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REVIEW

Gareth Lockrane Big Band - Fistfight At The Barndance Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Colourful, contemporary big band jazz with the skilful compositions and arrangements brought to vivid life by a highly talented gathering of musicians.

Gareth Lockrane Big Band

“Fistfight At the Barndance”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4710)

Released in August 2017 here is an album that has been sitting in the ‘to do’ file for far too long.

Musician, composer and educator Gareth Lockrane has long been regarded as Britain’s premier jazz flautist. Born in 1976 he took up the instrument at the age of ten inspired by the likes of Frank Wess, Roland Kirk, Joe Farrell, Hubert Laws, Eric Dolphy and other names to be found in his father’s record collection. He progressed through NYJO, with whom he still retains close links as a writer and arranger ,and also studied in the UK under Stan Sulzmann and Eddie Parker and in New York with Joe Lovano and others.

In 2002 he formed the quintet Grooveyard fronted by himself and saxophonist Alex Garnett and driven by the Hammond organ of firstly Pete Whittaker and latterly Ross Stanley. The group have released three albums “Roots”, “Put The Cat Out” (2003) and “The Strut” (2012).

Lockrane has also fronted his own septet, a unit capable of generating a surprisingly big sound, with which he released the album “No Messin’ “ back in 2010.

He has also been part of the more intimate Bannau Trio,  a ‘chamber jazz’ group featuring the vocal and lyrical talents of Nia Lynn and with the versatile Stanley on piano.

As a sideman Lockrane has worked with guitarists Phil Robson and Dan Messore, organist James Taylor, vocalist Christine Tobin and drummer Asaf Sirkis among many others.

For a number of years Lockrane has run his own Big Band featuring some of London’s leading jazz musicians, the personnel spanning a variety of jazz generations. “it’s a celebration of the musicians community in the UK” as Lockrane remarks in his liner notes to this, the début release from his Big Band.

Lockrane’s Big Band is an extension of his septet and of the Grooveyard group and has been in existence since 2008. In 2012 I reviewed a performance by the Big Band at the Spice of Life as part of that year’s London Jazz Festival. Some of the pieces played that day have found their way onto the new album, as have some of the musicians, but the GLBB of 2017 is very different in terms of personnel to that of 2012.

For the record the line up on “Fist Fight At The Barn Dance” comprises of;

Gareth Lockrane – flute/ alto & bass flutes/ piccolo /compositions 
Steve Fishwick, Henry Collins, Andy Greenwood, Tom Walsh – trumpets, flugels 
Sam Mayne, James Gardiner-Bateman – alto & soprano saxes, clarinets
Graeme Blevins, Nadim Teimoori -tenor saxes, flute
Paul Booth – tenor sax, flute ( tracks 3, 4, 9 – replacing Blevins)
Richard Shepherd – baritone sax, bass clarinet
Mark Nightingale, Barnaby Dickinson, Trevor Mires- trombones 
Barry Clements – bass trombone
Mike Outram - guitar 
Ross Stanley - piano/Rhodes/organ 
Ryan Trebilcock - double/electric bass 
Ian Thomas - drums 
Hugh Wilkinson - percussion 
Jonny Mansfield – marimba (track 2)
Nick Smart – conductor


Of the choice of personnel Lockrane comments;
 “There are contemporaries of mine from college, including Steve Fishwick, Henry Collins, Sammy Mayne and Mike Outram; some of the players, such as Ian Thomas and Mark Nightingale, were pillars of the scene when I originally moved down to London; and then there are the younger musicians I taught at the Royal Academy of Music – for example, Tom Walsh, James Gardiner-Bateman and Nadim Teimoori. So I feel a great connection with this extraordinary bunch of guys from across the generations; and with so many fine soloists amongst them, it’s satisfying to provide each with the opportunity to shine”. 

Lockrane says of the recording;
“This début album of my big band has long been an ambition of mine to put together, something I have been promising to do ever since the band had its first gig in 2008. I wanted to present my tunes on a grand scale, combining my jazz roots and love of orchestration with influences from everywhere else; film music, rock, cop show funk, Indian raga sounds, gospel, soul and classical music. All combine here to produce what I hope is as enjoyable for the listener as it was for me to write for and be a part of”.

He cites the influence of such musician/composers as Jaco Pastorius, Thad Jones, Oliver Nelson, Herbie Hancock, Kenny Wheeler and Dizzy Gillespie, artists who could “duck around and improvise inside their own forms and arrangements and constantly generate fresh small group ideas within a lavish large ensemble framework”.

Among others who have been suggested as influences are jazz composers Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Charles Mingus plus the composer/arrangers Bernard Herrmann and Henry Mancini, figures more associated with writing for films and television. Lockrane himself has a degree in film composition.

Lockrane continues;
“It’s about sustaining a mood and arranging the sounds so that every moment counts, while also allowing each section the opportunity to enjoy the freedom. And my own role is intentionally quite loose, playing off the band or ducking around inside the arrangements as a middle-man between the rhythm section and the horns”. 

The album was recorded over the course of a single day in November 2016 at the Fish Factory studio in London by engineer Ben Lamdin before being mixed and mastered by Tyler McDiarmid in New York. Consequently there’s a live, spontaneous feel about the music, almost as if the Band had been documented at a gig.

The recording kicks off the title track, a piece inspired by Lockrane’s late father Eric as Gareth explains:
“My dad was an outstanding self-taught jazz and blues harmonica player and had a 6/8 blues riff up his sleeve.  He called it “Fistfight at the Barndance” and always wanted to see it through to being a bona fide tune. It always struck me as a great title with a healthy dose of anarchic imagery and as a tribute to him it is a version of his riff which triggers off the New Orleans call and response sections”.
Lockrane Senior’s riff is certainly an infectious affair that helps to generate those exchanges between the leader’s flute and the horns, with Stanley’s Hammond also playing a prominent part in the arrangement. It also helps to fuel the opening solo from Dickinson on fruity, but agile trombone. He’s followed by the purer sound of the leader’s flute and finally the fleet fingered Stanley at the piano. It’s a piece that was featuring in the Band’s repertoire back in 2012 and which was played at the Spice.

Thomas kick starts the funky “Do It” which has something of the feel of a cop show theme and packs a series of concise solos into its near seven minute duration. Blevins’ fluent tenor leads the way followed by the rasp of Mires on trombone and then by Outram on guitar, the latter with a solo that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Steely Dan album. There’s also a drum and percussion dialogue involving Thomas and Wilkinson towards the close.

The ballad “We’ll Never Meet Again” is another piece that was performed at the ‘Spice’. Here it represents a welcome change of mood and pace, with a sparse arrangement paced by Trebilcock’s acoustic bass and featuring the warm sound of the leader on ( I think) alto flute. The horn arrangements are correspondingly lush while Outram demonstrates another side to his playing with a coolly elegant guitar solo.

“On The Fly” raises the energy levels once more with its soulful grooves and rich orchestrations allied to solos from Lockrane on flute,  a supremely fluent Fishwick on trumpet and visiting saxophonist Paul Booth on loquacious tenor.

The aptly named “Stutterfunk” is another piece to survive from the Spice session.  Introduced by Thomas and Wilkinson a new, funky, hard driving arrangement sees Trebilcock moving to electric bass while the punchy horn arrangements frame solos from Gardiner-Bateman on incisive alto and Stanley on grooving, gospel fuelled Hammond. Eventually Thomas gets to enjoy a final high energy drum break.

“Forever Now” cools things down once more with a gently mellifluous arrangement featuring muted horn voicings with solos coming from the leader on flute and Teimoori on tenor, the latter introducing a slight edge to the proceedings.

The lively “Aby7innia” deploys predictably complex rhythms but the GLBB take it in their stride with Blevins on tenor and Collins on trumpet the featured horn soloists, both taking flight amidst some impressive section playing. Meanwhile big hitter Ian Thomas again relishes a series of fiery drum breaks.

Guitarist Outram comes to the fore on the punchy, bluesy “Roots”, sounding almost Scofield like at times as he shares the solos with Nightingale on similarly blues infused trombone and rising sax star Teimoori on tenor, the latter with Stanley’s Hammond surging behind him.

Another composition to survive from 2012 is Lockrane’s “Mel’s Spell”, written after Lockrane had witnessed the Mel Lewis Big Band playing at the Village Vanguard in New York City – lucky chap, I’m feeling quite jealous.  The elegant, sometimes rousing new arrangement features solos from the leader on flute and Stanley at the piano.

“One For Junia” introduces itself by shimmering gently on the horizon with the leader’s flute prominent in the arrangement. However it soon settles into a busy groove, gradually building in intensity as the piece progresses. A vibrant arrangement includes some excellent ensemble playing and also finds room for cogent solos from Lockrane on flute and Mayne on probing alto.

The album concludes with the appropriately strident “5B3 Boogie” with Stanley’s Hammond helping to fuel solos from Fishwick on trumpet and Shepherd on baritone sax as the rest of the ensemble swings prodigiously. Meanwhile Thomas’ drums help to propel the music to an authentically rousing big band climax.

Having witnessed the many headed, multi-limbed beast that is the Gareth Lockrane Big Band in action I’m pleased to see that Gareth has finally been able to document his large ensemble writing on disc. At 78 minutes in length this is a value for money collection of colourful, contemporary big band jazz with the skilful compositions and arrangements brought to vivid life by a highly talented gathering of musicians. There are some excellent solos peppered throughout the album and some superior ensemble playing but the bulk of the plaudits must go to Lockrane for having the vision to bring all this together while playing a blinder himself.

 

Fistfight At The Barndance

Gareth Lockrane Big Band

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Fistfight At The Barndance

Colourful, contemporary big band jazz with the skilful compositions and arrangements brought to vivid life by a highly talented gathering of musicians.

Gareth Lockrane Big Band

“Fistfight At the Barndance”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4710)

Released in August 2017 here is an album that has been sitting in the ‘to do’ file for far too long.

Musician, composer and educator Gareth Lockrane has long been regarded as Britain’s premier jazz flautist. Born in 1976 he took up the instrument at the age of ten inspired by the likes of Frank Wess, Roland Kirk, Joe Farrell, Hubert Laws, Eric Dolphy and other names to be found in his father’s record collection. He progressed through NYJO, with whom he still retains close links as a writer and arranger ,and also studied in the UK under Stan Sulzmann and Eddie Parker and in New York with Joe Lovano and others.

In 2002 he formed the quintet Grooveyard fronted by himself and saxophonist Alex Garnett and driven by the Hammond organ of firstly Pete Whittaker and latterly Ross Stanley. The group have released three albums “Roots”, “Put The Cat Out” (2003) and “The Strut” (2012).

Lockrane has also fronted his own septet, a unit capable of generating a surprisingly big sound, with which he released the album “No Messin’ “ back in 2010.

He has also been part of the more intimate Bannau Trio,  a ‘chamber jazz’ group featuring the vocal and lyrical talents of Nia Lynn and with the versatile Stanley on piano.

As a sideman Lockrane has worked with guitarists Phil Robson and Dan Messore, organist James Taylor, vocalist Christine Tobin and drummer Asaf Sirkis among many others.

For a number of years Lockrane has run his own Big Band featuring some of London’s leading jazz musicians, the personnel spanning a variety of jazz generations. “it’s a celebration of the musicians community in the UK” as Lockrane remarks in his liner notes to this, the début release from his Big Band.

Lockrane’s Big Band is an extension of his septet and of the Grooveyard group and has been in existence since 2008. In 2012 I reviewed a performance by the Big Band at the Spice of Life as part of that year’s London Jazz Festival. Some of the pieces played that day have found their way onto the new album, as have some of the musicians, but the GLBB of 2017 is very different in terms of personnel to that of 2012.

For the record the line up on “Fist Fight At The Barn Dance” comprises of;

Gareth Lockrane – flute/ alto & bass flutes/ piccolo /compositions 
Steve Fishwick, Henry Collins, Andy Greenwood, Tom Walsh – trumpets, flugels 
Sam Mayne, James Gardiner-Bateman – alto & soprano saxes, clarinets
Graeme Blevins, Nadim Teimoori -tenor saxes, flute
Paul Booth – tenor sax, flute ( tracks 3, 4, 9 – replacing Blevins)
Richard Shepherd – baritone sax, bass clarinet
Mark Nightingale, Barnaby Dickinson, Trevor Mires- trombones 
Barry Clements – bass trombone
Mike Outram - guitar 
Ross Stanley - piano/Rhodes/organ 
Ryan Trebilcock - double/electric bass 
Ian Thomas - drums 
Hugh Wilkinson - percussion 
Jonny Mansfield – marimba (track 2)
Nick Smart – conductor


Of the choice of personnel Lockrane comments;
 “There are contemporaries of mine from college, including Steve Fishwick, Henry Collins, Sammy Mayne and Mike Outram; some of the players, such as Ian Thomas and Mark Nightingale, were pillars of the scene when I originally moved down to London; and then there are the younger musicians I taught at the Royal Academy of Music – for example, Tom Walsh, James Gardiner-Bateman and Nadim Teimoori. So I feel a great connection with this extraordinary bunch of guys from across the generations; and with so many fine soloists amongst them, it’s satisfying to provide each with the opportunity to shine”. 

Lockrane says of the recording;
“This début album of my big band has long been an ambition of mine to put together, something I have been promising to do ever since the band had its first gig in 2008. I wanted to present my tunes on a grand scale, combining my jazz roots and love of orchestration with influences from everywhere else; film music, rock, cop show funk, Indian raga sounds, gospel, soul and classical music. All combine here to produce what I hope is as enjoyable for the listener as it was for me to write for and be a part of”.

He cites the influence of such musician/composers as Jaco Pastorius, Thad Jones, Oliver Nelson, Herbie Hancock, Kenny Wheeler and Dizzy Gillespie, artists who could “duck around and improvise inside their own forms and arrangements and constantly generate fresh small group ideas within a lavish large ensemble framework”.

Among others who have been suggested as influences are jazz composers Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Charles Mingus plus the composer/arrangers Bernard Herrmann and Henry Mancini, figures more associated with writing for films and television. Lockrane himself has a degree in film composition.

Lockrane continues;
“It’s about sustaining a mood and arranging the sounds so that every moment counts, while also allowing each section the opportunity to enjoy the freedom. And my own role is intentionally quite loose, playing off the band or ducking around inside the arrangements as a middle-man between the rhythm section and the horns”. 

The album was recorded over the course of a single day in November 2016 at the Fish Factory studio in London by engineer Ben Lamdin before being mixed and mastered by Tyler McDiarmid in New York. Consequently there’s a live, spontaneous feel about the music, almost as if the Band had been documented at a gig.

The recording kicks off the title track, a piece inspired by Lockrane’s late father Eric as Gareth explains:
“My dad was an outstanding self-taught jazz and blues harmonica player and had a 6/8 blues riff up his sleeve.  He called it “Fistfight at the Barndance” and always wanted to see it through to being a bona fide tune. It always struck me as a great title with a healthy dose of anarchic imagery and as a tribute to him it is a version of his riff which triggers off the New Orleans call and response sections”.
Lockrane Senior’s riff is certainly an infectious affair that helps to generate those exchanges between the leader’s flute and the horns, with Stanley’s Hammond also playing a prominent part in the arrangement. It also helps to fuel the opening solo from Dickinson on fruity, but agile trombone. He’s followed by the purer sound of the leader’s flute and finally the fleet fingered Stanley at the piano. It’s a piece that was featuring in the Band’s repertoire back in 2012 and which was played at the Spice.

Thomas kick starts the funky “Do It” which has something of the feel of a cop show theme and packs a series of concise solos into its near seven minute duration. Blevins’ fluent tenor leads the way followed by the rasp of Mires on trombone and then by Outram on guitar, the latter with a solo that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Steely Dan album. There’s also a drum and percussion dialogue involving Thomas and Wilkinson towards the close.

The ballad “We’ll Never Meet Again” is another piece that was performed at the ‘Spice’. Here it represents a welcome change of mood and pace, with a sparse arrangement paced by Trebilcock’s acoustic bass and featuring the warm sound of the leader on ( I think) alto flute. The horn arrangements are correspondingly lush while Outram demonstrates another side to his playing with a coolly elegant guitar solo.

“On The Fly” raises the energy levels once more with its soulful grooves and rich orchestrations allied to solos from Lockrane on flute,  a supremely fluent Fishwick on trumpet and visiting saxophonist Paul Booth on loquacious tenor.

The aptly named “Stutterfunk” is another piece to survive from the Spice session.  Introduced by Thomas and Wilkinson a new, funky, hard driving arrangement sees Trebilcock moving to electric bass while the punchy horn arrangements frame solos from Gardiner-Bateman on incisive alto and Stanley on grooving, gospel fuelled Hammond. Eventually Thomas gets to enjoy a final high energy drum break.

“Forever Now” cools things down once more with a gently mellifluous arrangement featuring muted horn voicings with solos coming from the leader on flute and Teimoori on tenor, the latter introducing a slight edge to the proceedings.

The lively “Aby7innia” deploys predictably complex rhythms but the GLBB take it in their stride with Blevins on tenor and Collins on trumpet the featured horn soloists, both taking flight amidst some impressive section playing. Meanwhile big hitter Ian Thomas again relishes a series of fiery drum breaks.

Guitarist Outram comes to the fore on the punchy, bluesy “Roots”, sounding almost Scofield like at times as he shares the solos with Nightingale on similarly blues infused trombone and rising sax star Teimoori on tenor, the latter with Stanley’s Hammond surging behind him.

Another composition to survive from 2012 is Lockrane’s “Mel’s Spell”, written after Lockrane had witnessed the Mel Lewis Big Band playing at the Village Vanguard in New York City – lucky chap, I’m feeling quite jealous.  The elegant, sometimes rousing new arrangement features solos from the leader on flute and Stanley at the piano.

“One For Junia” introduces itself by shimmering gently on the horizon with the leader’s flute prominent in the arrangement. However it soon settles into a busy groove, gradually building in intensity as the piece progresses. A vibrant arrangement includes some excellent ensemble playing and also finds room for cogent solos from Lockrane on flute and Mayne on probing alto.

The album concludes with the appropriately strident “5B3 Boogie” with Stanley’s Hammond helping to fuel solos from Fishwick on trumpet and Shepherd on baritone sax as the rest of the ensemble swings prodigiously. Meanwhile Thomas’ drums help to propel the music to an authentically rousing big band climax.

Having witnessed the many headed, multi-limbed beast that is the Gareth Lockrane Big Band in action I’m pleased to see that Gareth has finally been able to document his large ensemble writing on disc. At 78 minutes in length this is a value for money collection of colourful, contemporary big band jazz with the skilful compositions and arrangements brought to vivid life by a highly talented gathering of musicians. There are some excellent solos peppered throughout the album and some superior ensemble playing but the bulk of the plaudits must go to Lockrane for having the vision to bring all this together while playing a blinder himself.

 

Jeff Williams Quintet - Jeff Williams Quintet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 13/01/2018. Rating: 4 out of 5 This was ‘state of the art’ contemporary jazz delivered by a highly accomplished Anglo-American band.

Photograph of Jeff Williams sourced from the Shrewsbury Jazz Network website http://www.shrewsburyjazznetwork.co.uk


Jeff Williams Quintet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 13/01/2018.


Jeff Williams (drums, composer), John O’ Gallagher (alto sax), Josh Arcoleo (tenor sax), Kit Downes (piano), Sam Lasserson (double bass).


The American drummer and composer Jeff Williams was born in 1950 in Mount Vernon, Ohio but made his name on the jazz scenes in Boston and New York City. I first heard and enjoyed his playing on a series 1970s albums by groups led variously by saxophonist Dave Liebman, pianist Richie Beirach and bassist Frank Tusa.

The album “Coalescence”, his leadership début, appeared in 1991 but by this time Williams had dropped off my radar only to re-emerge again in the 21st century thanks to his collaborations with the British musicians Martin Speake (alto sax) and Barry Green (piano).

Williams first came to the UK in 2003 following his marriage to the American writer Lionel Shriver. The author was already based in Britain at this time and was reluctant to leave so the couple began an ongoing Transatlantic existence with Williams continuing to maintain homes in both London and New York.
 
The drummer has continued to work with both American and British musicians and the last few years have been a particularly prolific and productive period for him with the release of a number of albums variously featuring his ‘New York’ and ‘London’ bands.

2011 saw the release of “Another Time”, his début for bassist Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings label. This excellent album featured the American musicians John O’Gallagher (alto sax), Duane Eubanks (trumpet) and John Hebert (double bass). The quartet subsequently toured Britain to considerable critical acclaim in 2012 with the fruits of their labours being documented on a second Whirlwind release, the live album “The Listener”, recorded at The Vortex Jazz Club in London. I was fortunate enough to witness and review a performance by this stellar line up on the final night of that tour at The Cross in Moseley, Birmingham.

Besides his ‘American Quartet’ Williams has also run his own British quintet, the first edition of which included the twin saxophone front line of Josh Arcoleo (tenor) and Finn Peters (alto) alongside Phil Robson on guitar and Sam Lasserson on double bass. I was fortunate enough to see a hugely exciting performance by this incarnation of the group at a crowded Green Note in Camden Town as part of the 2013 EFG London Jazz Festival. The music of this particular group was documented on the live album “Concert In The Amazon”, recorded in Brazil at the Manaus Jazz Festival and released as a limited edition CD on Williams’ own Willful Music imprint http://www.willfulmusic.com

In early 2015 I witnessed and reviewed the current incarnation of the Williams Quintet at a concert at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham. By this time pianist Kit Downes had replaced the unavailable Finn Peters to complete the line up that appears on “Outlier”. That performance, a double bill with saxophonist Mike Fletcher’s trio with whom Williams also plays, included some of the “Outlier” material alongside items from the back catalogue of Williams’ ‘American’ group. 

Tonight’s performance at The Hive, an event promoted by Shrewsbury Jazz Network represented a particularly enticing prospect as it included musicians from both Williams’ New York and British bands with the American John O’Gallagher (alto sax) joining the UK musicians Josh Arcoleo (tenor sax), Kit Downes (piano) and Sam Lasserson (double bass). O’Gallagher is currently based in Birmingham while guitarist Phil Robson has moved to New York, the pair effectively changing places within the Williams group. “Not a bad swap” as the drummer/leader has observed.

The current Anglo-American quintet has been together for over a year and has performed together on a regular basis. In June 2017 the band’s performance at The Vortex was documented for release on the forthcoming live album “Lifelike” which will appear on the Whirlwind Recordings label and will hit the shelves on 20th April 2018. On this occasion the group was expanded to a sextet with the addition of a guest musician, the Portuguese trumpeter and composer Goncalo Marquez. I intend to take a look at this recording nearer to the release date.

Williams’ all star quintet drew a capacity crowd to The Hive and it was good to attend a January event at the venue without any serious weather concerns, with neither floods nor snow presenting anything to worry about. It was however a little chilly inside the venue due to a problem with the heating system, but the size of the audience plus the energy created by the playing of the five highly talented musicians ensured that this was quickly forgotten about. Williams and his colleagues ensured that things soon warmed up nicely.

Williams informed us that this was the quintet’s first gig since the recording of the live album but there were no signs of any ring rustiness as the band launched into the title track of their most recent studio release “Outlier”. Introduced by Lasserson’s melodic bass motif the piece featured the distinctive blending of the horns of O’Gallagher and Arcoleo with Downes adopting a convincing acoustic piano sound at his electric keyboard. As the two saxes intertwined a hint of wilful dissonance entered the proceedings, the kind of avant garde flourish that characterises Williams’ sometimes challenging writing. The drummer’s music is distinguished by complex written passages – all five members of the group were sight reading -  but with plenty of freedom allowed for the individual musicians to express themselves. The quintet’s sound strikes a good balance between the written and the improvised, structure and freedom. This first piece was distinguished by the overall ensemble sound and included a brief trio section as the horns temporarily dropped out and a sudden ending that caught most of the audience on the hop.

The individual voices of the band began to find expression on “The Interloper”, another tune from the “Outlier” album.  Vaguely reminiscent of the music of both Ornette Coleman and Thelonious Monk the opening horn fanfares gave way to the first genuine solo of the evening, this honour being awarded to bassist Lasserson with a feature that evolved into an absorbing dialogue with the leader’s drums. O’Gallagher then took over on incisive alto, his solo delivered from a pugilistic crouching position and becoming increasingly garrulous as it progressed. A brief passage of unaccompanied drumming from Williams then led to a final theme statement that saw the twin saxes combining powerfully.

The pace slowed with “Meeting A Stranger”, a piece which first appeared on Williams’ album 1995 “JazzBlues” but has also been in the repertoire of his ‘British Quintet’ for some time and subsequently re-appeared on “Outlier”. A gentle trio introduction with Williams deploying brushes led to a warm toned theme statement from Arcoleo on tenor , with the torch subsequently being passed to O’Gallagher on alto. The first real solo came from Downes at the piano, his keyboard lyricism followed by a gently probing excursion from Arcoleo on tenor.

Also from the “JazzBlues” album came “Borderline” which raised the energy levels again with its busy, stuttering melodic phrases and Latin-esque flourishes. Introduced by a burst of solo drumming from Williams the piece included a powerful alto solo from O’Gallagher, his staccato phrases at one juncture accompanied only by the sounds of Lasserson’s bass. The addition of piano and drums ensured that Arcoloeo’s tenor solo was more conventional in comparison and he was followed by Downes at the piano.

An excellent first set concluded with “Skulduggery”, again ushered in by Williams at the drums, his intro presaging an arresting theme statement from the unison horns of Arcoleo and O’Gallagher. The first individual feature was from Downes, who accompanied his expansive solo with a bout of Keith Jarrett-like vocalising. An unaccompanied passage of double bass from Lasserson demonstrated his twin virtues of muscularity and great dexterity. Williams clearly thinks highly of Lasserson and first worked with the bassist in saxophonist Martin Speake’s Generations group. More recently Williams and Lasserson teamed up with O’Gallagher to release the live trio recording “Valence”, which appeared on the drummer’s own Willful Music imprint in 2014. This recording also included a version of this tune, which first appeared on Williams’ 1991 solo début “Coalescence”. Tonight the piece resolved itself with a restatement of the theme by the two horns as Williams introduced his fellow band members with a spoken ‘outro’.

There was to be no let up in intensity in the second set which opened with a bristling new arrangement of the Williams tune “Dream Visitor”, driven along by the leader’s whip smart drumming. Seated bolt upright at his kit and with a steely glint in his eye Williams played with grace, power and accuracy throughout the evening, setting the benchmark for his colleagues to follow. O’Gallagher responded with a powerful solo that again embraced an avant garde dissonance. Downes followed at the piano, as resourceful as ever, and the piece also included features for both Lasserson and Williams as well as some passages featuring the dense intertwining of the two horns.

The two saxes also combined effectively on the quirky “She Can’t Be A Spy”, a tune from Williams’ 2012 album “Another Time”. Inspired by a news story about Russian spies infiltrating American society the piece also offered further opportunities for Downes and O’Gallagher to stretch out with typically adventurous and probing solos.

Written following the sad and all too early death of one of his drum students “Lament” is one of Williams’ most personal pieces. Introduced by a duet between O’Gallagher’s keening alto and Lasserson’s solemn, resonant bass the piece expressed both sorrow and anger, the anger at a premature and unnecessary death. This was a smouldering, slow burner of a piece that grew in intensity and included a stunning passage of solo double bass from the hugely impressive Lasserson. The piece ultimately concluded in a more upbeat manner with a soaring tenor solo from Arcoleo that was almost anthemic in nature, one sensed that the piece had now transformed into the celebration of a life. I recall hearing an equally effective and moving rendition of this tune by the quintet (with Robson rather than O’Gallagher) at that Green Note performance back in 2013.

Bass and piano introduced “Double Life”, subsequently combining with the leader’s drums to produce a buoyant groove that provided the springboard for a lively theme statement from the horns and subsequent solos from Downes, O’Gallagher and Williams himself.

A passage of unaccompanied hand drumming introduced “Oddity” with the addition of bass and piano providing the impetus for a double sax theme statement and subsequent solo from Arcoleo, the tenor man’s subtle probing encouraged by the prompting of the leader’s drum patterns. Downes was given the chance to stretch out at the piano during a lengthy trio episode before the two horns returned to restate the theme.

Such is the glamour of the jazz life that O’Gallagher had to make an early departure to catch the last train back to Birmingham. Thus we were to enjoy a second bout of “Skulduggery”, the theme of which was incorporated into closing number “The Hunt”. Again this was introduced by Williams at the drums who instigated a rapid bass and drum groove that provided the jumping off point for a final alto salvo from O’Gallagher, a nimble and inventive piano solo from Downes and further features for Arcoleo on tenor and Lasserson at the bass. After a rapid fire restatement of the “Skulduggery” theme O’Gallagher packed away his alto and prepared to scurry off to the station as Williams delivered a second spoken ‘outro’. “Josh Arcoleo can play enough saxophone for two” declared Williams and the tenor man responded with an intense and fiery solo, following hot on the heels of a Williams drum feature.

The remaining quartet remained on stage to deliver a deserved encore with “The Messenger”, a tune dedicated to the memory of the great Art Blakey with Arcoleo again stepping up to the plate with a marathon tenor solo that rivalled Donny McCaslin for stamina and intensity.  Arcoleo’s burly sound on the instrument also evoked an audience comparison with the playing of former Monk saxophonist Charlie Rouse. Downes also featured as a soloist and Williams enjoyed a series of fiery, Blakey-esque drum breaks as he traded phrases with Arcoleo and Downes.

This was ‘state of the art’ contemporary jazz delivered by a highly accomplished Anglo-American band who received an excellent reception from the Shrewsbury audience for their intense, but largely accessible, music. There were a few attendees who found the music a little challenging and might have enjoyed the sweetener of a standard or two but overall the reaction was hugely positive.

This was adventurous, contemporary jazz of the highest order and SJN are to be congratulated on bringing musicians of this calibre to Shrewsbury.

My thanks to Jeff Williams and Kit Downes for speaking with me afterwards and it was also good to meet publicist and booking agent Danielle White for the first time, our previous communications have all been by email or telephone – thanks to Sue Watkins of SJN for introducing us. And of course it was also good to meet up with all the other SJN regulars at the start of an exciting New Year for Shrewsbury Jazz Network. Tonight’s performance certainly got 2018 off to a great start.


Further dates on the Lifelike tour include;


3 April: Jeff Williams Lifelike album launch with Gonçalo Marquez, John O’Gallagher, Josh Arcoleo, Kit Downes, Sam Lasserson at the Vortex, London
*6 April: Jeff Williams Lifelike,The Verdict, Brighton, UK
*12 April: Jeff Williams Lifelike, East Side Jazz Club, Birmingham, UK
*26 April: Jeff Williams Lifelike, Old Town Hall Cellar, Hemel Hempstead, UK
*14 June: Jeff Williams Lifelike, Cambridge Jazz, UK
*15 June: Jeff Williams Lifelike, Harrow Arts Centre, UK


COMMENTS;

From Jeff Williams via email;

Great to see you the other night and very glad you came. Thanks so much for the detailed review. It means a great deal to me, especially since this is the first review we have received in years. Also meaningful is that you appreciate what we’re doing and have taken the trouble to cross reference the material. 

 

 

Jeff Williams Quintet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 13/01/2018.

Jeff Williams Quintet

Monday, January 15, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Jeff Williams Quintet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 13/01/2018.

This was ‘state of the art’ contemporary jazz delivered by a highly accomplished Anglo-American band.

Photograph of Jeff Williams sourced from the Shrewsbury Jazz Network website http://www.shrewsburyjazznetwork.co.uk


Jeff Williams Quintet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 13/01/2018.


Jeff Williams (drums, composer), John O’ Gallagher (alto sax), Josh Arcoleo (tenor sax), Kit Downes (piano), Sam Lasserson (double bass).


The American drummer and composer Jeff Williams was born in 1950 in Mount Vernon, Ohio but made his name on the jazz scenes in Boston and New York City. I first heard and enjoyed his playing on a series 1970s albums by groups led variously by saxophonist Dave Liebman, pianist Richie Beirach and bassist Frank Tusa.

The album “Coalescence”, his leadership début, appeared in 1991 but by this time Williams had dropped off my radar only to re-emerge again in the 21st century thanks to his collaborations with the British musicians Martin Speake (alto sax) and Barry Green (piano).

Williams first came to the UK in 2003 following his marriage to the American writer Lionel Shriver. The author was already based in Britain at this time and was reluctant to leave so the couple began an ongoing Transatlantic existence with Williams continuing to maintain homes in both London and New York.
 
The drummer has continued to work with both American and British musicians and the last few years have been a particularly prolific and productive period for him with the release of a number of albums variously featuring his ‘New York’ and ‘London’ bands.

2011 saw the release of “Another Time”, his début for bassist Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings label. This excellent album featured the American musicians John O’Gallagher (alto sax), Duane Eubanks (trumpet) and John Hebert (double bass). The quartet subsequently toured Britain to considerable critical acclaim in 2012 with the fruits of their labours being documented on a second Whirlwind release, the live album “The Listener”, recorded at The Vortex Jazz Club in London. I was fortunate enough to witness and review a performance by this stellar line up on the final night of that tour at The Cross in Moseley, Birmingham.

Besides his ‘American Quartet’ Williams has also run his own British quintet, the first edition of which included the twin saxophone front line of Josh Arcoleo (tenor) and Finn Peters (alto) alongside Phil Robson on guitar and Sam Lasserson on double bass. I was fortunate enough to see a hugely exciting performance by this incarnation of the group at a crowded Green Note in Camden Town as part of the 2013 EFG London Jazz Festival. The music of this particular group was documented on the live album “Concert In The Amazon”, recorded in Brazil at the Manaus Jazz Festival and released as a limited edition CD on Williams’ own Willful Music imprint http://www.willfulmusic.com

In early 2015 I witnessed and reviewed the current incarnation of the Williams Quintet at a concert at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham. By this time pianist Kit Downes had replaced the unavailable Finn Peters to complete the line up that appears on “Outlier”. That performance, a double bill with saxophonist Mike Fletcher’s trio with whom Williams also plays, included some of the “Outlier” material alongside items from the back catalogue of Williams’ ‘American’ group. 

Tonight’s performance at The Hive, an event promoted by Shrewsbury Jazz Network represented a particularly enticing prospect as it included musicians from both Williams’ New York and British bands with the American John O’Gallagher (alto sax) joining the UK musicians Josh Arcoleo (tenor sax), Kit Downes (piano) and Sam Lasserson (double bass). O’Gallagher is currently based in Birmingham while guitarist Phil Robson has moved to New York, the pair effectively changing places within the Williams group. “Not a bad swap” as the drummer/leader has observed.

The current Anglo-American quintet has been together for over a year and has performed together on a regular basis. In June 2017 the band’s performance at The Vortex was documented for release on the forthcoming live album “Lifelike” which will appear on the Whirlwind Recordings label and will hit the shelves on 20th April 2018. On this occasion the group was expanded to a sextet with the addition of a guest musician, the Portuguese trumpeter and composer Goncalo Marquez. I intend to take a look at this recording nearer to the release date.

Williams’ all star quintet drew a capacity crowd to The Hive and it was good to attend a January event at the venue without any serious weather concerns, with neither floods nor snow presenting anything to worry about. It was however a little chilly inside the venue due to a problem with the heating system, but the size of the audience plus the energy created by the playing of the five highly talented musicians ensured that this was quickly forgotten about. Williams and his colleagues ensured that things soon warmed up nicely.

Williams informed us that this was the quintet’s first gig since the recording of the live album but there were no signs of any ring rustiness as the band launched into the title track of their most recent studio release “Outlier”. Introduced by Lasserson’s melodic bass motif the piece featured the distinctive blending of the horns of O’Gallagher and Arcoleo with Downes adopting a convincing acoustic piano sound at his electric keyboard. As the two saxes intertwined a hint of wilful dissonance entered the proceedings, the kind of avant garde flourish that characterises Williams’ sometimes challenging writing. The drummer’s music is distinguished by complex written passages – all five members of the group were sight reading -  but with plenty of freedom allowed for the individual musicians to express themselves. The quintet’s sound strikes a good balance between the written and the improvised, structure and freedom. This first piece was distinguished by the overall ensemble sound and included a brief trio section as the horns temporarily dropped out and a sudden ending that caught most of the audience on the hop.

The individual voices of the band began to find expression on “The Interloper”, another tune from the “Outlier” album.  Vaguely reminiscent of the music of both Ornette Coleman and Thelonious Monk the opening horn fanfares gave way to the first genuine solo of the evening, this honour being awarded to bassist Lasserson with a feature that evolved into an absorbing dialogue with the leader’s drums. O’Gallagher then took over on incisive alto, his solo delivered from a pugilistic crouching position and becoming increasingly garrulous as it progressed. A brief passage of unaccompanied drumming from Williams then led to a final theme statement that saw the twin saxes combining powerfully.

The pace slowed with “Meeting A Stranger”, a piece which first appeared on Williams’ album 1995 “JazzBlues” but has also been in the repertoire of his ‘British Quintet’ for some time and subsequently re-appeared on “Outlier”. A gentle trio introduction with Williams deploying brushes led to a warm toned theme statement from Arcoleo on tenor , with the torch subsequently being passed to O’Gallagher on alto. The first real solo came from Downes at the piano, his keyboard lyricism followed by a gently probing excursion from Arcoleo on tenor.

Also from the “JazzBlues” album came “Borderline” which raised the energy levels again with its busy, stuttering melodic phrases and Latin-esque flourishes. Introduced by a burst of solo drumming from Williams the piece included a powerful alto solo from O’Gallagher, his staccato phrases at one juncture accompanied only by the sounds of Lasserson’s bass. The addition of piano and drums ensured that Arcoloeo’s tenor solo was more conventional in comparison and he was followed by Downes at the piano.

An excellent first set concluded with “Skulduggery”, again ushered in by Williams at the drums, his intro presaging an arresting theme statement from the unison horns of Arcoleo and O’Gallagher. The first individual feature was from Downes, who accompanied his expansive solo with a bout of Keith Jarrett-like vocalising. An unaccompanied passage of double bass from Lasserson demonstrated his twin virtues of muscularity and great dexterity. Williams clearly thinks highly of Lasserson and first worked with the bassist in saxophonist Martin Speake’s Generations group. More recently Williams and Lasserson teamed up with O’Gallagher to release the live trio recording “Valence”, which appeared on the drummer’s own Willful Music imprint in 2014. This recording also included a version of this tune, which first appeared on Williams’ 1991 solo début “Coalescence”. Tonight the piece resolved itself with a restatement of the theme by the two horns as Williams introduced his fellow band members with a spoken ‘outro’.

There was to be no let up in intensity in the second set which opened with a bristling new arrangement of the Williams tune “Dream Visitor”, driven along by the leader’s whip smart drumming. Seated bolt upright at his kit and with a steely glint in his eye Williams played with grace, power and accuracy throughout the evening, setting the benchmark for his colleagues to follow. O’Gallagher responded with a powerful solo that again embraced an avant garde dissonance. Downes followed at the piano, as resourceful as ever, and the piece also included features for both Lasserson and Williams as well as some passages featuring the dense intertwining of the two horns.

The two saxes also combined effectively on the quirky “She Can’t Be A Spy”, a tune from Williams’ 2012 album “Another Time”. Inspired by a news story about Russian spies infiltrating American society the piece also offered further opportunities for Downes and O’Gallagher to stretch out with typically adventurous and probing solos.

Written following the sad and all too early death of one of his drum students “Lament” is one of Williams’ most personal pieces. Introduced by a duet between O’Gallagher’s keening alto and Lasserson’s solemn, resonant bass the piece expressed both sorrow and anger, the anger at a premature and unnecessary death. This was a smouldering, slow burner of a piece that grew in intensity and included a stunning passage of solo double bass from the hugely impressive Lasserson. The piece ultimately concluded in a more upbeat manner with a soaring tenor solo from Arcoleo that was almost anthemic in nature, one sensed that the piece had now transformed into the celebration of a life. I recall hearing an equally effective and moving rendition of this tune by the quintet (with Robson rather than O’Gallagher) at that Green Note performance back in 2013.

Bass and piano introduced “Double Life”, subsequently combining with the leader’s drums to produce a buoyant groove that provided the springboard for a lively theme statement from the horns and subsequent solos from Downes, O’Gallagher and Williams himself.

A passage of unaccompanied hand drumming introduced “Oddity” with the addition of bass and piano providing the impetus for a double sax theme statement and subsequent solo from Arcoleo, the tenor man’s subtle probing encouraged by the prompting of the leader’s drum patterns. Downes was given the chance to stretch out at the piano during a lengthy trio episode before the two horns returned to restate the theme.

Such is the glamour of the jazz life that O’Gallagher had to make an early departure to catch the last train back to Birmingham. Thus we were to enjoy a second bout of “Skulduggery”, the theme of which was incorporated into closing number “The Hunt”. Again this was introduced by Williams at the drums who instigated a rapid bass and drum groove that provided the jumping off point for a final alto salvo from O’Gallagher, a nimble and inventive piano solo from Downes and further features for Arcoleo on tenor and Lasserson at the bass. After a rapid fire restatement of the “Skulduggery” theme O’Gallagher packed away his alto and prepared to scurry off to the station as Williams delivered a second spoken ‘outro’. “Josh Arcoleo can play enough saxophone for two” declared Williams and the tenor man responded with an intense and fiery solo, following hot on the heels of a Williams drum feature.

The remaining quartet remained on stage to deliver a deserved encore with “The Messenger”, a tune dedicated to the memory of the great Art Blakey with Arcoleo again stepping up to the plate with a marathon tenor solo that rivalled Donny McCaslin for stamina and intensity.  Arcoleo’s burly sound on the instrument also evoked an audience comparison with the playing of former Monk saxophonist Charlie Rouse. Downes also featured as a soloist and Williams enjoyed a series of fiery, Blakey-esque drum breaks as he traded phrases with Arcoleo and Downes.

This was ‘state of the art’ contemporary jazz delivered by a highly accomplished Anglo-American band who received an excellent reception from the Shrewsbury audience for their intense, but largely accessible, music. There were a few attendees who found the music a little challenging and might have enjoyed the sweetener of a standard or two but overall the reaction was hugely positive.

This was adventurous, contemporary jazz of the highest order and SJN are to be congratulated on bringing musicians of this calibre to Shrewsbury.

My thanks to Jeff Williams and Kit Downes for speaking with me afterwards and it was also good to meet publicist and booking agent Danielle White for the first time, our previous communications have all been by email or telephone – thanks to Sue Watkins of SJN for introducing us. And of course it was also good to meet up with all the other SJN regulars at the start of an exciting New Year for Shrewsbury Jazz Network. Tonight’s performance certainly got 2018 off to a great start.


Further dates on the Lifelike tour include;


3 April: Jeff Williams Lifelike album launch with Gonçalo Marquez, John O’Gallagher, Josh Arcoleo, Kit Downes, Sam Lasserson at the Vortex, London
*6 April: Jeff Williams Lifelike,The Verdict, Brighton, UK
*12 April: Jeff Williams Lifelike, East Side Jazz Club, Birmingham, UK
*26 April: Jeff Williams Lifelike, Old Town Hall Cellar, Hemel Hempstead, UK
*14 June: Jeff Williams Lifelike, Cambridge Jazz, UK
*15 June: Jeff Williams Lifelike, Harrow Arts Centre, UK


COMMENTS;

From Jeff Williams via email;

Great to see you the other night and very glad you came. Thanks so much for the detailed review. It means a great deal to me, especially since this is the first review we have received in years. Also meaningful is that you appreciate what we’re doing and have taken the trouble to cross reference the material. 

 

 

John Law’s Re-Creations - John Law’s Re-Creations, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 05/01/2018. Rating: 4 out of 5 "Throughout the evening, we enjoyed striking arrangements, but also great skill and invention in the solos". Guest contributor Clive Downs enjoys the sounds of pianist John Law's latest project.

John Law’s Re-Creations, Progress Theatre, Reading, Friday 5 January 2018

John Law keyboards, Sam Crockatt tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, James Agg bass, Billy Weir drums, percussion


Jazz at Progress 2018 started with an exciting evening’s original arrangements of jazz standards, and unusual pop material, from John Law’s latest project, Re-Creations.

Jazz always adapted much source material from other genres, notably popular songs. Show tunes from the last century seemed to translate easily, more recent popular genres less so. Re-Creations chooses boldly, and creates distinctive arrangements.

Percussion effects, an understated tenor melody, and orchestral string colours from keyboard, featured in a sensitive interpretation of Sting’s evocative ballad ‘Fields of Gold’, while Radiohead’s ‘Pyramid Song’, originally inspired by a Mingus composition, evoked the sounds of the Middle East in a swirling, intriguing interpretation.

Invited to ‘spot the tune’ some jazz fans of a certain age may have been defeated by another choice, Adele’s ballad ‘Hello’, but might have found Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’ more recognizable. One of few rock compositions in alternating 7/4 and 4/4 metre, this proved to be a very bluesy, earthy performance.

On ‘Call Me Al’ from Paul Simon’s Graceland album Sam Crockatt played the theme on soprano , moving to tenor to solo. As with other numbers, the piece was marked by rhythmic intensity, in this case, the Afro-American patterns associated with the original album.

Other novel pop selections included Kate Bush’s, ‘The Man with the Child in his Eyes’, and Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Can’t Help It’, both in inventive versions, with superb solos.

From the jazz repertoire we heard Monk’s blues, ‘Straight, No Chaser’, but with a deceptive introduction before the theme, and harmonically adventurous solos. His ‘Well You Needn’t’ also started on a disguised intro, then interesting solos, not least a mesmeric drum improvisation from Billy Weir, with prominent bass drum work.

Overexposed as a a jazz standard, Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ emerged in a refreshing, extended version with changes of tempo and metre. The band’s classical background shone through in piano and bass counterpoint (recalling Jacques Loussier’s ‘Play Bach’), and tierce de picardie.

From a much earlier jazz era ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ received an ingenious treatment, including a tenor theme statement in half time against an up-tempo background.

Some popular songs have attracted jazz arrangers from the outset, notably Lennon & McCartney’s ‘Norwegian Wood’, here featuring Sam Crockatt’s soprano saxophone, and Billy Weir’s virtuosity, reminding us of Elvin Jones’ polyrhythms.

Throughout the evening, we enjoyed striking arrangements, but also great skill and invention in the solos. Sam Crockatt has an original voice (not easy on the tenor), combining extended techniques such as split tone and multiphonics with harmonic fexibility. Billy Weir is a commanding drummer and percussionist. Muscular bass playing from James Agg spurred the band on, in repeated fgures, also in intricate duos with the keyboards. John Law’s own playing knitted together complex arrangements , and dazzled in counterpoint and intricate lines, often with electronic orchestral colours.

Thanks to all the Jazz at Progress team for such a great beginning to the 2018 season!


CLIVE DOWNS
(Standing in for Trevor Bannister)

John Law’s Re-Creations, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 05/01/2018.

John Law’s Re-Creations

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Reviewed by: Trevor Bannister

Live Review

4 out of 5

John Law’s Re-Creations, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 05/01/2018.
Photography: Photograph by Zoë White.

"Throughout the evening, we enjoyed striking arrangements, but also great skill and invention in the solos". Guest contributor Clive Downs enjoys the sounds of pianist John Law's latest project.

John Law’s Re-Creations, Progress Theatre, Reading, Friday 5 January 2018

John Law keyboards, Sam Crockatt tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, James Agg bass, Billy Weir drums, percussion


Jazz at Progress 2018 started with an exciting evening’s original arrangements of jazz standards, and unusual pop material, from John Law’s latest project, Re-Creations.

Jazz always adapted much source material from other genres, notably popular songs. Show tunes from the last century seemed to translate easily, more recent popular genres less so. Re-Creations chooses boldly, and creates distinctive arrangements.

Percussion effects, an understated tenor melody, and orchestral string colours from keyboard, featured in a sensitive interpretation of Sting’s evocative ballad ‘Fields of Gold’, while Radiohead’s ‘Pyramid Song’, originally inspired by a Mingus composition, evoked the sounds of the Middle East in a swirling, intriguing interpretation.

Invited to ‘spot the tune’ some jazz fans of a certain age may have been defeated by another choice, Adele’s ballad ‘Hello’, but might have found Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’ more recognizable. One of few rock compositions in alternating 7/4 and 4/4 metre, this proved to be a very bluesy, earthy performance.

On ‘Call Me Al’ from Paul Simon’s Graceland album Sam Crockatt played the theme on soprano , moving to tenor to solo. As with other numbers, the piece was marked by rhythmic intensity, in this case, the Afro-American patterns associated with the original album.

Other novel pop selections included Kate Bush’s, ‘The Man with the Child in his Eyes’, and Stevie Wonder’s ‘I Can’t Help It’, both in inventive versions, with superb solos.

From the jazz repertoire we heard Monk’s blues, ‘Straight, No Chaser’, but with a deceptive introduction before the theme, and harmonically adventurous solos. His ‘Well You Needn’t’ also started on a disguised intro, then interesting solos, not least a mesmeric drum improvisation from Billy Weir, with prominent bass drum work.

Overexposed as a a jazz standard, Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ emerged in a refreshing, extended version with changes of tempo and metre. The band’s classical background shone through in piano and bass counterpoint (recalling Jacques Loussier’s ‘Play Bach’), and tierce de picardie.

From a much earlier jazz era ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ received an ingenious treatment, including a tenor theme statement in half time against an up-tempo background.

Some popular songs have attracted jazz arrangers from the outset, notably Lennon & McCartney’s ‘Norwegian Wood’, here featuring Sam Crockatt’s soprano saxophone, and Billy Weir’s virtuosity, reminding us of Elvin Jones’ polyrhythms.

Throughout the evening, we enjoyed striking arrangements, but also great skill and invention in the solos. Sam Crockatt has an original voice (not easy on the tenor), combining extended techniques such as split tone and multiphonics with harmonic fexibility. Billy Weir is a commanding drummer and percussionist. Muscular bass playing from James Agg spurred the band on, in repeated fgures, also in intricate duos with the keyboards. John Law’s own playing knitted together complex arrangements , and dazzled in counterpoint and intricate lines, often with electronic orchestral colours.

Thanks to all the Jazz at Progress team for such a great beginning to the 2018 season!


CLIVE DOWNS
(Standing in for Trevor Bannister)

Django Bates Beloved - The Study Of Touch Rating: 4 out of 5 The album serves as a welcome reminder of Bates’ abilities as both a composer and a pianist and it’s a recording that should enhance his international reputation yet further.

Django Bates Beloved

“The Study Of Touch”

(ECM Records ECM 2534 Bar Code 573 2663)

2017 proved to be a highly productive year for the British born pianist, composer, arranger and band-leader Django Bates. First came the Edition Records release “Saluting Sgt. Pepper” featuring Bates’ arrangements for big band and vocal group of the music from the seminal Beatles album “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” on the fiftieth anniversary of its release.

Since then Bates has appeared on two excellent albums for the prestigious German label ECM, this current release, his first for the label as a leader, and “Blue Maqams” by the Tunisian born oud player Anouar Brahem. The latter also features bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette and I intend to take a look at this recording very shortly.

Meanwhile “The Study Of Touch” features Bates Beloved Trio, formed ten years ago to perform Bates’ extraordinary re-imaginings of the already complex music of bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker. Bassist Petter Eldh and drummer Peter Bruun are former students of Bates and were taught by him when the Englishman was a Professor at the Rhythmic Music Conservatoire in Copenhagen – he later held a similar post in Berne, Switzerland.

The Beloved Trio’s début “Beloved Bird”, released on Bates’ Lost Marble imprint in 2010 was a well received homage to Parker with Bates and his younger colleagues putting a fresh, contemporary slant on the music of the man called ‘Bird’. The follow up, “Confirmation” (Lost Marble, 2012) placed a greater emphasis on original material and a number of the Bates pieces from that album appear again on this current ECM recording.

I’ve been following Bates’ music for nearly thirty years and have seen his status transformed from that of ‘enfant terrible’ to comparative ‘elder statesman’, yet in so many respects the man himself hasn’t changed at all. The fifty something Bates is as charmingly impish and eccentric as ever but behind the somewhat whimsical public façade there is a highly intelligent musician and educator who has had a profound influence on the sound of European jazz.

Bates first came to my attention as a member of saxophonist Tim Whitehead’s Borderlines group but it was as a member of the young, iconoclastic, but highly skilled Loose Tubes that he really made his mark during the ‘jazz boom’ of the late 1980s. I was fortunate enough to see the band on a number of occasions during that time and have been a fan of many of its members (Bates, Iain Ballamy, Julian Arguelles, Mark Lockheart, Eddie Parker etc.) ever since and I just loved those 2014 Loose Tubes re-union gigs, especially as they included freshly commissioned new material and not just the old ‘hits’.

Since the Loose Tubes heyday I’ve kept an eye on Bates’ progress via his large ensemble Delightful Precipice, a kind of continuation of Loose Tubes, and his small group Human Chain. He also impressed rock audiences thanks to his highly productive stint with Bill Bruford’s Earthworks and has also appeared as a sideman with old LT buddies Iain Ballamy and Julian Arguelles, playing E flat peck horn with the latter’s octet.

The early 21st century was a quiet time for Bates watchers as he concentrated on his academic career but he eventually re-emerged with Beloved Trio and with the StoRMChaser Big Band, the latter also featuring his Copenhagen students, among them Eldh, flautist Julie Kjaer, saxophonists Marius Neset and Martin Stender, drummer Anton Eger and tuba player Daniel Herskedal, all now major figures on the European jazz scene.

For a while Bates adopted a more song influenced direction, making use of singers such as Josefine Cronholm and Josefine Lindstrand. The music retained much of Bates’ signature quirkiness but I’ve always enjoyed his writing and playing far more in a purely instrumental context and it’s good to see him moving in this direction once more.

Similarly I was also disappointed with the recent “Saluting Sgt. Pepper” recording. I had been expecting Bates to come along and take the songs by the scruff of the neck, thoroughly de-constructing them and putting his own unique stamp on them. Instead he hardly tampers with the structures of the tunes at all, and although the results are skilfully played and mildly diverting ultimately one is left asking “What’s the point?” - and I speak here as a long term fan of both Django Bates and The Beatles. Nevertheless the album was well received by most critics – but who would seriously choose to listen to “Saluting Sgt. Pepper” rather than the Fab Four’s original – really?

That said I’m far more enamoured with “The Study Of Touch” which places the emphasis more firmly on Bates’ original writing. Nine pieces come from the pen of leader and are featured alongside “This World” by Bates’ old mucker Iain Ballamy and “Passport” by Charlie Parker, the latter included as a reminder of this trio’s roots. Several of the Bates pieces appeared on the earlier “Confirmation” album and I suppose that I should dig out my copy of that album and make comparisons. I’ll admit to not having played it in quite a while but that’s no reflection on the quality of the music, it’s merely that I’ve been listening to and reviewing other things. That‘ s the only downside of this reviewing business, I rarely get to listen to music purely for pleasure any more.

However I suspect that the versions on “The Study Of Touch” are radically different to those from five years ago. As Bates has explained this is a trio that is rooted in improvisation and whose music is always evolving. There’s also the fact that the album was recorded at the famous Rainbow Studio in Oslo with Jan Erik Kongshaug engineering and Manfred Eicher producing. It SOUNDS like an ECM recording with Bates and his colleagues making effective use of space in a way that might be unexpected for long term Bates listeners, especially those familiar with the density and complexity of his early work.

In the days of Loose Tubes and Human Chain Bates was lauded for his imaginative and intelligent deployment of synthesisers but the Beloved Trio has acted as a welcome reminder of just what a talented acoustic pianist he is. As its title might suggest “The Study Of Touch” concentrates on the more sensitive and lyrical side of his playing with a greater focus on pure melody and he’s well supported by a sympathetic rhythm team in a trio that has established a superb, well balanced rapport during its decade together.

The new album commences with an old favourite. “Silence All the Way Down” has been in the trio’s repertoire since at least 2011 and appeared on the “Confirmation” album. It’s an unconventional opener with its sombre, descending pianistic motif embellished by Bruun’s delicate cymbal work.

“Giorgiantics” also appeared on the earlier recording and serves as a reminder of just how well balanced the trio is with Eldh’s bass prominent in the arrangement. Boppish, Parker inspired flourishes alternate with more reflective, obviously ‘European’ episodes as Bates and his colleagues vary the dynamics and enter into finely detailed group interplay.

“Little Petherick” is even older and was first recorded by the quartet Human Chain on the 1993 Bates album “Summer Fruits (And Unrest)”, a recording that also featured the nineteen piece ensemble Delightful Precipice. On this new version Bates is at his most lyrical on this beautiful musical depiction of the beauty and tranquillity of the English countryside. His playing is complemented by the melodic counterpoint of Eldh’s bass and the delicate detail of Bruun’s drumming as the trio make effective use of space in the best ECM tradition.

Sporting a typically punning Bates title “Senza Bitterness” is yet another piece that first appeared on the “Confirmation” recording. The leader’s piano is positively luminous here, again offset by Eldh’s unfailingly melodic bass and the delicate filigree of Bruun’s sensitive and sympathetic drum commentary. This is a wonderfully empathic trio and the beauty of the performance belies the rather jokey title.

“We Are Not Lost, We Are Simply Finding Our Way” was originally commissioned for the trio’s performance at the 2011 Cheltenham Jazz Festival ( I know ‘ cos I was there) and subsequently appeared on the “Confirmation” album. There’s a gently exploratory feel about the scurrying piano phrases and skittering drum patterns, and also an underlying joyousness as Bates and his colleagues negotiate their way through the complexities of the leader’s writing.

Iain Ballamy’s “This World” originally appeared on the saxophonist’s 1994 album “All Men Amen”, on which Bates played (alongside bassist Steve Watts and drummer Martin France). There’s an almost hymnal feel about this beautiful piece, originally dedicated by Ballamy to his late wife, Jess. Eldh’s sensitive, melodic bass playing is a significant feature in the arrangement while Bruun again performs with great sensitivity.

The title track was commissioned in 2013 by the Norbotten International Music Centre in Sweden but was subsequently performed at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the Proms season. Bates wrote the piece with the RAH performance in mind, the music specifically tailored for such a large space. The music itself is deliberately spacious with room left for the smallest of musical gestures to make a big impression. Nevertheless there’s still room for an expansive Bates piano solo amidst the more concentrated and finely distilled trio interplay.

“Passport” is the only Charlie Parker tune to find its way into this collection and acts as a reminder of the Beloved Trio’s origins and primary influence. It’s not a piece that the trio have tackled before with Bates remarking “the title felt pertinent in the light of Brexit”. Musically it’s a typically bright, playful and intelligent interpretation of the Parker material with Eldh again featuring as a soloist.

The lengthy “Slippage Street” is more rhythmically based than much of the other material and features a sturdy bass groove around which Bates structures his characteristically audacious piano inventions accompanied by the nervous tick of Bruun’s drums and cymbals. Combining playfulness with complexity it is arguably the piece that most closely resembles his early work from the 80s and 90s.

Bates has always had a fondness for horticultural tune titles. “Peonies As Promised” originally appeared on “Confirmation” and in part typifies that “English whimsy” style of jazz that Bates and his former Loose Tubes colleagues helped to invent.

The album concludes with the brief “Happiness All The Way Up”, a piece specifically written to complement the opener and thus to neatly bookend the album. This time the motif ascends steadily upwards and features Eldh’s high register bass. Bates final gesture is a still ascending top end piano trill. It’s a charming way to finish a very good album.

Despite the previous familiarity of some of the pieces “The Study Of Touch” is an excellent album and one senses that Bates and his colleagues have approached the material from an entirely new perspective, with Eicher also bringing his influence to bear on the music. As one would expect from ECM the album is immaculately recorded and all the nuances of this finely calibrated trio are captured in the pinpoint mix. Eldh and Bruun have grown in stature during the ten years of Beloved’s existence and there’s a sense that this is now much more a trio of equals. Both musicians acquit themselves superbly on this recording.

The album serves as a welcome reminder of Bates’ abilities as both a composer and a pianist and it’s a recording that should enhance his international reputation yet further.

The Study Of Touch

Django Bates Beloved

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

The Study Of Touch

The album serves as a welcome reminder of Bates’ abilities as both a composer and a pianist and it’s a recording that should enhance his international reputation yet further.

Django Bates Beloved

“The Study Of Touch”

(ECM Records ECM 2534 Bar Code 573 2663)

2017 proved to be a highly productive year for the British born pianist, composer, arranger and band-leader Django Bates. First came the Edition Records release “Saluting Sgt. Pepper” featuring Bates’ arrangements for big band and vocal group of the music from the seminal Beatles album “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” on the fiftieth anniversary of its release.

Since then Bates has appeared on two excellent albums for the prestigious German label ECM, this current release, his first for the label as a leader, and “Blue Maqams” by the Tunisian born oud player Anouar Brahem. The latter also features bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette and I intend to take a look at this recording very shortly.

Meanwhile “The Study Of Touch” features Bates Beloved Trio, formed ten years ago to perform Bates’ extraordinary re-imaginings of the already complex music of bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker. Bassist Petter Eldh and drummer Peter Bruun are former students of Bates and were taught by him when the Englishman was a Professor at the Rhythmic Music Conservatoire in Copenhagen – he later held a similar post in Berne, Switzerland.

The Beloved Trio’s début “Beloved Bird”, released on Bates’ Lost Marble imprint in 2010 was a well received homage to Parker with Bates and his younger colleagues putting a fresh, contemporary slant on the music of the man called ‘Bird’. The follow up, “Confirmation” (Lost Marble, 2012) placed a greater emphasis on original material and a number of the Bates pieces from that album appear again on this current ECM recording.

I’ve been following Bates’ music for nearly thirty years and have seen his status transformed from that of ‘enfant terrible’ to comparative ‘elder statesman’, yet in so many respects the man himself hasn’t changed at all. The fifty something Bates is as charmingly impish and eccentric as ever but behind the somewhat whimsical public façade there is a highly intelligent musician and educator who has had a profound influence on the sound of European jazz.

Bates first came to my attention as a member of saxophonist Tim Whitehead’s Borderlines group but it was as a member of the young, iconoclastic, but highly skilled Loose Tubes that he really made his mark during the ‘jazz boom’ of the late 1980s. I was fortunate enough to see the band on a number of occasions during that time and have been a fan of many of its members (Bates, Iain Ballamy, Julian Arguelles, Mark Lockheart, Eddie Parker etc.) ever since and I just loved those 2014 Loose Tubes re-union gigs, especially as they included freshly commissioned new material and not just the old ‘hits’.

Since the Loose Tubes heyday I’ve kept an eye on Bates’ progress via his large ensemble Delightful Precipice, a kind of continuation of Loose Tubes, and his small group Human Chain. He also impressed rock audiences thanks to his highly productive stint with Bill Bruford’s Earthworks and has also appeared as a sideman with old LT buddies Iain Ballamy and Julian Arguelles, playing E flat peck horn with the latter’s octet.

The early 21st century was a quiet time for Bates watchers as he concentrated on his academic career but he eventually re-emerged with Beloved Trio and with the StoRMChaser Big Band, the latter also featuring his Copenhagen students, among them Eldh, flautist Julie Kjaer, saxophonists Marius Neset and Martin Stender, drummer Anton Eger and tuba player Daniel Herskedal, all now major figures on the European jazz scene.

For a while Bates adopted a more song influenced direction, making use of singers such as Josefine Cronholm and Josefine Lindstrand. The music retained much of Bates’ signature quirkiness but I’ve always enjoyed his writing and playing far more in a purely instrumental context and it’s good to see him moving in this direction once more.

Similarly I was also disappointed with the recent “Saluting Sgt. Pepper” recording. I had been expecting Bates to come along and take the songs by the scruff of the neck, thoroughly de-constructing them and putting his own unique stamp on them. Instead he hardly tampers with the structures of the tunes at all, and although the results are skilfully played and mildly diverting ultimately one is left asking “What’s the point?” - and I speak here as a long term fan of both Django Bates and The Beatles. Nevertheless the album was well received by most critics – but who would seriously choose to listen to “Saluting Sgt. Pepper” rather than the Fab Four’s original – really?

That said I’m far more enamoured with “The Study Of Touch” which places the emphasis more firmly on Bates’ original writing. Nine pieces come from the pen of leader and are featured alongside “This World” by Bates’ old mucker Iain Ballamy and “Passport” by Charlie Parker, the latter included as a reminder of this trio’s roots. Several of the Bates pieces appeared on the earlier “Confirmation” album and I suppose that I should dig out my copy of that album and make comparisons. I’ll admit to not having played it in quite a while but that’s no reflection on the quality of the music, it’s merely that I’ve been listening to and reviewing other things. That‘ s the only downside of this reviewing business, I rarely get to listen to music purely for pleasure any more.

However I suspect that the versions on “The Study Of Touch” are radically different to those from five years ago. As Bates has explained this is a trio that is rooted in improvisation and whose music is always evolving. There’s also the fact that the album was recorded at the famous Rainbow Studio in Oslo with Jan Erik Kongshaug engineering and Manfred Eicher producing. It SOUNDS like an ECM recording with Bates and his colleagues making effective use of space in a way that might be unexpected for long term Bates listeners, especially those familiar with the density and complexity of his early work.

In the days of Loose Tubes and Human Chain Bates was lauded for his imaginative and intelligent deployment of synthesisers but the Beloved Trio has acted as a welcome reminder of just what a talented acoustic pianist he is. As its title might suggest “The Study Of Touch” concentrates on the more sensitive and lyrical side of his playing with a greater focus on pure melody and he’s well supported by a sympathetic rhythm team in a trio that has established a superb, well balanced rapport during its decade together.

The new album commences with an old favourite. “Silence All the Way Down” has been in the trio’s repertoire since at least 2011 and appeared on the “Confirmation” album. It’s an unconventional opener with its sombre, descending pianistic motif embellished by Bruun’s delicate cymbal work.

“Giorgiantics” also appeared on the earlier recording and serves as a reminder of just how well balanced the trio is with Eldh’s bass prominent in the arrangement. Boppish, Parker inspired flourishes alternate with more reflective, obviously ‘European’ episodes as Bates and his colleagues vary the dynamics and enter into finely detailed group interplay.

“Little Petherick” is even older and was first recorded by the quartet Human Chain on the 1993 Bates album “Summer Fruits (And Unrest)”, a recording that also featured the nineteen piece ensemble Delightful Precipice. On this new version Bates is at his most lyrical on this beautiful musical depiction of the beauty and tranquillity of the English countryside. His playing is complemented by the melodic counterpoint of Eldh’s bass and the delicate detail of Bruun’s drumming as the trio make effective use of space in the best ECM tradition.

Sporting a typically punning Bates title “Senza Bitterness” is yet another piece that first appeared on the “Confirmation” recording. The leader’s piano is positively luminous here, again offset by Eldh’s unfailingly melodic bass and the delicate filigree of Bruun’s sensitive and sympathetic drum commentary. This is a wonderfully empathic trio and the beauty of the performance belies the rather jokey title.

“We Are Not Lost, We Are Simply Finding Our Way” was originally commissioned for the trio’s performance at the 2011 Cheltenham Jazz Festival ( I know ‘ cos I was there) and subsequently appeared on the “Confirmation” album. There’s a gently exploratory feel about the scurrying piano phrases and skittering drum patterns, and also an underlying joyousness as Bates and his colleagues negotiate their way through the complexities of the leader’s writing.

Iain Ballamy’s “This World” originally appeared on the saxophonist’s 1994 album “All Men Amen”, on which Bates played (alongside bassist Steve Watts and drummer Martin France). There’s an almost hymnal feel about this beautiful piece, originally dedicated by Ballamy to his late wife, Jess. Eldh’s sensitive, melodic bass playing is a significant feature in the arrangement while Bruun again performs with great sensitivity.

The title track was commissioned in 2013 by the Norbotten International Music Centre in Sweden but was subsequently performed at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the Proms season. Bates wrote the piece with the RAH performance in mind, the music specifically tailored for such a large space. The music itself is deliberately spacious with room left for the smallest of musical gestures to make a big impression. Nevertheless there’s still room for an expansive Bates piano solo amidst the more concentrated and finely distilled trio interplay.

“Passport” is the only Charlie Parker tune to find its way into this collection and acts as a reminder of the Beloved Trio’s origins and primary influence. It’s not a piece that the trio have tackled before with Bates remarking “the title felt pertinent in the light of Brexit”. Musically it’s a typically bright, playful and intelligent interpretation of the Parker material with Eldh again featuring as a soloist.

The lengthy “Slippage Street” is more rhythmically based than much of the other material and features a sturdy bass groove around which Bates structures his characteristically audacious piano inventions accompanied by the nervous tick of Bruun’s drums and cymbals. Combining playfulness with complexity it is arguably the piece that most closely resembles his early work from the 80s and 90s.

Bates has always had a fondness for horticultural tune titles. “Peonies As Promised” originally appeared on “Confirmation” and in part typifies that “English whimsy” style of jazz that Bates and his former Loose Tubes colleagues helped to invent.

The album concludes with the brief “Happiness All The Way Up”, a piece specifically written to complement the opener and thus to neatly bookend the album. This time the motif ascends steadily upwards and features Eldh’s high register bass. Bates final gesture is a still ascending top end piano trill. It’s a charming way to finish a very good album.

Despite the previous familiarity of some of the pieces “The Study Of Touch” is an excellent album and one senses that Bates and his colleagues have approached the material from an entirely new perspective, with Eicher also bringing his influence to bear on the music. As one would expect from ECM the album is immaculately recorded and all the nuances of this finely calibrated trio are captured in the pinpoint mix. Eldh and Bruun have grown in stature during the ten years of Beloved’s existence and there’s a sense that this is now much more a trio of equals. Both musicians acquit themselves superbly on this recording.

The album serves as a welcome reminder of Bates’ abilities as both a composer and a pianist and it’s a recording that should enhance his international reputation yet further.

Nat Steele - Portrait of the Modern Jazz Quartet Rating: 3-5 out of 5 There’s no denying the charm of this album. All four musicians deliver superlative performances and their individual and collective love of their chosen material is obvious.

Nat Steele

“Portrait of the Modern Jazz Quartet”

(Trio Records TR598)

Released in September 2017 this album from self-taught vibraphonist Nat Steele and his quartet has already attracted a compelling amount of critical acclaim. The recording puts a contemporary slant on the music of the Modern Jazz Quartet – most commonly known as the MJQ – the innovative and long running group founded in the 1950s by pianist John Lewis, vibraphonist Milt Jackson, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Kenny Clarke, the latter soon replaced by Connie Kay to create the definitive MJQ line up.

Steele’s quartet features the leader on vibes alongside rising star pianist Gabriel Latchin, Italian born bass player Dario Di Lecce and the vastly experienced drummer Steve Brown.

The original MJQ helped to pioneer the fusion of jazz with classical musical forms, the latter primarily introduced to the group by its pianist and musical director John Lewis. “The MJQ is famous for bringing jazz out of the clubs and into the concert halls”, as Steele’s liner notes put it.

Steele’s MJQ inspired group (Portrait of the Modern Jazz Quartet has also been adopted as a band name) arose from the ashes of MJQ Celebration, formed in 2009 and led by the late British pianist and composer Michael Garrick. Following Garrick’s death in 2011 bassist Matt Ridley took over the leadership role before relinquishing the reins to Steele in 2016. Since Garrick founded MJQ Celebration in 2009 there have been many personnel changes with drummer Brown the only constant.

As presently constituted the Nat Steele Quartet played their first gig in 2016 and quickly established a musical rapport, staggering into the studio to record on the day after a Late, Late Show at Ronnie Scott’s. Still buzzing and in the groove the quartet remained in fine form and many of the tracks on the album are ‘first takes’.

Inspired by Milt Jackson and Cal Tjader Steele is a two mallet player and has been described by influential drummer Clark Tracey as “one of the best vibes players this country has ever produced”.
Steele has worked as a sideman with saxophonists Alex Garnett, Allison Neale and Pete Long, clarinettist Julian Bliss and guitarist Jim Mullen among others. He also co-ordinates the annual BopFest Jazz Festival at The Elgin pub in Ladbroke Grove now part of the wider EFG London Jazz Festival. I remember meeting him there (in his promoter’s role) at a lunchtime performance by a quintet co-led by Garnett and trumpeter Steve Fishwick in November 2016, shortly after this album was recorded.

The original MJQ recorded prolifically during its forty three year history and Steele readily admits that choosing a programme for this album presented quite a challenge. After much discussion they decided to focus primarily on the earlier, bebop orientated material, being primarily bebop players themselves. The energy and vivacity that they bring to their performances certainly justifies that decision.

Steele’s vibes introduce a sparkling arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Woody ‘N’ You” and his two mallets fly in an opening solo in a Latin tinged arrangement that speaks of the influence of both Jackson and Tjader. He’s followed by the excellent Latchin at the piano, a musician who also attracted considerable critical acclaim in 2017 for the release of his own bebop flavoured début album “Introducing Gabriel Latchin Trio”. My review of this album, which also featured bassist Tom Farmer and drummer Josh Morrison can be read here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/gabriel-latchin-trio-introducing-gabriel-latchin-trio/
Meanwhile Di Lecce and Brown imbue the music with an easy, effortless swing and the latter gets to enjoy a series of lively drum breaks as he trades phrases with Steele and Latchin.

John Lewis himself wrote “The Golden Striker” which successfully combines classical flourishes with an underlying bluesiness. Steele and his colleagues strike just the right balance between swing and prettiness with Di Lecce’s bass prominent in the arrangement, first melodic, then propulsive. Again Steele’s mallets skip lightly over the bars as he takes the first solo followed by Latchin at the piano as Brown’s neat drumming once more drives the tune unobtrusively along.

The MJQ’s classical leanings aren’t forgotten and the next piece is the nine minute “La Ronde Suite”, composed by Lewis and Dizzy Gillespie and arranged by Lewis. It’s still busy and swinging with a tricky, boppish theme featuring some excellent interplay between Steele and Lachin before the music sub divides into individual ‘movements’ featuring each instrumentalist in turn. Latchin maintains the initial energy at the piano before a more reflective passage showcasing the melodic, highly dexterous bass playing of Di Lecce.  The pace increases again with Steele’s nimble vibes solo. Steele and Brown then exchange ideas on the lively, colourful closing passage “Drums”, which includes a snippet of Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts”.

Lewis’ arrangement of Vernon Duke’s “Autumn in New York” acts as the vehicle for the Steele quartet to demonstrate the gentler side of their playing on a delightfully lyrical ballad performance that makes effective use of space. Delicately flowing solos come from Steele at the vibes and Lachin at the piano with understated bass and softly brushed drums gently nudging the music forwards.

Lewis’ arrangement of Sigmund Romberg’s “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” adds a dash of J.S. Bach to the original and elicits a gently swinging performance from the Steele quartet with Di Lecce taking the first solo at the bass, again combining melodicism and dexterity with a deep, swinging resonance. Lachin follows with an expansive piano solo and he’s followed by the fluent Steele at the vibes as the rhythm section subtly accelerate the pace of the tune.

A vivacious “I’ll Remember April” embodies the bebop inspired spirit of the Steele quartet with sparkling solos from Steele and Latchin enlivened by Di Lecce’s propulsive bass walk and Brown’s crisply brushed drums, the latter enjoying a lengthy break towards the latter stages of the piece.

Lewis’ “Django” represents an affectionate homage to Monsieur Reinhardt, opening with a gentle passage led by Steele’s translucent vibes before striking out into gently swinging bop infused territory. Steele takes the first solo, his vibes percolating pleasingly before he hands over to Latchin for an expansive solo that adds classical flourishes to the bebop flavours. Di Lecce and Brown offer typically succinct, but swinging, support.

Steele delivers Milt Jackson’s most famous composition, the much covered “Bag’s Groove”, with considerable élan and his solo is again followed by the consistently impressive Latchin. Meanwhile Di Lecce and Brown keep things simple, but swinging.

The album concludes with Lewis’ arrangement of Cole Porter’s “All Of You” with the Steele quartet delivering a beautiful ballad performance led by the luminous sound of the leader’s vibes and with Brown delivering a wonderfully sensitive performance with the brushes.

I’m usually a little wary of albums billed as “A Portrait of” or “A Tribute to” and generally feel that there are rather too many of this type of recording around as jazz gets increasingly bogged down by its own history – rock is going much the same way.

However that said there’s no denying the charm of this album. All four musicians deliver superlative performances and their individual and collective love of their chosen material is obvious.

The album also benefits from modern recording technology. “Portrait of the Modern Jazz Quartet” appears on bassist Andrew Cleyndert’s Trio record label and Cleyndert himself has engineered the album, mixing it with a musician’s ear. Steele receives the production credit and the sound is well balanced, clear and pristine. The clarity of the mix allows these compositions to breathe and brings out the true beauty of the writing of John Lewis and others. It also emphasises the high quality of the playing and in many respects this recording actually sounds better than the original MJQ albums which suffered from the quality of the recording technology of the time, Jackson’s vibes in particular could sound rather clanky.

Bearing all this in mind “Portrait of the Modern Jazz Quartet” is a very enjoyable and worthwhile release and one suspects that live performances by the Nat Steele Quartet will also prove to be exciting and rewarding affairs.

Portrait of the Modern Jazz Quartet

Nat Steele

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Portrait of the Modern Jazz Quartet

There’s no denying the charm of this album. All four musicians deliver superlative performances and their individual and collective love of their chosen material is obvious.

Nat Steele

“Portrait of the Modern Jazz Quartet”

(Trio Records TR598)

Released in September 2017 this album from self-taught vibraphonist Nat Steele and his quartet has already attracted a compelling amount of critical acclaim. The recording puts a contemporary slant on the music of the Modern Jazz Quartet – most commonly known as the MJQ – the innovative and long running group founded in the 1950s by pianist John Lewis, vibraphonist Milt Jackson, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Kenny Clarke, the latter soon replaced by Connie Kay to create the definitive MJQ line up.

Steele’s quartet features the leader on vibes alongside rising star pianist Gabriel Latchin, Italian born bass player Dario Di Lecce and the vastly experienced drummer Steve Brown.

The original MJQ helped to pioneer the fusion of jazz with classical musical forms, the latter primarily introduced to the group by its pianist and musical director John Lewis. “The MJQ is famous for bringing jazz out of the clubs and into the concert halls”, as Steele’s liner notes put it.

Steele’s MJQ inspired group (Portrait of the Modern Jazz Quartet has also been adopted as a band name) arose from the ashes of MJQ Celebration, formed in 2009 and led by the late British pianist and composer Michael Garrick. Following Garrick’s death in 2011 bassist Matt Ridley took over the leadership role before relinquishing the reins to Steele in 2016. Since Garrick founded MJQ Celebration in 2009 there have been many personnel changes with drummer Brown the only constant.

As presently constituted the Nat Steele Quartet played their first gig in 2016 and quickly established a musical rapport, staggering into the studio to record on the day after a Late, Late Show at Ronnie Scott’s. Still buzzing and in the groove the quartet remained in fine form and many of the tracks on the album are ‘first takes’.

Inspired by Milt Jackson and Cal Tjader Steele is a two mallet player and has been described by influential drummer Clark Tracey as “one of the best vibes players this country has ever produced”.
Steele has worked as a sideman with saxophonists Alex Garnett, Allison Neale and Pete Long, clarinettist Julian Bliss and guitarist Jim Mullen among others. He also co-ordinates the annual BopFest Jazz Festival at The Elgin pub in Ladbroke Grove now part of the wider EFG London Jazz Festival. I remember meeting him there (in his promoter’s role) at a lunchtime performance by a quintet co-led by Garnett and trumpeter Steve Fishwick in November 2016, shortly after this album was recorded.

The original MJQ recorded prolifically during its forty three year history and Steele readily admits that choosing a programme for this album presented quite a challenge. After much discussion they decided to focus primarily on the earlier, bebop orientated material, being primarily bebop players themselves. The energy and vivacity that they bring to their performances certainly justifies that decision.

Steele’s vibes introduce a sparkling arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Woody ‘N’ You” and his two mallets fly in an opening solo in a Latin tinged arrangement that speaks of the influence of both Jackson and Tjader. He’s followed by the excellent Latchin at the piano, a musician who also attracted considerable critical acclaim in 2017 for the release of his own bebop flavoured début album “Introducing Gabriel Latchin Trio”. My review of this album, which also featured bassist Tom Farmer and drummer Josh Morrison can be read here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/gabriel-latchin-trio-introducing-gabriel-latchin-trio/
Meanwhile Di Lecce and Brown imbue the music with an easy, effortless swing and the latter gets to enjoy a series of lively drum breaks as he trades phrases with Steele and Latchin.

John Lewis himself wrote “The Golden Striker” which successfully combines classical flourishes with an underlying bluesiness. Steele and his colleagues strike just the right balance between swing and prettiness with Di Lecce’s bass prominent in the arrangement, first melodic, then propulsive. Again Steele’s mallets skip lightly over the bars as he takes the first solo followed by Latchin at the piano as Brown’s neat drumming once more drives the tune unobtrusively along.

The MJQ’s classical leanings aren’t forgotten and the next piece is the nine minute “La Ronde Suite”, composed by Lewis and Dizzy Gillespie and arranged by Lewis. It’s still busy and swinging with a tricky, boppish theme featuring some excellent interplay between Steele and Lachin before the music sub divides into individual ‘movements’ featuring each instrumentalist in turn. Latchin maintains the initial energy at the piano before a more reflective passage showcasing the melodic, highly dexterous bass playing of Di Lecce.  The pace increases again with Steele’s nimble vibes solo. Steele and Brown then exchange ideas on the lively, colourful closing passage “Drums”, which includes a snippet of Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts”.

Lewis’ arrangement of Vernon Duke’s “Autumn in New York” acts as the vehicle for the Steele quartet to demonstrate the gentler side of their playing on a delightfully lyrical ballad performance that makes effective use of space. Delicately flowing solos come from Steele at the vibes and Lachin at the piano with understated bass and softly brushed drums gently nudging the music forwards.

Lewis’ arrangement of Sigmund Romberg’s “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” adds a dash of J.S. Bach to the original and elicits a gently swinging performance from the Steele quartet with Di Lecce taking the first solo at the bass, again combining melodicism and dexterity with a deep, swinging resonance. Lachin follows with an expansive piano solo and he’s followed by the fluent Steele at the vibes as the rhythm section subtly accelerate the pace of the tune.

A vivacious “I’ll Remember April” embodies the bebop inspired spirit of the Steele quartet with sparkling solos from Steele and Latchin enlivened by Di Lecce’s propulsive bass walk and Brown’s crisply brushed drums, the latter enjoying a lengthy break towards the latter stages of the piece.

Lewis’ “Django” represents an affectionate homage to Monsieur Reinhardt, opening with a gentle passage led by Steele’s translucent vibes before striking out into gently swinging bop infused territory. Steele takes the first solo, his vibes percolating pleasingly before he hands over to Latchin for an expansive solo that adds classical flourishes to the bebop flavours. Di Lecce and Brown offer typically succinct, but swinging, support.

Steele delivers Milt Jackson’s most famous composition, the much covered “Bag’s Groove”, with considerable élan and his solo is again followed by the consistently impressive Latchin. Meanwhile Di Lecce and Brown keep things simple, but swinging.

The album concludes with Lewis’ arrangement of Cole Porter’s “All Of You” with the Steele quartet delivering a beautiful ballad performance led by the luminous sound of the leader’s vibes and with Brown delivering a wonderfully sensitive performance with the brushes.

I’m usually a little wary of albums billed as “A Portrait of” or “A Tribute to” and generally feel that there are rather too many of this type of recording around as jazz gets increasingly bogged down by its own history – rock is going much the same way.

However that said there’s no denying the charm of this album. All four musicians deliver superlative performances and their individual and collective love of their chosen material is obvious.

The album also benefits from modern recording technology. “Portrait of the Modern Jazz Quartet” appears on bassist Andrew Cleyndert’s Trio record label and Cleyndert himself has engineered the album, mixing it with a musician’s ear. Steele receives the production credit and the sound is well balanced, clear and pristine. The clarity of the mix allows these compositions to breathe and brings out the true beauty of the writing of John Lewis and others. It also emphasises the high quality of the playing and in many respects this recording actually sounds better than the original MJQ albums which suffered from the quality of the recording technology of the time, Jackson’s vibes in particular could sound rather clanky.

Bearing all this in mind “Portrait of the Modern Jazz Quartet” is a very enjoyable and worthwhile release and one suspects that live performances by the Nat Steele Quartet will also prove to be exciting and rewarding affairs.

The Great Harry Hillman - Tilt Rating: 4 out of 5 A highly talented young band who have established a singular group sound and who look set for bigger things.

The Great Harry Hillman

“Tilt”

(Cuneiform Records RUNE 433)

This album was forwarded to me by London based publicist Debra Richards, a great champion of European jazz in general and Swiss Jazz in particular thanks to her involvement with the Match & Fuse movement and with the Swiss Vibes website http://www.swissvibes.org

The Great Harry Hillman is not an individual, but instead a young quartet from Lucerne, Switzerland comprised of Nils Fischer (reeds), David Koch (guitars & FX), Samuel Huwyler (bass) and Dominik Mahnig (drums). They are named after the American athlete Harry Hillman, a hurdler who won three gold medals at the 1904 summer Olympics held in St. Louis. As this was the first Olympics to be held outside Europe it is perhaps appropriate that TGHH’s latest album should be released on the American label Cuneiform, an adventurous imprint that features jazz flavoured music from all over the globe.

TGHH was formed in 2009 and has released two previous albums, the self released “Livingston” which appeared in 2013 and 2015’s “Veer Off Course” which was issued by the German label Klaeng Records. In 2015 the band also won the ZKB Jazz Prize.

On “Tilt” TGHH reveal themselves to be a highly accomplished ensemble with a very distinctive group sound that embraces elements of jazz, rock, minimalism, electronica and improv. The labels ‘post jazz’ and ‘post rock’ could both be applied to a music that acknowledges the influence of experimental rock bands such as Radian, Tortoise and Sonic Youth and contemporary jazz artists such as American guitarist Mary Halvorson and Swiss pianist Nik Bartsch.

The members of TGHH were all born in the late 1980s and all are busy musicians who are involved in other projects right across the musical spectrum (jazz, rock, folk etc.) as both leaders and sidemen and they bring their individual and collective influences and experiences to the music of The Great Harry Hillman.

TGHH think of themselves as a collective with no single member dominating the creative process. All four bring tunes to “Tilt” and describe their methods of working thus;
“We have music from all four band members on the album. Everyone brings tunes, fragments etc. and we finalise every song together. Everything is a collective decision in the end. Although we all have different backgrounds and work in different genres, it is very important that we are always open to any kind of influences from each of us. We wanted every song to have its own strong mood.  It was not our idea to feature extended solos, but to feature a strong sound as a band”.

In many ways TGHH’s music defies categorisation, their compositions aren’t structured like conventional jazz pieces, but neither do they follow the song like form of rock, although elements of both are discernible in the group sound. Instead each piece seems to develop with an internal logic, borrowing from both genres but never really being a part of either. Their use of electronics, courtesy of guitarist Koch’s range of effects, sometimes steers the music in a more ambient direction but there’s still a live feel about the music that is rooted in jazz. I’d hazard a guess that the electronics are recorded in real time rather than being a post production device. Collectively it all adds up to a highly distinctive group sound that has been praised by the innovative American drummer and composer Jim Black.

The album begins with “Snoezelen”, written by German born multi-reed player Nils Fischer. The piece commences with ambient style guitar generated electronica combined with atmospheric percussion - cymbal scrapes and shimmers etc. Gradually the piece opens out to embrace long, undulating saxophone melody lines, these providing the anchor for Mahnig to circumnavigate his kit in a busy but intrinsically musical fashion. Having reached a kind of climax the music retreats into the kind of shadowy, unsettling ambience that distinguished the intro. It all represents an unconventional, but nevertheless attention grabbing, beginning.

Mahnig’s “Strengen dankt an” is the kind of piece that any other band might have regarded as more typical opening material. Bassist Huwyler establishes a muscular groove which busy drummer Mahnig latches on to, while still maintaining an admirable degree of individual freedom. Koch joins in with some heavy, rock influenced guitar, his soloing powerful but inventive and admirably free of cliché. Like the opener this is a piece that subdivides into separate components, the introduction of Fischer on bass clarinet steers the music in a more atmospheric and reflective direction, his solo evolving into a thoughtful but unresolved dialogue with Koch’s guitar that sees the piece closing on something of a musical question mark.

The guitarist then takes up the compositional reins for “The New Fragrance” which is introduced by Mahnig with the drummer quickly combining with the composer to set up an insistent groove that forms the backdrop for Fischer’s airy saxophone melodies. The use of repeated rhythmic patterns and melodic motifs suggests the influence of minimalist composers such as Reich, Glass and Riley and of contemporary jazz artists such as E.S.T., GoGo Penguin and, particularly, Portico Quartet.

Also written by Koch “354 Degrees” begins softly with bass, guitar and saxophone gently intertwining as the melody, and the insistent underlying riff, gradually develop, with Fischer inserting a smidgeon of bass clarinet into the mix. Again the music inhabits a curious hinterland between jazz and rock without ever being quite either – and it’s certainly not ‘fusion’ in the conventional sense. TGHH or VDGG? - the piece changes course and mood around halfway through when Fischer emits the kind of banshee like sax wail that that David Jackson would have been proud of and although this is followed by some chunky, angular riffing the music still doesn’t quite follow the expected trajectory as it shades off into more ambient territory courtesy of Koch’s guitar effects. Even then there’s a surprisingly gentle coda on a near seven minute composition that represents one of the album’s centre pieces. There’s a chameleon like quality about TGHH’s music which is constantly shifting, evolving and changing hue.

Drummer Mahnig’s “Agnes fliegt” is a surprisingly gentle and atmospheric affair with the composer’s sparse brushwork and subtle percussive details accompanying the delicate, atmospheric sax and guitar melodies. There’s an attractive air of mystery about this composition, a piece imbued with a chilly, almost abstract, beauty.

Koch is the group’s most prolific composer and its his guitar that introduces his own “Remazing Ace”, linking up with bass and brushed drums to create a melody and groove that seem set to evolve into a rock song but never quite get there. Instead the arrival of Fischer’s reeds, first sax and then bass clarinet, steer the music into now familiar atmospheric, ambient territory. Again there are traces of jazz, post rock and minimalism but TGHH explore these now familiar elements in a style that never becomes boring.

Bassist Huwyler makes his compositional bow with the intriguingly titled “How to Dice an Onion”, a quirky, playful, highly rhythmic piece that mixes jazz and improv with electronica. The composer’s supple electric bass groove grounds the piece which includes choppy, treated guitar from Koch, colourful, inventive drums and percussion from Mahnig and the melodic, humanising voice of Fischer’s bass clarinet. Koch’s guitar becomes increasingly metallic as the pace increases and the track ends with the sound of studio banter from a band who clearly relish the music they create but, crucially, don’t take it too seriously.

The album concludes with the atmospheric ambience of Fischer’s “Moustache” with its treated ‘echoplex’ style guitar, wispy reeds and the shimmer and rustle of percussion. It’s a piece that would be ideally suited to a movie soundtrack.

I’d like to thank Debra Richards for forwarding me this highly enjoyable album. The Great Harry Hillman are a highly talented young band who have established a singular group sound and who look set for bigger things, thanks in part to the international distribution provided by Cuneiform. On the evidence of the consistently interesting “Tilt” it’s something that this quirkily original and highly skilled young quartet richly deserves.

Switzerland keeps throwing up genre defying acts to engage the international music audience and TGHH are part of a line that includes Vein, Schnellertollermeier, Plaistow, Rusconi, Andreas Schaerer and others. They have played at London’s Vortex Jazz Club and will be well worth looking out for should they make a return to the UK.

 

Tilt

The Great Harry Hillman

Monday, January 08, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Tilt

A highly talented young band who have established a singular group sound and who look set for bigger things.

The Great Harry Hillman

“Tilt”

(Cuneiform Records RUNE 433)

This album was forwarded to me by London based publicist Debra Richards, a great champion of European jazz in general and Swiss Jazz in particular thanks to her involvement with the Match & Fuse movement and with the Swiss Vibes website http://www.swissvibes.org

The Great Harry Hillman is not an individual, but instead a young quartet from Lucerne, Switzerland comprised of Nils Fischer (reeds), David Koch (guitars & FX), Samuel Huwyler (bass) and Dominik Mahnig (drums). They are named after the American athlete Harry Hillman, a hurdler who won three gold medals at the 1904 summer Olympics held in St. Louis. As this was the first Olympics to be held outside Europe it is perhaps appropriate that TGHH’s latest album should be released on the American label Cuneiform, an adventurous imprint that features jazz flavoured music from all over the globe.

TGHH was formed in 2009 and has released two previous albums, the self released “Livingston” which appeared in 2013 and 2015’s “Veer Off Course” which was issued by the German label Klaeng Records. In 2015 the band also won the ZKB Jazz Prize.

On “Tilt” TGHH reveal themselves to be a highly accomplished ensemble with a very distinctive group sound that embraces elements of jazz, rock, minimalism, electronica and improv. The labels ‘post jazz’ and ‘post rock’ could both be applied to a music that acknowledges the influence of experimental rock bands such as Radian, Tortoise and Sonic Youth and contemporary jazz artists such as American guitarist Mary Halvorson and Swiss pianist Nik Bartsch.

The members of TGHH were all born in the late 1980s and all are busy musicians who are involved in other projects right across the musical spectrum (jazz, rock, folk etc.) as both leaders and sidemen and they bring their individual and collective influences and experiences to the music of The Great Harry Hillman.

TGHH think of themselves as a collective with no single member dominating the creative process. All four bring tunes to “Tilt” and describe their methods of working thus;
“We have music from all four band members on the album. Everyone brings tunes, fragments etc. and we finalise every song together. Everything is a collective decision in the end. Although we all have different backgrounds and work in different genres, it is very important that we are always open to any kind of influences from each of us. We wanted every song to have its own strong mood.  It was not our idea to feature extended solos, but to feature a strong sound as a band”.

In many ways TGHH’s music defies categorisation, their compositions aren’t structured like conventional jazz pieces, but neither do they follow the song like form of rock, although elements of both are discernible in the group sound. Instead each piece seems to develop with an internal logic, borrowing from both genres but never really being a part of either. Their use of electronics, courtesy of guitarist Koch’s range of effects, sometimes steers the music in a more ambient direction but there’s still a live feel about the music that is rooted in jazz. I’d hazard a guess that the electronics are recorded in real time rather than being a post production device. Collectively it all adds up to a highly distinctive group sound that has been praised by the innovative American drummer and composer Jim Black.

The album begins with “Snoezelen”, written by German born multi-reed player Nils Fischer. The piece commences with ambient style guitar generated electronica combined with atmospheric percussion - cymbal scrapes and shimmers etc. Gradually the piece opens out to embrace long, undulating saxophone melody lines, these providing the anchor for Mahnig to circumnavigate his kit in a busy but intrinsically musical fashion. Having reached a kind of climax the music retreats into the kind of shadowy, unsettling ambience that distinguished the intro. It all represents an unconventional, but nevertheless attention grabbing, beginning.

Mahnig’s “Strengen dankt an” is the kind of piece that any other band might have regarded as more typical opening material. Bassist Huwyler establishes a muscular groove which busy drummer Mahnig latches on to, while still maintaining an admirable degree of individual freedom. Koch joins in with some heavy, rock influenced guitar, his soloing powerful but inventive and admirably free of cliché. Like the opener this is a piece that subdivides into separate components, the introduction of Fischer on bass clarinet steers the music in a more atmospheric and reflective direction, his solo evolving into a thoughtful but unresolved dialogue with Koch’s guitar that sees the piece closing on something of a musical question mark.

The guitarist then takes up the compositional reins for “The New Fragrance” which is introduced by Mahnig with the drummer quickly combining with the composer to set up an insistent groove that forms the backdrop for Fischer’s airy saxophone melodies. The use of repeated rhythmic patterns and melodic motifs suggests the influence of minimalist composers such as Reich, Glass and Riley and of contemporary jazz artists such as E.S.T., GoGo Penguin and, particularly, Portico Quartet.

Also written by Koch “354 Degrees” begins softly with bass, guitar and saxophone gently intertwining as the melody, and the insistent underlying riff, gradually develop, with Fischer inserting a smidgeon of bass clarinet into the mix. Again the music inhabits a curious hinterland between jazz and rock without ever being quite either – and it’s certainly not ‘fusion’ in the conventional sense. TGHH or VDGG? - the piece changes course and mood around halfway through when Fischer emits the kind of banshee like sax wail that that David Jackson would have been proud of and although this is followed by some chunky, angular riffing the music still doesn’t quite follow the expected trajectory as it shades off into more ambient territory courtesy of Koch’s guitar effects. Even then there’s a surprisingly gentle coda on a near seven minute composition that represents one of the album’s centre pieces. There’s a chameleon like quality about TGHH’s music which is constantly shifting, evolving and changing hue.

Drummer Mahnig’s “Agnes fliegt” is a surprisingly gentle and atmospheric affair with the composer’s sparse brushwork and subtle percussive details accompanying the delicate, atmospheric sax and guitar melodies. There’s an attractive air of mystery about this composition, a piece imbued with a chilly, almost abstract, beauty.

Koch is the group’s most prolific composer and its his guitar that introduces his own “Remazing Ace”, linking up with bass and brushed drums to create a melody and groove that seem set to evolve into a rock song but never quite get there. Instead the arrival of Fischer’s reeds, first sax and then bass clarinet, steer the music into now familiar atmospheric, ambient territory. Again there are traces of jazz, post rock and minimalism but TGHH explore these now familiar elements in a style that never becomes boring.

Bassist Huwyler makes his compositional bow with the intriguingly titled “How to Dice an Onion”, a quirky, playful, highly rhythmic piece that mixes jazz and improv with electronica. The composer’s supple electric bass groove grounds the piece which includes choppy, treated guitar from Koch, colourful, inventive drums and percussion from Mahnig and the melodic, humanising voice of Fischer’s bass clarinet. Koch’s guitar becomes increasingly metallic as the pace increases and the track ends with the sound of studio banter from a band who clearly relish the music they create but, crucially, don’t take it too seriously.

The album concludes with the atmospheric ambience of Fischer’s “Moustache” with its treated ‘echoplex’ style guitar, wispy reeds and the shimmer and rustle of percussion. It’s a piece that would be ideally suited to a movie soundtrack.

I’d like to thank Debra Richards for forwarding me this highly enjoyable album. The Great Harry Hillman are a highly talented young band who have established a singular group sound and who look set for bigger things, thanks in part to the international distribution provided by Cuneiform. On the evidence of the consistently interesting “Tilt” it’s something that this quirkily original and highly skilled young quartet richly deserves.

Switzerland keeps throwing up genre defying acts to engage the international music audience and TGHH are part of a line that includes Vein, Schnellertollermeier, Plaistow, Rusconi, Andreas Schaerer and others. They have played at London’s Vortex Jazz Club and will be well worth looking out for should they make a return to the UK.

 

Kjetil Mulelid Trio - Not Nearly Enough To Buy a House Rating: 4 out of 5 Mulelid has carved out a distinctive niche for himself, neatly straddling the cusp between composition and improvisation and avoiding the clichés of both American and Scandinavian jazz.

Kjetil Mulelid Trio

“Not Nearly Enough To Buy a House”

(Rune Grammofon RCD 2196)

This album was forwarded to me by the Norwegian pianist Kjetil Andre Mulelid who first came to my attention in 2013 as part of the Nordic trio Lauv ( the group name is the Norwegian for “Leaf”) who released the highly promising EP “De Som Er Eldre Enn Voksne” in that year, the title translating as “Those Who Are Older Than Adults”.  My review of the EP can be read here.
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/de-som-er-eldre-enn-voksne/

The following year I enjoyed seeing Mulelid perform live at the 2014 Cheltenham Jazz Festival when he was one of the star soloists at the annual Trondheim Jazz Exchange event which sees students from the Jazz courses at the Birmingham and Trondheim Conservatoires combining to make music together and presenting the results to the jazz going public.

Mulelid, born in 1991, is now a full time professional musician,  currently based in Copenhagen. Like many of his British contemporaries he is involved in a number of simultaneous projects. Lauv is no more but Mulelid leads his own piano trio (as featured here), forms half of the duo Kjemilie with vocalist Emilie Vasseljen Storaas and is part of the group Fieldfare, a song based, more pop orientated outfit featuring vocalist Siril Maldemal Hauge, drummer Andreas Winther and former Lauv bassist  Bardur Reinert Poulsen.

Mulelid and Poulsen are also members of the instrumental quartet Wako, a group that also includes alto saxophonist Martin Myhre Olsen (who appeared at the Trondheim Jazz Exchange event in 2012) and drummer Simon Olderskog Albertsen. Their début album, 2015’s “The Good Story” was very well received by the Norwegian jazz media.

Wako appears to be primarily Olsen’s project. The saxophonist wrote all the compositions and arrangements for the group’s second album “Modes for All Eternity” (2017),  an ambitious but largely successful collaboration between the Wako quartet and three members of Oslo Strings, violinist Kaja Constance Rogers,  violist Isa Caroline Holmesland and cellist Kaja Fjellberg Pettersen.  My review of that album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/wako-and-oslo-strings-modes-for-all-eternity/

Considered to be something of a rising star in his native land Mulelid’s piano trio have been signed to the prestigious Norwegian label Rune Grammofon for the release of their début album “Not Nearly Enough To Buy A House”. They are the third piano trio to feature on the label, following in the footsteps of In The Country and the Espen Eriksen Trio, yet they sound very different to both those bands.

Mulelid is joined by Bjorn Marius Hegge on double bass and Andreas Skar Winther at the drums, two busy, in demand musicians who play in a range of different contexts with a variety of other bands. Winther is also a member of Fieldfare while Hegge has previously featured on the Jazzmann web pages following an appearance at the Trondheim Jazz Exchange event at Cheltenham Jazz Festival as recently as 2016.

The Mulelid Trio’s work strikes a fine balance between composition and improvisation and the nine tracks that comprise “Not Nearly Enough To Buy A House” feature eight compositions by the leader plus one free improvisation credited to all three members of the group.

The brief “Entrance” begins with the sound of double bass and brushed drums before Mulelid arrives to deliver a snippet of piano melody that manages to be both sombre and anthemic, but ultimately uplifting. It all lasts little more than a minute and a half and, as other reviewers have noted, it almost sounds like the closing stages of a longer performance. It certainly makes for an interesting, if unorthodox, start with Mulelid and his colleagues quickly seizing the listener’s attention.

In terms of duration “Fly, Fly” is more substantial, developing slowly and organically via Mulelid’s elegant piano chording with Hegge’s bass providing the anchor as Winther adds succinct, finely detailed drum commentary. There’s an abrupt change of mood mid tune with a brief passage of unaccompanied piano before the trio stretch out more freely, pushing more forcefully at the boundaries of the piece. Mulelid’s expansive solo is sometimes reminiscent of Keith Jarrett, even down to the vocalisations that follow the trajectory of his playing. Meanwhile Winther’s drumming becomes more vigorous and less restrained as the music gathers momentum before slowing down again for a further passage of solo piano followed by a group restatement of the opening theme as the piece finally resolves itself. This is a highly involving piece of music offering lots of interesting musical ideas and a high level of group interplay, particularly between the piano and drums.

“Children’s Song”, with a title nodding towards Chick Corea, is less complex but no less beautiful with its wistful piano melodies, sensitively brushed drums and melodic bass interjections. Again there’s something of a hint of Jarrett in Mulelid’s soloing as the music gradually gathers a degree of momentum.

“You Stood There In Silence, Having No Words” takes the trio into freer, more exploratory waters in a genuine three way exchange in which the comparative economy of the playing of both Mulelid and Hegge contrasts with the restless, but consistently absorbing and apposite, drum commentary from Winther.
A piece like this makes the listener appreciate just how finely attuned this trio is, a quality that is again made manifest in the following “C & R”, a genuine collective improvisation that features similar levels of interaction and takes the trio even further into uncharted territory.  This includes the use of extended techniques with Mulelid sometimes operating ‘under the lid’ while Winther deploys cymbal scrapes and items of small percussion. It should be said that both these pieces contain moments of genuine beauty, a word not always closely associated with ‘free jazz’.

“C & R” segues almost imperceptibly into “From Someone Else’s Point Of View” (the title an E.S.T. reference, perhaps). The music continues to inhabit the hinterland between composition and improvisation and again there’s the sense of a genuine musical conversation going on with the dialogue between Mulelid and Winther again particularly compelling with the drummer playing with a great sense of drama throughout, alternately brutal and delicate.

“Time/Breath” begins with a passage of delicate, atmospheric percussion and there’s an ECM-like sense of space about the piece as piano and bowed bass are added to the equation in a sombre, delicately brooding performance that again embraces extended techniques and which sounds as if it may have been largely improvised.

Tracks three to seven explore similar musical areas and they feel thematically linked, almost semi-conceptual. A good deal of thought has obviously gone into the scheduling of the recording.
“Leaving Home” is more obviously composed and is much more rhythmic and groove based - but still with plenty of room for self expression, particularly from Mulelid, who solos rhythmically and with great energy, and from the relentlessly busy Winther.

The album concludes with “Three Last Words” which features a gorgeous piano melody and which promises to end the work on an elegiac note. However a prolonged passage of silence leads to a final three-way exchange that emphasises both the adventurousness and compatibility of this well balanced and highly democratic trio.

In the overcrowded world of the piano trio Kjetil Mulelid has carved out a distinctive niche for himself,  neatly straddling the cusp between composition and improvisation and avoiding the clichés of both American and Scandinavian jazz. It’s an interesting place to be and creates music that represents absorbing, if occasionally challenging, listening.

Drummer Winther represents an interesting new discovery for me. Bright, inventive, receptive and energetic he shines throughout the performance. I’d certainly welcome the opportunity of hearing him in other contexts such as the septet Megalodon Collective or the sax/drums duo Left Exit.

Not Nearly Enough To Buy a House

Kjetil Mulelid Trio

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Not Nearly Enough To Buy a House

Mulelid has carved out a distinctive niche for himself, neatly straddling the cusp between composition and improvisation and avoiding the clichés of both American and Scandinavian jazz.

Kjetil Mulelid Trio

“Not Nearly Enough To Buy a House”

(Rune Grammofon RCD 2196)

This album was forwarded to me by the Norwegian pianist Kjetil Andre Mulelid who first came to my attention in 2013 as part of the Nordic trio Lauv ( the group name is the Norwegian for “Leaf”) who released the highly promising EP “De Som Er Eldre Enn Voksne” in that year, the title translating as “Those Who Are Older Than Adults”.  My review of the EP can be read here.
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/de-som-er-eldre-enn-voksne/

The following year I enjoyed seeing Mulelid perform live at the 2014 Cheltenham Jazz Festival when he was one of the star soloists at the annual Trondheim Jazz Exchange event which sees students from the Jazz courses at the Birmingham and Trondheim Conservatoires combining to make music together and presenting the results to the jazz going public.

Mulelid, born in 1991, is now a full time professional musician,  currently based in Copenhagen. Like many of his British contemporaries he is involved in a number of simultaneous projects. Lauv is no more but Mulelid leads his own piano trio (as featured here), forms half of the duo Kjemilie with vocalist Emilie Vasseljen Storaas and is part of the group Fieldfare, a song based, more pop orientated outfit featuring vocalist Siril Maldemal Hauge, drummer Andreas Winther and former Lauv bassist  Bardur Reinert Poulsen.

Mulelid and Poulsen are also members of the instrumental quartet Wako, a group that also includes alto saxophonist Martin Myhre Olsen (who appeared at the Trondheim Jazz Exchange event in 2012) and drummer Simon Olderskog Albertsen. Their début album, 2015’s “The Good Story” was very well received by the Norwegian jazz media.

Wako appears to be primarily Olsen’s project. The saxophonist wrote all the compositions and arrangements for the group’s second album “Modes for All Eternity” (2017),  an ambitious but largely successful collaboration between the Wako quartet and three members of Oslo Strings, violinist Kaja Constance Rogers,  violist Isa Caroline Holmesland and cellist Kaja Fjellberg Pettersen.  My review of that album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/wako-and-oslo-strings-modes-for-all-eternity/

Considered to be something of a rising star in his native land Mulelid’s piano trio have been signed to the prestigious Norwegian label Rune Grammofon for the release of their début album “Not Nearly Enough To Buy A House”. They are the third piano trio to feature on the label, following in the footsteps of In The Country and the Espen Eriksen Trio, yet they sound very different to both those bands.

Mulelid is joined by Bjorn Marius Hegge on double bass and Andreas Skar Winther at the drums, two busy, in demand musicians who play in a range of different contexts with a variety of other bands. Winther is also a member of Fieldfare while Hegge has previously featured on the Jazzmann web pages following an appearance at the Trondheim Jazz Exchange event at Cheltenham Jazz Festival as recently as 2016.

The Mulelid Trio’s work strikes a fine balance between composition and improvisation and the nine tracks that comprise “Not Nearly Enough To Buy A House” feature eight compositions by the leader plus one free improvisation credited to all three members of the group.

The brief “Entrance” begins with the sound of double bass and brushed drums before Mulelid arrives to deliver a snippet of piano melody that manages to be both sombre and anthemic, but ultimately uplifting. It all lasts little more than a minute and a half and, as other reviewers have noted, it almost sounds like the closing stages of a longer performance. It certainly makes for an interesting, if unorthodox, start with Mulelid and his colleagues quickly seizing the listener’s attention.

In terms of duration “Fly, Fly” is more substantial, developing slowly and organically via Mulelid’s elegant piano chording with Hegge’s bass providing the anchor as Winther adds succinct, finely detailed drum commentary. There’s an abrupt change of mood mid tune with a brief passage of unaccompanied piano before the trio stretch out more freely, pushing more forcefully at the boundaries of the piece. Mulelid’s expansive solo is sometimes reminiscent of Keith Jarrett, even down to the vocalisations that follow the trajectory of his playing. Meanwhile Winther’s drumming becomes more vigorous and less restrained as the music gathers momentum before slowing down again for a further passage of solo piano followed by a group restatement of the opening theme as the piece finally resolves itself. This is a highly involving piece of music offering lots of interesting musical ideas and a high level of group interplay, particularly between the piano and drums.

“Children’s Song”, with a title nodding towards Chick Corea, is less complex but no less beautiful with its wistful piano melodies, sensitively brushed drums and melodic bass interjections. Again there’s something of a hint of Jarrett in Mulelid’s soloing as the music gradually gathers a degree of momentum.

“You Stood There In Silence, Having No Words” takes the trio into freer, more exploratory waters in a genuine three way exchange in which the comparative economy of the playing of both Mulelid and Hegge contrasts with the restless, but consistently absorbing and apposite, drum commentary from Winther.
A piece like this makes the listener appreciate just how finely attuned this trio is, a quality that is again made manifest in the following “C & R”, a genuine collective improvisation that features similar levels of interaction and takes the trio even further into uncharted territory.  This includes the use of extended techniques with Mulelid sometimes operating ‘under the lid’ while Winther deploys cymbal scrapes and items of small percussion. It should be said that both these pieces contain moments of genuine beauty, a word not always closely associated with ‘free jazz’.

“C & R” segues almost imperceptibly into “From Someone Else’s Point Of View” (the title an E.S.T. reference, perhaps). The music continues to inhabit the hinterland between composition and improvisation and again there’s the sense of a genuine musical conversation going on with the dialogue between Mulelid and Winther again particularly compelling with the drummer playing with a great sense of drama throughout, alternately brutal and delicate.

“Time/Breath” begins with a passage of delicate, atmospheric percussion and there’s an ECM-like sense of space about the piece as piano and bowed bass are added to the equation in a sombre, delicately brooding performance that again embraces extended techniques and which sounds as if it may have been largely improvised.

Tracks three to seven explore similar musical areas and they feel thematically linked, almost semi-conceptual. A good deal of thought has obviously gone into the scheduling of the recording.
“Leaving Home” is more obviously composed and is much more rhythmic and groove based - but still with plenty of room for self expression, particularly from Mulelid, who solos rhythmically and with great energy, and from the relentlessly busy Winther.

The album concludes with “Three Last Words” which features a gorgeous piano melody and which promises to end the work on an elegiac note. However a prolonged passage of silence leads to a final three-way exchange that emphasises both the adventurousness and compatibility of this well balanced and highly democratic trio.

In the overcrowded world of the piano trio Kjetil Mulelid has carved out a distinctive niche for himself,  neatly straddling the cusp between composition and improvisation and avoiding the clichés of both American and Scandinavian jazz. It’s an interesting place to be and creates music that represents absorbing, if occasionally challenging, listening.

Drummer Winther represents an interesting new discovery for me. Bright, inventive, receptive and energetic he shines throughout the performance. I’d certainly welcome the opportunity of hearing him in other contexts such as the septet Megalodon Collective or the sax/drums duo Left Exit.

Mario Laginha / Julian Arguelles / Helge Andreas Norbakken - Setembro Rating: 4 out of 5 A frequently beautiful album that fulfils its goals superbly. The quality of the writing, and of the playing, is exceptional throughout

Mario Laginha / Julian Arguelles / Helge Andreas Norbakken

“Setembro”

(Edition Records EDN 1099)

Although jointly credited this session is essentially led by the Portuguese pianist and composer Mario Laginha. Eight of the album’s ten tracks are written by him with just two coming from the pen of British saxophonist Julian Arguelles. This international trio is completed by Norwegian drummer and percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken.

I first became aware of Laginha’s playing in the late 1990s when he was a member of an octet led by Arguelles that recorded the marvellous album “Skull View” (1997) and its equally worthy follow up “Escapade” (1999). I remember seeing the octet at Cheltenham Jazz Festival around the time of “Skull View” and being highly impressed with Laginha’s contribution. Since those heady days he’s rather dropped off the radar as far as British listeners are concerned but I have no doubt that he’s continued to produce good work in the meantime with a number of solo albums to his credit plus a long running collaboration with vocalist Maria Joao.

For UK audiences Arguelles is much more of a known quantity, having first emerged as a member of Loose Tubes before embarking on a lengthy and impressive solo career that has produced a series of excellent albums in a variety of formats and contexts in conjunction with musicians from the UK, Europe and the US.
A prolific composer and arranger and a superb soloist Arguelles has produced an impressive body of work (thirteen solo albums to date) and ranks as one of the most significant jazz musicians the UK has produced. He’s an artist with a truly international reputation and the quality of his work is consistently excellent, without exception all of Arguelles’ recordings as a leader are well worthy of investigation.  He’s also a prolific collaborator and sideman who enriches any musical situation in which he appears.

Meanwhile Norbakken has worked extensively in his native Norway and also internationally and has recorded frequently across a variety of musical genres. Among those with whom he has collaborated are vocalists Mari Boine and Kari Bremnes, pianist Jon Balke, trumpeter Jon Hassell and tuba player Daniel Herskedal. He has also appeared frequently on albums by Laginha and Maria Joao.

As far as I’m aware this is the first time the trio have worked together but their shared links ensure that this is a well balanced unit that is more than capable of doing justice to the composing talents of Laginha and Arguelles. Released in October 2017 the album title “Setembro” is intended to reflect the gentle warmth of late summer in Laginha’s native Portugal and on the whole it succeeds brilliantly.

There’s a beautifully relaxed quality about Laginha’s opener “Maos na Parede”, a gloriously melodic piece that begins with a languid dialogue between the composer’s piano and Arguelles’ pure toned saxophone as Norbakken adds the gentlest and subtlest of percussion shadings. However just as the listener has been lulled into a sense of false security the piece bursts into life as a kind of folk dance with the darting melodic phrases of the piano and saxophone underpinned by the rapid bustle of Norbakken’s hand drumming.

“Fisicamente” (the title translating as “Physical”) continues the lively mood established by the second part of the opener with Arguelles mercurial soprano sax combining well with Laginha’s quick fire piano phrases and the neatly energetic percussion, again much of it played with bare hands, from Norbakken. Laginha’s piano solo is slightly more reflective but overall the mood of this piece is bright and uplifting with Arguelles sinuous soprano subsequently returning to joyous focus.

Unaccompanied piano introduces “O Primeira Dia” which sees the emphasis returning to a wistful lyricism with Arguelles on warm toned tenor and with Norbakken providing exquisitely detailed percussion commentary.

The music segues almost imperceptibly into “Serralves”, which temporarily darkens the mood with its atmospheric introduction before opening out into something more melodic with Arguelles’ tenor still warm and approachable. Norbakken’s insistent percussive patterns subsequently steer the music into darker waters once more with Arguelles adopting a harsher sound before the piece finally resolves itself in more straightforwardly melodic fashion.

A lengthy passage of lyrical solo piano introduces “Perto de Alguem” with the composer eventually joined by Norbakken whose delicately detailed percussion engages in brief dialogue before the entry of Arguelles’ melodic, gently keening soprano. The saxophonist is in peerless form, his playing seemingly effortless.

“Coisas de Terra” initially marks a return to the vigorous folk dance inspired approach of the first two pieces with the three musicians exuding a graceful vitality in the vivacious opening exchanges with their rapid fire sax and piano motifs and bustling percussion. A more reflective central section features Arguelles’ soprano probing above Laginha’s ostinato piano figures and Norbakken’s terse cymbal commentary. Percussion and saxophone subsequently fade away and Laginha begins an extended solo piano exploration, that waxes and wanes in terms of intensity before his colleagues return to finish the piece in the frenetic manner in which it began. At over eight and a half minutes in length this is the most substantial track on the album in terms of duration and it represents a multi-faceted piece of writing that is just brimming with ideas. In this sense it’s arguably the centre-piece of the album as a whole.

Next we hear two back to back compositions from Arguelles. Both “Hugger Mugger” and “Yada Yada” are drawn from the repertoire of the saxophonist’s working group Tetra, a quartet featuring the leader alongside three younger musicians, pianist Kit Downes, bassist Sam Lasserson and drummer James Maddren.

The two pieces appear together on the “Tetra” album and are segued again here, despite sounding very different in this context. “Hugger Mugger” begins with a passage of unaccompanied piano with Laginha subsequently joined by the mellifluous sound of Arguelles’ soprano and later the delicate nuances of Norbakken’s percussion. The tone is wistful, almost melancholic but the mood changes as Norbakken establishes a more conventional groove and Arguelles makes the switch to tenor, soloing on the larger horn as the music acquires a gently brooding intensity. There’s a folk like quality about the melody that some reviewers have compared to Jan Garbarek’s work with Keith Jarrett’s European quartet.

The album concludes with two pieces written by Laginha, the first of these being the haunting “Horn Please” with its long, plaintive saxophone melody lines underscored by slowly rolling piano figures and the atmospheric rustle of Norbakken’s percussion.

Finally we hear the graceful “Lugar Bem Situado”, which exhibits similar qualities but also embodies an almost anthemic lyricism.

“Setembro” is a frequently beautiful album that fulfils its goals superbly. The quality of the writing, and of the playing, is exceptional throughout with producers Laginha and Nelson Carvalho capturing every nuance of this delicately detailed music.

There are probably some that would dismiss “Setembro” as chamber jazz but the music, for all its beauty, is far from soporific and demands considerable attention from the listener if its full subtlety, richness and quality is to be appreciated. The writing, from both Laginha and Arguelles is multi-faceted and full of interesting ideas that help to keep the listener engaged.

Laginha and Arguelles are particularly well suited as a duo and their compatibility is sometimes reminiscent of the rapport that Arguelles enjoyed with the late, great John Taylor. But Norbakken’s contribution should not be overlooked. His percussion adds detail, nuance and propulsion, ensuring that this should be considered as a fully collaborative trio recording. Despite being relatively understated the Norwegian’s playing is colourful and inventive throughout, his musicality and intelligence adding so much to the music, yet never imposing unduly.

The trio of Laginha, Arguelles and Norbakken toured the UK in October 2017 but with the majority of the gigs taking place in London or the North of England I was unable to get an opportunity to see them.  Given the positive response given to “Setembro” let’s hope Edition can tempt the trio back to the UK again some time in 2018.

Setembro

Mario Laginha / Julian Arguelles / Helge Andreas Norbakken

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Setembro

A frequently beautiful album that fulfils its goals superbly. The quality of the writing, and of the playing, is exceptional throughout

Mario Laginha / Julian Arguelles / Helge Andreas Norbakken

“Setembro”

(Edition Records EDN 1099)

Although jointly credited this session is essentially led by the Portuguese pianist and composer Mario Laginha. Eight of the album’s ten tracks are written by him with just two coming from the pen of British saxophonist Julian Arguelles. This international trio is completed by Norwegian drummer and percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken.

I first became aware of Laginha’s playing in the late 1990s when he was a member of an octet led by Arguelles that recorded the marvellous album “Skull View” (1997) and its equally worthy follow up “Escapade” (1999). I remember seeing the octet at Cheltenham Jazz Festival around the time of “Skull View” and being highly impressed with Laginha’s contribution. Since those heady days he’s rather dropped off the radar as far as British listeners are concerned but I have no doubt that he’s continued to produce good work in the meantime with a number of solo albums to his credit plus a long running collaboration with vocalist Maria Joao.

For UK audiences Arguelles is much more of a known quantity, having first emerged as a member of Loose Tubes before embarking on a lengthy and impressive solo career that has produced a series of excellent albums in a variety of formats and contexts in conjunction with musicians from the UK, Europe and the US.
A prolific composer and arranger and a superb soloist Arguelles has produced an impressive body of work (thirteen solo albums to date) and ranks as one of the most significant jazz musicians the UK has produced. He’s an artist with a truly international reputation and the quality of his work is consistently excellent, without exception all of Arguelles’ recordings as a leader are well worthy of investigation.  He’s also a prolific collaborator and sideman who enriches any musical situation in which he appears.

Meanwhile Norbakken has worked extensively in his native Norway and also internationally and has recorded frequently across a variety of musical genres. Among those with whom he has collaborated are vocalists Mari Boine and Kari Bremnes, pianist Jon Balke, trumpeter Jon Hassell and tuba player Daniel Herskedal. He has also appeared frequently on albums by Laginha and Maria Joao.

As far as I’m aware this is the first time the trio have worked together but their shared links ensure that this is a well balanced unit that is more than capable of doing justice to the composing talents of Laginha and Arguelles. Released in October 2017 the album title “Setembro” is intended to reflect the gentle warmth of late summer in Laginha’s native Portugal and on the whole it succeeds brilliantly.

There’s a beautifully relaxed quality about Laginha’s opener “Maos na Parede”, a gloriously melodic piece that begins with a languid dialogue between the composer’s piano and Arguelles’ pure toned saxophone as Norbakken adds the gentlest and subtlest of percussion shadings. However just as the listener has been lulled into a sense of false security the piece bursts into life as a kind of folk dance with the darting melodic phrases of the piano and saxophone underpinned by the rapid bustle of Norbakken’s hand drumming.

“Fisicamente” (the title translating as “Physical”) continues the lively mood established by the second part of the opener with Arguelles mercurial soprano sax combining well with Laginha’s quick fire piano phrases and the neatly energetic percussion, again much of it played with bare hands, from Norbakken. Laginha’s piano solo is slightly more reflective but overall the mood of this piece is bright and uplifting with Arguelles sinuous soprano subsequently returning to joyous focus.

Unaccompanied piano introduces “O Primeira Dia” which sees the emphasis returning to a wistful lyricism with Arguelles on warm toned tenor and with Norbakken providing exquisitely detailed percussion commentary.

The music segues almost imperceptibly into “Serralves”, which temporarily darkens the mood with its atmospheric introduction before opening out into something more melodic with Arguelles’ tenor still warm and approachable. Norbakken’s insistent percussive patterns subsequently steer the music into darker waters once more with Arguelles adopting a harsher sound before the piece finally resolves itself in more straightforwardly melodic fashion.

A lengthy passage of lyrical solo piano introduces “Perto de Alguem” with the composer eventually joined by Norbakken whose delicately detailed percussion engages in brief dialogue before the entry of Arguelles’ melodic, gently keening soprano. The saxophonist is in peerless form, his playing seemingly effortless.

“Coisas de Terra” initially marks a return to the vigorous folk dance inspired approach of the first two pieces with the three musicians exuding a graceful vitality in the vivacious opening exchanges with their rapid fire sax and piano motifs and bustling percussion. A more reflective central section features Arguelles’ soprano probing above Laginha’s ostinato piano figures and Norbakken’s terse cymbal commentary. Percussion and saxophone subsequently fade away and Laginha begins an extended solo piano exploration, that waxes and wanes in terms of intensity before his colleagues return to finish the piece in the frenetic manner in which it began. At over eight and a half minutes in length this is the most substantial track on the album in terms of duration and it represents a multi-faceted piece of writing that is just brimming with ideas. In this sense it’s arguably the centre-piece of the album as a whole.

Next we hear two back to back compositions from Arguelles. Both “Hugger Mugger” and “Yada Yada” are drawn from the repertoire of the saxophonist’s working group Tetra, a quartet featuring the leader alongside three younger musicians, pianist Kit Downes, bassist Sam Lasserson and drummer James Maddren.

The two pieces appear together on the “Tetra” album and are segued again here, despite sounding very different in this context. “Hugger Mugger” begins with a passage of unaccompanied piano with Laginha subsequently joined by the mellifluous sound of Arguelles’ soprano and later the delicate nuances of Norbakken’s percussion. The tone is wistful, almost melancholic but the mood changes as Norbakken establishes a more conventional groove and Arguelles makes the switch to tenor, soloing on the larger horn as the music acquires a gently brooding intensity. There’s a folk like quality about the melody that some reviewers have compared to Jan Garbarek’s work with Keith Jarrett’s European quartet.

The album concludes with two pieces written by Laginha, the first of these being the haunting “Horn Please” with its long, plaintive saxophone melody lines underscored by slowly rolling piano figures and the atmospheric rustle of Norbakken’s percussion.

Finally we hear the graceful “Lugar Bem Situado”, which exhibits similar qualities but also embodies an almost anthemic lyricism.

“Setembro” is a frequently beautiful album that fulfils its goals superbly. The quality of the writing, and of the playing, is exceptional throughout with producers Laginha and Nelson Carvalho capturing every nuance of this delicately detailed music.

There are probably some that would dismiss “Setembro” as chamber jazz but the music, for all its beauty, is far from soporific and demands considerable attention from the listener if its full subtlety, richness and quality is to be appreciated. The writing, from both Laginha and Arguelles is multi-faceted and full of interesting ideas that help to keep the listener engaged.

Laginha and Arguelles are particularly well suited as a duo and their compatibility is sometimes reminiscent of the rapport that Arguelles enjoyed with the late, great John Taylor. But Norbakken’s contribution should not be overlooked. His percussion adds detail, nuance and propulsion, ensuring that this should be considered as a fully collaborative trio recording. Despite being relatively understated the Norwegian’s playing is colourful and inventive throughout, his musicality and intelligence adding so much to the music, yet never imposing unduly.

The trio of Laginha, Arguelles and Norbakken toured the UK in October 2017 but with the majority of the gigs taking place in London or the North of England I was unable to get an opportunity to see them.  Given the positive response given to “Setembro” let’s hope Edition can tempt the trio back to the UK again some time in 2018.

Aki Rissanen - Another North Rating: 4 out of 5 Finds Rissanen and his colleagues realising an increasingly interactive and individual group sound that demands that they be regarded as one of the world’s most exciting & distinctive piano trios.

Aki Rissanen

“Another North”

(Edition Records EDN 1101)

“Another North” is the second release for Edition Records by the Finnish pianist and composer Aki Rissanen. It follows his acclaimed début for the label, “Amorandom”, which was released in 2016.

Born in 1980 Rissanen studied in Finland, France, Germany and the USA and has established a successful career as both a leader and a sideman, collaborating with many leading musicians from both sides of the Atlantic, among them the American saxophonists Dave Liebman and Rick Margitza.

In the UK he first came to public attention as part of the various groups led by his compatriot and label mate the trumpeter and composer Verneri Pohjola. Rissanen  appeared on both of Pohjola’s albums for ACT,  “Aurora” (2011) and “Ancient History” (2012) before making his Edition début on Pohjola’s first album for the label, “Bullhorn” (2015).  In 2013 he appeared as part of Pohjola’s quartet at that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival.

Away from the Pohjola group Rissanen co-leads the international Frozen Gainsbourg Quintet with saxophonist Mikko Innanen. He also leads the trio Aleatoric featuring drummer/percussionist Markku Ounaskari and Belgian born saxophonist Robin Verheyen. This group’s 2013 début album, then released under the name of the Aki Rissanen Trio, is reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann. http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/aki-rissanen-trio-aleatoric/

Currently Rissanen also leads a quartet entitled Sininen Syksy featuring classical soprano Mari Palo, guitarist Teemu Viinikainen and drummer Joonas Riippa which performs the music of the Finnish composer Leevi Madetoja.

“Amorandom” is a hard act to follow with that album attracting a compelling amount of critical acclaim and garnering a number of prestigious awards, among them a Finnish Grammy and the Emma Award for the Best Jazz Album in 2016.

Unsurprisingly Rissanen has stuck by the same personnel that helped to make “Amorandom” such a success. He is joined once more by bassist Antti Lotjonen, with whom he also worked in the Pohjola quartet, and by drummer Teppo Makynen, leader of the acclaimed Finnish band Five Corners Quintet.

Reviewing “Amorandom” I wrote of the trio’s “tightly focussed energy” and that’s a quality that is readily apparent again here as Rissanen and his colleagues seek to subvert the clichés normally associated with “Nordic jazz” and the ‘Nordic’ piano trio in particular. Taking its lead from “Bird Vision”, one of the more energetic pieces on the “Amorandom” album the trio have been developing that side of their music with Rissanen declaring “ our desire to delve deeper in this direction became stronger. As a trio we wanted to collectively discover a greater intensity and energy, to stand out as a trio from the North. This music is the sum of that exploration”

As the pianist explains further in his liner notes;
“We’re not in the business of re-inventing the wheel when it comes to piano trios. However we’re confident enough to re-imagine a piano trio from the North, one that storms the conventional Nordic jazz barricades! The music on this album circulates around the ideas we have been developing for the last few years, framed within the Nordic tone as we hear it. Slowly evolving harmonic and rhythmical textures,, unhurried but highly energetic intensity and compositions designed to blur the line between the composed material and the improvisation have been the means by which we define the sound of our trio. My goal as a composer and improviser has always been to explore different genres of music and to look at the points of contact between traditions. Jazz, contemporary classical and non-Western musics have been my resources to widen and enrich the palette of my possibilities. Over time I’ve tried my best to internalise these goals and taken pains in my writing to avoid any self-conscious fusion of playing styles drawing on my playing experiences in diverse idioms. We hope that those who subscribe to the stereotype of the Nordic piano trio will be both rewarded and pleasantly surprised. This is our ‘Another North’.”

The busy opener “Blind Desert” packs a lot of information into its 6.47 duration as it combines driving rhythms with darker, more reflective episodes. Darting, rapidly repeated piano phrases borrow from the concepts of minimalism but invest them with a very contemporary energy and urgency. Rissanen’s playing becomes increasingly percussive, Makynen’s drumming is busy and inventive and constantly evolving, while Lotjonen’s muscular bass lines both anchor the group while periodically breaking cover and coming into the foreground. There are no jazz solos as such but there is the sense that the music is constantly unfolding via the shifting emphases.

“John’s Son’s”, written by the late Finnish pianist Jarmo Savalainen (1961-2009), maintains the energy levels with its vaguely Jarrett-ish gospel style vamps and urgent, skittering drum grooves. Structurally it’s similar to the opener but the trio still find plenty of fresh territory to explore in a highly interactive performance that sees various individuals coming to the fore at different junctures, but still eschewing conventional jazz soloing as such.

There’s no let up with “New Life and Other Beginnings” with its taut rhythms echoing the worlds of rock and hip hop. There’s a bristling, pent up energy about the piece that is perhaps best exemplified by the urgent snap and crackle of Mykanen’s bustling drum work.

Effectively bisecting the album is Rissanen’s arrangement of Gyorgy Ligeti’s fifth piano etude “Etude 5: Arc-en-ciel Re-imagined” with the pianist stating; “the composition was influenced by the music of Bill Evans and the polyrhythmic elements found in jazz – a happy happenstance as Evans has been a huge inspiration for me”. The classically trained Rissanen delivers a highly satisfying interpretation on the most straightforwardly lyrical piece on the album. Lotjonen’s melodic bass also features while the hitherto busy Makynen offers sparse, subtle but effective percussion shading.

Solo piano introduces “Nature Of The Beast” before Lotjonen’s bass briefly takes over the melodic lead. However the gentle introductory passages are soon left far behind as the piece develops a bustling energy with piano and drums particularly active. However there are still elements of light and shade with more reflective episodes briefly punctuating the feverish, hurtling activity.

“Before The Aftermath” features a martial drum pattern from Makynen and another Jarrett-like melody from Rissanen which provides the basis for further extemporisation with the pianist delivering joyously rolling blues / gospel phrases. In the context of the album as a whole it’s one of most obviously orthodox jazz pieces.

The album closes with “Hubble Bubble”, a composition jointly credited to Rissanen, Lotjonen and Makynen that builds on the brief opening piano motif to good effect. Rissanen’s repeated phrase underpins Makynen’s neatly energetic drum explorations before the piano takes on a more central role as the piece continues to develop, gradually gaining momentum and incorporating a relatively conventional piano solo supported by Lotjonen’s rapid bass walk and Makynen’s brisk, inventive, highly detailed drumming. There’s also a sparkling dialogue between bass and drums as the music continues to embrace an orthodox jazz structure before resolving itself with an energetic closing passage of spirited group interplay.

“Another North” builds upon the promise of both “Aleatoric” and “Amorandom” while developing further some of the ideas first explored on the latter. It’s a more energetic, more intense recording than either of its predecessors and its rhythmic drive and sharp focus are sometimes reminiscent of the music of label mates Phronesis, an Anglo-Scandinavian trio led by Danish bassist Jasper Hoiby who also transcend the typical ‘Nordic’ template. 

But “Another North” finds Rissanen and his colleagues realising an increasingly interactive and individual group sound that demands that they be regarded as one of the world’s most exciting and distinctive contemporary piano trios.

Another North

Aki Rissanen

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Another North

Finds Rissanen and his colleagues realising an increasingly interactive and individual group sound that demands that they be regarded as one of the world’s most exciting & distinctive piano trios.

Aki Rissanen

“Another North”

(Edition Records EDN 1101)

“Another North” is the second release for Edition Records by the Finnish pianist and composer Aki Rissanen. It follows his acclaimed début for the label, “Amorandom”, which was released in 2016.

Born in 1980 Rissanen studied in Finland, France, Germany and the USA and has established a successful career as both a leader and a sideman, collaborating with many leading musicians from both sides of the Atlantic, among them the American saxophonists Dave Liebman and Rick Margitza.

In the UK he first came to public attention as part of the various groups led by his compatriot and label mate the trumpeter and composer Verneri Pohjola. Rissanen  appeared on both of Pohjola’s albums for ACT,  “Aurora” (2011) and “Ancient History” (2012) before making his Edition début on Pohjola’s first album for the label, “Bullhorn” (2015).  In 2013 he appeared as part of Pohjola’s quartet at that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival.

Away from the Pohjola group Rissanen co-leads the international Frozen Gainsbourg Quintet with saxophonist Mikko Innanen. He also leads the trio Aleatoric featuring drummer/percussionist Markku Ounaskari and Belgian born saxophonist Robin Verheyen. This group’s 2013 début album, then released under the name of the Aki Rissanen Trio, is reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann. http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/aki-rissanen-trio-aleatoric/

Currently Rissanen also leads a quartet entitled Sininen Syksy featuring classical soprano Mari Palo, guitarist Teemu Viinikainen and drummer Joonas Riippa which performs the music of the Finnish composer Leevi Madetoja.

“Amorandom” is a hard act to follow with that album attracting a compelling amount of critical acclaim and garnering a number of prestigious awards, among them a Finnish Grammy and the Emma Award for the Best Jazz Album in 2016.

Unsurprisingly Rissanen has stuck by the same personnel that helped to make “Amorandom” such a success. He is joined once more by bassist Antti Lotjonen, with whom he also worked in the Pohjola quartet, and by drummer Teppo Makynen, leader of the acclaimed Finnish band Five Corners Quintet.

Reviewing “Amorandom” I wrote of the trio’s “tightly focussed energy” and that’s a quality that is readily apparent again here as Rissanen and his colleagues seek to subvert the clichés normally associated with “Nordic jazz” and the ‘Nordic’ piano trio in particular. Taking its lead from “Bird Vision”, one of the more energetic pieces on the “Amorandom” album the trio have been developing that side of their music with Rissanen declaring “ our desire to delve deeper in this direction became stronger. As a trio we wanted to collectively discover a greater intensity and energy, to stand out as a trio from the North. This music is the sum of that exploration”

As the pianist explains further in his liner notes;
“We’re not in the business of re-inventing the wheel when it comes to piano trios. However we’re confident enough to re-imagine a piano trio from the North, one that storms the conventional Nordic jazz barricades! The music on this album circulates around the ideas we have been developing for the last few years, framed within the Nordic tone as we hear it. Slowly evolving harmonic and rhythmical textures,, unhurried but highly energetic intensity and compositions designed to blur the line between the composed material and the improvisation have been the means by which we define the sound of our trio. My goal as a composer and improviser has always been to explore different genres of music and to look at the points of contact between traditions. Jazz, contemporary classical and non-Western musics have been my resources to widen and enrich the palette of my possibilities. Over time I’ve tried my best to internalise these goals and taken pains in my writing to avoid any self-conscious fusion of playing styles drawing on my playing experiences in diverse idioms. We hope that those who subscribe to the stereotype of the Nordic piano trio will be both rewarded and pleasantly surprised. This is our ‘Another North’.”

The busy opener “Blind Desert” packs a lot of information into its 6.47 duration as it combines driving rhythms with darker, more reflective episodes. Darting, rapidly repeated piano phrases borrow from the concepts of minimalism but invest them with a very contemporary energy and urgency. Rissanen’s playing becomes increasingly percussive, Makynen’s drumming is busy and inventive and constantly evolving, while Lotjonen’s muscular bass lines both anchor the group while periodically breaking cover and coming into the foreground. There are no jazz solos as such but there is the sense that the music is constantly unfolding via the shifting emphases.

“John’s Son’s”, written by the late Finnish pianist Jarmo Savalainen (1961-2009), maintains the energy levels with its vaguely Jarrett-ish gospel style vamps and urgent, skittering drum grooves. Structurally it’s similar to the opener but the trio still find plenty of fresh territory to explore in a highly interactive performance that sees various individuals coming to the fore at different junctures, but still eschewing conventional jazz soloing as such.

There’s no let up with “New Life and Other Beginnings” with its taut rhythms echoing the worlds of rock and hip hop. There’s a bristling, pent up energy about the piece that is perhaps best exemplified by the urgent snap and crackle of Mykanen’s bustling drum work.

Effectively bisecting the album is Rissanen’s arrangement of Gyorgy Ligeti’s fifth piano etude “Etude 5: Arc-en-ciel Re-imagined” with the pianist stating; “the composition was influenced by the music of Bill Evans and the polyrhythmic elements found in jazz – a happy happenstance as Evans has been a huge inspiration for me”. The classically trained Rissanen delivers a highly satisfying interpretation on the most straightforwardly lyrical piece on the album. Lotjonen’s melodic bass also features while the hitherto busy Makynen offers sparse, subtle but effective percussion shading.

Solo piano introduces “Nature Of The Beast” before Lotjonen’s bass briefly takes over the melodic lead. However the gentle introductory passages are soon left far behind as the piece develops a bustling energy with piano and drums particularly active. However there are still elements of light and shade with more reflective episodes briefly punctuating the feverish, hurtling activity.

“Before The Aftermath” features a martial drum pattern from Makynen and another Jarrett-like melody from Rissanen which provides the basis for further extemporisation with the pianist delivering joyously rolling blues / gospel phrases. In the context of the album as a whole it’s one of most obviously orthodox jazz pieces.

The album closes with “Hubble Bubble”, a composition jointly credited to Rissanen, Lotjonen and Makynen that builds on the brief opening piano motif to good effect. Rissanen’s repeated phrase underpins Makynen’s neatly energetic drum explorations before the piano takes on a more central role as the piece continues to develop, gradually gaining momentum and incorporating a relatively conventional piano solo supported by Lotjonen’s rapid bass walk and Makynen’s brisk, inventive, highly detailed drumming. There’s also a sparkling dialogue between bass and drums as the music continues to embrace an orthodox jazz structure before resolving itself with an energetic closing passage of spirited group interplay.

“Another North” builds upon the promise of both “Aleatoric” and “Amorandom” while developing further some of the ideas first explored on the latter. It’s a more energetic, more intense recording than either of its predecessors and its rhythmic drive and sharp focus are sometimes reminiscent of the music of label mates Phronesis, an Anglo-Scandinavian trio led by Danish bassist Jasper Hoiby who also transcend the typical ‘Nordic’ template. 

But “Another North” finds Rissanen and his colleagues realising an increasingly interactive and individual group sound that demands that they be regarded as one of the world’s most exciting and distinctive contemporary piano trios.

Indigo Kid - III; Moment Gone in the Clouds Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Another fascinating chapter in the Indigo Kid story with a new line up led by guitarist and composer Dan Messore.

Indigo Kid

“III: Moment Gone in the Clouds”

Babel Records BDV16141)

“Moment Gone in the Clouds” is the third album in the “Indigo Kid” series from guitarist and composer Dan Messore.

“Indigo Kid”, the exceptional 2012 début established Indigo Kid as a band name and featured Messore leading a quartet that included a rhythm section of bassist Tim Harries and drummer Gethin Jones together with Messore’s former tutor and mentor Iain Ballamy on tenor saxophone. The presence of Ballamy ensured that the album garnered a good deal of attention and a substantial amount of critical acclaim.

The success of the début saw Messore putting a touring version of Indigo Kid together and I was privileged to cover a performance of the group at the 2012 Brecon Jazz Festival, the line up on that occasion consisting of Messore in the company of saxophonist Trish Clowes, bassist Calum Gourlay and the vastly experienced drummer Martin France.

The second Indigo Kid album “Fist Full of Notes” appeared in 2015 and featured a line up of Harries, Clowes and France with Ballamy guesting on tenor on two of the ten tracks. Again the recording was well received by both the jazz press and jazz public alike.

Away from Indigo Kid Messore has also led the quintet Lacuna featuring Steve Waterman (trumpet, flugelhorn), Lee Goodall (reeds), Aidan Thorne (bass) and Ollie Howell (drums). This line up released the album “Talk On The Step” on the Babel label in 2012. He has also been part of the organ trio Kindling featuring keyboard player Joe Webb and drummer Gethin Jones.

Messore’s playing has also featured in the groups Duski and Trust Trio, both led by Aidan Thorne, and with the Bristol based electro-jazz outfit Michelson Morley, led by Get The Blessing saxophonist Jake McMurchie.

He has also worked with the vocal trio Sky Barkers, the “grunge folk” ensemble Little Arrow and guested with the improvising baritone saxophonist (and record label owner) George Haslam.

Messore graduated from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in 2006 and has subsequently divided his time between Wales, the West Country and London. He has co-ordinated the View from the Tower series at London’s Vortex Jazz Club, a Sunday afternoon residency highlighting the music of British jazz composers and featuring a pool of musicians including Clowes, Waterman, saxophonist Joe Wright, trumpeter Freddie Gavita, bassist Tom Farmer, flautist Gareth Lockrane and pianist Elliot Galvin.

Messore has also travelled widely and spent a substantial amount of time in Costa Rica, an experience that helped to shape the writing on the “Fist Full of Notes” album. He also has a deep love of Brazilian music, as evidenced by several pieces on the début Lacuna album.

For his third outing in his Indigo Kid guise Messore has assembled a brand new line up, albeit one featuring a number of old acquaintances. Flute replaces saxophone alongside Messore in the front line with Gareth Lockrane bringing his vast experience to the band.  Calum Gourlay returns in the bass chair while the drum berth is taken over by the widely experienced and highly accomplished Tim Giles.

The presence of Lockrane on flute gives this edition of Indigo Kid a softer focus and it’s tempting to regard this third version of the band as occupying a space somewhere between the first two versions of the band and the quintet Lacuna.

The engaging opener “Cony Sin” begins in breezy fashion with the sounds of Lockrane’s frothy flute and Giles’ nimble inventive drumming with its hints of Latin rhythms. But in a multi-faceted piece of writing Messore and his colleagues embrace a variety of moods, style and dynamics. There are more reflective episodes that recall the Americana of Metheny or Frisell as the cool elegance of the leader’s guitar contrasts effectively with the breeziness of Lockrane’s flute as Gourlay and Giles provide sympathetic but consistently inventive and colourful support.

“Deconstruction Of The City” highlights a darker side of the band with its insistent 6/8 rhythms, heavier guitar sound and vocalised flute. Once more Messore and Lockrane combine effectively, again making intelligent use of colour and contrast as the rhythm team generate suitably effusive support.

“Earnestly” begins with a passage of unaccompanied guitar before evolving into the kind of gorgeously melodic piece that Metheny would be proud of. There’s a genuine warmth about the playing of Messore and Lockrane and an almost folk like simplicity that hints at the music of both South Africa and South America. There’s a brief cameo from Gourlay as his melodic bass temporarily assumes the lead while Giles provides colourful but sensitive and intelligent drum commentary.

It’s Giles who introduces the appropriately buoyant and breezy “I’ve Decided To Sail” and his percussion is prominent in the mix almost throughout as he exchanges ideas with both Lockrane and Messore, the guitarist’s nimble runs harking back to the bebop tradition, but within a wholly contemporary framework. Giles is exceptional throughout the album, sharp eared and sure footed, always busy, colourful and inventive, but never intrusive. In a highly interactive performance he always seems to find just the right thing to play.

“Little House” finds Messore and Lockrane intertwining in charming fashion on another delightfully melodic composition. Again there’s a genuine warmth about the playing, something that also finds voice in the beautifully melodic double bass solo from Gourlay. Messore’s own solo is a delight, again evoking those comparisons with Metheny and Frisell.

The title track features an opening statement from Lockrane, the UK’s premier jazz flautist, followed by a subtly probing guitar solo from the leader that mixes flowing single note melody lines with the effective and intelligent use of chording. A typically tuneful and dexterous bass solo follows from Gourlay, with Lockrane picking up on the bassist’s melody and using it as the launch point for his own solo, his flute gradually spiralling up into the clouds of the title before the piece resolves itself with a long, slow fade that pushes the music into more impressionistic, almost ambient territory.

As its title might suggest “Monsoon” is the most energetic track thus far with its energetic grooves framing a taut guitar solo from Messore, whose playing is an effective amalgam of power, intensity and intelligence. Lockrane’s effervescent flute again offers an effective contrast and the piece also includes a colourful and inventive drum feature from the consistently excellent Giles.

I’m not sure who the final track, “Mr. Burton”, is named for – I’d like to think it’s vibraphonist Gary. The music certainly suggests this with its lithe, boppish melody lines and buoyant, perky rhythms. Giles’ military style snare and Messore’s agile chording help to propel Lockrane’s lively flute melodies. There’s an appropriately nimble guitar solo from Messore himself prior to a final set of exchanges featuring Lockrane and Giles on another of the album’s most energetic and vivacious pieces.

“Moment Gone in the Clouds” represents another fascinating chapter in the Indigo Kid story. The presence of flute rather than saxophones makes for a very different sound to that of the first two releases and it’s possible that some listeners may find it all a little too polite and bloodless.

Nevertheless there is still much to enjoy here with Messore again delivering an absorbing set of compositions. The playing from all four musicians is excellent throughout with Messore and Lockrane combining effectively in a highly co-operative, ego-less display. Gourlay is a consummate anchor and an excellent melodic bass soloist while Giles turns in an excellent display behind the kit, his playing is consistently inventive and stimulating.

If I’m totally honest I probably prefer the more robust sound of the first two albums but you wouldn’t expect -or want- a jazz musician to keep on making the same record would you? Indigo Kid is still a name to watch out for.

III; Moment Gone in the Clouds

Indigo Kid

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

III; Moment Gone in the Clouds

Another fascinating chapter in the Indigo Kid story with a new line up led by guitarist and composer Dan Messore.

Indigo Kid

“III: Moment Gone in the Clouds”

Babel Records BDV16141)

“Moment Gone in the Clouds” is the third album in the “Indigo Kid” series from guitarist and composer Dan Messore.

“Indigo Kid”, the exceptional 2012 début established Indigo Kid as a band name and featured Messore leading a quartet that included a rhythm section of bassist Tim Harries and drummer Gethin Jones together with Messore’s former tutor and mentor Iain Ballamy on tenor saxophone. The presence of Ballamy ensured that the album garnered a good deal of attention and a substantial amount of critical acclaim.

The success of the début saw Messore putting a touring version of Indigo Kid together and I was privileged to cover a performance of the group at the 2012 Brecon Jazz Festival, the line up on that occasion consisting of Messore in the company of saxophonist Trish Clowes, bassist Calum Gourlay and the vastly experienced drummer Martin France.

The second Indigo Kid album “Fist Full of Notes” appeared in 2015 and featured a line up of Harries, Clowes and France with Ballamy guesting on tenor on two of the ten tracks. Again the recording was well received by both the jazz press and jazz public alike.

Away from Indigo Kid Messore has also led the quintet Lacuna featuring Steve Waterman (trumpet, flugelhorn), Lee Goodall (reeds), Aidan Thorne (bass) and Ollie Howell (drums). This line up released the album “Talk On The Step” on the Babel label in 2012. He has also been part of the organ trio Kindling featuring keyboard player Joe Webb and drummer Gethin Jones.

Messore’s playing has also featured in the groups Duski and Trust Trio, both led by Aidan Thorne, and with the Bristol based electro-jazz outfit Michelson Morley, led by Get The Blessing saxophonist Jake McMurchie.

He has also worked with the vocal trio Sky Barkers, the “grunge folk” ensemble Little Arrow and guested with the improvising baritone saxophonist (and record label owner) George Haslam.

Messore graduated from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in 2006 and has subsequently divided his time between Wales, the West Country and London. He has co-ordinated the View from the Tower series at London’s Vortex Jazz Club, a Sunday afternoon residency highlighting the music of British jazz composers and featuring a pool of musicians including Clowes, Waterman, saxophonist Joe Wright, trumpeter Freddie Gavita, bassist Tom Farmer, flautist Gareth Lockrane and pianist Elliot Galvin.

Messore has also travelled widely and spent a substantial amount of time in Costa Rica, an experience that helped to shape the writing on the “Fist Full of Notes” album. He also has a deep love of Brazilian music, as evidenced by several pieces on the début Lacuna album.

For his third outing in his Indigo Kid guise Messore has assembled a brand new line up, albeit one featuring a number of old acquaintances. Flute replaces saxophone alongside Messore in the front line with Gareth Lockrane bringing his vast experience to the band.  Calum Gourlay returns in the bass chair while the drum berth is taken over by the widely experienced and highly accomplished Tim Giles.

The presence of Lockrane on flute gives this edition of Indigo Kid a softer focus and it’s tempting to regard this third version of the band as occupying a space somewhere between the first two versions of the band and the quintet Lacuna.

The engaging opener “Cony Sin” begins in breezy fashion with the sounds of Lockrane’s frothy flute and Giles’ nimble inventive drumming with its hints of Latin rhythms. But in a multi-faceted piece of writing Messore and his colleagues embrace a variety of moods, style and dynamics. There are more reflective episodes that recall the Americana of Metheny or Frisell as the cool elegance of the leader’s guitar contrasts effectively with the breeziness of Lockrane’s flute as Gourlay and Giles provide sympathetic but consistently inventive and colourful support.

“Deconstruction Of The City” highlights a darker side of the band with its insistent 6/8 rhythms, heavier guitar sound and vocalised flute. Once more Messore and Lockrane combine effectively, again making intelligent use of colour and contrast as the rhythm team generate suitably effusive support.

“Earnestly” begins with a passage of unaccompanied guitar before evolving into the kind of gorgeously melodic piece that Metheny would be proud of. There’s a genuine warmth about the playing of Messore and Lockrane and an almost folk like simplicity that hints at the music of both South Africa and South America. There’s a brief cameo from Gourlay as his melodic bass temporarily assumes the lead while Giles provides colourful but sensitive and intelligent drum commentary.

It’s Giles who introduces the appropriately buoyant and breezy “I’ve Decided To Sail” and his percussion is prominent in the mix almost throughout as he exchanges ideas with both Lockrane and Messore, the guitarist’s nimble runs harking back to the bebop tradition, but within a wholly contemporary framework. Giles is exceptional throughout the album, sharp eared and sure footed, always busy, colourful and inventive, but never intrusive. In a highly interactive performance he always seems to find just the right thing to play.

“Little House” finds Messore and Lockrane intertwining in charming fashion on another delightfully melodic composition. Again there’s a genuine warmth about the playing, something that also finds voice in the beautifully melodic double bass solo from Gourlay. Messore’s own solo is a delight, again evoking those comparisons with Metheny and Frisell.

The title track features an opening statement from Lockrane, the UK’s premier jazz flautist, followed by a subtly probing guitar solo from the leader that mixes flowing single note melody lines with the effective and intelligent use of chording. A typically tuneful and dexterous bass solo follows from Gourlay, with Lockrane picking up on the bassist’s melody and using it as the launch point for his own solo, his flute gradually spiralling up into the clouds of the title before the piece resolves itself with a long, slow fade that pushes the music into more impressionistic, almost ambient territory.

As its title might suggest “Monsoon” is the most energetic track thus far with its energetic grooves framing a taut guitar solo from Messore, whose playing is an effective amalgam of power, intensity and intelligence. Lockrane’s effervescent flute again offers an effective contrast and the piece also includes a colourful and inventive drum feature from the consistently excellent Giles.

I’m not sure who the final track, “Mr. Burton”, is named for – I’d like to think it’s vibraphonist Gary. The music certainly suggests this with its lithe, boppish melody lines and buoyant, perky rhythms. Giles’ military style snare and Messore’s agile chording help to propel Lockrane’s lively flute melodies. There’s an appropriately nimble guitar solo from Messore himself prior to a final set of exchanges featuring Lockrane and Giles on another of the album’s most energetic and vivacious pieces.

“Moment Gone in the Clouds” represents another fascinating chapter in the Indigo Kid story. The presence of flute rather than saxophones makes for a very different sound to that of the first two releases and it’s possible that some listeners may find it all a little too polite and bloodless.

Nevertheless there is still much to enjoy here with Messore again delivering an absorbing set of compositions. The playing from all four musicians is excellent throughout with Messore and Lockrane combining effectively in a highly co-operative, ego-less display. Gourlay is a consummate anchor and an excellent melodic bass soloist while Giles turns in an excellent display behind the kit, his playing is consistently inventive and stimulating.

If I’m totally honest I probably prefer the more robust sound of the first two albums but you wouldn’t expect -or want- a jazz musician to keep on making the same record would you? Indigo Kid is still a name to watch out for.

Tony Woods Project - Hidden Fires Rating: 4 out of 5 Woods’ writing is colourful, imaginative and inventive and the way in which he brings his various influences together to create a seamless whole is frequently masterful.

Tony Woods Project

“Hidden Fires”

(Marquetry Records MR940)

“Hidden Fires” is the fourth album recording by the Tony Woods Project, a quintet led by saxophonist and composer Tony Woods.

First formed in 1997 the Project has been a semi-regular working ensemble which has toured frequently and released the albums “High Seas” (1997), “Lowlands” (2004) and “Wind Shadows” (2009). The personnel of the group has remained stable throughout with Woods playing a variety of reeds alongside Mike Outram (electric guitar), Rob Millett (vibes, marimba), Andy Hamill (double bass) and Milo Fell (drums, percussion).

I first discovered the Project’s music in 2009 when I reviewed the “Wind Shadows” album and enjoyed a live performance by the group at Café Jazz in Cardiff shortly afterwards, with Martin Pyne depping for Millett and Dave Manington for Hamill. I also took the opportunity of investigating the quintet’s equally impressive back catalogue at this time.

It’s been quite a while but it’s good to have the Project back with their distinctive blend of jazz that convincingly merges conventional jazz virtues with elements of folk and world music. Woods’ writing skilfully combines these different strands to create music with a strong pictorial, almost cinematic, quality. Every piece tells a story – and tells it convincingly.

The members of the Project are all busy, in demand musicians which helps to explain the lengthy time lapses between the albums. Since “Wind Shadows” Woods himself has recorded (and sometimes toured) with the Avalon Trio, Michael Garrick’s Lyric Ensemble and Kwartet, the latter co-led by Woods and fellow saxophonist Tim Whitehead.

The Project’s albums often have a loose conceptual theme, often inspired by the elements, and this time around it’s “fire”, a word that informs a number of the tune titles. But there are other themes too, as will become clear in the track by track analysis.

The album commences with “Queen Takes Knight” which begins with the shimmer of vibes, the rustle of percussion and the gentle needling of Outram’s guitar. Eventually Hamill’s bass motif acts as the bedrock for Woods’ theme statement and subsequent solo on sinuous soprano sax. He’s followed by Millett at the vibes, who solos with a cool, lyrical elegance. This is a melodic, evocative opener that acts as a welcome reminder of the quintet’s signature sound after an eight year absence.

Fell’s drums introduce the twelve minute “Igneous Rock” which initially presents a more forceful side of the band with a busy intro featuring Woods and Millet trading darting sax and vibraphone lines above the sound of Fell’s energetic drumming. Woods’ playing hints at Celtic and North African influences with one melody sounding akin to an Irish jig. However Woods’ writing is multi-faceted and the up-tempo passages are punctuated by slower, more atmospheric episodes featuring Millett’s vibes. The dynamic contrasts work well with Woods’ sax coming to the fore in the more energetic passages as he solos at length. Millett later solos expansively at the vibes as the pace begins to build once more.

Woods’ arrangement of the traditional tune “The Bonfire Carol” features the leader on warm toned, slightly grainy alto clarinet. It’s a slow burning, richly atmospheric adaptation underscored by Fell’s mallet rumbles and also features the liquid sound of Outram’s guitar, sounding vaguely Pink Floyd like.

The album also has something of a geological theme running through it as evidenced by the title of “Metamorphic. This begins with the delightful instrumental combination of Woods on penny whistle and Millett on marimba as folk and world elements continue to exert a profound influence on the music. This charming piece seems to draw on both Irish and African sources and also includes a melodic double bass solo from the excellent Hamill.

A third theme emerges in the titles of the next two pieces, “Gargantua” and “Pantagruel”, these being characters, mythical giants to be precise, from the writings of Rabelais. To be honest I only remembered this thanks to the Gentle Giant songs “Pantagruel’s Nativity” and “The Advent of Panurge” - from the albums “Acquiring The Taste” and “Octopus” respectively for all you prog fans out there. I still love the Giant – but I digress.

Back to matters in hand and “Gargantua” which sees Woods to moving to tenor sax on a slow burner of a piece with a brooding theme and a vaguely ominous atmosphere suggestive of the giant character who gives his name to the piece. Woods then hands over to Outram who delivers a solo of choked, simmering intensity, utilising his effects well and again sounding vaguely Floyd like, but darker. The gently rolling thunder of Fell’s drumming also adds to the threatening atmosphere while Woods’ tenor sounds even more baleful when it makes its return.

The two Rabelaisian pieces were apparently commissioned to accompany an art exhibition and “Pantagruel”, in Rabelais’ writings the son of Gargantua, follows. Woods moves to soprano for a piece that begins as a sort of dance, perhaps intended as a refection of Pantagruel’s character. The music remains playful throughout, even when the band begin to stretch out, the interlocking melody lines of Woods on soprano, Millett on vibes and Outram on guitar accompanied by the busy, merry chatter of Fell’s drums. As the melody lines become more fragmented the piece threatens to fall apart but this fate is averted with the return of the opening dance like theme which finally resolves the piece.

The title track features Woods on alto sax, generating a considerable head of steam as this folk tinged jazz composition gathers momentum, the leader’s sax cutting a swathe through the darting, intricate vibraphone patterns. The inventive Outram comes to the fore in the second half of the piece with a resourceful solo that avoids the usual jazz or rock guitar clichés. Finally there’s s reprise of the theme and something of a drum feature for Fell who tours his kit underpinned by the sound of Millett’s circling vibes motifs.

Hamill’s gently melodic double bass ushers in the closing “Firelight” which features Woods on wood flute, his mellow, folk influenced piping combining with Outram’s subtle guitar chording and Fell’s sensitively brushed drums. Hamill’s bass is at the heart of the piece, frequently taking over the melody and sharing the limelight with the leader’s flute. There’s a comforting warmth about this piece, which has been compared with a lullaby, that helps to ensure that the album ends on an elegiac, gently uplifting note.

The meticulously crafted “Hidden Fires” is a worthy addition to the canon of the Tony Woods Project. The blend of jazz, folk and world influences – and this time round I’d add elements of rock and contemporary classical music too – ensures that this is a unique and instantly recognisable band, a quality encouraged by the unusual combination of instruments.

Everybody performs well and the production and engineering skills of Woods and Millett ensure a pinpoint mix in which all the subtleties of the music can be heard and appreciated. Woods’ writing is colourful, imaginative and inventive and the way in which he brings his various influences together to create a seamless whole is frequently masterful.

There are probably some jazz purists who would scoff at this music and describe it as being twee or contrived and there’s certainly little in the way of conventional swing. But Woods is looking for much more than that and to these ears he succeeds brilliantly. It’s good to have the Tony Woods Project back.

Hidden Fires

Tony Woods Project

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Hidden Fires

Woods’ writing is colourful, imaginative and inventive and the way in which he brings his various influences together to create a seamless whole is frequently masterful.

Tony Woods Project

“Hidden Fires”

(Marquetry Records MR940)

“Hidden Fires” is the fourth album recording by the Tony Woods Project, a quintet led by saxophonist and composer Tony Woods.

First formed in 1997 the Project has been a semi-regular working ensemble which has toured frequently and released the albums “High Seas” (1997), “Lowlands” (2004) and “Wind Shadows” (2009). The personnel of the group has remained stable throughout with Woods playing a variety of reeds alongside Mike Outram (electric guitar), Rob Millett (vibes, marimba), Andy Hamill (double bass) and Milo Fell (drums, percussion).

I first discovered the Project’s music in 2009 when I reviewed the “Wind Shadows” album and enjoyed a live performance by the group at Café Jazz in Cardiff shortly afterwards, with Martin Pyne depping for Millett and Dave Manington for Hamill. I also took the opportunity of investigating the quintet’s equally impressive back catalogue at this time.

It’s been quite a while but it’s good to have the Project back with their distinctive blend of jazz that convincingly merges conventional jazz virtues with elements of folk and world music. Woods’ writing skilfully combines these different strands to create music with a strong pictorial, almost cinematic, quality. Every piece tells a story – and tells it convincingly.

The members of the Project are all busy, in demand musicians which helps to explain the lengthy time lapses between the albums. Since “Wind Shadows” Woods himself has recorded (and sometimes toured) with the Avalon Trio, Michael Garrick’s Lyric Ensemble and Kwartet, the latter co-led by Woods and fellow saxophonist Tim Whitehead.

The Project’s albums often have a loose conceptual theme, often inspired by the elements, and this time around it’s “fire”, a word that informs a number of the tune titles. But there are other themes too, as will become clear in the track by track analysis.

The album commences with “Queen Takes Knight” which begins with the shimmer of vibes, the rustle of percussion and the gentle needling of Outram’s guitar. Eventually Hamill’s bass motif acts as the bedrock for Woods’ theme statement and subsequent solo on sinuous soprano sax. He’s followed by Millett at the vibes, who solos with a cool, lyrical elegance. This is a melodic, evocative opener that acts as a welcome reminder of the quintet’s signature sound after an eight year absence.

Fell’s drums introduce the twelve minute “Igneous Rock” which initially presents a more forceful side of the band with a busy intro featuring Woods and Millet trading darting sax and vibraphone lines above the sound of Fell’s energetic drumming. Woods’ playing hints at Celtic and North African influences with one melody sounding akin to an Irish jig. However Woods’ writing is multi-faceted and the up-tempo passages are punctuated by slower, more atmospheric episodes featuring Millett’s vibes. The dynamic contrasts work well with Woods’ sax coming to the fore in the more energetic passages as he solos at length. Millett later solos expansively at the vibes as the pace begins to build once more.

Woods’ arrangement of the traditional tune “The Bonfire Carol” features the leader on warm toned, slightly grainy alto clarinet. It’s a slow burning, richly atmospheric adaptation underscored by Fell’s mallet rumbles and also features the liquid sound of Outram’s guitar, sounding vaguely Pink Floyd like.

The album also has something of a geological theme running through it as evidenced by the title of “Metamorphic. This begins with the delightful instrumental combination of Woods on penny whistle and Millett on marimba as folk and world elements continue to exert a profound influence on the music. This charming piece seems to draw on both Irish and African sources and also includes a melodic double bass solo from the excellent Hamill.

A third theme emerges in the titles of the next two pieces, “Gargantua” and “Pantagruel”, these being characters, mythical giants to be precise, from the writings of Rabelais. To be honest I only remembered this thanks to the Gentle Giant songs “Pantagruel’s Nativity” and “The Advent of Panurge” - from the albums “Acquiring The Taste” and “Octopus” respectively for all you prog fans out there. I still love the Giant – but I digress.

Back to matters in hand and “Gargantua” which sees Woods to moving to tenor sax on a slow burner of a piece with a brooding theme and a vaguely ominous atmosphere suggestive of the giant character who gives his name to the piece. Woods then hands over to Outram who delivers a solo of choked, simmering intensity, utilising his effects well and again sounding vaguely Floyd like, but darker. The gently rolling thunder of Fell’s drumming also adds to the threatening atmosphere while Woods’ tenor sounds even more baleful when it makes its return.

The two Rabelaisian pieces were apparently commissioned to accompany an art exhibition and “Pantagruel”, in Rabelais’ writings the son of Gargantua, follows. Woods moves to soprano for a piece that begins as a sort of dance, perhaps intended as a refection of Pantagruel’s character. The music remains playful throughout, even when the band begin to stretch out, the interlocking melody lines of Woods on soprano, Millett on vibes and Outram on guitar accompanied by the busy, merry chatter of Fell’s drums. As the melody lines become more fragmented the piece threatens to fall apart but this fate is averted with the return of the opening dance like theme which finally resolves the piece.

The title track features Woods on alto sax, generating a considerable head of steam as this folk tinged jazz composition gathers momentum, the leader’s sax cutting a swathe through the darting, intricate vibraphone patterns. The inventive Outram comes to the fore in the second half of the piece with a resourceful solo that avoids the usual jazz or rock guitar clichés. Finally there’s s reprise of the theme and something of a drum feature for Fell who tours his kit underpinned by the sound of Millett’s circling vibes motifs.

Hamill’s gently melodic double bass ushers in the closing “Firelight” which features Woods on wood flute, his mellow, folk influenced piping combining with Outram’s subtle guitar chording and Fell’s sensitively brushed drums. Hamill’s bass is at the heart of the piece, frequently taking over the melody and sharing the limelight with the leader’s flute. There’s a comforting warmth about this piece, which has been compared with a lullaby, that helps to ensure that the album ends on an elegiac, gently uplifting note.

The meticulously crafted “Hidden Fires” is a worthy addition to the canon of the Tony Woods Project. The blend of jazz, folk and world influences – and this time round I’d add elements of rock and contemporary classical music too – ensures that this is a unique and instantly recognisable band, a quality encouraged by the unusual combination of instruments.

Everybody performs well and the production and engineering skills of Woods and Millett ensure a pinpoint mix in which all the subtleties of the music can be heard and appreciated. Woods’ writing is colourful, imaginative and inventive and the way in which he brings his various influences together to create a seamless whole is frequently masterful.

There are probably some jazz purists who would scoff at this music and describe it as being twee or contrived and there’s certainly little in the way of conventional swing. But Woods is looking for much more than that and to these ears he succeeds brilliantly. It’s good to have the Tony Woods Project back.

Trichotomy - Live with String Quartet Rating: 4 out of 5 One of the best and most exciting ‘jazz with strings’ recordings that I’ve heard.

Trichotomy

“Live with String Quartet”

(Digital Release)

The Australian piano trio Trichotomy have been Jazzmann favourites since I reviewed their album “Variations” back in 2010 and enjoyed a live performance by the band at Stratford-upon-Avon Jazz Club shortly afterwards. I’ve since seen three further performances by the trio in Cardiff, all of the excellent. The first two were at Safe Jazz in 2011 and 2013, the third at the Dora Stoutzker Concert Hall at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in February 2017.

I have also continued to keep abreast of Trichotomy’s recorded output and have reviewed their studio albums “The Gentle War” (2011), “Fact Finding Mission”  (2013) and “KNOWN-UNKNOWN” (2017), the latter appearing on the Dutch imprint Challenge Records following a lengthy tenure with the British label Naim Jazz.

Originally founded at Queensland Conservatorium Trichotomy have been together for almost twenty years and are a highly interactive trio with a strong group identity. “Variations” was their third album but the first to enjoy an international release and it’s fair to say that each subsequent recording has exhibited clear signs of artistic growth, an impressive feat for a band of such longevity.

Trichotomy features founder members pianist Sean Foran and drummer John Parker with Samuel Vincent taking over the bass chair for “KNOWN-UNKNOWN” after replacing the long serving Pat Marchisella. The trio’s music has always been written by Foran and Parker with each album being split roughly fifty-fifty albeit with a slight bias towards the prolific Foran. Vincent has added a third compositional voice to the group with one piece featuring on “KNOWN-UNKNOWN”.

Trichotomy have always been open to many influences from jazz to rock to modern classical music.
They have cited as inspirations such diverse acts as The Necks, E.S.T. , The Bad Plus, Tord Gustavsen, Vijay Iyer, Brad Mehldau, Pat Metheny.  John Zorn, Radiohead, Aphex Twin, Tortoise and Igor Stravinsky.

The trio have always collaborated with other musicians and their studio recordings have included guest appearances by string and horn players, guitarists and percussionists. They have also worked frequently with classical ensembles including the Southern Cross Soloists, Collusion, Lunarie Collective and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.. 

In 2014 Trichotomy worked in conjunction with the chamber ensemble Topology to produce the album “Healthy”, a work co-credited to both ensembles. It’s a recording that slipped through the Jazzmann’s reviewing net but its success encouraged the further classical collaborations detailed above.

In May 2017 Trichotomy collaborated with the Expressions Dance Company providing music for the show “Behind Closed Doors”, the music subsequently being released on the album of the same name. The recording features contributions from vocalist Kristin Berardi, saxophonists Rafael Karlin and Julian Arguelles, guitarist Stuart McCallum, cellist Ben Davis and drummer Joost Hendrickx.

The British musicians Arguelles, McCallum, Davis and Hendrickx all appeared on Foran’s excellent solo album “Frame of Reference” which was released in 2016. Trichotomy, and particularly Foran, have retained strong ties with the UK, links that were forged when Foran spent some time studying at Leeds College of Music. It’s these bonds that have helped to encourage Trichotomy’s frequent visits to the UK, usually in the British winter as they endeavour to escape the savage heat and humidity of the summers in their Brisbane home.

The releases of “KNOWN-UNKNOWN” and “Behind Closed Doors” have ensured that 2017 has been a very productive and creative year for Trichotomy. This is now being topped off with the appearance of “Live with String Quartet”, an archive item that was first recorded in 2014 but which has just emerged from the vaults as Foran explains;
“Back in 2012 we composed a piece of music for piano and string quartet – it was something we had been planning on doing for some time. We played it at various festivals between 2012-14 and managed to record the last performance. I’d completely forgotten we’d got it stashed away but a colleague asked about it and we thought – oh yes, that one! Well this really deserves a wider audience so it’s time to get it out there,”

“Live with String Quartet” was recorded in October 2014 at the Declassified Music Festival in Brisbane and features Foran on piano, Parker at the drums and Vincent on bass, the latter having recently taken over from Marchisella. The String Quartet consisted of Sarah Curro and Rebecca Adler on violins, Bernard Hoey on viola and Dan Curro on cello.

The programme features five substantial original compositions, three by Foran and two by Parker, comprising of the four movements of the 2012 suite alluded to above plus “Out Of The Dark Sky”, a Foran piece commissioned for the 2014 Declassified Music Festival and inspired by the artwork of Yvonne Mills-Stanley.

The programme commences with Parker’s “Dancing About Architecture” and it is immediately apparent just how well the strings are integrated into the music. This is far more than a ‘piano trio plus strings’ recording, one senses that the seven piece ensemble is genuinely a single minded, multi limbed, fully functioning entity. Trichotomy may be a long and well established unit but it’s far from exclusive and positively encourages integration, experimentation and collaboration.
Appropriately for a drummer’s composition Parker’s piece is highly rhythmic with pizzicato strings combining with jazz bass and drums to create a lattice of interlocking rhythms that recalls the complexities of Reich, Glass etc. The string players are equally inventive with their bowing and the seven musicians combine to create an exhilarating opening movement that combines jazz rhythms, classical technique and even splashes of folk inspired melody.

Solo piano introduces Foran’s “An Acre Of Time”, a more reflective, but no less effective piece that once more combines arco and pizzicato string sounds with the quartet again finely attuned to Trichotomy’s music. Gorgeous string melodies combine with the innate lyricism of Foran’s piano playing while Parker and Vincent offer sensitive rhythmic accompaniment. Foran’s playing becomes more expansive as the piece develops episodically with the dynamics rising and falling. A taut, rhythmic section gives away to a further passage of lyrical solo piano, this in turn leading to a further section featuring the sounds of strings both bowed and plucked allied to Parker’s succinct percussive accompaniment.

Foran’s Festival commission “Out Of The Dark Sky” commences with the sound of hand claps and dampened piano strings (the “Healthy” album included an arrangement of Steve Reich’s “Clapping”) but the music subsequently moves into more obvious ‘chamber’ territory, again featuring a mix of bowed and pizzicato strings. Beautiful string melodies abound, again hinting at a folk influence, and Foran’s touch at the piano is also delightful. But this is music that never stays in one place for long and the music quickly becomes more rhythmic, the energy levels rise, the bowing becomes more vigorous and the clapping briefly returns. After to coming to something of a peak there’s a long, slow fade featuring the beautiful but melancholic sounds of the strings shadowed by Foran’s piano. This is music that is constantly evolving yet the changes sound perfectly natural, organic and totally unforced, a virtue that is a tribute to the quality of both the writing and the playing.

Also from the pen of Foran “A State Of Change” opens with the sounds of the strings interacting with Parker’s drums on a piece that combines elegant melodies with buoyant rhythms. There’s a typically rich array of sounds, textures and dynamics on a composition that includes more vigorous interaction between drums and strings. “This music allows us to really write and play in new ways” explains drummer Parker, “there’s more harmony and rhythmic parts to create, but also more space to play around with” - qualities that are amply demonstrated here.

Finally it’s Parker’s own “Life Gets In The Way” that concludes this excellent album. Introduced by the taut, urgent, rhythmic bowing of the string quartet the music gradually gathers even greater momentum with the addition of piano, bass and drums. There’s a song like quality about the melodies but in a typically multi-faceted composition we get to enjoy a more abstract and impressionistic string passage mid tune leading to a rousing, almost anthemic, final section featuring soaring melodies and powerful rhythms prior to a brief, unexpected melancholic fade.

The Brisbane audience loved this performance and gave the ensemble a terrific reception – and rightly so. One can see why Foran and his colleagues thought that this was music too good to be left in the vaults. It’s one of the best and most exciting ‘jazz with strings’ recordings that I’ve heard. This is a tightly knit, finely tuned ensemble that seems to think as one. Conventional solos are few and far between although the melodic lead moves frequently between piano and strings. But it’s the rhythmic interplay that is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the music in a performance where the focus of the listener is constantly shifting. This was a concert where both band and audience had to be consistently on their toes.

Too often in the past the presence of strings has stifled the creativity of jazz performers. Here the effect has been totally the opposite with the String Quartet bringing out the best of both themselves and Trichotomy. This is a recording that bristles with energy and creativity and it’s good to have it out there in the public domain.


For details of how to purchase “Live with String Quartet” please visit http://www.trichotomymusic.com

 

Live with String Quartet

Trichotomy

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Live with String Quartet

One of the best and most exciting ‘jazz with strings’ recordings that I’ve heard.

Trichotomy

“Live with String Quartet”

(Digital Release)

The Australian piano trio Trichotomy have been Jazzmann favourites since I reviewed their album “Variations” back in 2010 and enjoyed a live performance by the band at Stratford-upon-Avon Jazz Club shortly afterwards. I’ve since seen three further performances by the trio in Cardiff, all of the excellent. The first two were at Safe Jazz in 2011 and 2013, the third at the Dora Stoutzker Concert Hall at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in February 2017.

I have also continued to keep abreast of Trichotomy’s recorded output and have reviewed their studio albums “The Gentle War” (2011), “Fact Finding Mission”  (2013) and “KNOWN-UNKNOWN” (2017), the latter appearing on the Dutch imprint Challenge Records following a lengthy tenure with the British label Naim Jazz.

Originally founded at Queensland Conservatorium Trichotomy have been together for almost twenty years and are a highly interactive trio with a strong group identity. “Variations” was their third album but the first to enjoy an international release and it’s fair to say that each subsequent recording has exhibited clear signs of artistic growth, an impressive feat for a band of such longevity.

Trichotomy features founder members pianist Sean Foran and drummer John Parker with Samuel Vincent taking over the bass chair for “KNOWN-UNKNOWN” after replacing the long serving Pat Marchisella. The trio’s music has always been written by Foran and Parker with each album being split roughly fifty-fifty albeit with a slight bias towards the prolific Foran. Vincent has added a third compositional voice to the group with one piece featuring on “KNOWN-UNKNOWN”.

Trichotomy have always been open to many influences from jazz to rock to modern classical music.
They have cited as inspirations such diverse acts as The Necks, E.S.T. , The Bad Plus, Tord Gustavsen, Vijay Iyer, Brad Mehldau, Pat Metheny.  John Zorn, Radiohead, Aphex Twin, Tortoise and Igor Stravinsky.

The trio have always collaborated with other musicians and their studio recordings have included guest appearances by string and horn players, guitarists and percussionists. They have also worked frequently with classical ensembles including the Southern Cross Soloists, Collusion, Lunarie Collective and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.. 

In 2014 Trichotomy worked in conjunction with the chamber ensemble Topology to produce the album “Healthy”, a work co-credited to both ensembles. It’s a recording that slipped through the Jazzmann’s reviewing net but its success encouraged the further classical collaborations detailed above.

In May 2017 Trichotomy collaborated with the Expressions Dance Company providing music for the show “Behind Closed Doors”, the music subsequently being released on the album of the same name. The recording features contributions from vocalist Kristin Berardi, saxophonists Rafael Karlin and Julian Arguelles, guitarist Stuart McCallum, cellist Ben Davis and drummer Joost Hendrickx.

The British musicians Arguelles, McCallum, Davis and Hendrickx all appeared on Foran’s excellent solo album “Frame of Reference” which was released in 2016. Trichotomy, and particularly Foran, have retained strong ties with the UK, links that were forged when Foran spent some time studying at Leeds College of Music. It’s these bonds that have helped to encourage Trichotomy’s frequent visits to the UK, usually in the British winter as they endeavour to escape the savage heat and humidity of the summers in their Brisbane home.

The releases of “KNOWN-UNKNOWN” and “Behind Closed Doors” have ensured that 2017 has been a very productive and creative year for Trichotomy. This is now being topped off with the appearance of “Live with String Quartet”, an archive item that was first recorded in 2014 but which has just emerged from the vaults as Foran explains;
“Back in 2012 we composed a piece of music for piano and string quartet – it was something we had been planning on doing for some time. We played it at various festivals between 2012-14 and managed to record the last performance. I’d completely forgotten we’d got it stashed away but a colleague asked about it and we thought – oh yes, that one! Well this really deserves a wider audience so it’s time to get it out there,”

“Live with String Quartet” was recorded in October 2014 at the Declassified Music Festival in Brisbane and features Foran on piano, Parker at the drums and Vincent on bass, the latter having recently taken over from Marchisella. The String Quartet consisted of Sarah Curro and Rebecca Adler on violins, Bernard Hoey on viola and Dan Curro on cello.

The programme features five substantial original compositions, three by Foran and two by Parker, comprising of the four movements of the 2012 suite alluded to above plus “Out Of The Dark Sky”, a Foran piece commissioned for the 2014 Declassified Music Festival and inspired by the artwork of Yvonne Mills-Stanley.

The programme commences with Parker’s “Dancing About Architecture” and it is immediately apparent just how well the strings are integrated into the music. This is far more than a ‘piano trio plus strings’ recording, one senses that the seven piece ensemble is genuinely a single minded, multi limbed, fully functioning entity. Trichotomy may be a long and well established unit but it’s far from exclusive and positively encourages integration, experimentation and collaboration.
Appropriately for a drummer’s composition Parker’s piece is highly rhythmic with pizzicato strings combining with jazz bass and drums to create a lattice of interlocking rhythms that recalls the complexities of Reich, Glass etc. The string players are equally inventive with their bowing and the seven musicians combine to create an exhilarating opening movement that combines jazz rhythms, classical technique and even splashes of folk inspired melody.

Solo piano introduces Foran’s “An Acre Of Time”, a more reflective, but no less effective piece that once more combines arco and pizzicato string sounds with the quartet again finely attuned to Trichotomy’s music. Gorgeous string melodies combine with the innate lyricism of Foran’s piano playing while Parker and Vincent offer sensitive rhythmic accompaniment. Foran’s playing becomes more expansive as the piece develops episodically with the dynamics rising and falling. A taut, rhythmic section gives away to a further passage of lyrical solo piano, this in turn leading to a further section featuring the sounds of strings both bowed and plucked allied to Parker’s succinct percussive accompaniment.

Foran’s Festival commission “Out Of The Dark Sky” commences with the sound of hand claps and dampened piano strings (the “Healthy” album included an arrangement of Steve Reich’s “Clapping”) but the music subsequently moves into more obvious ‘chamber’ territory, again featuring a mix of bowed and pizzicato strings. Beautiful string melodies abound, again hinting at a folk influence, and Foran’s touch at the piano is also delightful. But this is music that never stays in one place for long and the music quickly becomes more rhythmic, the energy levels rise, the bowing becomes more vigorous and the clapping briefly returns. After to coming to something of a peak there’s a long, slow fade featuring the beautiful but melancholic sounds of the strings shadowed by Foran’s piano. This is music that is constantly evolving yet the changes sound perfectly natural, organic and totally unforced, a virtue that is a tribute to the quality of both the writing and the playing.

Also from the pen of Foran “A State Of Change” opens with the sounds of the strings interacting with Parker’s drums on a piece that combines elegant melodies with buoyant rhythms. There’s a typically rich array of sounds, textures and dynamics on a composition that includes more vigorous interaction between drums and strings. “This music allows us to really write and play in new ways” explains drummer Parker, “there’s more harmony and rhythmic parts to create, but also more space to play around with” - qualities that are amply demonstrated here.

Finally it’s Parker’s own “Life Gets In The Way” that concludes this excellent album. Introduced by the taut, urgent, rhythmic bowing of the string quartet the music gradually gathers even greater momentum with the addition of piano, bass and drums. There’s a song like quality about the melodies but in a typically multi-faceted composition we get to enjoy a more abstract and impressionistic string passage mid tune leading to a rousing, almost anthemic, final section featuring soaring melodies and powerful rhythms prior to a brief, unexpected melancholic fade.

The Brisbane audience loved this performance and gave the ensemble a terrific reception – and rightly so. One can see why Foran and his colleagues thought that this was music too good to be left in the vaults. It’s one of the best and most exciting ‘jazz with strings’ recordings that I’ve heard. This is a tightly knit, finely tuned ensemble that seems to think as one. Conventional solos are few and far between although the melodic lead moves frequently between piano and strings. But it’s the rhythmic interplay that is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the music in a performance where the focus of the listener is constantly shifting. This was a concert where both band and audience had to be consistently on their toes.

Too often in the past the presence of strings has stifled the creativity of jazz performers. Here the effect has been totally the opposite with the String Quartet bringing out the best of both themselves and Trichotomy. This is a recording that bristles with energy and creativity and it’s good to have it out there in the public domain.


For details of how to purchase “Live with String Quartet” please visit http://www.trichotomymusic.com

 

Fraser & The Alibis - Fraser & The Alibis Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Original tunes which take the virtues of 50s and 60s hard bop and soul jazz and infuse them with a youthful enthusiasm born of the 21st century.

Fraser & The Alibis

“Fraser & The Alibis”

(Self Released)

This self released recording represents the début album from Fraser & The Alibis, the quartet led by tenor saxophonist and composer Fraser Smith. The group also features organist Joe Webb, guitarist Harry Sankey and drummer Gethin Jones.

Previously known as The Applejacks the band first came together some ten years ago when its members were all studying on the Jazz Course at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff. Now based in London they have played over 300 shows together in the past decade including appearances at the London, Cheltenham, Swansea, Birmingham and Brecon Jazz Festivals.

Although the group members are all in their late twenties they are passionate about straight-ahead jazz with band-leader Smith citing the influence of saxophonists Dexter Gordon, Illinois Jacquet and Clifford Jordan, organists Jack McDuff and Jimmy Smith, guitarist Wes Montgomery and numerous others on their music.

Smith says of his band’s sound;
“Through our own compositions we hope to recapture some of the magic that was the 50s / 60s Blue Note era. We’re into anything funky, hard swingin’ or grooving”.

Having accrued an album’s worth of fully ‘gigged in’ original material the band returned to Wales to record at Studiowz, a vintage studio with its own Hammond organ. The seven pieces see the band living up to their promise with a collection of tunes that are indeed “funky, hard swinging and grooving”. There are no real surprises here but this is an immensely enjoyable album that does ‘just what it says on the tin’.

The album kicks off with “The Dream” and the authentically big boned sound of Smith’s tenor alongside Jones’ crisp drumming. Webb takes the first solo on Hammond and he’s followed by the leader’s earthy, r’n’b tinged sax and the nimble elegance of Sankey’s Montgomery inspired guitar. Finally Jones enjoys a series of ebullient drum breaks.

There’s no let up in the energy levels as “French Toast” combines the raucous r’n’b flavoured sounds of Smith’s tenor with the gospel drenched soulfulness of Webb’s Hammond. The tenor/organ combination is particularly effective throughout the album with the solid drumming of Jones providing suitably propulsive rhythmic support. Jones is accustomed to working with organists having also performed with the Bristol based Hammond guru John Paul Gard. He’s also collaborated extensively with guitarist and composer Dan Messore in the band Indigo Kid.

The aptly named “B’s Blues” keeps the pot bubbling with a swinging, good natured performance featuring the agile, blues tinged guitar soloing of Sankey, the forthright r’n’b sound of Smith’s tenor   and the adrenaline surge of Webb’s Hammond. The soloists are well supported by Jones’ bright, energetic drumming and Sankey’s skilful comping.

The energetic “On The Green” must surely be a crowd pleaser in the live environment with its infectious rhythms and fiery solos from tenor, Hammond and guitar. Organist Webb is a particularly versatile player and is also a skilled pianist. Credited on ‘keyboards’ he recently appeared on the album “Riser”, the acclaimed leadership début on Edition Records from rising star guitarist Rob Luft.

“Breakout” boasts a busy, almost boppish theme which is given the Alibis treatment with mercurial solos from Smith, Webb and Sankey above brisk, crisp, driving rhythms with Jones’ drum breaks also punctuating the tune.

Jones introduces the funky “Boogaloo Stew” at the drums and he helps to keep things simmering as Smith delivers a muscular theme statement before sharing the solos with Sankey. This ‘stew’ might be ‘meat and potatoes’, but it’s undeniably tasty.

It’s high octane stuff all the way as the album closes with the hard swinging “The Woods” with the fluent and inventive Sankey leading off the solos followed by the leader’s forthright tenor.

OK,  so there’s nothing startlingly original here but that isn’t what Fraser & The Alibis are all about, and in fairness some of the group’s members have done more adventurous things elsewhere. But there’s no denying the skill and energy of the performances and the quality of the playing. The four band members sound as if they’re having a wail of time playing these original tunes which take the virtues of 50s and 60s hard bop and soul jazz and infuse them with a youthful enthusiasm born of the 21st century. The ensemble playing is tight, the soloing fluent and fiery and the rhythms crisp, hard driving and infectious. I’m also impressed with the quality of the original material, which embraces the values of the past but which doesn’t sound tired or hackneyed. And that vintage Hammond at Studiowz sounds great, like a living, breathing entity.

The pace is pretty relentless and the inclusion of a ballad may have added a welcome change of mood and an element of light and shade but as Smith has explained the Alibis primarily think of themselves as a live band. On this evidence one would imagine that they would be a highly exciting proposition in the live environment and they are regular performers at Ronnie Scott’s.

This album will primarily be available at the band’s gigs and one would imagine that it will make a great souvenir of their energetic live performances. However it’s also a rewarding listen in its own right with plenty of good things to enjoy about both the writing and the playing.

Further information about Fraser & The Alibis can be found at http://www.fraserandthealibis.com

Fraser & The Alibis

Fraser & The Alibis

Monday, December 18, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Fraser & The Alibis

Original tunes which take the virtues of 50s and 60s hard bop and soul jazz and infuse them with a youthful enthusiasm born of the 21st century.

Fraser & The Alibis

“Fraser & The Alibis”

(Self Released)

This self released recording represents the début album from Fraser & The Alibis, the quartet led by tenor saxophonist and composer Fraser Smith. The group also features organist Joe Webb, guitarist Harry Sankey and drummer Gethin Jones.

Previously known as The Applejacks the band first came together some ten years ago when its members were all studying on the Jazz Course at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff. Now based in London they have played over 300 shows together in the past decade including appearances at the London, Cheltenham, Swansea, Birmingham and Brecon Jazz Festivals.

Although the group members are all in their late twenties they are passionate about straight-ahead jazz with band-leader Smith citing the influence of saxophonists Dexter Gordon, Illinois Jacquet and Clifford Jordan, organists Jack McDuff and Jimmy Smith, guitarist Wes Montgomery and numerous others on their music.

Smith says of his band’s sound;
“Through our own compositions we hope to recapture some of the magic that was the 50s / 60s Blue Note era. We’re into anything funky, hard swingin’ or grooving”.

Having accrued an album’s worth of fully ‘gigged in’ original material the band returned to Wales to record at Studiowz, a vintage studio with its own Hammond organ. The seven pieces see the band living up to their promise with a collection of tunes that are indeed “funky, hard swinging and grooving”. There are no real surprises here but this is an immensely enjoyable album that does ‘just what it says on the tin’.

The album kicks off with “The Dream” and the authentically big boned sound of Smith’s tenor alongside Jones’ crisp drumming. Webb takes the first solo on Hammond and he’s followed by the leader’s earthy, r’n’b tinged sax and the nimble elegance of Sankey’s Montgomery inspired guitar. Finally Jones enjoys a series of ebullient drum breaks.

There’s no let up in the energy levels as “French Toast” combines the raucous r’n’b flavoured sounds of Smith’s tenor with the gospel drenched soulfulness of Webb’s Hammond. The tenor/organ combination is particularly effective throughout the album with the solid drumming of Jones providing suitably propulsive rhythmic support. Jones is accustomed to working with organists having also performed with the Bristol based Hammond guru John Paul Gard. He’s also collaborated extensively with guitarist and composer Dan Messore in the band Indigo Kid.

The aptly named “B’s Blues” keeps the pot bubbling with a swinging, good natured performance featuring the agile, blues tinged guitar soloing of Sankey, the forthright r’n’b sound of Smith’s tenor   and the adrenaline surge of Webb’s Hammond. The soloists are well supported by Jones’ bright, energetic drumming and Sankey’s skilful comping.

The energetic “On The Green” must surely be a crowd pleaser in the live environment with its infectious rhythms and fiery solos from tenor, Hammond and guitar. Organist Webb is a particularly versatile player and is also a skilled pianist. Credited on ‘keyboards’ he recently appeared on the album “Riser”, the acclaimed leadership début on Edition Records from rising star guitarist Rob Luft.

“Breakout” boasts a busy, almost boppish theme which is given the Alibis treatment with mercurial solos from Smith, Webb and Sankey above brisk, crisp, driving rhythms with Jones’ drum breaks also punctuating the tune.

Jones introduces the funky “Boogaloo Stew” at the drums and he helps to keep things simmering as Smith delivers a muscular theme statement before sharing the solos with Sankey. This ‘stew’ might be ‘meat and potatoes’, but it’s undeniably tasty.

It’s high octane stuff all the way as the album closes with the hard swinging “The Woods” with the fluent and inventive Sankey leading off the solos followed by the leader’s forthright tenor.

OK,  so there’s nothing startlingly original here but that isn’t what Fraser & The Alibis are all about, and in fairness some of the group’s members have done more adventurous things elsewhere. But there’s no denying the skill and energy of the performances and the quality of the playing. The four band members sound as if they’re having a wail of time playing these original tunes which take the virtues of 50s and 60s hard bop and soul jazz and infuse them with a youthful enthusiasm born of the 21st century. The ensemble playing is tight, the soloing fluent and fiery and the rhythms crisp, hard driving and infectious. I’m also impressed with the quality of the original material, which embraces the values of the past but which doesn’t sound tired or hackneyed. And that vintage Hammond at Studiowz sounds great, like a living, breathing entity.

The pace is pretty relentless and the inclusion of a ballad may have added a welcome change of mood and an element of light and shade but as Smith has explained the Alibis primarily think of themselves as a live band. On this evidence one would imagine that they would be a highly exciting proposition in the live environment and they are regular performers at Ronnie Scott’s.

This album will primarily be available at the band’s gigs and one would imagine that it will make a great souvenir of their energetic live performances. However it’s also a rewarding listen in its own right with plenty of good things to enjoy about both the writing and the playing.

Further information about Fraser & The Alibis can be found at http://www.fraserandthealibis.com

Latchepen - Love Letters Rating: 4 out of 5 Offers something fresh and exciting while working broadly within the gypsy jazz template. One of the most satisfying albums of its type that I’ve heard for quite a while.

Latchepen

“Love Letters”

(Blind Lemon Records)

Latchepen is a new London based quartet playing music inspired by Django Reinhardt and by Romani music in general. The group name comes from an exclamation expressing “happiness and contentment” in the Romani language.

I’m grateful to the group’s violinist, Yorkshire born, Scottish raised Matt Holborn, for forwarding me a review copy of this CD. I was previously familiar with Holborn’s playing after seeing performing as a guest with guitarist Remi Harris, the latter a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages and something of a local hero as far as I’m concerned.

The Latchepen line up is completed by guitarists Kourash Kanani and Jeremie Coullon plus bassist Simon Read. Read is the second member of the group that I have seen performing live. He recently appeared at the Vortex in Dalston during the 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival as part of a trio led by pianist and composer Sam Leak. In this very different context Read was allotted a good deal of solo space and I was highly impressed by the fluency and dexterity of his playing.

Although inspired by Reinhardt the ten tracks on “Love Letters” don’t actually mine this rich, but by now overly familiar seam. Instead the programme embraces five original compositions, four of them written by Holborn, plus a handful of jazz and bebop standards, but not the usual gypsy jazz staples.

The album commences with the title track, a 1945 tune written by Victor Young with lyrics by Edward Heyman. It begins in surprisingly subdued fashion with the two guitars intertwining before springing into more familiar gypsy jazz territory with the rapid chug of the rhythms fuelling solos from Holborn and Kanani.

“Second Avenue”, written by Holborn is the first of the originals. The playful, stop-start motif hints at exotic locations and although the tune accelerates its progress is still quirky and jerky. There’s a pleasing sense of unpredictability about a piece that harbours further fluent solos from Holborn and Kanani.

“Chandra”, a blues written by the pianist Jaki Byard, is unfamiliar gypsy jazz fare but the quartet impose their own stamp on it. Also drawing on bebop influences the piece includes nimble solos from Read, Coullon, cutting loose for the first time, and Holborn. There’s a later set of exchanges between Holborn and Kahani before the guitarist takes over to wrap up a piece that features all four members of the group as soloists.

It’s back to the ‘Great American Songbook’ for the quartet’s take on “I’ll Be seeing You”, written by Sammy Fain with lyrics by Irving Kahal. The gypsy jazz arrangement evokes memories of Reinhardt, Stephane Grappelli and the Hot Club of France with Holborn playing the theme before handing over to the two guitarists who trade elegant solos, Kanani going first followed by Coullon.

The Holborn original “Thunkette” introduces elements of klezmer and North African music as it blends gypsy jazz with other musical styles. There’s an almost oud like quality about Kanani’s guitar solo with Holborn’s violin feature sounding similarly exotic. Intriguing and invigorating in equal measure this is one of the album’s stand out tracks.

The quartet display a gentler side of their collective musical personality with their sensitive ballad interpretation of the standard “I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry” written by Jule Styne with lyrics by Sammy Cahn. Kanani sketches the melody while Holborn and Coullon supply the thoughtful and lyrical solos.

Holborn’s “Captain Summer” combines something of the quirkiness of his earlier compositions with more familiar Hot Club stylings to beguiling effect. The composer takes the first solo on violin followed by Coullon on guitar and finally Read at the bass.

“Whisper Not”, written by saxophonist Benny Golson, represents a dip into the classic jazz repertoire with an effective gypsy jazz interpretation that sounds perfectly natural and includes sparkling solos from Kanani and Holborn plus a pleasingly melodic excursion on the bass from Read.

Kanani takes over the compositional reins for “Koo Koo” which finds the guitarist doubling up with Holborn on the fast moving, boppish melody line as Coullon and Read pump out an energising rhythm. This in turn helps to fuel mercurial solos from Kanani and Holborn. This is virtuosic, wildly exciting stuff.

The album concludes on a gentler note with the Holborn composition “Our Laughing Heart”, a short ensemble piece with the plaintive, emotive sound of the composer’s violin in the foreground.
It’s a highly effective way to end a very good album.

There’s a lot of gypsy jazz around and in the last few years I’ve got to hear a lot of it. It has to be said that it can become rather clichéd with its many practitioners drawing on the same well of Django Reinhardt and related material.

Not so Latchepen, which is why their approach is so fresh and invigorating. Although obviously inspired by Django, Stephane et al there isn’t actually a Reinhardt tune on this album, and in my opinion it’s all the better for it. The playing is excellent throughout with a well balanced ensemble sound and some superb solos but the most refreshing thing is the quality of the original material. The writing of Holborn and Kahani is playful and inventive and offers something fresh and exciting while working broadly within the gypsy jazz template.

In addition the group’s interpretations of jazz, bebop and songbook material are also pleasingly cliché free with the quartet offering fresh insights into their well chosen material.

“Love Letters” is one of the most satisfying albums of its type that I’ve heard for quite a while.

Latchepen will be performing with Dutch vocalist Eva Scholten at Brasserie Zedel in London on 4th January 2018. Link here;
https://www.brasseriezedel.com/live-at-zedel/eva-scholten-featuring-latchepen-jan-2018?date=119299777

 

 

Love Letters

Latchepen

Friday, December 15, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Love Letters

Offers something fresh and exciting while working broadly within the gypsy jazz template. One of the most satisfying albums of its type that I’ve heard for quite a while.

Latchepen

“Love Letters”

(Blind Lemon Records)

Latchepen is a new London based quartet playing music inspired by Django Reinhardt and by Romani music in general. The group name comes from an exclamation expressing “happiness and contentment” in the Romani language.

I’m grateful to the group’s violinist, Yorkshire born, Scottish raised Matt Holborn, for forwarding me a review copy of this CD. I was previously familiar with Holborn’s playing after seeing performing as a guest with guitarist Remi Harris, the latter a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages and something of a local hero as far as I’m concerned.

The Latchepen line up is completed by guitarists Kourash Kanani and Jeremie Coullon plus bassist Simon Read. Read is the second member of the group that I have seen performing live. He recently appeared at the Vortex in Dalston during the 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival as part of a trio led by pianist and composer Sam Leak. In this very different context Read was allotted a good deal of solo space and I was highly impressed by the fluency and dexterity of his playing.

Although inspired by Reinhardt the ten tracks on “Love Letters” don’t actually mine this rich, but by now overly familiar seam. Instead the programme embraces five original compositions, four of them written by Holborn, plus a handful of jazz and bebop standards, but not the usual gypsy jazz staples.

The album commences with the title track, a 1945 tune written by Victor Young with lyrics by Edward Heyman. It begins in surprisingly subdued fashion with the two guitars intertwining before springing into more familiar gypsy jazz territory with the rapid chug of the rhythms fuelling solos from Holborn and Kanani.

“Second Avenue”, written by Holborn is the first of the originals. The playful, stop-start motif hints at exotic locations and although the tune accelerates its progress is still quirky and jerky. There’s a pleasing sense of unpredictability about a piece that harbours further fluent solos from Holborn and Kanani.

“Chandra”, a blues written by the pianist Jaki Byard, is unfamiliar gypsy jazz fare but the quartet impose their own stamp on it. Also drawing on bebop influences the piece includes nimble solos from Read, Coullon, cutting loose for the first time, and Holborn. There’s a later set of exchanges between Holborn and Kahani before the guitarist takes over to wrap up a piece that features all four members of the group as soloists.

It’s back to the ‘Great American Songbook’ for the quartet’s take on “I’ll Be seeing You”, written by Sammy Fain with lyrics by Irving Kahal. The gypsy jazz arrangement evokes memories of Reinhardt, Stephane Grappelli and the Hot Club of France with Holborn playing the theme before handing over to the two guitarists who trade elegant solos, Kanani going first followed by Coullon.

The Holborn original “Thunkette” introduces elements of klezmer and North African music as it blends gypsy jazz with other musical styles. There’s an almost oud like quality about Kanani’s guitar solo with Holborn’s violin feature sounding similarly exotic. Intriguing and invigorating in equal measure this is one of the album’s stand out tracks.

The quartet display a gentler side of their collective musical personality with their sensitive ballad interpretation of the standard “I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry” written by Jule Styne with lyrics by Sammy Cahn. Kanani sketches the melody while Holborn and Coullon supply the thoughtful and lyrical solos.

Holborn’s “Captain Summer” combines something of the quirkiness of his earlier compositions with more familiar Hot Club stylings to beguiling effect. The composer takes the first solo on violin followed by Coullon on guitar and finally Read at the bass.

“Whisper Not”, written by saxophonist Benny Golson, represents a dip into the classic jazz repertoire with an effective gypsy jazz interpretation that sounds perfectly natural and includes sparkling solos from Kanani and Holborn plus a pleasingly melodic excursion on the bass from Read.

Kanani takes over the compositional reins for “Koo Koo” which finds the guitarist doubling up with Holborn on the fast moving, boppish melody line as Coullon and Read pump out an energising rhythm. This in turn helps to fuel mercurial solos from Kanani and Holborn. This is virtuosic, wildly exciting stuff.

The album concludes on a gentler note with the Holborn composition “Our Laughing Heart”, a short ensemble piece with the plaintive, emotive sound of the composer’s violin in the foreground.
It’s a highly effective way to end a very good album.

There’s a lot of gypsy jazz around and in the last few years I’ve got to hear a lot of it. It has to be said that it can become rather clichéd with its many practitioners drawing on the same well of Django Reinhardt and related material.

Not so Latchepen, which is why their approach is so fresh and invigorating. Although obviously inspired by Django, Stephane et al there isn’t actually a Reinhardt tune on this album, and in my opinion it’s all the better for it. The playing is excellent throughout with a well balanced ensemble sound and some superb solos but the most refreshing thing is the quality of the original material. The writing of Holborn and Kahani is playful and inventive and offers something fresh and exciting while working broadly within the gypsy jazz template.

In addition the group’s interpretations of jazz, bebop and songbook material are also pleasingly cliché free with the quartet offering fresh insights into their well chosen material.

“Love Letters” is one of the most satisfying albums of its type that I’ve heard for quite a while.

Latchepen will be performing with Dutch vocalist Eva Scholten at Brasserie Zedel in London on 4th January 2018. Link here;
https://www.brasseriezedel.com/live-at-zedel/eva-scholten-featuring-latchepen-jan-2018?date=119299777

 

 

Andrew Bain’s Embodied Hope Quartet - Embodied Hope Rating: 4 out of 5 Music that lies firmly within the jazz tradition but which is still intensely personal, and thoroughly engaged with the issues of the modern world.

Andrew Bain

“Embodied Hope”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4715)

In late 2016 the Scottish born drummer and composer Andrew Bain assembled a stellar four piece band that became known as the “Embodied Hope Quartet”, so called after the suite of the same name that Bain had written specifically for an Arts Council supported UK tour by the group.

With the exception of the leader the band was essentially American and featured Jon Irabagon on tenor saxophone, George Colligan on piano and US born, London based Michael Janisch, founder of Whirlwind Recordings, on double bass.

I was disappointed not to be able to attend any of the gigs on the tour but a live performance by the Embodied Hope Quartet was reviewed for the Jazzmann by guest contributor Sean Wilkie who very much enjoyed their two sets at the much missed Dempsey’s venue in Cardiff. Sean’s review of the Dempsey’s show can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/andrew-bains-embodied-hope-quartet-dempseys-cardiff-02-11-2016/

Shortly after the Dempsey’s performance the quartet went into Wincraft Studios in the Cotswolds to record the eight part “Embodied Hope Suite” with Bain producing, assisted by an engineering team of James Towler, Alex Bonney and Peter Beckmann.

Bain first learned to play the drums with Alan Cleobury-Jones before going on to study at the Guildhall School of Music in London and then at the Manhattan School of Music in New York where he lived between 2001 and 2007. Since returning to the UK he has been an active presence on the London, Birmingham and Scottish jazz scenes and holds posts as Senior Lecturer in Jazz at Birmingham Conservatoire and Artistic Director of Jazz for the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland.

Among those with whom Bain has performed are trumpeters Wynton Marsalis, Kenny Wheeler, Randy Brecker and Andre Canniere, saxophonists Paul Booth and Sir John Dankworth and vocalists Jacqui Dankworth and Natalie Cole. He has also been part of bands led by his Embodied Hope Quartet colleagues Janisch and Colligan.

“The Embodied Hope Suite” is a semi-conceptual work, the music inspired by the issues of human rights, community and social transformation and their relationship to jazz and improvisation. Bain takes jazz as a metaphor for positive change in the world, and the suite is based on seven aspects – listening, surprise, accompaniment, practice, responsibility, trust and, ultimately, hope.

Bain explains that, rather than counting himself as a composer, he’s a writer of music for improvisers:
“Like all good music written with improvisation in mind, Embodied Hope starts with an idea and a vibe, as well as melodies, chord sequences, solo sections and as many boundaries as I want to provide. But apart from that, it’s all in flux and very much up to the band, even in terms of suite order, solo order, etc. I trust these guys with where they take things – an experimental journey evolving on the road, night after night”. 

Bain’s point is illustrated by that Cardiff performance where the band stretched out so far on their solos that is was only possible to play five of the seven movements.
“The best music that I play is with musicians I really trust”, Bain has said. “Not that it’s cosy and we all know what we’re going to do, but that we’re comfortable to push each other, over and over, with every performance. When you’re in that space, there are so many things the music could be… and that’s as good as it gets”. 

Given the loftiness of the album’s theme and with the individual movements having significantly weighty one word titles it’s perhaps not so surprising that the music owes something to the 1960s output of John Coltrane. There’s that same sense of striving and a vague air of an undefined spirituality.

However this is not a Coltrane tribute record and Bain and his colleagues are far more than mere copyists. This is Coltrane inspired post bop with a very contemporary edge with Bain’s approach helping to generate a music that lies firmly within the jazz tradition but which is still intensely personal, and thoroughly engaged with the issues of the modern world.

Bain writes at the piano and has created an engaging set of melodic themes for his colleagues to improvise around. Opener “Accompaniment” is like an incantation as Irabagon’s tenor sketches the melody above the gently rolling thunder of Colligan’s piano and the sound of Bain’s cymbal shimmers and mallet rumbles. Colligan then takes over with a searching piano solo backed by the bustle of the leader’s brushes and the dark, resinous sound of Janisch’s bowed bass. Irabagon then returns, more powerfully and incisively this time as his colleagues orbit around him. Bain admits that the piece started life as a ballad, going on to explain;
“‘Accompaniment’ was originally intended as the ballad, a moment of solace. But as we rehearsed, it became this classic Coltrane rumble-and-tumble, elevating it with some kind of higher energy. So, importantly, I realised that together we had decided this was something different, and it became the opener to the suite.” 

There’s an essential joyousness about the twelve minute “Hope” which commences with the piping of Irabagon’s tenor combined with an uplifting melody played by Colligan at the piano. The saxophonist takes over the melodic reins as the piece begins to develop, using them as the basis for a fluent, probing solo that sees him taking joyous flight, very much in the spirit of Coltrane but still sounding like himself. Colligan, Janisch and, particularly, Bain offer powerful and empathic support. Colligan eventually takes over with a vibrant extended passage of unaccompanied piano that epitomises the spirit of the piece. This evolves into an ebullient Tyner-esque solo that rolls and tumbles energetically with Bain’s crisp, busy, colourful drumming providing galvanising support. Irabagon’s tenor returns in the closing stages as the energy levels build yet further and at the fade it sounds like there was actually a load more to come - no wonder the band stretched out so far at Dempsey’s. Breathlessly invigorating stuff.

Janisch’s bass introduces “Practice” and remains central to a bebop flavoured piece that moves up and down the gears but includes a barnstorming piano solo from Colligan in which he demonstrates a hurtling fluency. He’s followed by a surging tenor solo from Irabagon as Janisch and Bain again provide suitably busy and propulsive support. Bain’s hyperactive drumming, which combines power with fine detail, is a constant source of delight here and throughout the album.

Perhaps appropriately, the leader kick starts “Responsibility” from the drums. The grooves here are almost funky and Irabagon sounds more like Michael Brecker than John Coltrane. Colligan delivers another tumultuous solo, one that contains a veiled Steely Dan quote ( from “Josie”, if I’ve identified it correctly).  There’s also an excellent bass feature from Janisch that combines his customary virtues of resonance, dexterity and sheer musicality. Bain also returns to the fore towards the close with a series of imaginative drum breaks.

“Surprise” is also introduced by Bain at the drums and features a boppish theme which encourages buccaneering solos from Irabagon and Colligan, but in a deliberately fragmented way with the pair consistently interrupting one another as Bain’s writing toys with conventional tune structures. However the leader’s extended drum feature towards the close is more of a nod to jazz traditions. It’s as colourful and inventive as ever, of course.

The introduction to “Listening” initially appears to be freely structured, perhaps fully improvised but Bain reveals that it is in fact the confluence of “ten specific lines of melody written in a similar key centre (albeit with no set tempo)”. When these eventually converge the piece really lifts off with vibrant Latin rhythms underpinning the urgent surge of Irabagon’s tenor. Colligan subsequently takes over with a feverish solo that combines Latin flourishes with a Tyner-esque intensity. There’s also a set of fiery drum breaks from Bain as he exchanges ideas with the front line soloists.

The eleven minute “Trust” ends the album on a positive note, the anthemic theme acting as the springboard for richly inventive and imaginative solos from Colligan and Irabagon, the latter really soaring on tenor. Appropriately there’s also something of a feature for Bain as his drums come into focus prior to a valedictory finale reminiscent of the ‘spiritual jazz’ of the 60s and 70s.

Finally there’s a brief reprise of “Hope”, clocking in at a little over a minute and a half and featuring Irabagon’s tenor in full flight. Bearing in mind how the second track ended it feels like “unfinished business”.

After finally hearing the Embodied Hope Quartet I can now appreciate why Sean was so excited about that Cardiff performance. Bain has surrounded himself with some exceptional musicians and they all perform brilliantly. But this album is about more than the quality of the soloing, superb though it is. Bain has provided the quartet with some excellent material to work with and makes inventive use of a range of interesting and inventive compositional devices. In addition to this his own playing is a revelation as he combines power with detail and precision in a bright, busy, colourful and imaginative display behind the kit.

Let’s hope Bain gets the opportunity to tour this material again. This time I’ll be there to see it.

 

Embodied Hope

Andrew Bain’s Embodied Hope Quartet

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Embodied Hope

Music that lies firmly within the jazz tradition but which is still intensely personal, and thoroughly engaged with the issues of the modern world.

Andrew Bain

“Embodied Hope”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4715)

In late 2016 the Scottish born drummer and composer Andrew Bain assembled a stellar four piece band that became known as the “Embodied Hope Quartet”, so called after the suite of the same name that Bain had written specifically for an Arts Council supported UK tour by the group.

With the exception of the leader the band was essentially American and featured Jon Irabagon on tenor saxophone, George Colligan on piano and US born, London based Michael Janisch, founder of Whirlwind Recordings, on double bass.

I was disappointed not to be able to attend any of the gigs on the tour but a live performance by the Embodied Hope Quartet was reviewed for the Jazzmann by guest contributor Sean Wilkie who very much enjoyed their two sets at the much missed Dempsey’s venue in Cardiff. Sean’s review of the Dempsey’s show can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/andrew-bains-embodied-hope-quartet-dempseys-cardiff-02-11-2016/

Shortly after the Dempsey’s performance the quartet went into Wincraft Studios in the Cotswolds to record the eight part “Embodied Hope Suite” with Bain producing, assisted by an engineering team of James Towler, Alex Bonney and Peter Beckmann.

Bain first learned to play the drums with Alan Cleobury-Jones before going on to study at the Guildhall School of Music in London and then at the Manhattan School of Music in New York where he lived between 2001 and 2007. Since returning to the UK he has been an active presence on the London, Birmingham and Scottish jazz scenes and holds posts as Senior Lecturer in Jazz at Birmingham Conservatoire and Artistic Director of Jazz for the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland.

Among those with whom Bain has performed are trumpeters Wynton Marsalis, Kenny Wheeler, Randy Brecker and Andre Canniere, saxophonists Paul Booth and Sir John Dankworth and vocalists Jacqui Dankworth and Natalie Cole. He has also been part of bands led by his Embodied Hope Quartet colleagues Janisch and Colligan.

“The Embodied Hope Suite” is a semi-conceptual work, the music inspired by the issues of human rights, community and social transformation and their relationship to jazz and improvisation. Bain takes jazz as a metaphor for positive change in the world, and the suite is based on seven aspects – listening, surprise, accompaniment, practice, responsibility, trust and, ultimately, hope.

Bain explains that, rather than counting himself as a composer, he’s a writer of music for improvisers:
“Like all good music written with improvisation in mind, Embodied Hope starts with an idea and a vibe, as well as melodies, chord sequences, solo sections and as many boundaries as I want to provide. But apart from that, it’s all in flux and very much up to the band, even in terms of suite order, solo order, etc. I trust these guys with where they take things – an experimental journey evolving on the road, night after night”. 

Bain’s point is illustrated by that Cardiff performance where the band stretched out so far on their solos that is was only possible to play five of the seven movements.
“The best music that I play is with musicians I really trust”, Bain has said. “Not that it’s cosy and we all know what we’re going to do, but that we’re comfortable to push each other, over and over, with every performance. When you’re in that space, there are so many things the music could be… and that’s as good as it gets”. 

Given the loftiness of the album’s theme and with the individual movements having significantly weighty one word titles it’s perhaps not so surprising that the music owes something to the 1960s output of John Coltrane. There’s that same sense of striving and a vague air of an undefined spirituality.

However this is not a Coltrane tribute record and Bain and his colleagues are far more than mere copyists. This is Coltrane inspired post bop with a very contemporary edge with Bain’s approach helping to generate a music that lies firmly within the jazz tradition but which is still intensely personal, and thoroughly engaged with the issues of the modern world.

Bain writes at the piano and has created an engaging set of melodic themes for his colleagues to improvise around. Opener “Accompaniment” is like an incantation as Irabagon’s tenor sketches the melody above the gently rolling thunder of Colligan’s piano and the sound of Bain’s cymbal shimmers and mallet rumbles. Colligan then takes over with a searching piano solo backed by the bustle of the leader’s brushes and the dark, resinous sound of Janisch’s bowed bass. Irabagon then returns, more powerfully and incisively this time as his colleagues orbit around him. Bain admits that the piece started life as a ballad, going on to explain;
“‘Accompaniment’ was originally intended as the ballad, a moment of solace. But as we rehearsed, it became this classic Coltrane rumble-and-tumble, elevating it with some kind of higher energy. So, importantly, I realised that together we had decided this was something different, and it became the opener to the suite.” 

There’s an essential joyousness about the twelve minute “Hope” which commences with the piping of Irabagon’s tenor combined with an uplifting melody played by Colligan at the piano. The saxophonist takes over the melodic reins as the piece begins to develop, using them as the basis for a fluent, probing solo that sees him taking joyous flight, very much in the spirit of Coltrane but still sounding like himself. Colligan, Janisch and, particularly, Bain offer powerful and empathic support. Colligan eventually takes over with a vibrant extended passage of unaccompanied piano that epitomises the spirit of the piece. This evolves into an ebullient Tyner-esque solo that rolls and tumbles energetically with Bain’s crisp, busy, colourful drumming providing galvanising support. Irabagon’s tenor returns in the closing stages as the energy levels build yet further and at the fade it sounds like there was actually a load more to come - no wonder the band stretched out so far at Dempsey’s. Breathlessly invigorating stuff.

Janisch’s bass introduces “Practice” and remains central to a bebop flavoured piece that moves up and down the gears but includes a barnstorming piano solo from Colligan in which he demonstrates a hurtling fluency. He’s followed by a surging tenor solo from Irabagon as Janisch and Bain again provide suitably busy and propulsive support. Bain’s hyperactive drumming, which combines power with fine detail, is a constant source of delight here and throughout the album.

Perhaps appropriately, the leader kick starts “Responsibility” from the drums. The grooves here are almost funky and Irabagon sounds more like Michael Brecker than John Coltrane. Colligan delivers another tumultuous solo, one that contains a veiled Steely Dan quote ( from “Josie”, if I’ve identified it correctly).  There’s also an excellent bass feature from Janisch that combines his customary virtues of resonance, dexterity and sheer musicality. Bain also returns to the fore towards the close with a series of imaginative drum breaks.

“Surprise” is also introduced by Bain at the drums and features a boppish theme which encourages buccaneering solos from Irabagon and Colligan, but in a deliberately fragmented way with the pair consistently interrupting one another as Bain’s writing toys with conventional tune structures. However the leader’s extended drum feature towards the close is more of a nod to jazz traditions. It’s as colourful and inventive as ever, of course.

The introduction to “Listening” initially appears to be freely structured, perhaps fully improvised but Bain reveals that it is in fact the confluence of “ten specific lines of melody written in a similar key centre (albeit with no set tempo)”. When these eventually converge the piece really lifts off with vibrant Latin rhythms underpinning the urgent surge of Irabagon’s tenor. Colligan subsequently takes over with a feverish solo that combines Latin flourishes with a Tyner-esque intensity. There’s also a set of fiery drum breaks from Bain as he exchanges ideas with the front line soloists.

The eleven minute “Trust” ends the album on a positive note, the anthemic theme acting as the springboard for richly inventive and imaginative solos from Colligan and Irabagon, the latter really soaring on tenor. Appropriately there’s also something of a feature for Bain as his drums come into focus prior to a valedictory finale reminiscent of the ‘spiritual jazz’ of the 60s and 70s.

Finally there’s a brief reprise of “Hope”, clocking in at a little over a minute and a half and featuring Irabagon’s tenor in full flight. Bearing in mind how the second track ended it feels like “unfinished business”.

After finally hearing the Embodied Hope Quartet I can now appreciate why Sean was so excited about that Cardiff performance. Bain has surrounded himself with some exceptional musicians and they all perform brilliantly. But this album is about more than the quality of the soloing, superb though it is. Bain has provided the quartet with some excellent material to work with and makes inventive use of a range of interesting and inventive compositional devices. In addition to this his own playing is a revelation as he combines power with detail and precision in a bright, busy, colourful and imaginative display behind the kit.

Let’s hope Bain gets the opportunity to tour this material again. This time I’ll be there to see it.

 

Article XI / Favourite Animals - Article XI / Favourite Animals double bill, Hexagon Theatre, MAC, Birmingham, 05/12/2017. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 An absorbing and intriguing evening of uncompromising music making at the interface where the composed and the spontaneous conjoin to rewarding effect.

ANTON HUNTER’S ARTICLE XI / CATH ROBERTS’ FAVOURITE ANIMALS,
DOUBLE BILL, THE HEXAGON THEATRE, MIDLANDS ARTS CENTRE, BIRMINGHAM, 05/12/2017.

This performance was part of a short series of events during autumn organised by Tony Dudley-Evans under the banner of TDE Promotions. Working in conjunction with the Birmingham based Fizzle organisation and with financial support from the Arts Council Dudley-Evans has presented a series of events on which the focus was very much on improvised and experimental music.

Tonight’s presentation featured a double bill comprised of two large-ish ensembles, Article XI led by guitarist Anton Hunter and Favourite Animals led by baritone saxophonist Cath Roberts.

The two leaders, although based in different cities, Hunter in Manchester and Roberts in London, have close links and indeed work together as the improvising duo Ripsaw Catfish. Their familiarity with each others’ working methods ensured that there was an overlap of musicians between the two bands on this, the first night of a short national tour of double bills featuring the two groups. The personnel included musicians from the London, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds jazz and improvised music scenes, the players coming together in a healthy spirit of cross fertilisation and co-operation..

Tonight’s performances took place in the Hexagon Theatre, the smaller performance space, or ‘studio’ if you will, at the MAC. Its intimate, semi-circular layout makes it ideal for improvised music and the venue is regularly utilised for such performances, notably at the much missed Harmonic Festival and more recently at Sid Peacock’s Surge in Spring Festival.

Introducing the event Tony Dudley-Evans remarked upon how expertly both bands straddle the boundaries between structure and improvisation, seamlessly moving between the two, and this was a quality that was to characterise the evening as a whole.

ARTICLE XI

In a genuine double bill it was Hunter’s group that took to the stage first. As well as leading his own groups and collaborating in numerous other small ensembles, including Roberts’ quintet Sloth Racket, Hunter is also well known as the guitarist with the acclaimed Manchester based big band Beats & Pieces, led by director and composer Ben Cottrell.

Hunter’s own ‘big band’ came about as the commission for the 2014 Manchester Jazz Festival and takes its name from Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights which states;
“Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of their interests”

Appropriately tonight’s line up featured eleven players, a first XI if you will, comprised of;

Anton Hunter – guitar, conductor
Graham South, Nick Walters – trumpets
Cath Roberts – baritone sax
Simon Prince – tenor sax, flute
Sam Andreae, Olly Dover – alto saxes
Richard Foote, Tullis Rennie – trombones
Seth Bennett – double bass
Johnny Hunter – drums

The programme consisted of two pieces from the ensemble’s forthcoming eponymous début album on Efpi Records plus two newer, as yet unrecorded pieces, all of them written by Anton Hunter.

The ensemble commenced with “Retaken”, the piece that also opens the forthcoming album. A gentle introductory horn chorale was subsequently joined by bass and drums as the piece continued to develop. The configuration of the horns reminded me somewhat of the bands of Mike Gibbs and Carla Bley, particularly with regard to the textural possibilities. Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath and Elton Dean’s Ninesense might provide other convenient reference points. The first bona fide solo of the evening came from trumpeter Nick Walters, a member of Beats & Pieces and also the leader of his own Paradox Ensemble. Hunter largely concentrated on his conducting duties, taking an ego-less approach to his guitar playing, his six string acting as a member of the ensemble rather than a solo instrument. Bennett was the next to feature with an impressive passage of unaccompanied bass playing that led into a scrawled dialogue between the two trumpets and the two trombones in a more freely constructed section. In turn the brass players were joined by the rest of the band, the massed horns mounting a blazing assault in a finale that was reminiscent of the ragged gloriousness of the first edition of Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra.

Next came a new tune, “Always A Fox”, a much more open piece that actually exists in three different versions. Hunter called “Version One” and the piece began with a freely structured intro featuring pecked saxes and rushes of breath together with arco bass with Roberts’ gruff baritone sax providing an element of structure and punctuation. A raucous, more obviously written, riff based section followed, the eleven musicians making a big sound in a small space despite playing entirely acoustically. Hunter himself was the only player with amplification, but even he was almost drowned out by the stridency of the horns. A more subdued coda featured long, dolorous horn lines and doomy arco bass as the piece ended on a more sombre and atmospheric note. This was the most loosely constructed item in the set, the title a football reference. Hunter has friends in Leicester, most of them armchair football fans, who assured him “Always a Fox, mate” after Leicester City’s unlikely Premiership title triumph in 2016.

“Peaceful Assembly” was the first piece written for the Manchester Jazz Festival commission and is included on the forthcoming album. More obviously through composed than “Fox” the piece commenced with the sounds of the twin trumpets, Walters playing with a mute, South with an open bell. South then took the first solo, still playing the open horn, his tone plaintive and lyrical and supported economically by guitar, double bass and brushed drums. The following trombone solo from Birmingham based Richard Foote was less introspective and far more confrontational and ‘full on’ as he joyously explored the full range of the instrument. In general this was an impressive piece of work, a piece that made effective use of the dynamic contrasts offered by such an ensemble.

Article XI concluded their set with the new Hunter tune “Municrination” which commenced with a bass and drum dialogue between Bennett and Johnny Hunter leading in turn to solos from Prince on tenor and South on trumpet. Next came a freely improvised dialogue between Roberts and baritone and Rennie on trombone that evoked memories of their aptly named duo recording “Blurts & Growls”, perhaps “Scribbles and Scrawls” would have been more appropriate here. The pair were eventually accompanied by a backdrop of twin alto saxes and twin trumpets as the piece climaxed with a written, riff based section but with ample scope provided for the individual horns to scream and blare as the rhythm team maintained the groove in a classic, glorious collision of freedom and structure.

This was an enjoyable and thought provoking set from Hunter and his band. The forthcoming album was recorded in 2014 at performances at Manchester Jazz Festival and at the Vortex in London and features a slightly different line up. The Hunter brothers, Walters, South, Roberts, Prince and Andreae are all present and correct while Bennett is featured on trombone. The album line up is completed by alto saxophonist Mette Rasmussen and bassist Eero Tikkanen, the latter once a member of HAQ, the quartet co-led by Hunter and Andreae.

The Article XI album will be officially released on February 9th 2018 on Efpi Records but is already available at gigs. It contains seven pieces and arguably places a greater emphasis on composition than tonight’s performance. In any event it’s a compelling and thoroughly engaging listen that will be readily accessible to most adventurous listeners and as such is highly recommended.

FAVOURITE ANIMALS

Cath Roberts’ large ensemble Favourite Animals is an extension of her regular working quintet Sloth Racket which features Roberts, Anton and Johnny Hunter, Bennett (on double bass) and Andreae (on tenor sax). In this format Sloth Racket have released two albums “Triptych” (2016) and “Shapeshifters” (2017), both of which appear on the Luminous record label founded by Roberts and fellow saxophonist Dee Byrne.

Like Article XI the Favourite Animals project also came about as the result of a Festival commission when Roberts was invited to write music for a larger ensemble, an extension of Sloth Racket, by Lancaster Jazz Festival in 2016. A crowdfunding campaign then led to the music being recorded at City, University of London in 2017. In a remarkably quick turnaround the resultant album, titled “Favourite Animals” was released on the Luminous label on December 4th 2017, perfectly timed to coincide with the tour.

The ten piece line up that Roberts brought to the Hexagon featured all of the album personnel and comprised of;

Cath Roberts – baritone sax, conductor
Julie Kjaer – bass clarinet, flute
Tom Ward – bass clarinet, flute
Dee Byrne – alto sax
Sam Andreae – tenor sax, penny whistle
Graham South – trumpet
Tullis Rennie – trombone
Anton Hunter – guitar
Seth Bennett – double bass
Johnny Hunter – drums

Whereas Hunter’s group read sheet music Roberts prefers graphic scores given even greater scope for improvisation. It’s the method she deploys with Sloth Racket with the scores often little more than sketches, or perhaps signposts on the journey.

Thus the opener “Confirm Or Deny”, which also introduces the album, juxtaposed chunky, written, riff based passages with squalls of free jazz improvisation featuring flutes, trombones and saxes. Roberts took the first solo on baritone, her feature contained within the ‘free’ section and with her muscular blasting forming an effective dynamic and tonal contrast with the piping of Andreae’s penny whistle. Towards the close the killer riff re-emerged, with Favourite Animals, like Article XI, generating a fearsomely big sound within the intimate confines of the Hexagon.

Another piece from the album, “Boiling Point” began with a passage of growling vocalised muted trumpet from South, accompanied by the sounds of pecked bass clarinet and double bass both bowed and plucked. Alto and tenor sax, guitar, flute and trombone were gradually added to the equation on a piece that was far more freely structured than the opener had been. One could sense the musicians really listening to each other and responding accordingly in a multiple group conversation. Smaller units would surface periodically among the whole, with Roberts at one point linking up with the Hunter brothers, but it was the fascinating combination of the horns with the roles of the individual instruments swimming in and out of focus as the music built towards the ‘boiling point’ of the title that really fascinated. And the sight of Rennie deploying a 12” vinyl record to mute the sound of his trombone presented an unforgettable visual image.

The as yet unrecorded “If A Tree Falls” was ushered in by a passage of unaccompanied bowed bass from Bennett, this followed by a dialogue between Roberts on baritone and Rennie on trombone, the latter again making effective use of extended techniques. It was then the turn of Byrne, herself the leader of her own projects (including the excellent quintet Entropi), to impress with a powerful alto solo.

Roberts counted in the closing number with a shout of “1-2-3-4” as the piece announced itself with a rousing riff based salvo, this quickly shading off into a passage featuring the intertwining bass clarinets of Kjaer and Ward with Johnny Hunter providing colourful, but succinct, drum commentary. Kjaer and Ward tended to double up throughout the performance, both tending to play flute or bass clarinet simultaneously rather than playing different instruments. An exuberant ensemble riff then emerged, building to a climax before fading away into something more quiet, textured and impressionistic. In turn this developed into an increasingly vigorous alto sax/trumpet dialogue between Byrne and South, this then emerging into a rousing, soaring passage featuring all the horns. In a final twist the piece resolved itself with a slow, gentle fade. The piece wasn’t announced but I’m almost certain that it must have been “Shreds”, the closing piece on the “Favourite Animals” album.

Like its parent group Sloth Racket the music of Favourite Animals is consistently mutating, never remaining in one place for long and taking great delight in stylistic and dynamic contrasts. “Shapeshifters” the title of the second Sloth Racket album, would also have made a great band name and sums up the approach of both ensembles very neatly, and that of Article XI too.

The “Favourite Animals” album also represents a highly worthwhile listening experience with the composed elements representing a base from which the adventurous listener can enjoy the more spontaneous group explorations. The five track recording also includes two pieces not heard tonight, “Unspeakable” and “Off-World”.

My thanks to Tony Dudley-Evans for providing press tickets for myself and my wife. Also thanks to Cath Roberts, Anton Hunter, Dee Byrne and also Andy Woodhead of Fizzle for speaking with me afterwards.

This was an absorbing and intriguing evening of uncompromising music making at the interface where the composed and the spontaneous conjoin to rewarding effect.

Article XI / Favourite Animals double bill, Hexagon Theatre, MAC, Birmingham, 05/12/2017.

Article XI / Favourite Animals

Monday, December 11, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Article XI / Favourite Animals double bill, Hexagon Theatre, MAC, Birmingham, 05/12/2017.

An absorbing and intriguing evening of uncompromising music making at the interface where the composed and the spontaneous conjoin to rewarding effect.

ANTON HUNTER’S ARTICLE XI / CATH ROBERTS’ FAVOURITE ANIMALS,
DOUBLE BILL, THE HEXAGON THEATRE, MIDLANDS ARTS CENTRE, BIRMINGHAM, 05/12/2017.

This performance was part of a short series of events during autumn organised by Tony Dudley-Evans under the banner of TDE Promotions. Working in conjunction with the Birmingham based Fizzle organisation and with financial support from the Arts Council Dudley-Evans has presented a series of events on which the focus was very much on improvised and experimental music.

Tonight’s presentation featured a double bill comprised of two large-ish ensembles, Article XI led by guitarist Anton Hunter and Favourite Animals led by baritone saxophonist Cath Roberts.

The two leaders, although based in different cities, Hunter in Manchester and Roberts in London, have close links and indeed work together as the improvising duo Ripsaw Catfish. Their familiarity with each others’ working methods ensured that there was an overlap of musicians between the two bands on this, the first night of a short national tour of double bills featuring the two groups. The personnel included musicians from the London, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds jazz and improvised music scenes, the players coming together in a healthy spirit of cross fertilisation and co-operation..

Tonight’s performances took place in the Hexagon Theatre, the smaller performance space, or ‘studio’ if you will, at the MAC. Its intimate, semi-circular layout makes it ideal for improvised music and the venue is regularly utilised for such performances, notably at the much missed Harmonic Festival and more recently at Sid Peacock’s Surge in Spring Festival.

Introducing the event Tony Dudley-Evans remarked upon how expertly both bands straddle the boundaries between structure and improvisation, seamlessly moving between the two, and this was a quality that was to characterise the evening as a whole.

ARTICLE XI

In a genuine double bill it was Hunter’s group that took to the stage first. As well as leading his own groups and collaborating in numerous other small ensembles, including Roberts’ quintet Sloth Racket, Hunter is also well known as the guitarist with the acclaimed Manchester based big band Beats & Pieces, led by director and composer Ben Cottrell.

Hunter’s own ‘big band’ came about as the commission for the 2014 Manchester Jazz Festival and takes its name from Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights which states;
“Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of their interests”

Appropriately tonight’s line up featured eleven players, a first XI if you will, comprised of;

Anton Hunter – guitar, conductor
Graham South, Nick Walters – trumpets
Cath Roberts – baritone sax
Simon Prince – tenor sax, flute
Sam Andreae, Olly Dover – alto saxes
Richard Foote, Tullis Rennie – trombones
Seth Bennett – double bass
Johnny Hunter – drums

The programme consisted of two pieces from the ensemble’s forthcoming eponymous début album on Efpi Records plus two newer, as yet unrecorded pieces, all of them written by Anton Hunter.

The ensemble commenced with “Retaken”, the piece that also opens the forthcoming album. A gentle introductory horn chorale was subsequently joined by bass and drums as the piece continued to develop. The configuration of the horns reminded me somewhat of the bands of Mike Gibbs and Carla Bley, particularly with regard to the textural possibilities. Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath and Elton Dean’s Ninesense might provide other convenient reference points. The first bona fide solo of the evening came from trumpeter Nick Walters, a member of Beats & Pieces and also the leader of his own Paradox Ensemble. Hunter largely concentrated on his conducting duties, taking an ego-less approach to his guitar playing, his six string acting as a member of the ensemble rather than a solo instrument. Bennett was the next to feature with an impressive passage of unaccompanied bass playing that led into a scrawled dialogue between the two trumpets and the two trombones in a more freely constructed section. In turn the brass players were joined by the rest of the band, the massed horns mounting a blazing assault in a finale that was reminiscent of the ragged gloriousness of the first edition of Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra.

Next came a new tune, “Always A Fox”, a much more open piece that actually exists in three different versions. Hunter called “Version One” and the piece began with a freely structured intro featuring pecked saxes and rushes of breath together with arco bass with Roberts’ gruff baritone sax providing an element of structure and punctuation. A raucous, more obviously written, riff based section followed, the eleven musicians making a big sound in a small space despite playing entirely acoustically. Hunter himself was the only player with amplification, but even he was almost drowned out by the stridency of the horns. A more subdued coda featured long, dolorous horn lines and doomy arco bass as the piece ended on a more sombre and atmospheric note. This was the most loosely constructed item in the set, the title a football reference. Hunter has friends in Leicester, most of them armchair football fans, who assured him “Always a Fox, mate” after Leicester City’s unlikely Premiership title triumph in 2016.

“Peaceful Assembly” was the first piece written for the Manchester Jazz Festival commission and is included on the forthcoming album. More obviously through composed than “Fox” the piece commenced with the sounds of the twin trumpets, Walters playing with a mute, South with an open bell. South then took the first solo, still playing the open horn, his tone plaintive and lyrical and supported economically by guitar, double bass and brushed drums. The following trombone solo from Birmingham based Richard Foote was less introspective and far more confrontational and ‘full on’ as he joyously explored the full range of the instrument. In general this was an impressive piece of work, a piece that made effective use of the dynamic contrasts offered by such an ensemble.

Article XI concluded their set with the new Hunter tune “Municrination” which commenced with a bass and drum dialogue between Bennett and Johnny Hunter leading in turn to solos from Prince on tenor and South on trumpet. Next came a freely improvised dialogue between Roberts and baritone and Rennie on trombone that evoked memories of their aptly named duo recording “Blurts & Growls”, perhaps “Scribbles and Scrawls” would have been more appropriate here. The pair were eventually accompanied by a backdrop of twin alto saxes and twin trumpets as the piece climaxed with a written, riff based section but with ample scope provided for the individual horns to scream and blare as the rhythm team maintained the groove in a classic, glorious collision of freedom and structure.

This was an enjoyable and thought provoking set from Hunter and his band. The forthcoming album was recorded in 2014 at performances at Manchester Jazz Festival and at the Vortex in London and features a slightly different line up. The Hunter brothers, Walters, South, Roberts, Prince and Andreae are all present and correct while Bennett is featured on trombone. The album line up is completed by alto saxophonist Mette Rasmussen and bassist Eero Tikkanen, the latter once a member of HAQ, the quartet co-led by Hunter and Andreae.

The Article XI album will be officially released on February 9th 2018 on Efpi Records but is already available at gigs. It contains seven pieces and arguably places a greater emphasis on composition than tonight’s performance. In any event it’s a compelling and thoroughly engaging listen that will be readily accessible to most adventurous listeners and as such is highly recommended.

FAVOURITE ANIMALS

Cath Roberts’ large ensemble Favourite Animals is an extension of her regular working quintet Sloth Racket which features Roberts, Anton and Johnny Hunter, Bennett (on double bass) and Andreae (on tenor sax). In this format Sloth Racket have released two albums “Triptych” (2016) and “Shapeshifters” (2017), both of which appear on the Luminous record label founded by Roberts and fellow saxophonist Dee Byrne.

Like Article XI the Favourite Animals project also came about as the result of a Festival commission when Roberts was invited to write music for a larger ensemble, an extension of Sloth Racket, by Lancaster Jazz Festival in 2016. A crowdfunding campaign then led to the music being recorded at City, University of London in 2017. In a remarkably quick turnaround the resultant album, titled “Favourite Animals” was released on the Luminous label on December 4th 2017, perfectly timed to coincide with the tour.

The ten piece line up that Roberts brought to the Hexagon featured all of the album personnel and comprised of;

Cath Roberts – baritone sax, conductor
Julie Kjaer – bass clarinet, flute
Tom Ward – bass clarinet, flute
Dee Byrne – alto sax
Sam Andreae – tenor sax, penny whistle
Graham South – trumpet
Tullis Rennie – trombone
Anton Hunter – guitar
Seth Bennett – double bass
Johnny Hunter – drums

Whereas Hunter’s group read sheet music Roberts prefers graphic scores given even greater scope for improvisation. It’s the method she deploys with Sloth Racket with the scores often little more than sketches, or perhaps signposts on the journey.

Thus the opener “Confirm Or Deny”, which also introduces the album, juxtaposed chunky, written, riff based passages with squalls of free jazz improvisation featuring flutes, trombones and saxes. Roberts took the first solo on baritone, her feature contained within the ‘free’ section and with her muscular blasting forming an effective dynamic and tonal contrast with the piping of Andreae’s penny whistle. Towards the close the killer riff re-emerged, with Favourite Animals, like Article XI, generating a fearsomely big sound within the intimate confines of the Hexagon.

Another piece from the album, “Boiling Point” began with a passage of growling vocalised muted trumpet from South, accompanied by the sounds of pecked bass clarinet and double bass both bowed and plucked. Alto and tenor sax, guitar, flute and trombone were gradually added to the equation on a piece that was far more freely structured than the opener had been. One could sense the musicians really listening to each other and responding accordingly in a multiple group conversation. Smaller units would surface periodically among the whole, with Roberts at one point linking up with the Hunter brothers, but it was the fascinating combination of the horns with the roles of the individual instruments swimming in and out of focus as the music built towards the ‘boiling point’ of the title that really fascinated. And the sight of Rennie deploying a 12” vinyl record to mute the sound of his trombone presented an unforgettable visual image.

The as yet unrecorded “If A Tree Falls” was ushered in by a passage of unaccompanied bowed bass from Bennett, this followed by a dialogue between Roberts on baritone and Rennie on trombone, the latter again making effective use of extended techniques. It was then the turn of Byrne, herself the leader of her own projects (including the excellent quintet Entropi), to impress with a powerful alto solo.

Roberts counted in the closing number with a shout of “1-2-3-4” as the piece announced itself with a rousing riff based salvo, this quickly shading off into a passage featuring the intertwining bass clarinets of Kjaer and Ward with Johnny Hunter providing colourful, but succinct, drum commentary. Kjaer and Ward tended to double up throughout the performance, both tending to play flute or bass clarinet simultaneously rather than playing different instruments. An exuberant ensemble riff then emerged, building to a climax before fading away into something more quiet, textured and impressionistic. In turn this developed into an increasingly vigorous alto sax/trumpet dialogue between Byrne and South, this then emerging into a rousing, soaring passage featuring all the horns. In a final twist the piece resolved itself with a slow, gentle fade. The piece wasn’t announced but I’m almost certain that it must have been “Shreds”, the closing piece on the “Favourite Animals” album.

Like its parent group Sloth Racket the music of Favourite Animals is consistently mutating, never remaining in one place for long and taking great delight in stylistic and dynamic contrasts. “Shapeshifters” the title of the second Sloth Racket album, would also have made a great band name and sums up the approach of both ensembles very neatly, and that of Article XI too.

The “Favourite Animals” album also represents a highly worthwhile listening experience with the composed elements representing a base from which the adventurous listener can enjoy the more spontaneous group explorations. The five track recording also includes two pieces not heard tonight, “Unspeakable” and “Off-World”.

My thanks to Tony Dudley-Evans for providing press tickets for myself and my wife. Also thanks to Cath Roberts, Anton Hunter, Dee Byrne and also Andy Woodhead of Fizzle for speaking with me afterwards.

This was an absorbing and intriguing evening of uncompromising music making at the interface where the composed and the spontaneous conjoin to rewarding effect.

Leo Richardson Quartet - Leo Richardson Quartet, Kenilworth Jazz Club, Kenilworth Rugby Club, Kenilworth, Warwicks.  04/12/17 Rating: 3-5 out of 5 An excellent and very enjoyable evening featuring some top quality music.

LEO RICHARDSON QUARTET, KENILWORTH JAZZ CLUB, KENILWORTH RUGBY CLUB, KENILWORTH, WARWICKSHIRE, 04/12/2017.

Tonight marked my second visit to Kenilworth Jazz Club, the first being a visit to review an excellent performance by alto saxophonist and composer Camilla George and her quartet back in February 2017, Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/camilla-george-quartet-kenilworth-jazz-club-kenilworth-rugby-club-kenilwort/

Once again my thanks go to organiser Dave Logan and his colleagues for making me so welcome and for providing press tickets for my wife and I.  The Jazz Club meets once a month at KRFC and presents a varied programme featuring Midlands based musicians plus nationally known touring bands such as tonight’s quartet. I was very impressed with the set up with the Club producing a free programme for each event including brief biographical details of the night’s act as well as advertising events at neighbouring jazz clubs in Leamington, Coventry and Stratford Upon Avon. It was good to see this spirit of mutual co-operation, it’s not unknown for promoters to view nearby clubs as rivals. 

In October 2017 I reviewed “The Chase”, the début album by tenor saxophonist and composer Leo Richardson and was very impressed by what I heard.  The Kenilworth date was part of a national tour to promote the album and having enjoyed the recording so much I determined to check out the group live. I wasn’t about to be disappointed.

Leo Richardson is the son of the celebrated British bassist Jim Richardson, one time leader of the fondly remembered band Pogo and an in demand sideman who has worked with many of the greats of the music including the late trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker.

It was Jim Richardson who first introduced the young Leo to jazz, nurturing his interest in, and love of, the music. Leo subsequently studied jazz at the Trinity School of Music in London where his tutors included Jean Toussaint, Julian Siegel, Mark Lockheart, Martin Speake and Mick Foster. Leo graduated from Trinity in 2013 with a First Class Honours Degree in Jazz Performance.

Besides leading his own quartet Leo Richardson has also become an in demand sideman who has worked with an impressive array of jazz and pop artists, including Kylie Minogue, Jamie Cullum, Gregory Porter, Wet Wet Wet, Heritage Orchestra, Candi Staton, John Newman, Ella Eyre, Jessie Ware, The BBC Proms, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra, Submotion Orchestra, Ronan Keating, Blue, Peter Andre, Mulatu Astatke, Anne-Marie, Clare Teal, Roger Taylor (Queen), Toyah Wilcox, Il Divo,The Heliocentrics, Ben Sidran, Elaine Delmar, Vula Malinga, Alan Skidmore, Dick Pearce, Norma Winstone, Gary Husband, Simon Purcell, Andrew McCormack and Jim Mullen. It’s quite a list, and by no means comprehensive.

The personnel on “The Chase” includes a core quartet featuring Rick Simpson on piano, Mark Lewandowski on double bass and Ed Richardson (no relation) at the drums. The album also includes guest appearances by trumpeter Quentin Collins and Richardson’s fellow tenor specialist, the great Alan Skidmore. The music consists of eight original tunes by Richardson, unashamedly written in the hard bop style with Leo citing the influence of drummer Art Blakey, pianist Horace Silver and saxophonists Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane.

The artwork for “The Chase” contains the Coltrane quote “You’ve got to look back at the old things and see them in a new light”. Essentially this is exactly what Richardson does, offering the following explanation regarding his inspirations and working methods;
“I am extremely drawn to jazz music of the late 1950s and early 1960s. I never set out to create a new genre or style or to innovate. I wanted to regenerate the spirit of the music that I love but with a modern injection from contemporary musicians who are stunning players in their own right. I feel that some contemporary jazz has lost the spirit of swing and the exciting American vibe that I’m so drawn to. I wanted to recapture this style in a contemporary setting in order to rejuvenate the scene with memorable melodies, ferocious tempos, hard swing and exciting interaction”.

The quartet that Richardson brought to Kenilworth included Simpson and Ed Richardson with the highly accomplished and very experienced Tim Thornton replacing Lewandowski on double bass. Thornton has been on board for the whole tour and was totally attuned to the group aesthetic, linking up well with Ed Richardson to supply the necessary rhythmic propulsion while also impressing with a number of fluent and dexterous solos.

The quartet kicked off with “The Curve”, a tune sourced from the début album, with its hooky, ‘Sidewinder-ish’ theme and Latinesque rhythms. The recorded version features Leo Richardson trading solos with Simpson and Collins in a convincing updating of the classic ‘Blue Note sound’. Tonight’s performance also included excellent features for Thornton on bass and Ed Richardson at the drums. The only downside was the rather muddy sound of Simpson’s Nord keyboard, a rather poor substitute for the grand piano at Ronnie Scott’s, this quartet’s spiritual home where they regularly play the Late, Late Show. My observation is not a reflection on Simpson’s musicianship, his soloing was exciting, inventive and imaginative throughout the evening and, to be fair, the sound of the actual instrument seemed to improve as the evening went on.

Next up was the blues “Demon E”, another tune from the quartet’s album. Backed by a gently swinging groove courtesy of Thornton and Ed Richardson Leo stated the theme before handing over to Simpson to take the first solo. Leo later stretched out more expansively and there was also a feature for Thornton who demonstrated something of that fluency and dexterity alluded to previously. The recorded version is another piece to include a trumpet solo from the excellent Collins.

“Blues For Joe”, dedicated to the great Joe Henderson, opens the album and proved to be a fast paced, attention grabbing composition with a complex but catchy theme. Leo’s opening statement was followed by a solo from Thornton before the leader took over on tenor, probing powerfully and deeply before eventually handing over to Simpson.

The ballad “Elisha’s Song”, a delightful dedication to Leo Richardson’s three year old niece was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano from Simpson, to which languid double bass and gently brushed drums were eventually added. Taking musical inspiration from the ballad playing of Dexter Gordon Leo’s solo was both tender and authoritative, a superlative example of the balladeer’s art. Simpson then took over with a more conventional piano solo before the piece resolved itself with a solo saxophone cadenza from Leo Richardson.

Also from the album came “Mambo”, which was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied bass from Thornton that included some supremely intricate work around the bridge of the instrument. The crowd at Kenilworth were totally silent as they listened attentively, this was a genuinely knowledgeable and appreciative jazz club audience. Thornton eventually picked out the motif that signalled the arrival of the rest of the band, the lively Latin-esque rhythms then fuelling a tenor solo from Leo Richardson that combined power and fluency in a manner reminiscent of John Coltrane in full flight. Equally engaging was Simpson’s piano feature, which included an exciting dialogue with the busy drumming of Ed Richardson.

Having got the audience fully on side the quartet closed the first set with a new tune titled “The Demise”, a title inspired by “the folly of our current world leaders” as Leo explained, eliciting a small cheer from the crowd. Musically the piece seemed to hark back to a happier time with its embracing of old fashioned jazz virtues from the bebop and hard bop eras, with powerful, feverish solos coming from Leo Richardson and Rick Simpson on tenor and piano respectively.

The second set, which for my money was even better than the first, included a greater percentage of newer, as yet unrecorded material. Among these items was the opener “Shake”, which combined bluesy, r’n’b flavoured tenor with hard driving rhythms containing a hint of funk in the muscular grooves. Solos here came from Leo Richardson, Simpson and Thornton with Ed Richardson enjoying a series of fiery drum breaks towards the close.

Another new piece, “Effin’ and Jeffin’” raised the energy levels still further with Leo Richardson receiving a spontaneous round of applause for his opening theme statement, even before he, Simpson and Thornton got stuck into the solos. Apparently this was only the fifth time the quartet has performed this piece live, the others presumably being earlier on in the tour. The freshness of the piece was made evident by the vitality of the performances.

A third new tune, “Espresso Martini” aka “The Martini Shuffle” was inspired by the coffee flavoured cocktails used by the quartet members to keep themselves awake at those Ronnie’s Late Shows. And there was to be no nodding off on another piece that combined a slippery, boppish theme with driving rhythms with Thornton leading off the solos followed by Leo Richardson and Simpson.

Not all of Leo’s new material is energetic and frenetic. A new tune simply titled “Peace” was this set’s ballad with warmly melodic solos from Leo on tenor and Thornton on the bass.

Returning to the album we heard “Silver Lining”, a Leo Richardson composition inspired by the writing and playing of pianist Horace Silver. With its hard bop roots and a melodic hook that Horace himself would have been proud of the piece was a vehicle for powerful solos from Simpson and Leo Richardson with Thornton and Ed Richardson enjoying a series of vigorous bass and drum exchanges.

After thanking the audience members for their attentiveness Leo announced that the quartet’s final number would be “The Chase” , the title track from the recently released album that has been named by the Sunday Times as one of the top ten jazz albums of the year and which also made their top hundred for albums of all genres – a list dominated by rock and pop one would imagine.
With a title alluding to the tenor sax ‘chases’ of the past and a rapid, complex, boppish theme this was a final outpouring of energy from the group with Simpson opening the solos. Richardson’s impassioned, turbo-charged playing was sometimes reminiscent of his mentor Alan Skidmore as he soled at length and engaged in dialogue with his namesake at the drums. Ed Richardson’s own dynamic drum feature was a triumph of skill and stamina in an explosive solo that drew whoops of approval from the crowd.

During the course of an excellent evening’s music making we had heard virtually all of the quartet’s début album plus no fewer than five new tunes, the quality of which bodes well for the follow up. If anything the quartet seemed more engaged with the new material, investing it with even greater levels of energy and vitality than the album tracks. In fact the only piece from the album that we didn’t hear was the closing track, the ten minute “Mr. Skid”, Leo Richardson’s epic tenor sax “battle” with his mentor, Alan Skidmore.

This had been a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging performance from Leo Richardson and his quartet. Sharply suited, and indeed booted, the stylish young Mr. Richardson and his band have been introducing their hard bop inspired sound to a young London jazz crowd and have won great acclaim for their efforts. But their love of conventional jazz virtues ensures that they appeal to older, more traditional jazz audiences too and the function room at KRFC played host to around sixty people tonight, comfortably filling a performance space that is ideally suited to small group jazz of all persuasions. On the evidence of both the Camilla George and Leo Richardson performances Kenilworth Jazz Club is a thriving, community minded entity and once more I offer both my thanks and congratulations to Dave Logan and his team. Thanks also to Leo and the guys for speaking with me at the end of an excellent and very enjoyable evening featuring some top quality music.

 

Leo Richardson Quartet, Kenilworth Jazz Club, Kenilworth Rugby Club, Kenilworth, Warwicks.  04/12/17

Leo Richardson Quartet

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Leo Richardson Quartet, Kenilworth Jazz Club, Kenilworth Rugby Club, Kenilworth, Warwicks.  04/12/17

An excellent and very enjoyable evening featuring some top quality music.

LEO RICHARDSON QUARTET, KENILWORTH JAZZ CLUB, KENILWORTH RUGBY CLUB, KENILWORTH, WARWICKSHIRE, 04/12/2017.

Tonight marked my second visit to Kenilworth Jazz Club, the first being a visit to review an excellent performance by alto saxophonist and composer Camilla George and her quartet back in February 2017, Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/camilla-george-quartet-kenilworth-jazz-club-kenilworth-rugby-club-kenilwort/

Once again my thanks go to organiser Dave Logan and his colleagues for making me so welcome and for providing press tickets for my wife and I.  The Jazz Club meets once a month at KRFC and presents a varied programme featuring Midlands based musicians plus nationally known touring bands such as tonight’s quartet. I was very impressed with the set up with the Club producing a free programme for each event including brief biographical details of the night’s act as well as advertising events at neighbouring jazz clubs in Leamington, Coventry and Stratford Upon Avon. It was good to see this spirit of mutual co-operation, it’s not unknown for promoters to view nearby clubs as rivals. 

In October 2017 I reviewed “The Chase”, the début album by tenor saxophonist and composer Leo Richardson and was very impressed by what I heard.  The Kenilworth date was part of a national tour to promote the album and having enjoyed the recording so much I determined to check out the group live. I wasn’t about to be disappointed.

Leo Richardson is the son of the celebrated British bassist Jim Richardson, one time leader of the fondly remembered band Pogo and an in demand sideman who has worked with many of the greats of the music including the late trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker.

It was Jim Richardson who first introduced the young Leo to jazz, nurturing his interest in, and love of, the music. Leo subsequently studied jazz at the Trinity School of Music in London where his tutors included Jean Toussaint, Julian Siegel, Mark Lockheart, Martin Speake and Mick Foster. Leo graduated from Trinity in 2013 with a First Class Honours Degree in Jazz Performance.

Besides leading his own quartet Leo Richardson has also become an in demand sideman who has worked with an impressive array of jazz and pop artists, including Kylie Minogue, Jamie Cullum, Gregory Porter, Wet Wet Wet, Heritage Orchestra, Candi Staton, John Newman, Ella Eyre, Jessie Ware, The BBC Proms, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra, Submotion Orchestra, Ronan Keating, Blue, Peter Andre, Mulatu Astatke, Anne-Marie, Clare Teal, Roger Taylor (Queen), Toyah Wilcox, Il Divo,The Heliocentrics, Ben Sidran, Elaine Delmar, Vula Malinga, Alan Skidmore, Dick Pearce, Norma Winstone, Gary Husband, Simon Purcell, Andrew McCormack and Jim Mullen. It’s quite a list, and by no means comprehensive.

The personnel on “The Chase” includes a core quartet featuring Rick Simpson on piano, Mark Lewandowski on double bass and Ed Richardson (no relation) at the drums. The album also includes guest appearances by trumpeter Quentin Collins and Richardson’s fellow tenor specialist, the great Alan Skidmore. The music consists of eight original tunes by Richardson, unashamedly written in the hard bop style with Leo citing the influence of drummer Art Blakey, pianist Horace Silver and saxophonists Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane.

The artwork for “The Chase” contains the Coltrane quote “You’ve got to look back at the old things and see them in a new light”. Essentially this is exactly what Richardson does, offering the following explanation regarding his inspirations and working methods;
“I am extremely drawn to jazz music of the late 1950s and early 1960s. I never set out to create a new genre or style or to innovate. I wanted to regenerate the spirit of the music that I love but with a modern injection from contemporary musicians who are stunning players in their own right. I feel that some contemporary jazz has lost the spirit of swing and the exciting American vibe that I’m so drawn to. I wanted to recapture this style in a contemporary setting in order to rejuvenate the scene with memorable melodies, ferocious tempos, hard swing and exciting interaction”.

The quartet that Richardson brought to Kenilworth included Simpson and Ed Richardson with the highly accomplished and very experienced Tim Thornton replacing Lewandowski on double bass. Thornton has been on board for the whole tour and was totally attuned to the group aesthetic, linking up well with Ed Richardson to supply the necessary rhythmic propulsion while also impressing with a number of fluent and dexterous solos.

The quartet kicked off with “The Curve”, a tune sourced from the début album, with its hooky, ‘Sidewinder-ish’ theme and Latinesque rhythms. The recorded version features Leo Richardson trading solos with Simpson and Collins in a convincing updating of the classic ‘Blue Note sound’. Tonight’s performance also included excellent features for Thornton on bass and Ed Richardson at the drums. The only downside was the rather muddy sound of Simpson’s Nord keyboard, a rather poor substitute for the grand piano at Ronnie Scott’s, this quartet’s spiritual home where they regularly play the Late, Late Show. My observation is not a reflection on Simpson’s musicianship, his soloing was exciting, inventive and imaginative throughout the evening and, to be fair, the sound of the actual instrument seemed to improve as the evening went on.

Next up was the blues “Demon E”, another tune from the quartet’s album. Backed by a gently swinging groove courtesy of Thornton and Ed Richardson Leo stated the theme before handing over to Simpson to take the first solo. Leo later stretched out more expansively and there was also a feature for Thornton who demonstrated something of that fluency and dexterity alluded to previously. The recorded version is another piece to include a trumpet solo from the excellent Collins.

“Blues For Joe”, dedicated to the great Joe Henderson, opens the album and proved to be a fast paced, attention grabbing composition with a complex but catchy theme. Leo’s opening statement was followed by a solo from Thornton before the leader took over on tenor, probing powerfully and deeply before eventually handing over to Simpson.

The ballad “Elisha’s Song”, a delightful dedication to Leo Richardson’s three year old niece was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano from Simpson, to which languid double bass and gently brushed drums were eventually added. Taking musical inspiration from the ballad playing of Dexter Gordon Leo’s solo was both tender and authoritative, a superlative example of the balladeer’s art. Simpson then took over with a more conventional piano solo before the piece resolved itself with a solo saxophone cadenza from Leo Richardson.

Also from the album came “Mambo”, which was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied bass from Thornton that included some supremely intricate work around the bridge of the instrument. The crowd at Kenilworth were totally silent as they listened attentively, this was a genuinely knowledgeable and appreciative jazz club audience. Thornton eventually picked out the motif that signalled the arrival of the rest of the band, the lively Latin-esque rhythms then fuelling a tenor solo from Leo Richardson that combined power and fluency in a manner reminiscent of John Coltrane in full flight. Equally engaging was Simpson’s piano feature, which included an exciting dialogue with the busy drumming of Ed Richardson.

Having got the audience fully on side the quartet closed the first set with a new tune titled “The Demise”, a title inspired by “the folly of our current world leaders” as Leo explained, eliciting a small cheer from the crowd. Musically the piece seemed to hark back to a happier time with its embracing of old fashioned jazz virtues from the bebop and hard bop eras, with powerful, feverish solos coming from Leo Richardson and Rick Simpson on tenor and piano respectively.

The second set, which for my money was even better than the first, included a greater percentage of newer, as yet unrecorded material. Among these items was the opener “Shake”, which combined bluesy, r’n’b flavoured tenor with hard driving rhythms containing a hint of funk in the muscular grooves. Solos here came from Leo Richardson, Simpson and Thornton with Ed Richardson enjoying a series of fiery drum breaks towards the close.

Another new piece, “Effin’ and Jeffin’” raised the energy levels still further with Leo Richardson receiving a spontaneous round of applause for his opening theme statement, even before he, Simpson and Thornton got stuck into the solos. Apparently this was only the fifth time the quartet has performed this piece live, the others presumably being earlier on in the tour. The freshness of the piece was made evident by the vitality of the performances.

A third new tune, “Espresso Martini” aka “The Martini Shuffle” was inspired by the coffee flavoured cocktails used by the quartet members to keep themselves awake at those Ronnie’s Late Shows. And there was to be no nodding off on another piece that combined a slippery, boppish theme with driving rhythms with Thornton leading off the solos followed by Leo Richardson and Simpson.

Not all of Leo’s new material is energetic and frenetic. A new tune simply titled “Peace” was this set’s ballad with warmly melodic solos from Leo on tenor and Thornton on the bass.

Returning to the album we heard “Silver Lining”, a Leo Richardson composition inspired by the writing and playing of pianist Horace Silver. With its hard bop roots and a melodic hook that Horace himself would have been proud of the piece was a vehicle for powerful solos from Simpson and Leo Richardson with Thornton and Ed Richardson enjoying a series of vigorous bass and drum exchanges.

After thanking the audience members for their attentiveness Leo announced that the quartet’s final number would be “The Chase” , the title track from the recently released album that has been named by the Sunday Times as one of the top ten jazz albums of the year and which also made their top hundred for albums of all genres – a list dominated by rock and pop one would imagine.
With a title alluding to the tenor sax ‘chases’ of the past and a rapid, complex, boppish theme this was a final outpouring of energy from the group with Simpson opening the solos. Richardson’s impassioned, turbo-charged playing was sometimes reminiscent of his mentor Alan Skidmore as he soled at length and engaged in dialogue with his namesake at the drums. Ed Richardson’s own dynamic drum feature was a triumph of skill and stamina in an explosive solo that drew whoops of approval from the crowd.

During the course of an excellent evening’s music making we had heard virtually all of the quartet’s début album plus no fewer than five new tunes, the quality of which bodes well for the follow up. If anything the quartet seemed more engaged with the new material, investing it with even greater levels of energy and vitality than the album tracks. In fact the only piece from the album that we didn’t hear was the closing track, the ten minute “Mr. Skid”, Leo Richardson’s epic tenor sax “battle” with his mentor, Alan Skidmore.

This had been a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging performance from Leo Richardson and his quartet. Sharply suited, and indeed booted, the stylish young Mr. Richardson and his band have been introducing their hard bop inspired sound to a young London jazz crowd and have won great acclaim for their efforts. But their love of conventional jazz virtues ensures that they appeal to older, more traditional jazz audiences too and the function room at KRFC played host to around sixty people tonight, comfortably filling a performance space that is ideally suited to small group jazz of all persuasions. On the evidence of both the Camilla George and Leo Richardson performances Kenilworth Jazz Club is a thriving, community minded entity and once more I offer both my thanks and congratulations to Dave Logan and his team. Thanks also to Leo and the guys for speaking with me at the end of an excellent and very enjoyable evening featuring some top quality music.

 

Ben Thomas / Jim Blomfield Quartet - Ben Thomas / Jim Blomfield Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 26/11/2017. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 A warming evening of “tunes with a dark winter theme” from a well balanced and highly interactive quartet.

BEN THOMAS / JIM BLOMFIELD QUARTET, BLACK MOUNTAIN JAZZ, MELVILLE CENTRE, ABERGAVENNY, 26/11/2017.

South Wales based trumpeter Ben Thomas has been an important figure on the jazz scene in the Anglo-Welsh Borders for a number of years. Born in Pembrokeshire and at one time a resident of Hereford I’ve often seen him performing standards with a variety of local combos, often in the company of bassist Erica Lyons and pianist Dave Price. 

But there’s more to Ben Thomas than simply playing standards. An increasingly restlessly creative soul he has released a number of albums of original material, some of them under the name of The Edge Project.  All of them present a highly personal mix of jazz and other music styles, with poetry and song also prominent in the mix.

Thomas has become increasingly interested in multi media projects, particularly with regard to the interface where music and the visual arts meet.  His previous Black Mountain Jazz performance at the Kings Arms in November 2015 found Thomas co-leading a quintet with Shrewsbury based saxophonist Ed Rees that included fellow musicians Trevor Lines (bass) and Lydia Glanville (drums) with visual artist Robyn Hobbs painting and drawing in real time to provide visual images to accompany the music. This was an experiment that worked extremely well and my review of that performance can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/ben-thomas-ed-rees-quintet-black-mountain-jazz-kings-arms-abergavenny-29-11/

It was clear that the audience at the Kings Arms had enjoyed that event and BMJ enjoyed one of their best turnouts of the season for this performance at the Melville Centre featuring Thomas’ latest project, a quartet co-led with Bristol based pianist Jim Blomfield. Indeed this was essentially a Bristol based band with Thomas and Blomfield joined by Pasquale Votino on double bass and Paolo Adamo at the drums, two of that city’s first call rhythm players.

Blomfield is a highly distinctive and inventive piano soloist who leads his own trio as well as being one of the most in demand sidemen in Bristol, the West Country and South Wales. He works regularly with saxophonist Kevin Figes and has also performed with violinist/vocalist Azhar Saffar, bassist and composer Greg Cordez, saxophonists Andy Sheppard and Pete Canter,  trumpeter Andy Hague, vocalist Victoria Klewin and the band Balanca, led by vocalist and percussionist Cathy Jones.
In 2014 Blomfield released the excellent trio album “Wave Forms and Sea Changes”  featuring bassist Roshan “Tosh” Wijetunge and drummer Mark Whitlam. My review of that album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/wave-forms-and-sea-changes/

Ben Thomas likes to structure his live performances around specific themes. In May 2016 he co-led a quartet with Cardiff based pianist Julian Martin at Brecon Jazz Club that played imaginative arrangements of music sourced from television and cinema. My review of that performance can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/ben-thomas-julian-martin-quartet-brecon-jazz-club-bar-theatr-brycheinog-bre/

At the Melville Centre on a dark, cold November night Thomas chose to celebrate the onset of winter with a set of “tunes with a dark winter theme”. These not only reflected the character of the season but also his own “dark side”, a facet of his personality that has hitherto found something of an outlet in his recordings and associated artistic activities.

Consequently the mood of many of the pieces was sombre, reflective and melancholic yet remained eminently accessible and often very moving. The material was largely original, although there was one jazz standard, plus a couple of inspired pop and rock covers which I’ll come to later. There was a small degree of overlap with the November 2015 performance at the Kings Arms featuring Rees and Hobbs which had been based around an ‘elemental’ theme.

The quartet began with a Thomas composition with a single word title that sounded like “Mern”. Of its meaning Thomas commented enigmatically “it’s not important right now”.  The music was a little easier to get a handle on with Thomas stating the theme on trumpet as Blomfield’s snake like piano lines slithered in and out of the piece, coiling themselves around Thomas’s trumpet phrases. Blomfield was similarly inventive as he soloed on an acoustic upright piano specifically hired for the occasion. He was followed by Thomas on trumpet and Votino on melodic double bass.

Thomas announced “Gentlemen’s Relish” as being “a tune about diversity”. This was introduced by a carefully constructed and neatly detailed passage of solo drumming from Adamo followed by searching solos from Thomas on trumpet and Blomfield at the piano.

The first pop/rock cover was David Bowie’s “Bring Me The Disco King”, a tune that Thomas had also performed at the Kings Arms back in 2015.  Like the previous item it was ushered in by Adamo at the drums with Votino subsequently picking out the melody on double bass before handing over to Thomas.  The trumpeter played the piece in the style of a jazz ballad, albeit one with an underlying hip hop groove.  Blomfield then impressed with the lyricism of his piano solo before handing over to Adamo at the bass. Thomas then returned to further embellish the melody to a rhythmic backdrop that included the sound of dampened piano strings.  This was a delightful and often moving interpretation of Bowie’s piece. Incidentally the song was recorded by the Dutch saxophonist Yuri Honing on his 2012 album “True”.

In keeping with the evening’s theme Thomas’ own “Achilles’ Heel” was suitably noirish and was introduced by the sinister buzz of the composer’s vocalised trumpet.  Votino’s grounding bass groove and the intricate detail of Adamo’s drumming then underpinned further solos from Blomfield and Thomas.

“As this is a jazz club we’d better play a jazz standard” explained Thomas as he announced the final number of the first set, Jimmy van Heusen’s “It Could Happen To You”. This saw Thomas delivering the theme on trumpet before handing over to Votino for a double bass solo that was simultaneously dexterous, melodic and resonant – and wide ranging too, with much of the playing taking place around the bridge of the instrument. Thomas and Blomfield followed on trumpet and piano respectively before the pair traded fours with Adamo to close the first half in unexpectedly conventional fashion.

Set two continued the journey into the heart of the winter darkness with an opening segue of “Longest Night” and “Mother Earth”, the composer standing almost statuesque as he delivered his mournfully emotive trumpet lines above the sparse groove generated by Votino and Adamo. Blomfield’s piano solo began in thoughtful, lyrical fashion before before becoming more expansive with a passage of unaccompanied drumming from Adamo then acting as the link into the second half of the segue.
Thomas’ halting theme statement evolved into a solo from Blomfield that was now spikier and more percussive as he entered into a series of exchanges with Adamo, their discourse underpinned by Votino’s anchoring bass. Thomas then concluded this sequence with his second trumpet solo.

The second rock cover was Robert Wyatt’s “Sea Song”, another tune that had been performed previously at the Kings Arms. Wyatt’s slightly lugubrious brand of melancholy was also perfectly suited to this evening’s theme with Thomas’ trumpet replicating something of the fragility and plaintiveness of Wyatt’s singing on the original, which first appeared on the celebrated “Rock Bottom” album. An unexpected free jazz episode mid tune included Votino on bowed bass before the piece resolved itself with the soft sadness of Thomas’ trumpet whispers and the gentle patter of Adamo’s brushes and hands on skins.

“Heebie Jeebies” was another tune to survive from the Kings Arms session and saw the quartet adopting a more conventional jazz approach, almost sounding boppish at times. Blomfield took the opening solo followed by Thomas, the latter with only bass and piano for company.  Votino then took over for a typically dexterous bass solo underpinned by Blomfield’s sparse piano chording and the clatter of Adamo’s sticks on rims. Finally it was the turn of the drummer himself with a typically well constructed solo feature.

Things lightened up a little with the gorgeously melodic “Fallen Angel” which brought a flowing lyricism to the solos of Blomfield, Thomas and Votino with Adamo adding suitably sympathetic support.

Similarly lovely was “Snowmaiden”, the simple melody and chilly lyricism evoking images of snow covered winter scenes as Thomas soloed while the rest of the quartet provided subtle, low key support with Adamo wielding brushes.

Despite the darkness of some of the subject matter the audience responded warmly to the quartet’s wintry music and invited them back for an encore.  Announcing “Founders Of Our Time” Thomas described the tune as being “bright and optimistic” before adding “I have a problem with it”.  “I don’t – I like it!” countered Blomfield who had periodically attempted to inject some humour into the proceedings, even playing a snippet of “Jingle Bells” during one of Ben’s tune announcements! And, yes, things did end on upbeat note as the co-leaders traded solos for a final time.

Reviewing this performance for Jazz Journal Nigel Jarrett compared Thomas’ playing to that of Miles Davis, Chet Baker and Kenny Wheeler, all musicians capable of making the dark and melancholic sound profoundly beautiful. For myself Thomas’ sombre timbres also reminded of the great Polish trumpeter and composer Tomasz Stanko.

But it wasn’t just about the trumpeter, Thomas was well served by a well balanced and highly interactive quartet. Co-leader Blomfield impressed as always with his inventive and imaginative solos, as did bassist Votino whose playing came to the fore on several occasions. Adamo’s contribution was also excellent, providing the necessary rhythmic impetus but also playing with great sensitivity when the occasion demanded it.

Following a successful British tour it is to be hoped that the Ben Thomas / Jim Blomfield Quartet are able to commit their music to disc.

Meanwhile this concert represented a highly successful conclusion to an excellent year of music at Black Mountain Jazz.

Ben Thomas / Jim Blomfield Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 26/11/2017.

Ben Thomas / Jim Blomfield Quartet

Friday, December 08, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Ben Thomas / Jim Blomfield Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 26/11/2017.
Photography: Photograph by Robyn Hobbs

A warming evening of “tunes with a dark winter theme” from a well balanced and highly interactive quartet.

BEN THOMAS / JIM BLOMFIELD QUARTET, BLACK MOUNTAIN JAZZ, MELVILLE CENTRE, ABERGAVENNY, 26/11/2017.

South Wales based trumpeter Ben Thomas has been an important figure on the jazz scene in the Anglo-Welsh Borders for a number of years. Born in Pembrokeshire and at one time a resident of Hereford I’ve often seen him performing standards with a variety of local combos, often in the company of bassist Erica Lyons and pianist Dave Price. 

But there’s more to Ben Thomas than simply playing standards. An increasingly restlessly creative soul he has released a number of albums of original material, some of them under the name of The Edge Project.  All of them present a highly personal mix of jazz and other music styles, with poetry and song also prominent in the mix.

Thomas has become increasingly interested in multi media projects, particularly with regard to the interface where music and the visual arts meet.  His previous Black Mountain Jazz performance at the Kings Arms in November 2015 found Thomas co-leading a quintet with Shrewsbury based saxophonist Ed Rees that included fellow musicians Trevor Lines (bass) and Lydia Glanville (drums) with visual artist Robyn Hobbs painting and drawing in real time to provide visual images to accompany the music. This was an experiment that worked extremely well and my review of that performance can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/ben-thomas-ed-rees-quintet-black-mountain-jazz-kings-arms-abergavenny-29-11/

It was clear that the audience at the Kings Arms had enjoyed that event and BMJ enjoyed one of their best turnouts of the season for this performance at the Melville Centre featuring Thomas’ latest project, a quartet co-led with Bristol based pianist Jim Blomfield. Indeed this was essentially a Bristol based band with Thomas and Blomfield joined by Pasquale Votino on double bass and Paolo Adamo at the drums, two of that city’s first call rhythm players.

Blomfield is a highly distinctive and inventive piano soloist who leads his own trio as well as being one of the most in demand sidemen in Bristol, the West Country and South Wales. He works regularly with saxophonist Kevin Figes and has also performed with violinist/vocalist Azhar Saffar, bassist and composer Greg Cordez, saxophonists Andy Sheppard and Pete Canter,  trumpeter Andy Hague, vocalist Victoria Klewin and the band Balanca, led by vocalist and percussionist Cathy Jones.
In 2014 Blomfield released the excellent trio album “Wave Forms and Sea Changes”  featuring bassist Roshan “Tosh” Wijetunge and drummer Mark Whitlam. My review of that album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/wave-forms-and-sea-changes/

Ben Thomas likes to structure his live performances around specific themes. In May 2016 he co-led a quartet with Cardiff based pianist Julian Martin at Brecon Jazz Club that played imaginative arrangements of music sourced from television and cinema. My review of that performance can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/ben-thomas-julian-martin-quartet-brecon-jazz-club-bar-theatr-brycheinog-bre/

At the Melville Centre on a dark, cold November night Thomas chose to celebrate the onset of winter with a set of “tunes with a dark winter theme”. These not only reflected the character of the season but also his own “dark side”, a facet of his personality that has hitherto found something of an outlet in his recordings and associated artistic activities.

Consequently the mood of many of the pieces was sombre, reflective and melancholic yet remained eminently accessible and often very moving. The material was largely original, although there was one jazz standard, plus a couple of inspired pop and rock covers which I’ll come to later. There was a small degree of overlap with the November 2015 performance at the Kings Arms featuring Rees and Hobbs which had been based around an ‘elemental’ theme.

The quartet began with a Thomas composition with a single word title that sounded like “Mern”. Of its meaning Thomas commented enigmatically “it’s not important right now”.  The music was a little easier to get a handle on with Thomas stating the theme on trumpet as Blomfield’s snake like piano lines slithered in and out of the piece, coiling themselves around Thomas’s trumpet phrases. Blomfield was similarly inventive as he soloed on an acoustic upright piano specifically hired for the occasion. He was followed by Thomas on trumpet and Votino on melodic double bass.

Thomas announced “Gentlemen’s Relish” as being “a tune about diversity”. This was introduced by a carefully constructed and neatly detailed passage of solo drumming from Adamo followed by searching solos from Thomas on trumpet and Blomfield at the piano.

The first pop/rock cover was David Bowie’s “Bring Me The Disco King”, a tune that Thomas had also performed at the Kings Arms back in 2015.  Like the previous item it was ushered in by Adamo at the drums with Votino subsequently picking out the melody on double bass before handing over to Thomas.  The trumpeter played the piece in the style of a jazz ballad, albeit one with an underlying hip hop groove.  Blomfield then impressed with the lyricism of his piano solo before handing over to Adamo at the bass. Thomas then returned to further embellish the melody to a rhythmic backdrop that included the sound of dampened piano strings.  This was a delightful and often moving interpretation of Bowie’s piece. Incidentally the song was recorded by the Dutch saxophonist Yuri Honing on his 2012 album “True”.

In keeping with the evening’s theme Thomas’ own “Achilles’ Heel” was suitably noirish and was introduced by the sinister buzz of the composer’s vocalised trumpet.  Votino’s grounding bass groove and the intricate detail of Adamo’s drumming then underpinned further solos from Blomfield and Thomas.

“As this is a jazz club we’d better play a jazz standard” explained Thomas as he announced the final number of the first set, Jimmy van Heusen’s “It Could Happen To You”. This saw Thomas delivering the theme on trumpet before handing over to Votino for a double bass solo that was simultaneously dexterous, melodic and resonant – and wide ranging too, with much of the playing taking place around the bridge of the instrument. Thomas and Blomfield followed on trumpet and piano respectively before the pair traded fours with Adamo to close the first half in unexpectedly conventional fashion.

Set two continued the journey into the heart of the winter darkness with an opening segue of “Longest Night” and “Mother Earth”, the composer standing almost statuesque as he delivered his mournfully emotive trumpet lines above the sparse groove generated by Votino and Adamo. Blomfield’s piano solo began in thoughtful, lyrical fashion before before becoming more expansive with a passage of unaccompanied drumming from Adamo then acting as the link into the second half of the segue.
Thomas’ halting theme statement evolved into a solo from Blomfield that was now spikier and more percussive as he entered into a series of exchanges with Adamo, their discourse underpinned by Votino’s anchoring bass. Thomas then concluded this sequence with his second trumpet solo.

The second rock cover was Robert Wyatt’s “Sea Song”, another tune that had been performed previously at the Kings Arms. Wyatt’s slightly lugubrious brand of melancholy was also perfectly suited to this evening’s theme with Thomas’ trumpet replicating something of the fragility and plaintiveness of Wyatt’s singing on the original, which first appeared on the celebrated “Rock Bottom” album. An unexpected free jazz episode mid tune included Votino on bowed bass before the piece resolved itself with the soft sadness of Thomas’ trumpet whispers and the gentle patter of Adamo’s brushes and hands on skins.

“Heebie Jeebies” was another tune to survive from the Kings Arms session and saw the quartet adopting a more conventional jazz approach, almost sounding boppish at times. Blomfield took the opening solo followed by Thomas, the latter with only bass and piano for company.  Votino then took over for a typically dexterous bass solo underpinned by Blomfield’s sparse piano chording and the clatter of Adamo’s sticks on rims. Finally it was the turn of the drummer himself with a typically well constructed solo feature.

Things lightened up a little with the gorgeously melodic “Fallen Angel” which brought a flowing lyricism to the solos of Blomfield, Thomas and Votino with Adamo adding suitably sympathetic support.

Similarly lovely was “Snowmaiden”, the simple melody and chilly lyricism evoking images of snow covered winter scenes as Thomas soloed while the rest of the quartet provided subtle, low key support with Adamo wielding brushes.

Despite the darkness of some of the subject matter the audience responded warmly to the quartet’s wintry music and invited them back for an encore.  Announcing “Founders Of Our Time” Thomas described the tune as being “bright and optimistic” before adding “I have a problem with it”.  “I don’t – I like it!” countered Blomfield who had periodically attempted to inject some humour into the proceedings, even playing a snippet of “Jingle Bells” during one of Ben’s tune announcements! And, yes, things did end on upbeat note as the co-leaders traded solos for a final time.

Reviewing this performance for Jazz Journal Nigel Jarrett compared Thomas’ playing to that of Miles Davis, Chet Baker and Kenny Wheeler, all musicians capable of making the dark and melancholic sound profoundly beautiful. For myself Thomas’ sombre timbres also reminded of the great Polish trumpeter and composer Tomasz Stanko.

But it wasn’t just about the trumpeter, Thomas was well served by a well balanced and highly interactive quartet. Co-leader Blomfield impressed as always with his inventive and imaginative solos, as did bassist Votino whose playing came to the fore on several occasions. Adamo’s contribution was also excellent, providing the necessary rhythmic impetus but also playing with great sensitivity when the occasion demanded it.

Following a successful British tour it is to be hoped that the Ben Thomas / Jim Blomfield Quartet are able to commit their music to disc.

Meanwhile this concert represented a highly successful conclusion to an excellent year of music at Black Mountain Jazz.

Oxley-Meier Guitar Project - Oxley-Meier Guitar Project, Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 24/11/2017. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 "Eleven guitars and ninety six strings". Ian Mann enjoys a duo performance by guitarists Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier and takes a look at their new album "The Colours of Time".

PETE OXLEY / NICOLAS MEIER GUITAR PROJECT, HERMON CHAPEL ARTS CENTRE, OSWESTRY, 24/11/2017.

Hermon Chapel Arts Centre is a new venture based in a former Welsh Congregational chapel in Oswestry curated by guitarist Barry Edwards and ceramic artist Claudia Lis.

I know Claudia from her one time involvement with the Shrewsbury Jazz Network when she helped to co-ordinate live events at The Hive Music & Media Centre dealing with front of house and band liaison.

She has now teamed up with Barry to bring live jazz to the good folks of Oswestry along with music from other genres, including folk and rock plus live theatre, comedy, poetry slams and more.
Let’s hope that they can develop a loyal local following for their varied activities.

As well as live performances music workshops are also very much part of the programme with saxophonists Gilad Atzmon and Alan Barnes among the musicians to have successfully led such events.

Although it’s a long distance from my base Claudia has been keen for me to visit the venue for a while and this duo performance by two of the British jazz scene’s leading guitarists seemed to offer the ideal opportunity.  The Chapel itself represents an excellent performance space with good sight lines and excellent acoustics. Claudia has deployed her artistic skills to decorate the place in agreeably Bohemian fashion and I was pleased to discover a polypin of real ale on the bar from Monty’s Brewery in nearby Montgomery. A nice pint of Monty’s Sunshine seemed very appropriate at a jazz concert.

It has to be said that on a cold November night it was a rather chilly inside the Chapel and this may have helped to keep the numbers low, although it was good to see Laurie and Debbie Grey from Shrewsbury Jazz Network among the crowd. “A small but perfectly formed audience” as Pete Oxley put it.

Tonight’s date was part of an extensive UK tour being undertaken by the duo in support of their recently released double album “The Colours Of Time” which appears on Meier’s own MGP record label. Disc one consists solely of duo performances, many of which we were to hear tonight, while the second disc features the pair as part of a quartet including bassist Raph Mizraki and drummer Paul Cavaciuti.

Although I’d seen both Oxley and Meier perform live before in other contexts tonight was the first time that I’d actually seen them play together. Their stage gear consisted of no fewer than eleven guitars,  these equipped with a total of ninety six strings, a truly impressive display of the luthier’s art. Each musician also had his own pedal-board but the use of FX was judicious and tasteful, this performance was essentially about each man’s picking skills.

Clad in their flamboyant stage shirts the duo commenced with Meier’s “The Followers”, a tune actually recorded in the quartet format. It sounded just as good in the context of the duo with Oxley playing an electric Gibson six string and Meier a Godin acoustic twelve string. Oxley soloed first, adopting a conventional, warm toned jazz guitar sound, nimbly dancing above Meier’s rhythmic strumming.

Also by Meier “Waltz For Dilek”, a tune from the acoustic half of the new album, found both men playing guitars manufactured by the Canadian Godin company. Oxley was playing a seven string model with an additional bass string, Meier a conventional six string. Like the opener this was a highly melodic composition that saw the musicians reversing roles with Meier providing the first solo while Oxley focussed on rhythmic duties. Oxley then assumed the lead before handing back to Meier, whose playing incorporated Balkan and gypsy jazz influences.

A third Meier composition, “Princes’ Islands” was inspired by a location near Istanbul where the composer now lives. The Swiss born Meier is married to a Turkish woman, Songul, who provides the beautiful and distinctive artwork for all of Meier’s album releases, including “The Colours of Time”. Meier’s domestic circumstances have encouraged his interest in Turkish music with this tune a case in point with the composer playing a fretless nylon six string manufactured by Godin with Oxley remaining on the seven string. Meier took the first solo, his sound distinctive and unmistakably Middle Eastern. Oxley then succeeded him before a final set of exchanges at the close.

Oxley then took over the compositional reins for “Chasing Kites”, inspired by the red kites living in the Chilterns near Oxley’s Oxford base – he also runs The Spin Jazz Club in the city. Another piece recorded in the quartet format this featured the composer on seven string as he traded solos with Meier who was playing a Godin nylon six string. Meier’s solo included flamenco style strumming while the diminuendo at the close of the piece, “a live studio fade out”, as Oxley described it, was intended to represent the elusive kites soaring out of reach of their pursuers.

A second Oxley composition, “A Piece for Peace” saw the trio in ballad mode with Oxley playing an electric twelve string and Meier the Godin nylon six string. Meier took the first solo backed by Oxley’s twelve string chording before the composer took over, sounding a little like Pat Metheny when the latter played twelve string in vibraphonist Gary Burton’s mid seventies quintet.

The first set concluded with “Riversides”, a Meier tune recorded on the album in the quartet format. This introduced yet another instrument, an eleven string fretless ‘glissentar’ manufactured by Godin that replicated the sound of the oud. Following an unaccompanied introductory passage from Meier Oxley took a solo on the electric twelve string before handing back to the composer.

The second half began with Oxley’s “Song for Z.T.” which he dedicated to his former classical guitar tutor Zach Taylor. The composer introduced the piece on unaccompanied seven string before providing the accompaniment to Meier’s melodic nylon six string solo, the latter making subtle use of FX. The piece ended as it began with a further solo passage from Oxley on the nylon seven string.

Also by Oxley “The Key of Klimt” was named for the colourful artwork of Gustav Klimt but took its musical inspiration from the minimalism of Steve Reich and Philip Glass. The arpeggiated, intertwining lines of the two guitarists grew ever more complex and colourful, evoking images both of Klimt’s visual art and of musical works such as Reich’s “Electric Counterpoint”.

Meier’s “Sahara” saw the return of his eleven string fretless glissentar which helped to give the music an authentically North African feel. Oxley, playing the seven string included some impressive note bending techniques during his own solo.

The performance concluded with two new tunes by Oxley which are likely to be recorded on the duo’s next album. The first of these, “Autumn Enters” featured Oxley on a distinctive six string electric sitar guitar with twelve small sympathetic strings. Needless to say this gave the piece a highly distinctive sound that was at times reminiscent of Pat Metheny’s playing on the tune “Last Train Home”.

For “The Austin Bar” Oxley explained that he was looking for “a Texas feel” and this was achieved by the means of the six string Gibson electric heard right at the beginning of the show, and Meier’s acoustic twelve string. Oxley took the first solo, followed by Meier, with the music again sounding rather Metheney-ish, this time I was reminded of Pat’s solo album of multi-tracked guitar pieces “New Chatauqua”.

Coaxed by Barry Edwards the duo were persuaded to play a brief encore which saw both of them playing Gibson electrics and adopting a more conventional, bebop inspired guitar sound as they traded solos, the music also containing more than a hint of the blues. I assume that this was a standard but I didn’t recognise it and forgot to ask what it was afterwards. I blame the Monty’s.

Pete Oxley and Nic Meier have been working together for ten years and have recorded several albums. Their skill and rapport was in evidence throughout this performance and the light hearted but informative tune announcements added much to the experience. Compositions and solos were divided equally and there was no sense of competition, only of co-operation. Both guitarists are highly accomplished musicians and genuinely very nice guys.

Graced with Songul’s artwork the “Colours of Time” album works extremely well. The duo disc makes subtle use of overdubbing and sometimes three or more guitars can be heard on any one track.

The quartet disc is also highly effective and hugely enjoyable. Having enjoyed seeing Oxley and Meier perform in the duo format I’d now love to see them play a similar show in the context of a quartet.

Despite the plunging temperatures I enjoyed my inaugural visit to Hermon Chapel and hope to return again in 2018. In the meantime I wish Barry and Claudia every success with their new venture. It takes time to build an audience but with their dedication and enthusiasm they will surely do so. This is another Project that deserves to succeed.

Oxley-Meier Guitar Project, Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 24/11/2017.

Oxley-Meier Guitar Project

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Oxley-Meier Guitar Project, Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 24/11/2017.
Photography: Photograph of Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier by Pam Mann.

"Eleven guitars and ninety six strings". Ian Mann enjoys a duo performance by guitarists Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier and takes a look at their new album "The Colours of Time".

PETE OXLEY / NICOLAS MEIER GUITAR PROJECT, HERMON CHAPEL ARTS CENTRE, OSWESTRY, 24/11/2017.

Hermon Chapel Arts Centre is a new venture based in a former Welsh Congregational chapel in Oswestry curated by guitarist Barry Edwards and ceramic artist Claudia Lis.

I know Claudia from her one time involvement with the Shrewsbury Jazz Network when she helped to co-ordinate live events at The Hive Music & Media Centre dealing with front of house and band liaison.

She has now teamed up with Barry to bring live jazz to the good folks of Oswestry along with music from other genres, including folk and rock plus live theatre, comedy, poetry slams and more.
Let’s hope that they can develop a loyal local following for their varied activities.

As well as live performances music workshops are also very much part of the programme with saxophonists Gilad Atzmon and Alan Barnes among the musicians to have successfully led such events.

Although it’s a long distance from my base Claudia has been keen for me to visit the venue for a while and this duo performance by two of the British jazz scene’s leading guitarists seemed to offer the ideal opportunity.  The Chapel itself represents an excellent performance space with good sight lines and excellent acoustics. Claudia has deployed her artistic skills to decorate the place in agreeably Bohemian fashion and I was pleased to discover a polypin of real ale on the bar from Monty’s Brewery in nearby Montgomery. A nice pint of Monty’s Sunshine seemed very appropriate at a jazz concert.

It has to be said that on a cold November night it was a rather chilly inside the Chapel and this may have helped to keep the numbers low, although it was good to see Laurie and Debbie Grey from Shrewsbury Jazz Network among the crowd. “A small but perfectly formed audience” as Pete Oxley put it.

Tonight’s date was part of an extensive UK tour being undertaken by the duo in support of their recently released double album “The Colours Of Time” which appears on Meier’s own MGP record label. Disc one consists solely of duo performances, many of which we were to hear tonight, while the second disc features the pair as part of a quartet including bassist Raph Mizraki and drummer Paul Cavaciuti.

Although I’d seen both Oxley and Meier perform live before in other contexts tonight was the first time that I’d actually seen them play together. Their stage gear consisted of no fewer than eleven guitars,  these equipped with a total of ninety six strings, a truly impressive display of the luthier’s art. Each musician also had his own pedal-board but the use of FX was judicious and tasteful, this performance was essentially about each man’s picking skills.

Clad in their flamboyant stage shirts the duo commenced with Meier’s “The Followers”, a tune actually recorded in the quartet format. It sounded just as good in the context of the duo with Oxley playing an electric Gibson six string and Meier a Godin acoustic twelve string. Oxley soloed first, adopting a conventional, warm toned jazz guitar sound, nimbly dancing above Meier’s rhythmic strumming.

Also by Meier “Waltz For Dilek”, a tune from the acoustic half of the new album, found both men playing guitars manufactured by the Canadian Godin company. Oxley was playing a seven string model with an additional bass string, Meier a conventional six string. Like the opener this was a highly melodic composition that saw the musicians reversing roles with Meier providing the first solo while Oxley focussed on rhythmic duties. Oxley then assumed the lead before handing back to Meier, whose playing incorporated Balkan and gypsy jazz influences.

A third Meier composition, “Princes’ Islands” was inspired by a location near Istanbul where the composer now lives. The Swiss born Meier is married to a Turkish woman, Songul, who provides the beautiful and distinctive artwork for all of Meier’s album releases, including “The Colours of Time”. Meier’s domestic circumstances have encouraged his interest in Turkish music with this tune a case in point with the composer playing a fretless nylon six string manufactured by Godin with Oxley remaining on the seven string. Meier took the first solo, his sound distinctive and unmistakably Middle Eastern. Oxley then succeeded him before a final set of exchanges at the close.

Oxley then took over the compositional reins for “Chasing Kites”, inspired by the red kites living in the Chilterns near Oxley’s Oxford base – he also runs The Spin Jazz Club in the city. Another piece recorded in the quartet format this featured the composer on seven string as he traded solos with Meier who was playing a Godin nylon six string. Meier’s solo included flamenco style strumming while the diminuendo at the close of the piece, “a live studio fade out”, as Oxley described it, was intended to represent the elusive kites soaring out of reach of their pursuers.

A second Oxley composition, “A Piece for Peace” saw the trio in ballad mode with Oxley playing an electric twelve string and Meier the Godin nylon six string. Meier took the first solo backed by Oxley’s twelve string chording before the composer took over, sounding a little like Pat Metheny when the latter played twelve string in vibraphonist Gary Burton’s mid seventies quintet.

The first set concluded with “Riversides”, a Meier tune recorded on the album in the quartet format. This introduced yet another instrument, an eleven string fretless ‘glissentar’ manufactured by Godin that replicated the sound of the oud. Following an unaccompanied introductory passage from Meier Oxley took a solo on the electric twelve string before handing back to the composer.

The second half began with Oxley’s “Song for Z.T.” which he dedicated to his former classical guitar tutor Zach Taylor. The composer introduced the piece on unaccompanied seven string before providing the accompaniment to Meier’s melodic nylon six string solo, the latter making subtle use of FX. The piece ended as it began with a further solo passage from Oxley on the nylon seven string.

Also by Oxley “The Key of Klimt” was named for the colourful artwork of Gustav Klimt but took its musical inspiration from the minimalism of Steve Reich and Philip Glass. The arpeggiated, intertwining lines of the two guitarists grew ever more complex and colourful, evoking images both of Klimt’s visual art and of musical works such as Reich’s “Electric Counterpoint”.

Meier’s “Sahara” saw the return of his eleven string fretless glissentar which helped to give the music an authentically North African feel. Oxley, playing the seven string included some impressive note bending techniques during his own solo.

The performance concluded with two new tunes by Oxley which are likely to be recorded on the duo’s next album. The first of these, “Autumn Enters” featured Oxley on a distinctive six string electric sitar guitar with twelve small sympathetic strings. Needless to say this gave the piece a highly distinctive sound that was at times reminiscent of Pat Metheny’s playing on the tune “Last Train Home”.

For “The Austin Bar” Oxley explained that he was looking for “a Texas feel” and this was achieved by the means of the six string Gibson electric heard right at the beginning of the show, and Meier’s acoustic twelve string. Oxley took the first solo, followed by Meier, with the music again sounding rather Metheney-ish, this time I was reminded of Pat’s solo album of multi-tracked guitar pieces “New Chatauqua”.

Coaxed by Barry Edwards the duo were persuaded to play a brief encore which saw both of them playing Gibson electrics and adopting a more conventional, bebop inspired guitar sound as they traded solos, the music also containing more than a hint of the blues. I assume that this was a standard but I didn’t recognise it and forgot to ask what it was afterwards. I blame the Monty’s.

Pete Oxley and Nic Meier have been working together for ten years and have recorded several albums. Their skill and rapport was in evidence throughout this performance and the light hearted but informative tune announcements added much to the experience. Compositions and solos were divided equally and there was no sense of competition, only of co-operation. Both guitarists are highly accomplished musicians and genuinely very nice guys.

Graced with Songul’s artwork the “Colours of Time” album works extremely well. The duo disc makes subtle use of overdubbing and sometimes three or more guitars can be heard on any one track.

The quartet disc is also highly effective and hugely enjoyable. Having enjoyed seeing Oxley and Meier perform in the duo format I’d now love to see them play a similar show in the context of a quartet.

Despite the plunging temperatures I enjoyed my inaugural visit to Hermon Chapel and hope to return again in 2018. In the meantime I wish Barry and Claudia every success with their new venture. It takes time to build an audience but with their dedication and enthusiasm they will surely do so. This is another Project that deserves to succeed.

Moscow Drug Club - Moscow Drug Club, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 24/11/2017. Rating: 4 out of 5 "Where the Reds play The Blues". Guest contributor Trevor Bannister suspends disbelief and enters into the murky world of Moscow Drug Club. Photograph by Zoë White.

Jazz at Progress
 
Moscow Drug Club
 
Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, Friday 24 November 2017.


Katya Gorrie vocals, Jonny Bruce trumpet, Mirek Salmon accordion, Will Edmunds guitar, Andy Crowdy bass


The spectacular trumpet fanfare from the trumpet of Jonny Bruce, dispels the mind-numbing chill of the autumn evening and heralds an invitation to suspend disbelief for an hour or so and take the hand of Katya Gorrie as she leads the way into the murky recesses of the Moscow Drug Club with her band of troubadours.

Tom Waits, a glass of bourbon in his hand, stands at the bar casting a sardonic eye on the world. ‘In the Morning I’ll Be Gone’, he announces with an enigmatic smile. ‘A Gypsy With Fire In His Shoes’ ignites the atmosphere with his flaming flamenco steps. He brings the club alive. ‘Queenie, the burlesque cutie’, who never betrays her dream of one day retiring to a little farm, needs no encouragement to take to the stage, there to conjure the exotic fantasies of others with a ‘Strip Polka’ that always stops ‘just in time’.

Kurt Weill operates the strings for a company of puppets as they dance to the obscure lyrics of his ‘Alabama Song’, Edith Piaf performs a simple waltz, while Charles Aznavour plays ‘Two Guitars’. ‘The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans’ competes for attention on the cramped dance floor with the eastern Mediterranean charms of ‘Miserlou’, only for both to be upstaged by the explosive entry of a ninety-two-year-old lady from Woolacombe, north Devon, who noisily extols the virtues of gin, ‘Mother’s Ruin’. Might she be ‘the grandmother … decked out like a Christmas tree’ to whom Jacques Brel ‘would sing my song to me about the time they called me “Jacky”?’

‘Besame Mucho’ sighs a young Mexican as she yearns for her first kiss, even though she knows it to be a sin. “Why worry”, declares Miss Peggy Lee, ‘Manana (Is Soon Enough For Me)’.

Good taste is a by-word of Moscow Drug Club membership. When the Gentlemen’s Chorus pronounce the passing of ‘Old Man Mose’ they carefully avoid any offensive expressions that might rhyme with the ‘bucket’ that the old man had just kicked.

And so we depart, with the strains of ‘Caravan’ echoing in the background. It’s time to thank our hostess Katya: for the warmth of her hospitality; for the clarity of her diction and the expressive qualities of her narration – she knows exactly how to draw every nuance and innuendo from the lyrics of a song, and for introducing us to the colourful array of characters who inhabit the Moscow Drug Club.

Also a thank you to the musicians who held us in thrall with their amazing feats of invention: Jonny Bruce’s ebullient flights into the stratosphere and masterly use of mutes to extract every sound and emotion imaginable from his trumpet; Mirek Salmon’s gorgeously evocative playing on the accordion; Will Edmunds’ rhythmic versatility and fleet-fingered forays on the guitar, and Andy Crowdy’s rich-toned bass lines.

Nor should we miss Martin and Stuart, and the Progress team for making sure that everything ran smoothly. A great evening!

TREVOR BANNISTER

P.S.

Half the fun of the evening, at least for me,  came from suspending disbelief and entering into the fantasy of the Moscow Drug Club. The truth is that my efforts to write a straightforward review just didn’t work and this came about instead. A four-star evening!
 

Moscow Drug Club, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 24/11/2017.

Moscow Drug Club

Friday, December 01, 2017

Reviewed by: Trevor Bannister

Live Review

4 out of 5

Moscow Drug Club, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 24/11/2017.
Photography: Photograph by Zoë White.

"Where the Reds play The Blues". Guest contributor Trevor Bannister suspends disbelief and enters into the murky world of Moscow Drug Club. Photograph by Zoë White.

Jazz at Progress
 
Moscow Drug Club
 
Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, Friday 24 November 2017.


Katya Gorrie vocals, Jonny Bruce trumpet, Mirek Salmon accordion, Will Edmunds guitar, Andy Crowdy bass


The spectacular trumpet fanfare from the trumpet of Jonny Bruce, dispels the mind-numbing chill of the autumn evening and heralds an invitation to suspend disbelief for an hour or so and take the hand of Katya Gorrie as she leads the way into the murky recesses of the Moscow Drug Club with her band of troubadours.

Tom Waits, a glass of bourbon in his hand, stands at the bar casting a sardonic eye on the world. ‘In the Morning I’ll Be Gone’, he announces with an enigmatic smile. ‘A Gypsy With Fire In His Shoes’ ignites the atmosphere with his flaming flamenco steps. He brings the club alive. ‘Queenie, the burlesque cutie’, who never betrays her dream of one day retiring to a little farm, needs no encouragement to take to the stage, there to conjure the exotic fantasies of others with a ‘Strip Polka’ that always stops ‘just in time’.

Kurt Weill operates the strings for a company of puppets as they dance to the obscure lyrics of his ‘Alabama Song’, Edith Piaf performs a simple waltz, while Charles Aznavour plays ‘Two Guitars’. ‘The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans’ competes for attention on the cramped dance floor with the eastern Mediterranean charms of ‘Miserlou’, only for both to be upstaged by the explosive entry of a ninety-two-year-old lady from Woolacombe, north Devon, who noisily extols the virtues of gin, ‘Mother’s Ruin’. Might she be ‘the grandmother … decked out like a Christmas tree’ to whom Jacques Brel ‘would sing my song to me about the time they called me “Jacky”?’

‘Besame Mucho’ sighs a young Mexican as she yearns for her first kiss, even though she knows it to be a sin. “Why worry”, declares Miss Peggy Lee, ‘Manana (Is Soon Enough For Me)’.

Good taste is a by-word of Moscow Drug Club membership. When the Gentlemen’s Chorus pronounce the passing of ‘Old Man Mose’ they carefully avoid any offensive expressions that might rhyme with the ‘bucket’ that the old man had just kicked.

And so we depart, with the strains of ‘Caravan’ echoing in the background. It’s time to thank our hostess Katya: for the warmth of her hospitality; for the clarity of her diction and the expressive qualities of her narration – she knows exactly how to draw every nuance and innuendo from the lyrics of a song, and for introducing us to the colourful array of characters who inhabit the Moscow Drug Club.

Also a thank you to the musicians who held us in thrall with their amazing feats of invention: Jonny Bruce’s ebullient flights into the stratosphere and masterly use of mutes to extract every sound and emotion imaginable from his trumpet; Mirek Salmon’s gorgeously evocative playing on the accordion; Will Edmunds’ rhythmic versatility and fleet-fingered forays on the guitar, and Andy Crowdy’s rich-toned bass lines.

Nor should we miss Martin and Stuart, and the Progress team for making sure that everything ran smoothly. A great evening!

TREVOR BANNISTER

P.S.

Half the fun of the evening, at least for me,  came from suspending disbelief and entering into the fantasy of the Moscow Drug Club. The truth is that my efforts to write a straightforward review just didn’t work and this came about instead. A four-star evening!
 

Tom Hewson - Essence Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Hewson has taken on the challenge of the solo piano album and succeeded – for the second time.

Tom Hewson

“Essence”

(Cam Jazz CAMJ 7912-2)

Tom Hewson, originally from Kent and a graduate of New College in Oxford and of Trinity Laban in London is a young pianist and composer who was mentored by the late, great John Taylor. It was through the Taylor connection that Hewson came to the Italian label Cam Jazz with this new solo piano recording, “Essence”,  representing his second release for the company.

Hewson’s début for Cam Jazz was the 2015 trio album “Treehouse”, an excellent recording that also featured the talents of British musicians Lewis Wright (vibraphone) and Calum Gourlay (double bass). My review of that album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/tom-hewson-trio-treehouse/

Hewson has also led a number of other projects including  a quintet (with George Crowley - sax, Nick Malcolm - trumpet, Ferg Ireland - bass, James Maddren - drums) and the electric trio Identity Parade (Alam Nathoo - sax, Pete Ibbetson – drums). He has also collaborated in a duo with vocalist and songwriter Fini Bearman. Others with whom he has worked include composer Issie Barrett, guitarist Ant Law, saxophonists Mark Lockheart and Paul Riley, vocalists Nicky Schrire and Sylwia Bialas and drummers Tim Giles and Asaf Sirkis.

In 2012 Hewson released his first album of solo piano music, a collection of original compositions titled “Slightly Peculiar” that attracted a considerable amount of critical acclaim. Two years later he was awarded first prize at the 2014 Nottingham International Jazz Piano competition.

A duo performance with Bearman in Vienna brought Hewson to the attention of the Bosendorfer company and he was invited to their factory in Wiener Neustdadt to try out the new 280 VC Concert Grand, the instrument on which the music of “Essence” was recorded. CAM Jazz then suggested the possibility of a solo album and with the blessing of the record label and the piano manufacturer Hewson spent three days at the factory with the CAM Jazz production team during which he recorded the eleven pieces that make up “Essence”. The album was subsequently mixed at Artesuono Recording Studios in Italy.

Given the circumstances of its recording on one of the best pianos in the world and with mixing taking place at Italy’s most renowned studio it comes as no surprise to discover that the recorded sound on “Essence” is exquisite. It’s the perfect setting for Hewson, whose classically honed lightness of touch is frequently reminiscent of that of his one time mentor Taylor.

The liner notes to “Treehouse” made reference to Hewson’s influences, among them classical composers such as Ravel and Debussy plus jazz figures such as Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Jimmy Guiffre and Dave Holland.  The press release for “Treehouse” also cited Hewson acknowledging the influence of jazz pianists ranging from Oscar Peterson through Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk to Paul Bley.

Brian Morton’s scholarly liner notes add context to the music to be heard on “Essence”, the programme comprising of eight Hewson originals plus pieces from the pens of John Taylor, Kenny Wheeler and Charles Mingus.

The album commences with the Hewson original “Constellations”, the delicate opening passage perfectly encapsulating the twinkling of the firmament in the clear night sky. But Hewson is about more than mere prettiness and his musical universe continues to expand, his harmonic and rhythmic inventiveness taking the music into fresh new worlds. Yet Hewson’s music remains thoroughly melodic and engaging at all times, his playing sophisticated but undemonstrative. He is a musician whose playing always serves the music.

Despite its ‘chamber jazz’ instrumentation “Treehouse” was a surprisingly vibrant and rhythmic record, thanks in no small part to Hewson’s inventive work with his left hand. These qualities are again apparent on the lively and energetic “Major Malfunction” with its choppy, syncopated rhythms. It’s more obviously a ‘jazz’ composition than some of its companions, the majority of which are more closely rooted in the European classical tradition.

Following the jagged exuberance of “Major Malfunction” the melancholy lyricism of “Consolation” represents an effective contrast as Hewson re-introduces his classical leanings on a thoughtful Kenny Wheeler ballad that also possesses something of the feel of a jazz standard.

“A False Step” combines a flowing melody with a syncopated rhythm in a piece that neatly encapsulates Hewson’s approach.

The pianist gets right inside the architecture of Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Hat” while retaining all the beauty, lyricism and gravitas of a piece written as an elegy to the great saxophonist Lester Young.

The self penned title track, one of the lengthiest pieces on the album, finds Hewson touching all his bases in a piece embracing a gentle, flowing lyricism before bursting into vibrant, joyous life on a piece rich in dynamic contrast and rhythmic invention but retaining its focus on strong melody. Aptly titled it captures the very “Essence” of Hewson’s music.

The elegant “Processional” features peals of melody above a slowly rolling left hand rhythm while
“Dare I” is a lively study in counterpoint with a jagged, almost ragtime feel.

There’s another change of mood and pace with the dark, sparse, almost glacially slow “Koyasan” but “Where A Stream Leads” is as flowingly lyrical as its title suggests and is quite delightful. And just like a stream it meanders to some beautiful locations along its course.

Appropriately the album concludes with a homage to John Taylor with Hewson reverentially performing a beautiful version of JT’s composition “Summer (Phases)”.

If he could have heard “Essence” Taylor would have been proud of his protégé. The great man would have appreciated not only Hewson’s technique but also the intelligence, imagination and very human warmth that imbues this recording. Hewson has taken on the challenge of the solo piano album and succeeded – for the second time.

It is intended that Hewson will undertake a tour of the UK performing music from the album in April 2018. Please visit http://www.tomhewson.com for updates.

Essence

Tom Hewson

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Essence

Hewson has taken on the challenge of the solo piano album and succeeded – for the second time.

Tom Hewson

“Essence”

(Cam Jazz CAMJ 7912-2)

Tom Hewson, originally from Kent and a graduate of New College in Oxford and of Trinity Laban in London is a young pianist and composer who was mentored by the late, great John Taylor. It was through the Taylor connection that Hewson came to the Italian label Cam Jazz with this new solo piano recording, “Essence”,  representing his second release for the company.

Hewson’s début for Cam Jazz was the 2015 trio album “Treehouse”, an excellent recording that also featured the talents of British musicians Lewis Wright (vibraphone) and Calum Gourlay (double bass). My review of that album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/tom-hewson-trio-treehouse/

Hewson has also led a number of other projects including  a quintet (with George Crowley - sax, Nick Malcolm - trumpet, Ferg Ireland - bass, James Maddren - drums) and the electric trio Identity Parade (Alam Nathoo - sax, Pete Ibbetson – drums). He has also collaborated in a duo with vocalist and songwriter Fini Bearman. Others with whom he has worked include composer Issie Barrett, guitarist Ant Law, saxophonists Mark Lockheart and Paul Riley, vocalists Nicky Schrire and Sylwia Bialas and drummers Tim Giles and Asaf Sirkis.

In 2012 Hewson released his first album of solo piano music, a collection of original compositions titled “Slightly Peculiar” that attracted a considerable amount of critical acclaim. Two years later he was awarded first prize at the 2014 Nottingham International Jazz Piano competition.

A duo performance with Bearman in Vienna brought Hewson to the attention of the Bosendorfer company and he was invited to their factory in Wiener Neustdadt to try out the new 280 VC Concert Grand, the instrument on which the music of “Essence” was recorded. CAM Jazz then suggested the possibility of a solo album and with the blessing of the record label and the piano manufacturer Hewson spent three days at the factory with the CAM Jazz production team during which he recorded the eleven pieces that make up “Essence”. The album was subsequently mixed at Artesuono Recording Studios in Italy.

Given the circumstances of its recording on one of the best pianos in the world and with mixing taking place at Italy’s most renowned studio it comes as no surprise to discover that the recorded sound on “Essence” is exquisite. It’s the perfect setting for Hewson, whose classically honed lightness of touch is frequently reminiscent of that of his one time mentor Taylor.

The liner notes to “Treehouse” made reference to Hewson’s influences, among them classical composers such as Ravel and Debussy plus jazz figures such as Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Jimmy Guiffre and Dave Holland.  The press release for “Treehouse” also cited Hewson acknowledging the influence of jazz pianists ranging from Oscar Peterson through Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk to Paul Bley.

Brian Morton’s scholarly liner notes add context to the music to be heard on “Essence”, the programme comprising of eight Hewson originals plus pieces from the pens of John Taylor, Kenny Wheeler and Charles Mingus.

The album commences with the Hewson original “Constellations”, the delicate opening passage perfectly encapsulating the twinkling of the firmament in the clear night sky. But Hewson is about more than mere prettiness and his musical universe continues to expand, his harmonic and rhythmic inventiveness taking the music into fresh new worlds. Yet Hewson’s music remains thoroughly melodic and engaging at all times, his playing sophisticated but undemonstrative. He is a musician whose playing always serves the music.

Despite its ‘chamber jazz’ instrumentation “Treehouse” was a surprisingly vibrant and rhythmic record, thanks in no small part to Hewson’s inventive work with his left hand. These qualities are again apparent on the lively and energetic “Major Malfunction” with its choppy, syncopated rhythms. It’s more obviously a ‘jazz’ composition than some of its companions, the majority of which are more closely rooted in the European classical tradition.

Following the jagged exuberance of “Major Malfunction” the melancholy lyricism of “Consolation” represents an effective contrast as Hewson re-introduces his classical leanings on a thoughtful Kenny Wheeler ballad that also possesses something of the feel of a jazz standard.

“A False Step” combines a flowing melody with a syncopated rhythm in a piece that neatly encapsulates Hewson’s approach.

The pianist gets right inside the architecture of Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Hat” while retaining all the beauty, lyricism and gravitas of a piece written as an elegy to the great saxophonist Lester Young.

The self penned title track, one of the lengthiest pieces on the album, finds Hewson touching all his bases in a piece embracing a gentle, flowing lyricism before bursting into vibrant, joyous life on a piece rich in dynamic contrast and rhythmic invention but retaining its focus on strong melody. Aptly titled it captures the very “Essence” of Hewson’s music.

The elegant “Processional” features peals of melody above a slowly rolling left hand rhythm while
“Dare I” is a lively study in counterpoint with a jagged, almost ragtime feel.

There’s another change of mood and pace with the dark, sparse, almost glacially slow “Koyasan” but “Where A Stream Leads” is as flowingly lyrical as its title suggests and is quite delightful. And just like a stream it meanders to some beautiful locations along its course.

Appropriately the album concludes with a homage to John Taylor with Hewson reverentially performing a beautiful version of JT’s composition “Summer (Phases)”.

If he could have heard “Essence” Taylor would have been proud of his protégé. The great man would have appreciated not only Hewson’s technique but also the intelligence, imagination and very human warmth that imbues this recording. Hewson has taken on the challenge of the solo piano album and succeeded – for the second time.

It is intended that Hewson will undertake a tour of the UK performing music from the album in April 2018. Please visit http://www.tomhewson.com for updates.

Lenore Raphael & Friends - Lenore Raphael & Friends, Brecon Jazz Club, Neuadd Theatr, Christ College, Brecon, 07/11/2017. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Ian Mann enjoys the music of pianist Lenore Raphael with friends Wayne Wilkinson (guitar), Chris Hodgkins (trumpet) & Alison Rayne (bass). He also takes a look at her latest album "Pizza Express Live"

Lenore Raphael and Friends, Neuadd Theatr, Christ College, Brecon, 07/11/2017.

Brecon Jazz Club’s November session saw a change of location with a temporary move to the Neuadd Theatr at Christ College. Also known as the Memorial Hall the Theatr is a comfortable, modern performance space with banked seating that has sometimes been used as a venue at the annual Brecon Jazz Festival.

More importantly the venue has its own grand piano, a particularly significant factor when the visiting headliner is the American pianist Lenore Raphael who was playing the first date of a short UK tour leading an Anglo-American group featuring US guitarist Wayne Wilkinson and British musicians Chris Hodgkins (trumpet) and Alison Rayner (double bass).

Brecon Jazz Club’s Lynne Gornall had first seen Raphael perform some six years ago at the Bull’s Head in Barnes and had been determined to bring her to Brecon ever since. Thus tonight’s performance represented the fulfilment of a long held ambition.

The trio of Raphael, Wilkinson and Hodgkins were launching the album “At Pizza Express Live”, a recording of their 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival performance at the famous Dean Street venue. With Rayner now in tow they will be returning to the venue for a lunchtime show on November 11th 2017, part of this year’s Festival.

Inspired by Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan and others Raphael is a pianist in the mainstream tradition with the recent “Pizza Express Live” representing her eleventh album release as a leader. She tours internationally and is a regular and popular visitor to the UK. She is also an acclaimed jazz educator with a number of teaching posts in the US and was due to host a master class for the students of Christ College on the morning following this event.

Tonight’s performance focussed almost exclusively on the standards repertoire with most of the tunes being readily familiar to the knowledgeable jazz audience at this well attended and keenly anticipated event. Versions of several of the pieces that were played can also be heard on the “Pizza Express Live” CD.

Anyone who feared that this drummer-less ‘chamber jazz’ quartet might prove to be rather bloodless would have been pleasantly surprised. This proved to be a surprisingly vibrant and rhythmic ensemble with Raphael’s left hand piano figures, Rayner’s supple but propulsive bass lines and Wilkinson’s expert comping providing plenty of forward motion. In a highly democratic ensemble solos were distributed evenly around the group with newcomer Rayner enjoying several moments to shine. She probably played more solos here than she does with her own excellent quintet, which visited for a memorable performance at BJC’s regular venue The Muse in June 2017.
Review here;  http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/alison-rayner-quintet-arq-brecon-jazz-club-the-muse-arts-centre-brecon-13-0/

Tonight’s performance began with Harry Warren’s tune “September In The Rain”, the piece that also opens the “Pizza Express Live” album. Following a brief solo piano introduction Hodgkins stated the theme on muted trumpet prior to the opening solo from the fleet fingered Wilkinson on guitar as Hodgkins shouted encouraging approval. Raphael’s comping allied to Rayner’s sturdy bass lines gave the music considerable rhythmic drive as Hodgkins switched to the open horn for his solo, followed in turn by Raphael and Rayner in this well balanced and democratic unit.

Sticking to the album running order we next heard the ballad “Talk Of The Town” with Hodgkins stating the theme on blues infused trumpet as Wilkinson’s skilful guitar comping approximated a brushed drum groove. Further solos came from Wilkinson, Raphael and Hodgkins on a ballad performance that actually generated a surprising amount of heat.

Varying from the CD running order a relaxed “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams” offered solos from Raphael, Hodgkins and Wilkinson, the order of the solos also differing from the recorded version.

Acting as MC Hodgkins referred to the “band within a band” tradition as typified by Artie Shaw’s Grammercy 5 and the Benny Goodman Trio. Tonight’s “band within a band” proved to be Wilkinson playing solo guitar on a delightful – and incredibly dexterous- version of the song “The Boy Next Door” in a Wilkinson arrangement inspired by the former Goodman guitarist Johnny Smith.

I was highly impressed by this first sighting of Wilkinson, Raphael’s regular guitarist and an accomplished band leader and composer in his own right. Hailing from Colorado Springs, CO he is a busy and versatile musician with around half a dozen recordings as a leader to his credit ranging from mainstream to fusion. A skilled and tasteful accompanist in the Freddie Green style he’s also a fluent and agile soloist whose slippery bebop inspired runs and sophisticated chording proved to be a source of constant delight. The man’s fingers are practically prehensile. Among Wilkinson’s recordings are a duo album with Raphael titled “Strings Attached”. Raphael has also recorded a duo album with the acclaimed guitarist Howard Alden, himself a frequent visitor to Brecon Jazz Festival in days of yore. To these ears Alden and Wilkinson, fine players both, seem to share many musical characteristics.

Hodgkins and Rayner then ushered in the Gershwin brothers composition “But Not For Me” with subsequent solos coming from guitar, piano and trumpet.

Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia On My Mind” is one of the hoariest items in the jazz canon but Raphael’s solo piano performance of the old chestnut breathed fresh life into it. This was a sophisticated interpretation full of rhythmic and harmonic interest, gently swinging and with a delicate blues sheen. The piece appears as a solo performance on the “Pizza Express” album too.

From the musical “Guys and Dolls” Frank Loesser’s “I’ve Never Been In Love Before” saw the quartet moving away from the album repertoire on a piece featuring solos from Hodgkins, Raphael and Wilkinson.

The version of “Alone Together” that graces the “Pizza Express Live” album is a sparkling, spirited, gently swinging dialogue between Raphael and Wilkinson. With the addition of Rayner at the bass the piece shone even more brightly with Rayner adding extra depth to the solos by Raphael and Wilkinson before contributing to a thrilling series of tripartite exchanges towards the close of the piece.

A lengthy first half lasting approximately seventy minutes concluded with a breezy, good natured interpretation of “ I Only Have Eyes For You”,  thus ensuring that the set was bookended by two Harry Warren / Al Dubin songs. Solos here came from Wilkinson, Hodgkkins and Raphael.

The second set was introduced by the Mayor of Brecon who coined the phrase “nimblicity” to describe and praise the work of the quartet on keys, frets, strings and valves. “Is that a word?” he mused. “It is now!” we affirmed. It seemed to sum up the quartet’s collective skills perfectly – and wouldn’t it just make a perfect title for a Charlie Parker inspired bebop composition?

A splendidly swinging “Taking A Chance On Love” kicked off the second half with solos from Wilkinson, Hodgson and Raphael plus a round of scintillating exchanges between all the members of the group, these incorporating a succinct bass solo from Rayner.

“Just Friends” followed, played by the trio of Raphael, Wilkinson and Rayner as Hodgkins sat out. Introduced by a passage of unaccompanied guitar followed by a more orthodox solo from Wilkinson the piece also included features for both Raphael and Rayner.

Christ College had bought fully into tonight’s concert with several members of the student body in the audience and with the College’s Head of Music Jonathan Ling also in attendance. With Raphael due to conduct a master class the following day and with both Raphael and Rayner having a strong commitment to the cause of jazz education it was appropriate that one of the students, the young alto saxophonist Peter Bowen should join the trio for a version of “My Foolish Things”. Bowen’s cool alto tone was reminiscent of Paul Desmond as he and the trio delivered a fluently elegant interpretation of the song to heartfelt applause from the audience. Well done Peter, a name to watch for in the future perhaps?

The length of the first set entailed that the second had to be severely truncated and all too soon we had reached the final number. This was the Raphael original “Blues for O.P.”, dedicated to the late, great Oscar Peterson. This proved to be a real evening’s highlight, a splendidly swinging, gospel imbued blues that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a classic Blue Note record. Raphael soloed expansively in the trio format before Hodgkins returned to deliver an ebullient trumpet solo. He was followed by Wilikinson and finally Rayner as the latter stepped out of her anchoring role.

Lynne Gornall was able to tempt the quartet back for a brief encore of “Pennies From Heaven” with solos from Wilkinson, Hodgkins and Raphael.

This was an excellent evening of music making that was warmly appreciated by a reassuringly substantial audience. The only real quibble was that the two sets were not of equal length, but nobody could really complain about value for money overall, the early start of 7.30 ensured that we still heard a lot of good music.

The addition of Alison Rayner, who also plays in Hodgkin’s own trio alongside guitarist Max Brittain, is definitely a success. She adds a rhythmic depth and variety to the music and frees up the front line soloists while also making the most of her own soloing opportunities.  I’ve got a lot of time for Rayner’s playing and she’s a most positive addition to the ranks.

My thanks to Chris Hodgkins for speaking with me (and for buying me and my mate a pint) at half time and to Wayne Wilkinson for providing me with a review copy of his latest album “Yours Yours Yours” which I intend to take a look at shortly. I also treated myself to a copy of Wayne’s earlier album “Full Circle” from 2007, a release that puts a greater emphasis on his own writing and does so with considerable success. There’s some great guitar playing too and it’s an album that’s well worth hearing.

The quartet will play at the Queens Head, Monmouth on November 8th 2017 and Cafe Jazz in Cardiff on the 9th.

Their Pizza Express performance will be at 1.30 pm on Saturday 11th November 2017. In the meantime the current live album from this same venue is recommended listening.

 

Lenore Raphael & Friends, Brecon Jazz Club, Neuadd Theatr, Christ College, Brecon, 07/11/2017.

Lenore Raphael & Friends

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Lenore Raphael & Friends, Brecon Jazz Club, Neuadd Theatr, Christ College, Brecon, 07/11/2017.

Ian Mann enjoys the music of pianist Lenore Raphael with friends Wayne Wilkinson (guitar), Chris Hodgkins (trumpet) & Alison Rayne (bass). He also takes a look at her latest album "Pizza Express Live"

Lenore Raphael and Friends, Neuadd Theatr, Christ College, Brecon, 07/11/2017.

Brecon Jazz Club’s November session saw a change of location with a temporary move to the Neuadd Theatr at Christ College. Also known as the Memorial Hall the Theatr is a comfortable, modern performance space with banked seating that has sometimes been used as a venue at the annual Brecon Jazz Festival.

More importantly the venue has its own grand piano, a particularly significant factor when the visiting headliner is the American pianist Lenore Raphael who was playing the first date of a short UK tour leading an Anglo-American group featuring US guitarist Wayne Wilkinson and British musicians Chris Hodgkins (trumpet) and Alison Rayner (double bass).

Brecon Jazz Club’s Lynne Gornall had first seen Raphael perform some six years ago at the Bull’s Head in Barnes and had been determined to bring her to Brecon ever since. Thus tonight’s performance represented the fulfilment of a long held ambition.

The trio of Raphael, Wilkinson and Hodgkins were launching the album “At Pizza Express Live”, a recording of their 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival performance at the famous Dean Street venue. With Rayner now in tow they will be returning to the venue for a lunchtime show on November 11th 2017, part of this year’s Festival.

Inspired by Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan and others Raphael is a pianist in the mainstream tradition with the recent “Pizza Express Live” representing her eleventh album release as a leader. She tours internationally and is a regular and popular visitor to the UK. She is also an acclaimed jazz educator with a number of teaching posts in the US and was due to host a master class for the students of Christ College on the morning following this event.

Tonight’s performance focussed almost exclusively on the standards repertoire with most of the tunes being readily familiar to the knowledgeable jazz audience at this well attended and keenly anticipated event. Versions of several of the pieces that were played can also be heard on the “Pizza Express Live” CD.

Anyone who feared that this drummer-less ‘chamber jazz’ quartet might prove to be rather bloodless would have been pleasantly surprised. This proved to be a surprisingly vibrant and rhythmic ensemble with Raphael’s left hand piano figures, Rayner’s supple but propulsive bass lines and Wilkinson’s expert comping providing plenty of forward motion. In a highly democratic ensemble solos were distributed evenly around the group with newcomer Rayner enjoying several moments to shine. She probably played more solos here than she does with her own excellent quintet, which visited for a memorable performance at BJC’s regular venue The Muse in June 2017.
Review here;  http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/alison-rayner-quintet-arq-brecon-jazz-club-the-muse-arts-centre-brecon-13-0/

Tonight’s performance began with Harry Warren’s tune “September In The Rain”, the piece that also opens the “Pizza Express Live” album. Following a brief solo piano introduction Hodgkins stated the theme on muted trumpet prior to the opening solo from the fleet fingered Wilkinson on guitar as Hodgkins shouted encouraging approval. Raphael’s comping allied to Rayner’s sturdy bass lines gave the music considerable rhythmic drive as Hodgkins switched to the open horn for his solo, followed in turn by Raphael and Rayner in this well balanced and democratic unit.

Sticking to the album running order we next heard the ballad “Talk Of The Town” with Hodgkins stating the theme on blues infused trumpet as Wilkinson’s skilful guitar comping approximated a brushed drum groove. Further solos came from Wilkinson, Raphael and Hodgkins on a ballad performance that actually generated a surprising amount of heat.

Varying from the CD running order a relaxed “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams” offered solos from Raphael, Hodgkins and Wilkinson, the order of the solos also differing from the recorded version.

Acting as MC Hodgkins referred to the “band within a band” tradition as typified by Artie Shaw’s Grammercy 5 and the Benny Goodman Trio. Tonight’s “band within a band” proved to be Wilkinson playing solo guitar on a delightful – and incredibly dexterous- version of the song “The Boy Next Door” in a Wilkinson arrangement inspired by the former Goodman guitarist Johnny Smith.

I was highly impressed by this first sighting of Wilkinson, Raphael’s regular guitarist and an accomplished band leader and composer in his own right. Hailing from Colorado Springs, CO he is a busy and versatile musician with around half a dozen recordings as a leader to his credit ranging from mainstream to fusion. A skilled and tasteful accompanist in the Freddie Green style he’s also a fluent and agile soloist whose slippery bebop inspired runs and sophisticated chording proved to be a source of constant delight. The man’s fingers are practically prehensile. Among Wilkinson’s recordings are a duo album with Raphael titled “Strings Attached”. Raphael has also recorded a duo album with the acclaimed guitarist Howard Alden, himself a frequent visitor to Brecon Jazz Festival in days of yore. To these ears Alden and Wilkinson, fine players both, seem to share many musical characteristics.

Hodgkins and Rayner then ushered in the Gershwin brothers composition “But Not For Me” with subsequent solos coming from guitar, piano and trumpet.

Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia On My Mind” is one of the hoariest items in the jazz canon but Raphael’s solo piano performance of the old chestnut breathed fresh life into it. This was a sophisticated interpretation full of rhythmic and harmonic interest, gently swinging and with a delicate blues sheen. The piece appears as a solo performance on the “Pizza Express” album too.

From the musical “Guys and Dolls” Frank Loesser’s “I’ve Never Been In Love Before” saw the quartet moving away from the album repertoire on a piece featuring solos from Hodgkins, Raphael and Wilkinson.

The version of “Alone Together” that graces the “Pizza Express Live” album is a sparkling, spirited, gently swinging dialogue between Raphael and Wilkinson. With the addition of Rayner at the bass the piece shone even more brightly with Rayner adding extra depth to the solos by Raphael and Wilkinson before contributing to a thrilling series of tripartite exchanges towards the close of the piece.

A lengthy first half lasting approximately seventy minutes concluded with a breezy, good natured interpretation of “ I Only Have Eyes For You”,  thus ensuring that the set was bookended by two Harry Warren / Al Dubin songs. Solos here came from Wilkinson, Hodgkkins and Raphael.

The second set was introduced by the Mayor of Brecon who coined the phrase “nimblicity” to describe and praise the work of the quartet on keys, frets, strings and valves. “Is that a word?” he mused. “It is now!” we affirmed. It seemed to sum up the quartet’s collective skills perfectly – and wouldn’t it just make a perfect title for a Charlie Parker inspired bebop composition?

A splendidly swinging “Taking A Chance On Love” kicked off the second half with solos from Wilkinson, Hodgson and Raphael plus a round of scintillating exchanges between all the members of the group, these incorporating a succinct bass solo from Rayner.

“Just Friends” followed, played by the trio of Raphael, Wilkinson and Rayner as Hodgkins sat out. Introduced by a passage of unaccompanied guitar followed by a more orthodox solo from Wilkinson the piece also included features for both Raphael and Rayner.

Christ College had bought fully into tonight’s concert with several members of the student body in the audience and with the College’s Head of Music Jonathan Ling also in attendance. With Raphael due to conduct a master class the following day and with both Raphael and Rayner having a strong commitment to the cause of jazz education it was appropriate that one of the students, the young alto saxophonist Peter Bowen should join the trio for a version of “My Foolish Things”. Bowen’s cool alto tone was reminiscent of Paul Desmond as he and the trio delivered a fluently elegant interpretation of the song to heartfelt applause from the audience. Well done Peter, a name to watch for in the future perhaps?

The length of the first set entailed that the second had to be severely truncated and all too soon we had reached the final number. This was the Raphael original “Blues for O.P.”, dedicated to the late, great Oscar Peterson. This proved to be a real evening’s highlight, a splendidly swinging, gospel imbued blues that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a classic Blue Note record. Raphael soloed expansively in the trio format before Hodgkins returned to deliver an ebullient trumpet solo. He was followed by Wilikinson and finally Rayner as the latter stepped out of her anchoring role.

Lynne Gornall was able to tempt the quartet back for a brief encore of “Pennies From Heaven” with solos from Wilkinson, Hodgkins and Raphael.

This was an excellent evening of music making that was warmly appreciated by a reassuringly substantial audience. The only real quibble was that the two sets were not of equal length, but nobody could really complain about value for money overall, the early start of 7.30 ensured that we still heard a lot of good music.

The addition of Alison Rayner, who also plays in Hodgkin’s own trio alongside guitarist Max Brittain, is definitely a success. She adds a rhythmic depth and variety to the music and frees up the front line soloists while also making the most of her own soloing opportunities.  I’ve got a lot of time for Rayner’s playing and she’s a most positive addition to the ranks.

My thanks to Chris Hodgkins for speaking with me (and for buying me and my mate a pint) at half time and to Wayne Wilkinson for providing me with a review copy of his latest album “Yours Yours Yours” which I intend to take a look at shortly. I also treated myself to a copy of Wayne’s earlier album “Full Circle” from 2007, a release that puts a greater emphasis on his own writing and does so with considerable success. There’s some great guitar playing too and it’s an album that’s well worth hearing.

The quartet will play at the Queens Head, Monmouth on November 8th 2017 and Cafe Jazz in Cardiff on the 9th.

Their Pizza Express performance will be at 1.30 pm on Saturday 11th November 2017. In the meantime the current live album from this same venue is recommended listening.

 

Viva Black featuring Gretli & Heidi - Mal Sirine Rating: 3-5 out of 5 A fascinating album,filled with thrillingly unusual colours and textures from what must surely be a unique combination of instruments.Viva Black and Gretli & Heidi merge into a seamless musical entity

Viva Black featuring Gretli & Heidi

“Mal Sirine”

(Kopasetik Productions KOPACD052 Bar Code 7320470224397)

This album was kindly given to me for review purposes by the Swedish double bass player Filip Augustson at a recent performance at the Queens Head, Monmouth by the quartet led by his compatriot, the saxophonist and composer Orjan Hulten.

The Hulten gig was a real highlight of the jazz programme at the Queens and was part of a short UK tour undertaken by the quartet. A significant jazz figure in his homeland Hulten had come to the attention of British jazz audiences thanks to his work with guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos, Greek born, once London based, but now living in Stockholm.

Augustson impressed as a member of Hulten’s quartet but he is also an accomplished band-leader and composer in his own right. The bassist leads his own trio, Viva Black, featuring violinist Eva Lindal and drummer Christopher Cantillo.  It’s an unusual instrumental configuration and one that straddles the boundaries of jazz, folk and contemporary classical music. The trio have released two previous albums, the self titled “Viva Black” in 2015 and “Minsta Gemensamma Namnaren” in 2016. Both recordings were well received by the critics for their genre blurring qualities.

This latest project finds Viva Black inviting sisters Carin Blom and Catharina Backman to join them. Performing under the handle Gretli & Heidi Blom and Backman are a self contained duo playing instruments made from glass. Both are credited with glass harp, glass bells & bowls, bottles and voice. Blom and Backman have performed together for twenty five years, releasing one group album in 2010.  They have performed regularly with the Stockholm Radio Orchestra but their duo shows find them exploring a kind of European Vaudeville in which they play accordions in addition to the percussion and vocals.

The collaboration between Viva Black and Gretli & Heidi began back in 2015 when Augustson,  Blom and Backman plus Hulten quartet drummer Peter Danemo all began writing music for the project. Augustson speaks enthusiastically about the way in which the warm, woody timbres of double bass and violin combine with the cool and shiny sounds of the glass instruments.

These qualities can be heard on Danemo’s suite-like fifteen minute title track which opens the album. The atmospheric opening with its arco bass and violin drones punctuated by the eerie sounds of glass percussion sounds like a musical depiction of winter deep in the Swedish forests. It’s vaguely unsettling but strangely, weirdly beautiful. This is music that could be described as ambient and some of it could readily be used on a movie soundtrack but there’s more to it than mere atmospherics or prettiness. One senses a degree of improvisational rigour too, although there are composed elements one can almost hear the musicians thinking and responding to each others’ musical gestures. Eventually Augustson begins to play pizzicato, combining with Cantillo’s drums to give the music forward propulsion while the wordless voices of Gretli & Heidi provide additional colour and texture to an already rich sonic palette.  Three quarters through the piece there’s a duo episode featuring glass percussion only, a fascinating mix of sounds ultimately succeeded by the Viva Black trio temporarily gaining ascendancy as Lindal’s violin soars above a muscular bass groove. Eventually the piece resolves itself with the eerie shimmer of what sounds like a glass harmonica, strangely the one instrument that Gretli & Heidi aren’t actually credited with. One surmises that this is, in fact, a glass harp.

Augustson’s “Vetenskapens Katedral” is shorter, but no less effective, with the composer contributing both arco and pizzicato bass sounds in a delightfully spacious and atmospheric piece. It’s Augustsen’s undeniably impressive pizzicato bass solo at the heart of the music but the real delight is in the detail, the melancholy timbre of Lindal’s violin, the gong like resonances of the glass percussion and the subtlety of Cantillo’s drum shadings.

Also by Augustson “Ogat” exhibits similar qualities with Gretli and Heidi delivering a richly colourful and exotic range of glass generated sounds to complement Augustson’s deeply resonant double bass and Lindal’s luminous, folk inspired violin melody. The violinist also plays pizzicato in a brief dialogue with the percussionists before again picking up the bow. This is a piece that perfectly illustrates Augustson’s point about the complementary contrasts between the two sets of instruments as Viva Black and Gretli & Heidi merge into a seamless musical entity.

Tracks four, five and six are comprised of a mini-suite written by Catharina Backman.
“R1:Varemestralning” combines lonely, soaring violin with wordless vocal textures and a percolating percussive backdrop. The music becomes more edgy and abstract towards the end of the piece, paving the way for the segue into “R1:Trycksvag” with its bursts of rumbling double bass and thunderous drum kit drumming punctuated by spacey, ethereal glass harp.
“R1:Vindar” begins in almost subliminal fashion as if the ensemble are lost in deep space or buried deep underground. Eventually the bright, piping voices of Blom and Backman emerge from the gloom, singing in unison as the rest of the ensemble join in to create a surprisingly vivacious sound and a propulsive groove. The sisters’ wordless vocalising almost veers off into yodelling at one point in a piece that comes closest to replicating their work as the Gretli & Heidi duo.

Blom’s “Ein Bisschen Schmerz” begins with the ethereal sounds of glass harps, these subsequently joined by arco bass, violin and drum kit. The piece unfolds slowly and unhurriedly, at times reminiscent of Polar Bear at their most reflective and lyrical. However a sudden shift of the gears sees the ensemble picking up the pace with Lindal’s violin soaring above a rolling bass, drum and percussion groove, the sound of the fiddle sometimes reminiscent of Eastern European or Middle Eastern music.  Eventually the storm blows itself out and the piece ends as quietly and ethereally as it began.

The album concludes with Augustson’s “Drew’s Brew”, a more sombre and atmospheric composition than the somewhat jokey title might suggest. After a typically atmospheric introduction   the composer’s sonorous plucked bass comes to the fore as Lindal sketches melodic phrases and the kit drums and glass instruments provide commentary, colour and texture. A long, slow, ethereal fade features the exotic but delicate sounds of glass harp and the fragile beauty of Lindal’s violin.

“Mal Sirine” is a fascinating album, filled with thrillingly unusual colours and textures from what must surely be a unique combination of instruments. The Viva Black trio and the duo of Gretli & Heidi meld together seamlessly on a series of performances that skilfully combine elements of composition and improvisation while reaching across the genres to create a group sound that is very much the ensemble’s own.

Arguably it’s a little too one paced at times with the emphasis very much on atmosphere and texture. Nevertheless there are still moments when the music springs to rigorous life and even the occasional flashes of humour, notably on “Vindar”.

It’s not a recording that everybody will appreciate but nevertheless it’s music that may well appeal to BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction audience. One suspects that the prospect of seeing the ensemble performing live would be a fascinating proposition. I’d love to see the various glass instruments being played live in a concert environment.

Mal Sirine

Viva Black featuring Gretli & Heidi

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Mal Sirine

A fascinating album,filled with thrillingly unusual colours and textures from what must surely be a unique combination of instruments.Viva Black and Gretli & Heidi merge into a seamless musical entity

Viva Black featuring Gretli & Heidi

“Mal Sirine”

(Kopasetik Productions KOPACD052 Bar Code 7320470224397)

This album was kindly given to me for review purposes by the Swedish double bass player Filip Augustson at a recent performance at the Queens Head, Monmouth by the quartet led by his compatriot, the saxophonist and composer Orjan Hulten.

The Hulten gig was a real highlight of the jazz programme at the Queens and was part of a short UK tour undertaken by the quartet. A significant jazz figure in his homeland Hulten had come to the attention of British jazz audiences thanks to his work with guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos, Greek born, once London based, but now living in Stockholm.

Augustson impressed as a member of Hulten’s quartet but he is also an accomplished band-leader and composer in his own right. The bassist leads his own trio, Viva Black, featuring violinist Eva Lindal and drummer Christopher Cantillo.  It’s an unusual instrumental configuration and one that straddles the boundaries of jazz, folk and contemporary classical music. The trio have released two previous albums, the self titled “Viva Black” in 2015 and “Minsta Gemensamma Namnaren” in 2016. Both recordings were well received by the critics for their genre blurring qualities.

This latest project finds Viva Black inviting sisters Carin Blom and Catharina Backman to join them. Performing under the handle Gretli & Heidi Blom and Backman are a self contained duo playing instruments made from glass. Both are credited with glass harp, glass bells & bowls, bottles and voice. Blom and Backman have performed together for twenty five years, releasing one group album in 2010.  They have performed regularly with the Stockholm Radio Orchestra but their duo shows find them exploring a kind of European Vaudeville in which they play accordions in addition to the percussion and vocals.

The collaboration between Viva Black and Gretli & Heidi began back in 2015 when Augustson,  Blom and Backman plus Hulten quartet drummer Peter Danemo all began writing music for the project. Augustson speaks enthusiastically about the way in which the warm, woody timbres of double bass and violin combine with the cool and shiny sounds of the glass instruments.

These qualities can be heard on Danemo’s suite-like fifteen minute title track which opens the album. The atmospheric opening with its arco bass and violin drones punctuated by the eerie sounds of glass percussion sounds like a musical depiction of winter deep in the Swedish forests. It’s vaguely unsettling but strangely, weirdly beautiful. This is music that could be described as ambient and some of it could readily be used on a movie soundtrack but there’s more to it than mere atmospherics or prettiness. One senses a degree of improvisational rigour too, although there are composed elements one can almost hear the musicians thinking and responding to each others’ musical gestures. Eventually Augustson begins to play pizzicato, combining with Cantillo’s drums to give the music forward propulsion while the wordless voices of Gretli & Heidi provide additional colour and texture to an already rich sonic palette.  Three quarters through the piece there’s a duo episode featuring glass percussion only, a fascinating mix of sounds ultimately succeeded by the Viva Black trio temporarily gaining ascendancy as Lindal’s violin soars above a muscular bass groove. Eventually the piece resolves itself with the eerie shimmer of what sounds like a glass harmonica, strangely the one instrument that Gretli & Heidi aren’t actually credited with. One surmises that this is, in fact, a glass harp.

Augustson’s “Vetenskapens Katedral” is shorter, but no less effective, with the composer contributing both arco and pizzicato bass sounds in a delightfully spacious and atmospheric piece. It’s Augustsen’s undeniably impressive pizzicato bass solo at the heart of the music but the real delight is in the detail, the melancholy timbre of Lindal’s violin, the gong like resonances of the glass percussion and the subtlety of Cantillo’s drum shadings.

Also by Augustson “Ogat” exhibits similar qualities with Gretli and Heidi delivering a richly colourful and exotic range of glass generated sounds to complement Augustson’s deeply resonant double bass and Lindal’s luminous, folk inspired violin melody. The violinist also plays pizzicato in a brief dialogue with the percussionists before again picking up the bow. This is a piece that perfectly illustrates Augustson’s point about the complementary contrasts between the two sets of instruments as Viva Black and Gretli & Heidi merge into a seamless musical entity.

Tracks four, five and six are comprised of a mini-suite written by Catharina Backman.
“R1:Varemestralning” combines lonely, soaring violin with wordless vocal textures and a percolating percussive backdrop. The music becomes more edgy and abstract towards the end of the piece, paving the way for the segue into “R1:Trycksvag” with its bursts of rumbling double bass and thunderous drum kit drumming punctuated by spacey, ethereal glass harp.
“R1:Vindar” begins in almost subliminal fashion as if the ensemble are lost in deep space or buried deep underground. Eventually the bright, piping voices of Blom and Backman emerge from the gloom, singing in unison as the rest of the ensemble join in to create a surprisingly vivacious sound and a propulsive groove. The sisters’ wordless vocalising almost veers off into yodelling at one point in a piece that comes closest to replicating their work as the Gretli & Heidi duo.

Blom’s “Ein Bisschen Schmerz” begins with the ethereal sounds of glass harps, these subsequently joined by arco bass, violin and drum kit. The piece unfolds slowly and unhurriedly, at times reminiscent of Polar Bear at their most reflective and lyrical. However a sudden shift of the gears sees the ensemble picking up the pace with Lindal’s violin soaring above a rolling bass, drum and percussion groove, the sound of the fiddle sometimes reminiscent of Eastern European or Middle Eastern music.  Eventually the storm blows itself out and the piece ends as quietly and ethereally as it began.

The album concludes with Augustson’s “Drew’s Brew”, a more sombre and atmospheric composition than the somewhat jokey title might suggest. After a typically atmospheric introduction   the composer’s sonorous plucked bass comes to the fore as Lindal sketches melodic phrases and the kit drums and glass instruments provide commentary, colour and texture. A long, slow, ethereal fade features the exotic but delicate sounds of glass harp and the fragile beauty of Lindal’s violin.

“Mal Sirine” is a fascinating album, filled with thrillingly unusual colours and textures from what must surely be a unique combination of instruments. The Viva Black trio and the duo of Gretli & Heidi meld together seamlessly on a series of performances that skilfully combine elements of composition and improvisation while reaching across the genres to create a group sound that is very much the ensemble’s own.

Arguably it’s a little too one paced at times with the emphasis very much on atmosphere and texture. Nevertheless there are still moments when the music springs to rigorous life and even the occasional flashes of humour, notably on “Vindar”.

It’s not a recording that everybody will appreciate but nevertheless it’s music that may well appeal to BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction audience. One suspects that the prospect of seeing the ensemble performing live would be a fascinating proposition. I’d love to see the various glass instruments being played live in a concert environment.

Leila Martial - Baabel Rating: 4-5 out of 5 It’s good to hear the human voice, whether electronically enhanced or not, being taken into such adventurous areas and to hear it being done with such musicality.

Leila Martial

“Baabel”

(Laborie Jazz CD.LJ39)

Leila Martial is a remarkable vocalist, keyboard player and songwriter from the south-west of France.  Born into a musical family she studied from the age of ten at the Village Music College in Marciac (the town that is home to the famous Marciac Jazz Festival). She then studied at the Conservatoire de Toulouse and at the College Jazz de Marciac. In 2009 Martial was awarded the prize for best soloist at the Concours de la Defense, the first time that it had ever been won by a vocalist. Also an accomplished actress she decided to embark on a musical career and in 2012 released her début album “Dance Floor” on the Out Note record label.

Martial is among the most adventurous and experimental of modern vocalists, manipulating her already extraordinary voice via live looping and other electronic effects.  She is regarded as the female equivalent to the Austrian vocalist Andreas Schaerer, with whom she performed at the Sudtirol Jazz Festival in Schaerer’s homeland.

Martial’s musical influences are wide ranging and include jazz artists such as reeds player Eric Dolphy and vocalists Jeanne Lee and Bobby McFerrin. Rock influences include the influential French band Magma, led by drummer Christian Vander, and single name singers Bjork and Camille.

In November 2016 I witnessed Martial perform as part of a group led by the Italian pianist and composer Maria Chiara Argiro at that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. The performance saw Martial primarily deploying her voice as an instrument and subjecting it to a degree of judicious electronic embellishment. As the leader of her own trio she takes the process several stages further and the results are frequently astonishing.

Martial also performed in London at the 2016 Match & Fuse Festival as part of the duo FiL, a collaboration with cellist Valentin Ceccaldi.

Baabel”, Martial’s second album, finds her working closely with her regular trio, Baa Box, featuring guitarist/vocalist Pierre Tereygeol and drummer/percussionist Eric Perez, the latter also credited with ‘human bass’ and electronics. The acclaimed saxophonist Emile Parisien, who studied with Martial at Marciac, guests on two tracks, adding his distinctive sound on soprano saxophone.

Martial’s trio is a tightly knit unit with the majority of the pieces jointly written and credited to Martial/Tereygeol/Perez. The album commences with the thirty four second “Prelude” featuring the sound of cowbells as Martial intones something in French.
This segues into the extraordinary “Ombilic” featuring Martial’s extraordinary use of live looping as she sculpts and layers her wordless vocals accompanied by Tereygeol’s crunching, rock influenced guitar chording and Perez’s sturdy, hip hop influenced drum grooves. Martial’s voice ranges from breathy whispering to angelic soaring to feral growling and embraces all points in between in an extraordinarily inventive display of wordless vocalising. Incorporating a dizzying array of musical styles and a correspondingly broad range of dynamics this is an astonishing introduction to the musical world of Leila Martial.

“Baabel I” begins with Martial’s eerie, electronically enhanced vocal whisperings and incantations, Tereygeol’s spidery guitar scratchings and the shimmer of Perez’s percussion.  Parisien’s long soprano sax melody lines wrap themselves around these components before the piece springs violently to life, with Martial’s muezzin like wail and Parisien’s answering sax melodies accompanied by angular guitar riffing and powerful drum grooves. The piece mutates seamlessly into “Baabel II”, credited to Martial, Tereygeol and Alice Perez, which begins in more impressionistic fashion before gathering an impressive momentum and power then finally resolving itself with a choir of multi-tracked Martials. Again the dynamic and stylistic changes sound unforced and totally natural in a segue that embraces elements of jazz, rock, world and sacred music. Martial’s voice is an instrument of extraordinary flexibility, capable of changing style or register in the blink of an eye.

“Interlude” is another short piece, this time clocking in at forty nine seconds and this time featuring the sound of birdsong accompanying a spoken conversation, in French, between Martial and Tereygeol. 
The pair then sing, in English, the lyrics to “Hear”, a relatively conventional song, that begins quietly, almost folkily, before mutating into the kind of quirky electro pop characteristic of Scandinavia. A definite Bjork influence here I think, plus some of the Norwegian female vocalists who have followed in her wake. In the latter stages of the song the inventive looping and layering of voices and guitar frees up Perez for something of a tour of the drum kit, yet the piece never loses its air of inherent fragility.

“Le Chemin Le Plus Court” is more upbeat, with clipped, propulsive drum grooves fuelling Tereygeol’s guitar pyrotechnics as Martial’s treated voice weaves in and out in a taut and powerful, riff based piece enhanced by Perez’s inventive use of electronics. Informed by math-rock and even vintage prog it’s a piece that’s likely to appeal to adventurous rock listeners. On this evidence it’s easy to see why Martial has been invited to appear at Match & Fuse events.

“Limbes” is more abstract with Martial’s semi spoken French vocals enhanced by Perez’s electronics and Tereygeol’s guitar FX.
This segues into “Chiaroscuro”, a title that seems particularly appropriate for Martial’s multi-hewed music. This proves to be a song with an English lyric, delivered by Martial in a style that is particularly reminiscent of Bjork. The playing of Tereygeol and Perez becomes increasingly abrasive as the piece gradually accrues a dark and dramatic power with Martial finally shredding her voice and pushing it to the very limits.

The ethereal “Les Rivages D’ Ondine” is an altogether gentler affair with Martial’s wordless vocals at their most other-worldly as they soar above a rolling groove, again making effective use of multi-tracking.

At a little under two minutes “Je Bele Donc Je Suis” harks back to the cowbells and recitative of the opening “Prelude”.

“Oh Papa” finds Martial and Tereygeol live looping their voices to create a kind of ‘mini-choir’ their multi-tracked voices floating gently above a backdrop of acoustic guitars, brushed drums and ethnic percussion. Martial adds a range of vocal tics to her armoury before the music builds in momentum with the leader’s wordless singing now taking a more North African / Middle Eastern timbre.

The album concludes with an eight minute version of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile”, a song periodically visited by jazz artists. Martial’s Bjork like vocal sings the first verse over the ethereal twinkle of tuned percussion as Parisien’s soprano sax fills out the sound. In the hands of Martial and her colleagues the mood of the song varies from the vaguely sinister - something encouraged by the use of electronics – to the joyously anthemic, via a free jazz episode featuring Parisien’s soprano and Martial’s treated vocals.  There’s also a (relatively) conventional solo from the saxophonist whose incisive playing is underscored by the leader’s soaring vocals and the increasingly dynamic grooves laid down by Tereygeol and Perez. Having reached a peak the music fades away again and the piece resolves itself with a plaintive, imploring reprise of the opening verse in which the request to “smile” sounds like an expression of pure desperation.

Although released on the Laborie Jazz imprint “Baabel” is an album that defies categorisation. Martial takes the vocal experiments of Julie Tippetts, Maggie Nichols, Sidsel Endresen etc. and updates them for the electronic age. At times I was reminded of the vocal led electro-jazz of such bands as Eyes of a Blue Dog and Blue Eyed Hawk but, if anything, Martial is even more adventurous than either of these groups, good as they are, and I count myself as a fan of both.

I hadn’t expected to be quite so blown away by this album, even Martial’s LJF performance with Chiara Argiro’s group hadn’t prepared me for this. It’s good to hear the human voice, whether electronically enhanced or not, being taken into such adventurous areas and to hear it being done with such musicality. There’s never a sense of Martial’s extraordinary vocalising being just a ‘novelty’ or an excuse to demonstrate her (extended) technique. Instead she serves the music, for all its uniqueness this is music that never sounds self conscious or contrived.

Of course it won’t be for everybody but I can imagine Martial’s work appealing to adventurous rock listeners and to listeners of BBC Radio 3’s ‘Late Junction’ programme.

Curious readers will get the chance to witness the trio at the UK launch of the album at Brasserie Zedel in Soho, London on Friday 10th November 2017.

Baabel

Leila Martial

Monday, November 06, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4-5 out of 5

Baabel

It’s good to hear the human voice, whether electronically enhanced or not, being taken into such adventurous areas and to hear it being done with such musicality.

Leila Martial

“Baabel”

(Laborie Jazz CD.LJ39)

Leila Martial is a remarkable vocalist, keyboard player and songwriter from the south-west of France.  Born into a musical family she studied from the age of ten at the Village Music College in Marciac (the town that is home to the famous Marciac Jazz Festival). She then studied at the Conservatoire de Toulouse and at the College Jazz de Marciac. In 2009 Martial was awarded the prize for best soloist at the Concours de la Defense, the first time that it had ever been won by a vocalist. Also an accomplished actress she decided to embark on a musical career and in 2012 released her début album “Dance Floor” on the Out Note record label.

Martial is among the most adventurous and experimental of modern vocalists, manipulating her already extraordinary voice via live looping and other electronic effects.  She is regarded as the female equivalent to the Austrian vocalist Andreas Schaerer, with whom she performed at the Sudtirol Jazz Festival in Schaerer’s homeland.

Martial’s musical influences are wide ranging and include jazz artists such as reeds player Eric Dolphy and vocalists Jeanne Lee and Bobby McFerrin. Rock influences include the influential French band Magma, led by drummer Christian Vander, and single name singers Bjork and Camille.

In November 2016 I witnessed Martial perform as part of a group led by the Italian pianist and composer Maria Chiara Argiro at that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. The performance saw Martial primarily deploying her voice as an instrument and subjecting it to a degree of judicious electronic embellishment. As the leader of her own trio she takes the process several stages further and the results are frequently astonishing.

Martial also performed in London at the 2016 Match & Fuse Festival as part of the duo FiL, a collaboration with cellist Valentin Ceccaldi.

Baabel”, Martial’s second album, finds her working closely with her regular trio, Baa Box, featuring guitarist/vocalist Pierre Tereygeol and drummer/percussionist Eric Perez, the latter also credited with ‘human bass’ and electronics. The acclaimed saxophonist Emile Parisien, who studied with Martial at Marciac, guests on two tracks, adding his distinctive sound on soprano saxophone.

Martial’s trio is a tightly knit unit with the majority of the pieces jointly written and credited to Martial/Tereygeol/Perez. The album commences with the thirty four second “Prelude” featuring the sound of cowbells as Martial intones something in French.
This segues into the extraordinary “Ombilic” featuring Martial’s extraordinary use of live looping as she sculpts and layers her wordless vocals accompanied by Tereygeol’s crunching, rock influenced guitar chording and Perez’s sturdy, hip hop influenced drum grooves. Martial’s voice ranges from breathy whispering to angelic soaring to feral growling and embraces all points in between in an extraordinarily inventive display of wordless vocalising. Incorporating a dizzying array of musical styles and a correspondingly broad range of dynamics this is an astonishing introduction to the musical world of Leila Martial.

“Baabel I” begins with Martial’s eerie, electronically enhanced vocal whisperings and incantations, Tereygeol’s spidery guitar scratchings and the shimmer of Perez’s percussion.  Parisien’s long soprano sax melody lines wrap themselves around these components before the piece springs violently to life, with Martial’s muezzin like wail and Parisien’s answering sax melodies accompanied by angular guitar riffing and powerful drum grooves. The piece mutates seamlessly into “Baabel II”, credited to Martial, Tereygeol and Alice Perez, which begins in more impressionistic fashion before gathering an impressive momentum and power then finally resolving itself with a choir of multi-tracked Martials. Again the dynamic and stylistic changes sound unforced and totally natural in a segue that embraces elements of jazz, rock, world and sacred music. Martial’s voice is an instrument of extraordinary flexibility, capable of changing style or register in the blink of an eye.

“Interlude” is another short piece, this time clocking in at forty nine seconds and this time featuring the sound of birdsong accompanying a spoken conversation, in French, between Martial and Tereygeol. 
The pair then sing, in English, the lyrics to “Hear”, a relatively conventional song, that begins quietly, almost folkily, before mutating into the kind of quirky electro pop characteristic of Scandinavia. A definite Bjork influence here I think, plus some of the Norwegian female vocalists who have followed in her wake. In the latter stages of the song the inventive looping and layering of voices and guitar frees up Perez for something of a tour of the drum kit, yet the piece never loses its air of inherent fragility.

“Le Chemin Le Plus Court” is more upbeat, with clipped, propulsive drum grooves fuelling Tereygeol’s guitar pyrotechnics as Martial’s treated voice weaves in and out in a taut and powerful, riff based piece enhanced by Perez’s inventive use of electronics. Informed by math-rock and even vintage prog it’s a piece that’s likely to appeal to adventurous rock listeners. On this evidence it’s easy to see why Martial has been invited to appear at Match & Fuse events.

“Limbes” is more abstract with Martial’s semi spoken French vocals enhanced by Perez’s electronics and Tereygeol’s guitar FX.
This segues into “Chiaroscuro”, a title that seems particularly appropriate for Martial’s multi-hewed music. This proves to be a song with an English lyric, delivered by Martial in a style that is particularly reminiscent of Bjork. The playing of Tereygeol and Perez becomes increasingly abrasive as the piece gradually accrues a dark and dramatic power with Martial finally shredding her voice and pushing it to the very limits.

The ethereal “Les Rivages D’ Ondine” is an altogether gentler affair with Martial’s wordless vocals at their most other-worldly as they soar above a rolling groove, again making effective use of multi-tracking.

At a little under two minutes “Je Bele Donc Je Suis” harks back to the cowbells and recitative of the opening “Prelude”.

“Oh Papa” finds Martial and Tereygeol live looping their voices to create a kind of ‘mini-choir’ their multi-tracked voices floating gently above a backdrop of acoustic guitars, brushed drums and ethnic percussion. Martial adds a range of vocal tics to her armoury before the music builds in momentum with the leader’s wordless singing now taking a more North African / Middle Eastern timbre.

The album concludes with an eight minute version of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile”, a song periodically visited by jazz artists. Martial’s Bjork like vocal sings the first verse over the ethereal twinkle of tuned percussion as Parisien’s soprano sax fills out the sound. In the hands of Martial and her colleagues the mood of the song varies from the vaguely sinister - something encouraged by the use of electronics – to the joyously anthemic, via a free jazz episode featuring Parisien’s soprano and Martial’s treated vocals.  There’s also a (relatively) conventional solo from the saxophonist whose incisive playing is underscored by the leader’s soaring vocals and the increasingly dynamic grooves laid down by Tereygeol and Perez. Having reached a peak the music fades away again and the piece resolves itself with a plaintive, imploring reprise of the opening verse in which the request to “smile” sounds like an expression of pure desperation.

Although released on the Laborie Jazz imprint “Baabel” is an album that defies categorisation. Martial takes the vocal experiments of Julie Tippetts, Maggie Nichols, Sidsel Endresen etc. and updates them for the electronic age. At times I was reminded of the vocal led electro-jazz of such bands as Eyes of a Blue Dog and Blue Eyed Hawk but, if anything, Martial is even more adventurous than either of these groups, good as they are, and I count myself as a fan of both.

I hadn’t expected to be quite so blown away by this album, even Martial’s LJF performance with Chiara Argiro’s group hadn’t prepared me for this. It’s good to hear the human voice, whether electronically enhanced or not, being taken into such adventurous areas and to hear it being done with such musicality. There’s never a sense of Martial’s extraordinary vocalising being just a ‘novelty’ or an excuse to demonstrate her (extended) technique. Instead she serves the music, for all its uniqueness this is music that never sounds self conscious or contrived.

Of course it won’t be for everybody but I can imagine Martial’s work appealing to adventurous rock listeners and to listeners of BBC Radio 3’s ‘Late Junction’ programme.

Curious readers will get the chance to witness the trio at the UK launch of the album at Brasserie Zedel in Soho, London on Friday 10th November 2017.

Mammal Hands - Shadow Work Rating: 4 out of 5 An artistic step forward as the group continue to hone their craft and develop their increasingly individual collective sound. In many ways this is music that is beyond categorisation.

Mammal Hands

“Shadow Work”

(Gondwana Records GONDCD021)

“Shadow Work” is the third album release from the trio Mammal Hands  featuring brothers Jordan Smart (saxophones) and Nick Smart (piano) plus drummer/percussionist Jesse Barrett. Originally from Norwich the Smarts were already working as an electronica duo before they encountered Barrett in 2012 with the music subsequently diverting in a more obvious jazz direction.


After adopting the group name Mammal Hands the trio were spotted by GoGo Penguin bassist Nick Blacka when both bands were playing at the Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul Festival in Birmingham. Recognising them as kindred spirits Blacka recommended them to Manchester based trumpeter, composer and label owner Matthew Halsall who signed the trio to his Gondwana imprint and produced their acclaimed début album “Animalia” in 2014. 

The bassless line up might suggest some kind of chamber jazz but instead the music of Mammal Hands is unexpectedly rhythmic, dynamic and exciting and reflects the trio’s interests in electronic, contemporary classical and world music. These include Barrett’s knowledge of Indian rhythms learned during his studies with tabla master Sirishkumar, Nick Smart’s love of minimalist composers Terry Riley, Philip Glass and Steve Reich and Jordan’s immersion in the different sound worlds of DJ culture and the spiritual jazz of Pharaoh Sanders. For their second Album “Floa” (2016) they added Sufi and African trance music plus the folk music of both Ireland and Eastern Europe to their range of influences. Like one time label mates GoGo Penguin Mammal Hands create thoroughly contemporary music that has the potential to appeal to a wide range of listeners including adventurous fans of both dance and rock music.

Recorded at 80 Hertz Studios in Manchester “Shadow Work” is the first album where the trio have assumed full control of the production process, albeit with the aid of experienced sound engineer George Atkins. The tunes are written collaboratively, often emerging from group improvisations. “Shadow Work” also sees the band subtly expanding their sonic palette though the use of prepared piano techniques, field recordings and discrete electronic effects. The album also includes guest contributions from string players Tom Moore (violin, viola) and Pete Yelding (cello).

Album opener “Black Sails” was developed out of a group improvisation and commences with the sound of Nick Smart’s arpeggiated piano. He’s subsequently joined by Jordan on soprano sax and Barrett at the drums, the former blowing catchy, hooky melody lines as the latter lays down a skittering drum groove. It’s an attention grabbing intro, albeit one that still finds moments for quieter introspection with Moore and Yelding making subtle textural contributions. Mammal Hands have developed a distinctive group sound and “Black Sails” is immediately recognisable as being their handiwork, although critics may still cite a resemblance to the music of early Portico Quartet that has never entirely gone away. However with Portico increasingly committed to electronica in recent years there’s been a jazz meets minimalism shaped hole that Mammal Hands have gleefully stepped into.

The brief “Wringer” relies on circling melodic motifs and features the sound of muted piano strings, these forming the bedrock for Jordan Smart’s sax melodies and Barrett’s nimble and inventive cymbal work.

The lengthy “Boreal Forest” develops more slowly, building from simple beginnings and spiralling steadily upwards to full on anthemic magnificence. Nick’s piano arpeggios and Barrett’s hip hop inspired grooves underpin the emotive, muezzin like cry of Jordan’s soprano sax. The subtle use of electronic effects expands the trio’s sound to wide-screen proportions on a piece that can justifiably be described as “a bit of an epic”.

By way of contrast “A Solitary Bee”, originally written on wooden flute, emphasises the beauty of simplicity with its folk like tenor sax melodies, derived from Irish traditional music. It’s another piece to feature the sound of muted piano strings, though it has to be said that Mammal Hands’ use of prepared piano techniques is rather less radical than those of a Keith Tippett or Matthew Bourne.

The introduction to “Three Good Things” finds Barrett augmenting his drum kit with various metal objects but again the results are subtle and intriguing rather than alarming. Having established a distinctive group identity Mammal Hands sometimes seem almost reluctant to push their own self imposed boundaries too far. However, having said that, the tabla / piano duet that follows represents one of the most surprising and exciting passages on the whole album. The tune resolves itself with a return to more familiar territory with the return of Jordan Smart’s tenor and Barrett’s move back to the drum kit.

Barrett deploys the tablas once more to establish the gentle 7/8 groove of “Living Frost” which builds to an emotional peak via tenor sax, piano and kit drums before a long, slow spacious find out that sees Jordan Smart adopting a warmer, less abrasive tone on tenor, his playing cushioned by the sound of strings courtesy of Moore and Yelding. The last thing we hear is the huge echo of Barrett’s slow drum groove at the conclusion of a piece with a strong narrative arc that again fits into the ‘epic’ category.

“Near Far” is a brief passage of contemplative solo piano that was improvised in the studio by Nick Smart. An ‘instant composition’ if you will, but one whose Zen like calm and outright beauty fitted in superbly with the rest of the album material, hence its inclusion here.

“Straight Up Raining” makes effective use of folk styled melodies alongside cyclical grooves derived from the worlds of minimalism and contemporary electronic music. It may be archetypal Mammal Hands, but like so much of their output it’s no less beguiling for that.

“Transfixed” develops out of a repeated single note groove to accrue ever increasing layers of rhythmic and melodic complexity as the trio channel Steve Reich for the 21st century. Barrett’s percussive set up deploys both kit drums and tabla and Nick Smart utilises both acoustic and electric keyboards to create an increasingly hypnotic groove. Meanwhile Jordan Smart digs in ever deeper on subtly treated tenor sax. The Coltrane-esque title and the relentless power of the music suggests an affinity with the ‘spiritual jazz’ of the 1960s, again skilfully updated for the 21st century.

The epic “Transfixed” segues into the closing “Being Here”, a richly atmospheric and elegiac piece recorded at the group’s own recording space in Norwich. Nick Smart’s improvised piano sketch is augmented by a field recording of singing birds documented by Jordan Smart while Barrett adds the other-worldly sounds of bowed vibraphone. It’s an eclectic, but charming, vignette that closes the album on a calming, bucolic note.

Mammal Hands continue to write catchy melodies and hooks and “Shadow Work” maintains the charm and accessibility of their earlier output while subtly adding layers of rhythmic and textural complexity. As such it represents an artistic step forward as the group continue to hone their craft and develop their increasingly individual collective sound.

I like the band a lot, and can fully understand their appeal to an audience beyond the usual jazz demographic. In many ways this is music that is beyond categorisation, even if the Portico comparisons won’t entirely go away. Hardcore jazz fans may well dismiss Mammal Hands but one suspects that this isn’t really the audience they are trying to reach, the trio’s range of influences are far too broad for that.

Mammal Hands are a whole new breed of animal. It will be interesting to see which direction their music takes next.

Mammal Hands are currently on tour in the UK, Europe and Japan. The remaining dates are listed below;


10 Nov Epic Studios NORWICH UK
17 Nov Patterns BRIGHTON UK
20 Nov Union Chapel LONDON UK
24 Nov Explore The North LEUWARDEN Netherlands
29 Nov Unit TOKYO Japan
30 Nov Metro KYOTO Japan
 
http://www.gondwanarecords.com


http://mammalhands.com


 

Shadow Work

Mammal Hands

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Shadow Work

An artistic step forward as the group continue to hone their craft and develop their increasingly individual collective sound. In many ways this is music that is beyond categorisation.

Mammal Hands

“Shadow Work”

(Gondwana Records GONDCD021)

“Shadow Work” is the third album release from the trio Mammal Hands  featuring brothers Jordan Smart (saxophones) and Nick Smart (piano) plus drummer/percussionist Jesse Barrett. Originally from Norwich the Smarts were already working as an electronica duo before they encountered Barrett in 2012 with the music subsequently diverting in a more obvious jazz direction.


After adopting the group name Mammal Hands the trio were spotted by GoGo Penguin bassist Nick Blacka when both bands were playing at the Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul Festival in Birmingham. Recognising them as kindred spirits Blacka recommended them to Manchester based trumpeter, composer and label owner Matthew Halsall who signed the trio to his Gondwana imprint and produced their acclaimed début album “Animalia” in 2014. 

The bassless line up might suggest some kind of chamber jazz but instead the music of Mammal Hands is unexpectedly rhythmic, dynamic and exciting and reflects the trio’s interests in electronic, contemporary classical and world music. These include Barrett’s knowledge of Indian rhythms learned during his studies with tabla master Sirishkumar, Nick Smart’s love of minimalist composers Terry Riley, Philip Glass and Steve Reich and Jordan’s immersion in the different sound worlds of DJ culture and the spiritual jazz of Pharaoh Sanders. For their second Album “Floa” (2016) they added Sufi and African trance music plus the folk music of both Ireland and Eastern Europe to their range of influences. Like one time label mates GoGo Penguin Mammal Hands create thoroughly contemporary music that has the potential to appeal to a wide range of listeners including adventurous fans of both dance and rock music.

Recorded at 80 Hertz Studios in Manchester “Shadow Work” is the first album where the trio have assumed full control of the production process, albeit with the aid of experienced sound engineer George Atkins. The tunes are written collaboratively, often emerging from group improvisations. “Shadow Work” also sees the band subtly expanding their sonic palette though the use of prepared piano techniques, field recordings and discrete electronic effects. The album also includes guest contributions from string players Tom Moore (violin, viola) and Pete Yelding (cello).

Album opener “Black Sails” was developed out of a group improvisation and commences with the sound of Nick Smart’s arpeggiated piano. He’s subsequently joined by Jordan on soprano sax and Barrett at the drums, the former blowing catchy, hooky melody lines as the latter lays down a skittering drum groove. It’s an attention grabbing intro, albeit one that still finds moments for quieter introspection with Moore and Yelding making subtle textural contributions. Mammal Hands have developed a distinctive group sound and “Black Sails” is immediately recognisable as being their handiwork, although critics may still cite a resemblance to the music of early Portico Quartet that has never entirely gone away. However with Portico increasingly committed to electronica in recent years there’s been a jazz meets minimalism shaped hole that Mammal Hands have gleefully stepped into.

The brief “Wringer” relies on circling melodic motifs and features the sound of muted piano strings, these forming the bedrock for Jordan Smart’s sax melodies and Barrett’s nimble and inventive cymbal work.

The lengthy “Boreal Forest” develops more slowly, building from simple beginnings and spiralling steadily upwards to full on anthemic magnificence. Nick’s piano arpeggios and Barrett’s hip hop inspired grooves underpin the emotive, muezzin like cry of Jordan’s soprano sax. The subtle use of electronic effects expands the trio’s sound to wide-screen proportions on a piece that can justifiably be described as “a bit of an epic”.

By way of contrast “A Solitary Bee”, originally written on wooden flute, emphasises the beauty of simplicity with its folk like tenor sax melodies, derived from Irish traditional music. It’s another piece to feature the sound of muted piano strings, though it has to be said that Mammal Hands’ use of prepared piano techniques is rather less radical than those of a Keith Tippett or Matthew Bourne.

The introduction to “Three Good Things” finds Barrett augmenting his drum kit with various metal objects but again the results are subtle and intriguing rather than alarming. Having established a distinctive group identity Mammal Hands sometimes seem almost reluctant to push their own self imposed boundaries too far. However, having said that, the tabla / piano duet that follows represents one of the most surprising and exciting passages on the whole album. The tune resolves itself with a return to more familiar territory with the return of Jordan Smart’s tenor and Barrett’s move back to the drum kit.

Barrett deploys the tablas once more to establish the gentle 7/8 groove of “Living Frost” which builds to an emotional peak via tenor sax, piano and kit drums before a long, slow spacious find out that sees Jordan Smart adopting a warmer, less abrasive tone on tenor, his playing cushioned by the sound of strings courtesy of Moore and Yelding. The last thing we hear is the huge echo of Barrett’s slow drum groove at the conclusion of a piece with a strong narrative arc that again fits into the ‘epic’ category.

“Near Far” is a brief passage of contemplative solo piano that was improvised in the studio by Nick Smart. An ‘instant composition’ if you will, but one whose Zen like calm and outright beauty fitted in superbly with the rest of the album material, hence its inclusion here.

“Straight Up Raining” makes effective use of folk styled melodies alongside cyclical grooves derived from the worlds of minimalism and contemporary electronic music. It may be archetypal Mammal Hands, but like so much of their output it’s no less beguiling for that.

“Transfixed” develops out of a repeated single note groove to accrue ever increasing layers of rhythmic and melodic complexity as the trio channel Steve Reich for the 21st century. Barrett’s percussive set up deploys both kit drums and tabla and Nick Smart utilises both acoustic and electric keyboards to create an increasingly hypnotic groove. Meanwhile Jordan Smart digs in ever deeper on subtly treated tenor sax. The Coltrane-esque title and the relentless power of the music suggests an affinity with the ‘spiritual jazz’ of the 1960s, again skilfully updated for the 21st century.

The epic “Transfixed” segues into the closing “Being Here”, a richly atmospheric and elegiac piece recorded at the group’s own recording space in Norwich. Nick Smart’s improvised piano sketch is augmented by a field recording of singing birds documented by Jordan Smart while Barrett adds the other-worldly sounds of bowed vibraphone. It’s an eclectic, but charming, vignette that closes the album on a calming, bucolic note.

Mammal Hands continue to write catchy melodies and hooks and “Shadow Work” maintains the charm and accessibility of their earlier output while subtly adding layers of rhythmic and textural complexity. As such it represents an artistic step forward as the group continue to hone their craft and develop their increasingly individual collective sound.

I like the band a lot, and can fully understand their appeal to an audience beyond the usual jazz demographic. In many ways this is music that is beyond categorisation, even if the Portico comparisons won’t entirely go away. Hardcore jazz fans may well dismiss Mammal Hands but one suspects that this isn’t really the audience they are trying to reach, the trio’s range of influences are far too broad for that.

Mammal Hands are a whole new breed of animal. It will be interesting to see which direction their music takes next.

Mammal Hands are currently on tour in the UK, Europe and Japan. The remaining dates are listed below;


10 Nov Epic Studios NORWICH UK
17 Nov Patterns BRIGHTON UK
20 Nov Union Chapel LONDON UK
24 Nov Explore The North LEUWARDEN Netherlands
29 Nov Unit TOKYO Japan
30 Nov Metro KYOTO Japan
 
http://www.gondwanarecords.com


http://mammalhands.com


 

Ray Gelato & Alex Garnett “Tough Tenors” Quintet - Ray Gelato & Alex Garnett “Tough Tenors” Quintet, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 27/10/2017. Rating: 5 out of 5 "Great music laced with good-humoured anecdotes and repartee, all of which added up to musical entertainment of the highest order". Guest contributor Trevor Bannister on the sound of the Tough Tenors.

Ray Gelato & Alex Garnett “Tough Tenors” Quintet
Friday 27 Oct | Progress Theatre, Reading


Ray Gelato tenor sax, Alex Garnett tenor sax, Gunther Kurmayr piano, Manuel Alvarez bass, Matt Home drums

Gladiatorial contests between the giants of the tenor saxophone are the stuff of legend in the jazz world and form some of the most vivid images from the rich history of the music. Think of Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster, Lester Young and Herschell Evans, Wardell Gray and Dexter Gordon, Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons, Flip Phillips and Illinois Jacquet, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, and Britain’s own Jazz Couriers, Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott.


After an interval of twenty years, Ray Gelato and Alex Garnett, two contemporary ‘heavyweights’ of the instrument, rekindled their partnership and locked into ‘battle’ on the stage of Reading’s Progress Theatre on Friday 27 October. It was a case of lighting the touch paper and watching the sparks fly, and my, did they fly!


Gelato established the tone for the evening with a simple direction to Gunther Kurmayr, ‘Straight in’. The pianist duly obliged with a brisk paced introduction to Edgar Sampson’s 1933 classic ‘Blue Lou’. It set the band swinging and the front-line roaring, transporting us back in time to the heady days of the nineteen-forties, when small-band swing reigned supreme in an infinite number of basement clubs along New York’s 52nd Street. The experience of visiting the street as a young man left such an impression on Ronnie Scott that he vowed to open a club of his own one day. And the rest, as they say, is history.


The huge tones of Gelato and Garnett, unimpaired by amplification, were a joy to behold as they dug into ‘Topsy’. If I may use an analogy with boxing to compare these two masters of the saxophone, I would suggest that Gelato might deliver his knock-outs with a direct upper cut to the jaw, while Garnett would first set his opponent off balance, and then strike a glancing blow to the side of the head. Supported by Gunther Kurmayr’s elegant economy at the keyboard and the wonderful cohesion of Alvarez and Home in the rhythm section, the number immediately evoked the spirit of Count Basie’s first band and their recording of 1937; robust, irresistibly swinging and with an edge of menace that gives the tune its full flavour.


‘Robbin’s Nest’, a mid-1940s hit for Sir Charles Thompson, another self-acclaimed member of the jazz aristocracy, brought a relaxed change of tempo, but no let up in the strength of the beat. The theme bounced gently back and forth between Gelato and Garnett to great effect, before opening up for a string of melodic solos, again captured beautifully by the natural acoustic of the Progress auditorium.


Contrafact, as Alex Garnett explained, is the jazz musicians’ art of creating a fresh melody over a familiar harmonic structure; a process popular with players of the Bebop generation, though less so with composers of the time. Jerome Kern famously hated anyone ‘messing’ about with ‘All The Things You Are’, especially as he seriously lost out on royalty payments. Had he been alive, George Gershwin might have been similarly outraged by the numerous creative liberties taken with ‘I Got Rhythm’ and ‘Oh, Lady Be Good’. The latter became a vehicle for Thelonious Monk, in the form of ‘Hackensack’, which the ‘Tough Tenors’ delivered as a fiercely up-tempo swinger, complete with a wonderful round of snappy exchanges between the front-line players and Matt Home on drums.


Alex Garnett held the audience spellbound with his ballad feature ‘Chelsea Bridge. He captured the emotional depth and evocative beauty of Billy Strayhorn’s composition to absolute perfection, with sensitive support from his rhythm colleagues.


With the front-line back to full strength on the return of Ray Gelato to the stage, ‘The King’, another number from the Basie book, brought the first set to a scorching climax, prompting a rush to the bar for much needed refreshment.


A heavily disguised ‘Tea for Two’ opened the second set, before Ray Gelato took up the microphone and knocked the audience for six with the full force of his vocal cords on a rocking, earthy blues. Alex Garnett added to the fun with some lighter toned lyrics of his own invention.


‘Limehouse Blues’, a favourite with jazz players since the early 1920s, has the distinction of not really being a blues at all, though no one would have questioned its authenticity given the rip-roaring treatment delivered by the ‘Tough Tenors’. It was literally a matter of ‘all hands to the deck’!


If by now anyone doubted that Ray Gelato fully expressed his heart and soul though his playing, confirmation was provided by his ballad feature, ‘I Surrender Dear’, Bing Crosby’s first hit song. Majestic, is the word that immediately comes to mind to describe Ray’s playing, building, chorus upon chorus, in the manner of the great Coleman Hawkins. A show-stopping performance.


‘I wonder,’ Ray mused, ‘What Lester Young would have made of Donald Trump?’ Along with Coleman Hawkins, Lester ‘the President’ Young, was a giant of the tenor saxophone, though very different in style and temperament to the ‘Hawk’. A very private man, he closed off the discrimination and abuse that he suffered throughout his life and career, with the use of a personal language. ‘I feel a draught’, meant that he detected racial hostility. A later variant, ‘Von Hangman is here’, would be more in tune with Trump’s America. Despite this background, Lester’s playing could be the coolest and most joyful experience one could ever wish for, as the Tough Tenors’ arrangement of ‘Tickle Toe’, a Young composition from 1938, fully testified.


In 1961, the 1920s styled band, The Temperance Seven, had a huge popular hit with a number entitled ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Tubby Hayes was making his ground-breaking visit to New York, an exchange arrangement according to the rules of the day which brought Zoot Sims as the first American guest to Ronnie Scott’s. Tubby played the Half Note jazz club to great acclaim and recorded with trumpet/flugelhorn star Clark Terry. In another example of contrafact, Terry used the chords of ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’ to write a new melody dedicated to the ‘Little Giant’ from Britain – ‘A Pint of Bitter’. Taken at a nice medium tempo, the ‘Tough Tenors’ paid their own tribute to Tubby, arguably the UK’s greatest jazz musician.


Like Lester Young, Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis had a long association with Count Basie, and the final number of the evening, ‘Hey Lock’, captured the vigour and no-holds-barred excitement of his playing to a tee, with the group in full shout, sounding more like a full-sized big band rather than a quintet. Matt Home cracked the whip from his drum stool; he could swing the band using his high-hat cymbals alone, while Manuel Alvarez held everything together with his gorgeous bass lines.


Of course, there was more to come. How could the band escape on such a night without an encore, this time a spontaneous blues that well-and-truly brought the house down.


What an evening! Great music laced with good-humoured anecdotes and repartee, all of which added up to musical entertainment of the highest order. Above all, it was a sincere tribute to the lasting influence of a generation of tenor players for whom ‘swing was the thing’.


As ever, special thanks to the Progress team their warm welcome, hospitality and expertise in the sound and lighting department. It all added up to make what the ‘Tough Tenors’, Ray Gelato and Alex Garnett, described as ‘a great fun evening in a gem of a venue’.


TREVOR BANNISTER

Ray Gelato & Alex Garnett “Tough Tenors” Quintet, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 27/10/2017.

Ray Gelato & Alex Garnett “Tough Tenors” Quintet

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Reviewed by: Trevor Bannister

Live Review

5 out of 5

Ray Gelato & Alex Garnett “Tough Tenors” Quintet, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 27/10/2017.
Photography: Photograph by Zoë White

"Great music laced with good-humoured anecdotes and repartee, all of which added up to musical entertainment of the highest order". Guest contributor Trevor Bannister on the sound of the Tough Tenors.

Ray Gelato & Alex Garnett “Tough Tenors” Quintet
Friday 27 Oct | Progress Theatre, Reading


Ray Gelato tenor sax, Alex Garnett tenor sax, Gunther Kurmayr piano, Manuel Alvarez bass, Matt Home drums

Gladiatorial contests between the giants of the tenor saxophone are the stuff of legend in the jazz world and form some of the most vivid images from the rich history of the music. Think of Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster, Lester Young and Herschell Evans, Wardell Gray and Dexter Gordon, Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons, Flip Phillips and Illinois Jacquet, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, and Britain’s own Jazz Couriers, Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott.


After an interval of twenty years, Ray Gelato and Alex Garnett, two contemporary ‘heavyweights’ of the instrument, rekindled their partnership and locked into ‘battle’ on the stage of Reading’s Progress Theatre on Friday 27 October. It was a case of lighting the touch paper and watching the sparks fly, and my, did they fly!


Gelato established the tone for the evening with a simple direction to Gunther Kurmayr, ‘Straight in’. The pianist duly obliged with a brisk paced introduction to Edgar Sampson’s 1933 classic ‘Blue Lou’. It set the band swinging and the front-line roaring, transporting us back in time to the heady days of the nineteen-forties, when small-band swing reigned supreme in an infinite number of basement clubs along New York’s 52nd Street. The experience of visiting the street as a young man left such an impression on Ronnie Scott that he vowed to open a club of his own one day. And the rest, as they say, is history.


The huge tones of Gelato and Garnett, unimpaired by amplification, were a joy to behold as they dug into ‘Topsy’. If I may use an analogy with boxing to compare these two masters of the saxophone, I would suggest that Gelato might deliver his knock-outs with a direct upper cut to the jaw, while Garnett would first set his opponent off balance, and then strike a glancing blow to the side of the head. Supported by Gunther Kurmayr’s elegant economy at the keyboard and the wonderful cohesion of Alvarez and Home in the rhythm section, the number immediately evoked the spirit of Count Basie’s first band and their recording of 1937; robust, irresistibly swinging and with an edge of menace that gives the tune its full flavour.


‘Robbin’s Nest’, a mid-1940s hit for Sir Charles Thompson, another self-acclaimed member of the jazz aristocracy, brought a relaxed change of tempo, but no let up in the strength of the beat. The theme bounced gently back and forth between Gelato and Garnett to great effect, before opening up for a string of melodic solos, again captured beautifully by the natural acoustic of the Progress auditorium.


Contrafact, as Alex Garnett explained, is the jazz musicians’ art of creating a fresh melody over a familiar harmonic structure; a process popular with players of the Bebop generation, though less so with composers of the time. Jerome Kern famously hated anyone ‘messing’ about with ‘All The Things You Are’, especially as he seriously lost out on royalty payments. Had he been alive, George Gershwin might have been similarly outraged by the numerous creative liberties taken with ‘I Got Rhythm’ and ‘Oh, Lady Be Good’. The latter became a vehicle for Thelonious Monk, in the form of ‘Hackensack’, which the ‘Tough Tenors’ delivered as a fiercely up-tempo swinger, complete with a wonderful round of snappy exchanges between the front-line players and Matt Home on drums.


Alex Garnett held the audience spellbound with his ballad feature ‘Chelsea Bridge. He captured the emotional depth and evocative beauty of Billy Strayhorn’s composition to absolute perfection, with sensitive support from his rhythm colleagues.


With the front-line back to full strength on the return of Ray Gelato to the stage, ‘The King’, another number from the Basie book, brought the first set to a scorching climax, prompting a rush to the bar for much needed refreshment.


A heavily disguised ‘Tea for Two’ opened the second set, before Ray Gelato took up the microphone and knocked the audience for six with the full force of his vocal cords on a rocking, earthy blues. Alex Garnett added to the fun with some lighter toned lyrics of his own invention.


‘Limehouse Blues’, a favourite with jazz players since the early 1920s, has the distinction of not really being a blues at all, though no one would have questioned its authenticity given the rip-roaring treatment delivered by the ‘Tough Tenors’. It was literally a matter of ‘all hands to the deck’!


If by now anyone doubted that Ray Gelato fully expressed his heart and soul though his playing, confirmation was provided by his ballad feature, ‘I Surrender Dear’, Bing Crosby’s first hit song. Majestic, is the word that immediately comes to mind to describe Ray’s playing, building, chorus upon chorus, in the manner of the great Coleman Hawkins. A show-stopping performance.


‘I wonder,’ Ray mused, ‘What Lester Young would have made of Donald Trump?’ Along with Coleman Hawkins, Lester ‘the President’ Young, was a giant of the tenor saxophone, though very different in style and temperament to the ‘Hawk’. A very private man, he closed off the discrimination and abuse that he suffered throughout his life and career, with the use of a personal language. ‘I feel a draught’, meant that he detected racial hostility. A later variant, ‘Von Hangman is here’, would be more in tune with Trump’s America. Despite this background, Lester’s playing could be the coolest and most joyful experience one could ever wish for, as the Tough Tenors’ arrangement of ‘Tickle Toe’, a Young composition from 1938, fully testified.


In 1961, the 1920s styled band, The Temperance Seven, had a huge popular hit with a number entitled ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Tubby Hayes was making his ground-breaking visit to New York, an exchange arrangement according to the rules of the day which brought Zoot Sims as the first American guest to Ronnie Scott’s. Tubby played the Half Note jazz club to great acclaim and recorded with trumpet/flugelhorn star Clark Terry. In another example of contrafact, Terry used the chords of ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’ to write a new melody dedicated to the ‘Little Giant’ from Britain – ‘A Pint of Bitter’. Taken at a nice medium tempo, the ‘Tough Tenors’ paid their own tribute to Tubby, arguably the UK’s greatest jazz musician.


Like Lester Young, Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis had a long association with Count Basie, and the final number of the evening, ‘Hey Lock’, captured the vigour and no-holds-barred excitement of his playing to a tee, with the group in full shout, sounding more like a full-sized big band rather than a quintet. Matt Home cracked the whip from his drum stool; he could swing the band using his high-hat cymbals alone, while Manuel Alvarez held everything together with his gorgeous bass lines.


Of course, there was more to come. How could the band escape on such a night without an encore, this time a spontaneous blues that well-and-truly brought the house down.


What an evening! Great music laced with good-humoured anecdotes and repartee, all of which added up to musical entertainment of the highest order. Above all, it was a sincere tribute to the lasting influence of a generation of tenor players for whom ‘swing was the thing’.


As ever, special thanks to the Progress team their warm welcome, hospitality and expertise in the sound and lighting department. It all added up to make what the ‘Tough Tenors’, Ray Gelato and Alex Garnett, described as ‘a great fun evening in a gem of a venue’.


TREVOR BANNISTER

Christian Garrick / David Gordon - Paper Jam Rating: 4 out of 5 Garrick and Gordon have established a genuine rapport, and this, allied to the immense technical skill on display, ensures that these musical exchanges are consistently full of interest.

Christian Garrick / David Gordon

“Paper Jam”

(Flying Blue Whale Records FLY14)

This is the first recording by the long running duo featuring violinist Christian Garrick and pianist David Gordon. The pair first met in 1996 and have worked frequently together in various ensembles including the Anglo-Finnish group Tango Alakulo and the band Butterfly’s Wing featuring vocalist Jacqui Dankworth. They have also performed with bands led by Jacqui’s father, the late saxophonist and composer Sir John Dankworth.

Christian Garrick is arguably the UK’s foremost jazz violinist, a highly versatile musician capable of playing in a variety of jazz styles, both acoustic and electric. Garrick covers territory ranging from the Hot Club stylings of Stephane Grappelli to the wigged out fusioneering of Jean Luc Ponty – and all points in between, with influences ranging from jazz, folk, pop and classical music. He has appeared frequently on the Jazzmann web pages leading his own groups and as a sideman with guitarist John Etheridge’s gypsy jazz ensemble Sweet Chorus and with bassist Alec Dankworth’s Spanish Accents group. He has also worked with Etheridge in a duo format, the pair releasing the “Men On Wire” album in 2010. Garrick is currently a key member of the groups Budapest Café Orchestra and Spirit of Stephane.

David Gordon, who plays keyboards with Garrick’s electro-acoustic quartet is a similarly broad minded musician. He also leads his own piano trio, a group that reflects his thorough knowledge of jazz and world music styles, plays accordion with the tango group Zum, and is an acclaimed classical harpsichordist. In 2015 Gordon’s trio featuring bassist Jonty Fisher and drummer Paul Cavaciuti released the album “Alexander Scriabin’s Ragtime Band”, an eclectic and innovative jazz take on the music of the Russian born composer. Gordon also plays harpsichord with the group Respectable Groove,  a kind of cross between an early music ensemble and a jazz group. 

The music of the Garrick/Gordon duo is an eclectic mix that mirrors their broad range of influences. In September 2016 I was fortunate enough to witness the pair give a live performance at the Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in Abergavenny and many of the pieces that were played there are featured on this album which was recorded at around the same time and appears on Garrick’s own Flying Blue Whale record label. The violinist has always had an ear for a good tune, regardless of its origins or genre, and the music of both the Etheridge and Gordon duos reflects this with both units drawing on a rich well of tradition spanning the various musical boundaries. 

They commence with a lively segue of “Broadway” and “Afternoon In Paris”, the latter written by pianist John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Both Gordon and Garrick possess the technical prowess necessary to work within the exposed format of a duo and both exhibit a stunning virtuosity here with Garrick deploying both arco and pizzicato techniques while Gordon displays an equally remarkable facility at the piano, both as soloist and accompanist. But this is more than a display of mere technical skill, there’s a sense of fun and adventure about the duo’s playing with Dennis Harrison’s evocative liner notes likening their musical bravado to that of a gunslinger or a prize fighter.

The pair’s extensive knowledge of global music styles finds voice in a charming arrangement of “Msunduza”, a joyous slice of township jazz written by Abdullah Ibrahim in the days when the South African born pianist and composer was still known as Dollar Brand. Garrick again makes effective use of pizzicato techniques as well as deploying the bow vivaciously.

The pair’s love of classical music is expressed by their inclusion of Sir William Walton’s “Touch Her Soft Lips And Part” , the performance altogether more ‘serious’ in approach and imbued with a lyrical but sombre beauty.

A spirited arrangement of Chucho Valdez’s “Mambo Influenciado” finds the duo adding a dash of English folk to the Afro-Cuban cadences. Gordon, whose trio explored the music of South and Central America on the 2013 album “Speaks Latin”, demonstrates his mastery of the styles and rhythms of the region as Garrick again gravitates between arco and pizzicato techniques.

The duo’s interpretation of George Shearing’s “Conception” returns them to the conventional jazz repertoire in an arrangement that finds the pair batting ideas back and forth in a dazzling and vivacious set of musical exchanges. Their joie de vivre and spirit of musical adventure is joyously evident throughout.

“Samba Em Preludio”, written by Bayden Powell, re-locates the duo to Brazil to explore the more reflective and melancholy side of Latin American music.

Garrick and Gordon positively relish the technical challenges of the late John Taylor’s complex but joyously invigorating “Coffee Time” with Gordon’s fiendishly busy rhythmic figures fuelling the flights of Garrick’s soaring violin.

The poignant folk melodies of Jay Ungar’s hauntingly beautiful “ The Ashokan Farewell” then capture the duo at their most emotionally direct.

Bud Powell’s “Celia” brings the music back into the conventional jazz arena once more, the duo exploring the architecture of the tune in a spirit of joy and adventure and, despite the sparseness of the instrumentation, a convincing sense of swing.

Gordon’s “English Isobars” is the only original composition on the album, but it’s also the lengthiest. This seven minute voyage of discovery was one of the set highlights at Abergavenny and is a richly melodic piece with a strong narrative arc that slowly opens like a flower, the music a beguiling mix of jazz, folk and chamber music influences.

The album concludes with a playful version of the Carpenters pop hit “Close To You” with Garrick once more alternating between pizzicato and arco techniques.

Having seen the Garrick and Gordon duo in concert it’s good to see their music being documented on disc at last. “Paper Jam” is a good souvenir for anybody who has seen the pair performing live, an environment that is very much their natural habitat. However this engaging series of musical conversations is a convincing piece of work in its own right. These dialogues cover an impressive musical and emotional range, embracing a wide variety of moods and musical styles while retaining a genuine sense of élan and joie de vivre.

It’s immediately apparent that Garrick and Gordon have established a genuine rapport, and this, allied to the immense technical skill on display, ensures that these musical exchanges are consistently full of interest. There’s always something exciting going on despite the apparent limitations of the instrumentation. Then there’s the tunes themselves,  highly varied in terms of musical style but all ripe for exploration as Garrick and Gordon pick and mix and make each piece very much their own. Once again it’s that shared eye for a “good tune”.

 

 

 

 

Paper Jam

Christian Garrick / David Gordon

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Paper Jam

Garrick and Gordon have established a genuine rapport, and this, allied to the immense technical skill on display, ensures that these musical exchanges are consistently full of interest.

Christian Garrick / David Gordon

“Paper Jam”

(Flying Blue Whale Records FLY14)

This is the first recording by the long running duo featuring violinist Christian Garrick and pianist David Gordon. The pair first met in 1996 and have worked frequently together in various ensembles including the Anglo-Finnish group Tango Alakulo and the band Butterfly’s Wing featuring vocalist Jacqui Dankworth. They have also performed with bands led by Jacqui’s father, the late saxophonist and composer Sir John Dankworth.

Christian Garrick is arguably the UK’s foremost jazz violinist, a highly versatile musician capable of playing in a variety of jazz styles, both acoustic and electric. Garrick covers territory ranging from the Hot Club stylings of Stephane Grappelli to the wigged out fusioneering of Jean Luc Ponty – and all points in between, with influences ranging from jazz, folk, pop and classical music. He has appeared frequently on the Jazzmann web pages leading his own groups and as a sideman with guitarist John Etheridge’s gypsy jazz ensemble Sweet Chorus and with bassist Alec Dankworth’s Spanish Accents group. He has also worked with Etheridge in a duo format, the pair releasing the “Men On Wire” album in 2010. Garrick is currently a key member of the groups Budapest Café Orchestra and Spirit of Stephane.

David Gordon, who plays keyboards with Garrick’s electro-acoustic quartet is a similarly broad minded musician. He also leads his own piano trio, a group that reflects his thorough knowledge of jazz and world music styles, plays accordion with the tango group Zum, and is an acclaimed classical harpsichordist. In 2015 Gordon’s trio featuring bassist Jonty Fisher and drummer Paul Cavaciuti released the album “Alexander Scriabin’s Ragtime Band”, an eclectic and innovative jazz take on the music of the Russian born composer. Gordon also plays harpsichord with the group Respectable Groove,  a kind of cross between an early music ensemble and a jazz group. 

The music of the Garrick/Gordon duo is an eclectic mix that mirrors their broad range of influences. In September 2016 I was fortunate enough to witness the pair give a live performance at the Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in Abergavenny and many of the pieces that were played there are featured on this album which was recorded at around the same time and appears on Garrick’s own Flying Blue Whale record label. The violinist has always had an ear for a good tune, regardless of its origins or genre, and the music of both the Etheridge and Gordon duos reflects this with both units drawing on a rich well of tradition spanning the various musical boundaries. 

They commence with a lively segue of “Broadway” and “Afternoon In Paris”, the latter written by pianist John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Both Gordon and Garrick possess the technical prowess necessary to work within the exposed format of a duo and both exhibit a stunning virtuosity here with Garrick deploying both arco and pizzicato techniques while Gordon displays an equally remarkable facility at the piano, both as soloist and accompanist. But this is more than a display of mere technical skill, there’s a sense of fun and adventure about the duo’s playing with Dennis Harrison’s evocative liner notes likening their musical bravado to that of a gunslinger or a prize fighter.

The pair’s extensive knowledge of global music styles finds voice in a charming arrangement of “Msunduza”, a joyous slice of township jazz written by Abdullah Ibrahim in the days when the South African born pianist and composer was still known as Dollar Brand. Garrick again makes effective use of pizzicato techniques as well as deploying the bow vivaciously.

The pair’s love of classical music is expressed by their inclusion of Sir William Walton’s “Touch Her Soft Lips And Part” , the performance altogether more ‘serious’ in approach and imbued with a lyrical but sombre beauty.

A spirited arrangement of Chucho Valdez’s “Mambo Influenciado” finds the duo adding a dash of English folk to the Afro-Cuban cadences. Gordon, whose trio explored the music of South and Central America on the 2013 album “Speaks Latin”, demonstrates his mastery of the styles and rhythms of the region as Garrick again gravitates between arco and pizzicato techniques.

The duo’s interpretation of George Shearing’s “Conception” returns them to the conventional jazz repertoire in an arrangement that finds the pair batting ideas back and forth in a dazzling and vivacious set of musical exchanges. Their joie de vivre and spirit of musical adventure is joyously evident throughout.

“Samba Em Preludio”, written by Bayden Powell, re-locates the duo to Brazil to explore the more reflective and melancholy side of Latin American music.

Garrick and Gordon positively relish the technical challenges of the late John Taylor’s complex but joyously invigorating “Coffee Time” with Gordon’s fiendishly busy rhythmic figures fuelling the flights of Garrick’s soaring violin.

The poignant folk melodies of Jay Ungar’s hauntingly beautiful “ The Ashokan Farewell” then capture the duo at their most emotionally direct.

Bud Powell’s “Celia” brings the music back into the conventional jazz arena once more, the duo exploring the architecture of the tune in a spirit of joy and adventure and, despite the sparseness of the instrumentation, a convincing sense of swing.

Gordon’s “English Isobars” is the only original composition on the album, but it’s also the lengthiest. This seven minute voyage of discovery was one of the set highlights at Abergavenny and is a richly melodic piece with a strong narrative arc that slowly opens like a flower, the music a beguiling mix of jazz, folk and chamber music influences.

The album concludes with a playful version of the Carpenters pop hit “Close To You” with Garrick once more alternating between pizzicato and arco techniques.

Having seen the Garrick and Gordon duo in concert it’s good to see their music being documented on disc at last. “Paper Jam” is a good souvenir for anybody who has seen the pair performing live, an environment that is very much their natural habitat. However this engaging series of musical conversations is a convincing piece of work in its own right. These dialogues cover an impressive musical and emotional range, embracing a wide variety of moods and musical styles while retaining a genuine sense of élan and joie de vivre.

It’s immediately apparent that Garrick and Gordon have established a genuine rapport, and this, allied to the immense technical skill on display, ensures that these musical exchanges are consistently full of interest. There’s always something exciting going on despite the apparent limitations of the instrumentation. Then there’s the tunes themselves,  highly varied in terms of musical style but all ripe for exploration as Garrick and Gordon pick and mix and make each piece very much their own. Once again it’s that shared eye for a “good tune”.

 

 

 

 

Girls In Airports - Live Rating: 4 out of 5 This live recording fully captures the spirit & ethos of a band with a growing international cult following. As likely to appeal to an adventurous rock audience as it is to dyed in the wool jazzers,

Girls In Airports
“Live”

(Edition Records EDN1097)

I first discovered the increasingly popular Danish quintet Girls In Airports when they played a free lunchtime show at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Dean Street as part of the 2014 EFG London Jazz Festival. I became an instant fan of a band who have already attracted something of a cult following in their homeland and have also toured in China, Brazil, South Korea, Portugal, Germany and the US.

Those lunchtime showcases at the Pizza, which invariably attract large audiences, have represented an important stepping stone for a number of acts. The 2014 series also featured the Swiss piano trio Plaistow who have subsequently returned to the Festival as part of the concert programme.


Don’t be misled by the name, Girls In Airports is actually a group of five Copenhagen based males including the extravagantly bearded saxophonist Lars Greve. Greve is joined in a twin reed front line by fellow saxophonist Martin Stender and the group is completed by keyboard player Mathias Holm, drummer Mads Forsby and percussionist Victor Dybbroe. The band name comes from the title of their 2010 début album, this followed by 2011’s “Migration” and 2013’s “Kaikoura”. Dybbroe was absent from the first album, which was recorded as a quartet, but has played a prominent part on all subsequent releases.


Girls In Airports are managed by a Briton, Sue Edwards, who also looks after Phronesis and I suspect that it was through this connection that they came to the attention of Dave Stapleton, co-founder of the Edition record label, a British imprint with an international distribution network. The group’s latest studio recording, “Fables” was released on Edition in 2015 and helped to enhance the group’s reputation both in the UK and elsewhere. 


Stender is the quintet’s main compositional presence and all of the group’s pieces are credited to ‘Martin Stender and Girls in Airports’, suggesting that Stender’s initial ideas are subsequently arranged and developed by the rest of the group via the process of improvisation. Stender described the writing process on “Fables” thus;
“A tune starts with me playing an unfinished idea on the piano. I am not a pianist so it sounds like a children’s song or very slow ballad. Keyboard player Mathias will immediately sit down and do a much better version without even looking at the notes that I have scribbled down. Then the drummers add a rhythmic layer that changes the whole thing into something else and then saxophonist Lars will make all of us follow him into some third place that we’ve never been before. It is quite easy to write new tunes for this band”.


This live album was recorded in March 2017 at three different venues in Hamburg, Dresden and Berlin during a German tour. Speaking of the decision to release a live recording Stender has said;
“Basically we are an old fashioned live band. Concerts have always been our main thing and playing concerts is how we reach people. We have been together for eight years now and many of the songs have changed so much since we recorded them. It just makes sense to do a live album and document all that.”
He continues;
“Playing live is really where the band comes together. We allow ourselves to be freer, more in touch with the music and in tune with each other. The energy created from a live concert, especially when the audiences are also connected with the music, is electric. We really felt that in these concerts”.


“Live” features four new, previously unrecorded, pieces as well as eight items from the band’s back catalogue. The music of Girls In Airports incorporates elements of jazz, folk, minimalism and world music allied to something of an indie rock sensibility. They are more concerned with colour, texture and atmosphere than conventional jazz soloing but with the presence of a drummer AND a percussionist adding a rhythmic vibrancy to the music steers it well away from ambient stasis or noodling.

The twin horn front line may evoke comparisons with the now extinct Polar Bear but GIA ultimately sound very different to Seb Rochford’s former outfit. Nevertheless their music is likely to appeal to a similar audience and I suspect that fans of British bands such as GoGo Penguin, Portico Quartet and Mammal Hands will enjoy GIA’s music too. Like Polar Bear GIA’s tunes often have a charming, childlike naivety about them, giving the audience something to hang on to as the band develop and stretch out on Stender’s original ideas.

GIA’s music tends to evolve from Stender’s melodic hooks with opener “Kantine” mutating from an anthemic, waltz like theme into free jazz squalling and back again, all in a little under four minutes.

The title track from “Kaikoura” incorporates wispy sax melodies with exotic percussion and minimalist keyboards while “Broken Stones” combines a hypnotic drum groove with droning, textured keyboards and haunting double horns. The way in which the group builds the music in layers, gradually ratcheting up the tension is reminiscent of prime time “Isla” era Portico and “Broken Stones” elicits a terrific response from the German audience.

Recorded in Dresden the title track of “Fables” is more concerned with atmosphere and ambience as it develops from Dybbroe’s solo percussion introduction with fragile fragments of sax melody combining with Holm’s eerie keyboard colourations.  Initially it’s a little like Polar Bear at their most reflective but a change of pace mid tune finds the percussive grooves getting heavier and the sax sounds more distorted. GIA’s command of contrasts and dynamics and the way in which they develop a tune to a climax suggests a strong indie rock influence.

A drums and percussion set piece introduces “Episodes” followed by the free jazz style whinnying of the twin saxes before the piece settles into a slow, rock influenced monolithic groove around which the saxes sinuously intertwine with Holm’s haunting keyboard textures filling out the sound.

Also from the “Fables” album “Aeiki” begins in gently atmospheric fashion before gradually building via a series of interlocking patterns and rhythms that reference both classic minimalism and contemporary electronica. The likes of Portico, GoGo penguin and Mammal Hands are again convenient reference points as the Danish quintet subtly sculpt yet another compelling soundscape.

“Albert Kahn” has been a favourite item in the group’s repertoire for some time and is a richly atmospheric piece that features Greve on bass clarinet alongside Stender’s saxophone. The reeds become increasingly distorted as they improvise around mallet rumbles and textured keyboards on one of the album’s most evocative pieces.

The title of “ADAC” references both the Australian rock band AC/DC and the German equivalent of the RAC. As the influence of the Aussie rockers might suggest it’s the most forceful and rhythmic track on the record - but still far removed from heavy metal. Introduced by Forsby and Dybbroe the piece features the drone of Holm’s heavily distorted Gothic keyboards alongside the staccato riffing of the two sax men.

A startlingly aggressive sax barrage ushers in “Need A Light”, a piece that just as suddenly slides into atmospheric introspection in an arrangement paced by the exotic patter of Dybbroe’s gamelan like percussion, the eerie tinkle of Holm’s keyboards and the delicate murmurations of the saxophonists.  The German fans loved it.

The title track from the “Migration” album is the lengthiest piece on the album, gradually developing from a fragile keyboard and sax introduction via a passage of interlocked, circular breathing reeds above an insistent drum and percussion groove. Yes, It’s somewhat repetitive but it must have been totally compelling in the live environment. A spontaneous round of applause breaks out in acknowledgement of the skill and stamina of the players. As in London back in 2014 the piece segues directly into “King’s Birthday” from the “Kaikoura” album, an anthemic coda featuring soaring, layered keyboards above a busy drums and percussion undertow.

The album concludes with the chilly but elegiac “Vejviser” which sees the percussionists sitting it out as Holm and the saxophonists paint fragile but atmospheric sound pictures in the air with wisps of breathy sax melody underpinned by a gentle, spacey keyboard drone, this later giving way to sparse acoustic piano. It’s piece that conjures up images of glistening winter landscapes, undeniably lovely but with the sound of the vocalised horns at the very end hinting at the harshness behind the beauty.

With their blend of acoustic and electric instruments and broad range of influences Girls In Airports have developed a sound that is very much their own, a kind of ‘post jazz’.  The focus is very much on mood, texture, colour and the overall ensemble sound and collective ethos. It’s a style of music that I personally find very satisfying and enjoyable but I can appreciate that it may hold limited appeal to listeners who prefer old school swing and bop.

Even more than the studio album “Fables” this live recording fully captures the spirit and ethos of a band that is as likely to appeal to an adventurous rock audience as it is to dyed in the wool jazzers, even though improvisation still lies at the heart of the group’s music. The album packaging features a photograph of the group playing “in the round” and the faces that surround them are predominately young.

“Live” is a good starting point for listeners who haven’t heard the group before but it’s also an invaluable addition to the collection for fans of a band with a growing international cult following.

 

 

Live

Girls In Airports

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Live

This live recording fully captures the spirit & ethos of a band with a growing international cult following. As likely to appeal to an adventurous rock audience as it is to dyed in the wool jazzers,

Girls In Airports
“Live”

(Edition Records EDN1097)

I first discovered the increasingly popular Danish quintet Girls In Airports when they played a free lunchtime show at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Dean Street as part of the 2014 EFG London Jazz Festival. I became an instant fan of a band who have already attracted something of a cult following in their homeland and have also toured in China, Brazil, South Korea, Portugal, Germany and the US.

Those lunchtime showcases at the Pizza, which invariably attract large audiences, have represented an important stepping stone for a number of acts. The 2014 series also featured the Swiss piano trio Plaistow who have subsequently returned to the Festival as part of the concert programme.


Don’t be misled by the name, Girls In Airports is actually a group of five Copenhagen based males including the extravagantly bearded saxophonist Lars Greve. Greve is joined in a twin reed front line by fellow saxophonist Martin Stender and the group is completed by keyboard player Mathias Holm, drummer Mads Forsby and percussionist Victor Dybbroe. The band name comes from the title of their 2010 début album, this followed by 2011’s “Migration” and 2013’s “Kaikoura”. Dybbroe was absent from the first album, which was recorded as a quartet, but has played a prominent part on all subsequent releases.


Girls In Airports are managed by a Briton, Sue Edwards, who also looks after Phronesis and I suspect that it was through this connection that they came to the attention of Dave Stapleton, co-founder of the Edition record label, a British imprint with an international distribution network. The group’s latest studio recording, “Fables” was released on Edition in 2015 and helped to enhance the group’s reputation both in the UK and elsewhere. 


Stender is the quintet’s main compositional presence and all of the group’s pieces are credited to ‘Martin Stender and Girls in Airports’, suggesting that Stender’s initial ideas are subsequently arranged and developed by the rest of the group via the process of improvisation. Stender described the writing process on “Fables” thus;
“A tune starts with me playing an unfinished idea on the piano. I am not a pianist so it sounds like a children’s song or very slow ballad. Keyboard player Mathias will immediately sit down and do a much better version without even looking at the notes that I have scribbled down. Then the drummers add a rhythmic layer that changes the whole thing into something else and then saxophonist Lars will make all of us follow him into some third place that we’ve never been before. It is quite easy to write new tunes for this band”.


This live album was recorded in March 2017 at three different venues in Hamburg, Dresden and Berlin during a German tour. Speaking of the decision to release a live recording Stender has said;
“Basically we are an old fashioned live band. Concerts have always been our main thing and playing concerts is how we reach people. We have been together for eight years now and many of the songs have changed so much since we recorded them. It just makes sense to do a live album and document all that.”
He continues;
“Playing live is really where the band comes together. We allow ourselves to be freer, more in touch with the music and in tune with each other. The energy created from a live concert, especially when the audiences are also connected with the music, is electric. We really felt that in these concerts”.


“Live” features four new, previously unrecorded, pieces as well as eight items from the band’s back catalogue. The music of Girls In Airports incorporates elements of jazz, folk, minimalism and world music allied to something of an indie rock sensibility. They are more concerned with colour, texture and atmosphere than conventional jazz soloing but with the presence of a drummer AND a percussionist adding a rhythmic vibrancy to the music steers it well away from ambient stasis or noodling.

The twin horn front line may evoke comparisons with the now extinct Polar Bear but GIA ultimately sound very different to Seb Rochford’s former outfit. Nevertheless their music is likely to appeal to a similar audience and I suspect that fans of British bands such as GoGo Penguin, Portico Quartet and Mammal Hands will enjoy GIA’s music too. Like Polar Bear GIA’s tunes often have a charming, childlike naivety about them, giving the audience something to hang on to as the band develop and stretch out on Stender’s original ideas.

GIA’s music tends to evolve from Stender’s melodic hooks with opener “Kantine” mutating from an anthemic, waltz like theme into free jazz squalling and back again, all in a little under four minutes.

The title track from “Kaikoura” incorporates wispy sax melodies with exotic percussion and minimalist keyboards while “Broken Stones” combines a hypnotic drum groove with droning, textured keyboards and haunting double horns. The way in which the group builds the music in layers, gradually ratcheting up the tension is reminiscent of prime time “Isla” era Portico and “Broken Stones” elicits a terrific response from the German audience.

Recorded in Dresden the title track of “Fables” is more concerned with atmosphere and ambience as it develops from Dybbroe’s solo percussion introduction with fragile fragments of sax melody combining with Holm’s eerie keyboard colourations.  Initially it’s a little like Polar Bear at their most reflective but a change of pace mid tune finds the percussive grooves getting heavier and the sax sounds more distorted. GIA’s command of contrasts and dynamics and the way in which they develop a tune to a climax suggests a strong indie rock influence.

A drums and percussion set piece introduces “Episodes” followed by the free jazz style whinnying of the twin saxes before the piece settles into a slow, rock influenced monolithic groove around which the saxes sinuously intertwine with Holm’s haunting keyboard textures filling out the sound.

Also from the “Fables” album “Aeiki” begins in gently atmospheric fashion before gradually building via a series of interlocking patterns and rhythms that reference both classic minimalism and contemporary electronica. The likes of Portico, GoGo penguin and Mammal Hands are again convenient reference points as the Danish quintet subtly sculpt yet another compelling soundscape.

“Albert Kahn” has been a favourite item in the group’s repertoire for some time and is a richly atmospheric piece that features Greve on bass clarinet alongside Stender’s saxophone. The reeds become increasingly distorted as they improvise around mallet rumbles and textured keyboards on one of the album’s most evocative pieces.

The title of “ADAC” references both the Australian rock band AC/DC and the German equivalent of the RAC. As the influence of the Aussie rockers might suggest it’s the most forceful and rhythmic track on the record - but still far removed from heavy metal. Introduced by Forsby and Dybbroe the piece features the drone of Holm’s heavily distorted Gothic keyboards alongside the staccato riffing of the two sax men.

A startlingly aggressive sax barrage ushers in “Need A Light”, a piece that just as suddenly slides into atmospheric introspection in an arrangement paced by the exotic patter of Dybbroe’s gamelan like percussion, the eerie tinkle of Holm’s keyboards and the delicate murmurations of the saxophonists.  The German fans loved it.

The title track from the “Migration” album is the lengthiest piece on the album, gradually developing from a fragile keyboard and sax introduction via a passage of interlocked, circular breathing reeds above an insistent drum and percussion groove. Yes, It’s somewhat repetitive but it must have been totally compelling in the live environment. A spontaneous round of applause breaks out in acknowledgement of the skill and stamina of the players. As in London back in 2014 the piece segues directly into “King’s Birthday” from the “Kaikoura” album, an anthemic coda featuring soaring, layered keyboards above a busy drums and percussion undertow.

The album concludes with the chilly but elegiac “Vejviser” which sees the percussionists sitting it out as Holm and the saxophonists paint fragile but atmospheric sound pictures in the air with wisps of breathy sax melody underpinned by a gentle, spacey keyboard drone, this later giving way to sparse acoustic piano. It’s piece that conjures up images of glistening winter landscapes, undeniably lovely but with the sound of the vocalised horns at the very end hinting at the harshness behind the beauty.

With their blend of acoustic and electric instruments and broad range of influences Girls In Airports have developed a sound that is very much their own, a kind of ‘post jazz’.  The focus is very much on mood, texture, colour and the overall ensemble sound and collective ethos. It’s a style of music that I personally find very satisfying and enjoyable but I can appreciate that it may hold limited appeal to listeners who prefer old school swing and bop.

Even more than the studio album “Fables” this live recording fully captures the spirit and ethos of a band that is as likely to appeal to an adventurous rock audience as it is to dyed in the wool jazzers, even though improvisation still lies at the heart of the group’s music. The album packaging features a photograph of the group playing “in the round” and the faces that surround them are predominately young.

“Live” is a good starting point for listeners who haven’t heard the group before but it’s also an invaluable addition to the collection for fans of a band with a growing international cult following.

 

 

Brandon Allen Quartet - The Gene Ammons Project Rating: 3-5 out of 5 The playing, from a well balanced quartet, is superb throughout with everybody acquitting themselves well, particularly leader Allen for whom this whole project was so obviously a labour of love.

Brandon Allen

“The Gene Ammons Project”

(RT Jazz Records RTJR001)

Brandon Allen is an Australian born tenor saxophonist who has been based in London for a number of years and who has become a very popular presence on the UK jazz scene, whether leading his own groups or as a prolific and in demand sideman.

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

Currently Allen has a high profile engagement as part of the London based quintet led by the American bassist and composer Kyle Eastwood, a band which also includes Collins on trumpet and flugel, Andrew McCormack on piano and Chris Higginbottom at the drums. This line up appears on Eastwood’s recent release “In Transit” which also features contributions from Italian saxophonist Stefano Di Battista on alto and soprano. I intend to take a look at this recording in due course.

In May 2017 Allen brought his regular working quartet featuring Stanley on both piano and organ, Arnie Somogyi on acoustic and electric bass and Matt Home on drums to The Hive Music & Media Centre in Shrewsbury for a performance promoted by Shrewsbury Jazz Network. This hugely enjoyable gig featured the quartet playing a programme of pieces associated with the late Chicagoan saxophonist Gene Ammons (1925-74).

At that time the music of Allen’s “Gene Ammons Project” was yet to be released and I’m grateful to Brandon for forwarding me a copy of the album, which is a welcome reminder and an excellent souvenir of that much appreciated Shrewsbury show.

In his liner notes Allen talks of his admiration for Ammons’ playing, his sound and phrasing and his obvious love of both melody and the blues. Allen regards Ammons as highly underrated and feels that he has been unfairly overshadowed by contemporaries such as Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray and Sonny Stitt, despite forging a long lasting musical partnership with the latter.

The ten tracks featured on “The Gene Ammons Project” offer a full overview of the saxophonist’s career from 1943-74. Ammons always stayed in touch with the commercial music of his day and in 1950 his version of “My Foolish Heart” registered on Billboard Magazine’s black pop charts. However it may be that Ammons’ commercial success has adversely affected his critical reputation.

Gene Ammons was the son of boogie woogie pianist Albert Ammons (1907 – 49). He grew up to be a tenor sax specialist and in a career stretching through the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s he recorded prolifically in a variety of jazz styles ranging from the swing and bebop of the 40s and 50s to the soul jazz of the 60s and 70s. His career was interrupted by two fairly lengthy jail terms for narcotics offences, a factor that may also account for the fact he never quite acquired the recognition that his undoubted talents deserved.

Ammons first came to public attention as a member of vocalist Billy Eckstine’s band. Apparently it was the singer who bestowed Ammons with the nickname “Jug” when the saxophonist’s band uniform hat didn’t fit – I’d always assumed the nickname came from all the time Ammons spent “In The Jug”. 

Ammons followed his time with Eckstine with a stint in clarinettist Woody Herman’s Second Herd before later embarking on a solo career. Among those he worked with were pianist Mal Waldron and trumpeter Donald Byrd, but Ammons was particularly noted for his collaborations with fellow saxophonists including such big names as Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, Jackie McLean and Dexter Gordon.

Allen cites Ammons as a major influence on his own playing style and “The Gene Ammons Project” grew out of a series of gigs that formed part of the “Late Late Show” series at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London. These ‘themed’ performances paid homage to a number of leading saxophonists but it was Ammons, who had been such a profound influence on him, that Allen decided to run with and base an album around - in the process bringing the music of Ammons to a whole new contemporary audience. I have to admit to knowing precious little about Ammons and his music before that Shrewsbury gig and I was therefore very grateful for the education. I have since acquired a compilation of Ammons’ ballad recordings , “Gentle Jug Vol. 2”, which includes one piece covered by Allen. More on that later.

Like the Shrewsbury performance the “Gene Ammons Project” represents an approximately chronological journey through Ammons’ career. The opener at The Hive was “Please Baby, Won’t You Please Say Yes” which also kicks off the proceedings here. It’s a classic blowing tune that features Allen’s muscular tenor soloing, Stanley’s sparkling piano work and a series of sparky breaks from drummer Home. The recorded version can’t quite match the sheer vitality and physicality of the Shrewsbury performance but it’s still an invigorating start.

The latin-esque “The Breeze And I” was a tune associated with both Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman, a more commercial piece that sees Allen adopting a warmer tone on the tenor but still soloing with his customary fluency. Stanley again shines at the piano as Somogyi and Home provide lightly swinging accompaniment.

Ammons’ own “Ger-ru” swings lazily with Stanley on trilling Fender Rhodes sharing the solos with Allen’s forceful, bluesy tenor and Somogyi’s melodic but resonant bass.

Home’s drums and Somogyi’s double bass introduce the boppish arrangement of “You’re Not The Kind” with Stanley leading off the solos at the piano in a style reminiscent of Bud Powell. 
The excellent Home also features more extensively alongside Allen’s hard edged staccato tenor phrasing.

One of the highlights of the Shrewsbury show was the little known ballad “I Sold My Heart To The Junkman”, a tune that also appears on that “Gentle Jug” compilation. The song was originally recorded by the vocalist Etta Jones, with whom Ammons had worked. Allen’s gorgeously warm, tender tenor balladeering is complemented by Stanley’s lyrical piano and the delicacy of Home’s sympathetic, almost subliminal, brushwork. Smogyi also impresses with a warmly melodic double bass solo. This is jazz ballad playing at its best with Allen’s version comparing very well to Ammons’ original.

Another show-stopper at Shrewsbury was Ammons’ own “Piece To Keep Away Evil Spirits”, a composition dating from 1970. Combining Ammons’ innate love of the blues with aspects of more contemporary developments the tune provides a vehicle for expansive solos from Allen on tenor and Stanley at the piano, each stretching out with power and purpose as Somogyi and Home stoke the rhythmic fires around which they dance.

As mentioned previously Ammons was always receptive to the commercial music of the day and he is considered to be one of the early pioneers of the 70s soul jazz movement. From this era comes an arrangement of the Michael Jackson pop hit “Ben”, you know, the one about the pet rat. Stanley switches to Rhodes as Allen adopts an incisive, soulful, r’n’b sound on tenor.

Dating from 1970 Ammons’ own “The Black Cat” is hard swinging soul jazz with Stanley on the move again, this time to Hammond organ. As one of the first call organists in the country he sounds wonderful at the keyboard as he shares the solos with the soulful honk of Allen’s tenor. Home is also a busy presence as he gets to enjoy a series of brisk drum breaks.

With Stanley on Rhodes “Lucille” continues to find Allen mining the soul jazz seam, but this time in ballad mode. He solos with a majestic fluency as he shares the limelight with Stanley’s keyboard with Home and Somogyi providing subtle rhythmic propulsion.

The album concludes with Stanley returning to the Hammond for a funky, suitably gospel infused arrangement of the song “Son Of A Preacher Man”, once a pop hit for Dusty Springfield. This was another audience favourite at Shrewsbury and the recorded version includes joyous solos from Allan on tenor and Stanley at the Hammond as Somogyi and Home lay down an irresistible groove.

There have been a spate of John Coltrane tributes this year from such popular and influential saxophonists as Denys Baptiste, Tommy Smith and Gilad Atzmon but in many respects Allen’s homage to the lesser known Ammons is ultimately more worthwhile. It brings Ammons’ music to the attention of a new, modern day audience, one that will have less idea of how the music ‘should’ be played. In this regard Allen is less weighed down by the history of the music that he has chosen to acknowledge than Baptiste, Smith or Atzmon, as good as their Trane tributes undoubtedly are.

Allen’s tribute represents a good overview of the often troubled Ammons’ career and in doing so embraces a variety of musical styles, with Stanley providing the appropriate changes of instrumentation. It’s a package that makes for a highly exciting and entertaining live show as well as a satisfying album. The Shrewsbury performance also included a number of items that do not feature, suggesting that Allen may have enough material up his sleeve for a “Volume Two” provided this current offering achieves the success that it deserves. The playing, from an excellent and well balanced quartet, is superb throughout with everybody acquitting themselves well, particularly leader Allen for whom this whole project was so obviously a labour of love.

 

 

The Gene Ammons Project

Brandon Allen Quartet

Monday, October 30, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

The Gene Ammons Project

The playing, from a well balanced quartet, is superb throughout with everybody acquitting themselves well, particularly leader Allen for whom this whole project was so obviously a labour of love.

Brandon Allen

“The Gene Ammons Project”

(RT Jazz Records RTJR001)

Brandon Allen is an Australian born tenor saxophonist who has been based in London for a number of years and who has become a very popular presence on the UK jazz scene, whether leading his own groups or as a prolific and in demand sideman.

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

Currently Allen has a high profile engagement as part of the London based quintet led by the American bassist and composer Kyle Eastwood, a band which also includes Collins on trumpet and flugel, Andrew McCormack on piano and Chris Higginbottom at the drums. This line up appears on Eastwood’s recent release “In Transit” which also features contributions from Italian saxophonist Stefano Di Battista on alto and soprano. I intend to take a look at this recording in due course.

In May 2017 Allen brought his regular working quartet featuring Stanley on both piano and organ, Arnie Somogyi on acoustic and electric bass and Matt Home on drums to The Hive Music & Media Centre in Shrewsbury for a performance promoted by Shrewsbury Jazz Network. This hugely enjoyable gig featured the quartet playing a programme of pieces associated with the late Chicagoan saxophonist Gene Ammons (1925-74).

At that time the music of Allen’s “Gene Ammons Project” was yet to be released and I’m grateful to Brandon for forwarding me a copy of the album, which is a welcome reminder and an excellent souvenir of that much appreciated Shrewsbury show.

In his liner notes Allen talks of his admiration for Ammons’ playing, his sound and phrasing and his obvious love of both melody and the blues. Allen regards Ammons as highly underrated and feels that he has been unfairly overshadowed by contemporaries such as Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray and Sonny Stitt, despite forging a long lasting musical partnership with the latter.

The ten tracks featured on “The Gene Ammons Project” offer a full overview of the saxophonist’s career from 1943-74. Ammons always stayed in touch with the commercial music of his day and in 1950 his version of “My Foolish Heart” registered on Billboard Magazine’s black pop charts. However it may be that Ammons’ commercial success has adversely affected his critical reputation.

Gene Ammons was the son of boogie woogie pianist Albert Ammons (1907 – 49). He grew up to be a tenor sax specialist and in a career stretching through the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s he recorded prolifically in a variety of jazz styles ranging from the swing and bebop of the 40s and 50s to the soul jazz of the 60s and 70s. His career was interrupted by two fairly lengthy jail terms for narcotics offences, a factor that may also account for the fact he never quite acquired the recognition that his undoubted talents deserved.

Ammons first came to public attention as a member of vocalist Billy Eckstine’s band. Apparently it was the singer who bestowed Ammons with the nickname “Jug” when the saxophonist’s band uniform hat didn’t fit – I’d always assumed the nickname came from all the time Ammons spent “In The Jug”. 

Ammons followed his time with Eckstine with a stint in clarinettist Woody Herman’s Second Herd before later embarking on a solo career. Among those he worked with were pianist Mal Waldron and trumpeter Donald Byrd, but Ammons was particularly noted for his collaborations with fellow saxophonists including such big names as Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, Jackie McLean and Dexter Gordon.

Allen cites Ammons as a major influence on his own playing style and “The Gene Ammons Project” grew out of a series of gigs that formed part of the “Late Late Show” series at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London. These ‘themed’ performances paid homage to a number of leading saxophonists but it was Ammons, who had been such a profound influence on him, that Allen decided to run with and base an album around - in the process bringing the music of Ammons to a whole new contemporary audience. I have to admit to knowing precious little about Ammons and his music before that Shrewsbury gig and I was therefore very grateful for the education. I have since acquired a compilation of Ammons’ ballad recordings , “Gentle Jug Vol. 2”, which includes one piece covered by Allen. More on that later.

Like the Shrewsbury performance the “Gene Ammons Project” represents an approximately chronological journey through Ammons’ career. The opener at The Hive was “Please Baby, Won’t You Please Say Yes” which also kicks off the proceedings here. It’s a classic blowing tune that features Allen’s muscular tenor soloing, Stanley’s sparkling piano work and a series of sparky breaks from drummer Home. The recorded version can’t quite match the sheer vitality and physicality of the Shrewsbury performance but it’s still an invigorating start.

The latin-esque “The Breeze And I” was a tune associated with both Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman, a more commercial piece that sees Allen adopting a warmer tone on the tenor but still soloing with his customary fluency. Stanley again shines at the piano as Somogyi and Home provide lightly swinging accompaniment.

Ammons’ own “Ger-ru” swings lazily with Stanley on trilling Fender Rhodes sharing the solos with Allen’s forceful, bluesy tenor and Somogyi’s melodic but resonant bass.

Home’s drums and Somogyi’s double bass introduce the boppish arrangement of “You’re Not The Kind” with Stanley leading off the solos at the piano in a style reminiscent of Bud Powell. 
The excellent Home also features more extensively alongside Allen’s hard edged staccato tenor phrasing.

One of the highlights of the Shrewsbury show was the little known ballad “I Sold My Heart To The Junkman”, a tune that also appears on that “Gentle Jug” compilation. The song was originally recorded by the vocalist Etta Jones, with whom Ammons had worked. Allen’s gorgeously warm, tender tenor balladeering is complemented by Stanley’s lyrical piano and the delicacy of Home’s sympathetic, almost subliminal, brushwork. Smogyi also impresses with a warmly melodic double bass solo. This is jazz ballad playing at its best with Allen’s version comparing very well to Ammons’ original.

Another show-stopper at Shrewsbury was Ammons’ own “Piece To Keep Away Evil Spirits”, a composition dating from 1970. Combining Ammons’ innate love of the blues with aspects of more contemporary developments the tune provides a vehicle for expansive solos from Allen on tenor and Stanley at the piano, each stretching out with power and purpose as Somogyi and Home stoke the rhythmic fires around which they dance.

As mentioned previously Ammons was always receptive to the commercial music of the day and he is considered to be one of the early pioneers of the 70s soul jazz movement. From this era comes an arrangement of the Michael Jackson pop hit “Ben”, you know, the one about the pet rat. Stanley switches to Rhodes as Allen adopts an incisive, soulful, r’n’b sound on tenor.

Dating from 1970 Ammons’ own “The Black Cat” is hard swinging soul jazz with Stanley on the move again, this time to Hammond organ. As one of the first call organists in the country he sounds wonderful at the keyboard as he shares the solos with the soulful honk of Allen’s tenor. Home is also a busy presence as he gets to enjoy a series of brisk drum breaks.

With Stanley on Rhodes “Lucille” continues to find Allen mining the soul jazz seam, but this time in ballad mode. He solos with a majestic fluency as he shares the limelight with Stanley’s keyboard with Home and Somogyi providing subtle rhythmic propulsion.

The album concludes with Stanley returning to the Hammond for a funky, suitably gospel infused arrangement of the song “Son Of A Preacher Man”, once a pop hit for Dusty Springfield. This was another audience favourite at Shrewsbury and the recorded version includes joyous solos from Allan on tenor and Stanley at the Hammond as Somogyi and Home lay down an irresistible groove.

There have been a spate of John Coltrane tributes this year from such popular and influential saxophonists as Denys Baptiste, Tommy Smith and Gilad Atzmon but in many respects Allen’s homage to the lesser known Ammons is ultimately more worthwhile. It brings Ammons’ music to the attention of a new, modern day audience, one that will have less idea of how the music ‘should’ be played. In this regard Allen is less weighed down by the history of the music that he has chosen to acknowledge than Baptiste, Smith or Atzmon, as good as their Trane tributes undoubtedly are.

Allen’s tribute represents a good overview of the often troubled Ammons’ career and in doing so embraces a variety of musical styles, with Stanley providing the appropriate changes of instrumentation. It’s a package that makes for a highly exciting and entertaining live show as well as a satisfying album. The Shrewsbury performance also included a number of items that do not feature, suggesting that Allen may have enough material up his sleeve for a “Volume Two” provided this current offering achieves the success that it deserves. The playing, from an excellent and well balanced quartet, is superb throughout with everybody acquitting themselves well, particularly leader Allen for whom this whole project was so obviously a labour of love.

 

 

Dean Stockdale Trio - Origin Rating: 3-5 out of 5 The original writing is consistently engaging and the playing, by a very well balanced and democratic trio, uniformly excellent. A good calling card for Stockdale's capabilities.

Dean Stockdale Trio

“Origin”

(Self Released)

Originally from the North East of England Dean Stockdale is a pianist, composer and educator now based in the Manchester area. A highly versatile musician he performs in both jazz and classical contexts and also undertakes theatre work.

As a jazz pianist Stockdale cites Oscar Peterson as a key influence and has performed Peterson themed shows. Most of his performances take place in the North of England and he is a musician with a strong regional reputation. Among those with whom he has collaborated are vocalists Zoe Gilby and Ruth Lambert, saxophonists Martin Speake, Tommaso Starace and Dave O’Higgins, trumpeter Noel Dennis and fellow pianist Dave Newton, with whom he has performed in a duo format.

I’m grateful to Dean for forwarding me a review copy of this CD. I suspect that this in the wake of my recent favourable review for the album “The Family Tree” by the bassist on this recording Gavin Barras. My review of “The Family Tree” can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/gavin-barras-the-family-tree/

Joining Stockdale and Barras on “Origin”, which was released earlier in 2017,  is Adam Dawson, a prolific sideman and session musician as both a drummer and percussionist, and the leader of his own jazz quartet, also featuring Stockdale.

Dawson concentrates on kit drums throughout “Origin” which consists of seven original compositions by Stockdale plus arrangements of “Nostalgia In Times Square” by Charles Mingus and “Out Of Nowhere” by Sammy Fain.

It’s the Mingus piece that opens the album, a gently swinging version that emphasises the composer’s gift for melody while allowing Stockdale to stretch out expansively above the subtly propulsive bass and drum grooves generated by Barras and Dawson. Barras also enjoys a brief spell in the limelight with a succinct but resonant bass solo.

Stockdale’s own “Harbour Lights” is an evocative and descriptive composition which emphasises Stockdale’s own melodic gifts. More contemporary and European in feel it’s a charming piece with the focus on beauty and simplicity. It’s a lovely piece that demonstrates Stockdale’s way with a tune and possesses a subtle gospel tinge that is reminiscent of Keith Jarrett at his most accessible.

There’s also a strong sense of place about “New York By Night” which embraces a more urgent, urban vibe while swinging impressively courtesy of Barras’ confident bass walk and Dawson’s clipped, increasingly busy drum grooves. Stockdale stretches out and solos with great fluency, his playing embracing blues and gospel influences with a vague tip of the hat towards Thelonious Monk. Barras weighs in with a muscular but melodic bass solo.

Stockdale’s “Another Time” is a true ballad with the composer’s lush, lyrical pianism underscored by Barras’ languid bass purr and Dawson’s subtly brushed accompaniment. Barras’ double bass solo again emphasises both the melodiousness and resonance of his playing.

Sammy Fain’s “Out Of Nowhere” is bright and playful with Stockdale’s darting phrases shadowed by Dawson’s busily brushed drums and punctuated by Barras’ bass in a captivating series of opening exchanges. Later the piece adopts a fierce swing with Stockdale’s mercurial keyboard runs underscored by rapid bass and busy drums, the cymbals ticking like Swiss clock mechanisms. Barras’ bass assumes the lead for an exuberant solo as Dawson’s brushes chatter around him and the drummer subsequently gets to enjoy his own feature.

There’s no let up in the energy levels on Stockdale’s own “Railtown” which is introduced by the pumping of Barras’ bass and continues full steam ahead as Stockdale and Dawson enter the fray on this highly rhythmic piece. The busy, insistent bass and drums provide the impetus for Stockdale’s lively, leaping, vaulting solo as this most cohesive of trios continues to delight in its joyous music making.

The pot keeps bubbling on Stockdale’s engaging, Monk-like original “Nth Degree”, a piece that demonstrates just how in-sync this well calibrated trio is. Barras and Dawson generate a busy, but highly propulsive, rhythmic drive that fuels Stockdale’s joyous soloing with the bassist stepping forward himself towards the end of the tune.

“Pike’s Place” explores broadly similar territory and is another splendidly swinging piece featuring lively exchanges between piano bass and drums with both Barras and Dawson enjoying substantial individual features.

The album closes on a gentler note with Stockdale’s “Metropoilitan Nocturne”, a brief, lyrical solo piano piece that cools the fires and serves as a reminder of the composer’s classical influences and abilities.

Although arguably a little derivative at times “Origin” is an excellent calling card for Stockdale’s capabilities as both a pianist and a composer. The original writing is consistently engaging and the playing, by a very well balanced and democratic trio, uniformly excellent.

On the evidence of this recording the Stockdale trio is a unit that I’d very much like to see playing live. Unfortunately the pianist rarely seems to venture very far south of the M62, but hopefully this album will bring his music to the attention of a wider, national audience.

 

 

Origin

Dean Stockdale Trio

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Origin

The original writing is consistently engaging and the playing, by a very well balanced and democratic trio, uniformly excellent. A good calling card for Stockdale's capabilities.

Dean Stockdale Trio

“Origin”

(Self Released)

Originally from the North East of England Dean Stockdale is a pianist, composer and educator now based in the Manchester area. A highly versatile musician he performs in both jazz and classical contexts and also undertakes theatre work.

As a jazz pianist Stockdale cites Oscar Peterson as a key influence and has performed Peterson themed shows. Most of his performances take place in the North of England and he is a musician with a strong regional reputation. Among those with whom he has collaborated are vocalists Zoe Gilby and Ruth Lambert, saxophonists Martin Speake, Tommaso Starace and Dave O’Higgins, trumpeter Noel Dennis and fellow pianist Dave Newton, with whom he has performed in a duo format.

I’m grateful to Dean for forwarding me a review copy of this CD. I suspect that this in the wake of my recent favourable review for the album “The Family Tree” by the bassist on this recording Gavin Barras. My review of “The Family Tree” can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/gavin-barras-the-family-tree/

Joining Stockdale and Barras on “Origin”, which was released earlier in 2017,  is Adam Dawson, a prolific sideman and session musician as both a drummer and percussionist, and the leader of his own jazz quartet, also featuring Stockdale.

Dawson concentrates on kit drums throughout “Origin” which consists of seven original compositions by Stockdale plus arrangements of “Nostalgia In Times Square” by Charles Mingus and “Out Of Nowhere” by Sammy Fain.

It’s the Mingus piece that opens the album, a gently swinging version that emphasises the composer’s gift for melody while allowing Stockdale to stretch out expansively above the subtly propulsive bass and drum grooves generated by Barras and Dawson. Barras also enjoys a brief spell in the limelight with a succinct but resonant bass solo.

Stockdale’s own “Harbour Lights” is an evocative and descriptive composition which emphasises Stockdale’s own melodic gifts. More contemporary and European in feel it’s a charming piece with the focus on beauty and simplicity. It’s a lovely piece that demonstrates Stockdale’s way with a tune and possesses a subtle gospel tinge that is reminiscent of Keith Jarrett at his most accessible.

There’s also a strong sense of place about “New York By Night” which embraces a more urgent, urban vibe while swinging impressively courtesy of Barras’ confident bass walk and Dawson’s clipped, increasingly busy drum grooves. Stockdale stretches out and solos with great fluency, his playing embracing blues and gospel influences with a vague tip of the hat towards Thelonious Monk. Barras weighs in with a muscular but melodic bass solo.

Stockdale’s “Another Time” is a true ballad with the composer’s lush, lyrical pianism underscored by Barras’ languid bass purr and Dawson’s subtly brushed accompaniment. Barras’ double bass solo again emphasises both the melodiousness and resonance of his playing.

Sammy Fain’s “Out Of Nowhere” is bright and playful with Stockdale’s darting phrases shadowed by Dawson’s busily brushed drums and punctuated by Barras’ bass in a captivating series of opening exchanges. Later the piece adopts a fierce swing with Stockdale’s mercurial keyboard runs underscored by rapid bass and busy drums, the cymbals ticking like Swiss clock mechanisms. Barras’ bass assumes the lead for an exuberant solo as Dawson’s brushes chatter around him and the drummer subsequently gets to enjoy his own feature.

There’s no let up in the energy levels on Stockdale’s own “Railtown” which is introduced by the pumping of Barras’ bass and continues full steam ahead as Stockdale and Dawson enter the fray on this highly rhythmic piece. The busy, insistent bass and drums provide the impetus for Stockdale’s lively, leaping, vaulting solo as this most cohesive of trios continues to delight in its joyous music making.

The pot keeps bubbling on Stockdale’s engaging, Monk-like original “Nth Degree”, a piece that demonstrates just how in-sync this well calibrated trio is. Barras and Dawson generate a busy, but highly propulsive, rhythmic drive that fuels Stockdale’s joyous soloing with the bassist stepping forward himself towards the end of the tune.

“Pike’s Place” explores broadly similar territory and is another splendidly swinging piece featuring lively exchanges between piano bass and drums with both Barras and Dawson enjoying substantial individual features.

The album closes on a gentler note with Stockdale’s “Metropoilitan Nocturne”, a brief, lyrical solo piano piece that cools the fires and serves as a reminder of the composer’s classical influences and abilities.

Although arguably a little derivative at times “Origin” is an excellent calling card for Stockdale’s capabilities as both a pianist and a composer. The original writing is consistently engaging and the playing, by a very well balanced and democratic trio, uniformly excellent.

On the evidence of this recording the Stockdale trio is a unit that I’d very much like to see playing live. Unfortunately the pianist rarely seems to venture very far south of the M62, but hopefully this album will bring his music to the attention of a wider, national audience.

 

 

Giacomo Smith with the Remi Harris Trio - Giacomo Smith with the Remi Harris Trio, The Hatch, Eardiston, Tenbury Wells, Worcs. 24/10/2017. Rating: 4 out of 5 The sheer skill and vitality of the performances made for a memorable evening of music making that rose above the level of the merely ‘routine’.

Giacomo Smith with the Remi Harris Trio, The Hatch, Eardiston, Tenbury Wells, Worcs. 24/10/2017.

October’s Yardbird Arts event saw guitarist Remi Harris inviting the London based clarinettist Giacomo Smith to The Hatch for an evening of good natured music making.

Born in Italy, raised in upstate New York and now a fully professional jazz musician in the UK Smith is an interesting character with degrees in classical clarinet performance from the North American Universities of Boston and McGill (Montreal). He first moved to the UK to work in Boston University’s London Programmes administrative office but spent his evenings absorbing himself in the London jazz scene, playing with many of the UK’s leading jazz musicians before eventually turning pro in 2013 and concentrating on the music full time.

Smith, who also plays alto and soprano saxophones, is perhaps most closely identified with the eight piece Kansas Smittys House Band, an increasingly popular attraction on the London jazz circuit and who are based at Kansas Smittys Jazz Bar on Broadway Market in Hackney. The band has released studio and live recordings and appeared at many of the UK’s leading venues and festivals.

When in Montreal Smith led the quintet Swing On The Square, a gypsy jazz ensemble featuring his clarinet playing alongside Simon Millert (trumpet), Damien Levasseur and Charles Frechette (guitars) and Conrad Good (double bass). This line up recorded a highly enjoyable eponymous album that Smith is still selling at gigs.

For tonight’s performance Harris had assembled an all star one off line up that included Bristol based guitarist Denny Ilett, a highly experienced and versatile musician who has performed with saxophonists Andy Sheppard, James Morton and Pee Wee Ellis plus the band Moscow Drug Club.

Double bassist Simon Smith, almost certainly no relation, is an experienced jazz and session musician based in the Midlands who has recently performed a number of gigs with Harris in a duo format.

Harris is a musician who just loves to play and tonight’s event had the casual feel of a gypsy jazz session with only the most minimal of amplification being used. Essentially the performance was all acoustic and despite the mist and murkiness of an Autumnal night in England it felt more like sitting around the camp-fire at Samois-sur-Seine at the annual Django Reinhardt Festival.

This was very different to the well choreographed shows given by Harris’ regular working trio featuring rhythm guitarist Caley Groves and double bassist Mike Green. The ad hoc nature of the ensemble made for a much more informal and spontaneous atmosphere with the set list being formulated ‘on the hoof’.

Thus it came as no surprise that the repertoire was mainly comprised of ‘Great American Songbook’ and gypsy jazz standards beginning with Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose” which saw Giacomo Smith leading off the solos followed by Ilett and Simon Smith. After seeing many performances by Harris’ regular trio over the years, where rhythm guitar duties are shouldered exclusively by Groves, it was unusual to see Harris chugging away in a purely supportive role before eventually breaking free to remind us of his formidable abilities as a guitar soloist.

A bright and breezy “Pennies From Heaven” followed with Giacomo Smith stating the theme and the highly accomplished Ilett taking the first solo. Giacomo’s own feature demonstrated a classically honed grace and fluency and he was followed by Harris on guitar and the excellent Simon Smith on double bass. The latter was involved in a series of scintillating exchanges with the twin guitars with Harris making playful use of a finger slide, something that’s also become a feature of his recent trio performances.

Count Basie’s “Topsy” was played in the style of Django Reinhardt with Giacomo Smith stating the theme and taking the first solo, followed first by Harris and then by Ilett, the changeover almost seamless. Simon Smith completed the solos before Giacomo’s blues tinged clarinet restated the theme.

The quartet slowed things down with “Body and Soul”, the jazz ballad made famous by tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. Here the guitar rhythms were languid rather than frenetic as Giacomo stated the theme and soloed elegantly and eloquently. Ilett brought a quiet intensity to his solo and Harris again made imaginative use of the slide before Giacomo Smith signed off with a solo clarinet cadenza.

The quartet signed off the first half with a sizzling romp through Reinhardt’s “Festival 48”  - “a tune we all know - vaguely” quipped Harris. Played at a breakneck pace the piece featured dazzling, quote filled solos from Giacomo Smith, Harris and Ilett plus a series of sparkling clarinet and guitar exchanges. This was an invigorating, high energy way to end an excellent, and highly enjoyable, first set.

Giacomo Smith had travelled up from London specifically to play this gig and was due to return via the train from Foregate Street, Worcester later that evening so the event had started bang on time at 7.30 and the interval was kept fairly brief – still time for us to refill our glasses and for the raffle to be conducted though!

The second half kicked off with an imaginative arrangement of “The Way You Look Tonight” with Giacomo Smith stating the theme and taking the first solo followed by Harris and Ilett. After a brief solo bass cameo Simon Smith engaged in a series of absorbing exchanges with his namesake Giacomo. It must be the first time I’ve heard the Smiths without Morrissey!

Giacomo called the tune “When Your Love Has Gone” , a showcase for his clarinet playing which expertly combined the rawness of the blues with the purity and fluency of a classically schooled technique as he shared the solos with Ilett and signed the piece off with another stunning clarinet cadenza.

Django Reinhardt’s “Minor Blues” saw the quartet continuing to run with the blues theme with Harris leading off the solos followed by Giacomo on clarinet and Simon on double bass. It’s those Smiths again.

“Tea For Two” was served as a perky, cheeky cha cha cha with Ilett setting the pace and sharing the solos with Giacomo.

All too soon it was time for the final number of the night with announcer Harris describing Django Reinhardt’s “Daphne” as “a classic gypsy jazz jam session tune” before adding “it’s about a ‘lady of the night’”. The quartet fairly romped through this with Giacomo Smith dazzling with his opening theme statement and subsequent solos before the twin guitarists conducted their own duel, trying to out-quote each other, something that had been going on intermittently all evening. Finally it was time for the Smiths to enjoy a final series of clarinet and bass exchanges.

The railway timetable prevented any chance of a deserved encore after the quartet’s performance elicited one of the most positive and enthusiastic audience reactions that I’ve seen at The Hatch. As Remi and Giacomo headed off to Worcester station we were left to ponder on of the earliest finishes for a jazz gig that I’ve been to for a long time.

Nevertheless the prompt start and the shortened interval still meant that we’d enjoyed plenty of top quality music for our money. The programme may have been relatively predictable but there were some interesting and imaginative arrangements and the playing itself was exceptional, despite the informality of the occasion. The shared language of jazz brought these four excellent musicians together and a genuine rapport was quickly established between them with the sheer skill and vitality of the performances making for a memorable evening of music that rose above the level of the merely ‘routine’.

Giacomo Smith with the Remi Harris Trio, The Hatch, Eardiston, Tenbury Wells, Worcs. 24/10/2017.

Giacomo Smith with the Remi Harris Trio

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Giacomo Smith with the Remi Harris Trio, The Hatch, Eardiston, Tenbury Wells, Worcs. 24/10/2017.

The sheer skill and vitality of the performances made for a memorable evening of music making that rose above the level of the merely ‘routine’.

Giacomo Smith with the Remi Harris Trio, The Hatch, Eardiston, Tenbury Wells, Worcs. 24/10/2017.

October’s Yardbird Arts event saw guitarist Remi Harris inviting the London based clarinettist Giacomo Smith to The Hatch for an evening of good natured music making.

Born in Italy, raised in upstate New York and now a fully professional jazz musician in the UK Smith is an interesting character with degrees in classical clarinet performance from the North American Universities of Boston and McGill (Montreal). He first moved to the UK to work in Boston University’s London Programmes administrative office but spent his evenings absorbing himself in the London jazz scene, playing with many of the UK’s leading jazz musicians before eventually turning pro in 2013 and concentrating on the music full time.

Smith, who also plays alto and soprano saxophones, is perhaps most closely identified with the eight piece Kansas Smittys House Band, an increasingly popular attraction on the London jazz circuit and who are based at Kansas Smittys Jazz Bar on Broadway Market in Hackney. The band has released studio and live recordings and appeared at many of the UK’s leading venues and festivals.

When in Montreal Smith led the quintet Swing On The Square, a gypsy jazz ensemble featuring his clarinet playing alongside Simon Millert (trumpet), Damien Levasseur and Charles Frechette (guitars) and Conrad Good (double bass). This line up recorded a highly enjoyable eponymous album that Smith is still selling at gigs.

For tonight’s performance Harris had assembled an all star one off line up that included Bristol based guitarist Denny Ilett, a highly experienced and versatile musician who has performed with saxophonists Andy Sheppard, James Morton and Pee Wee Ellis plus the band Moscow Drug Club.

Double bassist Simon Smith, almost certainly no relation, is an experienced jazz and session musician based in the Midlands who has recently performed a number of gigs with Harris in a duo format.

Harris is a musician who just loves to play and tonight’s event had the casual feel of a gypsy jazz session with only the most minimal of amplification being used. Essentially the performance was all acoustic and despite the mist and murkiness of an Autumnal night in England it felt more like sitting around the camp-fire at Samois-sur-Seine at the annual Django Reinhardt Festival.

This was very different to the well choreographed shows given by Harris’ regular working trio featuring rhythm guitarist Caley Groves and double bassist Mike Green. The ad hoc nature of the ensemble made for a much more informal and spontaneous atmosphere with the set list being formulated ‘on the hoof’.

Thus it came as no surprise that the repertoire was mainly comprised of ‘Great American Songbook’ and gypsy jazz standards beginning with Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose” which saw Giacomo Smith leading off the solos followed by Ilett and Simon Smith. After seeing many performances by Harris’ regular trio over the years, where rhythm guitar duties are shouldered exclusively by Groves, it was unusual to see Harris chugging away in a purely supportive role before eventually breaking free to remind us of his formidable abilities as a guitar soloist.

A bright and breezy “Pennies From Heaven” followed with Giacomo Smith stating the theme and the highly accomplished Ilett taking the first solo. Giacomo’s own feature demonstrated a classically honed grace and fluency and he was followed by Harris on guitar and the excellent Simon Smith on double bass. The latter was involved in a series of scintillating exchanges with the twin guitars with Harris making playful use of a finger slide, something that’s also become a feature of his recent trio performances.

Count Basie’s “Topsy” was played in the style of Django Reinhardt with Giacomo Smith stating the theme and taking the first solo, followed first by Harris and then by Ilett, the changeover almost seamless. Simon Smith completed the solos before Giacomo’s blues tinged clarinet restated the theme.

The quartet slowed things down with “Body and Soul”, the jazz ballad made famous by tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. Here the guitar rhythms were languid rather than frenetic as Giacomo stated the theme and soloed elegantly and eloquently. Ilett brought a quiet intensity to his solo and Harris again made imaginative use of the slide before Giacomo Smith signed off with a solo clarinet cadenza.

The quartet signed off the first half with a sizzling romp through Reinhardt’s “Festival 48”  - “a tune we all know - vaguely” quipped Harris. Played at a breakneck pace the piece featured dazzling, quote filled solos from Giacomo Smith, Harris and Ilett plus a series of sparkling clarinet and guitar exchanges. This was an invigorating, high energy way to end an excellent, and highly enjoyable, first set.

Giacomo Smith had travelled up from London specifically to play this gig and was due to return via the train from Foregate Street, Worcester later that evening so the event had started bang on time at 7.30 and the interval was kept fairly brief – still time for us to refill our glasses and for the raffle to be conducted though!

The second half kicked off with an imaginative arrangement of “The Way You Look Tonight” with Giacomo Smith stating the theme and taking the first solo followed by Harris and Ilett. After a brief solo bass cameo Simon Smith engaged in a series of absorbing exchanges with his namesake Giacomo. It must be the first time I’ve heard the Smiths without Morrissey!

Giacomo called the tune “When Your Love Has Gone” , a showcase for his clarinet playing which expertly combined the rawness of the blues with the purity and fluency of a classically schooled technique as he shared the solos with Ilett and signed the piece off with another stunning clarinet cadenza.

Django Reinhardt’s “Minor Blues” saw the quartet continuing to run with the blues theme with Harris leading off the solos followed by Giacomo on clarinet and Simon on double bass. It’s those Smiths again.

“Tea For Two” was served as a perky, cheeky cha cha cha with Ilett setting the pace and sharing the solos with Giacomo.

All too soon it was time for the final number of the night with announcer Harris describing Django Reinhardt’s “Daphne” as “a classic gypsy jazz jam session tune” before adding “it’s about a ‘lady of the night’”. The quartet fairly romped through this with Giacomo Smith dazzling with his opening theme statement and subsequent solos before the twin guitarists conducted their own duel, trying to out-quote each other, something that had been going on intermittently all evening. Finally it was time for the Smiths to enjoy a final series of clarinet and bass exchanges.

The railway timetable prevented any chance of a deserved encore after the quartet’s performance elicited one of the most positive and enthusiastic audience reactions that I’ve seen at The Hatch. As Remi and Giacomo headed off to Worcester station we were left to ponder on of the earliest finishes for a jazz gig that I’ve been to for a long time.

Nevertheless the prompt start and the shortened interval still meant that we’d enjoyed plenty of top quality music for our money. The programme may have been relatively predictable but there were some interesting and imaginative arrangements and the playing itself was exceptional, despite the informality of the occasion. The shared language of jazz brought these four excellent musicians together and a genuine rapport was quickly established between them with the sheer skill and vitality of the performances making for a memorable evening of music that rose above the level of the merely ‘routine’.

Eyebrow - Strata Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Evocative music with a strongly atmospheric and highly cinematic quality. Their use of electronic effects is both subtle and inventive.

Eyebrow

“Strata”

(Eyebrow Music EMB05)

Eyebrow is a Bristol based duo featuring trumpeter Pete Judge and drummer Paul Wigens.
Formed in 2009 theirs has been a particularly productive alliance with the recently released “Strata” representing their fifth album, following in the wake of “Desire Lines” (2009), “Elemental” (2010), “Still and Still Moving” (2012) and the acclaimed “Garden City” (2014).

I was forwarded a copy of this latest recording by Judge after we met at a recent performance by the Bristolian quintet Dakhla Brass, of which the trumpeter is a member. However Judge is probably best known as one quarter of the cult Bristol band Get The Blessing, a group with national reputation and, in jazz terms at least, a large following. He is also a member of the multi-instrumental trio Three Cane Whale and a prolific session and studio musician who has worked with Noel Gallagher, Super Furry Animals and the folk artist Jim Moray among others.

Wigens is a similarly versatile musician with a busy session career whose credits include work with The Blue Aeroplanes and with former Can vocalist Damo Suzuki among numerous others. He has also acted as a ‘dep’ for regular drummer Clive Deamer in Get The Blessing.

Eyebrow’s music is rather more varied and substantial than the basic instrumentation of trumpet and drums might suggest.  Both of its members are adept at incorporating electronics into their music making and on “Strata” Wigens is also credited with playing violin and bowed guitar. Much of their music is richly atmospheric, ambient even, and suggests the influence of Nordic trumpeters/soundscapers Arve Henriksen and Nils Petter Molvaer.

But Eyebrow’s sound is far from bloodless, some of the more vibrant, rhythmically based pieces have something of the energy, snap and clatter of Judge’s other band, Get The Blessing, and his inventive use of electronics is also reminiscent of his sonic experimentations as part of GTB.

Eyebrow’s music has a strong cinematic quality about it and the duo have worked extensively, both together and as individuals, with a wide range of film makers, choreographers and theatre groups.

The music of Judge and Wigens is rooted in improvisation with the duo later re-assembling their spontaneous musical exchanges into more structured pieces with a strong narrative arc and a cinematic feel.

Opener “Gravity Waves” commences with eerie, atmospheric sounds that feel as if they’re coming from deep space with looped shimmers sounding like they may have been initially generated by violin or bowed guitar. Judge’s solemn, breathy, slow motion trumpet brings a humanising element to the proceedings that also suggests the influence of yet another Norwegian, the extraordinary tuba player and composer Daniel Herskedal. The trumpeter also makes effective use of loops and other electronics on a piece that depicts Eyebrow at their most ambient and atmospheric.

The lengthy “Anthracite”, the first of several pieces with a geologically themed title, is altogether more rhythmic as Wigens sets up an implacable, motorik style groove as the backdrop for Judge’s warm and melodic trumpet extemporisations. There’s still an ambient, spacey feel about the music as the duo again make effective use of electronica, giving the piece a Blade Runner like atmosphere that becomes increasingly unsettling as the music progresses.

“Soapstone” recalls electric era Miles Davis filtered through more modern influences including Henriksen, Molvaer and Christian Scott as Wigens’ percussion provides a varying rhythmic backdrop, often drawing upon the patterns of contemporary electronica and dance music. Again there’s a very filmic quality about the music.

“Overpass” commences with eerie, echoed trumpet which continues to whisper and gently reverberate above Wigens’ imaginative brushed drum patterns as the percussionist delivers some of his most obviously jazz influenced playing of the set.

Guest guitarist Chris Vine provides additional texture on “Scree”, which is paced by Wigens’ skittering but insistent grooves, these providing the impetus for Judge’s vocalised trumpet explorations and ambient electronica.

The duo embrace electronica full on with the intro to “Tormentil” with its threatening washes of processed sound and clattering quasi-industrial drum grooves. Again it’s the melancholic ring of Judge’s trumpet that provides the vital humanising element on a piece that is perhaps most reminiscent of his work with Get The Blessing.

“Lunar Friction” begins with a trumpet chorale, subsequently accompanied by the rustle of percussion. As the piece develops it metamorphoses into something more closely resembling old school free jazz and is the most obviously ‘improvised’ piece on the record thus far - albeit with a modern edge thanks to the looped trumpet phrase that runs throughout the piece, providing the anchor as Wigens roams his kit with great energy and vigour.

“Sediment” also tips it hat to free jazz but this time in a more ambient and atmospheric manner with electronics playing a prominent role in the improvisatory process. This eerily atmospheric piece features the whisper of vocalised trumpet, the sound of cymbal scrapes and the rustle of other percussion plus the gentle but unsettling sound of bow on violin, all this underpinned by an ambient electronic drone. Eventually Wigens picks up his sticks to provide an insistent, odd meter percussive groove that provides the impetus for Judge’s trumpet incantations. Eventually the piece resolves itself by returning to a rhythm-less ambient electronic drone.

The album concludes with “Overpass Coda”, a brief but more ambient reprise of the earlier track.

“Strata” represents an impressive statement from Judge and Wigens. Its synthesis of jazz and electronica won’t suit everybody’s ears but, for me, this is evocative music with a strongly atmospheric and highly cinematic quality. One can quite easily imagine these pieces providing the soundtrack for an appropriately noirish film.

Although rooted in collective improvisation the individual pieces, and the album as a whole, have been assembled with great care, suggesting that the duo are their own best editors. The variety of sounds that they manage to generate from their two core instruments is impressive and their use of electronic effects is both subtle and inventive. One senses that it would be a very rewarding experience to see Eyebrow performing their music in a live setting where their imaginative and colourful use of electronics could be witnessed first hand. I’d also like to hear some of the album tracks being played on BBC Radio 3’s “Late Junction” programme, for which they’d be a perfect fit.

I’m indebted to Pete Judge for also providing me with a copy of the earlier “Garden City” which exhibits very similar virtues and includes guest contributions from Get The Blessing’s Jim Barr on both guitar and bass.

All of Eyebrow’s albums can be purchased at;
https://eyebrow.bandcamp.com/

Strata

Eyebrow

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Strata

Evocative music with a strongly atmospheric and highly cinematic quality. Their use of electronic effects is both subtle and inventive.

Eyebrow

“Strata”

(Eyebrow Music EMB05)

Eyebrow is a Bristol based duo featuring trumpeter Pete Judge and drummer Paul Wigens.
Formed in 2009 theirs has been a particularly productive alliance with the recently released “Strata” representing their fifth album, following in the wake of “Desire Lines” (2009), “Elemental” (2010), “Still and Still Moving” (2012) and the acclaimed “Garden City” (2014).

I was forwarded a copy of this latest recording by Judge after we met at a recent performance by the Bristolian quintet Dakhla Brass, of which the trumpeter is a member. However Judge is probably best known as one quarter of the cult Bristol band Get The Blessing, a group with national reputation and, in jazz terms at least, a large following. He is also a member of the multi-instrumental trio Three Cane Whale and a prolific session and studio musician who has worked with Noel Gallagher, Super Furry Animals and the folk artist Jim Moray among others.

Wigens is a similarly versatile musician with a busy session career whose credits include work with The Blue Aeroplanes and with former Can vocalist Damo Suzuki among numerous others. He has also acted as a ‘dep’ for regular drummer Clive Deamer in Get The Blessing.

Eyebrow’s music is rather more varied and substantial than the basic instrumentation of trumpet and drums might suggest.  Both of its members are adept at incorporating electronics into their music making and on “Strata” Wigens is also credited with playing violin and bowed guitar. Much of their music is richly atmospheric, ambient even, and suggests the influence of Nordic trumpeters/soundscapers Arve Henriksen and Nils Petter Molvaer.

But Eyebrow’s sound is far from bloodless, some of the more vibrant, rhythmically based pieces have something of the energy, snap and clatter of Judge’s other band, Get The Blessing, and his inventive use of electronics is also reminiscent of his sonic experimentations as part of GTB.

Eyebrow’s music has a strong cinematic quality about it and the duo have worked extensively, both together and as individuals, with a wide range of film makers, choreographers and theatre groups.

The music of Judge and Wigens is rooted in improvisation with the duo later re-assembling their spontaneous musical exchanges into more structured pieces with a strong narrative arc and a cinematic feel.

Opener “Gravity Waves” commences with eerie, atmospheric sounds that feel as if they’re coming from deep space with looped shimmers sounding like they may have been initially generated by violin or bowed guitar. Judge’s solemn, breathy, slow motion trumpet brings a humanising element to the proceedings that also suggests the influence of yet another Norwegian, the extraordinary tuba player and composer Daniel Herskedal. The trumpeter also makes effective use of loops and other electronics on a piece that depicts Eyebrow at their most ambient and atmospheric.

The lengthy “Anthracite”, the first of several pieces with a geologically themed title, is altogether more rhythmic as Wigens sets up an implacable, motorik style groove as the backdrop for Judge’s warm and melodic trumpet extemporisations. There’s still an ambient, spacey feel about the music as the duo again make effective use of electronica, giving the piece a Blade Runner like atmosphere that becomes increasingly unsettling as the music progresses.

“Soapstone” recalls electric era Miles Davis filtered through more modern influences including Henriksen, Molvaer and Christian Scott as Wigens’ percussion provides a varying rhythmic backdrop, often drawing upon the patterns of contemporary electronica and dance music. Again there’s a very filmic quality about the music.

“Overpass” commences with eerie, echoed trumpet which continues to whisper and gently reverberate above Wigens’ imaginative brushed drum patterns as the percussionist delivers some of his most obviously jazz influenced playing of the set.

Guest guitarist Chris Vine provides additional texture on “Scree”, which is paced by Wigens’ skittering but insistent grooves, these providing the impetus for Judge’s vocalised trumpet explorations and ambient electronica.

The duo embrace electronica full on with the intro to “Tormentil” with its threatening washes of processed sound and clattering quasi-industrial drum grooves. Again it’s the melancholic ring of Judge’s trumpet that provides the vital humanising element on a piece that is perhaps most reminiscent of his work with Get The Blessing.

“Lunar Friction” begins with a trumpet chorale, subsequently accompanied by the rustle of percussion. As the piece develops it metamorphoses into something more closely resembling old school free jazz and is the most obviously ‘improvised’ piece on the record thus far - albeit with a modern edge thanks to the looped trumpet phrase that runs throughout the piece, providing the anchor as Wigens roams his kit with great energy and vigour.

“Sediment” also tips it hat to free jazz but this time in a more ambient and atmospheric manner with electronics playing a prominent role in the improvisatory process. This eerily atmospheric piece features the whisper of vocalised trumpet, the sound of cymbal scrapes and the rustle of other percussion plus the gentle but unsettling sound of bow on violin, all this underpinned by an ambient electronic drone. Eventually Wigens picks up his sticks to provide an insistent, odd meter percussive groove that provides the impetus for Judge’s trumpet incantations. Eventually the piece resolves itself by returning to a rhythm-less ambient electronic drone.

The album concludes with “Overpass Coda”, a brief but more ambient reprise of the earlier track.

“Strata” represents an impressive statement from Judge and Wigens. Its synthesis of jazz and electronica won’t suit everybody’s ears but, for me, this is evocative music with a strongly atmospheric and highly cinematic quality. One can quite easily imagine these pieces providing the soundtrack for an appropriately noirish film.

Although rooted in collective improvisation the individual pieces, and the album as a whole, have been assembled with great care, suggesting that the duo are their own best editors. The variety of sounds that they manage to generate from their two core instruments is impressive and their use of electronic effects is both subtle and inventive. One senses that it would be a very rewarding experience to see Eyebrow performing their music in a live setting where their imaginative and colourful use of electronics could be witnessed first hand. I’d also like to hear some of the album tracks being played on BBC Radio 3’s “Late Junction” programme, for which they’d be a perfect fit.

I’m indebted to Pete Judge for also providing me with a copy of the earlier “Garden City” which exhibits very similar virtues and includes guest contributions from Get The Blessing’s Jim Barr on both guitar and bass.

All of Eyebrow’s albums can be purchased at;
https://eyebrow.bandcamp.com/

Deborah Rose & Mari Randle - Deborah Rose & Mari Randle & Friends, Charity Concert, Artrix Theatre, Bromsgrove, Worcs. 19/10/2017 Rating: 3-5 out of 5 A varied and highly enjoyable evening of music making in support of a very good cause

Deborah Rose / Mari Randle and Friends, Charity Concert in aid of Planting For Hope Uganda, Artrix Theatre, Bromsgrove, Worcs. 19/10/2017.

Welsh born, Worcestershire based singer, guitarist and songwriter Deborah Rose has been a frequent presence on the Jazzmann web pages for a number of years, sometimes under her previous name of Deborah Hodgson. Blessed with a stunningly pure voice and an innate musicality her love of words, song and singing has found her exploring the worlds of folk, jazz and Americana with a variety of collaborators including local gypsy jazz guitar wizard Remi Harris.

Following a number of self produced EPs Rose released her first full length album, “Song Be My Soul”, in early 2014, a charming collection of self penned songs combined with settings of the words of poets and authors such as Tennyson, Shakespeare, Dickens, Blake and Christina Rossetti.

The follow up, “Wilde Wood” was very different as Rose abandoned her literary leanings to explore the world of Celtic folk music in the company of locally based musicians from two different groups, The O’ Farrells Frolicks and Grey Wolf.

The O’ Farrells are an all female family folk group based in Bewdley, Worcestershire with mother and multi instrumentalist Lindsay Farrell (whistles, bodhran, fiddle, accordion) joined by her three talented daughters Mari Randle (guitar, vocals), Hetty Randle (banjelele, ukelele) and Lucy Randle (melodeon, concertina). The family’s roots in Co. Cork are reflected in their love of Irish traditional music and the quartet play regular gigs and sessions in the pubs of Worcestershire and the West Midlands. But the Randle sisters are more than just friendly folkies, Mari (guitar, vocals) and Hetty are also part of the alternative rock trio Vault Of Eagles where Hetty plays electric bass alongside powerhouse drummer Scott Ewings .The music is loud, grungy and heavy and the trio have built up a considerable following.

The recording of “Wild Wood” helped to establish a firm friendship and burgeoning song writing partnership between Rose and Mari Randle. Over the course of the past two years the intrepid pair have travelled widely, back-packing in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the US and Uganda, performing gigs and writing songs about their experiences along the way. They have already issued a demo EP and have recorded a full length album which is due for release in the near future.

Tonight’s concert was a fund-raiser for the Midlands based charity Planting For Hope Uganda, established by retired teacher Kate Oakley who told the audience something about the charity’s work prior to introducing the performers. Rose has been involved with the charity for five years and has visited Uganda twice, the second time with Randle which saw the duo performing a concert for the local community.

Planting For Hope was established specifically to help the remote village of Kititi in South East Uganda. Oakley co-ordinates the charity in the UK with Apollo Seku, a graduate of Makrere University, acting as the project leader in Uganda. The charity describes its vision thus;
“To empower the community of Kititi by working with them to develop a self-supporting and sustainable future. We are committed to improve diet and clean water, education and job opportunities, health care, housing and sanitation, sustainable farming projects, electricity, and supporting the elderly.”

Further information on the work of Planting For Hope Uganda can be found on the charity’s website
http://www.plantingforhopeuganda.com

For tonight’s special fund raising concert, billed as “An Evening Of Inspirational Music” Rose and Randle had gathered their musical friends from near and far with the Senegalese kora player Kadialy Kouyate opening the proceedings before handing over to the Birmingham based duo of Sid Peacock and Ruth Angell. We also heard from pianist Martin Riley and pianist/vocalist Louise Watkins, Rose’s sister.

The second half of the show saw Rose and Randle joined by their “Floating Band” of musical collaborators, with nine musicians on stage at one point.

KADIALY KOUYATE

The evening commenced with the West African sounds of kora player and vocalist Kadialy Kouyate. Born into a long line of griots in Southern Senegal Kouyate is now based in Britain and is a busy musician on the UK’s world music circuit. He previously appeared on the Jazzmann web pages back in 2008 when he performed on Brazilian percussionist/vocalist Adriano Adewale’s excellent “Sementes” album.

Kouyate described the kora as “A West African harp lute made from calabash gourd and calf skin”. He proceeded to demonstrate his virtuosity on the 22 stringed instrument over a series of four pieces, including three songs featuring his gentle, soulful vocals plus a closing instrumental.

Singing in what sounded to be a mix of French and Senegalese dialect Kouyate’s first song “Samah”, saluted the coming of the rains, an event to celebrate in West Africa where rainfall brings with it the prospect of work and prosperity.

The second song, with a title translating as “Welcome Hope” seemed to be a particularly apposite choice for this evening while the softer “True Love” was a tender love song.

The closing instrumental was a good showcase for Kouyate’s technical prowess on the kora as he played melody and bass lines simultaneously and was a homage to the animal spirits that protect the villages of Southern Senegal.

PEACOCK ANGELL

The duo Peacock Angell features life partners Sid Peacock (guitar, vocals) and Ruth Angell (violin, vocals, guitar).

Originally from Bangor in Northern Ireland but long based in Birmingham Peacock has previously featured on the Jazzmann web pages leading his jazz big band Surge Orchestra, a sprawling ensemble embracing elements of jazz, contemporary classical music and poetry and in which Angell plays violin. In April 2017 Peacock co-ordinated the successful ‘Surge In Spring’ festival at the Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham.

Besides her work with Surge Orchestra Angell is also an acclaimed performer on the UK folk scene and has performed with Jamie Smith’s Mabon, Ashley Hutchings’ Rainbow Chasers, The Larkrise Band and the all female quartet The Froe among others. However her main creative outlet appears to be the Peacock Angell duo which features original songs from both protagonists, many of them autobiographical.

Angell shares Deborah Rose’s love of poetry and literature and the pair first met in 2009 when both were performing at Tennyson’s former home at Faringford on the Isle Of Wight in a celebration of the bicentenary of the poet’s birth. She has since performed at other events co-ordinated by Rose, the latter also being a great organiser as well as a highly accomplished singer, musician and songwriter.

Tonight Peacock Angell began with Angell’s “Castle On The Hill”, a song of childhood nostalgia and of the composers yearning to return to the Peak District countryside of her youth. With Angell on acoustic guitar and vocals the evocative and descriptive lyrics spoke of a genuine love of nature as Peacock’s pedal generated electric guitar effects added to the general air of wistfulness.

Peacock’s own “Big City” saw him switching to acoustic guitar as Angell moved to violin for the rather more earthy tale of Peacock’s first experiences of England as a teenage squat dweller in London.

Angell’s “The Boat House”, dedicated to the couple’s young son Elvin, was a more contemporary tale of family life with the composer on acoustic guitar and vocals as Peacock reverted to electric. That love of nature and sense of place was there again in a highly personalised tale variously set in Gran Canaria and Northern Ireland.

Again inspired by personal experiences Peacock’s instrumental “Malahide”, named for a coastal town just north of Dublin incorporated elements of Irish traditional music with Angell’s swirling violin lines underpinned by the composer’s intensely rhythmic acoustic guitar as the duo endeavoured to express the beauty and danger of a rough sea.

Finally we heard Peacock’s “Hope For The Young”, a song written in the 1990s around the time of the ceasefire in Northern Ireland but still a piece with a considerable contemporary relevance. Here both performers played acoustic guitars with Peacock’s lead vocal cushioned by Angell’s pure harmonies.

This was an intelligent, personal and often highly beautiful set from two highly accomplished and socially aware performers.

MARTIN RILEY

Pianist Martin Riley has been a long term associate of Deborah Rose and co-wrote several songs on the “Song Be My Soul” album where he also played piano and formulated the string arrangements.

Tonight he made use of the Artrix’s Steinway grand to perform a world première of his solo piano piece “Into The Light”, an impressive work in its own right but with a song like construction that suggested the possible addition of a Deborah Rose lyric at some point in the future.

LOUISE WATKINS

Riley now introduced Louise Watkins, Deborah Rose’s sister, who took over at the piano to close the first half with her interpretation of the song “We Are Water” from the “Nashville” television series.Unfortunately an otherwise good performance, featuring a pure but soulful vocal, was hampered by technical issues with the vocal mic.

DEBORAH ROSE and MARI RANDLE and THE FLOATING BAND

The second half of tonight’s concert was given over to Rose and Randle who initially took to the stage to perform three songs as a duo before bringing on the other members of their “Floating Band”. Rose had been suffering from symptoms of laryngitis and wasn’t sure if her voice would hold out, but hold out it did over the course of a long, value for money set that touched many musical bases.

The duo commenced with Rose singing the lead vocal on the Scottish folk staple “The Skye Boat Song” with Randle providing acoustic guitar and harmonies as Rose ‘s well enunciated vocal brought out the full darkness of the lyrics.

“Crossing The Bar” was the duo’s atmospheric setting of a Tennyson poem that they first performed at Faringford. Scheduled to appear on the forthcoming album it also appears on the promo EP and here featured their lush harmonies, later joined by the sound of Randle’s acoustic guitar.

Next came “Hands”, composed by the American singer-songwriter Jewel Kilcher, a song that has been in the duo’s repertoire for some time and which again showed off their sublime vocal harmonising with Rose taking the lead. Rose has cited Kilcher, who performs under the single word moniker ‘Jewel’ as an important influence on her own music making.

During their travels Rose and Randle have always encouraged other musicians to perform with them, dubbing the various ad hoc aggregations the “Floating Band”. Tonight’s “FB” was probably the biggest yet with no fewer than six musicians coming to the stage to create an octet as the co-leaders were joined by Peacock on electric guitar, Angell on violin and backing vocals, Riley at the piano, Matt Worley on acoustic guitars, mandolin and bouzouki, Dave Small on cajon,djembe and percussion and Lindsay O’Farrell (Randle’s mother) on whistle, accordion and bodhran. It was the first time that this particular combination of musicians had actually performed together.

O’Farrell’s whistle and Angell’s violin featured prominently on “The Foggy Dew”, a song about the 1916 Dublin uprising that featured on Rose’s “Wilde Wood” with Rose handling the lead vocal and Small’s percussion creating an additional rhythmic drive.

Among the countries visited by Rose and Randle is Norway, this trip providing the inspiration for the jointly written song “Queens of Asa”, a song about two Viking queens who were buried in longboats along with their treasures , among them jewellery and musical instruments. The rousing “row the boat” choruses were augmented by instrumental solos from Angell on violin and Peacock on electric guitar.

“My Love Loves Me” found Rose deploying both French and English lyrics as she took on acoustic guitar duties and harmonised with Randle on an arrangement that also included significant contributions from Riley on piano and Angell on violin.

Randle took over the lead vocal for the traditional Irish song “Spancehill Hill” with O’Farrell’s accordion and Angell’s violin giving a suitably authentic feel to the arrangement. Worley’s mandolin then gave an R.E.M . like feel to Rose’s confessional “Truth Of The Matter”.

Rose’s admiration for the work of the late Eva Cassidy is no secret and it was Cassidy’s version that provided the inspiration for an arrangement of the Fleetwood Mac song “Songbird”, written by Christine McVie. This featured Rose on lead vocal and acoustic guitar with Randle adding suitably lush harmonies. Angell’s violin solo added an unexpected twist to the arrangement and she was well served by Worley’s acoustic guitar embellishments.

“Cherry Thief”, with lyrics by Mari Randle,  had a timeless feel about it and sounded as if it had been in the traditional folk repertoire for centuries. One wonders whether it was partly inspired by the William Morris artwork “The Strawberry Thief”.

The Floating Band took a breather as Rose and Randle performed the latter’s “Linden Tree” as a duo, a simple but beautiful song musing on childhood nostalgia and the immutable passage of time. The pair shared the lead vocal on a song exploring similar themes to Sandy Denny’s classic “Who Knows Where The Time Goes? and possessed of a similar haunting beauty. The line “one day like the leaves we’ll fall” seemed to convey similar sentiments.

Rose informed the audience that her late uncle Mostyn had lived and worked in Uganda, in an area not far from Kititi, and had left a journal of his time there. This was something that encouraged Rose to become involved in the Planting For Hope project. The visit that Rose and Randle made to Uganda encouraged them to perform a song in the local language, the title translating as “Peace and Love” and written by local singer Titie Tabel, with whom they performed in Africa. The duo performed the song here with accomplished linguist Randle impressively handling the lead vocal – without the aid of a crib sheet!

The duo’s concert in Uganda also included Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Circling Together” which the pair taught to the local children. That sense of community was embodied here with the octet joined by Kouyate who added the sound of the kora to the ‘Floating Band’.

Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” was already known in Africa and was another sing-along at the Ugandan concert. Rose, on acoustic guitar and lead vocal, encouraged the Bromsgrove audience to become similarly involved.

Rose’s original song “Taigh Alainn”, the title meaning “House Beautiful” in Scots Gaelic, is one of her most beautiful and enduring pieces and has featured at every show I have seen her play. Tonight’s version was particularly beautiful with Kouyate’s kora added to an arrangement featuring co-writer Riley on piano plus Worley on acoustic guitar.

The evening closed with Bob Dylan’s “One More Cup Of Coffee” performed by a quintet featuring Rose and Randle plus Riley and Worley and percussionist Small, whose subtle rhythmic promptings had been a key part of the music throughout the evening. As the co-leaders shared the vocals instrumental solos came from Riley on piano and Worley on Spanish style acoustic guitar.

So ended a varied and highly enjoyable evening of music making in support of a very good cause with all of the musicians freely donating their time and skill. At £15.00 per head tickets represented extremely good value for nearly three hours worth of music. Ticket sales were augmented by the sale of African craft items in the foyer but at the time of writing I’ve been unable to ascertain exactly how much the evening raised for Planting For Hope Uganda. A great effort, nevertheless, congratulations to all involved.

P.S. Deborah has informed me that the evening raised a total of £700.15, which will go directly to Planting For Hope Uganda.
Well done, everybody!

Deborah Rose & Mari Randle & Friends, Charity Concert, Artrix Theatre, Bromsgrove, Worcs. 19/10/2017

Deborah Rose & Mari Randle

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Deborah Rose & Mari Randle & Friends, Charity Concert, Artrix Theatre, Bromsgrove, Worcs. 19/10/2017

A varied and highly enjoyable evening of music making in support of a very good cause

Deborah Rose / Mari Randle and Friends, Charity Concert in aid of Planting For Hope Uganda, Artrix Theatre, Bromsgrove, Worcs. 19/10/2017.

Welsh born, Worcestershire based singer, guitarist and songwriter Deborah Rose has been a frequent presence on the Jazzmann web pages for a number of years, sometimes under her previous name of Deborah Hodgson. Blessed with a stunningly pure voice and an innate musicality her love of words, song and singing has found her exploring the worlds of folk, jazz and Americana with a variety of collaborators including local gypsy jazz guitar wizard Remi Harris.

Following a number of self produced EPs Rose released her first full length album, “Song Be My Soul”, in early 2014, a charming collection of self penned songs combined with settings of the words of poets and authors such as Tennyson, Shakespeare, Dickens, Blake and Christina Rossetti.

The follow up, “Wilde Wood” was very different as Rose abandoned her literary leanings to explore the world of Celtic folk music in the company of locally based musicians from two different groups, The O’ Farrells Frolicks and Grey Wolf.

The O’ Farrells are an all female family folk group based in Bewdley, Worcestershire with mother and multi instrumentalist Lindsay Farrell (whistles, bodhran, fiddle, accordion) joined by her three talented daughters Mari Randle (guitar, vocals), Hetty Randle (banjelele, ukelele) and Lucy Randle (melodeon, concertina). The family’s roots in Co. Cork are reflected in their love of Irish traditional music and the quartet play regular gigs and sessions in the pubs of Worcestershire and the West Midlands. But the Randle sisters are more than just friendly folkies, Mari (guitar, vocals) and Hetty are also part of the alternative rock trio Vault Of Eagles where Hetty plays electric bass alongside powerhouse drummer Scott Ewings .The music is loud, grungy and heavy and the trio have built up a considerable following.

The recording of “Wild Wood” helped to establish a firm friendship and burgeoning song writing partnership between Rose and Mari Randle. Over the course of the past two years the intrepid pair have travelled widely, back-packing in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the US and Uganda, performing gigs and writing songs about their experiences along the way. They have already issued a demo EP and have recorded a full length album which is due for release in the near future.

Tonight’s concert was a fund-raiser for the Midlands based charity Planting For Hope Uganda, established by retired teacher Kate Oakley who told the audience something about the charity’s work prior to introducing the performers. Rose has been involved with the charity for five years and has visited Uganda twice, the second time with Randle which saw the duo performing a concert for the local community.

Planting For Hope was established specifically to help the remote village of Kititi in South East Uganda. Oakley co-ordinates the charity in the UK with Apollo Seku, a graduate of Makrere University, acting as the project leader in Uganda. The charity describes its vision thus;
“To empower the community of Kititi by working with them to develop a self-supporting and sustainable future. We are committed to improve diet and clean water, education and job opportunities, health care, housing and sanitation, sustainable farming projects, electricity, and supporting the elderly.”

Further information on the work of Planting For Hope Uganda can be found on the charity’s website
http://www.plantingforhopeuganda.com

For tonight’s special fund raising concert, billed as “An Evening Of Inspirational Music” Rose and Randle had gathered their musical friends from near and far with the Senegalese kora player Kadialy Kouyate opening the proceedings before handing over to the Birmingham based duo of Sid Peacock and Ruth Angell. We also heard from pianist Martin Riley and pianist/vocalist Louise Watkins, Rose’s sister.

The second half of the show saw Rose and Randle joined by their “Floating Band” of musical collaborators, with nine musicians on stage at one point.

KADIALY KOUYATE

The evening commenced with the West African sounds of kora player and vocalist Kadialy Kouyate. Born into a long line of griots in Southern Senegal Kouyate is now based in Britain and is a busy musician on the UK’s world music circuit. He previously appeared on the Jazzmann web pages back in 2008 when he performed on Brazilian percussionist/vocalist Adriano Adewale’s excellent “Sementes” album.

Kouyate described the kora as “A West African harp lute made from calabash gourd and calf skin”. He proceeded to demonstrate his virtuosity on the 22 stringed instrument over a series of four pieces, including three songs featuring his gentle, soulful vocals plus a closing instrumental.

Singing in what sounded to be a mix of French and Senegalese dialect Kouyate’s first song “Samah”, saluted the coming of the rains, an event to celebrate in West Africa where rainfall brings with it the prospect of work and prosperity.

The second song, with a title translating as “Welcome Hope” seemed to be a particularly apposite choice for this evening while the softer “True Love” was a tender love song.

The closing instrumental was a good showcase for Kouyate’s technical prowess on the kora as he played melody and bass lines simultaneously and was a homage to the animal spirits that protect the villages of Southern Senegal.

PEACOCK ANGELL

The duo Peacock Angell features life partners Sid Peacock (guitar, vocals) and Ruth Angell (violin, vocals, guitar).

Originally from Bangor in Northern Ireland but long based in Birmingham Peacock has previously featured on the Jazzmann web pages leading his jazz big band Surge Orchestra, a sprawling ensemble embracing elements of jazz, contemporary classical music and poetry and in which Angell plays violin. In April 2017 Peacock co-ordinated the successful ‘Surge In Spring’ festival at the Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham.

Besides her work with Surge Orchestra Angell is also an acclaimed performer on the UK folk scene and has performed with Jamie Smith’s Mabon, Ashley Hutchings’ Rainbow Chasers, The Larkrise Band and the all female quartet The Froe among others. However her main creative outlet appears to be the Peacock Angell duo which features original songs from both protagonists, many of them autobiographical.

Angell shares Deborah Rose’s love of poetry and literature and the pair first met in 2009 when both were performing at Tennyson’s former home at Faringford on the Isle Of Wight in a celebration of the bicentenary of the poet’s birth. She has since performed at other events co-ordinated by Rose, the latter also being a great organiser as well as a highly accomplished singer, musician and songwriter.

Tonight Peacock Angell began with Angell’s “Castle On The Hill”, a song of childhood nostalgia and of the composers yearning to return to the Peak District countryside of her youth. With Angell on acoustic guitar and vocals the evocative and descriptive lyrics spoke of a genuine love of nature as Peacock’s pedal generated electric guitar effects added to the general air of wistfulness.

Peacock’s own “Big City” saw him switching to acoustic guitar as Angell moved to violin for the rather more earthy tale of Peacock’s first experiences of England as a teenage squat dweller in London.

Angell’s “The Boat House”, dedicated to the couple’s young son Elvin, was a more contemporary tale of family life with the composer on acoustic guitar and vocals as Peacock reverted to electric. That love of nature and sense of place was there again in a highly personalised tale variously set in Gran Canaria and Northern Ireland.

Again inspired by personal experiences Peacock’s instrumental “Malahide”, named for a coastal town just north of Dublin incorporated elements of Irish traditional music with Angell’s swirling violin lines underpinned by the composer’s intensely rhythmic acoustic guitar as the duo endeavoured to express the beauty and danger of a rough sea.

Finally we heard Peacock’s “Hope For The Young”, a song written in the 1990s around the time of the ceasefire in Northern Ireland but still a piece with a considerable contemporary relevance. Here both performers played acoustic guitars with Peacock’s lead vocal cushioned by Angell’s pure harmonies.

This was an intelligent, personal and often highly beautiful set from two highly accomplished and socially aware performers.

MARTIN RILEY

Pianist Martin Riley has been a long term associate of Deborah Rose and co-wrote several songs on the “Song Be My Soul” album where he also played piano and formulated the string arrangements.

Tonight he made use of the Artrix’s Steinway grand to perform a world première of his solo piano piece “Into The Light”, an impressive work in its own right but with a song like construction that suggested the possible addition of a Deborah Rose lyric at some point in the future.

LOUISE WATKINS

Riley now introduced Louise Watkins, Deborah Rose’s sister, who took over at the piano to close the first half with her interpretation of the song “We Are Water” from the “Nashville” television series.Unfortunately an otherwise good performance, featuring a pure but soulful vocal, was hampered by technical issues with the vocal mic.

DEBORAH ROSE and MARI RANDLE and THE FLOATING BAND

The second half of tonight’s concert was given over to Rose and Randle who initially took to the stage to perform three songs as a duo before bringing on the other members of their “Floating Band”. Rose had been suffering from symptoms of laryngitis and wasn’t sure if her voice would hold out, but hold out it did over the course of a long, value for money set that touched many musical bases.

The duo commenced with Rose singing the lead vocal on the Scottish folk staple “The Skye Boat Song” with Randle providing acoustic guitar and harmonies as Rose ‘s well enunciated vocal brought out the full darkness of the lyrics.

“Crossing The Bar” was the duo’s atmospheric setting of a Tennyson poem that they first performed at Faringford. Scheduled to appear on the forthcoming album it also appears on the promo EP and here featured their lush harmonies, later joined by the sound of Randle’s acoustic guitar.

Next came “Hands”, composed by the American singer-songwriter Jewel Kilcher, a song that has been in the duo’s repertoire for some time and which again showed off their sublime vocal harmonising with Rose taking the lead. Rose has cited Kilcher, who performs under the single word moniker ‘Jewel’ as an important influence on her own music making.

During their travels Rose and Randle have always encouraged other musicians to perform with them, dubbing the various ad hoc aggregations the “Floating Band”. Tonight’s “FB” was probably the biggest yet with no fewer than six musicians coming to the stage to create an octet as the co-leaders were joined by Peacock on electric guitar, Angell on violin and backing vocals, Riley at the piano, Matt Worley on acoustic guitars, mandolin and bouzouki, Dave Small on cajon,djembe and percussion and Lindsay O’Farrell (Randle’s mother) on whistle, accordion and bodhran. It was the first time that this particular combination of musicians had actually performed together.

O’Farrell’s whistle and Angell’s violin featured prominently on “The Foggy Dew”, a song about the 1916 Dublin uprising that featured on Rose’s “Wilde Wood” with Rose handling the lead vocal and Small’s percussion creating an additional rhythmic drive.

Among the countries visited by Rose and Randle is Norway, this trip providing the inspiration for the jointly written song “Queens of Asa”, a song about two Viking queens who were buried in longboats along with their treasures , among them jewellery and musical instruments. The rousing “row the boat” choruses were augmented by instrumental solos from Angell on violin and Peacock on electric guitar.

“My Love Loves Me” found Rose deploying both French and English lyrics as she took on acoustic guitar duties and harmonised with Randle on an arrangement that also included significant contributions from Riley on piano and Angell on violin.

Randle took over the lead vocal for the traditional Irish song “Spancehill Hill” with O’Farrell’s accordion and Angell’s violin giving a suitably authentic feel to the arrangement. Worley’s mandolin then gave an R.E.M . like feel to Rose’s confessional “Truth Of The Matter”.

Rose’s admiration for the work of the late Eva Cassidy is no secret and it was Cassidy’s version that provided the inspiration for an arrangement of the Fleetwood Mac song “Songbird”, written by Christine McVie. This featured Rose on lead vocal and acoustic guitar with Randle adding suitably lush harmonies. Angell’s violin solo added an unexpected twist to the arrangement and she was well served by Worley’s acoustic guitar embellishments.

“Cherry Thief”, with lyrics by Mari Randle,  had a timeless feel about it and sounded as if it had been in the traditional folk repertoire for centuries. One wonders whether it was partly inspired by the William Morris artwork “The Strawberry Thief”.

The Floating Band took a breather as Rose and Randle performed the latter’s “Linden Tree” as a duo, a simple but beautiful song musing on childhood nostalgia and the immutable passage of time. The pair shared the lead vocal on a song exploring similar themes to Sandy Denny’s classic “Who Knows Where The Time Goes? and possessed of a similar haunting beauty. The line “one day like the leaves we’ll fall” seemed to convey similar sentiments.

Rose informed the audience that her late uncle Mostyn had lived and worked in Uganda, in an area not far from Kititi, and had left a journal of his time there. This was something that encouraged Rose to become involved in the Planting For Hope project. The visit that Rose and Randle made to Uganda encouraged them to perform a song in the local language, the title translating as “Peace and Love” and written by local singer Titie Tabel, with whom they performed in Africa. The duo performed the song here with accomplished linguist Randle impressively handling the lead vocal – without the aid of a crib sheet!

The duo’s concert in Uganda also included Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Circling Together” which the pair taught to the local children. That sense of community was embodied here with the octet joined by Kouyate who added the sound of the kora to the ‘Floating Band’.

Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” was already known in Africa and was another sing-along at the Ugandan concert. Rose, on acoustic guitar and lead vocal, encouraged the Bromsgrove audience to become similarly involved.

Rose’s original song “Taigh Alainn”, the title meaning “House Beautiful” in Scots Gaelic, is one of her most beautiful and enduring pieces and has featured at every show I have seen her play. Tonight’s version was particularly beautiful with Kouyate’s kora added to an arrangement featuring co-writer Riley on piano plus Worley on acoustic guitar.

The evening closed with Bob Dylan’s “One More Cup Of Coffee” performed by a quintet featuring Rose and Randle plus Riley and Worley and percussionist Small, whose subtle rhythmic promptings had been a key part of the music throughout the evening. As the co-leaders shared the vocals instrumental solos came from Riley on piano and Worley on Spanish style acoustic guitar.

So ended a varied and highly enjoyable evening of music making in support of a very good cause with all of the musicians freely donating their time and skill. At £15.00 per head tickets represented extremely good value for nearly three hours worth of music. Ticket sales were augmented by the sale of African craft items in the foyer but at the time of writing I’ve been unable to ascertain exactly how much the evening raised for Planting For Hope Uganda. A great effort, nevertheless, congratulations to all involved.

P.S. Deborah has informed me that the evening raised a total of £700.15, which will go directly to Planting For Hope Uganda.
Well done, everybody!

Simon Lasky Quartet - Simon Lasky Quartet, St. Andrews Church, Caversham, Reading, Berkshire, 14/10/2017. Rating: 4 out of 5 "Attractive, polished, accessible and entertaining". Guest contributor Marc Edwards enjoys the first ever jazz performance in the "Concerts in Caversham" series.

Concerts in Caversham/Jazz at St Andrews
St Andrews Church , Albert Road RG4 7PL
Saturday 14th October 2017


The Simon Lasky Quartet:
Simon Lasky Piano
Jessica Radcliffe Vocals
Simon Bates Soprano, Alto Saxophone, Clarinet, Alto Flute
Robert Rickenberg Double Bass


St Andrew’s Church, a large Edwardian building with a generously accommodating church hall attached, seems a relatively unusual venue for a jazz concert, its tall, wide space filled with seats in rows. But the sight of the brightly polished, opened-wide grand piano, its inner surfaces reflecting a gleaming rack of wind instruments, a ‘stand-up’ bass, and a striking vocalist was the scene that greeted the 150-strong audience for the first-ever Jazz performance in the Concerts in Caversham series.

As the musicians came on, the ambience was immediately tangible: here was a group that was out to enjoy both its own company and that of its audience, natural, easy, relaxed and polished, without a hint of pretension or false bonhomie.

The evening began simply with Harold Arlen’s “I’ve Got the World on a String”, where the immediate impact was both relaxing and reassuring: the concert space’s acoustic qualities were very pleasing, Jessica Radcliffe’s open commitment and constantly expressive face and body language a delight, her voice strong and infinitely varied in nuance and tonal colour. With a real theatrical awareness, she radiated sincerity, humour and intelligence in all her presentations and through her singing. Robert Rickenberg’s bass came across as strong and earthy, the piano gentle, soprano sax brightly soaring.

“Midnight Sun” (Johnny Mercer) began with a peaceful opening from piano and a light, breathy but clearly articulated vocal line, the rich sound from the rare alto flute providing a beautifully dark and appealing low tone.
Complex piano chords in a wistful and reflective nocturnal mood, led us throughchromatic lines to some supremely atmospheric places.

“How Deep is the Ocean?” (Irving Berlin) opened with bass rhythms from Robert Rickenberg and finger snaps from Simon Bates creating a sparse but inviting opening, before some crisply fine scat singing from Jessica Radcliffe almost put the music before the lyrics! Alto sax made a bright, lively intervention, the vocalist remaining entirely involved, reacting and clearly enjoying the moment, even when resting. An alto sax solo drew the first jazz club-style applause of the evening.

“I Wish I Knew” (Harry Warren) had conversations between voice and piano before a wistful and reflective bass entry thrillingly illustrated the special qualities of the St Andrew’s space, filling it with soulful, natural sounds of vibrant wood, echoed by the clarinet’s rich low voice, perhaps reminiscent of Jimmy Guiffre’s distinctive ‘period’ sound. Chromatic runs and rapid ornamentation preceded fluent, legato piano phrases, enriched with fulsome chords. Robert Rickenberg’s wonderful bass lines, beautifully intoned, added the finishing touch.

Here Simon Lasky talked about his crowd-funded new album, originally written for a quintet, here adapted to suit the occasion:
“Coming Home”, from “Story Inside”(Simon Lasky)
Declamatory, rich chords from piano were reinforced by bass and alto sax, this time with Simon Bates’ tone reminiscent of Ian Ballamy’s glorious outpourings with the group ‘Quercus’ in Brecon Cathedral. Latin rhythms eased their way into the consciousness, with rapid patterns cascading from saxophone, a high bass line and a semi-quaver percussion pattern reminding us that this line-up had that unusual feature: a jazz quartet with no drummer! Again, a hint of the cathedral as the ringing sax voice rang out over an arpeggiating piano. This was highly atmospheric music, skilfully presented.

“Come Rain or Come Shine” (Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer) was short and sweet, a happy interlude, full of fun.

“East of the Sun (And West of the Moon)” (Brooks Bowman ) Great scat-singing from Jessica Radcliffe opened this tune, accompanied by cheery runs of skyward scalic and arpeggiated phrases, returning to earth from the heights. A lightness of touch from Simon Lasky provided an almost diaphanous background, allowing the vocals to swing: exciting and secure.

A reflective opening, a light sax voice over low piano chords and intimate vocals put the audience” In a Sentimental Mood” (Duke Ellington), the beautifully unobtrusive bass creating a deep, warm place for a carefully hesitantly shaped vocal line; passionate and sensitive in a discursive passage, gorgeous sax phrases left the piece high, but not dry!

Quick finger snaps and alto sax kicked off “I’m Old Fashioned” (Ella Fitzgerald), the bass running low and fast, short off-beat stabs from piano - polished, sophisticated, voice returning serenely but coquettishly, busy, busy, busy.

The final composition from Simon Lasky was “Vanessa Moss: New Day”. The ‘two Simons’ performed this intimate and emotional work alone, Lasky telling the audience that he had dedicated the piece to a friend who had suffered his young daughter’s death only two weeks earlier.Jazz (for all its light-hearted appeal) has the power to move us greatly. Simon Lasky’s piece was a startling, highly affecting expression of grief, in all its contradictory stages. It began with quiet, questioning chords from the piano, moving into dark and reflective phrasing from soprano saxophone, beautifully played by Simon Bates. The soprano has uniquely searing sounds at its disposal – made familiar through Jan Garbarek’s Hilliard Ensemble recordings. A virtual scream of pain within a few bars of a solo moved through moods suggesting terror, sadness, regret, acceptance - and
returning heartbreak. Fearful, discordant chords from piano, more cries of grief from saxophone, before elements of peace, and perhaps happier memories were allowed to surface. Then we heard a lonely line, shattered chords, broken harmonies. A helpless plea from sax again, before a mood of nobility, dignity and forthright resolve seemed to take over, as though some sort of hope for a life without had taken the place of total despair…finally, a profound tolling, as of a great bell resonating from the piano’s dying notes.

From this spiritual place, Jessica Radcliffe introduced “I’ll Never be the Same” (Lester Young) as a song she had discovered working with a project on the great Billie Holliday. An enquiring whole-tone figure developing into an ‘ache in my heart’ melody, thoughtful and pensive over a moving rhythmic swing line. A purposeful growl crept in as Simon Bates conveyed a bluesy feel while Jessica Radcliffe, always fully active, singing or not, was dancing lightly and unobtrusively. A lovely bass solo followed, before a nice near-grimace from Jessica rounded off the song with comic resignation.

After a round of thanks and appreciation from one of Concerts in Caversham’s promoters, “I Only Have Eyes for You” (Harry Warren/Al Dubin) was the final, witty piece at the end of a great evening’s entertainment: a short, but highly accomplished punctuation mark that left the audience happily wanting more, some time in the not-too-distant future.

In the event, a most enjoyable evening ended very sociably with refreshments and tables groaning with a spread of beautifully-prepared and delicious buffet food, cakes and fruit. With hospitality like this on hand, Concerts in Caversham must surely become Reading’s equivalent to London’s St John’s, Smith Square.

Personally, after hearing and seeing a programme and a band so attractive, polished, accessible and entertaining, I was left with just one criticism: I had been looking forward to hearing more of the recent Simon Lasky compositions, thinking of the striking contrast of which he is capable -check the Simon Lasky Group, six-piece and more near-Cuban in style at times, with influences from such as Pat Metheny.

So having thoroughly enjoyed this exploration of The Great American Song Book, I will be adding to the experience by listening to the “Story Inside”tracks when I’ve completed this review. In my preliminary searches in preparing for this concert, I discovered many links to the other achievements of all the members of the Quartet, and I recommend following them up – this is how we can expand on, and further to enjoy, what we’d discovered tonight!

Also useful were the copious notes Simon Laskyhad added to the programme, making more sense of the term: The Great American Song Book, and its revelations concerning the sophistication of the harmonies found in those early vehicles for jazz improvisation, the Popular Song, many of them written by composers with influences from many traditions, including the classical repertoire.

On stage, the Simon Lasky Quartet had the aura of a group of friends sharing their artistry collaboratively in public, and in contrast to the ‘what shall we play next? Do you know this tune?’ style of many fine jazz groups, this was on a higher plane of discussion. We were privileged to be overhearing sensitive and good humoured conversations about ‘what shall we do now, and what made us choose this?’ A feeling of complete assurance was mixed with eager anticipation of whatever was to follow.


About Concerts in Caversham…
Over a period of eight years, Concerts in Caversham has offered four high quality Classical and Baroque small-ensemble, chamber-orchestra concerts and organ recitals per year. The organisers have now decided to add a fifth concert, a jazz event to their calendar; by the end of this evening, any traces of pre-‘new project’ apprehension on the organisers’ part was evidently dispelled, with a promise of more to come in 2018, and an invitation to the Simon Lasky Quartet to consider being a part of it.

St Andrew’s Church shows great potential for its future as a Jazz Venue north of Reading’s river. Not only were the available pews (cushions available, and added chairs) more than enough for what looked like a large crowd, St Andrew’s provided a big, beautiful space and a very warm and crisp acoustic, perhaps surprising for a tall and resonant church of its age. Fine detail in a jazz quartet performance could have been lost in the outer recesses of such a building, even if they can complement and sustain the sounds of much older music. In this case, and clearly through the quality of sound-checking undertaken by the group, rhythmic tightness, superb intonation and tonal qualities were a pleasure to behold. Amplification was kept to a minimum (it appeared only the bass was enhanced – but very gently) and the vocal sibilants were clearly heard alongside the various mixes of instrumental accompaniments.


Marc Edwards 17th October 2017

Simon Lasky Quartet, St. Andrews Church, Caversham, Reading, Berkshire, 14/10/2017.

Simon Lasky Quartet

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Simon Lasky Quartet, St. Andrews Church, Caversham, Reading, Berkshire, 14/10/2017.

"Attractive, polished, accessible and entertaining". Guest contributor Marc Edwards enjoys the first ever jazz performance in the "Concerts in Caversham" series.

Concerts in Caversham/Jazz at St Andrews
St Andrews Church , Albert Road RG4 7PL
Saturday 14th October 2017


The Simon Lasky Quartet:
Simon Lasky Piano
Jessica Radcliffe Vocals
Simon Bates Soprano, Alto Saxophone, Clarinet, Alto Flute
Robert Rickenberg Double Bass


St Andrew’s Church, a large Edwardian building with a generously accommodating church hall attached, seems a relatively unusual venue for a jazz concert, its tall, wide space filled with seats in rows. But the sight of the brightly polished, opened-wide grand piano, its inner surfaces reflecting a gleaming rack of wind instruments, a ‘stand-up’ bass, and a striking vocalist was the scene that greeted the 150-strong audience for the first-ever Jazz performance in the Concerts in Caversham series.

As the musicians came on, the ambience was immediately tangible: here was a group that was out to enjoy both its own company and that of its audience, natural, easy, relaxed and polished, without a hint of pretension or false bonhomie.

The evening began simply with Harold Arlen’s “I’ve Got the World on a String”, where the immediate impact was both relaxing and reassuring: the concert space’s acoustic qualities were very pleasing, Jessica Radcliffe’s open commitment and constantly expressive face and body language a delight, her voice strong and infinitely varied in nuance and tonal colour. With a real theatrical awareness, she radiated sincerity, humour and intelligence in all her presentations and through her singing. Robert Rickenberg’s bass came across as strong and earthy, the piano gentle, soprano sax brightly soaring.

“Midnight Sun” (Johnny Mercer) began with a peaceful opening from piano and a light, breathy but clearly articulated vocal line, the rich sound from the rare alto flute providing a beautifully dark and appealing low tone.
Complex piano chords in a wistful and reflective nocturnal mood, led us throughchromatic lines to some supremely atmospheric places.

“How Deep is the Ocean?” (Irving Berlin) opened with bass rhythms from Robert Rickenberg and finger snaps from Simon Bates creating a sparse but inviting opening, before some crisply fine scat singing from Jessica Radcliffe almost put the music before the lyrics! Alto sax made a bright, lively intervention, the vocalist remaining entirely involved, reacting and clearly enjoying the moment, even when resting. An alto sax solo drew the first jazz club-style applause of the evening.

“I Wish I Knew” (Harry Warren) had conversations between voice and piano before a wistful and reflective bass entry thrillingly illustrated the special qualities of the St Andrew’s space, filling it with soulful, natural sounds of vibrant wood, echoed by the clarinet’s rich low voice, perhaps reminiscent of Jimmy Guiffre’s distinctive ‘period’ sound. Chromatic runs and rapid ornamentation preceded fluent, legato piano phrases, enriched with fulsome chords. Robert Rickenberg’s wonderful bass lines, beautifully intoned, added the finishing touch.

Here Simon Lasky talked about his crowd-funded new album, originally written for a quintet, here adapted to suit the occasion:
“Coming Home”, from “Story Inside”(Simon Lasky)
Declamatory, rich chords from piano were reinforced by bass and alto sax, this time with Simon Bates’ tone reminiscent of Ian Ballamy’s glorious outpourings with the group ‘Quercus’ in Brecon Cathedral. Latin rhythms eased their way into the consciousness, with rapid patterns cascading from saxophone, a high bass line and a semi-quaver percussion pattern reminding us that this line-up had that unusual feature: a jazz quartet with no drummer! Again, a hint of the cathedral as the ringing sax voice rang out over an arpeggiating piano. This was highly atmospheric music, skilfully presented.

“Come Rain or Come Shine” (Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer) was short and sweet, a happy interlude, full of fun.

“East of the Sun (And West of the Moon)” (Brooks Bowman ) Great scat-singing from Jessica Radcliffe opened this tune, accompanied by cheery runs of skyward scalic and arpeggiated phrases, returning to earth from the heights. A lightness of touch from Simon Lasky provided an almost diaphanous background, allowing the vocals to swing: exciting and secure.

A reflective opening, a light sax voice over low piano chords and intimate vocals put the audience” In a Sentimental Mood” (Duke Ellington), the beautifully unobtrusive bass creating a deep, warm place for a carefully hesitantly shaped vocal line; passionate and sensitive in a discursive passage, gorgeous sax phrases left the piece high, but not dry!

Quick finger snaps and alto sax kicked off “I’m Old Fashioned” (Ella Fitzgerald), the bass running low and fast, short off-beat stabs from piano - polished, sophisticated, voice returning serenely but coquettishly, busy, busy, busy.

The final composition from Simon Lasky was “Vanessa Moss: New Day”. The ‘two Simons’ performed this intimate and emotional work alone, Lasky telling the audience that he had dedicated the piece to a friend who had suffered his young daughter’s death only two weeks earlier.Jazz (for all its light-hearted appeal) has the power to move us greatly. Simon Lasky’s piece was a startling, highly affecting expression of grief, in all its contradictory stages. It began with quiet, questioning chords from the piano, moving into dark and reflective phrasing from soprano saxophone, beautifully played by Simon Bates. The soprano has uniquely searing sounds at its disposal – made familiar through Jan Garbarek’s Hilliard Ensemble recordings. A virtual scream of pain within a few bars of a solo moved through moods suggesting terror, sadness, regret, acceptance - and
returning heartbreak. Fearful, discordant chords from piano, more cries of grief from saxophone, before elements of peace, and perhaps happier memories were allowed to surface. Then we heard a lonely line, shattered chords, broken harmonies. A helpless plea from sax again, before a mood of nobility, dignity and forthright resolve seemed to take over, as though some sort of hope for a life without had taken the place of total despair…finally, a profound tolling, as of a great bell resonating from the piano’s dying notes.

From this spiritual place, Jessica Radcliffe introduced “I’ll Never be the Same” (Lester Young) as a song she had discovered working with a project on the great Billie Holliday. An enquiring whole-tone figure developing into an ‘ache in my heart’ melody, thoughtful and pensive over a moving rhythmic swing line. A purposeful growl crept in as Simon Bates conveyed a bluesy feel while Jessica Radcliffe, always fully active, singing or not, was dancing lightly and unobtrusively. A lovely bass solo followed, before a nice near-grimace from Jessica rounded off the song with comic resignation.

After a round of thanks and appreciation from one of Concerts in Caversham’s promoters, “I Only Have Eyes for You” (Harry Warren/Al Dubin) was the final, witty piece at the end of a great evening’s entertainment: a short, but highly accomplished punctuation mark that left the audience happily wanting more, some time in the not-too-distant future.

In the event, a most enjoyable evening ended very sociably with refreshments and tables groaning with a spread of beautifully-prepared and delicious buffet food, cakes and fruit. With hospitality like this on hand, Concerts in Caversham must surely become Reading’s equivalent to London’s St John’s, Smith Square.

Personally, after hearing and seeing a programme and a band so attractive, polished, accessible and entertaining, I was left with just one criticism: I had been looking forward to hearing more of the recent Simon Lasky compositions, thinking of the striking contrast of which he is capable -check the Simon Lasky Group, six-piece and more near-Cuban in style at times, with influences from such as Pat Metheny.

So having thoroughly enjoyed this exploration of The Great American Song Book, I will be adding to the experience by listening to the “Story Inside”tracks when I’ve completed this review. In my preliminary searches in preparing for this concert, I discovered many links to the other achievements of all the members of the Quartet, and I recommend following them up – this is how we can expand on, and further to enjoy, what we’d discovered tonight!

Also useful were the copious notes Simon Laskyhad added to the programme, making more sense of the term: The Great American Song Book, and its revelations concerning the sophistication of the harmonies found in those early vehicles for jazz improvisation, the Popular Song, many of them written by composers with influences from many traditions, including the classical repertoire.

On stage, the Simon Lasky Quartet had the aura of a group of friends sharing their artistry collaboratively in public, and in contrast to the ‘what shall we play next? Do you know this tune?’ style of many fine jazz groups, this was on a higher plane of discussion. We were privileged to be overhearing sensitive and good humoured conversations about ‘what shall we do now, and what made us choose this?’ A feeling of complete assurance was mixed with eager anticipation of whatever was to follow.


About Concerts in Caversham…
Over a period of eight years, Concerts in Caversham has offered four high quality Classical and Baroque small-ensemble, chamber-orchestra concerts and organ recitals per year. The organisers have now decided to add a fifth concert, a jazz event to their calendar; by the end of this evening, any traces of pre-‘new project’ apprehension on the organisers’ part was evidently dispelled, with a promise of more to come in 2018, and an invitation to the Simon Lasky Quartet to consider being a part of it.

St Andrew’s Church shows great potential for its future as a Jazz Venue north of Reading’s river. Not only were the available pews (cushions available, and added chairs) more than enough for what looked like a large crowd, St Andrew’s provided a big, beautiful space and a very warm and crisp acoustic, perhaps surprising for a tall and resonant church of its age. Fine detail in a jazz quartet performance could have been lost in the outer recesses of such a building, even if they can complement and sustain the sounds of much older music. In this case, and clearly through the quality of sound-checking undertaken by the group, rhythmic tightness, superb intonation and tonal qualities were a pleasure to behold. Amplification was kept to a minimum (it appeared only the bass was enhanced – but very gently) and the vocal sibilants were clearly heard alongside the various mixes of instrumental accompaniments.


Marc Edwards 17th October 2017

Tom Challenger & Pierre Alexandre Tremblay - Rills & Courses Rating: 3-5 out of 5 An effective and highly personalised blend of jazz and electronica that reflects the circumstances of its creation and which contains scope for future development.

Tom Challenger & Pierre Alexandre Tremblay

“Rills & Courses”

(Loop Collective, Digital album only)

Rills & Courses is a collection of improvised duets featuring saxophonist Tom Challenger and bassist and sound artist Pierre Alexandre Tremblay, two prominent members of the London based Loop Collective of musicians. Surprisingly this new album, available as a digital download at https://loopcollective.bandcamp.com/album/rills-courses represents the first time that the two musicians have actually played together.

Challenger has been a frequent presence on the Jazzmann web pages leading his own groups Ma and Brass Mask and as a member of the co-operative quartet Dice Factory. He has also worked as a sideman with bands led by pianists Bruno Heinen, Dan Nicholls and Dave O’Brien, bassists Dave Manington, Calum Gourlay and Mark Lewandowski, guitarist Hannes Riepler, drummer Dave Smith and fellow saxophonists Mike Chillingworth and George Crowley.

In recent years Challenger has been increasingly drawn to the world of freely improvised music and perhaps the most obvious precedent for “Rills & Course” has been his successful duo with Kit Downes, with the latter church organ on such albums as “Wedding Music”, “Vyamanikal” and “Black Shuck”. The pair have now settled on Vyamanikal as a band name and their atmospheric, often bucolic, improvisations have proved to be a surprisingly popular live attraction with several notable jazz festival appearances, including London and Cheltenham.

I’ll admit to being less familiar with Tremblay’s work, knowing him only through his work with the electro-improvising quartet Splice featuring Robin Fincker on reeds, Alex Bonney on trumpet and electronics and Dave Smith at the drums. This line up released the album “Lab” in 2011 and subsequently appeared at that year’s Harmonic Festival in Birmingham.

Born in Quebec Tremblay is the head of the Composition and Improvisation course at the University of Huddersfield., a post he has held since 2005.  As a bassist he specialises on the electric bass guitar but as an electro-improvising musician is just as likely to be found playing a laptop. He is also a member of the trio Ars Circa Musicae and of De Type Inconnu, an electro-improvising duo with Quebecois guitarist Sylvain Pohu.

It’s not only the Loop Collective that binds Challenger and Tremblay together, there’s also the ‘Huddersfield connection’.
Huddersfield is Challenger’s home town and the album was recorded at the studios at the University of Huddersfield with Tremblay and Challenger setting up facing each other to improvise in a process that they describe as musical ‘sparring’.

They describe the results as being;
“Mesmerizing musical dialogues, a first collaboration where both improvisers negotiate common grounds and opposite views seamlessly for the adventurous listener’s delight!”

“Rills & Courses” consists of four lengthy improvisations with titles that suggest as if they have been inspired by the Yorkshire landscape. Challenger concentrates on his favourite tenor saxophone throughout while Tremblay contributes bass guitar and electronics. There are inevitably comparisons to be drawn between this duo and Vyamanikal with both units exploring the hinterland between jazz and ambient music. The music of each duo seems to reflect the location in which it was recorded with Vyamanikal’s music coming from the churches of the East Anglian countryside and the music of “Rills & Courses” from the harsher environment of the Pennines.

It’s tempting to think of Vyamanikal as primarily Downes’ project and Challenger’s tenor certainly occupies a more dominant place in this duo with Tremblay, but with the latter’s bass and soundscaping adding a darker, grittier ambience. This is evidenced by the fourteen and a half minute opener “Mags” which features sax sounds ranging from the soft and breathy to the harsh and abrasive while Tremblay adds sounds varying from deep bass sonics to heavily treated and processed electronica. Even in the gentler, more reflective moments of a piece that ebbs and flows throughout its course there’s a subtly brooding quality about the music.

“Fenay” commences with Tremblay processing the sound of Challenger’s breath through the horn to produce a kind of percussive effect. Subsequently the saxophonist produces treated sounds that are fleetingly reminiscent of a whistle or of a human cry on a piece that is the most obviously ‘ambient’ on the album, one in which Tremblay’s soundscaping makes verifying the provenance of an individual sound difficult. Nevertheless the music is highly atmospheric, vaguely unsettling and possessed of a certain filmic quality.

Unaccompanied saxophone introduces “Closegate”, breathy and gentle at first, but later becoming more animated as Tremblay’s bass responds to Challenger’s promptings and the pair engage in the kind of musical sparring referenced above as they bat ideas and phrases back and forth in a consistently engaging and increasingly feisty musical conversation. The instrumental sounds are pretty much unadorned, this is a straight ahead, forthright sax and electric bass exchange, a total contrast to the wispy electronic ambience of the proceeding “Fenay”.

The album concludes with the twelve and a half minutes of “Haigh” which begins with the sound of Challenger’s tenor combined with Tremblay’s electronic embellishments. Tremblay also conjures some extraordinary sounds from his bass guitar via a combination of an impressive technique and electronic manipulation as the two musicians continue to spar lustily, this time with an additional electronic component that periodically propels the music towards drone and ambient territory. The latter is embodied in the long, slow atmospheric fade that brings the piece to a surprisingly gentle resolution. 

As I don’t like working from downloads and with this being a digital only release I’m indebted to Tremblay’s publicist Claudine Levasseur for providing me with a bespoke CD copy of this album. Thanks, Claudine.

I found “Rills & Courses” to be an absorbing, if sometimes challenging, listen and understand that Challenger and Tremblay have now adopted the album title as a band name. They played a gig under this banner at the recent Loop mini-festival, organised by Dave Smith, which was held in the town of Frome in Somerset.

Like all freely improvised music “Rills & Courses” won’t be to everybody’s tastes but anyone who has enjoyed the Vyamanikal duo should find something to interest them here. The creative tension between Challenger and Tremblay has produced music that ranges from the restless to the restful, an effective and highly personalised blend of jazz and electronica that reflects the circumstances of its creation and which contains scope for future development.

Rills & Courses

Tom Challenger & Pierre Alexandre Tremblay

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Rills & Courses

An effective and highly personalised blend of jazz and electronica that reflects the circumstances of its creation and which contains scope for future development.

Tom Challenger & Pierre Alexandre Tremblay

“Rills & Courses”

(Loop Collective, Digital album only)

Rills & Courses is a collection of improvised duets featuring saxophonist Tom Challenger and bassist and sound artist Pierre Alexandre Tremblay, two prominent members of the London based Loop Collective of musicians. Surprisingly this new album, available as a digital download at https://loopcollective.bandcamp.com/album/rills-courses represents the first time that the two musicians have actually played together.

Challenger has been a frequent presence on the Jazzmann web pages leading his own groups Ma and Brass Mask and as a member of the co-operative quartet Dice Factory. He has also worked as a sideman with bands led by pianists Bruno Heinen, Dan Nicholls and Dave O’Brien, bassists Dave Manington, Calum Gourlay and Mark Lewandowski, guitarist Hannes Riepler, drummer Dave Smith and fellow saxophonists Mike Chillingworth and George Crowley.

In recent years Challenger has been increasingly drawn to the world of freely improvised music and perhaps the most obvious precedent for “Rills & Course” has been his successful duo with Kit Downes, with the latter church organ on such albums as “Wedding Music”, “Vyamanikal” and “Black Shuck”. The pair have now settled on Vyamanikal as a band name and their atmospheric, often bucolic, improvisations have proved to be a surprisingly popular live attraction with several notable jazz festival appearances, including London and Cheltenham.

I’ll admit to being less familiar with Tremblay’s work, knowing him only through his work with the electro-improvising quartet Splice featuring Robin Fincker on reeds, Alex Bonney on trumpet and electronics and Dave Smith at the drums. This line up released the album “Lab” in 2011 and subsequently appeared at that year’s Harmonic Festival in Birmingham.

Born in Quebec Tremblay is the head of the Composition and Improvisation course at the University of Huddersfield., a post he has held since 2005.  As a bassist he specialises on the electric bass guitar but as an electro-improvising musician is just as likely to be found playing a laptop. He is also a member of the trio Ars Circa Musicae and of De Type Inconnu, an electro-improvising duo with Quebecois guitarist Sylvain Pohu.

It’s not only the Loop Collective that binds Challenger and Tremblay together, there’s also the ‘Huddersfield connection’.
Huddersfield is Challenger’s home town and the album was recorded at the studios at the University of Huddersfield with Tremblay and Challenger setting up facing each other to improvise in a process that they describe as musical ‘sparring’.

They describe the results as being;
“Mesmerizing musical dialogues, a first collaboration where both improvisers negotiate common grounds and opposite views seamlessly for the adventurous listener’s delight!”

“Rills & Courses” consists of four lengthy improvisations with titles that suggest as if they have been inspired by the Yorkshire landscape. Challenger concentrates on his favourite tenor saxophone throughout while Tremblay contributes bass guitar and electronics. There are inevitably comparisons to be drawn between this duo and Vyamanikal with both units exploring the hinterland between jazz and ambient music. The music of each duo seems to reflect the location in which it was recorded with Vyamanikal’s music coming from the churches of the East Anglian countryside and the music of “Rills & Courses” from the harsher environment of the Pennines.

It’s tempting to think of Vyamanikal as primarily Downes’ project and Challenger’s tenor certainly occupies a more dominant place in this duo with Tremblay, but with the latter’s bass and soundscaping adding a darker, grittier ambience. This is evidenced by the fourteen and a half minute opener “Mags” which features sax sounds ranging from the soft and breathy to the harsh and abrasive while Tremblay adds sounds varying from deep bass sonics to heavily treated and processed electronica. Even in the gentler, more reflective moments of a piece that ebbs and flows throughout its course there’s a subtly brooding quality about the music.

“Fenay” commences with Tremblay processing the sound of Challenger’s breath through the horn to produce a kind of percussive effect. Subsequently the saxophonist produces treated sounds that are fleetingly reminiscent of a whistle or of a human cry on a piece that is the most obviously ‘ambient’ on the album, one in which Tremblay’s soundscaping makes verifying the provenance of an individual sound difficult. Nevertheless the music is highly atmospheric, vaguely unsettling and possessed of a certain filmic quality.

Unaccompanied saxophone introduces “Closegate”, breathy and gentle at first, but later becoming more animated as Tremblay’s bass responds to Challenger’s promptings and the pair engage in the kind of musical sparring referenced above as they bat ideas and phrases back and forth in a consistently engaging and increasingly feisty musical conversation. The instrumental sounds are pretty much unadorned, this is a straight ahead, forthright sax and electric bass exchange, a total contrast to the wispy electronic ambience of the proceeding “Fenay”.

The album concludes with the twelve and a half minutes of “Haigh” which begins with the sound of Challenger’s tenor combined with Tremblay’s electronic embellishments. Tremblay also conjures some extraordinary sounds from his bass guitar via a combination of an impressive technique and electronic manipulation as the two musicians continue to spar lustily, this time with an additional electronic component that periodically propels the music towards drone and ambient territory. The latter is embodied in the long, slow atmospheric fade that brings the piece to a surprisingly gentle resolution. 

As I don’t like working from downloads and with this being a digital only release I’m indebted to Tremblay’s publicist Claudine Levasseur for providing me with a bespoke CD copy of this album. Thanks, Claudine.

I found “Rills & Courses” to be an absorbing, if sometimes challenging, listen and understand that Challenger and Tremblay have now adopted the album title as a band name. They played a gig under this banner at the recent Loop mini-festival, organised by Dave Smith, which was held in the town of Frome in Somerset.

Like all freely improvised music “Rills & Courses” won’t be to everybody’s tastes but anyone who has enjoyed the Vyamanikal duo should find something to interest them here. The creative tension between Challenger and Tremblay has produced music that ranges from the restless to the restful, an effective and highly personalised blend of jazz and electronica that reflects the circumstances of its creation and which contains scope for future development.

The Mark Williams Trio - Last Bus To Bensham Rating: 4 out of 5 An impressive offering from Williams and one that showcases his abilities as both a guitarist and a composer.

The Mark Williams Trio

“Last Bus To Bensham”

(Self Released)

Originally from Belfast guitarist and composer Mark Williams came to England in 1999 to study for a degree in Jazz, Popular and Commercial Music at Newcastle University. After graduating with honours he remained in the North East and has developed into one of the region’s most celebrated contemporary musicians, both as a first call sideman and as a significant collaborator with many of the area’s leading jazz performers.

Williams has previously appeared on the Jazzmann web pages as part of groups led by vocalist and songwriter Zoe Gilby and his playing features on her two most recent albums “Looking Glass” (2010 ) and “Twelve Stories” (2013). The guitarist has also been part of the song writing process, co-authoring a number of songs in conjunction with Gilby and bassist Andy Champion.

Williams was also a member of Champion’s prog jazz quintet ACV, which released the albums “Fail In Wood” (2010) and the excellent “Busk” which appeared on the Babel label in 2013. Sadly this particular unit now appears to be defunct.

Currently Williams is also a member of the Riviera Quartet which he co-leads with trumpeter Pete Tanton and the trio Leash featuring Champion and one time Back Door drummer Adrian Tilbrook. There’s also the MoHaWi Trio featuring trumpeter Graham Hardy and drummer Russ Morgan and Grandma, a duo featuring Williams and saxophonist Graeme Wilson.

However Williams’ main creative outlet remains his own trio, formed in 2006 and currently featuring Russ Morgan at the drums and Paul Susans on acoustic and electric bass. Their début album “Balaclava Street” was released in 2007 and “Last Bus To Bensham” therefore represents a very long awaited follow up. Despite the hiatus the trio have continued to gig consistently in the North East and Williams has also composed a set of excellent new material.

The new album commences with the title track, named after a district of Gateshead. It’s a muscular piece with passages of chunky, angular riffing alternating with more abstract, impressionistic passages featuring Williams’ inventive use of a variety of effects. On occasion the stop-start structure of the music is genuinely reminiscent of a bus journey with the abrasiveness of the playing also imparting a dangerous edge. The late bus, in any part of the country, isn’t always the safest or most comfortable place to be. Williams’ playing is outstanding, but Susans and Morgan also make important contributions with the drummer enjoying something of a feature during the latter stages of the journey.

“Weird Waltz” begins with the gentle sounds of Williams’ unaccompanied, arpeggiated guitar, subsequently joined by acoustic bass and brushed drums. At this stage the music still sounds like a relatively conventional guitar trio and the first solo goes to Susans on melodic, but resonant double bass. But deeper currents lurk below the surface, gradually emerging as Williams stretches out on guitar, again deploying his range of effects judiciously.

“Good Answer” begins in impressionistic fashion, softly ambient and noirish, before metamorphosing into a Bill Frisell like ballad with a memorable melody, plenty of guitar twang and an undulating brushed drum groove. There’s also a fluent double bass solo from the highly accomplished Susans, with melody and a deep resonance again going hand in hand.

“Scoff In Peace” finds Williams soloing fluently and at length and also features Susans demonstrating his considerable capabilities on electric bass. The latter stages of the tune feature the guitarist cranking up his amp as the trio briefly go into riff based overdrive.

“By The Bye” is gentler, another excursion into Frisell/Metheny territory with Williams’ melodic, softly keening guitar accompanied by acoustic bass and brushed drums with Susans again featuring as a soloist.

The urgent “Near Nuff” sees the trio striking out into rock influenced waters once more with the taut, angular riffing of the intro. Williams’ subsequent solo above a brisk, bustling bass and drum groove incorporates sophisticated jazz chording and mercurial single note runs. Morgan makes a particularly significant contribution and his colourful playing is strongly featured in the latter stages of the tune.

“By The By Revisited” then offers a brief reprise of the earlier piece before the album closes with “Adare Say”, an elegant, atmospheric ballad, again reminiscent of Metheny and Frisell, and featuring delightfully melodic solos from Williams on guitar and Susans on acoustic bass plus Morgan’s subtly brushed drum undertow.

“Last Bus To Bensham” represents an impressive offering from Williams and one that showcases his abilities as both a guitarist and a composer. It’s a strong and varied collection of themes and the playing by all three musicians is excellent throughout, both on the harder, rock influenced pieces and the gentler, more atmospheric items. Although it’s unmistakably Williams’ band the trio is a well balanced unit with both Susans and Morgan given sufficient opportunity to express themselves.Meanwhile the leader deploys a variety of guitar styles, uses his effects wisely and delivers a sound that is consistently engaging to the listener. As a technician he’s up there among the best of them.

It may have been a long time coming but the “Last Bus To Bensham” is a transport of delight that has been well worth waiting for.

“Last Bus To Bensham” can be purchsed via Mark’s website http://www.markwilliamsguitarist.com

Last Bus To Bensham

The Mark Williams Trio

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Last Bus To Bensham

An impressive offering from Williams and one that showcases his abilities as both a guitarist and a composer.

The Mark Williams Trio

“Last Bus To Bensham”

(Self Released)

Originally from Belfast guitarist and composer Mark Williams came to England in 1999 to study for a degree in Jazz, Popular and Commercial Music at Newcastle University. After graduating with honours he remained in the North East and has developed into one of the region’s most celebrated contemporary musicians, both as a first call sideman and as a significant collaborator with many of the area’s leading jazz performers.

Williams has previously appeared on the Jazzmann web pages as part of groups led by vocalist and songwriter Zoe Gilby and his playing features on her two most recent albums “Looking Glass” (2010 ) and “Twelve Stories” (2013). The guitarist has also been part of the song writing process, co-authoring a number of songs in conjunction with Gilby and bassist Andy Champion.

Williams was also a member of Champion’s prog jazz quintet ACV, which released the albums “Fail In Wood” (2010) and the excellent “Busk” which appeared on the Babel label in 2013. Sadly this particular unit now appears to be defunct.

Currently Williams is also a member of the Riviera Quartet which he co-leads with trumpeter Pete Tanton and the trio Leash featuring Champion and one time Back Door drummer Adrian Tilbrook. There’s also the MoHaWi Trio featuring trumpeter Graham Hardy and drummer Russ Morgan and Grandma, a duo featuring Williams and saxophonist Graeme Wilson.

However Williams’ main creative outlet remains his own trio, formed in 2006 and currently featuring Russ Morgan at the drums and Paul Susans on acoustic and electric bass. Their début album “Balaclava Street” was released in 2007 and “Last Bus To Bensham” therefore represents a very long awaited follow up. Despite the hiatus the trio have continued to gig consistently in the North East and Williams has also composed a set of excellent new material.

The new album commences with the title track, named after a district of Gateshead. It’s a muscular piece with passages of chunky, angular riffing alternating with more abstract, impressionistic passages featuring Williams’ inventive use of a variety of effects. On occasion the stop-start structure of the music is genuinely reminiscent of a bus journey with the abrasiveness of the playing also imparting a dangerous edge. The late bus, in any part of the country, isn’t always the safest or most comfortable place to be. Williams’ playing is outstanding, but Susans and Morgan also make important contributions with the drummer enjoying something of a feature during the latter stages of the journey.

“Weird Waltz” begins with the gentle sounds of Williams’ unaccompanied, arpeggiated guitar, subsequently joined by acoustic bass and brushed drums. At this stage the music still sounds like a relatively conventional guitar trio and the first solo goes to Susans on melodic, but resonant double bass. But deeper currents lurk below the surface, gradually emerging as Williams stretches out on guitar, again deploying his range of effects judiciously.

“Good Answer” begins in impressionistic fashion, softly ambient and noirish, before metamorphosing into a Bill Frisell like ballad with a memorable melody, plenty of guitar twang and an undulating brushed drum groove. There’s also a fluent double bass solo from the highly accomplished Susans, with melody and a deep resonance again going hand in hand.

“Scoff In Peace” finds Williams soloing fluently and at length and also features Susans demonstrating his considerable capabilities on electric bass. The latter stages of the tune feature the guitarist cranking up his amp as the trio briefly go into riff based overdrive.

“By The Bye” is gentler, another excursion into Frisell/Metheny territory with Williams’ melodic, softly keening guitar accompanied by acoustic bass and brushed drums with Susans again featuring as a soloist.

The urgent “Near Nuff” sees the trio striking out into rock influenced waters once more with the taut, angular riffing of the intro. Williams’ subsequent solo above a brisk, bustling bass and drum groove incorporates sophisticated jazz chording and mercurial single note runs. Morgan makes a particularly significant contribution and his colourful playing is strongly featured in the latter stages of the tune.

“By The By Revisited” then offers a brief reprise of the earlier piece before the album closes with “Adare Say”, an elegant, atmospheric ballad, again reminiscent of Metheny and Frisell, and featuring delightfully melodic solos from Williams on guitar and Susans on acoustic bass plus Morgan’s subtly brushed drum undertow.

“Last Bus To Bensham” represents an impressive offering from Williams and one that showcases his abilities as both a guitarist and a composer. It’s a strong and varied collection of themes and the playing by all three musicians is excellent throughout, both on the harder, rock influenced pieces and the gentler, more atmospheric items. Although it’s unmistakably Williams’ band the trio is a well balanced unit with both Susans and Morgan given sufficient opportunity to express themselves.Meanwhile the leader deploys a variety of guitar styles, uses his effects wisely and delivers a sound that is consistently engaging to the listener. As a technician he’s up there among the best of them.

It may have been a long time coming but the “Last Bus To Bensham” is a transport of delight that has been well worth waiting for.

“Last Bus To Bensham” can be purchsed via Mark’s website http://www.markwilliamsguitarist.com

Jonathan Gee / Tim Whitehead Quartet - Jonathan Gee / Tim Whitehead Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 14/10/2017. Rating: 4 out of 5 An excellent and eclectic evening of jazz that saw the quartet exploring a wide range of material that drew on pop, rock, soul and folk influences in a consistently interesting and entertaining manner

Jonathan Gee / Tim Whitehead Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 14/10/2017.

Pianist Jonathan Gee and saxophonist Tim Whitehead are two of the UK’s most experienced and respected jazz musicians and the prospect of seeing the pair co-leading their own quartet attracted a large audience to the Hive for this Shrewsbury Jazz Network event on an unseasonably balmy October evening.

Gee is a talented composer and band-leader in his own right who has led his own trios, with various combinations of personnel, for a number of years, releasing a series of albums in the process. The latest, “Dragonfly” (2012) featured his “American” trio with Joseph Lepore on double bass and the great Nasheet Waits at the drums.  A versatile musician with a thorough knowledge of the jazz tradition he is also an in demand sideman who has played with many of Britain’s leading jazz musicians and who is ‘first call’ for visiting Americans such as the great saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders.
My review of “Dragonfly” can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/dragonfly/


Whitehead first came to my attention in the 1980s as part of the first edition of Loose Tubes and has subsequently led his own groups including the pre-Tubes Borderline quartet (featuring a young Django Bates) and the post-Tubes fusion style quintet the Tim Whitehead Band. He has led various editions of his acoustic quartet over the years with the piano chair being occupied at various times by Liam Noble and Jonathan Gee. Again a number of albums have resulted including 2011’s “Colour Beginnings”, Whitehead’s musical interpretations of the art of J.M.W. Turner.
My review of an earlier Whitehead album, “Lucky Boys”, by a quartet co-led with Italian pianist and composer Giovanni Mirabassi can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/lucky-boys/
“Too Young To Go To Steady”, a 2007 live album recorded at London’s Pizza Express Jazz Club by Whitehead’s then regular quartet is reviewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/too-young-to-go-steady/

Joining Gee and Whitehead at The Hive were Andy Hamill on double bass and the American born Rod Youngs at the drums.

Hamill was a late replacement for the advertised Nick Pini but proved to be a highly capable ‘dep’ who impressed many members of the audience. A busy sideman adept at accompanying both vocalists and instrumentalists Hamill was well known to the rest of the band and has worked regularly with Whitehead’s close associate and fellow saxophonist Tony Woods.

London based Youngs is a highly accomplished, and often flamboyant, drummer who has worked in bands led by saxophonist Denys Baptiste and bassist Larry Bartley among many others.

Both Gee and Whitehead have a fondness for popular song and the quartet’s performance at Shrewsbury presented an eclectic mix of jazz standards, original compositions and, most notably, inventive and innovative jazz arrangements of pop songs, with a particular emphasis on the music of The Beatles.

Perhaps this shouldn’t have come as quite such a surprise. Whitehead’s 1999 “Personal Standards” album featured his jazz arrangements of a selection of pop and soul tunes while “Lucky Boys” included an adaptation of John Lennon’s “Imagine”.

Meanwhile Gee has his own Beatles connection. He is currently a member of a jazz quartet led by drummer Julian Fenton, once a member of the rock groups Kinky Machine and Mansun. Fenton, the step-son of the Beatles’ former tour manager Neil Aspinall regularly performs jazz versions of Beatles tunes with his quartet, with many of the arrangements written by Gee. Fenton’s quartet also includes bassist Ben Hazelton and guitarist Mike Outram.

This evening’s show started in unusual fashion with Youngs coming on stage first and informing the audience that he would be starting the first piece unaccompanied. Seating himself at the kit he sketched rhythmic patterns across his snare and toms with his bare hands, his colourful pattering occasionally punctuated by a bass drum accent or a click of the hi-hat. This was a distinctive, impressive and unusual opening and it was only with the addition of Gee at the piano and Hamill on double bass that things took a more conventional turn with expansive solos coming from Gee at the keyboard, Whitehead digging in on tenor sax, and finally Hamill on bass. The tune proved to be the late Cedar Walton’s composition “Bolivia”, a composition that has become something of a modern day standard.

Having played themselves in by stretching out on a jazz piece the quartet now turned for the first time to the Beatles repertoire with Gee’s dramatic re-harmonisation of “Blackbird” with Whitehead stating the melody on tenor and stretching out with a solo that would surely have surprised Mr. McCartney himself. Gee followed him on piano and the performance concluded with something of a feature for Youngs with the drummer accompanied by Whitehead’s impassioned tenor sax.

“Michelle” followed, introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano from Gee. Re-configured as a jazz ballad this featured solos from Whitehead’s warm toned, but deeply probing, tenor sax and Hamill’s melodic double bass as Youngs provided sensitively brushed accompaniment.

In keeping with the pop music theme “You Wish” was Whitehead’s re-working of Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” (from the album “Songs In The Key Of Life”) written over the same chord sequence, a “contrafact”, if you will. Announcing the tune Whitehead spoke of the joy he derived from Wonder’s tune, and particularly the irresistible groove which Hamill and Youngs recreated here with the help of Gee, who adopted a funky Fender Rhodes sound on his keyboard. Whitehead played the breezy melody on tenor before soloing at length, occasionally breaking off to urge the rhythm section on, placing the emphasis firmly on the groove. Gee followed him at the keyboard, keeping faith with the electric piano sound, and Youngs rounded things off with a series of good humoured drum breaks. He looked as if he was having a whale of a time.

The first set concluded as it began with a Cedar Walton tune, this time the appropriately gospel tinged “Holy Land”, again introduced by a passage of solo piano from Gee, his keyboard incantations answered by the rest of the band in classic ‘call and response’ manner. Whitehead took the first solo on tenor, followed by Gee at the piano but Hamill threatened to steal the show with a dramatic solo that included thumb slapped bass and flamenco style strumming as he demonstrated the full range of his considerable abilities.  A second solo piano cadenza from Gee then presaged a band finale that concluded with Whitehead’s Coltrane-esque tenor and the dramatic shimmer of Youngs’ mallets on cymbals.

The consensus around The Hive was that this had been an excellent first set and the audience members were genuinely intrigued to see what would follow in the second half. This proved to be broadly similar, but this time with a greater emphasis on original composition.

The quartet commenced with Whitehead’s “Louise Marie Anne”, a heartfelt tribute to a recently deceased family friend who had been a descendant of the artist John Everett Millais. Whitehead’s yearning tenor expressed his sense of loss with Gee and Hamill also adding thoughtful, melodic solos as Youngs provided sympathetic brushed accompaniment.

Keith Jarrett’s “Questar” was sourced from the pianist’s 1978 ECM album “My Song”, the second to feature his “European Quartet”. It’s a delightful piece but Whitehead wisely elected not to replicate the sound of saxophonist Jan Garbarek, instead choosing to find his own voice on tenor as he shared the solos with Gee, cast here in the Jarrett role and providing a little ‘vocalising’ of his own. Gee is also an accomplished singer and often ‘accompanies’ his own solos.

“Franklin” was Whitehead’s adaptation of a traditional folk tune written in memory of the explorer Sir John Franklin, of North West Passage fame. Whitehead’s piece was written for the 2016 Tall Ships Festival in London and originally included words sung by his vocalist daughter Hattie Whitehead. Ironically Franklin’s missing ships were discovered in the Arctic after around 170 years at around the time the piece was premièred. Performed here in the style of a jazz ballad Whitehead’s softly smouldering tenor was followed by solos from Gee on the piano and Hamill on supremely melodic bass, much of his playing focussed up around the bridge of the instrument. Whitehead then returned on tenor, still fluent but now more impassioned, and the piece resolved itself with a stunning solo sax cadenza.

Gee’s piece “Cicada”, a quirky piece with rhythms based on the unique life cycles of the insects in question is one of his oldest tunes having first appeared on “Good Cop, Bad Cop”, a 2001 album by a quartet co-led by Gee and trumpeter Damon Brown. It was then reprised for the 2012 trio album “Dragonfly” and remains a favourite piece with its odd meter grooves here eliciting convincing solos from Gee, Whitehead and Hamill plus a spirited dialogue between Whitehead and Youngs leading to the latter’s drum feature.

An excellent evening of music making ended with the quartet returning to the Beatles repertoire as they collectively stretched the fabric of Lennon & McCartney’s “She Loves You” via a Gee arrangement headed up on the manuscript as “She Loves U” and including final excellent solos from the co-leaders on piano and tenor respectively.

This was an excellent and eclectic evening of jazz that saw the quartet exploring a wide range of material that drew on pop, rock, soul and folk influences in a consistently interesting and entertaining manner and which included some exceptional playing from all four participants. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the Beatles repertoire explored in such an adventurous and interesting fashion, certainly not in a jazz context.

It was a reminder of just how talented Gee and Whitehead are while Hamill and Youngs also acquitted themselves superbly. The band members seemed genuinely impressed by the size of the turn out and the warmth of the crowd reaction, something that must have made the long drive back to London more bearable. My thanks to Jonathan gee for speaking with me afterwards and to all four performers for an evening of excellent music.

 

Jonathan Gee / Tim Whitehead Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 14/10/2017.

Jonathan Gee / Tim Whitehead Quartet

Monday, October 16, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Jonathan Gee / Tim Whitehead Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 14/10/2017.
Photography: Photograph of Jonathan Gee sourced from the Shrewsbury Jazz Network website http://www.shrewsburyjazznetwork.co.uk

An excellent and eclectic evening of jazz that saw the quartet exploring a wide range of material that drew on pop, rock, soul and folk influences in a consistently interesting and entertaining manner

Jonathan Gee / Tim Whitehead Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 14/10/2017.

Pianist Jonathan Gee and saxophonist Tim Whitehead are two of the UK’s most experienced and respected jazz musicians and the prospect of seeing the pair co-leading their own quartet attracted a large audience to the Hive for this Shrewsbury Jazz Network event on an unseasonably balmy October evening.

Gee is a talented composer and band-leader in his own right who has led his own trios, with various combinations of personnel, for a number of years, releasing a series of albums in the process. The latest, “Dragonfly” (2012) featured his “American” trio with Joseph Lepore on double bass and the great Nasheet Waits at the drums.  A versatile musician with a thorough knowledge of the jazz tradition he is also an in demand sideman who has played with many of Britain’s leading jazz musicians and who is ‘first call’ for visiting Americans such as the great saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders.
My review of “Dragonfly” can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/dragonfly/


Whitehead first came to my attention in the 1980s as part of the first edition of Loose Tubes and has subsequently led his own groups including the pre-Tubes Borderline quartet (featuring a young Django Bates) and the post-Tubes fusion style quintet the Tim Whitehead Band. He has led various editions of his acoustic quartet over the years with the piano chair being occupied at various times by Liam Noble and Jonathan Gee. Again a number of albums have resulted including 2011’s “Colour Beginnings”, Whitehead’s musical interpretations of the art of J.M.W. Turner.
My review of an earlier Whitehead album, “Lucky Boys”, by a quartet co-led with Italian pianist and composer Giovanni Mirabassi can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/lucky-boys/
“Too Young To Go To Steady”, a 2007 live album recorded at London’s Pizza Express Jazz Club by Whitehead’s then regular quartet is reviewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/too-young-to-go-steady/

Joining Gee and Whitehead at The Hive were Andy Hamill on double bass and the American born Rod Youngs at the drums.

Hamill was a late replacement for the advertised Nick Pini but proved to be a highly capable ‘dep’ who impressed many members of the audience. A busy sideman adept at accompanying both vocalists and instrumentalists Hamill was well known to the rest of the band and has worked regularly with Whitehead’s close associate and fellow saxophonist Tony Woods.

London based Youngs is a highly accomplished, and often flamboyant, drummer who has worked in bands led by saxophonist Denys Baptiste and bassist Larry Bartley among many others.

Both Gee and Whitehead have a fondness for popular song and the quartet’s performance at Shrewsbury presented an eclectic mix of jazz standards, original compositions and, most notably, inventive and innovative jazz arrangements of pop songs, with a particular emphasis on the music of The Beatles.

Perhaps this shouldn’t have come as quite such a surprise. Whitehead’s 1999 “Personal Standards” album featured his jazz arrangements of a selection of pop and soul tunes while “Lucky Boys” included an adaptation of John Lennon’s “Imagine”.

Meanwhile Gee has his own Beatles connection. He is currently a member of a jazz quartet led by drummer Julian Fenton, once a member of the rock groups Kinky Machine and Mansun. Fenton, the step-son of the Beatles’ former tour manager Neil Aspinall regularly performs jazz versions of Beatles tunes with his quartet, with many of the arrangements written by Gee. Fenton’s quartet also includes bassist Ben Hazelton and guitarist Mike Outram.

This evening’s show started in unusual fashion with Youngs coming on stage first and informing the audience that he would be starting the first piece unaccompanied. Seating himself at the kit he sketched rhythmic patterns across his snare and toms with his bare hands, his colourful pattering occasionally punctuated by a bass drum accent or a click of the hi-hat. This was a distinctive, impressive and unusual opening and it was only with the addition of Gee at the piano and Hamill on double bass that things took a more conventional turn with expansive solos coming from Gee at the keyboard, Whitehead digging in on tenor sax, and finally Hamill on bass. The tune proved to be the late Cedar Walton’s composition “Bolivia”, a composition that has become something of a modern day standard.

Having played themselves in by stretching out on a jazz piece the quartet now turned for the first time to the Beatles repertoire with Gee’s dramatic re-harmonisation of “Blackbird” with Whitehead stating the melody on tenor and stretching out with a solo that would surely have surprised Mr. McCartney himself. Gee followed him on piano and the performance concluded with something of a feature for Youngs with the drummer accompanied by Whitehead’s impassioned tenor sax.

“Michelle” followed, introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano from Gee. Re-configured as a jazz ballad this featured solos from Whitehead’s warm toned, but deeply probing, tenor sax and Hamill’s melodic double bass as Youngs provided sensitively brushed accompaniment.

In keeping with the pop music theme “You Wish” was Whitehead’s re-working of Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” (from the album “Songs In The Key Of Life”) written over the same chord sequence, a “contrafact”, if you will. Announcing the tune Whitehead spoke of the joy he derived from Wonder’s tune, and particularly the irresistible groove which Hamill and Youngs recreated here with the help of Gee, who adopted a funky Fender Rhodes sound on his keyboard. Whitehead played the breezy melody on tenor before soloing at length, occasionally breaking off to urge the rhythm section on, placing the emphasis firmly on the groove. Gee followed him at the keyboard, keeping faith with the electric piano sound, and Youngs rounded things off with a series of good humoured drum breaks. He looked as if he was having a whale of a time.

The first set concluded as it began with a Cedar Walton tune, this time the appropriately gospel tinged “Holy Land”, again introduced by a passage of solo piano from Gee, his keyboard incantations answered by the rest of the band in classic ‘call and response’ manner. Whitehead took the first solo on tenor, followed by Gee at the piano but Hamill threatened to steal the show with a dramatic solo that included thumb slapped bass and flamenco style strumming as he demonstrated the full range of his considerable abilities.  A second solo piano cadenza from Gee then presaged a band finale that concluded with Whitehead’s Coltrane-esque tenor and the dramatic shimmer of Youngs’ mallets on cymbals.

The consensus around The Hive was that this had been an excellent first set and the audience members were genuinely intrigued to see what would follow in the second half. This proved to be broadly similar, but this time with a greater emphasis on original composition.

The quartet commenced with Whitehead’s “Louise Marie Anne”, a heartfelt tribute to a recently deceased family friend who had been a descendant of the artist John Everett Millais. Whitehead’s yearning tenor expressed his sense of loss with Gee and Hamill also adding thoughtful, melodic solos as Youngs provided sympathetic brushed accompaniment.

Keith Jarrett’s “Questar” was sourced from the pianist’s 1978 ECM album “My Song”, the second to feature his “European Quartet”. It’s a delightful piece but Whitehead wisely elected not to replicate the sound of saxophonist Jan Garbarek, instead choosing to find his own voice on tenor as he shared the solos with Gee, cast here in the Jarrett role and providing a little ‘vocalising’ of his own. Gee is also an accomplished singer and often ‘accompanies’ his own solos.

“Franklin” was Whitehead’s adaptation of a traditional folk tune written in memory of the explorer Sir John Franklin, of North West Passage fame. Whitehead’s piece was written for the 2016 Tall Ships Festival in London and originally included words sung by his vocalist daughter Hattie Whitehead. Ironically Franklin’s missing ships were discovered in the Arctic after around 170 years at around the time the piece was premièred. Performed here in the style of a jazz ballad Whitehead’s softly smouldering tenor was followed by solos from Gee on the piano and Hamill on supremely melodic bass, much of his playing focussed up around the bridge of the instrument. Whitehead then returned on tenor, still fluent but now more impassioned, and the piece resolved itself with a stunning solo sax cadenza.

Gee’s piece “Cicada”, a quirky piece with rhythms based on the unique life cycles of the insects in question is one of his oldest tunes having first appeared on “Good Cop, Bad Cop”, a 2001 album by a quartet co-led by Gee and trumpeter Damon Brown. It was then reprised for the 2012 trio album “Dragonfly” and remains a favourite piece with its odd meter grooves here eliciting convincing solos from Gee, Whitehead and Hamill plus a spirited dialogue between Whitehead and Youngs leading to the latter’s drum feature.

An excellent evening of music making ended with the quartet returning to the Beatles repertoire as they collectively stretched the fabric of Lennon & McCartney’s “She Loves You” via a Gee arrangement headed up on the manuscript as “She Loves U” and including final excellent solos from the co-leaders on piano and tenor respectively.

This was an excellent and eclectic evening of jazz that saw the quartet exploring a wide range of material that drew on pop, rock, soul and folk influences in a consistently interesting and entertaining manner and which included some exceptional playing from all four participants. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the Beatles repertoire explored in such an adventurous and interesting fashion, certainly not in a jazz context.

It was a reminder of just how talented Gee and Whitehead are while Hamill and Youngs also acquitted themselves superbly. The band members seemed genuinely impressed by the size of the turn out and the warmth of the crowd reaction, something that must have made the long drive back to London more bearable. My thanks to Jonathan gee for speaking with me afterwards and to all four performers for an evening of excellent music.

 

World Peace Trio - World Peace Trio Rating: 4 out of 5 A highly accomplished and very satisfying début with the three musicians finding much common ground and carving out a distinctive niche for themselves.

World Peace Trio

“World Peace Trio”

(Enja Records ENJ-9642 2)

World Peace Trio is an international collaboration between the Israeli born, London based multi-instrumentalist Gilad Atzmon, Indonesian pianist Dwiki Dharmawan and the Kuwait born oud player and guitarist Kamal Musallam. The group name is derived from Dharmawan’s already extant World Peace Orchestra.

The idea of bringing these three musicians, all established band-leaders in their own right, together came from Leonardo Pavkovic, founder of the MoonJune record label for whom Dharmawan records. The trio were invited to perform at two Indonesian festivals during 2015, the Kota Tua Jazz Festival in Jakarta and the Bali World Music festival. The success of these appearances encouraged the trio to document their music on disc and this eponymous début album was recorded at two separate studio sessions in Jakarta and Bali before being mixed and mastered in London prior to release on the Munich based Enja label. This is a genuine ‘world record’.

Of the album’s eight tracks five are jointly composed by the trio and there are also arrangements of pieces by Atzmon and Duke Ellington plus the traditional Palestinian song “Ramallah”. The music is influenced by the sounds of jazz, Middle Eastern music, Indonesian Gamelan, flamenco and more. Dharmawan is credited with playing piano and synthesisers, Atzmon with clarinet, soprano saxophone and electronics and Musallam with oud, guitars and midi guitar. The album also includes contributions from guest musicians Ade Rudiana (kendang), Nasser Salameh (frame drum) and Asaf Sirkis (kit drums).

The sound of Atzmon’s unaccompanied clarinet ushers in the jointly composed “Morning Mist”, soon joined by the sound of Musallam’s oud and the exotic percussive sounds of Salameh’s frame drum. There’s a predominately Middle Eastern / North African sound about this piece with the haunting wail of Atzmon’s clarinet interacting effectively with Musallam’s oud as Salameh provides additional colour and rhythmical impetus.

The traditional Palestinian song “Ramallah” becomes a ten minute epic that combines Middle Eastern and Indonesian influences. Dharmawan’s piano is integrated into the arrangement while the rhythmic drive comes from Rudiana’s kendang, a two headed drum closely associated with Gamelan music. Musallam’s virtuoso oud playing fulfils both a melodic and rhythmic function and he combines well with Rudiana to propel the music forward. Atzmon and Dharmawan also link up well before the pair trade clarinet and piano solos with Rudiana providing a consistent rhythmic pulse. The subtle use of electronics allows Atzmon to produce a high pitched whistle from his clarinet, a distinctive sound not entirely dissimilar to that of the modern EWI (electronic wind instrument).

A passage of solo piano from Dharmawan introduces “The Seeker”, another lengthy piece but this time featuring the core trio. The pianist’s left hand carries out much of the rhythmic duties here as Musallam takes the first solo on oud followed by Atzmon on clarinet, his sound still unmistakably Middle Eastern and becoming increasingly impassioned as the tune accelerates. Dharmawan is given greater freedom in the later stages of the tune, soloing above Atzmon’s circling clarinet motif before the three musicians coalesce thrillingly towards the close.

“Peace And Beyond”, effectively the title track, introduces an appropriate element of serenity with Atzmon’s breathy clarinet underpinned by the sound of Musallam on guitar plus Sirkis’ delicate drum and cymbal embellishments. Dharmawan adds shimmering electric piano. Atzmon’s playing later becomes more urgent and impassioned and later still Musallam’s midi guitar takes flight underpinned by Sirkis’ insistent rhythms.

Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood” is one of the pieces tackled by Atzmon’s regular working group, the Orient House Ensemble, on their recent album “The Spirit Of Trane”. The way in which World Peace Trio approach the song is thrillingly different as they relocate the famous melody to the Far East in an innovative arrangement featuring piano, synth, clarinet and kendang with a lustrous duet between clarinet and piano mid tune.

Atzmon’s tune “Ghaza Mon Amour” originally appeared on the 2015 Orient House Ensemble album “The Whistle Blower” as a tune combining elements of Middle Eastern music with the ‘spiritual jazz’ of John Coltrane. Here a greater influence is placed on the Middle Eastern components with Musallam’s oud prominent in an arrangement given a driving rhythmic urgency by the constant driving presence of Rudiana’s kendang. Dharmawan delivers a terrific piano solo in a highly percussive, almost Cecil Taylor-ish manner and there’s also some uncredited vocal chanting. Atzmon’s reeds are electronically treated and radically distorted on a coruscating solo before Musallam’s oud takes over once more. It’s heady, exhilarating stuff.

The brief “Anecdote” calms things down temporarily with an opening passage featuring the gentle twinkling of unaccompanied piano. But Dharmawan quickly progresses to thunderous low end rumbling as Atzmon’s reeds evoke the sounds of a human cry, specifically an infant’s wail.

The piece acts as something of an overture for the closing “Dawn” with its unaccompanied oud intro and subsequent oud and clarinet dialogue. Dharmawan’s piano is then added to the piece as the trio engage in a series of leisurely exchanges over the course of the eleven minute track. It sometimes lacks the focus, dynamism and variety of the earlier pieces and rather overstays its welcome. Nevertheless it ends the record on a calm, elegiac note wholly in keeping with the name of the group.

Overall this is a highly accomplished and very satisfying début with the three musicians (and their guest percussionists, who all make significant contributions) finding much common ground and carving out a distinctive niche for themselves. Inevitably it’s a recording that will sound exotic to Western European and American ears but there is much here for the open minded listener to enjoy.

Every record featuring the remarkably prolific Gilad Atzmon is almost guaranteed to contain something of interest and his large British fan-base should appreciate the music of World Peace Trio, who toured briefly in the UK earlier in 2017.

I’m indebted to Gilad for providing me with a review copy of the album when we met at an (excellent) Orient House Ensemble performance at the Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in Abergavenny in September.

World Peace Trio

World Peace Trio

Friday, October 13, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

World Peace Trio

A highly accomplished and very satisfying début with the three musicians finding much common ground and carving out a distinctive niche for themselves.

World Peace Trio

“World Peace Trio”

(Enja Records ENJ-9642 2)

World Peace Trio is an international collaboration between the Israeli born, London based multi-instrumentalist Gilad Atzmon, Indonesian pianist Dwiki Dharmawan and the Kuwait born oud player and guitarist Kamal Musallam. The group name is derived from Dharmawan’s already extant World Peace Orchestra.

The idea of bringing these three musicians, all established band-leaders in their own right, together came from Leonardo Pavkovic, founder of the MoonJune record label for whom Dharmawan records. The trio were invited to perform at two Indonesian festivals during 2015, the Kota Tua Jazz Festival in Jakarta and the Bali World Music festival. The success of these appearances encouraged the trio to document their music on disc and this eponymous début album was recorded at two separate studio sessions in Jakarta and Bali before being mixed and mastered in London prior to release on the Munich based Enja label. This is a genuine ‘world record’.

Of the album’s eight tracks five are jointly composed by the trio and there are also arrangements of pieces by Atzmon and Duke Ellington plus the traditional Palestinian song “Ramallah”. The music is influenced by the sounds of jazz, Middle Eastern music, Indonesian Gamelan, flamenco and more. Dharmawan is credited with playing piano and synthesisers, Atzmon with clarinet, soprano saxophone and electronics and Musallam with oud, guitars and midi guitar. The album also includes contributions from guest musicians Ade Rudiana (kendang), Nasser Salameh (frame drum) and Asaf Sirkis (kit drums).

The sound of Atzmon’s unaccompanied clarinet ushers in the jointly composed “Morning Mist”, soon joined by the sound of Musallam’s oud and the exotic percussive sounds of Salameh’s frame drum. There’s a predominately Middle Eastern / North African sound about this piece with the haunting wail of Atzmon’s clarinet interacting effectively with Musallam’s oud as Salameh provides additional colour and rhythmical impetus.

The traditional Palestinian song “Ramallah” becomes a ten minute epic that combines Middle Eastern and Indonesian influences. Dharmawan’s piano is integrated into the arrangement while the rhythmic drive comes from Rudiana’s kendang, a two headed drum closely associated with Gamelan music. Musallam’s virtuoso oud playing fulfils both a melodic and rhythmic function and he combines well with Rudiana to propel the music forward. Atzmon and Dharmawan also link up well before the pair trade clarinet and piano solos with Rudiana providing a consistent rhythmic pulse. The subtle use of electronics allows Atzmon to produce a high pitched whistle from his clarinet, a distinctive sound not entirely dissimilar to that of the modern EWI (electronic wind instrument).

A passage of solo piano from Dharmawan introduces “The Seeker”, another lengthy piece but this time featuring the core trio. The pianist’s left hand carries out much of the rhythmic duties here as Musallam takes the first solo on oud followed by Atzmon on clarinet, his sound still unmistakably Middle Eastern and becoming increasingly impassioned as the tune accelerates. Dharmawan is given greater freedom in the later stages of the tune, soloing above Atzmon’s circling clarinet motif before the three musicians coalesce thrillingly towards the close.

“Peace And Beyond”, effectively the title track, introduces an appropriate element of serenity with Atzmon’s breathy clarinet underpinned by the sound of Musallam on guitar plus Sirkis’ delicate drum and cymbal embellishments. Dharmawan adds shimmering electric piano. Atzmon’s playing later becomes more urgent and impassioned and later still Musallam’s midi guitar takes flight underpinned by Sirkis’ insistent rhythms.

Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood” is one of the pieces tackled by Atzmon’s regular working group, the Orient House Ensemble, on their recent album “The Spirit Of Trane”. The way in which World Peace Trio approach the song is thrillingly different as they relocate the famous melody to the Far East in an innovative arrangement featuring piano, synth, clarinet and kendang with a lustrous duet between clarinet and piano mid tune.

Atzmon’s tune “Ghaza Mon Amour” originally appeared on the 2015 Orient House Ensemble album “The Whistle Blower” as a tune combining elements of Middle Eastern music with the ‘spiritual jazz’ of John Coltrane. Here a greater influence is placed on the Middle Eastern components with Musallam’s oud prominent in an arrangement given a driving rhythmic urgency by the constant driving presence of Rudiana’s kendang. Dharmawan delivers a terrific piano solo in a highly percussive, almost Cecil Taylor-ish manner and there’s also some uncredited vocal chanting. Atzmon’s reeds are electronically treated and radically distorted on a coruscating solo before Musallam’s oud takes over once more. It’s heady, exhilarating stuff.

The brief “Anecdote” calms things down temporarily with an opening passage featuring the gentle twinkling of unaccompanied piano. But Dharmawan quickly progresses to thunderous low end rumbling as Atzmon’s reeds evoke the sounds of a human cry, specifically an infant’s wail.

The piece acts as something of an overture for the closing “Dawn” with its unaccompanied oud intro and subsequent oud and clarinet dialogue. Dharmawan’s piano is then added to the piece as the trio engage in a series of leisurely exchanges over the course of the eleven minute track. It sometimes lacks the focus, dynamism and variety of the earlier pieces and rather overstays its welcome. Nevertheless it ends the record on a calm, elegiac note wholly in keeping with the name of the group.

Overall this is a highly accomplished and very satisfying début with the three musicians (and their guest percussionists, who all make significant contributions) finding much common ground and carving out a distinctive niche for themselves. Inevitably it’s a recording that will sound exotic to Western European and American ears but there is much here for the open minded listener to enjoy.

Every record featuring the remarkably prolific Gilad Atzmon is almost guaranteed to contain something of interest and his large British fan-base should appreciate the music of World Peace Trio, who toured briefly in the UK earlier in 2017.

I’m indebted to Gilad for providing me with a review copy of the album when we met at an (excellent) Orient House Ensemble performance at the Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in Abergavenny in September.

Leo Richardson Quartet - The Chase Rating: 4 out of 5 On its own terms the album succeeds brilliantly, evoking the ghosts of a previous era but imbuing them with a very contemporary vim and vigour. It’s a convincing updating of the hard bop tradition.

Leo Richardson Quartet

“The Chase”

(Ubuntu Music UBU005)

“The Chase” is the début album from the London based saxophonist and composer Leo Richardson. A tenor sax specialist Richardson was nominated in the Rising Star category at the London Music Awards and has led his quartet in performances at some of the most prestigious jazz venues in the capital and is a regular host of the Late Late Show at Ronnie Scott’s. 

Richardson is the son of the celebrated British bassist Jim Richardson, one time leader of the fondly remembered band Pogo and an in demand sideman who has worked with many of the greats of the music including the late trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker. It was Jim Richardson who was behind the recent re-issue of a 1983 Baker performance from the now defunct Canteen venue which was released on the Ubuntu label in 2016 as “Chet Baker Live In London”. Jim Richardson played bass on that session which also featured fellow British musicians John Horler (piano) and Tony Mann (drums). The three Brits emerge with great credit on one of the most significant re-releases of 2016. The album attracted considerable critical acclaim and my own appraisal can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/chet-baker-live-in-london/

It was Jim Richardson who first introduced the young Leo to jazz, nurturing his interest in, and love of, the music. Leo subsequently studied jazz at the Trinity School of Music in London where his tutors included Jean Toussaint, Julian Siegel, Mark Lockheart, Martin Speake and Mick Foster.

Leo graduated from Trinity in 2013 with a First Class Honours Degree in Jazz Performance. Besides leading his own quartet he has also become an in demand sideman who has worked with an impressive array of jazz and pop artists, including Kylie Minogue, Jamie Cullum, Gregory Porter, Wet Wet Wet, Heritage Orchestra, Candi Staton, John Newman, Ella Eyre, Jessie Ware, The BBC Proms, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra, Submotion Orchestra, Ronan Keating, Blue, Peter Andre, Mulatu Astatke, Anne-Marie, Clare Teal, Roger Taylor (Queen), Toyah Wilcox, Il Divo,The Heliocentrics, Ben Sidran, Elaine Delmar, Vula Malinga, Alan Skidmore, Dick Pearce, Norma Winstone, Gary Husband, Simon Purcell, Andrew McCormack and Jim Mullen. It’s quite a list, and by no means comprehensive.

Richardson’s own regular jazz quartet features Rick Simpson on piano, Mark Lewandowski on double bass and Ed Richardson (presumably the leader’s brother) at the drums. The music is unashamedly in the hard bop style with Leo citing the influence of drummer Art Blakey, pianist Horace Silver and saxophonists Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane.

The artwork for “The Chase” includes the Coltrane quote “You’ve got to look back at the old things and see them in a new light”. Essentially this is what Leo does on a series of original compositions inspired by the writing of Blakey, Silver et al as Leo explains;
“I am extremely drawn to jazz music of the late 1950s and early 1960s. I never set out to create a new genre or style or to innovate. I wanted to regenerate the spirit of the music that I love but with a modern injection from contemporary musicians who are stunning players in their own right. I feel that some contemporary jazz has lost the spirit of swing and the exciting American vibe that I’m so drawn to. I wanted to recapture this style in a contemporary setting in order to rejuvenate the scene with memorable melodies, ferocious tempos, hard swing and exciting interaction”.

Leo and his quartet are joined in their quest by guest performers Quentin Collins (trumpet) and Alan Skidmore (tenor sax), the latter a profound influence on the young Leo. Jean Toussaint provides liner notes which shed light on the individual compositions, many of which pay tribute to Leo’s musical heroes.

The opening “Blues For Joe” pays homage to Joe Henderson and gets the album off to a rousing, energetic start. As Toussaint observes the style is essentially the kind of hard bop that distinguished the Blue Note label in the 50s and 60s. However there’s a nice contemporary twist when Lewandowski unexpectedly provides the opening solo, later handing on to Leo, whose turbo-charged outpourings forge a molten amalgam of Henderson and Coltrane. Simpson then takes over with a series of scurrying piano runs as Ed Richardson’s crisp, energetic drumming drives the music forward.

Quentin Collins is added to the group for “Demon E”, a loping, medium paced swinger inspired by the sound of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Collins takes the first solo, his sound blues inflected and highly fluent . Leo’s solo is robust and again speaks of the blues while Simpson stretches out succinctly at the piano. Leo and Quentin Collins then combine effectively towards the close.

“The Curve” also features Collins and is a blues with the kind of earworm hook that distinguished Lee Morgan tunes such as the “The Sidewinder”. With bass and drums providing the necessary rhythmic impetus Leo, Simpson and Collins take the opportunity solo expansively and there’s also something of a feature for Ed Richardson.

The vibrant title track owes something to the styles of Horace Silver and Dexter Gordon and features a mercurial opening solo from Simpson followed by Leo tearing it up on tenor. Ed Richardson’s dynamic drumming fairly powers the music along and he’s rewarded with his own volcanic drum solo. Collins is in there too, somewhere.

If the explosive title track pays homage to the Dexter Gordon album of the same name then the ballad “Elisha’s Song” exhibits a very different aspect of Gordon’s – and Leo’s- playing. Introduced by a limpid passage of unaccompanied piano from Simpson the piece features Leo’s tenor playing at its most tender. Gordon was noted for the warmth of his ballad playing and as this beautiful piece reveals it’s also a quality shared by Leo Richardson. Simpson also adds a lyrical piano solo supported by languid, melodic bass and sympathetically brushed drums.

Unaccompanied double bass introduces the Latin flavoured “Mambo” but this is just the calm before the storm as Leo Richardson stretches out on tenor in the classic saxophone trio format accompanied by Lewandowski’s supple but muscular bass and the rolling thunder of Ed Richadrson’s fluid drumming. The introduction of Simpson initially brings a more reflective aspect to the music but he gradually ramps up the tension during a well constructed solo that again receives inventive and imaginative support from bass and drums. Finally Leo Richardson returns for a rousing, Coltrane-esque group finale.

As its title might suggest “Silver Lining” represents Leo Richardson’s tribute to the great Horace Silver. Swinging and melodic the piece possesses many of Silver’s hallmarks and includes memorable solos from Simpson at the piano, the leader on raunchy, bluesy tenor and Lewandowski on double bass plus a series of dynamic drum breaks from Ed Richardson.

Finally we hear the ten minute epic “Mr. Skid” which sees Leo Richardson going toe to toe on tenor with one of his key influences, the great Alan Skidmore. Introduced by a roll of the drums from Ed Richardson the piece evokes memories of the great Coltrane bands of the 1960s with Simpson cast as McCoy Tyner and Ed Richardson as Elvin Jones. The twin tenors exchange powerful, visceral solos digging long and deep and also engage in a series of shorter exchanges before coming together in tandem towards the close. Simpson also gets the chance to stretch out on piano, soloing expansively above a roiling backdrop of busy bass and drums. It’s dynamic, passionate and thrilling stuff.

As an album “The Chase” doesn’t break any new ground but by Richardson’s own admittance that isn’t its business. On its own terms the album succeeds brilliantly, evoking the ghosts of a previous era but imbuing them with a very contemporary vim and vigour. The standard of the playing is exceptional throughout and as compositions Richardson’s homages are convincing in their own right. As a writer Richardson is attempting to create new jazz classics rather than merely recycling the old ones. It’s a thoroughly convincing updating of the hard bop tradition and the reviews thus far have been fulsome in their praise for a very well executed recording. On this evidence Richardson promises to be the most significant British saxophonist of this type to emerge since Simon Spillett.

However one suspects that the ultimate place to enjoy this music would be in a live, jazz club environment. This core quartet promises to be a highly exciting live prospect and listeners will get the chance to check them out on their forthcoming UK tour, dates listed below.


ON TOUR;

Nov 26 – The Talking Heads, Southampton
Nov 30 – Matt & Phred’s, Manchester
Dec 1 – Opus 4 Jazz Club, Darlington
Dec 2 – Zeffirellis, Ambleside
Dec 4 – Kenilworth Jazz Club
Dec 5 – North Wales Jazz
Dec 7 – The Blue Boar, Poole
Dec 12 – Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London

More information at http://www.leorichardsonmusic.com

The Chase

Leo Richardson Quartet

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

The Chase

On its own terms the album succeeds brilliantly, evoking the ghosts of a previous era but imbuing them with a very contemporary vim and vigour. It’s a convincing updating of the hard bop tradition.

Leo Richardson Quartet

“The Chase”

(Ubuntu Music UBU005)

“The Chase” is the début album from the London based saxophonist and composer Leo Richardson. A tenor sax specialist Richardson was nominated in the Rising Star category at the London Music Awards and has led his quartet in performances at some of the most prestigious jazz venues in the capital and is a regular host of the Late Late Show at Ronnie Scott’s. 

Richardson is the son of the celebrated British bassist Jim Richardson, one time leader of the fondly remembered band Pogo and an in demand sideman who has worked with many of the greats of the music including the late trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker. It was Jim Richardson who was behind the recent re-issue of a 1983 Baker performance from the now defunct Canteen venue which was released on the Ubuntu label in 2016 as “Chet Baker Live In London”. Jim Richardson played bass on that session which also featured fellow British musicians John Horler (piano) and Tony Mann (drums). The three Brits emerge with great credit on one of the most significant re-releases of 2016. The album attracted considerable critical acclaim and my own appraisal can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/chet-baker-live-in-london/

It was Jim Richardson who first introduced the young Leo to jazz, nurturing his interest in, and love of, the music. Leo subsequently studied jazz at the Trinity School of Music in London where his tutors included Jean Toussaint, Julian Siegel, Mark Lockheart, Martin Speake and Mick Foster.

Leo graduated from Trinity in 2013 with a First Class Honours Degree in Jazz Performance. Besides leading his own quartet he has also become an in demand sideman who has worked with an impressive array of jazz and pop artists, including Kylie Minogue, Jamie Cullum, Gregory Porter, Wet Wet Wet, Heritage Orchestra, Candi Staton, John Newman, Ella Eyre, Jessie Ware, The BBC Proms, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra, Submotion Orchestra, Ronan Keating, Blue, Peter Andre, Mulatu Astatke, Anne-Marie, Clare Teal, Roger Taylor (Queen), Toyah Wilcox, Il Divo,The Heliocentrics, Ben Sidran, Elaine Delmar, Vula Malinga, Alan Skidmore, Dick Pearce, Norma Winstone, Gary Husband, Simon Purcell, Andrew McCormack and Jim Mullen. It’s quite a list, and by no means comprehensive.

Richardson’s own regular jazz quartet features Rick Simpson on piano, Mark Lewandowski on double bass and Ed Richardson (presumably the leader’s brother) at the drums. The music is unashamedly in the hard bop style with Leo citing the influence of drummer Art Blakey, pianist Horace Silver and saxophonists Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane.

The artwork for “The Chase” includes the Coltrane quote “You’ve got to look back at the old things and see them in a new light”. Essentially this is what Leo does on a series of original compositions inspired by the writing of Blakey, Silver et al as Leo explains;
“I am extremely drawn to jazz music of the late 1950s and early 1960s. I never set out to create a new genre or style or to innovate. I wanted to regenerate the spirit of the music that I love but with a modern injection from contemporary musicians who are stunning players in their own right. I feel that some contemporary jazz has lost the spirit of swing and the exciting American vibe that I’m so drawn to. I wanted to recapture this style in a contemporary setting in order to rejuvenate the scene with memorable melodies, ferocious tempos, hard swing and exciting interaction”.

Leo and his quartet are joined in their quest by guest performers Quentin Collins (trumpet) and Alan Skidmore (tenor sax), the latter a profound influence on the young Leo. Jean Toussaint provides liner notes which shed light on the individual compositions, many of which pay tribute to Leo’s musical heroes.

The opening “Blues For Joe” pays homage to Joe Henderson and gets the album off to a rousing, energetic start. As Toussaint observes the style is essentially the kind of hard bop that distinguished the Blue Note label in the 50s and 60s. However there’s a nice contemporary twist when Lewandowski unexpectedly provides the opening solo, later handing on to Leo, whose turbo-charged outpourings forge a molten amalgam of Henderson and Coltrane. Simpson then takes over with a series of scurrying piano runs as Ed Richardson’s crisp, energetic drumming drives the music forward.

Quentin Collins is added to the group for “Demon E”, a loping, medium paced swinger inspired by the sound of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Collins takes the first solo, his sound blues inflected and highly fluent . Leo’s solo is robust and again speaks of the blues while Simpson stretches out succinctly at the piano. Leo and Quentin Collins then combine effectively towards the close.

“The Curve” also features Collins and is a blues with the kind of earworm hook that distinguished Lee Morgan tunes such as the “The Sidewinder”. With bass and drums providing the necessary rhythmic impetus Leo, Simpson and Collins take the opportunity solo expansively and there’s also something of a feature for Ed Richardson.

The vibrant title track owes something to the styles of Horace Silver and Dexter Gordon and features a mercurial opening solo from Simpson followed by Leo tearing it up on tenor. Ed Richardson’s dynamic drumming fairly powers the music along and he’s rewarded with his own volcanic drum solo. Collins is in there too, somewhere.

If the explosive title track pays homage to the Dexter Gordon album of the same name then the ballad “Elisha’s Song” exhibits a very different aspect of Gordon’s – and Leo’s- playing. Introduced by a limpid passage of unaccompanied piano from Simpson the piece features Leo’s tenor playing at its most tender. Gordon was noted for the warmth of his ballad playing and as this beautiful piece reveals it’s also a quality shared by Leo Richardson. Simpson also adds a lyrical piano solo supported by languid, melodic bass and sympathetically brushed drums.

Unaccompanied double bass introduces the Latin flavoured “Mambo” but this is just the calm before the storm as Leo Richardson stretches out on tenor in the classic saxophone trio format accompanied by Lewandowski’s supple but muscular bass and the rolling thunder of Ed Richadrson’s fluid drumming. The introduction of Simpson initially brings a more reflective aspect to the music but he gradually ramps up the tension during a well constructed solo that again receives inventive and imaginative support from bass and drums. Finally Leo Richardson returns for a rousing, Coltrane-esque group finale.

As its title might suggest “Silver Lining” represents Leo Richardson’s tribute to the great Horace Silver. Swinging and melodic the piece possesses many of Silver’s hallmarks and includes memorable solos from Simpson at the piano, the leader on raunchy, bluesy tenor and Lewandowski on double bass plus a series of dynamic drum breaks from Ed Richardson.

Finally we hear the ten minute epic “Mr. Skid” which sees Leo Richardson going toe to toe on tenor with one of his key influences, the great Alan Skidmore. Introduced by a roll of the drums from Ed Richardson the piece evokes memories of the great Coltrane bands of the 1960s with Simpson cast as McCoy Tyner and Ed Richardson as Elvin Jones. The twin tenors exchange powerful, visceral solos digging long and deep and also engage in a series of shorter exchanges before coming together in tandem towards the close. Simpson also gets the chance to stretch out on piano, soloing expansively above a roiling backdrop of busy bass and drums. It’s dynamic, passionate and thrilling stuff.

As an album “The Chase” doesn’t break any new ground but by Richardson’s own admittance that isn’t its business. On its own terms the album succeeds brilliantly, evoking the ghosts of a previous era but imbuing them with a very contemporary vim and vigour. The standard of the playing is exceptional throughout and as compositions Richardson’s homages are convincing in their own right. As a writer Richardson is attempting to create new jazz classics rather than merely recycling the old ones. It’s a thoroughly convincing updating of the hard bop tradition and the reviews thus far have been fulsome in their praise for a very well executed recording. On this evidence Richardson promises to be the most significant British saxophonist of this type to emerge since Simon Spillett.

However one suspects that the ultimate place to enjoy this music would be in a live, jazz club environment. This core quartet promises to be a highly exciting live prospect and listeners will get the chance to check them out on their forthcoming UK tour, dates listed below.


ON TOUR;

Nov 26 – The Talking Heads, Southampton
Nov 30 – Matt & Phred’s, Manchester
Dec 1 – Opus 4 Jazz Club, Darlington
Dec 2 – Zeffirellis, Ambleside
Dec 4 – Kenilworth Jazz Club
Dec 5 – North Wales Jazz
Dec 7 – The Blue Boar, Poole
Dec 12 – Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London

More information at http://www.leorichardsonmusic.com

Jean Guyomarc’h & Friends - Jean Guyomarc’h & Friends, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 10/10/2017. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 "An excellent evening of music making". Ian Mann enjoys this one-off collaboration between guitarists Jean Guyomarc'h and Will Barnes and double bassist/vocalist Ruth Bowen.

Jean Guyomarc’h & Friends, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 10/10/2017.

The French guitarist Jean Guyomarc’h has been a regular visitor to Wales over the course of the last two years or so, becoming something of an audience favourite in the process.

In 2015 the Brittany born musician toured Wales with the group Major Swing featuring rhythm guitarist and vocalist Phillippe Cann and violinist and vocalist Yurie Hu. The tour culminated with a well received performance at Brecon Jazz Festival where the trio were joined by guest performers Remi Harris (guitar) and Ashley John Long (double bass), two highly accomplished local musicians with strong followings in the Welsh Borders and beyond. My review of that performance can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/major-swing-with-guests-remi-harris-and-ashley-john-long-brecon-jazz-festiv/

In October 2016 Guyomarc’h returned to the UK for another short tour, something that now seems to be becoming something of an annual event. Dates on this current visit have included performances in Cardiff and Brecon with tonight’s line up credited to Jean Guyomarc’h & Friends.
Guyomarc’h was joined by fellow guitarist Will Barnes and double bassist, and occasional vocalist Ruth Bowen, the latter stepping in at short notice for the unavailable Erica Lyons.

Barnes is also something of a Brecon Jazz Club favourite having previously visited as a member of a trio led by violinist Sarah Barnwell. Like Major Swing Extended he was also part of the 2015 “Celebrating the Jazz Guitar” programme at the 2015 Brecon Jazz Festival when he appeared as part of a one off aggregation billed as the Deirdre Cartwright Band & Friends. Review here ;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/deirdre-cartwright-band-friends-brecon-jazz-festival-09-08-2015/

Barnes has also led his own band, Inspector Gadjo, which skilfully combines gypsy jazz with bebop. He has also been part of the highly successful, but recently discontinued, group Gypsy Fire which presented a kind of gypsy jazz / classical crossover. The versatile Barnes has recently been touring with the singer/songwriter Beth Prior. Others with whom he has performed include fellow guitarists Cartwright, Gary Potter, John Etheridge and Frank Vignola and saxophonist/clarinettist Alan Barnes.

Locally based Ruth Bowen is a popular figure on the jazz scene in the Welsh Marches leading her own group Gardenia Swing which features her on both double bass and vocals. She has performed a number of Brecon Jazz Club dates, the most recent of which featured Gardenia Swing with guest saxophonist Heinz Hunt. She was part of a quartet led by North Walian guitarist Trefor Owen at the 2015 Brecon Jazz Festival. Bowen also performs regularly with Leominster based musicians Trevor Davies (guitar) and Mark Latimer (piano). Others with whom she has collaborated include guitarist Andrew Jones, saxophonist Deborah Glenister and drummer Richard Bowen.

I think I’m correct in stating that tonight was the first time this particular line up had actually performed together and that Lyons had played bass on the earlier tour dates. Guyomarc’h and Barnes had played together some years previously and it’s highly likely that Barnes may also have worked with Bowen at some point.

Thus the programme, formulated by Guyomarc’h, featured a familiar selection of gypsy jazz staples, the majority of them written by, or associated with, Django Reinhardt. There were also a number of jazz and bebop standards, these more suited to Barnes style of playing.

The two guitarists began the first set in duo format, Guyomarc’h playing a subtly amplified acoustic guitar and Barnes a solid bodied electric model, the classic “arch top”. In reality their tones actually sounded very similar as they alternated between lead and rhythmic roles, passing the initiative back and forth seamlessly, virtually at the ‘drop of a hat’.

Both guitarists are exceptional soloists and every tune saw them exchanging solos and often entering into a series of dazzling exchanges as they traded phrases back and forth in a series of sparkling musical conversations.

The opening duo item, “Coquette” was an excellent example of this with Guyomarc’h taking the first solo before exchanging roles with Barnes, the pair finally coming together with a tasty exchange of guitar licks. This was followed by a vibrantly lively “Stompin’ At The Savoy” with Barnes this time soloing first.

Bowen joined the group for one of the less familiar items in the programme, an original appropriately titled “Made In France” and written by the highly acclaimed guitarist Bireli Lagrene.
Written in the waltz format the tune featured two solos from Guyomarc’h either side of a feature for Barnes.

An up-tempo version of “There Will Never Be Another You” saw Bowen take her first solo of the night as she followed similar outings from Guyomarc’h and Barnes.

Introduced by a passage of unaccompanied guitar by Barnes Reinhardt’s ballad “Norwegian Dance” found the trio cooling the fires with fluently elegant solos from Guyomarc’h, Barnes and then Guyomarc’h again.

A rapid “Nuit De St. Germain Du Pres” saw the trio picking up the pace once more. Guyomarc’h and Barnes are both virtuoso soloists and they were in particularly dazzling form here with lithe solos from both protagonists followed by an equally incandescent series of exchanges between the pair as they batted ideas back and forth. A word here too for Bowen whose rhythmic impetus and shoring up of the group sound helped to propel the twin guitarists to new levels of inventiveness.

“Blues Minuet” was introduced by a passage of solo guitar from Guyomarc’h. The strong blues influence behind the piece was apparent in the solos from Guyomarc’h and Barnes, the latter at one point soloing with only Bowen for company as the leader temporarily sat out.

Bowen’s singing is an essential element of her performances with Gardenia Swing and she was featured in this role on “Honeysuckle Rose”, the only vocal number of the night and one which saw her showcase both her singing and bass playing as the two guitarists again traded solos.

The ballad like “Troublant Bolero” calmed things down once more with Guyomarc’h and Barnes both featuring as soloists before a delicately constructed and highly effective diminuendo conclusion.

The first set then ended with “Cherokee” which began slowly before exploding into life as the trio accelerated the tune with nimble solos coming from both Barnes and Guyomarc’h.

I’m indebted to Will Barnes for providing me with a set list during the break. The first half was played exactly as written down but Guyomarc’h made a few changes to the running order of the second set so if there are any inaccuracies in my account of the second half you know why.

Once again the set commenced in duo mode with Guyomarc’h and Barnes exchanging solos on Wes Montgomery’s “Four On Six”, with Barnes using the body of his guitar as a form of auxiliary percussion.

A passage of unaccompanied guitar from Guyomarc’h then introduced the ballad “Body And Soul” with the two musicians again exchanging solos.

Bowen rejoined the group to romp through a segue of the bebop classics “Oleo” and “Anthropology” which saw some slippery bop style soloing from Barnes as he traded features with Guyomarc’h. Arguably the highlight of the piece was the dazzling, quote laden series of exchanges between the guitarists towards the end, they even managed a fleeting reprise of “Cherokee”.

Barnes described the fusion of “Belleville” and “Daphne” as “Django with a modern, boppish twist” as he and Guyomarc’h again shared solos and then proceeded to swap lead and rhythm roles with great élan on the final series of exchanges as Bowen’s bass continued to push the music forward. The two guitarists made it all look effortlessly easy and natural, but the skill levels were very high indeed and the rapport between the players almost uncanny.

Looking back now there’s some confusion about the order in which “Bossa Dorado” and “Impression” appeared but the soloing was undeniably brilliant as the two guitarists warmed to their task. One outing from Barnes was greeted by a barrage of rapturous applause while one of Bowen’s rare solo excursions was also warmly appreciated.

One thing that invoked no arguments was a stunning, slowed down arrangement of George Gershwin’s “Summertime” which subtly disguised the melody as Barnes and Guyomarc’h traded subtle but effective solos and a further series of exchanges. Many audience members cited this innovative interpretation of this most familiar of tunes as the highlight of the evening.

The performance concluded with a spirited, high energy romp through the gypsy jazz classic “Dark Eyes” with final sparkling solos from both guitarists.

Encouraged by an enthusiastic audience reaction the trio were urged by promoter Lynne Gornall to play a “short slow” encore designed to send the audience home in a relaxed but happy mood. Instead we got a short, fast encore with final solos from Guyomarc’h and Barnes and a humorous, quote laden final series of exchanges.

Despite the predictability of the programme this was an excellent evening of music making that, admittedly, did throw up a number of genuine surprises including the Bireli Lagrene piece and that remarkable version of “Summertime”.

But it was the sheer quality of the playing, plus the obvious rapport and good humour between Guyomarc’h and Barnes that helped to make it memorable. Both are brilliant soloists with a high degree of technical ability but they work so well together, pushing each other on to new heights of invention. Bowen’s role was largely supportive but she, too, performed well, giving the two guitarists the opportunity to shine while also seizing her own moments in the spotlight.

At times I was conscious of the limitations of the “gypsy jazz” format and missed something of the variety that Remi Harris brings to his shows these days. Having said that Remi’s trio is a regular working band with a now well established game plan. Tonight’s one off collaboration did all it could in the format and the circumstances and delivered some outstanding musicianship. Barnes later told me how much he had enjoyed playing with Guyomarc’h again, his fellow guitarist having pushed Barnes out of his comfort zone to exhilarating effect. The way in which these two sparked off each other was genuinely exciting to watch.

Guyomarc’h is likely to return again for more ‘Breize a Galles’ (Brittany and Wales) collaborations in the future.

 

Jean Guyomarc’h & Friends, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 10/10/2017.

Jean Guyomarc’h & Friends

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Jean Guyomarc’h & Friends, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 10/10/2017.
Photography: Photograph of Jean Guyomarc'h at the 2015 Brecon Jazz Festival by Bob Meyrick.

"An excellent evening of music making". Ian Mann enjoys this one-off collaboration between guitarists Jean Guyomarc'h and Will Barnes and double bassist/vocalist Ruth Bowen.

Jean Guyomarc’h & Friends, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 10/10/2017.

The French guitarist Jean Guyomarc’h has been a regular visitor to Wales over the course of the last two years or so, becoming something of an audience favourite in the process.

In 2015 the Brittany born musician toured Wales with the group Major Swing featuring rhythm guitarist and vocalist Phillippe Cann and violinist and vocalist Yurie Hu. The tour culminated with a well received performance at Brecon Jazz Festival where the trio were joined by guest performers Remi Harris (guitar) and Ashley John Long (double bass), two highly accomplished local musicians with strong followings in the Welsh Borders and beyond. My review of that performance can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/major-swing-with-guests-remi-harris-and-ashley-john-long-brecon-jazz-festiv/

In October 2016 Guyomarc’h returned to the UK for another short tour, something that now seems to be becoming something of an annual event. Dates on this current visit have included performances in Cardiff and Brecon with tonight’s line up credited to Jean Guyomarc’h & Friends.
Guyomarc’h was joined by fellow guitarist Will Barnes and double bassist, and occasional vocalist Ruth Bowen, the latter stepping in at short notice for the unavailable Erica Lyons.

Barnes is also something of a Brecon Jazz Club favourite having previously visited as a member of a trio led by violinist Sarah Barnwell. Like Major Swing Extended he was also part of the 2015 “Celebrating the Jazz Guitar” programme at the 2015 Brecon Jazz Festival when he appeared as part of a one off aggregation billed as the Deirdre Cartwright Band & Friends. Review here ;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/deirdre-cartwright-band-friends-brecon-jazz-festival-09-08-2015/

Barnes has also led his own band, Inspector Gadjo, which skilfully combines gypsy jazz with bebop. He has also been part of the highly successful, but recently discontinued, group Gypsy Fire which presented a kind of gypsy jazz / classical crossover. The versatile Barnes has recently been touring with the singer/songwriter Beth Prior. Others with whom he has performed include fellow guitarists Cartwright, Gary Potter, John Etheridge and Frank Vignola and saxophonist/clarinettist Alan Barnes.

Locally based Ruth Bowen is a popular figure on the jazz scene in the Welsh Marches leading her own group Gardenia Swing which features her on both double bass and vocals. She has performed a number of Brecon Jazz Club dates, the most recent of which featured Gardenia Swing with guest saxophonist Heinz Hunt. She was part of a quartet led by North Walian guitarist Trefor Owen at the 2015 Brecon Jazz Festival. Bowen also performs regularly with Leominster based musicians Trevor Davies (guitar) and Mark Latimer (piano). Others with whom she has collaborated include guitarist Andrew Jones, saxophonist Deborah Glenister and drummer Richard Bowen.

I think I’m correct in stating that tonight was the first time this particular line up had actually performed together and that Lyons had played bass on the earlier tour dates. Guyomarc’h and Barnes had played together some years previously and it’s highly likely that Barnes may also have worked with Bowen at some point.

Thus the programme, formulated by Guyomarc’h, featured a familiar selection of gypsy jazz staples, the majority of them written by, or associated with, Django Reinhardt. There were also a number of jazz and bebop standards, these more suited to Barnes style of playing.

The two guitarists began the first set in duo format, Guyomarc’h playing a subtly amplified acoustic guitar and Barnes a solid bodied electric model, the classic “arch top”. In reality their tones actually sounded very similar as they alternated between lead and rhythmic roles, passing the initiative back and forth seamlessly, virtually at the ‘drop of a hat’.

Both guitarists are exceptional soloists and every tune saw them exchanging solos and often entering into a series of dazzling exchanges as they traded phrases back and forth in a series of sparkling musical conversations.

The opening duo item, “Coquette” was an excellent example of this with Guyomarc’h taking the first solo before exchanging roles with Barnes, the pair finally coming together with a tasty exchange of guitar licks. This was followed by a vibrantly lively “Stompin’ At The Savoy” with Barnes this time soloing first.

Bowen joined the group for one of the less familiar items in the programme, an original appropriately titled “Made In France” and written by the highly acclaimed guitarist Bireli Lagrene.
Written in the waltz format the tune featured two solos from Guyomarc’h either side of a feature for Barnes.

An up-tempo version of “There Will Never Be Another You” saw Bowen take her first solo of the night as she followed similar outings from Guyomarc’h and Barnes.

Introduced by a passage of unaccompanied guitar by Barnes Reinhardt’s ballad “Norwegian Dance” found the trio cooling the fires with fluently elegant solos from Guyomarc’h, Barnes and then Guyomarc’h again.

A rapid “Nuit De St. Germain Du Pres” saw the trio picking up the pace once more. Guyomarc’h and Barnes are both virtuoso soloists and they were in particularly dazzling form here with lithe solos from both protagonists followed by an equally incandescent series of exchanges between the pair as they batted ideas back and forth. A word here too for Bowen whose rhythmic impetus and shoring up of the group sound helped to propel the twin guitarists to new levels of inventiveness.

“Blues Minuet” was introduced by a passage of solo guitar from Guyomarc’h. The strong blues influence behind the piece was apparent in the solos from Guyomarc’h and Barnes, the latter at one point soloing with only Bowen for company as the leader temporarily sat out.

Bowen’s singing is an essential element of her performances with Gardenia Swing and she was featured in this role on “Honeysuckle Rose”, the only vocal number of the night and one which saw her showcase both her singing and bass playing as the two guitarists again traded solos.

The ballad like “Troublant Bolero” calmed things down once more with Guyomarc’h and Barnes both featuring as soloists before a delicately constructed and highly effective diminuendo conclusion.

The first set then ended with “Cherokee” which began slowly before exploding into life as the trio accelerated the tune with nimble solos coming from both Barnes and Guyomarc’h.

I’m indebted to Will Barnes for providing me with a set list during the break. The first half was played exactly as written down but Guyomarc’h made a few changes to the running order of the second set so if there are any inaccuracies in my account of the second half you know why.

Once again the set commenced in duo mode with Guyomarc’h and Barnes exchanging solos on Wes Montgomery’s “Four On Six”, with Barnes using the body of his guitar as a form of auxiliary percussion.

A passage of unaccompanied guitar from Guyomarc’h then introduced the ballad “Body And Soul” with the two musicians again exchanging solos.

Bowen rejoined the group to romp through a segue of the bebop classics “Oleo” and “Anthropology” which saw some slippery bop style soloing from Barnes as he traded features with Guyomarc’h. Arguably the highlight of the piece was the dazzling, quote laden series of exchanges between the guitarists towards the end, they even managed a fleeting reprise of “Cherokee”.

Barnes described the fusion of “Belleville” and “Daphne” as “Django with a modern, boppish twist” as he and Guyomarc’h again shared solos and then proceeded to swap lead and rhythm roles with great élan on the final series of exchanges as Bowen’s bass continued to push the music forward. The two guitarists made it all look effortlessly easy and natural, but the skill levels were very high indeed and the rapport between the players almost uncanny.

Looking back now there’s some confusion about the order in which “Bossa Dorado” and “Impression” appeared but the soloing was undeniably brilliant as the two guitarists warmed to their task. One outing from Barnes was greeted by a barrage of rapturous applause while one of Bowen’s rare solo excursions was also warmly appreciated.

One thing that invoked no arguments was a stunning, slowed down arrangement of George Gershwin’s “Summertime” which subtly disguised the melody as Barnes and Guyomarc’h traded subtle but effective solos and a further series of exchanges. Many audience members cited this innovative interpretation of this most familiar of tunes as the highlight of the evening.

The performance concluded with a spirited, high energy romp through the gypsy jazz classic “Dark Eyes” with final sparkling solos from both guitarists.

Encouraged by an enthusiastic audience reaction the trio were urged by promoter Lynne Gornall to play a “short slow” encore designed to send the audience home in a relaxed but happy mood. Instead we got a short, fast encore with final solos from Guyomarc’h and Barnes and a humorous, quote laden final series of exchanges.

Despite the predictability of the programme this was an excellent evening of music making that, admittedly, did throw up a number of genuine surprises including the Bireli Lagrene piece and that remarkable version of “Summertime”.

But it was the sheer quality of the playing, plus the obvious rapport and good humour between Guyomarc’h and Barnes that helped to make it memorable. Both are brilliant soloists with a high degree of technical ability but they work so well together, pushing each other on to new heights of invention. Bowen’s role was largely supportive but she, too, performed well, giving the two guitarists the opportunity to shine while also seizing her own moments in the spotlight.

At times I was conscious of the limitations of the “gypsy jazz” format and missed something of the variety that Remi Harris brings to his shows these days. Having said that Remi’s trio is a regular working band with a now well established game plan. Tonight’s one off collaboration did all it could in the format and the circumstances and delivered some outstanding musicianship. Barnes later told me how much he had enjoyed playing with Guyomarc’h again, his fellow guitarist having pushed Barnes out of his comfort zone to exhilarating effect. The way in which these two sparked off each other was genuinely exciting to watch.

Guyomarc’h is likely to return again for more ‘Breize a Galles’ (Brittany and Wales) collaborations in the future.

 

Max Wright Quintet / Tom Millar Quartet - Max Wright Quintet / Tom Millar Quartet, Cafe Jazz, Cardiff, 05/10/2017. Rating: 4 out of 5 Ian Mann enjoys the music of two excellent young bands and takes a look at "Unnatural Events", the debut album from the Tom Millar Quartet.

Max Wright Quintet / Tom Millar Quartet, Café Jazz, Cardiff, 05/10/2017.

This double bill was the first Hackensack jazz session of the autumn season and featured two excellent young bands. Organised by students at the nearby Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama the Hackensack jazz sessions take place on the first Thursday of the month and aim to present the “fresh and the new”. The concerts are always in the double bill format and generally feature young, emerging musicians. The organisers operate a pricing policy whereby audience members pay £5, £7 or £10 according to their economic means and/or dedication to the music.

Tonight’s session featured the Max Wright Quintet, a new band featuring students from the RWCMD and the London based Tom Millar Quartet, a group of slightly older, more experienced, fully professional musicians who are currently touring the UK in support of their début album “Unnatural Events”, which appears on the Spark record label. I intend to report on the performances of both bands and to take a closer look at the recording from the Millar Quartet.

MAX WRIGHT QUINTET

First to take to the stage at a pleasingly well attended Café Jazz was the quintet led by the young drummer and composer Max Wright. The leader was joined by fellow RWCMD students Josh Heaton (tenor sax), Norman Willmore (alto sax), Michael Blanchfield (piano) and Matheus Prado (double bass). Of these Prado was the only musician whose playing I was previously familiar with thanks to his numerous appearances in Brecon at both the annual jazz festival and the regular Brecon Jazz club nights.

The Wright Quintet was only formed recently but I was impressed by just how well together the group was at this early stage in its lifetime – tonight was the band’s first real public gig. Their set featured a beguiling mix of two jazz standards, two original compositions by the leader and an intriguing Wright arrangement of a lesser known Bob Marley tune.

The quintet kicked off with an arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy”,  an apt choice as the centenary of Monk’s birth approaches on October 10th. This familiar, but still engaging, standard allowed saxophonists Heaton and Willmore, plus pianist Blanchfield to demonstrate their already impressive ‘chops’ in a series of expansive but fluent solos as Prado and Wright provided the necessary rhythmic propulsion.

I was even more impressed with the Wright original “Collider”, a highly rhythmic work that had something of a New York M-Base / Downtown feel about it and which featured Heaton and Willmore working effectively in tandem on both the main theme and its subsequent variations. Willmore was the featured soloist here and there seems to be something of a buzz about this young man’s playing among the regular cognoscenti of the Cardiff jazz scene. The word is that Norman Willmore is a name to look out for, a musician with a bright future ahead of him.

I also enjoyed Wright’s innovative, slowed down jazz arrangement of the Bob Marley tune “Johnny Was A Good Man” from the 1976 album “Rastaman Vibration”. Solos here came from Heaton on tenor, Prado on melodic double bass and Blanchfield at the piano with Wright’s subtle drum support now revealing his abilities as a colourist.

The quintet’s barnstorming take on Sonny Rollins’ modern standard “Airegin” was inspired by a version by Wynton Marsalis and saw Heaton taking the first solo, stretching out powerfully and at length over Prado’s fast bass walk and Wright’s sizzling ride cymbal. The drummer varied his attack during Willmore’s solo, his briskly brushed grooves complementing Prado’s still rapid walk. Blanchfield followed at the piano and there were also features for Prado and Wright as each group member relished their moment in the spotlight in a high energy performance that elicited a loud and enthusiastic response from the crowd.

Finally we heard the second Wright original, a tune called “13.1” and named after the distance of a half marathon. Unaccompanied bass introduced another piece of original writing that was taut, rhythmic and riff based and which again featured Heaton and Willmore combining effectively. It was Heaton who delivered a suitably marathon tenor solo on another piece that won the approval of a large and supportive audience, many of them fellow students, at Café Jazz.

I have to say that I was highly impressed with this young band, not just for the playing which was excellent all round, but also for the quality of Wright’s composing and arranging. The two original pieces stood up very well and the adaptation of the Marley tune was genuinely interesting and innovative.

I spoke with Max afterwards and he clearly envisages a bright future for this band. He intends to record an EP of his original compositions, which on this evidence should be well worth hearing, and to look for more gigs. Let’s hope he is able to realise his ambitions. Tonight’s performance revealed that this is a group with bags of potential and helped to get the quintet’s career off to a terrific start.

TOM MILLAR QUARTET

Some time ago I was sent a copy of “Unnatural Events”, the début alum of the quartet led by London based pianist and composer Tom Millar. I liked what I heard, hence my presence this evening at a date forming part of an extensive tour in support of the album, which was released on September 15th 2017.

Born in Sydney, Australia Millar was raised in London and studied at King’s College, Cambridge and at the Royal Academy of Music in London. More recently he has received tuition from Django Bates in Switzerland. The writing on “Unnatural Events” was also influenced by the compositional methods of American trumpeter Dave Douglas.

Millar’s quartet was formed at the Academy and the album features the talents of guitarist Alex Munk, bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado and drummer Dave Storey, the latter replaced at the kit tonight by Dave Hamblett.

Tonight’s performance commenced with “Azura Days”, also the opening track on the album and a piece inspired by a Mediterranean holiday. Lively, but complex, the piece featured tricky unison guitar and piano passages and vibrant odd meter grooves. At times I was reminded of the short lived quartet co-led by guitarist Pat Metheny and pianist Brad Mehldau. In the live environment both Millar and Munk were more expansive in their soloing than they were on record, where the piece clocks in at a relatively concise four minutes.

Both live and on disc “The Seafarer” proved to be something of an epic, an episodic piece combining folk like melodies with a genuinely cinematic quality – shades of a Metheny influence again perhaps? The piece was introduced by Mullov-Abbado’s unaccompanied double bass before Hamblett’s mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers provided additional drama. This was followed by an atmospheric passage of unaccompanied piano before the addition of bass, drums and guitar prompted a more orthodox jazz piano solo that positively sparkled. Munk’s sustain heavy guitar solo then brought a rock influence to bear on a piece rich in terms of depth, drama, colour and dynamic contrast – a genuine voyage of discovery.

Next the quartet tackled a composition by Munk from the repertoire of his Flying Machines group, a band in which Hamblett also plays. It was the drummer’s softly brushed grooves that provided understated support to the gently lyrical solos delivered by Millar at the piano and Munk on guitar.

Two pieces on “Unnatural Events” feature the vocals of guest artist Alice Zawadzki who adds ethereal wordless singing to the elegant, lyrical and uplifting “Choro”. Zawadzki also sings the words of the Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89) on Millar’s setting of the poet’s “Inversnaid”, a work carrying a strong environmental message that has gained additional pertinence in the 21st century.

The song like quality of Millar’s “Inversnaid” melody ensured that tonight the piece also convinced as an instrumental with Hamblett’s brushed grooves again underpinning solos from Munk and Millar.

“Woad” is one of the most powerful, rock influenced pieces on the album with its taut, infectious, odd meter grooves and fleeting flashes of Metheny-esque melody. Mullov-Abbado, a muscular presence on the bass all evening, led off the solos with a robust but virtuosic solo. He was followed by Millar, a flowingly expansive and increasingly animated figure at the piano. But it was Munk who elicited the biggest cheer of the evening with a surging, rock influenced guitar solo combining choppy chording and mercurial single note runs. The latter stages also included something of a drum feature for Hamblett, who had proved to be a dynamic and inventive presence behind the kit.

The performance concluded with a beautiful reading of Millar’s ballad “Park Hill”, a composition that recently received airplay on BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Now programme. Notable for Munk’s atmospheric Frisell-like guitar the piece also has a gospel like tinge which was given greater emphasis tonight in Millar’s piano feature as the leader shared the solos with Mullov-Abbado’s melodic but deeply resonant bass. The piece ended with a short, but evocative, unaccompanied piano coda.

At this juncture our time was, unfortunately, up as Hackensack’s Alina Miroshnichenko, a jazz vocal student at the RWCMD, thanked both bands, plus the fans who had turned out in their numbers for this first event of the season and had helped to make it such such a success. There were some who would have liked to have heard more from the Millar band but no encore was forthcoming.

Nevertheless this was a great start for Hackensack and a hugely successful event for both groups, who each got an excellent reception from the crowd. Musically there was much to enjoy from both acts although background noise from the restaurant section, always an issue at Café Jazz, sometimes intruded on the more introspective moments.

One of the big plus points of Café Jazz is the presence of a ‘proper’ grand piano but on this occasion it could have done with better ‘miking’. The piano sound wasn’t quite loud enough, a problem that affected both bands, and on occasions the instrument was drowned out by the horns or by the guitar.

These, though, are minor quibbles on an excellent and highly enjoyable night of music making from two very talented young bands.

Besides the tunes mentioned above “Unnatural Events” also includes the Jan Garbarek inspired title track, a piece that features Munk playing a solo on an electric sitar that he found in the studio. It’s a highly distinctive sound, and one that I don’t think I’ve heard since Denny Dias’ solo on a similar instrument on the Steely Dan classic “Do It Again”. I think that instrument had been abandoned in the studio too!

There’s also the vigorous “Power Chord Thing”, not quite as metallic as the title might suggest, but one of the most energetic, vibrant and rhythmic pieces on the album.

The Millar quartet have created a highly original group sound, one that is a little over elaborate at times and self consciously ‘clever’, but overall “Unnatural Events” makes for highly recommended listening.

The Tom Millar Quartet is still on tour in the UK with remaining dates as listed below;

October 6th: Burdall’s Yard, Bath
October 19th: Keble College, Oxford
October 20th: Chichester Jazz Club
October 24th: Jazz at the Spotted Dog, Birmingham
October 25th: Swing Unlimited, Bournemouth
October 26th: Ram Jam Club, Kingston
November 15th: EFG London Jazz Festival @ the Green Note, Camden

Tom Millar: https://www.tommillar.com/

Max Wright Quintet / Tom Millar Quartet, Cafe Jazz, Cardiff, 05/10/2017.

Max Wright Quintet / Tom Millar Quartet

Friday, October 06, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Max Wright Quintet / Tom Millar Quartet, Cafe Jazz, Cardiff, 05/10/2017.

Ian Mann enjoys the music of two excellent young bands and takes a look at "Unnatural Events", the debut album from the Tom Millar Quartet.

Max Wright Quintet / Tom Millar Quartet, Café Jazz, Cardiff, 05/10/2017.

This double bill was the first Hackensack jazz session of the autumn season and featured two excellent young bands. Organised by students at the nearby Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama the Hackensack jazz sessions take place on the first Thursday of the month and aim to present the “fresh and the new”. The concerts are always in the double bill format and generally feature young, emerging musicians. The organisers operate a pricing policy whereby audience members pay £5, £7 or £10 according to their economic means and/or dedication to the music.

Tonight’s session featured the Max Wright Quintet, a new band featuring students from the RWCMD and the London based Tom Millar Quartet, a group of slightly older, more experienced, fully professional musicians who are currently touring the UK in support of their début album “Unnatural Events”, which appears on the Spark record label. I intend to report on the performances of both bands and to take a closer look at the recording from the Millar Quartet.

MAX WRIGHT QUINTET

First to take to the stage at a pleasingly well attended Café Jazz was the quintet led by the young drummer and composer Max Wright. The leader was joined by fellow RWCMD students Josh Heaton (tenor sax), Norman Willmore (alto sax), Michael Blanchfield (piano) and Matheus Prado (double bass). Of these Prado was the only musician whose playing I was previously familiar with thanks to his numerous appearances in Brecon at both the annual jazz festival and the regular Brecon Jazz club nights.

The Wright Quintet was only formed recently but I was impressed by just how well together the group was at this early stage in its lifetime – tonight was the band’s first real public gig. Their set featured a beguiling mix of two jazz standards, two original compositions by the leader and an intriguing Wright arrangement of a lesser known Bob Marley tune.

The quintet kicked off with an arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy”,  an apt choice as the centenary of Monk’s birth approaches on October 10th. This familiar, but still engaging, standard allowed saxophonists Heaton and Willmore, plus pianist Blanchfield to demonstrate their already impressive ‘chops’ in a series of expansive but fluent solos as Prado and Wright provided the necessary rhythmic propulsion.

I was even more impressed with the Wright original “Collider”, a highly rhythmic work that had something of a New York M-Base / Downtown feel about it and which featured Heaton and Willmore working effectively in tandem on both the main theme and its subsequent variations. Willmore was the featured soloist here and there seems to be something of a buzz about this young man’s playing among the regular cognoscenti of the Cardiff jazz scene. The word is that Norman Willmore is a name to look out for, a musician with a bright future ahead of him.

I also enjoyed Wright’s innovative, slowed down jazz arrangement of the Bob Marley tune “Johnny Was A Good Man” from the 1976 album “Rastaman Vibration”. Solos here came from Heaton on tenor, Prado on melodic double bass and Blanchfield at the piano with Wright’s subtle drum support now revealing his abilities as a colourist.

The quintet’s barnstorming take on Sonny Rollins’ modern standard “Airegin” was inspired by a version by Wynton Marsalis and saw Heaton taking the first solo, stretching out powerfully and at length over Prado’s fast bass walk and Wright’s sizzling ride cymbal. The drummer varied his attack during Willmore’s solo, his briskly brushed grooves complementing Prado’s still rapid walk. Blanchfield followed at the piano and there were also features for Prado and Wright as each group member relished their moment in the spotlight in a high energy performance that elicited a loud and enthusiastic response from the crowd.

Finally we heard the second Wright original, a tune called “13.1” and named after the distance of a half marathon. Unaccompanied bass introduced another piece of original writing that was taut, rhythmic and riff based and which again featured Heaton and Willmore combining effectively. It was Heaton who delivered a suitably marathon tenor solo on another piece that won the approval of a large and supportive audience, many of them fellow students, at Café Jazz.

I have to say that I was highly impressed with this young band, not just for the playing which was excellent all round, but also for the quality of Wright’s composing and arranging. The two original pieces stood up very well and the adaptation of the Marley tune was genuinely interesting and innovative.

I spoke with Max afterwards and he clearly envisages a bright future for this band. He intends to record an EP of his original compositions, which on this evidence should be well worth hearing, and to look for more gigs. Let’s hope he is able to realise his ambitions. Tonight’s performance revealed that this is a group with bags of potential and helped to get the quintet’s career off to a terrific start.

TOM MILLAR QUARTET

Some time ago I was sent a copy of “Unnatural Events”, the début alum of the quartet led by London based pianist and composer Tom Millar. I liked what I heard, hence my presence this evening at a date forming part of an extensive tour in support of the album, which was released on September 15th 2017.

Born in Sydney, Australia Millar was raised in London and studied at King’s College, Cambridge and at the Royal Academy of Music in London. More recently he has received tuition from Django Bates in Switzerland. The writing on “Unnatural Events” was also influenced by the compositional methods of American trumpeter Dave Douglas.

Millar’s quartet was formed at the Academy and the album features the talents of guitarist Alex Munk, bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado and drummer Dave Storey, the latter replaced at the kit tonight by Dave Hamblett.

Tonight’s performance commenced with “Azura Days”, also the opening track on the album and a piece inspired by a Mediterranean holiday. Lively, but complex, the piece featured tricky unison guitar and piano passages and vibrant odd meter grooves. At times I was reminded of the short lived quartet co-led by guitarist Pat Metheny and pianist Brad Mehldau. In the live environment both Millar and Munk were more expansive in their soloing than they were on record, where the piece clocks in at a relatively concise four minutes.

Both live and on disc “The Seafarer” proved to be something of an epic, an episodic piece combining folk like melodies with a genuinely cinematic quality – shades of a Metheny influence again perhaps? The piece was introduced by Mullov-Abbado’s unaccompanied double bass before Hamblett’s mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers provided additional drama. This was followed by an atmospheric passage of unaccompanied piano before the addition of bass, drums and guitar prompted a more orthodox jazz piano solo that positively sparkled. Munk’s sustain heavy guitar solo then brought a rock influence to bear on a piece rich in terms of depth, drama, colour and dynamic contrast – a genuine voyage of discovery.

Next the quartet tackled a composition by Munk from the repertoire of his Flying Machines group, a band in which Hamblett also plays. It was the drummer’s softly brushed grooves that provided understated support to the gently lyrical solos delivered by Millar at the piano and Munk on guitar.

Two pieces on “Unnatural Events” feature the vocals of guest artist Alice Zawadzki who adds ethereal wordless singing to the elegant, lyrical and uplifting “Choro”. Zawadzki also sings the words of the Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89) on Millar’s setting of the poet’s “Inversnaid”, a work carrying a strong environmental message that has gained additional pertinence in the 21st century.

The song like quality of Millar’s “Inversnaid” melody ensured that tonight the piece also convinced as an instrumental with Hamblett’s brushed grooves again underpinning solos from Munk and Millar.

“Woad” is one of the most powerful, rock influenced pieces on the album with its taut, infectious, odd meter grooves and fleeting flashes of Metheny-esque melody. Mullov-Abbado, a muscular presence on the bass all evening, led off the solos with a robust but virtuosic solo. He was followed by Millar, a flowingly expansive and increasingly animated figure at the piano. But it was Munk who elicited the biggest cheer of the evening with a surging, rock influenced guitar solo combining choppy chording and mercurial single note runs. The latter stages also included something of a drum feature for Hamblett, who had proved to be a dynamic and inventive presence behind the kit.

The performance concluded with a beautiful reading of Millar’s ballad “Park Hill”, a composition that recently received airplay on BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Now programme. Notable for Munk’s atmospheric Frisell-like guitar the piece also has a gospel like tinge which was given greater emphasis tonight in Millar’s piano feature as the leader shared the solos with Mullov-Abbado’s melodic but deeply resonant bass. The piece ended with a short, but evocative, unaccompanied piano coda.

At this juncture our time was, unfortunately, up as Hackensack’s Alina Miroshnichenko, a jazz vocal student at the RWCMD, thanked both bands, plus the fans who had turned out in their numbers for this first event of the season and had helped to make it such such a success. There were some who would have liked to have heard more from the Millar band but no encore was forthcoming.

Nevertheless this was a great start for Hackensack and a hugely successful event for both groups, who each got an excellent reception from the crowd. Musically there was much to enjoy from both acts although background noise from the restaurant section, always an issue at Café Jazz, sometimes intruded on the more introspective moments.

One of the big plus points of Café Jazz is the presence of a ‘proper’ grand piano but on this occasion it could have done with better ‘miking’. The piano sound wasn’t quite loud enough, a problem that affected both bands, and on occasions the instrument was drowned out by the horns or by the guitar.

These, though, are minor quibbles on an excellent and highly enjoyable night of music making from two very talented young bands.

Besides the tunes mentioned above “Unnatural Events” also includes the Jan Garbarek inspired title track, a piece that features Munk playing a solo on an electric sitar that he found in the studio. It’s a highly distinctive sound, and one that I don’t think I’ve heard since Denny Dias’ solo on a similar instrument on the Steely Dan classic “Do It Again”. I think that instrument had been abandoned in the studio too!

There’s also the vigorous “Power Chord Thing”, not quite as metallic as the title might suggest, but one of the most energetic, vibrant and rhythmic pieces on the album.

The Millar quartet have created a highly original group sound, one that is a little over elaborate at times and self consciously ‘clever’, but overall “Unnatural Events” makes for highly recommended listening.

The Tom Millar Quartet is still on tour in the UK with remaining dates as listed below;

October 6th: Burdall’s Yard, Bath
October 19th: Keble College, Oxford
October 20th: Chichester Jazz Club
October 24th: Jazz at the Spotted Dog, Birmingham
October 25th: Swing Unlimited, Bournemouth
October 26th: Ram Jam Club, Kingston
November 15th: EFG London Jazz Festival @ the Green Note, Camden

Tom Millar: https://www.tommillar.com/

Konik - Angel Pavement Rating: 4 out of 5 It’s the quality, distinctiveness and vitality of the playing that makes this album one of the best of its kind.

Konik

“Angel Pavement”

(FreeTone Records FTR003)

Konik are an improvising trio from Bristol featuring Mark Langford on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Dominic Lash on double bass and Roger Telford at the drums.

Their début album appears on the Bristol based FreeTone label which was established in 2014 with the aim of bolstering the improvised music scene in the city by way of promoting live performances and releasing recordings. The label has close links with the Fringe Jazz organisation founded by Jon Taylor, which holds regular jazz events at the Fringe Bar in the Clifton Village area of Bristol.

FringeFreeMusic represents the improvising offshoot of Fringe Jazz and promotes events around the city. Langford, together with bassist Paul Anstey, guitarist Phil Gibbs and drummer Bob Helson are the founders of FringeFreeMusic and the FreeTone label. Effectively the organisation’s ‘house band’ this quartet appears on the label’s inaugural release “Fringe Music” which was issued in November 2014.

Langford, Anstey and Gibbs also appear on the second FreeTone release “Exchange”, which appeared in December 2016. The album features a quintet line up with the additional double bass of Hugh Kirkbride plus the drums of Roger Skerman.

Konik played their first concert together in May 2016 and quickly established a genuine musical rapport. In January 2017 they found their way into the Eastover Studio in Bristol and recorded the six pieces to be heard on “Angel Pavement” during the course of a single day. Recorded by Langford and mixed by Jon Seagroatt the album presents an excellent portrait of Konik’s music and is the third release on the still fledgeling FreeTone label.

I have to admit that prior to hearing this release I was hitherto unfamiliar with the playing of both Langford and Telford. However the presence of bassist Dominic Lash, a musician I’ve seen and heard performing on a number of occasions suggested that this would be an album well worth listening to.

Lash is a musician with an international reputation who has led his own groups – his quartet album “Opabinia” was released to considerable acclaim in 2014 and is reviewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/dominic-lash-quartet-opabinia/

Lash has also recorded with the international group Convergence Quartet featuring fellow Brit Alexander Hawkins (piano), the American Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and the Canadian Harris Eisenstadt at the drums. He has also been part of ensembles led by Hawkins and of the Predicate group led by guitarist (and sometime clarinettist) Alex Ward.

Lash has also worked extensively with improvising saxophonist Tony Bevan including a trio with drummer Chris Corsano and the international improvising supergroup Tony-Joe Bucklash featuring Bevan and Lash together with American guitarist Joe Morris and Australian drummer/percussionist Tony Buck, the last named best known as a member of cult trio The Necks. Lash and Bevan have also performed in a quartet setting alongside drummer Phil Marks and electronics artist Paul Obermayer.

Lash is an extremely musician and the above, referenced from previous Jazzmann writings by Tim Owen and myself, barely scratches the surface regarding Lash’s multifarious musical activities as a visit to his interesting and highly informative website http://dominiclash.blogspot.co.uk will reveal.

Meanwhile Langford also has his own website giving details of the numerous Bristol based musical projects with which he is involved. http://Www.marklangford.co.uk

Turning now to Konik who describe their music as “a free flowing exchange of ideas, harmonies, sounds, polybeats, genres and on the spot composition”. It’s a quote that fits the trio’s music well as the album introduces itself with the six minute “Sea Orchid” which features Langford’s bass clarinet explorations above a busy backdrop of bass and drums. Telford’s drumming is a maelstrom of activity and he produces a wide variety of sounds, but for all this he never intrudes too much and also knows when to sit out. Lash links up with him extremely effectively, anchoring the trio but still enjoying a degree of freedom. The way in which the bassist explores the hinterland between structure and freedom has always appealed to me, particularly with his own quartet and with the Convergence group, although Konik is freer than either of those aggregations. His judicious use of extended techniques has also been a source of fascination and there’s something of that here. Meanwhile Langford swoops, soars and digs in as he makes the bass clarinet sound thoroughly convincing as a vehicle for freely improvised music. It’s a virtuosic and very impressive performance.

Langford switches to tenor for “Walking the Plank” which also includes passages during which Lash impresses with the bow. There’s plenty of kinetic energy from Telford who pushes the music along without ever resorting to any obvious rhythms, it’s a genuinely impressive example of ‘no time’ playing that is sometimes reminiscent of the great Mark Sanders. For all this Konik’s music remains accessible to the listener, as a saxophonist Langford reminds me of Mark Hanslip, another improviser who always maintains an underlying sense of melody no matter how rigorously he probes, and here Langford dives deep.

I like the punning title of “Piece in Our Time” which features tenor sax harmolodics from Langford, some evocative cymbal work from Telford and a propulsive pizzicato groove from Lash that underpins a feisty dialogue between sax and drums. Langford worries away on tenor as Telford chatters busily around him, the drummer eventually sitting out as the “Piece” resolves itself with an evocative passage of grainy arco bass drones and piping, over-blown tenor.

The title track is named after J.B. Priestley’s 1930 novel “Angel Pavement” and sees Langford switching once more to bass clarinet and pushing the instrument to its limits on one of the album’s most uncompromising tracks. Telford’s drums usher things in and he’s typically busy on the first section of the piece before playing more sparsely as Langford and Lash enter into deep dialogue, with the bassist eventually picking up the bow to complement the increasingly dark timbres of Langford’s bass clarinet. There’s some extraordinary circular breathing from Langford as the piece becomes increasingly fractious with the hyper-active Telford again generating a dizzying array of percussive sounds as Langford’s bass clarinet flutters above the rhythmic ferment.

“Farmyard” presumably takes its title from the almost animalistic noises produced periodically by Langford’s tenor. But there’s subtlety here too in the three-way discussion between saxophone, drums and bass, the latter both bowed and plucked.

Langford returns to bass clarinet for the closing “Balance on the Scales”. Once more he takes the instrument to unfamiliar places in this final conversation between equals. His over-blown sounds again plunge deep, particularly in a dark and brooding dialogue with Lash’ crepescular bowed bass.  Telford leans back and offers only the most succinct and pertinent of drum commentaries, the percussionist sometimes saying nothing at all. 

Whenever I review a free improv record I normally warn that it won’t be to everybody’s taste. That applies here, too – but speaking for myself I have to say that this is one of most enjoyable improv albums that I’ve heard for a long time. The array of sounds conjured up by just three instrumentalists is consistently impressive and it’s this variety that helps to keep the listener fully attuned. The briskness and bustle of Telford’s extraordinary drumming is consistently arresting and pushes each piece forward while Langford’s innate melodic sense ensures that the music never descends into cacophony. As a long term admirer of Lash’s playing it’s also good to hear him in such good form, both with and without the bow.

The trio admit to “a few simple edits” post recording and each of the six pieces does seem to have a kind of organic, natural, internal logic about it. But it’s the quality, distinctiveness and vitality of the playing that makes this album one of the best of its kind. The “true musical rapport”  of which the press release speaks is vibrantly apparent throughout this recording.

Hopefully the release of this album will increase Konik’s profile beyond the Bristol area. I’d like to see them come and perform at the Queen’s Head in Monmouth, a venue Lash has visited on a number of occasions with Alex Ward, Tony Bevan and others and which stages semi-regular improv gigs.

Meanwhile “Angel Pavement”  can be purchased via http://www.freetonerecords.co.uk

Angel Pavement

Konik

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Angel Pavement

It’s the quality, distinctiveness and vitality of the playing that makes this album one of the best of its kind.

Konik

“Angel Pavement”

(FreeTone Records FTR003)

Konik are an improvising trio from Bristol featuring Mark Langford on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Dominic Lash on double bass and Roger Telford at the drums.

Their début album appears on the Bristol based FreeTone label which was established in 2014 with the aim of bolstering the improvised music scene in the city by way of promoting live performances and releasing recordings. The label has close links with the Fringe Jazz organisation founded by Jon Taylor, which holds regular jazz events at the Fringe Bar in the Clifton Village area of Bristol.

FringeFreeMusic represents the improvising offshoot of Fringe Jazz and promotes events around the city. Langford, together with bassist Paul Anstey, guitarist Phil Gibbs and drummer Bob Helson are the founders of FringeFreeMusic and the FreeTone label. Effectively the organisation’s ‘house band’ this quartet appears on the label’s inaugural release “Fringe Music” which was issued in November 2014.

Langford, Anstey and Gibbs also appear on the second FreeTone release “Exchange”, which appeared in December 2016. The album features a quintet line up with the additional double bass of Hugh Kirkbride plus the drums of Roger Skerman.

Konik played their first concert together in May 2016 and quickly established a genuine musical rapport. In January 2017 they found their way into the Eastover Studio in Bristol and recorded the six pieces to be heard on “Angel Pavement” during the course of a single day. Recorded by Langford and mixed by Jon Seagroatt the album presents an excellent portrait of Konik’s music and is the third release on the still fledgeling FreeTone label.

I have to admit that prior to hearing this release I was hitherto unfamiliar with the playing of both Langford and Telford. However the presence of bassist Dominic Lash, a musician I’ve seen and heard performing on a number of occasions suggested that this would be an album well worth listening to.

Lash is a musician with an international reputation who has led his own groups – his quartet album “Opabinia” was released to considerable acclaim in 2014 and is reviewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/dominic-lash-quartet-opabinia/

Lash has also recorded with the international group Convergence Quartet featuring fellow Brit Alexander Hawkins (piano), the American Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and the Canadian Harris Eisenstadt at the drums. He has also been part of ensembles led by Hawkins and of the Predicate group led by guitarist (and sometime clarinettist) Alex Ward.

Lash has also worked extensively with improvising saxophonist Tony Bevan including a trio with drummer Chris Corsano and the international improvising supergroup Tony-Joe Bucklash featuring Bevan and Lash together with American guitarist Joe Morris and Australian drummer/percussionist Tony Buck, the last named best known as a member of cult trio The Necks. Lash and Bevan have also performed in a quartet setting alongside drummer Phil Marks and electronics artist Paul Obermayer.

Lash is an extremely musician and the above, referenced from previous Jazzmann writings by Tim Owen and myself, barely scratches the surface regarding Lash’s multifarious musical activities as a visit to his interesting and highly informative website http://dominiclash.blogspot.co.uk will reveal.

Meanwhile Langford also has his own website giving details of the numerous Bristol based musical projects with which he is involved. http://Www.marklangford.co.uk

Turning now to Konik who describe their music as “a free flowing exchange of ideas, harmonies, sounds, polybeats, genres and on the spot composition”. It’s a quote that fits the trio’s music well as the album introduces itself with the six minute “Sea Orchid” which features Langford’s bass clarinet explorations above a busy backdrop of bass and drums. Telford’s drumming is a maelstrom of activity and he produces a wide variety of sounds, but for all this he never intrudes too much and also knows when to sit out. Lash links up with him extremely effectively, anchoring the trio but still enjoying a degree of freedom. The way in which the bassist explores the hinterland between structure and freedom has always appealed to me, particularly with his own quartet and with the Convergence group, although Konik is freer than either of those aggregations. His judicious use of extended techniques has also been a source of fascination and there’s something of that here. Meanwhile Langford swoops, soars and digs in as he makes the bass clarinet sound thoroughly convincing as a vehicle for freely improvised music. It’s a virtuosic and very impressive performance.

Langford switches to tenor for “Walking the Plank” which also includes passages during which Lash impresses with the bow. There’s plenty of kinetic energy from Telford who pushes the music along without ever resorting to any obvious rhythms, it’s a genuinely impressive example of ‘no time’ playing that is sometimes reminiscent of the great Mark Sanders. For all this Konik’s music remains accessible to the listener, as a saxophonist Langford reminds me of Mark Hanslip, another improviser who always maintains an underlying sense of melody no matter how rigorously he probes, and here Langford dives deep.

I like the punning title of “Piece in Our Time” which features tenor sax harmolodics from Langford, some evocative cymbal work from Telford and a propulsive pizzicato groove from Lash that underpins a feisty dialogue between sax and drums. Langford worries away on tenor as Telford chatters busily around him, the drummer eventually sitting out as the “Piece” resolves itself with an evocative passage of grainy arco bass drones and piping, over-blown tenor.

The title track is named after J.B. Priestley’s 1930 novel “Angel Pavement” and sees Langford switching once more to bass clarinet and pushing the instrument to its limits on one of the album’s most uncompromising tracks. Telford’s drums usher things in and he’s typically busy on the first section of the piece before playing more sparsely as Langford and Lash enter into deep dialogue, with the bassist eventually picking up the bow to complement the increasingly dark timbres of Langford’s bass clarinet. There’s some extraordinary circular breathing from Langford as the piece becomes increasingly fractious with the hyper-active Telford again generating a dizzying array of percussive sounds as Langford’s bass clarinet flutters above the rhythmic ferment.

“Farmyard” presumably takes its title from the almost animalistic noises produced periodically by Langford’s tenor. But there’s subtlety here too in the three-way discussion between saxophone, drums and bass, the latter both bowed and plucked.

Langford returns to bass clarinet for the closing “Balance on the Scales”. Once more he takes the instrument to unfamiliar places in this final conversation between equals. His over-blown sounds again plunge deep, particularly in a dark and brooding dialogue with Lash’ crepescular bowed bass.  Telford leans back and offers only the most succinct and pertinent of drum commentaries, the percussionist sometimes saying nothing at all. 

Whenever I review a free improv record I normally warn that it won’t be to everybody’s taste. That applies here, too – but speaking for myself I have to say that this is one of most enjoyable improv albums that I’ve heard for a long time. The array of sounds conjured up by just three instrumentalists is consistently impressive and it’s this variety that helps to keep the listener fully attuned. The briskness and bustle of Telford’s extraordinary drumming is consistently arresting and pushes each piece forward while Langford’s innate melodic sense ensures that the music never descends into cacophony. As a long term admirer of Lash’s playing it’s also good to hear him in such good form, both with and without the bow.

The trio admit to “a few simple edits” post recording and each of the six pieces does seem to have a kind of organic, natural, internal logic about it. But it’s the quality, distinctiveness and vitality of the playing that makes this album one of the best of its kind. The “true musical rapport”  of which the press release speaks is vibrantly apparent throughout this recording.

Hopefully the release of this album will increase Konik’s profile beyond the Bristol area. I’d like to see them come and perform at the Queen’s Head in Monmouth, a venue Lash has visited on a number of occasions with Alex Ward, Tony Bevan and others and which stages semi-regular improv gigs.

Meanwhile “Angel Pavement”  can be purchased via http://www.freetonerecords.co.uk

Malija - Instinct Rating: 3-5 out of 5 The real substance of Malija’s music often lies just below the surface. “Instinct” is an album whose secrets and subtleties become more and more apparent on subsequent listenings.

Malija

“Instinct”

(Edition Records EDN1096)

“Instinct” is the second album from the trio Malija who issued their début recording “The Day I Had Everything” on the Edition label in late 2015.

Malija is one of those collective group monikers that incorporates elements of the names of its individual members. In this case the band is something of a ‘supergroup’, a trio featuring some of the most respected performers on the UK jazz scene in the shapes of Mark Lockheart (reeds), Liam Noble (piano) and Jasper Hoiby (double bass).

The three first worked together on Lockheart’s 2009 Edition Records release “In Deep”, a quintet recording that also featured trumpeter Dave Priseman and drummer Dave Smith. As well as leading his own projects and acquiring a reputation as a brilliant jazz educator Lockheart is also a member of two of the most seminal UK groups of recent times, Loose Tubes and Polar Bear. He was also a co-founder of the eclectic and consistently engaging quartet Perfect Houseplants who recently performed a sell out reunion gig at the Vortex as part of the 2015 EFG London Jazz Festival.

Born in Denmark but based for a long time in London Hoiby is most closely identified with his leadership Phronesis, the phenomenally successful Anglo-Scandinavian trio featuring pianist Ivo Neame and drummer Anton Eger. He has also performed with vibraphonist Jim Hart, vocalist Julia Biel and as a member of saxophonist Adam Waldmann’s Kairos 4tet. More recently he has formed a new quintet, Fellow Creatures, that features Lockheart on saxophones alongside trumpeter Laura Jurd, pianist Will Barry and drummer Corrie Dick.

The chameleon like Noble is less closely identified with specific bands than his two illustrious colleagues. A highly versatile performer he has recorded in a variety of instrumental configurations including two solo piano albums “Close Your Eyes” (1994) and the more recent “A Room Somewhere” which was released in 2015 to great critical acclaim. Others with whom Noble has recorded include saxophonists Julian Siegel, Ingrid Laubrock, Chris Biscoe, Tim Whitehead, Stan Sulzmann and Zhenya Strigalev, guitarist Phil Robson and drummer Tom Rainey. Noble also has a long established trio featuring bassist Dave Whitford and drummer Dave Wickins, this line up releasing the album “Brubeck” in 2009. Noble has also appeared on disc with Pigfoot, the band led by former Loose Tubes trumpeter Chris Batchelor. Yet to be documented on record is Noble’s superb Brother Face quintet featuring Batchelor, Whitford, Wickins and multi reed player Shabaka Hutchings. A highly busy musician and another acclaimed educator Noble has performed with many other jazz luminaries from both sides of the Atlantic in a variety of styles ranging from mainstream to free via the ‘punk trad’ of Pigfoot.

“The Day I Had Everything” revealed Malija to be a highly democratic unit with composing duties shared just about equally between the members of the trio. The same approach applies to “Instinct” with Lockheart contributing four tunes and Hoiby and Noble three each.

The début also revealed that despite the drummer-less line up Malija was a chamber jazz group with “balls” and with plenty of  plenty of harmonic, rhythmic and improvisatory gristle about their music, 
These qualities are in evidence again on “Instinct” with Lockheart speaking of the “wonderful intuitive connection” between the members of the trio that “sparks a higher level of interplay and communication”. Meanwhile Hoiby describes the group’s music as being “weird, simple, complicated, free, tight, floaty, ugly, beautiful and heartfelt – depending on your mood”.

The album commences with Lockheart’s brief but elegant “Kindred Spirit”, an apt title and a piece that seems to function as a kind of overture for the rest of the album.

The real nitty gritty begins with Noble’s intensely rhythmic “TV Shoes” with its vigorous left hand piano rhythms and yearning sax melodies. Hoiby’s bass gains greater ascendancy as the piece progresses and temporarily assumes the lead mid tune. There are moments of prettiness, but this is ‘chamber jazz’ at its most robust and rigorous – although it’s somewhat ironic that the piece fades out just when it sounds as if the trio may be about to divert into more uncompromising free jazz territory.

Hoiby makes his compositional bow with “Hung Up” which is centred around a recurring rhythmic motif, shared between piano and bass. This acts as the fulcrum for Lockheart’s airy tenor sax extemporisations while Hoiby subsequently holds the rhythmic fort as Noble is given license to wander with a concise piano solo. The roles are reversed towards the end of the piece with Hoiby allowing himself a greater degree of freedom.

Lockheart’s “A Wing And A Prayer” commences with a passage of unaccompanied tenor saxophone from which develops the rhythmic / melodic hook around which the subsequent musical conversation is centred. Noble’s piano temporarily assumes the lead before Lockheart takes the opportunity to stretch out further on tenor. But Malija isn’t about jazz solos per se, it’s more about musical discussion and interaction, the focus shifting from one instrumental voice to another, as in any human conversation.

Noble’s “Moon Stairs” offers a variant to those voices with Lockheart switching to soprano and Hoiby alternating between arco and pizzicato techniques on an evocative piece that accurately evokes up images of tentatively climbing a flight of moonlit stairs.

Like much of Malija’s music Hoiby’s attractively melodic “Mila”, which again features Lockheart on soprano, borrows readily from folk and world music sources. The legacy of Perfect Houseplants lives on in Malija’s work. Hoiby’s piece scores highly in terms of both melodic content and dynamic variation. It’s an arresting and evocative piece of work.

Solo piano introduces Noble’s “Panda Feathers” and it’s the composer’s playing that acts as the bedrock of the performance as Lockheart’s tenor dances airily around the pianist’s rhythmic configurations.

Lockheart’s gently brooding, melancholic “Sanctuary” is one of the album’s most distinctive pieces and features Hoiby again performing both with and without the bow. The bassist’s slow paced, melodic, and deeply resonant pizzicato solo is supremely evocative, as is the breathy whisper of the composer’s tenor. This is a piece that wouldn’t sound out of place on an ECM recording.

Also by Lockheart “Elegantly Posh” presents a more playful side of the trio with its jaunty left hand piano figures and ebullient tenor sax melodies.

The album concludes with Hoiby’s “Spaced Out”, again presenting a lighter side of the band with the composer allowing his plucked bass to come to the fore alongside Lockheart’s breezy tenor sax.

Inevitably this second album lacks something of the impact of the trio’s début and the reviews this time around have been somewhat mixed. The trio’s admirers have been less fulsome with their praise while Nick Hasted, writing for Jazzwise, offered a particularly scathing review, citing a lack of dynamism in the trio’s music making. I’ll admit that I sometimes miss the presence of a drum kit and it’s true that Malija’s albums can initially appear a little one paced but this is music that demands a little work from the listener. Although superficially pretty the real substance of Malija’s music often lies just below the surface. “Instinct” is an album whose secrets and subtleties become more and more apparent on subsequent listenings.

 

Instinct

Malija

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Instinct

The real substance of Malija’s music often lies just below the surface. “Instinct” is an album whose secrets and subtleties become more and more apparent on subsequent listenings.

Malija

“Instinct”

(Edition Records EDN1096)

“Instinct” is the second album from the trio Malija who issued their début recording “The Day I Had Everything” on the Edition label in late 2015.

Malija is one of those collective group monikers that incorporates elements of the names of its individual members. In this case the band is something of a ‘supergroup’, a trio featuring some of the most respected performers on the UK jazz scene in the shapes of Mark Lockheart (reeds), Liam Noble (piano) and Jasper Hoiby (double bass).

The three first worked together on Lockheart’s 2009 Edition Records release “In Deep”, a quintet recording that also featured trumpeter Dave Priseman and drummer Dave Smith. As well as leading his own projects and acquiring a reputation as a brilliant jazz educator Lockheart is also a member of two of the most seminal UK groups of recent times, Loose Tubes and Polar Bear. He was also a co-founder of the eclectic and consistently engaging quartet Perfect Houseplants who recently performed a sell out reunion gig at the Vortex as part of the 2015 EFG London Jazz Festival.

Born in Denmark but based for a long time in London Hoiby is most closely identified with his leadership Phronesis, the phenomenally successful Anglo-Scandinavian trio featuring pianist Ivo Neame and drummer Anton Eger. He has also performed with vibraphonist Jim Hart, vocalist Julia Biel and as a member of saxophonist Adam Waldmann’s Kairos 4tet. More recently he has formed a new quintet, Fellow Creatures, that features Lockheart on saxophones alongside trumpeter Laura Jurd, pianist Will Barry and drummer Corrie Dick.

The chameleon like Noble is less closely identified with specific bands than his two illustrious colleagues. A highly versatile performer he has recorded in a variety of instrumental configurations including two solo piano albums “Close Your Eyes” (1994) and the more recent “A Room Somewhere” which was released in 2015 to great critical acclaim. Others with whom Noble has recorded include saxophonists Julian Siegel, Ingrid Laubrock, Chris Biscoe, Tim Whitehead, Stan Sulzmann and Zhenya Strigalev, guitarist Phil Robson and drummer Tom Rainey. Noble also has a long established trio featuring bassist Dave Whitford and drummer Dave Wickins, this line up releasing the album “Brubeck” in 2009. Noble has also appeared on disc with Pigfoot, the band led by former Loose Tubes trumpeter Chris Batchelor. Yet to be documented on record is Noble’s superb Brother Face quintet featuring Batchelor, Whitford, Wickins and multi reed player Shabaka Hutchings. A highly busy musician and another acclaimed educator Noble has performed with many other jazz luminaries from both sides of the Atlantic in a variety of styles ranging from mainstream to free via the ‘punk trad’ of Pigfoot.

“The Day I Had Everything” revealed Malija to be a highly democratic unit with composing duties shared just about equally between the members of the trio. The same approach applies to “Instinct” with Lockheart contributing four tunes and Hoiby and Noble three each.

The début also revealed that despite the drummer-less line up Malija was a chamber jazz group with “balls” and with plenty of  plenty of harmonic, rhythmic and improvisatory gristle about their music, 
These qualities are in evidence again on “Instinct” with Lockheart speaking of the “wonderful intuitive connection” between the members of the trio that “sparks a higher level of interplay and communication”. Meanwhile Hoiby describes the group’s music as being “weird, simple, complicated, free, tight, floaty, ugly, beautiful and heartfelt – depending on your mood”.

The album commences with Lockheart’s brief but elegant “Kindred Spirit”, an apt title and a piece that seems to function as a kind of overture for the rest of the album.

The real nitty gritty begins with Noble’s intensely rhythmic “TV Shoes” with its vigorous left hand piano rhythms and yearning sax melodies. Hoiby’s bass gains greater ascendancy as the piece progresses and temporarily assumes the lead mid tune. There are moments of prettiness, but this is ‘chamber jazz’ at its most robust and rigorous – although it’s somewhat ironic that the piece fades out just when it sounds as if the trio may be about to divert into more uncompromising free jazz territory.

Hoiby makes his compositional bow with “Hung Up” which is centred around a recurring rhythmic motif, shared between piano and bass. This acts as the fulcrum for Lockheart’s airy tenor sax extemporisations while Hoiby subsequently holds the rhythmic fort as Noble is given license to wander with a concise piano solo. The roles are reversed towards the end of the piece with Hoiby allowing himself a greater degree of freedom.

Lockheart’s “A Wing And A Prayer” commences with a passage of unaccompanied tenor saxophone from which develops the rhythmic / melodic hook around which the subsequent musical conversation is centred. Noble’s piano temporarily assumes the lead before Lockheart takes the opportunity to stretch out further on tenor. But Malija isn’t about jazz solos per se, it’s more about musical discussion and interaction, the focus shifting from one instrumental voice to another, as in any human conversation.

Noble’s “Moon Stairs” offers a variant to those voices with Lockheart switching to soprano and Hoiby alternating between arco and pizzicato techniques on an evocative piece that accurately evokes up images of tentatively climbing a flight of moonlit stairs.

Like much of Malija’s music Hoiby’s attractively melodic “Mila”, which again features Lockheart on soprano, borrows readily from folk and world music sources. The legacy of Perfect Houseplants lives on in Malija’s work. Hoiby’s piece scores highly in terms of both melodic content and dynamic variation. It’s an arresting and evocative piece of work.

Solo piano introduces Noble’s “Panda Feathers” and it’s the composer’s playing that acts as the bedrock of the performance as Lockheart’s tenor dances airily around the pianist’s rhythmic configurations.

Lockheart’s gently brooding, melancholic “Sanctuary” is one of the album’s most distinctive pieces and features Hoiby again performing both with and without the bow. The bassist’s slow paced, melodic, and deeply resonant pizzicato solo is supremely evocative, as is the breathy whisper of the composer’s tenor. This is a piece that wouldn’t sound out of place on an ECM recording.

Also by Lockheart “Elegantly Posh” presents a more playful side of the trio with its jaunty left hand piano figures and ebullient tenor sax melodies.

The album concludes with Hoiby’s “Spaced Out”, again presenting a lighter side of the band with the composer allowing his plucked bass to come to the fore alongside Lockheart’s breezy tenor sax.

Inevitably this second album lacks something of the impact of the trio’s début and the reviews this time around have been somewhat mixed. The trio’s admirers have been less fulsome with their praise while Nick Hasted, writing for Jazzwise, offered a particularly scathing review, citing a lack of dynamism in the trio’s music making. I’ll admit that I sometimes miss the presence of a drum kit and it’s true that Malija’s albums can initially appear a little one paced but this is music that demands a little work from the listener. Although superficially pretty the real substance of Malija’s music often lies just below the surface. “Instinct” is an album whose secrets and subtleties become more and more apparent on subsequent listenings.

 

Entropi - Moment Frozen Rating: 4 out of 5 Entropi have become a highly cohesive and well balanced unit with the quality of the writing enhanced by the adventurousness of the playing.

Entropi

“Moment Frozen”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4711)

“Moment Frozen” is the eagerly awaited second album from Entropi, the quintet led by London based alto saxophonist and composer Dee Byrne. It represents the follow up to the group’s well received début “New Era” which was released on the F-ire Presents imprint in 2015.
Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/entropi-new-era/

The new album sees the group moving to Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings label but the group line up remains unchanged with Byrne joined once again by Andre Canniere on trumpet, Rebecca Nash on piano and keyboards, Olie Brice on double bass and Matt Fisher at the drums.

Byrne is something of a polymath. Originally from Gravesend in Kent she earned a degree in Linguistics and Literature at Stockholm University before achieving a Masters in Jazz Performance at Trinity College of Music in London where she was tutored by an impressive array of jazz talent including saxophonists Martin Speake, Julian Siegel and Jean Toussaint, pianists Andrea Vicari and Liam Noble and composer Issie Barratt.

 Byrne is dynamic presence on the London jazz scene and she and fellow saxophonist Cath Roberts are the co-ordinators of LUME, a platform for jazz and improvised music that began in 2013 as a series of weekly gigs for creative musicians curated by the pair. In the intervening years LUME has had a variety of homes at various London venues but is now firmly established at the Iklectik Arts Lab in Waterloo where the first LUME Festival was held in 2016, a hugely successful all day event that featured performances by musicians from the jazz and experimental music scenes in London, Manchester, Leeds and even Vienna. This was followed by a similarly successful event in 2017. The success of the LUME project has also led to the formation of the Luminous Label, a recording outlet for the music of Roberts and Byrne and their numerous musical associates.

Byrne plays in a variety of groups including the electro-improvising duo Deemer, a collaboration with drummer and sound artist Merijn Rooyards.  She also leads her own jazz quartet, plays in the Madwort Saxophone Quartet (led by Tom Ward) and in the eight piece saxophone ensemble Saxoctopus, which also features Roberts.

Byrne and Roberts co-lead the quartet Word of Moth, which also features bassist Seth Bennett and drummer Johnny Hunter. Byrne is also a member of Roberts’ large ensemble Favourite Animals, an aggregation that is an offshoot of Roberts’ quintet Sloth Racket.

As a sidewoman Byrne has performed in jazz groups led by bassists Vicky Tilson and Paul Baxter and as part of soul combos the Soul Immigrants and the Xantone Blacq Band. She makes an excellent contribution to “Mojo Risin’”, the 2015 release by the Vicky Tilson Quartet on the F-ire Presents label.

Byrne’s status as a polymath was given even greater emphasis by “New Era”, a semi-conceptual affair whose eight original compositions reflected Byrne’s fascination with the cosmos and space travel and with the notions of chance and fate and the
 macrocosmic concept of ‘order, unpredictability, then descent into disorder’.

The new album revisits these themes with Byrne explaining the choice of album title thus;
 “If order eventually always turns to chaos on macro and micro levels, how can we translate that into something meaningful in our lives? The album title is a statement that our lives are made up of a series of snapshots. If we hold each of them up to the light, are we happy with the sum of all these frozen moments which, together, make up the sum of our existence?” 

She continues;

“I was always looking for the intensity of John Coltrane’s quartet and the later Miles Davis groups, taking forward something of their 1960s spiritual depth and energy into our own, progressive experience. Music is a healing force - I feel very much in tune with that concept. Entropi has grown together as a band, and expression is everything. So the album was created from live, whole takes in the studio - moments frozen”.

The above quotes are sourced from the press release that accompanied this album but further insights into the eight original Byrne compositions that constitute “Moment Frozen” can be gleaned from Byrne’s sleeve notes which outline the inspirations behind each individual track.

Of the opener “Stelliferous Era” Byrne states;
“Stelliferous Era is about the five stages of the life of the universe that we are now in, where the existence of stars makes it possible for us to be alive. This period is transitory, and serves as a reminder of the fleeting experience of life on this planet.”
The music emerges from a freely structured intro featuring the intertwined horns of Byrne and Canniere plus Fisher’s dramatic drumming. Brice’s bass eventually picks out a melodic motif which establishes the basis for the rest of the piece, which juxtaposes subtly probing solos from Canniere and Byrne with passages of powerful collective riffing. Nash’s rumbustious, highly percussive piano solo elicits a similarly vigorous response from Fisher as the pair engage in boisterous dialogue prior to a collective reprise of the main theme.  It’s a dramatic piece with plenty going on that keeps both the band and their audience on their toes. The listener is left feeling a little battered, but totally exhilarated.

Byrne describes “Fish Whisperer” as being “meditative” and about “about a period of enforced reflection when I was looking after a friend’s pet fish and had some time on my hands”.
The inspiration may be more prosaic than that of the opener but the music is equally rewarding with its warm trumpet timbres contrasting superbly with the acerbic bite of Byrne’s alto.  The leader’s blistering alto solo mid tune is bookended by the gentler, more reflective, opening and closing sections. The latter includes something of a feature for Brice on double bass in a three way discussion with Nash on piano and Fisher at the drums, who displays a delightfully deft touch on cymbals.

“Interloper” is described as “a dark, aggressive tune about an unwanted intruder”.
As promised this finds expression in the music with its edgy, stop-start theme leading into a passage of nervy, squally free improvisation with the instrumentalists seemingly battling each other for supremacy. Nash features on Fender Rhodes, the presence of the instrument bringing something of an electric era Miles Davis feel to the music.

Byrne describes the title track as a prologue to the later “Elst Pizarro” and as an “attempt to recreate the circular motion of the asteroid belt. The horns guide the unwieldy rhythm section around the circular form”.
It’s the horn fanfares that provide the structure of the piece as Nash, and particularly Fisher, are given license to roam in a clever inversion of the horns /  rhythm section dynamic.

“It’s Time” sees the group lightening up a little. Byrne describes the piece as “ the first tune I wrote,  it aims to recreate the feeling of optimism that comes with new beginnings”.
Again the composer’s intentions can be heard within the music, which again features the distinctive blend of the leader’s alto and Canniere’s trumpet - the two horn players have established a great rapport and form an excellent team. Their brief solos and later exchanges are enlivened by Fisher’s brisk,  imaginative drumming and the percussionist enjoys an extended feature later on in the tune. Nash features again on Fender Rhodes but effects a warmer sound that is far removed from Interloper’s sinister abrasiveness. The piece concludes with a melodic bass solo from the excellent Brice as Fisher chatters colourfully around him, sticks on rims.

In a neat piece of symmetry it’s the sound of Brice’s unaccompanied bass that introduces “In The Cold Light Of Day”, a piece that Byrne describes as “depicting a moment of realisation that something has irrevocably changed. It’s quite an epic piece with a cathartic climax”.
As piano, drums and trumpet are added to the mix the piece begins to evolve slowly and organically with Canniere’s pure toned trumpet prominent in the early stages. Byrne’s takes over as the piece begins to develop, her alto soaring into the stratosphere and becoming more impassioned in the process, all the while underpinned by the sturdy rhythms generated by Brice and Fisher. Nash’s piano solo initially provides a balancing lyricism before developing into something more expansive and dynamic. The “cathartic” ending is actually less climactic than the listener might expect, more of a “resolution” with the sound of Canniere’s trumpet again prominent in the arrangement.

Fisher’s cymbals usher in “Elst Pizarro”, named for an astral body that was discovered in 1979 circulating in the asteroid belt. As Byrne explains “it perplexed astronomers because it displayed the characteristics of both a comet and an asteroid. I found this intriguing; space objects, as well as humans don’t always conform.”
Bass and piano subsequently establish a theme with Nash’s keyboard figures expressing something of the “circular motion” alluded too in the title track. Subsequently the music develops more organically with Canniere delivering a delightful solo on trumpet with Nash offering eloquent commentary from the piano. Byrne’s alto probes more deeply, skirting closer to free jazz waters before the optimistic main theme eventually re-emerges.

Finally we hear “Leap Of Faith” which Byrne describes as having “a hymn like quality, attempting to convey a sense of innocent hope in the face of shifting socio-political and personal landscapes”.
Anchored by Brice’s double bass the music combines an essential lyricism with Entropi’s characteristic adventurousness and need to explore,  those hymn like passages combining with more obviously improvisatory interludes.

Recorded ”live in the studio” over the course of a single day “Moment Frozen” represents an impressive follow up to the earlier “New Era”.  It builds upon the success of the previous release and clear signs of artistic development can be discerned. Entropi have become a highly cohesive and well balanced unit with the quality of the writing enhanced by the adventurousness of the playing as the quintet neatly explore the interstices between composition and improvisation.

Byrne’s production, aided by the engineering team of Alex Bonney, James Towler and Peter Beckmann serves the music well, capturing every nuance of the writing and the playing with pinpoint clarity and ensuring that everybody is heard at their best.

The reviews for “Moment Frozen” have been overwhelmingly positive and again this is an album that has been well worth waiting for.

Entropi are currently on tour with the remaining dates listed below. I’m looking forward to seeing the group at the free lunchtime show at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho on Wednesday November 15th as part of the 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival.


2017 tour dates;


Oct 6th - Bebop Club, Bristol
20th October - Derby Jazz, Derby
23rd October - The Wonder Inn, Manchester
15th November - Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
22nd November - Cambridge Jazz Festival

http://www.whirlwindrecordings.com

Moment Frozen

Entropi

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Moment Frozen

Entropi have become a highly cohesive and well balanced unit with the quality of the writing enhanced by the adventurousness of the playing.

Entropi

“Moment Frozen”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4711)

“Moment Frozen” is the eagerly awaited second album from Entropi, the quintet led by London based alto saxophonist and composer Dee Byrne. It represents the follow up to the group’s well received début “New Era” which was released on the F-ire Presents imprint in 2015.
Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/entropi-new-era/

The new album sees the group moving to Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings label but the group line up remains unchanged with Byrne joined once again by Andre Canniere on trumpet, Rebecca Nash on piano and keyboards, Olie Brice on double bass and Matt Fisher at the drums.

Byrne is something of a polymath. Originally from Gravesend in Kent she earned a degree in Linguistics and Literature at Stockholm University before achieving a Masters in Jazz Performance at Trinity College of Music in London where she was tutored by an impressive array of jazz talent including saxophonists Martin Speake, Julian Siegel and Jean Toussaint, pianists Andrea Vicari and Liam Noble and composer Issie Barratt.

 Byrne is dynamic presence on the London jazz scene and she and fellow saxophonist Cath Roberts are the co-ordinators of LUME, a platform for jazz and improvised music that began in 2013 as a series of weekly gigs for creative musicians curated by the pair. In the intervening years LUME has had a variety of homes at various London venues but is now firmly established at the Iklectik Arts Lab in Waterloo where the first LUME Festival was held in 2016, a hugely successful all day event that featured performances by musicians from the jazz and experimental music scenes in London, Manchester, Leeds and even Vienna. This was followed by a similarly successful event in 2017. The success of the LUME project has also led to the formation of the Luminous Label, a recording outlet for the music of Roberts and Byrne and their numerous musical associates.

Byrne plays in a variety of groups including the electro-improvising duo Deemer, a collaboration with drummer and sound artist Merijn Rooyards.  She also leads her own jazz quartet, plays in the Madwort Saxophone Quartet (led by Tom Ward) and in the eight piece saxophone ensemble Saxoctopus, which also features Roberts.

Byrne and Roberts co-lead the quartet Word of Moth, which also features bassist Seth Bennett and drummer Johnny Hunter. Byrne is also a member of Roberts’ large ensemble Favourite Animals, an aggregation that is an offshoot of Roberts’ quintet Sloth Racket.

As a sidewoman Byrne has performed in jazz groups led by bassists Vicky Tilson and Paul Baxter and as part of soul combos the Soul Immigrants and the Xantone Blacq Band. She makes an excellent contribution to “Mojo Risin’”, the 2015 release by the Vicky Tilson Quartet on the F-ire Presents label.

Byrne’s status as a polymath was given even greater emphasis by “New Era”, a semi-conceptual affair whose eight original compositions reflected Byrne’s fascination with the cosmos and space travel and with the notions of chance and fate and the
 macrocosmic concept of ‘order, unpredictability, then descent into disorder’.

The new album revisits these themes with Byrne explaining the choice of album title thus;
 “If order eventually always turns to chaos on macro and micro levels, how can we translate that into something meaningful in our lives? The album title is a statement that our lives are made up of a series of snapshots. If we hold each of them up to the light, are we happy with the sum of all these frozen moments which, together, make up the sum of our existence?” 

She continues;

“I was always looking for the intensity of John Coltrane’s quartet and the later Miles Davis groups, taking forward something of their 1960s spiritual depth and energy into our own, progressive experience. Music is a healing force - I feel very much in tune with that concept. Entropi has grown together as a band, and expression is everything. So the album was created from live, whole takes in the studio - moments frozen”.

The above quotes are sourced from the press release that accompanied this album but further insights into the eight original Byrne compositions that constitute “Moment Frozen” can be gleaned from Byrne’s sleeve notes which outline the inspirations behind each individual track.

Of the opener “Stelliferous Era” Byrne states;
“Stelliferous Era is about the five stages of the life of the universe that we are now in, where the existence of stars makes it possible for us to be alive. This period is transitory, and serves as a reminder of the fleeting experience of life on this planet.”
The music emerges from a freely structured intro featuring the intertwined horns of Byrne and Canniere plus Fisher’s dramatic drumming. Brice’s bass eventually picks out a melodic motif which establishes the basis for the rest of the piece, which juxtaposes subtly probing solos from Canniere and Byrne with passages of powerful collective riffing. Nash’s rumbustious, highly percussive piano solo elicits a similarly vigorous response from Fisher as the pair engage in boisterous dialogue prior to a collective reprise of the main theme.  It’s a dramatic piece with plenty going on that keeps both the band and their audience on their toes. The listener is left feeling a little battered, but totally exhilarated.

Byrne describes “Fish Whisperer” as being “meditative” and about “about a period of enforced reflection when I was looking after a friend’s pet fish and had some time on my hands”.
The inspiration may be more prosaic than that of the opener but the music is equally rewarding with its warm trumpet timbres contrasting superbly with the acerbic bite of Byrne’s alto.  The leader’s blistering alto solo mid tune is bookended by the gentler, more reflective, opening and closing sections. The latter includes something of a feature for Brice on double bass in a three way discussion with Nash on piano and Fisher at the drums, who displays a delightfully deft touch on cymbals.

“Interloper” is described as “a dark, aggressive tune about an unwanted intruder”.
As promised this finds expression in the music with its edgy, stop-start theme leading into a passage of nervy, squally free improvisation with the instrumentalists seemingly battling each other for supremacy. Nash features on Fender Rhodes, the presence of the instrument bringing something of an electric era Miles Davis feel to the music.

Byrne describes the title track as a prologue to the later “Elst Pizarro” and as an “attempt to recreate the circular motion of the asteroid belt. The horns guide the unwieldy rhythm section around the circular form”.
It’s the horn fanfares that provide the structure of the piece as Nash, and particularly Fisher, are given license to roam in a clever inversion of the horns /  rhythm section dynamic.

“It’s Time” sees the group lightening up a little. Byrne describes the piece as “ the first tune I wrote,  it aims to recreate the feeling of optimism that comes with new beginnings”.
Again the composer’s intentions can be heard within the music, which again features the distinctive blend of the leader’s alto and Canniere’s trumpet - the two horn players have established a great rapport and form an excellent team. Their brief solos and later exchanges are enlivened by Fisher’s brisk,  imaginative drumming and the percussionist enjoys an extended feature later on in the tune. Nash features again on Fender Rhodes but effects a warmer sound that is far removed from Interloper’s sinister abrasiveness. The piece concludes with a melodic bass solo from the excellent Brice as Fisher chatters colourfully around him, sticks on rims.

In a neat piece of symmetry it’s the sound of Brice’s unaccompanied bass that introduces “In The Cold Light Of Day”, a piece that Byrne describes as “depicting a moment of realisation that something has irrevocably changed. It’s quite an epic piece with a cathartic climax”.
As piano, drums and trumpet are added to the mix the piece begins to evolve slowly and organically with Canniere’s pure toned trumpet prominent in the early stages. Byrne’s takes over as the piece begins to develop, her alto soaring into the stratosphere and becoming more impassioned in the process, all the while underpinned by the sturdy rhythms generated by Brice and Fisher. Nash’s piano solo initially provides a balancing lyricism before developing into something more expansive and dynamic. The “cathartic” ending is actually less climactic than the listener might expect, more of a “resolution” with the sound of Canniere’s trumpet again prominent in the arrangement.

Fisher’s cymbals usher in “Elst Pizarro”, named for an astral body that was discovered in 1979 circulating in the asteroid belt. As Byrne explains “it perplexed astronomers because it displayed the characteristics of both a comet and an asteroid. I found this intriguing; space objects, as well as humans don’t always conform.”
Bass and piano subsequently establish a theme with Nash’s keyboard figures expressing something of the “circular motion” alluded too in the title track. Subsequently the music develops more organically with Canniere delivering a delightful solo on trumpet with Nash offering eloquent commentary from the piano. Byrne’s alto probes more deeply, skirting closer to free jazz waters before the optimistic main theme eventually re-emerges.

Finally we hear “Leap Of Faith” which Byrne describes as having “a hymn like quality, attempting to convey a sense of innocent hope in the face of shifting socio-political and personal landscapes”.
Anchored by Brice’s double bass the music combines an essential lyricism with Entropi’s characteristic adventurousness and need to explore,  those hymn like passages combining with more obviously improvisatory interludes.

Recorded ”live in the studio” over the course of a single day “Moment Frozen” represents an impressive follow up to the earlier “New Era”.  It builds upon the success of the previous release and clear signs of artistic development can be discerned. Entropi have become a highly cohesive and well balanced unit with the quality of the writing enhanced by the adventurousness of the playing as the quintet neatly explore the interstices between composition and improvisation.

Byrne’s production, aided by the engineering team of Alex Bonney, James Towler and Peter Beckmann serves the music well, capturing every nuance of the writing and the playing with pinpoint clarity and ensuring that everybody is heard at their best.

The reviews for “Moment Frozen” have been overwhelmingly positive and again this is an album that has been well worth waiting for.

Entropi are currently on tour with the remaining dates listed below. I’m looking forward to seeing the group at the free lunchtime show at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho on Wednesday November 15th as part of the 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival.


2017 tour dates;


Oct 6th - Bebop Club, Bristol
20th October - Derby Jazz, Derby
23rd October - The Wonder Inn, Manchester
15th November - Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
22nd November - Cambridge Jazz Festival

http://www.whirlwindrecordings.com

Annette Gregory - Annette Gregory, ‘Celebrating Ella Fitzgerald’, Cawley Hall, Eye, Leominster, 30/09/2017. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Gregory’s warm personality and accomplished singing went down well and I was also impressed with the quality of the instrumentalists, who all acquitted themselves well in their various roles.

Annette Gregory, ‘Celebrating Ella Fitzgerald’, Cawley Hall, Eye, Luston, Leominster, Herefordshire, 30/09/2017.

Back in August I enjoyed a performance from the Midlands based singer Annette Gregory at the 2017 Brecon Jazz Festival.

Billed as “Annette Gregory and Friends” the Festival appearance teamed Gregory and her pianist and musical director John McDonald with a trio of hugely impressive young musicians from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, namely Tom Newitt on tenor sax, Matheus Prado on double bass and Zack Breskal at the drums. This one off collaboration, put together by Festival organisers Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon, worked extremely well with the mix of vocal and instrumental jazz being very well received by the audience at Brecon’s Muse Arts Centre. My review of that event can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/annette-gregory-friends-brecon-jazz-festival-2017-the-muse-arts-centre-brec/

The prospect of seeing Gregory performing with her regular working band in a village hall little more than a ten minute drive from my home town of Leominster was too good resist. Tonight’s event had been organised by John Wilson, Gregory’s manager and the proprietor of The Warwick Studio where Gregory’s recent “Celebrates Ella Fitzgerald” EP was recorded. Although now based in Warwickshire Wilson was born and raised in the Herefordshire village of Luston and had been determined to bring his protégée to Herefordshire to perform in his home village.

Gregory is a jazz vocalist of Jamaican heritage, originally from Manchester but now based in Warwickshire. Inspired to sing jazz by Ella Fitzgerald she studied jazz vocal performance at the Guildhall School of Music in London. For the past two years she has been touring her show “Annette Gregory Celebrates 100 Years of Ella”, commemorating the anniversary of the birth of the “First Lady of Song” in 1917. This has proved to be an extremely popular production with bookings extended into 2018. The singer has also been touring her “Sings Cool Jazz” show but it’s the Fitzgerald show that seems to have captured the public imagination. In the light of the success of the Ella shows 2018 will see Gregory touring with a fresh production, “Annette Gregory Presents Ladies of Jazz” which will see the vocalist expanding her repertoire to encompass the work of other great female jazz singers, ranging from Sarah Vaughan through Chris Connor to Nancy Wilson. 

Tonight’s “Celebrating Ella” show featured all of the personnel who appear on the recent EP with Gregory and McDonald joined by Dionne Sambrook on tenor sax, Martyn Lammyman on double bass and Marsh Barton at the drums.

The instrumentalists kicked things off with a gently swinging version of “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” with concise solos coming from Sambrook on tenor and McDonald at the piano. Sambrook, one of the driving forces behind the thriving Stratford Jazz Club impressed throughout the evening with her warm toned, blues tinged tenor playing.

The improbably named Barton, acting as MC welcomed Gregory to the stage to sing a swinging, up-tempo version of “All The Things You Are”, the opening track from the Ella EP with McDonald taking the instrumental honours with a solo at the keyboard.

Sticking with EP the quintet followed this with “Too Marvellous For Words” with Sambrook the featured instrumental soloist on a piece gently, but swingingly, propelled by Lammyman’s brisk bass walk and Barton’s crisply brushed drum grooves.

Unaccompanied tenor sax ushered in a vocal version of “Stella By Starlight”, a tune I’m more used to hearing performed as an instrumental. It represented something of a novelty to actually hear the lyrics. Sambrook impressed once more on tenor, as did Lammyman with his melodic bass solo.

Gregory has a rich, deep , soulful voice and a genuine talent for jazz phrasing. Arguably she was at her best when singing ballads, as represented on “My Foolish Heart”, another song from the EP and performed here by just the trio of Gregory, McDonald and Lammyman, with the bassist briefly flourishing the bow at the close.

Gregory informed the audience that “The Way You Look Tonight” was the first Fitzgerald song that she ever sung. Her vivacious vocalising here was well complemented by Sambrook on tenor sax.

These two also impressed on a playful version of George Shearing’s “Lullaby of Birdland” with Sambrook’s powerful, bluesy tenor offset by McDonald’s classically inspired keyboard flourishes.

“Autumn Leaves” represented a particularly apposite choice for the time of year with Gregory’s warm hued vocal evoking suitably melodic responses from McDonald at the keyboard, Sambrook on tenor, and Lammyman on double bass.

“Bye Bye Blackbird” saw Gregory encouraging the audience to click their fingers in time with the rhythm and to sing along with the chorus as McDonald and Lammyman added a dash of humour to their solos.

A Latin style arrangement of “How High The Moon” saw Sambrook wielding shakers as well as soloing on tenor sax as she shared the instrumental honours with McDonald at the piano.

The first set concluded with a version of “The Lady Is A Tramp”, sung by Gregory in the first person and dedicated to the unlikely friendship between Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. The arrangement saw Barton enjoying a series of brushed drum breaks as he traded phrases with Sambrook and McDonald.

The second set began in the same manner as the first with the instrumentalists returning to the stage to perform a Latin tinged arrangement of “Stompin’ At The Savoy” which proved to be something of a tenor feature for the consistently impressive Sambrook.

Gregory then emerged to deliver the frankly disturbing lyrics of Cole Porter’s “Miss Otis Regrets” in an arrangement that combined a subtle funk groove with a robust tenor solo from Sambrook and a further solo from McDonald.

Gregory told us something of Fitzgerald’s life story, touching upon her birth on 25th April 2017, her troubled childhood and the winning of an amateur talent competition at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem which launched her on a career to professional stardom. We also heard about her marriage to star bassist Ray Brown and her series of “Songbook” albums celebrating the works of Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer et al.

The vocal/ piano duet “Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered” representing a stunningly stark and dramatic version of the song and incorporated some rarely heard verses.

A swinging quintet version of “Blue Skies” then lightened the mood with Sambrook on tenor the featured soloist.

The quintet’s own distinctive take on “The Man I Love” also impressed with a strutting soul jazz style arrangement featuring instrumental solos from McDonald and Sambrook. The saxophonist then featured strongly again on an upbeat “Let’s Fall In Love”.

“When A Woman Loves A Man” was a further demonstration of Gregory’s expertise with a ballad with instrumental solos coming from McDonald on piano, Sambrook on tenor and Lammyman on languid, melodic double bass. A word, too, from Barton’s sympathetic and sensitive brushed drum accompaniment.

The quintet remained in ballad mode for a similarly elegant “Embraceable You”, which combined an emotive Gregory vocal with what was arguably Sambrook’s best solo of the night.

A bouncy, swinging, fast paced “All Of Me” quickened the pulse once more with Barton’s vigorously brushed grooves fuelling instrumental solos from McDonald and Sambrook while Lammyman introduced an element of humour into his bowed bass solo.

Before the last number Gregory regaled us with a few details about Fitzgerald’s fabulous career. We learned that she recorded over 2000 songs on over 200 albums and sold more than 40m records worldwide. She was also the first African-American artist to receive a Grammy Award.

The quintet concluded their performance by romping through “Mack The Knife” with Gregory in ebullient form and with Sambrook again featuring powerfully.

Although the audience at Cawley Hall was probably less than Gregory and Wilson would have liked those that were there responded with great enthusiasm and the quintet returned to perform an encore of “Almost Like Being Love” which was ushered in by the combination of voice and double bass and which featured instrumental solos from McDonald on piano and Sambrook on tenor.

Gregory’s warm personality and accomplished singing went down well with the small but supportive audience and I was also impressed with the quality of the instrumentalists, who all acquitted themselves well in their various roles.

It’s not surprising that the “Celebrates Ella” show has been such as a success given the quality of the material that Gregory and her band have to work with, but it’s their singing and playing that helps to bring it alive for audiences. On the evidence of this performance the new show “Ladies of Jazz” should be well worth looking out for in 2018.

In the meantime the EP “Annette Gregory Celebrates Ella Fitzgerald” is well worth checking out. The track listing is;

1. All The Things You Are

2. Too Marvellous For Words

3. When A Woman Loves A Manchester

4. The Man I Love

5. Embraceable You

6. My Foolish Heart

To purchase please visit http://www.annettegregory.info

My thanks to Annette and other members of her team for putting my wife and I on the guest list and speaking with us afterwards.

And it was a nice change to be able to get back to town for a few pints in my local after the end of a gig.

 

 

 

Annette Gregory, ‘Celebrating Ella Fitzgerald’, Cawley Hall, Eye, Leominster, 30/09/2017.

Annette Gregory

Monday, October 02, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Annette Gregory, ‘Celebrating Ella Fitzgerald’, Cawley Hall, Eye, Leominster, 30/09/2017.
Photography: Photograph of Annette Gregory at Brecon Jazz Festival by Bob Meyrick

Gregory’s warm personality and accomplished singing went down well and I was also impressed with the quality of the instrumentalists, who all acquitted themselves well in their various roles.

Annette Gregory, ‘Celebrating Ella Fitzgerald’, Cawley Hall, Eye, Luston, Leominster, Herefordshire, 30/09/2017.

Back in August I enjoyed a performance from the Midlands based singer Annette Gregory at the 2017 Brecon Jazz Festival.

Billed as “Annette Gregory and Friends” the Festival appearance teamed Gregory and her pianist and musical director John McDonald with a trio of hugely impressive young musicians from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, namely Tom Newitt on tenor sax, Matheus Prado on double bass and Zack Breskal at the drums. This one off collaboration, put together by Festival organisers Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon, worked extremely well with the mix of vocal and instrumental jazz being very well received by the audience at Brecon’s Muse Arts Centre. My review of that event can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/annette-gregory-friends-brecon-jazz-festival-2017-the-muse-arts-centre-brec/

The prospect of seeing Gregory performing with her regular working band in a village hall little more than a ten minute drive from my home town of Leominster was too good resist. Tonight’s event had been organised by John Wilson, Gregory’s manager and the proprietor of The Warwick Studio where Gregory’s recent “Celebrates Ella Fitzgerald” EP was recorded. Although now based in Warwickshire Wilson was born and raised in the Herefordshire village of Luston and had been determined to bring his protégée to Herefordshire to perform in his home village.

Gregory is a jazz vocalist of Jamaican heritage, originally from Manchester but now based in Warwickshire. Inspired to sing jazz by Ella Fitzgerald she studied jazz vocal performance at the Guildhall School of Music in London. For the past two years she has been touring her show “Annette Gregory Celebrates 100 Years of Ella”, commemorating the anniversary of the birth of the “First Lady of Song” in 1917. This has proved to be an extremely popular production with bookings extended into 2018. The singer has also been touring her “Sings Cool Jazz” show but it’s the Fitzgerald show that seems to have captured the public imagination. In the light of the success of the Ella shows 2018 will see Gregory touring with a fresh production, “Annette Gregory Presents Ladies of Jazz” which will see the vocalist expanding her repertoire to encompass the work of other great female jazz singers, ranging from Sarah Vaughan through Chris Connor to Nancy Wilson. 

Tonight’s “Celebrating Ella” show featured all of the personnel who appear on the recent EP with Gregory and McDonald joined by Dionne Sambrook on tenor sax, Martyn Lammyman on double bass and Marsh Barton at the drums.

The instrumentalists kicked things off with a gently swinging version of “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” with concise solos coming from Sambrook on tenor and McDonald at the piano. Sambrook, one of the driving forces behind the thriving Stratford Jazz Club impressed throughout the evening with her warm toned, blues tinged tenor playing.

The improbably named Barton, acting as MC welcomed Gregory to the stage to sing a swinging, up-tempo version of “All The Things You Are”, the opening track from the Ella EP with McDonald taking the instrumental honours with a solo at the keyboard.

Sticking with EP the quintet followed this with “Too Marvellous For Words” with Sambrook the featured instrumental soloist on a piece gently, but swingingly, propelled by Lammyman’s brisk bass walk and Barton’s crisply brushed drum grooves.

Unaccompanied tenor sax ushered in a vocal version of “Stella By Starlight”, a tune I’m more used to hearing performed as an instrumental. It represented something of a novelty to actually hear the lyrics. Sambrook impressed once more on tenor, as did Lammyman with his melodic bass solo.

Gregory has a rich, deep , soulful voice and a genuine talent for jazz phrasing. Arguably she was at her best when singing ballads, as represented on “My Foolish Heart”, another song from the EP and performed here by just the trio of Gregory, McDonald and Lammyman, with the bassist briefly flourishing the bow at the close.

Gregory informed the audience that “The Way You Look Tonight” was the first Fitzgerald song that she ever sung. Her vivacious vocalising here was well complemented by Sambrook on tenor sax.

These two also impressed on a playful version of George Shearing’s “Lullaby of Birdland” with Sambrook’s powerful, bluesy tenor offset by McDonald’s classically inspired keyboard flourishes.

“Autumn Leaves” represented a particularly apposite choice for the time of year with Gregory’s warm hued vocal evoking suitably melodic responses from McDonald at the keyboard, Sambrook on tenor, and Lammyman on double bass.

“Bye Bye Blackbird” saw Gregory encouraging the audience to click their fingers in time with the rhythm and to sing along with the chorus as McDonald and Lammyman added a dash of humour to their solos.

A Latin style arrangement of “How High The Moon” saw Sambrook wielding shakers as well as soloing on tenor sax as she shared the instrumental honours with McDonald at the piano.

The first set concluded with a version of “The Lady Is A Tramp”, sung by Gregory in the first person and dedicated to the unlikely friendship between Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. The arrangement saw Barton enjoying a series of brushed drum breaks as he traded phrases with Sambrook and McDonald.

The second set began in the same manner as the first with the instrumentalists returning to the stage to perform a Latin tinged arrangement of “Stompin’ At The Savoy” which proved to be something of a tenor feature for the consistently impressive Sambrook.

Gregory then emerged to deliver the frankly disturbing lyrics of Cole Porter’s “Miss Otis Regrets” in an arrangement that combined a subtle funk groove with a robust tenor solo from Sambrook and a further solo from McDonald.

Gregory told us something of Fitzgerald’s life story, touching upon her birth on 25th April 2017, her troubled childhood and the winning of an amateur talent competition at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem which launched her on a career to professional stardom. We also heard about her marriage to star bassist Ray Brown and her series of “Songbook” albums celebrating the works of Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer et al.

The vocal/ piano duet “Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered” representing a stunningly stark and dramatic version of the song and incorporated some rarely heard verses.

A swinging quintet version of “Blue Skies” then lightened the mood with Sambrook on tenor the featured soloist.

The quintet’s own distinctive take on “The Man I Love” also impressed with a strutting soul jazz style arrangement featuring instrumental solos from McDonald and Sambrook. The saxophonist then featured strongly again on an upbeat “Let’s Fall In Love”.

“When A Woman Loves A Man” was a further demonstration of Gregory’s expertise with a ballad with instrumental solos coming from McDonald on piano, Sambrook on tenor and Lammyman on languid, melodic double bass. A word, too, from Barton’s sympathetic and sensitive brushed drum accompaniment.

The quintet remained in ballad mode for a similarly elegant “Embraceable You”, which combined an emotive Gregory vocal with what was arguably Sambrook’s best solo of the night.

A bouncy, swinging, fast paced “All Of Me” quickened the pulse once more with Barton’s vigorously brushed grooves fuelling instrumental solos from McDonald and Sambrook while Lammyman introduced an element of humour into his bowed bass solo.

Before the last number Gregory regaled us with a few details about Fitzgerald’s fabulous career. We learned that she recorded over 2000 songs on over 200 albums and sold more than 40m records worldwide. She was also the first African-American artist to receive a Grammy Award.

The quintet concluded their performance by romping through “Mack The Knife” with Gregory in ebullient form and with Sambrook again featuring powerfully.

Although the audience at Cawley Hall was probably less than Gregory and Wilson would have liked those that were there responded with great enthusiasm and the quintet returned to perform an encore of “Almost Like Being Love” which was ushered in by the combination of voice and double bass and which featured instrumental solos from McDonald on piano and Sambrook on tenor.

Gregory’s warm personality and accomplished singing went down well with the small but supportive audience and I was also impressed with the quality of the instrumentalists, who all acquitted themselves well in their various roles.

It’s not surprising that the “Celebrates Ella” show has been such as a success given the quality of the material that Gregory and her band have to work with, but it’s their singing and playing that helps to bring it alive for audiences. On the evidence of this performance the new show “Ladies of Jazz” should be well worth looking out for in 2018.

In the meantime the EP “Annette Gregory Celebrates Ella Fitzgerald” is well worth checking out. The track listing is;

1. All The Things You Are

2. Too Marvellous For Words

3. When A Woman Loves A Manchester

4. The Man I Love

5. Embraceable You

6. My Foolish Heart

To purchase please visit http://www.annettegregory.info

My thanks to Annette and other members of her team for putting my wife and I on the guest list and speaking with us afterwards.

And it was a nice change to be able to get back to town for a few pints in my local after the end of a gig.

 

 

 

Mike Gibbs 18 Piece Big Band - Mike Gibbs 18 Piece Big Band, 80th Birthday Celebration, CBSO Centre, Birmingham, 28/09/2017. Rating: 4 out of 5 A performance by a Mike Gibbs band is always a memorable event.

Mike Gibbs 18 Piece Big Band, 80th Birthday Celebration, CBSO Centre, Birmingham, 28/09/2017.

“And then one day you find, ten years have got behind you…”. I was reminded of Roger Waters’ lyric when I recalled that I’d attended a concert celebrating Mike Gibbs’ 70th birthday at St. George’s in Bristol a decade ago. I don’t know what it feels like for Mike but for me the time just seems to have flown by. That gig at Bristol almost feels like it happened yesterday.

Born in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, Gibbs studied piano and trombone as a child and in 1959 moved to the USA to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Something of a global citizen Gibbs has lived and worked in Zimbabwe, the US and the UK and is now currently resident in Spain.

Although an accomplished section player on trombone Gibbs was always a reluctant soloist and decided to concentrate his efforts on composition and arrangement. I first became aware of his writing in the late 70s / early 80s after hearing his compositions on various Gary Burton albums including “In The Public Interest” “Seven Songs for Quartet and Chamber Orchestra” and “The New Quartet”. Gibbs and vibraphonist Burton met at Berklee, where both have held teaching posts at various times.

Gibbs has lived in the UK at various times in his life and has often recorded with British musicians. His album “The Only Chrome-Waterfall Orchestra”, which first appeared in 1975 on the Bronze record label featured an intriguing mix of British, American and European musicians.

Since the mid 70s Gibbs has combined recording and performance with an academic career and following a rush of album releases in the early 70s his output on disc has since been fairly sporadic, although albums such as “Big Music” (1988) and Nonsequence” (2001) remain essential listening.

Despite his relatively low profile I’ve been fortunate to witness Gibbs conducting his bands live (and occasionally playing trombone) on a number of previous occasions. The earliest of these was at St. Donats Arts Centre in the Vale of Glamorgan on a 1983 Contemporary Music Network tour. The twelve piece band was a stellar ensemble featuring American, European and British musicians including twin guitarists Kevin Eubanks and Wayne Krantz and Danish trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg.

In October 1991 Gibbs brought a fourteen piece ensemble to Symphony Hall in Birmingham as part of another CMN tour, this one sponsored by Rolling Rock beer! The Anglo-American band included guitarist John Scofield as guest soloist in a line up that included the American rhythm section of Steve Swallow (bass) and Bill Stewart (drums). The stellar cast also featured some of the most influential figures in British jazz including multi reeds player Tony Coe and departed heroes trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and pianist John Taylor.

In 2007 I attended the aforementioned Bristol show at the kind bequest of Christine Allen who was managing that particular tour. Yet another star studded Anglo-American line up featured Bill Frisell as the featured guitar soloist and with future Impossible Gentlemen Steve Swallow and Adam Nussbaum (drums) forming the deluxe rhythm team.

Also present on that Bristol date was the German born, UK based pianist and composer Hans Koller who has been Gibbs’ musical right hand man for the last decade or so. In 2013 Koller was a key part of the primarily British band that Gibbs led at that year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival in a performance that celebrated the centenary of the birth of the great Gil Evans, Gibbs’ primary influence as a composer and arranger. Playing a mix of Evans arrangements and Gibbs originals this was yet another memorable performance from a Gibbs ensemble. My review of this event is included in my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/sunday-at-cheltenham-jazz-festival-05-05-2013/

Prior to the Festival performance the band had also entered a London studio to record the album “Mike Gibbs + 12 Play Gil Evans” which appeared on the Whirlwind Recordings label run by the ensemble’s bassist, Michael Janisch.
My review of that album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/mike-gibbs-twelve-play-gil-evans/

Fast forward to 2017 and the mini-tour to celebrate Gibbs’ 80th birthday with performances at Scarborough Jazz Festival, The Vortex Jazz Club in London and here in Birmingham, a city with which Gibbs has many close musical links as Tony Dudley-Evans’ highly informative notes in a specially produced free printed programme made clear.

The high esteem in which Gibbs is held in Birmingham was reflected by a capacity crowd at the CBSO Centre, which was fuller than I’ve ever seen it for a jazz concert. The supportive audience were rewarded with an excellent performance from an all UK based band assembled specifically for the project by Koller and Janisch. The line up was;

Mike Gibbs – conductor

Ryan Quigley, Henry Lowther, Percy Pursglove, Nick Smart – trumpets & flugelhorns

Mark Bassey, Jeremy Price, Rory Ingham – trombones

Richard Henry – bass trombone, tuba

John O’ Gallagher – alto sax

Jason Yarde – alto & soprano sax

Alex Garnett – tenor & soprano sax

Julian Siegel – tenor sax, bass clarinet

Hans Koller – piano

Mike Walker – electric guitarist

Michael Janisch – double bass

Andrew Bain – drums

Tonight’s performance saw the ensemble playing straight through, without the benefit of an interval.  Gibbs’ unique approach to orchestration with its distinctive horn voicings was immediately apparent on the opening piece, an extraordinary arrangement of the 1930s standard “You Go To My Head” with Alex Garnett on tenor the featured soloist, his feature including an unaccompanied saxophone cadenza.

Gibbs paid tribute to the late, great Kenny Wheeler by first explaining that his (Gibbs) original composition “’Tis As It Should Be” was inspired by Wheeler’s arrangements and imaginative use of timbres on the late trumpeter’s final large ensemble album, 2012’s “The Long Waiting”.  A lustrous arrangement featured the trumpet section, with Lowther, Pursglove and Smart taking turns to come to the front of the stage, all of them delivering graceful and eloquent solos on flugelhorn, the instrument that became Wheeler’s main form of expression.

A segue of Bill Frisell’s “Throughout” and Gil Evans’ “Las Vegas Tango” saw the versatile Rattigan moving from french horn to accordion. Unsurprisingly Walker was the featured soloist here, his soaring fluency punctuated by staccato brass and reed stabs and powered by Bain’s dynamic drumming. Following this rousing passage Koller’s meditative passage of unaccompanied represented a complete contrast, as well as providing the bridge into the Evans piece which was finally announced by Janisch’s bass motif and the patter of Bain’s hands on drum skins. The timbres were softer here with muted trumpets a distinctive component, but the energy levels were subsequently raised by the spirited trombone dialogue between the experienced Bassey and rising star Ingham, the latter last seen with the youthful sextet Jam Experiment. Walker was also prominent again on guitar in an arrangement by Evans of his own tune.

Gibbs was one of the arrangers invited to adapt the Eberhard Weber composition “Maurizius” for performance at a special concert in Stuttgart to celebrate the German bassist and composer’s 65th birthday in 2005. Weber later suffered a stroke and is no longer able to perform, which is a great loss to music in general. Gibbs has maintained Weber’s essential compositional format (the piece was originally written for the 1982 small group recording “Later That Evening”) but inevitably the work sounds very different in a large ensemble context. Koller and Rattigan featured on the piano/accordion introduction with Koller taking the first solo. O’Gallagher, an American musician with strong Birmingham connections, impressed with a typically fiery alto solo while Gibbs’ long, minimalist style closing passage put something of his own stamp on the piece and owed something to the style of Alexander Scriabin. Acknowledging the applause of the audience Gibbs singled out Quigley for particular praise due to the difficulty of the lead trumpet part.

“Django”, written by pianist John Lewis of MJQ fame, commenced with a horn chorale shadowed by Bain’s mallet work before adopting a more orthodox big band swing feel with solos coming from Yarde on alto, Smart on Harmon muted trumpet and Price on trombone. When Yarde returned for a second bite of the cherry the music took an innovative turn into more avant garde territory as the soloist’s alto brayed and whinnied on an acerbic solo sax cadenza.

Gibbs reminded the audience that his composition “Meant To Be” had been performed at Symphony Hall on the 1991 tour with John Scofield. Tonight it was to be Mike Walker, whose playing has often been favourably compared to Sco’s, who impressed as the featured guitar soloist while Yarde enjoyed another cameo on alto. A word too for the explosive drumming of Bain, which helped to power the piece along.

Introduced by a gentle guitar and piano duet another Gibbs classic, “And On The Third Day”, featured a mellower, almost lush, horn arrangement from out of which emerged an engaging twin trumpet dialogue featuring Lowther and Quigley. Siegel subsequently took over on tenor, his fluent soloing gradually becoming more powerful as the music increased in intensity.

This was to have been the final number of the set but the warmth of the audience reaction, with many members of the crowd getting to their feet to applaud, ensured that an encore was inevitable. This proved to be another Gibbs original, the blues tinged “Tennis, Anyone?” with O’Gallagher wailing on alto above a cushioning backdrop of trombones and muted trumpets. Quigley took over on soaring, high register trumpet but the final solo went to Gibbs’ right hand man, pianist Hans Koller, who teased the audience with a series of false endings. Great fun, and a wonderful end to a good natured performance presided over in avuncular fashion by the unassuming Gibbs, whose seeming vagueness sought to disguise a still razor sharp musical mind.

A performance by a Mike Gibbs band is always a memorable event. Let us hope that time will be kind to the great composer and arranger and that there will still be more to come. Gibbs has a special place in the hearts of Birmingham jazz audiences as the warmth of the reaction from tonight’s capacity crowd demonstrated, with many getting to their feet again as Gibbs and the band finally took their leave.

The band’s performance at Scarborough Jazz Festival will be broadcast on the Jazz Now programme on BBC Radio 3 at 11.00 pm on the evening of Monday 2nd October 2017.

Mike Gibbs 18 Piece Big Band, 80th Birthday Celebration, CBSO Centre, Birmingham, 28/09/2017.

Mike Gibbs 18 Piece Big Band

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Mike Gibbs 18 Piece Big Band, 80th Birthday Celebration, CBSO Centre, Birmingham, 28/09/2017.
Photography: Photographs sourced from the Birmingham Town Hall / Symphony Hall website http://www.thsh.co.uk

A performance by a Mike Gibbs band is always a memorable event.

Mike Gibbs 18 Piece Big Band, 80th Birthday Celebration, CBSO Centre, Birmingham, 28/09/2017.

“And then one day you find, ten years have got behind you…”. I was reminded of Roger Waters’ lyric when I recalled that I’d attended a concert celebrating Mike Gibbs’ 70th birthday at St. George’s in Bristol a decade ago. I don’t know what it feels like for Mike but for me the time just seems to have flown by. That gig at Bristol almost feels like it happened yesterday.

Born in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, Gibbs studied piano and trombone as a child and in 1959 moved to the USA to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Something of a global citizen Gibbs has lived and worked in Zimbabwe, the US and the UK and is now currently resident in Spain.

Although an accomplished section player on trombone Gibbs was always a reluctant soloist and decided to concentrate his efforts on composition and arrangement. I first became aware of his writing in the late 70s / early 80s after hearing his compositions on various Gary Burton albums including “In The Public Interest” “Seven Songs for Quartet and Chamber Orchestra” and “The New Quartet”. Gibbs and vibraphonist Burton met at Berklee, where both have held teaching posts at various times.

Gibbs has lived in the UK at various times in his life and has often recorded with British musicians. His album “The Only Chrome-Waterfall Orchestra”, which first appeared in 1975 on the Bronze record label featured an intriguing mix of British, American and European musicians.

Since the mid 70s Gibbs has combined recording and performance with an academic career and following a rush of album releases in the early 70s his output on disc has since been fairly sporadic, although albums such as “Big Music” (1988) and Nonsequence” (2001) remain essential listening.

Despite his relatively low profile I’ve been fortunate to witness Gibbs conducting his bands live (and occasionally playing trombone) on a number of previous occasions. The earliest of these was at St. Donats Arts Centre in the Vale of Glamorgan on a 1983 Contemporary Music Network tour. The twelve piece band was a stellar ensemble featuring American, European and British musicians including twin guitarists Kevin Eubanks and Wayne Krantz and Danish trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg.

In October 1991 Gibbs brought a fourteen piece ensemble to Symphony Hall in Birmingham as part of another CMN tour, this one sponsored by Rolling Rock beer! The Anglo-American band included guitarist John Scofield as guest soloist in a line up that included the American rhythm section of Steve Swallow (bass) and Bill Stewart (drums). The stellar cast also featured some of the most influential figures in British jazz including multi reeds player Tony Coe and departed heroes trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and pianist John Taylor.

In 2007 I attended the aforementioned Bristol show at the kind bequest of Christine Allen who was managing that particular tour. Yet another star studded Anglo-American line up featured Bill Frisell as the featured guitar soloist and with future Impossible Gentlemen Steve Swallow and Adam Nussbaum (drums) forming the deluxe rhythm team.

Also present on that Bristol date was the German born, UK based pianist and composer Hans Koller who has been Gibbs’ musical right hand man for the last decade or so. In 2013 Koller was a key part of the primarily British band that Gibbs led at that year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival in a performance that celebrated the centenary of the birth of the great Gil Evans, Gibbs’ primary influence as a composer and arranger. Playing a mix of Evans arrangements and Gibbs originals this was yet another memorable performance from a Gibbs ensemble. My review of this event is included in my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/sunday-at-cheltenham-jazz-festival-05-05-2013/

Prior to the Festival performance the band had also entered a London studio to record the album “Mike Gibbs + 12 Play Gil Evans” which appeared on the Whirlwind Recordings label run by the ensemble’s bassist, Michael Janisch.
My review of that album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/mike-gibbs-twelve-play-gil-evans/

Fast forward to 2017 and the mini-tour to celebrate Gibbs’ 80th birthday with performances at Scarborough Jazz Festival, The Vortex Jazz Club in London and here in Birmingham, a city with which Gibbs has many close musical links as Tony Dudley-Evans’ highly informative notes in a specially produced free printed programme made clear.

The high esteem in which Gibbs is held in Birmingham was reflected by a capacity crowd at the CBSO Centre, which was fuller than I’ve ever seen it for a jazz concert. The supportive audience were rewarded with an excellent performance from an all UK based band assembled specifically for the project by Koller and Janisch. The line up was;

Mike Gibbs – conductor

Ryan Quigley, Henry Lowther, Percy Pursglove, Nick Smart – trumpets & flugelhorns

Mark Bassey, Jeremy Price, Rory Ingham – trombones

Richard Henry – bass trombone, tuba

John O’ Gallagher – alto sax

Jason Yarde – alto & soprano sax

Alex Garnett – tenor & soprano sax

Julian Siegel – tenor sax, bass clarinet

Hans Koller – piano

Mike Walker – electric guitarist

Michael Janisch – double bass

Andrew Bain – drums

Tonight’s performance saw the ensemble playing straight through, without the benefit of an interval.  Gibbs’ unique approach to orchestration with its distinctive horn voicings was immediately apparent on the opening piece, an extraordinary arrangement of the 1930s standard “You Go To My Head” with Alex Garnett on tenor the featured soloist, his feature including an unaccompanied saxophone cadenza.

Gibbs paid tribute to the late, great Kenny Wheeler by first explaining that his (Gibbs) original composition “’Tis As It Should Be” was inspired by Wheeler’s arrangements and imaginative use of timbres on the late trumpeter’s final large ensemble album, 2012’s “The Long Waiting”.  A lustrous arrangement featured the trumpet section, with Lowther, Pursglove and Smart taking turns to come to the front of the stage, all of them delivering graceful and eloquent solos on flugelhorn, the instrument that became Wheeler’s main form of expression.

A segue of Bill Frisell’s “Throughout” and Gil Evans’ “Las Vegas Tango” saw the versatile Rattigan moving from french horn to accordion. Unsurprisingly Walker was the featured soloist here, his soaring fluency punctuated by staccato brass and reed stabs and powered by Bain’s dynamic drumming. Following this rousing passage Koller’s meditative passage of unaccompanied represented a complete contrast, as well as providing the bridge into the Evans piece which was finally announced by Janisch’s bass motif and the patter of Bain’s hands on drum skins. The timbres were softer here with muted trumpets a distinctive component, but the energy levels were subsequently raised by the spirited trombone dialogue between the experienced Bassey and rising star Ingham, the latter last seen with the youthful sextet Jam Experiment. Walker was also prominent again on guitar in an arrangement by Evans of his own tune.

Gibbs was one of the arrangers invited to adapt the Eberhard Weber composition “Maurizius” for performance at a special concert in Stuttgart to celebrate the German bassist and composer’s 65th birthday in 2005. Weber later suffered a stroke and is no longer able to perform, which is a great loss to music in general. Gibbs has maintained Weber’s essential compositional format (the piece was originally written for the 1982 small group recording “Later That Evening”) but inevitably the work sounds very different in a large ensemble context. Koller and Rattigan featured on the piano/accordion introduction with Koller taking the first solo. O’Gallagher, an American musician with strong Birmingham connections, impressed with a typically fiery alto solo while Gibbs’ long, minimalist style closing passage put something of his own stamp on the piece and owed something to the style of Alexander Scriabin. Acknowledging the applause of the audience Gibbs singled out Quigley for particular praise due to the difficulty of the lead trumpet part.

“Django”, written by pianist John Lewis of MJQ fame, commenced with a horn chorale shadowed by Bain’s mallet work before adopting a more orthodox big band swing feel with solos coming from Yarde on alto, Smart on Harmon muted trumpet and Price on trombone. When Yarde returned for a second bite of the cherry the music took an innovative turn into more avant garde territory as the soloist’s alto brayed and whinnied on an acerbic solo sax cadenza.

Gibbs reminded the audience that his composition “Meant To Be” had been performed at Symphony Hall on the 1991 tour with John Scofield. Tonight it was to be Mike Walker, whose playing has often been favourably compared to Sco’s, who impressed as the featured guitar soloist while Yarde enjoyed another cameo on alto. A word too for the explosive drumming of Bain, which helped to power the piece along.

Introduced by a gentle guitar and piano duet another Gibbs classic, “And On The Third Day”, featured a mellower, almost lush, horn arrangement from out of which emerged an engaging twin trumpet dialogue featuring Lowther and Quigley. Siegel subsequently took over on tenor, his fluent soloing gradually becoming more powerful as the music increased in intensity.

This was to have been the final number of the set but the warmth of the audience reaction, with many members of the crowd getting to their feet to applaud, ensured that an encore was inevitable. This proved to be another Gibbs original, the blues tinged “Tennis, Anyone?” with O’Gallagher wailing on alto above a cushioning backdrop of trombones and muted trumpets. Quigley took over on soaring, high register trumpet but the final solo went to Gibbs’ right hand man, pianist Hans Koller, who teased the audience with a series of false endings. Great fun, and a wonderful end to a good natured performance presided over in avuncular fashion by the unassuming Gibbs, whose seeming vagueness sought to disguise a still razor sharp musical mind.

A performance by a Mike Gibbs band is always a memorable event. Let us hope that time will be kind to the great composer and arranger and that there will still be more to come. Gibbs has a special place in the hearts of Birmingham jazz audiences as the warmth of the reaction from tonight’s capacity crowd demonstrated, with many getting to their feet again as Gibbs and the band finally took their leave.

The band’s performance at Scarborough Jazz Festival will be broadcast on the Jazz Now programme on BBC Radio 3 at 11.00 pm on the evening of Monday 2nd October 2017.

Alex Hitchcock Quintet - Alex Hitchcock Quintet, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 22/09/2017. Rating: 5 out of 5 "A young band of outstanding talent and ability. A very special evening indeed!" Guest contributor Trevor Bannister enjoys the writing and playing of tenor saxophonist Alex Hitchcock & his quintet.

Jazz at Progress
 
Friday 22 September
 
The Alex Hitchcock Quintet: Alex Hitchcock (tenor saxophone), James Copus (trumpet & flugel horn), Will Barry (keyboard), Joe Downard (bass, Jay Davis (drums).
 
‘This is going to be a special evening,’ promised Master of Ceremonies, Bob Draper, as he introduced the latest evening of jazz at the Progress Theatre on Friday 22 September. “This young man really impressed me when I saw him playing a short while ago with Art Themen. We must have him play at Reading, I thought. Ladies and gentlemen, he’ll have you on the edge of your seats … Alex Hitchcock and his quintet.”
 
Jazz at Progress offerings are never less than excellent, but true to Bob’s word, this gig hit the more distant realm of the truly special. Let’s have a look and see why.
 
In the first place, Alex has assembled a young band of outstanding talent and ability.
 
Will Barry’s keyboard technique is simply breathtaking. An endlessly inventive soloist, he conjures gorgeously celestial sounds from his instrument to give the music a wonderful sense of space and freedom. Oh that we could hear him play a grand piano! What a treat that would be.
 
James Copus? Where to start? Think of all the qualities that make a great trumpeter: a full brassy tone, dazzling runs and immaculate articulation, a range that sends the high notes soaring into the stratosphere, imagination and sensitivity … James has all these and more.
 
Joe Downard on bass can ‘walk’ with the best. But more than that, his playing, allied to that of Barry, and Jay Davis on drums, adds a richness of colour and texture to the music, sometimes to startling effect. At one point he created, though goodness knows how, what can only describe as a ‘blunt thud’. It was a moment to prompt the old adage, ‘If it sounds right, it must be right’. This did. Marvellous!
 
Sticks, brushes, mallets AND hands, Jay Davis makes full use of all his percussive tools to keep the music flowing freely and to add further layers of sound to the musical palette. To the delight of these ears, he demonstrated that simplicity, in the form of a press roll a la Art Blakey, or a single, well-placed beat on the snare drum, can be infinitely more effective than a complex display of drum pyrotechnics.
 
And what of the leader, Alex Hitchcock? He stands absolutely still as he plays, facing the audience directly. It’s an affirmative stance. Only the expression of deep concentration on his face and the lightning speed of his fingers as they negotiate the keys of his instrument, give a clue to the ideas and emotions cascading from his imagination, to emerge as perfectly shaped notes and beautiful phrases from the bell of his saxophone. It’s a spellbinding process to witness and he makes it look SO easy.
 
Secondly, Hitchcock’s possesses an essential quality of good leadership; knowing how to put together a set list, which balances his own original titles with familiar standards. “The More I See You” set the evening in motion, a tune best known to me as a 1966 hit for Chris Montez, though it’s been recorded by a host of jazz stars, including Chet Baker, Count Basie and perhaps most tellingly, by tenor saxist Hank Mobley. The gig closed with a wonderfully re-worked arrangement of “On the Sunny Side of the Street”. In between we enjoyed a range of Hitchcock originals, plus the tender ballad, “Just as You Are”, by Will Barry, and the concise and beautifully expressive “Johnsburg, Illinois”, from the pen of Tom Waits.
 
Which brings me to Hitchcock’s writing. If I suggest that it reminded me of Miles Davis’s classic quintet with Wayne Shorter, that will give you some idea of the impact it had on me. It’s tightly disciplined, in the best sense of the word, with the front-line of Hitchcock and Copus playing as one, but with a sense of space that allows soloists to explore the themes in any direction they choose.
 
“Adjective Animal”, (a title derived from the current fashion for using an animal name in a band’s name and preceding it with an adjective, or in the case of Big Bad Wolf, two) was perhaps the most ambitious piece of the evening, in terms of both length and complexity, but “Gift Horse”, “A38” (an evocation of a recent trip to Budapest and a trip on the Danube on Boat No. A38), “Sorry not Sorry”, and a dedication to the ill-starred fortunes of Fulham Football Club, proved equally enthralling. However, “Blues for J.C.” topped the lot for sheer incandescent excitement. It swung like the clappers, with dazzling solos from each member of the band and a cracking ‘free’ duet between Hitchcock and Jay Davis.
 
The players, the music, the programming … each of these elements contributed to a very special evening of Jazz at Progress. But there is one key element so far missing from the list: Alex Hitchcock himself. This young man has remarkable poise and self-assurance. He is a relaxed and natural band leader, with a warm, good-humoured and generous personality that readily communicates with musicians and audience alike. He has already made a terrific impact on the UK jazz scene within a very short space of time, and I have no doubt that his star will continue to ascend in the year to come.
 
He recounted two hilarious tales from the band’s recent tour of Central Europe (incidents in fact, which had taken place barely two days earlier); an encounter with a gun-toting cigarette salesman in Krakow, and the hazards of indulging in Hungarian culinary delights on a boat trip in Budapest (hence the aforementioned Boat A38). And at the end of the evening, he displayed huge appreciation for the audience, reserving special praise for the hospitality of the Progress Theatre, and the sound and lighting skills of Martin Noble.
 
Could it be, he suggested, that the great quality of the sound might also have something to do with the band’s set-up on stage – a closely confined arrangement amid a partially constructed set for a forthcoming production of Hamlet. Perhaps another benign influence could have been at work throughout the evening; that of ‘poor Yorick’?
 
His skull made an appearance at the beginning of the second set, as a prop to assist Bob Draper make the draw for the presentation of the ‘Golden Ticket’ prize, and remained on stage for the rest of the performance. “I’ve played to audiences that looked like skulls,” remarked Alex Hitchcock, “but never to a genuine skull.”
 
A very special evening indeed! There is just one last thing to be said, and this is for the benefit of all jazz club promoters – BOOK THIS BAND! NOW!
  
TREVOR BANNISTER


Alex Hitchcock is a London born saxophonist and composer, leading his own projects at venues such as Ronnie Scott’s, The Vortex, The Royal AlbertHall, and sellout shows at the 2016 London Jazz Festival, performing a rich mix of standards and
original compositions. He graduated from Cambridge University in English, where he directed the Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra and subsequently completed a postgraduate course at the Royal Academy of Music in 2016.

He plays as a sideman in various other bands including Resolution 88 and the Peter Whittingham Award-winning Patchwork Jazz Orchestra. He has performed with, amongst others, Soweto Kinch, Laurence Cottle, John Hollenbeck, Stan Sulzmann, Dennis Rollins, Nick Smart and Art Themen.

Alex worked as an Ambassador for the National Youth Jazz Collective, and in 2015 worked with promoters Serious to produce concerts at Rich Mix through their Young & Serious programme.
 
His big band work includes the BBC Big Band, the Laurence Cottle Big Band, and the Andy Panayi Big Band, while studio recording ranges from work with Channel 4 and the BBC to Egyptian national television.
 
The Alex Hitchcock Quintet features James Copus (Stan Sulzmann’s Neon Orchestra) on trumpet, pianist Will Barry (Jasper Hoiby’s Fellow Creatures), Joe Downard (NYJO) on bass and Jay Davis (Big Bad Wolf) on drums. Taking its cue from a range of Anglo-American influences, including Kneebody, Ambrose Akinmusire and Phronesis’ Jasper Hoiby, the group showcases a spirit of openness and inert-action grounded in the close musical relationships between its members.

  

Alex Hitchcock Quintet, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 22/09/2017.

Alex Hitchcock Quintet

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Reviewed by: Trevor Bannister

Live Review

5 out of 5

Alex Hitchcock Quintet, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 22/09/2017.
Photography: Photograph by Zoë White

"A young band of outstanding talent and ability. A very special evening indeed!" Guest contributor Trevor Bannister enjoys the writing and playing of tenor saxophonist Alex Hitchcock & his quintet.

Jazz at Progress
 
Friday 22 September
 
The Alex Hitchcock Quintet: Alex Hitchcock (tenor saxophone), James Copus (trumpet & flugel horn), Will Barry (keyboard), Joe Downard (bass, Jay Davis (drums).
 
‘This is going to be a special evening,’ promised Master of Ceremonies, Bob Draper, as he introduced the latest evening of jazz at the Progress Theatre on Friday 22 September. “This young man really impressed me when I saw him playing a short while ago with Art Themen. We must have him play at Reading, I thought. Ladies and gentlemen, he’ll have you on the edge of your seats … Alex Hitchcock and his quintet.”
 
Jazz at Progress offerings are never less than excellent, but true to Bob’s word, this gig hit the more distant realm of the truly special. Let’s have a look and see why.
 
In the first place, Alex has assembled a young band of outstanding talent and ability.
 
Will Barry’s keyboard technique is simply breathtaking. An endlessly inventive soloist, he conjures gorgeously celestial sounds from his instrument to give the music a wonderful sense of space and freedom. Oh that we could hear him play a grand piano! What a treat that would be.
 
James Copus? Where to start? Think of all the qualities that make a great trumpeter: a full brassy tone, dazzling runs and immaculate articulation, a range that sends the high notes soaring into the stratosphere, imagination and sensitivity … James has all these and more.
 
Joe Downard on bass can ‘walk’ with the best. But more than that, his playing, allied to that of Barry, and Jay Davis on drums, adds a richness of colour and texture to the music, sometimes to startling effect. At one point he created, though goodness knows how, what can only describe as a ‘blunt thud’. It was a moment to prompt the old adage, ‘If it sounds right, it must be right’. This did. Marvellous!
 
Sticks, brushes, mallets AND hands, Jay Davis makes full use of all his percussive tools to keep the music flowing freely and to add further layers of sound to the musical palette. To the delight of these ears, he demonstrated that simplicity, in the form of a press roll a la Art Blakey, or a single, well-placed beat on the snare drum, can be infinitely more effective than a complex display of drum pyrotechnics.
 
And what of the leader, Alex Hitchcock? He stands absolutely still as he plays, facing the audience directly. It’s an affirmative stance. Only the expression of deep concentration on his face and the lightning speed of his fingers as they negotiate the keys of his instrument, give a clue to the ideas and emotions cascading from his imagination, to emerge as perfectly shaped notes and beautiful phrases from the bell of his saxophone. It’s a spellbinding process to witness and he makes it look SO easy.
 
Secondly, Hitchcock’s possesses an essential quality of good leadership; knowing how to put together a set list, which balances his own original titles with familiar standards. “The More I See You” set the evening in motion, a tune best known to me as a 1966 hit for Chris Montez, though it’s been recorded by a host of jazz stars, including Chet Baker, Count Basie and perhaps most tellingly, by tenor saxist Hank Mobley. The gig closed with a wonderfully re-worked arrangement of “On the Sunny Side of the Street”. In between we enjoyed a range of Hitchcock originals, plus the tender ballad, “Just as You Are”, by Will Barry, and the concise and beautifully expressive “Johnsburg, Illinois”, from the pen of Tom Waits.
 
Which brings me to Hitchcock’s writing. If I suggest that it reminded me of Miles Davis’s classic quintet with Wayne Shorter, that will give you some idea of the impact it had on me. It’s tightly disciplined, in the best sense of the word, with the front-line of Hitchcock and Copus playing as one, but with a sense of space that allows soloists to explore the themes in any direction they choose.
 
“Adjective Animal”, (a title derived from the current fashion for using an animal name in a band’s name and preceding it with an adjective, or in the case of Big Bad Wolf, two) was perhaps the most ambitious piece of the evening, in terms of both length and complexity, but “Gift Horse”, “A38” (an evocation of a recent trip to Budapest and a trip on the Danube on Boat No. A38), “Sorry not Sorry”, and a dedication to the ill-starred fortunes of Fulham Football Club, proved equally enthralling. However, “Blues for J.C.” topped the lot for sheer incandescent excitement. It swung like the clappers, with dazzling solos from each member of the band and a cracking ‘free’ duet between Hitchcock and Jay Davis.
 
The players, the music, the programming … each of these elements contributed to a very special evening of Jazz at Progress. But there is one key element so far missing from the list: Alex Hitchcock himself. This young man has remarkable poise and self-assurance. He is a relaxed and natural band leader, with a warm, good-humoured and generous personality that readily communicates with musicians and audience alike. He has already made a terrific impact on the UK jazz scene within a very short space of time, and I have no doubt that his star will continue to ascend in the year to come.
 
He recounted two hilarious tales from the band’s recent tour of Central Europe (incidents in fact, which had taken place barely two days earlier); an encounter with a gun-toting cigarette salesman in Krakow, and the hazards of indulging in Hungarian culinary delights on a boat trip in Budapest (hence the aforementioned Boat A38). And at the end of the evening, he displayed huge appreciation for the audience, reserving special praise for the hospitality of the Progress Theatre, and the sound and lighting skills of Martin Noble.
 
Could it be, he suggested, that the great quality of the sound might also have something to do with the band’s set-up on stage – a closely confined arrangement amid a partially constructed set for a forthcoming production of Hamlet. Perhaps another benign influence could have been at work throughout the evening; that of ‘poor Yorick’?
 
His skull made an appearance at the beginning of the second set, as a prop to assist Bob Draper make the draw for the presentation of the ‘Golden Ticket’ prize, and remained on stage for the rest of the performance. “I’ve played to audiences that looked like skulls,” remarked Alex Hitchcock, “but never to a genuine skull.”
 
A very special evening indeed! There is just one last thing to be said, and this is for the benefit of all jazz club promoters – BOOK THIS BAND! NOW!
  
TREVOR BANNISTER


Alex Hitchcock is a London born saxophonist and composer, leading his own projects at venues such as Ronnie Scott’s, The Vortex, The Royal AlbertHall, and sellout shows at the 2016 London Jazz Festival, performing a rich mix of standards and
original compositions. He graduated from Cambridge University in English, where he directed the Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra and subsequently completed a postgraduate course at the Royal Academy of Music in 2016.

He plays as a sideman in various other bands including Resolution 88 and the Peter Whittingham Award-winning Patchwork Jazz Orchestra. He has performed with, amongst others, Soweto Kinch, Laurence Cottle, John Hollenbeck, Stan Sulzmann, Dennis Rollins, Nick Smart and Art Themen.

Alex worked as an Ambassador for the National Youth Jazz Collective, and in 2015 worked with promoters Serious to produce concerts at Rich Mix through their Young & Serious programme.
 
His big band work includes the BBC Big Band, the Laurence Cottle Big Band, and the Andy Panayi Big Band, while studio recording ranges from work with Channel 4 and the BBC to Egyptian national television.
 
The Alex Hitchcock Quintet features James Copus (Stan Sulzmann’s Neon Orchestra) on trumpet, pianist Will Barry (Jasper Hoiby’s Fellow Creatures), Joe Downard (NYJO) on bass and Jay Davis (Big Bad Wolf) on drums. Taking its cue from a range of Anglo-American influences, including Kneebody, Ambrose Akinmusire and Phronesis’ Jasper Hoiby, the group showcases a spirit of openness and inert-action grounded in the close musical relationships between its members.

  

Vein - Vein plays Ravel Rating: 4 out of 5 Vein tackle Ravel’s music with panache, invention and a great deal of musical skill and sophistication.

Vein

“Vein plays Ravel”

(Challenge Records DMCHR 71179)

Vein are a collaborative piano trio from Switzerland featuring twin brothers Michael Arbenz (piano) and Florian Arbenz (drums,) plus bassist Thomas Lahns.

Formed in 2006 Vein is a group with an international reputation and the trio have enjoyed fruitful collaborations with leading American musicians such as trombonist Glenn Ferris and saxophonists Greg Osby and Dave Liebman. The liaison with Liebman has been particularly productive as documented by the live album “Lemuria” (2012) and the studio session “Jazz Talks” (2015).

In 2015 Vein touted the UK with Liebman and I was fortunate enough to review the quartet’s hugely enjoyable performance at the Recital Hall at Birmingham Conservatoire.
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/vein-featuring-dave-liebman-at-the-recital-hall-birmingham-conservatoire-bi/

Including this latest release the Vein have recorded a total of twelve albums, eight of them in the classic piano trio format plus the collaborations with Liebman, Ferris and Osby.  The recordings have seen them tackling a mixture of jazz standards and original compositions and include the album “Vein plays Porgy and Bess”, the trio’s first “themed” release which presents their interpretations of a set of George Gershwin compositions.

All three of the musicians in Vein have studied and performed classical music and earlier in 2017 the trio released “The Chamber Music Effect”, a collection of original jazz compositions that drew upon the structures of chamber music. This turned out to be one of the group’s most successful releases to date with the Jazzmann commenting “This is vigorous, contemporary piano jazz at its best, full of energy, wit and invention”. My full review of that album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/vein-the-chamber-music-effect/

With this latest effort the trio are clearly trying to build upon the success of “The Chamber Music Effect” by again returning to their classical roots. This time round they have decided to concentrate on the work of a single composer as they interpret the music of the French composer Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937). The album is their first for a new label, Challenge Records, based in The Netherlands.

“Vein plays Ravel” seeing the trio taking eight of Ravel’s compositions and arranging them for the group. Tellingly the album cover includes a quote from Ravel stating; “No one can deny the rhythms of today. My recent music is filled with the influence of jazz”. Significantly Ravel also met Gershwin during a visit to the United States.

The British saxophonist Andy Sheppard guests on two pieces, “Bolero” and “Mouvement de Menuet”, playing both tenor and soprano saxophones. “Bolero” also includes a horn section featuring Martial In Al-bon (trumpet & flugelhorn), Florian Weiss (trombone), Nils Fischer (soprano & alto saxes, bass clarinet) and Noah Arnold (alto & tenor sax).

The album commences with the three part suite “Le Tombeau de Couperin” in which Ravel explored the influence of the baroque.
“Prelude” begins with a passage of solo piano which sees Michael Arbenz demonstrating his classically honed technique. The addition of Lahns’ melodic but muscular bass and the energetic swish of Florian’s cymbal work then steers the sound into more obvious jazz territory with the bass almost assuming the lead at times as the music ebbs and flows.
“Forlane” is gentler, more lyrical and reflective with Florian deploying brushes and with Lahns’ bass again a vital melodic component, and particularly so on his first real solo of the album.
“Toccata” begins with a Morse code like piano motif which leads into a brisk dialogue between piano and drums. Florian Arbenz is an arresting performer in the live environment and proves to be so here with an energetic solo drum feature that eventually heralds a busy, climactic three way exchange performed with the kind of bustling, bristling energy and sense of purpose that some have compared to Phronesis at their best.

“Blues” is a feature for bassist Thomas Lahns whose extraordinary playing, initially pizzicato but predominately arco, is paced by Michael’s sparse piano chording and Florian’s quirky percussion, including castanet like clicks that suggest the influence of both flamenco and tango.  The piece started out as the second movement of Ravel’s Second Violin Sonata and was given its current title by the composer himself.

“Bolero” is Ravel’s most famous composition, forever associated in the UK with Torville and Dean and THAT ice dancing routine. Vein’s sixteen minute exploration of the piece is a tour de force featuring Sheppard plus the horn section. Sheppard delicately picks out the melody on soprano as the trio play the rhythms fairly straight. Later the melodic baton passes to Lahns who sketches the tune on plucked double bass. Michael Arbenz’s horn arrangement then enters the equation with Al-Bon’s warm toned trumpet. As the piece begins to build relentlessly the interplay between the horn section becomes more complex with the arrangement making effective use of counterpoint. Michael Arbenz adds prepared piano to the rich panoply of sounds before the arrangement loosens up and gathers momentum, moving further away from the strictures of Ravel’s composition and allowing Michael Arbenz, Sheppard and the other horns greater scope in which to express themselves. It’s a fascinating struggle between structure and improvisational freedom as the music develops through a thrilling series of horn exchanges, accelerating Ravel’s theme almost to the point of parody at one juncture, almost descending into free jazz cacophony at another, as the piece reaches a final climax. “Bolero” may be almost too familiar, but surely it’s never previously been performed in such an exciting and inventive a manner as here, at least not in a jazz context.

Prepared piano sounds approximating the timbres of the African kalimba or mbira introduce the trio’s arrangement of “Pavane pour une infante defunte”. Michael Arbenz then adopts a more conventional piano sound for a gently limpid and lyrical reading of the piece that also features Lahn’s bass melodicism and the sparing, sympathetic brush work of Florian Arbenz. The music box like sounds of the prepared piano then appear again very briefly at the close.

Florian Arbenz’s drums introduce “Mouvement de Menuet” as he and Lahn’s create a gently propulsive groove which frames Sheppard’s softly melodic and effortlessly fluent tenor sax improvisations, his tone light and airy throughout. Michael Arbenz’s flowing piano lyricism also features with Lahns again providing a melodic foil on double bass.

The closing “Five o’clock Foxtrot” finds the trio in playful mood, an element of humour is often present in their recordings and concert appearances. Lahn’s meaty bass introduces the piece which includes some spirited three way interchanges and incorporates some rocky riffing reminiscent of {em}, Neil Cowley or The Bad Plus. The interplay between the Arbenz brothers is particularly invigorating with Florian in irrepressibly ebullient form behind the kit. The piece was inspired by Ravel’s love of jazz and salon music and forms part of his opera “L’Enfant et les Sortileges”

“Vein plays Ravel” is a worthy follow up to the excellent “The Chamber Music Effect” and once more is far removed from the kind of tepid jazz-classical ‘crossover’ that can give this sort of project a bad name. Instead Vein tackle Ravel’s music with panache, invention and a great deal of musical skill and sophistication. The vitality of the performances and the imagination of the arrangements breathe fresh life into the music and help to give it relevance in the 21st century.

It’s another strong showing from Vein but for me the album just falls short of “The Chamber Music Effect” with its all original programme. For all the qualities on offer the decision to focus the attention on the work of just one composer ultimately feels just a little bit too restrictive. It’s still a damn fine album though.

 


Vein plays Ravel

Vein

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Vein plays Ravel

Vein tackle Ravel’s music with panache, invention and a great deal of musical skill and sophistication.

Vein

“Vein plays Ravel”

(Challenge Records DMCHR 71179)

Vein are a collaborative piano trio from Switzerland featuring twin brothers Michael Arbenz (piano) and Florian Arbenz (drums,) plus bassist Thomas Lahns.

Formed in 2006 Vein is a group with an international reputation and the trio have enjoyed fruitful collaborations with leading American musicians such as trombonist Glenn Ferris and saxophonists Greg Osby and Dave Liebman. The liaison with Liebman has been particularly productive as documented by the live album “Lemuria” (2012) and the studio session “Jazz Talks” (2015).

In 2015 Vein touted the UK with Liebman and I was fortunate enough to review the quartet’s hugely enjoyable performance at the Recital Hall at Birmingham Conservatoire.
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/vein-featuring-dave-liebman-at-the-recital-hall-birmingham-conservatoire-bi/

Including this latest release the Vein have recorded a total of twelve albums, eight of them in the classic piano trio format plus the collaborations with Liebman, Ferris and Osby.  The recordings have seen them tackling a mixture of jazz standards and original compositions and include the album “Vein plays Porgy and Bess”, the trio’s first “themed” release which presents their interpretations of a set of George Gershwin compositions.

All three of the musicians in Vein have studied and performed classical music and earlier in 2017 the trio released “The Chamber Music Effect”, a collection of original jazz compositions that drew upon the structures of chamber music. This turned out to be one of the group’s most successful releases to date with the Jazzmann commenting “This is vigorous, contemporary piano jazz at its best, full of energy, wit and invention”. My full review of that album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/vein-the-chamber-music-effect/

With this latest effort the trio are clearly trying to build upon the success of “The Chamber Music Effect” by again returning to their classical roots. This time round they have decided to concentrate on the work of a single composer as they interpret the music of the French composer Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937). The album is their first for a new label, Challenge Records, based in The Netherlands.

“Vein plays Ravel” seeing the trio taking eight of Ravel’s compositions and arranging them for the group. Tellingly the album cover includes a quote from Ravel stating; “No one can deny the rhythms of today. My recent music is filled with the influence of jazz”. Significantly Ravel also met Gershwin during a visit to the United States.

The British saxophonist Andy Sheppard guests on two pieces, “Bolero” and “Mouvement de Menuet”, playing both tenor and soprano saxophones. “Bolero” also includes a horn section featuring Martial In Al-bon (trumpet & flugelhorn), Florian Weiss (trombone), Nils Fischer (soprano & alto saxes, bass clarinet) and Noah Arnold (alto & tenor sax).

The album commences with the three part suite “Le Tombeau de Couperin” in which Ravel explored the influence of the baroque.
“Prelude” begins with a passage of solo piano which sees Michael Arbenz demonstrating his classically honed technique. The addition of Lahns’ melodic but muscular bass and the energetic swish of Florian’s cymbal work then steers the sound into more obvious jazz territory with the bass almost assuming the lead at times as the music ebbs and flows.
“Forlane” is gentler, more lyrical and reflective with Florian deploying brushes and with Lahns’ bass again a vital melodic component, and particularly so on his first real solo of the album.
“Toccata” begins with a Morse code like piano motif which leads into a brisk dialogue between piano and drums. Florian Arbenz is an arresting performer in the live environment and proves to be so here with an energetic solo drum feature that eventually heralds a busy, climactic three way exchange performed with the kind of bustling, bristling energy and sense of purpose that some have compared to Phronesis at their best.

“Blues” is a feature for bassist Thomas Lahns whose extraordinary playing, initially pizzicato but predominately arco, is paced by Michael’s sparse piano chording and Florian’s quirky percussion, including castanet like clicks that suggest the influence of both flamenco and tango.  The piece started out as the second movement of Ravel’s Second Violin Sonata and was given its current title by the composer himself.

“Bolero” is Ravel’s most famous composition, forever associated in the UK with Torville and Dean and THAT ice dancing routine. Vein’s sixteen minute exploration of the piece is a tour de force featuring Sheppard plus the horn section. Sheppard delicately picks out the melody on soprano as the trio play the rhythms fairly straight. Later the melodic baton passes to Lahns who sketches the tune on plucked double bass. Michael Arbenz’s horn arrangement then enters the equation with Al-Bon’s warm toned trumpet. As the piece begins to build relentlessly the interplay between the horn section becomes more complex with the arrangement making effective use of counterpoint. Michael Arbenz adds prepared piano to the rich panoply of sounds before the arrangement loosens up and gathers momentum, moving further away from the strictures of Ravel’s composition and allowing Michael Arbenz, Sheppard and the other horns greater scope in which to express themselves. It’s a fascinating struggle between structure and improvisational freedom as the music develops through a thrilling series of horn exchanges, accelerating Ravel’s theme almost to the point of parody at one juncture, almost descending into free jazz cacophony at another, as the piece reaches a final climax. “Bolero” may be almost too familiar, but surely it’s never previously been performed in such an exciting and inventive a manner as here, at least not in a jazz context.

Prepared piano sounds approximating the timbres of the African kalimba or mbira introduce the trio’s arrangement of “Pavane pour une infante defunte”. Michael Arbenz then adopts a more conventional piano sound for a gently limpid and lyrical reading of the piece that also features Lahn’s bass melodicism and the sparing, sympathetic brush work of Florian Arbenz. The music box like sounds of the prepared piano then appear again very briefly at the close.

Florian Arbenz’s drums introduce “Mouvement de Menuet” as he and Lahn’s create a gently propulsive groove which frames Sheppard’s softly melodic and effortlessly fluent tenor sax improvisations, his tone light and airy throughout. Michael Arbenz’s flowing piano lyricism also features with Lahns again providing a melodic foil on double bass.

The closing “Five o’clock Foxtrot” finds the trio in playful mood, an element of humour is often present in their recordings and concert appearances. Lahn’s meaty bass introduces the piece which includes some spirited three way interchanges and incorporates some rocky riffing reminiscent of {em}, Neil Cowley or The Bad Plus. The interplay between the Arbenz brothers is particularly invigorating with Florian in irrepressibly ebullient form behind the kit. The piece was inspired by Ravel’s love of jazz and salon music and forms part of his opera “L’Enfant et les Sortileges”

“Vein plays Ravel” is a worthy follow up to the excellent “The Chamber Music Effect” and once more is far removed from the kind of tepid jazz-classical ‘crossover’ that can give this sort of project a bad name. Instead Vein tackle Ravel’s music with panache, invention and a great deal of musical skill and sophistication. The vitality of the performances and the imagination of the arrangements breathe fresh life into the music and help to give it relevance in the 21st century.

It’s another strong showing from Vein but for me the album just falls short of “The Chamber Music Effect” with its all original programme. For all the qualities on offer the decision to focus the attention on the work of just one composer ultimately feels just a little bit too restrictive. It’s still a damn fine album though.