Sunday, August 05, 2012
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
Taken on its own terms the album is a very enjoyable listen with some excellent playing from the core trio and their guests.
(Top End Records TER0002CD)
Wild Card is the brainchild of guitarist and composer Clement Regert. French born but based in London, Regert released the first Wild Card album “Mixicity” in 2008 when the group consisted of a quartet featuring pianist Alexis Corker, double bassist Neville Malcolm and drummer Cheryl Alleyne plus an array of illustrious guests including vocalist Liane Carroll, trumpeter Quentin Collins and trombonist Dennis Rollins. The album also featured contributions from percussionist Philip Harper and Parisian girl rapper B’loon.
For “Everything Changes” Regert has re-invented the group as an organ trio with the core group now featuring Andrew Noble on Hammond and Rhodes plus a new female drummer in the shape of Sophie Alloway. Rollins returns to guest on trombone with Graeme Flowers taking over from Collins on trumpet. Regert retains close links with mainland Europe and Italian saxophonist Roberto Manzin brings a fresh instrumental voice to Wild Card’s music on an array of saxophones and flutes. B’loon also returns to add her voice to a couple of tracks.
Musically Wild Card blend elements of jazz, funk and Latin music in what can be broadly summarised as a “Nu Jazz” format. The programme on the new album encompasses contemporary
jazz and bebop standards from composers such as Horace Silver, Jason Moran, Steve Kuhn, Kenny Barron and Kenny Burrell plus a number of Regert originals. There’s also a version of the Oasis hit “Wonderwall” and a piece from Brazilian composer Baden Powell. In the main the music is pleasant but inessential and one suspects that Wild Card’s natural habitat is in live performance. One can imagine them raising the roof in the right club environment.
Nevertheless there is still much to enjoy here with the guest horn players making substantial, often fiery contributions to the trio’s already hard grooving music. There are also moments of considerable subtlety when Regert switches to acoustic guitar. The group seem to have attracted universally good reviews with endorsements coming from Jazz FM’s Helen Mayhew, the Vortex’s chief reviewer Chris Parker and Birmingham based journalist and blogger Peter Bacon. Jack Massarik of the London Evening Standard made “Everything Changes” his CD of the week back in May 2012.
The album kicks off with Regert’s brief “Intro” featuring the voice of B’Loon plus Flowers on trumpet and Manzin on flute. B’Loon’s bilingual rap establishes an authentically urban vibe and emphasises the closeness of the London/Parisian alliance referred to in the trio’s press release.
The real meat of the album begins with a punchy, horn enlivened version of Horace Silver’s “Psychedelic Sally” with the bright, brassy horns of Rollins, Flowers and Manzin powered by
Noble’s Hammond grooves and Alloway’s dynamic drumming. Each hornman gets a few choruses in the spotlight and each produces some sparkling, zesty playing, full of vitality. Exciting stuff which must work brilliantly in a live context.
Regert’s “What about it ...rough?” introduces a stronger Latin flavour to the music with the horns again making a strong contribution. The sassily fluent Flowers takes the first solo and he’s followed by something of a feature for Alloway who circumnavigates her kit above a backdrop of Regert’s insistent guitar chording. Once again the energy levels are high as the Wild Card collective keep the pot bubbling.
Leader Regert has been content to keep a relatively low profile thus far but he plays a bigger role on the lengthy self penned title track, a seductive Latin flavoured ballad featuring his excellent acoustic guitar work alongside the warm, rounded tones of Rollins’ trombone. Noble’s Hammond swells and Alloway’s brightly detailed percussion provide sympathetic accompaniment.
Regert’s funky “DaFonk Jam” raises the energy levels again with Noble’s scintillating Rhodes solo a particular highlight. Manzin blows earthy r’n'b flavoured sax with Flowers exhibiting similar dynamism with a blazing trumpet solo. Regert’s highly rhythmic comping and Alloway’s powerful drumming complete the picture on a piece that must be something of a live favourite.
Jason Moran’s “Ms. Garvey Ms. Garvey” essays a different kind of funk and sounds as if it could have been lifted straight off an old Blue Note recording. The first piece to feature only the core trio this easily swinging piece of jazz/funk/blues highlights Regert’s guitar skills above Noble’s dense Hammond grooves. The organist also gets the chance to honour the Hammond heroes of old (Smith, McDuff, McGriff etc.) with a grooving, churning solo.
Baden Powell’s “Canto de Xango” offers trumpeter Graeme Flowers to demonstrate his imperious skills with a stunning opening solo. Drummer Sophie Alloway also features strongly with another guitar supported feature.
Pianist Steve Kuhn’s “The Saga of Harrison Crabfeathers” is another trio recording with Regert again impressing on acoustic guitar and Noble excelling on Hammond. Staying in the trio format a relaxed, Latin flavoured take on pianist Kenny Barron’s beautifully melodic “Sunshower” offers similar virtues.
Flowers and Manzin return for Regert’s “Sweet Smoke”, the sweetly simple melody opening out to frame solos from Noble on bluesily grooving Hammond and Regert on warm toned electric guitar. The horn players don’t solo as such but help to beef up the “head”.
I’m not quite sure what to make of the group’s version of Noel Gallagher’s “Wonderwall”. With Regert on nimble acoustic guitar the trio give the song a kind of Latin/Brazilian feel with Regert and Noble on Hammond sharing both the melody line and subsequent soloing duties. At times it can sound irritatingly cheesy but when the trio expand on the theme the playing is excellent. Regert’s superbly dexterous solo is particularly stunning. I’m sure it must be another live favourite and overall the piece gets the “thumbs up” from me.
An alternative take on “Psychedelic Sally” offers French language rap from B’loon” and some feisty, highly impressive horn interplay between Rollins, Manzin and Flowers.
The album closes with the trio take on the title track of guitarist Kenny Burrell’s classic 1963 Blue Note album “Midnight Blue” and again sounds as if it might have been recorded for the label. Regert does his best Burrell impersonation on coolly swinging electric guitar and Noble is excellent on gospel flavoured Hammond. Alloway again impresses as she does throughout the album, always finding the right beats and grooves for the occasion.
“Everything Changes” is an unpretentious album with a breezy charm but there’s also an engaging musical subtlety within many of the tunes. It may all be a little inconsequential but then it doesn’t harbour any aspirations to be “high art” and taken on its own terms the album is a very enjoyable listen with some excellent playing from the core trio and their guests. I bet they had great fun making it and have even more playing it live. Although the band is London based they’d be ideal for the Mostly Jazz, Funk & Soul Festival held in the lovely setting of Moseley Park, Birmingham each July. Festival organisers please note.
JAZZ MANN FEATURES
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Ian Mann soaks up the vibes at Cheltenham Jazz Festival.