The Jazz Mann | Sloth RacketBonsaiTim Garland’s ‘Weather Walker’ TrioRebecca Nash / AtlasAtsuko Shimada with the Greg Sterland TrioLeo Richardson QuartetLady Nade DuoLaura JurdNuadha QuartetTom CawleyKate Williams’  Four Plus Three meets Georgia MancioJeff WilliamsOxydMikael Mani TrioDani Diodato’s SUNAATBonsaiThe Shirt Tail StompersThe Remix Jazz OrchestraMark KavumaBabelfishDominic Howles QuintetGreg Abate and the Craig Milverton TrioRob CopeBeresford HammondRay d’Inverno / Rod Paton Sextet feat. Tony Woods, Nette Robinson, Ashley John Long, Martin FisherSnarky PuppyBunkerOwl Light Trio / Brackenbury & NeilsonPazSean Foran and Stuart McCallumPartisansAndrew McCormackAlex Hitchcock QuintetTori Freestone TrioAureliusRachel Head Trio / Michael Blanchfield TrioTom SysonRob LuftMiguel Gorodi NonetKino TrioShez RajaAnimal SocietyBen Crosland QuintetOrphy Robinson QuintetFaith BrackenburyBecki Biggins QuartetHenry Lowther’s Still WatersPhil Donkin’s MasterfrownBen Thomas / Julian Martin QuartetBATL QuartetTrish Clowes’ My IrisGareth Roberts QuartetShirley SmartAcrobatPeter EhwaldHaftor Medboe / Jacob KarlzonHenry Lowther’s Still WatersSid Peacock & Surge OrchestraGabriel Latchin TrioDave Jones QuartetScopesThe Sirkis / Bialas International QuartetDave Storey TrioChubeUncanny ValleyGet The BlessingJim Blomfield TrioChris PotterFragmentsKevin MacKenzieThe Steve Fishwick / Alex Garnett QuartetThe Roger Beaujolais Italian TrioDuncan Eagles QuintetTheon CrossBenjamin CroftPatchwork Jazz OrchestraJohn TurvilleTony Kofi SextetAdam Glasser QuartetRymdenHuw Warren TrioBinker Golding and Elliot GalvinBryan Corbett / Tom Hill QuartetVarious ArtistsOrjan Hulten OrionNick MalcolmKathrine Windfeld Big BandGilad Atzmon & The Orient House EnsembleWandering MonsterMark LockheartELDA featuring Kari Eskild HavenstromLaura ColeKevin LawlorHelena Kay’s KIM TrioRob ClearfieldTord Gustavsen TrioSarah GillespieAndy HagueChet BakerJean Toussaint Sextet - Dismantle YourselfBonsai, Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 15/09/2019.Tim Garland’s ‘Weather Walker’ Trio, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 14/09/2019.Peaceful KingAtsuko Shimada with the Greg Sterland Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse, Brecon, 10/09/2019.MoveLady Nade Duo,“Tribute to the Blues Dames”,Kings Head, Abergavenny, 27/08/2019Stepping Back, Jumping InNuadha Quartet, “Jazz In The Garden”, Chapter House Garden, Hereford Cathedral, 23/08/2019.CatenaccioFinding HomeBloomThe Lost AnimalsBobbyDani Diodato’s SUNAAT, Vout-O-Reenee’s, Tower Hill, London, 20/07/2019.Bonsai ClubThe Shirt Tail Stompers, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 28/07/2019.The Remix Jazz Orchestra, ‘The Evolution of the Big Band’  Reading Minster, Reading, 23/07/2019.The Banger FactoryOnce Upon a TideAlong Came BennyGreg Abate and the Craig Milverton Trio, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 12/07/2019.Gods of ApolloCircle Inside the FoldsRay d’Inverno / Rod Paton Sextet, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 09/07/2019.ImmigranceBunker, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 30/06/2019.Owl Light Trio / Brackenbury & Neilson, Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 29/06/2019.Paz, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 21/06/2019.CounterpartNit De NitGraviton; The CallingAll Good ThingsEl Mar de NubesThe ProcessRachel Head Trio/Michael Blanchfield Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 11/06/19.Different Coloured DaysRob Luft Band, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 08/06/2019.ApopheniaIl Cielo Sopra BerlinoJourney to ShambhalaRISE EPThe Ray Davies Songbook Vol IIOrphy Robinson Quintet, ‘The Bobby Hutcherson Project’, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berks. 17/05/2019KnifeAngelBecki Biggins Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 19/05/2019.Henry Lowther’s Still Waters, Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton, 18/05/2019.ValueBen Thomas / Julian Martin Quartet, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 14/05/2019.Brandon Allen / Tim Lapthorn Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 11/05/2019.Trish Clowes’ My Iris, Gateway Arts & Education Centre, Shrewsbury, 01/05/2019.Gareth Roberts Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 28/04/2019.Long Story ShortMake Your StandSeptuor de Grand MatinHaftor Medboe / Jacob Karlzon EPHenry Lowther’s Still Waters, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 12/04/2019.Valley of AngelsThe Moon and IDave Jones Quartet, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 09/04/2019.ScopesAsaf Sirkis / Sylwia Bialas International Quartet, The Hive, Shrewsbury, 06/04/2019.BoscoChube, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 31/03/2019.Uncanny Valley, Hexagon Theatre, Midlands Arts Centre (mac), Birmingham, 28/03/2019.Get The Blessing, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 22/03/2019.Strange Beauty (Every Way OK)CircuitsFragmentsThe Ballad of Future JoeMarshian Time SlipBarba LungaDuncan Eagles Quintet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 09/03/2019.Fyah10 Reasons To…The Adventures of Mr PottercakesHead FirstTony Kofi Sextet “A Portrait of Cannonball” at Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 22/02/2019.Adam Glasser Quartet, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 24/02/2019.Reflections & OdysseysHuw Warren Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 12/02/2019.Ex NihiloBryan Corbett / Tom Hill Quartet ‘Ready for Freddie’, The Hive, Shrewsbury, 09/02/2019.To Be Here NowMinusgraderReal Isn’t RealLatencyGilad Atzmon & The Orient House Ensemble, ‘Spirit of Trane’, Progress Theatre, Reading, 18/01/2019.Wandering MonsterDays On EarthShiny/ThingsEnoughLast Days of SummerMoon PalaceWherever You’re Starting FromThe Other SideWishbonesComing of AgeLive in London Volume IIJean Toussaint Sextet, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 14/12/2018. | Review | The Jazz Mann

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REVIEW

Sloth Racket - Dismantle Yourself Rating: 4 out of 5 An album that is simultaneously the quintet’s most experimental and most cohesive.

Sloth Racket

“Dismantle Yourself”

Luminous Records LU011)

Cath Roberts – baritone saxophone, Sam Andreae – alto saxophone, Anton Hunter – guitar, Seth Bennett- double bass, Johnny Hunter - drums


“Dismantle Yourself” is the fourth studio album from Sloth Racket, the quintet led by saxophonist, composer and improviser Cath Roberts. It follows in the wake of “Triptych” (2016), “Shapeshifters” (2017) and “A Glorious Monster” (2018), all released on the Luminous record label and all reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann. There has also been one live recording, “See The Looks On The Faces” (2017), a cassette only release on the Tombed Visions imprint.

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.

Featuring a mix of musicians from the London, Manchester and Leeds jazz scenes Sloth Racket was founded in 2015 when Roberts was commissioned by Jazz North East to present a new project at Gateshead International Festival. The new group established an immediate rapport and the success of that event convinced Roberts that Sloth Racket should become a semi-regular working band and their output since that time has been both impressive and prolific.

Sloth Racket operate at the interface where composed and improvised music meet, playing Roberts’ compositions exclusively. 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. 

“Dismantle Yourself” sees the quintet continuing to hone their approach. It was recorded in early February 2019 at The Chairworks studio in Castleford, Yorkshire. After making three studio albums in single day sessions Roberts decided to give her bandmates more time to work on the music in the more relaxed setting of a residential studio.

Another change saw Roberts presenting her new compositions to the band unseen, the previous studio recordings had been documented at the end of tours when the musicians were already familiar with the material. This change of approach was designed to encourage greater experimentation, a process that the extra studio time was intended to encourage, as Roberts explains;
“With more time for experimentation the focus of the recording was the exploration and development of the new material, collectively improvising the composed starting points into finished pieces. It was a glimpse into the world of multi-day recordings and a fresh approach for the group, who now look forward to taking the new music on the road and completely de-constructing anything that may have been settled upon back in that cosy winter studio”.

The album is accompanied by a twenty page risograph-printed ‘zine’ containing words and graphics by Roberts and printed on recycled paper by the Footprint Workers Co-Operative in Leeds. It offers a valuable insight into the creative processes of Roberts, herself a talented artist and printmaker who has always designed and created her own album packages. The artwork for “Dismantle Yourself” also features a recycled cardboard case with hand-printed lino-cut artwork, available in five different ink colours.

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.

The new album features five lengthy pieces commencing with “Proximity Warning”, at a little over eight minutes the shortest track on the recording. It emerges from a collision of harsh, acerbic saxes and metallic guitar, before Bennett and Johnny Hunter eventually join the proceedings to create a fluid groove around which the saxophonists continue to improvise in garrulous fashion. The drummer is a particularly busy presence and becomes embroiled in a feisty dialogue with the horns, before eventually dropping out once more as the reeds and Anton Hunter resume their animated conversation, the saxes buzzing like a nest of angry wasps. Like all Sloth Racket’s output the music is constantly evolving and mutating, “shapeshifting” indeed. “Proximity Warning” represents a challenging, but thrilling introduction to the quintet’s latest opus, music that is uncompromising but fiercely intelligent.

The title of “We Decide What Comes Next” could almost be the group’s manifesto. It’s a piece that initially reveals a gentler side to Sloth Racket, building up from the bottom with Bennett’s bass the improvisational exchanges are less frenetic, conversational rather then confrontational. Anton Hunter delivers spidery, pointillist guitar, brother Johnny’s cymbal ticks and mallet rumbles depict him in colourist mode, while the saxophonists play long, crepescular melody lines. There are more abstract moments too, helping to ensure that the music retains Sloth Racket’s trademark edge, the sound becoming more urgent and fidgety as the piece progresses through a series of distinct episodes, ending with a series of squalling saxophone exchanges fuelled by Johnny Hunter’s fractured drum grooves.

Roberts and Sloth Racket have always harboured a fondness for a good chunky riff and title track “Dismantle Yourself” comes roaring out of the blocks with a suitably gargantuan example, featuring turbo charged guitar, skronking baritone sax and sledgehammer drums. But this is Sloth Racket, just as quickly the guitar and drums drop out for a more refined passage featuring an almost courtly saxophone dialogue. But as soon as you’ve adjusted to that the killer riff kicks in once more, before fragmenting as the band embark on a series of more obviously improvised exchanges featuring whinnying saxes, scuzzy guitar and skittering drums. The final passage of a typically multi-faceted piece is intensely atmospheric with Anton’s looped and layered guitar serving as a textural device, providing the backwash for the gentle piping of the saxophones, Bennett’s grainy bowed bass and Johnny Hunter’s filigree drum and cymbal embellishments. It’s a piece that goes through several distinct phases and finds itself in a totally different position from where it started out. It’s to Sloth Racket’s credit that these stylistic shifts always seem to occur naturally and organically, the part composed, part improvised narrative always seeming to make perfect sense whatever the dynamic and stylistic extremes.

“Butterfly Takes The Train” draws its inspiration from a poem (of sorts) in the accompanying zine. The music begins with the sounds of pecked saxes and spider scratch guitar in an absorbing conversation. The addition of bass and drums increases the urgency with the leader’s muscular baritone sax coming to the fore to solo forcefully above busily roiling drums.
Andreae’s alto subsequently joins in to create a brief but spiky dialogue between the reeds, with Anton’s guitar also becoming involved as the opening discussion is renewed. The return of bass and drums sees the group coalescing once more, albeit loosely, as the Hunter brothers and Bennett fabricate an impressive wall of sound above which the saxes whinny and wail.

Finally we hear “Terraforming”, a near fourteen minute epic that constitutes the album’s lengthiest piece. The composed opening section is paced and powered by Bennett’s meaty, grounding bass motif, above which the reeds combine to powerful effect, double horns combining with clangorous guitar. It’s the kind of riffery that distinguished parts of “Triptych”  ans “A Glorious Monster” and which might make fans of Van Der Graaf or King Crimson sit up and take notice. Eventually the music shades off into more loosely structured, obviously improvised territory with the kind of stimulating, increasingly garrulous, collective musical exchanges that have become something of a Sloth Racket hallmark. It’s powerful stuff, not for the faint hearted, but a thrilling musical white knuckle ride for those brave enough to take the trip.

“Dismantle Yourself” shows Sloth Racket to be still developing as a band. The extra studio time has been used to good effect on an album that is simultaneously the quintet’s most experimental and most cohesive.

 I continue to find the balance that Sloth Racket 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. There’s also a punk like edginess and vitality about their music that makes for challenging but highly rewarding listening. 

The band are currently on tour in the UK with two dates remaining as follows;

19/09/2019 – Norwich, Camouflage

20/09/2019 – Cambridge, Listen!

More at http://www.slothracket.co.uk

Dismantle Yourself

Sloth Racket

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Dismantle Yourself

An album that is simultaneously the quintet’s most experimental and most cohesive.

Sloth Racket

“Dismantle Yourself”

Luminous Records LU011)

Cath Roberts – baritone saxophone, Sam Andreae – alto saxophone, Anton Hunter – guitar, Seth Bennett- double bass, Johnny Hunter - drums


“Dismantle Yourself” is the fourth studio album from Sloth Racket, the quintet led by saxophonist, composer and improviser Cath Roberts. It follows in the wake of “Triptych” (2016), “Shapeshifters” (2017) and “A Glorious Monster” (2018), all released on the Luminous record label and all reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann. There has also been one live recording, “See The Looks On The Faces” (2017), a cassette only release on the Tombed Visions imprint.

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.

Featuring a mix of musicians from the London, Manchester and Leeds jazz scenes Sloth Racket was founded in 2015 when Roberts was commissioned by Jazz North East to present a new project at Gateshead International Festival. The new group established an immediate rapport and the success of that event convinced Roberts that Sloth Racket should become a semi-regular working band and their output since that time has been both impressive and prolific.

Sloth Racket operate at the interface where composed and improvised music meet, playing Roberts’ compositions exclusively. 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. 

“Dismantle Yourself” sees the quintet continuing to hone their approach. It was recorded in early February 2019 at The Chairworks studio in Castleford, Yorkshire. After making three studio albums in single day sessions Roberts decided to give her bandmates more time to work on the music in the more relaxed setting of a residential studio.

Another change saw Roberts presenting her new compositions to the band unseen, the previous studio recordings had been documented at the end of tours when the musicians were already familiar with the material. This change of approach was designed to encourage greater experimentation, a process that the extra studio time was intended to encourage, as Roberts explains;
“With more time for experimentation the focus of the recording was the exploration and development of the new material, collectively improvising the composed starting points into finished pieces. It was a glimpse into the world of multi-day recordings and a fresh approach for the group, who now look forward to taking the new music on the road and completely de-constructing anything that may have been settled upon back in that cosy winter studio”.

The album is accompanied by a twenty page risograph-printed ‘zine’ containing words and graphics by Roberts and printed on recycled paper by the Footprint Workers Co-Operative in Leeds. It offers a valuable insight into the creative processes of Roberts, herself a talented artist and printmaker who has always designed and created her own album packages. The artwork for “Dismantle Yourself” also features a recycled cardboard case with hand-printed lino-cut artwork, available in five different ink colours.

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.

The new album features five lengthy pieces commencing with “Proximity Warning”, at a little over eight minutes the shortest track on the recording. It emerges from a collision of harsh, acerbic saxes and metallic guitar, before Bennett and Johnny Hunter eventually join the proceedings to create a fluid groove around which the saxophonists continue to improvise in garrulous fashion. The drummer is a particularly busy presence and becomes embroiled in a feisty dialogue with the horns, before eventually dropping out once more as the reeds and Anton Hunter resume their animated conversation, the saxes buzzing like a nest of angry wasps. Like all Sloth Racket’s output the music is constantly evolving and mutating, “shapeshifting” indeed. “Proximity Warning” represents a challenging, but thrilling introduction to the quintet’s latest opus, music that is uncompromising but fiercely intelligent.

The title of “We Decide What Comes Next” could almost be the group’s manifesto. It’s a piece that initially reveals a gentler side to Sloth Racket, building up from the bottom with Bennett’s bass the improvisational exchanges are less frenetic, conversational rather then confrontational. Anton Hunter delivers spidery, pointillist guitar, brother Johnny’s cymbal ticks and mallet rumbles depict him in colourist mode, while the saxophonists play long, crepescular melody lines. There are more abstract moments too, helping to ensure that the music retains Sloth Racket’s trademark edge, the sound becoming more urgent and fidgety as the piece progresses through a series of distinct episodes, ending with a series of squalling saxophone exchanges fuelled by Johnny Hunter’s fractured drum grooves.

Roberts and Sloth Racket have always harboured a fondness for a good chunky riff and title track “Dismantle Yourself” comes roaring out of the blocks with a suitably gargantuan example, featuring turbo charged guitar, skronking baritone sax and sledgehammer drums. But this is Sloth Racket, just as quickly the guitar and drums drop out for a more refined passage featuring an almost courtly saxophone dialogue. But as soon as you’ve adjusted to that the killer riff kicks in once more, before fragmenting as the band embark on a series of more obviously improvised exchanges featuring whinnying saxes, scuzzy guitar and skittering drums. The final passage of a typically multi-faceted piece is intensely atmospheric with Anton’s looped and layered guitar serving as a textural device, providing the backwash for the gentle piping of the saxophones, Bennett’s grainy bowed bass and Johnny Hunter’s filigree drum and cymbal embellishments. It’s a piece that goes through several distinct phases and finds itself in a totally different position from where it started out. It’s to Sloth Racket’s credit that these stylistic shifts always seem to occur naturally and organically, the part composed, part improvised narrative always seeming to make perfect sense whatever the dynamic and stylistic extremes.

“Butterfly Takes The Train” draws its inspiration from a poem (of sorts) in the accompanying zine. The music begins with the sounds of pecked saxes and spider scratch guitar in an absorbing conversation. The addition of bass and drums increases the urgency with the leader’s muscular baritone sax coming to the fore to solo forcefully above busily roiling drums.
Andreae’s alto subsequently joins in to create a brief but spiky dialogue between the reeds, with Anton’s guitar also becoming involved as the opening discussion is renewed. The return of bass and drums sees the group coalescing once more, albeit loosely, as the Hunter brothers and Bennett fabricate an impressive wall of sound above which the saxes whinny and wail.

Finally we hear “Terraforming”, a near fourteen minute epic that constitutes the album’s lengthiest piece. The composed opening section is paced and powered by Bennett’s meaty, grounding bass motif, above which the reeds combine to powerful effect, double horns combining with clangorous guitar. It’s the kind of riffery that distinguished parts of “Triptych”  ans “A Glorious Monster” and which might make fans of Van Der Graaf or King Crimson sit up and take notice. Eventually the music shades off into more loosely structured, obviously improvised territory with the kind of stimulating, increasingly garrulous, collective musical exchanges that have become something of a Sloth Racket hallmark. It’s powerful stuff, not for the faint hearted, but a thrilling musical white knuckle ride for those brave enough to take the trip.

“Dismantle Yourself” shows Sloth Racket to be still developing as a band. The extra studio time has been used to good effect on an album that is simultaneously the quintet’s most experimental and most cohesive.

 I continue to find the balance that Sloth Racket 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. There’s also a punk like edginess and vitality about their music that makes for challenging but highly rewarding listening. 

The band are currently on tour in the UK with two dates remaining as follows;

19/09/2019 – Norwich, Camouflage

20/09/2019 – Cambridge, Listen!

More at http://www.slothracket.co.uk

Bonsai - Bonsai, Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 15/09/2019. Rating: 4 out of 5 A hugely enjoyable event, distinguished by some top quality playing and diverse and intelligent writing.

Bonsai, Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 15/09/2019.

Rory Ingham – trombone, Dominic Ingham – violin, vocals, Toby Comeau – keyboard,
Joe Lee – electric bass, Jonny Mansfield- drums


Bonsai is the band that used to be known as Jam Experiment. The quintet has changed its name following a decidedly radical change of line up with violinist / vocalist Dominic Ingham, brother of the group’s trombonist Rory Ingham, replacing saxophonist Alexander Bone.

Bone was part of the quintet that appeared on the album “Jam Experiment”, released in 2017, a recording that attracted a good deal of critical acclaim for this new, exciting young band. The group toured the album extensively and I was privileged to catch them at a performance in Shrewsbury at The Hive Music and Media Centre, one of the monthly gigs promoted by Shrewsbury Jazz Network.
My review of that performance, plus my impressions of the Jam Experiment album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/jam-experiment-the-hive-music-media-centre-shrewsbury-17-06-017/

Bone, the 2014 winner of the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year award , has since left to concentrate on a solo career. Dominic Ingham comes to the group thanks to his familial relationship with Rory and through his work with Bonsai drummer Jonny Mansfield’s innovative eleven piece ensemble Elftet.

Guest contributor Trevor Bannister reviewed the new line up, at that time still using the Jam Experiment name, at the Progress Theatre in Reading in August 2018. Trevor’s account can be read here;  http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/elftet-progress-theatre-reading-berkshire-28-09-2018/


In August 2019 I reviewed “Bonsai Club”, the group’s first album under their new name. The departure of Bone and his saxes and his replacement by violin and vocals ensured that Bonsai sounded very different to Jam Experiment, and initially this took some getting used to. However I persevered and gradually found myself becoming increasingly drawn into the quintet’s increasingly distinctive new sound world. In addition to the unusual instrumental front line of trombone and violin the album also featured vocals for the first time with several of the compositions featuring song like structures. The album was also notable for an increased reliance on electronic elements with both Lee and Mansfield credited with playing synthesiser, this in addition to Comeau’s mix of acoustic and electric keyboards. My review of the Bonsai Club album, from which some of the above paragraphs have been lifted, can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/bonsai-bonsai-club/

My appetite for this performance by the group at The Hermon was whetted both by the “Bonsai Club” album and a recent performance by the Rory Ingham Quintet at the 2019 Brecon Jazz Festival. This was an excellent show from a band featuring Ingham, Mansfield, saxophonist Julia Mills, bassist Will Harris and German born drummer Felix Ambach. This line up enabled the multi-talented Mansfield to concentrate on the vibraphone, an instrument that he plays with a remarkable facility. It also transpired that Mills is the mother of Rory and Dominic Ingham, a highly talented player returning to the musical ‘front line’ after taking time out to concentrate on teaching and raising a family. My account of this performance can be read as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/sunday-at-brecon-jazz-2019-11-08-2019/

Tonight’s date at The Hermon Chapel was part of Bonsai’s ongoing tour supporting their recent album release. Promoters Claudia Lis and Barry Edwards are steadily building an audience for their adventurous music programme featuring jazz and folk. The folk strand is an easier sell than the jazz, but nevertheless a small but highly enthusiastic audience turned up to see the Bonsai boys and the quality of the music, allied to the positivity of the crowd, helped to turn the event into a great night.

The programme featured material sourced from the “Bonsai Club” album plus a clutch of newer, as yet unrecorded compositions from members of the band.

The performance commenced with the title track from “Bonsai Club”, effectively the band’s signature tune. Written by Dominic Ingham the song opens the album and here featured his warm delivery of the haiku like lyric, the singing interspersed with instrumental solos from violin, electric bass and violin, the whole powered by Mansfield’s clipped, subtly funky drum grooves.

Lee’s bass introduced his own composition “Quay”, combining with Dominic’s vaguely mournful violin and Rory’s rounded trombone tones above a brushed drum groove. An atmospheric piece with a simple but effective one line lyric the tune also included instrumental solos from both of the Ingham brothers.

Dominic’s composition “Hop – The Hip Replacement” opened with the sound of shimmering keyboards, subsequently joined by bass and drums. As the piece gathered momentum Mansfield developed a hip hop like groove at the drums as the Ingham brothers delivered a unison theme statement. Subsequent solos came from Dominic on violin and Comeau at the keyboard, who combined with Lee’s bubbling electric bass and Mansfield’s melodic drum patterns.

The first of the newer pieces was Dominic’s composition “Warm As You”, a fully developed song featuring the composer’s voice and lyrics but also containing an increasingly propulsive groove that set heads nodding all around the venue. This helped to fuel a rousing trombone solo from Rory and the piece as a whole was rapturously received by the audience.

This was followed by another new tune, this time from the pen of Rory. “The Proselytiser” proved to be a more atmospheric offering that combined angular melodies with an infectious odd meter groove and saw Rory trading melodic phrases with his scat singing brother. A more conventional jazz solo saw Rory offering further evidence of his fluency and agility on the trombone while Dominic’s violin solo, at one point accompanied by electric bass only, introduced a folk element to the mix. The piece closed with a drum feature from the excellent Mansfield, confined to the kit tonight with no vibraphone present.

The second set commenced with Lee’s “The Crescent”, named after the street he grew up in in Truro, also the home city of Comeau. Meanwhile the Ingham brothers hail from Wakefield and Mansfield from Huddersfield. The group’s members met when they were studying at Chetham’s Music School in Manchester and they remain proud of their Northern and Cornish roots, despite since making the move to London.
Lee’s tune mixed darting melodic phrases for trumpet and violin with an infectious and buoyant groove. Comeau adopted a classic electric piano sound for his keyboard solo while Lee’s liquid bass solo reminded me of the playing of Mark Egan in an early edition of the Pat Metheny Group. The piece also featured Dominic’s wordless vocals and soaring violin.

Sourced from the “Bonsai Club” album Mansfield’s composition “Tin” featured trip hop style grooves and an eerie sound featuring layered keyboards and electronically enhanced trombone alongside Dominic’s vocals. The instrumental solo here came from Comeau, who enjoyed much more freedom in this second set.

The second half also saw the group introducing more new material, “two world premières in Oswestry!” exclaimed Ingham. Comeau’s “How Far” was introduced by his own electric piano and was another piece that saw the group expanding further into song based territory, with Dominic providing both wordless vocals and lyrics. Lee was the featured soloist here, fluent, fleet fingered and mellifluous on electric bass.

The bassist also introduced a new Mansfield composition, “Sunshine”, combining effectively with Dominic’s pizzicato violin. Keyboard arpeggios and Dominic’s wordless vocal melody lines were added to the equation to create an intriguing melange of interlocking patterns, these forming the backdrop to Rory’s rousing trombone solo as the group gradually developed a full on band sound.

Rory Ingham’s tune announcements were made with wit and warmth, even Ronnie Scott’s old jokes sounded fresh when recycled by a young twenty something. All too soon it seemed that we had come to the last number as Rory thanked Claudia and Barry and sound-man Phil, who had done an excellent job. Comeau’s new tune “Sam” took things storming out, a winning combination of fat funk grooves contrasted with wistful, introspective lyrics.

The enthusiastic crowd reaction ensured that an encore was inevitable, the band eventually settling on the Mansfield composition “Itchy Knee” with its infectious odd meter grooves borrowing from the lexicon of prog and math rock. Solos here came from Rory on fruity, rasping trombone and Dominic on wailing violin, at one juncture backed again only by Lee’s electric bass. Comeau, who plays a stunning solo on the recorded version, also featured at the keyboard.  Apparently the title is a play on the Japanese words for “one” “two” and “three”.

Overall this was an impressive performance from Bonsai, who certainly endeared themselves to the highly supportive audience. Under their new name the quintet have developed an increasingly distinctive group sound, something encouraged by the unusual instrumental line up and the rarely heard combination of trombone and violin. The new material suggests that in future they are likely to turn even more towards songs rather than instrumental compositions,  which may broaden their overall appeal, but possibly at the risk of losing some hard core jazz listeners. Nevertheless the reaction to the new songs tonight was overwhelmingly positive.

It will be interesting to follow Bonsai’s progress, but in the meantime tonight’s was a hugely enjoyable event, distinguished by some top quality playing and by the diverse and intelligent writing.

Bonsai, Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 15/09/2019.

Bonsai

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Bonsai, Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 15/09/2019.
Photography: Photograph by Pam Mann.

A hugely enjoyable event, distinguished by some top quality playing and diverse and intelligent writing.

Bonsai, Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 15/09/2019.

Rory Ingham – trombone, Dominic Ingham – violin, vocals, Toby Comeau – keyboard,
Joe Lee – electric bass, Jonny Mansfield- drums


Bonsai is the band that used to be known as Jam Experiment. The quintet has changed its name following a decidedly radical change of line up with violinist / vocalist Dominic Ingham, brother of the group’s trombonist Rory Ingham, replacing saxophonist Alexander Bone.

Bone was part of the quintet that appeared on the album “Jam Experiment”, released in 2017, a recording that attracted a good deal of critical acclaim for this new, exciting young band. The group toured the album extensively and I was privileged to catch them at a performance in Shrewsbury at The Hive Music and Media Centre, one of the monthly gigs promoted by Shrewsbury Jazz Network.
My review of that performance, plus my impressions of the Jam Experiment album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/jam-experiment-the-hive-music-media-centre-shrewsbury-17-06-017/

Bone, the 2014 winner of the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year award , has since left to concentrate on a solo career. Dominic Ingham comes to the group thanks to his familial relationship with Rory and through his work with Bonsai drummer Jonny Mansfield’s innovative eleven piece ensemble Elftet.

Guest contributor Trevor Bannister reviewed the new line up, at that time still using the Jam Experiment name, at the Progress Theatre in Reading in August 2018. Trevor’s account can be read here;  http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/elftet-progress-theatre-reading-berkshire-28-09-2018/


In August 2019 I reviewed “Bonsai Club”, the group’s first album under their new name. The departure of Bone and his saxes and his replacement by violin and vocals ensured that Bonsai sounded very different to Jam Experiment, and initially this took some getting used to. However I persevered and gradually found myself becoming increasingly drawn into the quintet’s increasingly distinctive new sound world. In addition to the unusual instrumental front line of trombone and violin the album also featured vocals for the first time with several of the compositions featuring song like structures. The album was also notable for an increased reliance on electronic elements with both Lee and Mansfield credited with playing synthesiser, this in addition to Comeau’s mix of acoustic and electric keyboards. My review of the Bonsai Club album, from which some of the above paragraphs have been lifted, can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/bonsai-bonsai-club/

My appetite for this performance by the group at The Hermon was whetted both by the “Bonsai Club” album and a recent performance by the Rory Ingham Quintet at the 2019 Brecon Jazz Festival. This was an excellent show from a band featuring Ingham, Mansfield, saxophonist Julia Mills, bassist Will Harris and German born drummer Felix Ambach. This line up enabled the multi-talented Mansfield to concentrate on the vibraphone, an instrument that he plays with a remarkable facility. It also transpired that Mills is the mother of Rory and Dominic Ingham, a highly talented player returning to the musical ‘front line’ after taking time out to concentrate on teaching and raising a family. My account of this performance can be read as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/sunday-at-brecon-jazz-2019-11-08-2019/

Tonight’s date at The Hermon Chapel was part of Bonsai’s ongoing tour supporting their recent album release. Promoters Claudia Lis and Barry Edwards are steadily building an audience for their adventurous music programme featuring jazz and folk. The folk strand is an easier sell than the jazz, but nevertheless a small but highly enthusiastic audience turned up to see the Bonsai boys and the quality of the music, allied to the positivity of the crowd, helped to turn the event into a great night.

The programme featured material sourced from the “Bonsai Club” album plus a clutch of newer, as yet unrecorded compositions from members of the band.

The performance commenced with the title track from “Bonsai Club”, effectively the band’s signature tune. Written by Dominic Ingham the song opens the album and here featured his warm delivery of the haiku like lyric, the singing interspersed with instrumental solos from violin, electric bass and violin, the whole powered by Mansfield’s clipped, subtly funky drum grooves.

Lee’s bass introduced his own composition “Quay”, combining with Dominic’s vaguely mournful violin and Rory’s rounded trombone tones above a brushed drum groove. An atmospheric piece with a simple but effective one line lyric the tune also included instrumental solos from both of the Ingham brothers.

Dominic’s composition “Hop – The Hip Replacement” opened with the sound of shimmering keyboards, subsequently joined by bass and drums. As the piece gathered momentum Mansfield developed a hip hop like groove at the drums as the Ingham brothers delivered a unison theme statement. Subsequent solos came from Dominic on violin and Comeau at the keyboard, who combined with Lee’s bubbling electric bass and Mansfield’s melodic drum patterns.

The first of the newer pieces was Dominic’s composition “Warm As You”, a fully developed song featuring the composer’s voice and lyrics but also containing an increasingly propulsive groove that set heads nodding all around the venue. This helped to fuel a rousing trombone solo from Rory and the piece as a whole was rapturously received by the audience.

This was followed by another new tune, this time from the pen of Rory. “The Proselytiser” proved to be a more atmospheric offering that combined angular melodies with an infectious odd meter groove and saw Rory trading melodic phrases with his scat singing brother. A more conventional jazz solo saw Rory offering further evidence of his fluency and agility on the trombone while Dominic’s violin solo, at one point accompanied by electric bass only, introduced a folk element to the mix. The piece closed with a drum feature from the excellent Mansfield, confined to the kit tonight with no vibraphone present.

The second set commenced with Lee’s “The Crescent”, named after the street he grew up in in Truro, also the home city of Comeau. Meanwhile the Ingham brothers hail from Wakefield and Mansfield from Huddersfield. The group’s members met when they were studying at Chetham’s Music School in Manchester and they remain proud of their Northern and Cornish roots, despite since making the move to London.
Lee’s tune mixed darting melodic phrases for trumpet and violin with an infectious and buoyant groove. Comeau adopted a classic electric piano sound for his keyboard solo while Lee’s liquid bass solo reminded me of the playing of Mark Egan in an early edition of the Pat Metheny Group. The piece also featured Dominic’s wordless vocals and soaring violin.

Sourced from the “Bonsai Club” album Mansfield’s composition “Tin” featured trip hop style grooves and an eerie sound featuring layered keyboards and electronically enhanced trombone alongside Dominic’s vocals. The instrumental solo here came from Comeau, who enjoyed much more freedom in this second set.

The second half also saw the group introducing more new material, “two world premières in Oswestry!” exclaimed Ingham. Comeau’s “How Far” was introduced by his own electric piano and was another piece that saw the group expanding further into song based territory, with Dominic providing both wordless vocals and lyrics. Lee was the featured soloist here, fluent, fleet fingered and mellifluous on electric bass.

The bassist also introduced a new Mansfield composition, “Sunshine”, combining effectively with Dominic’s pizzicato violin. Keyboard arpeggios and Dominic’s wordless vocal melody lines were added to the equation to create an intriguing melange of interlocking patterns, these forming the backdrop to Rory’s rousing trombone solo as the group gradually developed a full on band sound.

Rory Ingham’s tune announcements were made with wit and warmth, even Ronnie Scott’s old jokes sounded fresh when recycled by a young twenty something. All too soon it seemed that we had come to the last number as Rory thanked Claudia and Barry and sound-man Phil, who had done an excellent job. Comeau’s new tune “Sam” took things storming out, a winning combination of fat funk grooves contrasted with wistful, introspective lyrics.

The enthusiastic crowd reaction ensured that an encore was inevitable, the band eventually settling on the Mansfield composition “Itchy Knee” with its infectious odd meter grooves borrowing from the lexicon of prog and math rock. Solos here came from Rory on fruity, rasping trombone and Dominic on wailing violin, at one juncture backed again only by Lee’s electric bass. Comeau, who plays a stunning solo on the recorded version, also featured at the keyboard.  Apparently the title is a play on the Japanese words for “one” “two” and “three”.

Overall this was an impressive performance from Bonsai, who certainly endeared themselves to the highly supportive audience. Under their new name the quintet have developed an increasingly distinctive group sound, something encouraged by the unusual instrumental line up and the rarely heard combination of trombone and violin. The new material suggests that in future they are likely to turn even more towards songs rather than instrumental compositions,  which may broaden their overall appeal, but possibly at the risk of losing some hard core jazz listeners. Nevertheless the reaction to the new songs tonight was overwhelmingly positive.

It will be interesting to follow Bonsai’s progress, but in the meantime tonight’s was a hugely enjoyable event, distinguished by some top quality playing and by the diverse and intelligent writing.

Tim Garland’s ‘Weather Walker’ Trio - Tim Garland’s ‘Weather Walker’ Trio, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 14/09/2019. Rating: 4 out of 5 Tonight’s performance may have been ‘chamber jazz’, but it certainly wasn’t lacking in terms of dynamism and excitement and delivered some virtuoso playing allied to Garland's evocative writing.

Tim Garland’ s ‘Weather Walker’ Trio, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 14/09/2019

Tim Garland - tenor & soprano saxophones, Jason Rebello – piano, Yuri Goloubev – double bass


Tonight’s event represented a welcome return to The Hive from saxophonist and composer Tim Garland.

Garland had previously visited the venue in January 2017, playing to a full house with his ‘Electric Quartet’ featuring Rebello, guitarist Ant Law and drummer / percussionist Asaf Sirkis. A highly charged group performance saw the quartet getting that year’s jazz programme at The Hive off to a terrific start. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/tim-garland-electric-quartet-the-hive-music-media-centre-shrewsbury-14-01-2/

This evening’s performance was to be very different with Garland now leading an essentially acoustic chamber jazz trio featuring the talents of Rebello on grand piano and the Russian born virtuoso Yuri Goloubev on double bass.

In 2017 the electric quartet focussed on material from Garland’s then current album “One” (Edition Records) but tonight the emphasis was on the more recent “Weather Walker” (2018, also Edition), a recording with tonight’s trio at its core but one which also features contributions from the German pianist Pablo Held and from a thirty five piece orchestra. The album was recorded at London’s famous Abbey Road Studios.

Garland is one of the UK’s best known and best loved jazz musicians, although ultimately musical genres mean little to him. This is a musician whose work has consistently blurred the boundaries between jazz, folk, classical and even rock music. In addition to his own work as a leader Garland has also enjoyed high profile engagements with the similarly broad minded Chick Corea, and with the band Earthworks, led by former Yes and King Crimson drummer Bill Bruford.

Garland’s reputation, allied to the brilliance of that 2017 performance, helped to ensure that there was another near capacity crowd at The Hive once more. Rebello and Goloubev are also great favourites with Shrewsbury audiences, the bassist having visited The Hive on a number of previous occasions as part of bands led by guitarist Maciek Pysz and pianist Alex Hutton.

Tonight was essentially an acoustic ‘chamber jazz’ performance with a Yamaha baby grand specially hired for the use of Rebello and with only minimal amplification provided for Goloubev’s bass. Garland played into a microphone, which helped to provide a dash of atmospheric echo when required.

Garland is no stranger to working in the trio format having previously been part of the jazz / classical ensemble Acoustic Triangle alongside founder Malcolm Creese (double bass) and Gwilym Simcock (piano, french horn). Garland was later a member of the fondly remembered Lighthouse Trio alongside Simcock and drummer /percussionist Asaf Sirkis, a group that enjoyed international exposure after signing for the German ACT record label.

The instrumentation of the ‘Weather Walker’ trio recalls that of Acoustic Triangle, but overall their approach is more robust, more in keeping with that of the Lighthouse Trio. Tonight’s performance may have been ‘chamber jazz’, but it certainly wasn’t lacking in terms of dynamism and excitement.

That said the trio eased their audience in relatively gently with the standard “How Deep Is The Ocean” which was introduced by Goloubev at the bass and which featured Garland on effortlessly fluent tenor sax. Meanwhile the quality of the sound and of Rebello’s playing, and particularly his soloing, more than justified the trouble and expense of hiring that grand piano. The always impressive Goloubev also endeared himself to the audience with a typically dazzling solo on double bass.

Material from the “One” album still found its way into tonight’s repertoire, beginning with “Bright New Year”, which saw Garland moving to soprano sax. Written, as the title suggests, at the turn of the year this piece combined folk like melodies and classical allusions with jazz soloing. Garland’s sound was occasionally oboe like and at other times reminiscent of Jan Garbarek. His opening theme statement was developed into a full on solo and this was followed by an intriguing dialogue between Rebello and Goloubev, their interplay leading to individual solos from both.

The title track of “Weather Walker” was inspired by Garland’s love of the Great British outdoors, and particularly the landscape of the Lake District. The vagaries of British geography and climate were celebrated in a piece that mixed pastoral beauty with moments of sonic dissonance intended to simulate the sometimes inclement Cumbrian weather. Garland’s soprano ranged from soft, light and feathery to piercingly incisive, qualities mirrored by Rebello at the piano and Goloubev at the bass, both of whom also featured as soloists.

Garland has a long standing love of English folk music, something that first found expression in the late 1990s with the folk/jazz crossover group Lammas.  It is still an important component in his work and helped to inspire the composition “The Snows” from the “Weather Walker” album, the piece borrowing its title from a poem and taking inspiration from folk melodies. Here Garland moved back to tenor, a dash of echo helping to emphasise the vastness of the winter landscape of the Lake District. Rebello’s piano solo was both expansive and flowingly lyrical, while Goloubev’s solo featured him at his most melodic. The directness of the melodies helped to ensure that this number was particularly well received by the appreciative Shrewsbury audience.

The first set concluded with a return to the “One” album and “Sama’i For Peace”, a composition taking its title from the name of an Indian rhythm that Garland learned from percussionist Asaf Sirkis. This rhythm, in ten, was speeded up by Garland who probed deeply on soprano above the busy rhythms generated by Rebello and Goloubev, the pianist also making effective use of the interior of his instrument. Rebello’s own solo featured highly effective use of dynamics, his thunderous low end clusters a particularly notable aspect of a truly virtuoso performance.

The second set also began with a standard, in this instance “If I Should Lose You”, played in the key of G minor and with fluent solos coming from Garland on tenor, Goloubev on bass and Rebello at the piano.

Garland proved to be an excellent between tunes interlocutor, warm, witty and informative, giving just the right amount of background behind each piece, but never allowing himself to ramble too much. “Traveller” was his dedication to his former employer, the great Chick Corea, now an astonishingly youthful seventy eight year old. The title references Corea’s travels as a musician, criss crossing the world to perform concerts as well as exploring a wide variety of global music styles. Simultaneously complex, playful and highly rhythmic Garland’s piece incorporated many of the South American elements that have informed Corea’s own music. The playing from Garland on soprano, Rebello at the piano and Goloubev on double bass sparkled with vitality and was truly virtuosic.

Acoustic Triangle performances were often held in sacred spaces and one of the hallmarks of their shows was when Garland used to place the bell of his saxophone into the lid of the piano to utilise the resonant qualities of the strings, the resultant echo enhanced yet further by the ecclesiastical setting. An audience member had clearly remembered this and at half time requested Garland to repeat the trick in the second set. It all worked remarkably well, Garland inserting the bell of his tenor into the bowels of the Yamaha and blowing pretty hard before pausing to asses his own echo as he generated a series of ringing overtones. More justification for bringing in the baby grand, it would never have worked with an electric keyboard!
This set piece formed the introduction to the trio’s arrangement of the Kenny Wheeler composition “Everybody’s Song But My Own”, a piece that has become something of a modern day standard. Solos here came from Rebello on piano, Garland on tenor and Goloubev at the bass, prior to a further statement of the memorable theme from Garland.

Garland dipped deeply into his back catalogue for “Rosa Ballerina”, a tune written for his then infant daughter, now a young woman in her early twenties. Of course the composition itself has hardly dated, its themes if anything now more relevant than ever. The simple, lullaby like beauty of the main theme was punctured by stabs of wilful dissonance; this may be a song written about the innocence of a child but it’s also a warning about the world that they will be growing up into. That said the mood of the piece was essentially joyous and melodic, with the composer featuring on soprano and with Goloubev delivering some of his most eloquent soloing of the set.

The ever magnanimous Garland handed over to Rebello for the final tune of the evening.  His composition “Pearl” was the opening track of his 2016 solo piano album “Held” (Edition Records), a fiendishly difficult piece that convinced some reviewers that Rebello had overdubbed a second piano part, which was emphatically not the case. This trio arrangement sacrificed nothing of these complexities with Rebello himself giving a virtuoso performance that included more judicious work ‘under the lid’. Meanwhile Garland’s darted and danced with a remarkable agility and Goloubev responded with his customary brilliance.

Rebello’s bravura performance of his own piece had threatened to steal the show but Garland re-asserted his authority on the inevitable encore, with the saxophonist calling a final standard, Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood”. This proved to be a show case for Garland’s skills as a ballad player with his warm, fluent, sometimes breathy tenor playing. His opening solo was followed by a series of absorbing bass and piano exchanges before Garland rounded things off with a stunning solo sax cadenza.

The reaction from the knowledgeable Shrewsbury audience was little short of ecstatic and the organisers, Shrewsbury Jazz Network, pronounced the gig a great success.

For me it fell just short of the quartet performance from a couple of years ago, mainly because I must admit that there were times I did miss the presence of a drum kit. My only other quibble would be that we didn’t get to hear anything of Goloubev with the bow, the man is an absolute master of arco bass and it would have been good to have heard at least one example of this side of his talent.

However all this amounts to little more than nit picking. This was still an intimate but spirited performance from three of the finest jazz musicians currently based in the UK. A triumph for the band and the promoters alike, with the audience going home happily on a clear, warm Shropshire night.

Tim Garland’s ‘Weather Walker’ Trio, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 14/09/2019.

Tim Garland’s ‘Weather Walker’ Trio

Monday, September 16, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Tim Garland’s ‘Weather Walker’ Trio, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 14/09/2019.
Photography: Photograph of Yuri Goloubev and Tim Garland by Hamish Kirkpatrick of Shrewsbury Jazz Network.

Tonight’s performance may have been ‘chamber jazz’, but it certainly wasn’t lacking in terms of dynamism and excitement and delivered some virtuoso playing allied to Garland's evocative writing.

Tim Garland’ s ‘Weather Walker’ Trio, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 14/09/2019

Tim Garland - tenor & soprano saxophones, Jason Rebello – piano, Yuri Goloubev – double bass


Tonight’s event represented a welcome return to The Hive from saxophonist and composer Tim Garland.

Garland had previously visited the venue in January 2017, playing to a full house with his ‘Electric Quartet’ featuring Rebello, guitarist Ant Law and drummer / percussionist Asaf Sirkis. A highly charged group performance saw the quartet getting that year’s jazz programme at The Hive off to a terrific start. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/tim-garland-electric-quartet-the-hive-music-media-centre-shrewsbury-14-01-2/

This evening’s performance was to be very different with Garland now leading an essentially acoustic chamber jazz trio featuring the talents of Rebello on grand piano and the Russian born virtuoso Yuri Goloubev on double bass.

In 2017 the electric quartet focussed on material from Garland’s then current album “One” (Edition Records) but tonight the emphasis was on the more recent “Weather Walker” (2018, also Edition), a recording with tonight’s trio at its core but one which also features contributions from the German pianist Pablo Held and from a thirty five piece orchestra. The album was recorded at London’s famous Abbey Road Studios.

Garland is one of the UK’s best known and best loved jazz musicians, although ultimately musical genres mean little to him. This is a musician whose work has consistently blurred the boundaries between jazz, folk, classical and even rock music. In addition to his own work as a leader Garland has also enjoyed high profile engagements with the similarly broad minded Chick Corea, and with the band Earthworks, led by former Yes and King Crimson drummer Bill Bruford.

Garland’s reputation, allied to the brilliance of that 2017 performance, helped to ensure that there was another near capacity crowd at The Hive once more. Rebello and Goloubev are also great favourites with Shrewsbury audiences, the bassist having visited The Hive on a number of previous occasions as part of bands led by guitarist Maciek Pysz and pianist Alex Hutton.

Tonight was essentially an acoustic ‘chamber jazz’ performance with a Yamaha baby grand specially hired for the use of Rebello and with only minimal amplification provided for Goloubev’s bass. Garland played into a microphone, which helped to provide a dash of atmospheric echo when required.

Garland is no stranger to working in the trio format having previously been part of the jazz / classical ensemble Acoustic Triangle alongside founder Malcolm Creese (double bass) and Gwilym Simcock (piano, french horn). Garland was later a member of the fondly remembered Lighthouse Trio alongside Simcock and drummer /percussionist Asaf Sirkis, a group that enjoyed international exposure after signing for the German ACT record label.

The instrumentation of the ‘Weather Walker’ trio recalls that of Acoustic Triangle, but overall their approach is more robust, more in keeping with that of the Lighthouse Trio. Tonight’s performance may have been ‘chamber jazz’, but it certainly wasn’t lacking in terms of dynamism and excitement.

That said the trio eased their audience in relatively gently with the standard “How Deep Is The Ocean” which was introduced by Goloubev at the bass and which featured Garland on effortlessly fluent tenor sax. Meanwhile the quality of the sound and of Rebello’s playing, and particularly his soloing, more than justified the trouble and expense of hiring that grand piano. The always impressive Goloubev also endeared himself to the audience with a typically dazzling solo on double bass.

Material from the “One” album still found its way into tonight’s repertoire, beginning with “Bright New Year”, which saw Garland moving to soprano sax. Written, as the title suggests, at the turn of the year this piece combined folk like melodies and classical allusions with jazz soloing. Garland’s sound was occasionally oboe like and at other times reminiscent of Jan Garbarek. His opening theme statement was developed into a full on solo and this was followed by an intriguing dialogue between Rebello and Goloubev, their interplay leading to individual solos from both.

The title track of “Weather Walker” was inspired by Garland’s love of the Great British outdoors, and particularly the landscape of the Lake District. The vagaries of British geography and climate were celebrated in a piece that mixed pastoral beauty with moments of sonic dissonance intended to simulate the sometimes inclement Cumbrian weather. Garland’s soprano ranged from soft, light and feathery to piercingly incisive, qualities mirrored by Rebello at the piano and Goloubev at the bass, both of whom also featured as soloists.

Garland has a long standing love of English folk music, something that first found expression in the late 1990s with the folk/jazz crossover group Lammas.  It is still an important component in his work and helped to inspire the composition “The Snows” from the “Weather Walker” album, the piece borrowing its title from a poem and taking inspiration from folk melodies. Here Garland moved back to tenor, a dash of echo helping to emphasise the vastness of the winter landscape of the Lake District. Rebello’s piano solo was both expansive and flowingly lyrical, while Goloubev’s solo featured him at his most melodic. The directness of the melodies helped to ensure that this number was particularly well received by the appreciative Shrewsbury audience.

The first set concluded with a return to the “One” album and “Sama’i For Peace”, a composition taking its title from the name of an Indian rhythm that Garland learned from percussionist Asaf Sirkis. This rhythm, in ten, was speeded up by Garland who probed deeply on soprano above the busy rhythms generated by Rebello and Goloubev, the pianist also making effective use of the interior of his instrument. Rebello’s own solo featured highly effective use of dynamics, his thunderous low end clusters a particularly notable aspect of a truly virtuoso performance.

The second set also began with a standard, in this instance “If I Should Lose You”, played in the key of G minor and with fluent solos coming from Garland on tenor, Goloubev on bass and Rebello at the piano.

Garland proved to be an excellent between tunes interlocutor, warm, witty and informative, giving just the right amount of background behind each piece, but never allowing himself to ramble too much. “Traveller” was his dedication to his former employer, the great Chick Corea, now an astonishingly youthful seventy eight year old. The title references Corea’s travels as a musician, criss crossing the world to perform concerts as well as exploring a wide variety of global music styles. Simultaneously complex, playful and highly rhythmic Garland’s piece incorporated many of the South American elements that have informed Corea’s own music. The playing from Garland on soprano, Rebello at the piano and Goloubev on double bass sparkled with vitality and was truly virtuosic.

Acoustic Triangle performances were often held in sacred spaces and one of the hallmarks of their shows was when Garland used to place the bell of his saxophone into the lid of the piano to utilise the resonant qualities of the strings, the resultant echo enhanced yet further by the ecclesiastical setting. An audience member had clearly remembered this and at half time requested Garland to repeat the trick in the second set. It all worked remarkably well, Garland inserting the bell of his tenor into the bowels of the Yamaha and blowing pretty hard before pausing to asses his own echo as he generated a series of ringing overtones. More justification for bringing in the baby grand, it would never have worked with an electric keyboard!
This set piece formed the introduction to the trio’s arrangement of the Kenny Wheeler composition “Everybody’s Song But My Own”, a piece that has become something of a modern day standard. Solos here came from Rebello on piano, Garland on tenor and Goloubev at the bass, prior to a further statement of the memorable theme from Garland.

Garland dipped deeply into his back catalogue for “Rosa Ballerina”, a tune written for his then infant daughter, now a young woman in her early twenties. Of course the composition itself has hardly dated, its themes if anything now more relevant than ever. The simple, lullaby like beauty of the main theme was punctured by stabs of wilful dissonance; this may be a song written about the innocence of a child but it’s also a warning about the world that they will be growing up into. That said the mood of the piece was essentially joyous and melodic, with the composer featuring on soprano and with Goloubev delivering some of his most eloquent soloing of the set.

The ever magnanimous Garland handed over to Rebello for the final tune of the evening.  His composition “Pearl” was the opening track of his 2016 solo piano album “Held” (Edition Records), a fiendishly difficult piece that convinced some reviewers that Rebello had overdubbed a second piano part, which was emphatically not the case. This trio arrangement sacrificed nothing of these complexities with Rebello himself giving a virtuoso performance that included more judicious work ‘under the lid’. Meanwhile Garland’s darted and danced with a remarkable agility and Goloubev responded with his customary brilliance.

Rebello’s bravura performance of his own piece had threatened to steal the show but Garland re-asserted his authority on the inevitable encore, with the saxophonist calling a final standard, Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood”. This proved to be a show case for Garland’s skills as a ballad player with his warm, fluent, sometimes breathy tenor playing. His opening solo was followed by a series of absorbing bass and piano exchanges before Garland rounded things off with a stunning solo sax cadenza.

The reaction from the knowledgeable Shrewsbury audience was little short of ecstatic and the organisers, Shrewsbury Jazz Network, pronounced the gig a great success.

For me it fell just short of the quartet performance from a couple of years ago, mainly because I must admit that there were times I did miss the presence of a drum kit. My only other quibble would be that we didn’t get to hear anything of Goloubev with the bow, the man is an absolute master of arco bass and it would have been good to have heard at least one example of this side of his talent.

However all this amounts to little more than nit picking. This was still an intimate but spirited performance from three of the finest jazz musicians currently based in the UK. A triumph for the band and the promoters alike, with the audience going home happily on a clear, warm Shropshire night.

Rebecca Nash / Atlas - Peaceful King Rating: 4 out of 5 An impressive début from Nash that highlights both her playing and composing skills. Her command of a variety of acoustic and electric keyboards is impressive throughout.

Rebecca Nash / Atlas

“Peaceful King”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4748)

Rebecca Nash – piano, keyboards, Nick Malcolm – trumpet, Thomas Seminar Ford – guitar, electronics, Chris Mapp – bass, electronics, Matt Fisher – drums

Guests;
Sara Colman – vocals
Nick Walters - electronics

“Peaceful King” is the début recording as a leader from keyboard player and composer Rebecca Nash.

Nash is a performer with close links to the music scenes of several British cities, among them Bristol, London, Cardiff, Birmingham and Manchester.  The line up of her band, Atlas, reflects this and includes musicians from different parts of the UK.

Nash and drummer Matt Fisher go back a long way and first worked together on the London scene. Both are integral components of saxophonist Dee Byrne’s quintet “Entropi”, appearing on both of that band’s album releases.

Trumpeter Nick Malcolm, a bandleader in his own right, is a leading figure on the Bristol jazz scene. Meanwhile guitarist Thomas Seminar Ford, bassist Chris Mapp and guest vocalist Sara Colman are all most closely associated with Birmingham.

Nick Walters, who adds electronics to the album’s title track and is also an acclaimed trumpeter and composer, cut his musical teeth in Manchester with the Beats & Pieces Big Band and his own nine piece Paradox Ensemble, with which Nash plays keyboards.

With its members hailing from different parts of the country Atlas gets to feel like a particularly appropriate band name.

Besides her work with Entropi, Paradox Ensemble and Sara Colman’s band Nash is also an acclaimed jazz educator who has undertaken teaching roles with the National Youth Jazz Collective, Birmingham Conservatoire, Birmingham Jazzlines and Cheltenham Festivals. She has also performed with the Festival big band at Brecon Jazz Festival.

The music to be heard on “Peaceful King” embraces a variety of styles and genres. “I grew up in Bristol listening to Portishead, Massive Attack etc.” explains Nash and these early influences are reflected in the music of Atlas with its blend of jazz, rock, soul and electronica.

Nash continues;
“With its improvisational elements categorising Atlas’s music as ‘jazz’ is natural, but I view it with a wider sensibility. That’s really important to me, as is writing for the listener, serving a greater purpose than just satisfying my own musical endeavours. Much of the music is written for special people in my life, and as a response to personal events. The sound arrived with the band, and I greatly value how it continues to evolve without me consciously controlling that. Playing with these guys, who I’ve met while living indifferent cities, well it feels like a kind of musical biography!”.

Of her individual band mates Nash observes;
“Nick Malcolm, Matt and I go way back. Nick and I both think about music in similar terms, he’s contributed greatly to this recording, often making artistic sense of the seemingly nonsensical! We just have that connection, and I’m totally obsessed with his improvising. Tom and Chris often perform together and are really creative with electronics, so they generate walls of sound which tune into the more cosmic vibes and abstract harmonies that I love. Matt provides the band’s rhythmic energy and interest.”

Nash’s keyboards usher in the title track, which opens the album. Mixing acoustic and electric keyboard sounds her arpeggios eventually combine with Fisher’s drums to create a groove that is subsequently embellished by snatches of keyboard and trumpet melody. As the music develops it takes on a quasi orchestral quality that has evoked comparisons with the Pat Metheny Group. Nash takes the first solo on gently exploratory electric piano, weaving melodic patterns above a layered backdrop underpinned by Fisher’s sturdy drumming. Mapp features next on liquidly melodic electric bass before Malcolm’s trumpet gets the opportunity to soar once more. Guest Nick Walters’ electronic embellishments sprinkle the whole piece with a beguiling sonic fairydust.

The buoyant grooves of “Tumbleweed” have also invited the Metheny comparisons, but I also detect something of Joe Zawinul and Weather Report in Nash’s approach. Fisher’s drums introduce the piece and provide the necessary propulsion for Seminar Ford’s guitar to take flight. Nash adds glitchy Bitches Brew/Weather Report style keyboards and again solos on electric piano. This gives way to Malcolm’s trumpet ruminations, at first introspective, but subsequently more strident and forthright. This track is another example of Nash’s ability to write episodic compositions that are rich in terms of both colour and texture and which also possess a strong narrative and cinematic quality.

There’s something of a change of approach on “Hot Wired”, a song featuring the music of Nash and the voice and lyrics of Colman. The words are written from the point of view of a “sassy, feisty female” while the music features skittering brushed drum grooves and a combination of acoustic and electric keyboard sounds from the leader. Nash solos on electric piano, which gives the music something of a more conventional jazz feel, although a subtle electronic veneer also permeates the track.

“Grace” also features the voice and lyrics of Colman, the line “look out for the grace that’s woven in the stories of our mystery” helping to give the song its title. The arrangement features wispy electronics, pointillist guitar and the now familiar mix of acoustic and electric keyboards. The main instrumental solo comes from Malcolm on trumpet, again building from woozy, tentative beginnings to embrace a more rounded, confident, full on sound.

A third song, “Dreamer”, finds Nash deploying cyclic patterns and interlocking chord structures in a manner inspired by the late, great John Taylor. In this context Colman’s singing and lyrics inevitably become reminiscent of Norma Winstone, imbued as they are with an aura of fragile beauty. Nash’s acoustic piano solo is both expansive and lyrical, and is underpinned by swirling, organ like sounds.

The instrumental “Lokma” acts as a showcase for the talents of Seminar Ford, a product of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire. Seminar Ford has previously worked with drummer Jonathan Silk, pianist Sam Watts and alto saxophonist Chris Young, among others. He and Mapp currently work together in the trio Stillefelt, alongside trumpeter Percy Pursglove. Here Seminar Ford’s chiming guitar shares the solos with Nash’s expansive and highly impressive excursion on acoustic piano, her fiery playing fuelled by a rumbling, highly propulsive bass groove from Mapp and some dynamic drumming from Fisher.

“Little Light” commences with the atmospheric whispering of Malcolm’s trumpet in conversation with the leader’s thoughtful piano. The gentle lyricism of their dialogue is evocative of twilight on a calm summer’s evening. The predominately mellow mood continues as the rest of the band join the proceedings with Seminar Ford’s coolly elegant guitar temporarily assuming the lead prior to further eloquent trumpet musings from Malcolm. Nash then takes over on acoustic piano, soloing with an expansive lyricism as the music gathers momentum, and becomes increasingly rhapsodic.

Equally atmospheric, but in a very different way, is the closing “Inishbofin”. Named for an island off the west coast of “Ireland” Nash’s composition is a musical depiction of the boat journey out there, on rough and turbulent seas. The violence of the ocean is depicted in the music with its fuzzed up digital pulses, forceful drumming, wilfully dissonant piano chording and strident, incisive trumpeting. Powerful it may be, but Nash never loses her sense of melody, there even hints of traditional Irish folk song contained within this heady mix. Particularly striking are the increasingly impassioned exchanges between Malcolm’s trumpet and Seminar Ford’s guitar, a thrilling duel in which both combatants emerge as winners. These fireworks are followed by a more thoughtful electric piano solo from Nash that effectively brings the album full circle.

“Peaceful King” represents an impressive début from Nash and one that highlights both her playing and composing skills. Her command of a variety of acoustic and electric keyboards is impressive throughout, as is the way that she skilfully weaves them into her compositions. Her carefully selected team of musicians buy fully into her vision and the result is a well integrated and finely balanced ensemble. Hopefully the recording will help to bring musicians such as Seminar Ford and Mapp, two of Birmingham’s finest,  to greater national attention.

The three songs featuring the voice and lyrics of Colman help to punctuate the album and give it a strong sense of narrative and structure. They are very different to the other tracks yet still fit into the overall ethos of the album and help to demonstrate the breadth of Nash’s vision. I’m more inclined towards the instrumental tracks, but that’s purely a personal preference.

Finally a word, too, for Ning-Ning Li’s distinctive artwork, inspired by listening to Nash’s music, which helps to give the album a strong visual image.

The critical reaction to “Peaceful King” has been highly positive and readers are strongly advised to check out Rebecca Nash and Atlas at one of the following live dates;

30 October 2019 - The Canteen, Bristol

31 October 2019 - The Hare and Hounds, Birmingham

20 November 2019 - Sebright Arms, London (album launch)

More information at;

http://www.rebeccanashmusic.com

http://www.whirlwindrecordings.com

Peaceful King

Rebecca Nash / Atlas

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Peaceful King

An impressive début from Nash that highlights both her playing and composing skills. Her command of a variety of acoustic and electric keyboards is impressive throughout.

Rebecca Nash / Atlas

“Peaceful King”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4748)

Rebecca Nash – piano, keyboards, Nick Malcolm – trumpet, Thomas Seminar Ford – guitar, electronics, Chris Mapp – bass, electronics, Matt Fisher – drums

Guests;
Sara Colman – vocals
Nick Walters - electronics

“Peaceful King” is the début recording as a leader from keyboard player and composer Rebecca Nash.

Nash is a performer with close links to the music scenes of several British cities, among them Bristol, London, Cardiff, Birmingham and Manchester.  The line up of her band, Atlas, reflects this and includes musicians from different parts of the UK.

Nash and drummer Matt Fisher go back a long way and first worked together on the London scene. Both are integral components of saxophonist Dee Byrne’s quintet “Entropi”, appearing on both of that band’s album releases.

Trumpeter Nick Malcolm, a bandleader in his own right, is a leading figure on the Bristol jazz scene. Meanwhile guitarist Thomas Seminar Ford, bassist Chris Mapp and guest vocalist Sara Colman are all most closely associated with Birmingham.

Nick Walters, who adds electronics to the album’s title track and is also an acclaimed trumpeter and composer, cut his musical teeth in Manchester with the Beats & Pieces Big Band and his own nine piece Paradox Ensemble, with which Nash plays keyboards.

With its members hailing from different parts of the country Atlas gets to feel like a particularly appropriate band name.

Besides her work with Entropi, Paradox Ensemble and Sara Colman’s band Nash is also an acclaimed jazz educator who has undertaken teaching roles with the National Youth Jazz Collective, Birmingham Conservatoire, Birmingham Jazzlines and Cheltenham Festivals. She has also performed with the Festival big band at Brecon Jazz Festival.

The music to be heard on “Peaceful King” embraces a variety of styles and genres. “I grew up in Bristol listening to Portishead, Massive Attack etc.” explains Nash and these early influences are reflected in the music of Atlas with its blend of jazz, rock, soul and electronica.

Nash continues;
“With its improvisational elements categorising Atlas’s music as ‘jazz’ is natural, but I view it with a wider sensibility. That’s really important to me, as is writing for the listener, serving a greater purpose than just satisfying my own musical endeavours. Much of the music is written for special people in my life, and as a response to personal events. The sound arrived with the band, and I greatly value how it continues to evolve without me consciously controlling that. Playing with these guys, who I’ve met while living indifferent cities, well it feels like a kind of musical biography!”.

Of her individual band mates Nash observes;
“Nick Malcolm, Matt and I go way back. Nick and I both think about music in similar terms, he’s contributed greatly to this recording, often making artistic sense of the seemingly nonsensical! We just have that connection, and I’m totally obsessed with his improvising. Tom and Chris often perform together and are really creative with electronics, so they generate walls of sound which tune into the more cosmic vibes and abstract harmonies that I love. Matt provides the band’s rhythmic energy and interest.”

Nash’s keyboards usher in the title track, which opens the album. Mixing acoustic and electric keyboard sounds her arpeggios eventually combine with Fisher’s drums to create a groove that is subsequently embellished by snatches of keyboard and trumpet melody. As the music develops it takes on a quasi orchestral quality that has evoked comparisons with the Pat Metheny Group. Nash takes the first solo on gently exploratory electric piano, weaving melodic patterns above a layered backdrop underpinned by Fisher’s sturdy drumming. Mapp features next on liquidly melodic electric bass before Malcolm’s trumpet gets the opportunity to soar once more. Guest Nick Walters’ electronic embellishments sprinkle the whole piece with a beguiling sonic fairydust.

The buoyant grooves of “Tumbleweed” have also invited the Metheny comparisons, but I also detect something of Joe Zawinul and Weather Report in Nash’s approach. Fisher’s drums introduce the piece and provide the necessary propulsion for Seminar Ford’s guitar to take flight. Nash adds glitchy Bitches Brew/Weather Report style keyboards and again solos on electric piano. This gives way to Malcolm’s trumpet ruminations, at first introspective, but subsequently more strident and forthright. This track is another example of Nash’s ability to write episodic compositions that are rich in terms of both colour and texture and which also possess a strong narrative and cinematic quality.

There’s something of a change of approach on “Hot Wired”, a song featuring the music of Nash and the voice and lyrics of Colman. The words are written from the point of view of a “sassy, feisty female” while the music features skittering brushed drum grooves and a combination of acoustic and electric keyboard sounds from the leader. Nash solos on electric piano, which gives the music something of a more conventional jazz feel, although a subtle electronic veneer also permeates the track.

“Grace” also features the voice and lyrics of Colman, the line “look out for the grace that’s woven in the stories of our mystery” helping to give the song its title. The arrangement features wispy electronics, pointillist guitar and the now familiar mix of acoustic and electric keyboards. The main instrumental solo comes from Malcolm on trumpet, again building from woozy, tentative beginnings to embrace a more rounded, confident, full on sound.

A third song, “Dreamer”, finds Nash deploying cyclic patterns and interlocking chord structures in a manner inspired by the late, great John Taylor. In this context Colman’s singing and lyrics inevitably become reminiscent of Norma Winstone, imbued as they are with an aura of fragile beauty. Nash’s acoustic piano solo is both expansive and lyrical, and is underpinned by swirling, organ like sounds.

The instrumental “Lokma” acts as a showcase for the talents of Seminar Ford, a product of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire. Seminar Ford has previously worked with drummer Jonathan Silk, pianist Sam Watts and alto saxophonist Chris Young, among others. He and Mapp currently work together in the trio Stillefelt, alongside trumpeter Percy Pursglove. Here Seminar Ford’s chiming guitar shares the solos with Nash’s expansive and highly impressive excursion on acoustic piano, her fiery playing fuelled by a rumbling, highly propulsive bass groove from Mapp and some dynamic drumming from Fisher.

“Little Light” commences with the atmospheric whispering of Malcolm’s trumpet in conversation with the leader’s thoughtful piano. The gentle lyricism of their dialogue is evocative of twilight on a calm summer’s evening. The predominately mellow mood continues as the rest of the band join the proceedings with Seminar Ford’s coolly elegant guitar temporarily assuming the lead prior to further eloquent trumpet musings from Malcolm. Nash then takes over on acoustic piano, soloing with an expansive lyricism as the music gathers momentum, and becomes increasingly rhapsodic.

Equally atmospheric, but in a very different way, is the closing “Inishbofin”. Named for an island off the west coast of “Ireland” Nash’s composition is a musical depiction of the boat journey out there, on rough and turbulent seas. The violence of the ocean is depicted in the music with its fuzzed up digital pulses, forceful drumming, wilfully dissonant piano chording and strident, incisive trumpeting. Powerful it may be, but Nash never loses her sense of melody, there even hints of traditional Irish folk song contained within this heady mix. Particularly striking are the increasingly impassioned exchanges between Malcolm’s trumpet and Seminar Ford’s guitar, a thrilling duel in which both combatants emerge as winners. These fireworks are followed by a more thoughtful electric piano solo from Nash that effectively brings the album full circle.

“Peaceful King” represents an impressive début from Nash and one that highlights both her playing and composing skills. Her command of a variety of acoustic and electric keyboards is impressive throughout, as is the way that she skilfully weaves them into her compositions. Her carefully selected team of musicians buy fully into her vision and the result is a well integrated and finely balanced ensemble. Hopefully the recording will help to bring musicians such as Seminar Ford and Mapp, two of Birmingham’s finest,  to greater national attention.

The three songs featuring the voice and lyrics of Colman help to punctuate the album and give it a strong sense of narrative and structure. They are very different to the other tracks yet still fit into the overall ethos of the album and help to demonstrate the breadth of Nash’s vision. I’m more inclined towards the instrumental tracks, but that’s purely a personal preference.

Finally a word, too, for Ning-Ning Li’s distinctive artwork, inspired by listening to Nash’s music, which helps to give the album a strong visual image.

The critical reaction to “Peaceful King” has been highly positive and readers are strongly advised to check out Rebecca Nash and Atlas at one of the following live dates;

30 October 2019 - The Canteen, Bristol

31 October 2019 - The Hare and Hounds, Birmingham

20 November 2019 - Sebright Arms, London (album launch)

More information at;

http://www.rebeccanashmusic.com

http://www.whirlwindrecordings.com

Atsuko Shimada with the Greg Sterland Trio - Atsuko Shimada with the Greg Sterland Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse, Brecon, 10/09/2019. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Ian Mann enjoys two sets of imaginative arrangements and original compositions in this collaboration between Japanese pianist Atsuko Shimada and the Anglo-Welsh trio led by saxophonist Greg Sterland.

Atsuko Shimada with the Greg Sterland Trio

Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 10/09/2019.


Atsuko Shimada – piano, Greg Sterland – tenor sax, Aeddan Williams – double bass, Jon Reynolds - drums


This evening’s Brecon Jazz Club event represented the third visit to Brecon by the Japanese born pianist, composer and arranger Atsuko Shimada.

Shimada first visited Brecon in April 2015 to play at Brecon Jazz Club’s former HQ, the bar area at Theatr Brycheiniog. She performed with a quintet of musicians from South Wales and the Borders that included Greg Sterland on saxophone, Tom Ollendorff on guitar, Erika Lyons on double bass and Phill Redfox O’Sullivan at the drums.

The quintet’s performance, comprised mainly of jazz and bebop standards but also including a smattering of Shimada originals, was very well received by the Brecon audience and in 2017 she was invited back to the town to perform at that year’s Brecon Jazz Festival.

Shimada’s Festival appearance saw her leading a trio featuring bassist Matheus Prado and drummer Paolo Adamo, with guest appearances coming from alto saxophonist Kevin Figes and jazz french horn player Rod Paton. A busy Festival weekend also saw her perform with the Slice Of Life Big Band and as part of a group co-led by alto saxophonist Glen Manby and Ashley John Long, better known as a bassist but here specialising on vibes.

Born in Sapporo Shimada studied at the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston before settling in Europe with her Spanish husband, fellow pianist and Berklee alumnus Juan Galiardo. Now living in Southern Spain she plays regularly at the Gibraltar Jazz Society’s regular Thursday night gigs at the colony’s Eliott’s Hotel and is also a respected music teacher.

Shimada initially came to Brecon due to Galiardo’s links with Brecon Jazz Club. In 2014 he visited Wales for a short tour in the company of his compatriot Arturo Serra (vibes) plus some of South Wales’ finest rhythm players. Galiardo currently enjoys a real prestige gig as the pianist in a group led by the veteran improvising vocalist Sheila Jordan.

Tonight’s event saw the popular Shimada renewing her collaboration with Sterland. The former RWCMD student is now based in Bristol and is an active presence on that city’s jazz scene, playing with a variety of ensembles. He also plays a key role in bassist and composer Aidan Thorne’s electro-jazz group Duski, who will shortly be releasing their second album on the American record label Ropeadope.

Shimada and Sterling were joined by the rhythm team of Aeddan Williams (double bass) and Jon Reynolds (drums). The pair had previously visited Brecon Jazz Club as recently as June 2019 when they formed part of a trio led by alto saxophonist Rachel Head.

Williams, who plays both acoustic and electric bass, has also worked with guitarist James Chadwick and is currently part of the exciting electro-fusion trio Chube, led by harpist and keyboard player Ben Creighton Griffiths. Chube, accompanied by guest collaborator Dennis Rollins (trombone), recently played a barnstorming set at the 2019 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in nearby Abergavenny.

Reynolds’ other visits to Brecon have involved large ensemble appearances with the RWCMD Big Band and the Festival Big Band led by trombonist , composer and arranger Gareth Roberts.

Tonight’s set featured the now familiar mix of Shimada’s adventurous and distinctive arrangements of familiar jazz standards plus a couple of her original compositions.

The quartet commenced with the jazz standard “On Green Dolphin Street” with Sterland stating the theme on tenor sax and soloing expansively. He was followed by Shimada, who deployed an acoustic piano setting on her keyboard throughout the evening. There was also the first of a series of features for Williams on double bass.

An arrangement of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “How Insensitive” began in ballad mode with Shimada introducing the piece with a concise passage of solo piano. Double bass and brushed drums were added to the equation, followed by Sterland’s gently keening tenor sax. As Sterland’s solo developed he began to probe more deeply, with subtle avant garde inflections adding grit to the arrangement. Further solos followed from Shimada and Williams.

Shimada described her arrangement of that most familiar standards, “All The Things You Are” as “modern”. This was probably an understatement, I’d certainly never heard this old chestnut played in quite this way before. Reynolds’ broken beats and an underlying 7/4 time signature gave the piece a highly contemporary feel with Shimada taking the first solo. Sterland then stretched on tenor with Shimada temporarily dropping out as the group switched into sax trio mode. Once again there was also a feature for Williams on double bass.

Following the intense performance of “All The Things” Shimada’s arrangement of Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance”  lowered the temperature a little as Reynolds switched to brushes and Shimada soloed fluently and expansively with the group in piano trio mode. As Sterland took over on tenor the music began to gather a greater momentum as the saxophonist moved up through the gears. Williams then followed him on double bass.

The first set concluded with Shimada’s original composition “Third Impression”, a piece inspired by, and building upon, both John Coltrane’s “Impressions” and the Coltrane inspired composition “Second Impression” by American saxophonist Eric Alexander. For many listeners this was the pick of the first half performances as Sterland stretched out in suitably Coltrane-esque fashion on tenor while Shimada delivered some of her most impassioned soloing of the set, doubtless inspired by the great McCoy Tyner. The powerful soloing of Shimada and Sterland was fuelled by the brisk and propulsive grooves generated by Williams and Reynolds. The drummer was also to enjoy a substantial feature as the music embraced a freely structured section incorporating numerous avant garde flourishes. This was genuinely rousing stuff and ended the first set on an energetic and satisfying note.

When the quartet returned after the breaking Shimada promised another set of challenging arrangements in the second set. This throwing down of the gauntlet seemed to inspire the band and the second set proved to be even better than the first as the quartet visibly grew in confidence.

The standard “Taking A Chance On Love” set the ball rolling with Sterland again soloing expansively on tenor, followed by Shimada on piano and Williams on muscular, but melodic double bass. Shimada’s arrangement of the song was inspired by vocal versions by the singers Jane Monheit and Anita O’Day.

“Romance”, written by the Russian composer Anton Arensky, a one time teacher of Rachmaninoff, began life as a classical solo piano piece before being arranged by Shimada as a jazz ballad. With Williams at his most melodic and Reynolds deploying brushes this was perhaps the most reflective performance of the evening with Sterland soloing on tenor and Shimada closing out the piece with a passage of unaccompanied piano, a reminder of the composition’s origins.

Reynolds’  drums introduced Shimada’s innovative Afro-Cuban style arrangement of “You Don’t Know What Love Is”, a tune normally performed as a ballad. This treatment was very different with solos coming from Sterland on tenor, Shimada on piano, Williams on bass and finally the irrepressible Reynolds at the drums.

A shorter second set concluded with Shimada’s original composition “Bera’s Waltz”, introduced by a piano and double bass duet. The addition of brushed drums then set the scene for Sterland’s theme statement on tenor with subsequent solos coming from Williams on melodic double bass and then from Sterland and Shimada. This composition was very different in style and feel to Shimada’s original in the first half, but in its own way it was equally effective, and again rounded the set off on a high note.

Lynne Gornall of Brecon Jazz Club coaxed the quartet into performing an encore, an arrangement of a tune called “Blue Jae”. Boppish, complex and difficult to play this was a real roller coaster ride and included some of Shimada’s most inventive playing of the set as she soloed with a feverish intensity. Further solos came from Sterland, Williams, and Reynolds with a series of fiery drum breaks. Thrilling stuff.

Shimada’s return to Wales was well received by the Brecon jazz public and overall both the Club organisers and the band themselves were pleased with the way things had gone.

However, despite the inventiveness of Shimada’s arrangements it would be a valid criticism to observe that most of the performances were delivered in the same format with the written passages punctuated by lengthy, highly discursive solos, usually delivered in the same order. At times it all sounded a little unfocussed despite the quality of the playing. That said it was the first of two Welsh dates for the trio and rehearsal times had been extremely limited. Shimada had forwarded details of her arrangements to her band mates by email, and some of them, particularly in the second set were remarkably complex and demanding. After the show Sterland and Williams admitted that it all been pretty challenging, but highly rewarding. This was real “flying by the seat of your pants stuff” as they graphically observed. On the whole they rose to the challenge magnificently.

Atsuko Shimada with the Greg Sterland Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse, Brecon, 10/09/2019.

Atsuko Shimada with the Greg Sterland Trio

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Atsuko Shimada with the Greg Sterland Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse, Brecon, 10/09/2019.
Photography: Photograph by Pam Mann.

Ian Mann enjoys two sets of imaginative arrangements and original compositions in this collaboration between Japanese pianist Atsuko Shimada and the Anglo-Welsh trio led by saxophonist Greg Sterland.

Atsuko Shimada with the Greg Sterland Trio

Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 10/09/2019.


Atsuko Shimada – piano, Greg Sterland – tenor sax, Aeddan Williams – double bass, Jon Reynolds - drums


This evening’s Brecon Jazz Club event represented the third visit to Brecon by the Japanese born pianist, composer and arranger Atsuko Shimada.

Shimada first visited Brecon in April 2015 to play at Brecon Jazz Club’s former HQ, the bar area at Theatr Brycheiniog. She performed with a quintet of musicians from South Wales and the Borders that included Greg Sterland on saxophone, Tom Ollendorff on guitar, Erika Lyons on double bass and Phill Redfox O’Sullivan at the drums.

The quintet’s performance, comprised mainly of jazz and bebop standards but also including a smattering of Shimada originals, was very well received by the Brecon audience and in 2017 she was invited back to the town to perform at that year’s Brecon Jazz Festival.

Shimada’s Festival appearance saw her leading a trio featuring bassist Matheus Prado and drummer Paolo Adamo, with guest appearances coming from alto saxophonist Kevin Figes and jazz french horn player Rod Paton. A busy Festival weekend also saw her perform with the Slice Of Life Big Band and as part of a group co-led by alto saxophonist Glen Manby and Ashley John Long, better known as a bassist but here specialising on vibes.

Born in Sapporo Shimada studied at the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston before settling in Europe with her Spanish husband, fellow pianist and Berklee alumnus Juan Galiardo. Now living in Southern Spain she plays regularly at the Gibraltar Jazz Society’s regular Thursday night gigs at the colony’s Eliott’s Hotel and is also a respected music teacher.

Shimada initially came to Brecon due to Galiardo’s links with Brecon Jazz Club. In 2014 he visited Wales for a short tour in the company of his compatriot Arturo Serra (vibes) plus some of South Wales’ finest rhythm players. Galiardo currently enjoys a real prestige gig as the pianist in a group led by the veteran improvising vocalist Sheila Jordan.

Tonight’s event saw the popular Shimada renewing her collaboration with Sterland. The former RWCMD student is now based in Bristol and is an active presence on that city’s jazz scene, playing with a variety of ensembles. He also plays a key role in bassist and composer Aidan Thorne’s electro-jazz group Duski, who will shortly be releasing their second album on the American record label Ropeadope.

Shimada and Sterling were joined by the rhythm team of Aeddan Williams (double bass) and Jon Reynolds (drums). The pair had previously visited Brecon Jazz Club as recently as June 2019 when they formed part of a trio led by alto saxophonist Rachel Head.

Williams, who plays both acoustic and electric bass, has also worked with guitarist James Chadwick and is currently part of the exciting electro-fusion trio Chube, led by harpist and keyboard player Ben Creighton Griffiths. Chube, accompanied by guest collaborator Dennis Rollins (trombone), recently played a barnstorming set at the 2019 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in nearby Abergavenny.

Reynolds’ other visits to Brecon have involved large ensemble appearances with the RWCMD Big Band and the Festival Big Band led by trombonist , composer and arranger Gareth Roberts.

Tonight’s set featured the now familiar mix of Shimada’s adventurous and distinctive arrangements of familiar jazz standards plus a couple of her original compositions.

The quartet commenced with the jazz standard “On Green Dolphin Street” with Sterland stating the theme on tenor sax and soloing expansively. He was followed by Shimada, who deployed an acoustic piano setting on her keyboard throughout the evening. There was also the first of a series of features for Williams on double bass.

An arrangement of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “How Insensitive” began in ballad mode with Shimada introducing the piece with a concise passage of solo piano. Double bass and brushed drums were added to the equation, followed by Sterland’s gently keening tenor sax. As Sterland’s solo developed he began to probe more deeply, with subtle avant garde inflections adding grit to the arrangement. Further solos followed from Shimada and Williams.

Shimada described her arrangement of that most familiar standards, “All The Things You Are” as “modern”. This was probably an understatement, I’d certainly never heard this old chestnut played in quite this way before. Reynolds’ broken beats and an underlying 7/4 time signature gave the piece a highly contemporary feel with Shimada taking the first solo. Sterland then stretched on tenor with Shimada temporarily dropping out as the group switched into sax trio mode. Once again there was also a feature for Williams on double bass.

Following the intense performance of “All The Things” Shimada’s arrangement of Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance”  lowered the temperature a little as Reynolds switched to brushes and Shimada soloed fluently and expansively with the group in piano trio mode. As Sterland took over on tenor the music began to gather a greater momentum as the saxophonist moved up through the gears. Williams then followed him on double bass.

The first set concluded with Shimada’s original composition “Third Impression”, a piece inspired by, and building upon, both John Coltrane’s “Impressions” and the Coltrane inspired composition “Second Impression” by American saxophonist Eric Alexander. For many listeners this was the pick of the first half performances as Sterland stretched out in suitably Coltrane-esque fashion on tenor while Shimada delivered some of her most impassioned soloing of the set, doubtless inspired by the great McCoy Tyner. The powerful soloing of Shimada and Sterland was fuelled by the brisk and propulsive grooves generated by Williams and Reynolds. The drummer was also to enjoy a substantial feature as the music embraced a freely structured section incorporating numerous avant garde flourishes. This was genuinely rousing stuff and ended the first set on an energetic and satisfying note.

When the quartet returned after the breaking Shimada promised another set of challenging arrangements in the second set. This throwing down of the gauntlet seemed to inspire the band and the second set proved to be even better than the first as the quartet visibly grew in confidence.

The standard “Taking A Chance On Love” set the ball rolling with Sterland again soloing expansively on tenor, followed by Shimada on piano and Williams on muscular, but melodic double bass. Shimada’s arrangement of the song was inspired by vocal versions by the singers Jane Monheit and Anita O’Day.

“Romance”, written by the Russian composer Anton Arensky, a one time teacher of Rachmaninoff, began life as a classical solo piano piece before being arranged by Shimada as a jazz ballad. With Williams at his most melodic and Reynolds deploying brushes this was perhaps the most reflective performance of the evening with Sterland soloing on tenor and Shimada closing out the piece with a passage of unaccompanied piano, a reminder of the composition’s origins.

Reynolds’  drums introduced Shimada’s innovative Afro-Cuban style arrangement of “You Don’t Know What Love Is”, a tune normally performed as a ballad. This treatment was very different with solos coming from Sterland on tenor, Shimada on piano, Williams on bass and finally the irrepressible Reynolds at the drums.

A shorter second set concluded with Shimada’s original composition “Bera’s Waltz”, introduced by a piano and double bass duet. The addition of brushed drums then set the scene for Sterland’s theme statement on tenor with subsequent solos coming from Williams on melodic double bass and then from Sterland and Shimada. This composition was very different in style and feel to Shimada’s original in the first half, but in its own way it was equally effective, and again rounded the set off on a high note.

Lynne Gornall of Brecon Jazz Club coaxed the quartet into performing an encore, an arrangement of a tune called “Blue Jae”. Boppish, complex and difficult to play this was a real roller coaster ride and included some of Shimada’s most inventive playing of the set as she soloed with a feverish intensity. Further solos came from Sterland, Williams, and Reynolds with a series of fiery drum breaks. Thrilling stuff.

Shimada’s return to Wales was well received by the Brecon jazz public and overall both the Club organisers and the band themselves were pleased with the way things had gone.

However, despite the inventiveness of Shimada’s arrangements it would be a valid criticism to observe that most of the performances were delivered in the same format with the written passages punctuated by lengthy, highly discursive solos, usually delivered in the same order. At times it all sounded a little unfocussed despite the quality of the playing. That said it was the first of two Welsh dates for the trio and rehearsal times had been extremely limited. Shimada had forwarded details of her arrangements to her band mates by email, and some of them, particularly in the second set were remarkably complex and demanding. After the show Sterland and Williams admitted that it all been pretty challenging, but highly rewarding. This was real “flying by the seat of your pants stuff” as they graphically observed. On the whole they rose to the challenge magnificently.

Leo Richardson Quartet - Move Rating: 4 out of 5 Richardson's hard bop leanings are again very much in evidence, but there is also a growing sophistication about the writing and a more overt John Coltrane influence this time round.

Leo Richardson Quartet

“Move”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0026)

Leo Richardson – tenor sax, Rick Simpson – piano, Tim Thornton – bass, Ed Richardson – drums
with guest Alex Garnett – tenor sax on track 8


“Move” is the second album from tenor sax specialist Leo Richardson, and represents the follow up to his highly successful 2017 début for Ubuntu, “The Chase”.

Like Scott Hamilton and Simon Spillett Richardson is a saxophonist in thrall to an earlier age, in this case the golden era of hard bop and particularly the output of the Blue Note and Prestige record labels. Richardson cites jazz immortals such as drummer Art Blakey, pianist Horace Silver and saxophonists Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane as primary influences on his own playing.

Leo Richardson is the son of the celebrated British bassist Jim Richardson, one time leader of the fondly remembered band Pogo and an in demand sideman who has worked with many of the greats of the music including the late trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker.  Jim Richardson acts as Leo’s co-producer on “Move”, acting as part of a production team that also includes recording engineers Lester Salmins, Alex Bonney and John Webber.

It was Jim Richardson who first introduced the young Leo to jazz, nurturing his interest in, and love of, the music. Leo subsequently studied jazz at the Trinity School of Music in London where his tutors included Jean Toussaint, Julian Siegel, Mark Lockheart, Martin Speake and Mick Foster.

Leo graduated from Trinity in 2013 with a First Class Honours Degree in Jazz Performance. Besides leading his own quartet he has also become an in demand sideman who has worked with an impressive array of jazz and pop artists, including Kylie Minogue, Jamie Cullum, Gregory Porter, Wet Wet Wet, Heritage Orchestra, Candi Staton, John Newman, Ella Eyre, Jessie Ware, The BBC Proms, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra, Submotion Orchestra, Ronan Keating, Blue, Peter Andre, Mulatu Astatke, Anne-Marie, Clare Teal, Roger Taylor (Queen), Toyah Wilcox, Il Divo, The Heliocentrics, Ben Sidran, Elaine Delmar, Vula Malinga, Alan Skidmore, Dick Pearce, Norma Winstone, Gary Husband, Simon Purcell, Andrew McCormack and Jim Mullen. It’s quite a list, and by no means comprehensive.

In 2017 Leo Richardson released the first album by his regular jazz quartet featuring pianist Rick Simpson, bassist Mark Lewandowski and drummer Ed Richardson,  apparently no relation. “The Chase” also featured guest appearances by trumpeter Quentin Collins and Richardson’s fellow tenor man, and another significant influence, the great Alan Skidmore.
Album review here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/leo-richardson-quartet-the-chase/

Skidmore provides the liner notes this time round while the guest slot goes to the leading contemporary tenor saxophonist Alex Garnett. There’s also one change to the regular quartet line up with Tim Thornton taking over bass duties from Mark Lewandowski.

Thornton was already in the band when I reviewed the quartet’s performance at Kenilworth Jazz Club in December 2017. The second set included a number of what were then ‘new tunes’ and several of these appear on this second album. My account of the quartet’s Kenilworth show can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/leo-richardson-quartet-kenilworth-jazz-club-kenilworth-rugby-club-kenilwort/

Admirers of Richardson’s début won’t be disappointed by this new recording, which sees the saxophonist continuing to hone his approach and develop his sound. He says of his latest release;
“The compositions on ‘Move’ are very much a natural progression from the first album. The music has developed and matured, whilst instilling the essence of hard bop but remaining more contemporary and moving in different directions. The title ‘Move’ means just this! The music is very much in the hard bop vein but exploring newer contemporary avenues as a band and compositionally”.

He continues;
“I never thought I’d release my second album so soon after the first, but I just love playing with this band, so I thought why not?! The rhythm section in this quartet is absolutely world class and I’m very lucky to be able to play my music with them and develop it as a band.”

The Latin-esque opener “The Demise” gets things off to a rousing start with Richardson digging in with some Coltrane-esque tenor while Simpson impresses with a feverishly inventive piano solo. There’s also something of a feature for Ed Richardson at the drums as he plays the Elvin Jones role. At Kenilworth Richardson informed us that the tune title was inspired by “the folly of our current world leaders”.  Little seems to have changed in the intervening two years, if anything it’s got even worse!

It’s all enough to provoke a bout of “Effin, & Jeffin”, the title of another tune that was played at Kenilworth. A rolling piano figure sets the scene before Richardson again probes deeply and incisively on tenor with further solos coming from Simpson on piano and the always impressive Thornton at the bass. The vitality of the quartet’s reading of this tune at Kenilworth was particularly noteworthy and they bring similar qualities to this energetic and powerful recorded version.

“Martini Shuffle” combines a boppish theme with swinging, hard driving rhythms and includes fluent and confident solos from Richardson on tenor,  Simpson on piano and Thornton at the bass.

Title track “Move” embraces more of a modal, contemporary feel while still remaining true to the hard bop virtues. The versatile Simpson, recently seen at Brecon Jazz Festival with saxophonist Karen Sharp, leads off the solos on piano, his inventiveness paving the way for a major statement on tenor from the leader.

The ballad “E.F.G.”, written for Richardson’s wife Liz (rather than the sponsors of London Jazz Festival!) signals a welcome change of mood and pace following the intensity of the first four pieces. It is ushered in by a passage of lyrical solo piano from Simpson and also features the melodic bass playing of Thornton. In his liner notes Skidmore justifiably compares the ballad playing of Leo Richardson with that of Dexter Gordon. Meanwhile Ed Richardson’s delicate brush work emphasises his empathy and sensitivity.

As its title suggests the lively,  be-boppish “Mr. Tim”  offers a showcase for the dexterous and agile bass soloing of Tim Thornton. He takes the first solo, followed by a fluent Richardson on tenor and an exuberant Simpson at the piano. Meanwhile Ed Richardson gets to enjoy a series of invigorating drum breaks.

Another pause for breath with the medium tempo ballad “Peace”, which sees Richardson combining tenderness with great technical and improvisational facility as he stretches out at length on tenor. He’s followed on piano by the ever imaginative Simpson.

The album concludes with the cunningly titled “Second Wind”, which features the additional tenor saxophone of guest Alex Garnett, one of Richardson’s pals from his regular gigs at Ronnie Scott’s. This is an old fashioned, high octane, hugely enjoyable two tenor tear up with the two horn men exchanging phrases and solos over the fiercely swinging grooves generated by Simpson, Thornton and Ed Richardson. At one juncture Simpson drops out and the two saxophonists joust good naturedly, exchanging phrases above a backdrop of roiling drums.
Simpson subsequently comes into his own with a rollicking piano solo and Ed Richardson features strongly towards the close.

Those who enjoyed “The Chase” will no doubt relish Richardson’s second offering. Those hard bop leanings are again very much in evidence, but there is also a growing sophistication about the writing and a more overt John Coltrane influence this time round.

The playing from all concerned is excellent throughout with Thornton fitting seamlessly into the band after playing the whole of the extensive 2017 tour.

Although it’s impossible to reproduce the impact of the début the new album has again been very well received by the jazz press and the Leo Richardson Quartet remains a hugely exciting and highly popular live draw.

Move

Leo Richardson Quartet

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Move

Richardson's hard bop leanings are again very much in evidence, but there is also a growing sophistication about the writing and a more overt John Coltrane influence this time round.

Leo Richardson Quartet

“Move”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0026)

Leo Richardson – tenor sax, Rick Simpson – piano, Tim Thornton – bass, Ed Richardson – drums
with guest Alex Garnett – tenor sax on track 8


“Move” is the second album from tenor sax specialist Leo Richardson, and represents the follow up to his highly successful 2017 début for Ubuntu, “The Chase”.

Like Scott Hamilton and Simon Spillett Richardson is a saxophonist in thrall to an earlier age, in this case the golden era of hard bop and particularly the output of the Blue Note and Prestige record labels. Richardson cites jazz immortals such as drummer Art Blakey, pianist Horace Silver and saxophonists Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane as primary influences on his own playing.

Leo Richardson is the son of the celebrated British bassist Jim Richardson, one time leader of the fondly remembered band Pogo and an in demand sideman who has worked with many of the greats of the music including the late trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker.  Jim Richardson acts as Leo’s co-producer on “Move”, acting as part of a production team that also includes recording engineers Lester Salmins, Alex Bonney and John Webber.

It was Jim Richardson who first introduced the young Leo to jazz, nurturing his interest in, and love of, the music. Leo subsequently studied jazz at the Trinity School of Music in London where his tutors included Jean Toussaint, Julian Siegel, Mark Lockheart, Martin Speake and Mick Foster.

Leo graduated from Trinity in 2013 with a First Class Honours Degree in Jazz Performance. Besides leading his own quartet he has also become an in demand sideman who has worked with an impressive array of jazz and pop artists, including Kylie Minogue, Jamie Cullum, Gregory Porter, Wet Wet Wet, Heritage Orchestra, Candi Staton, John Newman, Ella Eyre, Jessie Ware, The BBC Proms, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra, Submotion Orchestra, Ronan Keating, Blue, Peter Andre, Mulatu Astatke, Anne-Marie, Clare Teal, Roger Taylor (Queen), Toyah Wilcox, Il Divo, The Heliocentrics, Ben Sidran, Elaine Delmar, Vula Malinga, Alan Skidmore, Dick Pearce, Norma Winstone, Gary Husband, Simon Purcell, Andrew McCormack and Jim Mullen. It’s quite a list, and by no means comprehensive.

In 2017 Leo Richardson released the first album by his regular jazz quartet featuring pianist Rick Simpson, bassist Mark Lewandowski and drummer Ed Richardson,  apparently no relation. “The Chase” also featured guest appearances by trumpeter Quentin Collins and Richardson’s fellow tenor man, and another significant influence, the great Alan Skidmore.
Album review here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/leo-richardson-quartet-the-chase/

Skidmore provides the liner notes this time round while the guest slot goes to the leading contemporary tenor saxophonist Alex Garnett. There’s also one change to the regular quartet line up with Tim Thornton taking over bass duties from Mark Lewandowski.

Thornton was already in the band when I reviewed the quartet’s performance at Kenilworth Jazz Club in December 2017. The second set included a number of what were then ‘new tunes’ and several of these appear on this second album. My account of the quartet’s Kenilworth show can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/leo-richardson-quartet-kenilworth-jazz-club-kenilworth-rugby-club-kenilwort/

Admirers of Richardson’s début won’t be disappointed by this new recording, which sees the saxophonist continuing to hone his approach and develop his sound. He says of his latest release;
“The compositions on ‘Move’ are very much a natural progression from the first album. The music has developed and matured, whilst instilling the essence of hard bop but remaining more contemporary and moving in different directions. The title ‘Move’ means just this! The music is very much in the hard bop vein but exploring newer contemporary avenues as a band and compositionally”.

He continues;
“I never thought I’d release my second album so soon after the first, but I just love playing with this band, so I thought why not?! The rhythm section in this quartet is absolutely world class and I’m very lucky to be able to play my music with them and develop it as a band.”

The Latin-esque opener “The Demise” gets things off to a rousing start with Richardson digging in with some Coltrane-esque tenor while Simpson impresses with a feverishly inventive piano solo. There’s also something of a feature for Ed Richardson at the drums as he plays the Elvin Jones role. At Kenilworth Richardson informed us that the tune title was inspired by “the folly of our current world leaders”.  Little seems to have changed in the intervening two years, if anything it’s got even worse!

It’s all enough to provoke a bout of “Effin, & Jeffin”, the title of another tune that was played at Kenilworth. A rolling piano figure sets the scene before Richardson again probes deeply and incisively on tenor with further solos coming from Simpson on piano and the always impressive Thornton at the bass. The vitality of the quartet’s reading of this tune at Kenilworth was particularly noteworthy and they bring similar qualities to this energetic and powerful recorded version.

“Martini Shuffle” combines a boppish theme with swinging, hard driving rhythms and includes fluent and confident solos from Richardson on tenor,  Simpson on piano and Thornton at the bass.

Title track “Move” embraces more of a modal, contemporary feel while still remaining true to the hard bop virtues. The versatile Simpson, recently seen at Brecon Jazz Festival with saxophonist Karen Sharp, leads off the solos on piano, his inventiveness paving the way for a major statement on tenor from the leader.

The ballad “E.F.G.”, written for Richardson’s wife Liz (rather than the sponsors of London Jazz Festival!) signals a welcome change of mood and pace following the intensity of the first four pieces. It is ushered in by a passage of lyrical solo piano from Simpson and also features the melodic bass playing of Thornton. In his liner notes Skidmore justifiably compares the ballad playing of Leo Richardson with that of Dexter Gordon. Meanwhile Ed Richardson’s delicate brush work emphasises his empathy and sensitivity.

As its title suggests the lively,  be-boppish “Mr. Tim”  offers a showcase for the dexterous and agile bass soloing of Tim Thornton. He takes the first solo, followed by a fluent Richardson on tenor and an exuberant Simpson at the piano. Meanwhile Ed Richardson gets to enjoy a series of invigorating drum breaks.

Another pause for breath with the medium tempo ballad “Peace”, which sees Richardson combining tenderness with great technical and improvisational facility as he stretches out at length on tenor. He’s followed on piano by the ever imaginative Simpson.

The album concludes with the cunningly titled “Second Wind”, which features the additional tenor saxophone of guest Alex Garnett, one of Richardson’s pals from his regular gigs at Ronnie Scott’s. This is an old fashioned, high octane, hugely enjoyable two tenor tear up with the two horn men exchanging phrases and solos over the fiercely swinging grooves generated by Simpson, Thornton and Ed Richardson. At one juncture Simpson drops out and the two saxophonists joust good naturedly, exchanging phrases above a backdrop of roiling drums.
Simpson subsequently comes into his own with a rollicking piano solo and Ed Richardson features strongly towards the close.

Those who enjoyed “The Chase” will no doubt relish Richardson’s second offering. Those hard bop leanings are again very much in evidence, but there is also a growing sophistication about the writing and a more overt John Coltrane influence this time round.

The playing from all concerned is excellent throughout with Thornton fitting seamlessly into the band after playing the whole of the extensive 2017 tour.

Although it’s impossible to reproduce the impact of the début the new album has again been very well received by the jazz press and the Leo Richardson Quartet remains a hugely exciting and highly popular live draw.

Lady Nade Duo - Lady Nade Duo,“Tribute to the Blues Dames”,Kings Head, Abergavenny, 27/08/2019 Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Ian Mann enjoys the music of Bristol based singer, songwriter and guitarist Lady Nade on the second day of the 2019 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival. He also takes a brief look at her two album releases.

Photograph of Lady Nade sourced from http://blackmountainjazz.co.uk/wall2wall-jazz-festival/

Lady Nade Duo, “Tribute to the Blues Dames”
Jazz Lounge, The Kings Head, Abergavenny, 27/08/2019 (Part of Wall2Wall Jazz Festival)

Lady Nade – vocals, acoustic guitar, Holly Carter – electric guitar


It’s hard to believe that 2019 will be the seventh edition of the Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, held annually in the attractive Welsh market town of Abergavenny.

Over the years the Festival has used a variety of venues and experimented with a number of formats but had recently settled into a pattern of the annual dinner at the Angel Hotel on Thursday, a very full and diverse concert programme at the Melville Centre on Friday and Saturday, and the less formal Jazz Alley event and evening party at the Market Hall on Sunday.

This year the unavailability of the Market Hall due to refurbishment saw an enforced change of format with the Festival organisers, Black Mountain Jazz, deciding to extend Wall2Wall to a week long event. This came in the form of a blues related programme at the Kings Head Hotel, next door to the Market Hall but a new venue for BMJ and the Festival.

The performance space, dubbed The Jazz Lounge, proved to be an attractively converted barn to the rear of the hotel. With its own bar and with the capacity to seat up to fifty audience members cabaret style this proved to be an excellent venue with a genuine jazz club atmosphere and the Festival organisers were rewarded with very good attendances for the first two events. BMJ’s head honcho Mike Skilton was said to be “grinning like a Cheshire Cat!”.

The previous evening, August Bank Holiday Monday, had seen Bristol based organist John-Paul Gard, a real BMJ favourite, leading his trio. An audience of around forty were also delighted by an unscheduled guest appearance from Cheltenham based saxophonist and vocalist Kim Cypher, currently making waves on the national jazz scene following the release of her début album “Love, Kim X”.

I was unable to make the first night of Wall2Wall but the feedback regarding the Gard event was universally positive and it was clear that the Festival had got off to a great start.

This momentum was maintained this evening with around fifty people turning out to witness this beguiling performance from Bristol based vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Lady Nade. The singer, who also played some acoustic guitar was accompanied by Holly Carter, playing a beautiful Gretsch Electromatic guitar, that looked authentically vintage but which had actually been manufactured in 2008.

Nadine Gingell, aka Lady Nade has released two albums of original material, 2015’s “Hard To Forget” and 2019’s “Safe Place”. She currently has plans for a third album, for which some material has already been written.

In keeping with the blues theme this evening’s performance was billed as a “Tribute To The Blues Dames” and featured songs by some of the female jazz and blues singers that have inspired Nade, from the predictable Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith and Nina Simone through to now less well known pioneers such as Big Mama Thornton, Ruth Brown and Sister Rosetta Tharp.

As the evening progressed the increasingly confident Nade began to include more of her own songs in the set, and the majority of these proved to be very good indeed, and much in keeping with the overall blues theme of the event.

Nade and Carter commenced with Sister Rosetta Tharp’s “Trouble In Mind”, with Nades’s soulful, subtly blues inflected vocals complemented by Carter’s cleanly picked guitar. A finger style specialist the Bristol based guitarist also plays pedal steel in other contexts.

Nade took up the acoustic guitar for her interpretation of “Hound Dog”, made famous by Elvis Presley, but originally recorded by Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton (1926-84). Nade’s version, which incorporated the original lyrics, was inspired by jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater’s interpretation.

The duo dug further into the Thornton back catalogue for their version of Big Mama’s “Feelin’ Alright”, with Nade concentrating on the vocals and Carter’s guitar alternating between rhythm and lead.

Having got a supportive audience on side Nade decided to introduce one of her own songs to the set. Sourced from the “Safe Place” album “Sweet Honey Bee” dealt with the subject of romantic love, as do most of Nade’s songs. With the singer also playing acoustic guitar this was a pleasant, if rather slight item. Some of the later original songs were stronger than this. Nade is also a great food aficionado and revealed that most of her own songs have a recipe associated with them, in this case one for chocolate mousse!

It was back to the theme of the evening and a tribute to the now largely forgotten r & b vocalist, songwriter and actress Ruth Brown (1928 – 2006). However the song written by her, “Why Don’t You Do Right”, famously covered by Peggy Lee and others, was rather more familiar.

Nade, a warm and humorous announcer of tunes, confessed that she had been a fan of Muse and Nine Inch Nails before discovering jazz and blues through Nina Simone. Her interpretation of Simone’s “I Wish I Knew How It Feels To Be Free”, written by Billy Taylor and Dick Dallas, was particularly well received by the Wall2Wall crowd.

The warm reception encouraged Nade to play another original song. The as yet unrecorded “Peace and Calm” featured Nade accompanying herself on acoustic guitar as Carter sat out. This was a genuinely impressive offering, the presumably autobiographical lyrics referencing her forebears were delivered with a very genuine warmth and intimacy – and she’s a pretty accomplished guitar player too.

Carter returned for the duo’s version of “The Sky Is Crying”, a tune recorded by Etta James but perhaps most closely associated with its writer,  Etta’s namesake Elmore James. Much covered by blues and rock artists, among them Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan, performances of the song are normally distinguished by searing slide guitar solos. Nade’s slowed down arrangement, inspired by several different versions, took the usual macho bluster out of the song. In the hands of these two women it became more intimate, placing a greater emphasis on the sadness of the lyrics. It almost sounded like a different song. An interesting and innovative interpretation.

The guitars of Nade and Carter worked effectively in tandem on the little known Nina Simone song “Be My Husband”, with Carter again impressing with a carefully crafted lead guitar break. Carter favoured a very clean guitar sound with no reliance on FX pedals, although she did make judicious and very effective and evocative use of her instrument’s tremolo arm.

A highly enjoyable first set concluded with the Nade original “Don’t Make Him Wait”, sourced from the “Hard To Forget” album, a blues tinged song with a strong pop sensibility.

Set two commenced with the duo’s version of the much covered spiritual “Wade in the Water”, with Nade’s blues and gospel inflected vocals complemented by a typically economical and tasteful guitar solo from Carter.

Taking her cue from the Etta James version Nade invested “I Just Want To Make Love To You” (arguably most closely associated with Muddy Waters) with a seductive female sensuality in a captivating slowed down arrangement that also showcased Carter’s guitar skills.

“Complicated”, also from the “Hard To Forget” album, with its themes of love and loss was the most enthusiastically received original song thus far.

An equally warm reception was recorded to Billie Holiday’s “Billie’s Blues”. I suspect there might have been a few disappointed people in the audience if a “Tribute to the Blues Dames” hadn’t included something from ‘Lady Day’.

The duo went “way back” to pay tribute to the 1920s blues singer Gertrude “Ma” Rainey with the authentically vintage sounds of “Runaway Blues”. Due to the technical limitations of the time the lyrics on Rainey’s recordings are often difficult to decipher, so here Nade included some of her own, but without losing the essential feel of the song.

Another original, “Kiss This Troubled Mind”, was again sourced from the “Hard To Forget” album.
Most of the originals came from the earlier recording, mainly because they were more suited to the sparse instrumental configuration and the overall context of the blues themed evening. Chocolate truffles were on the menu here.

Another trip back to the 1920s for Bessie Smith’s Depression Era lament “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”. The song, covered by artists as diverse as Nina Simone and Eric Clapton, retains a worrying pertinence nearly a century later.

From the “Safe Place” album “La La Larve (Deja Vu Refrain)” offered a little light relief with its witty observations on the absurdities of falling in love.

It was back to the Thornton catalogue for the lascivious lullaby “Rock a Bye Baby”.

The performance then ended as it began, with a return to the world of the gospel blues and Sister Rosetta’s “Journey To The Skies”.

Nade had got the audience eating out of her hand by this time, must have been all those recipes, and a deserved encore was inevitable.

She returned solo to perform the original song “Minds Made Up”, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar. Another song chronicling the pains of love and loss this was an intimate and poignant performance. One could have heard the proverbial pin drop in a hushed room with the audience hanging on every word.

Nade and Carter first performed together at the regular Bristol all female music night ‘Lady Sings’, and it was fitting that the guitarist, who had added so much to the success of the evening, should return to the stage. The duo rounded things off with the song “Ain’t One Thing” with Nade talking about the ‘cocktail’ of different influences on her music.

This was my first visit to Wall2Wall 2019 and I was delighted to see the Festival getting off to such a successful start. I shall miss the visit to the Jazz Lounge by the roots artist Sicknote Steve, an event for which advance ticket sales have ironically been very healthy, but will return to cover the bulk of the Festival over the main weekend.

My thanks to Nade and Holly for speaking with me afterwards and to Nade for gifting me copies of both her albums. These feature her performing in the company of a full band, sadly not including Carter, and the resultant arrangements have more of a pop sheen about them. But there’s no doubting the quality of her songs, many of them written in conjunction with other band members. That warm, soulful voice is there too, at the heart of songs that largely explore the joy and pain of romantic relationships.

These are classy productions that embrace elements of jazz, blues, soul and folk but which would normally be a bit too close to the pop mainstream for my personal tastes. However seeing many of the songs performed live in an intimate duo situation imbues them with an extra resonance and significance. I’ve been listening to both albums while writing this and have to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed both of them.

Nade’s adaptability and the quality of her singing and playing, allied to the warmth of her personality, should ensure that her profile continues to rise. Her music has the capability to appeal to a wide musical constituency, something that was reflected in brisk CD sales this evening, and the presence of a clutch of younger listeners among the usual greying jazz audience.

 

Lady Nade Duo,“Tribute to the Blues Dames”,Kings Head, Abergavenny, 27/08/2019

Lady Nade Duo

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

3-5 out of 5

Lady Nade Duo,“Tribute to the Blues Dames”,Kings Head, Abergavenny, 27/08/2019

Ian Mann enjoys the music of Bristol based singer, songwriter and guitarist Lady Nade on the second day of the 2019 Wall2Wall Jazz Festival. He also takes a brief look at her two album releases.

Photograph of Lady Nade sourced from http://blackmountainjazz.co.uk/wall2wall-jazz-festival/

Lady Nade Duo, “Tribute to the Blues Dames”
Jazz Lounge, The Kings Head, Abergavenny, 27/08/2019 (Part of Wall2Wall Jazz Festival)

Lady Nade – vocals, acoustic guitar, Holly Carter – electric guitar


It’s hard to believe that 2019 will be the seventh edition of the Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, held annually in the attractive Welsh market town of Abergavenny.

Over the years the Festival has used a variety of venues and experimented with a number of formats but had recently settled into a pattern of the annual dinner at the Angel Hotel on Thursday, a very full and diverse concert programme at the Melville Centre on Friday and Saturday, and the less formal Jazz Alley event and evening party at the Market Hall on Sunday.

This year the unavailability of the Market Hall due to refurbishment saw an enforced change of format with the Festival organisers, Black Mountain Jazz, deciding to extend Wall2Wall to a week long event. This came in the form of a blues related programme at the Kings Head Hotel, next door to the Market Hall but a new venue for BMJ and the Festival.

The performance space, dubbed The Jazz Lounge, proved to be an attractively converted barn to the rear of the hotel. With its own bar and with the capacity to seat up to fifty audience members cabaret style this proved to be an excellent venue with a genuine jazz club atmosphere and the Festival organisers were rewarded with very good attendances for the first two events. BMJ’s head honcho Mike Skilton was said to be “grinning like a Cheshire Cat!”.

The previous evening, August Bank Holiday Monday, had seen Bristol based organist John-Paul Gard, a real BMJ favourite, leading his trio. An audience of around forty were also delighted by an unscheduled guest appearance from Cheltenham based saxophonist and vocalist Kim Cypher, currently making waves on the national jazz scene following the release of her début album “Love, Kim X”.

I was unable to make the first night of Wall2Wall but the feedback regarding the Gard event was universally positive and it was clear that the Festival had got off to a great start.

This momentum was maintained this evening with around fifty people turning out to witness this beguiling performance from Bristol based vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Lady Nade. The singer, who also played some acoustic guitar was accompanied by Holly Carter, playing a beautiful Gretsch Electromatic guitar, that looked authentically vintage but which had actually been manufactured in 2008.

Nadine Gingell, aka Lady Nade has released two albums of original material, 2015’s “Hard To Forget” and 2019’s “Safe Place”. She currently has plans for a third album, for which some material has already been written.

In keeping with the blues theme this evening’s performance was billed as a “Tribute To The Blues Dames” and featured songs by some of the female jazz and blues singers that have inspired Nade, from the predictable Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith and Nina Simone through to now less well known pioneers such as Big Mama Thornton, Ruth Brown and Sister Rosetta Tharp.

As the evening progressed the increasingly confident Nade began to include more of her own songs in the set, and the majority of these proved to be very good indeed, and much in keeping with the overall blues theme of the event.

Nade and Carter commenced with Sister Rosetta Tharp’s “Trouble In Mind”, with Nades’s soulful, subtly blues inflected vocals complemented by Carter’s cleanly picked guitar. A finger style specialist the Bristol based guitarist also plays pedal steel in other contexts.

Nade took up the acoustic guitar for her interpretation of “Hound Dog”, made famous by Elvis Presley, but originally recorded by Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton (1926-84). Nade’s version, which incorporated the original lyrics, was inspired by jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater’s interpretation.

The duo dug further into the Thornton back catalogue for their version of Big Mama’s “Feelin’ Alright”, with Nade concentrating on the vocals and Carter’s guitar alternating between rhythm and lead.

Having got a supportive audience on side Nade decided to introduce one of her own songs to the set. Sourced from the “Safe Place” album “Sweet Honey Bee” dealt with the subject of romantic love, as do most of Nade’s songs. With the singer also playing acoustic guitar this was a pleasant, if rather slight item. Some of the later original songs were stronger than this. Nade is also a great food aficionado and revealed that most of her own songs have a recipe associated with them, in this case one for chocolate mousse!

It was back to the theme of the evening and a tribute to the now largely forgotten r & b vocalist, songwriter and actress Ruth Brown (1928 – 2006). However the song written by her, “Why Don’t You Do Right”, famously covered by Peggy Lee and others, was rather more familiar.

Nade, a warm and humorous announcer of tunes, confessed that she had been a fan of Muse and Nine Inch Nails before discovering jazz and blues through Nina Simone. Her interpretation of Simone’s “I Wish I Knew How It Feels To Be Free”, written by Billy Taylor and Dick Dallas, was particularly well received by the Wall2Wall crowd.

The warm reception encouraged Nade to play another original song. The as yet unrecorded “Peace and Calm” featured Nade accompanying herself on acoustic guitar as Carter sat out. This was a genuinely impressive offering, the presumably autobiographical lyrics referencing her forebears were delivered with a very genuine warmth and intimacy – and she’s a pretty accomplished guitar player too.

Carter returned for the duo’s version of “The Sky Is Crying”, a tune recorded by Etta James but perhaps most closely associated with its writer,  Etta’s namesake Elmore James. Much covered by blues and rock artists, among them Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan, performances of the song are normally distinguished by searing slide guitar solos. Nade’s slowed down arrangement, inspired by several different versions, took the usual macho bluster out of the song. In the hands of these two women it became more intimate, placing a greater emphasis on the sadness of the lyrics. It almost sounded like a different song. An interesting and innovative interpretation.

The guitars of Nade and Carter worked effectively in tandem on the little known Nina Simone song “Be My Husband”, with Carter again impressing with a carefully crafted lead guitar break. Carter favoured a very clean guitar sound with no reliance on FX pedals, although she did make judicious and very effective and evocative use of her instrument’s tremolo arm.

A highly enjoyable first set concluded with the Nade original “Don’t Make Him Wait”, sourced from the “Hard To Forget” album, a blues tinged song with a strong pop sensibility.

Set two commenced with the duo’s version of the much covered spiritual “Wade in the Water”, with Nade’s blues and gospel inflected vocals complemented by a typically economical and tasteful guitar solo from Carter.

Taking her cue from the Etta James version Nade invested “I Just Want To Make Love To You” (arguably most closely associated with Muddy Waters) with a seductive female sensuality in a captivating slowed down arrangement that also showcased Carter’s guitar skills.

“Complicated”, also from the “Hard To Forget” album, with its themes of love and loss was the most enthusiastically received original song thus far.

An equally warm reception was recorded to Billie Holiday’s “Billie’s Blues”. I suspect there might have been a few disappointed people in the audience if a “Tribute to the Blues Dames” hadn’t included something from ‘Lady Day’.

The duo went “way back” to pay tribute to the 1920s blues singer Gertrude “Ma” Rainey with the authentically vintage sounds of “Runaway Blues”. Due to the technical limitations of the time the lyrics on Rainey’s recordings are often difficult to decipher, so here Nade included some of her own, but without losing the essential feel of the song.

Another original, “Kiss This Troubled Mind”, was again sourced from the “Hard To Forget” album.
Most of the originals came from the earlier recording, mainly because they were more suited to the sparse instrumental configuration and the overall context of the blues themed evening. Chocolate truffles were on the menu here.

Another trip back to the 1920s for Bessie Smith’s Depression Era lament “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”. The song, covered by artists as diverse as Nina Simone and Eric Clapton, retains a worrying pertinence nearly a century later.

From the “Safe Place” album “La La Larve (Deja Vu Refrain)” offered a little light relief with its witty observations on the absurdities of falling in love.

It was back to the Thornton catalogue for the lascivious lullaby “Rock a Bye Baby”.

The performance then ended as it began, with a return to the world of the gospel blues and Sister Rosetta’s “Journey To The Skies”.

Nade had got the audience eating out of her hand by this time, must have been all those recipes, and a deserved encore was inevitable.

She returned solo to perform the original song “Minds Made Up”, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar. Another song chronicling the pains of love and loss this was an intimate and poignant performance. One could have heard the proverbial pin drop in a hushed room with the audience hanging on every word.

Nade and Carter first performed together at the regular Bristol all female music night ‘Lady Sings’, and it was fitting that the guitarist, who had added so much to the success of the evening, should return to the stage. The duo rounded things off with the song “Ain’t One Thing” with Nade talking about the ‘cocktail’ of different influences on her music.

This was my first visit to Wall2Wall 2019 and I was delighted to see the Festival getting off to such a successful start. I shall miss the visit to the Jazz Lounge by the roots artist Sicknote Steve, an event for which advance ticket sales have ironically been very healthy, but will return to cover the bulk of the Festival over the main weekend.

My thanks to Nade and Holly for speaking with me afterwards and to Nade for gifting me copies of both her albums. These feature her performing in the company of a full band, sadly not including Carter, and the resultant arrangements have more of a pop sheen about them. But there’s no doubting the quality of her songs, many of them written in conjunction with other band members. That warm, soulful voice is there too, at the heart of songs that largely explore the joy and pain of romantic relationships.

These are classy productions that embrace elements of jazz, blues, soul and folk but which would normally be a bit too close to the pop mainstream for my personal tastes. However seeing many of the songs performed live in an intimate duo situation imbues them with an extra resonance and significance. I’ve been listening to both albums while writing this and have to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed both of them.

Nade’s adaptability and the quality of her singing and playing, allied to the warmth of her personality, should ensure that her profile continues to rise. Her music has the capability to appeal to a wide musical constituency, something that was reflected in brisk CD sales this evening, and the presence of a clutch of younger listeners among the usual greying jazz audience.

 

Laura Jurd - Stepping Back, Jumping In Rating: 4 out of 5 The mix of jazz, classical, folk, world and electronic elements is truly unique, yet it all comes together to create an impressively coherent whole, with Jurd’s vision the unifying force.

Laura Jurd

“Stepping Back, Jumping In”

(Edition Records EDN1131)

 Trumpeter, keyboard player and composer Laura Jurd has attracted a compelling amount of critical praise since exploding into the British jazz consciousness in 2013 with the release of her astonishingly mature début album “Landing Ground”, with its stunning mix of jazz and classical elements and influences.

A graduate of London’s Trinity Laban College of Music the Hampshire born Jurd has continued to traverse musical boundaries. 2014’s sprawling and ambitious “Human Spirit” introduced a folk element and was a semi-conceptual song cycle featuring the extraordinary vocals of the Irish born singer Lauren Kinsella.

Jurd and Kinsella united again as the female half of the quartet Blue-Eyed Hawk which fused elements of jazz, literature and indie rock together on 2014’s superb “Under the Moon” album. The band also featured guitarist Alex Roth and drummer Corrie Dick.

Dick, pianist Elliot Galvin and bassist Conor Chaplin have formed the core of Jurd’s working band from the beginning, first as the Laura Jurd Quartet and more recently as Dinosaur. All are members of the Chaos Collective, an aggregation of former Trinity students forged in the wake of the influential F-ire and Loop Collectives. Under Jurd’s direction the large ensemble Chaos Orchestra recorded the album “Island Mentality” which was released on the Collective’s own label in 2013.

Dinosaur’s 2016 début “Together As One” (Edition) attracted a compelling amount of critical acclaim and was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. A similar amount of praise was lavished on its 2018 follow up “Wonder Trail” and the success of Dinosaur has ensured that the group has been Jurd’s main focus in the last few years.

However, like most jazz performers, Jurd isn’t the kind of musician to put all her eggs in one basket. A restlessly inquisitive and highly versatile musician she has also appeared in a variety of other contexts ranging from the free to the straight-ahead (the latter alongside veteran saxophonist Art Themen) and she and Dick appeared on Phronesis’ bassist Jasper Hoiby’s début solo album “Fellow Creatures”. Jurd has also featured in bands led by saxophonist Phil Meadows, and Mark Lockheart, bassist Huw V Williams and in Wildflower Sextet, the Wayne Shorter inspired group led by saxophonist Matt Anderson. She has performed and recorded with trombonist Raphael Clarkson’s large ensemble Dissolute Society and guested on Sarah Gillespie’s most recent album “Wishbones”.

Jurd’s first album for five years under her own name harks back to the classical and folk fusions of “Landing Ground” and “Human Spirit”. It’s possible that the seeds for the project were first sown in 2016 when Dinosaur collaborated with the BBC Concert Orchestra in a special event at the Royal Festival Hall that formed part of that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival.

However “Stepping Back, Jumping In” is different again and features a fourteen piece ensemble that includes some of Jurd’s favourite musicians, the personnel coming from a range of musical backgrounds, including jazz, classical, world music and electronica,

Of the album title Jurd explains;
“It simply refers to the notion of perspective, having a broader view of one’s experiences in order to make bold, impactful choices and jump into the unknown. It felt apt for a project of this magnitude, having not released anything under my own name for a few years.”

The project was initially commissioned by Kings Place, London as part of their “Venus Unwrapped” series, with St. George’s, Bristol and The Sage, Gateshead also commissioning new works. The Sage also provided the recording space and the music was documented over the course of two days in March 2019 by the much lauded recording engineer Sonny Johns.

The ensemble lined up as follows;

Laura Jurd – trumpet

Raphael Clarkson – trombone (tracks 3,5 & 6)
Alex Paxton – trombone (tracks 1 & 2)

Martin Lee Thomson – euphonium

Soosan Lolovar – santoor

Rob Luft – banjo, guitars

The Ligeti Quartet;
Mandhira De Saram - violin
Patrick Dawes – violin
Richard Jones – viola
Cecilia Bignall – cello

Elliot Galvin – piano

Anja Lauvdal – synth, electronics

Conor Chaplin – double bass

Liz Exell – drum kit

Corrie Dick – drum kit

Jurd says of the ensemble;
“The ensemble consists of brass, string quartet (the Ligeti Quartet who featured on my début album ‘Landing Ground’), banjo/acoustic guitar and santoor – adding texture and welcome influences from other musical traditions- as well as piano, double bass and drums/percussion. The wild-card of this entirely acoustic ensemble is Anja Lauvdal who plays synth/electronics and works with the successful alt-pop group Broen. I’m a huge fan of Anja’s and knew that she would create sounds that would sit within the ensemble perfectly”.

The album features compositions from five different composers with Jurd, Galvin, Lolavar, Lauvdal and Heida K. Johannesdottir all contributing to the writing process.

The album commences with Jurd’s own “Jumping In”, a near eleven minute tour de force that skilfully brings together the various elements of the ensemble and embraces broad range of influences, skilfully stitching the diverse strands into a coherent whole. The music is restless, edgy and energetic and features several changes of style, pace and dynamics. Free jazz episodes alternate with banjo driven glimpses of Americana, the contemporary classical sounds of the Ligetis, and more. Jurd plays with an admirable fluency and urgency while Exell and Dick embark on an exciting and engaging drum and percussion battle. Jurd even finds room to incorporate the sound of the dulcimer like santoor. There’s a restlessness about the music and a willingness to experiment with different stylistic elements that reminds me of the work of Django Bates. For all its unorthodoxies “Jumping In” is a hugely exciting opening to the album, a real roller coaster ride of a composition that consistently keeps the listener on the edge of their seat.

Elliot Galvin, one of Jurd’s longest serving musical collaborators, is also known for his eclectic writing style and is described by his colleague as “one of the most captivating performers in European jazz”. His composition, “Ishtar”, represents something of a departure from the short, quirky, energetic, enigmatic pieces that he writes for his own trio. Instead it is a twelve minute excursion, more concerned with narrative and mood building than it is with Galvin’s usual irreverence. Jurd mentions the influence upon Galvin of modern classical composers Gyorgy Ligeti and George Crumb and their presence is felt here, together with Galvin’s jazz and improv sensibilities. Woozy, droning string textures combine with the plucked and hammered sounds of banjo, double bass and santoor, plus brass, percussion and the composer’s own piano. In the middle of the tune a passage of otherwise unaccompanied piano is subtly augmented by Lauvdal’s electronics. Subsequently Jurd’s breathy, Henriksen-esque trumpet whisper comes to the fore, followed by passages featuring deeper brass sonorities, odd meter drum grooves and a trombone solo from the impressive Alex Paxton. The final section is deeply atmospheric, with an almost funereal feel. Nevertheless as a piece of music it remains totally compelling.

Next we hear “I Am The Spring, You Are The Earth”, a piece written by santoor player Soosan Lolavar, of whom Jurd says;
“I met Soosan at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance, where we both teach composition. Of Iranian heritage, I was really intrigued by her interest in traditional Iranian music and how she incorporates that in her own writing. She operates in more ‘classical’ circles and I was excited by the prospect of her writing for improvising musicians.”
The piece features the distinctive sound of the composer’s santoor above a bed of ominously droning strings, while Luft adds atmospheric slide guitar and Galvin glacially twinkling piano.
Tension builds almost imperceptibly, to be released by a salvo of drums and a fanfare of brass as it enters more obvious ‘contemporary classical avant garde’ territory, before gradually subsiding once more, ending with an eerie keyboard drone.

Jurd’s “Jump Cut Shuffle” was written specifically for the Ligetis and features the quartet exclusively, its members deploying a variety of bowed and pizzicato sounds to excellent effect.
At nearly nine and a half minutes in length the writing embraces a variety of styles ranging from contemporary classical through folk to gypsy jazz, but with the emphasis mainly on the former. Having worked with Jurd before the Ligetis are more than capable of handling the challenges the trumpeter / composer throws their way. De Saram has also worked with saxophonist Trish Clowes as part of her Emulsion Sinfonietta, while guest cellist Bignall has previously collaborated with vibraphonist Ralph Wyld.

“Companion Species” was jointly written by Lauvdal and Johannesdottir, with Jurd offering the following insights into the pair and their work;
“Keyboardist Anja Lauvdal and tuba player Heida Karine Johannesdottir are two of my favourite musicians from Oslo, Norway. They play regularly as an improvising duo and in a number of collaborative ensembles of various styles, including alt-pop group Broen. I love their collaborative, democratic approach to composition.  The way they occupy space as improvisers is also a huge inspiration to me and it was a delight to be a part of their music and to play with Anja for the first time.”
As multi-faceted as anything else on the album “Companion Species” commences with the scintillating soloing of Lolavar on accompanied santoor before embracing elements of avant garde jazz and electronica, a series of drum explosions eventually triggering a complex but infectious groove that provides the jumping off point for a forceful trumpet solo from Jurd and a slippery outing on guitar like synth from Lauvdal. Elsewhere fidgety electronica and pizzicato strings weave their way in and out of the mix. Incidentally Lauvdal is also a member of the trio Moskus, an innovative contemporary variant of the piano trio.

The album concludes with Jurd’s “Stepping Back”, the companion piece to the album opener. It’s less frenetic but no less inventive and colourful, with Jurd again making use of the broad sonic palette available to her. Again a broad range of sounds and musical styles is heard with the leader’s trumpet variously complemented by synths, brass and strings. The piece has a more pastoral feel than the opener and a more pronounced folk element. It concludes an often frenetic album on a pleasingly calming note.

“Stepping Back, Jumping In” is a truly a remarkable album, one that features what must surely be a unique instrumental line up. With so many diverse musical components and with so many hands involved in the composing process it really shouldn’t work, and yet it does, with Jurd’s vision, playing and presence the unifying force that brings it all together.

The mix of jazz, classical, folk, world and electronic elements is truly unique yet it all comes together to create an impressively coherent whole, a musical synthesis that embodies the spirit of the Edition label. It’s very much to Edition’s credit that this music, which had been performed live, but which might otherwise have vanished into the ether, has been documented on disc. This an adventurous, daring album that criss-crosses many musical boundaries and it represents a very worthy follow up to the similarly genre fluid “Landing Ground” and “Human Spirit”.

The openness of the new album and its willingness to experiment and blur musical and geographical boundaries is also wholly typical of Laura Jurd and represents another successful chapter in a remarkable musical career.

That said it won’t appeal to all listeners. Die hard jazz fans may find it all too musically schizophrenic and cite a lack of conventional jazz swing. However many more listeners will applaud Jurd’s sense of adventure and the all round skill and quality of this unique ensemble.

Stepping Back, Jumping In

Laura Jurd

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Stepping Back, Jumping In

The mix of jazz, classical, folk, world and electronic elements is truly unique, yet it all comes together to create an impressively coherent whole, with Jurd’s vision the unifying force.

Laura Jurd

“Stepping Back, Jumping In”

(Edition Records EDN1131)

 Trumpeter, keyboard player and composer Laura Jurd has attracted a compelling amount of critical praise since exploding into the British jazz consciousness in 2013 with the release of her astonishingly mature début album “Landing Ground”, with its stunning mix of jazz and classical elements and influences.

A graduate of London’s Trinity Laban College of Music the Hampshire born Jurd has continued to traverse musical boundaries. 2014’s sprawling and ambitious “Human Spirit” introduced a folk element and was a semi-conceptual song cycle featuring the extraordinary vocals of the Irish born singer Lauren Kinsella.

Jurd and Kinsella united again as the female half of the quartet Blue-Eyed Hawk which fused elements of jazz, literature and indie rock together on 2014’s superb “Under the Moon” album. The band also featured guitarist Alex Roth and drummer Corrie Dick.

Dick, pianist Elliot Galvin and bassist Conor Chaplin have formed the core of Jurd’s working band from the beginning, first as the Laura Jurd Quartet and more recently as Dinosaur. All are members of the Chaos Collective, an aggregation of former Trinity students forged in the wake of the influential F-ire and Loop Collectives. Under Jurd’s direction the large ensemble Chaos Orchestra recorded the album “Island Mentality” which was released on the Collective’s own label in 2013.

Dinosaur’s 2016 début “Together As One” (Edition) attracted a compelling amount of critical acclaim and was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. A similar amount of praise was lavished on its 2018 follow up “Wonder Trail” and the success of Dinosaur has ensured that the group has been Jurd’s main focus in the last few years.

However, like most jazz performers, Jurd isn’t the kind of musician to put all her eggs in one basket. A restlessly inquisitive and highly versatile musician she has also appeared in a variety of other contexts ranging from the free to the straight-ahead (the latter alongside veteran saxophonist Art Themen) and she and Dick appeared on Phronesis’ bassist Jasper Hoiby’s début solo album “Fellow Creatures”. Jurd has also featured in bands led by saxophonist Phil Meadows, and Mark Lockheart, bassist Huw V Williams and in Wildflower Sextet, the Wayne Shorter inspired group led by saxophonist Matt Anderson. She has performed and recorded with trombonist Raphael Clarkson’s large ensemble Dissolute Society and guested on Sarah Gillespie’s most recent album “Wishbones”.

Jurd’s first album for five years under her own name harks back to the classical and folk fusions of “Landing Ground” and “Human Spirit”. It’s possible that the seeds for the project were first sown in 2016 when Dinosaur collaborated with the BBC Concert Orchestra in a special event at the Royal Festival Hall that formed part of that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival.

However “Stepping Back, Jumping In” is different again and features a fourteen piece ensemble that includes some of Jurd’s favourite musicians, the personnel coming from a range of musical backgrounds, including jazz, classical, world music and electronica,

Of the album title Jurd explains;
“It simply refers to the notion of perspective, having a broader view of one’s experiences in order to make bold, impactful choices and jump into the unknown. It felt apt for a project of this magnitude, having not released anything under my own name for a few years.”

The project was initially commissioned by Kings Place, London as part of their “Venus Unwrapped” series, with St. George’s, Bristol and The Sage, Gateshead also commissioning new works. The Sage also provided the recording space and the music was documented over the course of two days in March 2019 by the much lauded recording engineer Sonny Johns.

The ensemble lined up as follows;

Laura Jurd – trumpet

Raphael Clarkson – trombone (tracks 3,5 & 6)
Alex Paxton – trombone (tracks 1 & 2)

Martin Lee Thomson – euphonium

Soosan Lolovar – santoor

Rob Luft – banjo, guitars

The Ligeti Quartet;
Mandhira De Saram - violin
Patrick Dawes – violin
Richard Jones – viola
Cecilia Bignall – cello

Elliot Galvin – piano

Anja Lauvdal – synth, electronics

Conor Chaplin – double bass

Liz Exell – drum kit

Corrie Dick – drum kit

Jurd says of the ensemble;
“The ensemble consists of brass, string quartet (the Ligeti Quartet who featured on my début album ‘Landing Ground’), banjo/acoustic guitar and santoor – adding texture and welcome influences from other musical traditions- as well as piano, double bass and drums/percussion. The wild-card of this entirely acoustic ensemble is Anja Lauvdal who plays synth/electronics and works with the successful alt-pop group Broen. I’m a huge fan of Anja’s and knew that she would create sounds that would sit within the ensemble perfectly”.

The album features compositions from five different composers with Jurd, Galvin, Lolavar, Lauvdal and Heida K. Johannesdottir all contributing to the writing process.

The album commences with Jurd’s own “Jumping In”, a near eleven minute tour de force that skilfully brings together the various elements of the ensemble and embraces broad range of influences, skilfully stitching the diverse strands into a coherent whole. The music is restless, edgy and energetic and features several changes of style, pace and dynamics. Free jazz episodes alternate with banjo driven glimpses of Americana, the contemporary classical sounds of the Ligetis, and more. Jurd plays with an admirable fluency and urgency while Exell and Dick embark on an exciting and engaging drum and percussion battle. Jurd even finds room to incorporate the sound of the dulcimer like santoor. There’s a restlessness about the music and a willingness to experiment with different stylistic elements that reminds me of the work of Django Bates. For all its unorthodoxies “Jumping In” is a hugely exciting opening to the album, a real roller coaster ride of a composition that consistently keeps the listener on the edge of their seat.

Elliot Galvin, one of Jurd’s longest serving musical collaborators, is also known for his eclectic writing style and is described by his colleague as “one of the most captivating performers in European jazz”. His composition, “Ishtar”, represents something of a departure from the short, quirky, energetic, enigmatic pieces that he writes for his own trio. Instead it is a twelve minute excursion, more concerned with narrative and mood building than it is with Galvin’s usual irreverence. Jurd mentions the influence upon Galvin of modern classical composers Gyorgy Ligeti and George Crumb and their presence is felt here, together with Galvin’s jazz and improv sensibilities. Woozy, droning string textures combine with the plucked and hammered sounds of banjo, double bass and santoor, plus brass, percussion and the composer’s own piano. In the middle of the tune a passage of otherwise unaccompanied piano is subtly augmented by Lauvdal’s electronics. Subsequently Jurd’s breathy, Henriksen-esque trumpet whisper comes to the fore, followed by passages featuring deeper brass sonorities, odd meter drum grooves and a trombone solo from the impressive Alex Paxton. The final section is deeply atmospheric, with an almost funereal feel. Nevertheless as a piece of music it remains totally compelling.

Next we hear “I Am The Spring, You Are The Earth”, a piece written by santoor player Soosan Lolavar, of whom Jurd says;
“I met Soosan at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance, where we both teach composition. Of Iranian heritage, I was really intrigued by her interest in traditional Iranian music and how she incorporates that in her own writing. She operates in more ‘classical’ circles and I was excited by the prospect of her writing for improvising musicians.”
The piece features the distinctive sound of the composer’s santoor above a bed of ominously droning strings, while Luft adds atmospheric slide guitar and Galvin glacially twinkling piano.
Tension builds almost imperceptibly, to be released by a salvo of drums and a fanfare of brass as it enters more obvious ‘contemporary classical avant garde’ territory, before gradually subsiding once more, ending with an eerie keyboard drone.

Jurd’s “Jump Cut Shuffle” was written specifically for the Ligetis and features the quartet exclusively, its members deploying a variety of bowed and pizzicato sounds to excellent effect.
At nearly nine and a half minutes in length the writing embraces a variety of styles ranging from contemporary classical through folk to gypsy jazz, but with the emphasis mainly on the former. Having worked with Jurd before the Ligetis are more than capable of handling the challenges the trumpeter / composer throws their way. De Saram has also worked with saxophonist Trish Clowes as part of her Emulsion Sinfonietta, while guest cellist Bignall has previously collaborated with vibraphonist Ralph Wyld.

“Companion Species” was jointly written by Lauvdal and Johannesdottir, with Jurd offering the following insights into the pair and their work;
“Keyboardist Anja Lauvdal and tuba player Heida Karine Johannesdottir are two of my favourite musicians from Oslo, Norway. They play regularly as an improvising duo and in a number of collaborative ensembles of various styles, including alt-pop group Broen. I love their collaborative, democratic approach to composition.  The way they occupy space as improvisers is also a huge inspiration to me and it was a delight to be a part of their music and to play with Anja for the first time.”
As multi-faceted as anything else on the album “Companion Species” commences with the scintillating soloing of Lolavar on accompanied santoor before embracing elements of avant garde jazz and electronica, a series of drum explosions eventually triggering a complex but infectious groove that provides the jumping off point for a forceful trumpet solo from Jurd and a slippery outing on guitar like synth from Lauvdal. Elsewhere fidgety electronica and pizzicato strings weave their way in and out of the mix. Incidentally Lauvdal is also a member of the trio Moskus, an innovative contemporary variant of the piano trio.

The album concludes with Jurd’s “Stepping Back”, the companion piece to the album opener. It’s less frenetic but no less inventive and colourful, with Jurd again making use of the broad sonic palette available to her. Again a broad range of sounds and musical styles is heard with the leader’s trumpet variously complemented by synths, brass and strings. The piece has a more pastoral feel than the opener and a more pronounced folk element. It concludes an often frenetic album on a pleasingly calming note.

“Stepping Back, Jumping In” is a truly a remarkable album, one that features what must surely be a unique instrumental line up. With so many diverse musical components and with so many hands involved in the composing process it really shouldn’t work, and yet it does, with Jurd’s vision, playing and presence the unifying force that brings it all together.

The mix of jazz, classical, folk, world and electronic elements is truly unique yet it all comes together to create an impressively coherent whole, a musical synthesis that embodies the spirit of the Edition label. It’s very much to Edition’s credit that this music, which had been performed live, but which might otherwise have vanished into the ether, has been documented on disc. This an adventurous, daring album that criss-crosses many musical boundaries and it represents a very worthy follow up to the similarly genre fluid “Landing Ground” and “Human Spirit”.

The openness of the new album and its willingness to experiment and blur musical and geographical boundaries is also wholly typical of Laura Jurd and represents another successful chapter in a remarkable musical career.

That said it won’t appeal to all listeners. Die hard jazz fans may find it all too musically schizophrenic and cite a lack of conventional jazz swing. However many more listeners will applaud Jurd’s sense of adventure and the all round skill and quality of this unique ensemble.

Nuadha Quartet - Nuadha Quartet, “Jazz In The Garden”, Chapter House Garden, Hereford Cathedral, 23/08/2019. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Ian Mann enjoys the music of Nuadha Quartet and takes a look at their debut album "Cabin Tales". He also sings the praises of Hereford Cathedral's popular "Jazz In The Garden" series of musical events

Nuadha Quartet, Chapter House Garden, Hereford Cathedral, 23/08/2019.

Colin Tully – keyboard, Chris Egan – reeds, Carlos Riba – electric bass, Pedro Brown – drums, percussion

Today’s performance was the last in Hereford Cathedral’s popular “Jazz In The Garden” series, which features free music events in the delightful setting of the Chapter House Garden in the precincts of Hereford Cathedral.

This now well established series has traditionally featured leading local musicians playing from 1.00 pm to 2.15 pm each Friday lunchtime during August, but such has been the popularity of these events that the programme has now been extended and this year commenced in mid July. “Jazz In The Garden” regularly attracts audiences in the region of two hundred and has become a much loved local institution, something that its many fans look forward to every year.

The success of the series has allowed the Cathedral to attract the cream of local talent, and also musicians from further away. The quality of the acts has improved since the very early days and whatever the genre a high standard of musicianship is now a given.

In the context of this series the term “jazz” is used fairly loosely, but it is still an important component of much of the music on offer. This year’s programme has included the raunchy jazz, blues and soul of the Hannah Lockerman Band, contrasted by the smoother sounds of the Debs Hancock Quartet, where the emphasis was more strongly focussed on jazz standards and the ‘Great American Songbook’.

Local heroes Whiskey River brought their distinctive brand of Americana with its blend of cajun, blues and country while Little Rumba delivered a wry and witty mix of tango, klezmer, Berlin cabaret and Tom Waits.

Due to my presence at Brecon Jazz Festival the only act I missed this year was Hoi Polloi, a new band said to provide “a blend of classic jazz standards and well known contemporary tunes, all arranged in a unique jazz/swing/funk/latin style”.

Previous series have seen visits from guitar virtuoso Remi Harris and his trio bringing a mix of gypsy jazz and blues rock, and from the quintet led by trumpeter Jamie Brownfield and saxophonist Liam Byrne, two young lions offering a contemporary take on the classic hard bop style.
Harris, Brownfield/Byrne and Debs Hancock have all been covered in greater detail elsewhere on the Jazzmann.

The Chapter House Garden is a delightful performance space, a real sun-trap and a riot of colour thanks to the iridescent blooms brightening up the borders. The musicians play beneath a small gazebo on the raised, grass covered area in the centre of the Garden, with the audience arranged around them in a semi-circle. It really is a delightful way to spend a sunny lunchtime in summer, especially with the Cathedral café open and doing good business.

In the event of rain the performance is moved inside and takes place in the Nave, a beautiful performance space in itself. This year rain affected two gigs, but Whiskey River played inside to an audience of 250 while Debs Hancock attracted a similarly healthy attendance, with Guy Shotton being able to make use of the Cathedral’s piano rather then an electric keyboard. Rain doesn’t necessarily place too much of a damper on proceedings.

The 2019 “Jazz In The Garden” series was financially supported by five different local sponsors, which was impressive, and a great tribute to the Cathedral’s marketing department.

I haven’t reviewed a “Jazz In The Garden” event before as they are free events with a retiring collection and I usually drop a fiver on to the offertory plate. Besides it’s nice to just sit back and relax and enjoy the music sometimes, without the bother of taking notes, and the chilled out atmosphere of these events is particularly conducive to that.

Today, however, was different. Earlier in the year, around February or March, Pedro Brown forwarded me a copy of Nuadha Quartet’s début album, “Cabin Tales”, with a view to my writing a review. I listened to, and enjoyed, the album, but could find precious little about the group on line, and no information about where to buy the album, other than at gigs. It seemed a little counter productive to write about a recording that largely seemed to be unavailable, so I let it slide.

However Nuadha Quartet have since updated their website, http://www.nuadhaquartet.com, which now looks very impressive and professional, and the album is now available via their Bandcamp page.

With this in mind I decided that now would be a good time to take a fresh look at “Cabin Tales”, incorporating this with a review of the quartet in live performance. It also allows me to give a national plug for a great local music series, “Jazz In The Garden”, that readers outside Herefordshire and the Welsh Borders might hitherto have been unfamiliar with.

Nuadha Quartet is comprised of musicians living in the Monmouthshire and Herefordshire areas. First formed in 2016 the group initially traded as the Blue Sky Quartet before a change of moniker was enforced by the presence of another band on the circuit with a similar name.

The new name is representative of leader Colin Tully’s Scottish roots. Tully is the most high profile member of Nuadha Quartet having composed the soundtracks to two Bill Forsyth films, including the hit picture “Gregory’s Girl”. Also an accomplished alto saxophonist Tully worked as a sideman on this instrument for the late, great John Martyn. He has also worked with the bands Cado Belle and Sensorium.

Concentrating on keyboards with Nuadha Tully is happy to delegate saxophone duties to the experienced Chris Egan, who plays tenor and soprano, plus bass clarinet. Egan studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and his tutors have included British saxophone greats Tim Garland and Iain Ballamy. Egan also spent ten years living in Peru and playing with South American musicians. It’s an experience that informs both his playing and his writing. Currently he also plays with the Ross on Wye based Red River Blues band, a popular attraction on the local gig circuit.

Bassist Carlos Riba hails from Barcelona but is now based in the UK. He has worked on the Spanish music scene and has also spent some time in London. An electric bass specialist he names Jaco Pastorius as a seminal influence, and this is very much reflected in his playing.

Herefordshire based Pedro Brown is a highly popular musician with local audiences. This was his second gig of the Jazz In The Garden series following his recent appearance with the Hannah Lockerman Band. Brown also plays occasionally with an expanded version of Whiskey River. He, too, is an accomplished saxophonist and has released two instrumental solo albums featuring himself on drums, percussion, saxophone and keyboards. Something of a renaissance man Brown has travelled widely, always with camera to hand, and his photographs from visits to China, Africa, Australia and North America have been exhibited widely. He also photographs fellow musicians at the Cheltenham and Brecon Jazz Festivals. Brown’s travelling experiences are also reflected in his playing and his use of instruments such as the djembe, darabuka and shekere.

The majority of Nuadha Quartet’s material is composed by Tully or Egan, plus a handful of well chosen covers, including arrangements of traditional Scottish folk material. “Cabin Tales” is comprised mainly of original tunes and it was good to see them today putting the focus firmly on original material. As good as the other gigs in this year’s “Jazz In The Garden” series have been few of them have featured original writing, with the exception of Little Rumba, who included several of their own songs.

As Blue Sky Quartet today’s line up played in the Nave as part of the 2017 series (it must have been a wet day) and the emphasis then was more on covers, including tunes Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Chick Corea, Weather Report and The Yellowjackets as I seem to recall. That performance was enjoyable but in the intervening two years Nuadha Quartet have really kicked on, writing and recording an album and putting the focus on their own compositions. The 2019 version of the group is tighter, more assured and more professional than it was two years ago. Even Tully, a reluctant announcer of tunes, seems more confident and relaxed.

Drawing subtly on Gaelic, South American and North African influences Nuadha Quartet’s music is probably best described as softly melodic fusion. That’s a summation that probably does them a disservice, suggesting that their music is bland and soporific. However that’s not really the case, their sound may be accessible enough for first time listeners to take to it straight away, as they did today, but there’s still a keen musical intelligence at work. Both Tully and Egan write memorable tunes capable of a broad appeal, but they also leave room for the soloists to stretch out in rewarding fashion.

Much of the album material was featured in today’s set as the Quartet commenced with album opener “For Love We Are Yearning”, written by Tully. A strong melody was augmented by the exotic sounds of Brown on djembe and shakers, in addition to kit drums. The memorable theme was enhanced by solos from Tully at the keyboard, Egan on tenor sax and Riba on electric bass, the latter’s liquidly melodic playing sounding very Pastorius like.

“Footsteps”, a non album track presumably written by Tully, found Egan stating the theme on tenor sax, before subsequently developing it during the course of his ensuing solo. Further solos came from Riba and Tully, the latter adopting a classic electric piano, or ‘Rhodes,’ sound on his Korg keyboard throughout today’s set.

Another new song, “The Lima Tango”, from the pen of Egan, added a dash of South American exotica with its composer switching to soprano sax. A pleasingly quirky mix of jazz and tango, the piece featured a complex but engaging theme and a fascinating amalgam of rhythms. Room was given for expansive solos from Tully at the keyboard, and Egan, probing incisively on soprano.

“Brother James’ Prayer”, credited on the album sleeve to Bain/Tully, was based on a Gaelic folk tune from Tully’s childhood. Introduced with a passage of unaccompanied piano the piece also featured the soft, breathy tenor sax of Egan as he and Tully engaged in an extended duet. Riba’s languidly melodic electric bass and Brown’s mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers added to the atmosphere. The adoption of a more conventional jazz rhythm led to solos for tenor sax, keyboard and electric bass, the latter even injecting a subtle element of funkiness to the Celtic inspired melodies.

Named after a South American god Egan’s “Kukulkan’s Feather” was a fascinating piece that Tully described as “coming from South America via Morocco”.  With its composer again moving to soprano sax this thoroughly engaging piece of ‘world jazz’ embraced Brown’s exotic percussive rhythms and the North African / Arabic inspired modality of Egan’s soprano sax explorations. Tully’s shimmering keys and Riba’s underpinning bass growl found their own space within this multi-cultural musical terrain.

The first ‘outside’ item was a beautiful arrangement of the Abdullah Ibrahim composition “Blue Bolero”, which was introduced by a duo of shimmering keyboards and languid electric bass with Riba stating the theme before handing over to Egan, still on soprano, for the first solo. Tully followed on keys before a further, more extended feature for Riba’s Pastorius inspired electric bass.

From the album Tully’s “Conte Sul” emerged out of a free jazz style intro featuring the exchanges of Egan’s tenor and Brown’s drums and percussion. Subsequently a more orthodox Latin-esque groove was adopted, this providing the jumping off point for solos from Egan on tenor and Tully at the keyboard, plus a closing drum feature from Brown.

A sly funk element had been present in many of the Quartet’s tunes and this became more overt on “Some Funk for J.P.”, a tune dedicated to the Bristol based jazz organist John-Paul Gard, a musician with whom several members of the Quartet have previously worked. Here seductive, subtly funky grooves formed the basis for solos from Riba, Tully, and Brown at the kit once more.

From the album Tully’s “Jock and Shona” (the Gaelic equivalent of ‘Jack and Jill’) introduced a strong Celtic folk feel with its sprightly, Gaelic inspired melodies floating above Brown’s crisply brushed drum grooves as Egan on soprano, Tully at the keyboard and Riba on electric bass provided the solos. Despite the absence of the instrument I was reminded of the music of the Scottish trumpeter and composer Colin Steele, who regularly writes material featuring folk inspired melodies.

Today’s performance concluded with the band playing a sure-fire audience pleaser, their arrangement of the song “What a Wonderful World”, made famous of course by Louis Armstrong.
This instrumental version brought out the beauty of the melody, with Riba carrying it on electric bass prior to solos from Egan on soprano and Tully at the keyboard. Brown’s brushed drum grooves kept things ticking along nicely as Nuadh Quartet were awarded an excellent reception for today’s performance of largely original music. The positive reaction was vary much deserved, as the band had performed with great skill and precision throughout.

Unfortunately time was up, although when chatting to Pedro and Chris afterwards I noted that they did have a couple of ‘spares’ in the set-list, the album track “Hughie Graham”, an arrangement of a traditional Scottish Borders tune, and a version of Pat Metheny’s “Phase Dance”, that I seem to recall them playing in 2017. Speaking as a big Metheny fan it would have been nice to have heard that again today. Also we didn’t get to hear Egan on bass clarinet, the instrument being present on stage, but remaining unplayed.

Nevertheless this was an excellent way to round off the 2019 “Jazz In The Garden Programme” and its return in 2020 will give many Herefordshire music fans something to look forward to over the cold winter months.

The track listing for “Cabin Tales” is;

1. For Love We Are Yearning
2. Hughie Graham
3.Brother James’ Prayer
4. Kukulkan’s Feather
5.You Can See It Everywhere
6.Conte Sul
7.Jock and Shona
8. Procrastination Blues
9. What a Wonderful World


Six of these were played today. Of the others the traditional “Hughie Graham” combines folk melodies with jazz harmonies and instrumentation, with Brown providing an exotic percussive presence, Riba briefly taking on the melody, and more orthodox jazz solos from Tully and Egan, the latter on tenor. Interestingly Tully appears on acoustic piano, the album featuring a mix of acoustic and electric keyboards.

Tully’s own “You Can See It Everywhere” is gently melodic, part ballad, part anthem, with its gentle melodies, liquid electric bass, softly trilling electric piano and neatly detailed but unobtrusive drumming. There’s even a little uncredited wordless vocalising, plus a gently probing tenor solo from the consistently impressive Egan.

Meanwhile Egan’s own “Procrastination Blues” is actually refreshingly uncomplicated, a genuine blues that features the composer’s straight ahead tenor playing backed by a swinging groove. Tully features on electric piano, but one could also imagine John-Paul Gard weighing in here on Hammond. Brown also gets to enjoy an extended feature behind the kit.

The day after their Hereford performance Nuadha Quartet were due to appear at the Aber Jazz & Blues Festival in Fishguard. The band’s profile is clearly beginning to rise, and the intelligent, melodic fusion of “Cabin Tales”, with its diverse jazz and folk influences, is well worth checking out.

Nuadha Quartet, “Jazz In The Garden”, Chapter House Garden, Hereford Cathedral, 23/08/2019.

Nuadha Quartet

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Nuadha Quartet, “Jazz In The Garden”, Chapter House Garden, Hereford Cathedral, 23/08/2019.

Ian Mann enjoys the music of Nuadha Quartet and takes a look at their debut album "Cabin Tales". He also sings the praises of Hereford Cathedral's popular "Jazz In The Garden" series of musical events

Nuadha Quartet, Chapter House Garden, Hereford Cathedral, 23/08/2019.

Colin Tully – keyboard, Chris Egan – reeds, Carlos Riba – electric bass, Pedro Brown – drums, percussion

Today’s performance was the last in Hereford Cathedral’s popular “Jazz In The Garden” series, which features free music events in the delightful setting of the Chapter House Garden in the precincts of Hereford Cathedral.

This now well established series has traditionally featured leading local musicians playing from 1.00 pm to 2.15 pm each Friday lunchtime during August, but such has been the popularity of these events that the programme has now been extended and this year commenced in mid July. “Jazz In The Garden” regularly attracts audiences in the region of two hundred and has become a much loved local institution, something that its many fans look forward to every year.

The success of the series has allowed the Cathedral to attract the cream of local talent, and also musicians from further away. The quality of the acts has improved since the very early days and whatever the genre a high standard of musicianship is now a given.

In the context of this series the term “jazz” is used fairly loosely, but it is still an important component of much of the music on offer. This year’s programme has included the raunchy jazz, blues and soul of the Hannah Lockerman Band, contrasted by the smoother sounds of the Debs Hancock Quartet, where the emphasis was more strongly focussed on jazz standards and the ‘Great American Songbook’.

Local heroes Whiskey River brought their distinctive brand of Americana with its blend of cajun, blues and country while Little Rumba delivered a wry and witty mix of tango, klezmer, Berlin cabaret and Tom Waits.

Due to my presence at Brecon Jazz Festival the only act I missed this year was Hoi Polloi, a new band said to provide “a blend of classic jazz standards and well known contemporary tunes, all arranged in a unique jazz/swing/funk/latin style”.

Previous series have seen visits from guitar virtuoso Remi Harris and his trio bringing a mix of gypsy jazz and blues rock, and from the quintet led by trumpeter Jamie Brownfield and saxophonist Liam Byrne, two young lions offering a contemporary take on the classic hard bop style.
Harris, Brownfield/Byrne and Debs Hancock have all been covered in greater detail elsewhere on the Jazzmann.

The Chapter House Garden is a delightful performance space, a real sun-trap and a riot of colour thanks to the iridescent blooms brightening up the borders. The musicians play beneath a small gazebo on the raised, grass covered area in the centre of the Garden, with the audience arranged around them in a semi-circle. It really is a delightful way to spend a sunny lunchtime in summer, especially with the Cathedral café open and doing good business.

In the event of rain the performance is moved inside and takes place in the Nave, a beautiful performance space in itself. This year rain affected two gigs, but Whiskey River played inside to an audience of 250 while Debs Hancock attracted a similarly healthy attendance, with Guy Shotton being able to make use of the Cathedral’s piano rather then an electric keyboard. Rain doesn’t necessarily place too much of a damper on proceedings.

The 2019 “Jazz In The Garden” series was financially supported by five different local sponsors, which was impressive, and a great tribute to the Cathedral’s marketing department.

I haven’t reviewed a “Jazz In The Garden” event before as they are free events with a retiring collection and I usually drop a fiver on to the offertory plate. Besides it’s nice to just sit back and relax and enjoy the music sometimes, without the bother of taking notes, and the chilled out atmosphere of these events is particularly conducive to that.

Today, however, was different. Earlier in the year, around February or March, Pedro Brown forwarded me a copy of Nuadha Quartet’s début album, “Cabin Tales”, with a view to my writing a review. I listened to, and enjoyed, the album, but could find precious little about the group on line, and no information about where to buy the album, other than at gigs. It seemed a little counter productive to write about a recording that largely seemed to be unavailable, so I let it slide.

However Nuadha Quartet have since updated their website, http://www.nuadhaquartet.com, which now looks very impressive and professional, and the album is now available via their Bandcamp page.

With this in mind I decided that now would be a good time to take a fresh look at “Cabin Tales”, incorporating this with a review of the quartet in live performance. It also allows me to give a national plug for a great local music series, “Jazz In The Garden”, that readers outside Herefordshire and the Welsh Borders might hitherto have been unfamiliar with.

Nuadha Quartet is comprised of musicians living in the Monmouthshire and Herefordshire areas. First formed in 2016 the group initially traded as the Blue Sky Quartet before a change of moniker was enforced by the presence of another band on the circuit with a similar name.

The new name is representative of leader Colin Tully’s Scottish roots. Tully is the most high profile member of Nuadha Quartet having composed the soundtracks to two Bill Forsyth films, including the hit picture “Gregory’s Girl”. Also an accomplished alto saxophonist Tully worked as a sideman on this instrument for the late, great John Martyn. He has also worked with the bands Cado Belle and Sensorium.

Concentrating on keyboards with Nuadha Tully is happy to delegate saxophone duties to the experienced Chris Egan, who plays tenor and soprano, plus bass clarinet. Egan studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and his tutors have included British saxophone greats Tim Garland and Iain Ballamy. Egan also spent ten years living in Peru and playing with South American musicians. It’s an experience that informs both his playing and his writing. Currently he also plays with the Ross on Wye based Red River Blues band, a popular attraction on the local gig circuit.

Bassist Carlos Riba hails from Barcelona but is now based in the UK. He has worked on the Spanish music scene and has also spent some time in London. An electric bass specialist he names Jaco Pastorius as a seminal influence, and this is very much reflected in his playing.

Herefordshire based Pedro Brown is a highly popular musician with local audiences. This was his second gig of the Jazz In The Garden series following his recent appearance with the Hannah Lockerman Band. Brown also plays occasionally with an expanded version of Whiskey River. He, too, is an accomplished saxophonist and has released two instrumental solo albums featuring himself on drums, percussion, saxophone and keyboards. Something of a renaissance man Brown has travelled widely, always with camera to hand, and his photographs from visits to China, Africa, Australia and North America have been exhibited widely. He also photographs fellow musicians at the Cheltenham and Brecon Jazz Festivals. Brown’s travelling experiences are also reflected in his playing and his use of instruments such as the djembe, darabuka and shekere.

The majority of Nuadha Quartet’s material is composed by Tully or Egan, plus a handful of well chosen covers, including arrangements of traditional Scottish folk material. “Cabin Tales” is comprised mainly of original tunes and it was good to see them today putting the focus firmly on original material. As good as the other gigs in this year’s “Jazz In The Garden” series have been few of them have featured original writing, with the exception of Little Rumba, who included several of their own songs.

As Blue Sky Quartet today’s line up played in the Nave as part of the 2017 series (it must have been a wet day) and the emphasis then was more on covers, including tunes Pat Metheny, Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Chick Corea, Weather Report and The Yellowjackets as I seem to recall. That performance was enjoyable but in the intervening two years Nuadha Quartet have really kicked on, writing and recording an album and putting the focus on their own compositions. The 2019 version of the group is tighter, more assured and more professional than it was two years ago. Even Tully, a reluctant announcer of tunes, seems more confident and relaxed.

Drawing subtly on Gaelic, South American and North African influences Nuadha Quartet’s music is probably best described as softly melodic fusion. That’s a summation that probably does them a disservice, suggesting that their music is bland and soporific. However that’s not really the case, their sound may be accessible enough for first time listeners to take to it straight away, as they did today, but there’s still a keen musical intelligence at work. Both Tully and Egan write memorable tunes capable of a broad appeal, but they also leave room for the soloists to stretch out in rewarding fashion.

Much of the album material was featured in today’s set as the Quartet commenced with album opener “For Love We Are Yearning”, written by Tully. A strong melody was augmented by the exotic sounds of Brown on djembe and shakers, in addition to kit drums. The memorable theme was enhanced by solos from Tully at the keyboard, Egan on tenor sax and Riba on electric bass, the latter’s liquidly melodic playing sounding very Pastorius like.

“Footsteps”, a non album track presumably written by Tully, found Egan stating the theme on tenor sax, before subsequently developing it during the course of his ensuing solo. Further solos came from Riba and Tully, the latter adopting a classic electric piano, or ‘Rhodes,’ sound on his Korg keyboard throughout today’s set.

Another new song, “The Lima Tango”, from the pen of Egan, added a dash of South American exotica with its composer switching to soprano sax. A pleasingly quirky mix of jazz and tango, the piece featured a complex but engaging theme and a fascinating amalgam of rhythms. Room was given for expansive solos from Tully at the keyboard, and Egan, probing incisively on soprano.

“Brother James’ Prayer”, credited on the album sleeve to Bain/Tully, was based on a Gaelic folk tune from Tully’s childhood. Introduced with a passage of unaccompanied piano the piece also featured the soft, breathy tenor sax of Egan as he and Tully engaged in an extended duet. Riba’s languidly melodic electric bass and Brown’s mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers added to the atmosphere. The adoption of a more conventional jazz rhythm led to solos for tenor sax, keyboard and electric bass, the latter even injecting a subtle element of funkiness to the Celtic inspired melodies.

Named after a South American god Egan’s “Kukulkan’s Feather” was a fascinating piece that Tully described as “coming from South America via Morocco”.  With its composer again moving to soprano sax this thoroughly engaging piece of ‘world jazz’ embraced Brown’s exotic percussive rhythms and the North African / Arabic inspired modality of Egan’s soprano sax explorations. Tully’s shimmering keys and Riba’s underpinning bass growl found their own space within this multi-cultural musical terrain.

The first ‘outside’ item was a beautiful arrangement of the Abdullah Ibrahim composition “Blue Bolero”, which was introduced by a duo of shimmering keyboards and languid electric bass with Riba stating the theme before handing over to Egan, still on soprano, for the first solo. Tully followed on keys before a further, more extended feature for Riba’s Pastorius inspired electric bass.

From the album Tully’s “Conte Sul” emerged out of a free jazz style intro featuring the exchanges of Egan’s tenor and Brown’s drums and percussion. Subsequently a more orthodox Latin-esque groove was adopted, this providing the jumping off point for solos from Egan on tenor and Tully at the keyboard, plus a closing drum feature from Brown.

A sly funk element had been present in many of the Quartet’s tunes and this became more overt on “Some Funk for J.P.”, a tune dedicated to the Bristol based jazz organist John-Paul Gard, a musician with whom several members of the Quartet have previously worked. Here seductive, subtly funky grooves formed the basis for solos from Riba, Tully, and Brown at the kit once more.

From the album Tully’s “Jock and Shona” (the Gaelic equivalent of ‘Jack and Jill’) introduced a strong Celtic folk feel with its sprightly, Gaelic inspired melodies floating above Brown’s crisply brushed drum grooves as Egan on soprano, Tully at the keyboard and Riba on electric bass provided the solos. Despite the absence of the instrument I was reminded of the music of the Scottish trumpeter and composer Colin Steele, who regularly writes material featuring folk inspired melodies.

Today’s performance concluded with the band playing a sure-fire audience pleaser, their arrangement of the song “What a Wonderful World”, made famous of course by Louis Armstrong.
This instrumental version brought out the beauty of the melody, with Riba carrying it on electric bass prior to solos from Egan on soprano and Tully at the keyboard. Brown’s brushed drum grooves kept things ticking along nicely as Nuadh Quartet were awarded an excellent reception for today’s performance of largely original music. The positive reaction was vary much deserved, as the band had performed with great skill and precision throughout.

Unfortunately time was up, although when chatting to Pedro and Chris afterwards I noted that they did have a couple of ‘spares’ in the set-list, the album track “Hughie Graham”, an arrangement of a traditional Scottish Borders tune, and a version of Pat Metheny’s “Phase Dance”, that I seem to recall them playing in 2017. Speaking as a big Metheny fan it would have been nice to have heard that again today. Also we didn’t get to hear Egan on bass clarinet, the instrument being present on stage, but remaining unplayed.

Nevertheless this was an excellent way to round off the 2019 “Jazz In The Garden Programme” and its return in 2020 will give many Herefordshire music fans something to look forward to over the cold winter months.

The track listing for “Cabin Tales” is;

1. For Love We Are Yearning
2. Hughie Graham
3.Brother James’ Prayer
4. Kukulkan’s Feather
5.You Can See It Everywhere
6.Conte Sul
7.Jock and Shona
8. Procrastination Blues
9. What a Wonderful World


Six of these were played today. Of the others the traditional “Hughie Graham” combines folk melodies with jazz harmonies and instrumentation, with Brown providing an exotic percussive presence, Riba briefly taking on the melody, and more orthodox jazz solos from Tully and Egan, the latter on tenor. Interestingly Tully appears on acoustic piano, the album featuring a mix of acoustic and electric keyboards.

Tully’s own “You Can See It Everywhere” is gently melodic, part ballad, part anthem, with its gentle melodies, liquid electric bass, softly trilling electric piano and neatly detailed but unobtrusive drumming. There’s even a little uncredited wordless vocalising, plus a gently probing tenor solo from the consistently impressive Egan.

Meanwhile Egan’s own “Procrastination Blues” is actually refreshingly uncomplicated, a genuine blues that features the composer’s straight ahead tenor playing backed by a swinging groove. Tully features on electric piano, but one could also imagine John-Paul Gard weighing in here on Hammond. Brown also gets to enjoy an extended feature behind the kit.

The day after their Hereford performance Nuadha Quartet were due to appear at the Aber Jazz & Blues Festival in Fishguard. The band’s profile is clearly beginning to rise, and the intelligent, melodic fusion of “Cabin Tales”, with its diverse jazz and folk influences, is well worth checking out.

Tom Cawley - Catenaccio Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Excellent singing and playing from all concerned, and a series of engaging compositions from Cawley that skilfully deploy the human and technological resources available to him.

Tom Cawley

“Catenaccio”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0024)

Here’s another album that’s been waiting for a Jazzmann review for an indecently long time.

Released in May 2019 “Catenaccio” is the first solo album for way too long from pianist, composer and all round keyboard player Tom Cawley and introduces a new band featuring vocalist Fini Bearman, flautist Gareth Lockrane, bassist Robin Mullarkey and drummer Chris Higginbottom.

A former member of NYJO Cawley came to prominence as a member of the first incarnation of Acoustic Ladyland before leaving to form the piano trio Curios, featuring bassist Sam Burgess and drummer Joshua Blackmore.

A supremely versatile musician Cawley has also worked extensively with rock and pop artists, including Peter Gabriel, with whom he enjoyed a lengthy tenure as keyboard player and musical director, and U2. He has also worked with some real jazz heavyweights, among them vocalist Gregory Porter and drummer Jack DeJohnette.

Others with whom Cawley has worked are fellow pianist Kit Downes, saxophonist Frank Griffith, trumpeter Freddie Gavita and the New Zealand born composer and multi-instrumentalist John Metcalfe. He has also been a key member of Scottish drummer and composer Tom Bancroft’s Trio Red.

Over the years Cawley has proved himself to be particularly adept at collaborating with singers, often as a co-writer. Among those with whom he has worked are Georgia Mancio, Trudy Kerr, Ingrid James, Tammy Weis, Natalie Williams, Gwyneth Herbert, Tony Momrelle, Brendan Reilly, Joy Rose and Karen Lane.

He has also retained his jazz ‘chops’ via regular work with the Ronnie Scott’s house band and as a professor of jazz piano at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

The title of “Catenaccio”, a footballing term for the uninitiated,  reflects Cawley’s love of sport and the football analogy extends to some of the individual track titles, plus the album cover art. And it’s not just soccer, Cawley is also a huge Formula One fan and during his Curios days wrote a composition dedicated to the racing driver Jenson Button.

Away from the playing field and the race track the music is also informed by another of Cawley’s obsessions, his equally intense love of synthesisers. He explains;
“Increasingly over the last few years I’ve been exploring different textures and recording with an array of different synths. I’ve been developing a live electronica set as well as producing music in my home studio. I wanted to start a new band which had synths right at its core, but whose aesthetic was still primarily a jazz one, with original tunes, improvisation and interaction.”

With regard to his compositional methods he says;
“I think of everything I write as songs, whether they have words, or indeed vocalists, or not. In the case of this project I was writing the music and everything was suggesting itself to be sung. There’s a particular emotional impact that the human voice has which instrumental music cannot always carry, and I was very keen to add that sort of strident quality to the tunes that I was writing. Fini Bearman brings them to life and adds amazing depth and engagement in that way”.

All of Bearman’s vocalising is wordless and the music of Catenaccio has routinely been compared to that of Flora Purim era Return to Forever, with the music of Weather Report also being used as a convenient reference report. I’m also reminded of the much loved Turning Point, the late 1970s/early 1980s British quintet led by the late bassist and composer Jeff Clyne and which also featured vocalist Pepi Lemer and keyboard player Brian Miller.

The sound of the opening “The Ungainlies” has invited those Weather Report comparisons but Cawley has revealed that it was in fact inspired by the song “Movement and Location” by the contemporary American bluegrass act, The Punch Brothers. Distinguished by its constantly evolving melody the piece features Cawley’s layered synths and Bearman’s soaring wordless vocal lines, these sometimes linked in with Lockrane’s flute. Mullarkey and Higginbottom provide the rolling, consistently evolving grooves while the instrumental solos come from Cawley on keyboards, adopting an electric piano sound, and Lockrane on flute, with Higginbottom then enjoying something of a drum feature towards the close.

We segue almost seamlessly into the celebratory “Jabulani”, which Cawley describes as being written in more or less song form – verse, bridge chorus, “I love a chorus” he explains, “they’re underused in jazz, but being able to come out of a solo section straight to a chorus gives a tune great energy and lift. The solo section of this tune is a good example of me writing something with exactly these musicians in mind, I just stay out of the way and let them do their amazing thing”.
The mood is suitably joyous, with Bearman’s voice continuing to soar while Lockrane takes the instrumental solo honours on flute, dancing lithely above the vibrant, rock influenced rhythms generated by Mullarkey and Higginbottom. The title comes from the type of football used at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The lightness of the ball, and its propensity for moving in the air to the great consternation of the world’s goalkeepers, made it a controversial choice at a tournament that was a pretty miserable one for England!

“Nutmeg” is gentler and more impressionistic, although hardly lacking in grandeur as Cawley initially constructs a cathedral like wall of sound on his various synths and Bearman’s voice floats in ethereal fashion, the quasi orchestral approach achieving an almost cinematic effect. The mood then lightens with a gentle Brazilian style rhythm emerging as Bearman sounds more like Flora Purim than ever and Lockrane fills the Joe Farrell role on flute. Cawley’s synths wander in and out and provide the necessary glue to hold it all together.

“Zona Mista” also commences in gentle fashion with a brief passage for just voice and keyboards, before a darker, more sinister sound quickly emerges via a Bitches Brew / Headhunters style funk groove and dirty sounding keyboard textures as Cawley solos on electric piano. The busy Higginbottom is in particularly impressive form behind the kit while Bearman and Lockrane combine to sugar the pill a little.

“Left Peg” flirts with cheesiness via its retro synth sounds and direct melodies, but even so one can’t help being beguiled by it. It’s a piece that acts as a perfect illustration of Cawley’s point that he thinks of everything he writes as “songs”. This piece has a decidedly song like structure and sounds very much like a hit pop anthem without lyrics, although effective use is again made of Bearman’s wordless vocals.

Bearman’s breathy wordless vocals introduce “Regista”, here sounding a little like Norma Winstone, and remain an essential component until Cawley takes over to solo on keyboards. Higginbottom’s nimble, neatly energetic drumming also plays a key role.

The music that comprises “Row Z” rather belies the tune’s title. Rather than being violent and unsubtle it is in fact moody and atmospheric, with drifting synths, ethereal vocals, cymbal shimmers and mallet rumbles combining to genuinely beautiful effect.

The piece acts as a kind of introduction to the closing “Rabona”, a more appropriate reflection of its title thanks to its colour and vibrancy and its use of Latin rhythms. It’s a real roller coaster of a tune with a number of variations of pace, but the mood is joyous and upbeat throughout with buoyant grooves, soaring vocals and a scintillating solo from Lockrane on flute.

The term “Catenaccio” refers to fluid movement between positions on the field of play and this is expressed musically by Cawley’s superbly integrated five a side team. The captain’s keyboards are at the heart of the music throughout and he weighs in with his fair share of goals (solos). The other players are also given ample opportunities to express themselves with Bearman and Lockrane frequently coming to the fore as Mullarkey and Higginbottom keep things tight at the back, occasionally coming forward for a set piece.

“Catenaccio”, surely a band name as well as an album title, is an album that Cawley has been working towards for some time via unrecorded studio projects such as Songs Without Words, The Bear & The Fish and False Nine, the last of these another moniker derived from football.

It has obviously been a labour of love and this is apparent from both the hand picked squad and the attention to detail in the writing and arrangements. Some have mourned the lack of an acoustic piano, but this is clearly where Cawley is at these days and his new direction has produced some highly intelligent and enjoyable music. There’s certainly a debt to Corea and Zawinul here and those who accuse Cawley of being derivative do have a point, but it’s probably best to ignore this and just sit back and enjoy the music. And there’s certainly much to enjoy, excellent singing and playing from all concerned and a series of engaging compositions from Cawley that skilfully deploy the human and technological resources available to him to deliver music that consistently absorbs the listener’s attention. One can also imagine that Catenaccio would prove to be a hugely exciting proposition in the live environment.

I’ll admit to being a little sceptical about this album when I first heard it, but it’s one that proves to be a bit of a ‘grower’, revealing new depths and delights with each subsequent listening. Just enjoy it for what is is.

 

Catenaccio

Tom Cawley

Friday, August 23, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Catenaccio

Excellent singing and playing from all concerned, and a series of engaging compositions from Cawley that skilfully deploy the human and technological resources available to him.

Tom Cawley

“Catenaccio”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0024)

Here’s another album that’s been waiting for a Jazzmann review for an indecently long time.

Released in May 2019 “Catenaccio” is the first solo album for way too long from pianist, composer and all round keyboard player Tom Cawley and introduces a new band featuring vocalist Fini Bearman, flautist Gareth Lockrane, bassist Robin Mullarkey and drummer Chris Higginbottom.

A former member of NYJO Cawley came to prominence as a member of the first incarnation of Acoustic Ladyland before leaving to form the piano trio Curios, featuring bassist Sam Burgess and drummer Joshua Blackmore.

A supremely versatile musician Cawley has also worked extensively with rock and pop artists, including Peter Gabriel, with whom he enjoyed a lengthy tenure as keyboard player and musical director, and U2. He has also worked with some real jazz heavyweights, among them vocalist Gregory Porter and drummer Jack DeJohnette.

Others with whom Cawley has worked are fellow pianist Kit Downes, saxophonist Frank Griffith, trumpeter Freddie Gavita and the New Zealand born composer and multi-instrumentalist John Metcalfe. He has also been a key member of Scottish drummer and composer Tom Bancroft’s Trio Red.

Over the years Cawley has proved himself to be particularly adept at collaborating with singers, often as a co-writer. Among those with whom he has worked are Georgia Mancio, Trudy Kerr, Ingrid James, Tammy Weis, Natalie Williams, Gwyneth Herbert, Tony Momrelle, Brendan Reilly, Joy Rose and Karen Lane.

He has also retained his jazz ‘chops’ via regular work with the Ronnie Scott’s house band and as a professor of jazz piano at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

The title of “Catenaccio”, a footballing term for the uninitiated,  reflects Cawley’s love of sport and the football analogy extends to some of the individual track titles, plus the album cover art. And it’s not just soccer, Cawley is also a huge Formula One fan and during his Curios days wrote a composition dedicated to the racing driver Jenson Button.

Away from the playing field and the race track the music is also informed by another of Cawley’s obsessions, his equally intense love of synthesisers. He explains;
“Increasingly over the last few years I’ve been exploring different textures and recording with an array of different synths. I’ve been developing a live electronica set as well as producing music in my home studio. I wanted to start a new band which had synths right at its core, but whose aesthetic was still primarily a jazz one, with original tunes, improvisation and interaction.”

With regard to his compositional methods he says;
“I think of everything I write as songs, whether they have words, or indeed vocalists, or not. In the case of this project I was writing the music and everything was suggesting itself to be sung. There’s a particular emotional impact that the human voice has which instrumental music cannot always carry, and I was very keen to add that sort of strident quality to the tunes that I was writing. Fini Bearman brings them to life and adds amazing depth and engagement in that way”.

All of Bearman’s vocalising is wordless and the music of Catenaccio has routinely been compared to that of Flora Purim era Return to Forever, with the music of Weather Report also being used as a convenient reference report. I’m also reminded of the much loved Turning Point, the late 1970s/early 1980s British quintet led by the late bassist and composer Jeff Clyne and which also featured vocalist Pepi Lemer and keyboard player Brian Miller.

The sound of the opening “The Ungainlies” has invited those Weather Report comparisons but Cawley has revealed that it was in fact inspired by the song “Movement and Location” by the contemporary American bluegrass act, The Punch Brothers. Distinguished by its constantly evolving melody the piece features Cawley’s layered synths and Bearman’s soaring wordless vocal lines, these sometimes linked in with Lockrane’s flute. Mullarkey and Higginbottom provide the rolling, consistently evolving grooves while the instrumental solos come from Cawley on keyboards, adopting an electric piano sound, and Lockrane on flute, with Higginbottom then enjoying something of a drum feature towards the close.

We segue almost seamlessly into the celebratory “Jabulani”, which Cawley describes as being written in more or less song form – verse, bridge chorus, “I love a chorus” he explains, “they’re underused in jazz, but being able to come out of a solo section straight to a chorus gives a tune great energy and lift. The solo section of this tune is a good example of me writing something with exactly these musicians in mind, I just stay out of the way and let them do their amazing thing”.
The mood is suitably joyous, with Bearman’s voice continuing to soar while Lockrane takes the instrumental solo honours on flute, dancing lithely above the vibrant, rock influenced rhythms generated by Mullarkey and Higginbottom. The title comes from the type of football used at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The lightness of the ball, and its propensity for moving in the air to the great consternation of the world’s goalkeepers, made it a controversial choice at a tournament that was a pretty miserable one for England!

“Nutmeg” is gentler and more impressionistic, although hardly lacking in grandeur as Cawley initially constructs a cathedral like wall of sound on his various synths and Bearman’s voice floats in ethereal fashion, the quasi orchestral approach achieving an almost cinematic effect. The mood then lightens with a gentle Brazilian style rhythm emerging as Bearman sounds more like Flora Purim than ever and Lockrane fills the Joe Farrell role on flute. Cawley’s synths wander in and out and provide the necessary glue to hold it all together.

“Zona Mista” also commences in gentle fashion with a brief passage for just voice and keyboards, before a darker, more sinister sound quickly emerges via a Bitches Brew / Headhunters style funk groove and dirty sounding keyboard textures as Cawley solos on electric piano. The busy Higginbottom is in particularly impressive form behind the kit while Bearman and Lockrane combine to sugar the pill a little.

“Left Peg” flirts with cheesiness via its retro synth sounds and direct melodies, but even so one can’t help being beguiled by it. It’s a piece that acts as a perfect illustration of Cawley’s point that he thinks of everything he writes as “songs”. This piece has a decidedly song like structure and sounds very much like a hit pop anthem without lyrics, although effective use is again made of Bearman’s wordless vocals.

Bearman’s breathy wordless vocals introduce “Regista”, here sounding a little like Norma Winstone, and remain an essential component until Cawley takes over to solo on keyboards. Higginbottom’s nimble, neatly energetic drumming also plays a key role.

The music that comprises “Row Z” rather belies the tune’s title. Rather than being violent and unsubtle it is in fact moody and atmospheric, with drifting synths, ethereal vocals, cymbal shimmers and mallet rumbles combining to genuinely beautiful effect.

The piece acts as a kind of introduction to the closing “Rabona”, a more appropriate reflection of its title thanks to its colour and vibrancy and its use of Latin rhythms. It’s a real roller coaster of a tune with a number of variations of pace, but the mood is joyous and upbeat throughout with buoyant grooves, soaring vocals and a scintillating solo from Lockrane on flute.

The term “Catenaccio” refers to fluid movement between positions on the field of play and this is expressed musically by Cawley’s superbly integrated five a side team. The captain’s keyboards are at the heart of the music throughout and he weighs in with his fair share of goals (solos). The other players are also given ample opportunities to express themselves with Bearman and Lockrane frequently coming to the fore as Mullarkey and Higginbottom keep things tight at the back, occasionally coming forward for a set piece.

“Catenaccio”, surely a band name as well as an album title, is an album that Cawley has been working towards for some time via unrecorded studio projects such as Songs Without Words, The Bear & The Fish and False Nine, the last of these another moniker derived from football.

It has obviously been a labour of love and this is apparent from both the hand picked squad and the attention to detail in the writing and arrangements. Some have mourned the lack of an acoustic piano, but this is clearly where Cawley is at these days and his new direction has produced some highly intelligent and enjoyable music. There’s certainly a debt to Corea and Zawinul here and those who accuse Cawley of being derivative do have a point, but it’s probably best to ignore this and just sit back and enjoy the music. And there’s certainly much to enjoy, excellent singing and playing from all concerned and a series of engaging compositions from Cawley that skilfully deploy the human and technological resources available to him to deliver music that consistently absorbs the listener’s attention. One can also imagine that Catenaccio would prove to be a hugely exciting proposition in the live environment.

I’ll admit to being a little sceptical about this album when I first heard it, but it’s one that proves to be a bit of a ‘grower’, revealing new depths and delights with each subsequent listening. Just enjoy it for what is is.

 

Kate Williams’  Four Plus Three meets Georgia Mancio - Finding Home Rating: 3-5 out of 5 An intelligent and evocative work that covers many stylistic bases musically, whilst also tackling social and environmental issues with subtlety and sensitivity.

Kate Williams Four Plus Three meets Georgia Mancio

“Finding Home”

(kwjazz002)

“Finding Home” documents the fruitful collaboration between pianist and composer Kate Williams and vocalist and lyricist Georgia Mancio.

The pair have worked together for ten years and known each other for twenty, but this represents the first recording by the partnership. They first collaborated musically in 2009 when Mancio asked if she could add lyrics to Williams’ instrumental composition “Silhouette”, the resultant song becoming the title track of Mancio’s 2010 album.

Besides the co-leaders this new recording also features the talents of Williams’ septet Four Plus Three, which combines the jazz trio of Williams, bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer David Ingamells with the string ensemble Guastalla Quartet featuring John Garner and Marie Schreer (violins), Francis Gallagher (viola) and Sergio Serra (cello). The recording also includes a guest appearance from Kate’s father, the celebrated classical guitarist John Williams, who appears on two of the album’s twelve tracks.

Kate Williams says of her ensemble;
“I formed Four Plus Three in 2016, having been drawn to the idea of having two bands within a band and having had a long-standing yearning to write for strings. It was also my intention to expand the line up by inviting musician friends to guest with us, including my father John for whom I wrote a short set of tunes back in 2017”.

The album adopts the underlying theme of ‘finding home’, both in a musical and political sense. “Georgia and I have been friends for nearly twenty years and have worked together in a variety of settings, but to at last fully collaborate on a project feels like musical home”, explains Williams.

Politically Mancio’s lyrics address the ongoing refugee crisis with three of the songs directly inspired by the singers’ work as a volunteer with refugee groups in Northern France and the UK over the course of the last three years.

Mancio has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages thanks to live appearances that I have witnessed at London Jazz Festival in 2012 and Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny in 2013.
I have also covered recordings such as “Songbook” (2017),  her duo album with the American pianist, composer and arranger Alan Broadbent.

Mancio also co-ordinates Re-Voice!, the annual Festival of vocal jazz that takes place at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, London. The album “Live at ReVoice!” (2016) is an excellent collection of duo performances that finds Mancio teamed with a selection of outstanding instrumentalists. Previously Mancio had recorded “Come Rain Or Come Shine” (2013) in the company of guitarist Nigel Price and bassist Julie Walkington, the trio that she brought to Abergavenny.

Mancio has also worked with the group Quadro, actually a trio featuring pianist Frank Harrison and bassist Andy Cleyndert. She has also performed as a guest vocalist with the Scott Willcox Big Band

I have to admit to being less familiar with Williams’ previous work but did witness part of a free performance by Four Plus Three in the foyer at Cadogan Hall as part of the 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival. I have to confess that I found it a little underwhelming, but that was partly down to the nature of the venue.

The material that constitutes “Finding Home” was premièred at the Pizza Express, Soho in 2017 to great critical approval and further live shows followed, including a full UK tour earlier in 2019.
My mate Steve, currently residing in Essex, saw the performance at Colchester Arts Centre and was highly impressed.  The album was released in March and has been languishing in the ‘to do’ file for far too long, so my apologies to Kate and Georgia for that.

The tour was supported by Arts Council England and the venues included a school, a museum, a place of worship and various community spaces, as well as the usual round of jazz clubs and festivals.  Part of the remit was to bring the music, and the issues that inspired it, to the attention of a wider audience beyond the usual jazz demographic. Some dates were partnered with refugee and other charities, including the child refugee charity Safe Passage. The album itself was recorded with the support of the Ambache Charitable Trust, an institution dedicated to “raising the profile of music by women”.

The material featured on “Finding Home” is mainly comprised of original compositions by Williams with lyrics by Mancio. The album commences with the pair’s “One For The Bees”. Lyrically the piece addresses the importance of the natural world and humankind’s place in it. Mancio’s flexible vocals are complemented by a lyrical piano solo from Williams and a tightly written arrangement that explores a wide range of dynamics and somehow manages to successfully incorporate both the colours and textures of the strings and the powerful drumming of Ingamells, who enjoys something of a feature. Williams has said of Ingamells’ drumming; “David has a broad palette and can really maintain high energy at low volumes”.

The first of two ‘outside’ pieces is “Caminando, Caminando”, written by the Chilean songwriter and activist Victor Jara. The Italian born Mancio, who can sing convincingly in several languages, delivers the Spanish lyrics with a real sense of involvement and is also heard whistling. Meanwhile the beautiful arrangement incorporates the sounds of both bowed and pizzicato strings, the acoustic guitar of guest John Williams, and the gentle patter of Ingamells’ hands on the drum kit.

Next we hear Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Chega de Saudade”, also known as “No More Blues”. A breezy, gently swinging arrangement features Mancio singing the English lyric and also includes a thoughtful piano solo from Williams plus a feature for the strings, who soar above the crisply swinging rhythms of Hayhurst and Ingamells.

Co-written by Arthur Kent, David Mann and Redd Evans the song “Don’t Go To Strangers” was written in 1954 and was the title track of a 1960 album by jazz vocalist Etta Jones. The brief but delightful version here features Mancio’s coolly emotive vocals wrapped up in a sparse, sombre, but undeniably beautiful string quartet arrangement.

The next three original songs, with music by Williams and lyrics by Mancio constitute a trilogy and were inspired by Mancio’s experiences in those refugee camps.
As the singer explains;
“All three were inspired by stories and events that I was told first hand, witnessed, or heard about during time spent volunteering with refugee groups. These are all children’s stories and I would particularly like to thank my dear Barack for telling me his. To Barack and all those still searching, the future belongs to you.”

The first song in this sequence is “The Last Boy on Earth”, which features a lyric describing the loneliness, despair and feelings of worthlessness experienced by the children of the refugee camps, in addition to the physical discomforts that they have to endure. There’s a wistfulness about the music, but the arrangement contains more than a hint of wilful dissonance too as a righteous anger is expressed.

The lyrics of “Halfway” introduce an element of hope, allied to a spirited defiance. Musically the piece incorporates a sparkling piano solo from Williams and some deft drum work from Ingamells as part of a typically colourful and well integrated arrangement.

Barack’s story is told through the lyrics of “We Walk”, a song that finds Mancio adding lyrics to the existing Williams instrumental “Slow Dawn”. The words tell the tale of the night time flight from oppression and the long walk towards the West with the resultant loss of life along the way, and the certain knowledge of never seeing home again. A stirring arrangement, that includes the guitar of John Williams,  complements Mancio’s emotive vocals.

“The Key” is a brief instrumental written by Williams for the Guastalla Quartet, its wistful melancholy and quiet beauty reminiscent of Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending”.

The title track features Mancio reciting her words above an evocative Williams arrangement, a poem set to music that the co-leaders describe as “a spoken word love song, a reminder that home is both a visceral and literal state, a person and a place, local and global”. Mancio’s words make sense of apparent contradictions, her message one of reconciliation.

“Heartwood” is an attractive Williams instrumental, skilfully delivered by the core jazz trio with the composer’s classically honed lightness of touch at the keyboard complemented by the warm. Woody tones of Hayhurst’s bass and Ingamells’ deft and delicately detailed drumming. Hayhurst briefly steps out of the shadows with a melodic and dexterous double bass solo.

“Tell The River” dips into the songbook of Broadbent and Mancio with the singer’s message of hope teamed with the pianist’s flowing melody. Mancio and Williams deliver the song in an intimate duo performance that showcases their very natural rapport.

The full ensemble returns for the closing track “Play”, with music by Williams and lyrics by Mancio. Like the opening “One For The Bees”, the song is a paean to the beauties of the natural world with Mancio’s evocative lyrical images and eloquent vocal delivery complemented by instrumental solos from Hayhurst and Williams and an arrangement that subtly blends the sounds of the jazz trio and jazz quartet.

“Finding Home” is an intelligent and evocative work that covers many stylistic bases musically, whilst also tackling social and environmental issues with subtlety and sensitivity. Everybody performs well, particularly the co-leaders, and credit is also due to Andy Cleyndert in his role as engineer and co-producer.

Also deserving of praise is the artist Alban Lowe, whose distinctive graphics help to give the recording a strong visual image and form part of a very classy album package.

Finding Home

Kate Williams’  Four Plus Three meets Georgia Mancio

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Finding Home

An intelligent and evocative work that covers many stylistic bases musically, whilst also tackling social and environmental issues with subtlety and sensitivity.

Kate Williams Four Plus Three meets Georgia Mancio

“Finding Home”

(kwjazz002)

“Finding Home” documents the fruitful collaboration between pianist and composer Kate Williams and vocalist and lyricist Georgia Mancio.

The pair have worked together for ten years and known each other for twenty, but this represents the first recording by the partnership. They first collaborated musically in 2009 when Mancio asked if she could add lyrics to Williams’ instrumental composition “Silhouette”, the resultant song becoming the title track of Mancio’s 2010 album.

Besides the co-leaders this new recording also features the talents of Williams’ septet Four Plus Three, which combines the jazz trio of Williams, bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer David Ingamells with the string ensemble Guastalla Quartet featuring John Garner and Marie Schreer (violins), Francis Gallagher (viola) and Sergio Serra (cello). The recording also includes a guest appearance from Kate’s father, the celebrated classical guitarist John Williams, who appears on two of the album’s twelve tracks.

Kate Williams says of her ensemble;
“I formed Four Plus Three in 2016, having been drawn to the idea of having two bands within a band and having had a long-standing yearning to write for strings. It was also my intention to expand the line up by inviting musician friends to guest with us, including my father John for whom I wrote a short set of tunes back in 2017”.

The album adopts the underlying theme of ‘finding home’, both in a musical and political sense. “Georgia and I have been friends for nearly twenty years and have worked together in a variety of settings, but to at last fully collaborate on a project feels like musical home”, explains Williams.

Politically Mancio’s lyrics address the ongoing refugee crisis with three of the songs directly inspired by the singers’ work as a volunteer with refugee groups in Northern France and the UK over the course of the last three years.

Mancio has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages thanks to live appearances that I have witnessed at London Jazz Festival in 2012 and Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny in 2013.
I have also covered recordings such as “Songbook” (2017),  her duo album with the American pianist, composer and arranger Alan Broadbent.

Mancio also co-ordinates Re-Voice!, the annual Festival of vocal jazz that takes place at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, London. The album “Live at ReVoice!” (2016) is an excellent collection of duo performances that finds Mancio teamed with a selection of outstanding instrumentalists. Previously Mancio had recorded “Come Rain Or Come Shine” (2013) in the company of guitarist Nigel Price and bassist Julie Walkington, the trio that she brought to Abergavenny.

Mancio has also worked with the group Quadro, actually a trio featuring pianist Frank Harrison and bassist Andy Cleyndert. She has also performed as a guest vocalist with the Scott Willcox Big Band

I have to admit to being less familiar with Williams’ previous work but did witness part of a free performance by Four Plus Three in the foyer at Cadogan Hall as part of the 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival. I have to confess that I found it a little underwhelming, but that was partly down to the nature of the venue.

The material that constitutes “Finding Home” was premièred at the Pizza Express, Soho in 2017 to great critical approval and further live shows followed, including a full UK tour earlier in 2019.
My mate Steve, currently residing in Essex, saw the performance at Colchester Arts Centre and was highly impressed.  The album was released in March and has been languishing in the ‘to do’ file for far too long, so my apologies to Kate and Georgia for that.

The tour was supported by Arts Council England and the venues included a school, a museum, a place of worship and various community spaces, as well as the usual round of jazz clubs and festivals.  Part of the remit was to bring the music, and the issues that inspired it, to the attention of a wider audience beyond the usual jazz demographic. Some dates were partnered with refugee and other charities, including the child refugee charity Safe Passage. The album itself was recorded with the support of the Ambache Charitable Trust, an institution dedicated to “raising the profile of music by women”.

The material featured on “Finding Home” is mainly comprised of original compositions by Williams with lyrics by Mancio. The album commences with the pair’s “One For The Bees”. Lyrically the piece addresses the importance of the natural world and humankind’s place in it. Mancio’s flexible vocals are complemented by a lyrical piano solo from Williams and a tightly written arrangement that explores a wide range of dynamics and somehow manages to successfully incorporate both the colours and textures of the strings and the powerful drumming of Ingamells, who enjoys something of a feature. Williams has said of Ingamells’ drumming; “David has a broad palette and can really maintain high energy at low volumes”.

The first of two ‘outside’ pieces is “Caminando, Caminando”, written by the Chilean songwriter and activist Victor Jara. The Italian born Mancio, who can sing convincingly in several languages, delivers the Spanish lyrics with a real sense of involvement and is also heard whistling. Meanwhile the beautiful arrangement incorporates the sounds of both bowed and pizzicato strings, the acoustic guitar of guest John Williams, and the gentle patter of Ingamells’ hands on the drum kit.

Next we hear Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Chega de Saudade”, also known as “No More Blues”. A breezy, gently swinging arrangement features Mancio singing the English lyric and also includes a thoughtful piano solo from Williams plus a feature for the strings, who soar above the crisply swinging rhythms of Hayhurst and Ingamells.

Co-written by Arthur Kent, David Mann and Redd Evans the song “Don’t Go To Strangers” was written in 1954 and was the title track of a 1960 album by jazz vocalist Etta Jones. The brief but delightful version here features Mancio’s coolly emotive vocals wrapped up in a sparse, sombre, but undeniably beautiful string quartet arrangement.

The next three original songs, with music by Williams and lyrics by Mancio constitute a trilogy and were inspired by Mancio’s experiences in those refugee camps.
As the singer explains;
“All three were inspired by stories and events that I was told first hand, witnessed, or heard about during time spent volunteering with refugee groups. These are all children’s stories and I would particularly like to thank my dear Barack for telling me his. To Barack and all those still searching, the future belongs to you.”

The first song in this sequence is “The Last Boy on Earth”, which features a lyric describing the loneliness, despair and feelings of worthlessness experienced by the children of the refugee camps, in addition to the physical discomforts that they have to endure. There’s a wistfulness about the music, but the arrangement contains more than a hint of wilful dissonance too as a righteous anger is expressed.

The lyrics of “Halfway” introduce an element of hope, allied to a spirited defiance. Musically the piece incorporates a sparkling piano solo from Williams and some deft drum work from Ingamells as part of a typically colourful and well integrated arrangement.

Barack’s story is told through the lyrics of “We Walk”, a song that finds Mancio adding lyrics to the existing Williams instrumental “Slow Dawn”. The words tell the tale of the night time flight from oppression and the long walk towards the West with the resultant loss of life along the way, and the certain knowledge of never seeing home again. A stirring arrangement, that includes the guitar of John Williams,  complements Mancio’s emotive vocals.

“The Key” is a brief instrumental written by Williams for the Guastalla Quartet, its wistful melancholy and quiet beauty reminiscent of Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending”.

The title track features Mancio reciting her words above an evocative Williams arrangement, a poem set to music that the co-leaders describe as “a spoken word love song, a reminder that home is both a visceral and literal state, a person and a place, local and global”. Mancio’s words make sense of apparent contradictions, her message one of reconciliation.

“Heartwood” is an attractive Williams instrumental, skilfully delivered by the core jazz trio with the composer’s classically honed lightness of touch at the keyboard complemented by the warm. Woody tones of Hayhurst’s bass and Ingamells’ deft and delicately detailed drumming. Hayhurst briefly steps out of the shadows with a melodic and dexterous double bass solo.

“Tell The River” dips into the songbook of Broadbent and Mancio with the singer’s message of hope teamed with the pianist’s flowing melody. Mancio and Williams deliver the song in an intimate duo performance that showcases their very natural rapport.

The full ensemble returns for the closing track “Play”, with music by Williams and lyrics by Mancio. Like the opening “One For The Bees”, the song is a paean to the beauties of the natural world with Mancio’s evocative lyrical images and eloquent vocal delivery complemented by instrumental solos from Hayhurst and Williams and an arrangement that subtly blends the sounds of the jazz trio and jazz quartet.

“Finding Home” is an intelligent and evocative work that covers many stylistic bases musically, whilst also tackling social and environmental issues with subtlety and sensitivity. Everybody performs well, particularly the co-leaders, and credit is also due to Andy Cleyndert in his role as engineer and co-producer.

Also deserving of praise is the artist Alban Lowe, whose distinctive graphics help to give the recording a strong visual image and form part of a very classy album package.

Jeff Williams - Bloom Rating: 4 out of 5 "Bloom" documents the already remarkable empathy between the three musicians and embraces a wide variety of jazz styles, while simultaneously establishing a strong group identity.

Jeff Williams

“Bloom”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4737)


Jeff Williams - drums, Carmen Staaf - piano, Michael Formanek - double bass


The American drummer and composer Jeff Williams was born in 1950 in Mount Vernon, Ohio but made his name on the jazz scenes in Boston and New York City. I first heard and enjoyed his playing on a series 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, and latterly incorporating a degree of cross-fertilisation between the two.

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 line up 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 appeared on his third Whirlwind release, “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 2017 Williams released “Lifelike”,  a second live recording documenting a performance at that much loved institution the Vortex. For this event a core quintet of Williams, O’Gallagher, Downes and Lasserson was supplemented by the Portuguese trumpeter and composer Goncalo Marquez, a musician whom Williams had met when touring in Portugal with bassist Demian Cabaud’s group in 2016.

Recorded in August 2018 and released in April 2019 “Bloom” features a brand new Williams group and represents his first recording in the ‘piano trio’ format for many years. I still harbour fond memories of Williams’ playing on “Eon”, Richie Beirach’s 1974 début for ECM Records, an album that still sounds astonishingly contemporary.

This latest trio teams Williams with two more American musicians, bassist Michael Formanek, a composer and bandleader in his own right, and the emerging piano discovery, Carmen Staaf.

The coming together of this exciting new trio owes much to serendipity, as Williams’ liner notes explain;
In early 2018 I was performing at Small’s Jazz Club in New York with saxophonist Don Blake’s band The Digging. In the absence of regular pianist Leo Genovese Carmen Staaf took over the piano chair for the night. How could I not know of someone so accomplished? Not only did I lover her adventurous approach combined with impeccable taste, I also felt an uncommonly close musical rapport as we played”.

At around the same time Williams ran into his old friend Formanek, a musician that he played with frequently in the 1970s but only very occasionally since. Having made the decision to record with Staaf in a trio format Williams suggested Formanek as the bass player, remarking “I knew he would be the perfect choice, although they had not yet met. It all just bloomed out of nowhere, hence the album title”.

After a brief rehearsal the newly assembled trio convened at the studio at the Samurai Hotel in Queens to record their début album in a single day.  Each member of the trio brought tunes to the session with the only ‘outside’ item being “Air Dancing”, a composition by Jeff’s namesake, the bassist Buster Williams.

The album was largely documented in first takes with Williams commenting;
“Although presented as my album all three of us contributed equally to ‘Bloom’, and it is, importantly, a showcase for Carmen Staaf, one of the freshest voices on her instrument around, and definitely one to watch”.

The album commences with the group improvisation “Scattershot”, the first piece to be recorded that day. Williams describes it as “an improvisation that occurred as we became familiar with the sound while dialling in our headphone mixes”. The piece is paced by Formanek’s propulsive bass lines and the patented ‘polyrhythmic flow’ of Williams’ supple, colourful and always inventing drumming. Staaf finds her own way into this via her darting piano melody lines, revealing a remarkable ability to respond to the musical environment around her. The piece may be a happy accident, created ‘on the fly’ but its energy and inventiveness make it an excellent calling card for the album as a whole.  Referring to the overall work Williams comments; “The element of spontaneity is palpable, as we are in fact discovering the music as it unfolds”.

The more formal compositions commence with Williams’ “Another Time”, the title track of the drummer’s 2011 Whirlwind début. Originally the tune was recorded by the chordless line up of Williams, Hebert, Eubanks and O’Gallagher, and it’s interesting to hear it re-imagined for piano trio. The new arrangement helps to bring out the beauty of the melody,  a process enhanced by Staaf’s rich flow of melodic inventiveness allied to the colourful nuances of the composer’s drum commentary, his touch at the cymbals as immaculate as ever.  Formanek also impresses with a melodic and highly dexterous double bass solo.

When questioned about his propensity for bringing old tunes to the table Williams quotes Thelonious Monk - “I want people to hear them!”. And in any case material like “Another Time” sounds very different in this context.

A glance at Staaf’s website reveals that despite her relatively low profile she has moved in some pretty exalted jazz circles, acting as pianist and musical director for vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater as well as previously performing with such luminaries as saxophonist Wayne Shorter, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and fellow pianist Herbie Hancock. She works extensively with drummer/composer Allison Miller and has also collaborated with violinist Jenny Scheinman and vocalist Thana Alexa. Staaf also leads her own groups and released the sextet album “Day Dream” in 2017.

Staaf makes her compositional début here with the quirky, Monk like “Short Tune”, possibly so called due to its short, staccato phrases. It’s given a breezy reading by the increasingly tight and highly interactive trio with Formanek again featuring as a soloist and Williams enjoying a series of colourful drum breaks. Of Staaf’s own playing Williams comments;
“There’s a certain quirkiness that I like, plus a lot of technique in reserve.”

Next we hear a segue of Williams compositions with the loping odd meter 7/8 grooves of “Scrunge” metamorphosing into the more frenetic and restless “Search Me”, with its darting piano phrases and increasingly busy bass and drum patterns.

Formanek makes his compositional début with the more ruminative “Ballad of the Weak”, a more subdued but no less focussed trio performance that features Williams’ deft and imaginative brush work and Staaf’’s gently probing piano lyricism. The composer’s own sumptuous bass playing, simultaneously grounding and liberating, features prominently.
Williams compares his colleague’s writing with that of some of the jazz greats, “to me, that’s Strayhorn, Duke Ellington, Mingus, all of that quality”.

Staff’s second contribution with the pen is the effective and bluesy “New York Landing” which prompts further praise from Williams - “there are few young musicians who can play the blues like that”, he remarks. Formanek and Williams also impress with succinct bass and drum features and the level of interaction between the three musicians is also excellent throughout.

Williams’ own “She Can’t Be A Spy” is another piano trio arrangement of a tune originally performed by the earlier chordless quartet. With no specific chord changes the players are kept on their toes throughout, responding to each others’ ideas in a fiercely interactive trio performance that still finds plenty of scope for self expression with its features for bass and drums within a spiky three way discussion. For Williams this version of the piece represents “a fun challenge, taking it to the edge of the cliff”.

Buster Williams’ “Air Dancing” proves to be a beautiful ballad from the pen of a musician who has worked with many of the jazz greats. Formanek channels the spirit of Buster with a melodic bass solo while Staaf is at her most lyrical at the piano. Jeff Williams provides subtly detailed brushed drum commentary and colouration.

Formanek’s “A Word Edgewise” introduces another aspect of his writing, a more forcefully swinging piece propelled by his own muscular bass lines and also featuring his virtuoso bass soloing. Williams’ loose limbed drumming with its splashy cymbal work serves the music well and he also gets to enjoy a feature during the latter stages of the tune.  Staaf is feverishly inventive at the piano with her skittering runs, sophisticated chording and lively interactions with her colleagues.

Williams recorded his composition “Northwest” with the pianist Frank Kimbrough some years ago and the piece reflects a gentler side of his writing. This is the lengthiest item on the recording and sees the trio stretching out in more relaxed fashion with Williams’ mellifluous theme providing the framework for Staaf’s expansive but lyrical soloing. Formanek’s bass solo combines melodicism with a deep resonance while Williams drums with his customary intuitiveness, always with an ear for subtle nuance and an eye for fine detail.

The album closes with Staaf’s deeply atmospheric “Chant”, which combines gamelan inspired piano with grainy arco bass allied to mallet rumbles and shimmering percussive embellishments.  It represents a zen like oasis of calm in comparison to the intensity of some of the earlier performances and the overall effect is hauntingly beautiful.

For a group this early in its development “Bloom” represents a considerable achievement. Recorded over the course of a single day it documents the already remarkable empathy between the three musicians and embraces a wide variety of jazz styles, while simultaneously establishing a strong group identity. The music is bright, colourful, inventive and consistently interesting.

Williams hopes to work with this trio again, with Bloom likely to become a band name as well as an album title.  It’s certainly an effective showcase for the excellent Staaf, who is probably a new name to many British jazz listeners. Let’s hope that Williams can bring the trio to the UK for some live appearances.

I’ll leave the last word with Williams;
“I grew up listening to may piano trios, especially Ahmad Jamal’s from around 1958-62, so that influenced my playing. But there’s no fixed concept, and this was simply a case of ‘let’s see what we can do with it’. I’ve always played with people who inspire me, enjoying the conversation, going into some depth and often thinking about the musicians rather than the instrumentation. So I hope Bloom will allow us to flourish in pursuing this trio further.”

Bloom

Jeff Williams

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Bloom

"Bloom" documents the already remarkable empathy between the three musicians and embraces a wide variety of jazz styles, while simultaneously establishing a strong group identity.

Jeff Williams

“Bloom”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4737)


Jeff Williams - drums, Carmen Staaf - piano, Michael Formanek - double bass


The American drummer and composer Jeff Williams was born in 1950 in Mount Vernon, Ohio but made his name on the jazz scenes in Boston and New York City. I first heard and enjoyed his playing on a series 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, and latterly incorporating a degree of cross-fertilisation between the two.

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 line up 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 appeared on his third Whirlwind release, “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 2017 Williams released “Lifelike”,  a second live recording documenting a performance at that much loved institution the Vortex. For this event a core quintet of Williams, O’Gallagher, Downes and Lasserson was supplemented by the Portuguese trumpeter and composer Goncalo Marquez, a musician whom Williams had met when touring in Portugal with bassist Demian Cabaud’s group in 2016.

Recorded in August 2018 and released in April 2019 “Bloom” features a brand new Williams group and represents his first recording in the ‘piano trio’ format for many years. I still harbour fond memories of Williams’ playing on “Eon”, Richie Beirach’s 1974 début for ECM Records, an album that still sounds astonishingly contemporary.

This latest trio teams Williams with two more American musicians, bassist Michael Formanek, a composer and bandleader in his own right, and the emerging piano discovery, Carmen Staaf.

The coming together of this exciting new trio owes much to serendipity, as Williams’ liner notes explain;
In early 2018 I was performing at Small’s Jazz Club in New York with saxophonist Don Blake’s band The Digging. In the absence of regular pianist Leo Genovese Carmen Staaf took over the piano chair for the night. How could I not know of someone so accomplished? Not only did I lover her adventurous approach combined with impeccable taste, I also felt an uncommonly close musical rapport as we played”.

At around the same time Williams ran into his old friend Formanek, a musician that he played with frequently in the 1970s but only very occasionally since. Having made the decision to record with Staaf in a trio format Williams suggested Formanek as the bass player, remarking “I knew he would be the perfect choice, although they had not yet met. It all just bloomed out of nowhere, hence the album title”.

After a brief rehearsal the newly assembled trio convened at the studio at the Samurai Hotel in Queens to record their début album in a single day.  Each member of the trio brought tunes to the session with the only ‘outside’ item being “Air Dancing”, a composition by Jeff’s namesake, the bassist Buster Williams.

The album was largely documented in first takes with Williams commenting;
“Although presented as my album all three of us contributed equally to ‘Bloom’, and it is, importantly, a showcase for Carmen Staaf, one of the freshest voices on her instrument around, and definitely one to watch”.

The album commences with the group improvisation “Scattershot”, the first piece to be recorded that day. Williams describes it as “an improvisation that occurred as we became familiar with the sound while dialling in our headphone mixes”. The piece is paced by Formanek’s propulsive bass lines and the patented ‘polyrhythmic flow’ of Williams’ supple, colourful and always inventing drumming. Staaf finds her own way into this via her darting piano melody lines, revealing a remarkable ability to respond to the musical environment around her. The piece may be a happy accident, created ‘on the fly’ but its energy and inventiveness make it an excellent calling card for the album as a whole.  Referring to the overall work Williams comments; “The element of spontaneity is palpable, as we are in fact discovering the music as it unfolds”.

The more formal compositions commence with Williams’ “Another Time”, the title track of the drummer’s 2011 Whirlwind début. Originally the tune was recorded by the chordless line up of Williams, Hebert, Eubanks and O’Gallagher, and it’s interesting to hear it re-imagined for piano trio. The new arrangement helps to bring out the beauty of the melody,  a process enhanced by Staaf’s rich flow of melodic inventiveness allied to the colourful nuances of the composer’s drum commentary, his touch at the cymbals as immaculate as ever.  Formanek also impresses with a melodic and highly dexterous double bass solo.

When questioned about his propensity for bringing old tunes to the table Williams quotes Thelonious Monk - “I want people to hear them!”. And in any case material like “Another Time” sounds very different in this context.

A glance at Staaf’s website reveals that despite her relatively low profile she has moved in some pretty exalted jazz circles, acting as pianist and musical director for vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater as well as previously performing with such luminaries as saxophonist Wayne Shorter, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and fellow pianist Herbie Hancock. She works extensively with drummer/composer Allison Miller and has also collaborated with violinist Jenny Scheinman and vocalist Thana Alexa. Staaf also leads her own groups and released the sextet album “Day Dream” in 2017.

Staaf makes her compositional début here with the quirky, Monk like “Short Tune”, possibly so called due to its short, staccato phrases. It’s given a breezy reading by the increasingly tight and highly interactive trio with Formanek again featuring as a soloist and Williams enjoying a series of colourful drum breaks. Of Staaf’s own playing Williams comments;
“There’s a certain quirkiness that I like, plus a lot of technique in reserve.”

Next we hear a segue of Williams compositions with the loping odd meter 7/8 grooves of “Scrunge” metamorphosing into the more frenetic and restless “Search Me”, with its darting piano phrases and increasingly busy bass and drum patterns.

Formanek makes his compositional début with the more ruminative “Ballad of the Weak”, a more subdued but no less focussed trio performance that features Williams’ deft and imaginative brush work and Staaf’’s gently probing piano lyricism. The composer’s own sumptuous bass playing, simultaneously grounding and liberating, features prominently.
Williams compares his colleague’s writing with that of some of the jazz greats, “to me, that’s Strayhorn, Duke Ellington, Mingus, all of that quality”.

Staff’s second contribution with the pen is the effective and bluesy “New York Landing” which prompts further praise from Williams - “there are few young musicians who can play the blues like that”, he remarks. Formanek and Williams also impress with succinct bass and drum features and the level of interaction between the three musicians is also excellent throughout.

Williams’ own “She Can’t Be A Spy” is another piano trio arrangement of a tune originally performed by the earlier chordless quartet. With no specific chord changes the players are kept on their toes throughout, responding to each others’ ideas in a fiercely interactive trio performance that still finds plenty of scope for self expression with its features for bass and drums within a spiky three way discussion. For Williams this version of the piece represents “a fun challenge, taking it to the edge of the cliff”.

Buster Williams’ “Air Dancing” proves to be a beautiful ballad from the pen of a musician who has worked with many of the jazz greats. Formanek channels the spirit of Buster with a melodic bass solo while Staaf is at her most lyrical at the piano. Jeff Williams provides subtly detailed brushed drum commentary and colouration.

Formanek’s “A Word Edgewise” introduces another aspect of his writing, a more forcefully swinging piece propelled by his own muscular bass lines and also featuring his virtuoso bass soloing. Williams’ loose limbed drumming with its splashy cymbal work serves the music well and he also gets to enjoy a feature during the latter stages of the tune.  Staaf is feverishly inventive at the piano with her skittering runs, sophisticated chording and lively interactions with her colleagues.

Williams recorded his composition “Northwest” with the pianist Frank Kimbrough some years ago and the piece reflects a gentler side of his writing. This is the lengthiest item on the recording and sees the trio stretching out in more relaxed fashion with Williams’ mellifluous theme providing the framework for Staaf’s expansive but lyrical soloing. Formanek’s bass solo combines melodicism with a deep resonance while Williams drums with his customary intuitiveness, always with an ear for subtle nuance and an eye for fine detail.

The album closes with Staaf’s deeply atmospheric “Chant”, which combines gamelan inspired piano with grainy arco bass allied to mallet rumbles and shimmering percussive embellishments.  It represents a zen like oasis of calm in comparison to the intensity of some of the earlier performances and the overall effect is hauntingly beautiful.

For a group this early in its development “Bloom” represents a considerable achievement. Recorded over the course of a single day it documents the already remarkable empathy between the three musicians and embraces a wide variety of jazz styles, while simultaneously establishing a strong group identity. The music is bright, colourful, inventive and consistently interesting.

Williams hopes to work with this trio again, with Bloom likely to become a band name as well as an album title.  It’s certainly an effective showcase for the excellent Staaf, who is probably a new name to many British jazz listeners. Let’s hope that Williams can bring the trio to the UK for some live appearances.

I’ll leave the last word with Williams;
“I grew up listening to may piano trios, especially Ahmad Jamal’s from around 1958-62, so that influenced my playing. But there’s no fixed concept, and this was simply a case of ‘let’s see what we can do with it’. I’ve always played with people who inspire me, enjoying the conversation, going into some depth and often thinking about the musicians rather than the instrumentation. So I hope Bloom will allow us to flourish in pursuing this trio further.”

Oxyd - The Lost Animals Rating: 4 out of 5 Oxyd create a distinctive instrumental soundworld that draws on many influences.

Oxyd

“The Lost Animals”

(Onze Heures Onze – ONZ029

Alexandre Herer – Fender Rhodes, Julien Pontvianne – Tenor Sax, Olivier Laisney – Trumpet
Oliver Degabriele – Electric Bass, Thibault Perriard – Drums

Here is a recording that has been sitting for far too long in the ‘to do’ file. I’m indebted to Stephanie Knibbe, a one time London resident who has worked with the Vortex Jazz Club and the Loop Collective, but who has now returned to her native France, for forwarding it to me.

First released in March 2019 “The Lost Animals” is the fourth album release by the Paris based quintet Oxyd. The band was founded over a decade ago but as is usual in jazz its members are involved in a myriad of other projects, these ranging through jazz, rock, pop, contemporary classical, electronica, world music and more.

All of these influences inform the music of Oxyd, whose broadly ‘fusion-esque’ sound is sometimes reminiscent of contemporary New York jazz acts, with Herer naming drummer/composers Jim Black and John Hollenbeck as particularly significant sources of inspiration. I can certainly hear plenty of Black, notably his bands AlasnoAxis and Malamute, in Oxyd’s sound.

Another acknowledged influence is the quintet Kneebody, who share the same instrumental configuration. Personally I’m also reminded of UK ‘punk jazz’ acts such as Polar Bear and Dinosaur, plus the Danish quintet Girls In Airports. Electric era Miles Davis is another, more obvious, source of inspiration.

“The Lost Animals” appears on the Onze Heaurs Onze record label, the outlet for the creative output of the musicians’ collective of the same name founded in 2010 by Herer, Pontvianne and Laisney.

“The Lost Animals” is a loosely conceptual affair with the titles of the nine original instrumentals seemingly based on now extinct wildlife species (even I’ve heard of some of them), and acting as a timely reminder in these environmentally troubled times. The tunes are all composed and arranged collectively and some of the sounds from the album have been used in the soundtrack of the film “Le Dernier Homme”.

The album commences with the lengthy “Red Rail”, which combines atmospheric keyboard and trumpet led episodes with more forceful ensemble passages featuring Perriard’s dynamic rock influenced drumming. Herer, seemingly the group’s unofficial leader, conjures a remarkable range of sounds from his Fender Rhodes, his mastery of the instrument and its sonic capabilities sometimes reminding me of the great Craig Taborn. Laisney also impresses with his versatility on the trumpet, his sound ranging from gently piping atmospherics to more strident full on soloing.

“Sulu Bleeding-Heart” is shorter, but no less effective, with Rhodes, trumpet and tenor variously combining or jostling for supremacy above the rolling dynamics of Perriard’s drumming. Eventually things coalesce as the quintet slide into full on skronk mode with some powerful unison riffing.

Oxyd cool things down once more with the shimmering atmospherics of “Alaotra Grebe” as trumpet, tenor and ethereal Fender Rhodes gently intertwine above the sound of Perriard’s gently brushed drums. There’s a more extended solo from Herer as Perriard pick up the sticks and the tune gathers momentum, but by and large the mood here remains predominately reflective.

The atmospheric introduction to “Great Auk” incorporates the sound of a gamelan recorded by the group, but subsequently the music moves more squarely into Jim Black / Kneebody territory with Perriard’s supple, rock influenced drumming steering the music and with Herer’s keyboards still a vital component of the band’s sound. The two horns soar above the tumult of sound bubbling beneath. Herer then solos on Fender Rhodes before another passage of atmospherics leads to some chunky math rock riffing as the piece comes to a climax.

Maltese born Degabriele sets the pace for “Upward, Not Northward”, his electric bass groove acting as the fulcrum of the piece as he and Perriard lock in to form the pulse around which Herer, Pontvianne and Laisney drape swathes of melody. The rhythm team’s unstoppable momentum ensures that the music continues to grown in intensity, their almost motorik grooves having a compelling hypnotic effect. 

There are more overt gamelan sounds on the richly evocative “Tore” as they combine with long, drifting, almost subliminal but highly atmospheric horn lines. This is the sound of dawn in the rainforest.

More atmospherics at the commencement of “Quagga”, which later kicks into action with another propulsive and compulsive groove, supplemented by Herer’s quasi-orchestral keyboards and the unison melody lines of the horns. Later there’s a change of meter and a gentler dynamic, but the music remains compelling throughout.

The gamelan returns on “Pyrenean Ibex” as it combines effectively with Perriard’s colourful drumming to underpin Laisney’s haunting trumpet melody lines. Herer’s keyboards subsequently take on a fuller role as the momentum continues to build, with Laisney and Pontvianne combining effectively.

The album concludes with the atmospheric brooding of “Dusky Seaside Sparrow” with its wispy trumpet and saxophone melody lines scored by brushed drums and murky, sinister sounding keyboard textures.

On “The Lost Animals” Oxyd create a distinctive instrumental soundworld that draws on many influences. It’s undeniably a jazz record, but it deploys very few of the staples of the genre with the rhythms mainly drawn from the realms of adventurous rock music. Nirvana, Sonic Youth and Radiohead are all cited as influences on the band’s sound, but these are refracted through a jazz prism to produce music that is consistently interesting and absorbing. Oxyd are adept at varying moods and dynamics during the course of a single piece and they also make highly effective use of colour and texture with Herer, Laisney and drummer Perriard emerging as the most distinctive instrumentalists. Jim Black and Kneebody emerge as the most obvious parallels, two acts with substantial cult followings.

Oxyd’s music won’t be everybody, particularly dyed in the wool jazz purists, but I was personally very impressed by this album and enjoyed it a lot. With its broad range of influences the recording also has the potential to appeal to adventurous rock listeners.

I’d very much like to see this music performed live and Oxyd did play a couple of UK shows in Manchester and London in April 2019. On the evidence of this recording I think they’d be an ideal fit for the Parabola Arts Centre programme at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, particularly given that strand’s strong French connection. It would be good to see Oxyd there in 2020, perhaps with a London date at the Vortex tied in for good measure.

The Lost Animals

Oxyd

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

The Lost Animals

Oxyd create a distinctive instrumental soundworld that draws on many influences.

Oxyd

“The Lost Animals”

(Onze Heures Onze – ONZ029

Alexandre Herer – Fender Rhodes, Julien Pontvianne – Tenor Sax, Olivier Laisney – Trumpet
Oliver Degabriele – Electric Bass, Thibault Perriard – Drums

Here is a recording that has been sitting for far too long in the ‘to do’ file. I’m indebted to Stephanie Knibbe, a one time London resident who has worked with the Vortex Jazz Club and the Loop Collective, but who has now returned to her native France, for forwarding it to me.

First released in March 2019 “The Lost Animals” is the fourth album release by the Paris based quintet Oxyd. The band was founded over a decade ago but as is usual in jazz its members are involved in a myriad of other projects, these ranging through jazz, rock, pop, contemporary classical, electronica, world music and more.

All of these influences inform the music of Oxyd, whose broadly ‘fusion-esque’ sound is sometimes reminiscent of contemporary New York jazz acts, with Herer naming drummer/composers Jim Black and John Hollenbeck as particularly significant sources of inspiration. I can certainly hear plenty of Black, notably his bands AlasnoAxis and Malamute, in Oxyd’s sound.

Another acknowledged influence is the quintet Kneebody, who share the same instrumental configuration. Personally I’m also reminded of UK ‘punk jazz’ acts such as Polar Bear and Dinosaur, plus the Danish quintet Girls In Airports. Electric era Miles Davis is another, more obvious, source of inspiration.

“The Lost Animals” appears on the Onze Heaurs Onze record label, the outlet for the creative output of the musicians’ collective of the same name founded in 2010 by Herer, Pontvianne and Laisney.

“The Lost Animals” is a loosely conceptual affair with the titles of the nine original instrumentals seemingly based on now extinct wildlife species (even I’ve heard of some of them), and acting as a timely reminder in these environmentally troubled times. The tunes are all composed and arranged collectively and some of the sounds from the album have been used in the soundtrack of the film “Le Dernier Homme”.

The album commences with the lengthy “Red Rail”, which combines atmospheric keyboard and trumpet led episodes with more forceful ensemble passages featuring Perriard’s dynamic rock influenced drumming. Herer, seemingly the group’s unofficial leader, conjures a remarkable range of sounds from his Fender Rhodes, his mastery of the instrument and its sonic capabilities sometimes reminding me of the great Craig Taborn. Laisney also impresses with his versatility on the trumpet, his sound ranging from gently piping atmospherics to more strident full on soloing.

“Sulu Bleeding-Heart” is shorter, but no less effective, with Rhodes, trumpet and tenor variously combining or jostling for supremacy above the rolling dynamics of Perriard’s drumming. Eventually things coalesce as the quintet slide into full on skronk mode with some powerful unison riffing.

Oxyd cool things down once more with the shimmering atmospherics of “Alaotra Grebe” as trumpet, tenor and ethereal Fender Rhodes gently intertwine above the sound of Perriard’s gently brushed drums. There’s a more extended solo from Herer as Perriard pick up the sticks and the tune gathers momentum, but by and large the mood here remains predominately reflective.

The atmospheric introduction to “Great Auk” incorporates the sound of a gamelan recorded by the group, but subsequently the music moves more squarely into Jim Black / Kneebody territory with Perriard’s supple, rock influenced drumming steering the music and with Herer’s keyboards still a vital component of the band’s sound. The two horns soar above the tumult of sound bubbling beneath. Herer then solos on Fender Rhodes before another passage of atmospherics leads to some chunky math rock riffing as the piece comes to a climax.

Maltese born Degabriele sets the pace for “Upward, Not Northward”, his electric bass groove acting as the fulcrum of the piece as he and Perriard lock in to form the pulse around which Herer, Pontvianne and Laisney drape swathes of melody. The rhythm team’s unstoppable momentum ensures that the music continues to grown in intensity, their almost motorik grooves having a compelling hypnotic effect. 

There are more overt gamelan sounds on the richly evocative “Tore” as they combine with long, drifting, almost subliminal but highly atmospheric horn lines. This is the sound of dawn in the rainforest.

More atmospherics at the commencement of “Quagga”, which later kicks into action with another propulsive and compulsive groove, supplemented by Herer’s quasi-orchestral keyboards and the unison melody lines of the horns. Later there’s a change of meter and a gentler dynamic, but the music remains compelling throughout.

The gamelan returns on “Pyrenean Ibex” as it combines effectively with Perriard’s colourful drumming to underpin Laisney’s haunting trumpet melody lines. Herer’s keyboards subsequently take on a fuller role as the momentum continues to build, with Laisney and Pontvianne combining effectively.

The album concludes with the atmospheric brooding of “Dusky Seaside Sparrow” with its wispy trumpet and saxophone melody lines scored by brushed drums and murky, sinister sounding keyboard textures.

On “The Lost Animals” Oxyd create a distinctive instrumental soundworld that draws on many influences. It’s undeniably a jazz record, but it deploys very few of the staples of the genre with the rhythms mainly drawn from the realms of adventurous rock music. Nirvana, Sonic Youth and Radiohead are all cited as influences on the band’s sound, but these are refracted through a jazz prism to produce music that is consistently interesting and absorbing. Oxyd are adept at varying moods and dynamics during the course of a single piece and they also make highly effective use of colour and texture with Herer, Laisney and drummer Perriard emerging as the most distinctive instrumentalists. Jim Black and Kneebody emerge as the most obvious parallels, two acts with substantial cult followings.

Oxyd’s music won’t be everybody, particularly dyed in the wool jazz purists, but I was personally very impressed by this album and enjoyed it a lot. With its broad range of influences the recording also has the potential to appeal to adventurous rock listeners.

I’d very much like to see this music performed live and Oxyd did play a couple of UK shows in Manchester and London in April 2019. On the evidence of this recording I think they’d be an ideal fit for the Parabola Arts Centre programme at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, particularly given that strand’s strong French connection. It would be good to see Oxyd there in 2020, perhaps with a London date at the Vortex tied in for good measure.

Mikael Mani Trio - Bobby Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Finely attuned to each others’ sensibilities this is a trio that displays a maturity beyond its apparently youthful years. Mani is definitely an emerging talent, who will have much more to say.

Mikael Mani Trio

“Bobby”

(Smekkleysa Records MM001CD)


Mikael Mani Asmundsson – guitar, Skuli Sverrisson – bass, Magnus Trygvason Eliassen – drums, vibraphone


Mikael Mani Asmundsson is a young Icelandic guitarist and composer. His début album appears on the Reykjavik based label Smekkleysa and is also available as a vinyl LP.

The enigmatically titled “Bobby” is a semi-conceptual work featuring compositions inspired by the life of Bobby Fischer (1943 - 2008), the American born former chess champion who famously won the 1972 World Chess Championship, defeating Boris Spassky of the then Soviet Union at a match held in the neutral venue of Reykjavik.

Perhaps the most famous chess match in history Fischer v. Spassky took place at the height of the Cold War and was depicted as a battle of ideologies rather than as just a game of chess.

The location of that famous match has ensured that Fischer has remained a significant figure in Icelandic culture. Indeed, he actually lived in Reykjavik for the final three years of his life and is buried there.

Mani, who is far too young to personally remember the Fischer / Spassky match, was inspired by his reading of Fischer’s autobiography. For all his success as a chess champion Fischer was a troubled and reclusive figure, who at one point virtually withdrew from society altogether.

Mani says of his Fischer inspired compositions;
“The songs on the album are influenced by the characteristics and periods in the life of Bobby Fischer;  the creativity, mystery, insecurities, distrust for other people and the short periods in his life when everything seemed to be going the right way”.

Mani himself comes from a musical family, his father running a record label and record shop. After learning from some of Iceland’s leading jazz musicians he moved to Holland to study at the Amsterdam Conservatory, graduating as recently as 2018. He is currently based in Stockholm.

Mani names his jazz guitar heroes as being Barney Kessel, Jim Hall, Joe Pass and Lage Lund and he also draws inspiration from the works of jazz pianist Bill Evans, classical composer Claude Debussy and the Icelandic rock band Sigur Ros.

In 2017 released the album “Marina and Mikael”, a duo recording made with the Icelandic vocalist Marina Osk, with whom he first performed in 2014. Mani also plays with the international quartet Epsilon Eridani, a group formed with fellow students at Amsterdam Conservatory.  Meanwhile his solo project Lyrics Through Music features arrangements of Bob Dylan songs transposed for performance by solo jazz guitar.

“Bobby” features Mani leading an all Icelandic trio featuring bassist Skuli Sverrisson and drummer/vibraphonist Magnus Trygvason Eliassen. Guest musician David Por Davidsson appears on one piece, also playing vibraphone.

The cover photographs for the “Bobby” album were taken at the Bokavaroan bookshop in Reykjavik, where Fischer would go several days a week to study books and play chess. The pictures were taken by the famous Icelandic photographer, Spessi.

Mani’s album notes offer insights into the inspirations behind the individual compositions. The title of the opening “Board Games” refers to the infant Fischer’s obsession with puzzles and board games, particularly chess. The music attempts to “capture the childlike joy when you forget yourself in the world of your passion”. Playing his favourite Gibson ES 175 Mani favours an orthodox jazz guitar sound and his darting, elegant runs and sophisticated chording are complemented by the springy counterpoint of Sverrisson’s bass and Eliassen’s deft, brisk, highly colourful drumming. It’s a particularly well calibrated trio performance with the neatly detailed drumming complementing the neat interplay between guitar and bass.

“Sol” references Fischer’s notoriously troubled personality and is intended to describe “a person that is controlled by his emotions” and whose strong feelings “sabotage his relationships”. Nevertheless much of the delicacy and intricacy that characterised the opening track remains, Mani continues to favour a clean jazz guitar sound while Eliassen actually deploys brushes in the tune’s early stages, and later adds a little vibraphone too. Subsequently a hint of dissonance creeps in, but it’s very subtle, there is no sudden character change, instead an almost imperceptible shift of mood.

“Reykjavik 1972” is introduced by a passage of unaccompanied guitar, subsequently joined by bass and drums. The solo guitar passage is intended to reflect Fischer focussing, concentrating and generally getting ‘into the zone’ just before the Spassky match. The main melodic theme, with its two bar phrase followed by a two bar rest, reflects the rhythm of the play, while the improvised passage featuring Mani’s guitar soloing and his interaction with the bass and drums is intended to mirror the unpredictable ebb and flow of a game of chess. The gentle coda represents Fischer returning to something approaching normality after the intense concentration and absorption of the match.

The famously unpredictable Fischer held some pretty extreme political views and during the course of a brilliant but erratic career he managed to upset both the governing bodies of chess and the US government itself.  Consequently he spent much of his life as an emigree, roaming the world before finally settling in Iceland.

The next four pieces are presented as a kind of ‘suite’ and depict the period when Fischer lived in Hungary, cared for by a family of Hungarian chess enthusiasts at their country compound.

“First Impression of a Fragile Man” depicts the family welcoming a fragile Fischer into their home, still tolerant of his unconventional ways. It’s a short, spacious, delicate solo guitar piece, during which each note seems to hang in the air.

“Lend Me Your Finger and I’ll Take Your Whole Arm” sees the relationship begin to sour with Fischer daring to express his extreme anti-Semitic views to his Jewish hosts. The music is still gentle with Mani’s guitar joining in an absorbing dialogue with Sverrisson’s bass, the low frequencies of the latter adding a subtly ominous air to the music.

“Wishing You Were Wrong”  depicts the family still caring for Fischer despite his increasingly erratic behaviour. The music reflects this, being more fragmentary and freely structured, with Mani making use of live looping techniques as Sverrisson solos on bass and Eliassen adds atmospheric percussive punctuation and colouring.

Fischer eventually left the Hungarian family without saying either goodbye or thanks. “Betrayal of an Insecure Soul” portrays this episode, a gentle Frisell like shuffle eventually punctured by a clangorous dissonance as Mani deploys real distortion on his guitar for the first time.

Title track “Bobby” was actually the first composition to be written for the album. It was inspired by the incident when Fischer was arrested at Tokyo airport for carrying an illegal US passport. He spent six months in jail before settling in Iceland as a refugee. The music picks up the mantle of the previous track with its atmospheric guitar effects and the use of mysterious, uncredited wordless vocals. The subsequent interplay between guitar, bass and drums is characteristically spacious and unhurried with the three musicians again displaying an astonishing degree of empathy. The latter stages of the piece find the music briefly gravitating into more of a rock direction via the use of guitar washes and those wordless vocals once more. For the first time we hear that acknowledged Sigur Ros influence.

Guest musician Davidsson adds shimmering vibraphone to the lilting “Tie Your Hopes Down”, a gentle piece that is intended to reflect those moments of Fischer’s life when things actually seemed to be going right for him. Sverrissons richly melodic bass playing is also a key component of this piece, as is Eliassen’s busy, but gentle and colourful, percussion. Once again the level of interplay between the members of the core trio is exceptional, with Davidsson adding an extra dash of fairy dust.

Closing track “Down in the Well” brings another source of inspiration to the table. The composition takes it title from a chapter in “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles”, a novel by the Japanese author Haruki Murakami. In Murakami’s book the protagonist goes down in a well to be alone with his thoughts, a process that Mani compares with Fischer’s withdrawal from competitive chess and society in general following his 1972 triumph in Reykjavik. This is actually the album’s longest piece and the mood is suitably contemplative and unhurried with the track ushered in by a leisurely passage of unaccompanied guitar. Bass and drums subsequently enter the proceedings and the trio embark on a near seven minute journey of low key but deeply concentrated interaction, the piece finally resolving itself with a final brief passage of solo guitar.

I realise that in writing this review I’ve included a fair amount of biographical detail regarding Fischer, but I should stress that one doesn’t need to know anything about the background of this recording to appreciate the music in its own right. Although this is obviously a very personal album for Mani the conceptual framework is loose enough for the music to breathe, and there is no sense of it being in any way programmatic.

The most impressive aspect of this recording is the carefully balanced interplay between the members of the trio, each one a distinctive instrumental voice in their own right, but also part of a supremely coherent whole. Mani’s fluent and elegant guitar combines superbly with Sverrisson’s melodic bass and Eliassen’s delicately detailed and consistently colourful and inventive drumming. Finely attuned to each others’ sensibilities this is a trio that displays a maturity beyond its apparently youthful years.

If there’s a criticism it’s that it’s all a little bit too polite and tasteful, and ultimately a little bloodless. Having declared that the music is an enjoyable entity in its own right I can’t ignore the fact that it is inspired by the life of the famously turbulent and unpredictable Fischer. However little of the enigmatic chess champion’s personal angst comes out in the music and there were times when I was crying out for a few rough edges to more accurately reflect the flawed character of the man who inspired the music.

For all that Mani is definitely an emerging talent, who will doubtless have much else to say. I look forward to hearing more from him and his trio colleagues in the future.

Bobby

Mikael Mani Trio

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Bobby

Finely attuned to each others’ sensibilities this is a trio that displays a maturity beyond its apparently youthful years. Mani is definitely an emerging talent, who will have much more to say.

Mikael Mani Trio

“Bobby”

(Smekkleysa Records MM001CD)


Mikael Mani Asmundsson – guitar, Skuli Sverrisson – bass, Magnus Trygvason Eliassen – drums, vibraphone


Mikael Mani Asmundsson is a young Icelandic guitarist and composer. His début album appears on the Reykjavik based label Smekkleysa and is also available as a vinyl LP.

The enigmatically titled “Bobby” is a semi-conceptual work featuring compositions inspired by the life of Bobby Fischer (1943 - 2008), the American born former chess champion who famously won the 1972 World Chess Championship, defeating Boris Spassky of the then Soviet Union at a match held in the neutral venue of Reykjavik.

Perhaps the most famous chess match in history Fischer v. Spassky took place at the height of the Cold War and was depicted as a battle of ideologies rather than as just a game of chess.

The location of that famous match has ensured that Fischer has remained a significant figure in Icelandic culture. Indeed, he actually lived in Reykjavik for the final three years of his life and is buried there.

Mani, who is far too young to personally remember the Fischer / Spassky match, was inspired by his reading of Fischer’s autobiography. For all his success as a chess champion Fischer was a troubled and reclusive figure, who at one point virtually withdrew from society altogether.

Mani says of his Fischer inspired compositions;
“The songs on the album are influenced by the characteristics and periods in the life of Bobby Fischer;  the creativity, mystery, insecurities, distrust for other people and the short periods in his life when everything seemed to be going the right way”.

Mani himself comes from a musical family, his father running a record label and record shop. After learning from some of Iceland’s leading jazz musicians he moved to Holland to study at the Amsterdam Conservatory, graduating as recently as 2018. He is currently based in Stockholm.

Mani names his jazz guitar heroes as being Barney Kessel, Jim Hall, Joe Pass and Lage Lund and he also draws inspiration from the works of jazz pianist Bill Evans, classical composer Claude Debussy and the Icelandic rock band Sigur Ros.

In 2017 released the album “Marina and Mikael”, a duo recording made with the Icelandic vocalist Marina Osk, with whom he first performed in 2014. Mani also plays with the international quartet Epsilon Eridani, a group formed with fellow students at Amsterdam Conservatory.  Meanwhile his solo project Lyrics Through Music features arrangements of Bob Dylan songs transposed for performance by solo jazz guitar.

“Bobby” features Mani leading an all Icelandic trio featuring bassist Skuli Sverrisson and drummer/vibraphonist Magnus Trygvason Eliassen. Guest musician David Por Davidsson appears on one piece, also playing vibraphone.

The cover photographs for the “Bobby” album were taken at the Bokavaroan bookshop in Reykjavik, where Fischer would go several days a week to study books and play chess. The pictures were taken by the famous Icelandic photographer, Spessi.

Mani’s album notes offer insights into the inspirations behind the individual compositions. The title of the opening “Board Games” refers to the infant Fischer’s obsession with puzzles and board games, particularly chess. The music attempts to “capture the childlike joy when you forget yourself in the world of your passion”. Playing his favourite Gibson ES 175 Mani favours an orthodox jazz guitar sound and his darting, elegant runs and sophisticated chording are complemented by the springy counterpoint of Sverrisson’s bass and Eliassen’s deft, brisk, highly colourful drumming. It’s a particularly well calibrated trio performance with the neatly detailed drumming complementing the neat interplay between guitar and bass.

“Sol” references Fischer’s notoriously troubled personality and is intended to describe “a person that is controlled by his emotions” and whose strong feelings “sabotage his relationships”. Nevertheless much of the delicacy and intricacy that characterised the opening track remains, Mani continues to favour a clean jazz guitar sound while Eliassen actually deploys brushes in the tune’s early stages, and later adds a little vibraphone too. Subsequently a hint of dissonance creeps in, but it’s very subtle, there is no sudden character change, instead an almost imperceptible shift of mood.

“Reykjavik 1972” is introduced by a passage of unaccompanied guitar, subsequently joined by bass and drums. The solo guitar passage is intended to reflect Fischer focussing, concentrating and generally getting ‘into the zone’ just before the Spassky match. The main melodic theme, with its two bar phrase followed by a two bar rest, reflects the rhythm of the play, while the improvised passage featuring Mani’s guitar soloing and his interaction with the bass and drums is intended to mirror the unpredictable ebb and flow of a game of chess. The gentle coda represents Fischer returning to something approaching normality after the intense concentration and absorption of the match.

The famously unpredictable Fischer held some pretty extreme political views and during the course of a brilliant but erratic career he managed to upset both the governing bodies of chess and the US government itself.  Consequently he spent much of his life as an emigree, roaming the world before finally settling in Iceland.

The next four pieces are presented as a kind of ‘suite’ and depict the period when Fischer lived in Hungary, cared for by a family of Hungarian chess enthusiasts at their country compound.

“First Impression of a Fragile Man” depicts the family welcoming a fragile Fischer into their home, still tolerant of his unconventional ways. It’s a short, spacious, delicate solo guitar piece, during which each note seems to hang in the air.

“Lend Me Your Finger and I’ll Take Your Whole Arm” sees the relationship begin to sour with Fischer daring to express his extreme anti-Semitic views to his Jewish hosts. The music is still gentle with Mani’s guitar joining in an absorbing dialogue with Sverrisson’s bass, the low frequencies of the latter adding a subtly ominous air to the music.

“Wishing You Were Wrong”  depicts the family still caring for Fischer despite his increasingly erratic behaviour. The music reflects this, being more fragmentary and freely structured, with Mani making use of live looping techniques as Sverrisson solos on bass and Eliassen adds atmospheric percussive punctuation and colouring.

Fischer eventually left the Hungarian family without saying either goodbye or thanks. “Betrayal of an Insecure Soul” portrays this episode, a gentle Frisell like shuffle eventually punctured by a clangorous dissonance as Mani deploys real distortion on his guitar for the first time.

Title track “Bobby” was actually the first composition to be written for the album. It was inspired by the incident when Fischer was arrested at Tokyo airport for carrying an illegal US passport. He spent six months in jail before settling in Iceland as a refugee. The music picks up the mantle of the previous track with its atmospheric guitar effects and the use of mysterious, uncredited wordless vocals. The subsequent interplay between guitar, bass and drums is characteristically spacious and unhurried with the three musicians again displaying an astonishing degree of empathy. The latter stages of the piece find the music briefly gravitating into more of a rock direction via the use of guitar washes and those wordless vocals once more. For the first time we hear that acknowledged Sigur Ros influence.

Guest musician Davidsson adds shimmering vibraphone to the lilting “Tie Your Hopes Down”, a gentle piece that is intended to reflect those moments of Fischer’s life when things actually seemed to be going right for him. Sverrissons richly melodic bass playing is also a key component of this piece, as is Eliassen’s busy, but gentle and colourful, percussion. Once again the level of interplay between the members of the core trio is exceptional, with Davidsson adding an extra dash of fairy dust.

Closing track “Down in the Well” brings another source of inspiration to the table. The composition takes it title from a chapter in “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles”, a novel by the Japanese author Haruki Murakami. In Murakami’s book the protagonist goes down in a well to be alone with his thoughts, a process that Mani compares with Fischer’s withdrawal from competitive chess and society in general following his 1972 triumph in Reykjavik. This is actually the album’s longest piece and the mood is suitably contemplative and unhurried with the track ushered in by a leisurely passage of unaccompanied guitar. Bass and drums subsequently enter the proceedings and the trio embark on a near seven minute journey of low key but deeply concentrated interaction, the piece finally resolving itself with a final brief passage of solo guitar.

I realise that in writing this review I’ve included a fair amount of biographical detail regarding Fischer, but I should stress that one doesn’t need to know anything about the background of this recording to appreciate the music in its own right. Although this is obviously a very personal album for Mani the conceptual framework is loose enough for the music to breathe, and there is no sense of it being in any way programmatic.

The most impressive aspect of this recording is the carefully balanced interplay between the members of the trio, each one a distinctive instrumental voice in their own right, but also part of a supremely coherent whole. Mani’s fluent and elegant guitar combines superbly with Sverrisson’s melodic bass and Eliassen’s delicately detailed and consistently colourful and inventive drumming. Finely attuned to each others’ sensibilities this is a trio that displays a maturity beyond its apparently youthful years.

If there’s a criticism it’s that it’s all a little bit too polite and tasteful, and ultimately a little bloodless. Having declared that the music is an enjoyable entity in its own right I can’t ignore the fact that it is inspired by the life of the famously turbulent and unpredictable Fischer. However little of the enigmatic chess champion’s personal angst comes out in the music and there were times when I was crying out for a few rough edges to more accurately reflect the flawed character of the man who inspired the music.

For all that Mani is definitely an emerging talent, who will doubtless have much else to say. I look forward to hearing more from him and his trio colleagues in the future.

Dani Diodato’s SUNAAT - Dani Diodato’s SUNAAT, Vout-O-Reenee’s, Tower Hill, London, 20/07/2019. Rating: 4-5 out of 5 Guest contributor Natasha Franks enjoys the music of guitarist Dani Diodato and his band SUNAAT at the inaugural London event organised by the Copenhagen based pop up concert brand House of Customs.

Dani Diodato’s SUNAAT, Vout-O-Reenee’s, Tower Hill, London, 20/07/2019.


Dani Diodato – guitar, Dylan Jones – trumpet, Hugo Piper – bass, Ewan Moore – drums.


On Saturday 20th July at members’ club Vout-O-Reenee’s, the House of Customs debuted in London. Naples-born guitarist and composer Dani Diodato headlined the intimate gathering, the British inauguration of the pop-up concert brand following its migration from Copenhagen. Fittingly, Diodato’s music also placed migration in the spotlight. 

In the small, softly lit surroundings, Diodato presented his project SUNAAT, which bills itself as a musical exploration of the current experience of migration in Europe. Naples born and now London-based, Diodato seeks to achieve his project’s goals through guitar melodies, trumpet solos and electronic drum beats. The result is a cohesive sound that unifies new London and classic Naples into a singular jazz harmony. The snug space and cosy decor gave the impression of a private living room, the band playing barely a meter away from the guests. Diodato’s sound was speakeasy-like, a vibrant hum of noise that broke free of the background and commanded the audience’s full attention. 

Following stints at Glastonbury and Love Supreme Festival, Diodato has established a strong foothold in the vibrant London jazz scene. His confident image complemented the newly arrived House of Customs. In Copenhagen, the brand worked with jazz festivals and partnered with luxury venues as it developed its own voice. Judging by the London launch, it will extend its track record by showcasing artists such as Diodato. 

The audience consisted of jazz enthusiasts, attracted by the House’s focus on the night’s talent. One attendee, however, admitted that while it was his first jazz event, it would not be his last. He names the “intimate setting”,  “chilled vibe” and “personal and relaxed environment” as contributors to his overall enjoyment of the music. Another guest noted her amazement at how “in-sync and talented the artists [were] to make such beautiful jazz music.” 

Diodato and SUNAAT will be playing at the London jazz club Kansas Smitty’s on Tuesday 6th August, and again on Saturday 24th August at Bar 91 in Brick Lane, Shoreditch. It is possible that he will partner with House of Customs in the future.

In the meantime, the brand, headed by Folayinka Coker, will continue to combine London’s most luxurious venues and best jazz talent. 


NATASHA FRANKS

Dani Diodato’s SUNAAT, Vout-O-Reenee’s, Tower Hill, London, 20/07/2019.

Dani Diodato’s SUNAAT

Friday, August 02, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4-5 out of 5

Dani Diodato’s SUNAAT, Vout-O-Reenee’s, Tower Hill, London, 20/07/2019.
Photography: Photograph by Alex Massek.

Guest contributor Natasha Franks enjoys the music of guitarist Dani Diodato and his band SUNAAT at the inaugural London event organised by the Copenhagen based pop up concert brand House of Customs.

Dani Diodato’s SUNAAT, Vout-O-Reenee’s, Tower Hill, London, 20/07/2019.


Dani Diodato – guitar, Dylan Jones – trumpet, Hugo Piper – bass, Ewan Moore – drums.


On Saturday 20th July at members’ club Vout-O-Reenee’s, the House of Customs debuted in London. Naples-born guitarist and composer Dani Diodato headlined the intimate gathering, the British inauguration of the pop-up concert brand following its migration from Copenhagen. Fittingly, Diodato’s music also placed migration in the spotlight. 

In the small, softly lit surroundings, Diodato presented his project SUNAAT, which bills itself as a musical exploration of the current experience of migration in Europe. Naples born and now London-based, Diodato seeks to achieve his project’s goals through guitar melodies, trumpet solos and electronic drum beats. The result is a cohesive sound that unifies new London and classic Naples into a singular jazz harmony. The snug space and cosy decor gave the impression of a private living room, the band playing barely a meter away from the guests. Diodato’s sound was speakeasy-like, a vibrant hum of noise that broke free of the background and commanded the audience’s full attention. 

Following stints at Glastonbury and Love Supreme Festival, Diodato has established a strong foothold in the vibrant London jazz scene. His confident image complemented the newly arrived House of Customs. In Copenhagen, the brand worked with jazz festivals and partnered with luxury venues as it developed its own voice. Judging by the London launch, it will extend its track record by showcasing artists such as Diodato. 

The audience consisted of jazz enthusiasts, attracted by the House’s focus on the night’s talent. One attendee, however, admitted that while it was his first jazz event, it would not be his last. He names the “intimate setting”,  “chilled vibe” and “personal and relaxed environment” as contributors to his overall enjoyment of the music. Another guest noted her amazement at how “in-sync and talented the artists [were] to make such beautiful jazz music.” 

Diodato and SUNAAT will be playing at the London jazz club Kansas Smitty’s on Tuesday 6th August, and again on Saturday 24th August at Bar 91 in Brick Lane, Shoreditch. It is possible that he will partner with House of Customs in the future.

In the meantime, the brand, headed by Folayinka Coker, will continue to combine London’s most luxurious venues and best jazz talent. 


NATASHA FRANKS

Bonsai - Bonsai Club Rating: 4 out of 5 An interesting and highly satisfying listening experience, the sound of a young band forging an increasingly distinctive group identity.

Bonsai

“Bonsai Club”

(Ubuntu Music – UBU0031)

Rory Ingham – trombone, Dominic Ingham – violin, vocals, Toby Comeau – keyboards
Joe Lee – bass, vocals, keyboards, Jonny Mansfield – drums, vibes, percussion, synths

Bonsai is the band that used to be known as Jam Experiment. The quintet has changed its name following a decidedly radical change of line up with violinist / vocalist Dominic Ingham, brother of the group’s trombonist Rory Ingham, replacing saxophonist Alexander Bone.

Bone was part of the quintet that appeared on the album “Jam Experiment”, released in 2017, a recording that attracted a good deal of critical acclaim for this new, exciting young band. The group toured the album extensively and I was privileged to catch them at a performance at The Hive Music and Media Centre, one of the monthly gigs promoted by Shrewsbury Jazz Network.
My review of that performance, plus my impressions of the Jam Experiment album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/jam-experiment-the-hive-music-media-centre-shrewsbury-17-06-017/

Bone, the 2014 winner of the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year award , has since left to concentrate on a solo career. Dominic Ingham comes to the group thanks to his familial relationship with Rory and through his work with Mansfield’s innovative eleven piece ensemble Elftet.

Guest contributor Trevor Bannister reviewed the new line up, at that time still using the Jam Experiment name, at the Progress Theatre in Reading in August 2018. Trevor’s account can be read here;  http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/elftet-progress-theatre-reading-berkshire-28-09-2018/

As Jam Experiment the group always liked to emphasise their collective spirit, with all members of the quintet contributing compositions to the band’s repertoire. As Bonsai they have taken this a stage further and have begun to write collectively as Rory Ingham explains;
“Bonsai is a group where everyone is the leader, and the music is written to be played by each other,  with each other. The long standing relationships mean that Bonsai are able to work cohesively and freely as a collective, resulting in total synergy. With this shared leadership we find the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts”.

The group’s members met when they were studying at Chetham’s Music School in Manchester and they remain proud of their Northern roots, despite since making the move to London.


The change of both name and personnel has seen a change in musical direction with the group deploying lyrics and vocals for the first time. There’s also a greater reliance on electric instrumentation, a process that began in the Jam Experiment days with Comeau’s electric keyboards and Bone’s use of the electronic wind instrument, or EWI. On “Bonsai Club” Comeau, Lee and Mansfield are all credited with synths and these instruments represent an important component of the music.

Funk and fusion still remains a key part of Bonsai’s music while the introduction of Dominic Ingham’s voice sometimes steers the music into more of a neo soul direction. Meanwhile his violin gives the renamed group a more unusual instrumental configuration and introduces folk and classical elements. The result is an increasingly distinctive and personal music that embraces a variety of styles and genres.

“We wanted to explore how five musicians with extremely deep and long-standing connections can communicate with a shared artistic vision, while having a variety of musical backgrounds, influences and experiences” says Ingham.

He continues “’Bonsai Club’  is about the joy of returning to a place where you feel content and accepted, no matter how much it transforms, it always feels like home. We translate this into accessible, inviting music that welcomes the listener”.

The arrival of Dominic Ingham has led to the group’s music becoming more obviously song like, a characteristic that also has its roots in Mansfield’s Elftet band.

Opening track “Bonsai Club” is one such example, a song with a buoyant funky groove, uplifting melody and a simple, haiku like lyric, written and warmly delivered by Dominic Ingham. The main instrumental solo comes from Lee on melodic electric bass, his Jaco like explorations underpinned by swirling synths and Comeau’s insistent piano vamp. The music as a whole is richly layered with those synths a vital presence alongside the violin, piano, drums and trombone.

“The Crescent” is essentially an instrumental offering but still features the use of Dominic’s wordless vocals, influenced perhaps by the work of the Pat Metheny Group. The synths and other electric keyboards are right in the busy mix too, but the centrepiece of the tune is a rousing trombone solo by Rory Ingham that is straight of the jazz tradition as ancient rubs shoulders with modern. Meanwhile Mansfield doubles on both drums and vibes and a dazzling, overdubbed vibraphone solo takes the piece storming out.

“Tin” blends jazz with chilly eighties synth pop, conjuring up an atmosphere similar to Ultravox’s “Vienna”. Mansfield’s succinct, atmospheric lyric, which again possesses the skeletal elegance of a haiku, is delivered by Dominic with a Thom Yorke (Radiohead) like plaintiveness.

Dominic Ingham’s unaccompanied violin introduces “BMJC”, which combines hard driving passages with more atmospheric interludes. Dominic’s mercurial violin playing is the stand out feature here, his sound sometimes reminiscent of Christian Garrick when the latter is in contemporary jazz mode. Meanwhile Mansfield’s powerful drumming borrows from both rock and hip hop.

The languid, drifting “Quay” is a gentler proposition with a rich instrumental palette incorporating violin, trombone, electric keyboards and vibes. There’s a one line lyric, written by Dominic Ingham but sung by bassist Lee, the latter also adding piano and synths to this track. The singing and words are all but absorbed into the musical fabric, yet the piece retains a distinctly song like structure, a kind of jazz infused power ballad.

“Hop – The Hip Replacement” is the only track not to contain any vocals at all, even wordless ones. It does however boast a series of scintillating trombone / violin exchanges between the Ingham brothers, with the siblings skilfully supported by Comeau, Lee and Mansfield.

“Itchy Knee” features fruity trombone and soaring violin plus Comeau releasing his inner Rick Wakeman as he delivers dazzling solos on both Fender Rhodes and synth, with acoustic piano featuring in the mix too. Dominic Ingham’s violin solo is a similarly show stopping affair as he moves through the gears, and there’s a closing vibraphone flourish from Mansfield. Apparently the title is a play on the Japanese words for “one” “two” and “three”.

The album closes with a brief reprise of the opening “Bonsai Club”.

I have to admit that I didn’t quite know what to make of this album when I first heard it. The departure of Bone and his saxes and his replacement by violin and vocals ensures that Bonsai sound very different to Jam Experiment, and initially this took some getting used to.

However with subsequent listens “Bonsai Club” has very much grown on me. In my review of the Jam Experiment show at Shrewsbury I commented “ it’s refreshing to hear a young band playing a music that they obviously love rather than recycling the kind of neo-bop and post bop licks that they learnt at college”.

This observation seems even more appropriate when applied to Bonsai. This first recording under their new band name sees the group expanding on their jazz and funk base to incorporate rock, hip hop, classical and folk influences. With the addition of vocals it’s inevitably more song orientated than before with the music of Mansfield’s similarly inclined Elftet, in which the Ingham brothers both play, becoming a more significant influence.

Instrumentally (and vocally) the playing of the Ingham brothers is the first thing to catch the attention of the listener, but deeper examination suggests that it’s Comeau who is probably the glue that holds it all together with Mansfield becoming an increasingly significant composing presence.

In its Bonsai incarnation the music of the quintet is increasingly difficult to categorise, and although they may lose a few hardcore jazz listeners along the way the group’s new approach has the capacity to appeal to a much wider audience, particularly adventurous rock and pop listeners. Bonsai’s combination of youthful enthusiasm allied to superb musicianship has the potential of appealing to a similarly young demographic.

“Bonsai Club” reveals an increasingly distinctive group sound and skilfully combines acoustic and electronic elements, with the group making particularly effective use of what the press release describes as a ‘plethora of synthesisers’, expertly stitching these into the overall fabric of the music.  They are helped in this regard by the crack engineering team of Alex Killpartrick, Matt Williams and Peter Beckmann.

If there’s a criticism of “Bonsai Club” as an album it’s that at thirty seven minutes in length it’s rather short, CD running times are normally far more generous these days. But it’s an interesting and highly satisfying listening experience, the sound of a young band forging an increasingly distinctive group identity.

However I have to admit that I’m still not entirely convinced by the band name. Jam Experiment was bad, but, for me, Bonsai offers little improvement. Still having a naff name has never been much of an obstacle in the rock world. Some of the biggest acts have had absolutely terrible names, take The Beatles and Oasis just for starters. Didn’t do either of those two much harm did it?

Bonsai are currently touring the album with forthcoming dates as follows;

13/09 Fleece Jazz, Colchester
15/09 Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry
16/09 The Whiskey Jar, Manchester
17/09 PARRJAZZ, Liverpool
18/09 The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh
19/09 The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
20/09 The Blue Arrow, Glasgow
22/09 Scarborough Jazz Festival, Yorkshire
06/10 Seven Jazz, Leeds
08/10 The Stables, Milton Keynes
31/10 Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall, London

More information at;
 http://bonsaibanduk.com

Bonsai Club

Bonsai

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Bonsai Club

An interesting and highly satisfying listening experience, the sound of a young band forging an increasingly distinctive group identity.

Bonsai

“Bonsai Club”

(Ubuntu Music – UBU0031)

Rory Ingham – trombone, Dominic Ingham – violin, vocals, Toby Comeau – keyboards
Joe Lee – bass, vocals, keyboards, Jonny Mansfield – drums, vibes, percussion, synths

Bonsai is the band that used to be known as Jam Experiment. The quintet has changed its name following a decidedly radical change of line up with violinist / vocalist Dominic Ingham, brother of the group’s trombonist Rory Ingham, replacing saxophonist Alexander Bone.

Bone was part of the quintet that appeared on the album “Jam Experiment”, released in 2017, a recording that attracted a good deal of critical acclaim for this new, exciting young band. The group toured the album extensively and I was privileged to catch them at a performance at The Hive Music and Media Centre, one of the monthly gigs promoted by Shrewsbury Jazz Network.
My review of that performance, plus my impressions of the Jam Experiment album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/jam-experiment-the-hive-music-media-centre-shrewsbury-17-06-017/

Bone, the 2014 winner of the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year award , has since left to concentrate on a solo career. Dominic Ingham comes to the group thanks to his familial relationship with Rory and through his work with Mansfield’s innovative eleven piece ensemble Elftet.

Guest contributor Trevor Bannister reviewed the new line up, at that time still using the Jam Experiment name, at the Progress Theatre in Reading in August 2018. Trevor’s account can be read here;  http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/elftet-progress-theatre-reading-berkshire-28-09-2018/

As Jam Experiment the group always liked to emphasise their collective spirit, with all members of the quintet contributing compositions to the band’s repertoire. As Bonsai they have taken this a stage further and have begun to write collectively as Rory Ingham explains;
“Bonsai is a group where everyone is the leader, and the music is written to be played by each other,  with each other. The long standing relationships mean that Bonsai are able to work cohesively and freely as a collective, resulting in total synergy. With this shared leadership we find the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts”.

The group’s members met when they were studying at Chetham’s Music School in Manchester and they remain proud of their Northern roots, despite since making the move to London.


The change of both name and personnel has seen a change in musical direction with the group deploying lyrics and vocals for the first time. There’s also a greater reliance on electric instrumentation, a process that began in the Jam Experiment days with Comeau’s electric keyboards and Bone’s use of the electronic wind instrument, or EWI. On “Bonsai Club” Comeau, Lee and Mansfield are all credited with synths and these instruments represent an important component of the music.

Funk and fusion still remains a key part of Bonsai’s music while the introduction of Dominic Ingham’s voice sometimes steers the music into more of a neo soul direction. Meanwhile his violin gives the renamed group a more unusual instrumental configuration and introduces folk and classical elements. The result is an increasingly distinctive and personal music that embraces a variety of styles and genres.

“We wanted to explore how five musicians with extremely deep and long-standing connections can communicate with a shared artistic vision, while having a variety of musical backgrounds, influences and experiences” says Ingham.

He continues “’Bonsai Club’  is about the joy of returning to a place where you feel content and accepted, no matter how much it transforms, it always feels like home. We translate this into accessible, inviting music that welcomes the listener”.

The arrival of Dominic Ingham has led to the group’s music becoming more obviously song like, a characteristic that also has its roots in Mansfield’s Elftet band.

Opening track “Bonsai Club” is one such example, a song with a buoyant funky groove, uplifting melody and a simple, haiku like lyric, written and warmly delivered by Dominic Ingham. The main instrumental solo comes from Lee on melodic electric bass, his Jaco like explorations underpinned by swirling synths and Comeau’s insistent piano vamp. The music as a whole is richly layered with those synths a vital presence alongside the violin, piano, drums and trombone.

“The Crescent” is essentially an instrumental offering but still features the use of Dominic’s wordless vocals, influenced perhaps by the work of the Pat Metheny Group. The synths and other electric keyboards are right in the busy mix too, but the centrepiece of the tune is a rousing trombone solo by Rory Ingham that is straight of the jazz tradition as ancient rubs shoulders with modern. Meanwhile Mansfield doubles on both drums and vibes and a dazzling, overdubbed vibraphone solo takes the piece storming out.

“Tin” blends jazz with chilly eighties synth pop, conjuring up an atmosphere similar to Ultravox’s “Vienna”. Mansfield’s succinct, atmospheric lyric, which again possesses the skeletal elegance of a haiku, is delivered by Dominic with a Thom Yorke (Radiohead) like plaintiveness.

Dominic Ingham’s unaccompanied violin introduces “BMJC”, which combines hard driving passages with more atmospheric interludes. Dominic’s mercurial violin playing is the stand out feature here, his sound sometimes reminiscent of Christian Garrick when the latter is in contemporary jazz mode. Meanwhile Mansfield’s powerful drumming borrows from both rock and hip hop.

The languid, drifting “Quay” is a gentler proposition with a rich instrumental palette incorporating violin, trombone, electric keyboards and vibes. There’s a one line lyric, written by Dominic Ingham but sung by bassist Lee, the latter also adding piano and synths to this track. The singing and words are all but absorbed into the musical fabric, yet the piece retains a distinctly song like structure, a kind of jazz infused power ballad.

“Hop – The Hip Replacement” is the only track not to contain any vocals at all, even wordless ones. It does however boast a series of scintillating trombone / violin exchanges between the Ingham brothers, with the siblings skilfully supported by Comeau, Lee and Mansfield.

“Itchy Knee” features fruity trombone and soaring violin plus Comeau releasing his inner Rick Wakeman as he delivers dazzling solos on both Fender Rhodes and synth, with acoustic piano featuring in the mix too. Dominic Ingham’s violin solo is a similarly show stopping affair as he moves through the gears, and there’s a closing vibraphone flourish from Mansfield. Apparently the title is a play on the Japanese words for “one” “two” and “three”.

The album closes with a brief reprise of the opening “Bonsai Club”.

I have to admit that I didn’t quite know what to make of this album when I first heard it. The departure of Bone and his saxes and his replacement by violin and vocals ensures that Bonsai sound very different to Jam Experiment, and initially this took some getting used to.

However with subsequent listens “Bonsai Club” has very much grown on me. In my review of the Jam Experiment show at Shrewsbury I commented “ it’s refreshing to hear a young band playing a music that they obviously love rather than recycling the kind of neo-bop and post bop licks that they learnt at college”.

This observation seems even more appropriate when applied to Bonsai. This first recording under their new band name sees the group expanding on their jazz and funk base to incorporate rock, hip hop, classical and folk influences. With the addition of vocals it’s inevitably more song orientated than before with the music of Mansfield’s similarly inclined Elftet, in which the Ingham brothers both play, becoming a more significant influence.

Instrumentally (and vocally) the playing of the Ingham brothers is the first thing to catch the attention of the listener, but deeper examination suggests that it’s Comeau who is probably the glue that holds it all together with Mansfield becoming an increasingly significant composing presence.

In its Bonsai incarnation the music of the quintet is increasingly difficult to categorise, and although they may lose a few hardcore jazz listeners along the way the group’s new approach has the capacity to appeal to a much wider audience, particularly adventurous rock and pop listeners. Bonsai’s combination of youthful enthusiasm allied to superb musicianship has the potential of appealing to a similarly young demographic.

“Bonsai Club” reveals an increasingly distinctive group sound and skilfully combines acoustic and electronic elements, with the group making particularly effective use of what the press release describes as a ‘plethora of synthesisers’, expertly stitching these into the overall fabric of the music.  They are helped in this regard by the crack engineering team of Alex Killpartrick, Matt Williams and Peter Beckmann.

If there’s a criticism of “Bonsai Club” as an album it’s that at thirty seven minutes in length it’s rather short, CD running times are normally far more generous these days. But it’s an interesting and highly satisfying listening experience, the sound of a young band forging an increasingly distinctive group identity.

However I have to admit that I’m still not entirely convinced by the band name. Jam Experiment was bad, but, for me, Bonsai offers little improvement. Still having a naff name has never been much of an obstacle in the rock world. Some of the biggest acts have had absolutely terrible names, take The Beatles and Oasis just for starters. Didn’t do either of those two much harm did it?

Bonsai are currently touring the album with forthcoming dates as follows;

13/09 Fleece Jazz, Colchester
15/09 Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry
16/09 The Whiskey Jar, Manchester
17/09 PARRJAZZ, Liverpool
18/09 The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh
19/09 The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
20/09 The Blue Arrow, Glasgow
22/09 Scarborough Jazz Festival, Yorkshire
06/10 Seven Jazz, Leeds
08/10 The Stables, Milton Keynes
31/10 Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall, London

More information at;
 http://bonsaibanduk.com

The Shirt Tail Stompers - The Shirt Tail Stompers, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 28/07/2019. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 In the young hands of The Shirt Tail Stompers trad is still very much alive and kicking, with the band attracting the largest club night audience at BMJ for many a year.

The Shirt Tail Stompers, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 28/07/2019.

Steven Coombe – trumpet, vocals, piano, swanee whistle, Michael McQuaid – clarinet, tenor sax, backing vocals, Dave O’Brien – double bass, vocals Simon Picton – guitar, banjo, vocals
Nicholas Ball – drums, percussion


Who said trad was dead? This evening’s concert by the young London based quintet The Shirt Tail Stompers attracted the largest club night audience at BMJ for many a year with event organiser Mike Skilton declaring himself delighted with the near capacity turnout.

The Stompers are part of a London based trad revival that has seen young music college educated musicians playing to similarly youthful audiences, with both the players and their listeners approaching the music of the New Orleans and swing eras without prejudice, but instead with energy and a genuine enthusiasm. The Stompers prefer to describe their music as ‘vintage’ rather then ‘trad’ and are part of a scene that also includes The Dixie Ticklers, The Back Street Brawlers and the Kansas Smitty’s crew fronted by clarinettist Giacomo Smith.

A glance at the Stompers website reveals that they are never short of work with the band touring widely both in the UK and internationally. They have clearly developed something of a cult following, even outside London, if the size of tonight’s turnout is anything to go by.

The band have released three albums and their core line up is frequently augmented by guest musicians and vocalists. Indeed there seems to be something of a ‘pool’ of musicians with Coombe and O’Brien the only two constants.

Coombe studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff before moving back to London, and it may have been that connection that brought him back to Wales tonight. He fronted the performance with ready charm and a quick wit, and although this was obviously very much a ‘show’ the band members genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves, a quality that quickly communicated itself to the audience. This was probably an older crowd than the Stompers are used to playing to in London, where bright young things probably get to their feet to dance old dances such as the Lindy Hop, but it was attentive and genuinely appreciative.

The Stompers kicked off with an instrumental rendition of the song “Darktown Strutters’ Ball”, first published in 1917 and delivered in classic New Orleans style with solos from McQuaid on clarinet, Coombe on trumpet, Picton on guitar and O’Brien on double bass. It was immediately obvious that these college educated young gentlemen could play, their solos combining fluency and dexterity with the necessary heat and swing.

“Has Anybody Seen My Girl” (‘five foot two’ and all that) featured Coombe on both trumpet and vocals. It’s probably fair to say that in common with many other bands of this ilk the singing wasn’t quite up to the quality of the playing, but it was perfectly decent and serviceable. The instrumental highlights here were the vivacious exchanges between trumpet and clarinet, and later double bass and guitar. Ball also enjoyed something of a drum feature on a vintage style kit in the style of Baby Dodds, complete with cowbell, woodblock and an enormous bass, or parade, drum.

“Come Love” took us into the swing / Hot Club era and was immediately recognisable as being part of the repertoire of those other BMJ favourites, the Bristol based gypsy jazz /  Berlin cabaret combo Moscow Drug Club. O’ Brien’s melodic double bass feature kicked off the solos here with Coombe later exchanging ideas with the Australian born McQuaid, the latter now on tenor sax.

Bassist Dave O’Brien was featured as lead vocalist on the song “Out of Nowhere” as Coombe moved to the Melville’s upright piano, revealing himself to be a talented multi-instrumentalist as he undertook a convincing solo. Even more impressive was a strikingly fluent solo from McQuaid on tenor sax.

Incidentally O’Brien himself is also a versatile multi-instrumentalist and tonight was the first time I’d seen him playing bass. Previously I’d witnessed him playing keyboards in saxophonist Cath Roberts’ decidedly more contemporary septet Quadraceratops. I also remember with great affection O’Brien’s own ‘fusion’ (for want of a better word) sextet Porpoise Corpus, a terrific band that released its excellent eponymous début album in 2007 but, sadly, never got the opportunity to follow it up. O’Brien played piano and electric keyboards in that particular line up and the music was a long, long way from that of The Shirt Tail Stompers. One suspects that the other members of the Stompers also play other styles of music elsewhere, assuming they get the time given the Stompers busy gig schedule. Such genre hopping versatility seems to be something of a hallmark of today’s generation of super-talented young jazz musicians.

Picton switched to banjo for a particularly vigorous reading of “That’s A Plenty”, the move triggering all the usual banjo jokes from Coombe. The piece was primarily a feature for the brilliant clarinet playing of McQuaid but there were also solos from Picton and O’Brien. On a hot, humid July night one could close one’s eyes and imagine oneself in Preservation Hall, New Orleans rather than the Melville Centre, Abergavenny. This was exhilarating, uplifting stuff.

Another dip into the gypsy jazz / Moscow Drug Club repertoire for ““Bei Mir Bist du Schon” with Coombe soloing on piano alongside McQuaid on clarinet, O’ Brien on double bass and Picton, safely back on guitar.

Announced as “an ironic song about divorce” the jazz standard “All of Me” found the quintet taking a more subversive approach to their chosen material with Coombe delivering a crowd pleasing solo on swanee whistle alongside further excursions from McQuaid on tenor sax and
O’ Brien at the bass.

The first set concluded with a vigorous romp through “Chicken” with lead vocalist Coombe handling the tongue twisting lyrics with considerable aplomb. Instrumental solos came from McQuaid on clarinet, Picton on guitar and Ball with a closing drum feature.

It was also Ball who kicked off the second half, his drums introducing fellow tub thumper Gene Krupa’s “Capital Idea”, which included some excellent trumpet / tenor interplay between Coombe and McQuaid, plus individual solos for each. Picton also featured on guitar before Ball returned for a more extended feature at the kit.

The drummer also kick started “Yes Sir That’s My Baby” which included a vocal from Coombe and instrumental solos from McQuaid on clarinet and O’Brien on double bass.

Alongside the banter, such as the mock bickering between Coombe and McQuaid, there were also interesting nuggets of information given about the band’s chosen material. Introducing “Stompin’ At The Savoy” Coombe informed us that the famous New York City dance hall was one of the first mixed race entertainment venues in the US and that it was there that the Lindy Hop and various other well known dances were first invented.  The Stompers’ performance of what is a kind of theme tune for them included solos for clarinet, muted trumpet, guitar and double bass.

Dundee born Picton was featured on banjo and contributed a powerful and impressive lead vocal on “The Sheikh of Araby”, with further features for trumpet and clarinet.

The band dipped into the repertoire of John Kirby, the 1930s/1940s bandleader sometimes said to represent the link between the swing and bebop eras. Coombe and McQuaid got so involved joshing about the names of Kirby’s sextet that the tune itself was unannounced. However the arrangement was chock full of the kind of fine playing and musical humour that has made the Shirt Tail Stompers such a popular act on the jazz circuit, with features here for muted trumpet, tenor sax and guitar.

“Dark Eyes” saw McQuaid moving back to clarinet for an arrangement that acted as a feature for
O’ Briens double bass and scat vocals, and which included an extract from “The Funeral March” as a coda.

The last two items saw the band exploring very familiar territory as they closed with two songs indelibly associated with New Orleans’ most famous musical export, trumpeter and vocalist Louis Armstrong.

“When You’re Smiling” featured Coombe on trumpet, piano AND vocals and also included solos from McQuaid on tenor sax, Picton on guitar and O’ Brien at the bass.

“When The Saints Go Marching In” directed us back to Preservation Hall with Coombe bantering with drummer Ball and encouraging the audience to sing along. With Coombe leading the singing there were instrumental features for McQuaid on clarinet, Picton on banjo and Ball at the drums.

The inevitable encore, “Funny Beer”, featured more audience participation and fine instrumental solos from McQuaid on clarinet and O’ Brien at the bass.

The Shirt Tail Stompers have declared that their mission is to make this “early form of pop music popular again”. They certainly succeeded brilliantly this evening, their entertaining presentation and highly skilled playing earning them an excellent reception from a large and appreciative audience, with several members of the audience declaring them to be the best band that they’d ever seen at BMJ.

I wouldn’t necessarily go along with that, but there was no doubt that the evening was a huge success with a near capacity crowd – and probably record bar takings too I should imagine!

But just to prove that the jazz life isn’t all glamour the band members had to help shift the piano back to the bar afterwards before making their way home to London. Thanks to Dave O’Brien for taking the time to talk with me afterwards as we recalled the Porpoise Corpus and Qudraceratops days and talked about his current projects.

A hugely successful evening then – although I did have my reservations. As regular readers of these web pages will know I tend to favour a more contemporary brand of jazz and this was all a little too ‘traddy’ for me.

Also the band’s approach to their chosen material was pretty ‘straight ahead’ and very much geared towards ‘entertainment’. I don’t doubt their love for their chosen material but, for me, they almost treated it with a bit too much respect. In view of this being such a young band and given the involvement of at least one of its members in other areas of jazz music I was maybe expecting something a bit more irreverent, ironic or subversive. A bit like Pigfoot perhaps, a quartet with an approach to early jazz and blues material that is more obviously contemporary and which is very much their own, but without in any way losing the humour or essential essence of the music.

However there’s no doubting the Stompers’ playing abilities and there was much to enjoy here, as evidenced by the audience turnout tonight with many fans attending BMJ for the first time. In the young hands of The Shirt Tail Stompers trad is still very much alive and kicking – and probably dancing too. I’ll admit to it not being my favourite genre, but jazz is a broad church and the programming at BMJ and at the associated Wall2Wall Jazz Festival (coming soon folks!) reflects that variety. I’ve always felt that the sheer diversity of the programming is one of BMJ’s great strengths, and long may that continue. There will always be room for trad at the table, but I wouldn’t want to listen to it every month, or any other single genre for that matter.

The Shirt Tail Stompers, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 28/07/2019.

The Shirt Tail Stompers

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

The Shirt Tail Stompers, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 28/07/2019.
Photography: Photograph sourced from the Black Mountain Jazz website http://www.blackmountainjazz.co.uk

In the young hands of The Shirt Tail Stompers trad is still very much alive and kicking, with the band attracting the largest club night audience at BMJ for many a year.

The Shirt Tail Stompers, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 28/07/2019.

Steven Coombe – trumpet, vocals, piano, swanee whistle, Michael McQuaid – clarinet, tenor sax, backing vocals, Dave O’Brien – double bass, vocals Simon Picton – guitar, banjo, vocals
Nicholas Ball – drums, percussion


Who said trad was dead? This evening’s concert by the young London based quintet The Shirt Tail Stompers attracted the largest club night audience at BMJ for many a year with event organiser Mike Skilton declaring himself delighted with the near capacity turnout.

The Stompers are part of a London based trad revival that has seen young music college educated musicians playing to similarly youthful audiences, with both the players and their listeners approaching the music of the New Orleans and swing eras without prejudice, but instead with energy and a genuine enthusiasm. The Stompers prefer to describe their music as ‘vintage’ rather then ‘trad’ and are part of a scene that also includes The Dixie Ticklers, The Back Street Brawlers and the Kansas Smitty’s crew fronted by clarinettist Giacomo Smith.

A glance at the Stompers website reveals that they are never short of work with the band touring widely both in the UK and internationally. They have clearly developed something of a cult following, even outside London, if the size of tonight’s turnout is anything to go by.

The band have released three albums and their core line up is frequently augmented by guest musicians and vocalists. Indeed there seems to be something of a ‘pool’ of musicians with Coombe and O’Brien the only two constants.

Coombe studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff before moving back to London, and it may have been that connection that brought him back to Wales tonight. He fronted the performance with ready charm and a quick wit, and although this was obviously very much a ‘show’ the band members genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves, a quality that quickly communicated itself to the audience. This was probably an older crowd than the Stompers are used to playing to in London, where bright young things probably get to their feet to dance old dances such as the Lindy Hop, but it was attentive and genuinely appreciative.

The Stompers kicked off with an instrumental rendition of the song “Darktown Strutters’ Ball”, first published in 1917 and delivered in classic New Orleans style with solos from McQuaid on clarinet, Coombe on trumpet, Picton on guitar and O’Brien on double bass. It was immediately obvious that these college educated young gentlemen could play, their solos combining fluency and dexterity with the necessary heat and swing.

“Has Anybody Seen My Girl” (‘five foot two’ and all that) featured Coombe on both trumpet and vocals. It’s probably fair to say that in common with many other bands of this ilk the singing wasn’t quite up to the quality of the playing, but it was perfectly decent and serviceable. The instrumental highlights here were the vivacious exchanges between trumpet and clarinet, and later double bass and guitar. Ball also enjoyed something of a drum feature on a vintage style kit in the style of Baby Dodds, complete with cowbell, woodblock and an enormous bass, or parade, drum.

“Come Love” took us into the swing / Hot Club era and was immediately recognisable as being part of the repertoire of those other BMJ favourites, the Bristol based gypsy jazz /  Berlin cabaret combo Moscow Drug Club. O’ Brien’s melodic double bass feature kicked off the solos here with Coombe later exchanging ideas with the Australian born McQuaid, the latter now on tenor sax.

Bassist Dave O’Brien was featured as lead vocalist on the song “Out of Nowhere” as Coombe moved to the Melville’s upright piano, revealing himself to be a talented multi-instrumentalist as he undertook a convincing solo. Even more impressive was a strikingly fluent solo from McQuaid on tenor sax.

Incidentally O’Brien himself is also a versatile multi-instrumentalist and tonight was the first time I’d seen him playing bass. Previously I’d witnessed him playing keyboards in saxophonist Cath Roberts’ decidedly more contemporary septet Quadraceratops. I also remember with great affection O’Brien’s own ‘fusion’ (for want of a better word) sextet Porpoise Corpus, a terrific band that released its excellent eponymous début album in 2007 but, sadly, never got the opportunity to follow it up. O’Brien played piano and electric keyboards in that particular line up and the music was a long, long way from that of The Shirt Tail Stompers. One suspects that the other members of the Stompers also play other styles of music elsewhere, assuming they get the time given the Stompers busy gig schedule. Such genre hopping versatility seems to be something of a hallmark of today’s generation of super-talented young jazz musicians.

Picton switched to banjo for a particularly vigorous reading of “That’s A Plenty”, the move triggering all the usual banjo jokes from Coombe. The piece was primarily a feature for the brilliant clarinet playing of McQuaid but there were also solos from Picton and O’Brien. On a hot, humid July night one could close one’s eyes and imagine oneself in Preservation Hall, New Orleans rather than the Melville Centre, Abergavenny. This was exhilarating, uplifting stuff.

Another dip into the gypsy jazz / Moscow Drug Club repertoire for ““Bei Mir Bist du Schon” with Coombe soloing on piano alongside McQuaid on clarinet, O’ Brien on double bass and Picton, safely back on guitar.

Announced as “an ironic song about divorce” the jazz standard “All of Me” found the quintet taking a more subversive approach to their chosen material with Coombe delivering a crowd pleasing solo on swanee whistle alongside further excursions from McQuaid on tenor sax and
O’ Brien at the bass.

The first set concluded with a vigorous romp through “Chicken” with lead vocalist Coombe handling the tongue twisting lyrics with considerable aplomb. Instrumental solos came from McQuaid on clarinet, Picton on guitar and Ball with a closing drum feature.

It was also Ball who kicked off the second half, his drums introducing fellow tub thumper Gene Krupa’s “Capital Idea”, which included some excellent trumpet / tenor interplay between Coombe and McQuaid, plus individual solos for each. Picton also featured on guitar before Ball returned for a more extended feature at the kit.

The drummer also kick started “Yes Sir That’s My Baby” which included a vocal from Coombe and instrumental solos from McQuaid on clarinet and O’Brien on double bass.

Alongside the banter, such as the mock bickering between Coombe and McQuaid, there were also interesting nuggets of information given about the band’s chosen material. Introducing “Stompin’ At The Savoy” Coombe informed us that the famous New York City dance hall was one of the first mixed race entertainment venues in the US and that it was there that the Lindy Hop and various other well known dances were first invented.  The Stompers’ performance of what is a kind of theme tune for them included solos for clarinet, muted trumpet, guitar and double bass.

Dundee born Picton was featured on banjo and contributed a powerful and impressive lead vocal on “The Sheikh of Araby”, with further features for trumpet and clarinet.

The band dipped into the repertoire of John Kirby, the 1930s/1940s bandleader sometimes said to represent the link between the swing and bebop eras. Coombe and McQuaid got so involved joshing about the names of Kirby’s sextet that the tune itself was unannounced. However the arrangement was chock full of the kind of fine playing and musical humour that has made the Shirt Tail Stompers such a popular act on the jazz circuit, with features here for muted trumpet, tenor sax and guitar.

“Dark Eyes” saw McQuaid moving back to clarinet for an arrangement that acted as a feature for
O’ Briens double bass and scat vocals, and which included an extract from “The Funeral March” as a coda.

The last two items saw the band exploring very familiar territory as they closed with two songs indelibly associated with New Orleans’ most famous musical export, trumpeter and vocalist Louis Armstrong.

“When You’re Smiling” featured Coombe on trumpet, piano AND vocals and also included solos from McQuaid on tenor sax, Picton on guitar and O’ Brien at the bass.

“When The Saints Go Marching In” directed us back to Preservation Hall with Coombe bantering with drummer Ball and encouraging the audience to sing along. With Coombe leading the singing there were instrumental features for McQuaid on clarinet, Picton on banjo and Ball at the drums.

The inevitable encore, “Funny Beer”, featured more audience participation and fine instrumental solos from McQuaid on clarinet and O’ Brien at the bass.

The Shirt Tail Stompers have declared that their mission is to make this “early form of pop music popular again”. They certainly succeeded brilliantly this evening, their entertaining presentation and highly skilled playing earning them an excellent reception from a large and appreciative audience, with several members of the audience declaring them to be the best band that they’d ever seen at BMJ.

I wouldn’t necessarily go along with that, but there was no doubt that the evening was a huge success with a near capacity crowd – and probably record bar takings too I should imagine!

But just to prove that the jazz life isn’t all glamour the band members had to help shift the piano back to the bar afterwards before making their way home to London. Thanks to Dave O’Brien for taking the time to talk with me afterwards as we recalled the Porpoise Corpus and Qudraceratops days and talked about his current projects.

A hugely successful evening then – although I did have my reservations. As regular readers of these web pages will know I tend to favour a more contemporary brand of jazz and this was all a little too ‘traddy’ for me.

Also the band’s approach to their chosen material was pretty ‘straight ahead’ and very much geared towards ‘entertainment’. I don’t doubt their love for their chosen material but, for me, they almost treated it with a bit too much respect. In view of this being such a young band and given the involvement of at least one of its members in other areas of jazz music I was maybe expecting something a bit more irreverent, ironic or subversive. A bit like Pigfoot perhaps, a quartet with an approach to early jazz and blues material that is more obviously contemporary and which is very much their own, but without in any way losing the humour or essential essence of the music.

However there’s no doubting the Stompers’ playing abilities and there was much to enjoy here, as evidenced by the audience turnout tonight with many fans attending BMJ for the first time. In the young hands of The Shirt Tail Stompers trad is still very much alive and kicking – and probably dancing too. I’ll admit to it not being my favourite genre, but jazz is a broad church and the programming at BMJ and at the associated Wall2Wall Jazz Festival (coming soon folks!) reflects that variety. I’ve always felt that the sheer diversity of the programming is one of BMJ’s great strengths, and long may that continue. There will always be room for trad at the table, but I wouldn’t want to listen to it every month, or any other single genre for that matter.

The Remix Jazz Orchestra - The Remix Jazz Orchestra, ‘The Evolution of the Big Band’  Reading Minster, Reading, 23/07/2019. Rating: 5 out of 5 "SUPERB". Guest contributor Trevor Bannister enjoys a concert portraying ‘The Evolution of the Big Band – from the Birth of Jazz’, held in the beautiful surroundings of Reading Minster.

Jazz in Reading with Reading Fringe Festival

‘The Evolution of the Big Band – from the Birth of Jazz’

Tuesday 23 July 2019, Reading Minster, St Mary’s Butts, Reading, Berkshire.


The Remix Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Stuart Henderson and with special guests Simon Allen tenor saxophone and Fleur Stephenson vocals: 

David Cunningham, James Lowe, Chris Preddy, Stuart Henderson trumpets;

Peter Phillips, Cliff Luke, Brian Haddock trombones;

Steve Waters bass trombone;

Brian Marrett clarinet and alto saxophone; Rod Kirton alto saxophone; Mike Booker tenor saxophone; Jim Philip baritone saxophone & bass clarinet;

Adrian Sharon piano;

Adrian Thoms guitar;

John Deemer bass guitar & tuba;

Dave Lambert drums.


The opening bars of Count Basie’s ‘All Of Me’ simply enveloped the two-hundred plus audience who gathered in Reading Minster on Tuesday 23 July, with the warm glow of its immaculate presentation and relaxed, effortless swing. The perfect opening shot in an evening dedicated to ‘The Evolution of the Big Band’ as told in music by the 17-piece Remix Jazz Orchestra and the illuminating narrative of its Musical Director, Stuart Henderson -  for big band jazz is a story not just of the music itself, but of colourful locations, intriguing plot-lines and larger than life characters.

None more so than the self-styled ‘King of Jazz’ Paul Whiteman. ‘Whispering’ a loving recreation of a massive hit for Whiteman in 1920, featuring the ‘oom-pah’ tuba of John Deemer (playing in the lofty heights of the pulpit) and the swanee whistle of Stuart Henderson, evoked Whiteman’s determination to rub the rough edges off the then new-fangled craze of ‘jass’ and transform the music into a ‘respectable lady’.

Whiteman remained popular throughout the next two decades, but anyone searching for the ‘real thing’ needed to  travel no further than New York’s Roseland Ballroom where African-American pianist Fletcher Henderson had assembled a ‘powerhouse rhythm machine’ band whose instrumentation wouldn’t have looked too different to that of the Remix Orchestra. Fletcher set the mould for all future big bands; top flight musicianship, written arrangements and scorching hot improvised solos! ‘King Porter Stomp’ was one of his most successful arrangements and with the brilliant Brian Marrett on clarinet, the Remix interpretation captured all the excitement of those pioneering days.

The muted trumpets and flawless saxophones of ‘Stompin’ at the Savoy’ celebrated the diminutive drummer Chick Webb whose band held court to the Lindy-Hopping dancers of Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. He regularly ‘cut’ visiting bands, like those of Fletcher Henderson, in thrilling battles of the bands. Chick also introduced a shy teenage singer to the bandstand in 1934 … a certain Miss Ella Fitzgerald!

In the same year, clarinet virtuoso Benny Goodman, modelled his new band on that of Fletcher Henderson and employed Fletcher as an arranger. Over the next four years he scored a string of hit records, set the nation dancing to his radio broadcasts and national tours, and earned the accolade ‘King of Swing’. The band was driven along by the drums of Gene Krupa, most famously at the historic Carnegie Hall concert of 1938, a mantle now taken up by Dave Lambert as he snapped the flag-waving ‘Don’t’ Be That Way’ into life, a feature for the full brassy tones of Peter Phillips on trombone.

Billie Holiday – ‘Lady Day’ - possessed the alchemist’s gift of being able to transform lyrical dross into solid gold, by turns, expressing the joy of the human spirit and its vulnerability in equal measure. Guest vocalist, Fleur Stevenson captured those qualities perfectly with a beautiful interpretation of ‘That Old Devil Called Love’, supported by the lush, string-like background of the Remix Orchestra.

‘Hawaiian War Chant’, on the other hand, a hit for Tommy Dorsey in 1941 and a feature in the movie ‘Ship Ahoy’, showcased the razzle-dazzle-showmanship beloved of swing fans -  thundering tom-toms, a hand-clapping, head-swaying band, the trumpet section waving their derby mutes in swinging unison, a fiery tenor solo and to top it all, a mock dual between Dave Lambert and Stuart Henderson. Great fun!

Arguments raged throughout the ‘swing era’ as to whether Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw was the greatest clarinettist. Brian Marrett made his own claim to the title with an expressive and beautifully polished interpretation of ‘Begin the Beguine’.

Artie Shaw’s classic hit of 1938 led us neatly into the instantly recognisable introduction to Glenn Miller’s ‘In The Mood’, an anthem for the wartime years that never fails to set toes tapping, raise a smile, or even prompt a wistful tear to the eye. This fine version featured special guest Simon Allen and his fellow protagonist Mike Booker on tenor saxophones.

Chris Preddy, the youngest member of the Remix Orchestra, took the spotlight to evoke the sound and spirit of trumpet legend Harry James with a magnificent performance of the tear-jerking ‘You Made Me Love You’.

While Harry James made a name for himself with his Hollywood movie star good looks and the extravagance of his playing, William ‘Count ‘Basie could sit almost unnoticed at his piano, and with one note teased from the keyboard, set his band alight. Taste and economy were his signature words, as Adrian Sharon demonstrated to perfect effect in his introduction to ‘Satin Doll’, more than ably supported by the superb rhythm section of Adrian Thoms, John Deemer and Dave Lambert.

Charlie Barnet’s swinging ‘Skyliner’ brought a huge smile of delight to a nonagenarian gentleman in the audience. Not only did he buy the record when it was first released in 1944, but he saw the Barnet orchestra live in New York as a young trainee RAF pilot on a brief stop-over en route to a training base in the mid-west of America.

And to bring the first set to a close? What else but Stan Kenton’s atmospheric ‘Intermission Riff’.

The insistent call of Dave Lambert’s drums summoned the ‘congregation’ for the second half of the concert. Excitement mounted as his solo grew in volume and momentum. When he reached a crescendo of sound, he released the tension, hit a familiar groove and launched the band into spectacular flight with ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’, the thrilling climax to Benny Goodman’s Carnegie Hall concert, and no less exciting in this performance!
 
The next number brought a change in temperature and the distinctly ‘cool’ unison sound of four saxophonists - Brian Marrett, Simon Allen, Mike Booker and Jim Philip - playing ‘as one’, in a marvellous arrangement of ‘Four Brothers’, Jimmy Giuffre’s tightly swinging composition for Woody Herman’s band of 1947; known inevitably for ever after as the ‘Four Brothers’ Band.
 
The reappearance of Fleur Stevenson  prompted a huge round of applause as she took centre-stage to sing ‘When the Angels Sing’. Once a feature for Martha Tilton with the Benny Goodman band she delivered the song to perfection, with a lovely sense of swing, crystal-clear diction and a vocal quality that filled the vast space of the Minster. However, ‘When the Angels Sing’ was never just a vocal feature. It’s composer, trumpeter Ziggy Elman, added a flamboyant ‘Fraulich’ chorus, emulated on this occasion by trumpet maestro Stuart Henderson over the rolling snare drumming of Dave Lambert. Sensational!
 
The enduring spirit of Duke Ellington  looms large in the story of big band jazz. He led an orchestra for more than fifty years and composed over one-thousand  pieces, many of which have become  standard items in the big band repertoire. ‘Mood Indigo’, featuring the resonant low tones of Brian Marrett’s clarinet, presented Ellington at his most reflective; the imaginative lighting effects adding greatly to the atmosphere.

In contrast, the Remix Orchestra transformed ‘Caravan’ (forever associated with Ellington, but actually written by his band member Juan Tizol), originally conceived as an exotic camel ride across the gently undulating sand dunes of the desert, into a headlong flight into a desert storm, with Simon Allen’s ferocious tenor setting the pace.
 
Ted Heath was Britain’s foremost post-war bandleader, who also flew the flag with great success on his numerous tours of the States. He appeared in Reading on many occasions. On one such, at Reading Town Hall ,a wild mob of female fans tried to pull star vocalist Denis Lotis off the stage. They took his bow tie, his handkerchief, socks and his shoes. They eventually threw back the shoes … but not the socks!
 
‘Hot Toddy’ was one of Ted’s biggest hits, played here with the smooth precision of the Heath band, anchored by the gloriously fruity baritone saxophone of Jim Philip.
 
Johnny Dankworth was also a frequent visitor to Reading in his pre-TV/film writing days. The theme to ‘Tomorrow’s World’ instantly conjured images of its enthusiastic presenters Raymond Baxter and James Burke introducing the next techno-wizardry that would ‘undoubtedly’ change the course of world history … and some of them probably did! Better still the Remix Orchestra played the entire tune, not just the 30 seconds worth that used to accompany the  titles. 
 
A sparkling version of ‘The Lady Is A Tramp’, with a witty scat chorus a la Ella Fitzgerald, rounded off Fleur Stevenson’s contribution to the evening and added her name to the illustrious list of vocalists who have performed the Rodgers and Hart classic.
 
Changing tastes in popular music, the advent of rock n’ roll and the arrival of the Beatles, almost sounded the death knell  for big bands in the 1960s. But band leaders like Buddy Rich and Maynard Ferguson were not to be outdone. How could one resist the gospel-soaked funk of ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’ or James Lowe’s  tour de force performance of spectacular trumpet pyrotechnics on ‘MacArthur Park’.

A high-voltage performance of Gordon Goodwin’s ‘Jazz Police’ brought the story bang up-to-date and declared emphatically that there is bags of life and plenty of new territory yet to be explored in the ever-evolving story of big band jazz.
 
Musical Director, Stuart Henderson,  is to be congratulated on devising such an original and wide-ranging programme that mixed familiar warhorses with all manner of surprises – old and new, and for his informative and good-humoured commentary. Oh, that school music lessons could have been as much fun as this!
 
As for the Remix Orchestra? What can one say? Will ‘SUPERB’ suffice?
 
Thanks also to Reading Fringe Festival and Jazz in Reading for promoting the event; the Reading Fringe Festival ‘House’ Team for the excellent quality of the sound and lighting and for manning the bar; Reading Minster for allowing the event to take place in such beautiful surroundings; Sansome & George: Residential Sales & Lettings for their generous sponsorship and finally, but by no means least, all those wonderful people who supported the event and demonstrated that there is a healthy appetite for ‘LIVE’ big band jazz in Reading. 
 
Promoters please note: Anyone seeking to present a Big Band concert with a broad appeal and a guarantee of success, should look no further than the Remix Jazz Orchestra.
 

The Remix Jazz Orchestra, ‘The Evolution of the Big Band’  Reading Minster, Reading, 23/07/2019.

The Remix Jazz Orchestra

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Reviewed by: Trevor Bannister

Live Review

5 out of 5

The Remix Jazz Orchestra, ‘The Evolution of the Big Band’  Reading Minster, Reading, 23/07/2019.
Photography: Photograph by Zoë White

"SUPERB". Guest contributor Trevor Bannister enjoys a concert portraying ‘The Evolution of the Big Band – from the Birth of Jazz’, held in the beautiful surroundings of Reading Minster.

Jazz in Reading with Reading Fringe Festival

‘The Evolution of the Big Band – from the Birth of Jazz’

Tuesday 23 July 2019, Reading Minster, St Mary’s Butts, Reading, Berkshire.


The Remix Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Stuart Henderson and with special guests Simon Allen tenor saxophone and Fleur Stephenson vocals: 

David Cunningham, James Lowe, Chris Preddy, Stuart Henderson trumpets;

Peter Phillips, Cliff Luke, Brian Haddock trombones;

Steve Waters bass trombone;

Brian Marrett clarinet and alto saxophone; Rod Kirton alto saxophone; Mike Booker tenor saxophone; Jim Philip baritone saxophone & bass clarinet;

Adrian Sharon piano;

Adrian Thoms guitar;

John Deemer bass guitar & tuba;

Dave Lambert drums.


The opening bars of Count Basie’s ‘All Of Me’ simply enveloped the two-hundred plus audience who gathered in Reading Minster on Tuesday 23 July, with the warm glow of its immaculate presentation and relaxed, effortless swing. The perfect opening shot in an evening dedicated to ‘The Evolution of the Big Band’ as told in music by the 17-piece Remix Jazz Orchestra and the illuminating narrative of its Musical Director, Stuart Henderson -  for big band jazz is a story not just of the music itself, but of colourful locations, intriguing plot-lines and larger than life characters.

None more so than the self-styled ‘King of Jazz’ Paul Whiteman. ‘Whispering’ a loving recreation of a massive hit for Whiteman in 1920, featuring the ‘oom-pah’ tuba of John Deemer (playing in the lofty heights of the pulpit) and the swanee whistle of Stuart Henderson, evoked Whiteman’s determination to rub the rough edges off the then new-fangled craze of ‘jass’ and transform the music into a ‘respectable lady’.

Whiteman remained popular throughout the next two decades, but anyone searching for the ‘real thing’ needed to  travel no further than New York’s Roseland Ballroom where African-American pianist Fletcher Henderson had assembled a ‘powerhouse rhythm machine’ band whose instrumentation wouldn’t have looked too different to that of the Remix Orchestra. Fletcher set the mould for all future big bands; top flight musicianship, written arrangements and scorching hot improvised solos! ‘King Porter Stomp’ was one of his most successful arrangements and with the brilliant Brian Marrett on clarinet, the Remix interpretation captured all the excitement of those pioneering days.

The muted trumpets and flawless saxophones of ‘Stompin’ at the Savoy’ celebrated the diminutive drummer Chick Webb whose band held court to the Lindy-Hopping dancers of Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. He regularly ‘cut’ visiting bands, like those of Fletcher Henderson, in thrilling battles of the bands. Chick also introduced a shy teenage singer to the bandstand in 1934 … a certain Miss Ella Fitzgerald!

In the same year, clarinet virtuoso Benny Goodman, modelled his new band on that of Fletcher Henderson and employed Fletcher as an arranger. Over the next four years he scored a string of hit records, set the nation dancing to his radio broadcasts and national tours, and earned the accolade ‘King of Swing’. The band was driven along by the drums of Gene Krupa, most famously at the historic Carnegie Hall concert of 1938, a mantle now taken up by Dave Lambert as he snapped the flag-waving ‘Don’t’ Be That Way’ into life, a feature for the full brassy tones of Peter Phillips on trombone.

Billie Holiday – ‘Lady Day’ - possessed the alchemist’s gift of being able to transform lyrical dross into solid gold, by turns, expressing the joy of the human spirit and its vulnerability in equal measure. Guest vocalist, Fleur Stevenson captured those qualities perfectly with a beautiful interpretation of ‘That Old Devil Called Love’, supported by the lush, string-like background of the Remix Orchestra.

‘Hawaiian War Chant’, on the other hand, a hit for Tommy Dorsey in 1941 and a feature in the movie ‘Ship Ahoy’, showcased the razzle-dazzle-showmanship beloved of swing fans -  thundering tom-toms, a hand-clapping, head-swaying band, the trumpet section waving their derby mutes in swinging unison, a fiery tenor solo and to top it all, a mock dual between Dave Lambert and Stuart Henderson. Great fun!

Arguments raged throughout the ‘swing era’ as to whether Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw was the greatest clarinettist. Brian Marrett made his own claim to the title with an expressive and beautifully polished interpretation of ‘Begin the Beguine’.

Artie Shaw’s classic hit of 1938 led us neatly into the instantly recognisable introduction to Glenn Miller’s ‘In The Mood’, an anthem for the wartime years that never fails to set toes tapping, raise a smile, or even prompt a wistful tear to the eye. This fine version featured special guest Simon Allen and his fellow protagonist Mike Booker on tenor saxophones.

Chris Preddy, the youngest member of the Remix Orchestra, took the spotlight to evoke the sound and spirit of trumpet legend Harry James with a magnificent performance of the tear-jerking ‘You Made Me Love You’.

While Harry James made a name for himself with his Hollywood movie star good looks and the extravagance of his playing, William ‘Count ‘Basie could sit almost unnoticed at his piano, and with one note teased from the keyboard, set his band alight. Taste and economy were his signature words, as Adrian Sharon demonstrated to perfect effect in his introduction to ‘Satin Doll’, more than ably supported by the superb rhythm section of Adrian Thoms, John Deemer and Dave Lambert.

Charlie Barnet’s swinging ‘Skyliner’ brought a huge smile of delight to a nonagenarian gentleman in the audience. Not only did he buy the record when it was first released in 1944, but he saw the Barnet orchestra live in New York as a young trainee RAF pilot on a brief stop-over en route to a training base in the mid-west of America.

And to bring the first set to a close? What else but Stan Kenton’s atmospheric ‘Intermission Riff’.

The insistent call of Dave Lambert’s drums summoned the ‘congregation’ for the second half of the concert. Excitement mounted as his solo grew in volume and momentum. When he reached a crescendo of sound, he released the tension, hit a familiar groove and launched the band into spectacular flight with ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’, the thrilling climax to Benny Goodman’s Carnegie Hall concert, and no less exciting in this performance!
 
The next number brought a change in temperature and the distinctly ‘cool’ unison sound of four saxophonists - Brian Marrett, Simon Allen, Mike Booker and Jim Philip - playing ‘as one’, in a marvellous arrangement of ‘Four Brothers’, Jimmy Giuffre’s tightly swinging composition for Woody Herman’s band of 1947; known inevitably for ever after as the ‘Four Brothers’ Band.
 
The reappearance of Fleur Stevenson  prompted a huge round of applause as she took centre-stage to sing ‘When the Angels Sing’. Once a feature for Martha Tilton with the Benny Goodman band she delivered the song to perfection, with a lovely sense of swing, crystal-clear diction and a vocal quality that filled the vast space of the Minster. However, ‘When the Angels Sing’ was never just a vocal feature. It’s composer, trumpeter Ziggy Elman, added a flamboyant ‘Fraulich’ chorus, emulated on this occasion by trumpet maestro Stuart Henderson over the rolling snare drumming of Dave Lambert. Sensational!
 
The enduring spirit of Duke Ellington  looms large in the story of big band jazz. He led an orchestra for more than fifty years and composed over one-thousand  pieces, many of which have become  standard items in the big band repertoire. ‘Mood Indigo’, featuring the resonant low tones of Brian Marrett’s clarinet, presented Ellington at his most reflective; the imaginative lighting effects adding greatly to the atmosphere.

In contrast, the Remix Orchestra transformed ‘Caravan’ (forever associated with Ellington, but actually written by his band member Juan Tizol), originally conceived as an exotic camel ride across the gently undulating sand dunes of the desert, into a headlong flight into a desert storm, with Simon Allen’s ferocious tenor setting the pace.
 
Ted Heath was Britain’s foremost post-war bandleader, who also flew the flag with great success on his numerous tours of the States. He appeared in Reading on many occasions. On one such, at Reading Town Hall ,a wild mob of female fans tried to pull star vocalist Denis Lotis off the stage. They took his bow tie, his handkerchief, socks and his shoes. They eventually threw back the shoes … but not the socks!
 
‘Hot Toddy’ was one of Ted’s biggest hits, played here with the smooth precision of the Heath band, anchored by the gloriously fruity baritone saxophone of Jim Philip.
 
Johnny Dankworth was also a frequent visitor to Reading in his pre-TV/film writing days. The theme to ‘Tomorrow’s World’ instantly conjured images of its enthusiastic presenters Raymond Baxter and James Burke introducing the next techno-wizardry that would ‘undoubtedly’ change the course of world history … and some of them probably did! Better still the Remix Orchestra played the entire tune, not just the 30 seconds worth that used to accompany the  titles. 
 
A sparkling version of ‘The Lady Is A Tramp’, with a witty scat chorus a la Ella Fitzgerald, rounded off Fleur Stevenson’s contribution to the evening and added her name to the illustrious list of vocalists who have performed the Rodgers and Hart classic.
 
Changing tastes in popular music, the advent of rock n’ roll and the arrival of the Beatles, almost sounded the death knell  for big bands in the 1960s. But band leaders like Buddy Rich and Maynard Ferguson were not to be outdone. How could one resist the gospel-soaked funk of ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’ or James Lowe’s  tour de force performance of spectacular trumpet pyrotechnics on ‘MacArthur Park’.

A high-voltage performance of Gordon Goodwin’s ‘Jazz Police’ brought the story bang up-to-date and declared emphatically that there is bags of life and plenty of new territory yet to be explored in the ever-evolving story of big band jazz.
 
Musical Director, Stuart Henderson,  is to be congratulated on devising such an original and wide-ranging programme that mixed familiar warhorses with all manner of surprises – old and new, and for his informative and good-humoured commentary. Oh, that school music lessons could have been as much fun as this!
 
As for the Remix Orchestra? What can one say? Will ‘SUPERB’ suffice?
 
Thanks also to Reading Fringe Festival and Jazz in Reading for promoting the event; the Reading Fringe Festival ‘House’ Team for the excellent quality of the sound and lighting and for manning the bar; Reading Minster for allowing the event to take place in such beautiful surroundings; Sansome & George: Residential Sales & Lettings for their generous sponsorship and finally, but by no means least, all those wonderful people who supported the event and demonstrated that there is a healthy appetite for ‘LIVE’ big band jazz in Reading. 
 
Promoters please note: Anyone seeking to present a Big Band concert with a broad appeal and a guarantee of success, should look no further than the Remix Jazz Orchestra.
 

Mark Kavuma - The Banger Factory Rating: 4 out of 5 The playing throughout the course of the album is exceptional, with all of the musicians making telling contributions.

Mark Kavuma

“The Banger Factory”

(Ubuntu Music – UBU0028)

“The Banger Factory” is the second album for Ubuntu Music from the London based trumpeter, composer and bandleader Mark Kavuma.

His 2018 début, simply entitled “Kavuma”, drew heavily on the classic hard bop or ‘Blue Note’ sound, and indeed this latest release includes a quote from the late, great trumpeter Lee Morgan on the sleeve, a clear indication of where Kavuma is coming from.

However this latest album expands on the promise exhibited on the début with an extended instrumental line up and an accomplished set of original tunes, all composed by Kavuma.

Born in Uganda Kavuma is a bright young presence on the London jazz scene.  His current projects include the leadership of his own quartet and of the 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 Kinetica Bloco community band.

As a sideman he was worked with Jean Toussaint’s Young Lions, the Alan Weekes Quintet,  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 played with the visiting American jazz musicians Barry Harris (piano) and Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts (drums).

Kavuma has worked with the rock group Scritti Polliti, grime artist Kano, and 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 very impressed by what I heard

“The Banger Factory” is the name of a band as well as an album title. For three years Kavuma has led a residency at the Prince of Wales in Brixton, a weekly blowing session that has seen numerous musicians pass through the doors, with some staying around to cohere into a regular band as the evenings have become more formalised. “In my head I wanted it to be an organisation, a force to be reckoned with”, explains Kavuma.

With the exception of Kavuma himself none of the 2013 quintet have made it to the Banger Factory, which is centred around a core sextet of Kavuma, Mussinghi Brian Edwards (tenor sax), Artie Zaitz (guitar), David Mrakpor (vibraphone), Michael Shrimpling (double bass) and Will Cleasby (drums).
Keyboard duties are shared between Reuben James and Deschanel Gordon with tenor saxophonist Kaidi Akinnibi also appearing on four of the album’s seven tracks.

This aggregation recorded eighteen tunes with engineer Ben Lamdin at London’s Fish Factory studio over the course of three sessions during September and December 2018, with the very best of these being selected for inclusion on the “Banger Factory” album.

Opener “Dear K.D.” is dedicated to the memory of another of Kavuma’s trumpet heroes, the late, great Kenny Dorham. It was written during a trip to New York with Kavuma explaining;
“I was listening to a lot of Kenny Dorham music at the time, practising and soaking up the Big Apple vibes. These are my reflections on the subject”.
The tune is introduced by the sound of unaccompanied piano as Gordon makes his recording début, his spacious intro leading into a kind of fanfare with Cleasby’s drums particularly prominent. The main body of the composition adopts more of a hard bop / gospel feel with James featuring on organ in a twin keyboard octet line up. But Gordon isn’t finished yet as he delivers a flowingly expansive piano solo, sharing the limelight with the leader’s trumpet and Zaitz’s guitar, these two exhibiting a similarly relaxed fluency.

The title track features a slightly different octet as Gordon drops out, to be replaced by Akinnibi on tenor, as James moves to piano. This is a more hard driving piece that is intended to be an encapsulation of exactly what the Banger Factory is all about. “Good times and dance music, celebration of good spirit and joy” explains Kavuma. It’s also designed to show just how tight the band has become during its three year existence. James delivers a tumultuous McCoy Tyner style piano solo, while the young saxophonist Akinnibi also impresses with a swashbuckling outing on tenor. Akinnibi was discovered by Kavuma among the ranks of Kinetica Bloco and looks to be a young musician with a great future ahead of him. Mrakpor also impresses on vibes as he takes his first solo of the set, combining very effectively with bassist Shrimpling and drummer Cleasby. Guitarist Zaitz then takes over for a concise but fleet fingered solo, full of darting melody lines and sophisticated chording.

An aside; I recall seeing a then very young Akinnibi guesting with the band Triforce at the Iklectik Art Lab in Waterloo as part of the 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival. We even spoke briefly afterwards, too. I was highly impressed with his talent even then, and on this evidence he’s continued to make great strides (or should that be ‘giant steps’?) in the interim.

From a rising star to a comparative veteran. “Mussinghi” is Kavuma’s dedication to his bandmate Mussinghi Brian Edwards. Kavuma comments; “Mussinghi is my musical papa, he’s been there when I could hardly play, always encouraging. I had to pay tribute to his spirit”.
Appropriately there’s something of a ‘spiritual jazz’ feel to the intro as Edwards improvises above a rolling backdrop featuring the sound of James on Hammond. The mood subsequently becomes more languid and relaxed with Edwards and Kavuma soloing above a walking bass line and the swell of the Hammond, while Zaitz supplies discrete guitar embellishment. The piece then resolves itself with a gospel tinged coda.

“Lullaby to a Fading Star” is the first ballad to be written by Kavuma. A lament for a lost love it is ushered in by the sound of Mrakpor’s unaccompanied vibes but is subsequently treated to a lush octet arrangement featuring Hammond and two tenors. Kavuma and Edwards solo in suitably emotive fashion, the latter giving a masterclass in tenor ballad playing. Mrakpor then takes over with a stately, shimmering vibes solo.

Kavuma likes to dedicate compositions to his bandmates, emphasising Banger Factory’s sense of togetherness and brotherhood. “Big Willie”, his dedication to drummer Cleasby boasts an unfortunate title, but one suspects that this probably intentional! Impressed by the young Cleasby’s playing at Trinity College Kavuma promptly booked him for a gig - “that was how this whole thing started” explains the trumpeter.
Kavuma actually sits out as the band is pared down to to a quartet of Cleasby, Shrimpton, Mrakpor and Zaitz – the same instrumental configuration as vibraphonist Gary Burton’s classic quartets. Mrakpor and Zaitz trade thrilling solos in a manner that recalls Burton’s exchanges with the string of talented guitarists that passed through his band’s ranks – Larry Coryell, Jerry Hahn, Mick Goodrick, Pat Metheny etc. Meanwhile Shrimpton pumps out agile, propulsive bass lines and solos briefly, while Cleasby is a suitably busy and colourful presence behind the kit and also gets to enjoy his moment in the sun. There’s a real joie de vivre about the playing here.

The brief “The Songbird” is a brief but elegiac and uplifting piece, a kind of time poem in a chamber jazz style arrangement for septet, with the composer again sitting out. Edwards’ tenor, the sole horn, cast in the role of ‘ the Songbird’, is the lead instrument while James’ Hammond references Kavuma’s love of church music.

The album closes with the bebop flavourings of “Mrakpor”, Kavuma’s dedication to his group’s vibraphonist. Racing unison horn lines provide the springboard for a dazzling vibes solo from Mrakpor. Following the brief return of the horns Mrakpor plays us out with a final unaccompanied
vibes cadenza.

Ultimately “The Banger Factory” is an improvement over its very admirable predecessor, being possessed of greater depth and with a greater emphasis being placed on ‘serious’ composition. Having said that the group’s sense of fun is never far away. There’s also a less overt reliance on the classic hard bop sound and the new album sounds more contemporary as a result.

As its leader has commented this is genuinely an ego-less band and Kavuma himself actually sits out two tracks entirely. He’s a highly accomplished soloist but this time round his role is primarily that of composer and facilitator. That said the playing throughout the course of the album is exceptional with all of the musicians making telling contributions.  One would love to hear some of the other pieces recorded at those Fish Factory sessions.

As a band The Banger Factory is a very welcome presence on a burgeoning London Jazz scene populated by exciting young jazz musicians such as this. The album’s official launch gig at the Jazz Café in Camden on September 18th 2019 should be a highly entertaining and enjoyable event.

The Banger Factory

Mark Kavuma

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

The Banger Factory

The playing throughout the course of the album is exceptional, with all of the musicians making telling contributions.

Mark Kavuma

“The Banger Factory”

(Ubuntu Music – UBU0028)

“The Banger Factory” is the second album for Ubuntu Music from the London based trumpeter, composer and bandleader Mark Kavuma.

His 2018 début, simply entitled “Kavuma”, drew heavily on the classic hard bop or ‘Blue Note’ sound, and indeed this latest release includes a quote from the late, great trumpeter Lee Morgan on the sleeve, a clear indication of where Kavuma is coming from.

However this latest album expands on the promise exhibited on the début with an extended instrumental line up and an accomplished set of original tunes, all composed by Kavuma.

Born in Uganda Kavuma is a bright young presence on the London jazz scene.  His current projects include the leadership of his own quartet and of the 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 Kinetica Bloco community band.

As a sideman he was worked with Jean Toussaint’s Young Lions, the Alan Weekes Quintet,  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 played with the visiting American jazz musicians Barry Harris (piano) and Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts (drums).

Kavuma has worked with the rock group Scritti Polliti, grime artist Kano, and 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 very impressed by what I heard

“The Banger Factory” is the name of a band as well as an album title. For three years Kavuma has led a residency at the Prince of Wales in Brixton, a weekly blowing session that has seen numerous musicians pass through the doors, with some staying around to cohere into a regular band as the evenings have become more formalised. “In my head I wanted it to be an organisation, a force to be reckoned with”, explains Kavuma.

With the exception of Kavuma himself none of the 2013 quintet have made it to the Banger Factory, which is centred around a core sextet of Kavuma, Mussinghi Brian Edwards (tenor sax), Artie Zaitz (guitar), David Mrakpor (vibraphone), Michael Shrimpling (double bass) and Will Cleasby (drums).
Keyboard duties are shared between Reuben James and Deschanel Gordon with tenor saxophonist Kaidi Akinnibi also appearing on four of the album’s seven tracks.

This aggregation recorded eighteen tunes with engineer Ben Lamdin at London’s Fish Factory studio over the course of three sessions during September and December 2018, with the very best of these being selected for inclusion on the “Banger Factory” album.

Opener “Dear K.D.” is dedicated to the memory of another of Kavuma’s trumpet heroes, the late, great Kenny Dorham. It was written during a trip to New York with Kavuma explaining;
“I was listening to a lot of Kenny Dorham music at the time, practising and soaking up the Big Apple vibes. These are my reflections on the subject”.
The tune is introduced by the sound of unaccompanied piano as Gordon makes his recording début, his spacious intro leading into a kind of fanfare with Cleasby’s drums particularly prominent. The main body of the composition adopts more of a hard bop / gospel feel with James featuring on organ in a twin keyboard octet line up. But Gordon isn’t finished yet as he delivers a flowingly expansive piano solo, sharing the limelight with the leader’s trumpet and Zaitz’s guitar, these two exhibiting a similarly relaxed fluency.

The title track features a slightly different octet as Gordon drops out, to be replaced by Akinnibi on tenor, as James moves to piano. This is a more hard driving piece that is intended to be an encapsulation of exactly what the Banger Factory is all about. “Good times and dance music, celebration of good spirit and joy” explains Kavuma. It’s also designed to show just how tight the band has become during its three year existence. James delivers a tumultuous McCoy Tyner style piano solo, while the young saxophonist Akinnibi also impresses with a swashbuckling outing on tenor. Akinnibi was discovered by Kavuma among the ranks of Kinetica Bloco and looks to be a young musician with a great future ahead of him. Mrakpor also impresses on vibes as he takes his first solo of the set, combining very effectively with bassist Shrimpling and drummer Cleasby. Guitarist Zaitz then takes over for a concise but fleet fingered solo, full of darting melody lines and sophisticated chording.

An aside; I recall seeing a then very young Akinnibi guesting with the band Triforce at the Iklectik Art Lab in Waterloo as part of the 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival. We even spoke briefly afterwards, too. I was highly impressed with his talent even then, and on this evidence he’s continued to make great strides (or should that be ‘giant steps’?) in the interim.

From a rising star to a comparative veteran. “Mussinghi” is Kavuma’s dedication to his bandmate Mussinghi Brian Edwards. Kavuma comments; “Mussinghi is my musical papa, he’s been there when I could hardly play, always encouraging. I had to pay tribute to his spirit”.
Appropriately there’s something of a ‘spiritual jazz’ feel to the intro as Edwards improvises above a rolling backdrop featuring the sound of James on Hammond. The mood subsequently becomes more languid and relaxed with Edwards and Kavuma soloing above a walking bass line and the swell of the Hammond, while Zaitz supplies discrete guitar embellishment. The piece then resolves itself with a gospel tinged coda.

“Lullaby to a Fading Star” is the first ballad to be written by Kavuma. A lament for a lost love it is ushered in by the sound of Mrakpor’s unaccompanied vibes but is subsequently treated to a lush octet arrangement featuring Hammond and two tenors. Kavuma and Edwards solo in suitably emotive fashion, the latter giving a masterclass in tenor ballad playing. Mrakpor then takes over with a stately, shimmering vibes solo.

Kavuma likes to dedicate compositions to his bandmates, emphasising Banger Factory’s sense of togetherness and brotherhood. “Big Willie”, his dedication to drummer Cleasby boasts an unfortunate title, but one suspects that this probably intentional! Impressed by the young Cleasby’s playing at Trinity College Kavuma promptly booked him for a gig - “that was how this whole thing started” explains the trumpeter.
Kavuma actually sits out as the band is pared down to to a quartet of Cleasby, Shrimpton, Mrakpor and Zaitz – the same instrumental configuration as vibraphonist Gary Burton’s classic quartets. Mrakpor and Zaitz trade thrilling solos in a manner that recalls Burton’s exchanges with the string of talented guitarists that passed through his band’s ranks – Larry Coryell, Jerry Hahn, Mick Goodrick, Pat Metheny etc. Meanwhile Shrimpton pumps out agile, propulsive bass lines and solos briefly, while Cleasby is a suitably busy and colourful presence behind the kit and also gets to enjoy his moment in the sun. There’s a real joie de vivre about the playing here.

The brief “The Songbird” is a brief but elegiac and uplifting piece, a kind of time poem in a chamber jazz style arrangement for septet, with the composer again sitting out. Edwards’ tenor, the sole horn, cast in the role of ‘ the Songbird’, is the lead instrument while James’ Hammond references Kavuma’s love of church music.

The album closes with the bebop flavourings of “Mrakpor”, Kavuma’s dedication to his group’s vibraphonist. Racing unison horn lines provide the springboard for a dazzling vibes solo from Mrakpor. Following the brief return of the horns Mrakpor plays us out with a final unaccompanied
vibes cadenza.

Ultimately “The Banger Factory” is an improvement over its very admirable predecessor, being possessed of greater depth and with a greater emphasis being placed on ‘serious’ composition. Having said that the group’s sense of fun is never far away. There’s also a less overt reliance on the classic hard bop sound and the new album sounds more contemporary as a result.

As its leader has commented this is genuinely an ego-less band and Kavuma himself actually sits out two tracks entirely. He’s a highly accomplished soloist but this time round his role is primarily that of composer and facilitator. That said the playing throughout the course of the album is exceptional with all of the musicians making telling contributions.  One would love to hear some of the other pieces recorded at those Fish Factory sessions.

As a band The Banger Factory is a very welcome presence on a burgeoning London Jazz scene populated by exciting young jazz musicians such as this. The album’s official launch gig at the Jazz Café in Camden on September 18th 2019 should be a highly entertaining and enjoyable event.

Babelfish - Once Upon a Tide Rating: 3-5 out of 5 A worthy addition to the Babelfish canon as the quartet again combine grace and beauty with an intellectual and improvisational rigour.

Babelfish

“Once Upon a Tide”

(Moletone Records MOLETONE 007)

Brigitte Beraha – voice, Barry Green – piano, Chris Laurence – double bass, Paul Clarvis – drums, percussion, singing bowl

Released at the end of June 2019 “Once Upon a Tide” is the latest album release from the London based quartet Babelfish, co-led by vocalist Brigitte Beraha and pianist Barry Green.

It follows the group’s acclaimed début “Babelfish” (2012) and the follow up “Chasing Rainbows” (2015), both also released on Green’s Moletone imprint.

The band developed out of the Beraha / Green duo and it represented something of a coup for the pair to bring the vastly experienced Laurence and Clarvis on board, two bona fide greats of British jazz.

Beraha is one of the most adventurous vocalists on the UK jazz scene, an excellent interpreter of songs as well as being a skilled improviser capable of using her voice as an additional instrument.
She has recorded two albums under her own name, 2005’s “Prelude to A Kiss” and 2008’s “Flying Dreams”, which placed a greater emphasis on original material and highlighted Beraha’s abilities as a songwriter and lyricist.

Beraha is particularly adept at working with pianists and has recorded duo albums with both John Turville and Frank Harrison. She is also a member of bassist/composer Dave Manington’s sextet Riff Raff and of the collaborative sextet Solstice. A prominent member of the E17 Jazz Collective she sings with the E17 Large Ensemble. In 2018 she made a substantial contribution to the success of the album “Criss Cross” as she guested with the duo of pianist Alcyona Mick and saxophonist Tori Freestone.

Others with whom Beraha has worked include saxophonists Ed Jones, Josephine Davies, George Crowley and Bobby Wellins, trumpeters Kenny Wheeler, Andre Canniere, Reuben Fowler, Andy Hague and Yazz Ahmed, pianists Geoff Eales, Ivo Neame and Rick Simpson and multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Thomas Baines.

Green is one of the most versatile pianists around and has a particular affinity for working with singers. He also has a fruitful musical partnership with Swedish born, London based vocalist Emilia Martensson and has also worked extensively with Ian Shaw.  He has been an important component of alto saxophonist Martin Speake’s excellent Generations quartet. Others with whom he has worked include saxophonists Ingrid Laubrock and Charles McPherson and bassists Larry Bartley and Mick Hutton. Green has also performed as part of a duo with his bassist namesake Dave.

Green has also recorded a number of albums under his own name including “Introducing Barry Green” (2008). He has also worked fruitfully with American musicians, his 2008 trio album “The Music of Chance” featuring the rhythm pairing of bassist Ben Street and drummer Jeff Williams.
In January 2014 Green visited New York where he recorded the albums “Great News”, with saxophonist Chris Cheek and drummer Gerald Cleaver,  and “Almost There” with Drew Gress on bass and Tom Rainey at the drums.

The music of Babelfish is informed by both jazz and classical music and also reflects Beraha’s love of literature and poetry. This latest album places a greater emphasis on the original writing of Beraha and Green, who compose separately rather than together. However both have drawn inspiration from some of their favourite books to explore lyrical themes such as life and death, the beauty of impermanence and the cyclical nature of existence. The only ‘outside’ material comes from classical composer Henry Purcell and from the Duke Ellington / Billy Strayhorn partnership.

The album commences with the almost subliminal sound of Clarvis playing the singing bowl on the richly atmospheric introduction to Beraha’s “The Book of Joy”.  The piece reveals Beraha to be a fluent vocal improviser, willing to use extended vocal techniques, as well as being a superb interpreter of her own intelligent and perceptive lyrics,  here apparently inspired jointly by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.  Green, Laurence and Clarvis offer selfless, sympathetic support and really come into their own as the piece gathers momentum with a sparkling piano solo from Green underpinned by Clarvis’ sprightly, consistently inventive drumming. It’s a piece that moves through a variety of moods and tempos from the reflective to the joyous, with Beraha actually breaking into laughter at one point.

Purcell’s “Dido’s Lament” is introduced by the sound of Beraha’s unaccompanied vocal as she explores its themes of death and remembrance. With Clarvis deploying brushes the trio offer characteristically sensitive support with Green’s crystalline piano deftly shadowing Beraha’s vocal lines.

Green’s tune “The Inspector and the Collector” demonstrates Beraha’s abilities as a wordless vocal improviser, her ready acknowledgement of the influence of Norma Winstone inviting comparisons as Beraha’s voice swoops and soars. Meanwhile Green solos lyrically but expansively above a buoyant bass and drum groove.

Beraha’s “Hobie” opens with the sound of vocal percussion and other extended techniques before she unravels a tongue twisting lyric interspersed with further wordless vocal improvisations. The piece is also distinguished by its unorthodox time signatures with Green the featured instrumental soloist, while Clarvis is a particularly colourful presence behind the kit.

Also written by the singer “Haven’t Met You Yet” is more conventional, a wistful love song featuring a gently yearning vocal and a delightfully melodic double bass solo from Laurence.

Green’s “City of Glass” features words extracted from Paul Auster’s novel of the same name. The opening words of the book also form the opening lines of the song. There’s also a suitably ‘narrative’ quality about the music as it moves through a variety of moods, styles and tempi, the musical plot skilfully steered by three master instrumentalists.

More literary quotations on “The Sea, the Sea” which is inspired by the Iris Murdoch novel of the same name and features lyrics that reference all the themes of the album. Like its immediate predecessor the piece is another seamless fusion of music and literature, although this time with rather more room for instrumental self expression as Green delivers a thoughtful but expansive piano solo, expertly shadowed by bass and drums.

Green’s “Casual Incompetence” is a second wordless composition, a brief but bustling piece that combines soaring vocal lines with busy rhythms, almost shading into free jazz at times with Laurence’s bass playing a particularly prominent role.

The Ellington / Strayhorn composition “Pretty Girl”, also known as “The Star-Crossed Lovers” has Shakespeare’s “Romeo Juliet” as its literary reference. Delivered relatively straight as an orthodox jazz ballad the song features Beraha’s elegant reading of the lyric alongside some beautifully relaxed ‘scat’ vocal improvising. Green’s piano solo finds him at his most flowingly lyrical while Clarvis’ neatly detailed brushwork is a particular delight, so too Laurence’s counter-melodies on double bass.

The album concludes with Beraha’s setting of Max Jacob’s poem “Vie et Maree” (translation “Life and Tide”, hence, perhaps, the album title). Beraha sings the lyric in French and also includes some extreme Julie Tippetts style vocalising. She is able to sing convincingly in several different languages, an ability that I like to think helped to provide this group with its name - that and an obvious love for the wonderful writings of the late Douglas Adams.
“Vie et Maree” is also notable for the richly melancholic bowed bass which provides the bridge into the song’s second, more upbeat section which mixes Beraha’s French lyrics with some bravura wordless vocal improvising.

“Once Upon a Tide” represents a worthy addition to the Babelfish canon as the quartet again combine grace and beauty with an intellectual and improvisational rigour. For all its apparent prettiness there’s a fierce intelligence about Babelfish’s music.

The lack of conventional jazz swing and the rarefied quality of some of the music may not appeal to some dyed in the wool jazz listeners, but anybody prepared to approach this music with an open mind and ear should find much to enjoy here.

 

Once Upon a Tide

Babelfish

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Once Upon a Tide

A worthy addition to the Babelfish canon as the quartet again combine grace and beauty with an intellectual and improvisational rigour.

Babelfish

“Once Upon a Tide”

(Moletone Records MOLETONE 007)

Brigitte Beraha – voice, Barry Green – piano, Chris Laurence – double bass, Paul Clarvis – drums, percussion, singing bowl

Released at the end of June 2019 “Once Upon a Tide” is the latest album release from the London based quartet Babelfish, co-led by vocalist Brigitte Beraha and pianist Barry Green.

It follows the group’s acclaimed début “Babelfish” (2012) and the follow up “Chasing Rainbows” (2015), both also released on Green’s Moletone imprint.

The band developed out of the Beraha / Green duo and it represented something of a coup for the pair to bring the vastly experienced Laurence and Clarvis on board, two bona fide greats of British jazz.

Beraha is one of the most adventurous vocalists on the UK jazz scene, an excellent interpreter of songs as well as being a skilled improviser capable of using her voice as an additional instrument.
She has recorded two albums under her own name, 2005’s “Prelude to A Kiss” and 2008’s “Flying Dreams”, which placed a greater emphasis on original material and highlighted Beraha’s abilities as a songwriter and lyricist.

Beraha is particularly adept at working with pianists and has recorded duo albums with both John Turville and Frank Harrison. She is also a member of bassist/composer Dave Manington’s sextet Riff Raff and of the collaborative sextet Solstice. A prominent member of the E17 Jazz Collective she sings with the E17 Large Ensemble. In 2018 she made a substantial contribution to the success of the album “Criss Cross” as she guested with the duo of pianist Alcyona Mick and saxophonist Tori Freestone.

Others with whom Beraha has worked include saxophonists Ed Jones, Josephine Davies, George Crowley and Bobby Wellins, trumpeters Kenny Wheeler, Andre Canniere, Reuben Fowler, Andy Hague and Yazz Ahmed, pianists Geoff Eales, Ivo Neame and Rick Simpson and multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Thomas Baines.

Green is one of the most versatile pianists around and has a particular affinity for working with singers. He also has a fruitful musical partnership with Swedish born, London based vocalist Emilia Martensson and has also worked extensively with Ian Shaw.  He has been an important component of alto saxophonist Martin Speake’s excellent Generations quartet. Others with whom he has worked include saxophonists Ingrid Laubrock and Charles McPherson and bassists Larry Bartley and Mick Hutton. Green has also performed as part of a duo with his bassist namesake Dave.

Green has also recorded a number of albums under his own name including “Introducing Barry Green” (2008). He has also worked fruitfully with American musicians, his 2008 trio album “The Music of Chance” featuring the rhythm pairing of bassist Ben Street and drummer Jeff Williams.
In January 2014 Green visited New York where he recorded the albums “Great News”, with saxophonist Chris Cheek and drummer Gerald Cleaver,  and “Almost There” with Drew Gress on bass and Tom Rainey at the drums.

The music of Babelfish is informed by both jazz and classical music and also reflects Beraha’s love of literature and poetry. This latest album places a greater emphasis on the original writing of Beraha and Green, who compose separately rather than together. However both have drawn inspiration from some of their favourite books to explore lyrical themes such as life and death, the beauty of impermanence and the cyclical nature of existence. The only ‘outside’ material comes from classical composer Henry Purcell and from the Duke Ellington / Billy Strayhorn partnership.

The album commences with the almost subliminal sound of Clarvis playing the singing bowl on the richly atmospheric introduction to Beraha’s “The Book of Joy”.  The piece reveals Beraha to be a fluent vocal improviser, willing to use extended vocal techniques, as well as being a superb interpreter of her own intelligent and perceptive lyrics,  here apparently inspired jointly by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.  Green, Laurence and Clarvis offer selfless, sympathetic support and really come into their own as the piece gathers momentum with a sparkling piano solo from Green underpinned by Clarvis’ sprightly, consistently inventive drumming. It’s a piece that moves through a variety of moods and tempos from the reflective to the joyous, with Beraha actually breaking into laughter at one point.

Purcell’s “Dido’s Lament” is introduced by the sound of Beraha’s unaccompanied vocal as she explores its themes of death and remembrance. With Clarvis deploying brushes the trio offer characteristically sensitive support with Green’s crystalline piano deftly shadowing Beraha’s vocal lines.

Green’s tune “The Inspector and the Collector” demonstrates Beraha’s abilities as a wordless vocal improviser, her ready acknowledgement of the influence of Norma Winstone inviting comparisons as Beraha’s voice swoops and soars. Meanwhile Green solos lyrically but expansively above a buoyant bass and drum groove.

Beraha’s “Hobie” opens with the sound of vocal percussion and other extended techniques before she unravels a tongue twisting lyric interspersed with further wordless vocal improvisations. The piece is also distinguished by its unorthodox time signatures with Green the featured instrumental soloist, while Clarvis is a particularly colourful presence behind the kit.

Also written by the singer “Haven’t Met You Yet” is more conventional, a wistful love song featuring a gently yearning vocal and a delightfully melodic double bass solo from Laurence.

Green’s “City of Glass” features words extracted from Paul Auster’s novel of the same name. The opening words of the book also form the opening lines of the song. There’s also a suitably ‘narrative’ quality about the music as it moves through a variety of moods, styles and tempi, the musical plot skilfully steered by three master instrumentalists.

More literary quotations on “The Sea, the Sea” which is inspired by the Iris Murdoch novel of the same name and features lyrics that reference all the themes of the album. Like its immediate predecessor the piece is another seamless fusion of music and literature, although this time with rather more room for instrumental self expression as Green delivers a thoughtful but expansive piano solo, expertly shadowed by bass and drums.

Green’s “Casual Incompetence” is a second wordless composition, a brief but bustling piece that combines soaring vocal lines with busy rhythms, almost shading into free jazz at times with Laurence’s bass playing a particularly prominent role.

The Ellington / Strayhorn composition “Pretty Girl”, also known as “The Star-Crossed Lovers” has Shakespeare’s “Romeo Juliet” as its literary reference. Delivered relatively straight as an orthodox jazz ballad the song features Beraha’s elegant reading of the lyric alongside some beautifully relaxed ‘scat’ vocal improvising. Green’s piano solo finds him at his most flowingly lyrical while Clarvis’ neatly detailed brushwork is a particular delight, so too Laurence’s counter-melodies on double bass.

The album concludes with Beraha’s setting of Max Jacob’s poem “Vie et Maree” (translation “Life and Tide”, hence, perhaps, the album title). Beraha sings the lyric in French and also includes some extreme Julie Tippetts style vocalising. She is able to sing convincingly in several different languages, an ability that I like to think helped to provide this group with its name - that and an obvious love for the wonderful writings of the late Douglas Adams.
“Vie et Maree” is also notable for the richly melancholic bowed bass which provides the bridge into the song’s second, more upbeat section which mixes Beraha’s French lyrics with some bravura wordless vocal improvising.

“Once Upon a Tide” represents a worthy addition to the Babelfish canon as the quartet again combine grace and beauty with an intellectual and improvisational rigour. For all its apparent prettiness there’s a fierce intelligence about Babelfish’s music.

The lack of conventional jazz swing and the rarefied quality of some of the music may not appeal to some dyed in the wool jazz listeners, but anybody prepared to approach this music with an open mind and ear should find much to enjoy here.

 

Dominic Howles Quintet - Along Came Benny Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Howles’ writing is very much in the hard bop tradition, but his original pieces are all highly effective and his jazz arrangements of outside ‘pop’ material are both intriguing and inventive.

Dominic Howles Quintet

“Along Came Benny”

(Bopcentric Music BCCD06)

Dominic Howles – double bass, Steve Fishwick – trumpet & flugelhorn, Dave O’Higgins – tenor saxophone, Matt Fishwick – drums, Ross Stanley or Nick Tomalin – piano

Bassist and composer Dominic Howles started his musical career in Bristol playing electric bass in a variety of different bands across a variety of genres including jazz, rock and reggae. His interest in jazz was piqued by seeing Weather Report live at the 1984 Glastonbury Festival with Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clark and Marcus Miller all becoming increasingly influential on a young musician who had previously drawn inspiration from bass players such as Bruce Foxton, Jean Jacques Burnel, Mark King, Larry Graham and Robbie Shakespeare.

Howles’  musical colleagues in Bristol persuaded him to purchase a double bass that had allegedly once belonged to Stanley Clark and Howles subsequently became something of a fixture on the jazz scene around Bristol and Bath. Out of this came the call for him and saxophonist Ben Waghorn to join the then high profile Tommy Chase Quartet and Howles made the move to London in 1990, remaining in the capital ever since. Along the way he obtained a degree from the Jazz Course at the Guildhall School of Music under the tutelage of Pete Churchill and Simon Purcell, graduating in 1992.

The purchase of that double bass obviously acted as a musical turning point and Howles now names Paul Chambers, Oscar Pettiford, Ray Brown, Dave Holland, Wilbur Ware, Sam Jones, Scott La Faro, Christian McBride and Larry Grenadier as his bass heroes.

As a freelance double bassist Howles has played with a wide variety of London based musicians over the course of the last twenty plus years. Among these is Tim Richards, with whom Howles appeared on the pianist’s 2010 trio album “Shapeshifting”, a recording reviewed elsewhere on this site. Howles also played on an earlier Richards trio offering, 2003’s “Twelve By Three”.  In 2015 Howles appeared on “Telegraph Hill”, an album recorded by Richards’ new six piece band Hextet.
Review here;  http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/tim-richards-sextet-telegraph-hill/

Others with whom Howles has collaborated include singers Norma Winstone, Stacey Kent,  Cindy Douglas, Gill Cook, Anita Wardell,  Christine Tobin and Kevin Fitzsimmons,  saxophonists Stan Sulzmann, Bobby Wellins,  Alan Skidmore, Art Themen, Don Weller, Gary Smulyan, Julian Siegel, Pete Lukas and Tim Whitehead, guitarists Nigel Price and Phil Robson pianists John Taylor and Leon Greening, trombonist Malcolm Earle Smith and drummers Clark Tracey.  and Pete Cater. He has been part of large ensembles led by saxophonist Frank Griffith and pianist Michael Garrick and has also worked on TV and theatre soundtracks.

The busy and versatile Howles also finds time to lead his own groups and this latest release represents his third album as a leader.  2014’s “Bristolian Thoroughfare” featured a sextet that included Tomalin and both Fishwick brothers plus contributions from saxophonists Josephine Davies and Jamie O’Donnell, flautist Allison Neale and trumpeter Simon Da Silva. Combining his love of the Blue Note sound with a nod to his West Country roots the album is reviewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/dominic-howles-septet-bristolian-thoroughfare/

An earlier quartet album, “Radio Cannonball”, was recorded with a group featuring Tomalin at the piano, Matt Fishwick on drums and Gareth Lockrane on flute, with O’Higgins guesting on tenor on one track.

Howles’ love of the classic hard bop, or Blue Note, sound was doubtless nurtured during his tenure with the Chase quartet and his solo records all feature playing that is very much in this vein. However the bassist has never totally abandoned his rock and pop roots and like its predecessors this latest recording features Howles’ intriguing hard bop style arrangements of pop and rock tunes, in this instance “Message In A Bottle” by The Police and “Slow Love” by Prince.

The quintet line up features tried and trusted associates in the shapes of Steve Fishwick on trumpet and flugel, Dave O’Higgins on tenor sax and Matt Fishwick at the drums with piano duties being split pretty much equally between Ross Stanley and Nick Tomalin.

The album title is a reference to the veteran saxophonist and composer Benny Golson, a particularly significant influence on this recording. Howles’ pithy liner notes offer succinct and pertinent insights into the inspiration behind each individual track.

Things kick off with the title track, Howles’ first homage to Golson with the composer remarking “I’m just a big fan of Benny Golson’s writing and playing. I still think ‘Stablemates’ is one of the best tunes ever written”.
Howles’ own tune races along at a smart clip powered by the leader’s propulsive bass and Matt Fishwick’s crisp, whip smart, Blakeyesque drumming. Steve Fishwick takes the first solo on trumpet, his playing lithe and remarkably fluent and he’s followed by O’Higgins on tenor sax, who displays similar qualities. Tomalin occupies the piano chair for this track and he convincingly follows the two horn men. There is also a feature for the leader, who steps out of the shadows to demonstrate his dexterity as a double bass soloist.

“Meet Me At The Deli” draws inspiration from saxophonist Eddie Harris and pianist Cedar Walton, both prolific jazz composers who have written pieces that have become modern day standards. Tomalin remains in the piano chair for this lively hard bop and latin flavoured item featuring concise but incisive solos from Steve Fishwick on trumpet, O’Higgins on tenor sax and Tomalin at the piano. Howles himself features with another agile bass solo and there’s an engaging series of exchanges between Steve Fishwick and O’Higgins as the track fades out, tantalisingly leaving the listener wanting more.

The first pop cover is an intriguing 5/4 arrangement of the Sting written “Message In A Bottle” with Howles commenting “my aims here were that one should still be able to sing the melody while getting away from Andy Summers’ great guitar riff”. It’s a song that has already been tackled very successfully in a jazz context by the Polish pianist Marcin Wasilewski and his trio but Howles’ version ultimately sounds very different thanks to the involvement of Steve Fishwick and O’Higgins who share the solos, the saxophonist going first.

Howles’ own “Different Destinations” relaxes the pace a little and is a richly melodic piece that features Steve Fishwick and Dave O’Higgins dovetailing effectively in the early stages before the leader takes the first real solo at the bass. Some composing bassists like to keep themselves modestly hidden away in the ensemble but Howles has the confidence to highlight his own playing, and rightly so. Tomalin combines expansiveness with lyricism at the piano, as does Steve Fishwick on elegant flugel,  his solo contrasting neatly with O’Higgins’ more robust approach on tenor. The album was also mixed and mastered by O’Higgins, who plays a key role in the success of the recording as a whole.

“We Need To Talk About Benny” is Howles’ second Golson homage, with the composer this time commenting “I like the way that the middle eight of ‘Stablemates’ starts with the chords ascending, so I used that idea as a starting point”. Matt Fishwick’s drums play an important role in an arrangement that includes a sparkling solo from Ross Stanley at the piano. This is followed by the agile eloquence of Steve Fishwick on trumpet and the rougher edged fluency of O’Higgins on tenor before Matt Fishwick comes fully into his own with an extended drum feature.

“Song For Ann” is dedicated to Howles’ late mother, who passed away in 2015. A suitably tender tribute its the album’s first true ballad and features a lush blend of flugel and tenor with gently probing solos from O’Higgins and Steve Fishwick. Howles himself adds a melodic bass solo as Matt Fishwick gravitates between brushes and sticks and Stanley adds a dash of piano lyricism.

The next item is essentially a companion piece. “Ed’s Calypso” is a dedication to Howles’ young daughter Eden, who insists that her father should only write her upbeat tunes. The sunny Caribbean rhythms and flavourings of this piece help to spark relaxed but uplifting solos from O’Higgins on tenor and Steve Fishwick on trumpet and Tomalin at the piano. Matt Fishwick enjoys a series of lively and colourful drum breaks utilising all parts of the kit.

“Slow Love” is a Howles arrangement of a lesser known Prince song - it’s certainly not one that I was previously familiar with. But like the earlier Police offering this is indubitably a jazz performance with typically inventive solos coming from O’Higgins, Steve Fishwick and Stanley.

“Like John” is Howles’ tribute to another great saxophonist and composer, in this case John Coltrane. The sound generated by the Howles quintet is more akin to the bop inspired music of the classic “Blue Train” album (Coltrane’s only release for Blue Note”) than the ‘spiritual jazz’ that Coltrane pioneered later. The quintet deliver the piece at a fast clip with Matt Fishwick’s crisp drumming fuelling powerful but eloquent solos from O’Higgins, Steve Fishwick and Stanley.

The album ends on an energetic note with “Last Blues Home”, a Howles original inspired by the veteran alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, and particularly his “Fried Buzzard” live recording from 1965. There’s no prizes for guessing what this sounds like as Steve Fishwick and O’Higgins deliver the head in tandem – their excellent ensemble playing is a characteristic of the album as a whole – before embarking on impressive individual statements. Tomalin and Howles follow and there is also a series of sparky drum breaks from Matt Fishwick as he trades choruses with the horns.

Howles’ music could never be described as ‘ground-breaking’ but there’s a refreshing honesty and unpretentiousness about the approach taken by him, the Fishwick brothers and others. Howles and the Fishwicks are among the foremost keepers of the hard bop flame in the UK, subtly updating the music for a modern day audience whilst simultaneously sticking to the virtues that made this genre of jazz such an exciting proposition in the first place. Their love for this style of music shines through, as does their mastery as players of it. One would imagine that this quintet would be a highly exciting prospect in a live, jazz club environment.

The blend of the two horns impresses throughout with both Steve Fishwick and O’Higgins also proving to be fluent and eloquent soloists, combining grace and fire in equal measure. Stanley and Tomalin each impress in the piano chair while Howles himself steps out of the shadows, soloing far more than he did on the previous septet release and seizing the opportunity with both hands. He and Matt Fishwick represent a formidable rhythm section, supportive, propulsive and swinging but also tasteful and sympathetic as the situation demands.

Howles’ writing is very much in the hard bop tradition, but his original pieces are all highly effective and his jazz arrangements of outside ‘pop’ material are both intriguing and inventive. “Along Came Benny” represents a highly enjoyable listen that should bring great pleasure to the many fans of this particular style of jazz.

 

Along Came Benny

Dominic Howles Quintet

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Along Came Benny

Howles’ writing is very much in the hard bop tradition, but his original pieces are all highly effective and his jazz arrangements of outside ‘pop’ material are both intriguing and inventive.

Dominic Howles Quintet

“Along Came Benny”

(Bopcentric Music BCCD06)

Dominic Howles – double bass, Steve Fishwick – trumpet & flugelhorn, Dave O’Higgins – tenor saxophone, Matt Fishwick – drums, Ross Stanley or Nick Tomalin – piano

Bassist and composer Dominic Howles started his musical career in Bristol playing electric bass in a variety of different bands across a variety of genres including jazz, rock and reggae. His interest in jazz was piqued by seeing Weather Report live at the 1984 Glastonbury Festival with Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clark and Marcus Miller all becoming increasingly influential on a young musician who had previously drawn inspiration from bass players such as Bruce Foxton, Jean Jacques Burnel, Mark King, Larry Graham and Robbie Shakespeare.

Howles’  musical colleagues in Bristol persuaded him to purchase a double bass that had allegedly once belonged to Stanley Clark and Howles subsequently became something of a fixture on the jazz scene around Bristol and Bath. Out of this came the call for him and saxophonist Ben Waghorn to join the then high profile Tommy Chase Quartet and Howles made the move to London in 1990, remaining in the capital ever since. Along the way he obtained a degree from the Jazz Course at the Guildhall School of Music under the tutelage of Pete Churchill and Simon Purcell, graduating in 1992.

The purchase of that double bass obviously acted as a musical turning point and Howles now names Paul Chambers, Oscar Pettiford, Ray Brown, Dave Holland, Wilbur Ware, Sam Jones, Scott La Faro, Christian McBride and Larry Grenadier as his bass heroes.

As a freelance double bassist Howles has played with a wide variety of London based musicians over the course of the last twenty plus years. Among these is Tim Richards, with whom Howles appeared on the pianist’s 2010 trio album “Shapeshifting”, a recording reviewed elsewhere on this site. Howles also played on an earlier Richards trio offering, 2003’s “Twelve By Three”.  In 2015 Howles appeared on “Telegraph Hill”, an album recorded by Richards’ new six piece band Hextet.
Review here;  http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/tim-richards-sextet-telegraph-hill/

Others with whom Howles has collaborated include singers Norma Winstone, Stacey Kent,  Cindy Douglas, Gill Cook, Anita Wardell,  Christine Tobin and Kevin Fitzsimmons,  saxophonists Stan Sulzmann, Bobby Wellins,  Alan Skidmore, Art Themen, Don Weller, Gary Smulyan, Julian Siegel, Pete Lukas and Tim Whitehead, guitarists Nigel Price and Phil Robson pianists John Taylor and Leon Greening, trombonist Malcolm Earle Smith and drummers Clark Tracey.  and Pete Cater. He has been part of large ensembles led by saxophonist Frank Griffith and pianist Michael Garrick and has also worked on TV and theatre soundtracks.

The busy and versatile Howles also finds time to lead his own groups and this latest release represents his third album as a leader.  2014’s “Bristolian Thoroughfare” featured a sextet that included Tomalin and both Fishwick brothers plus contributions from saxophonists Josephine Davies and Jamie O’Donnell, flautist Allison Neale and trumpeter Simon Da Silva. Combining his love of the Blue Note sound with a nod to his West Country roots the album is reviewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/dominic-howles-septet-bristolian-thoroughfare/

An earlier quartet album, “Radio Cannonball”, was recorded with a group featuring Tomalin at the piano, Matt Fishwick on drums and Gareth Lockrane on flute, with O’Higgins guesting on tenor on one track.

Howles’ love of the classic hard bop, or Blue Note, sound was doubtless nurtured during his tenure with the Chase quartet and his solo records all feature playing that is very much in this vein. However the bassist has never totally abandoned his rock and pop roots and like its predecessors this latest recording features Howles’ intriguing hard bop style arrangements of pop and rock tunes, in this instance “Message In A Bottle” by The Police and “Slow Love” by Prince.

The quintet line up features tried and trusted associates in the shapes of Steve Fishwick on trumpet and flugel, Dave O’Higgins on tenor sax and Matt Fishwick at the drums with piano duties being split pretty much equally between Ross Stanley and Nick Tomalin.

The album title is a reference to the veteran saxophonist and composer Benny Golson, a particularly significant influence on this recording. Howles’ pithy liner notes offer succinct and pertinent insights into the inspiration behind each individual track.

Things kick off with the title track, Howles’ first homage to Golson with the composer remarking “I’m just a big fan of Benny Golson’s writing and playing. I still think ‘Stablemates’ is one of the best tunes ever written”.
Howles’ own tune races along at a smart clip powered by the leader’s propulsive bass and Matt Fishwick’s crisp, whip smart, Blakeyesque drumming. Steve Fishwick takes the first solo on trumpet, his playing lithe and remarkably fluent and he’s followed by O’Higgins on tenor sax, who displays similar qualities. Tomalin occupies the piano chair for this track and he convincingly follows the two horn men. There is also a feature for the leader, who steps out of the shadows to demonstrate his dexterity as a double bass soloist.

“Meet Me At The Deli” draws inspiration from saxophonist Eddie Harris and pianist Cedar Walton, both prolific jazz composers who have written pieces that have become modern day standards. Tomalin remains in the piano chair for this lively hard bop and latin flavoured item featuring concise but incisive solos from Steve Fishwick on trumpet, O’Higgins on tenor sax and Tomalin at the piano. Howles himself features with another agile bass solo and there’s an engaging series of exchanges between Steve Fishwick and O’Higgins as the track fades out, tantalisingly leaving the listener wanting more.

The first pop cover is an intriguing 5/4 arrangement of the Sting written “Message In A Bottle” with Howles commenting “my aims here were that one should still be able to sing the melody while getting away from Andy Summers’ great guitar riff”. It’s a song that has already been tackled very successfully in a jazz context by the Polish pianist Marcin Wasilewski and his trio but Howles’ version ultimately sounds very different thanks to the involvement of Steve Fishwick and O’Higgins who share the solos, the saxophonist going first.

Howles’ own “Different Destinations” relaxes the pace a little and is a richly melodic piece that features Steve Fishwick and Dave O’Higgins dovetailing effectively in the early stages before the leader takes the first real solo at the bass. Some composing bassists like to keep themselves modestly hidden away in the ensemble but Howles has the confidence to highlight his own playing, and rightly so. Tomalin combines expansiveness with lyricism at the piano, as does Steve Fishwick on elegant flugel,  his solo contrasting neatly with O’Higgins’ more robust approach on tenor. The album was also mixed and mastered by O’Higgins, who plays a key role in the success of the recording as a whole.

“We Need To Talk About Benny” is Howles’ second Golson homage, with the composer this time commenting “I like the way that the middle eight of ‘Stablemates’ starts with the chords ascending, so I used that idea as a starting point”. Matt Fishwick’s drums play an important role in an arrangement that includes a sparkling solo from Ross Stanley at the piano. This is followed by the agile eloquence of Steve Fishwick on trumpet and the rougher edged fluency of O’Higgins on tenor before Matt Fishwick comes fully into his own with an extended drum feature.

“Song For Ann” is dedicated to Howles’ late mother, who passed away in 2015. A suitably tender tribute its the album’s first true ballad and features a lush blend of flugel and tenor with gently probing solos from O’Higgins and Steve Fishwick. Howles himself adds a melodic bass solo as Matt Fishwick gravitates between brushes and sticks and Stanley adds a dash of piano lyricism.

The next item is essentially a companion piece. “Ed’s Calypso” is a dedication to Howles’ young daughter Eden, who insists that her father should only write her upbeat tunes. The sunny Caribbean rhythms and flavourings of this piece help to spark relaxed but uplifting solos from O’Higgins on tenor and Steve Fishwick on trumpet and Tomalin at the piano. Matt Fishwick enjoys a series of lively and colourful drum breaks utilising all parts of the kit.

“Slow Love” is a Howles arrangement of a lesser known Prince song - it’s certainly not one that I was previously familiar with. But like the earlier Police offering this is indubitably a jazz performance with typically inventive solos coming from O’Higgins, Steve Fishwick and Stanley.

“Like John” is Howles’ tribute to another great saxophonist and composer, in this case John Coltrane. The sound generated by the Howles quintet is more akin to the bop inspired music of the classic “Blue Train” album (Coltrane’s only release for Blue Note”) than the ‘spiritual jazz’ that Coltrane pioneered later. The quintet deliver the piece at a fast clip with Matt Fishwick’s crisp drumming fuelling powerful but eloquent solos from O’Higgins, Steve Fishwick and Stanley.

The album ends on an energetic note with “Last Blues Home”, a Howles original inspired by the veteran alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, and particularly his “Fried Buzzard” live recording from 1965. There’s no prizes for guessing what this sounds like as Steve Fishwick and O’Higgins deliver the head in tandem – their excellent ensemble playing is a characteristic of the album as a whole – before embarking on impressive individual statements. Tomalin and Howles follow and there is also a series of sparky drum breaks from Matt Fishwick as he trades choruses with the horns.

Howles’ music could never be described as ‘ground-breaking’ but there’s a refreshing honesty and unpretentiousness about the approach taken by him, the Fishwick brothers and others. Howles and the Fishwicks are among the foremost keepers of the hard bop flame in the UK, subtly updating the music for a modern day audience whilst simultaneously sticking to the virtues that made this genre of jazz such an exciting proposition in the first place. Their love for this style of music shines through, as does their mastery as players of it. One would imagine that this quintet would be a highly exciting prospect in a live, jazz club environment.

The blend of the two horns impresses throughout with both Steve Fishwick and O’Higgins also proving to be fluent and eloquent soloists, combining grace and fire in equal measure. Stanley and Tomalin each impress in the piano chair while Howles himself steps out of the shadows, soloing far more than he did on the previous septet release and seizing the opportunity with both hands. He and Matt Fishwick represent a formidable rhythm section, supportive, propulsive and swinging but also tasteful and sympathetic as the situation demands.

Howles’ writing is very much in the hard bop tradition, but his original pieces are all highly effective and his jazz arrangements of outside ‘pop’ material are both intriguing and inventive. “Along Came Benny” represents a highly enjoyable listen that should bring great pleasure to the many fans of this particular style of jazz.

 

Greg Abate and the Craig Milverton Trio - Greg Abate and the Craig Milverton Trio, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 12/07/2019. Rating: 4 out of 5 "An intimate evening's music from from Rhode Islander Greg Abate, a regular UK visitor". Guest contributor Clive Downs enjoys the playing of US saxophonist & flautist Greg Abate and his British trio.

Greg Abate and the Craig Milverton Trio
Jazz at Progress
The Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire.
Friday 12 July 2019


Greg Abate, alto saxophone, flute, composer, leader
Craig Milverton, piano
Adam King, double bass
Nick Millward, drums


Jazz at Progress completed the summer season with an intimate evening’s music from from Rhode Islander Greg Abate, a regular UK visitor.

With a packed schedule of British dates, including a visit to a well-known Sussex coastal city, he suggested they might start with “I ‘Hove’ You” (Cole Porter’s “I Love You”), but in fact launched into an up-tempo “What is This Thing Called Love”. The dynamic alto solo included (among other quotes), a snatch of Dameron’s contrafact “Hot House” (a tune Greg has recorded more than once and clearly enjoys).

Switching to flute (apparently an advance request from a local flute player - sadly not able to attend – prompting Greg to relate he often receives requests for specific instruments in his portfolio from fans who then can’t be there) we next heard Joe Henderson’s popular bossa nova “Recorda-Me”, with sparkling solos from all the band.

Having already (musically) referenced Tadd Dameron, the band followed with his composition “Afternoon in Paris”, starting with a trio (alto, bass, drums), then joined by piano. Pianist Craig Milverton is often in demand to accompany visiting US musicians, as well as being busy with many of his own projects.

“Contemplation”, an Abate minor blues composition, again showed his versatility, and command of flute. Piano, bass, and drums solos followed.

Drummer Nick Millward is said to have based his approach on Buddy Rich. As well featuring as vocalist in his own groups, Nick has a distinguished career as a drummer with traditional bands including those of Kenny Ball Jr. and Terry Lightfoot. This evening he demonstrated his ability to play superbly in any genre.

With Abate returning to alto, the second standard of the evening, “Moonlight in Vermont” began with an unaccompanied statement on saxophone, before the band joined. This composition, like several of the evening’s selections, is featured on Greg’s album “Kindred Spirits” with Phil Woods. This was a very rhythmic interpretation, the band moving into double time (and then double-double), with a thoughtful bass solo from Adam King.  The 2015 Young Jazz Musician of the Year King studied at Middlesex University, and cites Jaco Pastorius as his inspiration for switching to bass from his first choice, alto saxophone.

The first set closed with a fast version of “Star Eyes”, a favourite with jazz soloists since the bop era. After solos the band moved on to 8 bar exchanges. The Progress audience were intrigued with what may be a Greg Abate trademark: short musical ‘duets’ or ‘conversations’ with each of the trio, where Greg played a short phrase, and the other ‘replied’.

After the break, during which Greg continued the relaxed feeling of the evening, by freely chatting with audience members in the lounge, the band went to a fast “Yardbird Suite”.

At a contrasting tempo, the second ballad of the evening, “In a Sentimental Mood”, again presented Greg’s alto in an expressive interpretation, deploying varied articulations, dynamics, and the full range of the instrument. Craig Milverton took the middle eight on the opening theme, unhurried and with occasional ‘outside’ harmonic colour.

Another standard, reminiscent of the Charlie Parker repertoire, “I’ll Remember April” followed, in a very fast reading. Alternating latin and swing rhythms were enhanced by the fine drumming of Nick Millward.

The last flute feature of the concert, George Shearing’s “Lullaby of Birdland” was taken at a steady tempo, but with plenty of fluent double time in the flute solo. Craig’s piano solo included some ‘locked hands’ chordal playing (a nod to the composer’s style?), before a bass improvisation with Craig inserting a “walking bass line” on piano.

After selections from some of the most celebrated jazz composers, what could be more apt than Monk’s “Round Midnight”? Quotes, they say, are a neglected features of the improviser’s skill; a reference to the preceding theme in the alto solo illustrated this nicely.

Leaving the audience wanting more, the band finished on a high note (altissimo C on alto?) and at breakneck speed: “Donna Lee”, conventionally taken at a fast tempo, but here at a lick that defeated one audience member’s new BPM (beats per minute) app designed to pick up the metronome marking!

Sincere thanks to Greg Abate and all the Craig Milverton Trio for a superb evening, and, as ever, to the Progress Theatre people, Hickie’s of Reading, and all the Jazz in Reading team.

CLIVE DOWNS

Greg Abate and the Craig Milverton Trio, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 12/07/2019.

Greg Abate and the Craig Milverton Trio

Monday, July 22, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Greg Abate and the Craig Milverton Trio, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 12/07/2019.
Photography: Photograph of Greg Abate sourced from the Progress Theatre website http://www.progresstheatre.co.uk

"An intimate evening's music from from Rhode Islander Greg Abate, a regular UK visitor". Guest contributor Clive Downs enjoys the playing of US saxophonist & flautist Greg Abate and his British trio.

Greg Abate and the Craig Milverton Trio
Jazz at Progress
The Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire.
Friday 12 July 2019


Greg Abate, alto saxophone, flute, composer, leader
Craig Milverton, piano
Adam King, double bass
Nick Millward, drums


Jazz at Progress completed the summer season with an intimate evening’s music from from Rhode Islander Greg Abate, a regular UK visitor.

With a packed schedule of British dates, including a visit to a well-known Sussex coastal city, he suggested they might start with “I ‘Hove’ You” (Cole Porter’s “I Love You”), but in fact launched into an up-tempo “What is This Thing Called Love”. The dynamic alto solo included (among other quotes), a snatch of Dameron’s contrafact “Hot House” (a tune Greg has recorded more than once and clearly enjoys).

Switching to flute (apparently an advance request from a local flute player - sadly not able to attend – prompting Greg to relate he often receives requests for specific instruments in his portfolio from fans who then can’t be there) we next heard Joe Henderson’s popular bossa nova “Recorda-Me”, with sparkling solos from all the band.

Having already (musically) referenced Tadd Dameron, the band followed with his composition “Afternoon in Paris”, starting with a trio (alto, bass, drums), then joined by piano. Pianist Craig Milverton is often in demand to accompany visiting US musicians, as well as being busy with many of his own projects.

“Contemplation”, an Abate minor blues composition, again showed his versatility, and command of flute. Piano, bass, and drums solos followed.

Drummer Nick Millward is said to have based his approach on Buddy Rich. As well featuring as vocalist in his own groups, Nick has a distinguished career as a drummer with traditional bands including those of Kenny Ball Jr. and Terry Lightfoot. This evening he demonstrated his ability to play superbly in any genre.

With Abate returning to alto, the second standard of the evening, “Moonlight in Vermont” began with an unaccompanied statement on saxophone, before the band joined. This composition, like several of the evening’s selections, is featured on Greg’s album “Kindred Spirits” with Phil Woods. This was a very rhythmic interpretation, the band moving into double time (and then double-double), with a thoughtful bass solo from Adam King.  The 2015 Young Jazz Musician of the Year King studied at Middlesex University, and cites Jaco Pastorius as his inspiration for switching to bass from his first choice, alto saxophone.

The first set closed with a fast version of “Star Eyes”, a favourite with jazz soloists since the bop era. After solos the band moved on to 8 bar exchanges. The Progress audience were intrigued with what may be a Greg Abate trademark: short musical ‘duets’ or ‘conversations’ with each of the trio, where Greg played a short phrase, and the other ‘replied’.

After the break, during which Greg continued the relaxed feeling of the evening, by freely chatting with audience members in the lounge, the band went to a fast “Yardbird Suite”.

At a contrasting tempo, the second ballad of the evening, “In a Sentimental Mood”, again presented Greg’s alto in an expressive interpretation, deploying varied articulations, dynamics, and the full range of the instrument. Craig Milverton took the middle eight on the opening theme, unhurried and with occasional ‘outside’ harmonic colour.

Another standard, reminiscent of the Charlie Parker repertoire, “I’ll Remember April” followed, in a very fast reading. Alternating latin and swing rhythms were enhanced by the fine drumming of Nick Millward.

The last flute feature of the concert, George Shearing’s “Lullaby of Birdland” was taken at a steady tempo, but with plenty of fluent double time in the flute solo. Craig’s piano solo included some ‘locked hands’ chordal playing (a nod to the composer’s style?), before a bass improvisation with Craig inserting a “walking bass line” on piano.

After selections from some of the most celebrated jazz composers, what could be more apt than Monk’s “Round Midnight”? Quotes, they say, are a neglected features of the improviser’s skill; a reference to the preceding theme in the alto solo illustrated this nicely.

Leaving the audience wanting more, the band finished on a high note (altissimo C on alto?) and at breakneck speed: “Donna Lee”, conventionally taken at a fast tempo, but here at a lick that defeated one audience member’s new BPM (beats per minute) app designed to pick up the metronome marking!

Sincere thanks to Greg Abate and all the Craig Milverton Trio for a superb evening, and, as ever, to the Progress Theatre people, Hickie’s of Reading, and all the Jazz in Reading team.

CLIVE DOWNS

Rob Cope - Gods of Apollo Rating: 3-5 out of 5 A fascinating project that has been released at a very timely moment.

Rob Cope

“Gods of Apollo”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0020)

Rob Cope – soprano saxophone, Elliott Galvin – piano, Jon Ormston – drums, Rob Luft - guitar

The current media ballyhoo surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing has reminded me that now is the ideal moment to review this space race inspired début album by the British saxophonist and composer Rob Cope.

Cope studied at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester (1998-2006) before moving on to the Royal Northern College of Music (2006-10) and then to the Royal Academy of Music in London, graduating with an MA in Music Performance in 2012.

I first heard Cope’s playing in 2012 when he appeared on three albums featuring three different line ups that were simultaneously released by the enterprising young trumpeter and composer Jack Davies. Cope played tenor sax with the democratic quartet Southbound, clarinet and bass clarinet with the drummer-less folk jazz quartet Flea Circus and was part of a five man sax section in Davies’  nineteen piece big band. A feature containing reviews of all three albums can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/jack-davies/

Currently Cope is a member of Matt Roberts’ Bigish Band,  fellow saxophonist Andy Scott’s Group S and of the contemporary classical ensemble SoundSPARK. Very much a musician with a foot in both the jazz and classical camps he has also appeared with the Matthew Herbert Big Band and with the Halle and English Symphony Orchestras.

Cope is also an acclaimed educator and teaches at the Donhead, Chepstow House and Westbury House preparatory schools as well as offering private music tuition.

One of his most significant projects has been the making of the film “Richard Turner: A Life in Music”, a jazz documentary telling the story of the much-loved British trumpet player who tragically died at the age of 27. The film charts the young trumpeter’s life and musical achievements through interviews with his friends, family and contemporaries. It was released worldwide as recently as May 2019 and I hope to take a look at it on these web pages shortly.

Cope also helps to run the Jazz Podcast, a platform for UK based jazz musicians and others. Details here;
http://thejazzpodcast.buzzsprout.com/

Turning now to Cope’s recorded début as a band leader, a conceptual affair inspired by the history of the ‘space race’ covering the years 1957 to 1972, but inevitably with a strong focus on the 1969 moon landing.

Cope’s album liner notes and comments in the press release shed light on the inspirations behind the music with the saxophonist stating;
“’Gods of Apollo’ is like a movie soundtrack, a love letter to space and music. It is set to the archival audio material of the race to the moon. There is no notation for this piece, the album is spoken word, and that’s the composition,  just a written script of what’s being said, with the band members improvising in response to what they hear. The piece is in chronological order, we follow the space race from Sputnik’s launch in 1957 to Gene Cernan being the last man to walk on the moon in 1972. I aimed to capture this excitement and add a new level of artistry to the voices of the astronauts”.

As Cope explains the genesis of the project occurred as far back as 2011;
“The idea came to me on a gig at the Spice of Life. I was improvising with trumpeter Laura Jurd and pianist Elliot Galvin while our friend Greg Sinclair narrated stories. Our playing reflecting what Greg was saying gave the audience a new perspective on the music”.

Given his presence at the very start of the Gods of Apollo project Galvin was a natural choice for the recording. Cope has worked with drummer Jon Ormston since the pair were eighteen, with both being part of Jack Davies’ Southbound quartet and Big Band. Rising star guitarist Rob Luft was the final addition to a quartet that sees the leader himself specialising on soprano saxophone.

The album consists of six pieces, with Cope credited as the composer in collaboration with Galvin, Luft and Ormston.

The journey begins with the near thirteen minute “Sputnik” which commences with almost subliminal looped ‘space noises’, sonar perhaps, these providing the backdrop for Cope’s solo soprano sax ruminations. These are thoughtful and unhurried and possessed of an almost zen like calm as he probes gently and airily. Luft’s shimmering guitar adds another instrumental dimension with the guitarist making subtle and atmospheric use of his range of effects. The rumble of Ormston’s drums then helps to give the music more of an orthodox ‘ free jazz’ feel with Galvin’s fractured, Keith Tippett like piano lines also making their presence felt during the latter stages of the piece. Mostly though the opener is about the leader’s serpentine sax meditations, his soprano a searching beam of light in the darkness of space.

A sample of President John F. Kennedy’s famous “We choose to go to the moon” speech provides the segue into the next piece, “Human Spaceflight”. Here the music follows the patterns of speech with Galvin shadowing JFK’s words. Augmented by an array of sound effects the music ranges from free jazz squall, featuring Ormston’s martial style drums, to the rarefied luminosity of deep space as expressed via shimmering guitar, glacial piano and the piping of Cope’s soprano. Speech samples are interwoven throughout the track, helping to shape the flow of the music.

The use of the NASA transcripts to shape the musical narrative invites comparisons with the fifteen minute serial “Moon”, currently being transmitted on BBC Radio Four. Written by Anita Sullivan and narrated by scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock the script features the words of the original NASA transcripts as spoken by actors to tell the story of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins and the 1969 moon landing. There are obvious parallels between this work and Cope’s, although I suspect that the two projects were created entirely independently of each other.

Returning now to Cope’s “Gods of Apollo” and the shortest track on the album, “Flames”. I take this to be a musical depiction of the deaths of astronauts Grissom, White and Chaffee, all killed during a launch test in 1967. Overall the music is less violent than one might expect, but nevertheless there’s a sharp metallic quality to Luft’s guitar and a harsher edge to the leader’s soprano, at least in the earlier stages of the piece. Later a more melancholic and elegiac feel emerges, expressing a sense of loss.

As its title suggests “Neil” brings us to 1969 and via the narrative of the NASA audio transcripts and the musical responses of the Cope quartet the six minute piece takes us on a journey to the moon. We start on the launch pad with the ignition sequence, achieving lift off as Cope and his colleagues gain musical momentum, the leader’s soprano blazing brightly alongside the clangour of Luft’s guitar, Galvin’s spiky piano and the military bustle of Ormston’s drums, all this interspersed with the voices of Mission Control and Apollo 11.

Armstrong’s famous words “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” actually forms part of the introduction to the next piece, “Magnificent Desolation”, the title taken from a phrase uttered by Aldrin. There’s a sense of the isolation, the beauty and the vastness of space, this expressed via Galvin’s crystalline solo piano meditations, his gentle lyricism punctuated by space noises, sampled voices, and passages of more robust piano improvising. Cope, Ormston and Luft only become involved towards the close, the leader’s soprano supplying the link into the album’s final piece.

“One Hell Of A Ride” celebrates the first full moon exploration in December 1972 by Gene Cernan and his colleagues. Again Cope and the members of the quartet respond to the sampled voices before eventually taking flight themselves as Cope’s soprano and Luft’s guitar thrillingly intertwine in a kind of astral ballet. The last words go to the astronauts as Cernan and his crew sing “I was strolling on the moon one day…”. Galvin’s barely audible single piano notes then play us out.

“Gods of Apollo” is a fascinating project and has been released at a very timely moment. As one would expect from musicians of this calibre there’s some excellent playing throughout the album with many instrumental highlights to enjoy. It has clearly been a labour of love for Cope and the way in which the musicians respond to the source audio material is never less than interesting.

The combination of music and recorded speech isn’t exactly new with Pink Floyd being among the pioneers of the genre, notably on the album “Dark Side of the Moon”. There the speech samples were artfully stitched into the songs and instrumental compositions, but Cope’s approach is very different, almost the opposite, with the musicians reacting to the voices rather than the other way round.

Ultimately I found the NASA transcripts and other space noises something of a distraction. With the exception of the opening “Sputnik” the voices run concurrently with the music almost throughout the album. One suspects that “Gods of Apollo” would be an intriguing and absorbing proposition live, especially if enhanced by visuals in some kind of multi-media project. Cope’s brief video on the Ubuntu Music website trailering the project gives a tantalising hint at how effective and exciting that might be.

In the home environment I’m not quite so convinced that “Gods of Apollo” would it stand up to repeated revisiting. Despite enjoying listening to the project during the course of writing this review I can’t see it being an album that I’d be likely to return to on a regular basis. A live performance though would be something else again.

Gods of Apollo

Rob Cope

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Gods of Apollo

A fascinating project that has been released at a very timely moment.

Rob Cope

“Gods of Apollo”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0020)

Rob Cope – soprano saxophone, Elliott Galvin – piano, Jon Ormston – drums, Rob Luft - guitar

The current media ballyhoo surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing has reminded me that now is the ideal moment to review this space race inspired début album by the British saxophonist and composer Rob Cope.

Cope studied at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester (1998-2006) before moving on to the Royal Northern College of Music (2006-10) and then to the Royal Academy of Music in London, graduating with an MA in Music Performance in 2012.

I first heard Cope’s playing in 2012 when he appeared on three albums featuring three different line ups that were simultaneously released by the enterprising young trumpeter and composer Jack Davies. Cope played tenor sax with the democratic quartet Southbound, clarinet and bass clarinet with the drummer-less folk jazz quartet Flea Circus and was part of a five man sax section in Davies’  nineteen piece big band. A feature containing reviews of all three albums can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/jack-davies/

Currently Cope is a member of Matt Roberts’ Bigish Band,  fellow saxophonist Andy Scott’s Group S and of the contemporary classical ensemble SoundSPARK. Very much a musician with a foot in both the jazz and classical camps he has also appeared with the Matthew Herbert Big Band and with the Halle and English Symphony Orchestras.

Cope is also an acclaimed educator and teaches at the Donhead, Chepstow House and Westbury House preparatory schools as well as offering private music tuition.

One of his most significant projects has been the making of the film “Richard Turner: A Life in Music”, a jazz documentary telling the story of the much-loved British trumpet player who tragically died at the age of 27. The film charts the young trumpeter’s life and musical achievements through interviews with his friends, family and contemporaries. It was released worldwide as recently as May 2019 and I hope to take a look at it on these web pages shortly.

Cope also helps to run the Jazz Podcast, a platform for UK based jazz musicians and others. Details here;
http://thejazzpodcast.buzzsprout.com/

Turning now to Cope’s recorded début as a band leader, a conceptual affair inspired by the history of the ‘space race’ covering the years 1957 to 1972, but inevitably with a strong focus on the 1969 moon landing.

Cope’s album liner notes and comments in the press release shed light on the inspirations behind the music with the saxophonist stating;
“’Gods of Apollo’ is like a movie soundtrack, a love letter to space and music. It is set to the archival audio material of the race to the moon. There is no notation for this piece, the album is spoken word, and that’s the composition,  just a written script of what’s being said, with the band members improvising in response to what they hear. The piece is in chronological order, we follow the space race from Sputnik’s launch in 1957 to Gene Cernan being the last man to walk on the moon in 1972. I aimed to capture this excitement and add a new level of artistry to the voices of the astronauts”.

As Cope explains the genesis of the project occurred as far back as 2011;
“The idea came to me on a gig at the Spice of Life. I was improvising with trumpeter Laura Jurd and pianist Elliot Galvin while our friend Greg Sinclair narrated stories. Our playing reflecting what Greg was saying gave the audience a new perspective on the music”.

Given his presence at the very start of the Gods of Apollo project Galvin was a natural choice for the recording. Cope has worked with drummer Jon Ormston since the pair were eighteen, with both being part of Jack Davies’ Southbound quartet and Big Band. Rising star guitarist Rob Luft was the final addition to a quartet that sees the leader himself specialising on soprano saxophone.

The album consists of six pieces, with Cope credited as the composer in collaboration with Galvin, Luft and Ormston.

The journey begins with the near thirteen minute “Sputnik” which commences with almost subliminal looped ‘space noises’, sonar perhaps, these providing the backdrop for Cope’s solo soprano sax ruminations. These are thoughtful and unhurried and possessed of an almost zen like calm as he probes gently and airily. Luft’s shimmering guitar adds another instrumental dimension with the guitarist making subtle and atmospheric use of his range of effects. The rumble of Ormston’s drums then helps to give the music more of an orthodox ‘ free jazz’ feel with Galvin’s fractured, Keith Tippett like piano lines also making their presence felt during the latter stages of the piece. Mostly though the opener is about the leader’s serpentine sax meditations, his soprano a searching beam of light in the darkness of space.

A sample of President John F. Kennedy’s famous “We choose to go to the moon” speech provides the segue into the next piece, “Human Spaceflight”. Here the music follows the patterns of speech with Galvin shadowing JFK’s words. Augmented by an array of sound effects the music ranges from free jazz squall, featuring Ormston’s martial style drums, to the rarefied luminosity of deep space as expressed via shimmering guitar, glacial piano and the piping of Cope’s soprano. Speech samples are interwoven throughout the track, helping to shape the flow of the music.

The use of the NASA transcripts to shape the musical narrative invites comparisons with the fifteen minute serial “Moon”, currently being transmitted on BBC Radio Four. Written by Anita Sullivan and narrated by scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock the script features the words of the original NASA transcripts as spoken by actors to tell the story of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins and the 1969 moon landing. There are obvious parallels between this work and Cope’s, although I suspect that the two projects were created entirely independently of each other.

Returning now to Cope’s “Gods of Apollo” and the shortest track on the album, “Flames”. I take this to be a musical depiction of the deaths of astronauts Grissom, White and Chaffee, all killed during a launch test in 1967. Overall the music is less violent than one might expect, but nevertheless there’s a sharp metallic quality to Luft’s guitar and a harsher edge to the leader’s soprano, at least in the earlier stages of the piece. Later a more melancholic and elegiac feel emerges, expressing a sense of loss.

As its title suggests “Neil” brings us to 1969 and via the narrative of the NASA audio transcripts and the musical responses of the Cope quartet the six minute piece takes us on a journey to the moon. We start on the launch pad with the ignition sequence, achieving lift off as Cope and his colleagues gain musical momentum, the leader’s soprano blazing brightly alongside the clangour of Luft’s guitar, Galvin’s spiky piano and the military bustle of Ormston’s drums, all this interspersed with the voices of Mission Control and Apollo 11.

Armstrong’s famous words “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” actually forms part of the introduction to the next piece, “Magnificent Desolation”, the title taken from a phrase uttered by Aldrin. There’s a sense of the isolation, the beauty and the vastness of space, this expressed via Galvin’s crystalline solo piano meditations, his gentle lyricism punctuated by space noises, sampled voices, and passages of more robust piano improvising. Cope, Ormston and Luft only become involved towards the close, the leader’s soprano supplying the link into the album’s final piece.

“One Hell Of A Ride” celebrates the first full moon exploration in December 1972 by Gene Cernan and his colleagues. Again Cope and the members of the quartet respond to the sampled voices before eventually taking flight themselves as Cope’s soprano and Luft’s guitar thrillingly intertwine in a kind of astral ballet. The last words go to the astronauts as Cernan and his crew sing “I was strolling on the moon one day…”. Galvin’s barely audible single piano notes then play us out.

“Gods of Apollo” is a fascinating project and has been released at a very timely moment. As one would expect from musicians of this calibre there’s some excellent playing throughout the album with many instrumental highlights to enjoy. It has clearly been a labour of love for Cope and the way in which the musicians respond to the source audio material is never less than interesting.

The combination of music and recorded speech isn’t exactly new with Pink Floyd being among the pioneers of the genre, notably on the album “Dark Side of the Moon”. There the speech samples were artfully stitched into the songs and instrumental compositions, but Cope’s approach is very different, almost the opposite, with the musicians reacting to the voices rather than the other way round.

Ultimately I found the NASA transcripts and other space noises something of a distraction. With the exception of the opening “Sputnik” the voices run concurrently with the music almost throughout the album. One suspects that “Gods of Apollo” would be an intriguing and absorbing proposition live, especially if enhanced by visuals in some kind of multi-media project. Cope’s brief video on the Ubuntu Music website trailering the project gives a tantalising hint at how effective and exciting that might be.

In the home environment I’m not quite so convinced that “Gods of Apollo” would it stand up to repeated revisiting. Despite enjoying listening to the project during the course of writing this review I can’t see it being an album that I’d be likely to return to on a regular basis. A live performance though would be something else again.

Beresford Hammond - Circle Inside the Folds Rating: 4 out of 5 Beresford Hammond continue to bring true beauty to the art of free improvisation, once again producing an intimate, accessible and strangely beautiful album to both intrigue and beguile the listener.

Beresford Hammond

“Circle Inside the Folds”

(the 52nd 52NDCD005)

Charlie Beresford – guitar, voice, piano
Sonia Hammond – cello

“Circle Inside the Folds” represents the third album release by the improvising duo Beresford Hammond.

It is actually the fourth album to feature this now well established partnership. Based in the Welsh Borders the pair made their recorded début in 2015 with the album “The Science of Snow” which found them bringing a genuine beauty to the art of free improvisation.

For “The Lightning Bell” (2016) they expanded the group to a trio with the addition of pianist Carolyn Hume, one of Beresford’s collaborators in the group Fourth Page. The album also included an unexpected, but surprisingly successful, guest contribution from vocalist Judie Tzuke.

“Each Edge of the Field” (2017) saw a return to basics with the core duo delivering a set of entirely instrumental music that I described as; “a sound that is melancholy and sometimes unsettling, but is undeniably atmospheric and possessed of a dark beauty that is all its own”.

I first became aware of Beresford’s music in 2009 with the release of his highly personal solo album “Dark Transport”. He combines solo projects with membership of the improvising quartet Fourth Page alongside Hume, bassist Peter Marsh and percussionist Paul May. This quartet’s album releases include 2011’s “Blind Horizons” and 2018’s “The Forest From Above”, both of which appear on Leo Records. Meanwhile “Along The Weak Rope” (2011) and the live recording “Ticks and Moans” (2012) were issued by the London based independent For/wind.

Beresford, Hume, Marsh and May are also part of the quintet Crystal Moth, which also features the percussionist Patrick Dawes. This line up, augmented by a number of guest musicians, released their eponymous début album in 2016.

Beresford has also played with the multi-instrumentalist Mark Emerson (piano, accordion, viola) under the name Five Turnings Duo. Others with whom he has collaborated include the Russian free jazz saxophonist Alexey Kruglov, French guitarist Christian Vasseur, and Brits bassist Tim Harries, folk singer June Tabor and performance poet Ian McMillan.

Beresford co-ordinates the Radnor Improvisers, a collective of improvising musicians from around the Welsh Borders and also has a parallel career as a visual artist and photographer. Further information on his numerous activities can be found on his website http://www.charlieberesford.com

Also a member of the Radnor Improvisers the classically trained Hammond (nee Oakes) studied at Birmingham School of Music and at the Royal Academy of Music in London. She is still involved with classical ensembles such as the Brecknock Sinfonia and the St. Woolos Sinfonia (acting as principal cellist for both) plus the Castalia String Quartet. In 2014 she released a live solo recording of compositions by J.S. Bach.

However Hammond has also worked extensively in other genres of music during an eclectic freelance career and has collaborated with solo artists such as Barb Jungr, Philip Kane and Chloe Goodchild and with the bands Babysnakes and Ennui.

More recent collaborations have included a duo with jazz/folk guitarist Adrian Crick resulting in the albums “Something Beginning With…” (2016) and “More (off the beaten) Tracks” (2017).

Hammond has also been working with the high powered blues/rock guitarist/vocalist Troy Redfern, on the face of it an unlikely pairing. Having also covered Redfern’s music on this site I’d be highly intrigued to hear the results of this!

Living in the same geographical area as Beresford and Hammond I’ve been fortunate enough to see both musicians performing live in nearby locations. Fourth Page visited my home town of Leominster in 2012 while in 2018 the aptly named aggregation Borderless came to the town, a quartet featuring both Beresford and Hammond plus Camilla Cancantata (previously Saunders) on piano, trombone and vocals and the Baghdad born Ahmed Mukhtar on oud.

In May 2019 the Beresford Hammond duo performed at The Globe in Hay-on-Wye as part of the ongoing Nawr (Welsh for ‘now’) series of experimental music evenings. Usually based in Swansea but occasionally making forays out to Hay the Nawr events typically feature short-ish sets from four different and very varied acts, a kind of avant-garde music review that I like to liken to a live version of Late Junction.

The Beresford Hammond set was particularly enjoyable and it was good to see the core duo performing together live for the first time. Beresford told me afterwards that everything that they had played had been entirely improvised, even the lyrics that featured in the occasional vocal episodes. It’s an approach that the duo have been honing since 2014, a kind of ‘instantaneous composition’ that puts the focus on mood, texture and narrative rather than technique or extended technique, although both are essential components of their work. Instead of the noise and bluster of most free improv the emphasis here is on beauty, albeit one of an often melancholic kind. It’s a highly distinctive approach that also informs the music of associated acts such as Fourth Page and Crystal Moth.

“Circle Inside the Folds” finds the duo further refining their unique method of music making. The title references the album packaging which features the CD (the circle) within an origami style sleeve (the folds), which in turn features black and white images photographed by Beresford.  It appears as a limited edition of 100 (or 300 depending on who you listen to). Previous releases have featured beautiful graphic designs, these created by  Canadian photographer Gaena da Sylva , from Quebec,  who collaborates with Beresford under the generic name the52nd (as in parallel). See www.the52nd.bandcamp.com

I also suspect that the album title might be a reference to the ancient Mitchells Fold Stone Circle, which is located in the South Shropshire Hills, near to where Beresford lives. The duo’s music has always been influenced by the Border landscape, which can range from the beautiful and bucolic to the rugged and savage.

And so to this latest album recording which features seven brand new improvisations from the duo. Opener “Homage to Opus 8” is a perfect encapsulation of the duo’s delicate strengths, building from Hammond’s introductory cello scrapings and building slowly and organically with the introduction of acoustic guitar to embrace a kind of wide-screen magnificence, reflecting the beauty, drama and wildness of the landscape within which the duo live and work. This may be improvised music but it sounds natural and logical, almost written, with elements of folk and contemporary classical music in the mix. It rarely sounds like typical free jazz.

Hammond’s cello inevitably lends much of the music a melancholy edge and her bowing combines effectively with Beresford’s dramatic, almost flamenco like acoustic guitar picking on the following “Submerged”.

At three and a half minutes in length “Apparat Waltz” represents the shortest piece on the record and sounds almost pre-composed as cello and guitar dance around each other in almost courtly fashion. Once again there’s a narrative quality about the piece that sets Beresford Hammond’s unique brand of ‘chamber improvisation’ apart from the rest of the free jazz field.

“Mosquito Machinery” takes its title from the other worldly ‘buzzing’ sounds that introduce the piece, these perhaps produced by Beresford sliding objects across, or up and down, the guitar strings. Although a wholly acoustic player Beresford augments his sound via the use of an array of devices, these sometimes attached to, or wedged under, the strings. His use of these objects, among them a tea spoon, has sometimes been compared to prepared piano techniques and in recent years he has made increasing use of a bow on the strings. Hammond, too, is not averse to deploying extended techniques on the cello, plucking and striking the strings and generally pushing the sonic boundaries of her chosen instrument. This piece, perhaps the most abstract, impressionistic and unsettling so far sees some of these techniques being put to effective use.

The music of Fourth Page, Borderless and Beresford Hammond Hume has featured Beresford’s unique vocalising. The track “Adjust the File” represents the first occasion that he’s brought this aspect of his talent to the Beresford Hammond duo - at least on disc, he sang at the recent Globe live performance. Fourth Page like to describe their music as “spontaneously composed songs” and Beresford’s lyrics are improvised in the moment to match the feel of the music. He’s been compared to John Martyn, David Sylvian and Robert Wyatt and there’s certainly something of Martyn’s slurred brilliance and Wyatt’s fragile plaintiveness in his vocalising for Fourth Page.  Often his vocalising is almost subliminal and uses exhalations and vocal tics as well as words.  It often sounds deceptively simple but I would imagine that it is actually a very difficult skill to master.
“Adjust the File” finds the guitarist making extensive use of extended instrumental techniques as well as delivering an atmospheric and unsettling semi-spoken vocal, these qualities also reflected in the music with its guitar generated percussive effects and eerily bowed cello.

“Something Against The Hull”  features Beresford on piano, deploying prepared piano techniques and dampening the strings as he duets with Hammond’s wispy, but increasingly assertive cello. Again the atmosphere is abstract, dark and unsettling and it’s tempting to view “Mosquito Machinery”, “Adjust the File” and this piece as some kind of crepescular trilogy.

The album concludes with “Order of Odonata”, a more pastoral piece featuring bright, cleanly picked guitar contrasted with deep, dark, grainy cello sonorities, reminiscent perhaps of the bucolic Border landscape under a lowering sky, the threat of a storm hanging in the air. It’s typical of the gritty beauty of this remarkable duo’s improvised music.

It still astonishes me that Beresford Hammond are able to conjure these seemingly fully formed pieces out of thin air. I’m not sure how much editing there was prior to release, but that performance at The Globe in Hay served to prove just how finely attuned to one another’s musical sensibilities the duo have become during their five years of existence. Their level of rapport is truly remarkable and this latest release is arguably their most melodic and accessible album to date, even allowing for its darker episodes. Beresford and Hammond continue to bring true beauty to the art of free improvisation and once again have produced an intimate, accessible and strangely beautiful album to both intrigue and beguile the listener.

Circle Inside the Folds

Beresford Hammond

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Circle Inside the Folds

Beresford Hammond continue to bring true beauty to the art of free improvisation, once again producing an intimate, accessible and strangely beautiful album to both intrigue and beguile the listener.

Beresford Hammond

“Circle Inside the Folds”

(the 52nd 52NDCD005)

Charlie Beresford – guitar, voice, piano
Sonia Hammond – cello

“Circle Inside the Folds” represents the third album release by the improvising duo Beresford Hammond.

It is actually the fourth album to feature this now well established partnership. Based in the Welsh Borders the pair made their recorded début in 2015 with the album “The Science of Snow” which found them bringing a genuine beauty to the art of free improvisation.

For “The Lightning Bell” (2016) they expanded the group to a trio with the addition of pianist Carolyn Hume, one of Beresford’s collaborators in the group Fourth Page. The album also included an unexpected, but surprisingly successful, guest contribution from vocalist Judie Tzuke.

“Each Edge of the Field” (2017) saw a return to basics with the core duo delivering a set of entirely instrumental music that I described as; “a sound that is melancholy and sometimes unsettling, but is undeniably atmospheric and possessed of a dark beauty that is all its own”.

I first became aware of Beresford’s music in 2009 with the release of his highly personal solo album “Dark Transport”. He combines solo projects with membership of the improvising quartet Fourth Page alongside Hume, bassist Peter Marsh and percussionist Paul May. This quartet’s album releases include 2011’s “Blind Horizons” and 2018’s “The Forest From Above”, both of which appear on Leo Records. Meanwhile “Along The Weak Rope” (2011) and the live recording “Ticks and Moans” (2012) were issued by the London based independent For/wind.

Beresford, Hume, Marsh and May are also part of the quintet Crystal Moth, which also features the percussionist Patrick Dawes. This line up, augmented by a number of guest musicians, released their eponymous début album in 2016.

Beresford has also played with the multi-instrumentalist Mark Emerson (piano, accordion, viola) under the name Five Turnings Duo. Others with whom he has collaborated include the Russian free jazz saxophonist Alexey Kruglov, French guitarist Christian Vasseur, and Brits bassist Tim Harries, folk singer June Tabor and performance poet Ian McMillan.

Beresford co-ordinates the Radnor Improvisers, a collective of improvising musicians from around the Welsh Borders and also has a parallel career as a visual artist and photographer. Further information on his numerous activities can be found on his website http://www.charlieberesford.com

Also a member of the Radnor Improvisers the classically trained Hammond (nee Oakes) studied at Birmingham School of Music and at the Royal Academy of Music in London. She is still involved with classical ensembles such as the Brecknock Sinfonia and the St. Woolos Sinfonia (acting as principal cellist for both) plus the Castalia String Quartet. In 2014 she released a live solo recording of compositions by J.S. Bach.

However Hammond has also worked extensively in other genres of music during an eclectic freelance career and has collaborated with solo artists such as Barb Jungr, Philip Kane and Chloe Goodchild and with the bands Babysnakes and Ennui.

More recent collaborations have included a duo with jazz/folk guitarist Adrian Crick resulting in the albums “Something Beginning With…” (2016) and “More (off the beaten) Tracks” (2017).

Hammond has also been working with the high powered blues/rock guitarist/vocalist Troy Redfern, on the face of it an unlikely pairing. Having also covered Redfern’s music on this site I’d be highly intrigued to hear the results of this!

Living in the same geographical area as Beresford and Hammond I’ve been fortunate enough to see both musicians performing live in nearby locations. Fourth Page visited my home town of Leominster in 2012 while in 2018 the aptly named aggregation Borderless came to the town, a quartet featuring both Beresford and Hammond plus Camilla Cancantata (previously Saunders) on piano, trombone and vocals and the Baghdad born Ahmed Mukhtar on oud.

In May 2019 the Beresford Hammond duo performed at The Globe in Hay-on-Wye as part of the ongoing Nawr (Welsh for ‘now’) series of experimental music evenings. Usually based in Swansea but occasionally making forays out to Hay the Nawr events typically feature short-ish sets from four different and very varied acts, a kind of avant-garde music review that I like to liken to a live version of Late Junction.

The Beresford Hammond set was particularly enjoyable and it was good to see the core duo performing together live for the first time. Beresford told me afterwards that everything that they had played had been entirely improvised, even the lyrics that featured in the occasional vocal episodes. It’s an approach that the duo have been honing since 2014, a kind of ‘instantaneous composition’ that puts the focus on mood, texture and narrative rather than technique or extended technique, although both are essential components of their work. Instead of the noise and bluster of most free improv the emphasis here is on beauty, albeit one of an often melancholic kind. It’s a highly distinctive approach that also informs the music of associated acts such as Fourth Page and Crystal Moth.

“Circle Inside the Folds” finds the duo further refining their unique method of music making. The title references the album packaging which features the CD (the circle) within an origami style sleeve (the folds), which in turn features black and white images photographed by Beresford.  It appears as a limited edition of 100 (or 300 depending on who you listen to). Previous releases have featured beautiful graphic designs, these created by  Canadian photographer Gaena da Sylva , from Quebec,  who collaborates with Beresford under the generic name the52nd (as in parallel). See www.the52nd.bandcamp.com

I also suspect that the album title might be a reference to the ancient Mitchells Fold Stone Circle, which is located in the South Shropshire Hills, near to where Beresford lives. The duo’s music has always been influenced by the Border landscape, which can range from the beautiful and bucolic to the rugged and savage.

And so to this latest album recording which features seven brand new improvisations from the duo. Opener “Homage to Opus 8” is a perfect encapsulation of the duo’s delicate strengths, building from Hammond’s introductory cello scrapings and building slowly and organically with the introduction of acoustic guitar to embrace a kind of wide-screen magnificence, reflecting the beauty, drama and wildness of the landscape within which the duo live and work. This may be improvised music but it sounds natural and logical, almost written, with elements of folk and contemporary classical music in the mix. It rarely sounds like typical free jazz.

Hammond’s cello inevitably lends much of the music a melancholy edge and her bowing combines effectively with Beresford’s dramatic, almost flamenco like acoustic guitar picking on the following “Submerged”.

At three and a half minutes in length “Apparat Waltz” represents the shortest piece on the record and sounds almost pre-composed as cello and guitar dance around each other in almost courtly fashion. Once again there’s a narrative quality about the piece that sets Beresford Hammond’s unique brand of ‘chamber improvisation’ apart from the rest of the free jazz field.

“Mosquito Machinery” takes its title from the other worldly ‘buzzing’ sounds that introduce the piece, these perhaps produced by Beresford sliding objects across, or up and down, the guitar strings. Although a wholly acoustic player Beresford augments his sound via the use of an array of devices, these sometimes attached to, or wedged under, the strings. His use of these objects, among them a tea spoon, has sometimes been compared to prepared piano techniques and in recent years he has made increasing use of a bow on the strings. Hammond, too, is not averse to deploying extended techniques on the cello, plucking and striking the strings and generally pushing the sonic boundaries of her chosen instrument. This piece, perhaps the most abstract, impressionistic and unsettling so far sees some of these techniques being put to effective use.

The music of Fourth Page, Borderless and Beresford Hammond Hume has featured Beresford’s unique vocalising. The track “Adjust the File” represents the first occasion that he’s brought this aspect of his talent to the Beresford Hammond duo - at least on disc, he sang at the recent Globe live performance. Fourth Page like to describe their music as “spontaneously composed songs” and Beresford’s lyrics are improvised in the moment to match the feel of the music. He’s been compared to John Martyn, David Sylvian and Robert Wyatt and there’s certainly something of Martyn’s slurred brilliance and Wyatt’s fragile plaintiveness in his vocalising for Fourth Page.  Often his vocalising is almost subliminal and uses exhalations and vocal tics as well as words.  It often sounds deceptively simple but I would imagine that it is actually a very difficult skill to master.
“Adjust the File” finds the guitarist making extensive use of extended instrumental techniques as well as delivering an atmospheric and unsettling semi-spoken vocal, these qualities also reflected in the music with its guitar generated percussive effects and eerily bowed cello.

“Something Against The Hull”  features Beresford on piano, deploying prepared piano techniques and dampening the strings as he duets with Hammond’s wispy, but increasingly assertive cello. Again the atmosphere is abstract, dark and unsettling and it’s tempting to view “Mosquito Machinery”, “Adjust the File” and this piece as some kind of crepescular trilogy.

The album concludes with “Order of Odonata”, a more pastoral piece featuring bright, cleanly picked guitar contrasted with deep, dark, grainy cello sonorities, reminiscent perhaps of the bucolic Border landscape under a lowering sky, the threat of a storm hanging in the air. It’s typical of the gritty beauty of this remarkable duo’s improvised music.

It still astonishes me that Beresford Hammond are able to conjure these seemingly fully formed pieces out of thin air. I’m not sure how much editing there was prior to release, but that performance at The Globe in Hay served to prove just how finely attuned to one another’s musical sensibilities the duo have become during their five years of existence. Their level of rapport is truly remarkable and this latest release is arguably their most melodic and accessible album to date, even allowing for its darker episodes. Beresford and Hammond continue to bring true beauty to the art of free improvisation and once again have produced an intimate, accessible and strangely beautiful album to both intrigue and beguile the listener.

Ray d’Inverno / Rod Paton Sextet feat. Tony Woods, Nette Robinson, Ashley John Long, Martin Fisher - Ray d’Inverno / Rod Paton Sextet, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 09/07/2019. Rating: 4 out of 5 The standard of the singing and musicianship was exceptional throughout, this was a ‘one off’ collaboration that worked magnificently in a programme that was far from predictable.

Ray d’Inverno / Rod Paton Sextet feat. Tony Woods, Nette Robinson, Ashley John Long and Martin Fisher

Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 09/07/2019

Ray d’Inverno – piano, Rod Paton – french horn, Tony Woods – alto & soprano saxophones, alto clarinet, Nette Robinson – vocals, Ashley John Long – double bass, Martin Fisher – drums

It was difficult to know quite how to bill this stellar sextet. The posters advertising this event made reference to the Ray d’Inverno / Tony Woods Quartet with Nette Robinson but this all star session was ultimately co-led by d’Inverno and jazz french horn player Rod Paton, now a Brecon resident. Paton had helped to curate the whole affair in conjunction with Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon of Brecon Jazz Club.

Lynne and Roger have a proven track record of bringing together musicians who have never worked with each other before to create a convincing and successful one off group, united by a shared jazz music vocabulary. Such was the case here with Paton acting as the link between the players.

An acclaimed musical educator as well as a performer Paton moved to Brecon a couple of years ago and has since become involved with the South Wales jazz scene and played an important role as both musician and organiser at the 2018 Brecon Jazz Festival. During his career as an educator Paton spent time in the south of England where he made connections with both d’Inverno and Woods and also with Fisher. The drummer has also made the move to Wales and for a number of years organised jazz events in the Torfaen / Pontypool area under the Jazz MF banner.

As Lynne Gornall put it this was a band that was put together because the Jazz Club had wanted to feature several of the individuals involved as leaders of their own bands but had insufficient space in the monthly club event calendar to do so. Thus with Paton acting as facilitator they put them all together as one star group. Both d’Inverno and Woods are leaders of their own groups and once the front line musicians were on board it was decided to add the Wales based rhythm section of Fisher and Long. Woods and Robinson had never met with Long and Fisher before this evening but thanks to that shared jazz language the one off sextet gelled remarkably quickly and effectively.

Besides his work as a jazz musician d’Inverno has also enjoyed an academic career of some distinction and at one time held a post as Professor of Quantum Relativity at Southampton University. In his role as co-leader he kicked off the evening with a version of the standard “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”, performed in the piano trio format with the help of Fisher and Long. d’Inverno took the first solo on his Yamaha electric keyboard, deploying an acoustic piano setting for the whole of the evening. Long, a Brecon regular and a great audience favourite also gave us a reminder of his formidable skills as a bass soloist. The piece concluded with a series of lively exchanges between d’Inverno on piano and the ebullient Fisher at the drums.

The line up was extended to a quintet with the addition of Woods on alto saxophone and Paton on french horn for an arrangement of another jazz standard, “My Beautiful Love”. Paton is one of a handful of musicians who has the ability to make the french horn a convincing instrument for jazz soloing – others include the UK’s Jim Rattigan and the Americans John Clark and Vincent Chancey.
He took the first solo here, improvising with great fluency, the tone of the instrument pitched somewhere between a trumpet and a trombone. Woods followed, similarly assured and fluent and adopting a warm, almost tenor like, sound on his alto. Elsewhere the rarely heard combination of these two horns was both beguiling and effective. d’Inverno also featured as a soloist, his playing ripe with wit and invention.

Long’s double bass introduced the next piece, which saw vocalist Nette Robinson replace Paton on the stage to deliver a sultry, but playful, version of the familiar standard “Pennies From Heaven”. Following the initial bass and vocal duet piano and drums were added to the equation as Robinson artfully stretched the vocal melody lines with the flexibility and confidence of the highly accomplished singer that she is. Instrumental solos came from Woods on alto and Long at the bass.

Life partners Woods and Robinson have been key figures in preserving the legacy of the late pianist, composer and lyricist Michael Garrick (1933-2011), a musician with whom both have collaborated. Following Garrick’s death the couple took on the leadership of the Lyric Ensemble, Garrick’s last creative project, with pianist Nikki Iles taking on Garrick’s role. From the Lyric Ensemble repertoire came Kenny Wheeler’s “Everybody’s Song But My Own”, with a lyric by Garrick beautifully delivered by Robinson following d’Inverno’s limpid solo piano introduction.  Fittingly Woods was also featured as a soloist as he delivered a fluent and expressive statement on alto.

Robinson took over the announcing duties to introduce the standard “You Must Believe In Spring” in a ballad arrangement inspired by a version sung by Cleveland Watkiss. Woods moved to what I jotted down as bass clarinet, although on reflection it may have been alto clarinet, an instrument he has played on previous occasions. The lustrous, woody sounds that he produced were the perfect foil for Robinson’s warm, well enunciated vocals and d’Inverno’s lyrical piano soloing. A word too for Fisher’s sensitive and sympathetic brushed drum accompaniment. This was a performance that received a particularly rapturous reception from a pleasingly large audience that included a sprinkling of regulars from the nearby Black Mountain Jazz Club in Abergavenny.

An excellent first half concluded with an appropriately sassy take on Steve Swallow’s composition “Ladies in Mercedes”, a tune introduced to the pianist by bassist Peter Maxwell, once of the Andy Sheppard band. Sheppard has worked extensively with Swallow and Carla Bley, hence that particular series of connections. Robinson was clearly enjoying herself as she delivered Norma Winstone’s witty lyrics in suitably coquettish fashion, her singing interspersed with solos from Woods, surprisingly powerful on alto, and d’Inverno, with Fisher also weighing in with a dynamic drum feature. Also of note were the dazzling scat vocal and alto sax exchanges between Robinson and Woods. In a neat touch d’Inverno dedicated the song, with its Brazilian inspired rhythms, to the memory of the recently deceased Joao Gilberto.

The flyers for tonight’s gig had promised a mix of standards and originals and a shorter second set commenced with d’Inverno’s “Bopping Up The A27”, a tune written many years ago as part of the “Roadway Suite”,  a commission from Hastings Jazz Festival. Performed in a quartet format this proved to be a suitably bebop flavoured tune and the perfect vehicle for Woods to release his inner Charlie Parker, driven on by Long’s propulsive bass and Fisher’s crisp, hard hitting drumming. With something of the feel of a bebop standard about it the tune also contained solos from d’Inverno and Long plus a series of sparky drum breaks from Fisher.

The quartet were joined by Robinson and Paton for the song “Alice in Wonderland”, written by Sammy Fain and Bob Hilliard for the 1951 animated Disney film but which has since become a jazz standard. Robinson’s eloquent reading of the lyrics was complemented by similarly erudite instrumental statements from Paton on french horn and Woods on soprano sax.

Similarly lovely was the ballad “Turn Out The Stars” with music written by the late, great pianist Bill Evans and a later lyric penned by Michael Garrick. Garrick’s love of poetry is expressed in his words, beautifully sung here by Robinson with sensitive accompaniment coming from d’Inverno, Long and Fisher in yet another new instrumental configuration. The instrumental solo came from d’Inverno at his most lyrical.

MJQ pianist and composer John Lewis’ “20 East 30 West” was played as a blues with Paton demonstrating that the blues can authentically be played on the french horn as he delivered a stunning and totally convincing solo. Also featured were Woods on alto plus Long and Fisher on bass and drums respectively.

Paton also soloed on an uncharacteristically hard driving arrangement of Mal Waldron’s “Soul Eyes”, a treatment that fellow soloist d’Inverno later described as “rock”. Also featured was Woods on alto sax.

Robinson returned to the stage for the closing number, an arrangement of multi-reed player Jerome Richardson’s composition “Groove Merchant” with vocalese lyrics by singer Jon Hendricks. d’Inverno had actually worked with Richardson and this connection helped to inspire his most exuberant playing of the evening as he traded solos with a similarly powerful and effusive Woods on alto.

Even the end of an excellent show it was still difficult to ascribe the leadership of this stellar sextet. d’Inverno and Paton shared most of the talking but Woods and Robinson had brought their Garrick inspired material along to form a key part of the performance. This may largely have been a ‘standards’ performance but it was one with a difference with all six musicians rising to the occasion and making excellent contributions. The standard of the singing and musicianship was exceptional throughout, this was a ‘one off’ collaboration that worked magnificently in a programme that was far from predictable and offered a good mix of styles and tempi throughout.

My thanks to Tony Woods, Nette Robinson and Ray d’Inverno for speaking with me at length and to old friends Ashley John Long and Martin Fisher for saying ‘hello’ too.

Woods is currently on tour with his five piece folk jazz Project featuring guitarist Mike Outram, vibraphonist Rob Millett, bassist Andy Hamill and drummer Milo Fell. The Tony Woods Project have recorded a total of four albums  “High Seas” (1997), “Lowlands” (2004), Wind Shadows” (2009) and “Hidden Fires” (2017). The two most recent recordings are reviewed elsewhere on this site.

Their recent performance at the Sound Cellar in Poole has been recorded by BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Now programme and will be transmitted at 11.00 pm on Monday 22nd July. This is an excellent band playing Tony’s original material, catch them if you can.

In the meantime tonight’s event represented a great curtain raiser for the forthcoming Brecon Jazz Festival on 9th, 10th and 11th August 2019.


COMMENTS:

From Martin Fisher via Facebook;

Hi Ian, lovely review of the Brecon gig, many thanks.                                           
Martin.

Ray d’Inverno / Rod Paton Sextet, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 09/07/2019.

Ray d’Inverno / Rod Paton Sextet feat. Tony Woods, Nette Robinson, Ashley John Long, Martin Fisher

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Ray d’Inverno / Rod Paton Sextet, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 09/07/2019.

The standard of the singing and musicianship was exceptional throughout, this was a ‘one off’ collaboration that worked magnificently in a programme that was far from predictable.

Ray d’Inverno / Rod Paton Sextet feat. Tony Woods, Nette Robinson, Ashley John Long and Martin Fisher

Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 09/07/2019

Ray d’Inverno – piano, Rod Paton – french horn, Tony Woods – alto & soprano saxophones, alto clarinet, Nette Robinson – vocals, Ashley John Long – double bass, Martin Fisher – drums

It was difficult to know quite how to bill this stellar sextet. The posters advertising this event made reference to the Ray d’Inverno / Tony Woods Quartet with Nette Robinson but this all star session was ultimately co-led by d’Inverno and jazz french horn player Rod Paton, now a Brecon resident. Paton had helped to curate the whole affair in conjunction with Lynne Gornall and Roger Cannon of Brecon Jazz Club.

Lynne and Roger have a proven track record of bringing together musicians who have never worked with each other before to create a convincing and successful one off group, united by a shared jazz music vocabulary. Such was the case here with Paton acting as the link between the players.

An acclaimed musical educator as well as a performer Paton moved to Brecon a couple of years ago and has since become involved with the South Wales jazz scene and played an important role as both musician and organiser at the 2018 Brecon Jazz Festival. During his career as an educator Paton spent time in the south of England where he made connections with both d’Inverno and Woods and also with Fisher. The drummer has also made the move to Wales and for a number of years organised jazz events in the Torfaen / Pontypool area under the Jazz MF banner.

As Lynne Gornall put it this was a band that was put together because the Jazz Club had wanted to feature several of the individuals involved as leaders of their own bands but had insufficient space in the monthly club event calendar to do so. Thus with Paton acting as facilitator they put them all together as one star group. Both d’Inverno and Woods are leaders of their own groups and once the front line musicians were on board it was decided to add the Wales based rhythm section of Fisher and Long. Woods and Robinson had never met with Long and Fisher before this evening but thanks to that shared jazz language the one off sextet gelled remarkably quickly and effectively.

Besides his work as a jazz musician d’Inverno has also enjoyed an academic career of some distinction and at one time held a post as Professor of Quantum Relativity at Southampton University. In his role as co-leader he kicked off the evening with a version of the standard “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”, performed in the piano trio format with the help of Fisher and Long. d’Inverno took the first solo on his Yamaha electric keyboard, deploying an acoustic piano setting for the whole of the evening. Long, a Brecon regular and a great audience favourite also gave us a reminder of his formidable skills as a bass soloist. The piece concluded with a series of lively exchanges between d’Inverno on piano and the ebullient Fisher at the drums.

The line up was extended to a quintet with the addition of Woods on alto saxophone and Paton on french horn for an arrangement of another jazz standard, “My Beautiful Love”. Paton is one of a handful of musicians who has the ability to make the french horn a convincing instrument for jazz soloing – others include the UK’s Jim Rattigan and the Americans John Clark and Vincent Chancey.
He took the first solo here, improvising with great fluency, the tone of the instrument pitched somewhere between a trumpet and a trombone. Woods followed, similarly assured and fluent and adopting a warm, almost tenor like, sound on his alto. Elsewhere the rarely heard combination of these two horns was both beguiling and effective. d’Inverno also featured as a soloist, his playing ripe with wit and invention.

Long’s double bass introduced the next piece, which saw vocalist Nette Robinson replace Paton on the stage to deliver a sultry, but playful, version of the familiar standard “Pennies From Heaven”. Following the initial bass and vocal duet piano and drums were added to the equation as Robinson artfully stretched the vocal melody lines with the flexibility and confidence of the highly accomplished singer that she is. Instrumental solos came from Woods on alto and Long at the bass.

Life partners Woods and Robinson have been key figures in preserving the legacy of the late pianist, composer and lyricist Michael Garrick (1933-2011), a musician with whom both have collaborated. Following Garrick’s death the couple took on the leadership of the Lyric Ensemble, Garrick’s last creative project, with pianist Nikki Iles taking on Garrick’s role. From the Lyric Ensemble repertoire came Kenny Wheeler’s “Everybody’s Song But My Own”, with a lyric by Garrick beautifully delivered by Robinson following d’Inverno’s limpid solo piano introduction.  Fittingly Woods was also featured as a soloist as he delivered a fluent and expressive statement on alto.

Robinson took over the announcing duties to introduce the standard “You Must Believe In Spring” in a ballad arrangement inspired by a version sung by Cleveland Watkiss. Woods moved to what I jotted down as bass clarinet, although on reflection it may have been alto clarinet, an instrument he has played on previous occasions. The lustrous, woody sounds that he produced were the perfect foil for Robinson’s warm, well enunciated vocals and d’Inverno’s lyrical piano soloing. A word too for Fisher’s sensitive and sympathetic brushed drum accompaniment. This was a performance that received a particularly rapturous reception from a pleasingly large audience that included a sprinkling of regulars from the nearby Black Mountain Jazz Club in Abergavenny.

An excellent first half concluded with an appropriately sassy take on Steve Swallow’s composition “Ladies in Mercedes”, a tune introduced to the pianist by bassist Peter Maxwell, once of the Andy Sheppard band. Sheppard has worked extensively with Swallow and Carla Bley, hence that particular series of connections. Robinson was clearly enjoying herself as she delivered Norma Winstone’s witty lyrics in suitably coquettish fashion, her singing interspersed with solos from Woods, surprisingly powerful on alto, and d’Inverno, with Fisher also weighing in with a dynamic drum feature. Also of note were the dazzling scat vocal and alto sax exchanges between Robinson and Woods. In a neat touch d’Inverno dedicated the song, with its Brazilian inspired rhythms, to the memory of the recently deceased Joao Gilberto.

The flyers for tonight’s gig had promised a mix of standards and originals and a shorter second set commenced with d’Inverno’s “Bopping Up The A27”, a tune written many years ago as part of the “Roadway Suite”,  a commission from Hastings Jazz Festival. Performed in a quartet format this proved to be a suitably bebop flavoured tune and the perfect vehicle for Woods to release his inner Charlie Parker, driven on by Long’s propulsive bass and Fisher’s crisp, hard hitting drumming. With something of the feel of a bebop standard about it the tune also contained solos from d’Inverno and Long plus a series of sparky drum breaks from Fisher.

The quartet were joined by Robinson and Paton for the song “Alice in Wonderland”, written by Sammy Fain and Bob Hilliard for the 1951 animated Disney film but which has since become a jazz standard. Robinson’s eloquent reading of the lyrics was complemented by similarly erudite instrumental statements from Paton on french horn and Woods on soprano sax.

Similarly lovely was the ballad “Turn Out The Stars” with music written by the late, great pianist Bill Evans and a later lyric penned by Michael Garrick. Garrick’s love of poetry is expressed in his words, beautifully sung here by Robinson with sensitive accompaniment coming from d’Inverno, Long and Fisher in yet another new instrumental configuration. The instrumental solo came from d’Inverno at his most lyrical.

MJQ pianist and composer John Lewis’ “20 East 30 West” was played as a blues with Paton demonstrating that the blues can authentically be played on the french horn as he delivered a stunning and totally convincing solo. Also featured were Woods on alto plus Long and Fisher on bass and drums respectively.

Paton also soloed on an uncharacteristically hard driving arrangement of Mal Waldron’s “Soul Eyes”, a treatment that fellow soloist d’Inverno later described as “rock”. Also featured was Woods on alto sax.

Robinson returned to the stage for the closing number, an arrangement of multi-reed player Jerome Richardson’s composition “Groove Merchant” with vocalese lyrics by singer Jon Hendricks. d’Inverno had actually worked with Richardson and this connection helped to inspire his most exuberant playing of the evening as he traded solos with a similarly powerful and effusive Woods on alto.

Even the end of an excellent show it was still difficult to ascribe the leadership of this stellar sextet. d’Inverno and Paton shared most of the talking but Woods and Robinson had brought their Garrick inspired material along to form a key part of the performance. This may largely have been a ‘standards’ performance but it was one with a difference with all six musicians rising to the occasion and making excellent contributions. The standard of the singing and musicianship was exceptional throughout, this was a ‘one off’ collaboration that worked magnificently in a programme that was far from predictable and offered a good mix of styles and tempi throughout.

My thanks to Tony Woods, Nette Robinson and Ray d’Inverno for speaking with me at length and to old friends Ashley John Long and Martin Fisher for saying ‘hello’ too.

Woods is currently on tour with his five piece folk jazz Project featuring guitarist Mike Outram, vibraphonist Rob Millett, bassist Andy Hamill and drummer Milo Fell. The Tony Woods Project have recorded a total of four albums  “High Seas” (1997), “Lowlands” (2004), Wind Shadows” (2009) and “Hidden Fires” (2017). The two most recent recordings are reviewed elsewhere on this site.

Their recent performance at the Sound Cellar in Poole has been recorded by BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Now programme and will be transmitted at 11.00 pm on Monday 22nd July. This is an excellent band playing Tony’s original material, catch them if you can.

In the meantime tonight’s event represented a great curtain raiser for the forthcoming Brecon Jazz Festival on 9th, 10th and 11th August 2019.


COMMENTS:

From Martin Fisher via Facebook;

Hi Ian, lovely review of the Brecon gig, many thanks.                                           
Martin.

Snarky Puppy - Immigrance Rating: 4 out of 5 “Immigrance” sees the group continuing to develop with a carefully crafted set of compositions that combine subtlety and colour with the band’s trademark rhythmic drive and strong sense of groove.

Snarky Puppy

“Immigrance”

(GroundUP Music)

It has become a source of great regret to me that several years ago I passed up the opportunity of covering the then unknown Snarky Puppy at one of their earliest UK shows at the Hare & Hounds pub in Kings Heath, Birmingham.

Since then the international collective led by bassist and composer Michael League have become global stars, building an enormous following via the old fashioned virtues of hard work and almost constant gigging. Theirs is a success that, rather like their music, transcends conventional generic descriptions. Rather like Pat Metheny and e.s.t Snarky Puppy have achieved their superstar status via word of mouth, their exciting stage shows becoming the stuff of legend and holding equal appeal to jazz and rock audiences alike.

They now play leading rock venues and concert halls rather than pubs and the currently ongoing tour in support of current album “Immigrance” sees them ‘on the road’ for most of the year, from April to the end of November, as they criss-cross the globe playing dates in North America, Australasia, Japan and Europe, including the short series of UK shows listed at the end of this review.

I still haven’t got to see them (this year, perhaps?) as their appearance at Cheltenham Jazz Festival a couple of years ago was officially sold out and a press ticket wasn’t available. Occasional guest contributor Mark Albini was more fortunate and caught up with the band at London’s Eventim Apollo,  still better known as the Hammersmith Odeon, in October 2015. Mark’s brief, but highly enthusiastic, review of that performance appears elsewhere on this site and neatly encapsulates the energy and excitement of a Snarky Puppy live show. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/snarky-puppy-eventim-apollo-hammersmith-london-06-10-2015/

Founded by League in 2003 at the University of North Texas in Denton Snarky Puppy has developed its sound over the course of a dozen albums, steadily accruing members along the way, first from New York and other parts of the US and then from the rest of the world. British born keyboard player and composer Bill Laurance, also a successful solo artist in his own right, has been a linchpin of the band for a number of years, and the group, which now numbers some nineteen players, contains musicians hailing from the US, the UK, Canada, Argentina and Japan.

Snarky Puppy is now a truly global co-operative and it’s that spirit of internationalism that informs the title of their latest recording “Immigrance” as League explains;
“The band itself is a representation of what we’re trying to express musically, that people from different places can bring their various strengths and experiences, and how that can be beautiful and cohesive. The idea here is that everything is fluid, that everything is always moving, and that we’re all in a constant state of immigration. Obviously the album’s title is not without political undertones”.

Several of Snarky Puppy’s previous albums have been recorded live but “Immigrance”, like its predecessor “Culcha Vulcha” (2016), is a studio creation featuring the same pool of musicians. This latest album features eight new original compositions by members of the band, many of them adopting a darker tone than previously, a reflection of these troubled times.

For this recording Snarky Puppy lines up as follows;

Michael League – electric bass, oud

Bob Lanzetti, Chris McQueen, Mark Lettieri – guitars

Bill Laurance, Justin Stanton, Bobby Sparks, Shaun Martin – keyboards

Mike ‘Maz’ Maher, Jay Jennings – trumpets & flugels

Chris Bullock, Bob Reynolds – reeds

Zach Brock – violin

Jason Thomas, Larnell Lewis, Jamison Ross – drums

Nate Werth, Keita Ogawa, Marcelo Woloski – percussion

Snarky Puppy don’t like to be thought of as a ‘fusion’ band but in many respects that’s exactly what they are, drawing together elements of jazz, rock, funk, soul and world music. They pack a mighty rhythmic punch courtesy of League’s bass allied to the two triple alliances of drummers and percussionists. With the impressive array of vintage keyboards on show there are links back to the original fusion era of the 70s and 80s and there’s also plenty of turbo-charged electric guitar from the three axe men in the band’s ranks. With strings, brass and reeds providing extra colour and texture and more it’s not surprising that Snarky Puppy make a big noise, even though they are nothing like a big band in the conventional sense. I like to think of them as updating the fusion tradition for the 21st century, with the emphasis on collective endeavour rather than individual grandstanding.

The group’s virtues are embodied in League’s rousing opener “Chonks”, with its mighty funk grooves, punchy horns and exotic keyboard sounds allied to fiery solos from guitarist Mark Lettieri and keyboard player Bobby Sparks on dirty sounding, funky clavinet.

Also by League “Bigly Strictness” is less obviously ‘in your face’ but still packs plenty of punch. The presence of a battery of North African percussion instruments gives an exotic feel to the music and there are inventive solos from Maher on trumpet and Stanton on a Moog Prodigy synth. There’s also a molten electric guitar solo although none of the three guitarists is singled out in the album credits.

Guitarist Chris McQueen takes over the compositional reins for “Coven”,  a more atmospheric offering that commences with the spooky sounds of keyboards, reeds and brass before expanding into more conventional groove driven territory. A colourful, richly textured arrangement that makes effective use of the group’s arsenal of keyboards ensures that an exotic, other worldly feel remains throughout, even in the most energetic moments. Martin, on keyboards, and the composer on guitar feature as the soloists here.

“Bling Bling” is written by multi-reed player Chris Bullock and features the composer on a variety of saxes and flutes in an arrangement that combines retro funk grooves and keyboard sounds with more abstract and unsettling stop/start passages with the drummers and percussionists playing key roles. No individual soloists are credited in what is essentially a highly accomplished ensemble performance.

Leader League takes over again for “Xavi”, one of the album’s stand out tracks with its percolating rhythms and imaginative horn arrangements. The latter make effective use of Bullock’s array of flutes to give the music an exotic North African feel, something encouraged by the deployment of an array of Moroccan percussion instruments. The overall effect is of the theme tune to a US cop show moved to North Africa, and incongruous though that idea might seem it makes for highly exciting listening with Laurance on piano, Sparks on mini-moog and Brock on violin weighing in with thrilling solos alongside percussionist Keita Ogawa.

Trumpeter Maher’s “While We’re Young” teams earthy funk and hip hop grooves with wispy Miles-ian trumpet and swirling keyboards on the album’s shortest track,  a brief but atmospheric cameo.

Justin Stanton’s provocatively titled “Bad Kids To The Back” is a snarling piece of old style funk that harks back to the group’s earlier days. Snappy funk grooves combine with choppy guitars, swaggering horns and Sparks’  growling Hammond to provide a seemingly unstoppable momentum. A rhythmic sidestep, something of a trademark in this triple drummer line up, provides the opening for tenor sax specialist Reynolds’ incisive solo. There’s also something of a feature for the drum and percussion sections too.

Written by League the closing “Even Us” is the most overt and profound statement of the group’s internationalism. Eschewing the trademark funk grooves this is a thoughtful, often lyrical, piece that features League playing a prominent role on oud while Lanzetti is featured on electric sitar. Brock’s violin and the use of Turkish percussion instruments also help to give the piece an authentically Middle Eastern feel. Laurance’s acoustic piano plays a key part in the arrangement while the featured soloist is Jennings on flugel, whose evocative playing fits into the Middle Eastern aesthetic perfectly.

I’m still fairly new to Snarky Puppy’s music but to these ears “Immigrance” sees the group continuing to develop with a carefully crafted set of compositions that combine subtlety and colour with the band’s trademark rhythmic drive and strong sense of groove. These richly layered and subtly detailed performances retain the listeners attention while maintaining the levels of excitement that have come to be associated with Snarky Puppy. It’s fusion with a level of intelligence that recalls Weather Report at their best.

This is the sound of a mature dog, I won’t say old,  learning new tricks, but doing so without losing any of its bite.

No doubt these tune will take on new characteristics during the many live outings they will receive during 2019. I hope to finally catch up with Snarky Puppy at one of the British dates listed below;

06/07/2019 – Love Supreme Festival, Glynde, Sussex

06/11/2019 - Bournemouth - O2 Academy

07/11/2019 - Nottingham - Rock City

08/11/2019 - Bristol - O2 Academy

09/11/2019 - Oxford - O2 Academy

11/11/2019 – Ulster Hall - Belfast

12/11/2019 - Olympia, Dublin, Ireland

14/11/2019 - Royal Albert Hall, London

15/11/2019 - O2 Apollo, Manchester

16/11/2019 - Barrowlands, Glasgow

For ticket details please visit http://www.snarkypuppy.com

Immigrance

Snarky Puppy

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Immigrance

“Immigrance” sees the group continuing to develop with a carefully crafted set of compositions that combine subtlety and colour with the band’s trademark rhythmic drive and strong sense of groove.

Snarky Puppy

“Immigrance”

(GroundUP Music)

It has become a source of great regret to me that several years ago I passed up the opportunity of covering the then unknown Snarky Puppy at one of their earliest UK shows at the Hare & Hounds pub in Kings Heath, Birmingham.

Since then the international collective led by bassist and composer Michael League have become global stars, building an enormous following via the old fashioned virtues of hard work and almost constant gigging. Theirs is a success that, rather like their music, transcends conventional generic descriptions. Rather like Pat Metheny and e.s.t Snarky Puppy have achieved their superstar status via word of mouth, their exciting stage shows becoming the stuff of legend and holding equal appeal to jazz and rock audiences alike.

They now play leading rock venues and concert halls rather than pubs and the currently ongoing tour in support of current album “Immigrance” sees them ‘on the road’ for most of the year, from April to the end of November, as they criss-cross the globe playing dates in North America, Australasia, Japan and Europe, including the short series of UK shows listed at the end of this review.

I still haven’t got to see them (this year, perhaps?) as their appearance at Cheltenham Jazz Festival a couple of years ago was officially sold out and a press ticket wasn’t available. Occasional guest contributor Mark Albini was more fortunate and caught up with the band at London’s Eventim Apollo,  still better known as the Hammersmith Odeon, in October 2015. Mark’s brief, but highly enthusiastic, review of that performance appears elsewhere on this site and neatly encapsulates the energy and excitement of a Snarky Puppy live show. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/snarky-puppy-eventim-apollo-hammersmith-london-06-10-2015/

Founded by League in 2003 at the University of North Texas in Denton Snarky Puppy has developed its sound over the course of a dozen albums, steadily accruing members along the way, first from New York and other parts of the US and then from the rest of the world. British born keyboard player and composer Bill Laurance, also a successful solo artist in his own right, has been a linchpin of the band for a number of years, and the group, which now numbers some nineteen players, contains musicians hailing from the US, the UK, Canada, Argentina and Japan.

Snarky Puppy is now a truly global co-operative and it’s that spirit of internationalism that informs the title of their latest recording “Immigrance” as League explains;
“The band itself is a representation of what we’re trying to express musically, that people from different places can bring their various strengths and experiences, and how that can be beautiful and cohesive. The idea here is that everything is fluid, that everything is always moving, and that we’re all in a constant state of immigration. Obviously the album’s title is not without political undertones”.

Several of Snarky Puppy’s previous albums have been recorded live but “Immigrance”, like its predecessor “Culcha Vulcha” (2016), is a studio creation featuring the same pool of musicians. This latest album features eight new original compositions by members of the band, many of them adopting a darker tone than previously, a reflection of these troubled times.

For this recording Snarky Puppy lines up as follows;

Michael League – electric bass, oud

Bob Lanzetti, Chris McQueen, Mark Lettieri – guitars

Bill Laurance, Justin Stanton, Bobby Sparks, Shaun Martin – keyboards

Mike ‘Maz’ Maher, Jay Jennings – trumpets & flugels

Chris Bullock, Bob Reynolds – reeds

Zach Brock – violin

Jason Thomas, Larnell Lewis, Jamison Ross – drums

Nate Werth, Keita Ogawa, Marcelo Woloski – percussion

Snarky Puppy don’t like to be thought of as a ‘fusion’ band but in many respects that’s exactly what they are, drawing together elements of jazz, rock, funk, soul and world music. They pack a mighty rhythmic punch courtesy of League’s bass allied to the two triple alliances of drummers and percussionists. With the impressive array of vintage keyboards on show there are links back to the original fusion era of the 70s and 80s and there’s also plenty of turbo-charged electric guitar from the three axe men in the band’s ranks. With strings, brass and reeds providing extra colour and texture and more it’s not surprising that Snarky Puppy make a big noise, even though they are nothing like a big band in the conventional sense. I like to think of them as updating the fusion tradition for the 21st century, with the emphasis on collective endeavour rather than individual grandstanding.

The group’s virtues are embodied in League’s rousing opener “Chonks”, with its mighty funk grooves, punchy horns and exotic keyboard sounds allied to fiery solos from guitarist Mark Lettieri and keyboard player Bobby Sparks on dirty sounding, funky clavinet.

Also by League “Bigly Strictness” is less obviously ‘in your face’ but still packs plenty of punch. The presence of a battery of North African percussion instruments gives an exotic feel to the music and there are inventive solos from Maher on trumpet and Stanton on a Moog Prodigy synth. There’s also a molten electric guitar solo although none of the three guitarists is singled out in the album credits.

Guitarist Chris McQueen takes over the compositional reins for “Coven”,  a more atmospheric offering that commences with the spooky sounds of keyboards, reeds and brass before expanding into more conventional groove driven territory. A colourful, richly textured arrangement that makes effective use of the group’s arsenal of keyboards ensures that an exotic, other worldly feel remains throughout, even in the most energetic moments. Martin, on keyboards, and the composer on guitar feature as the soloists here.

“Bling Bling” is written by multi-reed player Chris Bullock and features the composer on a variety of saxes and flutes in an arrangement that combines retro funk grooves and keyboard sounds with more abstract and unsettling stop/start passages with the drummers and percussionists playing key roles. No individual soloists are credited in what is essentially a highly accomplished ensemble performance.

Leader League takes over again for “Xavi”, one of the album’s stand out tracks with its percolating rhythms and imaginative horn arrangements. The latter make effective use of Bullock’s array of flutes to give the music an exotic North African feel, something encouraged by the deployment of an array of Moroccan percussion instruments. The overall effect is of the theme tune to a US cop show moved to North Africa, and incongruous though that idea might seem it makes for highly exciting listening with Laurance on piano, Sparks on mini-moog and Brock on violin weighing in with thrilling solos alongside percussionist Keita Ogawa.

Trumpeter Maher’s “While We’re Young” teams earthy funk and hip hop grooves with wispy Miles-ian trumpet and swirling keyboards on the album’s shortest track,  a brief but atmospheric cameo.

Justin Stanton’s provocatively titled “Bad Kids To The Back” is a snarling piece of old style funk that harks back to the group’s earlier days. Snappy funk grooves combine with choppy guitars, swaggering horns and Sparks’  growling Hammond to provide a seemingly unstoppable momentum. A rhythmic sidestep, something of a trademark in this triple drummer line up, provides the opening for tenor sax specialist Reynolds’ incisive solo. There’s also something of a feature for the drum and percussion sections too.

Written by League the closing “Even Us” is the most overt and profound statement of the group’s internationalism. Eschewing the trademark funk grooves this is a thoughtful, often lyrical, piece that features League playing a prominent role on oud while Lanzetti is featured on electric sitar. Brock’s violin and the use of Turkish percussion instruments also help to give the piece an authentically Middle Eastern feel. Laurance’s acoustic piano plays a key part in the arrangement while the featured soloist is Jennings on flugel, whose evocative playing fits into the Middle Eastern aesthetic perfectly.

I’m still fairly new to Snarky Puppy’s music but to these ears “Immigrance” sees the group continuing to develop with a carefully crafted set of compositions that combine subtlety and colour with the band’s trademark rhythmic drive and strong sense of groove. These richly layered and subtly detailed performances retain the listeners attention while maintaining the levels of excitement that have come to be associated with Snarky Puppy. It’s fusion with a level of intelligence that recalls Weather Report at their best.

This is the sound of a mature dog, I won’t say old,  learning new tricks, but doing so without losing any of its bite.

No doubt these tune will take on new characteristics during the many live outings they will receive during 2019. I hope to finally catch up with Snarky Puppy at one of the British dates listed below;

06/07/2019 – Love Supreme Festival, Glynde, Sussex

06/11/2019 - Bournemouth - O2 Academy

07/11/2019 - Nottingham - Rock City

08/11/2019 - Bristol - O2 Academy

09/11/2019 - Oxford - O2 Academy

11/11/2019 – Ulster Hall - Belfast

12/11/2019 - Olympia, Dublin, Ireland

14/11/2019 - Royal Albert Hall, London

15/11/2019 - O2 Apollo, Manchester

16/11/2019 - Barrowlands, Glasgow

For ticket details please visit http://www.snarkypuppy.com

Bunker - Bunker, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 30/06/2019. Rating: 4 out of 5 Ian reports on a day of events hosted by Black Mountain Jazz as part of Abergavenny Arts Festival, including a new "Jazz Through The Ages" exhibition & a live performance by jazz-funk sextet Bunker.

Bunker, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 30/06/2019.


Joe Northwood – tenor sax, Jose Miguel Ruiz – keyboard, Chris James – guitar, Matt Thomas – electric bass, Simon Stuart – drums, Chris Stuart – percussion


Tonight’s performance by the Cardiff based jazz-funk sextet Bunker was part of a full day of events organised by Black Mountain Jazz at the Melville Centre as part of the 2019 Abergavenny Arts Festival.

Earlier in the day vocalist Naomi Rae had hosted a ‘Jazz for Little ‘uns’ session designed to introduce the joy of the music for two to four year olds, the third time BMJ had hosted organised such an event.

This was followed by a Jazz Improvisation Workshop run by the Port Talbot based pianist and composer Dave Jones, a regular and popular visitor to BMJ whether leading his own ensembles or playing as a sideman in the groups of others. The workshop was aimed at adult musicians in the early or intermediate stages of learning to improvise in a jazz context and was gratifyingly well attended.

Another important feature of the day was the unveiling of BMJ’s new Jazz Through The Ages Exhibition. The following extract culled from the Club’s website explains something about it;

“Here at BMJ we have created a dazzling series of ‘pop-up-posters’ telling the story of jazz. The thirteen posters – each around 3ft wide and 7ft high- can be easily unfurled and transported, so will feature at other events to signal BMJ’s presence. Jazz is an ongoing and developing music, but like all creative endeavours, it’s history is important, not least for those who are new to it and wish to learn more.”

The exhibition was the brainchild of BMJ founder and promoter Mike Skilton, who sourced much of the material. The banners were created by Abergavenny based graphic designer Jayne Goodwin and her company Art Matters and the text written by former newspaper journalist and current Jazz Journal contributor Nigel Jarrett, who lives locally and is a regular attender of BMJ events.

The new exhibition was available for perusal prior to the Bunker performance and made for impressive viewing. The panels chart the history of jazz from its late 19th century roots in New Orleans and in the blues to the present day. Skilton’s archive material, Goodwin’s clean, economical graphic design, and Jarrett’s succinct text combine to chart the history of jazz. Each poster focusses on a specific musical style or geographical location and features a photograph and words singling out a particularly significant musician associated with that place or musical style.

The history begins in New Orleans with Buddy Bolden and the blues of the Mississippi Delta with Bessie Smith. The next poster follows the migration of the music up the Mississippi with New Orleans born Louis Armstrong making the move to the ‘Windy City’ to pioneer what became known as the ‘Chicago Style’ of jazz. The music also made its mark in sophisticated New York City with Duke Ellington and reached its popularity during the ‘swing era’ of the 1930s and 40s, as illustrated by the ‘King of Swing’ Benny Goodman.

Charlie Parker is chosen to illustrate the bebop revolution while its offshoots of New York based hard bop and West Coast cool jazz are represented by Art Blakey and Gerry Mulligan respectively.

The ‘free jazz’ movement of the 1960s is represented by the radical saxophonist/violinist Ornette Coleman while the iconic, chameleon like Miles Davis is chosen to illustrate the development of modal jazz and jazz-rock fusion.

So far, so American but jazz has become a global music with a particularly strong tradition in Europe where the music has been played and appreciated since the 1920s. Out of many candidates the pioneering gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt has been selected to illustrate the history of jazz in Europe.

The penultimate panel looks at the music in the 21st century and looks toward the future, with bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding chosen depict the growing diversity of the musicians now playing jazz.

The final panel is a quirky glossary of some of the words associated with the music, an insight into the ‘jargon of jazz’ if you will.

The “Jazz Through The Ages” exhibition is an excellent introduction to the story of jazz and should prove to be an excellent investment for BMJ. Professionally produced to a very high standard of design it represents an excellent educational aid and the simplicity and portability of its design and manufacture should ensure that it is widely used. I assume that it will make a re-appearance at BMJ’s annual Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in late August/ early September but it would also make an excellent temporary exhibition in local schools and libraries.

Tonight’s performance by Bunker saw the band playing surrounded by the posters of the exhibition, a highly effective backdrop as can be seen in the photographic image accompanying this review.

Bunker are a six piece jazz-funk band based in Cardiff. Named after the famous Bunker recording studio in Brooklyn the sextet claims to be leaderless but is fronted by the tenor saxophone of Joe Northwood.

Originally from Shrewsbury Northwood has been based in Cardiff for a number of years following his studies at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama. A leading figure on the music scene in the Welsh capital he leads his own groups, including the acclaimed trio Tuk Tuk, featuring bassist Aidan Thorne and drummer Paolo Adamo.

Northwood is also a great organiser, a real mover and shaker on the Cardiff jazz scene who promotes regular jazz events at Tiny Rebel Brewery’s flagship pub in Cardiff under the Echo Music banner. He also organises the regular Banshee Therapy Session jam nights at the Flute & Tankard.

Bunker brings Northwood together with a number of Cardiff’s other leading musicians in a sextet that covers all aspects and eras of the jazz-funk era. It’s a band that puts the emphasis on the groove and on having a good time and their repertoire includes a number of genre classics, some of them written by some very famous musicians. Bunker don’t try to compete, there is no emphasis on original material, but the group’s honest, no nonsense approach gives them a broad appeal, and not just to jazz audiences. They have accrued something of a cult following in South Wales and enjoy a residency at the Harbour Bar & Kitchen in Porthcawl and recently played the Swansea Waterfront Jazz & Blues Weekend.

Tonight saw them kicking off with the Herbie Hancock classic “Canteloupe Island”, a much loved tune that proved to be ideal vehicle for Northwood’s muscular tenor sax soloing above the infectious grooves generated by bassist Matt Thomas, drummer Simon Stuart and percussionist Chris Stuart, these last two presumably brothers, although I didn’t actually ask. Northwood was followed by keyboardist Jose Miguel Ruiz, who deployed an acoustic piano sound on his Nord Stage 2EX keyboard. It was my first sighting of Ruiz and I was highly impressed with the quality of his playing as he coaxed a wide range of sounds out of his keyboards and soloed with considerable flair and great authority. The final solo on this opening number came from guitarist Chris James, who brought a welcome blues element to the sextet’s music.

Bunker upped the funk quotient on US keyboard player Jeff Lorber’s “Tune 88” with a more overt funk groove accompanying the solos from Northwood on tenor, James on guitar and Ruiz on keyboard, this time delivering a combination of electric piano and synthesiser sounds.

“Chick’s Chums”, written by Mahavishnu Orchestra guitarist John McLaughlin and presumably named for Chick Corea, kept the funk cauldron bubbling as Northwood shared the solos with Ruiz, the latter again adopting a classic electric piano or ‘Rhodes’ sound.

Bunker seem to have a particular fondness for Lorber’s music and his “C.M.H”, the abbreviation standing for “Chinese Medical Herbs”, maintained the energy levels with solos from James on guitar, Northwood on tenor and Ruiz on ‘Rhodes’.

Funk legend Pee Wee Ellis once played saxophone with James Brown but is now happily settled in the English West Country where he works regularly with musicians on the Bristol music scene. Northwood described Ellis’ composition “The Chicken” as “a crowd pleaser” and this classic of the funk genre featured a bass heavy groove and a Stevie Wonder clavinet style keyboard sound as Bunker strutted their way through the piece. Northwood delivered a rousing tenor sax solo before Ruiz switched to a Hammond organ sound on his keyboards to produce one of the most outstanding solos of the night.

Bunker paid tribute to the recently deceased US trumpeter and composer Roy Hargrove (1969-2018) with a version of his “Strasbourg St. Denis”, arguably Hargrove’s best known tune. This lowered the temperature a little with its softer, soul jazz sound with Ruiz returning to an acoustic piano setting as he shared the solos with James and Northwood.

A highly enjoyable first set concluded with “Bounce”, written by the American drummer, composer and bandleader Nate Smith. This brought an earthy, urban feel to the proceedings, something encouraged by Ruiz’s use of the clavinet sound once more as Northwood soloed on gutsy tenor sax.

After imbibing refreshments at the Melville Centre bar during the interval Bunker seemed to be even more fired up for the second set. A storming version of Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” got things off to a rousing start with Ruiz, on ‘electric piano’, sharing the solos with James and Northwood.

Next up was a hugely enjoyable instrumental take on the Steely Dan song “Peg”, sourced from the classic “Aja” album. This was very much a feature for Northwood who played the vocal melody line on tenor as well as acting as the principal instrumental soloist. Perhaps wisely James declined to try replicating Jay Graydon’s notoriously difficult guitar solo from the album recording.

It seemed to be classics all the way in this second set as drummer Billy Cobham’s fusion masterpiece “Red Baron” followed with Ruiz effecting a synth sound for his solo, followed by James on heavily distorted, rock influenced guitar and finally Northwood on tenor.

Chick Corea’s “Spain” brought some of the other players into the spotlight. Northwood’s opening tenor solo was followed by an extraordinarily fast and fluent bass feature from Harris that elicited one of the biggest cheers of the night, with guitarist James capturing the moment on his camera phone. Ruiz featured on ‘acoustic piano’ while percussionist Chris Stuart, an integral figure in the arrangements throughout, also cut loose on congas, bongos and numerous other percussive devices.

The old Average White Band hit “Pick Up The Pieces” encouraged at least one member of the audience to get to her feet and dance as Northwood delivered a blistering tenor solo above the choppy, infectious funk rhythms.

Less well known, but no less well received, alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett’s “Wednesday” featured Ruiz on ‘acoustic piano’ and James on guitar as Northwood took a comparative ‘breather’ following his exertions on the AWB piece.

“Starchey”, by the Snarky Puppy offshoot Forq, brought the jazz-funk story up to date and proved to be something of a sonic juggernaut, headed by Northwood’s incisive tenor and with the saxophonist sharing the soloing with guitarist James.

The sextet’s arrangement of Miles Davis’ “All Blues” was effectively an encore and saw them subtly defusing the situation, closing things out on a slower, gentler note with drummer Chris Stuart picking up the brushes for the first and only time. Solos came from Northwood on tenor, Ruiz on electric piano and James on guitar, the latter bringing an appropriately bluesy feel to the music.

Bunker had delivered two hugely enjoyable and largely energetic sets of jazz funk with Northwood and Ruiz the outstanding soloists, ably supported by James and by a rhythm section that was commendably tight and genuinely funky. No doubt in other, less formal settings they get loads of people up and dancing but this listening, jazz club audience responded to them in a more cerebral way, genuinely appreciating the quality of the musicianship and giving them a great reception.

There may not have been anything startlingly original here but Bunker played their chosen material, many of the pieces being solid gold classics, with skill, verve and genuine affection. Their unpretentious, hard grooving approach communicated itself well to the audience and I, for one, would have no hesitation about going to see this band again. They haven’t been together for that long and will surely become even sharper and tighter as they continue to play together.

My thanks to Joe Northwood for speaking with me afterwards and providing details of some of the more obscure pieces in the Bunker repertoire.

A word too for Bath based Nick Steel, aka ‘The Wind-up Merchant’ who provided the musical backdrop to the Jazz Through The Ages exhibition and also entertained the crowd in the bar between Bunker’s sets with his vintage wind-up gramophones and collection of similarly vintage 78s. The material included classic jazz from the likes of Django Reinhardt and other musicians featured in the Exhibition to early rock’n’roll from artists such as Bill Haley during the break.

I rather enjoyed Steel’s contribution to BMJ’s ‘Day of Jazz’ at Abergavenny Arts Festival. It also brought back fond memories of the visit to the club by the similarly inclined Hugh Parry aka “The Sheik of Shellac” back in 2016 for a more extended presentation in the main house as part of a double bill with alto saxophonist Glen Manby’s quartet. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/the-sheik-of-shellac-glen-manby-quartet-black-mountain-jazz-melville-centre/

 

 

Bunker, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 30/06/2019.

Bunker

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Bunker, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 30/06/2019.
Photography: Photograph of Bunker surrounded by posters from the Jazz Through The Ages exhibition by Pam Mann.

Ian reports on a day of events hosted by Black Mountain Jazz as part of Abergavenny Arts Festival, including a new "Jazz Through The Ages" exhibition & a live performance by jazz-funk sextet Bunker.

Bunker, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 30/06/2019.


Joe Northwood – tenor sax, Jose Miguel Ruiz – keyboard, Chris James – guitar, Matt Thomas – electric bass, Simon Stuart – drums, Chris Stuart – percussion


Tonight’s performance by the Cardiff based jazz-funk sextet Bunker was part of a full day of events organised by Black Mountain Jazz at the Melville Centre as part of the 2019 Abergavenny Arts Festival.

Earlier in the day vocalist Naomi Rae had hosted a ‘Jazz for Little ‘uns’ session designed to introduce the joy of the music for two to four year olds, the third time BMJ had hosted organised such an event.

This was followed by a Jazz Improvisation Workshop run by the Port Talbot based pianist and composer Dave Jones, a regular and popular visitor to BMJ whether leading his own ensembles or playing as a sideman in the groups of others. The workshop was aimed at adult musicians in the early or intermediate stages of learning to improvise in a jazz context and was gratifyingly well attended.

Another important feature of the day was the unveiling of BMJ’s new Jazz Through The Ages Exhibition. The following extract culled from the Club’s website explains something about it;

“Here at BMJ we have created a dazzling series of ‘pop-up-posters’ telling the story of jazz. The thirteen posters – each around 3ft wide and 7ft high- can be easily unfurled and transported, so will feature at other events to signal BMJ’s presence. Jazz is an ongoing and developing music, but like all creative endeavours, it’s history is important, not least for those who are new to it and wish to learn more.”

The exhibition was the brainchild of BMJ founder and promoter Mike Skilton, who sourced much of the material. The banners were created by Abergavenny based graphic designer Jayne Goodwin and her company Art Matters and the text written by former newspaper journalist and current Jazz Journal contributor Nigel Jarrett, who lives locally and is a regular attender of BMJ events.

The new exhibition was available for perusal prior to the Bunker performance and made for impressive viewing. The panels chart the history of jazz from its late 19th century roots in New Orleans and in the blues to the present day. Skilton’s archive material, Goodwin’s clean, economical graphic design, and Jarrett’s succinct text combine to chart the history of jazz. Each poster focusses on a specific musical style or geographical location and features a photograph and words singling out a particularly significant musician associated with that place or musical style.

The history begins in New Orleans with Buddy Bolden and the blues of the Mississippi Delta with Bessie Smith. The next poster follows the migration of the music up the Mississippi with New Orleans born Louis Armstrong making the move to the ‘Windy City’ to pioneer what became known as the ‘Chicago Style’ of jazz. The music also made its mark in sophisticated New York City with Duke Ellington and reached its popularity during the ‘swing era’ of the 1930s and 40s, as illustrated by the ‘King of Swing’ Benny Goodman.

Charlie Parker is chosen to illustrate the bebop revolution while its offshoots of New York based hard bop and West Coast cool jazz are represented by Art Blakey and Gerry Mulligan respectively.

The ‘free jazz’ movement of the 1960s is represented by the radical saxophonist/violinist Ornette Coleman while the iconic, chameleon like Miles Davis is chosen to illustrate the development of modal jazz and jazz-rock fusion.

So far, so American but jazz has become a global music with a particularly strong tradition in Europe where the music has been played and appreciated since the 1920s. Out of many candidates the pioneering gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt has been selected to illustrate the history of jazz in Europe.

The penultimate panel looks at the music in the 21st century and looks toward the future, with bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding chosen depict the growing diversity of the musicians now playing jazz.

The final panel is a quirky glossary of some of the words associated with the music, an insight into the ‘jargon of jazz’ if you will.

The “Jazz Through The Ages” exhibition is an excellent introduction to the story of jazz and should prove to be an excellent investment for BMJ. Professionally produced to a very high standard of design it represents an excellent educational aid and the simplicity and portability of its design and manufacture should ensure that it is widely used. I assume that it will make a re-appearance at BMJ’s annual Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in late August/ early September but it would also make an excellent temporary exhibition in local schools and libraries.

Tonight’s performance by Bunker saw the band playing surrounded by the posters of the exhibition, a highly effective backdrop as can be seen in the photographic image accompanying this review.

Bunker are a six piece jazz-funk band based in Cardiff. Named after the famous Bunker recording studio in Brooklyn the sextet claims to be leaderless but is fronted by the tenor saxophone of Joe Northwood.

Originally from Shrewsbury Northwood has been based in Cardiff for a number of years following his studies at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama. A leading figure on the music scene in the Welsh capital he leads his own groups, including the acclaimed trio Tuk Tuk, featuring bassist Aidan Thorne and drummer Paolo Adamo.

Northwood is also a great organiser, a real mover and shaker on the Cardiff jazz scene who promotes regular jazz events at Tiny Rebel Brewery’s flagship pub in Cardiff under the Echo Music banner. He also organises the regular Banshee Therapy Session jam nights at the Flute & Tankard.

Bunker brings Northwood together with a number of Cardiff’s other leading musicians in a sextet that covers all aspects and eras of the jazz-funk era. It’s a band that puts the emphasis on the groove and on having a good time and their repertoire includes a number of genre classics, some of them written by some very famous musicians. Bunker don’t try to compete, there is no emphasis on original material, but the group’s honest, no nonsense approach gives them a broad appeal, and not just to jazz audiences. They have accrued something of a cult following in South Wales and enjoy a residency at the Harbour Bar & Kitchen in Porthcawl and recently played the Swansea Waterfront Jazz & Blues Weekend.

Tonight saw them kicking off with the Herbie Hancock classic “Canteloupe Island”, a much loved tune that proved to be ideal vehicle for Northwood’s muscular tenor sax soloing above the infectious grooves generated by bassist Matt Thomas, drummer Simon Stuart and percussionist Chris Stuart, these last two presumably brothers, although I didn’t actually ask. Northwood was followed by keyboardist Jose Miguel Ruiz, who deployed an acoustic piano sound on his Nord Stage 2EX keyboard. It was my first sighting of Ruiz and I was highly impressed with the quality of his playing as he coaxed a wide range of sounds out of his keyboards and soloed with considerable flair and great authority. The final solo on this opening number came from guitarist Chris James, who brought a welcome blues element to the sextet’s music.

Bunker upped the funk quotient on US keyboard player Jeff Lorber’s “Tune 88” with a more overt funk groove accompanying the solos from Northwood on tenor, James on guitar and Ruiz on keyboard, this time delivering a combination of electric piano and synthesiser sounds.

“Chick’s Chums”, written by Mahavishnu Orchestra guitarist John McLaughlin and presumably named for Chick Corea, kept the funk cauldron bubbling as Northwood shared the solos with Ruiz, the latter again adopting a classic electric piano or ‘Rhodes’ sound.

Bunker seem to have a particular fondness for Lorber’s music and his “C.M.H”, the abbreviation standing for “Chinese Medical Herbs”, maintained the energy levels with solos from James on guitar, Northwood on tenor and Ruiz on ‘Rhodes’.

Funk legend Pee Wee Ellis once played saxophone with James Brown but is now happily settled in the English West Country where he works regularly with musicians on the Bristol music scene. Northwood described Ellis’ composition “The Chicken” as “a crowd pleaser” and this classic of the funk genre featured a bass heavy groove and a Stevie Wonder clavinet style keyboard sound as Bunker strutted their way through the piece. Northwood delivered a rousing tenor sax solo before Ruiz switched to a Hammond organ sound on his keyboards to produce one of the most outstanding solos of the night.

Bunker paid tribute to the recently deceased US trumpeter and composer Roy Hargrove (1969-2018) with a version of his “Strasbourg St. Denis”, arguably Hargrove’s best known tune. This lowered the temperature a little with its softer, soul jazz sound with Ruiz returning to an acoustic piano setting as he shared the solos with James and Northwood.

A highly enjoyable first set concluded with “Bounce”, written by the American drummer, composer and bandleader Nate Smith. This brought an earthy, urban feel to the proceedings, something encouraged by Ruiz’s use of the clavinet sound once more as Northwood soloed on gutsy tenor sax.

After imbibing refreshments at the Melville Centre bar during the interval Bunker seemed to be even more fired up for the second set. A storming version of Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” got things off to a rousing start with Ruiz, on ‘electric piano’, sharing the solos with James and Northwood.

Next up was a hugely enjoyable instrumental take on the Steely Dan song “Peg”, sourced from the classic “Aja” album. This was very much a feature for Northwood who played the vocal melody line on tenor as well as acting as the principal instrumental soloist. Perhaps wisely James declined to try replicating Jay Graydon’s notoriously difficult guitar solo from the album recording.

It seemed to be classics all the way in this second set as drummer Billy Cobham’s fusion masterpiece “Red Baron” followed with Ruiz effecting a synth sound for his solo, followed by James on heavily distorted, rock influenced guitar and finally Northwood on tenor.

Chick Corea’s “Spain” brought some of the other players into the spotlight. Northwood’s opening tenor solo was followed by an extraordinarily fast and fluent bass feature from Harris that elicited one of the biggest cheers of the night, with guitarist James capturing the moment on his camera phone. Ruiz featured on ‘acoustic piano’ while percussionist Chris Stuart, an integral figure in the arrangements throughout, also cut loose on congas, bongos and numerous other percussive devices.

The old Average White Band hit “Pick Up The Pieces” encouraged at least one member of the audience to get to her feet and dance as Northwood delivered a blistering tenor solo above the choppy, infectious funk rhythms.

Less well known, but no less well received, alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett’s “Wednesday” featured Ruiz on ‘acoustic piano’ and James on guitar as Northwood took a comparative ‘breather’ following his exertions on the AWB piece.

“Starchey”, by the Snarky Puppy offshoot Forq, brought the jazz-funk story up to date and proved to be something of a sonic juggernaut, headed by Northwood’s incisive tenor and with the saxophonist sharing the soloing with guitarist James.

The sextet’s arrangement of Miles Davis’ “All Blues” was effectively an encore and saw them subtly defusing the situation, closing things out on a slower, gentler note with drummer Chris Stuart picking up the brushes for the first and only time. Solos came from Northwood on tenor, Ruiz on electric piano and James on guitar, the latter bringing an appropriately bluesy feel to the music.

Bunker had delivered two hugely enjoyable and largely energetic sets of jazz funk with Northwood and Ruiz the outstanding soloists, ably supported by James and by a rhythm section that was commendably tight and genuinely funky. No doubt in other, less formal settings they get loads of people up and dancing but this listening, jazz club audience responded to them in a more cerebral way, genuinely appreciating the quality of the musicianship and giving them a great reception.

There may not have been anything startlingly original here but Bunker played their chosen material, many of the pieces being solid gold classics, with skill, verve and genuine affection. Their unpretentious, hard grooving approach communicated itself well to the audience and I, for one, would have no hesitation about going to see this band again. They haven’t been together for that long and will surely become even sharper and tighter as they continue to play together.

My thanks to Joe Northwood for speaking with me afterwards and providing details of some of the more obscure pieces in the Bunker repertoire.

A word too for Bath based Nick Steel, aka ‘The Wind-up Merchant’ who provided the musical backdrop to the Jazz Through The Ages exhibition and also entertained the crowd in the bar between Bunker’s sets with his vintage wind-up gramophones and collection of similarly vintage 78s. The material included classic jazz from the likes of Django Reinhardt and other musicians featured in the Exhibition to early rock’n’roll from artists such as Bill Haley during the break.

I rather enjoyed Steel’s contribution to BMJ’s ‘Day of Jazz’ at Abergavenny Arts Festival. It also brought back fond memories of the visit to the club by the similarly inclined Hugh Parry aka “The Sheik of Shellac” back in 2016 for a more extended presentation in the main house as part of a double bill with alto saxophonist Glen Manby’s quartet. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/the-sheik-of-shellac-glen-manby-quartet-black-mountain-jazz-melville-centre/

 

 

Owl Light Trio / Brackenbury & Neilson - Owl Light Trio / Brackenbury & Neilson, Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 29/06/2019. Rating: 4 out of 5 An excellent evening of instrumental folk music. As part of a genuine double bill both acts delivered excellent sets of their own before teaming up for an engaging collaboration towards the close.

Owl Light Trio

Brackenbury & Neilson

Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 29/06/2019.


This double bill was presented as part of the “Folk at The Hermon” series at the Hermon Chapel Arts Centre in Oswestry.

Curated by Claudia Lis and Barry Edwards the Hermon presents an eclectic programme of jazz, folk and world music events in addition to  live theatre, comedy, poetry slams, workshops and more. The former Welsh Congregational chapel represents an excellent performance space with good sight lines and excellent acoustics. Claudia has deployed her artistic skills to decorate the place in agreeably Bohemian fashion and the venue also boasts a well stocked bar.

When I first attended the venue back in 2017 for a performance by the guitar duo of Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier the turnout was disappointingly low but since then the tireless efforts of Claudia and Barry have seen them developing an audience. My next visit to the Hermon at Easter 2018 saw around fifty people turning out for an excellent performance by those quirky Liverpudlian jazzers The Weave.

Claudia admits that attracting audiences for folk events has been easier than it has been for the jazz strand and this was reflected in tonight’s turn out of around seventy on the hottest night of the year to date. Virtually all of the downstairs seats were taken so we watched this event from the upstairs gallery. 

Oswestry is somewhat distant from my Herefordshire base so I haven’t visited the Hermon quite as often as I would have liked, despite my friendship with Claudia and Barry and despite the impressive roster of jazz and folk artists that they’ve hosted over the last couple of years.  This has included jazzers Gilad Atzmon,  Alan Barnes, Julian Costello and Maciek Pysz plus folk duo O’Hooley & Tidow, now nationally known for performing the theme song to the BBC television series “Gentleman Jack”.

Turning to tonight’s show for which my interest had been piqued by the recent “Knife Angel” EP by violinist and composer Faith Brackenbury, an excellent recording made in the company of the leading jazz musicians Martin Speake (alto saxophone),  Alex Maguire (piano), Rob Luft (guitar), Oli Hayhurst (double bass) and Will Glaser (drums).  The work is a four movement suite lasting around half an hour in total and was inspired by the Knife Angel sculpture created by artist Alfie Bradley at the British Ironworks Centre near Oswestry. I also enjoyed a conversation with Bradbury at the recent performance by the Rob Luft Band at The Hive in nearby Shrewsbury.
My review of the “Knife Angel” EP can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/faith-brackenbury-knifeangel/


Tonight’s double bill presented Brackenbury with her regular duo partner John Neilson (piano, accordion, concertina, bouzouki) in a shared bill with the Oxfordshire based Owl Light Trio. The previous evening the same two acts had performed at an Oxford venue with Brackenbury & Neilson opening for the Owl Light Trio. Tonight on Brackenbury & Neilson’s home turf it was the turn of the Oxfordshire trio to take to the stage first.


OWL LIGHT TRIO

Named after their 2017 début album “Owl Light” the trio consists of Jim Penny on concertina, Jane Griffiths on fiddle and viola and Colin Fletcher on acoustic guitar. Their repertoire includes traditional folk material arranged and adapted by the trio and is sourced from various folk traditions around the British Isles and beyond. Penny and Griffiths also write for the trio and the group also covers material by other contemporary composers working in the folk idiom.

The trio commenced with a Penny composition called “The Politician, the Lighthouse & the Trained Cormorant”, the curious title derived from an unfinished Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This proved to be an energetic opener with the intertwining melody lines of Penny’s concertina and Griffiths’ fiddle given considerable rhythmic impetus by Fletcher’s rapidly strummed acoustic guitar, his chording giving his colleagues room to stretch and soar. Griffiths took the first real solo of the night and there was also a series of invigorating melodic exchanges between fiddle and concertina.

Tonight’s performance included a number of tunes not included on the trio’s début album. Presumably these are newer, as yet undocumented pieces that are likely to turn up on the next recording. From the tune titles I’d assume that the short set comprised of “Peel” (as in bells) and “Five Pints of Doom Bar” represented a couple of original compositions. This presented a gentler, more pastoral side of the trio with Fletcher adopting a more melodic, finger picking style on the guitar as Penny and Griffiths delivered longer, more languorous melody lines with the concertina sometimes providing an underlying drone beneath the fiddle. Elsewhere the interplay between Penny and Griffiths continued to impress, the combination of instruments proving to be very effective.

The segue that opens the album was to feature next. This teamed Penny’s “Centime in Space” with the Scottish fiddler Mike Vass’ s “Cavers of Kirkcudbright” on a segue featuring lilting fiddle melodies and cleanly picked acoustic guitar, with the second tune of the sequence bringing an increase of energy levels.

The trio dipped into the Swedish folk tradition for their next piece, the title of which they couldn’t actually pronounce. “We just call it ‘r r r’” said Penny, who handled the bulk of the announcements. Or was that ‘aa aa aa’ given the Swedish double vowel sound. Whatever, the music sounded good with the now familiar mix of concertina and fiddle underpinned by picked acoustic guitar. The concertina is an instrument that us jazz fans hardly ever see, even though its relative, the accordion, has made considerable headway in the jazz world in recent years thanks to Richard Galliano and others. I have to say that I was greatly impressed with Penny’s virtuosity on the instrument and by the way that he combined so effectively with Griffiths throughout the performance, whether dovetailing and intertwining, or exchanging melodic ideas.

Sourced from the “Owl Light” the traditional Irish tune “Lucy Farr’s” had a particularly beguiling melody and featured Griffiths on the deeper toned viola, giving the music a melancholic, but undeniably beautiful edge.

Owl Light Trio concluded their performance with the original tune “My Good Friend”, described by Penny as “an ode to friendship and conviviality”. This proved to be a suitably energetic and uplifting piece featuring lithe concertina melodies and dancing fiddle allied to taut, rhythmic, propulsive guitar strumming as the trio finished with a flourish, prompting an excellent reception from an appreciative Oswestry audience.

During the break I treated myself to a copy of Owl Light Trio’s début album and can confirm that it holds up very favourably in the home listening environment with engineers Richard Neuberg and the band’s own Colin Fletcher deserving credit for the quality of the recorded sound. It’s a little outside my usual listening zone, but that can sometimes be a good thing, and it’s none the worse for that.


BRACKENBURY & NEILSON

Faith Brackenbury and John Neilson have been working together as a duo since 2013. Both live in the Welsh Border area around Oswestry, Neilson in Wales and Brackenbury in England. The title of their début album, “Crossings” refers to the countless times the pair have crossed the border in order to play together. It also references the village of Rhydycroesau, one of the two locations in which the album was recorded, the place name meaning ‘ford of the crosses’ or ‘crossings’.


Brackenbury & Neilson differ from Owl Light Trio in that almost all of their material is original. They not only draw on the folk tradition but also dip into other musical genres as well, including jazz and contemporary classical music.  It’s this willingness to traverse musical boundaries that also serves to make “Crossings” a particularly appropriate album title.

All of their original material is jointly credited with most of the pieces beginning as free improvisations (very jazz!) before being, in the duo’s own words “knocked into shape”. The titles of many of the resultant tunes have names relating to locations specific or local to the performers, often with a story attached to them.

That said the performance began with a tune from the duo’s album prosaically titled “Fifteen”.
“The middle section of this piece is in alternating seven and eight time, which added together gives you the title” they explain. Featuring Neilson on the Hermon’s resident upright piano and Brackenbury on violin the piece was more contemporary in feel than the Owl Light’s material, embracing those jazz and classical elements alluded to above and occasionally nodding towards the avant garde. Like most of the duo’s music it was richly evocative and genuinely beautiful.

Neilson moved to piano accordion for another tune with a numerical title. The simply monikered “Number Six” was acknowledged as an example of a piece that had grown out of a spontaneous improvisation before undergoing further development. Neilson’s virtuosity on the accordion helped to give this item more of a conventional folk feel. This was one of the earliest pieces written by the duo and they no claim to have forgotten how it got its name. I found myself wondering whether the “Number Six” title is actually a reference to “The Prisoner” TV series starring Patrick McGoohan, which was famously filmed in the Italianate style Welsh tourist village of Portmeirion, developed by architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis.

I’m on surer ground with regard to the influence behind “Echo’s Bones”, which Neilson informed was the title of a poem by Samuel Beckett. With Neilson returning to the piano this was a dramatic piece mixing folk and neo-classical influences with Brackenbury deploying both arco and pizzicato techniques. Rich in terms of both dynamic contrast and harmonic development this was a performance that transcended the apparent limits of the duo format as the pair delivered another absorbing and immersive performance.

The first ‘outside’ item came in the shape of the tune “Fingal”, written by the Swedish folk fiddler Ellika Frisell, once a member of the band Filarfolket. Frisell’s tune was sourced from her solo album “Tokpolska”. Featuring Neilson on piano accordion this was a lively tune with a true folk feel about it.

The “Crossings” album commences with the original tune “New Invention”, named for a South Shropshire hamlet situated between the towns of Knighton and Clun. Like many of the duo’s location inspired pieces it evoked a strong sense of place with the rippling of Neilson’s piano simulating the gentle babble of the River Redlake that passes through the village. Meanwhile there was a yearning quality about the sound of Brackenbury’s violin that seemed to reflect the Victorian style aspiration of the place name. All this plus a sense of tranquillity and spaciousness evoking images of the rural Shropshire idyll chronicled by A.E. Housman. I was particularly impressed here by the melodic exchanges between Brackenbury and Neilson.

Next came a set of tunes with the traditional Albanian folk tune “The Joy of Labour” presaged by Neilson’s response piece “The Labour of Joy”. Featuring Neilson on piano accordion the composer’s own composition possessed a suitably introspective feel before morphing into the livelier traditional piece, a tune with a pronounced ‘Eastern European’ quality about it.

The title of “The Plastic Bridge” references the new foot bridge over the Nesscliffe bypass on the
A5, the deck of which is made from fibre-reinforced polymer. With Brackenbury playing viola (as I recall) this proved to be one of the duo’s most varied pieces, passing through a range of moods and dynamics and with Brackenbury again deploying pizzicato techniques at times. Accompanied by Neilson at the piano she was given plenty of scope for self expression and at one juncture the piece included her most percussive and aggressive bowing of the set. Neilson briefly picked up the concertina towards the close to introduce more of a folk aspect to this dramatic, and sometimes dark, piece.

The duo closed with “Bonizac”, named after a hamlet in Brittany, and thus something of a companion piece to “New Invention”. This piece featured Neilson on piano and incorporated a Breton folk tune, reflecting Neilson’s interest in the music of that region.

At this juncture Brackenbury and Neilson invited the members of Owl Light Trio to return to the stage to create a one off quintet – well, almost, I assume something similar had happened at Oxford the night before.

With a line up two violins, accordion, concertina and guitar the five musicians romped through a mazurka written by Joel Turner before engaging in a bout of instrument swappage for the North African flavourings of Neilson’s “The Erg”, named for the ever shifting sand dunes of the Sahara.
“I love stereo concertinas!” remarked Griffiths as Neilson and Penny doubled up while Brackenbury again deployed pizzicato techniques. Neilson made a further switch to bouzouki before the close of the tune.

Neilson made a final move back to accordion for the set of lively Cape Breton (Nova Scotia, Canada) tunes that rounded off an excellent evening of instrumental folk music. Both acts had delivered excellent sets of their own before teaming up for an engaging collaboration towards the close. Despite their different approaches each act complemented the other very well in a genuine double bill and I’d be loath to pick a favourite, having thoroughly enjoyed both sets. I’d come to this gig due to Brackenbury’s involvement in the jazz world and was initially a little worried that it might all be a bit too ‘folky’ for me, but that was emphatically not the case.

Like the “Owl Light” album the richly evocative “Crossings”  also makes for highly satisfying home listening and I’d certainly be interested in hearing something from the numerous other projects with which Brackenbury and Neilson are involved.

Congratulations to both groups for an excellent evening of music making and to Claudia Lis and Barry Edwards for having the vision to make it happen. It’s good to see the Hermon thriving, the venue is a very welcome addition to the Arts scene in the Welsh Borders.

For details of future events at Hermon Chapel please visit http://www.hermonchapel.com

 

 

Owl Light Trio / Brackenbury & Neilson, Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 29/06/2019.

Owl Light Trio / Brackenbury & Neilson

Monday, July 01, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Owl Light Trio / Brackenbury & Neilson, Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 29/06/2019.
Photography: Photo montage of Owl Light Trio and Brackenbury & Neilson sourced from http://www.brackenburymusic.uk

An excellent evening of instrumental folk music. As part of a genuine double bill both acts delivered excellent sets of their own before teaming up for an engaging collaboration towards the close.

Owl Light Trio

Brackenbury & Neilson

Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 29/06/2019.


This double bill was presented as part of the “Folk at The Hermon” series at the Hermon Chapel Arts Centre in Oswestry.

Curated by Claudia Lis and Barry Edwards the Hermon presents an eclectic programme of jazz, folk and world music events in addition to  live theatre, comedy, poetry slams, workshops and more. The former Welsh Congregational chapel represents an excellent performance space with good sight lines and excellent acoustics. Claudia has deployed her artistic skills to decorate the place in agreeably Bohemian fashion and the venue also boasts a well stocked bar.

When I first attended the venue back in 2017 for a performance by the guitar duo of Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier the turnout was disappointingly low but since then the tireless efforts of Claudia and Barry have seen them developing an audience. My next visit to the Hermon at Easter 2018 saw around fifty people turning out for an excellent performance by those quirky Liverpudlian jazzers The Weave.

Claudia admits that attracting audiences for folk events has been easier than it has been for the jazz strand and this was reflected in tonight’s turn out of around seventy on the hottest night of the year to date. Virtually all of the downstairs seats were taken so we watched this event from the upstairs gallery. 

Oswestry is somewhat distant from my Herefordshire base so I haven’t visited the Hermon quite as often as I would have liked, despite my friendship with Claudia and Barry and despite the impressive roster of jazz and folk artists that they’ve hosted over the last couple of years.  This has included jazzers Gilad Atzmon,  Alan Barnes, Julian Costello and Maciek Pysz plus folk duo O’Hooley & Tidow, now nationally known for performing the theme song to the BBC television series “Gentleman Jack”.

Turning to tonight’s show for which my interest had been piqued by the recent “Knife Angel” EP by violinist and composer Faith Brackenbury, an excellent recording made in the company of the leading jazz musicians Martin Speake (alto saxophone),  Alex Maguire (piano), Rob Luft (guitar), Oli Hayhurst (double bass) and Will Glaser (drums).  The work is a four movement suite lasting around half an hour in total and was inspired by the Knife Angel sculpture created by artist Alfie Bradley at the British Ironworks Centre near Oswestry. I also enjoyed a conversation with Bradbury at the recent performance by the Rob Luft Band at The Hive in nearby Shrewsbury.
My review of the “Knife Angel” EP can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/faith-brackenbury-knifeangel/


Tonight’s double bill presented Brackenbury with her regular duo partner John Neilson (piano, accordion, concertina, bouzouki) in a shared bill with the Oxfordshire based Owl Light Trio. The previous evening the same two acts had performed at an Oxford venue with Brackenbury & Neilson opening for the Owl Light Trio. Tonight on Brackenbury & Neilson’s home turf it was the turn of the Oxfordshire trio to take to the stage first.


OWL LIGHT TRIO

Named after their 2017 début album “Owl Light” the trio consists of Jim Penny on concertina, Jane Griffiths on fiddle and viola and Colin Fletcher on acoustic guitar. Their repertoire includes traditional folk material arranged and adapted by the trio and is sourced from various folk traditions around the British Isles and beyond. Penny and Griffiths also write for the trio and the group also covers material by other contemporary composers working in the folk idiom.

The trio commenced with a Penny composition called “The Politician, the Lighthouse & the Trained Cormorant”, the curious title derived from an unfinished Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This proved to be an energetic opener with the intertwining melody lines of Penny’s concertina and Griffiths’ fiddle given considerable rhythmic impetus by Fletcher’s rapidly strummed acoustic guitar, his chording giving his colleagues room to stretch and soar. Griffiths took the first real solo of the night and there was also a series of invigorating melodic exchanges between fiddle and concertina.

Tonight’s performance included a number of tunes not included on the trio’s début album. Presumably these are newer, as yet undocumented pieces that are likely to turn up on the next recording. From the tune titles I’d assume that the short set comprised of “Peel” (as in bells) and “Five Pints of Doom Bar” represented a couple of original compositions. This presented a gentler, more pastoral side of the trio with Fletcher adopting a more melodic, finger picking style on the guitar as Penny and Griffiths delivered longer, more languorous melody lines with the concertina sometimes providing an underlying drone beneath the fiddle. Elsewhere the interplay between Penny and Griffiths continued to impress, the combination of instruments proving to be very effective.

The segue that opens the album was to feature next. This teamed Penny’s “Centime in Space” with the Scottish fiddler Mike Vass’ s “Cavers of Kirkcudbright” on a segue featuring lilting fiddle melodies and cleanly picked acoustic guitar, with the second tune of the sequence bringing an increase of energy levels.

The trio dipped into the Swedish folk tradition for their next piece, the title of which they couldn’t actually pronounce. “We just call it ‘r r r’” said Penny, who handled the bulk of the announcements. Or was that ‘aa aa aa’ given the Swedish double vowel sound. Whatever, the music sounded good with the now familiar mix of concertina and fiddle underpinned by picked acoustic guitar. The concertina is an instrument that us jazz fans hardly ever see, even though its relative, the accordion, has made considerable headway in the jazz world in recent years thanks to Richard Galliano and others. I have to say that I was greatly impressed with Penny’s virtuosity on the instrument and by the way that he combined so effectively with Griffiths throughout the performance, whether dovetailing and intertwining, or exchanging melodic ideas.

Sourced from the “Owl Light” the traditional Irish tune “Lucy Farr’s” had a particularly beguiling melody and featured Griffiths on the deeper toned viola, giving the music a melancholic, but undeniably beautiful edge.

Owl Light Trio concluded their performance with the original tune “My Good Friend”, described by Penny as “an ode to friendship and conviviality”. This proved to be a suitably energetic and uplifting piece featuring lithe concertina melodies and dancing fiddle allied to taut, rhythmic, propulsive guitar strumming as the trio finished with a flourish, prompting an excellent reception from an appreciative Oswestry audience.

During the break I treated myself to a copy of Owl Light Trio’s début album and can confirm that it holds up very favourably in the home listening environment with engineers Richard Neuberg and the band’s own Colin Fletcher deserving credit for the quality of the recorded sound. It’s a little outside my usual listening zone, but that can sometimes be a good thing, and it’s none the worse for that.


BRACKENBURY & NEILSON

Faith Brackenbury and John Neilson have been working together as a duo since 2013. Both live in the Welsh Border area around Oswestry, Neilson in Wales and Brackenbury in England. The title of their début album, “Crossings” refers to the countless times the pair have crossed the border in order to play together. It also references the village of Rhydycroesau, one of the two locations in which the album was recorded, the place name meaning ‘ford of the crosses’ or ‘crossings’.


Brackenbury & Neilson differ from Owl Light Trio in that almost all of their material is original. They not only draw on the folk tradition but also dip into other musical genres as well, including jazz and contemporary classical music.  It’s this willingness to traverse musical boundaries that also serves to make “Crossings” a particularly appropriate album title.

All of their original material is jointly credited with most of the pieces beginning as free improvisations (very jazz!) before being, in the duo’s own words “knocked into shape”. The titles of many of the resultant tunes have names relating to locations specific or local to the performers, often with a story attached to them.

That said the performance began with a tune from the duo’s album prosaically titled “Fifteen”.
“The middle section of this piece is in alternating seven and eight time, which added together gives you the title” they explain. Featuring Neilson on the Hermon’s resident upright piano and Brackenbury on violin the piece was more contemporary in feel than the Owl Light’s material, embracing those jazz and classical elements alluded to above and occasionally nodding towards the avant garde. Like most of the duo’s music it was richly evocative and genuinely beautiful.

Neilson moved to piano accordion for another tune with a numerical title. The simply monikered “Number Six” was acknowledged as an example of a piece that had grown out of a spontaneous improvisation before undergoing further development. Neilson’s virtuosity on the accordion helped to give this item more of a conventional folk feel. This was one of the earliest pieces written by the duo and they no claim to have forgotten how it got its name. I found myself wondering whether the “Number Six” title is actually a reference to “The Prisoner” TV series starring Patrick McGoohan, which was famously filmed in the Italianate style Welsh tourist village of Portmeirion, developed by architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis.

I’m on surer ground with regard to the influence behind “Echo’s Bones”, which Neilson informed was the title of a poem by Samuel Beckett. With Neilson returning to the piano this was a dramatic piece mixing folk and neo-classical influences with Brackenbury deploying both arco and pizzicato techniques. Rich in terms of both dynamic contrast and harmonic development this was a performance that transcended the apparent limits of the duo format as the pair delivered another absorbing and immersive performance.

The first ‘outside’ item came in the shape of the tune “Fingal”, written by the Swedish folk fiddler Ellika Frisell, once a member of the band Filarfolket. Frisell’s tune was sourced from her solo album “Tokpolska”. Featuring Neilson on piano accordion this was a lively tune with a true folk feel about it.

The “Crossings” album commences with the original tune “New Invention”, named for a South Shropshire hamlet situated between the towns of Knighton and Clun. Like many of the duo’s location inspired pieces it evoked a strong sense of place with the rippling of Neilson’s piano simulating the gentle babble of the River Redlake that passes through the village. Meanwhile there was a yearning quality about the sound of Brackenbury’s violin that seemed to reflect the Victorian style aspiration of the place name. All this plus a sense of tranquillity and spaciousness evoking images of the rural Shropshire idyll chronicled by A.E. Housman. I was particularly impressed here by the melodic exchanges between Brackenbury and Neilson.

Next came a set of tunes with the traditional Albanian folk tune “The Joy of Labour” presaged by Neilson’s response piece “The Labour of Joy”. Featuring Neilson on piano accordion the composer’s own composition possessed a suitably introspective feel before morphing into the livelier traditional piece, a tune with a pronounced ‘Eastern European’ quality about it.

The title of “The Plastic Bridge” references the new foot bridge over the Nesscliffe bypass on the
A5, the deck of which is made from fibre-reinforced polymer. With Brackenbury playing viola (as I recall) this proved to be one of the duo’s most varied pieces, passing through a range of moods and dynamics and with Brackenbury again deploying pizzicato techniques at times. Accompanied by Neilson at the piano she was given plenty of scope for self expression and at one juncture the piece included her most percussive and aggressive bowing of the set. Neilson briefly picked up the concertina towards the close to introduce more of a folk aspect to this dramatic, and sometimes dark, piece.

The duo closed with “Bonizac”, named after a hamlet in Brittany, and thus something of a companion piece to “New Invention”. This piece featured Neilson on piano and incorporated a Breton folk tune, reflecting Neilson’s interest in the music of that region.

At this juncture Brackenbury and Neilson invited the members of Owl Light Trio to return to the stage to create a one off quintet – well, almost, I assume something similar had happened at Oxford the night before.

With a line up two violins, accordion, concertina and guitar the five musicians romped through a mazurka written by Joel Turner before engaging in a bout of instrument swappage for the North African flavourings of Neilson’s “The Erg”, named for the ever shifting sand dunes of the Sahara.
“I love stereo concertinas!” remarked Griffiths as Neilson and Penny doubled up while Brackenbury again deployed pizzicato techniques. Neilson made a further switch to bouzouki before the close of the tune.

Neilson made a final move back to accordion for the set of lively Cape Breton (Nova Scotia, Canada) tunes that rounded off an excellent evening of instrumental folk music. Both acts had delivered excellent sets of their own before teaming up for an engaging collaboration towards the close. Despite their different approaches each act complemented the other very well in a genuine double bill and I’d be loath to pick a favourite, having thoroughly enjoyed both sets. I’d come to this gig due to Brackenbury’s involvement in the jazz world and was initially a little worried that it might all be a bit too ‘folky’ for me, but that was emphatically not the case.

Like the “Owl Light” album the richly evocative “Crossings”  also makes for highly satisfying home listening and I’d certainly be interested in hearing something from the numerous other projects with which Brackenbury and Neilson are involved.

Congratulations to both groups for an excellent evening of music making and to Claudia Lis and Barry Edwards for having the vision to make it happen. It’s good to see the Hermon thriving, the venue is a very welcome addition to the Arts scene in the Welsh Borders.

For details of future events at Hermon Chapel please visit http://www.hermonchapel.com

 

 

Paz - Paz, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 21/06/2019. Rating: 4-5 out of 5 "A high octane mix of jazz improvisations, earthy funk & the irresistible rhythms of South America & the Caribbean – fusion at its timeless best!" Trevor Bannister enjoys the Summer Solstice with Paz.

Jazz at Progress
 
Paz
 
Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, Friday 21 July 2019
 
Matt Wates alto saxophone, Geoff Castle keyboards, synthesizer, Dominic Grant guitar, Rob Statham bass, Les Cirkel drums, Chris Fletcher percussion
 

What better way to celebrate the Summer Solstice than in the company of Paz and their high octane mix of jazz improvisations, earthy funk and the irresistible rhythms of South America and the Caribbean – fusion at its timeless best!
 
The band emerged nearly fifty years ago as the brainchild of the late Dick Crouch, a characterful individual with a remarkable gift for composition within the fusion genre. His writing remains at the heart of the band’s repertoire. With a day-job in the Transcription Department of the BBC, his Shepherd’s Bush office became an open-house for like minded musicians, who took full advantage of the subsidized meals available in the canteen. The amiable Geoff Castle, current leader of the band who joined its ranks in 1974, describes Dick Crouch as a vibes player who set up his instrument at gigs but rarely played a note, preferring to strike a languid pose and soak up the music from within a cloud of Gauloises’ tobacco haze – what a wonderful image that conjures in our modern world of clean-cut stage presentation!
 
Drummer Les Cirkel has been with Paz from its formation, though he claims to have only been seven years old at the time; Chris Fletcher joined ‘after the war’, but fails to admit which one; Rob Statham and Matt Wates have clocked up respectively nearly forty and fast approaching thirty years, while Dominic Grant, is the ‘juvenile’ of the organisation with a mere twelve months service. It’s little wonder that these guys convey a slight air of ‘been there, done that’, for they are seasoned professionals with countless gigs to their credit, who have clocked up thousands of hours in the recording, TV and film studios and played with the giants of the entertainment business.
 
‘For Art’ immediately reveals the strength of Dick Crouch’s writing. Originals are so often no more than flimsy hooks on which to hang a string of solos. That’s not so here. It’s beautifully formed with a distinct shape, a logical structure and intensely exciting; a hallmark of quality that sets the standard flying for the evening.
 
Dominic Grant makes full use of his wah-wah pedal to set the groove on ‘One Hundred’ (a title which should be proclaimed a la Sid Waddell, the famed darts commentator), and Matt Wates soars into flight with his gorgeous alto, as the rhythms, firmly anchored by Rob Statham’s bass guitar, build layer upon layer in the background.

Geoff Castle takes the writing credits for ‘Latinesque’, a breathtaking Samba with a subtle hint of melancholy courtesy of Chris Fletcher’s ingenious percussion effects. Castle was also responsible for ‘Citroen Presse’, a title which accurately depicts the sad fate of his much loved Citroen 2CV. Far from being a car crash this number swings like the clappers.
 
‘Making Smiles’ and ‘Forever’, the first a full-on tsunami of sound, contrasting textures and rhythm, the second a bright, sparkling samba, completed the first set in dedication to the late, great alto saxophonist Ray Warleigh and his long tenure with Paz in its earlier days.

‘Look Inside’ opens the second set, a slow, wistful number and the title track from Paz’s best selling album produced by Miles Davis associate Paul Buckmaster.

‘Bags’, a dedication to Milt Jackson, keeps everyone on their toes. Its constant shifts in time and rhythm, inspire brilliant solos from Matt Wates and Geoff Castle, and the whole thing builds to a thrilling climax between Les Cirkel’s drums and Chris Fletcher’s congas.
 
‘James the First’, a dedication to Dick Crouch’s first born child, brings the sound of steel pans (one of many intriguing sounds emanating from Geoff Castle’s Moog synthesizer) and the gaiety and fresh breezes of the Caribbean to the stage. An absolute delight!
 
‘AC/DC’ proved to be such a hit on the London disco scene in the 1980s that the record company couldn’t keep pace with demand and no wonder – a fantastic piece that’s lost none of its power or appeal in the intervening years. ‘Laying Eggs’, on the other hand, with the snappy guitar of Dominic Grant to the fore, lays down a solid groove and explores the darker territory of heavy-funk.
 
Geoff Castle’s ‘Variation on Creation’, can best be described as a calypso tear-up, with everyone stoking the boiler to round off a brilliant evening in great style. Except of course, the gig can’t possibly end here; rather than provoke a riot the band plays out to the cool tones of ‘Harmonique’ followed by a quick-fire reprise of ‘AC/DC’.
 
Fusion is alive and kicking in the safe hands of the gentlemen of Paz and long may it continue to be so!
 
As ever, thanks to Martin Noble for the excellent quality of sound and lighting, and to the Progress Front of House team for their warm hospitality’

Paz, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 21/06/2019.

Paz

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Reviewed by: Trevor Bannister

Live Review

4-5 out of 5

Paz, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 21/06/2019.
Photography: Photograph by Zoë White

"A high octane mix of jazz improvisations, earthy funk & the irresistible rhythms of South America & the Caribbean – fusion at its timeless best!" Trevor Bannister enjoys the Summer Solstice with Paz.

Jazz at Progress
 
Paz
 
Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, Friday 21 July 2019
 
Matt Wates alto saxophone, Geoff Castle keyboards, synthesizer, Dominic Grant guitar, Rob Statham bass, Les Cirkel drums, Chris Fletcher percussion
 

What better way to celebrate the Summer Solstice than in the company of Paz and their high octane mix of jazz improvisations, earthy funk and the irresistible rhythms of South America and the Caribbean – fusion at its timeless best!
 
The band emerged nearly fifty years ago as the brainchild of the late Dick Crouch, a characterful individual with a remarkable gift for composition within the fusion genre. His writing remains at the heart of the band’s repertoire. With a day-job in the Transcription Department of the BBC, his Shepherd’s Bush office became an open-house for like minded musicians, who took full advantage of the subsidized meals available in the canteen. The amiable Geoff Castle, current leader of the band who joined its ranks in 1974, describes Dick Crouch as a vibes player who set up his instrument at gigs but rarely played a note, preferring to strike a languid pose and soak up the music from within a cloud of Gauloises’ tobacco haze – what a wonderful image that conjures in our modern world of clean-cut stage presentation!
 
Drummer Les Cirkel has been with Paz from its formation, though he claims to have only been seven years old at the time; Chris Fletcher joined ‘after the war’, but fails to admit which one; Rob Statham and Matt Wates have clocked up respectively nearly forty and fast approaching thirty years, while Dominic Grant, is the ‘juvenile’ of the organisation with a mere twelve months service. It’s little wonder that these guys convey a slight air of ‘been there, done that’, for they are seasoned professionals with countless gigs to their credit, who have clocked up thousands of hours in the recording, TV and film studios and played with the giants of the entertainment business.
 
‘For Art’ immediately reveals the strength of Dick Crouch’s writing. Originals are so often no more than flimsy hooks on which to hang a string of solos. That’s not so here. It’s beautifully formed with a distinct shape, a logical structure and intensely exciting; a hallmark of quality that sets the standard flying for the evening.
 
Dominic Grant makes full use of his wah-wah pedal to set the groove on ‘One Hundred’ (a title which should be proclaimed a la Sid Waddell, the famed darts commentator), and Matt Wates soars into flight with his gorgeous alto, as the rhythms, firmly anchored by Rob Statham’s bass guitar, build layer upon layer in the background.

Geoff Castle takes the writing credits for ‘Latinesque’, a breathtaking Samba with a subtle hint of melancholy courtesy of Chris Fletcher’s ingenious percussion effects. Castle was also responsible for ‘Citroen Presse’, a title which accurately depicts the sad fate of his much loved Citroen 2CV. Far from being a car crash this number swings like the clappers.
 
‘Making Smiles’ and ‘Forever’, the first a full-on tsunami of sound, contrasting textures and rhythm, the second a bright, sparkling samba, completed the first set in dedication to the late, great alto saxophonist Ray Warleigh and his long tenure with Paz in its earlier days.

‘Look Inside’ opens the second set, a slow, wistful number and the title track from Paz’s best selling album produced by Miles Davis associate Paul Buckmaster.

‘Bags’, a dedication to Milt Jackson, keeps everyone on their toes. Its constant shifts in time and rhythm, inspire brilliant solos from Matt Wates and Geoff Castle, and the whole thing builds to a thrilling climax between Les Cirkel’s drums and Chris Fletcher’s congas.
 
‘James the First’, a dedication to Dick Crouch’s first born child, brings the sound of steel pans (one of many intriguing sounds emanating from Geoff Castle’s Moog synthesizer) and the gaiety and fresh breezes of the Caribbean to the stage. An absolute delight!
 
‘AC/DC’ proved to be such a hit on the London disco scene in the 1980s that the record company couldn’t keep pace with demand and no wonder – a fantastic piece that’s lost none of its power or appeal in the intervening years. ‘Laying Eggs’, on the other hand, with the snappy guitar of Dominic Grant to the fore, lays down a solid groove and explores the darker territory of heavy-funk.
 
Geoff Castle’s ‘Variation on Creation’, can best be described as a calypso tear-up, with everyone stoking the boiler to round off a brilliant evening in great style. Except of course, the gig can’t possibly end here; rather than provoke a riot the band plays out to the cool tones of ‘Harmonique’ followed by a quick-fire reprise of ‘AC/DC’.
 
Fusion is alive and kicking in the safe hands of the gentlemen of Paz and long may it continue to be so!
 
As ever, thanks to Martin Noble for the excellent quality of sound and lighting, and to the Progress Front of House team for their warm hospitality’

Sean Foran and Stuart McCallum - Counterpart Rating: 3-5 out of 5 A lovingly crafted collection of excellent tunes with memorable melodies.

Sean Foran and Stuart McCallum

“Counterpart”

(Naim Records)

Sean Foran – piano, synthesisers, Stuart McCallum – guitar, electronics

with Sam Vicary – bass, John Parker - drums


“Counterpart” is the result of a new collaboration between the Australian pianist Sean Foran and the British guitarist Stuart McCallum.

Foran is best known as the pianist with the Brisbane based trio Trichotomy, the current line up of which also features drummer John Parker and bassist Samuel Vincent. Trichotomy have enjoyed a long association with the British Naim record label with whom they released the albums “Variations” (2010), The Gentle War” (2011) and Fact Finding Mission” (2013), all of which have been favourably reviewed elsewhere on this site.

In 2017 Trichotomy moved to the Dutch label Challenge for the release of “KNOWN-UNKNOWN”, which also saw Vincent taking over from previous bassist Pat Marchisella. This maintained the high standards set by the trio and later in the year they followed this with the digital release “Live with String Quartet”, the latest in an ongoing series of co-operations with classical ensembles and one of the most exciting and convincing recordings of its type. More recently Trichotomy have collaborated with the Australian folk/country/blues singer/songwriter Danny Widdicombe.

Foran and Parker write the bulk of Trichotomy’s material with the pianist being particularly prolific with the pen. Foran spent time studying at Leeds College of Music before returning to his native Australia and in 2016 released the excellent solo album “Frame of Reference” Jazzhead Records) which featured a British band comprised of McCallum on guitar, Julian Arguelles on reeds, Ben Davis on cello and Joost Hendrickx at the drums. This was a stunningly beautiful album and my review of it can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/sean-foran-frame-of-reference/

Foran has also worked with the Australian vocalist Megan Washington and with the trio Berardi/Foran/Karlen featuring vocalist Kristin Berardi and saxophonist Rafael Karlen.
He has also acted as composer and musical director with the Expressions Dance Company.

The success of “Frame of Reference” encouraged further collaborations between Foran and McCallum, resulting in the release of “Counterpart”, the title chosen to reflect the similar musical journeys undertaken by the two musicians on opposite sides of the globe.

Manchester based McCallum is arguably best known as the guitarist with the highly regarded Cinematic Orchestra but he has also enjoyed a prolific solo career that has included the albums “Echo Architect” (2006), “Stuart McCallum” (2009 “Distilled” (2011), “Distilled Live” (2012), “The Ultimate Form” (2013) “City” (2015), “City Live” (2017) and the EP “Solitude” (2018). He has also released two duo albums with fellow guitarist Mike Walker, “Beholden” (2014) and “The Space Within” (2016). Foran appeared on the “City” album with McCallum returning the favour on the pianist’s “Frame of Reference”.

Others with whom McCallum has worked include bassist Ben Crosland, saxophonist John Surman and the bands The Breath (his alt folk duo with vocalist and songwriter Rioghnach Connolly) and Slowly Rolling Camera, the latter led by pianist, composer and Edition record label founder Dave Stapleton.

Foran and McCallum met up in Manchester armed with a selection of sketches and song ideas and let the album unfold naturally during the recording process. “It was quite organic, we emailed some ideas for songs, a few from each of us, and then I turned up in Manchester and we spent a week recording” explains Foran.  He continues; “We’d never played these tracks of each other’s before, and didn’t really know how the whole thing was going to work”.

The duo decided to add UK bassist Sam Vicary and Foran’s Trichotomy colleague John Parker to the equation to create a true Anglo-Australian quartet. “That really lifted the whole album into new territory” comments Foran. McCallum adds “luckily there was a real sense of connection in the music and the playing, so it happened quickly”.

McCallum has always exhibited a fascination with the texture of sound, deploying his array of acoustic and electric guitars,  plus a vast arsenal of electronic effects, to create a range of sonic landscapes ranging from the lush and pastoral to the dark and unsettling. It’s a technique that has informed his solo output and his work with others, particularly that of Cinematic Orchestra.

Meanwhile Foran plays both grand piano and a range of synthesisers and the resultant music embraces elements of jazz, rock, ambient and contemporary classical music with guitarist Pat Metheny and pianists Nils Frahm and Hauschka (Volker Bertelmann) mentioned as influences in addition to minimalist composers such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass. All of the pieces here are jointly credited to Foran and McCallum.

Opener “Stasis” sets the duo’s stall out, combining the type of electronic soundscaping that has become a McCallum trademark with the sounds of acoustic guitars and piano to create a beguiling electro-acoustic soundworld. There’s a strong focus on melody, a quality that Foran brings from Trichotomy and from solo projects such as “Frame of Reference”. There is also an episodic quality to the writing that sees the piece moving through a range of stylistic and dynamic contrasts with Vicary and Parker adding discrete additional rhythmic propulsion as required. The sound of McCallum’s soaring electric guitar plus the cinematic quality of the writing invites the inevitable Metheny comparisons but ultimately Foran and McCallum bring enough of themselves to the music to render it personal and distinctive.

“November” evokes a suitably wintry landscape via its combination of subtle, shimmering electronica, deftly picked acoustic guitar and glacial but lyrical acoustic piano.

“While The Trees Waltz” features some of the duo’s most delightful melodies with the delicate guitar and piano interplay enhanced by Parker’s cymbal embellishments.

Foran adopts a Rhodes piano sound on “Panorama”, combining it with acoustic piano in association with McCallum’s similarly tasteful mix of acoustic and electric sounds, plus Parker’s gently propulsive brushed drums. This piece features more gorgeous melodies and a flowingly lyrical acoustic piano from Foran.

The music to be heard on “Triple Bypass” is less dramatic than the title might lead one to expect. Instead acoustic guitar and piano combine in a delightful duo performance that delivers more of the duo’s trademark melodic lyricism.

“Quiet Times” continues the introspective mood on a piece that once more features a combination of acoustic and electric sounds from the co-leaders with sympathetic support coming from Parker and Vicary. McCallum’s electric guitar is at its most Metheny-like on another piece of gorgeously melodic writing.

“Skydancer” re-introduces an element of electronica on one of the album’s most haunting and atmospheric tracks, again effectively combining these elements with more conventional acoustic sounds.

The curiously spelt “Effergy” is a gently lyrical duo performance featuring cleanly picked acoustic guitar and celeste like piano.

The album concludes with “Monkey”, which was actually released as a single, and is a lively quartet performance that is more upbeat than anything else on the album. McCallum’s agile guitar lines combine well with Foran’s synths and Parker’s crisp drumming as the recording closes on an energetic note.

“Counterpart” represents an impressive statement from Foran and McCallum and is a lovingly crafted collection of excellent tunes with memorable melodies. With judicious and effective use being made of overdubbing techniques it’s very much a studio creation, although one suspects that the duo would have little difficulty in presenting these pieces in the live environment, such is the strength of the tunes and the quality of the writing. Vicary and Parker make unobtrusive but important contributions and are essential to the success of the project.

The mood almost throughout is quiet, introspective and gently lyrical, pastoral even. It may prove to be a little too bloodless for some listeners but many more will love this album’s gently lyrical atmosphere, its memorable melodies and its innate tunefulness. Foran and McCallum serve the tunes faithfully, there’s no instrumental grandstanding here, although neither player is exactly short on technique.

Fans of Foran and McCallum in other contexts will no doubt find much to enjoy here but I suspect that this album would also appeal to Pat Metheny’s vast legion of followers. There’s a Metheny-like quality about many of the melodies here and at times this partnership reminds me of Metheny’s collaborations with Lyle Mays and later with Brad Mehldau.

Counterpart

Sean Foran and Stuart McCallum

Friday, June 28, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Counterpart

A lovingly crafted collection of excellent tunes with memorable melodies.

Sean Foran and Stuart McCallum

“Counterpart”

(Naim Records)

Sean Foran – piano, synthesisers, Stuart McCallum – guitar, electronics

with Sam Vicary – bass, John Parker - drums


“Counterpart” is the result of a new collaboration between the Australian pianist Sean Foran and the British guitarist Stuart McCallum.

Foran is best known as the pianist with the Brisbane based trio Trichotomy, the current line up of which also features drummer John Parker and bassist Samuel Vincent. Trichotomy have enjoyed a long association with the British Naim record label with whom they released the albums “Variations” (2010), The Gentle War” (2011) and Fact Finding Mission” (2013), all of which have been favourably reviewed elsewhere on this site.

In 2017 Trichotomy moved to the Dutch label Challenge for the release of “KNOWN-UNKNOWN”, which also saw Vincent taking over from previous bassist Pat Marchisella. This maintained the high standards set by the trio and later in the year they followed this with the digital release “Live with String Quartet”, the latest in an ongoing series of co-operations with classical ensembles and one of the most exciting and convincing recordings of its type. More recently Trichotomy have collaborated with the Australian folk/country/blues singer/songwriter Danny Widdicombe.

Foran and Parker write the bulk of Trichotomy’s material with the pianist being particularly prolific with the pen. Foran spent time studying at Leeds College of Music before returning to his native Australia and in 2016 released the excellent solo album “Frame of Reference” Jazzhead Records) which featured a British band comprised of McCallum on guitar, Julian Arguelles on reeds, Ben Davis on cello and Joost Hendrickx at the drums. This was a stunningly beautiful album and my review of it can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/sean-foran-frame-of-reference/

Foran has also worked with the Australian vocalist Megan Washington and with the trio Berardi/Foran/Karlen featuring vocalist Kristin Berardi and saxophonist Rafael Karlen.
He has also acted as composer and musical director with the Expressions Dance Company.

The success of “Frame of Reference” encouraged further collaborations between Foran and McCallum, resulting in the release of “Counterpart”, the title chosen to reflect the similar musical journeys undertaken by the two musicians on opposite sides of the globe.

Manchester based McCallum is arguably best known as the guitarist with the highly regarded Cinematic Orchestra but he has also enjoyed a prolific solo career that has included the albums “Echo Architect” (2006), “Stuart McCallum” (2009 “Distilled” (2011), “Distilled Live” (2012), “The Ultimate Form” (2013) “City” (2015), “City Live” (2017) and the EP “Solitude” (2018). He has also released two duo albums with fellow guitarist Mike Walker, “Beholden” (2014) and “The Space Within” (2016). Foran appeared on the “City” album with McCallum returning the favour on the pianist’s “Frame of Reference”.

Others with whom McCallum has worked include bassist Ben Crosland, saxophonist John Surman and the bands The Breath (his alt folk duo with vocalist and songwriter Rioghnach Connolly) and Slowly Rolling Camera, the latter led by pianist, composer and Edition record label founder Dave Stapleton.

Foran and McCallum met up in Manchester armed with a selection of sketches and song ideas and let the album unfold naturally during the recording process. “It was quite organic, we emailed some ideas for songs, a few from each of us, and then I turned up in Manchester and we spent a week recording” explains Foran.  He continues; “We’d never played these tracks of each other’s before, and didn’t really know how the whole thing was going to work”.

The duo decided to add UK bassist Sam Vicary and Foran’s Trichotomy colleague John Parker to the equation to create a true Anglo-Australian quartet. “That really lifted the whole album into new territory” comments Foran. McCallum adds “luckily there was a real sense of connection in the music and the playing, so it happened quickly”.

McCallum has always exhibited a fascination with the texture of sound, deploying his array of acoustic and electric guitars,  plus a vast arsenal of electronic effects, to create a range of sonic landscapes ranging from the lush and pastoral to the dark and unsettling. It’s a technique that has informed his solo output and his work with others, particularly that of Cinematic Orchestra.

Meanwhile Foran plays both grand piano and a range of synthesisers and the resultant music embraces elements of jazz, rock, ambient and contemporary classical music with guitarist Pat Metheny and pianists Nils Frahm and Hauschka (Volker Bertelmann) mentioned as influences in addition to minimalist composers such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass. All of the pieces here are jointly credited to Foran and McCallum.

Opener “Stasis” sets the duo’s stall out, combining the type of electronic soundscaping that has become a McCallum trademark with the sounds of acoustic guitars and piano to create a beguiling electro-acoustic soundworld. There’s a strong focus on melody, a quality that Foran brings from Trichotomy and from solo projects such as “Frame of Reference”. There is also an episodic quality to the writing that sees the piece moving through a range of stylistic and dynamic contrasts with Vicary and Parker adding discrete additional rhythmic propulsion as required. The sound of McCallum’s soaring electric guitar plus the cinematic quality of the writing invites the inevitable Metheny comparisons but ultimately Foran and McCallum bring enough of themselves to the music to render it personal and distinctive.

“November” evokes a suitably wintry landscape via its combination of subtle, shimmering electronica, deftly picked acoustic guitar and glacial but lyrical acoustic piano.

“While The Trees Waltz” features some of the duo’s most delightful melodies with the delicate guitar and piano interplay enhanced by Parker’s cymbal embellishments.

Foran adopts a Rhodes piano sound on “Panorama”, combining it with acoustic piano in association with McCallum’s similarly tasteful mix of acoustic and electric sounds, plus Parker’s gently propulsive brushed drums. This piece features more gorgeous melodies and a flowingly lyrical acoustic piano from Foran.

The music to be heard on “Triple Bypass” is less dramatic than the title might lead one to expect. Instead acoustic guitar and piano combine in a delightful duo performance that delivers more of the duo’s trademark melodic lyricism.

“Quiet Times” continues the introspective mood on a piece that once more features a combination of acoustic and electric sounds from the co-leaders with sympathetic support coming from Parker and Vicary. McCallum’s electric guitar is at its most Metheny-like on another piece of gorgeously melodic writing.

“Skydancer” re-introduces an element of electronica on one of the album’s most haunting and atmospheric tracks, again effectively combining these elements with more conventional acoustic sounds.

The curiously spelt “Effergy” is a gently lyrical duo performance featuring cleanly picked acoustic guitar and celeste like piano.

The album concludes with “Monkey”, which was actually released as a single, and is a lively quartet performance that is more upbeat than anything else on the album. McCallum’s agile guitar lines combine well with Foran’s synths and Parker’s crisp drumming as the recording closes on an energetic note.

“Counterpart” represents an impressive statement from Foran and McCallum and is a lovingly crafted collection of excellent tunes with memorable melodies. With judicious and effective use being made of overdubbing techniques it’s very much a studio creation, although one suspects that the duo would have little difficulty in presenting these pieces in the live environment, such is the strength of the tunes and the quality of the writing. Vicary and Parker make unobtrusive but important contributions and are essential to the success of the project.

The mood almost throughout is quiet, introspective and gently lyrical, pastoral even. It may prove to be a little too bloodless for some listeners but many more will love this album’s gently lyrical atmosphere, its memorable melodies and its innate tunefulness. Foran and McCallum serve the tunes faithfully, there’s no instrumental grandstanding here, although neither player is exactly short on technique.

Fans of Foran and McCallum in other contexts will no doubt find much to enjoy here but I suspect that this album would also appeal to Pat Metheny’s vast legion of followers. There’s a Metheny-like quality about many of the melodies here and at times this partnership reminds me of Metheny’s collaborations with Lyle Mays and later with Brad Mehldau.

Partisans - Nit De Nit Rating: 4 out of 5 “Nit De Nit” reveals Partisans to still be one of the UK’s most exciting live bands, their music a fascinating and immensely enjoyable amalgam of power and intelligence.

Partisans

“Nit De Nit”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4738)

Phil Robson – guitar, Julian Siegel – tenor & soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, Thaddeus Kelly – electric bass, Gene Calderazzo – drums


Co-led by guitarist Phil Robson and reeds player Julian Siegel Partisans have featured many times on the Jazzmann web pages and remain one of my favourite working bands.

Founded in 1996 as the Julian Siegel/ Phil Robson Quartet the title of their début album, “Partisans”, subsequently became the name of the group.

I’ve always felt that Partisans’ turn of the century album “Sourpuss” was the record that helped to kick start the British ‘punk jazz’ movement of the noughties - Polar Bear, Acoustic Ladyland, Led Bib etc. Even now bands such as GoGo Penguin are still reaping the benefits of the fire ignited by Partisans all those years ago.

With the exception of the occasional inspired cover the compositional credits in Partisans are divided pretty much equally between Robson and Siegel and the quality of their writing has remained consistently high on the subsequent studio albums  “Max” (2005), “By Proxy” (2009) and “Swamp” (2014).

The fact that Partisans have only recorded five studio albums in their twenty three year existence  is no indication of creative idleness, indeed it’s just the reverse. The main reason that Partisans are comparatively sparsely documented on disc is that the individual members are perpetually busy with other projects.  Robson and Siegel both lead their own groups and are also in constant demand for sideman appearances. Calderazzo has worked on both of his colleagues’ solo projects and has also formed highly creative alliances with pianists Zoe Rahman and Jonathan Gee. Kelly’s activities away from Partisans have been less well documented but have included collaborations with Orquestra Mahatma, Billy Jenkins, Ashley Slater and Steve Arguelles, as well as leadership of his own groups.

Despite the lengthy hiatuses between recordings and tours Partisans have retained a strong group identity, “we’re like a band of brothers” opines Calderazzo, and the fact that they frequently spend time apart working on other projects ensures that when they do come together the music is fresh, tight and focussed. Even so they’re probably the jazz group that I’ve seen live on the most number of occasions, going right back to the late 1990s, and every time they’ve delivered with their blend of energy, inventiveness, tightness and precision.  Blending the sophistication of jazz with the power of rock Partisans shows are exciting affairs and their collaboration with American guitarist Wayne Krantz at the 2003 Cheltenham Jazz Festival remains a personal highlight.

Given their reputation as a consistently exciting live experience it’s perhaps a little surprising that a Partisans show hasn’t been documented on disc before now. It’s something that the co-leaders have been considering for a number of years as Robson explains;
“We’ve played many memorable gigs over the years and wanted to capture that energy, in the great tradition of the live jazz recording”.

Named after one of the tracks on the seminal “Sourpuss” album “Nit De Nit” was documented at the group’s spiritual home, The Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, London on the nights of 25th and 26th September 2018. The recording is dedicated to the memory of David Mossman, the founder of the Club, who had sadly passed away earlier in that year. “The band got its break at the old Vortex in Stoke Newington, which in the mid 1990s was like our local club” explains Siegel.

“Nit De Nit” features a mix of old favourites from various stages of the band’s career alongside a clutch of new compositions from both Robson and Siegel. Although the group’s material is thoughtfully written and frequently complex there is also a strong emphasis on collective improvisation as Robson explains;
“There’s something particular about the way this band gets its material together. We need to play live to get a glimpse of how it’s going to be. Our writing simply sets in motion, with nothing set in stone because everyone brings so much personality to it”.

The album commences with the opening salvo of Charlie Parker’s “Klact-oveeseds tene” combined with Siegel’s “Max”, the same combination that also introduces the “Max” album. Timed at just fourteen seconds the Parker piece is essentially a quote or extract that sets the tone for the bebop inspired Siegel composition that follows. Named after the great drummer Max Roach, who famously worked with Parker, Siegel’s tune is packed with agile, nimble twists and turns, bringing a rock power and urgency to the boppish complexities of the writing. The composer starts out on soprano before switching to solo powerfully and fluently on tenor. Calderazzo slams out powerful, complex, Roach inspired rhythms as Robson cranks up his guitar to solo feverishly, his sound owing as much to Jimi Hendrix as to Jim Hall. There’s also something of a feature for the ebullient and flamboyant Calderazzo, so often the visual focus of Partisans’ live performances.

Next up is a new Robson composition “That’s Not His Bag”, the title inspired by the kind of airport chaos that is the bane of travelling musicians. Robson is currently based in the US and there’s a sophisticated urban feel about this piece that has evoked comparisons with the sound of Steely Dan. Nevertheless it’s instantly recognisable as a Partisans tune and remains accessible despite its melodic and rhythmic complexities. Robson on guitar and Siegel on tenor dovetail brilliantly as Calderazzo and Kelly negotiate the rhythmic challenges with ease. The rhythm team have the ability to make to not only make the complex and sophisticated look ridiculously easy but also to make it seem natural, accessible and above all exciting, something they’ve done throughout the band’s career with their ‘turn on a dime’ skill and precision.

Calderazzo’s drums introduce the title track which incorporates further bop inspired complexities, allying them with a lithe guitar solo from composer Robson and a more loosely structured outing from Siegel on subtly probing tenor. Calderazzo and Kelly provide a busy and largely energetic rhythmic undertow as the co-leaders move up and down the gears.

Long before the death of David Bowie and his increasing fashionability among jazz performers Siegel was experimenting the Starman’s work. Dating all the way back to 2005 the “Max” album featured a haunting, slowed down arrangement of the minor Bowie hit “John, I’m Only Dancing”.
In the light of still fairly recent events Partisans’ version of the tune has been revived and given a bluesy twist. The Vortex performance is introduced by Kelly on electric bass and he plays a prominent role throughout an arrangement that incorporates a number of mood and tempo changes.
Along the way there’s a gutsy blues/rock guitar solo from Robson that draws a spontaneous round of applause from the Vortex audience.

Another new Robson tune, “3.15 (On The Dot)”, takes its title from the regular daily appearance of Barry the Groundhog in the composer’s New Jersey garden. The piece opens with an intriguing duet between Robson’s lush guitar chording and Siegel’s woody bass clarinet. Subsequently Calderazzo displays an admirable subtlety at the kit as the piece unfolds gradually and atmospherically, with ample scope left in the arrangement for improvisation. It’s the quietest moment of the set, but contrast is everything, and the performance is rewarded with a vociferous reception from a rapt Vortex crowd.

The intro to Siegel’s “The Overthink” features some heavy, high octane riffing, something that continues to re-surface throughout the piece. These hard rocking episodes are punctuated by quieter, more obviously jazz inspired passages distinguished by the more lyrical sound of the composer’s tenor.  Robson shifts between a turbo-driven rock heaviness on his solos and a jazzy sophistication elsewhere. Siegel adds some punchy soloing of his own and Calderazzo and Kelly combine to powerhouse effect on the tune’s heavier sections.

Robson’s “EG” is named for the celebrated Brazilian guitarist, pianist and composer Egberto Gismonti. Although it promises to be a new tune it’s actually a re-working of his “Trap Lines” from the “Sourpuss” album. Commencing with an extended passage of unaccompanied guitar it eventually morphs into the familiar “Trap Lines” theme with Siegel taking the first solo on sinuous soprano sax. Robson follows with an agile solo as Calderazzo drums up a storm behind him. Whatever its composer chooses to call it, it’s good to hear it again.

Calderazzo introduces the new Siegel composition “Pork Scratching”, laying the foundations for a surprisingly funky groove. Kelly features with some ear catching bass pedal electronics alongside lashings of muscular guitar and tenor sax.

The album concludes with the perennial live favourite “Last Chance”, a Robson composition that originally appeared on the “Max” album. A quietly introspective introduction featuring delicate, spidery guitar and gently reflective bass clarinet suddenly explodes into life in a dynamic passage featuring some of the band’s most ferocious riffing and an incendiary, cranked up guitar solo from Robson. Having reached a peak in terms of energy the piece subsequently comes full circle, ending in the quiet manner that it began with a gradual diminuendo concluding with the almost subliminal sound of Siegel’s unaccompanied bass clarinet. Taken as a whole the performance is a master-class in the art of dynamics and the building and release of tension.

“Nit De Nit” reveals Partisans to still be one of the UK’s most exciting live bands, their music a fascinating and immensely enjoyable amalgam of power and intelligence. Co-leaders Robson and Siegel are consistently interesting writers and highly skilful instrumental soloists. In Kelly and Calderazzo they have a rhythm section with the abilities to respond to the complexities of their writing while bringing plenty of ideas of their own to the music.  The dynamic Calderazzo is a particularly charismatic performer who is much loved by audiences wherever the band plays.

After twenty three years Partisans still consider themselves to be a “band of brothers” and their still obvious joy in their music making communicates itself readily to audiences. “Nit De Nit” offers an excellent example of their live chemistry and delivers enough previously unrecorded material to attract die hard fans, while also serving as a perfect introduction for the uninitiated.

Partisans will be touring in the UK again during September 2019 with dates as follows;


20/09/19 London, London Vortex Jazz Club
Time: 8:30pm. Address: 11 Gillet Square. Venue phone: 020 7254 4097.


21/09/19 Birmingham 1000 Trades
Time: 7:45pm. Address: 16 Frederick Street. Venue phone: 0121 233 2693. This is a Birmingham Jazz gig.


22/09/19 Scarborough The Spa
Time: 7:00pm. Address: South Bay. Venue phone: 01723 821888. This gig is part of Scarborough Jazz Festival 2019


23/09/19 Manchester Whiskey Jar
Time: 8:00pm. Address: 14 Tarriff Street. Venue phone: 0161 237 5686. This is a NQ Jazz gig.


26/09/19 Nottingham Bonington Theatre
Time: 8:00pm. Address: 161 Front Street, Arnold. Venue phone: 0115 956 0733. This is a Jazz Steps Nottingham gig.


27/09/19 Poole, Dorset Lighthouse Studio Jazz (The Sherling Studio)
Time: 8:00pm. Address: Lighthouse, Poole’s Centre for The Arts, 21 Kingland Road. Venue phone: 01202 280000. Doors open at 7.45 pm


More information at http://www.partisans.org.uk

 

Nit De Nit

Partisans

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Nit De Nit

“Nit De Nit” reveals Partisans to still be one of the UK’s most exciting live bands, their music a fascinating and immensely enjoyable amalgam of power and intelligence.

Partisans

“Nit De Nit”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4738)

Phil Robson – guitar, Julian Siegel – tenor & soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, Thaddeus Kelly – electric bass, Gene Calderazzo – drums


Co-led by guitarist Phil Robson and reeds player Julian Siegel Partisans have featured many times on the Jazzmann web pages and remain one of my favourite working bands.

Founded in 1996 as the Julian Siegel/ Phil Robson Quartet the title of their début album, “Partisans”, subsequently became the name of the group.

I’ve always felt that Partisans’ turn of the century album “Sourpuss” was the record that helped to kick start the British ‘punk jazz’ movement of the noughties - Polar Bear, Acoustic Ladyland, Led Bib etc. Even now bands such as GoGo Penguin are still reaping the benefits of the fire ignited by Partisans all those years ago.

With the exception of the occasional inspired cover the compositional credits in Partisans are divided pretty much equally between Robson and Siegel and the quality of their writing has remained consistently high on the subsequent studio albums  “Max” (2005), “By Proxy” (2009) and “Swamp” (2014).

The fact that Partisans have only recorded five studio albums in their twenty three year existence  is no indication of creative idleness, indeed it’s just the reverse. The main reason that Partisans are comparatively sparsely documented on disc is that the individual members are perpetually busy with other projects.  Robson and Siegel both lead their own groups and are also in constant demand for sideman appearances. Calderazzo has worked on both of his colleagues’ solo projects and has also formed highly creative alliances with pianists Zoe Rahman and Jonathan Gee. Kelly’s activities away from Partisans have been less well documented but have included collaborations with Orquestra Mahatma, Billy Jenkins, Ashley Slater and Steve Arguelles, as well as leadership of his own groups.

Despite the lengthy hiatuses between recordings and tours Partisans have retained a strong group identity, “we’re like a band of brothers” opines Calderazzo, and the fact that they frequently spend time apart working on other projects ensures that when they do come together the music is fresh, tight and focussed. Even so they’re probably the jazz group that I’ve seen live on the most number of occasions, going right back to the late 1990s, and every time they’ve delivered with their blend of energy, inventiveness, tightness and precision.  Blending the sophistication of jazz with the power of rock Partisans shows are exciting affairs and their collaboration with American guitarist Wayne Krantz at the 2003 Cheltenham Jazz Festival remains a personal highlight.

Given their reputation as a consistently exciting live experience it’s perhaps a little surprising that a Partisans show hasn’t been documented on disc before now. It’s something that the co-leaders have been considering for a number of years as Robson explains;
“We’ve played many memorable gigs over the years and wanted to capture that energy, in the great tradition of the live jazz recording”.

Named after one of the tracks on the seminal “Sourpuss” album “Nit De Nit” was documented at the group’s spiritual home, The Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, London on the nights of 25th and 26th September 2018. The recording is dedicated to the memory of David Mossman, the founder of the Club, who had sadly passed away earlier in that year. “The band got its break at the old Vortex in Stoke Newington, which in the mid 1990s was like our local club” explains Siegel.

“Nit De Nit” features a mix of old favourites from various stages of the band’s career alongside a clutch of new compositions from both Robson and Siegel. Although the group’s material is thoughtfully written and frequently complex there is also a strong emphasis on collective improvisation as Robson explains;
“There’s something particular about the way this band gets its material together. We need to play live to get a glimpse of how it’s going to be. Our writing simply sets in motion, with nothing set in stone because everyone brings so much personality to it”.

The album commences with the opening salvo of Charlie Parker’s “Klact-oveeseds tene” combined with Siegel’s “Max”, the same combination that also introduces the “Max” album. Timed at just fourteen seconds the Parker piece is essentially a quote or extract that sets the tone for the bebop inspired Siegel composition that follows. Named after the great drummer Max Roach, who famously worked with Parker, Siegel’s tune is packed with agile, nimble twists and turns, bringing a rock power and urgency to the boppish complexities of the writing. The composer starts out on soprano before switching to solo powerfully and fluently on tenor. Calderazzo slams out powerful, complex, Roach inspired rhythms as Robson cranks up his guitar to solo feverishly, his sound owing as much to Jimi Hendrix as to Jim Hall. There’s also something of a feature for the ebullient and flamboyant Calderazzo, so often the visual focus of Partisans’ live performances.

Next up is a new Robson composition “That’s Not His Bag”, the title inspired by the kind of airport chaos that is the bane of travelling musicians. Robson is currently based in the US and there’s a sophisticated urban feel about this piece that has evoked comparisons with the sound of Steely Dan. Nevertheless it’s instantly recognisable as a Partisans tune and remains accessible despite its melodic and rhythmic complexities. Robson on guitar and Siegel on tenor dovetail brilliantly as Calderazzo and Kelly negotiate the rhythmic challenges with ease. The rhythm team have the ability to make to not only make the complex and sophisticated look ridiculously easy but also to make it seem natural, accessible and above all exciting, something they’ve done throughout the band’s career with their ‘turn on a dime’ skill and precision.

Calderazzo’s drums introduce the title track which incorporates further bop inspired complexities, allying them with a lithe guitar solo from composer Robson and a more loosely structured outing from Siegel on subtly probing tenor. Calderazzo and Kelly provide a busy and largely energetic rhythmic undertow as the co-leaders move up and down the gears.

Long before the death of David Bowie and his increasing fashionability among jazz performers Siegel was experimenting the Starman’s work. Dating all the way back to 2005 the “Max” album featured a haunting, slowed down arrangement of the minor Bowie hit “John, I’m Only Dancing”.
In the light of still fairly recent events Partisans’ version of the tune has been revived and given a bluesy twist. The Vortex performance is introduced by Kelly on electric bass and he plays a prominent role throughout an arrangement that incorporates a number of mood and tempo changes.
Along the way there’s a gutsy blues/rock guitar solo from Robson that draws a spontaneous round of applause from the Vortex audience.

Another new Robson tune, “3.15 (On The Dot)”, takes its title from the regular daily appearance of Barry the Groundhog in the composer’s New Jersey garden. The piece opens with an intriguing duet between Robson’s lush guitar chording and Siegel’s woody bass clarinet. Subsequently Calderazzo displays an admirable subtlety at the kit as the piece unfolds gradually and atmospherically, with ample scope left in the arrangement for improvisation. It’s the quietest moment of the set, but contrast is everything, and the performance is rewarded with a vociferous reception from a rapt Vortex crowd.

The intro to Siegel’s “The Overthink” features some heavy, high octane riffing, something that continues to re-surface throughout the piece. These hard rocking episodes are punctuated by quieter, more obviously jazz inspired passages distinguished by the more lyrical sound of the composer’s tenor.  Robson shifts between a turbo-driven rock heaviness on his solos and a jazzy sophistication elsewhere. Siegel adds some punchy soloing of his own and Calderazzo and Kelly combine to powerhouse effect on the tune’s heavier sections.

Robson’s “EG” is named for the celebrated Brazilian guitarist, pianist and composer Egberto Gismonti. Although it promises to be a new tune it’s actually a re-working of his “Trap Lines” from the “Sourpuss” album. Commencing with an extended passage of unaccompanied guitar it eventually morphs into the familiar “Trap Lines” theme with Siegel taking the first solo on sinuous soprano sax. Robson follows with an agile solo as Calderazzo drums up a storm behind him. Whatever its composer chooses to call it, it’s good to hear it again.

Calderazzo introduces the new Siegel composition “Pork Scratching”, laying the foundations for a surprisingly funky groove. Kelly features with some ear catching bass pedal electronics alongside lashings of muscular guitar and tenor sax.

The album concludes with the perennial live favourite “Last Chance”, a Robson composition that originally appeared on the “Max” album. A quietly introspective introduction featuring delicate, spidery guitar and gently reflective bass clarinet suddenly explodes into life in a dynamic passage featuring some of the band’s most ferocious riffing and an incendiary, cranked up guitar solo from Robson. Having reached a peak in terms of energy the piece subsequently comes full circle, ending in the quiet manner that it began with a gradual diminuendo concluding with the almost subliminal sound of Siegel’s unaccompanied bass clarinet. Taken as a whole the performance is a master-class in the art of dynamics and the building and release of tension.

“Nit De Nit” reveals Partisans to still be one of the UK’s most exciting live bands, their music a fascinating and immensely enjoyable amalgam of power and intelligence. Co-leaders Robson and Siegel are consistently interesting writers and highly skilful instrumental soloists. In Kelly and Calderazzo they have a rhythm section with the abilities to respond to the complexities of their writing while bringing plenty of ideas of their own to the music.  The dynamic Calderazzo is a particularly charismatic performer who is much loved by audiences wherever the band plays.

After twenty three years Partisans still consider themselves to be a “band of brothers” and their still obvious joy in their music making communicates itself readily to audiences. “Nit De Nit” offers an excellent example of their live chemistry and delivers enough previously unrecorded material to attract die hard fans, while also serving as a perfect introduction for the uninitiated.

Partisans will be touring in the UK again during September 2019 with dates as follows;


20/09/19 London, London Vortex Jazz Club
Time: 8:30pm. Address: 11 Gillet Square. Venue phone: 020 7254 4097.


21/09/19 Birmingham 1000 Trades
Time: 7:45pm. Address: 16 Frederick Street. Venue phone: 0121 233 2693. This is a Birmingham Jazz gig.


22/09/19 Scarborough The Spa
Time: 7:00pm. Address: South Bay. Venue phone: 01723 821888. This gig is part of Scarborough Jazz Festival 2019


23/09/19 Manchester Whiskey Jar
Time: 8:00pm. Address: 14 Tarriff Street. Venue phone: 0161 237 5686. This is a NQ Jazz gig.


26/09/19 Nottingham Bonington Theatre
Time: 8:00pm. Address: 161 Front Street, Arnold. Venue phone: 0115 956 0733. This is a Jazz Steps Nottingham gig.


27/09/19 Poole, Dorset Lighthouse Studio Jazz (The Sherling Studio)
Time: 8:00pm. Address: Lighthouse, Poole’s Centre for The Arts, 21 Kingland Road. Venue phone: 01202 280000. Doors open at 7.45 pm


More information at http://www.partisans.org.uk

 

Andrew McCormack - Graviton; The Calling Rating: 3-5 out of 5 McCormack again blends his numerous sources together skilfully to create a sound that is wide ranging and inclusive, yet simultaneously intensely personal.

Andrew McCormack

“Graviton; The Calling”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0025)

Andrew McCormack – piano, Noemi Nuti – vocals, Josh Arcoleo – tenor sax, Joshua Blackmore- drums, Tom Herbert / Robin Mullarkey – electric bass

Andrew McCormack (born 1978) is a British pianist and composer who began his jazz career as a member of Tomorrow’s Warriors. In 2005 his recording début as a leader, “Telescope”, released on the Dune record label, attracted considerable critical acclaim and McCormack subsequently became the winner of the “Rising Star” category at the 2006 BBC Jazz Awards.

“Telescope” was a trio album made with bassist Tom Herbert (of Polar Bear fame) and drummer Tom Skinner. However it was to be another eight years before McCormack released another recording in this format, 2013’s “Live In London” (Edition Records) featuring a new British trio with Chris Hill on bass and Troy Miller at the drums. 

Part of the reason for the lengthy hiatus was McCormack’s work as an in demand sideman which included a lengthy stint with saxophonist Jean Toussaint’s quartet. McCormack has also worked with saxophonists Denys Baptiste and Julian Siegel, violinist Christian Garrick, vocalist Clare Foster and the late trumpeter Abram Wilson.

However McCormack’s most high profile engagement is his long running, and still ongoing, tenure as a member of American bassist and composer Kyle Eastwood’s band. It’s a gig that has earned him an international reputation and he has composed and orchestrated film scores for Kyle’s famous father Clint Eastwood. McCormack’s movie credits include Clint’s “Flags Of Our Fathers”. “Letters From Iwo Jima” and “Changeling” plus the John Cusack film “Grace Is Gone”.

Away from the Eastwood band McCormack has pursued a creative partnership with the multi-reeds player Jason Yarde under the name MY Duo, which has resulted in the albums “Places And Other Spaces” (Edition, 2011) and “Juntos” (Joy And Ears, 2014), the latter also featuring members of the Elysian String Quartet.
McCormack’s classical leanings have also found expression in the 2009 composition “Incentive”, a commission from the London Symphony Orchestra that was premièred at London’s Barbican Centre as part of the LSO’s Panufnik Young Composers Scheme.

In 2013 McCormack took the decision to move to Brooklyn where he spent a year immersing himself in the New York jazz scene. His excellent 2014 album “First Light” (Edition Records), was made with his ‘American Trio’ of Zack Lober (bass) and Colin Stranahan (drums) was a reflection of his New York experiences.

Following his return to the US McCormack assembled a new group that became known as Graviton, after the title of its 2017 début on the Jazz Village label. This represented McCormack’s most ambitious recording to date and featured the voice and lyrics of Eska Mtungwazi, professionally known as ESKA. The first Graviton album also featured the talents of multi-reed player Shabaka Hutchings, Phronesis drummer Anton Eger plus Mullarkey on electric bass. There were also contributions from Nuti, here playing harp, and vibraphonist Ralph Wyld.

“Graviton” drew on many influences ranging through jazz. soul, hip hop and prog rock plus the contemporary classical stylings of composer Mark-Anthony Turnage. Successfully drawing together a diverse range of interests the album was generally well received and McCormack set about assembling a touring band to take the music out on the road.

This second Graviton album is centred around McCormack’s regular working band with his life partner, Noemi Nuti, taking over the role of vocalist and lyricist. Josh Arcoleo takes over on saxophone and Joshua Blackmore at the drums. The majority of the bass parts are handled by Tom Herbert while Mullarkey, who engineered the first Graviton album, takes a step back to concentrate on mixing duties, playing bass on only three of the album’s ten tracks.

On the release of the first Graviton album McCormack was at pains to emphasise the story telling quality of the music. With “The Calling” he takes this aspect a stage further. This second album is a conceptual affair that details what McCormack’s liner notes describe as “the classic hero’s journey”. In this aspect it is similar to bassist Shez Raja’s recent “Journey to Shambhala” album, but whereas Raja’s story was self written McCormack’s is based on the writings of the psychologist/philosophers Erich Neuman and Jordan B Peterson.

Loosely based on the creation myth the album is “a story of the known world, The Walled Garden, and the unknown forces outside that threaten its very existence, The Dragon. The hero voluntarily goes out to face the danger head on”.

The album commences with the brief “Uroboros”, the very first stage of the creation myth, often represented in mythology as a serpent biting its own tail, an image that informs the album cover. Suitably cosmic sounding noises are combined with McCormack’s glacial acoustic piano to evoke images of a world emerging out of the void.
“I’ve presented Uroboros as a musical circle of fifths, spelling out a chord of all twelve tones of the chromatic scale” explains McCormack. “Out of this static sound of pan-possibility the individual is first formed and must differentiate itself. This is what will become our hero and the music intervallic motif of the fifth becomes a characteristic throughout the whole album. This serves as a prologue to the following adventure”.

“Walled Garden” is more conventional with Blackmore establishing a hip hop style groove which underpins McCormack’s gently rippling piano arpeggios and Nuti’s soaring wordless vocals. Herbert’s electric bass hints at the danger coming to the gates and the following track, “The Calling”, finds the hero responding to the threat and embarking on his quest. Nuti’s lyrics sketch the scene as the music becomes busy and fractious, paced by Blackmore’s bustling drum grooves and with Arcoleo’s hard edged tenor sax playing a greater role in the proceedings.

Although Graviton is primarily an acoustic band Mullarkey’s judicious use of electronic effects also plays its part in the music, the multi-tracked vocals at the start of “Magic Mentor” being a case in point. This is a more reflective affair with McCormack’s lyrical piano augmented by Nuti’s gently soaring wordless vocals and Blackmore’s subtle but colourfully inventive drumming.

“Crossing The Threshold” commences with shimmering piano arpeggios that recall the minimalism of Steve Reich, the music building in steadily accreting layers with the addition of saxophone and wordless vocals. Blackmore then lays down an insistent drum groove above which Nuti’s voice floats in ethereal fashion, seemingly oblivious to the ongoing rhythmic ferment bubbling beneath.

“The King Is Blind” features strident rock rhythms as Nuti delivers a declamatory reading of her own lyrics. Arcoleo cuts loose with some raunchy tenor sax on a powerful and dynamic group performance that features some incendiary drumming from Blackmore and a final barnstorming piano solo from the leader.

Nuti’s lyrics also feature on the more lugubrious “Fork In The Road”, her sultry vocal seeming to allude to the Adam and Eve myth, among other things. Blackmore lays down further contemporary style grooves as McCormack and Arcoleo lend a contrasting sweetness to the arrangement.

“Belly Of The Whale” incorporates some suitably doomy sounding deep sea soundscapes, these suggesting the further influence of Mullarkey, who also plays electric bass on this piece. Although McCormack is credited solely with ‘piano’ there are several moments throughout the album when it sounds as if he’s playing electric keyboards. This track is a case in point, but it also contains some fluent acoustic piano soloing amongst the dark hued textures.

At a little under nine minutes in duration “Dragon” is the lengthiest track on the album, and arguably its centre piece. Rhythmically complex and consistently unfolding it incorporates a powerfully probing tenor solo from Arcoleo, wordless vocal gymnastics from Nuti and a feverish acoustic piano solo from McCormack. There’s also something of a feature for the consistently inventive Blackmore.

The album concludes with “Returning”, an elegiac valedictory featuring Nuti’s celebratory delivery of her own lyrics, the music ultimately fading into the distance with a closing passage of unaccompanied piano. It’s a suitably filmic ending to an album that is almost cinematic in its scope and ambition.

“The Calling” isn’t a jazz album in the conventional sense, although jazz is very much at the heart of these performances, together with many other musical elements. It won’t appeal to all listeners and the overall concept is a little overbearing, but nevertheless there is plenty of fine music to enjoy here. McCormack again blends his numerous sources together skilfully to create a sound that is wide ranging and inclusive yet simultaneously intensely personal. The singing and playing is excellent throughout, but ultimately less distinctive than on the first Graviton album. Comparisons have been made with the first version of Chick Corea’s group Return Forever, the line up that included vocalist Flora Purim and saxophonist/flautist Joe Farrell. Nuti’s wordless singing is often reminiscent of that of Purim. Closer to home I’m reminded of the 60s and 70s ensembles of Michael Garrick, Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor, all of which featured the stunning vocalising of Norma Winstone.

Despite some minor reservations one suspects that Graviton should prove to be a highly exciting prospect in the live environment and audiences will get the chance to check them out at the following dates;

01/07/2019 -  NQ Jazz Manchester

02/072019 – The Flute and Tankard, Cardiff

01/08/2019 – 606 Jazz Club, Chelsea, London

More details at
http://www.mccormackmusic.com/

 

 

Graviton; The Calling

Andrew McCormack

Friday, June 21, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Graviton; The Calling

McCormack again blends his numerous sources together skilfully to create a sound that is wide ranging and inclusive, yet simultaneously intensely personal.

Andrew McCormack

“Graviton; The Calling”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0025)

Andrew McCormack – piano, Noemi Nuti – vocals, Josh Arcoleo – tenor sax, Joshua Blackmore- drums, Tom Herbert / Robin Mullarkey – electric bass

Andrew McCormack (born 1978) is a British pianist and composer who began his jazz career as a member of Tomorrow’s Warriors. In 2005 his recording début as a leader, “Telescope”, released on the Dune record label, attracted considerable critical acclaim and McCormack subsequently became the winner of the “Rising Star” category at the 2006 BBC Jazz Awards.

“Telescope” was a trio album made with bassist Tom Herbert (of Polar Bear fame) and drummer Tom Skinner. However it was to be another eight years before McCormack released another recording in this format, 2013’s “Live In London” (Edition Records) featuring a new British trio with Chris Hill on bass and Troy Miller at the drums. 

Part of the reason for the lengthy hiatus was McCormack’s work as an in demand sideman which included a lengthy stint with saxophonist Jean Toussaint’s quartet. McCormack has also worked with saxophonists Denys Baptiste and Julian Siegel, violinist Christian Garrick, vocalist Clare Foster and the late trumpeter Abram Wilson.

However McCormack’s most high profile engagement is his long running, and still ongoing, tenure as a member of American bassist and composer Kyle Eastwood’s band. It’s a gig that has earned him an international reputation and he has composed and orchestrated film scores for Kyle’s famous father Clint Eastwood. McCormack’s movie credits include Clint’s “Flags Of Our Fathers”. “Letters From Iwo Jima” and “Changeling” plus the John Cusack film “Grace Is Gone”.

Away from the Eastwood band McCormack has pursued a creative partnership with the multi-reeds player Jason Yarde under the name MY Duo, which has resulted in the albums “Places And Other Spaces” (Edition, 2011) and “Juntos” (Joy And Ears, 2014), the latter also featuring members of the Elysian String Quartet.
McCormack’s classical leanings have also found expression in the 2009 composition “Incentive”, a commission from the London Symphony Orchestra that was premièred at London’s Barbican Centre as part of the LSO’s Panufnik Young Composers Scheme.

In 2013 McCormack took the decision to move to Brooklyn where he spent a year immersing himself in the New York jazz scene. His excellent 2014 album “First Light” (Edition Records), was made with his ‘American Trio’ of Zack Lober (bass) and Colin Stranahan (drums) was a reflection of his New York experiences.

Following his return to the US McCormack assembled a new group that became known as Graviton, after the title of its 2017 début on the Jazz Village label. This represented McCormack’s most ambitious recording to date and featured the voice and lyrics of Eska Mtungwazi, professionally known as ESKA. The first Graviton album also featured the talents of multi-reed player Shabaka Hutchings, Phronesis drummer Anton Eger plus Mullarkey on electric bass. There were also contributions from Nuti, here playing harp, and vibraphonist Ralph Wyld.

“Graviton” drew on many influences ranging through jazz. soul, hip hop and prog rock plus the contemporary classical stylings of composer Mark-Anthony Turnage. Successfully drawing together a diverse range of interests the album was generally well received and McCormack set about assembling a touring band to take the music out on the road.

This second Graviton album is centred around McCormack’s regular working band with his life partner, Noemi Nuti, taking over the role of vocalist and lyricist. Josh Arcoleo takes over on saxophone and Joshua Blackmore at the drums. The majority of the bass parts are handled by Tom Herbert while Mullarkey, who engineered the first Graviton album, takes a step back to concentrate on mixing duties, playing bass on only three of the album’s ten tracks.

On the release of the first Graviton album McCormack was at pains to emphasise the story telling quality of the music. With “The Calling” he takes this aspect a stage further. This second album is a conceptual affair that details what McCormack’s liner notes describe as “the classic hero’s journey”. In this aspect it is similar to bassist Shez Raja’s recent “Journey to Shambhala” album, but whereas Raja’s story was self written McCormack’s is based on the writings of the psychologist/philosophers Erich Neuman and Jordan B Peterson.

Loosely based on the creation myth the album is “a story of the known world, The Walled Garden, and the unknown forces outside that threaten its very existence, The Dragon. The hero voluntarily goes out to face the danger head on”.

The album commences with the brief “Uroboros”, the very first stage of the creation myth, often represented in mythology as a serpent biting its own tail, an image that informs the album cover. Suitably cosmic sounding noises are combined with McCormack’s glacial acoustic piano to evoke images of a world emerging out of the void.
“I’ve presented Uroboros as a musical circle of fifths, spelling out a chord of all twelve tones of the chromatic scale” explains McCormack. “Out of this static sound of pan-possibility the individual is first formed and must differentiate itself. This is what will become our hero and the music intervallic motif of the fifth becomes a characteristic throughout the whole album. This serves as a prologue to the following adventure”.

“Walled Garden” is more conventional with Blackmore establishing a hip hop style groove which underpins McCormack’s gently rippling piano arpeggios and Nuti’s soaring wordless vocals. Herbert’s electric bass hints at the danger coming to the gates and the following track, “The Calling”, finds the hero responding to the threat and embarking on his quest. Nuti’s lyrics sketch the scene as the music becomes busy and fractious, paced by Blackmore’s bustling drum grooves and with Arcoleo’s hard edged tenor sax playing a greater role in the proceedings.

Although Graviton is primarily an acoustic band Mullarkey’s judicious use of electronic effects also plays its part in the music, the multi-tracked vocals at the start of “Magic Mentor” being a case in point. This is a more reflective affair with McCormack’s lyrical piano augmented by Nuti’s gently soaring wordless vocals and Blackmore’s subtle but colourfully inventive drumming.

“Crossing The Threshold” commences with shimmering piano arpeggios that recall the minimalism of Steve Reich, the music building in steadily accreting layers with the addition of saxophone and wordless vocals. Blackmore then lays down an insistent drum groove above which Nuti’s voice floats in ethereal fashion, seemingly oblivious to the ongoing rhythmic ferment bubbling beneath.

“The King Is Blind” features strident rock rhythms as Nuti delivers a declamatory reading of her own lyrics. Arcoleo cuts loose with some raunchy tenor sax on a powerful and dynamic group performance that features some incendiary drumming from Blackmore and a final barnstorming piano solo from the leader.

Nuti’s lyrics also feature on the more lugubrious “Fork In The Road”, her sultry vocal seeming to allude to the Adam and Eve myth, among other things. Blackmore lays down further contemporary style grooves as McCormack and Arcoleo lend a contrasting sweetness to the arrangement.

“Belly Of The Whale” incorporates some suitably doomy sounding deep sea soundscapes, these suggesting the further influence of Mullarkey, who also plays electric bass on this piece. Although McCormack is credited solely with ‘piano’ there are several moments throughout the album when it sounds as if he’s playing electric keyboards. This track is a case in point, but it also contains some fluent acoustic piano soloing amongst the dark hued textures.

At a little under nine minutes in duration “Dragon” is the lengthiest track on the album, and arguably its centre piece. Rhythmically complex and consistently unfolding it incorporates a powerfully probing tenor solo from Arcoleo, wordless vocal gymnastics from Nuti and a feverish acoustic piano solo from McCormack. There’s also something of a feature for the consistently inventive Blackmore.

The album concludes with “Returning”, an elegiac valedictory featuring Nuti’s celebratory delivery of her own lyrics, the music ultimately fading into the distance with a closing passage of unaccompanied piano. It’s a suitably filmic ending to an album that is almost cinematic in its scope and ambition.

“The Calling” isn’t a jazz album in the conventional sense, although jazz is very much at the heart of these performances, together with many other musical elements. It won’t appeal to all listeners and the overall concept is a little overbearing, but nevertheless there is plenty of fine music to enjoy here. McCormack again blends his numerous sources together skilfully to create a sound that is wide ranging and inclusive yet simultaneously intensely personal. The singing and playing is excellent throughout, but ultimately less distinctive than on the first Graviton album. Comparisons have been made with the first version of Chick Corea’s group Return Forever, the line up that included vocalist Flora Purim and saxophonist/flautist Joe Farrell. Nuti’s wordless singing is often reminiscent of that of Purim. Closer to home I’m reminded of the 60s and 70s ensembles of Michael Garrick, Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor, all of which featured the stunning vocalising of Norma Winstone.

Despite some minor reservations one suspects that Graviton should prove to be a highly exciting prospect in the live environment and audiences will get the chance to check them out at the following dates;

01/07/2019 -  NQ Jazz Manchester

02/072019 – The Flute and Tankard, Cardiff

01/08/2019 – 606 Jazz Club, Chelsea, London

More details at
http://www.mccormackmusic.com/

 

 

Alex Hitchcock Quintet - All Good Things Rating: 4 out of 5 “All Good Things” demonstrates the increasing maturity of the quintet as performers and Hitchcock as a writer. He takes the virtues of the bebop and hard bop eras and gives them a contemporary twist.

Alex Hitchcock Quintet

“All Good Things”

(Fresh Sound New Talent FSNT 572)

Alex Hitchcock (tenor saxophone), James Copus (trumpet & flugel horn), Will Barry (piano & Fender Rhodes),
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, bassists Laurence Cottle, Misha Mullov-Abbado and Liran Donin, trombonist Dennis Rollins and fellow saxophonists Soweto Kinch, Stan Sulzmann ,Art Themen and Tom Smith.  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. Hitchcock appears on the PJO’s excellent début album “The Adventures of Mr Pottercakes”, released earlier in 2019. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/patchwork-jazz-orchestra-the-adventures-of-mr-pottercakes/

Hitchcock has recently joined forces with fellow tenor saxophonist Tom Barford to form the group AuB (pronounced Orb), a chordless quartet that also features bassist Ferg Ireland and drummer James Maddren.  AuB is due to release its debut on the Edition record label in early 2020.

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 work of fellow musicians.

Despite all his other musical activities Hitchcock’s main creative focus is his own quintet, a band that has developed an impressive reputation for the quality of its live performances. Shows at Reading and Shrewsbury have been reviewed elsewhere on this site and in 2018 the quintet made its recorded début on a live EP documenting performances at the London and Cambridge Jazz Festivals.

“All Good Things” represents the quintet’s first studio album and features Hitchcock on tenor alongside his regular working group of James Copus (trumpet & flugel horn), Will Barry (piano & Fender Rhodes),
Joe Downard (bass) and Jay Davis (drums).

The album appears on the Spanish label Fresh Sound New Talent and the packaging includes liner notes written by the highly respected jazz author and broadcaster Helen Mayhew – plus a quote from yours truly! It is produced by fellow saxophonist Alex Garnett.

The recording features seven original compositions by Hitchcock that have, in Mayhew’s words, been “thoroughly road tested” at British club gigs and at UK and European festivals, among them London, Cambridge,  Love Supreme and Umbria Jazz. Indeed some of the pieces that appear on this recording were featured at the Reading and Shrewsbury shows alluded to earlier. That said there’s little overlap with the previous live recording with “Context” the only tune to appear on both releases. Hitchcock acknowledges the influence of trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire,  bassist Jasper Hoiby and the band Kneebody on his writing, but ultimately his quintet ends up sounding very different to any of these.

The new album commences with “Hamburg 2010”, an intriguing composition that leads Mayhew to compare Hitchcock’s writing with that of Wayne Shorter. A twisting theme swims in and out of focus, punctuated by passages of brushed drums and double bass, before the piece gradually begins to take shape with the blending of tenor and trumpet particularly effective. The piece develops slowly and organically with the leader taking the first full length solo on tenor, patiently honing his ideas as his playing begins to increase in intensity. Hitchcock then hands over to Will Barry for an expansive acoustic piano solo that also moves up through the gears, from a flowing lyricism to a perky percussiveness. A punchy and powerful ensemble section follows before the mood changes and the piece concludes with a gently ruminative flugel solo from Copus. This is a piece that ebbs and flows and demonstrates plenty of variety and contrast during its eight minute duration. An impressive start.

“Mobius” is more forceful from the off, with Downard’s powerfully plucked bass setting the tone for the piece. However there’s still plenty of subtlety about the music, particularly in the exchanges between Hitchcock and Copus as they share and trade ideas in thrilling fashion. Hitchcock says of the piece;
“James is a really inspiring musician to play with, one of his explosive solos can lift an entire gig to another level. I wanted to write a cyclical form that we could trade on and overlap seamlessly while playing on alternate sections. The title comes from a Mobius strip, which you can follow all the way round both sides and end up in the same place”.
Mission accomplished then, but the piece isn’t just about the two horns, there’s another fluent and inventive acoustic piano solo from the excellent Barry, plus something of a feature for the similarly impressive Davis at the drums.

“Mint” features the sound of electric keyboards for the first time as Barry supplies minimalist style backing to the long note melody lines sketched by Hitchcock and Copus on the opening theme. Davis adds a contemporary, broken beat style drum groove and features strongly throughout. The mood of this performance is initially thoughtful and ruminative with the composer delivering a lengthy, slow burning solo on tenor that is rich and inventive and totally captures the listener’s attention. This is followed by an injection of pace as Davis switches to a more conventional jazz groove to fuel a rousing closing ensemble section.

“Adjective Animal” also begins in contemplative fashion with a moody theme led by piano, bass and brushed drums, these joined by a woozy blend of tenor and trumpet. Around two minutes in the mood changes abruptly with the introduction of electric keyboards and another contemporary style drum groove. Davis again features strongly throughout with Hitchcock commenting; - “Jay always finds new ways to approach the same material over the course of a run of performances, making sure that the texture and feel of the music is always fresh and original”. Meanwhile the leader himself digs in with a powerful tenor solo with Barry following on trilling Fender Rhodes. This is a typically multi-faceted Hitchcock composition, embracing several changes of mood, style and pace but doing so naturally and organically.

The title of “A38” was inspired not by the road (upon which this hard working quintet must at some time have travelled) but by a visit to Budapest and a river trip aboard Boat A38. An attractive and suitably buoyant theme features Hitchcock’s tenor and Barry’s piano and there’s also some excellent ensemble playing. Bassist Downard emerges as a featured soloist, singing along with his melodic inventions, and there’s also a fluent excursion from Copus.

“Sorry Not Sorry” was inspired by the Boots Riley film “Sorry To Bother You” and also features Downard in a prominent role as he and Davis introduce the piece, establishing a rhythmic framework around which Hitchcock and Copus sketch darting melodies. Barry features on Rhodes and shares the soloing duties with Copus on trumpet. There’s some characteristically accomplished ensemble playing too.

The album concludes with a studio version of “Context”, a composition that previously appeared on the quintet’s live EP. Barry introduces the piece on unaccompanied acoustic piano, later combining with the horns of Hitchcock and Copus in a highly sophisticated ‘chamber jazz’ trio passage. Barry then solos in more conventional fashion, accompanied by double bass and drums. Hitchcock and Copus subsequently return but this final item is very much Barry’s show and the classically trained pianist responds brilliantly.

Following the impressive and well received live EP this first ‘proper’ album by the Alex Hitchcock Quintet builds upon that success to deliver a genuinely major statement. Hitchcock takes the virtues of the bebop and hard bop eras and gives them a contemporary twist. His writing is colourful and varied, adding influences as diverse as classical music and hip hop to the classic jazz sound to create his own version of ‘post bop’.

His compositions are rich and multi-faceted, full of colour and texture and consistently unfolding and mutating. In this way his music consistently holds the listener’s attention while staying true to the conventional jazz virtues. There is some outstanding soloing here with all five musicians impressing individually.  Even more importantly this is a well balanced group with a wealth of gigging experience behind them who gel superbly on the ensemble passages. “All Good Things” demonstrates the increasing maturity of the quintet as performers and Hitchcock as a writer. Let us hope that it achieves the success that it deserves.

The Alex Hitchcock Quintet is currently on tour with the remaining dates scheduled as follows;

25th June Spotted Dog BIRMINGHAM
26th June Flute & Tankard CARDIFF
27th June Soundcellar POOLE

3rd July Pizza Express Jazz LONDON
11th July Modern Jazz Club CAMBRIDGE
19th July Arts Barge YORK
20th July Peggy’s Skylight NOTTINGHAM


COMMENTS:

From Alex Hitchcock via email;

I just wanted to say thanks very much for the review you wrote of my quintet’s album. Apart from really appreciating your kind words about the music and playing, I was really flattered and pleased that you chose to write about the music in such detail – it seems so rare to find that in a review at the moment! Hope to see you soon, and thanks so much again.
Best wishes,
Alex

All Good Things

Alex Hitchcock Quintet

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

All Good Things

“All Good Things” demonstrates the increasing maturity of the quintet as performers and Hitchcock as a writer. He takes the virtues of the bebop and hard bop eras and gives them a contemporary twist.

Alex Hitchcock Quintet

“All Good Things”

(Fresh Sound New Talent FSNT 572)

Alex Hitchcock (tenor saxophone), James Copus (trumpet & flugel horn), Will Barry (piano & Fender Rhodes),
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, bassists Laurence Cottle, Misha Mullov-Abbado and Liran Donin, trombonist Dennis Rollins and fellow saxophonists Soweto Kinch, Stan Sulzmann ,Art Themen and Tom Smith.  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. Hitchcock appears on the PJO’s excellent début album “The Adventures of Mr Pottercakes”, released earlier in 2019. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/patchwork-jazz-orchestra-the-adventures-of-mr-pottercakes/

Hitchcock has recently joined forces with fellow tenor saxophonist Tom Barford to form the group AuB (pronounced Orb), a chordless quartet that also features bassist Ferg Ireland and drummer James Maddren.  AuB is due to release its debut on the Edition record label in early 2020.

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 work of fellow musicians.

Despite all his other musical activities Hitchcock’s main creative focus is his own quintet, a band that has developed an impressive reputation for the quality of its live performances. Shows at Reading and Shrewsbury have been reviewed elsewhere on this site and in 2018 the quintet made its recorded début on a live EP documenting performances at the London and Cambridge Jazz Festivals.

“All Good Things” represents the quintet’s first studio album and features Hitchcock on tenor alongside his regular working group of James Copus (trumpet & flugel horn), Will Barry (piano & Fender Rhodes),
Joe Downard (bass) and Jay Davis (drums).

The album appears on the Spanish label Fresh Sound New Talent and the packaging includes liner notes written by the highly respected jazz author and broadcaster Helen Mayhew – plus a quote from yours truly! It is produced by fellow saxophonist Alex Garnett.

The recording features seven original compositions by Hitchcock that have, in Mayhew’s words, been “thoroughly road tested” at British club gigs and at UK and European festivals, among them London, Cambridge,  Love Supreme and Umbria Jazz. Indeed some of the pieces that appear on this recording were featured at the Reading and Shrewsbury shows alluded to earlier. That said there’s little overlap with the previous live recording with “Context” the only tune to appear on both releases. Hitchcock acknowledges the influence of trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire,  bassist Jasper Hoiby and the band Kneebody on his writing, but ultimately his quintet ends up sounding very different to any of these.

The new album commences with “Hamburg 2010”, an intriguing composition that leads Mayhew to compare Hitchcock’s writing with that of Wayne Shorter. A twisting theme swims in and out of focus, punctuated by passages of brushed drums and double bass, before the piece gradually begins to take shape with the blending of tenor and trumpet particularly effective. The piece develops slowly and organically with the leader taking the first full length solo on tenor, patiently honing his ideas as his playing begins to increase in intensity. Hitchcock then hands over to Will Barry for an expansive acoustic piano solo that also moves up through the gears, from a flowing lyricism to a perky percussiveness. A punchy and powerful ensemble section follows before the mood changes and the piece concludes with a gently ruminative flugel solo from Copus. This is a piece that ebbs and flows and demonstrates plenty of variety and contrast during its eight minute duration. An impressive start.

“Mobius” is more forceful from the off, with Downard’s powerfully plucked bass setting the tone for the piece. However there’s still plenty of subtlety about the music, particularly in the exchanges between Hitchcock and Copus as they share and trade ideas in thrilling fashion. Hitchcock says of the piece;
“James is a really inspiring musician to play with, one of his explosive solos can lift an entire gig to another level. I wanted to write a cyclical form that we could trade on and overlap seamlessly while playing on alternate sections. The title comes from a Mobius strip, which you can follow all the way round both sides and end up in the same place”.
Mission accomplished then, but the piece isn’t just about the two horns, there’s another fluent and inventive acoustic piano solo from the excellent Barry, plus something of a feature for the similarly impressive Davis at the drums.

“Mint” features the sound of electric keyboards for the first time as Barry supplies minimalist style backing to the long note melody lines sketched by Hitchcock and Copus on the opening theme. Davis adds a contemporary, broken beat style drum groove and features strongly throughout. The mood of this performance is initially thoughtful and ruminative with the composer delivering a lengthy, slow burning solo on tenor that is rich and inventive and totally captures the listener’s attention. This is followed by an injection of pace as Davis switches to a more conventional jazz groove to fuel a rousing closing ensemble section.

“Adjective Animal” also begins in contemplative fashion with a moody theme led by piano, bass and brushed drums, these joined by a woozy blend of tenor and trumpet. Around two minutes in the mood changes abruptly with the introduction of electric keyboards and another contemporary style drum groove. Davis again features strongly throughout with Hitchcock commenting; - “Jay always finds new ways to approach the same material over the course of a run of performances, making sure that the texture and feel of the music is always fresh and original”. Meanwhile the leader himself digs in with a powerful tenor solo with Barry following on trilling Fender Rhodes. This is a typically multi-faceted Hitchcock composition, embracing several changes of mood, style and pace but doing so naturally and organically.

The title of “A38” was inspired not by the road (upon which this hard working quintet must at some time have travelled) but by a visit to Budapest and a river trip aboard Boat A38. An attractive and suitably buoyant theme features Hitchcock’s tenor and Barry’s piano and there’s also some excellent ensemble playing. Bassist Downard emerges as a featured soloist, singing along with his melodic inventions, and there’s also a fluent excursion from Copus.

“Sorry Not Sorry” was inspired by the Boots Riley film “Sorry To Bother You” and also features Downard in a prominent role as he and Davis introduce the piece, establishing a rhythmic framework around which Hitchcock and Copus sketch darting melodies. Barry features on Rhodes and shares the soloing duties with Copus on trumpet. There’s some characteristically accomplished ensemble playing too.

The album concludes with a studio version of “Context”, a composition that previously appeared on the quintet’s live EP. Barry introduces the piece on unaccompanied acoustic piano, later combining with the horns of Hitchcock and Copus in a highly sophisticated ‘chamber jazz’ trio passage. Barry then solos in more conventional fashion, accompanied by double bass and drums. Hitchcock and Copus subsequently return but this final item is very much Barry’s show and the classically trained pianist responds brilliantly.

Following the impressive and well received live EP this first ‘proper’ album by the Alex Hitchcock Quintet builds upon that success to deliver a genuinely major statement. Hitchcock takes the virtues of the bebop and hard bop eras and gives them a contemporary twist. His writing is colourful and varied, adding influences as diverse as classical music and hip hop to the classic jazz sound to create his own version of ‘post bop’.

His compositions are rich and multi-faceted, full of colour and texture and consistently unfolding and mutating. In this way his music consistently holds the listener’s attention while staying true to the conventional jazz virtues. There is some outstanding soloing here with all five musicians impressing individually.  Even more importantly this is a well balanced group with a wealth of gigging experience behind them who gel superbly on the ensemble passages. “All Good Things” demonstrates the increasing maturity of the quintet as performers and Hitchcock as a writer. Let us hope that it achieves the success that it deserves.

The Alex Hitchcock Quintet is currently on tour with the remaining dates scheduled as follows;

25th June Spotted Dog BIRMINGHAM
26th June Flute & Tankard CARDIFF
27th June Soundcellar POOLE

3rd July Pizza Express Jazz LONDON
11th July Modern Jazz Club CAMBRIDGE
19th July Arts Barge YORK
20th July Peggy’s Skylight NOTTINGHAM


COMMENTS:

From Alex Hitchcock via email;

I just wanted to say thanks very much for the review you wrote of my quintet’s album. Apart from really appreciating your kind words about the music and playing, I was really flattered and pleased that you chose to write about the music in such detail – it seems so rare to find that in a review at the moment! Hope to see you soon, and thanks so much again.
Best wishes,
Alex

Tori Freestone Trio - El Mar de Nubes Rating: 4 out of 5 A particularly well balanced trio who have established an easy but robust rapport, highly interactive and willing to take musical risks. There’s a delicate, tensile strength about this music.

Tori Freestone Trio

“El Mar de Nubes”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4739)

Tori Freestone – tenor saxophone, violin, vocals
Dave Manington – double bass
Tim Giles - drums

On the evening of Saturday, June 15th 2019 I had hoped to see saxophonist Tori Freestone and her trio perform at a Clun Valley Jazz event at the Town Hall in the Shropshire town of Bishop’s Castle. However an unexpected family crisis, of which I’ll spare you the details, entailed that I was more urgently needed elsewhere.

All is now well, but nevertheless I was still disappointed to miss out on seeing Freestone leading her own trio, having previously witnessed her playing as a sidewoman with others. I had planned to combine a review of the gig with a look at Freestone’s new album “El Mar de Nubes”, her third with her long standing trio featuring bassist Dave Manington and drummer Tim Giles.

Although I can no longer cross-reference the live performance the time still feels right to cover the new album, which follows 2014’s “In The Chop House” and 2016’s “El Barranco”, both of which also appeared on the Whirlwind label and both of which are reviewed elsewhere on this site.

Born in London Freestone studied flute at Leeds College of Music before returning to the capital,  establishing herself as a versatile flautist and saxophonist on the London jazz scene.

As well as leading her own trio Freestone has previously appeared in the Jazzmann web pages in a variety of settings, playing flute with trumpeter Rory Simmons’ large ensemble Fringe Magnetic and with bassist Riaan Vosloo’s Examples Of Twelves, tenor sax and flute with pianist Ivo Neame’s quintet and octet and co-leading the quartet Compassionate Dictatorship with guitarist Jez Franks.

Other credits include the London Jazz Orchestra, the Creative Jazz Orchestra, Jamil Sheriff Big Band, E17 Large Ensemble, the Julian Siegel Jazz Orchestra, Issie Barratt’s all female ensemble Interchange and the Cuban group Orquestra Timbala. Freestone featured playing soprano sax and flute on “A New Start”, the well received album by the Pete Hurt Jazz Orchestra. She is also part of a stellar new sextet led by American born, London based, trumpeter and composer Andre Canniere.

Currently she is a member of the sextet Solstice, featuring Franks and vocalist Brigitte Beraha and also performs in a duo with pianist Alcyona Mick.  These two recently released the excellent “Criss-Cross” (Whirlwind Recordings), which featured guest vocals from Beraha. Review here http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/alcyona-mick-and-tori-freestone-criss-cross/

“El Mar de Nubes” continues Freestone’s love affair with Spain, something that began with “El Barranco”. Freestone has family in Tenerife and visits the Canary Islands frequently. “El Mar de Nubes” is named after the Canaries’ “sea of clouds” that, given the right climatic conditions, surround the volcanic peak El Teide on Tenerife, the highest point in Spain. The album cover depicts Freestone standing above “El Mar de Nubes”  with Paulino Padilla Sanchez’s photograph echoing Casper David Friedrich’s famous painting “Wanderer above a Sea of Fog”.

Freestone says of the inspirations behind the album;
“At the close of 2017 I blocked out time to stay in Tenerife, to be alone in the mountains where my thoughts flow freely. I was there during the New Year when the supermoon was visible. To arrive in the alien landscape of El Teide on New Year’s Day after viewing the sea of clouds en route was incredible, followed by the moon appearing to be brighter than the sun as the evening drew in, due to the supermoon being at its strongest on that particular day.”

This unforgettable experience inspired Freestone to write the poem that adorns the album cover (complete with allusions to Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”, a tune that Freestone covered on “In The Chop House”) and she also jotted down phrases that informed the writing of the music for “El Mar des Nubes”, which was eventually recorded at Porcupine Studios in London in 2019.

“El Mar de Nubes” continues the softly sinewy saxophone trio explorations of “In The Chop house” and “El Barranco” while again harking back to Freestone’s folk music roots. The new album commences with the title track, which initially evokes the ‘sea of clouds’ that inspired it with Freestone’s wispy tenor sax melodies subtly underscored by double bass and brushed drums. As the piece progresses the trio probe more deeply and passionately, the momentum of the music increasing as the collective improvising becomes gradually more intense. Freestone draws inspiration from such saxophonic colossi as Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter and the influence of all these can be heard in her work. But it isn’t all about the tenor, the opener also gives Manington the opportunity to stretch out on double bass while Giles is also featured extensively at the kit. The drummer’s playing is brilliantly nuanced throughout, colourful and constantly unfolding as Giles responds to the ebbing and swirling of this cloud inspired music, before finally seizing his chance with both hands (and feet) towards the close.

“Hiding Jekyll” presents another example of the finely balanced rapport between Freestone, Manington and Giles that the trio have honed over the course of regular gigging and two previous albums. The piece commences with a burst of unaccompanied tenor sax, to which Manington responds, with Giles joining the party shortly afterwards. There’s a vaguely North African feel to this piece, an allusion perhaps to Tenerife’s geographic location. Overall the piece is more strident and outgoing than the title track with a strong riff based theme that forms the jumping off point for some knotty, improvisatory trio interplay with the leader’s tenor becoming increasingly garrulous as the piece progresses.

Freestone’s family have a background in folk music and those formative influences inform her jazz output. Both of Freestone’s previous albums have referenced the folk tradition and this is represented here by her choice of the traditional American folk tune “Shenandoah”, which appears in two different incarnations. The first is as an atmospheric jazz instrumental with Freestone’s piping, gently exploratory tenor underpinned by Manington’s arco bass drone and Giles’ delicately nuanced and richly detailed drums and percussion. Manington then puts down the bow for a richly melodic pizzicato bass solo supported by Giles’ mallet rumbles and Freestone’s breathy tenor. The saxophonist then solos at greater length, exploring far beyond the boundaries of the original folk melody. Jazz audiences may also be familiar with guitarist Bill Frisell’s version of the song.

Manington takes over the compositional reins for the next two pieces. The title of “Hasta La Vista” remains true to the album’s Spanish theme, as does the following “El Camino”.
“Hasta La Vista” commences with the unaccompanied sound of Giles’ drums before evolving into a tight, riffy piece centred around Freestone’s hooky sax motif, this proving to be the launch point for some typically interactive trio interplay as Freestone again probes widely during the course of her solo, this followed by a virtuoso outing from the composer on double bass and a further feature for Giles at the drums.

Meanwhile “El Camino” is an abstract ballad that features the composer’s bass prominently in the arrangement, while also allowing Freestone to stretch out on tenor, following the ‘road’ of the title as Giles’ drums circle around her.

Saxophonist Sam Rivers’ “Beatrice” has become a modern day standard and Freestone’s arrangement of the piece takes inspiration from Joe Henderson’s version on his “State of the Tenor” album. Freestone and her colleagues take a leisurely approach to the tune, exploring it in democratic and highly interactive fashion over the course of eight minutes, with features for all three musicians incorporated into another absorbing trio performance.

Freestone takes over compositional duties again with “Los Indianos”, named for the annual carnival held on the Canary Island of La Palma. Her tune also takes inspiration from her years spent touring as a violinist with various Cuban bands and she describes the piece as having a “vibey, messed-up calypso groove”. It’s an appropriately vibrant and colourful piece that is introduced by Giles, deploying a variety of drums and percussion. His exuberant playing is enhanced by Manington’s muscular and propulsive bass lines and the leader’s nimbly darting tenor sax as the trio negotiate their way through a series of playful rhythmic and stylistic changes. There’s a real Latin-esque vitality about the playing here, and particularly on Giles’s extended drum and percussion feature.

The New Year experiences that inspired the title track also inform “La Nochevieja”, a more contemplative piece notable for its ‘metric modulations’. Initially ruminative the trio’s playing gradually becomes more assertive and animated as the piece continues its unhurried progress, with Manington’s solo combining muscularity with a strong sense of melody.

The album concludes with a return visit to “Shenandoah” the “Reprise” of the piece featuring Freestone on voice and violin. Freestone isn’t in Beraha’s class as a vocalist but there’s a rustic, disarming charm about her singing and violin playing here.  Manington and Giles offer discrete support, coming into their own as they accompany Freestone’s folk fiddling during an extended instrumental section. “El Barranco” included ‘jazz’ and ‘folk’ versions of the traditional tune “The Press Gang”, and Freestone mirrors that approach here.

“El Mar de Nubes” is a highly personal album but one that is capable of appealing to broad section of jazz listeners. It expands upon the successes of its two predecessors and is further proof that this trio have established their own signature sound. Freestone, Maningron and Giles are a particularly well balanced trio who have established an easy but robust rapport, highly interactive and willing to take musical risks. There’s a delicate, tensile strength about this music that repays the listener’s attention. Freestone’s music doesn’t shout to be heard but it is fiercely intelligent and quietly authoritative, striking a good balance between composition and improvisation. I just which I’d been able to see it performed live.

The official album launch takes place tonight, 18th June 2019 at The Vortex Jazz Club, Dalston, London. Don’t miss out like me, catch it if you can.

El Mar de Nubes

Tori Freestone Trio

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

El Mar de Nubes

A particularly well balanced trio who have established an easy but robust rapport, highly interactive and willing to take musical risks. There’s a delicate, tensile strength about this music.

Tori Freestone Trio

“El Mar de Nubes”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4739)

Tori Freestone – tenor saxophone, violin, vocals
Dave Manington – double bass
Tim Giles - drums

On the evening of Saturday, June 15th 2019 I had hoped to see saxophonist Tori Freestone and her trio perform at a Clun Valley Jazz event at the Town Hall in the Shropshire town of Bishop’s Castle. However an unexpected family crisis, of which I’ll spare you the details, entailed that I was more urgently needed elsewhere.

All is now well, but nevertheless I was still disappointed to miss out on seeing Freestone leading her own trio, having previously witnessed her playing as a sidewoman with others. I had planned to combine a review of the gig with a look at Freestone’s new album “El Mar de Nubes”, her third with her long standing trio featuring bassist Dave Manington and drummer Tim Giles.

Although I can no longer cross-reference the live performance the time still feels right to cover the new album, which follows 2014’s “In The Chop House” and 2016’s “El Barranco”, both of which also appeared on the Whirlwind label and both of which are reviewed elsewhere on this site.

Born in London Freestone studied flute at Leeds College of Music before returning to the capital,  establishing herself as a versatile flautist and saxophonist on the London jazz scene.

As well as leading her own trio Freestone has previously appeared in the Jazzmann web pages in a variety of settings, playing flute with trumpeter Rory Simmons’ large ensemble Fringe Magnetic and with bassist Riaan Vosloo’s Examples Of Twelves, tenor sax and flute with pianist Ivo Neame’s quintet and octet and co-leading the quartet Compassionate Dictatorship with guitarist Jez Franks.

Other credits include the London Jazz Orchestra, the Creative Jazz Orchestra, Jamil Sheriff Big Band, E17 Large Ensemble, the Julian Siegel Jazz Orchestra, Issie Barratt’s all female ensemble Interchange and the Cuban group Orquestra Timbala. Freestone featured playing soprano sax and flute on “A New Start”, the well received album by the Pete Hurt Jazz Orchestra. She is also part of a stellar new sextet led by American born, London based, trumpeter and composer Andre Canniere.

Currently she is a member of the sextet Solstice, featuring Franks and vocalist Brigitte Beraha and also performs in a duo with pianist Alcyona Mick.  These two recently released the excellent “Criss-Cross” (Whirlwind Recordings), which featured guest vocals from Beraha. Review here http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/alcyona-mick-and-tori-freestone-criss-cross/

“El Mar de Nubes” continues Freestone’s love affair with Spain, something that began with “El Barranco”. Freestone has family in Tenerife and visits the Canary Islands frequently. “El Mar de Nubes” is named after the Canaries’ “sea of clouds” that, given the right climatic conditions, surround the volcanic peak El Teide on Tenerife, the highest point in Spain. The album cover depicts Freestone standing above “El Mar de Nubes”  with Paulino Padilla Sanchez’s photograph echoing Casper David Friedrich’s famous painting “Wanderer above a Sea of Fog”.

Freestone says of the inspirations behind the album;
“At the close of 2017 I blocked out time to stay in Tenerife, to be alone in the mountains where my thoughts flow freely. I was there during the New Year when the supermoon was visible. To arrive in the alien landscape of El Teide on New Year’s Day after viewing the sea of clouds en route was incredible, followed by the moon appearing to be brighter than the sun as the evening drew in, due to the supermoon being at its strongest on that particular day.”

This unforgettable experience inspired Freestone to write the poem that adorns the album cover (complete with allusions to Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”, a tune that Freestone covered on “In The Chop House”) and she also jotted down phrases that informed the writing of the music for “El Mar des Nubes”, which was eventually recorded at Porcupine Studios in London in 2019.

“El Mar de Nubes” continues the softly sinewy saxophone trio explorations of “In The Chop house” and “El Barranco” while again harking back to Freestone’s folk music roots. The new album commences with the title track, which initially evokes the ‘sea of clouds’ that inspired it with Freestone’s wispy tenor sax melodies subtly underscored by double bass and brushed drums. As the piece progresses the trio probe more deeply and passionately, the momentum of the music increasing as the collective improvising becomes gradually more intense. Freestone draws inspiration from such saxophonic colossi as Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter and the influence of all these can be heard in her work. But it isn’t all about the tenor, the opener also gives Manington the opportunity to stretch out on double bass while Giles is also featured extensively at the kit. The drummer’s playing is brilliantly nuanced throughout, colourful and constantly unfolding as Giles responds to the ebbing and swirling of this cloud inspired music, before finally seizing his chance with both hands (and feet) towards the close.

“Hiding Jekyll” presents another example of the finely balanced rapport between Freestone, Manington and Giles that the trio have honed over the course of regular gigging and two previous albums. The piece commences with a burst of unaccompanied tenor sax, to which Manington responds, with Giles joining the party shortly afterwards. There’s a vaguely North African feel to this piece, an allusion perhaps to Tenerife’s geographic location. Overall the piece is more strident and outgoing than the title track with a strong riff based theme that forms the jumping off point for some knotty, improvisatory trio interplay with the leader’s tenor becoming increasingly garrulous as the piece progresses.

Freestone’s family have a background in folk music and those formative influences inform her jazz output. Both of Freestone’s previous albums have referenced the folk tradition and this is represented here by her choice of the traditional American folk tune “Shenandoah”, which appears in two different incarnations. The first is as an atmospheric jazz instrumental with Freestone’s piping, gently exploratory tenor underpinned by Manington’s arco bass drone and Giles’ delicately nuanced and richly detailed drums and percussion. Manington then puts down the bow for a richly melodic pizzicato bass solo supported by Giles’ mallet rumbles and Freestone’s breathy tenor. The saxophonist then solos at greater length, exploring far beyond the boundaries of the original folk melody. Jazz audiences may also be familiar with guitarist Bill Frisell’s version of the song.

Manington takes over the compositional reins for the next two pieces. The title of “Hasta La Vista” remains true to the album’s Spanish theme, as does the following “El Camino”.
“Hasta La Vista” commences with the unaccompanied sound of Giles’ drums before evolving into a tight, riffy piece centred around Freestone’s hooky sax motif, this proving to be the launch point for some typically interactive trio interplay as Freestone again probes widely during the course of her solo, this followed by a virtuoso outing from the composer on double bass and a further feature for Giles at the drums.

Meanwhile “El Camino” is an abstract ballad that features the composer’s bass prominently in the arrangement, while also allowing Freestone to stretch out on tenor, following the ‘road’ of the title as Giles’ drums circle around her.

Saxophonist Sam Rivers’ “Beatrice” has become a modern day standard and Freestone’s arrangement of the piece takes inspiration from Joe Henderson’s version on his “State of the Tenor” album. Freestone and her colleagues take a leisurely approach to the tune, exploring it in democratic and highly interactive fashion over the course of eight minutes, with features for all three musicians incorporated into another absorbing trio performance.

Freestone takes over compositional duties again with “Los Indianos”, named for the annual carnival held on the Canary Island of La Palma. Her tune also takes inspiration from her years spent touring as a violinist with various Cuban bands and she describes the piece as having a “vibey, messed-up calypso groove”. It’s an appropriately vibrant and colourful piece that is introduced by Giles, deploying a variety of drums and percussion. His exuberant playing is enhanced by Manington’s muscular and propulsive bass lines and the leader’s nimbly darting tenor sax as the trio negotiate their way through a series of playful rhythmic and stylistic changes. There’s a real Latin-esque vitality about the playing here, and particularly on Giles’s extended drum and percussion feature.

The New Year experiences that inspired the title track also inform “La Nochevieja”, a more contemplative piece notable for its ‘metric modulations’. Initially ruminative the trio’s playing gradually becomes more assertive and animated as the piece continues its unhurried progress, with Manington’s solo combining muscularity with a strong sense of melody.

The album concludes with a return visit to “Shenandoah” the “Reprise” of the piece featuring Freestone on voice and violin. Freestone isn’t in Beraha’s class as a vocalist but there’s a rustic, disarming charm about her singing and violin playing here.  Manington and Giles offer discrete support, coming into their own as they accompany Freestone’s folk fiddling during an extended instrumental section. “El Barranco” included ‘jazz’ and ‘folk’ versions of the traditional tune “The Press Gang”, and Freestone mirrors that approach here.

“El Mar de Nubes” is a highly personal album but one that is capable of appealing to broad section of jazz listeners. It expands upon the successes of its two predecessors and is further proof that this trio have established their own signature sound. Freestone, Maningron and Giles are a particularly well balanced trio who have established an easy but robust rapport, highly interactive and willing to take musical risks. There’s a delicate, tensile strength about this music that repays the listener’s attention. Freestone’s music doesn’t shout to be heard but it is fiercely intelligent and quietly authoritative, striking a good balance between composition and improvisation. I just which I’d been able to see it performed live.

The official album launch takes place tonight, 18th June 2019 at The Vortex Jazz Club, Dalston, London. Don’t miss out like me, catch it if you can.

Aurelius - The Process Rating: 3-5 out of 5 There’s much to admire about the trio’s delicate group interplay and their absorbing compositions.

Aurelius

“The Process”

(Self released)

Marcus Penrose – bass, Will Butterworth – piano, Marco Quarantotto - drums

Aurelius is a London based trio led by the Cornish born bassist and composer Marcus Penrose.

The band was formed in 2015 and also features the pianist Will Butterworth, with whom Penrose has enjoyed a fruitful music relationship dating back as far as 2003. The pair, together with alto saxophonist Seb Pipe, were part of the chamber jazz trio Tournesol, and this line up can be heard on the eponymous “Tournesol” album from 2012. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/tournesol-tournesol/

Penrose has also appeared in various trio and quartets under Butterworth’s leadership and he shares bass duties with Adam King on Butterworth’s excellent 2011 trio release “Hereafter”. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/hereafter/

Penrose is currently a member of saxophonist Tom Neale’s quartet and he also works with the physical theatre company Spymonkey.

Born in Scotland Butterworth is a musician that I saw playing live on a number of occasions on his regular visits to the Welsh Borders during the period 2008-2011.  He performed in such towns as Presteigne, Hay on Wye and Abergavenny in a variety of small group formats – duo, trio, quartet – with a varying cast of musicians that included saxophonists Jake McMurchie and Tom Harvey, bassists Matt Ridley, Marcus Penrose and Adam King and drummers Dylan Howe, Jon Scott and Pete Ibbetson.


Butterworth’s recording début was an eponymous solo piano album released in 2008 on the Music Chamber imprint and this was followed in 2010 by a bold re-imagining of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite Of Spring” in a duo setting with drummer Dylan Howe (working under the name Stravinsky Duo).

Butterworth’s first recording in the orthodox piano trio format came in 2011 with the release of the album “Hereafter”. “Live”, a recording of a 2012 trio session at London’s Pizza Express Club featuring Ibbetson and bassist Henrik Jensen, finally saw the light of day in 2015.

In 2017 Butterworth released the quartet album “The Nightingale and the Rose”, a suite based on the children’s story of the same name by Oscar Wilde. The personnel included Pipe,  Ibbetson and bassist Nick Pini.  Ibbetson was unavailable for the tour promoting the recording and was replaced by the Croatian born Marco Quarantotto, who first worked with Butterworth in 2014 and now seems to have become the pianist’s drummer of choice. Based in London for the last eight years Quarantotto has become a busy presence on the London jazz scene, a versatile and in demand sideman with an extensive and impressive list of credits.

The group name Aurelius is derived from the Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius (AD 121 -180) and the album packaging includes a quote from his writings.
“No man can hider thee to live as thy nature doth require. Nothing can happen unto thee, but what the common good of nature doth require”.

The album, which has won the approval of the great American bassist Larry Grenadier, was first released digitally in September 2018 but was only received by the Jazzmann fairly recently following its appearance on CD. It features seven new original compositions, five by Penrose and the other two by Butterworth.

The album commences with Penrose’s composition “At Beenleigh”, a piece that was selected by the All About Jazz website as their ‘track of the day’ back in February 2019. Aurelius describe themselves as “sharing a collective interest in finding beauty in all its forms within the corners of their improvisation and a spirit of limitless possibility”. There’s certainly plenty of beauty in this opening piece with its flowing, crystalline piano, agile bass counterpoint and richly detailed cymbal embellishments. But in accordance with the trio’s mission statement there’s plenty of improvisational rigour too as the trio stretch out, probing more deeply. This is music that extends beyond mere ‘prettiness’.

Butterworth takes over the compositional reins for “Western General” which combines mellifluous melodies with edgy grooves in a manner that suggests the influence of e.s.t yet ultimately sounds nothing like them. Butterworth solos expansively as Quarantotto chatters busily around him with Penrose playing an anchoring role, before the trio eventually rein things back in again. Aurelius tunes have a welcome habit of unfolding in interesting ways, seamlessly incorporating changes of mood and pace during the course of a piece.

Penrose’s “Dunklen Strassen” commences with sampled sound of what I take to be an underground train. The piece itself is meditative and slightly brooding or nostalgic in tone, slowly emerging out of Butterworth’s gentle piano ruminations, Penrose’s complementary bass lines and Quarantotto’s brushed drum commentary.  The music becomes busier and more agitated as it proceeds with Quarantotto becoming more animated behind the kit. Gradually the music becomes reflective and lyrical once more, the return of the sampled train noises signalling the end of the journey.

Butterworth’s “Charlie’s Tune” is a gentle ballad distinguished by the composer’s limpid, lyrical piano and Quarantotto’s filigree cymbal work embellishments and delicate brush work.

Penrose re-assumes compositional duties for the rest of the album, commencing with the gently exploratory “December 7th”, an unhurried but consistently absorbing three way exchange of ideas with the members of the trio very much functioning as equals and with an engaging Monk like melodic theme emerging before the close.

“Porthbeor” features a beguiling, folk like melody that forms the basis for the trio’s delicate interplay with the composer’s bass featuring prominently in the arrangement. Interestingly there are few solos as such on the album, the focus being very much on group interaction rather than individual virtuosity.

Finally we hear “Ami Says”, which is introduced by Penrose at the bass and which is centred around his playing and even includes something of a solo, albeit within the context of another intimate and intricate trio performance. Butterworth delivers some gorgeously melodic playing, again demonstrating his classically honed lightness of touch at the keyboard, while Quarantotto’s drumming is once more full of colour and attention to detail.

Aurelius have delivered an impressive début album although the trio’s rarefied approach may be a little too bloodless for some listeners due to the absence of conventional swing. Nevertheless there’s much to admire about the trio’s delicate group interplay and the absorbing compositions of both Penrose and Butterworth.

 

The Process

Aurelius

Friday, June 14, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

The Process

There’s much to admire about the trio’s delicate group interplay and their absorbing compositions.

Aurelius

“The Process”

(Self released)

Marcus Penrose – bass, Will Butterworth – piano, Marco Quarantotto - drums

Aurelius is a London based trio led by the Cornish born bassist and composer Marcus Penrose.

The band was formed in 2015 and also features the pianist Will Butterworth, with whom Penrose has enjoyed a fruitful music relationship dating back as far as 2003. The pair, together with alto saxophonist Seb Pipe, were part of the chamber jazz trio Tournesol, and this line up can be heard on the eponymous “Tournesol” album from 2012. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/tournesol-tournesol/

Penrose has also appeared in various trio and quartets under Butterworth’s leadership and he shares bass duties with Adam King on Butterworth’s excellent 2011 trio release “Hereafter”. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/hereafter/

Penrose is currently a member of saxophonist Tom Neale’s quartet and he also works with the physical theatre company Spymonkey.

Born in Scotland Butterworth is a musician that I saw playing live on a number of occasions on his regular visits to the Welsh Borders during the period 2008-2011.  He performed in such towns as Presteigne, Hay on Wye and Abergavenny in a variety of small group formats – duo, trio, quartet – with a varying cast of musicians that included saxophonists Jake McMurchie and Tom Harvey, bassists Matt Ridley, Marcus Penrose and Adam King and drummers Dylan Howe, Jon Scott and Pete Ibbetson.


Butterworth’s recording début was an eponymous solo piano album released in 2008 on the Music Chamber imprint and this was followed in 2010 by a bold re-imagining of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite Of Spring” in a duo setting with drummer Dylan Howe (working under the name Stravinsky Duo).

Butterworth’s first recording in the orthodox piano trio format came in 2011 with the release of the album “Hereafter”. “Live”, a recording of a 2012 trio session at London’s Pizza Express Club featuring Ibbetson and bassist Henrik Jensen, finally saw the light of day in 2015.

In 2017 Butterworth released the quartet album “The Nightingale and the Rose”, a suite based on the children’s story of the same name by Oscar Wilde. The personnel included Pipe,  Ibbetson and bassist Nick Pini.  Ibbetson was unavailable for the tour promoting the recording and was replaced by the Croatian born Marco Quarantotto, who first worked with Butterworth in 2014 and now seems to have become the pianist’s drummer of choice. Based in London for the last eight years Quarantotto has become a busy presence on the London jazz scene, a versatile and in demand sideman with an extensive and impressive list of credits.

The group name Aurelius is derived from the Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius (AD 121 -180) and the album packaging includes a quote from his writings.
“No man can hider thee to live as thy nature doth require. Nothing can happen unto thee, but what the common good of nature doth require”.

The album, which has won the approval of the great American bassist Larry Grenadier, was first released digitally in September 2018 but was only received by the Jazzmann fairly recently following its appearance on CD. It features seven new original compositions, five by Penrose and the other two by Butterworth.

The album commences with Penrose’s composition “At Beenleigh”, a piece that was selected by the All About Jazz website as their ‘track of the day’ back in February 2019. Aurelius describe themselves as “sharing a collective interest in finding beauty in all its forms within the corners of their improvisation and a spirit of limitless possibility”. There’s certainly plenty of beauty in this opening piece with its flowing, crystalline piano, agile bass counterpoint and richly detailed cymbal embellishments. But in accordance with the trio’s mission statement there’s plenty of improvisational rigour too as the trio stretch out, probing more deeply. This is music that extends beyond mere ‘prettiness’.

Butterworth takes over the compositional reins for “Western General” which combines mellifluous melodies with edgy grooves in a manner that suggests the influence of e.s.t yet ultimately sounds nothing like them. Butterworth solos expansively as Quarantotto chatters busily around him with Penrose playing an anchoring role, before the trio eventually rein things back in again. Aurelius tunes have a welcome habit of unfolding in interesting ways, seamlessly incorporating changes of mood and pace during the course of a piece.

Penrose’s “Dunklen Strassen” commences with sampled sound of what I take to be an underground train. The piece itself is meditative and slightly brooding or nostalgic in tone, slowly emerging out of Butterworth’s gentle piano ruminations, Penrose’s complementary bass lines and Quarantotto’s brushed drum commentary.  The music becomes busier and more agitated as it proceeds with Quarantotto becoming more animated behind the kit. Gradually the music becomes reflective and lyrical once more, the return of the sampled train noises signalling the end of the journey.

Butterworth’s “Charlie’s Tune” is a gentle ballad distinguished by the composer’s limpid, lyrical piano and Quarantotto’s filigree cymbal work embellishments and delicate brush work.

Penrose re-assumes compositional duties for the rest of the album, commencing with the gently exploratory “December 7th”, an unhurried but consistently absorbing three way exchange of ideas with the members of the trio very much functioning as equals and with an engaging Monk like melodic theme emerging before the close.

“Porthbeor” features a beguiling, folk like melody that forms the basis for the trio’s delicate interplay with the composer’s bass featuring prominently in the arrangement. Interestingly there are few solos as such on the album, the focus being very much on group interaction rather than individual virtuosity.

Finally we hear “Ami Says”, which is introduced by Penrose at the bass and which is centred around his playing and even includes something of a solo, albeit within the context of another intimate and intricate trio performance. Butterworth delivers some gorgeously melodic playing, again demonstrating his classically honed lightness of touch at the keyboard, while Quarantotto’s drumming is once more full of colour and attention to detail.

Aurelius have delivered an impressive début album although the trio’s rarefied approach may be a little too bloodless for some listeners due to the absence of conventional swing. Nevertheless there’s much to admire about the trio’s delicate group interplay and the absorbing compositions of both Penrose and Butterworth.

 

Rachel Head Trio / Michael Blanchfield Trio - Rachel Head Trio/Michael Blanchfield Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 11/06/19. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Ian Mann enjoys the music of two young trios featuring musicians from the Jazz Course at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff.

Rachel Head Trio / Michael Blanchfield Trio, ‘New Generation Jazz’
Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 11/06/2019.


Brecon Jazz Club and the associated Brecon Jazz Festival have always maintained close links with the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD) in Cardiff, with many students and graduates of the College gracing stages in Brecon at either regular Club nights or Festival events over the years.

In July 2018 Brecon Jazz Club presented New Generation Jazz - ‘Showcase Wales’, an event that featured music from three bands made up of students from the RWCMD, namely Josh Heaton’s Mouth of Words, Skeleton Leaf and the Norman Willmore Quintet.

This was a hugely successful event that put the focus on the original music of the three bands involved and my account of that evening’s proceedings can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/new-generation-jazz-showcase-wales-brecon-jazz-club-the-muse-arts-centre-br/

This year’s ‘New Generations Jazz’ event welcomed back some of the musicians who had played last year, this time within the ranks of two trios, one led by alto saxophonist Rachel Head and the other by pianist Michael Blanchfield.

Head had been part of tenor saxophonist Josh Heaton’s jazz and poetry quintet Mouth of Words quintet, but this time round was leading her own trio featuring Aeddan Williams on double bass and Jon Reynolds at the drums.

Tonight’s other trio was led by pianist, and sometime organist Michael Blanchfield and featured Ben Manning on double bass and Eddie Jones-West at the drums. Jones-West had led the quartet Skeleton Leaf at the previous year’s event, a group that also included Manning. The bassist had also been part of alto saxophonist Norman Willmore’s quintet.


RACHEL HEAD TRIO

The first group to take to the stage at The Muse was the trio led by alto saxophonist Rachel Head. Now an RWCMD graduate Head is starting to make her way as a professional musician, still basing herself in Cardiff but currently contemplating a move to London with a view to undertaking post graduate studies.

An accomplished composer she also leads a sextet which places the focus on her original material and which includes Williams on bass and Blanchfield on organ plus Tom Newitt on tenor sax, Jon Close on guitar and Zach Breskal at the drums, all RWCMD alumni. The sextet is due to release its début album shortly, which promises to be a recording well worth hearing.

In this pared down setting Head chose to concentrate on standard material and the audience enjoyed an intriguing set of familiar, and not so familiar tunes. “We don’t get to play standards very often” explained the leader, “but these are some of our favourite ones to play”.

First up was “Everything I Love”, which had been suggested by drummer Jon Reynolds. Here the trio established their signature sound with Head’s pure toned alto contrasting neatly with Williams’s muscular but melodic double bass while Reynolds provided a flexible and fluid rhythmic flow from the drums, his playing full of colourful and characterful details. Typically Head would state the theme on alto before stretching out further with the first real solo, this followed by Williams at the bass and with Reynolds enjoying a series of drum breaks. Here his lively series of exchanges with Head in the tune’s latter stages was particularly engaging.

“Lennie Bird”, written by pianist and composer Lennie Tristano, was less well known but no less satisfying as Head sketched the airy melody as Reynolds switched to brushes. This time the first solo went to Williams at the bass and it was interesting to see him performing on the upright acoustic version of the instrument after recently witnessing him playing electric bass with harpist Ben Creighton Griffith’s fusion-esque Chube trio at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny. Williams was followed by the leader on alto and Reynolds with a neatly constructed solo drum feature.

Another less than obvious selection was the song “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” which was sourced from the Disney film “Cinderella”. This was introduced by a double bass and saxophone duet, which served to highlight the softness and purity of Head’s tone, here almost classical in feel. Williams’ solo was another example of his robust but highly tuneful approach to the bass as Reynolds gravitated between brushes and sticks, sometimes deploying one of each.

Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” represented more familiar material for most listeners, with the trio delivering it in an innovative, highly spacious ballad arrangement with Head expanding upon the theme as she shared the solos with bassist Williams.

Another well known jazz standard, Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes”, was treated to an agreeably quirky arrangement that saw Head giving the melody some complex twists before Williams and Reynolds established a swinging groove that prompted solos from Head and Williams before Reynolds enjoyed a further series of lively drum breaks.

The trio rounded off a hugely enjoyable and absorbing set with their take on “If I Were A Bell” with Head expounding upon the melody to the accompaniment of rapidly brushed drum grooves and underpinning bass. The saxophonist stretched out at length, often deploying the upper registers of her instrument prior to features for both bass and drums, with Reynolds again enjoying a series of vigorous breaks.

Encouraged by the favourable audience response and cajoled by Brecon Jazz Club’s Lynne Gornall the trio played a deserved but unplanned encore of “In Walked Bud”, written by Thelonious Monk. This included final features for both Head and Williams and brought a highly accomplished set to a close.


MICHAEL BLANCHFIELD TRIO

Tonight was my second sighting of pianist Michael Blanchfield. Still a student at RWCMD Blanchfield had performed at the Jazz Café in Cardiff as part of a quintet led by drummer and composer Max Wright. The Wright quintet impressed as they supported London based pianist Tom Millar and his quartet. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/max-wright-quintet-tom-millar-quartet-cafe-jazz-cardiff-05-10-2017/

Blanchfield’s other musical activities include membership of the electro-jazz trio Arkocean in which he plays electric keyboards. That group also includes guitarist Alex Lockheart plus tonight’s drummer Eddie Jones-West. The Arkocean trio recently appeared on BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Now programme.

Blanchfield is also the compère of RWCMD’s regular early evening Friday ‘commuter jazz’ performances in the College’s foyer and restaurant space.

Like the Head trio Blanchfield’s group also decided to concentrate on the standards repertoire and began their set with a brief but spirited run through of the Oscar Peterson classic “Honey Dripper”, with the leader’s soloing propelled by Manning’s rapid bass walk and Jones-West’s briskly brushed drum grooves. The feeling of the piece was decidedly ‘retro’ but the Brecon audience loved it.

The trio then adopted a more contemporary approach for their performance of the beautiful composition “Ambleside”, written by the late, great pianist, composer and educator John Taylor. Here Blanchfield revealed a more lyrical side to his playing as he soloed above the polyrhythmic flow of Jones-West’s drums. Further solos came from Manning at the bass and Jones-West with a series of drum breaks.

I’m assuming Blanchfield is still a student as he mentioned playing the ballad “Autumn in New York” as part of his mid year recital. His arrangement of the tune was inspired by the Ella Fitzgerald version but his spacious treatment of the music helped to give it a very contemporary twist. Tonight’s beautiful rendition wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an ECM record, with a brush wielding Jones-West providing suitably subtle and delicate colour and punctuation.
A passage of unaccompanied double bass from Manning then acted as a bridge as the trio segued into a more vigorous arrangement of Cedar Walton’s “Bolivia” with Manning’s propulsive bass grooves leading the way. Jones-West picked up the sticks to give the music a Latin inflection as Blanchfield soloed more expansively. The performance was capped off by a dynamic solo drum feature from Jones-West.

Blanchfield’s love of songs and singers was again expressed via his arrangement of “I’ve Got The World On A String”, as inspired by the version by Frank Sinatra. Here the leader unexpectedly switched to an electric piano or ‘Rhodes’ sound on his Korg keyboard as he shared the solos with Manning at the bass.

The trio’s take on John Coltrane’s “Moments Notice” was also distinguished by the Rhodes sound as Manning and Jones-West laid down a swinging and propulsive groove that formed the bedrock for solos from Blanchfield and Jones-West.

The leader reverted to an acoustic piano setting for a “darker version” of Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere”. I had expected this to have been inspired by Tom Waits’ memorable rendition of the song on his “Blue Valentines” album, but instead Blanchfield had been inspired by an arrangement by the Indian-American pianist Vijay Iyer.  The trio’s performance included plenty of the rhythmic and harmonic complexity one associates with Iyer, tricky stuff and presumably both a challenge and a pleasure to play.

Similar qualities probably also applied to the trio’s take on Ornette Coleman’s which included a fascinating series of knotty but vigorous exchanges between Blanchfield and Jones-West, their increasingly fiery dialogue underpinned by the sound of Manning at the bass, until the latter was finally let off the leash for a solo of his own.

Like Head before him Blanchfield had delivered a series of standards that mixed the familiar with the more unexpected in a series of sometimes challenging arrangements. He, too was rewarded with an excellent audience reaction and remained on stage to deliver a deserved encore in the form of Ray Noble’s “Cherokee”. This featured another spirited exchange of ideas between piano and drums as the trio fairly romped through the tune.

This concluded a hugely enjoyable evening of music making from two excellent trios featuring six very talented young musicians. Personally I would have liked to have heard more original material, as we did at the corresponding event last year, but I suspect that I may have been in the minority. The decision to concentrate on standard material certainly went down well with the Brecon audience and both trios were very well received with the audience listening attentively throughout. The size of the turnout was also pleasing, particularly on a day when the weather nationally had been so appalling.

Tonight’s performance was a tribute to the quality of the Jazz Course at the RWCMD, which is led by bassist, composer and educator Paula Gardiner. The standard of the musicians produced by the RWCMD is uniformly high and any event featuring students or graduates of the College is pretty much guaranteed to be an interesting and entertaining experience, with tonight being no exception. Well done to the musicians involved.

It will be interesting to see how the careers of tonight’s young musicians will progress, with Rachel Head’s début sextet album being particularly keenly anticipated.

Musicians associated with the RWCMD will be playing key roles at the forthcoming Brecon Jazz Festival and no doubt 2020 will feature another RWCMD showcase event as part of the regular Brecon Jazz Club programme.

Rachel Head Trio/Michael Blanchfield Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 11/06/19.

Rachel Head Trio / Michael Blanchfield Trio

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Rachel Head Trio/Michael Blanchfield Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 11/06/19.

Ian Mann enjoys the music of two young trios featuring musicians from the Jazz Course at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff.

Rachel Head Trio / Michael Blanchfield Trio, ‘New Generation Jazz’
Brecon Jazz Club, The Muse Arts Centre, Brecon, 11/06/2019.


Brecon Jazz Club and the associated Brecon Jazz Festival have always maintained close links with the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD) in Cardiff, with many students and graduates of the College gracing stages in Brecon at either regular Club nights or Festival events over the years.

In July 2018 Brecon Jazz Club presented New Generation Jazz - ‘Showcase Wales’, an event that featured music from three bands made up of students from the RWCMD, namely Josh Heaton’s Mouth of Words, Skeleton Leaf and the Norman Willmore Quintet.

This was a hugely successful event that put the focus on the original music of the three bands involved and my account of that evening’s proceedings can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/new-generation-jazz-showcase-wales-brecon-jazz-club-the-muse-arts-centre-br/

This year’s ‘New Generations Jazz’ event welcomed back some of the musicians who had played last year, this time within the ranks of two trios, one led by alto saxophonist Rachel Head and the other by pianist Michael Blanchfield.

Head had been part of tenor saxophonist Josh Heaton’s jazz and poetry quintet Mouth of Words quintet, but this time round was leading her own trio featuring Aeddan Williams on double bass and Jon Reynolds at the drums.

Tonight’s other trio was led by pianist, and sometime organist Michael Blanchfield and featured Ben Manning on double bass and Eddie Jones-West at the drums. Jones-West had led the quartet Skeleton Leaf at the previous year’s event, a group that also included Manning. The bassist had also been part of alto saxophonist Norman Willmore’s quintet.


RACHEL HEAD TRIO

The first group to take to the stage at The Muse was the trio led by alto saxophonist Rachel Head. Now an RWCMD graduate Head is starting to make her way as a professional musician, still basing herself in Cardiff but currently contemplating a move to London with a view to undertaking post graduate studies.

An accomplished composer she also leads a sextet which places the focus on her original material and which includes Williams on bass and Blanchfield on organ plus Tom Newitt on tenor sax, Jon Close on guitar and Zach Breskal at the drums, all RWCMD alumni. The sextet is due to release its début album shortly, which promises to be a recording well worth hearing.

In this pared down setting Head chose to concentrate on standard material and the audience enjoyed an intriguing set of familiar, and not so familiar tunes. “We don’t get to play standards very often” explained the leader, “but these are some of our favourite ones to play”.

First up was “Everything I Love”, which had been suggested by drummer Jon Reynolds. Here the trio established their signature sound with Head’s pure toned alto contrasting neatly with Williams’s muscular but melodic double bass while Reynolds provided a flexible and fluid rhythmic flow from the drums, his playing full of colourful and characterful details. Typically Head would state the theme on alto before stretching out further with the first real solo, this followed by Williams at the bass and with Reynolds enjoying a series of drum breaks. Here his lively series of exchanges with Head in the tune’s latter stages was particularly engaging.

“Lennie Bird”, written by pianist and composer Lennie Tristano, was less well known but no less satisfying as Head sketched the airy melody as Reynolds switched to brushes. This time the first solo went to Williams at the bass and it was interesting to see him performing on the upright acoustic version of the instrument after recently witnessing him playing electric bass with harpist Ben Creighton Griffith’s fusion-esque Chube trio at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny. Williams was followed by the leader on alto and Reynolds with a neatly constructed solo drum feature.

Another less than obvious selection was the song “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” which was sourced from the Disney film “Cinderella”. This was introduced by a double bass and saxophone duet, which served to highlight the softness and purity of Head’s tone, here almost classical in feel. Williams’ solo was another example of his robust but highly tuneful approach to the bass as Reynolds gravitated between brushes and sticks, sometimes deploying one of each.

Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” represented more familiar material for most listeners, with the trio delivering it in an innovative, highly spacious ballad arrangement with Head expanding upon the theme as she shared the solos with bassist Williams.

Another well known jazz standard, Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes”, was treated to an agreeably quirky arrangement that saw Head giving the melody some complex twists before Williams and Reynolds established a swinging groove that prompted solos from Head and Williams before Reynolds enjoyed a further series of lively drum breaks.

The trio rounded off a hugely enjoyable and absorbing set with their take on “If I Were A Bell” with Head expounding upon the melody to the accompaniment of rapidly brushed drum grooves and underpinning bass. The saxophonist stretched out at length, often deploying the upper registers of her instrument prior to features for both bass and drums, with Reynolds again enjoying a series of vigorous breaks.

Encouraged by the favourable audience response and cajoled by Brecon Jazz Club’s Lynne Gornall the trio played a deserved but unplanned encore of “In Walked Bud”, written by Thelonious Monk. This included final features for both Head and Williams and brought a highly accomplished set to a close.


MICHAEL BLANCHFIELD TRIO

Tonight was my second sighting of pianist Michael Blanchfield. Still a student at RWCMD Blanchfield had performed at the Jazz Café in Cardiff as part of a quintet led by drummer and composer Max Wright. The Wright quintet impressed as they supported London based pianist Tom Millar and his quartet. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/max-wright-quintet-tom-millar-quartet-cafe-jazz-cardiff-05-10-2017/

Blanchfield’s other musical activities include membership of the electro-jazz trio Arkocean in which he plays electric keyboards. That group also includes guitarist Alex Lockheart plus tonight’s drummer Eddie Jones-West. The Arkocean trio recently appeared on BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Now programme.

Blanchfield is also the compère of RWCMD’s regular early evening Friday ‘commuter jazz’ performances in the College’s foyer and restaurant space.

Like the Head trio Blanchfield’s group also decided to concentrate on the standards repertoire and began their set with a brief but spirited run through of the Oscar Peterson classic “Honey Dripper”, with the leader’s soloing propelled by Manning’s rapid bass walk and Jones-West’s briskly brushed drum grooves. The feeling of the piece was decidedly ‘retro’ but the Brecon audience loved it.

The trio then adopted a more contemporary approach for their performance of the beautiful composition “Ambleside”, written by the late, great pianist, composer and educator John Taylor. Here Blanchfield revealed a more lyrical side to his playing as he soloed above the polyrhythmic flow of Jones-West’s drums. Further solos came from Manning at the bass and Jones-West with a series of drum breaks.

I’m assuming Blanchfield is still a student as he mentioned playing the ballad “Autumn in New York” as part of his mid year recital. His arrangement of the tune was inspired by the Ella Fitzgerald version but his spacious treatment of the music helped to give it a very contemporary twist. Tonight’s beautiful rendition wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an ECM record, with a brush wielding Jones-West providing suitably subtle and delicate colour and punctuation.
A passage of unaccompanied double bass from Manning then acted as a bridge as the trio segued into a more vigorous arrangement of Cedar Walton’s “Bolivia” with Manning’s propulsive bass grooves leading the way. Jones-West picked up the sticks to give the music a Latin inflection as Blanchfield soloed more expansively. The performance was capped off by a dynamic solo drum feature from Jones-West.

Blanchfield’s love of songs and singers was again expressed via his arrangement of “I’ve Got The World On A String”, as inspired by the version by Frank Sinatra. Here the leader unexpectedly switched to an electric piano or ‘Rhodes’ sound on his Korg keyboard as he shared the solos with Manning at the bass.

The trio’s take on John Coltrane’s “Moments Notice” was also distinguished by the Rhodes sound as Manning and Jones-West laid down a swinging and propulsive groove that formed the bedrock for solos from Blanchfield and Jones-West.

The leader reverted to an acoustic piano setting for a “darker version” of Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere”. I had expected this to have been inspired by Tom Waits’ memorable rendition of the song on his “Blue Valentines” album, but instead Blanchfield had been inspired by an arrangement by the Indian-American pianist Vijay Iyer.  The trio’s performance included plenty of the rhythmic and harmonic complexity one associates with Iyer, tricky stuff and presumably both a challenge and a pleasure to play.

Similar qualities probably also applied to the trio’s take on Ornette Coleman’s which included a fascinating series of knotty but vigorous exchanges between Blanchfield and Jones-West, their increasingly fiery dialogue underpinned by the sound of Manning at the bass, until the latter was finally let off the leash for a solo of his own.

Like Head before him Blanchfield had delivered a series of standards that mixed the familiar with the more unexpected in a series of sometimes challenging arrangements. He, too was rewarded with an excellent audience reaction and remained on stage to deliver a deserved encore in the form of Ray Noble’s “Cherokee”. This featured another spirited exchange of ideas between piano and drums as the trio fairly romped through the tune.

This concluded a hugely enjoyable evening of music making from two excellent trios featuring six very talented young musicians. Personally I would have liked to have heard more original material, as we did at the corresponding event last year, but I suspect that I may have been in the minority. The decision to concentrate on standard material certainly went down well with the Brecon audience and both trios were very well received with the audience listening attentively throughout. The size of the turnout was also pleasing, particularly on a day when the weather nationally had been so appalling.

Tonight’s performance was a tribute to the quality of the Jazz Course at the RWCMD, which is led by bassist, composer and educator Paula Gardiner. The standard of the musicians produced by the RWCMD is uniformly high and any event featuring students or graduates of the College is pretty much guaranteed to be an interesting and entertaining experience, with tonight being no exception. Well done to the musicians involved.

It will be interesting to see how the careers of tonight’s young musicians will progress, with Rachel Head’s début sextet album being particularly keenly anticipated.

Musicians associated with the RWCMD will be playing key roles at the forthcoming Brecon Jazz Festival and no doubt 2020 will feature another RWCMD showcase event as part of the regular Brecon Jazz Club programme.

Tom Syson - Different Coloured Days Rating: 4 out of 5 Syson’s playing is flawless throughout and he’s well supported by an excellent band who impress both individually and collectively. Compositionally the album sees him continuing to mature as a writer.

Tom Syson

“Different Coloured Days”

(Self released, TSYSCD02)


Tom Syson – trumpet, Tom Barford – tenor saxophone, David Ferris – piano, Hammond organ
Pete Hutchison – double bass, Jonathan Silk - drums

“Different Coloured Days” is the second album release as a leader from the young trumpeter and composer Tom Syson. It follows his 2017 début, “Green”, which was favourably reviewed on The Jazzmann and which also garnered considerable critical acclaim from the wider jazz community with substantial press coverage and airtime on BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Now programme and on Jazz FM.
Jazzmann review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/tom-syson-sextet-green/

Bedford born Syson is a graduate of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire and still retains close ties with the UK’s ‘second city’. He still holds the trumpet chair with the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra and has also performed with a number of other large ensembles including NYJO, the European Radio Jazz Orchestra, the London Jazz Orchestra, the Syd Lawrence Orchestra and the Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra.

Syson has also worked as a sideman in smaller groups, his collaborators including pianist Hans Koller, bassist Arnie Somogyi, saxophonist Alex Garnett and vocalist Jacqui Dankworth.  He has also toured the UK as part of a duo with pianist and composer Mark Pringle, the latter now resident in Berlin but also a Birmingham Conservatoire alumnus.

Ferris, Hutchison and Silk all appeared on “Green”, a sextet recording that also featured the talents of saxophonist Vittorio Mura and guitarist Ben Lee plus the guest vocals of the award winning singer Lauren Kinsella on the song “Raindrops”.

“Different Coloured Days” features a slimmed down quintet line up with Tom Barford, another frequent award winner and a bandleader in his own right, replacing Mura on tenor sax. The programme consists of eight new original compositions from Syson and it was recorded to the highest technical standards at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios, with financial support coming from Arts Council England.

The album commences with “At Peace”, which begins with a stunning passage of unaccompanied trumpet playing, a solo passage that includes some startling high register playing but which still makes sense emotionally and within the context of the piece. It’s a remarkable demonstration of Syson’s self confidence and peerless technique, yet it’s far more than a mere technical exercise or ego trip.
Syson’s opening solo cadenza acts as a kind of ‘last post’ and initially the overall mood of the tune is reflective and lyrical, with Ferris delivering a beautiful piano solo in this vein. But this being multi-faceted contemporary jazz played by a young and inventive quintet the music never stays in one place for long and the composition adopts a harder edge in its latter stages, with the leader’s trumpet again coming to the fore and with Silk’s drums prominent in the mix.

Hutchison’s bass introduces “Distraction”, his grooves providing the bedrock for a piece that combines contemporary ideas with more conventional jazz virtues going all the way back to New Orleans. A rousing introductory section featuring just the trio of Syson, Hutchison and Silk gives way to a warm toned tenor solo from Barford, the saxophonist also combining effectively with the leader’s trumpet before stretching out more expansively and energetically.

The title of “Near Death On The A90” presumably refers to a real life event, the kind of near miss, possibly following a ‘nod off’,  that has been the experience of many a musician (and reviewer!) driving home late from a gig in some far flung part of the country. A rousing, urgent intro features the fan-faring of Syson’s trumpet and is followed by a more exploratory and freely structured middle section with the leader’s trumpet again prominent in the arrangement. Next there’s an extended passage featuring the sound of Ferris’ piano and Silk’s drums. At first this is gentle and reflective, with Silk performing the role of colourist, but the music gradually becomes more agitated and urgent, culminating in a skilfully constructed drum solo from Silk followed by a squalling ensemble coda.

Following the agitation of “Near Death” the next piece, “Soon”, pours oil on troubled waters.  This is a genuine ballad featuring a delightful blend of trumpet and saxophone accompanied by lyrical piano and sympatico bass and drums. Hutchison takes the first solo with a richly melodic excursion on double bass followed by Barford on tenor. The saxophonist delivers a solo of great fluency that delivers a considerable emotional impact, and arguably represents his best playing of the set.

Ferris’ piano arpeggios introduce the rolling, fluid grooves of “Purple” which features the supremely eloquent trumpet soloing of Syson as he surfs the undulating polyrhythmic flow, temporarily combining with Barford towards the close.

Ferris’ piano also ushers in “Relief”, his arpeggios underpinning the gentle, airy trumpet melody lines. The mood of the piece is reflective and slightly mournful with the piano playing a central role, before the music eventually takes a more anthemic turn with Syson and Barford combining effectively as Ferris switches to organ to provide an underpinning Hammond swirl.

“A Leisurely Walk Is A Luxury” emerges out of Hutchison’s bass motif (a bearing on the title perhaps?) and the first section features a trio of trumpet, bass and drums with subsequent solos coming from Barford on tenor and Ferris on piano, who both stretch out effectively with fluent, neatly structured statements. Ferris moves to Hammond for a more anthemic section featuring the spiralling, intertwined horns of Syson and Barford before the piece ends as it began with Hutchison at the bass. The overall mood of the piece is relaxed, but moderately vigorous, like the walk of the title.

The album concludes with “Soon Reprise”, a return visit to the earlier ballad that is briefly but beautifully reprised by the duo of Syson and Ferris.

Released in May 2019 “Different Coloured Days” is an excellent follow up to the acclaimed “Green” and this second album has again accrued a considerable amount of critical approval. It’s a more concise album than its predecessor and arguably a little closer to the mainstream but nevertheless it’s an excellent record. Syson’s playing is flawless throughout and he’s well supported by an excellent band who impress both individually and collectively. Compositionally the album sees Syson continuing to mature as a writer and the music is well served by the engineering team of Patrick Phillips, Alex Bonney and Peter Beckmann who together deliver a crystalline mix that ensures that all of the musicians, and particularly the leader, are heard at their best.

I’m sorry to have missed the short series of dates that the Syson group played in support of this album but hope to catch up with the band in the live environment at some point in the near future.

Different Coloured Days

Tom Syson

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Different Coloured Days

Syson’s playing is flawless throughout and he’s well supported by an excellent band who impress both individually and collectively. Compositionally the album sees him continuing to mature as a writer.

Tom Syson

“Different Coloured Days”

(Self released, TSYSCD02)


Tom Syson – trumpet, Tom Barford – tenor saxophone, David Ferris – piano, Hammond organ
Pete Hutchison – double bass, Jonathan Silk - drums

“Different Coloured Days” is the second album release as a leader from the young trumpeter and composer Tom Syson. It follows his 2017 début, “Green”, which was favourably reviewed on The Jazzmann and which also garnered considerable critical acclaim from the wider jazz community with substantial press coverage and airtime on BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Now programme and on Jazz FM.
Jazzmann review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/tom-syson-sextet-green/

Bedford born Syson is a graduate of the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire and still retains close ties with the UK’s ‘second city’. He still holds the trumpet chair with the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra and has also performed with a number of other large ensembles including NYJO, the European Radio Jazz Orchestra, the London Jazz Orchestra, the Syd Lawrence Orchestra and the Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra.

Syson has also worked as a sideman in smaller groups, his collaborators including pianist Hans Koller, bassist Arnie Somogyi, saxophonist Alex Garnett and vocalist Jacqui Dankworth.  He has also toured the UK as part of a duo with pianist and composer Mark Pringle, the latter now resident in Berlin but also a Birmingham Conservatoire alumnus.

Ferris, Hutchison and Silk all appeared on “Green”, a sextet recording that also featured the talents of saxophonist Vittorio Mura and guitarist Ben Lee plus the guest vocals of the award winning singer Lauren Kinsella on the song “Raindrops”.

“Different Coloured Days” features a slimmed down quintet line up with Tom Barford, another frequent award winner and a bandleader in his own right, replacing Mura on tenor sax. The programme consists of eight new original compositions from Syson and it was recorded to the highest technical standards at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios, with financial support coming from Arts Council England.

The album commences with “At Peace”, which begins with a stunning passage of unaccompanied trumpet playing, a solo passage that includes some startling high register playing but which still makes sense emotionally and within the context of the piece. It’s a remarkable demonstration of Syson’s self confidence and peerless technique, yet it’s far more than a mere technical exercise or ego trip.
Syson’s opening solo cadenza acts as a kind of ‘last post’ and initially the overall mood of the tune is reflective and lyrical, with Ferris delivering a beautiful piano solo in this vein. But this being multi-faceted contemporary jazz played by a young and inventive quintet the music never stays in one place for long and the composition adopts a harder edge in its latter stages, with the leader’s trumpet again coming to the fore and with Silk’s drums prominent in the mix.

Hutchison’s bass introduces “Distraction”, his grooves providing the bedrock for a piece that combines contemporary ideas with more conventional jazz virtues going all the way back to New Orleans. A rousing introductory section featuring just the trio of Syson, Hutchison and Silk gives way to a warm toned tenor solo from Barford, the saxophonist also combining effectively with the leader’s trumpet before stretching out more expansively and energetically.

The title of “Near Death On The A90” presumably refers to a real life event, the kind of near miss, possibly following a ‘nod off’,  that has been the experience of many a musician (and reviewer!) driving home late from a gig in some far flung part of the country. A rousing, urgent intro features the fan-faring of Syson’s trumpet and is followed by a more exploratory and freely structured middle section with the leader’s trumpet again prominent in the arrangement. Next there’s an extended passage featuring the sound of Ferris’ piano and Silk’s drums. At first this is gentle and reflective, with Silk performing the role of colourist, but the music gradually becomes more agitated and urgent, culminating in a skilfully constructed drum solo from Silk followed by a squalling ensemble coda.

Following the agitation of “Near Death” the next piece, “Soon”, pours oil on troubled waters.  This is a genuine ballad featuring a delightful blend of trumpet and saxophone accompanied by lyrical piano and sympatico bass and drums. Hutchison takes the first solo with a richly melodic excursion on double bass followed by Barford on tenor. The saxophonist delivers a solo of great fluency that delivers a considerable emotional impact, and arguably represents his best playing of the set.

Ferris’ piano arpeggios introduce the rolling, fluid grooves of “Purple” which features the supremely eloquent trumpet soloing of Syson as he surfs the undulating polyrhythmic flow, temporarily combining with Barford towards the close.

Ferris’ piano also ushers in “Relief”, his arpeggios underpinning the gentle, airy trumpet melody lines. The mood of the piece is reflective and slightly mournful with the piano playing a central role, before the music eventually takes a more anthemic turn with Syson and Barford combining effectively as Ferris switches to organ to provide an underpinning Hammond swirl.

“A Leisurely Walk Is A Luxury” emerges out of Hutchison’s bass motif (a bearing on the title perhaps?) and the first section features a trio of trumpet, bass and drums with subsequent solos coming from Barford on tenor and Ferris on piano, who both stretch out effectively with fluent, neatly structured statements. Ferris moves to Hammond for a more anthemic section featuring the spiralling, intertwined horns of Syson and Barford before the piece ends as it began with Hutchison at the bass. The overall mood of the piece is relaxed, but moderately vigorous, like the walk of the title.

The album concludes with “Soon Reprise”, a return visit to the earlier ballad that is briefly but beautifully reprised by the duo of Syson and Ferris.

Released in May 2019 “Different Coloured Days” is an excellent follow up to the acclaimed “Green” and this second album has again accrued a considerable amount of critical approval. It’s a more concise album than its predecessor and arguably a little closer to the mainstream but nevertheless it’s an excellent record. Syson’s playing is flawless throughout and he’s well supported by an excellent band who impress both individually and collectively. Compositionally the album sees Syson continuing to mature as a writer and the music is well served by the engineering team of Patrick Phillips, Alex Bonney and Peter Beckmann who together deliver a crystalline mix that ensures that all of the musicians, and particularly the leader, are heard at their best.

I’m sorry to have missed the short series of dates that the Syson group played in support of this album but hope to catch up with the band in the live environment at some point in the near future.

Rob Luft - Rob Luft Band, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 08/06/2019. Rating: 4-5 out of 5 Luft is a supremely versatile guitarist who has developed a unique playing style of his own that embraces an astonishingly broad range of influences. One of the best shows I’ve ever seen at this venue

Rob Luft Band, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 08/06/2019.


Rob Luft – guitar, voice, Joe Wright – tenor saxophone, Joe Webb – keyboard, Tom McCredie – electric bass, Corrie Dick – drums, percussion


For me this Shrewsbury Jazz Network event was the most keenly anticipated event of the association’s 2019 programme.

In 2017 I gave a very favourable review to Luft’s début album “Riser”, which was released on Edition records and featured all of tonight’s superlative quintet.
Review here http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/rob-luft-riser/

I’ve seen Luft perform before in bands led by other people, but this was my first opportunity to see him leading his own group and it was a performance that I was very much looking forward to. Fortunately the young guitarist and composer and his similarly youthful colleagues didn’t disappoint.

Previously I’ve seen Luft performing with large ensembles such as the Royal Academy of Music Big Band and the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra at the EFG London Jazz Festival. I’ve also watched him provide rich textural backdrops for drummer/composer Phelan Burgoyne’s trio and deliver dazzlingly inventive solos as part of South African harmonica player and pianist Adam Glasser’s band. Former NYJO member Luft is a supremely versatile guitarist who has developed a unique playing style of his own that embraces an astonishingly broad range of influences.

Others with whom Luft has worked include vocalists Elina Duni and Luna Cohen, saxophonists Dave O’Higgins and Phil Meadows, bassist Misha Mullov- Abbado, trumpeter Byron Wallen, cellist Shirley Smart drummer Enzo Zirilli. He is also part of the tango group Deco Ensemble and of the co-operative quartet Big Bad Wolf, whose 2017 début “Pond Life” is reviewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/big-bad-wolf-pond-life/

More recently Luft has recorded with the Shropshire based violinist and composer Faith Brackenbury, appearing on the excellent “Knife Angel” EP which is reviewed here.
http://www.thejazzmann.com/S=f05f48ce1ddb0efa7d759b8b9c722f0f3e042752/reviews/review/faith-brackenbury-knifeangel/

He has also performed with Snowpoet, the group co-led by vocalist and lyricist Lauren Kinsella and Multi-instrumentalist and composer Chris Hyson.

A genuine rising star of the UK jazz firmament Luft is a regular award winner including the 2016 Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize, which helped to finance the recording of “Riser”. More recently he has been selected as a BBC Radio 3 New Generations Artist, following in the footsteps of such musicians as pianist Gwilym Simcock and trumpeter Laura Jurd. The Radio 3 connection proved particularly effective tonight with several audience members attending on the strength of hearing Luft and his band on the In Tune programme earlier in the week!

These were among several new faces in a hearteningly large audience that included a healthy number of younger listeners, a welcome trend. Overall there was a terrific turn out for such a young band, and particularly one focussing solely on original music. Jazz audiences at The Hive are prepared to be adventurous and there was a palpable sense of anticipation about tonight’s event, which was totally justified as Luft and his band hit the ground running to deliver one of the best shows I’ve ever seen at this venue. There have been many memorable performances here over the years, so this represents praise indeed. My enjoyment may have been enhanced by my existing familiarity with the “Riser” material, which still formed the core of the performance, but everybody else seemed to totally ‘get it’ as well, with the entire stock of CDs that the band had brought with them being sold, always a sure sign of a successful performance.

This is a regular working band and their familiarity with each other and with the material was apparent from the off as the quintet hit the ground running with album opener “Night Songs”. There was no sense of the band having to ‘play themselves in’, these guys were ‘right on it’ from the start.  As I indicated previously Luft’s writing embraces a myriad of influences including jazz, rock, minimalism and various types of world music with African and Caribbean influences particularly significant. It’s music that is unashamedly complex but which is also highly rhythmic, vibrant, colourful and accessible. The quintet is a tightly knit ensemble that takes delight in interlocking rhythms and inter-weaving melodic flourishes, the compositions often centred around Luft’s arpeggiated guitar motifs, these variously based on Reich-ian style minimalist phrases or African inspired rhythmic figures. It’s all a long way removed from the conventional head-solos-head format but the listener finds themselves drawn in by the dense ensemble sound while also taking delight in the moments when individual musicians assume the lead, the solos less obviously sign posted than in a more conventional ‘straight-ahead’ setting but solos nevertheless. “Night Songs” featured Webb deploying an electric piano or ‘Rhodes’ sound as he soloed effectively at the keyboard before handing over to the consistently inventive Luft. There were even moments when Dick’s drums seemed to take the lead in a performance that left the audience both dizzied and dazzled. A great start.

It was fascinating to hear some of the inside stories behind the “Riser” repertoire. For instance that “Beware” is dedicated to trumpeter Byron Wallen, one of Luft’s many mentors. Here luminous guitar combined with smoky tenor sax and the rustle of small percussion, the sound filled out by electric bass and the Hammond like swells from Webb’s keyboard. “Night Songs” had featured both Rhodes and Hammond sounds but in the main it was the latter that was to be Webb’s default setting. Solos here came from Wright on tenor, his first of the night, and the ever imaginative Luft on guitar.

“St. Brian 1st” was dedicated to a drummer named Brian, the man described by Luft as “the Art Blakey of dinner jazz”. Introduced by a piano and guitar duet the early stages of this piece offered atmospheric balladry with Dick’s cymbal embellishments adding to the mood of the piece. The introduction of Wright’s tenor and Webb’s switch to a Hammond sound saw the music gather momentum and begin to resemble more closely the recorded version as Luft’s guitar solo saw him stretching out and heading for the stratosphere. Luft takes an almost orchestral approach to the guitar, his impressive picking and ‘hammering on’ techniques being augmented by an impressive array of foot pedals. Yet there’s no sense of excess about Luft’s playing, everything sounds natural and unforced and totally in the service of the music, there’s no suggestion of technique for technique’s sake.

The quintet are set to record their second release for Edition Records and tonight we were lucky enough to hear a couple of pieces scheduled for the new record. “Expect The Unexpected” is the result of a London Jazz Festival commission and was introduced here by Luft’s unaccompanied guitar, its composer using those pedals to loop and layer his sound. The addition of sax and bass plus Dick wielding maracas augmented the sound as the leader’s wordless vocals added to the ethereal atmosphere – Luft also sings with Big Bad Wolf. In a typically multi-faceted Luft composition the band then meshed together in trademark fashion to ramp up the energy levels once more, with the leader again cutting loose on guitar.

A lengthy first set concluded with an arrangement of the tune “Berlin”, written by the Danish bassist and composer Anders Christensen and brought to the band by drummer Corrie Dick. Christensen’s piece is a homage to the techno music of Berlin and proved to be a dynamic set closer as powerful motorik style drum and bass grooves fuelled powerful solos from Webb and Luft, the keyboard player combining Rhodes and Hammond sounds while Luft turned up the wattage for a blistering solo that embraced rock dynamics and techniques. It’s perhaps not so surprising that the twenty five year old sports a Sonic Youth T shirt on the “Riser” album cover.

The second set was slightly shorter but no less intense with the quintet maintaining the extraordinarily high standard of music making throughout.  The infectious opener, “Shorty”, grew out of a jam between Luft, McCredie and Dick and was credited to all three musicians. “It’s called that because it took us such a short length of time to write it” joked Luft. Interestingly the quintet was developed from the core trio of Luft, McCredie and Dick, with Webb, who studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama being the latest addition to the band.

“Riser” was based on the music of Zimbabwe and the guitar sounds that Luft had heard emanating from that country, these in turn based on the melodies and rhythms of the mbira, or African thumb piano. “It’s an abstraction upon an abstraction” mused the composer. It’s also a stunning piece of music with Luft basing his arpeggiated guitar patterns on the figures of the mbira. As Wright played the melody on tenor and Dick added small percussion Luft and Webb hand-clapped the African rhythms. Solos here came from McCredie with a rare outing on electric bass, followed by Wright on tenor sax and finally Luft on guitar, his ‘hammering on’ technique drawing both on African music and the influence of the American guitarist Stanley Jordan. This may have been McCredie’s only solo of the night but his agile and adaptable electric bass was an essential component of the overall band sound. A technically adroit and supremely flexible musician he is probably best known for his role in pianist Elliot Galvin’s trio.

Luft has described his range of influences as ‘manifold’ and it was surprising to hear that the late, great improvising guitarist Derek Bailey was among them. “Dust Settles” was dedicated to his memory with Luft deliberately giving the piece a disarmingly simple melody that was distinctly at odds with Bailey’s own, more avant garde, methods. Luft felt that Bailey would have enjoyed the contradiction and this atmospheric piece with its floating melody actually sounded more akin to the American guitarist Bill Frisell, especially when Luft made effective use of a finger slide during his solo.

A second new piece, “Synesthesia”, was co-written with the Turin born, London based drummer Enzo Zirilli, leader of the Zirobop quartet with which Luft plays. Rhythmically this was a particularly complex and demanding piece, one that tested McCredie and Dick and saw them pass with flying colours. Playing on the Hive’s resident kit Dick was hugely impressive throughout. One assumes that he’d brought along the many items of small percussion (maracas, shakers etc), stored in a basket by the side of the kit, himself. I’ve seen Dick perform on numerous occasions with others (Adam Glasser, Adam Waldmann, Dinosaur, Blue Eyed Hawk, Glasshopper) and tonight offered further evidence that he is among the brightest and most imaginative of UK drummers.
After a gentle introduction this jointly composed piece quickly became more knotty and complex as the energy levels were ramped up with intertwining sax and guitar melody lines and interlocking rhythms before Webb on electric piano and Luft on guitar finally broke loose to deliver fluent and powerful solos. 

The evening concluded with the final track from “Riser”, the appropriately titled “We Are All Slowly Leaving”. This proved to be Wright’s dedication to the great Armenian-American drummer, composer and bandleader Paul Motian (1931-2011). Introduced by the sound of Luft’s unaccompanied guitar and with the composer making judicious use of live looping techniques to create a layer of lush textures, these enhanced by Dick’s atmospheric cymbal embellishments, the piece eventually took on a greater intensity with the addition of sax, bass and keyboards. Driven by powerful riffs and grooves and with Luft continuing to make excellent use of his array of effects this was music that sounded bigger than the work of a mere five people and was truly epic in its scope.

It evoked one of the most vociferous reactions that I’ve seen at The Hive, with several audience members getting to their feet to applaud the band. The quality of the performance more than justified SJN’s decision to book the quintet, an arrangement entered into more than twelve months ago.

There was no to be no encore, although one was richly deserved, mainly because the band had to drive back to London that same evening. However having heard the majority of the “Riser” album along with a couple of ‘tasters’ for the next planned release nobody felt in any way short changed or hard done by.

Luft and his colleagues are brilliant musicians and genuinely nice, humble people. My thanks to Rob for speaking with me after the show, and also to Faith Brackenbury who was seated in the audience. It was good to meet with her for the first time too.

As we left the five members of the Rob Luft Band were squeezing into a single car along with what equipment they had brought with them. The fact that they had played using a lot of hired gear (drum kit, amps) only served to make their performance all the more remarkable.

My only cavil was that we didn’t hear enough of Wright as a soloist, his role was essentially as Luft’s foil, doubling up on melodies and providing colour, nuance and texture. Webb was given more freedom and responded with a number of blistering solos on both Rhodes and Hammond, particularly on the latter. It was the first time that I’d seen him play and I was very impressed.
McCredie and the always creative Dick were excellent throughout.

This generation of British jazz musicians are as creative as anything coming out of New York at the present time and Luft’s star can only continue to rise, especially with the Radio 3 New Generations appointment which will greatly enhance his profile. But at the end of the day jazz is a music where reputations are built by word of mouth. If Rob Luft keeps playing shows like this jazz stardom surely awaits. The appearance of that second album will be very keenly anticipated.

Rob Luft Band, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 08/06/2019.

Rob Luft

Monday, June 10, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4-5 out of 5

Rob Luft Band, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 08/06/2019.
Photography: Photograph of Joe Wright, Tom McCredie and Rob Luft by Hamish Kirkpatrick of Shrewsbury Jazz Network.

Luft is a supremely versatile guitarist who has developed a unique playing style of his own that embraces an astonishingly broad range of influences. One of the best shows I’ve ever seen at this venue

Rob Luft Band, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 08/06/2019.


Rob Luft – guitar, voice, Joe Wright – tenor saxophone, Joe Webb – keyboard, Tom McCredie – electric bass, Corrie Dick – drums, percussion


For me this Shrewsbury Jazz Network event was the most keenly anticipated event of the association’s 2019 programme.

In 2017 I gave a very favourable review to Luft’s début album “Riser”, which was released on Edition records and featured all of tonight’s superlative quintet.
Review here http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/rob-luft-riser/

I’ve seen Luft perform before in bands led by other people, but this was my first opportunity to see him leading his own group and it was a performance that I was very much looking forward to. Fortunately the young guitarist and composer and his similarly youthful colleagues didn’t disappoint.

Previously I’ve seen Luft performing with large ensembles such as the Royal Academy of Music Big Band and the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra at the EFG London Jazz Festival. I’ve also watched him provide rich textural backdrops for drummer/composer Phelan Burgoyne’s trio and deliver dazzlingly inventive solos as part of South African harmonica player and pianist Adam Glasser’s band. Former NYJO member Luft is a supremely versatile guitarist who has developed a unique playing style of his own that embraces an astonishingly broad range of influences.

Others with whom Luft has worked include vocalists Elina Duni and Luna Cohen, saxophonists Dave O’Higgins and Phil Meadows, bassist Misha Mullov- Abbado, trumpeter Byron Wallen, cellist Shirley Smart drummer Enzo Zirilli. He is also part of the tango group Deco Ensemble and of the co-operative quartet Big Bad Wolf, whose 2017 début “Pond Life” is reviewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/big-bad-wolf-pond-life/

More recently Luft has recorded with the Shropshire based violinist and composer Faith Brackenbury, appearing on the excellent “Knife Angel” EP which is reviewed here.
http://www.thejazzmann.com/S=f05f48ce1ddb0efa7d759b8b9c722f0f3e042752/reviews/review/faith-brackenbury-knifeangel/

He has also performed with Snowpoet, the group co-led by vocalist and lyricist Lauren Kinsella and Multi-instrumentalist and composer Chris Hyson.

A genuine rising star of the UK jazz firmament Luft is a regular award winner including the 2016 Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize, which helped to finance the recording of “Riser”. More recently he has been selected as a BBC Radio 3 New Generations Artist, following in the footsteps of such musicians as pianist Gwilym Simcock and trumpeter Laura Jurd. The Radio 3 connection proved particularly effective tonight with several audience members attending on the strength of hearing Luft and his band on the In Tune programme earlier in the week!

These were among several new faces in a hearteningly large audience that included a healthy number of younger listeners, a welcome trend. Overall there was a terrific turn out for such a young band, and particularly one focussing solely on original music. Jazz audiences at The Hive are prepared to be adventurous and there was a palpable sense of anticipation about tonight’s event, which was totally justified as Luft and his band hit the ground running to deliver one of the best shows I’ve ever seen at this venue. There have been many memorable performances here over the years, so this represents praise indeed. My enjoyment may have been enhanced by my existing familiarity with the “Riser” material, which still formed the core of the performance, but everybody else seemed to totally ‘get it’ as well, with the entire stock of CDs that the band had brought with them being sold, always a sure sign of a successful performance.

This is a regular working band and their familiarity with each other and with the material was apparent from the off as the quintet hit the ground running with album opener “Night Songs”. There was no sense of the band having to ‘play themselves in’, these guys were ‘right on it’ from the start.  As I indicated previously Luft’s writing embraces a myriad of influences including jazz, rock, minimalism and various types of world music with African and Caribbean influences particularly significant. It’s music that is unashamedly complex but which is also highly rhythmic, vibrant, colourful and accessible. The quintet is a tightly knit ensemble that takes delight in interlocking rhythms and inter-weaving melodic flourishes, the compositions often centred around Luft’s arpeggiated guitar motifs, these variously based on Reich-ian style minimalist phrases or African inspired rhythmic figures. It’s all a long way removed from the conventional head-solos-head format but the listener finds themselves drawn in by the dense ensemble sound while also taking delight in the moments when individual musicians assume the lead, the solos less obviously sign posted than in a more conventional ‘straight-ahead’ setting but solos nevertheless. “Night Songs” featured Webb deploying an electric piano or ‘Rhodes’ sound as he soloed effectively at the keyboard before handing over to the consistently inventive Luft. There were even moments when Dick’s drums seemed to take the lead in a performance that left the audience both dizzied and dazzled. A great start.

It was fascinating to hear some of the inside stories behind the “Riser” repertoire. For instance that “Beware” is dedicated to trumpeter Byron Wallen, one of Luft’s many mentors. Here luminous guitar combined with smoky tenor sax and the rustle of small percussion, the sound filled out by electric bass and the Hammond like swells from Webb’s keyboard. “Night Songs” had featured both Rhodes and Hammond sounds but in the main it was the latter that was to be Webb’s default setting. Solos here came from Wright on tenor, his first of the night, and the ever imaginative Luft on guitar.

“St. Brian 1st” was dedicated to a drummer named Brian, the man described by Luft as “the Art Blakey of dinner jazz”. Introduced by a piano and guitar duet the early stages of this piece offered atmospheric balladry with Dick’s cymbal embellishments adding to the mood of the piece. The introduction of Wright’s tenor and Webb’s switch to a Hammond sound saw the music gather momentum and begin to resemble more closely the recorded version as Luft’s guitar solo saw him stretching out and heading for the stratosphere. Luft takes an almost orchestral approach to the guitar, his impressive picking and ‘hammering on’ techniques being augmented by an impressive array of foot pedals. Yet there’s no sense of excess about Luft’s playing, everything sounds natural and unforced and totally in the service of the music, there’s no suggestion of technique for technique’s sake.

The quintet are set to record their second release for Edition Records and tonight we were lucky enough to hear a couple of pieces scheduled for the new record. “Expect The Unexpected” is the result of a London Jazz Festival commission and was introduced here by Luft’s unaccompanied guitar, its composer using those pedals to loop and layer his sound. The addition of sax and bass plus Dick wielding maracas augmented the sound as the leader’s wordless vocals added to the ethereal atmosphere – Luft also sings with Big Bad Wolf. In a typically multi-faceted Luft composition the band then meshed together in trademark fashion to ramp up the energy levels once more, with the leader again cutting loose on guitar.

A lengthy first set concluded with an arrangement of the tune “Berlin”, written by the Danish bassist and composer Anders Christensen and brought to the band by drummer Corrie Dick. Christensen’s piece is a homage to the techno music of Berlin and proved to be a dynamic set closer as powerful motorik style drum and bass grooves fuelled powerful solos from Webb and Luft, the keyboard player combining Rhodes and Hammond sounds while Luft turned up the wattage for a blistering solo that embraced rock dynamics and techniques. It’s perhaps not so surprising that the twenty five year old sports a Sonic Youth T shirt on the “Riser” album cover.

The second set was slightly shorter but no less intense with the quintet maintaining the extraordinarily high standard of music making throughout.  The infectious opener, “Shorty”, grew out of a jam between Luft, McCredie and Dick and was credited to all three musicians. “It’s called that because it took us such a short length of time to write it” joked Luft. Interestingly the quintet was developed from the core trio of Luft, McCredie and Dick, with Webb, who studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama being the latest addition to the band.

“Riser” was based on the music of Zimbabwe and the guitar sounds that Luft had heard emanating from that country, these in turn based on the melodies and rhythms of the mbira, or African thumb piano. “It’s an abstraction upon an abstraction” mused the composer. It’s also a stunning piece of music with Luft basing his arpeggiated guitar patterns on the figures of the mbira. As Wright played the melody on tenor and Dick added small percussion Luft and Webb hand-clapped the African rhythms. Solos here came from McCredie with a rare outing on electric bass, followed by Wright on tenor sax and finally Luft on guitar, his ‘hammering on’ technique drawing both on African music and the influence of the American guitarist Stanley Jordan. This may have been McCredie’s only solo of the night but his agile and adaptable electric bass was an essential component of the overall band sound. A technically adroit and supremely flexible musician he is probably best known for his role in pianist Elliot Galvin’s trio.

Luft has described his range of influences as ‘manifold’ and it was surprising to hear that the late, great improvising guitarist Derek Bailey was among them. “Dust Settles” was dedicated to his memory with Luft deliberately giving the piece a disarmingly simple melody that was distinctly at odds with Bailey’s own, more avant garde, methods. Luft felt that Bailey would have enjoyed the contradiction and this atmospheric piece with its floating melody actually sounded more akin to the American guitarist Bill Frisell, especially when Luft made effective use of a finger slide during his solo.

A second new piece, “Synesthesia”, was co-written with the Turin born, London based drummer Enzo Zirilli, leader of the Zirobop quartet with which Luft plays. Rhythmically this was a particularly complex and demanding piece, one that tested McCredie and Dick and saw them pass with flying colours. Playing on the Hive’s resident kit Dick was hugely impressive throughout. One assumes that he’d brought along the many items of small percussion (maracas, shakers etc), stored in a basket by the side of the kit, himself. I’ve seen Dick perform on numerous occasions with others (Adam Glasser, Adam Waldmann, Dinosaur, Blue Eyed Hawk, Glasshopper) and tonight offered further evidence that he is among the brightest and most imaginative of UK drummers.
After a gentle introduction this jointly composed piece quickly became more knotty and complex as the energy levels were ramped up with intertwining sax and guitar melody lines and interlocking rhythms before Webb on electric piano and Luft on guitar finally broke loose to deliver fluent and powerful solos. 

The evening concluded with the final track from “Riser”, the appropriately titled “We Are All Slowly Leaving”. This proved to be Wright’s dedication to the great Armenian-American drummer, composer and bandleader Paul Motian (1931-2011). Introduced by the sound of Luft’s unaccompanied guitar and with the composer making judicious use of live looping techniques to create a layer of lush textures, these enhanced by Dick’s atmospheric cymbal embellishments, the piece eventually took on a greater intensity with the addition of sax, bass and keyboards. Driven by powerful riffs and grooves and with Luft continuing to make excellent use of his array of effects this was music that sounded bigger than the work of a mere five people and was truly epic in its scope.

It evoked one of the most vociferous reactions that I’ve seen at The Hive, with several audience members getting to their feet to applaud the band. The quality of the performance more than justified SJN’s decision to book the quintet, an arrangement entered into more than twelve months ago.

There was no to be no encore, although one was richly deserved, mainly because the band had to drive back to London that same evening. However having heard the majority of the “Riser” album along with a couple of ‘tasters’ for the next planned release nobody felt in any way short changed or hard done by.

Luft and his colleagues are brilliant musicians and genuinely nice, humble people. My thanks to Rob for speaking with me after the show, and also to Faith Brackenbury who was seated in the audience. It was good to meet with her for the first time too.

As we left the five members of the Rob Luft Band were squeezing into a single car along with what equipment they had brought with them. The fact that they had played using a lot of hired gear (drum kit, amps) only served to make their performance all the more remarkable.

My only cavil was that we didn’t hear enough of Wright as a soloist, his role was essentially as Luft’s foil, doubling up on melodies and providing colour, nuance and texture. Webb was given more freedom and responded with a number of blistering solos on both Rhodes and Hammond, particularly on the latter. It was the first time that I’d seen him play and I was very impressed.
McCredie and the always creative Dick were excellent throughout.

This generation of British jazz musicians are as creative as anything coming out of New York at the present time and Luft’s star can only continue to rise, especially with the Radio 3 New Generations appointment which will greatly enhance his profile. But at the end of the day jazz is a music where reputations are built by word of mouth. If Rob Luft keeps playing shows like this jazz stardom surely awaits. The appearance of that second album will be very keenly anticipated.

Miguel Gorodi Nonet - Apophenia Rating: 4-5 out of 5 Skilled, consistently interesting & colourful compositions & arrangements are combined with exceptional playing, both individually & collectively, to produce music that both fascinates and excites.

Miguel Gorodi Nonet

“Apophenia”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0021)


Miguel Gorodi is a Spanish born trumpeter and composer who is now based in London following his studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

He is a hugely versatile musician and I have previously encountered his playing in a sideman context in such large ensembles as the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra, Andrew Linham Jazz Orchestra and the Sam Leak Big Band.

Currently Gorodi is a member of pianist Barry Green’s sextet, saxophonist Cassie Kinoshi’s SEED Ensemble, the London City Big Band,  the London Jazz Orchestra and the contemporary trad revivalists the Dixie Ticklers. He has also worked with the vocalists Ian Shaw and Lauren Bush.

He also co-leads a duo with drummer Dave Ingamells and a quartet with alto saxophonist Sam Braysher.

It all makes for a busy musical life but Gorodi also finds time to lead the excellent nonet that appears on this exceptional début recording. Nothing that I’d heard from Gorodi’s work as a sideman prepared me for the quality of this album. In terms of both writing and playing it represents a real eye opener.

The nine piece group that Gorodi has assembled for this recording features some of the UK’s leading jazz musicians and lines up as follows;

Miguel Gorodi – trumpet & flugelhorn
Gareth Lockrane – flutes
Michael Chillingworth – alto sax & clarinet
George Crowley – tenor sax & bass clarinet
Kieran McLeod – trombone
Ray Hearne – tuba
Ralph Wyld – vibraphone
Conor Chaplin – double bass
Dave Hamblett – drums

The album is produced by vibraphonist/drummer/pianist Jim Hart, who approaches Gorodi’s often complex writing with a musician’s ear and helps to bring out the warmth, colour and richness of the music.

As a writer Gorodi is influenced by jazz composers such as Steve Coleman, Steve Lehman, Tyshawn Sorey, Thelonious Monk and Wayne Shorter. From the classical sphere he cites Louis Andriessen, Gerard Grisey, Per Norgard and Igor Stravinsky.

For those confused by the album title (as I was) Gorodi’s liner notes shed valuable light on the concepts behind the music. He explains;
“Apophenia can be defined as the perception of meaning or patterns between unrelated, random things. Although Klaus Conrad originally coined the term in reference to schizophrenia or paranoia, it is also considered a normal human experience resulting from the evolution of our brains. Pattern recognition helps us to identify faces, for example, and to decipher language or music from noise. I have also become fascinated by how apophenia, a process of meaning making, fits into the existentialist idea that life has no objective meaning, purpose or intrinsic value, and that we must create our own. I believe that engaging with art is a means to practice meaning making, and is therefore helpful in fostering a fulfilling life”.

In the press release accompanying my copy of the album he also adds;
“Through my music I’ve tried to communicate my experiences with OCD and depression, my thoughts on how to create meaning and purpose in life, and my concerns about the limitations our psychology and biology may have on determining what is meaningful to us”.

Well, you learn something new every day, and all this is pretty heavy stuff – but if you’re reading this please don’t let the seriousness of the concept put you off listening to what is some pretty amazing and wonderful music.

The album begins with “La Nausee”, inspired by the Jean-Paul Sartre novel “Nausea”, a Sartre quote also appears on the album packaging. Gorodi says of his composition;
“This piece grew out of a very simple idea that is manipulated over and over, resulting in the kind of disorientation Sartre’s protagonist experiences when he suffers attacks of ‘nausea’. I interpreted these as maddening panic attacks brought on by depressing ruminations of meaninglessness”.
The music commences with mesmerising swirls of brass and reeds, seemingly swimming in and out of focus, as if to illustrate Gorodi’s precept. The combination of counterpoint and colourful texture is consistently fascinating and is given additional heft by the subsequent addition of the rhythm section. More conventional soloing comes courtesy of the leader on trumpet, who performs fluently and incisively. He’s followed by the impressive Chillingworth, who displays similar qualities.

“Time Sigmund” is informed by Per Norgard’s ‘infinity series’, which Gorodi describes as “a never ending self perpetuating sequence of numbers that creates a fractal pattern, which balances familiarity with novelty”. Another intriguing composition this features darting, circling, percolating motifs around which individual musicians can improvise. The ensemble passages are reminiscent of Steve Reich style minimalism and one is also reminded of drummer/composer John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet. Bassist Chaplin is the first featured soloist here, followed by Lockrane on flute and Crowley on tenor, with Hamblett also enjoying something of a drum feature in the closing stages as he duels with the staccato blasting of the horns.

The sound of Wyld’s unaccompanied vibes introduces “Search”, initially a more pastoral offering featuring warmly textured reeds and brass but which shades off into a freer central section in which both drums and bass are prominent alongside the now squalling horns. Wyld takes a more orthodox vibes solo within the context of a typically inventive Gorodi arrangement before the piece ends as it began with the sound of solo vibes.

“Amygdala Intro” is a freely structured passage featuring duelling brass and reeds, culminating in the motif that launches “Amygdala” itself which features a punchy, fan-faring arrangement with flautist Lockrane emerging as the featured soloist. Apparently the title refers to the area of the brain responsible for emotions.

I seem to remember “Soma” as being the sedative featured in the Aldous Huxley novel “Brave New World”. Gorodi’s composition of the same name is a tightly arranged ensemble piece that includes solos from the leader on flugel and McLeod on trombone, plus a further feature for the consistently impressive Hamblett.

“Fifths” is another piece of accomplished ensemble writing with the nonet capably negotiating the complexities of the score while Gorodi impresses with the quality of his warm, supple and fluent flugel soloing. Crowley’s burly tenor then adds a little more grit to the oyster.

Producer Hart also adds to the liner notes and his comments with regard to Gorodi’s writing and playing are highly illuminating as he states;
“The playing by the ensemble is superb. It is very difficult music to play but it is delivered in a way which is engaging, playful and full of life. Miguel’s tone on the trumpet and flugelhorn is rich and warm, but it cuts too, and his style combines cool pacing with fiery, attacking lines and intervallic leaps which call to mind many of the trumpet greats throughout the history of jazz. But this is contemporary music coming from someone who has a lot to say and is very much worth listening to.”
Hart also praises Gorodi for his talent and ambition and for the way he brings together “some very heavy influences”.

On then with the music and “Two Trees”, another composition that reinforces Hart’s observations. Rhythmically complex but flawlessly played and never ‘difficult’ the piece features a rousing solo from trombonist McLeod and an equally incisive contribution from Chillingworth within the context of another richly inventive arrangement. Gorodi’s compositions and arrangements have earned comparisons with big band composers such as Gil Evans, Mike Gibbs and George Russell and rightly so, the sound generated by the nonet often sounds bigger than just nine instruments.

Hamblett’s drums introduce the closing “Not Nicest Memo” which maintains the high standards set by the rest of the album. Vibraphonist Wyld is let off the leash to deliver a dazzling, free flowing solo which, is answered by the crisp attack of the leader’s trumpet solo as he too kicks over the traces, encouraged by a stinging bass and drum groove. There’s more terrific ensemble playing too plus something of a feature for Lockrane on flute as this exceptional début album finishes on an energetic, upbeat note.

Gorodi’s music isn’t always easy to describe but it is a constant joy to listen to. Skilled, consistently interesting and colourful compositions and arrangements are combined with some exceptional playing, both individually and collectively, to produce music that both fascinates and excites.

Despite the weightiness of some of the philosophical ideas behind it this is music that is never wilfully ‘difficult’ and its artful blending of jazz with various contemporary classical elements should appeal to a broad array of listeners.

Gorodi and the nonet are well served by the production team of Hart and engineers Alex Bonney and Tyler McDiarmid who ensure that each individual musician is heard at his best, whether as a soloist or as part of a very well balanced ensemble.

Gorodi has produced an exceptional début recording. Let’s hope that it attracts the critical and public reaction that it deserves.


Listeners will get the chance to catch up with Gorodi and the nonet at the following tour dates;


17 June – NQ Jazz at the Whisky Jar, Manchester

18 June – Parr Jazz, Liverpool

3 October – Sound Cellar, Poole

10 October – Future Inns, Bristol

12 October – Jazz at HEART, Leeds

15 October – Hauser & Wirth Recital Hall, Bruton

2 November – The Verdict, Brighton

 

Apophenia

Miguel Gorodi Nonet

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4-5 out of 5

Apophenia

Skilled, consistently interesting & colourful compositions & arrangements are combined with exceptional playing, both individually & collectively, to produce music that both fascinates and excites.

Miguel Gorodi Nonet

“Apophenia”

(Ubuntu Music UBU0021)


Miguel Gorodi is a Spanish born trumpeter and composer who is now based in London following his studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

He is a hugely versatile musician and I have previously encountered his playing in a sideman context in such large ensembles as the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra, Andrew Linham Jazz Orchestra and the Sam Leak Big Band.

Currently Gorodi is a member of pianist Barry Green’s sextet, saxophonist Cassie Kinoshi’s SEED Ensemble, the London City Big Band,  the London Jazz Orchestra and the contemporary trad revivalists the Dixie Ticklers. He has also worked with the vocalists Ian Shaw and Lauren Bush.

He also co-leads a duo with drummer Dave Ingamells and a quartet with alto saxophonist Sam Braysher.

It all makes for a busy musical life but Gorodi also finds time to lead the excellent nonet that appears on this exceptional début recording. Nothing that I’d heard from Gorodi’s work as a sideman prepared me for the quality of this album. In terms of both writing and playing it represents a real eye opener.

The nine piece group that Gorodi has assembled for this recording features some of the UK’s leading jazz musicians and lines up as follows;

Miguel Gorodi – trumpet & flugelhorn
Gareth Lockrane – flutes
Michael Chillingworth – alto sax & clarinet
George Crowley – tenor sax & bass clarinet
Kieran McLeod – trombone
Ray Hearne – tuba
Ralph Wyld – vibraphone
Conor Chaplin – double bass
Dave Hamblett – drums

The album is produced by vibraphonist/drummer/pianist Jim Hart, who approaches Gorodi’s often complex writing with a musician’s ear and helps to bring out the warmth, colour and richness of the music.

As a writer Gorodi is influenced by jazz composers such as Steve Coleman, Steve Lehman, Tyshawn Sorey, Thelonious Monk and Wayne Shorter. From the classical sphere he cites Louis Andriessen, Gerard Grisey, Per Norgard and Igor Stravinsky.

For those confused by the album title (as I was) Gorodi’s liner notes shed valuable light on the concepts behind the music. He explains;
“Apophenia can be defined as the perception of meaning or patterns between unrelated, random things. Although Klaus Conrad originally coined the term in reference to schizophrenia or paranoia, it is also considered a normal human experience resulting from the evolution of our brains. Pattern recognition helps us to identify faces, for example, and to decipher language or music from noise. I have also become fascinated by how apophenia, a process of meaning making, fits into the existentialist idea that life has no objective meaning, purpose or intrinsic value, and that we must create our own. I believe that engaging with art is a means to practice meaning making, and is therefore helpful in fostering a fulfilling life”.

In the press release accompanying my copy of the album he also adds;
“Through my music I’ve tried to communicate my experiences with OCD and depression, my thoughts on how to create meaning and purpose in life, and my concerns about the limitations our psychology and biology may have on determining what is meaningful to us”.

Well, you learn something new every day, and all this is pretty heavy stuff – but if you’re reading this please don’t let the seriousness of the concept put you off listening to what is some pretty amazing and wonderful music.

The album begins with “La Nausee”, inspired by the Jean-Paul Sartre novel “Nausea”, a Sartre quote also appears on the album packaging. Gorodi says of his composition;
“This piece grew out of a very simple idea that is manipulated over and over, resulting in the kind of disorientation Sartre’s protagonist experiences when he suffers attacks of ‘nausea’. I interpreted these as maddening panic attacks brought on by depressing ruminations of meaninglessness”.
The music commences with mesmerising swirls of brass and reeds, seemingly swimming in and out of focus, as if to illustrate Gorodi’s precept. The combination of counterpoint and colourful texture is consistently fascinating and is given additional heft by the subsequent addition of the rhythm section. More conventional soloing comes courtesy of the leader on trumpet, who performs fluently and incisively. He’s followed by the impressive Chillingworth, who displays similar qualities.

“Time Sigmund” is informed by Per Norgard’s ‘infinity series’, which Gorodi describes as “a never ending self perpetuating sequence of numbers that creates a fractal pattern, which balances familiarity with novelty”. Another intriguing composition this features darting, circling, percolating motifs around which individual musicians can improvise. The ensemble passages are reminiscent of Steve Reich style minimalism and one is also reminded of drummer/composer John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet. Bassist Chaplin is the first featured soloist here, followed by Lockrane on flute and Crowley on tenor, with Hamblett also enjoying something of a drum feature in the closing stages as he duels with the staccato blasting of the horns.

The sound of Wyld’s unaccompanied vibes introduces “Search”, initially a more pastoral offering featuring warmly textured reeds and brass but which shades off into a freer central section in which both drums and bass are prominent alongside the now squalling horns. Wyld takes a more orthodox vibes solo within the context of a typically inventive Gorodi arrangement before the piece ends as it began with the sound of solo vibes.

“Amygdala Intro” is a freely structured passage featuring duelling brass and reeds, culminating in the motif that launches “Amygdala” itself which features a punchy, fan-faring arrangement with flautist Lockrane emerging as the featured soloist. Apparently the title refers to the area of the brain responsible for emotions.

I seem to remember “Soma” as being the sedative featured in the Aldous Huxley novel “Brave New World”. Gorodi’s composition of the same name is a tightly arranged ensemble piece that includes solos from the leader on flugel and McLeod on trombone, plus a further feature for the consistently impressive Hamblett.

“Fifths” is another piece of accomplished ensemble writing with the nonet capably negotiating the complexities of the score while Gorodi impresses with the quality of his warm, supple and fluent flugel soloing. Crowley’s burly tenor then adds a little more grit to the oyster.

Producer Hart also adds to the liner notes and his comments with regard to Gorodi’s writing and playing are highly illuminating as he states;
“The playing by the ensemble is superb. It is very difficult music to play but it is delivered in a way which is engaging, playful and full of life. Miguel’s tone on the trumpet and flugelhorn is rich and warm, but it cuts too, and his style combines cool pacing with fiery, attacking lines and intervallic leaps which call to mind many of the trumpet greats throughout the history of jazz. But this is contemporary music coming from someone who has a lot to say and is very much worth listening to.”
Hart also praises Gorodi for his talent and ambition and for the way he brings together “some very heavy influences”.

On then with the music and “Two Trees”, another composition that reinforces Hart’s observations. Rhythmically complex but flawlessly played and never ‘difficult’ the piece features a rousing solo from trombonist McLeod and an equally incisive contribution from Chillingworth within the context of another richly inventive arrangement. Gorodi’s compositions and arrangements have earned comparisons with big band composers such as Gil Evans, Mike Gibbs and George Russell and rightly so, the sound generated by the nonet often sounds bigger than just nine instruments.

Hamblett’s drums introduce the closing “Not Nicest Memo” which maintains the high standards set by the rest of the album. Vibraphonist Wyld is let off the leash to deliver a dazzling, free flowing solo which, is answered by the crisp attack of the leader’s trumpet solo as he too kicks over the traces, encouraged by a stinging bass and drum groove. There’s more terrific ensemble playing too plus something of a feature for Lockrane on flute as this exceptional début album finishes on an energetic, upbeat note.

Gorodi’s music isn’t always easy to describe but it is a constant joy to listen to. Skilled, consistently interesting and colourful compositions and arrangements are combined with some exceptional playing, both individually and collectively, to produce music that both fascinates and excites.

Despite the weightiness of some of the philosophical ideas behind it this is music that is never wilfully ‘difficult’ and its artful blending of jazz with various contemporary classical elements should appeal to a broad array of listeners.

Gorodi and the nonet are well served by the production team of Hart and engineers Alex Bonney and Tyler McDiarmid who ensure that each individual musician is heard at his best, whether as a soloist or as part of a very well balanced ensemble.

Gorodi has produced an exceptional début recording. Let’s hope that it attracts the critical and public reaction that it deserves.


Listeners will get the chance to catch up with Gorodi and the nonet at the following tour dates;


17 June – NQ Jazz at the Whisky Jar, Manchester

18 June – Parr Jazz, Liverpool

3 October – Sound Cellar, Poole

10 October – Future Inns, Bristol

12 October – Jazz at HEART, Leeds

15 October – Hauser & Wirth Recital Hall, Bruton

2 November – The Verdict, Brighton

 

Kino Trio - Il Cielo Sopra Berlino Rating: 4 out of 5 An impressive statement from Kino Trio. With its unashamed focus on melody the quality of the writing impresses throughout.

Kino Trio

“Il Cielo Sopra Berlino”

(Babel Records BDV 19154)

Bruno Heinen – acoustic and electric piano, Michele Tacchi – bass, Riccardo Chiaberta – drums


Pianist and composer Bruno Heinen has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages.
The London based musician has established an impressive reputation in both the jazz and classical music fields, with his work frequently combining elements of the two genres.


Heinen has enjoyed a lengthy association with the Babel record label for whom he has released six previous albums, The first of these, “Twinkle, Twinkle” (2012) was a set of variations on the well known nursery rhyme theme recorded with his Dialogues Trio featuring bassist Andrea di Biase and drummer Jon Scott together with guest reed soloist Julian Siegel.

Next came “Tierkreis”,  (2013) a superb re-interpretation of the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen in a contemporary jazz context which saw Heinen’s group expanded to a sextet with the addition of horn players Fulvio Sigurta (trumpet), Tom Challenger (tenor sax) and James Allsopp (clarinet).

The self explanatory “Postcard To Bill Evans” (2015) was an intimate duo set with the Danish guitarist Kristian Borring, while “Changing Of The Seasons” (2017) re-imagined Vivaldi in a collaboration with the Geneva based string ensemble Camerata Alma Viva.

Also in 2017 Heinen was part of the New Simplicity Trio featuring the Italian drummer and composer Antonio Fusco and the London based Danish bassist Henrik Jensen. These three collaborated on the album “Common Spaces”, also released on Babel.

In 2018 Heinen released the impressive solo piano recording “Mr Vertigo” (Babel), an album he described as being “an exploration of solo piano counterpoint”.  This featured ten pieces that drew on Heinen’s broad range of influences including jazz, classical and even pop music.

Others with whom Heinen has worked include vocalists Reem Kelani, Emilia Martensson and Heidi Vogel, bassist Sebastiano Dessanay and saxophonists Jean Toussaint, Julian Arguelles and Rachael Cohen.

He also occupied the piano chair in a production of Leonard Bernstein’s “Wonderful Town” featuring the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle at the Barbican.

Also something of an academic Heinen studied classical piano at the Royal College of Music with Head of Keyboard Andrew Ball before moving on to complete a Masters Degree in Jazz at the Guildhall where his tutors included the celebrated jazz pianists John Taylor and Pete Saberton, both sadly no longer with us. Heinen dedicated the album “Mr. Vertigo” to their memories.

He recently completed a practice based AHRC funded PhD at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester “Counterpoint in Jazz Piano with specific relation to the solo work of Fred Hersch”.

As a composer Heinen has written pieces for two pianos and percussion, jazz sextet, jazz big band and classical string ensemble. He has won prizes from the Musicians Benevolent Fund and the Countess of Munster Trust and in 2009 was nominated for the Paul Hamlyn Composers Award.

Heinen’s latest jazz project is Kino Trio, a collaboration with the Italian musicians Michele Tacchi (bass) and Riccardo Chiaberta (drums), both of whom are currently based in London. Each is an active sidemen on both the UK and Italian jazz scenes with Chiaberta having previously worked with Heinen in the Reem Kelani band.

Chiaberta has a particularly impressive CV and is part of Dugong, the group led by bassist and composer Andrea di Biase, another Italian born musician familiar to UK audiences. He has also worked with pianist Ivo Neame, the American percussionist David Friedman and a whole host of leading Italian musicians, including Oregon bassist Paolino Dalla Porta’s Future Changes Quartet.

Chiaberta’s band Nirguna released the album “Lux” in 2015 and the multi-talented musician has also released a solo piano recorded titled “A Bird Told Me”. He is also part of the multi-national indie band Kettle Of Kites, led by the Scottish singer and songwriter Tom Stearn.

Besides the Kelani connection the members of the Kino Trio, as their group name suggests, are also united by a shared love of cinema. Tacchi, in particular, has written extensively for the screen and it’s his composition, inspired by the Wim Wenders film “Wings of Desire”, that gives the album its title, the movie having been released in Italy as “Il Cielo Sopra Berlino”.

The members of Kino Trio see themselves as coming very much from the European jazz tradition, with a grounding in classical music very much a part of their sound. The trio is a democratic and highly collaborative project with all three members contributing compositions to the repertoire.

The album commences with Chiaberta’s piece “Diano”, which is introduced by the sound of the composer’s mallet rumbles and cymbal splashes. Chiaberta takes a melodic approach to the drums, acting as a provider of both rhythm and colour.  The opener also introduces the listener to the equally melodic sound of Tacchi’s fretless bass, which assumes the lead for much of the track. Heinen provides the harmonic glue that holds it all together, as well as soloing expansively himself. Attracting the listener’s attention in a totally positive way this is an excellent introduction to both the individual voices of the trio and the overall group sound.

Tacchi’s title track follows, introduced by Heinen’s piano arpeggios, these soon joined by Tacchi’s answering melodic bass motifs and the sound of delicately brushed drums. As with the opener the focus is very much on melody and this is another piece with a suitably cinematic quality about it. Heinen extemporises more fully around the theme but this is essentially a well balanced ensemble performance with bass and drums both playing key roles in the success of the music. Indeed, as the piece gathers momentum Chiaberta is featured more prominently, again demonstrating an innovative and highly melodic approach to the drums.

Also by Tacchi “Canzone Per Leo”  displays a whimsical, tongue in cheek humour as the trio toy with various styles and meters. The leader’s ever melodic bass features strongly and Chiaberta’s playful and colourful drumming is a delight throughout.

Unaccompanied piano arpeggios introduce Chiaberta’s composition “Ram”, the pianist subtly developing his ideas prior to the addition of bass and drums and the resultant surge of energy.
Nevertheless the trio maintain their melodic focus at all times as the music ebbs and flows with Heinen soloing expansively, fluently moving up and down the gears.

Heinen’s own “In Paris” is gently reflective, the atmospheric and cinematic qualities enhanced by the sampled sounds of a Parisian street scene. There’s an intimate duet between piano and bass as the composition gradually unfolds. Tacchi’s melodic approach to the bass owes more to the European cool of Eberhard Weber than it does to the exhibitionism Jaco Pastorius, but there’s no doubting the quality of his technique.

The bassist’s own “Heineniana” acts as a something of a feature for the trio’s pianist as Heinen and Tacchi again combine impressively, their lyrical exchanges enhanced by the delightful details and colourations of Chiaberta’s sensitive, but subtly colourful drumming.

Chiaberta’s composition “Lionel” introduces a different feel as Heinen moves temporarily to electric piano, the Rhodes sound giving the music a grittier edge, but without any loss of the music’s melodic focus. Indeed the interplay between Heinen, Tacchi and Chiaberta is as subtle and nuanced as anywhere else on the album. Heinen and Tacchi both solo effectively here, with Ciaberta adding pertinent percussive commentary at every turn.

The album concludes with Tacchi’s “Le Prince Defectueux” which marks a return to the trio’s signature melodic acoustic sound. Heinen is at his most lyrical and there are correspondingly sensitive contributions from Tacchi and Chiaberta on this short piece, which seems to serve as a kind of valedictory.

“Il Cielo Sopra Berlino” represents an impressive statement from Kino Trio. Combining the influence of cinema, European Jazz and the classical Romantic composers it also manages to channel the spirit of Heinen’s beloved Bill Evans for the 21st century. Kino Trio is very much a partnership of equals with Tacchi’s bass and Chiaberta’s drums playing key roles in the success of the music as they build on the enduring legacies of Scott La Faro and Paul Motian.

With its unashamed focus on melody the quality of the writing impresses throughout and the success of the album is also helped by the excellence of the recorded sound. “Il Cielo Sopra Berlino” was documented at the famous Artesuono Studio in Italy, home to many an ECM session, with the esteemed Stefano Amerio engineering and with the final mixing and mastering being undertaken by Giorgio Andreoli. The high standard of the production ensures that every nuance of the writing and playing is captured, thereby helping to create a hugely satisfying album that is sure to appeal to anybody who is a fan of what has become known as the ‘ECM sound’, particularly within the piano trio format.

The trio have two dates remaining on their current tour as below;


26 June 2019 – 8.00pm
LONDON - Bull’s Head 373 Lonsdale Road, Barnes SW13 9PY


20 July – 7.00pm        
LUTON - The Bear Club, Mill Yard, 24A Guildford St, LU1 2N

Il Cielo Sopra Berlino

Kino Trio

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Il Cielo Sopra Berlino

An impressive statement from Kino Trio. With its unashamed focus on melody the quality of the writing impresses throughout.

Kino Trio

“Il Cielo Sopra Berlino”

(Babel Records BDV 19154)

Bruno Heinen – acoustic and electric piano, Michele Tacchi – bass, Riccardo Chiaberta – drums


Pianist and composer Bruno Heinen has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages.
The London based musician has established an impressive reputation in both the jazz and classical music fields, with his work frequently combining elements of the two genres.


Heinen has enjoyed a lengthy association with the Babel record label for whom he has released six previous albums, The first of these, “Twinkle, Twinkle” (2012) was a set of variations on the well known nursery rhyme theme recorded with his Dialogues Trio featuring bassist Andrea di Biase and drummer Jon Scott together with guest reed soloist Julian Siegel.

Next came “Tierkreis”,  (2013) a superb re-interpretation of the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen in a contemporary jazz context which saw Heinen’s group expanded to a sextet with the addition of horn players Fulvio Sigurta (trumpet), Tom Challenger (tenor sax) and James Allsopp (clarinet).

The self explanatory “Postcard To Bill Evans” (2015) was an intimate duo set with the Danish guitarist Kristian Borring, while “Changing Of The Seasons” (2017) re-imagined Vivaldi in a collaboration with the Geneva based string ensemble Camerata Alma Viva.

Also in 2017 Heinen was part of the New Simplicity Trio featuring the Italian drummer and composer Antonio Fusco and the London based Danish bassist Henrik Jensen. These three collaborated on the album “Common Spaces”, also released on Babel.

In 2018 Heinen released the impressive solo piano recording “Mr Vertigo” (Babel), an album he described as being “an exploration of solo piano counterpoint”.  This featured ten pieces that drew on Heinen’s broad range of influences including jazz, classical and even pop music.

Others with whom Heinen has worked include vocalists Reem Kelani, Emilia Martensson and Heidi Vogel, bassist Sebastiano Dessanay and saxophonists Jean Toussaint, Julian Arguelles and Rachael Cohen.

He also occupied the piano chair in a production of Leonard Bernstein’s “Wonderful Town” featuring the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle at the Barbican.

Also something of an academic Heinen studied classical piano at the Royal College of Music with Head of Keyboard Andrew Ball before moving on to complete a Masters Degree in Jazz at the Guildhall where his tutors included the celebrated jazz pianists John Taylor and Pete Saberton, both sadly no longer with us. Heinen dedicated the album “Mr. Vertigo” to their memories.

He recently completed a practice based AHRC funded PhD at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester “Counterpoint in Jazz Piano with specific relation to the solo work of Fred Hersch”.

As a composer Heinen has written pieces for two pianos and percussion, jazz sextet, jazz big band and classical string ensemble. He has won prizes from the Musicians Benevolent Fund and the Countess of Munster Trust and in 2009 was nominated for the Paul Hamlyn Composers Award.

Heinen’s latest jazz project is Kino Trio, a collaboration with the Italian musicians Michele Tacchi (bass) and Riccardo Chiaberta (drums), both of whom are currently based in London. Each is an active sidemen on both the UK and Italian jazz scenes with Chiaberta having previously worked with Heinen in the Reem Kelani band.

Chiaberta has a particularly impressive CV and is part of Dugong, the group led by bassist and composer Andrea di Biase, another Italian born musician familiar to UK audiences. He has also worked with pianist Ivo Neame, the American percussionist David Friedman and a whole host of leading Italian musicians, including Oregon bassist Paolino Dalla Porta’s Future Changes Quartet.

Chiaberta’s band Nirguna released the album “Lux” in 2015 and the multi-talented musician has also released a solo piano recorded titled “A Bird Told Me”. He is also part of the multi-national indie band Kettle Of Kites, led by the Scottish singer and songwriter Tom Stearn.

Besides the Kelani connection the members of the Kino Trio, as their group name suggests, are also united by a shared love of cinema. Tacchi, in particular, has written extensively for the screen and it’s his composition, inspired by the Wim Wenders film “Wings of Desire”, that gives the album its title, the movie having been released in Italy as “Il Cielo Sopra Berlino”.

The members of Kino Trio see themselves as coming very much from the European jazz tradition, with a grounding in classical music very much a part of their sound. The trio is a democratic and highly collaborative project with all three members contributing compositions to the repertoire.

The album commences with Chiaberta’s piece “Diano”, which is introduced by the sound of the composer’s mallet rumbles and cymbal splashes. Chiaberta takes a melodic approach to the drums, acting as a provider of both rhythm and colour.  The opener also introduces the listener to the equally melodic sound of Tacchi’s fretless bass, which assumes the lead for much of the track. Heinen provides the harmonic glue that holds it all together, as well as soloing expansively himself. Attracting the listener’s attention in a totally positive way this is an excellent introduction to both the individual voices of the trio and the overall group sound.

Tacchi’s title track follows, introduced by Heinen’s piano arpeggios, these soon joined by Tacchi’s answering melodic bass motifs and the sound of delicately brushed drums. As with the opener the focus is very much on melody and this is another piece with a suitably cinematic quality about it. Heinen extemporises more fully around the theme but this is essentially a well balanced ensemble performance with bass and drums both playing key roles in the success of the music. Indeed, as the piece gathers momentum Chiaberta is featured more prominently, again demonstrating an innovative and highly melodic approach to the drums.

Also by Tacchi “Canzone Per Leo”  displays a whimsical, tongue in cheek humour as the trio toy with various styles and meters. The leader’s ever melodic bass features strongly and Chiaberta’s playful and colourful drumming is a delight throughout.

Unaccompanied piano arpeggios introduce Chiaberta’s composition “Ram”, the pianist subtly developing his ideas prior to the addition of bass and drums and the resultant surge of energy.
Nevertheless the trio maintain their melodic focus at all times as the music ebbs and flows with Heinen soloing expansively, fluently moving up and down the gears.

Heinen’s own “In Paris” is gently reflective, the atmospheric and cinematic qualities enhanced by the sampled sounds of a Parisian street scene. There’s an intimate duet between piano and bass as the composition gradually unfolds. Tacchi’s melodic approach to the bass owes more to the European cool of Eberhard Weber than it does to the exhibitionism Jaco Pastorius, but there’s no doubting the quality of his technique.

The bassist’s own “Heineniana” acts as a something of a feature for the trio’s pianist as Heinen and Tacchi again combine impressively, their lyrical exchanges enhanced by the delightful details and colourations of Chiaberta’s sensitive, but subtly colourful drumming.

Chiaberta’s composition “Lionel” introduces a different feel as Heinen moves temporarily to electric piano, the Rhodes sound giving the music a grittier edge, but without any loss of the music’s melodic focus. Indeed the interplay between Heinen, Tacchi and Chiaberta is as subtle and nuanced as anywhere else on the album. Heinen and Tacchi both solo effectively here, with Ciaberta adding pertinent percussive commentary at every turn.

The album concludes with Tacchi’s “Le Prince Defectueux” which marks a return to the trio’s signature melodic acoustic sound. Heinen is at his most lyrical and there are correspondingly sensitive contributions from Tacchi and Chiaberta on this short piece, which seems to serve as a kind of valedictory.

“Il Cielo Sopra Berlino” represents an impressive statement from Kino Trio. Combining the influence of cinema, European Jazz and the classical Romantic composers it also manages to channel the spirit of Heinen’s beloved Bill Evans for the 21st century. Kino Trio is very much a partnership of equals with Tacchi’s bass and Chiaberta’s drums playing key roles in the success of the music as they build on the enduring legacies of Scott La Faro and Paul Motian.

With its unashamed focus on melody the quality of the writing impresses throughout and the success of the album is also helped by the excellence of the recorded sound. “Il Cielo Sopra Berlino” was documented at the famous Artesuono Studio in Italy, home to many an ECM session, with the esteemed Stefano Amerio engineering and with the final mixing and mastering being undertaken by Giorgio Andreoli. The high standard of the production ensures that every nuance of the writing and playing is captured, thereby helping to create a hugely satisfying album that is sure to appeal to anybody who is a fan of what has become known as the ‘ECM sound’, particularly within the piano trio format.

The trio have two dates remaining on their current tour as below;


26 June 2019 – 8.00pm
LONDON - Bull’s Head 373 Lonsdale Road, Barnes SW13 9PY


20 July – 7.00pm        
LUTON - The Bear Club, Mill Yard, 24A Guildford St, LU1 2N

Shez Raja - Journey to Shambhala Rating: 4 out of 5 A well balanced group performance where the ensemble playing is key. Raja's bass is at the heart of the music and his writing exhibits a growing compositional maturity,

Shez Raja

“Journey to Shambhala”

Raja Records RR001)

Shez Raja (electric bass),Monika Lidke (vocals), Pascal Roggen (violin), Alex Stanford (piano, keyboards), Vasilis Xenopoulos (saxophones) and Chris Nickolls (drums) with guests Trilok Gurtu (tabla, konnakol, djembe, cajon), Wayne Krantz (electric guitar).


Shez Raja is a British-Asian bass player and composer, originally from the Wirral but now based in London. He began playing classical violin at the age of nine before switching to electric bass at thirteen. After studying at Leeds College of Music Raja became an in demand session musician, his credits covering genres ranging from folk to hip-hop. Among those he has played with are the bands Elephant Talk and Loka plus the hip-hop artist MC Lyte.

Raja formed his regular working band, or Collective, in 2007 and subsequently released three studio albums, “Magica” (2007) “Ten Of Wands” (2008) and Mystic Radikal” (2010). The line-up has included some of the best UK based jazz musicians, among them saxophonist Andy Sheppard and trumpeter Claude Deppa.

Raja is something of a showman and has established an excellent reputation for the exciting qualities of his live appearances. In 2017 I was fortunate enough to enjoy an electrifying performance by him and the Collective at the Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in Abergavenny.

In 2014 Raja released the album “Soho Live” recorded over the course of several appearances at London’s famous Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho. Besides Raja’s regular Collective the album also included contributions from illustrious guests such as saxophonist Gilad Atzmon and Soweto Kinch, clarinettist Shabaka Hutchings and trumpeter Jay Phelps.

The studio album “Gurutopia” was released in 2016 on the New York based Dot Time label and featured guest appearances from two leading American jazz musicians, trumpeter Randy Brecker and guitarist Mike Stern. The involvement of these two big name guests represented quite a coup for Raja and helped to ensure that his reputation continued to grow, both in the UK and internationally.

Raja’s latest album, the first to be released on his own record label, features two more famous international guests, the Indian percussionist and vocalist Trilok Gurtu and the American guitarist Wayne Krantz. These two join Raja’s regular Collective members comprising of Monika Lidke (vocals), Pascal Roggen (violin), Alex Stanford (piano, keyboards), Vasilis Xenopoulos (saxophones) and Chris Nickolls (drums).

“Journey to Shambhala” is a semi conceptual affair with Raja’s liner notes describing the inspirations behind the music thus;
“The music on this album is inspired by a short story that I wrote called ‘Journey to Shambhala’. It tells the tale of a young man who embarks on a journey to discover the mystical city of Shambhala. He has a wild experience of excitement, danger, friendships, love and deceit but ultimately this tale about the pursuit of happiness holds the message that, as in life, the journey often holds as much wonder as the destination.
The story was partly inspired by travels with my family to the Punjab region of the Indian sub-continent as a young boy, where I immersed myself in the musical culture of my South Asian roots.
My vision for this record was to merge my rich musical heritage with my diverse playing experiences to create exciting and passionate music that blends East with West. I wanted to create an authentic and distinctive sound and was delighted to have the opportunity to collaborate with the Indian percussion guru Trilok Gurtu and legendary guitarist Wayne Krantz.”

The album booklet tells the tale of the fictional Raj, a young poet and artist, who dreams of discovering the mystical city of Shambhala. Against his mother’s wishes, but with the support of his father, he sets off to find it. On the evening before his departure a farewell party is held in his village, with singing and dancing throughout the night. This first part of the story finds musical expression in the form of the album’s opening track, itself called “Shambhala”. This is a lively piece, propelled by hard driving grooves and featuring the core Collective. Indian melodies combine with Western rock rhythms and there’s even a hint of Jamaican dub reggae in the mix. Electric and acoustic sounds combine, with Stanford’s keyboards playing a prominent role.

Raj sets forth the following day, befriending Abdul, a merchant that he meets on his travels. The pair decide to journey together but they are ambushed by a group of robbers. After fighting them off they capture one robber, but the two friends disagree about how to treat him. Eventually he is released, but a rift is formed between the Raj and Abdul
This series of adventures is chronicled in the track “Dharma Dance” with its deep bass grooves and exotic percussive rhythms, courtesy of guest Gurtu, who also adds the distinctive sounds of konnakol, or vocal percussion.

Raj and Abdul meet a young woman named Lakshmi who is also searching for Shambhala. Lakshmi’s late uncle was an astronomer and she tells Raj about the star constellations that signal the way to Shambhala. A relationship begins to blossom between Raj and Lakshmi which finds expression in the tune “Lakshmi”.
Following the all out energy of the two opening numbers this piece offers something of a pause for breath with its drifting melodies featuring the soaring wordless vocals of Lidke. There’s a delightfully melodic and liquid electric bass solo from the leader before a second episode of konnakol from Gurtu, who also features on tabla.

Abdul takes Raj and Lakshmi to the home of one of his friends. Their hosts drug Raj and Lakshmi, who experience intense visions and hallucinations. When they wake they find that they have been imprisoned by Abdul, who is jealous of their burgeoning relationship.
The track “Get Cosmic” illustrates this episode and is an appropriately intense piece of music with Stanford’s synths providing some suitably psychedelic noises. Elsewhere there are some powerful rock influenced grooves, with drummer Nickolls in particularly impressive form. His dynamic playing helps to fuel a feverishly inventive guitar solo from guest Wayne Krantz while the leader also features strongly on heavily distorted, guitar like, electric bass.

The couple escape from their captors by jumping from the window of their prison tower into the river below, swimming to safety before collapsing unconscious on the river bank. They awake the following day in a hidden cave on the far side of the river, but with no knowledge of how they got there.
The composition “Epiphany” chronicles this section of the story with Lidke again supplying wordless vocals and with Roggen adding an airy violin solo. Both Gurtu and Krantz make guest appearances, with the guitarist giving the piece a considerable boost with his high octane, turbo charged soloing.

On leaving the cave Raj and Lakshmi encounter an old guru in a hooded cloak who gifts them the white elephant that he was riding. The couple ride the elephant, named Airavata, across the desert towards Shambhala, eventually stopping at an oasis.
The bass and drum rhythms of “Guru’s Gift” initially suggest the gait of the elephant. Melodies float above the rhythmic undertow with Lidke’s soaring vocal complemented by the sounds of sax, violin and organ.

The couple press on into a forested region where they set up camp. Raj wakes to find that Lakshmi is missing and finds that she has been abducted by a group of sun worshippers and taken to their temple. Raj and Airavata storm the temple and battle with the sun worshippers, helped by a mysterious masked warrior whose involvement gives Raj and Lakshmi time to escape, although the elephant, Airavata, is killed.
“Battle of the Sun Temple” is a suitably frenetic piece of music with some typically robust bass and drum grooves topped off by some slippery, darting instrumental melody lines courtesy of Roggen, Xenopoulos and Stanford, with the latter adding a surging synthesiser solo .Raja himself solos on heavily treated electric bass, his use of extreme electronic effects being a characteristic of his playing throughout the album, sometimes to the bemusement of the listener!

Raj and Lakshmi continue their journey and eventually arrive at the mystical city of Shambhala, only to find it in ruins. Nevertheless Raj realises that he has found what he was looking for, his soul-mate Lakshmi. The couple declare their love for each other and decide to marry. They are joined at Shambhala by Raj’s father, who has followed them throughout their journey. It was he who took them to the cave and was both the guru and the masked warrior. All three return to Raj’s home village for the wedding, turning the village into their own Shambhala.
The final piece, “Devotion”, gathers together the loose ends of the story and the mood of the piece is one of thankfulness and acceptance. Commencing with the sound of acoustic piano the piece has a calming, gently lilting and lyrical quality with Lidke’s pure, wordless vocals taking the lead as Stanford, Roggen and Xenopoulos add delightful melodic flourishes, the last named also adding a full length saxophone solo.

But even now the story isn’t quite over as the album comes with no fewer than three bonus tracks.  The British DJ and re-mixer Happy Cat Jay, something of a rising star in his field, contributes three re-workings of tracks from the album, “Shambhala”, Lakshmi” and “Epiphany”. 

All are shorter than the originals but each sounds radically different as Jay puts his own stamp on the proceedings. These re-mixes are clearly rooted in contemporary dance culture, an area normally outside my usual listening zone. However it’s interesting to listen to these re-mixes and to observe how the source material has been shaped and treated and turned into something new.  It’s hearing these mutations immediately after the originals that helps older listeners like me to appreciate that re-mixing is a genuinely creative process, an art form in itself, if you will.

As diverting as the remixes are the success of the album rests on the eight movements of the “Journey to Shambhala” suite. It may be a concept album of sorts but each piece can be enjoyed in its own right as a stand alone item, regardless of its position within the story. With no narrative or no lyrics the music succeeds on its own terms without being bogged down by the story, Rick Wakeman please note. Reading the story, which some listeners may regard as rather twee, offers some insight as to the inspiration behind the music, but it’s certainly not essential.  Raja’s compositions succeed in purely musical terms.

As befits a bassist inspired by Stanley Clarke, Jaco Pastorius, Marcus Miller, Victor Wooten and others the album is rhythmically buoyant throughout with Raja and Nickolls laying down some memorable grooves. These are well served by the regular members of the Collective who add colour, melody and texture in a well balanced group performance where the ensemble playing is key, there are few conventional jazz solos as such. Indeed the most striking individual features come from the guest performers, Gurtu with his distinctive konnakol vocal percussion and Krantz with his searing guitar solos. A word too for Lidke’s vocals with the Polish born singer achieving an authentic and convincing Asian sound.

Raja’s bass is at the heart of the music and his writing exhibits a growing compositional maturity, with greater textural richness and a greater sense of light and shade than previously.

He and his band are probably still best appreciated in the excitement of the live environment and they can be seen at the following dates;


2019 Live dates (updates at http://www.shezraja.com/gigs):

14 June – 606 Club, London
13 July – Petrojazz Festival, St Petersburg, Russia
8 September – Pizza Express Dean Street, London
20 September – Bear Club, Luton
10 October – 606 Club, London

 

Journey to Shambhala

Shez Raja

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Journey to Shambhala

A well balanced group performance where the ensemble playing is key. Raja's bass is at the heart of the music and his writing exhibits a growing compositional maturity,

Shez Raja

“Journey to Shambhala”

Raja Records RR001)

Shez Raja (electric bass),Monika Lidke (vocals), Pascal Roggen (violin), Alex Stanford (piano, keyboards), Vasilis Xenopoulos (saxophones) and Chris Nickolls (drums) with guests Trilok Gurtu (tabla, konnakol, djembe, cajon), Wayne Krantz (electric guitar).


Shez Raja is a British-Asian bass player and composer, originally from the Wirral but now based in London. He began playing classical violin at the age of nine before switching to electric bass at thirteen. After studying at Leeds College of Music Raja became an in demand session musician, his credits covering genres ranging from folk to hip-hop. Among those he has played with are the bands Elephant Talk and Loka plus the hip-hop artist MC Lyte.

Raja formed his regular working band, or Collective, in 2007 and subsequently released three studio albums, “Magica” (2007) “Ten Of Wands” (2008) and Mystic Radikal” (2010). The line-up has included some of the best UK based jazz musicians, among them saxophonist Andy Sheppard and trumpeter Claude Deppa.

Raja is something of a showman and has established an excellent reputation for the exciting qualities of his live appearances. In 2017 I was fortunate enough to enjoy an electrifying performance by him and the Collective at the Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in Abergavenny.

In 2014 Raja released the album “Soho Live” recorded over the course of several appearances at London’s famous Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho. Besides Raja’s regular Collective the album also included contributions from illustrious guests such as saxophonist Gilad Atzmon and Soweto Kinch, clarinettist Shabaka Hutchings and trumpeter Jay Phelps.

The studio album “Gurutopia” was released in 2016 on the New York based Dot Time label and featured guest appearances from two leading American jazz musicians, trumpeter Randy Brecker and guitarist Mike Stern. The involvement of these two big name guests represented quite a coup for Raja and helped to ensure that his reputation continued to grow, both in the UK and internationally.

Raja’s latest album, the first to be released on his own record label, features two more famous international guests, the Indian percussionist and vocalist Trilok Gurtu and the American guitarist Wayne Krantz. These two join Raja’s regular Collective members comprising of Monika Lidke (vocals), Pascal Roggen (violin), Alex Stanford (piano, keyboards), Vasilis Xenopoulos (saxophones) and Chris Nickolls (drums).

“Journey to Shambhala” is a semi conceptual affair with Raja’s liner notes describing the inspirations behind the music thus;
“The music on this album is inspired by a short story that I wrote called ‘Journey to Shambhala’. It tells the tale of a young man who embarks on a journey to discover the mystical city of Shambhala. He has a wild experience of excitement, danger, friendships, love and deceit but ultimately this tale about the pursuit of happiness holds the message that, as in life, the journey often holds as much wonder as the destination.
The story was partly inspired by travels with my family to the Punjab region of the Indian sub-continent as a young boy, where I immersed myself in the musical culture of my South Asian roots.
My vision for this record was to merge my rich musical heritage with my diverse playing experiences to create exciting and passionate music that blends East with West. I wanted to create an authentic and distinctive sound and was delighted to have the opportunity to collaborate with the Indian percussion guru Trilok Gurtu and legendary guitarist Wayne Krantz.”

The album booklet tells the tale of the fictional Raj, a young poet and artist, who dreams of discovering the mystical city of Shambhala. Against his mother’s wishes, but with the support of his father, he sets off to find it. On the evening before his departure a farewell party is held in his village, with singing and dancing throughout the night. This first part of the story finds musical expression in the form of the album’s opening track, itself called “Shambhala”. This is a lively piece, propelled by hard driving grooves and featuring the core Collective. Indian melodies combine with Western rock rhythms and there’s even a hint of Jamaican dub reggae in the mix. Electric and acoustic sounds combine, with Stanford’s keyboards playing a prominent role.

Raj sets forth the following day, befriending Abdul, a merchant that he meets on his travels. The pair decide to journey together but they are ambushed by a group of robbers. After fighting them off they capture one robber, but the two friends disagree about how to treat him. Eventually he is released, but a rift is formed between the Raj and Abdul
This series of adventures is chronicled in the track “Dharma Dance” with its deep bass grooves and exotic percussive rhythms, courtesy of guest Gurtu, who also adds the distinctive sounds of konnakol, or vocal percussion.

Raj and Abdul meet a young woman named Lakshmi who is also searching for Shambhala. Lakshmi’s late uncle was an astronomer and she tells Raj about the star constellations that signal the way to Shambhala. A relationship begins to blossom between Raj and Lakshmi which finds expression in the tune “Lakshmi”.
Following the all out energy of the two opening numbers this piece offers something of a pause for breath with its drifting melodies featuring the soaring wordless vocals of Lidke. There’s a delightfully melodic and liquid electric bass solo from the leader before a second episode of konnakol from Gurtu, who also features on tabla.

Abdul takes Raj and Lakshmi to the home of one of his friends. Their hosts drug Raj and Lakshmi, who experience intense visions and hallucinations. When they wake they find that they have been imprisoned by Abdul, who is jealous of their burgeoning relationship.
The track “Get Cosmic” illustrates this episode and is an appropriately intense piece of music with Stanford’s synths providing some suitably psychedelic noises. Elsewhere there are some powerful rock influenced grooves, with drummer Nickolls in particularly impressive form. His dynamic playing helps to fuel a feverishly inventive guitar solo from guest Wayne Krantz while the leader also features strongly on heavily distorted, guitar like, electric bass.

The couple escape from their captors by jumping from the window of their prison tower into the river below, swimming to safety before collapsing unconscious on the river bank. They awake the following day in a hidden cave on the far side of the river, but with no knowledge of how they got there.
The composition “Epiphany” chronicles this section of the story with Lidke again supplying wordless vocals and with Roggen adding an airy violin solo. Both Gurtu and Krantz make guest appearances, with the guitarist giving the piece a considerable boost with his high octane, turbo charged soloing.

On leaving the cave Raj and Lakshmi encounter an old guru in a hooded cloak who gifts them the white elephant that he was riding. The couple ride the elephant, named Airavata, across the desert towards Shambhala, eventually stopping at an oasis.
The bass and drum rhythms of “Guru’s Gift” initially suggest the gait of the elephant. Melodies float above the rhythmic undertow with Lidke’s soaring vocal complemented by the sounds of sax, violin and organ.

The couple press on into a forested region where they set up camp. Raj wakes to find that Lakshmi is missing and finds that she has been abducted by a group of sun worshippers and taken to their temple. Raj and Airavata storm the temple and battle with the sun worshippers, helped by a mysterious masked warrior whose involvement gives Raj and Lakshmi time to escape, although the elephant, Airavata, is killed.
“Battle of the Sun Temple” is a suitably frenetic piece of music with some typically robust bass and drum grooves topped off by some slippery, darting instrumental melody lines courtesy of Roggen, Xenopoulos and Stanford, with the latter adding a surging synthesiser solo .Raja himself solos on heavily treated electric bass, his use of extreme electronic effects being a characteristic of his playing throughout the album, sometimes to the bemusement of the listener!

Raj and Lakshmi continue their journey and eventually arrive at the mystical city of Shambhala, only to find it in ruins. Nevertheless Raj realises that he has found what he was looking for, his soul-mate Lakshmi. The couple declare their love for each other and decide to marry. They are joined at Shambhala by Raj’s father, who has followed them throughout their journey. It was he who took them to the cave and was both the guru and the masked warrior. All three return to Raj’s home village for the wedding, turning the village into their own Shambhala.
The final piece, “Devotion”, gathers together the loose ends of the story and the mood of the piece is one of thankfulness and acceptance. Commencing with the sound of acoustic piano the piece has a calming, gently lilting and lyrical quality with Lidke’s pure, wordless vocals taking the lead as Stanford, Roggen and Xenopoulos add delightful melodic flourishes, the last named also adding a full length saxophone solo.

But even now the story isn’t quite over as the album comes with no fewer than three bonus tracks.  The British DJ and re-mixer Happy Cat Jay, something of a rising star in his field, contributes three re-workings of tracks from the album, “Shambhala”, Lakshmi” and “Epiphany”. 

All are shorter than the originals but each sounds radically different as Jay puts his own stamp on the proceedings. These re-mixes are clearly rooted in contemporary dance culture, an area normally outside my usual listening zone. However it’s interesting to listen to these re-mixes and to observe how the source material has been shaped and treated and turned into something new.  It’s hearing these mutations immediately after the originals that helps older listeners like me to appreciate that re-mixing is a genuinely creative process, an art form in itself, if you will.

As diverting as the remixes are the success of the album rests on the eight movements of the “Journey to Shambhala” suite. It may be a concept album of sorts but each piece can be enjoyed in its own right as a stand alone item, regardless of its position within the story. With no narrative or no lyrics the music succeeds on its own terms without being bogged down by the story, Rick Wakeman please note. Reading the story, which some listeners may regard as rather twee, offers some insight as to the inspiration behind the music, but it’s certainly not essential.  Raja’s compositions succeed in purely musical terms.

As befits a bassist inspired by Stanley Clarke, Jaco Pastorius, Marcus Miller, Victor Wooten and others the album is rhythmically buoyant throughout with Raja and Nickolls laying down some memorable grooves. These are well served by the regular members of the Collective who add colour, melody and texture in a well balanced group performance where the ensemble playing is key, there are few conventional jazz solos as such. Indeed the most striking individual features come from the guest performers, Gurtu with his distinctive konnakol vocal percussion and Krantz with his searing guitar solos. A word too for Lidke’s vocals with the Polish born singer achieving an authentic and convincing Asian sound.

Raja’s bass is at the heart of the music and his writing exhibits a growing compositional maturity, with greater textural richness and a greater sense of light and shade than previously.

He and his band are probably still best appreciated in the excitement of the live environment and they can be seen at the following dates;


2019 Live dates (updates at http://www.shezraja.com/gigs):

14 June – 606 Club, London
13 July – Petrojazz Festival, St Petersburg, Russia
8 September – Pizza Express Dean Street, London
20 September – Bear Club, Luton
10 October – 606 Club, London

 

Animal Society - RISE EP Rating: 4 out of 5 Combining rock energy and power with jazz chops this is music that is simultaneously viscerally exciting and intellectually satisfying.

Animal Society

“RISE”  EP

Animal Society is a new quintet led by award winning guitarist and composer Joe Williamson.

A former Peter Whittingham Award winner Williamson has previously appeared on two albums as part of the collaborative quartet Square One. He is also a member of the group Strata.

In 2018 Williamson was named as Scotland’s Young Jazz Musician of the Year, being awarded the prize at the live final at that year’s Glasgow Jazz Festival.

Animal Society is a group that brings together Williamson’s various influences, these including jazz, prog and metal. “RISE” was issued in April 2018 and the press release accompanying my promo copy of the CD cites the band’s influences as including Rage Against the Machine, Pat Metheny and E.S.T.

A listener of my age, brought up in the prog rock era, can hear all sorts of other things in there as well, including some that Williamson himself has probably never even heard of, a classic case of great musical minds reaching the same point entirely independently of one another.

Although Williamson is the group’s sole composer and his guitar the dominant instrument Animal Society boasts an unusual and distinctive instrumental line up. It features not one, but two keyboard players, Alan Benzie, himself a former Scottish Young Jazz Musician of the Year, and Craig McMahon. Williamson’s Strata bandmate Graham Costello is at the drum kit and the line up is completed by Gus Stirrat on electric bass.

Of these Benzie is probably the best known to jazz audiences. A graduate of the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, USA, Benzie is the leader of his own acoustic piano trio with whom he has released two excellent albums, “Traveller’s Tales” (2015) and “Little Mysteries” (2018). He also plays electric keyboards with the Snarky Puppy influenced Scottish big band Fat Suit and appears on their barnstorming 2016 album release “Atlas”.

Animal Society is closer in spirit to Fat Suit than it is to Benzie’s trio and in the context of Williamson’s band Benzie plays electric keyboards, providing the majority of the keyboard solos. Meanwhile McMahon, the most recent recruit to the band and also a member of Fat Suit, provides electronic texturing and powerful synthesised bass lines.

The two keyboard line up and the obvious influence of metal on Animal Society’s music reminded me of Starebaby, the American quintet led by drummer and composer Dan Weiss. Starebaby, who recently appeared at the 2019 Cheltenham Jazz Festival, also acknowledge a strong metal influence and sport two keyboard players in the shapes of Craig Taborn and Matt Mitchell. It may be that they have influenced Animal Society, although in general Williamson’s writing is less complex and drum-centric than that of Weiss. However the two groups share a similar intensity in performance.

“RISE” features four lengthy original compositions from Williamson and clocks in at around the forty minute mark, making it practically an album in old money. BBC Radio Scotland presenter Seonaid Aitken described the band’s music as “jazz with a heavy rock edge” and it’s a summation that serves the music well. Yes, there’s plenty of hard edged metallic riffing and powerful grooves but there’s also a healthy degree of harmonic development and light and shade within Williamson’s shifting, ever evolving compositions.

“RISE” itself (the capitals are Williamson’s) opens the album and was also released as a single, attracting a considerable degree of online interest. It sets the template for the album as a whole as it roars out of the blocks with a barrage of drums and guitars in a manner akin to Deep Purple’s “Speed King”. Williamson then churns out some chunky math rock riffs, underscored by chiming keyboards and Costello’s powerhouse drumming. But it’s not all hammer and tongs, there are more contemplative and atmospheric moments too which help to establish the jazz credentials of the music. The episodic nature of the writing hints at the acknowledged Metheny influence but Williamson’s guitar never sounds like Pat’s, it’s far too raw and too obviously rock and metal influenced for that. Maybe Mahavishnu era John McLaughlin would be a better comparison with Williamson cranking out feverish solos as the band embrace and deliver the “heavy riffs, tight grooves and big guitar moments” that are promised in the press release.

With the exception of the slight lull after the furious opening salvo “RISE” is pretty much an intense outpouring of energy all the way through. “Illuminate” promises to be more contemplative and atmospheric as it emerges out of Costello’s mallet rumbles to incorporate spacey guitar and keyboard textures. But Animal Society aren’t a band that stands still, rarely settling on one atmosphere for long, and they’re soon ratcheting up the tension and increasing the energy levels.
There’s some more meaty riffing from the leader, aided and abetted by muscular electric bass and dynamic drumming. Benzie produces a searing synth solo that evokes comparisons with his work in Fat Suit. I’m also reminded of Snarky Puppy and of electric era Return to Forever. Williamson takes over with a guitar solo that skilfully mutates from gently ruminative to full on soaring anthemic magnificence.  And there’s more to come as the music passes through several more phases, with Stirrat’s electric bass coming to the fore at one juncture before the guitars and synths take over once more, dovetailing dramatically before a rousing closing section that gives a degree of prominence to Costello’s volcanic drumming, although the riffing of the rest of the band is no less gargantuan. The way in which Williamson and his colleagues negotiate the dynamic contrasts that characterise his writing is consistently impressive, this is a group that effectively combines a youthful musical brio with the sophistication and maturity necessary to navigate the complexity of the material. This is music that is simultaneously viscerally exciting and intellectually satisfying.

“Ripples” commences with a set of suitably undulating arpeggios that shimmer atmospherically on the horizon as Costello switches to brushes and Stirrat provides a delightfully liquid and melodic electric bass solo. There’s even a dash of acoustic guitar from the leader. As the piece gradually gathers momentum Benzie delivers another astonishing synth solo on what sounds like a vintage analogue model, again dovetailing effectively with the cry of Williams’ soaring guitar, the leader subsequently assuming pole position and heading for the stratosphere, before eventually slowing down on re-entry.

The closing “Morning Star” emerges from a military style bass and drum groove and a melodic keyboard motif that shapes the direction of the track. Snatches of folk melody combine with heavy, prog like riffs, these punctuated by more reflective episodes such as the thoughtful Rhodes solo, presumably provided by Benzie. Williamson’s subsequent solo increases the energy levels as the guitarist reaches for the stars once more, spurred on by Costello’s powerful drumming. Again the music ebbs and flows, a brief contemplative moment only serving to clear the way for more monstrous riffing and flyaway guitar soloing, followed by a gently atmospheric conclusion as the piece resolves itself.

“RISE” represents a highly impressive début from Animal Society as the band combine rock energy and power with jazz chops to create music that is both exciting and intelligent. Much of it is pretty high octane stuff which might frighten away the jazz purists but for anybody, like myself, who can appreciate both jazz and rock there is much to enjoy here. Williamson’s writing is full of twists and turns and startling dynamic contrasts, thus ensuring that listeners are kept on their toes at all times.

I’m reminded of several different artists when listening to this, among them McLaughlin, Metheny and Corea. One reviewer suggested that Animal Society’s music is more akin to that of the post E.S.T. projects of Magnus Ostrom and Dan Berglund rather than E.S.T. itself, and I’d go along with that.

I also hear hints of King Crimson and of Jon Hiseman’s Colosseum II, the band in which rockers Gary Moore (guitar) and Don Airey (keyboards) flexed their jazz muscles.

On a more contemporary note I also see parallels between Animal Society and Flying Machines, the London based quartet led by guitarist and composer Alex Munk. Both bands readily fuse jazz and rock elements and do so with great energy and abandon. Flying Machines are quite happy to use the ‘f’ word and to describe their music as ‘fusion’ without any hint of embarrassment. I’d wager that Animal Society probably are too.

And I bet that like their London counterparts Animal Society are also a highly exciting live proposition. They’ve already performed extensively in Scotland, let’s hope that they get the chance to venture south of the border. After hearing this recording I’d relish the opportunity of seeing this exciting young quintet live.

 

RISE EP

Animal Society

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

EP Review

4 out of 5

RISE EP

Combining rock energy and power with jazz chops this is music that is simultaneously viscerally exciting and intellectually satisfying.

Animal Society

“RISE”  EP

Animal Society is a new quintet led by award winning guitarist and composer Joe Williamson.

A former Peter Whittingham Award winner Williamson has previously appeared on two albums as part of the collaborative quartet Square One. He is also a member of the group Strata.

In 2018 Williamson was named as Scotland’s Young Jazz Musician of the Year, being awarded the prize at the live final at that year’s Glasgow Jazz Festival.

Animal Society is a group that brings together Williamson’s various influences, these including jazz, prog and metal. “RISE” was issued in April 2018 and the press release accompanying my promo copy of the CD cites the band’s influences as including Rage Against the Machine, Pat Metheny and E.S.T.

A listener of my age, brought up in the prog rock era, can hear all sorts of other things in there as well, including some that Williamson himself has probably never even heard of, a classic case of great musical minds reaching the same point entirely independently of one another.

Although Williamson is the group’s sole composer and his guitar the dominant instrument Animal Society boasts an unusual and distinctive instrumental line up. It features not one, but two keyboard players, Alan Benzie, himself a former Scottish Young Jazz Musician of the Year, and Craig McMahon. Williamson’s Strata bandmate Graham Costello is at the drum kit and the line up is completed by Gus Stirrat on electric bass.

Of these Benzie is probably the best known to jazz audiences. A graduate of the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, USA, Benzie is the leader of his own acoustic piano trio with whom he has released two excellent albums, “Traveller’s Tales” (2015) and “Little Mysteries” (2018). He also plays electric keyboards with the Snarky Puppy influenced Scottish big band Fat Suit and appears on their barnstorming 2016 album release “Atlas”.

Animal Society is closer in spirit to Fat Suit than it is to Benzie’s trio and in the context of Williamson’s band Benzie plays electric keyboards, providing the majority of the keyboard solos. Meanwhile McMahon, the most recent recruit to the band and also a member of Fat Suit, provides electronic texturing and powerful synthesised bass lines.

The two keyboard line up and the obvious influence of metal on Animal Society’s music reminded me of Starebaby, the American quintet led by drummer and composer Dan Weiss. Starebaby, who recently appeared at the 2019 Cheltenham Jazz Festival, also acknowledge a strong metal influence and sport two keyboard players in the shapes of Craig Taborn and Matt Mitchell. It may be that they have influenced Animal Society, although in general Williamson’s writing is less complex and drum-centric than that of Weiss. However the two groups share a similar intensity in performance.

“RISE” features four lengthy original compositions from Williamson and clocks in at around the forty minute mark, making it practically an album in old money. BBC Radio Scotland presenter Seonaid Aitken described the band’s music as “jazz with a heavy rock edge” and it’s a summation that serves the music well. Yes, there’s plenty of hard edged metallic riffing and powerful grooves but there’s also a healthy degree of harmonic development and light and shade within Williamson’s shifting, ever evolving compositions.

“RISE” itself (the capitals are Williamson’s) opens the album and was also released as a single, attracting a considerable degree of online interest. It sets the template for the album as a whole as it roars out of the blocks with a barrage of drums and guitars in a manner akin to Deep Purple’s “Speed King”. Williamson then churns out some chunky math rock riffs, underscored by chiming keyboards and Costello’s powerhouse drumming. But it’s not all hammer and tongs, there are more contemplative and atmospheric moments too which help to establish the jazz credentials of the music. The episodic nature of the writing hints at the acknowledged Metheny influence but Williamson’s guitar never sounds like Pat’s, it’s far too raw and too obviously rock and metal influenced for that. Maybe Mahavishnu era John McLaughlin would be a better comparison with Williamson cranking out feverish solos as the band embrace and deliver the “heavy riffs, tight grooves and big guitar moments” that are promised in the press release.

With the exception of the slight lull after the furious opening salvo “RISE” is pretty much an intense outpouring of energy all the way through. “Illuminate” promises to be more contemplative and atmospheric as it emerges out of Costello’s mallet rumbles to incorporate spacey guitar and keyboard textures. But Animal Society aren’t a band that stands still, rarely settling on one atmosphere for long, and they’re soon ratcheting up the tension and increasing the energy levels.
There’s some more meaty riffing from the leader, aided and abetted by muscular electric bass and dynamic drumming. Benzie produces a searing synth solo that evokes comparisons with his work in Fat Suit. I’m also reminded of Snarky Puppy and of electric era Return to Forever. Williamson takes over with a guitar solo that skilfully mutates from gently ruminative to full on soaring anthemic magnificence.  And there’s more to come as the music passes through several more phases, with Stirrat’s electric bass coming to the fore at one juncture before the guitars and synths take over once more, dovetailing dramatically before a rousing closing section that gives a degree of prominence to Costello’s volcanic drumming, although the riffing of the rest of the band is no less gargantuan. The way in which Williamson and his colleagues negotiate the dynamic contrasts that characterise his writing is consistently impressive, this is a group that effectively combines a youthful musical brio with the sophistication and maturity necessary to navigate the complexity of the material. This is music that is simultaneously viscerally exciting and intellectually satisfying.

“Ripples” commences with a set of suitably undulating arpeggios that shimmer atmospherically on the horizon as Costello switches to brushes and Stirrat provides a delightfully liquid and melodic electric bass solo. There’s even a dash of acoustic guitar from the leader. As the piece gradually gathers momentum Benzie delivers another astonishing synth solo on what sounds like a vintage analogue model, again dovetailing effectively with the cry of Williams’ soaring guitar, the leader subsequently assuming pole position and heading for the stratosphere, before eventually slowing down on re-entry.

The closing “Morning Star” emerges from a military style bass and drum groove and a melodic keyboard motif that shapes the direction of the track. Snatches of folk melody combine with heavy, prog like riffs, these punctuated by more reflective episodes such as the thoughtful Rhodes solo, presumably provided by Benzie. Williamson’s subsequent solo increases the energy levels as the guitarist reaches for the stars once more, spurred on by Costello’s powerful drumming. Again the music ebbs and flows, a brief contemplative moment only serving to clear the way for more monstrous riffing and flyaway guitar soloing, followed by a gently atmospheric conclusion as the piece resolves itself.

“RISE” represents a highly impressive début from Animal Society as the band combine rock energy and power with jazz chops to create music that is both exciting and intelligent. Much of it is pretty high octane stuff which might frighten away the jazz purists but for anybody, like myself, who can appreciate both jazz and rock there is much to enjoy here. Williamson’s writing is full of twists and turns and startling dynamic contrasts, thus ensuring that listeners are kept on their toes at all times.

I’m reminded of several different artists when listening to this, among them McLaughlin, Metheny and Corea. One reviewer suggested that Animal Society’s music is more akin to that of the post E.S.T. projects of Magnus Ostrom and Dan Berglund rather than E.S.T. itself, and I’d go along with that.

I also hear hints of King Crimson and of Jon Hiseman’s Colosseum II, the band in which rockers Gary Moore (guitar) and Don Airey (keyboards) flexed their jazz muscles.

On a more contemporary note I also see parallels between Animal Society and Flying Machines, the London based quartet led by guitarist and composer Alex Munk. Both bands readily fuse jazz and rock elements and do so with great energy and abandon. Flying Machines are quite happy to use the ‘f’ word and to describe their music as ‘fusion’ without any hint of embarrassment. I’d wager that Animal Society probably are too.

And I bet that like their London counterparts Animal Society are also a highly exciting live proposition. They’ve already performed extensively in Scotland, let’s hope that they get the chance to venture south of the border. After hearing this recording I’d relish the opportunity of seeing this exciting young quintet live.

 

Ben Crosland Quintet - The Ray Davies Songbook Vol II Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Another lovingly crafted set of arrangements, which in turn benefit from some great playing and a whole host of outstanding solos.

Ben Crosland Quintet

“The Ray Davies Songbook Vol II”

(Jazz Cat Records – JCCD117)

In 2016 the Yorkshire based bassist, composer and bandleader Ben Crosland released “The Ray Davies” songbook, an innovative collection of twelve jazz arrangements of classic Kinks songs.  The project was originally commissioned by the Marsden Jazz Festival and the resultant arrangements were first performed there as part of the 2015 Festival.

The album was well received by critics and fans alike and was unmistakably a jazz record with Crosland skilfully adapting the songs for a jazz setting in a series of inspired arrangements. The success of the recording led to Crosland touring widely with his quintet and presenting the ‘Ray Davies Songbook’ to appreciative audiences up and down the country, introducing fresh arrangements of other Davies songs into the set as part of the process. My account of a highly enjoyable show at The Hive in Shrewsbury in October 2018 can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/ben-crosland-quintet-the-ray-davies-songbook-at-the-hive-shrewsbury-13-10-2/


The musicians that electric bass specialist Crosland chose to help him put a fresh slant on Davies’ songs were Dave O’Higgins (tenor & soprano saxes), Steve Lodder (piano, keyboards), John Etheridge (guitar) and Sebastiaan de Krom (drums).  He retains exactly the same personnel for this second exploration of the Davies catalogue.

Crosland is not into artful or ironic post-modern deconstruction. As a child of the 60s his very obvious love of Davies’ music shines through loud and clear, but at the same he still manages to find something fresh and interesting to say within the context of his source material.

“Ray Davies’ music is rooted in the blues, music hall, popular song, variety and musical theatre – all perfect vehicles for jazz” Crosland explains. “After three years working together as a band we simply had so much new, outstanding material on our hands that we decided to release a second volume. Strong grooves, a natural swing and strong evocative melodies characterise Ray Davies’ songs. I have attempted to harness those qualities in my arrangements”.

The first Davies Songbook album successfully tackled some of the Kinks’ biggest and most obvious hits, among them “You Really Got Me” and “Waterloo Sunset”. Volume 2 still includes many well known chart entries but there is also a sprinkling of B-sides and album tracks. “In common with The Beatles the Kinks always produced very strong B-sides” says Crosland. “A selection of my favourites have been included on this new album”.

Like its predecessor the arrangements on “Volume 2” were again premièred at the Marsden Jazz Festival in October 2018.

Crosland’s arrangements tend to keep Davies’ original melodies intact, enabling listeners to still be able to hear the lyrics in their heads, regardless of the changes in terms of tempo and harmony that Crosland and his colleagues bring to them. The individual soloists may have wander thrillingly off piste but the quintet never entirely lose sight of the course of a song. If anything Davies’ songs lend themselves better to jazz interpretations than those of the Beatles whose songs, under the watchful eye of George Martin, tended to be more tightly arranged and produced.

This latest collection commences in rousing fashion with the B side “Sittin’ On My Sofa”, the fast, shuffling beat acting as the jumping off point for powerful and incisive solos from O’Higgins on soprano sax and Etheridge on guitar.

“Days” is more relaxed, the mood of the arrangement warm and gently nostalgic with solos coming from Lodder on acoustic piano and O’Higgins on fluent tenor sax.

“Til The End Of The Day” is given a funky, soul jazz treatment with Lodder featuring on organ and with solos coming from O’Higgins on earthy tenor sax and Etheridge on guitar. Lodder’s Hammond (or equivalent) is a distinctive presence throughout and he joins the ranks of the soloists as Crosland and de Krom combine to create a powerfully swinging groove. This could almost have been lifted from a late 60s Blue Note recording.

“Apeman” is given an appropriately playful calypso style treatment with Etheridge’s heavily treated guitar (I think) approximating the sound of steel pans while O’Higgins strikes out into the jungle with another expansive tenor sax exploration.

In the hands of this super skilled quintet “Victoria” sounds as if its always been a jazz standard with O’Higgins again impressing on tenor. Lodder, on acoustic piano, and de Krom deliver a series of dazzling exchanges with the latter enjoying a series of vigorous drum breaks. Etheridge then makes a brief cameo before the close.

There’s a change of mood for a wistful “Celluloid Heroes” which sees the leader’s electric bass combining subtly with Lodder’s acoustic piano on the intro. Lodder subsequently delivers a more expansive, but inherently lyrical, acoustic piano solo while Crosland himself also features at greater length with liquidly melodic outing on electric bass.

“I Gotta Move” is altogether more robust, reflecting something of the urgency inherent in its title. Like the earlier “Victoria” it feels as if it’s always been a jazz tune as O’Higgins stretches out on tenor followed by Etheridge on guitar.

“Lola” was one of the few ‘biggies’ to slip through the net on the first volume. Crosland’s arrangement verges on the ironic as he slows the piece down, transforming it into a kind of languid bossa nova. Lodder shines with an idiosyncratic acoustic piano solo while Etheridge makes maximum use of the wah wah pedal during his guitar solo. It’s a pleasingly ironic take on a song that didn’t exactly take itself seriously in the first place, not that this has in any way harmed its subsequent popularity.

O’Higgins is back on soprano for “Where Have All The Good Times Gone”, his darting melodies combining well with the guitar of Etheridge, the next featured soloist. This is another arrangement that makes the song sound like it’s always been a jazz vehicle, a fact emphasised by Lodder’s dazzling acoustic piano solo.

“Autumn Almanac” retains something of the whimsical brightness and breeziness of the original and incorporates warmly melodic solos from the leader on electric bass, Etheridge on guitar and O’Higgins on soprano, with Lodder again threatening to steal the show at the piano.

I recall “David Watts” being performed at Shrewsbury and the piece is given a slyly funky arrangement paced by de Krom’s rapidly brushed grooves and with Lodder adopting an electric piano sound at the keyboard. Etheridge’s guitar dances lithely during the course of his solo and he’s followed by the more robust sound of O’Higgins’ tenor. Then it’s the turn of Lodder, still deploying the classic Rhodes sound on a lively solo. The brisk outro sees Etheridge bringing out the wah wah pedal once more.

The classic B-side “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” is given a slowed down arrangement that, for once, seems to undermine the spirit of the defiant original. Perhaps this is deliberate, with an intentional irony being expressed via the sly funk grooves with Lodder again featuring on electric piano.

The album concludes on a high note with a spirited romp through “Dandy” that includes sparkling solos from O’Higgins on soprano and Lodder on acoustic piano plus a volcanic climactic drum feature from the consistently excellent de Krom.

Crosland has been leading bands for over twenty five years, among them the chamber jazz trio Threeway featuring Lodder and trumpeter Steve Waterman. The first Ray Davies Songbook album represented his most commercially successful project to date so this follow up comes as no surprise.

Obviously it can’t quite have the same initial impact as its predecessor, but all the virtues that made Volume I such a success are present again in another lovingly crafted set of arrangements, which in turn benefit from some great playing and a whole host of outstanding solos. The fact that it all works so well is also a testament to Davies’ remarkable abilities as a songwriter.

 

The Ray Davies Songbook Vol II

Ben Crosland Quintet

Friday, May 24, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

The Ray Davies Songbook Vol II

Another lovingly crafted set of arrangements, which in turn benefit from some great playing and a whole host of outstanding solos.

Ben Crosland Quintet

“The Ray Davies Songbook Vol II”

(Jazz Cat Records – JCCD117)

In 2016 the Yorkshire based bassist, composer and bandleader Ben Crosland released “The Ray Davies” songbook, an innovative collection of twelve jazz arrangements of classic Kinks songs.  The project was originally commissioned by the Marsden Jazz Festival and the resultant arrangements were first performed there as part of the 2015 Festival.

The album was well received by critics and fans alike and was unmistakably a jazz record with Crosland skilfully adapting the songs for a jazz setting in a series of inspired arrangements. The success of the recording led to Crosland touring widely with his quintet and presenting the ‘Ray Davies Songbook’ to appreciative audiences up and down the country, introducing fresh arrangements of other Davies songs into the set as part of the process. My account of a highly enjoyable show at The Hive in Shrewsbury in October 2018 can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/ben-crosland-quintet-the-ray-davies-songbook-at-the-hive-shrewsbury-13-10-2/


The musicians that electric bass specialist Crosland chose to help him put a fresh slant on Davies’ songs were Dave O’Higgins (tenor & soprano saxes), Steve Lodder (piano, keyboards), John Etheridge (guitar) and Sebastiaan de Krom (drums).  He retains exactly the same personnel for this second exploration of the Davies catalogue.

Crosland is not into artful or ironic post-modern deconstruction. As a child of the 60s his very obvious love of Davies’ music shines through loud and clear, but at the same he still manages to find something fresh and interesting to say within the context of his source material.

“Ray Davies’ music is rooted in the blues, music hall, popular song, variety and musical theatre – all perfect vehicles for jazz” Crosland explains. “After three years working together as a band we simply had so much new, outstanding material on our hands that we decided to release a second volume. Strong grooves, a natural swing and strong evocative melodies characterise Ray Davies’ songs. I have attempted to harness those qualities in my arrangements”.

The first Davies Songbook album successfully tackled some of the Kinks’ biggest and most obvious hits, among them “You Really Got Me” and “Waterloo Sunset”. Volume 2 still includes many well known chart entries but there is also a sprinkling of B-sides and album tracks. “In common with The Beatles the Kinks always produced very strong B-sides” says Crosland. “A selection of my favourites have been included on this new album”.

Like its predecessor the arrangements on “Volume 2” were again premièred at the Marsden Jazz Festival in October 2018.

Crosland’s arrangements tend to keep Davies’ original melodies intact, enabling listeners to still be able to hear the lyrics in their heads, regardless of the changes in terms of tempo and harmony that Crosland and his colleagues bring to them. The individual soloists may have wander thrillingly off piste but the quintet never entirely lose sight of the course of a song. If anything Davies’ songs lend themselves better to jazz interpretations than those of the Beatles whose songs, under the watchful eye of George Martin, tended to be more tightly arranged and produced.

This latest collection commences in rousing fashion with the B side “Sittin’ On My Sofa”, the fast, shuffling beat acting as the jumping off point for powerful and incisive solos from O’Higgins on soprano sax and Etheridge on guitar.

“Days” is more relaxed, the mood of the arrangement warm and gently nostalgic with solos coming from Lodder on acoustic piano and O’Higgins on fluent tenor sax.

“Til The End Of The Day” is given a funky, soul jazz treatment with Lodder featuring on organ and with solos coming from O’Higgins on earthy tenor sax and Etheridge on guitar. Lodder’s Hammond (or equivalent) is a distinctive presence throughout and he joins the ranks of the soloists as Crosland and de Krom combine to create a powerfully swinging groove. This could almost have been lifted from a late 60s Blue Note recording.

“Apeman” is given an appropriately playful calypso style treatment with Etheridge’s heavily treated guitar (I think) approximating the sound of steel pans while O’Higgins strikes out into the jungle with another expansive tenor sax exploration.

In the hands of this super skilled quintet “Victoria” sounds as if its always been a jazz standard with O’Higgins again impressing on tenor. Lodder, on acoustic piano, and de Krom deliver a series of dazzling exchanges with the latter enjoying a series of vigorous drum breaks. Etheridge then makes a brief cameo before the close.

There’s a change of mood for a wistful “Celluloid Heroes” which sees the leader’s electric bass combining subtly with Lodder’s acoustic piano on the intro. Lodder subsequently delivers a more expansive, but inherently lyrical, acoustic piano solo while Crosland himself also features at greater length with liquidly melodic outing on electric bass.

“I Gotta Move” is altogether more robust, reflecting something of the urgency inherent in its title. Like the earlier “Victoria” it feels as if it’s always been a jazz tune as O’Higgins stretches out on tenor followed by Etheridge on guitar.

“Lola” was one of the few ‘biggies’ to slip through the net on the first volume. Crosland’s arrangement verges on the ironic as he slows the piece down, transforming it into a kind of languid bossa nova. Lodder shines with an idiosyncratic acoustic piano solo while Etheridge makes maximum use of the wah wah pedal during his guitar solo. It’s a pleasingly ironic take on a song that didn’t exactly take itself seriously in the first place, not that this has in any way harmed its subsequent popularity.

O’Higgins is back on soprano for “Where Have All The Good Times Gone”, his darting melodies combining well with the guitar of Etheridge, the next featured soloist. This is another arrangement that makes the song sound like it’s always been a jazz vehicle, a fact emphasised by Lodder’s dazzling acoustic piano solo.

“Autumn Almanac” retains something of the whimsical brightness and breeziness of the original and incorporates warmly melodic solos from the leader on electric bass, Etheridge on guitar and O’Higgins on soprano, with Lodder again threatening to steal the show at the piano.

I recall “David Watts” being performed at Shrewsbury and the piece is given a slyly funky arrangement paced by de Krom’s rapidly brushed grooves and with Lodder adopting an electric piano sound at the keyboard. Etheridge’s guitar dances lithely during the course of his solo and he’s followed by the more robust sound of O’Higgins’ tenor. Then it’s the turn of Lodder, still deploying the classic Rhodes sound on a lively solo. The brisk outro sees Etheridge bringing out the wah wah pedal once more.

The classic B-side “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” is given a slowed down arrangement that, for once, seems to undermine the spirit of the defiant original. Perhaps this is deliberate, with an intentional irony being expressed via the sly funk grooves with Lodder again featuring on electric piano.

The album concludes on a high note with a spirited romp through “Dandy” that includes sparkling solos from O’Higgins on soprano and Lodder on acoustic piano plus a volcanic climactic drum feature from the consistently excellent de Krom.

Crosland has been leading bands for over twenty five years, among them the chamber jazz trio Threeway featuring Lodder and trumpeter Steve Waterman. The first Ray Davies Songbook album represented his most commercially successful project to date so this follow up comes as no surprise.

Obviously it can’t quite have the same initial impact as its predecessor, but all the virtues that made Volume I such a success are present again in another lovingly crafted set of arrangements, which in turn benefit from some great playing and a whole host of outstanding solos. The fact that it all works so well is also a testament to Davies’ remarkable abilities as a songwriter.

 

Orphy Robinson Quintet - Orphy Robinson Quintet, ‘The Bobby Hutcherson Project’, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berks. 17/05/2019 Rating: 4 out of 5 "The enduring spirit and rich musical legacy of Bobby Hutcherson rests safely in the hands of Orphy Robinson MBE and the Bobby Hutcherson Project" says guest contributor Trevor Bannister.

Jazz at Progress
 
The Bobby Hutcherson Project: Orphy Robinson MBE Quintet
 
Friday 17 May 2019, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire.
 
Tony Kofi alto saxophone, Robert Mitchell keyboard, Orphy Robinson MBE vibraphone & marimba, Dudley Phillips bass, Rod Youngs drums
 

As many high-profile promoters and recording produ