with the Getz theme with Allen adopting a deep, resonant sound on tenor as he stretched out on a marathon solo. Lapthorn continued with the acoustic piano sound for his own feature and we also enjoyed a final solo from the consistently excellent Thornton.

This had been a highly enjoyable evening of contemporary jazz, perhaps less experimental than some of the recent events at The Hive (Duncan Eagles, Asaf Sirkis) but no less rewarding for that. Despite the frequent use of an electric piano sound inspirit this felt like an acoustic performance with Allen playing unhooked and often off mic. It certainly revealed a new side of the saxophonist’s playing, generally more gentle and restrained than of yore and with a far greater emphasis on original composition, a side of his talent that Allen is obviously keen to explore.

That said I’d have liked to have heard a bit more of Lapthorn’s writing, particularly after enjoying the original compositions on the “Natural Language” and “Seventh Sense” albums.

I’ll be interested to hear the BATL album when it finally reaches the market place.

Meanwhile the remaining BATL tour dates, presumably with Somogyi and Haines, are listed below;

30th May   BATL Duo @ Renaissance piano shop and Café
24th June   Cadogan Hall Foyer, London (Jazz Series)
26th June   Brandon Allen Masterclass/concert @ The Purcell School
9th July      Masterclass/concert at The Guildhall, London
19th July    Oliver’s Jazz Bar (Greenwich)
22nd July   Early show @ Ronnie Scott’s
23rd July   Early show @ Ronnie Scott’s
24th July.   Early show @ Ronnie Scott’s
25th July    The Fox (Twickenham)
26th July    Llandudno Jazz Festival playing “Gene Ammons”
27th July    The Archduke (Waterloo)
28th July    Boaters (Kingston)
29th July    The Late Late Show @ Ronnie Scott’s playing “Transition”
31st July     Swansea Jazzland (Wales)
1st August   The Sound Cellar (Poole)
3rd August   Clun Valley Jazz (Shropshire)
18th August   The Oval Tavern (Croydon)
24th August   The 606 Club, Chelsea, London
29th August    Jazz Steps (Nottingham)
30th August   Hampstead Jazz Club
13th September    The Vortex, Dalston, London
More tour dates to be announced! 

Further information at http://www.brandonallen.co.uk

Brandon Allen / Tim Lapthorn Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 11/05/2019.

BATL Quartet

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Brandon Allen / Tim Lapthorn Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 11/05/2019.
Photography: Photograph by Hamish Kirkpatrick of Shrewsbury Jazz Network.

Ian Mann enjoys the music of this new quartet co-led by tenor saxophonist Brandon Allen and pianist Tim Lapthorn and looks ahead to their forthcoming debut album.

BRANDON ALLEN / TIM LAPTHORN QUARTET, THE HIVE MUSIC & MEDIA CENTRE, SHREWSBURY, 11/05/2019.

Brandon Allen – tenor saxophone, Tim Lapthorn – keyboard, Tim Thornton – double bass, Dave Ingamells - drums

Tonight’s performance represented a third visit to The Hive as a leader or co-leader by the Australian born, London based, tenor saxophonist Brandon Allen.

In 2014 Allen fronted a quartet featuring pianist Steve Melling and the Midlands based rhythm section of bassist Tom Hill and drummer Miles Levin with the focus then firmly on the standards repertoire.
Review here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/brandon-allen-with-the-steve-melling-trio-the-hive-music-media-centre-shrew/

In 2017 he returned with his Gene Ammons Project, celebrating the music of the late and rather neglected American saxophonist, in the company of Ross Stanley on keyboards, Arnie Somogyi on double bass and Matt Home at the drums.
Review here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/brandon-allen-quartet-plays-gene-ammons-the-hive-music-media-centre-shrewsb/

That same quartet subsequently appeared on the album “The Gene Ammons Project”, a recording that garnered considerable acclaim from the critics, including myself. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/brandon-allen-the-gene-ammons-project/

Allen also leads a sextet featuring Stanley on keyboards, Sam Mayne on alto sax and flute, Mark Nightingale on trombone, Sam Burgess on double bass and Ian Thomas at the drums - a fairly regular working unit but one that is yet to record.

Allen has also appeared on the Jazzmann web pages as the co-leader, with British trumpeter Quentin Collins, of a hard hitting quartet featuring Stanley on organ and Enzo Zirilli on drums. This band, also sometimes known as Drugstore Cowboy, released the highly enjoyable album “What’s It Gonna Be?” in 2011 and  followed this in 2015 with the deceptively titled “Beauty in Quiet Places”.  Other sightings of Allen have been in the bands of guitarists Nigel Price, Chris Allard and fellow Aussie Blake Wilner and of drummers Dylan Howe and Clark Tracey. He has also been part of Sax Appeal, led by fellow saxophonist Derek Nash.

Allen also enjoys a high profile engagement as part of the London based quintet led by the American bassist and composer Kyle Eastwood, a band that also includes Collins on trumpet and flugel, Andrew McCormack on piano and Chris Higginbottom at the drums. This line up appears on Eastwood’s most recent album release “In Transit”, which also features contributions from Italian saxophonist Stefano Di Battista on alto and soprano. 

In addition to his jazz output Allen is also a prolific session musician who has appeared with a wide variety of pop, soul and rock acts. He is also an acclaimed educator, offering private tuition as well as holding a Professorship at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. A brief foray into music promotion also saw him organising London’s Highgate Jazz Festival.

Tonight’s band, dubbed the BATL Quartet is a new project that tonight teamed Allen with co-leader Tim Lapthorn plus two of the most prolific young rhythm players on the London jazz scene, bassist Tim Thornton and drummer Dave Ingamells.

I first became of Lapthorn over a decade ago thanks to two excellent trio albums released on the Basho Record label, 2004’s “Natural Language”, featuring bassist Tom Herbert and drummer Patrick Levett, and 2006’s “Seventh Sense” with the new rhythm team of Arnie Somogyi on bass and Stephen Keogh at the drums. At around this time I saw Lapthorn’s trio perform an early evening show at St. Cyprian’s Church in Marylebone, London, one of a series events organised by Christine Allen of Basho Music.

I also recall seeing the trio of Lapthorn, Somogyi and Keogh opening for Cedar Walton at Ronnie Scott’s at the 2010 London Jazz Festival. Indeed Lapthorn is something of a fixture at Ronnie’s, often forming part of the Ronnie Scott’s All Stars group that frequently opens the show for illustrious overseas visitors. I’ve also heard Lapthorn perform with Somogyi’s Ambulance group and as part of bands led by vocalist Georgia Mancio, saxophonist Josh Kemp and electric bass specialist Laurence Cottle.

BATL differed from the other groups that Allen has brought to The Hive in that the emphasis today was very much on original material from the pens of the co-leaders, with Allen claiming the lion’s share of the credits. I’ve always regarded Allen as a particularly incisive and hard hitting soloist but tonight’s performance revealed a gentler side to his playing, something encouraged by his growing fascination for the music of Stan Getz.

From that trio show at Ronnie’s I recall Lapthorn being a particularly self effacing performer so it came as no surprise that he left all of the announcing duties to Allen, and in many respects it was difficult not to think of BATL as essentially Allen’s band.

Allen and Lapthorn have worked together for sixteen years and play together regularly in various line ups at Ronnie’s, so the formation of the BATL Quartet very much feels like a natural progression, particularly as the saxophonist has started to compose more and requires an outlet for his writing. Apparently the regular rhythm section features Somogyi and the young drummer Lloyd Haines, the latter a graduate of the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff. Nevertheless Thornton and Ingamells, both highly competent and versatile players, seemed to fit in easily tonight on the first date of a tour that will resume at the end of May when Allen returns from a series of dates in France with Kyle Eastwood.

Tonight’s performance commenced with Allen’s “Gone But Not Forgotten”, a dedication to the late Graham Wood, the late Australian pianist who was something of a mentor to Allen in his early years. Wood was the founder of Perth Jazz and the first head of the jazz department at the Western Australian Academy of the Performing Arts in Allen’s home city of Perth. Most of tonight’s originals were very much ‘in the tradition’ and this Allen composition had something of the feel of a standard about it. Appropriately the piece began in piano trio mode with Lapthorn taking the first solo, adopting an electric piano sound on his Roland keyboard. Allen followed on tenor with Thornton also chipping in at the bass.

Also by Allen “Lazy Day” boasted a suitably sunny and breezy melodic theme that provided the jumping off point for a solo that saw the composer probing more deeply as he stretched out on tenor. He was followed by Lapthorn, who now favoured a more conventional acoustic piano sound.

BATL’s début album, recorded live at London’s Pizza Express Jazz Club in March 2019 is due for release in June 2019 and will be titled “Gone But Not Forgotten”. It will include Lapthorn’s “Return To Life”, a lively Latin-esque piece that tonight featured the composer again adopting an electric piano sound that somehow reminded of the CTI records of the 1970s. Following Allen’s introductory theme statement Lapthorn took the first solo at the keyboard. Whenever I’ve seen him play live he has performed shoeless, and tonight was to prove no exception. Allen weighed in with a powerful tenor solo, urged on by the driving rhythms generated by Thornton and Ingamells. Thornton’s feature saw him displaying a real agility and dexterity on the bass, as well as a strong melodic sense as he quietly sang along with his solos.

The first cover of the evening was the beautiful John Coltrane ballad “Dear Lord”, originally recorded in 1965 but released posthumously in 1970 as part of the “Transition” album. It’s a piece that Allen had played at Ronnie’s as part of a Coltrane tribute and tonight featured Allen’s nuanced and textured ballad playing alongside further solos from Lapthorn on acoustic piano and Thornton on melodic double bass.

Coltrane was obviously a huge influence on Allen but his love of the playing of Stan Getz was also expressed in an Allen original titled “Running Away With Me”, that also drew inspiration from pianists Chick Corea (particularly the composition “Captain Marvel”) and Bill Evans. Allen’s tenor sound was softer than of yore, reflecting that Getz influence, as he shared the solos with Lapthorn on acoustic piano and Ingamells with a neatly constructed drum feature.

Set two commenced with another Allen original, this time paying tribute to another famous musician and with the punning title “A Corea In Music”(groan). As befits the title this was a cheerful piece with a catchy theme that prompted solos from Lapthorn on electric piano, Allen on tenor and Thornton on bass.

Also by Allen “A Little Love Song” was a jazz waltz inspired by the music of Weather Report- “I hope we sound like an acoustic version of that band” explained Allen. This was a lovely, melodic ballad that saw Ingamells playing with brushes almost throughout as Thornton took the first solo followed by Lapthorn, who actually deployed an electric piano setting. The musically subsequently gained greater momentum as Allen stretched out more expansively on tenor.

A further Allan composition was dedicated to his infant son, Theodore. This was a playful and relaxed piece that reflected the happiness and pride of the new father with solos again coming from Lapthorn on electric piano, the composer on tenor and Thornton on bass. The latter impressed throughout the evening and was given plenty of opportunity to express himself as a melodic and highly convincing bass soloist. Thornton is also a bandleader himself with two album releases to his credit.

Lapthorn’s compositional contribution to the second set was the ballad “Cuckoo”, which he introduced with an extended passage of unaccompanied acoustic piano. With Ingamells again deploying brushes Allen adopted the classic tenor ballad sound, his tone rounded and slightly breathy, with subtle blues inflections. Meanwhile the composer was flowing and lyrical on acoustic piano.

Finally Allen’s “Frack The Right”, a titled with lightly veiled political implications, saw Allen finally unleashing a harder edged sound with a strident tenor solo that recalled the classic hard bop sound, while also sneaking in a suggestion of wilful, avant garde dissonance. Lapthorn favoured an acoustic piano sound as he too stretched about above the propulsive grooves generated by Thornton’s rapid bass and Ingamells’ insistent ride cymbal.

The quartet remained on stage to deliver the deserved encore, Allen’s arrangement of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Picture In Black And White”, as inspired by the version by Joe Henderson. That said it was still in keeping with the Getz theme with Allen adopting a deep, resonant sound on tenor as he stretched out on a marathon solo. Lapthorn continued with the acoustic piano sound for his own feature and we also enjoyed a final solo from the consistently excellent Thornton.

This had been a highly enjoyable evening of contemporary jazz, perhaps less experimental than some of the recent events at The Hive (Duncan Eagles, Asaf Sirkis) but no less rewarding for that. Despite the frequent use of an electric piano sound inspirit this felt like an acoustic performance with Allen playing unhooked and often off mic. It certainly revealed a new side of the saxophonist’s playing, generally more gentle and restrained than of yore and with a far greater emphasis on original composition, a side of his talent that Allen is obviously keen to explore.

That said I’d have liked to have heard a bit more of Lapthorn’s writing, particularly after enjoying the original compositions on the “Natural Language” and “Seventh Sense” albums.

I’ll be interested to hear the BATL album when it finally reaches the market place.

Meanwhile the remaining BATL tour dates, presumably with Somogyi and Haines, are listed below;

30th May   BATL Duo @ Renaissance piano shop and Café
24th June   Cadogan Hall Foyer, London (Jazz Series)
26th June   Brandon Allen Masterclass/concert @ The Purcell School
9th July      Masterclass/concert at The Guildhall, London
19th July    Oliver’s Jazz Bar (Greenwich)
22nd July   Early show @ Ronnie Scott’s
23rd July   Early show @ Ronnie Scott’s
24th July.   Early show @ Ronnie Scott’s
25th July    The Fox (Twickenham)
26th July    Llandudno Jazz Festival playing “Gene Ammons”
27th July    The Archduke (Waterloo)
28th July    Boaters (Kingston)
29th July    The Late Late Show @ Ronnie Scott’s playing “Transition”
31st July     Swansea Jazzland (Wales)
1st August   The Sound Cellar (Poole)
3rd August   Clun Valley Jazz (Shropshire)
18th August   The Oval Tavern (Croydon)
24th August   The 606 Club, Chelsea, London
29th August    Jazz Steps (Nottingham)
30th August   Hampstead Jazz Club
13th September    The Vortex, Dalston, London
More tour dates to be announced! 

Further information at http://www.brandonallen.co.uk

Trish Clowes’ My Iris - Trish Clowes’ My Iris, Gateway Arts & Education Centre, Shrewsbury, 01/05/2019. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Ian Mann enjoys the first night of a tour by saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes' My Iris quartet and takes a look at their new album "Ninety Degrees Gravity".

Trish Cowes, My Iris, Gateway Arts & Education Centre Shrewsbury, 01.05/2019.

Trish Clowes – tenor saxophone, voice, composer Chris Montague – guitar, Matt Robinson – piano and keyboard, James Maddren - drums


Tonight was the first date of a short UK tour by saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes’ regular working group, a quartet now known by the band name My Iris.

The tour is being undertaken in support of Clowes’ recent album release “Ninety Degrees Gravity”, her fifth to date, and all issued on the Basho label. It follows “Tangent” (2011), “and in the night time she is there” (2012), “Pocket Compass” (2014) and “My Iris” (2017). To these ears each of these albums has represented an artistic progression with “My Iris” representing Clowes’ most consistently satisfying and accessible release thus far.

A former BBC Radio 3 New Generations Artist Clowes has a foot in both the jazz and classical music traditions and has co-ordinated seven editions of the boundary crossing Emulsion new music festival, presenting her brainchild at events in London, Birmingham and her native Shrewsbury. During her studies on the Jazz Course at the Royal Academy of Music Clowes regularly associated and played with students on the classical courses. Her recordings have all contained elements of both genres, with Clowes collaborating with a range of musicians drawn from both the jazz and classical fields.

“Ninety Degrees Gravity” features the same quartet that appeared on her previous release “My Iris”, the title of that recording now having been adopted as a band name. The two recordings feature Clowes, Montague, Maddren and Ross Stanley on piano and Hammond organ.

For tonight’s show Stanley was unavailable and his place was taken by Matt Robinson on the Gateway’s grand piano and his own Nord keyboard. Robinson had appeared in Shrewsbury earlier in the year at the nearby Hive Arts Centre as a member of saxophonist Duncan Eagles’ ‘Citizen’ quintet. He is also a key component of the high powered Flying Machines quintet led by guitarist and composer Alex Munk, who himself has previously ‘depped’ for Montague in Clowes’ groups.

The last time that I saw the My Iris quartet perform live was at the Barbican Centre in London as part of the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival. Playing the as yet unreleased “Ninety Degrees Gravity” material the group were given a rapturous reception by a near 2000 crowd as they supported New York – Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen and his trio, winning a lot of new fans in the process.

Numbers were more modest for this homecoming gig but for Clowes there plenty of friends and family in an audience of around forty or so in the Gateway’s main performance room.

Over the course of two sets the My Iris quartet performed the majority of the “Ninety Degrees Gravity” material whilst also dipping into Clowes’ back catalogue and even premièring two newly written pieces.

The evening commenced with the tune “Lightning Les” from the new album. Named after the Leslie speaker used in conjunction with Stanley’s Hammond the piece did rather miss the presence of Stanley’s B3, or ‘The Big Beast’, as I like to call it. Nevertheless there was still plenty to enjoy with Robinson acquitting himself well as he soloed on the Nord, but adopting an electric piano rather than organ sound. Clowes herself, tonight specialising solely on tenor, soloed at length, subtly shadowed by Montague’s guitar. Montague himself then cut loose with a feverish solo as Clowes added harmolodic, avant garde flourishes on tenor and also made judicious use of echo effects.

Also from the new recording “Abbott & Costello” was inspired by characters from director Denis Villeneuve’s 2016 sci-fi film “Arrival”, itself based on the 1998 short story by Ted Chiang “Story of Your Life”. The film is also the source of the album title “Ninety Degrees Gravity”.
Here the piece was introduced by Maddren’s drums,  his drum patterns seemingly picked up by Montague’s spidery guitar and the leader’s melodic tenor sax. Clowes then soloed at length, followed by Robinson on grand piano.

“I Can’t Find My Other Brush” takes its title from a remark made by Maddren during a power cut in the middle of a gig.  With its slippery theme, nodding to the bebop pioneers and to Ornette Coleman, this is one of Clowes’ most energetic pieces and here saw the leader stretching out on tenor with an expansive solo. She was followed by Robinson on grand piano and Montague on guitar, the latter’s playing exhibiting something of a rock influence. Previous performances of this tune have seen Maddren eschewing brushes entirely. Here he contributed some vigorous brush work in the tune’s early stages, before eventually switching to sticks. The recorded version of the piece can be heard on the “My Iris” album.

Clowes is a musician who never stands still. “Ninety Degrees Gravity” may only just have been released but Clowes is already looking forward to the next project. She has previously dedicated tunes to saxophonist Wayne Shorter and drummer Eric Gravatt, plus her band mates, “all guys, basically” she explained “so I thought I’d better write some tunes dedicated to women”. The first of these was “Norma”, inspired by a poem written by guitarist Mike Walker and dedicated to the peerless vocalist and lyricist Norma Winstone. Essentially this was a ballad, introduced by the sound of unaccompanied tenor sax with Clowes’ playing soft and breathy, setting the tone and mood for the piece. Song like in construction the tune also included a thoughtful and lyrical piano solo from Robinson and some genuinely sensitive brushwork from Maddren.

The first set concluded with “Eric’s Tune”, Clowes’ dedication to former Weather Report member Gravatt, which raised the energy levels again with its powerful tenor led riffing and bright, crisp drumming. Extended solos came from Montague on guitar, Clowes on tenor and Robinson on electric piano.

Set two began with a segue of tunes old and new, “One Hour” from the “My Iris” album and “Arise” from the new recording. “One Hour” represents a paean to “the extra hour of dreaming you get when the clocks go back” and began here with Clowes at her most Garbarek like, the incisive purity of her tone enhanced by Maddren’s atmospheric cymbal work and Montague’s layered guitar textures.
Its prog like cadences led to expansive solos from Clowes and Montague with Robinson’s acoustic piano passage providing the bridge into the following “Arise”, a gentler more freely structured piece characterised by the dialogue between saxophone and piano.

“Amber” was the second of the new dedications with Clowes devoting the piece to Amber Bauer, the founder of the Donate4Refugees charity, for whom Clowes is an ambassador. With its quirky staccato phrases this was a lot less gentle than its companion “Norma” piece, a reflection perhaps of the turbulent world in which Bauer works. The soloing here from Clowes on tenor, Robinson on electric piano and Montague on guitar was particularly powerful, the latter’s playing a winning combination of rock rawness and jazz sophistication.

From the new album “I.F.” is dedicated to the young sons of two of Clowes’ band members, one year old Idris Stanley and three year old Finlay Montague. Introduced by Robinson on twinkling electric piano the piece also included some subtle wordless vocalising by Clowes plus the sampled voices of the two children. Proud father Montague shared the instrumental solos with the leader’s tenor.

To close we heard “Free to Fall”, another composition from the new album and one dedicated to Clowes’ three band mates. Again ushered in by Robinson’s Nord the piece featured Clowes singing the lyrics of the poem “Free to Fall” that adorns the album cover. A paean to the creative and improvisatory processes the title is a nod to the Wayne Shorter album “Without A Net”. In many respects the song represents the centre piece of the new album with Clowes and Montague both contributing powerful solos here. Indeed on the evidence of tonight’s performance Clowes appears to be playing with greater fluency and authority than ever.

Tonight represented a highly successful start to the new tour in front of a supportive home town audience. I can’t pretend that I didn’t miss Stanley and his Hammond but nevertheless Robinson acquitted himself very well, doubling up on piano and keyboard and negotiating the demands of Clowes’ often complex writing with aplomb. It was a pleasure to speak with him afterwards along with the other members of the band.

The new album “Ninety Degrees Gravity” represents another worthy addition to the Clowes canon, building upon the success of its predecessor as My Iris continues to mature as a band. Six of the album’s seven pieces were played tonight, the exception being “Dustlings”, the closing piece and a second dedication to Eric Gravatt. It’s a duet between Clowes on tenor and Stanley on piano that represents an intimate coda to an otherwise typically dense and complex Clowes album.

The inclusion of two as yet unrecorded pieces tonight helped to confirm the fact that Clowes is one of the UK’s most ambitious and broad minded jazz musicians, her inspirations embracing a variety of musical genres in addition to poetry, literature, science and the visual arts. With My Iris these myriad influences continue to cohere into an increasingly mature and convincing whole and “Ninety Degrees Gravity” is highly recommended.

The remaining dates of the current tour are as follows;

2nd May 2019 – Band On The Wall, Manchester

7th May 2019 – Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London, Official Album Launch

8th May 2019 – The Sage, Gateshead

6th June 2019 -  Bonington Theatre, Nottingham

For further information visit http://www.trishclowes.com

Trish Clowes’ My Iris, Gateway Arts & Education Centre, Shrewsbury, 01/05/2019.

Trish Clowes’ My Iris

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Trish Clowes’ My Iris, Gateway Arts & Education Centre, Shrewsbury, 01/05/2019.

Ian Mann enjoys the first night of a tour by saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes' My Iris quartet and takes a look at their new album "Ninety Degrees Gravity".

Trish Cowes, My Iris, Gateway Arts & Education Centre Shrewsbury, 01.05/2019.

Trish Clowes – tenor saxophone, voice, composer Chris Montague – guitar, Matt Robinson – piano and keyboard, James Maddren - drums


Tonight was the first date of a short UK tour by saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes’ regular working group, a quartet now known by the band name My Iris.

The tour is being undertaken in support of Clowes’ recent album release “Ninety Degrees Gravity”, her fifth to date, and all issued on the Basho label. It follows “Tangent” (2011), “and in the night time she is there” (2012), “Pocket Compass” (2014) and “My Iris” (2017). To these ears each of these albums has represented an artistic progression with “My Iris” representing Clowes’ most consistently satisfying and accessible release thus far.

A former BBC Radio 3 New Generations Artist Clowes has a foot in both the jazz and classical music traditions and has co-ordinated seven editions of the boundary crossing Emulsion new music festival, presenting her brainchild at events in London, Birmingham and her native Shrewsbury. During her studies on the Jazz Course at the Royal Academy of Music Clowes regularly associated and played with students on the classical courses. Her recordings have all contained elements of both genres, with Clowes collaborating with a range of musicians drawn from both the jazz and classical fields.

“Ninety Degrees Gravity” features the same quartet that appeared on her previous release “My Iris”, the title of that recording now having been adopted as a band name. The two recordings feature Clowes, Montague, Maddren and Ross Stanley on piano and Hammond organ.

For tonight’s show Stanley was unavailable and his place was taken by Matt Robinson on the Gateway’s grand piano and his own Nord keyboard. Robinson had appeared in Shrewsbury earlier in the year at the nearby Hive Arts Centre as a member of saxophonist Duncan Eagles’ ‘Citizen’ quintet. He is also a key component of the high powered Flying Machines quintet led by guitarist and composer Alex Munk, who himself has previously ‘depped’ for Montague in Clowes’ groups.

The last time that I saw the My Iris quartet perform live was at the Barbican Centre in London as part of the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival. Playing the as yet unreleased “Ninety Degrees Gravity” material the group were given a rapturous reception by a near 2000 crowd as they supported New York – Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen and his trio, winning a lot of new fans in the process.

Numbers were more modest for this homecoming gig but for Clowes there plenty of friends and family in an audience of around forty or so in the Gateway’s main performance room.

Over the course of two sets the My Iris quartet performed the majority of the “Ninety Degrees Gravity” material whilst also dipping into Clowes’ back catalogue and even premièring two newly written pieces.

The evening commenced with the tune “Lightning Les” from the new album. Named after the Leslie speaker used in conjunction with Stanley’s Hammond the piece did rather miss the presence of Stanley’s B3, or ‘The Big Beast’, as I like to call it. Nevertheless there was still plenty to enjoy with Robinson acquitting himself well as he soloed on the Nord, but adopting an electric piano rather than organ sound. Clowes herself, tonight specialising solely on tenor, soloed at length, subtly shadowed by Montague’s guitar. Montague himself then cut loose with a feverish solo as Clowes added harmolodic, avant garde flourishes on tenor and also made judicious use of echo effects.

Also from the new recording “Abbott & Costello” was inspired by characters from director Denis Villeneuve’s 2016 sci-fi film “Arrival”, itself based on the 1998 short story by Ted Chiang “Story of Your Life”. The film is also the source of the album title “Ninety Degrees Gravity”.
Here the piece was introduced by Maddren’s drums,  his drum patterns seemingly picked up by Montague’s spidery guitar and the leader’s melodic tenor sax. Clowes then soloed at length, followed by Robinson on grand piano.

“I Can’t Find My Other Brush” takes its title from a remark made by Maddren during a power cut in the middle of a gig.  With its slippery theme, nodding to the bebop pioneers and to Ornette Coleman, this is one of Clowes’ most energetic pieces and here saw the leader stretching out on tenor with an expansive solo. She was followed by Robinson on grand piano and Montague on guitar, the latter’s playing exhibiting something of a rock influence. Previous performances of this tune have seen Maddren eschewing brushes entirely. Here he contributed some vigorous brush work in the tune’s early stages, before eventually switching to sticks. The recorded version of the piece can be heard on the “My Iris” album.

Clowes is a musician who never stands still. “Ninety Degrees Gravity” may only just have been released but Clowes is already looking forward to the next project. She has previously dedicated tunes to saxophonist Wayne Shorter and drummer Eric Gravatt, plus her band mates, “all guys, basically” she explained “so I thought I’d better write some tunes dedicated to women”. The first of these was “Norma”, inspired by a poem written by guitarist Mike Walker and dedicated to the peerless vocalist and lyricist Norma Winstone. Essentially this was a ballad, introduced by the sound of unaccompanied tenor sax with Clowes’ playing soft and breathy, setting the tone and mood for the piece. Song like in construction the tune also included a thoughtful and lyrical piano solo from Robinson and some genuinely sensitive brushwork from Maddren.

The first set concluded with “Eric’s Tune”, Clowes’ dedication to former Weather Report member Gravatt, which raised the energy levels again with its powerful tenor led riffing and bright, crisp drumming. Extended solos came from Montague on guitar, Clowes on tenor and Robinson on electric piano.

Set two began with a segue of tunes old and new, “One Hour” from the “My Iris” album and “Arise” from the new recording. “One Hour” represents a paean to “the extra hour of dreaming you get when the clocks go back” and began here with Clowes at her most Garbarek like, the incisive purity of her tone enhanced by Maddren’s atmospheric cymbal work and Montague’s layered guitar textures.
Its prog like cadences led to expansive solos from Clowes and Montague with Robinson’s acoustic piano passage providing the bridge into the following “Arise”, a gentler more freely structured piece characterised by the dialogue between saxophone and piano.

“Amber” was the second of the new dedications with Clowes devoting the piece to Amber Bauer, the founder of the Donate4Refugees charity, for whom Clowes is an ambassador. With its quirky staccato phrases this was a lot less gentle than its companion “Norma” piece, a reflection perhaps of the turbulent world in which Bauer works. The soloing here from Clowes on tenor, Robinson on electric piano and Montague on guitar was particularly powerful, the latter’s playing a winning combination of rock rawness and jazz sophistication.

From the new album “I.F.” is dedicated to the young sons of two of Clowes’ band members, one year old Idris Stanley and three year old Finlay Montague. Introduced by Robinson on twinkling electric piano the piece also included some subtle wordless vocalising by Clowes plus the sampled voices of the two children. Proud father Montague shared the instrumental solos with the leader’s tenor.

To close we heard “Free to Fall”, another composition from the new album and one dedicated to Clowes’ three band mates. Again ushered in by Robinson’s Nord the piece featured Clowes singing the lyrics of the poem “Free to Fall” that adorns the album cover. A paean to the creative and improvisatory processes the title is a nod to the Wayne Shorter album “Without A Net”. In many respects the song represents the centre piece of the new album with Clowes and Montague both contributing powerful solos here. Indeed on the evidence of tonight’s performance Clowes appears to be playing with greater fluency and authority than ever.

Tonight represented a highly successful start to the new tour in front of a supportive home town audience. I can’t pretend that I didn’t miss Stanley and his Hammond but nevertheless Robinson acquitted himself very well, doubling up on piano and keyboard and negotiating the demands of Clowes’ often complex writing with aplomb. It was a pleasure to speak with him afterwards along with the other members of the band.

The new album “Ninety Degrees Gravity” represents another worthy addition to the Clowes canon, building upon the success of its predecessor as My Iris continues to mature as a band. Six of the album’s seven pieces were played tonight, the exception being “Dustlings”, the closing piece and a second dedication to Eric Gravatt. It’s a duet between Clowes on tenor and Stanley on piano that represents an intimate coda to an otherwise typically dense and complex Clowes album.

The inclusion of two as yet unrecorded pieces tonight helped to confirm the fact that Clowes is one of the UK’s most ambitious and broad minded jazz musicians, her inspirations embracing a variety of musical genres in addition to poetry, literature, science and the visual arts. With My Iris these myriad influences continue to cohere into an increasingly mature and convincing whole and “Ninety Degrees Gravity” is highly recommended.

The remaining dates of the current tour are as follows;

2nd May 2019 – Band On The Wall, Manchester

7th May 2019 – Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London, Official Album Launch

8th May 2019 – The Sage, Gateshead

6th June 2019 -  Bonington Theatre, Nottingham

For further information visit http://www.trishclowes.com

Gareth Roberts Quartet - Gareth Roberts Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 28/04/2019. Rating: 4 out of 5 Ian Mann enjoys a performance from this excellent quartet, with the repertoire equally divided between the music of Duke Ellington and trombonist Roberts' own compositions.

Gareth Roberts Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 28/04/2019.

Gareth Roberts – trombone, Tom Berge – keyboard, Erika Lyons – double bass, Mark O’Connor- drums.


Cardiff based trombonist and composer Gareth Roberts has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages for a number of years.

I first became aware of his playing in 2006 when I reviewed the quirkily titled “Attack Of The Killer Penguins”, the début album by Roberts’ quintet. Comprised entirely of original compositions plus a selection of imaginative arrangements of traditional Welsh folk tunes the album brought Roberts a degree of national attention, and rightly so, with festival appearances at Lichfield and Cheltenham following. The 2010 follow up “Go Stop Go” was nearly as fine, although in terms of the national jazz scene a little of the momentum generated by “Penguins” had dissipated by then. Both albums are highly recommended and both are reviewed elsewhere on this site.
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/gareth-roberts-quintet-the-attack-of-the-killer-penguins/
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/gareth-roberts-quintet-go-stop-go/

Later he became a member of the Heavy Quartet, the long running band from Cardiff who only recently called time on a career that had seen them amass something of a cult following. Roberts became a significant instrumental and composing presence in the band’s ranks, contributing hugely to the success of albums like “Hardware” (2009) and the final offering “Prime” (2015).  Reviews here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/the-heavy-quartet-hardware/
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/the-heavy-quartet-prime/

The versatile Roberts is also one of the principal soloists in the Capital City Jazz Orchestra and has also played with the Latin-esque Buena Risca Social Club. He is an in demand sideman, and session musician and also somehow finds time to pursue a parallel career as a school teacher and musical educator.

He had previously visited BMJ in January 2018 playing trombone and euphonium as part of the one off Wall2Wall Festival Street Stompers quintet. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/wall2wall-festival-street-stompers-black-mountain-jazz-melville-centre-aber/

In July 2017 Roberts took a quartet to nearby Brecon Jazz Club. Having been asked to select a programme of his favourite jazz standards he found that he’d compiled an entire set of Duke Ellington tunes. Thus his “In a Mellow Tone, the music of Duke Ellington” project was born with several other similarly successful performances following.

Tonight’s event was billed as containing “music composed by and inspired by the great Duke Ellington”. I was expecting something similar to the Brecon show which consisted entirely of Ellington material. Tonight we were to hear a lot more of Roberts’ original writing with a roughly equal split between Roberts’ two favourite composers - “Duke Ellington and me!”.

I, for one, was delighted to hear so much of Roberts’ own material, the majority of it new. I’ve always rated Roberts as a composer and admired his quirky, irreverent and distinctly Welsh approach to his writing. Both of his quintet albums include some outstanding compositions and his contribution to the repertoire of the Heavy Quartet was also excellent.

The decision to include so much new material was a brave one as Roberts was appearing with what was essentially a ‘one off’ quartet. Roberts and O’ Connor go back a long way, the drummer having appeared on both of Roberts’ quintet albums. The trombonist had also worked with Lyons before but tonight was the first time he had actually met Berge. The pianist was depping for Roberts’ long time collaborator Dave Jones, himself something of a BMJ favourite. Roberts has guested on a number of Jones’ solo recordings but the pianist was away in Ireland, touring with drummer Kevin Lawlor’s group. Bath based Berge, who studied at Leeds College of Music, is establishing himself as a player of note on the jazz scene in Bristol and the South West and was recommended to Roberts as a ‘dep’. It has to be said that Berge rose to the challenge magnificently, if one hadn’t known one could have comfortably assumed that he and Roberts had been playing together for years.

The first set put the emphasis on the Ellington material, the familiarity of the tunes giving the new quartet time to ‘bed in’. An introductory fanfare ushered in “In A Mellow Tone”, the signature tune of Roberts’ Ellington project with excellent opening solos from the leader on trombone, Berge on piano and Lyons on double bass.

O’Connor’s drums introduced an innovative Roberts arrangement of one of Ellington’s most famous tunes, “It Don’t Mean A Thing”, with solos coming from Roberts and Berge prior to a series of sparky O’Connor drum breaks as he traded fours with Roberts and Berge. It was impressive that the quartet managed to find something new to say, keeping this old chestnut fresh and exciting.

The first Roberts original was the two part composition “My Personal Penguin”, a dedication by the recently married composer to his new wife. The first half was a ballad, featuring the sounds of gently rounded trombone, lyrical piano, languidly plucked bass and delicately brushed drums. It was all rather lovely, if rather predictable, but Roberts is noted for his quirky sense of humour and the second half was an up-tempo romp that poked fun at his wife’s stubbornness. This quality was hinted at by recurring repeated phrases, these punctuated by lively solos from the leader on trombone and Berge on the piano plus a further drum feature from O’Connor.

An engaging and entertaining first set was completed by the quartet’s interpretation of Ellington’s “Cottontail”. “It’s a rhythm changes tune” explained Roberts, “But although it was written before the bebop era it still sounds be-boppish to me”. The arrangement served to illustrate his point with the leader playing the tune’s melodic hook before handing over to Berge for the first solo, the pianist injecting a little humour of his own with a “Flintstones” theme quote. Further solos came from Roberts on trombone and Lyons on double bass plus a series of fiery drum breaks from O’Connor, his exchanges with Roberts exhibiting a terrific rapport and shared sense of fun. This was an energetic and enjoyable way to round off an excellent first half.

Set two commenced with the sound of the trio of Berge, Lyons and O’ Connor as they introduced Ellington’s “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be” with Roberts eventually taking the first solo, his playing inflected with an agreeable bluesiness. Lyons delivered a typically articulate bass solo before handing over to Berge at the piano.

Roberts is the musical director of the Monmouth Big Band, an ensemble of amateur musicians based in that town. Besides leading the band in a series of jazz and big band standards he has also written original material for them to perform. In January 2018 Roberts’ “The Monmouthshire Suite” also known as “Tales From The Border” was premièred at Monmouth’s Savoy Theatre. It’s a source of some regret that I was invited to cover the event but was unable to do so due to a prior commitment.

Thus it was a source of joy tonight to discover that Roberts had arranged three of the movements for performance by a quartet, all of which were performed by tonight’s group.

Two of the pieces were of particular relevance to the Abergavenny audience, being named after mountains in the vicinity of the town. Roberts, a keen walker, had scaled both of the peaks in question, the first being “Skirrid Fawr” which he ascended on a misty day, the soft focus of the music with its rich textures reflecting this, with solos coming from Roberts and Berge.

“After The Battle” was based on a folk tune collected by Augusta Hall, Lady Llanover (1802-96) of the Llanover Estate a few miles south of Abergavenny. Lady Llanover was a great advocate for Welsh culture and was closely associated with folk music and the harp in particular. This was another atmospheric piece with Roberts’ softly muted trombone complemented by Berge’s answering melodic embellishments and O’ Connor’s softly brushed drums.

Named after another mountain just outside Abergavenny “Descending The Blorenge” was inspired by another of Roberts’ walking trips. This was a faster paced tune, the rhythms intended to simulate those experienced by walkers descending a steep slope. It was therefore appropriate that the piece was introduced by Lyons’ rapid bass walk, her groove establishing the pace of the tune and encouraging sparkling solos from Berge and Roberts before she enjoyed her own feature. Roberts made a point of praising the sight reading skills of his three colleagues who tackled these three unfamiliar pieces superbly, their only previous sighting of them having been at a brief ten minute rehearsal prior to the gig.

Roberts dipped deep into his back catalogue as the quartet played another original. It’s always a delight to hear the infectious “Mop Dancing”, a tune that originally appeared on the “Killer Penguins” album way back in 2006. The piece is dedicated to the long suffering souls who mop up spilt beer in jazz clubs, notably at the former Riverside venue in Cardiff. Here Berge adopted an electric piano sound on his Kawai keyboard for the only time as he shared the solos with Roberts and Lyons on this funky, bluesy romp of a tune.

The last number of the evening saw the quartet returning to the Ellington repertoire and “Caravan”, a most appropriate choice given that the tune was actually written by Ellington’s valve trombonist Juan Tizol. “Nobody else plays this quite like I do” promised Roberts, with his barnstorming introductory dialogue with O’Connor illustrating his point. Subsequent solos came from Roberts, Berge, Lyons and O’Connor as the evening ended on a fiercely energetic and good humoured note.

MC for the evening Debs Hancock had little difficulty in persuading the band to remain on stage for a well deserved encore, this being the Duke’s signature tune “Take The A Train” with solos coming from Roberts and Berge before the pair traded fours with the effervescent O’ Connor.

This was a highly enjoyable performance from this hastily assembled quartet. I’ve seen Roberts perform in numerous different contexts over the years and he never disappoints, always delivering the goods musically and doing so with a genuine sense of fun. He’s a highly skilled and fluent trombone soloist of whom I have previously observed;
“I’ll admit that I’ve never been a big fan of the trombone but I love Roberts’ playing. Nimble and inventive he seems to bring out the best in the instrument, from gutbucket slides and rasps on the up tempo material to a surprising tenderness on ballads.” 
 “Roberts is an inventive and agile trombonist who structures his solos well, deploying the full range of what is sometimes regarded as a lugubrious instrument with a fleet footed grace and acumen. I just love his playing”.
“Roberts’ writing is imaginative and intelligent but he never takes himself too seriously. As a result there is hardly a dull moment on the album and the band’s real sense of enjoyment communicates itself to the listener.”

All these qualities were in evidence tonight and he was well supported by an excellent quartet. I’m readily familiar with the playing of both Lyons and O’Connor and have seen each perform many times, although this was probably the first time that I’ve seen them together. Both are highly accomplished rhythm players and they combined quickly and effectively as a team. Roberts’ rapport with his long term associate O’ Connor was apparent throughout the set and contributed hugely to the success of the evening.

But for many observers it was Berge who was the real revelation. Roberts, Lyons and O’Connor have all visited BMJ many times in various musical guises but Berge seemed to be a new discovery for almost everybody in the audience. He proved to be a superb piano soloist and a skilled accompanist too, as befits a musician who has studied with the great Dave Newton. Berge won a lot of new friends this evening and it’s likely that he will return to BMJ at some point in the future. The young pianist looks set to become a rising star on the jazz scenes of South Wales, Bristol and the South West.

For myself I was pleased that tonight’s show wasn’t a carbon copy of Roberts’ Ellington themed show at Brecon Jazz Club. I’ve always admired his work as a composer and was delighted to hear the quartet play so much original material, and to do it justice. Having missed the Monmouth Big Band gig in January it represented a real bonus to hear some the material from the “Monmouthshire Suite” for the first time. Let’s hope Roberts gets the chance to document this music on disc sometime, preferably with a big band, but if that’s not economically feasible then with a smaller group.

In the meantime Roberts will be leading the Monmouth Big Band in a performance of the material at the South Wales Big Band Society gig on May 8th 2019. The event will take place at Rogerstone and Bassaleg Social Club near Newport.

Gareth Roberts Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 28/04/2019.

Gareth Roberts Quartet

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Gareth Roberts Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 28/04/2019.
Photography: Photograph sourced from the Black Mountain Jazz website http://www.blackmountainjazz.co.uk

Ian Mann enjoys a performance from this excellent quartet, with the repertoire equally divided between the music of Duke Ellington and trombonist Roberts' own compositions.

Gareth Roberts Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 28/04/2019.

Gareth Roberts – trombone, Tom Berge – keyboard, Erika Lyons – double bass, Mark O’Connor- drums.


Cardiff based trombonist and composer Gareth Roberts has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages for a number of years.

I first became aware of his playing in 2006 when I reviewed the quirkily titled “Attack Of The Killer Penguins”, the début album by Roberts’ quintet. Comprised entirely of original compositions plus a selection of imaginative arrangements of traditional Welsh folk tunes the album brought Roberts a degree of national attention, and rightly so, with festival appearances at Lichfield and Cheltenham following. The 2010 follow up “Go Stop Go” was nearly as fine, although in terms of the national jazz scene a little of the momentum generated by “Penguins” had dissipated by then. Both albums are highly recommended and both are reviewed elsewhere on this site.
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/gareth-roberts-quintet-the-attack-of-the-killer-penguins/
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/gareth-roberts-quintet-go-stop-go/

Later he became a member of the Heavy Quartet, the long running band from Cardiff who only recently called time on a career that had seen them amass something of a cult following. Roberts became a significant instrumental and composing presence in the band’s ranks, contributing hugely to the success of albums like “Hardware” (2009) and the final offering “Prime” (2015).  Reviews here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/the-heavy-quartet-hardware/
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/the-heavy-quartet-prime/

The versatile Roberts is also one of the principal soloists in the Capital City Jazz Orchestra and has also played with the Latin-esque Buena Risca Social Club. He is an in demand sideman, and session musician and also somehow finds time to pursue a parallel career as a school teacher and musical educator.

He had previously visited BMJ in January 2018 playing trombone and euphonium as part of the one off Wall2Wall Festival Street Stompers quintet. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/wall2wall-festival-street-stompers-black-mountain-jazz-melville-centre-aber/

In July 2017 Roberts took a quartet to nearby Brecon Jazz Club. Having been asked to select a programme of his favourite jazz standards he found that he’d compiled an entire set of Duke Ellington tunes. Thus his “In a Mellow Tone, the music of Duke Ellington” project was born with several other similarly successful performances following.

Tonight’s event was billed as containing “music composed by and inspired by the great Duke Ellington”. I was expecting something similar to the Brecon show which consisted entirely of Ellington material. Tonight we were to hear a lot more of Roberts’ original writing with a roughly equal split between Roberts’ two favourite composers - “Duke Ellington and me!”.

I, for one, was delighted to hear so much of Roberts’ own material, the majority of it new. I’ve always rated Roberts as a composer and admired his quirky, irreverent and distinctly Welsh approach to his writing. Both of his quintet albums include some outstanding compositions and his contribution to the repertoire of the Heavy Quartet was also excellent.

The decision to include so much new material was a brave one as Roberts was appearing with what was essentially a ‘one off’ quartet. Roberts and O’ Connor go back a long way, the drummer having appeared on both of Roberts’ quintet albums. The trombonist had also worked with Lyons before but tonight was the first time he had actually met Berge. The pianist was depping for Roberts’ long time collaborator Dave Jones, himself something of a BMJ favourite. Roberts has guested on a number of Jones’ solo recordings but the pianist was away in Ireland, touring with drummer Kevin Lawlor’s group. Bath based Berge, who studied at Leeds College of Music, is establishing himself as a player of note on the jazz scene in Bristol and the South West and was recommended to Roberts as a ‘dep’. It has to be said that Berge rose to the challenge magnificently, if one hadn’t known one could have comfortably assumed that he and Roberts had been playing together for years.

The first set put the emphasis on the Ellington material, the familiarity of the tunes giving the new quartet time to ‘bed in’. An introductory fanfare ushered in “In A Mellow Tone”, the signature tune of Roberts’ Ellington project with excellent opening solos from the leader on trombone, Berge on piano and Lyons on double bass.

O’Connor’s drums introduced an innovative Roberts arrangement of one of Ellington’s most famous tunes, “It Don’t Mean A Thing”, with solos coming from Roberts and Berge prior to a series of sparky O’Connor drum breaks as he traded fours with Roberts and Berge. It was impressive that the quartet managed to find something new to say, keeping this old chestnut fresh and exciting.

The first Roberts original was the two part composition “My Personal Penguin”, a dedication by the recently married composer to his new wife. The first half was a ballad, featuring the sounds of gently rounded trombone, lyrical piano, languidly plucked bass and delicately brushed drums. It was all rather lovely, if rather predictable, but Roberts is noted for his quirky sense of humour and the second half was an up-tempo romp that poked fun at his wife’s stubbornness. This quality was hinted at by recurring repeated phrases, these punctuated by lively solos from the leader on trombone and Berge on the piano plus a further drum feature from O’Connor.

An engaging and entertaining first set was completed by the quartet’s interpretation of Ellington’s “Cottontail”. “It’s a rhythm changes tune” explained Roberts, “But although it was written before the bebop era it still sounds be-boppish to me”. The arrangement served to illustrate his point with the leader playing the tune’s melodic hook before handing over to Berge for the first solo, the pianist injecting a little humour of his own with a “Flintstones” theme quote. Further solos came from Roberts on trombone and Lyons on double bass plus a series of fiery drum breaks from O’Connor, his exchanges with Roberts exhibiting a terrific rapport and shared sense of fun. This was an energetic and enjoyable way to round off an excellent first half.

Set two commenced with the sound of the trio of Berge, Lyons and O’ Connor as they introduced Ellington’s “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be” with Roberts eventually taking the first solo, his playing inflected with an agreeable bluesiness. Lyons delivered a typically articulate bass solo before handing over to Berge at the piano.

Roberts is the musical director of the Monmouth Big Band, an ensemble of amateur musicians based in that town. Besides leading the band in a series of jazz and big band standards he has also written original material for them to perform. In January 2018 Roberts’ “The Monmouthshire Suite” also known as “Tales From The Border” was premièred at Monmouth’s Savoy Theatre. It’s a source of some regret that I was invited to cover the event but was unable to do so due to a prior commitment.

Thus it was a source of joy tonight to discover that Roberts had arranged three of the movements for performance by a quartet, all of which were performed by tonight’s group.

Two of the pieces were of particular relevance to the Abergavenny audience, being named after mountains in the vicinity of the town. Roberts, a keen walker, had scaled both of the peaks in question, the first being “Skirrid Fawr” which he ascended on a misty day, the soft focus of the music with its rich textures reflecting this, with solos coming from Roberts and Berge.

“After The Battle” was based on a folk tune collected by Augusta Hall, Lady Llanover (1802-96) of the Llanover Estate a few miles south of Abergavenny. Lady Llanover was a great advocate for Welsh culture and was closely associated with folk music and the harp in particular. This was another atmospheric piece with Roberts’ softly muted trombone complemented by Berge’s answering melodic embellishments and O’ Connor’s softly brushed drums.

Named after another mountain just outside Abergavenny “Descending The Blorenge” was inspired by another of Roberts’ walking trips. This was a faster paced tune, the rhythms intended to simulate those experienced by walkers descending a steep slope. It was therefore appropriate that the piece was introduced by Lyons’ rapid bass walk, her groove establishing the pace of the tune and encouraging sparkling solos from Berge and Roberts before she enjoyed her own feature. Roberts made a point of praising the sight reading skills of his three colleagues who tackled these three unfamiliar pieces superbly, their only previous sighting of them having been at a brief ten minute rehearsal prior to the gig.

Roberts dipped deep into his back catalogue as the quartet played another original. It’s always a delight to hear the infectious “Mop Dancing”, a tune that originally appeared on the “Killer Penguins” album way back in 2006. The piece is dedicated to the long suffering souls who mop up spilt beer in jazz clubs, notably at the former Riverside venue in Cardiff. Here Berge adopted an electric piano sound on his Kawai keyboard for the only time as he shared the solos with Roberts and Lyons on this funky, bluesy romp of a tune.

The last number of the evening saw the quartet returning to the Ellington repertoire and “Caravan”, a most appropriate choice given that the tune was actually written by Ellington’s valve trombonist Juan Tizol. “Nobody else plays this quite like I do” promised Roberts, with his barnstorming introductory dialogue with O’Connor illustrating his point. Subsequent solos came from Roberts, Berge, Lyons and O’Connor as the evening ended on a fiercely energetic and good humoured note.

MC for the evening Debs Hancock had little difficulty in persuading the band to remain on stage for a well deserved encore, this being the Duke’s signature tune “Take The A Train” with solos coming from Roberts and Berge before the pair traded fours with the effervescent O’ Connor.

This was a highly enjoyable performance from this hastily assembled quartet. I’ve seen Roberts perform in numerous different contexts over the years and he never disappoints, always delivering the goods musically and doing so with a genuine sense of fun. He’s a highly skilled and fluent trombone soloist of whom I have previously observed;
“I’ll admit that I’ve never been a big fan of the trombone but I love Roberts’ playing. Nimble and inventive he seems to bring out the best in the instrument, from gutbucket slides and rasps on the up tempo material to a surprising tenderness on ballads.” 
 “Roberts is an inventive and agile trombonist who structures his solos well, deploying the full range of what is sometimes regarded as a lugubrious instrument with a fleet footed grace and acumen. I just love his playing”.
“Roberts’ writing is imaginative and intelligent but he never takes himself too seriously. As a result there is hardly a dull moment on the album and the band’s real sense of enjoyment communicates itself to the listener.”

All these qualities were in evidence tonight and he was well supported by an excellent quartet. I’m readily familiar with the playing of both Lyons and O’Connor and have seen each perform many times, although this was probably the first time that I’ve seen them together. Both are highly accomplished rhythm players and they combined quickly and effectively as a team. Roberts’ rapport with his long term associate O’ Connor was apparent throughout the set and contributed hugely to the success of the evening.

But for many observers it was Berge who was the real revelation. Roberts, Lyons and O’Connor have all visited BMJ many times in various musical guises but Berge seemed to be a new discovery for almost everybody in the audience. He proved to be a superb piano soloist and a skilled accompanist too, as befits a musician who has studied with the great Dave Newton. Berge won a lot of new friends this evening and it’s likely that he will return to BMJ at some point in the future. The young pianist looks set to become a rising star on the jazz scenes of South Wales, Bristol and the South West.

For myself I was pleased that tonight’s show wasn’t a carbon copy of Roberts’ Ellington themed show at Brecon Jazz Club. I’ve always admired his work as a composer and was delighted to hear the quartet play so much original material, and to do it justice. Having missed the Monmouth Big Band gig in January it represented a real bonus to hear some the material from the “Monmouthshire Suite” for the first time. Let’s hope Roberts gets the chance to document this music on disc sometime, preferably with a big band, but if that’s not economically feasible then with a smaller group.

In the meantime Roberts will be leading the Monmouth Big Band in a performance of the material at the South Wales Big Band Society gig on May 8th 2019. The event will take place at Rogerstone and Bassaleg Social Club near Newport.

Shirley Smart - Long Story Short Rating: 4 out of 5 The album covers an impressive amount of musical and geographical ground with its range of styles and influences. Smart’s playing, both with and without the bow, is exceptional throughout,

Shirley Smart

“Long Story Short”

(33 Records 33XTREME016)

“Long Story Short” represents the leadership début from the London based cellist Shirley Smart.

One of the UK’s leading cello improvisers Smart is a musician who is comfortable across a variety of musical genres, embracing jazz, folk, world and classical elements. She has previously appeared on the Jazzmann web pages on several occasions, most notably leading her aptly named ‘world jazz’  group Melange. A review of the 2016 Melange album release “Via Maris” appears elsewhere on the Jazzmann website and can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/melange-via-maris/

Smart has also appeared on recordings by pianist/accordionist Maurizio Minardi (a Melange group member) and by violinist/vocalist Alice Zawadzki. Others with whom she has worked include pianists Neil Cowley, Meg Morley, Steve Beresford and Elliot Galvin, saxophonist Binker Golding and guitarists Maciek Pysz and Antonio Forcione.

Smart has also performed with fellow cellist (and vocalist) Kate Shortt as the duo Shortt and Smart.
She also plays in the duo format with the acclaimed pianist and composer Robert Mitchell.

In 2018 Smart was part of the all female ten piece band Interchange that made its début at Cheltenham Jazz Festival under the leadership of baritone saxophonist and composer Issie Barratt. My review of that performance can be read as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/sunday-at-cheltenham-jazz-festival-06-05-2018/

Other ongoing projects include the ten piece Sefiroth ensemble, led by guitarist Alex Roth, which explores the music of the Sephardic (Judeo Spanish) tradition whilst drawing on a range of other Middle Eastern and North African influences.

Meanwhile the smaller Balagan Café Band, a trio featuring guitarist Christian Miller and violinist Richard Jones roams even further afield, taking in gypsy jazz, Argentinian tango, Balkan folk music and more.

Sawa, a trio with Iraqi born vocalist Alya Al-Sultani and pianist Clemens Poetsczh improvises around Iraqi and Arabic folk themes and released an eponymous EP in 2016.

“Long Story Short” can be seen as an extension of Smart’s work with Melange as it blends together elements of jazz, Arabic, Turkish and North African music.  Recorded by a core trio of Smart on cello, John Crawford on piano and Demi Garcia-Sabat on drum kit and percussion the album also includes contributions from a number of illustrious guest musicians including Orphy Robinson on vibraphone, Nikki Iles on accordion and, most notably, Nicolas Meier on guitar.

In my review of “Via Maris” I wrote;
“At times it reminded me of the kind of ‘world jazz’ played by such London based artists as Nicolas Meier and Jonny Phillips (Oriole), and maybe even Alec Dankworth’s ‘Spanish Accents’ group too. Of these Meier, with his fascination for Turkish and Middle Eastern music, is easily the closest parallel with Sabat having also played in Meier’s band (plus Dankworth’s too on occasion). Perhaps the percussionist could act as the catalyst for a collaboration between Smart and Meier, a tantalising prospect”.

Now, with Sabat indeed acting as a catalyst, that collaboration has come to fruition. I’d like to think that I may have been something of a catalyst too!

Smart’s own story is a fascinating one. Classically trained at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama under Raphael Wallfisch and in Paris with Janos Starker she relocated to Jerusalem in 1989. Although initially intending to stay for a year Smart remained in the city for a full decade, fully immersing herself in the diverse range of musics to be heard in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities.

A chance meeting in a Jerusalem restaurant led to Smart joining the Moroccan jazz fusion group Sound of the Ground and she subsequently became a part of several other musical projects and ensembles playing a variety of Middle Eastern and North African musics and touring extensively throughout those regions.  Among those with whom she worked are the well known Israeli musicians Avisahai Cohen and Omer Avital (both bassists and composers) plus singer and songwriter Yasmin Levy.  She has also performed with the veteran Ethiopian vibraphonist, percussionist and bandleader Mulato Astatke, the father of Ethio-jazz.


An acclaimed educator Smart held teaching posts in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah before eventually returning to London where she is currently leading the London Cello Society’s “Beyond Cello” programme which incorporates workshops and performances examining the role of the cello in jazz, world music and more.

The majority of the thirteen tracks on “Long Story Short” are Smart originals and the album commences with the cellist’s “Waltz for an Amethyst”, a vibrant, highly rhythmic piece played by the core trio. The influence of Avishai Cohen has been suggested with Smart soloing pizzicato in virtuoso fashion as well as carrying the melody with her vigorous bowing elsewhere. Crawford, a supremely versatile pianist with an extensive knowledge of global music styles, is also in sparkling form here with a lively and percussive solo, while Sabat is a driving presence behind the kit.

Smart’s travels have led to her developing an affinity for the music of the oud. Melange includes the Greek born oud player Stefanos Tsourelis but it’s “Halfouine”, written by the great Tunisian oud virtuoso Anouar Brahem that is performed here. Smart’s plucked cello approximates the sound of the oud while guest vibraphonist Orphy Robinson sprinkles his magic over the piece. Smart also features with the bow while Sabat plays a variety of exotic sounding percussion rather than kit drums.

“Longa Kismet” was written by Melange guitarist Peter Michaels and teams Smart with Nicolas Meier for the first time on a lively piece that also includes another excellent piano solo from Crawford. Sabat’s use of cajon and palmas brings a flamenco element to the performance and there is plenty of fiery playing from both Smart and Meier.

To Western ears the first three pieces are jam packed with exotic elements from the Middle East, North Africa and Andalusia but the Smart original “Mobius Blues” is just that, a straight-ahead, swinging blues tune, albeit one led by the cello. Again Smart treats the cello as an ‘entire instrument’ providing a walking pizzicato bass line behind Crawford’s piano solo but flourishing the bow in the manner of a low register Stephane Grappelli elsewhere. Sabat, back behind the kit, enjoys a series of lively breaks as he ‘trades fours’ with his colleagues.

Another Smart original, “Opals”, slows things down for the first time. A stately and lyrical ballad it features that melancholic cello sound that is so often associated with classical music. This haunting and effective composition also features Crawford at his most lyrical while percussionist Sabat also produces a delightfully sensitive and nuanced performance that is enhanced by its attention to detail.

The traditional “Balkan Tune” has its roots in the folk music of Macedonia. Introduced by a short passage of unaccompanied cello it evolves into an improvised dialogue between Smart and Meier, these two quickly joined by Sabat. Eventually the lively 7/8 tune emerges, one that Smart has been playing for many years and one which has lent itself to many different interpretations. On the album’s lengthiest track there are expansive solos from both Smart and Meier, the latter bringing with him some of the Turkish influences that inform his own music. The consistently excellent Crawford also impresses with his own solo, as does the effervescent Sabat on a variety of percussion.

“Intro” is a little over a minute and a half of richly atmospheric solo cello that ushers in the Smart original “Crossfire”. Close your eyes and you could be in the desert at night.
“Crossfire” itself features oud like cello plus Meier on guitar. It’s a dense, highly rhythmic piece with densely interweaving melody lines and an almost claustrophobic intensity.

“Hegel’s Tune” is initially more relaxed and features Nikki Iles, better known as a pianist, guesting very effectively on accordion. Smart and Iles combine skilfully to atmospheric effect on this slow burner of a tune,  sometimes bringing something of a Parisian musette feel to the music. Crawford continues to occupy the piano chair and features briefly before the waters are muddied by a more dramatic, intense, wilfully discordant section distinguished by spiky textures and wilful dissonances. Out of this emerges a brief celebratory episode before the piece turns full circle to end as it began. As a composer Smart delights in putting plenty of twists and turns into her pieces, mixing up moods and styles.

“Sambuca” is relatively more straightforward, remaining upbeat and celebratory almost throughout and incorporating a dazzling guitar solo from Meier. Crawford also impresses at the piano as does the leader with a stunning pizzicato solo, her playing reminiscent of a top jazz bassist. And she’s pretty handy with the bow too!

Robinson returns on vibes for “Orinoco Lane”, one of the album’s most obviously ‘jazz’ tunes as it draws on swing and bebop influences. Smart and Robinson team up well and share solos, with leader again supplying ‘cello bass’ during the solos from Robinson and Crawford.

Garcia’s percussion introduces the similarly perky “Tetouan”, which includes a sparkling solo from Crawford and some virtuoso bowing from the consistently impressive Smart. There’s also a drum/percussion feature for Sabat, an unobtrusive but consistently galvanising figure throughout the album.

The album concludes with the traditional Algerian tune “Ticaraca Tchoub”, introduced by solo pizzicato cello with Smart’s playing of the melody subsequently supported by Sabat’s drums and percussion. Then we’re suddenly into full on band mode with the sound of the core trio augmented by Iles on accordion. Iles’ solo quickly establishes the fact that she is also a virtuoso on this instrument. With the irrepressible Sabat driving the music forward there’s an irresistible joyousness about the performance, a quality that remains even in the quieter moments, such as Smart’s delightful duo exchanges with pianist Crawford.

“Long Story Short” represents another impressive offering from Smart and is a worthy début under her own name. The album covers an impressive amount of musical and geographical ground with its range of styles and influences. Smart’s playing, both with and without the bow, is exceptional throughout, fluent and inventive and variously fiery or emotive as required. Crawford and Garcia both make excellent contributions as part of an intelligent and well balanced trio and the playing of the three guests is also exceptional. The recorded sound is also excellent throughout with Smart leading an engineering team featuring Nick Pugh, Peter Michaels and Peter Beckmann.

I appreciate that Smart’s blend of ‘world jazz’, played on an instrument that is still unusual for the music, won’t suit some jazz purists. But to these ears that’s their loss, Smart’s music lives up to her name – it is smart, intelligent, sophisticated and adventurous. I can’t claim to understand all the subtleties between the different varieties of music on offer here but it’s fun trying. Above all it still sounds exotic and exciting and fans of Nicolas Meier, Anouar Brahem, Dhafer Youssef and even Gilad Atzmon should find much to enjoy here.

I believe the album launch gigs have already taken place, but it would be good if Smart got the opportunity to tour this music more widely.


COMMENTS;


From Shirley Smart via Facebook;


Thanks so much for the lovely review - very thorough!! I just thought I’d let you know also that I appreciated your prescience in the earlier Melange review about a collaboration with Nic Meier - it did indeed occur!! It was always a possibility, and Demi was certainly a catalyst, as was your comment in that review - it confirmed our thoughts that it would be a good collab!! Anyway, many thanks for all the great work, and this review. Best, Shirley 🙂


From Demi Garcia Sabat via Facebook;


Nice one!!

Long Story Short

Shirley Smart

Friday, April 26, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Long Story Short

The album covers an impressive amount of musical and geographical ground with its range of styles and influences. Smart’s playing, both with and without the bow, is exceptional throughout,

Shirley Smart

“Long Story Short”

(33 Records 33XTREME016)

“Long Story Short” represents the leadership début from the London based cellist Shirley Smart.

One of the UK’s leading cello improvisers Smart is a musician who is comfortable across a variety of musical genres, embracing jazz, folk, world and classical elements. She has previously appeared on the Jazzmann web pages on several occasions, most notably leading her aptly named ‘world jazz’  group Melange. A review of the 2016 Melange album release “Via Maris” appears elsewhere on the Jazzmann website and can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/melange-via-maris/

Smart has also appeared on recordings by pianist/accordionist Maurizio Minardi (a Melange group member) and by violinist/vocalist Alice Zawadzki. Others with whom she has worked include pianists Neil Cowley, Meg Morley, Steve Beresford and Elliot Galvin, saxophonist Binker Golding and guitarists Maciek Pysz and Antonio Forcione.

Smart has also performed with fellow cellist (and vocalist) Kate Shortt as the duo Shortt and Smart.
She also plays in the duo format with the acclaimed pianist and composer Robert Mitchell.

In 2018 Smart was part of the all female ten piece band Interchange that made its début at Cheltenham Jazz Festival under the leadership of baritone saxophonist and composer Issie Barratt. My review of that performance can be read as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/sunday-at-cheltenham-jazz-festival-06-05-2018/

Other ongoing projects include the ten piece Sefiroth ensemble, led by guitarist Alex Roth, which explores the music of the Sephardic (Judeo Spanish) tradition whilst drawing on a range of other Middle Eastern and North African influences.

Meanwhile the smaller Balagan Café Band, a trio featuring guitarist Christian Miller and violinist Richard Jones roams even further afield, taking in gypsy jazz, Argentinian tango, Balkan folk music and more.

Sawa, a trio with Iraqi born vocalist Alya Al-Sultani and pianist Clemens Poetsczh improvises around Iraqi and Arabic folk themes and released an eponymous EP in 2016.

“Long Story Short” can be seen as an extension of Smart’s work with Melange as it blends together elements of jazz, Arabic, Turkish and North African music.  Recorded by a core trio of Smart on cello, John Crawford on piano and Demi Garcia-Sabat on drum kit and percussion the album also includes contributions from a number of illustrious guest musicians including Orphy Robinson on vibraphone, Nikki Iles on accordion and, most notably, Nicolas Meier on guitar.

In my review of “Via Maris” I wrote;
“At times it reminded me of the kind of ‘world jazz’ played by such London based artists as Nicolas Meier and Jonny Phillips (Oriole), and maybe even Alec Dankworth’s ‘Spanish Accents’ group too. Of these Meier, with his fascination for Turkish and Middle Eastern music, is easily the closest parallel with Sabat having also played in Meier’s band (plus Dankworth’s too on occasion). Perhaps the percussionist could act as the catalyst for a collaboration between Smart and Meier, a tantalising prospect”.

Now, with Sabat indeed acting as a catalyst, that collaboration has come to fruition. I’d like to think that I may have been something of a catalyst too!

Smart’s own story is a fascinating one. Classically trained at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama under Raphael Wallfisch and in Paris with Janos Starker she relocated to Jerusalem in 1989. Although initially intending to stay for a year Smart remained in the city for a full decade, fully immersing herself in the diverse range of musics to be heard in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities.

A chance meeting in a Jerusalem restaurant led to Smart joining the Moroccan jazz fusion group Sound of the Ground and she subsequently became a part of several other musical projects and ensembles playing a variety of Middle Eastern and North African musics and touring extensively throughout those regions.  Among those with whom she worked are the well known Israeli musicians Avisahai Cohen and Omer Avital (both bassists and composers) plus singer and songwriter Yasmin Levy.  She has also performed with the veteran Ethiopian vibraphonist, percussionist and bandleader Mulato Astatke, the father of Ethio-jazz.


An acclaimed educator Smart held teaching posts in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah before eventually returning to London where she is currently leading the London Cello Society’s “Beyond Cello” programme which incorporates workshops and performances examining the role of the cello in jazz, world music and more.

The majority of the thirteen tracks on “Long Story Short” are Smart originals and the album commences with the cellist’s “Waltz for an Amethyst”, a vibrant, highly rhythmic piece played by the core trio. The influence of Avishai Cohen has been suggested with Smart soloing pizzicato in virtuoso fashion as well as carrying the melody with her vigorous bowing elsewhere. Crawford, a supremely versatile pianist with an extensive knowledge of global music styles, is also in sparkling form here with a lively and percussive solo, while Sabat is a driving presence behind the kit.

Smart’s travels have led to her developing an affinity for the music of the oud. Melange includes the Greek born oud player Stefanos Tsourelis but it’s “Halfouine”, written by the great Tunisian oud virtuoso Anouar Brahem that is performed here. Smart’s plucked cello approximates the sound of the oud while guest vibraphonist Orphy Robinson sprinkles his magic over the piece. Smart also features with the bow while Sabat plays a variety of exotic sounding percussion rather than kit drums.

“Longa Kismet” was written by Melange guitarist Peter Michaels and teams Smart with Nicolas Meier for the first time on a lively piece that also includes another excellent piano solo from Crawford. Sabat’s use of cajon and palmas brings a flamenco element to the performance and there is plenty of fiery playing from both Smart and Meier.

To Western ears the first three pieces are jam packed with exotic elements from the Middle East, North Africa and Andalusia but the Smart original “Mobius Blues” is just that, a straight-ahead, swinging blues tune, albeit one led by the cello. Again Smart treats the cello as an ‘entire instrument’ providing a walking pizzicato bass line behind Crawford’s piano solo but flourishing the bow in the manner of a low register Stephane Grappelli elsewhere. Sabat, back behind the kit, enjoys a series of lively breaks as he ‘trades fours’ with his colleagues.

Another Smart original, “Opals”, slows things down for the first time. A stately and lyrical ballad it features that melancholic cello sound that is so often associated with classical music. This haunting and effective composition also features Crawford at his most lyrical while percussionist Sabat also produces a delightfully sensitive and nuanced performance that is enhanced by its attention to detail.

The traditional “Balkan Tune” has its roots in the folk music of Macedonia. Introduced by a short passage of unaccompanied cello it evolves into an improvised dialogue between Smart and Meier, these two quickly joined by Sabat. Eventually the lively 7/8 tune emerges, one that Smart has been playing for many years and one which has lent itself to many different interpretations. On the album’s lengthiest track there are expansive solos from both Smart and Meier, the latter bringing with him some of the Turkish influences that inform his own music. The consistently excellent Crawford also impresses with his own solo, as does the effervescent Sabat on a variety of percussion.

“Intro” is a little over a minute and a half of richly atmospheric solo cello that ushers in the Smart original “Crossfire”. Close your eyes and you could be in the desert at night.
“Crossfire” itself features oud like cello plus Meier on guitar. It’s a dense, highly rhythmic piece with densely interweaving melody lines and an almost claustrophobic intensity.

“Hegel’s Tune” is initially more relaxed and features Nikki Iles, better known as a pianist, guesting very effectively on accordion. Smart and Iles combine skilfully to atmospheric effect on this slow burner of a tune,  sometimes bringing something of a Parisian musette feel to the music. Crawford continues to occupy the piano chair and features briefly before the waters are muddied by a more dramatic, intense, wilfully discordant section distinguished by spiky textures and wilful dissonances. Out of this emerges a brief celebratory episode before the piece turns full circle to end as it began. As a composer Smart delights in putting plenty of twists and turns into her pieces, mixing up moods and styles.

“Sambuca” is relatively more straightforward, remaining upbeat and celebratory almost throughout and incorporating a dazzling guitar solo from Meier. Crawford also impresses at the piano as does the leader with a stunning pizzicato solo, her playing reminiscent of a top jazz bassist. And she’s pretty handy with the bow too!

Robinson returns on vibes for “Orinoco Lane”, one of the album’s most obviously ‘jazz’ tunes as it draws on swing and bebop influences. Smart and Robinson team up well and share solos, with leader again supplying ‘cello bass’ during the solos from Robinson and Crawford.

Garcia’s percussion introduces the similarly perky “Tetouan”, which includes a sparkling solo from Crawford and some virtuoso bowing from the consistently impressive Smart. There’s also a drum/percussion feature for Sabat, an unobtrusive but consistently galvanising figure throughout the album.

The album concludes with the traditional Algerian tune “Ticaraca Tchoub”, introduced by solo pizzicato cello with Smart’s playing of the melody subsequently supported by Sabat’s drums and percussion. Then we’re suddenly into full on band mode with the sound of the core trio augmented by Iles on accordion. Iles’ solo quickly establishes the fact that she is also a virtuoso on this instrument. With the irrepressible Sabat driving the music forward there’s an irresistible joyousness about the performance, a quality that remains even in the quieter moments, such as Smart’s delightful duo exchanges with pianist Crawford.

“Long Story Short” represents another impressive offering from Smart and is a worthy début under her own name. The album covers an impressive amount of musical and geographical ground with its range of styles and influences. Smart’s playing, both with and without the bow, is exceptional throughout, fluent and inventive and variously fiery or emotive as required. Crawford and Garcia both make excellent contributions as part of an intelligent and well balanced trio and the playing of the three guests is also exceptional. The recorded sound is also excellent throughout with Smart leading an engineering team featuring Nick Pugh, Peter Michaels and Peter Beckmann.

I appreciate that Smart’s blend of ‘world jazz’, played on an instrument that is still unusual for the music, won’t suit some jazz purists. But to these ears that’s their loss, Smart’s music lives up to her name – it is smart, intelligent, sophisticated and adventurous. I can’t claim to understand all the subtleties between the different varieties of music on offer here but it’s fun trying. Above all it still sounds exotic and exciting and fans of Nicolas Meier, Anouar Brahem, Dhafer Youssef and even Gilad Atzmon should find much to enjoy here.

I believe the album launch gigs have already taken place, but it would be good if Smart got the opportunity to tour this music more widely.


COMMENTS;


From Shirley Smart via Facebook;


Thanks so much for the lovely review - very thorough!! I just thought I’d let you know also that I appreciated your prescience in the earlier Melange review about a collaboration with Nic Meier - it did indeed occur!! It was always a possibility, and Demi was certainly a catalyst, as was your comment in that review - it confirmed our thoughts that it would be a good collab!! Anyway, many thanks for all the great work, and this review. Best, Shirley 🙂


From Demi Garcia Sabat via Facebook;


Nice one!!

Acrobat - Make Your Stand Rating: 3-5 out of 5 A well balanced and highly democratic unit who bring a contemporary slant to the jazz organ combo. An absorbing album that delivers some excellent playing from all three protagonists.

Acrobat

“Make Your Stand”

(Distribution by CD Baby and Amazon
Catalogue Number WKBU002)

“Make Your Stand” is the second album from the London based contemporary organ trio Acrobat and follows their eponymous début from 2012.

Arguably the best known member of the group is its guitarist Kristian Borring, a Copenhagen born musician who has been based in London for a number of years and who has become a vital presence on the UK jazz scene. As a leader he has released three recordings under his own name, “Nausicaa” from 2011, “Urban Novel” and “Silent Storm” from 2016. All of these have been reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann and each recording in the series has represented an artistic progression as Borring has continued to hone his instrumental and compositional skills. In the main these recordings have featured Borring’s regular working quartet featuring pianist Arthur Lea, bassist Mick Coady and drummer Jon Scott but with the group sometimes expanded to a five piece with the addition of guest musicians such as saxophonist Will Vinson and vibraphonist Jim Hart.

Borring has also recorded in the duo format with pianist Bruno Heinen, the pair releasing the album “Postcard To Bill Evans” in 2015, a recording paying homage to the late, great American pianist and composer. As a sideman Borring has has worked with saxophonist Tommaso Starace and vocalists Monika Lidke and Sara Mitra.

I’m indebted to Borring for forwarding me a copy of “Make Your Stand” for review purposes.

I have to admit to being less familiar with the other two members of Acrobat. However I’ve previously heard Oxford born Bartlett’s organ playing on the 2018 album “Framework” by multi-reed player Jon Shenoy’s Draw By Four quartet, a group that also features the talents of guitarist Sam Dunn and drummer Chris Draper. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/jon-shenoys-draw-by-four-framework/
Also an accomplished pianist Bartlett has also recorded a duo album with Puppini Sisters vocalist Kate Mullins.

Liverpool born Davey has worked with leading musicians such as bassist Jasper Hoiby and saxophonist Soweto Kinch. He also leads his own quartet which has previously included Arthur Lea, Jon Shenoy and bassist Andrea Di Biase. He has also been in bands featuring Kate Mullins.
A musician with a wide range of interest Davey has also played pop and rock sessions and has been involved in multi-disciplinary projects such as the spoken word group Tongue Fu, the circus group Extraordinary Bodies and the samba group Rhythms of the City.

Acrobat is democratic unit that sees compositional duties divided between its members with all three contributing tunes to the new album. Things kick off with Borring’s title track, which quickly establishes the group sound. Here this is complex but subtly swinging and with the lead divided pretty much equally between guitar and organ. Bartlett and Borring trade solos and also comp inventively when the other is soloing. Meanwhile Davey is a busy presence behind the kit, his drumming brightly detailed, supple and inventive.

Bartlett’s lively “The Big Three” is based on old style samba rhythms with three beats in the bar, hence the title. Written to embrace Davey’s deep interest in Brazilian music it’s a joyous, invigorating piece that again sees Borring and Bartlett exchanging solos in typically fluent and absorbing fashion. The pair are aided by Davey’s bright, crisp, continually evolving drumming, with the sticksman enjoying something of a feature towards the close of the tune.

Borring supplies “King Congas” (great title), which begins quietly with a passage of gentle unaccompanied guitar before adopting a subtle Latin inflected groove, this providing the platform for the beguiling guitar and organ solos that follow.

Davey makes his compositional bow with “Bodger and Me”, its rhythms moving between odd meters and more conventional swing as Bartlett and Borring deliver lively solos. The composer’s drums are also featured prominently in the arrangement.

Bartlett’s “The Iceberg” takes its inspiration from the music of the classical composer Alban Berg (1885 – 1935) who frequently wrote for organ. Berg’s influence is merged with gospel and blues in this slow burner as the composer and Borring ‘battle’ for supremacy as they exchange solos. With both soloists drawing deep on the wells of blues and gospel it’s perhaps the piece that best recalls the classic jazz organ combos of the past, despite the European classical references.

Similar qualities are brought to Borring’s composition “Hall”, although whether this piece is inspired by the late, great Jim (an acknowledged influence) is not made clear. It would be most appropriate if it were. Like Hall Borring is a guitarist of enormous technical facility who always channels his gifts tastefully and selflessly, a quiet, undemonstrative virtuoso who perhaps doesn’t always attract the kind of admiration that his talents deserve. Having seen Borring performing live with Tommaso Starace as far back as 2011 I can attest to his awesome technique, having watched him contort his fingers into seemingly impossible chord shapes. The guitarist is at his most inventive here on this mid tempo swinger as he trades ideas with Bartlett’s soulful Hammond B3.

Davey’s “Dance Of The Pockets” sees the composer’s drums assuming parity with guitar and organ as he sketches melodic patterns on his kit in a series of lively exchanges with Borring and Bartlett before continuing to drum creatively behind their solos.

Bartlett’s “For K.V.” is dedicated to the memory of the late, great trumpeter and composer Kenny Wheeler (1930-2014), a profound influence on so many young British jazz musicians. The title comes from Wheeler’s given names, Kenneth Vincent, and is not a mistake, as some may have first thought. The music has a relaxed, gently swinging quality and offers soloing opportunities for the composer on Hammond and Borring on guitar. It’s a celebration of a life well lived.

It’s drummer Davey who actually provides the gentlest track on the album, the gentle, slinking “Almost There”, a ballad featuring the clean melodic lines of Borring’s guitar, the subtle gospel infusions of Bartlett’s Hammond and the composer’s delicately brushed drumming. Later the momentum is increased via Borring’s spiralling guitar solo as Davey switches to sticks.

Borring’s final contribution with the pen is “Infant Rondo” which emerges from an opening crescendo to extemporise around Borring’s guitar motifs with solos from the composer and from Bartlett as Davey keeps the groove. There is plenty of variety of mood and tempo as the piece progresses, the trio drawing jazz, classical and contemporary rock influences into a coherent whole.

The album concludes on an energetic note with Davey’s hard grooving “T.K.A”. The trio bring funk, jazz, rock, soul and gospel elements to the party as they get down in the best Hammond tradition with earthy solos from guitar and organ plus a colourful drum feature from the composer.

Acrobat are a well balanced and highly democratic unit who bring a contemporary slant to the jazz organ combo, adding subtle elements drawn from other genres along the way. They’ve been compared to American trio of organist Larry Goldings, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Bill Stewart, the long running triumvirate generally considered to be the world’s premier exponents of the jazz organ trio format. Borring has studied with Bernstein in New York so there’s no doubting their influence and it’s a comparison that suits Acrobat well.

“Make You Stand” works well within the confines of the organ trio format and with three different composers bringing their ideas to the table there’s plenty for the listener to enjoy on an absorbing album that delivers some excellent playing from all three protagonists. Also an exciting live act, one would imagine.

Make Your Stand

Acrobat

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Make Your Stand

A well balanced and highly democratic unit who bring a contemporary slant to the jazz organ combo. An absorbing album that delivers some excellent playing from all three protagonists.

Acrobat

“Make Your Stand”

(Distribution by CD Baby and Amazon
Catalogue Number WKBU002)

“Make Your Stand” is the second album from the London based contemporary organ trio Acrobat and follows their eponymous début from 2012.

Arguably the best known member of the group is its guitarist Kristian Borring, a Copenhagen born musician who has been based in London for a number of years and who has become a vital presence on the UK jazz scene. As a leader he has released three recordings under his own name, “Nausicaa” from 2011, “Urban Novel” and “Silent Storm” from 2016. All of these have been reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann and each recording in the series has represented an artistic progression as Borring has continued to hone his instrumental and compositional skills. In the main these recordings have featured Borring’s regular working quartet featuring pianist Arthur Lea, bassist Mick Coady and drummer Jon Scott but with the group sometimes expanded to a five piece with the addition of guest musicians such as saxophonist Will Vinson and vibraphonist Jim Hart.

Borring has also recorded in the duo format with pianist Bruno Heinen, the pair releasing the album “Postcard To Bill Evans” in 2015, a recording paying homage to the late, great American pianist and composer. As a sideman Borring has has worked with saxophonist Tommaso Starace and vocalists Monika Lidke and Sara Mitra.

I’m indebted to Borring for forwarding me a copy of “Make Your Stand” for review purposes.

I have to admit to being less familiar with the other two members of Acrobat. However I’ve previously heard Oxford born Bartlett’s organ playing on the 2018 album “Framework” by multi-reed player Jon Shenoy’s Draw By Four quartet, a group that also features the talents of guitarist Sam Dunn and drummer Chris Draper. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/jon-shenoys-draw-by-four-framework/
Also an accomplished pianist Bartlett has also recorded a duo album with Puppini Sisters vocalist Kate Mullins.

Liverpool born Davey has worked with leading musicians such as bassist Jasper Hoiby and saxophonist Soweto Kinch. He also leads his own quartet which has previously included Arthur Lea, Jon Shenoy and bassist Andrea Di Biase. He has also been in bands featuring Kate Mullins.
A musician with a wide range of interest Davey has also played pop and rock sessions and has been involved in multi-disciplinary projects such as the spoken word group Tongue Fu, the circus group Extraordinary Bodies and the samba group Rhythms of the City.

Acrobat is democratic unit that sees compositional duties divided between its members with all three contributing tunes to the new album. Things kick off with Borring’s title track, which quickly establishes the group sound. Here this is complex but subtly swinging and with the lead divided pretty much equally between guitar and organ. Bartlett and Borring trade solos and also comp inventively when the other is soloing. Meanwhile Davey is a busy presence behind the kit, his drumming brightly detailed, supple and inventive.

Bartlett’s lively “The Big Three” is based on old style samba rhythms with three beats in the bar, hence the title. Written to embrace Davey’s deep interest in Brazilian music it’s a joyous, invigorating piece that again sees Borring and Bartlett exchanging solos in typically fluent and absorbing fashion. The pair are aided by Davey’s bright, crisp, continually evolving drumming, with the sticksman enjoying something of a feature towards the close of the tune.

Borring supplies “King Congas” (great title), which begins quietly with a passage of gentle unaccompanied guitar before adopting a subtle Latin inflected groove, this providing the platform for the beguiling guitar and organ solos that follow.

Davey makes his compositional bow with “Bodger and Me”, its rhythms moving between odd meters and more conventional swing as Bartlett and Borring deliver lively solos. The composer’s drums are also featured prominently in the arrangement.

Bartlett’s “The Iceberg” takes its inspiration from the music of the classical composer Alban Berg (1885 – 1935) who frequently wrote for organ. Berg’s influence is merged with gospel and blues in this slow burner as the composer and Borring ‘battle’ for supremacy as they exchange solos. With both soloists drawing deep on the wells of blues and gospel it’s perhaps the piece that best recalls the classic jazz organ combos of the past, despite the European classical references.

Similar qualities are brought to Borring’s composition “Hall”, although whether this piece is inspired by the late, great Jim (an acknowledged influence) is not made clear. It would be most appropriate if it were. Like Hall Borring is a guitarist of enormous technical facility who always channels his gifts tastefully and selflessly, a quiet, undemonstrative virtuoso who perhaps doesn’t always attract the kind of admiration that his talents deserve. Having seen Borring performing live with Tommaso Starace as far back as 2011 I can attest to his awesome technique, having watched him contort his fingers into seemingly impossible chord shapes. The guitarist is at his most inventive here on this mid tempo swinger as he trades ideas with Bartlett’s soulful Hammond B3.

Davey’s “Dance Of The Pockets” sees the composer’s drums assuming parity with guitar and organ as he sketches melodic patterns on his kit in a series of lively exchanges with Borring and Bartlett before continuing to drum creatively behind their solos.

Bartlett’s “For K.V.” is dedicated to the memory of the late, great trumpeter and composer Kenny Wheeler (1930-2014), a profound influence on so many young British jazz musicians. The title comes from Wheeler’s given names, Kenneth Vincent, and is not a mistake, as some may have first thought. The music has a relaxed, gently swinging quality and offers soloing opportunities for the composer on Hammond and Borring on guitar. It’s a celebration of a life well lived.

It’s drummer Davey who actually provides the gentlest track on the album, the gentle, slinking “Almost There”, a ballad featuring the clean melodic lines of Borring’s guitar, the subtle gospel infusions of Bartlett’s Hammond and the composer’s delicately brushed drumming. Later the momentum is increased via Borring’s spiralling guitar solo as Davey switches to sticks.

Borring’s final contribution with the pen is “Infant Rondo” which emerges from an opening crescendo to extemporise around Borring’s guitar motifs with solos from the composer and from Bartlett as Davey keeps the groove. There is plenty of variety of mood and tempo as the piece progresses, the trio drawing jazz, classical and contemporary rock influences into a coherent whole.

The album concludes on an energetic note with Davey’s hard grooving “T.K.A”. The trio bring funk, jazz, rock, soul and gospel elements to the party as they get down in the best Hammond tradition with earthy solos from guitar and organ plus a colourful drum feature from the composer.

Acrobat are a well balanced and highly democratic unit who bring a contemporary slant to the jazz organ combo, adding subtle elements drawn from other genres along the way. They’ve been compared to American trio of organist Larry Goldings, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Bill Stewart, the long running triumvirate generally considered to be the world’s premier exponents of the jazz organ trio format. Borring has studied with Bernstein in New York so there’s no doubting their influence and it’s a comparison that suits Acrobat well.

“Make You Stand” works well within the confines of the organ trio format and with three different composers bringing their ideas to the table there’s plenty for the listener to enjoy on an absorbing album that delivers some excellent playing from all three protagonists. Also an exciting live act, one would imagine.

Peter Ehwald - Septuor de Grand Matin Rating: 4 out of 5 The overall ensemble sound of Septuor de Grand Matin is brilliantly recognised, full of delightful small details within a convincing overall framework. A work of which Ehwald can be justifiably proud.

Peter Ehwald

“Septuor de Grand Matin”

(Jazzwerkstatt Records JW193)

The German saxophonist and composer Peter Ehwald has made a number of previous appearances on the Jazzmann web pages. The Berlin based artist has collaborated fairly frequently with British musicians, notably in the Anglo-German quartet Paragon alongside pianist Arthur Lea, drummer Jon Scott and bassist Matthias Akeo Nowak. Both of Paragon’s albums, 2010’s “Quarterlife Crisis” and 2014’s “Cerca” are reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann, and each represents an impressive piece of work, particularly the début.

Ehwald has worked in a duo setting with the Danish born, London based bassist Henrik Jensen, releasing the intimate “Jensen / Ehwald” in 2012. Previously the pair had collaborated with drummer Wolfgang Hohn as The North Trio, releasing the excellent “Songs of Trees” on 33 Jazz in 2008.

Ehwald seems to have a particular affinity with bassists and in 2015 he brought his quartet Double Trouble to perform at The Vortex as part of that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. This group featured two double bass players, Robert Landfermann and Andreas Lang, together with drummer Jonas Burgwinkel. I reviewed this exciting event as part of my Festival coverage and later spoke to the amiable Ehwald, plus his UK publicist of the time, Lee Paterson. I subsequently reviewed the quartet’s album “Double Trouble Live”, which featured performances from shows in Düsseldorf, Munich and Potsdam in 2013/14.
Album review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/peter-ehwald-double-trouble-live/

Ehwald’s other projects include Ensemble Su which teams him with the Korean musicians Bo-Sung (percussion and gayageum) and Kim and Hyo Jin Shin (percussion, vocals), the music drawing inspiration from the Korean sacred and classical traditions as well as from jazz and other Western genres.

Ehwald also works in a duo with pianist Stefan Schultze as well as appearing with the pianist in various other small group and large ensemble situations. It’s also Schultze who occupies the piano chair on this current album.

Ehwald’s latest release, “Septuor De Matin” places the emphasis on Ehwald the composer. It’s a semi-conceptual work comprised of nine pieces and the rationale behind it is perhaps best explained by reproducing Arthur Leas’s liner notes;

“Saxophonist and composer Peter Ehwald wrote the music for Le Septuor de Grand Matin in the blue light of the early morning hours. The work was born in the astute concentration of the peaceful calm before the day’s commitments. Ehwald worked intensively with processes of methodical composition, from which he developed the nine pieces. Oscillating between the jazz of ‘Wee Small Hours Of The Morning’ and Schönberg’s principle of variation, the listener is drawn into a dreamlike state of pure serenity. One can find 20th century European musical textures alongside free experimentation reminiscent of 1970s Jazz.

For his Septuor de Grand Matin (The Septet Of The Early Morning Hours) Peter assembled a terrific cast of musicians: Almut Kühne, Richard Koch, John Schröder, Stefan Schultze, Kathrin Pechlof and Matthias Akeo Nowak all interweave. Ehwald’s compositional specifications into a sublimely rhythmic chamber music - contemporary, and yet of timeless beauty”.

Peter Ehwald (tenor sax, composer)
Almut Kühne (vocals)
Richard Koch (trumpet)
Kathrin Pechlof (harp)
Stefan Schultze (piano)
Matthias Akeo Nowak (double bass)
John Schröder (drums)

Ehwald’s ‘suite’ actually begins with “Part V”.  The introductory fanfare, perhaps representing the sunrise, is followed by a gently pastoral interlude in which the instruments, plus Kuhne’s wordless vocals, approximate the sound of the dawn chorus as the new day arrives. Pechlof’s harp represents a particularly distinctive component, helping to bring an air of pastoral lyricism to the piece. Ehwald’s sound on the tenor is soft and breathy as the leader’s sax gradually comes into greater focus, his playing assured and fluent. However it’s probably fair to say that in the context of this album the emphasis is on the writing and the overall sound of the ensemble rather than individual jazz soloing.

“Part 1” is more dynamic and forceful but the ensemble playing remains tightly focussed with Kuhne, an integral figure in the group sound, again deploying her voice as an instrument. There’s a more conventional solo here as trumpeter Koch cuts loose in powerful fashion, but there’s also some excellent ensemble playing.

“Part III” is ushered in by a dialogue between Kuhne and pianist Schultze, the singer’s voice variously recalling Bjork and jazz vocal improvisers such as Sidsel Endresen and Julie Tippetts. There are lyrics here, but as these are presumably in German I’m not going to attempt any kind of analysis. Kuhne’s voice enters into the world of extended technique and she’s also involved in dialogues with other instrumentalists, among them harpist Pechlof and drummer Schroder. In the closing stages the music takes more of an anthemic turn courtesy of a soaring vocal, rousing horns and the thunder of Schroder’s mallet rumbles. This is music that rarely stands still with each composition offering variations in term of mood, style and dynamics within the realms of a single piece.

“Klassentreffen” offers further examples of Kuhne’s adventurous vocalising in a series of dizzying opening exchanges. This is a piece distinguished by its whirling, kinetic energy as the instrumentalists respond to the gauntlet thrown down by the singer, the whole driven by Schroder’s busily energetic drumming. Ehwald, Koch and Schultze all impress with their fiery contributions as they dovetail in mercurial fashion with Huhne’s astonishing vocals.

Still defying conventional scheduling Part IV comes next, a more impressionistic offering that delivers something of that serenity that Lea promises in his liner notes. Kuhne adopts a pure, high pitched tone for her vocals, her eerie pipings shadowed by piano,  harp, noirish muted trumpet and delicately brushed drums.

“Part II” ups the energy levels once more with Nowak and Schroder establishing a propulsive group above which voice, tenor and trumpet can soar with Ehwald himself supplying one of the most orthodox jazz solos of the set as his warm toned tenor takes fluent flight. Following this bass and drums assume the lead with something of a feature for the excellent Schroder, whose playing is colourful, inventive and intelligent throughout the album, skilfully combining power with sensitivity and adaptability.

Schroder’s versatility is immediately illustrated via the free jazz style intro to “Part VI” as he interacts with the sound of piano, trumpet and voice. Eventually a clearer structure becomes apparent on this, the longest piece on the album, the main melodic theme being carried by Kuhne’s Norma Winstone like wordless vocal. Instrumentally Schultze emerges from the ensemble to deliver an expansive piano solo on a piece that may remind British listeners of the works of pianist Jon Taylor and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler with similarly constituted ensembles back in the day.

“The No Tellah! has an irrepressible Latin tinged joyousness about it, rooted in Schroder’s vibrant drumming and embodied by Kuhne’s soaring vocal gymnastics and Koch’s powerful trumpet soloing.

The closing “Reprise” begins with a gentle chorale featuring trumpet, tenor and bowed bass, these subsequently joined by harp, brushed drums and Kuhne’s ever flexible wordless vocals. The overall sound is relaxed and gently ethereal, subtly blending the jazz and contemporary
classical elements of which Lea speaks.

With its mix of jazz and classical components and comparative lack of orthodox swing and conventional jazz soloing “Septuor de Grand Matin” won’t be to everybody’s tastes, some listeners perhaps finding it all a bit too abstract and ‘avant garde’.

Personally I’m rather impressed by it and by the way in which Ehwald draws the differing elements together to create a convincing whole. Besides the promised serenity there are plenty of grittier moments that help to add an agreeable frisson and edge to the music. That said, as I’ve observed previously there’s always an underlying lyricism in Ehwald’s writing and playing, even at its most adventurous or most extreme, such as the more vigorous exchanges of the highly rhythmic Double Trouble quartet.

The overall ensemble sound of Septuor de Grand Matin is brilliantly recognised, full of delightful small details within a convincing overall framework. As the producer of the record Ehwald is well served by the engineering team of Tito Knapp in Berlin and Christian Heck in Koln.

It almost seems invidious to pick out individual contributions but I couldn’t fail to be impressed by Huhne’s extraordinarily flexible and intelligent vocals, the singer’s larynx delivering a remarkable variety of sounds but always totally in context and with great musicality. Similar qualities inform Schroder’s drumming and he and Nowak constitute an excellent rhythm pairing.  Meanwhile Pechlof’s harp brings a particularly distinctive instrumental voice to the ensemble. The three jazz front-liners, Ehwald, Kock and Schultze all impress with their overall contribution and with their occasional full length solos.

As an instrumentalist Ehwald is essentially content to just be part as the ensemble, but as the composer and producer of this music it’s ultimately his album and to these ears “Septuor de Matin” is a work of which he can be justifiably proud.

Septuor de Grand Matin

Peter Ehwald

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Septuor de Grand Matin

The overall ensemble sound of Septuor de Grand Matin is brilliantly recognised, full of delightful small details within a convincing overall framework. A work of which Ehwald can be justifiably proud.

Peter Ehwald

“Septuor de Grand Matin”

(Jazzwerkstatt Records JW193)

The German saxophonist and composer Peter Ehwald has made a number of previous appearances on the Jazzmann web pages. The Berlin based artist has collaborated fairly frequently with British musicians, notably in the Anglo-German quartet Paragon alongside pianist Arthur Lea, drummer Jon Scott and bassist Matthias Akeo Nowak. Both of Paragon’s albums, 2010’s “Quarterlife Crisis” and 2014’s “Cerca” are reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann, and each represents an impressive piece of work, particularly the début.

Ehwald has worked in a duo setting with the Danish born, London based bassist Henrik Jensen, releasing the intimate “Jensen / Ehwald” in 2012. Previously the pair had collaborated with drummer Wolfgang Hohn as The North Trio, releasing the excellent “Songs of Trees” on 33 Jazz in 2008.

Ehwald seems to have a particular affinity with bassists and in 2015 he brought his quartet Double Trouble to perform at The Vortex as part of that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. This group featured two double bass players, Robert Landfermann and Andreas Lang, together with drummer Jonas Burgwinkel. I reviewed this exciting event as part of my Festival coverage and later spoke to the amiable Ehwald, plus his UK publicist of the time, Lee Paterson. I subsequently reviewed the quartet’s album “Double Trouble Live”, which featured performances from shows in Düsseldorf, Munich and Potsdam in 2013/14.
Album review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/peter-ehwald-double-trouble-live/

Ehwald’s other projects include Ensemble Su which teams him with the Korean musicians Bo-Sung (percussion and gayageum) and Kim and Hyo Jin Shin (percussion, vocals), the music drawing inspiration from the Korean sacred and classical traditions as well as from jazz and other Western genres.

Ehwald also works in a duo with pianist Stefan Schultze as well as appearing with the pianist in various other small group and large ensemble situations. It’s also Schultze who occupies the piano chair on this current album.

Ehwald’s latest release, “Septuor De Matin” places the emphasis on Ehwald the composer. It’s a semi-conceptual work comprised of nine pieces and the rationale behind it is perhaps best explained by reproducing Arthur Leas’s liner notes;

“Saxophonist and composer Peter Ehwald wrote the music for Le Septuor de Grand Matin in the blue light of the early morning hours. The work was born in the astute concentration of the peaceful calm before the day’s commitments. Ehwald worked intensively with processes of methodical composition, from which he developed the nine pieces. Oscillating between the jazz of ‘Wee Small Hours Of The Morning’ and Schönberg’s principle of variation, the listener is drawn into a dreamlike state of pure serenity. One can find 20th century European musical textures alongside free experimentation reminiscent of 1970s Jazz.

For his Septuor de Grand Matin (The Septet Of The Early Morning Hours) Peter assembled a terrific cast of musicians: Almut Kühne, Richard Koch, John Schröder, Stefan Schultze, Kathrin Pechlof and Matthias Akeo Nowak all interweave. Ehwald’s compositional specifications into a sublimely rhythmic chamber music - contemporary, and yet of timeless beauty”.

Peter Ehwald (tenor sax, composer)
Almut Kühne (vocals)
Richard Koch (trumpet)
Kathrin Pechlof (harp)
Stefan Schultze (piano)
Matthias Akeo Nowak (double bass)
John Schröder (drums)

Ehwald’s ‘suite’ actually begins with “Part V”.  The introductory fanfare, perhaps representing the sunrise, is followed by a gently pastoral interlude in which the instruments, plus Kuhne’s wordless vocals, approximate the sound of the dawn chorus as the new day arrives. Pechlof’s harp represents a particularly distinctive component, helping to bring an air of pastoral lyricism to the piece. Ehwald’s sound on the tenor is soft and breathy as the leader’s sax gradually comes into greater focus, his playing assured and fluent. However it’s probably fair to say that in the context of this album the emphasis is on the writing and the overall sound of the ensemble rather than individual jazz soloing.

“Part 1” is more dynamic and forceful but the ensemble playing remains tightly focussed with Kuhne, an integral figure in the group sound, again deploying her voice as an instrument. There’s a more conventional solo here as trumpeter Koch cuts loose in powerful fashion, but there’s also some excellent ensemble playing.

“Part III” is ushered in by a dialogue between Kuhne and pianist Schultze, the singer’s voice variously recalling Bjork and jazz vocal improvisers such as Sidsel Endresen and Julie Tippetts. There are lyrics here, but as these are presumably in German I’m not going to attempt any kind of analysis. Kuhne’s voice enters into the world of extended technique and she’s also involved in dialogues with other instrumentalists, among them harpist Pechlof and drummer Schroder. In the closing stages the music takes more of an anthemic turn courtesy of a soaring vocal, rousing horns and the thunder of Schroder’s mallet rumbles. This is music that rarely stands still with each composition offering variations in term of mood, style and dynamics within the realms of a single piece.

“Klassentreffen” offers further examples of Kuhne’s adventurous vocalising in a series of dizzying opening exchanges. This is a piece distinguished by its whirling, kinetic energy as the instrumentalists respond to the gauntlet thrown down by the singer, the whole driven by Schroder’s busily energetic drumming. Ehwald, Koch and Schultze all impress with their fiery contributions as they dovetail in mercurial fashion with Huhne’s astonishing vocals.

Still defying conventional scheduling Part IV comes next, a more impressionistic offering that delivers something of that serenity that Lea promises in his liner notes. Kuhne adopts a pure, high pitched tone for her vocals, her eerie pipings shadowed by piano,  harp, noirish muted trumpet and delicately brushed drums.

“Part II” ups the energy levels once more with Nowak and Schroder establishing a propulsive group above which voice, tenor and trumpet can soar with Ehwald himself supplying one of the most orthodox jazz solos of the set as his warm toned tenor takes fluent flight. Following this bass and drums assume the lead with something of a feature for the excellent Schroder, whose playing is colourful, inventive and intelligent throughout the album, skilfully combining power with sensitivity and adaptability.

Schroder’s versatility is immediately illustrated via the free jazz style intro to “Part VI” as he interacts with the sound of piano, trumpet and voice. Eventually a clearer structure becomes apparent on this, the longest piece on the album, the main melodic theme being carried by Kuhne’s Norma Winstone like wordless vocal. Instrumentally Schultze emerges from the ensemble to deliver an expansive piano solo on a piece that may remind British listeners of the works of pianist Jon Taylor and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler with similarly constituted ensembles back in the day.

“The No Tellah! has an irrepressible Latin tinged joyousness about it, rooted in Schroder’s vibrant drumming and embodied by Kuhne’s soaring vocal gymnastics and Koch’s powerful trumpet soloing.

The closing “Reprise” begins with a gentle chorale featuring trumpet, tenor and bowed bass, these subsequently joined by harp, brushed drums and Kuhne’s ever flexible wordless vocals. The overall sound is relaxed and gently ethereal, subtly blending the jazz and contemporary
classical elements of which Lea speaks.

With its mix of jazz and classical components and comparative lack of orthodox swing and conventional jazz soloing “Septuor de Grand Matin” won’t be to everybody’s tastes, some listeners perhaps finding it all a bit too abstract and ‘avant garde’.

Personally I’m rather impressed by it and by the way in which Ehwald draws the differing elements together to create a convincing whole. Besides the promised serenity there are plenty of grittier moments that help to add an agreeable frisson and edge to the music. That said, as I’ve observed previously there’s always an underlying lyricism in Ehwald’s writing and playing, even at its most adventurous or most extreme, such as the more vigorous exchanges of the highly rhythmic Double Trouble quartet.

The overall ensemble sound of Septuor de Grand Matin is brilliantly recognised, full of delightful small details within a convincing overall framework. As the producer of the record Ehwald is well served by the engineering team of Tito Knapp in Berlin and Christian Heck in Koln.

It almost seems invidious to pick out individual contributions but I couldn’t fail to be impressed by Huhne’s extraordinarily flexible and intelligent vocals, the singer’s larynx delivering a remarkable variety of sounds but always totally in context and with great musicality. Similar qualities inform Schroder’s drumming and he and Nowak constitute an excellent rhythm pairing.  Meanwhile Pechlof’s harp brings a particularly distinctive instrumental voice to the ensemble. The three jazz front-liners, Ehwald, Kock and Schultze all impress with their overall contribution and with their occasional full length solos.

As an instrumentalist Ehwald is essentially content to just be part as the ensemble, but as the composer and producer of this music it’s ultimately his album and to these ears “Septuor de Matin” is a work of which he can be justifiably proud.

Haftor Medboe / Jacob Karlzon - Haftor Medboe / Jacob Karlzon EP Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Medboe and Karlzon have established an intimate, ego-less rapport. An air of zen like serenity infuses all the performances here.

Haftor Medboe / Jacob Karlzon

“Haftor Medboe / Jacob Karlzon EP”

(Copperfly Records CAT001)

Here’s a bit of a novelty for the Jazzmann. I think it’s the first time that I’ve reviewed a ten inch vinyl EP for the site.

Featuring four original compositions this recording is the work of the duo of guitarist Haftor Medboe and pianist Jacob Karlzon and is available as a limited edition EP, part of a run of 250, or as a digital download. It appears on Medboe’s own imprint, Copperfly Records.

Born in Norway but based in Scotland Medboe is an old friend of the Jazzmann and in 2010 I reviewed his then current album “New;Happy” plus the later EP “A Box Of Monkeys”. My account of these two recordings can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/S=42ffa0b638c7ba4fb5c36fc04762402ae0e7c56f/reviews/review/haftor-medboe-group-newhappy-a-box-of-monkeys/

Medboe rather dropped of my radar following that impressive album release but a glance at his website http://www.haftormedboe.com reveals that he has been far from idle since, recording several albums for different labels, usually in the company of other Scandinavian musicians, among them trumpeter Gunnar Halle, pianist Espen Eriksen, bassist Eva Malling and drummer Benita Haastrup.
He is also part of the trio The Will Of The People featuring bass clarinet specialist Pete Furniss and drummer Tom Bancroft, with whom he is due to release an album on Copperfly Records later in 2019. Besides his recording work Medboe is also an acclaimed educator and is an Associate Professor of Music at Edinburgh’s Napier University.

Swedish pianist Jacob Karlzon is perhaps best known for his work accompanying the singers Viktoria Tolstoy and Silje Nergaard. He has appeared on several of Tolstoy’s albums, also acting in the capacity of arranger. An accomplished piano soloist he has also worked with trombonist Nils Landgren, drummer Billy Cobham, vocalist Norma Winstone and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. He was also part of the ACT label ‘supergroup’  the Baltic Gang led by Polish violinist Adam Baldych and featuring  saxophonist Marius Neset, trumpeter Verneri Pohjola,, bassist Lars Danielsson and drummer Morten Lund.

As a leader Karlzon has released eleven albums under his own name in a variety of formats and line ups and is currently the leader of a trio, JK3, featuring bassist Morten Ramsbol and drummer Rasmus Kihlberg. His music draws inspiration from a variety of musical genres including jazz, folk, metal and electronica. A frequent award winner in his native land he is also an accredited Steinway Artist.

Medboe and Karlzon first met at the Islay Jazz Festival in the Scottish Hebrides some fifteen years ago and this collaboration has thus had a lengthy gestation period. The material on this EP was first premièred at the 2018 Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival and subsequently documented at Castlesound Studios, Pencaitland by recording engineer Garry Boyle.

The music on this EP places the focus strongly on melody, drawing on Scandinavian jazz and folk traditions with the duo naming pianists Jan Johansson, Tord Gustavsen and Esbjorn Svensson as sources of inspiration.

The interplay between the two musicians is intimate and tightly focussed as epitomised by the opening “Hope”. Like much of the rest of the recording the mood of the piece is reflective and slightly melancholic, typically ‘Nordic’ if you will. Medboe and Karlzon pick out complementary melodic phrases, dovetailing gently. Nothing sounds forced or hurried, the mood of intimate conversation prevailing throughout, even when the sounds of strings and keys are enhanced with the subtlest soupçon of electronica, presumably courtesy of the guitarist’s FX pedals.

“Waiting” exhibits similar characteristics, continuing the air of gentle reflection as the pair again exchange melodic ideas, maintaining the mood established by the opener. There are some gorgeous melodic phrases here, occasionally reminiscent of Pat Metheny in his most intimate and reflective moments.

Flipping the ten inch disc we hear “Tranquil”, a title that neatly summarises the EP as whole. An air of zen like serenity infuses all the performances here, and none more so than on this piece, which gently glides past in the manner of petals drifting in a stream. The rounded warmth of Medboe’s guitar phrases contrasts well with Karlzon’s sparse chordal accompaniment and subtly glacial lead lines.

The closing “Return” finds the duo in a more effusive and expansive mood as they close this otherwise reflective recording on more of an upbeat note. The air of intimacy remains but there’s an essential air of joyousness about this final performance with Medboe’s tone again warm and conversational, but with a lithe inventiveness that is complemented by Karlzon’s free flowing piano solo, his most joyful and unfettered excursion of the set.

This duo project is scheduled to tour in the UK and Scandinavia later in 2019 and into 2020. One suspects that in live performance these intimate duets will acquire even greater depths of intimacy and nuance. Medboe and Karlzon have established an intimate, ego-less rapport that will be even more tangible in person than on disc, as admirable as this recording is. Something to look forward to.

The EP is available from;

http://www.copperfly.co.uk

http://www.haftormedboe.com

Haftor Medboe / Jacob Karlzon EP

Haftor Medboe / Jacob Karlzon

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

EP Review

3-5 out of 5

Haftor Medboe / Jacob Karlzon EP

Medboe and Karlzon have established an intimate, ego-less rapport. An air of zen like serenity infuses all the performances here.

Haftor Medboe / Jacob Karlzon

“Haftor Medboe / Jacob Karlzon EP”

(Copperfly Records CAT001)

Here’s a bit of a novelty for the Jazzmann. I think it’s the first time that I’ve reviewed a ten inch vinyl EP for the site.

Featuring four original compositions this recording is the work of the duo of guitarist Haftor Medboe and pianist Jacob Karlzon and is available as a limited edition EP, part of a run of 250, or as a digital download. It appears on Medboe’s own imprint, Copperfly Records.

Born in Norway but based in Scotland Medboe is an old friend of the Jazzmann and in 2010 I reviewed his then current album “New;Happy” plus the later EP “A Box Of Monkeys”. My account of these two recordings can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/S=42ffa0b638c7ba4fb5c36fc04762402ae0e7c56f/reviews/review/haftor-medboe-group-newhappy-a-box-of-monkeys/

Medboe rather dropped of my radar following that impressive album release but a glance at his website http://www.haftormedboe.com reveals that he has been far from idle since, recording several albums for different labels, usually in the company of other Scandinavian musicians, among them trumpeter Gunnar Halle, pianist Espen Eriksen, bassist Eva Malling and drummer Benita Haastrup.
He is also part of the trio The Will Of The People featuring bass clarinet specialist Pete Furniss and drummer Tom Bancroft, with whom he is due to release an album on Copperfly Records later in 2019. Besides his recording work Medboe is also an acclaimed educator and is an Associate Professor of Music at Edinburgh’s Napier University.

Swedish pianist Jacob Karlzon is perhaps best known for his work accompanying the singers Viktoria Tolstoy and Silje Nergaard. He has appeared on several of Tolstoy’s albums, also acting in the capacity of arranger. An accomplished piano soloist he has also worked with trombonist Nils Landgren, drummer Billy Cobham, vocalist Norma Winstone and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. He was also part of the ACT label ‘supergroup’  the Baltic Gang led by Polish violinist Adam Baldych and featuring  saxophonist Marius Neset, trumpeter Verneri Pohjola,, bassist Lars Danielsson and drummer Morten Lund.

As a leader Karlzon has released eleven albums under his own name in a variety of formats and line ups and is currently the leader of a trio, JK3, featuring bassist Morten Ramsbol and drummer Rasmus Kihlberg. His music draws inspiration from a variety of musical genres including jazz, folk, metal and electronica. A frequent award winner in his native land he is also an accredited Steinway Artist.

Medboe and Karlzon first met at the Islay Jazz Festival in the Scottish Hebrides some fifteen years ago and this collaboration has thus had a lengthy gestation period. The material on this EP was first premièred at the 2018 Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival and subsequently documented at Castlesound Studios, Pencaitland by recording engineer Garry Boyle.

The music on this EP places the focus strongly on melody, drawing on Scandinavian jazz and folk traditions with the duo naming pianists Jan Johansson, Tord Gustavsen and Esbjorn Svensson as sources of inspiration.

The interplay between the two musicians is intimate and tightly focussed as epitomised by the opening “Hope”. Like much of the rest of the recording the mood of the piece is reflective and slightly melancholic, typically ‘Nordic’ if you will. Medboe and Karlzon pick out complementary melodic phrases, dovetailing gently. Nothing sounds forced or hurried, the mood of intimate conversation prevailing throughout, even when the sounds of strings and keys are enhanced with the subtlest soupçon of electronica, presumably courtesy of the guitarist’s FX pedals.

“Waiting” exhibits similar characteristics, continuing the air of gentle reflection as the pair again exchange melodic ideas, maintaining the mood established by the opener. There are some gorgeous melodic phrases here, occasionally reminiscent of Pat Metheny in his most intimate and reflective moments.

Flipping the ten inch disc we hear “Tranquil”, a title that neatly summarises the EP as whole. An air of zen like serenity infuses all the performances here, and none more so than on this piece, which gently glides past in the manner of petals drifting in a stream. The rounded warmth of Medboe’s guitar phrases contrasts well with Karlzon’s sparse chordal accompaniment and subtly glacial lead lines.

The closing “Return” finds the duo in a more effusive and expansive mood as they close this otherwise reflective recording on more of an upbeat note. The air of intimacy remains but there’s an essential air of joyousness about this final performance with Medboe’s tone again warm and conversational, but with a lithe inventiveness that is complemented by Karlzon’s free flowing piano solo, his most joyful and unfettered excursion of the set.

This duo project is scheduled to tour in the UK and Scandinavia later in 2019 and into 2020. One suspects that in live performance these intimate duets will acquire even greater depths of intimacy and nuance. Medboe and Karlzon have established an intimate, ego-less rapport that will be even more tangible in person than on disc, as admirable as this recording is. Something to look forward to.

The EP is available from;

http://www.copperfly.co.uk

http://www.haftormedboe.com

Henry Lowther’s Still Waters - Henry Lowther’s Still Waters, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 12/04/2019. Rating: 4 out of 5 "National Treasures". Guest contributor Trevor Bannister enjoys the music of the Still Waters quintet, led by the veteran trumpeter and composer Henry Lowther.

Jazz at Progress, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire
 
Friday 12 April 2019
 
Henry Lowther’s Still Waters: Henry Lowther trumpet & flugelhorn, Pete Hurt tenor saxophone, Barry Green keyboard, Dave Green bass, Paul Clarvis drums
 
‘National treasures’ seems to be a rather twee epithet to describe two musicians who’ve each graced the rough and tumble of the professional jazz scene for the past fifty-plus years, but I can’t think of anyone else more suitable or more deserving. Henry Lowther and Dave Green are NATIONAL TREASURES. The fact that they are back together and touring with Still Waters after an interval of twenty years, is not only to be celebrated but should be shouted from the roof tops.
 
The evening opened with ‘Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe’, the title track of the band’s latest album; a reflection on the scepticism of our present times and a challenge to any listeners who might doubt that the lyrical beauty of Lowther’s composition could fit so perfectly with the turbulent drumming of Paul Clarvis One might have expected gentle brushwork and subdued cymbals. Not so! The ever-shifting rhythmic patterns and rich variety of sounds he drew from his minimalist kit emphasized that the emotional undercurrents of still waters DO indeed run deep.
 
The Latin-tinged ‘TL’ paid tribute to the late Tony Levin and carried all the force of the musician who Tubby Hayes regarded as being ‘his ideal drummer’.
 
According to an astrology site that I consulted Capricorn is the sign that ‘represents time and responsibility … and its representatives are serious by nature with an inner state of independence’. Whether these characteristics fit Pete Hurt, who was born under the sign, I wouldn’t like to say, but one thing is for sure – he is a writer and tenor saxophonist of rare quality as the intense excitement of ‘Capricorn’ more than demonstrated.
 
‘Amber’, a dedication to Barry Green’s now two-and-half-year-old daughter, presented the band at its most expressive, with Lowther on flugelhorn and the proud father creating celestial sounds with his elegant touch at the keyboard. Dave Green, rightfully known as the ‘Rolls Royce of bass players’ completed the atmosphere of total sublimity.
 
Henry Lowther’s droll announcements proved to be a highlight of the evening. None more so than in his explanation of how the next number acquired it intriguing title. Though its challenging rhythms seemed familiar, he couldn’t think from where. The penny only dropped when he remembered playing at a Moroccan jazz festival with a group from the Gnawan dynasty of musicians. His new tune bore their influence, hence the title ‘Something Like…’ It brought the first set to an exhilarating close.
 
The second set opened with the only standard of the evening, ‘Too Young to Go Steady’, a product of the Jimmy McHugh/Harold Adamson writing partnership, recorded by Nat King Cole in 1956 and by John Coltrane on his ‘Ballads’ album of 1962. No matter the note of caution in the title, this fulfilled all the romantic promise of a walk in a park, featuring the gorgeous tenor saxophone of Pete Hurt and an extended bass solo of near-singing perfection from Dave Green.
 
Much as Henry Lowther clearly loves a challenge, he must have thought ‘You must be having a laugh’ when the organisers of a Finnish jazz festival asked him to compose a piece of music to fit the palindrome ‘Saippuakauppias’ (soap vendor). To their astonishment, and ours, he met the challenge with complete success, although he did admit that the rigid structure of the piece would relax part way through “otherwise it might get boring”.  As if it could!
 
‘Golovec’ again bore the imprint of Lowther’s wide musical travels with its haunting evocation of the Slovenian forest. ‘White Dwarf’, on the other hand took us into quite different territory, with a remarkable ‘free’ section in which Henry Lowther and Paul Clarvis spurred each other on to ever-more-exciting feats of invention.
 
The evening closed on a note of reflection with ‘For Pete’, Pete Hurt’s elegiac dedication to the late Pete Saberton, the band’s first pianist.
 
Along with our thanks to the Progress House Team for their warm hospitality and the excellent quality of sound and lighting, we should also acknowledge the enlightened support of the Arts Council in helping Henry Lowther’s Still Waters take to the road on a nineteen-date tour of the UK. Let’s hope that it provides the impetus for future recordings and continued success.

The remaining dates on the tour by Henry Lowther’s Still Waters are as follows;

April 18th: Torquay – Churston Golf, TQ5 0LA
April 24th: Ashburton – St Lawrence Chapel, TQ13 7DD
April 25th: Poole – Blue Boar, BH15 1NE
April 26th: Bristol – The Bear, BS8 4SF
May 14th: Hereford – Left Bank Village, HR4 9DG
May 15th: Telford – The Wakes, TL2 6EP
May 16th: Coventry – The Albany Club, CV5 6EG
May 17th: Birmingham – 1000 Trades, B1 1HE
May 18th: Wolverhampton – The Arena Theatre, WV1 1SE
May 19th: Oswestry – Hermon Chapel Arts, SY11 1LF
May 23rd: Leicester – The Musicians Venue & Bar, LE1 2DE
May 24th: Wakefield – Sorts Club Eastmoor, WF1 3RZ

Further information at;
http://www.henrylowther.com

Henry Lowther’s Still Waters, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 12/04/2019.

Henry Lowther’s Still Waters

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Reviewed by: Trevor Bannister

Live Review

4 out of 5

Henry Lowther’s Still Waters, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 12/04/2019.
Photography: Photograph by Zoë White

"National Treasures". Guest contributor Trevor Bannister enjoys the music of the Still Waters quintet, led by the veteran trumpeter and composer Henry Lowther.

Jazz at Progress, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire
 
Friday 12 April 2019
 
Henry Lowther’s Still Waters: Henry Lowther trumpet & flugelhorn, Pete Hurt tenor saxophone, Barry Green keyboard, Dave Green bass, Paul Clarvis drums
 
‘National treasures’ seems to be a rather twee epithet to describe two musicians who’ve each graced the rough and tumble of the professional jazz scene for the past fifty-plus years, but I can’t think of anyone else more suitable or more deserving. Henry Lowther and Dave Green are NATIONAL TREASURES. The fact that they are back together and touring with Still Waters after an interval of twenty years, is not only to be celebrated but should be shouted from the roof tops.
 
The evening opened with ‘Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe’, the title track of the band’s latest album; a reflection on the scepticism of our present times and a challenge to any listeners who might doubt that the lyrical beauty of Lowther’s composition could fit so perfectly with the turbulent drumming of Paul Clarvis One might have expected gentle brushwork and subdued cymbals. Not so! The ever-shifting rhythmic patterns and rich variety of sounds he drew from his minimalist kit emphasized that the emotional undercurrents of still waters DO indeed run deep.
 
The Latin-tinged ‘TL’ paid tribute to the late Tony Levin and carried all the force of the musician who Tubby Hayes regarded as being ‘his ideal drummer’.
 
According to an astrology site that I consulted Capricorn is the sign that ‘represents time and responsibility … and its representatives are serious by nature with an inner state of independence’. Whether these characteristics fit Pete Hurt, who was born under the sign, I wouldn’t like to say, but one thing is for sure – he is a writer and tenor saxophonist of rare quality as the intense excitement of ‘Capricorn’ more than demonstrated.
 
‘Amber’, a dedication to Barry Green’s now two-and-half-year-old daughter, presented the band at its most expressive, with Lowther on flugelhorn and the proud father creating celestial sounds with his elegant touch at the keyboard. Dave Green, rightfully known as the ‘Rolls Royce of bass players’ completed the atmosphere of total sublimity.
 
Henry Lowther’s droll announcements proved to be a highlight of the evening. None more so than in his explanation of how the next number acquired it intriguing title. Though its challenging rhythms seemed familiar, he couldn’t think from where. The penny only dropped when he remembered playing at a Moroccan jazz festival with a group from the Gnawan dynasty of musicians. His new tune bore their influence, hence the title ‘Something Like…’ It brought the first set to an exhilarating close.
 
The second set opened with the only standard of the evening, ‘Too Young to Go Steady’, a product of the Jimmy McHugh/Harold Adamson writing partnership, recorded by Nat King Cole in 1956 and by John Coltrane on his ‘Ballads’ album of 1962. No matter the note of caution in the title, this fulfilled all the romantic promise of a walk in a park, featuring the gorgeous tenor saxophone of Pete Hurt and an extended bass solo of near-singing perfection from Dave Green.
 
Much as Henry Lowther clearly loves a challenge, he must have thought ‘You must be having a laugh’ when the organisers of a Finnish jazz festival asked him to compose a piece of music to fit the palindrome ‘Saippuakauppias’ (soap vendor). To their astonishment, and ours, he met the challenge with complete success, although he did admit that the rigid structure of the piece would relax part way through “otherwise it might get boring”.  As if it could!
 
‘Golovec’ again bore the imprint of Lowther’s wide musical travels with its haunting evocation of the Slovenian forest. ‘White Dwarf’, on the other hand took us into quite different territory, with a remarkable ‘free’ section in which Henry Lowther and Paul Clarvis spurred each other on to ever-more-exciting feats of invention.
 
The evening closed on a note of reflection with ‘For Pete’, Pete Hurt’s elegiac dedication to the late Pete Saberton, the band’s first pianist.
 
Along with our thanks to the Progress House Team for their warm hospitality and the excellent quality of sound and lighting, we should also acknowledge the enlightened support of the Arts Council in helping Henry Lowther’s Still Waters take to the road on a nineteen-date tour of the UK. Let’s hope that it provides the impetus for future recordings and continued success.

The remaining dates on the tour by Henry Lowther’s Still Waters are as follows;

April 18th: Torquay – Churston Golf, TQ5 0LA
April 24th: Ashburton – St Lawrence Chapel, TQ13 7DD
April 25th: Poole – Blue Boar, BH15 1NE
April 26th: Bristol – The Bear, BS8 4SF
May 14th: Hereford – Left Bank Village, HR4 9DG
May 15th: Telford – The Wakes, TL2 6EP
May 16th: Coventry – The Albany Club, CV5 6EG
May 17th: Birmingham – 1000 Trades, B1 1HE
May 18th: Wolverhampton – The Arena Theatre, WV1 1SE
May 19th: Oswestry – Hermon Chapel Arts, SY11 1LF
May 23rd: Leicester – The Musicians Venue & Bar, LE1 2DE
May 24th: Wakefield – Sorts Club Eastmoor, WF1 3RZ

Further information at;
http://www.henrylowther.com

Sid Peacock & Surge Orchestra - Valley of Angels Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Peacock has succeeded in creating a convincing musical world of his own, and for me the fact that it’s rooted in the everyday life of Bangor & Birmingham makes it all the more relevant and satisfying.

Surge Orchestra

“Valley of Angels”

(SURGE 03)

“Valley of Angels” is the third album by the Birmingham based Surge Orchestra, led by composer, conductor and all round renaissance man Sid Peacock.

Originally from Bangor, Northern Ireland Peacock has been based in Birmingham for many years.  He has become an important cultural figure in his adopted city for his work across a variety of disciplines. Peacock is a guitarist, composer, band leader, educator and poet and these strands all come together in Surge Orchestra, a development of Peacock’s long established Surge Big Band.

The first edition of Surge was formed in 2003 to perform a commission Peacock had written to mark the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Birmingham.  Always an/off configuration Surge performed to great critical acclaim at the Cheltenham Jazz Festivals of 2005 and 2010 and in 2011 released the excellent album “La Fête”, a work influenced by jazz composers such as Frank Zappa, Carla Bley and Django Bates plus the contemporary classical composer Brian Irvine. Indeed Bates did Peacock the honour of appearing with Surge as a guest soloist at a memorable concert at the Midlands Arts Centre, or mac, in Birmingham in 2011, a performance reviewed elsewhere on this site .
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/sid-peacock-surge-with-django-bates-midlands-arts-centre-birmingham-24-03-2/


In 2017 Peacock instigated the first Surge In Spring Festival, held at Birmingham’s ‘mac’ and featuring musical performances by the Surge Orchestra plus numerous other acts across a variety of genres.
Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/surge-in-spring-festival-midlands-arts-centre-mac-birmingham-08-04-2017/

The success of the inaugural Surge Festival saw Peacock repeating the event in 2018, but unfortunately I was unable to attend on that occasion due to a previous commitment.

The Surge In Spring Festival will return to mac again on Saturday, April 27th 2019 and will be headlined by the Mike Fletcher Jazz Orchestra, the Kadialy Kouyate Band and, of course, Surge Orchestra. These three acts will perform in the main theatre space but there will also be a full programme of music and other events in the bar and other performance spaces at the mac. Tickets are available from the mac website http://www.macbirmingham.co.uk

The third Surge Festival will also act as the official launch for “Valley Of Angels”, a work that Peacock describes as being;
“driven by the understanding that music can bring about fundamental shifts in our perception of reality. Hallucination, visions, outer space alien invasions whilst gardening along with many other tales of everyday madness.”
He dedicates the album to “Bangor, County Down and all its crazy characters”. Despite his many years in Birmingham Peacock remains proudly Irish and draws much of his inspiration from the land of his birth.

Surge stands for “Sidist Utopian Revolutionary Groove Ensemble” and is regarded by its creator as an “intercultural Orchestra” incorporating elements of free jazz, traditional folk, contemporary classical, spoken word and rap plus a growing interest in various ethnic musics. The folk and classical components ensure that Surge has half a dozen string players in its ranks, thus ensuring that it sounds very different to the conventional jazz big band or jazz orchestra. For Valley Of Angels” the Orchestra lines up as follows;

Sid Peacock – composer, conductor, vocals

Ning-ning Li – violin
Ruth Angell – violin, vocals
Aria Trigas – violin
Richard Scott – viola
Sarah Farmer – viola
Emma Capp – cello

Mike Adlington – trumpet
Aaron Diaz – trumpet, FX
Richard Foote – trombone

Xhosa Cole – tenor sax
Lee Griffiths – alto sax
Huw Morgan – alto sax
Alicia Gardner-Trejo – baritone sax, bass clarinet, flute
Dan Spirrett – tenor & baritone saxes
Max Gittings – flute, whistle

Steve Tromans – piano
Simon King – guitar
Chris Mapp – bass
Jason Huxtable – marimba
Alpha Elema – congas
Tymek Jozwiak – drums

Juice Aleem – guest vocals

The Festival performance on April 27th will also see the Orchestra augmented by Eimar McGeown on Irish flute, Niwel Tsimbu on Congolese guitar and Darren Milligan on bagpipes. Intercultural or what?

“Valley Of Angels” features five Peacock original compositions, some of which have been in the Surge repertoire for some time.

The album commences with the infectious jazz/funk grooves of “Sit the Vampire in the Sun” which features a vocal by guest artist Juice Aleem, a Birmingham based rapper with a solo career dating back to 1997. The lyrics express a righteous anger as they tackle social injustice and inner city racism, taking aim at various ‘vampires’. Aleem’s bile is balanced by Ruth Angell’s sweetly soaring wordless vocal mid tune. Musically the piece is archetypal Surge, treading a fine line between discipline and chaos. The rhythm section keep the groove tight and funky while the unusual sounds of flute and strings add an agreeably exotic wooziness to the more conventional jazz sounds of the horns. Individual instrumental solos aren’t credited, but there’s an appealing cameo from one of the saxophonists here.

The title track sees Peacock taking over the vocals, narrating in his distinctive Ulster accent as he transposes the story of St. Patrick to a contemporary setting, complete with references to modern day hallucinogens. Here the strings and flute bring the flavour of Irish traditional music to the sound, but there are still strong elements of jazz and funk, including some rousing big band passages and a couple of individual sax solos, by Gardner-Trejo and Cole at a guess.

As its title suggests “Molly’s Disco Biscuit” explores similar themes. I recall this piece being played live as long ago as 2015 and again at the 2017 Surge Festival. This begins quietly, with the gentle droning of the strings subsequently augmented by snatches of Celtic melody in a kind of contemporary classical / folk hybrid. The addition of the rest of the Orchestra results in a mutation into a rolling funk groove, augmented by jabbing strings and brass. Eventually this provides the backdrop for another Peacock tale of drink, drugs, criminality and violence in small town Ulster. Essentially it’s a rap, but in a Northern Irish accent and with references British audiences can understand. From previous sightings I’ll stick my neck out and credit Huw Morgan with the saxophone solo.

In 2008 Peacock travelled to Chongquin in China to work with members of the Sichuan Opera. This visit inspired “Chinese Flowers”,, an arrangement of a traditional Chinese folk tune that represents one of the gentler and more reflective items in the Surge Orchestra  repertoire. The piece was performed at the 2017 edition of Surge In Spring and was also featured the following year. The 2018 version was documented by the esteemed sound engineer Peter Maxwell Dixon and it’s that live recording that can be heard here. Lush strings feature on the introduction, leading to another suitably angelic wordless vocal performance from Ruth Angell, who combines effectively with violinist Li, guitarist King and pianist Tromans.

The album closes on an energetic note with “Maniacal Heroics of Number 13” a rousing instrumental piece that evokes memories of the inspired craziness of Bates and Zappa. Huxtable plays an important role here, his distinctive marimba playing being a key component of the Surge sound. Cole solos fluently on tenor sax, cutting a swathe through the rhythmic ferment surrounding him. Elsewhere there are some terrific odd meter unison passages - this is an ensemble that can tackle complex written passages and make it sound easy. Elema and Jozwiak, Huxtable’s colleagues in the percussion section, also show up strongly as the piece wends its merry way.

“Valley Of Angels” represents an enjoyable addition to the Surge canon, perhaps not quite as satisfying as “La Fête”, but nevertheless impressive enough. Besides Bates, Bley and Zappa the Surge Orchestra has also been compared to the Sun Ra Arkestra and to Mak Murtic’s London based Mimika Orchestra. Like these last two Peacock has succeeded in creating a convincing musical world of his own, and for me the fact that it’s rooted in the everyday life of Bangor and Birmingham makes it all the more relevant and satisfying.

I appreciate that some listeners may take issue with the rapping and narration on the first three pieces, but for me these are far preferable to their American counterparts. Peacock doesn’t take himself too seriously; his left field, left wing, Anglo-Irish eccentricity being mirrored by cartoonist Hunt Emerson’s suitably quirky album artwork.

But it’s probably in the live environment that the Surge Orchestra experience is best appreciated. Get yourself down to the mac on April 27th for a stimulating, thought provoking and, above all, enjoyable day of contemporary genre crossing music.

 

Valley of Angels

Sid Peacock & Surge Orchestra

Monday, April 15, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Valley of Angels

Peacock has succeeded in creating a convincing musical world of his own, and for me the fact that it’s rooted in the everyday life of Bangor & Birmingham makes it all the more relevant and satisfying.

Surge Orchestra

“Valley of Angels”

(SURGE 03)

“Valley of Angels” is the third album by the Birmingham based Surge Orchestra, led by composer, conductor and all round renaissance man Sid Peacock.

Originally from Bangor, Northern Ireland Peacock has been based in Birmingham for many years.  He has become an important cultural figure in his adopted city for his work across a variety of disciplines. Peacock is a guitarist, composer, band leader, educator and poet and these strands all come together in Surge Orchestra, a development of Peacock’s long established Surge Big Band.

The first edition of Surge was formed in 2003 to perform a commission Peacock had written to mark the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Birmingham.  Always an/off configuration Surge performed to great critical acclaim at the Cheltenham Jazz Festivals of 2005 and 2010 and in 2011 released the excellent album “La Fête”, a work influenced by jazz composers such as Frank Zappa, Carla Bley and Django Bates plus the contemporary classical composer Brian Irvine. Indeed Bates did Peacock the honour of appearing with Surge as a guest soloist at a memorable concert at the Midlands Arts Centre, or mac, in Birmingham in 2011, a performance reviewed elsewhere on this site .
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/sid-peacock-surge-with-django-bates-midlands-arts-centre-birmingham-24-03-2/


In 2017 Peacock instigated the first Surge In Spring Festival, held at Birmingham’s ‘mac’ and featuring musical performances by the Surge Orchestra plus numerous other acts across a variety of genres.
Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/surge-in-spring-festival-midlands-arts-centre-mac-birmingham-08-04-2017/

The success of the inaugural Surge Festival saw Peacock repeating the event in 2018, but unfortunately I was unable to attend on that occasion due to a previous commitment.

The Surge In Spring Festival will return to mac again on Saturday, April 27th 2019 and will be headlined by the Mike Fletcher Jazz Orchestra, the Kadialy Kouyate Band and, of course, Surge Orchestra. These three acts will perform in the main theatre space but there will also be a full programme of music and other events in the bar and other performance spaces at the mac. Tickets are available from the mac website http://www.macbirmingham.co.uk

The third Surge Festival will also act as the official launch for “Valley Of Angels”, a work that Peacock describes as being;
“driven by the understanding that music can bring about fundamental shifts in our perception of reality. Hallucination, visions, outer space alien invasions whilst gardening along with many other tales of everyday madness.”
He dedicates the album to “Bangor, County Down and all its crazy characters”. Despite his many years in Birmingham Peacock remains proudly Irish and draws much of his inspiration from the land of his birth.

Surge stands for “Sidist Utopian Revolutionary Groove Ensemble” and is regarded by its creator as an “intercultural Orchestra” incorporating elements of free jazz, traditional folk, contemporary classical, spoken word and rap plus a growing interest in various ethnic musics. The folk and classical components ensure that Surge has half a dozen string players in its ranks, thus ensuring that it sounds very different to the conventional jazz big band or jazz orchestra. For Valley Of Angels” the Orchestra lines up as follows;

Sid Peacock – composer, conductor, vocals

Ning-ning Li – violin
Ruth Angell – violin, vocals
Aria Trigas – violin
Richard Scott – viola
Sarah Farmer – viola
Emma Capp – cello

Mike Adlington – trumpet
Aaron Diaz – trumpet, FX
Richard Foote – trombone

Xhosa Cole – tenor sax
Lee Griffiths – alto sax
Huw Morgan – alto sax
Alicia Gardner-Trejo – baritone sax, bass clarinet, flute
Dan Spirrett – tenor & baritone saxes
Max Gittings – flute, whistle

Steve Tromans – piano
Simon King – guitar
Chris Mapp – bass
Jason Huxtable – marimba
Alpha Elema – congas
Tymek Jozwiak – drums

Juice Aleem – guest vocals

The Festival performance on April 27th will also see the Orchestra augmented by Eimar McGeown on Irish flute, Niwel Tsimbu on Congolese guitar and Darren Milligan on bagpipes. Intercultural or what?

“Valley Of Angels” features five Peacock original compositions, some of which have been in the Surge repertoire for some time.

The album commences with the infectious jazz/funk grooves of “Sit the Vampire in the Sun” which features a vocal by guest artist Juice Aleem, a Birmingham based rapper with a solo career dating back to 1997. The lyrics express a righteous anger as they tackle social injustice and inner city racism, taking aim at various ‘vampires’. Aleem’s bile is balanced by Ruth Angell’s sweetly soaring wordless vocal mid tune. Musically the piece is archetypal Surge, treading a fine line between discipline and chaos. The rhythm section keep the groove tight and funky while the unusual sounds of flute and strings add an agreeably exotic wooziness to the more conventional jazz sounds of the horns. Individual instrumental solos aren’t credited, but there’s an appealing cameo from one of the saxophonists here.

The title track sees Peacock taking over the vocals, narrating in his distinctive Ulster accent as he transposes the story of St. Patrick to a contemporary setting, complete with references to modern day hallucinogens. Here the strings and flute bring the flavour of Irish traditional music to the sound, but there are still strong elements of jazz and funk, including some rousing big band passages and a couple of individual sax solos, by Gardner-Trejo and Cole at a guess.

As its title suggests “Molly’s Disco Biscuit” explores similar themes. I recall this piece being played live as long ago as 2015 and again at the 2017 Surge Festival. This begins quietly, with the gentle droning of the strings subsequently augmented by snatches of Celtic melody in a kind of contemporary classical / folk hybrid. The addition of the rest of the Orchestra results in a mutation into a rolling funk groove, augmented by jabbing strings and brass. Eventually this provides the backdrop for another Peacock tale of drink, drugs, criminality and violence in small town Ulster. Essentially it’s a rap, but in a Northern Irish accent and with references British audiences can understand. From previous sightings I’ll stick my neck out and credit Huw Morgan with the saxophone solo.

In 2008 Peacock travelled to Chongquin in China to work with members of the Sichuan Opera. This visit inspired “Chinese Flowers”,, an arrangement of a traditional Chinese folk tune that represents one of the gentler and more reflective items in the Surge Orchestra  repertoire. The piece was performed at the 2017 edition of Surge In Spring and was also featured the following year. The 2018 version was documented by the esteemed sound engineer Peter Maxwell Dixon and it’s that live recording that can be heard here. Lush strings feature on the introduction, leading to another suitably angelic wordless vocal performance from Ruth Angell, who combines effectively with violinist Li, guitarist King and pianist Tromans.

The album closes on an energetic note with “Maniacal Heroics of Number 13” a rousing instrumental piece that evokes memories of the inspired craziness of Bates and Zappa. Huxtable plays an important role here, his distinctive marimba playing being a key component of the Surge sound. Cole solos fluently on tenor sax, cutting a swathe through the rhythmic ferment surrounding him. Elsewhere there are some terrific odd meter unison passages - this is an ensemble that can tackle complex written passages and make it sound easy. Elema and Jozwiak, Huxtable’s colleagues in the percussion section, also show up strongly as the piece wends its merry way.

“Valley Of Angels” represents an enjoyable addition to the Surge canon, perhaps not quite as satisfying as “La Fête”, but nevertheless impressive enough. Besides Bates, Bley and Zappa the Surge Orchestra has also been compared to the Sun Ra Arkestra and to Mak Murtic’s London based Mimika Orchestra. Like these last two Peacock has succeeded in creating a convincing musical world of his own, and for me the fact that it’s rooted in the everyday life of Bangor and Birmingham makes it all the more relevant and satisfying.

I appreciate that some listeners may take issue with the rapping and narration on the first three pieces, but for me these are far preferable to their American counterparts. Peacock doesn’t take himself too seriously; his left field, left wing, Anglo-Irish eccentricity being mirrored by cartoonist Hunt Emerson’s suitably quirky album artwork.

But it’s probably in the live environment that the Surge Orchestra experience is best appreciated. Get yourself down to the mac on April 27th for a stimulating, thought provoking and, above all, enjoyable day of contemporary genre crossing music.

 

Gabriel Latchin Trio - The Moon and I Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Latchin is a worthy addition to the front rank of British mainstream jazz pianists. This is an album that will delight many listeners.

Gabriel Latchin Trio

“The Moon and I”

(Alys Jazz AJ 1502)

London based pianist Gabriel Latchin made a favourable impression with jazz commentators and audiences alike with the release of his début album, simply titled “Introducing Gabriel Latchin Trio”.

For this keenly anticipated follow up Latchin has stuck with the tried and tested piano trio format, retaining the services of Josh Morrison in the drum chair but with Dario Di Lecce replacing Tom Farmer on double bass. Latchin and Di Lecce recently worked together as part of a quartet led by vibraphonist Nat Steele, appearing on Steele’s 2017 album “Portrait of the Modern Jazz Quartet”, a recording which paid homage to Milt Jackson, John Lewis et al. My review of this recording can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/nat-steele-portrait-of-the-modern-jazz-quartet/

Prior to his leadership début Latchin had been best known for his role as an in demand sideman. 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.

Others with whom Latchin has worked include saxophonists Ronnie Cuber, Jean Toussaint, Grant Stewart and Alex Garnett and vocalists Salena Jones and Sara Dowling. He played a key role on Dowling’s recent album release “Two Sides Of Sara” as he performed a series of intimate duets with the singer on an acclaimed recording that also featured organist Bill Mudge. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/sara-dowling-two-sides-of-sara/

Latchin has also played with large ensembles such as the London Jazz Orchestra and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. He was recently appointed Musical Director for the new theatre show featuring vocalist Claire Martin and saxophonist, vocalist, band leader and all round entertainer Ray Gelato.

As a young teenager Latchin was introduced to the piano by his grandmother, Dorothy Paton and turned on to jazz by the playing of Oscar Peterson.  He has also cited Bill Evans, Barry Harris, Nat King Cole, Ahmad Jamal, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Cedar Walton and Bobby Timmons as being among his other pianistic heroes. Other musical influences include saxophonists Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane, trumpeter Miles Davis and drummer Billy Higgins.

Initially Latchin followed an academic career, graduating with a first class honours degree in economics from Edinburgh University. After performing on the Edinburgh jazz scene he moved to London to study jazz piano at the Guildhall School of Music, again graduating with first class honours. His musical mentors include leading pianists such as Aaron Goldberg, Peter Martin and David Berkman plus guitarist Peter Bernstein and saxophonist Grant Stewart.

The title “The Moon and I” is taken from a line in the standard “Poor Butterfly”, a piece that Latchin performed at that memorable 2016 concert with McBride and Fleming. The piece is one of seven standards that appear on the new album, the remaining four tracks being Latchin originals, the majority of them inspired by family life, the pianist being the father of two young sons. Paternal duties took him away from the London jazz scene for some time, but this talented performer has returned with a vengeance over the past couple of years.

With four originals and seven standards “The Moon and I” follows an identical format to the début with Latchin’s liner notes providing brief insights into the inspirations behind the originals. As his list of inspirations suggests Latchin is very much a ‘mainstream’ jazz pianist, his playing steeped in the jazz tradition and owing little to latter day influences in the mould of E.S.T

Album opener, “Arthur Go”, a dedication to Latchin’s eldest son is based on the chords of George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” and gets the album off to a lively start with Morrison introducing the piece at the drums before combining with Di Lecce to move the piece along as Latchin solos in breezy, fluent fashion, his playing bright and inventive. Morrison, the drummer of choice for vocalist Stacey Kent also enjoys a series of briskly executed drum breaks.

Written by Raymond Hubbell and with lyrics by John L. Golden “Poor Butterfly” was in turn inspired by the Puccini opera “Madame Butterfly”. Dating back to 1916 it almost pre-dates jazz but becomes an effective vehicle for improvisation in the hands of the Latchin trio. The leader introduces the piece solo, I think there’s a quote from Puccini in there, before being joined by double bass and brushed drums. The trio’s take on the piece is lyrical, but gently swinging, with Latchin’s extemporisations at the piano accompanied by immaculate bass and drums.

“Peek A Bu” is Latchin’s tribute to the late, great drummer and bandleader Art Blakey, also known as Buhaina. It also pays homage to pianists McCoy Tyner, Cedar Walton and Bobby Timmons, who all passed through Blakey’s ‘jazz academy’ The Jazz Messengers. Broadly written in the ‘hard bop’ style that characterised Blakey’s groups this is a minor blues that the trio tackle with gusto with Di Lecce’s propulsive bass and Morrison’s colourful, Blakey-esque drumming fuelling Latchin’s expansive and inventive piano soloing as he salutes some of his musical heroes. Di Lecce also features with a vigorously plucked bass solo.

“Brigi, My Dear” is Latchin’s tribute to his wife of fifteen years and is a jazz waltz that represents a wholly original composition, even though the title may be a nod to Monk, and the form to Evans. Introduced by the composer at the piano it’s delightful dedication that combines brightness with lyricism. There’s a real joy to Latchin’s playing as his fingers dance around the keyboard, supported by agile bass and drums. Di Lecce demonstrates the gentler side of his playing with a melodic bass solo as Morrison provides suitably deft brushwork.

The standard “Baubles, Bangles And Beads” (Borodin/Wright/Forrest) is delivered at a fast clip with Latchin swarming all over the keyboard, accompanied by Di Lecce’s rapid bass walk and Morrison’s crisp, brisk drumming. A playful and energetic stop-start arrangement sees the trio toying with time signatures and includes an extended drum feature for the excellent Morrison, who seizes the opportunity with relish.

“Polka Dots And Moonbeams” (Van Heusen, Burke), slows things down again as unaccompanied piano ushers in a tender ballad arrangement featuring gently lyrical piano, melodic double bass and delicately brushed drums.

“So Danco Samba” (Jobim/Moraes) begins in suitably Brazilian fashion with Morrison’s drums prominent, but mutates into what Latchin has described as “a 60s Blue Note boogaloo type vibe” - “I wanted to have a Latin groovy work” he explains. The trio’s treatment of the piece is suitably sprightly, with Morrison again featuring strongly, and clearly loving every minute of this enjoyably quirky arrangement.

Latchin turns to the blues for a gently swinging version of “In Love In Vain”
(Kern/Rubin),  which features an exceptional bass solo from Di Lecce that combines melodicism and resonance with great dexterity. Latchin’s own soloing is effortlessly fluent and Morrison is typically impeccable behind the kit as he offers suitably tasteful and sympathetic support.

Blakey is referenced obliquely again by Latchin’s choice of “Zambia”, written by one time Messengers trumpeter Lee Morgan (1938-72). The piece first appeared on Morgan’s 1966 Blue Note album “Delighfulee”.  Latchin and his colleagues tackle the tune with relish, the leader’s agile piano soloing accompanied by vibrant and propulsive bass and drums with Morrison enjoying a series of brisk, colourful drum breaks.

“Ill Wind” (Arlen/Koehler) is given a slowed down, melancholic arrangement with a bluesy, after hours feel paced by Di Lecce’s languorous bass and featuring Latchin’s gospel tinged piano and Morrison’s neat, economical drumming. The overall effect is slinky and beguiling with Di Lecce’s bass coming to the fore to deliver an excellent solo during the later stages of the tune.

The album concludes with “Pippy’s Delight”, Latchin’s dedication to his younger son, Oscar. Again based on Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” it bookends the album nicely and, almost inevitably, exhibits similar characteristics to its sibling “Arthur Go”. Similarly lively and playful it’s delivered at a rapid pace with all three group members enjoying moments in which to demonstrate their considerable individual skills, but all within the framework of a spirited but disciplined trio performance.

Like its predecessor “The Moon and I” is immaculately recorded with producer Latchin working with an engineering team of Simon Hendry, Gerry O’Riordan and Peter Beckmann.

Although it offers few surprises the music is superbly played by a very well balanced trio who have developed an excellent rapport and this is an album that will delight many listeners. Latchin is a worthy addition to the front rank of British mainstream jazz pianists and fans of Dave Newton, Brian Dee and the late Brian Lemon will doubtless be appreciative of Latchin’s work.

The Gabriel Latchin Trio are touring in support of this new album with forthcoming dates listed below;

28 April - Herts Jazz, St Albans

3rd May - South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell

4th May - The Bear Club, Luton

8th May - Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London *

28th May - Electric Theatre, Guildford (quintet performance **)

31st May - Newport Methodist Church, Isle of Wight

8th June - The Verdict, Brighton

13th June - All Saints Church, Hove

19th July - Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, Maidenhead

* with Steve Brown on drums.

** with Sam Braysher on saxophone, Steve Fishwick on trumpet and Marianne Windham on bass.


Gabriel Latchin: http://www.gabriellatchin.com

The Moon and I

Gabriel Latchin Trio

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

The Moon and I

Latchin is a worthy addition to the front rank of British mainstream jazz pianists. This is an album that will delight many listeners.

Gabriel Latchin Trio

“The Moon and I”

(Alys Jazz AJ 1502)

London based pianist Gabriel Latchin made a favourable impression with jazz commentators and audiences alike with the release of his début album, simply titled “Introducing Gabriel Latchin Trio”.

For this keenly anticipated follow up Latchin has stuck with the tried and tested piano trio format, retaining the services of Josh Morrison in the drum chair but with Dario Di Lecce replacing Tom Farmer on double bass. Latchin and Di Lecce recently worked together as part of a quartet led by vibraphonist Nat Steele, appearing on Steele’s 2017 album “Portrait of the Modern Jazz Quartet”, a recording which paid homage to Milt Jackson, John Lewis et al. My review of this recording can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/nat-steele-portrait-of-the-modern-jazz-quartet/

Prior to his leadership début Latchin had been best known for his role as an in demand sideman. 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.

Others with whom Latchin has worked include saxophonists Ronnie Cuber, Jean Toussaint, Grant Stewart and Alex Garnett and vocalists Salena Jones and Sara Dowling. He played a key role on Dowling’s recent album release “Two Sides Of Sara” as he performed a series of intimate duets with the singer on an acclaimed recording that also featured organist Bill Mudge. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/sara-dowling-two-sides-of-sara/

Latchin has also played with large ensembles such as the London Jazz Orchestra and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. He was recently appointed Musical Director for the new theatre show featuring vocalist Claire Martin and saxophonist, vocalist, band leader and all round entertainer Ray Gelato.

As a young teenager Latchin was introduced to the piano by his grandmother, Dorothy Paton and turned on to jazz by the playing of Oscar Peterson.  He has also cited Bill Evans, Barry Harris, Nat King Cole, Ahmad Jamal, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Cedar Walton and Bobby Timmons as being among his other pianistic heroes. Other musical influences include saxophonists Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane, trumpeter Miles Davis and drummer Billy Higgins.

Initially Latchin followed an academic career, graduating with a first class honours degree in economics from Edinburgh University. After performing on the Edinburgh jazz scene he moved to London to study jazz piano at the Guildhall School of Music, again graduating with first class honours. His musical mentors include leading pianists such as Aaron Goldberg, Peter Martin and David Berkman plus guitarist Peter Bernstein and saxophonist Grant Stewart.

The title “The Moon and I” is taken from a line in the standard “Poor Butterfly”, a piece that Latchin performed at that memorable 2016 concert with McBride and Fleming. The piece is one of seven standards that appear on the new album, the remaining four tracks being Latchin originals, the majority of them inspired by family life, the pianist being the father of two young sons. Paternal duties took him away from the London jazz scene for some time, but this talented performer has returned with a vengeance over the past couple of years.

With four originals and seven standards “The Moon and I” follows an identical format to the début with Latchin’s liner notes providing brief insights into the inspirations behind the originals. As his list of inspirations suggests Latchin is very much a ‘mainstream’ jazz pianist, his playing steeped in the jazz tradition and owing little to latter day influences in the mould of E.S.T

Album opener, “Arthur Go”, a dedication to Latchin’s eldest son is based on the chords of George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” and gets the album off to a lively start with Morrison introducing the piece at the drums before combining with Di Lecce to move the piece along as Latchin solos in breezy, fluent fashion, his playing bright and inventive. Morrison, the drummer of choice for vocalist Stacey Kent also enjoys a series of briskly executed drum breaks.

Written by Raymond Hubbell and with lyrics by John L. Golden “Poor Butterfly” was in turn inspired by the Puccini opera “Madame Butterfly”. Dating back to 1916 it almost pre-dates jazz but becomes an effective vehicle for improvisation in the hands of the Latchin trio. The leader introduces the piece solo, I think there’s a quote from Puccini in there, before being joined by double bass and brushed drums. The trio’s take on the piece is lyrical, but gently swinging, with Latchin’s extemporisations at the piano accompanied by immaculate bass and drums.

“Peek A Bu” is Latchin’s tribute to the late, great drummer and bandleader Art Blakey, also known as Buhaina. It also pays homage to pianists McCoy Tyner, Cedar Walton and Bobby Timmons, who all passed through Blakey’s ‘jazz academy’ The Jazz Messengers. Broadly written in the ‘hard bop’ style that characterised Blakey’s groups this is a minor blues that the trio tackle with gusto with Di Lecce’s propulsive bass and Morrison’s colourful, Blakey-esque drumming fuelling Latchin’s expansive and inventive piano soloing as he salutes some of his musical heroes. Di Lecce also features with a vigorously plucked bass solo.

“Brigi, My Dear” is Latchin’s tribute to his wife of fifteen years and is a jazz waltz that represents a wholly original composition, even though the title may be a nod to Monk, and the form to Evans. Introduced by the composer at the piano it’s delightful dedication that combines brightness with lyricism. There’s a real joy to Latchin’s playing as his fingers dance around the keyboard, supported by agile bass and drums. Di Lecce demonstrates the gentler side of his playing with a melodic bass solo as Morrison provides suitably deft brushwork.

The standard “Baubles, Bangles And Beads” (Borodin/Wright/Forrest) is delivered at a fast clip with Latchin swarming all over the keyboard, accompanied by Di Lecce’s rapid bass walk and Morrison’s crisp, brisk drumming. A playful and energetic stop-start arrangement sees the trio toying with time signatures and includes an extended drum feature for the excellent Morrison, who seizes the opportunity with relish.

“Polka Dots And Moonbeams” (Van Heusen, Burke), slows things down again as unaccompanied piano ushers in a tender ballad arrangement featuring gently lyrical piano, melodic double bass and delicately brushed drums.

“So Danco Samba” (Jobim/Moraes) begins in suitably Brazilian fashion with Morrison’s drums prominent, but mutates into what Latchin has described as “a 60s Blue Note boogaloo type vibe” - “I wanted to have a Latin groovy work” he explains. The trio’s treatment of the piece is suitably sprightly, with Morrison again featuring strongly, and clearly loving every minute of this enjoyably quirky arrangement.

Latchin turns to the blues for a gently swinging version of “In Love In Vain”
(Kern/Rubin),  which features an exceptional bass solo from Di Lecce that combines melodicism and resonance with great dexterity. Latchin’s own soloing is effortlessly fluent and Morrison is typically impeccable behind the kit as he offers suitably tasteful and sympathetic support.

Blakey is referenced obliquely again by Latchin’s choice of “Zambia”, written by one time Messengers trumpeter Lee Morgan (1938-72). The piece first appeared on Morgan’s 1966 Blue Note album “Delighfulee”.  Latchin and his colleagues tackle the tune with relish, the leader’s agile piano soloing accompanied by vibrant and propulsive bass and drums with Morrison enjoying a series of brisk, colourful drum breaks.

“Ill Wind” (Arlen/Koehler) is given a slowed down, melancholic arrangement with a bluesy, after hours feel paced by Di Lecce’s languorous bass and featuring Latchin’s gospel tinged piano and Morrison’s neat, economical drumming. The overall effect is slinky and beguiling with Di Lecce’s bass coming to the fore to deliver an excellent solo during the later stages of the tune.

The album concludes with “Pippy’s Delight”, Latchin’s dedication to his younger son, Oscar. Again based on Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” it bookends the album nicely and, almost inevitably, exhibits similar characteristics to its sibling “Arthur Go”. Similarly lively and playful it’s delivered at a rapid pace with all three group members enjoying moments in which to demonstrate their considerable individual skills, but all within the framework of a spirited but disciplined trio performance.

Like its predecessor “The Moon and I” is immaculately recorded with producer Latchin working with an engineering team of Simon Hendry, Gerry O’Riordan and Peter Beckmann.

Although it offers few surprises the music is superbly played by a very well balanced trio who have developed an excellent rapport and this is an album that will delight many listeners. Latchin is a worthy addition to the front rank of British mainstream jazz pianists and fans of Dave Newton, Brian Dee and the late Brian Lemon will doubtless be appreciative of Latchin’s work.

The Gabriel Latchin Trio are touring in support of this new album with forthcoming dates listed below;

28 April - Herts Jazz, St Albans

3rd May - South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell

4th May - The Bear Club, Luton

8th May - Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London *

28th May - Electric Theatre, Guildford (quintet performance **)

31st May - Newport Methodist Church, Isle of Wight

8th June - The Verdict, Brighton

13th June - All Saints Church, Hove

19th July - Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, Maidenhead

* with Steve Brown on drums.

** with Sam Braysher on saxophone, Steve Fishwick on trumpet and Marianne Windham on bass.


Gabriel Latchin: http://www.gabriellatchin.com

Dave Jones Quartet - Dave Jones Quartet, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 09/04/2019. Rating: 4 out of 5 An excellent night of music that was firmly in the jazz tradition but still convincingly forward looking.

Dave Jones Quartet, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, Powys, 09/04/2019.

Dave Jones – piano, composer
Ben Waghorn – tenor & soprano saxophones, flute
Ashley John Long – double bass
Andy Hague – drums

Brecon Jazz Club’s April event featured this quartet led by Port Talbot based pianist and composer Dave Jones. Jones has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages, as have all the members of his current working group featuring Cardiff based Long and, from the other side of the Severn Bridge, Bristol based musicians Waghorn and Hague.

Jones is a prolific composer who has released an impressive catalogue of recordings beginning with 2009’s trio set “Impetus”, featuring brothers Mark and Chris O’Connor on drums and bass respectively.

This was followed by the  the more expansive offerings “Journeys (2010) and “Resonance” (2012), both of which featured a core quartet including saxophonist Lee Goodall plus additional brass and strings. Like “Impetus” both albums highlighted just what an accomplished and ambitious composer Jones can be and all attracted an impressive amount of critical acclaim from the London based jazz media.

For a number of years Jones’ preferred working group was a quartet featuring Goodall on reeds, Ashley John Long on double bass and, when available, the Irishman Kevin Lawlor at the drums. This line up released the excellent concert recording “Live At AMG” in 2014.

Jones has since released “Postscript” (2016),  an intimate duo set recorded with Long and has appeared as a sideman on Lawlor’s solo albums “Exodus” (2013) and “Eight” (2015). Other credits include work with the jazz/folk outfit Burum and with Coltrane Dedication, the free-wheeling aggregation co-led by saxophonists Lyndon Owen and Caractacus Downes, 

In 2017 Jones released the album “Key Notes”, recorded with a quartet featuring Long, Waghorn and the young drummer Lloyd Haines. With Haines now making a name for himself on the London jazz scene Jones turned to Hague,  a highly talented and versatile musician who is arguably better known as a trumpeter, although he seems to be spending more and more time behind the drum kit these days. Hague is now the first choice drummer for the Jones quartet and appears on the group’s latest release, a three track EP titled “Answers On A Postcard”.

Tonight’s performance was the last of a short series of dates designed to promote the new EP and the majority of the music tonight was comprised of material sourced from this and “KeyNotes”. There were also two ‘outside’ pieces, both sourced from the impressive compositional repertoire of the great saxophonist, composer and improviser Wayne Shorter, one of Jones’ most significant musical influences.

“KeyNotes” represented something of a return to core jazz values for Jones following the experiments of “Journeys” and “Resonance” with the music best described as representing an updating of the classic Blue Note hard bop style. “Back to basics – but not basic”  is how Jones likes to describe it.  Jones’ compositions for this recording were distinguished by highly descriptive one world titles, including “Blues”, “Afro”, “Funky” and “Latin”, some of these getting an airing tonight.

“Answers On A Postcard”, recorded by this evening’s line-up, represents something of a continuation and features tunes that had already been ‘road tested’ on appreciative jazz audiences prior to being recorded at two separate sessions at Fieldgate Studios in Penarth in November 2018 and February 2019 – this really is an EP that is hot off the presses. Jones already has the next EP release planned, believing that recording material while it is still fresh is very much the way forward, capturing the music at its best while simultaneously keeping the quartet in the public eye.

At Fieldgate Jones was able to record using the studio’s resident Fazioli grand piano, an instrument that he also utilised to good effect on “KeyNotes”. Tonight he was giving a public début to his newly acquired Korg Grandstage keyboard, tonight deploying an acoustic piano setting exclusively, although the instrument is also capable of producing other keyboard sounds. Jones’ new toy sounded excellent, the ‘acoustic’ sound on modern electric keyboards having improved considerably in recent years.

The first set commenced with the quartet’s regular opener, “Sands”, the opening track on the “KeyNotes” album. Originally written as a solo piano piece the tune has a lilting, folk like melody which was sketched by Waghorn on tenor, his tone sometimes reminiscent of that of Jan Garbarek. The first full length solo of the night went to Long on double bass, his virtuosic but melodic playing accompanied by the sound of Hague’s brushes. Waghorn then stretched out on tenor, probing incisively and fluently, with Hague switching to sticks as the momentum of the piece began to build. Jones then took over on piano, soloing expansively and at one point duetting with Hague’s cymbals only. Finally we heard a restatement of the arresting main theme from Waghorn. I’ve seen the Jones quartet perform this piece on several occasions, each one subtly different to the other and different again to the recorded version, as is the nature and spirit of jazz. But it’s still a highly memorable piece, the beauty of that haunting melodic theme really making an impression on the listener.

From the same album came “Afro”, a piece inspired by another of Jones’ musical heroes, the great American pianist and composer McCoy Tyner. Introduced by Jones at the keyboard and with Hague laying down some exotic rhythmic patterns this composition featured Waghorn on flute and the overall feel of the piece was appropriately reminiscent of the Afro-Jazz of the 1960s. Jones took the first solo at the piano, his playing suitably Tyner-esque. He was followed by Waghorn on flute, his use of over-blowing and vocalised techniques evoking comparisons with Eric Dolphy and Roland Kirk. The excellent Hague also enjoyed a closing drum feature, making liberal use of cowbell.

Besides his jazz output Jones has also written prolifically for film and TV soundtracks, plus so called “library music”. This proved to be the source of inspiration for “Kalimba Blues”, a tune that has been in the quartet’s live repertoire for some time but which makes its recorded début on the new “Answers On A Postcard” EP. This featured a sample of kalimba like keyboard sounds that Jones had previously recorded for his soundtrack work, this being allied to Hague’s drum groove to give the music something of a funk element. The blues component came from Waghorn’s lusty, bluesy tenor as he shared the solos with the leader’s piano.

The as yet unrecorded Jones original “DT” was dedicated to the memory of another of his pianistic heroes, the late, great Kenny Kirkland (1955-98). “Doc Tone” was a nickname given to Kirkland, a musician who famously worked with both Wynford and Branford Marsalis and was part of Sting’s touring band, also appearing on several of his albums. Modal in feel Jones’ piece was introduced by the sound of piano and bowed bass, to which were added Hague’s mallet rumbles and the incantations of Waghorn’s piping soprano sax. Long delivered another melodic pizzicato bass solo, accompanied by Jones’ sparse piano chording and Hague’s brushed drums. Jones was at his most lyrical as he soloed on piano, Waghorn subsequently taking over to probe sinuously on soprano with Long picking up the bow again at the close. The vaguely melancholic nature of the music helped to give the piece something of a valedictory quality.

Jones had promised the Brecon Jazz Club organisers a couple of standards, but these proved to be anything but safe ‘Great American Songbook’ choices. Instead Jones chose to celebrate the writing of Wayne Shorter, closing the first set with the saxophonist’s “Black Nile”, a tune that had also been played by Kirkland. A fiercely swinging arrangement featured a blistering tenor sax solo from Waghorn with the leader subsequently matching him for intensity as the keyboard. As I’ve said many times before Long is one of most inventive bass soloists around, a player with a prodigious, classically honed technique. Every solo that he takes is full of interest and his offering here was no exception, swarming all over the neck of his instrument to the accompaniment of Hague’s rapidly brushed drums. Finally Hague traded fours with Waghorn and Jones as an excellent first set came to an energetic close.

Set two commenced with the title track from “Answers On A Postcard”, a piece with a swinging, Latin-esque groove that sounded as if it had stepped straight off a classic Blue Note album, by Horace Silver, perhaps, yet still sounded fresh, exciting and vital. Jones has a happy knack of writing tunes that honour the jazz tradition, yet still sound both personal and relevant. With a vibrant solo from the leader and with Waghorn really digging in on tenor this was an attention grabbing way of kick-starting the second half.

Musically inspired by McCoy Tyner “The Power of Burgundy” took its title from the film character Ron Burgundy. This proved to be something of a flute showcase for Waghorn, his vocalisations during his solo drawing a smile from Long at the bass. Waghorn is an excellent flute soloist, following in the tradition of leading British exponents of the instrument such as Harold McNair, Ray Warleigh, Jimmy Hastings and, of course, Gareth Lockrane. Further solos came from Jones at the piano and Long on bass.

There was a return to the “KeyNotes” repertoire for “Funky” with Long and Hague providing a suitably propulsive rhythmic drive, while managing to avoid the usual funk clichés. All this was fuel for the expansive and authoritative soloing of Jones on piano and Waghorn on tenor. The recorded version of this tune features Long playing his ‘second instrument’, the vibraphone.
 The ridiculously talented Long started playing vibes on gigs as a member of the Heavy Quartet and already has that whole Gary Burton four mallet thing off to a fine art, he’s a hugely accomplished and convincing vibraphone soloist. Long led a group from the vibes at this very venue at the 2017 Brecon Jazz Festival and doubled up bass and vibes at a Dave Jones Quartet show at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny in 2018, Jones providing synthesised bass lines when Long was wielding the mallets.

From the “KeyNotes” album the tune “Departures” was inspired by the vicissitudes of the travelling musician, notably the security checks at Bristol Airport. If this Brexit thing ever happens it’s probably going to get a whole lot worse – for all of us. In a variation of the recorded version, where he plays tenor and doubles on flute, Waghorn was tonight featured on soprano saxophone, his soloing both searching and searing as he shared the limelight with Jones at the piano and Long on bass, the piece as a whole driven along by Hague’s powerful drumming.

The evening closed with another ‘standard’, again from the pen of Wayne Shorter, this being “Footprints”, arguably his most famous composition. This was introduced by Long at the bass, subsequently joined by piano and drums before the bassist and Waghorn on tenor traded melodic motifs, this leading into more expansive solos from Waghorn and Jones plus a further set of variations on Shorter’s theme from the saxophonist. This was a winning way to end an excellent night of music that was firmly in the jazz tradition but still convincingly forward looking.

Jones’s compositions sound as if they’ve always been around but still sound vital and interesting.
It’s an impressive skill to have and although I’ve seen this material performed live on two previous occasions I’ve yet to become bored by it. Each time has seen Jones and the quartet treating the material differently, varying the instrumentation or the soloing order and thus keeping both band members and audiences fully engaged. A sizeable crowd at The Muse gave a warm and attentive reception to this group of highly capable local heroes. As I’ve observed many time previously any one of these guys could cut it on the London jazz scene, with the consequent increase in profile that would result. The members of this quartet are far more than just good ‘regional musicians’ and in Dave Jones they also have a composer of great ability and distinction.

Recordings available from;
http://www.davejonesjazz.com

Dave Jones Quartet, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 09/04/2019.

Dave Jones Quartet

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Dave Jones Quartet, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 09/04/2019.
Photography: Photograph sourced from the Brecon Jazz Club website http://www.breconjazz.org

An excellent night of music that was firmly in the jazz tradition but still convincingly forward looking.

Dave Jones Quartet, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, Powys, 09/04/2019.

Dave Jones – piano, composer
Ben Waghorn – tenor & soprano saxophones, flute
Ashley John Long – double bass
Andy Hague – drums

Brecon Jazz Club’s April event featured this quartet led by Port Talbot based pianist and composer Dave Jones. Jones has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages, as have all the members of his current working group featuring Cardiff based Long and, from the other side of the Severn Bridge, Bristol based musicians Waghorn and Hague.

Jones is a prolific composer who has released an impressive catalogue of recordings beginning with 2009’s trio set “Impetus”, featuring brothers Mark and Chris O’Connor on drums and bass respectively.

This was followed by the  the more expansive offerings “Journeys (2010) and “Resonance” (2012), both of which featured a core quartet including saxophonist Lee Goodall plus additional brass and strings. Like “Impetus” both albums highlighted just what an accomplished and ambitious composer Jones can be and all attracted an impressive amount of critical acclaim from the London based jazz media.

For a number of years Jones’ preferred working group was a quartet featuring Goodall on reeds, Ashley John Long on double bass and, when available, the Irishman Kevin Lawlor at the drums. This line up released the excellent concert recording “Live At AMG” in 2014.

Jones has since released “Postscript” (2016),  an intimate duo set recorded with Long and has appeared as a sideman on Lawlor’s solo albums “Exodus” (2013) and “Eight” (2015). Other credits include work with the jazz/folk outfit Burum and with Coltrane Dedication, the free-wheeling aggregation co-led by saxophonists Lyndon Owen and Caractacus Downes, 

In 2017 Jones released the album “Key Notes”, recorded with a quartet featuring Long, Waghorn and the young drummer Lloyd Haines. With Haines now making a name for himself on the London jazz scene Jones turned to Hague,  a highly talented and versatile musician who is arguably better known as a trumpeter, although he seems to be spending more and more time behind the drum kit these days. Hague is now the first choice drummer for the Jones quartet and appears on the group’s latest release, a three track EP titled “Answers On A Postcard”.

Tonight’s performance was the last of a short series of dates designed to promote the new EP and the majority of the music tonight was comprised of material sourced from this and “KeyNotes”. There were also two ‘outside’ pieces, both sourced from the impressive compositional repertoire of the great saxophonist, composer and improviser Wayne Shorter, one of Jones’ most significant musical influences.

“KeyNotes” represented something of a return to core jazz values for Jones following the experiments of “Journeys” and “Resonance” with the music best described as representing an updating of the classic Blue Note hard bop style. “Back to basics – but not basic”  is how Jones likes to describe it.  Jones’ compositions for this recording were distinguished by highly descriptive one world titles, including “Blues”, “Afro”, “Funky” and “Latin”, some of these getting an airing tonight.

“Answers On A Postcard”, recorded by this evening’s line-up, represents something of a continuation and features tunes that had already been ‘road tested’ on appreciative jazz audiences prior to being recorded at two separate sessions at Fieldgate Studios in Penarth in November 2018 and February 2019 – this really is an EP that is hot off the presses. Jones already has the next EP release planned, believing that recording material while it is still fresh is very much the way forward, capturing the music at its best while simultaneously keeping the quartet in the public eye.

At Fieldgate Jones was able to record using the studio’s resident Fazioli grand piano, an instrument that he also utilised to good effect on “KeyNotes”. Tonight he was giving a public début to his newly acquired Korg Grandstage keyboard, tonight deploying an acoustic piano setting exclusively, although the instrument is also capable of producing other keyboard sounds. Jones’ new toy sounded excellent, the ‘acoustic’ sound on modern electric keyboards having improved considerably in recent years.

The first set commenced with the quartet’s regular opener, “Sands”, the opening track on the “KeyNotes” album. Originally written as a solo piano piece the tune has a lilting, folk like melody which was sketched by Waghorn on tenor, his tone sometimes reminiscent of that of Jan Garbarek. The first full length solo of the night went to Long on double bass, his virtuosic but melodic playing accompanied by the sound of Hague’s brushes. Waghorn then stretched out on tenor, probing incisively and fluently, with Hague switching to sticks as the momentum of the piece began to build. Jones then took over on piano, soloing expansively and at one point duetting with Hague’s cymbals only. Finally we heard a restatement of the arresting main theme from Waghorn. I’ve seen the Jones quartet perform this piece on several occasions, each one subtly different to the other and different again to the recorded version, as is the nature and spirit of jazz. But it’s still a highly memorable piece, the beauty of that haunting melodic theme really making an impression on the listener.

From the same album came “Afro”, a piece inspired by another of Jones’ musical heroes, the great American pianist and composer McCoy Tyner. Introduced by Jones at the keyboard and with Hague laying down some exotic rhythmic patterns this composition featured Waghorn on flute and the overall feel of the piece was appropriately reminiscent of the Afro-Jazz of the 1960s. Jones took the first solo at the piano, his playing suitably Tyner-esque. He was followed by Waghorn on flute, his use of over-blowing and vocalised techniques evoking comparisons with Eric Dolphy and Roland Kirk. The excellent Hague also enjoyed a closing drum feature, making liberal use of cowbell.

Besides his jazz output Jones has also written prolifically for film and TV soundtracks, plus so called “library music”. This proved to be the source of inspiration for “Kalimba Blues”, a tune that has been in the quartet’s live repertoire for some time but which makes its recorded début on the new “Answers On A Postcard” EP. This featured a sample of kalimba like keyboard sounds that Jones had previously recorded for his soundtrack work, this being allied to Hague’s drum groove to give the music something of a funk element. The blues component came from Waghorn’s lusty, bluesy tenor as he shared the solos with the leader’s piano.

The as yet unrecorded Jones original “DT” was dedicated to the memory of another of his pianistic heroes, the late, great Kenny Kirkland (1955-98). “Doc Tone” was a nickname given to Kirkland, a musician who famously worked with both Wynford and Branford Marsalis and was part of Sting’s touring band, also appearing on several of his albums. Modal in feel Jones’ piece was introduced by the sound of piano and bowed bass, to which were added Hague’s mallet rumbles and the incantations of Waghorn’s piping soprano sax. Long delivered another melodic pizzicato bass solo, accompanied by Jones’ sparse piano chording and Hague’s brushed drums. Jones was at his most lyrical as he soloed on piano, Waghorn subsequently taking over to probe sinuously on soprano with Long picking up the bow again at the close. The vaguely melancholic nature of the music helped to give the piece something of a valedictory quality.

Jones had promised the Brecon Jazz Club organisers a couple of standards, but these proved to be anything but safe ‘Great American Songbook’ choices. Instead Jones chose to celebrate the writing of Wayne Shorter, closing the first set with the saxophonist’s “Black Nile”, a tune that had also been played by Kirkland. A fiercely swinging arrangement featured a blistering tenor sax solo from Waghorn with the leader subsequently matching him for intensity as the keyboard. As I’ve said many times before Long is one of most inventive bass soloists around, a player with a prodigious, classically honed technique. Every solo that he takes is full of interest and his offering here was no exception, swarming all over the neck of his instrument to the accompaniment of Hague’s rapidly brushed drums. Finally Hague traded fours with Waghorn and Jones as an excellent first set came to an energetic close.

Set two commenced with the title track from “Answers On A Postcard”, a piece with a swinging, Latin-esque groove that sounded as if it had stepped straight off a classic Blue Note album, by Horace Silver, perhaps, yet still sounded fresh, exciting and vital. Jones has a happy knack of writing tunes that honour the jazz tradition, yet still sound both personal and relevant. With a vibrant solo from the leader and with Waghorn really digging in on tenor this was an attention grabbing way of kick-starting the second half.

Musically inspired by McCoy Tyner “The Power of Burgundy” took its title from the film character Ron Burgundy. This proved to be something of a flute showcase for Waghorn, his vocalisations during his solo drawing a smile from Long at the bass. Waghorn is an excellent flute soloist, following in the tradition of leading British exponents of the instrument such as Harold McNair, Ray Warleigh, Jimmy Hastings and, of course, Gareth Lockrane. Further solos came from Jones at the piano and Long on bass.

There was a return to the “KeyNotes” repertoire for “Funky” with Long and Hague providing a suitably propulsive rhythmic drive, while managing to avoid the usual funk clichés. All this was fuel for the expansive and authoritative soloing of Jones on piano and Waghorn on tenor. The recorded version of this tune features Long playing his ‘second instrument’, the vibraphone.
 The ridiculously talented Long started playing vibes on gigs as a member of the Heavy Quartet and already has that whole Gary Burton four mallet thing off to a fine art, he’s a hugely accomplished and convincing vibraphone soloist. Long led a group from the vibes at this very venue at the 2017 Brecon Jazz Festival and doubled up bass and vibes at a Dave Jones Quartet show at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny in 2018, Jones providing synthesised bass lines when Long was wielding the mallets.

From the “KeyNotes” album the tune “Departures” was inspired by the vicissitudes of the travelling musician, notably the security checks at Bristol Airport. If this Brexit thing ever happens it’s probably going to get a whole lot worse – for all of us. In a variation of the recorded version, where he plays tenor and doubles on flute, Waghorn was tonight featured on soprano saxophone, his soloing both searching and searing as he shared the limelight with Jones at the piano and Long on bass, the piece as a whole driven along by Hague’s powerful drumming.

The evening closed with another ‘standard’, again from the pen of Wayne Shorter, this being “Footprints”, arguably his most famous composition. This was introduced by Long at the bass, subsequently joined by piano and drums before the bassist and Waghorn on tenor traded melodic motifs, this leading into more expansive solos from Waghorn and Jones plus a further set of variations on Shorter’s theme from the saxophonist. This was a winning way to end an excellent night of music that was firmly in the jazz tradition but still convincingly forward looking.

Jones’s compositions sound as if they’ve always been around but still sound vital and interesting.
It’s an impressive skill to have and although I’ve seen this material performed live on two previous occasions I’ve yet to become bored by it. Each time has seen Jones and the quartet treating the material differently, varying the instrumentation or the soloing order and thus keeping both band members and audiences fully engaged. A sizeable crowd at The Muse gave a warm and attentive reception to this group of highly capable local heroes. As I’ve observed many time previously any one of these guys could cut it on the London jazz scene, with the consequent increase in profile that would result. The members of this quartet are far more than just good ‘regional musicians’ and in Dave Jones they also have a composer of great ability and distinction.

Recordings available from;
http://www.davejonesjazz.com

Scopes - Scopes Rating: 4 out of 5 An excellent debut offering from Scopes. The music combines accessibility with adventurousness, the strong focus on melody enhanced by rhythmic inventiveness and imaginative soloing.

Scopes

“Scopes”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4736)

Scopes is a truly international quartet, comprised of European musicians from four different countries and initially forged in the jazz crucible that is New York City. As such the band is a perfect fit for Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings imprint, a label that has always sought to foster healthy border crossing collaborations between British, European and American musicians.

Austrian drummer Mathias Ruppnig and German bassist Tom Berkmann first met in New York where they began playing gigs with French pianist / keyboard player Tony Tixier and adopted the name Scopes in 2018 with the addition of Dutch alto saxophonist Ben van Gelder.

Now based in Europe in once more the quartet have toured widely in Spain, France, Austria and Switzerland. Although van Gelder’s playing has attracted a good deal of attention Scopes is actually co-led by the rhythm team of Ruppnig and Berkmann and this début release features their compositions exclusively, with the writing duties being split pretty much equally.

Tixier is arguably the highest profile name of the four, having released his own album, “Life of Sensitive Creatures” on Whirlwind in 2018, his fifth recording as a leader. “Sensitive Creatures” found him concentrating on acoustic piano in the company of bassist Karl McComas Reichl and drummer Tommy Crane. Tixier has also worked as a sideman with saxophonist Seamus Blake and trumpeter Wallace Roney and also enjoyed a stint, playing multiple keyboards, in Christian Scott’s band, appearing with the trumpeter at the 2016 Cheltenham and London jazz festivals.

Scopes’ début kicks off with Ruppnig’s composition “Echo of Their Own Prejudices” which combines a flowing melodicism with a subtly propulsive odd meter groove that encourages solos from van Gelder and Tixier. The saxophonist adopts a pure, clean tone on alto and plays with grace, imagination and fluency. Meanwhile Tixier alternates deftly between piano and synthesiser, skilfully deploying both instruments during the course of his feature and displaying similar qualities to van Gelder. Indeed the pair dovetail superbly throughout as co-leaders Ruppnig and Berkmann keep things moving with their inventive and always evolving rhythms. An impressive start.

Berkmann takes up the compositional reins for “Chamberlain” which is named neither for the arcane musical instrument sometimes deployed by Tom Waits ( which is actually spelt Chamberlin, after its inventor Henry Chamberlin), nor for the Birmingham political dynasty. Instead it draws joint inspiration from the harmonies of composer Maurice Ravel and from US sculptor John Chamberlain’s remarkable automobile scrap metal art. Tixier introduces the piece solo at the piano, his playing spacious, impressionistic and evocative - very much reminiscent of Ravel. The attractive main melodic theme is stated by van Gelder on alto as the rest of the band join the proceedings. At the heart of the piece is a melodic bass solo from the composer who subsequently hands over to van Gelder’s subtly probing alto and Tixier’s flowingly lyrical piano. Ruppnig also turns in an accomplished performance behind the kit, keeping things moving while providing a wealth of interesting detail and never resorting to the obvious rhythms.

Also by Berkmann “Aquaponies” is inspired by a short story by the author Michael Ende, the title representing a playful alternative name for seahorses. The music has a suitably aquatic quality about it with Tixier’s rippling piano arpeggios and Ruppnig’s cymbal splashes approximating the rhythms of waves as van Gelder plays beguiling melodies on alto sax. Tixier also features as a soloist with a concise, lyrical feature bookending van Gelder’s wistful sax ruminations.

“Balance” represents the second compositional offering from Ruppnig and again demonstrates his more rhythmically based style of writing. His drumming subtly shapes the arrangement but there’s no lack of melodic content thanks to van Gelder’s lithe playing on alto sax. Tixier gravitates between acoustic and electric keyboards, the latter a Yamaha Reface CS. He contributes a sparkling solo on acoustic piano and also combines with van Gelder to create a synth/sax pairing that has invited comparisons with Weather Report.

Ruppnig’s drums introduce Berkmann’s composition “Whistle”, another piece inspired by the natural world, specifically the swan. The drummer continues to provide a busy, brightly detailed undertow above which Tixier floats serenely, again deploying a combination of acoustic and electric keyboard sounds. Van Gelder stretches out in typically melodious fashion on alto before handing over to Tixier on acoustic piano, the pair subsequently exchanging ideas.

The Ruppnig composition “Alter Ego” has more of a conventional jazz feel with van Gelder’s alto sax dancing lithely above a relatively orthodox swing groove. The saxophonist’s sound is consistently clean and pure, rarely sounding angry or overly animated, yet there’s no doubting his intelligence and improvisational fluency, at times he reminds me of Paul Desmond playing in a 21st century context. Tixier adds his customary dash and sparkle with a typically stylish and elegant acoustic piano solo

Berkmann’s “Lakeview” is named for an apartment block in Brooklyn where he once lived, a location apparently much favoured by musicians. Despite its NYC setting the music is surprisingly pastoral and lyrical, reflective of Berkmann’s melodic writing style. There’s a delightful acoustic piano solo from Tixier that again highlights his sublime touch at this version of the instrument. Meanwhile van Gelder probes effectively on alto while Ruppnig’s subtle but assertive drumming provides the necessary momentum.

The ballad “Nostalgia” represents another side to Ruppnig’s writing the composer initially wielding brushes as Berkmann delivers the first solo on bass, an effective combination of melody, dexterity and resonance. He’s followed by Tixier at the piano and van Gelder on alto with Ruppnig switching to sticks as the piece gathers momentum, but without ever totally losing the air of fragility and wistfulness that gives it its title.

The album concludes with Berkmann’s “Mode”, a piece inspired by the guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, with whom Berkmann and Ruppnig have both worked. Rosenwinkel would advise players entering new musical situations to “just get into the mode”. Introduced by Ruppnig at the drums the piece continues to place a strong emphasis on melody with solos coming from van Gelder on alto, Tixier on acoustic piano and Berkmann himself at the bass.

This self titled début represents an excellent first offering from Scopes. The music combines accessibility with adventurousness, the strong focus on melody enhanced by rhythmic inventiveness and imaginative soloing. The contrasting writing styles of Berkmann and Ruppnig are a consistent source of fascination and the album running order, which largely sees them alternating, ensures that listeners are consistently kept on their toes. The pair are also a highly accomplished and compatible rhythm section who have worked together previously and it’s Ruppnig’s colourful, inventive and subtly assertive drumming that provides a constant source of rhythmic interest and dispels any allegations of bloodlessness.

Van Gelder and Tixier are also hugely impressive and overall Scopes is a very well balanced group, the choice of a collective band moniker serving to emphasise this point.

29th April - Kemptener Jazz Frühling, Kemptener, (DE)
30th April - Jazz Club A-Trane, Berlin (DE)
03/05/19 Scopes Paris Le Caveau des Oubliettes
04/05/19 Scopes Paris Le Caveau des Oubliettes
21st August - Grazjazz, Graz (AT)

Scopes

Scopes

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Scopes

An excellent debut offering from Scopes. The music combines accessibility with adventurousness, the strong focus on melody enhanced by rhythmic inventiveness and imaginative soloing.

Scopes

“Scopes”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4736)

Scopes is a truly international quartet, comprised of European musicians from four different countries and initially forged in the jazz crucible that is New York City. As such the band is a perfect fit for Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings imprint, a label that has always sought to foster healthy border crossing collaborations between British, European and American musicians.

Austrian drummer Mathias Ruppnig and German bassist Tom Berkmann first met in New York where they began playing gigs with French pianist / keyboard player Tony Tixier and adopted the name Scopes in 2018 with the addition of Dutch alto saxophonist Ben van Gelder.

Now based in Europe in once more the quartet have toured widely in Spain, France, Austria and Switzerland. Although van Gelder’s playing has attracted a good deal of attention Scopes is actually co-led by the rhythm team of Ruppnig and Berkmann and this début release features their compositions exclusively, with the writing duties being split pretty much equally.

Tixier is arguably the highest profile name of the four, having released his own album, “Life of Sensitive Creatures” on Whirlwind in 2018, his fifth recording as a leader. “Sensitive Creatures” found him concentrating on acoustic piano in the company of bassist Karl McComas Reichl and drummer Tommy Crane. Tixier has also worked as a sideman with saxophonist Seamus Blake and trumpeter Wallace Roney and also enjoyed a stint, playing multiple keyboards, in Christian Scott’s band, appearing with the trumpeter at the 2016 Cheltenham and London jazz festivals.

Scopes’ début kicks off with Ruppnig’s composition “Echo of Their Own Prejudices” which combines a flowing melodicism with a subtly propulsive odd meter groove that encourages solos from van Gelder and Tixier. The saxophonist adopts a pure, clean tone on alto and plays with grace, imagination and fluency. Meanwhile Tixier alternates deftly between piano and synthesiser, skilfully deploying both instruments during the course of his feature and displaying similar qualities to van Gelder. Indeed the pair dovetail superbly throughout as co-leaders Ruppnig and Berkmann keep things moving with their inventive and always evolving rhythms. An impressive start.

Berkmann takes up the compositional reins for “Chamberlain” which is named neither for the arcane musical instrument sometimes deployed by Tom Waits ( which is actually spelt Chamberlin, after its inventor Henry Chamberlin), nor for the Birmingham political dynasty. Instead it draws joint inspiration from the harmonies of composer Maurice Ravel and from US sculptor John Chamberlain’s remarkable automobile scrap metal art. Tixier introduces the piece solo at the piano, his playing spacious, impressionistic and evocative - very much reminiscent of Ravel. The attractive main melodic theme is stated by van Gelder on alto as the rest of the band join the proceedings. At the heart of the piece is a melodic bass solo from the composer who subsequently hands over to van Gelder’s subtly probing alto and Tixier’s flowingly lyrical piano. Ruppnig also turns in an accomplished performance behind the kit, keeping things moving while providing a wealth of interesting detail and never resorting to the obvious rhythms.

Also by Berkmann “Aquaponies” is inspired by a short story by the author Michael Ende, the title representing a playful alternative name for seahorses. The music has a suitably aquatic quality about it with Tixier’s rippling piano arpeggios and Ruppnig’s cymbal splashes approximating the rhythms of waves as van Gelder plays beguiling melodies on alto sax. Tixier also features as a soloist with a concise, lyrical feature bookending van Gelder’s wistful sax ruminations.

“Balance” represents the second compositional offering from Ruppnig and again demonstrates his more rhythmically based style of writing. His drumming subtly shapes the arrangement but there’s no lack of melodic content thanks to van Gelder’s lithe playing on alto sax. Tixier gravitates between acoustic and electric keyboards, the latter a Yamaha Reface CS. He contributes a sparkling solo on acoustic piano and also combines with van Gelder to create a synth/sax pairing that has invited comparisons with Weather Report.

Ruppnig’s drums introduce Berkmann’s composition “Whistle”, another piece inspired by the natural world, specifically the swan. The drummer continues to provide a busy, brightly detailed undertow above which Tixier floats serenely, again deploying a combination of acoustic and electric keyboard sounds. Van Gelder stretches out in typically melodious fashion on alto before handing over to Tixier on acoustic piano, the pair subsequently exchanging ideas.

The Ruppnig composition “Alter Ego” has more of a conventional jazz feel with van Gelder’s alto sax dancing lithely above a relatively orthodox swing groove. The saxophonist’s sound is consistently clean and pure, rarely sounding angry or overly animated, yet there’s no doubting his intelligence and improvisational fluency, at times he reminds me of Paul Desmond playing in a 21st century context. Tixier adds his customary dash and sparkle with a typically stylish and elegant acoustic piano solo

Berkmann’s “Lakeview” is named for an apartment block in Brooklyn where he once lived, a location apparently much favoured by musicians. Despite its NYC setting the music is surprisingly pastoral and lyrical, reflective of Berkmann’s melodic writing style. There’s a delightful acoustic piano solo from Tixier that again highlights his sublime touch at this version of the instrument. Meanwhile van Gelder probes effectively on alto while Ruppnig’s subtle but assertive drumming provides the necessary momentum.

The ballad “Nostalgia” represents another side to Ruppnig’s writing the composer initially wielding brushes as Berkmann delivers the first solo on bass, an effective combination of melody, dexterity and resonance. He’s followed by Tixier at the piano and van Gelder on alto with Ruppnig switching to sticks as the piece gathers momentum, but without ever totally losing the air of fragility and wistfulness that gives it its title.

The album concludes with Berkmann’s “Mode”, a piece inspired by the guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, with whom Berkmann and Ruppnig have both worked. Rosenwinkel would advise players entering new musical situations to “just get into the mode”. Introduced by Ruppnig at the drums the piece continues to place a strong emphasis on melody with solos coming from van Gelder on alto, Tixier on acoustic piano and Berkmann himself at the bass.

This self titled début represents an excellent first offering from Scopes. The music combines accessibility with adventurousness, the strong focus on melody enhanced by rhythmic inventiveness and imaginative soloing. The contrasting writing styles of Berkmann and Ruppnig are a consistent source of fascination and the album running order, which largely sees them alternating, ensures that listeners are consistently kept on their toes. The pair are also a highly accomplished and compatible rhythm section who have worked together previously and it’s Ruppnig’s colourful, inventive and subtly assertive drumming that provides a constant source of rhythmic interest and dispels any allegations of bloodlessness.

Van Gelder and Tixier are also hugely impressive and overall Scopes is a very well balanced group, the choice of a collective band moniker serving to emphasise this point.

29th April - Kemptener Jazz Frühling, Kemptener, (DE)
30th April - Jazz Club A-Trane, Berlin (DE)
03/05/19 Scopes Paris Le Caveau des Oubliettes
04/05/19 Scopes Paris Le Caveau des Oubliettes
21st August - Grazjazz, Graz (AT)

The Sirkis / Bialas International Quartet - Asaf Sirkis / Sylwia Bialas International Quartet, The Hive, Shrewsbury, 06/04/2019. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 A huge variety of vocal and instrumental sounds and a similarly broad range of musical styles and influences with superb performances from all four musicians.

Asaf Sirkis / Sylwia Bialas International Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 06/04/2019.

Asaf Sirkis – drums, crotales, konnakol, Sylwia Bialas – vocals, waterphone, Frank Harrison – keyboards, Kevin Glasgow – six string electric bass

The Israeli born, London based drummer Asaf Sirkis first came to my attention well over a decade ago as part of the first edition of saxophonist Gilad Atzmon’s band, the Orient House Ensemble.   Always a superb technician he has since developed into a hugely in demand sideman as well as the leader of his own groups .

As a sideman Sirkis has recorded with pianists John Law, Alex Hutton and Geoff Eales, guitarists Maciek Pysz, Eyal Maoz and Nicolas Meier plus saxophonist Tim Garland’s high profile Lighthouse Trio. In recent years he has been involved in a number of international projects instigated by Leo Pavkovic, founder of the MoonJune record label.

With regard to his own bands it has been fascinating to watch Sirkis’s development as a composer and band-leader, his writing having acquired a growing amount of maturity and sophistication over the years.

As a leader Sirkis made his bow with The Inner Noise, a trio that explored the sonic possibilities of the church organ within a jazz/rock context, the keyboards being handled by Steve Lodder and with powerful guitarist Mike Outram completing the line up. The group’s third (and to date final) album “The Song Within” (2007) represented the zenith of their achievements and is reviewed elsewhere on this site.
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/asaf-sirkis-the-inner-noise-the-song-within/

From 2008 Sirkis turned his attentions to a relatively more orthodox trio featuring his compatriot Yaron Stavi on electric bass and the Greek born Tassos Spiliotopoulos on guitar. He also recorded three albums with this line up, each one an improvement on the last, with both “Letting Go” (2010) and the excellent “Shepherd’s Stories” (2013) representing high water marks in his back catalogue.
In 2015 Sirkis performed the “Shepherd’s Stories” material at a memorable concert at The Hive by an all star quintet featuring Spiliotopoulos and bassist Kevin Glasgow plus John Turville (keyboards) and Gareth Lockrane (flutes), both of whom had guested on the album. My review of that performance can be viewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/asaf-sirkis-quartet-with-gareth-lockrane-the-hive-music-media-centre-shrews/

The Polish born vocalist Sylwia Bialas also made a guest appearance on “Shepherd’s Stories”, something that helped sow the seed for this current project. Bialas lived and worked in Germany before moving to the UK and joining Sirkis’ current project, the international quartet commonly referred to as IQ. Bialas co-leads the group which also includes Frank Harrison on piano and keyboards and Kevin Glasgow on six string electric bass. Glasgow has replaced Patrick Bettison who played electric bass and chromatic harmonica on IQ’s 2015 début “Come To Me”.
Review here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/come-to-me/

Tonight’s performance featured IQ performing material from their forthcoming album “Our New Earth”, a two disc set due to be released on the MoonJune label in May or June 2019, once final mixing has been completed. IQ is a genuine co-leadership with Sirkis and Bialas both contributing musical material and with Bialas sometimes providing lyrics, in Polish, for Sirkis’ tunes. The pair also share the on stage announcements, thus helping to ensure that this is genuinely a partnership of equals.

The group kicked off with a segue of pieces scheduled for the new album, beginning with Sirkis’ “A Message From The Bluebird” which commenced with Harrison’s arpeggiated keyboards overlaid with Bialas’ soaring wordless vocals and Sirkis’ fluid but powerful drumming. Bialas is a singer who uses her voice as an instrument, indeed when she first started singing she attempted to reproduce the sound of jazz instrumental solos vocally. In the light of her acknowledged love of the ECM sound the Norma Winstone comparisons are inevitable, especially for British audiences. Yet Bialas’ voice has a raw power that is not always associated with Winstone, perhaps the result of singing with blues, soul and rock bands in the formative stages of her career. The first instrumental feature came from Harrison, the first of several inspired solos from him and one that saw him bouncing ideas off Sirkis, the playing from each musician becoming increasingly fiery and dynamic. The pair first came together in Atzmon’s Orient House Ensemble and these brilliant exchanges were forged in the crucible of twenty years of playing together.
Harrison’s expansive piano solo evolved into a voice and piano duet that formed the bridge into the next piece, Bialas’ song “Reminiscence”. As the dialogue between Bialas and Harrison continued to evolve Sirkis joined the pair, sketching melodic patterns with mallets on toms in the style of a classical tympanist. The addition of cymbal shimmers and crashes brought an atmospheric and dynamic dimension to the music as Glasgow entered the proceedings and Bialas’ voice began to soar, sometimes evoking the wail of the muezzin in Middle Eastern music. We also enjoyed another expansive piano solo from Harrison, again trading ideas with Sirkis, whose kit was set up to face the pianist. More dramatic wordless vocalising from Bialas then brought this lengthy but engrossing opening segment to a close.

The Sirkis tune “The Shadow Of Oblivion” was given Polish lyrics by Bialas who intoned the English translation above Glasgow’s solo electric bass introduction. The words were poetic and sombre, reflecting Bialas’ interests in poetry, literature and folklore. Meanwhile Glasgow’s playing, which included guitar like sounds, represented a feat of supreme musicianship. Harrison added keyboard textures sourced from a sample of bowed guitar filtered through his laptop. Indeed the combination of laptop and a Kawai MP7SE keyboard produced a rich variety of sounds, as will be seen later. With Sirkis deploying brushes this was one of the quartet’s most lyrical pieces with Harrison again adopting an acoustic piano sound for his solo, while Bialas’ emotive singing variously evoked the sounds of the blues, duende and torch song.

Sirkis sourced the title of “Spooky Action In The Distance” from the writings of Albert Einstein, the phrase one that the great physicist used to describe things that even he didn’t understand. Bialas’ unaccompanied playing of the unusual and distinctive waterphone gave the introduction the ‘extra spooky’ quality that Sirkis had promised in his introduction. Bialas variously played the waterphone with a bow and with various lollipop shaped mallets, producing a variously ethereal and resonant sci-fi sound. I’d never seen the instrument played before and, like the rest of the audience, was fascinated by it. Asaf later explained to me that it is mainly used in ‘library’ music and film sound tracks. Bialas’ playing of the waterphone was then supplemented by Sirkis’ dramatic cymbal work, the drummer eventually exchanging mallets for sticks as he and Glasgow eventually established the groove that became the foundation for Harrison’s earthy keyboard solo using a Rhodes sound filtered through the laptop. Meanwhile Bialas eventually put down the waterphone to sing wordless vocal lines that had a distinct horn like quality, reminiscent of a trumpet or saxophone soloist.

The first set concluded with Sirkis’ “Letter To A”, a dedication to his late father. Despite his Jewishness Sirkis Senior was fascinated with the timbres of the church organ, particularly in the works of J.S. Bach and Messiaen, and it was he who introduced Asaf to the sound. Asaf subsequently explored the music of the instrument with the Inner Noise trio as detailed above, either recording on location with a real church organ or with the sound being replicated electronically. The latter proved to be the case tonight, thanks to Harrison’s wonderfully versatile keyboard and computer set up, with the keyboard player producing a convincingly authentic sound on the unaccompanied introduction, his playing subsequently augmented by Sirkis on a set of orchestral crotales, or small tuned cymbals. Sirkis was to use these periodically throughout the evening to add bright shards of colour and texture. With the addition of bass, drums and wordless vocals the music then took on a quality that was evocative of both the blues and sacred music, the Middle East and Europe. Harrison switched to a Rhodes sound for his solo, before changing back to organ as he and Glasgow produced deep sonorities that contrasted effectively with Bialas’ high register wordless vocalising. The composition eventually reconciled itself with a solo church organ outro, bringing the piece full circle.

On the whole the quartet’s music was well received but there were one or two dissenters who thought them to be too loud, particularly Bialas’ vocals. Some adjustments were made for the second half and overall the sound was more balanced for the second set.

This was ushered in by Bialas’ “Nocturnity” which was introduced by Harrison on acoustic piano and featured the sound of crotales and the composer’s singing of her own Polish lyrics. Glasgow took the first instrumental solo on his distinctive, fretted six string electric bass. Also an accomplished guitarist his virtuoso bass playing often includes guitar like timbres and his highly personalised sound has led to work with master saxophonist Tommy Smith among others. The bassist is also part of the trio Preston Glasgow Lowe alongside guitarist David Preston and drummer Laurie Lowe. Preston had visited the Hive the previous month as part of the Citizen quintet led by saxophonist Duncan Eagles. Glasgow’s solo was followed by Harrison on acoustic piano.

“If Pegasus Had One Wing (He Would Fly In Spirals)” commenced with a spoken word introduction from Bialas as she translated her lyrics into English. Musically the piece was distinguished by its complex unison vocal / instrumental melodies and Harrison’s feverish Rhodes solo.

The forthcoming double album is an ambitious work with the two part “Earth Suite” effectively its title track. In his introduction Sirkis promised us examples of music from ‘around the globe’ something borne out by Bialas’ composition “Rooting” which featured her incantatory singing, unaccompanied other than by an electronically generated tambura like drone, as she demonstrated her enormous and highly flexible vocal range. Subsequently her voice soared above the sounds of arpeggiated piano plus drums and bass, eventually making way for instrumental solos from Glasgow and Harrison, the latter still deploying an acoustic piano sound.
In recent years Sirkis has developed a growing fascination with Indian rhythms, something encouraged by his tenure with Garland’s Lighthouse trio. Tonight the return of the tambura triggered a remarkable konnakol set piece from Sirkis, konnakol being the art of Indian vocal percussion.
This proved to be the link into “Our New Earth” which featured the sound of church organ combined with wordless vocals and the bass virtuosity of Glasgow. Bialas’ voice then moved into the realms of Julie Tippetts style extended technique as she entered into a dialogue with Sirkis’ drums and percussion, the singer also supplementing the sound of her voice by picking up the waterphone once more. Matters were eventually resolved with a duet between voice and church organ.

Bialas’ song “Chiaroscuro” boasted an Italian title but Polish lyrics. Bialas always writes and sings in her native tongue but translates the lyrics for English audiences, these spoken or semi sung as part of the introduction. Her words here were typically poetic and beautiful. The song was ushered in by the sounds of Harrison’s keyboard, a combination of acoustic piano with ‘bowed guitar’ textures. He was joined by Bialas’ voice, singing in Polish, then by electric bass and brushed drums. The piece had something of the feel of a jazz standard, a kind of ballad or torch song, with the instrumental honours going to Harrison on acoustic piano.

It was a fairly low key way to end a gig so with the encouragement of Shrewsbury Jazz Network’s Laurie Grey the quartet remained on stage to deliver a deserved encore,  Bialas’ “Picture From A Polish Wood”, a fictional depiction of an altercation between Sirkis and a bear in a Polish forest. Soaring vocals were combined with driving rhythms with solos coming from Harrison on Rhodes and Sirkis with a predictably explosive and virtuosic drum feature. The piece then resolved itself with a dialogue between Bialas’ voice and Harrison’s whistling synth.

IQ’s music represented some of the most ambitious jazz ever heard at The Hive. On the whole it was well received, but it did divide opinion with some finding it too loud or too complex. A strong rock or fusion element has always been an important part of Sirkis’ work and personally I had no problem with the volume and positively praise the group’s adventure and ambition. Admittedly Bialas’ voice, for all its technical excellence, can be something of an acquired taste and in truth even I enjoyed more the quintet that Sirkis brought to this venue in 2015.

But Sirkis is a musician and composer who never stands still. From tonight’s performance, which featured exceptional playing from all four musicians, it’s clear that “Our New Earth” is a highly ambitious piece of work that embraces a huge variety of vocal and instrumental sounds and a similarly broad range of musical styles and influences. It shows both him and Bialas growing in maturity as composers and on this evidence should be well worth hearing on its release.

Asaf Sirkis / Sylwia Bialas International Quartet, The Hive, Shrewsbury, 06/04/2019.

The Sirkis / Bialas International Quartet

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Asaf Sirkis / Sylwia Bialas International Quartet, The Hive, Shrewsbury, 06/04/2019.
Photography: Photograph of Asaf Sirkis by Hamish Kirkpatrick of Shrewsbury Jazz Network.

A huge variety of vocal and instrumental sounds and a similarly broad range of musical styles and influences with superb performances from all four musicians.

Asaf Sirkis / Sylwia Bialas International Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 06/04/2019.

Asaf Sirkis – drums, crotales, konnakol, Sylwia Bialas – vocals, waterphone, Frank Harrison – keyboards, Kevin Glasgow – six string electric bass

The Israeli born, London based drummer Asaf Sirkis first came to my attention well over a decade ago as part of the first edition of saxophonist Gilad Atzmon’s band, the Orient House Ensemble.   Always a superb technician he has since developed into a hugely in demand sideman as well as the leader of his own groups .

As a sideman Sirkis has recorded with pianists John Law, Alex Hutton and Geoff Eales, guitarists Maciek Pysz, Eyal Maoz and Nicolas Meier plus saxophonist Tim Garland’s high profile Lighthouse Trio. In recent years he has been involved in a number of international projects instigated by Leo Pavkovic, founder of the MoonJune record label.

With regard to his own bands it has been fascinating to watch Sirkis’s development as a composer and band-leader, his writing having acquired a growing amount of maturity and sophistication over the years.

As a leader Sirkis made his bow with The Inner Noise, a trio that explored the sonic possibilities of the church organ within a jazz/rock context, the keyboards being handled by Steve Lodder and with powerful guitarist Mike Outram completing the line up. The group’s third (and to date final) album “The Song Within” (2007) represented the zenith of their achievements and is reviewed elsewhere on this site.
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/asaf-sirkis-the-inner-noise-the-song-within/

From 2008 Sirkis turned his attentions to a relatively more orthodox trio featuring his compatriot Yaron Stavi on electric bass and the Greek born Tassos Spiliotopoulos on guitar. He also recorded three albums with this line up, each one an improvement on the last, with both “Letting Go” (2010) and the excellent “Shepherd’s Stories” (2013) representing high water marks in his back catalogue.
In 2015 Sirkis performed the “Shepherd’s Stories” material at a memorable concert at The Hive by an all star quintet featuring Spiliotopoulos and bassist Kevin Glasgow plus John Turville (keyboards) and Gareth Lockrane (flutes), both of whom had guested on the album. My review of that performance can be viewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/asaf-sirkis-quartet-with-gareth-lockrane-the-hive-music-media-centre-shrews/

The Polish born vocalist Sylwia Bialas also made a guest appearance on “Shepherd’s Stories”, something that helped sow the seed for this current project. Bialas lived and worked in Germany before moving to the UK and joining Sirkis’ current project, the international quartet commonly referred to as IQ. Bialas co-leads the group which also includes Frank Harrison on piano and keyboards and Kevin Glasgow on six string electric bass. Glasgow has replaced Patrick Bettison who played electric bass and chromatic harmonica on IQ’s 2015 début “Come To Me”.
Review here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/come-to-me/

Tonight’s performance featured IQ performing material from their forthcoming album “Our New Earth”, a two disc set due to be released on the MoonJune label in May or June 2019, once final mixing has been completed. IQ is a genuine co-leadership with Sirkis and Bialas both contributing musical material and with Bialas sometimes providing lyrics, in Polish, for Sirkis’ tunes. The pair also share the on stage announcements, thus helping to ensure that this is genuinely a partnership of equals.

The group kicked off with a segue of pieces scheduled for the new album, beginning with Sirkis’ “A Message From The Bluebird” which commenced with Harrison’s arpeggiated keyboards overlaid with Bialas’ soaring wordless vocals and Sirkis’ fluid but powerful drumming. Bialas is a singer who uses her voice as an instrument, indeed when she first started singing she attempted to reproduce the sound of jazz instrumental solos vocally. In the light of her acknowledged love of the ECM sound the Norma Winstone comparisons are inevitable, especially for British audiences. Yet Bialas’ voice has a raw power that is not always associated with Winstone, perhaps the result of singing with blues, soul and rock bands in the formative stages of her career. The first instrumental feature came from Harrison, the first of several inspired solos from him and one that saw him bouncing ideas off Sirkis, the playing from each musician becoming increasingly fiery and dynamic. The pair first came together in Atzmon’s Orient House Ensemble and these brilliant exchanges were forged in the crucible of twenty years of playing together.
Harrison’s expansive piano solo evolved into a voice and piano duet that formed the bridge into the next piece, Bialas’ song “Reminiscence”. As the dialogue between Bialas and Harrison continued to evolve Sirkis joined the pair, sketching melodic patterns with mallets on toms in the style of a classical tympanist. The addition of cymbal shimmers and crashes brought an atmospheric and dynamic dimension to the music as Glasgow entered the proceedings and Bialas’ voice began to soar, sometimes evoking the wail of the muezzin in Middle Eastern music. We also enjoyed another expansive piano solo from Harrison, again trading ideas with Sirkis, whose kit was set up to face the pianist. More dramatic wordless vocalising from Bialas then brought this lengthy but engrossing opening segment to a close.

The Sirkis tune “The Shadow Of Oblivion” was given Polish lyrics by Bialas who intoned the English translation above Glasgow’s solo electric bass introduction. The words were poetic and sombre, reflecting Bialas’ interests in poetry, literature and folklore. Meanwhile Glasgow’s playing, which included guitar like sounds, represented a feat of supreme musicianship. Harrison added keyboard textures sourced from a sample of bowed guitar filtered through his laptop. Indeed the combination of laptop and a Kawai MP7SE keyboard produced a rich variety of sounds, as will be seen later. With Sirkis deploying brushes this was one of the quartet’s most lyrical pieces with Harrison again adopting an acoustic piano sound for his solo, while Bialas’ emotive singing variously evoked the sounds of the blues, duende and torch song.

Sirkis sourced the title of “Spooky Action In The Distance” from the writings of Albert Einstein, the phrase one that the great physicist used to describe things that even he didn’t understand. Bialas’ unaccompanied playing of the unusual and distinctive waterphone gave the introduction the ‘extra spooky’ quality that Sirkis had promised in his introduction. Bialas variously played the waterphone with a bow and with various lollipop shaped mallets, producing a variously ethereal and resonant sci-fi sound. I’d never seen the instrument played before and, like the rest of the audience, was fascinated by it. Asaf later explained to me that it is mainly used in ‘library’ music and film sound tracks. Bialas’ playing of the waterphone was then supplemented by Sirkis’ dramatic cymbal work, the drummer eventually exchanging mallets for sticks as he and Glasgow eventually established the groove that became the foundation for Harrison’s earthy keyboard solo using a Rhodes sound filtered through the laptop. Meanwhile Bialas eventually put down the waterphone to sing wordless vocal lines that had a distinct horn like quality, reminiscent of a trumpet or saxophone soloist.

The first set concluded with Sirkis’ “Letter To A”, a dedication to his late father. Despite his Jewishness Sirkis Senior was fascinated with the timbres of the church organ, particularly in the works of J.S. Bach and Messiaen, and it was he who introduced Asaf to the sound. Asaf subsequently explored the music of the instrument with the Inner Noise trio as detailed above, either recording on location with a real church organ or with the sound being replicated electronically. The latter proved to be the case tonight, thanks to Harrison’s wonderfully versatile keyboard and computer set up, with the keyboard player producing a convincingly authentic sound on the unaccompanied introduction, his playing subsequently augmented by Sirkis on a set of orchestral crotales, or small tuned cymbals. Sirkis was to use these periodically throughout the evening to add bright shards of colour and texture. With the addition of bass, drums and wordless vocals the music then took on a quality that was evocative of both the blues and sacred music, the Middle East and Europe. Harrison switched to a Rhodes sound for his solo, before changing back to organ as he and Glasgow produced deep sonorities that contrasted effectively with Bialas’ high register wordless vocalising. The composition eventually reconciled itself with a solo church organ outro, bringing the piece full circle.

On the whole the quartet’s music was well received but there were one or two dissenters who thought them to be too loud, particularly Bialas’ vocals. Some adjustments were made for the second half and overall the sound was more balanced for the second set.

This was ushered in by Bialas’ “Nocturnity” which was introduced by Harrison on acoustic piano and featured the sound of crotales and the composer’s singing of her own Polish lyrics. Glasgow took the first instrumental solo on his distinctive, fretted six string electric bass. Also an accomplished guitarist his virtuoso bass playing often includes guitar like timbres and his highly personalised sound has led to work with master saxophonist Tommy Smith among others. The bassist is also part of the trio Preston Glasgow Lowe alongside guitarist David Preston and drummer Laurie Lowe. Preston had visited the Hive the previous month as part of the Citizen quintet led by saxophonist Duncan Eagles. Glasgow’s solo was followed by Harrison on acoustic piano.

“If Pegasus Had One Wing (He Would Fly In Spirals)” commenced with a spoken word introduction from Bialas as she translated her lyrics into English. Musically the piece was distinguished by its complex unison vocal / instrumental melodies and Harrison’s feverish Rhodes solo.

The forthcoming double album is an ambitious work with the two part “Earth Suite” effectively its title track. In his introduction Sirkis promised us examples of music from ‘around the globe’ something borne out by Bialas’ composition “Rooting” which featured her incantatory singing, unaccompanied other than by an electronically generated tambura like drone, as she demonstrated her enormous and highly flexible vocal range. Subsequently her voice soared above the sounds of arpeggiated piano plus drums and bass, eventually making way for instrumental solos from Glasgow and Harrison, the latter still deploying an acoustic piano sound.
In recent years Sirkis has developed a growing fascination with Indian rhythms, something encouraged by his tenure with Garland’s Lighthouse trio. Tonight the return of the tambura triggered a remarkable konnakol set piece from Sirkis, konnakol being the art of Indian vocal percussion.
This proved to be the link into “Our New Earth” which featured the sound of church organ combined with wordless vocals and the bass virtuosity of Glasgow. Bialas’ voice then moved into the realms of Julie Tippetts style extended technique as she entered into a dialogue with Sirkis’ drums and percussion, the singer also supplementing the sound of her voice by picking up the waterphone once more. Matters were eventually resolved with a duet between voice and church organ.

Bialas’ song “Chiaroscuro” boasted an Italian title but Polish lyrics. Bialas always writes and sings in her native tongue but translates the lyrics for English audiences, these spoken or semi sung as part of the introduction. Her words here were typically poetic and beautiful. The song was ushered in by the sounds of Harrison’s keyboard, a combination of acoustic piano with ‘bowed guitar’ textures. He was joined by Bialas’ voice, singing in Polish, then by electric bass and brushed drums. The piece had something of the feel of a jazz standard, a kind of ballad or torch song, with the instrumental honours going to Harrison on acoustic piano.

It was a fairly low key way to end a gig so with the encouragement of Shrewsbury Jazz Network’s Laurie Grey the quartet remained on stage to deliver a deserved encore,  Bialas’ “Picture From A Polish Wood”, a fictional depiction of an altercation between Sirkis and a bear in a Polish forest. Soaring vocals were combined with driving rhythms with solos coming from Harrison on Rhodes and Sirkis with a predictably explosive and virtuosic drum feature. The piece then resolved itself with a dialogue between Bialas’ voice and Harrison’s whistling synth.

IQ’s music represented some of the most ambitious jazz ever heard at The Hive. On the whole it was well received, but it did divide opinion with some finding it too loud or too complex. A strong rock or fusion element has always been an important part of Sirkis’ work and personally I had no problem with the volume and positively praise the group’s adventure and ambition. Admittedly Bialas’ voice, for all its technical excellence, can be something of an acquired taste and in truth even I enjoyed more the quintet that Sirkis brought to this venue in 2015.

But Sirkis is a musician and composer who never stands still. From tonight’s performance, which featured exceptional playing from all four musicians, it’s clear that “Our New Earth” is a highly ambitious piece of work that embraces a huge variety of vocal and instrumental sounds and a similarly broad range of musical styles and influences. It shows both him and Bialas growing in maturity as composers and on this evidence should be well worth hearing on its release.

Dave Storey Trio - Bosco Rating: 3-5 out of 5 A well balanced unit with a relaxed and easy rapport who interact seamlessly throughout. Naturally the standard of the musicianship is uniformly high with Storey himself particularly impressive.

Dave Storey Trio

“Bosco”

(Impossible Ark Records)

Dave Storey is young London based drummer and composer. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music where his drum tutors included such influential musicians as Martin France, Tim Giles, Mark Sanders, Gene Calderazzo and Jim Hart.

Since completing his Masters Storey has become a busy presence on the London jazz scene, performing regularly at clubs such as Ronnie Scott’s, Kansas Smitty’s, The Vortex and the 606.

As a busy sideman he has appeared on the Jazzmann web pages on numerous occasions performing with band leaders such as saxophonists Tom Barford and Tom Smith and pianists Tom Millar and Sam Leak. He is also a member of trombonist Olli Martin’s quintet and of Moostak Trio, alongside guitarist Harry Christelis and bassist Andrea Di Biase.

Storey also lead his own trio which includes saxophonist James Allsopp and bassist Conor Chaplin, both leading figures on the contemporary London jazz scene. “Bosco” represents their début recording and is a vinyl / digital release on the Impossible Ark record label. I’m indebted to Dave for transferring the music to CD just for me, specifically for review purposes.

“Bosco” features nine pieces of music, one of these being an arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing”. In the absence of the album artwork I’m assuming that the rest, many of them with pleasingly whimsical titles, are Storey originals.

The trio have been active for four years and have developed an admirable rapport despite the fact that the individual members are all consistently busy with other projects. Their music is within the jazz tradition with the group describing their approach thus;
“the music reflects reverence and respect of the jazz tradition without ever being beholden to its dogma, which results in music that feels unpretentious but never throwaway or without considerable weight”.

The most obvious reference point is the Sonny Rollins Trio, but with this drummer led unit putting a contemporary slant on the music. Opening track “Big Chicken” fairly steams along with Allsopp soloing on tenor above Chaplin’s rapid bass walk and the rolling, fluid drum grooves laid down by the leader. Storey’s drums come to the foreground at regular intervals during this spirited and energetic opener.

“The Sun Is Big” is less frenetic, with Allsopp probing gently, but purposefully, above undulating, consistently evolving drum and bass patterns. Chaplin comes to the fore with a double bass solo that combines melodicism with dexterity and resonance.

Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing” is given a beautiful ballad reading with Allsopp’s smoky, after hours tenor sympathetically supported by Chaplin’s languid double bass and Storey’s delicate and expressive brush and mallet work.

“Cautious Tortoise” (see what I mean about those titles – or possibly turtles!) ups the energy levels once more, throwing some quirky stop-start rhythms into the mix as Allsopp and Storey engage in lively debate with a vigorous series of sax and drum exchanges.

The aptly named “Twisty” maintains the momentum with Allsopp’s tenor slaloming its way around the busily percolating rhythms cooked up by Storey and Chaplin, with the leader’s drums periodically coming to the fore.

I’m not sure who the title track is named for but it’s a beguiling, lilting piece paced by Chaplin’s melodic bass motif / groove, shades here of Paul Chambers, which acts as the fulcrum for Allsopp’s leisurely tenor sax explorations as Storey provides both colour and momentum from the kit with his ever evolving rhythmic patterns.

“Lumpy Bunny” renews the dialogue between Allsopp and Storey with Chaplin’s muscular bass grooves providing an anchoring role as the saxophonist stretches out, subsequently answered by an expansive drum feature. It’s all bright, brisk and exciting.

I’m not sure if the title “Old Blue Nose” represents an oblique reference to Birmingham City F.C.
– one suspects not – but there’s plenty of blues in the music with Allsopp’s tenor snaking sinuously around the rhythm section’s rolling grooves. Chaplin delivers an impressive double bass solo and there’s an extended drum feature from the leader prior to a final re-statement of the theme.

The album ends as it began, on an energetic note.  The boppish “Yo Yo” incorporates solos for Chaplin, Allsopp and Storey, the leader signing his début solo album off with a flourish.

“Bosco” is an enjoyable album and a worthy addition to the canon of the saxophone trio, not withstanding the fact that this particular threesome is led by a drummer. Storey, Allsopp and Chaplin are a well balanced unit with a relaxed and easy rapport who interact seamlessly throughout. Naturally the standard of the musicianship is uniformly high with Storey himself in particularly impressive form, his drumming consistently colourful, inventive and intelligent.

That said there’s nothing particularly earth shaking here. As the trio promised the music is unpretentious and firmly within the ‘tradition’ but it’s superbly delivered. However there were moments when I’d have appreciated something a little more contemporary and ‘cutting edge’, but perhaps this is something these three musicians prefer to deliver elsewhere in different musical contexts. They clearly relish playing this music in this style and one suspects that witnessing them live would be an exciting and rewarding experience.

Listeners will have the chance to do just this on the trio’s currently ongoing tour at the dates listed below;


April 08 – Beeston Library, Nottingham
April 09 – Worksop Library, Worksop
April 10 – Southwell Library, Southwell
April 11 – West Bridgford Library, Nottingham
April 12 – Peggy’s Skylight, Nottingham
April 16 – ALBUM LAUNCH, Pizza Express, London
April 28 – Southampton Modern Jazz Club, Southampton
April 29 – The Beaver Inn, Appledore
April 30 – St Ives Jazz Club, St. Ives
May 01 – Bronx Bar, Teignmouth
May 03 – 1000 Trades, Birmingham
May 31 – The Verdict Jazz Club, Brighton + Workshop


“Bosco” is available from;
http://www.impossiblearkrecords.bandcamp.com

Bosco

Dave Storey Trio

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Bosco

A well balanced unit with a relaxed and easy rapport who interact seamlessly throughout. Naturally the standard of the musicianship is uniformly high with Storey himself particularly impressive.

Dave Storey Trio

“Bosco”

(Impossible Ark Records)

Dave Storey is young London based drummer and composer. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music where his drum tutors included such influential musicians as Martin France, Tim Giles, Mark Sanders, Gene Calderazzo and Jim Hart.

Since completing his Masters Storey has become a busy presence on the London jazz scene, performing regularly at clubs such as Ronnie Scott’s, Kansas Smitty’s, The Vortex and the 606.

As a busy sideman he has appeared on the Jazzmann web pages on numerous occasions performing with band leaders such as saxophonists Tom Barford and Tom Smith and pianists Tom Millar and Sam Leak. He is also a member of trombonist Olli Martin’s quintet and of Moostak Trio, alongside guitarist Harry Christelis and bassist Andrea Di Biase.

Storey also lead his own trio which includes saxophonist James Allsopp and bassist Conor Chaplin, both leading figures on the contemporary London jazz scene. “Bosco” represents their début recording and is a vinyl / digital release on the Impossible Ark record label. I’m indebted to Dave for transferring the music to CD just for me, specifically for review purposes.

“Bosco” features nine pieces of music, one of these being an arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing”. In the absence of the album artwork I’m assuming that the rest, many of them with pleasingly whimsical titles, are Storey originals.

The trio have been active for four years and have developed an admirable rapport despite the fact that the individual members are all consistently busy with other projects. Their music is within the jazz tradition with the group describing their approach thus;
“the music reflects reverence and respect of the jazz tradition without ever being beholden to its dogma, which results in music that feels unpretentious but never throwaway or without considerable weight”.

The most obvious reference point is the Sonny Rollins Trio, but with this drummer led unit putting a contemporary slant on the music. Opening track “Big Chicken” fairly steams along with Allsopp soloing on tenor above Chaplin’s rapid bass walk and the rolling, fluid drum grooves laid down by the leader. Storey’s drums come to the foreground at regular intervals during this spirited and energetic opener.

“The Sun Is Big” is less frenetic, with Allsopp probing gently, but purposefully, above undulating, consistently evolving drum and bass patterns. Chaplin comes to the fore with a double bass solo that combines melodicism with dexterity and resonance.

Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing” is given a beautiful ballad reading with Allsopp’s smoky, after hours tenor sympathetically supported by Chaplin’s languid double bass and Storey’s delicate and expressive brush and mallet work.

“Cautious Tortoise” (see what I mean about those titles – or possibly turtles!) ups the energy levels once more, throwing some quirky stop-start rhythms into the mix as Allsopp and Storey engage in lively debate with a vigorous series of sax and drum exchanges.

The aptly named “Twisty” maintains the momentum with Allsopp’s tenor slaloming its way around the busily percolating rhythms cooked up by Storey and Chaplin, with the leader’s drums periodically coming to the fore.

I’m not sure who the title track is named for but it’s a beguiling, lilting piece paced by Chaplin’s melodic bass motif / groove, shades here of Paul Chambers, which acts as the fulcrum for Allsopp’s leisurely tenor sax explorations as Storey provides both colour and momentum from the kit with his ever evolving rhythmic patterns.

“Lumpy Bunny” renews the dialogue between Allsopp and Storey with Chaplin’s muscular bass grooves providing an anchoring role as the saxophonist stretches out, subsequently answered by an expansive drum feature. It’s all bright, brisk and exciting.

I’m not sure if the title “Old Blue Nose” represents an oblique reference to Birmingham City F.C.
– one suspects not – but there’s plenty of blues in the music with Allsopp’s tenor snaking sinuously around the rhythm section’s rolling grooves. Chaplin delivers an impressive double bass solo and there’s an extended drum feature from the leader prior to a final re-statement of the theme.

The album ends as it began, on an energetic note.  The boppish “Yo Yo” incorporates solos for Chaplin, Allsopp and Storey, the leader signing his début solo album off with a flourish.

“Bosco” is an enjoyable album and a worthy addition to the canon of the saxophone trio, not withstanding the fact that this particular threesome is led by a drummer. Storey, Allsopp and Chaplin are a well balanced unit with a relaxed and easy rapport who interact seamlessly throughout. Naturally the standard of the musicianship is uniformly high with Storey himself in particularly impressive form, his drumming consistently colourful, inventive and intelligent.

That said there’s nothing particularly earth shaking here. As the trio promised the music is unpretentious and firmly within the ‘tradition’ but it’s superbly delivered. However there were moments when I’d have appreciated something a little more contemporary and ‘cutting edge’, but perhaps this is something these three musicians prefer to deliver elsewhere in different musical contexts. They clearly relish playing this music in this style and one suspects that witnessing them live would be an exciting and rewarding experience.

Listeners will have the chance to do just this on the trio’s currently ongoing tour at the dates listed below;


April 08 – Beeston Library, Nottingham
April 09 – Worksop Library, Worksop
April 10 – Southwell Library, Southwell
April 11 – West Bridgford Library, Nottingham
April 12 – Peggy’s Skylight, Nottingham
April 16 – ALBUM LAUNCH, Pizza Express, London
April 28 – Southampton Modern Jazz Club, Southampton
April 29 – The Beaver Inn, Appledore
April 30 – St Ives Jazz Club, St. Ives
May 01 – Bronx Bar, Teignmouth
May 03 – 1000 Trades, Birmingham
May 31 – The Verdict Jazz Club, Brighton + Workshop


“Bosco” is available from;
http://www.impossiblearkrecords.bandcamp.com

Chube - Chube, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 31/03/2019. Rating: 4 out of 5 Ian Mann enjoys an intriguing & exciting performance from this unique young trio from Cardiff featuring Ben Creighton Griffiths on harp and keyboards, Aeddan Willims on basses & Matt Williams on drums

Chube, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 31/03/2019.

Ben Creighton Griffiths – harp and keyboards, Aeddan Williams – electric and acoustic bass, Matt Williams - drums


The young Cardiff based jazz harpist and keyboard player Ben Creighton Griffiths has made quite an impression on Abergavenny jazz audiences through his previous appearances at BMJ events.

In 2016 he appeared at the Wall2Wall Jazz Festival as part of the ‘interval’ music in the Melville Centre bar. Such was his virtuosity as he doubled on Welsh harp and electric keyboard that the room feel silent as people gave their full attention to the remarkable playing of this young prodigy. Among those to be impressed by Creighton Griffiths’ performance were violinist Christian Garrick and pianist David Gordon who had just completed an excellent duo show in the main house.

Also present was trombonist Dennis Rollins, whose Velocity Trio were the next act to play in the main house. A great champion of young talent Rollins was bowled over enough by Creighton Griffiths’ performance to invite him to become involved in a collaboration, which will be unveiled at 2019’s Wall2Wall, which will take place from 29th August to 1st September. Rollins will collaborate with the Chube trio on a programme yet to be decided. He will also be running a funk and blues workshop for young musicians during the Festival with BMJ currently looking for applicants for these sessions.

Later on in 2016 Creighton Griffiths returned to BMJ to give a lengthier solo performance in the main hall at the Melville Centre as he shared a double bill with bassist Aidan Thorne’s electro-jazz group Duski. My account of that evening’s performances can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/ben-creighton-griffiths-duski-black-mountain-jazz-the-melville-centre-aberg/

In 2018 he was back in the bar at that year’s Wall2Wall, wowing the audience once more with his remarkable ‘one man band’ performance. A review of this show can be rad as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/thursday-and-friday-at-wall2wall-jazz-festival-abergavenny-30th-and-31st-au/

 Earlier in 2018 he performed as part of an all star octet at Llandudno Jazz Festival alongside such jazz luminaries as saxophonist Art Themen, trumpeter Neil Yates and drummer Clark Tracey.

Creighton Griffiths, who also made a cameo appearance at the 2017 Brecon Jazz Festival, has released a number of solo recordings including “1 Man Band” (2017) and the excellent “Pedals & Paws” (2015). Something of a child prodigy Creighton Griffiths made his first recording at the age of seven, “Ben Jamming” being a charity single in aid of the BBC Children in Need Appeal. Two full length albums followed, “A Ceremony of Carols” in 2009 and “An Incomplete A-Z of Jazz Harp Music” in 2012. All of these recordings, plus a live DVD from 2009 can be purchased at Ben’s website http://www.bjcg.co.uk/

Creighton Griffiths is still only twenty three and has been influenced by a broad range of music, including jazz, classical and folk, and of course rock and pop. His solo recordings focus on the harp but the Chube trio, established in 2015 as the band’s distinctive logo informs us, homes in on those rock and pop influences, filtering them through a jazz prism to create an exciting and unusual brand of contemporary fusion.

Joining Creighton Griffiths in Chube are Aeddan Williams on bass guitar and double bass and Matt Williams (no relation) at the drums. The trio have recently released their six track début EP “Self Titled” which is available via Ben’s website and also the group’s Bandcamp page https://chube.bandcamp.com/releases

To avoid confusion I’ll use first names from now on. Ben and Matt are childhood friends and the latter guests as a percussionist on the “Pedals & Paws” album. Aeddan is a leading figure on the Cardiff jazz scene and is a regular collaborator with saxophonist Joe Northwood, the latter being the organiser of the regular jazz and improv sessions held at the city’s Flute & Tankard and Tiny Rebel venues. Aeddan visited BMJ’s old venue, the Kings Arms, in 2015 playing double bass with guitarist James Chadwick’s trio. He has also worked with rising star singer/songwriter Kizzy Crawford and as a talented multi-instrumentalist has also released a more pop oriented solo album “I Could Be Here All Night”.

I’ll admit to having had a sneak preview of what to expect from Chube. BMJ had received an advance copy of the EP and it was being played in the bar at the previous BMJ gig by the Adam Glasser Quartet. I was intrigued and excited by what I heard and was very much looking forward to seeing Chube performing live.

I noted that on first listening the Chube EP sounded quite ‘proggy’. Ben describes the trio’s music as “electro-fusion” and their instrumental line up tonight included electrified harp, a Nord Stage 2 electric keyboard and a smaller Korg synth. Meanwhile Aeddan played more bass guitar than double bass while Matt was a solid, driving presence at the drum kit.

Ben plays a Camac 47 Big Blue Electro-Acoustic Pedal Harp, and yes, the frame of the instrument really is bright blue.  Moving between harp and keyboards, and frequently doubling up he was at the heart of the trio’s music but without being overly dominating. Aeddan’s bass also had a strong melodic role with the underlying groove frequently the sole responsibility of Matt. Chube’s compositions are jointly written and over the course of two absorbing and exciting sets we were to hear several of these, along with the group’s innovative arrangements of a variety of jazz, pop and rock material, some of it highly unlikely – but more on that later.

With Ben treating the sound of his harp via a variety of foot pedals the group sound was surprisingly full and admirably funky. “Shift”, the opening track from the “Self Titled” EP got things off to an energetic and highly rhythmic start with Aeddan’s electric bass grooves and Matt’s crisp drumming complementing Ben’s keyboard bass lines and harp and synth melodies. Solos in this spirited opener came from Ben on Korg synth and Aeddan on electric bass with the trio as a whole impressing with a sudden, unexpected precision ending.

Luiz Bonfa’s “Black Orpheus” probably represented more familiar ground for the majority of listeners with Ben’s harp sometimes approximating the timbres of a guitar on this Brazilian classic, whilst simultaneously establishing the harp as a convincing vehicle for jazz soloing. We also heard Aeddan’s melodic electric bass as he soloed above Ben’s woozy Nord keyboard textures.

The as yet unrecorded “Ligma” featured Ben utilising his FX pedals to loop and layer the sound of the harp then soloing above the textures he had created to the accompaniment of nimble electric bass and a hard driving drum groove. Aeddan continued to wrap his fingers around some slippery bass lines with a fluent and exciting solo.

Aeddan moved to double bass for another new group original, “Salty Tongue” which grew out of Ben’s opening harp arpeggios to embrace flowing, cascading harp melodies and tight bass and drum grooves in a winning blend of folk, funk and hip hop influences.

Ben has always cited Herbie Hancock as an important influence and “Pedals & Paws” includes his arrangement for harp of Hancock’s “Chameleon”. Tonight the trio chose to cover the similarly familiar “Watermelon Man” in an arrangement more Headhunters than Blue Note. Aeddan returned to electric bass as Ben doubled on Nord and Korg, deploying both instruments during the course of his solo, this followed by Aeddan on bass.

An excellent first set concluded with “Chrysalism”, another tune from the “Self Titled” EP. This was the first piece that the trio wrote collectively, Aeddan having joined the original duo of Ben and Matt in 2016. With Aeddan back on double bass the intro featured the combination of harp and arco bass with Matt deploying mallets on his kit to deliver a softer drum sound. Aeddan moved back to electric bass mid tune, effecting the change as Ben played both melody and bass lines on the harp in another extraordinary feat of musicianship. Matt switched to sticks as the music gathered momentum, Ben now soloing on harp above a powerful bass and drum groove whilst doubling on Nord. Finally he concentrated on the keyboards, delivering some deliciously distorted Rhodes and synth sounds as the trio continued to move up the gears.

The keyboards were also to feature prominently at the start of the second set with the combination of Nord and Korg providing the backdrop for an explosive drum feature from Matt as Aeddan played an anchoring role on electric bass. This piece was “Interlude”, another tune included on the trio’s EP.

Also from the recording came Chube’s arrangement of “Hey Ya”, written by hip hop artist Andre Benjamin and a huge pop hit for him in his Outkast incarnation. Chube’s arrangement keeps the familiar melody intact with Aeddan soloing on double bass alongside Ben on harp.

Ben talked about the trio’s fondness for improvisation before introducing a new group original, “The Land”, which actually relied more on structured composition.  The introduction saw Ben on harp and Aeddan on double bass exchanging complementary melodic motifs, the music gradually becoming more layered and complex as Ben moved to double up on Nord and Korg and Aeddan flourished the bow in a manner reminiscent of Dan Berglund of e.s.t. The combination of acoustic and electric sounds sometimes reminded me of the UK’s own Polar bear, led by drummer and composer Sebastian Rochford.

Next up was a stunning arrangement of the Led Zeppelin classic “When The Levee Breaks”. At half time some listeners had complained that Matt’s drumming relied too much on rock rhythms, and in fairness there was an element of truth in that. But it was absolutely appropriate here as he totally nailed that famous John Bonham drum groove, giving Chube’s impressive arrangement an unstoppable momentum as Ben attacked his harp with his fuzz pedal turned up full and Aeddan played the melody on similarly distorted electric bass. A short passage of more conventional harp sounds then presaged a truly monumental final assault. Played with a youthful energy and exuberance this piece saw heads nodding furiously around the venue. Can you head bang to a harp? You betcha, Ben’s Guns ‘n’ Roses seemed to represent a statement of intent.
A video of the trio playing this piece can be found on their Facebook page;
https://www.facebook.com/Chubeband/

There was a change in style for the next original, a piece simply titled “Reggae” but tonight dubbed “When The Reggae Breaks”. This featured Ben specialising on keyboards and soloing on Nord above the clipped reggae grooves laid down by the drums and electric bass, Ben subsequently picking up the rhythm on keyboard as Aeddan took his own solo.

They concluded with a return to more obvious jazz territory with a group arrangement of Miles Davis’ “Milestones” with Aeddan playing the famous motif on electric bass as Ben deployed his keyboards to help create an infectious funk groove before later soloing on harp.

Tonight featured one of the largest club night audiences that BMJ has enjoyed for some time, which was a tribute to the quality of Ben’s previous solo appearances. The enthusiastic reaction of the crowd to Chube’s music ensured that no prompting for an encore was needed from the Club organisers, the many shouts for “more!” were more than sufficient in themselves.

With nothing prepared Chube decided to close with a reprise of the opening number, “Shift”, but this time in an even faster, more frenetic arrangement that left both band and audience breathless.

Tonight’s performance was a triumph for both Chube and BMJ and there seems to be a real buzz building about this exciting and talented young band. If they were based in London rather than Cardiff their names would probably be all over the jazz media. Look out for Chube, all the signs are there that bigger things await.

The “Self Titled” EP is worth a fiver of anybody’s money and still sounds exciting and convincing in the home listening environment.

If you missed Chube at Abergavenny catch them on Saturday April 6th 2019 when they play as part of a triple bill at Tiny Rebel in Cardiff alongside two other trios, Arkocean and Moon Biscuit.
Details here;  https://www.facebook.com/events/933761833486638/

Chube, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 31/03/2019.

Chube

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Chube, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 31/03/2019.
Photography: Cover of "Self Titled" EP sourced from the Chube Bandcamp page.

Ian Mann enjoys an intriguing & exciting performance from this unique young trio from Cardiff featuring Ben Creighton Griffiths on harp and keyboards, Aeddan Willims on basses & Matt Williams on drums

Chube, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 31/03/2019.

Ben Creighton Griffiths – harp and keyboards, Aeddan Williams – electric and acoustic bass, Matt Williams - drums


The young Cardiff based jazz harpist and keyboard player Ben Creighton Griffiths has made quite an impression on Abergavenny jazz audiences through his previous appearances at BMJ events.

In 2016 he appeared at the Wall2Wall Jazz Festival as part of the ‘interval’ music in the Melville Centre bar. Such was his virtuosity as he doubled on Welsh harp and electric keyboard that the room feel silent as people gave their full attention to the remarkable playing of this young prodigy. Among those to be impressed by Creighton Griffiths’ performance were violinist Christian Garrick and pianist David Gordon who had just completed an excellent duo show in the main house.

Also present was trombonist Dennis Rollins, whose Velocity Trio were the next act to play in the main house. A great champion of young talent Rollins was bowled over enough by Creighton Griffiths’ performance to invite him to become involved in a collaboration, which will be unveiled at 2019’s Wall2Wall, which will take place from 29th August to 1st September. Rollins will collaborate with the Chube trio on a programme yet to be decided. He will also be running a funk and blues workshop for young musicians during the Festival with BMJ currently looking for applicants for these sessions.

Later on in 2016 Creighton Griffiths returned to BMJ to give a lengthier solo performance in the main hall at the Melville Centre as he shared a double bill with bassist Aidan Thorne’s electro-jazz group Duski. My account of that evening’s performances can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/ben-creighton-griffiths-duski-black-mountain-jazz-the-melville-centre-aberg/

In 2018 he was back in the bar at that year’s Wall2Wall, wowing the audience once more with his remarkable ‘one man band’ performance. A review of this show can be rad as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/thursday-and-friday-at-wall2wall-jazz-festival-abergavenny-30th-and-31st-au/

 Earlier in 2018 he performed as part of an all star octet at Llandudno Jazz Festival alongside such jazz luminaries as saxophonist Art Themen, trumpeter Neil Yates and drummer Clark Tracey.

Creighton Griffiths, who also made a cameo appearance at the 2017 Brecon Jazz Festival, has released a number of solo recordings including “1 Man Band” (2017) and the excellent “Pedals & Paws” (2015). Something of a child prodigy Creighton Griffiths made his first recording at the age of seven, “Ben Jamming” being a charity single in aid of the BBC Children in Need Appeal. Two full length albums followed, “A Ceremony of Carols” in 2009 and “An Incomplete A-Z of Jazz Harp Music” in 2012. All of these recordings, plus a live DVD from 2009 can be purchased at Ben’s website http://www.bjcg.co.uk/

Creighton Griffiths is still only twenty three and has been influenced by a broad range of music, including jazz, classical and folk, and of course rock and pop. His solo recordings focus on the harp but the Chube trio, established in 2015 as the band’s distinctive logo informs us, homes in on those rock and pop influences, filtering them through a jazz prism to create an exciting and unusual brand of contemporary fusion.

Joining Creighton Griffiths in Chube are Aeddan Williams on bass guitar and double bass and Matt Williams (no relation) at the drums. The trio have recently released their six track début EP “Self Titled” which is available via Ben’s website and also the group’s Bandcamp page https://chube.bandcamp.com/releases

To avoid confusion I’ll use first names from now on. Ben and Matt are childhood friends and the latter guests as a percussionist on the “Pedals & Paws” album. Aeddan is a leading figure on the Cardiff jazz scene and is a regular collaborator with saxophonist Joe Northwood, the latter being the organiser of the regular jazz and improv sessions held at the city’s Flute & Tankard and Tiny Rebel venues. Aeddan visited BMJ’s old venue, the Kings Arms, in 2015 playing double bass with guitarist James Chadwick’s trio. He has also worked with rising star singer/songwriter Kizzy Crawford and as a talented multi-instrumentalist has also released a more pop oriented solo album “I Could Be Here All Night”.

I’ll admit to having had a sneak preview of what to expect from Chube. BMJ had received an advance copy of the EP and it was being played in the bar at the previous BMJ gig by the Adam Glasser Quartet. I was intrigued and excited by what I heard and was very much looking forward to seeing Chube performing live.

I noted that on first listening the Chube EP sounded quite ‘proggy’. Ben describes the trio’s music as “electro-fusion” and their instrumental line up tonight included electrified harp, a Nord Stage 2 electric keyboard and a smaller Korg synth. Meanwhile Aeddan played more bass guitar than double bass while Matt was a solid, driving presence at the drum kit.

Ben plays a Camac 47 Big Blue Electro-Acoustic Pedal Harp, and yes, the frame of the instrument really is bright blue.  Moving between harp and keyboards, and frequently doubling up he was at the heart of the trio’s music but without being overly dominating. Aeddan’s bass also had a strong melodic role with the underlying groove frequently the sole responsibility of Matt. Chube’s compositions are jointly written and over the course of two absorbing and exciting sets we were to hear several of these, along with the group’s innovative arrangements of a variety of jazz, pop and rock material, some of it highly unlikely – but more on that later.

With Ben treating the sound of his harp via a variety of foot pedals the group sound was surprisingly full and admirably funky. “Shift”, the opening track from the “Self Titled” EP got things off to an energetic and highly rhythmic start with Aeddan’s electric bass grooves and Matt’s crisp drumming complementing Ben’s keyboard bass lines and harp and synth melodies. Solos in this spirited opener came from Ben on Korg synth and Aeddan on electric bass with the trio as a whole impressing with a sudden, unexpected precision ending.

Luiz Bonfa’s “Black Orpheus” probably represented more familiar ground for the majority of listeners with Ben’s harp sometimes approximating the timbres of a guitar on this Brazilian classic, whilst simultaneously establishing the harp as a convincing vehicle for jazz soloing. We also heard Aeddan’s melodic electric bass as he soloed above Ben’s woozy Nord keyboard textures.

The as yet unrecorded “Ligma” featured Ben utilising his FX pedals to loop and layer the sound of the harp then soloing above the textures he had created to the accompaniment of nimble electric bass and a hard driving drum groove. Aeddan continued to wrap his fingers around some slippery bass lines with a fluent and exciting solo.

Aeddan moved to double bass for another new group original, “Salty Tongue” which grew out of Ben’s opening harp arpeggios to embrace flowing, cascading harp melodies and tight bass and drum grooves in a winning blend of folk, funk and hip hop influences.

Ben has always cited Herbie Hancock as an important influence and “Pedals & Paws” includes his arrangement for harp of Hancock’s “Chameleon”. Tonight the trio chose to cover the similarly familiar “Watermelon Man” in an arrangement more Headhunters than Blue Note. Aeddan returned to electric bass as Ben doubled on Nord and Korg, deploying both instruments during the course of his solo, this followed by Aeddan on bass.

An excellent first set concluded with “Chrysalism”, another tune from the “Self Titled” EP. This was the first piece that the trio wrote collectively, Aeddan having joined the original duo of Ben and Matt in 2016. With Aeddan back on double bass the intro featured the combination of harp and arco bass with Matt deploying mallets on his kit to deliver a softer drum sound. Aeddan moved back to electric bass mid tune, effecting the change as Ben played both melody and bass lines on the harp in another extraordinary feat of musicianship. Matt switched to sticks as the music gathered momentum, Ben now soloing on harp above a powerful bass and drum groove whilst doubling on Nord. Finally he concentrated on the keyboards, delivering some deliciously distorted Rhodes and synth sounds as the trio continued to move up the gears.

The keyboards were also to feature prominently at the start of the second set with the combination of Nord and Korg providing the backdrop for an explosive drum feature from Matt as Aeddan played an anchoring role on electric bass. This piece was “Interlude”, another tune included on the trio’s EP.

Also from the recording came Chube’s arrangement of “Hey Ya”, written by hip hop artist Andre Benjamin and a huge pop hit for him in his Outkast incarnation. Chube’s arrangement keeps the familiar melody intact with Aeddan soloing on double bass alongside Ben on harp.

Ben talked about the trio’s fondness for improvisation before introducing a new group original, “The Land”, which actually relied more on structured composition.  The introduction saw Ben on harp and Aeddan on double bass exchanging complementary melodic motifs, the music gradually becoming more layered and complex as Ben moved to double up on Nord and Korg and Aeddan flourished the bow in a manner reminiscent of Dan Berglund of e.s.t. The combination of acoustic and electric sounds sometimes reminded me of the UK’s own Polar bear, led by drummer and composer Sebastian Rochford.

Next up was a stunning arrangement of the Led Zeppelin classic “When The Levee Breaks”. At half time some listeners had complained that Matt’s drumming relied too much on rock rhythms, and in fairness there was an element of truth in that. But it was absolutely appropriate here as he totally nailed that famous John Bonham drum groove, giving Chube’s impressive arrangement an unstoppable momentum as Ben attacked his harp with his fuzz pedal turned up full and Aeddan played the melody on similarly distorted electric bass. A short passage of more conventional harp sounds then presaged a truly monumental final assault. Played with a youthful energy and exuberance this piece saw heads nodding furiously around the venue. Can you head bang to a harp? You betcha, Ben’s Guns ‘n’ Roses seemed to represent a statement of intent.
A video of the trio playing this piece can be found on their Facebook page;
https://www.facebook.com/Chubeband/

There was a change in style for the next original, a piece simply titled “Reggae” but tonight dubbed “When The Reggae Breaks”. This featured Ben specialising on keyboards and soloing on Nord above the clipped reggae grooves laid down by the drums and electric bass, Ben subsequently picking up the rhythm on keyboard as Aeddan took his own solo.

They concluded with a return to more obvious jazz territory with a group arrangement of Miles Davis’ “Milestones” with Aeddan playing the famous motif on electric bass as Ben deployed his keyboards to help create an infectious funk groove before later soloing on harp.

Tonight featured one of the largest club night audiences that BMJ has enjoyed for some time, which was a tribute to the quality of Ben’s previous solo appearances. The enthusiastic reaction of the crowd to Chube’s music ensured that no prompting for an encore was needed from the Club organisers, the many shouts for “more!” were more than sufficient in themselves.

With nothing prepared Chube decided to close with a reprise of the opening number, “Shift”, but this time in an even faster, more frenetic arrangement that left both band and audience breathless.

Tonight’s performance was a triumph for both Chube and BMJ and there seems to be a real buzz building about this exciting and talented young band. If they were based in London rather than Cardiff their names would probably be all over the jazz media. Look out for Chube, all the signs are there that bigger things await.

The “Self Titled” EP is worth a fiver of anybody’s money and still sounds exciting and convincing in the home listening environment.

If you missed Chube at Abergavenny catch them on Saturday April 6th 2019 when they play as part of a triple bill at Tiny Rebel in Cardiff alongside two other trios, Arkocean and Moon Biscuit.
Details here;  https://www.facebook.com/events/933761833486638/

Uncanny Valley - Uncanny Valley, Hexagon Theatre, Midlands Arts Centre (mac), Birmingham, 28/03/2019. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Ian Mann enjoys the music of this new Anglo-German improvising trio featuring saxophonist Tom Challenger, bassist Phil Donkin and drummer Oli Steidle.

Uncanny Valley, Hexagon Theatre, Midlands Arts Centre (mac), Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham, 28/03/2019.

Uncanny Valley is a new Anglo-German trio featuring the British musicians Tomos Challenger (tenor saxophone), Phil Donkin (double bass) and the German drummer and percussionist Oliver ‘Oli’ Steidle.

Tonight’s event was promoted by Tony Dudley-Evans as part of his TDE Promotions strand, presented as part of Birmingham’s Fizzle season of jazz and improvised music.

I was first attracted to this event by the presence of Challenger, the Huddersfield born, London based musician who has appeared many times on the Jazzmann web pages, whether leading his own groups, such as the electro-jazz quartet Ma and the contemporary New Orleans inspired ensemble Brass Mask, or as a prolific sideman, on the London jazz scene.

Challenger has been part of the bands Dice Factory, Outhouse, Porpoise Corpus, and Riff Raff, the letter led by bassist Dave Manington. He has also worked with pianists Bruno Heinen and Dan Nicholls, guitarist Hannes Riepler and fellow saxophonists George Crowley and Mike Chillingworth.

A particularly fruitful association has been with Kit Downes in the church organ /saxophone duo known first as Wedding Music and subsequently as Vyamanikal. Challenger has also worked in an improvising duo with Pierre Alexander Tremblay (bass and electronics). At the other end of the scale he has played large ensemble jazz as a member of bassist Callum Gourlay’s Big Band.

Sunderland born Donkin first established himself on the UK jazz scene working with pianists Gwilym Simcock and Ivo Neame, vocalist Brigitte Beraha, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and saxophonists Julian Arguelles, Evan Parker, Christian Brewer and Seb Pipe.

The Simcock connection was particularly profitable in terms of raising his profile and Donkin subsequently moved to Brooklyn, New York City, establishing himself as a musician with an international reputation and working with such jazz heavyweights as  guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel and John Abercrombie,  pianists Marc Copland, Edward Simon and Kevin Hays and drummers Bill Stewart, Ralph Peterson and Nasheet Waits.

Donkin’s début recording as a leader, “The Gate”, was recorded with a New York based band featuring saxophonist Ben Wendel, pianist Glenn Zaleski and drummer Jochen Rueckert and was released on Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings in 2015.

Donkin has since settled in Berlin, where he has become a major figure on that city’s jazz and improvised music scene, working regularly with drummer, composer and bandleader Oliver ‘Oli’ Steidle, among many others. There’s a healthy sense of cross-fertilisation between the London and Berlin scenes with Steidle also collaborating with Donkin, plus keyboard players Dan Nicholls and Kit Downes, in his band The Killing Popes.

Steidle was the one musician I hadn’t heard performing previously but a glance at his website reveals that he’s an astonishingly busy musician who is involved in more projects than you can shake the proverbial drum stick at. A highly versatile player he’s involved in both acoustic and electric music across a variety of genres; “I’m at home in jazz, bebop, free jazz, classical music, new music, hip hop, punk etc.” as the man himself says in the liner notes to his 2016 release “Euphoria” by his Oliwood trio featuring guitarist Kalle Kalima and alto saxophonist Frank Gratkowski.

Originally from Nurnburg but now based in Berlin Steidle is a serial collaborator who has worked with leading cutting edge musicians from all over Europe including such giants of the improvised music scene as saxophonist Peter Brotzmann, pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach and trumpeter Axel Dorner. Heavyweight company indeed. Check out the full range of Steidle’s activities at http://www.oliversteidle.com

Turning now to this new project Uncanny Valley, the group name derived from a series of band ‘in jokes’. The trio is a democratic unit, with all three members contributing material, but in essence it’s a ‘free jazz’ group.

Like may of the bands presented under the TDE Promotions banner Uncanny Valley explores music at the interface where composed and improvised music meet; previous examples include saxophonist Cath Roberts’ Favourite Animals and guitarist Anton Hunter’s Article XI.

Tonight all three performers were reading music but typically the compositions were ‘sketches’, blueprints or sign posts for improvising and typically comprising of one side or less of manuscript.
With only minimal amplification for Donkin’s bass and with Challenger playing without any form of mic the performance was essentially all acoustic, ideal for the intimate space that is the Hexagon.

Recent TDE gigs have commenced with Tony conducting a brief interview with the band and encouraging the musicians to explain something about their music. Uncanny Valley spoke about their love of extremes, both in terms of soft/loud dynamics and in terms of contrasting elements of sparseness and complexity, their aim being to open up creative spaces and create a tension in the music, particularly with regard to the dialogue between composition and improvisation. Like so many others before them the collective aim was to blur the borders between the two, so each is indistinguishable from the other.

The trio has yet to record an official album but examples of their work can be heard on Challenger’s website at http://www.tomchallenger.co.uk/projects/uncanny-valley and some of the material that can be heard there was to be performed tonight, albeit sometimes radically differently.

Uncanny Valley played a single unbroken set that included several examples of tunes being melded together to form a single piece. The opening segue of “Needles”, appropriately paired with “Scratches”, commenced with the lonely sound of Challenger’s tenor sax, this subsequently joined in dialogue by Donkin’s double bass as Steidle deployed a variety of small percussive devices to atmospheric effect. An example of Uncanny Valley’s love of dynamic contrasts came when Steidle picked up his sticks to commence a brutally explosive assault on his drum kit, entering into a garrulous debate with Challenger’s tenor as Donkin played the role of fulcrum. Following a blistering series of sax/drum exchanges Challenger took a well earned ‘breather’, handing the dialogue over to Steidle and Donkin, a relatively gentler exchange from which Steidle eventually dropped out to leave the sound of unaccompanied double bass. A revived Challenger then returned to the fray, the soft piping of his tenor sax, shadowed by Donkin’s bass and by the eerie sound of Steidle’s cymbal scrapes.  Gradually this three way conversation, gentle at first, became more animated and powerful, with snatches of melodic riffery suggestive of written material.

To these ears the intro to the next segue of “Scorpion” and “Doll Head” sounded pre-composed, this acting as the launch pad for a probing tenor sax solo buoyed by the constantly unfolding polyrhythmic flow of Steidle’s drumming, at times reminiscent of the great Jeff Williams. A passage of drum and double bass dialogue then led to to a further series of thrilling exchanges between Challenger and Steidle, the pair bouncing ideas off each other with Donkin again acting as the anchor. The trio then coalesced, building up a creative head of steam in this segue’s closing stages.

The lengthy “Anna”,commenced with a passage of unaccompanied tenor saxophone from Challenger, his sound initially in the instrument’s upper registers, sounding vulnerable and almost flute like. This led into a further section of solo playing, featuring an astonishing display of harmolodics and circular breathing techniques that even Evan Parker would have been proud of. Extended techniques were very much the order of the day here, Steidle again deploying small percussive devices, including kalimba or some other type of thumb piano, as Donkin produced deep, grainy bass sonorities with the bow as the rhythm team exchanged ideas. The return of Challenger on tenor then upped the energy levels once more, culminating in a powerful drum and percussion feature from the impressive Steidle. The gentle trio passage that followed represented ‘the calm after the storm’ , but Uncanny Valley were soon upping the ante once more with an incisive Challenger tenor solo fuelled by Donkin’s rapid bass figures and Steidle’s crisp drum beats.

The short final number was unannounced, but commenced with a dialogue between Challenger’s tenor and Donkin’s bowed bass, the saxophonist’s high register phrases answered by Donkin’s deeply sonorous arco counter melodies as Steidle provided subtly brushed drum commentary, this progressing to the use of mallets, then sticks, on cymbals to provide an anthemic chiming quality.

Having completed a short series of British dates Uncanny Valley are currently touring in Germany, where they will also record their début album. The results should be very interesting, especially in the light of tonight’s performance, where the music was more free and open ended than that currently available on Challenger’s website. Despite the presence of sheet music on stage, which was certainly referred to, tonight very much had the feel of a ‘free jazz’ performance, with the emphasis strongly on improvisation and spontaneous creation, an area to which Challenger and Donkin both seem to be increasingly drawn. With its emphasis on ‘extremes’ it was a demanding listen at times but the response of an audience best described as ‘small but select’ was highly positive.

I’ve long been an admirer of the playing of both these musicians but Steidle’s was a new name to me. The German is a fearless musical experimenter with healthy disregard for genres and an irreverent, almost punk like attitude. A highly accomplished technician he’s an energetic performer who delights in avoiding the obvious rhythms. His albums, such as “Ego Pills” by The Killing Popes, “Euphoria” by the trio Oliwood and “Ilog”, a duo set with turntablist Ignaz Schick, bristle with intention, energy and attitude and underline his uncompromising, non-conformist stance.

My thanks to Phil and Oli for speaking with me after the gig and to Phil for providing me with a review copy of his forthcoming album “Value”, by his international quartet Superfrown, featuring Joris Roelofs on bass clarinet, Wanja Slavin on alto sax and Martin France at the drums, an intriguing instrumental configuration to say the least. I plan to be taking a fuller look at this in due course.

Meanwhile the remaining dates on Uncanny Valley’s tour of Germany are listed below;


2. April 2019 Uncanny Valley w/ Tom Challenger, Phil Donkin @ Loft / Köln

3. April 2019 Uncanny Valley w/ Tom Challenger, Phil Donkin @ Übel & Gefährlich / Hamburg

5. April 2019 Uncanny Valley w/ Tom Challenger, Phil Donkin @ Aufsturtz / Berlin

6. April 2019 Uncanny Valley w/ Tom Challenger, Phil Donkin @ Saxstall / Pohrsdorf

7. April 2019 Uncanny Valley w/ Tom Challenger, Phil Donkin @ Dumont / Aachen

8. April 2019 Uncanny Valley w/ Tom Challenger, Phil Donkin recording at HfM Nürnberg
9. April 2019 Uncanny Valley w/ Tom Challenger, Phil Donkin recording at HfM Nürnberg
10. April 2019 Uncanny Valley w/ Tom Challenger, Phil Donkin recording at HfM Nürnberg

11. April 2019 Uncanny Valley w/ Tom Challenger, Phil Donkin @ Bar Betty / Nürnberg

13. April 2019 Uncanny Valley w/ Tom Challenger, Phil Donkin @ Knabenschule / Darmstadt

Further details at http://oliversteidle.com/live/

Uncanny Valley, Hexagon Theatre, Midlands Arts Centre (mac), Birmingham, 28/03/2019.

Uncanny Valley

Monday, April 01, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Uncanny Valley, Hexagon Theatre, Midlands Arts Centre (mac), Birmingham, 28/03/2019.

Ian Mann enjoys the music of this new Anglo-German improvising trio featuring saxophonist Tom Challenger, bassist Phil Donkin and drummer Oli Steidle.

Uncanny Valley, Hexagon Theatre, Midlands Arts Centre (mac), Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham, 28/03/2019.

Uncanny Valley is a new Anglo-German trio featuring the British musicians Tomos Challenger (tenor saxophone), Phil Donkin (double bass) and the German drummer and percussionist Oliver ‘Oli’ Steidle.

Tonight’s event was promoted by Tony Dudley-Evans as part of his TDE Promotions strand, presented as part of Birmingham’s Fizzle season of jazz and improvised music.

I was first attracted to this event by the presence of Challenger, the Huddersfield born, London based musician who has appeared many times on the Jazzmann web pages, whether leading his own groups, such as the electro-jazz quartet Ma and the contemporary New Orleans inspired ensemble Brass Mask, or as a prolific sideman, on the London jazz scene.

Challenger has been part of the bands Dice Factory, Outhouse, Porpoise Corpus, and Riff Raff, the letter led by bassist Dave Manington. He has also worked with pianists Bruno Heinen and Dan Nicholls, guitarist Hannes Riepler and fellow saxophonists George Crowley and Mike Chillingworth.

A particularly fruitful association has been with Kit Downes in the church organ /saxophone duo known first as Wedding Music and subsequently as Vyamanikal. Challenger has also worked in an improvising duo with Pierre Alexander Tremblay (bass and electronics). At the other end of the scale he has played large ensemble jazz as a member of bassist Callum Gourlay’s Big Band.

Sunderland born Donkin first established himself on the UK jazz scene working with pianists Gwilym Simcock and Ivo Neame, vocalist Brigitte Beraha, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and saxophonists Julian Arguelles, Evan Parker, Christian Brewer and Seb Pipe.

The Simcock connection was particularly profitable in terms of raising his profile and Donkin subsequently moved to Brooklyn, New York City, establishing himself as a musician with an international reputation and working with such jazz heavyweights as  guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel and John Abercrombie,  pianists Marc Copland, Edward Simon and Kevin Hays and drummers Bill Stewart, Ralph Peterson and Nasheet Waits.

Donkin’s début recording as a leader, “The Gate”, was recorded with a New York based band featuring saxophonist Ben Wendel, pianist Glenn Zaleski and drummer Jochen Rueckert and was released on Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings in 2015.

Donkin has since settled in Berlin, where he has become a major figure on that city’s jazz and improvised music scene, working regularly with drummer, composer and bandleader Oliver ‘Oli’ Steidle, among many others. There’s a healthy sense of cross-fertilisation between the London and Berlin scenes with Steidle also collaborating with Donkin, plus keyboard players Dan Nicholls and Kit Downes, in his band The Killing Popes.

Steidle was the one musician I hadn’t heard performing previously but a glance at his website reveals that he’s an astonishingly busy musician who is involved in more projects than you can shake the proverbial drum stick at. A highly versatile player he’s involved in both acoustic and electric music across a variety of genres; “I’m at home in jazz, bebop, free jazz, classical music, new music, hip hop, punk etc.” as the man himself says in the liner notes to his 2016 release “Euphoria” by his Oliwood trio featuring guitarist Kalle Kalima and alto saxophonist Frank Gratkowski.

Originally from Nurnburg but now based in Berlin Steidle is a serial collaborator who has worked with leading cutting edge musicians from all over Europe including such giants of the improvised music scene as saxophonist Peter Brotzmann, pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach and trumpeter Axel Dorner. Heavyweight company indeed. Check out the full range of Steidle’s activities at http://www.oliversteidle.com

Turning now to this new project Uncanny Valley, the group name derived from a series of band ‘in jokes’. The trio is a democratic unit, with all three members contributing material, but in essence it’s a ‘free jazz’ group.

Like may of the bands presented under the TDE Promotions banner Uncanny Valley explores music at the interface where composed and improvised music meet; previous examples include saxophonist Cath Roberts’ Favourite Animals and guitarist Anton Hunter’s Article XI.

Tonight all three performers were reading music but typically the compositions were ‘sketches’, blueprints or sign posts for improvising and typically comprising of one side or less of manuscript.
With only minimal amplification for Donkin’s bass and with Challenger playing without any form of mic the performance was essentially all acoustic, ideal for the intimate space that is the Hexagon.

Recent TDE gigs have commenced with Tony conducting a brief interview with the band and encouraging the musicians to explain something about their music. Uncanny Valley spoke about their love of extremes, both in terms of soft/loud dynamics and in terms of contrasting elements of sparseness and complexity, their aim being to open up creative spaces and create a tension in the music, particularly with regard to the dialogue between composition and improvisation. Like so many others before them the collective aim was to blur the borders between the two, so each is indistinguishable from the other.

The trio has yet to record an official album but examples of their work can be heard on Challenger’s website at http://www.tomchallenger.co.uk/projects/uncanny-valley and some of the material that can be heard there was to be performed tonight, albeit sometimes radically differently.

Uncanny Valley played a single unbroken set that included several examples of tunes being melded together to form a single piece. The opening segue of “Needles”, appropriately paired with “Scratches”, commenced with the lonely sound of Challenger’s tenor sax, this subsequently joined in dialogue by Donkin’s double bass as Steidle deployed a variety of small percussive devices to atmospheric effect. An example of Uncanny Valley’s love of dynamic contrasts came when Steidle picked up his sticks to commence a brutally explosive assault on his drum kit, entering into a garrulous debate with Challenger’s tenor as Donkin played the role of fulcrum. Following a blistering series of sax/drum exchanges Challenger took a well earned ‘breather’, handing the dialogue over to Steidle and Donkin, a relatively gentler exchange from which Steidle eventually dropped out to leave the sound of unaccompanied double bass. A revived Challenger then returned to the fray, the soft piping of his tenor sax, shadowed by Donkin’s bass and by the eerie sound of Steidle’s cymbal scrapes.  Gradually this three way conversation, gentle at first, became more animated and powerful, with snatches of melodic riffery suggestive of written material.

To these ears the intro to the next segue of “Scorpion” and “Doll Head” sounded pre-composed, this acting as the launch pad for a probing tenor sax solo buoyed by the constantly unfolding polyrhythmic flow of Steidle’s drumming, at times reminiscent of the great Jeff Williams. A passage of drum and double bass dialogue then led to to a further series of thrilling exchanges between Challenger and Steidle, the pair bouncing ideas off each other with Donkin again acting as the anchor. The trio then coalesced, building up a creative head of steam in this segue’s closing stages.

The lengthy “Anna”,commenced with a passage of unaccompanied tenor saxophone from Challenger, his sound initially in the instrument’s upper registers, sounding vulnerable and almost flute like. This led into a further section of solo playing, featuring an astonishing display of harmolodics and circular breathing techniques that even Evan Parker would have been proud of. Extended techniques were very much the order of the day here, Steidle again deploying small percussive devices, including kalimba or some other type of thumb piano, as Donkin produced deep, grainy bass sonorities with the bow as the rhythm team exchanged ideas. The return of Challenger on tenor then upped the energy levels once more, culminating in a powerful drum and percussion feature from the impressive Steidle. The gentle trio passage that followed represented ‘the calm after the storm’ , but Uncanny Valley were soon upping the ante once more with an incisive Challenger tenor solo fuelled by Donkin’s rapid bass figures and Steidle’s crisp drum beats.

The short final number was unannounced, but commenced with a dialogue between Challenger’s tenor and Donkin’s bowed bass, the saxophonist’s high register phrases answered by Donkin’s deeply sonorous arco counter melodies as Steidle provided subtly brushed drum commentary, this progressing to the use of mallets, then sticks, on cymbals to provide an anthemic chiming quality.

Having completed a short series of British dates Uncanny Valley are currently touring in Germany, where they will also record their début album. The results should be very interesting, especially in the light of tonight’s performance, where the music was more free and open ended than that currently available on Challenger’s website. Despite the presence of sheet music on stage, which was certainly referred to, tonight very much had the feel of a ‘free jazz’ performance, with the emphasis strongly on improvisation and spontaneous creation, an area to which Challenger and Donkin both seem to be increasingly drawn. With its emphasis on ‘extremes’ it was a demanding listen at times but the response of an audience best described as ‘small but select’ was highly positive.

I’ve long been an admirer of the playing of both these musicians but Steidle’s was a new name to me. The German is a fearless musical experimenter with healthy disregard for genres and an irreverent, almost punk like attitude. A highly accomplished technician he’s an energetic performer who delights in avoiding the obvious rhythms. His albums, such as “Ego Pills” by The Killing Popes, “Euphoria” by the trio Oliwood and “Ilog”, a duo set with turntablist Ignaz Schick, bristle with intention, energy and attitude and underline his uncompromising, non-conformist stance.

My thanks to Phil and Oli for speaking with me after the gig and to Phil for providing me with a review copy of his forthcoming album “Value”, by his international quartet Superfrown, featuring Joris Roelofs on bass clarinet, Wanja Slavin on alto sax and Martin France at the drums, an intriguing instrumental configuration to say the least. I plan to be taking a fuller look at this in due course.

Meanwhile the remaining dates on Uncanny Valley’s tour of Germany are listed below;


2. April 2019 Uncanny Valley w/ Tom Challenger, Phil Donkin @ Loft / Köln

3. April 2019 Uncanny Valley w/ Tom Challenger, Phil Donkin @ Übel & Gefährlich / Hamburg

5. April 2019 Uncanny Valley w/ Tom Challenger, Phil Donkin @ Aufsturtz / Berlin

6. April 2019 Uncanny Valley w/ Tom Challenger, Phil Donkin @ Saxstall / Pohrsdorf

7. April 2019 Uncanny Valley w/ Tom Challenger, Phil Donkin @ Dumont / Aachen

8. April 2019 Uncanny Valley w/ Tom Challenger, Phil Donkin recording at HfM Nürnberg
9. April 2019 Uncanny Valley w/ Tom Challenger, Phil Donkin recording at HfM Nürnberg
10. April 2019 Uncanny Valley w/ Tom Challenger, Phil Donkin recording at HfM Nürnberg

11. April 2019 Uncanny Valley w/ Tom Challenger, Phil Donkin @ Bar Betty / Nürnberg

13. April 2019 Uncanny Valley w/ Tom Challenger, Phil Donkin @ Knabenschule / Darmstadt

Further details at http://oliversteidle.com/live/

Get The Blessing - Get The Blessing, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 22/03/2019. Rating: 4 out of 5 "A beguiling and kaleidoscopic experience". Guest contributor Trevor Bannister brings an initiate's fresh insight into the music of Get The Blessing.

Get The Blessing
 
Progress Theatre, Reading, Berskshire, Friday 22 March 2019.
 
Pete Judge trumpet, Jake McMurchie tenor saxophone, Jim Barr bass, Clive Deamer drums
 
I take my seat in the Progress Theatre. Tonight’s band - Get The Blessing. What to expect? The simple answer is that ‘I don’t know’. The line-up looks interesting and the stage is set for their entry. No keyboard or guitar. The stage is littered with electronic gadgetry and mics are attached to the bells of each of the horns. I’ve been warned that they are loud. The publicity blurb tells me that they’ve been together for twenty years, have a fascination for early Ornette Coleman and a penchant for playing with coloured cellophane bags over their heads. It all seems a far cry from the 12-bar blues, Great American Songbook and jazz classics my ears are usually tuned to, however ‘far-out’ they may reach in the hands of someone like Gilad Atzmon.
 
Such generous applause greets the band’s entry; smartly attired in suits and a little older than I imagined, that I wonder if I’m alone in never having heard them before. Clive Deamer picks up a pair of mallets and sets up an exotic rhythm on his drums. WHAM the band are into their first number. I find myself swept along by its joyful exuberance, the richness of the sound and the depth of the ever-changing textures. Yes, its loud, but each instrument, perfectly balanced within the ensemble, shines through with the clarity of pure crystal. But, here’s the thing, surely, I can hear more than two front-line instruments? Messrs. Judge and McMurchie hold the key to the electronic wizardry at their feet and with the merest touch of a button summon whole sections of brass and reeds and the glorious sounds of an ethereal big band. ‘UK’ ends abruptly, a fanfare for the promise of further delights.
 
There’s no let up in pace or the urgency of expression as the band launch into ‘Sunwise’ and five other numbers that form the first set: ‘Equal and Opposite’, ‘Cococloud’, ‘Monkfish’, ‘Hayk’ and ‘Torque’.  It’s a beguiling and kaleidoscopic experience, which for me, reaches a peak of creative splendour with ‘Hayk’, a piece of quite extraordinary power and beauty.
 
‘Cellophant’ introduces the second set. It bursts into a short-lived flower, awakens the senses with its energy and vibrant colour, and expires suddenly. ‘Not with Standing’, a feature for the breathy, pure-toned tenor saxophone of Jake McMurchie, evolves more gently to an insistent groove laid down by Deamer on drums and bassist Jim Barr. Pete Judge’s trumpet and the electronics provide the mystical background effects. Clive Deamer brings this dream-like piece to a close with a single, perfectly-placed drumbeat.
 
‘Bugs in Amber’, there’s a title to whet the taste buds, spirals into a cyclone of sound. While ‘OC/DC’ calls for audience participation with a rapid hand-clapping beat that tests the stamina of all but the faint-hearted, ‘Bristopia’, with a dazzling lead from Pete Judge’s trumpet, sets the feet tapping with the abandon of a mad-cap West Country barn dance. By now the audience are in total thrall to the band; cheers greet the hard-driving punk of ‘The Waiting’, good-humoured groans accompany Jim Barr’s pun-ridden introduction to ‘Corniche’. But the party atmosphere doesn’t detract from the quality of the music, which moves towards a stunning close with ‘’If It Can It Will’ and ‘Einstein Action Figure’.
 
A fellow member of the audience broke the eerie silence which filled the Progress auditorium once the band had left the stage with a comment that probably spoke for us all, ‘I soon gave up trying to analyse each number,’ he admitted, ‘I just sat back and immersed myself in the sound’. What a sound and what an evening!
 
Once again the Progress Theatre proved its versatility as a venue that can accommodate all styles of jazz with equal success and thanks are due to Martin Noble for the excellent sound and lighting, and the Front of House Team for their warm hospitality and for ensuring that everything runs smoothly.

Get The Blessing, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 22/03/2019.

Get The Blessing

Friday, March 29, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Get The Blessing, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 22/03/2019.
Photography: Photograph by Zoë White

"A beguiling and kaleidoscopic experience". Guest contributor Trevor Bannister brings an initiate's fresh insight into the music of Get The Blessing.

Get The Blessing
 
Progress Theatre, Reading, Berskshire, Friday 22 March 2019.
 
Pete Judge trumpet, Jake McMurchie tenor saxophone, Jim Barr bass, Clive Deamer drums
 
I take my seat in the Progress Theatre. Tonight’s band - Get The Blessing. What to expect? The simple answer is that ‘I don’t know’. The line-up looks interesting and the stage is set for their entry. No keyboard or guitar. The stage is littered with electronic gadgetry and mics are attached to the bells of each of the horns. I’ve been warned that they are loud. The publicity blurb tells me that they’ve been together for twenty years, have a fascination for early Ornette Coleman and a penchant for playing with coloured cellophane bags over their heads. It all seems a far cry from the 12-bar blues, Great American Songbook and jazz classics my ears are usually tuned to, however ‘far-out’ they may reach in the hands of someone like Gilad Atzmon.
 
Such generous applause greets the band’s entry; smartly attired in suits and a little older than I imagined, that I wonder if I’m alone in never having heard them before. Clive Deamer picks up a pair of mallets and sets up an exotic rhythm on his drums. WHAM the band are into their first number. I find myself swept along by its joyful exuberance, the richness of the sound and the depth of the ever-changing textures. Yes, its loud, but each instrument, perfectly balanced within the ensemble, shines through with the clarity of pure crystal. But, here’s the thing, surely, I can hear more than two front-line instruments? Messrs. Judge and McMurchie hold the key to the electronic wizardry at their feet and with the merest touch of a button summon whole sections of brass and reeds and the glorious sounds of an ethereal big band. ‘UK’ ends abruptly, a fanfare for the promise of further delights.
 
There’s no let up in pace or the urgency of expression as the band launch into ‘Sunwise’ and five other numbers that form the first set: ‘Equal and Opposite’, ‘Cococloud’, ‘Monkfish’, ‘Hayk’ and ‘Torque’.  It’s a beguiling and kaleidoscopic experience, which for me, reaches a peak of creative splendour with ‘Hayk’, a piece of quite extraordinary power and beauty.
 
‘Cellophant’ introduces the second set. It bursts into a short-lived flower, awakens the senses with its energy and vibrant colour, and expires suddenly. ‘Not with Standing’, a feature for the breathy, pure-toned tenor saxophone of Jake McMurchie, evolves more gently to an insistent groove laid down by Deamer on drums and bassist Jim Barr. Pete Judge’s trumpet and the electronics provide the mystical background effects. Clive Deamer brings this dream-like piece to a close with a single, perfectly-placed drumbeat.
 
‘Bugs in Amber’, there’s a title to whet the taste buds, spirals into a cyclone of sound. While ‘OC/DC’ calls for audience participation with a rapid hand-clapping beat that tests the stamina of all but the faint-hearted, ‘Bristopia’, with a dazzling lead from Pete Judge’s trumpet, sets the feet tapping with the abandon of a mad-cap West Country barn dance. By now the audience are in total thrall to the band; cheers greet the hard-driving punk of ‘The Waiting’, good-humoured groans accompany Jim Barr’s pun-ridden introduction to ‘Corniche’. But the party atmosphere doesn’t detract from the quality of the music, which moves towards a stunning close with ‘’If It Can It Will’ and ‘Einstein Action Figure’.
 
A fellow member of the audience broke the eerie silence which filled the Progress auditorium once the band had left the stage with a comment that probably spoke for us all, ‘I soon gave up trying to analyse each number,’ he admitted, ‘I just sat back and immersed myself in the sound’. What a sound and what an evening!
 
Once again the Progress Theatre proved its versatility as a venue that can accommodate all styles of jazz with equal success and thanks are due to Martin Noble for the excellent sound and lighting, and the Front of House Team for their warm hospitality and for ensuring that everything runs smoothly.

Jim Blomfield Trio - Strange Beauty (Every Way OK) Rating: 4 out of 5 Conceptual in feel “Strange Beauty” has been stitched together with great care and possesses a strong narrative arc which blends its many influences into a seamless whole.

Jim Blomfield Trio

“Strange Beauty (Every Way OK)

(Pig Records PIG009)

“Strange Beauty (Every Way OK)” is the second album from the trio led by Bristol based pianist and composer Jim Blomfield and featuring bassist Roshan ‘Tosh’ Wijetunge and drummer Mark Whitlam, both leading figures on the jazz scene in Bristol and the South West.

It follows their well received début “Wave Forms and Sea Changes”, which also appeared on the Pig Records imprint, founded by Bristol saxophonist and composer Kevin Figes.

Besides leading his own groups Blomfield is also a prolific sideman on the jazz scene in Bristol and the wider South West. He has appeared on recordings by Figes, saxophonist Pete Canter, trumpeter Andy Hague and bassist Greg Cordez and has also worked with violinist/vocalist Azhaar Saffar, trumpeter Ben Thomas and Balanca, the Latin flavoured band led by vocalist and percussionist Cathy Jones. Blomfield has also been part of the Bristol based Resonations Big Band.

 An earlier album “Peaks and Troughs”  featured pieces for Blomfield’s Latin flavoured septet Septimbre alongside a set of compositions for a quartet that featured saxophonist Andy Sheppard, arguably Bristol’s best known jazz export.

“Strange Beauty” builds upon the success of its predecessor while widening the trio’s musical scope to reflect Blomfield’s interests in jazz, classical, rock and electronic music. It was recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in Somerset with Wijetunge and Blomfield producing and the recorded sound represents a considerable improvement on the début.

The new album features eight new Blomfield compositions plus his arrangement of classical composer Robert Schumann’s piece, “Intermezzo”. There are also three shorter pieces that have been described as “sound world vignettes”.

The music incorporates sound design, overdubbing and sampling as part of the compositional and improvisatory processes. Besides grand piano Blomfield is also credited with electric piano, Prophet 6 synthesiser and sound design, Wijetunge with double bass, synth bass, electronics and effects and Whitlam with drums, glockenspiel and drum programming. With its blend of acoustic and electronic sounds the music on “Strange Beauty” invites comparisons with the work of such forward looking contemporary piano trios as e.s.t., the Neil Cowley Trio, The Bad Plus and GoGo Penguin. Fans of any of these bands is likely to find much to enjoy here.

As a composer Blomfield is strongly influenced by his personal circumstances. He is the father of two autistic sons and his liner notes for “Strange Beauty” offer a perceptive insight into his creative process - and the reason behind the album title. Blomfield writes;
“For this, our second album, it fetl like a natural progression to use elements arising from my interest in electronica, synthesisers, sound design and field recordings alongside the standard instrumentation of the piano trio format.
What became apparent over time on the creation of the music, both in the act of composition and in the sound worlds created in the production process, was a strong autobiographical element – namely my journey with my two autistic sons Sam and Joseph (20 and 18 at the time of writing).
Autism burst into my life like a kaleidoscopic torrent of chaotic, fascinating, unfathomable, messy, isolating, disturbing ‘Strange Beauty’. Inevitably all these complex and emotional layers have informed much of the music on this album.
Perhaps, in retrospect, there was an unacknowledged desire to give my non-verbal sons a voice in my music and, in the world of autism, which often feels isolating for both the person with the condition and the parent alike, to feel a shared connection through making my sons part of the creative process.”

The press release accompanying my review copy of the CD offers further insights into the individual pieces of music that make up the album.

The album commences with the title track, which incorporates a loop of field recording from 2005 of the young Sam on a squeaky swing - “the loop connects me back to that time and place with a vivid resonance, with all the surrounding memories it evokes” explains Blomfield. The piece opens out to embrace more conventional instrumentation “using open sounding harmony, shifting melodic fragments in the piano and bass and cascading piano and glockenspiel arpeggios”. Blomfield describes the piece as “evoking a kind of spacious, melancholic beauty”, which is pretty much spot on as the shifting moods and timbres of the piece variously express yearning and nostalgia, but do so in a manner that is ultimately uplifting. With Wijetunge and Whitlam also playing key roles there’s something of e.s.t’s expressive openness about this piece.

Blomfield describes the following “Lung Rebellion” as “a kind of odd meter rock and Latin beats mash up with shifting time signatures”. The opening riff was written on the fly as Blomfield was warming up a piano prior to a gig. “I find most of my best ideas emerge spontaneously” states the pianist, “I then later explore further possibilities around the initial idea and shape them into an overall composition I’m happy with. Some pieces come together quickly – others, like this piece, go through a series of re-writes and developments during rehearsals and through playing live”.
“Lung Rebellion” is urgent and energetic and possesses something of an urban feel courtesy of Whitlam’s hip hop influenced drum grooves. The trio play with great energy and purpose with Blomfield’s percussive piano and Whitlam’s vigorous drumming really driving the music forward.
There’s something of the spirit of Cowley and The Bad Plus about this powerful piece.

“Intermezzo” is Blomfield’s arrangement of Schumann’s piano piece, which forms part of a larger work, the suite “Faschingsschwank aus Wien”. Blomfield explains that he notated the piece for jazz harmony many years ago but always found it challenging to solo over, only becoming confident enough to record it fairly recently. “The original is fast and fiery” Blomfield explains “whereas in this context I slowed the tempo right down, feeling that the beautiful tune and rich harmonies worked really well in a jazz ballad context.” He’s right, this is a beautiful interpretation featuring the leader’s lyrical touch at the piano, sometimes playing unaccompanied. Wijetunge and Whitlam, the latter deploying brushes with great sensitivity, provide well judged and sympathetic support.

“Scene and Herd” is the first of the three “sound world vignettes”, this one effectively combining the sound of Blomfield’s Prophet 6 synth with a field recording of a herd of Cretan goats, all with bells around their necks, that Blomfield documented on his phone. I’d have given the Whitlam the credit for the ‘cow bell’ percussive sounds if I hadn’t read the press release!

The introduction of these electronic components leads neatly into “Bits and Pieces” which its composer describes as “a jazz electronica piece that uses a hypnotic offbeat keyboard bass figure with an interlocking drum groove”. It’s a restless, fast moving, energetic piece with darting melodic phrases and jagged staccato rhythms and features the sounds of synthesiser, bowed acoustic bass and programmed drums. Blomfield has coined the phrase ‘jazztronica’ to describe it, while I was reminded of the post e.s.t. solo work of both Dan Berglund and Magnus Ostrom.

Both Berglund and Ostrom have acknowledged the influence of progressive rock on their solo projects and Wijetunge has described his leader’s music as ‘cinematic prog jazz’. “Mellow Drama” represents a good encapsulation of this as it mutates through a range of moods and musical styles from tentative solo piano to grandiose prog rock flourishes, to hard driving Cowley-esque passages.
The piece also features a field recording of Sam playing in water as the piece attempts to express “a general concept of conveying my experiences as a carer and parent - and the idea of trying to remain calm and centred in the crazy off-kilter strange disorientating world I had found myself immersed in”. There’s a relatively conventional piano solo mid tune, prior to a final section which sees “the piano looping a sequence of sonorous repetitive calm whilst the bass and drums play jagged thrash metal like phrases in independent time to the background figure, which decreases in tempo on each occurrence. Chaos and calm finally meet together on the last note”.
“Mellow Drama” is an impressive, dramatic, multi faceted piece of work with the field recording of Sam skilfully stitched into the overall fabric of the music.

“Full Circle” is based around a Latin inflected ‘montuno’ piano figure and began life as a larger more ‘epic’ arrangement. It’s a tune that the trio have played live on numerous occasions, gradually simplifying the arrangement. The recorded version possesses an uplifting, unpretentious charm and acts as the vehicle for an expansive piano solo from Blomfield and a melodic bass feature from the excellent Wijetunge. The arrangement makes judicious use of electric keyboards but its relative simplicity represents an effective contrast with the musical and emotional complexities of the previous “Mellow Drama”.

The title of “Boarded Up (Stranger Beauty” is an oblique nod to the Scottish electronic duo Boards of Canada, a primary influence on this aspect of Blomfield’s music making. The album’s second ‘sound world vignette’ is the result of Blomfield improvising in the studio on the Prophet 6 as Wijetunge, utilising an effects pedal, and Whitlam respond. Post production Wijetunge and Blomfield edited the track down to create this tantalisingly short vignette, a piece similar in feel to the earlier ‘jazztronica’ of “Bits and Pieces”.

“Every Way OK” is a ballad that Blomfield describes as “being written quite quickly, fairly straightforward in character,  with the odd unexpected turn of phrase or harmonic shift. Our approach was to the tune rhythmically was to play it more from a rock inflected angle than purely as a jazz ballad” Once again the trio’s methods work to perfection as they treat Blomfield’s beautiful and arresting theme to a performance that combines the elegance of jazz with the anthemic power of rock.

“Free Fall” is another effective amalgam of Blomfield’s various influences. Based around a cycle of arpeggiated chord patterns that Blomfield originally wrote on the Prophet 6 these are first played by a combination of synth and acoustic piano against a backdrop of synth bass and a programmed drum loop, the latter helping to give the music something of a hip hop feel, against which Blomfield’s flowing melodies are juxtaposed. A more intense central section sees Whitlam laying down a more forceful and dynamic drum groove above which Blomfield stages something of a piano/synth battle. The track was pieced together from multiple takes and moulded into its finished form via various post production techniques, the studio itself becoming part of the compositional process.

“Stillness in the Sadness” is the last of the ‘sound world vignettes’  and arose from a series of improvised solo piano pieces that Blomfield recorded at the studio during the downtime between the trio sessions. Here a melancholic piano theme is manipulated via post production techniques, including reversed audio, to create something haunting, eerie, and, in keeping with the album title, strangely beautiful. Blomfield says of the finished piece;
“Sometimes in our lives we are haunted by resonances of sadness or loss – but if we can sit with that, with acceptance rather than resistance, we can experience, if only for a moment, a sense of tranquillity…”
Again he’s right, there’s something of the ambient, zen like calm of Eno’s “Another Green World” about this particular ‘vignette’.

The album concludes with “Buddha in the Barcode”, a piece constructed around Blomfield’s arpeggiated piano motifs. The composer speaks of it as “a personal favourite” and of it “conveying both simplicity and complexity simultaneously”. With Wijetunge (who enjoys a brief solo cameo) and Whitlam providing characteristically excellent support the piece moves seamlessly up and down the gears as hard driving, fiercely rhythmic passages contrast with gentler, more contemplative moments.

Having seen him perform live on numerous occasions in a variety of jazz contexts (albeit never as a leader) I have always regarded Blomfield to be an excellent piano soloist, always fluent, imaginative and inventive and rarely playing the obvious licks. Naturally he brings these qualities to this recording but “Strange Beauty” also offers so much more, with Blomfield consolidating his reputation as a composer of considerable ability and stature.

Conceptual in feel “Strange Beauty” has been stitched together with great care and possesses a strong narrative arc which blends its many influences into a seamless whole. While it is helpful to know the background behind its inspirations the music stands up superbly in its own right with every piece succeeding in its objectives.

Although the music is virtually all Blomfield’s this is a highly democratic and well integrated trio with Wijetunge, as both bassist and co-producer, and Whitlam playing a huge part in the creative process as the threesome take full advantage of the studio facilities available to them. The electronic aspects of the recording are thoroughly convincing, whether in the three ‘sound world vignettes’ or as part of the fabric of the lengthier through composed pieces.

“Strange Beauty (Every Way OK)” represents a major statement from Jim Blomfield and deserves to bring him to the attention of the national jazz audience.

Strange Beauty (Every Way OK)

Jim Blomfield Trio

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Strange Beauty (Every Way OK)

Conceptual in feel “Strange Beauty” has been stitched together with great care and possesses a strong narrative arc which blends its many influences into a seamless whole.

Jim Blomfield Trio

“Strange Beauty (Every Way OK)

(Pig Records PIG009)

“Strange Beauty (Every Way OK)” is the second album from the trio led by Bristol based pianist and composer Jim Blomfield and featuring bassist Roshan ‘Tosh’ Wijetunge and drummer Mark Whitlam, both leading figures on the jazz scene in Bristol and the South West.

It follows their well received début “Wave Forms and Sea Changes”, which also appeared on the Pig Records imprint, founded by Bristol saxophonist and composer Kevin Figes.

Besides leading his own groups Blomfield is also a prolific sideman on the jazz scene in Bristol and the wider South West. He has appeared on recordings by Figes, saxophonist Pete Canter, trumpeter Andy Hague and bassist Greg Cordez and has also worked with violinist/vocalist Azhaar Saffar, trumpeter Ben Thomas and Balanca, the Latin flavoured band led by vocalist and percussionist Cathy Jones. Blomfield has also been part of the Bristol based Resonations Big Band.

 An earlier album “Peaks and Troughs”  featured pieces for Blomfield’s Latin flavoured septet Septimbre alongside a set of compositions for a quartet that featured saxophonist Andy Sheppard, arguably Bristol’s best known jazz export.

“Strange Beauty” builds upon the success of its predecessor while widening the trio’s musical scope to reflect Blomfield’s interests in jazz, classical, rock and electronic music. It was recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in Somerset with Wijetunge and Blomfield producing and the recorded sound represents a considerable improvement on the début.

The new album features eight new Blomfield compositions plus his arrangement of classical composer Robert Schumann’s piece, “Intermezzo”. There are also three shorter pieces that have been described as “sound world vignettes”.

The music incorporates sound design, overdubbing and sampling as part of the compositional and improvisatory processes. Besides grand piano Blomfield is also credited with electric piano, Prophet 6 synthesiser and sound design, Wijetunge with double bass, synth bass, electronics and effects and Whitlam with drums, glockenspiel and drum programming. With its blend of acoustic and electronic sounds the music on “Strange Beauty” invites comparisons with the work of such forward looking contemporary piano trios as e.s.t., the Neil Cowley Trio, The Bad Plus and GoGo Penguin. Fans of any of these bands is likely to find much to enjoy here.

As a composer Blomfield is strongly influenced by his personal circumstances. He is the father of two autistic sons and his liner notes for “Strange Beauty” offer a perceptive insight into his creative process - and the reason behind the album title. Blomfield writes;
“For this, our second album, it fetl like a natural progression to use elements arising from my interest in electronica, synthesisers, sound design and field recordings alongside the standard instrumentation of the piano trio format.
What became apparent over time on the creation of the music, both in the act of composition and in the sound worlds created in the production process, was a strong autobiographical element – namely my journey with my two autistic sons Sam and Joseph (20 and 18 at the time of writing).
Autism burst into my life like a kaleidoscopic torrent of chaotic, fascinating, unfathomable, messy, isolating, disturbing ‘Strange Beauty’. Inevitably all these complex and emotional layers have informed much of the music on this album.
Perhaps, in retrospect, there was an unacknowledged desire to give my non-verbal sons a voice in my music and, in the world of autism, which often feels isolating for both the person with the condition and the parent alike, to feel a shared connection through making my sons part of the creative process.”

The press release accompanying my review copy of the CD offers further insights into the individual pieces of music that make up the album.

The album commences with the title track, which incorporates a loop of field recording from 2005 of the young Sam on a squeaky swing - “the loop connects me back to that time and place with a vivid resonance, with all the surrounding memories it evokes” explains Blomfield. The piece opens out to embrace more conventional instrumentation “using open sounding harmony, shifting melodic fragments in the piano and bass and cascading piano and glockenspiel arpeggios”. Blomfield describes the piece as “evoking a kind of spacious, melancholic beauty”, which is pretty much spot on as the shifting moods and timbres of the piece variously express yearning and nostalgia, but do so in a manner that is ultimately uplifting. With Wijetunge and Whitlam also playing key roles there’s something of e.s.t’s expressive openness about this piece.

Blomfield describes the following “Lung Rebellion” as “a kind of odd meter rock and Latin beats mash up with shifting time signatures”. The opening riff was written on the fly as Blomfield was warming up a piano prior to a gig. “I find most of my best ideas emerge spontaneously” states the pianist, “I then later explore further possibilities around the initial idea and shape them into an overall composition I’m happy with. Some pieces come together quickly – others, like this piece, go through a series of re-writes and developments during rehearsals and through playing live”.
“Lung Rebellion” is urgent and energetic and possesses something of an urban feel courtesy of Whitlam’s hip hop influenced drum grooves. The trio play with great energy and purpose with Blomfield’s percussive piano and Whitlam’s vigorous drumming really driving the music forward.
There’s something of the spirit of Cowley and The Bad Plus about this powerful piece.

“Intermezzo” is Blomfield’s arrangement of Schumann’s piano piece, which forms part of a larger work, the suite “Faschingsschwank aus Wien”. Blomfield explains that he notated the piece for jazz harmony many years ago but always found it challenging to solo over, only becoming confident enough to record it fairly recently. “The original is fast and fiery” Blomfield explains “whereas in this context I slowed the tempo right down, feeling that the beautiful tune and rich harmonies worked really well in a jazz ballad context.” He’s right, this is a beautiful interpretation featuring the leader’s lyrical touch at the piano, sometimes playing unaccompanied. Wijetunge and Whitlam, the latter deploying brushes with great sensitivity, provide well judged and sympathetic support.

“Scene and Herd” is the first of the three “sound world vignettes”, this one effectively combining the sound of Blomfield’s Prophet 6 synth with a field recording of a herd of Cretan goats, all with bells around their necks, that Blomfield documented on his phone. I’d have given the Whitlam the credit for the ‘cow bell’ percussive sounds if I hadn’t read the press release!

The introduction of these electronic components leads neatly into “Bits and Pieces” which its composer describes as “a jazz electronica piece that uses a hypnotic offbeat keyboard bass figure with an interlocking drum groove”. It’s a restless, fast moving, energetic piece with darting melodic phrases and jagged staccato rhythms and features the sounds of synthesiser, bowed acoustic bass and programmed drums. Blomfield has coined the phrase ‘jazztronica’ to describe it, while I was reminded of the post e.s.t. solo work of both Dan Berglund and Magnus Ostrom.

Both Berglund and Ostrom have acknowledged the influence of progressive rock on their solo projects and Wijetunge has described his leader’s music as ‘cinematic prog jazz’. “Mellow Drama” represents a good encapsulation of this as it mutates through a range of moods and musical styles from tentative solo piano to grandiose prog rock flourishes, to hard driving Cowley-esque passages.
The piece also features a field recording of Sam playing in water as the piece attempts to express “a general concept of conveying my experiences as a carer and parent - and the idea of trying to remain calm and centred in the crazy off-kilter strange disorientating world I had found myself immersed in”. There’s a relatively conventional piano solo mid tune, prior to a final section which sees “the piano looping a sequence of sonorous repetitive calm whilst the bass and drums play jagged thrash metal like phrases in independent time to the background figure, which decreases in tempo on each occurrence. Chaos and calm finally meet together on the last note”.
“Mellow Drama” is an impressive, dramatic, multi faceted piece of work with the field recording of Sam skilfully stitched into the overall fabric of the music.

“Full Circle” is based around a Latin inflected ‘montuno’ piano figure and began life as a larger more ‘epic’ arrangement. It’s a tune that the trio have played live on numerous occasions, gradually simplifying the arrangement. The recorded version possesses an uplifting, unpretentious charm and acts as the vehicle for an expansive piano solo from Blomfield and a melodic bass feature from the excellent Wijetunge. The arrangement makes judicious use of electric keyboards but its relative simplicity represents an effective contrast with the musical and emotional complexities of the previous “Mellow Drama”.

The title of “Boarded Up (Stranger Beauty” is an oblique nod to the Scottish electronic duo Boards of Canada, a primary influence on this aspect of Blomfield’s music making. The album’s second ‘sound world vignette’ is the result of Blomfield improvising in the studio on the Prophet 6 as Wijetunge, utilising an effects pedal, and Whitlam respond. Post production Wijetunge and Blomfield edited the track down to create this tantalisingly short vignette, a piece similar in feel to the earlier ‘jazztronica’ of “Bits and Pieces”.

“Every Way OK” is a ballad that Blomfield describes as “being written quite quickly, fairly straightforward in character,  with the odd unexpected turn of phrase or harmonic shift. Our approach was to the tune rhythmically was to play it more from a rock inflected angle than purely as a jazz ballad” Once again the trio’s methods work to perfection as they treat Blomfield’s beautiful and arresting theme to a performance that combines the elegance of jazz with the anthemic power of rock.

“Free Fall” is another effective amalgam of Blomfield’s various influences. Based around a cycle of arpeggiated chord patterns that Blomfield originally wrote on the Prophet 6 these are first played by a combination of synth and acoustic piano against a backdrop of synth bass and a programmed drum loop, the latter helping to give the music something of a hip hop feel, against which Blomfield’s flowing melodies are juxtaposed. A more intense central section sees Whitlam laying down a more forceful and dynamic drum groove above which Blomfield stages something of a piano/synth battle. The track was pieced together from multiple takes and moulded into its finished form via various post production techniques, the studio itself becoming part of the compositional process.

“Stillness in the Sadness” is the last of the ‘sound world vignettes’  and arose from a series of improvised solo piano pieces that Blomfield recorded at the studio during the downtime between the trio sessions. Here a melancholic piano theme is manipulated via post production techniques, including reversed audio, to create something haunting, eerie, and, in keeping with the album title, strangely beautiful. Blomfield says of the finished piece;
“Sometimes in our lives we are haunted by resonances of sadness or loss – but if we can sit with that, with acceptance rather than resistance, we can experience, if only for a moment, a sense of tranquillity…”
Again he’s right, there’s something of the ambient, zen like calm of Eno’s “Another Green World” about this particular ‘vignette’.

The album concludes with “Buddha in the Barcode”, a piece constructed around Blomfield’s arpeggiated piano motifs. The composer speaks of it as “a personal favourite” and of it “conveying both simplicity and complexity simultaneously”. With Wijetunge (who enjoys a brief solo cameo) and Whitlam providing characteristically excellent support the piece moves seamlessly up and down the gears as hard driving, fiercely rhythmic passages contrast with gentler, more contemplative moments.

Having seen him perform live on numerous occasions in a variety of jazz contexts (albeit never as a leader) I have always regarded Blomfield to be an excellent piano soloist, always fluent, imaginative and inventive and rarely playing the obvious licks. Naturally he brings these qualities to this recording but “Strange Beauty” also offers so much more, with Blomfield consolidating his reputation as a composer of considerable ability and stature.

Conceptual in feel “Strange Beauty” has been stitched together with great care and possesses a strong narrative arc which blends its many influences into a seamless whole. While it is helpful to know the background behind its inspirations the music stands up superbly in its own right with every piece succeeding in its objectives.

Although the music is virtually all Blomfield’s this is a highly democratic and well integrated trio with Wijetunge, as both bassist and co-producer, and Whitlam playing a huge part in the creative process as the threesome take full advantage of the studio facilities available to them. The electronic aspects of the recording are thoroughly convincing, whether in the three ‘sound world vignettes’ or as part of the fabric of the lengthier through composed pieces.

“Strange Beauty (Every Way OK)” represents a major statement from Jim Blomfield and deserves to bring him to the attention of the national jazz audience.

Chris Potter - Circuits Rating: 4-5 out of 5 With its skilful mix of acoustic and electronic sounds “Circuits” is a hugely successful album that combines intelligence and sophistication with raw excitement in pretty much equal measures.

Chris Potter

“Circuits”

(Edition Records EDN1123)

Chris Potter (reeds, guitar, keyboards, percussion, sampler), Eric Harland (drums), James Francies (keyboards) plus guest Linley Marthe (electric bass).


It represents a considerable coup for the leading British jazz / classical label Edition to have acquired the signature of the leading American saxophonist, composer and bandleader Chris Potter.

Acknowledged as one of the world’s leading contemporary saxophonists Potter has been a huge influence on other saxophone players and is regarded by many as the natural heir to the late, great Michael Brecker.

Prior to his move to Edition Potter had been signed to ECM for whom he recorded a trio of excellent albums, “The Sirens” (2013), “Imaginary Cities” (2015) and “The Dreamer Is The Dream”, the last of these providing the bulk of the material at a powerful performance by a stellar quartet at that year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival, for my money the best show of the entire event.

Potter began his career in the band of veteran bebop trumpeter Red Rodney and has since appeared as a sideman on more than fifty albums. He has enjoyed a particularly creative musical relationship with Dave Holland, appearing on many of the bassist/composer’s recordings and collaborating with him in the all star quartet Aziza (with drummer Eric Harland and guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke).

Potter also enjoyed a lengthy tenure with guitarist Pat Metheny’s Unity Band, a stint that helped to raise his profile enormously. Others with whom he has worked extensively include trumpeter Dave Douglas, bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Paul Motian.

The intensity of Potter’s 2017 performance in Cheltenham alongside pianist David Virelles, bassist Joe Martin and drummer Nasheet Waits was somewhat at odds with ECM’s cool aesthetic and in many respects it wasn’t too surprising to see Potter moving on from the label. It says much for the integrity of Edition that a musician of his international standing should then choose to move to a British independent.

That said Potter has close ties with the UK, having worked as a visiting tutor at Birmingham Conservatoire. In 2012 his ‘Chris Potter Ensemble’, featuring himself and a band of Birmingham students, appeared at the 2012 Cheltenham Jazz Festival playing arrangements of material from Potter’s 2007 album “A Song For Anyone”.

Potter explains the inspiration behind “Circuits”, his twentieth album as a leader, thus;
“This is an idea that I’ve had for some time. I was kinda itching to get back into grooveland and I was talking to Eric Harland about it. We’ve been working together for many years and he recommended calling James Francies, who I was not familiar with, and it just immediately worked. This album feels like a turning point in musical direction for me, so it feels very fortunate to have some fresh faces involved to help support it. To me, the album has a feeling of being unconstrained by convention.”

Francies, born in Houston but now based in New York is only twenty four and something of a rising star. His début album “Flight”, released on the prestigious Blue Note label, mixes jazz, soul, funk and hip hop influences and features a number of illustrious sidemen including Potter. He cites fellow keyboard players, and Houston natives, Jason Moran and Robert Glasper as major influences on his sound.

The “Circuits” band has been cited as being an updated version of Potter’s Underground quartet featuring keyboard player Craig Taborn, drummer Nate Smith and guitarist Wayne Krantz (later Adam Rogers). It renews Potter’s fascination with electric instrumentation with the leader credited with tenor & soprano saxes, clarinets, flute, sampler, guitar, keyboards and percussion. Francies’ contributes electric keyboards while guest Marthe adds his electric bass groove to four of the album’s nine tracks.

Album opener “Invocation” acts as a kind of overture with Potter overdubbing himself on a variety of reeds with bass clarinet prominent in the chorale like arrangement.

Potter readily admits the influence of hip hop and electronica on this album and this is immediately apparent on the following track, “Hold It”, as Harland lays down a powerful, urban groove, enhanced by Francies’ inventive keyboard texturing. Potter is primarily featured on tenor, his sound urgent and direct but with subtle overdubs on flute finding their way into an already busy mix. Potter solos on tenor with power, fluency and authority and the overall group sound is sometimes reminiscent of fellow saxophonist Donny McCaslin’s output on the instrumental albums “Casting For Gravity” “Fast Future” and “Beyond Now”.with the quartet that would eventually become known as David Bowie’s ‘Black Star’ band.

With Marthe added on electric bass there’s little let up in terms of energy and intensity on “The Nerve” which commences with Potter processing the sound of his alto flute through a loop pedal to create a kind of layered pipe organ effect. Harland and Marthe then combine to create an off kilter funk groove that facilitates another forceful solo from Potter on tenor. The leader is followed by the impressive Francies on acoustic piano, but the young musician provides keyboard colour and texture elsewhere too on this frequently stunning blend of acoustic and electric sounds.

Written by Amenoudji Joseph Vicky “Koutome” brings an overt West African influence to the proceedings. Potter toured extensively with the Benin born guitarist Lionel Loueke as part of the Aziza quartet and it was Loueke who introduced Potter to the records of the Beninese group Orchestre-Poly-Rhythmo de Cotonou. “Koutome” is sourced from their repertoire with the Mauritius born Marthe bringing an authentic African element to the arrangement.
“It’s a very simple kinda groove”, explained Potter to Stuart Nicholson in an interview for the March 2019 edition of Jazzwise Magazine, “but the way it fits is a little different to anything I’d heard. It’s like a way of using this simple material with the rhythmic accents falling with the melody against the bass line, so I wanted to bring that in as a kind of contrast”.
There’s an unmistakable West African lilt to the music and the arrangement allows the rhythm team of Marthe and Harland to demonstrate their virtuosity. Potter largely features on tenor and Francies on electric piano, but there’s an element of judicious overdubbing too on a piece that is infectious in its rhythmic vibrancy and essential in its joyousness.

The title track commences with “Revolver” style backwards tape loops, the “Circuits” of the title perhaps. Harland’s drums then crash in as he and Marthe eventually establish a propulsive groove as Potter’s tenor cuts a swathe through the swirling electronics. There’s an edginess and urgency about this track that is wildly invigorating as the leader cuts loose on tenor, fuelled by Marthe’s deep grooves and Harland’s dynamic drumming. There’s little let up in terms of energy as Harland and Marthe provide the rhythmic ferment behind a wildly inventive synthesiser solo from Francies. Harland himself then cuts loose with a truly volcanic outburst behind the kit and there’s a brief cameo from Marthe at the bass prior to a high energy collective coda. “Circuits”, the track is truly electrifying, a genuine ‘tour de force’.

In his interview with Nicholson Potter also mentions the influence of James Brown, Herbie Hancock and Weather Report and some of this feeds into “Green Pastures” with its rumbling synth bass grooves and effective use of bass clarinet. But the piece is best defined by the leader’s soaring, anthemic tenor and Francies’ quasi-orchestral, Zawinul-esque keyboards.

“Queens of Brooklyn” is the album’s one true ballad, an urban eulogy that features the leader on various reeds, including soprano sax, bass clarinet and flute as Francies, on acoustic piano, and Harland offer empathic support. The latter combines exquisite cymbal work with a smattering of hip hop groove.

The restless “Exclamation” restores the energy levels once more with its darting, scurrying melody lines, Marthe’s ominous bass figures and Harland’s crisply frenetic drumming. It’s a maelstrom of activity topped off first by Potter’s garrulous sax soloing and then by Francies’ contributions on delightfully filthy sounding Rhodes and mercurial analogue synth.

It’s back to the core trio for the closing “Pressed For Time”, written by Francies. The younger man’s hip hop background finds expression in Harland’s syncopated grooves but there’s also a hint of Weather Report in the multi faceted keyboards. As the piece gathers momentum, with Harland a kinetic bundle of energy behind the kit, the leader digs in on tenor, as powerful and fluent as ever and still bursting with ideas. Francies himself figures strongly on Rhodes in a feisty dialogue with the hard hitting Harland.

With its skilful mix of acoustic and electronic sounds “Circuits” is a hugely successful album that combines intelligence and sophistication with raw excitement in pretty much equal measures. The electronic elements (the texturing sampling, looping, layering etc.) are carefully constructed but never detract from the energy and spontaneity of the performances. For all the electronics this is music with a jazz heart, played with fire, passion and precision. The standard of the musicianship is exceptional throughout, with Potter, Harland, Francies and Marthe all performing brilliantly.  In turn they are well served by the engineering team of Josh Giunta, Chris Allen and Greg Calbi.

“Circuits” is surely destined to become one of the jewels in Edition’s crown, and no doubt one of its biggest sellers to date. It is highly recommended to all but the most dyed in the wool jazz traditionalists.

And to any adventurous rock fans who may be reading this, having come to the music via Donny McCaslin’s connection with David Bowie, this album is recommended to you too.

Potter is touring the “Circuits” material extensively in the US and Europe, sometimes with Harland and Francies but more often accompanied by players drawn from a pool of musicians including Craig Taborn (keyboards), Tim LeFebvre (bass) and Justin Brown (drums).

The remaining dates are listed below. Unfortunately, and somewhat ironically, there are no scheduled performances in the UK at present, but at least we Brits still have this splendid release – on a UK label – to enjoy.


27th March 19 - Vaulx en Velin, France (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
28th March 19 - Valence, France (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
29th March 19 - Vernouillet, France (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
30th March 19 - Roanne, France (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
31st March 19 - Auditorium del Conservatorrio Piacenza, Italy (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
1st April 19 - Porgy and Bess Vienna, Austria (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
3rd April 19 - Casa da Musica Porto, Portugal (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
4th April 19 - Rotterdam, Netherlands (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
5th April 19 - Tilburg, Netherlands (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
6th April 19 - Utrecht, Netherlands (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
8th April 19 - Moods Zurich, Switerland (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
9th April 19 - Blue Note Milano Milan, Italy (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
11th April 19 - Theater Russelhiwm Russelsheim, Germany (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
12th April 19 - Berlin, Germany (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
13th April 19 - Nasjonal Jazzscene Vitoria Oslo, Norway (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
15th April 19 - Jazzit Musik Salzburg, Austria (Lefevbre and Brown)
16th April 19 - New Morning Paris, France (Lefevbre and Brown)
17th April 19 - Rijkevorsel, Belgium (Lefevbre and Brown)
26th - 27th April 19 - Regatta Bar Boston, MA
30th April - 1st May 19 - Blues Alley Washington, DC
2nd - 5th May 19 - Jazz Standard NY, NY
17th May 19 - Performance Hall at Logan Centre Chicago, IL
18th May 19 - Union Colony Civic Ctr Greenley, CO
21st June 19 - Miner Auditorium - SF Jazz SF, CA (Francies & Harland)


For more information please visit;  https://editionrecords.com/releases/chris-potter-circuits/

Circuits

Chris Potter

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4-5 out of 5

Circuits

With its skilful mix of acoustic and electronic sounds “Circuits” is a hugely successful album that combines intelligence and sophistication with raw excitement in pretty much equal measures.

Chris Potter

“Circuits”

(Edition Records EDN1123)

Chris Potter (reeds, guitar, keyboards, percussion, sampler), Eric Harland (drums), James Francies (keyboards) plus guest Linley Marthe (electric bass).


It represents a considerable coup for the leading British jazz / classical label Edition to have acquired the signature of the leading American saxophonist, composer and bandleader Chris Potter.

Acknowledged as one of the world’s leading contemporary saxophonists Potter has been a huge influence on other saxophone players and is regarded by many as the natural heir to the late, great Michael Brecker.

Prior to his move to Edition Potter had been signed to ECM for whom he recorded a trio of excellent albums, “The Sirens” (2013), “Imaginary Cities” (2015) and “The Dreamer Is The Dream”, the last of these providing the bulk of the material at a powerful performance by a stellar quartet at that year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival, for my money the best show of the entire event.

Potter began his career in the band of veteran bebop trumpeter Red Rodney and has since appeared as a sideman on more than fifty albums. He has enjoyed a particularly creative musical relationship with Dave Holland, appearing on many of the bassist/composer’s recordings and collaborating with him in the all star quartet Aziza (with drummer Eric Harland and guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke).

Potter also enjoyed a lengthy tenure with guitarist Pat Metheny’s Unity Band, a stint that helped to raise his profile enormously. Others with whom he has worked extensively include trumpeter Dave Douglas, bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Paul Motian.

The intensity of Potter’s 2017 performance in Cheltenham alongside pianist David Virelles, bassist Joe Martin and drummer Nasheet Waits was somewhat at odds with ECM’s cool aesthetic and in many respects it wasn’t too surprising to see Potter moving on from the label. It says much for the integrity of Edition that a musician of his international standing should then choose to move to a British independent.

That said Potter has close ties with the UK, having worked as a visiting tutor at Birmingham Conservatoire. In 2012 his ‘Chris Potter Ensemble’, featuring himself and a band of Birmingham students, appeared at the 2012 Cheltenham Jazz Festival playing arrangements of material from Potter’s 2007 album “A Song For Anyone”.

Potter explains the inspiration behind “Circuits”, his twentieth album as a leader, thus;
“This is an idea that I’ve had for some time. I was kinda itching to get back into grooveland and I was talking to Eric Harland about it. We’ve been working together for many years and he recommended calling James Francies, who I was not familiar with, and it just immediately worked. This album feels like a turning point in musical direction for me, so it feels very fortunate to have some fresh faces involved to help support it. To me, the album has a feeling of being unconstrained by convention.”

Francies, born in Houston but now based in New York is only twenty four and something of a rising star. His début album “Flight”, released on the prestigious Blue Note label, mixes jazz, soul, funk and hip hop influences and features a number of illustrious sidemen including Potter. He cites fellow keyboard players, and Houston natives, Jason Moran and Robert Glasper as major influences on his sound.

The “Circuits” band has been cited as being an updated version of Potter’s Underground quartet featuring keyboard player Craig Taborn, drummer Nate Smith and guitarist Wayne Krantz (later Adam Rogers). It renews Potter’s fascination with electric instrumentation with the leader credited with tenor & soprano saxes, clarinets, flute, sampler, guitar, keyboards and percussion. Francies’ contributes electric keyboards while guest Marthe adds his electric bass groove to four of the album’s nine tracks.

Album opener “Invocation” acts as a kind of overture with Potter overdubbing himself on a variety of reeds with bass clarinet prominent in the chorale like arrangement.

Potter readily admits the influence of hip hop and electronica on this album and this is immediately apparent on the following track, “Hold It”, as Harland lays down a powerful, urban groove, enhanced by Francies’ inventive keyboard texturing. Potter is primarily featured on tenor, his sound urgent and direct but with subtle overdubs on flute finding their way into an already busy mix. Potter solos on tenor with power, fluency and authority and the overall group sound is sometimes reminiscent of fellow saxophonist Donny McCaslin’s output on the instrumental albums “Casting For Gravity” “Fast Future” and “Beyond Now”.with the quartet that would eventually become known as David Bowie’s ‘Black Star’ band.

With Marthe added on electric bass there’s little let up in terms of energy and intensity on “The Nerve” which commences with Potter processing the sound of his alto flute through a loop pedal to create a kind of layered pipe organ effect. Harland and Marthe then combine to create an off kilter funk groove that facilitates another forceful solo from Potter on tenor. The leader is followed by the impressive Francies on acoustic piano, but the young musician provides keyboard colour and texture elsewhere too on this frequently stunning blend of acoustic and electric sounds.

Written by Amenoudji Joseph Vicky “Koutome” brings an overt West African influence to the proceedings. Potter toured extensively with the Benin born guitarist Lionel Loueke as part of the Aziza quartet and it was Loueke who introduced Potter to the records of the Beninese group Orchestre-Poly-Rhythmo de Cotonou. “Koutome” is sourced from their repertoire with the Mauritius born Marthe bringing an authentic African element to the arrangement.
“It’s a very simple kinda groove”, explained Potter to Stuart Nicholson in an interview for the March 2019 edition of Jazzwise Magazine, “but the way it fits is a little different to anything I’d heard. It’s like a way of using this simple material with the rhythmic accents falling with the melody against the bass line, so I wanted to bring that in as a kind of contrast”.
There’s an unmistakable West African lilt to the music and the arrangement allows the rhythm team of Marthe and Harland to demonstrate their virtuosity. Potter largely features on tenor and Francies on electric piano, but there’s an element of judicious overdubbing too on a piece that is infectious in its rhythmic vibrancy and essential in its joyousness.

The title track commences with “Revolver” style backwards tape loops, the “Circuits” of the title perhaps. Harland’s drums then crash in as he and Marthe eventually establish a propulsive groove as Potter’s tenor cuts a swathe through the swirling electronics. There’s an edginess and urgency about this track that is wildly invigorating as the leader cuts loose on tenor, fuelled by Marthe’s deep grooves and Harland’s dynamic drumming. There’s little let up in terms of energy as Harland and Marthe provide the rhythmic ferment behind a wildly inventive synthesiser solo from Francies. Harland himself then cuts loose with a truly volcanic outburst behind the kit and there’s a brief cameo from Marthe at the bass prior to a high energy collective coda. “Circuits”, the track is truly electrifying, a genuine ‘tour de force’.

In his interview with Nicholson Potter also mentions the influence of James Brown, Herbie Hancock and Weather Report and some of this feeds into “Green Pastures” with its rumbling synth bass grooves and effective use of bass clarinet. But the piece is best defined by the leader’s soaring, anthemic tenor and Francies’ quasi-orchestral, Zawinul-esque keyboards.

“Queens of Brooklyn” is the album’s one true ballad, an urban eulogy that features the leader on various reeds, including soprano sax, bass clarinet and flute as Francies, on acoustic piano, and Harland offer empathic support. The latter combines exquisite cymbal work with a smattering of hip hop groove.

The restless “Exclamation” restores the energy levels once more with its darting, scurrying melody lines, Marthe’s ominous bass figures and Harland’s crisply frenetic drumming. It’s a maelstrom of activity topped off first by Potter’s garrulous sax soloing and then by Francies’ contributions on delightfully filthy sounding Rhodes and mercurial analogue synth.

It’s back to the core trio for the closing “Pressed For Time”, written by Francies. The younger man’s hip hop background finds expression in Harland’s syncopated grooves but there’s also a hint of Weather Report in the multi faceted keyboards. As the piece gathers momentum, with Harland a kinetic bundle of energy behind the kit, the leader digs in on tenor, as powerful and fluent as ever and still bursting with ideas. Francies himself figures strongly on Rhodes in a feisty dialogue with the hard hitting Harland.

With its skilful mix of acoustic and electronic sounds “Circuits” is a hugely successful album that combines intelligence and sophistication with raw excitement in pretty much equal measures. The electronic elements (the texturing sampling, looping, layering etc.) are carefully constructed but never detract from the energy and spontaneity of the performances. For all the electronics this is music with a jazz heart, played with fire, passion and precision. The standard of the musicianship is exceptional throughout, with Potter, Harland, Francies and Marthe all performing brilliantly.  In turn they are well served by the engineering team of Josh Giunta, Chris Allen and Greg Calbi.

“Circuits” is surely destined to become one of the jewels in Edition’s crown, and no doubt one of its biggest sellers to date. It is highly recommended to all but the most dyed in the wool jazz traditionalists.

And to any adventurous rock fans who may be reading this, having come to the music via Donny McCaslin’s connection with David Bowie, this album is recommended to you too.

Potter is touring the “Circuits” material extensively in the US and Europe, sometimes with Harland and Francies but more often accompanied by players drawn from a pool of musicians including Craig Taborn (keyboards), Tim LeFebvre (bass) and Justin Brown (drums).

The remaining dates are listed below. Unfortunately, and somewhat ironically, there are no scheduled performances in the UK at present, but at least we Brits still have this splendid release – on a UK label – to enjoy.


27th March 19 - Vaulx en Velin, France (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
28th March 19 - Valence, France (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
29th March 19 - Vernouillet, France (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
30th March 19 - Roanne, France (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
31st March 19 - Auditorium del Conservatorrio Piacenza, Italy (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
1st April 19 - Porgy and Bess Vienna, Austria (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
3rd April 19 - Casa da Musica Porto, Portugal (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
4th April 19 - Rotterdam, Netherlands (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
5th April 19 - Tilburg, Netherlands (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
6th April 19 - Utrecht, Netherlands (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
8th April 19 - Moods Zurich, Switerland (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
9th April 19 - Blue Note Milano Milan, Italy (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
11th April 19 - Theater Russelhiwm Russelsheim, Germany (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
12th April 19 - Berlin, Germany (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
13th April 19 - Nasjonal Jazzscene Vitoria Oslo, Norway (Taborn, Lefevbre and Brown)
15th April 19 - Jazzit Musik Salzburg, Austria (Lefevbre and Brown)
16th April 19 - New Morning Paris, France (Lefevbre and Brown)
17th April 19 - Rijkevorsel, Belgium (Lefevbre and Brown)
26th - 27th April 19 - Regatta Bar Boston, MA
30th April - 1st May 19 - Blues Alley Washington, DC
2nd - 5th May 19 - Jazz Standard NY, NY
17th May 19 - Performance Hall at Logan Centre Chicago, IL
18th May 19 - Union Colony Civic Ctr Greenley, CO
21st June 19 - Miner Auditorium - SF Jazz SF, CA (Francies & Harland)


For more information please visit;  https://editionrecords.com/releases/chris-potter-circuits/

Fragments - Fragments Rating: 3-5 out of 5 An absorbing and compelling listening experience. The trio’s music offers much in terms of light and shade with plenty of variation in terms of mood and dynamics.

Fragments

“Fragments”

Northern Contemporary nc003)

Fragments is a new trio featuring three leading improvising musicians from the North of England, pianist Adam Fairhall, double bassist Seth Bennett and drummer Johnny Hunter.

All three are busy, in demand musicians who have appeared on the Jazzmann web pages fairly frequently thanks to their involvement in other projects.

Manchester based Fairhall has worked as a sideman in bands led by trumpeter Matthew Halsall and saxophonist Nat Birchall as well as pursuing a productive solo career. Fairhall’s recordings under his own name include “Second Hand Blues” and the excellent “The Imaginary Delta” (2012), both collaborations with the electronics artist Paul J. Rogers. “The Imaginary Delta” also included contributions from a wider ensemble of Manchester and London jazz musicians. My review of that exceptional recording can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/adam-fairhall-the-imaginary-delta/

In recent years Fairhall has become increasingly immersed in fully improvised music in a variety of different contexts including the groups Ant Traditions (with guitarist Dave Birchall), The Markov Chain (with bassist Tim Fairhall and drummer Paul Hession) and Spirit Farm (with Corey Mwamba on vibes and percussion, Christophe de Bezenac on sax, Dave Kane on bass, Anton Hunter on guitar and Johnny Hunter at the drums). Meanwhile The Revival Room features him playing organ alongside Johnny Hunter and saxophonist Mark Hanslip.

Fairhall has an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz history and jazz piano styles and is skilled at updating these elements into a contemporary context, as evidenced “The Imaginary Delta2” and by his solo piano album “Friendly Ghosts” (Efpi Records, 2017).

He has also become fascinated by arcane keyboard instruments and regularly incorporates the sounds of toy pianos, Indian harmoniums and other mechanical keyboard instruments into his work,  often subjecting them to prepared piano techniques.

Fairhall and Johnny Hunter are regular collaborators and the Manchester based drummer also leads his own quartet. Hunter has also been a contributor to bands led by his guitarist brother Anton and he is a regular fixture in groups led by the London based saxophonist, composer and improviser Cath Roberts, among them Sloth Racket, Word of Moth and Favourite Animals.

Hunter has also worked with Nat Birchall and with the experimental quartet Mercury, led by saxophonist Tom Thorp. A busy musician who works all over the North of England and beyond he has also recorded with bands led by pianist Misha Gray,  saxophonists Martin Archer and Pete Lyons and with the bands Marley Chingus, Blind Monk Trio, Engine Room Favourites, Beck Hunters and ska/dub outfit Skamel.

Leeds based Seth Bennett has performed with the bands Word of Moth, Sloth Racket and Favourite Animals, all led by saxophonist Cath Roberts, and also with Metamorphic, led by pianist and composer Laura Cole. With Cole he also runs the eighteen piece Bennett-Cole Orchestra and the pair also collaborate in a trio with drummer Peter Fairclough.

Bennett’s other current projects include Nut Club, a trio with drummer John Arnesen and saxophonist Ollie Dover.  Meanwhile 7 Hertz teams him with Helen Baines (clarinets) and Yvonna Magda (violin) and he is also part of a further trio featuring  violist Aby Vulliamy and trombonist George Murray.

Bennett is also a member of Mathilde, a project combining improvised music and dance.

The paths of Fairhall, Hunter and Bennett are closely linked and the Fragments trio was first instigated as a ‘workshop band’ by Hunter, the common denominator,  in 2013. At first glance the group appears to be a conventional piano trio but from the outset the threesome have adopted an innovative and distinctive approach to composition and improvisation.

Before analysing the music itself it’s probably best to explain something about the trio’s methods of music making. The press release accompanying this album describes their approach thus;
“Rather than incorporating improvisation into composed frameworks the trio start by improvising freely, and then may, at any point, begin playing a ‘fragment’, one of a series of pre-composed musical material. The choice of ‘fragment’ and the way that it is integrated into the improvisation and what happens to the ‘fragment’ after it is played are all open to the spontaneity of the moment. Each ‘fragment’ is designed to inform a different sound space and is both substantial enough to give the players something to ‘chew on’ and flexible enough to allow many possible interpretations. They are also varied in idiom, ensuring a constantly changing listening experience. The trio are in dialogue with each other, with the composed ‘fragments’, and with the piano trio format’s illustrious past”.

It’s a method of working not entirely to dissimilar to that of Cath Roberts’ group Sloth Racket and its larger cousin Favourite Animals. Hunter and Bennett work with both bands and the musicians improvise freely around Roberts’ compositional ‘sketches’, these often scored graphically, often coalescing around a powerful written riff.

The album “Fragments” was recorded in March 2017 by engineer Michael Ward and was later mixed by Ward and Bennett. Packaged in a DIY style cardboard sleeve it also features artwork by Sheffield based artist Marion Rout.

It features two lengthy pieces, each lasting over half an hour, and a shorter nine and a half minute ‘coda’. The titles are purely functional and reference the year of the album’s recording.

As Adrian Pallant’s review for London Jazz News observed this is not an album for the faint hearted with the opening “2017i” setting the benchmark in terms of challenging intensity. Fairhall swarms all over the keyboard, ably supported by Hunter’s skittering drums and Bennett’s powerfully plucked bass. Comparisons with Cecil Taylor are inevitable while Pallant also detects elements of Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, Thelonious Monk and even Duke Ellington.
It’s not all conducted at 100 mph, there are moments of quieter reflection too, some of these dark in terms of mood, which involve Hunter’s use of small percussive devices. This is music that ebbs and flows with passages of tumbling intensity juxtaposed with episodes of gentle lyricism or of brooding solemnity. The techniques of the players are never in doubt, with Bennett’s bass sometimes assuming the lead, and the strength of their rapport is almost uncanny - one can almost hear them thinking. This music may be far from easy listening but the music of Fragments takes the listener on absorbing journey that offers up fresh surprises around every bend. Bennett takes up the bow for a grainy dialogue with Hunter’s drums as the music extends into the realms of extended technique with Fairhall working ‘under the lid’.
In this context the composed elements, the ‘fragments’ that give the trio its name, aren’t always obvious, helping to give the music the seamless organic flow and spontaneous narrative arc that characterises the best improv.

“2017ii” is generally less frenetic than its predecessor with a greater emphasis on atmosphere and extended technique. It commences with a brief dialogue between pizzicato bass and drums with Fairhall subsequently joining the discussion, the trio discourse generally more measured than in episode one but still sometimes embracing a bustling, scurrying urgency as rapidly darting piano motifs are supported by busy bass and drums. Bennett, whose arco work has always impressed in Roberts’ bands, again flourishes the bow to good effect as Fairhall coaxes ethereal twinkling sounds from the very upper limits of the piano’s register and Hunter rustles furtively behind the kit, acting as a kind of avant garde colourist. Later the exchanges get more vigorous, gnarled and knotty, before becoming more lyrical and atmospheric once again. Some of these passages are genuinely beautiful and wouldn’t sound out of place on an ECM recording, these perhaps representing the written ‘fragments’. There’s then an extended passage of imaginative solo drumming from Hunter prior to an intense collective crescendo featuring piano and vigorously bowed bass that briefly threatens to conclude the piece. Instead resolution is achieved via a chillingly beautiful passage featuring the chime of Fairhall’s piano and the sounds of Bennett’s deeply resonant bowed bass, these augmented by Hunter’s percussive embellishments. Clocking in at nearly thirty four minutes the piece represents another absorbing and compelling musical journey that embraces a variety of moods and dynamics, with the composed ‘fragments’ arguably more readily evident.

“2017iii” maintains the reflective mood almost throughout, commencing with the sounds of glacial piano, cymbal scrapes and sparse but resonant pizzicato bass. Despite its relative brevity the piece evolves slowly and organically as the trio place the emphasis on retaining a single mood or atmosphere throughout. Bennett’s plucked bass, with its deep, woody tone is prominent as Hunter provides the subtlest of percussion shadings, again in a colourist’s role. Bennett also makes effective and atmospheric use of the bow as Fairhall plays a relatively low key role, playing melodically and keeping things simple.

Although it clearly won’t be for everybody “Fragments” makes for an absorbing and compelling listening experience. The trio’s music offers much in terms of light and shade with plenty of variation in terms of mood and dynamics within the two longer pieces. Yes, it’s intense at times, but it’s an intensity that goes beyond mere bluster, and there are moments of genuine beauty too. The standard of musicianship is excellent throughout in a genuinely democratic trio performance that never gets boring. Although it ultimately sounds very different Necks fans may care to check out Fragment’s style of long piece piano trio improvisation.

 

Fragments

Fragments

Friday, March 22, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Fragments

An absorbing and compelling listening experience. The trio’s music offers much in terms of light and shade with plenty of variation in terms of mood and dynamics.

Fragments

“Fragments”

Northern Contemporary nc003)

Fragments is a new trio featuring three leading improvising musicians from the North of England, pianist Adam Fairhall, double bassist Seth Bennett and drummer Johnny Hunter.

All three are busy, in demand musicians who have appeared on the Jazzmann web pages fairly frequently thanks to their involvement in other projects.

Manchester based Fairhall has worked as a sideman in bands led by trumpeter Matthew Halsall and saxophonist Nat Birchall as well as pursuing a productive solo career. Fairhall’s recordings under his own name include “Second Hand Blues” and the excellent “The Imaginary Delta” (2012), both collaborations with the electronics artist Paul J. Rogers. “The Imaginary Delta” also included contributions from a wider ensemble of Manchester and London jazz musicians. My review of that exceptional recording can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/adam-fairhall-the-imaginary-delta/

In recent years Fairhall has become increasingly immersed in fully improvised music in a variety of different contexts including the groups Ant Traditions (with guitarist Dave Birchall), The Markov Chain (with bassist Tim Fairhall and drummer Paul Hession) and Spirit Farm (with Corey Mwamba on vibes and percussion, Christophe de Bezenac on sax, Dave Kane on bass, Anton Hunter on guitar and Johnny Hunter at the drums). Meanwhile The Revival Room features him playing organ alongside Johnny Hunter and saxophonist Mark Hanslip.

Fairhall has an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz history and jazz piano styles and is skilled at updating these elements into a contemporary context, as evidenced “The Imaginary Delta2” and by his solo piano album “Friendly Ghosts” (Efpi Records, 2017).

He has also become fascinated by arcane keyboard instruments and regularly incorporates the sounds of toy pianos, Indian harmoniums and other mechanical keyboard instruments into his work,  often subjecting them to prepared piano techniques.

Fairhall and Johnny Hunter are regular collaborators and the Manchester based drummer also leads his own quartet. Hunter has also been a contributor to bands led by his guitarist brother Anton and he is a regular fixture in groups led by the London based saxophonist, composer and improviser Cath Roberts, among them Sloth Racket, Word of Moth and Favourite Animals.

Hunter has also worked with Nat Birchall and with the experimental quartet Mercury, led by saxophonist Tom Thorp. A busy musician who works all over the North of England and beyond he has also recorded with bands led by pianist Misha Gray,  saxophonists Martin Archer and Pete Lyons and with the bands Marley Chingus, Blind Monk Trio, Engine Room Favourites, Beck Hunters and ska/dub outfit Skamel.

Leeds based Seth Bennett has performed with the bands Word of Moth, Sloth Racket and Favourite Animals, all led by saxophonist Cath Roberts, and also with Metamorphic, led by pianist and composer Laura Cole. With Cole he also runs the eighteen piece Bennett-Cole Orchestra and the pair also collaborate in a trio with drummer Peter Fairclough.

Bennett’s other current projects include Nut Club, a trio with drummer John Arnesen and saxophonist Ollie Dover.  Meanwhile 7 Hertz teams him with Helen Baines (clarinets) and Yvonna Magda (violin) and he is also part of a further trio featuring  violist Aby Vulliamy and trombonist George Murray.

Bennett is also a member of Mathilde, a project combining improvised music and dance.

The paths of Fairhall, Hunter and Bennett are closely linked and the Fragments trio was first instigated as a ‘workshop band’ by Hunter, the common denominator,  in 2013. At first glance the group appears to be a conventional piano trio but from the outset the threesome have adopted an innovative and distinctive approach to composition and improvisation.

Before analysing the music itself it’s probably best to explain something about the trio’s methods of music making. The press release accompanying this album describes their approach thus;
“Rather than incorporating improvisation into composed frameworks the trio start by improvising freely, and then may, at any point, begin playing a ‘fragment’, one of a series of pre-composed musical material. The choice of ‘fragment’ and the way that it is integrated into the improvisation and what happens to the ‘fragment’ after it is played are all open to the spontaneity of the moment. Each ‘fragment’ is designed to inform a different sound space and is both substantial enough to give the players something to ‘chew on’ and flexible enough to allow many possible interpretations. They are also varied in idiom, ensuring a constantly changing listening experience. The trio are in dialogue with each other, with the composed ‘fragments’, and with the piano trio format’s illustrious past”.

It’s a method of working not entirely to dissimilar to that of Cath Roberts’ group Sloth Racket and its larger cousin Favourite Animals. Hunter and Bennett work with both bands and the musicians improvise freely around Roberts’ compositional ‘sketches’, these often scored graphically, often coalescing around a powerful written riff.

The album “Fragments” was recorded in March 2017 by engineer Michael Ward and was later mixed by Ward and Bennett. Packaged in a DIY style cardboard sleeve it also features artwork by Sheffield based artist Marion Rout.

It features two lengthy pieces, each lasting over half an hour, and a shorter nine and a half minute ‘coda’. The titles are purely functional and reference the year of the album’s recording.

As Adrian Pallant’s review for London Jazz News observed this is not an album for the faint hearted with the opening “2017i” setting the benchmark in terms of challenging intensity. Fairhall swarms all over the keyboard, ably supported by Hunter’s skittering drums and Bennett’s powerfully plucked bass. Comparisons with Cecil Taylor are inevitable while Pallant also detects elements of Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, Thelonious Monk and even Duke Ellington.
It’s not all conducted at 100 mph, there are moments of quieter reflection too, some of these dark in terms of mood, which involve Hunter’s use of small percussive devices. This is music that ebbs and flows with passages of tumbling intensity juxtaposed with episodes of gentle lyricism or of brooding solemnity. The techniques of the players are never in doubt, with Bennett’s bass sometimes assuming the lead, and the strength of their rapport is almost uncanny - one can almost hear them thinking. This music may be far from easy listening but the music of Fragments takes the listener on absorbing journey that offers up fresh surprises around every bend. Bennett takes up the bow for a grainy dialogue with Hunter’s drums as the music extends into the realms of extended technique with Fairhall working ‘under the lid’.
In this context the composed elements, the ‘fragments’ that give the trio its name, aren’t always obvious, helping to give the music the seamless organic flow and spontaneous narrative arc that characterises the best improv.

“2017ii” is generally less frenetic than its predecessor with a greater emphasis on atmosphere and extended technique. It commences with a brief dialogue between pizzicato bass and drums with Fairhall subsequently joining the discussion, the trio discourse generally more measured than in episode one but still sometimes embracing a bustling, scurrying urgency as rapidly darting piano motifs are supported by busy bass and drums. Bennett, whose arco work has always impressed in Roberts’ bands, again flourishes the bow to good effect as Fairhall coaxes ethereal twinkling sounds from the very upper limits of the piano’s register and Hunter rustles furtively behind the kit, acting as a kind of avant garde colourist. Later the exchanges get more vigorous, gnarled and knotty, before becoming more lyrical and atmospheric once again. Some of these passages are genuinely beautiful and wouldn’t sound out of place on an ECM recording, these perhaps representing the written ‘fragments’. There’s then an extended passage of imaginative solo drumming from Hunter prior to an intense collective crescendo featuring piano and vigorously bowed bass that briefly threatens to conclude the piece. Instead resolution is achieved via a chillingly beautiful passage featuring the chime of Fairhall’s piano and the sounds of Bennett’s deeply resonant bowed bass, these augmented by Hunter’s percussive embellishments. Clocking in at nearly thirty four minutes the piece represents another absorbing and compelling musical journey that embraces a variety of moods and dynamics, with the composed ‘fragments’ arguably more readily evident.

“2017iii” maintains the reflective mood almost throughout, commencing with the sounds of glacial piano, cymbal scrapes and sparse but resonant pizzicato bass. Despite its relative brevity the piece evolves slowly and organically as the trio place the emphasis on retaining a single mood or atmosphere throughout. Bennett’s plucked bass, with its deep, woody tone is prominent as Hunter provides the subtlest of percussion shadings, again in a colourist’s role. Bennett also makes effective and atmospheric use of the bow as Fairhall plays a relatively low key role, playing melodically and keeping things simple.

Although it clearly won’t be for everybody “Fragments” makes for an absorbing and compelling listening experience. The trio’s music offers much in terms of light and shade with plenty of variation in terms of mood and dynamics within the two longer pieces. Yes, it’s intense at times, but it’s an intensity that goes beyond mere bluster, and there are moments of genuine beauty too. The standard of musicianship is excellent throughout in a genuinely democratic trio performance that never gets boring. Although it ultimately sounds very different Necks fans may care to check out Fragment’s style of long piece piano trio improvisation.

 

Kevin MacKenzie - The Ballad of Future Joe Rating: 3-5 out of 5 A well balanced mix serves the musicians well, capturing their finely honed rapport and bringing out the full details and nuances of the playing .Guitar fans will find much to enjoy here.

Kevin MacKenzie

“The Ballad of Future Joe”

(Laundry Room Music LDRY06CD)

Guitarist, composer and educator Kevin MacKenzie has been a stalwart of the Scottish jazz scene for a number of years as both leader and sideman. A former member of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra he was also the recipient of a Creative Scotland Award in 2001, the prize money helping to finance the recording of the acclaimed album “Another New Horizon”, which featured his nine piece ensemble Vital Signs, an amalgam of leading Scottish jazz and folk musicians.

MacKenzie has also recorded in trio and quartet formats and as a duo with pianist Steve Hamilton. A musician with an international reputation his albums have featured contributions from such jazz heavyweights as saxophonists Donny McCaslin and Julian Arguelles and drummer Martin France.

Full details of MacKenzie’s discography and of his current projects can be found at his website http://www.kevinmackenzie.co.uk

MacKenzie’s latest album release finds him in the company of two other leading figures on the Scottish jazz scene, Brazilian born bassist Mario Caribe and drummer Alyn Cosker, both also composers and bandleaders in their own right.

The programme consists of nine MacKenzie originals, many of them inspired by his young family, plus a genuinely innovative arrangement of Django Reinhardt’s much covered “Nuages”

Opening track “The Mouse Commute” was written in honour of a small rodent who took up residence in MacKenzie’s car and thus accompanied him, unseen, on numerous trips to the Royal Conservatoire in Glasgow where the guitarist has a teaching post. Musically the piece demonstrates the excellent rapport between these three bastions of Scottish jazz. The leader’s guitar is vaguely reminiscent of the late John Abercrombie as MacKenzie probes gently, his furtive scurrying runs evoking the mouse of the title. Cosker’s playing is finely detailed, becoming busier and more forceful and energetic as the piece progresses, culminating in something of a feature for this dynamic drummer. Caribe is a rock throughout, exhibiting a powerful tone and great dexterity as he negotiates the complexities of MacKenzie’s composition with its 5/4 time signature.

The title track is named for a class mate of MacKenzie’s four year old son, Finlay. It’s a genuine ballad with the kind of lilting melody that Pat Metheny would be proud of. MacKenzie’s cleanly picked lines impart a sense of yearning and spaciousness and he’s accompanied by Caribe’s melodic double bass and Cosker’s subtle drum work, deploying a combination of brushes and sticks. Caribe impresses with his first extended solo of the set, skilfully accompanied by Cosker.

“Snood Dude” is dedicated to young Finlay, who has a particular fondness for the article of apparel in question. The tune ups the pace once more with Caribe’s rapid bass grooves and Cosker’s crisply energetic drumming fuelling MacKenzie’s slippery guitar melody lines. There’s an energy and joyousness about the piece that recalls the more upbeat offerings on Metheny’s “Bright Size Life”.
There’s also a vigorously plucked double bass solo from the impressive Caribe that really gives him an opportunity to demonstrate his virtuosity on the instrument.

Also inspired by Finlay the title “The Waiter” refers to the boy’s confusion between the words ‘wait’ and ‘weight’. Introduced by Cosker at the drums the piece acts as the vehicle for an absorbing three way conversation between these musical friends with MacKenzie’s gently rambling guitar solo underpinned by Caribe’s deep bass lines and Cosker’s distinctive, constantly evolving drumming. Space is left for another impressive bass excursion from Caribe.

“The Mighty Flo” is dedicated to MacKenzie’s young daughter Flora and includes traces of folk like melodies within the jazz framework as the trio stretch out at length in a consistently absorbing dialogue that embraces extended solos from both MacKenzie and Caribe plus something of a feature from the consistently impressive Cosker.

As its title suggests “Caribe’s Cachaca Capers” is a playful piece dedicated to the trio’s bassist and his fondness for the Brazilian spirit Cachaca. Vibrant Brazilian and Latin rhythms help to fuel MacKenzie’s allusion filled solo and there’s another stunning performance behind the kit from Cosker.

MacKenzie’s elegant waltz time arrangement of Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages” casts the old favourite in a new light in a sensitive, but rigorous, trio performance.

“If A Tree Falls” references MacKenzie’s dislike of social media. Cosker’s shuffling drum grooves allied to Caribe’s muscular bass lines move the piece on at a fair old clip as MacKenzie’s guitar dances lithely above the propulsive rhythmic backdrop. Caribe also features with a powerfully plucked bass solo.

“Blues Shoes” pretty much does what it says on the tin, it’s a blues that allows for much spirited trio interplay with fiery individual solos from all three protagonists.

Finally we hear “Sisyphus”, with MacKenzie declaring the title to be “a metaphor for trying to sustain a long term career as a musician”. It’s one of the album’s most impressive pieces, a slow burner that gradually grows in intensity, brooding and simmering atmospherically before finally coming to the boil. MacKenzie’s solo bursts free of the body of the song with a striking emphasis in a blend of jazz chops with rock inspired dynamics. Having reached a peak the piece resolves itself with a richly evocative closing section that sees Caribe making effective use of the bow.

“The Ballad of Future Joe” represents an impressive offering from MacKenzie and his colleagues. Engineer Gus Satirist’s well balanced mix serves the musicians well, capturing their finely honed rapport and bringing out the full details and nuances of the playing. MacKenzie’s tone is warm and conversational almost throughout, his sound pure and clean and unencumbered by the use of effects. His chemistry with Cosker is exceptional, with Caribe often playing an anchoring role as MacKenzie and the drummer bounce ideas off each other. Cosker is a busy drummer with a superb technique which he utilises to the full, but without ever imposing too much. Meanwhile Caribe makes the most of his own soloing opportunities.

As a writer MacKenzie gives his colleagues a wealth of interesting material to work with and his colleagues respond well with some excellent playing throughout. Guitar fans, and particularly Pat Metheny’s many followers, will find much to enjoy here – I was reminded of Metheny’s landmark début, “Bright Size Life”, on more than one occasion.

On the evidence of this recording one imagines that this trio would also represent an impressive and exciting live act. Let’s hope that 2019 offers them some suitable gigging opportunities to demonstrate this.

The Ballad of Future Joe

Kevin MacKenzie

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

The Ballad of Future Joe

A well balanced mix serves the musicians well, capturing their finely honed rapport and bringing out the full details and nuances of the playing .Guitar fans will find much to enjoy here.

Kevin MacKenzie

“The Ballad of Future Joe”

(Laundry Room Music LDRY06CD)

Guitarist, composer and educator Kevin MacKenzie has been a stalwart of the Scottish jazz scene for a number of years as both leader and sideman. A former member of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra he was also the recipient of a Creative Scotland Award in 2001, the prize money helping to finance the recording of the acclaimed album “Another New Horizon”, which featured his nine piece ensemble Vital Signs, an amalgam of leading Scottish jazz and folk musicians.

MacKenzie has also recorded in trio and quartet formats and as a duo with pianist Steve Hamilton. A musician with an international reputation his albums have featured contributions from such jazz heavyweights as saxophonists Donny McCaslin and Julian Arguelles and drummer Martin France.

Full details of MacKenzie’s discography and of his current projects can be found at his website http://www.kevinmackenzie.co.uk

MacKenzie’s latest album release finds him in the company of two other leading figures on the Scottish jazz scene, Brazilian born bassist Mario Caribe and drummer Alyn Cosker, both also composers and bandleaders in their own right.

The programme consists of nine MacKenzie originals, many of them inspired by his young family, plus a genuinely innovative arrangement of Django Reinhardt’s much covered “Nuages”

Opening track “The Mouse Commute” was written in honour of a small rodent who took up residence in MacKenzie’s car and thus accompanied him, unseen, on numerous trips to the Royal Conservatoire in Glasgow where the guitarist has a teaching post. Musically the piece demonstrates the excellent rapport between these three bastions of Scottish jazz. The leader’s guitar is vaguely reminiscent of the late John Abercrombie as MacKenzie probes gently, his furtive scurrying runs evoking the mouse of the title. Cosker’s playing is finely detailed, becoming busier and more forceful and energetic as the piece progresses, culminating in something of a feature for this dynamic drummer. Caribe is a rock throughout, exhibiting a powerful tone and great dexterity as he negotiates the complexities of MacKenzie’s composition with its 5/4 time signature.

The title track is named for a class mate of MacKenzie’s four year old son, Finlay. It’s a genuine ballad with the kind of lilting melody that Pat Metheny would be proud of. MacKenzie’s cleanly picked lines impart a sense of yearning and spaciousness and he’s accompanied by Caribe’s melodic double bass and Cosker’s subtle drum work, deploying a combination of brushes and sticks. Caribe impresses with his first extended solo of the set, skilfully accompanied by Cosker.

“Snood Dude” is dedicated to young Finlay, who has a particular fondness for the article of apparel in question. The tune ups the pace once more with Caribe’s rapid bass grooves and Cosker’s crisply energetic drumming fuelling MacKenzie’s slippery guitar melody lines. There’s an energy and joyousness about the piece that recalls the more upbeat offerings on Metheny’s “Bright Size Life”.
There’s also a vigorously plucked double bass solo from the impressive Caribe that really gives him an opportunity to demonstrate his virtuosity on the instrument.

Also inspired by Finlay the title “The Waiter” refers to the boy’s confusion between the words ‘wait’ and ‘weight’. Introduced by Cosker at the drums the piece acts as the vehicle for an absorbing three way conversation between these musical friends with MacKenzie’s gently rambling guitar solo underpinned by Caribe’s deep bass lines and Cosker’s distinctive, constantly evolving drumming. Space is left for another impressive bass excursion from Caribe.

“The Mighty Flo” is dedicated to MacKenzie’s young daughter Flora and includes traces of folk like melodies within the jazz framework as the trio stretch out at length in a consistently absorbing dialogue that embraces extended solos from both MacKenzie and Caribe plus something of a feature from the consistently impressive Cosker.

As its title suggests “Caribe’s Cachaca Capers” is a playful piece dedicated to the trio’s bassist and his fondness for the Brazilian spirit Cachaca. Vibrant Brazilian and Latin rhythms help to fuel MacKenzie’s allusion filled solo and there’s another stunning performance behind the kit from Cosker.

MacKenzie’s elegant waltz time arrangement of Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages” casts the old favourite in a new light in a sensitive, but rigorous, trio performance.

“If A Tree Falls” references MacKenzie’s dislike of social media. Cosker’s shuffling drum grooves allied to Caribe’s muscular bass lines move the piece on at a fair old clip as MacKenzie’s guitar dances lithely above the propulsive rhythmic backdrop. Caribe also features with a powerfully plucked bass solo.

“Blues Shoes” pretty much does what it says on the tin, it’s a blues that allows for much spirited trio interplay with fiery individual solos from all three protagonists.

Finally we hear “Sisyphus”, with MacKenzie declaring the title to be “a metaphor for trying to sustain a long term career as a musician”. It’s one of the album’s most impressive pieces, a slow burner that gradually grows in intensity, brooding and simmering atmospherically before finally coming to the boil. MacKenzie’s solo bursts free of the body of the song with a striking emphasis in a blend of jazz chops with rock inspired dynamics. Having reached a peak the piece resolves itself with a richly evocative closing section that sees Caribe making effective use of the bow.

“The Ballad of Future Joe” represents an impressive offering from MacKenzie and his colleagues. Engineer Gus Satirist’s well balanced mix serves the musicians well, capturing their finely honed rapport and bringing out the full details and nuances of the playing. MacKenzie’s tone is warm and conversational almost throughout, his sound pure and clean and unencumbered by the use of effects. His chemistry with Cosker is exceptional, with Caribe often playing an anchoring role as MacKenzie and the drummer bounce ideas off each other. Cosker is a busy drummer with a superb technique which he utilises to the full, but without ever imposing too much. Meanwhile Caribe makes the most of his own soloing opportunities.

As a writer MacKenzie gives his colleagues a wealth of interesting material to work with and his colleagues respond well with some excellent playing throughout. Guitar fans, and particularly Pat Metheny’s many followers, will find much to enjoy here – I was reminded of Metheny’s landmark début, “Bright Size Life”, on more than one occasion.

On the evidence of this recording one imagines that this trio would also represent an impressive and exciting live act. Let’s hope that 2019 offers them some suitable gigging opportunities to demonstrate this.

The Steve Fishwick / Alex Garnett Quartet - Marshian Time Slip Rating: 3-5 out of 5 The album adds a contemporary edge and sheen to the traditional hard bop virtues and the playing is excellent throughout from these four hugely accomplished ‘keepers of the flame’.

The Steve Fishwick / Alex Garnett Quartet

“Marshian Time Slip”

(Hard Bop Records HBR33011)

I’ve always thought of the sharp suited Manchester born, London based trumpeter Steve Fishwick as the keeper of the hard bop flame in Britain, having seen him perform a number of gigs in this style in a variety of permutations. The most recent of these was a quintet performance in the foyer of Cadogan Hall as part of the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival when the trumpeter paid tribute to the music of both Cedar Walton and Duke Jordan in the company of Dave O’ Higgins ( tenor sax), Rob Barron (piano), Dario De Lecce (double bass) and Matt Fishwick (drums). My account of that performance can be found as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-day-six-wednesday-21st-november-2018/

It’s perhaps appropriate that Fishwick’s latest recording should be on the aptly named boutique label Hard Bop Records, founded by saxophonist Osian Roberts and based in Caerphilly, South Wales. “Marshian Time Slip” is a quartet date which teams Steve with co-leader Alex Garnett, here specialising on alto sax, together with the American born Michael Karn on double bass and Steve’s twin brother, Matt Fishwick at the drums. The album appears on heavy duty vinyl in a limited edition run of five hundred and as a digital download from the Hard Bop Records website http://www.hardboprecords.com

The album title represents a joint dedication to the late saxophonist Warne Marsh (1927-87) and the sci-fi author Philip K. Dick (1928-82) and the programme consists of four originals from Steve Fishwick and a further four from Alex Garnett, all of them written in a broadly hard bop vein.

The genesis of the project dares back fifteen years to a time when the Fishwick brothers lived in a flat in the Maida Vale area of London, their neighbour just so happening to be Garnett.

 “It was inadvertently influenced by the chord-less quartet of Ernie Henry (alto sax) and Kenny Dorham (trumpet) and by Sonny Rollins and more broadly the bebop/hard bop genre as we didn’t have a piano available in the rehearsal room,” explains Fishwick. “There was a process of Alex and I writing separately and coming together and rehearsing/work-shopping the material.. The project was shelved after a while with a view to coming back to it at some point, although we didn’t envision quite how much time would pass!”

The music on “Marshian Time Slip” was recorded at London’s Konk Studios (famously founded by The Kinks) on November 24th 2016 with Josh Green engineering and Alex Garnett and Steve Fishwick producing. The sound is excellent throughout.

As it happens just five days before I had been witness to a performance by the quartet at the Elgin pub in Ladbroke Grove, a show that came under the banner of the 2016 EFG London Festival. Circumstances conspired to ensure that I could only stay for the first set but I enjoyed my sneak preview of the “Marshian Time Slip” album and once again my account of the performance appears as part of my wider Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-2016-day-nine-saturday-19th-november-2016/

The album commences with the Steve Fishwick piece “The Wrath of Karn”, which its composer describes as “a long form altered blues in dedication to our bassist Michael Karn and featuring our drummer Matt Fishwick”. Also drawing on the influence of 1960s modal jazz this is a spirited and energetic opener that features Steve and Alex Garnett exchanging fiery solos above the vibrant rhythms laid down by Karn and Matt Fishwick. As befits the title of the piece the tune also includes something of a feature for Karn, plus the promised solo and drum breaks from Matt Fishwick, who circumnavigates his kit with a boisterous enthusiasm.

Also by Steve Fishwick is the title track, written in the style of Marsh and pianist Lennie Tristano and based, in the words of its composer, on “a truncated ‘All The Things You Are’, there are three bars missing”. The three missing bars form the “time slip” of the title. Essentially it’s a ‘contrafact’, but an interesting one, with Steve Fishwick, on trumpet, and Garnett on alto, combining to state the theme above Matt Fishwick’s brushed drum groove. Subsequently the co-leaders diverge to deliver their own solos, Garnett going first and probing incisively on alto. It’s interesting to hear him on the smaller horn rather than his usual tenor, but his playing loses nothing in terms of power and fluency. Steve Fishwick then solos, also displaying a keen intelligence and an impressive technique. Karn, a propulsive presence throughout, then solos on the bass, underpinned by Matt’s brushes.

Garnett’s first contribution with the pen is the wistfully nostalgic “52nd Street Dream”, a ballad dedicated to the memory of Ronnie Scott and his opening of the UK’s first dedicated modern jazz club at 39, Gerrard Street, London in 1959. Scott’s vision had been inspired by a visit to 52nd Street in Manhattan and the inclusion of this piece is particularly apposite sixty years after the founding of that great British institution that is Ronnie’s. Garnett himself appears regularly in the house band at the current Ronnie Scott’s in Frith Street, Soho, his rapier like wit between numbers often reminiscent of that of Ronnie himself.
Musically the piece features Steve and Alex again combining effectively above brushed grooves before delivering their individual statements, Alex again going first. Karn also features with a typically dexterous bass solo and he also acts as a grounding presence throughout.

Also from Garnett comes “Kaftan”, the title a nod to its composers Middle Eastern heritage with the sleeve note declaring “the desert winds blow hot and cold, they carry a message from the young to the old”. There’s a hint of Eastern exotica within a bluesy, hard bop framework that incorporates robust but fluent solos from Garnett on alto and Steve Fishwick on trumpet, the pair supported by Karn’s bass pulse and Matt Fishwick’s clipped drum grooves. In this chordless quartet Karn again features strongly as a soloist and there’s also something of a feature for Matt Fishwick with an engaging series of drum breaks. Indeed the absence of a piano is never noticeable.

Side Two – even in these days of the vinyl renaissance it still seems strange to be typing that – kicks off with Garnett’s “Rio De Ron”, literally “River of Rum”, which its composer describes as;
“A toast to Guyana’s mighty Demerara river and the joy that can be distilled from it”.
Garnett’s hymn of praise to his favourite tipple combines subtle Latin flavourings with hard bop virtues to create a relaxed, celebratory atmosphere that facilitates excellent solos from Karn, Steve Fishwick and Garnett. Bassist Karn goes first and delivers what is arguably his best solo of the set, an extended excursion that showcases his dexterity and melodic flair, these qualities allied to his innate sense of time and groove. The horn men are just as fine with Garnett’s alto snaking in suitably sinuous, riparian fashion.

The sound of Karn’s unaccompanied bass introduces Steve Fishwick’s ballad “Primitis”, a tune inspired by his son’s toy bear. Steve‘s muted trumpet sound here is reminiscent of ‘Kind of Blue’ era Miles Davis and the music has something of the quality of that celebrated recording about it. At a little over eight minutes in duration this is the lengthiest track on the album with the music unfolding slowly and organically. Nothing is rushed and Steve’s gently brooding solo has a Miles like melancholy about it, while Garnett’s more incisive alto evokes memories of Cannonball Adderley’s contribution to that record. Bassist Karn is also featured briefly at the close.

Also by Steve Fishwick is “The Creep”, a title about which its composer remarks; “about a person we’ve all met, or may even have been on occasion”. Musically the piece is inspired by trumpeter Kenny Dorham and pianist Horace Silver and the tune has a bluesy quality about it, towed along by Karn’s languid bass groove and Matt Fishwick’s subtly propulsive drumming. Karn again features as a soloist, still relishing in the freedom afforded by the piano-less format. Steve Fishwick and Alex Garnett exchange lucid, inventive solos, before coalescing effectively on a restatement of the theme.

The album concludes with Garnett’s “Lickeroo” with its composer declaring; “The ‘lickeroo’ is a Noble bird that thrives upon a riff and a whiff of a Suite Indian love song”. Keen eyed readers, particularly cryptic crossword enthusiasts, may have deduced that this is another contrafact, this time based on “the metrically compressed chord changes to the old warhorse ‘Cherokee’,”- which was written, of course, by Ray Noble. Garnett continues  “A burst of a KoKo-esque line in the outro honours the irrepressible ‘Yardbird’’.”  Charlie Parker, in other words
This homage to the glories of the bebop era races along at a suitably frenetic pace with Steve and Alex negotiating the fast moving twists and turns of the piece with considerable aplomb, a feat matched by the similarly sure footed rhythm team. Steve and Alex both dazzle with their eloquent solos, the latter again a revelation on alto. Karn and Matt Fishwick also enjoy cameos as Garnett takes liberties with Noble’s tune, adding layers of complexity in highly entertaining fashion.

“Marshian Time Slip” more than delivers on the promise of that Elgin performance. The album adds a contemporary edge and sheen to the traditional hard bop virtues and the playing is excellent throughout from these four hugely accomplished ‘keepers of the flame’.

Both Steve Fishwick and Garnett prove themselves to be able composers in the bebop and hard bop idioms and both impress hugely as fluent, eloquent and sometimes fiery soloists. In this piano-less format Karn and Matt Fishwick are also given plenty to do and the pair respond with skill and conviction, providing flexible and intelligent support to the two horn front line as well as relishing their own soloing opportunities.

It could be argued that it’s all a little derivative but there are many listeners out there who will love this quartet’s updating of the hard bop message. Garnett and the Fishwicks are musicians with large and loyal followings and the quartet’s current tour (remaining dates below) is sure to be well supported. Indeed a live performance is probably where the abilities of these four excellent musicians can be best enjoyed and appreciated. Catch them at;

18 March – Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, London - Late Late Show
(+ special guest on piano)
19 March – Herts Jazz at The Maltings, St Albans
20 March – Kansas Smitty’s, London (official record launch party)
21 March – Birmingham East Side Jazz Club
22 March – Leeds College of Music (masterclass) & Wakefield Jazz Club
23 March – The Bear, Luton

Further details at;

Steve Fishwick:
http://www.stevefishwickjazz.com


Alex Garnett
http://www.alexgarnettsax.com


Album available from http://www.hardboprecords.com and at gigs.

 

Marshian Time Slip

The Steve Fishwick / Alex Garnett Quartet

Monday, March 18, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Marshian Time Slip

The album adds a contemporary edge and sheen to the traditional hard bop virtues and the playing is excellent throughout from these four hugely accomplished ‘keepers of the flame’.

The Steve Fishwick / Alex Garnett Quartet

“Marshian Time Slip”

(Hard Bop Records HBR33011)

I’ve always thought of the sharp suited Manchester born, London based trumpeter Steve Fishwick as the keeper of the hard bop flame in Britain, having seen him perform a number of gigs in this style in a variety of permutations. The most recent of these was a quintet performance in the foyer of Cadogan Hall as part of the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival when the trumpeter paid tribute to the music of both Cedar Walton and Duke Jordan in the company of Dave O’ Higgins ( tenor sax), Rob Barron (piano), Dario De Lecce (double bass) and Matt Fishwick (drums). My account of that performance can be found as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-day-six-wednesday-21st-november-2018/

It’s perhaps appropriate that Fishwick’s latest recording should be on the aptly named boutique label Hard Bop Records, founded by saxophonist Osian Roberts and based in Caerphilly, South Wales. “Marshian Time Slip” is a quartet date which teams Steve with co-leader Alex Garnett, here specialising on alto sax, together with the American born Michael Karn on double bass and Steve’s twin brother, Matt Fishwick at the drums. The album appears on heavy duty vinyl in a limited edition run of five hundred and as a digital download from the Hard Bop Records website http://www.hardboprecords.com

The album title represents a joint dedication to the late saxophonist Warne Marsh (1927-87) and the sci-fi author Philip K. Dick (1928-82) and the programme consists of four originals from Steve Fishwick and a further four from Alex Garnett, all of them written in a broadly hard bop vein.

The genesis of the project dares back fifteen years to a time when the Fishwick brothers lived in a flat in the Maida Vale area of London, their neighbour just so happening to be Garnett.

 “It was inadvertently influenced by the chord-less quartet of Ernie Henry (alto sax) and Kenny Dorham (trumpet) and by Sonny Rollins and more broadly the bebop/hard bop genre as we didn’t have a piano available in the rehearsal room,” explains Fishwick. “There was a process of Alex and I writing separately and coming together and rehearsing/work-shopping the material.. The project was shelved after a while with a view to coming back to it at some point, although we didn’t envision quite how much time would pass!”

The music on “Marshian Time Slip” was recorded at London’s Konk Studios (famously founded by The Kinks) on November 24th 2016 with Josh Green engineering and Alex Garnett and Steve Fishwick producing. The sound is excellent throughout.

As it happens just five days before I had been witness to a performance by the quartet at the Elgin pub in Ladbroke Grove, a show that came under the banner of the 2016 EFG London Festival. Circumstances conspired to ensure that I could only stay for the first set but I enjoyed my sneak preview of the “Marshian Time Slip” album and once again my account of the performance appears as part of my wider Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-2016-day-nine-saturday-19th-november-2016/

The album commences with the Steve Fishwick piece “The Wrath of Karn”, which its composer describes as “a long form altered blues in dedication to our bassist Michael Karn and featuring our drummer Matt Fishwick”. Also drawing on the influence of 1960s modal jazz this is a spirited and energetic opener that features Steve and Alex Garnett exchanging fiery solos above the vibrant rhythms laid down by Karn and Matt Fishwick. As befits the title of the piece the tune also includes something of a feature for Karn, plus the promised solo and drum breaks from Matt Fishwick, who circumnavigates his kit with a boisterous enthusiasm.

Also by Steve Fishwick is the title track, written in the style of Marsh and pianist Lennie Tristano and based, in the words of its composer, on “a truncated ‘All The Things You Are’, there are three bars missing”. The three missing bars form the “time slip” of the title. Essentially it’s a ‘contrafact’, but an interesting one, with Steve Fishwick, on trumpet, and Garnett on alto, combining to state the theme above Matt Fishwick’s brushed drum groove. Subsequently the co-leaders diverge to deliver their own solos, Garnett going first and probing incisively on alto. It’s interesting to hear him on the smaller horn rather than his usual tenor, but his playing loses nothing in terms of power and fluency. Steve Fishwick then solos, also displaying a keen intelligence and an impressive technique. Karn, a propulsive presence throughout, then solos on the bass, underpinned by Matt’s brushes.

Garnett’s first contribution with the pen is the wistfully nostalgic “52nd Street Dream”, a ballad dedicated to the memory of Ronnie Scott and his opening of the UK’s first dedicated modern jazz club at 39, Gerrard Street, London in 1959. Scott’s vision had been inspired by a visit to 52nd Street in Manhattan and the inclusion of this piece is particularly apposite sixty years after the founding of that great British institution that is Ronnie’s. Garnett himself appears regularly in the house band at the current Ronnie Scott’s in Frith Street, Soho, his rapier like wit between numbers often reminiscent of that of Ronnie himself.
Musically the piece features Steve and Alex again combining effectively above brushed grooves before delivering their individual statements, Alex again going first. Karn also features with a typically dexterous bass solo and he also acts as a grounding presence throughout.

Also from Garnett comes “Kaftan”, the title a nod to its composers Middle Eastern heritage with the sleeve note declaring “the desert winds blow hot and cold, they carry a message from the young to the old”. There’s a hint of Eastern exotica within a bluesy, hard bop framework that incorporates robust but fluent solos from Garnett on alto and Steve Fishwick on trumpet, the pair supported by Karn’s bass pulse and Matt Fishwick’s clipped drum grooves. In this chordless quartet Karn again features strongly as a soloist and there’s also something of a feature for Matt Fishwick with an engaging series of drum breaks. Indeed the absence of a piano is never noticeable.

Side Two – even in these days of the vinyl renaissance it still seems strange to be typing that – kicks off with Garnett’s “Rio De Ron”, literally “River of Rum”, which its composer describes as;
“A toast to Guyana’s mighty Demerara river and the joy that can be distilled from it”.
Garnett’s hymn of praise to his favourite tipple combines subtle Latin flavourings with hard bop virtues to create a relaxed, celebratory atmosphere that facilitates excellent solos from Karn, Steve Fishwick and Garnett. Bassist Karn goes first and delivers what is arguably his best solo of the set, an extended excursion that showcases his dexterity and melodic flair, these qualities allied to his innate sense of time and groove. The horn men are just as fine with Garnett’s alto snaking in suitably sinuous, riparian fashion.

The sound of Karn’s unaccompanied bass introduces Steve Fishwick’s ballad “Primitis”, a tune inspired by his son’s toy bear. Steve‘s muted trumpet sound here is reminiscent of ‘Kind of Blue’ era Miles Davis and the music has something of the quality of that celebrated recording about it. At a little over eight minutes in duration this is the lengthiest track on the album with the music unfolding slowly and organically. Nothing is rushed and Steve’s gently brooding solo has a Miles like melancholy about it, while Garnett’s more incisive alto evokes memories of Cannonball Adderley’s contribution to that record. Bassist Karn is also featured briefly at the close.

Also by Steve Fishwick is “The Creep”, a title about which its composer remarks; “about a person we’ve all met, or may even have been on occasion”. Musically the piece is inspired by trumpeter Kenny Dorham and pianist Horace Silver and the tune has a bluesy quality about it, towed along by Karn’s languid bass groove and Matt Fishwick’s subtly propulsive drumming. Karn again features as a soloist, still relishing in the freedom afforded by the piano-less format. Steve Fishwick and Alex Garnett exchange lucid, inventive solos, before coalescing effectively on a restatement of the theme.

The album concludes with Garnett’s “Lickeroo” with its composer declaring; “The ‘lickeroo’ is a Noble bird that thrives upon a riff and a whiff of a Suite Indian love song”. Keen eyed readers, particularly cryptic crossword enthusiasts, may have deduced that this is another contrafact, this time based on “the metrically compressed chord changes to the old warhorse ‘Cherokee’,”- which was written, of course, by Ray Noble. Garnett continues  “A burst of a KoKo-esque line in the outro honours the irrepressible ‘Yardbird’’.”  Charlie Parker, in other words
This homage to the glories of the bebop era races along at a suitably frenetic pace with Steve and Alex negotiating the fast moving twists and turns of the piece with considerable aplomb, a feat matched by the similarly sure footed rhythm team. Steve and Alex both dazzle with their eloquent solos, the latter again a revelation on alto. Karn and Matt Fishwick also enjoy cameos as Garnett takes liberties with Noble’s tune, adding layers of complexity in highly entertaining fashion.

“Marshian Time Slip” more than delivers on the promise of that Elgin performance. The album adds a contemporary edge and sheen to the traditional hard bop virtues and the playing is excellent throughout from these four hugely accomplished ‘keepers of the flame’.

Both Steve Fishwick and Garnett prove themselves to be able composers in the bebop and hard bop idioms and both impress hugely as fluent, eloquent and sometimes fiery soloists. In this piano-less format Karn and Matt Fishwick are also given plenty to do and the pair respond with skill and conviction, providing flexible and intelligent support to the two horn front line as well as relishing their own soloing opportunities.

It could be argued that it’s all a little derivative but there are many listeners out there who will love this quartet’s updating of the hard bop message. Garnett and the Fishwicks are musicians with large and loyal followings and the quartet’s current tour (remaining dates below) is sure to be well supported. Indeed a live performance is probably where the abilities of these four excellent musicians can be best enjoyed and appreciated. Catch them at;

18 March – Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, London - Late Late Show
(+ special guest on piano)
19 March – Herts Jazz at The Maltings, St Albans
20 March – Kansas Smitty’s, London (official record launch party)
21 March – Birmingham East Side Jazz Club
22 March – Leeds College of Music (masterclass) & Wakefield Jazz Club
23 March – The Bear, Luton

Further details at;

Steve Fishwick:
http://www.stevefishwickjazz.com


Alex Garnett
http://www.alexgarnettsax.com


Album available from http://www.hardboprecords.com and at gigs.

 

The Roger Beaujolais Italian Trio - Barba Lunga Rating: 3-5 out of 5 The trio makes for a cohesive, well balanced and interactive unit that delivers some well integrated ensemble playing alongside the brilliance of the individual solos.

The Roger Beaujolais Italian Trio

“Barba Lunga”

(Stay Tuned Records ST011)

Vibraphonist and composer Roger Beaujolais has appeared frequently on the Jazzmann web pages as both leader and sideman. A professional musician for over thirty years he is a spectacular vibes soloist and a highly popular figure on the UK jazz scene, loved by fellow musicians and audiences alike. 

A late comer to both the vibraphone and the professional jazz ranks Beaujolais has more than made up for lost time. He took up the instrument at twenty four and turned professional at thirty working first with the Chevalier Brothers and Ray Gelato during the 1980’s before becoming part of the 1990’s Acid Jazz movement. Beaujolais’ albums for the Acid Jazz label with The Beaujolais Band and Vibraphonic brought him a degree of commercial success including a US hit with Vibraphonic’s “Can’t Get Enough”.

Beaujolais has also enjoyed a successful session career appearing on pop and rock albums by artists as diverse as Duffy, Rumer, Robert Plant, Roni Size, Guy Chambers, Omara Portuondo, Alexander O’Neal, Morrissey, Paul Weller, Alison Limerick, Kirsty MacColl, Graham Coxon, Tony Allen, Ed Motta, Neneh Cherry, Shola Ama, Colin Vearncombe and Fairground Attraction. It’s a wide ranging and very impressive list.

As a jazz sideman he has worked with pianist Tim Richards’ Great Spirit group, Jerry Dammers’ Spatial AKA Orchestra, saxophonists Mark Lockheart and Tommaso Starace, bassist Davide Mantovani and pianist/vocalist Wendy Kirkland. Indeed I first became aware of his playing during his tenure with Richards’ much missed Great Spirit nonet.

Since 1999 Beaujolais has placed a greater emphasis on straight ahead jazz in an acoustic setting, establishing his own Stay Tuned label to document his output.  He has since released a number of albums in either a quartet or quintet format  beginning with 1999’s “Old Times” and progressing through “I’ll See You Tonight” (2003), “Sentimental” (2005) “Blue Reflections” (2007), “Mind The Gap” (2013) and “Sunset” (2017). The most recent three of these have all been reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann.

“Barba Lunga” represents the twentieth album of Beaujolais’ solo career and finds him in a pared down trio format in the company of the Italian musicians Giacomo Dominici (acoustic and electric bass) and Alessandro Pivi (drums). As his work with Starace and Mantovani has suggested Beaujolais has strong connections with Italy and he has has been a frequent visitor to Rimini for more than a decade, during which time he has established a strong musical relationship with Dominici and Pivi.

Since I last saw him perform Beaujolais has sprouted an impressive grey beard that makes him look a little like Robert Wyatt. I’d have thought it would get in the way when he is soloing on the vibes but nevertheless the new album is named for it - “Barba Lunga”, meaning “Long Beard”.

As on “Mind The Gap” and “Sunset” the focus is again very much on Beaujolais’ original writing. The album’s two covers are a remarkable arrangement of the Jimi Hendrix classic “The Wind Cries Mary” and an adaptation of the Stan Freeman/Jack Lawrence tune “Faith”.

The vibes trio is a fairly uncommon line up,  although the contemporary Cloudmakers Trio of vibraphonist Jim Hart,  bassist Michael Janisch and drummer Dave Smith comes to mind, and it was also the format often favoured by the late, great US vibes man Walt Dickerson (1931-2008).

Nevertheless Beaujolais seems to relish the freedom afforded by the exposed setting and the rapport he has established over a ten year period with his two Italian colleagues is immediately apparent.  Pivi’s drums kick start the opening “Granita for Anita” and his dialogue with the leader’s vibes is consistently absorbing as they negotiate the boppish twists and turns of the piece as Dominici plays an anchoring role on electric bass, his buoyant grooves also helping to drive the music forward. Having seen Beaujolais performing live in a variety of contexts on a number of occasions I know that he’s a fluent and often fiery soloist with a prodigious four mallet technique. He positively dazzles on the opening solo here and he’s followed by Dominici, finally cutting loose on the bass. It all makes for an energetic and exhilarating start.

Next we hear the title track, “Barba Lunga”, which initially adopts a slightly less frenetic approach as Beaujolais’ vibes lead the way accompanied by Dominici’s languid but springy electric bass groove and Pivi’s colourful and brightly detailed drumming. The leader takes the first solo, engineering a sudden kick into a more rapid swing groove mid tune as his mallets positively dance across the bars. Dominici’s melodic electric bass feature slows the tempo once more and there’s also a carefully constructed, subtly nuanced drum solo from the excellent Pivi.

Beaujolais, arrangement of Jimi Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary” becomes an effective jazz vehicle with Dominici’s acoustic bass playing the melody as Beaujolais’ shimmering vibes and Pivi’s brushed drums offer discrete support.

“Faith”, written by Stan Freeman and Jack Lawrence was made famous by Art Blakey and Beaujolais and his friends treat it to a bustling bebop style arrangement that is positively joyous in its execution. Beaujolais sparkles with an energetic solo above a shuffling bass and drum groove. Dominici, on acoustic bass also enjoys an extended solo and there are a series of rapid fire drum breaks from Pivi.

The playful mood continues on the marvellously titled Beaujolais original “Mr Non PC”, another fast paced offering that places a contemporary slant on traditional bebop virtues with its numerous changes of pace. Here the trio are at their most tight knit and interactive, negotiating the tune’s complexities like a single organism. Nevertheless there is still room for moments of individual brilliance with Beaujolais and Dominici both contributing solos while Pivi turns in a receptive but highly colourful performance behind the kit.

“Are We There Yet” is ushered in by a passage of unaccompanied bass, subsequently joined by the shimmer of vibes and cymbals. It subsequently shades off into a languid, Latin tinged groove with the leader’s vibes floating serenely above a carpet of drums and acoustic bass. Dominici adds a characteristically melodic solo on acoustic bass.

“Benign Tonight” offers more contemporary bop virtues as Beaujolais solos in virtuoso fashion above a backdrop of Dominici’s rapid bass walk and Pivi’s crisp drum grooves. The drummer also enjoys an extended feature, as does Dominici at the bass.

“Lost For Words” is less frenetic, beginning with the shimmer of solo vibes and with Pivi alternating between brushes and sticks. A genuine ballad it features liquid, melodic electric bass from Dominici, who also accompanies Beaujolais as Pivi temporarily drops out. But the drummer later returns for a series of engaging exchanges with the leader’s vibes.

The pace picks up again for the playful romp that is “Peccable” with Beaujolais’ vibes percolating above a taut bass and drum groove on a piece that again includes some inspired exchanges between the members of the trio, with all three also featuring as soloists.

“On The Other Hand” slows things down once more with Dominici’s languorous electric bass initially taking the melody and expounding upon it before he hands over to Beaujolais. The bassist returns for a second bite of the cherry following the leader’s vibes solo. Meanwhile Pivi adds another well structured solo at the kit, his playing colourful and richly nuanced and imbued with subtle melodic flourishes.

The album concludes with the breezy and sparky “Enough Rope”, which is introduced by Pivi at the drums and includes solos from Dominici on acoustic bass and Beaujolais at the vibes plus a series of crisp and dynamic drum breaks from Pivi.

The Beaujolais Italian Trio is less radical in its approach than Cloudmakers and the music to be heard on “Barba Lunga” is largely rooted in conventional jazz and bebop virtues. The rapport between the three musicians is consistently impressive and the trio makes for a cohesive, well balanced and interactive unit that delivers some well integrated ensemble playing alongside the brilliance of the individual solos. This is a highly democratic trio and each member is afforded plenty of solo space and given the chance to shine individually.

Beaujolais wouldn’t claim to be a radical and there are few real surprises here but like the rest of his recent output it’s a highly accomplished album that offers much for the listener to enjoy. Let’s hope that he’s able to bring the members of his very impressive Italian trio over to the UK to play some live dates at some point in the future.

Barba Lunga

The Roger Beaujolais Italian Trio

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Barba Lunga

The trio makes for a cohesive, well balanced and interactive unit that delivers some well integrated ensemble playing alongside the brilliance of the individual solos.

The Roger Beaujolais Italian Trio

“Barba Lunga”

(Stay Tuned Records ST011)

Vibraphonist and composer Roger Beaujolais has appeared frequently on the Jazzmann web pages as both leader and sideman. A professional musician for over thirty years he is a spectacular vibes soloist and a highly popular figure on the UK jazz scene, loved by fellow musicians and audiences alike. 

A late comer to both the vibraphone and the professional jazz ranks Beaujolais has more than made up for lost time. He took up the instrument at twenty four and turned professional at thirty working first with the Chevalier Brothers and Ray Gelato during the 1980’s before becoming part of the 1990’s Acid Jazz movement. Beaujolais’ albums for the Acid Jazz label with The Beaujolais Band and Vibraphonic brought him a degree of commercial success including a US hit with Vibraphonic’s “Can’t Get Enough”.

Beaujolais has also enjoyed a successful session career appearing on pop and rock albums by artists as diverse as Duffy, Rumer, Robert Plant, Roni Size, Guy Chambers, Omara Portuondo, Alexander O’Neal, Morrissey, Paul Weller, Alison Limerick, Kirsty MacColl, Graham Coxon, Tony Allen, Ed Motta, Neneh Cherry, Shola Ama, Colin Vearncombe and Fairground Attraction. It’s a wide ranging and very impressive list.

As a jazz sideman he has worked with pianist Tim Richards’ Great Spirit group, Jerry Dammers’ Spatial AKA Orchestra, saxophonists Mark Lockheart and Tommaso Starace, bassist Davide Mantovani and pianist/vocalist Wendy Kirkland. Indeed I first became aware of his playing during his tenure with Richards’ much missed Great Spirit nonet.

Since 1999 Beaujolais has placed a greater emphasis on straight ahead jazz in an acoustic setting, establishing his own Stay Tuned label to document his output.  He has since released a number of albums in either a quartet or quintet format  beginning with 1999’s “Old Times” and progressing through “I’ll See You Tonight” (2003), “Sentimental” (2005) “Blue Reflections” (2007), “Mind The Gap” (2013) and “Sunset” (2017). The most recent three of these have all been reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann.

“Barba Lunga” represents the twentieth album of Beaujolais’ solo career and finds him in a pared down trio format in the company of the Italian musicians Giacomo Dominici (acoustic and electric bass) and Alessandro Pivi (drums). As his work with Starace and Mantovani has suggested Beaujolais has strong connections with Italy and he has has been a frequent visitor to Rimini for more than a decade, during which time he has established a strong musical relationship with Dominici and Pivi.

Since I last saw him perform Beaujolais has sprouted an impressive grey beard that makes him look a little like Robert Wyatt. I’d have thought it would get in the way when he is soloing on the vibes but nevertheless the new album is named for it - “Barba Lunga”, meaning “Long Beard”.

As on “Mind The Gap” and “Sunset” the focus is again very much on Beaujolais’ original writing. The album’s two covers are a remarkable arrangement of the Jimi Hendrix classic “The Wind Cries Mary” and an adaptation of the Stan Freeman/Jack Lawrence tune “Faith”.

The vibes trio is a fairly uncommon line up,  although the contemporary Cloudmakers Trio of vibraphonist Jim Hart,  bassist Michael Janisch and drummer Dave Smith comes to mind, and it was also the format often favoured by the late, great US vibes man Walt Dickerson (1931-2008).

Nevertheless Beaujolais seems to relish the freedom afforded by the exposed setting and the rapport he has established over a ten year period with his two Italian colleagues is immediately apparent.  Pivi’s drums kick start the opening “Granita for Anita” and his dialogue with the leader’s vibes is consistently absorbing as they negotiate the boppish twists and turns of the piece as Dominici plays an anchoring role on electric bass, his buoyant grooves also helping to drive the music forward. Having seen Beaujolais performing live in a variety of contexts on a number of occasions I know that he’s a fluent and often fiery soloist with a prodigious four mallet technique. He positively dazzles on the opening solo here and he’s followed by Dominici, finally cutting loose on the bass. It all makes for an energetic and exhilarating start.

Next we hear the title track, “Barba Lunga”, which initially adopts a slightly less frenetic approach as Beaujolais’ vibes lead the way accompanied by Dominici’s languid but springy electric bass groove and Pivi’s colourful and brightly detailed drumming. The leader takes the first solo, engineering a sudden kick into a more rapid swing groove mid tune as his mallets positively dance across the bars. Dominici’s melodic electric bass feature slows the tempo once more and there’s also a carefully constructed, subtly nuanced drum solo from the excellent Pivi.

Beaujolais, arrangement of Jimi Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary” becomes an effective jazz vehicle with Dominici’s acoustic bass playing the melody as Beaujolais’ shimmering vibes and Pivi’s brushed drums offer discrete support.

“Faith”, written by Stan Freeman and Jack Lawrence was made famous by Art Blakey and Beaujolais and his friends treat it to a bustling bebop style arrangement that is positively joyous in its execution. Beaujolais sparkles with an energetic solo above a shuffling bass and drum groove. Dominici, on acoustic bass also enjoys an extended solo and there are a series of rapid fire drum breaks from Pivi.

The playful mood continues on the marvellously titled Beaujolais original “Mr Non PC”, another fast paced offering that places a contemporary slant on traditional bebop virtues with its numerous changes of pace. Here the trio are at their most tight knit and interactive, negotiating the tune’s complexities like a single organism. Nevertheless there is still room for moments of individual brilliance with Beaujolais and Dominici both contributing solos while Pivi turns in a receptive but highly colourful performance behind the kit.

“Are We There Yet” is ushered in by a passage of unaccompanied bass, subsequently joined by the shimmer of vibes and cymbals. It subsequently shades off into a languid, Latin tinged groove with the leader’s vibes floating serenely above a carpet of drums and acoustic bass. Dominici adds a characteristically melodic solo on acoustic bass.

“Benign Tonight” offers more contemporary bop virtues as Beaujolais solos in virtuoso fashion above a backdrop of Dominici’s rapid bass walk and Pivi’s crisp drum grooves. The drummer also enjoys an extended feature, as does Dominici at the bass.

“Lost For Words” is less frenetic, beginning with the shimmer of solo vibes and with Pivi alternating between brushes and sticks. A genuine ballad it features liquid, melodic electric bass from Dominici, who also accompanies Beaujolais as Pivi temporarily drops out. But the drummer later returns for a series of engaging exchanges with the leader’s vibes.

The pace picks up again for the playful romp that is “Peccable” with Beaujolais’ vibes percolating above a taut bass and drum groove on a piece that again includes some inspired exchanges between the members of the trio, with all three also featuring as soloists.

“On The Other Hand” slows things down once more with Dominici’s languorous electric bass initially taking the melody and expounding upon it before he hands over to Beaujolais. The bassist returns for a second bite of the cherry following the leader’s vibes solo. Meanwhile Pivi adds another well structured solo at the kit, his playing colourful and richly nuanced and imbued with subtle melodic flourishes.

The album concludes with the breezy and sparky “Enough Rope”, which is introduced by Pivi at the drums and includes solos from Dominici on acoustic bass and Beaujolais at the vibes plus a series of crisp and dynamic drum breaks from Pivi.

The Beaujolais Italian Trio is less radical in its approach than Cloudmakers and the music to be heard on “Barba Lunga” is largely rooted in conventional jazz and bebop virtues. The rapport between the three musicians is consistently impressive and the trio makes for a cohesive, well balanced and interactive unit that delivers some well integrated ensemble playing alongside the brilliance of the individual solos. This is a highly democratic trio and each member is afforded plenty of solo space and given the chance to shine individually.

Beaujolais wouldn’t claim to be a radical and there are few real surprises here but like the rest of his recent output it’s a highly accomplished album that offers much for the listener to enjoy. Let’s hope that he’s able to bring the members of his very impressive Italian trio over to the UK to play some live dates at some point in the future.

Duncan Eagles Quintet - Duncan Eagles Quintet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 09/03/2019. Rating: 4 out of 5 "Adventurous but accessible new music". Ian Mann enjoys a performance by the new quintet led by saxophonist & composer Duncan Eagles and takes a look at their recently released début album "Citizen".

Duncan Eagles Quintet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 09/03/2019.

Duncan Eagles – tenor & soprano saxophones, David Preston – guitar, Matt Robinson – piano, Max Luthert – double bass, Dave Hamblett - drums

The Jazzmann has always felt a sense of personal pride with regard to his early recognition of the talent and potential of the London based saxophonist and composer Duncan Eagles.

Eagles first came to prominence as the leader and chief writer of the trio Partikel which teamed him with the talents of double bassist Max Luthert and drummer/percussionist Eric Ford. The group’s eponymous 2010 début was favourably reviewed on the Jazzmann for its “refreshing, innately tuneful and highly distinctive take on the art of the saxophone trio”.

That first Partikel album made quite an impression on the UK jazz scene as a whole and Partikel consolidated their success with 2012’s more democratic follow up, the aptly named “Cohesion”.

Each Partikel album has represented a clear artistic progression and in 2015 the group took a giant leap forward with their third offering “String Theory”  which took the radical step of augmenting the now familiar Partikel sound with the additional instrumental voices of a string quartet led by the extraordinary Benet McLean, a musician better known as a jazz pianist and vocalist.

“String Theory” was a triumph, with a live performance of Partikel plus a string quartet of McLean, second violinist David Le Page, violist Richard Jones and cellist Kate Gould  at the Arena Theatre being described on the Jazzmann as “a superb fusion of jazz, classical and electronic elements, the three components combining to create something organic, homogeneous and totally unique”.

For economic reasons Partikel also played several “String Theory” shows as a quartet with the core trio augmented by McLean’s violin only. These proved to be just as absorbing as the full septet performances, taking on a life of their own with the flamboyant McLean relishing the extra freedom this format provided as he shared the soloing with Eagles.

McLean’s sudden departure from the ranks found Partikel adapting once more with the addition of guitarist Ant Law for 2017’s “Counteraction”, an album that also included contributions from guest musicians including Anna Cooper (baritone sax, flute) and electronic sound artist Sisi Lu.

Away from Partikel Eagles has also co-led a quintet alongside trumpeter Mark Perry, a group that also featured Luthert, and which released the album “Road Ahead” in 2013. He has also worked as a sideman on recordings by electric bass specialist Cae Marle Garcia and drummer Ollie Howell as well as appearing on Luthert’s 2014 solo album “Orbital”. He has also recorded with his brother, the alto saxophonist Samuel Eagles and his group SPIRIT, appearing on the 2017 album “Ask Seek Knock”.

Duncan Eagles’ latest project involves the quintet that the saxophonist brought to The Hive for this Shrewsbury Jazz Network gig. February 2019 saw the release of “Citizen”, the first recording to be issued under his own name. The album appears on the American label Ropeadope, presumably with the intention of giving Eagles greater international exposure.

The saxophonist says of this latest release;
“I feel now that I’m starting to get a much stronger idea of what I’m looking for compositionally. The tunes I wrote for this album are much more specific. Rather then take this music to Partikel I thought about the musicians I know who I felt would interpret the music the way I hear it in my head, and this is what has lead to my forming this new group. It feels like the right time to be putting this music out as my own.”

The musicians of whom Eagles speaks are guitarist David Preston, pianist Matt Robinson, drummer Dave Hamblett and Partikel bassist Max Luthert. “Citizen” features eight new original compositions by Eagles and in general the music is more through composed and densely written than that of Partikel. However for all the complexity Eagles has retained his ear for a good tune and the new recording includes several memorable melodies.

Having previously visited The Hive with Partikel the affable Eagles is a popular figure with Shrewsbury jazz audiences and there was a good turn out for this adventurous but accessible new music. With the full album personnel in attendance it was inevitable that the majority of the material played tonight would be sourced from the new album, but Eagles also threw a few surprises into the mix, including a single standard to help keep the audience sweet.

With Eagles specialising on tenor almost throughout the evening began with the album track “Shimmer” which commenced with a circling solo sax motif, shadowed by Preston’s suitably shimmering guitar textures and Hamblett’s mallet rumbles. As Hamblett and Luthert established a groove a typically arresting Eagles melody emerged, one that alluded to both folk and classical influences and which formed the basis for a thoughtful and fluent guitar solo from the impressive Preston. With Robinson’s keyboard holding things together we also heard from Eagles on tenor, who took the opportunity to stretch out more expansively. The performance also included something of a feature from Hamblett, one of the country’s most in demand young drummers, who has worked with pianist Ivo Neame among others, and is also a band leader in his own right.

Inspired by a visit to Thailand and Cambodia “Shimmer” had previously been played by Partikel, as was the following “Lanterns”, a piece that appeared on the “Counteraction” album. Tonight the piece was given an atmospheric and evocative arrangement with Preston again making subtle use of his various FX pedals as Hamblett moved between mallets, brushes and sticks in response to the leader’s constantly evolving tenor solo.

The first cover of the evening was “The Path Is Narrow”, written by the American saxophonist, composer and band leader Walt Weiskopf, who has recently been wowing British audiences as part of the Steely Dan touring band. Weiskopf’s tune introduced a more conventional jazz feel to the proceedings with Eagles and Preston doubling up on the melody line before the group members embarked on their individual solos, this time accompanied by an orthodox swing groove. Eagles was the first to go followed by Robinson with his first solo of the night at his Nord Stage keyboard. Preston’s fluid and inventive guitar solo than introduced a rock influence to the proceedings, a reminder of his work with the trio Preston, Glasgow, Lowe, featuring Kevin Glasgow on six string electric bass and Laurie Lowe at the drums.

It was back to the “Citizen” album repertoire for “Conquistador”, which was introduced by the deep sonorities of Luthert’s double bass. Eagles then joined him on tenor for a moody dialogue that evolved into a piece that the composer described as a “rubato ballad”. Mallet rumbles, cymbal shimmers and shadowy guitar FX all added to the atmosphere with Hamblett deploying a colourist’s role as Eagles soloed thoughtfully, probing gently before embracing something more dramatic and dynamic on this highly evocative piece.

The as yet unrecorded “92 Days” began in the piano trio format and adopted a more conventional feel with Robinson taking the first solo. The piece subsequently segued into the album track “Folk Song” which saw Eagles soloing powerfully and expansively on tenor, spurred on by Hamblett’s dynamic drumming. Hamblett and Robinson, both of whom featured prominently here, also work together in the exciting fusion-esque quartet Flying Machines, led by guitarist and composer Alex Munk.

A lengthy first set closed with the title track of the “Citizen” album which was introduced by the brief interplay of tenor, guitar and piano before Luthert established the groove that was to prove the foundation of the piece.
“Citizen has quite a dense and complex structure both rhythmically and harmonically but with a melody that moves from being a free and hopeful message to something that is darker and more part of the structure.” Eagles has explained. “When performing and improvising on this song, and throughout the album, I’m looking forward to creating something that is hopeful and optimistic within a challenging and dense framework”.
Tonight those melodies positively danced with Hamblett’s drums helping to propel solos from Eagles and Preston, the later conjuring ringing peals of notes from his guitar.

The first piece of the second half was unannounced, but by a process of elimination must have been “Taxco” from the new album. Here Eagles’ tenor playing was at its most Coltrane-esque as he shared the solos with Robinson at the piano and Preston on guitar and with Hamblett also featuring towards the close.

Robinson’s unaccompanied piano ushered in the loosely structured intro to a second “rubato ballad”, this one titled “Midnight Mass” a piece that paid homage to Eagles’ childhood Christmas memories. Appropriately it was ultimately something of a showcase for the composer’s richly emotive tenor playing.

Eagles moved to soprano for the only time to perform “Riad”, apiece inspired by a recent visit to that most evocative of cities, Marrakesh.
“One of the most striking things about that place is the peace of the riads, town houses built around a courtyard or garden, in the carnage of the souks” Eagles explains. “I used this as the basis of the tune, an intense melody builds and builds to a sudden drop of calm that comes from nowhere, and then before you realise it you are back out into the carnage again”.
Tonight’s rendition was certainly suitably labyrinthine with dazzling solos from Eagles on soprano and Robinson at the piano, arguably his best of the night.

The otherwise all original music of this second set was punctuated by Eagles’ arrangement of the standard “My One And Only Love” which saw him moving back to tenor and duetting with Luthert’s bass on the intro. With Hamblett deploying brushes throughout the leader shared the solos with Preston’s Frisell like guitar.

Returning to the new album “Cascade” was introduced by a powerful drum salvo from Hamblett, his subsequent Latin inflected grooves providing the launch pad for intense and powerful solos from Eagles and Robinson, both soloists visibly sparking off the drummer. The music took on a decidedly anthemic quality as the momentum gathered, coming full circle to close with a feature from the drummer.

This was scheduled to be the last number of the set but such was the positive reaction of the Shrewsbury audience to this powerful new music - with several of them getting to their feet - that the quintet were persuaded to play a “quick” encore. In this case “quick” turned out to refer to velocity rather than length as the band stretched out on the as yet unrecorded “Round Table”, a tune originally written for Partikel. Rooted in the virtues of bebop, but with Robert Glasper also acknowledged as an influence, this was a fast paced piece that included features for Eagles, Robinson, Preston and Hamblett with Preston delivering perhaps his strongest solo of the night, packed with agile, slippery single note lines and sophisticated chording.

Early reviews of “Citizen” have been overwhelmingly positive with Eagles’ playing compared to that of Chris Potter and the late Michael Brecker and it wouldn’t be inappropriate to add the names of Seamus Blake and Donny McCaslin to that list too.

Tonight’s performance was an excellent one all round with all of the members of the quintet acquitting themselves well. It was the first time I’d witnessed Preston playing live and I was very impressed with his contribution to the success of the performance. I’ve seen the others many times and was expecting nothing less than excellence from them.

The “Citizen” album is highly recommended.

Meanwhile the Duncan Eagles Quintet is still on tour with further dates as listed below;

12 March - Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club - opening for Ulf Wakenius and Martin Taylor
13 March - The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh
14 March - The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
15 March - The Blue Arrow, Glasgow
22 March - Royal Festival Hall Foyer, London
29 March - The Verdict, Brighton 

More information at http://www.duncaneagles.com

Duncan Eagles Quintet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 09/03/2019.

Duncan Eagles Quintet

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Duncan Eagles Quintet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 09/03/2019.

"Adventurous but accessible new music". Ian Mann enjoys a performance by the new quintet led by saxophonist & composer Duncan Eagles and takes a look at their recently released début album "Citizen".

Duncan Eagles Quintet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 09/03/2019.

Duncan Eagles – tenor & soprano saxophones, David Preston – guitar, Matt Robinson – piano, Max Luthert – double bass, Dave Hamblett - drums

The Jazzmann has always felt a sense of personal pride with regard to his early recognition of the talent and potential of the London based saxophonist and composer Duncan Eagles.

Eagles first came to prominence as the leader and chief writer of the trio Partikel which teamed him with the talents of double bassist Max Luthert and drummer/percussionist Eric Ford. The group’s eponymous 2010 début was favourably reviewed on the Jazzmann for its “refreshing, innately tuneful and highly distinctive take on the art of the saxophone trio”.

That first Partikel album made quite an impression on the UK jazz scene as a whole and Partikel consolidated their success with 2012’s more democratic follow up, the aptly named “Cohesion”.

Each Partikel album has represented a clear artistic progression and in 2015 the group took a giant leap forward with their third offering “String Theory”  which took the radical step of augmenting the now familiar Partikel sound with the additional instrumental voices of a string quartet led by the extraordinary Benet McLean, a musician better known as a jazz pianist and vocalist.

“String Theory” was a triumph, with a live performance of Partikel plus a string quartet of McLean, second violinist David Le Page, violist Richard Jones and cellist Kate Gould  at the Arena Theatre being described on the Jazzmann as “a superb fusion of jazz, classical and electronic elements, the three components combining to create something organic, homogeneous and totally unique”.

For economic reasons Partikel also played several “String Theory” shows as a quartet with the core trio augmented by McLean’s violin only. These proved to be just as absorbing as the full septet performances, taking on a life of their own with the flamboyant McLean relishing the extra freedom this format provided as he shared the soloing with Eagles.

McLean’s sudden departure from the ranks found Partikel adapting once more with the addition of guitarist Ant Law for 2017’s “Counteraction”, an album that also included contributions from guest musicians including Anna Cooper (baritone sax, flute) and electronic sound artist Sisi Lu.

Away from Partikel Eagles has also co-led a quintet alongside trumpeter Mark Perry, a group that also featured Luthert, and which released the album “Road Ahead” in 2013. He has also worked as a sideman on recordings by electric bass specialist Cae Marle Garcia and drummer Ollie Howell as well as appearing on Luthert’s 2014 solo album “Orbital”. He has also recorded with his brother, the alto saxophonist Samuel Eagles and his group SPIRIT, appearing on the 2017 album “Ask Seek Knock”.

Duncan Eagles’ latest project involves the quintet that the saxophonist brought to The Hive for this Shrewsbury Jazz Network gig. February 2019 saw the release of “Citizen”, the first recording to be issued under his own name. The album appears on the American label Ropeadope, presumably with the intention of giving Eagles greater international exposure.

The saxophonist says of this latest release;
“I feel now that I’m starting to get a much stronger idea of what I’m looking for compositionally. The tunes I wrote for this album are much more specific. Rather then take this music to Partikel I thought about the musicians I know who I felt would interpret the music the way I hear it in my head, and this is what has lead to my forming this new group. It feels like the right time to be putting this music out as my own.”

The musicians of whom Eagles speaks are guitarist David Preston, pianist Matt Robinson, drummer Dave Hamblett and Partikel bassist Max Luthert. “Citizen” features eight new original compositions by Eagles and in general the music is more through composed and densely written than that of Partikel. However for all the complexity Eagles has retained his ear for a good tune and the new recording includes several memorable melodies.

Having previously visited The Hive with Partikel the affable Eagles is a popular figure with Shrewsbury jazz audiences and there was a good turn out for this adventurous but accessible new music. With the full album personnel in attendance it was inevitable that the majority of the material played tonight would be sourced from the new album, but Eagles also threw a few surprises into the mix, including a single standard to help keep the audience sweet.

With Eagles specialising on tenor almost throughout the evening began with the album track “Shimmer” which commenced with a circling solo sax motif, shadowed by Preston’s suitably shimmering guitar textures and Hamblett’s mallet rumbles. As Hamblett and Luthert established a groove a typically arresting Eagles melody emerged, one that alluded to both folk and classical influences and which formed the basis for a thoughtful and fluent guitar solo from the impressive Preston. With Robinson’s keyboard holding things together we also heard from Eagles on tenor, who took the opportunity to stretch out more expansively. The performance also included something of a feature from Hamblett, one of the country’s most in demand young drummers, who has worked with pianist Ivo Neame among others, and is also a band leader in his own right.

Inspired by a visit to Thailand and Cambodia “Shimmer” had previously been played by Partikel, as was the following “Lanterns”, a piece that appeared on the “Counteraction” album. Tonight the piece was given an atmospheric and evocative arrangement with Preston again making subtle use of his various FX pedals as Hamblett moved between mallets, brushes and sticks in response to the leader’s constantly evolving tenor solo.

The first cover of the evening was “The Path Is Narrow”, written by the American saxophonist, composer and band leader Walt Weiskopf, who has recently been wowing British audiences as part of the Steely Dan touring band. Weiskopf’s tune introduced a more conventional jazz feel to the proceedings with Eagles and Preston doubling up on the melody line before the group members embarked on their individual solos, this time accompanied by an orthodox swing groove. Eagles was the first to go followed by Robinson with his first solo of the night at his Nord Stage keyboard. Preston’s fluid and inventive guitar solo than introduced a rock influence to the proceedings, a reminder of his work with the trio Preston, Glasgow, Lowe, featuring Kevin Glasgow on six string electric bass and Laurie Lowe at the drums.

It was back to the “Citizen” album repertoire for “Conquistador”, which was introduced by the deep sonorities of Luthert’s double bass. Eagles then joined him on tenor for a moody dialogue that evolved into a piece that the composer described as a “rubato ballad”. Mallet rumbles, cymbal shimmers and shadowy guitar FX all added to the atmosphere with Hamblett deploying a colourist’s role as Eagles soloed thoughtfully, probing gently before embracing something more dramatic and dynamic on this highly evocative piece.

The as yet unrecorded “92 Days” began in the piano trio format and adopted a more conventional feel with Robinson taking the first solo. The piece subsequently segued into the album track “Folk Song” which saw Eagles soloing powerfully and expansively on tenor, spurred on by Hamblett’s dynamic drumming. Hamblett and Robinson, both of whom featured prominently here, also work together in the exciting fusion-esque quartet Flying Machines, led by guitarist and composer Alex Munk.

A lengthy first set closed with the title track of the “Citizen” album which was introduced by the brief interplay of tenor, guitar and piano before Luthert established the groove that was to prove the foundation of the piece.
“Citizen has quite a dense and complex structure both rhythmically and harmonically but with a melody that moves from being a free and hopeful message to something that is darker and more part of the structure.” Eagles has explained. “When performing and improvising on this song, and throughout the album, I’m looking forward to creating something that is hopeful and optimistic within a challenging and dense framework”.
Tonight those melodies positively danced with Hamblett’s drums helping to propel solos from Eagles and Preston, the later conjuring ringing peals of notes from his guitar.

The first piece of the second half was unannounced, but by a process of elimination must have been “Taxco” from the new album. Here Eagles’ tenor playing was at its most Coltrane-esque as he shared the solos with Robinson at the piano and Preston on guitar and with Hamblett also featuring towards the close.

Robinson’s unaccompanied piano ushered in the loosely structured intro to a second “rubato ballad”, this one titled “Midnight Mass” a piece that paid homage to Eagles’ childhood Christmas memories. Appropriately it was ultimately something of a showcase for the composer’s richly emotive tenor playing.

Eagles moved to soprano for the only time to perform “Riad”, apiece inspired by a recent visit to that most evocative of cities, Marrakesh.
“One of the most striking things about that place is the peace of the riads, town houses built around a courtyard or garden, in the carnage of the souks” Eagles explains. “I used this as the basis of the tune, an intense melody builds and builds to a sudden drop of calm that comes from nowhere, and then before you realise it you are back out into the carnage again”.
Tonight’s rendition was certainly suitably labyrinthine with dazzling solos from Eagles on soprano and Robinson at the piano, arguably his best of the night.

The otherwise all original music of this second set was punctuated by Eagles’ arrangement of the standard “My One And Only Love” which saw him moving back to tenor and duetting with Luthert’s bass on the intro. With Hamblett deploying brushes throughout the leader shared the solos with Preston’s Frisell like guitar.

Returning to the new album “Cascade” was introduced by a powerful drum salvo from Hamblett, his subsequent Latin inflected grooves providing the launch pad for intense and powerful solos from Eagles and Robinson, both soloists visibly sparking off the drummer. The music took on a decidedly anthemic quality as the momentum gathered, coming full circle to close with a feature from the drummer.

This was scheduled to be the last number of the set but such was the positive reaction of the Shrewsbury audience to this powerful new music - with several of them getting to their feet - that the quintet were persuaded to play a “quick” encore. In this case “quick” turned out to refer to velocity rather than length as the band stretched out on the as yet unrecorded “Round Table”, a tune originally written for Partikel. Rooted in the virtues of bebop, but with Robert Glasper also acknowledged as an influence, this was a fast paced piece that included features for Eagles, Robinson, Preston and Hamblett with Preston delivering perhaps his strongest solo of the night, packed with agile, slippery single note lines and sophisticated chording.

Early reviews of “Citizen” have been overwhelmingly positive with Eagles’ playing compared to that of Chris Potter and the late Michael Brecker and it wouldn’t be inappropriate to add the names of Seamus Blake and Donny McCaslin to that list too.

Tonight’s performance was an excellent one all round with all of the members of the quintet acquitting themselves well. It was the first time I’d witnessed Preston playing live and I was very impressed with his contribution to the success of the performance. I’ve seen the others many times and was expecting nothing less than excellence from them.

The “Citizen” album is highly recommended.

Meanwhile the Duncan Eagles Quintet is still on tour with further dates as listed below;

12 March - Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club - opening for Ulf Wakenius and Martin Taylor
13 March - The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh
14 March - The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
15 March - The Blue Arrow, Glasgow
22 March - Royal Festival Hall Foyer, London
29 March - The Verdict, Brighton 

More information at http://www.duncaneagles.com

Theon Cross - Fyah Rating: 4 out of 5 A consistently exciting, and undeniably impressive, album that combines an edgy, urban, contemporary urgency with supreme musicality.

Theon Cross

“Fyah”

(Gearbox Records GB1550CD)

Tuba player Theon Cross is probably best known to British jazz audiences as a member of Sons Of Kemet, the Mercury nominated quartet led by multi-reed player and composer Shabaka Hutchings. He’s also been part of Brass Mask, the New Orleans inspired ensemble led by saxophonist and composer Tom Challenger and of Seed Ensemble, the ten piece band led by alto saxophonist and composer Cassie Kinoshi.

Cross also leads his own bands and is one of a larger group of London based jazz musicians who have been creating waves on the UK music scene through their participation on the much feted “We Out Here” compilation, released by DJ/producer Gilles Peterson on his Brownswood Recordings label.

Featuring tracks by Cross (“Brockley”) and Hutchings “We Out Here” also includes pieces by drummer Moses Boyd, saxophonist Nubya Garcia, keyboard player Joe Armon Jones and the groups Maisha, Ezra Collective, Triforce and Kokoroko. There has been a real buzz about the musicians in this circle with many individuals and bands enjoying healthy record sales, high profile gigs and mainstream media interest in a manner rarely seen since the ‘jazz boom’ of the late 1980s (Loose Tubes, Jazz Warriors etc.). Indeed there’s a certain continuity here with many of this current crop of exciting new musicians having come through the Tomorrow’s Warriors programme spearheaded by bassist and educator Gary Crosby.

The success of the “We Out Here” project has led to the musicians in its orbit collaborating with their counterparts from Chicago, notably drummer and composer Makaya McCraven, on the ChicagoXLondon Mixtape album “Where We Come From” released on the Chicago based International Anthem label. Cross, Garcia and Armon Jones all feature prominently amongst other musicians from both sides of the Atlantic.

Others with whom Cross has worked include multi-reed player Courtney Pine, American soul artist Jon Batiste and the rappers Kano and Pharoahe Monch. He is also a member of South London’s increasingly influential Steam Down musicians collective, based at the Albany Theatre in Deptford.

Cross released his first recording as a leader in 2015. “Aspirations” was a five track EP featuring the trio of Cross on tuba, Garcia on tenor sax and bass clarinet and Boyd at the drums. The EP was well received and earned Cross nominations for Best Instrumentalist in the Jazz FM Awards of 2016 and 2018 and Best Newcomer in the 2016 Parliamentary Jazz Awards.

For “Fyah” Cross retains the same nucleus with Boyd at the drum kit throughout and with Garcia specialising on tenor sax on six of the album’s eight tracks. For his first full length album Cross also enlists the services of a number of like minded guests with Steam Down founder Wayne Francis (aka Ahnanse) taking over on tenor for a couple of tracks with Artie Zaitz adding electric guitar. Tim Doyle, from the band Maisha, provides percussion on one piece while Theon’s brother, Nathaniel Cross, adds trombone to another.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the music on “Fyah” is highly rhythmic, similar in spirit to that of Sons of Kemet as it mixes elements of jazz, hip hop, grime and electronica with other aspects of African and Caribbean music from Afrobeat to reggae.

The aptly titled “Activate” gets the album off to an exciting and energetic start as Cross’  rumbling tuba bass lines lock in with Boyd’s crisp drum grooves as Garcia’s tenor dances lithely around them, agile, but full blooded and incisive. Cross is scarcely any less nimble on the mighty tuba as he duets with Boyd’s vibrant and highly contemporary rhythms on this Carnival inspired opener.

“Offerings” opens with the sampled sounds of party chatter which forms the backdrop to the deep, loping grooves created by Cross and Boyd as Garcia weaves sinuous sax melodies around them. There’s a Kemet like atmosphere of Afro-Futurism about the music with Cross skilfully manipulating his sound via the subtle use of electronics.

“Radiation” boasts a beguiling stop-start groove underpinned by the leader’s virtuoso tuba bass lines. If Cross was a footballer he’d attract the plaudit “wonderful skills for a big man”, for such is the inventiveness and agility with which he plays the so-called “lugubrious” or “cumbersome” tuba. Boyd deliberately keeps things simple here, all the better for Cross to demonstrate his abilities as he combines with Garcia’s melodic sax motifs. This core trio of Cross, Boyd and Moses is a highly effective unit capable of building a juggernaut like momentum capable of taking jazz back to the dance floor.

“Letting Go” features more tuba pyrotechnics from Cross, but often it’s his work in a rhythmic context that impresses as much as his playing as a soloist. Again his low register rumble combines well with Garcia’s wispy tenor sax melodies and Boyd’s implacable grooves as the piece gradually gathers momentum, before fading once more to close with the sound of Garcia’s unaccompanied sax.

The group is expanded to a quintet for “Candace Of Meroe” with Francis, Zaitz and Doyle added to the line up as Garcia sits out. Boyd’s drums and Doyle’s percussion unite to create a percolating groove enhanced by Zaitz’s chicken scratch guitar and Cross’ extraordinary vocalised tuba lines, sounding almost like an electric bass. There’s a more overtly African influence about this joyously celebratory piece. Francis adds a powerful and incisive tenor solo, followed by Cross on the tuba.

The core trio bring an edgy, restless energy to the grime inspired “Panda City” with its rumbling tuba, taut drumming and earthy tenor augmented by synthesised sounds and beats.

“CIYA” sees the group expanded again with Cross and Boyd joined by Francis, Zaitz and Nathaniel Cross on a Theon composition arranged by Ahnanse and Nathaniel. This slinkily seductive piece has more of a conventional soul jazz feel about it with Francis adopting a softer sound on tenor and combining effectively with Nathaniel’s trombone. Solos come from Francis on tenor, Nathaniel on rounded, warm sounding trombone, Zaitz on subtly distorted guitar and Theon on tuba.

The album concludes with the suitably incendiary “LDN’s Burning” with the core trio in rumbustious form. Cross’ rollicking tuba lines combine with Boyd’s boisterous drum grooves as Garcia delivers captivating sax melody lines that again draw on Kemet style Afro-Futurism. The closing section features an extraordinary dialogue between the leader’s tuba and Boyd’s drums.

“Fyah” is a consistently exciting, and undeniably impressive album, that combines an edgy, urban, contemporary urgency with supreme musicality. The interplay between the core trio of Cross, Boyd and Garcia is exceptional throughout with all of the guest performers also making telling contributions. It’s easy to see why there has been such a buzz about this circle of London raised musicians and anybody who has enjoyed Cross’s contribution to the music of Sons of Kemet will find much to satisfy them here. One suspects that the trio of Cross, Boyd and Garcia also represent a hugely exciting live act. Catch them if you can.

Fyah

Theon Cross

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Fyah

A consistently exciting, and undeniably impressive, album that combines an edgy, urban, contemporary urgency with supreme musicality.

Theon Cross

“Fyah”

(Gearbox Records GB1550CD)

Tuba player Theon Cross is probably best known to British jazz audiences as a member of Sons Of Kemet, the Mercury nominated quartet led by multi-reed player and composer Shabaka Hutchings. He’s also been part of Brass Mask, the New Orleans inspired ensemble led by saxophonist and composer Tom Challenger and of Seed Ensemble, the ten piece band led by alto saxophonist and composer Cassie Kinoshi.

Cross also leads his own bands and is one of a larger group of London based jazz musicians who have been creating waves on the UK music scene through their participation on the much feted “We Out Here” compilation, released by DJ/producer Gilles Peterson on his Brownswood Recordings label.

Featuring tracks by Cross (“Brockley”) and Hutchings “We Out Here” also includes pieces by drummer Moses Boyd, saxophonist Nubya Garcia, keyboard player Joe Armon Jones and the groups Maisha, Ezra Collective, Triforce and Kokoroko. There has been a real buzz about the musicians in this circle with many individuals and bands enjoying healthy record sales, high profile gigs and mainstream media interest in a manner rarely seen since the ‘jazz boom’ of the late 1980s (Loose Tubes, Jazz Warriors etc.). Indeed there’s a certain continuity here with many of this current crop of exciting new musicians having come through the Tomorrow’s Warriors programme spearheaded by bassist and educator Gary Crosby.

The success of the “We Out Here” project has led to the musicians in its orbit collaborating with their counterparts from Chicago, notably drummer and composer Makaya McCraven, on the ChicagoXLondon Mixtape album “Where We Come From” released on the Chicago based International Anthem label. Cross, Garcia and Armon Jones all feature prominently amongst other musicians from both sides of the Atlantic.

Others with whom Cross has worked include multi-reed player Courtney Pine, American soul artist Jon Batiste and the rappers Kano and Pharoahe Monch. He is also a member of South London’s increasingly influential Steam Down musicians collective, based at the Albany Theatre in Deptford.

Cross released his first recording as a leader in 2015. “Aspirations” was a five track EP featuring the trio of Cross on tuba, Garcia on tenor sax and bass clarinet and Boyd at the drums. The EP was well received and earned Cross nominations for Best Instrumentalist in the Jazz FM Awards of 2016 and 2018 and Best Newcomer in the 2016 Parliamentary Jazz Awards.

For “Fyah” Cross retains the same nucleus with Boyd at the drum kit throughout and with Garcia specialising on tenor sax on six of the album’s eight tracks. For his first full length album Cross also enlists the services of a number of like minded guests with Steam Down founder Wayne Francis (aka Ahnanse) taking over on tenor for a couple of tracks with Artie Zaitz adding electric guitar. Tim Doyle, from the band Maisha, provides percussion on one piece while Theon’s brother, Nathaniel Cross, adds trombone to another.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the music on “Fyah” is highly rhythmic, similar in spirit to that of Sons of Kemet as it mixes elements of jazz, hip hop, grime and electronica with other aspects of African and Caribbean music from Afrobeat to reggae.

The aptly titled “Activate” gets the album off to an exciting and energetic start as Cross’  rumbling tuba bass lines lock in with Boyd’s crisp drum grooves as Garcia’s tenor dances lithely around them, agile, but full blooded and incisive. Cross is scarcely any less nimble on the mighty tuba as he duets with Boyd’s vibrant and highly contemporary rhythms on this Carnival inspired opener.

“Offerings” opens with the sampled sounds of party chatter which forms the backdrop to the deep, loping grooves created by Cross and Boyd as Garcia weaves sinuous sax melodies around them. There’s a Kemet like atmosphere of Afro-Futurism about the music with Cross skilfully manipulating his sound via the subtle use of electronics.

“Radiation” boasts a beguiling stop-start groove underpinned by the leader’s virtuoso tuba bass lines. If Cross was a footballer he’d attract the plaudit “wonderful skills for a big man”, for such is the inventiveness and agility with which he plays the so-called “lugubrious” or “cumbersome” tuba. Boyd deliberately keeps things simple here, all the better for Cross to demonstrate his abilities as he combines with Garcia’s melodic sax motifs. This core trio of Cross, Boyd and Moses is a highly effective unit capable of building a juggernaut like momentum capable of taking jazz back to the dance floor.

“Letting Go” features more tuba pyrotechnics from Cross, but often it’s his work in a rhythmic context that impresses as much as his playing as a soloist. Again his low register rumble combines well with Garcia’s wispy tenor sax melodies and Boyd’s implacable grooves as the piece gradually gathers momentum, before fading once more to close with the sound of Garcia’s unaccompanied sax.

The group is expanded to a quintet for “Candace Of Meroe” with Francis, Zaitz and Doyle added to the line up as Garcia sits out. Boyd’s drums and Doyle’s percussion unite to create a percolating groove enhanced by Zaitz’s chicken scratch guitar and Cross’ extraordinary vocalised tuba lines, sounding almost like an electric bass. There’s a more overtly African influence about this joyously celebratory piece. Francis adds a powerful and incisive tenor solo, followed by Cross on the tuba.

The core trio bring an edgy, restless energy to the grime inspired “Panda City” with its rumbling tuba, taut drumming and earthy tenor augmented by synthesised sounds and beats.

“CIYA” sees the group expanded again with Cross and Boyd joined by Francis, Zaitz and Nathaniel Cross on a Theon composition arranged by Ahnanse and Nathaniel. This slinkily seductive piece has more of a conventional soul jazz feel about it with Francis adopting a softer sound on tenor and combining effectively with Nathaniel’s trombone. Solos come from Francis on tenor, Nathaniel on rounded, warm sounding trombone, Zaitz on subtly distorted guitar and Theon on tuba.

The album concludes with the suitably incendiary “LDN’s Burning” with the core trio in rumbustious form. Cross’ rollicking tuba lines combine with Boyd’s boisterous drum grooves as Garcia delivers captivating sax melody lines that again draw on Kemet style Afro-Futurism. The closing section features an extraordinary dialogue between the leader’s tuba and Boyd’s drums.

“Fyah” is a consistently exciting, and undeniably impressive album, that combines an edgy, urban, contemporary urgency with supreme musicality. The interplay between the core trio of Cross, Boyd and Garcia is exceptional throughout with all of the guest performers also making telling contributions. It’s easy to see why there has been such a buzz about this circle of London raised musicians and anybody who has enjoyed Cross’s contribution to the music of Sons of Kemet will find much to satisfy them here. One suspects that the trio of Cross, Boyd and Garcia also represent a hugely exciting live act. Catch them if you can.

Benjamin Croft - 10 Reasons To… Rating: 4 out of 5 An impressive solo début from Croft. It’s a very personal album that is obviously a labour of love and which embraces a broad and eclectic range of musical and other influences.

Benjamin Croft

“10 Reasons To ...”

(33Jazz Records 33JAZZ275)

Keyboard player Benjamin Croft began playing piano and trumpet at the age of seven and later studied at Leeds College of Music. Since graduating he has enjoyed a varied musical career working on cruise ships, on TV talent shows and in West End Theatres. He lived in the US for a while and has toured internationally with acts as varied as The Temptations, The Platters, Belinda Carlisle and Lesley Garrett. As a jazz performer he has worked regularly at leading London jazz clubs such as Ronnie Scott’s, The Pheasantry and the Pizza Express in Dean Street and is currently working with saxophonist Andrew McKay’s quartet.

Written over the course of a two year period “10 Reasons To…” is Croft’s début solo recording and pays homage to his artistic heroes over the course of a wide ranging album that embraces elements of jazz, rock and classical music in addition to literature, theatre and cinema. Several of the pieces are dedications to individuals, but I’ll come to these in more detail as I address the twelve individual tracks.

Among others Croft acknowledges the musical influences of Weather Report, Rick Wakeman, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and Dizzy Gillespie, which may give the listener an idea of what to expect. Croft’s brand of jazz comes with a substantial and unapologetic side order of prog rock with the leader primarily playing electric keyboards.

Croft takes up the story;
“The sounds and styles on this album reflect the slow processing of all that has captured my imagination since I was a child. I didn’t want this to be a typical acoustic jazz sounding album as my ideas tend to be more orchestral. Instead I wanted the sounds to be a combination of keyboard instruments and I have always had a love of 70s and 80s analogue synths.  For example the Mini Moog, Prophet 5 and Mellotron all feature on various tracks”.

Croft is joined by the band Triple Echo featuring Benet McLean on violin and Andy Davis on trumpet and flugelhorn. Bass duties are split between Henry Thomas (mainly electric) and Mario Castronari (acoustic) while Tristan Maillot and Saleem Rahman share the drum chair.

The album also features two spoken word cameos from the late actor Peter Miles (1928-2018) and represent his final work. In the 1970s Miles played several roles in episodes of Doctor Who, the series that first inspired Croft’s love of the synthesiser.

“10 Reasons To…” was recorded at sessions in December 2017 and January 2018 at various studios in London and Leeds. The synths were recorded by Andy Whitmore at Greystoke Studios which houses one of the UK’s largest collections of vintage synths. Meanwhile the acoustic Steinway was recorded at Livingston Studio in London with the great Sonny Johns engineering. The album was mixed and mastered at AIR Studios by the veteran engineer Ray Staff. “Ray is a living legend” comments Croft, “and was the chief mastering engineer at Trident Studios during the 70s. His work can be heard on many of the albums that have influenced me over the years”. The overall album was produced by Henry Thomas with Croft assisting.

Turning now to the music itself which commences with the atmospheric, scene setting “100 Years At Sea Introduction”, which features the rounded, RP sounds of Miles declaiming Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “The City in the Sea” above a backdrop of appropriate musical sounds generated by the quartet of Croft, McLean, Thomas and Maillot as they approximate the noises of rushing winds, crashing waves, the tolling of a ship’s bell etc. The use of Poe’s words and the overall feel of the piece suggest that my personal prog rock heroes, Peter Hammill and Van Der Graaf Generator, may have been an influence on Croft too.

Next up we have “100 Years At Sea” itself with Croft specialising on Rhodes and with McLean’s violin melody lines reminiscent of those that might have been played on a synth or guitar back in the day. At times I’m reminded of some more of my prog heroes, Canterbury style bands such as National Health and Gilgamesh with Croft in the Alan Gowen role. Both McLean and Croft solo to good effect with Thomas on electric bass and Maillot at the drums providing flexible, intelligent support.

The brief but exhilarating “One Million Years At Sea” then features Croft erupting on Mini Moog, Prophet 5 and Roland Juno 60 in a thrilling dialogue with Maillot’s thunderous drums, the piece resolving itself with a softer coda as it manages to cram a hell of a lot of information into its one and a half minute duration.

“Bad Reputations” mixes acoustic and electric keyboards with Croft soloing on synthesiser alongside McLean’s violin, the mood of the piece ranging from the soft and reflective to the positively bouncy, with drums and fretless bass rounding out the mix.

Croft dedicates “T.T.E. (Time, Talent and Electricity)” to the late Keith Emerson, the title apparently sourced from a quote by John Peel who once criticised Emerson, Lake & Palmer as being “a waste of time, talent and electricity”. I have to admit that I’m with Peel, I always found E.L.P.  far too overblown and bombastic, a condition that also came to infect Yes and Genesis as they became increasingly successful. I always had more time for VDGG, the Canterbury bands, Gentle Giant and King Crimson.
Croft’s piece doesn’t actually sound anything like E.L.P, instead it’s a heartfelt lament featuring Croft on acoustic piano and soloing lyrically alongside Castronari’s melodic double bass and Davies’  soaring Kenny Wheeler like flugelhorn. Saleem Raman provides sensitive and intelligent support from the kit, moving up and down the gears according to the music’s demands.

“The Sycophant” is more obviously ‘proggy’ with Croft soloing on Rhodes and Mini Moog alongside McLean’s violin. Also an accomplished pianist and vocalist McLean first demonstrated his abilities as a violin soloist when guesting with saxophonist Duncan Eagles’ band Partikel. He continues to impress here, drawing on the influence of the likes of Jean Luc Ponty. Both soloists benefit from the buoyant grooves generated by Maillot at the kit and Thomas on electric bass.

“The Whispering Knight” (great title) sees the return of the ‘acoustic’ quartet of Davies, Castronari and Raman, albeit with Croft himself specialising on Rhodes. Davies delivers an impressively agile and fluent trumpet solo. He’s followed by the leader on Rhodes and there’s also something of a feature for the excellent Raman on this agreeably breezy and swinging piece.

Croft dedicates “No Oil For Sale Here” to the memory of Gustav Mahler and features himself on acoustic and electric pianos, plus Mellotron. It’s a stately piece that benefits from the presence of another sumptuous flugel solo by Davies.  Despite the classical allusions Croft delivers his own solo on Rhodes as Castronari and Raman offer characteristically excellent support.

“The Legend of Bray” is dedicated to to the memory of actor Sir Christopher Lee (1922-2015) and is suitably atmospheric, vaguely unsettling, and ultimately rather beautiful. McLean’s violin takes the lead with Croft featuring on acoustic piano and Juno 60. The leader solos on the Steinway, supported by Thomas’ languid fretless bass and Maillot’s sympathetic brushed accompaniment.

The brief “Inside Immortality” is a second dialogue between Croft on a battery of keyboards and Maillot at the drums. The running time is approximately the same as its companion piece earlier on, but the mood is more restrained, atmospheric and impressionistic.

“See You in Another Lifetime” finds Croft, Thomas and Raman in trio mode with the leader again playing a veritable arsenal of keyboards. Playing both acoustically and electrically Croft conjures a wide variety of colours and textures from his various instruments, soloing effectively on (I think) Mini-Moog. Could the title be a nod to the trail blazing Lifetime band founded by the late great drummer Tony Williams (1945-97)?

The final track, “For Future Past” is dedicated to the memory of that great guitar pioneer Allan Holdsworth (1946-2017). With the leader on Steinway and Rhodes the piece brings together Davies, Thomas and Rahman with the trumpeter again making a fine contribution as he shares the solos with the leader’s Rhodes. Miles returns to read Dylan Thomas’ poem “And Death Shall Have no Dominion”, helping to give this final piece a genuinely epic feel, both the title and the use of spoken words now suggesting the influence of the Moody Blues.

“10 Reasons To…” represents an impressive solo début from Croft. It’s a very personal album that is obviously a labour of love and which embraces a broad and eclectic range of musical and other influences.

On the first listening I’ll admit to finding it a little underwhelming and ‘dated’ with its use of now arcane keyboard instruments, but subsequent hearings allowed me to appreciate more fully the quality of both the writing and the playing, plus the ability of those 70s and 80s synths to produce genuinely interesting sounds.

Yes, it’s unapologetically influenced by prog and fusion and therefore may not appeal to hardcore jazz listeners with a built in pathological hatred of all such things but it’s still an undeniably impressive piece of work that actually embraces a wide variety of musical styles.

Croft himself is at the heart of the music but all the instrumentalists make telling contributions with fellow soloists McLean and Davies inevitably making the biggest impressions. The various rhythm players all excel too while the late Miles’ voice adds drama and gravitas. The engineering and production is also first class, bringing out all the nuances of the writing and playing.

Ultimately “10 Reasons To…” can be recommended to most open minded listeners, although die hard jazz purists and avowed prog rock nay-sayers might choose to keep away.

10 Reasons To…

Benjamin Croft

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

10 Reasons To…

An impressive solo début from Croft. It’s a very personal album that is obviously a labour of love and which embraces a broad and eclectic range of musical and other influences.

Benjamin Croft

“10 Reasons To ...”

(33Jazz Records 33JAZZ275)

Keyboard player Benjamin Croft began playing piano and trumpet at the age of seven and later studied at Leeds College of Music. Since graduating he has enjoyed a varied musical career working on cruise ships, on TV talent shows and in West End Theatres. He lived in the US for a while and has toured internationally with acts as varied as The Temptations, The Platters, Belinda Carlisle and Lesley Garrett. As a jazz performer he has worked regularly at leading London jazz clubs such as Ronnie Scott’s, The Pheasantry and the Pizza Express in Dean Street and is currently working with saxophonist Andrew McKay’s quartet.

Written over the course of a two year period “10 Reasons To…” is Croft’s début solo recording and pays homage to his artistic heroes over the course of a wide ranging album that embraces elements of jazz, rock and classical music in addition to literature, theatre and cinema. Several of the pieces are dedications to individuals, but I’ll come to these in more detail as I address the twelve individual tracks.

Among others Croft acknowledges the musical influences of Weather Report, Rick Wakeman, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and Dizzy Gillespie, which may give the listener an idea of what to expect. Croft’s brand of jazz comes with a substantial and unapologetic side order of prog rock with the leader primarily playing electric keyboards.

Croft takes up the story;
“The sounds and styles on this album reflect the slow processing of all that has captured my imagination since I was a child. I didn’t want this to be a typical acoustic jazz sounding album as my ideas tend to be more orchestral. Instead I wanted the sounds to be a combination of keyboard instruments and I have always had a love of 70s and 80s analogue synths.  For example the Mini Moog, Prophet 5 and Mellotron all feature on various tracks”.

Croft is joined by the band Triple Echo featuring Benet McLean on violin and Andy Davis on trumpet and flugelhorn. Bass duties are split between Henry Thomas (mainly electric) and Mario Castronari (acoustic) while Tristan Maillot and Saleem Rahman share the drum chair.

The album also features two spoken word cameos from the late actor Peter Miles (1928-2018) and represent his final work. In the 1970s Miles played several roles in episodes of Doctor Who, the series that first inspired Croft’s love of the synthesiser.

“10 Reasons To…” was recorded at sessions in December 2017 and January 2018 at various studios in London and Leeds. The synths were recorded by Andy Whitmore at Greystoke Studios which houses one of the UK’s largest collections of vintage synths. Meanwhile the acoustic Steinway was recorded at Livingston Studio in London with the great Sonny Johns engineering. The album was mixed and mastered at AIR Studios by the veteran engineer Ray Staff. “Ray is a living legend” comments Croft, “and was the chief mastering engineer at Trident Studios during the 70s. His work can be heard on many of the albums that have influenced me over the years”. The overall album was produced by Henry Thomas with Croft assisting.

Turning now to the music itself which commences with the atmospheric, scene setting “100 Years At Sea Introduction”, which features the rounded, RP sounds of Miles declaiming Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “The City in the Sea” above a backdrop of appropriate musical sounds generated by the quartet of Croft, McLean, Thomas and Maillot as they approximate the noises of rushing winds, crashing waves, the tolling of a ship’s bell etc. The use of Poe’s words and the overall feel of the piece suggest that my personal prog rock heroes, Peter Hammill and Van Der Graaf Generator, may have been an influence on Croft too.

Next up we have “100 Years At Sea” itself with Croft specialising on Rhodes and with McLean’s violin melody lines reminiscent of those that might have been played on a synth or guitar back in the day. At times I’m reminded of some more of my prog heroes, Canterbury style bands such as National Health and Gilgamesh with Croft in the Alan Gowen role. Both McLean and Croft solo to good effect with Thomas on electric bass and Maillot at the drums providing flexible, intelligent support.

The brief but exhilarating “One Million Years At Sea” then features Croft erupting on Mini Moog, Prophet 5 and Roland Juno 60 in a thrilling dialogue with Maillot’s thunderous drums, the piece resolving itself with a softer coda as it manages to cram a hell of a lot of information into its one and a half minute duration.

“Bad Reputations” mixes acoustic and electric keyboards with Croft soloing on synthesiser alongside McLean’s violin, the mood of the piece ranging from the soft and reflective to the positively bouncy, with drums and fretless bass rounding out the mix.

Croft dedicates “T.T.E. (Time, Talent and Electricity)” to the late Keith Emerson, the title apparently sourced from a quote by John Peel who once criticised Emerson, Lake & Palmer as being “a waste of time, talent and electricity”. I have to admit that I’m with Peel, I always found E.L.P.  far too overblown and bombastic, a condition that also came to infect Yes and Genesis as they became increasingly successful. I always had more time for VDGG, the Canterbury bands, Gentle Giant and King Crimson.
Croft’s piece doesn’t actually sound anything like E.L.P, instead it’s a heartfelt lament featuring Croft on acoustic piano and soloing lyrically alongside Castronari’s melodic double bass and Davies’  soaring Kenny Wheeler like flugelhorn. Saleem Raman provides sensitive and intelligent support from the kit, moving up and down the gears according to the music’s demands.

“The Sycophant” is more obviously ‘proggy’ with Croft soloing on Rhodes and Mini Moog alongside McLean’s violin. Also an accomplished pianist and vocalist McLean first demonstrated his abilities as a violin soloist when guesting with saxophonist Duncan Eagles’ band Partikel. He continues to impress here, drawing on the influence of the likes of Jean Luc Ponty. Both soloists benefit from the buoyant grooves generated by Maillot at the kit and Thomas on electric bass.

“The Whispering Knight” (great title) sees the return of the ‘acoustic’ quartet of Davies, Castronari and Raman, albeit with Croft himself specialising on Rhodes. Davies delivers an impressively agile and fluent trumpet solo. He’s followed by the leader on Rhodes and there’s also something of a feature for the excellent Raman on this agreeably breezy and swinging piece.

Croft dedicates “No Oil For Sale Here” to the memory of Gustav Mahler and features himself on acoustic and electric pianos, plus Mellotron. It’s a stately piece that benefits from the presence of another sumptuous flugel solo by Davies.  Despite the classical allusions Croft delivers his own solo on Rhodes as Castronari and Raman offer characteristically excellent support.

“The Legend of Bray” is dedicated to to the memory of actor Sir Christopher Lee (1922-2015) and is suitably atmospheric, vaguely unsettling, and ultimately rather beautiful. McLean’s violin takes the lead with Croft featuring on acoustic piano and Juno 60. The leader solos on the Steinway, supported by Thomas’ languid fretless bass and Maillot’s sympathetic brushed accompaniment.

The brief “Inside Immortality” is a second dialogue between Croft on a battery of keyboards and Maillot at the drums. The running time is approximately the same as its companion piece earlier on, but the mood is more restrained, atmospheric and impressionistic.

“See You in Another Lifetime” finds Croft, Thomas and Raman in trio mode with the leader again playing a veritable arsenal of keyboards. Playing both acoustically and electrically Croft conjures a wide variety of colours and textures from his various instruments, soloing effectively on (I think) Mini-Moog. Could the title be a nod to the trail blazing Lifetime band founded by the late great drummer Tony Williams (1945-97)?

The final track, “For Future Past” is dedicated to the memory of that great guitar pioneer Allan Holdsworth (1946-2017). With the leader on Steinway and Rhodes the piece brings together Davies, Thomas and Rahman with the trumpeter again making a fine contribution as he shares the solos with the leader’s Rhodes. Miles returns to read Dylan Thomas’ poem “And Death Shall Have no Dominion”, helping to give this final piece a genuinely epic feel, both the title and the use of spoken words now suggesting the influence of the Moody Blues.

“10 Reasons To…” represents an impressive solo début from Croft. It’s a very personal album that is obviously a labour of love and which embraces a broad and eclectic range of musical and other influences.

On the first listening I’ll admit to finding it a little underwhelming and ‘dated’ with its use of now arcane keyboard instruments, but subsequent hearings allowed me to appreciate more fully the quality of both the writing and the playing, plus the ability of those 70s and 80s synths to produce genuinely interesting sounds.

Yes, it’s unapologetically influenced by prog and fusion and therefore may not appeal to hardcore jazz listeners with a built in pathological hatred of all such things but it’s still an undeniably impressive piece of work that actually embraces a wide variety of musical styles.

Croft himself is at the heart of the music but all the instrumentalists make telling contributions with fellow soloists McLean and Davies inevitably making the biggest impressions. The various rhythm players all excel too while the late Miles’ voice adds drama and gravitas. The engineering and production is also first class, bringing out all the nuances of the writing and playing.

Ultimately “10 Reasons To…” can be recommended to most open minded listeners, although die hard jazz purists and avowed prog rock nay-sayers might choose to keep away.

Patchwork Jazz Orchestra - The Adventures of Mr Pottercakes Rating: 4-5 out of 5 An exceptional début from this highly talented collective and one that should put them firmly on the musical map, establishing the PJO as a force to be reckoned with

Patchwork Jazz Orchestra

“The Adventures of Mr Pottercakes”

(Spark Records SPARK007)

“The Adventures of Mr Pottercakes” is the long awaited début album from the young London based contemporary big band Patchwork Jazz Orchestra.

The band features many of the capital’s leading young jazz musicians but has no designated leader, with several of its members contributing compositions to the PJO repertoire.

Many, but by no means all, of the PJO members studied at the Royal Academy of Music and worked with that institution’s Big Band, an aggregation that also proved to be the basis for the acclaimed Troykestra, the big band that augmented the Troyka trio of Kit Downes (keyboards), Chris Montague (guitar) and Joshua Blackmore (drums.) Troykestra’s live album, recorded at the 2013 Cheltenham Jazz Festival is reviewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/live-at-the-2013-cheltenham-jazz-festival/

The PJO name was adopted in 2014 and in 2015 the ensemble won the annual Peter Whittingham Award, which helped to finance this début recording. The band then ran their own “Patchwork Nights” at various venues around London, notably The Others in Stoke Newington.

I first encountered their music at the 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival when PJO played an excellent Sunday lunchtime show at the 606 Jazz Club in Chelsea, a performance reviewed as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-2016-day-three-sunday-13th-november-2016/

The personnel was essentially the same as that featured on this recording and the majority of the compositions to be heard here also featured at “The Six”.

For “The Adventures of Mr Pottercakes” the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra lines up as follows;

James Davison, Adam Chatterton – trumpet, flugelhorn, piccolo trumpet

James Copus, Tom Dennis – trumpet, flugelhorn

Kieran McLeod, Tom Green, Jamie Pimenta – trombones

Yusuf Narcin – bass trombone

Matthew Herd – soprano & alto saxes

Sam Glaser – alto sax

Alex Hitchcock, Sam Miles – tenor saxes

Tom Smith – baritone sax, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet

Liam Dunachie – piano, Hammond organ

Rob Luft – electric guitar

Misha Mullov-Abbado – acoustic & electric bass

Scott Chapman – drums

Due to their youthfulness and their focus on original compositions sourced from within the band’s ranks it’s tempting to compare PJO with Loose Tubes, and indeed one suspects that some of PJO’s members may have even have been taught by former Tubes such as Mark Lockheart and Chris Batchelor. However the music is less wilfully idiosyncratic than Loose Tubes (after all, there’s only one Django Bates) and although the PJO’s brightly coloured “Patchwork” shirts give them a strong visual identity they can’t quite match the inspired zaniness and eccentricity of the Tubes in their 80s heyday.

Of PJO’s approach to the big band format trombonist and Spark! Record label owner Tom Green comments;
“Many of us grew up listening to and playing big band music, but opportunities to perform new material are few and far between. Patchwork Jazz Orchestra was born from a desire of a number of us to write and play new music in a regular group and the band has since evolved an identity of its own, both collaborative and totally diverse in musical styles. All eight tracks on the album have different stories and influences behind them and are the musical vision of seven different composers, but all share the same excitement and joy we get out of communal music making”.

The album’s notes give brief insights into the inspiration behind each individual composition, beginning with the title track, written by the ensemble’s keyboard Liam Dunachie, who talks of his piece representing “the antics of a bumbling Englishman who accidentally stumbles across a Caribbean festival”.
It’s an appropriately episodic and multi-faceted composition that moves through several distinct phases, the orchestration often reminiscent of that of Loose Tubes. Solos come from Herd on plaintive, lyrical alto and Luft on fluid, coolly elegant guitar before Chapman’s drums lead us into the final ‘Caribbean festival’ section with its rousing horn charts, vibrant rhythms and a tenor sax feature from Hitchcock. It all makes for an excellent, attention grabbing start.

Drummer Scott Chapman’s “Barcarole” is described as “a response to the folk songs traditionally sung by Venetian gondoliers”. Another compelling piece of contemporary big band writing the composition combines colourful textures with rich horn voicings, the first solo coming from Copus on flugel, whose playing combines a poignant expressiveness with an impressive improvisational fluency. Rising star Luft features again as his guitar takes brief, soaring flight, his solo followed by Miles’ slow burning exploration on tenor. A gentle ensemble coda then features the sounds of flugel and bass clarinet.

Green’s “Badger Cam” represents “a voyeuristic insight into the nocturnal activities of not-so-fluffy woodland creatures”. This is a rumbustious piece that mixes traditional big band sounds and rock rhythms with solos coming from Luft on guitar and Smith on baritone sax with Dunachie featuring on Hammond. The prominence of Luft’s guitar in many of PJO’s arrangements suggests the influence of composer and bandleader Mike Gibbs, who frequently wrote for ensembles featuring guitarists, among them John Scofield, Bill Frisell and Philip Catherine.

Written by Davison and arranged by the composer and Mullov-Abbado “The Boy Roy” is a truly collaborative effort. Described as “a dirty funeral march inspired by a large stuffed tiger who found the path to righteousness after an aggressive drug addiction” it’s a New Orleans inspired piece that boasts a veritable string of soloists. Mullov-Abbado, a composer and bandleader himself, starts things off with an unaccompanied acoustic bass feature which leads us straight to the Crescent City and that promised gut-bucket funeral dirge, from which emerge the solos, led by Pimenta and Marcin on delightfully filthy sounding trombones, while Smith’s baritone ensures that things remain deep within the lower register. By way of contrast Chatterton’s trumpet and Glaser’s alto then emerge from the gutter to reach for the stars.

Mullov-Abbado’s own “Hi Wriggly!” tells “the story of a young worm who experiences a psychotic episode after a long evening of mayhem”. The piece is introduced by the mournful sound of Davison’s lone trumpet but subsequently gains momentum, again delighting in the sound of low sonorities and the dialogue between Davison’s trumpet and Narcin’s bass trombone. There’s an appropriate air of quirkiness about an arrangement that also includes some superlative ensemble playing.

Herd’s “The Complete Short Stories” is “a homage to the tales of Raymond Carver who illuminated the darkness in the everyday”. Despite some rousing ensemble passages the mood of the piece is essentially melancholy and includes solos from McLeod on subtly vocalised trombone and the composer on softly incisive, oboe like soprano.

Chapman is the only composer to feature twice, his “Mind Palace” being “an ode to the cognitive labyrinths of Sherlock Holmes”. A freely structured intro is superseded by Mullov-Abbado’s electric bass groove, with Chapman himself locking in to help to fuel a typically colourful big band arrangement with rousing solos coming from Green on trombone and Hitchcock on tenor. The majority of the band drop out for Dunachie’s rollicking solo which sees the PJO briefly become a piano trio, but with no loss of overall momentum. Chapman himself features at the kit before a barnstorming collective finale.

The album closes with McLeod’s “Vixen” (“the tale of an inquisitive fox, occasionally in peril”), which emerges from the gentle, classically inspired horn chorales via a piano and guitar dialogue into a vaguely unsettling arrangement that evokes the nocturnal world of the tune’s protagonist. Luft’s skilful deployment of his various FX does much to set the noirish atmosphere as he features as a soloist alongside Dennis on trumpet and Hitchcock on tenor. The brass evokes the sound of hunting horns and that ‘occasional peril’ in a typically intriguing, multi-faceted composition and arrangement.

The album even boasts a ‘secret track’, a brief snippet of studio fooling around that comes half a minute or so after the conclusion of “Vixen”.

“The Adventures of Mr Pottercakes” more than delivers on the promise of that 606 performance from 2016. “This is music that very much deserves to be documented on disc” I remarked at the time and it’s certainly been worth the wait. I enjoyed hearing this album almost as much as I did seeing the live show and praise should go to engineer John Prestage of the famous AIR Studios for a mix that brings out all the vitality richness, colour and nuance of these supremely inventive compositions and arrangements. The playing is superb throughout and the writing intelligent, quirky and imaginative with plenty of variety in terms of style and dynamics.

The album has been well received by other commentators and the comparisons with Ellington and Mingus are thoroughly deserved, particularly in the case of the latter.

Despite its wilfully whimsical title “The Adventures of Mr Pottercakes” represents an exceptional début from this highly talented collective and should certainly put them firmly on the musical map, establishing the PJO as a force to be reckoned with, even if the near mainstream exposure that Loose Tubes enjoyed back in the day seems unlikely.

The Adventures of Mr Pottercakes

Patchwork Jazz Orchestra

Monday, March 04, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4-5 out of 5

The Adventures of Mr Pottercakes

An exceptional début from this highly talented collective and one that should put them firmly on the musical map, establishing the PJO as a force to be reckoned with

Patchwork Jazz Orchestra

“The Adventures of Mr Pottercakes”

(Spark Records SPARK007)

“The Adventures of Mr Pottercakes” is the long awaited début album from the young London based contemporary big band Patchwork Jazz Orchestra.

The band features many of the capital’s leading young jazz musicians but has no designated leader, with several of its members contributing compositions to the PJO repertoire.

Many, but by no means all, of the PJO members studied at the Royal Academy of Music and worked with that institution’s Big Band, an aggregation that also proved to be the basis for the acclaimed Troykestra, the big band that augmented the Troyka trio of Kit Downes (keyboards), Chris Montague (guitar) and Joshua Blackmore (drums.) Troykestra’s live album, recorded at the 2013 Cheltenham Jazz Festival is reviewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/live-at-the-2013-cheltenham-jazz-festival/

The PJO name was adopted in 2014 and in 2015 the ensemble won the annual Peter Whittingham Award, which helped to finance this début recording. The band then ran their own “Patchwork Nights” at various venues around London, notably The Others in Stoke Newington.

I first encountered their music at the 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival when PJO played an excellent Sunday lunchtime show at the 606 Jazz Club in Chelsea, a performance reviewed as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-2016-day-three-sunday-13th-november-2016/

The personnel was essentially the same as that featured on this recording and the majority of the compositions to be heard here also featured at “The Six”.

For “The Adventures of Mr Pottercakes” the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra lines up as follows;

James Davison, Adam Chatterton – trumpet, flugelhorn, piccolo trumpet

James Copus, Tom Dennis – trumpet, flugelhorn

Kieran McLeod, Tom Green, Jamie Pimenta – trombones

Yusuf Narcin – bass trombone

Matthew Herd – soprano & alto saxes

Sam Glaser – alto sax

Alex Hitchcock, Sam Miles – tenor saxes

Tom Smith – baritone sax, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet

Liam Dunachie – piano, Hammond organ

Rob Luft – electric guitar

Misha Mullov-Abbado – acoustic & electric bass

Scott Chapman – drums

Due to their youthfulness and their focus on original compositions sourced from within the band’s ranks it’s tempting to compare PJO with Loose Tubes, and indeed one suspects that some of PJO’s members may have even have been taught by former Tubes such as Mark Lockheart and Chris Batchelor. However the music is less wilfully idiosyncratic than Loose Tubes (after all, there’s only one Django Bates) and although the PJO’s brightly coloured “Patchwork” shirts give them a strong visual identity they can’t quite match the inspired zaniness and eccentricity of the Tubes in their 80s heyday.

Of PJO’s approach to the big band format trombonist and Spark! Record label owner Tom Green comments;
“Many of us grew up listening to and playing big band music, but opportunities to perform new material are few and far between. Patchwork Jazz Orchestra was born from a desire of a number of us to write and play new music in a regular group and the band has since evolved an identity of its own, both collaborative and totally diverse in musical styles. All eight tracks on the album have different stories and influences behind them and are the musical vision of seven different composers, but all share the same excitement and joy we get out of communal music making”.

The album’s notes give brief insights into the inspiration behind each individual composition, beginning with the title track, written by the ensemble’s keyboard Liam Dunachie, who talks of his piece representing “the antics of a bumbling Englishman who accidentally stumbles across a Caribbean festival”.
It’s an appropriately episodic and multi-faceted composition that moves through several distinct phases, the orchestration often reminiscent of that of Loose Tubes. Solos come from Herd on plaintive, lyrical alto and Luft on fluid, coolly elegant guitar before Chapman’s drums lead us into the final ‘Caribbean festival’ section with its rousing horn charts, vibrant rhythms and a tenor sax feature from Hitchcock. It all makes for an excellent, attention grabbing start.

Drummer Scott Chapman’s “Barcarole” is described as “a response to the folk songs traditionally sung by Venetian gondoliers”. Another compelling piece of contemporary big band writing the composition combines colourful textures with rich horn voicings, the first solo coming from Copus on flugel, whose playing combines a poignant expressiveness with an impressive improvisational fluency. Rising star Luft features again as his guitar takes brief, soaring flight, his solo followed by Miles’ slow burning exploration on tenor. A gentle ensemble coda then features the sounds of flugel and bass clarinet.

Green’s “Badger Cam” represents “a voyeuristic insight into the nocturnal activities of not-so-fluffy woodland creatures”. This is a rumbustious piece that mixes traditional big band sounds and rock rhythms with solos coming from Luft on guitar and Smith on baritone sax with Dunachie featuring on Hammond. The prominence of Luft’s guitar in many of PJO’s arrangements suggests the influence of composer and bandleader Mike Gibbs, who frequently wrote for ensembles featuring guitarists, among them John Scofield, Bill Frisell and Philip Catherine.

Written by Davison and arranged by the composer and Mullov-Abbado “The Boy Roy” is a truly collaborative effort. Described as “a dirty funeral march inspired by a large stuffed tiger who found the path to righteousness after an aggressive drug addiction” it’s a New Orleans inspired piece that boasts a veritable string of soloists. Mullov-Abbado, a composer and bandleader himself, starts things off with an unaccompanied acoustic bass feature which leads us straight to the Crescent City and that promised gut-bucket funeral dirge, from which emerge the solos, led by Pimenta and Marcin on delightfully filthy sounding trombones, while Smith’s baritone ensures that things remain deep within the lower register. By way of contrast Chatterton’s trumpet and Glaser’s alto then emerge from the gutter to reach for the stars.

Mullov-Abbado’s own “Hi Wriggly!” tells “the story of a young worm who experiences a psychotic episode after a long evening of mayhem”. The piece is introduced by the mournful sound of Davison’s lone trumpet but subsequently gains momentum, again delighting in the sound of low sonorities and the dialogue between Davison’s trumpet and Narcin’s bass trombone. There’s an appropriate air of quirkiness about an arrangement that also includes some superlative ensemble playing.

Herd’s “The Complete Short Stories” is “a homage to the tales of Raymond Carver who illuminated the darkness in the everyday”. Despite some rousing ensemble passages the mood of the piece is essentially melancholy and includes solos from McLeod on subtly vocalised trombone and the composer on softly incisive, oboe like soprano.

Chapman is the only composer to feature twice, his “Mind Palace” being “an ode to the cognitive labyrinths of Sherlock Holmes”. A freely structured intro is superseded by Mullov-Abbado’s electric bass groove, with Chapman himself locking in to help to fuel a typically colourful big band arrangement with rousing solos coming from Green on trombone and Hitchcock on tenor. The majority of the band drop out for Dunachie’s rollicking solo which sees the PJO briefly become a piano trio, but with no loss of overall momentum. Chapman himself features at the kit before a barnstorming collective finale.

The album closes with McLeod’s “Vixen” (“the tale of an inquisitive fox, occasionally in peril”), which emerges from the gentle, classically inspired horn chorales via a piano and guitar dialogue into a vaguely unsettling arrangement that evokes the nocturnal world of the tune’s protagonist. Luft’s skilful deployment of his various FX does much to set the noirish atmosphere as he features as a soloist alongside Dennis on trumpet and Hitchcock on tenor. The brass evokes the sound of hunting horns and that ‘occasional peril’ in a typically intriguing, multi-faceted composition and arrangement.

The album even boasts a ‘secret track’, a brief snippet of studio fooling around that comes half a minute or so after the conclusion of “Vixen”.

“The Adventures of Mr Pottercakes” more than delivers on the promise of that 606 performance from 2016. “This is music that very much deserves to be documented on disc” I remarked at the time and it’s certainly been worth the wait. I enjoyed hearing this album almost as much as I did seeing the live show and praise should go to engineer John Prestage of the famous AIR Studios for a mix that brings out all the vitality richness, colour and nuance of these supremely inventive compositions and arrangements. The playing is superb throughout and the writing intelligent, quirky and imaginative with plenty of variety in terms of style and dynamics.

The album has been well received by other commentators and the comparisons with Ellington and Mingus are thoroughly deserved, particularly in the case of the latter.

Despite its wilfully whimsical title “The Adventures of Mr Pottercakes” represents an exceptional début from this highly talented collective and should certainly put them firmly on the musical map, establishing the PJO as a force to be reckoned with, even if the near mainstream exposure that Loose Tubes enjoyed back in the day seems unlikely.

John Turville - Head First Rating: 4 out of 5 The writing by Turville and others is richly varied, embracing a variety of jazz styles and borrowing judiciously from other musical genres. The playing, from an all star cast is excellent throughout.

John Turville

“Head First”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4734)

Pianist and composer John Turville is among the great unsung heroes of the British jazz scene. Also an acclaimed educator he is equally proficient on acoustic piano and electric keyboards and has been a prolific sideman in a variety of jazz contexts. Among those with whom he has recorded are bassists Ben Bastin, Matt Ridley and Yuriy Galkin, saxophonists Tim Garland, Frank Griffith, Alex Merritt, Alan Barnes and Tony Kofi, drummer Asaf Sirkis, guitarist Ant Law and vocalists Brigitte Beraha, Sarah Gillespie and Sylwia Bialas. He has also been part of the co-operative sextet Solstice.

As a leader Turville has released two excellent albums in the conventional piano trio format. “Midas” (2010) and “Conception (2012) both appeared on the F-ire Presents imprint and both featured Turville alongside the rhythm team of Chris Hill (bass) and Ben Reynolds (drums). Both albums are reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann as is a 2010 live performance by the trio at The Hive in Shrewsbury.

Turville has also recorded in a duo format with Solstice vocalist and lyricist Brigitte Beraha, the pair releasing the intimate and often beautiful album “Red Skies” in 2013. Again this recording is reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann, as is a captivating live performance by the pair at The Hive in 2016, when they were joined by guest saxophonist George Crowley,  the latter filling the role played on the album by the late, great Bobby Wellins.

For his latest outing as a leader Turville has rung the changes and expanded his group to a quintet. His new rhythm team features the experienced bassist Dave Whitford and the UK’s most in demand contemporary jazz drummer, James Maddren. The peerless Julian Arguelles appears on tenor and soprano saxophones and the quintet is completed by trumpeter Robbie Robson, perhaps the least known of the five. Nevertheless Turville and the trumpeter go back a long way, Turville having played exclusively on Fender Rhodes on the eponymous 2010 album by Robson’s Miles Davis inspired quartet Dog Soup.

The title “Head First” is an oblique nod to one of Turville’s piano heroes, the great American pianist and composer Fred Hirsch. But the album also pays homage to some of Turville’s other key inspirations, notably the late, great British pianist and composer John Taylor (1942 - 2015),  Turville’s mentor, and to whom the album is dedicated.

The genesis of the quintet stems from the Jazz Piano Summit concert of 2015, which paid tribute to Taylor and his musical legacy. It was there that Turville presented his own Taylor tribute “ A Perfect Foil”, which involved a collaboration with Arguelles, thus sowing the seed for this quintet project.
“ A Perfect Foil” graces the new recording alongside seven other Turville originals. Arguelles contributes his own composition “A Month In Tunisia” while outside material comes from fellow pianist/composers Diego Schissi, Toninho Horta and Michel Petrucciani.

Besides the influence of the musicians mentioned above Turville has also cited Bill Evans as a major source of inspiration in addition to classical composers such as John Ireland, Federico Mompou, Franz Liszt and the French Romantics. The music on “Head First” also draws inspiration from folk and world music with many of Turville’s compositions being inspired by places and experiences. Not everything is played by the full quintet, examples of duo, trio and quartet performances occur throughout the album.

The album commences with the attention grabbing “Fall Out”, which was originally written by Turville for a quartet but was subsequently arranged for big band. Thanks to the horn fanfares of Robson and Arguelles the quintet version of the tune still possesses an impressively big sound with the two horn men dovetailing neatly before embarking on their individual solos. Robson goes first, combining warmth with brassiness in a manner that has been compared to the late Kenny Wheeler. Next we hear from Turville himself who solos with his usual expansive fluency, with Arguelles subsequently displaying similar qualities on tenor. The rhythm section is busy and inventive throughout as Whitford and Maddren keep things moving and there is also something of a feature for the drummer.

“Almagro Nights” finds Turville returning to the trio format on a piece inspired by his love of Argentinian music - Turville’s discography includes recordings by the London Tango Orchestra and El Ultimo Tango. However the debt isn’t made too obvious as Turville stretches out imaginatively above Whitford’s grounding double bass and Maddren’s brisk, and consistently inventive, drumming.

“Seahorses” was inspired by a sea trip off the coast of Seahouses in Northumberland, doubtless to see the wonderful wildlife of the Farne Islands. It’s a suitably stormy piece, a concentrated burst of improvisation featuring squalling horns, turbulent piano and roiling rhythms, that eventually resolves itself as Turville and his colleagues finally navigate their way back to shore.

“Interval Music” represents ‘the calm after the storm’ and is an elegant lyrical piano and soprano sax duet that hints at both folk and classical music forms while recalling Arguelles’ celebrated duo with the late John Taylor.

It’s therefore perhaps appropriate that “A Perfect Foil”, Turville’s tribute to Taylor follows. There’s something of Taylor’s style in the writing and with Arguelles remaining on soprano I’m reminded of Taylor’s quartet with Arguelles, bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Martin France that recorded the Kurt Vonnegut inspired album “Requiem For A Dreamer”, released in 2011. There’s an airy, breezy lyricism here in the gently darting solos of Turville and Arguelles, the latter really taking flight on the straight horn, his swooping arabesques underscored by another exceptional drumming performance from Maddren that sees him moving from brushes to sticks.

The title track, Turville’s tip of the hat to Fred Hirsch, sees a return to the trio format and finds Whitford coming to the fore with a virtuoso double bass solo of great dexterity and resonance. Turville himself positively sparkles as he stretches out above, and in dialogue with, Maddren’s jaunty samba inspired rhythms.

“Ennerdale” is inspired by the landscape of Lake District and espouses a pastoral sound featuring the warmly rounded tones of Robson’s trumpet and Turville’s own piano lyricism, his solo including a quote from Taylor’s composition “Ambleside”, another piece inspired by the beauty of this part of the world. Robson also features as a soloist, as does Arguelles who is gently incisive on tenor.

“Cancion 4” by the Buenos Aires born pianist, composer and bandleader Diego Schissi is performed as a piano and trumpet duet, the melancholy majesty of Robson’s playing again evoking comparisons with that of Kenny Wheeler. Turville again displays a flowing lyricism at the piano, on what is a beautiful duo performance from start to finish.

By way of contrast the mood is one of relaxed joyousness on a trio performance of Brazilian pianist Toninho Horta’s composition “Francisca” which features Turville’s lightness of touch at the piano allied to Maddren’s brightly detailed drumming. Whitford also impresses with another supremely dexterous bass solo.

Arguelles’  bustling “A Month In Tunisia” emerges from a freely structured intro to embrace something of the quirkiness that has become something of an Arguelles trademark over the years. Maddren’s exotic rhythms underpin an uncharacteristically percussive piano solo from Turville and joyously fluent flights of fancy from both Robson and Arguelles.

“Cyclic Chorale” is the last of Turville’s originals, a trio piece loosely inspired by Liszt and featuring the tightly focussed interplay of Turville, Whitford and Maddren, the mood varying from the tentative to the intense.

The album concludes with a swinging quintet arrangement of Michel Petrucciani’s “Beautiful But Why”, introduced by the two horns working in unison but with the first solo going to the powerfully plucked bass of Whitford. This is followed by a concise but eloquent statement from Arguelles on tenor, followed by slightly longer solos from Turville and Robson who both impress with their urgency and cogency. Maddren and Whitford also feature strongly in a lively series of group exchanges prior to a surprising freely structured outro.

It’s been a long wait for this latest album under Turville’s own name but on this evidence it has been well worth it. The writing by Turville and others is richly varied, embracing a variety of jazz styles and borrowing judiciously from other musical genres. The playing, from an all star ensemble is excellent throughout and the devolution of the quintet into smaller units at certain junctures along the way also works well.

The album was recorded at Artesuono Studio in Italy by engineer Stefano Amerio and the sound is excellent throughout. Turville clearly regards Artesuono as something of a musical and spiritual home and comments;
“As a leader there comes increased artistic freedom, so I love thinking on my feet and experimenting. Over two days of recording my band was in total alignment with the vibe and energy that I was looking for”.

The quintet is currently on tour in the UK with the remaining dates as follows;

1 March - The Fleece, Colchester
2 March - Workshop, Royal Academy of Music, London
4 March - Wells Cathedral, Cedars Hall
5 March - St Ives Jazz Club (Great Western Hotel)
6 March - Workshop and Concert, Purcell School, Bushey
7 March - Nottingham Jazzsteps, Bonington Theatre, Arnold
8 March - Workshop, Leeds College of Music
8 March - Sheffield Jazz, Crookes Social Club
9 March - The Verdict, Brighton

For further information please visit;
http://www.johnturville.com

Head First

John Turville

Friday, March 01, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Head First

The writing by Turville and others is richly varied, embracing a variety of jazz styles and borrowing judiciously from other musical genres. The playing, from an all star cast is excellent throughout.

John Turville

“Head First”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4734)

Pianist and composer John Turville is among the great unsung heroes of the British jazz scene. Also an acclaimed educator he is equally proficient on acoustic piano and electric keyboards and has been a prolific sideman in a variety of jazz contexts. Among those with whom he has recorded are bassists Ben Bastin, Matt Ridley and Yuriy Galkin, saxophonists Tim Garland, Frank Griffith, Alex Merritt, Alan Barnes and Tony Kofi, drummer Asaf Sirkis, guitarist Ant Law and vocalists Brigitte Beraha, Sarah Gillespie and Sylwia Bialas. He has also been part of the co-operative sextet Solstice.

As a leader Turville has released two excellent albums in the conventional piano trio format. “Midas” (2010) and “Conception (2012) both appeared on the F-ire Presents imprint and both featured Turville alongside the rhythm team of Chris Hill (bass) and Ben Reynolds (drums). Both albums are reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann as is a 2010 live performance by the trio at The Hive in Shrewsbury.

Turville has also recorded in a duo format with Solstice vocalist and lyricist Brigitte Beraha, the pair releasing the intimate and often beautiful album “Red Skies” in 2013. Again this recording is reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann, as is a captivating live performance by the pair at The Hive in 2016, when they were joined by guest saxophonist George Crowley,  the latter filling the role played on the album by the late, great Bobby Wellins.

For his latest outing as a leader Turville has rung the changes and expanded his group to a quintet. His new rhythm team features the experienced bassist Dave Whitford and the UK’s most in demand contemporary jazz drummer, James Maddren. The peerless Julian Arguelles appears on tenor and soprano saxophones and the quintet is completed by trumpeter Robbie Robson, perhaps the least known of the five. Nevertheless Turville and the trumpeter go back a long way, Turville having played exclusively on Fender Rhodes on the eponymous 2010 album by Robson’s Miles Davis inspired quartet Dog Soup.

The title “Head First” is an oblique nod to one of Turville’s piano heroes, the great American pianist and composer Fred Hirsch. But the album also pays homage to some of Turville’s other key inspirations, notably the late, great British pianist and composer John Taylor (1942 - 2015),  Turville’s mentor, and to whom the album is dedicated.

The genesis of the quintet stems from the Jazz Piano Summit concert of 2015, which paid tribute to Taylor and his musical legacy. It was there that Turville presented his own Taylor tribute “ A Perfect Foil”, which involved a collaboration with Arguelles, thus sowing the seed for this quintet project.
“ A Perfect Foil” graces the new recording alongside seven other Turville originals. Arguelles contributes his own composition “A Month In Tunisia” while outside material comes from fellow pianist/composers Diego Schissi, Toninho Horta and Michel Petrucciani.

Besides the influence of the musicians mentioned above Turville has also cited Bill Evans as a major source of inspiration in addition to classical composers such as John Ireland, Federico Mompou, Franz Liszt and the French Romantics. The music on “Head First” also draws inspiration from folk and world music with many of Turville’s compositions being inspired by places and experiences. Not everything is played by the full quintet, examples of duo, trio and quartet performances occur throughout the album.

The album commences with the attention grabbing “Fall Out”, which was originally written by Turville for a quartet but was subsequently arranged for big band. Thanks to the horn fanfares of Robson and Arguelles the quintet version of the tune still possesses an impressively big sound with the two horn men dovetailing neatly before embarking on their individual solos. Robson goes first, combining warmth with brassiness in a manner that has been compared to the late Kenny Wheeler. Next we hear from Turville himself who solos with his usual expansive fluency, with Arguelles subsequently displaying similar qualities on tenor. The rhythm section is busy and inventive throughout as Whitford and Maddren keep things moving and there is also something of a feature for the drummer.

“Almagro Nights” finds Turville returning to the trio format on a piece inspired by his love of Argentinian music - Turville’s discography includes recordings by the London Tango Orchestra and El Ultimo Tango. However the debt isn’t made too obvious as Turville stretches out imaginatively above Whitford’s grounding double bass and Maddren’s brisk, and consistently inventive, drumming.

“Seahorses” was inspired by a sea trip off the coast of Seahouses in Northumberland, doubtless to see the wonderful wildlife of the Farne Islands. It’s a suitably stormy piece, a concentrated burst of improvisation featuring squalling horns, turbulent piano and roiling rhythms, that eventually resolves itself as Turville and his colleagues finally navigate their way back to shore.

“Interval Music” represents ‘the calm after the storm’ and is an elegant lyrical piano and soprano sax duet that hints at both folk and classical music forms while recalling Arguelles’ celebrated duo with the late John Taylor.

It’s therefore perhaps appropriate that “A Perfect Foil”, Turville’s tribute to Taylor follows. There’s something of Taylor’s style in the writing and with Arguelles remaining on soprano I’m reminded of Taylor’s quartet with Arguelles, bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Martin France that recorded the Kurt Vonnegut inspired album “Requiem For A Dreamer”, released in 2011. There’s an airy, breezy lyricism here in the gently darting solos of Turville and Arguelles, the latter really taking flight on the straight horn, his swooping arabesques underscored by another exceptional drumming performance from Maddren that sees him moving from brushes to sticks.

The title track, Turville’s tip of the hat to Fred Hirsch, sees a return to the trio format and finds Whitford coming to the fore with a virtuoso double bass solo of great dexterity and resonance. Turville himself positively sparkles as he stretches out above, and in dialogue with, Maddren’s jaunty samba inspired rhythms.

“Ennerdale” is inspired by the landscape of Lake District and espouses a pastoral sound featuring the warmly rounded tones of Robson’s trumpet and Turville’s own piano lyricism, his solo including a quote from Taylor’s composition “Ambleside”, another piece inspired by the beauty of this part of the world. Robson also features as a soloist, as does Arguelles who is gently incisive on tenor.

“Cancion 4” by the Buenos Aires born pianist, composer and bandleader Diego Schissi is performed as a piano and trumpet duet, the melancholy majesty of Robson’s playing again evoking comparisons with that of Kenny Wheeler. Turville again displays a flowing lyricism at the piano, on what is a beautiful duo performance from start to finish.

By way of contrast the mood is one of relaxed joyousness on a trio performance of Brazilian pianist Toninho Horta’s composition “Francisca” which features Turville’s lightness of touch at the piano allied to Maddren’s brightly detailed drumming. Whitford also impresses with another supremely dexterous bass solo.

Arguelles’  bustling “A Month In Tunisia” emerges from a freely structured intro to embrace something of the quirkiness that has become something of an Arguelles trademark over the years. Maddren’s exotic rhythms underpin an uncharacteristically percussive piano solo from Turville and joyously fluent flights of fancy from both Robson and Arguelles.

“Cyclic Chorale” is the last of Turville’s originals, a trio piece loosely inspired by Liszt and featuring the tightly focussed interplay of Turville, Whitford and Maddren, the mood varying from the tentative to the intense.

The album concludes with a swinging quintet arrangement of Michel Petrucciani’s “Beautiful But Why”, introduced by the two horns working in unison but with the first solo going to the powerfully plucked bass of Whitford. This is followed by a concise but eloquent statement from Arguelles on tenor, followed by slightly longer solos from Turville and Robson who both impress with their urgency and cogency. Maddren and Whitford also feature strongly in a lively series of group exchanges prior to a surprising freely structured outro.

It’s been a long wait for this latest album under Turville’s own name but on this evidence it has been well worth it. The writing by Turville and others is richly varied, embracing a variety of jazz styles and borrowing judiciously from other musical genres. The playing, from an all star ensemble is excellent throughout and the devolution of the quintet into smaller units at certain junctures along the way also works well.

The album was recorded at Artesuono Studio in Italy by engineer Stefano Amerio and the sound is excellent throughout. Turville clearly regards Artesuono as something of a musical and spiritual home and comments;
“As a leader there comes increased artistic freedom, so I love thinking on my feet and experimenting. Over two days of recording my band was in total alignment with the vibe and energy that I was looking for”.

The quintet is currently on tour in the UK with the remaining dates as follows;

1 March - The Fleece, Colchester
2 March - Workshop, Royal Academy of Music, London
4 March - Wells Cathedral, Cedars Hall
5 March - St Ives Jazz Club (Great Western Hotel)
6 March - Workshop and Concert, Purcell School, Bushey
7 March - Nottingham Jazzsteps, Bonington Theatre, Arnold
8 March - Workshop, Leeds College of Music
8 March - Sheffield Jazz, Crookes Social Club
9 March - The Verdict, Brighton

For further information please visit;
http://www.johnturville.com

Tony Kofi Sextet - Tony Kofi Sextet “A Portrait of Cannonball” at Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 22/02/2019. Rating: 4-5 out of 5 "A Portrait of Cannonball was a blast!" Guest contributor Trevor Bannister enjoys this exploration of Cannonball Adderley's music by an all star sextet led by saxophonist Tony Kofi. Photo by Zoë White

A Portrait of Cannonball
 
Progress Theatre,  Reading, Berkshire, Friday 22 February 2019
 
Tony Kofi alto saxophone, Byron Wallen trumpet, Alex Webb piano, Andy Cleyndert bass, Alfonso Vitale drums, Deelee Dubé guest vocalist.
 
Julian Edwin Adderley was born in Tampa, Florida on 15 September 1928. His voracious appetite earned him the sobriquet ‘Cannibal’. That it later evolved into the much more acceptable ‘Cannonball’ proved an absolute gift for the copywriters who devised his early album titles. What could be better than ‘Cannonball’s Sharpshooters’ for an attention-grabbing banner? ‘Spontaneous Combustion’ perhaps? Cannonball’s début album for the Savoy label in 1955 announced his arrival on the New York jazz scene as a player of immense vitality and invention. He made people sit up and listen, but above all, to use Tony Kofi’s words from his beautifully poetic introduction to ‘A Portrait of Cannonball’, he made them smile.
 
It was the warmth of Cannonball’s humanity that endeared him to millions of fans across the world, and which instantly communicated itself with the Progress audience. Alex Webb lit the fuse to ignite ‘Bohemia After Dark’, and with sparks flying between the rhythm section and the tight front-line of Tony Kofi and Byron Wallen, it was clear that this promised to be an evening to remember.
 
Like Cannonball, Tony Kofi and Byron Wallen are absolute masters of the blues, as they clearly demonstrated on ‘Thing Are Getting Better’. A beautifully paced mid-tempo number, firmly anchored by Andy Cleyndert’s rich-toned bass lines and the sensitive pulse of Alfonso Vitale’s drumming, it allowed everyone to relax and really stretch out with their solos
 
‘Nardis’ explored darker territory. Wallen’s growling, ‘stepping-on-eggshells’ trumpet, the pure tone of Kofi’s alto and Alex Webb’s Spanish tinged piano combined to fully express the brooding qualities of the Miles Davis composition.
 
Alex Webb’s excellent narration linked each number within the wider context of Cannonball’s burgeoning career. We soon arrived at 1960 and ‘Del Sasser’, an earthy Sam Jones original from ‘Them Dirty Blues’, Cannonball’s landmark album for Riverside records. If the pots had been simmering up to this moment in the evening, Andy Cleyndert’s magnificent bass solo brought them fully to boiling point!
 
Rapturous applause greeted the arrival of guest vocalist Deelee Dubé, to evoke Cannonball’s 1961 collaboration with Nancy Wilson, a great singer who sadly died in December 2018. Ms Dubé, the first British recipient of the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Award, has a voice of the purest gold. She lit up the stage as she launched into ‘Happy Talk’, with Kofi and Wallen busily ‘chattering’ away in their own musical conversation by way of accompaniment. ‘A Sleepin’ Bee’ by Harold Arlen and Truman Capote, revealed the full depth, range, crystal-clear diction and swing of Ms Dube’s beautiful voice. Absolute magic!
 
British born Victor Feldman, a brilliantly rounded musician who achieved that rare distinction of ‘making it’ in the States, contributed ‘Azule Serape’ (Blue Shawl) to Cannonball’s ‘At the Lighthouse’ album of 1961. Its open-spaced, Latin-tinged swing provided the perfect launchpad for a dazzling drum solo from Alfonso Vitale and brought an exhilarating first set to a close.

The elegant piano lines of Alex Webb set the second half in motion with Duke Pearson’s ‘Jeanine’, a dreamy, beautifully melodic number, whose precision and logic opened up endless possibilities for improvisation. On the other hand, ‘Sack O’ Woe’, another classic from ‘At the Lighthouse’, and taken a little faster than the original recording, presented the rhythm section at its most soulful and the front-line of Kofi and Wallen at their most exuberant. What fantastically expressive players they are!
 
Deelee Dubé’s return to the stage not only brought thunderous applause, but truly affirmed her place as a ‘brilliant new voice’ on the UK jazz scene. She negotiated the tricky rhythms of Frank Loesser’s ‘Will I Marry’ with absolute aplomb, captured the tender emotions of ‘The Masquerade is Over’ to perfection, aided by Byron Wallen’s wonderfully expressive obligato trumpet, both muted and open, and delivered ‘Big City’ as a show-stopping belter with the support of the band in full cry. Great!
 
‘Walk Tall’, a Joe Zawinul number from the 1967 album ’74 Miles Away’ and also the title of Cannonball’s biography, brought us into the final phase of his career which came to a much-too-early close with his death age 46 on 8 August 1975. It also provided a fitting background to the remarkable achievements, listed by Tony Kofi, which form Cannonball’s enduring legacy – a legacy which extends way beyond music to the heart of African-American identity through his support for Civil Rights and education projects.
 
After the gentle Latin breeze of ‘Saudade’, Deelee Dubé returned to the stage for the grand finale – what else but ‘Work Song’. If anything defines Cannonball, it’s this number from the pen of cornet-playing-brother Nat – earthy, blues-soaked and overflowing with the power of the human spirit!
 
To borrow a phrase from another commentator, ‘A Portrait of Cannonball was a blast!’ and in the words of one Progress regular, ‘It was the best gig that I’ve seen at Progress.’ I don’t think anyone could argue with either judgement.
 
Thanks are due to Hickie’s Music Store of Friar Street, Reading for the hire of an excellent piano and as ever to the Progress house team for their hospitality and the excellent quality of sound and lighting.

Tony Kofi Sextet “A Portrait of Cannonball” at Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 22/02/2019.

Tony Kofi Sextet

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Reviewed by: Trevor Bannister

Live Review

4-5 out of 5

Tony Kofi Sextet “A Portrait of Cannonball” at Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 22/02/2019.
Photography: Photograph by Zoë White

"A Portrait of Cannonball was a blast!" Guest contributor Trevor Bannister enjoys this exploration of Cannonball Adderley's music by an all star sextet led by saxophonist Tony Kofi. Photo by Zoë White

A Portrait of Cannonball
 
Progress Theatre,  Reading, Berkshire, Friday 22 February 2019
 
Tony Kofi alto saxophone, Byron Wallen trumpet, Alex Webb piano, Andy Cleyndert bass, Alfonso Vitale drums, Deelee Dubé guest vocalist.
 
Julian Edwin Adderley was born in Tampa, Florida on 15 September 1928. His voracious appetite earned him the sobriquet ‘Cannibal’. That it later evolved into the much more acceptable ‘Cannonball’ proved an absolute gift for the copywriters who devised his early album titles. What could be better than ‘Cannonball’s Sharpshooters’ for an attention-grabbing banner? ‘Spontaneous Combustion’ perhaps? Cannonball’s début album for the Savoy label in 1955 announced his arrival on the New York jazz scene as a player of immense vitality and invention. He made people sit up and listen, but above all, to use Tony Kofi’s words from his beautifully poetic introduction to ‘A Portrait of Cannonball’, he made them smile.
 
It was the warmth of Cannonball’s humanity that endeared him to millions of fans across the world, and which instantly communicated itself with the Progress audience. Alex Webb lit the fuse to ignite ‘Bohemia After Dark’, and with sparks flying between the rhythm section and the tight front-line of Tony Kofi and Byron Wallen, it was clear that this promised to be an evening to remember.
 
Like Cannonball, Tony Kofi and Byron Wallen are absolute masters of the blues, as they clearly demonstrated on ‘Thing Are Getting Better’. A beautifully paced mid-tempo number, firmly anchored by Andy Cleyndert’s rich-toned bass lines and the sensitive pulse of Alfonso Vitale’s drumming, it allowed everyone to relax and really stretch out with their solos
 
‘Nardis’ explored darker territory. Wallen’s growling, ‘stepping-on-eggshells’ trumpet, the pure tone of Kofi’s alto and Alex Webb’s Spanish tinged piano combined to fully express the brooding qualities of the Miles Davis composition.
 
Alex Webb’s excellent narration linked each number within the wider context of Cannonball’s burgeoning career. We soon arrived at 1960 and ‘Del Sasser’, an earthy Sam Jones original from ‘Them Dirty Blues’, Cannonball’s landmark album for Riverside records. If the pots had been simmering up to this moment in the evening, Andy Cleyndert’s magnificent bass solo brought them fully to boiling point!
 
Rapturous applause greeted the arrival of guest vocalist Deelee Dubé, to evoke Cannonball’s 1961 collaboration with Nancy Wilson, a great singer who sadly died in December 2018. Ms Dubé, the first British recipient of the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Award, has a voice of the purest gold. She lit up the stage as she launched into ‘Happy Talk’, with Kofi and Wallen busily ‘chattering’ away in their own musical conversation by way of accompaniment. ‘A Sleepin’ Bee’ by Harold Arlen and Truman Capote, revealed the full depth, range, crystal-clear diction and swing of Ms Dube’s beautiful voice. Absolute magic!
 
British born Victor Feldman, a brilliantly rounded musician who achieved that rare distinction of ‘making it’ in the States, contributed ‘Azule Serape’ (Blue Shawl) to Cannonball’s ‘At the Lighthouse’ album of 1961. Its open-spaced, Latin-tinged swing provided the perfect launchpad for a dazzling drum solo from Alfonso Vitale and brought an exhilarating first set to a close.

The elegant piano lines of Alex Webb set the second half in motion with Duke Pearson’s ‘Jeanine’, a dreamy, beautifully melodic number, whose precision and logic opened up endless possibilities for improvisation. On the other hand, ‘Sack O’ Woe’, another classic from ‘At the Lighthouse’, and taken a little faster than the original recording, presented the rhythm section at its most soulful and the front-line of Kofi and Wallen at their most exuberant. What fantastically expressive players they are!
 
Deelee Dubé’s return to the stage not only brought thunderous applause, but truly affirmed her place as a ‘brilliant new voice’ on the UK jazz scene. She negotiated the tricky rhythms of Frank Loesser’s ‘Will I Marry’ with absolute aplomb, captured the tender emotions of ‘The Masquerade is Over’ to perfection, aided by Byron Wallen’s wonderfully expressive obligato trumpet, both muted and open, and delivered ‘Big City’ as a show-stopping belter with the support of the band in full cry. Great!
 
‘Walk Tall’, a Joe Zawinul number from the 1967 album ’74 Miles Away’ and also the title of Cannonball’s biography, brought us into the final phase of his career which came to a much-too-early close with his death age 46 on 8 August 1975. It also provided a fitting background to the remarkable achievements, listed by Tony Kofi, which form Cannonball’s enduring legacy – a legacy which extends way beyond music to the heart of African-American identity through his support for Civil Rights and education projects.
 
After the gentle Latin breeze of ‘Saudade’, Deelee Dubé returned to the stage for the grand finale – what else but ‘Work Song’. If anything defines Cannonball, it’s this number from the pen of cornet-playing-brother Nat – earthy, blues-soaked and overflowing with the power of the human spirit!
 
To borrow a phrase from another commentator, ‘A Portrait of Cannonball was a blast!’ and in the words of one Progress regular, ‘It was the best gig that I’ve seen at Progress.’ I don’t think anyone could argue with either judgement.
 
Thanks are due to Hickie’s Music Store of Friar Street, Reading for the hire of an excellent piano and as ever to the Progress house team for their hospitality and the excellent quality of sound and lighting.

Adam Glasser Quartet - Adam Glasser Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 24/02/2019. Rating: 4 out of 5 The distinctive instrumental configuration allied to the high standard of the playing ensured that this was a cut above the usual ‘visiting soloist plus local rhythm section’ club gig,

Adam Glasser Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 24/02/2019.

The long awaited visit to Black Mountain Jazz by the jazz harmonica player and pianist Adam Glasser was a huge success and got the club’s 2019 programme off to a great start after January’s event, featuring the Bristol based band Radio Banska was cancelled due to illness.

South African born, London based Glasser is the UK’s leading exponent of jazz harmonica and has enjoyed a long and varied musical career performing across a variety of genres including both jazz and rock and including substantial theatre and film soundtrack work.  Starting out on piano he worked with the late South African saxophonist Dudu Pukwana and was the musical director for the veteran South African vocal group the Manhattan Brothers. As a harmonica player he has been heard on albums by the guitarists Dominic Miller and Carl Orr, Brazilian vocalist Zizi Possi and the trio Wild Card, led by guitarist Clement Regert.

As a leader Glasser has released two albums featuring his harmonica and keyboard playing, 2010’s “Free At Last” and 2012’s “”Mzansi”. Unfortunately both appear to have been deleted with Glasser having no copies of either available at gigs. Nevertheless both recordings won prizes at the South African Music Awards (SAMA), that country’s equivalent of the Grammys.

My first sighting of Glasser’s playing was at the 2014 Brecon Jazz Festival when he appeared as part of the Stroller programme, co-leading the group Township Comets alongside Loose Tubes trumpeter Chris Batchelor. On that occasion the band also included saxophonist Jason Yarde, trombonist Harry Brown, bassist Dudley Phillips and drummer Frank Tontoh plus guest guitarist Chris Montague, who fitted in seamlessly. The band’s vocalist and front woman, the late Pinise Saul, was unfortunately absent due to illness but the Comets still turned in a high energy and hugely enjoyable set despite performing on an outdoor stage in atrocious weather conditions.

In August 2018 Glasser returned to Brecon Jazz Festival to deliver two more highly successful performances. On the Friday evening he co-led a stellar ensemble in the rather more comfortable surroundings of the Guildhall that paid tribute to the memory and music of the late trumpeter Hugh Masekela and to South African jazz in general. The line up included trumpeter Byron Wallen, saxophonist Josephine Davies, guitarist Rob Luft, bassist Daisy George and drummer Corrie Dick.

The following day Glasser’s regular quartet of Luft, George and Dick played in the ballroom at the Wellington Hotel in a show titled “Toots Thielemans and Beyond”. If anything this was even better with Glasser’s virtuoso harmonica playing given greater rein and with rising star Luft also impressing with a series of dazzling guitar solos.

The quality of the two Brecon performances last summer helped to ensure a healthy audience turn out at the Melville Centre with the Abergavenny crowd supplemented by a small contingent from Brecon including Brecon Jazz Club organisers Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon.

Glasser’s accompanists for the evening had been selected by Mike Skilton of Black Mountain Jazz who had arranged for Bristol based organist John Paul Gard to bring along a trio featuring guitarist Adam Hopkins and drummer Billy Weir. The Gloucester based Hopkins was a new name to me but I was already aware of the talents of Weir, a graduate of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire, who had previously visited BMJ as a member of the trio Ferris, Lee, Weir alongside organist David Ferris and guitarist Ben Lee, both also Birmingham alumni. Now based in Bristol Weir has also performed as part of pianist and composer John Law’s Re-Creations quartet.

Also an accomplished pianist Gard is something of an audience favourite in Wales and the West C Country and has appeared on several occasions at both Abergavenny and Brecon, both on Festival and club dates. He usually appears leading an organ trio and his annual Christmas gig in this format at the Queens Head in Monmouth has become something of a seasonal institution. He is due to return to BMJ in May 2019 as part of the trio accompanying vocalist and songwriter Becki Biggins.

Incredibly Glasser had never met Gard, Hopkins and Weir before this evening but the newly formed quartet was incredibly together from the word go “we’ve never played together before, but we speak the same language”  Glasser explained.

Inevitably the programme was tilted in favour of jazz standards but nevertheless Glasser managed to bring his musical personality to the proceedings and to give much of the music an unmistakable South African feel.

The quartet eased themselves in gently with the standard “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” with Glasser demonstrating a remarkable facility on the chromatic harmonica as he took the first solo, followed by left handed guitarist Hopkins. Gard plays a two manual Viscount Legend organ and supplements his sound with a Nord pedal board. His nifty footwork was much in evidence here as his pedal generated bass lines complemented the solos of both Glasser and Hopkins. Eventually Gard was let off the leash, his solo followed by a series of drum breaks from Weir as the members of the band all took the opportunity to introduce themselves to an attentive and supportive audience.

Glasser also had an electric piano on stage, facing Gard’s set up, and he turned to this now for “Stay Cool”, a tune by the South African musician Tete Mbambisa which brought a real feel of the Townships to Abergavenny. Gard took the first solo on organ, adding a dash of American gospel music to an already heady and infectious mix. Glasser himself then moved to the chromatic harmonica for his own solo.

Glasser is something of an evangelist for the chromatic harmonica, an instrument capable of playing in multiple keys and with a range equivalent to that of a flute. Its use in jazz was pioneered by the Belgian multi-instrumentalist Toots Thielemans, who undertook solos that would normally be played on trumpet or saxophone, effectively turning it into a convincing vehicle for jazz soloing, although its use still remains rare. Designed by an engineer at the Hohner company the instrument has no screws and can be easily assembled and disassembled for cleaning and maintenance.

Glasser demonstrated his remarkable fluency on the instrument as the quartet tackled the Dizzy Gillespie composed bebop standard “A Night In Tunisia” in an innovative arrangement that also included features for Hopkins, Gard and Weir, with the drummer contributing the first of several neatly constructed full length solos.

The leader may not have had any CDs for sale but for £20 he was offering aspiring musicians the opportunity to purchase a Melody Star harmonica, a smaller, less complex version of the chromatic with a future Skype lesson from the master as part of the deal. Higher in pitch the Melody Star is also a convincing jazz instrument as Glasser demonstrated on a delightful version of “My Romance” which emerged out of a dialogue between himself and guitarist Hopkins. With Weir offering tasteful brushed support we also enjoyed solos from Gard on gospel tinged organ and
Hopkins with a typically elegant contribution.

Written by trumpeter Freddie Hubbard I’m used to hearing “Little Sunflower” played on that instrument, notably by Birmingham based trumpeter Bryan Corbett. But Hubbard’s delightful melody was equally effective in the hands of Glasser who soloed effectively on the chromatic harmonica above the infectious soul/jazz grooves generated by his colleagues. We also enjoyed a solo from Gard at the organ as Glasser doubled on both piano and shakers.

The first set concluded with a stunning rendition of Charlie Parker’s bebop classic “Anthropology” with Glasser displaying an astonishing agility on the chromatic harmonica as he tackled Parker’s slippery melody lines, Gard matching him with his nimble footwork on the pedals. Further solos came from Hopkins on guitar and Gard on organ, the pair spurred on by Weir’s crisp and propulsive drumming. Weir then enjoyed a series of brisk drum breaks before being given the nod by Glasser to launch into a full blown solo, thus bringing a hugely enjoyable first half to an energetic close.

Having already paid homage to his South African roots Glasser now acknowledged the influence of Thielemans with a version of Toots’ tune “Bluesette”, a piece that he had also performed at Brecon. Along the way Glasser informed us that the multi-talented Thielemans had once been George Shearing’s guitarist!  Glasser began with a passage of unaccompanied chromatic harmonica with later solos coming from Hopkins and Gard. Unfortunately technical problems with Glasser’s harmonica/mic set up detracted from the performance.

The difficulties were resolved for the quartet’s intriguing arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” with Glasser soloing on harmonica but again doubling up on piano and shakers to accompany Hopkins’ quote laden solo. A particularly intriguing aspect was Weir’s colourful drum feature, his percussive explorations underpinned by Gard’s extraordinary pedal bass lines.

We returned to South Africa for one of Glasser’s favourite tunes,” Zandile”  by Victor Ndlazilwane, saxophonist of the South African jazz group The Jazz Ministers. The Ministers played the famous Newport Jazz Festival in the US in the 1970s, helping to bring South African jazz and the political struggles associated with it to the attention of American audiences. With Weir laying down an insistent Township groove Glasser soloed on both piano and harmonica, his features punctuated by a solo from guitarist Hopkins.

Hopkins was also to feature prominently on the classic Wes Montgomery composition “Four On Six”, sharing the solos with Glasser and Gard and getting a nod of approval from the leader, who told the guitarist that Montgomery himself would have been impressed by him.

Glasser’s arrangement of “How Deep Is The Ocean” was included on his award winning “Mzansi” album, a recording that mixed jazz standards with South African Township tunes. The chromatic harmonica proved to be an effective vehicle for a sensitive ballad interpretation of Irving Berlin’s tune, even though those earlier technical difficulties temporarily resurfaced again. Further solos came from Gard and Hopkins prior to a solo harmonica cadenza at the close.

Another well known standard, Jerome Kern’s “I’m Old Fashioned”, was given a distinctive South African twist, the groove fuelling solos from Glasser on both piano and harmonica, Hopkins on guitar and Gard on organ.

This was scheduled to be the final number of the evening but such was the enthusiasm of the crowd that BMJ’s Debs Hancock had little difficulty in persuading the band to stay on stage for an encore. In effect we got two for the price of one with Glasser switching to the smaller Melody Star for a quick romp through Miles Davis’ “Milestones”.This piece designed to showcase the qualities of the smaller harmonica and acted as a kind of commercial for Glasser’s instrument plus lesson package.
He then switched to the chromatic as the quartet segued into a similarly joyous rendition of Daniel Flores’ “Tequila”, with Weir’s cowbell heavy Latin grooves fuelling fiery solos from Glasser, Hopkins and Gard and with Weir also enjoying a final series of drum breaks.

This had been an excellent performance from a one off quartet that gelled very effectively right from the beginning. Glasser is not only a virtuoso soloist but is also an excellent communicator who was able to convey his obvious enthusiasm for the music to bandmates and audience alike.

Despite the similarity of their timbres the combination of organ and mouth organ (I bet Adam hates hearing the harmonica called that) actually worked very well with Glasser and Gard never getting in each other’s way. Gard also impressed as a soloist, as he always does, and as an accompanist too, his distinctive pedal bass lines and keyboard comping adding greatly to the success of the music. Hopkins and Weir also impressed with their contributions, both as soloists and as all round team players.

Glasser had delivered on the promise shown by his two Brecon shows and the distinctive instrumental configuration allied to the high standard of the playing ensured that this was a cut above the usual ‘visiting soloist plus local rhythm section’ club gig, the occasional technical glitch notwithstanding.

Adam Glasser Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 24/02/2019.

Adam Glasser Quartet

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Adam Glasser Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 24/02/2019.
Photography: Photograph of Adam Glasser sourced from the Black Mountian Jazz website http://www.blackmountainjazz.co.uk

The distinctive instrumental configuration allied to the high standard of the playing ensured that this was a cut above the usual ‘visiting soloist plus local rhythm section’ club gig,

Adam Glasser Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 24/02/2019.

The long awaited visit to Black Mountain Jazz by the jazz harmonica player and pianist Adam Glasser was a huge success and got the club’s 2019 programme off to a great start after January’s event, featuring the Bristol based band Radio Banska was cancelled due to illness.

South African born, London based Glasser is the UK’s leading exponent of jazz harmonica and has enjoyed a long and varied musical career performing across a variety of genres including both jazz and rock and including substantial theatre and film soundtrack work.  Starting out on piano he worked with the late South African saxophonist Dudu Pukwana and was the musical director for the veteran South African vocal group the Manhattan Brothers. As a harmonica player he has been heard on albums by the guitarists Dominic Miller and Carl Orr, Brazilian vocalist Zizi Possi and the trio Wild Card, led by guitarist Clement Regert.

As a leader Glasser has released two albums featuring his harmonica and keyboard playing, 2010’s “Free At Last” and 2012’s “”Mzansi”. Unfortunately both appear to have been deleted with Glasser having no copies of either available at gigs. Nevertheless both recordings won prizes at the South African Music Awards (SAMA), that country’s equivalent of the Grammys.

My first sighting of Glasser’s playing was at the 2014 Brecon Jazz Festival when he appeared as part of the Stroller programme, co-leading the group Township Comets alongside Loose Tubes trumpeter Chris Batchelor. On that occasion the band also included saxophonist Jason Yarde, trombonist Harry Brown, bassist Dudley Phillips and drummer Frank Tontoh plus guest guitarist Chris Montague, who fitted in seamlessly. The band’s vocalist and front woman, the late Pinise Saul, was unfortunately absent due to illness but the Comets still turned in a high energy and hugely enjoyable set despite performing on an outdoor stage in atrocious weather conditions.

In August 2018 Glasser returned to Brecon Jazz Festival to deliver two more highly successful performances. On the Friday evening he co-led a stellar ensemble in the rather more comfortable surroundings of the Guildhall that paid tribute to the memory and music of the late trumpeter Hugh Masekela and to South African jazz in general. The line up included trumpeter Byron Wallen, saxophonist Josephine Davies, guitarist Rob Luft, bassist Daisy George and drummer Corrie Dick.

The following day Glasser’s regular quartet of Luft, George and Dick played in the ballroom at the Wellington Hotel in a show titled “Toots Thielemans and Beyond”. If anything this was even better with Glasser’s virtuoso harmonica playing given greater rein and with rising star Luft also impressing with a series of dazzling guitar solos.

The quality of the two Brecon performances last summer helped to ensure a healthy audience turn out at the Melville Centre with the Abergavenny crowd supplemented by a small contingent from Brecon including Brecon Jazz Club organisers Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon.

Glasser’s accompanists for the evening had been selected by Mike Skilton of Black Mountain Jazz who had arranged for Bristol based organist John Paul Gard to bring along a trio featuring guitarist Adam Hopkins and drummer Billy Weir. The Gloucester based Hopkins was a new name to me but I was already aware of the talents of Weir, a graduate of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire, who had previously visited BMJ as a member of the trio Ferris, Lee, Weir alongside organist David Ferris and guitarist Ben Lee, both also Birmingham alumni. Now based in Bristol Weir has also performed as part of pianist and composer John Law’s Re-Creations quartet.

Also an accomplished pianist Gard is something of an audience favourite in Wales and the West C Country and has appeared on several occasions at both Abergavenny and Brecon, both on Festival and club dates. He usually appears leading an organ trio and his annual Christmas gig in this format at the Queens Head in Monmouth has become something of a seasonal institution. He is due to return to BMJ in May 2019 as part of the trio accompanying vocalist and songwriter Becki Biggins.

Incredibly Glasser had never met Gard, Hopkins and Weir before this evening but the newly formed quartet was incredibly together from the word go “we’ve never played together before, but we speak the same language”  Glasser explained.

Inevitably the programme was tilted in favour of jazz standards but nevertheless Glasser managed to bring his musical personality to the proceedings and to give much of the music an unmistakable South African feel.

The quartet eased themselves in gently with the standard “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” with Glasser demonstrating a remarkable facility on the chromatic harmonica as he took the first solo, followed by left handed guitarist Hopkins. Gard plays a two manual Viscount Legend organ and supplements his sound with a Nord pedal board. His nifty footwork was much in evidence here as his pedal generated bass lines complemented the solos of both Glasser and Hopkins. Eventually Gard was let off the leash, his solo followed by a series of drum breaks from Weir as the members of the band all took the opportunity to introduce themselves to an attentive and supportive audience.

Glasser also had an electric piano on stage, facing Gard’s set up, and he turned to this now for “Stay Cool”, a tune by the South African musician Tete Mbambisa which brought a real feel of the Townships to Abergavenny. Gard took the first solo on organ, adding a dash of American gospel music to an already heady and infectious mix. Glasser himself then moved to the chromatic harmonica for his own solo.

Glasser is something of an evangelist for the chromatic harmonica, an instrument capable of playing in multiple keys and with a range equivalent to that of a flute. Its use in jazz was pioneered by the Belgian multi-instrumentalist Toots Thielemans, who undertook solos that would normally be played on trumpet or saxophone, effectively turning it into a convincing vehicle for jazz soloing, although its use still remains rare. Designed by an engineer at the Hohner company the instrument has no screws and can be easily assembled and disassembled for cleaning and maintenance.

Glasser demonstrated his remarkable fluency on the instrument as the quartet tackled the Dizzy Gillespie composed bebop standard “A Night In Tunisia” in an innovative arrangement that also included features for Hopkins, Gard and Weir, with the drummer contributing the first of several neatly constructed full length solos.

The leader may not have had any CDs for sale but for £20 he was offering aspiring musicians the opportunity to purchase a Melody Star harmonica, a smaller, less complex version of the chromatic with a future Skype lesson from the master as part of the deal. Higher in pitch the Melody Star is also a convincing jazz instrument as Glasser demonstrated on a delightful version of “My Romance” which emerged out of a dialogue between himself and guitarist Hopkins. With Weir offering tasteful brushed support we also enjoyed solos from Gard on gospel tinged organ and
Hopkins with a typically elegant contribution.

Written by trumpeter Freddie Hubbard I’m used to hearing “Little Sunflower” played on that instrument, notably by Birmingham based trumpeter Bryan Corbett. But Hubbard’s delightful melody was equally effective in the hands of Glasser who soloed effectively on the chromatic harmonica above the infectious soul/jazz grooves generated by his colleagues. We also enjoyed a solo from Gard at the organ as Glasser doubled on both piano and shakers.

The first set concluded with a stunning rendition of Charlie Parker’s bebop classic “Anthropology” with Glasser displaying an astonishing agility on the chromatic harmonica as he tackled Parker’s slippery melody lines, Gard matching him with his nimble footwork on the pedals. Further solos came from Hopkins on guitar and Gard on organ, the pair spurred on by Weir’s crisp and propulsive drumming. Weir then enjoyed a series of brisk drum breaks before being given the nod by Glasser to launch into a full blown solo, thus bringing a hugely enjoyable first half to an energetic close.

Having already paid homage to his South African roots Glasser now acknowledged the influence of Thielemans with a version of Toots’ tune “Bluesette”, a piece that he had also performed at Brecon. Along the way Glasser informed us that the multi-talented Thielemans had once been George Shearing’s guitarist!  Glasser began with a passage of unaccompanied chromatic harmonica with later solos coming from Hopkins and Gard. Unfortunately technical problems with Glasser’s harmonica/mic set up detracted from the performance.

The difficulties were resolved for the quartet’s intriguing arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” with Glasser soloing on harmonica but again doubling up on piano and shakers to accompany Hopkins’ quote laden solo. A particularly intriguing aspect was Weir’s colourful drum feature, his percussive explorations underpinned by Gard’s extraordinary pedal bass lines.

We returned to South Africa for one of Glasser’s favourite tunes,” Zandile”  by Victor Ndlazilwane, saxophonist of the South African jazz group The Jazz Ministers. The Ministers played the famous Newport Jazz Festival in the US in the 1970s, helping to bring South African jazz and the political struggles associated with it to the attention of American audiences. With Weir laying down an insistent Township groove Glasser soloed on both piano and harmonica, his features punctuated by a solo from guitarist Hopkins.

Hopkins was also to feature prominently on the classic Wes Montgomery composition “Four On Six”, sharing the solos with Glasser and Gard and getting a nod of approval from the leader, who told the guitarist that Montgomery himself would have been impressed by him.

Glasser’s arrangement of “How Deep Is The Ocean” was included on his award winning “Mzansi” album, a recording that mixed jazz standards with South African Township tunes. The chromatic harmonica proved to be an effective vehicle for a sensitive ballad interpretation of Irving Berlin’s tune, even though those earlier technical difficulties temporarily resurfaced again. Further solos came from Gard and Hopkins prior to a solo harmonica cadenza at the close.

Another well known standard, Jerome Kern’s “I’m Old Fashioned”, was given a distinctive South African twist, the groove fuelling solos from Glasser on both piano and harmonica, Hopkins on guitar and Gard on organ.

This was scheduled to be the final number of the evening but such was the enthusiasm of the crowd that BMJ’s Debs Hancock had little difficulty in persuading the band to stay on stage for an encore. In effect we got two for the price of one with Glasser switching to the smaller Melody Star for a quick romp through Miles Davis’ “Milestones”.This piece designed to showcase the qualities of the smaller harmonica and acted as a kind of commercial for Glasser’s instrument plus lesson package.
He then switched to the chromatic as the quartet segued into a similarly joyous rendition of Daniel Flores’ “Tequila”, with Weir’s cowbell heavy Latin grooves fuelling fiery solos from Glasser, Hopkins and Gard and with Weir also enjoying a final series of drum breaks.

This had been an excellent performance from a one off quartet that gelled very effectively right from the beginning. Glasser is not only a virtuoso soloist but is also an excellent communicator who was able to convey his obvious enthusiasm for the music to bandmates and audience alike.

Despite the similarity of their timbres the combination of organ and mouth organ (I bet Adam hates hearing the harmonica called that) actually worked very well with Glasser and Gard never getting in each other’s way. Gard also impressed as a soloist, as he always does, and as an accompanist too, his distinctive pedal bass lines and keyboard comping adding greatly to the success of the music. Hopkins and Weir also impressed with their contributions, both as soloists and as all round team players.

Glasser had delivered on the promise shown by his two Brecon shows and the distinctive instrumental configuration allied to the high standard of the playing ensured that this was a cut above the usual ‘visiting soloist plus local rhythm section’ club gig, the occasional technical glitch notwithstanding.

Rymden - Reflections & Odysseys Rating: 4 out of 5 A strong début showing from Rymden. This is a ‘supergroup’ with the potential for further development as the rapport between the three musicians continues to blossom.

Rymden

“Reflections & Odysseys”

(Jazzland Records No. 29,  Bar Code 377 920 6)

Rymden is the new Scandinavian ‘supergroup’ featuring the Norwegian pianist,  keyboard player and composer Bugge Wesseltoft in a co-operative trio with the Swedish musicians Dan Berglund (bass) and Magnus Ostrom (drums).

Berglund and Ostrom are best known to jazz audiences as the long serving rhythm section of e.s.t., the ground breaking trio led by their compatriot, the great pianist and composer Esbjorn Svensson.
Formed in 1993 and signed to the German label ACT e.s.t. became the biggest jazz act in Europe, achieving near pop star status in many countries. They made substantial inroads in the UK, US and Australia too and were still exhibiting signs of artistic progress when Svensson was tragically killed in a scuba diving accident in 2008 aged just forty four.

Both Berglund and Ostrom remained with ACT following the tragedy and both subsequently recorded their own groups for the label, Ostrom working under his own name and Berglund leading the co-operative quartet Tonbruket. Both achieved considerable critical and commercial success.

Meanwhile Wesseltoft is celebrated for his 1990s/2000s ‘New Conception of Jazz” ensemble which fused jazz with the dance beats and DJ culture of the time. Also an accomplished acoustic player Wesseltoft has recorded solo piano albums for ACT and has collaborated with many of Norway’s leading jazz musicians including saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Arild Andersen, guitarist Terje Rypdal and trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer. He has also recorded several albums as co-leader with the experimental vocalist and composer Sidsel Endresen. Wesseltoft is the founder of the Jazzland and OK World record labels and is one of most influential figures in contemporary Norwegian music.

Rymden take their band name from the Swedish word for ‘space’ but the initial idea for the trio came from Wesseltoft, who had often been on the same festival bills as e.s.t.
Wesseltoft and Berglund subsequently worked together in Trialogue, a project that also featured the Berlin based electronic musician Henrik Schwarz.

Following Svensson’s death both Berglund and Ostrom made a point of avoiding the piano trio format and also elected to spend time apart from each other, in a professional sense at least. It’s only after a ten year interim that they felt able to re-unite as a rhythm team and to do so in what is ostensibly the piano trio format.

But Rymden is very different to e.s.t. in that it places a greater emphasis on electronic keyboards and rock rhythms, a reflection of the new trio’s shared prog rock past that embraces Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Rush plus jazzier offshoots such as Billy Cobham, and particularly Weather Report. Not that e.s.t were strangers to electronics, those influences also fed into their music, particularly with Berglund’s heavily distorted arco bass solos, which became something of a group trademark.

The influence of Weather Report and of fusion era Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea are detectable in Rymden’s sound but the trio have also cited the influence of more contemporary acts such as Armenian pianist and composer Tigran Hamasyan and the Swedish math metal band Meshuggah plus numerous other contemporary metal and hip hop acts.

The Rymden trio introduced itself to the UK jazz audience with a well received set at the Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of the 2019 EFG London Jazz Festival, which included the bulk of the material to be heard on this eponymous début album. My review of that performance can be read as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-day-seven-thursday-22nd-november-2018/

Rymden are due to return to the UK and will appear at the Jazz Arena on May 4th 2019 as part of the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Please visit http://www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/jazz for further details.

Turning now to the album which sees the three musicians dividing the writing credits between themselves but with the largest proportion of the compositions coming from the pen of project instigator Wesseltoft.

However we commence with the jointly improvised atmospherics of “Rymden – Reflections”, which is credited to the group as a whole and segues into Wesseltoft’s “Rymden – The Odyssey”, effectively making this opening double salvo the title track.
“Reflections” mixes fragile, glacial acoustic piano with the electronic sounds of deep space, seguing into “The Odyssey” as Wesseltoft establishes a melodic/rhythmic motif which is given weight by the addition of Ostrom’s drums. With lift off achieved a powerful groove is established, one that goes through several permutations as the music gathers momentum, Wesseltoft moves seamlessly between acoustic and electric keyboards, soloing on acoustic piano but also weaving rich sonic tapestries and textures on synthesiser and Rhodes. At the QEH he was surrounded by a bank of keyboards, effortlessly and instinctively gravitating between the various instruments.

By his own admission Wesseltoft’s compositions tend to be simple affairs, but based around strong ideas that the trio can collectively develop. “I don’t really compose as much as I make firm guidelines”,  he explains, “I might have a very simple theme or riff or combination of these, so it’s the group as a unit that brings energy and life to it to make the best possible version. My goal was never to write a composition with more than one page”.

Credited to Berglund “The Peacemaker” is a short (thirty eight seconds), but beguiling passage of unaccompanied bass that introduces the same composer’s “Pitter Patter”. This is a playful, slyly funky piece underpinned by Berglund’s muscular bass figures and Ostrom’s skittering drum grooves. The pair remain a great rhythm team and they complement Wesseltoft’s lively work on electric piano, his plating variously recalling Corea, Hancock, Zawinul and even Stevie Wonder. There’s also a powerful but highly dexterous solo from Berglund at the bass.

In contrast to Wesseltoft’s writing Ostrom’s pieces tend to be very much through composed, an approach that he perfected with his own bands. The drummer also has a special way with a title and it was he who gave the name to most of Svensson’s compositions for e.s.t.
The drummer’s first contribution with the pen is “The Lugubrious Youth Of Lucky Luke”, a ballad featuring Wesseltoft acoustic piano and with a richly melodic solo from Berglund on double bass. The composer’s own contribution is understated, consisting of atmospheric mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers on a piece that recalls e.s.t at their most reflective.

Wesseltoft’s “The Celestial Dog” was written in honour of the canine cosmonaut Laika and commences with the gentle militarism of Ostrom’s drums.  The sparse but beguiling melody is reminiscent of e.s.t. at their most accessible while Berglund’s rich but eerie bowed bass adds a suitably otherworldly quality to a tune whose title suggests that it be seen as a companion piece to e.s.t’s “From Gagarin’s Point Of View”. Subsequently the trio develop the composition into something more dramatic and dynamic before eventually fading away and coming full circle.

Ostrom’s balladic “Bergen”, a fully composed piece, combines jazz harmony with beguiling folk like melodies and includes features for Wesseltoft on acoustic piano and Berglund on double bass, the latter playing both with and without the bow, his arco playing again sometimes evoking memories of e.s.t. . The focus on melody and the use of uncredited wordless vocals also recalls the music of Pat Metheny, with whom Berglund and Ostrom once worked, the three paying tribute to Svensson on Ostrom’s 2011 solo début “Thread Of Life”.

Also credited to the drummer is “Rak – The Abyss”, the carefully constructed and highly atmospheric solo percussion introduction to Wesseltoft’s “Rak”, a piece named after a region of Sweden. “Rak” was one of the highlights of Rymden’s London appearance with its powerful riffing and judicious use of rock rhythms. Wesseltoft moves between acoustic and electric keyboards, soloing effectively on Rhodes as those “Bitches Brew” and Weather Report influences come to the fore. There are more impressionistic episodes too, very much in keeping with the group’s space theme.

The brief “Orbiting” represents Wesseltoft’s ‘solo’ feature, although Berglund’s bowed bass is in there too, and represents a prelude to the closing “Homegrown”. Written by the pianist this charming ballad is one of his prettiest tunes and contains a delightfully melodic pizzicato bass solo from Berglund, who also makes subtle and atmospheric use of the bow. An intentionally simple arrangement places the focus on melody with Ostrom supplying sympathetic and understated drum accompaniment. It’s a piece that has been compared to e.s.t at their most lyrical but the hymn like quality of the tune and the sparseness of the arrangement also reminds me of the Tord Gustavsen Trio.

“Reflections & Odysseys” confirms the promise of that London show and establishes a distinctive group sound that combines elements of jazz, rock, folk and classical music. The differing writing styles of the three protagonists make for effective contrasts and the music makes effective use of light and shade and skilfully combines acoustic and electric sounds.

“Reflections & Odysseys” represents a strong début showing from Rymden and this looks like a project with ‘legs’. The album has been well received by the jazz press and the new trio is proving to be popular with audiences too. Wesseltoft doesn’t attempt to emulate Svensson but instead brings his own musical personality to the project in a way that suggests that this is a ‘supergroup’ with the potential for further development as the rapport between the three musicians continues to blossom.
Rymden’s journey into space looks set to continue.

Reflections & Odysseys

Rymden

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Reflections & Odysseys

A strong début showing from Rymden. This is a ‘supergroup’ with the potential for further development as the rapport between the three musicians continues to blossom.

Rymden

“Reflections & Odysseys”

(Jazzland Records No. 29,  Bar Code 377 920 6)

Rymden is the new Scandinavian ‘supergroup’ featuring the Norwegian pianist,  keyboard player and composer Bugge Wesseltoft in a co-operative trio with the Swedish musicians Dan Berglund (bass) and Magnus Ostrom (drums).

Berglund and Ostrom are best known to jazz audiences as the long serving rhythm section of e.s.t., the ground breaking trio led by their compatriot, the great pianist and composer Esbjorn Svensson.
Formed in 1993 and signed to the German label ACT e.s.t. became the biggest jazz act in Europe, achieving near pop star status in many countries. They made substantial inroads in the UK, US and Australia too and were still exhibiting signs of artistic progress when Svensson was tragically killed in a scuba diving accident in 2008 aged just forty four.

Both Berglund and Ostrom remained with ACT following the tragedy and both subsequently recorded their own groups for the label, Ostrom working under his own name and Berglund leading the co-operative quartet Tonbruket. Both achieved considerable critical and commercial success.

Meanwhile Wesseltoft is celebrated for his 1990s/2000s ‘New Conception of Jazz” ensemble which fused jazz with the dance beats and DJ culture of the time. Also an accomplished acoustic player Wesseltoft has recorded solo piano albums for ACT and has collaborated with many of Norway’s leading jazz musicians including saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Arild Andersen, guitarist Terje Rypdal and trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer. He has also recorded several albums as co-leader with the experimental vocalist and composer Sidsel Endresen. Wesseltoft is the founder of the Jazzland and OK World record labels and is one of most influential figures in contemporary Norwegian music.

Rymden take their band name from the Swedish word for ‘space’ but the initial idea for the trio came from Wesseltoft, who had often been on the same festival bills as e.s.t.
Wesseltoft and Berglund subsequently worked together in Trialogue, a project that also featured the Berlin based electronic musician Henrik Schwarz.

Following Svensson’s death both Berglund and Ostrom made a point of avoiding the piano trio format and also elected to spend time apart from each other, in a professional sense at least. It’s only after a ten year interim that they felt able to re-unite as a rhythm team and to do so in what is ostensibly the piano trio format.

But Rymden is very different to e.s.t. in that it places a greater emphasis on electronic keyboards and rock rhythms, a reflection of the new trio’s shared prog rock past that embraces Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Rush plus jazzier offshoots such as Billy Cobham, and particularly Weather Report. Not that e.s.t were strangers to electronics, those influences also fed into their music, particularly with Berglund’s heavily distorted arco bass solos, which became something of a group trademark.

The influence of Weather Report and of fusion era Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea are detectable in Rymden’s sound but the trio have also cited the influence of more contemporary acts such as Armenian pianist and composer Tigran Hamasyan and the Swedish math metal band Meshuggah plus numerous other contemporary metal and hip hop acts.

The Rymden trio introduced itself to the UK jazz audience with a well received set at the Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of the 2019 EFG London Jazz Festival, which included the bulk of the material to be heard on this eponymous début album. My review of that performance can be read as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-day-seven-thursday-22nd-november-2018/

Rymden are due to return to the UK and will appear at the Jazz Arena on May 4th 2019 as part of the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Please visit http://www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/jazz for further details.

Turning now to the album which sees the three musicians dividing the writing credits between themselves but with the largest proportion of the compositions coming from the pen of project instigator Wesseltoft.

However we commence with the jointly improvised atmospherics of “Rymden – Reflections”, which is credited to the group as a whole and segues into Wesseltoft’s “Rymden – The Odyssey”, effectively making this opening double salvo the title track.
“Reflections” mixes fragile, glacial acoustic piano with the electronic sounds of deep space, seguing into “The Odyssey” as Wesseltoft establishes a melodic/rhythmic motif which is given weight by the addition of Ostrom’s drums. With lift off achieved a powerful groove is established, one that goes through several permutations as the music gathers momentum, Wesseltoft moves seamlessly between acoustic and electric keyboards, soloing on acoustic piano but also weaving rich sonic tapestries and textures on synthesiser and Rhodes. At the QEH he was surrounded by a bank of keyboards, effortlessly and instinctively gravitating between the various instruments.

By his own admission Wesseltoft’s compositions tend to be simple affairs, but based around strong ideas that the trio can collectively develop. “I don’t really compose as much as I make firm guidelines”,  he explains, “I might have a very simple theme or riff or combination of these, so it’s the group as a unit that brings energy and life to it to make the best possible version. My goal was never to write a composition with more than one page”.

Credited to Berglund “The Peacemaker” is a short (thirty eight seconds), but beguiling passage of unaccompanied bass that introduces the same composer’s “Pitter Patter”. This is a playful, slyly funky piece underpinned by Berglund’s muscular bass figures and Ostrom’s skittering drum grooves. The pair remain a great rhythm team and they complement Wesseltoft’s lively work on electric piano, his plating variously recalling Corea, Hancock, Zawinul and even Stevie Wonder. There’s also a powerful but highly dexterous solo from Berglund at the bass.

In contrast to Wesseltoft’s writing Ostrom’s pieces tend to be very much through composed, an approach that he perfected with his own bands. The drummer also has a special way with a title and it was he who gave the name to most of Svensson’s compositions for e.s.t.
The drummer’s first contribution with the pen is “The Lugubrious Youth Of Lucky Luke”, a ballad featuring Wesseltoft acoustic piano and with a richly melodic solo from Berglund on double bass. The composer’s own contribution is understated, consisting of atmospheric mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers on a piece that recalls e.s.t at their most reflective.

Wesseltoft’s “The Celestial Dog” was written in honour of the canine cosmonaut Laika and commences with the gentle militarism of Ostrom’s drums.  The sparse but beguiling melody is reminiscent of e.s.t. at their most accessible while Berglund’s rich but eerie bowed bass adds a suitably otherworldly quality to a tune whose title suggests that it be seen as a companion piece to e.s.t’s “From Gagarin’s Point Of View”. Subsequently the trio develop the composition into something more dramatic and dynamic before eventually fading away and coming full circle.

Ostrom’s balladic “Bergen”, a fully composed piece, combines jazz harmony with beguiling folk like melodies and includes features for Wesseltoft on acoustic piano and Berglund on double bass, the latter playing both with and without the bow, his arco playing again sometimes evoking memories of e.s.t. . The focus on melody and the use of uncredited wordless vocals also recalls the music of Pat Metheny, with whom Berglund and Ostrom once worked, the three paying tribute to Svensson on Ostrom’s 2011 solo début “Thread Of Life”.

Also credited to the drummer is “Rak – The Abyss”, the carefully constructed and highly atmospheric solo percussion introduction to Wesseltoft’s “Rak”, a piece named after a region of Sweden. “Rak” was one of the highlights of Rymden’s London appearance with its powerful riffing and judicious use of rock rhythms. Wesseltoft moves between acoustic and electric keyboards, soloing effectively on Rhodes as those “Bitches Brew” and Weather Report influences come to the fore. There are more impressionistic episodes too, very much in keeping with the group’s space theme.

The brief “Orbiting” represents Wesseltoft’s ‘solo’ feature, although Berglund’s bowed bass is in there too, and represents a prelude to the closing “Homegrown”. Written by the pianist this charming ballad is one of his prettiest tunes and contains a delightfully melodic pizzicato bass solo from Berglund, who also makes subtle and atmospheric use of the bow. An intentionally simple arrangement places the focus on melody with Ostrom supplying sympathetic and understated drum accompaniment. It’s a piece that has been compared to e.s.t at their most lyrical but the hymn like quality of the tune and the sparseness of the arrangement also reminds me of the Tord Gustavsen Trio.

“Reflections & Odysseys” confirms the promise of that London show and establishes a distinctive group sound that combines elements of jazz, rock, folk and classical music. The differing writing styles of the three protagonists make for effective contrasts and the music makes effective use of light and shade and skilfully combines acoustic and electric sounds.

“Reflections & Odysseys” represents a strong début showing from Rymden and this looks like a project with ‘legs’. The album has been well received by the jazz press and the new trio is proving to be popular with audiences too. Wesseltoft doesn’t attempt to emulate Svensson but instead brings his own musical personality to the project in a way that suggests that this is a ‘supergroup’ with the potential for further development as the rapport between the three musicians continues to blossom.
Rymden’s journey into space looks set to continue.

Huw Warren Trio - Huw Warren Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 12/02/2019. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 An excellent performance from three highly talented musicians. The release of the forthcoming album “Everything In Between” will be very keenly anticipated.

Huw Warren Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 12/02/2019.

Brecon Jazz Club’s February event brought something of a Welsh ‘supergroup’ to The Muse.

North Wales based pianist and composer Huw Warren is a musician with an international reputation who is currently touring in support of his forthcoming trio album “Everything In Between” which is due to be released on the Italian Cam Jazz record label, the imprint that was once the ‘home’ of the late, great pianist and composer John Taylor.

The new album will feature the trio of Huw Warren, bassist Dudley Phillips and drummer Zoot Warren, Huw’s son.  However for tonight’s performance Brecon Jazz Club had invited double bassist Paula Gardiner to join Huw and Zoot. Based in Cardiff Gardiner is the Head of Jazz at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff (RWCMD).

Gardiner is an old friend of Brecon Jazz and first performed at the town’s famous jazz festival in 1986. She subsequently led her own groups releasing the albums “Tales of Inclination” (1995), “Six” (1999) and “Hot Lament” (2008). She was also a member of pianist Dave Stapleton’s Quintet (DSQ) and appeared on that group’s first two albums “When Life Was In Black And White” and “The House Always Wins”. In recent years Gardiner has placed a greater emphasis on her role as an educator and tonight was the first time that I had seen her playing live for some considerable time.

I first became aware of Huw Warren’s playing and composing during the 1990s through the collaborative quartet Perfect Houseplants which also featured bassist Dudley Phillips, saxophonist Mark Lockheart and drummer Martin France, my interest in the band first piqued by the inclusion of former Loose Tubes Lockheart and France. I still love the Houseplants’ unique fusion of jazz, folk, classical and various ethnic musics and even now the quartet still play the occasional re-union concert.

I’ve also followed Huw’s solo career which has yielded several pleasingly eclectic albums including “A Barrel Organ Far From Home” (1997) and “Hundreds Of Things A Boy Can Make” (2003), both of which built upon the quirkiness of the Houseplants sound.

Warren, also a skilled accordionist and cellist, is a serial collaborator who has a particular affinity for working with vocalists, among them Maria Pia De Vito, Christine Tobin and the folk diva June Tabor for whom he acted as pianist and musical director on several of the singer’s solo albums. Warren and Tabor plus saxophonist Iain Ballamy now perform under the collective name Quercus and have recorded two acclaimed folk/jazz albums for the prestigious ECM record label.

Like Gardiner Warren is something of a Brecon favourite having played at the Festival on many occasions, the highlights including collaborations with American drummer Jim Black and with Italian clarinettist Gabriele Mirabassi, in addition to numerous sideman appearances. He has also led his own groups including Quercus and in 2014 a quartet paying homage to Dylan Thomas via Warren’s yet to be recorded jazz suite “Do Not Go Gentle”.

In 2009 Warren released “Hermeto +” (Basho Records), an album that paid tribute to the Brazilian composer and multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal, a musician who has had a particularly strong influence on Warren and other British musicians, including other members of Perfect Houseplants and Loose Tubes. Recorded with France at the drums and the Austrian musician Peter Herbert on double bass “Hermeto +” featured a near 50/50 split between arrangements of Pascoal compositions and Warren originals inspired by the great man. The album attracted considerable acclaim and much of the material formed part of the repertoire of Warren’s Trio Brasil featuring Huw, Dudley Phillips and Zoot, sometimes augmented by guest saxophonist Iain Ballamy, which has gigged widely in the UK ever since, including an excellent performance at the 2016 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in nearby Abergavenny.

The forthcoming album “Something In Between”, due for release on March 15th 2019, will represent the long awaited follow up to “Hermeto +” and will again feature a mix of Pascoal compositions and Warren originals. The personnel this time round will be the ongoing Trio Brasil of Huw, Phillips and Zoot and the repertoire from the new album formed the basis of tonight’s two sets.

With no grand piano available Huw performed on a Yamaha electric keyboard with the sound set to acoustic piano. With Gardiner on double bass and Zoot behind the kit the trio kicked off with the Warren original “Mouli Baby” which commenced with a freely structured intro featuring Zoot’s use of mallets and bare hands before a folk like melody emerged on a piece that exhibited a distinct influence from West African music. This was music that was simultaneously complex and joyous, characteristics that also distinguish Pascoal’s music, and the piece included impressive opening solos from Huw and Gardiner as Zoot provided astute rhythmic colour and propulsion.

Next we heard a segue of Pascoal tunes. Huw has been influenced by Brazilian music in general, but by Pascoal in particular. But anybody expecting a relaxing evening of gentle Jobim style samba and bossa was in for a shock. Pascoal’s music is more complex, rhythmic and vibrant and his richly colourful compositions bring their own rewards, even if they do make the listener work a little bit harder. Huw describes it as “serous fun”, a quality he tries to bring to all his music making.

“O Farol que nos guia” began with a passage of unaccompanied piano that developed into a sumptuously flowing melody tenderly embellished by Zoot’s exquisite cymbal work as he delicately shadowed his father’s playing. Gardiner flourished her bow as she provided the link into the more vibrant and energetic second half of the segue, “Papo Furado”, meaning “Jive Talking” which was distinguished by a dazzling piano solo from Huw and a neatly constructed solo drum feature from Zoot. Without Ballamy in the band the young drummer was given more room to shine and I was hugely impressed by his contribution throughout the evening as he coaxed a wide range of sounds and colours from his kit and responded instinctively to his colleagues, always seeming to play the right beat or accent.

Huw’s original “First Love, Last Rites” was inspired by an Ian McEwan collection of short stories and was a delightful ballad introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano. Huw’s lyricism at the keyboard was matched by Gardiner’s melodic double bass solo while Zoot again displayed a deft and subtle cymbal touch.

“Endless Stars”, by the esteemed American pianist and composer Fred Hersch, doubtless another one of Huw’s musical heroes, followed a similar trajectory; another beautiful tune introduced by a passage of solo piano and again finding room for a bass solo from the excellent Gardiner.

The first set concluded with the trio picking up the pace again for a spirited romp through Pascoal’s “Chorino pra Ele”. Huw informed us that a ‘chorino’ was originally a 19th century dance incorporating classical harmonies and Brazilian rhythms. Tonight’s arrangement also threw an allusion to John Coltrane’s classic jazz composition “Giant Steps” into the mix.

Set two began with an unaccompanied passage from Zoot at the drums, subsequently joined by Gardiner’s bass as the rhythm team introduced “Sambari”, written by the Brazilian singer and songwriter Joyce. Their dialogue eventually led to an expansive piano solo from Huw and later a bass solo from Gardiner on a piece that seemed to epitomise the Brazilian spirit.

Next we heard the title track from the new album, the tune name “Everything In Between” chosen as an indicator of Huw’s highly catholic musical tastes - “from opera to death metal and everything in between”. The music itself was appropriately wide ranging, beginning with the delicate intro for piano and brushed cymbals through folk inspired Houseplants like cadences to full on Pascoal inspired passages featuring the ebullient, highly percussive piano soloing of the leader as Gardiner and Zoot responded with an energetic aplomb.

Both band and audience seemed somewhat drained after this so Huw announced the only standard of the evening, a delightful ballad arrangement of the Jerome Kern song “The Folks That Live On The Hill”. Amazingly Huw had only been introduced to the song fairly recently when playing a gig with that doyenne of British jazz vocalists, the great Norma Winstone - “it’s got a middle six instead of a middle eight”, he went on to inform us. With Zoot providing sympathetically brushed accompaniment we were treated to some of Huw’s most lyrical playing, albeit becoming more expansive as the piece progressed. Gardiner’s bass solo combined a rich melodicism with a deep resonance, with the bow again appearing briefly at the close of the song.

As the trio upped the energy levels once more we were introduced to the music of two more Brazilian composers in a closing segue. First we heard Egberto Gismonti’s “Loro”  (translation “Parrot”) and then Pixinguinha’s “Un a Zero”, the latter a celebration of a famous Brazilian football victory over neighbours and fierce rivals Uruguay. Zoot introduced the proceedings at the drums before the addition of bass and piano acted as the spark for a playful solo from Huw.
A brief passage of unaccompanied piano formed the link into the Pixinguinha tune, a suitably joyous piece that included a vibrant and totally absorbing dialogue between Huw and Zoot, the pair trading ideas in a thrilling series of exchanges. Gardiner merely sat back cradling her bass, as mesmerised as the rest of us.

After a few words from Brecon Jazz Club’s Lynne Gornall the trio played us out with Pascoal’s “Frevo em Maceo”, effectively an encore which was introduced by Gardiner at the bass, her opening melodic theme statement evolving into a full on solo prior to further features from Huw and Zoot plus a reprise of that earlier drum and piano dialogue. The full trio then came back together again for an astonishingly virtuosic high speed finish.

This was an excellent performance from three highly talented musicians. I was already familiar with the skills of Huw Warren and Paula Gardiner but this was only the second time that I’d seen Zoot Warren perform. A product of National Youth Jazz Wales and the Guildhall School of Music in London I was greatly impressed with his maturity behind the kit, his playing colourful, imaginative and delicately nuanced and never resorting to the obvious rhythms. I’ve heard little of him outside his father’s groups but his appearance on the forthcoming Cam Jazz album is richly deserved and should spread the word of his talent further afield.

My thanks to Huw Warren for speaking with me after the gig and providing me with a set list, otherwise I’d have struggled with all those Portuguese tune titles.

This was a performance that has set the bar high for the rest of the 2019 club programme at Brecon Jazz Club.

Meanwhile the release of “Everything In Between” will be very keenly anticipated.

Huw Warren Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 12/02/2019.

Huw Warren Trio

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Huw Warren Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 12/02/2019.

An excellent performance from three highly talented musicians. The release of the forthcoming album “Everything In Between” will be very keenly anticipated.

Huw Warren Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 12/02/2019.

Brecon Jazz Club’s February event brought something of a Welsh ‘supergroup’ to The Muse.

North Wales based pianist and composer Huw Warren is a musician with an international reputation who is currently touring in support of his forthcoming trio album “Everything In Between” which is due to be released on the Italian Cam Jazz record label, the imprint that was once the ‘home’ of the late, great pianist and composer John Taylor.

The new album will feature the trio of Huw Warren, bassist Dudley Phillips and drummer Zoot Warren, Huw’s son.  However for tonight’s performance Brecon Jazz Club had invited double bassist Paula Gardiner to join Huw and Zoot. Based in Cardiff Gardiner is the Head of Jazz at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff (RWCMD).

Gardiner is an old friend of Brecon Jazz and first performed at the town’s famous jazz festival in 1986. She subsequently led her own groups releasing the albums “Tales of Inclination” (1995), “Six” (1999) and “Hot Lament” (2008). She was also a member of pianist Dave Stapleton’s Quintet (DSQ) and appeared on that group’s first two albums “When Life Was In Black And White” and “The House Always Wins”. In recent years Gardiner has placed a greater emphasis on her role as an educator and tonight was the first time that I had seen her playing live for some considerable time.

I first became aware of Huw Warren’s playing and composing during the 1990s through the collaborative quartet Perfect Houseplants which also featured bassist Dudley Phillips, saxophonist Mark Lockheart and drummer Martin France, my interest in the band first piqued by the inclusion of former Loose Tubes Lockheart and France. I still love the Houseplants’ unique fusion of jazz, folk, classical and various ethnic musics and even now the quartet still play the occasional re-union concert.

I’ve also followed Huw’s solo career which has yielded several pleasingly eclectic albums including “A Barrel Organ Far From Home” (1997) and “Hundreds Of Things A Boy Can Make” (2003), both of which built upon the quirkiness of the Houseplants sound.

Warren, also a skilled accordionist and cellist, is a serial collaborator who has a particular affinity for working with vocalists, among them Maria Pia De Vito, Christine Tobin and the folk diva June Tabor for whom he acted as pianist and musical director on several of the singer’s solo albums. Warren and Tabor plus saxophonist Iain Ballamy now perform under the collective name Quercus and have recorded two acclaimed folk/jazz albums for the prestigious ECM record label.

Like Gardiner Warren is something of a Brecon favourite having played at the Festival on many occasions, the highlights including collaborations with American drummer Jim Black and with Italian clarinettist Gabriele Mirabassi, in addition to numerous sideman appearances. He has also led his own groups including Quercus and in 2014 a quartet paying homage to Dylan Thomas via Warren’s yet to be recorded jazz suite “Do Not Go Gentle”.

In 2009 Warren released “Hermeto +” (Basho Records), an album that paid tribute to the Brazilian composer and multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal, a musician who has had a particularly strong influence on Warren and other British musicians, including other members of Perfect Houseplants and Loose Tubes. Recorded with France at the drums and the Austrian musician Peter Herbert on double bass “Hermeto +” featured a near 50/50 split between arrangements of Pascoal compositions and Warren originals inspired by the great man. The album attracted considerable acclaim and much of the material formed part of the repertoire of Warren’s Trio Brasil featuring Huw, Dudley Phillips and Zoot, sometimes augmented by guest saxophonist Iain Ballamy, which has gigged widely in the UK ever since, including an excellent performance at the 2016 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in nearby Abergavenny.

The forthcoming album “Something In Between”, due for release on March 15th 2019, will represent the long awaited follow up to “Hermeto +” and will again feature a mix of Pascoal compositions and Warren originals. The personnel this time round will be the ongoing Trio Brasil of Huw, Phillips and Zoot and the repertoire from the new album formed the basis of tonight’s two sets.

With no grand piano available Huw performed on a Yamaha electric keyboard with the sound set to acoustic piano. With Gardiner on double bass and Zoot behind the kit the trio kicked off with the Warren original “Mouli Baby” which commenced with a freely structured intro featuring Zoot’s use of mallets and bare hands before a folk like melody emerged on a piece that exhibited a distinct influence from West African music. This was music that was simultaneously complex and joyous, characteristics that also distinguish Pascoal’s music, and the piece included impressive opening solos from Huw and Gardiner as Zoot provided astute rhythmic colour and propulsion.

Next we heard a segue of Pascoal tunes. Huw has been influenced by Brazilian music in general, but by Pascoal in particular. But anybody expecting a relaxing evening of gentle Jobim style samba and bossa was in for a shock. Pascoal’s music is more complex, rhythmic and vibrant and his richly colourful compositions bring their own rewards, even if they do make the listener work a little bit harder. Huw describes it as “serous fun”, a quality he tries to bring to all his music making.

“O Farol que nos guia” began with a passage of unaccompanied piano that developed into a sumptuously flowing melody tenderly embellished by Zoot’s exquisite cymbal work as he delicately shadowed his father’s playing. Gardiner flourished her bow as she provided the link into the more vibrant and energetic second half of the segue, “Papo Furado”, meaning “Jive Talking” which was distinguished by a dazzling piano solo from Huw and a neatly constructed solo drum feature from Zoot. Without Ballamy in the band the young drummer was given more room to shine and I was hugely impressed by his contribution throughout the evening as he coaxed a wide range of sounds and colours from his kit and responded instinctively to his colleagues, always seeming to play the right beat or accent.

Huw’s original “First Love, Last Rites” was inspired by an Ian McEwan collection of short stories and was a delightful ballad introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano. Huw’s lyricism at the keyboard was matched by Gardiner’s melodic double bass solo while Zoot again displayed a deft and subtle cymbal touch.

“Endless Stars”, by the esteemed American pianist and composer Fred Hersch, doubtless another one of Huw’s musical heroes, followed a similar trajectory; another beautiful tune introduced by a passage of solo piano and again finding room for a bass solo from the excellent Gardiner.

The first set concluded with the trio picking up the pace again for a spirited romp through Pascoal’s “Chorino pra Ele”. Huw informed us that a ‘chorino’ was originally a 19th century dance incorporating classical harmonies and Brazilian rhythms. Tonight’s arrangement also threw an allusion to John Coltrane’s classic jazz composition “Giant Steps” into the mix.

Set two began with an unaccompanied passage from Zoot at the drums, subsequently joined by Gardiner’s bass as the rhythm team introduced “Sambari”, written by the Brazilian singer and songwriter Joyce. Their dialogue eventually led to an expansive piano solo from Huw and later a bass solo from Gardiner on a piece that seemed to epitomise the Brazilian spirit.

Next we heard the title track from the new album, the tune name “Everything In Between” chosen as an indicator of Huw’s highly catholic musical tastes - “from opera to death metal and everything in between”. The music itself was appropriately wide ranging, beginning with the delicate intro for piano and brushed cymbals through folk inspired Houseplants like cadences to full on Pascoal inspired passages featuring the ebullient, highly percussive piano soloing of the leader as Gardiner and Zoot responded with an energetic aplomb.

Both band and audience seemed somewhat drained after this so Huw announced the only standard of the evening, a delightful ballad arrangement of the Jerome Kern song “The Folks That Live On The Hill”. Amazingly Huw had only been introduced to the song fairly recently when playing a gig with that doyenne of British jazz vocalists, the great Norma Winstone - “it’s got a middle six instead of a middle eight”, he went on to inform us. With Zoot providing sympathetically brushed accompaniment we were treated to some of Huw’s most lyrical playing, albeit becoming more expansive as the piece progressed. Gardiner’s bass solo combined a rich melodicism with a deep resonance, with the bow again appearing briefly at the close of the song.

As the trio upped the energy levels once more we were introduced to the music of two more Brazilian composers in a closing segue. First we heard Egberto Gismonti’s “Loro”  (translation “Parrot”) and then Pixinguinha’s “Un a Zero”, the latter a celebration of a famous Brazilian football victory over neighbours and fierce rivals Uruguay. Zoot introduced the proceedings at the drums before the addition of bass and piano acted as the spark for a playful solo from Huw.
A brief passage of unaccompanied piano formed the link into the Pixinguinha tune, a suitably joyous piece that included a vibrant and totally absorbing dialogue between Huw and Zoot, the pair trading ideas in a thrilling series of exchanges. Gardiner merely sat back cradling her bass, as mesmerised as the rest of us.

After a few words from Brecon Jazz Club’s Lynne Gornall the trio played us out with Pascoal’s “Frevo em Maceo”, effectively an encore which was introduced by Gardiner at the bass, her opening melodic theme statement evolving into a full on solo prior to further features from Huw and Zoot plus a reprise of that earlier drum and piano dialogue. The full trio then came back together again for an astonishingly virtuosic high speed finish.

This was an excellent performance from three highly talented musicians. I was already familiar with the skills of Huw Warren and Paula Gardiner but this was only the second time that I’d seen Zoot Warren perform. A product of National Youth Jazz Wales and the Guildhall School of Music in London I was greatly impressed with his maturity behind the kit, his playing colourful, imaginative and delicately nuanced and never resorting to the obvious rhythms. I’ve heard little of him outside his father’s groups but his appearance on the forthcoming Cam Jazz album is richly deserved and should spread the word of his talent further afield.

My thanks to Huw Warren for speaking with me after the gig and providing me with a set list, otherwise I’d have struggled with all those Portuguese tune titles.

This was a performance that has set the bar high for the rest of the 2019 club programme at Brecon Jazz Club.

Meanwhile the release of “Everything In Between” will be very keenly anticipated.

Binker Golding and Elliot Galvin - Ex Nihilo Rating: 4 out of 5 This is the sound of two daring young musicians having ‘serious fun’. There’s a youthful vitality and a natural rapport between them, but an admirable maturity too, that promises well for the future.

Binker Golding and Elliot Galvin

“Ex Nihilo”

(Byrd Out Records BYR015)

I’m indebted to Stephen Vitkovitch, head of the boutique Byrd Out record label and curator of the forthcoming Walthamstow Jazz Festival, for sending me a review copy of this vinyl only release by saxophonist Binker Golding and pianist Elliot Galvin, two of the rising stars of the UK jazz scene.

Golding is best known for his duo with drummer Moses Boyd. As Binker & Moses the pair have attracted a great deal of critical acclaim for their dynamic live shows and for their albums “Dem Ones”,  the double set “Journey To The Mountain of Forever” and “Alive In The East?”. Both “Journey” and “Alive” feature contributions from other musicians and Golding is the kind of player who likes to spread his net as wide as possible, collaborating with a wide range of musicians and reaching out to new audiences.

Others with whom Golding has worked include vocalist Zara McFarlane, pianists Sarah Tandy and Ashley Henry and bands such as Boyd’s Exodus, Mr. Jukes and drummer Lorraine Baker’s Ed Blackwell inspired group Eden.

Golding also leads his own quartet featuring pianist Joe Armon-Jones, bassist Daniel Casimir and drummer Sam Jones and is due to release his first album with this line up later in 2019.

Meanwhile Elliot Galvin has released three albums as the leader of his own trio featuring bassist Tom McCredie and first Simon Roth and then Corrie Dick at the drums. “Dreamland” appeared in 2014 followed by “Punch” (2016) and “The Influencing Machine (2018).

Galvin is also well known for his long association with Laura Jurd, appearing on the trumpeter’s solo recordings and also with her Mercury nominated Dinosaur quartet,  also featuring Conor Chaplin on electric bass and Corrie Dick at the drums.

Others with whom Galvin has worked include saxophonist Phil Meadows, bassist Huw V Williams and guitarist Dan Messore.

Golding and Galvin are two of the most adventurous young musicians on the UK jazz scene and in recent years both have increasingly been drawn towards the art of free improvisation. That doyen of free improvisers Evan Parker was a guest on “Alive In The East?”, pointing towards a new avenue for Golding to explore. Meanwhile Galvin has worked in a duo with the experienced free jazz drummer/percussionist Mark Sanders with whom he recorded the album “Weather” for the Babel record label in 2017.

“Ex Nihilo” (meaning “Out of Nothing”) is a live recording documented at the famous Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, London on 11th April 2018 at a performance co-ordinated by Vitkovitch. Golding is credited with tenor and soprano saxophones and Galvin with piano, but of course the range of sounds generated by the pair stretches the sonic possibilities of their respective instruments to the absolute limits.

The track titles are also all in Latin. I’m no scholar so I’m indebted to Sammy Styne’s review on the Free Jazz Blog http://www.freejazzblog.org for providing the appropriate translations.

Side A commences with “Aeturnum Vale”,  apparently meaning “Goodbye Forever”. Galvin has acquired a reputation as something of a musical maverick, frequently being compared to the young Django Bates. He’s a musician with an impish sense of humour and in performances with his trio frequently deploys children’s toys and other gizmos to augment his sound. He’s not credited with any of those here but much of his work is done ‘under the lid’, deploying prepared piano techniques and all other sorts of mischief. Strings are plucked, hit and scraped as he accompanies Golding’s Evan Parker influenced sax ruminations, the tenor sliding up and down the scales, whinnying, worrying and badgering. There’s a real vivacity, irreverence and energy about the duo’s exchanges here,  even in its quieter moments this is the sound of two daring young musicians having ‘serious fun’.


‘2ram Quod Es, Eros Quod Sum” (I was what you are, you will be what I am) is more atmospheric with Golding demonstrating circular breathing techniques on what sounds like soprano sax. His high register flutterings are accompanied by another remarkable performance from Galvin as he produces another set of extraordinary sounds from the piano’s innards, ranging from the gently ethereal to the percussive and dissonant.

 ’”Ad Usum Proprium” (For Your Own Use) features a circling melodic sax motif from Golding which is embellished by Golding’s keyboard commentary, generally using conventional piano sounds but sometimes making effective use of dampened strings. Golding’s defiantly unvarying repeating sax motif never falters in an astonishing display of discipline and technique.

Flipping the disc “Adaequatio Intellectus et Rei” (Correspondence of Mind and Reality) is a brief, but spirited, improvised conversation featuring garrulous tenor sax phrases answered by mercurial keyboard runs, with some typically inventive interior work thrown in for good measure.

“Aliquid Stat Pro Aliquot” (Something Stands for Something Else is a lengthier improvised excursion that commences with the buzzy sound of Golding’s sax allied to Galvin’s Keith Tippett like interior scrabblings. Gradually the piece gains an identity of its own, Golding’s playing is needling and intense but this is both matched and countered by Galvin’s piano, which draws on the influence of minimalism with its recurring melodic motifs but also introduces darker textural and rhythmic elements. It’s a remarkable performance with both musicians totally on the same wavelength and pushing each other to new heights.

Finally we hear “Non Plus Ultra” (Peak of Perfection) which builds from Golding’s unaccompanied tenor sax introduction, subsequently superseded by Galvin’s thoughtful, lyrical piano lyricism. There’s a quietness and spaciousness about the music that we haven’t encountered previously, which somehow continues despite the edgy needling of Golding’s tenor. With Galvin resisting the temptation to reach under the lid this represents the most ‘conventional’ piece on the record but it’s still a remarkable, and often, beautiful dialogue that is as valuable as anything else on this excellent recording.

I’ll readily admit to being a little wary of free improv recordings, the visceral thrill of live performance can sometimes pall in the home listening environment. But these two exceptional young musicians have made a free jazz record that absorbs the listener throughout, their musical dialogues are genuinely conversations of equals and they have created a thoroughly compelling sound-world with the prodigiously talented Galvin treating the piano as an ‘entire instrument’. His use of the instrument’s interior is always innately musical, there’s no sense that his use of extended technique is merely being deployed for the sake of novelty or showmanship.

On this evidence the partnership of Golding and Galvin is one that appears to have legs. There’s a youthful vitality and natural rapport between these audacious young musicians, but an admirable maturity too, that promises well for the future. Let’s hope that they can find time within their busy schedules for further duo concerts to promote this excellent recording.

Ex Nihilo

Binker Golding and Elliot Galvin

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Ex Nihilo

This is the sound of two daring young musicians having ‘serious fun’. There’s a youthful vitality and a natural rapport between them, but an admirable maturity too, that promises well for the future.

Binker Golding and Elliot Galvin

“Ex Nihilo”

(Byrd Out Records BYR015)

I’m indebted to Stephen Vitkovitch, head of the boutique Byrd Out record label and curator of the forthcoming Walthamstow Jazz Festival, for sending me a review copy of this vinyl only release by saxophonist Binker Golding and pianist Elliot Galvin, two of the rising stars of the UK jazz scene.

Golding is best known for his duo with drummer Moses Boyd. As Binker & Moses the pair have attracted a great deal of critical acclaim for their dynamic live shows and for their albums “Dem Ones”,  the double set “Journey To The Mountain of Forever” and “Alive In The East?”. Both “Journey” and “Alive” feature contributions from other musicians and Golding is the kind of player who likes to spread his net as wide as possible, collaborating with a wide range of musicians and reaching out to new audiences.

Others with whom Golding has worked include vocalist Zara McFarlane, pianists Sarah Tandy and Ashley Henry and bands such as Boyd’s Exodus, Mr. Jukes and drummer Lorraine Baker’s Ed Blackwell inspired group Eden.

Golding also leads his own quartet featuring pianist Joe Armon-Jones, bassist Daniel Casimir and drummer Sam Jones and is due to release his first album with this line up later in 2019.

Meanwhile Elliot Galvin has released three albums as the leader of his own trio featuring bassist Tom McCredie and first Simon Roth and then Corrie Dick at the drums. “Dreamland” appeared in 2014 followed by “Punch” (2016) and “The Influencing Machine (2018).

Galvin is also well known for his long association with Laura Jurd, appearing on the trumpeter’s solo recordings and also with her Mercury nominated Dinosaur quartet,  also featuring Conor Chaplin on electric bass and Corrie Dick at the drums.

Others with whom Galvin has worked include saxophonist Phil Meadows, bassist Huw V Williams and guitarist Dan Messore.

Golding and Galvin are two of the most adventurous young musicians on the UK jazz scene and in recent years both have increasingly been drawn towards the art of free improvisation. That doyen of free improvisers Evan Parker was a guest on “Alive In The East?”, pointing towards a new avenue for Golding to explore. Meanwhile Galvin has worked in a duo with the experienced free jazz drummer/percussionist Mark Sanders with whom he recorded the album “Weather” for the Babel record label in 2017.

“Ex Nihilo” (meaning “Out of Nothing”) is a live recording documented at the famous Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, London on 11th April 2018 at a performance co-ordinated by Vitkovitch. Golding is credited with tenor and soprano saxophones and Galvin with piano, but of course the range of sounds generated by the pair stretches the sonic possibilities of their respective instruments to the absolute limits.

The track titles are also all in Latin. I’m no scholar so I’m indebted to Sammy Styne’s review on the Free Jazz Blog http://www.freejazzblog.org for providing the appropriate translations.

Side A commences with “Aeturnum Vale”,  apparently meaning “Goodbye Forever”. Galvin has acquired a reputation as something of a musical maverick, frequently being compared to the young Django Bates. He’s a musician with an impish sense of humour and in performances with his trio frequently deploys children’s toys and other gizmos to augment his sound. He’s not credited with any of those here but much of his work is done ‘under the lid’, deploying prepared piano techniques and all other sorts of mischief. Strings are plucked, hit and scraped as he accompanies Golding’s Evan Parker influenced sax ruminations, the tenor sliding up and down the scales, whinnying, worrying and badgering. There’s a real vivacity, irreverence and energy about the duo’s exchanges here,  even in its quieter moments this is the sound of two daring young musicians having ‘serious fun’.


‘2ram Quod Es, Eros Quod Sum” (I was what you are, you will be what I am) is more atmospheric with Golding demonstrating circular breathing techniques on what sounds like soprano sax. His high register flutterings are accompanied by another remarkable performance from Galvin as he produces another set of extraordinary sounds from the piano’s innards, ranging from the gently ethereal to the percussive and dissonant.

 ’”Ad Usum Proprium” (For Your Own Use) features a circling melodic sax motif from Golding which is embellished by Golding’s keyboard commentary, generally using conventional piano sounds but sometimes making effective use of dampened strings. Golding’s defiantly unvarying repeating sax motif never falters in an astonishing display of discipline and technique.

Flipping the disc “Adaequatio Intellectus et Rei” (Correspondence of Mind and Reality) is a brief, but spirited, improvised conversation featuring garrulous tenor sax phrases answered by mercurial keyboard runs, with some typically inventive interior work thrown in for good measure.

“Aliquid Stat Pro Aliquot” (Something Stands for Something Else is a lengthier improvised excursion that commences with the buzzy sound of Golding’s sax allied to Galvin’s Keith Tippett like interior scrabblings. Gradually the piece gains an identity of its own, Golding’s playing is needling and intense but this is both matched and countered by Galvin’s piano, which draws on the influence of minimalism with its recurring melodic motifs but also introduces darker textural and rhythmic elements. It’s a remarkable performance with both musicians totally on the same wavelength and pushing each other to new heights.

Finally we hear “Non Plus Ultra” (Peak of Perfection) which builds from Golding’s unaccompanied tenor sax introduction, subsequently superseded by Galvin’s thoughtful, lyrical piano lyricism. There’s a quietness and spaciousness about the music that we haven’t encountered previously, which somehow continues despite the edgy needling of Golding’s tenor. With Galvin resisting the temptation to reach under the lid this represents the most ‘conventional’ piece on the record but it’s still a remarkable, and often, beautiful dialogue that is as valuable as anything else on this excellent recording.

I’ll readily admit to being a little wary of free improv recordings, the visceral thrill of live performance can sometimes pall in the home listening environment. But these two exceptional young musicians have made a free jazz record that absorbs the listener throughout, their musical dialogues are genuinely conversations of equals and they have created a thoroughly compelling sound-world with the prodigiously talented Galvin treating the piano as an ‘entire instrument’. His use of the instrument’s interior is always innately musical, there’s no sense that his use of extended technique is merely being deployed for the sake of novelty or showmanship.

On this evidence the partnership of Golding and Galvin is one that appears to have legs. There’s a youthful vitality and natural rapport between these audacious young musicians, but an admirable maturity too, that promises well for the future. Let’s hope that they can find time within their busy schedules for further duo concerts to promote this excellent recording.

Bryan Corbett / Tom Hill Quartet - Bryan Corbett / Tom Hill Quartet ‘Ready for Freddie’, The Hive, Shrewsbury, 09/02/2019. Rating: 4 out of 5 A highly skilled and interactive quartet that helped to bring the music of Freddie Hubbard to life in a series of colourful interpretations of some of the trumpeter’s most enduring compositions.

Bryan Corbett / Tom Hill Quartet ‘Ready for Freddie’
The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 09/02/2019.

For Shrewsbury Jazz Network the start of 2019 has been heralded by a clarion call of trumpets.

SJN’s January event featured Total Vibration, a quartet incorporating the twin trumpet front line of Chris Batchelor and Laura Jurd teamed with the stellar rhythm partnership of bassist Tom Herbert and drummer Corrie Dick.

Unfortunately I was unable to cover that performance as I was attending a memorial event in my native Leominster celebrating the life of the late Dave Witherstone, who died suddenly in late 2018. Liverpool born Dave was a talented saxophonist who played with various local jazz and soul bands and was once the proprietor, together with his wife Sue, of the Blue Note Café Bar in Leominster, the intimate venue named after the famous record label, that brought top quality live jazz to Leominster in the 1990s and early 2000s.

The Blue Note regularly featured leading musicians from the Birmingham jazz scene of the time, among them trumpeters Bryan Corbett and Ray Butcher and saxophonists Andy Hamilton, Luke Shingler,  Andy Gale and Papa Saxa (from hit-makers The Beat). Others to appear there included pianist Levi French,  vocalists Roy Forbes and Esther Miller and bassists Tom Hill and Ben Hazelton.

Corbett, himself a Herefordshire lad, was a particular favourite with Leominster audiences and played the Blue Note many times in his formative years, often in a duo setting with pianist Levi French. I witnessed many of these performances and have been a huge admirer of Corbett’s playing ever since.

Although never a particularly prolific composer Corbett has recorded fairly frequently, beginning in 1999 with “Funk in the Deep Freeze”. In 2000 “Simply Blue”, the title track a Corbett original honouring the Leominster Blue Note, was the first of a number of live albums in the classic trumpet/ piano/bass/drums quartet format, the latest, the double set “Message of Iridescence” being released in 2015. “Corbenova” (2003) and “Pressure Valve” (2006)  found the trumpeter experimenting with electronics and ‘nu-jazz’. By way of contrast he has also recorded two intimate acoustic duo sets with pianists Levi French and Chris Dodd. Corbett has also been a busy presence on the session scene, frequently performing as part of the touring bands of rock and pop acts, among them US3, McFly and Tony Christie.

The co-leader of tonight’s quartet was the bassist and occasional vocalist Tom Hill, an expatriate American who has been based in Droitwich, Worcestershire for many years, a great stalwart of the Birmingham music scene and a huge favourite with Midlands jazz audiences. Something of a ‘character’ the versatile Hill is also an actor and voice-over artist, familiar to TV viewers as the voice of Tony the Tiger in the Kellogg’s Frosties adverts! Under the professional name of Tom Clarke-Hill he has also lent his voice to other advertisements, Hollywood animation movies and numerous computer games.

As a musician Hill is a superlative bass player who leads his own bands and is also the first call bassist for visiting soloists such as saxophonists Peter King, Brandon Allen and Sam Crockatt among others. His own groups include the Straitjackets and the marvellously named ZZ Bop plus a blues trio that places a greater emphasis on his vocal abilities. Hill is a supremely versatile musician and all round entertainer.

Tonight’s line up brought together elements of both Corbett and Hill’s regular groups. At the keyboard was Corbett’s regular pianist from his own quartet, the excellent Al Gurr. Meanwhile drummer Nick Millward has been a regular member of Hill’s various groups as well as working with musicians of the calibre of pianist Dave Newton and saxophonist Amy Roberts.

Corbett’s trumpet hero has always been the late, great Freddie Hubbard (1938 -2008) and sometime back he and Hill put together a programme titled “Ready for Freddie”, taken from the name of one of the trumpeter’s Blue Note label albums, which toured the UK’s jazz clubs to considerable audience acclaim. For this SJN performance it was decided to revive the project and over the course of two sets a typically large and receptive audience was able to enjoy a host of fine material either written by, or associated with, Hubbard. I haven’t listened to Freddie in a long time and it was good to be reminded of just what a fine composer he was, his tunes bright, memorable and hooky, and perfect vehicles for the kind of inventive and imaginative jazz improvisation that the Corbett/Hill quartet brought to them.

The quartet opened with Hubbard’s Latin flavoured “Gibraltar”, which commenced with a fiery unaccompanied burst from Corbett’s trumpet, which was answered by Millward’s drums. Hill then established the bass groove around which the body of the tune was based. Corbett took the first solo, his playing combining power and stridency with an admirable litheness and fluency. The trumpeter spent a number of years off the scene due to illness and tonight was the first time that I’d seen him perform in a very long time. To theses ears his playing is now better than ever, demonstrating an impressive maturity and here rendered all the more remarkable by being entirely acoustic and un-miked. Gurr followed at his Roland keyboard, favouring the type of ‘Rhodes’ electric piano sound that Hubbard’s bands featured on the trumpeter’s numerous albums for producer Creed Taylor’s CTI label in the 1970s. Gurr proved to be a highly imaginative and inventive keyboard soloist and his contribution throughout the evening was consistently impressive.
The next to shine was Hill with a solo that combined a huge, meaty bass tone with an admirable dexterity. There was also something of a drum feature for Millward in the tune’s closing stages.

Hubbard had a knack of writing complex, but catchy and memorable, melodic hooks, a characteristic that distinguished both “Gibraltar” and the following “Red Clay”. The latter was the title track of a 1970 album for CTI and has since become one of Hubbard’s most famous compositions. After another fan-faring intro Hill again set up the bass motif that was to frame Corbett’s rendition of the famous melody. Typically fiery and inventive solos followed from Corbett on trumpet, Gurr on keyboard and Hill at the bass, the latter, ever the joker, tossing a quote from “Sunny” into the mix, amusing both his bandmates and the audience alike. This was followed by another bout of dynamic trumpet soloing from Corbett.

Corbett moved to flugelhorn for the ballad “The Summer Knows”, written by the recently deceased Michel Legrand and recorded by Hubbard for CTI in the 70s. Although a fiery hard bop soloist Corbett is also a sensitive interpreter of ballads, his emotive reading of “My Funny Valentine” was always a stand out at those long ago Blue Note, Leominster performances. Tonight his lucid, velvety flugel soloing was given sympathetic support by sparse piano chording, languid double bass and delicately brushed drums, with Gurr also soloing with considerable lyricism at the keyboard.

Corbett remained on flugel for the rest of the first set. “Sky Dive”, the title track of another Hubbard CTI album, was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied double bass by Hill, joined by keys and drums prior to Corbett’s theme statement and subsequent solo. The good natured interplay between Hill on bass and Gurr on keyboards was a particular feature of the evening, as evidenced by a typically inventive Gurr piano solo to which Hill responded with some equally imaginative bass counter melodies as Millward anchored the proceedings. Following Corbett’s flugel solo the pair renewed their dialogue prior to a closing drum feature from Millward.

The first set concluded with what is arguably Hubbard’s most famous composition, the jazz waltz “Up Jumped Spring”, with Corbett’s graceful theme statement and solo on flugel followed by an expansive outing from Gurr at the keyboard. The co-leaders then enjoyed an intimate flugel and bass dialogue before keys and drums returned as the piece resolved itself.

This had been an excellent first half which was very well received by a typically knowledgeable Shrewsbury audience.

Set two commenced with “The Intrepid Fox”, another composition from Hubbard’s classic “Red Clay” album. Again Hill’s bass groove set the pace, his propulsive playing fuelling a blazing solo from Corbett, now back on trumpet. Gurr and Hill himself also featured as soloists on this spirited, attention grabbing set opener.

For most of the evening Hill handled the announcements with his characteristic quick wit, only passing the vocal mic to Corbett if the trumpeter wished to introduce a tune that held a particular significance for him. The next piece wasn’t announced at all as the band launched straight into it, Hill beginning the tune at the bass, his melodic hook cum groove prompting Corbett into a powerful, blues inflected trumpet solo over an insistent urban groove. Gurr’s keyboard solo included a subtly funky dialogue with Millward’s drums on a tune that Hill subsequently informed us was “Povo”, another piece from Hubbard’s “Sky Dive” album.

Corbett briefly switched back to flugel for the ballad “It Never Entered My Mind” which found Gurr favouring an acoustic piano sound for his solo and saw Hill giving a brief demonstration of his vocal abilities with a brief rendition of the song’s lyrics.

Corbett announced “Wheel Within A Wheel”, a tune written by the great alto saxophonist Bobby Watson for the 1980s edition of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in which he and Hubbard both played. This proved to be one of the stand out performances of the night, opening in piano trio mode but with Corbett taking the first solo on trumpet. Gurr followed at the keyboard, injecting a Coltrane inspired quote from “My Favourite Things” into his solo. Following features for Hill and Millward Corbett undertook another blazing solo before concluding the piece with a solo trumpet cadenza.
An aside – I recall seeing Watson twice at Brecon Jazz Festival back in the day. On his first appearance he fronted a British trio led by pianist Robin Aspland at an outdoor gig as part of the Stroller programme. This was such a brilliant performance that he was invited back the following year to lead his own band on the concert programme at Theatr Brycheniog. These were both terrific shows and I’ve been something of a fan ever since.

“First Light”, the title track of the Hubbard’s 1971 album for CTI, was introduced by Gurr at the keyboard, the pianist establishing the groove that later propelled solos from Corbett on trumpet and Gurr, himself, again favouring an acoustic piano sound.

Finally we heard Herbie Hancock’s classic “Maiden Voyage”, the title track of the pianist’s 1965 album for Blue Note Records, a recording that featured Hubbard as part of an all star quintet that also included saxophonist George Coleman, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams. This modern day standard saw Gurr take the first solo at the keyboard, followed by Hill on melodic double bass and Corbett at the trumpet, with a feature for Millward also incorporated into the arrangement.

Tonight was Corbett’s first performance at The Hive for nine years and it represented something of a triumphant return. Together with a highly skilled and interactive quartet he helped to bring the music of Freddie Hubbard to life in a series of colourful interpretations of some of the trumpeter’s most enduring compositions. It was a performance that placed a high premium on improvisation, although the band members were reading their charts off i-pads – I wonder what Freddie would have made of that!

There was some great playing all round from a very well balanced quartet that not only encouraged the listener to check out the back catalogues of Corbett and Hill but also to dive deep into the Hubbard archive, particularly his oft maligned 70s output for CTI, obviously Corbett’s favourite period. As tonight showed Hubbard was still writing some great tunes during those years, even if his treatment of them didn’t always sit well with the music critics of the time. “Red Clay” is generally accepted as something of a high watermark but tonight’s performance suggested that a re-appraisal of the rest of Hubbard’s CTI catalogue is well overdue.

The highly skilled and vivacious playing allied to the good natured presentation of tonight’s material was a cut above the usual jazz ‘tribute’ set and earns the quartet a four star rating as a result.

It was good to speak to Bryan afterwards for the first time in many years. He tells me that he is also involved in putting together a 1959 themed show that will honour the numerous landmark jazz albums of that year – Miles Davis’ “Kind Of Blue”, Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out”, Charles Mingus’ “Ah Um” Ornette Coleman’s “The Shape of Jazz to Come” etc. This is something that should also be well worth checking out if it comes to your area.

Finally we both remembered Dave Witherstone, one suspects that he would have loved tonight’s performance from Bryan, Tom and the quartet.

Bryan Corbett / Tom Hill Quartet ‘Ready for Freddie’, The Hive, Shrewsbury, 09/02/2019.

Bryan Corbett / Tom Hill Quartet

Monday, February 11, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Bryan Corbett / Tom Hill Quartet ‘Ready for Freddie’, The Hive, Shrewsbury, 09/02/2019.
Photography: Photograph of Bryan Corbett sourced from the Shrewsbury Jazz Network website http://www.shrewsburyjazznetwork.co.uk

A highly skilled and interactive quartet that helped to bring the music of Freddie Hubbard to life in a series of colourful interpretations of some of the trumpeter’s most enduring compositions.

Bryan Corbett / Tom Hill Quartet ‘Ready for Freddie’
The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 09/02/2019.

For Shrewsbury Jazz Network the start of 2019 has been heralded by a clarion call of trumpets.

SJN’s January event featured Total Vibration, a quartet incorporating the twin trumpet front line of Chris Batchelor and Laura Jurd teamed with the stellar rhythm partnership of bassist Tom Herbert and drummer Corrie Dick.

Unfortunately I was unable to cover that performance as I was attending a memorial event in my native Leominster celebrating the life of the late Dave Witherstone, who died suddenly in late 2018. Liverpool born Dave was a talented saxophonist who played with various local jazz and soul bands and was once the proprietor, together with his wife Sue, of the Blue Note Café Bar in Leominster, the intimate venue named after the famous record label, that brought top quality live jazz to Leominster in the 1990s and early 2000s.

The Blue Note regularly featured leading musicians from the Birmingham jazz scene of the time, among them trumpeters Bryan Corbett and Ray Butcher and saxophonists Andy Hamilton, Luke Shingler,  Andy Gale and Papa Saxa (from hit-makers The Beat). Others to appear there included pianist Levi French,  vocalists Roy Forbes and Esther Miller and bassists Tom Hill and Ben Hazelton.

Corbett, himself a Herefordshire lad, was a particular favourite with Leominster audiences and played the Blue Note many times in his formative years, often in a duo setting with pianist Levi French. I witnessed many of these performances and have been a huge admirer of Corbett’s playing ever since.

Although never a particularly prolific composer Corbett has recorded fairly frequently, beginning in 1999 with “Funk in the Deep Freeze”. In 2000 “Simply Blue”, the title track a Corbett original honouring the Leominster Blue Note, was the first of a number of live albums in the classic trumpet/ piano/bass/drums quartet format, the latest, the double set “Message of Iridescence” being released in 2015. “Corbenova” (2003) and “Pressure Valve” (2006)  found the trumpeter experimenting with electronics and ‘nu-jazz’. By way of contrast he has also recorded two intimate acoustic duo sets with pianists Levi French and Chris Dodd. Corbett has also been a busy presence on the session scene, frequently performing as part of the touring bands of rock and pop acts, among them US3, McFly and Tony Christie.

The co-leader of tonight’s quartet was the bassist and occasional vocalist Tom Hill, an expatriate American who has been based in Droitwich, Worcestershire for many years, a great stalwart of the Birmingham music scene and a huge favourite with Midlands jazz audiences. Something of a ‘character’ the versatile Hill is also an actor and voice-over artist, familiar to TV viewers as the voice of Tony the Tiger in the Kellogg’s Frosties adverts! Under the professional name of Tom Clarke-Hill he has also lent his voice to other advertisements, Hollywood animation movies and numerous computer games.

As a musician Hill is a superlative bass player who leads his own bands and is also the first call bassist for visiting soloists such as saxophonists Peter King, Brandon Allen and Sam Crockatt among others. His own groups include the Straitjackets and the marvellously named ZZ Bop plus a blues trio that places a greater emphasis on his vocal abilities. Hill is a supremely versatile musician and all round entertainer.

Tonight’s line up brought together elements of both Corbett and Hill’s regular groups. At the keyboard was Corbett’s regular pianist from his own quartet, the excellent Al Gurr. Meanwhile drummer Nick Millward has been a regular member of Hill’s various groups as well as working with musicians of the calibre of pianist Dave Newton and saxophonist Amy Roberts.

Corbett’s trumpet hero has always been the late, great Freddie Hubbard (1938 -2008) and sometime back he and Hill put together a programme titled “Ready for Freddie”, taken from the name of one of the trumpeter’s Blue Note label albums, which toured the UK’s jazz clubs to considerable audience acclaim. For this SJN performance it was decided to revive the project and over the course of two sets a typically large and receptive audience was able to enjoy a host of fine material either written by, or associated with, Hubbard. I haven’t listened to Freddie in a long time and it was good to be reminded of just what a fine composer he was, his tunes bright, memorable and hooky, and perfect vehicles for the kind of inventive and imaginative jazz improvisation that the Corbett/Hill quartet brought to them.

The quartet opened with Hubbard’s Latin flavoured “Gibraltar”, which commenced with a fiery unaccompanied burst from Corbett’s trumpet, which was answered by Millward’s drums. Hill then established the bass groove around which the body of the tune was based. Corbett took the first solo, his playing combining power and stridency with an admirable litheness and fluency. The trumpeter spent a number of years off the scene due to illness and tonight was the first time that I’d seen him perform in a very long time. To theses ears his playing is now better than ever, demonstrating an impressive maturity and here rendered all the more remarkable by being entirely acoustic and un-miked. Gurr followed at his Roland keyboard, favouring the type of ‘Rhodes’ electric piano sound that Hubbard’s bands featured on the trumpeter’s numerous albums for producer Creed Taylor’s CTI label in the 1970s. Gurr proved to be a highly imaginative and inventive keyboard soloist and his contribution throughout the evening was consistently impressive.
The next to shine was Hill with a solo that combined a huge, meaty bass tone with an admirable dexterity. There was also something of a drum feature for Millward in the tune’s closing stages.

Hubbard had a knack of writing complex, but catchy and memorable, melodic hooks, a characteristic that distinguished both “Gibraltar” and the following “Red Clay”. The latter was the title track of a 1970 album for CTI and has since become one of Hubbard’s most famous compositions. After another fan-faring intro Hill again set up the bass motif that was to frame Corbett’s rendition of the famous melody. Typically fiery and inventive solos followed from Corbett on trumpet, Gurr on keyboard and Hill at the bass, the latter, ever the joker, tossing a quote from “Sunny” into the mix, amusing both his bandmates and the audience alike. This was followed by another bout of dynamic trumpet soloing from Corbett.

Corbett moved to flugelhorn for the ballad “The Summer Knows”, written by the recently deceased Michel Legrand and recorded by Hubbard for CTI in the 70s. Although a fiery hard bop soloist Corbett is also a sensitive interpreter of ballads, his emotive reading of “My Funny Valentine” was always a stand out at those long ago Blue Note, Leominster performances. Tonight his lucid, velvety flugel soloing was given sympathetic support by sparse piano chording, languid double bass and delicately brushed drums, with Gurr also soloing with considerable lyricism at the keyboard.

Corbett remained on flugel for the rest of the first set. “Sky Dive”, the title track of another Hubbard CTI album, was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied double bass by Hill, joined by keys and drums prior to Corbett’s theme statement and subsequent solo. The good natured interplay between Hill on bass and Gurr on keyboards was a particular feature of the evening, as evidenced by a typically inventive Gurr piano solo to which Hill responded with some equally imaginative bass counter melodies as Millward anchored the proceedings. Following Corbett’s flugel solo the pair renewed their dialogue prior to a closing drum feature from Millward.

The first set concluded with what is arguably Hubbard’s most famous composition, the jazz waltz “Up Jumped Spring”, with Corbett’s graceful theme statement and solo on flugel followed by an expansive outing from Gurr at the keyboard. The co-leaders then enjoyed an intimate flugel and bass dialogue before keys and drums returned as the piece resolved itself.

This had been an excellent first half which was very well received by a typically knowledgeable Shrewsbury audience.

Set two commenced with “The Intrepid Fox”, another composition from Hubbard’s classic “Red Clay” album. Again Hill’s bass groove set the pace, his propulsive playing fuelling a blazing solo from Corbett, now back on trumpet. Gurr and Hill himself also featured as soloists on this spirited, attention grabbing set opener.

For most of the evening Hill handled the announcements with his characteristic quick wit, only passing the vocal mic to Corbett if the trumpeter wished to introduce a tune that held a particular significance for him. The next piece wasn’t announced at all as the band launched straight into it, Hill beginning the tune at the bass, his melodic hook cum groove prompting Corbett into a powerful, blues inflected trumpet solo over an insistent urban groove. Gurr’s keyboard solo included a subtly funky dialogue with Millward’s drums on a tune that Hill subsequently informed us was “Povo”, another piece from Hubbard’s “Sky Dive” album.

Corbett briefly switched back to flugel for the ballad “It Never Entered My Mind” which found Gurr favouring an acoustic piano sound for his solo and saw Hill giving a brief demonstration of his vocal abilities with a brief rendition of the song’s lyrics.

Corbett announced “Wheel Within A Wheel”, a tune written by the great alto saxophonist Bobby Watson for the 1980s edition of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in which he and Hubbard both played. This proved to be one of the stand out performances of the night, opening in piano trio mode but with Corbett taking the first solo on trumpet. Gurr followed at the keyboard, injecting a Coltrane inspired quote from “My Favourite Things” into his solo. Following features for Hill and Millward Corbett undertook another blazing solo before concluding the piece with a solo trumpet cadenza.
An aside – I recall seeing Watson twice at Brecon Jazz Festival back in the day. On his first appearance he fronted a British trio led by pianist Robin Aspland at an outdoor gig as part of the Stroller programme. This was such a brilliant performance that he was invited back the following year to lead his own band on the concert programme at Theatr Brycheniog. These were both terrific shows and I’ve been something of a fan ever since.

“First Light”, the title track of the Hubbard’s 1971 album for CTI, was introduced by Gurr at the keyboard, the pianist establishing the groove that later propelled solos from Corbett on trumpet and Gurr, himself, again favouring an acoustic piano sound.

Finally we heard Herbie Hancock’s classic “Maiden Voyage”, the title track of the pianist’s 1965 album for Blue Note Records, a recording that featured Hubbard as part of an all star quintet that also included saxophonist George Coleman, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams. This modern day standard saw Gurr take the first solo at the keyboard, followed by Hill on melodic double bass and Corbett at the trumpet, with a feature for Millward also incorporated into the arrangement.

Tonight was Corbett’s first performance at The Hive for nine years and it represented something of a triumphant return. Together with a highly skilled and interactive quartet he helped to bring the music of Freddie Hubbard to life in a series of colourful interpretations of some of the trumpeter’s most enduring compositions. It was a performance that placed a high premium on improvisation, although the band members were reading their charts off i-pads – I wonder what Freddie would have made of that!

There was some great playing all round from a very well balanced quartet that not only encouraged the listener to check out the back catalogues of Corbett and Hill but also to dive deep into the Hubbard archive, particularly his oft maligned 70s output for CTI, obviously Corbett’s favourite period. As tonight showed Hubbard was still writing some great tunes during those years, even if his treatment of them didn’t always sit well with the music critics of the time. “Red Clay” is generally accepted as something of a high watermark but tonight’s performance suggested that a re-appraisal of the rest of Hubbard’s CTI catalogue is well overdue.

The highly skilled and vivacious playing allied to the good natured presentation of tonight’s material was a cut above the usual jazz ‘tribute’ set and earns the quartet a four star rating as a result.

It was good to speak to Bryan afterwards for the first time in many years. He tells me that he is also involved in putting together a 1959 themed show that will honour the numerous landmark jazz albums of that year – Miles Davis’ “Kind Of Blue”, Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out”, Charles Mingus’ “Ah Um” Ornette Coleman’s “The Shape of Jazz to Come” etc. This is something that should also be well worth checking out if it comes to your area.

Finally we both remembered Dave Witherstone, one suspects that he would have loved tonight’s performance from Bryan, Tom and the quartet.

Various Artists - To Be Here Now Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Ian Mann enjoys this compilation album celebrating the vibrant jazz and improvised music scene in Leeds - after acquiring the record in Cardiff!

Various Artists

“To Be Here Now”


Yesterday evening (Thursday,7th February 2019) I travelled to Cardiff to attend the monthly Hackensack event at Café Jazz.

Organised by students at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama Hackensack takes place on Thursday evenings and presents a double bill of ‘modern jazz’, the programme often featuring bands formed of current students or recent graduates from the RWCMD. It also hosts touring bands from other regions of the UK with last night’s event featuring the Leeds based quintet Wandering Monster, led by double bassist and composer Sam Quintana.

I recently gave a very positive review to Wandering Monster’s eponymous début album for the emerging Ubuntu label and was particularly keen to see the group performing their music live. I wasn’t to be disappointed as the quintet delivered a powerful and admirably tight performance with the line up featuring two changes from the album personnel. Quintana and regular group members Calvin Travers (guitar) and Aleks Podraza were joined by Jack Chandler (alto sax) and Ali Wells (drums) who replaced Ben Powling and Tom Higham respectively.

Support came from RWCMD graduate Josh Heaton, the tenor saxophonist leading his Mouth of Words quintet featuring Rachel Head (alto sax), Kumar Chopra (guitar), Matheus Prado (electric bass) and Zach Breskal (drums). Mouth of Words blend jazz and poetry in highly contemporary fashion, the poetry being Heaton’s own, the words being spoken rather than sung and offering a kind of kitchen sink surrealism, deftly mixing humour with pathos.

I decided not to undertake a full review of tonight’s performances having written at length about both quintets only fairly recently. Instead I paid by money at the door and settled back to enjoy two sets of excellent modern jazz from two very talented young bands.

My review of Wandering Monster’s excellent début album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/S=afec9217182414db6883bb1a57abffe9f8670cc6/reviews/review/wandering-monster-wandering-monster/

Meanwhile my account of a performance by Mouth of Words as part of an RWCMD showcase event at Brecon Jazz Club in July 2018 can be found here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/new-generation-jazz-showcase-wales-brecon-jazz-club-the-muse-arts-centre-br/

During the course of the evening I spoke to both Josh Heaton and Sam Quintana and I’m grateful to Sam for providing me with a review copy of the vinyl album “To Be Here Now” which has been issued to “pay respect to the thriving scene flourishing in and enveloping Leeds right now”.

First released on October 1st 2018 “To Be Here Now” (the title a cheeky Oasis pun) is the brainchild of Wandering Monster’s regular saxophonist Ben Powling and venue owner Jack Simpson. The raison d’etre behind the album is perhaps best epitomised by the press release Powling forwarded to me at the time;

“The late, great John Peel OBE once said that there were more bands living and working in the LS6 area of Leeds than anywhere else in the country, and the same feels true today.  To Be Here Now is an attempt to document, preserve and celebrate some of the jazz and improvised music currently being recorded and performed within the Leeds scene.

This jazz compilation was imagined, programmed and compiled by saxophonist Ben Powling and venue owner Jack Simpson at Jack’s café and venue Hyde Park Book Club. Despite being relatively new, Hyde Park Book Club has already established itself as a thriving hub for new and improvised music in the city and many of the bands who feature on To Be Here Now, have gigged, rehearsed and even started out at Hyde Park Book Club.

To Be Here Now was recorded across a few days, in late 2017 and early 2018, by Will Jackson of Soundworks (a multi-platinum selling production studio) at Jack Simpson’s other venue, Eiger Studios. Will has over 20 years’ experience of recording and working with national artists and brought his expertise to creating a compilation which showcases established groups (who have received regional and national recognition) but also newcomers, for which To Be Here Now was their first time recording in a studio. What remains constant is the maturity and tenacity of the music and its performers.”

The vinyl edition of “To Be Here Now” features three tracks to each side from six different bands these being Jasmine, Skwid Ink, Wandering Monster, Ayana, Tip Toe and Ancient Infinity Orchestra. As is the nature of the jazz scene there is much sharing of personnel with several of the musicians cropping up in more than one band in the kind of healthy cross-fertilisation that is part of the DNA of jazz and improvised music.

Side A commences with “Cold Sweat” by the quintet Jasmine, led by alto saxophonist and composer Jasmine Whalley. The band also features Ben Haskins (guitar), George MacDonald (keyboards), Owen Burns (electric bass) and George Hall (drums). It’s the pure, incisive tone of the leader’s alto that we hear first in conjunction with MacDonald’s piano. Following the intro an insistent, hip-hop inspired groove is established courtesy of keys, bass and drums, this underpinning Whalley’s soaring alto sax melody lines. The music moves up and down the gears allowing for a degree of dynamic variation with Whalley and Haskins the featured soloists, the pair also combining effectively. The piece concludes as it began with the sound of Whalley’s unaccompanied alto sax.

Next up are the band Skwid Ink led by Fergus Quill on electric bass and featuring MacDonald and Hall plus guitarist Will Lakin. Quill’s tune “Chang Soi” commences with the sound of his own liquid electric bass above a chattering backdrop of sequenced keyboards. It’s a quirky, playful, and highly inventive piece that combines elements of jazz, avant rock and electronica in intriguing fashion with Hall laying down the grooves as Quill, Lakin and MacDonald produce an impressive range of sounds from bass, guitar and keyboards as the music progresses. It’s a richly imaginative performance that should also be capable of appealing to adventurous rock listeners.

Wandering Monster are represented by the Quintana composition “Green Room”, a track that didn’t make it on to the group’s début album – hence it represents a bit of a bonus to be able to hear it here. In this edition of the band Quintana is joined by Travers and Higham with Powling on tenor sax and Jamil Sheriff on keyboards. The piece begins with the sound of Powling’s unaccompanied tenor, his soulful blowing ushering in a cerebrally funky groove that fuels powerful solos from Powling on tenor,  Sheriff on electric piano and Travers on guitar. It’s more of a funky,  hard grooving, blowing piece than some of the more obviously structured compositions on the album and this different feel may explain its omission there and inclusion here.

Flipping the record Side B commences with “Prophecy”, a composition written by bass guitarist Sam Dutton-Taylor and performed by the ensemble Ayana, which also includes Tom Sharp on trumpet, Jack Chandler on baritone sax, Powling on tenor, Jess Mollie on vibraphone, Matthew Aplin on keyboards, Travers on guitar and Brendan Bache on drums and percussion.
With an expanded line up the ensemble is correspondingly bigger, and most impressively so, with the metallic clank of Mollie’s vibes cutting through the unison horn lines. The leader’s bass and Aplin’s electric keyboards provide an underlying funkiness and the impressive Powling, who has also worked with the London based WorldService Project, again solos powerfully and at length.

The group Tip Toe introduces four musicians that we haven’t heard from thus far, singer Alice Higgins, guitarist/vocalist Conall Mulvenna, trumpeter Will Blackstone and double bassist Angus Milne.  “How Will I Know” was written by Mulvenna but it’s Higgins who takes the lead vocal on this breezy slice of jazz and Latin inflected soul pop. There’s some uncredited percussion (claves, etc.) alongside the guitar and double bass while trumpeter Blackstone contributes an elegantly melodic solo.

The final group, Ancient Infinity Orchestra, introduces another clutch of new names these being;
Andy French (tenor sax), Joel Stedman (flute), Joseph Love (drums), Giorgos Kravvaritis and James Milligan (percussion), Ozzy Moysey (n’goni) and Elliot Roffe (double bass).
Credited to the whole band “Siluvaipuram”  commences with the sound of the n’goni, the West African “hunter’s guitar” that is probably best known to jazz audiences through its association with the late great Don Cherry. There’s a genuinely African feel about this piece with its interlocking percussive rhythms underpinning the snaking, insidiously seductive melodies of saxophonist French and flautist Stedman.

The broad range of musical styles presented is a good representation of the diversity and vitality of the music scene in Leeds. It’s a scene that is prepared to embrace many musical influences and one which, like that of Edinburgh, is small enough to encourage frequent genre hopping. Like Cardiff Leeds has a thriving music college and many of the musicians that can be heard on “To Be Here Now” have studied there. The playing and singing is therefore of a remarkably high standard throughout with the students and graduates contributing massively to the success and vibrancy of the increasingly influential Leeds scene.

Congratulations to Ben Powling and Jack Simpson for putting this excellent compilation album together. It’s a true celebration of Leeds and its music. Maybe somebody could do something similar for Cardiff.

The only disappointment is that Powling’s own Mansion of Snakes outfit isn’t represented. I’d have liked to have hrard something from them.

The digital version of “To Be Here Now” is available via Bandcamp at;
https://hpbc.bandcamp.com/album/to-be-here-now

The vinyl can be purchased at gigs involving the bands and musicians that play on it, including the current Wandering Monster tour, the final date of which is;
Saturday 9 February - Refu-jazz festival, Leeds
Get your copy there!

To Be Here Now

Various Artists

Friday, February 08, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

To Be Here Now

Ian Mann enjoys this compilation album celebrating the vibrant jazz and improvised music scene in Leeds - after acquiring the record in Cardiff!

Various Artists

“To Be Here Now”


Yesterday evening (Thursday,7th February 2019) I travelled to Cardiff to attend the monthly Hackensack event at Café Jazz.

Organised by students at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama Hackensack takes place on Thursday evenings and presents a double bill of ‘modern jazz’, the programme often featuring bands formed of current students or recent graduates from the RWCMD. It also hosts touring bands from other regions of the UK with last night’s event featuring the Leeds based quintet Wandering Monster, led by double bassist and composer Sam Quintana.

I recently gave a very positive review to Wandering Monster’s eponymous début album for the emerging Ubuntu label and was particularly keen to see the group performing their music live. I wasn’t to be disappointed as the quintet delivered a powerful and admirably tight performance with the line up featuring two changes from the album personnel. Quintana and regular group members Calvin Travers (guitar) and Aleks Podraza were joined by Jack Chandler (alto sax) and Ali Wells (drums) who replaced Ben Powling and Tom Higham respectively.

Support came from RWCMD graduate Josh Heaton, the tenor saxophonist leading his Mouth of Words quintet featuring Rachel Head (alto sax), Kumar Chopra (guitar), Matheus Prado (electric bass) and Zach Breskal (drums). Mouth of Words blend jazz and poetry in highly contemporary fashion, the poetry being Heaton’s own, the words being spoken rather than sung and offering a kind of kitchen sink surrealism, deftly mixing humour with pathos.

I decided not to undertake a full review of tonight’s performances having written at length about both quintets only fairly recently. Instead I paid by money at the door and settled back to enjoy two sets of excellent modern jazz from two very talented young bands.

My review of Wandering Monster’s excellent début album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/S=afec9217182414db6883bb1a57abffe9f8670cc6/reviews/review/wandering-monster-wandering-monster/

Meanwhile my account of a performance by Mouth of Words as part of an RWCMD showcase event at Brecon Jazz Club in July 2018 can be found here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/new-generation-jazz-showcase-wales-brecon-jazz-club-the-muse-arts-centre-br/

During the course of the evening I spoke to both Josh Heaton and Sam Quintana and I’m grateful to Sam for providing me with a review copy of the vinyl album “To Be Here Now” which has been issued to “pay respect to the thriving scene flourishing in and enveloping Leeds right now”.

First released on October 1st 2018 “To Be Here Now” (the title a cheeky Oasis pun) is the brainchild of Wandering Monster’s regular saxophonist Ben Powling and venue owner Jack Simpson. The raison d’etre behind the album is perhaps best epitomised by the press release Powling forwarded to me at the time;

“The late, great John Peel OBE once said that there were more bands living and working in the LS6 area of Leeds than anywhere else in the country, and the same feels true today.  To Be Here Now is an attempt to document, preserve and celebrate some of the jazz and improvised music currently being recorded and performed within the Leeds scene.

This jazz compilation was imagined, programmed and compiled by saxophonist Ben Powling and venue owner Jack Simpson at Jack’s café and venue Hyde Park Book Club. Despite being relatively new, Hyde Park Book Club has already established itself as a thriving hub for new and improvised music in the city and many of the bands who feature on To Be Here Now, have gigged, rehearsed and even started out at Hyde Park Book Club.

To Be Here Now was recorded across a few days, in late 2017 and early 2018, by Will Jackson of Soundworks (a multi-platinum selling production studio) at Jack Simpson’s other venue, Eiger Studios. Will has over 20 years’ experience of recording and working with national artists and brought his expertise to creating a compilation which showcases established groups (who have received regional and national recognition) but also newcomers, for which To Be Here Now was their first time recording in a studio. What remains constant is the maturity and tenacity of the music and its performers.”

The vinyl edition of “To Be Here Now” features three tracks to each side from six different bands these being Jasmine, Skwid Ink, Wandering Monster, Ayana, Tip Toe and Ancient Infinity Orchestra. As is the nature of the jazz scene there is much sharing of personnel with several of the musicians cropping up in more than one band in the kind of healthy cross-fertilisation that is part of the DNA of jazz and improvised music.

Side A commences with “Cold Sweat” by the quintet Jasmine, led by alto saxophonist and composer Jasmine Whalley. The band also features Ben Haskins (guitar), George MacDonald (keyboards), Owen Burns (electric bass) and George Hall (drums). It’s the pure, incisive tone of the leader’s alto that we hear first in conjunction with MacDonald’s piano. Following the intro an insistent, hip-hop inspired groove is established courtesy of keys, bass and drums, this underpinning Whalley’s soaring alto sax melody lines. The music moves up and down the gears allowing for a degree of dynamic variation with Whalley and Haskins the featured soloists, the pair also combining effectively. The piece concludes as it began with the sound of Whalley’s unaccompanied alto sax.

Next up are the band Skwid Ink led by Fergus Quill on electric bass and featuring MacDonald and Hall plus guitarist Will Lakin. Quill’s tune “Chang Soi” commences with the sound of his own liquid electric bass above a chattering backdrop of sequenced keyboards. It’s a quirky, playful, and highly inventive piece that combines elements of jazz, avant rock and electronica in intriguing fashion with Hall laying down the grooves as Quill, Lakin and MacDonald produce an impressive range of sounds from bass, guitar and keyboards as the music progresses. It’s a richly imaginative performance that should also be capable of appealing to adventurous rock listeners.

Wandering Monster are represented by the Quintana composition “Green Room”, a track that didn’t make it on to the group’s début album – hence it represents a bit of a bonus to be able to hear it here. In this edition of the band Quintana is joined by Travers and Higham with Powling on tenor sax and Jamil Sheriff on keyboards. The piece begins with the sound of Powling’s unaccompanied tenor, his soulful blowing ushering in a cerebrally funky groove that fuels powerful solos from Powling on tenor,  Sheriff on electric piano and Travers on guitar. It’s more of a funky,  hard grooving, blowing piece than some of the more obviously structured compositions on the album and this different feel may explain its omission there and inclusion here.

Flipping the record Side B commences with “Prophecy”, a composition written by bass guitarist Sam Dutton-Taylor and performed by the ensemble Ayana, which also includes Tom Sharp on trumpet, Jack Chandler on baritone sax, Powling on tenor, Jess Mollie on vibraphone, Matthew Aplin on keyboards, Travers on guitar and Brendan Bache on drums and percussion.
With an expanded line up the ensemble is correspondingly bigger, and most impressively so, with the metallic clank of Mollie’s vibes cutting through the unison horn lines. The leader’s bass and Aplin’s electric keyboards provide an underlying funkiness and the impressive Powling, who has also worked with the London based WorldService Project, again solos powerfully and at length.

The group Tip Toe introduces four musicians that we haven’t heard from thus far, singer Alice Higgins, guitarist/vocalist Conall Mulvenna, trumpeter Will Blackstone and double bassist Angus Milne.  “How Will I Know” was written by Mulvenna but it’s Higgins who takes the lead vocal on this breezy slice of jazz and Latin inflected soul pop. There’s some uncredited percussion (claves, etc.) alongside the guitar and double bass while trumpeter Blackstone contributes an elegantly melodic solo.

The final group, Ancient Infinity Orchestra, introduces another clutch of new names these being;
Andy French (tenor sax), Joel Stedman (flute), Joseph Love (drums), Giorgos Kravvaritis and James Milligan (percussion), Ozzy Moysey (n’goni) and Elliot Roffe (double bass).
Credited to the whole band “Siluvaipuram”  commences with the sound of the n’goni, the West African “hunter’s guitar” that is probably best known to jazz audiences through its association with the late great Don Cherry. There’s a genuinely African feel about this piece with its interlocking percussive rhythms underpinning the snaking, insidiously seductive melodies of saxophonist French and flautist Stedman.

The broad range of musical styles presented is a good representation of the diversity and vitality of the music scene in Leeds. It’s a scene that is prepared to embrace many musical influences and one which, like that of Edinburgh, is small enough to encourage frequent genre hopping. Like Cardiff Leeds has a thriving music college and many of the musicians that can be heard on “To Be Here Now” have studied there. The playing and singing is therefore of a remarkably high standard throughout with the students and graduates contributing massively to the success and vibrancy of the increasingly influential Leeds scene.

Congratulations to Ben Powling and Jack Simpson for putting this excellent compilation album together. It’s a true celebration of Leeds and its music. Maybe somebody could do something similar for Cardiff.

The only disappointment is that Powling’s own Mansion of Snakes outfit isn’t represented. I’d have liked to have hrard something from them.

The digital version of “To Be Here Now” is available via Bandcamp at;
https://hpbc.bandcamp.com/album/to-be-here-now

The vinyl can be purchased at gigs involving the bands and musicians that play on it, including the current Wandering Monster tour, the final date of which is;
Saturday 9 February - Refu-jazz festival, Leeds
Get your copy there!

Orjan Hulten Orion - Minusgrader Rating: 4 out of 5 With its blend of European and American influences “Minusgrader” is arguably Orion’s most mainstream album to date and as such is more than capable of reaching out to a broad constituency.

Orjan Hulten Orion

“Minusgrader”

(Artogrush Records OCD-012)


“Minusgrader” is the fourth album release by the group Orion, a quartet led by the Swedish saxophonist and composer Orjan Hulten.

 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 that 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.

Orion places the emphasis on Hulten’s abilities as a composer.  The group’s pieces tend to have a strong narrative arc and although much of the material is through composed ample space is still left for individual and collective improvisation with Hulten commenting;
“The mission with Orion is to be able to write music without limits and perform together with musicians that have the same goal. The challenge is to compose, but not compose too much, to leave a lot of space for the band to explore and contribute to with our personalities.”

“Minusgrader” introduces a new version of Orion with Hulten, Augustson and Danemo joined by pianist Torbjorn Gulz who replaces Adam Forkelid, who had appeared on the band’s first three albums. Gulz’s arrival also heralds a more democratic version of the band with compositional duties now being distributed more evenly around the members of the group. With one or two exceptions the focus previously had very much been on Hulten’s own writing.

“Minusgrader”, meaning “minus degrees” or “freezing weather”, takes its title from a poem by the great Swedish poet Thomas Transtromer (1931 – 2015). A piano player himself Transtromer’s work has inspired many Scandinavian musicians, notably the Norwegian saxophonist and composer Jan Garbarek on his 1985 album release “It’s OK to Listen to the Gray Voice” (ECM Records).

Despite the input of four individual composers Orion has a distinctive group sound that features strong melodic themes, sometimes influenced by Scandinavian folk music,  combined with classically inspired harmonies and a jazz centred command of improvisation drawn from the American jazz tradition.  Orion’s music is sometimes complex but is always evocative, with each piece giving a sense of telling a story.

A case in point is the Transtromer inspired title track which opens the album. Written by Hulten himself the piece begins with the delicate sound of Gulz’s unaccompanied piano, the music unfolding slowly and deliberately, with a strong sense of drama, atmosphere and narrative. Hulten’s tenor playing combines beguiling melody with an austere lyricism, superficially Garbarek like in feel but ultimately very different in execution. Danemo impresses as a colourist with some neatly detailed drum and cymbal work but plays more forcefully in the second phase of the piece with its doomy arco bass and heavy grooves.

Gulz’s “October in May” is generally lighter in mood with Hulten’s soprano dancing lithely, and probing subtly, around the samba inspired rhythms. The composer solos expansively on piano, demonstrating an admirable lightness of touch allied to an improviser’s inventiveness. Augustson’s melodic pizzicato bass is also heard to good effect on a charming, highly dexterous solo.

Drummer Danemo takes the composer credit for the beautiful ballad “Unless it’s You”, which commences with a delightful dialogue between Hulten’s tenor and Gulz’s piano. The saxophonist’s playing on this piece has been compared to that of Stan Getz and his solo combines a warm tone with great fluency and a certain improvisational rigour. Gulz also impresses with a flowingly lyrical piano solo while Danemo deploys both brushes and sticks to turn in a finely nuanced performance behind the kit.

Presumably Augustson’s “One for Britten” id dedicated to Benjamin of that ilk but the music is more akin to that of bebop, but filtered through a very modern prism. With its scuffling phrases and stop start rhythms its an intriguing item that forms the vehicle for an expansive tenor sax solo from Hulten over rapid bass and busy drums. Augustson and Danemo also underpin Gulz’s wryly inventive pianistics.

Hulten’s own “Adore You”  initially finds the group in ballad mode once more with the composer’s tenor at its most tender. The leader then stretches out with a gently probing solo, as does Gulz with a richly inventive piano solo. We also hear from Augustson at the bass, a virtuoso pizzicato solo accompanied by Gulz’s inventive piano chording and the chatter of Danemo’s brushes. On the album’s lengthiest track Hulten returns for a closing theme statement that is both vibrant and celebratory.

The saxophonist is also the composer of “Blues I manegan”, a steadily swinging piece that gives both the tenor toting leader and the resourceful pianist Gulz the opportunity to stretch out at length.

Danemo’s “1961, Echoes” is also inspired by the American jazz tradition with its allusions to the music of pianist and composer Thelonious Monk. Once again Hulten and Gulz get to solo expansively on tenor sax and piano respectively.

Augustson’s unaccompanied bass introduces Gulz’s “Heading East”, a charming showcase for Hulten’s breezily fluent tenor.  That bass also underpins the composer’s gently inventive piano solo.

Finally we hear Augustson’s buoyant “Do it anyway”, another vehicle for Hulten’s effortlessly fluid tenor sax improvising and Gulz’s similar inventiveness at the piano.

With its blend of European and American influences “Minusgrader” is arguably Orion’s most mainstream album to date and as such is more than capable of reaching out to a broad constituency.  Reviews for “Faltrapport” suggested that the group is “world class” and there’s nothing here to contradict that. Hulten is a wonderfully fluent and inventive improviser on both tenor and soprano saxophones and he’s supported here by a well balanced band of superb musicians who all make telling contributions to the success of the music with pianist Gulz sounding as if he’s always been there. 

Let’s hope that Hulten will be able to bring the current edition of Orion back to the UK sometime in 2019.

 

 

 

 

Minusgrader

Orjan Hulten Orion

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Minusgrader

With its blend of European and American influences “Minusgrader” is arguably Orion’s most mainstream album to date and as such is more than capable of reaching out to a broad constituency.

Orjan Hulten Orion

“Minusgrader”

(Artogrush Records OCD-012)


“Minusgrader” is the fourth album release by the group Orion, a quartet led by the Swedish saxophonist and composer Orjan Hulten.

 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 that 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.

Orion places the emphasis on Hulten’s abilities as a composer.  The group’s pieces tend to have a strong narrative arc and although much of the material is through composed ample space is still left for individual and collective improvisation with Hulten commenting;
“The mission with Orion is to be able to write music without limits and perform together with musicians that have the same goal. The challenge is to compose, but not compose too much, to leave a lot of space for the band to explore and contribute to with our personalities.”

“Minusgrader” introduces a new version of Orion with Hulten, Augustson and Danemo joined by pianist Torbjorn Gulz who replaces Adam Forkelid, who had appeared on the band’s first three albums. Gulz’s arrival also heralds a more democratic version of the band with compositional duties now being distributed more evenly around the members of the group. With one or two exceptions the focus previously had very much been on Hulten’s own writing.

“Minusgrader”, meaning “minus degrees” or “freezing weather”, takes its title from a poem by the great Swedish poet Thomas Transtromer (1931 – 2015). A piano player himself Transtromer’s work has inspired many Scandinavian musicians, notably the Norwegian saxophonist and composer Jan Garbarek on his 1985 album release “It’s OK to Listen to the Gray Voice” (ECM Records).

Despite the input of four individual composers Orion has a distinctive group sound that features strong melodic themes, sometimes influenced by Scandinavian folk music,  combined with classically inspired harmonies and a jazz centred command of improvisation drawn from the American jazz tradition.  Orion’s music is sometimes complex but is always evocative, with each piece giving a sense of telling a story.

A case in point is the Transtromer inspired title track which opens the album. Written by Hulten himself the piece begins with the delicate sound of Gulz’s unaccompanied piano, the music unfolding slowly and deliberately, with a strong sense of drama, atmosphere and narrative. Hulten’s tenor playing combines beguiling melody with an austere lyricism, superficially Garbarek like in feel but ultimately very different in execution. Danemo impresses as a colourist with some neatly detailed drum and cymbal work but plays more forcefully in the second phase of the piece with its doomy arco bass and heavy grooves.

Gulz’s “October in May” is generally lighter in mood with Hulten’s soprano dancing lithely, and probing subtly, around the samba inspired rhythms. The composer solos expansively on piano, demonstrating an admirable lightness of touch allied to an improviser’s inventiveness. Augustson’s melodic pizzicato bass is also heard to good effect on a charming, highly dexterous solo.

Drummer Danemo takes the composer credit for the beautiful ballad “Unless it’s You”, which commences with a delightful dialogue between Hulten’s tenor and Gulz’s piano. The saxophonist’s playing on this piece has been compared to that of Stan Getz and his solo combines a warm tone with great fluency and a certain improvisational rigour. Gulz also impresses with a flowingly lyrical piano solo while Danemo deploys both brushes and sticks to turn in a finely nuanced performance behind the kit.

Presumably Augustson’s “One for Britten” id dedicated to Benjamin of that ilk but the music is more akin to that of bebop, but filtered through a very modern prism. With its scuffling phrases and stop start rhythms its an intriguing item that forms the vehicle for an expansive tenor sax solo from Hulten over rapid bass and busy drums. Augustson and Danemo also underpin Gulz’s wryly inventive pianistics.

Hulten’s own “Adore You”  initially finds the group in ballad mode once more with the composer’s tenor at its most tender. The leader then stretches out with a gently probing solo, as does Gulz with a richly inventive piano solo. We also hear from Augustson at the bass, a virtuoso pizzicato solo accompanied by Gulz’s inventive piano chording and the chatter of Danemo’s brushes. On the album’s lengthiest track Hulten returns for a closing theme statement that is both vibrant and celebratory.

The saxophonist is also the composer of “Blues I manegan”, a steadily swinging piece that gives both the tenor toting leader and the resourceful pianist Gulz the opportunity to stretch out at length.

Danemo’s “1961, Echoes” is also inspired by the American jazz tradition with its allusions to the music of pianist and composer Thelonious Monk. Once again Hulten and Gulz get to solo expansively on tenor sax and piano respectively.

Augustson’s unaccompanied bass introduces Gulz’s “Heading East”, a charming showcase for Hulten’s breezily fluent tenor.  That bass also underpins the composer’s gently inventive piano solo.

Finally we hear Augustson’s buoyant “Do it anyway”, another vehicle for Hulten’s effortlessly fluid tenor sax improvising and Gulz’s similar inventiveness at the piano.

With its blend of European and American influences “Minusgrader” is arguably Orion’s most mainstream album to date and as such is more than capable of reaching out to a broad constituency.  Reviews for “Faltrapport” suggested that the group is “world class” and there’s nothing here to contradict that. Hulten is a wonderfully fluent and inventive improviser on both tenor and soprano saxophones and he’s supported here by a well balanced band of superb musicians who all make telling contributions to the success of the music with pianist Gulz sounding as if he’s always been there. 

Let’s hope that Hulten will be able to bring the current edition of Orion back to the UK sometime in 2019.

 

 

 

 

Nick Malcolm - Real Isn’t Real Rating: 4-5 out of 5 With the help of an exceptional quartet and four distinguished, but very different, guest vocalists Malcolm has created a work of linked pieces that cohere into a totally convincing whole.

Nick Malcolm

“Real Isn’t Real”

(Green Eyes Records GE002)

“Real Isn’t Real” is the third album release as a leader by the Bristol based trumpeter, composer and improviser Nick Malcolm. It follows “Glimmers”, released in 2012 on FMR Records and the excellent “Beyond These Voices” (2014), which appeared on Malcolm’s own Green Eyes label.

Malcolm’s first two albums were made in the quartet format and featured some of the UK’s leading improvising musicians in the shapes of Alexander Hawkins (piano) and Olie Brice (double bass) and Mark Whitlam (drums). Shortly after the release of “Beyond These Voices” Whitlam was replaced on a permanent basis by Ric Yarborough, a graduate of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire.

Both these album demonstrated Malcolm’s mastery of the hinterland where composed and improvised music intersect, skilfully combining adventurousness with accessibility.

“Real Isn’t Real” is centred around the core quartet of Malcolm, Hawkins, Brice and Yarborough but on the trumpeter’s most ambitious release to date the instrumentalists are joined by an illustrious roll call of guest female vocalists.

The album is a semi-conceptual affair with five “Spiral” instrumental pieces interspersed by four songs specifically written by Malcolm to “highlight the particular vocal and musical qualities of each of the featured vocalists”. The singers that Malcolm has selected for this recording are Emily Wright, Marie Lister, Josienne Clarke and Lauren Kinsella, four very different vocalists whose styles reflect Malcolm’s own eclecticism and versatility. The trumpeter’s CV includes work with numerous jazz and free improv ensembles to the Bristol Afrobeat Collective and folk singer Eliza Carthy’s Wayward Band.

“Real Isn’t Real” is structured rather like a suite, with the “Spiral” instrumental pieces seguing into the songs. It’s an approach that works well, the album as a whole cohering convincingly despite the contrasting styles of the various guest vocalists and the sometimes uncompromising approach adopted by the instrumentalists.

As befits the diverse nature of the project Malcolm and the rest of the quartet have expanded their own instrumental palettes. The leader is also heard on keyboards and vocals, Hawkins adds Rhodes, Hammond and Pump Organ to his keyboard armoury while Brice is fleetingly heard on electric sitar, probably my first sighting of such a beast since Denny Dias’ solo on Steely Dan’s “Do It Again”!. Yarborough contributes some significant post production while guest Will Harris adds electric bass to the song “Silent Grace”.

The album commences with the first of the “Spiral” pieces. Each of these has been given a subtitle so we start with “Spiral 1 – Assemble” which introduces a quintet sound that will be familiar to listeners of Malcolm’s previous album “Beyond These Voices”. Brice’s muscular but melodic bass lines and Yarborough’s busy but understated drum and cymbal patterns underpin Malcolm’s fluent trumpet soloing, his sound sometimes reminiscent of one of his mentors, the great American trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. Hawkins, one of the UK’s best and most distinctive piano improvisers maintains a low profile early on, his chording sparse and comparatively simple, but he clearly relishes the opportunity to stretch out later in the tune, his solo packed with unusual chords and arpeggios in a classically informed 21st century updating of Thelonious Monk. The soft growl of Malcolm’s trumpet then returns to the fray and the piece segues into;

“Floating Earth” which features the coolly elegant vocals of Emily Wright as she sings Malcolm’s words. Malcolm and Wright have previously worked together in the group Moonlight Saving Time”, co-led by Wright and bassist Will Harris. Wright’s pure, ethereal singing on this piece is reminiscent of her work with her own band, a group that blends jazz and folk influences with poetry and imaginative arrangements of pop and rock songs. The song’s fragile mood reflects its title and the solos here come from Brice on melodic double bass and Hawkins, at his most lyrical, on piano.

It’s the sound of Brice’s unaccompanied double bass that introduces “Spiral II – Encircle”, his deeply resonant sound subsequently accompanied by Hawkins’ piano chording and the bustle of Yarborough’s drums and cymbals. The piece gathers momentum, while simultaneously becoming more freely structured, as it progresses, before suddenly mutating into;

“Silent Grace”, featuring the voice of Bristol based soul and hip-hop vocalist Marie Lister. She and Malcolm have previously worked together in the afrobeat outfit No Go Stop. Lister has also toured widely with the nu soul outfit The Duval Project and with the soul artist Pete Josef. Here Lister sings powerfully and soulfully on a soul, funk and r’n’b flavoured song that represents an unexpected, but highly effective, diversion for Malcolm, one that features Harris on electric bass and Hawkins doubling on electric keyboards. It’s a piece that has invited comparisons with the music of the group Panacea, led by keyboard player and composer Robert Mitchell.

“Silent Grace” merges seamlessly into “Spiral III – Ascend” with Malcolm’s opening trumpet statement at first sounding like an instrumental break in the previous song. Hawkins’ piano steers the music into more obviously jazz territory with an expansive solo that positively sparkles, for all its avant garde flourishes. There’s an also an absorbing dialogue between Hawkins and Malcolm as Brice and Hawkins provide flexible, apposite support. There’s then a powerful reprise of “Silent Grace” featuring Lister’s impassioned vocal and Yarborough’s heavy grooves as Malcolm’s mercurial trumpet weaves and squiggles around the gaps.

“Grass Remembers” features the voice of Josienne Clarke, one of the UK’s leading young folk singers. Clarke works in a duo with guitarist Ben Walker and Malcolm guested on the pair’s 2014 album “Nothing Can Bring Back the Hour”. Clarke returns the compliment by lending her pure, sweet, folk voice to Malcolm’s atmospheric setting of the words of W.B. Yeats. Clarke’s vocals are underscored by the moody drone of Hawkins’ pump organ.

Brice’s double bass introduces “Spiral IV – Blues”, the instrumental piece that is most obviously linked to its accompanying song. Clarke provides a brief spoken reprise of “Grass Remembers” at the beginning of the piece before handing over to Brice and Yarborough. Malcolm’s melancholy trumpet then picks up the melody from “Grass Remembers”, subtly mutating the theme during his sombre meditations, the mood more “Kind of Blue” than THE Blues. The introduction of Hawkins, who also eventually solos, steers the music deeper into avant garde jazz territory, the piece moving further and further away from its folk sources as it progresses, but still intrinsically linked. Hawkins’ increasingly frenetic Cecil Taylor / Myra Melford like piano solo is abruptly truncated as we jump into;

“Real Isn’t Real”, the title track co-written by Malcolm and vocalist Lauren Kinsella. One of the most adventurous young vocalists around the Dublin born Kinsella has previously worked with Malcolm as part of a freely improvising trio also featuring cellist Hannah Marshall. As well as pursuing solo projects Kinsella has also been part of the bands Thought Fox, Blue-Eyed Hawk and Snowpoet. Given Kinsella’s credentials it’s perhaps not too surprising to find that this piece features the most audacious vocalising of the set. Kinsella combines a folk like purity of tone with a willingness to experiment in terms of time, space, meter and extended vocal techniques. She is heard here unaccompanied (presumably singing her own words) and in a series of largely wordless improvised exchanges with Malcolm and Hawkins.

These segue into the closing “Spiral V - Dissolve”, co-credited to Malcolm and Yarborough, which emerges out of Hawkins’ repeated piano motif to incorporate something of a feature for the latter, albeit with the drums well back in the mix. Yarborough has a long established interest in electronic music, working as a producer under the name 3dYwK and his input is very much evident here in the multi-tracking of Kinsella’s vocals allied to other production techniques. The wispy, ethereal nature of the music befits its title as the piece dissolves - “into silence” - but not without a defiant reprise of the earlier “Silent Grace”. The closing stages of this Spiral piece represent something of a sound collage, and Yarborough’s ‘production’ and co-composer credit is well earned.

“Real Isn’t Real” is an intriguing piece of work that seems to have divided critical opinion with some commentators citing a lack of cohesion and continuity. I don’t see it like that at all. Instead I’m impressed by the way in which Malcolm draws the disparate elements together to create what, for me, is a thoroughly convincing and compelling narrative. Composition blends seamlessly with improvisation, a process that Malcolm has already been exploring instrumentally on his previous two albums. But on this more ambitious project he has brought every aspect of his musical persona to the table, jazz, improv, folk, funk, soul, r’n’b and electronica, plus a love of poetry, literature and the human voice. With the help of an exceptional quartet and four distinguished, but very different guest vocalists he has created a work of linked pieces that cohere into a totally convincing whole. The way in which he brings the various styles together with elements from one piece informing another remind me of the way in which novelist David Mitchell knits different story lines together in books like “Ghostwritten” and “Cloud Atlas”. To appreciate its full worth “Real Isn’t Real” is an album that is probably best considered as a stand alone work and one that is best listened to in a single sitting.

Given the nature of the project it’s unlikely that Malcolm will take the album on the road in its entirety, although the essentially instrumental “Spiral” pieces are likely to form part of subsequent live appearances.

Instead he has formed a new quartet called jade (the lower case lettering is Malcolm’s) which will be touring in the UK during February, March and April 2019. The new group will feature Malcolm and Yarborough together with Will Harris on bass and Jake McMurchie, of Get The Blessing fame, on saxophone.

It’s an intriguing proposition, catch jade if you can at;


Weds 27 Feb
8.30pm
Cardiff - The Flute and Tankard, 4 Windsor Place, CF10 3BX http://thefluteandtankard.com/

Sun 3 March
8.30pm
Bristol - Café Kino, Stokes Croft, BS1 3RU 
http://www.cafekino.coop

Tues 5 March
8.00pm
Cambridge - Listen! at St Barnabas, Mill Road, CB1 2BD https://www.listencambridge.com/

Thurs 7 March
8.30pm
Newcastle - The Globe, 11 Railway Street, NE4 7AD
http://jazznortheast.com

Fri 8 March 
8.00pm
Derby - Derby Jazz at Deda Studio Theatre Chapel St DE1 3GU
https://www.derby-jazz.co.uk/gigs.php

Sat 20 April
8.30 pm
London -The Vortex, Gillett Square N16 8AZ
http://www.vortexjazz.co.uk

For more information on “Real Isn’t Real” and jade please visit http://www.nickmalcolm.co.uk

Real Isn’t Real

Nick Malcolm

Friday, February 01, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4-5 out of 5

Real Isn’t Real

With the help of an exceptional quartet and four distinguished, but very different, guest vocalists Malcolm has created a work of linked pieces that cohere into a totally convincing whole.

Nick Malcolm

“Real Isn’t Real”

(Green Eyes Records GE002)

“Real Isn’t Real” is the third album release as a leader by the Bristol based trumpeter, composer and improviser Nick Malcolm. It follows “Glimmers”, released in 2012 on FMR Records and the excellent “Beyond These Voices” (2014), which appeared on Malcolm’s own Green Eyes label.

Malcolm’s first two albums were made in the quartet format and featured some of the UK’s leading improvising musicians in the shapes of Alexander Hawkins (piano) and Olie Brice (double bass) and Mark Whitlam (drums). Shortly after the release of “Beyond These Voices” Whitlam was replaced on a permanent basis by Ric Yarborough, a graduate of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire.

Both these album demonstrated Malcolm’s mastery of the hinterland where composed and improvised music intersect, skilfully combining adventurousness with accessibility.

“Real Isn’t Real” is centred around the core quartet of Malcolm, Hawkins, Brice and Yarborough but on the trumpeter’s most ambitious release to date the instrumentalists are joined by an illustrious roll call of guest female vocalists.

The album is a semi-conceptual affair with five “Spiral” instrumental pieces interspersed by four songs specifically written by Malcolm to “highlight the particular vocal and musical qualities of each of the featured vocalists”. The singers that Malcolm has selected for this recording are Emily Wright, Marie Lister, Josienne Clarke and Lauren Kinsella, four very different vocalists whose styles reflect Malcolm’s own eclecticism and versatility. The trumpeter’s CV includes work with numerous jazz and free improv ensembles to the Bristol Afrobeat Collective and folk singer Eliza Carthy’s Wayward Band.

“Real Isn’t Real” is structured rather like a suite, with the “Spiral” instrumental pieces seguing into the songs. It’s an approach that works well, the album as a whole cohering convincingly despite the contrasting styles of the various guest vocalists and the sometimes uncompromising approach adopted by the instrumentalists.

As befits the diverse nature of the project Malcolm and the rest of the quartet have expanded their own instrumental palettes. The leader is also heard on keyboards and vocals, Hawkins adds Rhodes, Hammond and Pump Organ to his keyboard armoury while Brice is fleetingly heard on electric sitar, probably my first sighting of such a beast since Denny Dias’ solo on Steely Dan’s “Do It Again”!. Yarborough contributes some significant post production while guest Will Harris adds electric bass to the song “Silent Grace”.

The album commences with the first of the “Spiral” pieces. Each of these has been given a subtitle so we start with “Spiral 1 – Assemble” which introduces a quintet sound that will be familiar to listeners of Malcolm’s previous album “Beyond These Voices”. Brice’s muscular but melodic bass lines and Yarborough’s busy but understated drum and cymbal patterns underpin Malcolm’s fluent trumpet soloing, his sound sometimes reminiscent of one of his mentors, the great American trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. Hawkins, one of the UK’s best and most distinctive piano improvisers maintains a low profile early on, his chording sparse and comparatively simple, but he clearly relishes the opportunity to stretch out later in the tune, his solo packed with unusual chords and arpeggios in a classically informed 21st century updating of Thelonious Monk. The soft growl of Malcolm’s trumpet then returns to the fray and the piece segues into;

“Floating Earth” which features the coolly elegant vocals of Emily Wright as she sings Malcolm’s words. Malcolm and Wright have previously worked together in the group Moonlight Saving Time”, co-led by Wright and bassist Will Harris. Wright’s pure, ethereal singing on this piece is reminiscent of her work with her own band, a group that blends jazz and folk influences with poetry and imaginative arrangements of pop and rock songs. The song’s fragile mood reflects its title and the solos here come from Brice on melodic double bass and Hawkins, at his most lyrical, on piano.

It’s the sound of Brice’s unaccompanied double bass that introduces “Spiral II – Encircle”, his deeply resonant sound subsequently accompanied by Hawkins’ piano chording and the bustle of Yarborough’s drums and cymbals. The piece gathers momentum, while simultaneously becoming more freely structured, as it progresses, before suddenly mutating into;

“Silent Grace”, featuring the voice of Bristol based soul and hip-hop vocalist Marie Lister. She and Malcolm have previously worked together in the afrobeat outfit No Go Stop. Lister has also toured widely with the nu soul outfit The Duval Project and with the soul artist Pete Josef. Here Lister sings powerfully and soulfully on a soul, funk and r’n’b flavoured song that represents an unexpected, but highly effective, diversion for Malcolm, one that features Harris on electric bass and Hawkins doubling on electric keyboards. It’s a piece that has invited comparisons with the music of the group Panacea, led by keyboard player and composer Robert Mitchell.

“Silent Grace” merges seamlessly into “Spiral III – Ascend” with Malcolm’s opening trumpet statement at first sounding like an instrumental break in the previous song. Hawkins’ piano steers the music into more obviously jazz territory with an expansive solo that positively sparkles, for all its avant garde flourishes. There’s an also an absorbing dialogue between Hawkins and Malcolm as Brice and Hawkins provide flexible, apposite support. There’s then a powerful reprise of “Silent Grace” featuring Lister’s impassioned vocal and Yarborough’s heavy grooves as Malcolm’s mercurial trumpet weaves and squiggles around the gaps.

“Grass Remembers” features the voice of Josienne Clarke, one of the UK’s leading young folk singers. Clarke works in a duo with guitarist Ben Walker and Malcolm guested on the pair’s 2014 album “Nothing Can Bring Back the Hour”. Clarke returns the compliment by lending her pure, sweet, folk voice to Malcolm’s atmospheric setting of the words of W.B. Yeats. Clarke’s vocals are underscored by the moody drone of Hawkins’ pump organ.

Brice’s double bass introduces “Spiral IV – Blues”, the instrumental piece that is most obviously linked to its accompanying song. Clarke provides a brief spoken reprise of “Grass Remembers” at the beginning of the piece before handing over to Brice and Yarborough. Malcolm’s melancholy trumpet then picks up the melody from “Grass Remembers”, subtly mutating the theme during his sombre meditations, the mood more “Kind of Blue” than THE Blues. The introduction of Hawkins, who also eventually solos, steers the music deeper into avant garde jazz territory, the piece moving further and further away from its folk sources as it progresses, but still intrinsically linked. Hawkins’ increasingly frenetic Cecil Taylor / Myra Melford like piano solo is abruptly truncated as we jump into;

“Real Isn’t Real”, the title track co-written by Malcolm and vocalist Lauren Kinsella. One of the most adventurous young vocalists around the Dublin born Kinsella has previously worked with Malcolm as part of a freely improvising trio also featuring cellist Hannah Marshall. As well as pursuing solo projects Kinsella has also been part of the bands Thought Fox, Blue-Eyed Hawk and Snowpoet. Given Kinsella’s credentials it’s perhaps not too surprising to find that this piece features the most audacious vocalising of the set. Kinsella combines a folk like purity of tone with a willingness to experiment in terms of time, space, meter and extended vocal techniques. She is heard here unaccompanied (presumably singing her own words) and in a series of largely wordless improvised exchanges with Malcolm and Hawkins.

These segue into the closing “Spiral V - Dissolve”, co-credited to Malcolm and Yarborough, which emerges out of Hawkins’ repeated piano motif to incorporate something of a feature for the latter, albeit with the drums well back in the mix. Yarborough has a long established interest in electronic music, working as a producer under the name 3dYwK and his input is very much evident here in the multi-tracking of Kinsella’s vocals allied to other production techniques. The wispy, ethereal nature of the music befits its title as the piece dissolves - “into silence” - but not without a defiant reprise of the earlier “Silent Grace”. The closing stages of this Spiral piece represent something of a sound collage, and Yarborough’s ‘production’ and co-composer credit is well earned.

“Real Isn’t Real” is an intriguing piece of work that seems to have divided critical opinion with some commentators citing a lack of cohesion and continuity. I don’t see it like that at all. Instead I’m impressed by the way in which Malcolm draws the disparate elements together to create what, for me, is a thoroughly convincing and compelling narrative. Composition blends seamlessly with improvisation, a process that Malcolm has already been exploring instrumentally on his previous two albums. But on this more ambitious project he has brought every aspect of his musical persona to the table, jazz, improv, folk, funk, soul, r’n’b and electronica, plus a love of poetry, literature and the human voice. With the help of an exceptional quartet and four distinguished, but very different guest vocalists he has created a work of linked pieces that cohere into a totally convincing whole. The way in which he brings the various styles together with elements from one piece informing another remind me of the way in which novelist David Mitchell knits different story lines together in books like “Ghostwritten” and “Cloud Atlas”. To appreciate its full worth “Real Isn’t Real” is an album that is probably best considered as a stand alone work and one that is best listened to in a single sitting.

Given the nature of the project it’s unlikely that Malcolm will take the album on the road in its entirety, although the essentially instrumental “Spiral” pieces are likely to form part of subsequent live appearances.

Instead he has formed a new quartet called jade (the lower case lettering is Malcolm’s) which will be touring in the UK during February, March and April 2019. The new group will feature Malcolm and Yarborough together with Will Harris on bass and Jake McMurchie, of Get The Blessing fame, on saxophone.

It’s an intriguing proposition, catch jade if you can at;


Weds 27 Feb
8.30pm
Cardiff - The Flute and Tankard, 4 Windsor Place, CF10 3BX http://thefluteandtankard.com/

Sun 3 March
8.30pm
Bristol - Café Kino, Stokes Croft, BS1 3RU 
http://www.cafekino.coop

Tues 5 March
8.00pm
Cambridge - Listen! at St Barnabas, Mill Road, CB1 2BD https://www.listencambridge.com/

Thurs 7 March
8.30pm
Newcastle - The Globe, 11 Railway Street, NE4 7AD
http://jazznortheast.com

Fri 8 March 
8.00pm
Derby - Derby Jazz at Deda Studio Theatre Chapel St DE1 3GU
https://www.derby-jazz.co.uk/gigs.php

Sat 20 April
8.30 pm
London -The Vortex, Gillett Square N16 8AZ
http://www.vortexjazz.co.uk

For more information on “Real Isn’t Real” and jade please visit http://www.nickmalcolm.co.uk

Kathrine Windfeld Big Band - Latency Rating: 4 out of 5 An impressive piece of work that features a series of multi-faceted compositions and arrangements, allied to some excellent ensemble playing and exceptional soloing.

Kathrine Windfeld Big Band

“Latency”

(Stunt Records STUCD 17062)

Kathrine Windfeld is a Danish pianist and composer who leads a largely Scandinavian big band featuring musicians from various countries with shores on the Baltic Sea.

Born in 1984 Windfeld studied at the Department of Musicology in Copenhagen and at the Swedish jazz school Fridhems Folkhogskola. She was part of the progressive jazz quintet Gespenst before establishing her own ongoing sextet in 2011.

Windfeld subsequently studied at the Malmo Music Academy in Sweden where she established a quartet plus her first big band. In 2014 she moved back to Copenhagen where she set up the current KWBB and in 2015 she recorded her début big band album “Aircraft”.

The famous Danish bassist Niels Lan Doky offered the KWBB a residency at his Copenhagen jazz club and the band continued to hone their sound while playing with illustrious visiting guest musicians such as guitarists Mike Stern and Gilad Hekselman, saxophonist Seamus Blake and the UK’s own Gerard Presencer (trumpet).

The KWBB’s second album “Latency” was recorded in Copenhagen in 2017 and features a programme of eight Windfeld original compositions, two of them co-writes with one Mads Sandberg. On line information about Sandberg is hard to find, so Windfeld’s collaborator remains something of a figure of mystery.

Nevertheless, the new album has been critically acclaimed and has enjoyed greater international exposure than its predecessor. In 2018 the band toured successfully in Germany and the UK, including a successful performance at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, London.

The album line up features;

Kathrine Windfeld – Piano, Director, Composer, Arranger (DK)

Andre Bak (DK), Rolf Thofte Sorensen (DK), Magnus Oseth (NO) - Trumpets & Flugels

Goran Abelli (SE), Mikkel Aargard (DK), Anders Larson (SE) – Trombones

Jakob Lundbak (DK) – Alto & Soprano Sax

Jakub Wiecek (PL) – Alto Sax

Roald Elm Larsen (DK), Ida Karlsson (SE) – Tenor Saxes

Toke Reines (DK) -  Baritone Sax

Viktor Sandstrom (SE) - Guitar

Johannes Vaht (SE) – Bass

Henrik Holst (DK) – Drums

Windfeld favours a contemporary large ensemble sound incorporating elements of both jazz and rock, with the work of Mike Gibbs arguably representing a suitable comparison or reference point.

The rock influence is made apparent right from the start and the rousing opener “Rude Machine” with Sandstrom taking the first solo on turbo charged electric guitar. However it’s not all sound and fury, Windfeld demonstrates an excellent command of contrast and dynamics throughout the album and “Rude Machine” itself reveals compositional subtleties that belie its title. Further solos here come from Lundbak on fluent but incisive alto and Aagard on warmly rounded trombone.

The following “Elak” is more reflective with Windfeld’s own piano featuring more prominently in the arrangement. The horn voicings here are rich and warm but still inherently colourful, with the first solo being taken by Sorensen, who displays a Kenny Wheeler like eloquence on flugel horn.
He’s followed by Vaht on melodic and dexterous double bass.

The title track ups the energy levels once more with some punchy ensemble playing that takes old style big band and virtues places them in a thoroughly contemporary setting. Larsen’s tenor solo blends a big sound with an admirable fluency while in a neat compositional twist it’s actually the sound of Sandstrom’s electric guitar that calms things down again as he enters into a gently atmospheric dialogue with the leader’s piano.

“Leaving Portland” is a true ballad, introduced by Windfeld’s lyrical piano and featuring a lush horn arrangement that evokes appropriate images of yearning and nostalgia. It also acts as a feature for the melancholic but beautiful trumpet playing of Oseth.

The leader’s piano also ushers in “Roadmovie”, her rippling arpeggios joined by Vaht’s bass as the piece slowly gathers momentum. Sandstrom’s guitar subsequently takes on the underpinning role as the horns state the theme, this move also freeing up Windfeld for her first true solo of the set, a suitably flowing and expansive excursion at the piano. Lindbak follows on sinuously elegant soprano sax before a series of sumptuous ensemble passages, steered by the horns, lead to the final destination.

“Wasp” is the first of two joint compositions written by Windfeld and Mads Sandberg. A freely structured intro featuring the sounds of buzzy reeds and brass approximates the sound of a wasp’s nest before the music takes off on a swinging, rumba like groove with the sound of Reines’ baritone sax briefly attaining prominence in the arrangement. A more impressionistic passage follows featuring the tenor sax of soloist Karlsson who probes deeply against an edgy, unsettling backdrop that flirts with free jazz elements, with Karlsson deploying tongue slapping techniques towards the end of the solo. This is followed by a powerful, rock influenced passage before the sound of Vaht’ s bass leads to a jazzier conclusion. This is an unsettling but impressive piece that packs a lot of information into its five minutes forty seconds.

By way of contrast the gentle “December Elegy” is full of the kind of cool beauty that its title suggests. A lush and elegant score incorporates features for Oseth on velvet toned flugel and Windfeld’s own piano lyricism. The flexible Hansen, a driving force elsewhere, delivers suitably sympathetic brushed support.

The concluding “Double Fleisch”, another co-write by Windfeld and Sandberg, closes the album on an upbeat note. It’s a rumbustious piece that combines avant garde flourishes with a Mingus like energy and sense of subversion. The horn arrangements are boisterous and garrulous with trombonist Abelli the featured soloist. Sandberg’s involvement in the writing process certainly brings a different dimension to the pieces he is involved with, generally a harsher, more aggressive band sound and a willingness to experiment with free jazz and avant garde elements.

“Latency” is an impressive piece of work that features a series of multi-faceted compositions and arrangements allied to some excellent ensemble playing and exceptional soloing. The compositions explore a variety of styles, colours, textures and dynamics with Sandberg’s offerings adding a welcome touch of darkness and adventure to an already intriguing sonic palette.

Windfeld impresses in her various roles as pianist, composer, arranger and band-leader and it is to be hoped that she will bring the band back to UK shores sometime in 2019. On the evidence of this recording this is one of the best contemporary large ensembles around,

Latency

Kathrine Windfeld Big Band

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Latency

An impressive piece of work that features a series of multi-faceted compositions and arrangements, allied to some excellent ensemble playing and exceptional soloing.

Kathrine Windfeld Big Band

“Latency”

(Stunt Records STUCD 17062)

Kathrine Windfeld is a Danish pianist and composer who leads a largely Scandinavian big band featuring musicians from various countries with shores on the Baltic Sea.

Born in 1984 Windfeld studied at the Department of Musicology in Copenhagen and at the Swedish jazz school Fridhems Folkhogskola. She was part of the progressive jazz quintet Gespenst before establishing her own ongoing sextet in 2011.

Windfeld subsequently studied at the Malmo Music Academy in Sweden where she established a quartet plus her first big band. In 2014 she moved back to Copenhagen where she set up the current KWBB and in 2015 she recorded her début big band album “Aircraft”.

The famous Danish bassist Niels Lan Doky offered the KWBB a residency at his Copenhagen jazz club and the band continued to hone their sound while playing with illustrious visiting guest musicians such as guitarists Mike Stern and Gilad Hekselman, saxophonist Seamus Blake and the UK’s own Gerard Presencer (trumpet).

The KWBB’s second album “Latency” was recorded in Copenhagen in 2017 and features a programme of eight Windfeld original compositions, two of them co-writes with one Mads Sandberg. On line information about Sandberg is hard to find, so Windfeld’s collaborator remains something of a figure of mystery.

Nevertheless, the new album has been critically acclaimed and has enjoyed greater international exposure than its predecessor. In 2018 the band toured successfully in Germany and the UK, including a successful performance at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, London.

The album line up features;

Kathrine Windfeld – Piano, Director, Composer, Arranger (DK)

Andre Bak (DK), Rolf Thofte Sorensen (DK), Magnus Oseth (NO) - Trumpets & Flugels

Goran Abelli (SE), Mikkel Aargard (DK), Anders Larson (SE) – Trombones

Jakob Lundbak (DK) – Alto & Soprano Sax

Jakub Wiecek (PL) – Alto Sax

Roald Elm Larsen (DK), Ida Karlsson (SE) – Tenor Saxes

Toke Reines (DK) -  Baritone Sax

Viktor Sandstrom (SE) - Guitar

Johannes Vaht (SE) – Bass

Henrik Holst (DK) – Drums

Windfeld favours a contemporary large ensemble sound incorporating elements of both jazz and rock, with the work of Mike Gibbs arguably representing a suitable comparison or reference point.

The rock influence is made apparent right from the start and the rousing opener “Rude Machine” with Sandstrom taking the first solo on turbo charged electric guitar. However it’s not all sound and fury, Windfeld demonstrates an excellent command of contrast and dynamics throughout the album and “Rude Machine” itself reveals compositional subtleties that belie its title. Further solos here come from Lundbak on fluent but incisive alto and Aagard on warmly rounded trombone.

The following “Elak” is more reflective with Windfeld’s own piano featuring more prominently in the arrangement. The horn voicings here are rich and warm but still inherently colourful, with the first solo being taken by Sorensen, who displays a Kenny Wheeler like eloquence on flugel horn.
He’s followed by Vaht on melodic and dexterous double bass.

The title track ups the energy levels once more with some punchy ensemble playing that takes old style big band and virtues places them in a thoroughly contemporary setting. Larsen’s tenor solo blends a big sound with an admirable fluency while in a neat compositional twist it’s actually the sound of Sandstrom’s electric guitar that calms things down again as he enters into a gently atmospheric dialogue with the leader’s piano.

“Leaving Portland” is a true ballad, introduced by Windfeld’s lyrical piano and featuring a lush horn arrangement that evokes appropriate images of yearning and nostalgia. It also acts as a feature for the melancholic but beautiful trumpet playing of Oseth.

The leader’s piano also ushers in “Roadmovie”, her rippling arpeggios joined by Vaht’s bass as the piece slowly gathers momentum. Sandstrom’s guitar subsequently takes on the underpinning role as the horns state the theme, this move also freeing up Windfeld for her first true solo of the set, a suitably flowing and expansive excursion at the piano. Lindbak follows on sinuously elegant soprano sax before a series of sumptuous ensemble passages, steered by the horns, lead to the final destination.

“Wasp” is the first of two joint compositions written by Windfeld and Mads Sandberg. A freely structured intro featuring the sounds of buzzy reeds and brass approximates the sound of a wasp’s nest before the music takes off on a swinging, rumba like groove with the sound of Reines’ baritone sax briefly attaining prominence in the arrangement. A more impressionistic passage follows featuring the tenor sax of soloist Karlsson who probes deeply against an edgy, unsettling backdrop that flirts with free jazz elements, with Karlsson deploying tongue slapping techniques towards the end of the solo. This is followed by a powerful, rock influenced passage before the sound of Vaht’ s bass leads to a jazzier conclusion. This is an unsettling but impressive piece that packs a lot of information into its five minutes forty seconds.

By way of contrast the gentle “December Elegy” is full of the kind of cool beauty that its title suggests. A lush and elegant score incorporates features for Oseth on velvet toned flugel and Windfeld’s own piano lyricism. The flexible Hansen, a driving force elsewhere, delivers suitably sympathetic brushed support.

The concluding “Double Fleisch”, another co-write by Windfeld and Sandberg, closes the album on an upbeat note. It’s a rumbustious piece that combines avant garde flourishes with a Mingus like energy and sense of subversion. The horn arrangements are boisterous and garrulous with trombonist Abelli the featured soloist. Sandberg’s involvement in the writing process certainly brings a different dimension to the pieces he is involved with, generally a harsher, more aggressive band sound and a willingness to experiment with free jazz and avant garde elements.

“Latency” is an impressive piece of work that features a series of multi-faceted compositions and arrangements allied to some excellent ensemble playing and exceptional soloing. The compositions explore a variety of styles, colours, textures and dynamics with Sandberg’s offerings adding a welcome touch of darkness and adventure to an already intriguing sonic palette.

Windfeld impresses in her various roles as pianist, composer, arranger and band-leader and it is to be hoped that she will bring the band back to UK shores sometime in 2019. On the evidence of this recording this is one of the best contemporary large ensembles around,

Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble - Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble, ‘Spirit of Trane’, Progress Theatre, Reading, 18/01/2019. Rating: 4-5 out of 5 "A wonderful evocation of the spirit and enduring legacy of John Coltrane". Guest contributor Trevor Bannister enjoys being challenged by the music of Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble.

Jazz at Progress
 
Gilad Atzmon and the Orient House Ensemble, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire.
 
Friday 18 January
 
Gilad Atzmon, soprano, alto & tenor saxophones, Ross Stanley, piano, Yaron Stavi bass, Enzo Zirilli drums
 
 
Their ears assailed by what seemed like an obsessive twenty-three-minute solo outing of ‘My Favourite Things’ on a strange high-pitched serpent-like instrument, the soprano saxophone, large chunks of the audience voted with their feet and beat a hasty retreat from the Gaumont State Kilburn on the opening night of John Coltrane’s first, and only, visit to Britain on 11th November 1961.

 ‘WHAT HAPPENED!’ screamed the Melody Maker headline. It left the paper’s Bob Dawbarn, ‘baffled, bothered and bewildered’. The critical debate continued unabated in the jazz press with Benny Green, saxophonist, writer, broadcaster and general know-all, who incidentally didn’t attend the concert (or any that followed in Birmingham, Glasgow or Newcastle for that matter) adding his two-penny-worth by declaring that ‘Coltrane threatens to upset the entire jazz conception’. And thus, John Coltrane added his name to those of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, judged respectively to be ‘too loud’ and ‘too exotic’ when they first played on these shores; in Coltrane’s case he was ‘too loud’, ‘too exotic’ and ‘too long’.
 
With this occasion in mind, ‘Are you ready to be challenged?’ seemed a fair question for Gilad Atzmon to ask in his inimitable and uncompromising manner as he set the scene for a two-hour concert inspired by the ‘Spirit of Trane’; have we Brits become more attuned to the sound and emotional impact of John Coltrane over the passage of nearly sixty years?
 
‘Yes!’ came the resounding response from the sell-out Progress audience, in perhaps the nearest experience we shall ever have of listening ‘live’ to John Coltrane. True, there were no marathon solos, or any of the ugly, grating sounds from the latter days of Coltrane’s much-too-short career, and he did break us in gently with the beautiful ‘In A Sentimental Mood’ from the 1962 collaboration with Duke Ellington, and the Latin breeze of ‘Invitation’, but come ‘Moment’s Notice’ he hit the ground running and it was as much as we could do from then on to keep up.
 
It wasn’t so much the ferocious tempo that was so impressive, but rather the sheer momentum of Atzmon’s playing. Fuelled by Enzo Zirilli’s drums, the rock-steady bass of Yaron Stavi and Ross Stanley’s timely contributions at the keyboard, the notes flowed from Gilad’s tenor in a torrent so characteristic of Coltrane and which prompted the writer Ira Gitler to coin the phrase ‘sheets of sound’; each as hard-edged as steel and filled with a haunting melancholy. And yet, however complex the improvisation became it never lost touch with the original theme, suggesting that Coltrane was actually a far greater ‘tunesmith’ than he was ever credited for.
 
The sublime ballad ‘Say It Is’, in which bassist Yaron Stavi demonstrated that the art of playing a melodic walking bass solo is still alive and well, provided a welcome breathing space before the band launched into another maelstrom of sound. And Gilad set yet another challenge, or maybe he was simply playing mesmerizing tricks with our aural senses. What was he playing? ‘Scarborough Fair’? ‘My Favourite Things’? Ross Stanley kindly resolved the conundrum in a brief interval chat and confirmed that ‘it was both!’ No matter, the effect was enthralling!
 
‘Big Nick’, a catchy dedication to ‘Big’ Nick Nicholas, the tenor saxophonist alongside whom Coltrane sat in the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, and another title from the Ellington collaboration, brought the first set to a light-hearted conclusion.
 
The second set opened with ‘Impressions’ and ‘Naima’, the name of Coltrane’s then wife, and each bore the imprint of his fascination for Far Eastern philosophy and mysticism. Gilad switched from soprano to alto for ‘Giant Steps’ with the assurance that he would take the tune at a more leisurely waltz time than the breakneck speed of Coltrane’s original recording. He failed … and matched the original in every detail in a breathtaking display of virtuosity.
 
‘What’s New’ brought another change of instrument. Gilad switched to his tenor, a beautiful product of English craftsmanship as he explained, made in 1926. Coincidence or what? 1926 was the year of John Coltrane’s birth. It provided the perfect vehicle for Bob Haggart’s tender ballad, a tune more often associated with trumpet players than saxophonists.
 
I would guess that Gilad’s original composition ‘The Burning Bush’ is open to many interpretations, but for me it stood as a series of lamentations, expressing a sense of near-despair, etched even more deeply by his use of vocal cries to separate each section and Enzo Zirilli’s emotionally charged drum solo and percussive effects. Listening to it was an extraordinarily moving experience.
 
What better way to round off the evening than ‘Mr. P.C.’; not a description of Gilad Atzmon, but a dedication to bassist Paul Chambers, Coltrane’s colleague in the Miles Davis Quintet and countless other recordings including the monumental ‘Giant Steps’. Nat Hentoff was of course writing about John Coltrane in his sleeve notes to the album. However, his closing sentence could equally apply to Gilad Atzmon; 
‘He asks so much of himself that he can thereby bring a great deal to the listener who is also willing to try relatively unexplored territory with him.’
 
All praise to Gilad Atzmon and the Orient House Ensemble and to everyone at the Progress Theatre for hosting a truly memorable event; a wonderful evocation of the spirit and enduring legacy of John Coltrane.


TREVOR BANNISTER
 
 

Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble, ‘Spirit of Trane’, Progress Theatre, Reading, 18/01/2019.

Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Reviewed by: Trevor Bannister

Live Review

4-5 out of 5

Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble, ‘Spirit of Trane’, Progress Theatre, Reading, 18/01/2019.
Photography: Photograph by Colin Swain

"A wonderful evocation of the spirit and enduring legacy of John Coltrane". Guest contributor Trevor Bannister enjoys being challenged by the music of Gilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble.

Jazz at Progress
 
Gilad Atzmon and the Orient House Ensemble, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire.
 
Friday 18 January
 
Gilad Atzmon, soprano, alto & tenor saxophones, Ross Stanley, piano, Yaron Stavi bass, Enzo Zirilli drums
 
 
Their ears assailed by what seemed like an obsessive twenty-three-minute solo outing of ‘My Favourite Things’ on a strange high-pitched serpent-like instrument, the soprano saxophone, large chunks of the audience voted with their feet and beat a hasty retreat from the Gaumont State Kilburn on the opening night of John Coltrane’s first, and only, visit to Britain on 11th November 1961.

 ‘WHAT HAPPENED!’ screamed the Melody Maker headline. It left the paper’s Bob Dawbarn, ‘baffled, bothered and bewildered’. The critical debate continued unabated in the jazz press with Benny Green, saxophonist, writer, broadcaster and general know-all, who incidentally didn’t attend the concert (or any that followed in Birmingham, Glasgow or Newcastle for that matter) adding his two-penny-worth by declaring that ‘Coltrane threatens to upset the entire jazz conception’. And thus, John Coltrane added his name to those of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, judged respectively to be ‘too loud’ and ‘too exotic’ when they first played on these shores; in Coltrane’s case he was ‘too loud’, ‘too exotic’ and ‘too long’.
 
With this occasion in mind, ‘Are you ready to be challenged?’ seemed a fair question for Gilad Atzmon to ask in his inimitable and uncompromising manner as he set the scene for a two-hour concert inspired by the ‘Spirit of Trane’; have we Brits become more attuned to the sound and emotional impact of John Coltrane over the passage of nearly sixty years?
 
‘Yes!’ came the resounding response from the sell-out Progress audience, in perhaps the nearest experience we shall ever have of listening ‘live’ to John Coltrane. True, there were no marathon solos, or any of the ugly, grating sounds from the latter days of Coltrane’s much-too-short career, and he did break us in gently with the beautiful ‘In A Sentimental Mood’ from the 1962 collaboration with Duke Ellington, and the Latin breeze of ‘Invitation’, but come ‘Moment’s Notice’ he hit the ground running and it was as much as we could do from then on to keep up.
 
It wasn’t so much the ferocious tempo that was so impressive, but rather the sheer momentum of Atzmon’s playing. Fuelled by Enzo Zirilli’s drums, the rock-steady bass of Yaron Stavi and Ross Stanley’s timely contributions at the keyboard, the notes flowed from Gilad’s tenor in a torrent so characteristic of Coltrane and which prompted the writer Ira Gitler to coin the phrase ‘sheets of sound’; each as hard-edged as steel and filled with a haunting melancholy. And yet, however complex the improvisation became it never lost touch with the original theme, suggesting that Coltrane was actually a far greater ‘tunesmith’ than he was ever credited for.
 
The sublime ballad ‘Say It Is’, in which bassist Yaron Stavi demonstrated that the art of playing a melodic walking bass solo is still alive and well, provided a welcome breathing space before the band launched into another maelstrom of sound. And Gilad set yet another challenge, or maybe he was simply playing mesmerizing tricks with our aural senses. What was he playing? ‘Scarborough Fair’? ‘My Favourite Things’? Ross Stanley kindly resolved the conundrum in a brief interval chat and confirmed that ‘it was both!’ No matter, the effect was enthralling!
 
‘Big Nick’, a catchy dedication to ‘Big’ Nick Nicholas, the tenor saxophonist alongside whom Coltrane sat in the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, and another title from the Ellington collaboration, brought the first set to a light-hearted conclusion.
 
The second set opened with ‘Impressions’ and ‘Naima’, the name of Coltrane’s then wife, and each bore the imprint of his fascination for Far Eastern philosophy and mysticism. Gilad switched from soprano to alto for ‘Giant Steps’ with the assurance that he would take the tune at a more leisurely waltz time than the breakneck speed of Coltrane’s original recording. He failed … and matched the original in every detail in a breathtaking display of virtuosity.
 
‘What’s New’ brought another change of instrument. Gilad switched to his tenor, a beautiful product of English craftsmanship as he explained, made in 1926. Coincidence or what? 1926 was the year of John Coltrane’s birth. It provided the perfect vehicle for Bob Haggart’s tender ballad, a tune more often associated with trumpet players than saxophonists.
 
I would guess that Gilad’s original composition ‘The Burning Bush’ is open to many interpretations, but for me it stood as a series of lamentations, expressing a sense of near-despair, etched even more deeply by his use of vocal cries to separate each section and Enzo Zirilli’s emotionally charged drum solo and percussive effects. Listening to it was an extraordinarily moving experience.
 
What better way to round off the evening than ‘Mr. P.C.’; not a description of Gilad Atzmon, but a dedication to bassist Paul Chambers, Coltrane’s colleague in the Miles Davis Quintet and countless other recordings including the monumental ‘Giant Steps’. Nat Hentoff was of course writing about John Coltrane in his sleeve notes to the album. However, his closing sentence could equally apply to Gilad Atzmon; 
‘He asks so much of himself that he can thereby bring a great deal to the listener who is also willing to try relatively unexplored territory with him.’
 
All praise to Gilad Atzmon and the Orient House Ensemble and to everyone at the Progress Theatre for hosting a truly memorable event; a wonderful evocation of the spirit and enduring legacy of John Coltrane.


TREVOR BANNISTER
 
 

Wandering Monster - Wandering Monster Rating: 4 out of 5 Wandering Monster can be justifiably proud of this excellent début. Leader Sam Quintana's writing is mature and evocative, and the standard of musicianship is remarkably high throughout.

Wandering Monster

“Wandering Monster”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0023)

Wandering Monster is a young, new quintet led by the Leeds based bassist and composer Sam Quintana.

The band’s eponymous début album features the leader on double bass together with Ben Powling on saxophones, Calvin Travers on guitar, Aleks Podrraza on piano, Rhodes and organ and Tom Higham at the drums.

The group has already established a strong following in the North of England and are currently touring nationally in support of their first album. They were the winners of the 2016/17 Jazz North Introduces Award and have supported such acts as saxophonist Seamus Blake and the bands Trio HLK and Mammal Hands.

Saxophonist Powling has also played with WorldService Project as well as fronting his own groups, including the twelve piece afrobeat / cosmic jazz ensemble Mansion of Snakes, plus more conventional jazz trios and quartets.

Wandering Monster’s music combines the harmonic, rhythmic and improvisational qualities of jazz with the influences of contemporary rock and metal as Quintana explains;
“My early