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REVIEW

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

Alina Bzhezhinska

“Inspiration”

(Ubuntu Music UBU008)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inspiration

Alina Bzhezhinska

Friday, September 21, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Inspiration

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

Alina Bzhezhinska

“Inspiration”

(Ubuntu Music UBU008)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sugarwork

“Sugarwork”

(Self released, Harriphonic 1801)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Sugarwork

Sugarwork

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Sugarwork

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

Sugarwork

“Sugarwork”

(Self released, Harriphonic 1801)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Phronesis

“We Are All”

(Edition Records EDN1118Y)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

We Are All

Phronesis

Monday, September 17, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4-5 out of 5

We Are All

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

Phronesis

“We Are All”

(Edition Records EDN1118Y)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

Sara Dowling

“Two Sides of Sara”

(Self Released SD1802)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Two Sides Of Sara

Sara Dowling

Friday, September 14, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Two Sides Of Sara

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

Sara Dowling

“Two Sides of Sara”

(Self Released SD1802)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Enemy

“Enemy”

(Edition Records EDN1112)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enemy

Enemy

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Enemy

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

Enemy

“Enemy”

(Edition Records EDN1112)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nigel Price Quartet - Nigel Price Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 08/09/2018. Rating: 4 out of 5 Price’s love of the music is infectious and his skill and commitment helps to give the music vibrancy and contemporary relevance.

NIGEL PRICE QUARTET, THE HIVE MUSIC & MEDIA CENTRE, SHREWSBURY, 08/09/2018.

Shrewsbury Jazz Network’s September presentation saw them hosting guitarist Nigel Price, who was leading a punchy, hard swinging quartet featuring the talents of organist Liam Dunachie, drummer Steve Brown and tenor saxophonist Vasilis Xenopoulos.

Price has a particular fondness for leading organ combos in either the trio or quartet format and previous incumbents of the organist’s seat have been Jim Watson and Pete Whittaker with Ross Stanley currently occupying the chair on a regular basis. In Stanley’s absence local lad Liam Dunachie, born in Ludlow but now based in London, stepped into the breach and acquitted himself brilliantly. Dunachie has previously stepped into Stanley’s shoes with trombonist Dennis Rollins’ acclaimed Velocity Trio. He also leads his own organ trio, with whom he recently appeared at the Three Choirs Festival in Hereford.

Price regularly augments his regular organ trio with a saxophonist and the Greek born Xenopoulos has played with Price’s groups many times. I recall reviewing a show by Price, Stanley, Xenopoulos and drummer Matt Home at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny back in October 2014. Alex Garnett is another saxophonist who has regularly played played and recorded with Price over the years. Tonight Xenopoulos was fully integrated into the group and wasn’t obviously a ‘guest’ - hence the quartet billing, although Price does still sometimes perform trio shows.

Indeed Xenopoulos and Price, under the group name XPQ, recently released the standards album “Sidekicks” which pays homage to the great guitar/saxophone combinations of jazz from Jim Hall and Sonny Rollins through Kenny Burrell and Stanley Turrentine to the UK’s own Dave Cliff and Geoff Simkins and Morrissey / Mullen. The album was recorded with bassist Dario Di Lecce and tonight’s drummer Steve Brown.

The guitarist is a good candidate for the ‘hardest working man in jazz’ award. His tours tend to be extensive, covering all areas of the UK, and he was also the organiser of the 2018 Swanage Jazz Festival, taking up the reins after nobody else was prepared to take it on.

Former soldier Price was a relatively late comer to the ranks of professional jazz musicians but has wasted little time since. He was once a member of Hammond guru James Taylor’s long running JTQ before running his own organ based groups. Price also spent a lengthy tenure with the acid jazz outfit The Filthy Six. He has recorded with Van Morrison and with jazz vocalist Georgia Mancio and is a regular member of the Ronnie Scott’s house band.

Price lists a broad range of guitarists as influences including Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Jimmy Raney, Pat Martino and John McLaughlin but is most obviously in thrall to the first named. His music is rooted in bebop and Price has the technical facility to do it justice and to put an agreeably contemporary slant on it. He has a particular affinity for the art of the contrafact, re-inventing jazz and bebop standards in highly inventive fashion and granting the resultant new compositions sly and witty titles. Examples of these are to be found on Price’s “Heads & Tales” series of recordings.

Price has recently had his Arts Council funding cut which has placed several dates on his current under threat. However tonight represented better news with a large turn out for this stellar quartet. Even while I was checking in five ‘walk ups’ came in just behind me and The Hive was filled to capacity making for a great, listening atmosphere with the audience highly supportive and appreciative of the band.

Price chose to ease his audience in gently and gradually with the jazz standard “Indian Summer”, written by Victor Herbert. A passage of unaccompanied guitar introduced the piece with Price subsequently joined by brushed drums, subtle organ bass lines and subdued tenor sax. Only later did the momentum began to build as Brown switched to sticks and Price began to demonstrate his formidable soloing abilities with a feature that combined lithe, bebop inspired phrasing with sophisticated chord patterns. Xenopoulos, too, began to stir the pot with a fluent, quote laden solo that hinted at just how forceful a player he can be. Dunachie then took his first extended solo of the night on his two manual Nord C2D electric keyboard, the instrument providing a good approximation of the classic Hammond organ sound. Guitar and saxophone then coalesced on a reprise of Herbert’s theme.

“Stealing Time” represented the first contrafact of the evening, a Price composition based upon the chords of Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low”, with the title taken from the “time a thief”  line in the Ogden Nash lyric. Xenopoulos took the first solo on tenor, moving fluently up through the gears accompanied by Price’s expert comping and Brown’s propulsive, Latin inflected drumming. He was followed by Price and Dunachie with Brown also enjoying a series of vivid and powerful drum breaks. The consistently swinging Brown is a musician who always plays with a smile on his face and is arguably the best mainstream jazz drummer in Britain. Always in demand he was something of a fixture at the Titley Jazz Festival, which ran in nearby Herefordshire for five successful years from 2010 to 2014 inclusive, playing with such well loved musicians as saxophonists Alan Barnes and Art Themen.

Next came an instrumental arrangement of the song “Sweet Georgie Fame”, written by vocalist and pianist Blossom Dearie in conjunction with Sandra Harris. The piece began quietly with Price’s languorous guitar and Xenopoulos’ gently smoky tenor. But like so many of Price’s arrangements the tune started out in one place and ended up in quite another as the momentum once again began to build via solos from Dunachie, Xenopoulos and Price, with the saxophonist’s skilfully constructed solo really ramping up the power as it progressed.

The Henry Mancini song “Dreamsville” may be one of his lesser known compositions, but it’s a popular one among jazz guitarists. It’s been in Price’s repertoire for quite some time and is also a favourite of the North Wales based Trefor Owen. Once more it was a piece that built from quiet beginnings with Brown deploying brushes to accompany Xenopoulos’ opening theme statement before taking up the sticks for the increasingly animated solos from Price and Xenopoulos.

A superb first set concluded with a lively rendition of the Price contrafact “Blue Genes”, based on the chords of Duke Pearson’s “Jeannine”. The boppish head featured some dazzling unison passages for guitar, organ and tenor with Brown’s sizzling cymbals helping to provide a scalding swing throughout the piece. Price led off the solos with some dazzling single note runs combined with his usual chordal sophistication. Xenopoulos and Dunachie both delivered high powered solos and Brown wrapped things up with a dynamic drum feature. It was a great way to conclude a brilliant first half.

Set two kicked off with a Price variant on “Body And Soul” but this was very different to Coleman Hawkins’ classic tenor sax ballad reading of the original tune. Price’s contrafact was far more upbeat and swinging with solos from Price, Xenopoulos and Dunachie plus an explosive series of drum breaks from Brown as he traded phrases with the other three musicians.

Horace Silver’s “Silver Serenade” was a typically melodic piece from the master pianist and composer with Brown initially playing with brushes. The change to sticks came as Xenopoulos took off with a solo liberally peppered with quotes. He was subsequently followed by Dunachie and Price.

The inclusion of a Wes Montgomery tune was almost inevitable with Price choosing his own arrangement of “Four On Six” and changing the time signature from four to six. This self imposed complexity didn’t stop the piece from swinging, while providing the launch pad for solos from Price, Xenopoulos and Dunachie. It concluded with a rousing feature from Brown, who had been a dynamic presence throughout, stoking the fires during Xenopoulos’ solo together with Price’s rapid fire comping.

“Detour Ahead”, written by the American guitarist Herb Ellis, represented the only true ballad of the night and was introduced by an extended passage of unaccompanied guitar from the leader followed by a theme statement from Xenopoulos. Orthodox jazz solos from Price, Dunachie and Xenopoulos with the saxophonist adding an element of epic grandeur in the closing stages of the piece. Interestingly the tune was recently selected as the title track of young London based guitarist Nick Costley-White’s début album.

“Straight No Bounce” concluded the second set, a Price amalgamation of Thelonious Monk’s “Straight No Chaser” and Charlie Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce”. I thought about calling it “Yorker” joked cricket fan Price. Alternating bars from each tune the quartet’s performance was both boppish and bluesy with the impressive Xenopoulos delivering a barnstorming tenor solo. After the gig several audience members expressed the opinion that the Greek is arguably the best mainstream tenor player in the UK at the moment. Price followed with a typically fluent solo, contorting his fingers into almost impossible chord shapes. Local hero Dunachie then unleashed his inner Jimmy Smith with a wailing, gospel infused organ solo before Brown rounded things off with a scintillating series of colourful drum breaks.

The thoroughly deserved encore was called by Xenopoulos, a version of the standard “Darn That Dream” that included solos from Price, Xenopoulos and Dunachie.

With the music rooted in the bebop era there was nothing radical about tonight’s performance but the sheer skill, verve and energy of the playing made this a night to remember. Price’s love of the music is infectious and his skill and commitment helps to give the music vibrancy and contemporary relevance. He was of course helped by an absolutely terrific band with the near capacity audience also adding to the atmosphere. Price presented the show with good humour and a sometimes caustic wit, some of his asides were highly amusing. It all made for a great all round package that was greatly appreciated by the jazz lovers of Shropshire and beyond.

My thanks to Vasilis Xenopoulos for speaking with me afterwards. He really is a great addition to the UK jazz scene.

Nigel Price Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 08/09/2018.

Nigel Price Quartet

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Nigel Price Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 08/09/2018.
Photography: Photograph by Pam Mann.

Price’s love of the music is infectious and his skill and commitment helps to give the music vibrancy and contemporary relevance.

NIGEL PRICE QUARTET, THE HIVE MUSIC & MEDIA CENTRE, SHREWSBURY, 08/09/2018.

Shrewsbury Jazz Network’s September presentation saw them hosting guitarist Nigel Price, who was leading a punchy, hard swinging quartet featuring the talents of organist Liam Dunachie, drummer Steve Brown and tenor saxophonist Vasilis Xenopoulos.

Price has a particular fondness for leading organ combos in either the trio or quartet format and previous incumbents of the organist’s seat have been Jim Watson and Pete Whittaker with Ross Stanley currently occupying the chair on a regular basis. In Stanley’s absence local lad Liam Dunachie, born in Ludlow but now based in London, stepped into the breach and acquitted himself brilliantly. Dunachie has previously stepped into Stanley’s shoes with trombonist Dennis Rollins’ acclaimed Velocity Trio. He also leads his own organ trio, with whom he recently appeared at the Three Choirs Festival in Hereford.

Price regularly augments his regular organ trio with a saxophonist and the Greek born Xenopoulos has played with Price’s groups many times. I recall reviewing a show by Price, Stanley, Xenopoulos and drummer Matt Home at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny back in October 2014. Alex Garnett is another saxophonist who has regularly played played and recorded with Price over the years. Tonight Xenopoulos was fully integrated into the group and wasn’t obviously a ‘guest’ - hence the quartet billing, although Price does still sometimes perform trio shows.

Indeed Xenopoulos and Price, under the group name XPQ, recently released the standards album “Sidekicks” which pays homage to the great guitar/saxophone combinations of jazz from Jim Hall and Sonny Rollins through Kenny Burrell and Stanley Turrentine to the UK’s own Dave Cliff and Geoff Simkins and Morrissey / Mullen. The album was recorded with bassist Dario Di Lecce and tonight’s drummer Steve Brown.

The guitarist is a good candidate for the ‘hardest working man in jazz’ award. His tours tend to be extensive, covering all areas of the UK, and he was also the organiser of the 2018 Swanage Jazz Festival, taking up the reins after nobody else was prepared to take it on.

Former soldier Price was a relatively late comer to the ranks of professional jazz musicians but has wasted little time since. He was once a member of Hammond guru James Taylor’s long running JTQ before running his own organ based groups. Price also spent a lengthy tenure with the acid jazz outfit The Filthy Six. He has recorded with Van Morrison and with jazz vocalist Georgia Mancio and is a regular member of the Ronnie Scott’s house band.

Price lists a broad range of guitarists as influences including Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Jimmy Raney, Pat Martino and John McLaughlin but is most obviously in thrall to the first named. His music is rooted in bebop and Price has the technical facility to do it justice and to put an agreeably contemporary slant on it. He has a particular affinity for the art of the contrafact, re-inventing jazz and bebop standards in highly inventive fashion and granting the resultant new compositions sly and witty titles. Examples of these are to be found on Price’s “Heads & Tales” series of recordings.

Price has recently had his Arts Council funding cut which has placed several dates on his current under threat. However tonight represented better news with a large turn out for this stellar quartet. Even while I was checking in five ‘walk ups’ came in just behind me and The Hive was filled to capacity making for a great, listening atmosphere with the audience highly supportive and appreciative of the band.

Price chose to ease his audience in gently and gradually with the jazz standard “Indian Summer”, written by Victor Herbert. A passage of unaccompanied guitar introduced the piece with Price subsequently joined by brushed drums, subtle organ bass lines and subdued tenor sax. Only later did the momentum began to build as Brown switched to sticks and Price began to demonstrate his formidable soloing abilities with a feature that combined lithe, bebop inspired phrasing with sophisticated chord patterns. Xenopoulos, too, began to stir the pot with a fluent, quote laden solo that hinted at just how forceful a player he can be. Dunachie then took his first extended solo of the night on his two manual Nord C2D electric keyboard, the instrument providing a good approximation of the classic Hammond organ sound. Guitar and saxophone then coalesced on a reprise of Herbert’s theme.

“Stealing Time” represented the first contrafact of the evening, a Price composition based upon the chords of Kurt Weill’s “Speak Low”, with the title taken from the “time a thief”  line in the Ogden Nash lyric. Xenopoulos took the first solo on tenor, moving fluently up through the gears accompanied by Price’s expert comping and Brown’s propulsive, Latin inflected drumming. He was followed by Price and Dunachie with Brown also enjoying a series of vivid and powerful drum breaks. The consistently swinging Brown is a musician who always plays with a smile on his face and is arguably the best mainstream jazz drummer in Britain. Always in demand he was something of a fixture at the Titley Jazz Festival, which ran in nearby Herefordshire for five successful years from 2010 to 2014 inclusive, playing with such well loved musicians as saxophonists Alan Barnes and Art Themen.

Next came an instrumental arrangement of the song “Sweet Georgie Fame”, written by vocalist and pianist Blossom Dearie in conjunction with Sandra Harris. The piece began quietly with Price’s languorous guitar and Xenopoulos’ gently smoky tenor. But like so many of Price’s arrangements the tune started out in one place and ended up in quite another as the momentum once again began to build via solos from Dunachie, Xenopoulos and Price, with the saxophonist’s skilfully constructed solo really ramping up the power as it progressed.

The Henry Mancini song “Dreamsville” may be one of his lesser known compositions, but it’s a popular one among jazz guitarists. It’s been in Price’s repertoire for quite some time and is also a favourite of the North Wales based Trefor Owen. Once more it was a piece that built from quiet beginnings with Brown deploying brushes to accompany Xenopoulos’ opening theme statement before taking up the sticks for the increasingly animated solos from Price and Xenopoulos.

A superb first set concluded with a lively rendition of the Price contrafact “Blue Genes”, based on the chords of Duke Pearson’s “Jeannine”. The boppish head featured some dazzling unison passages for guitar, organ and tenor with Brown’s sizzling cymbals helping to provide a scalding swing throughout the piece. Price led off the solos with some dazzling single note runs combined with his usual chordal sophistication. Xenopoulos and Dunachie both delivered high powered solos and Brown wrapped things up with a dynamic drum feature. It was a great way to conclude a brilliant first half.

Set two kicked off with a Price variant on “Body And Soul” but this was very different to Coleman Hawkins’ classic tenor sax ballad reading of the original tune. Price’s contrafact was far more upbeat and swinging with solos from Price, Xenopoulos and Dunachie plus an explosive series of drum breaks from Brown as he traded phrases with the other three musicians.

Horace Silver’s “Silver Serenade” was a typically melodic piece from the master pianist and composer with Brown initially playing with brushes. The change to sticks came as Xenopoulos took off with a solo liberally peppered with quotes. He was subsequently followed by Dunachie and Price.

The inclusion of a Wes Montgomery tune was almost inevitable with Price choosing his own arrangement of “Four On Six” and changing the time signature from four to six. This self imposed complexity didn’t stop the piece from swinging, while providing the launch pad for solos from Price, Xenopoulos and Dunachie. It concluded with a rousing feature from Brown, who had been a dynamic presence throughout, stoking the fires during Xenopoulos’ solo together with Price’s rapid fire comping.

“Detour Ahead”, written by the American guitarist Herb Ellis, represented the only true ballad of the night and was introduced by an extended passage of unaccompanied guitar from the leader followed by a theme statement from Xenopoulos. Orthodox jazz solos from Price, Dunachie and Xenopoulos with the saxophonist adding an element of epic grandeur in the closing stages of the piece. Interestingly the tune was recently selected as the title track of young London based guitarist Nick Costley-White’s début album.

“Straight No Bounce” concluded the second set, a Price amalgamation of Thelonious Monk’s “Straight No Chaser” and Charlie Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce”. I thought about calling it “Yorker” joked cricket fan Price. Alternating bars from each tune the quartet’s performance was both boppish and bluesy with the impressive Xenopoulos delivering a barnstorming tenor solo. After the gig several audience members expressed the opinion that the Greek is arguably the best mainstream tenor player in the UK at the moment. Price followed with a typically fluent solo, contorting his fingers into almost impossible chord shapes. Local hero Dunachie then unleashed his inner Jimmy Smith with a wailing, gospel infused organ solo before Brown rounded things off with a scintillating series of colourful drum breaks.

The thoroughly deserved encore was called by Xenopoulos, a version of the standard “Darn That Dream” that included solos from Price, Xenopoulos and Dunachie.

With the music rooted in the bebop era there was nothing radical about tonight’s performance but the sheer skill, verve and energy of the playing made this a night to remember. Price’s love of the music is infectious and his skill and commitment helps to give the music vibrancy and contemporary relevance. He was of course helped by an absolutely terrific band with the near capacity audience also adding to the atmosphere. Price presented the show with good humour and a sometimes caustic wit, some of his asides were highly amusing. It all made for a great all round package that was greatly appreciated by the jazz lovers of Shropshire and beyond.

My thanks to Vasilis Xenopoulos for speaking with me afterwards. He really is a great addition to the UK jazz scene.

Jam Experiment - Jam Experiment, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 31/08/2018. Rating: 5 out of 5 "An amalgam of pure musical gold". Guest contributor Trevor Bannister is knocked out by the youthful energy and "sense of fun and musical adventure" of Jam Experiment.

Jam Experiment
 
Friday 31 August, Progress Theatre, Reading
 
Rory Ingham trombone, Dominic Ingham violin & voice, Toby Comeau keyboard, Joe Lee bass, Jonny Mansfield drums
 
Hot foot from a marathon recording session in Wales and a triumphant European tour taking in Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow and other points East, Jam Experiment took to the stage of the Progress Theatre in ebullient spirits on Friday 31 to open a new season of Jazz at Progress. Formed four years ago, the band has already notched up huge critical acclaim from its numerous club appearances at such venues as Ronnie Scott’s and the Vortex, the stages of the London and Cheltenham Jazz Festivals, its radio broadcasts for Radio 3 and Jazz FM and inaugural CD, “Jam Experiment”.
 
The band is fronted by the irrepressible Rory Ingham, winner of the Rising Star Award in the 2017 British Jazz Awards. He commands a trombone chair in both NYJO, with whom he played at this year’s Proms in an ambitious programme devoted to the music of George Gershwin, Stan Kenton and Laura Jurd, and the Syd Lawrence Orchestra. It came as no surprise to learn that he cites Peter Kay as being high on his list of comedy heroes.
 
Dominic Ingham, dead-pan-faced Laurel to his more ebullient brother’s Oliver Hardy, completes the front-line on violin and voice, his ear finely tuned from early childhood training in the Suzuki method of playing. Toby Comeau whose background included an enriching experience as a chorister at Truro Cathedral before an attraction to jazz took root, plays keyboard. He is joined in the rhythm section by Joe Lee, a fellow chorister at Truro, whom Toby inspired to take up bass. Jonny Mansfield completes the line-up on drums; vibraphonist with NYJO and the 2018 recipient of the prestigious Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize awarded to a ‘graduating musician at the Royal Academy of Music who demonstrates excellence in performance and composition’.
 
This stellar line-up of emerging jazz talent, each a product of either the Royal Academy of Music or Guildhall School of Music, and with an average age of about 21, clearly take their music seriously. That they are equally determined to have a ball creating it and sharing their sense of fun and musical adventure with the audience, became immediately obvious with the opening bars of ‘Richie’s Scalp’; a ‘raising-of-the hairs-on-the-back-of-the neck’ sensation induced by Rory Ingham’s soulfully declamatory trombone. What an opening number! Dominic’s amplified violin matched the trombone for volume but took the theme into more linear territory; eerie swirling lines fuelled by the funky rhythm section.
 
Quite how “Quay – the ‘Sunnies with Melbourne flair” - inspired Joe Lee to write a tune of that title is perhaps best left unexplained. No matter. A beautifully evocative violin solo blossomed from the composer’s fulsome bass line, with trombone, keyboard and drums adding their respective musical colours to the sound-scape.
 
‘Theaker’s Barn’, drew yet another gem from the Jam Experiment’s box of delights with Dominic Ingham taking an instrumental line with his appealingly light and airy voice; the sort of thing at which Norma Winstone excels. It blended perfectly with the mellow tones of Rory’s trombone and the intricate backgrounds conjured by Messrs Comeau, Lee and Mansfield. Can you think of any other male performers who use their voice in this way? Answers on a postcard to Jazz in Reading please.
 
Toby Comeau further demonstrated the writing strengths of the band members with a beautiful sound portrait of ‘Appledore’, the West Country town famed for the quality of its shipbuilding, while Jonny Mansfield’s hypnotic ‘Ichi Ni’ (one, two, three in Japanese and a neat play on words - ‘Itchy Knee’. Get it?) brought the first set to a close.
 
The resounding clatter of the end-of-interval bell summoned the faithful from the liquid attractions of the bar and back to the Progress auditorium, where MC for the evening Bob Draper held centre-stage in the company of Jonny Mansfield. What better way of publicizing the next Progress gig than an interview with the protagonist himself. This promises to be an intriguing event; an eleven-piece band – Elftet – including strings, giving full rein to what no less a jazz authority than Alyn Shipton has described as ‘strikingly original music’. Friday 28 September is a date to place in the diary!
 
The conversational style of Mansfield’s writing shone through ‘BMTC’, the opening number of the second set. As if to say, ‘Hey guys, let’s see where this will take us’, ideas bounced about freely giving the arrangement a wonderful sense of spontaneity and providing a perfect launching pad for Mansfield’s superlative workout on drums.
 
I can only describe ‘Tin’, the third of Mansfield’s compositions, as a gorgeous multi-layered tapestry of sound, bearing the indelible thread of Dominic Ingham’s voice and Toby Comeau’s keyboard extemporization.
 
Dominic Ingham’s ‘Hop the Hip Replacement’ hit an altogether brighter groove, as the tongue-twisting title implies, while ‘Bonsai’, with the simplicity of its lyric and compelling bass line, should take its place as a modern-day lullaby.
 
‘Get It On Target’, featuring a dazzling solo by Toby Comeau and a final effort by Rory Ingham to lift the roof may have brought the evening to its ‘official’ close but there was no way that Jam Experiment could leave the stage without an encore. They duly obliged and only then did the audience reluctantly accept that the gig had come to an end and that they would have to make their way home.
 
In a process of musical alchemy Jam Experiment have blended their individual talents within the proverbial jazz melting pot with a good measure of contemporary influences and the addition of a fistful of Yorkshire grit. When left to cool in the fresh breezes of the English West Country the result is an amalgam of pure musical gold. Catch the band when you can!
 
Thanks are due to the Progress team for their warm hospitality, efficient service and the high quality of the sound and lighting, and Marc Edwards of ‘Brecon Jazz Futures’ for his instrumental role in bringing Jam Experiment to the Progress Theatre.
 

Jam Experiment, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 31/08/2018.

Jam Experiment

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Reviewed by: Trevor Bannister

Live Review

5 out of 5

Jam Experiment, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 31/08/2018.
Photography: Photograph by Zoë White

"An amalgam of pure musical gold". Guest contributor Trevor Bannister is knocked out by the youthful energy and "sense of fun and musical adventure" of Jam Experiment.

Jam Experiment
 
Friday 31 August, Progress Theatre, Reading
 
Rory Ingham trombone, Dominic Ingham violin & voice, Toby Comeau keyboard, Joe Lee bass, Jonny Mansfield drums
 
Hot foot from a marathon recording session in Wales and a triumphant European tour taking in Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow and other points East, Jam Experiment took to the stage of the Progress Theatre in ebullient spirits on Friday 31 to open a new season of Jazz at Progress. Formed four years ago, the band has already notched up huge critical acclaim from its numerous club appearances at such venues as Ronnie Scott’s and the Vortex, the stages of the London and Cheltenham Jazz Festivals, its radio broadcasts for Radio 3 and Jazz FM and inaugural CD, “Jam Experiment”.
 
The band is fronted by the irrepressible Rory Ingham, winner of the Rising Star Award in the 2017 British Jazz Awards. He commands a trombone chair in both NYJO, with whom he played at this year’s Proms in an ambitious programme devoted to the music of George Gershwin, Stan Kenton and Laura Jurd, and the Syd Lawrence Orchestra. It came as no surprise to learn that he cites Peter Kay as being high on his list of comedy heroes.
 
Dominic Ingham, dead-pan-faced Laurel to his more ebullient brother’s Oliver Hardy, completes the front-line on violin and voice, his ear finely tuned from early childhood training in the Suzuki method of playing. Toby Comeau whose background included an enriching experience as a chorister at Truro Cathedral before an attraction to jazz took root, plays keyboard. He is joined in the rhythm section by Joe Lee, a fellow chorister at Truro, whom Toby inspired to take up bass. Jonny Mansfield completes the line-up on drums; vibraphonist with NYJO and the 2018 recipient of the prestigious Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize awarded to a ‘graduating musician at the Royal Academy of Music who demonstrates excellence in performance and composition’.
 
This stellar line-up of emerging jazz talent, each a product of either the Royal Academy of Music or Guildhall School of Music, and with an average age of about 21, clearly take their music seriously. That they are equally determined to have a ball creating it and sharing their sense of fun and musical adventure with the audience, became immediately obvious with the opening bars of ‘Richie’s Scalp’; a ‘raising-of-the hairs-on-the-back-of-the neck’ sensation induced by Rory Ingham’s soulfully declamatory trombone. What an opening number! Dominic’s amplified violin matched the trombone for volume but took the theme into more linear territory; eerie swirling lines fuelled by the funky rhythm section.
 
Quite how “Quay – the ‘Sunnies with Melbourne flair” - inspired Joe Lee to write a tune of that title is perhaps best left unexplained. No matter. A beautifully evocative violin solo blossomed from the composer’s fulsome bass line, with trombone, keyboard and drums adding their respective musical colours to the sound-scape.
 
‘Theaker’s Barn’, drew yet another gem from the Jam Experiment’s box of delights with Dominic Ingham taking an instrumental line with his appealingly light and airy voice; the sort of thing at which Norma Winstone excels. It blended perfectly with the mellow tones of Rory’s trombone and the intricate backgrounds conjured by Messrs Comeau, Lee and Mansfield. Can you think of any other male performers who use their voice in this way? Answers on a postcard to Jazz in Reading please.
 
Toby Comeau further demonstrated the writing strengths of the band members with a beautiful sound portrait of ‘Appledore’, the West Country town famed for the quality of its shipbuilding, while Jonny Mansfield’s hypnotic ‘Ichi Ni’ (one, two, three in Japanese and a neat play on words - ‘Itchy Knee’. Get it?) brought the first set to a close.
 
The resounding clatter of the end-of-interval bell summoned the faithful from the liquid attractions of the bar and back to the Progress auditorium, where MC for the evening Bob Draper held centre-stage in the company of Jonny Mansfield. What better way of publicizing the next Progress gig than an interview with the protagonist himself. This promises to be an intriguing event; an eleven-piece band – Elftet – including strings, giving full rein to what no less a jazz authority than Alyn Shipton has described as ‘strikingly original music’. Friday 28 September is a date to place in the diary!
 
The conversational style of Mansfield’s writing shone through ‘BMTC’, the opening number of the second set. As if to say, ‘Hey guys, let’s see where this will take us’, ideas bounced about freely giving the arrangement a wonderful sense of spontaneity and providing a perfect launching pad for Mansfield’s superlative workout on drums.
 
I can only describe ‘Tin’, the third of Mansfield’s compositions, as a gorgeous multi-layered tapestry of sound, bearing the indelible thread of Dominic Ingham’s voice and Toby Comeau’s keyboard extemporization.
 
Dominic Ingham’s ‘Hop the Hip Replacement’ hit an altogether brighter groove, as the tongue-twisting title implies, while ‘Bonsai’, with the simplicity of its lyric and compelling bass line, should take its place as a modern-day lullaby.
 
‘Get It On Target’, featuring a dazzling solo by Toby Comeau and a final effort by Rory Ingham to lift the roof may have brought the evening to its ‘official’ close but there was no way that Jam Experiment could leave the stage without an encore. They duly obliged and only then did the audience reluctantly accept that the gig had come to an end and that they would have to make their way home.
 
In a process of musical alchemy Jam Experiment have blended their individual talents within the proverbial jazz melting pot with a good measure of contemporary influences and the addition of a fistful of Yorkshire grit. When left to cool in the fresh breezes of the English West Country the result is an amalgam of pure musical gold. Catch the band when you can!
 
Thanks are due to the Progress team for their warm hospitality, efficient service and the high quality of the sound and lighting, and Marc Edwards of ‘Brecon Jazz Futures’ for his instrumental role in bringing Jam Experiment to the Progress Theatre.
 

Bansangu Orchestra - Bansangu Orchestra Rating: 4 out of 5 Bansangu’s musical circumnavigation of the globe is certainly a thrilling listening experience. Despite the diversity the album coheres very strongly as a whole.

Bansangu Orchestra

“Bansangu Orchestra”

(Pathway Records PBCD0121)

Bansangu Orchestra is a large ensemble that was founded in 2014 by saxophonist Paul Booth, guitarist Giorgio Serci and trumpeter Kevin Robinson, all well known figures on the UK music scene. Serci was the guitarist with Booth’s recent international jazz ensemble Patchwork Project and it’s tempting to think of Bansangu as the logical extension of this, but scaled up to big band / orchestral proportions. Bansangu members Davide Mantovani (bass) and Satin Singh (percussion) were also members of the earlier, smaller group.

That said Bansangu Orchestra is ultimately a more democratic unit with several members of the ensemble contributing to the compositional and arranging processes. However it’s Booth, the band’s musical director and the composer of two of the album’s nine pieces, who emerges as the Orchestra’s de facto leader.

The Bansangu name is derived from a saying by the highly respected and influential Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira who would compliment his band mates with the phrase “Ban San Goo”, meaning “Band Sounds Good!”.

Under Booth’s directorship the Bansangu Orchestra line up as follows;

Paul Booth – tenor & soprano sax, flutes, accordion, melodica, percussion, voice, keyboards

Sammy Mayne – alto sax, flute
Jason Yarde – alto & soprano sax
Richard Beesley- tenor sax, clarinet
Gemma Moore – baritone sax,  bass clarinet


Ryan Quigley – trumpet & flugelhorn
Shanti Paul Jayasinha – trumpet & flugelhorn
Steve Fishwick – trumpet & flugelhorn
Kevin Robinson – trumpet & flugelhorn (1,4,6,7,9)
Andy Greenwood _ trumpet & flugelhorn (2,3,5,8)

Barnaby Dickinson – trombone
Trevor Mires – trombone, pedal effects (1,2,4,5,6,7,9)
Robbie Harvey – trombone (3,4,6,7,9)
Martin Gladdish – trombone (2,3,5,8)
Richard Henry – bass trombone, tuba

Giorgio Serci – guitar, oud
Alex Wilson – piano (except 4)
Davide Mantovani- electric bass
Satin Singh – percussion (1,2,5,6,7,8)
Edwin Sanz – percussion (3)
Rod Youngs – drums (1,4,6,7,9)
Tristan Banks – drums (2,3,5,8)

Guests;

Oli Rockberger – piano, vocals (4)

Jonathan Meyer – sitar (2)

Seckou Keita – kora (6)

The album’s liner notes include brief anecdotes from the individual composers giving something of an insight into the inspiration behind each tune. First up is Booth’s “Cross Channel”, a two part composition with the first instalment inspired by a visit to Lebanon and the rhythms that he heard there. Part two explores rhythms more closely associated with the Afro-Cuban tradition and introduces a new, angular melody. The piece is introduced by Serci on unaccompanied oud, who helps to establish an authentic Middle Eastern feel. Fishwick’s trumpet then probes intelligently above the rhythmic undertow established by Serci in conjunction with Singh, Youngs and Mantovani. As the piece develops dense Western harmonies are introduced and the music takes on an authentic big band feel before Booth, on tenor sax, emerges as the second featured soloist. His contribution is typically assured, intelligent and fluent. Wilson’s piano plays an increasingly important role in the second half of the piece which also includes a dynamic drum feature for Youngs.  Simultaneously intelligent and invigorating Booth’s kaleidoscopic composition gets the album off to an excellent start.

Bansangu’s début takes its listenership on something of a world tour. Next up is a visit to India with “The Long Road”, written by Jayasinha and featuring guest Jonathan Mayer on sitar. The composer makes effective use of the colours and timbres available to him in the Bansangu line up with Moore’s bass clarinet prominent in the arrangement. Mayer’s sitar evokes memories of the “Indo-Jazz Fusions” pioneered by his father John Mayer and continued by Jonathan. Here Mayer’s dialogue with Yarde’s soprano sax is particularly engaging, while Singh’s tablas also add an element of Eastern exotica to the arrangement.

Pianist Alex Wilson is an acknowledged master of Latin American musical styles and has recorded a number of albums under his own name exploring various aspects of the genre and sometimes blending it with jazz, African and Caribbean elements. Wilson was also part of Booth’s Patchwork Project and is the ideal pianist for the globe-trotting Bansangu Orchestra.
Wilson’s “Currulao Cool” was originally for a small group and the pianist jumped at the opportunity of arranging it for a large ensemble and describes the piece as “an exploration of the Pacific Coast Afro-Colombian music tradition in a jazz context.” Specialist Latin percussionist Edwin Sanz is drafted in to provide the authentic currulao percussion that both drives the tune and gives it its title.
Jayasinha’s flugel solo is relaxed, breezy, colourful and fluent and stretches further into the instrument’s upper register as his feature progresses. He is complemented by some rousing big band charts in the first section of this lengthy piece, Next we hear a virtuoso passage of solo piano from Wilson that demonstrates his thorough knowledge of Latin American piano styles. Finally we are treated to a vibrantly colourful,  high energy, big band climax.

The album’s only vocal item features the singer and pianist Oli Rockberger singing his own song “My Old Life”. Rockberger has recorded a series of albums for Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind record label and this piece is sourced from his 2017 album “Sovereign”. Like Wilson Rockberger relished the chance to have his composition recorded by a large ensemble, in this case in an arrangement by Paul Booth. Rockberger speaks of the combination of “power and finesses” in Booth’s arrangement,  and it’s true that the music serves Rockberger’s singing and songwriting well. The song, with its theme of nostalgia, combines wistfulness with a hipster-ish world-weariness and includes winning instrumental solos from Quigley on trumpet and Rockberger himself on piano.

“Takes Three to Samba” was the first piece written specifically for the Bansangu Orchestra and comes from the pen of guitarist Serci. In his notes the composer tells of how he first met Booth when the pair were part of the touring band of the Polish singer and songwriter Basia. Their shared passion for arranging led to the dream of founding a “world music orchestra”, this leading to the formation of Bansangu. Written on the Basia tour bus Serci describes his piece as being “a samba in ¾ and it features poly-chords and poly-rhythms”. Led off by the composer’s guitar it’s a vibrant piece full of colourful horn arrangements and suitably exotic rhythms. Mires leads off the solos with a rousing trombone feature and he’s followed by the composer with an agile guitar solo featuring slippery runs and choppy chords. Drummer Tristan Banks is also featured in what sounds like a percussive stand off with Satin Singh. Booth may well be involved as well!

The tune “Choice Is Yours” was originally written by the Orchestra’s Italian born bassist Davide Mantovani and originally appeared on his solo album “Choices”, released in 2012 and reviewed by the Jazzmann here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/choices/
The “Choices” album featured Booth and it was the saxophonist who suggested to Mantovani that he arranged “Choice Is Yours” for Bansangu. The original recording featured kora soloist Madou Sidiki and that role is taken here by Seckou Keita. In this new arrangement it’s fascinating to compare and contrast the different string sounds of soloists Keita on kora and Serci on guitar. The other featured soloist, perhaps appropriately, is Booth himself on tenor sax.

Next up is co-founder Kevin Robinson’s arrangement of the Doors song “Light My Fire”. The trumpeter’s arrangement is inspired by the Jose Feliciano version of 1968 and Robinson first adapted it for performance by the Jazz Jamaica All Stars circa 2002. It has now undergone a further transformation in the hands of Bansangu. Robinson has given the piece a distinctive ska / reggae groove with Moore’s baritone initially prominent in the arrangement. It’s a delightfully joyous and vibrant interpretation enlivened by punchy horn arrangements and a searing alto solo from Sammy Mayne, plus an exuberant piano solo from the irrepressible Alex Wilson. It’s a great version of the tune, and one that rescues it from the cheesiness of the cabaret circuit.

Booth’s “The Village” explores the world of Celtic folk music, an area not frequently investigated in the big band format. The composer features his own accordion and flute in the arrangement but the instrumental honours go to Barnaby Dickinson with a thrillingly virtuosic trombone solo that demonstrates his extraordinary agility on the instrument. There are some thrilling ensemble passages too that are sometimes reminiscent of something that Salsa Celtica might have attempted.

The album concludes with “The Reason”, written by trombonist Trevor Mires, a stirring example of contemporary big band jazz with a strong funk undertow. The composer opens the soloing, subtly mutating the sound of his trombone via an effects pedal. Drummer Rod Youngs is also featured as is the supremely versatile Wilson at the piano.

Bansangu’s musical circumnavigation of the globe is certainly a thrilling listening experience as the band throw Lebanese, Cuban, Indian, Colombian, Brazilian, West African, Jamaican and Celtic elements into the mix, alongside plenty of actual, proper jazz. Yet, despite the diversity the album coheres very strongly as a whole.

Booth rightly praises his the versatility of his fellow musicians and one suspects that witnessing Bansangu live would be a highly stimulating and exciting experience. Listeners in the South East will get the chance to see the band when they launch the CD at on Friday September 21st 2018 as part of the Margate Jazz Weekend.

Bansangu Orchestra

Bansangu Orchestra

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Bansangu Orchestra

Bansangu’s musical circumnavigation of the globe is certainly a thrilling listening experience. Despite the diversity the album coheres very strongly as a whole.

Bansangu Orchestra

“Bansangu Orchestra”

(Pathway Records PBCD0121)

Bansangu Orchestra is a large ensemble that was founded in 2014 by saxophonist Paul Booth, guitarist Giorgio Serci and trumpeter Kevin Robinson, all well known figures on the UK music scene. Serci was the guitarist with Booth’s recent international jazz ensemble Patchwork Project and it’s tempting to think of Bansangu as the logical extension of this, but scaled up to big band / orchestral proportions. Bansangu members Davide Mantovani (bass) and Satin Singh (percussion) were also members of the earlier, smaller group.

That said Bansangu Orchestra is ultimately a more democratic unit with several members of the ensemble contributing to the compositional and arranging processes. However it’s Booth, the band’s musical director and the composer of two of the album’s nine pieces, who emerges as the Orchestra’s de facto leader.

The Bansangu name is derived from a saying by the highly respected and influential Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira who would compliment his band mates with the phrase “Ban San Goo”, meaning “Band Sounds Good!”.

Under Booth’s directorship the Bansangu Orchestra line up as follows;

Paul Booth – tenor & soprano sax, flutes, accordion, melodica, percussion, voice, keyboards

Sammy Mayne – alto sax, flute
Jason Yarde – alto & soprano sax
Richard Beesley- tenor sax, clarinet
Gemma Moore – baritone sax,  bass clarinet


Ryan Quigley – trumpet & flugelhorn
Shanti Paul Jayasinha – trumpet & flugelhorn
Steve Fishwick – trumpet & flugelhorn
Kevin Robinson – trumpet & flugelhorn (1,4,6,7,9)
Andy Greenwood _ trumpet & flugelhorn (2,3,5,8)

Barnaby Dickinson – trombone
Trevor Mires – trombone, pedal effects (1,2,4,5,6,7,9)
Robbie Harvey – trombone (3,4,6,7,9)
Martin Gladdish – trombone (2,3,5,8)
Richard Henry – bass trombone, tuba

Giorgio Serci – guitar, oud
Alex Wilson – piano (except 4)
Davide Mantovani- electric bass
Satin Singh – percussion (1,2,5,6,7,8)
Edwin Sanz – percussion (3)
Rod Youngs – drums (1,4,6,7,9)
Tristan Banks – drums (2,3,5,8)

Guests;

Oli Rockberger – piano, vocals (4)

Jonathan Meyer – sitar (2)

Seckou Keita – kora (6)

The album’s liner notes include brief anecdotes from the individual composers giving something of an insight into the inspiration behind each tune. First up is Booth’s “Cross Channel”, a two part composition with the first instalment inspired by a visit to Lebanon and the rhythms that he heard there. Part two explores rhythms more closely associated with the Afro-Cuban tradition and introduces a new, angular melody. The piece is introduced by Serci on unaccompanied oud, who helps to establish an authentic Middle Eastern feel. Fishwick’s trumpet then probes intelligently above the rhythmic undertow established by Serci in conjunction with Singh, Youngs and Mantovani. As the piece develops dense Western harmonies are introduced and the music takes on an authentic big band feel before Booth, on tenor sax, emerges as the second featured soloist. His contribution is typically assured, intelligent and fluent. Wilson’s piano plays an increasingly important role in the second half of the piece which also includes a dynamic drum feature for Youngs.  Simultaneously intelligent and invigorating Booth’s kaleidoscopic composition gets the album off to an excellent start.

Bansangu’s début takes its listenership on something of a world tour. Next up is a visit to India with “The Long Road”, written by Jayasinha and featuring guest Jonathan Mayer on sitar. The composer makes effective use of the colours and timbres available to him in the Bansangu line up with Moore’s bass clarinet prominent in the arrangement. Mayer’s sitar evokes memories of the “Indo-Jazz Fusions” pioneered by his father John Mayer and continued by Jonathan. Here Mayer’s dialogue with Yarde’s soprano sax is particularly engaging, while Singh’s tablas also add an element of Eastern exotica to the arrangement.

Pianist Alex Wilson is an acknowledged master of Latin American musical styles and has recorded a number of albums under his own name exploring various aspects of the genre and sometimes blending it with jazz, African and Caribbean elements. Wilson was also part of Booth’s Patchwork Project and is the ideal pianist for the globe-trotting Bansangu Orchestra.
Wilson’s “Currulao Cool” was originally for a small group and the pianist jumped at the opportunity of arranging it for a large ensemble and describes the piece as “an exploration of the Pacific Coast Afro-Colombian music tradition in a jazz context.” Specialist Latin percussionist Edwin Sanz is drafted in to provide the authentic currulao percussion that both drives the tune and gives it its title.
Jayasinha’s flugel solo is relaxed, breezy, colourful and fluent and stretches further into the instrument’s upper register as his feature progresses. He is complemented by some rousing big band charts in the first section of this lengthy piece, Next we hear a virtuoso passage of solo piano from Wilson that demonstrates his thorough knowledge of Latin American piano styles. Finally we are treated to a vibrantly colourful,  high energy, big band climax.

The album’s only vocal item features the singer and pianist Oli Rockberger singing his own song “My Old Life”. Rockberger has recorded a series of albums for Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind record label and this piece is sourced from his 2017 album “Sovereign”. Like Wilson Rockberger relished the chance to have his composition recorded by a large ensemble, in this case in an arrangement by Paul Booth. Rockberger speaks of the combination of “power and finesses” in Booth’s arrangement,  and it’s true that the music serves Rockberger’s singing and songwriting well. The song, with its theme of nostalgia, combines wistfulness with a hipster-ish world-weariness and includes winning instrumental solos from Quigley on trumpet and Rockberger himself on piano.

“Takes Three to Samba” was the first piece written specifically for the Bansangu Orchestra and comes from the pen of guitarist Serci. In his notes the composer tells of how he first met Booth when the pair were part of the touring band of the Polish singer and songwriter Basia. Their shared passion for arranging led to the dream of founding a “world music orchestra”, this leading to the formation of Bansangu. Written on the Basia tour bus Serci describes his piece as being “a samba in ¾ and it features poly-chords and poly-rhythms”. Led off by the composer’s guitar it’s a vibrant piece full of colourful horn arrangements and suitably exotic rhythms. Mires leads off the solos with a rousing trombone feature and he’s followed by the composer with an agile guitar solo featuring slippery runs and choppy chords. Drummer Tristan Banks is also featured in what sounds like a percussive stand off with Satin Singh. Booth may well be involved as well!

The tune “Choice Is Yours” was originally written by the Orchestra’s Italian born bassist Davide Mantovani and originally appeared on his solo album “Choices”, released in 2012 and reviewed by the Jazzmann here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/choices/
The “Choices” album featured Booth and it was the saxophonist who suggested to Mantovani that he arranged “Choice Is Yours” for Bansangu. The original recording featured kora soloist Madou Sidiki and that role is taken here by Seckou Keita. In this new arrangement it’s fascinating to compare and contrast the different string sounds of soloists Keita on kora and Serci on guitar. The other featured soloist, perhaps appropriately, is Booth himself on tenor sax.

Next up is co-founder Kevin Robinson’s arrangement of the Doors song “Light My Fire”. The trumpeter’s arrangement is inspired by the Jose Feliciano version of 1968 and Robinson first adapted it for performance by the Jazz Jamaica All Stars circa 2002. It has now undergone a further transformation in the hands of Bansangu. Robinson has given the piece a distinctive ska / reggae groove with Moore’s baritone initially prominent in the arrangement. It’s a delightfully joyous and vibrant interpretation enlivened by punchy horn arrangements and a searing alto solo from Sammy Mayne, plus an exuberant piano solo from the irrepressible Alex Wilson. It’s a great version of the tune, and one that rescues it from the cheesiness of the cabaret circuit.

Booth’s “The Village” explores the world of Celtic folk music, an area not frequently investigated in the big band format. The composer features his own accordion and flute in the arrangement but the instrumental honours go to Barnaby Dickinson with a thrillingly virtuosic trombone solo that demonstrates his extraordinary agility on the instrument. There are some thrilling ensemble passages too that are sometimes reminiscent of something that Salsa Celtica might have attempted.

The album concludes with “The Reason”, written by trombonist Trevor Mires, a stirring example of contemporary big band jazz with a strong funk undertow. The composer opens the soloing, subtly mutating the sound of his trombone via an effects pedal. Drummer Rod Youngs is also featured as is the supremely versatile Wilson at the piano.

Bansangu’s musical circumnavigation of the globe is certainly a thrilling listening experience as the band throw Lebanese, Cuban, Indian, Colombian, Brazilian, West African, Jamaican and Celtic elements into the mix, alongside plenty of actual, proper jazz. Yet, despite the diversity the album coheres very strongly as a whole.

Booth rightly praises his the versatility of his fellow musicians and one suspects that witnessing Bansangu live would be a highly stimulating and exciting experience. Listeners in the South East will get the chance to see the band when they launch the CD at on Friday September 21st 2018 as part of the Margate Jazz Weekend.

Nick Costley-White - Detour Ahead Rating: 3-5 out of 5 A good introduction to his abilities as a guitarist, composer and interpreter. The leader is well supported by an excellent band who all make telling contributions to the overall success of the music.

Nick Costley-White

“Detour Ahead”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0010)

Nick Costley-White is a young guitarist and composer and an active presence on the London jazz scene. A graduate of the jazz course at the Guildhall School of Music (where his guitar tutors included Colin Oxley, Phil Robson, John Parricelli and Mike Outram)  he is a versatile musician who is capable of performing across a variety of jazz genres.

Besides leading his own groups Costley-White has worked as a sideman with such well established musicians as saxophonists Martin Speake, Stan Sulzmann and Pete Hurt, trumpeter Steve Fishwick and drummer Jeff Williams. He has recorded with rising stars Henry Spencer (trumpet) and Tommy Andrews (alto sax) plus the group Snowpoet, co-led by vocalist/lyricist Lauren Kinsella and bassist/multi-instrumentalist Chris Hyson.

Costley-White is also a member of the Dixie Ticklers, a young sextet who put a modern twist on classic trad jazz and New Orleans material. Together with Dixie Ticklers clarinettist Dom James he’s the founder of the Jazz Nursery organisation, currently based at the Iklectik Arts Lab in Waterloo.

As Costley-White’s CV suggests he’s a musician with a genuine and ongoing love of the jazz tradition but who remains firmly rooted in the present day. His début recording as a leader sees him fronting a core quartet comprised of some of London’s leading young jazz musicians and comprises Matt Robinson on piano, Conor Chaplin on double bass and Dave Hamblett at the drums. On some pieces the group is augmented by multi reeds player Sam Rapley,  here specialising on bass clarinet.

“Detour Ahead” features six original compositions by Costley-White together with two outside items, the title track, written by fellow guitarist Herb Ellis, and the Cole Porter classic “Just One Of Those Things”, which opens the album.

Costley-White seeks to combine the virtues of the ‘Great American Songbook’ with a more modern aesthetic rooted in the contemporary London jazz scene as he explains;
“What’s crucial for me in this group is that the musicians play in a contemporary style that is rooted in the fundamentals of playing traditional jazz harmony and rhythm. The melding of these two aspects is what I try to balance when writing music specifically for these players. Through this process I hope to express my own voice within this idiom which I fine endlessly inspiring”.

In November 2016 I enjoyed a performance by Costley-White at Iklectik that formed part of that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. The guitarist was leading a trio featuring Chaplin and drummer Dave Ingamells in a programme that explored the music of Jerome Kern and Cole Porter.

Porter is obviously a touchstone for the young guitarist and “Just One Of Those Things” featured in that set and kicks things off here. Costley-White says of his interpretation;
“’Just One Of Those Things” is a wonderfully witty and clever song by the great Cole Porter. Further twists and turns in the arrangement keep the listener on their toes whilst the soloists dig into every corner of this beautifully harmonic song”.
The performance sees Costley-White and his colleagues setting their stall out. The leader features a ‘classic’ jazz guitar sound, clear and pure and with little distortion or recourse to electronic effects. His opening solo is full of lithe melodic lines and sophisticated chording, somehow managing to sound reassuringly old fashioned and pleasingly contemporary at the same time. The leader is followed by Robinson who delivers a sparkling piano solo propelled by Hamblett’s crisp and busy drumming. Then it’s back to Costley-White for more melodic variations on Porter’s classic tune.

The first original, “Loads Of Bar Blues,” is a contemporary exploration of the classic blues structure that informs so much great jazz. Costley-White continues to favour that classic, clean, orthodox jazz guitar sound while occasionally hinting at the influence of Metheny and Frisell. Again the leader takes the first solo, his languid melodicism followed by the consistently inventive Robinson at the piano. Meanwhile Chaplin and Hamblett inject a vital urgency to the proceedings with the latter’s nimble, neatly detailed drumming a constant source of interest. Indeed Hamblett enjoys a substantial feature in the closing stages of the tune.

“Swing State” introduces a Monk-like quirkiness and sees the ever resourceful Robinson taking the first solo. He’s followed by the leader with his slippery, agile, bebop inspired guitar runs. Hamblett’s neatly energetic drumming keeps everything ticking over and he also enjoys a series of brisk drum breaks as he exchanges phrases with Costley-White and Robinson.

A passage of unaccompanied acoustic guitar introduces Herb Ellis’ title track with Costley-White eventually joined by Chaplin’s rounded bass and Hamblett’s delicately brushed drums. Chaplin steps out of the shadows to deliver a delightfully melodic bass solo while Costley-White subtly explores the contours of the piece in this elegant trio performance. Ellis’ song, also credited to John Frigo and Lou Carter, was famously covered by pianist Bill Evans and by singers ranging from Billie Holiday to Cecile McLorin Salvant. Costley-White’s interpretation sits well with such illustrious company.

The original “Thinky Pain” is a dedication to the American comedian (and occasional guitarist) Marc Maron. Costley-White describes the piece as “a portrait in three parts” and the performance sees the distinctive sound of Sam Rapley’s bass clarinet added to the equation.
The first section features Costley-White’s unaccompanied acoustic guitar, playing what the composer describes as “an open palette of clustered chords”.
The rhythm section, plus Rapley, then join the proceedings adding “a steady travelling pulse whilst the polytonal theme is slowly unwrapped and explored through further improvisations”. These include an expansively lyrical piano solo from Robinson and an intriguing and inventive bass clarinet solo from Rapley, whose playing represents a good representation of the flexibility and range of his chosen instrument.
Of the third section Costley-White says; “The final section strips us back to just the double bass, and gradually all the instruments, harmonies and rhythms are stacked on to one another, building a rich and beautifully dissonant sound world. As if from nowhere the final chord is struck, peacefully resolving all tensions”. It may all appear a little academic but it’s highly effective and strangely beautiful.  Rapley’s bass clarinet is a particularly key component in the process as he combines effectively with Robinson on piano.

Rapley also appears on “The Kernel”, another of the album’s more contemporary post bop pieces. Relatively brief at a little over three minutes it includes a concise solo from Robinson with the pianist shadowed by Hamblett’s drums. Costley-White retains a comparatively low profile, only coming to prominence in the final stages of the tune.

“Bridges” commences with an exquisite dialogue between Costley-White on guitar and Robinson on piano. The addition of bass and drums steers the music into more conventional jazz waters with Chaplin contributing another excellent double bass solo, melodic and dexterous. The leader follows on guitar, with a solo that combines conventional jazz sophistication with an agreeably contemporary urgency.

The album concludes with “My Number One” which signals a brief sidestep into fusion style territory with Robinson moving to electric piano and adopting a classic Fender Rhodes sound.
The keyboard man spars joyously with Costley-White, whose sound here is more obviously ‘electric’, but without sacrificing any of the fluency and elegance that is always apparent in his playing.

“Detour Ahead” is an album that reveals two sides of Costley-White’s talent. I don’t know if there is a vinyl version of the recording but in effect ‘Side A’, i.e. tracks one to four, highlights the guitarist’s skill as an interpreter of jazz standards and as a writer of original pieces in that vein.
‘Side B’ i.e. tracks five to eight presents Costley-White in a more contemporary light with Rapley adding a distinctive additional instrumental voice to the proceedings.

Personally I’m more drawn to the second half of the album but there will also be many listeners who will find it easier to relate to what I have dubbed ‘Side A’. Indeed Costley-White himself has stated that he is finding himself drawn ever more strongly to interpreting the subtleties of the standards repertoire.

“Detour Ahead” represents a good introduction to his abilities as a guitarist, composer and interpreter and the leader is well supported by an excellent band who all make telling contributions to the overall success of the music.

Costley-White, Robinson, Chaplin and Hamblett will be touring the album extensively in the UK during September, October and November 2018 with dates listed below;


NICK COSTLEY-WHITE QUARTET ON TOUR;


03/09/18 - NCW4 @ Peer Hat Jazz, Manchester
04/09/18 - NCW4 @ The Spotted Dog, Birmingham
05/09/18 - NCW4 @ The Lescar, Sheffield
07/09/18 - NCW4 @ Hampstead Jazz Club, Hampstead
08/09/18 - NCW4 @ The Bear Club, Luton
13/09/18 - NCW4 @ Future Inns, Bristol
15/09/18 - NCW4 @ Zeffirelli’s, Ambleside
20/09/18 - NCW4 @ The SoundCellar, Poole
23/09/18 - NCW4 @ Southampton Modern Jazz Club
27/09/18 - NCW4 @ Silvershine Jazz Club, Smethwick
29/09/18 - NCW4 @ Jazz at Heart, Headingley
03/10/18 - NCW4 @ Jazzland, Swansea
04/10/18 - NCW4 @ Café Jazz, Cardiff
05/10/18 - NCW4 @ Con Cellar Bar, Camden
17/10/18 - NCW4 @ House Concert, Edinburgh
18/10/18 - NCW4 @ The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
21/10/18 - NCW4 @ Sela Bar, Leeds
23/10/18 - NCW4 @ The Mad Hatter, Oxford
24/10/18 - NCW4 @ Mill Hill Jazz Club, Mill Hill
30/10/18 - NCW4 @ St Ives Jazz Club, St Ives
08/11/18 - NCW4 @ The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh
09/11/18 - NCW4 @ The Blue Arrow, Glasgow

Detour Ahead

Nick Costley-White

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Detour Ahead

A good introduction to his abilities as a guitarist, composer and interpreter. The leader is well supported by an excellent band who all make telling contributions to the overall success of the music.

Nick Costley-White

“Detour Ahead”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0010)

Nick Costley-White is a young guitarist and composer and an active presence on the London jazz scene. A graduate of the jazz course at the Guildhall School of Music (where his guitar tutors included Colin Oxley, Phil Robson, John Parricelli and Mike Outram)  he is a versatile musician who is capable of performing across a variety of jazz genres.

Besides leading his own groups Costley-White has worked as a sideman with such well established musicians as saxophonists Martin Speake, Stan Sulzmann and Pete Hurt, trumpeter Steve Fishwick and drummer Jeff Williams. He has recorded with rising stars Henry Spencer (trumpet) and Tommy Andrews (alto sax) plus the group Snowpoet, co-led by vocalist/lyricist Lauren Kinsella and bassist/multi-instrumentalist Chris Hyson.

Costley-White is also a member of the Dixie Ticklers, a young sextet who put a modern twist on classic trad jazz and New Orleans material. Together with Dixie Ticklers clarinettist Dom James he’s the founder of the Jazz Nursery organisation, currently based at the Iklectik Arts Lab in Waterloo.

As Costley-White’s CV suggests he’s a musician with a genuine and ongoing love of the jazz tradition but who remains firmly rooted in the present day. His début recording as a leader sees him fronting a core quartet comprised of some of London’s leading young jazz musicians and comprises Matt Robinson on piano, Conor Chaplin on double bass and Dave Hamblett at the drums. On some pieces the group is augmented by multi reeds player Sam Rapley,  here specialising on bass clarinet.

“Detour Ahead” features six original compositions by Costley-White together with two outside items, the title track, written by fellow guitarist Herb Ellis, and the Cole Porter classic “Just One Of Those Things”, which opens the album.

Costley-White seeks to combine the virtues of the ‘Great American Songbook’ with a more modern aesthetic rooted in the contemporary London jazz scene as he explains;
“What’s crucial for me in this group is that the musicians play in a contemporary style that is rooted in the fundamentals of playing traditional jazz harmony and rhythm. The melding of these two aspects is what I try to balance when writing music specifically for these players. Through this process I hope to express my own voice within this idiom which I fine endlessly inspiring”.

In November 2016 I enjoyed a performance by Costley-White at Iklectik that formed part of that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. The guitarist was leading a trio featuring Chaplin and drummer Dave Ingamells in a programme that explored the music of Jerome Kern and Cole Porter.

Porter is obviously a touchstone for the young guitarist and “Just One Of Those Things” featured in that set and kicks things off here. Costley-White says of his interpretation;
“’Just One Of Those Things” is a wonderfully witty and clever song by the great Cole Porter. Further twists and turns in the arrangement keep the listener on their toes whilst the soloists dig into every corner of this beautifully harmonic song”.
The performance sees Costley-White and his colleagues setting their stall out. The leader features a ‘classic’ jazz guitar sound, clear and pure and with little distortion or recourse to electronic effects. His opening solo is full of lithe melodic lines and sophisticated chording, somehow managing to sound reassuringly old fashioned and pleasingly contemporary at the same time. The leader is followed by Robinson who delivers a sparkling piano solo propelled by Hamblett’s crisp and busy drumming. Then it’s back to Costley-White for more melodic variations on Porter’s classic tune.

The first original, “Loads Of Bar Blues,” is a contemporary exploration of the classic blues structure that informs so much great jazz. Costley-White continues to favour that classic, clean, orthodox jazz guitar sound while occasionally hinting at the influence of Metheny and Frisell. Again the leader takes the first solo, his languid melodicism followed by the consistently inventive Robinson at the piano. Meanwhile Chaplin and Hamblett inject a vital urgency to the proceedings with the latter’s nimble, neatly detailed drumming a constant source of interest. Indeed Hamblett enjoys a substantial feature in the closing stages of the tune.

“Swing State” introduces a Monk-like quirkiness and sees the ever resourceful Robinson taking the first solo. He’s followed by the leader with his slippery, agile, bebop inspired guitar runs. Hamblett’s neatly energetic drumming keeps everything ticking over and he also enjoys a series of brisk drum breaks as he exchanges phrases with Costley-White and Robinson.

A passage of unaccompanied acoustic guitar introduces Herb Ellis’ title track with Costley-White eventually joined by Chaplin’s rounded bass and Hamblett’s delicately brushed drums. Chaplin steps out of the shadows to deliver a delightfully melodic bass solo while Costley-White subtly explores the contours of the piece in this elegant trio performance. Ellis’ song, also credited to John Frigo and Lou Carter, was famously covered by pianist Bill Evans and by singers ranging from Billie Holiday to Cecile McLorin Salvant. Costley-White’s interpretation sits well with such illustrious company.

The original “Thinky Pain” is a dedication to the American comedian (and occasional guitarist) Marc Maron. Costley-White describes the piece as “a portrait in three parts” and the performance sees the distinctive sound of Sam Rapley’s bass clarinet added to the equation.
The first section features Costley-White’s unaccompanied acoustic guitar, playing what the composer describes as “an open palette of clustered chords”.
The rhythm section, plus Rapley, then join the proceedings adding “a steady travelling pulse whilst the polytonal theme is slowly unwrapped and explored through further improvisations”. These include an expansively lyrical piano solo from Robinson and an intriguing and inventive bass clarinet solo from Rapley, whose playing represents a good representation of the flexibility and range of his chosen instrument.
Of the third section Costley-White says; “The final section strips us back to just the double bass, and gradually all the instruments, harmonies and rhythms are stacked on to one another, building a rich and beautifully dissonant sound world. As if from nowhere the final chord is struck, peacefully resolving all tensions”. It may all appear a little academic but it’s highly effective and strangely beautiful.  Rapley’s bass clarinet is a particularly key component in the process as he combines effectively with Robinson on piano.

Rapley also appears on “The Kernel”, another of the album’s more contemporary post bop pieces. Relatively brief at a little over three minutes it includes a concise solo from Robinson with the pianist shadowed by Hamblett’s drums. Costley-White retains a comparatively low profile, only coming to prominence in the final stages of the tune.

“Bridges” commences with an exquisite dialogue between Costley-White on guitar and Robinson on piano. The addition of bass and drums steers the music into more conventional jazz waters with Chaplin contributing another excellent double bass solo, melodic and dexterous. The leader follows on guitar, with a solo that combines conventional jazz sophistication with an agreeably contemporary urgency.

The album concludes with “My Number One” which signals a brief sidestep into fusion style territory with Robinson moving to electric piano and adopting a classic Fender Rhodes sound.
The keyboard man spars joyously with Costley-White, whose sound here is more obviously ‘electric’, but without sacrificing any of the fluency and elegance that is always apparent in his playing.

“Detour Ahead” is an album that reveals two sides of Costley-White’s talent. I don’t know if there is a vinyl version of the recording but in effect ‘Side A’, i.e. tracks one to four, highlights the guitarist’s skill as an interpreter of jazz standards and as a writer of original pieces in that vein.
‘Side B’ i.e. tracks five to eight presents Costley-White in a more contemporary light with Rapley adding a distinctive additional instrumental voice to the proceedings.

Personally I’m more drawn to the second half of the album but there will also be many listeners who will find it easier to relate to what I have dubbed ‘Side A’. Indeed Costley-White himself has stated that he is finding himself drawn ever more strongly to interpreting the subtleties of the standards repertoire.

“Detour Ahead” represents a good introduction to his abilities as a guitarist, composer and interpreter and the leader is well supported by an excellent band who all make telling contributions to the overall success of the music.

Costley-White, Robinson, Chaplin and Hamblett will be touring the album extensively in the UK during September, October and November 2018 with dates listed below;


NICK COSTLEY-WHITE QUARTET ON TOUR;


03/09/18 - NCW4 @ Peer Hat Jazz, Manchester
04/09/18 - NCW4 @ The Spotted Dog, Birmingham
05/09/18 - NCW4 @ The Lescar, Sheffield
07/09/18 - NCW4 @ Hampstead Jazz Club, Hampstead
08/09/18 - NCW4 @ The Bear Club, Luton
13/09/18 - NCW4 @ Future Inns, Bristol
15/09/18 - NCW4 @ Zeffirelli’s, Ambleside
20/09/18 - NCW4 @ The SoundCellar, Poole
23/09/18 - NCW4 @ Southampton Modern Jazz Club
27/09/18 - NCW4 @ Silvershine Jazz Club, Smethwick
29/09/18 - NCW4 @ Jazz at Heart, Headingley
03/10/18 - NCW4 @ Jazzland, Swansea
04/10/18 - NCW4 @ Café Jazz, Cardiff
05/10/18 - NCW4 @ Con Cellar Bar, Camden
17/10/18 - NCW4 @ House Concert, Edinburgh
18/10/18 - NCW4 @ The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
21/10/18 - NCW4 @ Sela Bar, Leeds
23/10/18 - NCW4 @ The Mad Hatter, Oxford
24/10/18 - NCW4 @ Mill Hill Jazz Club, Mill Hill
30/10/18 - NCW4 @ St Ives Jazz Club, St Ives
08/11/18 - NCW4 @ The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh
09/11/18 - NCW4 @ The Blue Arrow, Glasgow

Slowly Rolling Camera - Juniper Rating: 4 out of 5 The album stays true to SRC’s core values with its skilfully crafted soundscaping, infectious grooves and wide-screen cinematic narratives.

Slowly Rolling Camera

“Juniper”

(Edition Records EDN 1115)

“Juniper” is the third album from Slowly Rolling Camera, the ensemble led by keyboard player, composer and Edition Records label owner Dave Stapleton. It follows the group’s eponymous début from 2014 and the follow up, “All Things”, which appeared in 2016.

SRC is based around the core trio of Stapleton, drummer Elliot Bennett, and producer/sound artist Deri Roberts. On the first two albums this nucleus also included the charismatic vocalist and lyricist Dionne Bennett (no relation to Elliot as far as I’m aware) and the group were routinely referred to as a jazz / nu soul outfit.

The first two albums were essentially song based and with Dionne Bennett as the focal point SRC developed into an exciting live act with an appeal that reached beyond the usual jazz demographic. I recall seeing them deliver a particularly exciting live performance in the club environment of the Rich Mix venue at the 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival. It was almost like a rock gig.

With Dionne Bennett’s soulful vocals and emotive lyrics spearheading the band and contrasting effectively with the electronic soundscapes generated by Stapleton and Roberts the music of SRC was frequently compared to that of Bristol based trip hop pioneers Massive Attack and Portishead, and justifiably so. By the time of that 2016 Rich Mix appearance the band looked increasingly assured and confident and capable of reaching out to a wider musical constituency.

Since those heady days Dionne Bennett has left SRC and now seems to be fronting her former band The Earth once more. I’ve not been able to establish the reasons behind this but in any event Slowly Rolling Camera have retrenched and returned to their instrumental roots.

Stapleton, Elliot Bennett and Roberts, the latter also a talented saxophonist, go back a long way having been students together at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama and they still regard themselves as a Cardiff based band.

Leader Stapleton first came to my attention as the leader of the punchy, hard hitting DSQ, a quintet containing Elliot Bennett that updated the classic hard bop sound for the 21st century, releasing three albums between 2005 and 2010.

His other projects have included “The Conway Suite” (2005) a duo work that featured Stapleton on church organ alongside Roberts on saxophone and “Dismantling The Waterfall” (2008), a series of piano duets with that extraordinary musical maverick Matthew Bourne.

If those two releases represented the more experimental side of Stapleton’s output then “Catching Sunlight” (2008) and “Flight” (2012) saw him edging further away from the conventional American style jazz of DSQ and into a more obviously European sound-world that embraced both jazz and classical influences. The music on both albums was possessed of a strong pictorial quality that reflected Stapleton’s burgeoning interest in photography and cinema. Tellingly “Catching Sunlight” was subtitled “Music For An Imaginary Film”.

With Dionne Bennett on board the first edition of SRC was different again but the new, all instrumental, version of the band harks back to those cinematic visions. Stapleton has said of Slowly Rolling Camera;
“Originally the band formed as an instrumental led project, merging progressive jazz beats with a more cinematic and produced sensibility. What emerged was something totally unexpected and epic, shaping the music and production more and more around Dionne Bennett’s expansive and rich vocal. However for this new album we wanted to re-ignite that early vision whilst retaining those production values. This album draws on all the musical and personal experiences we’ve had over the past fifteen years whilst engaging audiences with a blend of strong melodies, rhythmical hooks and improvisation. Without those earlier experiments and the first few albums this would never have happened.”

The core members of SRC have always drawn upon a pool of other musicians, most of them close Edition label associates, to help them realise their musical vision. On “Juniper” the supporting cast includes guitarist Stuart McCallum, trumpeter Neil Yates, bassist Aidan Thorne and saxophonists Nicolas Kummert and Mark Lockheart. There are also cameo roles for three younger musicians associated with the Edition label, namely Tom Barford (tenor & soprano sax), James Copus (trumpet) and Sam Glaser (alto sax).

All of the music on “Juniper” is written by Stapleton and the album commences with the title track. The composer’s sparse introductory acoustic piano is quickly joined by gentle, ambient electronica and the icy shimmer of McCallum’s guitar. SRC’s music is routinely compared to that of the Manchester based Cinematic Orchestra, of which McCallum is a member and his presence on this album does much to validate those comparisons. “Juniper” gradually gathers momentum as Stapleton switches to electric keyboards and Elliot Bennett establishes a hip hop style drum groove.
Even with Dionne Bennett gone SRC’s signature style is readily recognisable with Stapleton’s dark hued synth textures helping to shape the music alongside Elliot Bennett’s grooves and beats. The band’s sound remains thoroughly contemporary, drawing on modern dance music and electronica, but nevertheless Dionne Bennett’s departure has also allowed them to partially return to their jazz roots. This is expressed by the fact that there are recognisable instrumental solos on this album with this opening track containing a startlingly inventive guitar feature from McCallum that transports the listener to deep space in a manner similar to a jazzier and more imaginative Pink Floyd. Later there’s some powerful tenor sax reminiscent of the spiritual jazz of John Coltrane.

Stapleton’s multi-faceted keyboards and Elliot Bennett’s skittering, electronica influenced grooves remain at the heart of the following “Helsinki Song”, which also features a passage of incisively melodic soprano saxophone. McCallum’s semi-acoustic guitar also plays a key role in this ever evolving piece and there’s also another powerful passage of tenor saxophone. Individual solos aren’t credited so it’s difficult to apportion due credit with regard to the two saxophonists.

The brief “A Thousand Lights” begins in impressionistic fashion, with the sound of Stapleton’s gently shimmering keyboards and Roberts’ ambient electronica suggesting a particularly atmospheric film soundtrack. The arrival of a tenor saxophone briefly muddies the waters but overall this a beguiling and beautifully melodic piece that some have compared favourably to the music of Erik Satie.

“Hyperloop” mixes the influences of minimalism and contemporary electronica but is enlivened and humanised first by the addition of punchy brass and reeds, initially playing collectively but later including a brief cameo from a tenor sax soloist. McCallum then takes over with a powerfully imaginative guitar solo, this yielding in time to second saxophone solo, this time played on soprano.
Bennett’s drum grooves and Stapleton’s keys form the backbone of the music but the piece eventually resolves itself with a brief passage of unaccompanied electronics, presumably courtesy of Roberts.

The majority of these pieces are multi-faceted, mixing the sounds of acoustic and electric instruments and embracing changes of mood and pace to create a strong narrative arc and a distinct cinematic quality. A case in point is the seven minute “Crossings” which emerges from gently atmospheric beginnings to embrace a lilting soprano sax solo, angular hip hop style grooves, and a rather grittier tenor sax excursion.

The brief “Nature’s Ratio” acts as a beguiling interlude that features the ethereal twinkle of Stapleton’s keyboards and the distinctive folk influenced sound of Yates’ trumpet.

“The Outlier” combines muscular contemporary grooves with punchy brass and reeds with solos for tenor and soprano saxes. It’s a satisfyingly complex track incorporating odd meter rhythms, elements of minimalism and even brief snatches of folk melody.

Yates’ trumpet whisper returns on the closing “Eight Days” with its seductive mix of electric and acoustic sounds, this time with the latter predominating. There’s an authoritative, beautifully constructed tenor sax solo mid tune, this followed by Yates’ sumptuous trumpet as McCallum concentrates on acoustic guitar.

With the departure of Dionne Bennett SRC’s chance of breaking through to a wider, more general audience has probably gone with her. However one suspects that Stapleton and his colleagues are probably not too concerned about that.

With the absence of vocals and song-like structures “Juniper” could almost be the work of a different band and it’s certainly likely to hold a greater appeal to regular jazz listeners. Nevertheless the album stays true to SRC’s core values with its skilfully crafted soundscaping, infectious grooves and wide-screen cinematic narratives. Stapleton’s keys are at the heart of the music as they combine with Roberts’ sound artistry to create a constantly evolving sonic landscape that nods towards a variety of musical genres plus the influence of film noir. Roberts is a less overt presence than previously but remains a key component of the band’s sound, as does Bennett’s drumming with its ready embrace of contemporary grooves and rhythms.

SRC’s pool of guest musicians all make excellent contributions, particularly McCallum, Yates and the two main saxophonists Lockheart and Kummert. All of these contribute solos that are rich in terms of colour, imagination and inventiveness while fitting superbly into the instrumental framework so carefully and skilfully created by SRC’s core trio.

It’s very different to the band’s first two albums but in its own way is a total artistic success. It will be interesting to see which direction Slowly Rolling Camera decides to follow next.

 

 

Juniper

Slowly Rolling Camera

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Juniper

The album stays true to SRC’s core values with its skilfully crafted soundscaping, infectious grooves and wide-screen cinematic narratives.

Slowly Rolling Camera

“Juniper”

(Edition Records EDN 1115)

“Juniper” is the third album from Slowly Rolling Camera, the ensemble led by keyboard player, composer and Edition Records label owner Dave Stapleton. It follows the group’s eponymous début from 2014 and the follow up, “All Things”, which appeared in 2016.

SRC is based around the core trio of Stapleton, drummer Elliot Bennett, and producer/sound artist Deri Roberts. On the first two albums this nucleus also included the charismatic vocalist and lyricist Dionne Bennett (no relation to Elliot as far as I’m aware) and the group were routinely referred to as a jazz / nu soul outfit.

The first two albums were essentially song based and with Dionne Bennett as the focal point SRC developed into an exciting live act with an appeal that reached beyond the usual jazz demographic. I recall seeing them deliver a particularly exciting live performance in the club environment of the Rich Mix venue at the 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival. It was almost like a rock gig.

With Dionne Bennett’s soulful vocals and emotive lyrics spearheading the band and contrasting effectively with the electronic soundscapes generated by Stapleton and Roberts the music of SRC was frequently compared to that of Bristol based trip hop pioneers Massive Attack and Portishead, and justifiably so. By the time of that 2016 Rich Mix appearance the band looked increasingly assured and confident and capable of reaching out to a wider musical constituency.

Since those heady days Dionne Bennett has left SRC and now seems to be fronting her former band The Earth once more. I’ve not been able to establish the reasons behind this but in any event Slowly Rolling Camera have retrenched and returned to their instrumental roots.

Stapleton, Elliot Bennett and Roberts, the latter also a talented saxophonist, go back a long way having been students together at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama and they still regard themselves as a Cardiff based band.

Leader Stapleton first came to my attention as the leader of the punchy, hard hitting DSQ, a quintet containing Elliot Bennett that updated the classic hard bop sound for the 21st century, releasing three albums between 2005 and 2010.

His other projects have included “The Conway Suite” (2005) a duo work that featured Stapleton on church organ alongside Roberts on saxophone and “Dismantling The Waterfall” (2008), a series of piano duets with that extraordinary musical maverick Matthew Bourne.

If those two releases represented the more experimental side of Stapleton’s output then “Catching Sunlight” (2008) and “Flight” (2012) saw him edging further away from the conventional American style jazz of DSQ and into a more obviously European sound-world that embraced both jazz and classical influences. The music on both albums was possessed of a strong pictorial quality that reflected Stapleton’s burgeoning interest in photography and cinema. Tellingly “Catching Sunlight” was subtitled “Music For An Imaginary Film”.

With Dionne Bennett on board the first edition of SRC was different again but the new, all instrumental, version of the band harks back to those cinematic visions. Stapleton has said of Slowly Rolling Camera;
“Originally the band formed as an instrumental led project, merging progressive jazz beats with a more cinematic and produced sensibility. What emerged was something totally unexpected and epic, shaping the music and production more and more around Dionne Bennett’s expansive and rich vocal. However for this new album we wanted to re-ignite that early vision whilst retaining those production values. This album draws on all the musical and personal experiences we’ve had over the past fifteen years whilst engaging audiences with a blend of strong melodies, rhythmical hooks and improvisation. Without those earlier experiments and the first few albums this would never have happened.”

The core members of SRC have always drawn upon a pool of other musicians, most of them close Edition label associates, to help them realise their musical vision. On “Juniper” the supporting cast includes guitarist Stuart McCallum, trumpeter Neil Yates, bassist Aidan Thorne and saxophonists Nicolas Kummert and Mark Lockheart. There are also cameo roles for three younger musicians associated with the Edition label, namely Tom Barford (tenor & soprano sax), James Copus (trumpet) and Sam Glaser (alto sax).

All of the music on “Juniper” is written by Stapleton and the album commences with the title track. The composer’s sparse introductory acoustic piano is quickly joined by gentle, ambient electronica and the icy shimmer of McCallum’s guitar. SRC’s music is routinely compared to that of the Manchester based Cinematic Orchestra, of which McCallum is a member and his presence on this album does much to validate those comparisons. “Juniper” gradually gathers momentum as Stapleton switches to electric keyboards and Elliot Bennett establishes a hip hop style drum groove.
Even with Dionne Bennett gone SRC’s signature style is readily recognisable with Stapleton’s dark hued synth textures helping to shape the music alongside Elliot Bennett’s grooves and beats. The band’s sound remains thoroughly contemporary, drawing on modern dance music and electronica, but nevertheless Dionne Bennett’s departure has also allowed them to partially return to their jazz roots. This is expressed by the fact that there are recognisable instrumental solos on this album with this opening track containing a startlingly inventive guitar feature from McCallum that transports the listener to deep space in a manner similar to a jazzier and more imaginative Pink Floyd. Later there’s some powerful tenor sax reminiscent of the spiritual jazz of John Coltrane.

Stapleton’s multi-faceted keyboards and Elliot Bennett’s skittering, electronica influenced grooves remain at the heart of the following “Helsinki Song”, which also features a passage of incisively melodic soprano saxophone. McCallum’s semi-acoustic guitar also plays a key role in this ever evolving piece and there’s also another powerful passage of tenor saxophone. Individual solos aren’t credited so it’s difficult to apportion due credit with regard to the two saxophonists.

The brief “A Thousand Lights” begins in impressionistic fashion, with the sound of Stapleton’s gently shimmering keyboards and Roberts’ ambient electronica suggesting a particularly atmospheric film soundtrack. The arrival of a tenor saxophone briefly muddies the waters but overall this a beguiling and beautifully melodic piece that some have compared favourably to the music of Erik Satie.

“Hyperloop” mixes the influences of minimalism and contemporary electronica but is enlivened and humanised first by the addition of punchy brass and reeds, initially playing collectively but later including a brief cameo from a tenor sax soloist. McCallum then takes over with a powerfully imaginative guitar solo, this yielding in time to second saxophone solo, this time played on soprano.
Bennett’s drum grooves and Stapleton’s keys form the backbone of the music but the piece eventually resolves itself with a brief passage of unaccompanied electronics, presumably courtesy of Roberts.

The majority of these pieces are multi-faceted, mixing the sounds of acoustic and electric instruments and embracing changes of mood and pace to create a strong narrative arc and a distinct cinematic quality. A case in point is the seven minute “Crossings” which emerges from gently atmospheric beginnings to embrace a lilting soprano sax solo, angular hip hop style grooves, and a rather grittier tenor sax excursion.

The brief “Nature’s Ratio” acts as a beguiling interlude that features the ethereal twinkle of Stapleton’s keyboards and the distinctive folk influenced sound of Yates’ trumpet.

“The Outlier” combines muscular contemporary grooves with punchy brass and reeds with solos for tenor and soprano saxes. It’s a satisfyingly complex track incorporating odd meter rhythms, elements of minimalism and even brief snatches of folk melody.

Yates’ trumpet whisper returns on the closing “Eight Days” with its seductive mix of electric and acoustic sounds, this time with the latter predominating. There’s an authoritative, beautifully constructed tenor sax solo mid tune, this followed by Yates’ sumptuous trumpet as McCallum concentrates on acoustic guitar.

With the departure of Dionne Bennett SRC’s chance of breaking through to a wider, more general audience has probably gone with her. However one suspects that Stapleton and his colleagues are probably not too concerned about that.

With the absence of vocals and song-like structures “Juniper” could almost be the work of a different band and it’s certainly likely to hold a greater appeal to regular jazz listeners. Nevertheless the album stays true to SRC’s core values with its skilfully crafted soundscaping, infectious grooves and wide-screen cinematic narratives. Stapleton’s keys are at the heart of the music as they combine with Roberts’ sound artistry to create a constantly evolving sonic landscape that nods towards a variety of musical genres plus the influence of film noir. Roberts is a less overt presence than previously but remains a key component of the band’s sound, as does Bennett’s drumming with its ready embrace of contemporary grooves and rhythms.

SRC’s pool of guest musicians all make excellent contributions, particularly McCallum, Yates and the two main saxophonists Lockheart and Kummert. All of these contribute solos that are rich in terms of colour, imagination and inventiveness while fitting superbly into the instrumental framework so carefully and skilfully created by SRC’s core trio.

It’s very different to the band’s first two albums but in its own way is a total artistic success. It will be interesting to see which direction Slowly Rolling Camera decides to follow next.

 

 

John Bailey - Oneiric Sounds Rating: 3-5 out of 5 "Oneiric Sounds" has clearly been a labour of love for Bailey. The compositions are consistently interesting and include many influences ranging from jazz to folk to contemporary classical music.

John Bailey

“Oneiric Sounds”

(Outhouse Records OUTHOUSE 03)

John Bailey is a Lancashire based guitarist and composer who holds an MA in Jazz Performance from the Leeds College of Music. Born in Huddersfield Bailey first played in heavy metal bands before turning to jazz and classical music.  He performs regularly in the North of England with his trio and quartet and has also toured with the operatic tenor Russell Watson and worked with Sting on the latter’s “The Last Ship” project.

“Oneiric Sounds” is Bailey’s third album as a leader and his most ambitious work to date. It follows two earlier small group recordings, “Black Ship, Bright Sea” and “Heart Horizons”.

Now, I have to admit that before this album dropped through my letterbox I’d never heard of John Bailey, but anybody who can persuade such jazz heavyweights as British saxophonist Julian Arguelles and Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen to appear on his album is definitely worth paying attention to.

Bailey’s two star guests don’t actually play together. Each appears on a separate suite of music recorded at different sessions. The movements of each suite are then punctuated by four improvised passages featuring Bailey, Arguelles and others under catch all title “Oneiric”.

Besides Bailey, Andersen and Arguelles the recording also features the talents of Richard Iles (flugelhorn, trumpet), Tim France (tenor sax), Garry Jackson (electric & acoustic bass), Simon Chalk (violin), Mark Chivers (viola) and Nick Stringfellow (cello). Drumming duties are shared by Richard Kass, who performed on the Andersen session, and Eryl Roberts who performed alongside Arguelles.

Bailey says of the album title;
“The word ‘Oneiric’ means ‘dream like. When I was conceiving the album I had no really strong angle from which I was working. The more I thought about the music the more I slipped into a dream world where meanings, intent and strange threads of dialogue which were rooted in perception came together. I found myself trying to transcribe the architecture of my dream world, mostly waking dreams and unusual experiential things.”.

The music is heavily influenced by the films of Andrei Tarkovsky and also the art of Albrecht Durer, particularly his depictions of the natural world. Regarding these sources of inspiration Bailey comments;
“I should mention here with absolute honesty that I discovered relationships between Tarkovsky and Durer after I had come to both of them independently of one another and found that Tarkovsky actually referenced Durer in one or two of his films. I feel that this album is, for me, the soundtrack that accompanies that relationship, and their relationship to me.”

Bailey’s notes in the press release that accompanies this album shed additional light on the inspirations behind the individual tracks while fellow guitarist Carl Orr’s succinct album liner notes provide further illumination from a peer’s perspective.

The album commences with “The Large Turf”, a piece named after a Durer painting and played by a quintet of Bailey, Andersen, Iles, France and Kass. It also features the three string players, Chalk, Chivers and Stringfellow who add both folk and classical elements to the music. The piece is notable for an exceptional double bass solo from Andersen that combines a huge tone with an acute melodic sense and a formidable dexterity. Andersen is one of the world’s greatest, and most recognisable, double bass soloists and he’s in terrific form here. Bailey, playing a solid bodied classical guitar also impresses as does the arrangement as a whole, with the playing of Iles also hinting at the influence of the Northern brass band tradition.

Played by the same combination of musicians the title of “The Human Trap” references the Peter Breugel painting “Winter Landscape With Skaters and a Bird Trap”. Breugel’s work prompted Bailey to reflect upon the fragility of human life and man’s role in the context of nature. The music is suitably panoramic in scope and remarkably rich in terms of colour and texture. Iles’ flugelhorn playing has something of the majesty of Kenny Wheeler about it and France also weighs in with a succinct, carefully constructed tenor solo. Bailey also allows himself some solo space with a flowing guitar solo possessed of a crystalline beauty. But there’s also a drama about the piece as a whole that reflects the savage beauty of Breugel’s landscape.

The brief “Oneiric 1” is the first of the four improvised pieces and here features a trio of Bailey, Arguelles and Roberts. Arguelles specialises on soprano saxophone throughout the album and here his dancing, spiralling arabesques are complemented by Bailey’s nimble guitar phrases and Roberts’ astute percussive shadings.

“Grize Dale”, named after that location in the Lake District is a beautiful dialogue between Bailey and Andersen with the two main protagonists sometimes augmented by sweeping string textures courtesy of Chalk, Chivers and Stringfellow. For me, the strings are something of a syrupy distraction, the real heart of the piece, and thus its chief treasure, is the central dialogue between Bailey and Andersen with its combination of jazz, folk and classical influences. It’s sometimes reminiscent of Andersen’s work with guitarist Ralph Towner on the 1993 ECM album “If You Look Far Enough”, credited to the pair plus percussionist Nana Vasconcelos.

Durer’s Vision” is inspired by the painter’s work “Dream Vision” with its images of apocalyptic floods. Played by jazz quintet and strings the piece has a restlessness and urgency about it with Iles’ trumpet and France’s tenor playing prominent roles in the arrangement. Andersen delivers another exceptional solo, this time darker in tone, accompanied by Bailey’s cleanly picked guitar and the insistent tapping of Kass’ cymbals. Bailey then embarks upon a solo of his own before handing over to Iles on Harmon muted trumpet.

“Oneiric II” is the second of the improvised fragments, again delivered by the trio of Bailey, Arguelles and Roberts. The owl like hooting of Arguelles’ soprano is shadowed by Bailey’s slippery guitar lines and Roberts’ always apposite drum commentary.

“You Be The Wolf” is the last movement of the suite featuring Andersen and takes its title from Bailey’s young daughter and the childhood game in which she wanted her father to ‘be the wolf’ and chase her. The music reflects Bailey’s musings on the freedom of a child’s imagination and the later compromises that child will have to make to become an accepted member of adult society. Kass’s cymbals introduce the piece, again played by jazz quintet and strings, with the opening passages expressing something of the urgency implied in the title. The arrangement is characteristically rich and full of colour. Something of the early energy is dissipated via a delightfully melodic Andersen solo, the bassist handing over to France whose tenor solo has something of an anthemic quality, which then carries over into a final passage featuring Iles’ soaring trumpet against the lush backdrop of the strings. The richness of the arrangement is a reflection of Bailey’s love of art and nature.

The second suite, this time featuring Arguelles, commences with “White Day”, the title not derived from snowfall but from the prospect of “a big white blinding new day, a blanc canvas”. Bailey’s guitar introduces the piece which is played by a sextet also featuring Arguelles, Iles, France, Jackson and Roberts, plus strings. Bailey praises Arguelles for the technical facility of his playing and “the sheer quality of his ideas”. These qualities, apparent throughout the saxophonist’s distinguished career, are manifested here as he trades solos with Bailey with Arguelles’ playing helping to propel the guitarist to new heights. The other musicians also impress in a typically thoughtful and characterful ensemble arrangement.

“Oneiric III” is the penultimate of the improvised interludes, again performed by the trio of Arguelles, Bailey and Roberts. The saxophonist’s probings, at first tentative but then increasingly confident and garrulous, are faithfully shadowed by Bailey and Roberts with the piece ending with a bout of authentic free playing.

The title of “Shivering Sky” comes not from a storm but “watching the clouds, birds and other non grounded things move slowly across the sky”. From this came the observation that behind the blue is black space, a shiver inducing thought. Played by jazz sextet plus strings the piece has an appropriately airy quality and incorporates a burnished, magisterial trumpet solo from Iles.
Meanwhile Arguelles’ contribution as a soloist is also hugely impressive

“Oneiric IV” is the last of the improvised episodes and introduces a different combination of instruments as Bailey and Arguelles are joined by Iles on trumpet and Jackson on double bass, these two given considerable prominence in the ensuing musical conversation.

“To Sleep Perchance To Dream” takes its title from the well known Shakespearian quote (from Hamlet) and ties in directly with Bailey’s concept of the Oneiric world where even death may not guarantee relief from human suffering. Consequently there’s a subtly melancholic quality about a highly effective arrangement featuring Arguelles’ gently keening soprano sax alongside richly layered strings.

“Feelings In Dusk” is another of Bailey’s tunes with its roots in nature, in this case the unity between colour, light, smell and the stillness of the air at dusk in the countryside of Northern England. A colourful but subtle arrangement attempts to express these sensory pleasures with the solos shared between Arguelles on soprano and Iles on muted trumpet.

The final piece, “Sunrise With Sea Monsters” is inspired by an unfinished painting by J.M.W. Turner and the range of unrealised possibilities that the work invokes. A vibrant arrangement helps to ensure that the album ends on an upbeat note with solos coming from France and Arguelles in the first phase of the piece. A passage of unaccompanied guitar from Bailey then leads into a quieter second half featuring Arguelles’ oboe like soprano, plus a greater role for the strings

“Oneiric Sounds” has clearly been a labour of love for Bailey and, on the whole, the album works very well. The compositions are consistently interesting and include many influences ranging from jazz to folk to contemporary classical music and the arrangements have been painstakingly prepared. All the musicians play well with the two star guests, Arguelles and Andersen,  both making massive contributions. Bailey himself is a relatively low key presence, he takes comparatively few solos, but nevertheless his guitar is right at the heart of the music.

Some listeners may find “Oneiric Sounds” a little bloodless – there’s little conventional jazz swing- and the overall concept a little too lofty. I have to admit that there were occasions when I found the strings a little too distracting or cloying, notably on “Grize Dale” which would have worked far better as a simple duet between Bailey and Andersen.

However “Oneiric Sounds” has much to recommend it and the positives far outweigh the negatives. For many listeners the presence of Andersen and Arguelles alone will be enough with many of the album’s best moments coming from them.

“Oneiric Sounds” is available from;

https://www.johnbaileymusic.co.uk/

http://www.john-bailey-music.bandcamp.com/album/oneiric-sounds

Oneiric Sounds

John Bailey

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Oneiric Sounds

"Oneiric Sounds" has clearly been a labour of love for Bailey. The compositions are consistently interesting and include many influences ranging from jazz to folk to contemporary classical music.

John Bailey

“Oneiric Sounds”

(Outhouse Records OUTHOUSE 03)

John Bailey is a Lancashire based guitarist and composer who holds an MA in Jazz Performance from the Leeds College of Music. Born in Huddersfield Bailey first played in heavy metal bands before turning to jazz and classical music.  He performs regularly in the North of England with his trio and quartet and has also toured with the operatic tenor Russell Watson and worked with Sting on the latter’s “The Last Ship” project.

“Oneiric Sounds” is Bailey’s third album as a leader and his most ambitious work to date. It follows two earlier small group recordings, “Black Ship, Bright Sea” and “Heart Horizons”.

Now, I have to admit that before this album dropped through my letterbox I’d never heard of John Bailey, but anybody who can persuade such jazz heavyweights as British saxophonist Julian Arguelles and Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen to appear on his album is definitely worth paying attention to.

Bailey’s two star guests don’t actually play together. Each appears on a separate suite of music recorded at different sessions. The movements of each suite are then punctuated by four improvised passages featuring Bailey, Arguelles and others under catch all title “Oneiric”.

Besides Bailey, Andersen and Arguelles the recording also features the talents of Richard Iles (flugelhorn, trumpet), Tim France (tenor sax), Garry Jackson (electric & acoustic bass), Simon Chalk (violin), Mark Chivers (viola) and Nick Stringfellow (cello). Drumming duties are shared by Richard Kass, who performed on the Andersen session, and Eryl Roberts who performed alongside Arguelles.

Bailey says of the album title;
“The word ‘Oneiric’ means ‘dream like. When I was conceiving the album I had no really strong angle from which I was working. The more I thought about the music the more I slipped into a dream world where meanings, intent and strange threads of dialogue which were rooted in perception came together. I found myself trying to transcribe the architecture of my dream world, mostly waking dreams and unusual experiential things.”.

The music is heavily influenced by the films of Andrei Tarkovsky and also the art of Albrecht Durer, particularly his depictions of the natural world. Regarding these sources of inspiration Bailey comments;
“I should mention here with absolute honesty that I discovered relationships between Tarkovsky and Durer after I had come to both of them independently of one another and found that Tarkovsky actually referenced Durer in one or two of his films. I feel that this album is, for me, the soundtrack that accompanies that relationship, and their relationship to me.”

Bailey’s notes in the press release that accompanies this album shed additional light on the inspirations behind the individual tracks while fellow guitarist Carl Orr’s succinct album liner notes provide further illumination from a peer’s perspective.

The album commences with “The Large Turf”, a piece named after a Durer painting and played by a quintet of Bailey, Andersen, Iles, France and Kass. It also features the three string players, Chalk, Chivers and Stringfellow who add both folk and classical elements to the music. The piece is notable for an exceptional double bass solo from Andersen that combines a huge tone with an acute melodic sense and a formidable dexterity. Andersen is one of the world’s greatest, and most recognisable, double bass soloists and he’s in terrific form here. Bailey, playing a solid bodied classical guitar also impresses as does the arrangement as a whole, with the playing of Iles also hinting at the influence of the Northern brass band tradition.

Played by the same combination of musicians the title of “The Human Trap” references the Peter Breugel painting “Winter Landscape With Skaters and a Bird Trap”. Breugel’s work prompted Bailey to reflect upon the fragility of human life and man’s role in the context of nature. The music is suitably panoramic in scope and remarkably rich in terms of colour and texture. Iles’ flugelhorn playing has something of the majesty of Kenny Wheeler about it and France also weighs in with a succinct, carefully constructed tenor solo. Bailey also allows himself some solo space with a flowing guitar solo possessed of a crystalline beauty. But there’s also a drama about the piece as a whole that reflects the savage beauty of Breugel’s landscape.

The brief “Oneiric 1” is the first of the four improvised pieces and here features a trio of Bailey, Arguelles and Roberts. Arguelles specialises on soprano saxophone throughout the album and here his dancing, spiralling arabesques are complemented by Bailey’s nimble guitar phrases and Roberts’ astute percussive shadings.

“Grize Dale”, named after that location in the Lake District is a beautiful dialogue between Bailey and Andersen with the two main protagonists sometimes augmented by sweeping string textures courtesy of Chalk, Chivers and Stringfellow. For me, the strings are something of a syrupy distraction, the real heart of the piece, and thus its chief treasure, is the central dialogue between Bailey and Andersen with its combination of jazz, folk and classical influences. It’s sometimes reminiscent of Andersen’s work with guitarist Ralph Towner on the 1993 ECM album “If You Look Far Enough”, credited to the pair plus percussionist Nana Vasconcelos.

Durer’s Vision” is inspired by the painter’s work “Dream Vision” with its images of apocalyptic floods. Played by jazz quintet and strings the piece has a restlessness and urgency about it with Iles’ trumpet and France’s tenor playing prominent roles in the arrangement. Andersen delivers another exceptional solo, this time darker in tone, accompanied by Bailey’s cleanly picked guitar and the insistent tapping of Kass’ cymbals. Bailey then embarks upon a solo of his own before handing over to Iles on Harmon muted trumpet.

“Oneiric II” is the second of the improvised fragments, again delivered by the trio of Bailey, Arguelles and Roberts. The owl like hooting of Arguelles’ soprano is shadowed by Bailey’s slippery guitar lines and Roberts’ always apposite drum commentary.

“You Be The Wolf” is the last movement of the suite featuring Andersen and takes its title from Bailey’s young daughter and the childhood game in which she wanted her father to ‘be the wolf’ and chase her. The music reflects Bailey’s musings on the freedom of a child’s imagination and the later compromises that child will have to make to become an accepted member of adult society. Kass’s cymbals introduce the piece, again played by jazz quintet and strings, with the opening passages expressing something of the urgency implied in the title. The arrangement is characteristically rich and full of colour. Something of the early energy is dissipated via a delightfully melodic Andersen solo, the bassist handing over to France whose tenor solo has something of an anthemic quality, which then carries over into a final passage featuring Iles’ soaring trumpet against the lush backdrop of the strings. The richness of the arrangement is a reflection of Bailey’s love of art and nature.

The second suite, this time featuring Arguelles, commences with “White Day”, the title not derived from snowfall but from the prospect of “a big white blinding new day, a blanc canvas”. Bailey’s guitar introduces the piece which is played by a sextet also featuring Arguelles, Iles, France, Jackson and Roberts, plus strings. Bailey praises Arguelles for the technical facility of his playing and “the sheer quality of his ideas”. These qualities, apparent throughout the saxophonist’s distinguished career, are manifested here as he trades solos with Bailey with Arguelles’ playing helping to propel the guitarist to new heights. The other musicians also impress in a typically thoughtful and characterful ensemble arrangement.

“Oneiric III” is the penultimate of the improvised interludes, again performed by the trio of Arguelles, Bailey and Roberts. The saxophonist’s probings, at first tentative but then increasingly confident and garrulous, are faithfully shadowed by Bailey and Roberts with the piece ending with a bout of authentic free playing.

The title of “Shivering Sky” comes not from a storm but “watching the clouds, birds and other non grounded things move slowly across the sky”. From this came the observation that behind the blue is black space, a shiver inducing thought. Played by jazz sextet plus strings the piece has an appropriately airy quality and incorporates a burnished, magisterial trumpet solo from Iles.
Meanwhile Arguelles’ contribution as a soloist is also hugely impressive

“Oneiric IV” is the last of the improvised episodes and introduces a different combination of instruments as Bailey and Arguelles are joined by Iles on trumpet and Jackson on double bass, these two given considerable prominence in the ensuing musical conversation.

“To Sleep Perchance To Dream” takes its title from the well known Shakespearian quote (from Hamlet) and ties in directly with Bailey’s concept of the Oneiric world where even death may not guarantee relief from human suffering. Consequently there’s a subtly melancholic quality about a highly effective arrangement featuring Arguelles’ gently keening soprano sax alongside richly layered strings.

“Feelings In Dusk” is another of Bailey’s tunes with its roots in nature, in this case the unity between colour, light, smell and the stillness of the air at dusk in the countryside of Northern England. A colourful but subtle arrangement attempts to express these sensory pleasures with the solos shared between Arguelles on soprano and Iles on muted trumpet.

The final piece, “Sunrise With Sea Monsters” is inspired by an unfinished painting by J.M.W. Turner and the range of unrealised possibilities that the work invokes. A vibrant arrangement helps to ensure that the album ends on an upbeat note with solos coming from France and Arguelles in the first phase of the piece. A passage of unaccompanied guitar from Bailey then leads into a quieter second half featuring Arguelles’ oboe like soprano, plus a greater role for the strings

“Oneiric Sounds” has clearly been a labour of love for Bailey and, on the whole, the album works very well. The compositions are consistently interesting and include many influences ranging from jazz to folk to contemporary classical music and the arrangements have been painstakingly prepared. All the musicians play well with the two star guests, Arguelles and Andersen,  both making massive contributions. Bailey himself is a relatively low key presence, he takes comparatively few solos, but nevertheless his guitar is right at the heart of the music.

Some listeners may find “Oneiric Sounds” a little bloodless – there’s little conventional jazz swing- and the overall concept a little too lofty. I have to admit that there were occasions when I found the strings a little too distracting or cloying, notably on “Grize Dale” which would have worked far better as a simple duet between Bailey and Andersen.

However “Oneiric Sounds” has much to recommend it and the positives far outweigh the negatives. For many listeners the presence of Andersen and Arguelles alone will be enough with many of the album’s best moments coming from them.

“Oneiric Sounds” is available from;

https://www.johnbaileymusic.co.uk/

http://www.john-bailey-music.bandcamp.com/album/oneiric-sounds

Nik Bartsch’s Ronin - Awase Rating: 4 out of 5 Singularly original music that is superbly played and produced. Bartsch has developed a strand of music that is undoubtedly his own.

Nik Bartsch’s Ronin

“Awase”

(ECM Records ECM 2603)

Nik Bartsch, born 1971, is a Swiss pianist and composer based in Zurich. He studied piano and clarinet as a child before concentrating on linguistics, philosophy and musicology during his time at a student at Zurich University.

Strongly influenced by minimalist and avant garde composers such as Steve Reich, John Cage and Morton Feldman Bartsch formed his first group, Mobile, in 2001, releasing the album “Ritual Groove Music” on the Tonus Music record label, the first of six recordings for the Bern based company.

In 2006 Bartsch signed to the prestigious Munich based label ECM which increased his profile considerably and transformed him into a significant presence on the international jazz scene. “Awase” is his sixth album for the label and represents a continuation of the unique musical path he has been exploring since 2001.

Bartsch’s music operates at the interface of jazz and contemporary classical music with minimalism a clearly discernible influence. The title of that first album, “Ritual Groove Music”, is both highly descriptive, and something of a mission statement. There’s a strong air of spirituality about Bartsch’s music, which has sometimes been described as “Zen Funk”. His compositions evolve slowly and organically, making use of recurring, but subtly mutating, grooves and motifs. Nothing is rushed, giving the music a meditative quality that many listeners find to be strangely beautiful.

Bartsch’s main creative outlets are the groups Ronin and Mobile, the two outfits representing different ways of interpreting Bartsch’s compositions. Ronin is the “Zen Funk” outlet and currently features the enigmatically named Sha (born Stefan Haselbacher) on alto sax and clarinet, Thomy Jordi on four string electric bass guitar and the long serving Kaspar Rast, who has worked with Bartsch since the début, on drums. Previous members of the group, hitherto a five piece, have included Bjorn Meyer on electric six string bass and Andy Pupato on percussion.

Meanwhile Mobile is a wholly acoustic unit that currently includes Sha and Rast plus percussionist Nicolas Stocker. The group sometimes operates as Mobile Extended with the addition of a string quintet featuring two cellos. As the shared personnel might suggest there are many similarities between Ronin and Mobile with several of Bartsch’s pieces being interpreted by both groups. Indeed Bartsch himself has said;
“We’ve always taken the position that the compositions can be played by both groups-Mobile or Ronin- to bring out different aspects of the music”.
Some pieces have been recorded by both groups, as is the case with some of the items on this recording.

Bartsch’s “modular” approach to music is reflected in his titles, each piece is a “Modul” with its own specific number. This ascetic, intellectual, purely functional approach to tune titling is designed to focus the listener’s attention on the structure and spirituality of the music with the composer eschewing descriptive titles that might affect the interpretation of the music, presumably by both his fellow players and his listeners.

Meanwhile the album title “Awase” is a term derived from the martial art of Aikido and means “moving together”, an apt description of Ronin’s collective ethos.

Now, I’ll admit to not always quite “getting” Nik Bartsch. I’ve heard some of his earlier albums and found them a little too repetitive for my tastes, although there’s no denying that he has developed a unique and very personal sound.

However a brief solo piano performance from the man at Union Chapel, Islington as part of the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival was utterly compelling and has forced me to look at Bartch’s music with a fresh eye and to listen with a more open ear. My account of that London performance can be read as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-saturday-november-18th-2017/

Turning now to the new album which commences with “Modul 60”, a piece previously recorded by the Mobile Extended ensemble on the 2015 album “Continuum”. The composer says of the piece;
“When we did ‘60’ with Mobile I was hearing it in a very chamber music way and it radiated a sort of bitter-sweet atmosphere. With Ronin it has a sparseness, an emptiness and a roughness that I really like. In the studio Manfred (Eicher,  label boss and producer) and I had the idea that it would be nice to play it as a sort of ‘quote’ bringing the story forward from ‘Continuum’. So this new version starts around the middle of the composition”.
At a little over five minutes in length the piece is a good, and eminently accessible, introduction to the Ronin sound. It develops out of Bartsch’s almost subliminal interior piano scrapings and economical chording to embrace the softly plaintive cry of Sha’s alto sax as Rast adds atmospheric, and occasionally dramatic, percussion.

At over eighteen minutes in length “Modul 58” is the album’s ‘magnum opus’.  Bartsch explains that “In Ronin terms it’s built upon a simple pattern cycle, just five against seven, and the same motif even, but it created such an interesting form”. He also mentions the influence of the tribal music styles that he and the group admire and describes the piece as “a kind of metric mantra which keeps loading itself up until we get to the more open part. You can hear, almost ironically, the simplicity of the two rhythms but you cannot match them at the same time. In its direction and its energy this piece still feels new to me, although there is something about it that seems archaic.”
The first section continues the meditative mood established by the opening “Modul 60” as the sounds of Bartsch’s dampened piano strings – his work ‘under the lid’ is consistently atmospheric and inventive – combine with Rast’s percussion shadings and the whispering and keening of Sha’s alto. The piece then gathers momentum in the second section with the propulsive interlocking generated by piano, electric bass, bass clarinet and drums grooves showing just where that “Zen Funk” label came from; at times the rhythms are almost reminiscent of those generated by contemporary electronic dance music. The momentum is punctuated by shorter, quieter passages and instruments drop in and out of the mix – there’s a stunning passage of unaccompanied bass clarinet from Sha- but essentially the piece is all about forward motion and the listener can really immerse themselves in the groove – and even more so in live performances one would imagine. With Bartsch’s hypnotic piano motifs and Rast’s powerful drumming driving the band Ronin is capable of building up an impressive head of team, such is the relentlessness of the playing that older listeners may be reminded of a jazzier version of Neu!’s “Hallogallo”.

Calm is restored with Sha’s composition “A”, the first time one of his pieces has been included on a Ronin album. It builds gently from a circling motif featuring just the composer’s breathy alto and Bartsch’s piano, subsequently joined by bass and drums, that develops in the classic Ronin manner yet retains something of the simplicity and accessibility of a rock anthem, it’s certainly constructed around the same sort of dynamics.

The lengthy (thirteen minutes) “Modul 36” emerges from the gentle rumblings of the leader’s piano arpeggios with Bartsch subsequently joined in a compelling dialogue by Jordi’s melodic, guitar like electric bass. It’s a piece that was originally recorded for Ronin’s ECM début, “Stoa”, back in 2006 but here places a greater emphasis on the ensemble playing, Bartsch having been featured as a (relatively) conventional soloist on the earlier version.
“Yes, it was a conscious decision to choose this piece to mark this quartet album, but also as a kind of new beginning, and to show how things have developed. In terms of structure and detail the compositional aspects remain but the group feeling is very and the energy more voodoo-ish perhaps”.
And he’s right, once Jordi sets up a hypnotic groove the band play with the kind of feverish intensity associated with Miles Davis’ electric bands, yet sounding totally different. Sha’s shamanic reed incantations are particularly absorbing as the band grooves relentlessly behind him.

“Modul 34” was written back in 2002/3 yet receives its recorded première here. “Sometimes pieces just have to wait until they are ready – or we are ready” Bartsch explains, “part of the challenge with ‘34’ was not to allow it to become too busy on the one hand, or too formal on the other.”
Initially “34” sounds almost pastoral with its rippling piano arpeggios and circling bass clarinet motif but before too long the group are setting up a typically infectious groove that they proceed to develop and embellish with characteristic inventiveness. Again it’s a totally focussed ensemble performance with each member of the band fully attuned to Bartsch’s artistic vision and serving the music faithfully.

The album concludes with the eleven minute “Modul 59”, a more contemplative offering that bookends the album effectively. Here there’s a greater emphasis on atmosphere and gradual development but even so a groove emerges that is both propulsive and compulsive, this embellished by Sha’s melodic interjections. Bartsch himself says of the piece;
“It begins from basic ideas, in this case to do with triplets, and builds until it becomes a sort of polyrhythmic, polyphonic carpet of sound. We’ve rehearsed and developed it extensively, and it still keeps surprising us.”

Listening with fresh ears in the light of Bartsch’s performance at Union Chapel I found myself becoming increasingly absorbed in this music, and it’s certainly the most enjoyable Bartsch album that I’ve heard to date. There’s no doubt that the Swiss has developed a strand of music that is undoubtedly his own, rich, rhythmic and, almost despite the composer’s highly intellectual approach, highly accessible to a surprisingly large number of people.

It’s not jazz in the conventional sense, and in this regard will only suit so many ears, but there’s no doubt that this is singularly original music that is superbly played and produced. It’s distinctive enough and enjoyable enough to earn a recommendation from me, although I appreciate that it’s an album that may hold little appeal to some listeners. For myself I’m at last beginning to see the appeal of Bartsch’s brand of musical Marmite.

Nik Bartsch’s Ronin will play at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club on Monday, November 19th 2018 as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. Details here;

https://www.ronniescotts.co.uk/performances/view/4806-nik-bartschs-ronin

Awase

Nik Bartsch’s Ronin

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Awase

Singularly original music that is superbly played and produced. Bartsch has developed a strand of music that is undoubtedly his own.

Nik Bartsch’s Ronin

“Awase”

(ECM Records ECM 2603)

Nik Bartsch, born 1971, is a Swiss pianist and composer based in Zurich. He studied piano and clarinet as a child before concentrating on linguistics, philosophy and musicology during his time at a student at Zurich University.

Strongly influenced by minimalist and avant garde composers such as Steve Reich, John Cage and Morton Feldman Bartsch formed his first group, Mobile, in 2001, releasing the album “Ritual Groove Music” on the Tonus Music record label, the first of six recordings for the Bern based company.

In 2006 Bartsch signed to the prestigious Munich based label ECM which increased his profile considerably and transformed him into a significant presence on the international jazz scene. “Awase” is his sixth album for the label and represents a continuation of the unique musical path he has been exploring since 2001.

Bartsch’s music operates at the interface of jazz and contemporary classical music with minimalism a clearly discernible influence. The title of that first album, “Ritual Groove Music”, is both highly descriptive, and something of a mission statement. There’s a strong air of spirituality about Bartsch’s music, which has sometimes been described as “Zen Funk”. His compositions evolve slowly and organically, making use of recurring, but subtly mutating, grooves and motifs. Nothing is rushed, giving the music a meditative quality that many listeners find to be strangely beautiful.

Bartsch’s main creative outlets are the groups Ronin and Mobile, the two outfits representing different ways of interpreting Bartsch’s compositions. Ronin is the “Zen Funk” outlet and currently features the enigmatically named Sha (born Stefan Haselbacher) on alto sax and clarinet, Thomy Jordi on four string electric bass guitar and the long serving Kaspar Rast, who has worked with Bartsch since the début, on drums. Previous members of the group, hitherto a five piece, have included Bjorn Meyer on electric six string bass and Andy Pupato on percussion.

Meanwhile Mobile is a wholly acoustic unit that currently includes Sha and Rast plus percussionist Nicolas Stocker. The group sometimes operates as Mobile Extended with the addition of a string quintet featuring two cellos. As the shared personnel might suggest there are many similarities between Ronin and Mobile with several of Bartsch’s pieces being interpreted by both groups. Indeed Bartsch himself has said;
“We’ve always taken the position that the compositions can be played by both groups-Mobile or Ronin- to bring out different aspects of the music”.
Some pieces have been recorded by both groups, as is the case with some of the items on this recording.

Bartsch’s “modular” approach to music is reflected in his titles, each piece is a “Modul” with its own specific number. This ascetic, intellectual, purely functional approach to tune titling is designed to focus the listener’s attention on the structure and spirituality of the music with the composer eschewing descriptive titles that might affect the interpretation of the music, presumably by both his fellow players and his listeners.

Meanwhile the album title “Awase” is a term derived from the martial art of Aikido and means “moving together”, an apt description of Ronin’s collective ethos.

Now, I’ll admit to not always quite “getting” Nik Bartsch. I’ve heard some of his earlier albums and found them a little too repetitive for my tastes, although there’s no denying that he has developed a unique and very personal sound.

However a brief solo piano performance from the man at Union Chapel, Islington as part of the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival was utterly compelling and has forced me to look at Bartch’s music with a fresh eye and to listen with a more open ear. My account of that London performance can be read as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-saturday-november-18th-2017/

Turning now to the new album which commences with “Modul 60”, a piece previously recorded by the Mobile Extended ensemble on the 2015 album “Continuum”. The composer says of the piece;
“When we did ‘60’ with Mobile I was hearing it in a very chamber music way and it radiated a sort of bitter-sweet atmosphere. With Ronin it has a sparseness, an emptiness and a roughness that I really like. In the studio Manfred (Eicher,  label boss and producer) and I had the idea that it would be nice to play it as a sort of ‘quote’ bringing the story forward from ‘Continuum’. So this new version starts around the middle of the composition”.
At a little over five minutes in length the piece is a good, and eminently accessible, introduction to the Ronin sound. It develops out of Bartsch’s almost subliminal interior piano scrapings and economical chording to embrace the softly plaintive cry of Sha’s alto sax as Rast adds atmospheric, and occasionally dramatic, percussion.

At over eighteen minutes in length “Modul 58” is the album’s ‘magnum opus’.  Bartsch explains that “In Ronin terms it’s built upon a simple pattern cycle, just five against seven, and the same motif even, but it created such an interesting form”. He also mentions the influence of the tribal music styles that he and the group admire and describes the piece as “a kind of metric mantra which keeps loading itself up until we get to the more open part. You can hear, almost ironically, the simplicity of the two rhythms but you cannot match them at the same time. In its direction and its energy this piece still feels new to me, although there is something about it that seems archaic.”
The first section continues the meditative mood established by the opening “Modul 60” as the sounds of Bartsch’s dampened piano strings – his work ‘under the lid’ is consistently atmospheric and inventive – combine with Rast’s percussion shadings and the whispering and keening of Sha’s alto. The piece then gathers momentum in the second section with the propulsive interlocking generated by piano, electric bass, bass clarinet and drums grooves showing just where that “Zen Funk” label came from; at times the rhythms are almost reminiscent of those generated by contemporary electronic dance music. The momentum is punctuated by shorter, quieter passages and instruments drop in and out of the mix – there’s a stunning passage of unaccompanied bass clarinet from Sha- but essentially the piece is all about forward motion and the listener can really immerse themselves in the groove – and even more so in live performances one would imagine. With Bartsch’s hypnotic piano motifs and Rast’s powerful drumming driving the band Ronin is capable of building up an impressive head of team, such is the relentlessness of the playing that older listeners may be reminded of a jazzier version of Neu!’s “Hallogallo”.

Calm is restored with Sha’s composition “A”, the first time one of his pieces has been included on a Ronin album. It builds gently from a circling motif featuring just the composer’s breathy alto and Bartsch’s piano, subsequently joined by bass and drums, that develops in the classic Ronin manner yet retains something of the simplicity and accessibility of a rock anthem, it’s certainly constructed around the same sort of dynamics.

The lengthy (thirteen minutes) “Modul 36” emerges from the gentle rumblings of the leader’s piano arpeggios with Bartsch subsequently joined in a compelling dialogue by Jordi’s melodic, guitar like electric bass. It’s a piece that was originally recorded for Ronin’s ECM début, “Stoa”, back in 2006 but here places a greater emphasis on the ensemble playing, Bartsch having been featured as a (relatively) conventional soloist on the earlier version.
“Yes, it was a conscious decision to choose this piece to mark this quartet album, but also as a kind of new beginning, and to show how things have developed. In terms of structure and detail the compositional aspects remain but the group feeling is very and the energy more voodoo-ish perhaps”.
And he’s right, once Jordi sets up a hypnotic groove the band play with the kind of feverish intensity associated with Miles Davis’ electric bands, yet sounding totally different. Sha’s shamanic reed incantations are particularly absorbing as the band grooves relentlessly behind him.

“Modul 34” was written back in 2002/3 yet receives its recorded première here. “Sometimes pieces just have to wait until they are ready – or we are ready” Bartsch explains, “part of the challenge with ‘34’ was not to allow it to become too busy on the one hand, or too formal on the other.”
Initially “34” sounds almost pastoral with its rippling piano arpeggios and circling bass clarinet motif but before too long the group are setting up a typically infectious groove that they proceed to develop and embellish with characteristic inventiveness. Again it’s a totally focussed ensemble performance with each member of the band fully attuned to Bartsch’s artistic vision and serving the music faithfully.

The album concludes with the eleven minute “Modul 59”, a more contemplative offering that bookends the album effectively. Here there’s a greater emphasis on atmosphere and gradual development but even so a groove emerges that is both propulsive and compulsive, this embellished by Sha’s melodic interjections. Bartsch himself says of the piece;
“It begins from basic ideas, in this case to do with triplets, and builds until it becomes a sort of polyrhythmic, polyphonic carpet of sound. We’ve rehearsed and developed it extensively, and it still keeps surprising us.”

Listening with fresh ears in the light of Bartsch’s performance at Union Chapel I found myself becoming increasingly absorbed in this music, and it’s certainly the most enjoyable Bartsch album that I’ve heard to date. There’s no doubt that the Swiss has developed a strand of music that is undoubtedly his own, rich, rhythmic and, almost despite the composer’s highly intellectual approach, highly accessible to a surprisingly large number of people.

It’s not jazz in the conventional sense, and in this regard will only suit so many ears, but there’s no doubt that this is singularly original music that is superbly played and produced. It’s distinctive enough and enjoyable enough to earn a recommendation from me, although I appreciate that it’s an album that may hold little appeal to some listeners. For myself I’m at last beginning to see the appeal of Bartsch’s brand of musical Marmite.

Nik Bartsch’s Ronin will play at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club on Monday, November 19th 2018 as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. Details here;

https://www.ronniescotts.co.uk/performances/view/4806-nik-bartschs-ronin

Dave Manington’s Riff Raff - Challenger Deep Rating: 4 out of 5 Sometimes simple, sometimes complex, often playful but always interesting this is a well crafted selection of original songs and compositions that are superbly realised by Manington and his team.

Dave Manington’s Riff Raff

“Challenger Deep”

(Loop Records Loop 1030)

A somewhat belated review for this second album from bassist and composer Dave Manington’s sextet Riff Raff. “Challenger Deep” was released in May 2018 and represents the long awaited follow up to 2013’s “Hullabaloo”.

The personnel remains the same with the leader joined by vocalist and lyricist Brigitte Beraha plus the instrumentalists Tomas Challenger (tenor sax), Ivo Neame (keyboards), Rob Updegraff (guitar) and Tim Giles (drums, percussion). All are long term collaborators and Neame and Giles were also part of an earlier Dave Manington Quartet (also featuring saxophonist Mark Hanslip) that released the album “Headrush” on the Loop label back in 2008.

Manington is one of the great unsung heroes of British jazz, a founder member of the both the Loop and E17 jazz collectives and a prolific, versatile and much in demand sideman who has worked across a variety of musical genres ranging from jazz to rock and pop to TV and film soundtracks.

His jazz credits include recordings with Neame, saxophonists Tori Freestone and Tommy Andrews and with the groups The Button Band (led by guitarist and composer Andrew Button)  and Solstice, a co-operative sextet featuring Beraha and Freestone. He has also performed with a string of other famous saxophonists including Julian Arguelles, Marius Neset, Mark Lockheart, Tim Garland, Iain Ballamy, Tony Woods, Peter King and Alan Barnes plus pianist Gwilym Simcock, trumpeter Yazz Ahmed and vocalist and songwriter Gwyneth Herbert.

“Challenger Deep” builds upon the success of the earlier “Hullabaloo” as Riff Raff continue to hone an increasingly distinctive group sound with Neame this time abandoning acoustic piano altogether and concentrating solely on electric keyboards (Fender Rhodes, mellotron and Hammond organ). Of the nine new Manington compositions five feature the adventurous wordless vocalising of Beraha while a further four tracks are more conventional songs featuring lyrics written by the singer with Manington remarking;
“I first collaborated with Brigitte in 2008 for a Loop Collective Festival and she has been a member of the group and a trusted co-writer ever since, contributing beautiful lyrics to many of my compositions”.

Of the album itself Manington says;
This is my third album as a leader and I feel it’s the ultimate expression of my music. Shaped and led by my compositions, but with plenty of freedom to explore, the band now plays so well as a unit after five years together that we can push each other to the limits of our energy and creative powers”.

He emphasises the group’s “strongly unified band sound” and “creative rapport” and references the fact that he, Giles and Updegraff all went to school together and have thus been a rhythm section for over twenty years, this unit forming “the heart of the band”. Of the guitarist and drummer he eulogises; “between them they have a rich and diverse textural palette, high energy and powerful, always empathetic, never overwhelming, they are musicians of exceptional quality”.
That last phrase also applies to Riff Raff as a whole, the sextet is a superbly balanced unit that more than does justice to Manington’s rich, imaginative and varied compositions.

The album commences with “Dr. Octopus”, Manington’s tribute to the late, great Joe Zawinul, keyboard player, composer and co-founder of Weather Report. Manington’s liner notes shine a light on the provenance of each tune and he cites Weather Report as “one of my favourite bands and a big influence on me in my formative years”. Of the title he says ”I still find it incredible that Zawinul could play so many keyboard parts at once so I decided that he must have eight arms – like the baddie from Spiderman”.
It’s left to Neame to fulfil the Zawinul role in this multi-faceted composition that successfully homages Weather Report without ever sounding like them. Slavish copying or pastiche is not Manington’s style but his piece still successfully navigates its way through a variety of styles, moods and tempos in a way that Zawinul himself would have been proud of. The focus is largely on the ensemble sound and Riff Raff is particularly well balanced in this respect as Neame and Updegraff provide rich colours and textures and Maington and Giles provide the snappy propulsion. Beraha’s soaring wordless vocals provide a particularly distinctive component, sometimes sharing the melody line with Challenger’s saxophone, at other times exchanging phrases with it. The tenor man takes the only real solo of the piece as he stretches out incisively.

The title track is named after the ocean trench in the Pacific rather than after the group’s saxophonist, although I’ve often suggested to Tom that he should adopt “Challenger Deep” as a band name. Now his mate seems to have beaten him to it by using it for a composition. Manington speaks of the composition as being “more of a mood piece, with the low bass riff and slow, otherworldly melody trying to capture the strange beauty and calm of the deep ocean. Imagine all the weird fish and creatures unknown to science swimming past in the darkness.”
The introduction is suitably atmospheric with Challenger’s breathy tenor sax allied to Giles’  brushes and mallet rumbles and the spooky, deep sea sounds of Neame’s keyboards and Updegraff’s guitar FX. Gradually that melody emerges, underpinned by the leader’s bass and featuring Beraha’s floaty, wordless vocals. The leader allows himself some solo space with a melodic bass feature underpinned by Neame’s shimmering keyboards and Giles’ subtle but exotic drum and percussion sounds. Challenger then takes up the reins on tenor before Beraha’s voice heads another ensemble section, this followed by the sounds of Updegraff’s FX drenched guitar. Collectively the musicians conjure up the mysterious, deep ocean feel that Manington was looking for. This is colourful, richly textured music that is almost orchestral in its scope as the five instruments plus voice conjure a rich panoply of exotic and fascinating sounds.

“I like to take the listener on a journey, to tell a musical story” says Manington as he describes the aptly named “The Iliad”, a piece he also refers to as “a bit of an epic, written in several contrasting sections.” The piece is, indeed, suitably episodic, developing out of a funky Rhodes driven groove to embrace the kind of breezy wordless vocalising that Flora Purim brought to the first edition of Return to Forever. Updegraff then embarks on an engagingly rambling solo, sketching melodies above a still funky underlying groove. Then it’s the turn of Neame to stretch out on Rhodes, dovetailing neatly with Beraha’s vocals. Manington himself comes briefly to the fore and Updegraff cranks his guitar up once more just before the close. The underlying funkiness is a constant throughout and the blend of voice and instruments also reminded me at times of the much loved and much missed (at least by me) group Turning Point, led by another bassist, the late, great Jeff Clyne and featuring vocalist Pepi Lemer. Oh, god, was it nearly forty years ago?

Following the complexities of the opening three pieces the first song of the album, “Free Spirit”, comes as something of a breath of fresh air. Manington describes it as “one of the most direct, uncomplicated songs I’ve written” and also praises Beraha’s “fantastic heartfelt lyrics”. The composer states that he “decided not to bow to the temptation to over-arrange it” and the result is a piece that communicates through its economy and simplicity. Beraha sings her own words with great feeling, this allied to a high level of technical expertise. The intentionally sparse backing at first features only the sound of guitar, later joined by double bass and eventually drums. Neame’s keyboards only enter when Updegraff takes a gently meandering guitar solo. In the context of the album as a whole it’s a song that makes a considerable emotional impact.

It’s back to the compositional nitty gritty with “Prime Numbers”, a piece that Manington describes as being “based on a sequence of seven bars of 7/8 – also containing plenty of threes and fives”. Muso-speak aside it’s a perky and infectious piece that positively relishes in its complexities with a percolating groove and underlying vocal drone allowing Challenger the opportunity to stretch out with some urgency on spiky, belligerent sounding tenor as Neame alternates between Hammond and Rhodes, soloing on the latter.

The second song of the album, “Random Acts Of Kindness” was inspired by the online blog of the same name. Introduced by Giles’ colourful and distinctive percussion in conjunction with Challenger’s smoky tenor sax the piece has something of a Brazilian vibe; but overall it’s more oblique than the earlier “Free Spirit”, the unusual subject matter giving the piece more of an ‘art song’ feel. Beraha also deploys wordless vocals, combining well with both Manington and Challenger, but the instrumental honours go to Updegraff with a spiralling guitar solo in which he exhibits an admirable inventiveness and fluency.

“Dangerpig” takes its name from the superhero alter ego of Manington’s young son, Freddie. Introduced by Beraha’s pure wordless vocals in conjunction with Challenger’s sax and Giles’ brushed drums the piece eventually veers off into choppier waters, Neame’s Hammond leading the way. Giles’ propulsive grooves are overlain with bursts of almost free jazz noise with Beraha sometimes deploying extended vocal techniques as Neame conjures up a variety of dirty, unconventional sounds from his keyboards and Challenger blows some earthy tenor sax. I bet it goes down a storm, live.

Manington’s children also inspired the song “Thagomizer”. Asked by his kids to write a tune about dinosaurs the bassist came up with this piece named after “the spiky bit on the end of a Stegosaur’s tail”. It was left to Beraha to “rise to the challenge of writing lyrics about this prickly subject matter”. Surprisingly the singer was able to come up with something that works surprisingly well, her words also acting as an allegory for the divisions in contemporary society. There are further free-ish passages with the musicians summoning up an intriguing array of sounds from their instruments, with solo honours going to Manington with a brief bass cameo and Neame with an extended passage on twinkling Rhodes.

The closing track sees Manington returning to simpler virtues with a beautiful ballad – albeit in 5/4.
“I wrote some simple bass chords, but the song really came to life when Brigitte added her beautiful melancholic lyrics, and Tom his fantastic quirky saxophone solo” explains the composer. It’s difficult to disagree with his assessment on another intentionally simple arrangement that mirrors the earlier “Free Spirit”. Beraha first sings her words - which have a timeless, folk like quality about them - above the sound of the leader’s otherwise unaccompanied bass. In truth Challenger’s subsequent tenor solo is ultimately lovely and lyrical rather than quirky, some of the most beautiful playing he has ever committed to disc. Meanwhile Neame and Updegraff offer highly effective and atmospheric soundscaping. One can imagine this piece being played as a calming encore, sending the audience home relaxed and happy, despite the apparent sadness of the lyrics.

This second Riff Raff album has been a long time coming but it’s been well worth the wait. There’s seventy minutes of music here but the inventive and colourful compositions and arrangements, allied to some excellent playing, ensure that the listener’s attention rarely flags. Sometimes simple, sometimes complex, often playful but always interesting “Challenger Deep” is a well crafted selection of original songs and compositions that are superbly realised by Manington and his team who bring a real orchestral quality to the music of the sextet, a trait shared by Weather Report. Yet despite the comparisons with WR and RTF Riff Raff’s sound is still unmistakably British, thanks in part to Beraha’s Norma Winstone like vocals and lyrics, Winstone surely being another touchstone for this band. With “Challenger Deep” Manington and friends have come up with another album to be proud of.

Challenger Deep

Dave Manington’s Riff Raff

Monday, August 06, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Challenger Deep

Sometimes simple, sometimes complex, often playful but always interesting this is a well crafted selection of original songs and compositions that are superbly realised by Manington and his team.

Dave Manington’s Riff Raff

“Challenger Deep”

(Loop Records Loop 1030)

A somewhat belated review for this second album from bassist and composer Dave Manington’s sextet Riff Raff. “Challenger Deep” was released in May 2018 and represents the long awaited follow up to 2013’s “Hullabaloo”.

The personnel remains the same with the leader joined by vocalist and lyricist Brigitte Beraha plus the instrumentalists Tomas Challenger (tenor sax), Ivo Neame (keyboards), Rob Updegraff (guitar) and Tim Giles (drums, percussion). All are long term collaborators and Neame and Giles were also part of an earlier Dave Manington Quartet (also featuring saxophonist Mark Hanslip) that released the album “Headrush” on the Loop label back in 2008.

Manington is one of the great unsung heroes of British jazz, a founder member of the both the Loop and E17 jazz collectives and a prolific, versatile and much in demand sideman who has worked across a variety of musical genres ranging from jazz to rock and pop to TV and film soundtracks.

His jazz credits include recordings with Neame, saxophonists Tori Freestone and Tommy Andrews and with the groups The Button Band (led by guitarist and composer Andrew Button)  and Solstice, a co-operative sextet featuring Beraha and Freestone. He has also performed with a string of other famous saxophonists including Julian Arguelles, Marius Neset, Mark Lockheart, Tim Garland, Iain Ballamy, Tony Woods, Peter King and Alan Barnes plus pianist Gwilym Simcock, trumpeter Yazz Ahmed and vocalist and songwriter Gwyneth Herbert.

“Challenger Deep” builds upon the success of the earlier “Hullabaloo” as Riff Raff continue to hone an increasingly distinctive group sound with Neame this time abandoning acoustic piano altogether and concentrating solely on electric keyboards (Fender Rhodes, mellotron and Hammond organ). Of the nine new Manington compositions five feature the adventurous wordless vocalising of Beraha while a further four tracks are more conventional songs featuring lyrics written by the singer with Manington remarking;
“I first collaborated with Brigitte in 2008 for a Loop Collective Festival and she has been a member of the group and a trusted co-writer ever since, contributing beautiful lyrics to many of my compositions”.

Of the album itself Manington says;
This is my third album as a leader and I feel it’s the ultimate expression of my music. Shaped and led by my compositions, but with plenty of freedom to explore, the band now plays so well as a unit after five years together that we can push each other to the limits of our energy and creative powers”.

He emphasises the group’s “strongly unified band sound” and “creative rapport” and references the fact that he, Giles and Updegraff all went to school together and have thus been a rhythm section for over twenty years, this unit forming “the heart of the band”. Of the guitarist and drummer he eulogises; “between them they have a rich and diverse textural palette, high energy and powerful, always empathetic, never overwhelming, they are musicians of exceptional quality”.
That last phrase also applies to Riff Raff as a whole, the sextet is a superbly balanced unit that more than does justice to Manington’s rich, imaginative and varied compositions.

The album commences with “Dr. Octopus”, Manington’s tribute to the late, great Joe Zawinul, keyboard player, composer and co-founder of Weather Report. Manington’s liner notes shine a light on the provenance of each tune and he cites Weather Report as “one of my favourite bands and a big influence on me in my formative years”. Of the title he says ”I still find it incredible that Zawinul could play so many keyboard parts at once so I decided that he must have eight arms – like the baddie from Spiderman”.
It’s left to Neame to fulfil the Zawinul role in this multi-faceted composition that successfully homages Weather Report without ever sounding like them. Slavish copying or pastiche is not Manington’s style but his piece still successfully navigates its way through a variety of styles, moods and tempos in a way that Zawinul himself would have been proud of. The focus is largely on the ensemble sound and Riff Raff is particularly well balanced in this respect as Neame and Updegraff provide rich colours and textures and Maington and Giles provide the snappy propulsion. Beraha’s soaring wordless vocals provide a particularly distinctive component, sometimes sharing the melody line with Challenger’s saxophone, at other times exchanging phrases with it. The tenor man takes the only real solo of the piece as he stretches out incisively.

The title track is named after the ocean trench in the Pacific rather than after the group’s saxophonist, although I’ve often suggested to Tom that he should adopt “Challenger Deep” as a band name. Now his mate seems to have beaten him to it by using it for a composition. Manington speaks of the composition as being “more of a mood piece, with the low bass riff and slow, otherworldly melody trying to capture the strange beauty and calm of the deep ocean. Imagine all the weird fish and creatures unknown to science swimming past in the darkness.”
The introduction is suitably atmospheric with Challenger’s breathy tenor sax allied to Giles’  brushes and mallet rumbles and the spooky, deep sea sounds of Neame’s keyboards and Updegraff’s guitar FX. Gradually that melody emerges, underpinned by the leader’s bass and featuring Beraha’s floaty, wordless vocals. The leader allows himself some solo space with a melodic bass feature underpinned by Neame’s shimmering keyboards and Giles’ subtle but exotic drum and percussion sounds. Challenger then takes up the reins on tenor before Beraha’s voice heads another ensemble section, this followed by the sounds of Updegraff’s FX drenched guitar. Collectively the musicians conjure up the mysterious, deep ocean feel that Manington was looking for. This is colourful, richly textured music that is almost orchestral in its scope as the five instruments plus voice conjure a rich panoply of exotic and fascinating sounds.

“I like to take the listener on a journey, to tell a musical story” says Manington as he describes the aptly named “The Iliad”, a piece he also refers to as “a bit of an epic, written in several contrasting sections.” The piece is, indeed, suitably episodic, developing out of a funky Rhodes driven groove to embrace the kind of breezy wordless vocalising that Flora Purim brought to the first edition of Return to Forever. Updegraff then embarks on an engagingly rambling solo, sketching melodies above a still funky underlying groove. Then it’s the turn of Neame to stretch out on Rhodes, dovetailing neatly with Beraha’s vocals. Manington himself comes briefly to the fore and Updegraff cranks his guitar up once more just before the close. The underlying funkiness is a constant throughout and the blend of voice and instruments also reminded me at times of the much loved and much missed (at least by me) group Turning Point, led by another bassist, the late, great Jeff Clyne and featuring vocalist Pepi Lemer. Oh, god, was it nearly forty years ago?

Following the complexities of the opening three pieces the first song of the album, “Free Spirit”, comes as something of a breath of fresh air. Manington describes it as “one of the most direct, uncomplicated songs I’ve written” and also praises Beraha’s “fantastic heartfelt lyrics”. The composer states that he “decided not to bow to the temptation to over-arrange it” and the result is a piece that communicates through its economy and simplicity. Beraha sings her own words with great feeling, this allied to a high level of technical expertise. The intentionally sparse backing at first features only the sound of guitar, later joined by double bass and eventually drums. Neame’s keyboards only enter when Updegraff takes a gently meandering guitar solo. In the context of the album as a whole it’s a song that makes a considerable emotional impact.

It’s back to the compositional nitty gritty with “Prime Numbers”, a piece that Manington describes as being “based on a sequence of seven bars of 7/8 – also containing plenty of threes and fives”. Muso-speak aside it’s a perky and infectious piece that positively relishes in its complexities with a percolating groove and underlying vocal drone allowing Challenger the opportunity to stretch out with some urgency on spiky, belligerent sounding tenor as Neame alternates between Hammond and Rhodes, soloing on the latter.

The second song of the album, “Random Acts Of Kindness” was inspired by the online blog of the same name. Introduced by Giles’ colourful and distinctive percussion in conjunction with Challenger’s smoky tenor sax the piece has something of a Brazilian vibe; but overall it’s more oblique than the earlier “Free Spirit”, the unusual subject matter giving the piece more of an ‘art song’ feel. Beraha also deploys wordless vocals, combining well with both Manington and Challenger, but the instrumental honours go to Updegraff with a spiralling guitar solo in which he exhibits an admirable inventiveness and fluency.

“Dangerpig” takes its name from the superhero alter ego of Manington’s young son, Freddie. Introduced by Beraha’s pure wordless vocals in conjunction with Challenger’s sax and Giles’ brushed drums the piece eventually veers off into choppier waters, Neame’s Hammond leading the way. Giles’ propulsive grooves are overlain with bursts of almost free jazz noise with Beraha sometimes deploying extended vocal techniques as Neame conjures up a variety of dirty, unconventional sounds from his keyboards and Challenger blows some earthy tenor sax. I bet it goes down a storm, live.

Manington’s children also inspired the song “Thagomizer”. Asked by his kids to write a tune about dinosaurs the bassist came up with this piece named after “the spiky bit on the end of a Stegosaur’s tail”. It was left to Beraha to “rise to the challenge of writing lyrics about this prickly subject matter”. Surprisingly the singer was able to come up with something that works surprisingly well, her words also acting as an allegory for the divisions in contemporary society. There are further free-ish passages with the musicians summoning up an intriguing array of sounds from their instruments, with solo honours going to Manington with a brief bass cameo and Neame with an extended passage on twinkling Rhodes.

The closing track sees Manington returning to simpler virtues with a beautiful ballad – albeit in 5/4.
“I wrote some simple bass chords, but the song really came to life when Brigitte added her beautiful melancholic lyrics, and Tom his fantastic quirky saxophone solo” explains the composer. It’s difficult to disagree with his assessment on another intentionally simple arrangement that mirrors the earlier “Free Spirit”. Beraha first sings her words - which have a timeless, folk like quality about them - above the sound of the leader’s otherwise unaccompanied bass. In truth Challenger’s subsequent tenor solo is ultimately lovely and lyrical rather than quirky, some of the most beautiful playing he has ever committed to disc. Meanwhile Neame and Updegraff offer highly effective and atmospheric soundscaping. One can imagine this piece being played as a calming encore, sending the audience home relaxed and happy, despite the apparent sadness of the lyrics.

This second Riff Raff album has been a long time coming but it’s been well worth the wait. There’s seventy minutes of music here but the inventive and colourful compositions and arrangements, allied to some excellent playing, ensure that the listener’s attention rarely flags. Sometimes simple, sometimes complex, often playful but always interesting “Challenger Deep” is a well crafted selection of original songs and compositions that are superbly realised by Manington and his team who bring a real orchestral quality to the music of the sextet, a trait shared by Weather Report. Yet despite the comparisons with WR and RTF Riff Raff’s sound is still unmistakably British, thanks in part to Beraha’s Norma Winstone like vocals and lyrics, Winstone surely being another touchstone for this band. With “Challenger Deep” Manington and friends have come up with another album to be proud of.

Julian Arguelles - Tonadas Rating: 4-5 out of 5 The writing is rich and melodic, sometimes complex but always engaging, and the standard of playing from all four musicians is exceptional. Another milestone in Arguelles’ glittering career.

Julian Arguelles

“Tonadas”

(Edition Records EDN1116)

The Birmingham born saxophonist Julian Arguelles first came to prominence in the late 1980s/early 1990s as a member of the seminal Loose Tubes, the young twenty plus ensemble that also spawned such significant British musicians as Django Bates, Iain Ballamy, Mark Lockheart and Martin France.

Like Arguelles all these have charted a path from young tyros to comparative elder statesmen, but all have done so by following a consistently creative path, and none more so than Arguelles whose solo career has found him releasing a string of excellent albums in a variety of formats ranging from solo to big band and working with leading jazz musicians from the UK, Europe and the US,  maintaining a remarkably high standard of creativity throughout. 

Arguelles’ début recording as a leader was released in 1991 and announced the arrival of a major new presence on the British jazz scene. “Phaedrus” was a quartet album that revealed Arguelles’ huge talent as a writer as pianist John Taylor, drummer Martin France and bassist Mick Hutton helped to give voice to his multi-faceted compositions. 

Subsequent releases saw Arguelles successfully exploring a wide range of instrumental configurations as he turned his back on the classic quartet format until 2014 and the release of the album “Circularity” on the Italian Cam Jazz imprint. This superb recording featured an all star British cast of France at the drums, US domiciled Dave Holland on double bass and the late great John Taylor on piano. 

This was hardly the kind of line up that was likely to go out on the road and with his passion for the quartet format renewed Arguelles set about about forming a new group featuring some of the UK’s top up and coming musicians. The new band was called Tetra and featured Kit Downes on piano, Sam Lasserson on double bass and James Maddren on drums, a pride of young lions who these days are nearly as busy as their illustrious predecessors.

In 2015 the new quartet released “Tetra”, the album, on Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings label. The record was right up there with Arguelles’ best, a beguiling mix of sophisticated writing and great playing. I was also fortunate enough to witness a superb performance of the album material at the Parabola Arts Centre as part of the 2015 Cheltenham Jazz Festival by an extended line up which saw the core quartet augmented by George Crowley (saxophones, bass clarinet), Percy Pursglove (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Kieran McLeod (trombone). The core group also gigged regularly and I subsequently enjoyed a performance by the four piece Tetra at The Hive Arts Centre in Shrewsbury in June 2016.

It’s tempting to see the quartet that appears on “Tonadas” as an extension of the Tetra group, but the new album sees the dropping of the ‘Tetra’ name, a move to the Edition record label and a change in the piano chair with Downes replaced by Ivo Neame, of Phronesis fame.

Arguelles and Neame first worked together when the saxophonist guested with the collaborative trio Escape Hatch, featuring Neame, bassist Andrea di Biase and drummer Dave Hamblett.  Arguelles was also responsible for the big band arrangements of a selection of Phronesis tunes that appeared on the live recording “The Behemoth” (2017), a collaboration between the Phronesis trio and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band conducted by Arguelles.

The in demand rhythm section of Lasserson and Maddren remains in place and in many ways it’s business as usual for Arguelles who delivers another set of excellent compositions with the writing further enhanced by the superb playing of all concerned.

The album title simply means “Tunes” and the individual track titles are also all in Spanish as Arguelles continues to explore his Iberian roots, a process that began with “Asturias” and other pieces on the “Tetra” album. The press release mentions the influence of Nordic jazz too, perhaps in an oblique reference to Arguelles’ previous outing on Edition, an international trio collaboration with Portuguese pianist Mario Laginha and Norwegian percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken that released the beautiful album “Setembro” in 2017.

The music on “Tonadas” is generally more robust than the chamber jazz of “Setembro” and that Spanish influence is immediately apparent on the lively opener “Alala” which is introduced by the sound of Neame’s unaccompanied piano but which soon expands to embrace the leader’s supremely fluent and pure toned tenor allied to Maddren’s busy, colourful drumming and Lasserson’s grounding but propulsive double bass. The leader’s tenor swoops and soars as arresting melodies combine with complex rhythms to create a sophisticated, beguiling blend of contemporary jazz. Arguelles takes the first solo, probing deeply but always remaining eminently accessible. He’s followed by Neame who brings with him something of the feverish creativity that informs the music of Phronesis in addition to his own solo projects. Lasserson is also featured, his melodic sense and huge tone revealing why he has developed into one of the UK’s most sought after contemporary bassists.

“Alfama” is altogether gentler and features Neame on supremely lyrical piano as Arguelles moves between tenor and soprano saxophones, soloing with customary grace and fluency on the latter. Based around one of Arguelles’ most seductive melodies there’s a relaxed quality about the performances but also a highly developed exploratory sense that gives the music some much needed grit, and which prevents it from ever becoming soporific.

Lasserson’s unaccompanied bass introduces “Bulerias”, setting up the groove that forms the backbone of the piece. The leader’s swirling tenor and Maddren’s busy, colourful drumming evoke images of flamenco while Neame positively sparkles at the piano with a vibrant, rhythmic solo. The leader then stretches out joyously and powerfully on tenor above the rhythmic ferment bubbling beneath as Maddren continues to feature strongly.

“Tonadilla” (meaning “Little Tune”) slows things down and is a beautiful ballad that commences with the sounds of Lasserson’s melodic but deeply resonant double bass and Neame’s thoughtful and lyrical piano. Arguelles features on soprano sax, his long notes behind the other players in the introductory stages deployed to great atmospheric effect. Later he solos plaintively on the straight horn, reaching ever more deeply into the melancholic beauty that imbues this lovely, folk tinged composition.

On this well programmed album “Barrio Gotico” (“Gothic Quarter”) increases the energy levels once more. The piece opens with a series of darting, fleet footed exchanges with Maddren’s drums particularly prominent in the arrangement. Arguelles then stretches out on tenor fuelled by Lasserson’s rapid bass groove and Maddren’s nimble drumming. The leader is followed by a tumbling solo from Neame, the pianist’s bravado complemented by the still hyper-active rhythm section. Finally Maddren is let loose with an effervescent drum feature.

Arguelles moves to soprano for the similarly lively “Alegrias”, with Maddren’s drums and percussion, including the sound of the cajon, again providing colourful support. Indeed part of the tune consist of a sprightly dialogue between the saxophonist and the drummer in the kind of set piece that must consistently ‘wow’ audiences at the quartet’s live shows. Neame’s piano solo is scarcely less animated, with Maddren continuing to act as the perfect foil.

“Sevilla” wells up from Arguelles’ opening sax incantations to lead the listener around the labyrinthine alleyways of the titular city in an energetic performance featuring the leader’s tenor and with Maddren turning in another dynamic performance. There are allusions to flamenco and other Spanish musics allied to lengthy, virtuoso solos from both Arguelles and Neame on the album’s lengthiest track – and one of its many stand outs.

The album concludes with “Tia Mercedes”, a beautiful ballad dedicated to Arguelles’ recently deceased aunt,  There’s a Moorish inflection in the cry of the leader’s soprano sax as he laments his loss, accompanied at first only by Neame’s measured and sensitive piano and later by bass and brushed drums.

I think that I’m correct in saying that this is Arguelles’ fourteenth album as a leader but the release of a new solo recording from Julian Arguelles always represents a major event in the UK jazz calendar and “Tonadas” is no exception. The album maintains the astonishingly high standards of creativity that Arguelles has continued to achieve from “Phaedrus” onwards and confirms his mastery of the classic saxophone plus piano/bass/drums format. The writing is rich and melodic, sometimes complex but always engaging, and the standard of playing from all four musicians is exceptional. The quartet make it all sound easy and effortless (I’m sure it’s not) and a classy production only serves to enhance their efforts.

Despite the Spanish influence the music avoids all the ‘Sketches of Spain’ and flamenco jazz clichés, the inspiration is implied rather than overt, and the music sounds all the better for it.
“Tonadas” is a superb contemporary jazz album and another milestone in Arguelles’ glittering career.

The Julian Arguelles Quartet will be touring in the UK and Ireland during September 2018, dates as below;

1st Sept, Leeds (Seven Jazz)
2nd Sept, Manchester (Band on the Wall)
5th Sept, London (Pizza Express Soho)
6th Sept, Leicester (Jazz House)
7th Sept, Craven Arms, Shropshire
8th Sept, Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire
20th Sept, Birmingham (East Side Jazz Club)
21st Sept, Brighton (The Verdict)
22nd Sept, Dublin

Go to http://www.julianarguelles.com/calendar for details on where to buy tickets and current gig list.

 

Tonadas

Julian Arguelles

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4-5 out of 5

Tonadas

The writing is rich and melodic, sometimes complex but always engaging, and the standard of playing from all four musicians is exceptional. Another milestone in Arguelles’ glittering career.

Julian Arguelles

“Tonadas”

(Edition Records EDN1116)

The Birmingham born saxophonist Julian Arguelles first came to prominence in the late 1980s/early 1990s as a member of the seminal Loose Tubes, the young twenty plus ensemble that also spawned such significant British musicians as Django Bates, Iain Ballamy, Mark Lockheart and Martin France.

Like Arguelles all these have charted a path from young tyros to comparative elder statesmen, but all have done so by following a consistently creative path, and none more so than Arguelles whose solo career has found him releasing a string of excellent albums in a variety of formats ranging from solo to big band and working with leading jazz musicians from the UK, Europe and the US,  maintaining a remarkably high standard of creativity throughout. 

Arguelles’ début recording as a leader was released in 1991 and announced the arrival of a major new presence on the British jazz scene. “Phaedrus” was a quartet album that revealed Arguelles’ huge talent as a writer as pianist John Taylor, drummer Martin France and bassist Mick Hutton helped to give voice to his multi-faceted compositions. 

Subsequent releases saw Arguelles successfully exploring a wide range of instrumental configurations as he turned his back on the classic quartet format until 2014 and the release of the album “Circularity” on the Italian Cam Jazz imprint. This superb recording featured an all star British cast of France at the drums, US domiciled Dave Holland on double bass and the late great John Taylor on piano. 

This was hardly the kind of line up that was likely to go out on the road and with his passion for the quartet format renewed Arguelles set about about forming a new group featuring some of the UK’s top up and coming musicians. The new band was called Tetra and featured Kit Downes on piano, Sam Lasserson on double bass and James Maddren on drums, a pride of young lions who these days are nearly as busy as their illustrious predecessors.

In 2015 the new quartet released “Tetra”, the album, on Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings label. The record was right up there with Arguelles’ best, a beguiling mix of sophisticated writing and great playing. I was also fortunate enough to witness a superb performance of the album material at the Parabola Arts Centre as part of the 2015 Cheltenham Jazz Festival by an extended line up which saw the core quartet augmented by George Crowley (saxophones, bass clarinet), Percy Pursglove (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Kieran McLeod (trombone). The core group also gigged regularly and I subsequently enjoyed a performance by the four piece Tetra at The Hive Arts Centre in Shrewsbury in June 2016.

It’s tempting to see the quartet that appears on “Tonadas” as an extension of the Tetra group, but the new album sees the dropping of the ‘Tetra’ name, a move to the Edition record label and a change in the piano chair with Downes replaced by Ivo Neame, of Phronesis fame.

Arguelles and Neame first worked together when the saxophonist guested with the collaborative trio Escape Hatch, featuring Neame, bassist Andrea di Biase and drummer Dave Hamblett.  Arguelles was also responsible for the big band arrangements of a selection of Phronesis tunes that appeared on the live recording “The Behemoth” (2017), a collaboration between the Phronesis trio and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band conducted by Arguelles.

The in demand rhythm section of Lasserson and Maddren remains in place and in many ways it’s business as usual for Arguelles who delivers another set of excellent compositions with the writing further enhanced by the superb playing of all concerned.

The album title simply means “Tunes” and the individual track titles are also all in Spanish as Arguelles continues to explore his Iberian roots, a process that began with “Asturias” and other pieces on the “Tetra” album. The press release mentions the influence of Nordic jazz too, perhaps in an oblique reference to Arguelles’ previous outing on Edition, an international trio collaboration with Portuguese pianist Mario Laginha and Norwegian percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken that released the beautiful album “Setembro” in 2017.

The music on “Tonadas” is generally more robust than the chamber jazz of “Setembro” and that Spanish influence is immediately apparent on the lively opener “Alala” which is introduced by the sound of Neame’s unaccompanied piano but which soon expands to embrace the leader’s supremely fluent and pure toned tenor allied to Maddren’s busy, colourful drumming and Lasserson’s grounding but propulsive double bass. The leader’s tenor swoops and soars as arresting melodies combine with complex rhythms to create a sophisticated, beguiling blend of contemporary jazz. Arguelles takes the first solo, probing deeply but always remaining eminently accessible. He’s followed by Neame who brings with him something of the feverish creativity that informs the music of Phronesis in addition to his own solo projects. Lasserson is also featured, his melodic sense and huge tone revealing why he has developed into one of the UK’s most sought after contemporary bassists.

“Alfama” is altogether gentler and features Neame on supremely lyrical piano as Arguelles moves between tenor and soprano saxophones, soloing with customary grace and fluency on the latter. Based around one of Arguelles’ most seductive melodies there’s a relaxed quality about the performances but also a highly developed exploratory sense that gives the music some much needed grit, and which prevents it from ever becoming soporific.

Lasserson’s unaccompanied bass introduces “Bulerias”, setting up the groove that forms the backbone of the piece. The leader’s swirling tenor and Maddren’s busy, colourful drumming evoke images of flamenco while Neame positively sparkles at the piano with a vibrant, rhythmic solo. The leader then stretches out joyously and powerfully on tenor above the rhythmic ferment bubbling beneath as Maddren continues to feature strongly.

“Tonadilla” (meaning “Little Tune”) slows things down and is a beautiful ballad that commences with the sounds of Lasserson’s melodic but deeply resonant double bass and Neame’s thoughtful and lyrical piano. Arguelles features on soprano sax, his long notes behind the other players in the introductory stages deployed to great atmospheric effect. Later he solos plaintively on the straight horn, reaching ever more deeply into the melancholic beauty that imbues this lovely, folk tinged composition.

On this well programmed album “Barrio Gotico” (“Gothic Quarter”) increases the energy levels once more. The piece opens with a series of darting, fleet footed exchanges with Maddren’s drums particularly prominent in the arrangement. Arguelles then stretches out on tenor fuelled by Lasserson’s rapid bass groove and Maddren’s nimble drumming. The leader is followed by a tumbling solo from Neame, the pianist’s bravado complemented by the still hyper-active rhythm section. Finally Maddren is let loose with an effervescent drum feature.

Arguelles moves to soprano for the similarly lively “Alegrias”, with Maddren’s drums and percussion, including the sound of the cajon, again providing colourful support. Indeed part of the tune consist of a sprightly dialogue between the saxophonist and the drummer in the kind of set piece that must consistently ‘wow’ audiences at the quartet’s live shows. Neame’s piano solo is scarcely less animated, with Maddren continuing to act as the perfect foil.

“Sevilla” wells up from Arguelles’ opening sax incantations to lead the listener around the labyrinthine alleyways of the titular city in an energetic performance featuring the leader’s tenor and with Maddren turning in another dynamic performance. There are allusions to flamenco and other Spanish musics allied to lengthy, virtuoso solos from both Arguelles and Neame on the album’s lengthiest track – and one of its many stand outs.

The album concludes with “Tia Mercedes”, a beautiful ballad dedicated to Arguelles’ recently deceased aunt,  There’s a Moorish inflection in the cry of the leader’s soprano sax as he laments his loss, accompanied at first only by Neame’s measured and sensitive piano and later by bass and brushed drums.

I think that I’m correct in saying that this is Arguelles’ fourteenth album as a leader but the release of a new solo recording from Julian Arguelles always represents a major event in the UK jazz calendar and “Tonadas” is no exception. The album maintains the astonishingly high standards of creativity that Arguelles has continued to achieve from “Phaedrus” onwards and confirms his mastery of the classic saxophone plus piano/bass/drums format. The writing is rich and melodic, sometimes complex but always engaging, and the standard of playing from all four musicians is exceptional. The quartet make it all sound easy and effortless (I’m sure it’s not) and a classy production only serves to enhance their efforts.

Despite the Spanish influence the music avoids all the ‘Sketches of Spain’ and flamenco jazz clichés, the inspiration is implied rather than overt, and the music sounds all the better for it.
“Tonadas” is a superb contemporary jazz album and another milestone in Arguelles’ glittering career.

The Julian Arguelles Quartet will be touring in the UK and Ireland during September 2018, dates as below;

1st Sept, Leeds (Seven Jazz)
2nd Sept, Manchester (Band on the Wall)
5th Sept, London (Pizza Express Soho)
6th Sept, Leicester (Jazz House)
7th Sept, Craven Arms, Shropshire
8th Sept, Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire
20th Sept, Birmingham (East Side Jazz Club)
21st Sept, Brighton (The Verdict)
22nd Sept, Dublin

Go to http://www.julianarguelles.com/calendar for details on where to buy tickets and current gig list.

 

Jure Pukl - Doubtless Rating: 4 out of 5 Another strong offering from Pukl. Straddling the cusp between composition and improvisation the album is consistently engaging and the playing is excellent throughout.

Jure Pukl

“Doubtless”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4724)

Jure Pukl is a tenor saxophonist, composer, improviser and band leader from Slovenia who is now based in New York City.

He studied both jazz and classical saxophone in Austria (at the universities of Vienna and Graz) and in the US (the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston).

I first encountered Pukl’s playing in 2010 when he brought his Slavic Soul Trio featuring bassist (and Whirlwind label owner) Michael Janisch and Austrian drummer Klemens Marktl to the much missed Dempsey’s in Cardiff. I’ve kept an eye on his career, and that of Marktl too, ever since and later that year reviewed Pukl’s début album “EARchitecture”, which was recorded in Brooklyn and featured a New York based band including pianist Aruan Ortiz, bassist Rahsaan Carter and drummer Marcus Gilmore. Guests included trumpeter Jason Palmer, another Janisch associate, and rapper Raydar Ellis.

Like Janisch Pukl is a musician who leads something of a ‘Trans-Atlantic’ existence,  frequently collaborating with musicians from both Europe and the Americas. His 2017 Whirlwind release “Hybrid” featured pianist Matija Dedic, bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Johnathan Blake. It was a recording that saw Pukl expanding his instrumental palette to include soprano saxophone and bass clarinet and was also notable for a guest appearance on tenor saxophone by Pukl’s wife, the Chilean born musician Melissa Aldana. “Hybrid” was another strong album but slipped through the Jazzmann’s reviewing net, apologies to Jure for the omission.

Hot on the heels of “Hybrid” comes “Doubtless”, Pukl’s second offering for Whirlwind, which sees him specialising on tenor sax once more. He’s joined in a two tenor front line by Aldana and the album features a stellar American rhythm section comprised of Joe Sanders on upright bass and Gregory Hutchinson at the drums. The album was recorded in Slovenia and mixed and mastered in New York, making it a true Trans-Atlantic project.

The daughter of a professional jazz saxophonist Aldana is a band leader in her own right. Born in Santiago she, too, studied at Berklee before settling in New York but still retaining links with her homeland. As a leader Aldana has released four albums under her own name, making her début in 2010. The last two releases have featured her Crash Trio with Chilean bassist Pablo Menares, with the drum chair occupied first by the Cuban Francisco Mela and later by the German born Jochen Rueckert. Aldana has visited the UK to play a headline show at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival.

Pukl says of this collaboration with his wife;
“It’s very improvised, and every number sounds different at every gig. Joe can change things so much, including time signatures, so we have to react in the moment. But it’s great to switch the vibe, we go for it and the audience feels it. Once we’ve checked out the pieces we then purposely let them go, and I’ve found so much freedom in this – we all become transformers for where the music wants to take us. I don’t know many saxophone couples who like to perform together, but with me and Melissa it feels natural, we have a similar tenor vocabulary and that energy unites us. So in this quartet we create harmony, counterpoint…and Joe has an amazing harmonic ability too, alongside his and Greg’s deep sense of rhythm. The sound is incredibly full.”

The album title reflects Pukl’s faith in this musical alliance as he explains;
“I have realised how important it is to play with people you love and respect. They love you back and it takes the music to a higher level. It’s magic being on the road with these guys. What we create is something that people,  and not just jazz audiences, connect with. This band brings together everything that we are, and it works. It’s kinda amazing!”

Indeed there’s no denying the power of the album which kicks off with the title track, this commencing with a spirited discussion between the two tenors before Sanders and Hutchinson join the party. As Pukl states the music is free-wheeling with plenty of opportunities for freedom and self expression. In person performances are indeed likely to be very different from those documented on disc. Sanders and Hutchinson make a powerful but supple and responsive rhythm team who create an excellent framework for Pukl and Aldana to create their improvisations around. Here the two tenors engage in an ongoing conversation rather than trading solos as in the ‘cutting contests’ of the past but both individually and collectively they have much to say.

“Doves” is dedicated to Pukl’s mother, who was seriously ill at the time of the recording but has now, happily, recovered. Once again the two tenors open the piece, this time working in unison, their joint statement of the theme underpinned by bass and vaguely martial drums. This time round the initial theme statement gives way to individual solos with those of the two saxophonists bisected by a feature for Sanders on double bass. Hutchinson’s dynamic drumming gives the entire performance a tightly focussed energy.

“InterSong” finds the foursome exploring an old Ornette Coleman composition. The free jazz pioneer is surely a touchstone for all the members of this chordless quartet. The piece begins with an intimate but animated conversation between the two tenors, subsequently joined by Sanders and Hutchinson in the Haden/Blackwell roles as the two saxophonists continue to spar with each other in this gritty homage to Coleman.

It’s the turn of the rhythm section to introduce Sanders’  “Eliote”, a piece written by the bassist in honour of his young son. The sparky opening section features the composer’s huge tone and dexterous finger work in lively dialogue with Hutchinson’s bright, restlessly inventive, sharply detailed drumming. The mood is celebratory while the style harks back to Africa thanks to the vibrant rhythms and arresting saxophone melodies. Sanders takes the first solo, his playing vigorous and supremely agile before handing over to Pukl and Aladana who engage in vivid dialogue, their short, interlocking phrases fuelled by an irresistible bass and drum groove.

“Compassion” slims the group down to a trio, so no difficulties identifying the tenor soloist here. As other commentators have noted some indication of the soloing order on the CD packaging would have been useful as an aid to identification, and the apportioning of credit accordingly. As Pukl has noted he and Aldana share a similar musical vocabulary and it’s not always easy to be definitive as to who is playing at any specific time. But enough of the cavils, this is a supremely atmospheric saxophone trio performance with Pukl’s brooding tenor sensitively supported by Sanders’ deeply resonant bass and Hutchinson’s understated but empathic drums and percussion. The drummer’s role here is that of colourist rather than powerhouse.

The supple grooves of the Aldana composed “Elsewhere” underpin one of the most accessible pieces on the album, the darting sax melodies combining with Sander’s buoyant bass and Hutchinson’s restlessly inventive drumming. Sanders takes the first solo before the two saxophonists take it in turns to stretch out. On an album that was recorded in a single day the whoops of joy heard at various moments during the performance suggest that the piece was largely improvised, there’s certainly a vibrant spontaneity about the playing here.

The title of “The Mind And The Soul” might suggest a debt to Coleman Hawkins but the style of the playing is firmly rooted in the style of Ornette Coleman. Acerbic, slightly slurred sax incantations are underpinned by muscular but melodic bass with Sanders taking the only real solo of the piece. Hutchinson’s drumming is colourful and inventive but never imposing as it wanders around the periphery of the music.

The brief “Where Are You Coming From?” is a duet between Pukl and Sanders that is introduced by the latter’s bass. The piece is a reprise of a lengthier full band track on the “Hybrid” album and features Pukl’s folk/Latin tinged melodicism in an alternative pared down format. It’s a delightfully intimate duo performance than more than justifies its inclusion here.

The album ends on an upbeat note with the energising “Bad Year – Good Year”, another piece to embrace something of a Latin feel, a nod, perhaps, to Aldana’s origins. The fluid grooves generated by Sanders and Hutchinson inspire solos from both saxophonists and there’s also an engaging dialogue between the members of the rhythm team.

“Doubtless” represents another strong offering from Pukl. Straddling the cusp between composition and improvisation the album is consistently engaging and the playing is excellent throughout. Pukl and Aldana combine well and have the kind of intuitive chemistry that one would expect from a married couple, That said Sanders and Hutchinson are equally brilliant as a team, this supremely adaptable and versatile rhythm section seems to act like a single entity, providing the two saxophonists with exemplary support. Sanders and Hutchinson are both superb technicians and every nuance of their playing is captured on a typically excellent Whirlwind Recordings production.  Even more crucially they have a great rapport as a unit and it’s something that they are able to share with the husband and wife team of Pukl and Aldana, the two halves of the quartet combining to create a dynamic and convincing single entity.

The lack of conventional, straight-ahead swing may deter some listeners but all fans of adventurous contemporary jazz should find much to enjoy here. One suspects that the quartet’s live performances would prove to be even more exciting.

Incidentally, the cover artwork is a painting by the celebrated jazz vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant.


Doubtless

Jure Pukl

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Doubtless

Another strong offering from Pukl. Straddling the cusp between composition and improvisation the album is consistently engaging and the playing is excellent throughout.

Jure Pukl

“Doubtless”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4724)

Jure Pukl is a tenor saxophonist, composer, improviser and band leader from Slovenia who is now based in New York City.

He studied both jazz and classical saxophone in Austria (at the universities of Vienna and Graz) and in the US (the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston).

I first encountered Pukl’s playing in 2010 when he brought his Slavic Soul Trio featuring bassist (and Whirlwind label owner) Michael Janisch and Austrian drummer Klemens Marktl to the much missed Dempsey’s in Cardiff. I’ve kept an eye on his career, and that of Marktl too, ever since and later that year reviewed Pukl’s début album “EARchitecture”, which was recorded in Brooklyn and featured a New York based band including pianist Aruan Ortiz, bassist Rahsaan Carter and drummer Marcus Gilmore. Guests included trumpeter Jason Palmer, another Janisch associate, and rapper Raydar Ellis.

Like Janisch Pukl is a musician who leads something of a ‘Trans-Atlantic’ existence,  frequently collaborating with musicians from both Europe and the Americas. His 2017 Whirlwind release “Hybrid” featured pianist Matija Dedic, bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Johnathan Blake. It was a recording that saw Pukl expanding his instrumental palette to include soprano saxophone and bass clarinet and was also notable for a guest appearance on tenor saxophone by Pukl’s wife, the Chilean born musician Melissa Aldana. “Hybrid” was another strong album but slipped through the Jazzmann’s reviewing net, apologies to Jure for the omission.

Hot on the heels of “Hybrid” comes “Doubtless”, Pukl’s second offering for Whirlwind, which sees him specialising on tenor sax once more. He’s joined in a two tenor front line by Aldana and the album features a stellar American rhythm section comprised of Joe Sanders on upright bass and Gregory Hutchinson at the drums. The album was recorded in Slovenia and mixed and mastered in New York, making it a true Trans-Atlantic project.

The daughter of a professional jazz saxophonist Aldana is a band leader in her own right. Born in Santiago she, too, studied at Berklee before settling in New York but still retaining links with her homeland. As a leader Aldana has released four albums under her own name, making her début in 2010. The last two releases have featured her Crash Trio with Chilean bassist Pablo Menares, with the drum chair occupied first by the Cuban Francisco Mela and later by the German born Jochen Rueckert. Aldana has visited the UK to play a headline show at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival.

Pukl says of this collaboration with his wife;
“It’s very improvised, and every number sounds different at every gig. Joe can change things so much, including time signatures, so we have to react in the moment. But it’s great to switch the vibe, we go for it and the audience feels it. Once we’ve checked out the pieces we then purposely let them go, and I’ve found so much freedom in this – we all become transformers for where the music wants to take us. I don’t know many saxophone couples who like to perform together, but with me and Melissa it feels natural, we have a similar tenor vocabulary and that energy unites us. So in this quartet we create harmony, counterpoint…and Joe has an amazing harmonic ability too, alongside his and Greg’s deep sense of rhythm. The sound is incredibly full.”

The album title reflects Pukl’s faith in this musical alliance as he explains;
“I have realised how important it is to play with people you love and respect. They love you back and it takes the music to a higher level. It’s magic being on the road with these guys. What we create is something that people,  and not just jazz audiences, connect with. This band brings together everything that we are, and it works. It’s kinda amazing!”

Indeed there’s no denying the power of the album which kicks off with the title track, this commencing with a spirited discussion between the two tenors before Sanders and Hutchinson join the party. As Pukl states the music is free-wheeling with plenty of opportunities for freedom and self expression. In person performances are indeed likely to be very different from those documented on disc. Sanders and Hutchinson make a powerful but supple and responsive rhythm team who create an excellent framework for Pukl and Aldana to create their improvisations around. Here the two tenors engage in an ongoing conversation rather than trading solos as in the ‘cutting contests’ of the past but both individually and collectively they have much to say.

“Doves” is dedicated to Pukl’s mother, who was seriously ill at the time of the recording but has now, happily, recovered. Once again the two tenors open the piece, this time working in unison, their joint statement of the theme underpinned by bass and vaguely martial drums. This time round the initial theme statement gives way to individual solos with those of the two saxophonists bisected by a feature for Sanders on double bass. Hutchinson’s dynamic drumming gives the entire performance a tightly focussed energy.

“InterSong” finds the foursome exploring an old Ornette Coleman composition. The free jazz pioneer is surely a touchstone for all the members of this chordless quartet. The piece begins with an intimate but animated conversation between the two tenors, subsequently joined by Sanders and Hutchinson in the Haden/Blackwell roles as the two saxophonists continue to spar with each other in this gritty homage to Coleman.

It’s the turn of the rhythm section to introduce Sanders’  “Eliote”, a piece written by the bassist in honour of his young son. The sparky opening section features the composer’s huge tone and dexterous finger work in lively dialogue with Hutchinson’s bright, restlessly inventive, sharply detailed drumming. The mood is celebratory while the style harks back to Africa thanks to the vibrant rhythms and arresting saxophone melodies. Sanders takes the first solo, his playing vigorous and supremely agile before handing over to Pukl and Aladana who engage in vivid dialogue, their short, interlocking phrases fuelled by an irresistible bass and drum groove.

“Compassion” slims the group down to a trio, so no difficulties identifying the tenor soloist here. As other commentators have noted some indication of the soloing order on the CD packaging would have been useful as an aid to identification, and the apportioning of credit accordingly. As Pukl has noted he and Aldana share a similar musical vocabulary and it’s not always easy to be definitive as to who is playing at any specific time. But enough of the cavils, this is a supremely atmospheric saxophone trio performance with Pukl’s brooding tenor sensitively supported by Sanders’ deeply resonant bass and Hutchinson’s understated but empathic drums and percussion. The drummer’s role here is that of colourist rather than powerhouse.

The supple grooves of the Aldana composed “Elsewhere” underpin one of the most accessible pieces on the album, the darting sax melodies combining with Sander’s buoyant bass and Hutchinson’s restlessly inventive drumming. Sanders takes the first solo before the two saxophonists take it in turns to stretch out. On an album that was recorded in a single day the whoops of joy heard at various moments during the performance suggest that the piece was largely improvised, there’s certainly a vibrant spontaneity about the playing here.

The title of “The Mind And The Soul” might suggest a debt to Coleman Hawkins but the style of the playing is firmly rooted in the style of Ornette Coleman. Acerbic, slightly slurred sax incantations are underpinned by muscular but melodic bass with Sanders taking the only real solo of the piece. Hutchinson’s drumming is colourful and inventive but never imposing as it wanders around the periphery of the music.

The brief “Where Are You Coming From?” is a duet between Pukl and Sanders that is introduced by the latter’s bass. The piece is a reprise of a lengthier full band track on the “Hybrid” album and features Pukl’s folk/Latin tinged melodicism in an alternative pared down format. It’s a delightfully intimate duo performance than more than justifies its inclusion here.

The album ends on an upbeat note with the energising “Bad Year – Good Year”, another piece to embrace something of a Latin feel, a nod, perhaps, to Aldana’s origins. The fluid grooves generated by Sanders and Hutchinson inspire solos from both saxophonists and there’s also an engaging dialogue between the members of the rhythm team.

“Doubtless” represents another strong offering from Pukl. Straddling the cusp between composition and improvisation the album is consistently engaging and the playing is excellent throughout. Pukl and Aldana combine well and have the kind of intuitive chemistry that one would expect from a married couple, That said Sanders and Hutchinson are equally brilliant as a team, this supremely adaptable and versatile rhythm section seems to act like a single entity, providing the two saxophonists with exemplary support. Sanders and Hutchinson are both superb technicians and every nuance of their playing is captured on a typically excellent Whirlwind Recordings production.  Even more crucially they have a great rapport as a unit and it’s something that they are able to share with the husband and wife team of Pukl and Aldana, the two halves of the quartet combining to create a dynamic and convincing single entity.

The lack of conventional, straight-ahead swing may deter some listeners but all fans of adventurous contemporary jazz should find much to enjoy here. One suspects that the quartet’s live performances would prove to be even more exciting.

Incidentally, the cover artwork is a painting by the celebrated jazz vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant.


Stefanos Tsourelis Trio - Stefanos Tsourelis Trio, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 29/07/2018. Rating: 4 out of 5 Ian Mann enjoys the music of guitarist, oud player and composer Stefanos Tsourelis and his trio and takes a look at their debut album "Native Speaker".

Stefanos Tsourelis Trio, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 29/07/2018.

Born in Larisa, Greece guitarist, oud player and composer Stefanos Tsourelis began playing music at ten years of age, initially studying the Greek lute before moving on to oud and guitar. He became a professional musician at seventeen playing guitar and oud in various musical contexts across his native land, ranging from jazz clubs to theatres.

In 2005 Tsourelis moved to London, where he still lives, and continued his guitar studies, with the jazz guitarist Mike Outram featuring amongst his numerous tutors. A highly versatile musician with a broad range of influences Tsourelis has performed on guitar and oud across a wide range of genres including jazz, rock, funk and world music.

I’d previously heard his playing, on oud, on “Via Maris”, the second album from the ongoing world jazz collective Melange, led by cellist Shirley Smart. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/melange-via-maris/

As a guitarist Tsourelis features as a guest on “The Absent”, the 2016 début album from pianist and composer Emily Francis and her trio. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/emily-francis-trio-the-absent/

He is currently a member of saxophonist Julian Costello’s world jazz ensemble Vertigo Trio in which he plays guitar and oud alongside the leader on soprano sax and Adam Teixeira on tabla and percussion.

Other notable jazz musicians with whom Tsourelis has worked include flautist Gareth Lockrane and the saxophonists Duncan Eagles and fellow Greek Vasilis Xenopoulos.

As a bandleader Tsourelis has fronted the world music ensemble Anosis and currently leads his own acoustic and electric trios as well as performing in a duo setting with fellow guitarist Benjamin Gasiglia Katz.

The group that Tsourelis brought to BMJ for his début performance at the club was essentially his acoustic trio, the group that recorded his début album as a leader “Native Speaker”, which was released in 2017. Drummer / percussionist Eric Ford plays on the album and tonight’s line up was completed by Kevin Glasgow on six string electric bass. Glasgow is the regular bassist with Tsourelis’ electric or ‘fusion’ trio in which the leader plays electric guitar. The electric band, which also features drummer Emiliano Caroselli, plays a different repertoire to the acoustic group so despite the closeness of the musicians Glasgow wasn’t previously familiar with all of tonight’s material, which made his excellent contribution all the more impressive.

“Native Speaker” features bassist Dave Jones, a vastly experienced London based musician who hitherto has managed to slip underneath my radar. He makes an excellent contribution (on electric bass) to “Native Speaker”  and it was tunes from that album that made up the bulk of tonight’s two sets, alongside a couple of impressive new compositions that have already been earmarked for the trio’s next recording.

I don’t recall seeing the oud played live before, or certainly not to this extent. Having recently been enchanted by the exceptional “Blue Maqams” album, released on the ECM label by Tunisian oud master Anouar Brahem (and featuring Django Bates on piano) I was particularly keen to enjoy the experience of seeing the instrument played ‘in the flesh’.

Many Western European listeners may not be familiar with the oud, the Middle Eastern or North African lute, which can be found in various forms all along the Eastern and Southern shores of the Mediterranean.

Tsourelis’ instrument was made in Turkey and has eleven strings, the top or bass string being single, the others arranged in pairs. Tsourelis was kind enough for me to take a close look at his model, which was manufactured around fifteen years ago. What immediately struck me was how light the instrument is, especially compared to a guitar. Yet despite its apparent fragility the oud still makes an impressively big and incisive sound, even without the pick up that Tsourelis deployed during the concert.

The qualities of the oud were immediately demonstrated on the opening number, “Mystery Blues”, which was written by Tsourelis, as was all of tonight’s material, and sourced from the début album.
The leader’s improvised, unaccompanied oud intro eventually ushered in Ford’s mallet rumbles and trademark foot operated cowbell sounds. The drummer, probably best known as a member of the Partikel trio led by Duncan Eagles, has an extensive knowledge of jazz and world music rhythms, thus making him an ideal fit for the Tsourelis trio with its beguiling blend of jazz and Mediterranean sounds. The leader also combined effectively with Glasgow as the lines of the oud and Glasgow’s guitar like six string electric bass intertwined mesmerically. Both string players were to enjoy lengthy and virtuosic solos but the interplay between the seventeen strings was equally impressive.

“Nostalgia”, the opening track on the “Native Speaker” album, saw Tsourelis switching to his Takemine six string acoustic guitar. The leader’s solo improvised introductions were something of a feature of the evening and this piece began with a passage of unaccompanied solo guitar. Tsourelis later informed me that the tuning was no different to that of a standard Western acoustic guitar, as might be used in folk or country music, yet in his hands it sounded undeniably exotic and obviously ‘Middle Eastern’. With Ford and Glasgow on board the trio made an impressively powerful sound despite the fundamentally acoustic context with Ford’s busy and propulsive drumming fuelling compelling solos from Tsourelis and Glasgow, prior to a dazzling drum and percussion feature.

A newer piece, “El Divo”, was introduced by a brief dialogue between the leader’s guitar and Glasgow’s bass and introduced a more orthodox jazz feel to the proceedings. Glasgow took the first solo, his fluid, guitar like sound sometimes reminiscent of the great Steve Swallow. He seemed to strike up a good understanding with Ford, with whom he entered into an absorbing dialogue before handing the baton over to Tsourelis. The leader’s solo found him using more conventional jazz and bebop chords than previously and also saw him making judicious use of an array of foot pedals- reverb, delay, chorus – and so on. Once again the piece was crowned by a drum feature from the excellent Ford, always an attention grabbing figure in whichever context he performs.

Tsourelis returned to the oud for the rousing set closer “The Desert”, another tune from the début album. An improvised oud intro was followed by a stunning solo from the leader accompanied by Glasgow’s supple but propulsive bass lines and Ford’s energetic and exotic percussion.

“Jen’s Tune”, dedicated to a former girlfriend, opened the second set with Tsourelis back on guitar. This subtle, folk tinged composition incorporated solos from Tsourelis and Glasgow plus a closing drum feature from Ford, who deployed brushes throughout.

“Calm Sea”, inspired by the shores of the leader’s native Greece, was an atmospheric ballad that revealed Tsourelis to possess a Metheny-like gift for melody. Tsourelis cites the American as an influence alongside a broad range of other guitar greats including Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, Wes Montgomery, Jeff Back, Jimi Hendrix and Steve Ray Vaughan plus deceased cult figures such as Danny Gatton and the Canadian Lenny Breau.

The new composition “Interplay” increased the energy levels once more. Aptly titled the piece featured some stunningly complex high energy unison passages from Tsourelis and Glasgow before moving on to the individual solos. Tsourelis’s feature was a fascinating amalgam of jazz chords and Middle Eastern exotica that again made intelligent use of the guitarist’s range of effects. Glasgow’s astonishingly agile bass solo was a reminder of the formidable technique that has won him work with saxophonists Tommy Smith and Tim Garland, guitarist Nicolas Meier, drummer Asaf Sirkis and organist John Paul Gard, among others. He is also a member of the collaborative trio Preston, Glasgow, Lowe.

Tsourelis moved back to oud for another new tune titled “The Exhibition” which emerged from an unaccompanied oud intro into a frenetic oud solo featuring Tsourelis’ fleet finger work accompanied by Glasgow’s pulsating bass grooves and Ford’s dynamic drumming; the latter leading to an explosive drum feature underpinned by interlocking oud and bass patterns.

There was to be no letting up as the trio entered the home straight. The title track of the “Native Speaker” album presented a beguiling mix of gently rippling arpeggios punctuated by the kind of chunky riffing that acted as a reminder of Tsourelis’ love of rock guitar, even in this essentially acoustic context. Ford’s characteristically busy drum feature actually happened mid tune, before Tsourelis ramped up the energy levels even further with a climactic final guitar solo.

I was impressed by the way in which the Abergavenny audience responded to this programme of all original music played on exotic and unfamiliar instruments. They listened intently throughout and now responded with great enthusiasm, prompting Tsourelis and his colleagues to return to the stage for a thoroughly deserved encore.

This proved to be “Fluid”, the closing track on the “Native Speaker” album. After the pyrotechnics of “Interplay”, “The Expedition” and “Native Speaker” this cool ballad defused the tension gently and effectively with Ford deploying brushes and Glasgow delivering a suitably liquid and melodic bass solo before the last word went to the leader on guitar.

Tsourelis, Ford and Glasgow seemed to be genuinely surprised and gratified at the warm reaction that they received and this was an excellent gig for them and one of the best that I’ve seen at BMJ.
Tsourelis is a brilliant player of both his chosen instruments and it was particularly enjoyable for me to see the oud being played at such close quarters.

My thanks to Stefanos for talking me with me at length and for the gift of a copy of “Native Speaker”. He’s a genuinely nice guy with an excellent command of English. Incidentally, the album comes from a remark of Ford’s. The first version of the trio featured Tsourelis, Ford and an Italian bass player prompting the drummer to remark; “I’m the only native speaker here”.

Featuring the distinctive artwork of Alban Low on the cover the album also sounds excellent in the home listening environment. Seven of the ten tracks were played tonight and the album also includes two forceful and energetic oud powered pieces, “Phyrigian Major” and “Squares”, which both feature some typically dynamic and virtuoso playing with some terrific interplay between the three musicians. As its title might suggest “Leafy Gardens” is rather different, altogether more gentle and with a greater focus on pure melody. Tsourelis plays guitar here, combining well with Ford’s neatly detailed drums and percussion and Jones’ softly percolating bass. Available from iTunes and Bandcamp via Tsourelis’ website the album is highly recommended.
http://www.stefanostsourelis.com

Stefanos Tsourelis Trio, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 29/07/2018.

Stefanos Tsourelis Trio

Monday, July 30, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Stefanos Tsourelis Trio, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 29/07/2018.

Ian Mann enjoys the music of guitarist, oud player and composer Stefanos Tsourelis and his trio and takes a look at their debut album "Native Speaker".

Stefanos Tsourelis Trio, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 29/07/2018.

Born in Larisa, Greece guitarist, oud player and composer Stefanos Tsourelis began playing music at ten years of age, initially studying the Greek lute before moving on to oud and guitar. He became a professional musician at seventeen playing guitar and oud in various musical contexts across his native land, ranging from jazz clubs to theatres.

In 2005 Tsourelis moved to London, where he still lives, and continued his guitar studies, with the jazz guitarist Mike Outram featuring amongst his numerous tutors. A highly versatile musician with a broad range of influences Tsourelis has performed on guitar and oud across a wide range of genres including jazz, rock, funk and world music.

I’d previously heard his playing, on oud, on “Via Maris”, the second album from the ongoing world jazz collective Melange, led by cellist Shirley Smart. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/melange-via-maris/

As a guitarist Tsourelis features as a guest on “The Absent”, the 2016 début album from pianist and composer Emily Francis and her trio. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/emily-francis-trio-the-absent/

He is currently a member of saxophonist Julian Costello’s world jazz ensemble Vertigo Trio in which he plays guitar and oud alongside the leader on soprano sax and Adam Teixeira on tabla and percussion.

Other notable jazz musicians with whom Tsourelis has worked include flautist Gareth Lockrane and the saxophonists Duncan Eagles and fellow Greek Vasilis Xenopoulos.

As a bandleader Tsourelis has fronted the world music ensemble Anosis and currently leads his own acoustic and electric trios as well as performing in a duo setting with fellow guitarist Benjamin Gasiglia Katz.

The group that Tsourelis brought to BMJ for his début performance at the club was essentially his acoustic trio, the group that recorded his début album as a leader “Native Speaker”, which was released in 2017. Drummer / percussionist Eric Ford plays on the album and tonight’s line up was completed by Kevin Glasgow on six string electric bass. Glasgow is the regular bassist with Tsourelis’ electric or ‘fusion’ trio in which the leader plays electric guitar. The electric band, which also features drummer Emiliano Caroselli, plays a different repertoire to the acoustic group so despite the closeness of the musicians Glasgow wasn’t previously familiar with all of tonight’s material, which made his excellent contribution all the more impressive.

“Native Speaker” features bassist Dave Jones, a vastly experienced London based musician who hitherto has managed to slip underneath my radar. He makes an excellent contribution (on electric bass) to “Native Speaker”  and it was tunes from that album that made up the bulk of tonight’s two sets, alongside a couple of impressive new compositions that have already been earmarked for the trio’s next recording.

I don’t recall seeing the oud played live before, or certainly not to this extent. Having recently been enchanted by the exceptional “Blue Maqams” album, released on the ECM label by Tunisian oud master Anouar Brahem (and featuring Django Bates on piano) I was particularly keen to enjoy the experience of seeing the instrument played ‘in the flesh’.

Many Western European listeners may not be familiar with the oud, the Middle Eastern or North African lute, which can be found in various forms all along the Eastern and Southern shores of the Mediterranean.

Tsourelis’ instrument was made in Turkey and has eleven strings, the top or bass string being single, the others arranged in pairs. Tsourelis was kind enough for me to take a close look at his model, which was manufactured around fifteen years ago. What immediately struck me was how light the instrument is, especially compared to a guitar. Yet despite its apparent fragility the oud still makes an impressively big and incisive sound, even without the pick up that Tsourelis deployed during the concert.

The qualities of the oud were immediately demonstrated on the opening number, “Mystery Blues”, which was written by Tsourelis, as was all of tonight’s material, and sourced from the début album.
The leader’s improvised, unaccompanied oud intro eventually ushered in Ford’s mallet rumbles and trademark foot operated cowbell sounds. The drummer, probably best known as a member of the Partikel trio led by Duncan Eagles, has an extensive knowledge of jazz and world music rhythms, thus making him an ideal fit for the Tsourelis trio with its beguiling blend of jazz and Mediterranean sounds. The leader also combined effectively with Glasgow as the lines of the oud and Glasgow’s guitar like six string electric bass intertwined mesmerically. Both string players were to enjoy lengthy and virtuosic solos but the interplay between the seventeen strings was equally impressive.

“Nostalgia”, the opening track on the “Native Speaker” album, saw Tsourelis switching to his Takemine six string acoustic guitar. The leader’s solo improvised introductions were something of a feature of the evening and this piece began with a passage of unaccompanied solo guitar. Tsourelis later informed me that the tuning was no different to that of a standard Western acoustic guitar, as might be used in folk or country music, yet in his hands it sounded undeniably exotic and obviously ‘Middle Eastern’. With Ford and Glasgow on board the trio made an impressively powerful sound despite the fundamentally acoustic context with Ford’s busy and propulsive drumming fuelling compelling solos from Tsourelis and Glasgow, prior to a dazzling drum and percussion feature.

A newer piece, “El Divo”, was introduced by a brief dialogue between the leader’s guitar and Glasgow’s bass and introduced a more orthodox jazz feel to the proceedings. Glasgow took the first solo, his fluid, guitar like sound sometimes reminiscent of the great Steve Swallow. He seemed to strike up a good understanding with Ford, with whom he entered into an absorbing dialogue before handing the baton over to Tsourelis. The leader’s solo found him using more conventional jazz and bebop chords than previously and also saw him making judicious use of an array of foot pedals- reverb, delay, chorus – and so on. Once again the piece was crowned by a drum feature from the excellent Ford, always an attention grabbing figure in whichever context he performs.

Tsourelis returned to the oud for the rousing set closer “The Desert”, another tune from the début album. An improvised oud intro was followed by a stunning solo from the leader accompanied by Glasgow’s supple but propulsive bass lines and Ford’s energetic and exotic percussion.

“Jen’s Tune”, dedicated to a former girlfriend, opened the second set with Tsourelis back on guitar. This subtle, folk tinged composition incorporated solos from Tsourelis and Glasgow plus a closing drum feature from Ford, who deployed brushes throughout.

“Calm Sea”, inspired by the shores of the leader’s native Greece, was an atmospheric ballad that revealed Tsourelis to possess a Metheny-like gift for melody. Tsourelis cites the American as an influence alongside a broad range of other guitar greats including Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, Wes Montgomery, Jeff Back, Jimi Hendrix and Steve Ray Vaughan plus deceased cult figures such as Danny Gatton and the Canadian Lenny Breau.

The new composition “Interplay” increased the energy levels once more. Aptly titled the piece featured some stunningly complex high energy unison passages from Tsourelis and Glasgow before moving on to the individual solos. Tsourelis’s feature was a fascinating amalgam of jazz chords and Middle Eastern exotica that again made intelligent use of the guitarist’s range of effects. Glasgow’s astonishingly agile bass solo was a reminder of the formidable technique that has won him work with saxophonists Tommy Smith and Tim Garland, guitarist Nicolas Meier, drummer Asaf Sirkis and organist John Paul Gard, among others. He is also a member of the collaborative trio Preston, Glasgow, Lowe.

Tsourelis moved back to oud for another new tune titled “The Exhibition” which emerged from an unaccompanied oud intro into a frenetic oud solo featuring Tsourelis’ fleet finger work accompanied by Glasgow’s pulsating bass grooves and Ford’s dynamic drumming; the latter leading to an explosive drum feature underpinned by interlocking oud and bass patterns.

There was to be no letting up as the trio entered the home straight. The title track of the “Native Speaker” album presented a beguiling mix of gently rippling arpeggios punctuated by the kind of chunky riffing that acted as a reminder of Tsourelis’ love of rock guitar, even in this essentially acoustic context. Ford’s characteristically busy drum feature actually happened mid tune, before Tsourelis ramped up the energy levels even further with a climactic final guitar solo.

I was impressed by the way in which the Abergavenny audience responded to this programme of all original music played on exotic and unfamiliar instruments. They listened intently throughout and now responded with great enthusiasm, prompting Tsourelis and his colleagues to return to the stage for a thoroughly deserved encore.

This proved to be “Fluid”, the closing track on the “Native Speaker” album. After the pyrotechnics of “Interplay”, “The Expedition” and “Native Speaker” this cool ballad defused the tension gently and effectively with Ford deploying brushes and Glasgow delivering a suitably liquid and melodic bass solo before the last word went to the leader on guitar.

Tsourelis, Ford and Glasgow seemed to be genuinely surprised and gratified at the warm reaction that they received and this was an excellent gig for them and one of the best that I’ve seen at BMJ.
Tsourelis is a brilliant player of both his chosen instruments and it was particularly enjoyable for me to see the oud being played at such close quarters.

My thanks to Stefanos for talking me with me at length and for the gift of a copy of “Native Speaker”. He’s a genuinely nice guy with an excellent command of English. Incidentally, the album comes from a remark of Ford’s. The first version of the trio featured Tsourelis, Ford and an Italian bass player prompting the drummer to remark; “I’m the only native speaker here”.

Featuring the distinctive artwork of Alban Low on the cover the album also sounds excellent in the home listening environment. Seven of the ten tracks were played tonight and the album also includes two forceful and energetic oud powered pieces, “Phyrigian Major” and “Squares”, which both feature some typically dynamic and virtuoso playing with some terrific interplay between the three musicians. As its title might suggest “Leafy Gardens” is rather different, altogether more gentle and with a greater focus on pure melody. Tsourelis plays guitar here, combining well with Ford’s neatly detailed drums and percussion and Jones’ softly percolating bass. Available from iTunes and Bandcamp via Tsourelis’ website the album is highly recommended.
http://www.stefanostsourelis.com

The Reading Dusseldorf Jazz Ensemble - The Reading Dusseldorf Jazz Ensemble, Reading Fringe Festival Main Stage, 25/07/2018. Rating: 5 out of 5 They hit the groove with the opening number and during the course of three sets held the near capacity audience spellbound with music of truly world class quality.

The Reading Dusseldorf Jazz Ensemble
 
Reading Fringe Festival Main Stage, Reading Station Hill Plaza
 
Wednesday 25 July
 
Stuart Henderson (trumpet & flugelhorn), Reiner Witzel (alto saxophone), Pete Billington (keyboards), Raph Mizraki (bass & electric bass), Simon Price(drums).
 
‘How long have the band been together?’ I was asked by one of several curious bystanders who were drawn to the Main Stage of the Reading Fringe Festival as the sound of five jazz musicians in rehearsal drifted ‘pied piper-like’ across Reading Station Plaza early on Wednesday evening.

‘About two hours,’ I replied.

‘Two hours!’ he gasped. ‘That’s amazing. What is it about jazz that guys can get-it-together like that?’
 
With that, he continued on his way in puzzled amazement, promising that he would try to return for the concert at the appointed time.

In truth I hadn’t been entirely honest with my response. Four of the musicians play regularly under the leadership of Stuart Henderson and are well known to local jazzers as the Stuart Henderson Quartet. But, alto saxophonist Reiner Witzel had only flown into Heathrow from Dusseldorf a few hours earlier, giving him just enough time to meet the guys at Stuart’s home, and to check into his Friar Street Hotel, before making the sound-check and rehearsal at the Main Stage.
 
And to explain the background to this unique occasion a little further; Stuart had played as a guest with Reiner’s Dusseldorf Jazz Ensemble in Dusseldorf on 30th June, in a hugely successful concert which also featured guest soloists from Haifa and Chemnitz - each guest representing a community with which Dusseldorf is twinned. Reiner’s appearance in Reading, which he first visited thirty years ago as a youthful member of a big band, reciprocated that event to forge an additional link of friendship between Reading and Dusseldorf.
 
In the circumstances the musicians could easily have settled for a programme of well-worn standards familiar to themselves and the audience. But no, this was a special occasion, not just in terms of the link between Reading and Dusseldorf, but also as an opportunity to showcase the original writing talents of Stuart and Reiner, and to present jazz at its best and most challenging as part of Reading Fringe Festival. They hit the groove with the opening number, Reiner Witzel’s ‘Northern Fields’, and during the course of three sets held the near capacity audience spellbound with music of truly world class quality.
 
The contrast between the protagonist’s writing styles made for fascinating listening. Witzel, sometimes dark and brooding, captured the pulse of life in a Charles Mingus-like fashion of startling sounds and shifting times and rhythms with the brilliantly evocative ‘Tales of a Century’, ‘Nomansland’ and ‘Hafenhunde‘ (The Dogs of The Port)
 
Henderson, on the other hand, revealed a much lighter touch with début outings for three very lyrical pieces. His arrangement of ‘Sumer Is i-cumen in’, written down by a monk in Reading Abbey in about 1240, said to be ‘the earliest existing example of harmonized secular music’ and indelibly inscribed in the primary-school-day memories of generations of Reading children, was a pure delight – a medieval four-part round in jazz bossa-nova style - and a fitting tribute to the recent re-opening of Reading Abbey. ‘Reflections’, featuring the gorgeous piano of Pete Billington, was the sort of wistfully romantic ballad that sadly nobody seems to write any more – except, thankfully, Stuart Henderson. ‘Three Rivers’ beautifully captured the flow and various moods of Reading’s principal rivers, the Thames, Kennet and Holy Brook.
 
‘Voyage’ and ‘Gibraltar’, two post-1960 classics from respectively Kenny Barron and Freddie Hubbard, gave everyone free-rein to exercise their ‘jazz-chops’. Fiery alto from Witzel, blistering trumpet runs from Henderson, who revived the lost art of growling plunger mute to outstanding effect, and understated swing from Billington. Alert to every shift in gear Raph Mizraki’s rich-toned bass held the rhythm section firmly in place in partnership with the explosive drumming of Simon Price.
 
It was an evening rich with surprises, none more so than the inclusion of two numbers from Miles Davis ‘electric’ repertoire, ‘Tutu’ and ‘Shh Peaceful/It’s About That Time’. Though Miles’ innovations with electronic instruments in the late-1960s and onwards divided fans and critics alike, they had a lasting influence on jazz, giving birth to the entirely new genre of ‘jazz fusion’. I can still vividly remember the spine-tingling experience of listening to ‘In A Silent Way’ on its release in 1970. And yet, to my knowledge, unlike titles such as ‘So What’ or ‘Walkin’’ from earlier albums, nobody actually plays anything from the ‘electric’ bands.
 
Why not? Of course, at the time we didn’t know, and could never had imagined, that ‘In A Silent Way’ was painstakingly created in the editor’s cutting room from hours and hours of tape, while ‘Tutu’ took the innovation a stage further and Miles played over the lush pre-recorded arrangements of Marcus Miller. Playing the tunes ‘live’ naturally presents quite a challenge, but not one to be missed by the Reading Dusseldorf Jazz Ensemble!
 
The results were outstanding. The band drew on its entire bank of sound resources to deliver each piece; Witzel’s haunting alto, and Henderson’s sparse trumpet interjections, overlaying the kaleidoscopic background of Mizraki’s slap bass, the celestial effects conjured from Pete Billington’s keyboard, and the hypnotic beat of Simon Price’s drums. The band not only remained faithful to the original feel of the albums, we had the bonus of the spontaneity which only comes in a ‘live’ performance.
 
‘Swagmeister’, a dedication to Stuart’s son who informed his father about the word ‘swag’ to be the ultimate in cool, brought a fantastic evening to a swinging close, and the audience to its feet in rapturous appreciation. As one happy punter commented, ‘I’ve listened to jazz in New York and all over the world. This ranks with the best I’ve ever heard!’. Hear hear!
 
The Reading Fringe Festival Main Stage, a remarkable structure of inflated plastic, seemed to hold the ominous promise of a weight-reducing sauna at the beginning of the evening. To everyone’s surprise it proved to be perfect for the performance, with an atmosphere of its own that grew as the evening progressed – the next best thing to playing outdoors on a beautiful mid-summer’s evening. Sound and lighting were handled magnificently by the resident Technical Team, while the Front of House Team engendered the welcoming and ‘can’t-do-enough-for-you’ spirit of Reading Fringe Festival.
 
Thanks are due to the Reading Dusseldorf Association for their support and to Paul Johnson of ‘Jazz in Reading’ who ensured that all the strands of organization were firmly drawn together to make the event possible.
 
Reiner Witzel took his flight back to Germany early on Thursday morning in advance of working on a cruise departing from Hamburg later in the day – such is the schedule of an internationally based musician. Stuart Henderson & Company can be seen at their resident spot at the Retreat on the last Sunday of each month – don’t miss the opportunity to see them in action.
 
Can we look forward to a further episode in the jazz-link between Reading and Dusseldorf and further involvement with Reading Fringe Festival? The interest and goodwill are certainly there, so why not!


TREVOR BANNISTER

The Reading Dusseldorf Jazz Ensemble, Reading Fringe Festival Main Stage, 25/07/2018.

The Reading Dusseldorf Jazz Ensemble

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Reviewed by: Trevor Bannister

Live Review

5 out of 5

The Reading Dusseldorf Jazz Ensemble, Reading Fringe Festival Main Stage, 25/07/2018.
Photography: Photograph by Zoë White

They hit the groove with the opening number and during the course of three sets held the near capacity audience spellbound with music of truly world class quality.

The Reading Dusseldorf Jazz Ensemble
 
Reading Fringe Festival Main Stage, Reading Station Hill Plaza
 
Wednesday 25 July
 
Stuart Henderson (trumpet & flugelhorn), Reiner Witzel (alto saxophone), Pete Billington (keyboards), Raph Mizraki (bass & electric bass), Simon Price(drums).
 
‘How long have the band been together?’ I was asked by one of several curious bystanders who were drawn to the Main Stage of the Reading Fringe Festival as the sound of five jazz musicians in rehearsal drifted ‘pied piper-like’ across Reading Station Plaza early on Wednesday evening.

‘About two hours,’ I replied.

‘Two hours!’ he gasped. ‘That’s amazing. What is it about jazz that guys can get-it-together like that?’
 
With that, he continued on his way in puzzled amazement, promising that he would try to return for the concert at the appointed time.

In truth I hadn’t been entirely honest with my response. Four of the musicians play regularly under the leadership of Stuart Henderson and are well known to local jazzers as the Stuart Henderson Quartet. But, alto saxophonist Reiner Witzel had only flown into Heathrow from Dusseldorf a few hours earlier, giving him just enough time to meet the guys at Stuart’s home, and to check into his Friar Street Hotel, before making the sound-check and rehearsal at the Main Stage.
 
And to explain the background to this unique occasion a little further; Stuart had played as a guest with Reiner’s Dusseldorf Jazz Ensemble in Dusseldorf on 30th June, in a hugely successful concert which also featured guest soloists from Haifa and Chemnitz - each guest representing a community with which Dusseldorf is twinned. Reiner’s appearance in Reading, which he first visited thirty years ago as a youthful member of a big band, reciprocated that event to forge an additional link of friendship between Reading and Dusseldorf.
 
In the circumstances the musicians could easily have settled for a programme of well-worn standards familiar to themselves and the audience. But no, this was a special occasion, not just in terms of the link between Reading and Dusseldorf, but also as an opportunity to showcase the original writing talents of Stuart and Reiner, and to present jazz at its best and most challenging as part of Reading Fringe Festival. They hit the groove with the opening number, Reiner Witzel’s ‘Northern Fields’, and during the course of three sets held the near capacity audience spellbound with music of truly world class quality.
 
The contrast between the protagonist’s writing styles made for fascinating listening. Witzel, sometimes dark and brooding, captured the pulse of life in a Charles Mingus-like fashion of startling sounds and shifting times and rhythms with the brilliantly evocative ‘Tales of a Century’, ‘Nomansland’ and ‘Hafenhunde‘ (The Dogs of The Port)
 
Henderson, on the other hand, revealed a much lighter touch with début outings for three very lyrical pieces. His arrangement of ‘Sumer Is i-cumen in’, written down by a monk in Reading Abbey in about 1240, said to be ‘the earliest existing example of harmonized secular music’ and indelibly inscribed in the primary-school-day memories of generations of Reading children, was a pure delight – a medieval four-part round in jazz bossa-nova style - and a fitting tribute to the recent re-opening of Reading Abbey. ‘Reflections’, featuring the gorgeous piano of Pete Billington, was the sort of wistfully romantic ballad that sadly nobody seems to write any more – except, thankfully, Stuart Henderson. ‘Three Rivers’ beautifully captured the flow and various moods of Reading’s principal rivers, the Thames, Kennet and Holy Brook.
 
‘Voyage’ and ‘Gibraltar’, two post-1960 classics from respectively Kenny Barron and Freddie Hubbard, gave everyone free-rein to exercise their ‘jazz-chops’. Fiery alto from Witzel, blistering trumpet runs from Henderson, who revived the lost art of growling plunger mute to outstanding effect, and understated swing from Billington. Alert to every shift in gear Raph Mizraki’s rich-toned bass held the rhythm section firmly in place in partnership with the explosive drumming of Simon Price.
 
It was an evening rich with surprises, none more so than the inclusion of two numbers from Miles Davis ‘electric’ repertoire, ‘Tutu’ and ‘Shh Peaceful/It’s About That Time’. Though Miles’ innovations with electronic instruments in the late-1960s and onwards divided fans and critics alike, they had a lasting influence on jazz, giving birth to the entirely new genre of ‘jazz fusion’. I can still vividly remember the spine-tingling experience of listening to ‘In A Silent Way’ on its release in 1970. And yet, to my knowledge, unlike titles such as ‘So What’ or ‘Walkin’’ from earlier albums, nobody actually plays anything from the ‘electric’ bands.
 
Why not? Of course, at the time we didn’t know, and could never had imagined, that ‘In A Silent Way’ was painstakingly created in the editor’s cutting room from hours and hours of tape, while ‘Tutu’ took the innovation a stage further and Miles played over the lush pre-recorded arrangements of Marcus Miller. Playing the tunes ‘live’ naturally presents quite a challenge, but not one to be missed by the Reading Dusseldorf Jazz Ensemble!
 
The results were outstanding. The band drew on its entire bank of sound resources to deliver each piece; Witzel’s haunting alto, and Henderson’s sparse trumpet interjections, overlaying the kaleidoscopic background of Mizraki’s slap bass, the celestial effects conjured from Pete Billington’s keyboard, and the hypnotic beat of Simon Price’s drums. The band not only remained faithful to the original feel of the albums, we had the bonus of the spontaneity which only comes in a ‘live’ performance.
 
‘Swagmeister’, a dedication to Stuart’s son who informed his father about the word ‘swag’ to be the ultimate in cool, brought a fantastic evening to a swinging close, and the audience to its feet in rapturous appreciation. As one happy punter commented, ‘I’ve listened to jazz in New York and all over the world. This ranks with the best I’ve ever heard!’. Hear hear!
 
The Reading Fringe Festival Main Stage, a remarkable structure of inflated plastic, seemed to hold the ominous promise of a weight-reducing sauna at the beginning of the evening. To everyone’s surprise it proved to be perfect for the performance, with an atmosphere of its own that grew as the evening progressed – the next best thing to playing outdoors on a beautiful mid-summer’s evening. Sound and lighting were handled magnificently by the resident Technical Team, while the Front of House Team engendered the welcoming and ‘can’t-do-enough-for-you’ spirit of Reading Fringe Festival.
 
Thanks are due to the Reading Dusseldorf Association for their support and to Paul Johnson of ‘Jazz in Reading’ who ensured that all the strands of organization were firmly drawn together to make the event possible.
 
Reiner Witzel took his flight back to Germany early on Thursday morning in advance of working on a cruise departing from Hamburg later in the day – such is the schedule of an internationally based musician. Stuart Henderson & Company can be seen at their resident spot at the Retreat on the last Sunday of each month – don’t miss the opportunity to see them in action.
 
Can we look forward to a further episode in the jazz-link between Reading and Dusseldorf and further involvement with Reading Fringe Festival? The interest and goodwill are certainly there, so why not!


TREVOR BANNISTER

Beats & Pieces Big Band - Ten Rating: 4 out of 5 Beats & Pieces remain a hugely exciting and vital presence on the UK jazz scene. They have lost none of their youthful energy, irreverence and verve and on this evidence are playing better than ever.

Beats & Pieces Big Band

“Ten”

Efpi Records FP029)

“Ten” is a special release issued to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Manchester based Beats & Pieces Big Band.

The ensemble is directed by composer Ben Cottrell who explains the raison d’etre of this album thus;
“On 27 January 2008 I asked thirteen friends and fellow students to a rehearsal room at Manchester’s Royal College of Music to play through some tunes I’d written for big band. Beats & Pieces Big Band emerged. Exactly ten years on from that first meeting we invited an audience of friends, family and key supporters to the same RNCM rehearsal space for a special anniversary gig, documented here. On behalf of all the Beats & Pieces musicians past and present thanks for a fun first ten years; we hope there’ll be many more to come”.

The Jazzmann has always been a champion of the band since the release of its eponymous début EP back in 2010, my review of the recording being the first one they’d received outside the city of Manchester. I was impressed by the band’s youthful energy and dynamism and by the punk like attitude they exhibited, releasing the album on their own independent EFPI label and packaging the EP in a cool cardboard sleeve made entirely from recycled materials.

B&PBB were already an exciting live prospect and the rest of the jazz world quickly started to catch up with the group and their music. In 2011 they were awarded the prize for European Young Jazz Artists of the Year at the Burghausen Jazz Week in Germany. The resultant prize money helped to finance the recording of the band’s first full length album, the aptly named “Big Ideas”, which was released in 2012.

Despite the ironing out of a few rough edges this was still a hugely exciting recording that brought the band to the attention of the national jazz audience and saw B&PBB taken under the wing of the London based Serious organisation. The band became regulars on the UK festival circuit appearing at London and Manchester Jazz Festivals, the Mostly Jazz Festival in Birmingham and the Hay literary festival among others.

In 2015 B&PBB released their second full length album “All In”, the title of which emphasised their collective ethos. Another excellent recording prompted a further batch of touring including more festival appearances. More recently the band have been on tour in North America as part of their tenth anniversary celebrations.

In addition to following the progress of B&PBB the Jazzmann has also been supportive of the individual projects of some of its musicians, including guitarist Anton Hunter, saxophonist Sam Andreae and trumpeter Nick Walters, and of the EFPI label in general.

Musicians have come and gone within the B&PBB ranks over the years but the majority of the founding members are still present. For the performance documented on this disc the line up was as follows;

Ben Cottrell – director
Anthony Brown, Oliver Dover, Tom Ward – saxophones
Richard Foote, Simon Lodge– trombones
Rich McVeigh – bass trombone
Owen Bryce, Graham South, Nick Walters – trumpets
Anton Hunter – guitar
Richard Jones – piano, Rhodes
Stewart Wilson – bass
Finlay Panter – drums

Essentially this is a live album, recorded in front of a supportive audience, and it’s clear from the outset that ten years on the band have lost none of their youthful zest and vitality. The energy levels start high and remain there, it must have been one hell of a night, wish I could have been there.

B&PBB have never sounded like an orthodox big band -”we’re just a band that happens to be big”, as the group themselves say. They have always drawn on many influences including jazz, rock (notably Radiohead), contemporary classical and electronic music. They’ve been described as a ‘21st century Loose Tubes’ but despite similarities of attitude and approach Cottrell plays down the comparison citing instead the influence of big band composers and arrangers such as Matthew Herbert, Colin Towns, Maria Schneider and even Gil Evans.  However of all the big band composers and arrangers it’s the Canadian born, New York based Darcy James Argue who has been the most inspirational, another musician with highly contemporary sensibilities.

With this being both a live recording and something of a career retrospective it comes as no surprise to find that some of these pieces have already appeared on previous B&PBB recordings. However this in no way lessens, or detracts from, the excitement of his hugely vibrant and enjoyable recording – and there’s a fair amount of brand new material too. Cottrell favours snappy one word tune titles, a reflection of B&PBB’s punk/indie rock aesthetic. Indeed Cottrell has been quoted as stating that another key influence on the band was Pete Wareham’s pioneering punk jazz outfit Acoustic Ladyland who cut a swathe across the UK jazz scene back in 2005 or so. B&PBB began as an attempt to reproduce the Ladyland aesthetic on a bigger scale.

With the exception of one piece written by Panter the entire repertoire is composed and arranged by Cottrell commencing with the new tune “Nois”. I seem to remember that the title is a Portuguese word meaning “Us”, which sums the B&PBB ethos very nicely. In any event the tune comes roaring out of the blocks courtesy of the powerful riffing of Hunter’s cranked up electric guitar. He’s quickly joined by Panter’s dynamic, brutal drumming before the rest of the band pile in with clipped horn phrases augmenting Hunter’s ongoing sonic assault. The guitarist’s taut riffing is a constant almost throughout the piece but the only orthodox jazz solo comes from Walters who exhibits an admirable power and fluency with a bravura trumpet solo. Taken all together it makes for a terrific, and hugely exciting, start.

“Jazzwalk” first appeared on the “Big Ideas” album and features a broadly similar arrangement to the studio recording. Wilson’s electric bass starts things off and his patterns help to shape the structure of the piece. The combined horns make an impressively big sound and their collective power is a significant factor throughout the album. Following a short dialogue between Wilson’s bass and Panter’s drums the first solo comes from Dover on alto sax (the recorded version featured founding member Sam Healey) who whinnys incisively against a powerful horn and drum driven backdrop. Hunter then takes the opportunity to cut loose on electric guitar, exhibiting a strong rock influence and veering close to heavy metal at times.

“Three” also appeared on “Big Ideas” and retains its natural and obvious place in the running order here. It’s not quite as high octane as the first two items but still packs a punch with its brooding, unsettling arrangement augmented by searching solos from Walters on trumpet (he also features on the studio recording) and Ward on baritone sax. The band then ramp up the energy levels with a frenetic closing section.

“Rain” reveals a contemporary classical music influence, notably that of minimalist composer Steve Reich. Cottrell’s piece is inspired by Reich’s pioneering composition “It’s Going To Rain” and is centred around Jones’ mesmerically recurring Rhodes motif. It’s a more forceful rendition than the studio version with a harder and more propulsive groove. Wilson’s electric bass pulse frees up Jones to take an extended Rhodes solo that is variously spacey and funky. He’s effectively shadowed by Panter’s busy drumming.

“Time” is a new piece written by Panter and arranged by Cottrell that begins with the sound of the composer’s drums which usher in a brooding, vaguely unsettling arrangement paced by Panter’s skittering, hip hop influenced grooves. Rich horn voicings both augment, and contrast with, the contemporary rhythms and electronic textures (presumably generated by either Jones or Hunter), while the solo honours go to trumpeter Graham South with a skilfully structured feature that gradually builds in intensity.

“Broken” appears on both the début EP and on “Big Ideas”. The two versions are substantially different but each features guest female vocals and electronics from two different sets of invitees. The 2018 version of “Broken” is equally atmospheric with Hunter’s guitar soundscaping shaping the piece while Brown reprises his plaintive tenor sax solo from the “Big Ideas” version, his playing slowly growing in intensity on this slow burning, lighter-waver of a tune.

Panter’s drums launch “Pop”, a Cottrell composition apparently inspired by Quincy Jones’ string arrangements for Michael Jackson. The drummer maintains a buoyant, highly propulsive groove throughout and the horn arrangements are simultaneously both lush and powerful with Walters again the featured soloist on trumpet, playing both with a mute and with an open bell.

“Toan” was the first piece that Cottrell ever wrote for B&PBB and appeared on the début EP. Naturally it just had to feature here and is introduced by Jones with an extended passage of broodingly lyrical solo acoustic piano. The pianist then sets up a groove that forms the basis for the longer second section with its rousing big band style horn charts and rumbustious rhythms. There’s a hint of klezmer about Brown’s incisive soprano sax solo, this followed by an absorbing passage featuring just the three trombones in an animated exchange of interlocking lines and phrases; a stunning set piece that includes McVeigh’s tuba like rasps.

The new tune “Banger” is urged in by Hunter’s turbo-charged guitar and features a typically propulsive bass and drum groove. This helps to fuel a dirty sounding Rhodes solo from Jones that combines sci-fi sounds with an underlying funk. Meanwhile the horns race each other breezily on a relentlessly upbeat tune that is surely destined to become a favourite in the B&PBB canon.

Finally we hear “Hendo”, the tenth and final track on this hugely enjoyable album. The piece first appeared on “All In” and is introduced by Wilson’s electric bass which is soon joined by carousing horns; but it’s Wilson’s groove that shapes the flow of the piece and helps to fuel the biting soprano sax solo from Dover and the gloriously rousing ensemble passages in which Hunter’s guitar remains a vital, if unruly presence.

“Ten” reveals that after a decade of existence and despite several changes of personnel Beats & Pieces remain a hugely exciting and vital presence on the UK jazz scene. They have lost none of their youthful energy, irreverence and verve and on this evidence are playing better than ever. More importantly the quality of the newer material suggests that composer Cottrell still has much to say in the context of B&PBB and the band should be around for a few more years yet, maybe for a second decade if we’re lucky.

Ten

Beats & Pieces Big Band

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Ten

Beats & Pieces remain a hugely exciting and vital presence on the UK jazz scene. They have lost none of their youthful energy, irreverence and verve and on this evidence are playing better than ever.

Beats & Pieces Big Band

“Ten”

Efpi Records FP029)

“Ten” is a special release issued to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Manchester based Beats & Pieces Big Band.

The ensemble is directed by composer Ben Cottrell who explains the raison d’etre of this album thus;
“On 27 January 2008 I asked thirteen friends and fellow students to a rehearsal room at Manchester’s Royal College of Music to play through some tunes I’d written for big band. Beats & Pieces Big Band emerged. Exactly ten years on from that first meeting we invited an audience of friends, family and key supporters to the same RNCM rehearsal space for a special anniversary gig, documented here. On behalf of all the Beats & Pieces musicians past and present thanks for a fun first ten years; we hope there’ll be many more to come”.

The Jazzmann has always been a champion of the band since the release of its eponymous début EP back in 2010, my review of the recording being the first one they’d received outside the city of Manchester. I was impressed by the band’s youthful energy and dynamism and by the punk like attitude they exhibited, releasing the album on their own independent EFPI label and packaging the EP in a cool cardboard sleeve made entirely from recycled materials.

B&PBB were already an exciting live prospect and the rest of the jazz world quickly started to catch up with the group and their music. In 2011 they were awarded the prize for European Young Jazz Artists of the Year at the Burghausen Jazz Week in Germany. The resultant prize money helped to finance the recording of the band’s first full length album, the aptly named “Big Ideas”, which was released in 2012.

Despite the ironing out of a few rough edges this was still a hugely exciting recording that brought the band to the attention of the national jazz audience and saw B&PBB taken under the wing of the London based Serious organisation. The band became regulars on the UK festival circuit appearing at London and Manchester Jazz Festivals, the Mostly Jazz Festival in Birmingham and the Hay literary festival among others.

In 2015 B&PBB released their second full length album “All In”, the title of which emphasised their collective ethos. Another excellent recording prompted a further batch of touring including more festival appearances. More recently the band have been on tour in North America as part of their tenth anniversary celebrations.

In addition to following the progress of B&PBB the Jazzmann has also been supportive of the individual projects of some of its musicians, including guitarist Anton Hunter, saxophonist Sam Andreae and trumpeter Nick Walters, and of the EFPI label in general.

Musicians have come and gone within the B&PBB ranks over the years but the majority of the founding members are still present. For the performance documented on this disc the line up was as follows;

Ben Cottrell – director
Anthony Brown, Oliver Dover, Tom Ward – saxophones
Richard Foote, Simon Lodge– trombones
Rich McVeigh – bass trombone
Owen Bryce, Graham South, Nick Walters – trumpets
Anton Hunter – guitar
Richard Jones – piano, Rhodes
Stewart Wilson – bass
Finlay Panter – drums

Essentially this is a live album, recorded in front of a supportive audience, and it’s clear from the outset that ten years on the band have lost none of their youthful zest and vitality. The energy levels start high and remain there, it must have been one hell of a night, wish I could have been there.

B&PBB have never sounded like an orthodox big band -”we’re just a band that happens to be big”, as the group themselves say. They have always drawn on many influences including jazz, rock (notably Radiohead), contemporary classical and electronic music. They’ve been described as a ‘21st century Loose Tubes’ but despite similarities of attitude and approach Cottrell plays down the comparison citing instead the influence of big band composers and arrangers such as Matthew Herbert, Colin Towns, Maria Schneider and even Gil Evans.  However of all the big band composers and arrangers it’s the Canadian born, New York based Darcy James Argue who has been the most inspirational, another musician with highly contemporary sensibilities.

With this being both a live recording and something of a career retrospective it comes as no surprise to find that some of these pieces have already appeared on previous B&PBB recordings. However this in no way lessens, or detracts from, the excitement of his hugely vibrant and enjoyable recording – and there’s a fair amount of brand new material too. Cottrell favours snappy one word tune titles, a reflection of B&PBB’s punk/indie rock aesthetic. Indeed Cottrell has been quoted as stating that another key influence on the band was Pete Wareham’s pioneering punk jazz outfit Acoustic Ladyland who cut a swathe across the UK jazz scene back in 2005 or so. B&PBB began as an attempt to reproduce the Ladyland aesthetic on a bigger scale.

With the exception of one piece written by Panter the entire repertoire is composed and arranged by Cottrell commencing with the new tune “Nois”. I seem to remember that the title is a Portuguese word meaning “Us”, which sums the B&PBB ethos very nicely. In any event the tune comes roaring out of the blocks courtesy of the powerful riffing of Hunter’s cranked up electric guitar. He’s quickly joined by Panter’s dynamic, brutal drumming before the rest of the band pile in with clipped horn phrases augmenting Hunter’s ongoing sonic assault. The guitarist’s taut riffing is a constant almost throughout the piece but the only orthodox jazz solo comes from Walters who exhibits an admirable power and fluency with a bravura trumpet solo. Taken all together it makes for a terrific, and hugely exciting, start.

“Jazzwalk” first appeared on the “Big Ideas” album and features a broadly similar arrangement to the studio recording. Wilson’s electric bass starts things off and his patterns help to shape the structure of the piece. The combined horns make an impressively big sound and their collective power is a significant factor throughout the album. Following a short dialogue between Wilson’s bass and Panter’s drums the first solo comes from Dover on alto sax (the recorded version featured founding member Sam Healey) who whinnys incisively against a powerful horn and drum driven backdrop. Hunter then takes the opportunity to cut loose on electric guitar, exhibiting a strong rock influence and veering close to heavy metal at times.

“Three” also appeared on “Big Ideas” and retains its natural and obvious place in the running order here. It’s not quite as high octane as the first two items but still packs a punch with its brooding, unsettling arrangement augmented by searching solos from Walters on trumpet (he also features on the studio recording) and Ward on baritone sax. The band then ramp up the energy levels with a frenetic closing section.

“Rain” reveals a contemporary classical music influence, notably that of minimalist composer Steve Reich. Cottrell’s piece is inspired by Reich’s pioneering composition “It’s Going To Rain” and is centred around Jones’ mesmerically recurring Rhodes motif. It’s a more forceful rendition than the studio version with a harder and more propulsive groove. Wilson’s electric bass pulse frees up Jones to take an extended Rhodes solo that is variously spacey and funky. He’s effectively shadowed by Panter’s busy drumming.

“Time” is a new piece written by Panter and arranged by Cottrell that begins with the sound of the composer’s drums which usher in a brooding, vaguely unsettling arrangement paced by Panter’s skittering, hip hop influenced grooves. Rich horn voicings both augment, and contrast with, the contemporary rhythms and electronic textures (presumably generated by either Jones or Hunter), while the solo honours go to trumpeter Graham South with a skilfully structured feature that gradually builds in intensity.

“Broken” appears on both the début EP and on “Big Ideas”. The two versions are substantially different but each features guest female vocals and electronics from two different sets of invitees. The 2018 version of “Broken” is equally atmospheric with Hunter’s guitar soundscaping shaping the piece while Brown reprises his plaintive tenor sax solo from the “Big Ideas” version, his playing slowly growing in intensity on this slow burning, lighter-waver of a tune.

Panter’s drums launch “Pop”, a Cottrell composition apparently inspired by Quincy Jones’ string arrangements for Michael Jackson. The drummer maintains a buoyant, highly propulsive groove throughout and the horn arrangements are simultaneously both lush and powerful with Walters again the featured soloist on trumpet, playing both with a mute and with an open bell.

“Toan” was the first piece that Cottrell ever wrote for B&PBB and appeared on the début EP. Naturally it just had to feature here and is introduced by Jones with an extended passage of broodingly lyrical solo acoustic piano. The pianist then sets up a groove that forms the basis for the longer second section with its rousing big band style horn charts and rumbustious rhythms. There’s a hint of klezmer about Brown’s incisive soprano sax solo, this followed by an absorbing passage featuring just the three trombones in an animated exchange of interlocking lines and phrases; a stunning set piece that includes McVeigh’s tuba like rasps.

The new tune “Banger” is urged in by Hunter’s turbo-charged guitar and features a typically propulsive bass and drum groove. This helps to fuel a dirty sounding Rhodes solo from Jones that combines sci-fi sounds with an underlying funk. Meanwhile the horns race each other breezily on a relentlessly upbeat tune that is surely destined to become a favourite in the B&PBB canon.

Finally we hear “Hendo”, the tenth and final track on this hugely enjoyable album. The piece first appeared on “All In” and is introduced by Wilson’s electric bass which is soon joined by carousing horns; but it’s Wilson’s groove that shapes the flow of the piece and helps to fuel the biting soprano sax solo from Dover and the gloriously rousing ensemble passages in which Hunter’s guitar remains a vital, if unruly presence.

“Ten” reveals that after a decade of existence and despite several changes of personnel Beats & Pieces remain a hugely exciting and vital presence on the UK jazz scene. They have lost none of their youthful energy, irreverence and verve and on this evidence are playing better than ever. More importantly the quality of the newer material suggests that composer Cottrell still has much to say in the context of B&PBB and the band should be around for a few more years yet, maybe for a second decade if we’re lucky.

Floating Circles Quartet - Eleven Yesterdays Ago Rating: 3-5 out of 5 It’s good to hear the clarinet being used in this very contemporary context and this EP bodes well for the quartet’s future.

Floating Circles Quartet

“Eleven Yesterdays Ago”

(Self Released Digital EP)

Aidan Pearson – clarinet
Dom Stockbridge – guitar
Jonny Wickham – bass
Arthur Newell - drums

Floating Circles Quartet is a new, young group led by London based clarinettist and composer Aidan Pearson.

A musician with a foot in both the jazz and classical music camps Pearson studied jazz at London’s Guildhall School of Music where his tutors included saxophonists Martin Speake and Martin Hathaway, flautist Gareth Lockrane and pianist Malcolm Edmondstone. Among the ensembles with which Pearson has played are Tomorrow’s Warriors, led by bassist Gary Crosby, and the Southbank Sinfonia.

As a sideman, sometimes also playing saxophone, Pearson has played at many of London’s leading jazz venues with musicians such as pianist Peter Edwards,  rising star guitarist Rob Luft and big name Americans Marcus Roberts (piano) and Jason Marsalis (drums).

As a composer Pearson has written for classical ensembles ranging from wind quartet to full orchestra in addition to writing for jazz groups. He is the sole composer for Floating Circles Quartet, the line up of which also features Dom Stockbridge on guitar, Jonny Wickham on double bass and Arthur Newell of the drums.

Of the four only Newell has appeared on the Jazzmann web pages before, this when he played on the recent album release “Anecdotes II” by bassist and composer Matthew Read’s trio. Pearson, Read and Newell were all at the Guildhall together and it was my review of Read’s album that prompted Pearson to get in touch with me with a view to my reviewing the début release from Floating Circles Quartet. In the meantime my review of “Anecdotes II” by the Matthew Read Trio can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/matthew-read-trio-anecdotes-ii/

The début recording from Floating Circles Quartet is a four track EP titled “Eleven Yesterdays Ago” which will be released shortly and will be available via Soundcloud and Bandcamp.

Pearson describes his group as a jazz/ambient quartet and cites Mammal Hands, Andy Sheppard and Brian Eno as sources of inspiration. I’ve been lucky enough to listen to the music in advance of the official release date and although I can see where Pearson is coming from with that comment none of these influences is particularly overt. Instead Floating Circles Quartet have already created their own distinctive sound, one that draws on jazz, classical, folk and even rock influences. Their music is laid back and self effacing, unforced, unhurried and unmistakeably English.

The EP commences with the seven and a half minute “Always We Can Meet” which begins with an unaccompanied guitar intro before evolving slowly and organically with Stockbridge’s gently circling, pointillist guitar motifs combining effectively with Wickham’s bass and Newell’s understated but agile drumming to create subtly interlocking rhythms above which Pearson’s clarinet is free to soar. Pearson’s clarinet sound is pure and light, sometimes almost sounding like a flute (possibly Lockrane’s influence) or a soprano saxophone. As he floats above the delicate lattice of rhythms generated by his colleagues I’m reminded of the role of Jack Wyllie’s saxophone in Portico Quartet, albeit in a more pastoral setting. The inventive and versatile Stockbridge later takes over the reins with a succinct guitar solo.

The second piece, “Distrait Mountaineer” is of similar duration and introduces itself in atmospheric fashion with Pearson’s unaccompanied clarinet quickly joined by Stockbridge’s spacey guitar and Newell’s cymbal shimmers. With Stockbridge deploying his guitar effects subtly and effectively the piece retains its other worldly feel throughout, even during the relatively conventional guitar and clarinet solos that follow.

At a little over two and a half minutes in length the title track is much more concise and is positively jaunty in comparison. The piece commences with a lively and melodic dialogue between Pearson and Stockbridge before the rhythm joins in, keeping the grooves sparse and simple with Newell deploying brushes. Pearson solos briefly with Stockbridge’s guitar later coming to the fore for an even shorter cameo. It’s all very charming, but over far too soon.

The final piece, “Grandfather’s Clock”, commences with a solo guitar intro, with the echoey twang of Stockbridge’s atmospheric playing recalling Bill Frisell. Pearson’s clarinet playing deploys both the earlier flute like tones and a deeper, woodier sound of the kind more often associated with jazz. Nevertheless it’s still a million miles from New Orleans, or even Acker Bilk. Wickham’s melodic double bass is given a moment in the spotlight while Newell’s neat cymbal work combines with the guitar to approximate the sound of the workings and chimes of the titular clock’s mechanism.

It’s been a bit weird for me reviewing this music from a series of Soundcloud links rather than the usual CD but there is much to enjoy here. Pearson has developed an unusual and very personal sound on clarinet and he’s given excellent and highly sympathetic support by the other members of the Floating Circles Quartet. Stockbridge has absorbed the influence of Frisell, Rosenwinkel and others, while Newell impresses throughout, particularly with his exquisite cymbal work.

I found the group’s music absorbing and often beautiful, though I can appreciate that there are some listeners who may find their undemonstrative ‘chamber jazz’ approach a little bloodless. For me, it’s good to hear the clarinet being used in this very contemporary context and this EP bodes well for the quartet’s future. I’d certainly welcome the opportunity of seeing them play this music live, but suspect that at this point in their career they rarely play outside London. Let’s hope that the release of this EP helps to spark a wider interest in the band across the UK as a whole.

Eleven Yesterdays Ago

Floating Circles Quartet

Monday, July 23, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

EP Review

3-5 out of 5

Eleven Yesterdays Ago

It’s good to hear the clarinet being used in this very contemporary context and this EP bodes well for the quartet’s future.

Floating Circles Quartet

“Eleven Yesterdays Ago”

(Self Released Digital EP)

Aidan Pearson – clarinet
Dom Stockbridge – guitar
Jonny Wickham – bass
Arthur Newell - drums

Floating Circles Quartet is a new, young group led by London based clarinettist and composer Aidan Pearson.

A musician with a foot in both the jazz and classical music camps Pearson studied jazz at London’s Guildhall School of Music where his tutors included saxophonists Martin Speake and Martin Hathaway, flautist Gareth Lockrane and pianist Malcolm Edmondstone. Among the ensembles with which Pearson has played are Tomorrow’s Warriors, led by bassist Gary Crosby, and the Southbank Sinfonia.

As a sideman, sometimes also playing saxophone, Pearson has played at many of London’s leading jazz venues with musicians such as pianist Peter Edwards,  rising star guitarist Rob Luft and big name Americans Marcus Roberts (piano) and Jason Marsalis (drums).

As a composer Pearson has written for classical ensembles ranging from wind quartet to full orchestra in addition to writing for jazz groups. He is the sole composer for Floating Circles Quartet, the line up of which also features Dom Stockbridge on guitar, Jonny Wickham on double bass and Arthur Newell of the drums.

Of the four only Newell has appeared on the Jazzmann web pages before, this when he played on the recent album release “Anecdotes II” by bassist and composer Matthew Read’s trio. Pearson, Read and Newell were all at the Guildhall together and it was my review of Read’s album that prompted Pearson to get in touch with me with a view to my reviewing the début release from Floating Circles Quartet. In the meantime my review of “Anecdotes II” by the Matthew Read Trio can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/matthew-read-trio-anecdotes-ii/

The début recording from Floating Circles Quartet is a four track EP titled “Eleven Yesterdays Ago” which will be released shortly and will be available via Soundcloud and Bandcamp.

Pearson describes his group as a jazz/ambient quartet and cites Mammal Hands, Andy Sheppard and Brian Eno as sources of inspiration. I’ve been lucky enough to listen to the music in advance of the official release date and although I can see where Pearson is coming from with that comment none of these influences is particularly overt. Instead Floating Circles Quartet have already created their own distinctive sound, one that draws on jazz, classical, folk and even rock influences. Their music is laid back and self effacing, unforced, unhurried and unmistakeably English.

The EP commences with the seven and a half minute “Always We Can Meet” which begins with an unaccompanied guitar intro before evolving slowly and organically with Stockbridge’s gently circling, pointillist guitar motifs combining effectively with Wickham’s bass and Newell’s understated but agile drumming to create subtly interlocking rhythms above which Pearson’s clarinet is free to soar. Pearson’s clarinet sound is pure and light, sometimes almost sounding like a flute (possibly Lockrane’s influence) or a soprano saxophone. As he floats above the delicate lattice of rhythms generated by his colleagues I’m reminded of the role of Jack Wyllie’s saxophone in Portico Quartet, albeit in a more pastoral setting. The inventive and versatile Stockbridge later takes over the reins with a succinct guitar solo.

The second piece, “Distrait Mountaineer” is of similar duration and introduces itself in atmospheric fashion with Pearson’s unaccompanied clarinet quickly joined by Stockbridge’s spacey guitar and Newell’s cymbal shimmers. With Stockbridge deploying his guitar effects subtly and effectively the piece retains its other worldly feel throughout, even during the relatively conventional guitar and clarinet solos that follow.

At a little over two and a half minutes in length the title track is much more concise and is positively jaunty in comparison. The piece commences with a lively and melodic dialogue between Pearson and Stockbridge before the rhythm joins in, keeping the grooves sparse and simple with Newell deploying brushes. Pearson solos briefly with Stockbridge’s guitar later coming to the fore for an even shorter cameo. It’s all very charming, but over far too soon.

The final piece, “Grandfather’s Clock”, commences with a solo guitar intro, with the echoey twang of Stockbridge’s atmospheric playing recalling Bill Frisell. Pearson’s clarinet playing deploys both the earlier flute like tones and a deeper, woodier sound of the kind more often associated with jazz. Nevertheless it’s still a million miles from New Orleans, or even Acker Bilk. Wickham’s melodic double bass is given a moment in the spotlight while Newell’s neat cymbal work combines with the guitar to approximate the sound of the workings and chimes of the titular clock’s mechanism.

It’s been a bit weird for me reviewing this music from a series of Soundcloud links rather than the usual CD but there is much to enjoy here. Pearson has developed an unusual and very personal sound on clarinet and he’s given excellent and highly sympathetic support by the other members of the Floating Circles Quartet. Stockbridge has absorbed the influence of Frisell, Rosenwinkel and others, while Newell impresses throughout, particularly with his exquisite cymbal work.

I found the group’s music absorbing and often beautiful, though I can appreciate that there are some listeners who may find their undemonstrative ‘chamber jazz’ approach a little bloodless. For me, it’s good to hear the clarinet being used in this very contemporary context and this EP bodes well for the quartet’s future. I’d certainly welcome the opportunity of seeing them play this music live, but suspect that at this point in their career they rarely play outside London. Let’s hope that the release of this EP helps to spark a wider interest in the band across the UK as a whole.

Onyx Brass - Onyx Noir Rating: 3-5 out of 5 A highly accomplished and very sophisticated piece of work. An interesting and innovative recording with much to recommend it and plenty of fine moments to enjoy.

Onyx Brass

“Onyx Noir”

(NMC Recordings NMC D237)

Niall Keatley, Alan Thomas – trumpets
Andrew Sutton –  french horn
Amos Miller – trombone
David Gordon-Shute - tuba

Onyx Brass is a five piece brass ensemble that specialises in performing contemporary chamber music. The group, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2018, is well known for supporting new music and has commissioned and performed the world premières over 150 new works from a wide range of composers including such well known names as Michael Nyman, John Tavener and Steve Martland.

Onyx Brass has toured worldwide and been featured regularly on BBC Radio 3. The ensemble also see music education as an important part of their work and have regularly led workshops and master-classes at educational establishments all across the UK and further afield, including the Juilliard School of Music in New York.

Onyx have recorded a number of discs in which they interpret the music of classical composers from various epochs. One, “Time to Time” from 2011, features the voice of the American baritone Mark Steele. Onyx work regularly with singers, particularly choirs both professional and amateur.

Away from the group the individual members of Onyx Brass are active orchestral musicians with permanent posts in such prestigious institutions as the BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra of the English National Opera, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and the English Chamber Orchestra. Individually and collectively they are well respected throughout the classical world with the esteemed conductor and educator Richard Dickins among the many to sing their praises.

To celebrate their 25th anniversary the ever adventurous Onyx Brass explore the world of jazz with a new album, “Onyx Noir”, that celebrates the work of British jazz composers. The seeds of the project date right back to 1994 as trombonist Amos Miller explains in the album’s liner notes;
“In 1994 I was a participant in the Banff International Jazz Summer School, where one of the tutors was Kenny Wheeler. I was completely smitten by both his music and his playing, and thought that, one day, I might have the courage to approach him to write a piece for our newly formed quintet. Fast forward to 2012, when I was fortunate enough to be playing on Gwilym Simcock’s amazing album “Instrumation”, and this long held idea was suddenly given life. Having persuaded Gwilym to agree to write something for us I was then chatting to the drummer Martin France at a tea break and mentioned my long held dream to ask Kenny to write a brass quintet piece. Martin immediately gave me Kenny’s phone number and said ‘call him now, and tell him I said so!’.
Kenny was grace personified and agreed, with the caveat that it might take him some time. Less than three weeks later he phoned back with the news that he’d already finished it! Having Kenny and Gwilym on board made it easier to approach the other legends on this album, all of whom have been astoundingly generous and enthusiastic about the project. The commissioning side of this project has been entirely self funded by Onyx Brass and, we would like to put on record our heartfelt gratitude to the composers for their generosity, both of time and talent.
There is currently a golden era in British jazz and we felt that it was important, not just from a brass chamber music perspective, but also from a wider classical music point of view, that this well of talent should be tapped to create music in a jazz idiom, using each composer’s unique understanding of melody, harmony and rhythm, but playable by classical musicians. The commissioning brief for each composer was simple; something around five minutes and do whatever you want! We are completely thrilled by the results, and hope you have as much fun listening to it as we have had playing it.
This album is dedicated to the memory of Kenny Wheeler.”

As Miller says the commissioned composers have bought fully into the project and the CD booklet includes brief insights from the writers into their individual pieces. The album is subtitled “Jazz Works for Brass Quintet”.

The album commences with Simcock’s “Stomper”, the pianist and composer’s first piece for brass quintet despite Simcock’s habitual straddling of the jazz / classical boundaries. Simcock found writing for an ensemble containing a french horn (an instrument that he also plays himself) particularly interesting and his piece concentrates on the rhythmic possibilities of the ensemble with Sutton’s french horn and Gordon-Shute’s tuba both playing a prominent part in the arrangement. Yet this is still unmistakably a classical ensemble, there are none of the pumping grooves and strident soloing of the New Orleans brass band tradition, an area of music that is becoming an increasingly overcrowded field. Indeed Onyx’s rather more subtle use of rhythm and counterpoint on this two part composition from Simcock makes for a refreshing change with the focus very much on ensemble playing rather than conventional jazz soloing.

Next up is “Holy Chalcedony”, written by the supremely versatile electric bass player Laurence Cottle. “Chalcedony is the technical word for Onyx” explains Cottle “and this gospel infused tune takes us on a short walk from a village church to Funksville, Arizona”. As its composer suggests there’s an authentically church like feel to the opening of the piece with its warm and elegant horn voicings conveying a suitably ecclesiastical atmosphere. The pace subsequently quickens, with the tuba again playing a prominent role, as the tune takes on more of an American gospel feel, whilst still studiously avoiding the New Orleans marching band clichés.
Onyx Brass have recently issued a video to accompany this track which can be viewed here;
: https://youtu.be/NZcweYdofns

Miller provides the liner notes for the late Wheeler’s “1 for 5”, a typically playful and enigmatic Kenny title. The piece is divided into two distinct movements that re-imagine two of his earlier pieces, “Pretty Liddle Waltz” and that modern day jazz standard “Everybody’s Song But My Own”.
As Miller points out “harmonically, rhythmically and melodically they could only be from the Wheeler pen”. The arrangements and sumptuous and offer ample evidence of “Wheeler’s deep understanding of brass instruments”. Sharp eared jazz listeners will doubtless recognise the melodies of the earlier works.

Like Simcock the saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes is another artist who transcends the jazz/classical divide, notably with her genre blurring Emulsion Festival, now in its sixth year.
Her piece is “The Mighty Pencil”, which she dedicates to the victims of the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting and of which she says;
“I wrote this piece to encourage the fine members of Onyx Brass to have fun with incorporating improvisation into the mix! And pencils are essential to creatives everywhere…”
The members of Onyx rise to the improvisatory challenge on a piece with a freely structured intro but still possessing plenty of recognisably written melodies, these encouraging some excellent interplay, some of it no doubt improvised, between the members of the quintet.

Trombonist Mark Nightingale’s piece “For Rosie” was originally written as part of a suite for jazz trombone and chamber orchestra for the International Trombone Festival in Aarhus, Denmark in 2009. The piece is dedicated to the composer’s daughter (then aged 8) and has been re-arranged specifically for Onyx Brass. Gently interweaving melody lines lead to a statement of the main theme by french horn. The mood is warm, reflecting the tenderness of a father towards his young daughter. Nightingale’s notes make reference to “a cascading interlude and key change” plus “a short recapitulation rising through a crescendo before the coda, in which the music gradually melts down to a final tonic chord”.

Pianist Jason Rebello appears to have taken the commission brief literally. Of his piece “Inevitable Outcome” he says “the music was allowed flow and be what it wanted to be, and it is the inevitable outcome of my life experiences to date”. Rebello is something of a musical polymath whose career has embraced jazz, soul and rock (most famously as part of Sting’s band) but he comes from a classical background, a fact that is reflected in the sophistication of his writing here. His piece is rich in terms of both melody and rhythm and makes effective use of the quintet’s formidable technical abilities.

Tuba player David Powell is best known to jazz listeners as a member of the mighty Loose Tubes but he also has a parallel classical career playing in various London based classical ensembles. The title of “Symbols at your Door” comes from the childhood counting song “Green Grow the Rushes-o” and was chosen simply because Onyx Brass has five members. Powell plays down his abilities as a composer stating that “the piece grew out of material from a simple choral psalm setting I wrote a few years ago”. There’s a beautiful, calming quality about the piece, which includes a delightfully meditative tuba solo from Gordon-Shute. Powell also includes “a little triple time tango section, based on a chord sequence from my musical hero Astor Piazolla”. It’s so skilfully integrated that there’s no discernible interruption to the mood and flow of this unexpectedly lovely and contemplative piece.

Pianist Liam Noble admits that his “Imaginary Dance” is his first ever through composed piece.  “Finding structural devices to replace the ‘shut your eyes and listen’ approach of improvisation was an interesting experience” he observes. The writing was dictated by “imagining what a dancer might like to happen next” he explains. Gordon-Shute’s tuba again plays a key role in an arrangement that gravitates from the contemplative to the lively and exuberant. “Onyx Brass dance through this with impeccable and raucous aplomb” notes the composer.

The album takes its title from trumpeter and composer Guy Barker’s piece “Onyx Noir”. The composition has its roots in Barker’s love of cinema and particularly film noir. Inspired by his fondness for the genre and of the soundtracks that accompanied the films Barker wrote an ambitious mini-suite for orchestra and jazz ensemble called “Sounds in Black and White” that appeared on his 2002 cinema themed album “Soundtrack”. Faced with a commission for a brass quintet Barker found himself drawn back to this musical area to create a piece “that was atmospheric and smoky, but still quite intense”. Onyx Brass realise Barker’s ambitions admirably in a sumptuous performance with the five instruments blending and dovetailing seamlessly on an arrangement with an appropriately noirish quality that expertly navigates a number of thematic and emotional variations with great aplomb. The tuba again plays an important role but, as is befitting in a composition by Barker, there’s some excellent trumpet playing too, although it’s impossible to single out individuals.

Saxophonist Mick Foster’s “Hamlet Stories” compresses three short movements into a single performance. These are separated into three tracks on the CD. The first “combines lyrical thematic ideas and spiky rhythms”, the second picks up one of the themes to create “a rhythmic riff idea”, while the third “contains a stately tune, which builds in volume whilst being heard in several keys”.Apparently the inspiration for the work is not Shakespeare but instead the name of the main shopping street in Westcliff on Sea where Foster lives!

Similarly bassoonist/saxophonist Colin Skinner presents a three part composition “Firebox”, with each movement being named after a different steam locomotive. The first movement, “Hetton Colliery Lyon” even includes suitable sound effects (I wouldn’t like to speculate as to the source of these) as Onyx brass depict one of the earliest British locomotives toiling in the coal yard. It’s a surprisingly melodic piece which combines an underlying bluesiness with a nod to the Northern brass band tradition.
Skinner’s individual movements are more clearly delineated than Foster’s had been. “Sunny South Sam” is so called after a nickname for the Southern Railway and depicts one of the company’s locomotives hauling a train to the seaside. The mood is suitably bucolic and nostalgic, like an old picture postcard brought to life.
Finally we hear “The Federal Express”, named after a through train linking Boston, MA and Washington DC. A slick, breezy arrangement summons up images of the service steaming through the night as the passengers enjoy the luxury of the Pullman coaches. The music mimics American big band jazz and the ‘Jazz Age’ with great aplomb, the five instruments delivering an admirably full sound on one of the most accessible and swinging pieces on the album.

Guitarist Mike Walker, Simcock’s colleague in the acclaimed Anglo-American quartet The Impossible Gentlemen was approached by Miller to do an arrangement of the TIG piece “When You Hold Her”.
In Walker’s words;
“Creativity got the better of me and it ended up being an entirely different piece with nods to the old piece. The title speaks for itself. Onyx Brass play it beautifully”.
And he’s right, Onyx Brass play Walker’s gorgeous melody with studied cool and considerable elegance. There’s an almost hymn like sense of calm about the piece, allied to a gentle sense of yearning. It also sounds unmistakably English.

Onyx Brass have been described as “the classiest brass ensemble in Britain” and I have no quibble with the classical music reviewers who have made this claim for the quintet. I also have the utmost respect for the opinions of Richard Dickins, a great admirer of the ensemble and their work.

There’s no doubt that “Onyx Noir” is a highly accomplished and very sophisticated piece of work. The playing is superb throughout and the quality of the recording is further enhanced by the engineering and production team of David Lefeber and Suzanne Stanzeleit.

But there’s no getting away from the fact that this is essentially a classical recording and despite the impeccable jazz credentials of the featured composers committed jazz listeners may find themselves missing many of the conventional jazz virtues, such as prolonged instrumental solos and a sense of swing.

For all the rhythmic virtuosity and variation brought to the group by Miller and Gordon-Shute I still found myself longing for the presence of bass and drums to give the music a kick up the backside, and sometimes for a chordal instrument, such as a piano, too.

Ultimately, for all its class and skill regular jazz listeners may find “Onyx Noir” a little too polite, and at seventy six minutes arguably a little over-long too. Nevertheless it’s an interesting and innovative recording with much to recommend it and plenty of fine moments to enjoy.

 

 

Onyx Noir

Onyx Brass

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Onyx Noir

A highly accomplished and very sophisticated piece of work. An interesting and innovative recording with much to recommend it and plenty of fine moments to enjoy.

Onyx Brass

“Onyx Noir”

(NMC Recordings NMC D237)

Niall Keatley, Alan Thomas – trumpets
Andrew Sutton –  french horn
Amos Miller – trombone
David Gordon-Shute - tuba

Onyx Brass is a five piece brass ensemble that specialises in performing contemporary chamber music. The group, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2018, is well known for supporting new music and has commissioned and performed the world premières over 150 new works from a wide range of composers including such well known names as Michael Nyman, John Tavener and Steve Martland.

Onyx Brass has toured worldwide and been featured regularly on BBC Radio 3. The ensemble also see music education as an important part of their work and have regularly led workshops and master-classes at educational establishments all across the UK and further afield, including the Juilliard School of Music in New York.

Onyx have recorded a number of discs in which they interpret the music of classical composers from various epochs. One, “Time to Time” from 2011, features the voice of the American baritone Mark Steele. Onyx work regularly with singers, particularly choirs both professional and amateur.

Away from the group the individual members of Onyx Brass are active orchestral musicians with permanent posts in such prestigious institutions as the BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra of the English National Opera, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and the English Chamber Orchestra. Individually and collectively they are well respected throughout the classical world with the esteemed conductor and educator Richard Dickins among the many to sing their praises.

To celebrate their 25th anniversary the ever adventurous Onyx Brass explore the world of jazz with a new album, “Onyx Noir”, that celebrates the work of British jazz composers. The seeds of the project date right back to 1994 as trombonist Amos Miller explains in the album’s liner notes;
“In 1994 I was a participant in the Banff International Jazz Summer School, where one of the tutors was Kenny Wheeler. I was completely smitten by both his music and his playing, and thought that, one day, I might have the courage to approach him to write a piece for our newly formed quintet. Fast forward to 2012, when I was fortunate enough to be playing on Gwilym Simcock’s amazing album “Instrumation”, and this long held idea was suddenly given life. Having persuaded Gwilym to agree to write something for us I was then chatting to the drummer Martin France at a tea break and mentioned my long held dream to ask Kenny to write a brass quintet piece. Martin immediately gave me Kenny’s phone number and said ‘call him now, and tell him I said so!’.
Kenny was grace personified and agreed, with the caveat that it might take him some time. Less than three weeks later he phoned back with the news that he’d already finished it! Having Kenny and Gwilym on board made it easier to approach the other legends on this album, all of whom have been astoundingly generous and enthusiastic about the project. The commissioning side of this project has been entirely self funded by Onyx Brass and, we would like to put on record our heartfelt gratitude to the composers for their generosity, both of time and talent.
There is currently a golden era in British jazz and we felt that it was important, not just from a brass chamber music perspective, but also from a wider classical music point of view, that this well of talent should be tapped to create music in a jazz idiom, using each composer’s unique understanding of melody, harmony and rhythm, but playable by classical musicians. The commissioning brief for each composer was simple; something around five minutes and do whatever you want! We are completely thrilled by the results, and hope you have as much fun listening to it as we have had playing it.
This album is dedicated to the memory of Kenny Wheeler.”

As Miller says the commissioned composers have bought fully into the project and the CD booklet includes brief insights from the writers into their individual pieces. The album is subtitled “Jazz Works for Brass Quintet”.

The album commences with Simcock’s “Stomper”, the pianist and composer’s first piece for brass quintet despite Simcock’s habitual straddling of the jazz / classical boundaries. Simcock found writing for an ensemble containing a french horn (an instrument that he also plays himself) particularly interesting and his piece concentrates on the rhythmic possibilities of the ensemble with Sutton’s french horn and Gordon-Shute’s tuba both playing a prominent part in the arrangement. Yet this is still unmistakably a classical ensemble, there are none of the pumping grooves and strident soloing of the New Orleans brass band tradition, an area of music that is becoming an increasingly overcrowded field. Indeed Onyx’s rather more subtle use of rhythm and counterpoint on this two part composition from Simcock makes for a refreshing change with the focus very much on ensemble playing rather than conventional jazz soloing.

Next up is “Holy Chalcedony”, written by the supremely versatile electric bass player Laurence Cottle. “Chalcedony is the technical word for Onyx” explains Cottle “and this gospel infused tune takes us on a short walk from a village church to Funksville, Arizona”. As its composer suggests there’s an authentically church like feel to the opening of the piece with its warm and elegant horn voicings conveying a suitably ecclesiastical atmosphere. The pace subsequently quickens, with the tuba again playing a prominent role, as the tune takes on more of an American gospel feel, whilst still studiously avoiding the New Orleans marching band clichés.
Onyx Brass have recently issued a video to accompany this track which can be viewed here;
: https://youtu.be/NZcweYdofns

Miller provides the liner notes for the late Wheeler’s “1 for 5”, a typically playful and enigmatic Kenny title. The piece is divided into two distinct movements that re-imagine two of his earlier pieces, “Pretty Liddle Waltz” and that modern day jazz standard “Everybody’s Song But My Own”.
As Miller points out “harmonically, rhythmically and melodically they could only be from the Wheeler pen”. The arrangements and sumptuous and offer ample evidence of “Wheeler’s deep understanding of brass instruments”. Sharp eared jazz listeners will doubtless recognise the melodies of the earlier works.

Like Simcock the saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes is another artist who transcends the jazz/classical divide, notably with her genre blurring Emulsion Festival, now in its sixth year.
Her piece is “The Mighty Pencil”, which she dedicates to the victims of the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting and of which she says;
“I wrote this piece to encourage the fine members of Onyx Brass to have fun with incorporating improvisation into the mix! And pencils are essential to creatives everywhere…”
The members of Onyx rise to the improvisatory challenge on a piece with a freely structured intro but still possessing plenty of recognisably written melodies, these encouraging some excellent interplay, some of it no doubt improvised, between the members of the quintet.

Trombonist Mark Nightingale’s piece “For Rosie” was originally written as part of a suite for jazz trombone and chamber orchestra for the International Trombone Festival in Aarhus, Denmark in 2009. The piece is dedicated to the composer’s daughter (then aged 8) and has been re-arranged specifically for Onyx Brass. Gently interweaving melody lines lead to a statement of the main theme by french horn. The mood is warm, reflecting the tenderness of a father towards his young daughter. Nightingale’s notes make reference to “a cascading interlude and key change” plus “a short recapitulation rising through a crescendo before the coda, in which the music gradually melts down to a final tonic chord”.

Pianist Jason Rebello appears to have taken the commission brief literally. Of his piece “Inevitable Outcome” he says “the music was allowed flow and be what it wanted to be, and it is the inevitable outcome of my life experiences to date”. Rebello is something of a musical polymath whose career has embraced jazz, soul and rock (most famously as part of Sting’s band) but he comes from a classical background, a fact that is reflected in the sophistication of his writing here. His piece is rich in terms of both melody and rhythm and makes effective use of the quintet’s formidable technical abilities.

Tuba player David Powell is best known to jazz listeners as a member of the mighty Loose Tubes but he also has a parallel classical career playing in various London based classical ensembles. The title of “Symbols at your Door” comes from the childhood counting song “Green Grow the Rushes-o” and was chosen simply because Onyx Brass has five members. Powell plays down his abilities as a composer stating that “the piece grew out of material from a simple choral psalm setting I wrote a few years ago”. There’s a beautiful, calming quality about the piece, which includes a delightfully meditative tuba solo from Gordon-Shute. Powell also includes “a little triple time tango section, based on a chord sequence from my musical hero Astor Piazolla”. It’s so skilfully integrated that there’s no discernible interruption to the mood and flow of this unexpectedly lovely and contemplative piece.

Pianist Liam Noble admits that his “Imaginary Dance” is his first ever through composed piece.  “Finding structural devices to replace the ‘shut your eyes and listen’ approach of improvisation was an interesting experience” he observes. The writing was dictated by “imagining what a dancer might like to happen next” he explains. Gordon-Shute’s tuba again plays a key role in an arrangement that gravitates from the contemplative to the lively and exuberant. “Onyx Brass dance through this with impeccable and raucous aplomb” notes the composer.

The album takes its title from trumpeter and composer Guy Barker’s piece “Onyx Noir”. The composition has its roots in Barker’s love of cinema and particularly film noir. Inspired by his fondness for the genre and of the soundtracks that accompanied the films Barker wrote an ambitious mini-suite for orchestra and jazz ensemble called “Sounds in Black and White” that appeared on his 2002 cinema themed album “Soundtrack”. Faced with a commission for a brass quintet Barker found himself drawn back to this musical area to create a piece “that was atmospheric and smoky, but still quite intense”. Onyx Brass realise Barker’s ambitions admirably in a sumptuous performance with the five instruments blending and dovetailing seamlessly on an arrangement with an appropriately noirish quality that expertly navigates a number of thematic and emotional variations with great aplomb. The tuba again plays an important role but, as is befitting in a composition by Barker, there’s some excellent trumpet playing too, although it’s impossible to single out individuals.

Saxophonist Mick Foster’s “Hamlet Stories” compresses three short movements into a single performance. These are separated into three tracks on the CD. The first “combines lyrical thematic ideas and spiky rhythms”, the second picks up one of the themes to create “a rhythmic riff idea”, while the third “contains a stately tune, which builds in volume whilst being heard in several keys”.Apparently the inspiration for the work is not Shakespeare but instead the name of the main shopping street in Westcliff on Sea where Foster lives!

Similarly bassoonist/saxophonist Colin Skinner presents a three part composition “Firebox”, with each movement being named after a different steam locomotive. The first movement, “Hetton Colliery Lyon” even includes suitable sound effects (I wouldn’t like to speculate as to the source of these) as Onyx brass depict one of the earliest British locomotives toiling in the coal yard. It’s a surprisingly melodic piece which combines an underlying bluesiness with a nod to the Northern brass band tradition.
Skinner’s individual movements are more clearly delineated than Foster’s had been. “Sunny South Sam” is so called after a nickname for the Southern Railway and depicts one of the company’s locomotives hauling a train to the seaside. The mood is suitably bucolic and nostalgic, like an old picture postcard brought to life.
Finally we hear “The Federal Express”, named after a through train linking Boston, MA and Washington DC. A slick, breezy arrangement summons up images of the service steaming through the night as the passengers enjoy the luxury of the Pullman coaches. The music mimics American big band jazz and the ‘Jazz Age’ with great aplomb, the five instruments delivering an admirably full sound on one of the most accessible and swinging pieces on the album.

Guitarist Mike Walker, Simcock’s colleague in the acclaimed Anglo-American quartet The Impossible Gentlemen was approached by Miller to do an arrangement of the TIG piece “When You Hold Her”.
In Walker’s words;
“Creativity got the better of me and it ended up being an entirely different piece with nods to the old piece. The title speaks for itself. Onyx Brass play it beautifully”.
And he’s right, Onyx Brass play Walker’s gorgeous melody with studied cool and considerable elegance. There’s an almost hymn like sense of calm about the piece, allied to a gentle sense of yearning. It also sounds unmistakably English.

Onyx Brass have been described as “the classiest brass ensemble in Britain” and I have no quibble with the classical music reviewers who have made this claim for the quintet. I also have the utmost respect for the opinions of Richard Dickins, a great admirer of the ensemble and their work.

There’s no doubt that “Onyx Noir” is a highly accomplished and very sophisticated piece of work. The playing is superb throughout and the quality of the recording is further enhanced by the engineering and production team of David Lefeber and Suzanne Stanzeleit.

But there’s no getting away from the fact that this is essentially a classical recording and despite the impeccable jazz credentials of the featured composers committed jazz listeners may find themselves missing many of the conventional jazz virtues, such as prolonged instrumental solos and a sense of swing.

For all the rhythmic virtuosity and variation brought to the group by Miller and Gordon-Shute I still found myself longing for the presence of bass and drums to give the music a kick up the backside, and sometimes for a chordal instrument, such as a piano, too.

Ultimately, for all its class and skill regular jazz listeners may find “Onyx Noir” a little too polite, and at seventy six minutes arguably a little over-long too. Nevertheless it’s an interesting and innovative recording with much to recommend it and plenty of fine moments to enjoy.

 

 

Orjan Hulten Trio - Live At Bas, 14 October 2017 Rating: 3-5 out of 5 This long running musical alliance is very much a trio of equals with each individual member emerging with considerable credit. A welcome reminder of Hulten’s talents.

Orjan Hulten Trio

“Live at Bas, 14 October 2017”

(Artogrush OCD-011)

The Swedish saxophonist and composer Orjan Hulten first came to my attention as part of a quartet led by the Greek born guitarist and composer Tassos Spiliotopoulos.

Spiliotopoulos spent several years living in London, becoming a popular and significant presence on the UK jazz circuit, before moving to Stockholm in 2013. The guitarist wasted little time in immersing himself in the Swedish jazz scene and in 2016 released the superb album “In the North” with his “Swedish Band”, a quartet featuring Hulten, bassist Palle Sollinger and drummer Fredrik Rundqvist. This was Spiliotopoulos’ third album as a leader and his most accomplished recording to date.

Hulten played a big part in that record’s success and was part of the band that Spiliotopoulos brought to the UK for a short tour later in 2016. Having already been impressed by the album I was further delighted by the quartet’s performance at the Queens Head in Monmouth, one of the best gigs that I have ever seen at the venue. The band featured Spiliotopoulos, Hulten, new bassist Filip Augustson and the guitarist’s old friend and sometime boss Asaf Sirkis at the drums.

The success of that tour, and the good impression that Hulten made on it, led to the Swede returning to the UK in 2017 leading his own quartet Orion, featuring Augustson, drummer Peter Danemo and keyboard player Adam Forkelid. This unit have released a series of excellent albums including “Radio In My Head” (2010), “Mr Nobody” (2013) and “Faltrapport” (2016), all on the Swedish Artogrush imprint.

Alongside Orion, which places an emphasis on through composed material, Hulten has also worked regularly in the more improvisatory context of the saxophone trio – indeed the Spiliotopoulos “Swedish Band” was effectively the Hulten trio augmented by the guitarist, but with the focus placed firmly on Spiliotopoulos’ writing. Nevertheless the Hulten Trio has released a number of albums in its own right, including another live set “In The City” (2009) recorded at the Glenn Miller Jazz Club in Stockholm.

For this latest recording, captured at Stockholm’s Bas Club on 14th October 2017 as part of the city’s Jazz Festival, Hulten is joined by Filip Augustson on double bass and Fredrik Rundqvist at the drums. Hulten’s brief liner note explains;
“A very special thanks to Fredrik Nordstrom who prepared this recording without our knowledge and therefore saved it for the world”.

The material features four originals by Hulten and two by Augustson, plus one outside item each from those celebrated jazz composers Ornette Coleman and Joe Henderson.

The trio commence with their interpretation of Coleman’s “Lonely Woman”, ushered in by Rundqvist’s atmospheric solo drum introduction featuring the rumble of mallets, the shimmer of cymbals and the ringing and chiming of small percussion. Hulten picks out Coleman’s melody on tenor, shadowed by Augustson’s grainy arco bass as Rundqvist offers busily brushed support. The mood of the piece is suitably dolorous while the style of the performance is rooted in the kind of avant garde jazz that the hugely Coleman pioneered. The overall effect is haunting and strangely beautiful. Augustson’s use of the bow is reminiscent of the work of arco bass specialist David Izenzon, a member of Coleman’s classic 1960s trio along with drummer Charles Moffett. This trio issued two classic live albums documented at the Gyllencirkelt jazz club in Stockholm in December 1965. Known to English speaking jazz fans as “At The Golden Circle, Stockholm Volumes 1 and 2” these recordings were issued on the famous Blue Note label and may well have been an inspiration for Hulten and his colleagues.

The fragile, melancholy mood continues into the introduction of Augustson’s “Turtle Dance”, which begins as a three way discussion between Hulten’s wispy tenor sax, Augustson’s virtuoso double bass picking and the patter and rustle of Rundqvist’s drums and percussion. It’s likely that this first section is entirely improvised, one can sense the musicians listening to each other and responding accordingly. Later the composer establishes a bass motif that grounds the rest of the piece and forms the anchor for Hulten’s melodic tenor sax explorations as Rundqvist continues to provide typically colourful and imaginative percussive accompaniment. The drummer’s idiosyncratic, highly detailed playing is a source of delight throughout the album.

Hulten’s own “Rubato” finds the saxophonist digging deeper in a manner that has invited comparisons with Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. His probing takes place against an ever evolving backdrop of double bass and drums with Augustson later taking an impressive pizzicato solo as the ever inventive Rundqvist chatters around him.

Also by Hulten “Diggin’ The Birds” has a title that also suggests the influence of Charlie Parker. Still on tenor the saxophonist’s playing is more forceful and strident here with Coltrane and Rollins again springing to mind. Augustson and Rundqvist keep pace with the leader, their brisk rhythms helping to drive the tune with the latter’s busy, colourful drums coming to the fore on more than one occasion.

Augustson’s pizzicato bass introduces Henderson’s “Y Tovadio La Quiera”, his melodic bass motif providing the backbone of the tune as Hulten stretches out on tenor and Rundqvist explores his kit with another restlessly inventive percussive performance. Augustson is later released from his anchoring role to deliver a virtuoso solo of his own before Hulten takes up Henderson’s infectious melody once more and improvises around it. The piece finally resolves itself with a return to the sound of unaccompanied double bass.

Hulten’s “Old Friend, New Friend” is a tune that has been in the trio’s repertoire for some time with another version appearing on the “In The City” release. Dedicated to “John and Alice” it’s presumably a homage to the Coltranes and there’s a suitable feeling of ‘spiritual jazz’ about the piece as Hulten stretches out on tenor around a strong and arresting melodic theme. Augustson is also featured on pizzicato double bass, his tone big and resonant, his soloing powerful and fluent.

“April, April”, subtitled “Lick the Ground” is another Hulten tune that appeared on the “In The City” recording. It’s an attractive, bop influenced piece with another strong theme that provides soloing opportunities for Hulten and Augustson in addition to a typically quirky, colourful and inventive drum feature from Rundqvist. Together with the Henderson piece this features some of the most conventional ‘jazz’ playing on the album.

The album concludes with the Augustson composed “Miniatyr” which is introduced by Rundqvist at the drums. He’s subsequently joined by Hulten’s slightly plaintive sounding tenor and the composer’s resonant double bass. Hulten sketches the melody thoughtfully, shadowed by bass and the rustle of brushed drums plus neatly detailed percussive embellishments. The mood is unexpectedly gentle and reflective.

Although less rewarding in the home listening environment than Hulten’s more considered quartet albums “Live At Bas” is nevertheless a welcome reminder of Hulten’s talents as a saxophonist and improviser, the same observation applying equally to Augustson and Rundqvist.

Like many live recordings it was probably best experienced ‘in person’ but there’s still much to enjoy about an album that includes some excellent playing from all three protagonists. This long running musical alliance is very much a trio of equals with each individual member emerging with considerable credit.

But for new listeners to Hulten’s music I’d probably direct you in the direction of his latest quartet recording “Faltrapport” (also Artogrush) first.

Thanks to Fredrik Nordstrom for documenting this performance and let’s hope for another visit to the UK from Orjan Hulten in the not too distant future.

Live At Bas, 14 October 2017

Orjan Hulten Trio

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Live At Bas, 14 October 2017

This long running musical alliance is very much a trio of equals with each individual member emerging with considerable credit. A welcome reminder of Hulten’s talents.

Orjan Hulten Trio

“Live at Bas, 14 October 2017”

(Artogrush OCD-011)

The Swedish saxophonist and composer Orjan Hulten first came to my attention as part of a quartet led by the Greek born guitarist and composer Tassos Spiliotopoulos.

Spiliotopoulos spent several years living in London, becoming a popular and significant presence on the UK jazz circuit, before moving to Stockholm in 2013. The guitarist wasted little time in immersing himself in the Swedish jazz scene and in 2016 released the superb album “In the North” with his “Swedish Band”, a quartet featuring Hulten, bassist Palle Sollinger and drummer Fredrik Rundqvist. This was Spiliotopoulos’ third album as a leader and his most accomplished recording to date.

Hulten played a big part in that record’s success and was part of the band that Spiliotopoulos brought to the UK for a short tour later in 2016. Having already been impressed by the album I was further delighted by the quartet’s performance at the Queens Head in Monmouth, one of the best gigs that I have ever seen at the venue. The band featured Spiliotopoulos, Hulten, new bassist Filip Augustson and the guitarist’s old friend and sometime boss Asaf Sirkis at the drums.

The success of that tour, and the good impression that Hulten made on it, led to the Swede returning to the UK in 2017 leading his own quartet Orion, featuring Augustson, drummer Peter Danemo and keyboard player Adam Forkelid. This unit have released a series of excellent albums including “Radio In My Head” (2010), “Mr Nobody” (2013) and “Faltrapport” (2016), all on the Swedish Artogrush imprint.

Alongside Orion, which places an emphasis on through composed material, Hulten has also worked regularly in the more improvisatory context of the saxophone trio – indeed the Spiliotopoulos “Swedish Band” was effectively the Hulten trio augmented by the guitarist, but with the focus placed firmly on Spiliotopoulos’ writing. Nevertheless the Hulten Trio has released a number of albums in its own right, including another live set “In The City” (2009) recorded at the Glenn Miller Jazz Club in Stockholm.

For this latest recording, captured at Stockholm’s Bas Club on 14th October 2017 as part of the city’s Jazz Festival, Hulten is joined by Filip Augustson on double bass and Fredrik Rundqvist at the drums. Hulten’s brief liner note explains;
“A very special thanks to Fredrik Nordstrom who prepared this recording without our knowledge and therefore saved it for the world”.

The material features four originals by Hulten and two by Augustson, plus one outside item each from those celebrated jazz composers Ornette Coleman and Joe Henderson.

The trio commence with their interpretation of Coleman’s “Lonely Woman”, ushered in by Rundqvist’s atmospheric solo drum introduction featuring the rumble of mallets, the shimmer of cymbals and the ringing and chiming of small percussion. Hulten picks out Coleman’s melody on tenor, shadowed by Augustson’s grainy arco bass as Rundqvist offers busily brushed support. The mood of the piece is suitably dolorous while the style of the performance is rooted in the kind of avant garde jazz that the hugely Coleman pioneered. The overall effect is haunting and strangely beautiful. Augustson’s use of the bow is reminiscent of the work of arco bass specialist David Izenzon, a member of Coleman’s classic 1960s trio along with drummer Charles Moffett. This trio issued two classic live albums documented at the Gyllencirkelt jazz club in Stockholm in December 1965. Known to English speaking jazz fans as “At The Golden Circle, Stockholm Volumes 1 and 2” these recordings were issued on the famous Blue Note label and may well have been an inspiration for Hulten and his colleagues.

The fragile, melancholy mood continues into the introduction of Augustson’s “Turtle Dance”, which begins as a three way discussion between Hulten’s wispy tenor sax, Augustson’s virtuoso double bass picking and the patter and rustle of Rundqvist’s drums and percussion. It’s likely that this first section is entirely improvised, one can sense the musicians listening to each other and responding accordingly. Later the composer establishes a bass motif that grounds the rest of the piece and forms the anchor for Hulten’s melodic tenor sax explorations as Rundqvist continues to provide typically colourful and imaginative percussive accompaniment. The drummer’s idiosyncratic, highly detailed playing is a source of delight throughout the album.

Hulten’s own “Rubato” finds the saxophonist digging deeper in a manner that has invited comparisons with Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. His probing takes place against an ever evolving backdrop of double bass and drums with Augustson later taking an impressive pizzicato solo as the ever inventive Rundqvist chatters around him.

Also by Hulten “Diggin’ The Birds” has a title that also suggests the influence of Charlie Parker. Still on tenor the saxophonist’s playing is more forceful and strident here with Coltrane and Rollins again springing to mind. Augustson and Rundqvist keep pace with the leader, their brisk rhythms helping to drive the tune with the latter’s busy, colourful drums coming to the fore on more than one occasion.

Augustson’s pizzicato bass introduces Henderson’s “Y Tovadio La Quiera”, his melodic bass motif providing the backbone of the tune as Hulten stretches out on tenor and Rundqvist explores his kit with another restlessly inventive percussive performance. Augustson is later released from his anchoring role to deliver a virtuoso solo of his own before Hulten takes up Henderson’s infectious melody once more and improvises around it. The piece finally resolves itself with a return to the sound of unaccompanied double bass.

Hulten’s “Old Friend, New Friend” is a tune that has been in the trio’s repertoire for some time with another version appearing on the “In The City” release. Dedicated to “John and Alice” it’s presumably a homage to the Coltranes and there’s a suitable feeling of ‘spiritual jazz’ about the piece as Hulten stretches out on tenor around a strong and arresting melodic theme. Augustson is also featured on pizzicato double bass, his tone big and resonant, his soloing powerful and fluent.

“April, April”, subtitled “Lick the Ground” is another Hulten tune that appeared on the “In The City” recording. It’s an attractive, bop influenced piece with another strong theme that provides soloing opportunities for Hulten and Augustson in addition to a typically quirky, colourful and inventive drum feature from Rundqvist. Together with the Henderson piece this features some of the most conventional ‘jazz’ playing on the album.

The album concludes with the Augustson composed “Miniatyr” which is introduced by Rundqvist at the drums. He’s subsequently joined by Hulten’s slightly plaintive sounding tenor and the composer’s resonant double bass. Hulten sketches the melody thoughtfully, shadowed by bass and the rustle of brushed drums plus neatly detailed percussive embellishments. The mood is unexpectedly gentle and reflective.

Although less rewarding in the home listening environment than Hulten’s more considered quartet albums “Live At Bas” is nevertheless a welcome reminder of Hulten’s talents as a saxophonist and improviser, the same observation applying equally to Augustson and Rundqvist.

Like many live recordings it was probably best experienced ‘in person’ but there’s still much to enjoy about an album that includes some excellent playing from all three protagonists. This long running musical alliance is very much a trio of equals with each individual member emerging with considerable credit.

But for new listeners to Hulten’s music I’d probably direct you in the direction of his latest quartet recording “Faltrapport” (also Artogrush) first.

Thanks to Fredrik Nordstrom for documenting this performance and let’s hope for another visit to the UK from Orjan Hulten in the not too distant future.

Nightports with Matthew Bourne - Nightports w/Matthew Bourne Rating: 4 out of 5 Bourne's virtuoso playing is at the heart of this recording but the contribution of the Nightports duo shouldn’t be overlooked as they sculpt Bourne’s improvisations into something vital and new.

Nightports with Matthew Bourne

Nightports w/Matthew Bourne

(Leaf Records BAY 108CD)

Any project involving the pianistic maverick Matthew Bourne is likely to be of interest. Bourne has long been part of the jazz, improv and experimental music scene in Leeds and beyond, playing both acoustic and electric keyboards, either as a soloist or as a frequent collaborator with the UK’s leading improv musicians.

His latest collaboration finds him co-operating with the duo Nightports, musician-producers Adam Martin, based in Leeds, and Mark Slater, based in Hull. The duo have previously recorded a series of EPs, often in conjunction with vocalist Emily Lynne, as well as appearing on a number of compilation albums featuring jazz and experimental music.

As this album’s notes declare in a re-iteration of Nightports’ manifesto;
“Nightports is based on a simple but unbreakable role of restriction; only sounds produced by the featured musician can be used. Nothing else. These sounds can be transformed, distorted, translated, processed and reprocessed, stretched, cut, ordered and reordered without limitation. Nightports is all about amplifying the characteristics of the musician – celebrating what’s particular about them, finding sounds that nobody else can make, constructing a complete sonic weave, that however radical the transformations, still bears the watermarks of its origin.”

This all Yorkshire production appears on the Leeds based Leaf record label and was recorded over the course of three sessions at two different locations in the county, the first at Bourne’s home near Keighley, the others at Besbrode Pianos in Leeds.

The album notes say of the recording sessions;
“The recordings coax hitherto unheard sounds from a range of pianos - decrepit dusty uprights holding their own against the attack and precision of a modern concert grand. 
At Besbrode’s, pianos were chosen that had character, a story to tell; beautifully imperfect instruments that behaved in unexpected ways. In the first session, a blue-green aluminium Rippen baby grand from 1959 with a muted, warm sound; a rosewood Clementi pianoforte fronted with deep-red pleated fabric; a 1907 mahogany Bechstein Model E with profound bass; a Broadwood Golden Square piano whose 200th birthday had recently passed; and a Ritmüller grand from 1922 with bright, percussive attacks. For the second session, pianos were selected that brought new sounds and told different tales. Lurking in a corner, an 1874 Collard & Collard upright made of rosewood with silk panels produced (untreated) a snare drum. Contrasting that, a modern jet-black Toyama grand with polyester finish gave an angular, bright and cutting attack. A rosewood Rud. Ibach Sohn from 1910 and an unrestored Steinway Model A from 1898 with a sound weighted by its years – nostalgic, imperfect, encrusted.
Besbrode’s is a toy-box of inspiration but proved to be challenging as a place to record. The process of making the album was like shooting a film: small segments captured piece by piece to be sequenced and layered later on. Each piano sounded, felt and smelt different. Each had its own story; things it could do, things it couldn’t. Each piano enticed Matthew to play in a certain way; each had its own grain to be captured and celebrated”.


The album credits Bourne with “original piano performances” and Martin and Slater with “synths and programming” plus production and mixing. As regards composition all the tracks are credited as being written by Matthew Bourne, Adam Martin & Mark Slater but have their roots in Bourne’s initial piano improvisations.

The nine pieces that comprise the album embrace a variety of musical moods and styles ranging from the ambient and ethereal to the hard driving and percussive, the rhythms sometimes reminiscent of contemporary electronic and dance music. But despite the sonic manipulations of Martin and Slater the source of the music is always recognisable as being pianistic and some of the material is downright beautiful. Despite the electronic elements this remains a very warm and human record.

The first piece, ironically titled “Exit”, features the sound Bourne’s piano enhanced by the subtle electronics of Martin and Slater. The piece is surprisingly rhythmic and forceful, the source sounds of the percussive effects presumably being the body of the piano and the dampening of the strings. Even without the electronic embellishments Bourne has always treated the piano as an “entire instrument” and approached with an unbridled physicality.

“Window”, one of the three pieces recorded at Bourne’s home possesses a chilly beauty, presumably inspired by the view from Bourne’s house overlooking the moors above Keighley. Martin and Slater ensure that their contributions are subtle and unobtrusive, essentially this is a lovely, spacious solo piano performance augmented by gently atmospheric electronica.

Recorded at the same location “White-Shirted” is totally different in feel as Bourne attacks the interior of the piano with gusto as prepared piano sounds combine with electronica to produce a sonic landscape that is simultaneously harsh, percussive and glitchy. The piece passes through several different phases incorporating a variety of rhythms while retaining a relentless percussive attack. One of the lengthiest items on the album it later metamorphoses into a long, atmospheric closing section with doomy, gothic piano chords augmented by ghostly percussive sounds.

“This Trip” lowers the temperature again, an icy, ambient piece centred round a recurring, arpeggiated piano motif and augmented by twinkling, spacey electronica. It’s reminiscent of Eno’s “Another Green World” album and maybe Philip Glass and Michael Nyman too - in any event it’s strangely beautiful.

“Annie” renews the percussive attack with Bourne again focussing his attentions “under the lid”. Eventually more conventional piano sounds emerge as the piece enters a more atmospheric and reflective second phase. The it’s back to percussion and electronica with some of the most radical manipulations we’ve heard thus far.

This being an album recorded in Yorkshire I’d like to think that by calling the sixth track “Over” the trio are making an oblique cricket reference. The music marks a return to the chilly, spacey Eno-esque ambience of “This Trip”. Again it’s evocative and hauntingly lovely.

“Look Me In The Eye” begins as a riff fest of piano generated percussive sounds that both compels and excites. It’s followed by a slower, more atmospheric section featuring droning electronica underpinned by a gentle but steady rhythmic pulse. This track is the closest the album gets to the world of contemporary electronica inhabited by Aphex Twin and the like.

The final piece to be recorded at Bourne’s house is “Fragile Years”, a gentle but dark edged and vaguely unsettling piece whose central motif is embellished by spooky electronica. Melancholy beauty is again the order of the day.

The album concludes with the aptly titled “Leave” which promises to drift off into the ether on a cloud of wispy electronica before being punctuated by a series of increasingly brutal block chords from Bourne. The second half of the piece marks a return to the powerful piano generated percussive sounds featured elsewhere on the recording as the piece eventually builds to a skewed, but curiously anthemic climax, teasing the listener along the way, prior to a slow electronic fade.

Bourne is a musician who consistently takes listeners out of their comfort zone, me included. But I have to say that I found this album curiously compulsive with its mix of moods and skilfully crafted combinations of acoustic and electronic sounds. Bourne’s technical facility is beyond question but he’s a musician who is consistently testing his own limits. His virtuoso playing is at the heart of this recording but the contribution of the Nightports duo shouldn’t be overlooked as they sculpt Bourne’s improvisations into something vital and new.

This is no ordinary ‘solo piano’ album and it won’t be to everybody’s taste but I’m sure that there will be many listeners who will find it as compulsive as I did, including curious rock and electronic music fans. One can imagine these pieces being played on Radio 3’s Late Junction programme and appealing to that audience.

Material from the album was performed on three pianos with live manipulations at Middleton Hall in Hull as part of the City Of Culture programme.  On hearing this recording I wish could have been there.

Nightports w/Matthew Bourne

Nightports with Matthew Bourne

Friday, July 13, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Nightports w/Matthew Bourne

Bourne's virtuoso playing is at the heart of this recording but the contribution of the Nightports duo shouldn’t be overlooked as they sculpt Bourne’s improvisations into something vital and new.

Nightports with Matthew Bourne

Nightports w/Matthew Bourne

(Leaf Records BAY 108CD)

Any project involving the pianistic maverick Matthew Bourne is likely to be of interest. Bourne has long been part of the jazz, improv and experimental music scene in Leeds and beyond, playing both acoustic and electric keyboards, either as a soloist or as a frequent collaborator with the UK’s leading improv musicians.

His latest collaboration finds him co-operating with the duo Nightports, musician-producers Adam Martin, based in Leeds, and Mark Slater, based in Hull. The duo have previously recorded a series of EPs, often in conjunction with vocalist Emily Lynne, as well as appearing on a number of compilation albums featuring jazz and experimental music.

As this album’s notes declare in a re-iteration of Nightports’ manifesto;
“Nightports is based on a simple but unbreakable role of restriction; only sounds produced by the featured musician can be used. Nothing else. These sounds can be transformed, distorted, translated, processed and reprocessed, stretched, cut, ordered and reordered without limitation. Nightports is all about amplifying the characteristics of the musician – celebrating what’s particular about them, finding sounds that nobody else can make, constructing a complete sonic weave, that however radical the transformations, still bears the watermarks of its origin.”

This all Yorkshire production appears on the Leeds based Leaf record label and was recorded over the course of three sessions at two different locations in the county, the first at Bourne’s home near Keighley, the others at Besbrode Pianos in Leeds.

The album notes say of the recording sessions;
“The recordings coax hitherto unheard sounds from a range of pianos - decrepit dusty uprights holding their own against the attack and precision of a modern concert grand. 
At Besbrode’s, pianos were chosen that had character, a story to tell; beautifully imperfect instruments that behaved in unexpected ways. In the first session, a blue-green aluminium Rippen baby grand from 1959 with a muted, warm sound; a rosewood Clementi pianoforte fronted with deep-red pleated fabric; a 1907 mahogany Bechstein Model E with profound bass; a Broadwood Golden Square piano whose 200th birthday had recently passed; and a Ritmüller grand from 1922 with bright, percussive attacks. For the second session, pianos were selected that brought new sounds and told different tales. Lurking in a corner, an 1874 Collard & Collard upright made of rosewood with silk panels produced (untreated) a snare drum. Contrasting that, a modern jet-black Toyama grand with polyester finish gave an angular, bright and cutting attack. A rosewood Rud. Ibach Sohn from 1910 and an unrestored Steinway Model A from 1898 with a sound weighted by its years – nostalgic, imperfect, encrusted.
Besbrode’s is a toy-box of inspiration but proved to be challenging as a place to record. The process of making the album was like shooting a film: small segments captured piece by piece to be sequenced and layered later on. Each piano sounded, felt and smelt different. Each had its own story; things it could do, things it couldn’t. Each piano enticed Matthew to play in a certain way; each had its own grain to be captured and celebrated”.


The album credits Bourne with “original piano performances” and Martin and Slater with “synths and programming” plus production and mixing. As regards composition all the tracks are credited as being written by Matthew Bourne, Adam Martin & Mark Slater but have their roots in Bourne’s initial piano improvisations.

The nine pieces that comprise the album embrace a variety of musical moods and styles ranging from the ambient and ethereal to the hard driving and percussive, the rhythms sometimes reminiscent of contemporary electronic and dance music. But despite the sonic manipulations of Martin and Slater the source of the music is always recognisable as being pianistic and some of the material is downright beautiful. Despite the electronic elements this remains a very warm and human record.

The first piece, ironically titled “Exit”, features the sound Bourne’s piano enhanced by the subtle electronics of Martin and Slater. The piece is surprisingly rhythmic and forceful, the source sounds of the percussive effects presumably being the body of the piano and the dampening of the strings. Even without the electronic embellishments Bourne has always treated the piano as an “entire instrument” and approached with an unbridled physicality.

“Window”, one of the three pieces recorded at Bourne’s home possesses a chilly beauty, presumably inspired by the view from Bourne’s house overlooking the moors above Keighley. Martin and Slater ensure that their contributions are subtle and unobtrusive, essentially this is a lovely, spacious solo piano performance augmented by gently atmospheric electronica.

Recorded at the same location “White-Shirted” is totally different in feel as Bourne attacks the interior of the piano with gusto as prepared piano sounds combine with electronica to produce a sonic landscape that is simultaneously harsh, percussive and glitchy. The piece passes through several different phases incorporating a variety of rhythms while retaining a relentless percussive attack. One of the lengthiest items on the album it later metamorphoses into a long, atmospheric closing section with doomy, gothic piano chords augmented by ghostly percussive sounds.

“This Trip” lowers the temperature again, an icy, ambient piece centred round a recurring, arpeggiated piano motif and augmented by twinkling, spacey electronica. It’s reminiscent of Eno’s “Another Green World” album and maybe Philip Glass and Michael Nyman too - in any event it’s strangely beautiful.

“Annie” renews the percussive attack with Bourne again focussing his attentions “under the lid”. Eventually more conventional piano sounds emerge as the piece enters a more atmospheric and reflective second phase. The it’s back to percussion and electronica with some of the most radical manipulations we’ve heard thus far.

This being an album recorded in Yorkshire I’d like to think that by calling the sixth track “Over” the trio are making an oblique cricket reference. The music marks a return to the chilly, spacey Eno-esque ambience of “This Trip”. Again it’s evocative and hauntingly lovely.

“Look Me In The Eye” begins as a riff fest of piano generated percussive sounds that both compels and excites. It’s followed by a slower, more atmospheric section featuring droning electronica underpinned by a gentle but steady rhythmic pulse. This track is the closest the album gets to the world of contemporary electronica inhabited by Aphex Twin and the like.

The final piece to be recorded at Bourne’s house is “Fragile Years”, a gentle but dark edged and vaguely unsettling piece whose central motif is embellished by spooky electronica. Melancholy beauty is again the order of the day.

The album concludes with the aptly titled “Leave” which promises to drift off into the ether on a cloud of wispy electronica before being punctuated by a series of increasingly brutal block chords from Bourne. The second half of the piece marks a return to the powerful piano generated percussive sounds featured elsewhere on the recording as the piece eventually builds to a skewed, but curiously anthemic climax, teasing the listener along the way, prior to a slow electronic fade.

Bourne is a musician who consistently takes listeners out of their comfort zone, me included. But I have to say that I found this album curiously compulsive with its mix of moods and skilfully crafted combinations of acoustic and electronic sounds. Bourne’s technical facility is beyond question but he’s a musician who is consistently testing his own limits. His virtuoso playing is at the heart of this recording but the contribution of the Nightports duo shouldn’t be overlooked as they sculpt Bourne’s improvisations into something vital and new.

This is no ordinary ‘solo piano’ album and it won’t be to everybody’s taste but I’m sure that there will be many listeners who will find it as compulsive as I did, including curious rock and electronic music fans. One can imagine these pieces being played on Radio 3’s Late Junction programme and appealing to that audience.

Material from the album was performed on three pianos with live manipulations at Middleton Hall in Hull as part of the City Of Culture programme.  On hearing this recording I wish could have been there.

Jeff Williams - Lifelike Rating: 4 out of 5 This isn’t a band that’s prepared to sit on its laurels, each performance challenges the musicians and pushes at the boundaries of the written material. A highly worthwhile listening experience.

Jeff Williams

“Lifelike”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4721)


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

Williams has also worked with an impressive roster of other major jazz artists during his long career including lengthy stints with saxophonists Stan Getz and Lee Konitz. He has also performed with Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie, Cedar Walton, Art Farmer, Michel Petrucciani, Randy Brecker, Paul Bley, John Abercrombie, John Scofield, Kenny Barron, Tony Malaby, Dave Holland, Tom Harrell, Bill McHenry, Joe Lovano. Ted Curson, Jerry Bergonzi and many more. It’s an impressive list.

The album “Coalescence”, his leadership début, appeared in 1991 but by this time Williams had dropped off my radar only to re-emerge again in the 21st century thanks to his collaborations with the British musicians Martin Speake (alto sax) and Barry Green (piano). Other UK based musicians with whom he has worked include Nikki Iles, Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, Hans Koller and others.

Williams first came to the UK in 2003 following his marriage to the American writer Lionel Shriver. The author was already based in Britain at this time and was reluctant to leave so the couple began an ongoing Transatlantic existence with Williams continuing to maintain homes in both London and New York.
 

The drummer has continued to work with both American and British musicians and the last few years have been a particularly prolific and productive period for him with the release of a number of albums variously featuring his ‘New York’ and ‘London’ bands.

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

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

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

In January 2018 Williams brought the current edition of his quintet with O’Gallagher, Arcoleo, Downes and Lasserson to The Hive Music & Media Centre in Shrewsbury for a “state of the art”  performance that is the subject of a review elsewhere on this site and from which the above introductory paragraphs have been lifted.

At the time of the Shrewsbury performance (promoted by Shrewsbury Jazz Network) this new live album, “Lifelike”, had been recorded but not released. The recording documents a performance at that much loved institution the Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, London in June 2017. For this event the core quintet was supplemented by the Portuguese trumpeter and composer Goncalo Marquez, a musician whom Williams had met when touring in Portgual with bassist Demian Cabaud’s group in 2016.

Williams explains the album title thus;
“Lifelike is another way of saying ‘Live’. The word is usually ascribed to inanimate objects and I always found that humorous. Basically I felt that this recording has ‘life’ in it, the kind of ‘life’ embodied in a live performance”.

Although the bulk of the material has appeared on previous recordings Williams’ writing allows considerable scope for improvisation, therefore no two renditions of any particular piece will ever be completely the same. Throw in an additional instrumental voice in the shape of Marquez and “Lifelike” represents a unique document.

The recording commences with “Under The Radar”, a tune from the “Another Time” album that Williams describes as “a six bar blues”. The performance begins with the unaccompanied sound of the leader’s drums, played with bare hands I would say. Williams colourful drum patterns are quickly augmented by Lasserson’s muscular, but subtle, bass lines as this now well established rhythm partnership engage in an absorbing dialogue. Williams finally picks up his sticks as the horns enter the fray, briefly sketching the theme before shading off into individual solos, Marquez going first, probing thoughtfully to begin with before stretching out more forcefully in an impressive display encompassing power, intelligence and technique. He’s shadowed by Downes’ piano as Lasserson and Williams provide fluid, colourful rhythmic support with the leader’s nimble cymbal work a particular point of interest. Marquez is followed by Downes, whose solo follows a similar trajectory. Interestingly this piece was first recorded by Williams’ chordless American quartet but the always excellent Downes very much makes it his own here with a solo that combines imagination and inventiveness with great virtuosity.

“The Interloper” first appeared on Williams’ most recent studio album “Outlier”. Williams explains the inspiration behind the tune as being; “someone who is oblivious to his surroundings and is always the last to leave the party”  adding “it came to me in various playful rhythmic permutations”.  He also acknowledges that the piece has “a Monkian sensibility, though it wasn’t intentional, the melody dictated the form, making the structures unusual and challenging to maintain for soloing”.  Nevertheless his colleagues rise superbly to that challenge with the two saxophonists featuring back to back and at length with the powerful, fluent Arcoleo laying down the gauntlet on tenor. O’Gallagher responds in kind, with one particularly dynamic passage underscored by Williams’ volcanic, restlessly inventive drumming. It’s thrilling stuff, a musical white knuckle ride.

Also from the “Outlier” album “Dream Visitor” was initially inspired by Miles Davis’ “Spanish Key” from the seminal “Bitches Brew” album. In this incarnation it’s centred around Lasserson’s bass line and cleverly shifts key centres throughout allowing each soloist a different tonality to explore. And explore they do with concise but fiery solos coming from Marquez, Arcoleo and O’Gallagher. Bassist Lasserson also features briefly as a soloist before adopting a more overtly funky bass line above which the horns exchange ideas in thrillingly garrulous fashion before spontaneously coalescing just before the close. “The overall trajectory is mapped out, but that horn figure just happened”, explains Williams.

Originally written in the 1990s the tune “Lament” subsequently resurfaced on the “Listener” album and has remained in Williams’ repertoire since. It’s a highly personal composition, dedicated  to a former drum student named Peter whose life fell into disarray before his tragic and untimely demise in an accident. This version begins with the sound of Lasserson’s unaccompanied bass, later joined in sombre dialogue by Downes’ piano before O’Gallagher sketches the melody. We then hear Downes’ lyrical, subtly blues tinged piano, accompanied by the swish of the leader’s brushes. “The rubato section of ‘Lament’ is almost like a fugue’ Williams explains, “Peter was from New Orleans and so the beginning is like a funeral service, while the swing section is like the second line that celebrates the deceased”. The dramatic, two part “Lament” with its quiet, sombre introduction contrasting with the louder second section has always been a hugely effective live item. Williams’ tunes are always involving and here the second part sounds more genuinely celebratory than the previous incarnations I’ve heard where the intensity of O’Gallagher’s alto soloing has always seemed to me to express the composer’s anger at an early and unnecessary death. Nevertheless there’s still plenty of fire in the solos here as O’Gallagher and Arcoloeo lock horns, lashed forward by the leader’s dynamic drumming.

“Borderline” is another 90s piece revived and re-invented by the current group. This version begins with sound of Williams’ drums, unaccompanied at first but with his colourful promptings subsequently answered by Arcoleo as the pair embark upon a spirited, but absorbing musical conversation.  A bright, punchy theme subsequently emerges as the ensemble temporarily coalesces prior to further solos from Lasserson on virtuoso double bass, unaccompanied at first, but later joined in dialogue by the patter of the leader’s drums before Downes eventually takes over, again in conversation with Williams. The piece resolves itself with a brief ensemble reprise of the main theme.

Marquez’s piece “Cancao do Amolador” is the only non-Williams composition in the set. The pair performed the tune with Cabaud in 2016 and the piece is a showcase for the leader’s peerless trumpeting, initially in a freely structured dialogue with Williams. The horns then combine on a chorale like theme that acts as the springboard for further trumpet pyrotechnics from the composer, still in conversation with Williams. There’s an unmistakably Iberian feel about the music with Marquez’s writing and playing evoking comparisons with Miles Davis and “Sketches of Spain”. The piece progresses through a passage of ensemble playing with the horns chorusing above the rolling rhythms generated by Downes, Lasserson and Williams and there’s a brief passage where Downes piano comes to the fore prior to a more formal group finale.

The title of the closing “Double Life” reflects both Williams’ Atlantic hopping lifestyle and the “second life that I gave the tune by reworking it”. It may also refer the shift from waltz time to double 4/4 that occurs part way through the piece. Downes, Lasserson and Williams introduce the piece in piano trio mode but are soon joined by the horns with a catchy hook that combines with a buoyant groove to set the mood for the performance. O’Gallagher and Arcoleo trade powerful solos while Downes matches them for fluency, inventiveness and intensity. Lasserson impresses once more at the bass and there’s a closing flourish from the leader at the drums.

Williams has a fondness for live recordings, believing them to catch the very spirit of jazz and “Lifelike” performs this function admirably. Many of these tunes may have been recorded before but they have never sounded exactly like this, while my numerous visits to Williams live shows over the years provide ample evidence that his compositions, written at the piano, are constantly evolving and remain fertile vehicles for improvisation.

Williams’ themes are often complex and the uncompromising nature of his group’s performances make for challenging, but still readily accessible listening. Some listeners may be a little frightened by the intensity of it all but most genuine jazz fans should find much to enjoy about Williams’ music, not least the playing itself which is superb throughout.

Besides the undoubted technical ability there’s a refreshing attitude about the Williams group, this isn’t a band that’s prepared to sit on its laurels, each performance challenges the musicians and pushes at the boundaries of the written material with intense, adventurous, fluent solos imbued with colour, imagination and intelligence.

At the heart of it all is Williams himself who plays with great technical facility and a steely intelligence that pushes and challenges his colleagues and gets the best out of them. His own playing brings out the full potential of the standard drum kit, the broad range of sounds and rhythms that he generates helping to propel his band mates to fresh heights. Despite the presence of previously released material “Lifelike” still represents a highly worthwhile listening experience.

Lifelike

Jeff Williams

Monday, July 09, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Lifelike

This isn’t a band that’s prepared to sit on its laurels, each performance challenges the musicians and pushes at the boundaries of the written material. A highly worthwhile listening experience.

Jeff Williams

“Lifelike”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4721)


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

Williams has also worked with an impressive roster of other major jazz artists during his long career including lengthy stints with saxophonists Stan Getz and Lee Konitz. He has also performed with Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie, Cedar Walton, Art Farmer, Michel Petrucciani, Randy Brecker, Paul Bley, John Abercrombie, John Scofield, Kenny Barron, Tony Malaby, Dave Holland, Tom Harrell, Bill McHenry, Joe Lovano. Ted Curson, Jerry Bergonzi and many more. It’s an impressive list.

The album “Coalescence”, his leadership début, appeared in 1991 but by this time Williams had dropped off my radar only to re-emerge again in the 21st century thanks to his collaborations with the British musicians Martin Speake (alto sax) and Barry Green (piano). Other UK based musicians with whom he has worked include Nikki Iles, Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, Hans Koller and others.

Williams first came to the UK in 2003 following his marriage to the American writer Lionel Shriver. The author was already based in Britain at this time and was reluctant to leave so the couple began an ongoing Transatlantic existence with Williams continuing to maintain homes in both London and New York.
 

The drummer has continued to work with both American and British musicians and the last few years have been a particularly prolific and productive period for him with the release of a number of albums variously featuring his ‘New York’ and ‘London’ bands.

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

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

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

In January 2018 Williams brought the current edition of his quintet with O’Gallagher, Arcoleo, Downes and Lasserson to The Hive Music & Media Centre in Shrewsbury for a “state of the art”  performance that is the subject of a review elsewhere on this site and from which the above introductory paragraphs have been lifted.

At the time of the Shrewsbury performance (promoted by Shrewsbury Jazz Network) this new live album, “Lifelike”, had been recorded but not released. The recording documents a performance at that much loved institution the Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, London in June 2017. For this event the core quintet was supplemented by the Portuguese trumpeter and composer Goncalo Marquez, a musician whom Williams had met when touring in Portgual with bassist Demian Cabaud’s group in 2016.

Williams explains the album title thus;
“Lifelike is another way of saying ‘Live’. The word is usually ascribed to inanimate objects and I always found that humorous. Basically I felt that this recording has ‘life’ in it, the kind of ‘life’ embodied in a live performance”.

Although the bulk of the material has appeared on previous recordings Williams’ writing allows considerable scope for improvisation, therefore no two renditions of any particular piece will ever be completely the same. Throw in an additional instrumental voice in the shape of Marquez and “Lifelike” represents a unique document.

The recording commences with “Under The Radar”, a tune from the “Another Time” album that Williams describes as “a six bar blues”. The performance begins with the unaccompanied sound of the leader’s drums, played with bare hands I would say. Williams colourful drum patterns are quickly augmented by Lasserson’s muscular, but subtle, bass lines as this now well established rhythm partnership engage in an absorbing dialogue. Williams finally picks up his sticks as the horns enter the fray, briefly sketching the theme before shading off into individual solos, Marquez going first, probing thoughtfully to begin with before stretching out more forcefully in an impressive display encompassing power, intelligence and technique. He’s shadowed by Downes’ piano as Lasserson and Williams provide fluid, colourful rhythmic support with the leader’s nimble cymbal work a particular point of interest. Marquez is followed by Downes, whose solo follows a similar trajectory. Interestingly this piece was first recorded by Williams’ chordless American quartet but the always excellent Downes very much makes it his own here with a solo that combines imagination and inventiveness with great virtuosity.

“The Interloper” first appeared on Williams’ most recent studio album “Outlier”. Williams explains the inspiration behind the tune as being; “someone who is oblivious to his surroundings and is always the last to leave the party”  adding “it came to me in various playful rhythmic permutations”.  He also acknowledges that the piece has “a Monkian sensibility, though it wasn’t intentional, the melody dictated the form, making the structures unusual and challenging to maintain for soloing”.  Nevertheless his colleagues rise superbly to that challenge with the two saxophonists featuring back to back and at length with the powerful, fluent Arcoleo laying down the gauntlet on tenor. O’Gallagher responds in kind, with one particularly dynamic passage underscored by Williams’ volcanic, restlessly inventive drumming. It’s thrilling stuff, a musical white knuckle ride.

Also from the “Outlier” album “Dream Visitor” was initially inspired by Miles Davis’ “Spanish Key” from the seminal “Bitches Brew” album. In this incarnation it’s centred around Lasserson’s bass line and cleverly shifts key centres throughout allowing each soloist a different tonality to explore. And explore they do with concise but fiery solos coming from Marquez, Arcoleo and O’Gallagher. Bassist Lasserson also features briefly as a soloist before adopting a more overtly funky bass line above which the horns exchange ideas in thrillingly garrulous fashion before spontaneously coalescing just before the close. “The overall trajectory is mapped out, but that horn figure just happened”, explains Williams.

Originally written in the 1990s the tune “Lament” subsequently resurfaced on the “Listener” album and has remained in Williams’ repertoire since. It’s a highly personal composition, dedicated  to a former drum student named Peter whose life fell into disarray before his tragic and untimely demise in an accident. This version begins with the sound of Lasserson’s unaccompanied bass, later joined in sombre dialogue by Downes’ piano before O’Gallagher sketches the melody. We then hear Downes’ lyrical, subtly blues tinged piano, accompanied by the swish of the leader’s brushes. “The rubato section of ‘Lament’ is almost like a fugue’ Williams explains, “Peter was from New Orleans and so the beginning is like a funeral service, while the swing section is like the second line that celebrates the deceased”. The dramatic, two part “Lament” with its quiet, sombre introduction contrasting with the louder second section has always been a hugely effective live item. Williams’ tunes are always involving and here the second part sounds more genuinely celebratory than the previous incarnations I’ve heard where the intensity of O’Gallagher’s alto soloing has always seemed to me to express the composer’s anger at an early and unnecessary death. Nevertheless there’s still plenty of fire in the solos here as O’Gallagher and Arcoloeo lock horns, lashed forward by the leader’s dynamic drumming.

“Borderline” is another 90s piece revived and re-invented by the current group. This version begins with sound of Williams’ drums, unaccompanied at first but with his colourful promptings subsequently answered by Arcoleo as the pair embark upon a spirited, but absorbing musical conversation.  A bright, punchy theme subsequently emerges as the ensemble temporarily coalesces prior to further solos from Lasserson on virtuoso double bass, unaccompanied at first, but later joined in dialogue by the patter of the leader’s drums before Downes eventually takes over, again in conversation with Williams. The piece resolves itself with a brief ensemble reprise of the main theme.

Marquez’s piece “Cancao do Amolador” is the only non-Williams composition in the set. The pair performed the tune with Cabaud in 2016 and the piece is a showcase for the leader’s peerless trumpeting, initially in a freely structured dialogue with Williams. The horns then combine on a chorale like theme that acts as the springboard for further trumpet pyrotechnics from the composer, still in conversation with Williams. There’s an unmistakably Iberian feel about the music with Marquez’s writing and playing evoking comparisons with Miles Davis and “Sketches of Spain”. The piece progresses through a passage of ensemble playing with the horns chorusing above the rolling rhythms generated by Downes, Lasserson and Williams and there’s a brief passage where Downes piano comes to the fore prior to a more formal group finale.

The title of the closing “Double Life” reflects both Williams’ Atlantic hopping lifestyle and the “second life that I gave the tune by reworking it”. It may also refer the shift from waltz time to double 4/4 that occurs part way through the piece. Downes, Lasserson and Williams introduce the piece in piano trio mode but are soon joined by the horns with a catchy hook that combines with a buoyant groove to set the mood for the performance. O’Gallagher and Arcoleo trade powerful solos while Downes matches them for fluency, inventiveness and intensity. Lasserson impresses once more at the bass and there’s a closing flourish from the leader at the drums.

Williams has a fondness for live recordings, believing them to catch the very spirit of jazz and “Lifelike” performs this function admirably. Many of these tunes may have been recorded before but they have never sounded exactly like this, while my numerous visits to Williams live shows over the years provide ample evidence that his compositions, written at the piano, are constantly evolving and remain fertile vehicles for improvisation.

Williams’ themes are often complex and the uncompromising nature of his group’s performances make for challenging, but still readily accessible listening. Some listeners may be a little frightened by the intensity of it all but most genuine jazz fans should find much to enjoy about Williams’ music, not least the playing itself which is superb throughout.

Besides the undoubted technical ability there’s a refreshing attitude about the Williams group, this isn’t a band that’s prepared to sit on its laurels, each performance challenges the musicians and pushes at the boundaries of the written material with intense, adventurous, fluent solos imbued with colour, imagination and intelligence.

At the heart of it all is Williams himself who plays with great technical facility and a steely intelligence that pushes and challenges his colleagues and gets the best out of them. His own playing brings out the full potential of the standard drum kit, the broad range of sounds and rhythms that he generates helping to propel his band mates to fresh heights. Despite the presence of previously released material “Lifelike” still represents a highly worthwhile listening experience.

David Ferris Septet featuring Maria Vali - Alphabets Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Ferris’ writing is impressively mature and the singing, playing and production consistently first rate. All in all it’s a début that Ferris can be justly proud of.

David Ferris Septet featuring Maria Vali

“Alphabets”

(Self Released)

David Ferris is a Birmingham based pianist, organist and composer and is a graduate of the acclaimed Jazz Course at the city’s Conservatoire, something of a breeding ground for imaginative young jazz musicians.

Originally from Cornwall Ferris also studied with the National Youth Jazz Collective founded by saxophonist, composer and educator Issie Barratt and credits his attendance at two of the NYJC’s summer schools as the inspiration for going on to Birmingham to study the music to degree level. His tutors have included fellow pianists Nikki Iles, John Turville, John Taylor, Liam Noble and Hans Koller, saxophonists Mark Lockheart, Martin Speake, Mark Turner and Joe Lovano, bassists Dave Holland and Percy Pursglove and drummers John Hollenbeck and Jeff Ballard.

As an in demand sideman on both piano and organ Ferris has featured on the Jazzmann web pages on several occasions, initially as a student as part of the annual Birmingham / Trondheim Jazz Exchange at Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Playing piano he was part of the acoustic Jazzlines trio that opened for US alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett’s band at Birmingham Town Hall in 2015. This trio has subsequently evolved into Tell Tale, a piano trio inspired by Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau and featuring bassist James Banner and drummer Ric Yarborough.

Also in 2015 he featured on piano as part of a quintet co-led by saxophonists Amy Roberts and Richard Exall in a performance that formed part of the ‘jazz strand’ at the Three Choirs Festival in Hereford. Ferris has also played and recorded with the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra and appears on “Green”, the excellent début album from trumpeter and composer Tom Syson.

As an organist Ferris has performed with Zwolfton, a quintet of former Birmingham Conservatoire students led by tenor saxophonist Claude Pietersen who specialise in jazz interpretations of the music of Anton Webern, Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg, the group of composers collectively known as “The Second Viennese School”.

Ferris recorded on organ as part of guitarist and composer Ben Lee’s band, appearing on Lee’s excellent début solo album “In The Tree”, released in 2016. These two also perform with drummer Billy Weir as part of the Larry Goldings inspired organ trio Ferris, Lee, Weir.

Ferris has also gigged extensively with the funk organ trio Three Step Manoeuvre, featuring Lee and drummer Ben Reynolds, and appears on their 2016 début album “Three Step Strut”.

“Alphabets” represents Ferris’ recording début as a leader and features his septet, a collection of mainly Birmingham based musicians that includes Hugh Pascall (trumpet), Richard Foote (trombone), Chris Young (alto and baritone saxes), Vittorio Mura (tenor and baritone saxes) Nick Jurd (bass) and Euan Palmer (drums). They are joined by Estonian born guest vocalist Maria Vali on a selection of original compositions by Ferris that include settings of words by the famous poets Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, WB Yeats and WH Auden.

It’s an ambitious but largely successful project that has been greeted with considerable critical approval. The album was partly financed by Help Musicians UK, the organisation that grants the annual Peter Whittingham Award with Arts Council England funding the subsequent tour (which took place in March 2018, the album found its way to me sometime later).
The album commences with the instrumental “Chorale” which immediately establishes Ferris’ credentials as a composer and arranger. Initially we hear just the four horns in a beautiful, quasi chamber/orchestral setting before the rest of the band come in on this multi faceted piece. Ferris’ writing is impressively free of cliché and it’s Jurd’s melodic double bass that takes the first solo before the horns return, vying for supremacy in thrilling fashion as Palmer drums up a storm behind. No solo from Ferris you’ll notice, instead he’s the glue that unselfishly holds the ensemble together.

Ferris and Vali first worked together on the Birmingham / Trondheim Jazz Exchanges when the Tallinn based singer was studying in Norway. She infuses the bitter words of Ted Hughes’ “On Crow Hill” with a chilly beauty, accompanied only by Ferris’ sympatico piano. She later reprises the stanzas in an ensemble context which emphasises the flexibility and sheer musicality of her vocalising. Again Ferris demonstrates his arranging and orchestrating skills, the seven musicians plus Vali make an impressively big and powerful sound. But there’s also room allowed for individual expression as Young delivers a lengthy, skilfully constructed alto solo that progresses from thoughtful, delicate probing to incisive full on blasting yet does so in a manner that sounds perfectly natural and unforced.

Ferris next turns to the writing of the Irish poet Seamus Heaney. Like Hughes his words are rooted in nature but Heaney’s landscape is less harsh and unforgiving and this is reflected in Ferris’ arrangement, the warm, rich horn textures giving the music an authentically bucolic quality. Vali delivers a coolly elegant vocal that again demonstrates her flexibility and range while Pascall impresses with a fluent, lyrical trumpet solo that unfolds gradually and gracefully. Ferris allows himself some solo space with an expansive piano solo that exhibits similar qualities.

The title track also features the poetry of Heaney, the words of which describe the poet’s experiences of learning to read and write and subsequently falling in love with words and language while learning the rules and traditions of literature. It’s a lengthy text encompassing some sixteen stanzas so the focus here is very much on Vali’s voice, albeit with space found for another incisive saxophone feature, this time from Mura on tenor whose playing becomes increasingly full blooded as his solo progresses, creating an effective contrast with the more reflective vocal sections.

Ferris continues to mine Irish literature for his setting of W.B. Yeats’ “The Hawk”, a brooding, swirling piece whose arrangement seems to owe more to previous jazz and poetry projects (Westbrook, Garrick etc) than the rest of the collection. Vali delivers the poet’s words above the fan-faring of the horns in the manner of an incantation prior to an improvised trombone solo from Foote underscored by the loosely structured rhythms generated by Ferris, Jurd and Palmer with the latter’s drums playing a prominent part in a passage that contains some of the free-est playing on the album. The piece resolves itself with a closing vocal passage that reprises part of the first section.

The album’s second wholly instrumental piece is “Fred”, Ferris’ dedication to one of his musical heroes, the great American pianist and composer Fred Hersch. The piece is very much a celebration of Hersch with its uplifting melodies, bright ensemble arrangements and delicately sparkling piano solo. With further features for saxophone and drums it’s a welcome reminder of the instrumental abilities of the core septet.

The album concludes with a joyous, rollicking interpretation of W.H. Auden’s “The Willow-Wren and the Stare”. Vali’s playful vocal performance is augmented by a lively, percussive piano solo from Ferris. The horns carouse like a mini big band and the excellent Palmer is again featured at the drums.

“Alphabets” represents an impressive leadership début from Ferris. His writing is consistently engaging and the playing and singing is excellent throughout. Wanting to write for Vali’s voice but not trusting himself as a lyricist he decided to turn to the works of others and “some of the most beautiful words I know”. This proved to be a wise and inspiring choice with the excellent Vali more than doing justice to the words of Heaney, Hughes, Yeats and Auden.

Jazz and poetry won’t be to everybody’s taste but there’s nothing “earnest” or “worthy” about Ferris’ music, it all sounds a perfectly natural and unforced and most jazz fans should find much to enjoy in these performances. Ferris’ writing is impressively mature and the singing, playing and production consistently first rate. All in all it’s a début that Ferris can be justly proud of.

 

Alphabets

David Ferris Septet featuring Maria Vali

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Alphabets

Ferris’ writing is impressively mature and the singing, playing and production consistently first rate. All in all it’s a début that Ferris can be justly proud of.

David Ferris Septet featuring Maria Vali

“Alphabets”

(Self Released)

David Ferris is a Birmingham based pianist, organist and composer and is a graduate of the acclaimed Jazz Course at the city’s Conservatoire, something of a breeding ground for imaginative young jazz musicians.

Originally from Cornwall Ferris also studied with the National Youth Jazz Collective founded by saxophonist, composer and educator Issie Barratt and credits his attendance at two of the NYJC’s summer schools as the inspiration for going on to Birmingham to study the music to degree level. His tutors have included fellow pianists Nikki Iles, John Turville, John Taylor, Liam Noble and Hans Koller, saxophonists Mark Lockheart, Martin Speake, Mark Turner and Joe Lovano, bassists Dave Holland and Percy Pursglove and drummers John Hollenbeck and Jeff Ballard.

As an in demand sideman on both piano and organ Ferris has featured on the Jazzmann web pages on several occasions, initially as a student as part of the annual Birmingham / Trondheim Jazz Exchange at Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Playing piano he was part of the acoustic Jazzlines trio that opened for US alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett’s band at Birmingham Town Hall in 2015. This trio has subsequently evolved into Tell Tale, a piano trio inspired by Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau and featuring bassist James Banner and drummer Ric Yarborough.

Also in 2015 he featured on piano as part of a quintet co-led by saxophonists Amy Roberts and Richard Exall in a performance that formed part of the ‘jazz strand’ at the Three Choirs Festival in Hereford. Ferris has also played and recorded with the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra and appears on “Green”, the excellent début album from trumpeter and composer Tom Syson.

As an organist Ferris has performed with Zwolfton, a quintet of former Birmingham Conservatoire students led by tenor saxophonist Claude Pietersen who specialise in jazz interpretations of the music of Anton Webern, Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg, the group of composers collectively known as “The Second Viennese School”.

Ferris recorded on organ as part of guitarist and composer Ben Lee’s band, appearing on Lee’s excellent début solo album “In The Tree”, released in 2016. These two also perform with drummer Billy Weir as part of the Larry Goldings inspired organ trio Ferris, Lee, Weir.

Ferris has also gigged extensively with the funk organ trio Three Step Manoeuvre, featuring Lee and drummer Ben Reynolds, and appears on their 2016 début album “Three Step Strut”.

“Alphabets” represents Ferris’ recording début as a leader and features his septet, a collection of mainly Birmingham based musicians that includes Hugh Pascall (trumpet), Richard Foote (trombone), Chris Young (alto and baritone saxes), Vittorio Mura (tenor and baritone saxes) Nick Jurd (bass) and Euan Palmer (drums). They are joined by Estonian born guest vocalist Maria Vali on a selection of original compositions by Ferris that include settings of words by the famous poets Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, WB Yeats and WH Auden.

It’s an ambitious but largely successful project that has been greeted with considerable critical approval. The album was partly financed by Help Musicians UK, the organisation that grants the annual Peter Whittingham Award with Arts Council England funding the subsequent tour (which took place in March 2018, the album found its way to me sometime later).
The album commences with the instrumental “Chorale” which immediately establishes Ferris’ credentials as a composer and arranger. Initially we hear just the four horns in a beautiful, quasi chamber/orchestral setting before the rest of the band come in on this multi faceted piece. Ferris’ writing is impressively free of cliché and it’s Jurd’s melodic double bass that takes the first solo before the horns return, vying for supremacy in thrilling fashion as Palmer drums up a storm behind. No solo from Ferris you’ll notice, instead he’s the glue that unselfishly holds the ensemble together.

Ferris and Vali first worked together on the Birmingham / Trondheim Jazz Exchanges when the Tallinn based singer was studying in Norway. She infuses the bitter words of Ted Hughes’ “On Crow Hill” with a chilly beauty, accompanied only by Ferris’ sympatico piano. She later reprises the stanzas in an ensemble context which emphasises the flexibility and sheer musicality of her vocalising. Again Ferris demonstrates his arranging and orchestrating skills, the seven musicians plus Vali make an impressively big and powerful sound. But there’s also room allowed for individual expression as Young delivers a lengthy, skilfully constructed alto solo that progresses from thoughtful, delicate probing to incisive full on blasting yet does so in a manner that sounds perfectly natural and unforced.

Ferris next turns to the writing of the Irish poet Seamus Heaney. Like Hughes his words are rooted in nature but Heaney’s landscape is less harsh and unforgiving and this is reflected in Ferris’ arrangement, the warm, rich horn textures giving the music an authentically bucolic quality. Vali delivers a coolly elegant vocal that again demonstrates her flexibility and range while Pascall impresses with a fluent, lyrical trumpet solo that unfolds gradually and gracefully. Ferris allows himself some solo space with an expansive piano solo that exhibits similar qualities.

The title track also features the poetry of Heaney, the words of which describe the poet’s experiences of learning to read and write and subsequently falling in love with words and language while learning the rules and traditions of literature. It’s a lengthy text encompassing some sixteen stanzas so the focus here is very much on Vali’s voice, albeit with space found for another incisive saxophone feature, this time from Mura on tenor whose playing becomes increasingly full blooded as his solo progresses, creating an effective contrast with the more reflective vocal sections.

Ferris continues to mine Irish literature for his setting of W.B. Yeats’ “The Hawk”, a brooding, swirling piece whose arrangement seems to owe more to previous jazz and poetry projects (Westbrook, Garrick etc) than the rest of the collection. Vali delivers the poet’s words above the fan-faring of the horns in the manner of an incantation prior to an improvised trombone solo from Foote underscored by the loosely structured rhythms generated by Ferris, Jurd and Palmer with the latter’s drums playing a prominent part in a passage that contains some of the free-est playing on the album. The piece resolves itself with a closing vocal passage that reprises part of the first section.

The album’s second wholly instrumental piece is “Fred”, Ferris’ dedication to one of his musical heroes, the great American pianist and composer Fred Hersch. The piece is very much a celebration of Hersch with its uplifting melodies, bright ensemble arrangements and delicately sparkling piano solo. With further features for saxophone and drums it’s a welcome reminder of the instrumental abilities of the core septet.

The album concludes with a joyous, rollicking interpretation of W.H. Auden’s “The Willow-Wren and the Stare”. Vali’s playful vocal performance is augmented by a lively, percussive piano solo from Ferris. The horns carouse like a mini big band and the excellent Palmer is again featured at the drums.

“Alphabets” represents an impressive leadership début from Ferris. His writing is consistently engaging and the playing and singing is excellent throughout. Wanting to write for Vali’s voice but not trusting himself as a lyricist he decided to turn to the works of others and “some of the most beautiful words I know”. This proved to be a wise and inspiring choice with the excellent Vali more than doing justice to the words of Heaney, Hughes, Yeats and Auden.

Jazz and poetry won’t be to everybody’s taste but there’s nothing “earnest” or “worthy” about Ferris’ music, it all sounds a perfectly natural and unforced and most jazz fans should find much to enjoy in these performances. Ferris’ writing is impressively mature and the singing, playing and production consistently first rate. All in all it’s a début that Ferris can be justly proud of.

 

Alyn Cosker - K P F Rating: 4 out of 5 “K P F” may be a highly personal album but it’s one capable of appealing to a broad fan base and is a recording that Cosker can be justifiably proud of.

Alyn Cosker

“K P F”

(Nyla Recordings NYLA01CD)

Alyn Cosker is the most in demand drummer on the Scottish jazz scene. He helps to provide the rhythmic drive behind the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra led by Tommy Smith and is also a prolific sideman in a plethora of small group settings. Among the leading Scottish musicians with whom Cosker has recorded are saxophonists Smith, Paul Towndrow and Konrad Wiszniewski, trumpeter Colin Steele, bassist Euan Burton and pianist Euan Stevenson. Crossing the border he has also worked with the English musicians Quentin Collins (trumpet) and Ed Jones (saxophones). Cosker has also worked with the American vibraphonist Joe Locke and away from the jazz field played in the band co-led by Mercury Music Prize nominees Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanergan.

A music graduate of the University of Strathclyde Cosker is also an aspiring composer and released his solo début, “Lyn’s Une” back in 2009. That recording is reviewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/alyn-cosker-lyns-une/

“K P F” has been a long time coming but it’s certainly been worth the wait. Like it’s ambitious, if slightly sprawling, predecessor it reflects Cosker’s versatility and broad ranging musical tastes. The Scottish music scene is particularly notable for the cross pollination between jazz and folk musicians. In more populous England the two genres largely keep themselves to themselves but the comparatively smaller scene in Scotland, particularly in Edinburgh, allows for a healthy element of cross fertilisation with many Scottish jazz musicians eager to explore their folk roots.

Like its predecessor “K P F” covers a broad stylistic range embracing elements of jazz, folk and rock. Cosker himself plays some piano as well as drums and percussion and the album features a core group of Steve Hamilton (piano, keyboards), Davie Dunsmuir (electric guitar) and Colin Cunningham (electric bass) with percussionist Marcio Doctor also making a substantial contribution to the music.

A wide variety of guests grace individual tracks including big jazz names such as Joe Locke, Tommy Smith and Paul Towndrow, plus folk/pop vocalist Eddi Reader of Fairground Attraction fame.

All of the material, including the lyrics, was written by Cosker and, as on “Lyn’s Une”, the sources of inspiration are often highly personal. Cosker’s liner notes provide valuable information and insight with regard to the individual tracks beginning with the opening “Serenity” which the drummer began writing just after the release of “Lyn’s Une” but only completed just prior to this current recording. Based upon the prayer of Serenity it features an extended line up including several guest musicians. Cosker himself plays some piano and the cast includes Laurence Cottle replacing Cunningham on electric bass, Towndrow on alto sax, Adam Bulley on mandolin, Fiona Hamilton on fiddle and Kirsty Johnson on accordion. The piece acts as a kind of overture, a musical depiction of a sunrise underpinned by a recurring piano motif as Dunsmuir’s guitar and Towndrow’s alto yearn and soar, reaching for the skies. There’s an air of Eastern mysticism about it that, for me, recalls 70s cult prog rockers Jade Warrior. As the music continues to develop it takes on a more obvious Celtic folk influence with Fiona Hamilton’s fiddle coming to play an increasingly significant role in the arrangement. Overall it’s a dramatic and stirring introduction.

“Yatey Ate” is dedicated to the memory of band leader Tim Barrella who was born in Sunderland but based in Glasgow. The young Cosker played regular Sunday afternoon jazz sessions with Barrella’s band and the tune title comes from the leader calling tune number eighty eight in the pad (rather improbably it was ‘MacArthur Park’) in a broad Wearside accent. The piece features the core group and dives deeply and unapologetically into fusion territory with Dunsmuir’s searing electric guitar to the fore as Cosker unleashes his inner Billy Cobham in a powerhouse drumming performance. The leader describes Dunsmuir as his “musical right hand man” and on this evidence it’s easy to see why. Steve Hamilton’s electric piano solo cools things down temporarily as he embraces the classic Fender Rhodes sound,  before quickly ramping up the energy levels once more. Complex, but exciting, this is a supremely invigorating piece of music featuring some superb playing all round.

The song “Dragons” feature guest vocalist Rachel Lightbody, born in Chicago but now based in Glasgow and firmly established on the Scottish music scene. Although primarily a jazz vocalist Lightbody is as versatile as the other musicians on the Caledonian scene. “Dragons” isn’t a jazz performance as such, despite the presence of guest Cottle’s liquidly melodic bass as he shares the instrumental soloing with Tommy Smith’s emotive, eloquent tenor sax. Cosker drums with admirable restraint and also adds some piano and percussion but the main focus is on Lightbody’s yearning but flexible vocal, which variously echoes Joni Mitchell and Sandy Denny in a compelling vocal performance.

The leader’s military style drumming introduces the lengthy instrumental “Purely Intertwined” which celebrates “the notion that love and friendship are purely intertwined”. Again there’s a fusion-esque feel about the piece courtesy of Dunsmuir’s electric guitar and Steve Hamilton’s electric keyboards. Dunsmuir takes the first solo, his taut, but imaginative playing again displaying a strong rock influence. A more obvious jazz presence comes in the form of the great Joe Locke who solos with his customary fluency on vibes. Tommy Smith has worked extensively with Locke and it was presumably him that introduced the American to Cosker. Also featuring as a soloist is Steve Hamilton, again on electric piano. As befits the title Cosker is a powerful but supportive presence throughout while the closing dovetailing of Dunsmuir’s guitar lines with Locke’s mercurial vibes helps to epitomise the tune title.

“K P F” is dedicated to Cosker’s fiancée, Kirsty Johnson, who played accordion on “Serenity”. The title stems from a uniquely personal inspiration, as Cosker explains;
“Her grandad played a special part in her life (along with the rest of her family). When they were kids he had a car that contained KPF in the registration plate. He would always state it stood for ‘Kirsty’s Pretty Face’. Couldn’t agree more”. Cosker may be a percussive powerhouse, but he’s a big softy at heart.
The piece itself is very brief, a minute and a half in duration, but is a charming cameo featuring a solo acoustic piano performance from Cosker that is simple but effective. In the context of the album as a whole the piece acts as an attractive and functional interlude.

“Hee Haw Twice” picks up the pace again with the core quartet plus Doctor heading into broadly fusion-esque territory once more. Cosker’s working group have opened for John McLaughlin (who was knocked out by them apparently) and as Dunsmuir’s electric guitar takes flight it’s easy to see why. Steve Hamilton sparkles on acoustic piano, thus ensuring favourable comparisons with the Impossible Gentlemen, albeit with a degree of additional percussive exotica. Cosker also allows himself the opportunity to feature his drumming in a dynamic performance behind the kit.

“When We Were Young” signals a return to song based territory with guest vocalist Eddi Reader singing Cosker’s words on “a song I wrote for things moving on in life…let’s raise a glass to it!!”
Reader gives an emotive vocal performance, imbuing Cosker’s lyrics of love and nostalgia with an appropriate gravitas. Chas McKenzie adds country tinged acoustic guitar while Cosker’s musician father, Jim, provides the elegant piano solo.

“The Adventures Of Feskelar” is dedicated to Cosker’s cocker spaniel and is a suitably playful piece introduced by the composer’s volcanic drumming and featuring a springy, propulsive electric bass line from Cunningham. Cosker even imagines his canine companion flying through the solar system in his own “little spaceship”. Dunsmuir’s guitar solo is appropriately turbo-charged as Steve Hamilton reaches for the stars on acoustic piano.

“Could Be Fate” is another tune written to reflect the nature of the human experience and to “celebrate enjoying whatever road life takes you on”. Again it features the core group and although the octane levels are lower than on the previous piece there’s still a languid, seductively funky groove about the music. Steve Hamilton delivers a wry, pleasantly rambling solo on electric piano while Cunningham adds liquid, melodic Jaco Pastorius inspired electric bass. Dunsmuir’s guitar weaves its way in and out of the piece while the leader is constant presence behind the drum kit, prompting and cajoling before featuring strongly in the tune’s closing stages.

The title of “Shoogly Paw” comes from a phrase used by Cosker’s future father in law to describe the playing of fleet fingered instrumental soloists. The energy levels are ramped up once more with another bold lunge into fusion-esque territory. Tommy Smith’s tenor features prominently – echoes here of his own ‘Karma’ group in which Cosker and Steve Hamilton both played. Smith shares the solos with Dunsmuir’s stratospheric electric guitar and the pair also exchange ideas, underscored by Cosker’s incendiary drumming.

The album ends with the song “Two Stars In The Sky” which was written “for anyone who has lost something special in their life”. Featuring Cosker on piano the piece features a wistful, throaty vocal from guest singer Fraser Anderson. It’s poignant and emotive and its simplicity represents a striking and effective contrast to the complexity of much of the instrumental music that has preceded it.

“K P F” represents an impressive artistic statement from Cosker. It’s a more focussed album than its predecessor, based as it is around the jazz-rock sound of the core group, all of whom play superbly throughout with Dunsmuir in particularly impressive form. It’s this side of the music that is most likely to be presented in subsequent live performances.

The song based items are very different, yet still sit well within the framework of the album, there’s no sense of them jarring or feeling out of place or context. The guest vocalists, Lightbody, Reader and Anderson all deliver excellent, moving performances which also serve to highlight Cosker’s abilities as a songwriter and lyricist as well as a composer of often tricky instrumental music. The juxtaposition between the simple and the complex works well throughout the album. All of Cosker’s guests make distinctive and effective contributions and add something positive to the music.

“K P F” may be a highly personal album but it’s one capable of appealing to a broad fan base and is a recording that Cosker can be justifiably proud of. It may have been a long time coming but it’s certainly been well worth the wait.

 

K P F

Alyn Cosker

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

K P F

“K P F” may be a highly personal album but it’s one capable of appealing to a broad fan base and is a recording that Cosker can be justifiably proud of.

Alyn Cosker

“K P F”

(Nyla Recordings NYLA01CD)

Alyn Cosker is the most in demand drummer on the Scottish jazz scene. He helps to provide the rhythmic drive behind the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra led by Tommy Smith and is also a prolific sideman in a plethora of small group settings. Among the leading Scottish musicians with whom Cosker has recorded are saxophonists Smith, Paul Towndrow and Konrad Wiszniewski, trumpeter Colin Steele, bassist Euan Burton and pianist Euan Stevenson. Crossing the border he has also worked with the English musicians Quentin Collins (trumpet) and Ed Jones (saxophones). Cosker has also worked with the American vibraphonist Joe Locke and away from the jazz field played in the band co-led by Mercury Music Prize nominees Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanergan.

A music graduate of the University of Strathclyde Cosker is also an aspiring composer and released his solo début, “Lyn’s Une” back in 2009. That recording is reviewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/alyn-cosker-lyns-une/

“K P F” has been a long time coming but it’s certainly been worth the wait. Like it’s ambitious, if slightly sprawling, predecessor it reflects Cosker’s versatility and broad ranging musical tastes. The Scottish music scene is particularly notable for the cross pollination between jazz and folk musicians. In more populous England the two genres largely keep themselves to themselves but the comparatively smaller scene in Scotland, particularly in Edinburgh, allows for a healthy element of cross fertilisation with many Scottish jazz musicians eager to explore their folk roots.

Like its predecessor “K P F” covers a broad stylistic range embracing elements of jazz, folk and rock. Cosker himself plays some piano as well as drums and percussion and the album features a core group of Steve Hamilton (piano, keyboards), Davie Dunsmuir (electric guitar) and Colin Cunningham (electric bass) with percussionist Marcio Doctor also making a substantial contribution to the music.

A wide variety of guests grace individual tracks including big jazz names such as Joe Locke, Tommy Smith and Paul Towndrow, plus folk/pop vocalist Eddi Reader of Fairground Attraction fame.

All of the material, including the lyrics, was written by Cosker and, as on “Lyn’s Une”, the sources of inspiration are often highly personal. Cosker’s liner notes provide valuable information and insight with regard to the individual tracks beginning with the opening “Serenity” which the drummer began writing just after the release of “Lyn’s Une” but only completed just prior to this current recording. Based upon the prayer of Serenity it features an extended line up including several guest musicians. Cosker himself plays some piano and the cast includes Laurence Cottle replacing Cunningham on electric bass, Towndrow on alto sax, Adam Bulley on mandolin, Fiona Hamilton on fiddle and Kirsty Johnson on accordion. The piece acts as a kind of overture, a musical depiction of a sunrise underpinned by a recurring piano motif as Dunsmuir’s guitar and Towndrow’s alto yearn and soar, reaching for the skies. There’s an air of Eastern mysticism about it that, for me, recalls 70s cult prog rockers Jade Warrior. As the music continues to develop it takes on a more obvious Celtic folk influence with Fiona Hamilton’s fiddle coming to play an increasingly significant role in the arrangement. Overall it’s a dramatic and stirring introduction.

“Yatey Ate” is dedicated to the memory of band leader Tim Barrella who was born in Sunderland but based in Glasgow. The young Cosker played regular Sunday afternoon jazz sessions with Barrella’s band and the tune title comes from the leader calling tune number eighty eight in the pad (rather improbably it was ‘MacArthur Park’) in a broad Wearside accent. The piece features the core group and dives deeply and unapologetically into fusion territory with Dunsmuir’s searing electric guitar to the fore as Cosker unleashes his inner Billy Cobham in a powerhouse drumming performance. The leader describes Dunsmuir as his “musical right hand man” and on this evidence it’s easy to see why. Steve Hamilton’s electric piano solo cools things down temporarily as he embraces the classic Fender Rhodes sound,  before quickly ramping up the energy levels once more. Complex, but exciting, this is a supremely invigorating piece of music featuring some superb playing all round.

The song “Dragons” feature guest vocalist Rachel Lightbody, born in Chicago but now based in Glasgow and firmly established on the Scottish music scene. Although primarily a jazz vocalist Lightbody is as versatile as the other musicians on the Caledonian scene. “Dragons” isn’t a jazz performance as such, despite the presence of guest Cottle’s liquidly melodic bass as he shares the instrumental soloing with Tommy Smith’s emotive, eloquent tenor sax. Cosker drums with admirable restraint and also adds some piano and percussion but the main focus is on Lightbody’s yearning but flexible vocal, which variously echoes Joni Mitchell and Sandy Denny in a compelling vocal performance.

The leader’s military style drumming introduces the lengthy instrumental “Purely Intertwined” which celebrates “the notion that love and friendship are purely intertwined”. Again there’s a fusion-esque feel about the piece courtesy of Dunsmuir’s electric guitar and Steve Hamilton’s electric keyboards. Dunsmuir takes the first solo, his taut, but imaginative playing again displaying a strong rock influence. A more obvious jazz presence comes in the form of the great Joe Locke who solos with his customary fluency on vibes. Tommy Smith has worked extensively with Locke and it was presumably him that introduced the American to Cosker. Also featuring as a soloist is Steve Hamilton, again on electric piano. As befits the title Cosker is a powerful but supportive presence throughout while the closing dovetailing of Dunsmuir’s guitar lines with Locke’s mercurial vibes helps to epitomise the tune title.

“K P F” is dedicated to Cosker’s fiancée, Kirsty Johnson, who played accordion on “Serenity”. The title stems from a uniquely personal inspiration, as Cosker explains;
“Her grandad played a special part in her life (along with the rest of her family). When they were kids he had a car that contained KPF in the registration plate. He would always state it stood for ‘Kirsty’s Pretty Face’. Couldn’t agree more”. Cosker may be a percussive powerhouse, but he’s a big softy at heart.
The piece itself is very brief, a minute and a half in duration, but is a charming cameo featuring a solo acoustic piano performance from Cosker that is simple but effective. In the context of the album as a whole the piece acts as an attractive and functional interlude.

“Hee Haw Twice” picks up the pace again with the core quartet plus Doctor heading into broadly fusion-esque territory once more. Cosker’s working group have opened for John McLaughlin (who was knocked out by them apparently) and as Dunsmuir’s electric guitar takes flight it’s easy to see why. Steve Hamilton sparkles on acoustic piano, thus ensuring favourable comparisons with the Impossible Gentlemen, albeit with a degree of additional percussive exotica. Cosker also allows himself the opportunity to feature his drumming in a dynamic performance behind the kit.

“When We Were Young” signals a return to song based territory with guest vocalist Eddi Reader singing Cosker’s words on “a song I wrote for things moving on in life…let’s raise a glass to it!!”
Reader gives an emotive vocal performance, imbuing Cosker’s lyrics of love and nostalgia with an appropriate gravitas. Chas McKenzie adds country tinged acoustic guitar while Cosker’s musician father, Jim, provides the elegant piano solo.

“The Adventures Of Feskelar” is dedicated to Cosker’s cocker spaniel and is a suitably playful piece introduced by the composer’s volcanic drumming and featuring a springy, propulsive electric bass line from Cunningham. Cosker even imagines his canine companion flying through the solar system in his own “little spaceship”. Dunsmuir’s guitar solo is appropriately turbo-charged as Steve Hamilton reaches for the stars on acoustic piano.

“Could Be Fate” is another tune written to reflect the nature of the human experience and to “celebrate enjoying whatever road life takes you on”. Again it features the core group and although the octane levels are lower than on the previous piece there’s still a languid, seductively funky groove about the music. Steve Hamilton delivers a wry, pleasantly rambling solo on electric piano while Cunningham adds liquid, melodic Jaco Pastorius inspired electric bass. Dunsmuir’s guitar weaves its way in and out of the piece while the leader is constant presence behind the drum kit, prompting and cajoling before featuring strongly in the tune’s closing stages.

The title of “Shoogly Paw” comes from a phrase used by Cosker’s future father in law to describe the playing of fleet fingered instrumental soloists. The energy levels are ramped up once more with another bold lunge into fusion-esque territory. Tommy Smith’s tenor features prominently – echoes here of his own ‘Karma’ group in which Cosker and Steve Hamilton both played. Smith shares the solos with Dunsmuir’s stratospheric electric guitar and the pair also exchange ideas, underscored by Cosker’s incendiary drumming.

The album ends with the song “Two Stars In The Sky” which was written “for anyone who has lost something special in their life”. Featuring Cosker on piano the piece features a wistful, throaty vocal from guest singer Fraser Anderson. It’s poignant and emotive and its simplicity represents a striking and effective contrast to the complexity of much of the instrumental music that has preceded it.

“K P F” represents an impressive artistic statement from Cosker. It’s a more focussed album than its predecessor, based as it is around the jazz-rock sound of the core group, all of whom play superbly throughout with Dunsmuir in particularly impressive form. It’s this side of the music that is most likely to be presented in subsequent live performances.

The song based items are very different, yet still sit well within the framework of the album, there’s no sense of them jarring or feeling out of place or context. The guest vocalists, Lightbody, Reader and Anderson all deliver excellent, moving performances which also serve to highlight Cosker’s abilities as a songwriter and lyricist as well as a composer of often tricky instrumental music. The juxtaposition between the simple and the complex works well throughout the album. All of Cosker’s guests make distinctive and effective contributions and add something positive to the music.

“K P F” may be a highly personal album but it’s one capable of appealing to a broad fan base and is a recording that Cosker can be justifiably proud of. It may have been a long time coming but it’s certainly been well worth the wait.

 

Gethin Liddington’s Goodkatz - Gethin Liddington’s Goodkatz, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 01/07/2018. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Two sets of excellent music delivered in very challenging conditions, with some excellent group playing and soloing all round.

Gethin Liddington’s Goodkatz, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 01/07/2018


Tonight’s performance represented a collaboration between the local jazz club, Black Mountain Jazz and the annual Abergavenny Arts Festival. It had been the intention for BMJ to present an all day series of events on the final day of the Arts Festival.

Unfortunately the first of these, which would have seen BMJ promoter Mike Skilton interviewed by journalist and broadcaster Rhys Phillips on the subject of ‘Jazz Appreciation’ had to be cancelled. Nevertheless the remaining two events proved to be extremely successful, culminating with this
well attended and hugely enjoyable performance by the quintet Goodkatz, led by trumpeter Gethin Liddington.

Liddington is a popular presence on the jazz scene in South Wales and beyond. He’s a highly versatile musician who has played across a variety of jazz genres from the traditional to the avant garde. Liddington has recorded with bands led by trombonist Gareth Roberts, pianist Dave Jones and bassist Paula Gardiner. He has been a featured soloist with the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD) Big Band, the Cardiff based Capital City Jazz Orchestra and the one off Slice of Jazz Orchestra that performed at the 2017 Brecon Jazz Festival. Liddington’s avant garde credentials include performances and recordings with ensembles led by pianist Keith Tippett and saxophonist Paul Dunmall.

Liddington has formed a particularly productive alliance with fellow trumpeter and South Walian Ceri Williams. Liddington plays in Williams’ New Era Reborn Brass Band and the pair front Chop Idols, a supremely entertaining quintet that pays homage to trumpet greats such as Clark Terry and Dizzy Gillespie, while also bringing plenty of themselves to the music. Chop Idols proved to be popular visitors when they performed at BMJ in March 2018 with many jazz fans turning out again to hear this new quintet.

Goodkatz specialises in jazz from an earlier epoch than that honoured by Chop Idols. Here Liddington goes back to the music of the 1920s, 30s and 40s as he pays tribute to the Dixieland and swing eras. Joining the trumpeter in the front line of this venture is saxophonist/clarinettist Ceri Rees, leader of the Capital City Jazz Orchestra. Goodkatz also features Chop Idols pianist Richard West, double bassist Donnie Joe Sweeney and drummer Greg Evans, all of them busy and popular presences on the South Wales jazz scene.

Tonight’s performance was billed as presenting “feel good, infectious, toe-tapping jazz” in a “family friendly” atmosphere and this was exactly what it did with Liddington presenting the show with a ready wit and bonhomie. The audience included a number of ‘first timers’ who had seen the event advertised whilst attending the main Arts Festival. Hopefully they enjoyed what they heard and will return to BMJ in the future. The audience reaction certainly suggested that they did.

Liddington and Rees founded Goodkatz with the intention of playing this much loved music with passion and intensity, feeling that many performers in the same style have interpreted the music too tamely. It’s also interesting to note that a whole generation of much younger players have also come to the music with the same approach, notably the highly skilled musicians forming part of the scene surrounding Kansas Smitty’s in London. There’s something of a trad and swing revival going on in the English capital with musicians and audiences approaching the music without any inhibitions or hang ups and rediscovering something of its original spirit.

Brecon Jazz Festival used to advertise itself as being “New Orleans Beneath the Beacons”. On a sweltering July evening it was “New Orleans Beneath the Blorenge” in Abergavenny as band and audience boiled in temperatures more suited to the Crescent City than the Black Mountains.

Fortunately the music was ‘hot’ too as the quintet kicked off with saxophonist Lester Young’s composition for the Count Basie Orchestra, “Lester Leaps In”. This was a marvellously swinging interpretation featuring some dazzling interplay between Liddington on trumpet and Rees on tenor sax as Sweeney and Evans laid down a suitably propulsive groove, further enlivened by West’s inventive keyboard embellishments. Concise but fluent solos came from Rees, Liddington and West as the evening got off to an excellent start.

West is a hugely inventive and imaginative pianist whose solos often threaten to undermine the horn players he works with. His unaccompanied piano introduction to Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’” demonstrated his mastery of a plethora of jazz piano styles and also included something of Fats’ trademark humour. Meanwhile Rees had switched to clarinet, adopting a bluesy tone on the instrument as it intertwined with Liddington’s trumpet in a fine example of New Orleans style counterpoint. Rees also took the first solo, which included a virtuoso sustained single note at one juncture. He was followed by the leader on trumpet, West at the piano and Sweeney on melodic double bass.

A splendidly swinging “All Of Me” featured a trumpet and tenor front line above a vigorous groove and included a Louis Armstrong inspired by vocal from Liddington. I’ve seen Gethin play on many occasions in various contexts but I think this was the first time that I’d ever heard him sing! But the real highlights were instrumental, including the spirited horn interplay between Liddington and Rees and the gutsy, r’n’b style tenor solo from the latter. The leader weighed in with some bravura, high register trumpeting as West continued to dazzle at the keyboard. A swinging outro featuring the dovetailing of the twin horn attack helped to ensure that this item was particularly well received by the crowd.

Liddington hadn’t brought his distinctive four valved flugel horn along but this didn’t prevent him from demonstrating his skills as a balladeer. For the standard “Out Of Nowhere” Rees vacated the stage and the subsequent quartet performance served as a feature for Liddington on muted trumpet. His playing was soft, fragile and vulnerable on a bossa style arrangement that transported the Abergavenny audience to Rio and the other Sugar Loaf. The leader’s gentle lyricism was matched by similar solos from West at the piano and Sweeney on double bass.

Rees returned, this time on clarinet, for a second well known Fats Waller tune, this time “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”. West introduced the piece at the piano before being joined by the New Orleans horn stylings of Liddington and Rees. The latter took the first solo on clarinet, followed by Liddington whose virtuoso trumpeting was at one point accompanied only by Sweeney’s double bass. Further solos came from West and Sweeney before the two horns coalesced again towards the end of the song.

To close the first set the quintet remained in New Orleans mode for “Slow Boat To China” (retitled “Slow Goat To Blaenau” for the local audience!). Rees and Liddington featured on clarinet and trumpet respectively while ‘Professor’ Richard West again demonstrated his knowledge of the New Orleans piano tradition. Liddington also added a chorus of vocals.

The second set embraced something of an Ellington theme as the quintet commenced with the Duke’s “In A Mellow Tone”, adopting a more mainstream jazz feel with solos coming from Rees on tenor, Liddington on trumpet and West on piano.

The group slimmed down to a quartet again for “Days Of Wine And Roses”, beginning in ballad style with an introductory duo dialogue between trumpet and piano. The addition of bass and drums added momentum and swing to the music with Evans’ brushed grooves fuelling further solos from Liddington and West. Subsequently the drummer traded fours with Liddington, enjoying a series of briskly brushed breaks before the piece resolved itself with the leader’s unaccompanied trumpet cadenza.

Liddington then left the stage as Rees returned to feature his clarinet playing on the standard “The World Is Waiting For A Sunrise” which included solos from Rees and West and a further series of brushed drum breaks from Evans, this time exchanging ideas with Rees.

The Seattle born Sweeney is a versatile musician who also leads his own group, Donnie Joe’s American Swing, in which he plays guitar and sings. This line up has made a previous appearance in Abergavenny at the annual Wall2Wall Jazz Festival. Here Sweeney’s vocals were featured, alongside his bass playing, on another Ellington tune, “Just Squeeze Me”, which also included instrumental solos from Liddington on trumpet, Rees on clarinet and West at the piano.

There was more Ellington as the quintet delivered a barnstorming version of “Caravan”, the piece introduced by a dazzling passage of unaccompanied piano from the excellent West that combined ornate, almost baroque, flourishes with a welcome touch of humour. The pianist established a Latin groove that was taken up by a whistle blowing Evans as Liddington and a tenor toting Rees dovetailed on the familiar theme prior to taking individual solos. West delivered another display of stunning virtuosity with a more conventional jazz solo before entering into an absorbing and exciting dialogue with Evans’ drums, their exchanges underpinned by Sweeney’s anchoring bass.
The two horns then combined on the head, mutating it into “Sweet Georgia Brown” and back again during a rousing, swinging closing section which the crowd loved.

It was back to New Orleans for the closing “Dinah”, delivered in a swinging style that Liddington described as “Louis Prima -esque”. Trumpet and clarinet delivered the theme in Crescent City style with Liddington also singing the lyrics prior to pithy solos from himself and Rees and an unaccompanied piano feature from West. This proved to be the last number of the evening and ended an excellent night of music making on an energetic note. Given the almost tropical temperatures, and with both band and audience flagging an encore was never likely but this didn’t imply any lack of appreciation for the music. Liddington and his colleagues were very well received and ensured that Abergavenny Arts Festival ended on a high note.

Certainly nobody could accuse of Liddington and the Goodkatz of short changing their audience. They had delivered two sets of excellent music in very challenging conditions, with some excellent group playing and soloing all round. My only reservations (as with Chop Idols previously) would be with regard to the vocals, which I felt added little to the experience, although others may disagree. These pieces did start out as songs after all, before jazz soloists turned them into primarily instrumental vehicles.

Earlier in the day, and also part of the Arts Festival, West and saxophonist Martha Skilton had co-ordinated “Jazz for Little ‘Uns”, an interactive musical presentation for two to four year olds designed to introduce the joy of jazz to young children. This proved to be a very successful and enjoyable event with fifteen toddlers and their parents taking part. It’s now hoped that a similar event will be added to the programme for the forthcoming Wall2Wall Jazz Festival which will take place from 30th August to 2nd September 2018.


Gethin Liddington’s Goodkatz, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 01/07/2018.

Gethin Liddington’s Goodkatz

Monday, July 02, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Gethin Liddington’s Goodkatz, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 01/07/2018.

Two sets of excellent music delivered in very challenging conditions, with some excellent group playing and soloing all round.

Gethin Liddington’s Goodkatz, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 01/07/2018


Tonight’s performance represented a collaboration between the local jazz club, Black Mountain Jazz and the annual Abergavenny Arts Festival. It had been the intention for BMJ to present an all day series of events on the final day of the Arts Festival.

Unfortunately the first of these, which would have seen BMJ promoter Mike Skilton interviewed by journalist and broadcaster Rhys Phillips on the subject of ‘Jazz Appreciation’ had to be cancelled. Nevertheless the remaining two events proved to be extremely successful, culminating with this
well attended and hugely enjoyable performance by the quintet Goodkatz, led by trumpeter Gethin Liddington.

Liddington is a popular presence on the jazz scene in South Wales and beyond. He’s a highly versatile musician who has played across a variety of jazz genres from the traditional to the avant garde. Liddington has recorded with bands led by trombonist Gareth Roberts, pianist Dave Jones and bassist Paula Gardiner. He has been a featured soloist with the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD) Big Band, the Cardiff based Capital City Jazz Orchestra and the one off Slice of Jazz Orchestra that performed at the 2017 Brecon Jazz Festival. Liddington’s avant garde credentials include performances and recordings with ensembles led by pianist Keith Tippett and saxophonist Paul Dunmall.

Liddington has formed a particularly productive alliance with fellow trumpeter and South Walian Ceri Williams. Liddington plays in Williams’ New Era Reborn Brass Band and the pair front Chop Idols, a supremely entertaining quintet that pays homage to trumpet greats such as Clark Terry and Dizzy Gillespie, while also bringing plenty of themselves to the music. Chop Idols proved to be popular visitors when they performed at BMJ in March 2018 with many jazz fans turning out again to hear this new quintet.

Goodkatz specialises in jazz from an earlier epoch than that honoured by Chop Idols. Here Liddington goes back to the music of the 1920s, 30s and 40s as he pays tribute to the Dixieland and swing eras. Joining the trumpeter in the front line of this venture is saxophonist/clarinettist Ceri Rees, leader of the Capital City Jazz Orchestra. Goodkatz also features Chop Idols pianist Richard West, double bassist Donnie Joe Sweeney and drummer Greg Evans, all of them busy and popular presences on the South Wales jazz scene.

Tonight’s performance was billed as presenting “feel good, infectious, toe-tapping jazz” in a “family friendly” atmosphere and this was exactly what it did with Liddington presenting the show with a ready wit and bonhomie. The audience included a number of ‘first timers’ who had seen the event advertised whilst attending the main Arts Festival. Hopefully they enjoyed what they heard and will return to BMJ in the future. The audience reaction certainly suggested that they did.

Liddington and Rees founded Goodkatz with the intention of playing this much loved music with passion and intensity, feeling that many performers in the same style have interpreted the music too tamely. It’s also interesting to note that a whole generation of much younger players have also come to the music with the same approach, notably the highly skilled musicians forming part of the scene surrounding Kansas Smitty’s in London. There’s something of a trad and swing revival going on in the English capital with musicians and audiences approaching the music without any inhibitions or hang ups and rediscovering something of its original spirit.

Brecon Jazz Festival used to advertise itself as being “New Orleans Beneath the Beacons”. On a sweltering July evening it was “New Orleans Beneath the Blorenge” in Abergavenny as band and audience boiled in temperatures more suited to the Crescent City than the Black Mountains.

Fortunately the music was ‘hot’ too as the quintet kicked off with saxophonist Lester Young’s composition for the Count Basie Orchestra, “Lester Leaps In”. This was a marvellously swinging interpretation featuring some dazzling interplay between Liddington on trumpet and Rees on tenor sax as Sweeney and Evans laid down a suitably propulsive groove, further enlivened by West’s inventive keyboard embellishments. Concise but fluent solos came from Rees, Liddington and West as the evening got off to an excellent start.

West is a hugely inventive and imaginative pianist whose solos often threaten to undermine the horn players he works with. His unaccompanied piano introduction to Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’” demonstrated his mastery of a plethora of jazz piano styles and also included something of Fats’ trademark humour. Meanwhile Rees had switched to clarinet, adopting a bluesy tone on the instrument as it intertwined with Liddington’s trumpet in a fine example of New Orleans style counterpoint. Rees also took the first solo, which included a virtuoso sustained single note at one juncture. He was followed by the leader on trumpet, West at the piano and Sweeney on melodic double bass.

A splendidly swinging “All Of Me” featured a trumpet and tenor front line above a vigorous groove and included a Louis Armstrong inspired by vocal from Liddington. I’ve seen Gethin play on many occasions in various contexts but I think this was the first time that I’d ever heard him sing! But the real highlights were instrumental, including the spirited horn interplay between Liddington and Rees and the gutsy, r’n’b style tenor solo from the latter. The leader weighed in with some bravura, high register trumpeting as West continued to dazzle at the keyboard. A swinging outro featuring the dovetailing of the twin horn attack helped to ensure that this item was particularly well received by the crowd.

Liddington hadn’t brought his distinctive four valved flugel horn along but this didn’t prevent him from demonstrating his skills as a balladeer. For the standard “Out Of Nowhere” Rees vacated the stage and the subsequent quartet performance served as a feature for Liddington on muted trumpet. His playing was soft, fragile and vulnerable on a bossa style arrangement that transported the Abergavenny audience to Rio and the other Sugar Loaf. The leader’s gentle lyricism was matched by similar solos from West at the piano and Sweeney on double bass.

Rees returned, this time on clarinet, for a second well known Fats Waller tune, this time “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”. West introduced the piece at the piano before being joined by the New Orleans horn stylings of Liddington and Rees. The latter took the first solo on clarinet, followed by Liddington whose virtuoso trumpeting was at one point accompanied only by Sweeney’s double bass. Further solos came from West and Sweeney before the two horns coalesced again towards the end of the song.

To close the first set the quintet remained in New Orleans mode for “Slow Boat To China” (retitled “Slow Goat To Blaenau” for the local audience!). Rees and Liddington featured on clarinet and trumpet respectively while ‘Professor’ Richard West again demonstrated his knowledge of the New Orleans piano tradition. Liddington also added a chorus of vocals.

The second set embraced something of an Ellington theme as the quintet commenced with the Duke’s “In A Mellow Tone”, adopting a more mainstream jazz feel with solos coming from Rees on tenor, Liddington on trumpet and West on piano.

The group slimmed down to a quartet again for “Days Of Wine And Roses”, beginning in ballad style with an introductory duo dialogue between trumpet and piano. The addition of bass and drums added momentum and swing to the music with Evans’ brushed grooves fuelling further solos from Liddington and West. Subsequently the drummer traded fours with Liddington, enjoying a series of briskly brushed breaks before the piece resolved itself with the leader’s unaccompanied trumpet cadenza.

Liddington then left the stage as Rees returned to feature his clarinet playing on the standard “The World Is Waiting For A Sunrise” which included solos from Rees and West and a further series of brushed drum breaks from Evans, this time exchanging ideas with Rees.

The Seattle born Sweeney is a versatile musician who also leads his own group, Donnie Joe’s American Swing, in which he plays guitar and sings. This line up has made a previous appearance in Abergavenny at the annual Wall2Wall Jazz Festival. Here Sweeney’s vocals were featured, alongside his bass playing, on another Ellington tune, “Just Squeeze Me”, which also included instrumental solos from Liddington on trumpet, Rees on clarinet and West at the piano.

There was more Ellington as the quintet delivered a barnstorming version of “Caravan”, the piece introduced by a dazzling passage of unaccompanied piano from the excellent West that combined ornate, almost baroque, flourishes with a welcome touch of humour. The pianist established a Latin groove that was taken up by a whistle blowing Evans as Liddington and a tenor toting Rees dovetailed on the familiar theme prior to taking individual solos. West delivered another display of stunning virtuosity with a more conventional jazz solo before entering into an absorbing and exciting dialogue with Evans’ drums, their exchanges underpinned by Sweeney’s anchoring bass.
The two horns then combined on the head, mutating it into “Sweet Georgia Brown” and back again during a rousing, swinging closing section which the crowd loved.

It was back to New Orleans for the closing “Dinah”, delivered in a swinging style that Liddington described as “Louis Prima -esque”. Trumpet and clarinet delivered the theme in Crescent City style with Liddington also singing the lyrics prior to pithy solos from himself and Rees and an unaccompanied piano feature from West. This proved to be the last number of the evening and ended an excellent night of music making on an energetic note. Given the almost tropical temperatures, and with both band and audience flagging an encore was never likely but this didn’t imply any lack of appreciation for the music. Liddington and his colleagues were very well received and ensured that Abergavenny Arts Festival ended on a high note.

Certainly nobody could accuse of Liddington and the Goodkatz of short changing their audience. They had delivered two sets of excellent music in very challenging conditions, with some excellent group playing and soloing all round. My only reservations (as with Chop Idols previously) would be with regard to the vocals, which I felt added little to the experience, although others may disagree. These pieces did start out as songs after all, before jazz soloists turned them into primarily instrumental vehicles.

Earlier in the day, and also part of the Arts Festival, West and saxophonist Martha Skilton had co-ordinated “Jazz for Little ‘Uns”, an interactive musical presentation for two to four year olds designed to introduce the joy of jazz to young children. This proved to be a very successful and enjoyable event with fifteen toddlers and their parents taking part. It’s now hoped that a similar event will be added to the programme for the forthcoming Wall2Wall Jazz Festival which will take place from 30th August to 2nd September 2018.


Roller Trio - New Devices Rating: 4 out of 5 “New Devices” lives up to its name with the members of Roller Trio embracing technology to expand the group’s sound, and doing so imaginatively and intelligently.

Roller Trio

“New Devices”

(Edition Records EDN 1114)

“New Devices” is the long awaited third album from the Leeds based threesome Roller Trio.
Products of the Jazz Course at Leeds College of Music the group seemed to emerge fully formed with the release of their eponymous début album on the F-ire Presents imprint in 2012.

The album garnered a considerable degree of critical acclaim and was nominated for both the Mercury Music Prize and the MOBO Award for Best Jazz Act. Attracting attention beyond the usual jazz parameters the group also acquired an enviable reputation for the quality of their exciting live performances.  I was fortunate enough to witness them at a packed out, standing room only show at The Vortex as part of the 2012 London Jazz Festival (also featuring Pixel and WorldService Project) and as part of a double bill with Polar Bear at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival the following year. 

December 2014 saw the release of the trio’s keenly anticipated second album, “Fracture”,  which was supported by a successful crowd funding campaign and released on the trio’s own Lamplight Social imprint. Musically the album built upon its predecessor’s success but, almost inevitably, it wasn’t able to achieve quite the same kind of critical and commercial impact.

The group have since re-trenched with founder members James Mainwaring (saxes) and Luke Reddin-Williams (drums) joined by new guitarist Chris Sharkey, who takes over from original member Luke Wynter.  Originally from the North East Sharkey also studied at Leeds at around the same time as his colleagues and brings a wealth of experience to the trio.
Sharkey was a key member of the critically acclaimed but now sadly defunct Trio VD, had a brief spell as a member of Acoustic Ladyland (appearing on the fourth and final album “Living With A Tiger”) and was also part of bassist Andy Champion’s electric trio Shiver. He also acts as a producer, with the group WorldService Project among those calling on his services in this capacity. Sharkey has also been commissioned as a composer as part of London Jazz Festival’s “Learning & Participation” programme, writing for the amateur Make It / Break It Ensemble at the 2016 Festival.

The arrival of Sharkey has given Roller Trio a shot in the arm with “New Devices” generating a healthy degree of critical approval. The re-invigorated group were also widely praised for their exciting and powerful performance at the 2018 Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

Roller Trio come from the same lineage as UK ‘punk jazz’ acts such as Acoustic Ladyland, Polar Bear, Led Bib and Trio VD and have always borrowed substantially from related genres such as rock, hip hop and electronica.  As a group they have always enhanced their sound with the use of electronic technology with both Mainwaring and Wynter ‘treating’ the sounds of their instruments on “Fracture”.

The arrival of Sharkey sees the trio taking this process further with the individual members also credited with synths and programming in addition to their principal instruments. The music includes sounds sampled from the night life of Leeds. Sharkey is also credited with electric bass, which adds further weight and depth to the group’s sound.

Despite their increasing reliance upon electronics and gadgetry “New Devices” actually explores “people’s confused relationship with technology and the public participation in self- surveillance”.

Mainwaring explains further;
“We couldn’t have made this album without technology, the devices used in music making and the online communication, yet we’re concerned about the future and the impact social media will have on the next generation. Do we really have a grip on our relationship with technology?”

All the pieces are credited to ‘Roller Trio’ suggesting a mix of collaborative writing and collective improvisation. For the first two albums the group’s preferred method of working was to fashion compositions out of collective improvisations and jamming and one suspects that their MO remains similar, despite the change of personnel and the additional technology.
However the previous albums also included individual credits for some pieces, suggesting that existing ideas were brought in to the studio and subsequently developed by the group.

Opener “Decline Of Northern Civilisation” sets the tone, beginning with a fanfare of spooky, Blade Runner style synths prior to settling on a powerful sax driven riff around which the electronic elements swirl and shift. Reddin-Williams lays down a powerful, technology enhanced groove but in the best Roller Trio tradition the music never stays in one place for long, shading off into a brief passages of electronically enhanced free improvisation prior to an excoriating sax barrage from Mainwaring as the beats clatter around him.

There’s more spooky synths on the introduction to “Milligrammar” which delves even deeper into the world of electronica. Despite the presence of Sharkey in the band’s ranks it’s rare for him to adopt a conventional guitar sound. Instead his role appears to be more that of a sonic architect, constantly shaping and manipulating the band’s sound.  At a time when contemporaries Portico Quartet seem be pulling back from their explorations into the realms of electronica the new look Roller Trio seem to be diving further in. The factor that unites both bands is the deployment of the saxophone as a humanising presence.

Roller Trio’s music is ethereal and gritty by turns, often in the course of a single tune. Mainwaring delivers a towering saxophone solo on “A Whole Volga”, often with only Reddin-Williams’ volcanic drumming for company.  Nonetheless this powerhouse display is bookended by alternately ethereal and glitchy electronica.

“Mad Dryad” effectively combines acoustic and electronic sounds and confirms that Roller Trio have retained their collective ear for a catchy riff or tune. This is an energetic, joyous performance, delivered with power and conviction.

By way of contrast the dark and brooding “Enthusela” demonstrates Roller Trio’s mastery of the more sombre side of the electro-acoustic landscape. Unsettling textures combine with anthemic riffs and grooves to create a sound-scape that charms and disturbs in equal measure.

Ditto “The Third Persona” with its chilly synthscapes and ghostly guitar chording, the kind of Twin Peaks inspired sound-scape inhabited by Cardiff based bassist and composer Aidan Thorne’s group Duski. The eerie piping of Mainwaring’s soprano sax is the aural equivalent of a torch beam attempting to illuminate, and find a path through,  a swirling, billowing musical fog.

“Sever So Slightly” develops from Sharkey’s introductory bass line to create an atmosphere of alienation and menace, in keeping with the theme of the album overall. Reddin-Williams shapes a monolithic groove around which saxes and electronics intertwine, the textures becoming ever more dark, powerful and unsettling.

“Nobody Wants To Run The World” explores similar territory but with greater energy and power. The sound is more up-front and confrontational, as evidenced by Mainwaring’s gutsy sax solo and Sharkey’s Fripp like guitar. Roller Trio’s music suggests several reference points, from the prog rock of King Crimson to the brooding trip hop of Portishead to the synthesised soundscapes of Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream.

The closing “Dot Com Babel” even throws some old school Terry Riley style minimalism into the mix before eventually hitting upon a catchy sax melody allied to a ferocious electronically enhanced drum groove as the trio go for the jugular in the album’s closing stages.

“New Devices” lives up to its name with the members of Roller Trio embracing technology to expand the group’s sound, and doing so imaginatively and intelligently. When I first heard that Sharkey had joined the group I was expecting something more guitar orientated but instead it’s Mainwaring who emerges as the most distinctive instrumentalist in the conventional sense. Instead Sharkey makes his mark more as a texturalist and colourist and overall shaper of the band’s sound, also acting as part of the engineering and production team. Amazingly there are no orthodox guitar solos as such.

This is an album that expands Roller Trio’s musical horizons but retains enough familiar reference points from previous incarnations to satisfy the band’s existing fan base.  Meanwhile it’s possible that their deeper excursions into the world of electronica may win them a whole raft of new supporters.

Nevertheless, impressive as the album is one still senses that the best place to enjoy the music of Roller Trio is in the live environment. Let’s hope that the move to Edition, now a major jazz independent, will help them to facilitate a national tour in support of this exciting new music.

 

New Devices

Roller Trio

Friday, June 29, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

New Devices

“New Devices” lives up to its name with the members of Roller Trio embracing technology to expand the group’s sound, and doing so imaginatively and intelligently.

Roller Trio

“New Devices”

(Edition Records EDN 1114)

“New Devices” is the long awaited third album from the Leeds based threesome Roller Trio.
Products of the Jazz Course at Leeds College of Music the group seemed to emerge fully formed with the release of their eponymous début album on the F-ire Presents imprint in 2012.

The album garnered a considerable degree of critical acclaim and was nominated for both the Mercury Music Prize and the MOBO Award for Best Jazz Act. Attracting attention beyond the usual jazz parameters the group also acquired an enviable reputation for the quality of their exciting live performances.  I was fortunate enough to witness them at a packed out, standing room only show at The Vortex as part of the 2012 London Jazz Festival (also featuring Pixel and WorldService Project) and as part of a double bill with Polar Bear at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival the following year. 

December 2014 saw the release of the trio’s keenly anticipated second album, “Fracture”,  which was supported by a successful crowd funding campaign and released on the trio’s own Lamplight Social imprint. Musically the album built upon its predecessor’s success but, almost inevitably, it wasn’t able to achieve quite the same kind of critical and commercial impact.

The group have since re-trenched with founder members James Mainwaring (saxes) and Luke Reddin-Williams (drums) joined by new guitarist Chris Sharkey, who takes over from original member Luke Wynter.  Originally from the North East Sharkey also studied at Leeds at around the same time as his colleagues and brings a wealth of experience to the trio.
Sharkey was a key member of the critically acclaimed but now sadly defunct Trio VD, had a brief spell as a member of Acoustic Ladyland (appearing on the fourth and final album “Living With A Tiger”) and was also part of bassist Andy Champion’s electric trio Shiver. He also acts as a producer, with the group WorldService Project among those calling on his services in this capacity. Sharkey has also been commissioned as a composer as part of London Jazz Festival’s “Learning & Participation” programme, writing for the amateur Make It / Break It Ensemble at the 2016 Festival.

The arrival of Sharkey has given Roller Trio a shot in the arm with “New Devices” generating a healthy degree of critical approval. The re-invigorated group were also widely praised for their exciting and powerful performance at the 2018 Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

Roller Trio come from the same lineage as UK ‘punk jazz’ acts such as Acoustic Ladyland, Polar Bear, Led Bib and Trio VD and have always borrowed substantially from related genres such as rock, hip hop and electronica.  As a group they have always enhanced their sound with the use of electronic technology with both Mainwaring and Wynter ‘treating’ the sounds of their instruments on “Fracture”.

The arrival of Sharkey sees the trio taking this process further with the individual members also credited with synths and programming in addition to their principal instruments. The music includes sounds sampled from the night life of Leeds. Sharkey is also credited with electric bass, which adds further weight and depth to the group’s sound.

Despite their increasing reliance upon electronics and gadgetry “New Devices” actually explores “people’s confused relationship with technology and the public participation in self- surveillance”.

Mainwaring explains further;
“We couldn’t have made this album without technology, the devices used in music making and the online communication, yet we’re concerned about the future and the impact social media will have on the next generation. Do we really have a grip on our relationship with technology?”

All the pieces are credited to ‘Roller Trio’ suggesting a mix of collaborative writing and collective improvisation. For the first two albums the group’s preferred method of working was to fashion compositions out of collective improvisations and jamming and one suspects that their MO remains similar, despite the change of personnel and the additional technology.
However the previous albums also included individual credits for some pieces, suggesting that existing ideas were brought in to the studio and subsequently developed by the group.

Opener “Decline Of Northern Civilisation” sets the tone, beginning with a fanfare of spooky, Blade Runner style synths prior to settling on a powerful sax driven riff around which the electronic elements swirl and shift. Reddin-Williams lays down a powerful, technology enhanced groove but in the best Roller Trio tradition the music never stays in one place for long, shading off into a brief passages of electronically enhanced free improvisation prior to an excoriating sax barrage from Mainwaring as the beats clatter around him.

There’s more spooky synths on the introduction to “Milligrammar” which delves even deeper into the world of electronica. Despite the presence of Sharkey in the band’s ranks it’s rare for him to adopt a conventional guitar sound. Instead his role appears to be more that of a sonic architect, constantly shaping and manipulating the band’s sound.  At a time when contemporaries Portico Quartet seem be pulling back from their explorations into the realms of electronica the new look Roller Trio seem to be diving further in. The factor that unites both bands is the deployment of the saxophone as a humanising presence.

Roller Trio’s music is ethereal and gritty by turns, often in the course of a single tune. Mainwaring delivers a towering saxophone solo on “A Whole Volga”, often with only Reddin-Williams’ volcanic drumming for company.  Nonetheless this powerhouse display is bookended by alternately ethereal and glitchy electronica.

“Mad Dryad” effectively combines acoustic and electronic sounds and confirms that Roller Trio have retained their collective ear for a catchy riff or tune. This is an energetic, joyous performance, delivered with power and conviction.

By way of contrast the dark and brooding “Enthusela” demonstrates Roller Trio’s mastery of the more sombre side of the electro-acoustic landscape. Unsettling textures combine with anthemic riffs and grooves to create a sound-scape that charms and disturbs in equal measure.

Ditto “The Third Persona” with its chilly synthscapes and ghostly guitar chording, the kind of Twin Peaks inspired sound-scape inhabited by Cardiff based bassist and composer Aidan Thorne’s group Duski. The eerie piping of Mainwaring’s soprano sax is the aural equivalent of a torch beam attempting to illuminate, and find a path through,  a swirling, billowing musical fog.

“Sever So Slightly” develops from Sharkey’s introductory bass line to create an atmosphere of alienation and menace, in keeping with the theme of the album overall. Reddin-Williams shapes a monolithic groove around which saxes and electronics intertwine, the textures becoming ever more dark, powerful and unsettling.

“Nobody Wants To Run The World” explores similar territory but with greater energy and power. The sound is more up-front and confrontational, as evidenced by Mainwaring’s gutsy sax solo and Sharkey’s Fripp like guitar. Roller Trio’s music suggests several reference points, from the prog rock of King Crimson to the brooding trip hop of Portishead to the synthesised soundscapes of Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream.

The closing “Dot Com Babel” even throws some old school Terry Riley style minimalism into the mix before eventually hitting upon a catchy sax melody allied to a ferocious electronically enhanced drum groove as the trio go for the jugular in the album’s closing stages.

“New Devices” lives up to its name with the members of Roller Trio embracing technology to expand the group’s sound, and doing so imaginatively and intelligently. When I first heard that Sharkey had joined the group I was expecting something more guitar orientated but instead it’s Mainwaring who emerges as the most distinctive instrumentalist in the conventional sense. Instead Sharkey makes his mark more as a texturalist and colourist and overall shaper of the band’s sound, also acting as part of the engineering and production team. Amazingly there are no orthodox guitar solos as such.

This is an album that expands Roller Trio’s musical horizons but retains enough familiar reference points from previous incarnations to satisfy the band’s existing fan base.  Meanwhile it’s possible that their deeper excursions into the world of electronica may win them a whole raft of new supporters.

Nevertheless, impressive as the album is one still senses that the best place to enjoy the music of Roller Trio is in the live environment. Let’s hope that the move to Edition, now a major jazz independent, will help them to facilitate a national tour in support of this exciting new music.

 

Mark Kavuma - Kavuma Rating: 0 out of 5 Vibrant, energetic and eminently enjoyable. The playing, from some of the UK’s leading jazz musicians, is excellent throughout.

Mark Kavuma

“Kavuma”

(Ubuntu Music – UBU007)

Born in Uganda the trumpeter and composer Mark Kavuma is a bright young presence on the London jazz scene.  His current projects include the leadership of his own quartet and of the sextet The Banger Factory, an extended edition of the smaller group. He also leads the Floor Rippers, the hip hop infused house band at The Hootenanny in Brixton. As an educator he acts as a professional tutor for the Kinetika Bloco community band.

As a sideman he was worked with Jean Toussaint’s Young Lions, Jazz Jamaica and the Nu Civilisation Orchestra. He has also been featured as a guest soloist with Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra and has toured with world music stars Mulatu Astatke and Salif Keita.
He has also been part of the pit orchestra at several theatre productions.

In 2013 I briefly witnessed the playing of Kavuma at that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. He was playing on the Barbican Freestage as co-leader of a quintet also featuring saxophonist Ruben Fox. Effectively the group were supporting the Wayne Shorter Quartet, who later appeared in the Barbican’s Main Hall.

The Kavuma / Fox quintet also featured pianist Rick Simpson, bassist Mark Lewandowski and Empirical drummer Shaney Forbes.
I was impressed by what I heard remarking at the time;
 “A sharply dressed band playing in the punchy be-bop/hard bop style made famous by the Blue Note label. Fox and Kavuma proved to be bright, hard hitting soloists with plenty to say and pianist Simpson excelled as both soloist and accompanist. The music was propelled by the driving rhythms of Lewandowski and Forbes and proved to be extremely enjoyable.  In keeping with the spirit of the day the quintet’s set included a number of Wayne Shorter compositions alongside pieces by Miles Davis and other jazz and bebop standards. I’d wager that this energetic and highly promising young quintet is a popular live draw in the jazz clubs of the capital”.

My observations are endorsed by the press release accompanying this album which references the influence on Kavuma and his colleagues of classic Blue Note and Prestige recordings of the 1950s.

Those colleagues include his old school friends, saxophonist Ruben Fox and guitarist Artie Zaitz. The personnel that appears on this recording also includes bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer Kyle Poole plus a second saxophonist, the comparative veteran Mussinghi Brian Edwards. Rising star pianist Reuben James appears on all but one of the album’s seven tracks while tap dancer Michela Marino Lerman guests on the closing track, “Church”.

Kavuma’s original writing is rooted in his life experiences. Opener “Into The Darkness” was first conceived when Kavuma was still in his teens and commences with a salvo of unaccompanied drumming, courtesy of Kyle Poole. Kavuma’s riff based theme, with James prominent in the arrangement, then provides the jumping off point for powerful solos from Edwards on tenor, Kavuma himself on trumpet and Fox on second tenor. All three play with a remarkable intensity and fluency with the shouts of their bandmates urging them on. The album’s liner notes mention the influence of Wayne Shorter on this composition but there’s also a Coltrane-esque intensity about the soloing while the busy, energetic Poole drives the music forward in a manner that channels the spirit of the great Art Blakey.

Kavuma’s version of the song “Carolina Moon” was inspired by his and Edwards’ shared passion for the music of Thelonious Monk. Originally written in the 1920s by Joe Burke and Benny Davis the song was first recorded in 1928 by the crooner Gene Austin before becoming a pop hit for Connie Francis some thirty years later. Somewhere along the line Thelonious recorded a version of it which Kavuma and Edwards discovered on a Monk box set. Kavuma’s group take Monk’s arrangement as the basis for their interpretation and the master’s influence is obvious throughout.
There’s some excellent ensemble playing and an agreeably Monk like quirkiness within a swinging arrangement that includes agile, eloquent solos from Edwards and Kavuma. The inclusion of a new musical voice as Zaitz solos on guitar, an instrument not present in Monk’s arrangement of the tune,  helps the Kavuma group to stamp their own identity on the piece.

“Modibo” was written in honour of an elderly Malian musician who befriended Kavuma and Edwards during the course of a tour. It commences with the virtuosic unaccompanied bass of Chaplin, who subsequently combines with Poole to set up an irresistible groove as the horns combine to generate an arresting, Blue Note style head. Out of this emerges Zaitz’s scintillating, fleet fingered, blues infused guitar solo, his fluency and eloquence reminiscent of the great Grant Green. Kavuma picks up the baton and runs with it as he delivers a concise, but impactful, trumpet solo. The conversation is then taken over by the two tenors in a series of earthily fluent exchanges.

By way of contrast to the rollicking, celebratory “Modibo” the next piece, “Babar G”  is a lush, beautiful ballad that presents a very different side of Kavuma’s writing and playing. Here the trumpeter’s tone is initially plaintive and vulnerable, but still eloquent and fluent. James also impresses with his lyricism at the piano and there’s also some smoky, tender tenor sax balladeering.
The music gradually builds in intensity before falling away again to resolve itself in a solo trumpet cadenza.

“Papa Joe” is dedicated to one Joe Morgan, Kavuma’s first music teacher. The piece announces itself with a Blakey like drum roll that helps to establish the mood of this lively swinging piece, that Blue Note and Prestige influence again obvious throughout. The leader takes the first solo in bright and incisive fashion. His individual influences aren’t mentioned but one suspects that Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard are both in there somewhere. Fox follows on gruff, soulful tenor while James also impresses at the piano, with liner note writer Jake Zaitz mentioning Errol Garner as an influence.

Kavuma grew up with church music and the album includes an arrangement of the 19th century hymn tune “Abide With Me”, the text written by Henry Francis Lyte and the tune by William Henry Monk, the latter presumably not related to Thelonious! This version begins with an extended, expertly constructed solo drum passage from Poole that ranges from great delicacy to an almost elemental power. The later horn fanfares carouse in the spirit of Charles Mingus, Lester Bowie, Charlie Haden and Carla Bley. Kavuma’s Christian faith is obviously very important to him, but to these ears there’s also a degree of subversiveness about the arrangement.

The album concludes with a track titled “Church” that actually pays homage to the late night jam at The Haggerston in East London, an event that has taken place every Sunday for the last twenty years. Kavuma has been part of this nocturnal congregation since he was a teenager. This alternative ‘church’ gives the tune its title. There’s a joyous, celebratory feeling about the music with tap virtuoso Lerman dancing a series of aurally dazzling swift heeled breaks, accompanied only by the, huge, swinging sound of Chaplin’s double bass. These episodes are punctuated by similarly spirited outbursts from the horns with more conventional jazz solos subsequently coming from tenor sax and trumpet. Poole enjoys a further series of drum breaks, this time on his own, before the whole band, including Lerman, jam on the outro prior to a rousing, almost New Orleans style coda. Great fun.

And fun is what Kavuma is all about. Here is a jazz musician who unashamedly wants to give his audiences a good time. It’s an admirable sentiment that finds its way into the music. As an album “Kavuma” may be unapologetically derivative and wear its Blue Note influences on its sleeve but it’s also vibrant, energetic and eminently enjoyable. Kavuma also brings plenty of himself to the proceedings, particularly on the final two tracks, which are actually the most distinctive on the album. The playing, from some of the UK’s leading jazz musicians, is excellent throughout and the vitality that the players bring to the music once again reflects their prowess as a live act.

Audiences will get the chance to check this music out in the live environment when the album gets its official launch at Ghost Notes in London on 19th July 2018.
Please visit http://www.markkavuma.com for further details.

Kavuma

Mark Kavuma

Monday, June 25, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

0 out of 5

Kavuma

Vibrant, energetic and eminently enjoyable. The playing, from some of the UK’s leading jazz musicians, is excellent throughout.

Mark Kavuma

“Kavuma”

(Ubuntu Music – UBU007)

Born in Uganda the trumpeter and composer Mark Kavuma is a bright young presence on the London jazz scene.  His current projects include the leadership of his own quartet and of the sextet The Banger Factory, an extended edition of the smaller group. He also leads the Floor Rippers, the hip hop infused house band at The Hootenanny in Brixton. As an educator he acts as a professional tutor for the Kinetika Bloco community band.

As a sideman he was worked with Jean Toussaint’s Young Lions, Jazz Jamaica and the Nu Civilisation Orchestra. He has also been featured as a guest soloist with Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra and has toured with world music stars Mulatu Astatke and Salif Keita.
He has also been part of the pit orchestra at several theatre productions.

In 2013 I briefly witnessed the playing of Kavuma at that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. He was playing on the Barbican Freestage as co-leader of a quintet also featuring saxophonist Ruben Fox. Effectively the group were supporting the Wayne Shorter Quartet, who later appeared in the Barbican’s Main Hall.

The Kavuma / Fox quintet also featured pianist Rick Simpson, bassist Mark Lewandowski and Empirical drummer Shaney Forbes.
I was impressed by what I heard remarking at the time;
 “A sharply dressed band playing in the punchy be-bop/hard bop style made famous by the Blue Note label. Fox and Kavuma proved to be bright, hard hitting soloists with plenty to say and pianist Simpson excelled as both soloist and accompanist. The music was propelled by the driving rhythms of Lewandowski and Forbes and proved to be extremely enjoyable.  In keeping with the spirit of the day the quintet’s set included a number of Wayne Shorter compositions alongside pieces by Miles Davis and other jazz and bebop standards. I’d wager that this energetic and highly promising young quintet is a popular live draw in the jazz clubs of the capital”.

My observations are endorsed by the press release accompanying this album which references the influence on Kavuma and his colleagues of classic Blue Note and Prestige recordings of the 1950s.

Those colleagues include his old school friends, saxophonist Ruben Fox and guitarist Artie Zaitz. The personnel that appears on this recording also includes bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer Kyle Poole plus a second saxophonist, the comparative veteran Mussinghi Brian Edwards. Rising star pianist Reuben James appears on all but one of the album’s seven tracks while tap dancer Michela Marino Lerman guests on the closing track, “Church”.

Kavuma’s original writing is rooted in his life experiences. Opener “Into The Darkness” was first conceived when Kavuma was still in his teens and commences with a salvo of unaccompanied drumming, courtesy of Kyle Poole. Kavuma’s riff based theme, with James prominent in the arrangement, then provides the jumping off point for powerful solos from Edwards on tenor, Kavuma himself on trumpet and Fox on second tenor. All three play with a remarkable intensity and fluency with the shouts of their bandmates urging them on. The album’s liner notes mention the influence of Wayne Shorter on this composition but there’s also a Coltrane-esque intensity about the soloing while the busy, energetic Poole drives the music forward in a manner that channels the spirit of the great Art Blakey.

Kavuma’s version of the song “Carolina Moon” was inspired by his and Edwards’ shared passion for the music of Thelonious Monk. Originally written in the 1920s by Joe Burke and Benny Davis the song was first recorded in 1928 by the crooner Gene Austin before becoming a pop hit for Connie Francis some thirty years later. Somewhere along the line Thelonious recorded a version of it which Kavuma and Edwards discovered on a Monk box set. Kavuma’s group take Monk’s arrangement as the basis for their interpretation and the master’s influence is obvious throughout.
There’s some excellent ensemble playing and an agreeably Monk like quirkiness within a swinging arrangement that includes agile, eloquent solos from Edwards and Kavuma. The inclusion of a new musical voice as Zaitz solos on guitar, an instrument not present in Monk’s arrangement of the tune,  helps the Kavuma group to stamp their own identity on the piece.

“Modibo” was written in honour of an elderly Malian musician who befriended Kavuma and Edwards during the course of a tour. It commences with the virtuosic unaccompanied bass of Chaplin, who subsequently combines with Poole to set up an irresistible groove as the horns combine to generate an arresting, Blue Note style head. Out of this emerges Zaitz’s scintillating, fleet fingered, blues infused guitar solo, his fluency and eloquence reminiscent of the great Grant Green. Kavuma picks up the baton and runs with it as he delivers a concise, but impactful, trumpet solo. The conversation is then taken over by the two tenors in a series of earthily fluent exchanges.

By way of contrast to the rollicking, celebratory “Modibo” the next piece, “Babar G”  is a lush, beautiful ballad that presents a very different side of Kavuma’s writing and playing. Here the trumpeter’s tone is initially plaintive and vulnerable, but still eloquent and fluent. James also impresses with his lyricism at the piano and there’s also some smoky, tender tenor sax balladeering.
The music gradually builds in intensity before falling away again to resolve itself in a solo trumpet cadenza.

“Papa Joe” is dedicated to one Joe Morgan, Kavuma’s first music teacher. The piece announces itself with a Blakey like drum roll that helps to establish the mood of this lively swinging piece, that Blue Note and Prestige influence again obvious throughout. The leader takes the first solo in bright and incisive fashion. His individual influences aren’t mentioned but one suspects that Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard are both in there somewhere. Fox follows on gruff, soulful tenor while James also impresses at the piano, with liner note writer Jake Zaitz mentioning Errol Garner as an influence.

Kavuma grew up with church music and the album includes an arrangement of the 19th century hymn tune “Abide With Me”, the text written by Henry Francis Lyte and the tune by William Henry Monk, the latter presumably not related to Thelonious! This version begins with an extended, expertly constructed solo drum passage from Poole that ranges from great delicacy to an almost elemental power. The later horn fanfares carouse in the spirit of Charles Mingus, Lester Bowie, Charlie Haden and Carla Bley. Kavuma’s Christian faith is obviously very important to him, but to these ears there’s also a degree of subversiveness about the arrangement.

The album concludes with a track titled “Church” that actually pays homage to the late night jam at The Haggerston in East London, an event that has taken place every Sunday for the last twenty years. Kavuma has been part of this nocturnal congregation since he was a teenager. This alternative ‘church’ gives the tune its title. There’s a joyous, celebratory feeling about the music with tap virtuoso Lerman dancing a series of aurally dazzling swift heeled breaks, accompanied only by the, huge, swinging sound of Chaplin’s double bass. These episodes are punctuated by similarly spirited outbursts from the horns with more conventional jazz solos subsequently coming from tenor sax and trumpet. Poole enjoys a further series of drum breaks, this time on his own, before the whole band, including Lerman, jam on the outro prior to a rousing, almost New Orleans style coda. Great fun.

And fun is what Kavuma is all about. Here is a jazz musician who unashamedly wants to give his audiences a good time. It’s an admirable sentiment that finds its way into the music. As an album “Kavuma” may be unapologetically derivative and wear its Blue Note influences on its sleeve but it’s also vibrant, energetic and eminently enjoyable. Kavuma also brings plenty of himself to the proceedings, particularly on the final two tracks, which are actually the most distinctive on the album. The playing, from some of the UK’s leading jazz musicians, is excellent throughout and the vitality that the players bring to the music once again reflects their prowess as a live act.

Audiences will get the chance to check this music out in the live environment when the album gets its official launch at Ghost Notes in London on 19th July 2018.
Please visit http://www.markkavuma.com for further details.

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

Sloth Racket

“A Glorious Monster”

(Luminous Records LU010)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Glorious Monster

Sloth Racket

Friday, June 22, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

0 out of 5

A Glorious Monster

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

Sloth Racket

“A Glorious Monster”

(Luminous Records LU010)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frank Harrison and Brigitte Beraha

“The Way Home”

(Linus Records LRCD04)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Way Home” is an intimate, thoughtful, well crafted and often very beautiful album. Its ‘chamber jazz’ aesthetic and slightly rarefied atmosphere won’t appeal to all listeners but nevertheless it’s an album that many will enjoy and it has certainly been well received by my fellow jazz commentators.

It’s a recording that will enhance Beraha’s reputation as one of the UK’s leading vocalists and lyricists and confirms Harrison’s status as one our top pianists. His subtle use of electronica is effective and does nothing to detract from the superior quality of his piano playing. Meanwhile the production and engineering (by Dougal Lott and Andrew Tulloch) ensures that both performers are heard at their best.

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

The Way Home

Frank Harrison and Brigitte Beraha

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

The Way Home

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

Frank Harrison and Brigitte Beraha

“The Way Home”

(Linus Records LRCD04)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Way Home” is an intimate, thoughtful, well crafted and often very beautiful album. Its ‘chamber jazz’ aesthetic and slightly rarefied atmosphere won’t appeal to all listeners but nevertheless it’s an album that many will enjoy and it has certainly been well received by my fellow jazz commentators.

It’s a recording that will enhance Beraha’s reputation as one of the UK’s leading vocalists and lyricists and confirms Harrison’s status as one our top pianists. His subtle use of electronica is effective and does nothing to detract from the superior quality of his piano playing. Meanwhile the production and engineering (by Dougal Lott and Andrew Tulloch) ensures that both performers are heard at their best.

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

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

Matt Anderson Quartet

“Rambling”

(Jellymould Jazz JM-JJ030)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

 

Rambling

Matt Anderson Quartet

Friday, June 15, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Rambling

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

Matt Anderson Quartet

“Rambling”

(Jellymould Jazz JM-JJ030)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

 

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

The Dissolute Society

“Soldiering On”

(Babel Records BDV16145)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Soldiering On

The Dissolute Society

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Soldiering On

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

The Dissolute Society

“Soldiering On”

(Babel Records BDV16145)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Interlude 1” continues the improvised theme with an adventurous passage of 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