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REVIEW

Sloth Racket - A Glorious Monster Rating: 0 out of 5 An impressive document in its own right, full of an exploratory, vibrant, creative energy and capturing Sloth Racket at their inimitable best.

Sloth Racket

“A Glorious Monster”

(Luminous Records LU010)

“A Glorious Monster” is the third studio album on the Luminous label from the quintet Sloth Racket, a group of musicians drawn from the London, Manchester and Leeds jazz scenes and led by the baritone saxophonist, composer and improviser Cath Roberts. The band also includes Sam Andreae( alto sax), Seth Bennett (double bass) and brothers Anton Hunter (guitar) and Johnny Hunter (drums).

Sloth Racket first performed at the 2015 Gateshead International jazz Festival as the result of a commission by Jazz North East.  They established an immediate rapport and the success of that event convinced Roberts that Sloth Racket should become a semi-regular working band. Further festival appearances plus a UK tour followed and a début album, “Triptych”, was released to considerable critical acclaim in 2016. This was followed in 2017 by the appropriately named “Shapeshifters” which saw the band continuing to explore the interface where composed and improvised music meets.

Sloth Racket’s music typically features the group improvising around Roberts’ compositions. These are intentionally sparse and rudimentary, often presented as graphic scores, and essentially represent ideas or basic frameworks around which the band can structure their improvisations. Roberts’ pieces habitually change shape in the course of the group’s live performances, a quality that makes the title of their second album particularly apposite. It is demonstrated further by the group’s live recording “See The Looks On The Faces”, a cassette only release on the Tombed Visions label, which features radically different versions of pieces from the band’s first two studio albums captured at live shows in Norwich and Cambridge. It even includes two versions of the piece “Edges” (from “Shapeshifters”) which differ substantially from each other as if to illustrate the point.

The personnel of Sloth Racket also form the core of Favourite Animals, a scaled up version of the original band with the following musicians added to the line up;
Julie Kjaer – bass clarinet, flute
Tom Ward – bass clarinet, flute
Dee Byrne – alto sax
Graham South – trumpet
Tullis Rennie – trombone
The resultant ten piece toured the UK as part of a double bill with Anton Hunter’s own large ensemble Article XI in December 2017 with the Birmingham performance reviewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/article-xi-favourite-animals-double-bill-hexagon-theatre-mac-birmingham-05-/
Both ensembles include shared personnel and both released eponymous début albums to coincide with the tour.

A highly active presence on the London jazz and improvised music scene Roberts’ other projects have included the septet Quadraceratops and the quartet Word of Moth plus the improvising duo Ripsaw Catfish, another collaboration with guitarist Anton Hunter.  Elsewhere Roberts performs with the Madwort Saxophone Quartet, led by saxophonist Tom Ward, the eight piece improvising saxophone ensemble Saxoctopus and in a duo with trombonist Tullis Rennie, plus numerous other one off and ad hoc collaborations. 

Together with alto saxophonist Dee Byrne Roberts is the co-founder of Lume, a musician led organisation originally devoted to giving improvising musicians a platform on the London music scene. It has since expanded to incorporate the Luminous record label and has facilitated two successful Lume Festivals in 2016 and 2017.

“A Glorious Monster” was recorded in November 2017 at Blueprint Studios in Salford with Alex Bonney engineering. At the time the band were in the middle of a tour in support of the “See The Looks On The Faces” release and had given some of the “Glorious Monster” material a first public outing at a gig at The Peer Hat in Manchester the previous evening.

It had originally been intended that the new album should be uplifting and optimistic but the material that Roberts came up with was pretty much the opposite, in her own words “dark, heavy and/or downtempo”. Following on from the Peer Hat show the single day session at Blueprint found the band involved in “a process of orientation, deconstruction and communal improvisation around just how this music was going to sound”. The results are as absorbing and intriguing as anything Sloth Racket have come up with, even though the music could hardly be described as an ‘easy listen’.

Opener “Animal Uprising”, the title perhaps referencing the larger version of Sloth Racket, is taut and angular, commencing with a fanfare from the twin saxes plus Anton Hunter’s guitar. Bass and drums subsequently enter and the music gathers an edgy momentum with Andreae’s alto worrying and whinnying away above the rhythmic and textural backdrop created by his colleagues. He subsequently solos at length, his urgent probing complemented by busy drums and bass as the music temporarily goes into saxophone trio mode. That sense of fractious, urgent energy persists in a series of edgy, abrasive exchanges between the members of the group with saxes, guitar and drums all involved. Later still the music acquires an almost anthemic quality as Roberts unleashes one of her most powerful riffs as the band members coalesce on a stirring, written theme. It’s an impressive beginning featuring Sloth Racket’s trademark blurring of the lines between composition and improvisation allied to some excellent playing. Despite its improvisatory nature there’s a steely sense of purpose about Sloth Racket’s music.

The ethereal shimmers of Johnny Hunter’s cymbals introduce the title track and his drum kit remains at the heart of the quintet’s introductory explorations. The piece is more obviously improvised and freely structured than the opener with pecked saxes and cat scratch guitar both distinctive components, their ruminations initially tentative and introspective before becoming more agitated and fractious. The two saxes then combine to set up the juggernaut of a riff that threatens to resolve the piece before eventually dissipating to make way for a more reflective finale.

“The Gazer” commences with a passage of free improvisation featuring bowed bass, pecked saxes and the rustle of drums and percussion. Eventually a modicum of structure emerges as the twin saxes intertwine, shadowed by bass and drums. Bennett’s bass becomes the fulcrum around which the shadowy improvisations of his colleagues take place with the interplay between Roberts and Andreae a constant source of fascination, as is Anton Hunter’s spidery guitar. The piece resolves itself with a delicate, unexpectedly beautiful coda featuring Andreae’s alto sax.

The final cut, “Octopus”, begins with a passage of free improvisation centred around the pecking and rasping of the saxes, Anton Hunter’s scratchy guitar and the patter of Johnny Hunter’s drums as extended techniques abound. Gradually a semblance of order emerges but the music remains fiercely interactive. Eventually the twin saxes coalesce with Hunter’s guitar to generate another gargantuan riff which in turn provokes a powerful baritone solo from Roberts as the music takes on an almost punk like intensity, but punk still very much rooted in the jazz avant garde.

“A Glorious Monster” represents another impressive statement from Roberts and Sloth Racket. Their music won’t appeal to everybody but I, for one, continue to find the balance that they strike between the composed and the improvised a constant source of fascination. Their music is constantly evolving, rarely settling in one place for long and the transitions between the free and the structured are skilfully and seamlessly handled. With its deployment of written riffs and themes it’s a more accessible album than “Shapeshifters” and seems closer in spirit to the début, “Triptych”.

No doubt these pieces will have mutated again in live performance but “A Glorious Monster” is an impressive document in its own right, full of an exploratory, vibrant, creative energy and capturing Sloth Racket at their inimitable best.

A Glorious Monster

Sloth Racket

Friday, June 22, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

0 out of 5

A Glorious Monster

An impressive document in its own right, full of an exploratory, vibrant, creative energy and capturing Sloth Racket at their inimitable best.

Sloth Racket

“A Glorious Monster”

(Luminous Records LU010)

“A Glorious Monster” is the third studio album on the Luminous label from the quintet Sloth Racket, a group of musicians drawn from the London, Manchester and Leeds jazz scenes and led by the baritone saxophonist, composer and improviser Cath Roberts. The band also includes Sam Andreae( alto sax), Seth Bennett (double bass) and brothers Anton Hunter (guitar) and Johnny Hunter (drums).

Sloth Racket first performed at the 2015 Gateshead International jazz Festival as the result of a commission by Jazz North East.  They established an immediate rapport and the success of that event convinced Roberts that Sloth Racket should become a semi-regular working band. Further festival appearances plus a UK tour followed and a début album, “Triptych”, was released to considerable critical acclaim in 2016. This was followed in 2017 by the appropriately named “Shapeshifters” which saw the band continuing to explore the interface where composed and improvised music meets.

Sloth Racket’s music typically features the group improvising around Roberts’ compositions. These are intentionally sparse and rudimentary, often presented as graphic scores, and essentially represent ideas or basic frameworks around which the band can structure their improvisations. Roberts’ pieces habitually change shape in the course of the group’s live performances, a quality that makes the title of their second album particularly apposite. It is demonstrated further by the group’s live recording “See The Looks On The Faces”, a cassette only release on the Tombed Visions label, which features radically different versions of pieces from the band’s first two studio albums captured at live shows in Norwich and Cambridge. It even includes two versions of the piece “Edges” (from “Shapeshifters”) which differ substantially from each other as if to illustrate the point.

The personnel of Sloth Racket also form the core of Favourite Animals, a scaled up version of the original band with the following musicians added to the line up;
Julie Kjaer – bass clarinet, flute
Tom Ward – bass clarinet, flute
Dee Byrne – alto sax
Graham South – trumpet
Tullis Rennie – trombone
The resultant ten piece toured the UK as part of a double bill with Anton Hunter’s own large ensemble Article XI in December 2017 with the Birmingham performance reviewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/article-xi-favourite-animals-double-bill-hexagon-theatre-mac-birmingham-05-/
Both ensembles include shared personnel and both released eponymous début albums to coincide with the tour.

A highly active presence on the London jazz and improvised music scene Roberts’ other projects have included the septet Quadraceratops and the quartet Word of Moth plus the improvising duo Ripsaw Catfish, another collaboration with guitarist Anton Hunter.  Elsewhere Roberts performs with the Madwort Saxophone Quartet, led by saxophonist Tom Ward, the eight piece improvising saxophone ensemble Saxoctopus and in a duo with trombonist Tullis Rennie, plus numerous other one off and ad hoc collaborations. 

Together with alto saxophonist Dee Byrne Roberts is the co-founder of Lume, a musician led organisation originally devoted to giving improvising musicians a platform on the London music scene. It has since expanded to incorporate the Luminous record label and has facilitated two successful Lume Festivals in 2016 and 2017.

“A Glorious Monster” was recorded in November 2017 at Blueprint Studios in Salford with Alex Bonney engineering. At the time the band were in the middle of a tour in support of the “See The Looks On The Faces” release and had given some of the “Glorious Monster” material a first public outing at a gig at The Peer Hat in Manchester the previous evening.

It had originally been intended that the new album should be uplifting and optimistic but the material that Roberts came up with was pretty much the opposite, in her own words “dark, heavy and/or downtempo”. Following on from the Peer Hat show the single day session at Blueprint found the band involved in “a process of orientation, deconstruction and communal improvisation around just how this music was going to sound”. The results are as absorbing and intriguing as anything Sloth Racket have come up with, even though the music could hardly be described as an ‘easy listen’.

Opener “Animal Uprising”, the title perhaps referencing the larger version of Sloth Racket, is taut and angular, commencing with a fanfare from the twin saxes plus Anton Hunter’s guitar. Bass and drums subsequently enter and the music gathers an edgy momentum with Andreae’s alto worrying and whinnying away above the rhythmic and textural backdrop created by his colleagues. He subsequently solos at length, his urgent probing complemented by busy drums and bass as the music temporarily goes into saxophone trio mode. That sense of fractious, urgent energy persists in a series of edgy, abrasive exchanges between the members of the group with saxes, guitar and drums all involved. Later still the music acquires an almost anthemic quality as Roberts unleashes one of her most powerful riffs as the band members coalesce on a stirring, written theme. It’s an impressive beginning featuring Sloth Racket’s trademark blurring of the lines between composition and improvisation allied to some excellent playing. Despite its improvisatory nature there’s a steely sense of purpose about Sloth Racket’s music.

The ethereal shimmers of Johnny Hunter’s cymbals introduce the title track and his drum kit remains at the heart of the quintet’s introductory explorations. The piece is more obviously improvised and freely structured than the opener with pecked saxes and cat scratch guitar both distinctive components, their ruminations initially tentative and introspective before becoming more agitated and fractious. The two saxes then combine to set up the juggernaut of a riff that threatens to resolve the piece before eventually dissipating to make way for a more reflective finale.

“The Gazer” commences with a passage of free improvisation featuring bowed bass, pecked saxes and the rustle of drums and percussion. Eventually a modicum of structure emerges as the twin saxes intertwine, shadowed by bass and drums. Bennett’s bass becomes the fulcrum around which the shadowy improvisations of his colleagues take place with the interplay between Roberts and Andreae a constant source of fascination, as is Anton Hunter’s spidery guitar. The piece resolves itself with a delicate, unexpectedly beautiful coda featuring Andreae’s alto sax.

The final cut, “Octopus”, begins with a passage of free improvisation centred around the pecking and rasping of the saxes, Anton Hunter’s scratchy guitar and the patter of Johnny Hunter’s drums as extended techniques abound. Gradually a semblance of order emerges but the music remains fiercely interactive. Eventually the twin saxes coalesce with Hunter’s guitar to generate another gargantuan riff which in turn provokes a powerful baritone solo from Roberts as the music takes on an almost punk like intensity, but punk still very much rooted in the jazz avant garde.

“A Glorious Monster” represents another impressive statement from Roberts and Sloth Racket. Their music won’t appeal to everybody but I, for one, continue to find the balance that they strike between the composed and the improvised a constant source of fascination. Their music is constantly evolving, rarely settling in one place for long and the transitions between the free and the structured are skilfully and seamlessly handled. With its deployment of written riffs and themes it’s a more accessible album than “Shapeshifters” and seems closer in spirit to the début, “Triptych”.

No doubt these pieces will have mutated again in live performance but “A Glorious Monster” is an impressive document in its own right, full of an exploratory, vibrant, creative energy and capturing Sloth Racket at their inimitable best.

Frank Harrison and Brigitte Beraha - The Way Home Rating: 3-5 out of 5 An intimate, thoughtful, well crafted and often very beautiful album.

Frank Harrison and Brigitte Beraha

“The Way Home”

(Linus Records LRCD04)

Pianist Frank Harrison and vocalist Brigitte Beraha are both regular presences on the Jazzmann web pages.

Harrison is arguably best known to jazz audiences as a member of multi-instrumentalist Gilad Atzmon’s quartet the Orient House Ensemble but he has also enjoyed a fruitful solo career releasing a series of accomplished piano trio albums with various rhythm section partners, the recordings including “First Light” (2006), “Sideways” (2012) and “Lunaris” (2014), all of which are reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann. The semi-official “Live At The Verdict” (2015), recorded at the celebrated Brighton venue features his current trio of bassist Dave Whitford and drummer Enzo Zirilli.

Others with whom Harrison has recorded include guitarist Louis Stewart, saxophonists Alan Barnes and Tommaso Starace, drummer Asaf Sirkis and vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Sarah Gillespie plus the ensembles Quadro (with vocalist Georgia Mancio and bassist Andy Cleyndert) and Talinka, led by singer and songwriter Tali Atzmon.

As a sideman he was worked with guitarist John Etheridge and with a host of famous British saxophonists including Peter King, Julian Arguelles, Julian Siegel, Don Weller and Iain Ballamy plus the Pole, Maciej Sikala.

Beraha first came to my attention with the release of her second solo album “Flying Dreams” back in 2008. Strongly influenced by the great Norma Winstone Beraha has blossomed into one of the UK’s most adventurous and accomplished vocalists who has performed as a very welcome guest on recordings by pianists Ivo Neame and Geoff Eales, trumpeters Andy Hague and Reuben Fowler and saxophonist Ed Jones among others. She is a key member of the co-operative ensembles Babelfish and Solstice and of Riff Raff, the sextet led by bassist and composer Dave Manington. She has also worked with the trumpeter and composer Yazz Ahmed.

A particularly prolific collaboration has been with the pianist and composer John Turville, the pair releasing the duo album “Red Skies” in 2013 and also touring extensively. “Red Skies” also included a guest appearance on tenor sax by the late, great Bobby Wellins while the duo’s live performances have sometimes featured contributions from a much younger saxophonist, the hugely versatile George Crowley.

2018 has seen Beraha guesting on “Criss Cross”, the recently issued duo album from pianist Alcyona Mick and saxophonist Tori Freestone. She also appeared at Cheltenham Jazz Festival as part of the all female ensemble Interchange, founded and co-ordinated by saxophonist, composer and educator Issie Barratt.

Beraha has been an important member of the Loop and E17 musicians’ collectives and is generally a busy and creative presence on the UK jazz scene. As well as being an enterprising and versatile vocalist Beraha is also an accomplished song writer and lyricist who has had a considerable creative input to the recordings she has been involved with, often adding her lyrics to the music of others.

It’s tempting to regard this collaboration between Beraha and Harrison as the natural successor to her partnership with Turville. Several of the pieces on “The Way Home” are jointly written by Harrison and Beraha alongside a number of sole credits. The only genuine ‘outside’ item is a solo piano interpretation of “You Can’t Go Home Again”, written by the American composer and arranger Don Sebesky.

The packaging for “The Way Home” suggests that the album might be a conceptual affair but instead it appears to be just a collection of songs. It commences with “The Man Who Cycled From India For Love”, a co-write with music by Harrison and words by Beraha. The lyrics tell the true story of a man who cycled 7,000km from India to Europe in 1977 to be with a Swedish tourist he’d fallen in love with.  The couple in question are now married and settled in Sweden with their son. The family in question heard the song on Youtube and visited the UK to attend the album launch at Kings Place, London. It’s a heart warming story.
The performance is eerily beautiful with Beraha’s yearning yet flexible vocals complemented by Harrison’s crystalline piano. Beraha’s lyrics are possessed on a genuine poetic quality but her wordless vocalising is equally effective as is Harrison’s judicious use of synthesisers and samplers to create splashes of additional colour and texture.

“Falling”, another joint collaboration, features Beraha at her most Winstone like as she delivers a lyric that is again genuinely poetic thanks to its economy and simplicity, these qualities helping to make it also both beautiful and evocative. Harrison’s piano is again at the heart of the arrangement but once again he deploys tasteful electronica to add depth and colour and there’s also a subtle, low key contribution from guest percussionist Enzo Zirilli.

“For Fred (and Robert)” is credited to Harrison alone and features Beraha’s soaring wordless vocals floating above the pianist’s circling motifs and more expansive soloing. I’m not sure who the dedicatees are, but would hazard a guess at the acclaimed American jazz pianist Fred Hersch.

“The Broken Lantern” is another collaboration between Harrison and Beraha. Again, the beauty of Harrison’s melody and the lyricism of his playing is enhanced by Beraha’s words and singing. Her lyrics evoke an image of a cracked, dusty lamp “Who will see only cracks, And miss the most perfect light, Shining through the broken glass” she asks. It’s an invitation to “Wisely choose how to stare at the world”.

The product of a cosmopolitan upbringing Beraha has long been admired for her ability to sing, and write, convincingly in other languages. The joint composition “Magica Nostra” features her effective singing of her own Italian lyrics. There’s also some soaring wordless vocalising plus a flowingly lyrical piano solo from Harrison.

An arrangement of Don Sebesky’s “You Can’t Go Home Again” appeared on Harrison’s 2006 début album “First Light”, which featured bassist Aidan O’Donnell and drummer Stephen Keogh. Here Harrison revisits the piece as a solo piano performance with his unhurried, lyrical playing again bringing out the full beauty of Sebesky’s tune, itself based on a theme by Rachmaninov.

Solely credited to Beraha “Day By Day”, with its confessional lyrics, has something of the feel of a Joni Mitchell song about it, and despite the lovelorn despair expressed in the first two verses the song concludes on a more positive note. Life goes on.

Harrison’s title track has no lyrics but is possessed of a gorgeous melody that provides the inspiration for the delightful interplay between the composer’s piano and Beraha’s non verbal vocals. A soupçon of electronica enhances an arrangement that draws on jazz and minimalist influences.

“De Retour” presents another example of Beraha’s multi-lingual skills and is a setting, with lyrics in French, of a work by the poet Maud Hart. Beraha’s arrangement incorporates spooky, unsettling electronica from Harrison allied to the vocalist’s semi-sung, semi-spoken rendition of the poet’s words.  As the tune gathers momentum and takes a more optimistic turn we are also treated to more of Beraha’s joyous wordless vocalising. Apparently Hart made the trip from Alsace to attend the duo’s London launch gig.

The album concludes with Harrison’s “Two Tone Tune”, another piano and wordless vocal set piece that some have compared to the Azimuth trio featuring vocalist Norma Winstone, pianist John Taylor and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler that recorded a series of albums for ECM in the 1970s and 1980s. Here the third musical voice comes from guest harmonica player Patrick Bettison (he’s also a highly accomplished electric bass specialist). The piece is comparatively brief and economical with Bettison shadowing Beraha’s vocal lines rather than performing as a soloist, his role is essentially textural.

“The Way Home” is an intimate, thoughtful, well crafted and often very beautiful album. Its ‘chamber jazz’ aesthetic and slightly rarefied atmosphere won’t appeal to all listeners but nevertheless it’s an album that many will enjoy and it has certainly been well received by my fellow jazz commentators.
It’s a recording that will enhance Beraha’s reputation as one of the UK’s leading vocalists and lyricists and confirms Harrison’s status as one our top pianists. His subtle use of electronica is effective and does nothing to detract from the superior quality of his piano playing. Meanwhile the production and engineering (by Dougal Lott and Andrew Tulloch) ensures that both performers are heard at their best.

The material on “The Way Home” was recorded two years ago and reports from recent live gigs suggest that the duo are now incorporating a raft of new material into their live performances. Frank Harrison and Brigitte Beraha can be seen and heard at the Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire on Friday 20th July 2018.
See http://www.hermonchapel.com or http://www.frankharrison.net

The Way Home

Frank Harrison and Brigitte Beraha

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

The Way Home

An intimate, thoughtful, well crafted and often very beautiful album.

Frank Harrison and Brigitte Beraha

“The Way Home”

(Linus Records LRCD04)

Pianist Frank Harrison and vocalist Brigitte Beraha are both regular presences on the Jazzmann web pages.

Harrison is arguably best known to jazz audiences as a member of multi-instrumentalist Gilad Atzmon’s quartet the Orient House Ensemble but he has also enjoyed a fruitful solo career releasing a series of accomplished piano trio albums with various rhythm section partners, the recordings including “First Light” (2006), “Sideways” (2012) and “Lunaris” (2014), all of which are reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann. The semi-official “Live At The Verdict” (2015), recorded at the celebrated Brighton venue features his current trio of bassist Dave Whitford and drummer Enzo Zirilli.

Others with whom Harrison has recorded include guitarist Louis Stewart, saxophonists Alan Barnes and Tommaso Starace, drummer Asaf Sirkis and vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Sarah Gillespie plus the ensembles Quadro (with vocalist Georgia Mancio and bassist Andy Cleyndert) and Talinka, led by singer and songwriter Tali Atzmon.

As a sideman he was worked with guitarist John Etheridge and with a host of famous British saxophonists including Peter King, Julian Arguelles, Julian Siegel, Don Weller and Iain Ballamy plus the Pole, Maciej Sikala.

Beraha first came to my attention with the release of her second solo album “Flying Dreams” back in 2008. Strongly influenced by the great Norma Winstone Beraha has blossomed into one of the UK’s most adventurous and accomplished vocalists who has performed as a very welcome guest on recordings by pianists Ivo Neame and Geoff Eales, trumpeters Andy Hague and Reuben Fowler and saxophonist Ed Jones among others. She is a key member of the co-operative ensembles Babelfish and Solstice and of Riff Raff, the sextet led by bassist and composer Dave Manington. She has also worked with the trumpeter and composer Yazz Ahmed.

A particularly prolific collaboration has been with the pianist and composer John Turville, the pair releasing the duo album “Red Skies” in 2013 and also touring extensively. “Red Skies” also included a guest appearance on tenor sax by the late, great Bobby Wellins while the duo’s live performances have sometimes featured contributions from a much younger saxophonist, the hugely versatile George Crowley.

2018 has seen Beraha guesting on “Criss Cross”, the recently issued duo album from pianist Alcyona Mick and saxophonist Tori Freestone. She also appeared at Cheltenham Jazz Festival as part of the all female ensemble Interchange, founded and co-ordinated by saxophonist, composer and educator Issie Barratt.

Beraha has been an important member of the Loop and E17 musicians’ collectives and is generally a busy and creative presence on the UK jazz scene. As well as being an enterprising and versatile vocalist Beraha is also an accomplished song writer and lyricist who has had a considerable creative input to the recordings she has been involved with, often adding her lyrics to the music of others.

It’s tempting to regard this collaboration between Beraha and Harrison as the natural successor to her partnership with Turville. Several of the pieces on “The Way Home” are jointly written by Harrison and Beraha alongside a number of sole credits. The only genuine ‘outside’ item is a solo piano interpretation of “You Can’t Go Home Again”, written by the American composer and arranger Don Sebesky.

The packaging for “The Way Home” suggests that the album might be a conceptual affair but instead it appears to be just a collection of songs. It commences with “The Man Who Cycled From India For Love”, a co-write with music by Harrison and words by Beraha. The lyrics tell the true story of a man who cycled 7,000km from India to Europe in 1977 to be with a Swedish tourist he’d fallen in love with.  The couple in question are now married and settled in Sweden with their son. The family in question heard the song on Youtube and visited the UK to attend the album launch at Kings Place, London. It’s a heart warming story.
The performance is eerily beautiful with Beraha’s yearning yet flexible vocals complemented by Harrison’s crystalline piano. Beraha’s lyrics are possessed on a genuine poetic quality but her wordless vocalising is equally effective as is Harrison’s judicious use of synthesisers and samplers to create splashes of additional colour and texture.

“Falling”, another joint collaboration, features Beraha at her most Winstone like as she delivers a lyric that is again genuinely poetic thanks to its economy and simplicity, these qualities helping to make it also both beautiful and evocative. Harrison’s piano is again at the heart of the arrangement but once again he deploys tasteful electronica to add depth and colour and there’s also a subtle, low key contribution from guest percussionist Enzo Zirilli.

“For Fred (and Robert)” is credited to Harrison alone and features Beraha’s soaring wordless vocals floating above the pianist’s circling motifs and more expansive soloing. I’m not sure who the dedicatees are, but would hazard a guess at the acclaimed American jazz pianist Fred Hersch.

“The Broken Lantern” is another collaboration between Harrison and Beraha. Again, the beauty of Harrison’s melody and the lyricism of his playing is enhanced by Beraha’s words and singing. Her lyrics evoke an image of a cracked, dusty lamp “Who will see only cracks, And miss the most perfect light, Shining through the broken glass” she asks. It’s an invitation to “Wisely choose how to stare at the world”.

The product of a cosmopolitan upbringing Beraha has long been admired for her ability to sing, and write, convincingly in other languages. The joint composition “Magica Nostra” features her effective singing of her own Italian lyrics. There’s also some soaring wordless vocalising plus a flowingly lyrical piano solo from Harrison.

An arrangement of Don Sebesky’s “You Can’t Go Home Again” appeared on Harrison’s 2006 début album “First Light”, which featured bassist Aidan O’Donnell and drummer Stephen Keogh. Here Harrison revisits the piece as a solo piano performance with his unhurried, lyrical playing again bringing out the full beauty of Sebesky’s tune, itself based on a theme by Rachmaninov.

Solely credited to Beraha “Day By Day”, with its confessional lyrics, has something of the feel of a Joni Mitchell song about it, and despite the lovelorn despair expressed in the first two verses the song concludes on a more positive note. Life goes on.

Harrison’s title track has no lyrics but is possessed of a gorgeous melody that provides the inspiration for the delightful interplay between the composer’s piano and Beraha’s non verbal vocals. A soupçon of electronica enhances an arrangement that draws on jazz and minimalist influences.

“De Retour” presents another example of Beraha’s multi-lingual skills and is a setting, with lyrics in French, of a work by the poet Maud Hart. Beraha’s arrangement incorporates spooky, unsettling electronica from Harrison allied to the vocalist’s semi-sung, semi-spoken rendition of the poet’s words.  As the tune gathers momentum and takes a more optimistic turn we are also treated to more of Beraha’s joyous wordless vocalising. Apparently Hart made the trip from Alsace to attend the duo’s London launch gig.

The album concludes with Harrison’s “Two Tone Tune”, another piano and wordless vocal set piece that some have compared to the Azimuth trio featuring vocalist Norma Winstone, pianist John Taylor and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler that recorded a series of albums for ECM in the 1970s and 1980s. Here the third musical voice comes from guest harmonica player Patrick Bettison (he’s also a highly accomplished electric bass specialist). The piece is comparatively brief and economical with Bettison shadowing Beraha’s vocal lines rather than performing as a soloist, his role is essentially textural.

“The Way Home” is an intimate, thoughtful, well crafted and often very beautiful album. Its ‘chamber jazz’ aesthetic and slightly rarefied atmosphere won’t appeal to all listeners but nevertheless it’s an album that many will enjoy and it has certainly been well received by my fellow jazz commentators.
It’s a recording that will enhance Beraha’s reputation as one of the UK’s leading vocalists and lyricists and confirms Harrison’s status as one our top pianists. His subtle use of electronica is effective and does nothing to detract from the superior quality of his piano playing. Meanwhile the production and engineering (by Dougal Lott and Andrew Tulloch) ensures that both performers are heard at their best.

The material on “The Way Home” was recorded two years ago and reports from recent live gigs suggest that the duo are now incorporating a raft of new material into their live performances. Frank Harrison and Brigitte Beraha can be seen and heard at the Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire on Friday 20th July 2018.
See http://www.hermonchapel.com or http://www.frankharrison.net

Matt Anderson Quartet - Rambling Rating: 3-5 out of 5 An impressive statement from Anderson that reveals him to be an excellent composer and arranger as well as a highly fluent and eloquent saxophone soloist.

Matt Anderson Quartet

“Rambling”

(Jellymould Jazz JM-JJ030)

Matt Anderson is a Yorkshire born, London based saxophonist and composer who has worked with guitarists Jamie Taylor and Jiannis Pavlidis and pianist Mark Donlon among others. He studied at Leeds College of Music and at the Royal Academy of Music, his tutors including a veritable list of famous jazz names from both sides of the Atlantic. Besides the names mentioned above he has performed with many of the UK’s leading jazz musicians, again a list too exhaustive to reproduce in full here.

In 2014 Anderson was featured on the début album by Jamie Taylor’s Outside Line quartet. In the same year he made his own début as a leader fronting the Wayne Shorter inspired Wildflower Sextet, a stellar group of young British musicians drawn from the Leeds and London scenes including rising star Laura Jurd on trumpet plus guitarist Alex Munk, pianist Jamil Sheriff, bassist Sam Vicary and drummer Sam Gardner. In January 2015 I enjoyed a live performance by this line up at The Hive Music & Media Centre in Shrewsbury, with my subsequent review also taking a look at the group’s début album, also released on the Jellymould Jazz imprint.
That article can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/wildflower-sextet-the-hive-music-media-centre-shrewsbury-17-01-2015/

It was in 2015 that Anderson, playing tenor saxophone, and Jiannis Pavlidis on guitar recorded the duo album “Alone Together”, released on New Jazz Records and currently only available as an on line release on Bandcamp. https://mattandersonjiannispavlidisduo.bandcamp.com/releases

In 2017 he was the winner of the Dankworth Prize for Jazz Composition and his new quartet album “Rambling” places a greater emphasis on his original writing than the earlier “Wildflower” release. The new album fuses jazz and folk influences and is a reflection on Anderson’s rural upbringing in the North Yorkshire moors and his love of walking and the British countryside.

“Rambling” features a core quartet of Anderson on tenor and alto saxes,  Peter Lee on piano, Will Harris on double bass and Jay Davis at the drums. Several pieces feature a larger ensemble with trumpeter Nick Malcolm, trombonist Owen Dawson and guitarist Aubin Vanns appearing on half of the album’s ten tracks.

The guests feature on the opening “Jig, Jag, Jug” which commences with the warm textures of an unaccompanied horn chorale, an allusion, possibly to the Yorkshire brass band tradition. But this multi-faceted piece quickly changes direction as the rest of the band enter the proceedings, establishing a vibrant, Latin inflected groove that is punctuated by more reflective episodes featuring Vanns on guitar and Anderson himself on tenor. There’s also some exquisite interplay between the horns with Malcolm proving to be a significant presence. This is a piece that ebbs and flows effortlessly, reflective perhaps of the Yorkshire landscape, and it’s the composition that helped to win Anderson the Dankworth Prize.

The press release accompanying the album mentions the influence of Scandinavian jazz and this is reflected in the title of “Nordic Blues”, a gently brooding piece that features the ramblings of Vanns’ elegant, inventive blues infused guitar. He solos with a cool, effortless fluency. Anderson himself responds on slow burning alto above the economic grooves of the rhythm section as Malcolm and Dawson add weight to the ensemble sound while providing a welcome splash of extra colour and texture.

The guests then take an extended rest as the core quartet take over for the next three tracks, beginning with the reflective “October Ending”. Lee’s sombre and economical solo piano intro sets the tone before Anderson’s tenor smoulders effectively above the subtle rhythms and colourations of Harris and Davis. The bassist adds a concise, melodic solo before handing back to the leader. Anderson’s soloing, punctuated by a brief passage from Lee, becomes increasingly anthemic as the energy levels subtly increase. The piece then resolves itself with a gently atmospheric and reflective coda.

“Count Up / Tune Down” is an Anderson composition based on John Coltrane’s “Countdown”, a kind of ‘contrafact’ if you will. It offers an alternative view of Coltrane with Anderson and the quartet avoiding mere pastiche. Lee gets the chance to shine with a thoughtful piano solo while the leader is assured and fluent, but never bombastic, on tenor as the spirit of Coltrane is filtered through a bucolic English lens.

Harris’ bass introduces “It’s Later Than You Think”, another lyrical and reflective item played in the style of a ballad with Anderson’s gently keening sax leading the way. Harris’ bass solo is both lyrical and melodic while the leader explores in delicately probing fashion in a style that has variously been compared to that of Wayne Shorter and Mark Turner. Lee adds a succinct solo and pithy, subtly witty piano commentary while Davis is the epitome of tasteful restraint with the brushes.

Anderson has performed in New Zealand, an experience that doubtless informs the title of “Long White Cloud (Interlude). The guest horn players return to help fashion a ghostly opening horn chorale with the instruments treated to a dash of echo from recording engineers Alex Bonney and Peter Beckmann. One can indeed imagine the Southern Alps wreathed in cloud. Subsequently an angular groove emerges which provides the framework for an agile trombone solo from Dawson, again treated to a dash of echo, that fades out far too soon on a piece that appears to be an edit of a much longer group performance.

Davis’ colourful drumming introduces “Metaphorical Gardening”, another quartet item with extended solos from Anderson and Lee that give both musicians the scope to demonstrate their abilities. It’s Lee’s lengthiest excursion to date and a good illustration of his abilities as soloist.

“The Ayes Have It” is the final quartet offering and this time it’s Harris’ turn to introduce it with a dexterous passage of unaccompanied double bass. Subsequently he establishes a propulsive groove that helps to fuel some of Anderson’s most powerful soloing of the set. Mixing bop flavourings with more contemporary influences the piece also incorporates a more freely structured central section featuring Lee’s thoughtful pianism before ultimately taking a more muscular turn once more.

The title of “Norrebro” again suggests a Scandinavian influence. It also marks the return of the guest musicians to the fold with Malcolm delivering a memorable trumpet solo, combining beauty and fluency with imagination and inventiveness. Lee, too impresses, with an expansive but typically thoughtful contribution at the piano. Anderson is characteristically eloquent on saxophone and there’s also a feature for the excellent Davis at the drums, in addition to some fine ensemble playing.

The album concludes with a brief reprise of the opening “Jig, Jag, Jug” with the horns of Anderson, Malcolm and Dawson again intertwining while underscored by the rhythm section.

“Rambling” has been well received by other commentators and it represents an impressive statement from Anderson that reveals him to be an excellent composer and arranger as well as a highly fluent and eloquent saxophone soloist. Everybody plays well although I’d have liked to have heard a little more from Lee as a soloist, without the guests on board one suspects that the quartet’s live shows will allow the pianist more of an opportunity to demonstrate his abilities.

That said the collective presence of the guests is a very welcome one. Some of the album’s most effective pieces are those featuring a sextet or septet and the blend of Anderson’s sax with the other two horns is particularly captivating.

Everybody involved on the album can take great pride in their contribution but ultimately it’s Anderson’s record and he acquits himself superbly throughout. If there’s a quibble it’s that the music occasionally sounds a little bloodless and overly academic, but one suspects that many of these pieces will take on a life of their own in live performance.

Anderson and his quartet will launch the album on 20th June 2018 at The Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, London and will then be touring extensively during the rest of the year with forthcoming live dates listed below;


Matt Anderson Quartet - ‘Rambling’ Album Launch Vortex Jazz Club London 20/06/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet The Flute and Tankard Cardiff, Wales 27/06/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet Matt and Phreds Manchester 28/06/18 9:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet 1000 Trades Birmingham 29/06/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet HEART Leeds 30/06/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet St. Ives Jazz Club St. Ives 28/08/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet The Bristol Fringe Bristol 29/08/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet SoundCellar Poole, Dorset 30/08/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet The Jazz Bar Edinburgh 03/10/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet Scat 23 Jazz Glasgow 04/10/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet Hackensack Cardiff 01/11/18 8:00pm


More information at http://www.matt-anderson.org.uk

 

Rambling

Matt Anderson Quartet

Friday, June 15, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Rambling

An impressive statement from Anderson that reveals him to be an excellent composer and arranger as well as a highly fluent and eloquent saxophone soloist.

Matt Anderson Quartet

“Rambling”

(Jellymould Jazz JM-JJ030)

Matt Anderson is a Yorkshire born, London based saxophonist and composer who has worked with guitarists Jamie Taylor and Jiannis Pavlidis and pianist Mark Donlon among others. He studied at Leeds College of Music and at the Royal Academy of Music, his tutors including a veritable list of famous jazz names from both sides of the Atlantic. Besides the names mentioned above he has performed with many of the UK’s leading jazz musicians, again a list too exhaustive to reproduce in full here.

In 2014 Anderson was featured on the début album by Jamie Taylor’s Outside Line quartet. In the same year he made his own début as a leader fronting the Wayne Shorter inspired Wildflower Sextet, a stellar group of young British musicians drawn from the Leeds and London scenes including rising star Laura Jurd on trumpet plus guitarist Alex Munk, pianist Jamil Sheriff, bassist Sam Vicary and drummer Sam Gardner. In January 2015 I enjoyed a live performance by this line up at The Hive Music & Media Centre in Shrewsbury, with my subsequent review also taking a look at the group’s début album, also released on the Jellymould Jazz imprint.
That article can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/wildflower-sextet-the-hive-music-media-centre-shrewsbury-17-01-2015/

It was in 2015 that Anderson, playing tenor saxophone, and Jiannis Pavlidis on guitar recorded the duo album “Alone Together”, released on New Jazz Records and currently only available as an on line release on Bandcamp. https://mattandersonjiannispavlidisduo.bandcamp.com/releases

In 2017 he was the winner of the Dankworth Prize for Jazz Composition and his new quartet album “Rambling” places a greater emphasis on his original writing than the earlier “Wildflower” release. The new album fuses jazz and folk influences and is a reflection on Anderson’s rural upbringing in the North Yorkshire moors and his love of walking and the British countryside.

“Rambling” features a core quartet of Anderson on tenor and alto saxes,  Peter Lee on piano, Will Harris on double bass and Jay Davis at the drums. Several pieces feature a larger ensemble with trumpeter Nick Malcolm, trombonist Owen Dawson and guitarist Aubin Vanns appearing on half of the album’s ten tracks.

The guests feature on the opening “Jig, Jag, Jug” which commences with the warm textures of an unaccompanied horn chorale, an allusion, possibly to the Yorkshire brass band tradition. But this multi-faceted piece quickly changes direction as the rest of the band enter the proceedings, establishing a vibrant, Latin inflected groove that is punctuated by more reflective episodes featuring Vanns on guitar and Anderson himself on tenor. There’s also some exquisite interplay between the horns with Malcolm proving to be a significant presence. This is a piece that ebbs and flows effortlessly, reflective perhaps of the Yorkshire landscape, and it’s the composition that helped to win Anderson the Dankworth Prize.

The press release accompanying the album mentions the influence of Scandinavian jazz and this is reflected in the title of “Nordic Blues”, a gently brooding piece that features the ramblings of Vanns’ elegant, inventive blues infused guitar. He solos with a cool, effortless fluency. Anderson himself responds on slow burning alto above the economic grooves of the rhythm section as Malcolm and Dawson add weight to the ensemble sound while providing a welcome splash of extra colour and texture.

The guests then take an extended rest as the core quartet take over for the next three tracks, beginning with the reflective “October Ending”. Lee’s sombre and economical solo piano intro sets the tone before Anderson’s tenor smoulders effectively above the subtle rhythms and colourations of Harris and Davis. The bassist adds a concise, melodic solo before handing back to the leader. Anderson’s soloing, punctuated by a brief passage from Lee, becomes increasingly anthemic as the energy levels subtly increase. The piece then resolves itself with a gently atmospheric and reflective coda.

“Count Up / Tune Down” is an Anderson composition based on John Coltrane’s “Countdown”, a kind of ‘contrafact’ if you will. It offers an alternative view of Coltrane with Anderson and the quartet avoiding mere pastiche. Lee gets the chance to shine with a thoughtful piano solo while the leader is assured and fluent, but never bombastic, on tenor as the spirit of Coltrane is filtered through a bucolic English lens.

Harris’ bass introduces “It’s Later Than You Think”, another lyrical and reflective item played in the style of a ballad with Anderson’s gently keening sax leading the way. Harris’ bass solo is both lyrical and melodic while the leader explores in delicately probing fashion in a style that has variously been compared to that of Wayne Shorter and Mark Turner. Lee adds a succinct solo and pithy, subtly witty piano commentary while Davis is the epitome of tasteful restraint with the brushes.

Anderson has performed in New Zealand, an experience that doubtless informs the title of “Long White Cloud (Interlude). The guest horn players return to help fashion a ghostly opening horn chorale with the instruments treated to a dash of echo from recording engineers Alex Bonney and Peter Beckmann. One can indeed imagine the Southern Alps wreathed in cloud. Subsequently an angular groove emerges which provides the framework for an agile trombone solo from Dawson, again treated to a dash of echo, that fades out far too soon on a piece that appears to be an edit of a much longer group performance.

Davis’ colourful drumming introduces “Metaphorical Gardening”, another quartet item with extended solos from Anderson and Lee that give both musicians the scope to demonstrate their abilities. It’s Lee’s lengthiest excursion to date and a good illustration of his abilities as soloist.

“The Ayes Have It” is the final quartet offering and this time it’s Harris’ turn to introduce it with a dexterous passage of unaccompanied double bass. Subsequently he establishes a propulsive groove that helps to fuel some of Anderson’s most powerful soloing of the set. Mixing bop flavourings with more contemporary influences the piece also incorporates a more freely structured central section featuring Lee’s thoughtful pianism before ultimately taking a more muscular turn once more.

The title of “Norrebro” again suggests a Scandinavian influence. It also marks the return of the guest musicians to the fold with Malcolm delivering a memorable trumpet solo, combining beauty and fluency with imagination and inventiveness. Lee, too impresses, with an expansive but typically thoughtful contribution at the piano. Anderson is characteristically eloquent on saxophone and there’s also a feature for the excellent Davis at the drums, in addition to some fine ensemble playing.

The album concludes with a brief reprise of the opening “Jig, Jag, Jug” with the horns of Anderson, Malcolm and Dawson again intertwining while underscored by the rhythm section.

“Rambling” has been well received by other commentators and it represents an impressive statement from Anderson that reveals him to be an excellent composer and arranger as well as a highly fluent and eloquent saxophone soloist. Everybody plays well although I’d have liked to have heard a little more from Lee as a soloist, without the guests on board one suspects that the quartet’s live shows will allow the pianist more of an opportunity to demonstrate his abilities.

That said the collective presence of the guests is a very welcome one. Some of the album’s most effective pieces are those featuring a sextet or septet and the blend of Anderson’s sax with the other two horns is particularly captivating.

Everybody involved on the album can take great pride in their contribution but ultimately it’s Anderson’s record and he acquits himself superbly throughout. If there’s a quibble it’s that the music occasionally sounds a little bloodless and overly academic, but one suspects that many of these pieces will take on a life of their own in live performance.

Anderson and his quartet will launch the album on 20th June 2018 at The Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, London and will then be touring extensively during the rest of the year with forthcoming live dates listed below;


Matt Anderson Quartet - ‘Rambling’ Album Launch Vortex Jazz Club London 20/06/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet The Flute and Tankard Cardiff, Wales 27/06/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet Matt and Phreds Manchester 28/06/18 9:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet 1000 Trades Birmingham 29/06/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet HEART Leeds 30/06/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet St. Ives Jazz Club St. Ives 28/08/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet The Bristol Fringe Bristol 29/08/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet SoundCellar Poole, Dorset 30/08/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet The Jazz Bar Edinburgh 03/10/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet Scat 23 Jazz Glasgow 04/10/18 8:00pm
Matt Anderson Quartet Hackensack Cardiff 01/11/18 8:00pm


More information at http://www.matt-anderson.org.uk

 

The Dissolute Society - Soldiering On Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Brave, original, adventurous and uncompromising music that the committed listener can draw a great deal from. The best music isn’t always ‘easy’.

The Dissolute Society

“Soldiering On”

(Babel Records BDV16145)

The Dissolute Society is the name given to the eight piece vocal and instrumental ensemble led by the British trombonist, composer and educator Raphael Clarkson.

Clarkson is best known as a member of the anarchic punk jazz quintet WorldService Project, led by keyboard player and composer Dave Morecroft, and has been with the band since its inception, appearing on all of its recordings.

Away from WSP Clarkson leads a busy and productive musical life across a variety of genres. His other projects include The Vanderbilts, a contemporary cross discipline project with keyboard player Elliot Galvin and dancer Kasia Witek. He’s also a member of the freely improvising Spreckles Brass Ensemble and of The Old Bone Band who specialise in the trad and swing jazz of the 1930s and 40s.

It’s an eclectic mix that extends into Clarkson’s educational work which has seen him acting as a workshop leader for various London based projects involving children with special educational and social needs.

He has also worked with various theatres and as a sideman / session musician across a variety of musical genres ranging from jazz and hip hop to classical and opera.

The breadth of Clarkson’s musical background is brought into focus on “Soldiering On”, a highly personal recording that deals with the subjects of love, loss and family and personal history. The subject matter is largely autobiographical with Clarkson’s liner notes declaring “this album is in many ways the story of my life thus far, and while it is highly personal my hope is that it resonates with you in some way”.

The album was recorded in March 2016 but the music had already been premièred at a packed out Vortex as part of the 2015 EFG London Jazz Festival, a performance that I was fortunate enough to witness and which was reviewed as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-2015-second-sunday-22-11-2015/
The music has subsequently been performed at Cambridge Jazz Festival and at scaled down Dissolute Society Trio gigs in Bristol, London and Brighton.

Many of the musicians who appeared at The Vortex also play on the album, including Clarkson’s father Gustav on viola. The core line up on the recording features;

Raph Clarkson – trombone, vocals
Fini Bearman – vocals
Laura Jurd – trumpet
Naomi Burrell – violin
Zosia Jagodzinska – cello
Gustav Clarkson – viola
Phil Merriman – keyboards / synth bass
Simon Roth – drums

The album also includes guest performances from Huw Warren on piano and accordion, Mia Marlen Berg and Joshua Idehen on vocals and Mike Soper on trumpet. Warren, who performed with the band at The Vortex, appears on the majority of the tracks and is virtually a fully fledged member of the ensemble. 

The music and words on “Soldiering On”  are largely written by Clarkson but the album also includes compositions by two of the trombonist’s mentors,  the pianist John Taylor and the trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. It had originally been the intention for Taylor to perform on the album but his untimely death in July 2015 prevented this from becoming a reality. The album is dedicated to Taylor’s memory and also to the memory of Clarkson’s mother Micaela Comberti (1952 – 2003), an accomplished violinist and baroque and early music specialist.


The album consists of fifteen movements and commences with “Opening ( A Journey)” which explores the effects of the second world war and the emigration of Clarkson’s German Jewish grandmother who lived in Palestine for many years. Bearman gives voice to Clarkson’s words, written from the point of view of a child trying to understand his grandmother’s experiences. Bearman’s voice is flexible, her vocals sometimes semi-spoken, in this melange of jazz and poetry. The music utilises the contrasting sounds of brass and strings to create a rich tapestry of colours and textures.

The theme continues into “Grandma” which emerges from a free jazz eruption featuring Bearman’s extended vocal techniques, the rustle of Roth’s drums and percussion and the rasp of the leader’s trombone. Bearman’s extraordinary rendition of the lyrics is unsettling, there’s an other worldly sense of dislocation, as if Clarkson’s grandmother is trying to speak to the young Raph through a crowd of radio static, an impression that the fidgety, sometimes eerie instrumental accompaniment only encourages. It’s possible that this approach has been adopted as a comment on the subject of dementia.

The opening trio of thematically linked movements flow into one another and the third, “Reborn/4am/The Teddy Bear” addresses the subject of bereavement from the point of view of a six year old boy grieving for his dying mother. It’s almost unbearably personal with Clarkson’s adding his own voice to that of Bearman with a semi-spoken narrative that embraces both the deeply spiritual and the everyday mundane - “cabbie’s prattle”, “Barnet General”.  The bleakness of the subject matter is reflected in a superb musical arrangement encompassing ghostly, grainy strings, scratchy percussion and almost subliminal trombone and synth drones.

The album enters more conventional territory with the John Taylor composed instrumental “In February” which introduces Warren to the fold for the first time, his flowing, crystalline piano playing evoking memories of Taylor on a delightful piece embracing elements of jazz, folk and chamber music. Warren is joined in a series of uplifting exchanges by violinist Naomi Burrell, a musician whose playing encompasses both jazz and the baroque.

“For J.T.” is Clarkson’s homage to Taylor, a tribute in both words and music featuring Warren’s limpid piano and Clarkson’s recitation of his own words praising both Taylor the musician and Taylor the man “a humble,giving, magic musician”. Clarkson then picks up his trombone and joins Warren in an instrumental coda, the rounded, melancholy tones of the trombone imparting a hymn like gravitas to the music. Taylor remains an inspirational figure to several members of the Dissolute Society, particularly Merriman and Roth who, together with Clarkson, were tutored by Taylor at York University.

Almost as influential, and inextricably linked with Taylor, is the late, great Kenny Wheeler (1930 – 2014). Wheeler’s composition “Kind Folk” is included here in an arrangement featuring lyrics written by Clarkson and delivered by Bearman alongside a rousing trombone solo from the leader and a soaring trumpet solo from Jurd. There’s also a sparkling piano solo from Warren in the John Taylor role. Meanwhile the sound of the strings adds a folk element to the music that is commensurate with the title of a tune that Clarkson has described as his all time favourite.

Clarkson has cited the influence of European classical composers on his music, these including Schoenberg, Bartók and Stravinsky. An arrangement of a traditional Hungarian Folksong also reflects Clarkson’s European heritage and is a tune that was also adapted by Bartók for one of his piano pieces. Clarkson’s arrangement is unexpectedly dark and features his own trombone alongside Jagodzinska’s cello, allied to the other strings, plus Warren’s piano. There’s also a highly atmospheric, freely improvised outro featuring dark , grainy textures.

The art of improvisation is also central to “And It Ends When It Needs To”, the two part tribute to Keith and Julie Tippetts who both tutored Clarkson at Dartington College in Devon. The first part features Warren’s piano and Clarkson’s recitation of his own evocative lyrics which speak of  “a couple in spirit” and of “mutton chops and ringlet hair”, neatly summing up Keith and Julie, while also singing the praises of the Devon landscape.
Part 2 is more obviously improvised by the trio of Clarkson, Jurd and Bearman with the singer deploying some of Julie’s adventurous vocal techniques. Bearman also sings Clarkson’s words from Part One, casting them in a very different light.
There’s a certain poignancy in hearing this again in the light of Keith’s current illness following a recent heart attack.

“Interlude 1” continues the improvised theme with an adventurous passage of free improvisation featuring Warren at the piano, including the use of prepared piano sounds and other ‘under the lid’ techniques.  He’s joined by Norwegian guest vocalist Mia Marlen Berg whose voice swoops, soars and unsettles, closer in spirit to Julie Tippetts than even Bearman had been.

This segues into an ensemble arrangement of Taylor’s title track with Warren’s piano again prominent in the arrangement. The lyrics, delivered by Bearman, return to the theme of war. Warren features as a soloist but there also some gloriously powerful ensemble passages. Clarkson has cited the influence of experimental jazz big bands such as Charles Mingus and Loose Tubes on his writing.

“Interlude 2” is another duo improvisation between Warren and Marlen Berg with the pianist again deploying extended techniques while the singer sometimes treats the sound of her voice electronically. It’s atmospheric, unsettling and vaguely Nordic in feel.

Briefer than the first Interlude the piece segues into “I’m Sorry”, one of the stand out pieces from that Vortex set in 2015. There the vocals were performed by Bearman but here it’s Marlen Berg with a similarly theatrical rendition of a piece that is inspired by that  very British characteristic of the unnecessary apology for things that are patently not your fault. Amusing, but almost painfully insightful it’s one of the most arresting pieces on the album and features adventurous vocal techniques allied to some rip roaring ensemble playing. It’s not always comfortable listening but it’s undeniably attention grabbing and compelling.

Jurd’s trumpet pyrotechnics then lead the way into “Find The Way Through” which features almost funky grooves, and the rap vocals of guest artist Joshua Idehen, who I presume was the ‘mystery rapper’ at the Vortex show Meanwhile Bearman delivers the main lyric with its theme of adopting a positive approach in the face of personal adversity. It’s by far the most uplifting lyric on the album and can be read as Clarkson finally coming to terms with his personal inner demons. His often disturbing personal story seems to have found a happy ending at last.

That sense of reconciliation continues into the appropriately titled “Closing” (sub title “Tomorrow”) which features Merriman’s almost hymnal keyboard drone and the extraordinary wordless vocals of Marlen Berg. Later Roth sets up a cerebrally funky groove which is allied to jagged strings, punchy brass and soaring wordless vocals. Guest trumpeter Mike Soper combines with Jurd on a series of thrilling exchanges as the piece builds to a rousing, uplifting and cathartic climax.

As an album “Soldiering On” represents a remarkable piece of work. It’s obviously highly personal and deeply cathartic and its defiantly uncompromising stance won’t endear it to all listeners. It’s a recording that makes no concessions to its potential audience yet it’s one that all its participants thoroughly buy into and give it their full commitment.

The album brings together a diversity of musical styles incorporating jazz, folk and classical elements and ranges from the densely written to the freely improvised. All elements of Clarkson’s emotional and musical DNA are here with the former also finding expression through his very personal lyrics, which in many cases can rightly be considered as poetry.

“It’s certainly one of the most difficult things I’ve listened to all year” remarked Thomas Rees when reviewing the album for Jazzwise Magazine. However he wasn’t entirely dismissive, praising several individual pieces while adding “it’s an album that requires several listens to get your head around”.

Perhaps because I’d seen the music played live I found that I enjoyed the album rather more and found myself immersing myself in the music in much the same way as I might a good, but challenging novel. “Soldiering On” features a cast of characters ranging from Clarkson family members to more public figures such as Taylor, Wheeler and the Tippetts and it’s possible to listen to the recording in a narrative way, the literary comparisons encouraged by Clarkson’s very personal words.

Some may dismiss “Soldiering On” as self indulgent, but for me it represents brave, original, adventurous and uncompromising music that the committed listener can draw a great deal from. The best music isn’t always ‘easy’.

On that basis I’m not going to recommend it to everyone but there are many listeners who should find something rewarding in this highly individual mix of music, poetry and autobiography.

 

Soldiering On

The Dissolute Society

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Soldiering On

Brave, original, adventurous and uncompromising music that the committed listener can draw a great deal from. The best music isn’t always ‘easy’.

The Dissolute Society

“Soldiering On”

(Babel Records BDV16145)

The Dissolute Society is the name given to the eight piece vocal and instrumental ensemble led by the British trombonist, composer and educator Raphael Clarkson.

Clarkson is best known as a member of the anarchic punk jazz quintet WorldService Project, led by keyboard player and composer Dave Morecroft, and has been with the band since its inception, appearing on all of its recordings.

Away from WSP Clarkson leads a busy and productive musical life across a variety of genres. His other projects include The Vanderbilts, a contemporary cross discipline project with keyboard player Elliot Galvin and dancer Kasia Witek. He’s also a member of the freely improvising Spreckles Brass Ensemble and of The Old Bone Band who specialise in the trad and swing jazz of the 1930s and 40s.

It’s an eclectic mix that extends into Clarkson’s educational work which has seen him acting as a workshop leader for various London based projects involving children with special educational and social needs.

He has also worked with various theatres and as a sideman / session musician across a variety of musical genres ranging from jazz and hip hop to classical and opera.

The breadth of Clarkson’s musical background is brought into focus on “Soldiering On”, a highly personal recording that deals with the subjects of love, loss and family and personal history. The subject matter is largely autobiographical with Clarkson’s liner notes declaring “this album is in many ways the story of my life thus far, and while it is highly personal my hope is that it resonates with you in some way”.

The album was recorded in March 2016 but the music had already been premièred at a packed out Vortex as part of the 2015 EFG London Jazz Festival, a performance that I was fortunate enough to witness and which was reviewed as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-2015-second-sunday-22-11-2015/
The music has subsequently been performed at Cambridge Jazz Festival and at scaled down Dissolute Society Trio gigs in Bristol, London and Brighton.

Many of the musicians who appeared at The Vortex also play on the album, including Clarkson’s father Gustav on viola. The core line up on the recording features;

Raph Clarkson – trombone, vocals
Fini Bearman – vocals
Laura Jurd – trumpet
Naomi Burrell – violin
Zosia Jagodzinska – cello
Gustav Clarkson – viola
Phil Merriman – keyboards / synth bass
Simon Roth – drums

The album also includes guest performances from Huw Warren on piano and accordion, Mia Marlen Berg and Joshua Idehen on vocals and Mike Soper on trumpet. Warren, who performed with the band at The Vortex, appears on the majority of the tracks and is virtually a fully fledged member of the ensemble. 

The music and words on “Soldiering On”  are largely written by Clarkson but the album also includes compositions by two of the trombonist’s mentors,  the pianist John Taylor and the trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. It had originally been the intention for Taylor to perform on the album but his untimely death in July 2015 prevented this from becoming a reality. The album is dedicated to Taylor’s memory and also to the memory of Clarkson’s mother Micaela Comberti (1952 – 2003), an accomplished violinist and baroque and early music specialist.


The album consists of fifteen movements and commences with “Opening ( A Journey)” which explores the effects of the second world war and the emigration of Clarkson’s German Jewish grandmother who lived in Palestine for many years. Bearman gives voice to Clarkson’s words, written from the point of view of a child trying to understand his grandmother’s experiences. Bearman’s voice is flexible, her vocals sometimes semi-spoken, in this melange of jazz and poetry. The music utilises the contrasting sounds of brass and strings to create a rich tapestry of colours and textures.

The theme continues into “Grandma” which emerges from a free jazz eruption featuring Bearman’s extended vocal techniques, the rustle of Roth’s drums and percussion and the rasp of the leader’s trombone. Bearman’s extraordinary rendition of the lyrics is unsettling, there’s an other worldly sense of dislocation, as if Clarkson’s grandmother is trying to speak to the young Raph through a crowd of radio static, an impression that the fidgety, sometimes eerie instrumental accompaniment only encourages. It’s possible that this approach has been adopted as a comment on the subject of dementia.

The opening trio of thematically linked movements flow into one another and the third, “Reborn/4am/The Teddy Bear” addresses the subject of bereavement from the point of view of a six year old boy grieving for his dying mother. It’s almost unbearably personal with Clarkson’s adding his own voice to that of Bearman with a semi-spoken narrative that embraces both the deeply spiritual and the everyday mundane - “cabbie’s prattle”, “Barnet General”.  The bleakness of the subject matter is reflected in a superb musical arrangement encompassing ghostly, grainy strings, scratchy percussion and almost subliminal trombone and synth drones.

The album enters more conventional territory with the John Taylor composed instrumental “In February” which introduces Warren to the fold for the first time, his flowing, crystalline piano playing evoking memories of Taylor on a delightful piece embracing elements of jazz, folk and chamber music. Warren is joined in a series of uplifting exchanges by violinist Naomi Burrell, a musician whose playing encompasses both jazz and the baroque.

“For J.T.” is Clarkson’s homage to Taylor, a tribute in both words and music featuring Warren’s limpid piano and Clarkson’s recitation of his own words praising both Taylor the musician and Taylor the man “a humble,giving, magic musician”. Clarkson then picks up his trombone and joins Warren in an instrumental coda, the rounded, melancholy tones of the trombone imparting a hymn like gravitas to the music. Taylor remains an inspirational figure to several members of the Dissolute Society, particularly Merriman and Roth who, together with Clarkson, were tutored by Taylor at York University.

Almost as influential, and inextricably linked with Taylor, is the late, great Kenny Wheeler (1930 – 2014). Wheeler’s composition “Kind Folk” is included here in an arrangement featuring lyrics written by Clarkson and delivered by Bearman alongside a rousing trombone solo from the leader and a soaring trumpet solo from Jurd. There’s also a sparkling piano solo from Warren in the John Taylor role. Meanwhile the sound of the strings adds a folk element to the music that is commensurate with the title of a tune that Clarkson has described as his all time favourite.

Clarkson has cited the influence of European classical composers on his music, these including Schoenberg, Bartók and Stravinsky. An arrangement of a traditional Hungarian Folksong also reflects Clarkson’s European heritage and is a tune that was also adapted by Bartók for one of his piano pieces. Clarkson’s arrangement is unexpectedly dark and features his own trombone alongside Jagodzinska’s cello, allied to the other strings, plus Warren’s piano. There’s also a highly atmospheric, freely improvised outro featuring dark , grainy textures.

The art of improvisation is also central to “And It Ends When It Needs To”, the two part tribute to Keith and Julie Tippetts who both tutored Clarkson at Dartington College in Devon. The first part features Warren’s piano and Clarkson’s recitation of his own evocative lyrics which speak of  “a couple in spirit” and of “mutton chops and ringlet hair”, neatly summing up Keith and Julie, while also singing the praises of the Devon landscape.
Part 2 is more obviously improvised by the trio of Clarkson, Jurd and Bearman with the singer deploying some of Julie’s adventurous vocal techniques. Bearman also sings Clarkson’s words from Part One, casting them in a very different light.
There’s a certain poignancy in hearing this again in the light of Keith’s current illness following a recent heart attack.

“Interlude 1” continues the improvised theme with an adventurous passage of free improvisation featuring Warren at the piano, including the use of prepared piano sounds and other ‘under the lid’ techniques.  He’s joined by Norwegian guest vocalist Mia Marlen Berg whose voice swoops, soars and unsettles, closer in spirit to Julie Tippetts than even Bearman had been.

This segues into an ensemble arrangement of Taylor’s title track with Warren’s piano again prominent in the arrangement. The lyrics, delivered by Bearman, return to the theme of war. Warren features as a soloist but there also some gloriously powerful ensemble passages. Clarkson has cited the influence of experimental jazz big bands such as Charles Mingus and Loose Tubes on his writing.

“Interlude 2” is another duo improvisation between Warren and Marlen Berg with the pianist again deploying extended techniques while the singer sometimes treats the sound of her voice electronically. It’s atmospheric, unsettling and vaguely Nordic in feel.

Briefer than the first Interlude the piece segues into “I’m Sorry”, one of the stand out pieces from that Vortex set in 2015. There the vocals were performed by Bearman but here it’s Marlen Berg with a similarly theatrical rendition of a piece that is inspired by that  very British characteristic of the unnecessary apology for things that are patently not your fault. Amusing, but almost painfully insightful it’s one of the most arresting pieces on the album and features adventurous vocal techniques allied to some rip roaring ensemble playing. It’s not always comfortable listening but it’s undeniably attention grabbing and compelling.

Jurd’s trumpet pyrotechnics then lead the way into “Find The Way Through” which features almost funky grooves, and the rap vocals of guest artist Joshua Idehen, who I presume was the ‘mystery rapper’ at the Vortex show Meanwhile Bearman delivers the main lyric with its theme of adopting a positive approach in the face of personal adversity. It’s by far the most uplifting lyric on the album and can be read as Clarkson finally coming to terms with his personal inner demons. His often disturbing personal story seems to have found a happy ending at last.

That sense of reconciliation continues into the appropriately titled “Closing” (sub title “Tomorrow”) which features Merriman’s almost hymnal keyboard drone and the extraordinary wordless vocals of Marlen Berg. Later Roth sets up a cerebrally funky groove which is allied to jagged strings, punchy brass and soaring wordless vocals. Guest trumpeter Mike Soper combines with Jurd on a series of thrilling exchanges as the piece builds to a rousing, uplifting and cathartic climax.

As an album “Soldiering On” represents a remarkable piece of work. It’s obviously highly personal and deeply cathartic and its defiantly uncompromising stance won’t endear it to all listeners. It’s a recording that makes no concessions to its potential audience yet it’s one that all its participants thoroughly buy into and give it their full commitment.

The album brings together a diversity of musical styles incorporating jazz, folk and classical elements and ranges from the densely written to the freely improvised. All elements of Clarkson’s emotional and musical DNA are here with the former also finding expression through his very personal lyrics, which in many cases can rightly be considered as poetry.

“It’s certainly one of the most difficult things I’ve listened to all year” remarked Thomas Rees when reviewing the album for Jazzwise Magazine. However he wasn’t entirely dismissive, praising several individual pieces while adding “it’s an album that requires several listens to get your head around”.

Perhaps because I’d seen the music played live I found that I enjoyed the album rather more and found myself immersing myself in the music in much the same way as I might a good, but challenging novel. “Soldiering On” features a cast of characters ranging from Clarkson family members to more public figures such as Taylor, Wheeler and the Tippetts and it’s possible to listen to the recording in a narrative way, the literary comparisons encouraged by Clarkson’s very personal words.

Some may dismiss “Soldiering On” as self indulgent, but for me it represents brave, original, adventurous and uncompromising music that the committed listener can draw a great deal from. The best music isn’t always ‘easy’.

On that basis I’m not going to recommend it to everyone but there are many listeners who should find something rewarding in this highly individual mix of music, poetry and autobiography.

 

Juan Galiardo Trio - Juan Galiardo Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 12/06/2018. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Galiardo led the group well, shaping the direction of the music with quiet authority, interacting easily with his band mates and delivering a series of highly inventive and engaging solos.

Juan Galiardo Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 12/06/2018.

The Spanish pianist and composer Juan Galiardo has become a great friend and favourite of Brecon Jazz Club following several visits to Wales in recent years.

The Andalucian born pianist is currently based in Cadiz but spent time in the US studying at the famous Berklee College of Music. It was there that he met his wife, the Japanese pianist and composer Atsuko Shimada, who has also visited and played at Brecon, including the 2017 Brecon Jazz Festival.

Galiardo first toured in Wales in 2014, co-leading a quartet with his compatriot Arturo Serra (vibes).  Billed as “Espana Cyrmu” the two Spaniards were joined by local Welsh rhythm sections, the musicians including bassists Ashley John Long and Aidan Thorne and drummers Phil Redfox O’Sullivan and Mark O’Connor. Their performances in Abergavenny and Brecon are reviewed elsewhere on this site, the latter a double bill with the Cardiff University Big Band. Galiardo has also performed at Brecon Jazz Festival alongside Spanish vocalist Celia Mur and a band featuring several leading Welsh musicians.

On record Galiardo made his début as a leader in 2012 with his eponymous release on the New Steps record label. The pianist leads a quintet featuring the great Jerry Bergonzi on tenor saxophone and the programme includes five Galiardo originals plus four arrangements of well known jazz standards. There’s nothing radical about the album but it’s a classy set of mainstream jazz, immaculately recorded and flawlessly played. My full review of the album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/juan-galiardo/

As a sideman Galiardo has recorded two albums with his old friend Arturo Serra, 2010’s “Gershwin Songs” featuring vocalist Celia Mur plus the American rhythm section of bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Gregory Hutchinson and 2016’s all instrumental “Happy Times” featuring alto saxophonist Antonio Gonzalez. Galiardo also plays keyboards on 2017’s “Vision Tales”, a quintet set co-led by Serra and bassist Javier Delgado. These are only the albums that I’m familiar with, Galiardo’s website lists his full discography, including several more recordings made with Serra. Please visit http://www.juangaliardomusic.com

Tonight’s performance featured the kind of ‘one off’ trio that Brecon Jazz Club co-ordinators Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon enjoy putting together, always with the uncanny knack of finding musicians who will ‘hit it off’.

Galiardo had flown in early from Spain to team up with two locally based musicians, Phil Redfox O’Sullivan and bassist Ruth Bowen. The pianist had worked with O’Sullivan before back in 2014 but had never previously met Bowen. Somewhat surprisingly, given their local connections, O’Sullivan and Bowen had never actually worked together before so this truly was a unique, one off collaboration.

On a warm summer’s evening a large audience crowded into a very hot Muse with Galiardo stating that it was warmer in Wales than in Cadiz! With this being a brand new trio the focus was inevitably on standards, although Galiardo did manage to include three of his own tunes in a long and absorbing first set.

However the trio started out in familiar territory with their version of the Gershwin tune “Embraceable You”. Playing an electric keyboard on an acoustic piano setting Galiardo immediately impressed with an expansive solo that combined sophisticated left hand chording with mercurial right hand runs. Bowen added a brief cameo on double bass and O’Sullivan provided colour and propulsion via a combination of sticks and brushes.

The Galiardo original “Brecon Beacons” was written following a previous Welsh visit and with a title like that was bound to go down well with the crowd. An atmospheric introduction featured Galiardo’s piano in conjunction with O’Sullivan’s cymbal shimmers and mallet rumbles before an attractive, folk flavoured melody emerged which provided the platform for melodic solos from the composer on piano and Bowen on double bass. On a balmy summer’s night the piece represented an apt choice, the Beacons had looked strikingly beautiful in the evening sunshine as we drove down to Brecon for tonight’s gig.

Galiardo followed this with another original, “Uncle Joe”, a dedication to his uncle Jose, the man who introduced the young Galiardo to jazz through his large collection of jazz recordings. Galiardo’s tune had a strong blues and gospel flavour and sounded like an Iberian cousin to Cannonball Adderley’s “Work Song”. The composer introduced the tune unaccompanied and later delivered an exuberant, quote filled solo, supported by the vibrant rhythms generated by Bowen and O’Sullivan with the two Welsh musicians also being given the opportunity to enjoy their own features during the latter stages of the tune.

It was back to the standards repertoire as the trio slowed things down with their version of the classic “Blue In Green”, composed by either Bill Evans or Miles Davis – take your pick. Galiardo’s arrangement imparted the tune with a 6/8 feel, inspired in part by the flamenco rhythms of his native Seville.  O’Sullivan played brushes as Galiardo stretched out on piano, followed by Bowen at the bass.

A second unaccompanied piano introduction ushered in a lively arrangement of the standard “If I Should Lose You” with Galiardo’s keys subsequently dancing above the crisp, driving grooves generated by Bowen and O’Sullivan, the drummer also relishing the chance to trade fours with the pianist in a series of vivacious, stimulating exchanges.

A lengthy and enjoyable first half concluded with a third Galiardo original, the title translating as “Spring” in Italian. This had an appropriately warm, Mediterranean feel about it with its lilting melodies and Latin inflected rhythms acting as the springboard for solos from Galiardo and Bowen.

Set two put the focus exclusively on standards but the playing was, if anything, even better and the sound clearer. Bowen’s bass, in particular was more distinct in the second half after sounding a little muddy in the first set. However it was O’Sullivan who kicked things off with a neatly constructed solo drum feature that formed the introduction to a lively interpretation of the standard “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was”. His dynamic drumming allied to Bowen’s rapid bass walk helped to fuel a dazzling piano solo from Galiardo who once again stretched out to good effect. The pianist was followed by Bowen at the bass but this piece was very much O’Sullivan’s as the drummer again entered into a series of lively exchanges with his leader.

Things cooled down a little with the trio’s interpretation of “I Fall In Love Too Easily”, a song indelibly associated with Chet Baker’s vocal version. Introduced by himself on unaccompanied piano Galiardo’s waltz time arrangement initially gave the tune something of a Bill Evans feel before he stretched out more forcefully on a quote infused solo that was followed by Bowen at the bass, the latter taking advantage of the improved sound quality in the second set.

A swinging, more orthodox jazz feel informed “I’ve Never Been In Love Before”, again introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano followed by more conventional jazz solos from both Galiardo and Bowen.

To close we heard a strikingly original segue of two of the most famous jazz standards of them all. First “Cherokee” was played as an achingly lovely ballad with Galiardo’s piano leading the way shadowed by Bowen’s bass and the gentle rustle of O’Sullivan’s brushes. It was an inventive, almost subversive, arrangement that brought out the innate beauty of Ray Noble’s melody.
A final passage of solo piano acted as the bridge into a swinging, up-tempo arrangement of “Autumn Leaves” featuring a sparkling solo from Galiardo, one laced with an element of musical humour. O’Sullivan contributed another swinging and dynamic drumming display and was later to describe the experience of playing with Galiardo as “a learning experience”.

Galiardo had proved to be as popular as ever with the Brecon jazz audience and he and the trio were given a great reception by a warmly supportive crowd. The choice of encore was suggested by Bowen, a version of “Have You Met Miss Jones?”, which the trio executed at a fast clip with solos from Galiardo and Bowen and a final set of exchanges between Galiardo and O’Sullivan.

All in all this was an excellent set from a scratch trio in which each musician performed well in very hot and challenging conditions. Galiardo led the group well, shaping the direction of the music with quiet authority, interacting easily with his band mates and delivering a series of highly inventive and engaging solos. His original compositions were accessible and convincing and his arrangements of more familiar standards material imaginative, original and inventive. Galiardo’s time in Boston led to him developing both his musical and linguistic skills and he communicated well with the English speaking audience. There will always be a welcome for him in the hillsides of Brecon.

If you missed tonight’s performance Galiardo will also lead a trio at Café Jazz in Cardiff on the evening of 14th June 2018. See http://www.cafejazzcardiff.com

He will also play at Swansea International Jazz Festival on 15th June 2018.

My thanks to Juan Galiardo for speaking with me during the interval and afterwards and for providing me with copies of the three albums featuring himself and Arturo Serra featured above. I hope to take a look at these in due course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juan Galiardo Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 12/06/2018.

Juan Galiardo Trio

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Juan Galiardo Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 12/06/2018.
Photography: Photograph by Pam Mann

Galiardo led the group well, shaping the direction of the music with quiet authority, interacting easily with his band mates and delivering a series of highly inventive and engaging solos.

Juan Galiardo Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 12/06/2018.

The Spanish pianist and composer Juan Galiardo has become a great friend and favourite of Brecon Jazz Club following several visits to Wales in recent years.

The Andalucian born pianist is currently based in Cadiz but spent time in the US studying at the famous Berklee College of Music. It was there that he met his wife, the Japanese pianist and composer Atsuko Shimada, who has also visited and played at Brecon, including the 2017 Brecon Jazz Festival.

Galiardo first toured in Wales in 2014, co-leading a quartet with his compatriot Arturo Serra (vibes).  Billed as “Espana Cyrmu” the two Spaniards were joined by local Welsh rhythm sections, the musicians including bassists Ashley John Long and Aidan Thorne and drummers Phil Redfox O’Sullivan and Mark O’Connor. Their performances in Abergavenny and Brecon are reviewed elsewhere on this site, the latter a double bill with the Cardiff University Big Band. Galiardo has also performed at Brecon Jazz Festival alongside Spanish vocalist Celia Mur and a band featuring several leading Welsh musicians.

On record Galiardo made his début as a leader in 2012 with his eponymous release on the New Steps record label. The pianist leads a quintet featuring the great Jerry Bergonzi on tenor saxophone and the programme includes five Galiardo originals plus four arrangements of well known jazz standards. There’s nothing radical about the album but it’s a classy set of mainstream jazz, immaculately recorded and flawlessly played. My full review of the album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/juan-galiardo/

As a sideman Galiardo has recorded two albums with his old friend Arturo Serra, 2010’s “Gershwin Songs” featuring vocalist Celia Mur plus the American rhythm section of bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Gregory Hutchinson and 2016’s all instrumental “Happy Times” featuring alto saxophonist Antonio Gonzalez. Galiardo also plays keyboards on 2017’s “Vision Tales”, a quintet set co-led by Serra and bassist Javier Delgado. These are only the albums that I’m familiar with, Galiardo’s website lists his full discography, including several more recordings made with Serra. Please visit http://www.juangaliardomusic.com

Tonight’s performance featured the kind of ‘one off’ trio that Brecon Jazz Club co-ordinators Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon enjoy putting together, always with the uncanny knack of finding musicians who will ‘hit it off’.

Galiardo had flown in early from Spain to team up with two locally based musicians, Phil Redfox O’Sullivan and bassist Ruth Bowen. The pianist had worked with O’Sullivan before back in 2014 but had never previously met Bowen. Somewhat surprisingly, given their local connections, O’Sullivan and Bowen had never actually worked together before so this truly was a unique, one off collaboration.

On a warm summer’s evening a large audience crowded into a very hot Muse with Galiardo stating that it was warmer in Wales than in Cadiz! With this being a brand new trio the focus was inevitably on standards, although Galiardo did manage to include three of his own tunes in a long and absorbing first set.

However the trio started out in familiar territory with their version of the Gershwin tune “Embraceable You”. Playing an electric keyboard on an acoustic piano setting Galiardo immediately impressed with an expansive solo that combined sophisticated left hand chording with mercurial right hand runs. Bowen added a brief cameo on double bass and O’Sullivan provided colour and propulsion via a combination of sticks and brushes.

The Galiardo original “Brecon Beacons” was written following a previous Welsh visit and with a title like that was bound to go down well with the crowd. An atmospheric introduction featured Galiardo’s piano in conjunction with O’Sullivan’s cymbal shimmers and mallet rumbles before an attractive, folk flavoured melody emerged which provided the platform for melodic solos from the composer on piano and Bowen on double bass. On a balmy summer’s night the piece represented an apt choice, the Beacons had looked strikingly beautiful in the evening sunshine as we drove down to Brecon for tonight’s gig.

Galiardo followed this with another original, “Uncle Joe”, a dedication to his uncle Jose, the man who introduced the young Galiardo to jazz through his large collection of jazz recordings. Galiardo’s tune had a strong blues and gospel flavour and sounded like an Iberian cousin to Cannonball Adderley’s “Work Song”. The composer introduced the tune unaccompanied and later delivered an exuberant, quote filled solo, supported by the vibrant rhythms generated by Bowen and O’Sullivan with the two Welsh musicians also being given the opportunity to enjoy their own features during the latter stages of the tune.

It was back to the standards repertoire as the trio slowed things down with their version of the classic “Blue In Green”, composed by either Bill Evans or Miles Davis – take your pick. Galiardo’s arrangement imparted the tune with a 6/8 feel, inspired in part by the flamenco rhythms of his native Seville.  O’Sullivan played brushes as Galiardo stretched out on piano, followed by Bowen at the bass.

A second unaccompanied piano introduction ushered in a lively arrangement of the standard “If I Should Lose You” with Galiardo’s keys subsequently dancing above the crisp, driving grooves generated by Bowen and O’Sullivan, the drummer also relishing the chance to trade fours with the pianist in a series of vivacious, stimulating exchanges.

A lengthy and enjoyable first half concluded with a third Galiardo original, the title translating as “Spring” in Italian. This had an appropriately warm, Mediterranean feel about it with its lilting melodies and Latin inflected rhythms acting as the springboard for solos from Galiardo and Bowen.

Set two put the focus exclusively on standards but the playing was, if anything, even better and the sound clearer. Bowen’s bass, in particular was more distinct in the second half after sounding a little muddy in the first set. However it was O’Sullivan who kicked things off with a neatly constructed solo drum feature that formed the introduction to a lively interpretation of the standard “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was”. His dynamic drumming allied to Bowen’s rapid bass walk helped to fuel a dazzling piano solo from Galiardo who once again stretched out to good effect. The pianist was followed by Bowen at the bass but this piece was very much O’Sullivan’s as the drummer again entered into a series of lively exchanges with his leader.

Things cooled down a little with the trio’s interpretation of “I Fall In Love Too Easily”, a song indelibly associated with Chet Baker’s vocal version. Introduced by himself on unaccompanied piano Galiardo’s waltz time arrangement initially gave the tune something of a Bill Evans feel before he stretched out more forcefully on a quote infused solo that was followed by Bowen at the bass, the latter taking advantage of the improved sound quality in the second set.

A swinging, more orthodox jazz feel informed “I’ve Never Been In Love Before”, again introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano followed by more conventional jazz solos from both Galiardo and Bowen.

To close we heard a strikingly original segue of two of the most famous jazz standards of them all. First “Cherokee” was played as an achingly lovely ballad with Galiardo’s piano leading the way shadowed by Bowen’s bass and the gentle rustle of O’Sullivan’s brushes. It was an inventive, almost subversive, arrangement that brought out the innate beauty of Ray Noble’s melody.
A final passage of solo piano acted as the bridge into a swinging, up-tempo arrangement of “Autumn Leaves” featuring a sparkling solo from Galiardo, one laced with an element of musical humour. O’Sullivan contributed another swinging and dynamic drumming display and was later to describe the experience of playing with Galiardo as “a learning experience”.

Galiardo had proved to be as popular as ever with the Brecon jazz audience and he and the trio were given a great reception by a warmly supportive crowd. The choice of encore was suggested by Bowen, a version of “Have You Met Miss Jones?”, which the trio executed at a fast clip with solos from Galiardo and Bowen and a final set of exchanges between Galiardo and O’Sullivan.

All in all this was an excellent set from a scratch trio in which each musician performed well in very hot and challenging conditions. Galiardo led the group well, shaping the direction of the music with quiet authority, interacting easily with his band mates and delivering a series of highly inventive and engaging solos. His original compositions were accessible and convincing and his arrangements of more familiar standards material imaginative, original and inventive. Galiardo’s time in Boston led to him developing both his musical and linguistic skills and he communicated well with the English speaking audience. There will always be a welcome for him in the hillsides of Brecon.

If you missed tonight’s performance Galiardo will also lead a trio at Café Jazz in Cardiff on the evening of 14th June 2018. See http://www.cafejazzcardiff.com

He will also play at Swansea International Jazz Festival on 15th June 2018.

My thanks to Juan Galiardo for speaking with me during the interval and afterwards and for providing me with copies of the three albums featuring himself and Arturo Serra featured above. I hope to take a look at these in due course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ed Jones Quartet - Ed Jones Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre ,Shrewsbury, 09/06/2018. Rating: 4 out of 5 A superb all round performance that demonstrated Jones' ability as both a saxophonist and as a composer / arranger.

Ed Jones Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 09/06/2018.

Ed Jones - tenor & Soprano saxophones
Ross Stanley – piano
Riaan Vosloo – double bass
Luke Flowers - drums

The British saxophonist and composer Ed Jones brought his excellent quartet to The Hive on the last night of a fifteen date UK tour in support of his most recent album, the highly recommended “For Your Ears Only”.

Jones first came to prominence in the late 1980s as part of the then burgeoning ‘Acid Jazz’ scene, releasing his début album “The Homecoming” on Gilles Peterson’s Acid Jazz label in 1987. A prolific session musician Jones has worked across a variety of musical genres and is perhaps best known for his lengthy stint with the jazz/funk/soul outfit Incognito. He has also performed with Us3, Jamie Cullum, Terry Callier, Bootsy Collins, Tina Turner, Chaka Khan, Carlene Anderson, Noel McCoy and Omar among others.

Jones also has an impressive jazz pedigree, leading his own groups as well as performing with such well known American artists as pianists Horace Silver and Dr. Lonnie Liston Smith, guitarist George Benson, drummer Clifford Jarvis and vocalist Dianne Reeves.

In the UK he has collaborated with pianists Jason Rebello and Jonathan Gee, vocalist Claire Martin, trumpeter Byron Wallen, vibraphonist Orphy Robinson and fellow saxophonists Don Weller and the late Dick Heckstall-Smith. He has also played with the bands District Six, led by South African drummer Brian Abrahams and Nostalgia 77, led by guitarist Ben Lamdin and featuring bassist Riaan Vosloo.

Aside from his own groups I know Jones’ playing best from his work with pianist Tim Richards’ superb nonet Great Spirit (notably the 2006 album “Epistrophy”) and with Killer Shrimp, the band he co-led with trumpeter Damon Brown. Combining jazz rooted in the hard bop era with modern dance music and electronica Killer Shrimp represented something of an update on the ‘Acid Jazz’ template, their sound being documented on the acclaimed albums “Sincerely Whatever” (2006) and “Whatever Sincerely (Tales from the Baltic Wharf)” (2010). 

As a sole leader Jones has fronted a variety of acoustic small group line-ups recording the albums “Pipers Tales” (1995) and “Out Here” (1997) and “Seven Moments” (2002), the last named featuring Finnish trumpeter Mika Myllari.

I have fond memories of seeing Jones perform at Brecon Jazz Festival around the time of “Out Here”, an excellent album featuring Jones plus Gee, Wallen, bassist Geoff Gascoyne and drummer Winston Clifford plus a guest appearance on vibraphone from musician turned actor Max Beasley.

Jones’ fifth solo project “A view from…” saw him collaborating with a former Us3 colleague, the producer and programmer Geoff Wilkinson, on an album combining hip hop beats with big band jazz.

More recently Jones has branched out into the world of free improvisation as part the trio Bad Ash, a collaboration with bassist Mark Lewandowski and Mark Sanders, a project doubtless inspired by earlier collaborations with saxophonist Evan Parker and the late drummer John Stevens. With the aid of an Arts Council grant Bad Ash toured the UK, collaborating along the way with like minded musicians such as pianist Matthew Bourne, saxophonist Paul Dunmall, vibraphonist Corey Mwamba and trumpeters Alex Bonney and Nick Malcolm.

As a composer Jones has received a number of commissions for works featuring electro-acoustic ensembles. He has also written music to be performed by student assembles at Leeds College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music. A prominent educator Jones holds teaching posts at Leeds College of Music and at the Yamaha Jazz Summer School at Falmouth University.

In 2011 Jones formed a new acoustic quartet, the line up that appears on “For Your Ears Only” with Stanley, Vosloo and drummer Tim Giles. It was only some six years later that the group finally released their début recording, issued on Vosloo’s Impossible Ark record label. The recording features a guest appearance on one piece by vocalist Brigitte Beraha, herself a previous visitor to The Hive as one half as a duo with pianist John Turville. The song “Starbright” features music by Jones and words by Beraha, who is also an accomplished lyricist.

Tonight’s programme featured a mix of material from the “For Your Ears…” album, a couple of newer, yet to be recorded pieces and two remarkable explorations of jazz standards. The band featured album personnel Jones, Stanley and Vosloo with Luke Flowers deputising on drums for Giles who had had to leave the tour part way through due to the serious illness of his young son. Hopefully all is now well. The young Leeds based drummer Jordan Dinsdale had filled Giles’ role for three shows with Flowers handling the other two, hence tonight was only Flowers’ second ever appearance with the band, although he has previously worked with Jones as part of the Killer Shrimp project. He acquitted himself superbly and even brought something of Giles’ style to the proceedings. Flowers has also performed with Manchester based trumpeter Matthew Halsall and with London based vocalist Zara McFarlane amongst others and occupies the drum chair in the acclaimed Cinematic Orchestra.

The quartet commenced with “Nomadology”, a Jones original and the opening track on the album. This modally based piece featured the leader on Coltrane-ish soprano sax, probing deeply and sinuously on a serpentine solo that crested the rolling grooves generated by Stanley, Vosloo and Flowers. Jones left the stand as Stanley took over at his Nord keyboard, deploying the acoustic piano setting that he was to maintain throughout the concert. Stanley, also a hugely accomplished organist, matched Jones for imagination with a skilfully constructed solo that combined complex left hand chords with inventive right hand runs in a compelling mix. A word too for Flowers’ busy, often flamboyant, drumming which echoed something of Giles’ inventive and idiosyncratic style.

Next up was a standard, albeit one that represented a new tune for this particular quartet and one which had been debuted on this tour. Written by Kermit Goell and Fred Spielmann the song “You Won’t Forget Me” was the title track of a 1991 album by pianist / vocalist Shirley Horn which featured Miles Davis as a sideman on one of the trumpeter’s last ever recordings. Jones learnt it from another saxophonist,  the American Walt Weiskopf (born 1959) and the quartet’s version was based on Weiskopf’s recording. Here Jones stated the theme on tenor before handing over to Stanley for the first solo. Jones then followed him on tenor prior to a closing drum feature from Flowers. Interestingly tonight was essentially an all acoustic performance, with the necessary exception of Stanley’s keyboard, something that mirrored the previous Shrewsbury Jazz Network event at The Hive when the young saxophonist Alex Hitchcock had adopted a similar approach with his quintet.

Jones moved back to soprano for another original, “The Fifth Season”, a piece yet to be recorded but already earmarked for the quartet’s next album. This was a more reflective offering with the leader stating the theme before probing gently, but deeply on his solo. Stanley was similarly thoughtful and lyrical while Flowers’ impressed in something of a colourist’s role deploying a variety of brushes, sticks and mallets.

The first set concluded with a stunning, Coltrane inspired version of the classic jazz ballad “Body And Soul” with Jones & Co. digging deep into the architecture of the tune as they stretched out with lengthy and exploratory solos, Stanley going first on piano, followed by the impressive Vosloo on double bass and finally Jones on tenor.

If anything the second set was even better as the quartet placed the focus more unequivocally on original material The new Jones original “Accidents and Emergencies” was introduced by a lengthy passage of unaccompanied piano from Stanley. As the rest of the band joined in Jones stated the theme on soprano before handing over again to Stanley, the pianist soloing with a feverish inventiveness as Flowers drummed up a storm behind him. Jones’ own dazzling solo on soprano was sometimes reminiscent of the great Dave Liebman in full flight. A drum feature from the increasingly impressive Flowers followed before Jones headed for the skies once more. This was another tune scheduled for the next recording, on the evidence of tonight it’s an album that should be well worth waiting for.

“For Your Ears Only” includes “Solstice”, an impressive and atmospheric offering from the pen of Vosloo. Appropriately this was introduced by an extended passage of unaccompanied double bass that emphasised Vosloo’s dexterity, melodic sense and superior technique. This was a slow burner of a piece, the kind of abstract but evocative ballad that wouldn’t sound out of place on an ECM recording. Jones was featured on tenor, his solo a model of controlled intensity as Flowers again fulfilled the colourist’s role, adding bare hands to the other tools of the drummer’s trade. Stanley’s piano solo combined thoughtfulness and lyricism with a sharper, flintier improvisatory edge before the piece resolved itself with a closing theme statement from Jones.

Also from the “For Your Ears..” album Jones’ “Marielyst” was inspired by the experience of walking on sea ice off the Danish coast. A lengthy piece with a strong sense of narrative, this was introduced by Flowers at the drums with an elegantly constructed feature. Jones then stated the theme on tenor before passing the baton to Stanley, who delivered a needling, gently probing solo that gradually developed in intensity, bolstered by Vosloo’s grounding bass grooves and Flowers’ increasingly energetic drumming. Jones then stretched out on tenor, gently exploratory at first but then becoming more forceful, his authoritative soloing fuelled by the muscular rhythms generated by Stanley, Vosloo and Flowers. Finally the music peaked before subsiding into a more freely structured closing passage with Vosloo’s bowed bass and the eerie piping of Jones’ tenor seeming to replicate the creaking of the ice.

Surprisingly this had been the poorest attendance at an SJN event in 2018, a combination of other events in the town (one jazz, one classical) plus the glorious summer weather conspiring to frustrate the organisers. Nevertheless a crowd numbering somewhere between forty and fifty and seated cabaret style had proved to be a great listening audience and responded to this superb original music with great enthusiasm.

Although the second set had only featured three tunes each had represented a lengthy excursion and the band were requested to play a ‘short encore’ due to the impending curfew at the venue. This proved to be a delightful ballad arrangement of Oscar Levant’s “Blame It On My Youth” featuring Flowers on brushed drums and with solos from Jones on tenor and Stanley at the piano. It was the perfect way to wind down after the intensity of the second set and concluded an evening of excellent music making overall.

I’ve always considered Jones to be something of a tenor specialist but I was hugely impressed with his playing on soprano in a superb all round performance that demonstrated his ability as both a saxophonist and as a composer / arranger. It’s always a treat to see Ross Stanley on either piano or organ and I was also highly impressed by both Vosloo and Flowers.

Those that stayed away missed something of a treat. Meanwhile the next album from this talented quartet, presumably with Giles back in the drum chair, will be keenly anticipated. My thanks to Ed Jones, Ross Stanley and Riaan Vosloo for speaking with me after the show and to SJN’s Hamish Kirkpatrick for the photograph that accompanies this review.

Ed Jones Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre ,Shrewsbury, 09/06/2018.

Ed Jones Quartet

Monday, June 11, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Ed Jones Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre ,Shrewsbury, 09/06/2018.
Photography: Photograph by Hamish Kirkpatrick of Shrewsbury Jazz Network.

A superb all round performance that demonstrated Jones' ability as both a saxophonist and as a composer / arranger.

Ed Jones Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 09/06/2018.

Ed Jones - tenor & Soprano saxophones
Ross Stanley – piano
Riaan Vosloo – double bass
Luke Flowers - drums

The British saxophonist and composer Ed Jones brought his excellent quartet to The Hive on the last night of a fifteen date UK tour in support of his most recent album, the highly recommended “For Your Ears Only”.

Jones first came to prominence in the late 1980s as part of the then burgeoning ‘Acid Jazz’ scene, releasing his début album “The Homecoming” on Gilles Peterson’s Acid Jazz label in 1987. A prolific session musician Jones has worked across a variety of musical genres and is perhaps best known for his lengthy stint with the jazz/funk/soul outfit Incognito. He has also performed with Us3, Jamie Cullum, Terry Callier, Bootsy Collins, Tina Turner, Chaka Khan, Carlene Anderson, Noel McCoy and Omar among others.

Jones also has an impressive jazz pedigree, leading his own groups as well as performing with such well known American artists as pianists Horace Silver and Dr. Lonnie Liston Smith, guitarist George Benson, drummer Clifford Jarvis and vocalist Dianne Reeves.

In the UK he has collaborated with pianists Jason Rebello and Jonathan Gee, vocalist Claire Martin, trumpeter Byron Wallen, vibraphonist Orphy Robinson and fellow saxophonists Don Weller and the late Dick Heckstall-Smith. He has also played with the bands District Six, led by South African drummer Brian Abrahams and Nostalgia 77, led by guitarist Ben Lamdin and featuring bassist Riaan Vosloo.

Aside from his own groups I know Jones’ playing best from his work with pianist Tim Richards’ superb nonet Great Spirit (notably the 2006 album “Epistrophy”) and with Killer Shrimp, the band he co-led with trumpeter Damon Brown. Combining jazz rooted in the hard bop era with modern dance music and electronica Killer Shrimp represented something of an update on the ‘Acid Jazz’ template, their sound being documented on the acclaimed albums “Sincerely Whatever” (2006) and “Whatever Sincerely (Tales from the Baltic Wharf)” (2010). 

As a sole leader Jones has fronted a variety of acoustic small group line-ups recording the albums “Pipers Tales” (1995) and “Out Here” (1997) and “Seven Moments” (2002), the last named featuring Finnish trumpeter Mika Myllari.

I have fond memories of seeing Jones perform at Brecon Jazz Festival around the time of “Out Here”, an excellent album featuring Jones plus Gee, Wallen, bassist Geoff Gascoyne and drummer Winston Clifford plus a guest appearance on vibraphone from musician turned actor Max Beasley.

Jones’ fifth solo project “A view from…” saw him collaborating with a former Us3 colleague, the producer and programmer Geoff Wilkinson, on an album combining hip hop beats with big band jazz.

More recently Jones has branched out into the world of free improvisation as part the trio Bad Ash, a collaboration with bassist Mark Lewandowski and Mark Sanders, a project doubtless inspired by earlier collaborations with saxophonist Evan Parker and the late drummer John Stevens. With the aid of an Arts Council grant Bad Ash toured the UK, collaborating along the way with like minded musicians such as pianist Matthew Bourne, saxophonist Paul Dunmall, vibraphonist Corey Mwamba and trumpeters Alex Bonney and Nick Malcolm.

As a composer Jones has received a number of commissions for works featuring electro-acoustic ensembles. He has also written music to be performed by student assembles at Leeds College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music. A prominent educator Jones holds teaching posts at Leeds College of Music and at the Yamaha Jazz Summer School at Falmouth University.

In 2011 Jones formed a new acoustic quartet, the line up that appears on “For Your Ears Only” with Stanley, Vosloo and drummer Tim Giles. It was only some six years later that the group finally released their début recording, issued on Vosloo’s Impossible Ark record label. The recording features a guest appearance on one piece by vocalist Brigitte Beraha, herself a previous visitor to The Hive as one half as a duo with pianist John Turville. The song “Starbright” features music by Jones and words by Beraha, who is also an accomplished lyricist.

Tonight’s programme featured a mix of material from the “For Your Ears…” album, a couple of newer, yet to be recorded pieces and two remarkable explorations of jazz standards. The band featured album personnel Jones, Stanley and Vosloo with Luke Flowers deputising on drums for Giles who had had to leave the tour part way through due to the serious illness of his young son. Hopefully all is now well. The young Leeds based drummer Jordan Dinsdale had filled Giles’ role for three shows with Flowers handling the other two, hence tonight was only Flowers’ second ever appearance with the band, although he has previously worked with Jones as part of the Killer Shrimp project. He acquitted himself superbly and even brought something of Giles’ style to the proceedings. Flowers has also performed with Manchester based trumpeter Matthew Halsall and with London based vocalist Zara McFarlane amongst others and occupies the drum chair in the acclaimed Cinematic Orchestra.

The quartet commenced with “Nomadology”, a Jones original and the opening track on the album. This modally based piece featured the leader on Coltrane-ish soprano sax, probing deeply and sinuously on a serpentine solo that crested the rolling grooves generated by Stanley, Vosloo and Flowers. Jones left the stand as Stanley took over at his Nord keyboard, deploying the acoustic piano setting that he was to maintain throughout the concert. Stanley, also a hugely accomplished organist, matched Jones for imagination with a skilfully constructed solo that combined complex left hand chords with inventive right hand runs in a compelling mix. A word too for Flowers’ busy, often flamboyant, drumming which echoed something of Giles’ inventive and idiosyncratic style.

Next up was a standard, albeit one that represented a new tune for this particular quartet and one which had been debuted on this tour. Written by Kermit Goell and Fred Spielmann the song “You Won’t Forget Me” was the title track of a 1991 album by pianist / vocalist Shirley Horn which featured Miles Davis as a sideman on one of the trumpeter’s last ever recordings. Jones learnt it from another saxophonist,  the American Walt Weiskopf (born 1959) and the quartet’s version was based on Weiskopf’s recording. Here Jones stated the theme on tenor before handing over to Stanley for the first solo. Jones then followed him on tenor prior to a closing drum feature from Flowers. Interestingly tonight was essentially an all acoustic performance, with the necessary exception of Stanley’s keyboard, something that mirrored the previous Shrewsbury Jazz Network event at The Hive when the young saxophonist Alex Hitchcock had adopted a similar approach with his quintet.

Jones moved back to soprano for another original, “The Fifth Season”, a piece yet to be recorded but already earmarked for the quartet’s next album. This was a more reflective offering with the leader stating the theme before probing gently, but deeply on his solo. Stanley was similarly thoughtful and lyrical while Flowers’ impressed in something of a colourist’s role deploying a variety of brushes, sticks and mallets.

The first set concluded with a stunning, Coltrane inspired version of the classic jazz ballad “Body And Soul” with Jones & Co. digging deep into the architecture of the tune as they stretched out with lengthy and exploratory solos, Stanley going first on piano, followed by the impressive Vosloo on double bass and finally Jones on tenor.

If anything the second set was even better as the quartet placed the focus more unequivocally on original material The new Jones original “Accidents and Emergencies” was introduced by a lengthy passage of unaccompanied piano from Stanley. As the rest of the band joined in Jones stated the theme on soprano before handing over again to Stanley, the pianist soloing with a feverish inventiveness as Flowers drummed up a storm behind him. Jones’ own dazzling solo on soprano was sometimes reminiscent of the great Dave Liebman in full flight. A drum feature from the increasingly impressive Flowers followed before Jones headed for the skies once more. This was another tune scheduled for the next recording, on the evidence of tonight it’s an album that should be well worth waiting for.

“For Your Ears Only” includes “Solstice”, an impressive and atmospheric offering from the pen of Vosloo. Appropriately this was introduced by an extended passage of unaccompanied double bass that emphasised Vosloo’s dexterity, melodic sense and superior technique. This was a slow burner of a piece, the kind of abstract but evocative ballad that wouldn’t sound out of place on an ECM recording. Jones was featured on tenor, his solo a model of controlled intensity as Flowers again fulfilled the colourist’s role, adding bare hands to the other tools of the drummer’s trade. Stanley’s piano solo combined thoughtfulness and lyricism with a sharper, flintier improvisatory edge before the piece resolved itself with a closing theme statement from Jones.

Also from the “For Your Ears..” album Jones’ “Marielyst” was inspired by the experience of walking on sea ice off the Danish coast. A lengthy piece with a strong sense of narrative, this was introduced by Flowers at the drums with an elegantly constructed feature. Jones then stated the theme on tenor before passing the baton to Stanley, who delivered a needling, gently probing solo that gradually developed in intensity, bolstered by Vosloo’s grounding bass grooves and Flowers’ increasingly energetic drumming. Jones then stretched out on tenor, gently exploratory at first but then becoming more forceful, his authoritative soloing fuelled by the muscular rhythms generated by Stanley, Vosloo and Flowers. Finally the music peaked before subsiding into a more freely structured closing passage with Vosloo’s bowed bass and the eerie piping of Jones’ tenor seeming to replicate the creaking of the ice.

Surprisingly this had been the poorest attendance at an SJN event in 2018, a combination of other events in the town (one jazz, one classical) plus the glorious summer weather conspiring to frustrate the organisers. Nevertheless a crowd numbering somewhere between forty and fifty and seated cabaret style had proved to be a great listening audience and responded to this superb original music with great enthusiasm.

Although the second set had only featured three tunes each had represented a lengthy excursion and the band were requested to play a ‘short encore’ due to the impending curfew at the venue. This proved to be a delightful ballad arrangement of Oscar Levant’s “Blame It On My Youth” featuring Flowers on brushed drums and with solos from Jones on tenor and Stanley at the piano. It was the perfect way to wind down after the intensity of the second set and concluded an evening of excellent music making overall.

I’ve always considered Jones to be something of a tenor specialist but I was hugely impressed with his playing on soprano in a superb all round performance that demonstrated his ability as both a saxophonist and as a composer / arranger. It’s always a treat to see Ross Stanley on either piano or organ and I was also highly impressed by both Vosloo and Flowers.

Those that stayed away missed something of a treat. Meanwhile the next album from this talented quartet, presumably with Giles back in the drum chair, will be keenly anticipated. My thanks to Ed Jones, Ross Stanley and Riaan Vosloo for speaking with me after the show and to SJN’s Hamish Kirkpatrick for the photograph that accompanies this review.

Fervour - Taking Flight Rating: 4 out of 5 Music that is readily accessible to most jazz audiences but which has an agreeably irreverent and contemporary edge and swagger.

Fervour

“Taking Flight”

(Self released)

“Taking Flight” is the début album from “Fervour”, the Birmingham based quintet led by trumpeter and composer Sean Gibbs. The Edinburgh born Gibbs is a graduate of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire, as are his band mates Ben Lee (guitar), Andy Bunting (piano), Nick Jurd (bass) and Euan Palmer (drums). All have become significant presences on the jazz scene in Birmingham and beyond, with Gibbs recently making the move to London.

Gibbs has performed with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, the Calum Gourlay Big Band and the irreverent Birmingham brass ensemble Young Pilgrims. He has also played with and conducted the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra with whom he released the 2015 album “Burns” a set of compositions by Gibbs inspired by the works of Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns. Gibbs also appears on trumpet on a 2017 live album by the BJO featuring the writing of drummer and composer Tom Haines.

During his time in Birmingham Gibbs was a frequent visitor to the Spotted Dog venue in Digbeth and appears on both of the “Live At The Spotted Dog” compilation albums, leading the BJO in a performance of “Tam O’Shanter” from the “Burns” suite on the first and playing with Fervour on a rendition of “Cheer Up Old Bean” on the second. The second Spotted Dog album also finds him as part of a large ensemble of Birmingham based musicians led by guest saxophonist and composer Stan Sulzmann.

Others with whom Gibbs has worked include saxophonist Martin Kershaw, pianist and composer Stella Roberts and the Birmingham band, Trope.

Turning now to the music of Fervour which embraces a number of influences including jazz, rock and blues. “Taking Flight”, released in April 2018, was funded by a grant from Arts Council England which allowed the quintet to record the album at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios (the sound mix is excellent throughout) and to undertake a short promotional tour of the UK in May 2018.

The album consists of nine Gibbs originals and commences with the punchy, riffy “Go On Then” which combines jazz and rock rhythms to create a powerful ensemble sound. Gibbs himself takes the first solo on bright, fluent trumpet as his band brew up a storm behind him. He’s followed by Lee, one of the most inventive young guitarists to have emerged in recent years and himself the leader of his own quintet (album “In The Tree” released in2016). The band name Fervour was chosen to represent the “warmth, passion and honesty” of the playing, and there’s plenty of that in evidence here.

The woody sound of Jurd’s double bass introduces “What’s The Rush”, a piece whose languid grooves provide the backdrop for Gibbs’ vocalised, plunger muted trumpet solo, his New Orleans inspired growl juxtaposed against more contemporary rhythms. He’s followed by Bunting, a long term stalwart of the Birmingham jazz scene, who delivers a wryly inventive piano solo. There’s more from both Jurd and Gibbs himself as the piece resolves itself in suitably unhurried fashion.

“Spring At Last” has more of an orthodox jazz feel with the leader’s pure toned trumpet complemented by Lee’s coolly elegant guitar. Gibbs takes the first solo and again demonstrates his fluency and inventiveness. He’s followed by Bunting at the piano who delivers a flowing lyricism before Gibbs stretches out on trumpet once more.

“Don’t Hold Back” is a more upbeat take on the jazz tradition with something of a hard bop element about it, allied to a 60s ‘cop show’ feel. There’s a vivacious solo from the leader on trumpet followed by a lithe and slippery guitar solo from the excellent Lee and a subsequent series of dazzling exchanges between trumpet and guitar. Palmer, who demonstrates bags of rhythmic inventiveness throughout the album, delivers an engaging and well constructed drum feature prior to a final collective theme statement.

“Redemption” finds Gibbs moving to flugelhorn to demonstrate his skills as a balladeer as Palmer puts down the sticks and picks up the brushes. Lee, too, demonstrates his sensitive side with a lyrical yet insidious solo.

The title track raises the energy levels once more through its vibrant rhythms and soaring melodies with Gibbs’ effervescent trumpet leading the way. Bunting plays a prominent role at the piano, both rhythmically and as a soloist, and he’s the first to take to the skies, followed by the leader on trumpet.  Towards the close Palmer enjoys a series of colourful exchanges with the rest of the group.

Perhaps appropriately “Well Kept Secrets” sees the group adopting a more introspective approach on a broodingly lyrical ballad that encompasses a melodic bass solo from Jurd and a mellifluous but expansive and richly imaginative trumpet solo from the leader.

The studio version of the aforementioned “Cheer Up Old Bean” is kicked off by Jurd’s bass and retains something of the joyousness that made the “Live At The Spotted Dog” performance so infectious. Gibbs and Lee dovetail effectively, buoyed by the springy grooves generated by Jurd and Palmer. Bunting takes the first solo, this time on acoustic piano rather then electric, but still sounding feverishly inventive. Gibbs then takes over for a breezy outing that again marks him out as one of the most exciting and imaginative young trumpet soloists around.

Appropriately the album concludes with “Adieu” with begins in delightfully bluesy fashion and incorporates a pleasingly idiosyncratic guitar solo from the inventive Lee that places a modern twist on the blues tradition via a filter of rock and jazz. Gibbs again adopts a vocalised trumpet sound for his own solo.

The “warmth, passion and honesty” of which Gibbs speaks certainly manifests itself in Fervour’s music and there’s a welcome touch of musical humour too, this isn’t a band that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Not that there’s anything frivolous about Fervour’s music either. The playing is of a uniformly high standard throughout and the soloing consistently fluent, inventive and imaginative. As leader it’s very much Gibbs’ album, he solos on every tune, but nevertheless it’s an excellent team performance too with everybody playing their part, whether as a soloist or as part of an admirably cohesive ensemble.

Besides his obvious abilities as a trumpeter I was also very impressed by Gibbs’ abilities as a writer. His compositions draw upon the jazz tradition and add those promised elements of rock and blues but manage to do so in a way that never sounds contrived or clichéd. The result is music that is readily accessible to most jazz audiences but which has an agreeably irreverent and contemporary edge and swagger.

I’d certainly be happy to hear more from this quintet and now rather find myself regretting having missed their recent tour. Hopefully there will be more albums and live performances to come from this highly talented young band.

“Taking Flight” is available from Bandcamp https://seangibbs.bandcamp.com/album/taking-flight

Also from Itunes, Amazon and Spotify.

Taking Flight

Fervour

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Taking Flight

Music that is readily accessible to most jazz audiences but which has an agreeably irreverent and contemporary edge and swagger.

Fervour

“Taking Flight”

(Self released)

“Taking Flight” is the début album from “Fervour”, the Birmingham based quintet led by trumpeter and composer Sean Gibbs. The Edinburgh born Gibbs is a graduate of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire, as are his band mates Ben Lee (guitar), Andy Bunting (piano), Nick Jurd (bass) and Euan Palmer (drums). All have become significant presences on the jazz scene in Birmingham and beyond, with Gibbs recently making the move to London.

Gibbs has performed with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, the Calum Gourlay Big Band and the irreverent Birmingham brass ensemble Young Pilgrims. He has also played with and conducted the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra with whom he released the 2015 album “Burns” a set of compositions by Gibbs inspired by the works of Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns. Gibbs also appears on trumpet on a 2017 live album by the BJO featuring the writing of drummer and composer Tom Haines.

During his time in Birmingham Gibbs was a frequent visitor to the Spotted Dog venue in Digbeth and appears on both of the “Live At The Spotted Dog” compilation albums, leading the BJO in a performance of “Tam O’Shanter” from the “Burns” suite on the first and playing with Fervour on a rendition of “Cheer Up Old Bean” on the second. The second Spotted Dog album also finds him as part of a large ensemble of Birmingham based musicians led by guest saxophonist and composer Stan Sulzmann.

Others with whom Gibbs has worked include saxophonist Martin Kershaw, pianist and composer Stella Roberts and the Birmingham band, Trope.

Turning now to the music of Fervour which embraces a number of influences including jazz, rock and blues. “Taking Flight”, released in April 2018, was funded by a grant from Arts Council England which allowed the quintet to record the album at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios (the sound mix is excellent throughout) and to undertake a short promotional tour of the UK in May 2018.

The album consists of nine Gibbs originals and commences with the punchy, riffy “Go On Then” which combines jazz and rock rhythms to create a powerful ensemble sound. Gibbs himself takes the first solo on bright, fluent trumpet as his band brew up a storm behind him. He’s followed by Lee, one of the most inventive young guitarists to have emerged in recent years and himself the leader of his own quintet (album “In The Tree” released in2016). The band name Fervour was chosen to represent the “warmth, passion and honesty” of the playing, and there’s plenty of that in evidence here.

The woody sound of Jurd’s double bass introduces “What’s The Rush”, a piece whose languid grooves provide the backdrop for Gibbs’ vocalised, plunger muted trumpet solo, his New Orleans inspired growl juxtaposed against more contemporary rhythms. He’s followed by Bunting, a long term stalwart of the Birmingham jazz scene, who delivers a wryly inventive piano solo. There’s more from both Jurd and Gibbs himself as the piece resolves itself in suitably unhurried fashion.

“Spring At Last” has more of an orthodox jazz feel with the leader’s pure toned trumpet complemented by Lee’s coolly elegant guitar. Gibbs takes the first solo and again demonstrates his fluency and inventiveness. He’s followed by Bunting at the piano who delivers a flowing lyricism before Gibbs stretches out on trumpet once more.

“Don’t Hold Back” is a more upbeat take on the jazz tradition with something of a hard bop element about it, allied to a 60s ‘cop show’ feel. There’s a vivacious solo from the leader on trumpet followed by a lithe and slippery guitar solo from the excellent Lee and a subsequent series of dazzling exchanges between trumpet and guitar. Palmer, who demonstrates bags of rhythmic inventiveness throughout the album, delivers an engaging and well constructed drum feature prior to a final collective theme statement.

“Redemption” finds Gibbs moving to flugelhorn to demonstrate his skills as a balladeer as Palmer puts down the sticks and picks up the brushes. Lee, too, demonstrates his sensitive side with a lyrical yet insidious solo.

The title track raises the energy levels once more through its vibrant rhythms and soaring melodies with Gibbs’ effervescent trumpet leading the way. Bunting plays a prominent role at the piano, both rhythmically and as a soloist, and he’s the first to take to the skies, followed by the leader on trumpet.  Towards the close Palmer enjoys a series of colourful exchanges with the rest of the group.

Perhaps appropriately “Well Kept Secrets” sees the group adopting a more introspective approach on a broodingly lyrical ballad that encompasses a melodic bass solo from Jurd and a mellifluous but expansive and richly imaginative trumpet solo from the leader.

The studio version of the aforementioned “Cheer Up Old Bean” is kicked off by Jurd’s bass and retains something of the joyousness that made the “Live At The Spotted Dog” performance so infectious. Gibbs and Lee dovetail effectively, buoyed by the springy grooves generated by Jurd and Palmer. Bunting takes the first solo, this time on acoustic piano rather then electric, but still sounding feverishly inventive. Gibbs then takes over for a breezy outing that again marks him out as one of the most exciting and imaginative young trumpet soloists around.

Appropriately the album concludes with “Adieu” with begins in delightfully bluesy fashion and incorporates a pleasingly idiosyncratic guitar solo from the inventive Lee that places a modern twist on the blues tradition via a filter of rock and jazz. Gibbs again adopts a vocalised trumpet sound for his own solo.

The “warmth, passion and honesty” of which Gibbs speaks certainly manifests itself in Fervour’s music and there’s a welcome touch of musical humour too, this isn’t a band that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Not that there’s anything frivolous about Fervour’s music either. The playing is of a uniformly high standard throughout and the soloing consistently fluent, inventive and imaginative. As leader it’s very much Gibbs’ album, he solos on every tune, but nevertheless it’s an excellent team performance too with everybody playing their part, whether as a soloist or as part of an admirably cohesive ensemble.

Besides his obvious abilities as a trumpeter I was also very impressed by Gibbs’ abilities as a writer. His compositions draw upon the jazz tradition and add those promised elements of rock and blues but manage to do so in a way that never sounds contrived or clichéd. The result is music that is readily accessible to most jazz audiences but which has an agreeably irreverent and contemporary edge and swagger.

I’d certainly be happy to hear more from this quintet and now rather find myself regretting having missed their recent tour. Hopefully there will be more albums and live performances to come from this highly talented young band.

“Taking Flight” is available from Bandcamp https://seangibbs.bandcamp.com/album/taking-flight

Also from Itunes, Amazon and Spotify.

Mike Gibbs Band with John Scofield - Symphony Hall, Birmingham 1991 Rating: 4-5 out of 5 Still sounds astonishingly fresh and contemporary, full of rich colours and textures, vibrant rhythms and inspired solos. An essential addition to the catalogues of both Mike Gibbs and John Scofield.

Mike Gibbs Band with John Scofield

“Symphony Hall, Birmingham 1991

(Dusk Fire Records DUSKCD116)

The Dusk Fire record label is a division of the Buckingham based Market Square Music and specialises in the release of archive recordings.

This recently released re-issue plunders the vaults to bring you this wonderful performance given by the Mike Gibbs band with their special guest, the guitarist and composer John Scofield, at Symphony Hall, Birmingham on Friday 18th October 1991.

I don’t usually review re-issues but I have to admit to having a vested interest in this recording. Not only was I present in the audience on the night in question but I was also asked to write the liner notes for the booklet that forms part of the packaging of this two CD release which delivers the night’s performance in its entirety. Originally recorded by Paul Sparrow and recently re-mastered by Martin Mitchell this is a remarkable document that still impresses and excites more than a quarter of a century on.

In a shameless piece of ‘JWEI’ (Jazz Will Eat Itself) I’m going to reproduce my liner notes below, which gives me the opportunity of bringing this very welcome slice of musical history to your attention and to recommend it unreservedly to fans of both Gibbs and Scofield and all lovers of good music.

MIKE GIBBS BAND, SYMPHONY HALL, BIRMINGHAM 1991…playing the music of Mike Gibbs and John Scofield

Mike Gibbs – trombone, conductor
John Scofield – guitar
Kenny Wheeler – trumpet, flugelhorn
Stuart Brooks- trumpet
John Barclay – trumpet
Tony Coe – tenor sax
Julian Arguelles – tenor & soprano saxes
John Clark – French horn
John Rooke – French horn
Chris Pyne – trombone
David Stewart – bass trombone, tuba
John Taylor – piano
Steve Swallow – bass guitar
Bill Stewart - drums

I was honoured to be contacted by Peter Muir of Market Square Music asking me to write a few words about the recoding of this performance by the Mike Gibbs Band with guest guitarist John Scofield at Birmingham Symphony Hall back in 1991.

Peter had picked up on the fact that I was in the audience that night when he read my account of a more recent Gibbs performance at the CBSO Centre, also in Birmingham, an event celebrating the great composer and arranger’s 80th birthday in 2017.

In that review I alluded to Gibbs’ close links with the city of Birmingham and also referenced the numerous other occasions on which I’d seen bands of his perform.

Peter’s request certainly helped to take me down ‘Memory Lane’ and to reflect upon just how long I’ve been listening to Gibbs and his music.

Initially coming to jazz from a rock direction I first became aware of his writing in the late 1970s / early 80s on small group recordings by vibraphonist Gary Burton, these including “Seven Songs for Quartet and Chamber Orchestra”, “The New Quartet” (both 1973) and “Picture This”(1982).

Hearing Gibbs’ compositions on these records (it was all vinyl in those days) led to my purchasing second hand copies of two of his large ensemble recordings “In The Public Interest” (1974), co-credited to Gibbs and Burton, and “The Only Chrome Waterfall Orchestra”, released on the Bronze Records imprint in 1975.
The latter featured the kind of international line up that was to come to characterise Gibbs’ ensembles with its mix of American, British and European musicians, including long running collaborator the bassist Steve Swallow, once of the Burton quartet.

In 1983 I was to witness a Gibbs band perform live for the first time at St. Donats Arts Centre in the Vale of Glamorgan on a Contemporary Music Network tour. The twelve piece band was a stellar ensemble featuring American, European and British musicians including Swallow, twin guitarists Kevin Eubanks and Wayne Krantz and Danish trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg. It was a performance that was to make a big impression on me.

In 1991 Gibbs came to Birmingham for the show under discussion but it was to be a long time before I saw him again at St. George’s in Bristol in 2007, a performance that was part of a tour celebrating his 70th birthday.  Yet another star studded Anglo-American line up featured Bill Frisell as the featured guitar soloist with future Impossible Gentlemen 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.

Prior to that 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.

A performance by a Mike Gibbs band is always a memorable event, and none more so than the one documented on this album.

The show at Birmingham Symphony Hall on Friday 18th October 1991 was the tenth of a twelve date UK tour promoted by the much missed Contemporary Music Network, a branch of the Arts Council of Great Britain. Incredibly this particular tour even had a sponsor – Rolling Rock beer!

In his brief to me regarding these notes Peter Muir used the phrase “you are our eyes and ears for that night”. More than twenty six years on my brain sifted through the memory file for concrete reminiscences. Not easy at this late date but in true magpie fashion I had retained some mementos of the occasion including my ticket stub and the glossy printed programme that CMN produced for the tour, as indeed they did for all the tours that they supported.

The programme for the Gibbs / Scofield tour included an erudite introductory essay by the esteemed music journalist and broadcaster Brian Morton plus biographies of all the musicians involved.

In a contemporary BBC radio interview sourced by my friend Glyn David, I remember Gibbs explaining how the seeds of the project were sown at the 1988 British Jazz Awards where Sco was playing with saxophonist Andy Sheppard. Scofield and Gibbs already knew each other and it was the guitarist who first suggested the collaboration. The pair subsequently worked together in Scandinavia before the Anglo-American band was assembled.

Smith enquired as to why Gibbs worked so frequently with guitarists, John McLaughlin and Bill Frisell also having been frequent collaborators. Was Gibbs instinctively attracted to the instrument?
The composer preferred to put it down to coincidence.

The concept of ‘fusion’ was discussed, a term that Gibbs didn’t particularly care for, at least not as a simplistic fusion of jazz and rock with Gibbs citing the influence of classical music on his own work. Taking Bill Stewart as an example he felt that the way the drummer played was ‘beyond fusion’, that he wasn’t consciously trying to combine jazz and rock. Instead Stewart’s style was a perfectly natural amalgam of all his influences, including both jazz and rock.

Asked as to the possibility of a recording from this collaboration. Gibbs stated that he “wasn’t in a tearing hurry” at that precise time as the music was still developing in live performance with new things being tried out almost every night. However he did express a willingness to document the music at some point, either under Scofield’s name on Blue Note or his own name under whatever record deal he could put together. To my knowledge, this recording never happened, which makes this live document all the more valuable and essential.

Writing as the “eyes and ears” of the event I remember having very good seats in the stalls (row CC) and having an excellent, close up view of the band. I also remember being hugely impressed with both the architecture (by Percy Thomas) and the acoustics of the then new Symphony Hall (it had first opened earlier in the year) on what I’m fairly certain was my first visit to the venue. The sound for the Gibbs / Scofield band was excellent throughout, as evidenced by this recording.

I recall Gibbs playing trombone as well as conducting (he’d stopped playing again by the time of the 2007, 2013 and 2017 shows) and the pieces played being a mixture of Gibbs originals and Scofield tunes arranged by Gibbs. Mike’s compositions included well established pieces from his repertoire alongside newer items specifically written for the tour.

Meanwhile two of Mike’s arrangements of Sco’s pieces came from the guitarist’s then current Blue Note album “Meant To Be” (a quartet recording featuring saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Bill Stewart) which was advertised in the tour programme.

Scofield was far more than just a ‘guest soloist’, he was an integral part of the ensemble and the fact that Gibbs had found the time to arrange some of the guitarist’s compositions and to write new pieces specifically for the tour suggested that this was a project that had been a long time in the planning.

Gibbs and Scofield had previously worked together on Gibbs’ 1988 album “Big Music”, at that time the composer’s most recent recording.  ‘Sco’ remained centre stage almost throughout and took a solo on every number. By this stage of the tour he was playing with a remarkable degree of fluency and inventiveness, bringing additional colour and energy to an already rich and heady sonic brew.

As a long time supporter of UK jazz it was good to see so many familiar British faces in the band and there’s a certain poignancy in the fact that a quarter of a century on such world class musicians as Kenny Wheeler, John Taylor and Chris Pyne are no longer with us.

I particularly remember Taylor’s superlative contribution at the piano, his classically informed lightness of touch on the Symphony Hall’s grand piano was a revelation. This was one of the earliest occasions on which I’d seen Taylor play, although I’ve been privileged to witness him again many times since in a variety of contexts, including as the leader of his own trio.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have access to the master tapes of this recording and listening to them has allowed me to put some flesh on the bones of my now rather faded recollections of that night.

The concert commenced with back to back performances of two Gibbs arrangements of pieces from Scofield’s “Meant To Be Album”, these being “Lost In Space” and the title track. The composer shone with solos on both tunes and it was also his unaccompanied guitar that introduced the second piece.

However the British contingent also made their mark to good effect with Taylor contributing the first of several excellent solos on the arresting “Lost In Space”. Meanwhile the then youthful Julian Arguelles, fresh out of Loose Tubes, stepped up to the plate in his home town to deliver a sinuous soprano sax solo on “Meant To Be”.

Even without the benefit of hearing it again one of my indelible memories of that night has always been Sco and Coe going toe to toe centre stage on guitar and tenor sax respectively in an enthralling duet during the performance of Gibbs’ “Roses Are Red”.

Elements of funk helped to enliven “Gil643”, a Scofield composition presumably written as a tribute to Gil Evans. It represents a bitter-sweet experience to be hearing the sound of Kenny Wheeler’s typically eloquent solo again after all this time.

The energy levels and funk flavourings continued on Gibbs’ “Don’t Overdo it”, a piece written specifically for the tour that included solos from Scofield on guitar and the late Chris Pyne on trombone, plus the first of several features for the then rising star Bill Stewart at the drum kit.
The performance was crowned by a rousing big band style climax.

The first half ended on an unexpectedly gentle note with Gibbs’ delicate “Out Of The Question” which was introduced by Taylor’s crystalline solo piano while Scofield sounded almost Metheny-like on his solo.

At the start of the second set Scofield’s “Pretty Out” featured a scaled down version of the ensemble that offered soloing opportunities to Scofield, Taylor, Swallow and Stewart. But the most striking thing about hearing this performance twenty six years on is hearing the mercurial solo by Kenny Wheeler, a welcome reminder of just what a fiery player he could be.

Gibbs’ “Blueprint” was commissioned by his ‘alma mater, the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston but was actually premièred on this tour. Introduced by Stewart at the drums the piece boasted a big, resonant large ensemble sound and included solos from Scofield on guitar and the irrepressible Steve Swallow on nimble, dexterous five string electric bass.

Scofield’s “Science & Religion” represented a tour de force for the composer with its unaccompanied guitar intro and subsequent powerful, bluesy solo.

The final two pieces were a segue of Gibbs’ composition, “A World Without” combined with Scofield’s “Fat Lip”. Both retained elements of the blues, the first featuring Scofield’s guitar soloing above a richly textured backdrop and a supple bass and drum groove, the latter more overt and funky with Scofield and the entire band tearing it up on a barnstorming closer.

Hearing this concert in full again after more than a quarter of a century has been a richly rewarding experience, and not just because of the nostalgia involved. The music still sounds astonishingly fresh and contemporary, full of rich colours and textures, vibrant rhythms and inspired solos. It’s been a pleasure to absorb myself in the sound of this ensemble again after all this time and to revel in the finer details of this marvellous music making. This is music that sounds as vital today as it did when it was first played and recorded.

This double album represents an essential addition to the catalogues of both Mike Gibbs and John Scofield.  This is a collaboration that both men can look back on with satisfaction and pride and it’s good to see this music being made available in the public domain at last.

 

Symphony Hall, Birmingham 1991

Mike Gibbs Band with John Scofield

Friday, June 01, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4-5 out of 5

Symphony Hall, Birmingham 1991

Still sounds astonishingly fresh and contemporary, full of rich colours and textures, vibrant rhythms and inspired solos. An essential addition to the catalogues of both Mike Gibbs and John Scofield.

Mike Gibbs Band with John Scofield

“Symphony Hall, Birmingham 1991

(Dusk Fire Records DUSKCD116)

The Dusk Fire record label is a division of the Buckingham based Market Square Music and specialises in the release of archive recordings.

This recently released re-issue plunders the vaults to bring you this wonderful performance given by the Mike Gibbs band with their special guest, the guitarist and composer John Scofield, at Symphony Hall, Birmingham on Friday 18th October 1991.

I don’t usually review re-issues but I have to admit to having a vested interest in this recording. Not only was I present in the audience on the night in question but I was also asked to write the liner notes for the booklet that forms part of the packaging of this two CD release which delivers the night’s performance in its entirety. Originally recorded by Paul Sparrow and recently re-mastered by Martin Mitchell this is a remarkable document that still impresses and excites more than a quarter of a century on.

In a shameless piece of ‘JWEI’ (Jazz Will Eat Itself) I’m going to reproduce my liner notes below, which gives me the opportunity of bringing this very welcome slice of musical history to your attention and to recommend it unreservedly to fans of both Gibbs and Scofield and all lovers of good music.

MIKE GIBBS BAND, SYMPHONY HALL, BIRMINGHAM 1991…playing the music of Mike Gibbs and John Scofield

Mike Gibbs – trombone, conductor
John Scofield – guitar
Kenny Wheeler – trumpet, flugelhorn
Stuart Brooks- trumpet
John Barclay – trumpet
Tony Coe – tenor sax
Julian Arguelles – tenor & soprano saxes
John Clark – French horn
John Rooke – French horn
Chris Pyne – trombone
David Stewart – bass trombone, tuba
John Taylor – piano
Steve Swallow – bass guitar
Bill Stewart - drums

I was honoured to be contacted by Peter Muir of Market Square Music asking me to write a few words about the recoding of this performance by the Mike Gibbs Band with guest guitarist John Scofield at Birmingham Symphony Hall back in 1991.

Peter had picked up on the fact that I was in the audience that night when he read my account of a more recent Gibbs performance at the CBSO Centre, also in Birmingham, an event celebrating the great composer and arranger’s 80th birthday in 2017.

In that review I alluded to Gibbs’ close links with the city of Birmingham and also referenced the numerous other occasions on which I’d seen bands of his perform.

Peter’s request certainly helped to take me down ‘Memory Lane’ and to reflect upon just how long I’ve been listening to Gibbs and his music.

Initially coming to jazz from a rock direction I first became aware of his writing in the late 1970s / early 80s on small group recordings by vibraphonist Gary Burton, these including “Seven Songs for Quartet and Chamber Orchestra”, “The New Quartet” (both 1973) and “Picture This”(1982).

Hearing Gibbs’ compositions on these records (it was all vinyl in those days) led to my purchasing second hand copies of two of his large ensemble recordings “In The Public Interest” (1974), co-credited to Gibbs and Burton, and “The Only Chrome Waterfall Orchestra”, released on the Bronze Records imprint in 1975.
The latter featured the kind of international line up that was to come to characterise Gibbs’ ensembles with its mix of American, British and European musicians, including long running collaborator the bassist Steve Swallow, once of the Burton quartet.

In 1983 I was to witness a Gibbs band perform live for the first time at St. Donats Arts Centre in the Vale of Glamorgan on a Contemporary Music Network tour. The twelve piece band was a stellar ensemble featuring American, European and British musicians including Swallow, twin guitarists Kevin Eubanks and Wayne Krantz and Danish trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg. It was a performance that was to make a big impression on me.

In 1991 Gibbs came to Birmingham for the show under discussion but it was to be a long time before I saw him again at St. George’s in Bristol in 2007, a performance that was part of a tour celebrating his 70th birthday.  Yet another star studded Anglo-American line up featured Bill Frisell as the featured guitar soloist with future Impossible Gentlemen 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.

Prior to that 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.

A performance by a Mike Gibbs band is always a memorable event, and none more so than the one documented on this album.

The show at Birmingham Symphony Hall on Friday 18th October 1991 was the tenth of a twelve date UK tour promoted by the much missed Contemporary Music Network, a branch of the Arts Council of Great Britain. Incredibly this particular tour even had a sponsor – Rolling Rock beer!

In his brief to me regarding these notes Peter Muir used the phrase “you are our eyes and ears for that night”. More than twenty six years on my brain sifted through the memory file for concrete reminiscences. Not easy at this late date but in true magpie fashion I had retained some mementos of the occasion including my ticket stub and the glossy printed programme that CMN produced for the tour, as indeed they did for all the tours that they supported.

The programme for the Gibbs / Scofield tour included an erudite introductory essay by the esteemed music journalist and broadcaster Brian Morton plus biographies of all the musicians involved.

In a contemporary BBC radio interview sourced by my friend Glyn David, I remember Gibbs explaining how the seeds of the project were sown at the 1988 British Jazz Awards where Sco was playing with saxophonist Andy Sheppard. Scofield and Gibbs already knew each other and it was the guitarist who first suggested the collaboration. The pair subsequently worked together in Scandinavia before the Anglo-American band was assembled.

Smith enquired as to why Gibbs worked so frequently with guitarists, John McLaughlin and Bill Frisell also having been frequent collaborators. Was Gibbs instinctively attracted to the instrument?
The composer preferred to put it down to coincidence.

The concept of ‘fusion’ was discussed, a term that Gibbs didn’t particularly care for, at least not as a simplistic fusion of jazz and rock with Gibbs citing the influence of classical music on his own work. Taking Bill Stewart as an example he felt that the way the drummer played was ‘beyond fusion’, that he wasn’t consciously trying to combine jazz and rock. Instead Stewart’s style was a perfectly natural amalgam of all his influences, including both jazz and rock.

Asked as to the possibility of a recording from this collaboration. Gibbs stated that he “wasn’t in a tearing hurry” at that precise time as the music was still developing in live performance with new things being tried out almost every night. However he did express a willingness to document the music at some point, either under Scofield’s name on Blue Note or his own name under whatever record deal he could put together. To my knowledge, this recording never happened, which makes this live document all the more valuable and essential.

Writing as the “eyes and ears” of the event I remember having very good seats in the stalls (row CC) and having an excellent, close up view of the band. I also remember being hugely impressed with both the architecture (by Percy Thomas) and the acoustics of the then new Symphony Hall (it had first opened earlier in the year) on what I’m fairly certain was my first visit to the venue. The sound for the Gibbs / Scofield band was excellent throughout, as evidenced by this recording.

I recall Gibbs playing trombone as well as conducting (he’d stopped playing again by the time of the 2007, 2013 and 2017 shows) and the pieces played being a mixture of Gibbs originals and Scofield tunes arranged by Gibbs. Mike’s compositions included well established pieces from his repertoire alongside newer items specifically written for the tour.

Meanwhile two of Mike’s arrangements of Sco’s pieces came from the guitarist’s then current Blue Note album “Meant To Be” (a quartet recording featuring saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Bill Stewart) which was advertised in the tour programme.

Scofield was far more than just a ‘guest soloist’, he was an integral part of the ensemble and the fact that Gibbs had found the time to arrange some of the guitarist’s compositions and to write new pieces specifically for the tour suggested that this was a project that had been a long time in the planning.

Gibbs and Scofield had previously worked together on Gibbs’ 1988 album “Big Music”, at that time the composer’s most recent recording.  ‘Sco’ remained centre stage almost throughout and took a solo on every number. By this stage of the tour he was playing with a remarkable degree of fluency and inventiveness, bringing additional colour and energy to an already rich and heady sonic brew.

As a long time supporter of UK jazz it was good to see so many familiar British faces in the band and there’s a certain poignancy in the fact that a quarter of a century on such world class musicians as Kenny Wheeler, John Taylor and Chris Pyne are no longer with us.

I particularly remember Taylor’s superlative contribution at the piano, his classically informed lightness of touch on the Symphony Hall’s grand piano was a revelation. This was one of the earliest occasions on which I’d seen Taylor play, although I’ve been privileged to witness him again many times since in a variety of contexts, including as the leader of his own trio.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have access to the master tapes of this recording and listening to them has allowed me to put some flesh on the bones of my now rather faded recollections of that night.

The concert commenced with back to back performances of two Gibbs arrangements of pieces from Scofield’s “Meant To Be Album”, these being “Lost In Space” and the title track. The composer shone with solos on both tunes and it was also his unaccompanied guitar that introduced the second piece.

However the British contingent also made their mark to good effect with Taylor contributing the first of several excellent solos on the arresting “Lost In Space”. Meanwhile the then youthful Julian Arguelles, fresh out of Loose Tubes, stepped up to the plate in his home town to deliver a sinuous soprano sax solo on “Meant To Be”.

Even without the benefit of hearing it again one of my indelible memories of that night has always been Sco and Coe going toe to toe centre stage on guitar and tenor sax respectively in an enthralling duet during the performance of Gibbs’ “Roses Are Red”.

Elements of funk helped to enliven “Gil643”, a Scofield composition presumably written as a tribute to Gil Evans. It represents a bitter-sweet experience to be hearing the sound of Kenny Wheeler’s typically eloquent solo again after all this time.

The energy levels and funk flavourings continued on Gibbs’ “Don’t Overdo it”, a piece written specifically for the tour that included solos from Scofield on guitar and the late Chris Pyne on trombone, plus the first of several features for the then rising star Bill Stewart at the drum kit.
The performance was crowned by a rousing big band style climax.

The first half ended on an unexpectedly gentle note with Gibbs’ delicate “Out Of The Question” which was introduced by Taylor’s crystalline solo piano while Scofield sounded almost Metheny-like on his solo.

At the start of the second set Scofield’s “Pretty Out” featured a scaled down version of the ensemble that offered soloing opportunities to Scofield, Taylor, Swallow and Stewart. But the most striking thing about hearing this performance twenty six years on is hearing the mercurial solo by Kenny Wheeler, a welcome reminder of just what a fiery player he could be.

Gibbs’ “Blueprint” was commissioned by his ‘alma mater, the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston but was actually premièred on this tour. Introduced by Stewart at the drums the piece boasted a big, resonant large ensemble sound and included solos from Scofield on guitar and the irrepressible Steve Swallow on nimble, dexterous five string electric bass.

Scofield’s “Science & Religion” represented a tour de force for the composer with its unaccompanied guitar intro and subsequent powerful, bluesy solo.

The final two pieces were a segue of Gibbs’ composition, “A World Without” combined with Scofield’s “Fat Lip”. Both retained elements of the blues, the first featuring Scofield’s guitar soloing above a richly textured backdrop and a supple bass and drum groove, the latter more overt and funky with Scofield and the entire band tearing it up on a barnstorming closer.

Hearing this concert in full again after more than a quarter of a century has been a richly rewarding experience, and not just because of the nostalgia involved. The music still sounds astonishingly fresh and contemporary, full of rich colours and textures, vibrant rhythms and inspired solos. It’s been a pleasure to absorb myself in the sound of this ensemble again after all this time and to revel in the finer details of this marvellous music making. This is music that sounds as vital today as it did when it was first played and recorded.

This double album represents an essential addition to the catalogues of both Mike Gibbs and John Scofield.  This is a collaboration that both men can look back on with satisfaction and pride and it’s good to see this music being made available in the public domain at last.

 

Branco Stoysin - Above The Clouds Rating: 3-5 out of 5 All of the Stoysin hallmarks are here, gorgeous folk inspired melodies, skilful but unhurried playing, a pristine recorded sound and an obvious love of both humanity and nature.

Branco Stoysin

“Above The Clouds”

(Sun Recordings BS-SR 24597-8)

Born in the former Yugoslavia in the university town of Novia Said, now in modern day Serbia,  acoustic guitarist, composer and educator Branco Stoysin has been based in London for over twenty years. His jazz influences include Joe Pass, Charlie Parker and Antonio Carlos Jobim and he also acknowledges the inspiration of classical composers such as Vivaldi and Albinoni.

This new CD release, his eighth, celebrates the twentieth anniversary of the founding of Stoysin’s own Sun Recordings record label. It follows the the solo guitar albums “Something Between The Sea And The Sky” (1998),  “Amber” (2000) and “Alone” (2013) plus the trio releases “Heart Is The Bridge” (2003),  “Quiet Stream Breaks The Rocks” (2007) and “Inexhaustible (2009). The trio recordings feature Stoysin in the company of Leslee Booth on six string contrabass and Buster Birch on a combination of kit drums and percussion. The album “Lily Of The Valley” (2006) combines the two approaches with Stoysin joined on four of the album’s fifteen tracks by the bass of Booth.

Stoysin’s writing is inspired by the folk music of his native Yugoslavia (indeed “Lily Of The Valley” was comprised almost entirely of traditional tunes) and most of his albums consist of original tunes executed in a style somewhere between folk and jazz. All of Stoysin’s recordings place an emphasis on the clarity of sound and on an almost mystical sense of pastoralism and tranquillity. The result is frequently beautiful music that soothes and relaxes the listener but also contains much of interest to sustain and reward repeated listening. Stoysin albums are always immaculately recorded (“Alone” and “Above The Clouds” both feature the engineering skills of Derek Nash) and the skill of the playing is understated but obvious.

“Above The Clouds”  expands upon the premise of “Alone” with Stoysin frequently overdubbing himself and also making use of field recordings. Most pieces feature either two or three guitars with one utilising as many as seven! More on that later.

The album commences with the title track with Stoysin commenting “Above the clouds, where it all starts with the mellow Sun, clouds may prevail but the Sun is ALWAYS above the clouds”. The tune features three guitars allowing Stoysin to perform lead, rhythmic and bass functions in a skilfully constructed performance that combines melody with colour and texture, and which concludes with an absorbing dialogue between dovetailing lead guitars.

Following on “Where It All Starts” also features three guitars, this time using the instruments to create interlocking arpeggios while making effective use of counterpoint. This layering process helps to form an effective backdrop for the emotive, crystalline sounds of Stoysin’s lead guitar.

Meanwhile “Mellow Sun” is a delightful solo guitar performance of a piece that has been the regular opening number of Stoysin’s live performances in recent years. The combination of folk melody and nimble but delicate guitar picking make it typical of Stoysin’s oeuvre. The piece originally appeared in 2000 on the “Amber” album

Following this opening trilogy we have “So Lovely”, a piece inspired by the beauty of springtime on the Danube. It’s here that Stoysin deploys seven guitars to create a rich polyphony that combines elements of minimalism with Slavic style folk melodies.

The identity of the dedicatee of “One Lady” remains a secret but the performance combines a mellow silkiness with some technically demanding playing. Recorded using two guitars it’s a beautiful rendition that is obviously very much a labour of love. This is another piece that originally appeared on the “Amber” album.

Another two guitar piece, “Dan The Sun,” is inspired by a young child and has an appropriately childlike air about it with a disarmingly charming melody that elicits a delightful performance from the guitarist.

“Disquietude” appeared on Stoysin’s 1998 début album “Between The Sea And The Sky” but was originally composed back in the 1908s and is officially the first tune that Stoysin ever wrote. Its inclusion here represents the completion of a circle but it’s a tune that has stood the test of time very well indeed. Performed here on two closely interlocking guitars it has lost nothing of its charm and vitality.

“Where Are You My Precious” represents a return to Stoysin’s Serbian roots. The guitarist arranged this version of the traditional Serbian folk tune written by the Serbian composers and poets Davorin Jenko and Branko Radicevic. Again performed on two guitars there’s a brooding, folk-loric quality about the playing that is undeniably beautiful.

Stoysin has long been an admirer and advocate of the Serbian born scientist Nikola Tesla and had dedicated two albums to his memory, including “Alone” on which the piece “Aurora Tesla” first appeared. This new interpretation features three guitars, the version on “Alone” had four, but is no less compelling. It’s a piece that grows steadily in terms of both rhythmic drive and musical complexity as it develops, a reflection perhaps of Tesla’s life.

Alongside his musical and teaching skills Stoysin is also an accomplished photographer who sells his work commercially. As a photographer he specialises in images of the natural world, particularly flowers and birds, and the final track on the album brings his numerous interests together. “Interlude With Birds” combines the music of three guitars with field recordings of birdsong. No fewer than thirty three bird species are featured on a recording that took some five years to complete. Stoysin integrates these sounds of the natural world with great musicality and one can’t help but be mesmerised by the results, as the composer promises. Stoysin’s beautiful and impressive photographs of several of the avian cast adorn the colourful album packaging.

Fans of Stoysin’s music will adore “Above The Clouds”. All of the Stoysin hallmarks are here, gorgeous folk inspired melodies, skilful but unhurried playing, a pristine recorded sound and an obvious love of both humanity and nature. At a superficial level it’s pretty and relaxing but this is music that reveals so much more, hidden just below the decorous surface.

Stoysin is a quiet virtuoso of the guitar who does things very much his own way. “Above The Clouds” is a worthy addition to an impressive and distinctive, if rather understated, body of work.

The album will be launched on 16th June 2018 at the Tara Arts Theatre in Earlsfield, London SW18, an event which will also include an exhibition of Stoysin’s photographic work titled “Beautiful Nature Right On Our Doorsteps”. For full details of this and other forthcoming live performances please visit http://www.brancostoysin.co.uk

Above The Clouds

Branco Stoysin

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Above The Clouds

All of the Stoysin hallmarks are here, gorgeous folk inspired melodies, skilful but unhurried playing, a pristine recorded sound and an obvious love of both humanity and nature.

Branco Stoysin

“Above The Clouds”

(Sun Recordings BS-SR 24597-8)

Born in the former Yugoslavia in the university town of Novia Said, now in modern day Serbia,  acoustic guitarist, composer and educator Branco Stoysin has been based in London for over twenty years. His jazz influences include Joe Pass, Charlie Parker and Antonio Carlos Jobim and he also acknowledges the inspiration of classical composers such as Vivaldi and Albinoni.

This new CD release, his eighth, celebrates the twentieth anniversary of the founding of Stoysin’s own Sun Recordings record label. It follows the the solo guitar albums “Something Between The Sea And The Sky” (1998),  “Amber” (2000) and “Alone” (2013) plus the trio releases “Heart Is The Bridge” (2003),  “Quiet Stream Breaks The Rocks” (2007) and “Inexhaustible (2009). The trio recordings feature Stoysin in the company of Leslee Booth on six string contrabass and Buster Birch on a combination of kit drums and percussion. The album “Lily Of The Valley” (2006) combines the two approaches with Stoysin joined on four of the album’s fifteen tracks by the bass of Booth.

Stoysin’s writing is inspired by the folk music of his native Yugoslavia (indeed “Lily Of The Valley” was comprised almost entirely of traditional tunes) and most of his albums consist of original tunes executed in a style somewhere between folk and jazz. All of Stoysin’s recordings place an emphasis on the clarity of sound and on an almost mystical sense of pastoralism and tranquillity. The result is frequently beautiful music that soothes and relaxes the listener but also contains much of interest to sustain and reward repeated listening. Stoysin albums are always immaculately recorded (“Alone” and “Above The Clouds” both feature the engineering skills of Derek Nash) and the skill of the playing is understated but obvious.

“Above The Clouds”  expands upon the premise of “Alone” with Stoysin frequently overdubbing himself and also making use of field recordings. Most pieces feature either two or three guitars with one utilising as many as seven! More on that later.

The album commences with the title track with Stoysin commenting “Above the clouds, where it all starts with the mellow Sun, clouds may prevail but the Sun is ALWAYS above the clouds”. The tune features three guitars allowing Stoysin to perform lead, rhythmic and bass functions in a skilfully constructed performance that combines melody with colour and texture, and which concludes with an absorbing dialogue between dovetailing lead guitars.

Following on “Where It All Starts” also features three guitars, this time using the instruments to create interlocking arpeggios while making effective use of counterpoint. This layering process helps to form an effective backdrop for the emotive, crystalline sounds of Stoysin’s lead guitar.

Meanwhile “Mellow Sun” is a delightful solo guitar performance of a piece that has been the regular opening number of Stoysin’s live performances in recent years. The combination of folk melody and nimble but delicate guitar picking make it typical of Stoysin’s oeuvre. The piece originally appeared in 2000 on the “Amber” album

Following this opening trilogy we have “So Lovely”, a piece inspired by the beauty of springtime on the Danube. It’s here that Stoysin deploys seven guitars to create a rich polyphony that combines elements of minimalism with Slavic style folk melodies.

The identity of the dedicatee of “One Lady” remains a secret but the performance combines a mellow silkiness with some technically demanding playing. Recorded using two guitars it’s a beautiful rendition that is obviously very much a labour of love. This is another piece that originally appeared on the “Amber” album.

Another two guitar piece, “Dan The Sun,” is inspired by a young child and has an appropriately childlike air about it with a disarmingly charming melody that elicits a delightful performance from the guitarist.

“Disquietude” appeared on Stoysin’s 1998 début album “Between The Sea And The Sky” but was originally composed back in the 1908s and is officially the first tune that Stoysin ever wrote. Its inclusion here represents the completion of a circle but it’s a tune that has stood the test of time very well indeed. Performed here on two closely interlocking guitars it has lost nothing of its charm and vitality.

“Where Are You My Precious” represents a return to Stoysin’s Serbian roots. The guitarist arranged this version of the traditional Serbian folk tune written by the Serbian composers and poets Davorin Jenko and Branko Radicevic. Again performed on two guitars there’s a brooding, folk-loric quality about the playing that is undeniably beautiful.

Stoysin has long been an admirer and advocate of the Serbian born scientist Nikola Tesla and had dedicated two albums to his memory, including “Alone” on which the piece “Aurora Tesla” first appeared. This new interpretation features three guitars, the version on “Alone” had four, but is no less compelling. It’s a piece that grows steadily in terms of both rhythmic drive and musical complexity as it develops, a reflection perhaps of Tesla’s life.

Alongside his musical and teaching skills Stoysin is also an accomplished photographer who sells his work commercially. As a photographer he specialises in images of the natural world, particularly flowers and birds, and the final track on the album brings his numerous interests together. “Interlude With Birds” combines the music of three guitars with field recordings of birdsong. No fewer than thirty three bird species are featured on a recording that took some five years to complete. Stoysin integrates these sounds of the natural world with great musicality and one can’t help but be mesmerised by the results, as the composer promises. Stoysin’s beautiful and impressive photographs of several of the avian cast adorn the colourful album packaging.

Fans of Stoysin’s music will adore “Above The Clouds”. All of the Stoysin hallmarks are here, gorgeous folk inspired melodies, skilful but unhurried playing, a pristine recorded sound and an obvious love of both humanity and nature. At a superficial level it’s pretty and relaxing but this is music that reveals so much more, hidden just below the decorous surface.

Stoysin is a quiet virtuoso of the guitar who does things very much his own way. “Above The Clouds” is a worthy addition to an impressive and distinctive, if rather understated, body of work.

The album will be launched on 16th June 2018 at the Tara Arts Theatre in Earlsfield, London SW18, an event which will also include an exhibition of Stoysin’s photographic work titled “Beautiful Nature Right On Our Doorsteps”. For full details of this and other forthcoming live performances please visit http://www.brancostoysin.co.uk

Lewis Wright featuring Kit Downes - Duets Rating: 4 out of 5 An excellent album that combines loveliness with bravado in pretty much equal measure in a well balanced set of compositions that bring out the best of both Wright and Downes.

Lewis Wright featuring Kit Downes

“Duets”

(Signum Classics SIGCD529)

Vibraphonist Lewis Wright is best known as a long standing member of the quartet Empirical, alongside alto saxophonist Nathaniel Facey, bassist Tom Farmer and drummer Shane Forbes. He has appeared on four of the group’s five albums, namely “Out ‘n’ In” (2009), “Elements of Truth” (2012), the double set “Tabula Rasa” (2013) and “Connections” (2016).

Besides his work with Empirical Wright has also recorded on vibraphone with drummer Clark Tracey (Current Climate, 2009), pianist Tom Hewson (“Treehouse”, 2015) and saxophonist Michael Chillingworth (“Scratch and Sift”, 2016). He has also been a guest soloist with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis’ Lincoln Jazz Centre Orchestra.

A frequent award winner he was awarded the Worshipful Company of Musicians Prize in 2011 and was nominated in the Rising Star category of the 2016 Downbeat International Critics Poll. Meanwhile Empirical were declared Best Jazz Act at the 2010 MOBO Awards and Ensemble of the Year at 2016 Parliamentary Jazz Awards.

Besides his work as a jazz vibraphonist Wright has also performed as a drummer, playing across a variety of musical genres with such high profile artists as singers Joss Stone and Melody Gardot.

“Duets” represents Wright’s début release as a leader and teams him with an old friend, the prolific and versatile pianist Kit Downes. Both musicians hail from Norfolk and first played together in big bands and orchestras in Norwich before both moving to London, initially as music students and subsequently as fully professional musicians. It’s a friendship and musical partnership that dates back over twenty years despite the relative youth of both performers. Ironically Downes had a short stint with the first edition of Empirical, appearing on the then quintet’s eponymous début back in 2007.

It’s interesting that Wright’s début should appear on the predominately classical Signum record label based in Perivale, Middlesex. In many ways this represents a reflection of Wright’s various musical influences, among them classical composers Claude Debussy and Bela Bartok. But Wright’s primary interest has always been jazz and this current album emphasises this with the programme consisting of seven original pieces by Wright written specifically for this project as the composer explains;
“There is limited material for vibraphone and piano (especially for improvising musicians), which has the potential to be so rhythmically interesting and polyphonically grand. I set out to compose pieces that showcase the instruments and are built around the language of the musicians. The right pianist, who can speak in this particular dialect of improvisation and has similar taste in the moment was an obvious choice. Kit and I have known each other and played together since childhood and we share many influences, musical and otherwise.”

He continues;
“I’m particularly excited about this album, not only because it is the first album I have solely composed and produced, but also because it represents a 20+ year musical relationship between myself and Kit Downes. It’s quite an unusual combination of instruments, and in this duo setting it offers the composer and performers great freedom to explore different musical roles”.

The album commences with “Fire & Flow”, a piece that combines Reich inspired minimalism with a rich, classically inspired melodicism. The finely tuned rapport between Wright and Downes is apparent from the outset, an easy chemistry that reflects their long history of playing together but one which also encourages mutual exploration and risk taking. The album is all about interaction and musical conversation, but Wright and Downes also know when to remain silent, there’s a passage of sublime unaccompanied piano here before the two musicians come together again with Wright’s mallets veritably dancing across the bars.

One might be tempted to suppose that a set of vibraphone and piano duets released on a primarily classical label would result in a series of gentle, perhaps even tepid or insipid, chamber jazz performances. But not a bit of it - as pieces such as “Fortuna” prove both Wright and Downes are keen to prove that vibraphone and piano are primarily percussive instruments. Rhythmic variation and inventiveness abounds with the two protagonists frequently swapping rhythmic and melodic roles in vivacious displays of musical virtuosity. There may only be two instruments but the listener is frequently mesmerised by the way in which Wright and Downes marshal their seemingly limited resources to create music that is rich, colourful, vibrant and absorbing. They also bring out the orchestral capabilities of their respective instruments, the ‘polyphony’ of which Wright speaks.

With the lovely “An Absence Of Heart” the pair concentrate on mood building and creating an atmosphere rather than sheer instrumental virtuosity. For all their technical prowess these are musicians who are capable of telling a story and securing the emotional involvement and attachment of their listeners. It’s a process that continues on the romantic, shimmering “Ono No Komachi” with its hazy vibes and lyrical piano.

No review of an album of vibes / piano duets can avoid the comparison with the great duo of Gary Burton and Chick Corea, who pioneered the format on such classic ECM albums as 1979’s “Crystal Silence” . In 2007 I was fortunate enough to witness Burton and Corea hold a capacity audience at the Barbican spellbound with a brilliant and mesmerising duo performance. Maybe Wright and Downes were in the audience too.
In any event “Tokyo ‘81” was written by Wright as a response to an inspiring Burton/Corea live recording from that year and thus tackles the inevitable comparison head on. The introduction to the piece is a dazzling passage of unaccompanied vibes and Wright continues in virtuoso fashion throughout, with Downes subsequently coming into his own as both foil and counterpoint to the brilliance of the composer’s playing.

The charming “Sati” then places the emphasis on mood and melody with the duo’s virtuosity more understated. Both solo effectively, with the pair alternating in the “accompanist’s” role. The piece also emphasises Wright’s ear for a good tune, a subject discussed by Richard Williams in his review of the album for his Blue Moment blog. Richard’s piece can be read here;
https://thebluemoment.com/2018/04/10/lewis-wrights-duets/

Wright’s gift for melody can also be heard on the closing “Kintamani”, a charming ballad with something of a Japanese or Oriental feel. The main hook is a real ear-worm with something of the feel of a jazz standard about it, or maybe a hint of a Steve Swallow tune –  the great bassist and composer was a frequent Burton collaborator and regularly wrote for Gary’s groups. In any event the piece represents a beautiful way to conclude an excellent album that combines loveliness with bravado in pretty much equal measure in a well balanced set of compositions that bring out the best of both Wright and Downes.

At just under thirty three minutes in length the album is comparatively brief in contemporary terms but given the pared down instrumentation it’s arguably the ideal length for this duo format. Not a moment is wasted and the listener remains thoroughly engaged throughout, thrilling to both the brilliance of the playing and the melodic and rhythmic inventiveness of Wright’s writing.

Comparisons might be odious but anybody who has enjoyed the music of the Burton/Corea Duo is pretty much guaranteed to love this. But despite the obvious, and acknowledged, inspiration this is no copycat recording. Wright and Downes are very much their own men and this album is just brimming with their own ideas and as such is highly recommended.

Duets

Lewis Wright featuring Kit Downes

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Duets

An excellent album that combines loveliness with bravado in pretty much equal measure in a well balanced set of compositions that bring out the best of both Wright and Downes.

Lewis Wright featuring Kit Downes

“Duets”

(Signum Classics SIGCD529)

Vibraphonist Lewis Wright is best known as a long standing member of the quartet Empirical, alongside alto saxophonist Nathaniel Facey, bassist Tom Farmer and drummer Shane Forbes. He has appeared on four of the group’s five albums, namely “Out ‘n’ In” (2009), “Elements of Truth” (2012), the double set “Tabula Rasa” (2013) and “Connections” (2016).

Besides his work with Empirical Wright has also recorded on vibraphone with drummer Clark Tracey (Current Climate, 2009), pianist Tom Hewson (“Treehouse”, 2015) and saxophonist Michael Chillingworth (“Scratch and Sift”, 2016). He has also been a guest soloist with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis’ Lincoln Jazz Centre Orchestra.

A frequent award winner he was awarded the Worshipful Company of Musicians Prize in 2011 and was nominated in the Rising Star category of the 2016 Downbeat International Critics Poll. Meanwhile Empirical were declared Best Jazz Act at the 2010 MOBO Awards and Ensemble of the Year at 2016 Parliamentary Jazz Awards.

Besides his work as a jazz vibraphonist Wright has also performed as a drummer, playing across a variety of musical genres with such high profile artists as singers Joss Stone and Melody Gardot.

“Duets” represents Wright’s début release as a leader and teams him with an old friend, the prolific and versatile pianist Kit Downes. Both musicians hail from Norfolk and first played together in big bands and orchestras in Norwich before both moving to London, initially as music students and subsequently as fully professional musicians. It’s a friendship and musical partnership that dates back over twenty years despite the relative youth of both performers. Ironically Downes had a short stint with the first edition of Empirical, appearing on the then quintet’s eponymous début back in 2007.

It’s interesting that Wright’s début should appear on the predominately classical Signum record label based in Perivale, Middlesex. In many ways this represents a reflection of Wright’s various musical influences, among them classical composers Claude Debussy and Bela Bartok. But Wright’s primary interest has always been jazz and this current album emphasises this with the programme consisting of seven original pieces by Wright written specifically for this project as the composer explains;
“There is limited material for vibraphone and piano (especially for improvising musicians), which has the potential to be so rhythmically interesting and polyphonically grand. I set out to compose pieces that showcase the instruments and are built around the language of the musicians. The right pianist, who can speak in this particular dialect of improvisation and has similar taste in the moment was an obvious choice. Kit and I have known each other and played together since childhood and we share many influences, musical and otherwise.”

He continues;
“I’m particularly excited about this album, not only because it is the first album I have solely composed and produced, but also because it represents a 20+ year musical relationship between myself and Kit Downes. It’s quite an unusual combination of instruments, and in this duo setting it offers the composer and performers great freedom to explore different musical roles”.

The album commences with “Fire & Flow”, a piece that combines Reich inspired minimalism with a rich, classically inspired melodicism. The finely tuned rapport between Wright and Downes is apparent from the outset, an easy chemistry that reflects their long history of playing together but one which also encourages mutual exploration and risk taking. The album is all about interaction and musical conversation, but Wright and Downes also know when to remain silent, there’s a passage of sublime unaccompanied piano here before the two musicians come together again with Wright’s mallets veritably dancing across the bars.

One might be tempted to suppose that a set of vibraphone and piano duets released on a primarily classical label would result in a series of gentle, perhaps even tepid or insipid, chamber jazz performances. But not a bit of it - as pieces such as “Fortuna” prove both Wright and Downes are keen to prove that vibraphone and piano are primarily percussive instruments. Rhythmic variation and inventiveness abounds with the two protagonists frequently swapping rhythmic and melodic roles in vivacious displays of musical virtuosity. There may only be two instruments but the listener is frequently mesmerised by the way in which Wright and Downes marshal their seemingly limited resources to create music that is rich, colourful, vibrant and absorbing. They also bring out the orchestral capabilities of their respective instruments, the ‘polyphony’ of which Wright speaks.

With the lovely “An Absence Of Heart” the pair concentrate on mood building and creating an atmosphere rather than sheer instrumental virtuosity. For all their technical prowess these are musicians who are capable of telling a story and securing the emotional involvement and attachment of their listeners. It’s a process that continues on the romantic, shimmering “Ono No Komachi” with its hazy vibes and lyrical piano.

No review of an album of vibes / piano duets can avoid the comparison with the great duo of Gary Burton and Chick Corea, who pioneered the format on such classic ECM albums as 1979’s “Crystal Silence” . In 2007 I was fortunate enough to witness Burton and Corea hold a capacity audience at the Barbican spellbound with a brilliant and mesmerising duo performance. Maybe Wright and Downes were in the audience too.
In any event “Tokyo ‘81” was written by Wright as a response to an inspiring Burton/Corea live recording from that year and thus tackles the inevitable comparison head on. The introduction to the piece is a dazzling passage of unaccompanied vibes and Wright continues in virtuoso fashion throughout, with Downes subsequently coming into his own as both foil and counterpoint to the brilliance of the composer’s playing.

The charming “Sati” then places the emphasis on mood and melody with the duo’s virtuosity more understated. Both solo effectively, with the pair alternating in the “accompanist’s” role. The piece also emphasises Wright’s ear for a good tune, a subject discussed by Richard Williams in his review of the album for his Blue Moment blog. Richard’s piece can be read here;
https://thebluemoment.com/2018/04/10/lewis-wrights-duets/

Wright’s gift for melody can also be heard on the closing “Kintamani”, a charming ballad with something of a Japanese or Oriental feel. The main hook is a real ear-worm with something of the feel of a jazz standard about it, or maybe a hint of a Steve Swallow tune –  the great bassist and composer was a frequent Burton collaborator and regularly wrote for Gary’s groups. In any event the piece represents a beautiful way to conclude an excellent album that combines loveliness with bravado in pretty much equal measure in a well balanced set of compositions that bring out the best of both Wright and Downes.

At just under thirty three minutes in length the album is comparatively brief in contemporary terms but given the pared down instrumentation it’s arguably the ideal length for this duo format. Not a moment is wasted and the listener remains thoroughly engaged throughout, thrilling to both the brilliance of the playing and the melodic and rhythmic inventiveness of Wright’s writing.

Comparisons might be odious but anybody who has enjoyed the music of the Burton/Corea Duo is pretty much guaranteed to love this. But despite the obvious, and acknowledged, inspiration this is no copycat recording. Wright and Downes are very much their own men and this album is just brimming with their own ideas and as such is highly recommended.

Rebecca Poole Quintet - Rebecca Poole Quintet, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 25/05/2018. Rating: 4 out of 5 "Rebecca, AKA Purdy, is guaranteed to set faces smiling, heads swaying and feet tapping, and she didn’t disappoint the near sell-out audience" writes Trevor Bannister.

Rebecca Poole Quintet: Rebecca Poole vocals, Brandon Allen tenor sax, Hugh Turner guitar, Raph Mizraki bass, Steve Wyndham drums


Progress Theatre, Reading Friday 25 May 2018


What better way to round-off another successful season of jazz at Reading’s Progress Theatre than in the company of Rebecca Poole and her quintet on Friday 25 May. Any date with Henley-based Rebecca, AKA Purdy, is guaranteed to set faces smiling, heads swaying and feet tapping, and she didn’t disappoint the near sell-out audience, adding many new fans to her legion of admirers. Multiple award-winning Brandon Allen on tenor saxophone and Hugh Turner on guitar, added their solo voices to the occasion, and demonstrated the subtle art of vocal accompaniment to perfection, with the reliable and ever-swinging support of Raph Mizraki and Steve Wyndham.

Rebecca’s warmth and fun-filled personality illuminates the stage while the broad expanse of her vocal canvas covers songs of lasting appeal together with originals with a more contemporary feel. Evergreen standards like ‘I Can’t Give You Anything but Love’ and ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’, dating back to the 1920s, comfortably rub shoulders with numbers she has recorded under her alter ego as Purdy, like ‘Too Much in Love with Love’, ‘Look into Your Mirror’ or the charmingly wistful ‘Cherry Tree’.


She handled the pacey vocal gymnastics of ‘Love Me or Leave Me’ with consummate ease, and knowingly drew every ounce of innuendo from the lyrics of ‘Put the Blame on Mame’, a lady whose ribald behavior caused the San Francisco earthquake amongst a string of other natural disasters. But Rebecca’s voice also has an intimate ‘late-night’ quality, perfectly suited to expressing the bitter grains of ‘Black Coffee’, as well as the seductive promise of ‘Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps’, hit songs for two of her strongest influences, Peggy Lee and Doris Day.

‘I Can’t Wait to Meet You’, another original, featured Rebecca in an enjoyable duet with guitarist and MD Hugh Turner. It ended with an ‘Oh Yeah’ that almost out-graveled Satchmo himself!


Star tenor saxophonist Brandon Allen blew a storm on his four instrumental features: the bebop classic ‘Good Bait’, ‘No More Blues’ a delightful Latin American number by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Duke Ellington’s‘Caravan’ and Jimmy Van Heusen’s wonderful ballad ‘But Beautiful’. He was ably assisted by the outstanding Hugh Turner on guitar, who can summon every sound imaginable from his instrument; the lightest Latin-American touch to the heaviest blues-soaked riff, the walking bass of Raph Mizraki and the rhythmic pulse of Steve Wyndham’s drums.


As the show drew to a close, the band laid down an earthy beat, Rebecca belted out the verse, and the audience at last gave vent to emotions held in check throughout the evening and joined in with the chorus to what else but, ‘Minnie the Moocher’. Top that as they say. And she did with the encore. ‘Just a Gigolo’, with the interpolation of ‘I Ain’t Got Nobody’, had everyone singing their heads off!


As ever very many thanks to the team at the Progress Theatre for hosting the jazz programme organized by Jazz in Reading and we look forward to the new season which commences in August.


Meanwhile, local trumpet hero Stuart Henderson will be appearing at the Reading Fringe Festival on Wednesday 25 July with the Reading Dusseldorf Jazz Ensemble featuring special guest Reiner Witzel.


Full details are available on http://www.jazzinreading.com

Rebecca Poole Quintet, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 25/05/2018.

Rebecca Poole Quintet

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Reviewed by: Trevor Bannister

Live Review

4 out of 5

Rebecca Poole Quintet, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 25/05/2018.
Photography: Photograph by Zoë White.

"Rebecca, AKA Purdy, is guaranteed to set faces smiling, heads swaying and feet tapping, and she didn’t disappoint the near sell-out audience" writes Trevor Bannister.

Rebecca Poole Quintet: Rebecca Poole vocals, Brandon Allen tenor sax, Hugh Turner guitar, Raph Mizraki bass, Steve Wyndham drums


Progress Theatre, Reading Friday 25 May 2018


What better way to round-off another successful season of jazz at Reading’s Progress Theatre than in the company of Rebecca Poole and her quintet on Friday 25 May. Any date with Henley-based Rebecca, AKA Purdy, is guaranteed to set faces smiling, heads swaying and feet tapping, and she didn’t disappoint the near sell-out audience, adding many new fans to her legion of admirers. Multiple award-winning Brandon Allen on tenor saxophone and Hugh Turner on guitar, added their solo voices to the occasion, and demonstrated the subtle art of vocal accompaniment to perfection, with the reliable and ever-swinging support of Raph Mizraki and Steve Wyndham.

Rebecca’s warmth and fun-filled personality illuminates the stage while the broad expanse of her vocal canvas covers songs of lasting appeal together with originals with a more contemporary feel. Evergreen standards like ‘I Can’t Give You Anything but Love’ and ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’, dating back to the 1920s, comfortably rub shoulders with numbers she has recorded under her alter ego as Purdy, like ‘Too Much in Love with Love’, ‘Look into Your Mirror’ or the charmingly wistful ‘Cherry Tree’.


She handled the pacey vocal gymnastics of ‘Love Me or Leave Me’ with consummate ease, and knowingly drew every ounce of innuendo from the lyrics of ‘Put the Blame on Mame’, a lady whose ribald behavior caused the San Francisco earthquake amongst a string of other natural disasters. But Rebecca’s voice also has an intimate ‘late-night’ quality, perfectly suited to expressing the bitter grains of ‘Black Coffee’, as well as the seductive promise of ‘Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps’, hit songs for two of her strongest influences, Peggy Lee and Doris Day.

‘I Can’t Wait to Meet You’, another original, featured Rebecca in an enjoyable duet with guitarist and MD Hugh Turner. It ended with an ‘Oh Yeah’ that almost out-graveled Satchmo himself!


Star tenor saxophonist Brandon Allen blew a storm on his four instrumental features: the bebop classic ‘Good Bait’, ‘No More Blues’ a delightful Latin American number by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Duke Ellington’s‘Caravan’ and Jimmy Van Heusen’s wonderful ballad ‘But Beautiful’. He was ably assisted by the outstanding Hugh Turner on guitar, who can summon every sound imaginable from his instrument; the lightest Latin-American touch to the heaviest blues-soaked riff, the walking bass of Raph Mizraki and the rhythmic pulse of Steve Wyndham’s drums.


As the show drew to a close, the band laid down an earthy beat, Rebecca belted out the verse, and the audience at last gave vent to emotions held in check throughout the evening and joined in with the chorus to what else but, ‘Minnie the Moocher’. Top that as they say. And she did with the encore. ‘Just a Gigolo’, with the interpolation of ‘I Ain’t Got Nobody’, had everyone singing their heads off!


As ever very many thanks to the team at the Progress Theatre for hosting the jazz programme organized by Jazz in Reading and we look forward to the new season which commences in August.


Meanwhile, local trumpet hero Stuart Henderson will be appearing at the Reading Fringe Festival on Wednesday 25 July with the Reading Dusseldorf Jazz Ensemble featuring special guest Reiner Witzel.


Full details are available on http://www.jazzinreading.com

Azhaar & Global Wave - Original Love Rating: 4 out of 5 Azhaar Saffar has come up with a personalised musical hybrid that is very much her own. As predicted, an album well worth waiting for.

Azhaar & Global Wave

“Original Love”

(FAR003CD)

While researching for my recent review of the live performance by Sheek Quartet at Black Mountain Jazz, Abergavenny my attention was drawn to the presence in the ‘to do’ file of this new release from another BMJ favourite, the vocalist, violinist and songwriter Azhaar Saffar.

Saffar visited BMJ in April 2017 with her quintet Global Wave, performing much of the material that was subsequently to appear on “Original Love”, the album financed by a successful Indiegogo crowd funding campaign. My review of that Abergavenny performance can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/debs-hancock-duo-azhaar-saffar-global-wave-black-mountain-jazz-abergavenny-/


The North Wales born Saffar studied classical violin at the Royal Northern College of Music before a series of pub and restaurant gigs saw her abandoning the classical tradition and embracing a jazz and world music career., beginning with the acid jazz group Wildflower.

Saffar has travelled widely, visiting and performing in the Middle East, West Africa, South America and Central America, absorbing the music of these regions and incorporating them in her own sound. She has a particular affinity for the music of Brazil and Latin America and for many years fronted the ‘Brazilian fusion’ band Sirius B which released a total of six albums and was a popular live attraction, notably on the Stroller programme at the old Brecon Jazz Festival.

In 2008 Saffar released “Out There”, a slightly more conventional jazz album, on the 33Jazz record label, the line up including former Wildflower and Sirius B collaborator Joe Cavanagh plus big name guests Iain Ballamy (saxophones) and Jason Rebello (piano).

In 2012 an ambitious multi-media project “Footprints”, a jazz dance ballet, had to be abandoned due to funding issues. Now based in Frome, Somerset, she has bounced back with Global Wave, a group featuring the Bristol based musicians Tom Berge (keyboards), Paolo Adamo (drums) and Ivan Moreno (percussion). Bass duties on “Original Love” are shared between Guillaume Ottaviani, Jacob Myles Tyghe and Tosh Wijetunge.

The album also features contributions from a number of illustrious guests, namely flautist Gareth Lockrane, guitarists Mac Seka and Tristram Cox and percussionists Snowboy and Andy Fuller.

Saffar says of the album;
“Writing ‘Original Love’ is my response to journeys in Central and South America. Set adrift on a new continent I accepted that Life isn’t always straight lines. I learnt to accept the journey and enjoy the ride! I met people from all over the world on, land and sea. We are all just different colours of the same global wave! Music is a wave…We all are are! Pura Vida!”

The album opens with the semi-autobiographical song “Gypsy”, a piece celebrating Saffar’s nomadic lifestyle. Combining Latin elements with conventional jazz swing the song features Saffar’s coolly assured vocals plus a breezy flute solo from guest Lockrane. Berge contributes a sparkling acoustic piano solo, Saffar cuts loose on Grappelli-esque violin, and the line up on this particular track also includes Ottaviani on electric bass and Fuller on additional percussion.

Snowboy appears on, and also produces, the title track with Tyghe assuming bass duties. This is another song featuring Saffar’s voice and lyrics. Soulful, and at times funky, the arrangement includes electric keyboards and bass with Berge taking the first solo on electric piano. Saffar’s violin also features while her vocals express a plea for love and hope in an imperfect world.

The breezy Brazilian stylings of “Down to Earth” sees Moreno’s percussion featuring prominently in the arrangement as he shares the spotlight with Tyghe’s piano and Saffar’s violin as Ottaviani returns to the bassist’s chair. Meanwhile Saffar’s voice sings about the vagaries of romantic love, albeit from a third party standpoint.

“Popoyo” is named for a bay in Costa Rica where Saffar developed a love of surfing. A gentle introduction features violin and piano with subtle percussion shadings approximating the sound of distant surf. The band, with Wijetunge on bass, then kicks in with Saffar’s lyrics extolling the virtues of one of her favourite places as she sings in a combination of English and Spanish. Adamo and Moreno combine to give the necessary rhythmic impetus for instrumental solos from Berge on piano and Saffar on violin. The atmosphere is jaunty and relaxed, one can almost imagine oneself on the beach.

The percussion heavy “Songlines” explores the theme of musical inter-connectiveness across time and geography, the lyrics suggesting that the song may have had its genesis in the aborted “Footprints” project. Saffar also shines as the principal instrumental soloist while Adamo and Moreno impress with an extended drum and percussion workout.

“Raining In My Life” introduces guitar (Seka, who also produces this track) into the ensemble for the first time and as a result the piece has more of a singer/songwriter feel about it, albeit still within Saffar’s established Latin/ Brazilian musical framework. Here, as suggested by the title, both the lyrics and the music are more reflective and introspective with Saffar’s wistful vocals enhanced by her own violin, Seka’s guitar and Moreno’s gentle percussive undertow.

“Too Much”  restores the energy levels and introduces another fresh instrumental sound as Berge switches to organ, his Hammond sound augmenting the leader’s violin on a song warning about the possession of “too much stuff”. Asamo, Moreno and Fuller lay down an infectious cha cha cha beat as Saffar, on violin, and Berge, on Hammond, exchange instrumental solos. Again Saffar sings in both English and Spanish (or maybe Portuguese) and there’s also a brief face off involving the three percussionists.

“Gaia” opened the show at Abergavenny and is a lively piece that mixes jazz, Brazilian and Latin styles as Tyghe, Adamo and Moreno combine to create a propulsive groove in support of Saffar’s voice and violin with the leader taking the first instrumental solo, followed by Berge on acoustic piano.

The album concludes with the gentle bossa nova sounds of “Aproador”, a song inspired by the city of Rio de Janeiro. Saffar sings in both English and Portuguese, her hymn of praise to Rio aided by the contributions of flute soloist Lockrane, guitarist Cox and guest percussionist Fuller. Relaxed and joyous the piece ends this highly enjoyable album on a suitably uplifting note.

 “On this evidence the début album from Global Wave should be well worth looking out for” I remarked at the time of the Abergavenny performance and I’m pleased to report that this is indeed the case. Saffar’s original songs skilfully blend Latin, Brazilian and jazz influences with a highly personal viewpoint. There’s a strong autobiographical feel about these songs which gives them a convincing authenticity. This is far more than a ‘by the numbers’ run through a batch of Brazilian and Latin standards. Instead Saffar has come up with a personalised musical hybrid that is very much her own.

Saffar’s assured singing and accomplished violin playing is a constant throughout the album and the record is very much hers, but it’s also an excellent team effort. All the members of Global Wave play well and the various guests all make significant and distinctive contributions.

As predicted, an album well worth waiting for.

“Original Love” is available from http://www.azhaarsaffar.com

Original Love

Azhaar & Global Wave

Friday, May 25, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Original Love

Azhaar Saffar has come up with a personalised musical hybrid that is very much her own. As predicted, an album well worth waiting for.

Azhaar & Global Wave

“Original Love”

(FAR003CD)

While researching for my recent review of the live performance by Sheek Quartet at Black Mountain Jazz, Abergavenny my attention was drawn to the presence in the ‘to do’ file of this new release from another BMJ favourite, the vocalist, violinist and songwriter Azhaar Saffar.

Saffar visited BMJ in April 2017 with her quintet Global Wave, performing much of the material that was subsequently to appear on “Original Love”, the album financed by a successful Indiegogo crowd funding campaign. My review of that Abergavenny performance can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/debs-hancock-duo-azhaar-saffar-global-wave-black-mountain-jazz-abergavenny-/


The North Wales born Saffar studied classical violin at the Royal Northern College of Music before a series of pub and restaurant gigs saw her abandoning the classical tradition and embracing a jazz and world music career., beginning with the acid jazz group Wildflower.

Saffar has travelled widely, visiting and performing in the Middle East, West Africa, South America and Central America, absorbing the music of these regions and incorporating them in her own sound. She has a particular affinity for the music of Brazil and Latin America and for many years fronted the ‘Brazilian fusion’ band Sirius B which released a total of six albums and was a popular live attraction, notably on the Stroller programme at the old Brecon Jazz Festival.

In 2008 Saffar released “Out There”, a slightly more conventional jazz album, on the 33Jazz record label, the line up including former Wildflower and Sirius B collaborator Joe Cavanagh plus big name guests Iain Ballamy (saxophones) and Jason Rebello (piano).

In 2012 an ambitious multi-media project “Footprints”, a jazz dance ballet, had to be abandoned due to funding issues. Now based in Frome, Somerset, she has bounced back with Global Wave, a group featuring the Bristol based musicians Tom Berge (keyboards), Paolo Adamo (drums) and Ivan Moreno (percussion). Bass duties on “Original Love” are shared between Guillaume Ottaviani, Jacob Myles Tyghe and Tosh Wijetunge.

The album also features contributions from a number of illustrious guests, namely flautist Gareth Lockrane, guitarists Mac Seka and Tristram Cox and percussionists Snowboy and Andy Fuller.

Saffar says of the album;
“Writing ‘Original Love’ is my response to journeys in Central and South America. Set adrift on a new continent I accepted that Life isn’t always straight lines. I learnt to accept the journey and enjoy the ride! I met people from all over the world on, land and sea. We are all just different colours of the same global wave! Music is a wave…We all are are! Pura Vida!”

The album opens with the semi-autobiographical song “Gypsy”, a piece celebrating Saffar’s nomadic lifestyle. Combining Latin elements with conventional jazz swing the song features Saffar’s coolly assured vocals plus a breezy flute solo from guest Lockrane. Berge contributes a sparkling acoustic piano solo, Saffar cuts loose on Grappelli-esque violin, and the line up on this particular track also includes Ottaviani on electric bass and Fuller on additional percussion.

Snowboy appears on, and also produces, the title track with Tyghe assuming bass duties. This is another song featuring Saffar’s voice and lyrics. Soulful, and at times funky, the arrangement includes electric keyboards and bass with Berge taking the first solo on electric piano. Saffar’s violin also features while her vocals express a plea for love and hope in an imperfect world.

The breezy Brazilian stylings of “Down to Earth” sees Moreno’s percussion featuring prominently in the arrangement as he shares the spotlight with Tyghe’s piano and Saffar’s violin as Ottaviani returns to the bassist’s chair. Meanwhile Saffar’s voice sings about the vagaries of romantic love, albeit from a third party standpoint.

“Popoyo” is named for a bay in Costa Rica where Saffar developed a love of surfing. A gentle introduction features violin and piano with subtle percussion shadings approximating the sound of distant surf. The band, with Wijetunge on bass, then kicks in with Saffar’s lyrics extolling the virtues of one of her favourite places as she sings in a combination of English and Spanish. Adamo and Moreno combine to give the necessary rhythmic impetus for instrumental solos from Berge on piano and Saffar on violin. The atmosphere is jaunty and relaxed, one can almost imagine oneself on the beach.

The percussion heavy “Songlines” explores the theme of musical inter-connectiveness across time and geography, the lyrics suggesting that the song may have had its genesis in the aborted “Footprints” project. Saffar also shines as the principal instrumental soloist while Adamo and Moreno impress with an extended drum and percussion workout.

“Raining In My Life” introduces guitar (Seka, who also produces this track) into the ensemble for the first time and as a result the piece has more of a singer/songwriter feel about it, albeit still within Saffar’s established Latin/ Brazilian musical framework. Here, as suggested by the title, both the lyrics and the music are more reflective and introspective with Saffar’s wistful vocals enhanced by her own violin, Seka’s guitar and Moreno’s gentle percussive undertow.

“Too Much”  restores the energy levels and introduces another fresh instrumental sound as Berge switches to organ, his Hammond sound augmenting the leader’s violin on a song warning about the possession of “too much stuff”. Asamo, Moreno and Fuller lay down an infectious cha cha cha beat as Saffar, on violin, and Berge, on Hammond, exchange instrumental solos. Again Saffar sings in both English and Spanish (or maybe Portuguese) and there’s also a brief face off involving the three percussionists.

“Gaia” opened the show at Abergavenny and is a lively piece that mixes jazz, Brazilian and Latin styles as Tyghe, Adamo and Moreno combine to create a propulsive groove in support of Saffar’s voice and violin with the leader taking the first instrumental solo, followed by Berge on acoustic piano.

The album concludes with the gentle bossa nova sounds of “Aproador”, a song inspired by the city of Rio de Janeiro. Saffar sings in both English and Portuguese, her hymn of praise to Rio aided by the contributions of flute soloist Lockrane, guitarist Cox and guest percussionist Fuller. Relaxed and joyous the piece ends this highly enjoyable album on a suitably uplifting note.

 “On this evidence the début album from Global Wave should be well worth looking out for” I remarked at the time of the Abergavenny performance and I’m pleased to report that this is indeed the case. Saffar’s original songs skilfully blend Latin, Brazilian and jazz influences with a highly personal viewpoint. There’s a strong autobiographical feel about these songs which gives them a convincing authenticity. This is far more than a ‘by the numbers’ run through a batch of Brazilian and Latin standards. Instead Saffar has come up with a personalised musical hybrid that is very much her own.

Saffar’s assured singing and accomplished violin playing is a constant throughout the album and the record is very much hers, but it’s also an excellent team effort. All the members of Global Wave play well and the various guests all make significant and distinctive contributions.

As predicted, an album well worth waiting for.

“Original Love” is available from http://www.azhaarsaffar.com

Sheek Quartet - Sheek Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 20/05/2018. Rating: 4 out of 5 "An excellent evening of adventurous music making that exceeded expectations". Ian Mann on the music of Sheek Quartet, an exciting new group co-led by vocalist Sarah Meek and pianist Guy Shotton.

Sheek Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 20/05/2018.

Cardiff based pianist Guy Shotton has become a popular visitor to Black Mountain Jazz following several successful performances at the venue. In 2016 he performed a duo set in the bar area of the Melville Centre with vocalist Debs Hancock as part of that year’s Wall2Wall Jazz Festival. This relaxed and good natured standards based performance was very well received by the Festival audience and led to Shotton being invited back in March 2017 to lead his own project at one of BMJ’s regular club nights.

This proved to be a busy but very successful event for Shotton who performed another standards based set in the first half with vocalist Sarah Meek. This was followed by an adventurous exploration of a further set of jazz and bebop staples by a trio featuring Shotton, double bass virtuoso Ashley John Long and drummer Bob Richards. This was a well attended event that elicited a very positive response from the audience and my account of that evening can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/sarah-meek-guy-shotton-trio-black-mountain-jazz-the-melville-centre-abergav/

After this triumph it seemed inevitable that Shotton would be back at BMJ again and indeed he returned the following month, renewing his partnership with Hancocks in a set that celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ella Fitzgerald. That duo set opened a show that also included a performance from violinist/vocalist Azhaar Saffar and her band and my review of both performances can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/debs-hancock-duo-azhaar-saffar-global-wave-black-mountain-jazz-abergavenny-/
Shotton subsequently toured with Hancock’s “Ella at 100” show as part of an expanded line up, the Jazz Dragons, featuring bassist Erica Lyons.

In September 2017 the pianist reprised his duo with Meek as the pair performed another standards based duo set in the bar as part of the Wall2Wall Festival, one which again was very well received.

The obvious rapport between the pianist and vocalist has encouraged them to explore more deeply, tackling challenging and lesser known material and expanding to their group to a quartet. With a band name formed from an amalgam of those of the co-leaders the recently assembled Sheek Quartet features two other South Wales based musicians, double bassist Nick Kacal and drummer Alex Goodyear, the latter still a student at Cardiff’s Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD).

Shotton himself is an alumnus of the RWCMD, having graduated from the College in 2013. He has remained in the city and quickly established himself as a busy, versatile and very welcome presence on the South Wales jazz scene. He has performed extensively in the UK and abroad and is also known as a music educator offering private piano tuition and also serving as Assistant Musical Director to the Bristol Hippodrome Choir. He and drummer Bob Richards also run a regular jazz jam session in nearby Usk.

Cheshire born vocalist Meek gained a Masters Degree in Jazz Performance from the RWCMD and decided that she liked the Welsh capital so much that she wanted to keep living and working in the city. Meek is a versatile vocalist who ‘earns a crust’ singing with pop, soul, blues, folk and function bands but her first love is jazz and that was very much in evidence in tonight’s performance.

The experienced Kacal made his name on the London jazz scene before moving to the Valleys town of Mountain Ash. He has collaborated with saxophonist Greg Heath, vocalist Gabrielle Ducomble, guitarist John Etheridge and pianist Alex Hutton among others. Also an accomplished recording engineer he represents a significant and very welcome addition to the jazz scene in South Wales.

Tonight was only the second outing for the newly convened Sheek Quartet following an earlier appearance in Cardiff. They began slightly tentatively, and understandably so, but any early nervousness was quickly forgotten as the band immersed themselves ever more deeply in the highly adventurous music that they had chosen. We had been promised a diverse programme but what we heard, particularly during a daring first set, was far wider ranging than I had imagined.

Kacal and Shotton introduced the first number, a setting of Claude Debussy’s “Reverie” with an arrangement and lyrics by Larry Clinton.  The melodic interplay between Shotton and Kacal was an early highlight with the bassist producing the first of many outstanding solos. Meek deployed wordless vocals as well as singing Clinton’s lyrics on this audacious and unexpected opener.  The choice was perhaps apposite, referencing Shotton’s classical background in addition to honouring Debussy in the centenary year of the composer’s death.

Another, but very different, example of ‘vocalese’ followed with an arrangement of the late, great Kenny Kirkland’s “Dienda” with its evocative, New York located lyrics, the words written by Sting, in whose band pianist Kirkland once played. Tonight’s performance was introduced by Meek and Shotton with a timely reminder of the effectiveness of their original duo. Again the singer moved between narrative and wordless vocalising while Kacal added another marvellously melodic bass solo. His fluency, dexterity and sheer tunefulness as a bass soloist was a highlight of the evening and rivalled Ashley John Long at his best. Sporting a cool and distinctive Panama hat he looked the part too.

The little known Lerner & Loewe song “Another Autumn” represented the first dip into the ‘Great American Songbook’ repertoire, although better known ‘standards’ were to surface in the second set. This was delivered in more conventional fashion as an orthodox jazz ballad with Meek singing the verses before handing over to Shotton at the keyboard for the first solo. Shotton deployed a convincing acoustic piano sound all evening and was aided by Goodyear, here deploying a combination of sticks and brushes, in something of a colourist’s role.

With words and music by Meek “Waves” was a convincing foray into the realm of original writing. Ushered in by Kacal’s bass this was a wide ranging piece that embraced a variety of musical and vocal characteristics ranging from the sunny Brazilian stylings of Meek’s singing and Shotton’s solo to the deep sea sonics of the atmospheric concluding dialogue between double bass and drums, with the neat and tidy Goodyear again excelling as both commentator and colourist.

An arrangement of Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite” took the music back into orthodox jazz territory via Meek’s quick fire vocalising, and the subsequent vivacious scat and piano exchanges above the shifting rhythmic patterns generated by Kacal and Goodyear.

A vocal setting of Horace Silver’s “Nica’s Dream” closed the first set. Tonight’s version was introduced by a brilliant solo drum passage from Goodyear, a flamboyant display featuring hand-claps, bass drum and hi-hat only, with Shotton and Kacal joining the fray before the drummer eventually picked up his sticks. As the piece developed something of a Latin feel Meek delivered Silver’s lyrics, dedicated to the “Jazz Baroness”, Pannonica de Koenigswarter, the aristocratic patron of Silver, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and many other bebop musicians. Shotton soloed here at the piano and this was followed by a further series of scintillating scat exchanges between Meek and Shotton with Kacal and Goodyear providing appropriate support. An excellent way to conclude a consistently intriguing and entertaining first half.

The second set was less adventurous in terms of the material selected than the first had been but there was no let up in the quality of the performances with the quartet continuing to stretch the fabric of even the most familiar pieces. Kacal and Goodyear set the scene for “The Lamp Is Low” and closed it with an engaging bass and brushed drums dialogue. In between we heard Meek’s compelling interpretation of the lyrics plus a typically absorbing piano solo from Shotton.

Meek dedicated an emotive reading of “I fall In Love To Easily” to the jazz divas who had inspired her with Kacal’s melodic bass solo and Shotton’s jazz lyricism at the piano providing the instrumental highlights.

“Light” was Shotton’s setting of Maurice Ravel’s “Menuet sur le nom d’Haydn” with lyrics written by Peter Burrows, a friend of Meek’s. Introduced by a passage of unaccompanied double bass this was a beautifully lyrical and melodic piece with Meek delivering an effective reading of the lyrics with mellifluous instrumental solos coming from Kacal and Shotton. I suspect that this piece may also have been performed at the duo’s most recent visit to Abergavenny in September 2017.

Bass and drums introduced a brooding version of “I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good” with Meek’s emotive vocal bringing out the full darkness of the lyrics. As the piece progressed the mood became more relaxed and swinging before concluding with a further dialogue between double bass and brushed drums with Goodyear again impressing with his colourist skills and exquisite cymbal work.

For many present this evening the performance reached a pinnacle with a splendid rendition of “Moonlight In Vermont” which saw every member of the quartet at the peak of their game. Introduced by a dialogue between piano and drums the piece included an effective interpretation of the evocative lyrics, rich in the imagery of nature, from Meek. This was followed by swinging but melodic solos from Kacal and Shotton plus some scintillating interplay between all three instrumentalists. Terrific stuff.

Almost as fine was a breezy romp through Chick Corea’s “High Wire”, the song a kind of musical cousin to the earlier and better known “500 Miles High”. “High Wire” was written for Chaka Khan but Meek sounded more like Brazilian vocalist Flora Purim who sang on “500 Miles”. Meanwhile Shotton and Kacal provided the instrumental highlights.

The evening concluded with that most familiar of songs, “Georgia On My Mind” with the duo of Meek and Shotton offering a reminder of the quartet’s origins with an extended duo introduction before Kacal and Goodyear gradually eased their way into the proceedings.

Despite an overwhelmingly favourable audience reaction there was to be no encore, despite the promptings of MC Debs Hancock. At this early stage of the quartet’s career I suspect that they may have exhausted their current supply of material but nobody could really complain after two lengthy, value for money sets crammed with good, and consistently interesting music.

I was impressed by the individual contributions of each member of Sheek Quartet, but even more importantly I was impressed by the way they came together as a BAND. Even this early stage of its existence this was a highly interactive configuration that was far more than ‘singer plus backing trio’. There was a real sense of a group of musicians willing to dive deep into some adventurous and unusual material and really push themselves.

After the show Shotton explained that most of tonight’s arrangements had been worked out by the group in jams and rehearsals and even on the stand, true collaborative efforts rather then just something the pianist or singer had brought in. I sensed that this was a unit with genuine potential and with a greater emphasis on original material and an eventual recording date the next natural steps for Sheek Quartet.

Black Mountain Jazz has acquired a reputation for presenting adventurous vocal jazz with previous visitors for either Club or Festival dates including Emily Saunders and Sarah Ellen Hughes, two singers similar in style to Meek.  Add the names of Sarah Gillespie, Zoe Gilby, Zoe Schwarz and Emily Wright of Moonlight Saving Time to that list and you have a pretty impressive and varied line up.

Once again I predict return visits to BMJ from all of tonight’s musicians, whether with Sheek Quartet or with other projects.  This was an excellent evening of music making that exceeded expectations.

 

Sheek Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 20/05/2018.

Sheek Quartet

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Sheek Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 20/05/2018.
Photography: Photograph by Dennis Eldridge of Abergavenny Camera Club.

"An excellent evening of adventurous music making that exceeded expectations". Ian Mann on the music of Sheek Quartet, an exciting new group co-led by vocalist Sarah Meek and pianist Guy Shotton.

Sheek Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 20/05/2018.

Cardiff based pianist Guy Shotton has become a popular visitor to Black Mountain Jazz following several successful performances at the venue. In 2016 he performed a duo set in the bar area of the Melville Centre with vocalist Debs Hancock as part of that year’s Wall2Wall Jazz Festival. This relaxed and good natured standards based performance was very well received by the Festival audience and led to Shotton being invited back in March 2017 to lead his own project at one of BMJ’s regular club nights.

This proved to be a busy but very successful event for Shotton who performed another standards based set in the first half with vocalist Sarah Meek. This was followed by an adventurous exploration of a further set of jazz and bebop staples by a trio featuring Shotton, double bass virtuoso Ashley John Long and drummer Bob Richards. This was a well attended event that elicited a very positive response from the audience and my account of that evening can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/sarah-meek-guy-shotton-trio-black-mountain-jazz-the-melville-centre-abergav/

After this triumph it seemed inevitable that Shotton would be back at BMJ again and indeed he returned the following month, renewing his partnership with Hancocks in a set that celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ella Fitzgerald. That duo set opened a show that also included a performance from violinist/vocalist Azhaar Saffar and her band and my review of both performances can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/debs-hancock-duo-azhaar-saffar-global-wave-black-mountain-jazz-abergavenny-/
Shotton subsequently toured with Hancock’s “Ella at 100” show as part of an expanded line up, the Jazz Dragons, featuring bassist Erica Lyons.

In September 2017 the pianist reprised his duo with Meek as the pair performed another standards based duo set in the bar as part of the Wall2Wall Festival, one which again was very well received.

The obvious rapport between the pianist and vocalist has encouraged them to explore more deeply, tackling challenging and lesser known material and expanding to their group to a quartet. With a band name formed from an amalgam of those of the co-leaders the recently assembled Sheek Quartet features two other South Wales based musicians, double bassist Nick Kacal and drummer Alex Goodyear, the latter still a student at Cardiff’s Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD).

Shotton himself is an alumnus of the RWCMD, having graduated from the College in 2013. He has remained in the city and quickly established himself as a busy, versatile and very welcome presence on the South Wales jazz scene. He has performed extensively in the UK and abroad and is also known as a music educator offering private piano tuition and also serving as Assistant Musical Director to the Bristol Hippodrome Choir. He and drummer Bob Richards also run a regular jazz jam session in nearby Usk.

Cheshire born vocalist Meek gained a Masters Degree in Jazz Performance from the RWCMD and decided that she liked the Welsh capital so much that she wanted to keep living and working in the city. Meek is a versatile vocalist who ‘earns a crust’ singing with pop, soul, blues, folk and function bands but her first love is jazz and that was very much in evidence in tonight’s performance.

The experienced Kacal made his name on the London jazz scene before moving to the Valleys town of Mountain Ash. He has collaborated with saxophonist Greg Heath, vocalist Gabrielle Ducomble, guitarist John Etheridge and pianist Alex Hutton among others. Also an accomplished recording engineer he represents a significant and very welcome addition to the jazz scene in South Wales.

Tonight was only the second outing for the newly convened Sheek Quartet following an earlier appearance in Cardiff. They began slightly tentatively, and understandably so, but any early nervousness was quickly forgotten as the band immersed themselves ever more deeply in the highly adventurous music that they had chosen. We had been promised a diverse programme but what we heard, particularly during a daring first set, was far wider ranging than I had imagined.

Kacal and Shotton introduced the first number, a setting of Claude Debussy’s “Reverie” with an arrangement and lyrics by Larry Clinton.  The melodic interplay between Shotton and Kacal was an early highlight with the bassist producing the first of many outstanding solos. Meek deployed wordless vocals as well as singing Clinton’s lyrics on this audacious and unexpected opener.  The choice was perhaps apposite, referencing Shotton’s classical background in addition to honouring Debussy in the centenary year of the composer’s death.

Another, but very different, example of ‘vocalese’ followed with an arrangement of the late, great Kenny Kirkland’s “Dienda” with its evocative, New York located lyrics, the words written by Sting, in whose band pianist Kirkland once played. Tonight’s performance was introduced by Meek and Shotton with a timely reminder of the effectiveness of their original duo. Again the singer moved between narrative and wordless vocalising while Kacal added another marvellously melodic bass solo. His fluency, dexterity and sheer tunefulness as a bass soloist was a highlight of the evening and rivalled Ashley John Long at his best. Sporting a cool and distinctive Panama hat he looked the part too.

The little known Lerner & Loewe song “Another Autumn” represented the first dip into the ‘Great American Songbook’ repertoire, although better known ‘standards’ were to surface in the second set. This was delivered in more conventional fashion as an orthodox jazz ballad with Meek singing the verses before handing over to Shotton at the keyboard for the first solo. Shotton deployed a convincing acoustic piano sound all evening and was aided by Goodyear, here deploying a combination of sticks and brushes, in something of a colourist’s role.

With words and music by Meek “Waves” was a convincing foray into the realm of original writing. Ushered in by Kacal’s bass this was a wide ranging piece that embraced a variety of musical and vocal characteristics ranging from the sunny Brazilian stylings of Meek’s singing and Shotton’s solo to the deep sea sonics of the atmospheric concluding dialogue between double bass and drums, with the neat and tidy Goodyear again excelling as both commentator and colourist.

An arrangement of Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite” took the music back into orthodox jazz territory via Meek’s quick fire vocalising, and the subsequent vivacious scat and piano exchanges above the shifting rhythmic patterns generated by Kacal and Goodyear.

A vocal setting of Horace Silver’s “Nica’s Dream” closed the first set. Tonight’s version was introduced by a brilliant solo drum passage from Goodyear, a flamboyant display featuring hand-claps, bass drum and hi-hat only, with Shotton and Kacal joining the fray before the drummer eventually picked up his sticks. As the piece developed something of a Latin feel Meek delivered Silver’s lyrics, dedicated to the “Jazz Baroness”, Pannonica de Koenigswarter, the aristocratic patron of Silver, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and many other bebop musicians. Shotton soloed here at the piano and this was followed by a further series of scintillating scat exchanges between Meek and Shotton with Kacal and Goodyear providing appropriate support. An excellent way to conclude a consistently intriguing and entertaining first half.

The second set was less adventurous in terms of the material selected than the first had been but there was no let up in the quality of the performances with the quartet continuing to stretch the fabric of even the most familiar pieces. Kacal and Goodyear set the scene for “The Lamp Is Low” and closed it with an engaging bass and brushed drums dialogue. In between we heard Meek’s compelling interpretation of the lyrics plus a typically absorbing piano solo from Shotton.

Meek dedicated an emotive reading of “I fall In Love To Easily” to the jazz divas who had inspired her with Kacal’s melodic bass solo and Shotton’s jazz lyricism at the piano providing the instrumental highlights.

“Light” was Shotton’s setting of Maurice Ravel’s “Menuet sur le nom d’Haydn” with lyrics written by Peter Burrows, a friend of Meek’s. Introduced by a passage of unaccompanied double bass this was a beautifully lyrical and melodic piece with Meek delivering an effective reading of the lyrics with mellifluous instrumental solos coming from Kacal and Shotton. I suspect that this piece may also have been performed at the duo’s most recent visit to Abergavenny in September 2017.

Bass and drums introduced a brooding version of “I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good” with Meek’s emotive vocal bringing out the full darkness of the lyrics. As the piece progressed the mood became more relaxed and swinging before concluding with a further dialogue between double bass and brushed drums with Goodyear again impressing with his colourist skills and exquisite cymbal work.

For many present this evening the performance reached a pinnacle with a splendid rendition of “Moonlight In Vermont” which saw every member of the quartet at the peak of their game. Introduced by a dialogue between piano and drums the piece included an effective interpretation of the evocative lyrics, rich in the imagery of nature, from Meek. This was followed by swinging but melodic solos from Kacal and Shotton plus some scintillating interplay between all three instrumentalists. Terrific stuff.

Almost as fine was a breezy romp through Chick Corea’s “High Wire”, the song a kind of musical cousin to the earlier and better known “500 Miles High”. “High Wire” was written for Chaka Khan but Meek sounded more like Brazilian vocalist Flora Purim who sang on “500 Miles”. Meanwhile Shotton and Kacal provided the instrumental highlights.

The evening concluded with that most familiar of songs, “Georgia On My Mind” with the duo of Meek and Shotton offering a reminder of the quartet’s origins with an extended duo introduction before Kacal and Goodyear gradually eased their way into the proceedings.

Despite an overwhelmingly favourable audience reaction there was to be no encore, despite the promptings of MC Debs Hancock. At this early stage of the quartet’s career I suspect that they may have exhausted their current supply of material but nobody could really complain after two lengthy, value for money sets crammed with good, and consistently interesting music.

I was impressed by the individual contributions of each member of Sheek Quartet, but even more importantly I was impressed by the way they came together as a BAND. Even this early stage of its existence this was a highly interactive configuration that was far more than ‘singer plus backing trio’. There was a real sense of a group of musicians willing to dive deep into some adventurous and unusual material and really push themselves.

After the show Shotton explained that most of tonight’s arrangements had been worked out by the group in jams and rehearsals and even on the stand, true collaborative efforts rather then just something the pianist or singer had brought in. I sensed that this was a unit with genuine potential and with a greater emphasis on original material and an eventual recording date the next natural steps for Sheek Quartet.

Black Mountain Jazz has acquired a reputation for presenting adventurous vocal jazz with previous visitors for either Club or Festival dates including Emily Saunders and Sarah Ellen Hughes, two singers similar in style to Meek.  Add the names of Sarah Gillespie, Zoe Gilby, Zoe Schwarz and Emily Wright of Moonlight Saving Time to that list and you have a pretty impressive and varied line up.

Once again I predict return visits to BMJ from all of tonight’s musicians, whether with Sheek Quartet or with other projects.  This was an excellent evening of music making that exceeded expectations.

 

Alex Hitchcock Quintet - Alex Hitchcock Quintet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 12/05/2018. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Ian Mann enjoys a performance by the Alex Hitchcock Quintet and takes a look at their new EP "Live At The London And Cambridge Jazz Festivals".

Alex Hitchcock Quintet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 12/05/2018.

Alex Hitchcock (tenor saxophone), James Copus (trumpet & flugel horn), Will Barry (keyboard), Joe Downard (bass), Jay Davis (drums).

Alex Hitchcock is a London born saxophonist, composer and bandleader who is generally considered to be something of a rising star on the UK jazz scene. He completed an English degree at Cambridge University before embarking on the Jazz Course at London’s Royal Academy of Music as a post graduate. Here he studied with leading saxophonists Iain Ballamy, Julian Siegel, Martin Speake, James Allsopp and Barak Schmool plus pianist and course leader Pete Churchill.

Hitchcock graduated in 2016 and has since been making a name for himself in a variety of musical contexts. Among those with whom he has worked are trumpeter Nick Smart, bassist Laurence Cottle, trombonist Dennis Rollins and fellow saxophonists Soweto Kinch, Stan Sulzmann and Art Themen. He is also a member of Resolution 88, the funk quartet led by pianist and composer Tom O’Grady.  Internationally he has collaborated with American drummer John Hollenbeck and the Franco/Belgian duo of drummer Andre Charlier and pianist Benoit Sourisse.

Hitchcock is also a talented and versatile large ensemble player whose credits include the Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra, the Royal Academy of Music Big Band, the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, the Laurence Cottle Big Band and the Andy Panayi Big Band. He is also a member of the increasingly lauded Patchwork Jazz Orchestra, a hugely talented collective of young London based jazz musicians, many of them graduates of the Academy. I was fortunate enough to witness an exciting performance by the PJO at the 606 Jazz Club in Chelsea at the 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival.
That show is reviewed as part of my Festival courage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-2016-day-three-sunday-13th-november-2016/

Hitchcock is also a great organiser and general ‘mover and shaker’ who has previously co-ordinated the jazz programme at Camden’s award winning Green Note venue. He has worked as an Ambassador for the National Youth Jazz Collective, and in 2015 worked with promoters Serious to produce concerts at London’s Rich Mix venue through their Young & Serious programme. A genuine fan of the music he’s often to be found in the audience at gigs, supporting the music of fellow performers. Currently he is looking to organise a regular London club night provided he can find a suitable venue.

Despite all his other musical activities Hitchcock’s main creative focus is his own quintet, a band with an increasingly burgeoning reputation. This Shrewsbury performance was part of an extensive UK tour in support of the group’s début recording, a live EP documenting performances at the 2016 London Jazz Festival and 2017 Cambridge Jazz Festivals. Clocking in at nearly forty minutes the EP features four lengthy tracks and would have been considered a full length ‘LP’ back in the old days. Simply titled “Live At The London And Cambridge Jazz Festivals” it features the distinctive ‘real time’  artwork of London based artist Gina Southgate who painted the band’s image as they played.

Hitchcock had previously visited Shrewsbury in 2017 when he appeared on tenor sax with bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado’s group as a late ‘dep’ for regular incumbent Sam Rapley. It was his first appearance with that particular line up but Hitchcock acquitted himself superbly, something encouraged by the fact that he had already worked regularly with all the other members of the band in the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra.  Hitchcock’s skill and adaptability that night was much admired by the Shrewsbury audience and his return to The Hive leading his own outfit was very keenly anticipated. My appetite had also been whetted by a highly favourable review of an earlier performance by the quintet at the Progress Theatre in Reading by regular Jazzmann contributor Trevor Bannister in which he compared Hitchcock’s group with the classic Miles Davis Quintet.
Trevor’s words can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/alex-hitchcock-quintet-progress-theatre-reading-berkshire-22-09-2017/

The quintet that Hitchcock brought along was his regular working group and the exact line up that appears on the EP with James Copus on trumpet and flugel, Will Barry at the keyboard, Joe Downard on double bass and Jay Davis at the drums. I think I’m correct in believing that all are alumni of the Academy.

With the exception of one composition by Wayne Shorter the focus was very much on Hitchcock’s own writing. The performance began with “Wojciech”, a tune from the EP and one dedicated to a Polish jazz fan from Krakow who famously plied the band with vodka. It was immediately noticeable that despite the complexity of the material none of the band members played from sheet music, a fact that signified their familiarity with Hitchcock’s material, plus their willingness to improvise and take musical risks.  Also, with the horns un-miced, the performance was almost entirely acoustic, with the exception of Barry’s electric keyboard, a necessity at this venue. Wisely Barry adopted a classic ‘Fender Rhodes’ electric piano sound throughout rather then trying to replicate the sound of an acoustic instrument. Following an opening theme statement by the two horns Copus took the first solo on trumpet, his playing fluent, expansive and dynamic. He was followed by some spirited interplay between the trio of Barry, Downard and Davis, culminating in a drum feature which proved to be the segue into the following piece. This was the quirky, yet to be recorded “Hamburg 2010”which featured further subtly probing interaction between the members of the trio plus the punchy playing of the horns in a 21st century updating of the classic ‘Blue Note sound’.

Shorter’s “Time of the Barracudas” was a quintet setting of a piece written for Gil Evans’ nineteen piece big band. Here it was ushered in by Hitchcock’s unaccompanied tenor, the leader subsequently joined by Barry at the piano in an introduction that also featured the sounds of the tenor’s keypads. Hitchcock took the first conventional jazz solo before being joined by Copus on flugel for a series of thrilling musical exchanges. Copus then took over, again impressing with his distinctively incisive and attacking sound on the flugel.

Hitchcock’s “Mint” was introduced by the ethereal trilling of Barry’s piano arpeggios, these subsequently complemented by Davis’ odd meter, hip hop influenced drum grooves with the combination of tenor sax and flugelhorn eventually stating the theme. Copus’ lengthy flugel solo combined elegance with skill and stamina. For many audience members the impressive Copus was emerging as the star of the evening, almost threatening to upstage the leader.

“Adjective Animal” closed an impressive first set, introduced again by Barry at the keyboard, this time joined by double bass prior to the opening theme statement by tenor and trumpet. Barry took the first solo, followed by Hitchcock, who went some way to redressing the balance with a powerful and fluent tenor sax solo. Finally Davis brought the curtain down with an absorbing drum feature that saw him exchanging ideas with Downard and Barry.

Set Two commenced with “Gift Horse”, one of the pieces featured on the quintet’s live EP. Barry again provided the introduction, aided by Downard, with the two horns, in this case trumpet and flugel, then combining to state the theme. Hitchcock’s fluent but probing tenor solo saw him stretching out, followed by Barry at the keyboard. A more jagged, turbulent passage suggested the influence of the New York Downtown scene with Barry attacking his keyboard feverishly as he relished a second soloing opportunity.

The opener was segued with the more groove orientated “Mobius” with Downard, Davis and Barry providing the necessary propulsion for a fiery tenor solo from Hitchcock followed by a series of explosive exchanges between the leader’s sax and Copus’ trumpet. Davis, an intelligent and impressive presence throughout, also excelled with a closing drum feature.

“Context”, another track from the EP, was something of a feature for former NYJO member Copus, this time on flugelhorn. Like many of Hitchcock’s compositions this evening the piece was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano from Barry with the two horns subsequently stating the theme against a backdrop of rippling arpeggios. Copus’ flugel solo began gently and lyrically, his sound reminiscent of the late, great Kenny Wheeler, a tantalising blend of fragility balanced by an underlying assurance and eloquence. Initially accompanied by a grounding bass pulse, twinkling keyboards and atmospheric cymbal shimmers Copus gradually began to ramp up the intensity to attain a full on, anthemic magnificence.

“Happy Ending”, which actually opens the EP, closed the second set here. Introduced by bass and drums, quickly joined by electric piano, this proved to be one of the quintet’s most energetic and dynamic numbers with Barry leading off the solos followed by Hitchcock on tenor. This was arguably the leader’s best solo of the night, a fluent and fiery exploration above clipped, cerebrally funky grooves. Copus’ trumpet solo initially lowered the temperature, accompanied at first by only bass and drums. Gradually he began to ramp up the intensity, exchanging ideas with Barry’s keyboards as the energy levels began to build once more.

The deserved encore proved to be Hitchcock’s “Blues for J.C.”, a dedication to both Copus and John Coltrane. This was the most ‘straightahead’ number of the night with its rapid bass walk and boppish head prompting another stunning solo from Hitchcock, one liberally peppered with Coltrane quotes. Davis then featured at the kit in an extended series of exchanges with the other members of the band.

The Shrewsbury audience was highly appreciative of the music created by this hugely talented young band. Hitchcock and his colleagues delivered an effective updating of the tradition, embodying many of the bebop and hard bop virtues yet never resorting to the clichés. The band have cited contemporary artists such as Kneebody, Phronesis, Ambrose Akinmusire and Django Bates as influences but Coltrane and Miles Davis remain touchstones too. This was thoroughly adventurous modern music but with deep enough roots for the audience to hold on to.

Interestingly the recorded versions of the tunes “Happy Ending”, “Gift Horse”, “Context” and “Wojciech” sound substantially different to the renditions tonight, suggesting that improvisation really does play a key part in the quintet’s performances. This is jazz played in the true spirit of the music with each performance substantially different to the last. We’re lucky to have young musicians of this calibre continuing to carry the flame.

The EP, which retails for just a fiver is highly recommended.It is available from Alex’s website http://www.alexhitchcock.co.uk

Alex Hitchcock Quintet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 12/05/2018.

Alex Hitchcock Quintet

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Alex Hitchcock Quintet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 12/05/2018.

Ian Mann enjoys a performance by the Alex Hitchcock Quintet and takes a look at their new EP "Live At The London And Cambridge Jazz Festivals".

Alex Hitchcock Quintet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 12/05/2018.

Alex Hitchcock (tenor saxophone), James Copus (trumpet & flugel horn), Will Barry (keyboard), Joe Downard (bass), Jay Davis (drums).

Alex Hitchcock is a London born saxophonist, composer and bandleader who is generally considered to be something of a rising star on the UK jazz scene. He completed an English degree at Cambridge University before embarking on the Jazz Course at London’s Royal Academy of Music as a post graduate. Here he studied with leading saxophonists Iain Ballamy, Julian Siegel, Martin Speake, James Allsopp and Barak Schmool plus pianist and course leader Pete Churchill.

Hitchcock graduated in 2016 and has since been making a name for himself in a variety of musical contexts. Among those with whom he has worked are trumpeter Nick Smart, bassist Laurence Cottle, trombonist Dennis Rollins and fellow saxophonists Soweto Kinch, Stan Sulzmann and Art Themen. He is also a member of Resolution 88, the funk quartet led by pianist and composer Tom O’Grady.  Internationally he has collaborated with American drummer John Hollenbeck and the Franco/Belgian duo of drummer Andre Charlier and pianist Benoit Sourisse.

Hitchcock is also a talented and versatile large ensemble player whose credits include the Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra, the Royal Academy of Music Big Band, the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, the Laurence Cottle Big Band and the Andy Panayi Big Band. He is also a member of the increasingly lauded Patchwork Jazz Orchestra, a hugely talented collective of young London based jazz musicians, many of them graduates of the Academy. I was fortunate enough to witness an exciting performance by the PJO at the 606 Jazz Club in Chelsea at the 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival.
That show is reviewed as part of my Festival courage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-2016-day-three-sunday-13th-november-2016/

Hitchcock is also a great organiser and general ‘mover and shaker’ who has previously co-ordinated the jazz programme at Camden’s award winning Green Note venue. He has worked as an Ambassador for the National Youth Jazz Collective, and in 2015 worked with promoters Serious to produce concerts at London’s Rich Mix venue through their Young & Serious programme. A genuine fan of the music he’s often to be found in the audience at gigs, supporting the music of fellow performers. Currently he is looking to organise a regular London club night provided he can find a suitable venue.

Despite all his other musical activities Hitchcock’s main creative focus is his own quintet, a band with an increasingly burgeoning reputation. This Shrewsbury performance was part of an extensive UK tour in support of the group’s début recording, a live EP documenting performances at the 2016 London Jazz Festival and 2017 Cambridge Jazz Festivals. Clocking in at nearly forty minutes the EP features four lengthy tracks and would have been considered a full length ‘LP’ back in the old days. Simply titled “Live At The London And Cambridge Jazz Festivals” it features the distinctive ‘real time’  artwork of London based artist Gina Southgate who painted the band’s image as they played.

Hitchcock had previously visited Shrewsbury in 2017 when he appeared on tenor sax with bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado’s group as a late ‘dep’ for regular incumbent Sam Rapley. It was his first appearance with that particular line up but Hitchcock acquitted himself superbly, something encouraged by the fact that he had already worked regularly with all the other members of the band in the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra.  Hitchcock’s skill and adaptability that night was much admired by the Shrewsbury audience and his return to The Hive leading his own outfit was very keenly anticipated. My appetite had also been whetted by a highly favourable review of an earlier performance by the quintet at the Progress Theatre in Reading by regular Jazzmann contributor Trevor Bannister in which he compared Hitchcock’s group with the classic Miles Davis Quintet.
Trevor’s words can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/alex-hitchcock-quintet-progress-theatre-reading-berkshire-22-09-2017/

The quintet that Hitchcock brought along was his regular working group and the exact line up that appears on the EP with James Copus on trumpet and flugel, Will Barry at the keyboard, Joe Downard on double bass and Jay Davis at the drums. I think I’m correct in believing that all are alumni of the Academy.

With the exception of one composition by Wayne Shorter the focus was very much on Hitchcock’s own writing. The performance began with “Wojciech”, a tune from the EP and one dedicated to a Polish jazz fan from Krakow who famously plied the band with vodka. It was immediately noticeable that despite the complexity of the material none of the band members played from sheet music, a fact that signified their familiarity with Hitchcock’s material, plus their willingness to improvise and take musical risks.  Also, with the horns un-miced, the performance was almost entirely acoustic, with the exception of Barry’s electric keyboard, a necessity at this venue. Wisely Barry adopted a classic ‘Fender Rhodes’ electric piano sound throughout rather then trying to replicate the sound of an acoustic instrument. Following an opening theme statement by the two horns Copus took the first solo on trumpet, his playing fluent, expansive and dynamic. He was followed by some spirited interplay between the trio of Barry, Downard and Davis, culminating in a drum feature which proved to be the segue into the following piece. This was the quirky, yet to be recorded “Hamburg 2010”which featured further subtly probing interaction between the members of the trio plus the punchy playing of the horns in a 21st century updating of the classic ‘Blue Note sound’.

Shorter’s “Time of the Barracudas” was a quintet setting of a piece written for Gil Evans’ nineteen piece big band. Here it was ushered in by Hitchcock’s unaccompanied tenor, the leader subsequently joined by Barry at the piano in an introduction that also featured the sounds of the tenor’s keypads. Hitchcock took the first conventional jazz solo before being joined by Copus on flugel for a series of thrilling musical exchanges. Copus then took over, again impressing with his distinctively incisive and attacking sound on the flugel.

Hitchcock’s “Mint” was introduced by the ethereal trilling of Barry’s piano arpeggios, these subsequently complemented by Davis’ odd meter, hip hop influenced drum grooves with the combination of tenor sax and flugelhorn eventually stating the theme. Copus’ lengthy flugel solo combined elegance with skill and stamina. For many audience members the impressive Copus was emerging as the star of the evening, almost threatening to upstage the leader.

“Adjective Animal” closed an impressive first set, introduced again by Barry at the keyboard, this time joined by double bass prior to the opening theme statement by tenor and trumpet. Barry took the first solo, followed by Hitchcock, who went some way to redressing the balance with a powerful and fluent tenor sax solo. Finally Davis brought the curtain down with an absorbing drum feature that saw him exchanging ideas with Downard and Barry.

Set Two commenced with “Gift Horse”, one of the pieces featured on the quintet’s live EP. Barry again provided the introduction, aided by Downard, with the two horns, in this case trumpet and flugel, then combining to state the theme. Hitchcock’s fluent but probing tenor solo saw him stretching out, followed by Barry at the keyboard. A more jagged, turbulent passage suggested the influence of the New York Downtown scene with Barry attacking his keyboard feverishly as he relished a second soloing opportunity.

The opener was segued with the more groove orientated “Mobius” with Downard, Davis and Barry providing the necessary propulsion for a fiery tenor solo from Hitchcock followed by a series of explosive exchanges between the leader’s sax and Copus’ trumpet. Davis, an intelligent and impressive presence throughout, also excelled with a closing drum feature.

“Context”, another track from the EP, was something of a feature for former NYJO member Copus, this time on flugelhorn. Like many of Hitchcock’s compositions this evening the piece was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano from Barry with the two horns subsequently stating the theme against a backdrop of rippling arpeggios. Copus’ flugel solo began gently and lyrically, his sound reminiscent of the late, great Kenny Wheeler, a tantalising blend of fragility balanced by an underlying assurance and eloquence. Initially accompanied by a grounding bass pulse, twinkling keyboards and atmospheric cymbal shimmers Copus gradually began to ramp up the intensity to attain a full on, anthemic magnificence.

“Happy Ending”, which actually opens the EP, closed the second set here. Introduced by bass and drums, quickly joined by electric piano, this proved to be one of the quintet’s most energetic and dynamic numbers with Barry leading off the solos followed by Hitchcock on tenor. This was arguably the leader’s best solo of the night, a fluent and fiery exploration above clipped, cerebrally funky grooves. Copus’ trumpet solo initially lowered the temperature, accompanied at first by only bass and drums. Gradually he began to ramp up the intensity, exchanging ideas with Barry’s keyboards as the energy levels began to build once more.

The deserved encore proved to be Hitchcock’s “Blues for J.C.”, a dedication to both Copus and John Coltrane. This was the most ‘straightahead’ number of the night with its rapid bass walk and boppish head prompting another stunning solo from Hitchcock, one liberally peppered with Coltrane quotes. Davis then featured at the kit in an extended series of exchanges with the other members of the band.

The Shrewsbury audience was highly appreciative of the music created by this hugely talented young band. Hitchcock and his colleagues delivered an effective updating of the tradition, embodying many of the bebop and hard bop virtues yet never resorting to the clichés. The band have cited contemporary artists such as Kneebody, Phronesis, Ambrose Akinmusire and Django Bates as influences but Coltrane and Miles Davis remain touchstones too. This was thoroughly adventurous modern music but with deep enough roots for the audience to hold on to.

Interestingly the recorded versions of the tunes “Happy Ending”, “Gift Horse”, “Context” and “Wojciech” sound substantially different to the renditions tonight, suggesting that improvisation really does play a key part in the quintet’s performances. This is jazz played in the true spirit of the music with each performance substantially different to the last. We’re lucky to have young musicians of this calibre continuing to carry the flame.

The EP, which retails for just a fiver is highly recommended.It is available from Alex’s website http://www.alexhitchcock.co.uk

Martin Speake - Martin Speake Quartet feat. Ethan Iverson, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 27/04/2018. Rating: 4 out of 5 "The eloquence of his musical voice deserves wider recognition on a world stage". Guest contributor Trevor Bannister enjoys the music of alto saxophonist Martin Speake and his guest Ethan Iverson.

Martin Speake Trio with Ethan Iverson
 
Progress Theatre, Friday 27 April 2018
 
Martin Speake alto saxophone, Fred Thomas bass, James Maddren drums, Ethan Iverson piano
 
The haunting beauty of a gentle lullaby lingered in the rafters of the Progress Theatre as the audience filed out of the auditorium in near silence at the close of a magical two-hours spent in the company of the Martin Speake Trio and their special guest from New York, Ethan Iverson. The spell remained unbroken for one small child … who said that jazz fails to attract a younger audience? She snuggled into her dad’s shoulder, at peace with her dreams of the evening, as they made their way home.

The music, from the band’s ‘hot-off-the-press’ album ‘Intention’, with all but three titles composed by Martin Speake, had a dreamlike quality. None more so than ‘Hidden Visions’. Thoughtful, reflective, pure in sound, deeply expressive, and evoking a sense of Gaelic mysticism, it held one’s attention absolutely. One could not risk a lapse in concentration for fear of missing any of its subtle delights. Nor did one dare break the creative flow emanating from the stage by applauding at the end of a solo; the audience expressed its appreciation through respectful silence and held its enthusiasm in check until the end of the number and THEN erupted with rapturous joy.

Imagine a couple locked in each other’s arms. Oblivious to anything or anybody around them, except the gentle strains of ‘Dancing in the Dark’ drifting across the dance floor, their steps are barely perceptible. Perhaps this sensual image of stillness and quiet will give you an idea of the extraordinarily beautiful way in which Martin Speake interpreted this tune. He re-fashioned ‘Young and Foolish’ to heart-wrenching effect later in the programme.

For some unknown reason I found the fun and games of ‘Magic Show’ a little unsettling. Perhaps it was the perceived sense of ‘things not being quite what they seem’. But there again, “that’s magic!”

But make no mistake, this music could SWING! Every seat in Row ‘C’ began to rock wildly and seemed destined to break loose from the floor fittings when the band dug into the Charlie Parker 1947 classic ‘Charlie’s Wig’. Nor could one resist the bluesy feel of ‘Bouncing’, the sheer emotional intensity of the untitled number which immediately followed, an incantation to summon the spirits of the earth, or the glorious mix of gospel and calypso influences in ‘Twister’.

The spirit of classic New Orleans jazz was never too far removed from these otherwise very contemporary proceedings. Speake provided a clear and poised lead on alto saxophone around which the other band members could weave their own contributions, either in the form of solos or by adding colour and texture to the ensemble sound; a collective approach, that simply bubbled with invention and rhythmic energy. James Maddren’s drum feature emphasised these musical roots in ‘Blackwell’, a tribute to the great New Orleans’ drummer Ed Blackwell whose playing with Ornette Coleman helped the advance of ‘free jazz’ in the early 1960s, but never lost the special beat of his native city.

New York based pianist Ethan Iverson, formerly a key player in the innovative band Bad Plus, joined the trio for an eight-date tour only a few days before the Progress gig. His association with Martin Speake dates back some fifteen years, so it was no surprise that he fitted into the group so perfectly. He plays with sensitivity, an instinct for mood and atmosphere and swings like the clappers using a distinctive lightness of touch and minimum of notes. How could anyone match the moment when Iverson lent over his piano and gently plucked the strings to bring ‘The Heron’ to a close – the perfection of simplicity. Even so, one couldn’t help but feel that like a well-tuned Formula 1 racing car he had vast power in reserve to move up through the gears should the need arise.

Bassist Fred Thomas is similarly blessed with an ear for finding just the right sound at the right moment. One should not under estimate the importance of his self-effacing role within the band, which was especially effective on ‘Young and Foolish’.

Martin Speake is a man of few words on stage. He allows his music to speak for him, and so it should be. The eloquence of his musical voice deserves wider recognition on a world stage. Or is this yet another instance so familiar to British musicians, that the ‘prophet’ is hailed abroad while ignored in his homeland? Nevertheless, it was a privilege to listen to Martin Speake and his trio, with special guest Ethan Iverson, within the intimate environment of the Progress Theatre.

As ever, our thanks to the Progress team for the high quality of sound and lighting, and their warm hospitality.

TREVOR BANNISTER

Martin Speake Quartet feat. Ethan Iverson, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 27/04/2018.

Martin Speake

Friday, May 11, 2018

Reviewed by: Trevor Bannister

Live Review

4 out of 5

Martin Speake Quartet feat. Ethan Iverson, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 27/04/2018.
Photography: Photograph by Zoë White.

"The eloquence of his musical voice deserves wider recognition on a world stage". Guest contributor Trevor Bannister enjoys the music of alto saxophonist Martin Speake and his guest Ethan Iverson.

Martin Speake Trio with Ethan Iverson
 
Progress Theatre, Friday 27 April 2018
 
Martin Speake alto saxophone, Fred Thomas bass, James Maddren drums, Ethan Iverson piano
 
The haunting beauty of a gentle lullaby lingered in the rafters of the Progress Theatre as the audience filed out of the auditorium in near silence at the close of a magical two-hours spent in the company of the Martin Speake Trio and their special guest from New York, Ethan Iverson. The spell remained unbroken for one small child … who said that jazz fails to attract a younger audience? She snuggled into her dad’s shoulder, at peace with her dreams of the evening, as they made their way home.

The music, from the band’s ‘hot-off-the-press’ album ‘Intention’, with all but three titles composed by Martin Speake, had a dreamlike quality. None more so than ‘Hidden Visions’. Thoughtful, reflective, pure in sound, deeply expressive, and evoking a sense of Gaelic mysticism, it held one’s attention absolutely. One could not risk a lapse in concentration for fear of missing any of its subtle delights. Nor did one dare break the creative flow emanating from the stage by applauding at the end of a solo; the audience expressed its appreciation through respectful silence and held its enthusiasm in check until the end of the number and THEN erupted with rapturous joy.

Imagine a couple locked in each other’s arms. Oblivious to anything or anybody around them, except the gentle strains of ‘Dancing in the Dark’ drifting across the dance floor, their steps are barely perceptible. Perhaps this sensual image of stillness and quiet will give you an idea of the extraordinarily beautiful way in which Martin Speake interpreted this tune. He re-fashioned ‘Young and Foolish’ to heart-wrenching effect later in the programme.

For some unknown reason I found the fun and games of ‘Magic Show’ a little unsettling. Perhaps it was the perceived sense of ‘things not being quite what they seem’. But there again, “that’s magic!”

But make no mistake, this music could SWING! Every seat in Row ‘C’ began to rock wildly and seemed destined to break loose from the floor fittings when the band dug into the Charlie Parker 1947 classic ‘Charlie’s Wig’. Nor could one resist the bluesy feel of ‘Bouncing’, the sheer emotional intensity of the untitled number which immediately followed, an incantation to summon the spirits of the earth, or the glorious mix of gospel and calypso influences in ‘Twister’.

The spirit of classic New Orleans jazz was never too far removed from these otherwise very contemporary proceedings. Speake provided a clear and poised lead on alto saxophone around which the other band members could weave their own contributions, either in the form of solos or by adding colour and texture to the ensemble sound; a collective approach, that simply bubbled with invention and rhythmic energy. James Maddren’s drum feature emphasised these musical roots in ‘Blackwell’, a tribute to the great New Orleans’ drummer Ed Blackwell whose playing with Ornette Coleman helped the advance of ‘free jazz’ in the early 1960s, but never lost the special beat of his native city.

New York based pianist Ethan Iverson, formerly a key player in the innovative band Bad Plus, joined the trio for an eight-date tour only a few days before the Progress gig. His association with Martin Speake dates back some fifteen years, so it was no surprise that he fitted into the group so perfectly. He plays with sensitivity, an instinct for mood and atmosphere and swings like the clappers using a distinctive lightness of touch and minimum of notes. How could anyone match the moment when Iverson lent over his piano and gently plucked the strings to bring ‘The Heron’ to a close – the perfection of simplicity. Even so, one couldn’t help but feel that like a well-tuned Formula 1 racing car he had vast power in reserve to move up through the gears should the need arise.

Bassist Fred Thomas is similarly blessed with an ear for finding just the right sound at the right moment. One should not under estimate the importance of his self-effacing role within the band, which was especially effective on ‘Young and Foolish’.

Martin Speake is a man of few words on stage. He allows his music to speak for him, and so it should be. The eloquence of his musical voice deserves wider recognition on a world stage. Or is this yet another instance so familiar to British musicians, that the ‘prophet’ is hailed abroad while ignored in his homeland? Nevertheless, it was a privilege to listen to Martin Speake and his trio, with special guest Ethan Iverson, within the intimate environment of the Progress Theatre.

As ever, our thanks to the Progress team for the high quality of sound and lighting, and their warm hospitality.

TREVOR BANNISTER

Shake Stew - Rise And Rise Again Rating: 4 out of 5 There’s a surprising degree of variety and intelligence about this album and an increased level of assurance about the writing .British saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings guests with this Austrian septet.

Shake Stew

“Rise And Rise Again”

(Traumton Records TRAUMTON 4663)

Shake Stew is a septet led by the Austrian bassist and composer Lukas Kranzelbinder and features an unusual instrumental line up including two bassists, two drummers and three horn players, the musicians drawn from the Austrian and German jazz scenes.

Kranzelbinder plays both acoustic and electric bass as does Manuel Mayr. Niki Dolp and Mathias Koch double up on drums and percussion while the horn section features Clemens Salesny (alto & tenor saxes), Johannes Schleiermacher (tenor sax) and Mario Rom (trumpet).

The band’s second album also has a British interest with Shabaka Hutchings adding a third tenor saxophone to the pot on two of the album’s six Kranzelbinder compositions.

Shake Stew’s début “The Golden Fang” was released to considerable critical acclaim in 2016 and it was shortly after this that Kranzelbinder met Hutchings at the famous Porgy & Bess Jazz Club in Vienna and invited him to play with the band, the success of that performance leading to this guest spot on the new album.

The thirty year old Kranzelbinder is something of a musical polymath. Once a member of trumpeter Rom’s group Interzone he has also written an opera, founded the Polyamory Sound Festival and written commissions for the Sudtirol and Saalfelden Jazz Festivals. He even curated a number of outdoor concerts in the Carinthian Mountains which involved lengthy hikes for musicians and audiences alike with Kranzelbinder lugging his double bass up the mountainside. In addition to this he is a busy presence on the Austrian jazz scene, both as a sideman and as the leader of Shake Stew.

With its two bass line up (is Shake Stew jazz’s answer to Ned’ Atomic Dustbin?) and twin drummers it comes as no surprise to find that Shake Stew’s music is highly rhythmic. Elements of jazz, rock, funk and Afro-beat inform their music and the group’s sound also owes something to the spiritual jazz of the 1960s (John and Alice Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders etc.) and the futuristic Pan-African space jazz of Sun Ra. All of the six pieces on “Rise And Rise Again” are written by Kranzelbinder, who impresses with his compositional skills.

Stylistically it’s not a million miles away from some of the groups that Hutchings has been involved with in recent years including The Comet Is Coming, Shabaka and the Ancestors, Melt Yourself Down, and of course Sons of Kemet, another band with a twin drums line up.  I think it’s fair to say that Hutchings is something of a kindred spirit and fits in very nicely.

“Rise And Rise Again” kicks off with “Dancing in the Cage of a Soul” which combines melodic electric bass patterns, busy, driving drums and percussion and a seductive blend of horns. With so much doubling up going on it’s difficult to single out individual contributions but there’s a powerful, probing tenor sax solo here, underpinned by a relentless forest of drums and percussion.
There’s also a lively drum battle between Dolp and Koch before that melodic bass motif emerges again, prior to a rousing collective finale. It’s a highly energetic and hugely invigorating start that incorporates a good deal of compositional sophistication within the headlong rush of the infectious grooves.

Things slow down a little with “How We See Things” which is introduced by a twin bass dialogue with the higher register instrument approximating the sound of a kalimba. As drums and horns are added the piece retains a distinctly African feel. Hutchings is one of three tenor saxophonists playing the main theme but the featured soloist is Rom whose fluent, airy trumpet floats serenely above the interlocking rhythms percolating gently beneath.

“Goodbye Johnny Staccato” was inspired by the 1960s TV series Johnny Staccato. The lengthiest track on the album it was written by Kranzelbinder to feature the tenor playing of Schleiermacher, so no difficulty in identifying the main soloist here! The piece opens with the sound of unaccompanied horns with Schleiermacher, Salesny and Rom interacting with each other in a manner similar to the style of a saxophone quartet. Melody combines with counterpoint, and yes, some of the underpinning phrases are definitely staccato in nature. A brief passage of unaccompanied tenor leads into a section featuring powerful bass and drum grooves which act as the launch pad for Schleiermacher’s solo, the tenorist stretching out and probing deeply. Later the energy subsides and there’s a passage featuring the sound of unaccompanied bass, this leading into a bass/saxophone duet and eventually a roaring, free for all collective crescendo.

The next two pieces, “Fall Down Seven Times” and “Get Up Eight” are thematically linked, the nomenclature perhaps also referencing the album title. The first part features the wistful, plaintive melancholy sound of Rom’s trumpet, accompanied only by double bass, presumably played by the leader. Rom’s solo is gently emotive and thoroughly compelling.
“Get Up Eight” is altogether more joyous and commences with the playful patter of percussion accompanied by the sound of Rom’s trumpet, now lighter and more relaxed in mood and tone. The horns, including Hutchings, play melodies informed by South African Township Jazz and American gospel music. Hutchings is the featured tenor soloist and asserts his presence with authority and fluency over a buoyant bass and drum groove.

The album concludes with “No Sleep My King?”, an atmospheric slow burner of a piece that incorporates Moroccan field recordings, hypnotic bass lines and the snaking, sinuous sound of Salesny’s alto sax. One can almost feel the heat of the desert and the whole piece has a cinematic and dream like quality.

By all accounts the group’s first album was a more raw affair than this with an even greater emphasis on the groove. I haven’t heard the first recording but on the evidence of the second the 2018 version of Shake Stew is more mature and places a greater emphasis on composition and all its correspondent colours, textures and nuances. Given the instrumental line up there’s a surprising degree of variety and intelligence about “Rise And Rise Again” and an increased level of assurance about Kranzelbinder’s writing. Shake Stew are a big deal in their native Austria, regularly selling out Porgy & Bess, and its easy to see why.

Shake Stew have toured extensively in Europe and also in Canada and are due to tour in the UK in 2019.  This album suggests that they should be a hugely exciting live act and their first visit to British shores will be very keenly anticipated. One suspects that Mr. Hutchings will be involved in the proceedings, with heightens the sense of expectation all the more.

In the meantime we have this excellent new album to enjoy. “Rise And Rise Again” will be released on May 4th 2018 on the German record label Traumton.

Rise And Rise Again

Shake Stew

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Rise And Rise Again

There’s a surprising degree of variety and intelligence about this album and an increased level of assurance about the writing .British saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings guests with this Austrian septet.

Shake Stew

“Rise And Rise Again”

(Traumton Records TRAUMTON 4663)

Shake Stew is a septet led by the Austrian bassist and composer Lukas Kranzelbinder and features an unusual instrumental line up including two bassists, two drummers and three horn players, the musicians drawn from the Austrian and German jazz scenes.

Kranzelbinder plays both acoustic and electric bass as does Manuel Mayr. Niki Dolp and Mathias Koch double up on drums and percussion while the horn section features Clemens Salesny (alto & tenor saxes), Johannes Schleiermacher (tenor sax) and Mario Rom (trumpet).

The band’s second album also has a British interest with Shabaka Hutchings adding a third tenor saxophone to the pot on two of the album’s six Kranzelbinder compositions.

Shake Stew’s début “The Golden Fang” was released to considerable critical acclaim in 2016 and it was shortly after this that Kranzelbinder met Hutchings at the famous Porgy & Bess Jazz Club in Vienna and invited him to play with the band, the success of that performance leading to this guest spot on the new album.

The thirty year old Kranzelbinder is something of a musical polymath. Once a member of trumpeter Rom’s group Interzone he has also written an opera, founded the Polyamory Sound Festival and written commissions for the Sudtirol and Saalfelden Jazz Festivals. He even curated a number of outdoor concerts in the Carinthian Mountains which involved lengthy hikes for musicians and audiences alike with Kranzelbinder lugging his double bass up the mountainside. In addition to this he is a busy presence on the Austrian jazz scene, both as a sideman and as the leader of Shake Stew.

With its two bass line up (is Shake Stew jazz’s answer to Ned’ Atomic Dustbin?) and twin drummers it comes as no surprise to find that Shake Stew’s music is highly rhythmic. Elements of jazz, rock, funk and Afro-beat inform their music and the group’s sound also owes something to the spiritual jazz of the 1960s (John and Alice Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders etc.) and the futuristic Pan-African space jazz of Sun Ra. All of the six pieces on “Rise And Rise Again” are written by Kranzelbinder, who impresses with his compositional skills.

Stylistically it’s not a million miles away from some of the groups that Hutchings has been involved with in recent years including The Comet Is Coming, Shabaka and the Ancestors, Melt Yourself Down, and of course Sons of Kemet, another band with a twin drums line up.  I think it’s fair to say that Hutchings is something of a kindred spirit and fits in very nicely.

“Rise And Rise Again” kicks off with “Dancing in the Cage of a Soul” which combines melodic electric bass patterns, busy, driving drums and percussion and a seductive blend of horns. With so much doubling up going on it’s difficult to single out individual contributions but there’s a powerful, probing tenor sax solo here, underpinned by a relentless forest of drums and percussion.
There’s also a lively drum battle between Dolp and Koch before that melodic bass motif emerges again, prior to a rousing collective finale. It’s a highly energetic and hugely invigorating start that incorporates a good deal of compositional sophistication within the headlong rush of the infectious grooves.

Things slow down a little with “How We See Things” which is introduced by a twin bass dialogue with the higher register instrument approximating the sound of a kalimba. As drums and horns are added the piece retains a distinctly African feel. Hutchings is one of three tenor saxophonists playing the main theme but the featured soloist is Rom whose fluent, airy trumpet floats serenely above the interlocking rhythms percolating gently beneath.

“Goodbye Johnny Staccato” was inspired by the 1960s TV series Johnny Staccato. The lengthiest track on the album it was written by Kranzelbinder to feature the tenor playing of Schleiermacher, so no difficulty in identifying the main soloist here! The piece opens with the sound of unaccompanied horns with Schleiermacher, Salesny and Rom interacting with each other in a manner similar to the style of a saxophone quartet. Melody combines with counterpoint, and yes, some of the underpinning phrases are definitely staccato in nature. A brief passage of unaccompanied tenor leads into a section featuring powerful bass and drum grooves which act as the launch pad for Schleiermacher’s solo, the tenorist stretching out and probing deeply. Later the energy subsides and there’s a passage featuring the sound of unaccompanied bass, this leading into a bass/saxophone duet and eventually a roaring, free for all collective crescendo.

The next two pieces, “Fall Down Seven Times” and “Get Up Eight” are thematically linked, the nomenclature perhaps also referencing the album title. The first part features the wistful, plaintive melancholy sound of Rom’s trumpet, accompanied only by double bass, presumably played by the leader. Rom’s solo is gently emotive and thoroughly compelling.
“Get Up Eight” is altogether more joyous and commences with the playful patter of percussion accompanied by the sound of Rom’s trumpet, now lighter and more relaxed in mood and tone. The horns, including Hutchings, play melodies informed by South African Township Jazz and American gospel music. Hutchings is the featured tenor soloist and asserts his presence with authority and fluency over a buoyant bass and drum groove.

The album concludes with “No Sleep My King?”, an atmospheric slow burner of a piece that incorporates Moroccan field recordings, hypnotic bass lines and the snaking, sinuous sound of Salesny’s alto sax. One can almost feel the heat of the desert and the whole piece has a cinematic and dream like quality.

By all accounts the group’s first album was a more raw affair than this with an even greater emphasis on the groove. I haven’t heard the first recording but on the evidence of the second the 2018 version of Shake Stew is more mature and places a greater emphasis on composition and all its correspondent colours, textures and nuances. Given the instrumental line up there’s a surprising degree of variety and intelligence about “Rise And Rise Again” and an increased level of assurance about Kranzelbinder’s writing. Shake Stew are a big deal in their native Austria, regularly selling out Porgy & Bess, and its easy to see why.

Shake Stew have toured extensively in Europe and also in Canada and are due to tour in the UK in 2019.  This album suggests that they should be a hugely exciting live act and their first visit to British shores will be very keenly anticipated. One suspects that Mr. Hutchings will be involved in the proceedings, with heightens the sense of expectation all the more.

In the meantime we have this excellent new album to enjoy. “Rise And Rise Again” will be released on May 4th 2018 on the German record label Traumton.

Alcyona Mick and Tori Freestone - Criss Cross Rating: 4 out of 5 A warm and distinctive duo recording. The musical chemistry between the pair is pleasingly obvious throughout.

Alcyona Mick and Tori Freestone

“Criss Cross”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4722)

This duo recording brings together two of the UK’s leading female instrumentalists, pianist Alcyona Mick and saxophonist/flautist Tori Freestone. The pair have worked together in various ensembles including the London Jazz Orchestra and it was their casual duo explorations of Thelonious Monk tunes that encouraged Steve Mead, the artistic director of Manchester Jazz Festival to invite them to develop their partnership on a more formal basis for a performance at the 2015 MJF.

The success of the Manchester performance encouraged Mick and Freestone to continue their collaboration and this début album was recorded at the famous Artesuono Studio in Udine, Italy by studio owner and engineer Stefano Amerio. Co-produced by Mick and Freestone the recording features four original compositions by Freestone, three by Mick and one arrangement of a traditional folk tune. The title track was written by one Thelonious Monk, the original inspiration for this project. Two pieces feature the singing of guest vocalist Brigitte Beraha, whose contribution adds greatly to the success of the recording.

Alcyona Mick is a graduate of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire and played at Cheltenham Jazz Festival as part of the “Jerwood Rising Stars” series as far back as 2003. She subsequently formed her own quintet featuring trumpeter Robbie Robson, saxophonist Mark Hanslip, bassist Steve Watts and drummer Paul Clarvis, releasing the album “Under The Sun” in 2006. She and Clarvis subsequently teamed up with French born saxophonist Robin Fincker to form the improvising trio Blink, releasing albums on the Loop and Babel labels.

Other jazz ensembles with which Mick has worked include Rachel Musson’s Skein, Eddie Parker’s Debussy Mirrored ensemble, the John Warren Nonet and a trio featuring Clarvis and multi-instrumentalist Stuart Hall.

She also plays in another duo with Egyptian violinist and electronic musician Sammy Bishai.
Mick has also been involved in numerous world music projects and has enjoyed a long tenure in the band of Anglo/Egyptian vocalist Natacha Atlas, a line up that also includes Bishai. She has also written and performed music for film and television, with an emphasis on silent film. She holds a Masters degree in Composing Music for Film from the National Film and Television School.

Tori Freestone has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages both as a band leader and as a prolific sidewoman. She leads her own chordless trio featuring Dave Manington on double bass and Tim Giles at the drums with whom she has recorded the albums “In The Chop House” and “El Barranco”, both of which have been reviewed elsewhere on this site.

Freestone has also recorded with trumpeter Rory Simmons’ Fringe Magnetic, pianist Ivo Neame’s quintet and octet ,saxophonist Pete Hurt’s Jazz Orchestra, bassist Riaan Vosloo’s Examples of Twelves and with the band co-operative sextet Solstice. She co-led the quartet Compassionate Dictatorship with guitarist Jez Franks and has also been part of trumpeter Andre Canniere’s Darkening Blue ensemble. Her versatility as a saxophonist and flautist has led to regular large ensemble work with notable engagements including the London Jazz Orchestra, the Julian Siegel Jazz Orchestra, the E17 Jazz Ensemble, Neil Yates’ N Circle Orchestra, Orquestra Timbala and Hermeto Pascoal’s All Star UK Big Band.

The sleeve design for “Criss Cross” is cleverly presented as a crossword puzzle with each track having its own ‘cryptic clue’. First up is “complete and airtight love of a famous Brazilian jazz musician” and the Freestone composition “Hermetica”, inspired of course by Hermeto Pascoal. This piece also features the wordless vocalising of Beraha, one of Freestone’s bandmates from the Solstice group.  The piece is a joyous celebration of Pascoal and his music, written in an adventurous 8/11 time signature and featuring Beraha’s vocal tics in conjunction with Freestone’s frothy flute and Mick’s rhythmic, underpinning pianistics. Inspired by Brazilian music Beraha’s voice is allowed to soar, forming a high register alliance with Freestone’s flute as Mick’s piano helps to keep the music grounded. The exchanges between the three protagonists are thrilling, with Beraha also engaging with Mick in a vivacious musical dialogue. There’s also a lively exchange between flute and piano but ultimately it’s the sound of the three musicians interacting collectively that represents the greatest highlight.

“Someone exhibiting magical qualities may have led this” is the next clue and alludes to the Freestone composition “Charmed Life”. This piece first appeared in a very different form on the 2016 trio album “El Barranco” and was one of that album’s gentler offerings. Here an even greater premium is placed on lyricism and beauty with Freestone’s warm toned, economical, subtly probing tenor combining with Mick’s sensitive accompaniment as the pianist luxuriates in the sound of the Fazioli Concert Grand at Artesuono Studio.

“Overeating shrub (anag)” is the clue to Mick’s compositional début on this recording, “Strange Behaviour”. The spirit of Monk can be found in this blues tinged piece with its Thelonious inspired sax melodies and Mick’s authentically Monk-ish piano, her playing clearly influenced by the master but transcending mere pastiche thanks to its fluency and inventiveness.

“A short conversation with folk roots” provides the clue for Mick’s appropriately titled “Exchange”, a piece originally written for quintet and later arranged for two pianos. Freestone switches to soprano and dances lithely around Mick’s busy, bustling piano figures, the influence of Monk still there but less overt. There’s also a lengthy, but thoroughly absorbing, passage of solo piano during which Mick demonstrates an impressive virtuosity.

A trilogy of Mick compositions concludes with her “Goodnight Computer” (clue “Sweet dreams, tech lovers”). The lengthiest piece on the album this is an ambitious work that evolves slowly and organically and which possesses a strong narrative arc. There’s something of a classical music influence at times and the way in which the work is carefully structured also acts as a reminder of Mick’s skills as a film composer. It’s a piece that demonstrates the extraordinary rapport between the two musicians, a genuine musical meeting of equals with both piano and tenor sax speaking with great fluency and elegance.

“ A female constable who won’t speak her mind” is the clue to Freestone’s “Mrs PC”, a tune that first appeared on the composer’s 2014 trio album “In the Chop House”. The piece represents Freestone’s homage to John Coltrane, and, of course, Paul Chambers, and the playful nature of the performances reflects the cheekiness of the title.

“A Monk tune intersecting angrily” provides the clue to the Thelonious composed title track. Mick and Freestone tackle the piece with the same blues informed vivacity that they brought to “Mrs PC”. They capture something of Monk’s essential quirkiness with Freestone enthusing “I love how the form of the middle eight is so weird!”.

Freestone grew up in a family steeped in folk music before going on to study jazz flute at Leeds College of Music. Thanks to her folk background she’s also a talented violinist and both of her trio albums have included arrangements of traditional tunes from her folk heritage. The traditional folk tune “Press Gang” (clue “Bullying that may have taken place on Fleet Street”) originally appeared in two different arrangements on “El Barranco”, one of these featuring Freestone on both violin and vocals. There’s no fiddle here and the vocal duties are taken over by Beraha who sings with great clarity and beauty, imbuing the dark lyrics of this tale of the notorious naval press gangs with great gravitas. With Freestone and Mick providing suitably sympathetic accompaniment I was sometimes reminded of the jazz/folk trio Quercus featuring saxophonist Iain Ballamy, pianist Huw Warren and singer June Tabor. However Beraha’s willingness to stretch the phrases and divert into wordless vocalising is far more obviously ‘jazz’.

Finally, presented as a “bonus track”, we get to enjoy an arrangement of Freestone’s title track from “El Barranco” (clue “A beautiful Spanish ravine”). This version is less intense than the original recording by the trio. There’s a lighter feel to Freestone’s tenor playing and a greater emphasis on the melody and the sheer tunefulness and beauty of the piece.

Freestone and Mick have enthused about their collaboration with the saxophonist saying;
“We have great understanding and confidence in each others’ playing. Though the duo format can present a degree of vulnerability, this project especially engenders warmth, enjoyment and openness amongst the intensity and complexity. It’s both fun and heavy – a developing journey through the material and styles we love, all with the sheer joy of playing. We are delighted to have covered that range of emotions, which is so important to us.”

Comparing this duo with her trio with Manington and Giles Freestone states;
“Here we both shape the rhythm in a different way, following whatever direction the music takes us in; and with such amazing piano playing I can bring out the harmony in new and existing compositions”.

Mick adds;
“There’s plenty of space for creativity; and though a duo can be more challenging I have much more freedom to use the whole piano”.

These observations are backed up by the performances. There’s nothing dry and academic about the playing on “Criss Cross” despite the awesome instrumental techniques of both musicians. That warmth, enjoyment and openness of which Freestone speaks is immediately apparent to the listener and the musical chemistry between the pair is pleasingly obvious throughout. The engineering and production is suitably pristine and enables both performers to be heard at their best. This is a warm and distinctive duo recording that casts the existing compositions in a new light and represents a highly rewarding listen in its own right. Highly recommended.

 

Criss Cross

Alcyona Mick and Tori Freestone

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Criss Cross

A warm and distinctive duo recording. The musical chemistry between the pair is pleasingly obvious throughout.

Alcyona Mick and Tori Freestone

“Criss Cross”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4722)

This duo recording brings together two of the UK’s leading female instrumentalists, pianist Alcyona Mick and saxophonist/flautist Tori Freestone. The pair have worked together in various ensembles including the London Jazz Orchestra and it was their casual duo explorations of Thelonious Monk tunes that encouraged Steve Mead, the artistic director of Manchester Jazz Festival to invite them to develop their partnership on a more formal basis for a performance at the 2015 MJF.

The success of the Manchester performance encouraged Mick and Freestone to continue their collaboration and this début album was recorded at the famous Artesuono Studio in Udine, Italy by studio owner and engineer Stefano Amerio. Co-produced by Mick and Freestone the recording features four original compositions by Freestone, three by Mick and one arrangement of a traditional folk tune. The title track was written by one Thelonious Monk, the original inspiration for this project. Two pieces feature the singing of guest vocalist Brigitte Beraha, whose contribution adds greatly to the success of the recording.

Alcyona Mick is a graduate of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire and played at Cheltenham Jazz Festival as part of the “Jerwood Rising Stars” series as far back as 2003. She subsequently formed her own quintet featuring trumpeter Robbie Robson, saxophonist Mark Hanslip, bassist Steve Watts and drummer Paul Clarvis, releasing the album “Under The Sun” in 2006. She and Clarvis subsequently teamed up with French born saxophonist Robin Fincker to form the improvising trio Blink, releasing albums on the Loop and Babel labels.

Other jazz ensembles with which Mick has worked include Rachel Musson’s Skein, Eddie Parker’s Debussy Mirrored ensemble, the John Warren Nonet and a trio featuring Clarvis and multi-instrumentalist Stuart Hall.

She also plays in another duo with Egyptian violinist and electronic musician Sammy Bishai.
Mick has also been involved in numerous world music projects and has enjoyed a long tenure in the band of Anglo/Egyptian vocalist Natacha Atlas, a line up that also includes Bishai. She has also written and performed music for film and television, with an emphasis on silent film. She holds a Masters degree in Composing Music for Film from the National Film and Television School.

Tori Freestone has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages both as a band leader and as a prolific sidewoman. She leads her own chordless trio featuring Dave Manington on double bass and Tim Giles at the drums with whom she has recorded the albums “In The Chop House” and “El Barranco”, both of which have been reviewed elsewhere on this site.

Freestone has also recorded with trumpeter Rory Simmons’ Fringe Magnetic, pianist Ivo Neame’s quintet and octet ,saxophonist Pete Hurt’s Jazz Orchestra, bassist Riaan Vosloo’s Examples of Twelves and with the band co-operative sextet Solstice. She co-led the quartet Compassionate Dictatorship with guitarist Jez Franks and has also been part of trumpeter Andre Canniere’s Darkening Blue ensemble. Her versatility as a saxophonist and flautist has led to regular large ensemble work with notable engagements including the London Jazz Orchestra, the Julian Siegel Jazz Orchestra, the E17 Jazz Ensemble, Neil Yates’ N Circle Orchestra, Orquestra Timbala and Hermeto Pascoal’s All Star UK Big Band.

The sleeve design for “Criss Cross” is cleverly presented as a crossword puzzle with each track having its own ‘cryptic clue’. First up is “complete and airtight love of a famous Brazilian jazz musician” and the Freestone composition “Hermetica”, inspired of course by Hermeto Pascoal. This piece also features the wordless vocalising of Beraha, one of Freestone’s bandmates from the Solstice group.  The piece is a joyous celebration of Pascoal and his music, written in an adventurous 8/11 time signature and featuring Beraha’s vocal tics in conjunction with Freestone’s frothy flute and Mick’s rhythmic, underpinning pianistics. Inspired by Brazilian music Beraha’s voice is allowed to soar, forming a high register alliance with Freestone’s flute as Mick’s piano helps to keep the music grounded. The exchanges between the three protagonists are thrilling, with Beraha also engaging with Mick in a vivacious musical dialogue. There’s also a lively exchange between flute and piano but ultimately it’s the sound of the three musicians interacting collectively that represents the greatest highlight.

“Someone exhibiting magical qualities may have led this” is the next clue and alludes to the Freestone composition “Charmed Life”. This piece first appeared in a very different form on the 2016 trio album “El Barranco” and was one of that album’s gentler offerings. Here an even greater premium is placed on lyricism and beauty with Freestone’s warm toned, economical, subtly probing tenor combining with Mick’s sensitive accompaniment as the pianist luxuriates in the sound of the Fazioli Concert Grand at Artesuono Studio.

“Overeating shrub (anag)” is the clue to Mick’s compositional début on this recording, “Strange Behaviour”. The spirit of Monk can be found in this blues tinged piece with its Thelonious inspired sax melodies and Mick’s authentically Monk-ish piano, her playing clearly influenced by the master but transcending mere pastiche thanks to its fluency and inventiveness.

“A short conversation with folk roots” provides the clue for Mick’s appropriately titled “Exchange”, a piece originally written for quintet and later arranged for two pianos. Freestone switches to soprano and dances lithely around Mick’s busy, bustling piano figures, the influence of Monk still there but less overt. There’s also a lengthy, but thoroughly absorbing, passage of solo piano during which Mick demonstrates an impressive virtuosity.

A trilogy of Mick compositions concludes with her “Goodnight Computer” (clue “Sweet dreams, tech lovers”). The lengthiest piece on the album this is an ambitious work that evolves slowly and organically and which possesses a strong narrative arc. There’s something of a classical music influence at times and the way in which the work is carefully structured also acts as a reminder of Mick’s skills as a film composer. It’s a piece that demonstrates the extraordinary rapport between the two musicians, a genuine musical meeting of equals with both piano and tenor sax speaking with great fluency and elegance.

“ A female constable who won’t speak her mind” is the clue to Freestone’s “Mrs PC”, a tune that first appeared on the composer’s 2014 trio album “In the Chop House”. The piece represents Freestone’s homage to John Coltrane, and, of course, Paul Chambers, and the playful nature of the performances reflects the cheekiness of the title.

“A Monk tune intersecting angrily” provides the clue to the Thelonious composed title track. Mick and Freestone tackle the piece with the same blues informed vivacity that they brought to “Mrs PC”. They capture something of Monk’s essential quirkiness with Freestone enthusing “I love how the form of the middle eight is so weird!”.

Freestone grew up in a family steeped in folk music before going on to study jazz flute at Leeds College of Music. Thanks to her folk background she’s also a talented violinist and both of her trio albums have included arrangements of traditional tunes from her folk heritage. The traditional folk tune “Press Gang” (clue “Bullying that may have taken place on Fleet Street”) originally appeared in two different arrangements on “El Barranco”, one of these featuring Freestone on both violin and vocals. There’s no fiddle here and the vocal duties are taken over by Beraha who sings with great clarity and beauty, imbuing the dark lyrics of this tale of the notorious naval press gangs with great gravitas. With Freestone and Mick providing suitably sympathetic accompaniment I was sometimes reminded of the jazz/folk trio Quercus featuring saxophonist Iain Ballamy, pianist Huw Warren and singer June Tabor. However Beraha’s willingness to stretch the phrases and divert into wordless vocalising is far more obviously ‘jazz’.

Finally, presented as a “bonus track”, we get to enjoy an arrangement of Freestone’s title track from “El Barranco” (clue “A beautiful Spanish ravine”). This version is less intense than the original recording by the trio. There’s a lighter feel to Freestone’s tenor playing and a greater emphasis on the melody and the sheer tunefulness and beauty of the piece.

Freestone and Mick have enthused about their collaboration with the saxophonist saying;
“We have great understanding and confidence in each others’ playing. Though the duo format can present a degree of vulnerability, this project especially engenders warmth, enjoyment and openness amongst the intensity and complexity. It’s both fun and heavy – a developing journey through the material and styles we love, all with the sheer joy of playing. We are delighted to have covered that range of emotions, which is so important to us.”

Comparing this duo with her trio with Manington and Giles Freestone states;
“Here we both shape the rhythm in a different way, following whatever direction the music takes us in; and with such amazing piano playing I can bring out the harmony in new and existing compositions”.

Mick adds;
“There’s plenty of space for creativity; and though a duo can be more challenging I have much more freedom to use the whole piano”.

These observations are backed up by the performances. There’s nothing dry and academic about the playing on “Criss Cross” despite the awesome instrumental techniques of both musicians. That warmth, enjoyment and openness of which Freestone speaks is immediately apparent to the listener and the musical chemistry between the pair is pleasingly obvious throughout. The engineering and production is suitably pristine and enables both performers to be heard at their best. This is a warm and distinctive duo recording that casts the existing compositions in a new light and represents a highly rewarding listen in its own right. Highly recommended.

 

Wendy Kirkland Quartet - Wendy Kirkland Quartet, ‘Piano Divas’, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 29/04/18 Rating: 4 out of 5 "A polished and enjoyable performance. Well worth catching this quartet if you get the chance." Guest contributor David Hobbs enjoys the music of pianist/vocalist Wendy Kirkland and her quartet.

Black MountainJazz, The Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 29 April, 2018:

‘Piano Divas’ featuring The Wendy Kirkland Quartet.

The theme of this evening’s set was female singer/pianists, reflecting the degree to which Wendy Kirkland, formerly solely a pianist, was inspired to combine singing and piano playing after being exposed to such performers as Diana Krall, Nina Simone, Eliane Elias and Carol Welsman.
This was a very professional set, and the fact that the quartet had been touring to promote its first album came across clearly in their tight and polished delivery throughout the evening.

The quartet (interestingly, all of whose members were involved in running jazz clubs in the north of England) comprised musicians who were clearly competent and experienced in the field. On guitar was Pat Sprakes (Kirkland’s husband), who played a very strong role in the quartet, providing a rhythmically sound and melodically sound foundation. His tone was excellent and varied and he was able to produce a range of subtle variations in sound, suggesting great jazz guitarists of the past (For guitar aficionados, he utilised a very nice custom made, thin line, semi-acoustic by English luthier Colin Keefe, coupled with a Mambo wedge combo).

On double bass was Paul Jeffries, who provided a solid and driving rhythm, with styles very appropriate to the selection of tunes. His time feel was excellent and his tone never harsh (through his Acoustic Image combo and Gage Realist pickup setup). Jeffries easily switched between styles and kept a keen eye on the quartet’s members, keeping the whole evening tightly controlled.

On drums (a lovely old Gretsch jazz, 18”bass drum, kit), mainly utilising brushes but providing a wide range of sounds, was Steve Smith, who was never too showy but provided just what was required for the numbers selected. Smith is a drummer who really listens and would fit easily and tastefully into many jazz combos. I enjoyed his laid back, but authoritative, style very much.

Kirkland has a relaxed and pleasant jazz vocal style, reminiscent to an extent of Diana Krall but maintaining her own stamp all the while. Her keyboard playing was appropriate to the styles of the songs and relevant throughout, mainly using a standard piano sound on her Korg keyboard but, on one song, using an electric piano sound to good effect.

The set kicked off with a take on Shirley Horn’s version of the Cahn / Van Heusen tune ‘Come Dance With Me’. This featured a great swinging bass and a lovely, bluesy, guitar solo reminiscent of Herb Ellis, with a few cheeky quotes thrown in, and a fine piano solo from Kirkland.

Next was a version of Hank Williams’ ‘Hey, good looking’, inspired by the Canadian Carol
Welsman’s approach. The first ‘head’, played with ‘stops’, worked well and was followed by some laid back solos from Sprakes and Kirkland. The feel as the tune progressed was sparse and bluesy, featuring some nice piano and guitar call and response passages. The vamp at the end of the tune concluded suddenly, and to good effect, on a suspended chord.

The first set continued with an interesting variety of tunes:

Berlin’s ‘Cheek To Cheek’, arranged by Sprakes in a quite complex samba style but with a swung B section, the outro featuring some fine and mellow, thump toned, guitar work from Sprakes.

‘Its Not Unusual’ - normally associated with Tom Jones but written by Les Reed and Gordon Mills. This arrangement, by Sprakes and Kirkland, was delivered in a relaxed bossa style with the intro section covered by Sprakes. This was a very mellow and pleasant arrangement with some excellent bossa rhythms provided by Smith. The tune modulated upwards for the second head and utilised some interesting harmonic substitutions under the ‘it happens every day ...’ parts. A quite satisfying arrangement overall, which the audience clearly appreciated.

The American jazz pianist Dave Frishberg’s ‘I’m Hip’, famously covered by Blossom Dearie. This song, which Kirkland explained was written about jazz fans who are less cool than they think, featured a few altered lyrics for the purpose of ensuring topicality; I think I heard macrobiotics mentioned in the vocal. This number worked well, commencing with an effective ‘two’ feel and finishing with a well executed piano and voice coda.

Kenny Rankin’s ‘Haven’t We Met?’, inspired by Mel Torme’s take on this song, performed with a jazz waltz (actually 6/8) feel. Sprake’s guitar solo was very impressive and his use of octaves conjured up a Wes Montgomery feel. The beginning of this arrangement, based around Van Heusen’s ‘Here’s That Rainy Day’ was apt and evocative.

Jobim’s ‘Chega de Saudade’ (‘No More Blues’), presented in a samba style and based on a transcription of Eliane Elias’s live performance. This was probably my favourite song of the set, the first section performed as a voice and guitar duo, followed by an open feeling piano, bass and drum section, eventually picking up a nice samba rhythm backing to a piano solo with a strong bass foundation. Jeffries’ bass tone was superb here. A drum solo, against a repeated piano motif, led to a well rehearsed and sudden surprise ending to the first set.

The second set, followed the general theme of the first but remained varied and interesting, and was equally well received by the audience. In brief, the set included:

Frank Loesser’s ‘On a slow boat to China’, based on Carol Welsman’s performance, featuring a laid back swing feel and complemented by an excellent scat/piano intro from Kirkland.

A Spakes/Kirkland original, ‘Bahia’, named after the Brazilian resort, featuring some delightfully rich piano harmonies in the intro and some fine bossa rhythmic playing from Sprakes.

Bernstein’s ‘Some Other Time’, evoking the performance of this song by Diana Krall and the fine jazz guitarist Mark Whitfield. Here the arpeggiated piano and vocal intro with a simple guitar backing worked well and was complemented by Sprakes’ use of a bowed string effect by employing his volume pedal, and by a simple but effective bass and brushed snare backing.

Peter Nero’s ‘Sunday in New York’, in an arrangement by Kirkland. Here the head, performed beautifully by Kirkland, was followed by a blue toned solo from Sprakes, with a tone reminiscent of some of the work of Lee Ritenour and Russell Malone: very classy. Kirkland followed with a scat singing section with well executed doubling of the melodic lines on piano. This number featured some stylish drumming breaks from Smith.

Walter Donaldson’s and Gus Kahn’s ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’. Here, rather than mimicking the well worn Nina Simone version, the quartet presented the song in the style of Al Jarreau, though Kirkland explained that she did not intend to try to replicate Jarreau’s voice! Kirkland switched here to a very apt electric piano sound. The jazz funk backing and Sprakes’ Wes Montgomery styled octave work, coupled with some tasteful and spacey piano soloing, made this number work very well. Unexpectedly, this unconventional approach to the song concluded with a return to the usual coda from Simone’s classic recording.

Brooks Bowman’s ‘East Of The Sun And West Of The Moon’, inspired by Diana Krall’s performance, which was again very smooth and well received.

Herb Ellis’s ‘Detour Ahead’, styled on the arrangement by Nina de Rose. This was a sound performance featuring lots of off beat emphases, some very effective and fluid guitar playing and a brilliant, spacey, final section with bassist and drummer acquitting themselves well.

Barry Manilow’s ‘Meet Me At Midnight’, which follows the chordal structure of Sonny Rollins’ ‘Doxy’. The evening concluded with this song, which commenced with a strong vocal over a bass and drum backing. The straight ahead jazz/blues feel of this number worked well and the tune featured some interesting piano work from Kirkland over a convincing Duke Ellington /Ray Brown type backing from the rhythm section.

Overall, this was a polished and enjoyable performance, and was well received by the audience. Kirkland is a capable and engaging performer and maintains a good rapport with her audience. The band demonstrated that they are very competent and experienced. For me, the only thing lacking at times was a sense of danger; the best jazz performances, in my view, take chances and push the boundaries (often with the result that things fall over a little). I would have liked to see the quartet take a few more risks, but that’s just me - the audience was very pleased with the performance and I heard murmurings of “let’s have more of this sort of thing”. Well worth catching this quartet if you get the chance.

DAVID HOBBS

Wendy Kirkland Quartet, ‘Piano Divas’, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 29/04/18

Wendy Kirkland Quartet

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Wendy Kirkland Quartet, ‘Piano Divas’, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 29/04/18
Photography: Photograph by David Hobbs.

"A polished and enjoyable performance. Well worth catching this quartet if you get the chance." Guest contributor David Hobbs enjoys the music of pianist/vocalist Wendy Kirkland and her quartet.

Black MountainJazz, The Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 29 April, 2018:

‘Piano Divas’ featuring The Wendy Kirkland Quartet.

The theme of this evening’s set was female singer/pianists, reflecting the degree to which Wendy Kirkland, formerly solely a pianist, was inspired to combine singing and piano playing after being exposed to such performers as Diana Krall, Nina Simone, Eliane Elias and Carol Welsman.
This was a very professional set, and the fact that the quartet had been touring to promote its first album came across clearly in their tight and polished delivery throughout the evening.

The quartet (interestingly, all of whose members were involved in running jazz clubs in the north of England) comprised musicians who were clearly competent and experienced in the field. On guitar was Pat Sprakes (Kirkland’s husband), who played a very strong role in the quartet, providing a rhythmically sound and melodically sound foundation. His tone was excellent and varied and he was able to produce a range of subtle variations in sound, suggesting great jazz guitarists of the past (For guitar aficionados, he utilised a very nice custom made, thin line, semi-acoustic by English luthier Colin Keefe, coupled with a Mambo wedge combo).

On double bass was Paul Jeffries, who provided a solid and driving rhythm, with styles very appropriate to the selection of tunes. His time feel was excellent and his tone never harsh (through his Acoustic Image combo and Gage Realist pickup setup). Jeffries easily switched between styles and kept a keen eye on the quartet’s members, keeping the whole evening tightly controlled.

On drums (a lovely old Gretsch jazz, 18”bass drum, kit), mainly utilising brushes but providing a wide range of sounds, was Steve Smith, who was never too showy but provided just what was required for the numbers selected. Smith is a drummer who really listens and would fit easily and tastefully into many jazz combos. I enjoyed his laid back, but authoritative, style very much.

Kirkland has a relaxed and pleasant jazz vocal style, reminiscent to an extent of Diana Krall but maintaining her own stamp all the while. Her keyboard playing was appropriate to the styles of the songs and relevant throughout, mainly using a standard piano sound on her Korg keyboard but, on one song, using an electric piano sound to good effect.

The set kicked off with a take on Shirley Horn’s version of the Cahn / Van Heusen tune ‘Come Dance With Me’. This featured a great swinging bass and a lovely, bluesy, guitar solo reminiscent of Herb Ellis, with a few cheeky quotes thrown in, and a fine piano solo from Kirkland.

Next was a version of Hank Williams’ ‘Hey, good looking’, inspired by the Canadian Carol
Welsman’s approach. The first ‘head’, played with ‘stops’, worked well and was followed by some laid back solos from Sprakes and Kirkland. The feel as the tune progressed was sparse and bluesy, featuring some nice piano and guitar call and response passages. The vamp at the end of the tune concluded suddenly, and to good effect, on a suspended chord.

The first set continued with an interesting variety of tunes:

Berlin’s ‘Cheek To Cheek’, arranged by Sprakes in a quite complex samba style but with a swung B section, the outro featuring some fine and mellow, thump toned, guitar work from Sprakes.

‘Its Not Unusual’ - normally associated with Tom Jones but written by Les Reed and Gordon Mills. This arrangement, by Sprakes and Kirkland, was delivered in a relaxed bossa style with the intro section covered by Sprakes. This was a very mellow and pleasant arrangement with some excellent bossa rhythms provided by Smith. The tune modulated upwards for the second head and utilised some interesting harmonic substitutions under the ‘it happens every day ...’ parts. A quite satisfying arrangement overall, which the audience clearly appreciated.

The American jazz pianist Dave Frishberg’s ‘I’m Hip’, famously covered by Blossom Dearie. This song, which Kirkland explained was written about jazz fans who are less cool than they think, featured a few altered lyrics for the purpose of ensuring topicality; I think I heard macrobiotics mentioned in the vocal. This number worked well, commencing with an effective ‘two’ feel and finishing with a well executed piano and voice coda.

Kenny Rankin’s ‘Haven’t We Met?’, inspired by Mel Torme’s take on this song, performed with a jazz waltz (actually 6/8) feel. Sprake’s guitar solo was very impressive and his use of octaves conjured up a Wes Montgomery feel. The beginning of this arrangement, based around Van Heusen’s ‘Here’s That Rainy Day’ was apt and evocative.

Jobim’s ‘Chega de Saudade’ (‘No More Blues’), presented in a samba style and based on a transcription of Eliane Elias’s live performance. This was probably my favourite song of the set, the first section performed as a voice and guitar duo, followed by an open feeling piano, bass and drum section, eventually picking up a nice samba rhythm backing to a piano solo with a strong bass foundation. Jeffries’ bass tone was superb here. A drum solo, against a repeated piano motif, led to a well rehearsed and sudden surprise ending to the first set.

The second set, followed the general theme of the first but remained varied and interesting, and was equally well received by the audience. In brief, the set included:

Frank Loesser’s ‘On a slow boat to China’, based on Carol Welsman’s performance, featuring a laid back swing feel and complemented by an excellent scat/piano intro from Kirkland.

A Spakes/Kirkland original, ‘Bahia’, named after the Brazilian resort, featuring some delightfully rich piano harmonies in the intro and some fine bossa rhythmic playing from Sprakes.

Bernstein’s ‘Some Other Time’, evoking the performance of this song by Diana Krall and the fine jazz guitarist Mark Whitfield. Here the arpeggiated piano and vocal intro with a simple guitar backing worked well and was complemented by Sprakes’ use of a bowed string effect by employing his volume pedal, and by a simple but effective bass and brushed snare backing.

Peter Nero’s ‘Sunday in New York’, in an arrangement by Kirkland. Here the head, performed beautifully by Kirkland, was followed by a blue toned solo from Sprakes, with a tone reminiscent of some of the work of Lee Ritenour and Russell Malone: very classy. Kirkland followed with a scat singing section with well executed doubling of the melodic lines on piano. This number featured some stylish drumming breaks from Smith.

Walter Donaldson’s and Gus Kahn’s ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’. Here, rather than mimicking the well worn Nina Simone version, the quartet presented the song in the style of Al Jarreau, though Kirkland explained that she did not intend to try to replicate Jarreau’s voice! Kirkland switched here to a very apt electric piano sound. The jazz funk backing and Sprakes’ Wes Montgomery styled octave work, coupled with some tasteful and spacey piano soloing, made this number work very well. Unexpectedly, this unconventional approach to the song concluded with a return to the usual coda from Simone’s classic recording.

Brooks Bowman’s ‘East Of The Sun And West Of The Moon’, inspired by Diana Krall’s performance, which was again very smooth and well received.

Herb Ellis’s ‘Detour Ahead’, styled on the arrangement by Nina de Rose. This was a sound performance featuring lots of off beat emphases, some very effective and fluid guitar playing and a brilliant, spacey, final section with bassist and drummer acquitting themselves well.

Barry Manilow’s ‘Meet Me At Midnight’, which follows the chordal structure of Sonny Rollins’ ‘Doxy’. The evening concluded with this song, which commenced with a strong vocal over a bass and drum backing. The straight ahead jazz/blues feel of this number worked well and the tune featured some interesting piano work from Kirkland over a convincing Duke Ellington /Ray Brown type backing from the rhythm section.

Overall, this was a polished and enjoyable performance, and was well received by the audience. Kirkland is a capable and engaging performer and maintains a good rapport with her audience. The band demonstrated that they are very competent and experienced. For me, the only thing lacking at times was a sense of danger; the best jazz performances, in my view, take chances and push the boundaries (often with the result that things fall over a little). I would have liked to see the quartet take a few more risks, but that’s just me - the audience was very pleased with the performance and I heard murmurings of “let’s have more of this sort of thing”. Well worth catching this quartet if you get the chance.

DAVID HOBBS

Olie Brice Quintet - Day After Day Rating: 4 out of 5 The balance between the composed and the improvised is as assured as ever and with this ‘new’ quintet Brice has top quality musicians capable of bringing his ideas to vibrant life.

Olie Brice Quintet

“Day After Day”

(Babel Records BDV17148)

Released late in 2017 this is yet another album that has been lurking in the ‘to do’ file for far too long. My apologies to Olie for only getting round to writing about it nearly six months after he handed it over to me at a gig.

Olie Brice is a double bass player, composer and improviser based in London who is a busy and popular presence on the capital’s jazz and improv scene. He has recorded with many leading musicians including trumpeters Nick Malcolm, Loz Speyer and Alex Bonney, saxophonists Dee Byrne, Ingrid Laubrock, Rachel Musson, Paul Dunmall, James Allsopp and Mike Fletcher, pianist Achim Kaufmann and drummer Javier Carmona. Others with whom he has worked include vocalist Fumi Okiji and the Chicagoan sax titan Ken Vandermark.

However the above barely scratches the surface and only represents collaborations that have previously come to the attention of the Jazzmann. For further details of Brice’s diverse musical activities please visit his excellent and highly informative website http://www.oliebrice.com

As a leader Brice’s current projects are this quintet plus the Somersaults Trio, an improvising three piece featuring saxophonist Tobias Delius and drummer/percussionist Mark Sanders.

The quintet operates in the area where I enjoy Brice’s playing best, the interface between composed and improvised music. It’s a zone in which he has excelled and includes superb recordings from groups led by Byrne (Entropi), Speyer (Inner Space), Malcolm and Fletcher.

“Day After Day” represents a follow up to Brice’s brilliant 2014 quintet offering “Immune To Clockwork” which appeared on the Polish Multikulti record label and featured Brice alongside the Polish alto saxophonist Waclaw Zimpel plus the London based musicians Mark Hanslip (tenor sax), Alex Bonney (trumpet) and Jeff Williams (drums).

“Day After Day” introduces a fresh version of the quintet with the brand new sax pairing of Mike Fletcher (alto) and George Crowley (tenor) joining Brice, Bonney and Williams. Brice has worked with both saxophonists previously and the pair have slotted in seamlessly. The overall group sound remains similar and the music continues to explore the hinterland between the composed and the improvised with Brice’s liner notes providing a degree of explanation behind both the overall concept and the individual tunes.

He states;
“While writing the compositions on this album, especially ‘Aunt Nancy’s Balloons’, ‘Day After Day’ and ‘Red Honey, Yellow Honey’, I was intensely affected by reading Nathaniel Mackey’s astonishing series of novels collectively titled ‘From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate’. At the same time I was thinking about how the experience of the Jewish community I grew up in is essentially a diasporic experience, and about the relationship between a synagogue of people singing and the ecstatic joy of my favourite free jazz.”

The opening piece, “Aunt Nancy’s Balloons” is dedicated to Mackey and commences with the gentle fan-faring of Bonney’s cornet, an instrument he plays throughout the album, in conjunction with Brice’s double bass. It’s an absorbing dialogue that eventually leads to a passage of collective group improvisation that shows something of the influence of both Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler, two major sources of inspiration for Brice. In turn Brice has spoken of the influence of Jewish cantorial music on Coleman, neatly bringing things almost full circle. This opening piece also includes further solos from Crowley on tenor and finally the leader on unaccompanied double bass. Bonney then returns with a reprise of the opening fanfare, this time with Williams in tow.

“Red Honey, Yellow Honey” is cut from the same cloth with Charles Mingus also a recognisable influence. It’s a busy free-wheeling piece, powered by Brice’s bass and Williams’ fiery polyrhythmic drumming, the propulsive rhythms fuelling powerful solos from Crowley and Fletcher who both attack their saxophones with gusto. Bonney provides an extra instrumental voice as the music becomes even more frenetic, Coleman and Ayler still two obvious touchstones. There’s a volcanic drum feature from Williams followed by a further dialogue between Bonney and Brice, edgier than that on the first piece but still thoroughly compelling and immersive.

“Interruptions # 1” was inspired by the trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith, to whom the piece is dedicated. Brice states that further “Interruptions” i.e. # 2 and # 3 appear elsewhere on the album concealed within other compositions. This first “Interruption” features the sound of Brice flourishing the bow and deploying extended techniques in an opening dialogue with Williams that sounds as if it may have been entirely improvised. Later the horns provide additional instrumental voices but their role is to provide colour and texture within the improvisational framework as opposed to featuring as solo instruments.

Of the piece “Another Mad Yak” Brice explains that the composition had previously been recorded, but subsequently rejected, by two previous bands before the current quintet finally nailed it. The title comes from the Gregory Corso poem “The Mad Yak”, the word “Another” being added after Brice learned that the saxophonist Steve Lacy had already recorded a tune using Corso’s title. Musically the piece is more obviously through composed and features some rousing horn choruses in addition to individual solos from Fletcher, Bonney and Crowley, all powerful, incisive and highly fluent affairs with the surging rhythms of Brice and Williams propelling the horn men to fresh heights. Williams also excels with a dynamic but expertly constructed drum feature.

The tune “If You Were The Only Girl In The World”, written by Nat Dyer and Clifford Grey, was first published in 1916 and is a song that Brice’s grandmother used to sing all the time. Brice’s adaptation was partially inspired by a Sonny Rollins version featuring Henry Grimes, one of Olie’s bass heroes. Appropriately this arrangement begins with the sound of Brice’s double bass in dialogue with Crowley’s tenor. The source material is heavily disguised, the tune only emerging, albeit in slightly skewed fashion, when the rest of the quintet comes in. Bonney takes the first solo, his imaginative phrasing underscored by the fluid rhythms of Brice and Williams in an arrangement that doffs its hat to the past yet feels thoroughly contemporary. Crowley follows, probing deeply while making occasional allusions to the original melody.

The album concludes with Brice’s title track which commences with the deep gravitas of the leader’s unaccompanied pizzicato double bass. There’s a short passage of collective musical punctuation before we hear Brice solo again, this time with the bow, the prelude to an ensemble passage that draws on Ashkenazi liturgical music and features the thrilling sounds of the three horns intertwining against the rhythmic patterns laid down by Brice and Williams. The music of Brice’s Jewish heritage is merged with that of his jazz heroes, Coleman, Ayler, Mingus, Coltrane and others, including Brits such as Evan Parker, Derek Bailey and Paul Dunmall.

In an interview with Nick Hasted for the September 2017 edition of Jazzwise Magazine Brice said of this album;
“I wanted to draw on Jewish melodic stuff that I felt happy with. I didn’t want to play klezmer jazz. And there’s an element I miss in completely free music, of dealing seriously with swing, melody and somg. I wanted to have the intensity of free playing available as well as song based mainstream jazz. It’s the first time as a band-leader and composer that I’ve got close to being comfortable saying ‘this is my music, this is what I’m trying to do’”.

On the evidence of “Day After Day” Brice has wholly succeeded in his intentions and the album is a very worthy follow up to the excellent “Immune To Clockwork”. The balance between the composed and the improvised, in conjunction with the Jewish elements, is as assured as ever and with this ‘new’ quintet Brice has top quality musicians capable of bringing his ideas to vibrant life.

It’s particularly good to hear Bonney soloing with such fluency and inventiveness on the cornet. These days he is arguably best known as an electronic sound artist and producer so to hear him in such good form on an acoustic instrument is a welcome reminder of the breadth of his talent.

 

Day After Day

Olie Brice Quintet

Friday, April 27, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Day After Day

The balance between the composed and the improvised is as assured as ever and with this ‘new’ quintet Brice has top quality musicians capable of bringing his ideas to vibrant life.

Olie Brice Quintet

“Day After Day”

(Babel Records BDV17148)

Released late in 2017 this is yet another album that has been lurking in the ‘to do’ file for far too long. My apologies to Olie for only getting round to writing about it nearly six months after he handed it over to me at a gig.

Olie Brice is a double bass player, composer and improviser based in London who is a busy and popular presence on the capital’s jazz and improv scene. He has recorded with many leading musicians including trumpeters Nick Malcolm, Loz Speyer and Alex Bonney, saxophonists Dee Byrne, Ingrid Laubrock, Rachel Musson, Paul Dunmall, James Allsopp and Mike Fletcher, pianist Achim Kaufmann and drummer Javier Carmona. Others with whom he has worked include vocalist Fumi Okiji and the Chicagoan sax titan Ken Vandermark.

However the above barely scratches the surface and only represents collaborations that have previously come to the attention of the Jazzmann. For further details of Brice’s diverse musical activities please visit his excellent and highly informative website http://www.oliebrice.com

As a leader Brice’s current projects are this quintet plus the Somersaults Trio, an improvising three piece featuring saxophonist Tobias Delius and drummer/percussionist Mark Sanders.

The quintet operates in the area where I enjoy Brice’s playing best, the interface between composed and improvised music. It’s a zone in which he has excelled and includes superb recordings from groups led by Byrne (Entropi), Speyer (Inner Space), Malcolm and Fletcher.

“Day After Day” represents a follow up to Brice’s brilliant 2014 quintet offering “Immune To Clockwork” which appeared on the Polish Multikulti record label and featured Brice alongside the Polish alto saxophonist Waclaw Zimpel plus the London based musicians Mark Hanslip (tenor sax), Alex Bonney (trumpet) and Jeff Williams (drums).

“Day After Day” introduces a fresh version of the quintet with the brand new sax pairing of Mike Fletcher (alto) and George Crowley (tenor) joining Brice, Bonney and Williams. Brice has worked with both saxophonists previously and the pair have slotted in seamlessly. The overall group sound remains similar and the music continues to explore the hinterland between the composed and the improvised with Brice’s liner notes providing a degree of explanation behind both the overall concept and the individual tunes.

He states;
“While writing the compositions on this album, especially ‘Aunt Nancy’s Balloons’, ‘Day After Day’ and ‘Red Honey, Yellow Honey’, I was intensely affected by reading Nathaniel Mackey’s astonishing series of novels collectively titled ‘From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate’. At the same time I was thinking about how the experience of the Jewish community I grew up in is essentially a diasporic experience, and about the relationship between a synagogue of people singing and the ecstatic joy of my favourite free jazz.”

The opening piece, “Aunt Nancy’s Balloons” is dedicated to Mackey and commences with the gentle fan-faring of Bonney’s cornet, an instrument he plays throughout the album, in conjunction with Brice’s double bass. It’s an absorbing dialogue that eventually leads to a passage of collective group improvisation that shows something of the influence of both Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler, two major sources of inspiration for Brice. In turn Brice has spoken of the influence of Jewish cantorial music on Coleman, neatly bringing things almost full circle. This opening piece also includes further solos from Crowley on tenor and finally the leader on unaccompanied double bass. Bonney then returns with a reprise of the opening fanfare, this time with Williams in tow.

“Red Honey, Yellow Honey” is cut from the same cloth with Charles Mingus also a recognisable influence. It’s a busy free-wheeling piece, powered by Brice’s bass and Williams’ fiery polyrhythmic drumming, the propulsive rhythms fuelling powerful solos from Crowley and Fletcher who both attack their saxophones with gusto. Bonney provides an extra instrumental voice as the music becomes even more frenetic, Coleman and Ayler still two obvious touchstones. There’s a volcanic drum feature from Williams followed by a further dialogue between Bonney and Brice, edgier than that on the first piece but still thoroughly compelling and immersive.

“Interruptions # 1” was inspired by the trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith, to whom the piece is dedicated. Brice states that further “Interruptions” i.e. # 2 and # 3 appear elsewhere on the album concealed within other compositions. This first “Interruption” features the sound of Brice flourishing the bow and deploying extended techniques in an opening dialogue with Williams that sounds as if it may have been entirely improvised. Later the horns provide additional instrumental voices but their role is to provide colour and texture within the improvisational framework as opposed to featuring as solo instruments.

Of the piece “Another Mad Yak” Brice explains that the composition had previously been recorded, but subsequently rejected, by two previous bands before the current quintet finally nailed it. The title comes from the Gregory Corso poem “The Mad Yak”, the word “Another” being added after Brice learned that the saxophonist Steve Lacy had already recorded a tune using Corso’s title. Musically the piece is more obviously through composed and features some rousing horn choruses in addition to individual solos from Fletcher, Bonney and Crowley, all powerful, incisive and highly fluent affairs with the surging rhythms of Brice and Williams propelling the horn men to fresh heights. Williams also excels with a dynamic but expertly constructed drum feature.

The tune “If You Were The Only Girl In The World”, written by Nat Dyer and Clifford Grey, was first published in 1916 and is a song that Brice’s grandmother used to sing all the time. Brice’s adaptation was partially inspired by a Sonny Rollins version featuring Henry Grimes, one of Olie’s bass heroes. Appropriately this arrangement begins with the sound of Brice’s double bass in dialogue with Crowley’s tenor. The source material is heavily disguised, the tune only emerging, albeit in slightly skewed fashion, when the rest of the quintet comes in. Bonney takes the first solo, his imaginative phrasing underscored by the fluid rhythms of Brice and Williams in an arrangement that doffs its hat to the past yet feels thoroughly contemporary. Crowley follows, probing deeply while making occasional allusions to the original melody.

The album concludes with Brice’s title track which commences with the deep gravitas of the leader’s unaccompanied pizzicato double bass. There’s a short passage of collective musical punctuation before we hear Brice solo again, this time with the bow, the prelude to an ensemble passage that draws on Ashkenazi liturgical music and features the thrilling sounds of the three horns intertwining against the rhythmic patterns laid down by Brice and Williams. The music of Brice’s Jewish heritage is merged with that of his jazz heroes, Coleman, Ayler, Mingus, Coltrane and others, including Brits such as Evan Parker, Derek Bailey and Paul Dunmall.

In an interview with Nick Hasted for the September 2017 edition of Jazzwise Magazine Brice said of this album;
“I wanted to draw on Jewish melodic stuff that I felt happy with. I didn’t want to play klezmer jazz. And there’s an element I miss in completely free music, of dealing seriously with swing, melody and somg. I wanted to have the intensity of free playing available as well as song based mainstream jazz. It’s the first time as a band-leader and composer that I’ve got close to being comfortable saying ‘this is my music, this is what I’m trying to do’”.

On the evidence of “Day After Day” Brice has wholly succeeded in his intentions and the album is a very worthy follow up to the excellent “Immune To Clockwork”. The balance between the composed and the improvised, in conjunction with the Jewish elements, is as assured as ever and with this ‘new’ quintet Brice has top quality musicians capable of bringing his ideas to vibrant life.

It’s particularly good to hear Bonney soloing with such fluency and inventiveness on the cornet. These days he is arguably best known as an electronic sound artist and producer so to hear him in such good form on an acoustic instrument is a welcome reminder of the breadth of his talent.

 

WorldService Project - WorldService Project, The Flute & Tankard, Cardiff, 24/04/2018. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 "The music is hard edged and uncompromising and the playing universally excellent". Ian Mann enjoys a performance by WorldService Project and takes a look at their new album "Serve".

WorldService Project, The Flute & Tankard, Cardiff, 24/04/2018.

WorldService Project, the quintet led by keyboard player and composer Dave Morecroft have long been Jazzmann favourites thanks to their irreverent blend of ‘punk jazz’ which has evoked comparisons with Frank Zappa, John Zorn and Django Bates among others. Indeed Morecroft has described his group’s music as being “like a cage fight between Weather Report, Stravinsky, Meshuggah, Frank Zappa and Monty Python”.

To date the group has released four albums commencing with 2010’s “Relentless” this followed in 2013 by the excellent “Fire In A Pet Shop”. The band subsequently moved to RareNoise Records for whom they released 2016’s hard hitting “For King And Country”, produced by guitarist Chris Sharkey (Trio VD, Acoustic Ladyland, Shiver, Roller Trio).

The group’s second album for RareNoise, the soon to be issued “Serve” (release date May 4th 2018) also features a celebrity producer, in this instance Led Bib bassist Liran Donin. The new album very much picks up where its predecessor left off and continues Morecroft’s depiction of the group as a band of ‘renegade soldiers’ over the course of eight new original compositions. This time round there’s greater use of vocals with the singing voices of both Morecroft and the group’s trombonist Raphael Clarkson being heard. Post Brexit WSP have become increasingly angry and political. This, after, all is the band that instigated the Match & Fuse programme which brings together similarly inclined young bands from all over Europe to tour each others’ countries,  a series of musical ‘double bills’ (the Match) with each concert climaxed by a two band ‘mash-up’ (the Fuse). With this brilliant and inventive movement, which has produced so much good music, now under threat thanks to the Brexit vote it’s clear that Morecroft and his colleagues have plenty to be angry about.

Likewise in Cardiff corporate greed (shame on you Brains Brewery) last year saw the closure of the much loved Dempsey’s venue in Castle Street, an excellent place to listen to music and equipped with a grand piano generously loaned to the resident jazz club by Cardiff based pianist Jim Barber. Happily Brenda O’ Brien and Alastair McMurchie, the co-ordinators of the jazz programme at Dempsey’s, have subsequently found a new home for their promotions in the upstairs room at The Flute & Tankard in Windsor Place.

Tonight was my first visit to the venue (shame on me, it’s been hosting jazz for nearly a year) and although it’s smaller and even more intimate than Dempsey’s it’s still a good place to listen to music. The grand piano won’t fit in the new room but Brenda and Alastair have recently acquired an acoustic upright which will represent a considerable improvement in comparison to electric substitutes. The ‘Flute’ looks set to be the regular home of cutting edge jazz in Cardiff for some time to come and I wish Brenda and Alastair well in their new venue.  On the evidence of Tuesday night one bonus is the improvement in the beer quality following the move. For once I wasn’t driving and therefore enjoyed a couple of pints of Leviathan Pale Ale from the recently established Brew Monster brewery from Cwmbran, a considerable step up from the rather bland and inconsistent offerings from Brains at Dempsey’s.

With Morecroft playing electric keyboards exclusively the new upright wasn’t needed tonight as he and Clarkson were joined by Arthur O’Hara on electric bass and Harry Pope at the drums plus Ben Powling on tenor saxophone. WSP have undergone a number of line up changes since their inception with O’Hara and Pope joining for “King and Country”. The pair also form the rhythm section of Skint, the powerful trio led by saxophonist, keyboard player and composer Phil Meadows. Tim Ower is the group’s regular saxophonist and appears on “Serve” but is currently engaged on a lucrative ‘money gig’ as part of the touring band of pop singer Gary Barlow. His place has been taken on this WSP tour by the young Leeds based saxophonist Ben Powling, himself the leader of his own band Mansion Of Snakes. Powling fitted in just fine with the WSP aesthetic and has already forged an excellent twin horn alliance with Clarkson.

In their present incarnation WSP sit rather uneasily within the jazz camp. Like Pete Wareham before him (Acoustic Ladyland, Melt Yourself Down) one senses that Morecroft is aiming for a different, younger audience. He says of the ‘punk-jazz’ tag;
“We’ve adopted ‘punk jazz’ because, for us, the ‘punk’ represents an adjective rather than a genre. We are the punky, underground, do or die, DIY sound of UK jazz for sure, and the music and the live show is also becoming increasingly more political/anti-establishment, so there is that too”.

Of the group’s live performances Morecroft has said;
 “WorldService Project is a very intense, high energy live show. We throw ourselves into it and hope to come out alive at the other end. And if you’re not bleeding by the end of it you haven’t tried hard enough”.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see WSP perform live on numerous occasions over the years including a lunchtime Festival show at Brecon Jazz Festival in 2011 which saw the then very youthful band totally ‘going for it’. Then there was March & Fuse triple bill at The Vortex, alongside Pixel, from Norway, and Roller Trio as part of the 2012 London Jazz Festival, a standing only affair that had the energy and feel of a rock gig. In 2014 I saw the band as part of a Match & Fuse double bill at Dempsey’s which teamed them with Germany’s excellent Zodiac Trio.

Tonight’s event also had something of the feel of a rock gig with WSP electing to play one ninety minute set rather than the usual jazz club format of two fort five minute slots with an interval. Given the energy and ferocity with which WSP perform it’s probably difficult for the band members to psyche themselves up twice to those levels over the course of an evening. Or, more prosaically, perhaps it was due to the prospect of the long drive back to Minehead, the group’s base for a series of Welsh / West Country dates, afterwards.

Over the years I’ve witnessed WSP’s gigs become increasingly theatrical. Tonight the band donned military jackets and even sported make up, a WSP performance is definitely a “show”. Musically things have changed too, there’s less switching between different musical styles a la Django Bates and a greater focus on a more direct and aggressive sound in the style of Acoustic Ladyland and, particularly with Donin as producer, Led Bib.

Tonight the bulk of the programme was sourced from the new album beginning with a ferocious salvo of “To Lose The Love” segued with “Ease”.  With Morecroft playing a Nord Stage electric keyboard and with both Clarkson and Powling equipped with bug mics and pedal-boards the sound was loud and uncompromisingly electric. At one point Morecroft came to the front of the stage to solo on a synth axe, part Herbie Hancock, part the bastard son of Edgar Winter. That said WSP aren’t really about solos in the orthodox jazz sense, it’s the sound of the entire band that really counts, a juggernaut driven by the powerful and impressive new rhythm section of Pope and O’Hara, two young musicians who clearly relish playing together but have also bought in fully to the WSP concept. So too, Powling who linked up well with Clarkson and also delivered his solos with considerable aplomb. The absence of Ower was hardly noticed. This opening segue also encompassed powerful, but often complex, punk jazz riffing, an engaging keyboards and bass dialogue between Morecroft and O’Hara and the first solo statement from Powling.

Of the reasoning behind the title “Ease” Morecroft remarked; “Nothing great is ever easy. Ease is a far greater threat to progress than hardship”.

The quintet returned to the title track “Fire In A Pet Shop” for a number that mixed jagged punk jazz riffing with outbursts of free noise that saw the band members approximating the sounds of sirens and animal noises as Morecroft invited the audience to join in. The members of a small but appreciative audience responded with gusto. Musical highlights included the horn dialogue between Powling and Clarkson and the subsequent solo from the trombonist.

The composition “False Prophets” closes the new album but was delivered mid set here, Pope’s military drum patterns combining with Morecroft’s spacey keyboards, FX treated horns and the hummed vocals of the band to haunting effect.  The music gradually grew in intensity, led by a slow burning tenor solo from Powling, finally bursting into full anthemic bloom topped by Morecroft’s soaring wordless vocal.

The sinister clown character Mr. Giggles has been around since the band’s second album and also appeared on “ For King And Country”. His previous appearances have been primarily instrumental but Morecroft has now written a song for him, performed here with the keyboard player singing the lyrics in between donning a grotesque Mr. Giggles mask. The instrumental honours went to Clarkson with a rasping trombone solo that was delivered with considerable aplomb despite the soloist being molested by Morecroft as Mr. Giggles. The lyrics of the piece warn against the inhumane treatment of outsiders, something that turned Giggles into a child eating monster . Live it was all great fun but the piece is less convincing on record and the serious point of the lyrics is rather lost amidst the silliness. The ‘Bitches Brew’ column in the May 2018 edition of Jazzwise magazine gave the whole concept a thorough savaging and as much as I love and admire WSP and their work I have to say that its author probably has a legitimate point.

Back on safer ground the band dipped back into the “King & Country” repertoire for a couple of pieces whose titles I managed to miss but which highlighted the instrumental skills of Powling and O’Hara amongst others. Naturally there was little let up in the intensity.

As the performance drew towards a close Morecroft thanked Cardiff’s ‘jazz soldiers’, Alastair McMurchie, Brenda O’Brien and Roger Warburton, as the band tackled “Plagued With Righteousness”, the opening track from “Serve” . This featured a thrilling series of exchanges between Clarkson on trombone and Powling on tenor plus a second outing from Morecroft on synth axe as Clarkson filled in on Nord, a role previously fulfilled by Powling.

The deserved encore was a brief romp through the punky, shouty “Dai Jo Bo”, which the crowd loved.

This gig was advertised as promising “precision anarchy” and that’s a neat encapsulation of what WSP do. All these guys are superb technicians but they play with fire, passion and energy too. WSP remain a vital and exciting live experience.

The Jazzwise article suggests that WSP’s punky, anti Brexit stance is something of a pose but that isn’t really something I can agree with. The group’s work ethic and the success of the Match & Fuse movement surely debunks that argument.

However as a long time fan of the band I do have some concerns about their musical direction. The band’s shows have always been exciting, entertaining affairs, even without the costumes and the make up, and I’m not totally convinced by the increasing reliance on vocals, none of the band is a singer as such. Some of the wordless stuff works well but “Serve” includes two items with lyrics, “The Tale Of Mr. Giggles” and the furious “Now This Means War” but neither is totally convincing in the home listening environment, however well meaning their intentions. 

Nevertheless there is still much to enjoy about “Serve”. The music is hard edged and uncompromising and the playing universally excellent. In some senses it’s more of a democratic band these days with Morecroft no longer as dominant as a soloist, although WSP remains primarily his concept. But I do have reservations, I don’t want to think of the theatricality detracting from the music and the very serious message behind it.

Finally it was great to go back to a jazz event in Cardiff and meet up with old friends from Dempsey’s including Brenda, Alastair and Roger plus sometime Jazzmann contributors Martin Healey and Sean Wilkie. I’ll try to return more quickly next time, guys.

WSP are still on tour. Remaining dates as below;

April 25 - MINEHEAD, UK: The Regal Theatre, 2A The Avenue, Minehead TA24 5UQ

April 26 - BRISTOL, UK: The Canteen, Hamilton House, 80 Stokes Croft, Bristol BS1 3QY

April 27 - NEWCASTLE, UK: Colbalt, 10-16 Boyd Street. Newcastle upon Tyne, England, NE2 1AP
(with Taupe - http://www.taupetaupetaupe.com/)

April 28 - HUDDERSFIELD, UK: Small Seeds, Castlegate, Huddersfield HD1

April 29 - LEEDS, UK: Wharf Chambers, 23-25 Wharf St, Leeds LS2 7EQ
(with Zeitgeist Trio https://www.facebook.com/ZeitgeistUK/)

May 2 - LONDON, UK: ALBUM LAUNCH @ The Cockpit Theatre, Gateforth St, London NW8 8EH
(with Skint - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIwWKdIGGn0)

May 3 - GLASGOW, UK: Glad Cafe, 1006A Pollokshaws Rd, Glasgow G41 2HG
(with Taupe - http://www.taupetaupetaupe.com/)

May 4 - EDINBURGH, UK: The Jazz Cafe, 1 Chambers St, Edinburgh EH1 1HR

May 5 - HULL, UK: Kardomah 94, 94 Alfred Gelder St, Hull HU1 2AN
(with Lightspeed Lover - https://soundcloud.com/lightspeed-lover)

May 6 -  CLITHEROE, UK: Ribble Valley Jazz Festival, Castle Gate, Clitheroe BB7 1AZ - 3.30pm

WorldService Project, The Flute & Tankard, Cardiff, 24/04/2018.

WorldService Project

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

WorldService Project, The Flute & Tankard, Cardiff, 24/04/2018.

"The music is hard edged and uncompromising and the playing universally excellent". Ian Mann enjoys a performance by WorldService Project and takes a look at their new album "Serve".

WorldService Project, The Flute & Tankard, Cardiff, 24/04/2018.

WorldService Project, the quintet led by keyboard player and composer Dave Morecroft have long been Jazzmann favourites thanks to their irreverent blend of ‘punk jazz’ which has evoked comparisons with Frank Zappa, John Zorn and Django Bates among others. Indeed Morecroft has described his group’s music as being “like a cage fight between Weather Report, Stravinsky, Meshuggah, Frank Zappa and Monty Python”.

To date the group has released four albums commencing with 2010’s “Relentless” this followed in 2013 by the excellent “Fire In A Pet Shop”. The band subsequently moved to RareNoise Records for whom they released 2016’s hard hitting “For King And Country”, produced by guitarist Chris Sharkey (Trio VD, Acoustic Ladyland, Shiver, Roller Trio).

The group’s second album for RareNoise, the soon to be issued “Serve” (release date May 4th 2018) also features a celebrity producer, in this instance Led Bib bassist Liran Donin. The new album very much picks up where its predecessor left off and continues Morecroft’s depiction of the group as a band of ‘renegade soldiers’ over the course of eight new original compositions. This time round there’s greater use of vocals with the singing voices of both Morecroft and the group’s trombonist Raphael Clarkson being heard. Post Brexit WSP have become increasingly angry and political. This, after, all is the band that instigated the Match & Fuse programme which brings together similarly inclined young bands from all over Europe to tour each others’ countries,  a series of musical ‘double bills’ (the Match) with each concert climaxed by a two band ‘mash-up’ (the Fuse). With this brilliant and inventive movement, which has produced so much good music, now under threat thanks to the Brexit vote it’s clear that Morecroft and his colleagues have plenty to be angry about.

Likewise in Cardiff corporate greed (shame on you Brains Brewery) last year saw the closure of the much loved Dempsey’s venue in Castle Street, an excellent place to listen to music and equipped with a grand piano generously loaned to the resident jazz club by Cardiff based pianist Jim Barber. Happily Brenda O’ Brien and Alastair McMurchie, the co-ordinators of the jazz programme at Dempsey’s, have subsequently found a new home for their promotions in the upstairs room at The Flute & Tankard in Windsor Place.

Tonight was my first visit to the venue (shame on me, it’s been hosting jazz for nearly a year) and although it’s smaller and even more intimate than Dempsey’s it’s still a good place to listen to music. The grand piano won’t fit in the new room but Brenda and Alastair have recently acquired an acoustic upright which will represent a considerable improvement in comparison to electric substitutes. The ‘Flute’ looks set to be the regular home of cutting edge jazz in Cardiff for some time to come and I wish Brenda and Alastair well in their new venue.  On the evidence of Tuesday night one bonus is the improvement in the beer quality following the move. For once I wasn’t driving and therefore enjoyed a couple of pints of Leviathan Pale Ale from the recently established Brew Monster brewery from Cwmbran, a considerable step up from the rather bland and inconsistent offerings from Brains at Dempsey’s.

With Morecroft playing electric keyboards exclusively the new upright wasn’t needed tonight as he and Clarkson were joined by Arthur O’Hara on electric bass and Harry Pope at the drums plus Ben Powling on tenor saxophone. WSP have undergone a number of line up changes since their inception with O’Hara and Pope joining for “King and Country”. The pair also form the rhythm section of Skint, the powerful trio led by saxophonist, keyboard player and composer Phil Meadows. Tim Ower is the group’s regular saxophonist and appears on “Serve” but is currently engaged on a lucrative ‘money gig’ as part of the touring band of pop singer Gary Barlow. His place has been taken on this WSP tour by the young Leeds based saxophonist Ben Powling, himself the leader of his own band Mansion Of Snakes. Powling fitted in just fine with the WSP aesthetic and has already forged an excellent twin horn alliance with Clarkson.

In their present incarnation WSP sit rather uneasily within the jazz camp. Like Pete Wareham before him (Acoustic Ladyland, Melt Yourself Down) one senses that Morecroft is aiming for a different, younger audience. He says of the ‘punk-jazz’ tag;
“We’ve adopted ‘punk jazz’ because, for us, the ‘punk’ represents an adjective rather than a genre. We are the punky, underground, do or die, DIY sound of UK jazz for sure, and the music and the live show is also becoming increasingly more political/anti-establishment, so there is that too”.

Of the group’s live performances Morecroft has said;
 “WorldService Project is a very intense, high energy live show. We throw ourselves into it and hope to come out alive at the other end. And if you’re not bleeding by the end of it you haven’t tried hard enough”.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see WSP perform live on numerous occasions over the years including a lunchtime Festival show at Brecon Jazz Festival in 2011 which saw the then very youthful band totally ‘going for it’. Then there was March & Fuse triple bill at The Vortex, alongside Pixel, from Norway, and Roller Trio as part of the 2012 London Jazz Festival, a standing only affair that had the energy and feel of a rock gig. In 2014 I saw the band as part of a Match & Fuse double bill at Dempsey’s which teamed them with Germany’s excellent Zodiac Trio.

Tonight’s event also had something of the feel of a rock gig with WSP electing to play one ninety minute set rather than the usual jazz club format of two fort five minute slots with an interval. Given the energy and ferocity with which WSP perform it’s probably difficult for the band members to psyche themselves up twice to those levels over the course of an evening. Or, more prosaically, perhaps it was due to the prospect of the long drive back to Minehead, the group’s base for a series of Welsh / West Country dates, afterwards.

Over the years I’ve witnessed WSP’s gigs become increasingly theatrical. Tonight the band donned military jackets and even sported make up, a WSP performance is definitely a “show”. Musically things have changed too, there’s less switching between different musical styles a la Django Bates and a greater focus on a more direct and aggressive sound in the style of Acoustic Ladyland and, particularly with Donin as producer, Led Bib.

Tonight the bulk of the programme was sourced from the new album beginning with a ferocious salvo of “To Lose The Love” segued with “Ease”.  With Morecroft playing a Nord Stage electric keyboard and with both Clarkson and Powling equipped with bug mics and pedal-boards the sound was loud and uncompromisingly electric. At one point Morecroft came to the front of the stage to solo on a synth axe, part Herbie Hancock, part the bastard son of Edgar Winter. That said WSP aren’t really about solos in the orthodox jazz sense, it’s the sound of the entire band that really counts, a juggernaut driven by the powerful and impressive new rhythm section of Pope and O’Hara, two young musicians who clearly relish playing together but have also bought in fully to the WSP concept. So too, Powling who linked up well with Clarkson and also delivered his solos with considerable aplomb. The absence of Ower was hardly noticed. This opening segue also encompassed powerful, but often complex, punk jazz riffing, an engaging keyboards and bass dialogue between Morecroft and O’Hara and the first solo statement from Powling.

Of the reasoning behind the title “Ease” Morecroft remarked; “Nothing great is ever easy. Ease is a far greater threat to progress than hardship”.

The quintet returned to the title track “Fire In A Pet Shop” for a number that mixed jagged punk jazz riffing with outbursts of free noise that saw the band members approximating the sounds of sirens and animal noises as Morecroft invited the audience to join in. The members of a small but appreciative audience responded with gusto. Musical highlights included the horn dialogue between Powling and Clarkson and the subsequent solo from the trombonist.

The composition “False Prophets” closes the new album but was delivered mid set here, Pope’s military drum patterns combining with Morecroft’s spacey keyboards, FX treated horns and the hummed vocals of the band to haunting effect.  The music gradually grew in intensity, led by a slow burning tenor solo from Powling, finally bursting into full anthemic bloom topped by Morecroft’s soaring wordless vocal.

The sinister clown character Mr. Giggles has been around since the band’s second album and also appeared on “ For King And Country”. His previous appearances have been primarily instrumental but Morecroft has now written a song for him, performed here with the keyboard player singing the lyrics in between donning a grotesque Mr. Giggles mask. The instrumental honours went to Clarkson with a rasping trombone solo that was delivered with considerable aplomb despite the soloist being molested by Morecroft as Mr. Giggles. The lyrics of the piece warn against the inhumane treatment of outsiders, something that turned Giggles into a child eating monster . Live it was all great fun but the piece is less convincing on record and the serious point of the lyrics is rather lost amidst the silliness. The ‘Bitches Brew’ column in the May 2018 edition of Jazzwise magazine gave the whole concept a thorough savaging and as much as I love and admire WSP and their work I have to say that its author probably has a legitimate point.

Back on safer ground the band dipped back into the “King & Country” repertoire for a couple of pieces whose titles I managed to miss but which highlighted the instrumental skills of Powling and O’Hara amongst others. Naturally there was little let up in the intensity.

As the performance drew towards a close Morecroft thanked Cardiff’s ‘jazz soldiers’, Alastair McMurchie, Brenda O’Brien and Roger Warburton, as the band tackled “Plagued With Righteousness”, the opening track from “Serve” . This featured a thrilling series of exchanges between Clarkson on trombone and Powling on tenor plus a second outing from Morecroft on synth axe as Clarkson filled in on Nord, a role previously fulfilled by Powling.

The deserved encore was a brief romp through the punky, shouty “Dai Jo Bo”, which the crowd loved.

This gig was advertised as promising “precision anarchy” and that’s a neat encapsulation of what WSP do. All these guys are superb technicians but they play with fire, passion and energy too. WSP remain a vital and exciting live experience.

The Jazzwise article suggests that WSP’s punky, anti Brexit stance is something of a pose but that isn’t really something I can agree with. The group’s work ethic and the success of the Match & Fuse movement surely debunks that argument.

However as a long time fan of the band I do have some concerns about their musical direction. The band’s shows have always been exciting, entertaining affairs, even without the costumes and the make up, and I’m not totally convinced by the increasing reliance on vocals, none of the band is a singer as such. Some of the wordless stuff works well but “Serve” includes two items with lyrics, “The Tale Of Mr. Giggles” and the furious “Now This Means War” but neither is totally convincing in the home listening environment, however well meaning their intentions. 

Nevertheless there is still much to enjoy about “Serve”. The music is hard edged and uncompromising and the playing universally excellent. In some senses it’s more of a democratic band these days with Morecroft no longer as dominant as a soloist, although WSP remains primarily his concept. But I do have reservations, I don’t want to think of the theatricality detracting from the music and the very serious message behind it.

Finally it was great to go back to a jazz event in Cardiff and meet up with old friends from Dempsey’s including Brenda, Alastair and Roger plus sometime Jazzmann contributors Martin Healey and Sean Wilkie. I’ll try to return more quickly next time, guys.

WSP are still on tour. Remaining dates as below;

April 25 - MINEHEAD, UK: The Regal Theatre, 2A The Avenue, Minehead TA24 5UQ

April 26 - BRISTOL, UK: The Canteen, Hamilton House, 80 Stokes Croft, Bristol BS1 3QY

April 27 - NEWCASTLE, UK: Colbalt, 10-16 Boyd Street. Newcastle upon Tyne, England, NE2 1AP
(with Taupe - http://www.taupetaupetaupe.com/)

April 28 - HUDDERSFIELD, UK: Small Seeds, Castlegate, Huddersfield HD1

April 29 - LEEDS, UK: Wharf Chambers, 23-25 Wharf St, Leeds LS2 7EQ
(with Zeitgeist Trio https://www.facebook.com/ZeitgeistUK/)

May 2 - LONDON, UK: ALBUM LAUNCH @ The Cockpit Theatre, Gateforth St, London NW8 8EH
(with Skint - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIwWKdIGGn0)

May 3 - GLASGOW, UK: Glad Cafe, 1006A Pollokshaws Rd, Glasgow G41 2HG
(with Taupe - http://www.taupetaupetaupe.com/)

May 4 - EDINBURGH, UK: The Jazz Cafe, 1 Chambers St, Edinburgh EH1 1HR

May 5 - HULL, UK: Kardomah 94, 94 Alfred Gelder St, Hull HU1 2AN
(with Lightspeed Lover - https://soundcloud.com/lightspeed-lover)

May 6 -  CLITHEROE, UK: Ribble Valley Jazz Festival, Castle Gate, Clitheroe BB7 1AZ - 3.30pm

Martin Speake - Intention Rating: 3-5 out of 5 An international collaboration which teams the British saxophonist with the American pianist Ethan Iverson plus the rhythm team of Fred Thomas (bass) and James Maddren (drums).

Martin Speake

“Intention”

(Ubuntu Music – UBU0009)

Alto saxophonist, composer, band leader and educator Martin Speake is a leading figure on the UK jazz scene and a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages.

Since first coming to prominence during the ‘jazz boom’ of the late 1980s with the saxophone quartet Itchy Fingers Speake has very much ploughed his own jazz furrow, releasing eighteen albums as a leader across a variety of jazz styles ranging from bebop to world jazz to free improvisation.

Many of these recordings have appeared on the saxophonist’s own Pumpkin record label but arguably his best known release is “Change Of Heart” (2006) which appeared on the prestigious German label ECM and featured an international quartet featuring the esteemed Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson and with the late, great Paul Motian at the drums.

Speake’s début album for the Ubuntu record label is also an international collaboration which teams the British saxophonist with the American pianist Ethan Iverson, the latter best known as a member of the hugely successful trio The Bad Plus. The quartet on this recording is completed by the British musicians Fred Thomas (bass) and James Maddren (drums), both former students of Speake’s at the Royal Academy of Music.

Speake’s association with Iverson goes back a long way. The two first met at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada in 1990 when Iverson was only seventeen. Both musicians were studying with Steve Coleman plus a number of other illustrious tutors including Rufus Reid, Kevin Eubanks, Stanley Cowell and Kenny Wheeler. Speake was impressed by Iverson’s maturity as an improviser, even at that age, and the pair maintained contact for a number of years.

In 2002 Iverson was working in London with the Mark Morris Dance Company and met up with Speake to play a few tunes. This re-union resulted in a duo tour of the UK and an album recording, “My Ideal”, which featured the pair improvising around a series of well known jazz ballads.

Shortly after this The Bad Plus took off in a big way and Iverson became something of a superstar, in jazz terms at least. Having recently left that band after nearly twenty years the pianist now has more time to play with others, with Speake swift to invite him to play on this latest quartet recording.

“Intention” takes its title from the book “The Power of Intention; Learning to Co-Create Your World Your Way” by the American author and motivational speaker Wayne W. Dyer (1940 – 2015). The material includes nine original Speake compositions, some of which have appeared on previous albums, plus arrangements of the jazz standard “Dancing In The Dark” and the Charlie Parker tune “Charlie’s Wig”. Of the pieces he has previously recorded Speake observes; “ It is fascinating to see how my approach has developed since those albums and how the musicians on ‘Intention’ interpret these pieces.”


The album commences in an unexpectedly melancholy fashion with “Becky”, a musical depiction of the sadness of an estranged father. The crystalline sound of Iverson’s piano is juxtaposed against Maddren’s mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers and the grainy sound of Thomas’ bowed bass. Speake’s dryly eloquent alto enters later and there’s a kind of chilly beauty about what, in truth, is a rather abstract piece, informed by Colemans Steve and Ornette. There is much to admire here but it does seem to be a rather perverse choice as an album opener. One suspects that it would have been better scheduled later in the running order.

The following “Twister” is far more lively and attention grabbing.  This piece is based on a groove inspired by John Scofield and Eddie Harris, with Scofield in turn being influenced by The Beatles. Speake’s alto takes flight above the buoyant grooves generated by Iverson, Thomas and the ebullient Maddren, the saxophonist sometimes sounding like a more reserved David Sanborn. He’s followed by Iverson whose increasingly percussive solo is succinct and thoughtfully constructed.

“Magic Show” originally appeared on “Trust”, Speake’s second solo album and combines the influence of Ornette Coleman with the kind of English whimsy popularised by Loose Tubes and their successors. During its brief duration the performance includes an engaging collective theme statement plus absorbing dialogues between saxophone and piano followed by bass and drums.

From Speake’s 1992 début “In Our Time” the aptly named “Spring Dance” is a sprightly piece that again reveals the influence of Ornette Coleman. Speake’s alto is lithe, pure toned and joyous while Iverson delivers a dazzling solo, clearly relishing the opportunity to get back to basics. Thomas and Maddren both make powerful and substantial contributions and each is awarded with a brief cameo during the course of the tune.

From “Trust” “The Heron” commences with a passage of limpidly lyrical solo piano from Iverson. The pianist is later joined by the slightly plaintive tone of Speake’s alto, sometimes sounding almost flute like. Thomas and Maddren, the latter wielding brushes offer subtle and sympathetic support.

“Dancing In The Dark”, written by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz continues the lyrical mood and is a delightful ballad performance led by Speake’s tender, effortlessly fluent alto, shadowed by Iverson’s apposite chording and Maddren’s deft brush work. Iverson’s piano solo is simultaneously thoughtful, slightly quirky and thoroughly engaging.

Parker’s “Charlie’s Wig” raises the energy levels again as the quartet update Bird through the prism of Ornette Coleman for the 21st century. Speake is at his most declamatory on alto, Iverson is feverishly inventive at the piano while Thomas and Maddren negotiate the rhythmic demands of the piece with aplomb. Speake has also played in Thomas’  Bach inspired Polyphonic Jazz Band and has declared “He is my teacher now!”.

“Blackwell” is dedicated to Ornette’s one time drummer, the late great Ed Blackwell (1929-92). Speake’s tribute first appeared on “In Our Time” and was written after the saxophonist learned of Blackwell’s death. At that time he said of Blackwell “He was from New Orleans but had a strong African influence in his playing”. That African feel is present throughout this celebratory piece which is driven by Thomas’ muscular bass groove and features the nimble stick work of Maddren as he channels the spirit of Blackwell. Meanwhile Speake and Blackwell dovetail effectively but it’s the extended dialogue between Thomas and Maddren that really catches the ear.

I’m not sure of the significance behind the title of “June 2nd” but it’s an evocative piece, similar in feel to the opener “Becky”. Thomas’ unaccompanied bass ushers in the music, joined first by Maddren’s brushed drums and then by Speake’s wispy alto sax melody, this shadowed by Iverson’s piano. Speake emerges as the featured soloist, probing deeply against a backdrop of rolling piano chords and skittering drums on one of the album’s more abstract pieces.

From “In Our Time” Speake’s composition “Hidden Vision” has “a melody on a pentatonic scale which gives the piece a bright and open sound”. There’s a Loose Tubes-ish whimsicality about it that still sounds good all these years on and the infectious melody provides the jumping off point for exuberant and engaging solos from both Speake and Iverson.

From the same album comes the title track which Speake described in 1992 as “a composition in three parts”.  Now as then the piece closes the album. Something of the structure remains with a rubato opening group statement followed by Speake soloing above Maddren’s mallet driven drum groove. The closing passage is a ballad section featuring the flowing piano of Iverson.

I’ve owned a copy of “In Out Time” for over twenty years and it is indeed interesting to compare the 1992 versions of some of these tunes with their 2018 versions. The current version of “Intention” is greatly truncated and the individual sections less clearly delineated. Inevitably the newer version sounds very different as the 1992 album featured Speake alongside former Loose Tubes guitarist John Parricelli with Steve Watts and Steve Arguelles filling the bass and drum chairs respectively. Despite the different instrumentation the other tunes, “Hidden Vision”, “Blackwell” and “Spring Dance” remain eminently recognisable and it says much for the strength and adaptability of Speake’s writing that these compositions remain convincing in both formats, more than a quarter of a century apart.

The quartet of Speake, Iverson, Thomas and Maddren are currently touring the UK with the presence of the former Bad Plus pianist certain to be a huge draw. It has been suggested by some of the commentators that the “Intention” studio recording is a little too “polite”, which is probably a valid point. One suspects that in the crucible of the live environment sparks may begin to fly a little more as the musicians, and particularly Iverson, take the opportunity to stretch out further.

Catch the band at one of their remaining dates as listed below;

2018
24/4 London, Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho
25/4 London, Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho
26/4 Bristol, St George’s
27/4 Reading, Progress Theatre
29/4 Manchester, Cinnamon Club
1/5 Hastings, East Hastings Sea Angling Association
3/5 Cambridge, Hidden Rooms
4/5 Poole, The Lighthouse


More information at;
Martin Speake: https://www.martinspeake.com/

Intention

Martin Speake

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Intention

An international collaboration which teams the British saxophonist with the American pianist Ethan Iverson plus the rhythm team of Fred Thomas (bass) and James Maddren (drums).

Martin Speake

“Intention”

(Ubuntu Music – UBU0009)

Alto saxophonist, composer, band leader and educator Martin Speake is a leading figure on the UK jazz scene and a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages.

Since first coming to prominence during the ‘jazz boom’ of the late 1980s with the saxophone quartet Itchy Fingers Speake has very much ploughed his own jazz furrow, releasing eighteen albums as a leader across a variety of jazz styles ranging from bebop to world jazz to free improvisation.

Many of these recordings have appeared on the saxophonist’s own Pumpkin record label but arguably his best known release is “Change Of Heart” (2006) which appeared on the prestigious German label ECM and featured an international quartet featuring the esteemed Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson and with the late, great Paul Motian at the drums.

Speake’s début album for the Ubuntu record label is also an international collaboration which teams the British saxophonist with the American pianist Ethan Iverson, the latter best known as a member of the hugely successful trio The Bad Plus. The quartet on this recording is completed by the British musicians Fred Thomas (bass) and James Maddren (drums), both former students of Speake’s at the Royal Academy of Music.

Speake’s association with Iverson goes back a long way. The two first met at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada in 1990 when Iverson was only seventeen. Both musicians were studying with Steve Coleman plus a number of other illustrious tutors including Rufus Reid, Kevin Eubanks, Stanley Cowell and Kenny Wheeler. Speake was impressed by Iverson’s maturity as an improviser, even at that age, and the pair maintained contact for a number of years.

In 2002 Iverson was working in London with the Mark Morris Dance Company and met up with Speake to play a few tunes. This re-union resulted in a duo tour of the UK and an album recording, “My Ideal”, which featured the pair improvising around a series of well known jazz ballads.

Shortly after this The Bad Plus took off in a big way and Iverson became something of a superstar, in jazz terms at least. Having recently left that band after nearly twenty years the pianist now has more time to play with others, with Speake swift to invite him to play on this latest quartet recording.

“Intention” takes its title from the book “The Power of Intention; Learning to Co-Create Your World Your Way” by the American author and motivational speaker Wayne W. Dyer (1940 – 2015). The material includes nine original Speake compositions, some of which have appeared on previous albums, plus arrangements of the jazz standard “Dancing In The Dark” and the Charlie Parker tune “Charlie’s Wig”. Of the pieces he has previously recorded Speake observes; “ It is fascinating to see how my approach has developed since those albums and how the musicians on ‘Intention’ interpret these pieces.”


The album commences in an unexpectedly melancholy fashion with “Becky”, a musical depiction of the sadness of an estranged father. The crystalline sound of Iverson’s piano is juxtaposed against Maddren’s mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers and the grainy sound of Thomas’ bowed bass. Speake’s dryly eloquent alto enters later and there’s a kind of chilly beauty about what, in truth, is a rather abstract piece, informed by Colemans Steve and Ornette. There is much to admire here but it does seem to be a rather perverse choice as an album opener. One suspects that it would have been better scheduled later in the running order.

The following “Twister” is far more lively and attention grabbing.  This piece is based on a groove inspired by John Scofield and Eddie Harris, with Scofield in turn being influenced by The Beatles. Speake’s alto takes flight above the buoyant grooves generated by Iverson, Thomas and the ebullient Maddren, the saxophonist sometimes sounding like a more reserved David Sanborn. He’s followed by Iverson whose increasingly percussive solo is succinct and thoughtfully constructed.

“Magic Show” originally appeared on “Trust”, Speake’s second solo album and combines the influence of Ornette Coleman with the kind of English whimsy popularised by Loose Tubes and their successors. During its brief duration the performance includes an engaging collective theme statement plus absorbing dialogues between saxophone and piano followed by bass and drums.

From Speake’s 1992 début “In Our Time” the aptly named “Spring Dance” is a sprightly piece that again reveals the influence of Ornette Coleman. Speake’s alto is lithe, pure toned and joyous while Iverson delivers a dazzling solo, clearly relishing the opportunity to get back to basics. Thomas and Maddren both make powerful and substantial contributions and each is awarded with a brief cameo during the course of the tune.

From “Trust” “The Heron” commences with a passage of limpidly lyrical solo piano from Iverson. The pianist is later joined by the slightly plaintive tone of Speake’s alto, sometimes sounding almost flute like. Thomas and Maddren, the latter wielding brushes offer subtle and sympathetic support.

“Dancing In The Dark”, written by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz continues the lyrical mood and is a delightful ballad performance led by Speake’s tender, effortlessly fluent alto, shadowed by Iverson’s apposite chording and Maddren’s deft brush work. Iverson’s piano solo is simultaneously thoughtful, slightly quirky and thoroughly engaging.

Parker’s “Charlie’s Wig” raises the energy levels again as the quartet update Bird through the prism of Ornette Coleman for the 21st century. Speake is at his most declamatory on alto, Iverson is feverishly inventive at the piano while Thomas and Maddren negotiate the rhythmic demands of the piece with aplomb. Speake has also played in Thomas’  Bach inspired Polyphonic Jazz Band and has declared “He is my teacher now!”.

“Blackwell” is dedicated to Ornette’s one time drummer, the late great Ed Blackwell (1929-92). Speake’s tribute first appeared on “In Our Time” and was written after the saxophonist learned of Blackwell’s death. At that time he said of Blackwell “He was from New Orleans but had a strong African influence in his playing”. That African feel is present throughout this celebratory piece which is driven by Thomas’ muscular bass groove and features the nimble stick work of Maddren as he channels the spirit of Blackwell. Meanwhile Speake and Blackwell dovetail effectively but it’s the extended dialogue between Thomas and Maddren that really catches the ear.

I’m not sure of the significance behind the title of “June 2nd” but it’s an evocative piece, similar in feel to the opener “Becky”. Thomas’ unaccompanied bass ushers in the music, joined first by Maddren’s brushed drums and then by Speake’s wispy alto sax melody, this shadowed by Iverson’s piano. Speake emerges as the featured soloist, probing deeply against a backdrop of rolling piano chords and skittering drums on one of the album’s more abstract pieces.

From “In Our Time” Speake’s composition “Hidden Vision” has “a melody on a pentatonic scale which gives the piece a bright and open sound”. There’s a Loose Tubes-ish whimsicality about it that still sounds good all these years on and the infectious melody provides the jumping off point for exuberant and engaging solos from both Speake and Iverson.

From the same album comes the title track which Speake described in 1992 as “a composition in three parts”.  Now as then the piece closes the album. Something of the structure remains with a rubato opening group statement followed by Speake soloing above Maddren’s mallet driven drum groove. The closing passage is a ballad section featuring the flowing piano of Iverson.

I’ve owned a copy of “In Out Time” for over twenty years and it is indeed interesting to compare the 1992 versions of some of these tunes with their 2018 versions. The current version of “Intention” is greatly truncated and the individual sections less clearly delineated. Inevitably the newer version sounds very different as the 1992 album featured Speake alongside former Loose Tubes guitarist John Parricelli with Steve Watts and Steve Arguelles filling the bass and drum chairs respectively. Despite the different instrumentation the other tunes, “Hidden Vision”, “Blackwell” and “Spring Dance” remain eminently recognisable and it says much for the strength and adaptability of Speake’s writing that these compositions remain convincing in both formats, more than a quarter of a century apart.

The quartet of Speake, Iverson, Thomas and Maddren are currently touring the UK with the presence of the former Bad Plus pianist certain to be a huge draw. It has been suggested by some of the commentators that the “Intention” studio recording is a little too “polite”, which is probably a valid point. One suspects that in the crucible of the live environment sparks may begin to fly a little more as the musicians, and particularly Iverson, take the opportunity to stretch out further.

Catch the band at one of their remaining dates as listed below;

2018
24/4 London, Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho
25/4 London, Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho
26/4 Bristol, St George’s
27/4 Reading, Progress Theatre
29/4 Manchester, Cinnamon Club
1/5 Hastings, East Hastings Sea Angling Association
3/5 Cambridge, Hidden Rooms
4/5 Poole, The Lighthouse


More information at;
Martin Speake: https://www.martinspeake.com/

Aidan O’Rourke / Kit Downes Duo - Aidan O’Rourke / Kit Downes Duo, Walker Theatre, Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury, 20/04/2018. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 An intriguing evening exploring the links between various artistic disciplines, and doing so with wit, warmth, wisdom and insight.

Aidan O’Rourke / Kit Downes Duo, Walker Theatre, Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury, 20/04/2018.

The keyboard player and composer Kit Downes has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages for the best part of a decade playing piano, organ and harmonium as a leader of his own groups and as a prolific collaborator with other artists across a broad range of the musical spectrum. Fuller biographical details of Downes can be read in my recent review of his latest album “Obsidian”, a largely solo recording featuring the sound of various church organs released on the prestigious German label, ECM.
Review here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/kit-downes-obsidian/

Anything that Downes turns his hand to is guaranteed to be of interest and I was intrigued by this collaboration with the Scottish folk fiddler and composer Aidan O’Rourke, especially as the duo were set to perform in nearby Shrewsbury. I’ve been a regular visitor to the town, mainly to cover events organised by Shrewsbury Jazz Network at the Hive Arts Centre. Indeed Downes visited the Hive as recently as January 2018 as a member of the quintet led by American born drummer and composer Jeff Williams.
Review here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/jeff-williams-quintet-the-hive-music-media-centre-shrewsbury-13-01-2018/

Meanwhile O’Rourke has also featured in these pages as a member of the trio Lau, an Anglo-Scottish collaboration that also features guitarist / vocalist Kris Drever and accordion virtuoso Martin Green. Lau is a long running project with a string of album recordings and a large and dedicated fan base. The members of the trio are all brilliant instrumentalists and represent one of the most adventurous ‘folk’ acts around. Unlike some of their contemporaries improvisation plays an important role in their live performances and they have been involved in collaborations with jazz and electronic music artists, notably at the EFG London Jazz Festival.

All of the members of Lau are solo artists in their own right and each has a successful individual career.  Away from the trio O’Rourke has released a number of solo recordings, these featuring personnel drawn from both the folk and jazz scenes in Scotland. There’s considerable cross-fertilisation between the two camps on the Scottish music scene and O’Rourkes three solo albums, “Sirius”, “An Tobar” and “Hotline” include contributions from a number of musicians I know primarily as ‘jazzers’, these including saxophonist Phil Bancroft, trumpeter Colin Steele and keyboard player Paul Harrison.

O’Rourke has also been a member of the popular group Blazin’ Fiddles and is the co-leader of Kan, a quartet he co-founded with the flute and whistle player Brian Finnegan from the band Flook. O’Rourke’s music remains rooted in traditional folk but also includes elements of jazz, electronic and contemporary classical music, and he has written a number of commissions bringing these various strands together. Further details regarding O’Rourke’s wide ranging musical activities can be found at his website http://www.aidanorourke.net

O’Rourke’s collaboration with Downes began in 2016 and is a musical partnership inspired by literature. At Christmas 2015 the fiddler was given a copy of the book “365 Stories”, written by the award winning Scottish author James Robertson. The premise of the book was simple but ingenious, Robertson wrote a short story on every day of the year during 2013, with each story literally 365 words long. Initially these were published daily on line before eventually being collected together in the form of a book.

O’Rourke says;
“I began reading at the start of January and kept reading every day for the rest of the year. I loved the vivid moods the stories could stir up in an instant., like falling into a deep dream only to wake up a few minutes later. The atmosphere and pace of them seemed somehow musical – not unlike, in form and content, how I’d approach writing a tune. Two or three parts, one main theme, emotional, apposite”.

O’Rourke approached Robertson and explained that he was thinking of writing a tune every day of the year in response to his stories (except February 29th, represented by a blank page in the book). Encouraged by the author O’Rourke began writing on 1st March 2016 and by 28th February 2017 had composed 365 tunes. The pieces were written in the moment after reading the story, whether at home or on the road with his various bands, often in airports or cafés, but sometimes in the open air or up a mountain. Of the tunes O’Rourke observes “The deft brevity of James’ stories inspired me to keep thinks succinct myself”.

O’Rourke has now recorded twenty two of these tunes and released them as a double CD, “365 Volume 1” on the Reveal record label. Most of the pieces were composed in March and April 2016, the first two months of writing. The fiddler approached Downes who appears on the album playing both piano and pedal harmonium, and it’s combination of either of these instruments with O’Rourke’s fiddle that makes for an intimate set of performances, a kind of ‘chamber folk’ if you will, played with great warmth and a high degree of musical sophistication.

The duo are currently touring the UK performing this music and the Shrewsbury event took place at the Walker Theatre, the smaller of the two performance spaces at the riverside Theatre Severn complex. I’ve been in the main house before but this was my first visit to the Walker Theatre which proved to be surprisingly large and spacious, much bigger than the usual ‘studio theatre’ spaces at other arts centres and theatres.

The musical version of “The Full Monty” was playing in the main house to a large audience of anticipatory Shropshire lasses. The irony wasn’t lost on O’Rourke and Downes as they played to a much smaller, but very supportive crowd in the Walker. “Welcome to the Full Monty” said O’Rourke as the duo introduced themselves.

Robertson’s words were central to the evening and the performance was presented as something of a ‘multi-media’ event with the author’s words and other visual images, notably the snowy owl that adorns the album cover, projected behind the duo as they played.  There was also something of the feel of an old fashioned ‘review’ as both O’Rourke and Downes read extracts from the book and following the interval one brave audience member was encouraged to read a story at the beginning of the second half. Robertson himself performed with the duo at the 2017 Edinburgh Book Festival and will also appear at selected dates on the current tour.

O’Rourke took his tune titles from the first line of each of Robertson’s stories and the performance began with “I Was An Experiment”, written on 20th March. This was a straight ahead musical performance with just the snowy owl for a visual backdrop. The folk timbres of O’Rourke’s fiddle contrasted effectively with the gothic, church like sounds of Downes’ harmonium, a surprisingly small instrument powered by pumping its foot pedals. “Kit cycles 120 miles every night on that harmonium” joked O’Rourke.  I noted that Downes was reading sheet music while O’Rourke wasn’t, an observation from which I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

A second instrumental, “The Room Is In Darkness” featured O’Rourke’s fiddle melodies underscored by Downes’ counter melodies at the harmonium. The two instruments complemented each other surprisingly well and Downes spent more time at the delightfully rustic harmonium than he did at the Walker’s rather splendid Yamaha grand piano.

Downes read Robertson’s story “Hotel” - tune title “Do people still do this?” - and the words were projected on the screen behind the duo as the pair played, Downes still on harmonium. The keyboard player then moved to the piano for “Nobody could be one hundred per cent sure about the last tiger” - story title “The Last Elephant” with the text again projected behind the band. But there was nothing remotely elephantine about the graceful fiddle and piano melody lines.

Robertson’s stories are hugely evocative,  often combining the simplicity and economy of a haiku with the power of a parable. Sometimes the reader is left hanging, the brevity of the prose opening up a myriad of future possibilities that are condemned to be forever left unexplored thanks to the author’s self imposed parameters. The stories are drawn from sources ranging from ancient Scottish folklore, myths and legends through stories learnt from his father and grandfather to the vicissitudes of everyday contemporary life and politics.  Appropriately some of them are based on old Scottish folk ballads. Some possess a black humour that somehow reminded me of Roald Dahl’s “Tales Of The Unexpected”.

“Red Sauce” (tune title “The phone rang just as she’d got the children to the table”) read here by Downes, represented one of the modern stories, simultaneously humorous and ineffably sad, the bleakness represented by the long, mournful violin melody lines and the lugubrious drone of the harmonium.

A passage of solo harmonium presaged and underscored O’Rourke’s reading of the story “Imagination” (tune title “There once was a man so old”), which was segued with a second story “Skin”, tune title “When I was still some distance from the village”. On completing his recitation O’Rourke took up his fiddle and his frantic bowing allied to the Downes’ feverish stabbing of the harmonium’s keys brought a fascinating first half to a close.

During the interval O’Rourke and Downes chatted amiably with fans at the merch table, discussing the project at length with their appreciative audience. Besides his solo albums, plus CDs by Lau and Kan, O’Rourke had brought along copies of Robertson’s book, with an attractive special offer for purchasers of both the book and the recording. I’d determined to search for a copy of Robertson’s book at Waterstone’s the following day so the prospect of purchasing it on the night together with the CD was too good to miss. By the end of the evening the biggest selling item was Robertson’s book - “he’s making more out of this tour than we are” grumbled O’Rourke good naturedly.

Set two began with plucky audience volunteer Margaret, who had been coerced during the interval, reading the text to the story “Freedom”, tune title “A fox and a hound met early one morning on a hillside”, written on 1st March and the first piece O’Rourke composed for the project. The music, with Downes on harmonium suggested a kind of rural tranquillity.

Read by Downes the story “Self-control” (tune title “At the interval as the applause dies away and people begin to make for the exits”) was set in a classical music venue and the music, again played by a combination of fiddle and harmonium, seemed to fit the grandiose story setting.

The story “Birthday” (tune title “Her feet padding back”) was projected onto the screen as Downes illustrated the piece with a lyrical passage of unaccompanied piano, joined later by O’Rourke’s elegant violin.

Also projected behind the duo the story of “The Abbot” (tune title “It was the savage boys watching from the cliff”) was played with far greater intensity with Downes reverting back to harmonium. Robertson’s tale, presumably about a Viking raid on the Scottish coast, was striking in the richness and vividness of its imagery, all conveyed with a stunning, and necessary, economy.

Solo harmonium underscored O’Rourke’s reading of the story “Only Disconnect”, tune title “First to go was the television”, a perceptive satire on the subject on popular culture, social media and human ‘contact’. O’Rourke then picked up his fiddle as the as yet unrecorded tune erupted into a frantic jig.


Among Robertson’s characters is young Jack,  a kind of idiot savant who features in several of the tales and speaks in a broad Scottish dialect. The story of “Jack and The Dog”, tune title “Jack, his mother says one day, ‘that auld dug has had it” elicited a haunting solo fiddle performance from O’Rourke, a kind of air or lament.

Finally, and offering further proof that this truly was a multi-media project, came “Every morning she steps out of the back door” , story title “The Painter”, was Robertson’s dedication to the Scottish artist Joan Eardley (1921-63). O’Rourke’s tune, played on fiddle and harmonium, mirrored the dignified beauty of Robertson’s words. It represented an end to an intriguing evening exploring the links between various artistic disciplines - music, literature, painting- and doing so with wit, warmth, wisdom and insight. Even the music itself embraced a variety of genres, folk, jazz, liturgical, classical.

Ultimately it’s probably best regarded as a folk performance, and a particularly Scottish one at that, with O’Rourke’s melodies largely drawn from that world - not that Downes’ classical and jazz influences should be understated. The two musicians appeared to have an innate feel for the music, a shared love of the literature that inspired it, and both seemed to get along very well off stage and seemed to be enjoying the tour.

It was certainly very different from the average jazz or folk performance and I found the whole experience fascinating. I was reminded of the 2013 work “What Do You See When You Close Your Eyes?”, a collaboration between the contemporary jazz group Moss Project, led by guitarist and composer Moss Freed, and a number of well known writers including prize winning authors Colum McCann, Naomi Alderman and Lawrence Norfolk, rising star novelists James Miller and Joe Dunthorne and the acclaimed Lebanese author Hanan al Shaykh. In this case the authors responded to Freed’s compositions with short stories (albeit longer than 365 words in most cases), the music coming first in this instance. Presented in an elaborate but classy package that was more like a book than the average CD cover this work was a considerable artistic success and was also performed live, with the authors in attendance to read their work. Downes’ wife,, bassist Ruth Goller,  was involved in that project and her experience may well have encouraged her husband’s involvement here. Also Downes played on the first album by Time Is A Blind Guide, the group led by Norwegian drummer and composer Thomas Stronen, an ensemble formed to perform music written by Stronen in response to “Fugitive Pieces” the award winning novel by the Canadian author Anne Michaels, the first lines of the book providing the name for Stronen’s band. 
A review of the Moss Project album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/what-do-you-see-when-you-close-your-eyes/

The music of Moss Project, with its blend of jazz and rock, is very different to that of this duo but the way in which both projects, plus Stronen’s, have blended music with literature has hopefully been beneficial for both musicians and writers alike. I speak primarily as a music fan but all of these exercises have encouraged me to check out the works of the authors involved, including Robertson.

O’Rourke and Downes are still touring, sometimes with Robertson in tow, and details of forthcoming dates are listed below;


23/04/18 AIDAN O’ROURKE AND KIT DOWNES
Nettlebed Folk Club


24/04/18 AIDAN O’ROURKE AND KIT DOWNES
Heath Street Baptist Church, London


26/04/18 AIDAN O’ROURKE AND KIT DOWNES
Norwich, Anteros Arts


27/04/18 AIDAN O’ROURKE AND KIT DOWNES
Ashcroft Arts Centre, Fareham


28/04/18 AIDAN O’ROURKE AND KIT DOWNES
Otley Courthouse, Otley


29/04/18 AIDAN O’ROURKE AND KIT DOWNES
Irish Centre – Manchester


Further information at http://www.aidanorourke.net


 

Aidan O’Rourke / Kit Downes Duo, Walker Theatre, Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury, 20/04/2018.

Aidan O’Rourke / Kit Downes Duo

Monday, April 23, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Aidan O’Rourke / Kit Downes Duo, Walker Theatre, Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury, 20/04/2018.
Photography: Photograph by Pam Mann

An intriguing evening exploring the links between various artistic disciplines, and doing so with wit, warmth, wisdom and insight.

Aidan O’Rourke / Kit Downes Duo, Walker Theatre, Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury, 20/04/2018.

The keyboard player and composer Kit Downes has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages for the best part of a decade playing piano, organ and harmonium as a leader of his own groups and as a prolific collaborator with other artists across a broad range of the musical spectrum. Fuller biographical details of Downes can be read in my recent review of his latest album “Obsidian”, a largely solo recording featuring the sound of various church organs released on the prestigious German label, ECM.
Review here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/kit-downes-obsidian/

Anything that Downes turns his hand to is guaranteed to be of interest and I was intrigued by this collaboration with the Scottish folk fiddler and composer Aidan O’Rourke, especially as the duo were set to perform in nearby Shrewsbury. I’ve been a regular visitor to the town, mainly to cover events organised by Shrewsbury Jazz Network at the Hive Arts Centre. Indeed Downes visited the Hive as recently as January 2018 as a member of the quintet led by American born drummer and composer Jeff Williams.
Review here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/jeff-williams-quintet-the-hive-music-media-centre-shrewsbury-13-01-2018/

Meanwhile O’Rourke has also featured in these pages as a member of the trio Lau, an Anglo-Scottish collaboration that also features guitarist / vocalist Kris Drever and accordion virtuoso Martin Green. Lau is a long running project with a string of album recordings and a large and dedicated fan base. The members of the trio are all brilliant instrumentalists and represent one of the most adventurous ‘folk’ acts around. Unlike some of their contemporaries improvisation plays an important role in their live performances and they have been involved in collaborations with jazz and electronic music artists, notably at the EFG London Jazz Festival.

All of the members of Lau are solo artists in their own right and each has a successful individual career.  Away from the trio O’Rourke has released a number of solo recordings, these featuring personnel drawn from both the folk and jazz scenes in Scotland. There’s considerable cross-fertilisation between the two camps on the Scottish music scene and O’Rourkes three solo albums, “Sirius”, “An Tobar” and “Hotline” include contributions from a number of musicians I know primarily as ‘jazzers’, these including saxophonist Phil Bancroft, trumpeter Colin Steele and keyboard player Paul Harrison.

O’Rourke has also been a member of the popular group Blazin’ Fiddles and is the co-leader of Kan, a quartet he co-founded with the flute and whistle player Brian Finnegan from the band Flook. O’Rourke’s music remains rooted in traditional folk but also includes elements of jazz, electronic and contemporary classical music, and he has written a number of commissions bringing these various strands together. Further details regarding O’Rourke’s wide ranging musical activities can be found at his website http://www.aidanorourke.net

O’Rourke’s collaboration with Downes began in 2016 and is a musical partnership inspired by literature. At Christmas 2015 the fiddler was given a copy of the book “365 Stories”, written by the award winning Scottish author James Robertson. The premise of the book was simple but ingenious, Robertson wrote a short story on every day of the year during 2013, with each story literally 365 words long. Initially these were published daily on line before eventually being collected together in the form of a book.

O’Rourke says;
“I began reading at the start of January and kept reading every day for the rest of the year. I loved the vivid moods the stories could stir up in an instant., like falling into a deep dream only to wake up a few minutes later. The atmosphere and pace of them seemed somehow musical – not unlike, in form and content, how I’d approach writing a tune. Two or three parts, one main theme, emotional, apposite”.

O’Rourke approached Robertson and explained that he was thinking of writing a tune every day of the year in response to his stories (except February 29th, represented by a blank page in the book). Encouraged by the author O’Rourke began writing on 1st March 2016 and by 28th February 2017 had composed 365 tunes. The pieces were written in the moment after reading the story, whether at home or on the road with his various bands, often in airports or cafés, but sometimes in the open air or up a mountain. Of the tunes O’Rourke observes “The deft brevity of James’ stories inspired me to keep thinks succinct myself”.

O’Rourke has now recorded twenty two of these tunes and released them as a double CD, “365 Volume 1” on the Reveal record label. Most of the pieces were composed in March and April 2016, the first two months of writing. The fiddler approached Downes who appears on the album playing both piano and pedal harmonium, and it’s combination of either of these instruments with O’Rourke’s fiddle that makes for an intimate set of performances, a kind of ‘chamber folk’ if you will, played with great warmth and a high degree of musical sophistication.

The duo are currently touring the UK performing this music and the Shrewsbury event took place at the Walker Theatre, the smaller of the two performance spaces at the riverside Theatre Severn complex. I’ve been in the main house before but this was my first visit to the Walker Theatre which proved to be surprisingly large and spacious, much bigger than the usual ‘studio theatre’ spaces at other arts centres and theatres.

The musical version of “The Full Monty” was playing in the main house to a large audience of anticipatory Shropshire lasses. The irony wasn’t lost on O’Rourke and Downes as they played to a much smaller, but very supportive crowd in the Walker. “Welcome to the Full Monty” said O’Rourke as the duo introduced themselves.

Robertson’s words were central to the evening and the performance was presented as something of a ‘multi-media’ event with the author’s words and other visual images, notably the snowy owl that adorns the album cover, projected behind the duo as they played.  There was also something of the feel of an old fashioned ‘review’ as both O’Rourke and Downes read extracts from the book and following the interval one brave audience member was encouraged to read a story at the beginning of the second half. Robertson himself performed with the duo at the 2017 Edinburgh Book Festival and will also appear at selected dates on the current tour.

O’Rourke took his tune titles from the first line of each of Robertson’s stories and the performance began with “I Was An Experiment”, written on 20th March. This was a straight ahead musical performance with just the snowy owl for a visual backdrop. The folk timbres of O’Rourke’s fiddle contrasted effectively with the gothic, church like sounds of Downes’ harmonium, a surprisingly small instrument powered by pumping its foot pedals. “Kit cycles 120 miles every night on that harmonium” joked O’Rourke.  I noted that Downes was reading sheet music while O’Rourke wasn’t, an observation from which I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

A second instrumental, “The Room Is In Darkness” featured O’Rourke’s fiddle melodies underscored by Downes’ counter melodies at the harmonium. The two instruments complemented each other surprisingly well and Downes spent more time at the delightfully rustic harmonium than he did at the Walker’s rather splendid Yamaha grand piano.

Downes read Robertson’s story “Hotel” - tune title “Do people still do this?” - and the words were projected on the screen behind the duo as the pair played, Downes still on harmonium. The keyboard player then moved to the piano for “Nobody could be one hundred per cent sure about the last tiger” - story title “The Last Elephant” with the text again projected behind the band. But there was nothing remotely elephantine about the graceful fiddle and piano melody lines.

Robertson’s stories are hugely evocative,  often combining the simplicity and economy of a haiku with the power of a parable. Sometimes the reader is left hanging, the brevity of the prose opening up a myriad of future possibilities that are condemned to be forever left unexplored thanks to the author’s self imposed parameters. The stories are drawn from sources ranging from ancient Scottish folklore, myths and legends through stories learnt from his father and grandfather to the vicissitudes of everyday contemporary life and politics.  Appropriately some of them are based on old Scottish folk ballads. Some possess a black humour that somehow reminded me of Roald Dahl’s “Tales Of The Unexpected”.

“Red Sauce” (tune title “The phone rang just as she’d got the children to the table”) read here by Downes, represented one of the modern stories, simultaneously humorous and ineffably sad, the bleakness represented by the long, mournful violin melody lines and the lugubrious drone of the harmonium.

A passage of solo harmonium presaged and underscored O’Rourke’s reading of the story “Imagination” (tune title “There once was a man so old”), which was segued with a second story “Skin”, tune title “When I was still some distance from the village”. On completing his recitation O’Rourke took up his fiddle and his frantic bowing allied to the Downes’ feverish stabbing of the harmonium’s keys brought a fascinating first half to a close.

During the interval O’Rourke and Downes chatted amiably with fans at the merch table, discussing the project at length with their appreciative audience. Besides his solo albums, plus CDs by Lau and Kan, O’Rourke had brought along copies of Robertson’s book, with an attractive special offer for purchasers of both the book and the recording. I’d determined to search for a copy of Robertson’s book at Waterstone’s the following day so the prospect of purchasing it on the night together with the CD was too good to miss. By the end of the evening the biggest selling item was Robertson’s book - “he’s making more out of this tour than we are” grumbled O’Rourke good naturedly.

Set two began with plucky audience volunteer Margaret, who had been coerced during the interval, reading the text to the story “Freedom”, tune title “A fox and a hound met early one morning on a hillside”, written on 1st March and the first piece O’Rourke composed for the project. The music, with Downes on harmonium suggested a kind of rural tranquillity.

Read by Downes the story “Self-control” (tune title “At the interval as the applause dies away and people begin to make for the exits”) was set in a classical music venue and the music, again played by a combination of fiddle and harmonium, seemed to fit the grandiose story setting.

The story “Birthday” (tune title “Her feet padding back”) was projected onto the screen as Downes illustrated the piece with a lyrical passage of unaccompanied piano, joined later by O’Rourke’s elegant violin.

Also projected behind the duo the story of “The Abbot” (tune title “It was the savage boys watching from the cliff”) was played with far greater intensity with Downes reverting back to harmonium. Robertson’s tale, presumably about a Viking raid on the Scottish coast, was striking in the richness and vividness of its imagery, all conveyed with a stunning, and necessary, economy.

Solo harmonium underscored O’Rourke’s reading of the story “Only Disconnect”, tune title “First to go was the television”, a perceptive satire on the subject on popular culture, social media and human ‘contact’. O’Rourke then picked up his fiddle as the as yet unrecorded tune erupted into a frantic jig.


Among Robertson’s characters is young Jack,  a kind of idiot savant who features in several of the tales and speaks in a broad Scottish dialect. The story of “Jack and The Dog”, tune title “Jack, his mother says one day, ‘that auld dug has had it” elicited a haunting solo fiddle performance from O’Rourke, a kind of air or lament.

Finally, and offering further proof that this truly was a multi-media project, came “Every morning she steps out of the back door” , story title “The Painter”, was Robertson’s dedication to the Scottish artist Joan Eardley (1921-63). O’Rourke’s tune, played on fiddle and harmonium, mirrored the dignified beauty of Robertson’s words. It represented an end to an intriguing evening exploring the links between various artistic disciplines - music, literature, painting- and doing so with wit, warmth, wisdom and insight. Even the music itself embraced a variety of genres, folk, jazz, liturgical, classical.

Ultimately it’s probably best regarded as a folk performance, and a particularly Scottish one at that, with O’Rourke’s melodies largely drawn from that world - not that Downes’ classical and jazz influences should be understated. The two musicians appeared to have an innate feel for the music, a shared love of the literature that inspired it, and both seemed to get along very well off stage and seemed to be enjoying the tour.

It was certainly very different from the average jazz or folk performance and I found the whole experience fascinating. I was reminded of the 2013 work “What Do You See When You Close Your Eyes?”, a collaboration between the contemporary jazz group Moss Project, led by guitarist and composer Moss Freed, and a number of well known writers including prize winning authors Colum McCann, Naomi Alderman and Lawrence Norfolk, rising star novelists James Miller and Joe Dunthorne and the acclaimed Lebanese author Hanan al Shaykh. In this case the authors responded to Freed’s compositions with short stories (albeit longer than 365 words in most cases), the music coming first in this instance. Presented in an elaborate but classy package that was more like a book than the average CD cover this work was a considerable artistic success and was also performed live, with the authors in attendance to read their work. Downes’ wife,, bassist Ruth Goller,  was involved in that project and her experience may well have encouraged her husband’s involvement here. Also Downes played on the first album by Time Is A Blind Guide, the group led by Norwegian drummer and composer Thomas Stronen, an ensemble formed to perform music written by Stronen in response to “Fugitive Pieces” the award winning novel by the Canadian author Anne Michaels, the first lines of the book providing the name for Stronen’s band. 
A review of the Moss Project album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/what-do-you-see-when-you-close-your-eyes/

The music of Moss Project, with its blend of jazz and rock, is very different to that of this duo but the way in which both projects, plus Stronen’s, have blended music with literature has hopefully been beneficial for both musicians and writers alike. I speak primarily as a music fan but all of these exercises have encouraged me to check out the works of the authors involved, including Robertson.

O’Rourke and Downes are still touring, sometimes with Robertson in tow, and details of forthcoming dates are listed below;


23/04/18 AIDAN O’ROURKE AND KIT DOWNES
Nettlebed Folk Club


24/04/18 AIDAN O’ROURKE AND KIT DOWNES
Heath Street Baptist Church, London


26/04/18 AIDAN O’ROURKE AND KIT DOWNES
Norwich, Anteros Arts


27/04/18 AIDAN O’ROURKE AND KIT DOWNES
Ashcroft Arts Centre, Fareham


28/04/18 AIDAN O’ROURKE AND KIT DOWNES
Otley Courthouse, Otley


29/04/18 AIDAN O’ROURKE AND KIT DOWNES
Irish Centre – Manchester


Further information at http://www.aidanorourke.net


 

Jon Shenoy’s Draw By Four - Framework Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Relocates the classic sound of the jazz organ combo into a contemporary context. A good balance between the experimental and the original with the tried and tested.

Jon Shenoy’s Draw By Four

“Framework”

(Jellymould Jazz JM-JJ029)

Born in Hertfordshire of Anglo-Indian heritage Jon Shenoy is a multi-reed player, composer, arranger and band leader now based in South London following studies at the capital’s Goldsmith’s and Guildhall Schools of Music.

He first appeared on the Jazzmann web pages as a member of pianist Ivo Neame’s octet playing clarinet on the excellent 2012 album “Yatra”.
Review here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/ivo-neame-yatra/

More recently he was part of the eleven piece ensemble led by the saxophonist and composer Jeremy Lyons on the similarly impressive “The Promise of Happiness” (2017) with Shenoy credited with clarinet and tenor sax.
Review here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/the-jeremy-lyons-ensemble-the-promise-of-happiness/

Shenoy’s other credits include work with the Heritage Orchestra, trumpeter Rory Simmons’ Fringe Magnetic, pianist Arthur Lea’s Bootleg Brass and award winning vocalist Claire Martin’s Hollywood Romance ensemble. He also performs regularly with the Ronnie Scott’s Big Band and the Syd Lawrence Orchestra.

As a leader Shenoy fronts the swing revival band King Candy & The Sugar Push, which also features the talents of Puppini Sisters vocalist Kate Mullins.

But, arguably, his main creative outlet is his quartet Draw By Four which relocates the classic sound of the jazz organ combo into a contemporary context. As the band name suggests the group is a quartet and features Shenoy on a range of saxophones, clarinets and flutes alongside Sam Dunn on electric and acoustic guitars, Chris Draper at the drums and Will Bartlett on Hammond B3 organ.

The band name stems from a 2017 commission which saw Shenoy composing a three movement suite as a response to three paintings by British artists, J.M.W. Turner, Gill Holloway and Winifred Knights. The “Framework Suite” represents the core of this album but the repertoire also includes four other Shenoy originals plus three inventive arrangements of pop tunes and jazz standards.

Shenoy explains;
“After initially thinking that these compositions would sit isolated in our repertoire I then realised that the title “Framework” related to this band as a whole, conveying the notion that each member provides a part of the frame within which a musical picture is formed.  I Like to think that my
music, whilst being strongly rooted in lyricism and traditional forms, has enough flexibility that we can swap musical roles, providing backgrounds sometimes, subjects at other times. I like
de-constructing the compositions in rehearsals , making sure we know each other’s parts so that when we paint a picture together we’re all working from the same palette”.

The album commences with the sound of the rousing “Nite Trip”, inspired by Dr. John and the music of New Orleans. This is an energetic, hard driving slice of sax and Hammond boogaloo with Shenoy and his long term musical associate Will Bartlett sharing the solos together with guitarist Sam Dunn. Draper also shows up well at the drum kit, providing energy and propulsion as well as enjoying a brief solo feature.

“Hand In Hand” is more reflective and initially sees the impressive Dunn switching to acoustic guitar. This is a real slow burner of a piece and features Shenoy’s gently smouldering tenor, his solo followed by Bartlett with a carefully constructed organ solo full of subtle gospel flavourings. Finally we hear the impressive Dunn, now on electric guitar. Although it gathers intensity and momentum as it progresses this piece captures something of the lyricism of which Shenoy speaks.

So too does the quartet’s arrangement of the Beach Boy’s “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder”, written by Brian Wilson and Tony Asher. This is delivered as a gorgeous jazz ballad, commencing with Bartlett’s churchy Hammond and later featuring the warm sounds of Shenoy’s pure toned tenor sax. Draper wields the brushes with great sensitivity and there’s a thoughtful, eloquent guitar solo from Dunn. Shenoy briefly doubles on flute, adding a Wilson like depth to an impressive and imaginative arrangement.

“Tomorrow’s Worriers” (great title) sees the quartet turning up the heat once more on a more contemporary sounding piece that mixes powerful riffs and grooves with urgent solos from Shenoy and Dunn, the latter bringing something of a rock influence to bear in a spiralling, highly inventive solo. The piece also makes effective use of dynamic contrasts, with brief organ led moments of reflection punctuated by dense barrages of collective noise.

The shimmering “My Horizon” then calms things down once more and closes the first section of the album. The piece opens with Dunn’s gentle guitar arpeggios, these subsequently forming the backdrop for Shenoy’s gently yearning tenor statement in this serene and lovely duo performance.

We then move into the “Framework Suite”, the first movement of which is “Breakers”, inspired by Turner’s painting “Breakers On A Flat Beach”. Shenoy admits to being influenced by fellow saxophonist Tim Whitehead’s “Turner and the Thames” project as the spur for using paintings as a source of inspiration for composition. Musically he also acknowledges the influence of saxophonists Seamus Blake and the late Michael Brecker, both of whom led organ combos at various points in their careers. As a writer he has acknowledged the influence of composers as diverse as Eddie Harris, Dave Holland and Tim Berne.

“Breakers” begins with the sound of waves upon a beach while Dunn’s guitar mimics the sound of seagulls. In a sense the piece represents a continuation of the previous “My Horizon” as Shenoy and his colleagues present a musical depiction of the interstice between the sea, sand and sky as the composer explains;
“I became fixated with Turner’s depiction of the sea in this painting. The point at which it meets the sky or the sand is unclear, the perfect depiction of something that constantly shifts back and forth and undulates beneath the weather. The swell of the bass line and the jig like melody were all meant to take the listener to this quintessentially UK coastal scene where I could counter the serenity of the gulls and the lapping waves with the threat of the next set of breakers”.
Musically the group do this via Shenoy’s sax melodies, Draper’s evocative mallet rumbles, Dunn’s guitar atmospherics and the gentle swell of Bartlett’s Hammond. Interjections of wilful dissonance hint at that latent threat from the sea. Some of the group’s live performances have featured projections of the paintings, but this is richly evocative and atmospheric music, even without the benefit of the visual images.

One of the seeds for this project was the work “Colonsay Harbour”, painted in 2006 by Shenoy’s late great-aunt Gill Holloway. Shenoy confesses to have not really known her well, but she represents a strong artistic tradition within the family.
Shenoy says of the picture;
“This painting was exhibited at a retrospective of Gill Holloway’s work. I was particularly drawn by the way she’d captured the light from different hours of the day, forming the Scottish landscape from a range of colours. By comparison the sea appears rather glacial, drawing you to the safety and warmth of the harbour. I framed this lyrical piece with shifting harmonic blocks, each one chiming in a new change of temperature as the hours of the day wear on.”
Again the music is richly evocative as Shenoy’s sax pipes warmly and gently while Dunn’s chilly guitar atmospherics embody something of that ‘glacial’ quality. The shimmering, almost minimalist intro is superseded by a more conventional passage featuring an attractive melody featuring the burnished glow of Shenoy’s tenor, this punctuated by more impressionistic interludes.

Water imagery features in all three movements of the “Framework Suite”. The final item is “The Deluge”, painted in 1919 by Winifred Knights when the artist was only twenty years of age. The painting draws on biblical imagery and depicts a series of figures attempting to escape the forthcoming flood by fleeing to higher ground.
Shenoy says;
“I was struck by the rhythms of the figures as they try to escape the flood. I attempted to match the desperation of the subjects with a frenetic ascending melody tethered to the ground by a harmonic sequence with strong descending guide tones. I don’t know how much traditional faith Knights had, her praising character looks distracted in the painting and my composition makes a half hearted plea for salvation knowing full well that the ark has already departed”.
It’s a very different piece to the two works inspired by seascapes. Here the music is intense and powerful with Bartlett’s swirling Hammond replicating the swell of the rising waters. Shenoy’s tenor is hard hitting and incisive while Draper drums with a corresponding urgency. Dunn again draws on rock elements with a pithy but cogent solo and there’s a thrilling series of sax and keyboard exchanges.

The album concludes with two arrangements of standards commencing with “Marriage Is For Old Folks”, a song written by Leon Carr and Earl Shuman and once recorded by Nina Simone. This takes the quartet into more orthodox jazz organ territory with Bartlett’s gospel flavoured Hammond leading the way on another hard driving groover. Shenoy and Dunn both weigh in with powerful solos while Draper’s dynamic drumming keeps the pot bubbling as he locks in with Bartlett’s surging Hammond and also enjoys an explosive drum feature towards the end of the tune.

Finally we hear the quartet’s arrangement of a more familiar jazz standard, Arthur Schwartz’s “You And The Night And The Music”. There’s no let up in the energy levels here as Draw By Four charge through the piece with Shenoy’s rootsy, r’n’b flavoured tenor sharing the solos with Bartlett’s Hammond, the organist relishing the opportunity to cut loose and unleash his inner Jimmy Smith.

These last two pieces show that Draw By Four are more than capable of replicating the classic sound of the organ combo but elsewhere, and particularly on the “Framework Suite”, they also reveal their ability to update the format and create something more fresh and adventurous. It’s good to hear them putting a personal, and very British, stamp on the formula, although there’s plenty of good old fashioned meat ‘n’ potatoes on the menu too.

“Framework” represents a good balance between the experimental and the original with the tried and tested and one would imagine that the group’s live shows are highly stimulating and enjoyable affairs. They are currently still touring in support of this début with forthcoming live dates listed below;


April 2018
Fri 20th – Ronnie Scotts (Late Show)
Sat 21st – Ronnie Scotts (Late Show)
Mon 30th – Bexley Jazz


May
Wed 2nd – Purcell School (artist workshop)
Mon 7th – Pizza Express, London Soho


June
Friday 22nd – Cadogan Hall, London (12-2pm)


September
Fri 21st – Basement, York
Wed 26th – Swing Unlimited (Bournemouth)
Fri 28th September – Fleece Jazz (Suffolk)
Sat 29th – Jazz UP (Hitchin)

More at http://www.jonshenoy.com


Framework

Jon Shenoy’s Draw By Four

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Framework

Relocates the classic sound of the jazz organ combo into a contemporary context. A good balance between the experimental and the original with the tried and tested.

Jon Shenoy’s Draw By Four

“Framework”

(Jellymould Jazz JM-JJ029)

Born in Hertfordshire of Anglo-Indian heritage Jon Shenoy is a multi-reed player, composer, arranger and band leader now based in South London following studies at the capital’s Goldsmith’s and Guildhall Schools of Music.

He first appeared on the Jazzmann web pages as a member of pianist Ivo Neame’s octet playing clarinet on the excellent 2012 album “Yatra”.
Review here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/ivo-neame-yatra/

More recently he was part of the eleven piece ensemble led by the saxophonist and composer Jeremy Lyons on the similarly impressive “The Promise of Happiness” (2017) with Shenoy credited with clarinet and tenor sax.
Review here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/the-jeremy-lyons-ensemble-the-promise-of-happiness/

Shenoy’s other credits include work with the Heritage Orchestra, trumpeter Rory Simmons’ Fringe Magnetic, pianist Arthur Lea’s Bootleg Brass and award winning vocalist Claire Martin’s Hollywood Romance ensemble. He also performs regularly with the Ronnie Scott’s Big Band and the Syd Lawrence Orchestra.

As a leader Shenoy fronts the swing revival band King Candy & The Sugar Push, which also features the talents of Puppini Sisters vocalist Kate Mullins.

But, arguably, his main creative outlet is his quartet Draw By Four which relocates the classic sound of the jazz organ combo into a contemporary context. As the band name suggests the group is a quartet and features Shenoy on a range of saxophones, clarinets and flutes alongside Sam Dunn on electric and acoustic guitars, Chris Draper at the drums and Will Bartlett on Hammond B3 organ.

The band name stems from a 2017 commission which saw Shenoy composing a three movement suite as a response to three paintings by British artists, J.M.W. Turner, Gill Holloway and Winifred Knights. The “Framework Suite” represents the core of this album but the repertoire also includes four other Shenoy originals plus three inventive arrangements of pop tunes and jazz standards.

Shenoy explains;
“After initially thinking that these compositions would sit isolated in our repertoire I then realised that the title “Framework” related to this band as a whole, conveying the notion that each member provides a part of the frame within which a musical picture is formed.  I Like to think that my
music, whilst being strongly rooted in lyricism and traditional forms, has enough flexibility that we can swap musical roles, providing backgrounds sometimes, subjects at other times. I like
de-constructing the compositions in rehearsals , making sure we know each other’s parts so that when we paint a picture together we’re all working from the same palette”.

The album commences with the sound of the rousing “Nite Trip”, inspired by Dr. John and the music of New Orleans. This is an energetic, hard driving slice of sax and Hammond boogaloo with Shenoy and his long term musical associate Will Bartlett sharing the solos together with guitarist Sam Dunn. Draper also shows up well at the drum kit, providing energy and propulsion as well as enjoying a brief solo feature.

“Hand In Hand” is more reflective and initially sees the impressive Dunn switching to acoustic guitar. This is a real slow burner of a piece and features Shenoy’s gently smouldering tenor, his solo followed by Bartlett with a carefully constructed organ solo full of subtle gospel flavourings. Finally we hear the impressive Dunn, now on electric guitar. Although it gathers intensity and momentum as it progresses this piece captures something of the lyricism of which Shenoy speaks.

So too does the quartet’s arrangement of the Beach Boy’s “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder”, written by Brian Wilson and Tony Asher. This is delivered as a gorgeous jazz ballad, commencing with Bartlett’s churchy Hammond and later featuring the warm sounds of Shenoy’s pure toned tenor sax. Draper wields the brushes with great sensitivity and there’s a thoughtful, eloquent guitar solo from Dunn. Shenoy briefly doubles on flute, adding a Wilson like depth to an impressive and imaginative arrangement.

“Tomorrow’s Worriers” (great title) sees the quartet turning up the heat once more on a more contemporary sounding piece that mixes powerful riffs and grooves with urgent solos from Shenoy and Dunn, the latter bringing something of a rock influence to bear in a spiralling, highly inventive solo. The piece also makes effective use of dynamic contrasts, with brief organ led moments of reflection punctuated by dense barrages of collective noise.

The shimmering “My Horizon” then calms things down once more and closes the first section of the album. The piece opens with Dunn’s gentle guitar arpeggios, these subsequently forming the backdrop for Shenoy’s gently yearning tenor statement in this serene and lovely duo performance.

We then move into the “Framework Suite”, the first movement of which is “Breakers”, inspired by Turner’s painting “Breakers On A Flat Beach”. Shenoy admits to being influenced by fellow saxophonist Tim Whitehead’s “Turner and the Thames” project as the spur for using paintings as a source of inspiration for composition. Musically he also acknowledges the influence of saxophonists Seamus Blake and the late Michael Brecker, both of whom led organ combos at various points in their careers. As a writer he has acknowledged the influence of composers as diverse as Eddie Harris, Dave Holland and Tim Berne.

“Breakers” begins with the sound of waves upon a beach while Dunn’s guitar mimics the sound of seagulls. In a sense the piece represents a continuation of the previous “My Horizon” as Shenoy and his colleagues present a musical depiction of the interstice between the sea, sand and sky as the composer explains;
“I became fixated with Turner’s depiction of the sea in this painting. The point at which it meets the sky or the sand is unclear, the perfect depiction of something that constantly shifts back and forth and undulates beneath the weather. The swell of the bass line and the jig like melody were all meant to take the listener to this quintessentially UK coastal scene where I could counter the serenity of the gulls and the lapping waves with the threat of the next set of breakers”.
Musically the group do this via Shenoy’s sax melodies, Draper’s evocative mallet rumbles, Dunn’s guitar atmospherics and the gentle swell of Bartlett’s Hammond. Interjections of wilful dissonance hint at that latent threat from the sea. Some of the group’s live performances have featured projections of the paintings, but this is richly evocative and atmospheric music, even without the benefit of the visual images.

One of the seeds for this project was the work “Colonsay Harbour”, painted in 2006 by Shenoy’s late great-aunt Gill Holloway. Shenoy confesses to have not really known her well, but she represents a strong artistic tradition within the family.
Shenoy says of the picture;
“This painting was exhibited at a retrospective of Gill Holloway’s work. I was particularly drawn by the way she’d captured the light from different hours of the day, forming the Scottish landscape from a range of colours. By comparison the sea appears rather glacial, drawing you to the safety and warmth of the harbour. I framed this lyrical piece with shifting harmonic blocks, each one chiming in a new change of temperature as the hours of the day wear on.”
Again the music is richly evocative as Shenoy’s sax pipes warmly and gently while Dunn’s chilly guitar atmospherics embody something of that ‘glacial’ quality. The shimmering, almost minimalist intro is superseded by a more conventional passage featuring an attractive melody featuring the burnished glow of Shenoy’s tenor, this punctuated by more impressionistic interludes.

Water imagery features in all three movements of the “Framework Suite”. The final item is “The Deluge”, painted in 1919 by Winifred Knights when the artist was only twenty years of age. The painting draws on biblical imagery and depicts a series of figures attempting to escape the forthcoming flood by fleeing to higher ground.
Shenoy says;
“I was struck by the rhythms of the figures as they try to escape the flood. I attempted to match the desperation of the subjects with a frenetic ascending melody tethered to the ground by a harmonic sequence with strong descending guide tones. I don’t know how much traditional faith Knights had, her praising character looks distracted in the painting and my composition makes a half hearted plea for salvation knowing full well that the ark has already departed”.
It’s a very different piece to the two works inspired by seascapes. Here the music is intense and powerful with Bartlett’s swirling Hammond replicating the swell of the rising waters. Shenoy’s tenor is hard hitting and incisive while Draper drums with a corresponding urgency. Dunn again draws on rock elements with a pithy but cogent solo and there’s a thrilling series of sax and keyboard exchanges.

The album concludes with two arrangements of standards commencing with “Marriage Is For Old Folks”, a song written by Leon Carr and Earl Shuman and once recorded by Nina Simone. This takes the quartet into more orthodox jazz organ territory with Bartlett’s gospel flavoured Hammond leading the way on another hard driving groover. Shenoy and Dunn both weigh in with powerful solos while Draper’s dynamic drumming keeps the pot bubbling as he locks in with Bartlett’s surging Hammond and also enjoys an explosive drum feature towards the end of the tune.

Finally we hear the quartet’s arrangement of a more familiar jazz standard, Arthur Schwartz’s “You And The Night And The Music”. There’s no let up in the energy levels here as Draw By Four charge through the piece with Shenoy’s rootsy, r’n’b flavoured tenor sharing the solos with Bartlett’s Hammond, the organist relishing the opportunity to cut loose and unleash his inner Jimmy Smith.

These last two pieces show that Draw By Four are more than capable of replicating the classic sound of the organ combo but elsewhere, and particularly on the “Framework Suite”, they also reveal their ability to update the format and create something more fresh and adventurous. It’s good to hear them putting a personal, and very British, stamp on the formula, although there’s plenty of good old fashioned meat ‘n’ potatoes on the menu too.

“Framework” represents a good balance between the experimental and the original with the tried and tested and one would imagine that the group’s live shows are highly stimulating and enjoyable affairs. They are currently still touring in support of this début with forthcoming live dates listed below;


April 2018
Fri 20th – Ronnie Scotts (Late Show)
Sat 21st – Ronnie Scotts (Late Show)
Mon 30th – Bexley Jazz


May
Wed 2nd – Purcell School (artist workshop)
Mon 7th – Pizza Express, London Soho


June
Friday 22nd – Cadogan Hall, London (12-2pm)


September
Fri 21st – Basement, York
Wed 26th – Swing Unlimited (Bournemouth)
Fri 28th September – Fleece Jazz (Suffolk)
Sat 29th – Jazz UP (Hitchin)

More at http://www.jonshenoy.com


Julian Siegel Quartet - Julian Siegel Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 14/04/2018. Rating: 4-5 out of 5 State of the art contemporary jazz performed by a hugely talented and very well balanced quartet that is completely on top of its game, individually and collectively.

Julian Siegel Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 14/04/2017.

This keenly anticipated performance by saxophonist and composer Julian Siegel and his quartet brought the fourth bumper crowd of the year to Shrewsbury Jazz Network’s monthly event The Hive.

I have long been an admirer of Siegel’s playing and composing,, whether fronting his own trios and quartets or co-leading the long running jazz rock group Partisans in partnership with guitarist and composer Phil Robson. In addition Siegel is also an in demand sideman, whether as a guest soloist with small groups or as a skilled and versatile section player in larger ensembles, these ranging over the years from the BBC Big Band to Django Bates’ Delightful Precipice.

In 2017 Siegel fulfilled a long term ambition by assembling his own stellar Jazz Orchestra to play his compositions, the majority of which were new pieces commissioned by Derby Jazz. Taking the lace making industry of his native Nottingham as a source of inspiration Siegel composed a suite titled “Tales From The Jacquard” which was performed by his Jazz Orchestra as the ensemble undertook a short tour of the UK. The programme also included new big band arrangements of older pieces initially written for the quartet or for Partisans.

Despite being a highly creative musician with an international reputation Siegel has been comparatively under recorded. Partisans have released five albums over the course of their twenty year existence and Siegel’s own quartet a mere three.

The first of these, “Close Up”, dates back to 2002 and features the leader in the company of pianist Liam Noble, bassist Jeremy Brown and drummer Gary Husband. “Close Up” was good, but 2011’s follow up “Urban Theme Park” was even better, a modern British jazz classic featuring Siegel’s now regular working group comprised of Noble, bassist Oli Hayhurst and Partisans drummer Gene Calderazzo. Earlier in 2018 this line up released “Vista”, another excellent recording featuring ten new Siegel original compositions plus an inventive arrangement pianist Bud Powell’s “Un Poco Loco”.

In 2008 Siegel fronted a collaborative trio featuring the American musicians Greg Cohen (double bass) and Joey Baron (drums). This fruitful Trans-Atlantic alliance, originally the result of a Cheltenham Jazz Festival commission, is documented on the excellent two CD recording “Live At The Vortex” (Basho Records).

Tonight’s visit to Shrewsbury was part of a national tour to promote the “Vista” album undertaken with the support of the Arts Council of England. This generous financial assistance ensured that SJN were able to hire a ‘real’ piano for Noble’s use, a handsome Yamaha grand which sounded superb and added greatly to the success of the evening.  In 2013 Noble gave a superb performance at The Hive with his quintet Brother Face, a gig that was again part of an Arts Council supported tour and which again featured a ‘proper’ piano, this time a Kawai. My review of that performance can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/liam-nobles-brother-face-the-hive-arts-centre-shrewsbury-12-10-2013/

Siegel’s previous visit to The Hive had been in 2015 when he featured as a guest soloist with pianist and composer Andrew McCormack’s trio, an event that saw SJN hiring an acoustic upright piano for the leader. Shropshire jazz audiences may also remember Siegel bringing tonight’s quartet to The Edge Arts Centre in nearby Much Wenlock in May 2012.

I recently gave a favourable review to the “Vista” album but seeing the music performed “in the flesh” brought it even more alive. In this context one was able to appreciate all the more the subtleties of Siegel’s writing and the superb quality of the musicianship. This really was a tour in support of the new album with the quartet playing virtually the whole of the “Vista” repertoire, albeit in a slightly different running order, plus a couple of items from the back catalogue. What was even more impressive was the fact that the band achieved this without any recourse to sheet music, quite a feat considering the complexity of Siegel’s writing. It’s partly a matter of professional honour, exactly the same thing is encouraged with Partisans, and Siegel and his fellow musicians ,take great pride in the fact that they can remember the details of these often complex compositions in their heads. Likewise the absence of “the dots” encourages the improvisational process, Siegel and his colleagues like to take musical risks and in the true jazz spirit no two performances of these pieces are ever going to be exactly the same. Performances by the Julian Siegel Quartet are the type of roller coaster ride that possibly inspired the title of “Urban Theme Park”. This is music that is always on the move, and thrillingly so for both performers and listeners.

Siegel began on tenor sax as the quartet commenced with the first tune on the “Vista” album, the appropriately titled “The Opener”. Incorporating eloquent introductory solo statements from both Siegel and Noble this piece combined complex harmonic and rhythmic ideas with the kind of instinctive group improvising that only a quartet who have been together as long as this one can achieve, that perfect combination of tightness and looseness –an admirable tightness in the ensemble sections allied to an ‘in the moment’ looseness and fluency about the solos.

Siegel remained on tenor for “I Want To Go To Brazil”, his homage to the great Brazilian jazz composers such as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Hermeto Pascoal and Elis Regina.  This commenced with an intimate dialogue between the composer’s saxophone and Noble’s piano, the contemplative mood subsequently embellished by Hayhurst’s arco bass and Calderazzo’s cymbal shimmers and mallet rumbles. Then came a sudden change of gear which saw the piece explode into vibrant musical life with Siegel’s tenor taking flight above Hayhurst’s insistent bass pulse, Noble’s muscular left hand piano motifs and Calderazzo’s deft, polyrhythmic drumming. Noble followed with an agile, supremely fluent solo before handing back to Siegel. The piece may have been inspired by Brazil but was pleasingly free of the usual samba and bossa clichés.

“Song” is the album’s stand out ballad and was introduced by the trio of Noble, Hayhurst and Calderazzo, the latter providing an admirably delicate touch with the brushes. Following Siegel’s subsequent theme statement the first feature came from Hayhurst on double bass, his melodic solo combining a warm, round tone with an impressive lyricism. Noble and Siegel exhibited similar qualities in their solos as Calderazzo continued to provide sensitive accompaniment via a combination of brushes and mallets.

There was a diversion from the album running order as Siegel adopted a more muscular tenor sound on the powerful “Billion Years”, a piece also notable for Noble’s Monk-ish piano solo and something of a drum feature from the consistently impressive Calderazzo. The drummer is a musician who has acquired something of a cult following thanks to his dynamic performances, and I spoke to at least one audience member (another drummer, perhaps predictably) who was there specifically to see him.

A lengthy first set concluded with a segue of the title track from “Vista” and Cedar Walton’s “Fantasy in D”, a tune tackled by the quartet on their previous album “Urban Theme Park”.
“Vista” adopted an almost funk groove above which Siegel blew some gutsy tenor before handing over to Noble and Hayhurst, the bassist demonstrating great dexterity on a very different type of solo to his previous outing. Siegel’s tenor returned to provide the link into pianist Walton’s “Fantasy in D” , the quartet navigating the tricky contours of the piece with customary aplomb. A rollicking Noble piano solo was given impetus by Hayhurst’s rapid bass walk and Calderazzo’s crisp, dynamic drumming, the rhythm team also fuelling a similarly high energy solo from Siegel as the first half ended on a rousing, up-tempo note.

Set two began with another segue, the tunes this time both sourced from the “Vista” album. “The Goose” takes its title from Phil Robson’s name for Siegel’s bass clarinet but the piece itself was played on tenor with the leader taking the first solo, his probing playing representing an updating of the classic Blue Note sound of yore. Noble’s expansive feature offered further evidence of his status as one of Britain’s most distinctive and inventive piano soloists, with a style that is very much his own. Hayhurst also featured on double bass before the music segued into the more familiar realms of Bud Powell’s “Un Poco Loco”, the quartet’s version inspired by Powell’s recording of the tune with drummer Max Roach. Calderazzo’s colourful drumming was a feature of the piece, the clatter of his sticks on rims mirroring the twists and turns of his colleagues on Powell’s bop classic and helping to fuel the solos of Noble and Siegel.

“Pastorale” saw Siegel switching to soprano, his sound initially light and airy as he introduced the piece in a dialogue with Noble at the piano. This quirky piece embraced a variety of dynamic and stylistic contrasts with Noble’s crystalline piano juxtaposed against a darker, almost oboe like, soprano tone as the piece progressed. Hayhurst deployed both pizzicato and arco techniques but it was the conversation between Noble and Siegel that remained at the heart of the music.

Introduced here by Hayhurst’s strummed bass “The Claw” closes the “Vista” album and is the record’s lengthiest track. There’s something of the ‘spiritual jazz’ of John Coltrane about this piece as evidenced by Siegel digging in on tenor above a backdrop of Noble’s rolling piano chords and Calderazzo’s dynamic, Elvin Jones styled drumming. Following Noble’s piano solo the leader switched to soprano to deliver another, equally powerful solo, revelling in a Coltrane like intensity and density before finding redemption with a closing burst of melody.

An accomplished multi-reed player Siegel has featured the bass clarinet more frequently in recent years, both with Partisans and his solo projects. “Idea”, his feature on the instrument here, was little short of stunning – once he’d re-arranged the venue furniture to accommodate the ‘goose’. An extended dialogue between the leader’s bass clarinet and Calderazzo’s drums introduced the piece, Hayhurst and Noble eventually joining the party as Siegel picked out the melodic theme before commencing on a relatively more conventional jazz solo that incorporated some truly stunning playing, this was real virtuoso stuff. This celebration of the lower frequencies also featured a final solo from Hayhurst on double bass.

This was scheduled to be the final piece but such was the audience reaction that Siegel and his colleagues remained on stage to deliver “Room 518”, a tune dating back to the “Close Up” album from 2002. Effectively this was the encore and saw Siegel moving back to tenor for a marathon solo that made allusions to bebop but without ever becoming formulaic. Propelled by Hayhurst’s muscular bass lines this powerful piece also included final features from both Noble and the ever popular Calderazzo. The audience loved it, as yet another very special gig at The Hive came to a close.

This was state of the art contemporary jazz performed by a hugely talented and very well balanced quartet. Siegel’s music is constantly evolving but remains accessible despite its adventurousness. The audience thrilled to every twist and turn and complaints from the “I wish they’d played more standards” lobby were very few and far between – and in any case we did get Bud Powell and Cedar Walton, albeit in highly imaginative arrangements.

This was consistently exciting music, a kind of post bop if you will, that drew on elements of the past - bebop, hard bop, Coltrane – but filtered them through a very contemporary and personal prism. The self effacing Siegel really should be an even bigger star than he already is.

But it’s not just about the leader. The other members of the band are all exceptional talents and each shone individually as well as collectively. The hiring of the grand piano helped to put the icing on the cake of a superb all round show, a performance honed to perfection by the long association of the players and the current bout of touring. This is a quartet that is completely on top of its game, individually and collectively.

Julian Siegel Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 14/04/2018.

Julian Siegel Quartet

Monday, April 16, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4-5 out of 5

Julian Siegel Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 14/04/2018.
Photography: Photograph by Hamish Kirkpatrick of Shrewsbury Jazz Network.

State of the art contemporary jazz performed by a hugely talented and very well balanced quartet that is completely on top of its game, individually and collectively.

Julian Siegel Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 14/04/2017.

This keenly anticipated performance by saxophonist and composer Julian Siegel and his quartet brought the fourth bumper crowd of the year to Shrewsbury Jazz Network’s monthly event The Hive.

I have long been an admirer of Siegel’s playing and composing,, whether fronting his own trios and quartets or co-leading the long running jazz rock group Partisans in partnership with guitarist and composer Phil Robson. In addition Siegel is also an in demand sideman, whether as a guest soloist with small groups or as a skilled and versatile section player in larger ensembles, these ranging over the years from the BBC Big Band to Django Bates’ Delightful Precipice.

In 2017 Siegel fulfilled a long term ambition by assembling his own stellar Jazz Orchestra to play his compositions, the majority of which were new pieces commissioned by Derby Jazz. Taking the lace making industry of his native Nottingham as a source of inspiration Siegel composed a suite titled “Tales From The Jacquard” which was performed by his Jazz Orchestra as the ensemble undertook a short tour of the UK. The programme also included new big band arrangements of older pieces initially written for the quartet or for Partisans.

Despite being a highly creative musician with an international reputation Siegel has been comparatively under recorded. Partisans have released five albums over the course of their twenty year existence and Siegel’s own quartet a mere three.

The first of these, “Close Up”, dates back to 2002 and features the leader in the company of pianist Liam Noble, bassist Jeremy Brown and drummer Gary Husband. “Close Up” was good, but 2011’s follow up “Urban Theme Park” was even better, a modern British jazz classic featuring Siegel’s now regular working group comprised of Noble, bassist Oli Hayhurst and Partisans drummer Gene Calderazzo. Earlier in 2018 this line up released “Vista”, another excellent recording featuring ten new Siegel original compositions plus an inventive arrangement pianist Bud Powell’s “Un Poco Loco”.

In 2008 Siegel fronted a collaborative trio featuring the American musicians Greg Cohen (double bass) and Joey Baron (drums). This fruitful Trans-Atlantic alliance, originally the result of a Cheltenham Jazz Festival commission, is documented on the excellent two CD recording “Live At The Vortex” (Basho Records).

Tonight’s visit to Shrewsbury was part of a national tour to promote the “Vista” album undertaken with the support of the Arts Council of England. This generous financial assistance ensured that SJN were able to hire a ‘real’ piano for Noble’s use, a handsome Yamaha grand which sounded superb and added greatly to the success of the evening.  In 2013 Noble gave a superb performance at The Hive with his quintet Brother Face, a gig that was again part of an Arts Council supported tour and which again featured a ‘proper’ piano, this time a Kawai. My review of that performance can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/liam-nobles-brother-face-the-hive-arts-centre-shrewsbury-12-10-2013/

Siegel’s previous visit to The Hive had been in 2015 when he featured as a guest soloist with pianist and composer Andrew McCormack’s trio, an event that saw SJN hiring an acoustic upright piano for the leader. Shropshire jazz audiences may also remember Siegel bringing tonight’s quartet to The Edge Arts Centre in nearby Much Wenlock in May 2012.

I recently gave a favourable review to the “Vista” album but seeing the music performed “in the flesh” brought it even more alive. In this context one was able to appreciate all the more the subtleties of Siegel’s writing and the superb quality of the musicianship. This really was a tour in support of the new album with the quartet playing virtually the whole of the “Vista” repertoire, albeit in a slightly different running order, plus a couple of items from the back catalogue. What was even more impressive was the fact that the band achieved this without any recourse to sheet music, quite a feat considering the complexity of Siegel’s writing. It’s partly a matter of professional honour, exactly the same thing is encouraged with Partisans, and Siegel and his fellow musicians ,take great pride in the fact that they can remember the details of these often complex compositions in their heads. Likewise the absence of “the dots” encourages the improvisational process, Siegel and his colleagues like to take musical risks and in the true jazz spirit no two performances of these pieces are ever going to be exactly the same. Performances by the Julian Siegel Quartet are the type of roller coaster ride that possibly inspired the title of “Urban Theme Park”. This is music that is always on the move, and thrillingly so for both performers and listeners.

Siegel began on tenor sax as the quartet commenced with the first tune on the “Vista” album, the appropriately titled “The Opener”. Incorporating eloquent introductory solo statements from both Siegel and Noble this piece combined complex harmonic and rhythmic ideas with the kind of instinctive group improvising that only a quartet who have been together as long as this one can achieve, that perfect combination of tightness and looseness –an admirable tightness in the ensemble sections allied to an ‘in the moment’ looseness and fluency about the solos.

Siegel remained on tenor for “I Want To Go To Brazil”, his homage to the great Brazilian jazz composers such as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Hermeto Pascoal and Elis Regina.  This commenced with an intimate dialogue between the composer’s saxophone and Noble’s piano, the contemplative mood subsequently embellished by Hayhurst’s arco bass and Calderazzo’s cymbal shimmers and mallet rumbles. Then came a sudden change of gear which saw the piece explode into vibrant musical life with Siegel’s tenor taking flight above Hayhurst’s insistent bass pulse, Noble’s muscular left hand piano motifs and Calderazzo’s deft, polyrhythmic drumming. Noble followed with an agile, supremely fluent solo before handing back to Siegel. The piece may have been inspired by Brazil but was pleasingly free of the usual samba and bossa clichés.

“Song” is the album’s stand out ballad and was introduced by the trio of Noble, Hayhurst and Calderazzo, the latter providing an admirably delicate touch with the brushes. Following Siegel’s subsequent theme statement the first feature came from Hayhurst on double bass, his melodic solo combining a warm, round tone with an impressive lyricism. Noble and Siegel exhibited similar qualities in their solos as Calderazzo continued to provide sensitive accompaniment via a combination of brushes and mallets.

There was a diversion from the album running order as Siegel adopted a more muscular tenor sound on the powerful “Billion Years”, a piece also notable for Noble’s Monk-ish piano solo and something of a drum feature from the consistently impressive Calderazzo. The drummer is a musician who has acquired something of a cult following thanks to his dynamic performances, and I spoke to at least one audience member (another drummer, perhaps predictably) who was there specifically to see him.

A lengthy first set concluded with a segue of the title track from “Vista” and Cedar Walton’s “Fantasy in D”, a tune tackled by the quartet on their previous album “Urban Theme Park”.
“Vista” adopted an almost funk groove above which Siegel blew some gutsy tenor before handing over to Noble and Hayhurst, the bassist demonstrating great dexterity on a very different type of solo to his previous outing. Siegel’s tenor returned to provide the link into pianist Walton’s “Fantasy in D” , the quartet navigating the tricky contours of the piece with customary aplomb. A rollicking Noble piano solo was given impetus by Hayhurst’s rapid bass walk and Calderazzo’s crisp, dynamic drumming, the rhythm team also fuelling a similarly high energy solo from Siegel as the first half ended on a rousing, up-tempo note.

Set two began with another segue, the tunes this time both sourced from the “Vista” album. “The Goose” takes its title from Phil Robson’s name for Siegel’s bass clarinet but the piece itself was played on tenor with the leader taking the first solo, his probing playing representing an updating of the classic Blue Note sound of yore. Noble’s expansive feature offered further evidence of his status as one of Britain’s most distinctive and inventive piano soloists, with a style that is very much his own. Hayhurst also featured on double bass before the music segued into the more familiar realms of Bud Powell’s “Un Poco Loco”, the quartet’s version inspired by Powell’s recording of the tune with drummer Max Roach. Calderazzo’s colourful drumming was a feature of the piece, the clatter of his sticks on rims mirroring the twists and turns of his colleagues on Powell’s bop classic and helping to fuel the solos of Noble and Siegel.

“Pastorale” saw Siegel switching to soprano, his sound initially light and airy as he introduced the piece in a dialogue with Noble at the piano. This quirky piece embraced a variety of dynamic and stylistic contrasts with Noble’s crystalline piano juxtaposed against a darker, almost oboe like, soprano tone as the piece progressed. Hayhurst deployed both pizzicato and arco techniques but it was the conversation between Noble and Siegel that remained at the heart of the music.

Introduced here by Hayhurst’s strummed bass “The Claw” closes the “Vista” album and is the record’s lengthiest track. There’s something of the ‘spiritual jazz’ of John Coltrane about this piece as evidenced by Siegel digging in on tenor above a backdrop of Noble’s rolling piano chords and Calderazzo’s dynamic, Elvin Jones styled drumming. Following Noble’s piano solo the leader switched to soprano to deliver another, equally powerful solo, revelling in a Coltrane like intensity and density before finding redemption with a closing burst of melody.

An accomplished multi-reed player Siegel has featured the bass clarinet more frequently in recent years, both with Partisans and his solo projects. “Idea”, his feature on the instrument here, was little short of stunning – once he’d re-arranged the venue furniture to accommodate the ‘goose’. An extended dialogue between the leader’s bass clarinet and Calderazzo’s drums introduced the piece, Hayhurst and Noble eventually joining the party as Siegel picked out the melodic theme before commencing on a relatively more conventional jazz solo that incorporated some truly stunning playing, this was real virtuoso stuff. This celebration of the lower frequencies also featured a final solo from Hayhurst on double bass.

This was scheduled to be the final piece but such was the audience reaction that Siegel and his colleagues remained on stage to deliver “Room 518”, a tune dating back to the “Close Up” album from 2002. Effectively this was the encore and saw Siegel moving back to tenor for a marathon solo that made allusions to bebop but without ever becoming formulaic. Propelled by Hayhurst’s muscular bass lines this powerful piece also included final features from both Noble and the ever popular Calderazzo. The audience loved it, as yet another very special gig at The Hive came to a close.

This was state of the art contemporary jazz performed by a hugely talented and very well balanced quartet. Siegel’s music is constantly evolving but remains accessible despite its adventurousness. The audience thrilled to every twist and turn and complaints from the “I wish they’d played more standards” lobby were very few and far between – and in any case we did get Bud Powell and Cedar Walton, albeit in highly imaginative arrangements.

This was consistently exciting music, a kind of post bop if you will, that drew on elements of the past - bebop, hard bop, Coltrane – but filtered them through a very contemporary and personal prism. The self effacing Siegel really should be an even bigger star than he already is.

But it’s not just about the leader. The other members of the band are all exceptional talents and each shone individually as well as collectively. The hiring of the grand piano helped to put the icing on the cake of a superb all round show, a performance honed to perfection by the long association of the players and the current bout of touring. This is a quartet that is completely on top of its game, individually and collectively.

Simon Lasky Group - About the Moment Rating: 4 out of 5 The leader’s compositions are unfailingly melodic, filled with interesting compositional ideas, and the playing by an excellent core quartet plus three very well chosen guests is superb throughout.

Simon Lasky Group

“About the Moment”

(33 Records 33JAZZ272)

Simon Lasky is a British pianist, composer, arranger and educator capable of performing music across a broad range of the jazz spectrum in formats ranging from solo piano to sextet.

Biographical details are scarce and I first came across Lasky’s name when guest contributor Marc Edwards submitted a very favourable review of Lasky’s performance with a quartet at St. Andrews Church in Caversham, Reading in October 2017. This was a standards based show which teamed the pianist with vocalist Jessica Radcliffe, bassist Robert Rickenberg and multi-reed player Simon Bates.

Marc’s review of that event can be read in full here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/simon-lasky-quartet-st.-andrews-church-caversham-reading-berkshire-14-10-20/

The Caversham performance also included a couple of Lasky originals, “Coming Home” and “New Day”, the first of these drawn from Lasky’s 2015 début album “Story Inside” (33 Jazz, 2015), the latter from this current recording.

Lasky’s début featured a sextet including Shanti Paul Jayasinha (trumpet, flugel), Luca Boscagin (guitar), Peter Billington (electric bass), Jeff Lardner (drums) and Satin Singh (percussion). Critically well received the album presented a contemporary blend of melodic electric jazz with world music elements, inspired by artists such as guitarist Pat Metheny, pianist Chick Corea and saxophonist Andy Sheppard.

For his second album of original music for the 33 label Lasky has restructured his Group to create a core quartet featuring Boscagin, Billington and new drummer Sophie Alloway, the latter previously heard with Wild Card, the Shez Raja Collective and guitarist Giulio Romano Malaisi .

“About the Moment” also includes substantial contributions from guest musicians with Kuljit Bhamra playing tabla on three tracks and Fergus Gerrand percussion on a further four. Harmonica player Philip Achille appears alongside both percussionists and adds a distinctive additional instrumental voice on four of the album’s ten tracks.

For the purposes of this recording Lasky’s compositions are based around the concept of ‘tension and release’ with the classically trained Lasky drawing upon the influences of the composers that he studied in his youth, notably Gustav Mahler, Anton Bruckner, Olivier Messiaen and Witold Lutoslawski. It’s the big symphonic works of these composers that have inspired Lasky and while he freely admits that a six piece jazz group can’t exactly recreate the power of a ninety piece symphony orchestra he’s still searching for a similar effect.

“I have always liked those ‘big moments’ in music” Lasky explains, “a build up of tension, then a climax and a release; a moment in time which takes your breath away; which induces a physiological response in the listener. Each of the individual compositions on this album do contain carefully structured moments of tension and release, which, I hope creates a dramatic narrative to the music and an engaging listening experience”.

He explains the choice of album title thus;
“In a world of increasing technological distractions and demands on our time, we are constantly being told that we must live more ‘in the moment’. Life really is about those moments, and if they can take our breath away so much the better”.

The recording of “About The Moment” was assisted by a successful crowd-funding campaign with Lasky dedicating some of the pieces to people who specifically supported individual compositions.

Despite the classical inspirations the group sound is broadly fusion-esque with Metheny an obvious reference point. The rousing opener “Dancing In The Rain” features a winning combination of acoustic piano and electric guitar. Luca Boscagin is a relatively new name to me but his playing on this piece is excellent, combining a strong melodic sense with a genuine rock power on his solo. He uses his effects wisely and links up well with leader Lasky. Elsewhere Billington supplies a vibrant bass groove and features with a funky, bubbling solo. Alloway’s crisp, precise drumming helps to drive the tune along and hold to the piece together.

“She Said” adds guests Bhamra and Achille to the core quartet, adding a little exotica to the group sound. Achille’s harmonica combines well with Billington’s liquid fretless bass on a tune that is perhaps more Metheny-esque than the opener. The harmonica player takes the first solo, bringing back memories of the late Toots Thielemann’s collaboration with Metheny on “Secret Story” and Gregoire Maret’s contribution to “The Way Up”. Boscagin follows on acoustic guitar and is equally convincing on this version of the instrument. Billington and Bhamra are featured in an engaging dialogue while Lasky seems content to keep a low profile on acoustic piano.

Bhamra and Achille remain on board for “Mountain Spirit”,which presents a more up-tempo version of this sextet with Boscagin soloing fluently on electric guitar followed by Achille on harmonica. Lasky follows on acoustic piano, taking the opportunity to cut loose for the first time. His solo is followed by a sudden gear shift into a funky, galloping closing section that epitomises those stylisic shifts and dynamic contrasts of which Lasky speaks.

Achille sits out the atmospheric “Nightrider”, played by the core quartet plus Bhamra. Boscagin’s spacey guitar effects give the piece a vaguely unsettling ambience, something encouraged by Alloway’s cymbal shimmers and the patter of the tabla. As the piece opens out Lasky contributes a thoughtful acoustic piano solo but it’s Boscagin’s heavily treated guitar that remains the most distinctive component.

The brief “Intro to Close To Ecstasy” introduces a new group with the quartet joined by Achille and Gerrand for the first time. Billington’s fretless bass takes the melody on the intro, sounding a little like Eberhard Weber, with Achilles’ harmonica subsequently taking over before the piece segues into “Close To Ecstasy” itself, Lasky’s buoyant piano motif shaping the course of the tune.
Bright, colourful and highly rhythmic the piece includes a flowing acoustic piano solo from Lasky. Achille’s harmonica soars like a lark during his solo and he’s followed by a lithe, fleet fingered fretboard excursion from Boscagin. It’s an appropriate title, this tune is like a healthy swig of bottled sunshine.

Dedicated to Lasky’s young niece “Mila’s Song” is a delightful solo piano performance, albeit with Boscagin and engineer Nick Pugh both credited as co-arrangers.

The languid, Latin-esque “Mendocina” is named after a town in Northern California and is dedicated to Lasky’s American supporters. It features the core quartet plus Gerrand and incorporates a motif that sometimes reminded me of Metheny’s “Are You Going With Me?” from the “Offramp” album. The piece includes expansive, leisurely solos from Lasky on acoustic piano and Boscagin on acoustic guitar.
“Chasing Shadows”, featuring the core quartet, increases the energy levels once more, its buoyant grooves supporting darting, airy melodies and fluent solo statements from Lasky on both acoustic piano and electric keyboards. There’s also an engaging electric bass solo from the multi-talented Peter Billington, himself a highly accomplished pianist who once played this instrument as member of drummer Clark Tracey’s quintet back in 2009 (he’d previously played bass for Tracey too). Alloway follows with a colourful drum feature as she exchanges ideas with other members of the group. It’s a fitting reward for her assured work behind the kit throughout the album.

The album ends on a more reflective note with “New Day”, a tune written to celebrate the short life of Vanessa Moss, the young daughter of friends of Lasky’s who died during the time of the recording of the album. It features the duo of Lasky and Boscagin, the latter’s thoughtful guitar melodies underpinned by the composer’s insistent piano chording. Lasky periodically takes up the melodic reins, giving the piece an almost hymnal feel. It represents a beautiful and very personal way to round off a very good album.

There is much to admire about this second album from the Simon Lasky Group. The leader’s compositions are unfailingly melodic, filled with interesting compositional ideas and the playing by an excellent core quartet plus three very well chosen guests is superb throughout. The album meets the high production standards we have come to expect from 33 with the production team of Lasky and Pugh delivering a crystal clear mix in which all the musicians can be heard to good effect.

As a soloist Lasky himself is relatively undemonstrative but his playing and writing is at the heart of the music and serves it faithfully. He’s prepared to give his fellow musicians plenty of space and I was particularly impressed by the contribution of Boscagin, a versatile and imaginative guitarist who will definitely be a name to look out for in the future. Italian born but London based he has previously worked with the band Radio Londra, led by drummer Enzo Zirilli.

It could be argued that Lasky’s music is a little derivative and, at times, it reminded me of both Metheny and The Impossible Gentlemen but this is no bad thing, and fans of these acts are likely to find plenty to enjoy in Lasky’s music. One would also imagine that hearing this music played live would also be a highly satisfying experience, as Marc Edwards has previously suggested. This is an album capable of giving pleasure to a good many listeners and, as such, is thoroughly recommended.


COMMENTS;

From Simon Lasky via email;


Just wanted to drop you a quick line to say thanks so much for taking the time to review my album. It’s a wonderful review (you really get what we’re trying to do) and I know you get sent tons of stuff, so thank you for choosing to review mine. I’m very grateful.
Next gig is Weds 30th May at The Bull’s Head in Barnes:
https://tickets.thebullsheadbarnes.com/events/2018-05-30-the-simon-lasky-group-bulls-head-barnes

About the Moment

Simon Lasky Group

Friday, April 13, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

About the Moment

The leader’s compositions are unfailingly melodic, filled with interesting compositional ideas, and the playing by an excellent core quartet plus three very well chosen guests is superb throughout.

Simon Lasky Group

“About the Moment”

(33 Records 33JAZZ272)

Simon Lasky is a British pianist, composer, arranger and educator capable of performing music across a broad range of the jazz spectrum in formats ranging from solo piano to sextet.

Biographical details are scarce and I first came across Lasky’s name when guest contributor Marc Edwards submitted a very favourable review of Lasky’s performance with a quartet at St. Andrews Church in Caversham, Reading in October 2017. This was a standards based show which teamed the pianist with vocalist Jessica Radcliffe, bassist Robert Rickenberg and multi-reed player Simon Bates.

Marc’s review of that event can be read in full here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/simon-lasky-quartet-st.-andrews-church-caversham-reading-berkshire-14-10-20/

The Caversham performance also included a couple of Lasky originals, “Coming Home” and “New Day”, the first of these drawn from Lasky’s 2015 début album “Story Inside” (33 Jazz, 2015), the latter from this current recording.

Lasky’s début featured a sextet including Shanti Paul Jayasinha (trumpet, flugel), Luca Boscagin (guitar), Peter Billington (electric bass), Jeff Lardner (drums) and Satin Singh (percussion). Critically well received the album presented a contemporary blend of melodic electric jazz with world music elements, inspired by artists such as guitarist Pat Metheny, pianist Chick Corea and saxophonist Andy Sheppard.

For his second album of original music for the 33 label Lasky has restructured his Group to create a core quartet featuring Boscagin, Billington and new drummer Sophie Alloway, the latter previously heard with Wild Card, the Shez Raja Collective and guitarist Giulio Romano Malaisi .

“About the Moment” also includes substantial contributions from guest musicians with Kuljit Bhamra playing tabla on three tracks and Fergus Gerrand percussion on a further four. Harmonica player Philip Achille appears alongside both percussionists and adds a distinctive additional instrumental voice on four of the album’s ten tracks.

For the purposes of this recording Lasky’s compositions are based around the concept of ‘tension and release’ with the classically trained Lasky drawing upon the influences of the composers that he studied in his youth, notably Gustav Mahler, Anton Bruckner, Olivier Messiaen and Witold Lutoslawski. It’s the big symphonic works of these composers that have inspired Lasky and while he freely admits that a six piece jazz group can’t exactly recreate the power of a ninety piece symphony orchestra he’s still searching for a similar effect.

“I have always liked those ‘big moments’ in music” Lasky explains, “a build up of tension, then a climax and a release; a moment in time which takes your breath away; which induces a physiological response in the listener. Each of the individual compositions on this album do contain carefully structured moments of tension and release, which, I hope creates a dramatic narrative to the music and an engaging listening experience”.

He explains the choice of album title thus;
“In a world of increasing technological distractions and demands on our time, we are constantly being told that we must live more ‘in the moment’. Life really is about those moments, and if they can take our breath away so much the better”.

The recording of “About The Moment” was assisted by a successful crowd-funding campaign with Lasky dedicating some of the pieces to people who specifically supported individual compositions.

Despite the classical inspirations the group sound is broadly fusion-esque with Metheny an obvious reference point. The rousing opener “Dancing In The Rain” features a winning combination of acoustic piano and electric guitar. Luca Boscagin is a relatively new name to me but his playing on this piece is excellent, combining a strong melodic sense with a genuine rock power on his solo. He uses his effects wisely and links up well with leader Lasky. Elsewhere Billington supplies a vibrant bass groove and features with a funky, bubbling solo. Alloway’s crisp, precise drumming helps to drive the tune along and hold to the piece together.

“She Said” adds guests Bhamra and Achille to the core quartet, adding a little exotica to the group sound. Achille’s harmonica combines well with Billington’s liquid fretless bass on a tune that is perhaps more Metheny-esque than the opener. The harmonica player takes the first solo, bringing back memories of the late Toots Thielemann’s collaboration with Metheny on “Secret Story” and Gregoire Maret’s contribution to “The Way Up”. Boscagin follows on acoustic guitar and is equally convincing on this version of the instrument. Billington and Bhamra are featured in an engaging dialogue while Lasky seems content to keep a low profile on acoustic piano.

Bhamra and Achille remain on board for “Mountain Spirit”,which presents a more up-tempo version of this sextet with Boscagin soloing fluently on electric guitar followed by Achille on harmonica. Lasky follows on acoustic piano, taking the opportunity to cut loose for the first time. His solo is followed by a sudden gear shift into a funky, galloping closing section that epitomises those stylisic shifts and dynamic contrasts of which Lasky speaks.

Achille sits out the atmospheric “Nightrider”, played by the core quartet plus Bhamra. Boscagin’s spacey guitar effects give the piece a vaguely unsettling ambience, something encouraged by Alloway’s cymbal shimmers and the patter of the tabla. As the piece opens out Lasky contributes a thoughtful acoustic piano solo but it’s Boscagin’s heavily treated guitar that remains the most distinctive component.

The brief “Intro to Close To Ecstasy” introduces a new group with the quartet joined by Achille and Gerrand for the first time. Billington’s fretless bass takes the melody on the intro, sounding a little like Eberhard Weber, with Achilles’ harmonica subsequently taking over before the piece segues into “Close To Ecstasy” itself, Lasky’s buoyant piano motif shaping the course of the tune.
Bright, colourful and highly rhythmic the piece includes a flowing acoustic piano solo from Lasky. Achille’s harmonica soars like a lark during his solo and he’s followed by a lithe, fleet fingered fretboard excursion from Boscagin. It’s an appropriate title, this tune is like a healthy swig of bottled sunshine.

Dedicated to Lasky’s young niece “Mila’s Song” is a delightful solo piano performance, albeit with Boscagin and engineer Nick Pugh both credited as co-arrangers.

The languid, Latin-esque “Mendocina” is named after a town in Northern California and is dedicated to Lasky’s American supporters. It features the core quartet plus Gerrand and incorporates a motif that sometimes reminded me of Metheny’s “Are You Going With Me?” from the “Offramp” album. The piece includes expansive, leisurely solos from Lasky on acoustic piano and Boscagin on acoustic guitar.
“Chasing Shadows”, featuring the core quartet, increases the energy levels once more, its buoyant grooves supporting darting, airy melodies and fluent solo statements from Lasky on both acoustic piano and electric keyboards. There’s also an engaging electric bass solo from the multi-talented Peter Billington, himself a highly accomplished pianist who once played this instrument as member of drummer Clark Tracey’s quintet back in 2009 (he’d previously played bass for Tracey too). Alloway follows with a colourful drum feature as she exchanges ideas with other members of the group. It’s a fitting reward for her assured work behind the kit throughout the album.

The album ends on a more reflective note with “New Day”, a tune written to celebrate the short life of Vanessa Moss, the young daughter of friends of Lasky’s who died during the time of the recording of the album. It features the duo of Lasky and Boscagin, the latter’s thoughtful guitar melodies underpinned by the composer’s insistent piano chording. Lasky periodically takes up the melodic reins, giving the piece an almost hymnal feel. It represents a beautiful and very personal way to round off a very good album.

There is much to admire about this second album from the Simon Lasky Group. The leader’s compositions are unfailingly melodic, filled with interesting compositional ideas and the playing by an excellent core quartet plus three very well chosen guests is superb throughout. The album meets the high production standards we have come to expect from 33 with the production team of Lasky and Pugh delivering a crystal clear mix in which all the musicians can be heard to good effect.

As a soloist Lasky himself is relatively undemonstrative but his playing and writing is at the heart of the music and serves it faithfully. He’s prepared to give his fellow musicians plenty of space and I was particularly impressed by the contribution of Boscagin, a versatile and imaginative guitarist who will definitely be a name to look out for in the future. Italian born but London based he has previously worked with the band Radio Londra, led by drummer Enzo Zirilli.

It could be argued that Lasky’s music is a little derivative and, at times, it reminded me of both Metheny and The Impossible Gentlemen but this is no bad thing, and fans of these acts are likely to find plenty to enjoy in Lasky’s music. One would also imagine that hearing this music played live would also be a highly satisfying experience, as Marc Edwards has previously suggested. This is an album capable of giving pleasure to a good many listeners and, as such, is thoroughly recommended.


COMMENTS;

From Simon Lasky via email;


Just wanted to drop you a quick line to say thanks so much for taking the time to review my album. It’s a wonderful review (you really get what we’re trying to do) and I know you get sent tons of stuff, so thank you for choosing to review mine. I’m very grateful.
Next gig is Weds 30th May at The Bull’s Head in Barnes:
https://tickets.thebullsheadbarnes.com/events/2018-05-30-the-simon-lasky-group-bulls-head-barnes

Ivo Neame - Moksha Rating: 4 out of 5 A radical departure for one of Britain’s most respected contemporary jazz musicians. Neame and his excellent quartet have created a recording that sounds thoroughly vital and contemporary.

Ivo Neame

“Moksha”

(Edition Records EDN 1108)

Pianist and composer Ivo Neame (born Kent, 1981) is arguably best known as a member of Phronesis, the phenomenally successful Anglo-Scandinavian trio led by Danish bassist and composer Jasper Hoiby.

Phronesis is a band with an international reputation, a European act that has actually made inroads into the US jazz market. The trio’s remarkable success over the last decade has been based on a series of excellent studio and live recordings, the majority of them released on the Edition record label. Initially the trio’s material came from the pen of Hoiby but as the band has developed Neame and drummer Anton Eger have also begun to write for the increasingly democratic and fiercely interactive trio.

Alongside Phronesis Neame has continued to pursue an equally convincing solo career as a pianist, composer and band leader. He made his début as a leader with the somewhat undistinguished trio set “Swirls And Eddies” in 2007 but soon developed rapidly. 2009’s “Caught in the Light of Day”, a quartet recording that teamed the pianist with vibraphonist Jim Hart, represented a huge step forward and showcased Neame’s increasingly distinctive writing style.

The ambitious “Yatra” (2012) saw Neame expanding his group to an octet with the addition of four reed players. This was a brilliant recording, just bursting with compositional ideas and featuring some outstanding playing from all members of the group. 2015’s quintet set “Strata” was nearly as fine and confirmed Neame’s status as a band-leader to watch.

Currently Neame remains a member of Phronesis and is also a member of the quintet led by brilliant Norwegian saxophonist, composer and band-leader Marius Neset.  He has been a long term member of bassist Dave Manington’s sextet Riff Raff and appears on their forthcoming album “Challenger Deep”. Other recent projects have included the trio Escape Hatch, with bassist Andrea Di Biase and drummer Dave Hamblett, and a duo with the Polish born guitarist Maciek Pysz.

Neame has also been a member of the acclaimed Kairos 4tet led by saxophonist and composer Adam Waldmann and of Fringe Magnetic, the eclectic large(ish) ensemble led by trumpeter Rory Simmons. In addition the prolific and in demand pianist has worked as a sideman with saxophonists Josh Arcoleo and Trish Clowes, trumpeter Andre Canniere, guitarist Ant Law, vocalists Brigitte Beraha, Kaz Simmons and Elisa Caleb, drummer Dave Hamblett and bassist Mick Coady among others. Also an accomplished alto saxophonist Neame has been featured in this role with Jim Hart’s group Gemini.

Neame’s fifth album release as a leader sees him returning to the Edition label and introducing a new quartet featuring George Crowley on tenor sax, Tom Farmer on acoustic bass and long term associate James Maddren at the drums.

The album takes its title from Hindu philosophy, the word “Moksha” referring to “emancipation from ‘samsara’ the cycle of death and rebirth – to ultimate freedom from earthbound cares and ignorance, leading to self-realisation and self-knowledge”.

Stylistically the new recording represents something of a departure for Neame. His previous solo recordings have been distinguished by their complexity, with structures often borrowed from classical music. Rich in terms of rhythm, texture and harmony and literally bursting with ideas the results have sometimes been challenging but ultimately hugely rewarding. “Caught in the Light Of Day”, “Yatra” and “Strata” are universally excellent and highly recommended to all adventurous listeners.

Nevertheless “Moksha” represents something of a departure with electric keyboards playing a far greater role in the ensemble sound than ever before. Besides his customary acoustic piano Neame is also credited with playing Fender Rhodes, mellotron, Hammond organ and Nord lead. The result is music that is far more direct than that of previous Neame solo recordings with the leader citing the influence of the American trio Medeski, Martin and Wood on his writing for this record. The electric music of Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock has also been suggested as a source of inspiration.

I’d also like to suggest a more contemporary parallel, the quartet led by American saxophonist Donny McCaslin featuring Jason Lindner on keyboards, Tim LeFebvre on electric bass and the great Mark Guiliana (who once guested with Phronesis and appears on their breakthrough “Alive” album) on drums. McCaslin’s quartet famously appeared on David Bowie’s final album “Black Star” as well as releasing their own jazz recordings “Casting For Gravity” (2012) “Fast Future” (2015) and “Beyond Now” (2016),  

Album opener “Vegetarians” introduces Neame’s new sounds with Farmer and Maddren delivering a powerful groove, the sound fleshed out by the leader’s layered, sometimes glitchy, keyboards. Crowley’s tenor adds both melody and improvisatory gristle as he states the theme before stretching out to solo inventively. It’s a piece that grabs the listener by the lapels and demands their instant attention. In this sense it’s one of the most direct and immediate pieces that Neame has recorded, certainly as a solo artist.

“Moksha Music” introduces acoustic piano and initially has something of a more orthodox jazz feel, but the splashes of colour from Neame’s other keyboards allied to the contemporary grooves laid down by Farmer and Hamblett ensure that the music also sounds thrillingly up to date. Following Crowley’s theme statement Neame delivers a sparkling, punchy acoustic piano solo, brilliantly underscored by Maddren’s energetic drumming. The music then teeters into a passage of freely structured improvisation with Crowley and Neame exchanging ideas before the quartet seamlessly reel everything back in again via Crowley’s closing sax solo.

“Pala” slows the pace a little, and demonstrates Neame’s capability as a multiple keyboard player as he produces a fascinating array of sounds from the various instruments at his disposal. He combines well with the humanising voice of Crowley’s tenor while Farmer and Maddren handle the rhythmic challenges presented by Neame’s writing with customary aplomb. This may be Neame’s most direct music to date, but that doesn’t mean that it’s simple.

The following “Laika” is a case in point. After an atmospheric intro featuring Neame’s spacey electronics the piece embraces the kind of melodic and rhythmic complexities that characterised Neame’s earlier albums. Thrillingly complicated unison passages featuring energetic keyboards, saxophone and drums alternate with more abstract passages of improvisation. Neame features strongly on Fender Rhodes and there’s something of a feature for the excellent Maddren.

“Outsider” re-introduces the sound of acoustic piano and represents the album’s ballad selection.
Here the leader’s piano sound is flowingly lyrical and unadorned while bassist Farmer is also featured as a soloist as Maddren switches to brushes. Much of the piece is played in the trio format with Crowley’s plangent tenor only introduced in the tune’s latter stages.

Acoustic and electric keyboard sounds combine on “Ghost Shadow”, a richly evocative piece propelled by Maddren’s edgy grooves that again finds Neame and Crowley combining effectively.

The album closes with “Blimp”, the lengthiest piece on the recording at a little under eight minutes. It’s a slow burner of a piece that builds gradually from Neame’s solo acoustic piano introduction, adding drums, bass and finally saxophone along the way. The music unfolds slowly and organically and has a strong narrative arc that embraces a variety of dynamics and musical styles. Nevertheless, as one would expect with Neame, things are from straightforward. This all acoustic piece features a central passage incorporating a duet between piano and saxophone followed by a gritty bout of group improvisation. There’s a terrific section of trio playing featuring Neame’s tumbling, percussive piano playing and Maddren’s brilliantly hyper-active drumming. Crowley’s tenor subsequently joins the fray as the music builds to a climax and subsequent diminuendo.

“Moksha” represents a radical departure for one of Britain’s most respected contemporary jazz musicians. Some purists have baulked at Neame’s embracing of electric keyboards and a fusion-esque sound. Nevertheless it sounds nothing like the sometimes maligned fusion of the 70s and 80s, Neame and his excellent quartet have created a recording that sounds thoroughly vital and contemporary.

Personally I welcome this change of direction and in the main the album has received positive reviews. Neame’s abilities as an acoustic pianist and composer are well known and “Moksha” represents an admirable attempt to do something different. The orchestral manner in which he deploys his various keyboards is sometimes reminiscent of the late, great Joe Zawinul.

Nobody could ever accuse Neame of being typecast, each of his solo albums is substantially different to the others and a clear sense of artistic progression can be discerned throughout his solo recordings. Neame has always been a musician to stretch himself, never shying away from complexity or a challenge and his embrace of electric keyboards represents his latest step in this direction. Ironically it has just resulted in the most broadly accessible album of his solo career.

 

Moksha

Ivo Neame

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Moksha

A radical departure for one of Britain’s most respected contemporary jazz musicians. Neame and his excellent quartet have created a recording that sounds thoroughly vital and contemporary.

Ivo Neame

“Moksha”

(Edition Records EDN 1108)

Pianist and composer Ivo Neame (born Kent, 1981) is arguably best known as a member of Phronesis, the phenomenally successful Anglo-Scandinavian trio led by Danish bassist and composer Jasper Hoiby.

Phronesis is a band with an international reputation, a European act that has actually made inroads into the US jazz market. The trio’s remarkable success over the last decade has been based on a series of excellent studio and live recordings, the majority of them released on the Edition record label. Initially the trio’s material came from the pen of Hoiby but as the band has developed Neame and drummer Anton Eger have also begun to write for the increasingly democratic and fiercely interactive trio.

Alongside Phronesis Neame has continued to pursue an equally convincing solo career as a pianist, composer and band leader. He made his début as a leader with the somewhat undistinguished trio set “Swirls And Eddies” in 2007 but soon developed rapidly. 2009’s “Caught in the Light of Day”, a quartet recording that teamed the pianist with vibraphonist Jim Hart, represented a huge step forward and showcased Neame’s increasingly distinctive writing style.

The ambitious “Yatra” (2012) saw Neame expanding his group to an octet with the addition of four reed players. This was a brilliant recording, just bursting with compositional ideas and featuring some outstanding playing from all members of the group. 2015’s quintet set “Strata” was nearly as fine and confirmed Neame’s status as a band-leader to watch.

Currently Neame remains a member of Phronesis and is also a member of the quintet led by brilliant Norwegian saxophonist, composer and band-leader Marius Neset.  He has been a long term member of bassist Dave Manington’s sextet Riff Raff and appears on their forthcoming album “Challenger Deep”. Other recent projects have included the trio Escape Hatch, with bassist Andrea Di Biase and drummer Dave Hamblett, and a duo with the Polish born guitarist Maciek Pysz.

Neame has also been a member of the acclaimed Kairos 4tet led by saxophonist and composer Adam Waldmann and of Fringe Magnetic, the eclectic large(ish) ensemble led by trumpeter Rory Simmons. In addition the prolific and in demand pianist has worked as a sideman with saxophonists Josh Arcoleo and Trish Clowes, trumpeter Andre Canniere, guitarist Ant Law, vocalists Brigitte Beraha, Kaz Simmons and Elisa Caleb, drummer Dave Hamblett and bassist Mick Coady among others. Also an accomplished alto saxophonist Neame has been featured in this role with Jim Hart’s group Gemini.

Neame’s fifth album release as a leader sees him returning to the Edition label and introducing a new quartet featuring George Crowley on tenor sax, Tom Farmer on acoustic bass and long term associate James Maddren at the drums.

The album takes its title from Hindu philosophy, the word “Moksha” referring to “emancipation from ‘samsara’ the cycle of death and rebirth – to ultimate freedom from earthbound cares and ignorance, leading to self-realisation and self-knowledge”.

Stylistically the new recording represents something of a departure for Neame. His previous solo recordings have been distinguished by their complexity, with structures often borrowed from classical music. Rich in terms of rhythm, texture and harmony and literally bursting with ideas the results have sometimes been challenging but ultimately hugely rewarding. “Caught in the Light Of Day”, “Yatra” and “Strata” are universally excellent and highly recommended to all adventurous listeners.

Nevertheless “Moksha” represents something of a departure with electric keyboards playing a far greater role in the ensemble sound than ever before. Besides his customary acoustic piano Neame is also credited with playing Fender Rhodes, mellotron, Hammond organ and Nord lead. The result is music that is far more direct than that of previous Neame solo recordings with the leader citing the influence of the American trio Medeski, Martin and Wood on his writing for this record. The electric music of Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock has also been suggested as a source of inspiration.

I’d also like to suggest a more contemporary parallel, the quartet led by American saxophonist Donny McCaslin featuring Jason Lindner on keyboards, Tim LeFebvre on electric bass and the great Mark Guiliana (who once guested with Phronesis and appears on their breakthrough “Alive” album) on drums. McCaslin’s quartet famously appeared on David Bowie’s final album “Black Star” as well as releasing their own jazz recordings “Casting For Gravity” (2012) “Fast Future” (2015) and “Beyond Now” (2016),  

Album opener “Vegetarians” introduces Neame’s new sounds with Farmer and Maddren delivering a powerful groove, the sound fleshed out by the leader’s layered, sometimes glitchy, keyboards. Crowley’s tenor adds both melody and improvisatory gristle as he states the theme before stretching out to solo inventively. It’s a piece that grabs the listener by the lapels and demands their instant attention. In this sense it’s one of the most direct and immediate pieces that Neame has recorded, certainly as a solo artist.

“Moksha Music” introduces acoustic piano and initially has something of a more orthodox jazz feel, but the splashes of colour from Neame’s other keyboards allied to the contemporary grooves laid down by Farmer and Hamblett ensure that the music also sounds thrillingly up to date. Following Crowley’s theme statement Neame delivers a sparkling, punchy acoustic piano solo, brilliantly underscored by Maddren’s energetic drumming. The music then teeters into a passage of freely structured improvisation with Crowley and Neame exchanging ideas before the quartet seamlessly reel everything back in again via Crowley’s closing sax solo.

“Pala” slows the pace a little, and demonstrates Neame’s capability as a multiple keyboard player as he produces a fascinating array of sounds from the various instruments at his disposal. He combines well with the humanising voice of Crowley’s tenor while Farmer and Maddren handle the rhythmic challenges presented by Neame’s writing with customary aplomb. This may be Neame’s most direct music to date, but that doesn’t mean that it’s simple.

The following “Laika” is a case in point. After an atmospheric intro featuring Neame’s spacey electronics the piece embraces the kind of melodic and rhythmic complexities that characterised Neame’s earlier albums. Thrillingly complicated unison passages featuring energetic keyboards, saxophone and drums alternate with more abstract passages of improvisation. Neame features strongly on Fender Rhodes and there’s something of a feature for the excellent Maddren.

“Outsider” re-introduces the sound of acoustic piano and represents the album’s ballad selection.
Here the leader’s piano sound is flowingly lyrical and unadorned while bassist Farmer is also featured as a soloist as Maddren switches to brushes. Much of the piece is played in the trio format with Crowley’s plangent tenor only introduced in the tune’s latter stages.

Acoustic and electric keyboard sounds combine on “Ghost Shadow”, a richly evocative piece propelled by Maddren’s edgy grooves that again finds Neame and Crowley combining effectively.

The album closes with “Blimp”, the lengthiest piece on the recording at a little under eight minutes. It’s a slow burner of a piece that builds gradually from Neame’s solo acoustic piano introduction, adding drums, bass and finally saxophone along the way. The music unfolds slowly and organically and has a strong narrative arc that embraces a variety of dynamics and musical styles. Nevertheless, as one would expect with Neame, things are from straightforward. This all acoustic piece features a central passage incorporating a duet between piano and saxophone followed by a gritty bout of group improvisation. There’s a terrific section of trio playing featuring Neame’s tumbling, percussive piano playing and Maddren’s brilliantly hyper-active drumming. Crowley’s tenor subsequently joins the fray as the music builds to a climax and subsequent diminuendo.

“Moksha” represents a radical departure for one of Britain’s most respected contemporary jazz musicians. Some purists have baulked at Neame’s embracing of electric keyboards and a fusion-esque sound. Nevertheless it sounds nothing like the sometimes maligned fusion of the 70s and 80s, Neame and his excellent quartet have created a recording that sounds thoroughly vital and contemporary.

Personally I welcome this change of direction and in the main the album has received positive reviews. Neame’s abilities as an acoustic pianist and composer are well known and “Moksha” represents an admirable attempt to do something different. The orchestral manner in which he deploys his various keyboards is sometimes reminiscent of the late, great Joe Zawinul.

Nobody could ever accuse Neame of being typecast, each of his solo albums is substantially different to the others and a clear sense of artistic progression can be discerned throughout his solo recordings. Neame has always been a musician to stretch himself, never shying away from complexity or a challenge and his embrace of electric keyboards represents his latest step in this direction. Ironically it has just resulted in the most broadly accessible album of his solo career.

 

Bahla - Imprints Rating: 4 out of 5 The combination of electric and acoustic sounds is highly effective, the solos imaginative and inventive, and the ensemble playing tight and cohesive. A beguiling mix of the exotic and the accessible.

Bahla
“Imprints”

(Bahla Records)

Bahla are a young quintet based in London whose début recording was released in 2017 on their own record label following a successful Kickstarter campaign.

In 2016 I enjoyed a performance by the band at the 2016 Brecon Jazz Festival when they performed as part of the innovative Jazz Futures programme co-ordinated by Marc Edwards. My coverage of that event and other Festival performances can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/sunday-at-brecon-jazz-weekend-14-08-2016/

Named after a city in Oman Bahla is a truly international entity and grew out of a collaboration between guitarist Tal Janes, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, and the Venezuelan born pianist Joseph Costi. Originally the pair performed as a duo but later added bassist Greg Gottlieb and drummer/percussionist Ben Brown to the ranks and adopted the group name Bahla. The album sees Gottlieb being replaced by the Italian born bassist Andrea Di Biase while the recruitment of Portuguese vocalist Ines Loubet Franco expands the group to a five piece.

Janes and Costi cite John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and Bill Frisell as influences on the quintet’s sound but it’s their absorption of Jewish musical culture that is at the band’s heart and helps to give their music its distinctiveness.

On the album cover Bahla describe “Imprints” as being;
“A collection of songs inspired by different stories of migration and displacement. The music is home to many different influences but has kept Jewish folk traditions at its core. Music and culture are joined at the hip and, particularly in our current climate, we have been driven to show that it is not only possible for different cultures to meet peacefully but that these moments of collaboration can lead to something new and exciting”.

As if to prove the point Costi, Loubet Franco and Brown had all performed on the previous day at Brecon as part of Caravela, a group singing and playing songs from the Portuguese diaspora. As I wrote at the time in my review of Bahla’s performance;
“The presence of Costi and Brown just went to emphasise the sheer versatility of the modern jazz musician. Here they were twenty four hours later playing music from a different tradition totally convincingly and without dropping a stitch”.

The material on “Imprints” consists of five original songs by Janes and Costi plus arrangements of three traditional Jewish folk tunes arranged by these two. As at their Festival performance one is immediately struck by how contemporary the music sounds.

At the time of the Brecon performance a press release spoke of the group “sonically painting a picture from the broad spectrum of Jewish music traditions, drawing inspiration for new compositions from liturgical melodies, North African rhythms and Yiddish artsongs”.  From this I was expecting some kind of updated klezmer with fiddles, clarinets and accordions. The reality was very different, and pleasingly and thrilling so.

Besides the Jewish and other folk influences and the jazz inspirations of Coltrane, Hancock and Frisell Janes has also mentioned the influence of artists such as John Martyn, Radiohead, Polar Bear and Shai Maestro. The band’s approach is shaped by historical aspects of the Jewish diaspora  and the parallels between this and life in modern Britain, and particularly London.  The group have links with the charity Side By Side for Refugees.

The album commences with a Janes and Costi arrangement of the tune “Nigun Simcha” which combines folk melodies with interlocking odd meter rhythms and needling guitar in a highly beguiling way. Janes uses his guitar effects judiciously and combines effectively with Costi’s acoustic piano.  To Western European ears it’s exotic, highly rhythmic and strangely hypnotic. Loubet Franco’s wordless vocals introduce additional layers of melody later on in the piece, adding a calming influence as the energy and impetus gradually dissipates.

An arrangement of “The Paths Of Sirkeci / Pasha” follows with Loubet Franco singing in (I think) Ladino – she is also capable of singing in Hebrew, English and her native Portuguese. There’s more of a conventional song structure here with the singer’s confident vocal complemented by a flowingly lyrical acoustic piano solo from Costi. The music then takes a more contemporary turn courtesy of Janes ‘ guitar and the band sound becomes more aggressive with Loubet Franco’s soaring vocals underscoring a powerful electric guitar solo from the co-leader. Di Biase also plays a prominent role on this track, his melodic but powerful bass playing involving the deployment of both arco and pizzicato techniques.

The original composition “Piyut” is introduced by Brown’s percussion, this soon joined by acoustic guitar and Loubet Franco’s emotive vocals (in Hebrew this time, I think). The overall sound is unmistakably Middle Eastern / North African with Janes’ oud like acoustic guitar contrasting well with the trill of Costi’s Fender Rhodes.
Janes subsequently switches to electric guitar, delivering a spiralling solo against a backdrop of soaring vocals before the piece resolves itself with a more impressionistic passage of Fender Rhodes and guitar electronica, this acting as a segue into the following “Pierogi”. This is another richly atmospheric piece with Loubet Franco’s droning wordless vocals underpinned by Costi’s slow paced acoustic piano and the ethereal shimmer of Janes’ guitar FX. With the addition of bass and drums the piece builds slowly to embrace more of a wide-screen cinematic feel.

The title track features an English lyric, delivered by Loubet Franco with a combination of quiet passion and technical assurance.  A simple rhythmic motif frames an expansively lyrical acoustic piano solo from Costi, the music again building in terms of dynamics and emotional intensity as the piece progresses. Finally a peak is reached and the composition resolves itself as quietly as it began with Loubet Franco delivering a reprise of the opening verse.

The all instrumental “Aman” highlights the chemistry between Janes and Costi, the duo at the heart of Bahla. Ably supported by Brown and Di Biase their understated, intelligent interplay is showcased on this piece together with extended solos from both musicians, Janes on electric guitar going first, followed by Costi on acoustic piano.

The co-leaders’ arrangement of the tune “Beneath Soreles Cradle” continues to illustrate the rapport between the group members. Also wholly instrumental it begins with a brief passage of unaccompanied acoustic piano before opening out to embrace further solos from Di Biase, Janes and Costi. The pace is unhurried, the overall feel wide-reaching and cinematic.

Singer Loubet Franco returns for the closing “Masah”, her yearning wordless vocals well served by a combination of acoustic piano and acoustic guitar in an intimate and chillingly beautiful trio performance.

I was very impressed with Bahla when I saw them at Brecon and looked forward to hearing them on disc and I’m pleased to report that this album doesn’t disappoint. The appointment of the excellent Loubet Franco, who had so impressed at Brecon with Caravela, adds a new dimension to the music and she performs superbly throughout, her vocals an effective combination of raw emotion and great technical expertise. A highly flexible, expressive and admirably multi-lingual vocalist she looks set for a bright future.

Meanwhile Bahla’s instrumentalists also shine, both individually and collectively, with all making strong contributions. The combination of electric and acoustic sounds is highly effective, the solos imaginative and inventive and the ensemble playing tight and cohesive.

Co-leaders Janes and Costi also impress with their compositional and arranging skills. Both the traditional and original tunes are highly melodic, a beguiling mix of the exotic and the accessible. As I observed at Brecon the music is sometimes unexpectedly powerful with Bahla making effective use of dynamic contrasts in their compositions and interpretations.

It’s fun to play spot the influence when listening to Bahla’s music. In addition to the group’s stated influences and inspirations I also got hints of Pat Metheny (strong melodies, the use of wordless vocals) and even ‘Canterbury Scene’ bands like National Health and Hatfield & The North ( wordless voices again, spiralling, feverishly inventive guitar solos a la Phil Miller) although it’s possible that Bahla may never even have heard of these.

At Brecon I also compared the band’s approach with that of New York based Jewish / Israeli musicians such as saxophonist John Zorn and guitarists Eyal Maoz and Gilad Hekselman. 

At the end of the day Bahla have come up with a contemporary music that is highly distinctive and very much their own as the melodies of the Jewish folk tradition are merged with elements of jazz, rock and even electronica to create a unique amalgam that is capable of appealing to a wide range of listeners.

I expect to hear a lot more from this talented young group of musicians in the coming years, both with this project and with others. In the meantime Bahla’s debut album is thoroughly recommended.


COMMENTS:

From Tal Janes via email;

Just wanted to a say a big thank you for the very lovely and in-depth review of imprints! I get the feeling most people rush their way through reviews so thank you for taking the time.

 

 

Imprints

Bahla

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Imprints

The combination of electric and acoustic sounds is highly effective, the solos imaginative and inventive, and the ensemble playing tight and cohesive. A beguiling mix of the exotic and the accessible.

Bahla
“Imprints”

(Bahla Records)

Bahla are a young quintet based in London whose début recording was released in 2017 on their own record label following a successful Kickstarter campaign.

In 2016 I enjoyed a performance by the band at the 2016 Brecon Jazz Festival when they performed as part of the innovative Jazz Futures programme co-ordinated by Marc Edwards. My coverage of that event and other Festival performances can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/sunday-at-brecon-jazz-weekend-14-08-2016/

Named after a city in Oman Bahla is a truly international entity and grew out of a collaboration between guitarist Tal Janes, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, and the Venezuelan born pianist Joseph Costi. Originally the pair performed as a duo but later added bassist Greg Gottlieb and drummer/percussionist Ben Brown to the ranks and adopted the group name Bahla. The album sees Gottlieb being replaced by the Italian born bassist Andrea Di Biase while the recruitment of Portuguese vocalist Ines Loubet Franco expands the group to a five piece.

Janes and Costi cite John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and Bill Frisell as influences on the quintet’s sound but it’s their absorption of Jewish musical culture that is at the band’s heart and helps to give their music its distinctiveness.

On the album cover Bahla describe “Imprints” as being;
“A collection of songs inspired by different stories of migration and displacement. The music is home to many different influences but has kept Jewish folk traditions at its core. Music and culture are joined at the hip and, particularly in our current climate, we have been driven to show that it is not only possible for different cultures to meet peacefully but that these moments of collaboration can lead to something new and exciting”.

As if to prove the point Costi, Loubet Franco and Brown had all performed on the previous day at Brecon as part of Caravela, a group singing and playing songs from the Portuguese diaspora. As I wrote at the time in my review of Bahla’s performance;
“The presence of Costi and Brown just went to emphasise the sheer versatility of the modern jazz musician. Here they were twenty four hours later playing music from a different tradition totally convincingly and without dropping a stitch”.

The material on “Imprints” consists of five original songs by Janes and Costi plus arrangements of three traditional Jewish folk tunes arranged by these two. As at their Festival performance one is immediately struck by how contemporary the music sounds.

At the time of the Brecon performance a press release spoke of the group “sonically painting a picture from the broad spectrum of Jewish music traditions, drawing inspiration for new compositions from liturgical melodies, North African rhythms and Yiddish artsongs”.  From this I was expecting some kind of updated klezmer with fiddles, clarinets and accordions. The reality was very different, and pleasingly and thrilling so.

Besides the Jewish and other folk influences and the jazz inspirations of Coltrane, Hancock and Frisell Janes has also mentioned the influence of artists such as John Martyn, Radiohead, Polar Bear and Shai Maestro. The band’s approach is shaped by historical aspects of the Jewish diaspora  and the parallels between this and life in modern Britain, and particularly London.  The group have links with the charity Side By Side for Refugees.

The album commences with a Janes and Costi arrangement of the tune “Nigun Simcha” which combines folk melodies with interlocking odd meter rhythms and needling guitar in a highly beguiling way. Janes uses his guitar effects judiciously and combines effectively with Costi’s acoustic piano.  To Western European ears it’s exotic, highly rhythmic and strangely hypnotic. Loubet Franco’s wordless vocals introduce additional layers of melody later on in the piece, adding a calming influence as the energy and impetus gradually dissipates.

An arrangement of “The Paths Of Sirkeci / Pasha” follows with Loubet Franco singing in (I think) Ladino – she is also capable of singing in Hebrew, English and her native Portuguese. There’s more of a conventional song structure here with the singer’s confident vocal complemented by a flowingly lyrical acoustic piano solo from Costi. The music then takes a more contemporary turn courtesy of Janes ‘ guitar and the band sound becomes more aggressive with Loubet Franco’s soaring vocals underscoring a powerful electric guitar solo from the co-leader. Di Biase also plays a prominent role on this track, his melodic but powerful bass playing involving the deployment of both arco and pizzicato techniques.

The original composition “Piyut” is introduced by Brown’s percussion, this soon joined by acoustic guitar and Loubet Franco’s emotive vocals (in Hebrew this time, I think). The overall sound is unmistakably Middle Eastern / North African with Janes’ oud like acoustic guitar contrasting well with the trill of Costi’s Fender Rhodes.
Janes subsequently switches to electric guitar, delivering a spiralling solo against a backdrop of soaring vocals before the piece resolves itself with a more impressionistic passage of Fender Rhodes and guitar electronica, this acting as a segue into the following “Pierogi”. This is another richly atmospheric piece with Loubet Franco’s droning wordless vocals underpinned by Costi’s slow paced acoustic piano and the ethereal shimmer of Janes’ guitar FX. With the addition of bass and drums the piece builds slowly to embrace more of a wide-screen cinematic feel.

The title track features an English lyric, delivered by Loubet Franco with a combination of quiet passion and technical assurance.  A simple rhythmic motif frames an expansively lyrical acoustic piano solo from Costi, the music again building in terms of dynamics and emotional intensity as the piece progresses. Finally a peak is reached and the composition resolves itself as quietly as it began with Loubet Franco delivering a reprise of the opening verse.

The all instrumental “Aman” highlights the chemistry between Janes and Costi, the duo at the heart of Bahla. Ably supported by Brown and Di Biase their understated, intelligent interplay is showcased on this piece together with extended solos from both musicians, Janes on electric guitar going first, followed by Costi on acoustic piano.

The co-leaders’ arrangement of the tune “Beneath Soreles Cradle” continues to illustrate the rapport between the group members. Also wholly instrumental it begins with a brief passage of unaccompanied acoustic piano before opening out to embrace further solos from Di Biase, Janes and Costi. The pace is unhurried, the overall feel wide-reaching and cinematic.

Singer Loubet Franco returns for the closing “Masah”, her yearning wordless vocals well served by a combination of acoustic piano and acoustic guitar in an intimate and chillingly beautiful trio performance.

I was very impressed with Bahla when I saw them at Brecon and looked forward to hearing them on disc and I’m pleased to report that this album doesn’t disappoint. The appointment of the excellent Loubet Franco, who had so impressed at Brecon with Caravela, adds a new dimension to the music and she performs superbly throughout, her vocals an effective combination of raw emotion and great technical expertise. A highly flexible, expressive and admirably multi-lingual vocalist she looks set for a bright future.

Meanwhile Bahla’s instrumentalists also shine, both individually and collectively, with all making strong contributions. The combination of electric and acoustic sounds is highly effective, the solos imaginative and inventive and the ensemble playing tight and cohesive.

Co-leaders Janes and Costi also impress with their compositional and arranging skills. Both the traditional and original tunes are highly melodic, a beguiling mix of the exotic and the accessible. As I observed at Brecon the music is sometimes unexpectedly powerful with Bahla making effective use of dynamic contrasts in their compositions and interpretations.

It’s fun to play spot the influence when listening to Bahla’s music. In addition to the group’s stated influences and inspirations I also got hints of Pat Metheny (strong melodies, the use of wordless vocals) and even ‘Canterbury Scene’ bands like National Health and Hatfield & The North ( wordless voices again, spiralling, feverishly inventive guitar solos a la Phil Miller) although it’s possible that Bahla may never even have heard of these.

At Brecon I also compared the band’s approach with that of New York based Jewish / Israeli musicians such as saxophonist John Zorn and guitarists Eyal Maoz and Gilad Hekselman. 

At the end of the day Bahla have come up with a contemporary music that is highly distinctive and very much their own as the melodies of the Jewish folk tradition are merged with elements of jazz, rock and even electronica to create a unique amalgam that is capable of appealing to a wide range of listeners.

I expect to hear a lot more from this talented young group of musicians in the coming years, both with this project and with others. In the meantime Bahla’s debut album is thoroughly recommended.


COMMENTS:

From Tal Janes via email;

Just wanted to a say a big thank you for the very lovely and in-depth review of imprints! I get the feeling most people rush their way through reviews so thank you for taking the time.

 

 

Kit Downes - Obsidian Rating: 4 out of 5 Downes' command of melody, texture, colour and nuance draws you totally into his sound world. This is rich, evocative music that utterly transcends any perceived limitations about its format.

Kit Downes

“Obsidian”

(ECM Records ECM 2559 Bar Code 578 2651)

The Norwich born pianist, organist and composer Kit Downes has been a frequent presence on the Jazzmann web pages for a decade now. He first came to my notice during his short lived spell with the group Empirical, appearing on their eponymous début album and playing with the band at the 2008 Brecon Jazz Festival.

Downes came to the attention of an even wider audience the following year with the release of the piano trio album “Golden”, his début recording as a leader and an album nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. The follow up, 2011’s “Quiet Tiger” saw Downes expanding the group to a quintet with the addition of cello and reeds, in which format he also recorded the equally impressive “Light From Old Stars” (2013). He’s since continued to be an adventurous and forward looking musician, a musical experimenter and a serial collaborator.

As a pianist Downes has been a hugely in demand sideman, bringing something of his own creativity to groups led by saxophonists George Crowley, Sam Crockatt, Stan Sulzmann and Julian Arguelles, drummers Clark Tracey and Jeff Williams and vocalists Sarah Gillespie, Lauren Kinsella, and Alice Zawadzki. He has recently revived his piano trio under the collective name Enemy and will release his début album with this unit (bassist Petter Eldh and drummer James Maddren) on the Edition record label later in 2018.

As an organist Downes has been part of the co-operative prog-jazz trio Troyka and its big band offshoot Troykestra and a member of saxophonist James Allsopp’s jazz/prog/gothic outfit Golden Age of Steam.

He has collaborated with French jazz musicians in the experimental groups Barbacana and In Bed With and has worked in intimate duo situations with cellist Lucy Railton (under the collective name Tricko), drummer Sebastian Rochford and fellow pianist Tom Cawley. Currently he is involved in separate collaborations with the folk musicians Josienne Clarke (vocals) and Aidan O’ Rourke (violin).

Among Downes’ duo collaborations was Wedding Music, which teamed him with the Yorkshire born saxophonist Tom Challenger.  The duo’s début, the digital only release, “Wedding Music”, was recorded in 2012 with Downes playing the organ of Huddersfield University’s St. Paul’s Church. The pair subsequently made a number of spasmodic live appearances (both musicians were relentlessly busy on other projects) including the “Pull Out The Stops” festival which celebrated the refurbishment of the organ at London’s Royal Festival Hall.

The project acquired fresh impetus when Downes and Challenger were invited to become part of Aldeburgh Festival’s 2014/15 “Open Space” residency programme. This saw them visiting and recording at five different churches in Suffolk, rural locations that brought back childhood memories for Downes who was raised in the neighbouring county of Norfolk.

The results were released as the album “Vyamanikal” which appeared on the Suffolk based boutique label Slip Records. Critically acclaimed this unusual, intriguing and strangely charming recording became something of a surprise success with Downes and Challenger subsequently returning to Aldeburgh in 2016 and also making a number of Jazz Festival appearances, with Downes playing harmonium if a suitable sacred space with a pipe organ was unavailable.

Vyamanikal was adopted as a band name and in 2016 Downes and Challenger recorded a follow up which Slip issued as the cassette only release “Black Shuck”. Featuring one improvisation on each side of the tape this was a darker, spookier recording than the bucolic “Vyamanikal” with side one also featuring guest performers on strings and percussion with the sounds further manipulated by electronics artist Alex Bonney. It was substantially different to its predecessor but no less impressive and certainly didn’t hinder Vyamanikal’s progress.

Over the years Downes has become one of the few British jazz musicians to acquire an international reputation. He first came to the attention of ECM supremo Manfred Eicher thanks to his work with the Norwegian drummer, composer and bandleader Thomas Stronen. Stronen is perhaps best known to British jazz audiences as one half of the Anglo-Norwegian duo Food, alongside the English saxophonist Iain Ballamy.

In 2014 Downes, playing piano, was part of an Anglo-Norwegian ensemble, that also included cellist Lucy Railton, put together by Stronen to perform “Time Is A Blind Guide”, a commission for the 2014 Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Again the title later became a band name and the music was recorded by ECM with Eicher producing.

Eicher actually takes a back seat on “Obsidian” and the album is produced by Sun Chung who accompanied Downes to the three churches at which this essentially solo album was recorded. Four pieces were recorded at Union Chapel in Islington, London, a further five at St. John the Baptist Church, Snape, Suffolk and the final piece, “The Gift” at St. Edmund’s Church, Bromeswell, Suffolk. Challenger appears on one piece, “Modern Gods”, but in essence this is a solo organ recording that inevitably evokes comparisons with Keith Jarrett’s 1976 ECM double album “Hymns / Spheres” recorded on the Trinity organ of Ottobeuren’s Benedictine abbey,

Steve Lake’s liner note essay, titled “Through a dark glass” sheds valuable light on Downes’ inspirations and working methods with regard to “Obsidian”. This includes an explanation of the album title, “Obsidian” being the dark, transparent natural glass that forms as the result of the cooling of molten lava.

Downes explains that in his youth he sang in the choir at Norwich Cathedral while also taking lessons from the resident organist. Downes subsequently played at services and also exhibited an ability for improvising on hymn tunes and other pieces. This coincided with his discovery of jazz, courtesy of an Oscar Peterson and Downes subsequently became a jazz pianist and occasional Hammond player. He credits Challenger and the Wedding Music / Vyamanikal project as the main reason for him returning to the church organ.

At the 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival I enjoyed a performance by Vyamanikal at Kings Place that featured Challenger on saxophones and Downes playing two Indian classical harmoniums to replicate the organ drones and sonorities that characterised the “Vyamanikal” album. 

A year later Downes played the magnificent three manual Father Willis organ at the Union Chapel, Islington as part of a duet with the improvising pianist and all round musical maverick Matthew Bourne. This lunchtime event was a collaboration between London Jazz Festival and promoters Daylight Music who deliver thirty such events at Union Chapel each year, usually featuring three different and highly diverse acts drawn from a variety of musical genres.

Downes describes the organs he plays on the album as “one large, one medium sized and one small”. He explains to Lake that each instrument has distinct characteristics and idiosyncrasies and describes the music that he has created for them as “giving a push and pull to the recording in terms of dynamic and size. I started writing with that in mind, with the idea of getting these organs from different parts of the UK speaking to each other. All built at different times, with different stops and different sounds. It feels like time travelling somehow, trying to find a common thread.”

He continues;
“I had a couple of models in mind when I started writing. One was the idea of “The Forgotten”, of creating a kind of folk language, almost, for abandoned instruments. The organ itself isn’t forgotten, obviously, but there are so many of these instruments in country churches around the UK whose capacities aren’t explored any more, and they’re rarely used for new music or improvisation. Another idea floating around simultaneously had to do with volcanicity and how things happen very quickly in that world and then lay dormant for long periods of time. An analogy in a way”.
Hence the album title.

The majority of the individual pieces began as improvisations. “I would jot down elements that I found particularly interesting – a stop combination, a register detail, perhaps a note cell, or just sounds. Then I’d start to fill in the cracks between the abstract ideas to make fuller pieces”.

Downes cites the influence of the French organist and composer Olivier Messiaen stating;
“the organ is the ultimate orchestrator.  For example what really appeals to me about Messiaen’s organ improvisations is how he blends the sounds of the instrument to give real form and colour to the performance. You can be both a composer and an orchestrator in the moment. And because the church organ is location specific it can be almost like playing a sculpture, knowing where the sound is going to come from, how it is going to beat with pitches from other pipes, how the sound will fill the room”.

The qualities which Downes assigns to Messiaen also inform his own playing.  There is indeed real form and colour about these performances and also a very human warmth that transmits itself through the mechanisms of the various instruments.

The album represents a kind of travelogue with Downes beginning his musical journey in London at the console of the three manual Henry Willis organ built in 1877. With this being an ECM album the quality of the recorded sound is cleaner than on the two Vyamanikal releases, a quality that is likely to give the album an even broader appeal.

The opening “Kings” explores the sonic and orchestral capabilities of the Willis organ, combining hymnal, Gothic grandeur with rhythmic pulses that suggest the influence of minimalism or even contemporary electronic music. Skilfully layered and rich in colour, texture and nuance the listener becomes enveloped in the music - at Union Chapel itself the sound almost seems to surround you, such is the power, beauty and majesty of an instrument that fits its surroundings perfectly.

On “Kings” Downes skilfully combines arresting upper register melodies with deeper sonorities and continues this process with an arrangement of the traditional folk tune “Black Is The Colour”, masterfully combining the beauty of the timeless melody with the majesty and grandeur of the organ.

“Rings of Saturn” is a composite of several improvisations and was recorded at Snape. The eerie, ethereal, spacey effects were arrived at by the manipulation of the organ stops as Downes explains;
“These are organs where I can manipulate the airflow through pulling out stops to various degrees. If you don’t send quite enough air through the pipe by not pulling it out to its natural position you can get very different changes in pitch. Depending on which stops you’re using you can split the pitch in two. It’s an effect that I like using, but it’s one which has been written out of the modern, more regulated organs.”
Jarrett used similar effects on the “Hymns / Spheres” recording, observing at the time that some of the textures he discovered sounded almost “electronic”.

The brief “Seeing Things” occupies similar sonic territory and was freely improvised, with Downes adding the proviso;
“but still based upon sounds that I’ve set, and where I’ve known in advance what I was going for”.
A good balance therefore, and totally in accordance with the aesthetic of the album as a whole.

Challenger joins Downes at Union Chapel for the dramatic “Modern Gods”, a kind of fugue for pipe organ and saxophone.. “It was Tom who really got me back into playing organ again and I wanted to have his sound somewhere on the album” comments Downes. At first Challenger is deployed as “a rogue set of pipes”, supplementing what Downes is playing. When his tenor saxophone finally takes flight the effect is dramatic, mesmerising and uplifting.
“I wanted ‘Modern Gods’ to be big” explains Downes “it’s a cut off point on the record where we leave behind the Union Chapel and go the much smaller organ at Snape”.

The next piece, “The Bone Gambler” is much more contemplative in tone, the sound of the organ softer and less grandiose, but no less compelling. There’s a calming, liturgical feel to the music that conjures up images of small, dusty country churches, while a recurring, increasingly insistent bass motif adds a more contemporary feel and a vaguely unsettling atmosphere. The piece was recorded close up by engineer Alex Bonney with Downes remarking;
“ so you can hear all the mechanical noises of the instrument. Part of my fascination with the organ is hearing the individual stops and then abstracting the different sounds and combining them. If you aim for a big sound a lot of the subtleties, the special characteristics of the organs, can get lost. At lower volumes they seem to reveal more of their true identities”.
It’s a similar approach to the one adopted on the first Vyamanikal recording on which the workings of the various instruments can be clearly heard, together with outside, location specific sounds like birdsong.

“Flying Foxes” finds Downes exploring another aspect of the Snape instrument via a series of darting, high register melodic motifs. “The size of the organ is perfect for the church it’s in” observes Downes. “I wanted to find an organ that could punctuate a faster and more militant quaver feel to give a little rhythmic energy, and because the Snape instrument is smaller, and the sound very direct, you can work on that scale”.

The intensely romantic “Ruth’s Song For The Sea” is a dedication to Downes’ wife, the bassist and composer Ruth Goller.  The piece features some of Downes’ most delightful melodic motifs in a beautiful performance that almost sounds as if the organist is conducting a duet with himself.

“Last Leviathan” conjures up something of the majesty of the cetaceans with its opening fanfares and fugues before a adopting a drone above which Downes replicates the sound of whale song courtesy of the organ’s keys, pipes and pedals. Like all of the other pieces on this remarkable album it’s a highly evocative performance.

The final piece, “The Gift”, is the closest that Downes comes to sounding like a traditional church organist. The tune itself was co-written by Kit with his father Paul Downes and is reminiscent of both a hymn tune and an English folk song. This is the only track to have been recorded on the organ at St. Edmund’s church in Bromeswell, a single manual organ with no pedalboard, essentially a converted harmonium. 
Downes comments;“I tried playing that piece on the other instruments as well, but no other organ I’ve ever played comes close to sounding like Bromeswell. For all its faults it is so individual, and has a very personal voice”

“Obsidian” is a fascinating record, one that absorbs the listener from start to finish. Downes’ command of melody, texture, colour and nuance draws you totally into his sound world. He’s a master soundscaper whose playing embraces the full sonic and orchestral capabilities of the various instruments that he uses. This is rich, evocative music, beyond genre, that utterly transcends any perceived limitations about its format.

The album has received overwhelmingly positive reviews and is a recording possessed of a strange, calming beauty.  Much of it ‘slow music’ but in a good way, unfolding gently and with the emphasis on colour, nuance and texture.

With Eicher not directly involved it is in many ways an atypical ECM record yet it fits perfectly into the label’s aesthetic. One can also imagine it being perfectly suited to BBC Radio 3’s ‘Late Junction’ audience and becoming a ‘crossover’ success in the manner of ECM’s recordings by Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble.

ECM just might just have another surprise hit on their hands.

Obsidian

Kit Downes

Friday, April 06, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Obsidian

Downes' command of melody, texture, colour and nuance draws you totally into his sound world. This is rich, evocative music that utterly transcends any perceived limitations about its format.

Kit Downes

“Obsidian”

(ECM Records ECM 2559 Bar Code 578 2651)

The Norwich born pianist, organist and composer Kit Downes has been a frequent presence on the Jazzmann web pages for a decade now. He first came to my notice during his short lived spell with the group Empirical, appearing on their eponymous début album and playing with the band at the 2008 Brecon Jazz Festival.

Downes came to the attention of an even wider audience the following year with the release of the piano trio album “Golden”, his début recording as a leader and an album nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. The follow up, 2011’s “Quiet Tiger” saw Downes expanding the group to a quintet with the addition of cello and reeds, in which format he also recorded the equally impressive “Light From Old Stars” (2013). He’s since continued to be an adventurous and forward looking musician, a musical experimenter and a serial collaborator.

As a pianist Downes has been a hugely in demand sideman, bringing something of his own creativity to groups led by saxophonists George Crowley, Sam Crockatt, Stan Sulzmann and Julian Arguelles, drummers Clark Tracey and Jeff Williams and vocalists Sarah Gillespie, Lauren Kinsella, and Alice Zawadzki. He has recently revived his piano trio under the collective name Enemy and will release his début album with this unit (bassist Petter Eldh and drummer James Maddren) on the Edition record label later in 2018.

As an organist Downes has been part of the co-operative prog-jazz trio Troyka and its big band offshoot Troykestra and a member of saxophonist James Allsopp’s jazz/prog/gothic outfit Golden Age of Steam.

He has collaborated with French jazz musicians in the experimental groups Barbacana and In Bed With and has worked in intimate duo situations with cellist Lucy Railton (under the collective name Tricko), drummer Sebastian Rochford and fellow pianist Tom Cawley. Currently he is involved in separate collaborations with the folk musicians Josienne Clarke (vocals) and Aidan O’ Rourke (violin).

Among Downes’ duo collaborations was Wedding Music, which teamed him with the Yorkshire born saxophonist Tom Challenger.  The duo’s début, the digital only release, “Wedding Music”, was recorded in 2012 with Downes playing the organ of Huddersfield University’s St. Paul’s Church. The pair subsequently made a number of spasmodic live appearances (both musicians were relentlessly busy on other projects) including the “Pull Out The Stops” festival which celebrated the refurbishment of the organ at London’s Royal Festival Hall.

The project acquired fresh impetus when Downes and Challenger were invited to become part of Aldeburgh Festival’s 2014/15 “Open Space” residency programme. This saw them visiting and recording at five different churches in Suffolk, rural locations that brought back childhood memories for Downes who was raised in the neighbouring county of Norfolk.

The results were released as the album “Vyamanikal” which appeared on the Suffolk based boutique label Slip Records. Critically acclaimed this unusual, intriguing and strangely charming recording became something of a surprise success with Downes and Challenger subsequently returning to Aldeburgh in 2016 and also making a number of Jazz Festival appearances, with Downes playing harmonium if a suitable sacred space with a pipe organ was unavailable.

Vyamanikal was adopted as a band name and in 2016 Downes and Challenger recorded a follow up which Slip issued as the cassette only release “Black Shuck”. Featuring one improvisation on each side of the tape this was a darker, spookier recording than the bucolic “Vyamanikal” with side one also featuring guest performers on strings and percussion with the sounds further manipulated by electronics artist Alex Bonney. It was substantially different to its predecessor but no less impressive and certainly didn’t hinder Vyamanikal’s progress.

Over the years Downes has become one of the few British jazz musicians to acquire an international reputation. He first came to the attention of ECM supremo Manfred Eicher thanks to his work with the Norwegian drummer, composer and bandleader Thomas Stronen. Stronen is perhaps best known to British jazz audiences as one half of the Anglo-Norwegian duo Food, alongside the English saxophonist Iain Ballamy.

In 2014 Downes, playing piano, was part of an Anglo-Norwegian ensemble, that also included cellist Lucy Railton, put together by Stronen to perform “Time Is A Blind Guide”, a commission for the 2014 Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Again the title later became a band name and the music was recorded by ECM with Eicher producing.

Eicher actually takes a back seat on “Obsidian” and the album is produced by Sun Chung who accompanied Downes to the three churches at which this essentially solo album was recorded. Four pieces were recorded at Union Chapel in Islington, London, a further five at St. John the Baptist Church, Snape, Suffolk and the final piece, “The Gift” at St. Edmund’s Church, Bromeswell, Suffolk. Challenger appears on one piece, “Modern Gods”, but in essence this is a solo organ recording that inevitably evokes comparisons with Keith Jarrett’s 1976 ECM double album “Hymns / Spheres” recorded on the Trinity organ of Ottobeuren’s Benedictine abbey,

Steve Lake’s liner note essay, titled “Through a dark glass” sheds valuable light on Downes’ inspirations and working methods with regard to “Obsidian”. This includes an explanation of the album title, “Obsidian” being the dark, transparent natural glass that forms as the result of the cooling of molten lava.

Downes explains that in his youth he sang in the choir at Norwich Cathedral while also taking lessons from the resident organist. Downes subsequently played at services and also exhibited an ability for improvising on hymn tunes and other pieces. This coincided with his discovery of jazz, courtesy of an Oscar Peterson and Downes subsequently became a jazz pianist and occasional Hammond player. He credits Challenger and the Wedding Music / Vyamanikal project as the main reason for him returning to the church organ.

At the 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival I enjoyed a performance by Vyamanikal at Kings Place that featured Challenger on saxophones and Downes playing two Indian classical harmoniums to replicate the organ drones and sonorities that characterised the “Vyamanikal” album. 

A year later Downes played the magnificent three manual Father Willis organ at the Union Chapel, Islington as part of a duet with the improvising pianist and all round musical maverick Matthew Bourne. This lunchtime event was a collaboration between London Jazz Festival and promoters Daylight Music who deliver thirty such events at Union Chapel each year, usually featuring three different and highly diverse acts drawn from a variety of musical genres.

Downes describes the organs he plays on the album as “one large, one medium sized and one small”. He explains to Lake that each instrument has distinct characteristics and idiosyncrasies and describes the music that he has created for them as “giving a push and pull to the recording in terms of dynamic and size. I started writing with that in mind, with the idea of getting these organs from different parts of the UK speaking to each other. All built at different times, with different stops and different sounds. It feels like time travelling somehow, trying to find a common thread.”

He continues;
“I had a couple of models in mind when I started writing. One was the idea of “The Forgotten”, of creating a kind of folk language, almost, for abandoned instruments. The organ itself isn’t forgotten, obviously, but there are so many of these instruments in country churches around the UK whose capacities aren’t explored any more, and they’re rarely used for new music or improvisation. Another idea floating around simultaneously had to do with volcanicity and how things happen very quickly in that world and then lay dormant for long periods of time. An analogy in a way”.
Hence the album title.

The majority of the individual pieces began as improvisations. “I would jot down elements that I found particularly interesting – a stop combination, a register detail, perhaps a note cell, or just sounds. Then I’d start to fill in the cracks between the abstract ideas to make fuller pieces”.

Downes cites the influence of the French organist and composer Olivier Messiaen stating;
“the organ is the ultimate orchestrator.  For example what really appeals to me about Messiaen’s organ improvisations is how he blends the sounds of the instrument to give real form and colour to the performance. You can be both a composer and an orchestrator in the moment. And because the church organ is location specific it can be almost like playing a sculpture, knowing where the sound is going to come from, how it is going to beat with pitches from other pipes, how the sound will fill the room”.

The qualities which Downes assigns to Messiaen also inform his own playing.  There is indeed real form and colour about these performances and also a very human warmth that transmits itself through the mechanisms of the various instruments.

The album represents a kind of travelogue with Downes beginning his musical journey in London at the console of the three manual Henry Willis organ built in 1877. With this being an ECM album the quality of the recorded sound is cleaner than on the two Vyamanikal releases, a quality that is likely to give the album an even broader appeal.

The opening “Kings” explores the sonic and orchestral capabilities of the Willis organ, combining hymnal, Gothic grandeur with rhythmic pulses that suggest the influence of minimalism or even contemporary electronic music. Skilfully layered and rich in colour, texture and nuance the listener becomes enveloped in the music - at Union Chapel itself the sound almost seems to surround you, such is the power, beauty and majesty of an instrument that fits its surroundings perfectly.

On “Kings” Downes skilfully combines arresting upper register melodies with deeper sonorities and continues this process with an arrangement of the traditional folk tune “Black Is The Colour”, masterfully combining the beauty of the timeless melody with the majesty and grandeur of the organ.

“Rings of Saturn” is a composite of several improvisations and was recorded at Snape. The eerie, ethereal, spacey effects were arrived at by the manipulation of the organ stops as Downes explains;
“These are organs where I can manipulate the airflow through pulling out stops to various degrees. If you don’t send quite enough air through the pipe by not pulling it out to its natural position you can get very different changes in pitch. Depending on which stops you’re using you can split the pitch in two. It’s an effect that I like using, but it’s one which has been written out of the modern, more regulated organs.”
Jarrett used similar effects on the “Hymns / Spheres” recording, observing at the time that some of the textures he discovered sounded almost “electronic”.

The brief “Seeing Things” occupies similar sonic territory and was freely improvised, with Downes adding the proviso;
“but still based upon sounds that I’ve set, and where I’ve known in advance what I was going for”.
A good balance therefore, and totally in accordance with the aesthetic of the album as a whole.

Challenger joins Downes at Union Chapel for the dramatic “Modern Gods”, a kind of fugue for pipe organ and saxophone.. “It was Tom who really got me back into playing organ again and I wanted to have his sound somewhere on the album” comments Downes. At first Challenger is deployed as “a rogue set of pipes”, supplementing what Downes is playing. When his tenor saxophone finally takes flight the effect is dramatic, mesmerising and uplifting.
“I wanted ‘Modern Gods’ to be big” explains Downes “it’s a cut off point on the record where we leave behind the Union Chapel and go the much smaller organ at Snape”.

The next piece, “The Bone Gambler” is much more contemplative in tone, the sound of the organ softer and less grandiose, but no less compelling. There’s a calming, liturgical feel to the music that conjures up images of small, dusty country churches, while a recurring, increasingly insistent bass motif adds a more contemporary feel and a vaguely unsettling atmosphere. The piece was recorded close up by engineer Alex Bonney with Downes remarking;
“ so you can hear all the mechanical noises of the instrument. Part of my fascination with the organ is hearing the individual stops and then abstracting the different sounds and combining them. If you aim for a big sound a lot of the subtleties, the special characteristics of the organs, can get lost. At lower volumes they seem to reveal more of their true identities”.
It’s a similar approach to the one adopted on the first Vyamanikal recording on which the workings of the various instruments can be clearly heard, together with outside, location specific sounds like birdsong.

“Flying Foxes” finds Downes exploring another aspect of the Snape instrument via a series of darting, high register melodic motifs. “The size of the organ is perfect for the church it’s in” observes Downes. “I wanted to find an organ that could punctuate a faster and more militant quaver feel to give a little rhythmic energy, and because the Snape instrument is smaller, and the sound very direct, you can work on that scale”.

The intensely romantic “Ruth’s Song For The Sea” is a dedication to Downes’ wife, the bassist and composer Ruth Goller.  The piece features some of Downes’ most delightful melodic motifs in a beautiful performance that almost sounds as if the organist is conducting a duet with himself.

“Last Leviathan” conjures up something of the majesty of the cetaceans with its opening fanfares and fugues before a adopting a drone above which Downes replicates the sound of whale song courtesy of the organ’s keys, pipes and pedals. Like all of the other pieces on this remarkable album it’s a highly evocative performance.

The final piece, “The Gift”, is the closest that Downes comes to sounding like a traditional church organist. The tune itself was co-written by Kit with his father Paul Downes and is reminiscent of both a hymn tune and an English folk song. This is the only track to have been recorded on the organ at St. Edmund’s church in Bromeswell, a single manual organ with no pedalboard, essentially a converted harmonium. 
Downes comments;“I tried playing that piece on the other instruments as well, but no other organ I’ve ever played comes close to sounding like Bromeswell. For all its faults it is so individual, and has a very personal voice”

“Obsidian” is a fascinating record, one that absorbs the listener from start to finish. Downes’ command of melody, texture, colour and nuance draws you totally into his sound world. He’s a master soundscaper whose playing embraces the full sonic and orchestral capabilities of the various instruments that he uses. This is rich, evocative music, beyond genre, that utterly transcends any perceived limitations about its format.

The album has received overwhelmingly positive reviews and is a recording possessed of a strange, calming beauty.  Much of it ‘slow music’ but in a good way, unfolding gently and with the emphasis on colour, nuance and texture.

With Eicher not directly involved it is in many ways an atypical ECM record yet it fits perfectly into the label’s aesthetic. One can also imagine it being perfectly suited to BBC Radio 3’s ‘Late Junction’ audience and becoming a ‘crossover’ success in the manner of ECM’s recordings by Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble.

ECM just might just have another surprise hit on their hands.

The Weave - The Weave, Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 30/03/2018. Rating: 4 out of 5 The Weave’s unique blend of accessible compositions, superb playing and Liverpudlian wit and wisdom sent the crowd home happy.

The Weave, Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 30/03/2018.

Tonight was my second visit to the Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, a relatively new venture curated by
guitarist Barry Edwards and ceramic artist Claudia Lis.

 I know Claudia from her one time involvement with the Shrewsbury Jazz Network where 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, world and rock plus live theatre, comedy, poetry slams and more. Let’s hope that they can develop a loyal local following for their admirably 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.

I first attended an event at the Hermon in November 2017 when a disappointingly small crowd turned out to a witness a nevertheless excellent performance from the guitar duo of Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier who were touring their then newly released double album “The Colours Of Time”. My review of that show can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/oxley-meier-guitar-project-hermon-chapel-arts-centre-oswestry-shropshire-24/

There are signs that Barry and Claudia are starting to develop something of a following at the Hermon. A recent performance by the French born, London based vocalist Gabrielle Ducomble and her band attracted seventy five paying customers while tonight’s Good Friday performance by the Liverpudlian sextet The Weave pulled in an audience numbering around fifty. The crowd was particularly enthusiastic and supportive and this helped to elicit an excellent performance from the band who played with skill, verve and conviction throughout.

There can’t be many music fans who have witnessed two performances in a week by bands with a twin trumpet front line. But following the performance by the South Walian Chop Idols quintet fronted by Gethin Liddington and Ceri Williams at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny the previous Sunday here came The Weave with a similarly distinctive line up spearheaded by trumpeters Martin Smith and Anthony Peers. Smith is the leader and chief composer of a sextet that also features guitarist Anthony Ormesher, pianist Rob Stringer, bassist Hugo ‘Harry’ Harrison and drummer Tilo Pirnbaum.

Whereas Chop Idols concentrate on jazz and bebop standards written by the likes of Clark Terry and Dizzy Gillespie The Weave focus exclusively on original material, recognisably rooted in jazz but written from a contemporary and very personal perspective. The Weave’s music references pop and rock and is peppered with a quirky Liverpudlian wit.

The Weave first came to my attention in 2013 when I reviewed their eponymous début album, a release that created a bit of a stir nationally with the London based jazz media sitting up and taking notice. The album earned great reviews and attracted national airplay on Mark Radcliffe’s Radio 2 Music Box show and on Radio Three’s “Late Junction. A string of successful Festival appearances kept the pot bubbling and the buzz continued to grow with the release of 2015’s “Knowledge Porridge” which saw the core sextet augmented with guest performers. In March 2016 I saw the band play live when they gave an excellent performance at The Hive in Shrewsbury as a quintet; pianist Stringer had been taken ill on the day of the show and guitarist Ormesher was required to work overtime with the band triumphing in difficult circumstances.

For this welcome return visit to Shropshire The Weave were at full strength and although something of the initial buzz has subsided in the last couple of years a clutch of excellent new material suggested that the band’s eagerly awaited third album may not be too far round the corner.

Smith and Peers are experienced jazz and session musicians and were once members of the fondly remembered Brasshoppers outfit from around twenty years ago. Leader Smith’s list of influences is wide and includes such diverse trumpet stylists as Brits Digby Fairweather and Ian Carr and Americans Bobby Shew, Marvin Stamm, Louis Armstrong, Clark Terry,  Booker Little, Freddie Hubbard and the inevitable Miles Davis, but it’s Fairweather that he credits as his initial inspiration.  As a session musician Smith has had a long association with the Liverpool band The Wizards of Twiddly who once served as the backing group for the late Kevin Ayers. Besides the obvious jazz influences The Weave’s music also draws on Liverpool’s pop heritage with the album title “Knowledge Porridge” being sourced from a line in a La’s song. 

Of the other musicians in The Weave Ormesher was the only one that I was previously aware of thanks to his work with the Manchester based Magic Hat Ensemble, led by trumpeter Steve Chadwick and a band that once contained current GoGo Penguin members Nick Blacka (bass) and Rob Turner (drums). MHE released two albums “This Conversation Is Over” (2010) and “Made In Gorton” (2011) and also visited Shrewsbury’s Hive venue. Those records also created something of a buzz nationally, much as The Weave were to do later on.

As a writer Smith has a way with both a good tune and a good tune title. His highly accessible melodies are frequently ear-worms, a fragment of which invariably remains in the listener’s consciousness no matter how far The Weave’s supremely fluent soloists stretch out. In this sense his pieces owe something to the classic Blue Note bebop / hard bop tradition but they also contain more contemporary influences, often from the worlds of pop, rock and psychedelia but all within a recognisable jazz template. But there’s no sense that The Weave’s pieces are just a string of solos, Smith is far too skilled and individual writer for that.

The band kicked off with “Trumpet Ear”, a tune from their second album that saw Smith and Peers combining on a theme that provided the jumping off point for solos from Smith, Stringer and Ormesher. All three proved to be fluent, highly inventive soloists and it was good to see Stringer performing live for the first time on his Nord Stage 88 keyboard, set in acoustic piano mode. His presence brought something of ragtime feel to a tune that also embraced more contemporary musical influences.

From the band’s début “Thou Spak A Mouthful” has long been a Weave live favourite with a punchy, twin trumpet theme and a muscular bass and drum groove here fuelling incisive and imaginative solos from Peers, Stringer, Smith and Ormesher, the cool elegance of the guitarist’s solo contrasting well with the more strident sounds of the two trumpets.

A new Smith tune, “Heal And Reveal” was a skewed jazz waltz that featured a twin trumpet theme followed by solos from Stringer, Smith, Ormesher and Harrison prior to a restatement of the theme by Smith and Peers. No surprises as such, but a delightful tune, very much in the Weave tradition and one that bodes well for the future.

The same could be said for the following “Adam And Eve It” - rhyming titles seem to be the way to go for The Weave of 2018. This was a deliciously effective piece with its township flavourings suggesting that Smith may have drawn inspiration from the recently departed Hugh Masekela. Peers’ fiery, exuberant solo was arguably his best of the night and he was followed by the ever inventive Ormesher on guitar. A highly imaginative soloist who adopts an orthodox jazz guitar sound Ormesher has also absorbed the influences of such contemporary New York based guitarists as Kurt Rosenwinkel , Ben Monder and Gilad Hekselman.

Bassist Harrison also writes for the band and his “Mary Waited” represented another excellent new tune. This was introduced by Pirnbaum at the drums, who latter combined with the composer to create a stop-start groove that prompted an opening solo from Smith on plunger muted trumpet, the use of the mute bringing a vocalised, wah-wah element to his sound. Further solos came from Stringer on piano, Ormesher on guitar and finally Harrison himself on bass, singing along to his own melody and adding a welcome touch of humour to the proceedings.

Indeed, good humour and a sense of fun infused the whole evening with Smith presenting the show with a sardonic Scouse wit and positively revelling in the solos of his colleagues as he exhorted them to fresh heights of fluency and invention. The title of “Cold, Wet and Sockless”, a piece from the group’s début and which closed the first set here, is pure Weave. This was the track that was picked up by Mark Radcliffe and featured an arpeggiated, hip hop inspired groove that caused me to jot down the words “like a Scouse GoGo Penguin”. This, together with the short, pithy trumpet phrases of Smith and Peers inspired subsequent solos from Ormesher, Peers, Stringer and Smith. When not soloing Smith and Peers sat watching their bandmates from the pew in front of me, sometimes lifting their trumpets to their lips to play along. Great stuff, with band and audience literally as one.

Set two began with the confident ensemble strut of “The Pogo”, the opening track from the band’s second album. Co-authored by Smith and Stringer the piece once had lyrics written by  the late Jimmy Carl Black, one time drummer with Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention , the words themselves now sadly lost. Smith’s connection with Black came about due to the trumpeter’s involvement with The Wizards of Twiddly.

From the début Smith’s “Caresser, Caress Her” introduced a Latin feel to the proceedings with the twin trumpet melody leading to an opening solo from Stringer on piano. He was followed by Peers with a surprisingly effective scat vocal episode and then by Smith with a rather more orthodox trumpet solo.

Written by Smith and Ormesher for the début the atmospheric “As Within” was introduced by a carefully constructed and highly musical solo drum feature from Pirnbaum mainly involving the use of mallets to create a kind of tympani effect. Smith and Peers then sketched the theme, this leading to concise solos from Ormesher, Stringer and Smith.

A new Smith tune, “A Study In Fog”, juxtaposed lithe, boppish melodies with contemporary,  angular grooves, Smith stating the theme on trumpet as Peers sat out. Ormesher relished the chance to cut loose with a dazzling, fleet fingered solo that saw Smith roaring his encouragement. The trumpeter then took over with a strident, ebullient solo that was sometimes reminiscent of the late, great Lee Morgan at his best.. On piano Stringer proved to be just as inspired as his colleagues as he delivered an audaciously inventive solo, the whole piece climaxed by a powerful feature from Pirnbaum at the drums.

Another new Smith composition, “Night Time Now” cooled things down with Pirnbaum switching to brushes and Smith switching to flugel for the first time. Solos came from a thoughtful Ormesher on guitar,  a lyrical Stringer on piano and a melodic Harrison at the bass.

From the second album “Our Day On The Mountain” featured the combination of Smith on flugel and Peers on trumpet with the soloing honours going to Harrison, again fluent and melodic on the bass, and Stringer with a more expansive excursion at the piano.

The title track of “Knowledge Porridge” combined some rumbustious playing from the band with an improvised monologue from Peers that suggests an affinity for the spoken word that perhaps has its origins with the 1960s pop/poetry collective The Liverpool Scene ( Roger McGough, Adrian Henri,  Andy Roberts et al). Quirky grooves combined with equally quirky words as the audience roared Peers on. “I was thinking of going up into the pulpit at one point” he later told me, “but my mic lead wouldn’t reach”. Shame, that really would have been something.

The more mainstream jazz sounds of “Apart From That Mrs Lincoln” brought an excellent second set to a close with Ormesher leading off the solos on guitar prior to a twin trumpet set piece that saw Smith and Peers jousting joyously with each other as the rest of the band sat out. Peers then undertook a more orthodox trumpet solo followed by Stringer, Harrison and Tirnbaum, the latter involved in a thrilling series of exchanges with all the other musicians in the band.

The audience loved this and The Weave were persuaded to remain on stage to deliver an encore of Harrison’s tune “Para Parrot”, a tune from the group’s second album. This quirky, contemporary updating of the New Orleans sound also provided the encore at Shrewsbury and once again it proved to be great fun with the vocalised sounds of the two plunger muted trumpets harking right back to the days of Louis Armstrong and Bubber Miley. Stringer, Ormesher and composer Harrison also weighed in with impressive solos of their own as The Weave’s unique blend of accessible compositions, superb playing and Liverpudlian wit and wisdom sent the crowd home happy.

The Weave may have been quiet for a while but tonight proved that they have lost none of their verve and enthusiasm and are still capable of generating an impressive noise. The quality of the new material suggests that the keenly awaited third album is still a possibility although there are no firm plans to record just yet. Nevertheless it’s good to reveal that The Weave are still in rude health, playing just as well as ever and clearly enjoying it too. They play with a very North Western swagger, they know they’re good but don’t take themselves too seriously.

The audience reaction here made this a very good gig for them and it was equally heartening to see that Barry and Claudia are beginning to build an audience at the Hermon. Things are definitely growing and beginning to take off for them and long may it continue. The 2018 jazz programme at the Hermon continues as follows;

7th April - PSYCHOYOGI - Punk Jazz

27th April -  TALINKA QUARTET - Baroque meets Jazz & Tango; line-up: Tali Atzmon – vocals; Jenny Bliss Bennett - viola de gamba, violin, flute, vocals; Gilad Atzmon - bass clarinet, accordion and soprano sax; Yaron Stavi – double bass

28th April -  ‘FINDING YOUR OWN VOICE’ - Music Workshop for Singers with the TALINKA QUARTET

25th May - MACIEK PYSZ & GIANLUCA CORONA - Polish/Italian Guitar Duo; concert followed by a Q&A-session

29th June - JULIAN COSTELLO’S VERTIGO TRIO - Jazz with World Music Edge Julian Costello - soprano sax; Stefanos Tsourelis - oud, guitar; Adam Teixeira - tabla, percussion

30th June - JAZZ IMPROVISATION WORKSHOP with JULIAN COSTELLO’S VERTIGO TRIO

July – TBC

August - TBC

28th September – JEAN TOUSSAINT & THE YOUNG LIONS

26th October – TBC

30th November – SARAH GILLESPIE QUARTET

December – TBC

Further information at http://www.hermonchapel.com

 

The Weave, Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 30/03/2018.

The Weave

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

The Weave, Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 30/03/2018.
Photography: Photograph by Pam Mann.

The Weave’s unique blend of accessible compositions, superb playing and Liverpudlian wit and wisdom sent the crowd home happy.

The Weave, Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 30/03/2018.

Tonight was my second visit to the Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, a relatively new venture curated by
guitarist Barry Edwards and ceramic artist Claudia Lis.

 I know Claudia from her one time involvement with the Shrewsbury Jazz Network where 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, world and rock plus live theatre, comedy, poetry slams and more. Let’s hope that they can develop a loyal local following for their admirably 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.

I first attended an event at the Hermon in November 2017 when a disappointingly small crowd turned out to a witness a nevertheless excellent performance from the guitar duo of Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier who were touring their then newly released double album “The Colours Of Time”. My review of that show can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/oxley-meier-guitar-project-hermon-chapel-arts-centre-oswestry-shropshire-24/

There are signs that Barry and Claudia are starting to develop something of a following at the Hermon. A recent performance by the French born, London based vocalist Gabrielle Ducomble and her band attracted seventy five paying customers while tonight’s Good Friday performance by the Liverpudlian sextet The Weave pulled in an audience numbering around fifty. The crowd was particularly enthusiastic and supportive and this helped to elicit an excellent performance from the band who played with skill, verve and conviction throughout.

There can’t be many music fans who have witnessed two performances in a week by bands with a twin trumpet front line. But following the performance by the South Walian Chop Idols quintet fronted by Gethin Liddington and Ceri Williams at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny the previous Sunday here came The Weave with a similarly distinctive line up spearheaded by trumpeters Martin Smith and Anthony Peers. Smith is the leader and chief composer of a sextet that also features guitarist Anthony Ormesher, pianist Rob Stringer, bassist Hugo ‘Harry’ Harrison and drummer Tilo Pirnbaum.

Whereas Chop Idols concentrate on jazz and bebop standards written by the likes of Clark Terry and Dizzy Gillespie The Weave focus exclusively on original material, recognisably rooted in jazz but written from a contemporary and very personal perspective. The Weave’s music references pop and rock and is peppered with a quirky Liverpudlian wit.

The Weave first came to my attention in 2013 when I reviewed their eponymous début album, a release that created a bit of a stir nationally with the London based jazz media sitting up and taking notice. The album earned great reviews and attracted national airplay on Mark Radcliffe’s Radio 2 Music Box show and on Radio Three’s “Late Junction. A string of successful Festival appearances kept the pot bubbling and the buzz continued to grow with the release of 2015’s “Knowledge Porridge” which saw the core sextet augmented with guest performers. In March 2016 I saw the band play live when they gave an excellent performance at The Hive in Shrewsbury as a quintet; pianist Stringer had been taken ill on the day of the show and guitarist Ormesher was required to work overtime with the band triumphing in difficult circumstances.

For this welcome return visit to Shropshire The Weave were at full strength and although something of the initial buzz has subsided in the last couple of years a clutch of excellent new material suggested that the band’s eagerly awaited third album may not be too far round the corner.

Smith and Peers are experienced jazz and session musicians and were once members of the fondly remembered Brasshoppers outfit from around twenty years ago. Leader Smith’s list of influences is wide and includes such diverse trumpet stylists as Brits Digby Fairweather and Ian Carr and Americans Bobby Shew, Marvin Stamm, Louis Armstrong, Clark Terry,  Booker Little, Freddie Hubbard and the inevitable Miles Davis, but it’s Fairweather that he credits as his initial inspiration.  As a session musician Smith has had a long association with the Liverpool band The Wizards of Twiddly who once served as the backing group for the late Kevin Ayers. Besides the obvious jazz influences The Weave’s music also draws on Liverpool’s pop heritage with the album title “Knowledge Porridge” being sourced from a line in a La’s song. 

Of the other musicians in The Weave Ormesher was the only one that I was previously aware of thanks to his work with the Manchester based Magic Hat Ensemble, led by trumpeter Steve Chadwick and a band that once contained current GoGo Penguin members Nick Blacka (bass) and Rob Turner (drums). MHE released two albums “This Conversation Is Over” (2010) and “Made In Gorton” (2011) and also visited Shrewsbury’s Hive venue. Those records also created something of a buzz nationally, much as The Weave were to do later on.

As a writer Smith has a way with both a good tune and a good tune title. His highly accessible melodies are frequently ear-worms, a fragment of which invariably remains in the listener’s consciousness no matter how far The Weave’s supremely fluent soloists stretch out. In this sense his pieces owe something to the classic Blue Note bebop / hard bop tradition but they also contain more contemporary influences, often from the worlds of pop, rock and psychedelia but all within a recognisable jazz template. But there’s no sense that The Weave’s pieces are just a string of solos, Smith is far too skilled and individual writer for that.

The band kicked off with “Trumpet Ear”, a tune from their second album that saw Smith and Peers combining on a theme that provided the jumping off point for solos from Smith, Stringer and Ormesher. All three proved to be fluent, highly inventive soloists and it was good to see Stringer performing live for the first time on his Nord Stage 88 keyboard, set in acoustic piano mode. His presence brought something of ragtime feel to a tune that also embraced more contemporary musical influences.

From the band’s début “Thou Spak A Mouthful” has long been a Weave live favourite with a punchy, twin trumpet theme and a muscular bass and drum groove here fuelling incisive and imaginative solos from Peers, Stringer, Smith and Ormesher, the cool elegance of the guitarist’s solo contrasting well with the more strident sounds of the two trumpets.

A new Smith tune, “Heal And Reveal” was a skewed jazz waltz that featured a twin trumpet theme followed by solos from Stringer, Smith, Ormesher and Harrison prior to a restatement of the theme by Smith and Peers. No surprises as such, but a delightful tune, very much in the Weave tradition and one that bodes well for the future.

The same could be said for the following “Adam And Eve It” - rhyming titles seem to be the way to go for The Weave of 2018. This was a deliciously effective piece with its township flavourings suggesting that Smith may have drawn inspiration from the recently departed Hugh Masekela. Peers’ fiery, exuberant solo was arguably his best of the night and he was followed by the ever inventive Ormesher on guitar. A highly imaginative soloist who adopts an orthodox jazz guitar sound Ormesher has also absorbed the influences of such contemporary New York based guitarists as Kurt Rosenwinkel , Ben Monder and Gilad Hekselman.

Bassist Harrison also writes for the band and his “Mary Waited” represented another excellent new tune. This was introduced by Pirnbaum at the drums, who latter combined with the composer to create a stop-start groove that prompted an opening solo from Smith on plunger muted trumpet, the use of the mute bringing a vocalised, wah-wah element to his sound. Further solos came from Stringer on piano, Ormesher on guitar and finally Harrison himself on bass, singing along to his own melody and adding a welcome touch of humour to the proceedings.

Indeed, good humour and a sense of fun infused the whole evening with Smith presenting the show with a sardonic Scouse wit and positively revelling in the solos of his colleagues as he exhorted them to fresh heights of fluency and invention. The title of “Cold, Wet and Sockless”, a piece from the group’s début and which closed the first set here, is pure Weave. This was the track that was picked up by Mark Radcliffe and featured an arpeggiated, hip hop inspired groove that caused me to jot down the words “like a Scouse GoGo Penguin”. This, together with the short, pithy trumpet phrases of Smith and Peers inspired subsequent solos from Ormesher, Peers, Stringer and Smith. When not soloing Smith and Peers sat watching their bandmates from the pew in front of me, sometimes lifting their trumpets to their lips to play along. Great stuff, with band and audience literally as one.

Set two began with the confident ensemble strut of “The Pogo”, the opening track from the band’s second album. Co-authored by Smith and Stringer the piece once had lyrics written by  the late Jimmy Carl Black, one time drummer with Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention , the words themselves now sadly lost. Smith’s connection with Black came about due to the trumpeter’s involvement with The Wizards of Twiddly.

From the début Smith’s “Caresser, Caress Her” introduced a Latin feel to the proceedings with the twin trumpet melody leading to an opening solo from Stringer on piano. He was followed by Peers with a surprisingly effective scat vocal episode and then by Smith with a rather more orthodox trumpet solo.

Written by Smith and Ormesher for the début the atmospheric “As Within” was introduced by a carefully constructed and highly musical solo drum feature from Pirnbaum mainly involving the use of mallets to create a kind of tympani effect. Smith and Peers then sketched the theme, this leading to concise solos from Ormesher, Stringer and Smith.

A new Smith tune, “A Study In Fog”, juxtaposed lithe, boppish melodies with contemporary,  angular grooves, Smith stating the theme on trumpet as Peers sat out. Ormesher relished the chance to cut loose with a dazzling, fleet fingered solo that saw Smith roaring his encouragement. The trumpeter then took over with a strident, ebullient solo that was sometimes reminiscent of the late, great Lee Morgan at his best.. On piano Stringer proved to be just as inspired as his colleagues as he delivered an audaciously inventive solo, the whole piece climaxed by a powerful feature from Pirnbaum at the drums.

Another new Smith composition, “Night Time Now” cooled things down with Pirnbaum switching to brushes and Smith switching to flugel for the first time. Solos came from a thoughtful Ormesher on guitar,  a lyrical Stringer on piano and a melodic Harrison at the bass.

From the second album “Our Day On The Mountain” featured the combination of Smith on flugel and Peers on trumpet with the soloing honours going to Harrison, again fluent and melodic on the bass, and Stringer with a more expansive excursion at the piano.

The title track of “Knowledge Porridge” combined some rumbustious playing from the band with an improvised monologue from Peers that suggests an affinity for the spoken word that perhaps has its origins with the 1960s pop/poetry collective The Liverpool Scene ( Roger McGough, Adrian Henri,  Andy Roberts et al). Quirky grooves combined with equally quirky words as the audience roared Peers on. “I was thinking of going up into the pulpit at one point” he later told me, “but my mic lead wouldn’t reach”. Shame, that really would have been something.

The more mainstream jazz sounds of “Apart From That Mrs Lincoln” brought an excellent second set to a close with Ormesher leading off the solos on guitar prior to a twin trumpet set piece that saw Smith and Peers jousting joyously with each other as the rest of the band sat out. Peers then undertook a more orthodox trumpet solo followed by Stringer, Harrison and Tirnbaum, the latter involved in a thrilling series of exchanges with all the other musicians in the band.

The audience loved this and The Weave were persuaded to remain on stage to deliver an encore of Harrison’s tune “Para Parrot”, a tune from the group’s second album. This quirky, contemporary updating of the New Orleans sound also provided the encore at Shrewsbury and once again it proved to be great fun with the vocalised sounds of the two plunger muted trumpets harking right back to the days of Louis Armstrong and Bubber Miley. Stringer, Ormesher and composer Harrison also weighed in with impressive solos of their own as The Weave’s unique blend of accessible compositions, superb playing and Liverpudlian wit and wisdom sent the crowd home happy.

The Weave may have been quiet for a while but tonight proved that they have lost none of their verve and enthusiasm and are still capable of generating an impressive noise. The quality of the new material suggests that the keenly awaited third album is still a possibility although there are no firm plans to record just yet. Nevertheless it’s good to reveal that The Weave are still in rude health, playing just as well as ever and clearly enjoying it too. They play with a very North Western swagger, they know they’re good but don’t take themselves too seriously.

The audience reaction here made this a very good gig for them and it was equally heartening to see that Barry and Claudia are beginning to build an audience at the Hermon. Things are definitely growing and beginning to take off for them and long may it continue. The 2018 jazz programme at the Hermon continues as follows;

7th April - PSYCHOYOGI - Punk Jazz

27th April -  TALINKA QUARTET - Baroque meets Jazz & Tango; line-up: Tali Atzmon – vocals; Jenny Bliss Bennett - viola de gamba, violin, flute, vocals; Gilad Atzmon - bass clarinet, accordion and soprano sax; Yaron Stavi – double bass

28th April -  ‘FINDING YOUR OWN VOICE’ - Music Workshop for Singers with the TALINKA QUARTET

25th May - MACIEK PYSZ & GIANLUCA CORONA - Polish/Italian Guitar Duo; concert followed by a Q&A-session

29th June - JULIAN COSTELLO’S VERTIGO TRIO - Jazz with World Music Edge Julian Costello - soprano sax; Stefanos Tsourelis - oud, guitar; Adam Teixeira - tabla, percussion

30th June - JAZZ IMPROVISATION WORKSHOP with JULIAN COSTELLO’S VERTIGO TRIO

July – TBC

August - TBC

28th September – JEAN TOUSSAINT & THE YOUNG LIONS

26th October – TBC

30th November – SARAH GILLESPIE QUARTET

December – TBC

Further information at http://www.hermonchapel.com

 

Chris Laurence Quartet - Chris Laurence Quartet, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 29/03/2018. Rating: 4-5 out of 5 "This band is a true ensemble, drawing on all the colours within its sound palette to create music of the highest order". Guest contributor Trevor Bannister on the Chris Laurence Quartet.

Chris Laurence Quartet
 
Chris Laurence (bass), Frank Ricotti (vibes), John Parricelli (guitar), Martin France (drums)
 
Progress Theatre, Reading | Thursday 29 March 2018
 
Take four world-class musicians who spend much of their professional life in studios, happen to be long-standing associates; Chris Laurence and Frank Ricotti first met as members of the National Youth Orchestra fifty years ago, good friends and connected by the common thread of having worked with Kenny Wheeler. Put them together with the opportunity to express themselves freely with music of their own choice, and with a set list drawn from the greats of jazz composition, like Wheeler and John Taylor, and you have the ideal ingredients for a creative evening. No matter, battling with pre-Bank Holiday traffic or dreadful rain-swept driving conditions, the gig is the thing, to which the appreciative Progress audience were fortunate to bear witness on 29 March.
 
Chris Laurence neatly summed up the band’s philosophy after the opening number, Kenny Wheeler’s ‘The Jigsaw’. ‘When you put a jigsaw together,’ he remarked. ‘The picture is always the same. But when we put our jazz jigsaw together the picture is always different.’
 
Chris is phenomenal, as much a front-line player as the rhythmic heart of the quartet. He rightly occupies centre-stage rather than the bassist’s customary place tucked away at the back. I can think of players with a bigger sound, but no one with such melodic elegance, speed, exquisite delicacy and emotional depth. He conjures sounds from his instrument that one cannot imagine previously existed, a quality he attributes to his years of experience in a huge range of music. His deeply moving introduction to Kenny Wheeler’s ‘Old Ballad’, a dedication to his father, showed him to be a perfect interpreter of the composer’s unique emotional landscape and its curious mix of melancholy and joyful life-enhancing celebration.
 
Frank Ricotti is a ‘wizard of the vibes’. His four-mallet approach to the instrument is a spellbinding sight to behold, whether it be in creating swinging, fast-flowing solo runs, playing straight ballads, Cole Porter’s ‘Everything I Love’ or ‘Summer Nights’ by Harry Warren’s, or filling in the ensemble sound with Airto Moreira’s delightful Latin American excursion ‘Mixing’ or John Taylor’s hauntingly atmospheric ‘Between Moons’.
 
John Parricelli is a story teller, who holds one in his narrative grip as each solo unfolds. His extended contribution to ‘Brewster’s Rooster’, the title track from John Surman’s 2007 album with John Abercrombie, was especially effective, with its feel of bluesy-rock. As Chris Laurence declared in his introduction, this was not the sort of number one usually associates with John Surman, but great fun!
 
Martin France, technically brilliant, but never over powering, upholds the school of drumming pioneered by Elvin Jones and Tony Williams; time is implied rather than openly stated. This floating platform of sound and rhythm gives a wonderful sense of freedom that allows the musicians to head off in any direction they choose … and this is music that keeps everyone on their toes!
His featured number, another Kenny Wheeler composition ‘Mark Time’ prompted me to wonder whether the composer ever served in the military. He would have learnt to Mark Time on the parade ground, keeping precisely with his squad, but marching on the spot without moving forward. There was nothing military-like about ‘Mark Time’, but it did make me think that sometimes, and certainly in this case, given the collective inventive genius of the band, an awful lot of musical territory can be explored without necessarily having to move ‘off the spot’.
 
Above all this band is a true ensemble, drawing on all the colours within its sound palette to create music of the highest order. Stan Sulzmann’s ‘Saying No’ was a case in point; a composition for Stan’s big band, that lost none of its vigour or impact for having been reduced to an arrangement for a small group. It also celebrates a particularly rich vein of British jazz based on the music and enduring spirit of Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor.
 
The evening finished with two more compositions from the prolific pen of Kenny Wheeler. ‘Everybody’s Song But My Own’ is perhaps the nearest thing that Kenny ever had to a ‘hit tune’, a beautiful, emotionally ambiguous tune in waltz time, it rightly deserves its place as a modern jazz standard. Then ‘The Long Waiting’ brought things to a slow-paced and thoughtful close with yet another reminder of what a marvellous bass player Chris Laurence is.
 
A young fan summed things up perfectly as he left the auditorium. ‘I just loved the sound,’ he remarked.
 
As ever, very many thanks to the Progress team for their warm hospitality, adaptability and a range of skills that ensure ‘Jazz at Progress’ always runs smoothly.

Chris Laurence Quartet, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 29/03/2018.

Chris Laurence Quartet

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Reviewed by: Trevor Bannister

Live Review

4-5 out of 5

Chris Laurence Quartet, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 29/03/2018.
Photography: Photograph by Zoë White.

"This band is a true ensemble, drawing on all the colours within its sound palette to create music of the highest order". Guest contributor Trevor Bannister on the Chris Laurence Quartet.

Chris Laurence Quartet
 
Chris Laurence (bass), Frank Ricotti (vibes), John Parricelli (guitar), Martin France (drums)
 
Progress Theatre, Reading | Thursday 29 March 2018
 
Take four world-class musicians who spend much of their professional life in studios, happen to be long-standing associates; Chris Laurence and Frank Ricotti first met as members of the National Youth Orchestra fifty years ago, good friends and connected by the common thread of having worked with Kenny Wheeler. Put them together with the opportunity to express themselves freely with music of their own choice, and with a set list drawn from the greats of jazz composition, like Wheeler and John Taylor, and you have the ideal ingredients for a creative evening. No matter, battling with pre-Bank Holiday traffic or dreadful rain-swept driving conditions, the gig is the thing, to which the appreciative Progress audience were fortunate to bear witness on 29 March.
 
Chris Laurence neatly summed up the band’s philosophy after the opening number, Kenny Wheeler’s ‘The Jigsaw’. ‘When you put a jigsaw together,’ he remarked. ‘The picture is always the same. But when we put our jazz jigsaw together the picture is always different.’
 
Chris is phenomenal, as much a front-line player as the rhythmic heart of the quartet. He rightly occupies centre-stage rather than the bassist’s customary place tucked away at the back. I can think of players with a bigger sound, but no one with such melodic elegance, speed, exquisite delicacy and emotional depth. He conjures sounds from his instrument that one cannot imagine previously existed, a quality he attributes to his years of experience in a huge range of music. His deeply moving introduction to Kenny Wheeler’s ‘Old Ballad’, a dedication to his father, showed him to be a perfect interpreter of the composer’s unique emotional landscape and its curious mix of melancholy and joyful life-enhancing celebration.
 
Frank Ricotti is a ‘wizard of the vibes’. His four-mallet approach to the instrument is a spellbinding sight to behold, whether it be in creating swinging, fast-flowing solo runs, playing straight ballads, Cole Porter’s ‘Everything I Love’ or ‘Summer Nights’ by Harry Warren’s, or filling in the ensemble sound with Airto Moreira’s delightful Latin American excursion ‘Mixing’ or John Taylor’s hauntingly atmospheric ‘Between Moons’.
 
John Parricelli is a story teller, who holds one in his narrative grip as each solo unfolds. His extended contribution to ‘Brewster’s Rooster’, the title track from John Surman’s 2007 album with John Abercrombie, was especially effective, with its feel of bluesy-rock. As Chris Laurence declared in his introduction, this was not the sort of number one usually associates with John Surman, but great fun!
 
Martin France, technically brilliant, but never over powering, upholds the school of drumming pioneered by Elvin Jones and Tony Williams; time is implied rather than openly stated. This floating platform of sound and rhythm gives a wonderful sense of freedom that allows the musicians to head off in any direction they choose … and this is music that keeps everyone on their toes!
His featured number, another Kenny Wheeler composition ‘Mark Time’ prompted me to wonder whether the composer ever served in the military. He would have learnt to Mark Time on the parade ground, keeping precisely with his squad, but marching on the spot without moving forward. There was nothing military-like about ‘Mark Time’, but it did make me think that sometimes, and certainly in this case, given the collective inventive genius of the band, an awful lot of musical territory can be explored without necessarily having to move ‘off the spot’.
 
Above all this band is a true ensemble, drawing on all the colours within its sound palette to create music of the highest order. Stan Sulzmann’s ‘Saying No’ was a case in point; a composition for Stan’s big band, that lost none of its vigour or impact for having been reduced to an arrangement for a small group. It also celebrates a particularly rich vein of British jazz based on the music and enduring spirit of Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor.
 
The evening finished with two more compositions from the prolific pen of Kenny Wheeler. ‘Everybody’s Song But My Own’ is perhaps the nearest thing that Kenny ever had to a ‘hit tune’, a beautiful, emotionally ambiguous tune in waltz time, it rightly deserves its place as a modern jazz standard. Then ‘The Long Waiting’ brought things to a slow-paced and thoughtful close with yet another reminder of what a marvellous bass player Chris Laurence is.
 
A young fan summed things up perfectly as he left the auditorium. ‘I just loved the sound,’ he remarked.
 
As ever, very many thanks to the Progress team for their warm hospitality, adaptability and a range of skills that ensure ‘Jazz at Progress’ always runs smoothly.

Bruno Heinen - Mr. Vertigo Rating: 4 out of 5 A solo piano recording that is capable of sustaining the listener’s attention throughout.

Bruno Heinen

“Mr. Vertigo”

(Babel Records BBDV18151)

Bruno Heinen is a London based pianist and composer who has established an impressive reputation in both the jazz and classical music fields, with his work frequently combining elements of the two genres.

He has enjoyed a lengthy association with the Babel record label for whom he has released five previous albums, The first of these, “Twinkle, Twinkle” (2012) was a set of variations on the well known nursery rhyme theme recorded with his Dialogues Trio featuring bassist Andrea di Biase and drummer Jon Scott together with guest reed soloist Julian Siegel.

Next came “Tierkreis”,  (2013) a superb re-interpretation of the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen in a contemporary jazz context which saw Heinen’s group expanded to a sextet with the addition of horn players Fulvio Sigurta (trumpet), Tom Challenger (tenor sax) and James Allsopp (clarinet).


The self explanatory “Postcard To Bill Evans” (2015) was an intimate duo set with the Danish guitarist Kristian Borring, while “Changing Of The Seasons” (2017) re-imagined Vivaldi in a collaboration with the Geneva based string ensemble Camerata Alma Viva.

Also in 2017 Heinen was part of the New Simplicity Trio featuring the Italian drummer and composer Antonio Fusco and the London based Danish bassist Henrik Jensen. These three collaborated on the album “Common Spaces”, also released on Babel.

Others with whom Heinen has worked include vocalists Reem Kelani, Emilia Martensson and Heidi Vogel and saxophonists Jean Toussaint, Julian Arguelles and Rachel Cohen..

He recently occupied the piano chair in a production of Leonard Bernstein’s “Wonderful Town” featuring the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle at the Barbican.

Also something of an academic Heinen studied classical piano at the Royal College of Music with Head of Keyboard Andrew Ball before moving on to complete a Masters Degree in Jazz at the Guildhall where his tutors included the celebrated jazz pianists John Taylor and Pete Saberton, both sadly no longer with us. Heinen dedicates “Mr. Vertigo” to their memories.

Heinen is currently undertaking a practice based AHRC funded PhD at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester “Counterpoint in Jazz Piano with specific relation to the solo work of Fred Hersch”. He is also due to perform solo at the forthcoming Debussy Perspectives Festival at the RNCM.

As a composer Heinen has written pieces for two pianos and percussion, jazz sextet, jazz big band and classical string ensemble. He has won prizes from the Musicians Benevolent Fund and the Countess of Munster Trust and in 2009 was nominated for the Paul Hamlyn Composers Award.

Heinen’s latest album is inspired by his studies in counterpoint at the RNCM.  It is a solo recording described as “an exploration of solo piano counterpoint” featuring ten pieces that draw on Heinen’s broad range of influences including jazz, classical and even pop music. Seven pieces are original compositions, often inspired by the works of others, while the outside material includes Heinen arrangements of material by composers as diverse as Stockhausen, Jimmy Rowles and James Taylor.

Heinen’s album notes shed some valuable light on the individual pieces beginning with “The Forgotten Image”, a Heinen composition inspired by the music of Claude Debussy (1862-1918) and specifically his “Images Oubliees”, a work written in 1894 but not published in its entirety until 1977.  Heinen’s classically honed lightness of touch is apparent throughout and the reflective improvised section takes its inspiration from Debussy’s remark about his composition; “not for brilliantly lit salons, but rather conversations between the piano and oneself”.

Also credited to Heinen “Hommage A Kurtag” is an improvisation played using only the index fingers of each hand. This approach was inspired by the “Jatekok” series composed by the still living Hungarian pianist and composer Gyorgy Kurtag (born 1926). Kurtag himself explains the inspiration behind “Jatekok” thus;
“The idea of composing ‘Jatekok’ was inspired by children playing spontaneously, they pile up seemingly disconnected sounds and if this happens to arouse their musical instinct they look consciously for some of the harmonies found by chance and keep repeating them”.
Once again the mood is reflective, the piece may represent something of a “technical exercise” but due in part to its simplicity it is also hauntingly beautiful.

Heinen turns to jazz for inspiration on “Daydreamer”, a piece inspired by saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s composition “Night Dreamer”. Here Heinen switches to Fender Rhodes as he explores the relationship between two different time signatures. The use of the electric keyboard gives the piece an ethereal quality wholly in keeping with its title, while also arguably paying subtle homage to “In A Silent Way” and early Weather Report. “Although the beat does float, it is also set in a heavy groove. It’s a paradox in a way, like you’d have in a dream” comments Shorter on his original composition.

“Virgo” finds Heinen revisiting “Tierkreis”, Stockhausen’s zodiac inspired work.  This version features Heinen duetting with an original Stockhausen music box on a piece that maintains the otherworldly mood established by “Daydreamer”. On the 2013 “Tierkreis” recording “Virgo” featured Heinen duetting with trumpeter Fulvio Sigurta with the sound of the music box added midway through the piece. A full review of the“ Tierkreis” album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/bruno-heinen-sextet-tierkreis/

The beautiful Jimmy Rowles tune “The Peacocks”, written for the 1975 album of the same name featuring saxophonist Stan Getz, has long been a favourite vehicle for jazz musicians, particularly Rowles’ fellow pianists. Heinen’s elegant arrangement adds contrapuntal elements in keeping with the theme of the album while losing nothing of the essential beauty of the piece. Heinen also takes inspiration from the lyrics later added by British vocalist Norma Winstone with an excerpt featuring in the album packaging;
“I still hear the ringing of the church bells in the morning
The Peacocks still calling out their sad and bitter warning
Beauty is only an illusion here
Your true is an intrusion
A mirage is all it’s ever been”.


This leads directly into Heinen’s own “Mirage”, a suitably mysterious sounding piece that makes subtle use of the interior of the instrument plus judicious overdubbing and post production techniques. Once again words are used as a source in inspiration, these written by Nicki Heinen, Bruno’s sister;
“Delicate as a hummingbird, heat on sand
sweat blisters, lost to the sun
cracked tongue given to air
bluish bracken, green on green
at the horizon, closer and further,
the heady sent of water”.

“International Blues” finds Heinen doubling on acoustic and electric pianos and essentially sparring with himself on an original composition inspired by the colour International Blue developed by the artist Yves Klein. Amidst the jostling contrapuntal lines the piece also possesses an agreeable bluesiness that suggests an alternative interpretation of the title.

The title track draws its inspiration from Paul Auster’s book of the same name. I recall that the former Loose Tubes flautist Eddie Parker used to lead a band called Mr. Vertigo, the band name presumably drawing on the same source of inspiration. However I digress. The music has a brooding, sombre quality in keeping with Heinen’s description “the piece describes the nightmare of a boy being buried alive by his master as part of his quest of learning to fly”. There’s a kind of chilling beauty about it.

“In Kocki” is a Heinen original inspired by a recent trip to India and makes use of the Vagadhibhusani South Indian Karnatic Scale or ‘mela’. It’s a complex, vibrant, highly rhythmic piece that allows the listener to fully appreciate Heinen’s awesome technical abilities. There’s also a judicious amount of post production too.

The album concludes with Heinen’s arrangement of the well known James Taylor song “Fire And Rain”, which its composer has described as “a look at trying to pick up and get started again”. After the frenetic “In Kocki” the serenity of Heinen’s arrangement comes as quite a contrast.  It’s a lengthy performance that I suspect may be largely improvised with Taylor’s familiar melody only appearing towards the end of the piece. The feel of the music is classical, rather than jazz or folk, but once again it’s genuinely beautiful.

With its mix of musical styles “Mr. Vertigo” is a solo piano recording that is capable of sustaining the listener’s attention throughout. The judicious use of Rhodes and post production techniques provides additional colour and texture but it’s Heinen’s acoustic playing that really carries the day. He draws upon many sources of inspiration but ultimately the music feels like his own. Despite the agreeable and admirable diversity there’s also an organic quality about the album, a feeling of unity and purpose. It’s often very beautiful and doesn’t in any way feel dry and academic.

Despite the fact that the acoustic piano part were recorded at the Vortex Jazz Club in London Heinen launches the album at Kings Place on March 29th 2018 before playing a short series of other UK dates as below;


Thurs. 29 March
8.00pm
LONDON - Kings Place, Hall 2, 90 York Way, N1 9AG   * ALBUM LAUNCH*
£12.50/ £9.50 http://www.kingsplace.co.uk/whats-on/music/bruno-heinen-mr-vertigo-album-launch#.Wil9g2SMjZ


Sunday 1 April
8.00pm
ASHBURTON - St. Laurence Chapel, 21 St Lawrence Ln, Newton Abbot TQ13 7DD   £13 or £6 https://www.facebook.com/ashburtonlive/


Weds. 4 April
8.30pm
CARDIFF - Flute and Tankard, 4 Windsor Place £7 http://thefluteandtankard.com/


Sunday 15 April
8.15pm
LONDON – Vortex Jazz Club, Gillet Square N16 £10 http://www.vortexjazz.co.uk/   

 

 

Mr. Vertigo

Bruno Heinen

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Mr. Vertigo

A solo piano recording that is capable of sustaining the listener’s attention throughout.

Bruno Heinen

“Mr. Vertigo”

(Babel Records BBDV18151)

Bruno Heinen is a London based pianist and composer who has established an impressive reputation in both the jazz and classical music fields, with his work frequently combining elements of the two genres.

He has enjoyed a lengthy association with the Babel record label for whom he has released five previous albums, The first of these, “Twinkle, Twinkle” (2012) was a set of variations on the well known nursery rhyme theme recorded with his Dialogues Trio featuring bassist Andrea di Biase and drummer Jon Scott together with guest reed soloist Julian Siegel.

Next came “Tierkreis”,  (2013) a superb re-interpretation of the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen in a contemporary jazz context which saw Heinen’s group expanded to a sextet with the addition of horn players Fulvio Sigurta (trumpet), Tom Challenger (tenor sax) and James Allsopp (clarinet).


The self explanatory “Postcard To Bill Evans” (2015) was an intimate duo set with the Danish guitarist Kristian Borring, while “Changing Of The Seasons” (2017) re-imagined Vivaldi in a collaboration with the Geneva based string ensemble Camerata Alma Viva.

Also in 2017 Heinen was part of the New Simplicity Trio featuring the Italian drummer and composer Antonio Fusco and the London based Danish bassist Henrik Jensen. These three collaborated on the album “Common Spaces”, also released on Babel.

Others with whom Heinen has worked include vocalists Reem Kelani, Emilia Martensson and Heidi Vogel and saxophonists Jean Toussaint, Julian Arguelles and Rachel Cohen..

He recently occupied the piano chair in a production of Leonard Bernstein’s “Wonderful Town” featuring the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle at the Barbican.

Also something of an academic Heinen studied classical piano at the Royal College of Music with Head of Keyboard Andrew Ball before moving on to complete a Masters Degree in Jazz at the Guildhall where his tutors included the celebrated jazz pianists John Taylor and Pete Saberton, both sadly no longer with us. Heinen dedicates “Mr. Vertigo” to their memories.

Heinen is currently undertaking a practice based AHRC funded PhD at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester “Counterpoint in Jazz Piano with specific relation to the solo work of Fred Hersch”. He is also due to perform solo at the forthcoming Debussy Perspectives Festival at the RNCM.

As a composer Heinen has written pieces for two pianos and percussion, jazz sextet, jazz big band and classical string ensemble. He has won prizes from the Musicians Benevolent Fund and the Countess of Munster Trust and in 2009 was nominated for the Paul Hamlyn Composers Award.

Heinen’s latest album is inspired by his studies in counterpoint at the RNCM.  It is a solo recording described as “an exploration of solo piano counterpoint” featuring ten pieces that draw on Heinen’s broad range of influences including jazz, classical and even pop music. Seven pieces are original compositions, often inspired by the works of others, while the outside material includes Heinen arrangements of material by composers as diverse as Stockhausen, Jimmy Rowles and James Taylor.

Heinen’s album notes shed some valuable light on the individual pieces beginning with “The Forgotten Image”, a Heinen composition inspired by the music of Claude Debussy (1862-1918) and specifically his “Images Oubliees”, a work written in 1894 but not published in its entirety until 1977.  Heinen’s classically honed lightness of touch is apparent throughout and the reflective improvised section takes its inspiration from Debussy’s remark about his composition; “not for brilliantly lit salons, but rather conversations between the piano and oneself”.

Also credited to Heinen “Hommage A Kurtag” is an improvisation played using only the index fingers of each hand. This approach was inspired by the “Jatekok” series composed by the still living Hungarian pianist and composer Gyorgy Kurtag (born 1926). Kurtag himself explains the inspiration behind “Jatekok” thus;
“The idea of composing ‘Jatekok’ was inspired by children playing spontaneously, they pile up seemingly disconnected sounds and if this happens to arouse their musical instinct they look consciously for some of the harmonies found by chance and keep repeating them”.
Once again the mood is reflective, the piece may represent something of a “technical exercise” but due in part to its simplicity it is also hauntingly beautiful.

Heinen turns to jazz for inspiration on “Daydreamer”, a piece inspired by saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s composition “Night Dreamer”. Here Heinen switches to Fender Rhodes as he explores the relationship between two different time signatures. The use of the electric keyboard gives the piece an ethereal quality wholly in keeping with its title, while also arguably paying subtle homage to “In A Silent Way” and early Weather Report. “Although the beat does float, it is also set in a heavy groove. It’s a paradox in a way, like you’d have in a dream” comments Shorter on his original composition.

“Virgo” finds Heinen revisiting “Tierkreis”, Stockhausen’s zodiac inspired work.  This version features Heinen duetting with an original Stockhausen music box on a piece that maintains the otherworldly mood established by “Daydreamer”. On the 2013 “Tierkreis” recording “Virgo” featured Heinen duetting with trumpeter Fulvio Sigurta with the sound of the music box added midway through the piece. A full review of the“ Tierkreis” album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/bruno-heinen-sextet-tierkreis/

The beautiful Jimmy Rowles tune “The Peacocks”, written for the 1975 album of the same name featuring saxophonist Stan Getz, has long been a favourite vehicle for jazz musicians, particularly Rowles’ fellow pianists. Heinen’s elegant arrangement adds contrapuntal elements in keeping with the theme of the album while losing nothing of the essential beauty of the piece. Heinen also takes inspiration from the lyrics later added by British vocalist Norma Winstone with an excerpt featuring in the album packaging;
“I still hear the ringing of the church bells in the morning
The Peacocks still calling out their sad and bitter warning
Beauty is only an illusion here
Your true is an intrusion
A mirage is all it’s ever been”.


This leads directly into Heinen’s own “Mirage”, a suitably mysterious sounding piece that makes subtle use of the interior of the instrument plus judicious overdubbing and post production techniques. Once again words are used as a source in inspiration, these written by Nicki Heinen, Bruno’s sister;
“Delicate as a hummingbird, heat on sand
sweat blisters, lost to the sun
cracked tongue given to air
bluish bracken, green on green
at the horizon, closer and further,
the heady sent of water”.

“International Blues” finds Heinen doubling on acoustic and electric pianos and essentially sparring with himself on an original composition inspired by the colour International Blue developed by the artist Yves Klein. Amidst the jostling contrapuntal lines the piece also possesses an agreeable bluesiness that suggests an alternative interpretation of the title.

The title track draws its inspiration from Paul Auster’s book of the same name. I recall that the former Loose Tubes flautist Eddie Parker used to lead a band called Mr. Vertigo, the band name presumably drawing on the same source of inspiration. However I digress. The music has a brooding, sombre quality in keeping with Heinen’s description “the piece describes the nightmare of a boy being buried alive by his master as part of his quest of learning to fly”. There’s a kind of chilling beauty about it.

“In Kocki” is a Heinen original inspired by a recent trip to India and makes use of the Vagadhibhusani South Indian Karnatic Scale or ‘mela’. It’s a complex, vibrant, highly rhythmic piece that allows the listener to fully appreciate Heinen’s awesome technical abilities. There’s also a judicious amount of post production too.

The album concludes with Heinen’s arrangement of the well known James Taylor song “Fire And Rain”, which its composer has described as “a look at trying to pick up and get started again”. After the frenetic “In Kocki” the serenity of Heinen’s arrangement comes as quite a contrast.  It’s a lengthy performance that I suspect may be largely improvised with Taylor’s familiar melody only appearing towards the end of the piece. The feel of the music is classical, rather than jazz or folk, but once again it’s genuinely beautiful.

With its mix of musical styles “Mr. Vertigo” is a solo piano recording that is capable of sustaining the listener’s attention throughout. The judicious use of Rhodes and post production techniques provides additional colour and texture but it’s Heinen’s acoustic playing that really carries the day. He draws upon many sources of inspiration but ultimately the music feels like his own. Despite the agreeable and admirable diversity there’s also an organic quality about the album, a feeling of unity and purpose. It’s often very beautiful and doesn’t in any way feel dry and academic.

Despite the fact that the acoustic piano part were recorded at the Vortex Jazz Club in London Heinen launches the album at Kings Place on March 29th 2018 before playing a short series of other UK dates as below;


Thurs. 29 March
8.00pm
LONDON - Kings Place, Hall 2, 90 York Way, N1 9AG   * ALBUM LAUNCH*
£12.50/ £9.50 http://www.kingsplace.co.uk/whats-on/music/bruno-heinen-mr-vertigo-album-launch#.Wil9g2SMjZ


Sunday 1 April
8.00pm
ASHBURTON - St. Laurence Chapel, 21 St Lawrence Ln, Newton Abbot TQ13 7DD   £13 or £6 https://www.facebook.com/ashburtonlive/


Weds. 4 April
8.30pm
CARDIFF - Flute and Tankard, 4 Windsor Place £7 http://thefluteandtankard.com/


Sunday 15 April
8.15pm
LONDON – Vortex Jazz Club, Gillet Square N16 £10 http://www.vortexjazz.co.uk/   

 

 

Chop Idols - Chop Idols, Black Mountain Jazz,The Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 25/03/2018. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 A supremely entertaining band that tackles a wide range of jazz material with great skill and a welcome dash of humour.

Chop Idols, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 25/03/2018.

Chop Idols is a quintet from South Wales fronted by the twin trumpets of Gethin Liddington and Ceri Williams.

Before settling on their current band name Williams and Liddington performed a number of gigs under the name Little Big Horn, a tongue in cheek reference to the very different physiques of the co-leaders, the diminutive, puckish Williams and the man mountain that is Gethin Liddington. Despite their disparate statures both men are united by a love of jazz of all kinds and by the fact that both are very talented trumpet and flugelhorn players, Chop Idols indeed.

Williams plays right across the jazz spectrum from trad with his Good Old Spit and Dribble Jass Band to funk and fusion with his Project X. Liddington is equally versatile and often plays alongside Williams in the latter’s New Era Reborn Brass Band. Liddington is a regular member of trombonist Gareth Roberts’ quintet and I’ve also seen or heard him performing with bands led by bassist Paula Gardiner and pianist Dave Jones and as a guest soloist with the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama Big Band. Liddington also has impeccable avant garde credentials having played and recorded with ensembles led by pianist Keith Tippett and saxophonist Paul Dunmall. 

Williams has described Chop Idols as “our homage to the trumpet greats” and although the quintet’s repertoire is drawn from jazz standards associated with such seminal jazz figures as Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry there’s no sense of mere pastiche, Williams, Liddington and their colleagues really do put their own stamp on the music. In the main the arrangements are by Williams who admitted to borrowing some of the ideas of the American trumpeter and arranger Rich Willey with regard to the numerous trumpet and flugel duets that populated the set.

In May 2015 I saw Chop Idols deliver an energetic and highly entertaining performance at the Open Hearth pub in Sebastopol near Pontypool, an event promoted by Martin Fisher of Jazz MF. Fisher also played drums with a quintet that included the two trumpeters plus pianist Richard West and master bassist Ashley John Long.

Liddington, Williams, West and Long were all in attendance for this well supported event at Black Mountain Jazz. On this occasion the drum chair was occupied by James Sherwood, a talented and highly promising young musician currently studying on the Jazz Course at the RWCMD in Cardiff.

Tonight’s two sets included some of the material that had been played at the Open Hearth but there were also a number of different items in the repertoire and, in the first half, something of a different approach.

As at Sebastopol the quintet kicked off with a Rich Willey adaptation in a broadly New Orleans/mainstream style of “Slow Boat To China”, recast by the arranger as “Speedboat To Singapore”. Willey’s pieces aren’t quite true ‘contrafacts’ ( i.e. a new tune written over an existing chord sequence) as the original melody frequently surfaces from time to time. Here Williams actually sung a section of the lyrics, the vocalising following an introductory passage featuring the dovetailing of the two trumpets as Williams and Liddington set their stall out with their interchanging lines. Conventional jazz solos subsequently came from both trumpeters, plus West at the piano and Long on double bass before Liddington and Williams wrapped things up with a further series of trumpet exchanges.

The co-leaders then slowed things down a little with a version of “ I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”. “It’s in the key of F” Williams informed us, “in case anybody’s taking notes”. He probably meant me. This was altogether less frenetic and featured the combination of Williams on trumpet and Liddington on flugel, a distinctive four valve model. Williams stated the theme before handing over to Liddington and again Williams sang something of the lyrics of a song once recorded by Louis Armstrong. Instrumental solos came from Liddington on flugel and Williams on trumpet with the co-leaders subsequently vacating the stage to allow West and Long the opportunity to stretch out. Long is one of the most inventive and compelling double bass soloists around, an enormously versatile and talented musician who can also double very convincingly on vibraphone (although not in this band). West is also a hugely imaginative soloist who has always impressed me whenever I’ve seen him. After the show there was a suggestion that he should return to BMJ at some point in the future leading his own group. A very good idea, and hopefully something to look forward to.

Long introduced Dizzy Gillespie’s classic “A Night In Tunisia”, first joined by drums and piano and then by the two trumpets, Williams deploying a plunger mute as the two horn men exchanged phrases. Both trumpeters delivered bravura solos, Liddington going first, and they were followed by West and Sherwood, the latter delivering a well constructed drum feature before the twin horns returned. Gillespie’s tune has always been a huge favourite with audiences and this rendition was very well received.

It’s a characteristic of Chop Idols shows that each co-leader gets to enjoy an individual feature, usually a ballad. In the first set it was Liddington’s turn with a glorious interpretation of “Body And Soul” on that famous four valved flugel, the only one I’ve ever seen. The big man introduced the piece unaccompanied in a technical and emotional tour de force. He was later joined by piano, bass and brushed drums. West’s piano solo featured him at his most lyrical while Long was supremely melodic on double bass. The piece ended as it began with another divine passage of solo flugel, this earning a nod of approval from Long, who stood watching while cradling the neck of his double bass.

Clark Terry is a touchstone for both trumpeters, as he once was for Miles Davis, and Williams returned to both play and sing on a version of Terry’s bebop classic “Mumbles”. Williams’ humorous scat vocal embodied the title with instrumental solos coming from Liddington on muted trumpet and West at the piano, with the twin trumpets finally coming together for the final theme statement.

“Quasi-Boogaloo” was once played by a stellar quintet featuring the trumpeters Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie accompanied by the Oscar Peterson Trio featuring Oscar on piano, Ray Brown on double bass and Ed Thigpen at the drums. The Chop Idols version was pretty special too in a hard bop style arrangement that included a fiery opening trumpet solo from Williams, arguably his best of the night. He was followed by West at the piano and then Liddington on trumpet, who adopted a cooler approach, his use of the Harmon mute ensuring that he sounded somewhat Miles-ish. Long’s absorbing dialogue with Sherwood incorporated some more virtuoso playing from the bassist, centred around the bridge of his instrument.

At this point the musicians decided to take a break before returning for a wholly instrumental second set. Sherwood’s martial style drumming introduced “I’ve Found A New Baby” which featured Williams on trumpet, sometimes plunger muted, and Liddington on flugel. Williams took the first solo followed by Liddington, his flugel at one point accompanied by Long only. The bassist was also to feature as a soloist, as was West at the piano.

Dipping into the Rich Willey repertoire again the quintet performed an adaptation of the evergreen standard “Autumn Leaves”, wittily retitled “Better Get Out The Rake”. This featured Long stating the melody alongside the two trumpets with further solos from Williams, West and Liddington, plus a closing series of trumpet exchanges.

Williams’ ballad feature was an arrangement of “It Might As Well Be Spring” that was inspired by the recording by the late, great Clifford Brown. West, Long and Sherwood accompanied him with great sensitivity, the latter deploying brushes on his drums.

“Another Chew”, a Rich Willey adaptation of the standard “There Will Never Be Another You” introduced a fresh instrumental combination as the co-leaders double up on flugel horns. Williams stated the original melody with Liddington supplying a counter-melody before the two traded solos, with Liddington deploying a Harmon mute on his flugel to soften the sound yet further. West also featured as a soloist but it was the inventive, sometimes contrapuntal interplay between the two flugels that was particularly engrossing.

One of the highlights at the Open Hearth had been a Bob Brookmeyer arrangement of “The Battle Hymn Of The Republic” which the valve trombonist recorded on the 1965 album “The Power Of Positive Swinging”, a quintet date which Brookmeyer co-led with Clark Terry. With both Liddington and Williams using plunger muted trumpets to capture something of the flavour of New Orleans this was a rousing rendition that saw Liddington soloing first, his use of the mute giving his playing a growling, vocalised quality. Williams followed with a bright, strident solo on the open horn. Meanwhile West threatened to steal the show with a rollicking, technically dazzling piano solo that embraced all the elements of Southern music – New Orleans, honky tonk, stride, boogie woogie etc. It earned him probably the biggest cheer of the night.

The evening concluded with a brief, romping segue of the Charlie Parker tunes“ Indiana” and “Donna Lee” with the two trumpeters negotiating the tricky bebop lines in unison before trading pithy solos, with Long also weighing in on double bass.

The audience at this well attended event were clearly delighted by this second half and gave the quintet a great reception. It was also pleasing to see the presence of a recording desk staffed by two engineers and it would appear that a Chop Idols live album is in the planning. The finished results should be well worth hearing.

My only reservations regarded Williams’ singing in the first half of the set. Much as I like Ceri and admire his playing he isn’t a natural vocalist –a fact that he himself readily admits. “Don’t worry I’m not setting up as a singer” as he told me afterwards, “But I’ve been playing these tunes for so long that I thought I’d sing some of the lyrics too”.  I guess us jazz audiences have become so used to hearing these tunes as instrumentals that we tend to forget that they started out as actual songs. But to these ears Chop Idols sounded far better as an instrumental unit. Maybe Williams was trying the vocals out to see how they sounded on the recording, but to be brutally honest the singing didn’t do much for me, and I hope that any subsequent album puts the emphasis on the playing alone.

That said Chop Idols is a supremely entertaining band that tackles a wide range of jazz material with great skill and a welcome dash of humour. The co-leaders are both highly fluent and often very exciting trumpet soloists and they are well supported by a swinging rhythm section that also harbours two highly inventive soloists in West and Long. It all adds up to something of a dream package.

Chop Idols, Black Mountain Jazz,The Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 25/03/2018.

Chop Idols

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Chop Idols, Black Mountain Jazz,The  Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 25/03/2018.
Photography: Photograph by Pam Mann.

A supremely entertaining band that tackles a wide range of jazz material with great skill and a welcome dash of humour.

Chop Idols, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 25/03/2018.

Chop Idols is a quintet from South Wales fronted by the twin trumpets of Gethin Liddington and Ceri Williams.

Before settling on their current band name Williams and Liddington performed a number of gigs under the name Little Big Horn, a tongue in cheek reference to the very different physiques of the co-leaders, the diminutive, puckish Williams and the man mountain that is Gethin Liddington. Despite their disparate statures both men are united by a love of jazz of all kinds and by the fact that both are very talented trumpet and flugelhorn players, Chop Idols indeed.

Williams plays right across the jazz spectrum from trad with his Good Old Spit and Dribble Jass Band to funk and fusion with his Project X. Liddington is equally versatile and often plays alongside Williams in the latter’s New Era Reborn Brass Band. Liddington is a regular member of trombonist Gareth Roberts’ quintet and I’ve also seen or heard him performing with bands led by bassist Paula Gardiner and pianist Dave Jones and as a guest soloist with the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama Big Band. Liddington also has impeccable avant garde credentials having played and recorded with ensembles led by pianist Keith Tippett and saxophonist Paul Dunmall. 

Williams has described Chop Idols as “our homage to the trumpet greats” and although the quintet’s repertoire is drawn from jazz standards associated with such seminal jazz figures as Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry there’s no sense of mere pastiche, Williams, Liddington and their colleagues really do put their own stamp on the music. In the main the arrangements are by Williams who admitted to borrowing some of the ideas of the American trumpeter and arranger Rich Willey with regard to the numerous trumpet and flugel duets that populated the set.

In May 2015 I saw Chop Idols deliver an energetic and highly entertaining performance at the Open Hearth pub in Sebastopol near Pontypool, an event promoted by Martin Fisher of Jazz MF. Fisher also played drums with a quintet that included the two trumpeters plus pianist Richard West and master bassist Ashley John Long.

Liddington, Williams, West and Long were all in attendance for this well supported event at Black Mountain Jazz. On this occasion the drum chair was occupied by James Sherwood, a talented and highly promising young musician currently studying on the Jazz Course at the RWCMD in Cardiff.

Tonight’s two sets included some of the material that had been played at the Open Hearth but there were also a number of different items in the repertoire and, in the first half, something of a different approach.

As at Sebastopol the quintet kicked off with a Rich Willey adaptation in a broadly New Orleans/mainstream style of “Slow Boat To China”, recast by the arranger as “Speedboat To Singapore”. Willey’s pieces aren’t quite true ‘contrafacts’ ( i.e. a new tune written over an existing chord sequence) as the original melody frequently surfaces from time to time. Here Williams actually sung a section of the lyrics, the vocalising following an introductory passage featuring the dovetailing of the two trumpets as Williams and Liddington set their stall out with their interchanging lines. Conventional jazz solos subsequently came from both trumpeters, plus West at the piano and Long on double bass before Liddington and Williams wrapped things up with a further series of trumpet exchanges.

The co-leaders then slowed things down a little with a version of “ I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”. “It’s in the key of F” Williams informed us, “in case anybody’s taking notes”. He probably meant me. This was altogether less frenetic and featured the combination of Williams on trumpet and Liddington on flugel, a distinctive four valve model. Williams stated the theme before handing over to Liddington and again Williams sang something of the lyrics of a song once recorded by Louis Armstrong. Instrumental solos came from Liddington on flugel and Williams on trumpet with the co-leaders subsequently vacating the stage to allow West and Long the opportunity to stretch out. Long is one of the most inventive and compelling double bass soloists around, an enormously versatile and talented musician who can also double very convincingly on vibraphone (although not in this band). West is also a hugely imaginative soloist who has always impressed me whenever I’ve seen him. After the show there was a suggestion that he should return to BMJ at some point in the future leading his own group. A very good idea, and hopefully something to look forward to.

Long introduced Dizzy Gillespie’s classic “A Night In Tunisia”, first joined by drums and piano and then by the two trumpets, Williams deploying a plunger mute as the two horn men exchanged phrases. Both trumpeters delivered bravura solos, Liddington going first, and they were followed by West and Sherwood, the latter delivering a well constructed drum feature before the twin horns returned. Gillespie’s tune has always been a huge favourite with audiences and this rendition was very well received.

It’s a characteristic of Chop Idols shows that each co-leader gets to enjoy an individual feature, usually a ballad. In the first set it was Liddington’s turn with a glorious interpretation of “Body And Soul” on that famous four valved flugel, the only one I’ve ever seen. The big man introduced the piece unaccompanied in a technical and emotional tour de force. He was later joined by piano, bass and brushed drums. West’s piano solo featured him at his most lyrical while Long was supremely melodic on double bass. The piece ended as it began with another divine passage of solo flugel, this earning a nod of approval from Long, who stood watching while cradling the neck of his double bass.

Clark Terry is a touchstone for both trumpeters, as he once was for Miles Davis, and Williams returned to both play and sing on a version of Terry’s bebop classic “Mumbles”. Williams’ humorous scat vocal embodied the title with instrumental solos coming from Liddington on muted trumpet and West at the piano, with the twin trumpets finally coming together for the final theme statement.

“Quasi-Boogaloo” was once played by a stellar quintet featuring the trumpeters Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie accompanied by the Oscar Peterson Trio featuring Oscar on piano, Ray Brown on double bass and Ed Thigpen at the drums. The Chop Idols version was pretty special too in a hard bop style arrangement that included a fiery opening trumpet solo from Williams, arguably his best of the night. He was followed by West at the piano and then Liddington on trumpet, who adopted a cooler approach, his use of the Harmon mute ensuring that he sounded somewhat Miles-ish. Long’s absorbing dialogue with Sherwood incorporated some more virtuoso playing from the bassist, centred around the bridge of his instrument.

At this point the musicians decided to take a break before returning for a wholly instrumental second set. Sherwood’s martial style drumming introduced “I’ve Found A New Baby” which featured Williams on trumpet, sometimes plunger muted, and Liddington on flugel. Williams took the first solo followed by Liddington, his flugel at one point accompanied by Long only. The bassist was also to feature as a soloist, as was West at the piano.

Dipping into the Rich Willey repertoire again the quintet performed an adaptation of the evergreen standard “Autumn Leaves”, wittily retitled “Better Get Out The Rake”. This featured Long stating the melody alongside the two trumpets with further solos from Williams, West and Liddington, plus a closing series of trumpet exchanges.

Williams’ ballad feature was an arrangement of “It Might As Well Be Spring” that was inspired by the recording by the late, great Clifford Brown. West, Long and Sherwood accompanied him with great sensitivity, the latter deploying brushes on his drums.

“Another Chew”, a Rich Willey adaptation of the standard “There Will Never Be Another You” introduced a fresh instrumental combination as the co-leaders double up on flugel horns. Williams stated the original melody with Liddington supplying a counter-melody before the two traded solos, with Liddington deploying a Harmon mute on his flugel to soften the sound yet further. West also featured as a soloist but it was the inventive, sometimes contrapuntal interplay between the two flugels that was particularly engrossing.

One of the highlights at the Open Hearth had been a Bob Brookmeyer arrangement of “The Battle Hymn Of The Republic” which the valve trombonist recorded on the 1965 album “The Power Of Positive Swinging”, a quintet date which Brookmeyer co-led with Clark Terry. With both Liddington and Williams using plunger muted trumpets to capture something of the flavour of New Orleans this was a rousing rendition that saw Liddington soloing first, his use of the mute giving his playing a growling, vocalised quality. Williams followed with a bright, strident solo on the open horn. Meanwhile West threatened to steal the show with a rollicking, technically dazzling piano solo that embraced all the elements of Southern music – New Orleans, honky tonk, stride, boogie woogie etc. It earned him probably the biggest cheer of the night.

The evening concluded with a brief, romping segue of the Charlie Parker tunes“ Indiana” and “Donna Lee” with the two trumpeters negotiating the tricky bebop lines in unison before trading pithy solos, with Long also weighing in on double bass.

The audience at this well attended event were clearly delighted by this second half and gave the quintet a great reception. It was also pleasing to see the presence of a recording desk staffed by two engineers and it would appear that a Chop Idols live album is in the planning. The finished results should be well worth hearing.

My only reservations regarded Williams’ singing in the first half of the set. Much as I like Ceri and admire his playing he isn’t a natural vocalist –a fact that he himself readily admits. “Don’t worry I’m not setting up as a singer” as he told me afterwards, “But I’ve been playing these tunes for so long that I thought I’d sing some of the lyrics too”.  I guess us jazz audiences have become so used to hearing these tunes as instrumentals that we tend to forget that they started out as actual songs. But to these ears Chop Idols sounded far better as an instrumental unit. Maybe Williams was trying the vocals out to see how they sounded on the recording, but to be brutally honest the singing didn’t do much for me, and I hope that any subsequent album puts the emphasis on the playing alone.

That said Chop Idols is a supremely entertaining band that tackles a wide range of jazz material with great skill and a welcome dash of humour. The co-leaders are both highly fluent and often very exciting trumpet soloists and they are well supported by a swinging rhythm section that also harbours two highly inventive soloists in West and Long. It all adds up to something of a dream package.

Dominic Lash / Alex Ward - Appliance Rating: 3-5 out of 5 These are two musicians who are so finely attuned and technically brilliant that their musical conversations take place on an advanced level.

Dominic Lash / Alex Ward

“Appliance”

(Vector Sounds VS016)

The multi-instrumentalist Alex Ward has been a frequent presence on the Jazzmann web pages in recent years. This is largely due to his regular visits to the Queen’s Head in Monmouth, one of my regular jazz haunts and a venue that adopts an adventurous approach to contemporary improvised music.

Events at the ‘freer’ end of the jazz spectrum are co-ordinated by locally based saxophonist Lyndon Owen and leading practitioners of the genre including saxophonists Alan Wilkinson and Trevor Watts plus the international improv ‘super-group’ Tony Joe Bucklash have all played at the pub, the last named comprising of Tony Bevan on saxes, Joe Morris on guitar, Dominic Lash on double bass and Necks drummer Tony Buck on drum kit and all manner of percussion.


London based Ward is a truly remarkable instrumentalist exhibiting an astonishing degree of expertise on both the clarinet and the electric guitar. His music inhabits the hinterland where composed and fully improvised music meet, although he’s generally regarded as being a “free” player following an apprenticeship that included playing clarinet alongside the late, great guitar improviser Derek Bailey.

Ward started out as a clarinettist, only taking up the guitar in the year 2000 at the age of twenty six. Influenced by Bailey he is now an extremely accomplished guitarist and an inspired improviser who performs on his “second instrument” in groups such as his own Predicate and the powerhouse improvising trio N.E.W. which pits his guitar against the rhythmic “tag team” of drummer Steve Noble and double bassist John Edwards. Ward has recorded more frequently as a clarinettist but it’s as a guitarist that I know him best having witnessed two live performances by the Predicate quartet, featuring Lash, saxophonist Tim Hill, and drummer/percussionist Mark Sanders, at the Queen’s Head in 2012 and 2014. 

I’ve since reviewed Predicate’s two albums, the eponymous 2012 début and its 2014 follow up “Nails”. I’ve also covered both albums by Ward’s other quartet, Forebrace, in which he plays clarinet, this time in the company of guitarist Roberto Sassi, electric bassist Santiago Horro and drummer Jem Doulton, the latter having previously collaborated with Ward in the duo Dead Days Beyond Help. Both of the Forebrace albums, 2014’s “Bad Folds” and 2016’s “Steeped”, inhabit similar musical territory to the Predicate recordings and, like their companions are highly recommended.

Much of Ward’s work involves totally free playing, some of which inhabits areas beyond my own personal musical comfort zone such as the 2016 release “Projected/Entities/Removal”, a wholly improvised collection featuring three extended improvisations by three different, but closely linked, line ups, the personnel including Noble, cellist Hannah Marshall, bassist Olie Brice, saxophonist Rachel Musson and clarinettist Tom Jackson.

Ward’s recorded output has been prolific and is too voluminous to elaborate further upon here. For full details of his musical activities please visit https://sites.google.com/site/alexwardmusician/biography

Ward’s latest visit to the Queen’s was as part of the duo Noon Ward, a collaboration with the American born, now London based drummer, percussionist, vocalist and songwriter Sean Noonan.
Originally from Boston MA and based for some time in New York Noonan has collaborated with many leading US improvisers as well as leading his own projects. His performance with Ward at Monmouth incorporated both written and improvised material with the drummer proving to be a highly theatrical presence behind the kit. The material included a number of songs featuring Noonan’s off the wall lyrics, his musical humour and general eccentricity sometimes reminiscent of the great Frank Zappa.

Like Predicate and Forebrace the Noon Ward duo proved to be an exciting, entertaining and thoroughly accessible proposition which was very well received by the good folk of Monmouth. The combination of musical virtuosity and surreal humour worked very well and I intend to take a look at Noonan’s latest solo album “ The Aqua Diva” at some point in the near future. In the meantime further details of Noonan’s career can be found on his website http://www.seannoonanmusic.com

Prior to the visit of Noon Ward I’d only ever seen Ward playing guitar as part of the Predicate group. Tonight he doubled on guitar and clarinet, and even sang at one point. Having heard his clarinet playing on disc it was great to hear him playing the instrument live for the first time and demonstrating his virtuosity and inventiveness on the instrument.

Following the Noon Ward show Alex was kind enough to provide me with a review copy of “Appliance”, a 2014 duo recording featuring Ward on clarinet and his Predicate bandmate Dominic Lash on double bass. This limited edition CD (250 copies) on the Spanish label Vector Sounds features seven pieces with two compositions each from Ward and Lash plus three that are jointly credited, and thus, presumably fully improvised. The Vector Sounds website talks of “improvisational composition” and “sonic collages” and once again it’s recording that explores the hinterland between composition and improvisation,  for me exactly the kind of territory in which both Ward and Lash produce their best work, although improv diehards may disagree with me.

Lash has also been a frequent visitor to Monmouth thanks to his work with Predicate, Tony Joe Bucklash,  the German saxophonist Axel Dorner and others. I’ve also been impressed by his recorded output, including his 2014 quartet recording “Opabinia” which featured Alexander Hawkins on piano, plus the Spanish musicians Javier Carmona on drums and percussion and Ricardo Tejero on tenor saxophone and clarinet.

Lash has also been part of another highly fruitful international alliance, the Convergence Quartet featuring Hawkins at the piano plus the American Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and the Canadian Harris Eisenstadt at the drums. This stellar Trans-Atlantic line up has recorded three excellent albums, two of them documented at live performances.

Like his companion Lash is a busy and fantastically prolific musician .who performs improvised music in a myriad of different contexts. Full details of his diverse musical career can be found at his website; http://dominiclash.blogspot.co.uk/

Turning now to the music of “Appliance” which commences with the Ward composed “Purchase”, a genuine conversation of equals as Ward’s clarinet swoops, soars and dives around the bass lines generated by Lash, both with or without the bow. Both musicians deploy elements of extended technique but do so judiciously, almost surreptitiously, and always in service of the music. The piece is pleasingly accessible and Ward’s clarinet positively dances at times while Lash’s bass figures are muscular, well articulated and clearly defined. The pair have developed a great rapport over the years in their frequent collaborations and they are totally on the same wavelength here. One can almost hear them listening to each other.

The Lash composition “Oat Roe” clocks in at over ten and a half minutes and is, by some distance, the lengthiest track on the album. I evolves slowly, emerging from a dialogue between Lash’s long, sombre bowed bass lines and the keening, higher register sounds of Ward’s clarinet. There’s a strange, dark beauty about this musical conversation in which the emphasis is very much on atmosphere and texture. Dark, grainy and evocative and with a strong pictorial quality the music conjures up images of deep forests or solitary, deserted, wind swept cornfields. Time evolves slowly, nothing is rushed and it’s not until half way through the piece that Lash temporarily puts down the bow, ushering in a second section that is more challenging and abrasive, the harshness emphasised by the intelligent and effective use of extended techniques.

“Whelm” is credited to both musicians and is presumably fully improvised. It’s a lively, spirited dialogue between Lash’s vigorously plucked double bass and Ward’s sparky, puckish clarinet. It’s another piece that demonstrates the terrific rapport between the musicians and as the music gathers intensity and momentum the virtuosity of the playing is little short of stunning. This is the sound of two highly attuned musicians having ‘serious fun’, including a coda that delves more deeply into the realms of the avant garde and extended technique, a trend that is continued on the following “Gruntwork”, another piece that is jointly credited.
Here the duo the duo press even further into ‘avant garde’ territory, with Ward embracing harmolodics and overblowing while Lash uses the bow to both strike and scrape the strings. The piece represents some of the most obviously ‘free playing’ on the album and may not be for the faint hearted. Nevertheless it still grabs the attention, with the buzz of Ward’s clarinet sometimes sounding like a swarm of angry wasps. And some of the techniques - and extended techniques- deployed are pretty stunning.

Lash’s “Three By Three” is more immediately accessible and features the sprightly sound of Ward’s clarinet cavorting around Lash’s similarly agile but still powerful bass lines. There’s a beguiling sense of playfulness about their vivacious exchanges, that spirit of “serious fun” in evidence once more.

The jointly credited title track is another sortie into the freely improvised avant garde with grainy bowed bass contrasting with the bird like twitter of Ward’s clarinet. It’s frenetic and unsettling with the improvised discussion eventually reaching peak energy before resolving itself by subsuming into an almost subliminal drone.

The album concludes with“ Subtext”, credited to Ward, which teams the composer’s clarinet with Lash’s bowed bass in a dialogue that develops out of the written intro into something that sounds more obviously improvised with Lash moving between pizzicato and arco techniques. Again the rapport between the musicians is obvious throughout with the conversation embracing a variety of styles, techniques and moods but becoming increasingly garrulous as the piece progresses, culminating in a sudden and unexpected ending.

“Appliance” is an album that will only suit so many ears, but for admirers of improvised music there is much to enjoy. These are two musicians who are so finely attuned and technically brilliant that their musical conversations take place on an advanced level. It’s very much a partnership of equals and the level of rapport is such that the listener, provided they approach the music with an open ear, is drawn irresistibly into the dialogue. It’s a little scary at times but no less absorbing for that.

With the mixture of written and improvised pieces the duo strike a good balance between structure and freedom and produce an astonishing array of sounds from just two instruments. Both musicians have produced more accessible work elsewhere, but also more challenging work too. “Appliance” isn’t the kind of album you’d necessarily want to listen to all the time but for adventurous listeners the soundworld of Lash and Ward is still an interesting, intriguing and often exhilarating place to visit.

The album is available from the artists’ individual websites or at their gigs. It can also be purchased at;
http://www.vectorsounds.com/products/556077-dominic-lash-alex-ward-appliance

 

Appliance

Dominic Lash / Alex Ward

Monday, March 26, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Appliance

These are two musicians who are so finely attuned and technically brilliant that their musical conversations take place on an advanced level.

Dominic Lash / Alex Ward

“Appliance”

(Vector Sounds VS016)

The multi-instrumentalist Alex Ward has been a frequent presence on the Jazzmann web pages in recent years. This is largely due to his regular visits to the Queen’s Head in Monmouth, one of my regular jazz haunts and a venue that adopts an adventurous approach to contemporary improvised music.

Events at the ‘freer’ end of the jazz spectrum are co-ordinated by locally based saxophonist Lyndon Owen and leading practitioners of the genre including saxophonists Alan Wilkinson and Trevor Watts plus the international improv ‘super-group’ Tony Joe Bucklash have all played at the pub, the last named comprising of Tony Bevan on saxes, Joe Morris on guitar, Dominic Lash on double bass and Necks drummer Tony Buck on drum kit and all manner of percussion.


London based Ward is a truly remarkable instrumentalist exhibiting an astonishing degree of expertise on both the clarinet and the electric guitar. His music inhabits the hinterland where composed and fully improvised music meet, although he’s generally regarded as being a “free” player following an apprenticeship that included playing clarinet alongside the late, great guitar improviser Derek Bailey.

Ward started out as a clarinettist, only taking up the guitar in the year 2000 at the age of twenty six. Influenced by Bailey he is now an extremely accomplished guitarist and an inspired improviser who performs on his “second instrument” in groups such as his own Predicate and the powerhouse improvising trio N.E.W. which pits his guitar against the rhythmic “tag team” of drummer Steve Noble and double bassist John Edwards. Ward has recorded more frequently as a clarinettist but it’s as a guitarist that I know him best having witnessed two live performances by the Predicate quartet, featuring Lash, saxophonist Tim Hill, and drummer/percussionist Mark Sanders, at the Queen’s Head in 2012 and 2014. 

I’ve since reviewed Predicate’s two albums, the eponymous 2012 début and its 2014 follow up “Nails”. I’ve also covered both albums by Ward’s other quartet, Forebrace, in which he plays clarinet, this time in the company of guitarist Roberto Sassi, electric bassist Santiago Horro and drummer Jem Doulton, the latter having previously collaborated with Ward in the duo Dead Days Beyond Help. Both of the Forebrace albums, 2014’s “Bad Folds” and 2016’s “Steeped”, inhabit similar musical territory to the Predicate recordings and, like their companions are highly recommended.

Much of Ward’s work involves totally free playing, some of which inhabits areas beyond my own personal musical comfort zone such as the 2016 release “Projected/Entities/Removal”, a wholly improvised collection featuring three extended improvisations by three different, but closely linked, line ups, the personnel including Noble, cellist Hannah Marshall, bassist Olie Brice, saxophonist Rachel Musson and clarinettist Tom Jackson.

Ward’s recorded output has been prolific and is too voluminous to elaborate further upon here. For full details of his musical activities please visit https://sites.google.com/site/alexwardmusician/biography

Ward’s latest visit to the Queen’s was as part of the duo Noon Ward, a collaboration with the American born, now London based drummer, percussionist, vocalist and songwriter Sean Noonan.
Originally from Boston MA and based for some time in New York Noonan has collaborated with many leading US improvisers as well as leading his own projects. His performance with Ward at Monmouth incorporated both written and improvised material with the drummer proving to be a highly theatrical presence behind the kit. The material included a number of songs featuring Noonan’s off the wall lyrics, his musical humour and general eccentricity sometimes reminiscent of the great Frank Zappa.

Like Predicate and Forebrace the Noon Ward duo proved to be an exciting, entertaining and thoroughly accessible proposition which was very well received by the good folk of Monmouth. The combination of musical virtuosity and surreal humour worked very well and I intend to take a look at Noonan’s latest solo album “ The Aqua Diva” at some point in the near future. In the meantime further details of Noonan’s career can be found on his website http://www.seannoonanmusic.com

Prior to the visit of Noon Ward I’d only ever seen Ward playing guitar as part of the Predicate group. Tonight he doubled on guitar and clarinet, and even sang at one point. Having heard his clarinet playing on disc it was great to hear him playing the instrument live for the first time and demonstrating his virtuosity and inventiveness on the instrument.

Following the Noon Ward show Alex was kind enough to provide me with a review copy of “Appliance”, a 2014 duo recording featuring Ward on clarinet and his Predicate bandmate Dominic Lash on double bass. This limited edition CD (250 copies) on the Spanish label Vector Sounds features seven pieces with two compositions each from Ward and Lash plus three that are jointly credited, and thus, presumably fully improvised. The Vector Sounds website talks of “improvisational composition” and “sonic collages” and once again it’s recording that explores the hinterland between composition and improvisation,  for me exactly the kind of territory in which both Ward and Lash produce their best work, although improv diehards may disagree with me.

Lash has also been a frequent visitor to Monmouth thanks to his work with Predicate, Tony Joe Bucklash,  the German saxophonist Axel Dorner and others. I’ve also been impressed by his recorded output, including his 2014 quartet recording “Opabinia” which featured Alexander Hawkins on piano, plus the Spanish musicians Javier Carmona on drums and percussion and Ricardo Tejero on tenor saxophone and clarinet.

Lash has also been part of another highly fruitful international alliance, the Convergence Quartet featuring Hawkins at the piano plus the American Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and the Canadian Harris Eisenstadt at the drums. This stellar Trans-Atlantic line up has recorded three excellent albums, two of them documented at live performances.

Like his companion Lash is a busy and fantastically prolific musician .who performs improvised music in a myriad of different contexts. Full details of his diverse musical career can be found at his website; http://dominiclash.blogspot.co.uk/

Turning now to the music of “Appliance” which commences with the Ward composed “Purchase”, a genuine conversation of equals as Ward’s clarinet swoops, soars and dives around the bass lines generated by Lash, both with or without the bow. Both musicians deploy elements of extended technique but do so judiciously, almost surreptitiously, and always in service of the music. The piece is pleasingly accessible and Ward’s clarinet positively dances at times while Lash’s bass figures are muscular, well articulated and clearly defined. The pair have developed a great rapport over the years in their frequent collaborations and they are totally on the same wavelength here. One can almost hear them listening to each other.

The Lash composition “Oat Roe” clocks in at over ten and a half minutes and is, by some distance, the lengthiest track on the album. I evolves slowly, emerging from a dialogue between Lash’s long, sombre bowed bass lines and the keening, higher register sounds of Ward’s clarinet. There’s a strange, dark beauty about this musical conversation in which the emphasis is very much on atmosphere and texture. Dark, grainy and evocative and with a strong pictorial quality the music conjures up images of deep forests or solitary, deserted, wind swept cornfields. Time evolves slowly, nothing is rushed and it’s not until half way through the piece that Lash temporarily puts down the bow, ushering in a second section that is more challenging and abrasive, the harshness emphasised by the intelligent and effective use of extended techniques.

“Whelm” is credited to both musicians and is presumably fully improvised. It’s a lively, spirited dialogue between Lash’s vigorously plucked double bass and Ward’s sparky, puckish clarinet. It’s another piece that demonstrates the terrific rapport between the musicians and as the music gathers intensity and momentum the virtuosity of the playing is little short of stunning. This is the sound of two highly attuned musicians having ‘serious fun’, including a coda that delves more deeply into the realms of the avant garde and extended technique, a trend that is continued on the following “Gruntwork”, another piece that is jointly credited.
Here the duo the duo press even further into ‘avant garde’ territory, with Ward embracing harmolodics and overblowing while Lash uses the bow to both strike and scrape the strings. The piece represents some of the most obviously ‘free playing’ on the album and may not be for the faint hearted. Nevertheless it still grabs the attention, with the buzz of Ward’s clarinet sometimes sounding like a swarm of angry wasps. And some of the techniques - and extended techniques- deployed are pretty stunning.

Lash’s “Three By Three” is more immediately accessible and features the sprightly sound of Ward’s clarinet cavorting around Lash’s similarly agile but still powerful bass lines. There’s a beguiling sense of playfulness about their vivacious exchanges, that spirit of “serious fun” in evidence once more.

The jointly credited title track is another sortie into the freely improvised avant garde with grainy bowed bass contrasting with the bird like twitter of Ward’s clarinet. It’s frenetic and unsettling with the improvised discussion eventually reaching peak energy before resolving itself by subsuming into an almost subliminal drone.

The album concludes with“ Subtext”, credited to Ward, which teams the composer’s clarinet with Lash’s bowed bass in a dialogue that develops out of the written intro into something that sounds more obviously improvised with Lash moving between pizzicato and arco techniques. Again the rapport between the musicians is obvious throughout with the conversation embracing a variety of styles, techniques and moods but becoming increasingly garrulous as the piece progresses, culminating in a sudden and unexpected ending.

“Appliance” is an album that will only suit so many ears, but for admirers of improvised music there is much to enjoy. These are two musicians who are so finely attuned and technically brilliant that their musical conversations take place on an advanced level. It’s very much a partnership of equals and the level of rapport is such that the listener, provided they approach the music with an open ear, is drawn irresistibly into the dialogue. It’s a little scary at times but no less absorbing for that.

With the mixture of written and improvised pieces the duo strike a good balance between structure and freedom and produce an astonishing array of sounds from just two instruments. Both musicians have produced more accessible work elsewhere, but also more challenging work too. “Appliance” isn’t the kind of album you’d necessarily want to listen to all the time but for adventurous listeners the soundworld of Lash and Ward is still an interesting, intriguing and often exhilarating place to visit.

The album is available from the artists’ individual websites or at their gigs. It can also be purchased at;
http://www.vectorsounds.com/products/556077-dominic-lash-alex-ward-appliance

 

Sam Braysher with Michael Kanan - Golden Earrings Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Their performances offer evidence of a genuine and profound love of the music they have chosen and they perform it with great sensitivity, emphasising the melodic content of the songs.

Sam Braysher with Michael Kanan

“Golden Earrings”

(Fresh Sound New Talent FSNT 1007)

Sam Braysher is a young British alto saxophonist and a graduate of the Jazz Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. A frequent award winner he has performed with many leading British and European musicians including drummer Jorge Rossy, pianist Barry Green and saxophonist Pete Hurt. He has also been part of the John Warren Nonet and the London Jazz Orchestra.

Unusually for such a young player he has an abiding interest in the ‘Great Amercian Songbook’ and he has explored the repertoire as the leader of his own trio and quartet. His début recording pairs him with the American pianist Michael Kanan and is a duo recording that investigates lesser known material from the ‘Songbook’ and bebop canons and includes just one original composition.

Kanan is an experienced musician who has accompanied vocalists such as Jimmy Scott and Jane Monheit and collaborated with leading instrumentalists such as the guitarists Peter Bernstein and Kurt Rosenwinkel. He is a real authority on the Songbook repertoire and his knowledge and sensitivity make him the ideal partner for the young Braysher.

Released in September 2017 “Golden Earrings” was recorded at The Drawing Room in Brooklyn, New York by engineer Neal Miner. It appears on the Barcelona based Fresh Sound New Talent imprint, the label that released the début recordings of Rosenwinkel, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and pianists Brad Mehldau and Robert Glasper. It is the first album release on the label by a British bandleader.

The album was recorded over the course of two days with the duo adopting an approach that Braysher describes as “fairly old-fashioned, just three microphones in a room with a nice piano, no headphones and no edits”. The result is a refreshingly intimate recording that gives the music a very human feel. One can hear the sounds of Braysher’s breath and of his hands on the keypads, this is essentially an unadorned ‘live in the studio’ performance that hasn’t been polished up too much. It’s very much a case of ‘what you see (or hear) is what you get’.

Braysher explains his fascination with his chosen material, and his approach to it, thus;
“Like most jazz musicians of my generation I have been introduced to this type of repertoire through listening to and playing jazz, rather then growing up with it as pop music as, say, Sonny Rollins would have done. By listening to original recordings, learning lyrics and consulting published sheet music I have tried to access the ‘composer’s intention’ - something that Michael Kanan, an expert in this area, talks about. We have tried to use this as our starting point for interpretation and improvisation, rather than existing jazz versions”.

He also comments on the difference between Rollin’s performance of the standard “If Ever I Would Leave You” and the Lerner and Loewe song in its original form. That song doesn’t actually appear here but if it did it would be the original song that Braysher and Kanan would take as their starting point. This album is all about bringing out the beauty and musicality of the songs as originally written, while casting them in a contemporary light.

Braysher’s liner notes also shed light on each of the individual album performances beginning with “Dancing in the Dark”, written by Arthur Schwartz and Harold Dietz. Here Kanan takes the melody while Braysher provides a countermelody that draws its inspiration both from the original sheet music and the dramatic orchestral arrangement that Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse danced to in the film “The Band Wagon”. Braysher’s tone is pure and his playing uncluttered and free of vibrato, while there’s an agreeable dryness about his sound that prevents the performance from drifting into sentimentality. He and Kanan tackle the piece as equal partners of a genuine duo, rather than as soloist as accompanist, an approach that continues to define the album as a whole.

As an alto player it’s perhaps not surprising that Braysher includes a Charlie Parker piece in his repertoire. “Cardboard” allows the young saxophonist to demonstrate his bebop chops in a series of playful, technically dazzling exchanges with Kanan, their individual lines snaking and intertwining around each other in a process that Braysher describes as “soloing together”.

The third piece is an “Irving Berlin Waltz Medley” that finds the duo linking three of the composer’s best known compositions “What’ll I Do”, Always” and “Remember”, pieces that Braysher describes as “three beautifully simple songs”. The duo play “What’ll I Do” fairly straight as a jazz waltz before breaking down into their component parts for the first time as “Always” is performed solo by Kanan at the piano, his approach lyrical and uncomplicated, retaining the essential beauty of the piece. The pair link up again for “Remember”, inspired by Hank Mobley’s recording of the tune on the classic album “Soul Station” but here delivered in its original form and totally in character with the rest of the medley.

“BSP” is the one Braysher original, but even this is a contrafact, a new melody written over an existing chord sequence, in this case that of Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale”. Inspired by the music of pianist Lennie Tristano and saxophonists Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh this is essentially a new composition, one which again allows Braysher the opportunity to demonstrate his ‘bop chops’. There’s also an impressive passage of syncopated solo piano from Kanan plus a fleeting glimpse of Porter’s original melody.

“All Too Soon” is a Duke Ellington tune that was originally performed by the edition of the band that included saxophonist Ben Webster and bassist Jimmy Blanton. The piece later became a song with the addition of lyrics by Carl Sigman. This performance begins with a passage of unaccompanied alto from Braysher and there’s also an episode of solo piano mid tune but this is still a beautiful duo performance, one that emits a beautifully nostalgic blues tinged warmth.

Kanan introduces an arrangement of Jerome Kern’s “In Love In Vain”, which combines elements from the original sheet music with additions introduced by the orchestrators of the soundtrack for the film “Centennial Summer”, in which the song appears. He’s joined by Braysher for a statement of Kern’s verse before going it alone once more with another pithy passage of solo piano. The two musicians then combine again delightfully on the main body of the song prior to a coda that draws on the film soundtrack.

Braysher describes the Tadd Dameron tune “The Scene Is Clean” as “probably the most harmonically dense composition to feature here”. He and Kanan seem to relish the opportunity to navigate its “mysterious corners” in a vivacious performance that exhibits great technical virtuosity as the pair dance around each other. Kanan then stretches out with a lively passage of solo piano before the two come together to coalesce as a duo once more. Braysher acknowledges the performance of the tune by a band co-led by trumpeter Clifford Brown and drummer Max Roach as a significant influence.

“Beautiful Moons Ago” is a little known Nat ‘King’ Cole song which the pianist and vocalist co-wrote with his guitarist Oscar Moore. Delivered here as a lyrical, achingly lovely ballad the title of the song is embodied by the duo’s sensitive performance. Kanan’s playing is particularly beautiful, largely by virtue of its sheer economy as the duo combine to distil the essence of the song.

The title track was written by Victor Young in conjunction with lyricists Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. “Golden Earrings” appeared in the 1947 film of the same name and the song was later a hit for Peggy Lee. The duo bring out the full beauty of Young’s haunting melody and classically inspired harmonies in a beautifully controlled performance that serves the music faithfully.

Finally the duo put a fresh slant on the song “Way Down Yonder In New Orleans”, a piece that is usually the province of trad and Dixieland bands. Clocking in at just under two minutes it’s all very brief but does feature the pair doubling up to perform Lester Young’s 1938 solo in unison.

Braysher and Kanan have attracted considerable acclaim for their sensitive and highly skilled adaptations of their selected material. Their performances offer evidence of a genuine and profound love of the music they have chosen and they perform it with great sensitivity, emphasising the melodic content of the songs. There is no grandstanding here, even on the sprinkling of bebop numbers which offer the musicians the opportunity to showcase something of their undoubted virtuosity.

On first listening one might think that Braysher was playing it safe by choosing to make an album of Songbook standards and bebop classics but his treatment of them is actually very fresh and innovative, particularly in a jazz context. Indeed for a young player Braysher is adopting an approach that is the opposite of ‘safe’ in that he sounds very different to most other young saxophonists with their concentration on complex original material and virtuoso, hard edged soloing.

It’s a change from my usual preferred listening but I found myself becoming more and more immersed in this often beautiful recording.

Braysher and Kanan have toured this material in a quartet setting with the addition of bass and drums. Braysher is currently touring with a trio featuring bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer James Maddren. For more on Braysher’s musical activities please visit http://www.sambraysher.com

Golden Earrings

Sam Braysher with Michael Kanan

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

3-5 out of 5

Golden Earrings

Their performances offer evidence of a genuine and profound love of the music they have chosen and they perform it with great sensitivity, emphasising the melodic content of the songs.

Sam Braysher with Michael Kanan

“Golden Earrings”

(Fresh Sound New Talent FSNT 1007)

Sam Braysher is a young British alto saxophonist and a graduate of the Jazz Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. A frequent award winner he has performed with many leading British and European musicians including drummer Jorge Rossy, pianist Barry Green and saxophonist Pete Hurt. He has also been part of the John Warren Nonet and the London Jazz Orchestra.

Unusually for such a young player he has an abiding interest in the ‘Great Amercian Songbook’ and he has explored the repertoire as the leader of his own trio and quartet. His début recording pairs him with the American pianist Michael Kanan and is a duo recording that investigates lesser known material from the ‘Songbook’ and bebop canons and includes just one original composition.

Kanan is an experienced musician who has accompanied vocalists such as Jimmy Scott and Jane Monheit and collaborated with leading instrumentalists such as the guitarists Peter Bernstein and Kurt Rosenwinkel. He is a real authority on the Songbook repertoire and his knowledge and sensitivity make him the ideal partner for the young Braysher.

Released in September 2017 “Golden Earrings” was recorded at The Drawing Room in Brooklyn, New York by engineer Neal Miner. It appears on the Barcelona based Fresh Sound New Talent imprint, the label that released the début recordings of Rosenwinkel, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and pianists Brad Mehldau and Robert Glasper. It is the first album release on the label by a British bandleader.

The album was recorded over the course of two days with the duo adopting an approach that Braysher describes as “fairly old-fashioned, just three microphones in a room with a nice piano, no headphones and no edits”. The result is a refreshingly intimate recording that gives the music a very human feel. One can hear the sounds of Braysher’s breath and of his hands on the keypads, this is essentially an unadorned ‘live in the studio’ performance that hasn’t been polished up too much. It’s very much a case of ‘what you see (or hear) is what you get’.

Braysher explains his fascination with his chosen material, and his approach to it, thus;
“Like most jazz musicians of my generation I have been introduced to this type of repertoire through listening to and playing jazz, rather then growing up with it as pop music as, say, Sonny Rollins would have done. By listening to original recordings, learning lyrics and consulting published sheet music I have tried to access the ‘composer’s intention’ - something that Michael Kanan, an expert in this area, talks about. We have tried to use this as our starting point for interpretation and improvisation, rather than existing jazz versions”.

He also comments on the difference between Rollin’s performance of the standard “If Ever I Would Leave You” and the Lerner and Loewe song in its original form. That song doesn’t actually appear here but if it did it would be the original song that Braysher and Kanan would take as their starting point. This album is all about bringing out the beauty and musicality of the songs as originally written, while casting them in a contemporary light.

Braysher’s liner notes also shed light on each of the individual album performances beginning with “Dancing in the Dark”, written by Arthur Schwartz and Harold Dietz. Here Kanan takes the melody while Braysher provides a countermelody that draws its inspiration both from the original sheet music and the dramatic orchestral arrangement that Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse danced to in the film “The Band Wagon”. Braysher’s tone is pure and his playing uncluttered and free of vibrato, while there’s an agreeable dryness about his sound that prevents the performance from drifting into sentimentality. He and Kanan tackle the piece as equal partners of a genuine duo, rather than as soloist as accompanist, an approach that continues to define the album as a whole.

As an alto player it’s perhaps not surprising that Braysher includes a Charlie Parker piece in his repertoire. “Cardboard” allows the young saxophonist to demonstrate his bebop chops in a series of playful, technically dazzling exchanges with Kanan, their individual lines snaking and intertwining around each other in a process that Braysher describes as “soloing together”.

The third piece is an “Irving Berlin Waltz Medley” that finds the duo linking three of the composer’s best known compositions “What’ll I Do”, Always” and “Remember”, pieces that Braysher describes as “three beautifully simple songs”. The duo play “What’ll I Do” fairly straight as a jazz waltz before breaking down into their component parts for the first time as “Always” is performed solo by Kanan at the piano, his approach lyrical and uncomplicated, retaining the essential beauty of the piece. The pair link up again for “Remember”, inspired by Hank Mobley’s recording of the tune on the classic album “Soul Station” but here delivered in its original form and totally in character with the rest of the medley.

“BSP” is the one Braysher original, but even this is a contrafact, a new melody written over an existing chord sequence, in this case that of Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale”. Inspired by the music of pianist Lennie Tristano and saxophonists Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh this is essentially a new composition, one which again allows Braysher the opportunity to demonstrate his ‘bop chops’. There’s also an impressive passage of syncopated solo piano from Kanan plus a fleeting glimpse of Porter’s original melody.

“All Too Soon” is a Duke Ellington tune that was originally performed by the edition of the band that included saxophonist Ben Webster and bassist Jimmy Blanton. The piece later became a song with the addition of lyrics by Carl Sigman. This performance begins with a passage of unaccompanied alto from Braysher and there’s also an episode of solo piano mid tune but this is still a beautiful duo performance, one that emits a beautifully nostalgic blues tinged warmth.

Kanan introduces an arrangement of Jerome Kern’s “In Love In Vain”, which combines elements from the original sheet music with additions introduced by the orchestrators of the soundtrack for the film “Centennial Summer”, in which the song appears. He’s joined by Braysher for a statement of Kern’s verse before going it alone once more with another pithy passage of solo piano. The two musicians then combine again delightfully on the main body of the song prior to a coda that draws on the film soundtrack.

Braysher describes the Tadd Dameron tune “The Scene Is Clean” as “probably the most harmonically dense composition to feature here”. He and Kanan seem to relish the opportunity to navigate its “mysterious corners” in a vivacious performance that exhibits great technical virtuosity as the pair dance around each other. Kanan then stretches out with a lively passage of solo piano before the two come together to coalesce as a duo once more. Braysher acknowledges the performance of the tune by a band co-led by trumpeter Clifford Brown and drummer Max Roach as a significant influence.

“Beautiful Moons Ago” is a little known Nat ‘King’ Cole song which the pianist and vocalist co-wrote with his guitarist Oscar Moore. Delivered here as a lyrical, achingly lovely ballad the title of the song is embodied by the duo’s sensitive performance. Kanan’s playing is particularly beautiful, largely by virtue of its sheer economy as the duo combine to distil the essence of the song.

The title track was written by Victor Young in conjunction with lyricists Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. “Golden Earrings” appeared in the 1947 film of the same name and the song was later a hit for Peggy Lee. The duo bring out the full beauty of Young’s haunting melody and classically inspired harmonies in a beautifully controlled performance that serves the music faithfully.

Finally the duo put a fresh slant on the song “Way Down Yonder In New Orleans”, a piece that is usually the province of trad and Dixieland bands. Clocking in at just under two minutes it’s all very brief but does feature the pair doubling up to perform Lester Young’s 1938 solo in unison.

Braysher and Kanan have attracted considerable acclaim for their sensitive and highly skilled adaptations of their selected material. Their performances offer evidence of a genuine and profound love of the music they have chosen and they perform it with great sensitivity, emphasising the melodic content of the songs. There is no grandstanding here, even on the sprinkling of bebop numbers which offer the musicians the opportunity to showcase something of their undoubted virtuosity.

On first listening one might think that Braysher was playing it safe by choosing to make an album of Songbook standards and bebop classics but his treatment of them is actually very fresh and innovative, particularly in a jazz context. Indeed for a young player Braysher is adopting an approach that is the opposite of ‘safe’ in that he sounds very different to most other young saxophonists with their concentration on complex original material and virtuoso, hard edged soloing.

It’s a change from my usual preferred listening but I found myself becoming more and more immersed in this often beautiful recording.

Braysher and Kanan have toured this material in a quartet setting with the addition of bass and drums. Braysher is currently touring with a trio featuring bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer James Maddren. For more on Braysher’s musical activities please visit http://www.sambraysher.com

Julian Siegel Quartet - Vista Rating: 4 out of 5 The album again highlights Siegel’s abilities as both a musician and a composer and he is once again supported by an excellent hand picked band.

Julian Siegel Quartet

“Vista”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4717)

The Nottingham born saxophonist, clarinettist and composer Julian Siegel is one of the most significant figures on the contemporary UK jazz scene.

I have long been an admirer of his playing and composing,, whether fronting his own trios and quartets or co-leading the long running jazz rock group Partisans in partnership with guitarist and composer Phil Robson. In addition Siegel is also an in demand sideman, whether as a guest soloist with small groups or as a skilled and versatile section player in larger ensembles, these ranging over the years from the BBC Big Band to Django Bates’ Delightful Precipice.

Despite being a highly creative musician with an international reputation Siegel has been comparatively under recorded. Partisans have released five albums over the course of their twenty year existence while this is only the third offering from Siegel in the acoustic quartet format.

The first of these, “Close Up”, dates back to 2002 and features the leader in the company of pianist Liam Noble, bassist Jeremy Brown and drummer Gary Husband. “Close Up” was good but 2011’s follow up “Urban Theme Park” was even better, a modern British jazz classic featuring Siegel’s now regular working group comprised of Noble, bassist Oli Hayhurst and Partisans drummer Gene Calderazzo.

It hasn’t been quite such a lengthy hiatus this time, although plenty long enough, and Siegel is back with another excellent quartet album. “Vista” features ten new original Siegel compositions plus an arrangement of “Un Poco Loco” by the late, great American pianist Bud Powell. Once more the recording features the quartet of Siegel, Noble, Hayhurst and Calderazzo with the leader credited with tenor and soprano saxophones plus bass clarinet.

Besides his work with the quartet and with Partisans Siegel has also led two other landmark projects. In 2008 he fronted a collaborative trio featuring the American musicians Greg Cohen (double bass) and Joey Baron (drums). This fruitful Trans-Atlantic alliance is documented on the excellent two CD recording “Live At The Vortex” (Basho Records). Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/julian-siegel-trio-live-at-the-vortex/

In 2017 Siegel fulfilled a long term ambition by assembling his own stellar Jazz Orchestra to play his compositions, the majority of which were new pieces commissioned by Derby Jazz. Taking the lace making industry of his native Nottingham as a source of inspiration Siegel composed a suite titled “Tales From The Jacquard” which was performed by his Jazz Orchestra as the ensemble undertook a short tour of the UK. The programme also included new big band arrangements of older pieces initially written for the quartet or for Partisans. The ensemble’s performance in Nottingham was broadcast on Radio 3 and it would be good if Siegel were able to document the music on disc at some juncture. I was fortunate enough to cover the date at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham and my review of that performance can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/julian-siegel-jazz-orchestra-town-hall-birmingham-19-03-2017/

The release of a new recording by Siegel is always a major event in the British jazz calendar and “Vista” is no exception. The album commences with the simply titled “The Opener”, a typically engaging Siegel composition that combines complex harmonic and rhythmic ideas with a very human expressiveness. Often the written themes act as jumping off points for fiercely interactive passages of collective improvisation. This is a band that has been playing together for a long time, the familiarity of the musicians with one another’s playing leading to a highly creative musical environment. Siegel’s tenor gently prods and probes on his opening solo, moving easily between the written and improvised passages. He’s followed by Noble, one of the UK’s most distinctive and imaginative piano soloists.

“I Want To Go To Brazil” is Siegel’s homage to Brazilian music and composers such as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Hermeto Pascoal and Elis Regina. Yet it sounds nothing like any of these as Siegel puts his own stamp on the music of the country that inspired him. The piece commences with an intimate musical conversation between the leader on tenor and Noble on piano before the full quartet combine to shape the direction of the music. Hayhurst’s buoyant bass lines and Calderazzo’s crisp, dynamic drumming help to fuel joyously fluent and exploratory solos from Siegel and Noble. The piece may be inspired by Brazil but it’s very much Siegel’s own and is happily free from the usual samba and bossa clichés.

Simple one or two word titles are a characteristic of this album. “Song” proves to be a tender and elegant ballad featuring the sometimes wispy sound of the leader’s tenor sax plus a gloriously melodic double bass solo from Hayhurst. Noble is at his most lyrical at the piano while Calderazzo performs with great sensitivity and restraint at the kit, impressing in his role as colourist.

Siegel moves to soprano for the agreeably quirky “Pastorale”, his tone almost flute like at times. Initially it’s a breezy piece that sees the leader’s airy soprano exchanging ideas with Noble at the piano as Hayhurst and Calderazzo provide imaginative rhythmic accompaniment. In time this leads to a more reflective central passage with the dialogue between Siegel and Noble still at the heart of the music.

Calderazzo’s drums introduce Siegel’s brilliantly inventive arrangement of Bud Powell’s “Un Poco Loco”. It’s lively and dynamic with mercurial , interlocking melody lines darting hither and thither as the quartet warm to their task. This is the sound of a band having some ‘serious fun’ with their chosen material. As on “Pastorale” the intuitive rapport between Siegel, this time on tenor, and Noble is at the heart of the music with Hayhurst and Calderazzo also fully attuned to Siegel’s vision. The drummer’s busy, colourful performance helps to propel soloists Noble and Siegel to fresh heights.

“Billion Years” embraces a more contemporary feel and sees Siegel stretching out on tenor in the saxophone trio format as Hayhurst’s propulsive bass and Calderazzo’s busy, feverish drumming help to drive the music along. There are shades here of the saxophonist’s earlier trio with Cohen and Baron. Hayhurst weighs in with a muscular bass solo and there’s also something of a drum feature for the consistently excellent Calderazzo.

Noble returns for the title track, which embraces a more orchestral style of writing with the pianist’s ascending/descending motif at its heart. Siegel’s fluent, melodic tenor ranges widely across the musical landscape that the quartet have created as Calderazzo’s dynamic drumming helps to shape the music. Noble is finely liberated from his role to deliver a flowingly expansive, richly inventive piano solo.

“Full Circle” commences with the sound of the trio of Noble, Hayhurst and Calderazzo and is the kind of spacious, abstract ballad that wouldn’t sound out of place on an ECM recording. Siegel subsequently enters on soprano sax, circling airily above the delicate rhythmic patterns generated by his colleagues.

“The Goose” was initially written for Siegel’s Jazz Orchestra project and was played by that ensemble. The title comes from the name that Partisans colleague Phil Robson coined for Siegel’s bass clarinet, although the leader actually plays tenor here. All the members of the quartet were part of the larger ensemble and all excel on this vibrant, blues inflected, highly rhythmic take on Siegel’s theme with the leader soloing in ebullient manner on tenor followed by Noble at the piano and Hayhurst on double bass.

“Idea” actually sees Siegel taking up the ‘goose’, the animated and engaging dialogue between his bass clarinet and Calderazzo’s drums introducing the piece prior to a spirited band finale. It’s energetic, dynamic and great fun with some virtuoso playing, particularly from Siegel and Calderazzo.

The album concludes with the nine minute “The Claw”, the album’s lengthiest piece and a composition that seems to owe something to the ‘spiritual’ jazz of John Coltrane. Siegel positively smoulders on tenor as he builds his solo, this evolving into a series of increasingly intense exchanges with the Tyner-esque Noble as Calderazzo and Hayhurst feed the rhythmic furnaces.
Having reached a peak of intensity the piece plateaus out somewhat and resolves itself with an equally engaging passage of soprano sax from the leader.

Like its predecessor “Urban Theme Park” “Vista” has been widely acclaimed by the critics, and rightly so. The album again highlights Siegel’s abilities as both a musician and a composer and he is once again supported by an excellent hand picked band that are more than capable of dealing with the musical challenges that Siegel throws at them and creating something fresh and special out of those ideas. “It’s a shared experience” explains Siegel, “It’s a great opportunity writing for this band because you know they’re going to make it sound good”. It’s an observation with which one can only concur.

The Julian Siegel Quartet are currently touring the UK in support of “Vista”. Forthcoming dates are listed below;


March 21st NOTTINGHAM Jazz House Bonington Theatre
March 28th STRATFORD UPON AVON,  Stratford Arts House
April 12th CAMBRIDGE, Modern Jazz Club
April 14th SHREWSBURY Jazz Network,  The Hive
April 15th BRISTOL, The Hen & Chicken, Bedminster
April 26th BIRMINGHAM Conservatoire, Eastside Jazz Club


Julian Siegel: http://juliansiegel.tumblr.com/

Whirlwind Recordings: http://www.whirlwindrecordings.com/

I intend to cover the event in Shrewsbury in due course.

 

 

 

Vista

Julian Siegel Quartet

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Vista

The album again highlights Siegel’s abilities as both a musician and a composer and he is once again supported by an excellent hand picked band.

Julian Siegel Quartet

“Vista”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4717)

The Nottingham born saxophonist, clarinettist and composer Julian Siegel is one of the most significant figures on the contemporary UK jazz scene.

I have long been an admirer of his playing and composing,, whether fronting his own trios and quartets or co-leading the long running jazz rock group Partisans in partnership with guitarist and composer Phil Robson. In addition Siegel is also an in demand sideman, whether as a guest soloist with small groups or as a skilled and versatile section player in larger ensembles, these ranging over the years from the BBC Big Band to Django Bates’ Delightful Precipice.

Despite being a highly creative musician with an international reputation Siegel has been comparatively under recorded. Partisans have released five albums over the course of their twenty year existence while this is only the third offering from Siegel in the acoustic quartet format.

The first of these, “Close Up”, dates back to 2002 and features the leader in the company of pianist Liam Noble, bassist Jeremy Brown and drummer Gary Husband. “Close Up” was good but 2011’s follow up “Urban Theme Park” was even better, a modern British jazz classic featuring Siegel’s now regular working group comprised of Noble, bassist Oli Hayhurst and Partisans drummer Gene Calderazzo.

It hasn’t been quite such a lengthy hiatus this time, although plenty long enough, and Siegel is back with another excellent quartet album. “Vista” features ten new original Siegel compositions plus an arrangement of “Un Poco Loco” by the late, great American pianist Bud Powell. Once more the recording features the quartet of Siegel, Noble, Hayhurst and Calderazzo with the leader credited with tenor and soprano saxophones plus bass clarinet.

Besides his work with the quartet and with Partisans Siegel has also led two other landmark projects. In 2008 he fronted a collaborative trio featuring the American musicians Greg Cohen (double bass) and Joey Baron (drums). This fruitful Trans-Atlantic alliance is documented on the excellent two CD recording “Live At The Vortex” (Basho Records). Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/julian-siegel-trio-live-at-the-vortex/

In 2017 Siegel fulfilled a long term ambition by assembling his own stellar Jazz Orchestra to play his compositions, the majority of which were new pieces commissioned by Derby Jazz. Taking the lace making industry of his native Nottingham as a source of inspiration Siegel composed a suite titled “Tales From The Jacquard” which was performed by his Jazz Orchestra as the ensemble undertook a short tour of the UK. The programme also included new big band arrangements of older pieces initially written for the quartet or for Partisans. The ensemble’s performance in Nottingham was broadcast on Radio 3 and it would be good if Siegel were able to document the music on disc at some juncture. I was fortunate enough to cover the date at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham and my review of that performance can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/julian-siegel-jazz-orchestra-town-hall-birmingham-19-03-2017/

The release of a new recording by Siegel is always a major event in the British jazz calendar and “Vista” is no exception. The album commences with the simply titled “The Opener”, a typically engaging Siegel composition that combines complex harmonic and rhythmic ideas with a very human expressiveness. Often the written themes act as jumping off points for fiercely interactive passages of collective improvisation. This is a band that has been playing together for a long time, the familiarity of the musicians with one another’s playing leading to a highly creative musical environment. Siegel’s tenor gently prods and probes on his opening solo, moving easily between the written and improvised passages. He’s followed by Noble, one of the UK’s most distinctive and imaginative piano soloists.

“I Want To Go To Brazil” is Siegel’s homage to Brazilian music and composers such as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Hermeto Pascoal and Elis Regina. Yet it sounds nothing like any of these as Siegel puts his own stamp on the music of the country that inspired him. The piece commences with an intimate musical conversation between the leader on tenor and Noble on piano before the full quartet combine to shape the direction of the music. Hayhurst’s buoyant bass lines and Calderazzo’s crisp, dynamic drumming help to fuel joyously fluent and exploratory solos from Siegel and Noble. The piece may be inspired by Brazil but it’s very much Siegel’s own and is happily free from the usual samba and bossa clichés.

Simple one or two word titles are a characteristic of this album. “Song” proves to be a tender and elegant ballad featuring the sometimes wispy sound of the leader’s tenor sax plus a gloriously melodic double bass solo from Hayhurst. Noble is at his most lyrical at the piano while Calderazzo performs with great sensitivity and restraint at the kit, impressing in his role as colourist.

Siegel moves to soprano for the agreeably quirky “Pastorale”, his tone almost flute like at times. Initially it’s a breezy piece that sees the leader’s airy soprano exchanging ideas with Noble at the piano as Hayhurst and Calderazzo provide imaginative rhythmic accompaniment. In time this leads to a more reflective central passage with the dialogue between Siegel and Noble still at the heart of the music.

Calderazzo’s drums introduce Siegel’s brilliantly inventive arrangement of Bud Powell’s “Un Poco Loco”. It’s lively and dynamic with mercurial , interlocking melody lines darting hither and thither as the quartet warm to their task. This is the sound of a band having some ‘serious fun’ with their chosen material. As on “Pastorale” the intuitive rapport between Siegel, this time on tenor, and Noble is at the heart of the music with Hayhurst and Calderazzo also fully attuned to Siegel’s vision. The drummer’s busy, colourful performance helps to propel soloists Noble and Siegel to fresh heights.

“Billion Years” embraces a more contemporary feel and sees Siegel stretching out on tenor in the saxophone trio format as Hayhurst’s propulsive bass and Calderazzo’s busy, feverish drumming help to drive the music along. There are shades here of the saxophonist’s earlier trio with Cohen and Baron. Hayhurst weighs in with a muscular bass solo and there’s also something of a drum feature for the consistently excellent Calderazzo.

Noble returns for the title track, which embraces a more orchestral style of writing with the pianist’s ascending/descending motif at its heart. Siegel’s fluent, melodic tenor ranges widely across the musical landscape that the quartet have created as Calderazzo’s dynamic drumming helps to shape the music. Noble is finely liberated from his role to deliver a flowingly expansive, richly inventive piano solo.

“Full Circle” commences with the sound of the trio of Noble, Hayhurst and Calderazzo and is the kind of spacious, abstract ballad that wouldn’t sound out of place on an ECM recording. Siegel subsequently enters on soprano sax, circling airily above the delicate rhythmic patterns generated by his colleagues.

“The Goose” was initially written for Siegel’s Jazz Orchestra project and was played by that ensemble. The title comes from the name that Partisans colleague Phil Robson coined for Siegel’s bass clarinet, although the leader actually plays tenor here. All the members of the quartet were part of the larger ensemble and all excel on this vibrant, blues inflected, highly rhythmic take on Siegel’s theme with the leader soloing in ebullient manner on tenor followed by Noble at the piano and Hayhurst on double bass.

“Idea” actually sees Siegel taking up the ‘goose’, the animated and engaging dialogue between his bass clarinet and Calderazzo’s drums introducing the piece prior to a spirited band finale. It’s energetic, dynamic and great fun with some virtuoso playing, particularly from Siegel and Calderazzo.

The album concludes with the nine minute “The Claw”, the album’s lengthiest piece and a composition that seems to owe something to the ‘spiritual’ jazz of John Coltrane. Siegel positively smoulders on tenor as he builds his solo, this evolving into a series of increasingly intense exchanges with the Tyner-esque Noble as Calderazzo and Hayhurst feed the rhythmic furnaces.
Having reached a peak of intensity the piece plateaus out somewhat and resolves itself with an equally engaging passage of soprano sax from the leader.

Like its predecessor “Urban Theme Park” “Vista” has been widely acclaimed by the critics, and rightly so. The album again highlights Siegel’s abilities as both a musician and a composer and he is once again supported by an excellent hand picked band that are more than capable of dealing with the musical challenges that Siegel throws at them and creating something fresh and special out of those ideas. “It’s a shared experience” explains Siegel, “It’s a great opportunity writing for this band because you know they’re going to make it sound good”. It’s an observation with which one can only concur.

The Julian Siegel Quartet are currently touring the UK in support of “Vista”. Forthcoming dates are listed below;


March 21st NOTTINGHAM Jazz House Bonington Theatre
March 28th STRATFORD UPON AVON,  Stratford Arts House
April 12th CAMBRIDGE, Modern Jazz Club
April 14th SHREWSBURY Jazz Network,  The Hive
April 15th BRISTOL, The Hen & Chicken, Bedminster
April 26th BIRMINGHAM Conservatoire, Eastside Jazz Club


Julian Siegel: http://juliansiegel.tumblr.com/

Whirlwind Recordings: http://www.whirlwindrecordings.com/

I intend to cover the event in Shrewsbury in due course.

 

 

 

Wild Card - Life Stories Rating: 3-5 out of 5 “Life Stories” features Wild Card doing what they do best, delivering vibrant, exciting music with the potential to appeal to a wide fan base.Lovers of jazz, funk & soul should all find much to enjoy.

Wild Card

“Life Stories”

(Top End Records TER0004CD)

Wild Card is a London based trio led by the French born guitarist and composer Clement Regert. The core of the band is completed by Andrew Noble on B3 Hammond organ and Sophie Alloway at the drums.

The group represents an updating of the classic jazz organ trio with elements of funk, soul and rock music added to the mix. Wild Card is a popular live attraction in the pubs and clubs of London and gigs regularly feature guest performers, the majority of them horn players including trumpeter Graeme Flowers, trombonists Dennis Rollins and Alistair White and saxophonists Roberto Manzin and Leo Richardson.  Even the core trio can change for live work with Regert the only constant presence.

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 Rollins, vocalist Liane Carroll and trumpeter Quentin Collins The album also featured contributions from percussionist Philip Harper and Parisian girl rapper B’loon. 

By the time of 2012’s “Everything Changes” Regert had re-invented the group and this was the first recording to feature the current core line up of Noble and Alloway. Guests included Flowers, Rollins and B’loon and the material included contemporary versions of jazz and bebop standards by composers such as Horace Silver, Jason Moran, Steve Kuhn, Kenny Barron and Kenny Burrell. There were also a sprinkling of Regert originals, a piece by the Brazilian composer Baden Powell and a rather unlikely, but surprisingly successful, cover of the Oasis hit “Wonderwall”.


2015’s follow up, “Organic Riot” placed a greater emphasis on Regert’s own writing and represented the group’s most varied and mature work to date. This time the guests included Flowers and Manzin with Jerome Harper appearing on trombone. Percussion duties were shared between  Lili Ioncheva and Joao Caetano, with one of these sharing a rhythmic alliance with Alloway on most pieces. B’loon performed on three items while soul vocalist Natalie Williams sang on two songs and contributed to the writing process.

“Life Stories” introduces a fresh roster of guest musicians. Flowers and percussionist Will Fry play on all the tracks and there are also substantial contributions from Jim Knight (alto sax), Denys Baptiste (tenor sax), Alistair White (trombone), Mary Pearce (vocals), Carl Hudson (synthesiser) and Adam Glasser (harmonica). The album was recorded ‘live in the studio’ with overdubs kept to a minimum in the attempt to recreate something of the feel of one of Wild Card’s famously exciting live gigs.

The album begins with the brief “Intro; Life Stories” which seems to emerge out of a longer jam. Initially Flowers’ trumpet is to the fore until two uncredited voices, one male, one female, emerge extolling the life affirming qualities of jazz and blues. “This is Triumphant Music” they declare. Quite.

After a deceptively gentle intro “Better Remorse Than Regret” comes roaring out of the blocks, a rousing,  high energy piece powered by the horns of Flowers, Baptiste and White and the vibrant drums and percussion duo of Alloway and Fry.
Baptiste stretches out with a probing tenor solo as Hammond, guitar and percussion surge around him. Flowers’ short trumpet cameo provides a moment of respite but the temperature is soon rising again with a high energy finale incorporating something of a drums/percussion feature and more of that punchy, powerful horn section.

The first cover is a Regert arrangement of the Mick Jagger/Keith Richards composition “Paint It Black” sung by guest vocalist Mary Pearce.  The song is given a funky and soulful treatment that is likely to make it a guaranteed floor filler at Wild Card’s live shows. The guest instrumental soloist is synthesiser player Carl Hudson, of the band Incognito, who unleashes his inner Bernie Worrall to terrific effect. Like many of Wild Card’s pop and rock covers it works surprisingly well. Perhaps wisely they don’t attempt to recapture the decadent and malevolent atmosphere of the Stones’ original.

Regert’s “La Paranthese Enchantee” introduces a kind of Afro-Latin feel. It’s a breezy, feel good track that features the leader’s guitar as a solo instrument, the first time Regert has really pushed himself forward in the mix. Knight’s alto solo is bright and incisive while Noble’s underpinning Hammond also plays an important part in the arrangement.

Regert’s personal life has been informed by tragedy in recent years with the sad death from leukaemia of Alexis Corker, his partner of twelve years and the mother of his two daughters. “Beat The Beast” was written in response to that diagnosis, an expression of defiance executed in the Wild Card house style. Hard grooving and funky it’s ultimately uplifting and features powerful solos from Regert on heavily amplified electric guitar and Knight on blistering alto sax.

Dedicated to Corker and his two daughters the song “Mommy Is In The Sky” is thematically linked to its predecessor. The lyrics of this almost unbearably personal song are delivered with great soulfulness and dignity by Pearce with Baptiste’s tender tenor solo and Noble’s gospel tinged Hammond adding to the emotion of the song. White’s rounded trombone then comes to the fore in the latter stages of the piece.

But this is Wild Card, and Regert is by nature a very positive person so it’s impossible to stay sad for long. “Risky Business” is an impressive piece of writing with many twists and turns and dynamic contrasts. At its heart is a startlingly fluent harmonica solo by Adam Glasser, followed by a similarly eloquent statement on trumpet by Flowers.

The supremely invigorating “Bravid” combines jazzy, funky grooves with some punchy ensemble playing and includes a solo from Noble that delivers that classic jazz organ sound made famous by Jimmy Smith and others. Noble’s solo is followed by a series of thrilling, high octane trumpet and tenor exchanges as Flowers and Baptiste go toe to toe. Regert features briefly and there’s some bravura drumming from Alloway. Great stuff.

A funky, horn and Hammond driven Regert adaptation of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” works surprisingly well with the leader’s guitar playing a prominent part in the arrangement.  There’s a blazing trumpet solo from Flowers and a second outing on synth from Hudson, who again reminds us that with a little imagination the instrument can still be a convincing vehicle for jazz soloists.Incidentally the band’s frequent contributor Dennis Rollins has long featured his own infectious arrangement of the Floyd’s “Money” in performances by his trombone/organ/drums combo Velocity Trio.

Regert’s last contribution with the pen is “Maybe…Maybe Not” with its stuttering, shuffling grooves and funk / nu-jazz feel. There’s an intriguing guitar solo from the leader and he’s followed by Noble at the Hammond. Flowers, Fry and Knight are all involved but it’s the members of the core trio that take the honours as soloists with something of a drum feature from Alloway appearing towards the close.

Finally “Herman’s Hoedown”, written by the Australian born Noble, is presented as a bonus track. It’s lively and funky and Hammond led with the composer the featured soloist with an extended excursion that fully explores the possibilities of the instrument, reaching into the realms of soul and gospel in a manner reminiscent of JTQ. When Noble signs off Knight and Flowers take over with a series of animated alto and trumpet exchanges as the rest of the band, including percussionist Fry, keep the rhythmic pot bubbling.

“Life Stories” features Wild Card doing what they do best, delivering vibrant, exciting music with the potential to appeal to a wide fan base. Lovers of jazz, funk and soul should all find much to enjoy here. Everybody performs well and the two arrangements of outside material are largely effective and look at the chosen pieces with a fresh slant and from a different perspective. The enlarged guest list allows Wild Card to broaden their musical palette while still remaining true to their roots.  All of the guests make substantial and significant contributions and it’s tempting to think of the excellent Flowers as a fully fledged member of the group.

I’ve now covered three of Wild Card’s four albums and found all of them to be hugely enjoyable with their hard driving funky grooves and inspired soloing. They’re also admirably varied in terms of musical styles, albeit within a certain template. One day I hope to catch the band live, which I’m sure must be the best environment in which to experience them. In the meantime “Life Stories” and its predecessors offer much for the home listener to enjoy.

 

 

 

Life Stories

Wild Card

Monday, March 19, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Life Stories

“Life Stories” features Wild Card doing what they do best, delivering vibrant, exciting music with the potential to appeal to a wide fan base.Lovers of jazz, funk & soul should all find much to enjoy.

Wild Card

“Life Stories”

(Top End Records TER0004CD)

Wild Card is a London based trio led by the French born guitarist and composer Clement Regert. The core of the band is completed by Andrew Noble on B3 Hammond organ and Sophie Alloway at the drums.

The group represents an updating of the classic jazz organ trio with elements of funk, soul and rock music added to the mix. Wild Card is a popular live attraction in the pubs and clubs of London and gigs regularly feature guest performers, the majority of them horn players including trumpeter Graeme Flowers, trombonists Dennis Rollins and Alistair White and saxophonists Roberto Manzin and Leo Richardson.  Even the core trio can change for live work with Regert the only constant presence.

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 Rollins, vocalist Liane Carroll and trumpeter Quentin Collins The album also featured contributions from percussionist Philip Harper and Parisian girl rapper B’loon. 

By the time of 2012’s “Everything Changes” Regert had re-invented the group and this was the first recording to feature the current core line up of Noble and Alloway. Guests included Flowers, Rollins and B’loon and the material included contemporary versions of jazz and bebop standards by composers such as Horace Silver, Jason Moran, Steve Kuhn, Kenny Barron and Kenny Burrell. There were also a sprinkling of Regert originals, a piece by the Brazilian composer Baden Powell and a rather unlikely, but surprisingly successful, cover of the Oasis hit “Wonderwall”.


2015’s follow up, “Organic Riot” placed a greater emphasis on Regert’s own writing and represented the group’s most varied and mature work to date. This time the guests included Flowers and Manzin with Jerome Harper appearing on trombone. Percussion duties were shared between  Lili Ioncheva and Joao Caetano, with one of these sharing a rhythmic alliance with Alloway on most pieces. B’loon performed on three items while soul vocalist Natalie Williams sang on two songs and contributed to the writing process.

“Life Stories” introduces a fresh roster of guest musicians. Flowers and percussionist Will Fry play on all the tracks and there are also substantial contributions from Jim Knight (alto sax), Denys Baptiste (tenor sax), Alistair White (trombone), Mary Pearce (vocals), Carl Hudson (synthesiser) and Adam Glasser (harmonica). The album was recorded ‘live in the studio’ with overdubs kept to a minimum in the attempt to recreate something of the feel of one of Wild Card’s famously exciting live gigs.

The album begins with the brief “Intro; Life Stories” which seems to emerge out of a longer jam. Initially Flowers’ trumpet is to the fore until two uncredited voices, one male, one female, emerge extolling the life affirming qualities of jazz and blues. “This is Triumphant Music” they declare. Quite.

After a deceptively gentle intro “Better Remorse Than Regret” comes roaring out of the blocks, a rousing,  high energy piece powered by the horns of Flowers, Baptiste and White and the vibrant drums and percussion duo of Alloway and Fry.
Baptiste stretches out with a probing tenor solo as Hammond, guitar and percussion surge around him. Flowers’ short trumpet cameo provides a moment of respite but the temperature is soon rising again with a high energy finale incorporating something of a drums/percussion feature and more of that punchy, powerful horn section.

The first cover is a Regert arrangement of the Mick Jagger/Keith Richards composition “Paint It Black” sung by guest vocalist Mary Pearce.  The song is given a funky and soulful treatment that is likely to make it a guaranteed floor filler at Wild Card’s live shows. The guest instrumental soloist is synthesiser player Carl Hudson, of the band Incognito, who unleashes his inner Bernie Worrall to terrific effect. Like many of Wild Card’s pop and rock covers it works surprisingly well. Perhaps wisely they don’t attempt to recapture the decadent and malevolent atmosphere of the Stones’ original.

Regert’s “La Paranthese Enchantee” introduces a kind of Afro-Latin feel. It’s a breezy, feel good track that features the leader’s guitar as a solo instrument, the first time Regert has really pushed himself forward in the mix. Knight’s alto solo is bright and incisive while Noble’s underpinning Hammond also plays an important part in the arrangement.

Regert’s personal life has been informed by tragedy in recent years with the sad death from leukaemia of Alexis Corker, his partner of twelve years and the mother of his two daughters. “Beat The Beast” was written in response to that diagnosis, an expression of defiance executed in the Wild Card house style. Hard grooving and funky it’s ultimately uplifting and features powerful solos from Regert on heavily amplified electric guitar and Knight on blistering alto sax.

Dedicated to Corker and his two daughters the song “Mommy Is In The Sky” is thematically linked to its predecessor. The lyrics of this almost unbearably personal song are delivered with great soulfulness and dignity by Pearce with Baptiste’s tender tenor solo and Noble’s gospel tinged Hammond adding to the emotion of the song. White’s rounded trombone then comes to the fore in the latter stages of the piece.

But this is Wild Card, and Regert is by nature a very positive person so it’s impossible to stay sad for long. “Risky Business” is an impressive piece of writing with many twists and turns and dynamic contrasts. At its heart is a startlingly fluent harmonica solo by Adam Glasser, followed by a similarly eloquent statement on trumpet by Flowers.

The supremely invigorating “Bravid” combines jazzy, funky grooves with some punchy ensemble playing and includes a solo from Noble that delivers that classic jazz organ sound made famous by Jimmy Smith and others. Noble’s solo is followed by a series of thrilling, high octane trumpet and tenor exchanges as Flowers and Baptiste go toe to toe. Regert features briefly and there’s some bravura drumming from Alloway. Great stuff.

A funky, horn and Hammond driven Regert adaptation of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” works surprisingly well with the leader’s guitar playing a prominent part in the arrangement.  There’s a blazing trumpet solo from Flowers and a second outing on synth from Hudson, who again reminds us that with a little imagination the instrument can still be a convincing vehicle for jazz soloists.Incidentally the band’s frequent contributor Dennis Rollins has long featured his own infectious arrangement of the Floyd’s “Money” in performances by his trombone/organ/drums combo Velocity Trio.

Regert’s last contribution with the pen is “Maybe…Maybe Not” with its stuttering, shuffling grooves and funk / nu-jazz feel. There’s an intriguing guitar solo from the leader and he’s followed by Noble at the Hammond. Flowers, Fry and Knight are all involved but it’s the members of the core trio that take the honours as soloists with something of a drum feature from Alloway appearing towards the close.

Finally “Herman’s Hoedown”, written by the Australian born Noble, is presented as a bonus track. It’s lively and funky and Hammond led with the composer the featured soloist with an extended excursion that fully explores the possibilities of the instrument, reaching into the realms of soul and gospel in a manner reminiscent of JTQ. When Noble signs off Knight and Flowers take over with a series of animated alto and trumpet exchanges as the rest of the band, including percussionist Fry, keep the rhythmic pot bubbling.

“Life Stories” features Wild Card doing what they do best, delivering vibrant, exciting music with the potential to appeal to a wide fan base. Lovers of jazz, funk and soul should all find much to enjoy here. Everybody performs well and the two arrangements of outside material are largely effective and look at the chosen pieces with a fresh slant and from a different perspective. The enlarged guest list allows Wild Card to broaden their musical palette while still remaining true to their roots.  All of the guests make substantial and significant contributions and it’s tempting to think of the excellent Flowers as a fully fledged member of the group.

I’ve now covered three of Wild Card’s four albums and found all of them to be hugely enjoyable with their hard driving funky grooves and inspired soloing. They’re also admirably varied in terms of musical styles, albeit within a certain template. One day I hope to catch the band live, which I’m sure must be the best environment in which to experience them. In the meantime “Life Stories” and its predecessors offer much for the home listener to enjoy.

 

 

 

Maciek Pysz / Jean Guyomarc’h / Matheus Prado Trio - Maciek Pysz / Jean Guyomarc’h / Matheus Prado Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse, Brecon, 13/03/2018. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 The technical prowess of both guitarists was frequently astonishing while Prado more than held his own in such illustrious company and added greatly to the success of the evening.

Maciek Pysz / Jean Guyomarc’h / Matheus Prado Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 13/03/2018.

You have to hand it to Lynne Gornall, prime mover of Brecon Jazz Club and Brecon Jazz Festival.
She has a knack for putting musicians together in one off situations and making these collaborations work – even the most unlikely ones.

There has been something of a ‘gypsy jazz’ theme running through the current season of Brecon Jazz Club with the French guitarist Jean Guyomarc’h making his second visit to The Muse in less than six months – he was here in October as part of a trio featuring fellow guitarist Will Barnes and double bassist/vocalist Ruth Bowen. My review of that performance can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/jean-guyomarch-friends-brecon-jazz-club-the-muse-arts-centre-brecon-10-10-2/


Guyomarc’h has been a regular visitor to Wales over the course of the last few years , 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 2016 and 2017 Guyomarc’h returned to the principality for further tours, collaborating with local musicians under the group name Jean Guyomarc’h & Friends.


The collaboration with Barnes was perhaps an obvious one, both are players steeped in the music of Django Reinhardt with Barnes adding a touch of bebop and Wes Montgomery to the mix. Pysz, however, is a very different type of guitarist. A frequent presence on the Jazzmann web pages he places a greater emphasis on original material and has released an impressive body of recorded material, the majority of which has been reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann site. His main working group is his trio with the Russian born double bass virtuoso Yuri Goloubev and the Israeli born master drummer/percussionist Asaf Sirkis. He has also recorded in the duo format, firstly with fellow guitarist Gianluca Corona and more recently with the bandoneonist and pianist Daniele di Bonaventura.


The Brazilian born Prado is a mature student at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff (RWCMD) and has become an in demand presence on the South Wales jazz scene. He has been a regular visitor to Brecon for both the Festival and the regular club nights. He was part of the bossa nova quartet Ocaso who visited the club in May 2017 and has also featured as a sideman with pianist Atsuko Shimada and vocalist Annette Gregory. He has also worked with the young Cardiff based drummer, composer and bandleader Max Wright.

Pysz, Guyomarc’h and Prado had all performed at Brecon Jazz Club before but never together, making this a genuine one off collaboration. The two guitarists had played together for the first time a couple of nights before at Café Jazz in Cardiff but with Ashley John Long fulfilling the bassist’s role.

Stylistically Guyomarc’h and Pysz are very different as guitarists but the pair were happy to use the gypsy jazz style as a meeting place. It was fascinating to compare their different tones and sounds on guitar. Guyomarc’h was playing a steel string acoustic, a typically incisive gypsy jazz guitar with volume and bite. Meanwhile Pysz’s guitar was a nylon strung Godin acoustic with a much softer tone.

The pair began in duo format with a version of the tune “Made In France”, a piece composed by the French guitarist Bireli Lagrene that had also featured in the Guyomarc’h/Barnes/Bowen set. This lively, highly rhythmic offering saw the two guitarists setting their stalls out early on with some dazzling, virtuoso soloing. Guyomarc’h went first, bending the strings and contorting his fingers into some almost impossible chord shapes. Pysz followed as the duo swapped their lead and rhythm roles and the performance concluded with both players seeming to play lead in a dizzying set of final exchanges.

Prado now joined the pair and the newly constituted trio romped their way through “Stompin’ At The Savoy”, a tune that has become something of a gypsy jazz staple. With Prado anchoring the group the two guitarists were given greater freedom for melodic embellishment and even more room to roam as they again traded dazzling solos, Guyomarc’h once more going first.

Referencing the different nationalities on stage Pysz referred to the trio as a kind of ‘World Union’.  Prado’s Brazilian heritage was acknowledged by a version of “Black Orpheus”, written by Luiz Bonfa. Pysz took the first solo and he was followed by Prado. The bassist’s melodic solo was sympathetically accompanied by Guyomarc’h and such was the rapt attention of the audience that you could literally have heard a pin drop. Guyomarc’h then took over the reins for the final solo.

“There Will Never Be Another You” steered the music back more firmly into gypsy jazz territory with Prado’s rapid bass walk fuelling fiery solos from both Pysz and Guyomarc’h with the bassist also enjoying a further feature, again backed by Guyomarc’h alone.

A passage of solo guitar from Pysz introduced the jazz standard “Stella By Starlight”, a piece that was largely a feature for the softer tones of the Polish guitarist but which also included another highly melodic bass solo from Prado.

The trio’s adventurous version of Miles Davis’ “Nardis” saw them taking liberties with keys and time signatures while also including extended, but thoroughly engaging, solos from all three musicians.

A lengthy first set concluded with an exuberant, gypsy jazz style take on Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely?”, again with dazzling solos from all three participants. Pysz’s virtuoso display saw him wandering so far from Wonder’s melody that it was positively startling when he reeled it back in again.

It was inevitable that the second set would be shorter, but once again it began in the duo format. During the interval the two guitarists had rehearsed a couple of their own original tunes. The first of these to be heard was a jazz waltz by Guyomarc’h, the title roughly translating as “Waltz For The Sad Tomorrows”. Described by its composer as being “typical French music” the piece had a definite gypsy jazz feel, Django-esque even – allowing for the fact that Monsieur Reinhardt was actually Belgian.
Here a Pysz solo mid-tune was bookended by two excursions from Guyomarc’h.

Prado was added to the group for a version of Pysz’s tune “Fresh Look”, a composition from the guitarist’s “A Journey” album. This was a piece that demonstrated the composer’s almost Metheny like gift for melody and included suitably melodic solos from Guyomarc’h, Prado and Pysz.

A brilliant version of Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo” combined boppish melodies with gypsy swing rhythms and yielded another crop of dazzling, virtuoso solos from all three musicians.

The pace dropped a little as a passage of unaccompanied guitar from Guyomarc’h introduced a mid tempo rendition of the jazz standard “Days Of Wine And Roses” with subsequent solos from Guyomarc’h , Pysz and Prado.

The evening concluded on a high note with an extended exploration of Chick Corea’s enduringly popular “Spain” with its superbly executed tricky unison passages and flamenco flourishes. The tune has always been a great vehicle for improvisers and the members of the trio didn’t disappoint as they delivered their final bravura solos and threw in a few tricks like playing above the bridge (Guyomarc’h) or using the bodies of the guitars as auxiliary percussion.

It was all very informal with the musicians pausing to discuss the repertoire along the way but the audience were clearly delighted by the skill and vivacity of the playing.  The technical prowess of both guitarists was frequently astonishing while Prado more than held his own in such illustrious company and added greatly to the success of the evening.

By his own admission Pysz doesn’t play gypsy jazz very often, preferring to concentrate on his own original material, but there definitely seemed to be something of a spark between him and Guyomarc’h and I wouldn’t entirely rule out the possibility of these two working together again.

Everybody seemed delighted by the success of yet another fruitful collaboration engineered by Lynne Gornall and with the event generously supported by the Arts Council of Wales’ Noson Allan (or ‘Night Out’) scheme the evening was a financial success too.

Brecon Jazz Club’s next monthly event will see Bristol based pianist and composer Andy Nowak bringing his trio to The Muse on April 10th 2018 in support of his excellent new album “Reset”.

 

Maciek Pysz / Jean Guyomarc’h / Matheus Prado Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse, Brecon, 13/03/2018.

Maciek Pysz / Jean Guyomarc’h / Matheus Prado Trio

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Maciek Pysz / Jean Guyomarc’h / Matheus Prado Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse, Brecon, 13/03/2018.
Photography: Photograph by Pam Mann.

The technical prowess of both guitarists was frequently astonishing while Prado more than held his own in such illustrious company and added greatly to the success of the evening.

Maciek Pysz / Jean Guyomarc’h / Matheus Prado Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 13/03/2018.

You have to hand it to Lynne Gornall, prime mover of Brecon Jazz Club and Brecon Jazz Festival.
She has a knack for putting musicians together in one off situations and making these collaborations work – even the most unlikely ones.

There has been something of a ‘gypsy jazz’ theme running through the current season of Brecon Jazz Club with the French guitarist Jean Guyomarc’h making his second visit to The Muse in less than six months – he was here in October as part of a trio featuring fellow guitarist Will Barnes and double bassist/vocalist Ruth Bowen. My review of that performance can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/jean-guyomarch-friends-brecon-jazz-club-the-muse-arts-centre-brecon-10-10-2/


Guyomarc’h has been a regular visitor to Wales over the course of the last few years , 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 2016 and 2017 Guyomarc’h returned to the principality for further tours, collaborating with local musicians under the group name Jean Guyomarc’h & Friends.


The collaboration with Barnes was perhaps an obvious one, both are players steeped in the music of Django Reinhardt with Barnes adding a touch of bebop and Wes Montgomery to the mix. Pysz, however, is a very different type of guitarist. A frequent presence on the Jazzmann web pages he places a greater emphasis on original material and has released an impressive body of recorded material, the majority of which has been reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann site. His main working group is his trio with the Russian born double bass virtuoso Yuri Goloubev and the Israeli born master drummer/percussionist Asaf Sirkis. He has also recorded in the duo format, firstly with fellow guitarist Gianluca Corona and more recently with the bandoneonist and pianist Daniele di Bonaventura.


The Brazilian born Prado is a mature student at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff (RWCMD) and has become an in demand presence on the South Wales jazz scene. He has been a regular visitor to Brecon for both the Festival and the regular club nights. He was part of the bossa nova quartet Ocaso who visited the club in May 2017 and has also featured as a sideman with pianist Atsuko Shimada and vocalist Annette Gregory. He has also worked with the young Cardiff based drummer, composer and bandleader Max Wright.

Pysz, Guyomarc’h and Prado had all performed at Brecon Jazz Club before but never together, making this a genuine one off collaboration. The two guitarists had played together for the first time a couple of nights before at Café Jazz in Cardiff but with Ashley John Long fulfilling the bassist’s role.

Stylistically Guyomarc’h and Pysz are very different as guitarists but the pair were happy to use the gypsy jazz style as a meeting place. It was fascinating to compare their different tones and sounds on guitar. Guyomarc’h was playing a steel string acoustic, a typically incisive gypsy jazz guitar with volume and bite. Meanwhile Pysz’s guitar was a nylon strung Godin acoustic with a much softer tone.

The pair began in duo format with a version of the tune “Made In France”, a piece composed by the French guitarist Bireli Lagrene that had also featured in the Guyomarc’h/Barnes/Bowen set. This lively, highly rhythmic offering saw the two guitarists setting their stalls out early on with some dazzling, virtuoso soloing. Guyomarc’h went first, bending the strings and contorting his fingers into some almost impossible chord shapes. Pysz followed as the duo swapped their lead and rhythm roles and the performance concluded with both players seeming to play lead in a dizzying set of final exchanges.

Prado now joined the pair and the newly constituted trio romped their way through “Stompin’ At The Savoy”, a tune that has become something of a gypsy jazz staple. With Prado anchoring the group the two guitarists were given greater freedom for melodic embellishment and even more room to roam as they again traded dazzling solos, Guyomarc’h once more going first.

Referencing the different nationalities on stage Pysz referred to the trio as a kind of ‘World Union’.  Prado’s Brazilian heritage was acknowledged by a version of “Black Orpheus”, written by Luiz Bonfa. Pysz took the first solo and he was followed by Prado. The bassist’s melodic solo was sympathetically accompanied by Guyomarc’h and such was the rapt attention of the audience that you could literally have heard a pin drop. Guyomarc’h then took over the reins for the final solo.

“There Will Never Be Another You” steered the music back more firmly into gypsy jazz territory with Prado’s rapid bass walk fuelling fiery solos from both Pysz and Guyomarc’h with the bassist also enjoying a further feature, again backed by Guyomarc’h alone.

A passage of solo guitar from Pysz introduced the jazz standard “Stella By Starlight”, a piece that was largely a feature for the softer tones of the Polish guitarist but which also included another highly melodic bass solo from Prado.

The trio’s adventurous version of Miles Davis’ “Nardis” saw them taking liberties with keys and time signatures while also including extended, but thoroughly engaging, solos from all three musicians.

A lengthy first set concluded with an exuberant, gypsy jazz style take on Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely?”, again with dazzling solos from all three participants. Pysz’s virtuoso display saw him wandering so far from Wonder’s melody that it was positively startling when he reeled it back in again.

It was inevitable that the second set would be shorter, but once again it began in the duo format. During the interval the two guitarists had rehearsed a couple of their own original tunes. The first of these to be heard was a jazz waltz by Guyomarc’h, the title roughly translating as “Waltz For The Sad Tomorrows”. Described by its composer as being “typical French music” the piece had a definite gypsy jazz feel, Django-esque even – allowing for the fact that Monsieur Reinhardt was actually Belgian.
Here a Pysz solo mid-tune was bookended by two excursions from Guyomarc’h.

Prado was added to the group for a version of Pysz’s tune “Fresh Look”, a composition from the guitarist’s “A Journey” album. This was a piece that demonstrated the composer’s almost Metheny like gift for melody and included suitably melodic solos from Guyomarc’h, Prado and Pysz.

A brilliant version of Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo” combined boppish melodies with gypsy swing rhythms and yielded another crop of dazzling, virtuoso solos from all three musicians.

The pace dropped a little as a passage of unaccompanied guitar from Guyomarc’h introduced a mid tempo rendition of the jazz standard “Days Of Wine And Roses” with subsequent solos from Guyomarc’h , Pysz and Prado.

The evening concluded on a high note with an extended exploration of Chick Corea’s enduringly popular “Spain” with its superbly executed tricky unison passages and flamenco flourishes. The tune has always been a great vehicle for improvisers and the members of the trio didn’t disappoint as they delivered their final bravura solos and threw in a few tricks like playing above the bridge (Guyomarc’h) or using the bodies of the guitars as auxiliary percussion.

It was all very informal with the musicians pausing to discuss the repertoire along the way but the audience were clearly delighted by the skill and vivacity of the playing.  The technical prowess of both guitarists was frequently astonishing while Prado more than held his own in such illustrious company and added greatly to the success of the evening.

By his own admission Pysz doesn’t play gypsy jazz very often, preferring to concentrate on his own original material, but there definitely seemed to be something of a spark between him and Guyomarc’h and I wouldn’t entirely rule out the possibility of these two working together again.

Everybody seemed delighted by the success of yet another fruitful collaboration engineered by Lynne Gornall and with the event generously supported by the Arts Council of Wales’ Noson Allan (or ‘Night Out’) scheme the evening was a financial success too.

Brecon Jazz Club’s next monthly event will see Bristol based pianist and composer Andy Nowak bringing his trio to The Muse on April 10th 2018 in support of his excellent new album “Reset”.

 

Cloudmakers Five - Traveling Pulse Rating: 4-5 out of 5 A quintet at the height of its creative powers. The way they bounce ideas off each other is consistently thrilling and the individual solos frequently dazzling.

Cloudmakers Five

“Traveling Pulse”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4719)

The Cloudmakers project is the brainchild of vibraphonist (and sometimes drummer and pianist) Jim Hart.

Hart is in mallet man mode in this outfit which began as the Cloudmakers Trio with the leader joined by double bassist Michael Janisch and drummer Dave Smith, with whom he recorded the albums “Live at the Pizza Express” (2012) and “Abstract Forces” (2014), both of which are reviewed elsewhere on this site.

The live recording saw the core trio joined by a guest musician, the American trumpeter Ralph Alessi, with the latter making an excellent contribution to an exceptional evening of creative music making which was happily documented for the delectation of the jazz listening public.

The studio outing, “Abstract Forces”, was nearly as fine with the trio of Hart, Janisch and Smith proving they could cut it on their own as they tackled Hart’s often complex material with aplomb and made it sound easy.

The Cloudmakers have continued to work with guest musicians and in 2017 toured with the Austrian born, London based guitarist Hannes Riepler and the French saxophonist and clarinettist Antonin-Tri Hoang. Then billed as Cloudmakers Trio plus Two the new quintet played one of the last ever jazz gigs at the much missed Dempsey’s in Cardiff on January 17th 2017, a performance reviewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/cloudmakers-trio-plus-two-dempseys-cardiff-17-01-2017/

Two months later the quintet played two nights at The Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, London where this live recording was documented on 10th and 11th of March 2017. All six pieces on the fifty five minute recording were also performed in Cardiff where the band also dipped into the standards repertoire with a remarkable version of Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy” plus “And Another Thing” , a clever mash up of “All The Things You Are” and Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology”. At Dempsey’s the group also performed the Hart original “Back Home” which does not appear on this recording.

Originally from Cornwall Hart lived in London for a lengthy period and was a founding member of the Loop Collective, alongside Smith and others. He has since moved to France, a fact mirrored in the title of the album opener “The Past Is Another Country”, which reflects on Hart’s new status as a ‘foreigner’ while also referencing Brexit and the Syrian refugee crisis. The piece begins in an atmospheric, freely structured manner featuring the eerie sounds of bowed vibes and the plaintive piping of Hoang’s alto. Gradually a melody emerges and the music begins to develop, growing in both complexity and intensity with Hoang’s playing becoming increasingly impassioned. The saxophonist combines effectively with Riepler’s enveloping, heavily processed guitar sound while the core trio of Hart, Janisch and Smith deliver fluid, but tightly meshed, pulses and rhythms. Despite the complexity of the music I noted that at Cardiff none of the players was reading sheet music suggesting that improvisation plays a huge role in the quintet’s sound. One suspects that no two performances of any one piece are ever completely alike. The opener also includes some dazzling four mallet vibes soloing from Hart in the tune’s latter stages.

The title track, which is subtitled “Somewhere North Of Ghana”, is derived from the polyrhythmic Dagare funeral music from Northern Ghana. Hart also plays with the Norwegian saxophonist and composer Marius Neset who arrived at the same rhythmic pattern systematically, with no prior knowledge of the Dagare music. “I was interested that this same rhythm could arise from such distinct origins and sound so different. This is my attempt to bridge the two worlds” the composer explains.
The music begins with Smith tapping out the rhythm on a woodblock and demonstrating the kind of mastery of African rhythms that has informed his own bands, Outhouse and Fofoulah, as well as earning him a lucrative gig as the drummer of choice for former Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant.
The complex “8 over 9 over 12” rhythm helps to conjure a superb performance from the quintet with each member shining collectively as well as individually. In a fiercely interactive band like the Cloudmakers Five solos are less clearly delineated than in more straight-ahead forms of jazz but there are still marvellous moments from Riepler on guitar and Hoang on alto, including a stunning passage of unaccompanied saxophone. Despite the complexities this is still highly accessible music, uplifting and positively anthemic at times.

“Golden” is a lullaby for Hart’s young son Cosmo, who was born in Alsace, France in 2014. The piece begins with a suitably dreamy passage of unaccompanied guitar from Riepler that is sometimes reminiscent of Pat Metheny or Bill Frisell. It’s probably the closest this band gets to a ballad but there’s still plenty of gristle in the sound thanks to Hoang’s abrasive alto sax harmolodics. The reed man subsequently moves to clarinet, adopting a softer sound as he combines with Riepler’s guitar, the two instruments pirouetting delightfully around each other.

“The Road (for ED)” was written about a long drive from London back to Hart’s native Cornwall. The piece is dedicated to Hart’s brother Ed and also to the late, great drummer Ed Blackwell. Given that it comes as no surprise to find that this is a highly rhythmic and percussive work which opens with a bravura drum salvo from Smith. The drummer is explosive form throughout as he powers the garrulous sax and guitar dialogue between Hoang and Riepler and the chiming four mallet vibes solo from Hart.

“The Exchange” began life as a poem written, in French, by Hart’s wife Maud, describing a chance, wordless encounter on the London Underground.  Hart’s piece represents a musical setting of her words and features the quintet at their most impressionistic. With Hoang moving to clarinet the instrumental exchanges are gentle and whimsical, one can almost hear the musicians thinking. Hart describes the piece as “an illusive resolution – a melody trying to get somewhere but never quite does” - although the tune does quite animated during its later stages with the leader soloing in bravura fashion on vibes. At Cardiff this piece reminded me of the music of Claudia Quintet, which remains a viable comparison.

The final piece, “Cycle Song (For JT)”  is dedicated to the memory of the late, great British pianist and composer John Taylor, one of Hart’s musical heroes and a hugely influential presence on the British jazz scene. Introduced by an extended, but thoroughly absorbing, dialogue between Janisch’s bass and Smith’s drums the piece gradually accrues layers of melody and complexity as vibes, alto sax and guitar are added to the equation. Hart, Hoang and Riepler all solo briefly, but vivaciously, before embarking on a vigorous series of musical exchanges as the album ends on an energetic note.  This last piece is a genuine celebration of the man whose fellow musicians called him ‘JT’.

For me, personally, “Traveling Pulse” represents a great souvenir of that Dempsey’s gig in January 2017, my last at the venue prior to its much lamented closure. But the album is also a fine piece of work in its own right, documenting the music of a quintet at the height of its creative powers. In the true spirit of jazz the performances are substantially different to the ones I documented in Cardiff.
The music is complex and demands close attention but it remains accessible and in no way alienating. Hart’s writing is intelligent and open ended enough to give these five master musicians plenty of space in which to shine. The way they bounce ideas off each other is consistently thrilling and the individual solos frequently dazzling. But it’s the way the quintet comes together as a fabulous multi-limbed, multi-coloured entity that is perhaps the most exciting aspect of all. These guys are genuine virtuosos who use their prodigious skills in the service of some terrific music.

“Traveling Pulse” is the latest in a series of excellent live albums issued by Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings label, although not all of them, including this release, are titled as such. A word too for the production and engineering team of Hart, Alex Bonney, Ali Ward and Tyler McDiarmid plus the distinctive, Magritte inspired, artwork of Sophie Moates.

 

Traveling Pulse

Cloudmakers Five

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4-5 out of 5

Traveling Pulse

A quintet at the height of its creative powers. The way they bounce ideas off each other is consistently thrilling and the individual solos frequently dazzling.

Cloudmakers Five

“Traveling Pulse”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4719)

The Cloudmakers project is the brainchild of vibraphonist (and sometimes drummer and pianist) Jim Hart.

Hart is in mallet man mode in this outfit which began as the Cloudmakers Trio with the leader joined by double bassist Michael Janisch and drummer Dave Smith, with whom he recorded the albums “Live at the Pizza Express” (2012) and “Abstract Forces” (2014), both of which are reviewed elsewhere on this site.

The live recording saw the core trio joined by a guest musician, the American trumpeter Ralph Alessi, with the latter making an excellent contribution to an exceptional evening of creative music making which was happily documented for the delectation of the jazz listening public.

The studio outing, “Abstract Forces”, was nearly as fine with the trio of Hart, Janisch and Smith proving they could cut it on their own as they tackled Hart’s often complex material with aplomb and made it sound easy.

The Cloudmakers have continued to work with guest musicians and in 2017 toured with the Austrian born, London based guitarist Hannes Riepler and the French saxophonist and clarinettist Antonin-Tri Hoang. Then billed as Cloudmakers Trio plus Two the new quintet played one of the last ever jazz gigs at the much missed Dempsey’s in Cardiff on January 17th 2017, a performance reviewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/cloudmakers-trio-plus-two-dempseys-cardiff-17-01-2017/

Two months later the quintet played two nights at The Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, London where this live recording was documented on 10th and 11th of March 2017. All six pieces on the fifty five minute recording were also performed in Cardiff where the band also dipped into the standards repertoire with a remarkable version of Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy” plus “And Another Thing” , a clever mash up of “All The Things You Are” and Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology”. At Dempsey’s the group also performed the Hart original “Back Home” which does not appear on this recording.

Originally from Cornwall Hart lived in London for a lengthy period and was a founding member of the Loop Collective, alongside Smith and others. He has since moved to France, a fact mirrored in the title of the album opener “The Past Is Another Country”, which reflects on Hart’s new status as a ‘foreigner’ while also referencing Brexit and the Syrian refugee crisis. The piece begins in an atmospheric, freely structured manner featuring the eerie sounds of bowed vibes and the plaintive piping of Hoang’s alto. Gradually a melody emerges and the music begins to develop, growing in both complexity and intensity with Hoang’s playing becoming increasingly impassioned. The saxophonist combines effectively with Riepler’s enveloping, heavily processed guitar sound while the core trio of Hart, Janisch and Smith deliver fluid, but tightly meshed, pulses and rhythms. Despite the complexity of the music I noted that at Cardiff none of the players was reading sheet music suggesting that improvisation plays a huge role in the quintet’s sound. One suspects that no two performances of any one piece are ever completely alike. The opener also includes some dazzling four mallet vibes soloing from Hart in the tune’s latter stages.

The title track, which is subtitled “Somewhere North Of Ghana”, is derived from the polyrhythmic Dagare funeral music from Northern Ghana. Hart also plays with the Norwegian saxophonist and composer Marius Neset who arrived at the same rhythmic pattern systematically, with no prior knowledge of the Dagare music. “I was interested that this same rhythm could arise from such distinct origins and sound so different. This is my attempt to bridge the two worlds” the composer explains.
The music begins with Smith tapping out the rhythm on a woodblock and demonstrating the kind of mastery of African rhythms that has informed his own bands, Outhouse and Fofoulah, as well as earning him a lucrative gig as the drummer of choice for former Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant.
The complex “8 over 9 over 12” rhythm helps to conjure a superb performance from the quintet with each member shining collectively as well as individually. In a fiercely interactive band like the Cloudmakers Five solos are less clearly delineated than in more straight-ahead forms of jazz but there are still marvellous moments from Riepler on guitar and Hoang on alto, including a stunning passage of unaccompanied saxophone. Despite the complexities this is still highly accessible music, uplifting and positively anthemic at times.

“Golden” is a lullaby for Hart’s young son Cosmo, who was born in Alsace, France in 2014. The piece begins with a suitably dreamy passage of unaccompanied guitar from Riepler that is sometimes reminiscent of Pat Metheny or Bill Frisell. It’s probably the closest this band gets to a ballad but there’s still plenty of gristle in the sound thanks to Hoang’s abrasive alto sax harmolodics. The reed man subsequently moves to clarinet, adopting a softer sound as he combines with Riepler’s guitar, the two instruments pirouetting delightfully around each other.

“The Road (for ED)” was written about a long drive from London back to Hart’s native Cornwall. The piece is dedicated to Hart’s brother Ed and also to the late, great drummer Ed Blackwell. Given that it comes as no surprise to find that this is a highly rhythmic and percussive work which opens with a bravura drum salvo from Smith. The drummer is explosive form throughout as he powers the garrulous sax and guitar dialogue between Hoang and Riepler and the chiming four mallet vibes solo from Hart.

“The Exchange” began life as a poem written, in French, by Hart’s wife Maud, describing a chance, wordless encounter on the London Underground.  Hart’s piece represents a musical setting of her words and features the quintet at their most impressionistic. With Hoang moving to clarinet the instrumental exchanges are gentle and whimsical, one can almost hear the musicians thinking. Hart describes the piece as “an illusive resolution – a melody trying to get somewhere but never quite does” - although the tune does quite animated during its later stages with the leader soloing in bravura fashion on vibes. At Cardiff this piece reminded me of the music of Claudia Quintet, which remains a viable comparison.

The final piece, “Cycle Song (For JT)”  is dedicated to the memory of the late, great British pianist and composer John Taylor, one of Hart’s musical heroes and a hugely influential presence on the British jazz scene. Introduced by an extended, but thoroughly absorbing, dialogue between Janisch’s bass and Smith’s drums the piece gradually accrues layers of melody and complexity as vibes, alto sax and guitar are added to the equation. Hart, Hoang and Riepler all solo briefly, but vivaciously, before embarking on a vigorous series of musical exchanges as the album ends on an energetic note.  This last piece is a genuine celebration of the man whose fellow musicians called him ‘JT’.

For me, personally, “Traveling Pulse” represents a great souvenir of that Dempsey’s gig in January 2017, my last at the venue prior to its much lamented closure. But the album is also a fine piece of work in its own right, documenting the music of a quintet at the height of its creative powers. In the true spirit of jazz the performances are substantially different to the ones I documented in Cardiff.
The music is complex and demands close attention but it remains accessible and in no way alienating. Hart’s writing is intelligent and open ended enough to give these five master musicians plenty of space in which to shine. The way they bounce ideas off each other is consistently thrilling and the individual solos frequently dazzling. But it’s the way the quintet comes together as a fabulous multi-limbed, multi-coloured entity that is perhaps the most exciting aspect of all. These guys are genuine virtuosos who use their prodigious skills in the service of some terrific music.

“Traveling Pulse” is the latest in a series of excellent live albums issued by Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings label, although not all of them, including this release, are titled as such. A word too for the production and engineering team of Hart, Alex Bonney, Ali Ward and Tyler McDiarmid plus the distinctive, Magritte inspired, artwork of Sophie Moates.

 

Casey Greene / Dick Pearce Quintet - Casey Greene / Dick Pearce Quintet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 10/03/2018. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Enterprising original compositions combined with some excellent playing to make for a very enjoyable evening of music making.

Casey Greene / Dick Pearce Quintet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 10/03/2018.

This quintet, specifically assembled for this event, was billed as a local/international group. Co-led by Shrewsbury based saxophonist Casey Greene and trumpeter Dick Pearce, the latter once of the Ronnie Scott quintet, the line up featured a cast of Midlands based musicians including pianist Tim Amann, double bassist Tom Hill and drummer Simon King. The ‘international’ aspect comes from the birthplaces of Greene, originally from Sydney, Australia and the American Hill, who hails from Los Angeles but somehow ended up in Droitwich (or ‘Detroitwich’ as he sometimes calls it).

Also a composer and educator Greene is a highly popular figure in his home town of Shrewsbury and this combined with Pearce’s credentials as a trumpeter with a national reputation ensured that tonight’s performance was officially sold out, giving promoters Shrewsbury Jazz Network their third bumper crowd of 2018 following near capacity audiences for the visits of the Jeff Williams Quintet in January and the Alison Rayner Quintet in February. It was great to see such a huge turnout again, including a number of first time visitors to the Hive, and once more the crowd served to give the gig a great atmosphere. Shrewsbury jazz audiences are attentive, knowledgeable and appreciative.

Given that this appeared to be something of a ‘one off’ collaboration I was expecting the programme to be standards based but instead the two sets were comprised of almost entirely original material with Greene, Pearce, Amann and Hill all contributing tunes to the repertoire.
This came as a very welcome surprise with some enterprising original compositions combining with some excellent playing to make for a very enjoyable evening of music making. Greene, Pearce and their colleagues had obviously taken some time in planning this evening’s performance, which was far more than just an all star jam.

Greene has previously appeared at an SJN gig at the Hive leading his Latin 5 group in a tribute to the American vibraphonist, composer and band-leader Cal Tjader with guest Paul Sawtell on vibes. He has also manned the sound desk at numerous other SJN events. Greene has also been part of the Inspector Gadjo group led by guitarist Will Barnes, and I also have fond memories of Greene’s other Latin band, Quiver, which included the multi-instrumentalist Simon King, this time on guitar.

Pearce is best known for his long association with Ronnie Scott but he has also been a key member of bands led by pianist and composer Tim Richards, notably his Great Spirit and Hextet groups. Others with whom Pearce has worked include saxophonists Don Weller and Alan Barnes and vocalist Laura Collins.

The quintet commenced their programme with the Pearce composition “Mullen It Around”,  originally written for the guitarist Jim Mullen, who apparently declined to play it – here Pearce adopted a Scottish accent “I’m not reading that!”. Musically the tune had something of the feel of a bebop standard and represented a good introduction to the instrumental voices of the band with Hill’s driving bass lines and King’s crisp drumming prompting solos from Greene on tenor, Pearce on trumpet and Amann on piano, a Roland RD300SX electric keyboard. The piece also included features for Hill on double bass and King at the drums, the latter trading fours in lively fashion with Pearce, Amman and Greene.

Another Pearce composition, “Fly On The Wall”, saw the collective confidence of the band increasing and introduced something of a Latin flavour to the music. After an introductory passage by the trio of Amman, Hill and King the horn players combined to state the theme with Pearce on trumpet and Greene switching to alto. Solos came from Pearce, who specialised on trumpet throughout the evening, Greene on alto and Amann at the piano. The two horns then dovetailed effectively on the outro with Hill briefly flourishing the bow right at the close.

Greene took up the compositional reins for the ballad “Ghost Gum”, inspired by the eucalyptus trees of his native Australia. This was a delightfully melodic piece featuring the gentle intertwining of Pearce’s trumpet and the composer’s breathy alto . Greene introduced a subtle bluesiness into his alto solo and he was followed by Pearce on trumpet and Amann at the piano, their solos underpinned by the purr of Hill’s bass and the swish of King’s brushes. Hill then soloed on double bass, combining a strong melodic sense with a huge, rounded tone.

It was over to Amann for “Musti’s Mood”, a piece written in honour of the said Musti, landlord of, and co-ordinator of the jazz programme at, The Trumpet pub in Bilston. Musti is also a drummer and percussionist who regularly performs or ‘sits in’ at the pub. Amann’s tribute was a rousing, infectious, highly rhythmic piece with a genuine Blue Note / hard bop feel and it was rapturously received by the Shrewsbury audience. With Hill and King combining to provide a propulsive rhythmic impetus Greene and Pearce then linked up on tenor and trumpet to deliver an attention grabbing theme statement before embarking on powerful individual solos, with Greene’s tenor playing particularly muscular. A lengthy – and highly impressive - bass and drum dialogue followed with King making imaginative and effective use of toms and cymbals. The composer’s own solo was little more than a cameo leading to a final statement of the theme by the two horns.

Pearce’s tune “169 Upper Richmond Road West” was written in the 1970s but still sounded remarkably contemporary and featured an extended twin horn theme statement with Greene this time featuring on alto. Subsequent solos came from Greene on alto, Pearce on trumpet and Amann at the piano.

The first set ended with Greene’s “Bindi Eye”, named for a particularly thorny piece of Australian vegetation. A suitably prickly, boppish theme was sketched by tenor and trumpet with solos coming from Greene, Amann, Pearce and Hill, all propelled by King’s rapidly brushed drums. Greene and Pearce then combined again to restate the theme and bring a lengthy, but very enjoyable, first half to a close.

But there was still time for Hill, also a successful actor and voice-over artist (he’s famously the voice of Tony the Tiger) to give a plug for Pearce’s book of jazz life anecdotes, “Dizzy Gillespie Was At My Wedding”. Advertising certainly pays, the book sold out during the interval before I was able to lay my hands on a copy!

Set two began with Pearce the author turning composer as the quintet played his composition “Retreat”. The quirky theme proved to be the launching pad for what was probably Greene’s best solo of the night as he stretched out on alto followed by the composer on trumpet and Amann at the piano before the two horns linked up once more to restate the theme.

Greene now passed the mic to Hill who introduced his tune “Waltzing Brunhilde”. Despite the jokey title this jazz waltz was a poignant dedication to Hill’s late wife Jackie, whose birthday falls on March 14th, very close in time to tonight’s performance. Hill ushered in his composition with a passage of unaccompanied bass, subsequently joined by piano and brushed drums. Greene on alto and Pearce on trumpet then stated the theme, their instruments again dovetailing in elegant fashion. Hill’s melodic bass solo formed the centre piece of the composition with further solos coming from Pearce on trumpet and Amann at the piano.

Greene’s “Blues For Stube” was also a dedication, this time to the late Australian bass player, composer and band-leader Rolf Stube who tragically died of a drug overdose. The tune itself was a true blues, featuring the composer’s smoky, bluesy tenor, his solo followed by one of Pearce’s most elegant and eloquent trumpet statements. Amann also featured as a soloist before the two horns combined to restate the theme prior to an an unexpected but highly engaging and imaginative bass and drum outro, presumably in honour of Stube.

Most of the pieces thus far had been based around familiar jazz forms but Amann’s “Timeless” introduced a different, more European, more orchestrated form of composition. Inspired by the sight of ice drifting down the River Severn “Timeless” possessed a strong narrative arc and a distinct cinematic quality. The composer’s rippling piano arpeggios evoked suitably watery images and underpinned the whole piece, providing the framework for lyrical solos from Pearce on trumpet and Greene on tenor plus Hill on bass. Hill’s melodic solo was reminiscent of both Alison Rayner, whose quintet had delighted the SJN crowd the previous month, and Eberhard Weber. Eventually Greene and Pearce converged again to restate the theme of this highly atmospheric and evocative piece.

Amann’s composition brought a welcome change of style but we were soon back in more familiar territory with Greene’s “Don’t Sit On My Shades” (careful how you say that!), a strutting, soulful, bluesy piece boasting a tenor / trumpet front line. Greene’s bold and bluesy tenor solo was followed by Pearce stretching out on trumpet, quickly followed by Amman and Hill.

The second half concluded with Amann’s “Solstice”, an old tune originally performed by his X-Tet quintet. The writing style was similar to the earlier “Timeless” with the composer’s arpeggios again forming the bedrock of the piece. The purity of tone on Greene’s alto solo was reminiscent of Paul Desmond and the music became positively anthemic as Pearce’s trumpet soared, followed by a piano solo from the composer. Again this more European style of writing added a welcome variety to the quintet’s repertoire.

The deserved encore represented the only standard of the set and was a swinging romp through the Duke Pearson tune “Janine” with solos from Greene on tenor, Pearce on trumpet and Amann on piano plus a series of thrilling exchanges between Hill and King, these unobtrusively underscored by Amann’s piano vamp.

These two lengthy, value for money sets were very much appreciated by the Shrewsbury audience who gave these local / international heroes a great reception. Greene announced that the quintet hope to record these tunes at some point in the future and it would be good to hear this material again on disc. It is also anticipated that King will also contribute compositions to any recording.

To paraphrase SJN’s Mike Wright who hosted the evening these were fresh, new compositions written with an awareness of jazz history. It was a combination that that seemed to satisfy everybody in the capacity crowd.

Casey Greene / Dick Pearce Quintet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 10/03/2018.

Casey Greene / Dick Pearce Quintet

Monday, March 12, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Casey Greene / Dick Pearce Quintet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 10/03/2018.
Photography: Photograph by Pam Mann.

Enterprising original compositions combined with some excellent playing to make for a very enjoyable evening of music making.

Casey Greene / Dick Pearce Quintet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 10/03/2018.

This quintet, specifically assembled for this event, was billed as a local/international group. Co-led by Shrewsbury based saxophonist Casey Greene and trumpeter Dick Pearce, the latter once of the Ronnie Scott quintet, the line up featured a cast of Midlands based musicians including pianist Tim Amann, double bassist Tom Hill and drummer Simon King. The ‘international’ aspect comes from the birthplaces of Greene, originally from Sydney, Australia and the American Hill, who hails from Los Angeles but somehow ended up in Droitwich (or ‘Detroitwich’ as he sometimes calls it).

Also a composer and educator Greene is a highly popular figure in his home town of Shrewsbury and this combined with Pearce’s credentials as a trumpeter with a national reputation ensured that tonight’s performance was officially sold out, giving promoters Shrewsbury Jazz Network their third bumper crowd of 2018 following near capacity audiences for the visits of the Jeff Williams Quintet in January and the Alison Rayner Quintet in February. It was great to see such a huge turnout again, including a number of first time visitors to the Hive, and once more the crowd served to give the gig a great atmosphere. Shrewsbury jazz audiences are attentive, knowledgeable and appreciative.

Given that this appeared to be something of a ‘one off’ collaboration I was expecting the programme to be standards based but instead the two sets were comprised of almost entirely original material with Greene, Pearce, Amann and Hill all contributing tunes to the repertoire.
This came as a very welcome surprise with some enterprising original compositions combining with some excellent playing to make for a very enjoyable evening of music making. Greene, Pearce and their colleagues had obviously taken some time in planning this evening’s performance, which was far more than just an all star jam.

Greene has previously appeared at an SJN gig at the Hive leading his Latin 5 group in a tribute to the American vibraphonist, composer and band-leader Cal Tjader with guest Paul Sawtell on vibes. He has also manned the sound desk at numerous other SJN events. Greene has also been part of the Inspector Gadjo group led by guitarist Will Barnes, and I also have fond memories of Greene’s other Latin band, Quiver, which included the multi-instrumentalist Simon King, this time on guitar.

Pearce is best known for his long association with Ronnie Scott but he has also been a key member of bands led by pianist and composer Tim Richards, notably his Great Spirit and Hextet groups. Others with whom Pearce has worked include saxophonists Don Weller and Alan Barnes and vocalist Laura Collins.

The quintet commenced their programme with the Pearce composition “Mullen It Around”,  originally written for the guitarist Jim Mullen, who apparently declined to play it – here Pearce adopted a Scottish accent “I’m not reading that!”. Musically the tune had something of the feel of a bebop standard and represented a good introduction to the instrumental voices of the band with Hill’s driving bass lines and King’s crisp drumming prompting solos from Greene on tenor, Pearce on trumpet and Amann on piano, a Roland RD300SX electric keyboard. The piece also included features for Hill on double bass and King at the drums, the latter trading fours in lively fashion with Pearce, Amman and Greene.

Another Pearce composition, “Fly On The Wall”, saw the collective confidence of the band increasing and introduced something of a Latin flavour to the music. After an introductory passage by the trio of Amman, Hill and King the horn players combined to state the theme with Pearce on trumpet and Greene switching to alto. Solos came from Pearce, who specialised on trumpet throughout the evening, Greene on alto and Amann at the piano. The two horns then dovetailed effectively on the outro with Hill briefly flourishing the bow right at the close.

Greene took up the compositional reins for the ballad “Ghost Gum”, inspired by the eucalyptus trees of his native Australia. This was a delightfully melodic piece featuring the gentle intertwining of Pearce’s trumpet and the composer’s breathy alto . Greene introduced a subtle bluesiness into his alto solo and he was followed by Pearce on trumpet and Amann at the piano, their solos underpinned by the purr of Hill’s bass and the swish of King’s brushes. Hill then soloed on double bass, combining a strong melodic sense with a huge, rounded tone.

It was over to Amann for “Musti’s Mood”, a piece written in honour of the said Musti, landlord of, and co-ordinator of the jazz programme at, The Trumpet pub in Bilston. Musti is also a drummer and percussionist who regularly performs or ‘sits in’ at the pub. Amann’s tribute was a rousing, infectious, highly rhythmic piece with a genuine Blue Note / hard bop feel and it was rapturously received by the Shrewsbury audience. With Hill and King combining to provide a propulsive rhythmic impetus Greene and Pearce then linked up on tenor and trumpet to deliver an attention grabbing theme statement before embarking on powerful individual solos, with Greene’s tenor playing particularly muscular. A lengthy – and highly impressive - bass and drum dialogue followed with King making imaginative and effective use of toms and cymbals. The composer’s own solo was little more than a cameo leading to a final statement of the theme by the two horns.

Pearce’s tune “169 Upper Richmond Road West” was written in the 1970s but still sounded remarkably contemporary and featured an extended twin horn theme statement with Greene this time featuring on alto. Subsequent solos came from Greene on alto, Pearce on trumpet and Amann at the piano.

The first set ended with Greene’s “Bindi Eye”, named for a particularly thorny piece of Australian vegetation. A suitably prickly, boppish theme was sketched by tenor and trumpet with solos coming from Greene, Amann, Pearce and Hill, all propelled by King’s rapidly brushed drums. Greene and Pearce then combined again to restate the theme and bring a lengthy, but very enjoyable, first half to a close.

But there was still time for Hill, also a successful actor and voice-over artist (he’s famously the voice of Tony the Tiger) to give a plug for Pearce’s book of jazz life anecdotes, “Dizzy Gillespie Was At My Wedding”. Advertising certainly pays, the book sold out during the interval before I was able to lay my hands on a copy!

Set two began with Pearce the author turning composer as the quintet played his composition “Retreat”. The quirky theme proved to be the launching pad for what was probably Greene’s best solo of the night as he stretched out on alto followed by the composer on trumpet and Amann at the piano before the two horns linked up once more to restate the theme.

Greene now passed the mic to Hill who introduced his tune “Waltzing Brunhilde”. Despite the jokey title this jazz waltz was a poignant dedication to Hill’s late wife Jackie, whose birthday falls on March 14th, very close in time to tonight’s performance. Hill ushered in his composition with a passage of unaccompanied bass, subsequently joined by piano and brushed drums. Greene on alto and Pearce on trumpet then stated the theme, their instruments again dovetailing in elegant fashion. Hill’s melodic bass solo formed the centre piece of the composition with further solos coming from Pearce on trumpet and Amann at the piano.

Greene’s “Blues For Stube” was also a dedication, this time to the late Australian bass player, composer and band-leader Rolf Stube who tragically died of a drug overdose. The tune itself was a true blues, featuring the composer’s smoky, bluesy tenor, his solo followed by one of Pearce’s most elegant and eloquent trumpet statements. Amann also featured as a soloist before the two horns combined to restate the theme prior to an an unexpected but highly engaging and imaginative bass and drum outro, presumably in honour of Stube.

Most of the pieces thus far had been based around familiar jazz forms but Amann’s “Timeless” introduced a different, more European, more orchestrated form of composition. Inspired by the sight of ice drifting down the River Severn “Timeless” possessed a strong narrative arc and a distinct cinematic quality. The composer’s rippling piano arpeggios evoked suitably watery images and underpinned the whole piece, providing the framework for lyrical solos from Pearce on trumpet and Greene on tenor plus Hill on bass. Hill’s melodic solo was reminiscent of both Alison Rayner, whose quintet had delighted the SJN crowd the previous month, and Eberhard Weber. Eventually Greene and Pearce converged again to restate the theme of this highly atmospheric and evocative piece.

Amann’s composition brought a welcome change of style but we were soon back in more familiar territory with Greene’s “Don’t Sit On My Shades” (careful how you say that!), a strutting, soulful, bluesy piece boasting a tenor / trumpet front line. Greene’s bold and bluesy tenor solo was followed by Pearce stretching out on trumpet, quickly followed by Amman and Hill.

The second half concluded with Amann’s “Solstice”, an old tune originally performed by his X-Tet quintet. The writing style was similar to the earlier “Timeless” with the composer’s arpeggios again forming the bedrock of the piece. The purity of tone on Greene’s alto solo was reminiscent of Paul Desmond and the music became positively anthemic as Pearce’s trumpet soared, followed by a piano solo from the composer. Again this more European style of writing added a welcome variety to the quintet’s repertoire.

The deserved encore represented the only standard of the set and was a swinging romp through the Duke Pearson tune “Janine” with solos from Greene on tenor, Pearce on trumpet and Amann on piano plus a series of thrilling exchanges between Hill and King, these unobtrusively underscored by Amann’s piano vamp.

These two lengthy, value for money sets were very much appreciated by the Shrewsbury audience who gave these local / international heroes a great reception. Greene announced that the quintet hope to record these tunes at some point in the future and it would be good to hear this material again on disc. It is also anticipated that King will also contribute compositions to any recording.

To paraphrase SJN’s Mike Wright who hosted the evening these were fresh, new compositions written with an awareness of jazz history. It was a combination that that seemed to satisfy everybody in the capacity crowd.

Alan Benzie Trio - Little Mysteries Rating: 4 out of 5 “Little Mysteries” combines excellent, highly melodic writing with top quality playing and a strong sense of improvisation and group interaction.

Alan Benzie Trio

“Little Mysteries”

(Self released ABTCD1801)

“Little Mysteries” is the second album release by the trio led by the Scottish pianist and composer Alan Benzie. The group line up also features double bassist Andrew Robb and Hungarian born drummer Marton Juhasz, two of Benzie’s long time friends and collaborators.

The album builds upon the success of the trio’s 2015 début “Traveller’s Tales” and draws upon similar inspirations including the trio’s travels as musicians plus Benzie’s love of the landscape of his native Scotland and his passion for cinema, and particularly the genre of Japanese animation. Such is Benzie’s love for this art form and Japanese culture in general that he is now based in that country.

 Benzie hails from Glasgow and was the first winner of the Young Scottish Musician of the Year Award in 2007. He then went on to study at the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA following in the footsteps of Edinburgh born saxophonist Tommy Smith, an inspirational figure for a whole generation of Scottish jazz musicians. Benzie studied with Joanne Brackeen, Joe Lovano and Laszlo Gardony and became the first British student to win the College’s prestigious Billboard Award, joining an illustrious list of former winners including pianist Hiromi and saxophonists Jaleel Shaw and Walter Smith III.

Benzie first came to my attention with his contribution to “Future Pop”, a 2010 album release by Human Equivalent, a band led by Scottish born saxophonist and composer Leah Gough-Cooper,  another Berklee alumnus. “Future Pop” also features the drumming of Patrick Kunka, yet another Scottish musician who studied at Berklee.

In November 2015 I enjoyed a performance by the Benzie Trio at Kings Place as part of that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. The trio were supporting the ensemble led by Norwegian tuba player Daniel Herskedal and for Benzie the gig represented a triumph in the face of adversity. Paris resident Juhasz had been unable to travel due to the terrorist atrocities at the Bataclan and other locations in the city the night before. He was replaced by Jon Scott who had not even had time to rehearse with Benzie and Robb before the show but who performed brilliantly as a ‘dep’, impressing with his sight reading abilities and responsive, highly skilled drumming. Benzie and his colleagues were rewarded with a great audience reaction and CD sales during the interval were correspondingly brisk.

The versatile Benzie also plays electric keyboards with Fat Suit, the Scottish contemporary big band who also played at the 2015 EFG London Jazz Festival. Inspired by Snarky Puppy and often likened to Loose Tubes and Beats & Pieces Big Band the sparky and irreverent Scottish collective released the excellent album “Atlas” in 2016 and my review of that recording can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/fat-suit-atlas/

The album title “Little Mysteries” references the challenges the trio have faced in recent years, particularly in view of the fact that its members now all live in different countries.  “There have been lots of little mysteries for us to solve” explains Benzie “how to keep the trio going, what direction to take and how on earth we would fund the new album”. This last issue was addressed with the launch of a successful crowdfunding campaign.

The title is also a cross reference to the previous album. “It felt like a good way to express the connection with Traveller’s Tales” Benzie says, “that sense of short stories or glimpses that are often quirky or fantastical. Each of the tunes are little mysteries by themselves, some based on real world experiences, others much more in the realm of fantasy. As with the first album pretty much all the tunes are written with a specific image, narrative or mood in mind and this is reflected in the tune’s title”.

That sense of continuity is reinforced by the trio’s decision to record the new album at the same studio as its predecessor, Castlesound Studios in Pencaitland, Scotland with the engineering team of Stuart Hamilton and Calum Malcolm again in place. Benzie even uses the same piano, a Steinway B generously loaned by Neil McLean.

Benzie’s pianistic inspirations include Marcin Wasilewski and the late Esbjorn Svensson and there’s also something of Bill Evans and John Taylor in a sound that is also influenced by classical composers such as Debussy, Satie and Ravel. Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau have been suggested as influences also. But for all this Benzie has developed an increasingly individual sound that is very much his own.

The nine original pieces that constitute “Little Mysteries” include nine Benzie originals plus two compositions from the pen of bassist Andrew Robb. The programme commences with Benzie’s “Natsume” which opens with the sound of Robb’s unaccompanied bass, which is soon joined by the rustle of Juhasz’s percussion. The bassist pretty much carries the melody, remaining at the centre of the music almost throughout, accompanied by Benzie’s economical piano chording and Juhasz’s increasingly exotic percussion shadings. It’s an intriguing and effective opener that acts as a kind of overture for the more conventional piano jazz to follow.

The strikingly titled “The Warrior Who Became A Tiger” then springs into action. It’s an episodic but highly energetic piece that allows Benzie the opportunity to stretch out more expansively, demonstrating his classically honed sureness of touch at that marvellous Steinway piano. The closing stages of the tune include something of a drum feature for the consistently excellent Juhasz.

Robb’s “Beslan” follows, a piece that was already in the trio’s repertoire at the time of that 2015 Kings Place performance. The mood here is more impressionistic and lyrical and includes a melodic bass solo from the composer and exquisite brushed cymbal work from Juhasz.

It’s Juhasz’s brushed drums that introduce “Hatake Song”, one of the tunes that Benzie describes as being inspired by real life experiences. Despite the title there are elements of Scottish folk music in the melody. The piece includes another excellent solo from Robb, a former BBC Young Scottish Young Jazz Musician of the Year, and a compelling brushed drum feature from Juhasz.

The evocative and atmospheric “Sunken Ruins” exudes a real sense of place as it unfolds slowly and lyrically, centred around the leader’s rolling piano patterns and featuring further exquisite cymbal work from Juhasz. Robb also plays his part with a pensive bass solo mid tune, accompanied by sparse piano chording and feathery brushed drums. Benzie then takes the opportunity to stretch out more expansively before the piece comes full circle, Benzie’s rolling chords emulating the motion of ocean waves.

Robb’s second offering with the pen is “Red Street”, introduced with a brief salvo from Juhasz’s drums. It’s a more upbeat composition than his earlier ballad and his agile, propulsive bass lines, coupled with Juhasz’s similarly nimble drumming elicit a sparkling solo from Benzie, the pianist’s fingers dancing lightly across the keys. Meanwhile the composer combines a strong melodic sense with great dexterity on his double bass solo.

“There Will Be Other Sunsets” deploys a song-like structure and features a gorgeous piano melody, supported by measured bass and emphatically brushed drums. As it progresses and expands the piece takes on a genuinely anthemic quality, expressing something of the beauty and grandeur of the sunset referenced in the title. In the midst of it all Robb delivers a typically melodic and fluent bass solo.

As its title suggests “Inexorable” builds slowly from a quiet, almost minimalist, introduction featuring quiet piano and bass arpeggios to an unstoppable momentum with the bass and drum grooves getting ever stronger, more vigorous and more virtuosic, particularly in the case of Juhasz who moves from the subtlest of brushed drum accompaniment to hammering the hell out of his kit. Along the way we get to enjoy a dazzling solo from Benzie as the pianist stretches out thrillingly and expansively.

Finally the gently lyrical, and very beautiful, solo piano piece “The Rest Of His Days” acts as a kind of epilogue or valedictory.

Building on the success of the début album “Little Mysteries” is a worthy successor to “Traveller’s Tales”. Despite the logistical difficulties one can appreciate why Benzie was so keen to keep this well balanced and highly democratic and interactive trio together. The resultant music is a testament to his faith.

“Little Mysteries” combines excellent, highly melodic writing with top quality playing and a strong sense of improvisation and group interaction. The tunes may largely be Benzie’s but when the trio interprets them it becomes a trio of equals with both Robb and Juhasz having a huge input into the finished product. Benzie himself is excellent, his technique matched by his melodic and interpretive skills. He is a virtuoso, but one who eschews showing off in favour of telling musical stories, and as such he’s a master narrator.

Despite his international accompaniments Benzie remains little known to jazz audiences in the UK. Albums like “Traveller’s Tales” and “Little Mysteries” deserve to change all that.

Digital copies of “Little Mysteries” are available from CD Baby, Amazon and iTunes. Physical copies are available from http://www.alanbenzie.com or at gigs.

 

 

Little Mysteries

Alan Benzie Trio

Friday, March 09, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Little Mysteries

“Little Mysteries” combines excellent, highly melodic writing with top quality playing and a strong sense of improvisation and group interaction.

Alan Benzie Trio

“Little Mysteries”

(Self released ABTCD1801)

“Little Mysteries” is the second album release by the trio led by the Scottish pianist and composer Alan Benzie. The group line up also features double bassist Andrew Robb and Hungarian born drummer Marton Juhasz, two of Benzie’s long time friends and collaborators.

The album builds upon the success of the trio’s 2015 début “Traveller’s Tales” and draws upon similar inspirations including the trio’s travels as musicians plus Benzie’s love of the landscape of his native Scotland and his passion for cinema, and particularly the genre of Japanese animation. Such is Benzie’s love for this art form and Japanese culture in general that he is now based in that country.

 Benzie hails from Glasgow and was the first winner of the Young Scottish Musician of the Year Award in 2007. He then went on to study at the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA following in the footsteps of Edinburgh born saxophonist Tommy Smith, an inspirational figure for a whole generation of Scottish jazz musicians. Benzie studied with Joanne Brackeen, Joe Lovano and Laszlo Gardony and became the first British student to win the College’s prestigious Billboard Award, joining an illustrious list of former winners including pianist Hiromi and saxophonists Jaleel Shaw and Walter Smith III.

Benzie first came to my attention with his contribution to “Future Pop”, a 2010 album release by Human Equivalent, a band led by Scottish born saxophonist and composer Leah Gough-Cooper,  another Berklee alumnus. “Future Pop” also features the drumming of Patrick Kunka, yet another Scottish musician who studied at Berklee.

In November 2015 I enjoyed a performance by the Benzie Trio at Kings Place as part of that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. The trio were supporting the ensemble led by Norwegian tuba player Daniel Herskedal and for Benzie the gig represented a triumph in the face of adversity. Paris resident Juhasz had been unable to travel due to the terrorist atrocities at the Bataclan and other locations in the city the night before. He was replaced by Jon Scott who had not even had time to rehearse with Benzie and Robb before the show but who performed brilliantly as a ‘dep’, impressing with his sight reading abilities and responsive, highly skilled drumming. Benzie and his colleagues were rewarded with a great audience reaction and CD sales during the interval were correspondingly brisk.

The versatile Benzie also plays electric keyboards with Fat Suit, the Scottish contemporary big band who also played at the 2015 EFG London Jazz Festival. Inspired by Snarky Puppy and often likened to Loose Tubes and Beats & Pieces Big Band the sparky and irreverent Scottish collective released the excellent album “Atlas” in 2016 and my review of that recording can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/fat-suit-atlas/

The album title “Little Mysteries” references the challenges the trio have faced in recent years, particularly in view of the fact that its members now all live in different countries.  “There have been lots of little mysteries for us to solve” explains Benzie “how to keep the trio going, what direction to take and how on earth we would fund the new album”. This last issue was addressed with the launch of a successful crowdfunding campaign.

The title is also a cross reference to the previous album. “It felt like a good way to express the connection with Traveller’s Tales” Benzie says, “that sense of short stories or glimpses that are often quirky or fantastical. Each of the tunes are little mysteries by themselves, some based on real world experiences, others much more in the realm of fantasy. As with the first album pretty much all the tunes are written with a specific image, narrative or mood in mind and this is reflected in the tune’s title”.

That sense of continuity is reinforced by the trio’s decision to record the new album at the same studio as its predecessor, Castlesound Studios in Pencaitland, Scotland with the engineering team of Stuart Hamilton and Calum Malcolm again in place. Benzie even uses the same piano, a Steinway B generously loaned by Neil McLean.

Benzie’s pianistic inspirations include Marcin Wasilewski and the late Esbjorn Svensson and there’s also something of Bill Evans and John Taylor in a sound that is also influenced by classical composers such as Debussy, Satie and Ravel. Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau have been suggested as influences also. But for all this Benzie has developed an increasingly individual sound that is very much his own.

The nine original pieces that constitute “Little Mysteries” include nine Benzie originals plus two compositions from the pen of bassist Andrew Robb. The programme commences with Benzie’s “Natsume” which opens with the sound of Robb’s unaccompanied bass, which is soon joined by the rustle of Juhasz’s percussion. The bassist pretty much carries the melody, remaining at the centre of the music almost throughout, accompanied by Benzie’s economical piano chording and Juhasz’s increasingly exotic percussion shadings. It’s an intriguing and effective opener that acts as a kind of overture for the more conventional piano jazz to follow.

The strikingly titled “The Warrior Who Became A Tiger” then springs into action. It’s an episodic but highly energetic piece that allows Benzie the opportunity to stretch out more expansively, demonstrating his classically honed sureness of touch at that marvellous Steinway piano. The closing stages of the tune include something of a drum feature for the consistently excellent Juhasz.

Robb’s “Beslan” follows, a piece that was already in the trio’s repertoire at the time of that 2015 Kings Place performance. The mood here is more impressionistic and lyrical and includes a melodic bass solo from the composer and exquisite brushed cymbal work from Juhasz.

It’s Juhasz’s brushed drums that introduce “Hatake Song”, one of the tunes that Benzie describes as being inspired by real life experiences. Despite the title there are elements of Scottish folk music in the melody. The piece includes another excellent solo from Robb, a former BBC Young Scottish Young Jazz Musician of the Year, and a compelling brushed drum feature from Juhasz.

The evocative and atmospheric “Sunken Ruins” exudes a real sense of place as it unfolds slowly and lyrically, centred around the leader’s rolling piano patterns and featuring further exquisite cymbal work from Juhasz. Robb also plays his part with a pensive bass solo mid tune, accompanied by sparse piano chording and feathery brushed drums. Benzie then takes the opportunity to stretch out more expansively before the piece comes full circle, Benzie’s rolling chords emulating the motion of ocean waves.

Robb’s second offering with the pen is “Red Street”, introduced with a brief salvo from Juhasz’s drums. It’s a more upbeat composition than his earlier ballad and his agile, propulsive bass lines, coupled with Juhasz’s similarly nimble drumming elicit a sparkling solo from Benzie, the pianist’s fingers dancing lightly across the keys. Meanwhile the composer combines a strong melodic sense with great dexterity on his double bass solo.

“There Will Be Other Sunsets” deploys a song-like structure and features a gorgeous piano melody, supported by measured bass and emphatically brushed drums. As it progresses and expands the piece takes on a genuinely anthemic quality, expressing something of the beauty and grandeur of the sunset referenced in the title. In the midst of it all Robb delivers a typically melodic and fluent bass solo.

As its title suggests “Inexorable” builds slowly from a quiet, almost minimalist, introduction featuring quiet piano and bass arpeggios to an unstoppable momentum with the bass and drum grooves getting ever stronger, more vigorous and more virtuosic, particularly in the case of Juhasz who moves from the subtlest of brushed drum accompaniment to hammering the hell out of his kit. Along the way we get to enjoy a dazzling solo from Benzie as the pianist stretches out thrillingly and expansively.

Finally the gently lyrical, and very beautiful, solo piano piece “The Rest Of His Days” acts as a kind of epilogue or valedictory.

Building on the success of the début album “Little Mysteries” is a worthy successor to “Traveller’s Tales”. Despite the logistical difficulties one can appreciate why Benzie was so keen to keep this well balanced and highly democratic and interactive trio together. The resultant music is a testament to his faith.

“Little Mysteries” combines excellent, highly melodic writing with top quality playing and a strong sense of improvisation and group interaction. The tunes may largely be Benzie’s but when the trio interprets them it becomes a trio of equals with both Robb and Juhasz having a huge input into the finished product. Benzie himself is excellent, his technique matched by his melodic and interpretive skills. He is a virtuoso, but one who eschews showing off in favour of telling musical stories, and as such he’s a master narrator.

Despite his international accompaniments Benzie remains little known to jazz audiences in the UK. Albums like “Traveller’s Tales” and “Little Mysteries” deserve to change all that.

Digital copies of “Little Mysteries” are available from CD Baby, Amazon and iTunes. Physical copies are available from http://www.alanbenzie.com or at gigs.

 

 

Maciek Pysz & Daniele di Bonaventura - Coming Home Rating: 3-5 out of 5 An intimate, lovingly crafted album featuring some delightful melodies and the superb playing of two quiet virtuosos.

Maciek Pysz & Daniele di Bonaventura

“Coming Home”

(Caligola Records 2232)

Originally from Poland guitarist and composer Maciek Pysz is now based in London and has become a much loved figure on the UK jazz scene. He has toured widely with his trio featuring the Russian born double bass virtuoso Yuri Goloubev and the Israeli born master drummer/percussionist Asaf Sirkis.

The trio have recorded two albums “Insight” (2013) and “A Journey” (2015). The latter saw the core trio joined by guest artist Daniele Di Bonaventura, a pianist and bandoneon player from Italy whose contribution ensured a radical alteration to the group sound.

The partnership between Pysz and di Bonaventura has continued to flourish, resulting in this duo recording for the Italian Caligola record label. In the wake of di Bonaventura’s appearance on “ A Journey” the two musicians performed a duo set at the Palm Jazz Festival in Pysz’s native Poland in 2016 following which they decided to tour further, including an EFG London Jazz Festival appearance in 2017, and to record in this format.

The exposed setting of the duo is familiar territory for both these artists. In 2017 Pysz released “London Stories”, a duo recording made with his fellow guitarist Gianluca Corona, another Italian musician and the co-composer of some of the pieces on Pysz’s two trio albums. Pysz has also performed in a duo with the British pianist Ivo Neame, with whom he undertook a short tour of the UK. My review of their performance in September 2016 can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/ivo-neame-and-maciek-pysz-duo-arena-theatre-wolverhampton-24-09-2016/
Unfortunately the Pysz / Neame duo proved to be short lived and never got to the recording stage.
Pysz has also collaborated in other contexts with saxophonist Julian Costello, pianist/accordionist Maurizio Minardi, cellist Shirley Smart, saxophonist Tim Garland, guitarist Alex Stuart and vocalist Monika Lidke.

For his part di Bonaventura has been one half of a long running duo with Sicilian born trumpeter and flugel horn player Paolo Fresu with whom he recorded the ECM albums “Mistico Mediterraneo” (2010) and “In Maggiore” (2015). The first of these also featured the Corsican vocal group A Filetta, inviting comparisons with other ECM projects such as saxophonist Jan Garbarek’s collaborations with the Hilliard Ensemble and trumpeter Arve Henriksen’s alliance with Trio Mediaeval.

dI Bonaventura has also collaborated widely with musicians from Italy and beyond, too many to list comprehensively here but including such internationally known names as trumpeter Enrico Rava, saxophonists Dave Liebman, Oliver Lake, Greg Osby David Murray and Tim Garland,  pianists Rita Marcotulli and Joanne Brackeen, bassist Miroslav Vitous and drummer Lenny White.

Pysz and di Bonaventura are united by a love of folk melodies, tango music, film soundtracks and travel. These things inform the writing on “Coming Home”, a collection of eleven original compositions with Pysz contributing six pieces and di Bonaventura four. There is also a brief piece credited to both musicians. Pysz plays both acoustic and electric guitars but favours an acoustic guitar sound that exhibits the acknowledged influence of the great guitarist, composer and multi-instrumentalist Ralph Towner. di Bonaventura moves between piano and bandoneon, a concertina like instrument that originated in Germany but which is most closely associated with Argentina and tango music. Artists such as di Bonaventura and the great Argentinian virtuoso Dino Saluzzi have helped to transform it into a convincing and effective jazz solo instrument. di Bonaventura is regarded as one of the leading exponents of the bandoneon in Europe.

The album commences with “Lights”, written by Pysz and featuring the evocative sounds of acoustic guitar and bandoneon, the two instruments intertwining softly and subtly on this atmospheric opener. As with much of Pysz’s work there’s a genuinely cinematic atmosphere and a real sense of place.

“Blue Tango”, also written by Pysz, sees di Bonaventura moving to piano. This alternating between instruments helps to give the album variety, particularly in terms of colour and texture. The Italian is also a highly accomplished pianist and his chemistry with Pysz is just as palpable on this instrument. There’s a spaciousness and elegance about the performance as the two musicians trade phrases, seamlessly handing over the baton from one to another.

Di Bonaventura’s first contribution with the pen is “Nadir” which raises the energy levels with its introduction featuring the body of Pysz’s acoustic guitar deployed as a form of percussion. The composer plays bandoeneon, combining well with the guitarist in a series of adventurous exchanges that still retain the essential melancholy of tango.

Pysz takes up the compositional reins again for “Streets” which again features the combination of acoustic guitar and bandoneon. Pysz has a Metheny like gift for melody and many of his tunes are simply gorgeous, including this intimate, atmospheric piece which conjures up the gently melancholic warmth of a street corner café on the corner of a rain soaked street.

“Intro” is a brief, jointly credited prelude to di Bonaventura’s composition “Tango”. On scanning the cover I’d assumed this to be a spontaneous improvisation but the melodiousness and delicacy of this delightful acoustic guitar / piano duet suggests otherwise.
“Intro” segues almost directly into “Tango” which retains the acoustic guitar / piano configuration. Now it’s the turn of di Bonaventura to demonstrate his eye and ear for a beautiful melody. This is an elegant, almost stately, duo performance, initially paced by di Bonaventura’s unhurried piano and featuring Pysz’s sensitive guitar picking. Subsequently the piano come to the fore, still relaxed and melodic and supported by Pysz’s sympathetic guitar chording.

Also by di Bonaventura “Paquito” brings another injection of pace and energy with the composer switching to bandoneon for a vigorous series of exchanges featuring tautly picked and strummed acoustic guitar and darting, scurrying bandoneon lines, played by di Bonaventura with great virtuosity. There’s a rhythmic, percussive feel about the piece that is almost funky at times.

“Tree”, written by Pysz, is more serene and features his unaccompanied acoustic guitar on the intro, subsequently joined by di Bonaventura’s bandoneon, his playing now more measured, solemn and atmospheric. There’s even a soupçon of electric guitar at
one point on this beautifully structured and textured duet.

“I Gazzillori” is a charming waltz written by di Bonaventura that again features the combination of bandoneon and acoustic guitar. The duo give a wonderfully relaxed performance as they trade ideas and, as Peter Jones suggests in his review of the album for London Jazz News, one can actually imagine this piece, plus the earlier “Paquito”, being danced to.

Pysz’s “More & More”  represents the final duet for acoustic guitar and piano and it’s a typically elegant performance that again showcases the composer’s melodic and story telling gifts. The performances by both musicians are eloquent but unhurried and make effective use of space in a way that Towner, a gifted performer on both guitar and piano, would surely appreciate.

The album concludes with the title track which enhances the duo’s sound with a range of judiciously deployed electronic effects. Pysz is on electric guitar but the sound of di Bonaventura’s bandoneon also appears to be treated. As a result there’s a spacey, ethereal quality to the music that proves to be both effective and beautiful. If the Pink Floyd played tango it might sound something like this.

“Coming Home” is an intimate, lovingly crafted album featuring some delightful melodies and the superb playing of two quiet virtuosos. There’s nothing show-offy about the playing of either musician yet both Pysz and di Bonaventura, particularly on bandoneon, are superb technicians and the rapport between them is apparent throughout the album with no one party predominating.

The album was recorded at the famous Artesuono Studio in Udine, Italy with the acclaimed Stefano Amerio engineering. However as Peter Jones points out Amerio doesn’t clean the sound up too much. The listener can hear the sound of Pysz’s hands on the strings and the wheeze of the bellows and clicking of the buttons on di Bonaventura’s bandoneon. Rather like Kit Downes’ recent
pipe organ recordings these ‘extraneous’ sounds actually serve to give the music a greater degree warmth and humanity.

“Coming Home” is a masterful duo recording with much to recommend it, although personally speaking I still prefer Pysz’s playing in the more expansive environment of a trio or quartet. But this is a fine album nevertheless.

 

 

Coming Home

Maciek Pysz & Daniele di Bonaventura

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Coming Home

An intimate, lovingly crafted album featuring some delightful melodies and the superb playing of two quiet virtuosos.

Maciek Pysz & Daniele di Bonaventura

“Coming Home”

(Caligola Records 2232)

Originally from Poland guitarist and composer Maciek Pysz is now based in London and has become a much loved figure on the UK jazz scene. He has toured widely with his trio featuring the Russian born double bass virtuoso Yuri Goloubev and the Israeli born master drummer/percussionist Asaf Sirkis.

The trio have recorded two albums “Insight” (2013) and “A Journey” (2015). The latter saw the core trio joined by guest artist Daniele Di Bonaventura, a pianist and bandoneon player from Italy whose contribution ensured a radical alteration to the group sound.

The partnership between Pysz and di Bonaventura has continued to flourish, resulting in this duo recording for the Italian Caligola record label. In the wake of di Bonaventura’s appearance on “ A Journey” the two musicians performed a duo set at the Palm Jazz Festival in Pysz’s native Poland in 2016 following which they decided to tour further, including an EFG London Jazz Festival appearance in 2017, and to record in this format.

The exposed setting of the duo is familiar territory for both these artists. In 2017 Pysz released “London Stories”, a duo recording made with his fellow guitarist Gianluca Corona, another Italian musician and the co-composer of some of the pieces on Pysz’s two trio albums. Pysz has also performed in a duo with the British pianist Ivo Neame, with whom he undertook a short tour of the UK. My review of their performance in September 2016 can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/ivo-neame-and-maciek-pysz-duo-arena-theatre-wolverhampton-24-09-2016/
Unfortunately the Pysz / Neame duo proved to be short lived and never got to the recording stage.
Pysz has also collaborated in other contexts with saxophonist Julian Costello, pianist/accordionist Maurizio Minardi, cellist Shirley Smart, saxophonist Tim Garland, guitarist Alex Stuart and vocalist Monika Lidke.

For his part di Bonaventura has been one half of a long running duo with Sicilian born trumpeter and flugel horn player Paolo Fresu with whom he recorded the ECM albums “Mistico Mediterraneo” (2010) and “In Maggiore” (2015). The first of these also featured the Corsican vocal group A Filetta, inviting comparisons with other ECM projects such as saxophonist Jan Garbarek’s collaborations with the Hilliard Ensemble and trumpeter Arve Henriksen’s alliance with Trio Mediaeval.

dI Bonaventura has also collaborated widely with musicians from Italy and beyond, too many to list comprehensively here but including such internationally known names as trumpeter Enrico Rava, saxophonists Dave Liebman, Oliver Lake, Greg Osby David Murray and Tim Garland,  pianists Rita Marcotulli and Joanne Brackeen, bassist Miroslav Vitous and drummer Lenny White.

Pysz and di Bonaventura are united by a love of folk melodies, tango music, film soundtracks and travel. These things inform the writing on “Coming Home”, a collection of eleven original compositions with Pysz contributing six pieces and di Bonaventura four. There is also a brief piece credited to both musicians. Pysz plays both acoustic and electric guitars but favours an acoustic guitar sound that exhibits the acknowledged influence of the great guitarist, composer and multi-instrumentalist Ralph Towner. di Bonaventura moves between piano and bandoneon, a concertina like instrument that originated in Germany but which is most closely associated with Argentina and tango music. Artists such as di Bonaventura and the great Argentinian virtuoso Dino Saluzzi have helped to transform it into a convincing and effective jazz solo instrument. di Bonaventura is regarded as one of the leading exponents of the bandoneon in Europe.

The album commences with “Lights”, written by Pysz and featuring the evocative sounds of acoustic guitar and bandoneon, the two instruments intertwining softly and subtly on this atmospheric opener. As with much of Pysz’s work there’s a genuinely cinematic atmosphere and a real sense of place.

“Blue Tango”, also written by Pysz, sees di Bonaventura moving to piano. This alternating between instruments helps to give the album variety, particularly in terms of colour and texture. The Italian is also a highly accomplished pianist and his chemistry with Pysz is just as palpable on this instrument. There’s a spaciousness and elegance about the performance as the two musicians trade phrases, seamlessly handing over the baton from one to another.

Di Bonaventura’s first contribution with the pen is “Nadir” which raises the energy levels with its introduction featuring the body of Pysz’s acoustic guitar deployed as a form of percussion. The composer plays bandoeneon, combining well with the guitarist in a series of adventurous exchanges that still retain the essential melancholy of tango.

Pysz takes up the compositional reins again for “Streets” which again features the combination of acoustic guitar and bandoneon. Pysz has a Metheny like gift for melody and many of his tunes are simply gorgeous, including this intimate, atmospheric piece which conjures up the gently melancholic warmth of a street corner café on the corner of a rain soaked street.

“Intro” is a brief, jointly credited prelude to di Bonaventura’s composition “Tango”. On scanning the cover I’d assumed this to be a spontaneous improvisation but the melodiousness and delicacy of this delightful acoustic guitar / piano duet suggests otherwise.
“Intro” segues almost directly into “Tango” which retains the acoustic guitar / piano configuration. Now it’s the turn of di Bonaventura to demonstrate his eye and ear for a beautiful melody. This is an elegant, almost stately, duo performance, initially paced by di Bonaventura’s unhurried piano and featuring Pysz’s sensitive guitar picking. Subsequently the piano come to the fore, still relaxed and melodic and supported by Pysz’s sympathetic guitar chording.

Also by di Bonaventura “Paquito” brings another injection of pace and energy with the composer switching to bandoneon for a vigorous series of exchanges featuring tautly picked and strummed acoustic guitar and darting, scurrying bandoneon lines, played by di Bonaventura with great virtuosity. There’s a rhythmic, percussive feel about the piece that is almost funky at times.

“Tree”, written by Pysz, is more serene and features his unaccompanied acoustic guitar on the intro, subsequently joined by di Bonaventura’s bandoneon, his playing now more measured, solemn and atmospheric. There’s even a soupçon of electric guitar at
one point on this beautifully structured and textured duet.

“I Gazzillori” is a charming waltz written by di Bonaventura that again features the combination of bandoneon and acoustic guitar. The duo give a wonderfully relaxed performance as they trade ideas and, as Peter Jones suggests in his review of the album for London Jazz News, one can actually imagine this piece, plus the earlier “Paquito”, being danced to.

Pysz’s “More & More”  represents the final duet for acoustic guitar and piano and it’s a typically elegant performance that again showcases the composer’s melodic and story telling gifts. The performances by both musicians are eloquent but unhurried and make effective use of space in a way that Towner, a gifted performer on both guitar and piano, would surely appreciate.

The album concludes with the title track which enhances the duo’s sound with a range of judiciously deployed electronic effects. Pysz is on electric guitar but the sound of di Bonaventura’s bandoneon also appears to be treated. As a result there’s a spacey, ethereal quality to the music that proves to be both effective and beautiful. If the Pink Floyd played tango it might sound something like this.

“Coming Home” is an intimate, lovingly crafted album featuring some delightful melodies and the superb playing of two quiet virtuosos. There’s nothing show-offy about the playing of either musician yet both Pysz and di Bonaventura, particularly on bandoneon, are superb technicians and the rapport between them is apparent throughout the album with no one party predominating.

The album was recorded at the famous Artesuono Studio in Udine, Italy with the acclaimed Stefano Amerio engineering. However as Peter Jones points out Amerio doesn’t clean the sound up too much. The listener can hear the sound of Pysz’s hands on the strings and the wheeze of the bellows and clicking of the buttons on di Bonaventura’s bandoneon. Rather like Kit Downes’ recent
pipe organ recordings these ‘extraneous’ sounds actually serve to give the music a greater degree warmth and humanity.

“Coming Home” is a masterful duo recording with much to recommend it, although personally speaking I still prefer Pysz’s playing in the more expansive environment of a trio or quartet. But this is a fine album nevertheless.

 

 

Kuba Wiecek Trio - Another Raindrop Rating: 4 out of 5 Wiecek’s playing combines a pure tone with improvisational fluency, great technique and an adventurous, forward looking attitude. His writing is impressively varied and draws on many influences.

Kuba Wiecek Trio

“Another Raindrop”

Polish Jazz Vol. 78 Bar Code 01902 9 58354 9 1)

Kuba Wiecek is a young alto saxophonist and composer born in 1994 in the Polish city of Rybnik. After studying in his homeland he continued his musical education at the famous Rhythmic Conservatorium in Copenhagen, an institution which once employed the UK’s own Django Bates as a professor.

Wiecek also studied in Amsterdam and New York and his saxophone teachers include such giants of the alto as Lee Konitz, Steve Lehman and David Binney. As a performer Wiecek has worked with New York based luminaries such as trumpeter Ralph Alessi and the guitarists Mike Stern and Gilad Hekselman, heavyweight company indeed. Hekselman adds his endorsement of Wiecek’s abilities to the album’s liner notes.

The liners, written by one Tomasz Pierchala, also recall an encounter between Wiecek and the great American saxophonist Ronnie Cuber at a Copenhagen jazz club. It was Cuber’s gig and the American was initially reluctant to let the younger man sit in with him. However on hearing Wiecek play Cuber was bowled over by his performance and the young alto player ended up on stage for the rest of the set. It’s an episode that reveals much about Wiecek’s prodigious abilities.

Wiecek currently divides his time between New York, Copenhagen and Warsaw and “Another Raindrop” represents his recording début as a leader. Recorded in Warsaw the album features an all Polish trio with Michal Baranski on double bass and Lukasz Zyta at the drums. It appears on the famous Polish Jazz imprint (now part of the Warners group) which has previously issued landmark recordings by such celebrated Polish musicians as pianist Krzysztof Komeda, trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and saxophonist Zbigniew Namyslowski.

Wiecek cites the almost obligatory jazz influences of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane but he is a young musician who has grown up surrounded by pop and rock culture and as such also mentions as sources of inspiration such diverse artists as Steve Reich, Brian Eno, Tom Waits, Bon Iver, Flying Lotus and Kanye West. His writing also includes folk and classical influences.

The trio is a well balanced, highly interactive unit with bass and drums given parity in the mix with the saxophone. In his album notes Pierchala emphasises the importance of;
“Maintaining the harmonic and rhythmic balance between the three instruments. The evident abolition of the division of forces between the soloist and the rhythm section is one of the most important and striking qualities of this album.”

There’s a youthful vitality and an edgy urgency about the music on “Another Raindrop” that draws freely upon all these sources of inspiration. In an “Invisible Jukebox” scenario many listeners might suspect that this album was recorded in New York rather than Poland. The programme consists of thirteen relatively short pieces with no single track lasting longer than five and a half minutes. Twelve of the items are Wiecek originals with an arrangement of George Shearing’s “Conception” the only concession to the jazz standards repertoire.

The album commences in energetic fashion with “Szkodnik”, which translates as “The Trouble Maker”. With it’s piping alto sax arpeggios and urgent, bustling bass and drum rhythms the piece exhibits something of that acknowledged Steve Reich influence allied to the more contemporary inspirations of modern electronica and dance music. Pierchala suggests the music of the Bristol based Massive Attack as an influence, and he’s pretty much spot on with that.

If “Szkodnik” represents a kind of “post jazz”, or music influenced by rock or electronica but played on jazz instruments, then the next two pieces offer something closer to the classic sound of the saxophone trio as typified by Sonny Rollins and his successors. “Rhythm of Life” is a brief, but absorbing, trilateral musical conversation with the three musicians very much functioning as equal partners. “The Wheels You Can’t Stop (Although You Try)” features Wiecek’s fluent alto soloing as he dances above the fluid but muscular grooves generated by Baranski and Zyta.

The first three pieces demonstrate that Wiecek has chops to burn. “Who is the Monkey in Here” introduces an element of extended technique with the saxophone keypad percussion on the intro. The main body of the tune embraces a meandering whimsicality that sometimes reminds me of the music of the British group Polar Bear with drummer Zyta cast in the Seb Rochford role.

“Out from the Dark” explores similar territory with Wiecek stretching out above Baranski’s low register bass growl and Zyta’s colourful, restlessly inventive drumming.

The title track is the lengthiest item on the record and revisits some of the minimalist influences heard on the opener. Wiecek’s virtuoso playing is skilfully shadowed by the rhythm section before the saxophonist steps back to allow for an extended bass and drum dialogue, the first on the album thus far. Wiecek then solos in relatively more conventional fashion, this followed by some stunningly executed unison passages plus something of a drum feature for the excellent Zyta towards the close.

“Dream about That Green Hill” begins gently with Wiecek on feathery soprano accompanied by sparse, simple bass and the shimmer of Zyta’s cymbals. Halfway through the piece the pace picks up as the music evolves into a kind of folk dance. Wiecek has cited the influence of Polish, Jewish and Balkan folk forms on his writing, and something of this can be heard on this charming piece.

Pierchala observes that it’s typical of Wiecek to programme a track titled “Epilogue” in the middle of the album. The piece itself is a brief, loosely structured, highly atmospheric performance that sounds as if it may be largely improvised.  The sounds heard embrace extended saxophone techniques and the use of small percussive devices.

The piece acts as something of a palette cleanser before the trio launch into “Back Home Feeling”, the first item to truly embrace Charlie Parker and the influence of bebop. Wiecek’s lithe, boppish melody lines are complemented by Baranski’s propulsive bass and Zyta’s crisply brushed drums. Baranski enjoys an extended double bass feature that emphasises both the melodic and rhythmic functions of the instrument. Wiecek then solos more expansively and powerfully and there’s also a colourful and inventive drum solo from Zyta.

Baranski’s bass introduces “Pirate’s Routine” which features Wiecek’s subtly blues tinged alto as it prowls and probes around the rhythms generated by Baranski’s bass drawl and Zyta’s tirelessly imaginative drumming.

An arrangement of pianist George Shearing’s “Conception” represents the only dip into the jazz standards canon. Although closer to orthodox jazz than much of the rest of the album the arrangement still sounds thoroughly contemporary and includes features for both bass and drums.

“Forest Creatures’ Night Ritual” digs deep into Wiecek’s folkloric influences. The introduction is disarmingly gentle and atmospheric and features the sound of wispy soprano and the rustle of small percussion. The piece then erupts into life as it transforms into an exuberant folk dance before ending as quietly and mysteriously as it began, with the lone sound of a folk melody being played on Wiecek’s gently piping soprano.

Baranski’s unaccompanied bass introduces the closing track, “Naked Hymn for Equality”. Wiecek’s anthem for humanity begins quietly, gradually building to a soaring magnificence , but taking its time in getting there. Essentially it’s structured on the same lines as a stadium ballad but sounds far more natural and uncontrived. In any event it ends the album on an optimistic note.

“Another Raindrop” represents a highly impressive leadership début from Wiecek who impresses both as a saxophonist and as a composer. His writing is impressively varied and draws on many influences including jazz, rock, folk, electronica and classical music. In a highly disciplined trio performance no item is allowed to outstay its welcome, it’s as if the trio have distilled their collective thoughts for this recording – apparently they stretch out a lot further in the live environment.

Wiecek’s playing combines a pure tone with improvisational fluency, great technique and an adventurous, forward looking attitude. He’s given great support in this highly democratic and interactive trio by Baranski and Zyta, who both make enormous contributions. Both are highly involved in the creative process and perform superbly throughout, their playing always bright, intelligent, imaginative and responsive regardless of the roles they are asked to play; be it equal partner, conventional rhythm section member or drum or bass soloist. Credit is also due to producer Michal Kupicz and to engineer Michal Rosicki for a mix that brings out the best in all three musicians.

Kuba Wiecek is a musician and composer with enormous potential and I’m grateful to him for forwarding me a review copy of this excellent debut album. It’s a recording that suggests that he will become the next addition to the pantheon of Polish Jazz greats, joining Krzysztof Komeda, Tomasz Stanko, Zbigniew Namyslowski, Marcin Wasilewski and others on the international jazz stage.

 

 

 

 

Another Raindrop

Kuba Wiecek Trio

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Another Raindrop

Wiecek’s playing combines a pure tone with improvisational fluency, great technique and an adventurous, forward looking attitude. His writing is impressively varied and draws on many influences.

Kuba Wiecek Trio

“Another Raindrop”

Polish Jazz Vol. 78 Bar Code 01902 9 58354 9 1)

Kuba Wiecek is a young alto saxophonist and composer born in 1994 in the Polish city of Rybnik. After studying in his homeland he continued his musical education at the famous Rhythmic Conservatorium in Copenhagen, an institution which once employed the UK’s own Django Bates as a professor.

Wiecek also studied in Amsterdam and New York and his saxophone teachers include such giants of the alto as Lee Konitz, Steve Lehman and David Binney. As a performer Wiecek has worked with New York based luminaries such as trumpeter Ralph Alessi and the guitarists Mike Stern and Gilad Hekselman, heavyweight company indeed. Hekselman adds his endorsement of Wiecek’s abilities to the album’s liner notes.

The liners, written by one Tomasz Pierchala, also recall an encounter between Wiecek and the great American saxophonist Ronnie Cuber at a Copenhagen jazz club. It was Cuber’s gig and the American was initially reluctant to let the younger man sit in with him. However on hearing Wiecek play Cuber was bowled over by his performance and the young alto player ended up on stage for the rest of the set. It’s an episode that reveals much about Wiecek’s prodigious abilities.

Wiecek currently divides his time between New York, Copenhagen and Warsaw and “Another Raindrop” represents his recording début as a leader. Recorded in Warsaw the album features an all Polish trio with Michal Baranski on double bass and Lukasz Zyta at the drums. It appears on the famous Polish Jazz imprint (now part of the Warners group) which has previously issued landmark recordings by such celebrated Polish musicians as pianist Krzysztof Komeda, trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and saxophonist Zbigniew Namyslowski.

Wiecek cites the almost obligatory jazz influences of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane but he is a young musician who has grown up surrounded by pop and rock culture and as such also mentions as sources of inspiration such diverse artists as Steve Reich, Brian Eno, Tom Waits, Bon Iver, Flying Lotus and Kanye West. His writing also includes folk and classical influences.

The trio is a well balanced, highly interactive unit with bass and drums given parity in the mix with the saxophone. In his album notes Pierchala emphasises the importance of;
“Maintaining the harmonic and rhythmic balance between the three instruments. The evident abolition of the division of forces between the soloist and the rhythm section is one of the most important and striking qualities of this album.”

There’s a youthful vitality and an edgy urgency about the music on “Another Raindrop” that draws freely upon all these sources of inspiration. In an “Invisible Jukebox” scenario many listeners might suspect that this album was recorded in New York rather than Poland. The programme consists of thirteen relatively short pieces with no single track lasting longer than five and a half minutes. Twelve of the items are Wiecek originals with an arrangement of George Shearing’s “Conception” the only concession to the jazz standards repertoire.

The album commences in energetic fashion with “Szkodnik”, which translates as “The Trouble Maker”. With it’s piping alto sax arpeggios and urgent, bustling bass and drum rhythms the piece exhibits something of that acknowledged Steve Reich influence allied to the more contemporary inspirations of modern electronica and dance music. Pierchala suggests the music of the Bristol based Massive Attack as an influence, and he’s pretty much spot on with that.

If “Szkodnik” represents a kind of “post jazz”, or music influenced by rock or electronica but played on jazz instruments, then the next two pieces offer something closer to the classic sound of the saxophone trio as typified by Sonny Rollins and his successors. “Rhythm of Life” is a brief, but absorbing, trilateral musical conversation with the three musicians very much functioning as equal partners. “The Wheels You Can’t Stop (Although You Try)” features Wiecek’s fluent alto soloing as he dances above the fluid but muscular grooves generated by Baranski and Zyta.

The first three pieces demonstrate that Wiecek has chops to burn. “Who is the Monkey in Here” introduces an element of extended technique with the saxophone keypad percussion on the intro. The main body of the tune embraces a meandering whimsicality that sometimes reminds me of the music of the British group Polar Bear with drummer Zyta cast in the Seb Rochford role.

“Out from the Dark” explores similar territory with Wiecek stretching out above Baranski’s low register bass growl and Zyta’s colourful, restlessly inventive drumming.

The title track is the lengthiest item on the record and revisits some of the minimalist influences heard on the opener. Wiecek’s virtuoso playing is skilfully shadowed by the rhythm section before the saxophonist steps back to allow for an extended bass and drum dialogue, the first on the album thus far. Wiecek then solos in relatively more conventional fashion, this followed by some stunningly executed unison passages plus something of a drum feature for the excellent Zyta towards the close.

“Dream about That Green Hill” begins gently with Wiecek on feathery soprano accompanied by sparse, simple bass and the shimmer of Zyta’s cymbals. Halfway through the piece the pace picks up as the music evolves into a kind of folk dance. Wiecek has cited the influence of Polish, Jewish and Balkan folk forms on his writing, and something of this can be heard on this charming piece.

Pierchala observes that it’s typical of Wiecek to programme a track titled “Epilogue” in the middle of the album. The piece itself is a brief, loosely structured, highly atmospheric performance that sounds as if it may be largely improvised.  The sounds heard embrace extended saxophone techniques and the use of small percussive devices.

The piece acts as something of a palette cleanser before the trio launch into “Back Home Feeling”, the first item to truly embrace Charlie Parker and the influence of bebop. Wiecek’s lithe, boppish melody lines are complemented by Baranski’s propulsive bass and Zyta’s crisply brushed drums. Baranski enjoys an extended double bass feature that emphasises both the melodic and rhythmic functions of the instrument. Wiecek then solos more expansively and powerfully and there’s also a colourful and inventive drum solo from Zyta.

Baranski’s bass introduces “Pirate’s Routine” which features Wiecek’s subtly blues tinged alto as it prowls and probes around the rhythms generated by Baranski’s bass drawl and Zyta’s tirelessly imaginative drumming.

An arrangement of pianist George Shearing’s “Conception” represents the only dip into the jazz standards canon. Although closer to orthodox jazz than much of the rest of the album the arrangement still sounds thoroughly contemporary and includes features for both bass and drums.

“Forest Creatures’ Night Ritual” digs deep into Wiecek’s folkloric influences. The introduction is disarmingly gentle and atmospheric and features the sound of wispy soprano and the rustle of small percussion. The piece then erupts into life as it transforms into an exuberant folk dance before ending as quietly and mysteriously as it began, with the lone sound of a folk melody being played on Wiecek’s gently piping soprano.

Baranski’s unaccompanied bass introduces the closing track, “Naked Hymn for Equality”. Wiecek’s anthem for humanity begins quietly, gradually building to a soaring magnificence , but taking its time in getting there. Essentially it’s structured on the same lines as a stadium ballad but sounds far more natural and uncontrived. In any event it ends the album on an optimistic note.

“Another Raindrop” represents a highly impressive leadership début from Wiecek who impresses both as a saxophonist and as a composer. His writing is impressively varied and draws on many influences including jazz, rock, folk, electronica and classical music. In a highly disciplined trio performance no item is allowed to outstay its welcome, it’s as if the trio have distilled their collective thoughts for this recording – apparently they stretch out a lot further in the live environment.

Wiecek’s playing combines a pure tone with improvisational fluency, great technique and an adventurous, forward looking attitude. He’s given great support in this highly democratic and interactive trio by Baranski and Zyta, who both make enormous contributions. Both are highly involved in the creative process and perform superbly throughout, their playing always bright, intelligent, imaginative and responsive regardless of the roles they are asked to play; be it equal partner, conventional rhythm section member or drum or bass soloist. Credit is also due to producer Michal Kupicz and to engineer Michal Rosicki for a mix that brings out the best in all three musicians.

Kuba Wiecek is a musician and composer with enormous potential and I’m grateful to him for forwarding me a review copy of this excellent debut album. It’s a recording that suggests that he will become the next addition to the pantheon of Polish Jazz greats, joining Krzysztof Komeda, Tomasz Stanko, Zbigniew Namyslowski, Marcin Wasilewski and others on the international jazz stage.

 

 

 

 

Andy Nowak Trio - Reset Rating: 4 out of 5 "Reset" sees Nowak continuing to hone his musical vision and develop an increasingly individual group sound. It's an album that should help to establish the trio further on the national jazz scene.

ANDY NOWAK TRIO

“RESET”

(Self Released)

Andy Nowak is a Cheltenham born pianist and composer based in Bristol who is an active presence on that city’s jazz scene. His trio, often shortened to the modish abbreviation A.N.t. has been a presence on the jazz circuit in the West of England and South Wales since 2005, undergoing a number of personnel changes in that time. Former members include bassist Will Harris and drummers Scott Hammond and Andy Tween.

The current edition of the band features bassist Spencer Brown and drummer Steve Davis. Brown has been with the trio for some time and features on the group’s excellent début album “Sorrow And The Phoenix” which was released in 2016 and which includes Tween at the drum kit. “Reset”, partly funded by a Kickstartet campaign, features the current edition of the trio with Davis behind the traps.

As the A.N.t. abbreviation suggests the trio’s music is strongly influenced by E.S.T. with Nowak also citing Keith Jarrett and GoGo Penguin as other important contemporary influences. Further inspirations include Oscar Peterson, Hiromi and Brad Mehldau while Jason Rebello has voiced his admiration for “Sorrow And The Phoenix”.

In 2016 I saw the Nowak/Brown/Tween trio give an excellent, if rather poorly attended, performance at Brecon Cathedral as part of that year’s Brecon Jazz Weekend. Nowak relished the opportunity to play the Cathedral’s beautiful Bluther grand piano and the sound balance was exquisite throughout.  The event had been poorly publicised and it was unfortunate that more people didn’t take the opportunity of hearing this well balanced trio at their best.

After the show I treated myself to a copy of the “Sorrow And The Phoenix” album and was again impressed both by Nowak’s writing and by the quality of the playing. This was a recording that stood up very well in the home listening environment as well as acting as a souvenir of a highly accomplished concert performance.

Nowak’s Brecon experience certainly didn’t put him off the place. He was to return in 2017 in a sideman capacity playing keyboards with guitarist Gerard Cousins’ Project paying homage to the seminal Miles Davis album “In A Silent Way”. He was also heard in a more mainstream context playing piano with the Slice Of Jazz Big Band.

Like its predecessor “Reset” acts as a showcase for Nowak’s writing featuring seven original compositions by the pianist plus his arrangement of the American traditional song “Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor”.

The album commences with the sound of unaccompanied piano as Nowak introduces “Safety In Numbers”, an enjoyable slice of contemporary piano trio jazz with Brown and Davis both playing significant roles in the creative process.  Although inherently melodic the piece also allows Nowak plenty of room to stretch out explore which he does on a lengthy solo that combines percussive note clusters with a flowing melodicism. Brown and Davis respond with solid but highly adaptable grooves. Both are highly attuned to Nowak’s vision making this a finely balanced and highly interactive trio.

“Fracture” also commences with Nowak solo, his arpeggios leading to a bustling, energetic,  highly rhythmic piece that has evoked favourable comparisons with the music of Phronesis. However there’s still an agreeably relaxed feel about Nowak’s solo as his piano dances above the buoyant grooves generated by Brown and Davis. The piece also offers something of a feature for the drummer as he roams his kit creatively, underpinned by the leader’s insistent piano vamp.

Outside of jazz Nowak’s influences include Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins and Captain Beefheart. The track “What A Moon Can Do” is not inspired by Billie Holiday, as the title might suggest, but by the good Captain’s “Moonlight on Vermont”. It’s urgent E.S.T. like grooves capture something of the Captain’s manic energy and allow Nowak the opportunity to stretch out supported by Brown’s muscular bass and Davis’ busy, insistent drumming. Once more the drummer is given his head with a colourful and inventive drum feature in the latter stages of the tune as Nowak again adopts a supportive role. Hitherto I’ve been used to hearing Davis in more avant garde contexts alongside performers such as bassist Dave Kane and pianists Matthew Bourne, Alexander Hawkins and Django Bates so it’s interesting to hear him in a relatively more orthodox setting.

“Prelude” represents a welcome change of mood and pace. It’s another composition that begins with the sound of arpeggiated solo piano, this time hinting at Nowak’s classical upbringing and the acknowledged influence of J.S. Bach. The piece also features the melodic bass playing of London based Spencer Brown who first came to my attention as a member of the band Porpoise Corpus, led by pianist and composer (and sometime bassist) Dave O’ Brien. Brown has also worked with guitarist Kristian Borring, saxophonist Josh Kemp and vocalist Alexander Strong,


“Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor” is a classic, much covered piece of blues/Americana “composer unknown”. The inspiration for Nowak’s slowed down, supremely imaginative arrangement came from a version by the veteran bluesman Mississippi John Hurt. The trio’s thoughtful, sombre take on the tune is strangely beautiful and moving with the leader’s sparse piano combining effectively with Brown’s melodic bass pulse and Davis’ gentle but imaginative brushed drum colourations.

Piano and double bass introduce “Syrinx” with Davis, in colourist mode, subsequently joining the gently unfolding conversation. The mood changes abruptly as Nowak instigates a punchy groove which Brown and Davis quickly buy into to create an E.S.T. like vibe with Nowak’s forceful left hand rhythms locking in with the rhythm section. The pianist later becomes more expansive,, delivering a series of darting, fleeting melodies above the propulsive rhythms.  Having lulled the audience into a false sense of security with the impressionistic intro this piece is ultimately all about the groove.

The title track initially promises to explore similar territory with a vibrant, highly rhythmic intro but Nowak subsequently steers the music into more melodic, lyrical waters with Brown delivering an excellent solo on double bass that effectively combines that instrument’s melodic and rhythmic qualities. The leader then takes over with a flowingly expansive solo that surfs the buoyant grooves generated by his colleagues. The opening theme is then revisited towards the close.

The album concludes with “Dawn”, a suitably uplifting piece introduced by Nowak’s solo piano. The tune’s beguiling, song like melodies elicit another exceptional bass solo from Brown while Davis’ neatly detailed brush work is also a delight. The music becomes more dynamic as Nowak solos at length, culminating in something of a drum feature for Davis before completing the arc and slowly fading away.

The album was recorded at Fieldgate Studios near Cardiff with Andrew Lawson engineering and his contribution to the success of the album should not be underestimated. The clarity of the mix ensures that every sonic detail can be heard and appreciated.. The piano sound is particularly lustrous.

“Reset” builds upon the success of “Sorrow And The Phoenix” and sees Nowak continuing to hone his musical vision and develop an increasingly individual trio sound. Arguably it’s a little derivative at times but the quality of the playing more than makes up for that. A.N.t is a well balanced unit and Nowak and his colleagues can be proud of an album that should help to establish them further on the national jazz scene.

As they did with “Sorrow And The Phoenix” the trio will be embarking on an Arts Council supported tour of the UK during April, May and June 2018.  Dates listed below. For further details please visit http://www.andynowaktrio.com


RESET TOUR 2018 -

March 25th - Hen & Chicken, Bristol

March 29th - SVA, Stroud

April 10th - Brecon Jazz Club

April 11th - Jazz Cafe, Cardiff

April 19th - Span Jazz, Narberth

May 2nd - Swing Unlimited, Bournemouth

May 6th - Milestones, Lowestoft

May 11th - Bebop Club, Bristol

May 18th - Bridport Arts Jazz Cafe

May 21st - North Devon Jazz Club, Appledore

May 23rd - Speakeasy, Torquay

May 24th - Ram Jam Club, Kingston

May 25th - Jazz Stroud

June 1st - Jazz Cafe, Newcastle

June 2nd - Zeffirelli’s, Ambleside

June 4th - Kenilworth Jazz Club

June 14th - Jazz @ Future Inns, Bristol

Reset

Andy Nowak Trio

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Reset

"Reset" sees Nowak continuing to hone his musical vision and develop an increasingly individual group sound. It's an album that should help to establish the trio further on the national jazz scene.

ANDY NOWAK TRIO

“RESET”

(Self Released)

Andy Nowak is a Cheltenham born pianist and composer based in Bristol who is an active presence on that city’s jazz scene. His trio, often shortened to the modish abbreviation A.N.t. has been a presence on the jazz circuit in the West of England and South Wales since 2005, undergoing a number of personnel changes in that time. Former members include bassist Will Harris and drummers Scott Hammond and Andy Tween.

The current edition of the band features bassist Spencer Brown and drummer Steve Davis. Brown has been with the trio for some time and features on the group’s excellent début album “Sorrow And The Phoenix” which was released in 2016 and which includes Tween at the drum kit. “Reset”, partly funded by a Kickstartet campaign, features the current edition of the trio with Davis behind the traps.

As the A.N.t. abbreviation suggests the trio’s music is strongly influenced by E.S.T. with Nowak also citing Keith Jarrett and GoGo Penguin as other important contemporary influences. Further inspirations include Oscar Peterson, Hiromi and Brad Mehldau while Jason Rebello has voiced his admiration for “Sorrow And The Phoenix”.

In 2016 I saw the Nowak/Brown/Tween trio give an excellent, if rather poorly attended, performance at Brecon Cathedral as part of that year’s Brecon Jazz Weekend. Nowak relished the opportunity to play the Cathedral’s beautiful Bluther grand piano and the sound balance was exquisite throughout.  The event had been poorly publicised and it was unfortunate that more people didn’t take the opportunity of hearing this well balanced trio at their best.

After the show I treated myself to a copy of the “Sorrow And The Phoenix” album and was again impressed both by Nowak’s writing and by the quality of the playing. This was a recording that stood up very well in the home listening environment as well as acting as a souvenir of a highly accomplished concert performance.

Nowak’s Brecon experience certainly didn’t put him off the place. He was to return in 2017 in a sideman capacity playing keyboards with guitarist Gerard Cousins’ Project paying homage to the seminal Miles Davis album “In A Silent Way”. He was also heard in a more mainstream context playing piano with the Slice Of Jazz Big Band.

Like its predecessor “Reset” acts as a showcase for Nowak’s writing featuring seven original compositions by the pianist plus his arrangement of the American traditional song “Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor”.

The album commences with the sound of unaccompanied piano as Nowak introduces “Safety In Numbers”, an enjoyable slice of contemporary piano trio jazz with Brown and Davis both playing significant roles in the creative process.  Although inherently melodic the piece also allows Nowak plenty of room to stretch out explore which he does on a lengthy solo that combines percussive note clusters with a flowing melodicism. Brown and Davis respond with solid but highly adaptable grooves. Both are highly attuned to Nowak’s vision making this a finely balanced and highly interactive trio.

“Fracture” also commences with Nowak solo, his arpeggios leading to a bustling, energetic,  highly rhythmic piece that has evoked favourable comparisons with the music of Phronesis. However there’s still an agreeably relaxed feel about Nowak’s solo as his piano dances above the buoyant grooves generated by Brown and Davis. The piece also offers something of a feature for the drummer as he roams his kit creatively, underpinned by the leader’s insistent piano vamp.

Outside of jazz Nowak’s influences include Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins and Captain Beefheart. The track “What A Moon Can Do” is not inspired by Billie Holiday, as the title might suggest, but by the good Captain’s “Moonlight on Vermont”. It’s urgent E.S.T. like grooves capture something of the Captain’s manic energy and allow Nowak the opportunity to stretch out supported by Brown’s muscular bass and Davis’ busy, insistent drumming. Once more the drummer is given his head with a colourful and inventive drum feature in the latter stages of the tune as Nowak again adopts a supportive role. Hitherto I’ve been used to hearing Davis in more avant garde contexts alongside performers such as bassist Dave Kane and pianists Matthew Bourne, Alexander Hawkins and Django Bates so it’s interesting to hear him in a relatively more orthodox setting.

“Prelude” represents a welcome change of mood and pace. It’s another composition that begins with the sound of arpeggiated solo piano, this time hinting at Nowak’s classical upbringing and the acknowledged influence of J.S. Bach. The piece also features the melodic bass playing of London based Spencer Brown who first came to my attention as a member of the band Porpoise Corpus, led by pianist and composer (and sometime bassist) Dave O’ Brien. Brown has also worked with guitarist Kristian Borring, saxophonist Josh Kemp and vocalist Alexander Strong,


“Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor” is a classic, much covered piece of blues/Americana “composer unknown”. The inspiration for Nowak’s slowed down, supremely imaginative arrangement came from a version by the veteran bluesman Mississippi John Hurt. The trio’s thoughtful, sombre take on the tune is strangely beautiful and moving with the leader’s sparse piano combining effectively with Brown’s melodic bass pulse and Davis’ gentle but imaginative brushed drum colourations.

Piano and double bass introduce “Syrinx” with Davis, in colourist mode, subsequently joining the gently unfolding conversation. The mood changes abruptly as Nowak instigates a punchy groove which Brown and Davis quickly buy into to create an E.S.T. like vibe with Nowak’s forceful left hand rhythms locking in with the rhythm section. The pianist later becomes more expansive,, delivering a series of darting, fleeting melodies above the propulsive rhythms.  Having lulled the audience into a false sense of security with the impressionistic intro this piece is ultimately all about the groove.

The title track initially promises to explore similar territory with a vibrant, highly rhythmic intro but Nowak subsequently steers the music into more melodic, lyrical waters with Brown delivering an excellent solo on double bass that effectively combines that instrument’s melodic and rhythmic qualities. The leader then takes over with a flowingly expansive solo that surfs the buoyant grooves generated by his colleagues. The opening theme is then revisited towards the close.

The album concludes with “Dawn”, a suitably uplifting piece introduced by Nowak’s solo piano. The tune’s beguiling, song like melodies elicit another exceptional bass solo from Brown while Davis’ neatly detailed brush work is also a delight. The music becomes more dynamic as Nowak solos at length, culminating in something of a drum feature for Davis before completing the arc and slowly fading away.

The album was recorded at Fieldgate Studios near Cardiff with Andrew Lawson engineering and his contribution to the success of the album should not be underestimated. The clarity of the mix ensures that every sonic detail can be heard and appreciated.. The piano sound is particularly lustrous.

“Reset” builds upon the success of “Sorrow And The Phoenix” and sees Nowak continuing to hone his musical vision and develop an increasingly individual trio sound. Arguably it’s a little derivative at times but the quality of the playing more than makes up for that. A.N.t is a well balanced unit and Nowak and his colleagues can be proud of an album that should help to establish them further on the national jazz scene.

As they did with “Sorrow And The Phoenix” the trio will be embarking on an Arts Council supported tour of the UK during April, May and June 2018.  Dates listed below. For further details please visit http://www.andynowaktrio.com


RESET TOUR 2018 -

March 25th - Hen & Chicken, Bristol

March 29th - SVA, Stroud

April 10th - Brecon Jazz Club

April 11th - Jazz Cafe, Cardiff

April 19th - Span Jazz, Narberth

May 2nd - Swing Unlimited, Bournemouth

May 6th - Milestones, Lowestoft

May 11th - Bebop Club, Bristol

May 18th - Bridport Arts Jazz Cafe

May 21st - North Devon Jazz Club, Appledore

May 23rd - Speakeasy, Torquay

May 24th - Ram Jam Club, Kingston

May 25th - Jazz Stroud

June 1st - Jazz Cafe, Newcastle

June 2nd - Zeffirelli’s, Ambleside

June 4th - Kenilworth Jazz Club

June 14th - Jazz @ Future Inns, Bristol

Henry Lowther’s Still Waters - Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe Rating: 4-5 out of 5 Its beautiful, melodic compositions, superb collective and individual playing and pristine production values combine to make it a British jazz classic. One of the most significant releases of 2018.

Henry Lowther’s Still Waters

“Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe”

(Village Life Records 171013VL)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Returning now to the 2018 edition of Still Waters which features Lowther, Clarvis, Green, Hurt and pianist Barry Green, the latter a highly capable replacement for Pete Saberton who sadly passed away in 2012.

“Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe” follows a similar format to its predecessor with the programme including six Lowther originals, an arrangement of the Leonard Bernstein composed standard “Some Other Time” and a brief Pete Hurt original dedicated to the memory of Saberton.

The album commences with the title track, one of two pieces that was already in the group’s repertoire at the time of the 2008 Brecon performance. Lowther dedicates it to “sceptics everywhere”. The piece begins quietly with a solo brushed drum introduction from Clarvis. Lowther’s opening theme statement is almost hymnal, inspired by his Salvation Army upbringing perhaps, as his mellifluous lines are shadowed by Clarvis and Barry Green at the piano. Lowther then undertakes an eloquent, subtly probing trumpet solo, his tone conversational and unhurried. Hurt, who specialises on tenor saxophone throughout the album, subsequently takes over, his sound warm and fluent. Barry Green is similarly lyrical at the piano and the piece concludes with a group restatement of that lovely, hymn like theme.

“Mateja Sleeps” was written several years ago for Lowther’s then eight year old niece. The composer describes the piece as a “lullaby” and the mood is again gentle and lyrical with the focus very much on melody. Dave Green’s bass plays a prominent part in the arrangement and he delivers a delightfully melodic solo accompanied by namesake Barry’s sparse piano chording and the delicate rustle of Clarvis’ brushes. Lowther’s flugel solo exhibits a velvety eloquence while Barry Green’s piano solo is luminously limpid.

“Saippuakauppias” was written for a tour that Lowther undertook with a group of Finnish musicians. The title (meaning “soap vendor”) is a palindrome and the structure of the tune reflects this, especially with regard to the opening and closing themes. “The musicians punished me on the tour by getting me to try to pronounce the title to the Finnish audience every night” recalls Lowther in his album notes. The tone of the piece is arguably darker than its predecessors but the focus still remains on melody with the folk like theme providing the jumping off point for a fluent, gently exploratory tenor solo from Hurt and a flowing piano solo from Barry Green.

“Amber” is dedicated to Barry Green’s young daughter. “If they ever have a son named Red they’ll have a completer traffic light set” jokes Lowther in his notes. The tune is a charming ballad that features the lyrical, translucent sounds of Barry Green’s piano, sensitively accompanied by double bass and delicately brushed. Hurt subsequently takes up the melody on tenor, blending superbly with Lowther’s lustrous brass tones.

The traffic light theme continues with “Lights of the North Circular”, a tune that was already in the Still Waters repertoire at Brecon back in 2008. Lowther is a highly intelligent individual with a very English eccentric streak. Naming a tune after a now removed set of traffic lights the A406 is very Henry Lowther. Although less formally structured than some of the other pieces on the album the tune still has a typically melodic and attractive theme but one that provides greater scope for collective and individual improvisation. The group stretch out further than previously with Dave Green’s grounding bass liberating Clarvis who offers brisk but cogent brushed drum commentary throughout the piece, shadowing and responding to the horns. Hurt takes the first real solo, needling away on tenor in exploratory fashion. He’s followed by the brightly burnished tones of Lowther’s trumpet with Barry Green also contributing a thoughtful piano solo as Clarvis continues to roam.

The vibrant “Something Else” is based on rhythms played by the Moroccan Gnawa musicians from Essaouira that Lowther played with in Rabat several years ago. The composer explains that he didn’t set out to write a piece in this vein but that somehow his North African experience had remained in his consciousness subliminally. It’s a highly rhythmic piece that sees the horns doubling up on the bouncy, catchy theme before stretching out on the solos with Lowther going first on trumpet, his playing fleet and fluent. Barry Green follows on piano, and finally Hurt on tenor.
Clarvis combines effectively with all three soloists, his playing throughout the album is consistently excellent;  bright, colourful, imaginative and inventive, consistently busy yet never sounding overbearing or cluttered.

Leonard Bernstein’s “Some Other Time” represents the only standard on the album. Lowther gives a master class in ballad playing, his tone pure, measured and emotive. Barry Green is the epitome of lyrical good taste at the piano as namesake Dave and drummer Clarvis provide sensitive, almost subliminal accompaniment.

The album concludes with “Epilogue – For Pete”, Hurt’s brief but profoundly eloquent dedication to the band’s former pianist, the late Pete Saberton.

The band regard recording engineer Andrew Hallifax as their “sixth” member and the recorded sound is wonderful throughout “Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe” with the clarity of the mix simultaneously serving the individual musicians, the whole ensemble and the compositions well. There’s a spaciousness about the production that brings out the best in both the music and the musicians.

Halifax also worked on “I.D.” and like its predecessor the new album was recorded in a church, in this case St. George’s Headstone Church in Harrow, north west London. “I.D.” was documented at All Saints Church in Petersham in the London borough of Richmond.

It’s been a long time coming but “Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe” has been well worth the wait. Its beautiful, melodic compositions, superb collective and individual playing and pristine production values combine to make it a British jazz classic and a worthy successor to the much loved “I.D.” Lowther’s playing and writing are reminiscent of the late, great Kenny Wheeler at his best.

Its long gestation period plus the sheer quality of the music ensures that “Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe”  is destined to be one of the most significant British jazz releases of 2018.

London jazz audiences will get the opportunity of hearing this music performed live when Henry Lowther and Still Waters visit the Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston on the evening of Saturday March 3rd 2018.

Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe

Henry Lowther’s Still Waters

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4-5 out of 5

Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe

Its beautiful, melodic compositions, superb collective and individual playing and pristine production values combine to make it a British jazz classic. One of the most significant releases of 2018.

Henry Lowther’s Still Waters

“Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe”

(Village Life Records 171013VL)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Returning now to the 2018 edition of Still Waters which features Lowther, Clarvis, Green, Hurt and pianist Barry Green, the latter a highly capable replacement for Pete Saberton who sadly passed away in 2012.

“Can’t Believe, Won’t Believe” follows a similar format to its predecessor with the programme incl