The Jazz Mann | Deborah RoseKit DownesXhosa Cole QuartetJonny MansfieldLynne Arriale TrioRed KiteOverground CollectiveSteve Lehman Trio + Craig TabornThe Swing CommandersCalum Gourlay QuartetStan Sulzmann / Nikki Iles with special guest Dave HollandDave O’Higgins & Rob LuftDaniel Karlsson TrioAlan Barnes OctetA Northern CodeAnnette GregoryLars Danielsson GroupTommaso Starace QuartetThe Casimir ConnectionThe Alan Barnes Octet featuring Josie MoonSnarky Puppy / Charlie Hunter & Lucy WoodwardJaimie BranchNicolas Meier World GroupBinker GoldingJoachim Caffonnette TrioTerri Lyne Carrington + Social ScienceRadio BanskaQuentin Collins SextetMike De SouzaSarah Morrow with the Dave Cottle TrioYazz AhmedAki RissanenPavillonAlison Rayner QuintetTime ZoneKjetil Mulelid TrioLed BibFat-SuitSomersaultsWendy Kirkland QuintetMark LockheartScott Willcox Big BandBATL QuartetVictoria KlewinPaul BoothPigfootMichael JanischQuentin Collins SextetSloth 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. 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REVIEW

Deborah Rose - The Shining Pathway Rating: 4 out of 5 The new songs are lyrically intelligent, evocative and literate, and the instrumental arrangements sympathetic and carefully crafted. Both the singing and the playing are excellent throughout.

Deborah Rose

“The Shining Pathway”

(Self Released)


Welsh born, Shropshire based singer, guitarist and songwriter Deborah Rose has been a frequent presence on the Jazzmann web pages for a number of years, sometimes under her previous name of Deborah Hodgson. Blessed with a stunningly pure voice and an innate musicality her love of words, song and singing has found her exploring the worlds of folk, jazz and Americana with a variety of collaborators including local gypsy jazz guitar wizard Remi Harris.

Following a number of self produced EPs Rose released her first full length album, “Song Be My Soul”, in early 2014, a charming collection of self penned songs combined with settings of the words of poets and authors such as Tennyson, Shakespeare, Dickens, Blake and Christina Rossetti. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/deborah-rose-song-be-my-soul/

The follow up, “Wilde Wood” was very different as Rose abandoned her literary leanings to explore the world of Celtic folk music in the company of locally based musicians from two different groups, The O’ Farrells Frolicks and Grey Wolf. She continues to work in a duo with the O’Farrells’ vocalist and guitarist Mari Randle.

Rose’s love of poetry and song transcends musical boundaries and her material covers many bases including folk, jazz, pop and classical. She writes high quality original songs and her choice of outside material is often quite inspired. Rose knows a good song when she hears one.

She is a consistently excellent live performer and I have witnessed many of her local appearances over the years.. No two shows have been exactly alike and I have seen her sing and play with a variety of accompanists. Her work has attracted the attention of many celebrity admirers including American folk doyenne Judy Collins, New York based singer/songwriter Kenny White and Led Zeppelin legend Robert Plant who contributed backing vocals to the “Wilde Wood” album.  She is also a great organiser and facilitator as well as being a significant musical talent.

Rose’s new full length album “The Shining Pathway” is largely comprised of new self penned songs, plus the occasional cover and collaboration. It was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee and in her current home town of Ludlow, Shropshire. The songs were inspired by travel, literature, personal experience and her Christian faith. A musician with a social conscience Rose has championed women’s issues, worked on teaching and songwriting projects with prisoners, children and dementia patients, and travelled to Africa to work for the charity Planting for Hope in Uganda. She has also performed fund-raising gigs for the charity in the UK.

“The Shining Pathway” finds Rose collaborating closely with the producer and multi-instrumentalist Ben Walsh, best known for his work with the electronic music duo Plaid (Andy Turner and Ed Handley). Walsh worked with Rose in both Nashville and Ludlow and performs the majority of the instrumental parts on the album.

Album opener “Wrestling with Angels”, also due to be released as a single, sets the tone, melancholic yet somehow uplifting with Rose’s pure, fragile, well enunciated vocals sympathetically framed by Walsh’s instrumental arrangement, with his violin particularly prominent. The poetic and evocative lyrics were inspired by a visit to Crathie Kirk, near Balmoral, at a time when the Queen was in residence.

Jointly written with Walsh “Grace Go I” is a song about counting your blessings and was partly inspired by Rose’s work in UK and US prisons. It also references a long journey on a Greyhound bus and some of the characters she met along the way. A poetic and evocative lyric expresses empathy for the marginalised of society, whilst simultaneously giving thanks for her own good fortune and Christian faith.  Rose’s soft, wistful vocal is complemented by a typically sympathetic Walsh arrangement that makes effective use of finger picked guitar.

It probably won’t come as any great surprise to learn that one of Rose’s primary influences is the inspirational Joni Mitchell. “Basket of Roses” was written after a visit to the cave at Matala on the island of Crete, where Mitchell wrote most of the material the material for her seminal “Blue” album. Rose describes the song as “an ode to the goddess within” and makes allusions to Mitchell’s work in her lyrics, name checking Matala,  the Mermaid Café and “Blue”. The second half of the song seems to make reference to her Ugandan experiences. Walsh’s arrangement is centred around acoustic guitar, but includes a judicious splash of bouzouki to add a little authentic Greek flavouring.

The more upbeat “Willow of the Canyon” continues the Joni theme. Written in Laurel Canyon its lyrics namecheck Mitchell,  Graham Nash and Stephen Stills in an arrangement that recalls the sounds of Californian “soft rock”. It’s the only song to feature drums, while Rose’s voice is overdubbed to create ‘Fleetwood Mac’ style vocal harmonies. Very much inspired by its location the song was written while Rose was staying in California prior to performing for the Democratic politician Marianne Williamson, another immensely influential figure for Rose.

Co-written with Walsh “Bluebeard” has the feel of an ancient folk ballad about it. Indeed it’s based on a French folk tale about a nobleman turned serial killer, a myth that has since formed the basis for modern novels such as Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber”. Rose re-writes the ending to allow her heroine to escape, which I didn’t find entirely convincing. Also her vocals are too sweet to reflect the grisly horrors of the lyrics.  For all that “Bluebeard” is a good enough song, I’d love to hear Nick Cave tackling it.

The only true cover of the set is “Butterfly”, written by the Canadian songwriter Melodie Mitchell, who travelled to Nashville to play piano on the recording. Mitchell’s song is simple but evocative and the arrangement, is suitably intimate, primarily featuring voice and acoustic piano, plus a few subtle violin embellishments courtesy of Rebecca Weiner Tompkins. The performance also includes harmony vocals, presumably Rose overdubbed.

Perhaps the strangest song on the album is “Nigel”, written about a gannet that apparently fell in love with a concrete decoy during some kind of bizarre scientific experiment. Rose chanced upon this true story in a copy of the Washington Post and her song about “the world’s loneliest bird” features a suitably quirky arrangement featuring picked guitars and mandolins. The song’s message is an allegory about the power of love, even the unrequited kind.

The intimate “Glow of a Thousand Candles” offers a different view of the transforming power of love through its softly insistent instrumental arrangement and Rose’s fragile but expressive vocals.

Rose’s love of poetry and literature is reflected in her setting of A.E. Housman’s poem “The Recruit”, written in 1896 but somehow strangely prescient of of the First World War. Rose’s sensitive rendition of Housman’s words is matched by a suitably empathic arrangement. The poem has a particular significance for Rose thanks to its frequent references to the town of Ludlow and its surroundings. It also represents a link to the earlier “Song Be My soul” album.

The album concludes with the ballad “Still Waters”, co-written by Rose and the American singer-songwriter Christina Nichols, who also provides piano and backing vocals. The song was only completed on the day before recording, so the arrangement is suitably sparse and simple, just voices and piano. Nevertheless there’s an anthemic quality about the piece, with the voices of the co-writers combining effectively.

Apparently Rose met Nichols at a song-writing workshop organised by the New Orleans born singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier, a major figure on the American music scene and a hugely significant influence on Rose and her songwriting.

“The Shining Pathway” represents an excellent addition to Deborah Rose’s catalogue. The new songs are lyrically intelligent, evocative and literate and the instrumental arrangements sympathetic and carefully crafted. Rose’s vocals exhibit her customary purity and clarity and in Walsh she has found an empathic and highly capable collaborator. Guests Mitchell and Nichols also impress with their contributions as both songwriters and musicians.

I’ve always had a lot of time for Deborah Rose and her music, even though it isn’t strictly ‘jazz’. This is an album that is more likely to appeal to the folk community and I have no hesitation in recommending it on those terms.

Rose’s songs on this album are increasingly personal, as, inspired by Gauthier, she reaches deeper inside herself than ever before. Again I’m aware that some listeners may regard her music as being rather ‘twee’, but these intimate performances are possessed of genuine emotional depth, and both the singing and the playing are excellent throughout.

http://www.deborahrose.co.uk

The Shining Pathway

Deborah Rose

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

The Shining Pathway

The new songs are lyrically intelligent, evocative and literate, and the instrumental arrangements sympathetic and carefully crafted. Both the singing and the playing are excellent throughout.

Deborah Rose

“The Shining Pathway”

(Self Released)


Welsh born, Shropshire based singer, guitarist and songwriter Deborah Rose has been a frequent presence on the Jazzmann web pages for a number of years, sometimes under her previous name of Deborah Hodgson. Blessed with a stunningly pure voice and an innate musicality her love of words, song and singing has found her exploring the worlds of folk, jazz and Americana with a variety of collaborators including local gypsy jazz guitar wizard Remi Harris.

Following a number of self produced EPs Rose released her first full length album, “Song Be My Soul”, in early 2014, a charming collection of self penned songs combined with settings of the words of poets and authors such as Tennyson, Shakespeare, Dickens, Blake and Christina Rossetti. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/deborah-rose-song-be-my-soul/

The follow up, “Wilde Wood” was very different as Rose abandoned her literary leanings to explore the world of Celtic folk music in the company of locally based musicians from two different groups, The O’ Farrells Frolicks and Grey Wolf. She continues to work in a duo with the O’Farrells’ vocalist and guitarist Mari Randle.

Rose’s love of poetry and song transcends musical boundaries and her material covers many bases including folk, jazz, pop and classical. She writes high quality original songs and her choice of outside material is often quite inspired. Rose knows a good song when she hears one.

She is a consistently excellent live performer and I have witnessed many of her local appearances over the years.. No two shows have been exactly alike and I have seen her sing and play with a variety of accompanists. Her work has attracted the attention of many celebrity admirers including American folk doyenne Judy Collins, New York based singer/songwriter Kenny White and Led Zeppelin legend Robert Plant who contributed backing vocals to the “Wilde Wood” album.  She is also a great organiser and facilitator as well as being a significant musical talent.

Rose’s new full length album “The Shining Pathway” is largely comprised of new self penned songs, plus the occasional cover and collaboration. It was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee and in her current home town of Ludlow, Shropshire. The songs were inspired by travel, literature, personal experience and her Christian faith. A musician with a social conscience Rose has championed women’s issues, worked on teaching and songwriting projects with prisoners, children and dementia patients, and travelled to Africa to work for the charity Planting for Hope in Uganda. She has also performed fund-raising gigs for the charity in the UK.

“The Shining Pathway” finds Rose collaborating closely with the producer and multi-instrumentalist Ben Walsh, best known for his work with the electronic music duo Plaid (Andy Turner and Ed Handley). Walsh worked with Rose in both Nashville and Ludlow and performs the majority of the instrumental parts on the album.

Album opener “Wrestling with Angels”, also due to be released as a single, sets the tone, melancholic yet somehow uplifting with Rose’s pure, fragile, well enunciated vocals sympathetically framed by Walsh’s instrumental arrangement, with his violin particularly prominent. The poetic and evocative lyrics were inspired by a visit to Crathie Kirk, near Balmoral, at a time when the Queen was in residence.

Jointly written with Walsh “Grace Go I” is a song about counting your blessings and was partly inspired by Rose’s work in UK and US prisons. It also references a long journey on a Greyhound bus and some of the characters she met along the way. A poetic and evocative lyric expresses empathy for the marginalised of society, whilst simultaneously giving thanks for her own good fortune and Christian faith.  Rose’s soft, wistful vocal is complemented by a typically sympathetic Walsh arrangement that makes effective use of finger picked guitar.

It probably won’t come as any great surprise to learn that one of Rose’s primary influences is the inspirational Joni Mitchell. “Basket of Roses” was written after a visit to the cave at Matala on the island of Crete, where Mitchell wrote most of the material the material for her seminal “Blue” album. Rose describes the song as “an ode to the goddess within” and makes allusions to Mitchell’s work in her lyrics, name checking Matala,  the Mermaid Café and “Blue”. The second half of the song seems to make reference to her Ugandan experiences. Walsh’s arrangement is centred around acoustic guitar, but includes a judicious splash of bouzouki to add a little authentic Greek flavouring.

The more upbeat “Willow of the Canyon” continues the Joni theme. Written in Laurel Canyon its lyrics namecheck Mitchell,  Graham Nash and Stephen Stills in an arrangement that recalls the sounds of Californian “soft rock”. It’s the only song to feature drums, while Rose’s voice is overdubbed to create ‘Fleetwood Mac’ style vocal harmonies. Very much inspired by its location the song was written while Rose was staying in California prior to performing for the Democratic politician Marianne Williamson, another immensely influential figure for Rose.

Co-written with Walsh “Bluebeard” has the feel of an ancient folk ballad about it. Indeed it’s based on a French folk tale about a nobleman turned serial killer, a myth that has since formed the basis for modern novels such as Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber”. Rose re-writes the ending to allow her heroine to escape, which I didn’t find entirely convincing. Also her vocals are too sweet to reflect the grisly horrors of the lyrics.  For all that “Bluebeard” is a good enough song, I’d love to hear Nick Cave tackling it.

The only true cover of the set is “Butterfly”, written by the Canadian songwriter Melodie Mitchell, who travelled to Nashville to play piano on the recording. Mitchell’s song is simple but evocative and the arrangement, is suitably intimate, primarily featuring voice and acoustic piano, plus a few subtle violin embellishments courtesy of Rebecca Weiner Tompkins. The performance also includes harmony vocals, presumably Rose overdubbed.

Perhaps the strangest song on the album is “Nigel”, written about a gannet that apparently fell in love with a concrete decoy during some kind of bizarre scientific experiment. Rose chanced upon this true story in a copy of the Washington Post and her song about “the world’s loneliest bird” features a suitably quirky arrangement featuring picked guitars and mandolins. The song’s message is an allegory about the power of love, even the unrequited kind.

The intimate “Glow of a Thousand Candles” offers a different view of the transforming power of love through its softly insistent instrumental arrangement and Rose’s fragile but expressive vocals.

Rose’s love of poetry and literature is reflected in her setting of A.E. Housman’s poem “The Recruit”, written in 1896 but somehow strangely prescient of of the First World War. Rose’s sensitive rendition of Housman’s words is matched by a suitably empathic arrangement. The poem has a particular significance for Rose thanks to its frequent references to the town of Ludlow and its surroundings. It also represents a link to the earlier “Song Be My soul” album.

The album concludes with the ballad “Still Waters”, co-written by Rose and the American singer-songwriter Christina Nichols, who also provides piano and backing vocals. The song was only completed on the day before recording, so the arrangement is suitably sparse and simple, just voices and piano. Nevertheless there’s an anthemic quality about the piece, with the voices of the co-writers combining effectively.

Apparently Rose met Nichols at a song-writing workshop organised by the New Orleans born singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier, a major figure on the American music scene and a hugely significant influence on Rose and her songwriting.

“The Shining Pathway” represents an excellent addition to Deborah Rose’s catalogue. The new songs are lyrically intelligent, evocative and literate and the instrumental arrangements sympathetic and carefully crafted. Rose’s vocals exhibit her customary purity and clarity and in Walsh she has found an empathic and highly capable collaborator. Guests Mitchell and Nichols also impress with their contributions as both songwriters and musicians.

I’ve always had a lot of time for Deborah Rose and her music, even though it isn’t strictly ‘jazz’. This is an album that is more likely to appeal to the folk community and I have no hesitation in recommending it on those terms.

Rose’s songs on this album are increasingly personal, as, inspired by Gauthier, she reaches deeper inside herself than ever before. Again I’m aware that some listeners may regard her music as being rather ‘twee’, but these intimate performances are possessed of genuine emotional depth, and both the singing and the playing are excellent throughout.

http://www.deborahrose.co.uk

Kit Downes - Dreamlife of Debris Rating: 4-5 out of 5 It is a truly beautiful album, with a translucent, other worldly quality, but is simultaneously possessed of a musical depth and a seriousness of purpose that surpasses mere ‘prettiness’.

Kit Downes

“Dreamlife of Debris”

(ECM Records ECM 2632, Bar Code 02577 83755)

Kit Downes – piano, organ, Tom Challenger – tenor saxophone, Lucy Railton – cello, Stian Westerhus – guitar, Sebastian Rochford – drums


“Dreamlife of Debris” is the second album by the British pianist and organist Kit Downes for the prestigious German label ECM, a follow up to his label début “Obsidian”, released in 2018.

The “Obsidian” album was essentially a solo church organ recording, an extension of Downes’ Wedding Music and Vyamanikal projects, both being collaborations with saxophonist Tom Challenger.

The duo’s début, the digital only release, “Wedding Music”, was recorded in 2012 with Downes playing the organ of Huddersfield University’s St. Paul’s Church. The pair subsequently made a number of spasmodic live appearances (both musicians were relentlessly busy on other projects) including the “Pull Out The Stops” festival which celebrated the refurbishment of the organ at London’s Royal Festival Hall.

The project acquired fresh impetus when Downes and Challenger were invited to become part of Aldeburgh Festival’s 2014/15 “Open Space” residency programme. This saw them visiting and recording at five different churches in Suffolk, rural locations that brought back childhood memories for Downes who was raised in the neighbouring county of Norfolk.

The results were released as the album “Vyamanikal” which appeared on the Suffolk based boutique label Slip Records. Critically acclaimed this unusual, intriguing and strangely charming recording became something of a surprise success with Downes and Challenger subsequently returning to Aldeburgh in 2016 and also making a number of Jazz Festival appearances, with Downes playing harmonium if a suitable sacred space with a pipe organ was unavailable.

Vyamanikal was adopted as a band name and in 2016 Downes and Challenger recorded a follow up which Slip issued as the cassette only release “Black Shuck”. Featuring one improvisation on each side of the tape this was a darker, spookier recording than the bucolic “Vyamanikal”, with side one also featuring guest performers on strings and percussion and with the sounds further manipulated by electronics artist Alex Bonney. It was substantially different to its predecessor but no less impressive and certainly didn’t hinder Vyamanikal’s progress.

Over the years Downes has become one of the few British jazz musicians to acquire an international reputation. He first came to the attention of ECM supremo Manfred Eicher thanks to his work with the Norwegian drummer, composer and bandleader Thomas Stronen. Stronen is perhaps best known to British jazz audiences as one half of the Anglo-Norwegian duo Food, alongside the English saxophonist Iain Ballamy.
In 2014 Downes, playing piano, was part of an Anglo-Norwegian ensemble, that also included cellist Lucy Railton, put together by Stronen to perform “Time Is A Blind Guide”, a commission for the 2014 Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Again the title later became a band name and the music was recorded by ECM with Eicher producing.  However Eicher takes something of a back seat on Downes’  own ECM recordings, with both featuring Sun Chung in the producer’s chair and with Bonney also playing an important part in his role as recording engineer.

Like its immediate predecessor the album packaging for “Dreamlife of Debris” includes an introductory essay by Steve Lake, this time titled “In changing constellations”, the title coming from the fact that Downes has named the eight pieces on the record after those of galaxies.

Musically speaking Downes has announced that his plan for “Dreamlife of Debris” was to “put the organ in a broader context, to explore different ways it could blend with different types of instruments”.
He continues; “The organ has that ability to wrap up everyone’s sound into its own, and given the very stripped back nature of ‘Obsidian’ I wanted this to feel like the other side of the coin, texturally”.

Downes also features on piano, and this, in conjunction with the contributions of the other musicians, ensures that “Dreamlife of Debris” sounds less obviously like an ‘organ’ album than its predecessor. Nevertheless it is still a beautiful piece of work, richly atmospheric and possessed of the distinctly otherworldly qualities that have made Downes’ series of organ projects such a success.

The five musicians listed above rarely perform together as a quintet, instead they make vital and distinctive individual contributions to the individual tracks, with Lake viewing the album as “conveying a sense of a larger work, transformed and unfolding in the eight inter-linked movements” and the individual players as “a changing constellation of musicians”.

The album title comes from a phrase Downes encountered in film maker Grant Gee’s documentary “Patience”, a study of the life and work of the German born academic and writer W.G. Sebald (1944 -2001), who was a lecturer at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, Downes’ home city. Sebald’s wanderings through Suffolk inspired his book “The Rings of Saturn”, the title of which Downes borrowed for one of the pieces on the “Obsidian” album.

For Downes the phrase “Dreamlife of Debris” references “the way we can project emotion and character onto inanimate objects, to the point where it feels they have their own life, like a musician and his or her instrument, especially the organ, being the enormous, chaotic, collection of pipes, whistles and reeds that it is”.

Challenger plays a more central part in the music than he did on the “Obsidian” album, and in some respects this new recording can almost be considered as a duo project. The saxophonist plays a key role on the opening track, “Sculptor”, which begins with a piano and tenor saxophone duet, the mood of the music relaxed and lyrical, reflective perhaps of the tranquillity of the Suffolk countryside that inspired Sebald. It’s reminiscent at times of the duo recordings of pianist John Taylor and saxophonist Sulzmann, with whose Neon group Downes once played. As the piece progresses it becomes more solemn in mood, with the soft drone of church organ gradually taking over from the piano. The new album was recorded over a longer time-scale than “Obsidian” and makes more use of overdubbing. As a result piano and organ can be heard working together here as the changeover subtly takes place. The new album was recorded with Downes performing on two organs with which he was already familiar, at St. Paul’s Hall at the University of Huddersfield and at the church of St. John the Baptist, Snape, Suffolk.  Although the album brochure isn’t specific I suspect that the majority of the music was probably recorded in Huddersfield.

The meditative mood continues on “Circinus”, which I’m led to believe was recorded at Snape. Downes’ organ arpeggios underscore the long, textured melody lines of Challenger’s tenor sax and Railton’s cello. The overall feel is similar to that of a Philip Glass composition, although Downes has cited the French composer Olivier Messiaen as his main inspiration for his organ projects.

“Pinwheel” is introduced by a gentle passage of solo piano, with Downes later joined in duet by Railton, a former member of his quintet and his duo partner in the group Tricko. In effect this piece represents a reprise of the Tricko project, which released an album of the same name, credited solely to Downes, in 2015. Review here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/tricko/
Essentially a piano /cello duet (I think I may have detected the almost subliminal sounds of Rochford’s brushes on cymbals too) this piece has a distinct chamber music quality about it, but is no less appealing for that.

At over twelve and a half minutes in length “Bodes” represents the centre piece of the album and sees Downes returning to the organ. Challenger also re-emerges, his softly piping, flute like tenor sax complementing the timbres of the organ. Downes is also heard on piano, his lyrical ruminations on the instrument maintaining the essentially reflective mood of the piece.
“Bodes” also features the guitar of the Norwegian musician Stian Westerhus, who has previously worked in a group with Alex Bonney.
“I’d liked Stian’s solo albums and felt he could bring something special to the recording” explains Downes.  He and Challenger recorded a series of organ / sax improvisations and sent them to Westerhus, “who overlaid some very nice things”. Subsequently the guitarist was invited to a session in Huddersfield where he improvised with Downes and Challenger and where his contributions were finally recorded. At times Westerhus is an almost subliminal presence, adding gently shimmering textures to the first half of the piece, but he comes more influential in the second as the mood of the piece becomes more threatening and dissonant, with the guitarist’s looped and layered textures part of an eerie, unsettling droning sonic soundscape that also includes organ, saxophone, cello and Rochford’s distant mallet rumbles.

The brief “Sunflower” maintains the eerie mood and almost sounds as if it could have been recorded in deep space, very much in keeping with the album’s “galaxies” theme. Gentle organ drones combine with Challenger’s sax meanderings and Rochford’s occasional percussive rumbles and interjections.

“M7” was composed by Downes’ wife, bassist Ruth Goller, who is probably best known for her work with the bands Acoustic Ladyland and Melt Yourself Down. The piece was originally written for detuned electric bass and multi-tracked voice but appears here as an unaccompanied organ performance. Downes regards it as “a kind of call-back to the ‘Obsidian’ record, or a progression from it, it feels to me like this album is in the same world”.  The broad range of sounds that Downes produces are a welcome reminder of the ‘orchestral’ possibilities of the organ, a quality that was an essential component in the success of the ‘Obsidian’ recording.

Recorded at Snape the piece “Twin” represents a welcome reminder of this project’s roots as a church organ / tenor sax duo collaboration. There’s a real ‘church’ feel about the music here that sees the duo making effective use of the space around them.  Downes’ deep organ sonorities are complemented by Challenger’s sparse but sensitive saxophone playing, while Rochford’s occasional percussion shadings add extra colour and depth.

The closing “Blackeye” is jointly credited to Downes and Challenger.  As Downes explains it the piece began its life as a solo organ improvisation originally intended for “Obsidian”.
“I transcribed it, thinking there was perhaps something more to be found in it. Then Tom and I explored it for a while as a long, loosely scored drone piece, and finally I wrote it to fit with Seb’s drum pulses”.
The recorded version includes a gently lyrical introduction featuring Downes on piano, subtly shadowed by by Challenger and Railton. Downes then switches to organ and Rochford sets up a groove on his toms, punctuated cymbal / gong splashes, around which the organ swirls in beguiling fashion, soaring dramatically up to the heavens. This passage is a reminder of the piano / drums duo of Downes and Rochford that played a superb gig at the 2012 Cheltenham Jazz festival, but sadly never got to make an album. This piece goes some way towards rectifying that disappointment. The album signs off with a short coda for solo church organ, gently bringing the listener back down to earth.

“Dreamlife of Debris” represents a worthy successor to “Obsidian” and is arguably the pick of Downes’  church organ recordings thus far. It maintains the spirit and feel of the project while successfully bringing other musicians into the fold, extending the textural and rhythmic possibilities of the music but remaining true to the overall aesthetic of the project. It is a truly beautiful album, with a translucent, other worldly quality,  but is simultaneously possessed of a musical depth and a seriousness of purpose that surpasses mere ‘prettiness’.

The quartet of Downes, Challenger, Railton and Rochford played a short series of UK gigs in late 2019 and I was sorry not to be able to make any of them as I had committed myself to covering other events. Unfortunately they don’t seem to have anything lined up for 2020, but hopefully that will change as the year progresses.

There have been other church organ / saxophone duos, notably Jan Garbarek and Kjell Johnsen and the British pairing of Dave Stapleton and Deri Roberts.  But nobody has gone as far at integrating the sound of the church organ into jazz and improvised music as Downes and I have no doubt that this fascinating musical journey is one that he (and the faithful Challenger) will continue.

Dreamlife of Debris

Kit Downes

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4-5 out of 5

Dreamlife of Debris

It is a truly beautiful album, with a translucent, other worldly quality, but is simultaneously possessed of a musical depth and a seriousness of purpose that surpasses mere ‘prettiness’.

Kit Downes

“Dreamlife of Debris”

(ECM Records ECM 2632, Bar Code 02577 83755)

Kit Downes – piano, organ, Tom Challenger – tenor saxophone, Lucy Railton – cello, Stian Westerhus – guitar, Sebastian Rochford – drums


“Dreamlife of Debris” is the second album by the British pianist and organist Kit Downes for the prestigious German label ECM, a follow up to his label début “Obsidian”, released in 2018.

The “Obsidian” album was essentially a solo church organ recording, an extension of Downes’ Wedding Music and Vyamanikal projects, both being collaborations with saxophonist Tom Challenger.

The duo’s début, the digital only release, “Wedding Music”, was recorded in 2012 with Downes playing the organ of Huddersfield University’s St. Paul’s Church. The pair subsequently made a number of spasmodic live appearances (both musicians were relentlessly busy on other projects) including the “Pull Out The Stops” festival which celebrated the refurbishment of the organ at London’s Royal Festival Hall.

The project acquired fresh impetus when Downes and Challenger were invited to become part of Aldeburgh Festival’s 2014/15 “Open Space” residency programme. This saw them visiting and recording at five different churches in Suffolk, rural locations that brought back childhood memories for Downes who was raised in the neighbouring county of Norfolk.

The results were released as the album “Vyamanikal” which appeared on the Suffolk based boutique label Slip Records. Critically acclaimed this unusual, intriguing and strangely charming recording became something of a surprise success with Downes and Challenger subsequently returning to Aldeburgh in 2016 and also making a number of Jazz Festival appearances, with Downes playing harmonium if a suitable sacred space with a pipe organ was unavailable.

Vyamanikal was adopted as a band name and in 2016 Downes and Challenger recorded a follow up which Slip issued as the cassette only release “Black Shuck”. Featuring one improvisation on each side of the tape this was a darker, spookier recording than the bucolic “Vyamanikal”, with side one also featuring guest performers on strings and percussion and with the sounds further manipulated by electronics artist Alex Bonney. It was substantially different to its predecessor but no less impressive and certainly didn’t hinder Vyamanikal’s progress.

Over the years Downes has become one of the few British jazz musicians to acquire an international reputation. He first came to the attention of ECM supremo Manfred Eicher thanks to his work with the Norwegian drummer, composer and bandleader Thomas Stronen. Stronen is perhaps best known to British jazz audiences as one half of the Anglo-Norwegian duo Food, alongside the English saxophonist Iain Ballamy.
In 2014 Downes, playing piano, was part of an Anglo-Norwegian ensemble, that also included cellist Lucy Railton, put together by Stronen to perform “Time Is A Blind Guide”, a commission for the 2014 Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Again the title later became a band name and the music was recorded by ECM with Eicher producing.  However Eicher takes something of a back seat on Downes’  own ECM recordings, with both featuring Sun Chung in the producer’s chair and with Bonney also playing an important part in his role as recording engineer.

Like its immediate predecessor the album packaging for “Dreamlife of Debris” includes an introductory essay by Steve Lake, this time titled “In changing constellations”, the title coming from the fact that Downes has named the eight pieces on the record after those of galaxies.

Musically speaking Downes has announced that his plan for “Dreamlife of Debris” was to “put the organ in a broader context, to explore different ways it could blend with different types of instruments”.
He continues; “The organ has that ability to wrap up everyone’s sound into its own, and given the very stripped back nature of ‘Obsidian’ I wanted this to feel like the other side of the coin, texturally”.

Downes also features on piano, and this, in conjunction with the contributions of the other musicians, ensures that “Dreamlife of Debris” sounds less obviously like an ‘organ’ album than its predecessor. Nevertheless it is still a beautiful piece of work, richly atmospheric and possessed of the distinctly otherworldly qualities that have made Downes’ series of organ projects such a success.

The five musicians listed above rarely perform together as a quintet, instead they make vital and distinctive individual contributions to the individual tracks, with Lake viewing the album as “conveying a sense of a larger work, transformed and unfolding in the eight inter-linked movements” and the individual players as “a changing constellation of musicians”.

The album title comes from a phrase Downes encountered in film maker Grant Gee’s documentary “Patience”, a study of the life and work of the German born academic and writer W.G. Sebald (1944 -2001), who was a lecturer at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, Downes’ home city. Sebald’s wanderings through Suffolk inspired his book “The Rings of Saturn”, the title of which Downes borrowed for one of the pieces on the “Obsidian” album.

For Downes the phrase “Dreamlife of Debris” references “the way we can project emotion and character onto inanimate objects, to the point where it feels they have their own life, like a musician and his or her instrument, especially the organ, being the enormous, chaotic, collection of pipes, whistles and reeds that it is”.

Challenger plays a more central part in the music than he did on the “Obsidian” album, and in some respects this new recording can almost be considered as a duo project. The saxophonist plays a key role on the opening track, “Sculptor”, which begins with a piano and tenor saxophone duet, the mood of the music relaxed and lyrical, reflective perhaps of the tranquillity of the Suffolk countryside that inspired Sebald. It’s reminiscent at times of the duo recordings of pianist John Taylor and saxophonist Sulzmann, with whose Neon group Downes once played. As the piece progresses it becomes more solemn in mood, with the soft drone of church organ gradually taking over from the piano. The new album was recorded over a longer time-scale than “Obsidian” and makes more use of overdubbing. As a result piano and organ can be heard working together here as the changeover subtly takes place. The new album was recorded with Downes performing on two organs with which he was already familiar, at St. Paul’s Hall at the University of Huddersfield and at the church of St. John the Baptist, Snape, Suffolk.  Although the album brochure isn’t specific I suspect that the majority of the music was probably recorded in Huddersfield.

The meditative mood continues on “Circinus”, which I’m led to believe was recorded at Snape. Downes’ organ arpeggios underscore the long, textured melody lines of Challenger’s tenor sax and Railton’s cello. The overall feel is similar to that of a Philip Glass composition, although Downes has cited the French composer Olivier Messiaen as his main inspiration for his organ projects.

“Pinwheel” is introduced by a gentle passage of solo piano, with Downes later joined in duet by Railton, a former member of his quintet and his duo partner in the group Tricko. In effect this piece represents a reprise of the Tricko project, which released an album of the same name, credited solely to Downes, in 2015. Review here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/tricko/
Essentially a piano /cello duet (I think I may have detected the almost subliminal sounds of Rochford’s brushes on cymbals too) this piece has a distinct chamber music quality about it, but is no less appealing for that.

At over twelve and a half minutes in length “Bodes” represents the centre piece of the album and sees Downes returning to the organ. Challenger also re-emerges, his softly piping, flute like tenor sax complementing the timbres of the organ. Downes is also heard on piano, his lyrical ruminations on the instrument maintaining the essentially reflective mood of the piece.
“Bodes” also features the guitar of the Norwegian musician Stian Westerhus, who has previously worked in a group with Alex Bonney.
“I’d liked Stian’s solo albums and felt he could bring something special to the recording” explains Downes.  He and Challenger recorded a series of organ / sax improvisations and sent them to Westerhus, “who overlaid some very nice things”. Subsequently the guitarist was invited to a session in Huddersfield where he improvised with Downes and Challenger and where his contributions were finally recorded. At times Westerhus is an almost subliminal presence, adding gently shimmering textures to the first half of the piece, but he comes more influential in the second as the mood of the piece becomes more threatening and dissonant, with the guitarist’s looped and layered textures part of an eerie, unsettling droning sonic soundscape that also includes organ, saxophone, cello and Rochford’s distant mallet rumbles.

The brief “Sunflower” maintains the eerie mood and almost sounds as if it could have been recorded in deep space, very much in keeping with the album’s “galaxies” theme. Gentle organ drones combine with Challenger’s sax meanderings and Rochford’s occasional percussive rumbles and interjections.

“M7” was composed by Downes’ wife, bassist Ruth Goller, who is probably best known for her work with the bands Acoustic Ladyland and Melt Yourself Down. The piece was originally written for detuned electric bass and multi-tracked voice but appears here as an unaccompanied organ performance. Downes regards it as “a kind of call-back to the ‘Obsidian’ record, or a progression from it, it feels to me like this album is in the same world”.  The broad range of sounds that Downes produces are a welcome reminder of the ‘orchestral’ possibilities of the organ, a quality that was an essential component in the success of the ‘Obsidian’ recording.

Recorded at Snape the piece “Twin” represents a welcome reminder of this project’s roots as a church organ / tenor sax duo collaboration. There’s a real ‘church’ feel about the music here that sees the duo making effective use of the space around them.  Downes’ deep organ sonorities are complemented by Challenger’s sparse but sensitive saxophone playing, while Rochford’s occasional percussion shadings add extra colour and depth.

The closing “Blackeye” is jointly credited to Downes and Challenger.  As Downes explains it the piece began its life as a solo organ improvisation originally intended for “Obsidian”.
“I transcribed it, thinking there was perhaps something more to be found in it. Then Tom and I explored it for a while as a long, loosely scored drone piece, and finally I wrote it to fit with Seb’s drum pulses”.
The recorded version includes a gently lyrical introduction featuring Downes on piano, subtly shadowed by by Challenger and Railton. Downes then switches to organ and Rochford sets up a groove on his toms, punctuated cymbal / gong splashes, around which the organ swirls in beguiling fashion, soaring dramatically up to the heavens. This passage is a reminder of the piano / drums duo of Downes and Rochford that played a superb gig at the 2012 Cheltenham Jazz festival, but sadly never got to make an album. This piece goes some way towards rectifying that disappointment. The album signs off with a short coda for solo church organ, gently bringing the listener back down to earth.

“Dreamlife of Debris” represents a worthy successor to “Obsidian” and is arguably the pick of Downes’  church organ recordings thus far. It maintains the spirit and feel of the project while successfully bringing other musicians into the fold, extending the textural and rhythmic possibilities of the music but remaining true to the overall aesthetic of the project. It is a truly beautiful album, with a translucent, other worldly quality,  but is simultaneously possessed of a musical depth and a seriousness of purpose that surpasses mere ‘prettiness’.

The quartet of Downes, Challenger, Railton and Rochford played a short series of UK gigs in late 2019 and I was sorry not to be able to make any of them as I had committed myself to covering other events. Unfortunately they don’t seem to have anything lined up for 2020, but hopefully that will change as the year progresses.

There have been other church organ / saxophone duos, notably Jan Garbarek and Kjell Johnsen and the British pairing of Dave Stapleton and Deri Roberts.  But nobody has gone as far at integrating the sound of the church organ into jazz and improvised music as Downes and I have no doubt that this fascinating musical journey is one that he (and the faithful Challenger) will continue.

Xhosa Cole Quartet - Xhosa Cole Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 18/01/2020. Rating: 4 out of 5 As an ensemble the quartet played with passion, energy and consummate skill, and their shared love of their chosen source material, and of the jazz genre in general, shone like a beacon throughout.

Xhosa Cole Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 18/01/2020.


Xhosa Cole – tenor saxophone, Jay Phelps – trumpet, James Owston – double bass, Jim Bashford – drums


Shrewsbury Jazz Network’s 2020 programme got off to a great start with this sold our performance by Birmingham based saxophonist Xhosa Cole and his quartet.

Handsworth born Cole first came to jazz through the Ladywood Community Music School run by the late, great Birmingham saxophonist Andy Hamilton and he later became a member of the Midlands Youth Jazz Orchestra. He also attended courses run by the National Youth Jazz Collective and the National Youth Wind Orchestra.

Cole subsequently studied jazz to degree level at Birmingham Conservatoire and has since become an important presence on the city’s jazz scene, playing in Sid Peacock’s Surge Orchestra and with drummer Romarna Campbell’s Blan(c)anvas group among others. A musician with a social conscience he has also been involved with numerous community based projects.

In 2018 Cole was awarded the accolade of BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year, an award that helped to bring him to the attention of the national jazz audience. He consolidated this in 2019 when he was the recipient of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for ‘Jazz Newcomer of the Year’.

Cole can be considered to be something of a ‘rising star’ and there’s certainly something of a buzz about this young musician at the moment, something evidenced by this capacity crowd at The Hive, an audience that included several first timers at the venue.

Tonight represented the third gig of a twenty date UK tour that will see most of the performances taking place in the South of England and in Cole’s native Midlands. It sees him leading an exceptional quartet featuring the talents of two more Birmingham Conservatoire graduates, double bassist James Owston and drummer Jim Bashford, the latter a composer and bandleader in his own right and an increasingly influential and in demand figure on the UK and international jazz scene with a number of recordings to his credit.

The Birmingham contingent is joined by the Vancouver born trumpeter Jay Phelps, who first came to the attention of British jazz audiences back in 2007 when he was a member of the very first edition of Empirical, a line up that also included pianist Kit Downes. Since basing himself in the UK at the age of seventeen in 1999 Phelps has performed with many of the country’s leading jazz musicians including trombonist Dennis Rollins, saxophonist Courtney Pine and keyboard player Django Bates, and was once a member of the late Amy Winehouse’s band. He has also established a career as a solo artist with albums such as “Jay Walkin’” (2011) and “Free as The Birds” (2018). In 2019 he signed to Ubuntu Music, releasing the digital only albums “SoulEndvr” and “Chaos or Commerce”. Phelps is musically active across a variety of genres but remains first and foremost a jazz musician, a fact emphatically confirmed by his superb performance this evening.

Cole’s love of jazz, and of the jazz tradition, was expressed in a programme consisting largely of bebop and hard bop standards – and not always the obvious ones. Apart from minimal amplification for Owston’s bass the quartet played almost entirely acoustically, but still made a suitably big and impressive sound that was greatly appreciated by the supportive audience.

The two horns combined to introduce the Gigi Gryce composition “Salute To The Bandbox”, swirling, swooping and dovetailing in thrilling fashion prior to the introduction of bass and drums. The fluid grooves laid down by Owston and Bashford fuelled Cole’s opening solo, the fluency of the saxophonist complemented by Owston’s rapid bass walk, Bashford’s crisp drumming and Phelps’ trumpet embellishments. As the leader stretched out with the group now in saxophone trio mode Phelps bided his time before delivering his own bravura trumpet solo, a rousing introduction to his virtuoso technique.

Next up was “Zoltan”, a tune written by trumpeter Woody Shaw that appeared on organist Larry Young’s celebrated “Unity” album. Bashford’s military style drums underscored the unison theme statement from Cole and Phelps before the pair diverged to deliver their individual solos, Phelps going first. Following Cole’s solo the two horns came together once more in a series of increasingly fiery and garrulous exchanges. Next we enjoyed a virtuoso bass solo from Owston, himself a BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year finalist. Owston is very much Cole’s musical right hand man and his powerful and deeply resonant bass playing was very much the heart and backbone of this ensemble as he forged an excellent partnership with the more experienced Bashford. The drummer was also to feature at the close of the tune, his martial flourishes bringing the piece full circle.

Phelps left the stage as Cole, Owston and Bashford played the rarely heard Thelonious Monk ballad “Reflections” in the saxophone trio format. An extended introduction featuring just tenor sax and double bass emphasised the closeness of the musical bond between Cole and Owston, while Bashford’s delicate and understated brush work underlined his skills as a sympathetic accompanist and colourist.

The chordless format of the group had already led to me scribbling down the words “close to replicating the line up of the classic Ornette Coleman quartet” in my notebook. Almost as if on cue Cole now called a Coleman tune, “Ramblin’”, the opening track from Coleman’s 1960 album “Change of the Century”. This was introduced by the sound of dovetailing horns before Cole and Phelps coalesced on the head. The pair then diverged once more to deliver their individual solo statements. Phelps trumpet feature incorporated a vocalised growl, achieved without the aid of any form of mute. The solo as a whole was a dazzling display of fluency and virtuosity, qualities matched by the leader’s own excursion on tenor. I’ve witnessed Cole’s playing before in the bands of others, but never leading his own group. I’d suggest that at the moment he’s playing better then ever, a musician currently at the peak of his powers, clearly benefiting from being part of such an exceptional quartet. His chemistry with the resurgent Phelps is a key part in this, with each musician helping to spark the ideas of the other in a process that combines mutual support and respect with a friendly rivalry, it’s a winning combination that makes for thrilling music. The Coleman piece also included a feature for the excellent Bashford, whose busy but unobtrusive drum work was also essential to the success of the evening as a whole.

An exceptional first set closed with Cole’s arrangement of Dexter Gordon’s composition “Cheesecake”. Fellow tenor man Gordon (1923-89) represents something of a bridge between the swing and bop eras and elements of both could be heard here. The piece was introduced by Owston at the bass before the horns stated the theme, with its echoes of the swing era, in unison. Cole took the first solo on tenor, propelled by Owston’s fast paced bass walk and Bashford’s neatly energetic drumming. As the rhythm team stoked the fires Cole stretched out with an expansive, extended
solo. Phelps followed with a similarly dynamic trumpet feature before the two horns finally came together once more to restate Gordon’s theme. It had been a superb first half, and one that was warmly appreciated by the audience.

There was to be no let up in the energy or performance levels in a second set that commenced with Dizzy Gillespie’s “And Then She Stopped”, a tune sourced from the trumpeter’s 1964 album “Jambo Caribe”. As the album title suggests this was a piece with a definite Caribbean flavour and initially I was reminded of the calypso jazz of saxophonist Sonny Rollins, an acknowledged influence on Cole’s style. Solos here came from Phelps, Cole and Owston, with the musicians injecting some welcome humour into the proceedings.

A second Thelonious Monk tune, “Played Twice”, saw Phelps making temporary use of a Harmon mute during the opening theme statement. Cole’s tenor solo found the group in saxophone trio mode once more, with the leader squeezing in a quote (one of several overall) from yet another Monk tune, “Well You Needn’t”. When Phelps returned his fiery solo was delivered through the open bell and there was also an engaging dialogue between Owston and Bashford that incorporated individual features for each.

Cole sat with the audience for Phelps’ performance of the ballad “Soul Train”. In a rare ‘trumpet trio’ performance Phelps deployed the Harmon mute throughout, also appropriating the vocal mic to give his playing sufficient volume. The piece was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied trumpet, with Phelps subsequently joined by Owston at the bass and eventually by Bashford, whose mallet rumbles, cymbal shimmers and deft brushwork represented suitable atmospheric and sensitive accompaniment. Phelps then concluded the piece with a stunning solo trumpet cadenza.

Following on in a similar vein “When You Wish Upon A Star” was introduced and concluded by similarly impressive solo sax excursions. In between we heard we heard more dazzling horn interplay, with Cole and Phelps ably supported by the flexible and intelligent rhythm section of Owston and Bashford.

The quartet have vowed to play a different Charlie Parker tune every night during the course of the current tour. Tonight’s offering was “Steeplechase”, the tune that gave its name to a record label, introduced to the group by Phelps. Having navigated the complexities of the typically tricky and complex bebop ‘head’ the two horn men then relished the opportunity of stretching out with extended solos featuring some genuinely barnstorming playing. No less absorbing was the subsequent dialogue between Owston and Bashford, with Cole and Phelps eventually returning to tackle Parker’s theme once more.

The performance concluded with Owston’s innovative arrangement of the jazz standard “Darn That Dream”. Introduced by a passage of solo double bass Owston’s adaptation brought an energetic, contemporary feel to the piece as the horns caroused above a busy rhythmic undertow with Cole and Phelps exchanging phrases, followed by full length solos. As befitted the final number of the evening there were also features for bass and drums before a final passage of spirited interplay between saxophone and trumpet.

A packed house gave the quartet a terrific reception, which bodes well for the rest of the tour. The group have already achieved a remarkable level of empathy and togetherness very early on in the tour and should continue to wow audiences in other parts of the country.

Inevitably Cole and Phelps will attract most of the plaudits, but this shouldn’t detract from the contribution made by the brilliant rhythm team of Owston and Bashford, whose superb work helped to bring out the best of the two front line soloists. Owston, in particular, played with a skill and maturity beyond his years, his tone big and resonant, his time keeping immaculate and his solos highly dexterous and consistently engaging. The gig as a whole was a terrific advert for the jazz faculty at Birmingham Conservatoire, which continues to produce some remarkable musicians.

As an ensemble the quartet played with passion, energy and consummate skill, and their shared love of their chosen source material, and of the jazz genre in general, shone like a beacon throughout.

My thanks to Xhosa Cole for speaking with me afterwards. Following this set of outside material I asked him about his original writing, and although he does compose writing comes second to his love of actually playing at the moment. “I just can’t keep out of the practice room” he told me, and this dedication to self improvement was reflected in the brilliance of his performance tonight.

That said Cole has written music across a variety of genres, including his “Greek Suite”, written for himself on flute and a string quartet featuring Birmingham based musicians Sarah Farmer, Helena Britten, Richard Scott and Victoria Groves. Fortuitously we were to enjoy an excerpt from this work on Corey Mwamba’s “Freeness” programme on BBC Radio 3 as we drove home after tonight’s gig.

There will no doubt be more original work to come from Cole, but at the moment he’s doing a wonderful job of keeping the bebop and hard bop flame alive for contemporary jazz audiences, and bringing a lot of himself and his excellent quartet to the process. The addition of Phelps to the band has obviously been a real creative shot in the arm, and the undeniable chemistry between the saxophonist and the trumpeter promises to develop even further on this tour.

Catch this excellent quartet if you can. I’m hoping to see them again at the Left Bank Village in Hereford on January 29th, this time strictly as a fan.

 

Xhosa Cole Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 18/01/2020.

Xhosa Cole Quartet

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Xhosa Cole Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 18/01/2020.
Photography: Photograph by Hamish Kirkpatrick of Shrewsbury Jazz Network.

As an ensemble the quartet played with passion, energy and consummate skill, and their shared love of their chosen source material, and of the jazz genre in general, shone like a beacon throughout.

Xhosa Cole Quartet, The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 18/01/2020.


Xhosa Cole – tenor saxophone, Jay Phelps – trumpet, James Owston – double bass, Jim Bashford – drums


Shrewsbury Jazz Network’s 2020 programme got off to a great start with this sold our performance by Birmingham based saxophonist Xhosa Cole and his quartet.

Handsworth born Cole first came to jazz through the Ladywood Community Music School run by the late, great Birmingham saxophonist Andy Hamilton and he later became a member of the Midlands Youth Jazz Orchestra. He also attended courses run by the National Youth Jazz Collective and the National Youth Wind Orchestra.

Cole subsequently studied jazz to degree level at Birmingham Conservatoire and has since become an important presence on the city’s jazz scene, playing in Sid Peacock’s Surge Orchestra and with drummer Romarna Campbell’s Blan(c)anvas group among others. A musician with a social conscience he has also been involved with numerous community based projects.

In 2018 Cole was awarded the accolade of BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year, an award that helped to bring him to the attention of the national jazz audience. He consolidated this in 2019 when he was the recipient of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for ‘Jazz Newcomer of the Year’.

Cole can be considered to be something of a ‘rising star’ and there’s certainly something of a buzz about this young musician at the moment, something evidenced by this capacity crowd at The Hive, an audience that included several first timers at the venue.

Tonight represented the third gig of a twenty date UK tour that will see most of the performances taking place in the South of England and in Cole’s native Midlands. It sees him leading an exceptional quartet featuring the talents of two more Birmingham Conservatoire graduates, double bassist James Owston and drummer Jim Bashford, the latter a composer and bandleader in his own right and an increasingly influential and in demand figure on the UK and international jazz scene with a number of recordings to his credit.

The Birmingham contingent is joined by the Vancouver born trumpeter Jay Phelps, who first came to the attention of British jazz audiences back in 2007 when he was a member of the very first edition of Empirical, a line up that also included pianist Kit Downes. Since basing himself in the UK at the age of seventeen in 1999 Phelps has performed with many of the country’s leading jazz musicians including trombonist Dennis Rollins, saxophonist Courtney Pine and keyboard player Django Bates, and was once a member of the late Amy Winehouse’s band. He has also established a career as a solo artist with albums such as “Jay Walkin’” (2011) and “Free as The Birds” (2018). In 2019 he signed to Ubuntu Music, releasing the digital only albums “SoulEndvr” and “Chaos or Commerce”. Phelps is musically active across a variety of genres but remains first and foremost a jazz musician, a fact emphatically confirmed by his superb performance this evening.

Cole’s love of jazz, and of the jazz tradition, was expressed in a programme consisting largely of bebop and hard bop standards – and not always the obvious ones. Apart from minimal amplification for Owston’s bass the quartet played almost entirely acoustically, but still made a suitably big and impressive sound that was greatly appreciated by the supportive audience.

The two horns combined to introduce the Gigi Gryce composition “Salute To The Bandbox”, swirling, swooping and dovetailing in thrilling fashion prior to the introduction of bass and drums. The fluid grooves laid down by Owston and Bashford fuelled Cole’s opening solo, the fluency of the saxophonist complemented by Owston’s rapid bass walk, Bashford’s crisp drumming and Phelps’ trumpet embellishments. As the leader stretched out with the group now in saxophone trio mode Phelps bided his time before delivering his own bravura trumpet solo, a rousing introduction to his virtuoso technique.

Next up was “Zoltan”, a tune written by trumpeter Woody Shaw that appeared on organist Larry Young’s celebrated “Unity” album. Bashford’s military style drums underscored the unison theme statement from Cole and Phelps before the pair diverged to deliver their individual solos, Phelps going first. Following Cole’s solo the two horns came together once more in a series of increasingly fiery and garrulous exchanges. Next we enjoyed a virtuoso bass solo from Owston, himself a BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year finalist. Owston is very much Cole’s musical right hand man and his powerful and deeply resonant bass playing was very much the heart and backbone of this ensemble as he forged an excellent partnership with the more experienced Bashford. The drummer was also to feature at the close of the tune, his martial flourishes bringing the piece full circle.

Phelps left the stage as Cole, Owston and Bashford played the rarely heard Thelonious Monk ballad “Reflections” in the saxophone trio format. An extended introduction featuring just tenor sax and double bass emphasised the closeness of the musical bond between Cole and Owston, while Bashford’s delicate and understated brush work underlined his skills as a sympathetic accompanist and colourist.

The chordless format of the group had already led to me scribbling down the words “close to replicating the line up of the classic Ornette Coleman quartet” in my notebook. Almost as if on cue Cole now called a Coleman tune, “Ramblin’”, the opening track from Coleman’s 1960 album “Change of the Century”. This was introduced by the sound of dovetailing horns before Cole and Phelps coalesced on the head. The pair then diverged once more to deliver their individual solo statements. Phelps trumpet feature incorporated a vocalised growl, achieved without the aid of any form of mute. The solo as a whole was a dazzling display of fluency and virtuosity, qualities matched by the leader’s own excursion on tenor. I’ve witnessed Cole’s playing before in the bands of others, but never leading his own group. I’d suggest that at the moment he’s playing better then ever, a musician currently at the peak of his powers, clearly benefiting from being part of such an exceptional quartet. His chemistry with the resurgent Phelps is a key part in this, with each musician helping to spark the ideas of the other in a process that combines mutual support and respect with a friendly rivalry, it’s a winning combination that makes for thrilling music. The Coleman piece also included a feature for the excellent Bashford, whose busy but unobtrusive drum work was also essential to the success of the evening as a whole.

An exceptional first set closed with Cole’s arrangement of Dexter Gordon’s composition “Cheesecake”. Fellow tenor man Gordon (1923-89) represents something of a bridge between the swing and bop eras and elements of both could be heard here. The piece was introduced by Owston at the bass before the horns stated the theme, with its echoes of the swing era, in unison. Cole took the first solo on tenor, propelled by Owston’s fast paced bass walk and Bashford’s neatly energetic drumming. As the rhythm team stoked the fires Cole stretched out with an expansive, extended
solo. Phelps followed with a similarly dynamic trumpet feature before the two horns finally came together once more to restate Gordon’s theme. It had been a superb first half, and one that was warmly appreciated by the audience.

There was to be no let up in the energy or performance levels in a second set that commenced with Dizzy Gillespie’s “And Then She Stopped”, a tune sourced from the trumpeter’s 1964 album “Jambo Caribe”. As the album title suggests this was a piece with a definite Caribbean flavour and initially I was reminded of the calypso jazz of saxophonist Sonny Rollins, an acknowledged influence on Cole’s style. Solos here came from Phelps, Cole and Owston, with the musicians injecting some welcome humour into the proceedings.

A second Thelonious Monk tune, “Played Twice”, saw Phelps making temporary use of a Harmon mute during the opening theme statement. Cole’s tenor solo found the group in saxophone trio mode once more, with the leader squeezing in a quote (one of several overall) from yet another Monk tune, “Well You Needn’t”. When Phelps returned his fiery solo was delivered through the open bell and there was also an engaging dialogue between Owston and Bashford that incorporated individual features for each.

Cole sat with the audience for Phelps’ performance of the ballad “Soul Train”. In a rare ‘trumpet trio’ performance Phelps deployed the Harmon mute throughout, also appropriating the vocal mic to give his playing sufficient volume. The piece was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied trumpet, with Phelps subsequently joined by Owston at the bass and eventually by Bashford, whose mallet rumbles, cymbal shimmers and deft brushwork represented suitable atmospheric and sensitive accompaniment. Phelps then concluded the piece with a stunning solo trumpet cadenza.

Following on in a similar vein “When You Wish Upon A Star” was introduced and concluded by similarly impressive solo sax excursions. In between we heard we heard more dazzling horn interplay, with Cole and Phelps ably supported by the flexible and intelligent rhythm section of Owston and Bashford.

The quartet have vowed to play a different Charlie Parker tune every night during the course of the current tour. Tonight’s offering was “Steeplechase”, the tune that gave its name to a record label, introduced to the group by Phelps. Having navigated the complexities of the typically tricky and complex bebop ‘head’ the two horn men then relished the opportunity of stretching out with extended solos featuring some genuinely barnstorming playing. No less absorbing was the subsequent dialogue between Owston and Bashford, with Cole and Phelps eventually returning to tackle Parker’s theme once more.

The performance concluded with Owston’s innovative arrangement of the jazz standard “Darn That Dream”. Introduced by a passage of solo double bass Owston’s adaptation brought an energetic, contemporary feel to the piece as the horns caroused above a busy rhythmic undertow with Cole and Phelps exchanging phrases, followed by full length solos. As befitted the final number of the evening there were also features for bass and drums before a final passage of spirited interplay between saxophone and trumpet.

A packed house gave the quartet a terrific reception, which bodes well for the rest of the tour. The group have already achieved a remarkable level of empathy and togetherness very early on in the tour and should continue to wow audiences in other parts of the country.

Inevitably Cole and Phelps will attract most of the plaudits, but this shouldn’t detract from the contribution made by the brilliant rhythm team of Owston and Bashford, whose superb work helped to bring out the best of the two front line soloists. Owston, in particular, played with a skill and maturity beyond his years, his tone big and resonant, his time keeping immaculate and his solos highly dexterous and consistently engaging. The gig as a whole was a terrific advert for the jazz faculty at Birmingham Conservatoire, which continues to produce some remarkable musicians.

As an ensemble the quartet played with passion, energy and consummate skill, and their shared love of their chosen source material, and of the jazz genre in general, shone like a beacon throughout.

My thanks to Xhosa Cole for speaking with me afterwards. Following this set of outside material I asked him about his original writing, and although he does compose writing comes second to his love of actually playing at the moment. “I just can’t keep out of the practice room” he told me, and this dedication to self improvement was reflected in the brilliance of his performance tonight.

That said Cole has written music across a variety of genres, including his “Greek Suite”, written for himself on flute and a string quartet featuring Birmingham based musicians Sarah Farmer, Helena Britten, Richard Scott and Victoria Groves. Fortuitously we were to enjoy an excerpt from this work on Corey Mwamba’s “Freeness” programme on BBC Radio 3 as we drove home after tonight’s gig.

There will no doubt be more original work to come from Cole, but at the moment he’s doing a wonderful job of keeping the bebop and hard bop flame alive for contemporary jazz audiences, and bringing a lot of himself and his excellent quartet to the process. The addition of Phelps to the band has obviously been a real creative shot in the arm, and the undeniable chemistry between the saxophonist and the trumpeter promises to develop even further on this tour.

Catch this excellent quartet if you can. I’m hoping to see them again at the Left Bank Village in Hereford on January 29th, this time strictly as a fan.

 

Jonny Mansfield - Elftet Rating: 4 out of 5 Mansfield’s compositions skilfully fuse together diverse musical elements into a seamless whole. This is warm, vibrant, intelligent music that is rich in terms of colour, texture and nuance.

Jonny Mansfield

“Elftet”

(Edition Records EDN1130)


Here’s another release from 2019 that’s been lurking in the ‘to do’ file for far too long.

I’m indebted to Jonny Mansfield for personally forwarding me a copy of his leadership début, an ambitious recording featuring his original music played by his eleven piece group Elftet, plus a smattering of special guests.

Huddersfield born Mansfield studied at Chetham’s Music School and at the Royal Academy of Music in London. In 2018 he was the recipient of the Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize, a prestigious award that helped to finance the recording of this ambitious début album.

Equally proficient on vibraphone and kit drums Mansfield’s career to date has been divided between the two instruments. He is the drummer with the quintet Bonsai, the band formerly known as Jam Experiment, but doubles up on vibes on the group’s recordings, “Jam Experiment” (2017) and “Bonsai Club” (2019).

Mansfield also leads, from the vibes, a quartet featuring the talents of pianist Will Barry and the Elftet rhythm section of bassist Will Harris and drummer Boz Martin-Jones. This group is sometimes augmented by tenor saxophonist Tom Barford, a bandleader in his own right.

The Elftet line up includes two of Mansfield’s Bonsai colleagues, the Wakefield born Ingham brothers, musicians Mansfield has worked with since his Chetham’s days. For the purposes of this recording Elftet lines up as follows;

Jonny Mansfield – vibraphone

Ella Hohnen-Ford -vocals, flute

James Davison – trumpet & flugel

Tom Smith – alto & tenor saxes, flute

George Millard – tenor sax, bass clarinet, flute

Rory Ingham – trombone

Dominic Ingham – violin

Laura Armstrong – cello

Oliver Mason - guitar

Will Harris – double bass, electric bass

Boz Martin-Jones – drums

plus guests;

Chris Potter – tenor sax

Gareth Lockrane – flute

Kit Downes – Hammond organ

At the 2018 EFG London Festival I enjoyed a live performance by a very similar line up at the 606 Jazz Club in Chelsea. The three guests weren’t present but the only other change was in the tenor sax chair with Sam Rapley replacing Millard.

Guest contributor Trevor Bannister was also bowled over by the band when they played a hugely successful show at the Progress Theatre in Reading earlier in 2018. His account of that performance can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/elftet-progress-theatre-reading-berkshire-28-09-2018/

Much of the material to be heard on this album was performed at those gigs.

Mansfield was also commissioned to write new music for a performance by Elftet at the 2018 Marsden Jazz Festival in West Yorkshire. This material, collectively gathered under the title “On Marsden Moor” included settings of poems by the acclaimed poet and academic Simon Armitage. 

At Reading Mansfield was asked why he had chosen to write for an eleven piece band. “It gives me the chance to write for a broad musical palette and to create colours and textures beyond what’s possible in a small group”, he replied.

Mansfield is an ambitious composer whose pieces embrace a variety of musical styles as well as drawing inspiration from poetry and literature. In this sense his music is very much in the tradition of British jazz composers such as Michael Garrick, Mike Westbrook and, of course, Kenny Wheeler. But the youthfulness and vitality of his ensemble helps to give his music a very contemporary twist.

Both the Reading and London live performances commenced with album opener “Sailing”, a composition combining jazz, folk and classical influences and also featuring the vocals of Hohnen-Ford, delivering Mansfield’s lyrics extolling the “Gifts of song, poetry, joy, happiness and mystery”.
The Elftet sound is indeed rich in terms of both colour and texture as the strings of Armstrong and Dominic Ingham combine with the sounds of reeds, brass and rhythm. The featured instrumental soloists are Rory Ingham on fluent, warm toned trombone and Millard (I think) on incisive tenor. There’s also some exemplary ensemble playing, including some thrilling interplay between the various horns. At the 606 I recall Hohnen-Ford encouraging the audience to clap along with the closing chorus, featuring the acappella vocals of the band members, a device that is repeated here.

“M & M” introduces the first of Elftet’s illustrious guests, the great American saxophonist Chris Potter, who is currently signed to the Edition label. The strings are again prominent in another richly colourful arrangement. This is a particularly well integrated ensemble that makes no distinction between ‘jazz’ and ‘classical’ players. Potter solos with his customary fluency and inventiveness, really tearing it up on tenor as the rest of the band generate an authentically big sound around him. But there are gentler moments too, Potter’s solo is followed by a softer ‘choral’ passage featuring wordless vocals, before Martin-Jones establishes the odd meter drum groove that helps to underpin Mansfield’s shimmering vibes solo. This multi-faceted, episodic piece then shifts gear again with a second powerful excursion from Potter above driving rhythms and a rousing band chart, before a quieter coda.

The more concise “Falling” is an adaptation by Mansfield of poet Thomas Dekker’s “Cradle Song”. The piece is a feature for the pure toned, well enunciated vocals of Hohnen-Ford, who soars above the lush quasi-orchestral backdrop. By appropriating Dekker Mansfield finds himself in select musical company, The Beatles also borrowed extensively from Dekker for “Golden Slumbers” on “Abbey Road”.

The piece “T & C’s Apply” was written for Mansfield’s brothers, Tim and Chris. It acts as a feature for guest flautist Gareth Lockrane, who at one point forms part of a ‘flute ensemble’ alongside Hohnen-Ford, Smith and Millard.  It’s a lively tune with a pronounced folk influence that features Dominic Ingham’s violin alongside Lockrane’s virtuosic, effervescent flute soloing. Lockrane has been something of a mentor to Mansfield, while the younger man has played vibes and marimba with Lockrane’s Big Band, appearing on the album “Fist Fight at the Barn Dance”. The closing passage of “T & C’s” finds Mansfield’s vibes and Lockrane’s flute in courtly duet, underpinned by Harris’ double bass.

“Mr. Boz” is a brief drum feature for Martin-Jones, written for him by Mansfield, which features the sticksman exploring a variety of different drum sounds.

“Silhouette” was the first tune that Mansfield wrote for Elftet and it’s a piece that has evolved over the years, with a greater emphasis being placed on improvisation as it has developed in live performance. A complex theme featuring Hohnen-Ford’s ethereal wordless vocals eventually paves the way for a powerful electric guitar solo from Mason, with a strong rock influence present in his playing. Mason then provides washes of colour and texture behind the engaging dialogue between Mansfield and Martin-Jones that lies at the heart of the tune. As the conversation gathers momentum, with Harris joining in on bass, I’m reminded of the Cloudmakers Trio, led by another of Mansfield’s mentors, the great Jim Hart, who also deserves credit for his role as the producer of this album. Davison’s trumpet flares briefly, as does Millard’s bass clarinet, but it’s Tom Smith who rounds off the solos with a blistering sortie on alto.

Davison’s unaccompanied flugel introduces “For You”, a piece written with a song-like construction of which Mansfield says; “I hope that this tune can be a song that anyone can listen to and feel that it was written for them”. Davison’s flugel is then joined in duet by Mason’s guitar before the introduction of Hohnen-Ford’s wistful wordless vocals. Mansfield’s aim was to create a piece with a strong, uplifting vibe, and with its lilting melody it’s a comparatively simple piece by Elftet standards. Further solos come from Smith on alto, Harris on double bass and a returning Davidson

“Flying Kites” is dedicated to Mansfield’s father, a figure he describes as being “dedicated and insightful”. The piece opens in ethereal fashion, with a passage featuring wordless vocals, muted brass and the ethereal shimmer of vibes and guitar. Subsequently a gently percolating groove is established, featuring the sounds of pizzicato violin and bass clarinet among others. This helps to give the piece a suitably quirky and whimsical feel, one that is later seceded by a heavier groove as the ‘kite’ really starts to fly, as described in Hohnen-Ford’s rendition of the economic, but descriptive, two line lyric. There are solo from passages for both saxophone and flute – hard to apportion credit here – and from Dominic Ingham on violin.

The closing piece, Sweet Potato”, introduces the final guest soloist, Kit Downes, another musician that Mansfield considers as a mentor. The tune itself is dedicated to Mansfield’s mother and opens with an extended horn chorale. The combination of Mason’s guitar and Downes’ Hammond brings a blues and gospel sensibility to the music, as do the saxophone solos. Downes later takes flight on Hammond, still very much in gospel mode, and sounding very different to his solo projects. Meanwhile Hohnen-Fords’s soaring wordless vocals allied to the joyous ensemble playing help to ensure that the mood remains buoyant and uplifting throughout.

“Elftet” represents a highly ambitious début from Mansfield and on the whole the album succeeds brilliantly. The eleven piece line up has remained remarkably stable since its inception and the trust and respect that the musicians have for one another’s’ playing is apparent throughout.

The three stellar guests all make exceptional contributions and their very presence represents a compelling endorsement of Mansfield’s talents.


Mansfield’s compositions and arrangements skilfully fuse together diverse musical elements into a seamless whole. This is warm, vibrant, intelligent music that is rich in terms of colour, texture and nuance, and not without a welcome touch of humour. This may be ‘serious’ music, but Mansfield isn’t a musician who takes himself too seriously.

Elftet’s music embraces elements of jazz, folk,  classical and even rock yet never sounds contrived or forced. In addition to Garrick, Westbrook and Wheeler Mansfield’s writing has also been compared to that of Mike Gibbs, Maria Schneider (an acknowledged influence), Loose Tubes and even Duke Ellington.

The performances in Reading and London included material that doesn’t appear on this debut, so hopefully Mansfield will be able to record a second Elftet album at some point in the future. In the meantime this ambitious and brilliantly recognised debut will do very nicely, thank you.

 

Elftet

Jonny Mansfield

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Elftet

Mansfield’s compositions skilfully fuse together diverse musical elements into a seamless whole. This is warm, vibrant, intelligent music that is rich in terms of colour, texture and nuance.

Jonny Mansfield

“Elftet”

(Edition Records EDN1130)


Here’s another release from 2019 that’s been lurking in the ‘to do’ file for far too long.

I’m indebted to Jonny Mansfield for personally forwarding me a copy of his leadership début, an ambitious recording featuring his original music played by his eleven piece group Elftet, plus a smattering of special guests.

Huddersfield born Mansfield studied at Chetham’s Music School and at the Royal Academy of Music in London. In 2018 he was the recipient of the Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize, a prestigious award that helped to finance the recording of this ambitious début album.

Equally proficient on vibraphone and kit drums Mansfield’s career to date has been divided between the two instruments. He is the drummer with the quintet Bonsai, the band formerly known as Jam Experiment, but doubles up on vibes on the group’s recordings, “Jam Experiment” (2017) and “Bonsai Club” (2019).

Mansfield also leads, from the vibes, a quartet featuring the talents of pianist Will Barry and the Elftet rhythm section of bassist Will Harris and drummer Boz Martin-Jones. This group is sometimes augmented by tenor saxophonist Tom Barford, a bandleader in his own right.

The Elftet line up includes two of Mansfield’s Bonsai colleagues, the Wakefield born Ingham brothers, musicians Mansfield has worked with since his Chetham’s days. For the purposes of this recording Elftet lines up as follows;

Jonny Mansfield – vibraphone

Ella Hohnen-Ford -vocals, flute

James Davison – trumpet & flugel

Tom Smith – alto & tenor saxes, flute

George Millard – tenor sax, bass clarinet, flute

Rory Ingham – trombone

Dominic Ingham – violin

Laura Armstrong – cello

Oliver Mason - guitar

Will Harris – double bass, electric bass

Boz Martin-Jones – drums

plus guests;

Chris Potter – tenor sax

Gareth Lockrane – flute

Kit Downes – Hammond organ

At the 2018 EFG London Festival I enjoyed a live performance by a very similar line up at the 606 Jazz Club in Chelsea. The three guests weren’t present but the only other change was in the tenor sax chair with Sam Rapley replacing Millard.

Guest contributor Trevor Bannister was also bowled over by the band when they played a hugely successful show at the Progress Theatre in Reading earlier in 2018. His account of that performance can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/elftet-progress-theatre-reading-berkshire-28-09-2018/

Much of the material to be heard on this album was performed at those gigs.

Mansfield was also commissioned to write new music for a performance by Elftet at the 2018 Marsden Jazz Festival in West Yorkshire. This material, collectively gathered under the title “On Marsden Moor” included settings of poems by the acclaimed poet and academic Simon Armitage. 

At Reading Mansfield was asked why he had chosen to write for an eleven piece band. “It gives me the chance to write for a broad musical palette and to create colours and textures beyond what’s possible in a small group”, he replied.

Mansfield is an ambitious composer whose pieces embrace a variety of musical styles as well as drawing inspiration from poetry and literature. In this sense his music is very much in the tradition of British jazz composers such as Michael Garrick, Mike Westbrook and, of course, Kenny Wheeler. But the youthfulness and vitality of his ensemble helps to give his music a very contemporary twist.

Both the Reading and London live performances commenced with album opener “Sailing”, a composition combining jazz, folk and classical influences and also featuring the vocals of Hohnen-Ford, delivering Mansfield’s lyrics extolling the “Gifts of song, poetry, joy, happiness and mystery”.
The Elftet sound is indeed rich in terms of both colour and texture as the strings of Armstrong and Dominic Ingham combine with the sounds of reeds, brass and rhythm. The featured instrumental soloists are Rory Ingham on fluent, warm toned trombone and Millard (I think) on incisive tenor. There’s also some exemplary ensemble playing, including some thrilling interplay between the various horns. At the 606 I recall Hohnen-Ford encouraging the audience to clap along with the closing chorus, featuring the acappella vocals of the band members, a device that is repeated here.

“M & M” introduces the first of Elftet’s illustrious guests, the great American saxophonist Chris Potter, who is currently signed to the Edition label. The strings are again prominent in another richly colourful arrangement. This is a particularly well integrated ensemble that makes no distinction between ‘jazz’ and ‘classical’ players. Potter solos with his customary fluency and inventiveness, really tearing it up on tenor as the rest of the band generate an authentically big sound around him. But there are gentler moments too, Potter’s solo is followed by a softer ‘choral’ passage featuring wordless vocals, before Martin-Jones establishes the odd meter drum groove that helps to underpin Mansfield’s shimmering vibes solo. This multi-faceted, episodic piece then shifts gear again with a second powerful excursion from Potter above driving rhythms and a rousing band chart, before a quieter coda.

The more concise “Falling” is an adaptation by Mansfield of poet Thomas Dekker’s “Cradle Song”. The piece is a feature for the pure toned, well enunciated vocals of Hohnen-Ford, who soars above the lush quasi-orchestral backdrop. By appropriating Dekker Mansfield finds himself in select musical company, The Beatles also borrowed extensively from Dekker for “Golden Slumbers” on “Abbey Road”.

The piece “T & C’s Apply” was written for Mansfield’s brothers, Tim and Chris. It acts as a feature for guest flautist Gareth Lockrane, who at one point forms part of a ‘flute ensemble’ alongside Hohnen-Ford, Smith and Millard.  It’s a lively tune with a pronounced folk influence that features Dominic Ingham’s violin alongside Lockrane’s virtuosic, effervescent flute soloing. Lockrane has been something of a mentor to Mansfield, while the younger man has played vibes and marimba with Lockrane’s Big Band, appearing on the album “Fist Fight at the Barn Dance”. The closing passage of “T & C’s” finds Mansfield’s vibes and Lockrane’s flute in courtly duet, underpinned by Harris’ double bass.

“Mr. Boz” is a brief drum feature for Martin-Jones, written for him by Mansfield, which features the sticksman exploring a variety of different drum sounds.

“Silhouette” was the first tune that Mansfield wrote for Elftet and it’s a piece that has evolved over the years, with a greater emphasis being placed on improvisation as it has developed in live performance. A complex theme featuring Hohnen-Ford’s ethereal wordless vocals eventually paves the way for a powerful electric guitar solo from Mason, with a strong rock influence present in his playing. Mason then provides washes of colour and texture behind the engaging dialogue between Mansfield and Martin-Jones that lies at the heart of the tune. As the conversation gathers momentum, with Harris joining in on bass, I’m reminded of the Cloudmakers Trio, led by another of Mansfield’s mentors, the great Jim Hart, who also deserves credit for his role as the producer of this album. Davison’s trumpet flares briefly, as does Millard’s bass clarinet, but it’s Tom Smith who rounds off the solos with a blistering sortie on alto.

Davison’s unaccompanied flugel introduces “For You”, a piece written with a song-like construction of which Mansfield says; “I hope that this tune can be a song that anyone can listen to and feel that it was written for them”. Davison’s flugel is then joined in duet by Mason’s guitar before the introduction of Hohnen-Ford’s wistful wordless vocals. Mansfield’s aim was to create a piece with a strong, uplifting vibe, and with its lilting melody it’s a comparatively simple piece by Elftet standards. Further solos come from Smith on alto, Harris on double bass and a returning Davidson

“Flying Kites” is dedicated to Mansfield’s father, a figure he describes as being “dedicated and insightful”. The piece opens in ethereal fashion, with a passage featuring wordless vocals, muted brass and the ethereal shimmer of vibes and guitar. Subsequently a gently percolating groove is established, featuring the sounds of pizzicato violin and bass clarinet among others. This helps to give the piece a suitably quirky and whimsical feel, one that is later seceded by a heavier groove as the ‘kite’ really starts to fly, as described in Hohnen-Ford’s rendition of the economic, but descriptive, two line lyric. There are solo from passages for both saxophone and flute – hard to apportion credit here – and from Dominic Ingham on violin.

The closing piece, Sweet Potato”, introduces the final guest soloist, Kit Downes, another musician that Mansfield considers as a mentor. The tune itself is dedicated to Mansfield’s mother and opens with an extended horn chorale. The combination of Mason’s guitar and Downes’ Hammond brings a blues and gospel sensibility to the music, as do the saxophone solos. Downes later takes flight on Hammond, still very much in gospel mode, and sounding very different to his solo projects. Meanwhile Hohnen-Fords’s soaring wordless vocals allied to the joyous ensemble playing help to ensure that the mood remains buoyant and uplifting throughout.

“Elftet” represents a highly ambitious début from Mansfield and on the whole the album succeeds brilliantly. The eleven piece line up has remained remarkably stable since its inception and the trust and respect that the musicians have for one another’s’ playing is apparent throughout.

The three stellar guests all make exceptional contributions and their very presence represents a compelling endorsement of Mansfield’s talents.


Mansfield’s compositions and arrangements skilfully fuse together diverse musical elements into a seamless whole. This is warm, vibrant, intelligent music that is rich in terms of colour, texture and nuance, and not without a welcome touch of humour. This may be ‘serious’ music, but Mansfield isn’t a musician who takes himself too seriously.

Elftet’s music embraces elements of jazz, folk,  classical and even rock yet never sounds contrived or forced. In addition to Garrick, Westbrook and Wheeler Mansfield’s writing has also been compared to that of Mike Gibbs, Maria Schneider (an acknowledged influence), Loose Tubes and even Duke Ellington.

The performances in Reading and London included material that doesn’t appear on this debut, so hopefully Mansfield will be able to record a second Elftet album at some point in the future. In the meantime this ambitious and brilliantly recognised debut will do very nicely, thank you.

 

Lynne Arriale Trio - Give Us These Days Rating: 4-5 out of 5 An excellent addition to Arriale’s already impressive discography and to the jazz piano trio canon as a whole. It is particularly impressive for tackling a broad range of musical and emotional styles.

Lynne Arriale Trio

“Give Us These Days”

(Challenge Records CR73453)


Lynne Arriale – piano, Jasper Somsen – double bass, Jasper Van Hulten – drums


“Give Us These Days” is the fourteenth album release as a leader by the American pianist and composer Lynne Arriale. It first appeared in May 2018 but a review copy was only forwarded to me by Lynne fairly recently, and the album seems to be the subject of a second “push”.

I first heard Arriale’s playing around a decade ago when I was introduced to her music by my friend Paul, a great fan of the piano trio format in jazz, and of Bill Evans in particular.

Through Paul I was introduced to such Arriale recordings as “Arise” (2002), “Live” (2005) and “Nuance” (2008), enjoying them all in my capacity as a jazz fan.

Both “Arise” and “Live” featured Arriale’s long running trio with bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Steve Davis and the majority of her recordings have been in this format. Others to fill the bass and drum chairs in Arriale’s trios have included bassists John Patitucci,  Scott Colley, Drew Gress, George Mraz and Omer Avital and drummer Anthony Pinciotti.

Occasionally Arriale has expanded her groups with the addition of a horn player, such as trumpeter Randy Brecker and saxophonist Bill McHenry. She has also recorded in the solo piano format.

As can be seen from the quality of the musical company that she keeps Arriale is a true jazz heavyweight, a musician whose talents demand that she be considered as a member of the jazz Premier League.

Arriale’s first release for the Austrian imprint Challenge Records, following a lengthy six album tenure with the Motema label, sees her introducing a brand new trio featuring bassist Jasper Somsen and drummer Jasper Van Hulten, both fresh names to me. One track also features the singing of guest vocalist Kate McGarry.

The members of Arriale’s new rhythm team both hail from the Netherlands and Somsen also acts as the pianist’s co-producer.

The track listing for this latest recording comprises of six new Arriale originals, together with three interpretations of pop/rock songs, Joni Mitchell’s’ “Woodstock”, The Beatles’ “Let It Be” and Tom Waits’ “Take It With Me”.

The album commences with a re-harmonised version of “Woodstock”, delivered in a very contemporary style and heavily disguised as first, with the familiar melody alluded to in tantalising flashes rather than stated openly. Despite her obvious love of melody Arriale is also a highly adventurous, and surprisingly robust player and improviser. She may have been routinely compared to Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, but there’s plenty of McCoy Tyner in her style too, particularly so when she stretches out here, her powerful soloing receiving equally forceful backing from her dynamic new rhythm team. It all makes for a highly exciting and arresting opener.

The first original tune is the Latin-esque “Appassionata”, introduced by vigorous bass and drums and with a beguiling melody that has invited comparisons with the writing of Chick Corea and of Argentinian tango master Astor Piazzolla. Arriale’s piano dances above the busy patter of Van Hulten’s drums as the trio continue to dazzle with another dynamic trio performance. Somsen impresses with a highly dexterous double bass solo, underpinned by Arriale’s prompting from the piano and the ongoing bustle of Van Hulten’s drums.

“Finding Home” introduces a more lyrical side of Arriale’s writing and the trio’s playing, with its airy melodies and softer grooves. There’s a flowing lyricism about Arriale’s solo and she’s followed by Somsen, whose bass playing combines a strong melodic sense with great dexterity. The impressive Van Hulten remains busy behind the kit, his playing subtly propulsive, but never overly intrusive. At times the piece almost sounds like a standard, such are its melodic qualities.

Arriale’s title track takes its title from a line in the poem “Devotional” by the American writer and editor Jim Schley. In his liner notes for the “Give Us These Days” album Lawrence Abrams describes this composition as “an instrumental prayer”, which summarises the mood of the piece perfectly. There’s a suitably devotional, or hymnal, feel about the music with Arriale’s unhurried piano meditations complemented by deeply resonant double bass and by Van Hulten’s delicately detailed cymbal work. Following his busy, virtuoso playing on the earlier pieces the drummer now impresses with his restraint and his admirable work as a colourist.

The pace picks up again with Arriale’s “Slightly Off-Center”,which to these ears sounds like Thelonious Monk updated for the 21st century. There’s something of Monk’s quirkiness about Arriale’s writing here in a joyous trio performances that fairly bristles with energy. Arriale dazzles with an expansive solo that also has something of Keith Jarrett about it too, especially when she exercises her penchant for singing along with her playing. Somsen’s lively and agile bass solo re-introduces some of that Monkish quirkiness, and there’s also an animated drum feature from the irrepressible Van Hulten, prior to a final trio restatement of the theme.

Arriale’s “Another Sky” is similar in feel to the title track, reflective and lyrical in tone with the leader’s gentle piano explorations complemented by Somsen’s melodic bass soloing and Van Hulten’s filigree cymbal work.

Arriale has always had a fondness for the music of The Beatles and her previous albums have included jazz interpretations of “Come Together”, “Blackbird” and “Here Comes The Sun”. This time round her chosen vehicle is Paul McCartney’s “Let It Be”, which continues in the gently reflective mood established by the previous track. Arriale’s subtle re-harmonisation loses nothing of the hymnal quality of McCartney’s tune and the piece is similar in feel to “Give Us These Days”, melancholic, spiritual and ultimately somehow uplifting. Arriale explores the inner architecture of the song in unhurried fashion, probing softly and gently, sympathetically supported by bass and delicately brushed drums. There’s a melodic bass solo from Somsen and another immaculate ‘colourist’s’ performance from Van Hulten.

The penultimate track is Arriale’s “Over And Out”, which raises the energy levels once more, a musical sugar rush, in which an infectious, gospel flavoured snatch of melody acts as the catalyst for some of the leader’s most vivacious soloing of the set, surfing the busy rhythmic waves generated by energetic bass and drums. Somsen’s double bass solo provides a comparative pause for breath, but the leader’s spirited piano interjections ensure that it all remains pretty lively, and even more so when Van Hulten takes over for a dynamic drum feature.

Arriale is joined by guest vocalist Kate McGarry for the closing piece, a version of the song “Take It With Me”, written by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan. This voice and piano performance represents a kind of charming coda to the album as a whole. Inevitably McGarry’s wistful vocals sound very different to Waits’ patented rasp, but they still convey the bitter-sweet emotions of a song that has become one of the best loved in the Waits canon – and one which has also acquired something of a life of its own.

“Give Us These Days” is an excellent addition to Arriale’s already impressive discography and to the jazz piano trio canon as a whole. As an album it is particularly impressive for tackling a broad range of musical styles and also for embracing a similarly wide emotional range. Arriale is equally convincing whether she is exploring the deeply emotional territory of the title track and “Let It Be” or improvising with complete abandon on such dynamic, high energy performances as “Woodstock”, “Slightly Off-Center” and “Over And Out”.

Despite never having heard them before I’m also extremely impressed with both Somsen and Van Hulten, who totally buy into Arriale’s concept and complement her every move with acumen and total conviction. They are equally convincing on the blistering up-tempo numbers, where they form an energetic, vigorous and vital presence, as they are on the ballads, where they perform with considerable grace and taste. Their contribution more than matches that of their illustrious American predecessors and both Jaspers will be names to watch out for in the future.

The album was largely recorded in Belgium and co-producers Arriale and Somsen, together with engineers Floren Van Stichel and Steven Maes, deserve credit for a pinpoint mix that brings out all the detail and nuance in the playing.

British fans will have to wait until October 11th and 12th 2020 to see Arriale and her trio performing live when they visit the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, London. Somsen will be on bass with E.J. Strickland at the drums.

In the meantime Arriale has plenty of other tour dates scheduled in the US and mainland Europe. Check http://www.lynnearriale.com for her full itinerary.

Give Us These Days

Lynne Arriale Trio

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4-5 out of 5

Give Us These Days

An excellent addition to Arriale’s already impressive discography and to the jazz piano trio canon as a whole. It is particularly impressive for tackling a broad range of musical and emotional styles.

Lynne Arriale Trio

“Give Us These Days”

(Challenge Records CR73453)


Lynne Arriale – piano, Jasper Somsen – double bass, Jasper Van Hulten – drums


“Give Us These Days” is the fourteenth album release as a leader by the American pianist and composer Lynne Arriale. It first appeared in May 2018 but a review copy was only forwarded to me by Lynne fairly recently, and the album seems to be the subject of a second “push”.

I first heard Arriale’s playing around a decade ago when I was introduced to her music by my friend Paul, a great fan of the piano trio format in jazz, and of Bill Evans in particular.

Through Paul I was introduced to such Arriale recordings as “Arise” (2002), “Live” (2005) and “Nuance” (2008), enjoying them all in my capacity as a jazz fan.

Both “Arise” and “Live” featured Arriale’s long running trio with bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Steve Davis and the majority of her recordings have been in this format. Others to fill the bass and drum chairs in Arriale’s trios have included bassists John Patitucci,  Scott Colley, Drew Gress, George Mraz and Omer Avital and drummer Anthony Pinciotti.

Occasionally Arriale has expanded her groups with the addition of a horn player, such as trumpeter Randy Brecker and saxophonist Bill McHenry. She has also recorded in the solo piano format.

As can be seen from the quality of the musical company that she keeps Arriale is a true jazz heavyweight, a musician whose talents demand that she be considered as a member of the jazz Premier League.

Arriale’s first release for the Austrian imprint Challenge Records, following a lengthy six album tenure with the Motema label, sees her introducing a brand new trio featuring bassist Jasper Somsen and drummer Jasper Van Hulten, both fresh names to me. One track also features the singing of guest vocalist Kate McGarry.

The members of Arriale’s new rhythm team both hail from the Netherlands and Somsen also acts as the pianist’s co-producer.

The track listing for this latest recording comprises of six new Arriale originals, together with three interpretations of pop/rock songs, Joni Mitchell’s’ “Woodstock”, The Beatles’ “Let It Be” and Tom Waits’ “Take It With Me”.

The album commences with a re-harmonised version of “Woodstock”, delivered in a very contemporary style and heavily disguised as first, with the familiar melody alluded to in tantalising flashes rather than stated openly. Despite her obvious love of melody Arriale is also a highly adventurous, and surprisingly robust player and improviser. She may have been routinely compared to Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, but there’s plenty of McCoy Tyner in her style too, particularly so when she stretches out here, her powerful soloing receiving equally forceful backing from her dynamic new rhythm team. It all makes for a highly exciting and arresting opener.

The first original tune is the Latin-esque “Appassionata”, introduced by vigorous bass and drums and with a beguiling melody that has invited comparisons with the writing of Chick Corea and of Argentinian tango master Astor Piazzolla. Arriale’s piano dances above the busy patter of Van Hulten’s drums as the trio continue to dazzle with another dynamic trio performance. Somsen impresses with a highly dexterous double bass solo, underpinned by Arriale’s prompting from the piano and the ongoing bustle of Van Hulten’s drums.

“Finding Home” introduces a more lyrical side of Arriale’s writing and the trio’s playing, with its airy melodies and softer grooves. There’s a flowing lyricism about Arriale’s solo and she’s followed by Somsen, whose bass playing combines a strong melodic sense with great dexterity. The impressive Van Hulten remains busy behind the kit, his playing subtly propulsive, but never overly intrusive. At times the piece almost sounds like a standard, such are its melodic qualities.

Arriale’s title track takes its title from a line in the poem “Devotional” by the American writer and editor Jim Schley. In his liner notes for the “Give Us These Days” album Lawrence Abrams describes this composition as “an instrumental prayer”, which summarises the mood of the piece perfectly. There’s a suitably devotional, or hymnal, feel about the music with Arriale’s unhurried piano meditations complemented by deeply resonant double bass and by Van Hulten’s delicately detailed cymbal work. Following his busy, virtuoso playing on the earlier pieces the drummer now impresses with his restraint and his admirable work as a colourist.

The pace picks up again with Arriale’s “Slightly Off-Center”,which to these ears sounds like Thelonious Monk updated for the 21st century. There’s something of Monk’s quirkiness about Arriale’s writing here in a joyous trio performances that fairly bristles with energy. Arriale dazzles with an expansive solo that also has something of Keith Jarrett about it too, especially when she exercises her penchant for singing along with her playing. Somsen’s lively and agile bass solo re-introduces some of that Monkish quirkiness, and there’s also an animated drum feature from the irrepressible Van Hulten, prior to a final trio restatement of the theme.

Arriale’s “Another Sky” is similar in feel to the title track, reflective and lyrical in tone with the leader’s gentle piano explorations complemented by Somsen’s melodic bass soloing and Van Hulten’s filigree cymbal work.

Arriale has always had a fondness for the music of The Beatles and her previous albums have included jazz interpretations of “Come Together”, “Blackbird” and “Here Comes The Sun”. This time round her chosen vehicle is Paul McCartney’s “Let It Be”, which continues in the gently reflective mood established by the previous track. Arriale’s subtle re-harmonisation loses nothing of the hymnal quality of McCartney’s tune and the piece is similar in feel to “Give Us These Days”, melancholic, spiritual and ultimately somehow uplifting. Arriale explores the inner architecture of the song in unhurried fashion, probing softly and gently, sympathetically supported by bass and delicately brushed drums. There’s a melodic bass solo from Somsen and another immaculate ‘colourist’s’ performance from Van Hulten.

The penultimate track is Arriale’s “Over And Out”, which raises the energy levels once more, a musical sugar rush, in which an infectious, gospel flavoured snatch of melody acts as the catalyst for some of the leader’s most vivacious soloing of the set, surfing the busy rhythmic waves generated by energetic bass and drums. Somsen’s double bass solo provides a comparative pause for breath, but the leader’s spirited piano interjections ensure that it all remains pretty lively, and even more so when Van Hulten takes over for a dynamic drum feature.

Arriale is joined by guest vocalist Kate McGarry for the closing piece, a version of the song “Take It With Me”, written by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan. This voice and piano performance represents a kind of charming coda to the album as a whole. Inevitably McGarry’s wistful vocals sound very different to Waits’ patented rasp, but they still convey the bitter-sweet emotions of a song that has become one of the best loved in the Waits canon – and one which has also acquired something of a life of its own.

“Give Us These Days” is an excellent addition to Arriale’s already impressive discography and to the jazz piano trio canon as a whole. As an album it is particularly impressive for tackling a broad range of musical styles and also for embracing a similarly wide emotional range. Arriale is equally convincing whether she is exploring the deeply emotional territory of the title track and “Let It Be” or improvising with complete abandon on such dynamic, high energy performances as “Woodstock”, “Slightly Off-Center” and “Over And Out”.

Despite never having heard them before I’m also extremely impressed with both Somsen and Van Hulten, who totally buy into Arriale’s concept and complement her every move with acumen and total conviction. They are equally convincing on the blistering up-tempo numbers, where they form an energetic, vigorous and vital presence, as they are on the ballads, where they perform with considerable grace and taste. Their contribution more than matches that of their illustrious American predecessors and both Jaspers will be names to watch out for in the future.

The album was largely recorded in Belgium and co-producers Arriale and Somsen, together with engineers Floren Van Stichel and Steven Maes, deserve credit for a pinpoint mix that brings out all the detail and nuance in the playing.

British fans will have to wait until October 11th and 12th 2020 to see Arriale and her trio performing live when they visit the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, London. Somsen will be on bass with E.J. Strickland at the drums.

In the meantime Arriale has plenty of other tour dates scheduled in the US and mainland Europe. Check http://www.lynnearriale.com for her full itinerary.

Red Kite - Theory of Colours Rating: 4 out of 5 “Theory of Colours” is the sound of a band expanding its horizons. The overall approach remains unfailingly melodic and the compositions are highly evocative and have a strong pictorial quality.

Red Kite

“Theory of Colours”

(Jellymould Jazz JM – JJ028)

Esben Tjalve – piano, keyboards, Jasper Hoiby – bass, Hannes Riepler – guitar, Fulvio Sigurta – trumpet, Ross Hughes – bass clarinet, Tim Giles – drums

“Theory of Colours” is the long awaited second album by the international sextet Red Kite, led by the Danish pianist and composer Esben Tjalve.

The group’s well received eponymous début was released on the F-ire Presents imprint way back in 2012 and attracted the following appraisal from myself;
“Pleasingly melodic but also deeply rhythmic, easily digestible yet subtly challenging, and just full of good ideas allied to exemplary playing”.
The full review can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/red-kite-red-kite/

This new recording builds upon the promise of its predecessor with a series of ten new original compositions from Tjalve. The qualities that distinguished the first album are again apparent, but this time with the mainly acoustic sound enhanced by the subtle use of electronics.

The group describe the new album as being;
“an experiment with different colours in a musical sense, combining a composed score and improvised sections with synthesisers and various effects on acoustic instruments that can all be realised live on the bandstand”.

“Theory of Colours” introduces a new Red Kite line up. Tjalve, Hoiby and Riepler all remain from the début recording with Sigurta and Giles coming in for Rory Simmons and Jon Scott respectively. Bass clarinet specialist Hughes replaces alto and baritone saxophonist Christoffer Appel.

Despite the changes of personnel the qualities and aesthetics that made the début such a success remain apparent, and if anything this is an even more impressive and distinctive release.

The new recording commences with “In Line”, the freely structured and highly atmospheric introduction including the sounds of the leader’s piano, the spacey shimmer of Riepler’s guitar and the grainy, woody timbres of Hughes’ bass clarinet and Hoiby’s bowed double bass. Eventually an arpeggiated synthesiser pulse emerges, forming the backbone of the piece. The sounds of the other instruments are treated, deploying the ‘various effects’ mentioned above, thereby giving the music an exotic, other worldly feel. Sigurta emerges as the first soloist, his sound reminiscent of electric era Miles Davis. Driven along by the powerful rhythms generated by Hoiby and Giles the music is rich in terms of colour and texture, the instruments combining to create exotic layers of sound. Even at its most frenetic the music remains highly atmospheric and retains an air of mystery and beauty.

These qualities also apply to the following “Interstellar”. Paced by the leader’s gently undulating piano motif the music sounds as if it’s floating in deep space, thanks to the eerie whisper of Sigurta’s trumpet, combined with the sounds of bowed bass, cymbal shimmers and mallet rumbles.
Again this is a richly atmospheric piece that sustains the exotic and mysterious mood established by the opener.

There’s a change of pace with “The Meeting”, which introduces an infectious funk groove and generally adopts a more playful and quirky approach.  Sigurta again features as a soloist, followed by Tjalve at the piano, who also exchanges phrases with Riepler on the guitar. The guitarist also trades ideas with Sigurta prior to a short drum cameo from Giles at the close.

Despite its title “Pantomime” marks a return to the more atmospheric and impressionistic stylings of the first two tracks. Centred around the leader’s arpeggiated piano motifs the compositional style owes something to minimalism. As the piece gradually gathers momentum Hughes’ bass clarinet and Sigurta’s trumpet combine effectively, the sounds of reed and brass twining around each other. There’s a short solo statement from Hughes followed by a double bass solo from Phronesis leader Jasper Hoiby. Tjalve features more prominently in the latter stages prior to a loosely structured coda.

“Journey’s End” has a hypnotic quality with the densely knit ensemble passages eventually leading to more formal solos from Tjalve on piano and Riepler on guitar. The latter stages of the piece are more loosely structured, with Hughes’ bass clarinet prominent in the arrangement.

Hughes also introduces the next piece, his bass clarinet laying the trail for “The Detective” to follow. This agreeably whimsical piece charms the listener with its laid back quirkiness and incorporates features for Riepler on guitar, plus Giles on drums at the close.

“Road Ahead” is gentle and impressionistic, an expression of the spaciousness inherent in the title. The quiet elegance of the ensemble playing is enhanced by the leader’s lyrical piano solo, Hoiby’s melodic double bass, and the whisper of Sigurta’s trumpet, sounding a little like his compatriot Enrico Rava. It’s a piece that wouldn’t sound at all out of place on an ECM recording.

The sound of electric keyboards introduces “Night Owls” with its gently shuffling drum grooves and Sigurta’s agile trumpeting. The Italian plays some tricky motifs before embarking on a solo that combines fluency with a suppressed intensity. Tjalve then moves to acoustic piano for a dazzling solo.

Hoiby’s powerfully plucked bass introduces “Red Fox” with its skittering drum grooves and darting melodic motifs. Riepler emerges as the first soloist with a lithe passage of rock influenced guitar. He’s followed by Sigurta with another powerful trumpet solo that again reaches back to “Bitches Brew”.

The album closes on an elegiac note with the drifting lyricism of “Ritual” which supplements Red Kite’s distinctive ensemble sound with the anthemic melodicism of the solos from Tjalve on piano and Riepler on electric guitar.

“Theory of Colours” expands the sonic range of Red Kite’s début with the astute use of electric keyboards and the subtle deployment of post production techniques. The band’s overall approach remains unfailingly melodic and Tjalve’s compositions again make effective use of colour and texture, as the album title suggests.

Again it’s the ensemble sound that is key, rather than individual soloing, although all six musicians impress individually during the course of the recording, with Sigurta in particular being given plenty of room in which to express himself.

The leader impresses as an acoustic piano soloist while his deployment of a range of electric keyboards brings an almost orchestral quality to the music. Tjalve’s compositions are highly evocative and have a strong pictorial quality; it’s easy to see why he has been commissioned to write for television, radio, theatre and, of course, cinema.

Red Kite’s approach on this second album is less rooted in conventional acoustic jazz than their début, which may deter some listeners. However fans of bands like Polar Bear, who may have come to jazz via rock, should find much to enjoy in the band’s music.

“Theory of Colours” is the sound of a band expanding its horizons. I certainly enjoyed the music and my only regret is that I didn’t get to see the group live when they played a short round of UK gigs in the autumn of 2019. Hopefully the release of this album will lead to them playing more live shows in 2020.

Theory of Colours

Red Kite

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Theory of Colours

“Theory of Colours” is the sound of a band expanding its horizons. The overall approach remains unfailingly melodic and the compositions are highly evocative and have a strong pictorial quality.

Red Kite

“Theory of Colours”

(Jellymould Jazz JM – JJ028)

Esben Tjalve – piano, keyboards, Jasper Hoiby – bass, Hannes Riepler – guitar, Fulvio Sigurta – trumpet, Ross Hughes – bass clarinet, Tim Giles – drums

“Theory of Colours” is the long awaited second album by the international sextet Red Kite, led by the Danish pianist and composer Esben Tjalve.

The group’s well received eponymous début was released on the F-ire Presents imprint way back in 2012 and attracted the following appraisal from myself;
“Pleasingly melodic but also deeply rhythmic, easily digestible yet subtly challenging, and just full of good ideas allied to exemplary playing”.
The full review can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/red-kite-red-kite/

This new recording builds upon the promise of its predecessor with a series of ten new original compositions from Tjalve. The qualities that distinguished the first album are again apparent, but this time with the mainly acoustic sound enhanced by the subtle use of electronics.

The group describe the new album as being;
“an experiment with different colours in a musical sense, combining a composed score and improvised sections with synthesisers and various effects on acoustic instruments that can all be realised live on the bandstand”.

“Theory of Colours” introduces a new Red Kite line up. Tjalve, Hoiby and Riepler all remain from the début recording with Sigurta and Giles coming in for Rory Simmons and Jon Scott respectively. Bass clarinet specialist Hughes replaces alto and baritone saxophonist Christoffer Appel.

Despite the changes of personnel the qualities and aesthetics that made the début such a success remain apparent, and if anything this is an even more impressive and distinctive release.

The new recording commences with “In Line”, the freely structured and highly atmospheric introduction including the sounds of the leader’s piano, the spacey shimmer of Riepler’s guitar and the grainy, woody timbres of Hughes’ bass clarinet and Hoiby’s bowed double bass. Eventually an arpeggiated synthesiser pulse emerges, forming the backbone of the piece. The sounds of the other instruments are treated, deploying the ‘various effects’ mentioned above, thereby giving the music an exotic, other worldly feel. Sigurta emerges as the first soloist, his sound reminiscent of electric era Miles Davis. Driven along by the powerful rhythms generated by Hoiby and Giles the music is rich in terms of colour and texture, the instruments combining to create exotic layers of sound. Even at its most frenetic the music remains highly atmospheric and retains an air of mystery and beauty.

These qualities also apply to the following “Interstellar”. Paced by the leader’s gently undulating piano motif the music sounds as if it’s floating in deep space, thanks to the eerie whisper of Sigurta’s trumpet, combined with the sounds of bowed bass, cymbal shimmers and mallet rumbles.
Again this is a richly atmospheric piece that sustains the exotic and mysterious mood established by the opener.

There’s a change of pace with “The Meeting”, which introduces an infectious funk groove and generally adopts a more playful and quirky approach.  Sigurta again features as a soloist, followed by Tjalve at the piano, who also exchanges phrases with Riepler on the guitar. The guitarist also trades ideas with Sigurta prior to a short drum cameo from Giles at the close.

Despite its title “Pantomime” marks a return to the more atmospheric and impressionistic stylings of the first two tracks. Centred around the leader’s arpeggiated piano motifs the compositional style owes something to minimalism. As the piece gradually gathers momentum Hughes’ bass clarinet and Sigurta’s trumpet combine effectively, the sounds of reed and brass twining around each other. There’s a short solo statement from Hughes followed by a double bass solo from Phronesis leader Jasper Hoiby. Tjalve features more prominently in the latter stages prior to a loosely structured coda.

“Journey’s End” has a hypnotic quality with the densely knit ensemble passages eventually leading to more formal solos from Tjalve on piano and Riepler on guitar. The latter stages of the piece are more loosely structured, with Hughes’ bass clarinet prominent in the arrangement.

Hughes also introduces the next piece, his bass clarinet laying the trail for “The Detective” to follow. This agreeably whimsical piece charms the listener with its laid back quirkiness and incorporates features for Riepler on guitar, plus Giles on drums at the close.

“Road Ahead” is gentle and impressionistic, an expression of the spaciousness inherent in the title. The quiet elegance of the ensemble playing is enhanced by the leader’s lyrical piano solo, Hoiby’s melodic double bass, and the whisper of Sigurta’s trumpet, sounding a little like his compatriot Enrico Rava. It’s a piece that wouldn’t sound at all out of place on an ECM recording.

The sound of electric keyboards introduces “Night Owls” with its gently shuffling drum grooves and Sigurta’s agile trumpeting. The Italian plays some tricky motifs before embarking on a solo that combines fluency with a suppressed intensity. Tjalve then moves to acoustic piano for a dazzling solo.

Hoiby’s powerfully plucked bass introduces “Red Fox” with its skittering drum grooves and darting melodic motifs. Riepler emerges as the first soloist with a lithe passage of rock influenced guitar. He’s followed by Sigurta with another powerful trumpet solo that again reaches back to “Bitches Brew”.

The album closes on an elegiac note with the drifting lyricism of “Ritual” which supplements Red Kite’s distinctive ensemble sound with the anthemic melodicism of the solos from Tjalve on piano and Riepler on electric guitar.

“Theory of Colours” expands the sonic range of Red Kite’s début with the astute use of electric keyboards and the subtle deployment of post production techniques. The band’s overall approach remains unfailingly melodic and Tjalve’s compositions again make effective use of colour and texture, as the album title suggests.

Again it’s the ensemble sound that is key, rather than individual soloing, although all six musicians impress individually during the course of the recording, with Sigurta in particular being given plenty of room in which to express himself.

The leader impresses as an acoustic piano soloist while his deployment of a range of electric keyboards brings an almost orchestral quality to the music. Tjalve’s compositions are highly evocative and have a strong pictorial quality; it’s easy to see why he has been commissioned to write for television, radio, theatre and, of course, cinema.

Red Kite’s approach on this second album is less rooted in conventional acoustic jazz than their début, which may deter some listeners. However fans of bands like Polar Bear, who may have come to jazz via rock, should find much to enjoy in the band’s music.

“Theory of Colours” is the sound of a band expanding its horizons. I certainly enjoyed the music and my only regret is that I didn’t get to see the group live when they played a short round of UK gigs in the autumn of 2019. Hopefully the release of this album will lead to them playing more live shows in 2020.

Overground Collective - Super Mario Rating: 4 out of 5 I’m very impressed by the quality of Dias Duarte’s writing and by the colour and complexity of his consistently interesting & intelligent arrangements. Accessible, enjoyable and ultimately uplifting.

Overground Collective

“Super Mario”

(Babel Records BDV 19155)

Overground Collective is a large ensemble featuring eighteen of the London jazz scene’s leading jazz improvisers. It is led by the Portuguese born, London based guitarist and composer Paulo Dias Duarte.

As a composer Dias Duarte has written music for cinema, theatre and dance. His previous album release came in 2005 when he led the ten piece Portuguese band Ensemble Raum, performing a suite based on the concept of the “7 Deadly Sins”. This work has subsequently been performed live by Overground Collective.

“Super Mario” is an eight part suite that was originally commissioned by the LUME organisation, a musicians’ collective founded by the saxophonists Cath Roberts and Dee Byrne – indeed Roberts is part of the Overground Collective line up.

The music was premièred at London’s Vortex Jazz Club in August 2014, but it wasn’t until May 2018 that it was eventually recorded at Fish Factory Studios by a production team featuring Dias Duarte and engineers Nuno Fernandes and Gwyn Mathias.

Central to the eventual recording of “Super Mario” was Oliver Weindling, founder of the Babel label and a director of the Vortex. Weindling heard the Overground Collective on several occasions at the Vortex and came to regard himself as “enmeshed” in the music and in the processes that produced it. I’m indebted to Oliver for forwarding me a review copy of the finished album, which was originally released at the end of July 2019 and has been waiting in the “to do” file for far too long. Still, better late that never, cheers Ollie!

Regarding the music to be heard on “Super Mario” Dias Duarte explains;
“The idea was to create a piece that shares the compositional process with the listener. At the beginning the composer searches for a musical idea worth developing. By the final stages the idea has been looked at and re-assessed through so many angles by the musicians that it has evolved into having a life of its own, and the composer has been able to let it go”.

Aurelie Freoua’s cover image is intended to reflect this process, a spiral in which the movements of the music are depicted by the different colours, yet without straying too far from the music’s core theme, despite the length of the journey.

The music itself strikes a good balance between composition and improvisation and between freedom and structure. The musicians that Dias Duarte has selected are acknowledged masters of this musical hinterland and a truly stellar cast of players lines up as follows;

Chris Williams (Alto Sax / Soprano Sax / Flute)

Julie Kjær (Alto sax / Flute)

Rachel Musson (Tenor Sax / Flute)

Mike Lesirge (Tenor Sax)

Cath Roberts (Baritone Sax)

Tom Ward (Clarinet / Bass Clarinet)

Noel Langley (Trumpet / Flugelhorn)

Andre Canniere (Trumpet)

Chris Batchelor (Trumpet)

Yazz Ahmed (Trumpet / Flugelhorn / Electronics)

Paul Taylor (Trombone)

Raphael Clarkson (Trombone)

Olivir Haylet (Bass Trombone)

Ben Kelly (Sousaphone)

Paulo Dias Duarte (Guitar)

Dave O’Brien (Keys)

Jason Simpson (Electric Bass)

Jon Scott (Drums)

I assume that the band name, Overground Collective, is a knowing reference to the London Overground railway, with many of these musicians travelling on the line in order to play at the Vortex and alighting at Dalston Kingsland or Dalston Junction stations.

The recording features a total of eight pieces, a brief “Intro” followed by the “Super Mario” suite itself, which is divided into seven movements simply titled “Part I” to “Part VII”.

The “Intro” features Dias Duarte solo, sketching ideas on his guitar for a round a minute half and deploying extended techniques that make him sound a little like Derek Bailey, or maybe Mary Halvorson if you want a more contemporary counterpart. It’s the sound of an artist “searching for a musical idea worth developing” as Dias Duarte has said.

Having established the kernel of that idea Dias Duarte sets about developing it on the eleven and a half minute “Part I”, arguably the cornerstone of the album. Opening with a chunky electric guitar riff and the shimmering of electric keyboards the piece quickly gathers momentum as the rest of the Collective come on board, with Roberts’ baritone sax initially prominent, to create an authentically big, and very contemporary, sound. The first soloist we hear from is Musson, her tenor soloing underscored only by the leader’s shadowy guitar. This is music that is constantly mutating, effortlessly shifting between moods, tempi and styles. Next up is a mass dialogue involving various horns, underpinned by Kelly’s parping sousaphone, from which Canniere’s trumpet solo emerges.Trombonist Paul Taylor is also featured prominently. Later on in the piece Ahmed is easier to identify as she manipulates the sound of her flugel via the use of electronics. Individual contributions aside the ensemble playing throughout is vibrant, colourful and razor sharp throughout, with the musicians responding to the considerable complexities of Dias Duarte’s writing with aplomb. The interplay between the various horns is brilliant and makes judicious use of extended techniques. Meanwhile the rhythm section offer dynamic support with Scott’s dynamic drumming really driving the band. He also gets to enjoy an extended drum feature at the close of the track, which provides the bridge into the next movement. Scott’s playing, allied to the use of electric guitar, bass and keyboards also brings a discernible rock influence to the music.

The remaining parts are shorter, with no movement lasting longer than four and a half minutes.

“Part II” opens with the sound of Kelly’s pulsing sousaphone underpinning the garrulous interchanges involving several other horns, notably those of saxophonists Musson and Kjaer and trumpeters Canniere and Batchelor, with the latter making use of a hat as a makeshift mute. O’Brien’s keyboards also feature on this spirited and dynamic slice of avant jazz that strikes a good balance between the composed and the improvised as racing, squalling horn lines, with soloist Raph Clarkson’s trombone to the fore, jostle with powerful rhythms and spacey electronics.

“Part III” is more reflective and atmospheric, with the sound of O’Brien’s keys again prominent in the arrangement. Flutes and clarinets bring textural variety to this relatively brief (just over two and a half minutes) interlude between more dynamic pieces. There’s a sense of this movement representing a pause for reflection, something of a musical “palette cleanser” before the meatier fare to come.

The fourth movement commences with some chunky, but complex, baritone led unison horn riffing. The rhythm section then drops out as the horns exchange ideas between themselves, the broad tonal range stretching from flute right down to sousaphone. When the rhythm section comes back on board the ensemble as a whole surges forward with the power of a juggernaut, with Mike LeSirge cutting loose on tenor.

“Part V” represents another moment for quiet reflection as the opening duet between Dias Duarte and O’Brien is subsequently augmented by brass and reeds, with flutes prominent in the arrangement. The performance also includes unsettling vocalised trombone feature, courtesy of Paul Taylor.

The introduction to “Part VI” features celestial keyboards and frothy flutes above a skittering brushed drum groove. Additional brass and reeds add weight and depth but the piece is notable for its airy flute solo, from Julie Kjaer . There’s also another impressive passage featuring the horns in isolation as the rhythm players again drop out. There are a number of episodes like this scattered throughout the album, and all are subtle, colourful and genuinely impressive.

The soaring “Part VII” ends the suite, and the album, on an uplifting note as Langley takes flight with a pure toned, upbeat flugelhorn solo. Williams is then heard on soaring soprano and the mood of this concise closing item is joyous and buoyant throughout.

Clocking in just shy of thirty five minutes “Super Mario” is another album that is comparatively brief by modern day standards, but it packs in far more musical information than some discs with double the running time manage to do.

For all its avant garde flourishes this is an accessible, enjoyable and ultimately uplifting record. I’m very impressed by the quality of Dias Duarte’s writing and by the colour and complexity of his consistently interesting and intelligent arrangements.

Overground Collective’s music is more structured than that of Cath Roberts’ Favourite Animals or guitarist Anton Hunter’s Article XI, although I can detect traces of both of those ensembles here. Meanwhile the electric elements give the music a rock inspired drive that reminds me of Beats & Pieces Big Band. Elsewhere I hear elements of Loose Tubes, Brotherhood of Breath / Dedication Orchestra, Darcy James Argue and more, right back through Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra to Charles Mingus.

But ultimately the music of Overground Collective is very much Dias Duarte’s own and his hand picked band of London based musicians perform it brilliantly, as dazzling musicianship is combined with a visceral excitement.

I appreciate that the economics of jazz dictate that this is a band whose opportunities for live performance are likely to be severely limited, but I’d love to see this music performed ‘in the flesh’.
Quite an experience I would imagine.

Super Mario

Overground Collective

Monday, January 13, 2020

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Super Mario

I’m very impressed by the quality of Dias Duarte’s writing and by the colour and complexity of his consistently interesting & intelligent arrangements. Accessible, enjoyable and ultimately uplifting.

Overground Collective

“Super Mario”

(Babel Records BDV 19155)

Overground Collective is a large ensemble featuring eighteen of the London jazz scene’s leading jazz improvisers. It is led by the Portuguese born, London based guitarist and composer Paulo Dias Duarte.

As a composer Dias Duarte has written music for cinema, theatre and dance. His previous album release came in 2005 when he led the ten piece Portuguese band Ensemble Raum, performing a suite based on the concept of the “7 Deadly Sins”. This work has subsequently been performed live by Overground Collective.

“Super Mario” is an eight part suite that was originally commissioned by the LUME organisation, a musicians’ collective founded by the saxophonists Cath Roberts and Dee Byrne – indeed Roberts is part of the Overground Collective line up.

The music was premièred at London’s Vortex Jazz Club in August 2014, but it wasn’t until May 2018 that it was eventually recorded at Fish Factory Studios by a production team featuring Dias Duarte and engineers Nuno Fernandes and Gwyn Mathias.

Central to the eventual recording of “Super Mario” was Oliver Weindling, founder of the Babel label and a director of the Vortex. Weindling heard the Overground Collective on several occasions at the Vortex and came to regard himself as “enmeshed” in the music and in the processes that produced it. I’m indebted to Oliver for forwarding me a review copy of the finished album, which was originally released at the end of July 2019 and has been waiting in the “to do” file for far too long. Still, better late that never, cheers Ollie!

Regarding the music to be heard on “Super Mario” Dias Duarte explains;
“The idea was to create a piece that shares the compositional process with the listener. At the beginning the composer searches for a musical idea worth developing. By the final stages the idea has been looked at and re-assessed through so many angles by the musicians that it has evolved into having a life of its own, and the composer has been able to let it go”.

Aurelie Freoua’s cover image is intended to reflect this process, a spiral in which the movements of the music are depicted by the different colours, yet without straying too far from the music’s core theme, despite the length of the journey.

The music itself strikes a good balance between composition and improvisation and between freedom and structure. The musicians that Dias Duarte has selected are acknowledged masters of this musical hinterland and a truly stellar cast of players lines up as follows;

Chris Williams (Alto Sax / Soprano Sax / Flute)

Julie Kjær (Alto sax / Flute)

Rachel Musson (Tenor Sax / Flute)

Mike Lesirge (Tenor Sax)

Cath Roberts (Baritone Sax)

Tom Ward (Clarinet / Bass Clarinet)

Noel Langley (Trumpet / Flugelhorn)

Andre Canniere (Trumpet)

Chris Batchelor (Trumpet)

Yazz Ahmed (Trumpet / Flugelhorn / Electronics)

Paul Taylor (Trombone)

Raphael Clarkson (Trombone)

Olivir Haylet (Bass Trombone)

Ben Kelly (Sousaphone)

Paulo Dias Duarte (Guitar)

Dave O’Brien (Keys)

Jason Simpson (Electric Bass)

Jon Scott (Drums)

I assume that the band name, Overground Collective, is a knowing reference to the London Overground railway, with many of these musicians travelling on the line in order to play at the Vortex and alighting at Dalston Kingsland or Dalston Junction stations.

The recording features a total of eight pieces, a brief “Intro” followed by the “Super Mario” suite itself, which is divided into seven movements simply titled “Part I” to “Part VII”.

The “Intro” features Dias Duarte solo, sketching ideas on his guitar for a round a minute half and deploying extended techniques that make him sound a little like Derek Bailey, or maybe Mary Halvorson if you want a more contemporary counterpart. It’s the sound of an artist “searching for a musical idea worth developing” as Dias Duarte has said.

Having established the kernel of that idea Dias Duarte sets about developing it on the eleven and a half minute “Part I”, arguably the cornerstone of the album. Opening with a chunky electric guitar riff and the shimmering of electric keyboards the piece quickly gathers momentum as the rest of the Collective come on board, with Roberts’ baritone sax initially prominent, to create an authentically big, and very contemporary, sound. The first soloist we hear from is Musson, her tenor soloing underscored only by the leader’s shadowy guitar. This is music that is constantly mutating, effortlessly shifting between moods, tempi and styles. Next up is a mass dialogue involving various horns, underpinned by Kelly’s parping sousaphone, from which Canniere’s trumpet solo emerges.Trombonist Paul Taylor is also featured prominently. Later on in the piece Ahmed is easier to identify as she manipulates the sound of her flugel via the use of electronics. Individual contributions aside the ensemble playing throughout is vibrant, colourful and razor sharp throughout, with the musicians responding to the considerable complexities of Dias Duarte’s writing with aplomb. The interplay between the various horns is brilliant and makes judicious use of extended techniques. Meanwhile the rhythm section offer dynamic support with Scott’s dynamic drumming really driving the band. He also gets to enjoy an extended drum feature at the close of the track, which provides the bridge into the next movement. Scott’s playing, allied to the use of electric guitar, bass and keyboards also brings a discernible rock influence to the music.

The remaining parts are shorter, with no movement lasting longer than four and a half minutes.

“Part II” opens with the sound of Kelly’s pulsing sousaphone underpinning the garrulous interchanges involving several other horns, notably those of saxophonists Musson and Kjaer and trumpeters Canniere and Batchelor, with the latter making use of a hat as a makeshift mute. O’Brien’s keyboards also feature on this spirited and dynamic slice of avant jazz that strikes a good balance between the composed and the improvised as racing, squalling horn lines, with soloist Raph Clarkson’s trombone to the fore, jostle with powerful rhythms and spacey electronics.

“Part III” is more reflective and atmospheric, with the sound of O’Brien’s keys again prominent in the arrangement. Flutes and clarinets bring textural variety to this relatively brief (just over two and a half minutes) interlude between more dynamic pieces. There’s a sense of this movement representing a pause for reflection, something of a musical “palette cleanser” before the meatier fare to come.

The fourth movement commences with some chunky, but complex, baritone led unison horn riffing. The rhythm section then drops out as the horns exchange ideas between themselves, the broad tonal range stretching from flute right down to sousaphone. When the rhythm section comes back on board the ensemble as a whole surges forward with the power of a juggernaut, with Mike LeSirge cutting loose on tenor.

“Part V” represents another moment for quiet reflection as the opening duet between Dias Duarte and O’Brien is subsequently augmented by brass and reeds, with flutes prominent in the arrangement. The performance also includes unsettling vocalised trombone feature, courtesy of Paul Taylor.

The introduction to “Part VI” features celestial keyboards and frothy flutes above a skittering brushed drum groove. Additional brass and reeds add weight and depth but the piece is notable for its airy flute solo, from Julie Kjaer . There’s also another impressive passage featuring the horns in isolation as the rhythm players again drop out. There are a number of episodes like this scattered throughout the album, and all are subtle, colourful and genuinely impressive.

The soaring “Part VII” ends the suite, and the album, on an uplifting note as Langley takes flight with a pure toned, upbeat flugelhorn solo. Williams is then heard on soaring soprano and the mood of this concise closing item is joyous and buoyant throughout.

Clocking in just shy of thirty five minutes “Super Mario” is another album that is comparatively brief by modern day standards, but it packs in far more musical information than some discs with double the running time manage to do.

For all its avant garde flourishes this is an accessible, enjoyable and ultimately uplifting record. I’m very impressed by the quality of Dias Duarte’s writing and by the colour and complexity of his consistently interesting and intelligent arrangements.

Overground Collective’s music is more structured than that of Cath Roberts’ Favourite Animals or guitarist Anton Hunter’s Article XI, although I can detect traces of both of those ensembles here. Meanwhile the electric elements give the music a rock inspired drive that reminds me of Beats & Pieces Big Band. Elsewhere I hear elements of Loose Tubes, Brotherhood of Breath / Dedication Orchestra, Darcy James Argue and more, right back through Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra to Charles Mingus.

But ultimately the music of Overground Collective is very much Dias Duarte’s own and his hand picked band of London based musicians perform it brilliantly, as dazzling musicianship is combined with a visceral excitement.

I appreciate that the economics of jazz dictate that this is a band whose opportunities for live performance are likely to be severely limited, but I’d love to see this music performed ‘in the flesh’.
Quite an experience I would imagine.

Steve Lehman Trio + Craig Taborn - The People I Love Rating: 4 out of 5 The performances are tight and focused and the interaction between the musicians is sharp and consistently intelligent, while the quality of the playing is exceptional throughout.

Steve Lehman Trio + Craig Taborn

“The People I Love”

(Pi Recordings PI82)

Steve Lehman – alto saxophone, Matt Brewer – double bass, Damion Reid – drums,
Craig Taborn - piano


Born in New York City in 1978, but now resident in Los Angeles, Steve Lehman is an American alto saxophonist, composer, academic and educator. He works across a range of musical idioms, but is best known as a jazz performer and as a composer for contemporary classical ensembles, ranging from chamber groups to full orchestra.

Lehman studied under the great Anthony Braxton, arguably his key influence, and also with the late alto saxophonist Jackie McLean. He holds an M.A. in composition and in his role as an academic he has published papers and delivered lectures on various aspects of music theory and practice. He is currently a Professor of Music at the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles.

As a jazz saxophonist Lehman released his first recording as a leader in 2004. “Artificial Light” was a quintet session featuring some of the leading musicians on the New York jazz scene. Lehman has since released a further nine albums (“The People I Love” represents his tenth) as a leader in a variety of formats ranging from trio to octet, and with the music sometimes incorporating elements ranging from electronica to world music to hiphop.

Lehman has brought his critically acclaimed octet to tour in the UK on a number of occasions, but unfortunately I was unable to make any of the gigs. My only exposure to his playing in a live setting was at the 2012 Cheltenham Jazz Festival when he appeared with the co-operative trio Fieldwork, featuring pianist Vijay Iyer and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, a long term Lehman collaborator. My account of Fieldwork’s performance can be read as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/saturday-at-cheltenham-jazz-festival-05-05-2012/

Lehman’s trio featuring bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Damion Reid first appeared on the 2012 trio set “Dialect Fluorescent”. For this latest recording the group is supplemented by the addition of pianist Craig Taborn, one of the USA’s most accomplished and influential keyboard players.

Taborn, born in 1970, is a highly accomplished acoustic pianist who has released solo piano recordings on the prestigious ECM label. He is also an innovative player of electric keyboards, notably Fender Rhodes, organ and synthesiser. His versatility has made him an in demand sideman in a variety of jazz contexts and his list of credits is both expansive and impressive, very much a ‘who’s who’ of contemporary American jazz. Since 1994 he has released eleven albums as a leader in formats ranging through solo piano, duo, trio and quartet.

“The People I Love” is an all acoustic recording that features Taborn playing the appropriate version of his chosen instrument. For Lehman the album represents something of a return to his acoustic jazz roots following his experiments with electronics, hip hop and world music on recent recording such as 2016’s “Selebeyone”.

The title of the new album comes from a quote by the late, great vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, which is reproduced on the album packaging. The programme includes a mix of Lehman’s original compositions plus a handful of pieces from the 1990s by Kurt Rosenwinkel, Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts and Kenny Kirkland that Lehman describes as “alternative standards”. The saxophonist’s love of electronic music finds expression via an acoustic arrangement of “qPlay”, a track by the British electronic dance music duo Autechre.

The composed items are complemented by three brief saxophone and piano duets, “Prelude”, “Interlude” and “Postlude”, jointly credited to Lehman and Taborn and presumably freely improvised.

Lasting a little under two minutes “Prelude” introduces the album, acting as a kind of overture or musical ‘amuse bouche’. Lehman’s piping alto combines effectively with Taborn’s thoughtful, translucent acoustic piano.

This gentle improvised curtain raiser paves the way for the more robust Lehman composition “Ih Calam & Ynnus”.  This is introduced by Taborn at the piano, but soon brings Brewer and Reid into the fold. The leader’s garrulous alto soars above the complex rhythmic patterns generated by his colleagues, with Taborn’s pounding piano motifs at the core of the piece. The pianist finally gets the chance to cut loose, the still muscular left hand rhythms now complemented by tumbling right hand runs,  all steeped in Taborn’s love for the music of Cecil Taylor. There’s also room for a feature from the agile bassist Brewer. This is music that is intense but not inaccessible, complex but viscerally invigorating.

Also by Lehman “Curse Fraction”, originally recorded on his 2007 quintet album “On Meaning”, presents a slightly less frenetic side of the band with Lehman’s terse alto sketching melodic phrases above subtly shifting rhythms. Following the leader’s opening statement Taborn is given the opportunity to stretch out with a solo that positively sparkles via its darting melodic phrases and scurrying runs. With Lehman’s return the music becomes more animated as the saxophonist and the pianist engage in a thrilling exchange of ideas. Taborn temporarily drops out as Lehman enters into a vigorous debate with Reid and Brewer.

Originally from Rochdale the duo of Rob Brown and Sean Booth have been making music as Autechre since 1987, releasing thirteen albums to date. “qPlay” appears on their tenth, 2010’s “Oversteps”.  I’m afraid I have to admit to being previously unfamiliar with their work. This acoustic arrangement is introduced by the echoing chimes of Taborn’s piano chording. Lehman subsequently takes up the melody on alto sax but the piece is really a feature for the rhythm section, and particularly the excellent Reid, as they approximate the sounds of the electronic beats acoustically. The results are undeniably impressive.

Lasting a little over a minute “Interlude” is the second of the Lehman / Taborn improvisations, a second charming “instant composition” featuring the contrasting sounds of Lehman’s woozy tenor sax and Taborn’s solemn piano chording. To these ears there was evidence of a sly sense of musical humour that saw me breaking into a wry smile.

“A Shifting Design”, written by guitarist and composer Kurt Rosenwinkel, lives up to its title. Taborn is absent for this edgy, urgent trio exploration that sees the buzz of Lehman’s alto underpinned by the frenetically shifting rhythms of Brewer and Reid. It’s an impressive trio tour de force, with a particularly explosive, virtuoso performance from Reid.

Brewer introduces Lehman’s composition “Beyond All Limits” with an impressive, and deeply resonant, passage of unaccompanied double bass. Eventually he sets up the groove that helps to fuel the piece, with Reid joining in to provide the momentum behind Lehman’s garrulous multiphonics. The rhythms laid down by Brewer and Reid are far from one dimensional. The pair respond with alacrity to Lehman’s improvisations, the pulses and grooves constantly evolving and mutating. Taborn then takes over with a typically exciting piano solo, his dizzying runs evoking similarly impressive responses from the rhythm section. Lehman then erupts again on alto, with some of his most animated playing of the set matched by the volcanic roiling of bass and drums. Like the earlier “Ih Calam & Ynnus” this is a dynamic performance that sweeps the listener along in its wake. The excitement that the players clearly felt can be heard in the studio chatter preserved at the end of the take.

There’s little let up in the intensity on the segue of Lehman’s “Echoes” and drummer Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts’ “The Impaler”. The leader’s alto bites incisively, answered by Taborn’s mercurial pianistics.
As befits a drummer composed piece there’s another virtuoso performance from the busy Reid, who again features prominently.

The final composition is “Chance”, by the late, great pianist Kenny Kirkland.  Kirkland’s jazz waltz is the nearest that this album gets to a true ballad performance as Lehman probes gently but searchingly, accompanied at first just by Brewer’s resonant double bass. Piano and brushed drums are then added to the equation with Taborn delivering a magical solo that combines flowing lyricism with gimlet eyed intelligence. He then hands back to Lehman once more, who this time probes more deeply and darkly. There’s an austere beauty about this performance that can’t fail to charm the listener.

The album concludes with “Postlude”, a brief but animated conversation between the leader and his illustrious guest.

I received my copy of this disc from Lynne Gornall of Brecon Jazz Club, who knows Lehman personally, and Tyshawn Sorey too. I’m grateful to Lynne for loaning the album to me because it really is quite special.

Much has been made of Lehman’s music being intellectual, complex and academic, but although “The People I Love” isn’t exactly easy listening,  it’s hardly a forbidding, cacophonous racket either.

It may feature little (probably none) conventional 4/4 swing but it remains eminently accessible and listenable for all its complexities. Pieces like “Ih Calam & Ynnus” and “Beyond All Limits” are genuinely exciting, musical white knuckle rides featuring some brilliant and wildly exciting playing. “Chance” exhibits a chilly beauty and the three alto sax / piano miniatures are captivating, with their brevity ensuring that they never outstay their welcome, I even found a dash of humour in there, too. All of the performances are thoroughly absorbing with Taborn fitting in superbly with the core trio. The recording is a welcome reminder of just how brilliant and inventive an acoustic pianist he is.

At around the forty minute mark this is a concise album by modern standards but this ensures that there’s no flab on the recording. The performances are tight and focused and the interaction between the musicians is sharp and consistently intelligent, while the quality of the playing is exceptional throughout.

 

 

The People I Love

Steve Lehman Trio + Craig Taborn

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

The People I Love

The performances are tight and focused and the interaction between the musicians is sharp and consistently intelligent, while the quality of the playing is exceptional throughout.

Steve Lehman Trio + Craig Taborn

“The People I Love”

(Pi Recordings PI82)

Steve Lehman – alto saxophone, Matt Brewer – double bass, Damion Reid – drums,
Craig Taborn - piano


Born in New York City in 1978, but now resident in Los Angeles, Steve Lehman is an American alto saxophonist, composer, academic and educator. He works across a range of musical idioms, but is best known as a jazz performer and as a composer for contemporary classical ensembles, ranging from chamber groups to full orchestra.

Lehman studied under the great Anthony Braxton, arguably his key influence, and also with the late alto saxophonist Jackie McLean. He holds an M.A. in composition and in his role as an academic he has published papers and delivered lectures on various aspects of music theory and practice. He is currently a Professor of Music at the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles.

As a jazz saxophonist Lehman released his first recording as a leader in 2004. “Artificial Light” was a quintet session featuring some of the leading musicians on the New York jazz scene. Lehman has since released a further nine albums (“The People I Love” represents his tenth) as a leader in a variety of formats ranging from trio to octet, and with the music sometimes incorporating elements ranging from electronica to world music to hiphop.

Lehman has brought his critically acclaimed octet to tour in the UK on a number of occasions, but unfortunately I was unable to make any of the gigs. My only exposure to his playing in a live setting was at the 2012 Cheltenham Jazz Festival when he appeared with the co-operative trio Fieldwork, featuring pianist Vijay Iyer and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, a long term Lehman collaborator. My account of Fieldwork’s performance can be read as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/saturday-at-cheltenham-jazz-festival-05-05-2012/

Lehman’s trio featuring bassist Matt Brewer and drummer Damion Reid first appeared on the 2012 trio set “Dialect Fluorescent”. For this latest recording the group is supplemented by the addition of pianist Craig Taborn, one of the USA’s most accomplished and influential keyboard players.

Taborn, born in 1970, is a highly accomplished acoustic pianist who has released solo piano recordings on the prestigious ECM label. He is also an innovative player of electric keyboards, notably Fender Rhodes, organ and synthesiser. His versatility has made him an in demand sideman in a variety of jazz contexts and his list of credits is both expansive and impressive, very much a ‘who’s who’ of contemporary American jazz. Since 1994 he has released eleven albums as a leader in formats ranging through solo piano, duo, trio and quartet.

“The People I Love” is an all acoustic recording that features Taborn playing the appropriate version of his chosen instrument. For Lehman the album represents something of a return to his acoustic jazz roots following his experiments with electronics, hip hop and world music on recent recording such as 2016’s “Selebeyone”.

The title of the new album comes from a quote by the late, great vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, which is reproduced on the album packaging. The programme includes a mix of Lehman’s original compositions plus a handful of pieces from the 1990s by Kurt Rosenwinkel, Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts and Kenny Kirkland that Lehman describes as “alternative standards”. The saxophonist’s love of electronic music finds expression via an acoustic arrangement of “qPlay”, a track by the British electronic dance music duo Autechre.

The composed items are complemented by three brief saxophone and piano duets, “Prelude”, “Interlude” and “Postlude”, jointly credited to Lehman and Taborn and presumably freely improvised.

Lasting a little under two minutes “Prelude” introduces the album, acting as a kind of overture or musical ‘amuse bouche’. Lehman’s piping alto combines effectively with Taborn’s thoughtful, translucent acoustic piano.

This gentle improvised curtain raiser paves the way for the more robust Lehman composition “Ih Calam & Ynnus”.  This is introduced by Taborn at the piano, but soon brings Brewer and Reid into the fold. The leader’s garrulous alto soars above the complex rhythmic patterns generated by his colleagues, with Taborn’s pounding piano motifs at the core of the piece. The pianist finally gets the chance to cut loose, the still muscular left hand rhythms now complemented by tumbling right hand runs,  all steeped in Taborn’s love for the music of Cecil Taylor. There’s also room for a feature from the agile bassist Brewer. This is music that is intense but not inaccessible, complex but viscerally invigorating.

Also by Lehman “Curse Fraction”, originally recorded on his 2007 quintet album “On Meaning”, presents a slightly less frenetic side of the band with Lehman’s terse alto sketching melodic phrases above subtly shifting rhythms. Following the leader’s opening statement Taborn is given the opportunity to stretch out with a solo that positively sparkles via its darting melodic phrases and scurrying runs. With Lehman’s return the music becomes more animated as the saxophonist and the pianist engage in a thrilling exchange of ideas. Taborn temporarily drops out as Lehman enters into a vigorous debate with Reid and Brewer.

Originally from Rochdale the duo of Rob Brown and Sean Booth have been making music as Autechre since 1987, releasing thirteen albums to date. “qPlay” appears on their tenth, 2010’s “Oversteps”.  I’m afraid I have to admit to being previously unfamiliar with their work. This acoustic arrangement is introduced by the echoing chimes of Taborn’s piano chording. Lehman subsequently takes up the melody on alto sax but the piece is really a feature for the rhythm section, and particularly the excellent Reid, as they approximate the sounds of the electronic beats acoustically. The results are undeniably impressive.

Lasting a little over a minute “Interlude” is the second of the Lehman / Taborn improvisations, a second charming “instant composition” featuring the contrasting sounds of Lehman’s woozy tenor sax and Taborn’s solemn piano chording. To these ears there was evidence of a sly sense of musical humour that saw me breaking into a wry smile.

“A Shifting Design”, written by guitarist and composer Kurt Rosenwinkel, lives up to its title. Taborn is absent for this edgy, urgent trio exploration that sees the buzz of Lehman’s alto underpinned by the frenetically shifting rhythms of Brewer and Reid. It’s an impressive trio tour de force, with a particularly explosive, virtuoso performance from Reid.

Brewer introduces Lehman’s composition “Beyond All Limits” with an impressive, and deeply resonant, passage of unaccompanied double bass. Eventually he sets up the groove that helps to fuel the piece, with Reid joining in to provide the momentum behind Lehman’s garrulous multiphonics. The rhythms laid down by Brewer and Reid are far from one dimensional. The pair respond with alacrity to Lehman’s improvisations, the pulses and grooves constantly evolving and mutating. Taborn then takes over with a typically exciting piano solo, his dizzying runs evoking similarly impressive responses from the rhythm section. Lehman then erupts again on alto, with some of his most animated playing of the set matched by the volcanic roiling of bass and drums. Like the earlier “Ih Calam & Ynnus” this is a dynamic performance that sweeps the listener along in its wake. The excitement that the players clearly felt can be heard in the studio chatter preserved at the end of the take.

There’s little let up in the intensity on the segue of Lehman’s “Echoes” and drummer Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts’ “The Impaler”. The leader’s alto bites incisively, answered by Taborn’s mercurial pianistics.
As befits a drummer composed piece there’s another virtuoso performance from the busy Reid, who again features prominently.

The final composition is “Chance”, by the late, great pianist Kenny Kirkland.  Kirkland’s jazz waltz is the nearest that this album gets to a true ballad performance as Lehman probes gently but searchingly, accompanied at first just by Brewer’s resonant double bass. Piano and brushed drums are then added to the equation with Taborn delivering a magical solo that combines flowing lyricism with gimlet eyed intelligence. He then hands back to Lehman once more, who this time probes more deeply and darkly. There’s an austere beauty about this performance that can’t fail to charm the listener.

The album concludes with “Postlude”, a brief but animated conversation between the leader and his illustrious guest.

I received my copy of this disc from Lynne Gornall of Brecon Jazz Club, who knows Lehman personally, and Tyshawn Sorey too. I’m grateful to Lynne for loaning the album to me because it really is quite special.

Much has been made of Lehman’s music being intellectual, complex and academic, but although “The People I Love” isn’t exactly easy listening,  it’s hardly a forbidding, cacophonous racket either.

It may feature little (probably none) conventional 4/4 swing but it remains eminently accessible and listenable for all its complexities. Pieces like “Ih Calam & Ynnus” and “Beyond All Limits” are genuinely exciting, musical white knuckle rides featuring some brilliant and wildly exciting playing. “Chance” exhibits a chilly beauty and the three alto sax / piano miniatures are captivating, with their brevity ensuring that they never outstay their welcome, I even found a dash of humour in there, too. All of the performances are thoroughly absorbing with Taborn fitting in superbly with the core trio. The recording is a welcome reminder of just how brilliant and inventive an acoustic pianist he is.

At around the forty minute mark this is a concise album by modern standards but this ensures that there’s no flab on the recording. The performances are tight and focused and the interaction between the musicians is sharp and consistently intelligent, while the quality of the playing is exceptional throughout.

 

 

The Swing Commanders - In Transit Rating: 3-5 out of 5 It’s great fun and the singing and playing are highly accomplished throughout. There's an obvious love & respect for the source material but the inventive arrangements add plenty of colourful twists.

The Swing Commanders

“In Transit”

(Self Released)

Peter Riley – bass, vocals
Dan Smith – guitar, lap steel guitar, vocals
Claire Roberts – violin, piano, vocals
Siena Lloyd – tenor sax, clarinet, piano, accordion, vocals
Stuart Smith – drums, vocals


Here’s an album that I’ve been intending to take a look at for a long time. It was very kindly given to me by violinist/vocalist Claire Roberts back in September 2019 following her successful one off duo performance with pianist Guy Shotton at the Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in Abergavenny. The pair were billed as the Claire Victoria Duo and my account of their performance can be read as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/sunday-at-wall2wall-jazz-festival-abergavenny-september-1st-2019/


Originally from Carmarthen Roberts studied music and composition at Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music and at Bangor University. She remains based in Manchester, “it’s the kind of place that just sucks you in” she told me.


Roberts  is a highly versatile musician who was written for classical ensembles large and small but who also plays fiddle and sings with the Manchester based Texas swing ensemble The Swing Commanders. She also performs duo gigs, usually in the company of a pianist, under the name Claire Victoria, these ranging from lounge events to more formal jazz club and festival appearances.  

The Swing Commanders is a well established brand that has recorded a total of four albums beginning with 2012’s “Bright Lights”, followed by “Good Vintage” (2014), Steelin’ Back! (2016) and now “In Transit” (2019). They are are a hard gigging ensemble who perform at a wide variety of events right across the country and who seem to have accrued something of a cult following. They even have their own T shirts which are available to buy at gigs -  something of a rarity in the jazz world.

The Swing Commanders motto is “if it swings, they can, and will play it!”. As a result the band’s repertoire covers a broad range of styles from ‘Great American Songbook’ classics to traditional and swing era jazz, to Western (Texas) Swing to novelty songs. The majority of their material is sourced from the 1930s, 40s and 50s but with the band emphasising “this isn’t a nostalgia trip or Rat Pack karaoke, it is fine songs played joyfully and brilliantly”.

Although all the members of the band are also involved in other areas of music their love of their chosen material shines through in their singing and playing. They describe all of the songs that they choose to perform as being “well crafted”.

“In Transit”, presumably named in honour of the band van, offers a typically diverse selection, with many of the songs being very well known. The Commanders put their own stamp on them with their blend of ebullient musicianship and Andrews sisters style vocal harmonies.

Opener “Darktown Strutters Ball” (Brooks) takes a swing era jazz classic and gives it a Western Swing style arrangement complete with Dan Smith’s lap steel guitar. This is a piece that is generally heard as an instrumental so it’s interesting to hear the lyrics sung by one of the male vocalists (everybody sings and the lead vocalists aren’t individually credited) as the girls provide effective harmonies. Lloyd, on clarinet, and Roberts on violin, enjoy brief instrumental cameos on this lively and spirited curtain raiser.

“Love Me Or Leave Me” (Donaldson/Khan) features a female lead vocal – Roberts included the song in her Abergavenny set, so it may well be her. Instrumentally the piece features a raunchy tenor sax solo from Lloyd and another excursion on violin from Roberts. Piano and guitar are also featured prominently.

“Opus # 1” (Oliver / Garris) is a lively paean to the virtues of swing with massed, male led, vocals and more raunchy tenor, all fuelled by Stuart Smith’s hard driving, swinging rhythms.

The Mercer / Mancini classic “Moon River” finds the Swingcos in more reflective mood with the melody initially sketched on guitar and Lloyd’s wistful sounding accordion. There’s a similarly yearning quality about the female lead vocal and its accompanying harmony as the girls double up.
An instrumental passage, again featuring the sound of the accordion, is followed by a male lead vocal and lush female harmonies, with the vocal lead changing hands several times before the close.

Also written by Mercer “I’m An Old Cowhand” is more of a novelty number, treated here to a Western Swing style arrangement, featuring a male vocal, Andrews Sisters style harmonies from the girls, and Roberts’ vivacious violin. Dan Smith unleashes the lap steel once more (in his guise of ‘Steely Dan’) and there’s a brief cameo from Lloyd on clarinet. The whole thing is blatantly silly – but terrific fun!

The instrumental “Flamingo” (Grouya / Anderson) acts as a vehicle for Lloyd’s earthy Texas style tenor sax.

“St. James Infirmary Blues” takes the Commanders back to New Orleans in an intriguing arrangement featuring a male lead vocal, female harmonies and even yodelling, as the group
re-locate the tune into very different musical territory. The piece also includes features for violin, guitar and the ‘tribal’ style drumming of Stuart Smith.

“Besame Mucho” (Velazquez) was one of the pieces sung by Roberts at Abergavenny, so I assume it’s her sultry lead vocal here in an arrangement that makes effective use of guitar and accordion with Dan Smith on guitar and Roberts on violin the featured instrumental soloists.

Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” is probably as modern as the Swingcos get, with Roberts sending up her classical background on violin. There’s also some Jerry Lee Lewis style piano, Berry style guitar and a male lead vocal as the band deliver the song fairly straight, albeit with a variety of flourishes from various sources. One thing’s for sure, the performance loses nothing of the energy of the original.

Also from the early rock ‘n’ roll era comes “Blueberry Hill” (Rose / Stock / Lewis), a song that was a massive hit for Fats Domino. The Swingcos arrangement makes rich use of male and female vocal harmonies that recall both the Andrews Sisters and the later doo-wop era. Lloyd’s tenor sax weaves it way very effectively into this rich tapestry of vocal harmonies.

The album closes with the traditional “Cotton Eyed Joe”, once performed by Bob Wills and latterly a hit for the Swedish band Rednex. Roberts’ violin leads the Swingcos foot stompin’ ‘hoedown’ version of the song with Dan Smith also weighing in with some nimble guitar picking. There are some typically vivacious vocal harmonies from the group’s members as they tackle the old chestnut with an admirable gusto,  even giving Bob Wills a name-check at the close.

“In Transit” is a little outside my usual listening zone but there’s no denying that it’s great fun and that the singing and the playing are highly accomplished throughout. The group demonstrate an obvious love and respect for their source material but their inventive arrangements nevertheless add plenty of playful and colourful twists.

The ideal place to hear The Swing Commanders would undoubtedly be in the live environment where the energy and joie de vivre of their performances would become even more pronounced and the multi-instrumental versatility and virtuosity of the musicians, something of a feature of their live shows, best appreciated.

As I said they gig widely, so check out their schedule at http://www.swingcommanders.com if you fancy an enjoyable and energetic party experience.

Meanwhile Claire Victoria Roberts is set to release a solo album, “Cheating Hearts” in January 2020. Check out her personal website here;
https://www.clairevictoriaroberts.com/

In Transit

The Swing Commanders

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

In Transit

It’s great fun and the singing and playing are highly accomplished throughout. There's an obvious love & respect for the source material but the inventive arrangements add plenty of colourful twists.

The Swing Commanders

“In Transit”

(Self Released)

Peter Riley – bass, vocals
Dan Smith – guitar, lap steel guitar, vocals
Claire Roberts – violin, piano, vocals
Siena Lloyd – tenor sax, clarinet, piano, accordion, vocals
Stuart Smith – drums, vocals


Here’s an album that I’ve been intending to take a look at for a long time. It was very kindly given to me by violinist/vocalist Claire Roberts back in September 2019 following her successful one off duo performance with pianist Guy Shotton at the Wall2Wall Jazz Festival in Abergavenny. The pair were billed as the Claire Victoria Duo and my account of their performance can be read as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/sunday-at-wall2wall-jazz-festival-abergavenny-september-1st-2019/


Originally from Carmarthen Roberts studied music and composition at Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music and at Bangor University. She remains based in Manchester, “it’s the kind of place that just sucks you in” she told me.


Roberts  is a highly versatile musician who was written for classical ensembles large and small but who also plays fiddle and sings with the Manchester based Texas swing ensemble The Swing Commanders. She also performs duo gigs, usually in the company of a pianist, under the name Claire Victoria, these ranging from lounge events to more formal jazz club and festival appearances.  

The Swing Commanders is a well established brand that has recorded a total of four albums beginning with 2012’s “Bright Lights”, followed by “Good Vintage” (2014), Steelin’ Back! (2016) and now “In Transit” (2019). They are are a hard gigging ensemble who perform at a wide variety of events right across the country and who seem to have accrued something of a cult following. They even have their own T shirts which are available to buy at gigs -  something of a rarity in the jazz world.

The Swing Commanders motto is “if it swings, they can, and will play it!”. As a result the band’s repertoire covers a broad range of styles from ‘Great American Songbook’ classics to traditional and swing era jazz, to Western (Texas) Swing to novelty songs. The majority of their material is sourced from the 1930s, 40s and 50s but with the band emphasising “this isn’t a nostalgia trip or Rat Pack karaoke, it is fine songs played joyfully and brilliantly”.

Although all the members of the band are also involved in other areas of music their love of their chosen material shines through in their singing and playing. They describe all of the songs that they choose to perform as being “well crafted”.

“In Transit”, presumably named in honour of the band van, offers a typically diverse selection, with many of the songs being very well known. The Commanders put their own stamp on them with their blend of ebullient musicianship and Andrews sisters style vocal harmonies.

Opener “Darktown Strutters Ball” (Brooks) takes a swing era jazz classic and gives it a Western Swing style arrangement complete with Dan Smith’s lap steel guitar. This is a piece that is generally heard as an instrumental so it’s interesting to hear the lyrics sung by one of the male vocalists (everybody sings and the lead vocalists aren’t individually credited) as the girls provide effective harmonies. Lloyd, on clarinet, and Roberts on violin, enjoy brief instrumental cameos on this lively and spirited curtain raiser.

“Love Me Or Leave Me” (Donaldson/Khan) features a female lead vocal – Roberts included the song in her Abergavenny set, so it may well be her. Instrumentally the piece features a raunchy tenor sax solo from Lloyd and another excursion on violin from Roberts. Piano and guitar are also featured prominently.

“Opus # 1” (Oliver / Garris) is a lively paean to the virtues of swing with massed, male led, vocals and more raunchy tenor, all fuelled by Stuart Smith’s hard driving, swinging rhythms.

The Mercer / Mancini classic “Moon River” finds the Swingcos in more reflective mood with the melody initially sketched on guitar and Lloyd’s wistful sounding accordion. There’s a similarly yearning quality about the female lead vocal and its accompanying harmony as the girls double up.
An instrumental passage, again featuring the sound of the accordion, is followed by a male lead vocal and lush female harmonies, with the vocal lead changing hands several times before the close.

Also written by Mercer “I’m An Old Cowhand” is more of a novelty number, treated here to a Western Swing style arrangement, featuring a male vocal, Andrews Sisters style harmonies from the girls, and Roberts’ vivacious violin. Dan Smith unleashes the lap steel once more (in his guise of ‘Steely Dan’) and there’s a brief cameo from Lloyd on clarinet. The whole thing is blatantly silly – but terrific fun!

The instrumental “Flamingo” (Grouya / Anderson) acts as a vehicle for Lloyd’s earthy Texas style tenor sax.

“St. James Infirmary Blues” takes the Commanders back to New Orleans in an intriguing arrangement featuring a male lead vocal, female harmonies and even yodelling, as the group
re-locate the tune into very different musical territory. The piece also includes features for violin, guitar and the ‘tribal’ style drumming of Stuart Smith.

“Besame Mucho” (Velazquez) was one of the pieces sung by Roberts at Abergavenny, so I assume it’s her sultry lead vocal here in an arrangement that makes effective use of guitar and accordion with Dan Smith on guitar and Roberts on violin the featured instrumental soloists.

Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” is probably as modern as the Swingcos get, with Roberts sending up her classical background on violin. There’s also some Jerry Lee Lewis style piano, Berry style guitar and a male lead vocal as the band deliver the song fairly straight, albeit with a variety of flourishes from various sources. One thing’s for sure, the performance loses nothing of the energy of the original.

Also from the early rock ‘n’ roll era comes “Blueberry Hill” (Rose / Stock / Lewis), a song that was a massive hit for Fats Domino. The Swingcos arrangement makes rich use of male and female vocal harmonies that recall both the Andrews Sisters and the later doo-wop era. Lloyd’s tenor sax weaves it way very effectively into this rich tapestry of vocal harmonies.

The album closes with the traditional “Cotton Eyed Joe”, once performed by Bob Wills and latterly a hit for the Swedish band Rednex. Roberts’ violin leads the Swingcos foot stompin’ ‘hoedown’ version of the song with Dan Smith also weighing in with some nimble guitar picking. There are some typically vivacious vocal harmonies from the group’s members as they tackle the old chestnut with an admirable gusto,  even giving Bob Wills a name-check at the close.

“In Transit” is a little outside my usual listening zone but there’s no denying that it’s great fun and that the singing and the playing are highly accomplished throughout. The group demonstrate an obvious love and respect for their source material but their inventive arrangements nevertheless add plenty of playful and colourful twists.

The ideal place to hear The Swing Commanders would undoubtedly be in the live environment where the energy and joie de vivre of their performances would become even more pronounced and the multi-instrumental versatility and virtuosity of the musicians, something of a feature of their live shows, best appreciated.

As I said they gig widely, so check out their schedule at http://www.swingcommanders.com if you fancy an enjoyable and energetic party experience.

Meanwhile Claire Victoria Roberts is set to release a solo album, “Cheating Hearts” in January 2020. Check out her personal website here;
https://www.clairevictoriaroberts.com/

Calum Gourlay Quartet - New Ears Rating: 4-5 out of 5 An excellent début as a band leader from one of the British jazz scene’s most prolific and dependable sidemen. Colourful and intelligent compostions, an enjoyable and accessible listening experience.

Calum Gourlay Quartet

“New Ears”

(Ubuntu Music – UBU0043)

Calum Gourlay – double bass, Helena Kay – tenor saxophone, Kieran McLeod – trombone, James Maddren - drums


Scottish born bassist and composer Calum Gourlay first came to my attention back in 2009 when he appeared on the Mercury Music Prize nominated “Golden”, the début album by the trio led by pianist and composer Kit Downes.

Downes has gone on to become a major player on the international jazz scene and is currently signed to ECM Records. Gourlay may have kept a lower profile but for the past decade or more he has been a consistently busy presence on the UK jazz scene, continuing to work with Downes as well as collaborating with many other leading musicians, including saxophonists Trish Clowes, George Crowley, Will Vinson, Tommy Smith, Josh Arcoleo,  Rachael Cohen, Alice Leggett, Martin Speake and Martin Kershaw, trumpeters Colin Steele and Freddie Gavita, pianists Sam Leak, Hans Koller and Tom Hewson, vocalists Kurt Elling and Sheila Jordan, guitarist Dan Messore and drummer Dave Hamblett.

As well as being an in demand sideman for small group work Gourlay is also a highly accomplished performer in a large ensemble context. He has been a member of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, with whom he has enjoyed collaborations with such major international names as saxophonist Joe Lovano, guitarist John Scofield and fellow bassist Arild Andersen.

Gourlay also leads, and composes for, his own long running Big Band (originally a joint project with trumpeter Freddie Gavita), a popular ensemble that enjoys a monthly residency at London’s Vortex Jazz Club. At the other end of the scale he has released the album “Live at The Ridgeway”, a collection of performances for unaccompanied double bass. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/live-at-the-ridgeway/

The “New Ears” quartet is essentially a ‘band within a band’, hardly a new concept for jazz, as Gourlay explains;
“The idea for the quartet came from my Big Band residency at The Vortex. Helena, Kieran and James have been important musicians in my Big Band so I began to think this could be a great band in its own right. With the quartet it was easy to write things for the trombone and tenor to play together. It has all the energy, sound and colours of a contemporary big band, but with only four members”.

He might have added that he and Maddren go back even further. The pair both appeared on “Golden” and have worked together as a rhythm section on many occasions since, with Downes, Trish Clowes and others.

Gourlay put the music for “New Ears” together around the turn of the year (2018 into 2019), hence the pun of the album title. The album was released in December 2019 but the start of this New Year seems like a good time for me to take a look at it.

On February 3rd 2019 the quartet performed these tunes in public for the first time at The Vortex. The following day they went into London’s Fish Factory studio to record them with engineer Ben Lamdin, with Alex Bonney and Peter Beckmann later becoming involved in the production process, alongside Gourlay himself.

The programme consists of seven Gourlay compositions written specifically for this line up.
With regard to the opening piece, “Be Minor”, Gourlay comments;
“A teacher of mine once told me to imagine what kind of tune you would want to hear first at a gig. ‘Be Minor’ was my attempt to write a glorious opener for the gigs and for the album”.
The music features a rolling groove, established by Gourlay and Maddren, and the colourful dovetailing of the two horns, with trombone and tenor sax combining to make an impressively big and powerful sound. Mid-way through the tune the rhythm section drops out, leading to an effective series of exchanges between Kay and McLeod, swooping and soaring in delicious and daring counterpoint. Through his work with others Gourlay has established a reputation as a dexterous and highly melodic bass soloist and these qualities are much in evidence during his feature here. There’s also something of a feature for the excellent Maddren, one of the most in demand drummers of his generation. Vibrant, melodic and accessible, yet still chock full of sophisticated musical ideas, this is indeed the “glorious opener” that Gourlay was striving for.

“Blue Fugates” was named after the famous Fugate family from Kentucky, carriers of a genetic trait that leads to the disease methemoglobinemia, which gives sufferers blue-tinged skin. Gourlay has described his composition as being “written as a blues without a traditional 12 bar form”, or even as “a blues gone wrong”. Nevertheless it’s still a splendid piece, the writing sometimes reminding me of another great bassist and composer, the peerless Charles Mingus. There’s plenty of the blues in McLeod’s rousing trombone solo, delivered above a loping bass and drum groove. Kay then weighs in with a smoky tenor solo and the composer again features at the bass.

Bass and drums gently usher in the title track, which has a more contemporary ‘European’ feel. Kay and McLeod combine well on the complex theme before Kay strikes out to deliver an impressively fluent solo statement. She’s followed by the leader at the bass, who is skilfully shadowed by Maddren throughout. Further impressive ensemble playing follows as the quartet continue to explore the intricacies of Gourlay’s piece. It makes for highly absorbing listening.

“Solstice” adopts a gentler, ballad like approach with the two horn players displaying great sensitivity as they combine effectively. Similar qualities apply to the rhythm section, with Maddren deploying brushes throughout. There’s a melancholic air about the music, but an agreeable warmth too that imbues the overall sound with considerable beauty.

“Ro” re-introduces something of the earlier blues feel, but within a slightly quirky contemporary framework. Fluid, rolling, bass led grooves allow Kay and McLeod the opportunity to stretch out and express themselves eloquently with expansive and compelling solos, and there’s also some excellent interplay between the pair.

Despite its title “Emotional Trombone” actually features both McLeod and Kay, the pair working effectively and sympathetically in tandem, their lines intertwining and dovetailing in an absorbing dialogue underpinned by gently propulsive bass and brushed drums. The piece ends with an impressive passage of double bass from Gourlay, subtly underscored by the soft patter of Maddren’s brushes.

The album ends as it began on a rousing note. “Trinity” is ushered in by the rhythm section, who establish a tensile groove which acts as the springboard for the powerful horn motifs. With Gourlay’s bass providing the fulcrum Maddren is given room to roam and there are also declamatory horn solos from Kay on tenor and McLeod on trombone.

This is a particularly well balanced quartet who rise to the challenges of working within a chordless format with considerable aplomb. The familiarity of the members with each others’ playing, a quality honed within the ranks of Gourlay’s Big Band is apparent throughout. Indeed there are echoes of the big band sound throughout these compositions and arrangements.

Kay and McLeod combine effectively throughout, often seeming to merge into a single entity, but they also manage to express their individual musical personalities through their solos. The long established rhythmic team of Gourlay and Maddren exhibits similar qualities. Besides keeping time immaculately both musicians are also restlessly creative and help to ensure that this is very much a quartet of equals. Gourlay allows himself a considerable amount of solo space and uses it effectively, his playing being both impressively agile and dexterous and highly melodic. His bass is also at the heart of the ensemble passages, and together with Maddren he provides a great platform for the horn soloists.

Both the joyousness and the subtlety of the quartet’s music is captured by the engineering and production team who help to bring out all the colour and nuance of the band’s sound.

The music of chordless groups can sometimes be challenging and spiky, but although it isn’t exactly an easy listen there’s a warmth and vibrancy about this quartet that makes “New Ears” an enjoyable and accessible listening experience. Gourlay has a strong melodic, as well as rhythmic, sense and this comes out in his colourful and intelligent compositions.

“New Ears” has been well received by the British jazz community and has received some excellent reviews, and rightly so. It’s a recording that represents a great team effort, but ultimately the triumph is Gourlay’s. “New Ears” represents an excellent début as a band leader from one of the British jazz scene’s most prolific and dependable sidemen.

The official launch of “New Ears” takes place tonight, Thursday 9th January 2020 at The Vortex Jazz Club, Dalston, London.

New Ears

Calum Gourlay Quartet

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4-5 out of 5

New Ears

An excellent début as a band leader from one of the British jazz scene’s most prolific and dependable sidemen. Colourful and intelligent compostions, an enjoyable and accessible listening experience.

Calum Gourlay Quartet

“New Ears”

(Ubuntu Music – UBU0043)

Calum Gourlay – double bass, Helena Kay – tenor saxophone, Kieran McLeod – trombone, James Maddren - drums


Scottish born bassist and composer Calum Gourlay first came to my attention back in 2009 when he appeared on the Mercury Music Prize nominated “Golden”, the début album by the trio led by pianist and composer Kit Downes.

Downes has gone on to become a major player on the international jazz scene and is currently signed to ECM Records. Gourlay may have kept a lower profile but for the past decade or more he has been a consistently busy presence on the UK jazz scene, continuing to work with Downes as well as collaborating with many other leading musicians, including saxophonists Trish Clowes, George Crowley, Will Vinson, Tommy Smith, Josh Arcoleo,  Rachael Cohen, Alice Leggett, Martin Speake and Martin Kershaw, trumpeters Colin Steele and Freddie Gavita, pianists Sam Leak, Hans Koller and Tom Hewson, vocalists Kurt Elling and Sheila Jordan, guitarist Dan Messore and drummer Dave Hamblett.

As well as being an in demand sideman for small group work Gourlay is also a highly accomplished performer in a large ensemble context. He has been a member of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, with whom he has enjoyed collaborations with such major international names as saxophonist Joe Lovano, guitarist John Scofield and fellow bassist Arild Andersen.

Gourlay also leads, and composes for, his own long running Big Band (originally a joint project with trumpeter Freddie Gavita), a popular ensemble that enjoys a monthly residency at London’s Vortex Jazz Club. At the other end of the scale he has released the album “Live at The Ridgeway”, a collection of performances for unaccompanied double bass. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/live-at-the-ridgeway/

The “New Ears” quartet is essentially a ‘band within a band’, hardly a new concept for jazz, as Gourlay explains;
“The idea for the quartet came from my Big Band residency at The Vortex. Helena, Kieran and James have been important musicians in my Big Band so I began to think this could be a great band in its own right. With the quartet it was easy to write things for the trombone and tenor to play together. It has all the energy, sound and colours of a contemporary big band, but with only four members”.

He might have added that he and Maddren go back even further. The pair both appeared on “Golden” and have worked together as a rhythm section on many occasions since, with Downes, Trish Clowes and others.

Gourlay put the music for “New Ears” together around the turn of the year (2018 into 2019), hence the pun of the album title. The album was released in December 2019 but the start of this New Year seems like a good time for me to take a look at it.

On February 3rd 2019 the quartet performed these tunes in public for the first time at The Vortex. The following day they went into London’s Fish Factory studio to record them with engineer Ben Lamdin, with Alex Bonney and Peter Beckmann later becoming involved in the production process, alongside Gourlay himself.

The programme consists of seven Gourlay compositions written specifically for this line up.
With regard to the opening piece, “Be Minor”, Gourlay comments;
“A teacher of mine once told me to imagine what kind of tune you would want to hear first at a gig. ‘Be Minor’ was my attempt to write a glorious opener for the gigs and for the album”.
The music features a rolling groove, established by Gourlay and Maddren, and the colourful dovetailing of the two horns, with trombone and tenor sax combining to make an impressively big and powerful sound. Mid-way through the tune the rhythm section drops out, leading to an effective series of exchanges between Kay and McLeod, swooping and soaring in delicious and daring counterpoint. Through his work with others Gourlay has established a reputation as a dexterous and highly melodic bass soloist and these qualities are much in evidence during his feature here. There’s also something of a feature for the excellent Maddren, one of the most in demand drummers of his generation. Vibrant, melodic and accessible, yet still chock full of sophisticated musical ideas, this is indeed the “glorious opener” that Gourlay was striving for.

“Blue Fugates” was named after the famous Fugate family from Kentucky, carriers of a genetic trait that leads to the disease methemoglobinemia, which gives sufferers blue-tinged skin. Gourlay has described his composition as being “written as a blues without a traditional 12 bar form”, or even as “a blues gone wrong”. Nevertheless it’s still a splendid piece, the writing sometimes reminding me of another great bassist and composer, the peerless Charles Mingus. There’s plenty of the blues in McLeod’s rousing trombone solo, delivered above a loping bass and drum groove. Kay then weighs in with a smoky tenor solo and the composer again features at the bass.

Bass and drums gently usher in the title track, which has a more contemporary ‘European’ feel. Kay and McLeod combine well on the complex theme before Kay strikes out to deliver an impressively fluent solo statement. She’s followed by the leader at the bass, who is skilfully shadowed by Maddren throughout. Further impressive ensemble playing follows as the quartet continue to explore the intricacies of Gourlay’s piece. It makes for highly absorbing listening.

“Solstice” adopts a gentler, ballad like approach with the two horn players displaying great sensitivity as they combine effectively. Similar qualities apply to the rhythm section, with Maddren deploying brushes throughout. There’s a melancholic air about the music, but an agreeable warmth too that imbues the overall sound with considerable beauty.

“Ro” re-introduces something of the earlier blues feel, but within a slightly quirky contemporary framework. Fluid, rolling, bass led grooves allow Kay and McLeod the opportunity to stretch out and express themselves eloquently with expansive and compelling solos, and there’s also some excellent interplay between the pair.

Despite its title “Emotional Trombone” actually features both McLeod and Kay, the pair working effectively and sympathetically in tandem, their lines intertwining and dovetailing in an absorbing dialogue underpinned by gently propulsive bass and brushed drums. The piece ends with an impressive passage of double bass from Gourlay, subtly underscored by the soft patter of Maddren’s brushes.

The album ends as it began on a rousing note. “Trinity” is ushered in by the rhythm section, who establish a tensile groove which acts as the springboard for the powerful horn motifs. With Gourlay’s bass providing the fulcrum Maddren is given room to roam and there are also declamatory horn solos from Kay on tenor and McLeod on trombone.

This is a particularly well balanced quartet who rise to the challenges of working within a chordless format with considerable aplomb. The familiarity of the members with each others’ playing, a quality honed within the ranks of Gourlay’s Big Band is apparent throughout. Indeed there are echoes of the big band sound throughout these compositions and arrangements.

Kay and McLeod combine effectively throughout, often seeming to merge into a single entity, but they also manage to express their individual musical personalities through their solos. The long established rhythmic team of Gourlay and Maddren exhibits similar qualities. Besides keeping time immaculately both musicians are also restlessly creative and help to ensure that this is very much a quartet of equals. Gourlay allows himself a considerable amount of solo space and uses it effectively, his playing being both impressively agile and dexterous and highly melodic. His bass is also at the heart of the ensemble passages, and together with Maddren he provides a great platform for the horn soloists.

Both the joyousness and the subtlety of the quartet’s music is captured by the engineering and production team who help to bring out all the colour and nuance of the band’s sound.

The music of chordless groups can sometimes be challenging and spiky, but although it isn’t exactly an easy listen there’s a warmth and vibrancy about this quartet that makes “New Ears” an enjoyable and accessible listening experience. Gourlay has a strong melodic, as well as rhythmic, sense and this comes out in his colourful and intelligent compositions.

“New Ears” has been well received by the British jazz community and has received some excellent reviews, and rightly so. It’s a recording that represents a great team effort, but ultimately the triumph is Gourlay’s. “New Ears” represents an excellent début as a band leader from one of the British jazz scene’s most prolific and dependable sidemen.

The official launch of “New Ears” takes place tonight, Thursday 9th January 2020 at The Vortex Jazz Club, Dalston, London.

Stan Sulzmann / Nikki Iles with special guest Dave Holland - Lush Life Rating: 4 out of 5 The standard of the playing, by three world class musicians, is excellent throughout.

Stan Sulzmann / Nikki Iles with special guest Dave Holland

“Lush Life”

(Jellymould Jazz JM – JJ031)

Stan Sulzmann – tenor saxophone, Nikki Iles – piano, Dave Holland – double bass


This recording brings together three of the UK’s leading jazz musicians to perform a selection of jazz standards, plus original compositions by the co-leaders, Sulzmann and Iles.

Sulzmann and Iles first worked together in a duo setting as far back as 1995, recording the album “Treasure Trove”.  In 2016 they revived their partnership on the Jellymould Jazz imprint, releasing the excellent “Stardust”, an intimate, primarily standards based set. My review of the “Stardust” recording can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/stardust/

For their second offering for Jellymould Sulzmann and Iles have placed a greater emphasis on original material with each musician contributing two compositions to the repertoire, just under half the programme on this nine track recording.

The new album is also significant for the presence of a very special guest, the great Wolverhampton born bass player Dave Holland, famously head-hunted by none other than Miles Davis, and an artist who has become one of the UK’s greatest musical exports, a major figure on the global jazz scene as both a musician and a composer.

Holland’s involvement represents quite a coup for Sulzmann and Iles, themselves two of the UK’s most respected jazz musicians, although arguably even now artists whose talents deserve wider recognition.

Sulzmann, born in 1948, has been on the scene since the late 1960s and first came to prominence in bands led by trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and pianist John Taylor. A skilled and highly individual composer he has been leading his own groups since the 1970s and has recorded in formats ranging from duo to big band. In recent years Sulzmann has worked with a younger generation of musicians such as pianist Kit Downes and vibraphonist Jim Hart in the acclaimed Neon Quartet, an outfit subsequently expanded to form the large ensemble Neon Orchestra.

Iles first emerged as a jazz pianist in the 1980s and made her recording début in 1992. She has led a number of successful trios and currently leads the acclaimed Printmakers group featuring vocalist Norma Winstone. Indeed Iles seems to have a particular affinity for working with singers and has recorded several albums with Tina May, some of these also featuring Sulzmann. An acclaimed educator Iles holds a teaching post at London’s Royal Academy of Music and was the winner of the Jazz Education Award at the 2019 Parliamentary Jazz Awards.

The packaging for “Lush Life” includes brief liner notes from Sulzmann and Iles describing the inspirations and influences behind each performance, many of these revolving around very personal memories.

The opening “You Don’t Know What Love Is” was selected by Sulzmann in recognition of the influence of the Billie Holiday album “Lady in Satin”, a record Sulzmann first heard as an eighteen year old on a visit to New York back in 1967. This instrumental arrangement offers evidence of the easy, long established rapport between Sulzmann and Iles and also adds the bonus of Holland’s immaculate and unfailingly melodic bass playing. His rapport with the co-leaders is no less miraculous and helps to provide the fulcrum around which Sulzmann and Iles spin their improvisations, their solos thoughtful and ruminative, combining melody and lyricism with a gently questing spirit.

Iles’ first selection is the standard “Who Can I Turn To”, a song written by Anthony Newley that the pianist first heard on albums by vocalist Tony Bennett and pianist Bill Evans. These records influenced Iles’ work as an accompanist and she remains particularly adept at working with singers. This instrumental version is introduced by an exquisite passage of solo piano and Iles describes her arrangement as “taking a journey through some new twists and turns”. Sulzmann stretches out at length as his fluent and pliant tenor explores the contours of the piece and he’s followed by Iles, who sparkles at the piano, as Holland provides subtly propulsive support, eventually taking over with a highly dexterous solo of his own.

“Between Moons” is a John Taylor tune that Sulzmann brought to the session. Several years ago the late Taylor asked Sulzmann to arrange the piece for big band, a task that the saxophonist considered to be a great honour. Following Taylor’s passing this pared down trio arrangement acts as a fitting tribute to his memory and talent. There’s a suitably nocturnal quality about the opening exchanges between Sulzmann and Iles as the beauty of Taylor’s melody gradually emerges. Sulzmann solos with a quiet authority and an effortless fluency, his tone warm but gently incisive. Iles follows with a passage of flowingly lyrical piano, again skilfully supported by Holland’s underpinning bass. The illustrious guest then takes over once more with a typically immaculate bass solo.

The first original tune of the set is Sulzmann’s “Pip”, a tune dedicated to a lively Cocker Spaniel, for whom Sulzmann and his wife acted as house-sitters. The music is actually gentler than might be expected, reflective perhaps of the Cornish location where this episode took place. There’s a nostalgic, wistful, gently lyrical feel to the music which expresses itself through the playing. Iles and Holland combine neatly and melodically on the intro before Sulzmann’s tenor briefly assumes the lead. Holland takes the first solo at the bass, accompanied by Iles. These two complement each other superbly throughout the album and their rapport sometimes reminds me of Holland’s partnership with the great American pianist Kenny Barron. Sulzmann and Iles then trade lyrical solos as the piece gently wends its way.

Iles’ first original is “Iris”,  a dedication to the writer Iris Murdoch, a piece that finds the trio working in perfect synchronicity before diverging to deliver superb individual statements, then finally converging as a single entity once more.

The standard “The Night We Called It A Day” is an Iles selection, inspired by vocal versions by Frank Sinatra and Carmen McRae and a piano trio interpretation by Oscar Peterson. The chemistry between Iles and Holland is again apparent on a ballad style arrangement that also includes some of Sulzmann’s most emotive playing of the set.

The Sulzmann original “Odonata” is named for a species of dragonfly that is found in his garden, and the title of the piece also seems to inform Frazer Marr’s album artwork. It’s an attractive piece, and one that like many of Sulzmann’s compositions, has something of the feel of a jazz standard about it, albeit with a modern twist. There’s a real joyousness about the playing here with the composer’s effusive tenor solo followed by Iles’ vivacious pianistics and Holland’s vigorous and agile bass plucking.

Iles’ second original tune is “Moontide”, dedicated to vocalist Norma Winstone, her collaborator in the acclaimed Printmakers group. The piece is also dedicated to the memories of John Taylor and Kenny Wheeler and there’s an air of melancholy and nostalgia about the music that finds expression in what the composer describes as “Stan’s wonderfully plaintive and expressive playing”. Sulzmann’s playing here is undeniably beautiful and he receives sympathetic support from Iles and Holland, both of whom make lyrical and melodic contributions of their own.

The album closes with the title track, Billy Strayhorn’s famous composition “Lush Life”, a piece selected by Sulzmann. Sulzmann first heard it at the age of fifteen on the album “A World of Piano” by Phineas Newborn. “I’ve been fascinated by this tune ever since”, he explains, “but rarely got the chance to play it”. Given his opportunity Sulzmann rises to the occasion with yet another example of his fluent, emotive, intelligent playing. He really gets inside the tune, as do Iles and Holland, with the pianist delivering a fine solo of her own.

“Lush Life” is a worthy follow up to the earlier “Stardust” and the presence of the peerless Holland as a special guest adds an extra perspective to the music, elevating it into another dimension. I’m also pleased to see a greater emphasis being placed on original material, both Sulzmann and Iles are highly accomplished writers whose own compositions deserve to be widely heard.

The absence of drums ensures that this will be regarded as a ‘chamber jazz’ recording and its possible that some listeners may regard it as being a little ‘bloodless’ as a result, but with a well balanced trio of this calibre I suspect that any complaints of this nature will be very few and far between.

The relaxed but gently rigorous rapport between Sulzmann, Iles and Holland is well captured by an engineering team consisting of Ronan Phelan, Stewart Worthy and Curtis Schwartz and the standard of the playing, by three world class musicians, is excellent throughout.

Lush Life

Stan Sulzmann / Nikki Iles with special guest Dave Holland

Monday, January 06, 2020

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Lush Life

The standard of the playing, by three world class musicians, is excellent throughout.

Stan Sulzmann / Nikki Iles with special guest Dave Holland

“Lush Life”

(Jellymould Jazz JM – JJ031)

Stan Sulzmann – tenor saxophone, Nikki Iles – piano, Dave Holland – double bass


This recording brings together three of the UK’s leading jazz musicians to perform a selection of jazz standards, plus original compositions by the co-leaders, Sulzmann and Iles.

Sulzmann and Iles first worked together in a duo setting as far back as 1995, recording the album “Treasure Trove”.  In 2016 they revived their partnership on the Jellymould Jazz imprint, releasing the excellent “Stardust”, an intimate, primarily standards based set. My review of the “Stardust” recording can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/stardust/

For their second offering for Jellymould Sulzmann and Iles have placed a greater emphasis on original material with each musician contributing two compositions to the repertoire, just under half the programme on this nine track recording.

The new album is also significant for the presence of a very special guest, the great Wolverhampton born bass player Dave Holland, famously head-hunted by none other than Miles Davis, and an artist who has become one of the UK’s greatest musical exports, a major figure on the global jazz scene as both a musician and a composer.

Holland’s involvement represents quite a coup for Sulzmann and Iles, themselves two of the UK’s most respected jazz musicians, although arguably even now artists whose talents deserve wider recognition.

Sulzmann, born in 1948, has been on the scene since the late 1960s and first came to prominence in bands led by trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and pianist John Taylor. A skilled and highly individual composer he has been leading his own groups since the 1970s and has recorded in formats ranging from duo to big band. In recent years Sulzmann has worked with a younger generation of musicians such as pianist Kit Downes and vibraphonist Jim Hart in the acclaimed Neon Quartet, an outfit subsequently expanded to form the large ensemble Neon Orchestra.

Iles first emerged as a jazz pianist in the 1980s and made her recording début in 1992. She has led a number of successful trios and currently leads the acclaimed Printmakers group featuring vocalist Norma Winstone. Indeed Iles seems to have a particular affinity for working with singers and has recorded several albums with Tina May, some of these also featuring Sulzmann. An acclaimed educator Iles holds a teaching post at London’s Royal Academy of Music and was the winner of the Jazz Education Award at the 2019 Parliamentary Jazz Awards.

The packaging for “Lush Life” includes brief liner notes from Sulzmann and Iles describing the inspirations and influences behind each performance, many of these revolving around very personal memories.

The opening “You Don’t Know What Love Is” was selected by Sulzmann in recognition of the influence of the Billie Holiday album “Lady in Satin”, a record Sulzmann first heard as an eighteen year old on a visit to New York back in 1967. This instrumental arrangement offers evidence of the easy, long established rapport between Sulzmann and Iles and also adds the bonus of Holland’s immaculate and unfailingly melodic bass playing. His rapport with the co-leaders is no less miraculous and helps to provide the fulcrum around which Sulzmann and Iles spin their improvisations, their solos thoughtful and ruminative, combining melody and lyricism with a gently questing spirit.

Iles’ first selection is the standard “Who Can I Turn To”, a song written by Anthony Newley that the pianist first heard on albums by vocalist Tony Bennett and pianist Bill Evans. These records influenced Iles’ work as an accompanist and she remains particularly adept at working with singers. This instrumental version is introduced by an exquisite passage of solo piano and Iles describes her arrangement as “taking a journey through some new twists and turns”. Sulzmann stretches out at length as his fluent and pliant tenor explores the contours of the piece and he’s followed by Iles, who sparkles at the piano, as Holland provides subtly propulsive support, eventually taking over with a highly dexterous solo of his own.

“Between Moons” is a John Taylor tune that Sulzmann brought to the session. Several years ago the late Taylor asked Sulzmann to arrange the piece for big band, a task that the saxophonist considered to be a great honour. Following Taylor’s passing this pared down trio arrangement acts as a fitting tribute to his memory and talent. There’s a suitably nocturnal quality about the opening exchanges between Sulzmann and Iles as the beauty of Taylor’s melody gradually emerges. Sulzmann solos with a quiet authority and an effortless fluency, his tone warm but gently incisive. Iles follows with a passage of flowingly lyrical piano, again skilfully supported by Holland’s underpinning bass. The illustrious guest then takes over once more with a typically immaculate bass solo.

The first original tune of the set is Sulzmann’s “Pip”, a tune dedicated to a lively Cocker Spaniel, for whom Sulzmann and his wife acted as house-sitters. The music is actually gentler than might be expected, reflective perhaps of the Cornish location where this episode took place. There’s a nostalgic, wistful, gently lyrical feel to the music which expresses itself through the playing. Iles and Holland combine neatly and melodically on the intro before Sulzmann’s tenor briefly assumes the lead. Holland takes the first solo at the bass, accompanied by Iles. These two complement each other superbly throughout the album and their rapport sometimes reminds me of Holland’s partnership with the great American pianist Kenny Barron. Sulzmann and Iles then trade lyrical solos as the piece gently wends its way.

Iles’ first original is “Iris”,  a dedication to the writer Iris Murdoch, a piece that finds the trio working in perfect synchronicity before diverging to deliver superb individual statements, then finally converging as a single entity once more.

The standard “The Night We Called It A Day” is an Iles selection, inspired by vocal versions by Frank Sinatra and Carmen McRae and a piano trio interpretation by Oscar Peterson. The chemistry between Iles and Holland is again apparent on a ballad style arrangement that also includes some of Sulzmann’s most emotive playing of the set.

The Sulzmann original “Odonata” is named for a species of dragonfly that is found in his garden, and the title of the piece also seems to inform Frazer Marr’s album artwork. It’s an attractive piece, and one that like many of Sulzmann’s compositions, has something of the feel of a jazz standard about it, albeit with a modern twist. There’s a real joyousness about the playing here with the composer’s effusive tenor solo followed by Iles’ vivacious pianistics and Holland’s vigorous and agile bass plucking.

Iles’ second original tune is “Moontide”, dedicated to vocalist Norma Winstone, her collaborator in the acclaimed Printmakers group. The piece is also dedicated to the memories of John Taylor and Kenny Wheeler and there’s an air of melancholy and nostalgia about the music that finds expression in what the composer describes as “Stan’s wonderfully plaintive and expressive playing”. Sulzmann’s playing here is undeniably beautiful and he receives sympathetic support from Iles and Holland, both of whom make lyrical and melodic contributions of their own.

The album closes with the title track, Billy Strayhorn’s famous composition “Lush Life”, a piece selected by Sulzmann. Sulzmann first heard it at the age of fifteen on the album “A World of Piano” by Phineas Newborn. “I’ve been fascinated by this tune ever since”, he explains, “but rarely got the chance to play it”. Given his opportunity Sulzmann rises to the occasion with yet another example of his fluent, emotive, intelligent playing. He really gets inside the tune, as do Iles and Holland, with the pianist delivering a fine solo of her own.

“Lush Life” is a worthy follow up to the earlier “Stardust” and the presence of the peerless Holland as a special guest adds an extra perspective to the music, elevating it into another dimension. I’m also pleased to see a greater emphasis being placed on original material, both Sulzmann and Iles are highly accomplished writers whose own compositions deserve to be widely heard.

The absence of drums ensures that this will be regarded as a ‘chamber jazz’ recording and its possible that some listeners may regard it as being a little ‘bloodless’ as a result, but with a well balanced trio of this calibre I suspect that any complaints of this nature will be very few and far between.

The relaxed but gently rigorous rapport between Sulzmann, Iles and Holland is well captured by an engineering team consisting of Ronan Phelan, Stewart Worthy and Curtis Schwartz and the standard of the playing, by three world class musicians, is excellent throughout.

Dave O’Higgins & Rob Luft - Play Monk & Trane Rating: 4 out of 5 Despite the familiarity of much of the material Luft and O’Higgins deliver on their promise and very much make their own mark on it. The arrangements are fresh and imaginative and the playing superb.

Dave O’Higgins & Rob Luft

“Play Monk & Trane”

(Ubuntu Music – UBU0029)

Dave O’Higgins – tenor saxophone, Rob Luft – guitar, Scott Flanigan – organ, Rod Youngs - drums


A somewhat belated look at this acclaimed recording, originally released in October 2019 and an album that found its way on to many of my fellow critics’ ‘Best of Year’ lists.

The co-leaders are leading British jazz musicians from two different generations. The vastly experienced O’Higgins has been on the scene since the early 1990s, a prolific bandleader and sideman capable of playing in a broad variety of jazz styles.

The younger Luft is something of a ‘rising star’, a frequent award winner whose début album “Riser” (Edition Records, 2017) attracted a compelling amount of critical acclaim, and rightly so.
A former winner of the Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize the guitarist is currently a BBC New Generations Jazz Artist. Besides leading his own band Luft is a much sought after sideman whose numerous collaborations span both genres and generations.
My review of the “Riser” album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/rob-luft-riser/

The pair met while Luft was a member of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) and O’Higgins was conducting workshops with the band. A rapport was established that eventually led to this current project.

O’Higgins describes the inspiration behind the pair’s current collaboration thus;
“Rob called me for some ‘blowing’ gigs last year. It wasn’t difficult to find a common repertoire and a predilection for Monk and Trane tunes was apparent. The music we’ve chosen to play focusses on lesser known Monk compositions and some of the tunes Coltrane chose to record in the late 50s, rather than the usual few Monk tunes and the modal Coltrane so often heard”.

As a result not every piece is a tune written by Monk or Coltrane and the programme includes compositions by saxophonist Jackie McLean and pianist Tommy Flanagan plus a smattering of jazz standards, in addition to material from both Monk and Trane.

The decision for the group to include the Belfast based organist Scott Flanigan places a different emphasis on the music, the Hammond (or Crumar, in this case) being an instrument rarely associated with either Monk or Coltrane. The quartet is completed by the talented and versatile American born drummer Rod Youngs, now a stalwart of the UK jazz scene.

Luft says of the project;
“I’ve always found that a great way of looking forward musically is actually to look back and study the grand masters of jazz. The songbooks of Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane are two of the most significant in the jazz canon and this project is my first attempt at revising their music through my own musical filter. It’s really an honour to be working with Dave on this record as I’ve been a great fan of his playing ever since I first got into jazz”.

The guitarist illustrates his point on the opening number as he puts Coltrane’s “Naima” through that ‘musical filter’, using modern musical technology to create a multi-tracked ‘guitarscape’ that serves the beauty of the melody well. In this intimate duo performance he is joined by O’Higgins’ disarmingly beautiful tenor with the saxophonist declaring; “I wanted to create a texture reminiscent of Claus Ogerman and Michael Brecker’s 80s masterpiece ‘Cityscape’”. The enchanting melodic exchanges between tenor and guitar, with Luft sometimes also deploying a more conventional jazz guitar sound, are guaranteed to beguile the listener.

Flanigan and Youngs are added to the equation for a spirited and swinging romp through Jackie McLean’s boppish “Little Melonae”, a piece written by the late saxophonist for his then young daughter. Luft’s agility around the fretboard is matched by O’Higgins’ fluency and inventiveness on the tenor. Flanigan’s surging Hammond and Youngs’ subtle but propulsive drumming help to keep the pot bubbling, and the organist also impresses as a soloist.

The first Monk offering is “Locomotive”, another quartet performance that successfully combines Monk’s quirkiness with a relaxed sense of swing. Luft and O’Higgins deliver lithe solos on guitar and tenor respectively while Flanigan also weighs in at the keyboard. Incidentally, the Irishman is also a talented pianist, as evidenced by his earlier work with guitarist Ant Law.

“Minor Mishap” was written by the pianist Tommy Flanagan (no relation) and was originally recorded by a group featuring Coltrane. Here organ and guitar replace the trumpet and piano that appeared on the original. The piece is a Blue Note style swinger that features some typically nimble guitar soloing from Luft, exultant, loquacious tenor from O’Higgins and some dexterous manual work from Flanigan, all driven along by the crisp drumming of Youngs, who also gets to enjoy a series of vigorous drum breaks towards the close.

Credited to George Treadwell and Jerry Valentine “I’ll Wait And Pray” represents a dip into the standards repertoire. It’s an intimate ballad performance with O’Higgins at his most expressive as Luft plays with great taste and delicacy. Flanigan’s Hammond provides additional depth, colour and texture.

Monk’s “Trinkle-Tinkle” features admirably tight and cohesive ensemble passages interspersed by fluent and expansive individual solos from O’Higgins on tenor and Luft on guitar.

Coltrane’s “Like Sonny” is ushered in by Youngs at the kit before O’Higgins states the familiar theme on tenor and subsequently expounds upon it as he takes the first solo. Luft follows with another solo that demonstrates both his virtuosity and his versatility. He’s a supremely fluent soloist in the orthodox jazz guitar style, as here,  as well as being a player who has absorbed more contemporary influences from the realms of rock and world music.

Monk’s celebrated ballad “’Round Midnight” is given an intimate duo reading with the co-leaders combining effectively,  as well as exchanging eloquent solos.

The Richard Rogers / Lorenz Hart song “Spring Is Here” was recorded by Coltrane for the Prestige album “Standard Coltrane”. The version here is an O’Higgins arrangement that updates the piece with the saxophonist playing in a style more commonly associated with a later stage of Coltrane’s career. O’Higgins takes the first solo, followed by Luft, whose fleet fingered fretboard skills continue to impress. The guitarist also adds Bill Frisell inspired textures as he underscores Flanigan’s exchanges with an Elvin Jones inspired Youngs.

Monk’s “Dreamland” features more of Luft’s ambient ‘guitarscaping’ on the solo introduction. Later we hear the warm tones of O’Higgins’ tenor in a languidly swinging arrangement that also includes a more conventional guitar solo from Luft.

The album concludes with a short (one minute) reprise of “Locomotive”, performed as a guitar/tenor duet.

Despite the familiarity of much of the material Luft and O’Higgins deliver on their promise and very much make their own mark on it. The arrangements are fresh and imaginative and the quality of the playing is superb throughout, particularly from the co-leaders. Both O’Higgins and Luft solo with inventiveness and imagination and wear their versatility lightly, their fluency sounds effortless and entirely natural. Meanwhile Flanigan and Youngs offer excellent support, always adding, but never imposing and always seeming to provide just the right beat, nuance or texture. I’d have liked to have heard a little more from Flanigan as a soloist, but perhaps that’s best left for another time and another context.

O’Higgins and Luft have toured this material extensively, and hopefully will do so again. I caught the briefest glimpse of them on the Free Stage at the Clore Ballroom at the 2019 EFG London Jazz Festival, which certainly whetted my appetite for more.

Although my personal preference is for original material (like “Riser” or some of O’Higgins’ 90s output during his own ‘rising star’ days) it’s easy to hear why this album has attracted so much critical praise and become so popular with jazz audiences.

Play Monk & Trane

Dave O’Higgins & Rob Luft

Friday, January 03, 2020

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Play Monk & Trane

Despite the familiarity of much of the material Luft and O’Higgins deliver on their promise and very much make their own mark on it. The arrangements are fresh and imaginative and the playing superb.

Dave O’Higgins & Rob Luft

“Play Monk & Trane”

(Ubuntu Music – UBU0029)

Dave O’Higgins – tenor saxophone, Rob Luft – guitar, Scott Flanigan – organ, Rod Youngs - drums


A somewhat belated look at this acclaimed recording, originally released in October 2019 and an album that found its way on to many of my fellow critics’ ‘Best of Year’ lists.

The co-leaders are leading British jazz musicians from two different generations. The vastly experienced O’Higgins has been on the scene since the early 1990s, a prolific bandleader and sideman capable of playing in a broad variety of jazz styles.

The younger Luft is something of a ‘rising star’, a frequent award winner whose début album “Riser” (Edition Records, 2017) attracted a compelling amount of critical acclaim, and rightly so.
A former winner of the Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize the guitarist is currently a BBC New Generations Jazz Artist. Besides leading his own band Luft is a much sought after sideman whose numerous collaborations span both genres and generations.
My review of the “Riser” album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/rob-luft-riser/

The pair met while Luft was a member of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) and O’Higgins was conducting workshops with the band. A rapport was established that eventually led to this current project.

O’Higgins describes the inspiration behind the pair’s current collaboration thus;
“Rob called me for some ‘blowing’ gigs last year. It wasn’t difficult to find a common repertoire and a predilection for Monk and Trane tunes was apparent. The music we’ve chosen to play focusses on lesser known Monk compositions and some of the tunes Coltrane chose to record in the late 50s, rather than the usual few Monk tunes and the modal Coltrane so often heard”.

As a result not every piece is a tune written by Monk or Coltrane and the programme includes compositions by saxophonist Jackie McLean and pianist Tommy Flanagan plus a smattering of jazz standards, in addition to material from both Monk and Trane.

The decision for the group to include the Belfast based organist Scott Flanigan places a different emphasis on the music, the Hammond (or Crumar, in this case) being an instrument rarely associated with either Monk or Coltrane. The quartet is completed by the talented and versatile American born drummer Rod Youngs, now a stalwart of the UK jazz scene.

Luft says of the project;
“I’ve always found that a great way of looking forward musically is actually to look back and study the grand masters of jazz. The songbooks of Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane are two of the most significant in the jazz canon and this project is my first attempt at revising their music through my own musical filter. It’s really an honour to be working with Dave on this record as I’ve been a great fan of his playing ever since I first got into jazz”.

The guitarist illustrates his point on the opening number as he puts Coltrane’s “Naima” through that ‘musical filter’, using modern musical technology to create a multi-tracked ‘guitarscape’ that serves the beauty of the melody well. In this intimate duo performance he is joined by O’Higgins’ disarmingly beautiful tenor with the saxophonist declaring; “I wanted to create a texture reminiscent of Claus Ogerman and Michael Brecker’s 80s masterpiece ‘Cityscape’”. The enchanting melodic exchanges between tenor and guitar, with Luft sometimes also deploying a more conventional jazz guitar sound, are guaranteed to beguile the listener.

Flanigan and Youngs are added to the equation for a spirited and swinging romp through Jackie McLean’s boppish “Little Melonae”, a piece written by the late saxophonist for his then young daughter. Luft’s agility around the fretboard is matched by O’Higgins’ fluency and inventiveness on the tenor. Flanigan’s surging Hammond and Youngs’ subtle but propulsive drumming help to keep the pot bubbling, and the organist also impresses as a soloist.

The first Monk offering is “Locomotive”, another quartet performance that successfully combines Monk’s quirkiness with a relaxed sense of swing. Luft and O’Higgins deliver lithe solos on guitar and tenor respectively while Flanigan also weighs in at the keyboard. Incidentally, the Irishman is also a talented pianist, as evidenced by his earlier work with guitarist Ant Law.

“Minor Mishap” was written by the pianist Tommy Flanagan (no relation) and was originally recorded by a group featuring Coltrane. Here organ and guitar replace the trumpet and piano that appeared on the original. The piece is a Blue Note style swinger that features some typically nimble guitar soloing from Luft, exultant, loquacious tenor from O’Higgins and some dexterous manual work from Flanigan, all driven along by the crisp drumming of Youngs, who also gets to enjoy a series of vigorous drum breaks towards the close.

Credited to George Treadwell and Jerry Valentine “I’ll Wait And Pray” represents a dip into the standards repertoire. It’s an intimate ballad performance with O’Higgins at his most expressive as Luft plays with great taste and delicacy. Flanigan’s Hammond provides additional depth, colour and texture.

Monk’s “Trinkle-Tinkle” features admirably tight and cohesive ensemble passages interspersed by fluent and expansive individual solos from O’Higgins on tenor and Luft on guitar.

Coltrane’s “Like Sonny” is ushered in by Youngs at the kit before O’Higgins states the familiar theme on tenor and subsequently expounds upon it as he takes the first solo. Luft follows with another solo that demonstrates both his virtuosity and his versatility. He’s a supremely fluent soloist in the orthodox jazz guitar style, as here,  as well as being a player who has absorbed more contemporary influences from the realms of rock and world music.

Monk’s celebrated ballad “’Round Midnight” is given an intimate duo reading with the co-leaders combining effectively,  as well as exchanging eloquent solos.

The Richard Rogers / Lorenz Hart song “Spring Is Here” was recorded by Coltrane for the Prestige album “Standard Coltrane”. The version here is an O’Higgins arrangement that updates the piece with the saxophonist playing in a style more commonly associated with a later stage of Coltrane’s career. O’Higgins takes the first solo, followed by Luft, whose fleet fingered fretboard skills continue to impress. The guitarist also adds Bill Frisell inspired textures as he underscores Flanigan’s exchanges with an Elvin Jones inspired Youngs.

Monk’s “Dreamland” features more of Luft’s ambient ‘guitarscaping’ on the solo introduction. Later we hear the warm tones of O’Higgins’ tenor in a languidly swinging arrangement that also includes a more conventional guitar solo from Luft.

The album concludes with a short (one minute) reprise of “Locomotive”, performed as a guitar/tenor duet.

Despite the familiarity of much of the material Luft and O’Higgins deliver on their promise and very much make their own mark on it. The arrangements are fresh and imaginative and the quality of the playing is superb throughout, particularly from the co-leaders. Both O’Higgins and Luft solo with inventiveness and imagination and wear their versatility lightly, their fluency sounds effortless and entirely natural. Meanwhile Flanigan and Youngs offer excellent support, always adding, but never imposing and always seeming to provide just the right beat, nuance or texture. I’d have liked to have heard a little more from Flanigan as a soloist, but perhaps that’s best left for another time and another context.

O’Higgins and Luft have toured this material extensively, and hopefully will do so again. I caught the briefest glimpse of them on the Free Stage at the Clore Ballroom at the 2019 EFG London Jazz Festival, which certainly whetted my appetite for more.

Although my personal preference is for original material (like “Riser” or some of O’Higgins’ 90s output during his own ‘rising star’ days) it’s easy to hear why this album has attracted so much critical praise and become so popular with jazz audiences.

Daniel Karlsson Trio - Fuse Number Eleven Rating: 4 out of 5 A refreshingly cliché free slice of contemporary Scandinavian piano jazz, skilfully merging acoustic and electronic sounds on an intriguing mix of original compositions.

Daniel Karlsson Trio

“Fuse Number Eleven”

(Brus & Knaster)

Daniel Karlsson – piano, keyboards, percussion

Christian Spering – double bass, cello

Fredrik Rundqvist – drums, percussion


In November 2019 I enjoyed a live performance at the Left Bank Village complex in Hereford by this trio led by the Swedish pianist and composer Daniel Karlsson.

The event was the first of a brand new jazz programme at the venue which will see major British names such as saxophonists Xhosa Cole, Iain Ballamy and Mark Lockheart and drummer Clark Tracey visit the city in early 2020. The Hereford gigs will be part of ‘regional tours’ organised by Phil Rose of Birmingham Jazz, the creator of the West Midlands Jazz Network, a consortium of jazz promoters across the Midlands.

Sadly the Karlsson performance was rather poorly attended, with local flooding problems conspiring with the fact that this was the first gig of the series to keep the numbers down. It’s also possible that the close geographical proximity of the other venues on these ‘regional tours’ spreads the potential audience too thinly.

Nevertheless the music itself was excellent and I was able to speak with Daniel and his colleagues afterwards. I’m indebted to Daniel for providing me with a review copy of the trio’s latest album, from which the majority of the material at Hereford had been sourced, for review purposes.

Prior to the Hereford show I was already familiar with Karlsson’s playing from his work as a sideman with other Swedish groups. He is a member of the still ongoing band Oddjob, a group once signed to the prestigious German label ACT for whom they released the albums “Sumo” (2008) and “Clint” (2010). In 2010 I enjoyed a sold out performance by Oddjob, featuring Karlsson, at London’s Vortex Jazz Club as part of that year’s London Jazz Festival.

Karlsson has also been a member of the quartet led by former E.S.T. drummer Magnus Ostrom and appeared on Ostrom’s excellent 2016 album “Parachute”. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/magnus-ostrom-parachute/

Besides his work with Oddjob and the Ostrom band Karlsson has also collaborated with trombonist Nils Landgren and with vocalists Rigmor Gustafsson and Viktoria Tolstoy, other artists associated with the ACT label.

Since 2013 he has led his own trio, recording for the Swedish label Brus & Knaster. The group has been both prolific and successful with “Fuse Number Eleven” representing their sixth album release. Their previous offerings have attracted a compelling amount of critical acclaim and resulted in a number of awards in their home country. The trio has also enjoyed regular airplay in Italy, Germany, the UK and Ireland, accruing a dedicated following in all of these countries.

This latest recording features Karlsson’s compositions exclusively but each of the pieces is arranged by the trio as a whole, suggesting that the group is actually a highly democratic and interactive unit. The use of both acoustic and electronic sounds reveals the obvious influence of E.S.T. but the band is still essentially an acoustic piano trio, and one that has developed a strong group identity of its own.

The atmospheric opener “Principio” features gentle acoustic piano arpeggios and melodic double bass above a subtle backwash of wispy electronica and filigree percussion.

The title track – yes it is actually an ode to a fuse – features a deep, powerful bass groove, but there’s still an unmistakably Nordic air of wistfulness and melancholy about the music as Karlsson’s acoustic piano dovetails with Spering’s melodic bass. There’s also a Jarrett-like quality about the leader’s playing as he solos expansively, the predominately acoustic sounds of the piece again enhanced by a judicious and tasteful soupçon of atmospheric electronica.

“Liberty” maintains an air of quiet reflection via the now familiar combination of gently rippling piano and deeply resonant, but highly melodic, bass, played both with and without the bow. Rundqvist adds delicately brushed drums and plays with great restraint and taste throughout. Prior to seeing him with the Karlsson trio I was previously familiar with Rundqvist’s playing thanks to his work with various groups led by Swedish saxophonist and composer Orjan Hulten and by Greek guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos.

The charmingly titled “King Of Crap” pokes fun at consumer culture, subtly mixing acoustic and electronic sounds with the leader deploying synths as well as his usual piano. I seem to remember that at Hereford all three group members contributed electronics of one sort or another and this aspect of the trio’s sound is more pronounced here than elsewhere thus far. It’s an approach not entirely dissimilar to that of E.S.T, but ultimately the Karlsson group ends up sounding very different, with a strong collective identity of its own.

“Popiyah” pushes even further into electronic territory, with the spookily atmospheric sounds of electronica effectively augmented by acoustic bass and percussion.

“!900” is a beautiful ballad featuring lyrical acoustic piano, languid double bass and delicately brushed drums, but subtly underscored by a gentle electro-acoustic undertow featuring the sounds of electronica and bowed strings. There are hints here of the minimalism of Steve Reich and Philip Glass, and also of the gently atmospheric eeriness of the “Twin Peaks” soundtrack.

“Metropolis” continues the effective fusing of acoustic and electronic sounds, this time via an infectious bass and drum groove around which Karlsson scatters fragments of wry piano melody.
There’s then a more expansive piano solo as the leader expounds above the implacable grooves laid down by his colleagues.

A quirky and spirited dialogue between Karlsson and Rundqvist introduces “Walk The Earth”, with electronics again coming to play an important role in the music as the protagonists threaten to abandon the planet and head for the outer reaches of deep space.

“Radio Silence” (also the title of a Neil Cowley album as I seem to recall) is an elegant rubato ballad that features some delightfully tender and melodic pizzicato bass playing from Spering, who also features equally effectively with the bow. Karlsson’s playing is notable for its gently flowing lyricism, while Rundqvist, deploying brushes, performs with an ego-less taste and restraint throughout.

It’s the drummer who introduces the closing “Colourful Grey (Song For Matera)”, his melodic mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers helping to set the tone for this gently anthemic piece, a beguiling song like composition that develops subtly, gradually gathering momentum via Spering’s bass and Karlsson’s acoustic piano solos, while also adding discrete, layering electronica. It concludes with Karlsson soloing expansively and heading off into the ether, an unexpected variation from the expected ‘big finish’.

Indeed defying expectations seems to embody what the Karlsson trio is all about. Despite its E.S.T. lineage and the leader’s link with Ostrom, plus the skilful deployment of electronic components, this is a group that has developed a style of its own within the Nordic jazz tradition. Karlsson also acknowledges Bobo Stenson as an influence and there are also traces of Stenson’s playing in his sound and general approach, but again there is no suggestion of mere copying.

Instead “Fuse Number Eleven” is a refreshingly cliché free slice of contemporary Scandinavian piano jazz, skilfully merging acoustic and electronic sounds on an intriguing mix of original compositions. The playing is excellent throughout with all of the trio’s members impressing both individually and collectively. On this evidence I’d also be keen to investigate some of the trio’s earlier works.

It’s unfortunate that a trio of this calibre didn’t attract more listeners to its Hereford gig. Once again I urge people to support the programme of events at the Left Bank Village in 2020. Hereford may never get the chance to present a jazz programme of this quality again if the local populace don’t make some effort to get behind it.


Forthcoming events are listed below, details sourced from the Left Bank Village website;

XHOSA COLE QUARTET
29th January 2020 @ 7:30 pm – 10:30 pm £12.00
Winner of the 2018 BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year, Xhosa Cole brings together an all-star quartet featuring some of the finest talent based in the UK. Alongside fellow finalist and bass player James Owston, powerhouse drummer Jim Bashford and Canadian trumpet virtuoso Jay Phelps, this band embodies the spirit of the Bebop and Hard bop greats. They will feature classic arrangements, contemporary takes on standards as well as original works from members of the band.
Line Up: Xhosa Cole – Sax, Jay Phelps – Trumpet, James Owston – Bass and Jim Bashford – Drums

IAIN BALLAMY QUARTET
7th February 2020 @ 7:45 pm – 10:45 pm £12.00
ECM recording artist Iain Ballamy is an internationally recognised saxophonist and composer who has been variously described as urbane, original, freethinking and uncompromising. Over three decades spent transcending musical genres and stereotypes and by forging strong and ongoing relationships with musicians around the globe, Ballamy has worked with many cutting-edge figures of today’s contemporary Jazz scene.
Line Up: Iain Ballamy – Sax, Huw Warren – Piano, Percy Pursglove – Bass/Trumpet and Mark Whitlam – Drums.

CLARK TRACEY QUINTET
6th March 2020 @ 7:30 pm – 10:30 pm
Clark grew up in a jazz environment as the son of Stan Tracey CBE, the UK’s leading jazz pianist, and from an early age took to the piano and vibraphones. At 13 he started playing the drums and he turned professional at 17 in 1978 by joining his father’s various ensembles, from trio to orchestra up to the present day. Within that context he has toured worldwide and recorded extensively. Over his whole career he has recruited the best young players emerging on the British jazz scene.
Line Up: Clark Tracey – Drums, Elliot Sansom – Piano, Sean Payne – Sax, James Copus – Trumpet, James Owston – Bass.

MARK LOCKHEART QUARTET
10th April 2020 @ 7:30 pm – 10:30 pm
This is part of the tour organised by Jazz West Midlands and showcases Lockheart’s new quartet. This brand-new group explores Mark’s multi-faceted outlook on music, through a new set of original compositions plus a few older ones for good measure; and even a Duke Ellington tune. Urgent and exciting grooves and improvising all cleverly crafted together within Lockheart’s unique but memorable tunes. Wide ranging influences from Ellington, Shorter, Gil Evans, John Zorn, Burt Bacharach and even Kraftwerk. All delivered by a stellar band of stars.
Line Up: Mark Lockheart – Saxophones, Elliot Galvin – Keyboards, Tom Herbert – Bass and Dave Smith – Drums.

HEREFORD LEFT BANK
BRIDGE STREET, HEREFORD, HR4 9DG
Tel: 01432 357753

Our email address is:  [email protected]

http://www.herefordleftbank.com

 

Fuse Number Eleven

Daniel Karlsson Trio

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Fuse Number Eleven

A refreshingly cliché free slice of contemporary Scandinavian piano jazz, skilfully merging acoustic and electronic sounds on an intriguing mix of original compositions.

Daniel Karlsson Trio

“Fuse Number Eleven”

(Brus & Knaster)

Daniel Karlsson – piano, keyboards, percussion

Christian Spering – double bass, cello

Fredrik Rundqvist – drums, percussion


In November 2019 I enjoyed a live performance at the Left Bank Village complex in Hereford by this trio led by the Swedish pianist and composer Daniel Karlsson.

The event was the first of a brand new jazz programme at the venue which will see major British names such as saxophonists Xhosa Cole, Iain Ballamy and Mark Lockheart and drummer Clark Tracey visit the city in early 2020. The Hereford gigs will be part of ‘regional tours’ organised by Phil Rose of Birmingham Jazz, the creator of the West Midlands Jazz Network, a consortium of jazz promoters across the Midlands.

Sadly the Karlsson performance was rather poorly attended, with local flooding problems conspiring with the fact that this was the first gig of the series to keep the numbers down. It’s also possible that the close geographical proximity of the other venues on these ‘regional tours’ spreads the potential audience too thinly.

Nevertheless the music itself was excellent and I was able to speak with Daniel and his colleagues afterwards. I’m indebted to Daniel for providing me with a review copy of the trio’s latest album, from which the majority of the material at Hereford had been sourced, for review purposes.

Prior to the Hereford show I was already familiar with Karlsson’s playing from his work as a sideman with other Swedish groups. He is a member of the still ongoing band Oddjob, a group once signed to the prestigious German label ACT for whom they released the albums “Sumo” (2008) and “Clint” (2010). In 2010 I enjoyed a sold out performance by Oddjob, featuring Karlsson, at London’s Vortex Jazz Club as part of that year’s London Jazz Festival.

Karlsson has also been a member of the quartet led by former E.S.T. drummer Magnus Ostrom and appeared on Ostrom’s excellent 2016 album “Parachute”. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/magnus-ostrom-parachute/

Besides his work with Oddjob and the Ostrom band Karlsson has also collaborated with trombonist Nils Landgren and with vocalists Rigmor Gustafsson and Viktoria Tolstoy, other artists associated with the ACT label.

Since 2013 he has led his own trio, recording for the Swedish label Brus & Knaster. The group has been both prolific and successful with “Fuse Number Eleven” representing their sixth album release. Their previous offerings have attracted a compelling amount of critical acclaim and resulted in a number of awards in their home country. The trio has also enjoyed regular airplay in Italy, Germany, the UK and Ireland, accruing a dedicated following in all of these countries.

This latest recording features Karlsson’s compositions exclusively but each of the pieces is arranged by the trio as a whole, suggesting that the group is actually a highly democratic and interactive unit. The use of both acoustic and electronic sounds reveals the obvious influence of E.S.T. but the band is still essentially an acoustic piano trio, and one that has developed a strong group identity of its own.

The atmospheric opener “Principio” features gentle acoustic piano arpeggios and melodic double bass above a subtle backwash of wispy electronica and filigree percussion.

The title track – yes it is actually an ode to a fuse – features a deep, powerful bass groove, but there’s still an unmistakably Nordic air of wistfulness and melancholy about the music as Karlsson’s acoustic piano dovetails with Spering’s melodic bass. There’s also a Jarrett-like quality about the leader’s playing as he solos expansively, the predominately acoustic sounds of the piece again enhanced by a judicious and tasteful soupçon of atmospheric electronica.

“Liberty” maintains an air of quiet reflection via the now familiar combination of gently rippling piano and deeply resonant, but highly melodic, bass, played both with and without the bow. Rundqvist adds delicately brushed drums and plays with great restraint and taste throughout. Prior to seeing him with the Karlsson trio I was previously familiar with Rundqvist’s playing thanks to his work with various groups led by Swedish saxophonist and composer Orjan Hulten and by Greek guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos.

The charmingly titled “King Of Crap” pokes fun at consumer culture, subtly mixing acoustic and electronic sounds with the leader deploying synths as well as his usual piano. I seem to remember that at Hereford all three group members contributed electronics of one sort or another and this aspect of the trio’s sound is more pronounced here than elsewhere thus far. It’s an approach not entirely dissimilar to that of E.S.T, but ultimately the Karlsson group ends up sounding very different, with a strong collective identity of its own.

“Popiyah” pushes even further into electronic territory, with the spookily atmospheric sounds of electronica effectively augmented by acoustic bass and percussion.

“!900” is a beautiful ballad featuring lyrical acoustic piano, languid double bass and delicately brushed drums, but subtly underscored by a gentle electro-acoustic undertow featuring the sounds of electronica and bowed strings. There are hints here of the minimalism of Steve Reich and Philip Glass, and also of the gently atmospheric eeriness of the “Twin Peaks” soundtrack.

“Metropolis” continues the effective fusing of acoustic and electronic sounds, this time via an infectious bass and drum groove around which Karlsson scatters fragments of wry piano melody.
There’s then a more expansive piano solo as the leader expounds above the implacable grooves laid down by his colleagues.

A quirky and spirited dialogue between Karlsson and Rundqvist introduces “Walk The Earth”, with electronics again coming to play an important role in the music as the protagonists threaten to abandon the planet and head for the outer reaches of deep space.

“Radio Silence” (also the title of a Neil Cowley album as I seem to recall) is an elegant rubato ballad that features some delightfully tender and melodic pizzicato bass playing from Spering, who also features equally effectively with the bow. Karlsson’s playing is notable for its gently flowing lyricism, while Rundqvist, deploying brushes, performs with an ego-less taste and restraint throughout.

It’s the drummer who introduces the closing “Colourful Grey (Song For Matera)”, his melodic mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers helping to set the tone for this gently anthemic piece, a beguiling song like composition that develops subtly, gradually gathering momentum via Spering’s bass and Karlsson’s acoustic piano solos, while also adding discrete, layering electronica. It concludes with Karlsson soloing expansively and heading off into the ether, an unexpected variation from the expected ‘big finish’.

Indeed defying expectations seems to embody what the Karlsson trio is all about. Despite its E.S.T. lineage and the leader’s link with Ostrom, plus the skilful deployment of electronic components, this is a group that has developed a style of its own within the Nordic jazz tradition. Karlsson also acknowledges Bobo Stenson as an influence and there are also traces of Stenson’s playing in his sound and general approach, but again there is no suggestion of mere copying.

Instead “Fuse Number Eleven” is a refreshingly cliché free slice of contemporary Scandinavian piano jazz, skilfully merging acoustic and electronic sounds on an intriguing mix of original compositions. The playing is excellent throughout with all of the trio’s members impressing both individually and collectively. On this evidence I’d also be keen to investigate some of the trio’s earlier works.

It’s unfortunate that a trio of this calibre didn’t attract more listeners to its Hereford gig. Once again I urge people to support the programme of events at the Left Bank Village in 2020. Hereford may never get the chance to present a jazz programme of this quality again if the local populace don’t make some effort to get behind it.


Forthcoming events are listed below, details sourced from the Left Bank Village website;

XHOSA COLE QUARTET
29th January 2020 @ 7:30 pm – 10:30 pm £12.00
Winner of the 2018 BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year, Xhosa Cole brings together an all-star quartet featuring some of the finest talent based in the UK. Alongside fellow finalist and bass player James Owston, powerhouse drummer Jim Bashford and Canadian trumpet virtuoso Jay Phelps, this band embodies the spirit of the Bebop and Hard bop greats. They will feature classic arrangements, contemporary takes on standards as well as original works from members of the band.
Line Up: Xhosa Cole – Sax, Jay Phelps – Trumpet, James Owston – Bass and Jim Bashford – Drums

IAIN BALLAMY QUARTET
7th February 2020 @ 7:45 pm – 10:45 pm £12.00
ECM recording artist Iain Ballamy is an internationally recognised saxophonist and composer who has been variously described as urbane, original, freethinking and uncompromising. Over three decades spent transcending musical genres and stereotypes and by forging strong and ongoing relationships with musicians around the globe, Ballamy has worked with many cutting-edge figures of today’s contemporary Jazz scene.
Line Up: Iain Ballamy – Sax, Huw Warren – Piano, Percy Pursglove – Bass/Trumpet and Mark Whitlam – Drums.

CLARK TRACEY QUINTET
6th March 2020 @ 7:30 pm – 10:30 pm
Clark grew up in a jazz environment as the son of Stan Tracey CBE, the UK’s leading jazz pianist, and from an early age took to the piano and vibraphones. At 13 he started playing the drums and he turned professional at 17 in 1978 by joining his father’s various ensembles, from trio to orchestra up to the present day. Within that context he has toured worldwide and recorded extensively. Over his whole career he has recruited the best young players emerging on the British jazz scene.
Line Up: Clark Tracey – Drums, Elliot Sansom – Piano, Sean Payne – Sax, James Copus – Trumpet, James Owston – Bass.

MARK LOCKHEART QUARTET
10th April 2020 @ 7:30 pm – 10:30 pm
This is part of the tour organised by Jazz West Midlands and showcases Lockheart’s new quartet. This brand-new group explores Mark’s multi-faceted outlook on music, through a new set of original compositions plus a few older ones for good measure; and even a Duke Ellington tune. Urgent and exciting grooves and improvising all cleverly crafted together within Lockheart’s unique but memorable tunes. Wide ranging influences from Ellington, Shorter, Gil Evans, John Zorn, Burt Bacharach and even Kraftwerk. All delivered by a stellar band of stars.
Line Up: Mark Lockheart – Saxophones, Elliot Galvin – Keyboards, Tom Herbert – Bass and Dave Smith – Drums.

HEREFORD LEFT BANK
BRIDGE STREET, HEREFORD, HR4 9DG
Tel: 01432 357753

Our email address is:  [email protected]

http://www.herefordleftbank.com

 

Alan Barnes Octet - Alan Barnes Octet: “A Jazz Christmas Carol”  Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 20/12/2019. Rating: 4 out of 5 "A seasonal delight. Rarely have we heard a band with such a variety of textures". Guest contributor Clive Downs enjoys Alan Barnes' jazz interpretation of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol".

Alan Barnes Octet: “A Jazz Christmas Carol”

Progress Theatre, Reading, Friday 20 December 2019

Alan Barnes - alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, composer, arranger
Bruce Adams - trumpet, flugelhorn
Mark Nightingale - trombone, arranger
Karen Sharp - tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, clarinet
Robert Fowler - tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, clarinet
David Newton - keyboard
Simon Thorpe - bass
Clark Tracey - drums


Literature has often inspired jazz composers - John Dankworth brought us “What the Dickens!”, Ellington wrote “Such Sweet Thunder” to commemorate Shakespeare. Many compositions evoke characters - real or imagined; Benny Golson’s “Killer Joe” adds a spoken description of that ‘hip-cat’ on the original Jazztet recording.  Alan Barnes added to the tradition with “A Jazz Christmas Carol”.

Jazz in Reading offered a seasonal delight with Barnes’ version of Dickens famous story (with a bonus – jazz versions of carols and traditional holiday songs). A prolific composer, arranger, and performer, Barnes narrated extracts of the tale before each section of the suite (but with his trademark gags and contemporary comments on the text).

In Dickensian nightshirt and cap, Barnes entered the stage for the curtain raiser, a medium tempo “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, featuring a dazzling solo from Bruce Adams on trumpet.

Opening the suite itself, “The Start of It” was a slow minor theme in an attractive arrangement. Clarinets alternated with trumpet and trombone, and the piece was introduced by bowed bass. 

Scrooge’s verdict on Christmas provided the theme for “Bah Humbug”. Karen Sharp’s baritone voiced the quote, at times in unison with Simon Thorpe’s bass.

The first piece with several solos, we heard Robert Fowler on tenor, Bruce Adams’ trumpet, and Alan Barnes on clarinet. Switching between swing and latin, the arrangement recalled another Ellington work, the “Latin American Suite”.

Clark Tracey’s drum intro to “Marley’s Ghost” conjured up the rattling of chains. The band created a menacing mood, as Mark Nightingale on muted trombone played a fine solo.

Scrooge’s next visitation, “The Ghost of Christmas Past (Portrait of Belle)”, was dedicated to his one time fiancée. Karen Sharp joined the narration as Belle, before atmospheric solos from tenor, trombone and alto. Alan Barnes’ alto solo included Hodges-like portamento, while the scoring for baritone sounded as expressive as Harry Carney.

“The Ghost of Christmas Present” materialised as a calypso, the distinctive rhythm introduced on drums. We heard an ingenious arrangement with key changes, call and response, changes of mood, as well as superb solo work. The sinister grandfather clock of the story rang out from David Newton’s piano.

After a nod to “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” (a hit for his namesake), we met “Tiny Tim”: a lovely, memorable melody, with a ‘wrong’ note. Karen Sharp played the poor child in this jazz waltz. A change of metre led into a solo from David Newton, then an ensemble with trumpet lead.

As Scrooge visited the graveyard to see the future, “The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come” saw the first outing of the evening for Alan Barnes sonorous bass clarinet. In an appropriately melancholy mood, the varied textures (bass clarinet with either bass, two clarinets, or drums) reminded us of Ellington’s “New Orleans Suite”.

“The End of It” reprised the suite’s themes through a ‘redemptive’ brass sound, echoing Scrooge’s own change of heart. The baritone sax quoted “Bah Humbug” to complete the medley.

Short solos from each of the band completed the suite’s final selection, “God Bless Everyone!”, an upbeat, medium tempo number. Clark Tracey soloed with a “Jingle Bells’ quote, before the optimistic mood of key changes in the final choruses.

The Progress audience clearly much enjoyed Mark Nightingale’s extended solo on his feature “The Christmas Song”. We were also treated once more to Alan Barnes bass clarinet, both in scoring with two clarinets and muted trumpet, and reprising the theme.

A reading from the Bible - perhaps a first for Jazz in Reading- set the scene for “We Three Kings”. Alan Barnes interpreted the gift of gold, Karen Sharp frankincense (or, according to the narrator, Frankenstein), and Robert Fowler myrrh. Over an arrangement in the spirit of Coltrane’s “My Favourite Things”, a virtuoso alto solo segued into Karen Sharp’s tenor, then Robert Fowler’s baritone.

Following Charles Mingus’ tradition of interpolating one song with another’, the band’s version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” sneaked in “Blue Monk” (surprisingly, a close fit).

Although Jazz in Reading has given us big and medium size bands before, rarely have we heard a band with such a variety of textures (exploiting of course, the band’s multi-instrumentalists). Clarinets can sometimes sound awkward in a ‘modern jazz’ context, but here they worked as beautifully as they do in Ellington. Many combinations of brass and woodwind, as well as superb solos, vividly recreated the varied moods of Dickens’ story.

Sincere thanks to the Progress Theatre for hosting, to all the Progress team for sound, lighting, and front of house, to our Jazz in Reading team, and the appreciative audience.

Photography by Zoë White Photography.

The album “A Jazz Christmas Carol”, with the complete suite, is available on Woodville Records.


CLIVE DOWNS
(Standing in for Trevor Bannister)

Alan Barnes Octet: “A Jazz Christmas Carol”  Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 20/12/2019.

Alan Barnes Octet

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Reviewed by: Trevor Bannister

Live Review

4 out of 5

Alan Barnes Octet: “A Jazz Christmas Carol”  Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 20/12/2019.
Photography: Photography by Zoë White Photography.

"A seasonal delight. Rarely have we heard a band with such a variety of textures". Guest contributor Clive Downs enjoys Alan Barnes' jazz interpretation of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol".

Alan Barnes Octet: “A Jazz Christmas Carol”

Progress Theatre, Reading, Friday 20 December 2019

Alan Barnes - alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, composer, arranger
Bruce Adams - trumpet, flugelhorn
Mark Nightingale - trombone, arranger
Karen Sharp - tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, clarinet
Robert Fowler - tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, clarinet
David Newton - keyboard
Simon Thorpe - bass
Clark Tracey - drums


Literature has often inspired jazz composers - John Dankworth brought us “What the Dickens!”, Ellington wrote “Such Sweet Thunder” to commemorate Shakespeare. Many compositions evoke characters - real or imagined; Benny Golson’s “Killer Joe” adds a spoken description of that ‘hip-cat’ on the original Jazztet recording.  Alan Barnes added to the tradition with “A Jazz Christmas Carol”.

Jazz in Reading offered a seasonal delight with Barnes’ version of Dickens famous story (with a bonus – jazz versions of carols and traditional holiday songs). A prolific composer, arranger, and performer, Barnes narrated extracts of the tale before each section of the suite (but with his trademark gags and contemporary comments on the text).

In Dickensian nightshirt and cap, Barnes entered the stage for the curtain raiser, a medium tempo “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, featuring a dazzling solo from Bruce Adams on trumpet.

Opening the suite itself, “The Start of It” was a slow minor theme in an attractive arrangement. Clarinets alternated with trumpet and trombone, and the piece was introduced by bowed bass. 

Scrooge’s verdict on Christmas provided the theme for “Bah Humbug”. Karen Sharp’s baritone voiced the quote, at times in unison with Simon Thorpe’s bass.

The first piece with several solos, we heard Robert Fowler on tenor, Bruce Adams’ trumpet, and Alan Barnes on clarinet. Switching between swing and latin, the arrangement recalled another Ellington work, the “Latin American Suite”.

Clark Tracey’s drum intro to “Marley’s Ghost” conjured up the rattling of chains. The band created a menacing mood, as Mark Nightingale on muted trombone played a fine solo.

Scrooge’s next visitation, “The Ghost of Christmas Past (Portrait of Belle)”, was dedicated to his one time fiancée. Karen Sharp joined the narration as Belle, before atmospheric solos from tenor, trombone and alto. Alan Barnes’ alto solo included Hodges-like portamento, while the scoring for baritone sounded as expressive as Harry Carney.

“The Ghost of Christmas Present” materialised as a calypso, the distinctive rhythm introduced on drums. We heard an ingenious arrangement with key changes, call and response, changes of mood, as well as superb solo work. The sinister grandfather clock of the story rang out from David Newton’s piano.

After a nod to “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” (a hit for his namesake), we met “Tiny Tim”: a lovely, memorable melody, with a ‘wrong’ note. Karen Sharp played the poor child in this jazz waltz. A change of metre led into a solo from David Newton, then an ensemble with trumpet lead.

As Scrooge visited the graveyard to see the future, “The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come” saw the first outing of the evening for Alan Barnes sonorous bass clarinet. In an appropriately melancholy mood, the varied textures (bass clarinet with either bass, two clarinets, or drums) reminded us of Ellington’s “New Orleans Suite”.

“The End of It” reprised the suite’s themes through a ‘redemptive’ brass sound, echoing Scrooge’s own change of heart. The baritone sax quoted “Bah Humbug” to complete the medley.

Short solos from each of the band completed the suite’s final selection, “God Bless Everyone!”, an upbeat, medium tempo number. Clark Tracey soloed with a “Jingle Bells’ quote, before the optimistic mood of key changes in the final choruses.

The Progress audience clearly much enjoyed Mark Nightingale’s extended solo on his feature “The Christmas Song”. We were also treated once more to Alan Barnes bass clarinet, both in scoring with two clarinets and muted trumpet, and reprising the theme.

A reading from the Bible - perhaps a first for Jazz in Reading- set the scene for “We Three Kings”. Alan Barnes interpreted the gift of gold, Karen Sharp frankincense (or, according to the narrator, Frankenstein), and Robert Fowler myrrh. Over an arrangement in the spirit of Coltrane’s “My Favourite Things”, a virtuoso alto solo segued into Karen Sharp’s tenor, then Robert Fowler’s baritone.

Following Charles Mingus’ tradition of interpolating one song with another’, the band’s version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” sneaked in “Blue Monk” (surprisingly, a close fit).

Although Jazz in Reading has given us big and medium size bands before, rarely have we heard a band with such a variety of textures (exploiting of course, the band’s multi-instrumentalists). Clarinets can sometimes sound awkward in a ‘modern jazz’ context, but here they worked as beautifully as they do in Ellington. Many combinations of brass and woodwind, as well as superb solos, vividly recreated the varied moods of Dickens’ story.

Sincere thanks to the Progress Theatre for hosting, to all the Progress team for sound, lighting, and front of house, to our Jazz in Reading team, and the appreciative audience.

Photography by Zoë White Photography.

The album “A Jazz Christmas Carol”, with the complete suite, is available on Woodville Records.


CLIVE DOWNS
(Standing in for Trevor Bannister)

A Northern Code - Boundaries Rating: 4 out of 5 A well balanced trio that has established a sound that is very much its own, but still utterly in keeping with the Nordic jazz tradition.

A Northern Code

“Boundaries”

(Ora Fonogram, OF150)

Mathias Marstrander – electric guitar, Andrew Robb – double bass, Sigurd Steinkopf – drums


The trio A Northern Code is an international collaboration between two young musicians from Norway and one from Scotland.

Scottish bassist and composer Andrew Robb (born 1990) is joined by the Norwegians Mathias Marstrander (guitar, born 1993) and Sigurd Steinkopf (drums, born 1997). The three musicians first met at the Grieg Academy in Bergen, Norway where they started out as the band for Robb’s Masters project, but such was their rapport that the trio subsequently became a regular working group.

The group’s name comes from the self proclaimed “code” that they employ when making music together, as well as the more obvious geographical reference. Their début album features a mix of composed and improvised material as the trio seek to blur the “Boundaries” between the two.

The album title also takes its inspiration from a quote by the Norwegian trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist Per Jorgensen;
“You can put some boundaries for your common creativity, and then something happens…it’s like putting a wild bird in a cage – you feed it and take care of it in many ways, but it will always look for possible ways to get out, back to freedom, where it was meant to be”.

Robb was first introduced to Marstrander and Steinkopf by Magne Thormodsaeter, one of his mentors at the Grieg Academy. As the bassist’s liner notes explain it was Thormodsaeter who encouraged the trio to improvise freely, first around jazz standards and then around their own compositions, with the setting of ‘musical goals’ becoming an integral part of the process. This method of making music encouraged greater group interaction and proved to be extremely liberating, this being reflected in the freeing up of the roles of the various instruments beyond the usual parameters of the ‘jazz guitar trio’.

Robb is the only one of the three whose playing I have enjoyed previously. He appears on recordings by pianist Alan Benzie, trumpeter Henry Spencer and the duo of Konrad Wiszniewski (saxes) and Euan Stephenson (piano). He has also recorded with saxophonist and composer Andrew Linham’s Jazz Orchestra, appearing on the marvellously titled album “Weapons of Mass Distraction”. As a regular member of saxophonist Renato D’Aiello’s Monday night house band at Ronnie Scott’s he has enjoyed the opportunity of performing with many leading British, American and European jazz musicians. He has also worked with the jazz/folk crossover group Twelfth Day.
Robb is also forging a career as a musical educator and holds teaching posts in Edinburgh and Leeds.

Marstrander leads his own Marstrander Trio and released his début album as a leader, “Old Times, Beautiful Boy”, with this ensemble in September 2019. He is also part of the sextet Molecules, which released its début album on the Ora Fonogram label in 2017. He continues to live in Bergen where he works as a guitarist, composer, producer and recording engineer.

Steinkopf is still a student at the Grieg Academy but is also a busy working musician, touring and performing with a variety of acts across a broad range of musical genres. He performs with the band General Post Office who were the winners of the prestigious “Future of Norwegian Jazz Award” in 2019 and who have appeared at both the Oslo and Edinburgh Jazz Festivals. He is part of the Steinkopf Trio, a siblings band featuring his two sisters. He has also performed with the leading blues artists Mike Zito and Guy Forsyth.

A Northern Code are particularly grateful to the jazz facility at the Grieg Academy where their mentors also included the leading Norwegian jazz musicians, Jorgensen, Thomas Dahl (guitar), Terje Isungset (percussion), Kjetil Moster (saxophone) and Eivind Austad (piano). The “Boundaries” album was recorded at the Academy’s Studio A with Marstrander co-engineering (with Karl Klaseie) and the whole trio acting as producers. The photograph on the album cover was taken by the leading Norwegian bassist and composer Mats Eilertsen.

And so to the music. The album commences with the aptly named “Slow Motion”, a piece credited to the trio as a whole, Shimmering and atmospheric it features the sound of ambient guitar washes, droning arco bass and eerie cymbal scrapes. It’s also spooky, unsettling and inescapably ‘Nordic’, the perfect curtain raiser for the album as a whole.

Robb’s composition “Beslan” maintains the air of chilly beauty as it unfolds slowly and organically over the course of its six minutes. It incorporates a melodic pizzicato bass solo from the composer alongside Marstrander’s delicate, gently rambling guitar tracery and Steinkopf’s finely nuanced drumming as he deploys both brushes and sticks. Robb’s notes talk about the building and release of tension and this can be heard as the music gradually gathers momentum, before eventually subsiding once more.

It’s the sound of Robb’s unaccompanied pizzicato bass that introduces Marstrander’s composition “Bifilomania”. It may be composed but the piece still has a strong improvised or ‘free’ feel about it with Robb eventually picking up the bow once more as the music progresses.  Meanwhile the composer’s guitar soars as Steinkopf’s drums circle busily around him

The next four pieces are all credited to ‘A Northern Code’ and presumably represent group improvisations. The first of these is “Every Cell In Your Body” which marks a return to the spooky atmospherics of the opener with washes of guitar, eerie cello like bowed bass and the consistently engaging rustle of percussion. Again there’s an unsettling quality about the music as it gathers aggression and momentum and the timbres take on a darker hue.

Solo pizzicato bass ushers in “Existential Future” and Robb continues as the dominant figure before seceding to the glacial beauty of Marstrander’s guitar with Steinkopf continuing to provide succinct and pertinent drum commentary. The young drummer plays with taste and great maturity throughout the album, always seeming to find just the right sound at any given moment.
The music segues directly into “Red Street” which initially places the emphasis on the ongoing dialogue between Marstrander and Steinkopf with Robb fulfilling an anchoring role. Subsequently the bassist comes to the fore again, his powerful pizzicato leading the three way discourse, before handing over once more to Marstrander’s spiralling guitar peregrinations.

Steinkopf’s drums introduce “Meditative”, in which the atmospheric, and indeed meditative, musings of guitar and cello-like arco bass are punctuated by atmospheric drum bursts. Steinkopf’s drums subsequently assume the lead, in a virtuoso demonstration of the trio’s propensity for subverting the traditional roles of the instruments. It should however be emphasised that this is far removed from the typical ‘drum feature’.

The trio’s origins in improvising around jazz standards are represented by their interpretation of the Frank Churchill composition “Someday My Prince Will Come”. The piece evolves slowly and gradually over the course of its six minute duration, commencing with a gentle, conversational dialogue between Marstrander on guitar and Robb on double bass. Steinkopf eventually joins the party as the trio improvise freely around the tune, alluding to the melody rather than playing it openly. Once he’s on board Steinkopf’s drums play a prominent role, this trio is indeed a genuine meeting of equals.

The album concludes with the group improvisation “Soundscape”, which almost sounds like a continuation of the opening “Slow Motion”. Chiming guitars, grainy arco bass, mallet rumbles and cymbal scrapes and splashes combine to create an atmosphere that is simultaneously chillingly beautiful and dark, sinister and unsettling -  particularly when the music becomes increasingly aggressive and clangorous towards the close. A spirit of ‘Scandi-noir’ definitely pervades this item, as it does with much of A Northern Code’s music.

I’m indebted to Andrew Robb for forwarding me a review copy of this album. I’m very glad that he did, because I greatly enjoyed it. A Northern Code is a well balanced trio that has established a sound that is very much its own, but still utterly in keeping with the Nordic jazz tradition. The trio is truly a meeting of equals with no one member overly dominant. Their improvisations are tightly focussed with the emphasis on creating a musical atmosphere rather than demonstrating individual virtuosity. That said the playing is excellent throughout, with Steinkopf in particular impressing with his maturity, a more than capable musical descendant of the great Jon Christensen.

With its dearth of conventional jazz swing and with Marstrander favouring a sustain heavy ‘ambient’ guitar sound “Boundaries” won’t appeal to all ears. However fans of contemporary European jazz, and of the ‘Nordic’ sound in particular, will find much to enjoy here and as such this recording can be recommended to a substantial body of listeners. Curious rock listeners may find this album of interest too.

I’d welcome the opportunity of seeing this trio performing live and it has recently played a small number of shows in Scotland. Hopefully there will be more UK gigs in 2020. Confusingly the trio also seem to operate under the name AMS, a conflation of the initials of their first names, so be aware of that.

Boundaries

A Northern Code

Friday, December 20, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

4 out of 5

Boundaries

A well balanced trio that has established a sound that is very much its own, but still utterly in keeping with the Nordic jazz tradition.

A Northern Code

“Boundaries”

(Ora Fonogram, OF150)

Mathias Marstrander – electric guitar, Andrew Robb – double bass, Sigurd Steinkopf – drums


The trio A Northern Code is an international collaboration between two young musicians from Norway and one from Scotland.

Scottish bassist and composer Andrew Robb (born 1990) is joined by the Norwegians Mathias Marstrander (guitar, born 1993) and Sigurd Steinkopf (drums, born 1997). The three musicians first met at the Grieg Academy in Bergen, Norway where they started out as the band for Robb’s Masters project, but such was their rapport that the trio subsequently became a regular working group.

The group’s name comes from the self proclaimed “code” that they employ when making music together, as well as the more obvious geographical reference. Their début album features a mix of composed and improvised material as the trio seek to blur the “Boundaries” between the two.

The album title also takes its inspiration from a quote by the Norwegian trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist Per Jorgensen;
“You can put some boundaries for your common creativity, and then something happens…it’s like putting a wild bird in a cage – you feed it and take care of it in many ways, but it will always look for possible ways to get out, back to freedom, where it was meant to be”.

Robb was first introduced to Marstrander and Steinkopf by Magne Thormodsaeter, one of his mentors at the Grieg Academy. As the bassist’s liner notes explain it was Thormodsaeter who encouraged the trio to improvise freely, first around jazz standards and then around their own compositions, with the setting of ‘musical goals’ becoming an integral part of the process. This method of making music encouraged greater group interaction and proved to be extremely liberating, this being reflected in the freeing up of the roles of the various instruments beyond the usual parameters of the ‘jazz guitar trio’.

Robb is the only one of the three whose playing I have enjoyed previously. He appears on recordings by pianist Alan Benzie, trumpeter Henry Spencer and the duo of Konrad Wiszniewski (saxes) and Euan Stephenson (piano). He has also recorded with saxophonist and composer Andrew Linham’s Jazz Orchestra, appearing on the marvellously titled album “Weapons of Mass Distraction”. As a regular member of saxophonist Renato D’Aiello’s Monday night house band at Ronnie Scott’s he has enjoyed the opportunity of performing with many leading British, American and European jazz musicians. He has also worked with the jazz/folk crossover group Twelfth Day.
Robb is also forging a career as a musical educator and holds teaching posts in Edinburgh and Leeds.

Marstrander leads his own Marstrander Trio and released his début album as a leader, “Old Times, Beautiful Boy”, with this ensemble in September 2019. He is also part of the sextet Molecules, which released its début album on the Ora Fonogram label in 2017. He continues to live in Bergen where he works as a guitarist, composer, producer and recording engineer.

Steinkopf is still a student at the Grieg Academy but is also a busy working musician, touring and performing with a variety of acts across a broad range of musical genres. He performs with the band General Post Office who were the winners of the prestigious “Future of Norwegian Jazz Award” in 2019 and who have appeared at both the Oslo and Edinburgh Jazz Festivals. He is part of the Steinkopf Trio, a siblings band featuring his two sisters. He has also performed with the leading blues artists Mike Zito and Guy Forsyth.

A Northern Code are particularly grateful to the jazz facility at the Grieg Academy where their mentors also included the leading Norwegian jazz musicians, Jorgensen, Thomas Dahl (guitar), Terje Isungset (percussion), Kjetil Moster (saxophone) and Eivind Austad (piano). The “Boundaries” album was recorded at the Academy’s Studio A with Marstrander co-engineering (with Karl Klaseie) and the whole trio acting as producers. The photograph on the album cover was taken by the leading Norwegian bassist and composer Mats Eilertsen.

And so to the music. The album commences with the aptly named “Slow Motion”, a piece credited to the trio as a whole, Shimmering and atmospheric it features the sound of ambient guitar washes, droning arco bass and eerie cymbal scrapes. It’s also spooky, unsettling and inescapably ‘Nordic’, the perfect curtain raiser for the album as a whole.

Robb’s composition “Beslan” maintains the air of chilly beauty as it unfolds slowly and organically over the course of its six minutes. It incorporates a melodic pizzicato bass solo from the composer alongside Marstrander’s delicate, gently rambling guitar tracery and Steinkopf’s finely nuanced drumming as he deploys both brushes and sticks. Robb’s notes talk about the building and release of tension and this can be heard as the music gradually gathers momentum, before eventually subsiding once more.

It’s the sound of Robb’s unaccompanied pizzicato bass that introduces Marstrander’s composition “Bifilomania”. It may be composed but the piece still has a strong improvised or ‘free’ feel about it with Robb eventually picking up the bow once more as the music progresses.  Meanwhile the composer’s guitar soars as Steinkopf’s drums circle busily around him

The next four pieces are all credited to ‘A Northern Code’ and presumably represent group improvisations. The first of these is “Every Cell In Your Body” which marks a return to the spooky atmospherics of the opener with washes of guitar, eerie cello like bowed bass and the consistently engaging rustle of percussion. Again there’s an unsettling quality about the music as it gathers aggression and momentum and the timbres take on a darker hue.

Solo pizzicato bass ushers in “Existential Future” and Robb continues as the dominant figure before seceding to the glacial beauty of Marstrander’s guitar with Steinkopf continuing to provide succinct and pertinent drum commentary. The young drummer plays with taste and great maturity throughout the album, always seeming to find just the right sound at any given moment.
The music segues directly into “Red Street” which initially places the emphasis on the ongoing dialogue between Marstrander and Steinkopf with Robb fulfilling an anchoring role. Subsequently the bassist comes to the fore again, his powerful pizzicato leading the three way discourse, before handing over once more to Marstrander’s spiralling guitar peregrinations.

Steinkopf’s drums introduce “Meditative”, in which the atmospheric, and indeed meditative, musings of guitar and cello-like arco bass are punctuated by atmospheric drum bursts. Steinkopf’s drums subsequently assume the lead, in a virtuoso demonstration of the trio’s propensity for subverting the traditional roles of the instruments. It should however be emphasised that this is far removed from the typical ‘drum feature’.

The trio’s origins in improvising around jazz standards are represented by their interpretation of the Frank Churchill composition “Someday My Prince Will Come”. The piece evolves slowly and gradually over the course of its six minute duration, commencing with a gentle, conversational dialogue between Marstrander on guitar and Robb on double bass. Steinkopf eventually joins the party as the trio improvise freely around the tune, alluding to the melody rather than playing it openly. Once he’s on board Steinkopf’s drums play a prominent role, this trio is indeed a genuine meeting of equals.

The album concludes with the group improvisation “Soundscape”, which almost sounds like a continuation of the opening “Slow Motion”. Chiming guitars, grainy arco bass, mallet rumbles and cymbal scrapes and splashes combine to create an atmosphere that is simultaneously chillingly beautiful and dark, sinister and unsettling -  particularly when the music becomes increasingly aggressive and clangorous towards the close. A spirit of ‘Scandi-noir’ definitely pervades this item, as it does with much of A Northern Code’s music.

I’m indebted to Andrew Robb for forwarding me a review copy of this album. I’m very glad that he did, because I greatly enjoyed it. A Northern Code is a well balanced trio that has established a sound that is very much its own, but still utterly in keeping with the Nordic jazz tradition. The trio is truly a meeting of equals with no one member overly dominant. Their improvisations are tightly focussed with the emphasis on creating a musical atmosphere rather than demonstrating individual virtuosity. That said the playing is excellent throughout, with Steinkopf in particular impressing with his maturity, a more than capable musical descendant of the great Jon Christensen.

With its dearth of conventional jazz swing and with Marstrander favouring a sustain heavy ‘ambient’ guitar sound “Boundaries” won’t appeal to all ears. However fans of contemporary European jazz, and of the ‘Nordic’ sound in particular, will find much to enjoy here and as such this recording can be recommended to a substantial body of listeners. Curious rock listeners may find this album of interest too.

I’d welcome the opportunity of seeing this trio performing live and it has recently played a small number of shows in Scotland. Hopefully there will be more UK gigs in 2020. Confusingly the trio also seem to operate under the name AMS, a conflation of the initials of their first names, so be aware of that.

Annette Gregory - Annette Gregory Quintet, “Christmas Special”,  Town Hall, Kidderminster, Worcs. 05/12/2019 Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Excellent singing and playing and an adventurous set of arrangements, including some intriguing and unexpected selections. Even the Christmas songs sounded good!

Annette Gregory Quintet, “Christmas Special”, Kidderminster Jazz Club, Town Hall, Kidderminster, Worcs. 05/12/2019

Annette Gregory – vocals, John McDonald – piano, Mark Larson – tenor sax, John McKinley- guitar, Dan Wilby – drums


Kidderminster Jazz Club was launched in October 2019 with the inaugural performance by pianist/vocalist Wendy Kirkland and her quintet attracting a pleasingly large and appreciative audience. My account of this event, which also takes a look at Kirkland’s latest album “The Music’s On Me”, can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/wendy-kirkland-quintet-kidderminster-jazz-club-kidderminster-town-hall-kidd/

The Kirkland represented a triumph for Kidderminster Jazz Club founder Annette Gregory, who established the organisation following her move to the area. Annette’s new venture has been generously supported by the local District Council and a full programme of events will be presented, usually on the first Thursday of the month, between October 2019 and June 2020. Future guests will include such well known names as saxophonist Alan Barnes and vocalist Tina May, The full programme for the coming months can be found at http://www.kidderminsterjazzclub.co.uk

November’s event featured the popular Cotswold based gypsy jazz combo Swing From Paris. I didn’t cover this as it was on the eve of my annual visit to London Jazz Festival, plus the fact that severe flooding affected parts of the Midlands on that particular Thursday night and actually getting to the venue may have proved difficult anyway. Nevertheless the band battled their way through the waters, as did forty or so audience members and another successful evening for Kidderminster Jazz Club was the result.

For the December event singer Gregory elected to perform herself. A popular presence on the Midlands jazz scene Gregory has recorded a number of EPs and has toured regularly, often presenting themed shows such as “Sings Cool Jazz”, “Celebrating Ella Fitzgerald” and “The Ladies of Jazz”.

Tonight’s performance proved to be a bit of a taster for the “Jazz and Me” show that Gregory will be touring in 2020, a production that will see her presenting songs that hold a particular personal significance for her in addition to favourite songs sourced from various stages of her professional career. Tonight’s event also included a couple of Christmas songs, naturally, plus two songs from the pen of George Gershwin, whose music represents a recurring theme throughout this initial Kidderminster Jazz Club series. All the acts will be expected to include a couple of Gershwin tunes in their sets.

The band that Gregory had assembled for tonight’s performance in the Corn Exchange Room at Kidderminster Town Hall was comprised of some of the Midlands’ leading jazz musicians and included her pianist and musical director John McDonald plus Mark Larson (tenor sax), John McKinley (guitar) and Dan Wilby (drums).

There was an authentically Festive atmosphere about the event with Gregory generously providing free mince pies and chocolates for each table plus the gift of a Kidderminster Jazz Club tote bag for each audience member. Thank you very much Annette, greatly appreciated.

The performance commenced with the quartet of Gregory, McDonald, McKinley and Wilby and “Poor Little Rich Girl”, a song sourced from Gregory’s EP “Intimate Affair Volume 1”. Gregory’s version of the song was inspired by the recording by the American vocalist Chris Connor, an artist that Gregory cites as a particularly significant influence.

From the same EP “Close Enough For Love” brought Larson to the stage to share the instrumental solos with McKinley. Larson proved to be an excellent tenor sax soloist with a warm tone that variously reminded me of Lester Young, Ben Webster and Stan Getz. Closer to home I was also reminded of the sound of Shrewsbury based Roy Johnson, another highly accomplished tenor player the mainstream tradition.

“Never Will I Marry” came from Gregory’s “Ladies of Jazz” EP and again featured Larson’s tenor alongside the fluent guitar of the versatile McKinley. An adventurous arrangement, presumably by McDonald, featured his own piano soloing and a flexible vocal from Gregory.

Pianists at Kidderminster Jazz Club are fortunate to have the use of the Town Hall’s Steinway Grand and McDonald deployed the instrument to great effect on the solo piano introduction to a slowed down arrangement of “When I Fall in Love”. His thoughtful and lyrical playing was complemented by Gregory’s elegant vocals and Wilby’s delicately brushed drums. The young drummer is currently a student on the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire and looks to have a bright future ahead of him.

Gregory’s version of “All The Things You Are” originally appeared in her Ella show and her version of the tune featured her adventurous vocalising alongside instrumental solos from Larson on tenor and McKinley on guitar, plus a series of lively drum breaks from Wilby as he traded fours with the other instrumentalists.

The first of the Christmas songs was “Let It Snow”, which saw Gregory’s vivacious vocals complemented by instrumental solos from Larson and McKinley.

A change in mood came with “In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning”, a song suggested by McDonald. This was piece that allowed both the vocalist and the instrumentalists to demonstrate their skills as interpreters of ballads. Gregory’s wistful vocal was augmented by McDonald’s piano lyricism, Larson’s lush, warm tenor tone and Wilby’s delicate brush work.

A bossa style arrangement of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” raised the energy levels once more with instrumental solos from Larson and McDonald.

The last song of an enjoyable first set was the promised Gershwin number, chosen in this case by Larson. The saxophonist’s choice was the rarely heard “Soon”, which was delivered in a freshly swinging arrangement that included solos from Larson on tenor and McKinley on guitar, plus a series of exchanges between Wilby and McDonald.

Set two began with something of a musical surprise, a version of the song “Street Life”, a hit for the Crusaders and vocalist Randy Crawford. As Gregory explained it’s a much loved song from her childhood, and one that she plans to include on her “Jazz and Me” tour in 2020. The tune also afforded Larson the chance to stretch out on tenor.

A lightly swinging arrangement of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” took us back into something closer to “Songbook” territory, and represented a reminder of Gregory’s admiration for Frank Sinatra and another soloing opportunity for Larson.

The second Gershwin tune of the evening was “How Long Has This Been Going On”, a selection by guitarist John McKinley. Despite a false start this was delightfully languid version of the song, featuring instrumental solos from McKinley and Larson.

This set’s Christmas song was “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” with Gregory’s version inspired by the recording by Judy Garland.

McDonald was at the helm for the Sergio Mendes song “So Many Stars”, his quirky piano solo filled with quotes ranging from Miles Davis to James Bond!

The genius of Duke Ellington was represented by “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me” with McKinley the featured soloist.

McDonald brought a piece called “Photograph” to the group,the unfamiliar coming from an English translation of a song by Antonio Calros Jobim.

An enjoyable ‘Christmas Special’ ended on a non-festive note with a version of “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” in an arrangement inspired by Frank Sinatra. Solos here came from McKinley on guitar, Larson on tenor and McDonald at the piano.

Tonight’s performance was presented by Gregory with warmth, wit and a disarming frankness. Her singing was variously emotive and flexible in an adventurous set of arrangements, including some intriguing and unexpected selections. Even the Christmas songs sounded good!

The musicians were all excellent, combining well with the singer as well as delivering some excellent instrumental solos. I was familiar with McDonald from previous Annette Gregory shows but both Larson and McKinley were new to me and I was very impressed with both. Young drummer Wilby had less chance to shine but his time keeping was immaculate and his accompaniment skilled and tasteful. With McDonald and McKinley both undertaking rhythmic duties the absence of Gregory’s regular bassist Matheus Prado was less keenly felt than it might have been.

Thanks to Annette for announcing my recent Parliamentary Jazz Award win and for providing me with copies of the recent “Ladies of Jazz” and “Intimate Affair EPs, which both represent highly enjoyable listening.

Kidderminster Jazz Club will return at the Town Hall in the New Year with a schedule as follows;

2020

6th February – Matheus Prado Mato Septet

5th March – Sue Richardson

2nd April – Wyre Forest Big Band

7th May – Alan Barnes

4th June – Tina May

 

Annette Gregory Quintet, “Christmas Special”,  Town Hall, Kidderminster, Worcs. 05/12/2019

Annette Gregory

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Annette Gregory Quintet, “Christmas Special”,  Town Hall, Kidderminster, Worcs. 05/12/2019
Photography: Photograph of Annette Gregory sourced from the Kidderminster Jazz Club website; http://www.kidderminsterjazzclub.co.uk

Excellent singing and playing and an adventurous set of arrangements, including some intriguing and unexpected selections. Even the Christmas songs sounded good!

Annette Gregory Quintet, “Christmas Special”, Kidderminster Jazz Club, Town Hall, Kidderminster, Worcs. 05/12/2019

Annette Gregory – vocals, John McDonald – piano, Mark Larson – tenor sax, John McKinley- guitar, Dan Wilby – drums


Kidderminster Jazz Club was launched in October 2019 with the inaugural performance by pianist/vocalist Wendy Kirkland and her quintet attracting a pleasingly large and appreciative audience. My account of this event, which also takes a look at Kirkland’s latest album “The Music’s On Me”, can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/wendy-kirkland-quintet-kidderminster-jazz-club-kidderminster-town-hall-kidd/

The Kirkland represented a triumph for Kidderminster Jazz Club founder Annette Gregory, who established the organisation following her move to the area. Annette’s new venture has been generously supported by the local District Council and a full programme of events will be presented, usually on the first Thursday of the month, between October 2019 and June 2020. Future guests will include such well known names as saxophonist Alan Barnes and vocalist Tina May, The full programme for the coming months can be found at http://www.kidderminsterjazzclub.co.uk

November’s event featured the popular Cotswold based gypsy jazz combo Swing From Paris. I didn’t cover this as it was on the eve of my annual visit to London Jazz Festival, plus the fact that severe flooding affected parts of the Midlands on that particular Thursday night and actually getting to the venue may have proved difficult anyway. Nevertheless the band battled their way through the waters, as did forty or so audience members and another successful evening for Kidderminster Jazz Club was the result.

For the December event singer Gregory elected to perform herself. A popular presence on the Midlands jazz scene Gregory has recorded a number of EPs and has toured regularly, often presenting themed shows such as “Sings Cool Jazz”, “Celebrating Ella Fitzgerald” and “The Ladies of Jazz”.

Tonight’s performance proved to be a bit of a taster for the “Jazz and Me” show that Gregory will be touring in 2020, a production that will see her presenting songs that hold a particular personal significance for her in addition to favourite songs sourced from various stages of her professional career. Tonight’s event also included a couple of Christmas songs, naturally, plus two songs from the pen of George Gershwin, whose music represents a recurring theme throughout this initial Kidderminster Jazz Club series. All the acts will be expected to include a couple of Gershwin tunes in their sets.

The band that Gregory had assembled for tonight’s performance in the Corn Exchange Room at Kidderminster Town Hall was comprised of some of the Midlands’ leading jazz musicians and included her pianist and musical director John McDonald plus Mark Larson (tenor sax), John McKinley (guitar) and Dan Wilby (drums).

There was an authentically Festive atmosphere about the event with Gregory generously providing free mince pies and chocolates for each table plus the gift of a Kidderminster Jazz Club tote bag for each audience member. Thank you very much Annette, greatly appreciated.

The performance commenced with the quartet of Gregory, McDonald, McKinley and Wilby and “Poor Little Rich Girl”, a song sourced from Gregory’s EP “Intimate Affair Volume 1”. Gregory’s version of the song was inspired by the recording by the American vocalist Chris Connor, an artist that Gregory cites as a particularly significant influence.

From the same EP “Close Enough For Love” brought Larson to the stage to share the instrumental solos with McKinley. Larson proved to be an excellent tenor sax soloist with a warm tone that variously reminded me of Lester Young, Ben Webster and Stan Getz. Closer to home I was also reminded of the sound of Shrewsbury based Roy Johnson, another highly accomplished tenor player the mainstream tradition.

“Never Will I Marry” came from Gregory’s “Ladies of Jazz” EP and again featured Larson’s tenor alongside the fluent guitar of the versatile McKinley. An adventurous arrangement, presumably by McDonald, featured his own piano soloing and a flexible vocal from Gregory.

Pianists at Kidderminster Jazz Club are fortunate to have the use of the Town Hall’s Steinway Grand and McDonald deployed the instrument to great effect on the solo piano introduction to a slowed down arrangement of “When I Fall in Love”. His thoughtful and lyrical playing was complemented by Gregory’s elegant vocals and Wilby’s delicately brushed drums. The young drummer is currently a student on the Jazz Course at Birmingham Conservatoire and looks to have a bright future ahead of him.

Gregory’s version of “All The Things You Are” originally appeared in her Ella show and her version of the tune featured her adventurous vocalising alongside instrumental solos from Larson on tenor and McKinley on guitar, plus a series of lively drum breaks from Wilby as he traded fours with the other instrumentalists.

The first of the Christmas songs was “Let It Snow”, which saw Gregory’s vivacious vocals complemented by instrumental solos from Larson and McKinley.

A change in mood came with “In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning”, a song suggested by McDonald. This was piece that allowed both the vocalist and the instrumentalists to demonstrate their skills as interpreters of ballads. Gregory’s wistful vocal was augmented by McDonald’s piano lyricism, Larson’s lush, warm tenor tone and Wilby’s delicate brush work.

A bossa style arrangement of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” raised the energy levels once more with instrumental solos from Larson and McDonald.

The last song of an enjoyable first set was the promised Gershwin number, chosen in this case by Larson. The saxophonist’s choice was the rarely heard “Soon”, which was delivered in a freshly swinging arrangement that included solos from Larson on tenor and McKinley on guitar, plus a series of exchanges between Wilby and McDonald.

Set two began with something of a musical surprise, a version of the song “Street Life”, a hit for the Crusaders and vocalist Randy Crawford. As Gregory explained it’s a much loved song from her childhood, and one that she plans to include on her “Jazz and Me” tour in 2020. The tune also afforded Larson the chance to stretch out on tenor.

A lightly swinging arrangement of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” took us back into something closer to “Songbook” territory, and represented a reminder of Gregory’s admiration for Frank Sinatra and another soloing opportunity for Larson.

The second Gershwin tune of the evening was “How Long Has This Been Going On”, a selection by guitarist John McKinley. Despite a false start this was delightfully languid version of the song, featuring instrumental solos from McKinley and Larson.

This set’s Christmas song was “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” with Gregory’s version inspired by the recording by Judy Garland.

McDonald was at the helm for the Sergio Mendes song “So Many Stars”, his quirky piano solo filled with quotes ranging from Miles Davis to James Bond!

The genius of Duke Ellington was represented by “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me” with McKinley the featured soloist.

McDonald brought a piece called “Photograph” to the group,the unfamiliar coming from an English translation of a song by Antonio Calros Jobim.

An enjoyable ‘Christmas Special’ ended on a non-festive note with a version of “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” in an arrangement inspired by Frank Sinatra. Solos here came from McKinley on guitar, Larson on tenor and McDonald at the piano.

Tonight’s performance was presented by Gregory with warmth, wit and a disarming frankness. Her singing was variously emotive and flexible in an adventurous set of arrangements, including some intriguing and unexpected selections. Even the Christmas songs sounded good!

The musicians were all excellent, combining well with the singer as well as delivering some excellent instrumental solos. I was familiar with McDonald from previous Annette Gregory shows but both Larson and McKinley were new to me and I was very impressed with both. Young drummer Wilby had less chance to shine but his time keeping was immaculate and his accompaniment skilled and tasteful. With McDonald and McKinley both undertaking rhythmic duties the absence of Gregory’s regular bassist Matheus Prado was less keenly felt than it might have been.

Thanks to Annette for announcing my recent Parliamentary Jazz Award win and for providing me with copies of the recent “Ladies of Jazz” and “Intimate Affair EPs, which both represent highly enjoyable listening.

Kidderminster Jazz Club will return at the Town Hall in the New Year with a schedule as follows;

2020

6th February – Matheus Prado Mato Septet

5th March – Sue Richardson

2nd April – Wyre Forest Big Band

7th May – Alan Barnes

4th June – Tina May

 

Lars Danielsson Group - Lars Danielsson Group; Liberetto III, Wigmore Hall, London, 19/11/2019 ( EFG London Jazz Festival). Rating: 4 out of 5 Danielsson has a unique approach to composition and the music sounded marvellous, with each member of this well balanced, tightly knit all star group making a telling contribution.

Lars Danielsson Group, Liberetto III, Wigmore Hall, London, 19/11/2019

(Part of the EFG London Jazz Festival)

Lars Danielsson – double bass, composer Gregory Privat – piano, John Parricelli – guitar, Magnus Ostrom - drums


The Swedish bassist, cellist and composer Lars Danielsson has enjoyed a long fruitful association with the Munich based ACT record label, founded by producer Siggi Loch, releasing his first album for the label as a leader in 2004.

The roots of the Liberetto project lay in the highly creative alliance that he formed with the Polish pianist Leszek Modzder, with whom he collaborated on the duo recording “Pasodoble” (2007). The pianist remained for 2009’s “Tarantella”, a quintet recording made under Danielsson’s leadership that featured a stellar international band that also included Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick, British guitarist John Parricelli and American drummer Eric Harland.

The excellent “Tarantella” can be seen as the forerunner of the “Liberetto” series that Danielsson has since recorded for ACT. With Mozdzer concentrating on a highly successful solo career Danielsson assembled a new international group for the first “Liberetto” recording, released in 2012. Parricelli remained in place with the Armenian born Tigran Hamasyan taking over the piano chair as Arve Henriksen replaced his compatriot Eick on trumpet and former E.S.T. drummer Magnus Ostrom came in behind the kit.

The second “Liberetto” album from 2014 saw the group reduced to a four piece following Henriksen’s departure and the quartet format remained for 2017’s “Liberetto III” but with the French pianist Gregory Privat replacing Hamasyan, the second of Danielsson’s pianists to choose to concentrate on a solo career.

Away from the Liberetto group Danielsson has recorded prolifically for ACT as a collaborator or sideman including recordings with trumpeter Paolo Fresu, trombonist Nils Landgren, drummer Wolfgang Haffner, vocalists Caecilie Norby and Youn Sun Nah and many more.

Prior to his tenure with ACT Danielsson, born in 1958, worked with many leading American and European musicians including saxophonist Dave Liebman, guitarists John Abercrombie and John Scofield, pianist Bobo Stenson, drummers Jon Christensen and Jack DeJohnette among many others.

The Liberetto series of recordings have always placed a strong emphasis on melody while seeking to blend the influences of jazz, classical chamber music and European folk music. Danielsson studied classical cello before turning to jazz and picking up the double bass. It was perhaps as a result of these classical leanings that tonight’s performance, part of the 2019 EFG London Jazz Festival, took place in the refined surroundings of Wigmore Hall, one of London’s leading classical music venues.

The performance began with “Nikita’s Dream”, the freely structured intro featuring the sound of Danielsson’s bowed bass. Ostrom’s brushed drum grooves, Privat’s melodic piano motifs and the glistening textures of Parricelli’s guitar then helped to establish an overall feel of lyricism allied to a sense of Nordic melancholy. Danielsson’s highly developed melodic sensibilities were immediately in evidence on his introductory bass solo, his feature followed by a similarly tasteful guitar solo from Parricelli and a more expansive outing from Privat at the piano.

Dating back to the first “Liberetto” recording “Orange Market” proved to be more sprightly with Privat and Parricelli doubling up on the melody lines prior to Danielsson’s typically tuneful bass solo. As the music gathered momentum Privat’s piano solo became feverishly inventive and it was the Frenchman who proved to be the real discovery of the evening. He was the only member of the quartet that I hadn’t seen or heard before and his playing was a revelation. I’d certainly be interested in investigating his work in other contexts.  Privat leads his own trio and in 2016 released his own album, “Family Tree” on ACT, a recording also featuring the talents of bassist Linley Marthe and drummer Tilo Bertholo. In the meantime “Orange Market” featured further soloing from Danielsson, plus a well received drum feature from Ostrom, who deployed brushes almost throughout the evening.

The next piece was unannounced, beginning in ballad mode with Parricelli’s gentle acoustic guitar introduction, subsequently joined by piano, bass and drums as the piece began to unfold, with the delicate interplay between the instruments consistently absorbing the listener’s attention. Danielsson’s bowed bass solo was both melancholic and beautiful, his tone high pitched (comparatively) and almost cello like.

Dedicated to the Ukrainian city “Lviv” was sourced from the latest album and was clearly a crowd favourite with a smattering of applause breaking out as members of the audience recognised the melody.  Ostrom laid down a busily brushed rhythm that resembled his patented “E.S.T. groove”, this proving to be the perfect jumping off point for Privat’s virtuoso piano pyrotechnics and one of Danielsson’s more muscular pizzicato bass excursions. Ostrom’s final drum flourish then helped to elicit the loudest cheers of the night thus far.

The first set concluded with “Passacaglia”, played here in 4/4 rather than the usual waltz time Privat’s rippling piano arpeggios were accompanied by the keening, eerie textures of Parricelli’s guitar with the Frenchman also featuring as a soloist alongside the leader on dexterously plucked double bass.

I was a little surprised that an interval was called at this venue but maybe it was just as well as the break seemed to galvanise the band and drive them on to even greater heights in the second half. With the exception of Privat everybody had played it relatively cool in the first set but the second half was to feature a greater degree of dynamic contrasts, particularly towards the end of the show when all the musicians seemed to shed their inhibitions.

Set two began began with a new tune titled “Fifth Grade”, introduced by Privat at the keyboard and with Ostrom’s brushed drum grooves fuelling yet another feverish solo from the Martinique born pianist. Also prominent as a soloist was the consistently melodic leader on double bass.

The evening really came alive as an event with Danielsson’s unaccompanied bass extemporisations around the Joni Mitchell song “Both Sides Now”. This was simultaneously technically dazzling and jaw-droppingly beautiful, an irresistible combination that held the Wigmore audience totally spellbound. One could have heard the proverbial pin drop.

Danielsson dedicated the beautiful, and eminently hummable, melody of “Agnus Dei” to the memory of his late mother. Propelled by the gently shuffling grooves of Ostrom’s brushed drums the piece reminded me of Pat Metheny’s “Last Train Home” and incorporated delightfully mellifluous solos from Privat and Danielsson.

Danielsson described the next piece as being “stressful and fast”. I missed the title but from reading other accounts of the show suspect that it may have been called “Up the Tunnel”. In any event it saw the quartet upping both the pace and the energy levels with Ostrom’s increasingly propulsive   drumming leading the way. There were more Metheny-esque elements in Parricelli’s coruscating guitar solo, setting the tone for the leader on bass and Privat with a bravura and highly percussive piano solo.

The intensity was maintained on the final tune of the second set, a piece introduced by the military rhythms of Ostrom’s brushed drums and Privat’s slivers of piano melody. Parricelli’s slow burning solo introduced a subtle and unexpected blues influence before Danielsson’s solo provided the link into a riff based closing section that continued to exhibit a distinct rock feel and attitude. Metaphorically this chamber jazz group had suddenly swapped their matching suits for leather jackets.

This rousing finale had the audience on their feet and an encore was inevitable, with the quartet winding things down again with another gorgeous ballad featuring the melodic and dexterous soloing of Danielsson and Parricelli.

This performance by the Danielsson group has been well received by audience and critics alike. I heard many favourable comments immediately after the show and the online reviews have been universally positive. I was at the very back of the Hall and didn’t have the best view of the players but the music sounded marvellous, with each member of this well balanced, tightly knit all star group making a telling contribution. Danielsson’s best soloing came on “Both Sides Now” but his presence as the composer of virtually all the other material was arguably even more important than his role as a musician. He has a unique approach to composition that has helped to make his music both distinctive and popular, a rare combination. Parricelli grabbed his soloing opportunities with both hands and the effervescent and exuberant Privat impressed throughout, often getting to his feet during his frequently dazzling solos. Also key to the success of the evening was Ostrom, one of the world’s most distinctive drummers, who drove the music with subtlety and inventiveness and an understated power, largely deploying brushes alone, an impressive feat.

Even those who have found Danielsson a little bloodless on record were impressed by this evening’s performance, particularly in the shorter, but less inhibited second set where the matchless beauty of “Both Sides Now” opened the floodgates for a genuinely rousing final section.

Lars Danielsson Group; Liberetto III, Wigmore Hall, London, 19/11/2019 ( EFG London Jazz Festival).

Lars Danielsson Group

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Lars Danielsson Group; Liberetto III, Wigmore Hall, London, 19/11/2019 ( EFG London Jazz Festival).
Photography: Photograph sourced from the EFG London Jazz Festival website; http://www.efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk

Danielsson has a unique approach to composition and the music sounded marvellous, with each member of this well balanced, tightly knit all star group making a telling contribution.

Lars Danielsson Group, Liberetto III, Wigmore Hall, London, 19/11/2019

(Part of the EFG London Jazz Festival)

Lars Danielsson – double bass, composer Gregory Privat – piano, John Parricelli – guitar, Magnus Ostrom - drums


The Swedish bassist, cellist and composer Lars Danielsson has enjoyed a long fruitful association with the Munich based ACT record label, founded by producer Siggi Loch, releasing his first album for the label as a leader in 2004.

The roots of the Liberetto project lay in the highly creative alliance that he formed with the Polish pianist Leszek Modzder, with whom he collaborated on the duo recording “Pasodoble” (2007). The pianist remained for 2009’s “Tarantella”, a quintet recording made under Danielsson’s leadership that featured a stellar international band that also included Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick, British guitarist John Parricelli and American drummer Eric Harland.

The excellent “Tarantella” can be seen as the forerunner of the “Liberetto” series that Danielsson has since recorded for ACT. With Mozdzer concentrating on a highly successful solo career Danielsson assembled a new international group for the first “Liberetto” recording, released in 2012. Parricelli remained in place with the Armenian born Tigran Hamasyan taking over the piano chair as Arve Henriksen replaced his compatriot Eick on trumpet and former E.S.T. drummer Magnus Ostrom came in behind the kit.

The second “Liberetto” album from 2014 saw the group reduced to a four piece following Henriksen’s departure and the quartet format remained for 2017’s “Liberetto III” but with the French pianist Gregory Privat replacing Hamasyan, the second of Danielsson’s pianists to choose to concentrate on a solo career.

Away from the Liberetto group Danielsson has recorded prolifically for ACT as a collaborator or sideman including recordings with trumpeter Paolo Fresu, trombonist Nils Landgren, drummer Wolfgang Haffner, vocalists Caecilie Norby and Youn Sun Nah and many more.

Prior to his tenure with ACT Danielsson, born in 1958, worked with many leading American and European musicians including saxophonist Dave Liebman, guitarists John Abercrombie and John Scofield, pianist Bobo Stenson, drummers Jon Christensen and Jack DeJohnette among many others.

The Liberetto series of recordings have always placed a strong emphasis on melody while seeking to blend the influences of jazz, classical chamber music and European folk music. Danielsson studied classical cello before turning to jazz and picking up the double bass. It was perhaps as a result of these classical leanings that tonight’s performance, part of the 2019 EFG London Jazz Festival, took place in the refined surroundings of Wigmore Hall, one of London’s leading classical music venues.

The performance began with “Nikita’s Dream”, the freely structured intro featuring the sound of Danielsson’s bowed bass. Ostrom’s brushed drum grooves, Privat’s melodic piano motifs and the glistening textures of Parricelli’s guitar then helped to establish an overall feel of lyricism allied to a sense of Nordic melancholy. Danielsson’s highly developed melodic sensibilities were immediately in evidence on his introductory bass solo, his feature followed by a similarly tasteful guitar solo from Parricelli and a more expansive outing from Privat at the piano.

Dating back to the first “Liberetto” recording “Orange Market” proved to be more sprightly with Privat and Parricelli doubling up on the melody lines prior to Danielsson’s typically tuneful bass solo. As the music gathered momentum Privat’s piano solo became feverishly inventive and it was the Frenchman who proved to be the real discovery of the evening. He was the only member of the quartet that I hadn’t seen or heard before and his playing was a revelation. I’d certainly be interested in investigating his work in other contexts.  Privat leads his own trio and in 2016 released his own album, “Family Tree” on ACT, a recording also featuring the talents of bassist Linley Marthe and drummer Tilo Bertholo. In the meantime “Orange Market” featured further soloing from Danielsson, plus a well received drum feature from Ostrom, who deployed brushes almost throughout the evening.

The next piece was unannounced, beginning in ballad mode with Parricelli’s gentle acoustic guitar introduction, subsequently joined by piano, bass and drums as the piece began to unfold, with the delicate interplay between the instruments consistently absorbing the listener’s attention. Danielsson’s bowed bass solo was both melancholic and beautiful, his tone high pitched (comparatively) and almost cello like.

Dedicated to the Ukrainian city “Lviv” was sourced from the latest album and was clearly a crowd favourite with a smattering of applause breaking out as members of the audience recognised the melody.  Ostrom laid down a busily brushed rhythm that resembled his patented “E.S.T. groove”, this proving to be the perfect jumping off point for Privat’s virtuoso piano pyrotechnics and one of Danielsson’s more muscular pizzicato bass excursions. Ostrom’s final drum flourish then helped to elicit the loudest cheers of the night thus far.

The first set concluded with “Passacaglia”, played here in 4/4 rather than the usual waltz time Privat’s rippling piano arpeggios were accompanied by the keening, eerie textures of Parricelli’s guitar with the Frenchman also featuring as a soloist alongside the leader on dexterously plucked double bass.

I was a little surprised that an interval was called at this venue but maybe it was just as well as the break seemed to galvanise the band and drive them on to even greater heights in the second half. With the exception of Privat everybody had played it relatively cool in the first set but the second half was to feature a greater degree of dynamic contrasts, particularly towards the end of the show when all the musicians seemed to shed their inhibitions.

Set two began began with a new tune titled “Fifth Grade”, introduced by Privat at the keyboard and with Ostrom’s brushed drum grooves fuelling yet another feverish solo from the Martinique born pianist. Also prominent as a soloist was the consistently melodic leader on double bass.

The evening really came alive as an event with Danielsson’s unaccompanied bass extemporisations around the Joni Mitchell song “Both Sides Now”. This was simultaneously technically dazzling and jaw-droppingly beautiful, an irresistible combination that held the Wigmore audience totally spellbound. One could have heard the proverbial pin drop.

Danielsson dedicated the beautiful, and eminently hummable, melody of “Agnus Dei” to the memory of his late mother. Propelled by the gently shuffling grooves of Ostrom’s brushed drums the piece reminded me of Pat Metheny’s “Last Train Home” and incorporated delightfully mellifluous solos from Privat and Danielsson.

Danielsson described the next piece as being “stressful and fast”. I missed the title but from reading other accounts of the show suspect that it may have been called “Up the Tunnel”. In any event it saw the quartet upping both the pace and the energy levels with Ostrom’s increasingly propulsive   drumming leading the way. There were more Metheny-esque elements in Parricelli’s coruscating guitar solo, setting the tone for the leader on bass and Privat with a bravura and highly percussive piano solo.

The intensity was maintained on the final tune of the second set, a piece introduced by the military rhythms of Ostrom’s brushed drums and Privat’s slivers of piano melody. Parricelli’s slow burning solo introduced a subtle and unexpected blues influence before Danielsson’s solo provided the link into a riff based closing section that continued to exhibit a distinct rock feel and attitude. Metaphorically this chamber jazz group had suddenly swapped their matching suits for leather jackets.

This rousing finale had the audience on their feet and an encore was inevitable, with the quartet winding things down again with another gorgeous ballad featuring the melodic and dexterous soloing of Danielsson and Parricelli.

This performance by the Danielsson group has been well received by audience and critics alike. I heard many favourable comments immediately after the show and the online reviews have been universally positive. I was at the very back of the Hall and didn’t have the best view of the players but the music sounded marvellous, with each member of this well balanced, tightly knit all star group making a telling contribution. Danielsson’s best soloing came on “Both Sides Now” but his presence as the composer of virtually all the other material was arguably even more important than his role as a musician. He has a unique approach to composition that has helped to make his music both distinctive and popular, a rare combination. Parricelli grabbed his soloing opportunities with both hands and the effervescent and exuberant Privat impressed throughout, often getting to his feet during his frequently dazzling solos. Also key to the success of the evening was Ostrom, one of the world’s most distinctive drummers, who drove the music with subtlety and inventiveness and an understated power, largely deploying brushes alone, an impressive feat.

Even those who have found Danielsson a little bloodless on record were impressed by this evening’s performance, particularly in the shorter, but less inhibited second set where the matchless beauty of “Both Sides Now” opened the floodgates for a genuinely rousing final section.

Tommaso Starace Quartet - Tommaso Starace Quartet plays Cannonball Adderley, Black Mountain Jazz, Abergavenny, 24/11/2019. Rating: 5 out of 5 "An evening of compelling, passionate and exciting jazz. It’s 5 stars from me". Guest contributor Debs Hancock enjoys this tribute to Cannonball Adderley from saxophonist Tommaso Starace and his band.

Tommaso Starace Quartet play Cannonball Adderley, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 24/11/2019.


Well, the great Mann himself doesn’t give 5 stars for a performance (from my observations)
HOWEVER… he is not here and has asked me to write about tonight’s entertainment with Tommaso Starace and his Quartet and I conclude, “It’s 5 stars from me”.

Comments from the audience were very complimentary “It was like a great night in a NEW York Jazz Club” declared more than one of the regular and discerning audience after Sunday’s performance. “I closed my eyes and I could be in any major jazz club in the world, marvellous!”

Certainly it was anything but a New York evening outside on a rather wet and windy November Sunday night in Abergavenny! But inside The Melville Centre it was a very different story.

Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley was an American jazz alto saxophonist of the hard bop era of the 1950s and1960s and notably performed with some of the most iconic jazz musicians of the day, appearing on some of the most iconic jazz albums to this day.

“He was simply the best” opined Tommaso, “A disciple of Charlie Parker, yet he continued pushing and inventing new music and exciting compositions full of fresh ideas.” A lesser known character perhaps in the company of giants, but the analysis of Cannonball’s discography is extraordinary.

Tommaso’s passion for his subject was pleasingly shared with his audience, both in his story telling and his musical connections, and,  together with his stellar band,  he provided an evening of compelling, passionate and exciting jazz.

Born in Milan, Tommaso Starace came to Britain in 1995, graduating with a First in Music at the Birmingham Conservatoire and then with a post grad degree in Jazz Studies at the Guildhall in London. He runs British and Italian bands and has recorded several much-lauded albums. He’s also appeared with leading musicians such as Kenny Wheeler, Stan Sulzmann, Billy Cobham, Dave Liebman and Jim Mullen.

London based Tommaso played alto and soprano saxes at The Melville Centre in Abergavenny, with his Quartet, comprised of a stellar trio including renowned pianist David Newton, bassist Al Swainger and, fellow Italian, drummer Paolo Adamo. They had been on a mini tour of the area performing in Bristol the previous evening.

Paolo Adamo had previously visited Black Mountain Jazz Club notably with The Ben Thomas Trumpet Quartet, but it was a first visit to BMJ for both Dave Newton and Al Swainger, and hopefully not to be the last.

Commencing with a lively rendition of “Del Sasser”, followed by “Scotch and Water” and “Waltz for Debby” Tommaso took us on a journey through two sets of Cannonball Adderley’s musical collaborations including Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Stan Getz, Miles Davies to name a few.

In the second set “Once I Loved”, “Grand Central”, “Janine” and “Worksong” shone like musical diamonds with solos providing depth, exploring the nature of each tune, expertly crafted by Tommaso Starace, Dave Newton, Al Swainger and Paolo Adamo.

It always interests me when I meet musicians, as to how small a world is the jazz world, where musical connections are very present and often right in the room. On this occasion, it appeared very apt that pianist Dave Newton had performed live with Cannonball Adderley’s trumpeter brother Nat in the past. A lovely link connecting our small jazz club to this iconic musician.

Sunday’s BMJ Club night, was the final club night of Black Mountain Jazz Club 2019. The club ended the year with an almost full house, having had an excellent evening.
GREAT news for this small but growing club in Wales. http://www.blackmountainjazz.co.uk

DEBS HANCOCK, BLACK MOUNTAIN JAZZ

Tommaso Starace Quartet plays Cannonball Adderley, Black Mountain Jazz, Abergavenny, 24/11/2019.

Tommaso Starace Quartet

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

5 out of 5

Tommaso Starace Quartet plays Cannonball Adderley, Black Mountain Jazz, Abergavenny, 24/11/2019.
Photography: Photograph of Tommaso Starace and Paolo Adamo courtesy of Debs Hancock.

"An evening of compelling, passionate and exciting jazz. It’s 5 stars from me". Guest contributor Debs Hancock enjoys this tribute to Cannonball Adderley from saxophonist Tommaso Starace and his band.

Tommaso Starace Quartet play Cannonball Adderley, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 24/11/2019.


Well, the great Mann himself doesn’t give 5 stars for a performance (from my observations)
HOWEVER… he is not here and has asked me to write about tonight’s entertainment with Tommaso Starace and his Quartet and I conclude, “It’s 5 stars from me”.

Comments from the audience were very complimentary “It was like a great night in a NEW York Jazz Club” declared more than one of the regular and discerning audience after Sunday’s performance. “I closed my eyes and I could be in any major jazz club in the world, marvellous!”

Certainly it was anything but a New York evening outside on a rather wet and windy November Sunday night in Abergavenny! But inside The Melville Centre it was a very different story.

Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley was an American jazz alto saxophonist of the hard bop era of the 1950s and1960s and notably performed with some of the most iconic jazz musicians of the day, appearing on some of the most iconic jazz albums to this day.

“He was simply the best” opined Tommaso, “A disciple of Charlie Parker, yet he continued pushing and inventing new music and exciting compositions full of fresh ideas.” A lesser known character perhaps in the company of giants, but the analysis of Cannonball’s discography is extraordinary.

Tommaso’s passion for his subject was pleasingly shared with his audience, both in his story telling and his musical connections, and,  together with his stellar band,  he provided an evening of compelling, passionate and exciting jazz.

Born in Milan, Tommaso Starace came to Britain in 1995, graduating with a First in Music at the Birmingham Conservatoire and then with a post grad degree in Jazz Studies at the Guildhall in London. He runs British and Italian bands and has recorded several much-lauded albums. He’s also appeared with leading musicians such as Kenny Wheeler, Stan Sulzmann, Billy Cobham, Dave Liebman and Jim Mullen.

London based Tommaso played alto and soprano saxes at The Melville Centre in Abergavenny, with his Quartet, comprised of a stellar trio including renowned pianist David Newton, bassist Al Swainger and, fellow Italian, drummer Paolo Adamo. They had been on a mini tour of the area performing in Bristol the previous evening.

Paolo Adamo had previously visited Black Mountain Jazz Club notably with The Ben Thomas Trumpet Quartet, but it was a first visit to BMJ for both Dave Newton and Al Swainger, and hopefully not to be the last.

Commencing with a lively rendition of “Del Sasser”, followed by “Scotch and Water” and “Waltz for Debby” Tommaso took us on a journey through two sets of Cannonball Adderley’s musical collaborations including Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Stan Getz, Miles Davies to name a few.

In the second set “Once I Loved”, “Grand Central”, “Janine” and “Worksong” shone like musical diamonds with solos providing depth, exploring the nature of each tune, expertly crafted by Tommaso Starace, Dave Newton, Al Swainger and Paolo Adamo.

It always interests me when I meet musicians, as to how small a world is the jazz world, where musical connections are very present and often right in the room. On this occasion, it appeared very apt that pianist Dave Newton had performed live with Cannonball Adderley’s trumpeter brother Nat in the past. A lovely link connecting our small jazz club to this iconic musician.

Sunday’s BMJ Club night, was the final club night of Black Mountain Jazz Club 2019. The club ended the year with an almost full house, having had an excellent evening.
GREAT news for this small but growing club in Wales. http://www.blackmountainjazz.co.uk

DEBS HANCOCK, BLACK MOUNTAIN JAZZ

The Casimir Connection - Cause and Effect Rating: 4 out of 5 This is ‘chamber jazz’ with feel and spirit, evocative and intelligent music that embraces a broad range of emotions, as well as musical styles.

The Casimir Connection

“Cause and Effect”

(Ciconia Records 1910CD)


Diane McLoughlin – saxophones, piano, compositions, Pawel Grudzien – piano, violin
Kit Massey – violin, Tim Fairhall – double bass


When I first saw the name of this quartet I assumed that it was going to be a group led by the young rising star bassist Daniel Casimir.

On closer inspection I found it to be a new ensemble led by saxophonist, composer and occasional pianist Diane McLoughlin, featuring Kit Massey on violin, Pawel Grudzien on piano and violin and Tim Fairhall on double bass.

McLoughlin has previously featured on the Jazzmann pages as a member of groups led by bassist Alison Rayner and trumpeter Chris Hodgkins. She is a key member of Rayner’s ARQ quintet and has contributed compositions to the band’s repertoire. She has also written for Hodgkins’ groups.

The saxophonist also leads the seventeen piece Giant Steppes Big Band (great name), acting as musician, composer, arranger and bandleader.

McLoughlin explains her choice of name for this new quartet thus;
“The reference is to the Casimir effect, a mysterious force in quantum physics that draws elements together. I see it as a metaphor for the spontaneous energy created by musicians interacting intuitively when playing together.”

She continues;
“Cause and Effect is a journey through the influence of childhood experiences. The music sometimes reflects a mood, sometimes evokes a half forgotten memory, combining the sensibility of classical music with the instinctive spontaneity of jazz improvisation.”

Very much like Rayner McLoughlin’s writing is inspired by personal experiences and in this respect “Cause and Effect” is very much ‘an autobiography in music’. McLoughlin’s liner notes outline the inspirations behind each individual track, and in doing so they reveal much about McLoughlin, the person.

The music can perhaps best be described as ‘ chamber jazz’ and also takes in various folk influences as well as the aforementioned jazz and classical elements. And even though it’s a drummer-less line up there’s still plenty of rhythmic interest and impetus, thanks to the efforts of pianist Grudzien and bassist Fairhall.

Again like Rayner McLoughlin places great emphasis on strong and memorable melodies and there are some excellent tunes here in collection of eleven McLoughlin original compositions. Many of the pieces possess a strong narrative arc and a tangible sense of time and place –  this is music that genuinely deserves the description “cinematic”.


Opener “Eisenstein’s Theory” was inspired by “a childhood memory of watching an old black and white film on television depicting Teutonic knights fighting Russian soldiers on a frozen lake. The image of the white horses and the defeated soldiers falling through the ice was a frightening and haunting image.”
Grudzien’s piano underpins the piece as McLoughlin on soprano sax and Massey on violin variously double up on and exchange melody lines. There’s an air of nostalgic melancholy about the music that finds expression in Massey’s bowing, but as its source of inspiration would suggest there’s nothing bloodless about this brand of chamber jazz, as exemplified by the leader’s expansive excursion on soprano.

“The Nurture of Nature” has more of a pastoral feel with McLoughlin observing;
“In a modern society full of noise and data overload, it’s even more important to have quiet times. Being outdoors surrounded by trees, grass and flowers, listening to birdsong, allows me to re-connect with myself. Nature soothes the soul”.
Almost classical in feel the piece includes some beautiful violin soloing, presumably by Massey, the bowing sometimes evoking the sound of birdsong or the image of a bird in flight. Piano and bass again provide the rhythm and structure around which the violin and saxophone swoop and soar. With the exception of McLoughlin’s reeds it’s difficult to credit individual soloists with both Massey and Grudzien credited with violin and Grudzien and McLoughlin with piano.

“The Secretive Irishman” was written for McLoughlin’s Irish grandfather of whom she says;
“he was a quiet man, but only later did we discover that his silence held many secrets. Family secrets can sometimes be a burden”. Behind these enigmatic remarks is an intriguing composition that embraces different elements of traditional Irish folk music. The first part of the tune has the feel of an air, wistful and nostalgic and distinguished by the gentle keening of McLoughlin’s soprano sax. The tune then gathers pace, evolving into a sprightly jig with racing soprano sax and violin melodies fuelled by propulsive piano and bass lines.

Of the melancholic “Lonely Child” McLoughlin remarks;
“Childhood for many can seem the most difficult times of their lives. Having a parent, or parents, who are suffering, especially from mental illness, can leave a child with confused feelings that are difficult to share, leaving them with a particular kind of loneliness”.
Musically the piece starts with the sound of Fairhall’s unaccompanied double bass, the sparseness and spaciousness of the playing seeming to embody the sense of isolation implicit in the title. Piano eventually enters, followed by sombre, but beautiful, violin, with Massey’s lines echoed and answered by McLoughlin’s soprano. Fairhall’s playing then returns to the fore in a glacial dialogue with the piano, this in turn leading to further saxophonic ruminations from McLoughlin. For all its beauty there’s a lot of pain in this piece.

“Up on the Moors” is a musical depiction of the Yorkshire landscape. McLoughlin and her colleagues conjure images of both beauty and bleakness in an arrangement that also captures the openness of the moorlands and, in the dramatic second half of the piece, its wildness.

As its title suggests “Torch Song” is a tune about unrequited love, but proves to be surprisingly lively, drawing as it does on the influence of Balkan folk music. There’s no piano here so the focus is on the interplay between the various strings, Massey and Grudzien are flamboyant on violins, while Fairhall provides the underlying bass pulse.

That Eastern European influence is also apparent on “Nadya”, which McLoughlin dedicates to the Bulgarian folk singer Nadya Karadjova. McLoughlin’s notes recount how she discovered East European folk music as a child, almost by chance on her transistor radio. “Suddenly the world seemed so much bigger and more exciting than the Yorkshire council estate I grew up in” she recalls. It was only years later that she found out that the singer she had heard was Karadjova.
McLoughlin features on soprano and Grudzien returns to the piano on this wistful sounding tune, the reflective moments punctuated by livelier ‘folk dance’ style episodes. There’s something of a feature for Fairhall on melodic double bass and an extended passage of unaccompanied piano, presumably from Grudzien.

“Lost in Colour” draws its inspiration from the twin sources of the artwork of David Hockney and childhood memory. A colour in a Hockney painting reminded McLoughlin of the “deep purple blue” of the paper bags that were used for currants or sugar during her childhood and of how she used to use them as drawing paper, or to create mosaics. Again the music evokes a nostalgic air as McLoughlin’s gently piping soprano intertwines with Massey’s violin lines. There’s an extended duo passage featuring bass and piano, Fairhall taking the lead at first before a more expansive and lyrical solo from Grudzien.

Of “The Storm Inside” McLoughlin says; “The internal world can often conflict with the external. There’s nothing comparable to feeling rage on a sunny day”. The dichotomy is expressed by a wilful dissonance, the harsh bowing of Massey, the low end rumble of piano and bass and McLoughlin making a rare foray on tenor – much of this album seems to feature her on the lighter, airier soprano.

“A Day in a Polish Village, 1933”  reflects another side of McLoughlin’s heritage with the composer stating; “War not only causes physical damage, but mental damage too, which can last for years, even lifetimes. This composition is a tribute to my mother, who was a casualty of war. I knew little of her early life, but this is imagining of her as a seven year old child in a village in Poland”.
It’s a highly evocative composition that draws on folk and classical influences and features twin violins, with Grudzien, or maybe McLoughlin doubling on piano.

The closing “Contemplation” is a beautiful, lyrical, elegant ballad that wouldn’t sound out of place on an ECM album. This is particularly apt as “Cause and Effect” is immaculately recorded with mix engineer Grudzien, who also acts as McLoughlin’s co-producer, capturing every nuance and subtlety of the music.

The qualities that McLoughlin brings to ARQ are also apparent in this very different, and very personal, record. Her writing is consistently interesting and evocative and embraces a wide range of influences – jazz, folk, classical – that are skilfully woven together to create a very convincing whole.

This may be ‘chamber jazz’ but it’s music that transcends the sometimes pejorative assumptions that are made about the genre. There’s nothing bland or bloodless about this quartet’s music, and at no time did I find myself missing the presence of a drum kit. This is ‘chamber jazz’ with feel and spirit, evocative and intelligent music that embraces a broad range of emotions, as well as musical styles.

“Cause and Effect” is an album that McLoughlin can be justly proud of and it has enjoyed a highly positive critical reception, praise that will hopefully translate itself into sales.

Cause and Effect

The Casimir Connection

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Cause and Effect

This is ‘chamber jazz’ with feel and spirit, evocative and intelligent music that embraces a broad range of emotions, as well as musical styles.

The Casimir Connection

“Cause and Effect”

(Ciconia Records 1910CD)


Diane McLoughlin – saxophones, piano, compositions, Pawel Grudzien – piano, violin
Kit Massey – violin, Tim Fairhall – double bass


When I first saw the name of this quartet I assumed that it was going to be a group led by the young rising star bassist Daniel Casimir.

On closer inspection I found it to be a new ensemble led by saxophonist, composer and occasional pianist Diane McLoughlin, featuring Kit Massey on violin, Pawel Grudzien on piano and violin and Tim Fairhall on double bass.

McLoughlin has previously featured on the Jazzmann pages as a member of groups led by bassist Alison Rayner and trumpeter Chris Hodgkins. She is a key member of Rayner’s ARQ quintet and has contributed compositions to the band’s repertoire. She has also written for Hodgkins’ groups.

The saxophonist also leads the seventeen piece Giant Steppes Big Band (great name), acting as musician, composer, arranger and bandleader.

McLoughlin explains her choice of name for this new quartet thus;
“The reference is to the Casimir effect, a mysterious force in quantum physics that draws elements together. I see it as a metaphor for the spontaneous energy created by musicians interacting intuitively when playing together.”

She continues;
“Cause and Effect is a journey through the influence of childhood experiences. The music sometimes reflects a mood, sometimes evokes a half forgotten memory, combining the sensibility of classical music with the instinctive spontaneity of jazz improvisation.”

Very much like Rayner McLoughlin’s writing is inspired by personal experiences and in this respect “Cause and Effect” is very much ‘an autobiography in music’. McLoughlin’s liner notes outline the inspirations behind each individual track, and in doing so they reveal much about McLoughlin, the person.

The music can perhaps best be described as ‘ chamber jazz’ and also takes in various folk influences as well as the aforementioned jazz and classical elements. And even though it’s a drummer-less line up there’s still plenty of rhythmic interest and impetus, thanks to the efforts of pianist Grudzien and bassist Fairhall.

Again like Rayner McLoughlin places great emphasis on strong and memorable melodies and there are some excellent tunes here in collection of eleven McLoughlin original compositions. Many of the pieces possess a strong narrative arc and a tangible sense of time and place –  this is music that genuinely deserves the description “cinematic”.


Opener “Eisenstein’s Theory” was inspired by “a childhood memory of watching an old black and white film on television depicting Teutonic knights fighting Russian soldiers on a frozen lake. The image of the white horses and the defeated soldiers falling through the ice was a frightening and haunting image.”
Grudzien’s piano underpins the piece as McLoughlin on soprano sax and Massey on violin variously double up on and exchange melody lines. There’s an air of nostalgic melancholy about the music that finds expression in Massey’s bowing, but as its source of inspiration would suggest there’s nothing bloodless about this brand of chamber jazz, as exemplified by the leader’s expansive excursion on soprano.

“The Nurture of Nature” has more of a pastoral feel with McLoughlin observing;
“In a modern society full of noise and data overload, it’s even more important to have quiet times. Being outdoors surrounded by trees, grass and flowers, listening to birdsong, allows me to re-connect with myself. Nature soothes the soul”.
Almost classical in feel the piece includes some beautiful violin soloing, presumably by Massey, the bowing sometimes evoking the sound of birdsong or the image of a bird in flight. Piano and bass again provide the rhythm and structure around which the violin and saxophone swoop and soar. With the exception of McLoughlin’s reeds it’s difficult to credit individual soloists with both Massey and Grudzien credited with violin and Grudzien and McLoughlin with piano.

“The Secretive Irishman” was written for McLoughlin’s Irish grandfather of whom she says;
“he was a quiet man, but only later did we discover that his silence held many secrets. Family secrets can sometimes be a burden”. Behind these enigmatic remarks is an intriguing composition that embraces different elements of traditional Irish folk music. The first part of the tune has the feel of an air, wistful and nostalgic and distinguished by the gentle keening of McLoughlin’s soprano sax. The tune then gathers pace, evolving into a sprightly jig with racing soprano sax and violin melodies fuelled by propulsive piano and bass lines.

Of the melancholic “Lonely Child” McLoughlin remarks;
“Childhood for many can seem the most difficult times of their lives. Having a parent, or parents, who are suffering, especially from mental illness, can leave a child with confused feelings that are difficult to share, leaving them with a particular kind of loneliness”.
Musically the piece starts with the sound of Fairhall’s unaccompanied double bass, the sparseness and spaciousness of the playing seeming to embody the sense of isolation implicit in the title. Piano eventually enters, followed by sombre, but beautiful, violin, with Massey’s lines echoed and answered by McLoughlin’s soprano. Fairhall’s playing then returns to the fore in a glacial dialogue with the piano, this in turn leading to further saxophonic ruminations from McLoughlin. For all its beauty there’s a lot of pain in this piece.

“Up on the Moors” is a musical depiction of the Yorkshire landscape. McLoughlin and her colleagues conjure images of both beauty and bleakness in an arrangement that also captures the openness of the moorlands and, in the dramatic second half of the piece, its wildness.

As its title suggests “Torch Song” is a tune about unrequited love, but proves to be surprisingly lively, drawing as it does on the influence of Balkan folk music. There’s no piano here so the focus is on the interplay between the various strings, Massey and Grudzien are flamboyant on violins, while Fairhall provides the underlying bass pulse.

That Eastern European influence is also apparent on “Nadya”, which McLoughlin dedicates to the Bulgarian folk singer Nadya Karadjova. McLoughlin’s notes recount how she discovered East European folk music as a child, almost by chance on her transistor radio. “Suddenly the world seemed so much bigger and more exciting than the Yorkshire council estate I grew up in” she recalls. It was only years later that she found out that the singer she had heard was Karadjova.
McLoughlin features on soprano and Grudzien returns to the piano on this wistful sounding tune, the reflective moments punctuated by livelier ‘folk dance’ style episodes. There’s something of a feature for Fairhall on melodic double bass and an extended passage of unaccompanied piano, presumably from Grudzien.

“Lost in Colour” draws its inspiration from the twin sources of the artwork of David Hockney and childhood memory. A colour in a Hockney painting reminded McLoughlin of the “deep purple blue” of the paper bags that were used for currants or sugar during her childhood and of how she used to use them as drawing paper, or to create mosaics. Again the music evokes a nostalgic air as McLoughlin’s gently piping soprano intertwines with Massey’s violin lines. There’s an extended duo passage featuring bass and piano, Fairhall taking the lead at first before a more expansive and lyrical solo from Grudzien.

Of “The Storm Inside” McLoughlin says; “The internal world can often conflict with the external. There’s nothing comparable to feeling rage on a sunny day”. The dichotomy is expressed by a wilful dissonance, the harsh bowing of Massey, the low end rumble of piano and bass and McLoughlin making a rare foray on tenor – much of this album seems to feature her on the lighter, airier soprano.

“A Day in a Polish Village, 1933”  reflects another side of McLoughlin’s heritage with the composer stating; “War not only causes physical damage, but mental damage too, which can last for years, even lifetimes. This composition is a tribute to my mother, who was a casualty of war. I knew little of her early life, but this is imagining of her as a seven year old child in a village in Poland”.
It’s a highly evocative composition that draws on folk and classical influences and features twin violins, with Grudzien, or maybe McLoughlin doubling on piano.

The closing “Contemplation” is a beautiful, lyrical, elegant ballad that wouldn’t sound out of place on an ECM album. This is particularly apt as “Cause and Effect” is immaculately recorded with mix engineer Grudzien, who also acts as McLoughlin’s co-producer, capturing every nuance and subtlety of the music.

The qualities that McLoughlin brings to ARQ are also apparent in this very different, and very personal, record. Her writing is consistently interesting and evocative and embraces a wide range of influences – jazz, folk, classical – that are skilfully woven together to create a very convincing whole.

This may be ‘chamber jazz’ but it’s music that transcends the sometimes pejorative assumptions that are made about the genre. There’s nothing bland or bloodless about this quartet’s music, and at no time did I find myself missing the presence of a drum kit. This is ‘chamber jazz’ with feel and spirit, evocative and intelligent music that embraces a broad range of emotions, as well as musical styles.

“Cause and Effect” is an album that McLoughlin can be justly proud of and it has enjoyed a highly positive critical reception, praise that will hopefully translate itself into sales.

The Alan Barnes Octet featuring Josie Moon - The Alan Barnes Octet featuring Josie Moon,  ‘A Requiem’, The Hive, Shrewsbury, 09/11/2019. Rating: 4 out of 5 This had been an excellent evening of words and music, with the timing of the event, on the eve of Remembrance Sunday, giving it an extra poignancy and sense of meaning.

The Alan Barnes Octet featuring Josie Moon, “A Requiem”,
The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 09/11/2019.

Alan Barnes – baritone saxophone, clarinet, Dean Masser – tenor saxophone, Gilad Atzmon – alto & soprano saxophone, Neil Yates – trumpet & flugelhorn, Robbie Harvey – trombone, Pat McCarthy- guitar, Dave Green – double bass, Seb de Krom – drums, Josie Moon – voice


Alan Barnes is probably best known to many jazz fans as the wise cracking compère of Scarborough Jazz Festival, or as the hard working gigging musician traversing the highways and byways of the country playing standards sets as the guest soloist with local rhythm sections.

Barnes is all these things and more, a highly skilled professional musician with a command of all the instruments of the saxophone family, plus clarinet. But as well as the standards and bebop sets Barnes is also a skilled composer and arranger who has issued several albums of original music, often conceptual in approach, such as his “Marbella Suite” and his “Sherlock Holmes Suite”.

One of the most successful of these was “Fish Tales”, a suite commissioned by Grimsby Jazz that told the history of the town’s fishing industry. The music for the project was written by Barnes and guitarist Pat McCarthy and their musical compositions were complemented by the words of the poet Josie Moon, whose poetic narrative formed a central part of the “Fish Tales” project.

To play the music Barnes and McCarthy assembled a stellar octet of UK based musicians featuring themselves, Atzmon, Masser, Green and de Krom plus Martin Shaw on trumpet & flugel and Mark Nightingale on trombone.  This line up, augmented by Moon’s voice, released the “Fish Tales” album on Barnes’ own Woodville record label in 2017. The project proved to be extremely successful and toured widely, with Neil Yates subsequently replacing Shaw in the line up.

“Fish Tales” came to The Hive for a Shrewsbury Jazz Network promotion but it was a performance that I was unable to attend as it clashed with my annual visit to the EFG London Festival. This year Barnes and his octet visited a week earlier, which suited me well and also tied in neatly with Remembrance Day as they toured their new work “A Requiem”, a suite written as “A commemoration for all who have died in conflict over the century past and a call for peace”.

Once again the work features music by Barnes and McCarthy allied to words by Moon, the music and text both making allusions to the Requiem Masses of classical music. The accompanying recording, again issued on Woodville,  features a band comprised of Barnes, McCarthy, Masser, Atzmon, Yates, Nightingale, Green, de Krom and Moon and the work was again supported by Grimsby Jazz and by Arts Council England.

Tonight was the last night of a tour that began in July and saw Nightingale replaced by the young trombonist Robbie Harvey, who acquitted himself brilliantly, having only arrived in Shrewsbury about ninety minutes before the performance and with no prior knowledge of the music. His assured performance was a credit to his sight reading skills and to his overall musicianship.

Moon’s liner notes explain that “A Requiem” was originally her idea, conceived around the time of Remembrance Sunday in 2017 after witnessing homeless military veterans on the streets of Grimsby. “I wanted to write a requiem for the war dead of the century that had passed” she explains, “but more than that I wanted to write something that raised questions about war and the act of remembrance. I thought about what a Two Minute Silence means, given the global state of perpetual war and the brinkmanship of so many world leaders intent on using war as a solution to international tensions”.

Again collaborating with Barnes and McCarthy she knew that the work would not be finished in time for the 2018 commemorations of the end of World War 1 but the decision was taken not to rush and for the work not to be defined by one particular conflict. The album is dedicated to “all beings caught up in conflict and war, wherever they are in the world. May there be peace in our time.”

Barnes’ enduring popularity with jazz audiences ensured a near capacity crowd at The Hive and the audience paid rapt attention as the ensemble performed “A Requiem” in full, with the performance divided into two ‘Acts’ separated by an interval. A free four page programme had been printed for the tour, which ensured that listeners could easily follow the progress of the work – a nice touch.

The performance began with the octet playing “Epitaph”, a brief horn chorale that saw Barnes on clarinet and which functioned her as a kind of ‘overture’.

The first poem to be read by Moon was “Prelude”, also a kind of scene setter that made reference to “the Crow Men”, her term for politicians and war mongers, and in this instance perhaps First World War generals. It was an image to which she was to return – a jazz and poetry equivalent to Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”.

The next musical piece was “Waves”, which featured Moon reciting her words above the sensitive accompaniment of the octet.  Besides musing on the origins of life itself Moon’s poem also seemed to allude to British troops crossing the Channel to fight in the trenches of World War One. Tonight’s performance expanded on the recorded version to include a solos from Yates on trumpet and a shorter cameo from Barnes on clarinet.

“Seek the Light In The Darkness” presented Moon’s thoughts on acts of remembrance, particularly the Two Minutes Silence. While we in the West hold our breath on Remembrance Sunday wars still continue in other parts of the world. The poem also made reference to the famous Christmas Day truce in the trenches, a window of sanity quickly closed again by the orders of the Crow Men. The piece also made reference to those homeless veterans in Grimsby and of the town’s NEED to remember.

The band’s performance of “Inter-Trench Conversation” was a musical depiction of that famous truce, symbolised by the dialogues between the various instruments. Centred around McCarthy’s guitar motif and with Green and de Krom providing an impressive impetus the composition encouraged the discourse between the horns, with Barnes featuring on baritone sax. More extended solos came from the impressive Masser on tenor, Yates on trumpet and McCarthy on guitar.

“In Memory of Marion Scott and Ivor Gurney” represented Moon’s tribute to the troubled Gloucestershire composer and poet Ivor Gurney (1890-1937) and his close friend and literary editor Marion Scott. Gurney was wounded in the trenches during the First World War and later suffered from ‘shell shock’, although he had exhibited symptoms of what we now know as ‘bi-polar’ behaviour since his early teens. Moon’s poem again evoked the imagery of the Two Minutes Silence and The Crow Men before she handed over to the band for the Barnes’ composition “Gurney”, which included impressive solos from Harvey on trombone and Atzmon on soprano sax plus a shorter cameo from Masser on tenor.

“The Return of Shadows” represented Moon’s meditation’s on the flawed Treaty of Versailles and the growing unrest of the 1920s and 30s as the Crow Men eventually took the World back to war.

This was followed by McCarthy’s composition “Songs Without Words”, a reflective lament with a nocturnal, almost hymn like feel with Yates featuring on flugel and Barnes on clarinet. A more upbeat second section brought solos from Barnes and from Masser on tenor. I wasn’t previously familiar with Masser’s playing but throughout the evening he impressed with the robust beauty of his tone and his fluency as a soloist.

“Appeasement” represented Moon’s allegories on Neville Chamberlain and the failure of the peace negotiations, thwarted by the “Advance of the Death’s Head” and the “Wheeling of the Crow Men”.

The advent of the 1939 conflict was expressed musically by the strident sounds of the Barnes composition “Theatre of War”, with the five horns of the ensemble playing with the power of a ‘mini big band’ and creating a mightily impressive sound.
Moon then joined the band to recite her poem “The Days of Wrath”, her voice shadowed first by trombone and then by guitar. This ‘shadowing’ of the voice by different instruments was a device that was to be deployed again at the close of Act 2. Moon’s words here used Latin phrases in a direct parallel with classical Requiem Masses. The poem also featured some of her most striking verbal imagery - “the grudges of old men play out in the bodies of the young”.

The first Act then concluded with a reprise of “Waves”, featuring concise solos from Yates on trumpet and Barnes on clarinet, this followed by Moon reading the poem “How Peace Works”.

A shorter Act 2 commenced with the Barnes composition “Peace Returns”, a suitably warm sounding composition featuring the velvet fluency of Yates on flugel and the smooth elegance of McCarthy on guitar, plus Barnes himself on baritone, exhibiting an astonishing agility on the ‘big horn’.

Moon’s poem “When Souls are Returned to the Stars” was presaged by the startling fact that there has only been one true month of global peace since the end of World War 2 and that there are currently no fewer than forty wars going on in the world. The poem itself addressed death, loss and widowhood.

Barnes’ “Dark At The Edges” was centred around the composer’s insistent baritone sax vamp in an arrangement that featured Yates on muted trumpet and Atzmon on soprano sax. Powerful solos came from Masser on tenor sax and Harvey on trombone, with de Krom enjoying a series of fiery drum breaks. At times the piece reminded me of a Charles Mingus composition, which is praise indeed.

Moon’s poem “The Holy Places of the Earth” brought the war story right up to date and included a litany of names that we are used to hearing in the news – Baghdad, Aleppo, Damascus, Gaza, Basra.
While we remember Coventry and Dresden war continues elsewhere - “Cursed are the Crow Men, for they have inherited the Earth”.

McCarthy’s composition “Sacred Music” evoked something of a swing era jazz feel in a warm Barnes arrangement featuring Yates on muted trumpet and with a plangent alto sax solo coming from Atzmon.

The poem “Lambs at the Slaughter” represented Moon’s condemnation of the horrors of war and was subsequently complemented by Yates’ trumpet sounding the “Last Post” as part of a concise band arrangement by Barnes.

Light is a theme throughout the work, the concept of “lux aeterna, luceat eis”, that no matter how dark things become light always returns, a concept that informed Moon’s poem “Faith to Find The Light”.

In a diversion from the recorded version the octet now performed a composition called “All Quiet”, a piece that doesn’t actually appear on the CD. This then represented a considerable bonus, particularly as it contained a stunning, beautifully melodic double bass solo from Green plus an incisive alto sax solo from Atzmon, this followed by a more mellow feature from McCarthy.

Act 2 concluded with a segue of McCarthy’s “Liberation” and the Barnes/Moon collaboration “Deliver Me”.
McCarthy’s piece was vibrant and uplifting, with the octet again sounding like a ‘mini big band’.
A surging, swinging bass and drum groove fuelled vivid solos from Barnes on baritone, Yates on trumpet, Masser on tenor, Harvey on trombone, Atzmon on alto and McCarthy on guitar. All of these outstanding instrumentalists seemed to relish the chance to stretch out and there was even room for a brief feature from de Krom.
“Deliver Me” was more considered with Harvey and Masser taking it in turns to shadow Moon’s words, the work concluding with the phrase “when the darkness falls let us search for light”.

The audience, who had been quiet and attentive throughout gave the performers a terrific reception. This had been an excellent evening of words and music, with the timing of the event on the eve of Remembrance Sunday giving it an extra poignancy and sense of meaning.

I haven’t always been convinced by jazz and poetry collaborations but this one worked very well. Moon’s words were thoughtful and evocative and she delivered them with confidence, her recitative well served by Barnes’ sympathetic arrangements.

The band themselves were superb. I loved the rich timbres of the five man horn section, who brought even more colour to the already finely nuanced and textured compositions of Barnes and McCarthy. Within a tightly structured framework there was still room for some fine soloing, with every musician impressing in this respect at some point in the proceedings. Several listeners singled out Masser’s contribution on tenor, in particular his wonderful tone on the instrument.

Despite the seriousness of the subject matter Barnes still found room to inject a little humour into the proceedings, particularly during his band introductions, but it was good to see him stepping out of his comfort zone and tackling something weighty.

As an event this performance was highly impressive, and, in its own way highly enjoyable, particularly with regard to the superb musicianship. It dealt with some pretty heavy subject matter, but did so with a pleasing lightness of touch. The content, allied to the timing of the performance, certainly gave the listener plenty of cause for thought and reflection.

 

The Alan Barnes Octet featuring Josie Moon,  ‘A Requiem’, The Hive, Shrewsbury, 09/11/2019.

The Alan Barnes Octet featuring Josie Moon

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

The Alan Barnes Octet featuring Josie Moon,  ‘A Requiem’, The Hive, Shrewsbury, 09/11/2019.
Photography: Photograph by Hamish Kirkpatrick of Shrewsbury Jazz Network.

This had been an excellent evening of words and music, with the timing of the event, on the eve of Remembrance Sunday, giving it an extra poignancy and sense of meaning.

The Alan Barnes Octet featuring Josie Moon, “A Requiem”,
The Hive Music & Media Centre, Shrewsbury, 09/11/2019.

Alan Barnes – baritone saxophone, clarinet, Dean Masser – tenor saxophone, Gilad Atzmon – alto & soprano saxophone, Neil Yates – trumpet & flugelhorn, Robbie Harvey – trombone, Pat McCarthy- guitar, Dave Green – double bass, Seb de Krom – drums, Josie Moon – voice


Alan Barnes is probably best known to many jazz fans as the wise cracking compère of Scarborough Jazz Festival, or as the hard working gigging musician traversing the highways and byways of the country playing standards sets as the guest soloist with local rhythm sections.

Barnes is all these things and more, a highly skilled professional musician with a command of all the instruments of the saxophone family, plus clarinet. But as well as the standards and bebop sets Barnes is also a skilled composer and arranger who has issued several albums of original music, often conceptual in approach, such as his “Marbella Suite” and his “Sherlock Holmes Suite”.

One of the most successful of these was “Fish Tales”, a suite commissioned by Grimsby Jazz that told the history of the town’s fishing industry. The music for the project was written by Barnes and guitarist Pat McCarthy and their musical compositions were complemented by the words of the poet Josie Moon, whose poetic narrative formed a central part of the “Fish Tales” project.

To play the music Barnes and McCarthy assembled a stellar octet of UK based musicians featuring themselves, Atzmon, Masser, Green and de Krom plus Martin Shaw on trumpet & flugel and Mark Nightingale on trombone.  This line up, augmented by Moon’s voice, released the “Fish Tales” album on Barnes’ own Woodville record label in 2017. The project proved to be extremely successful and toured widely, with Neil Yates subsequently replacing Shaw in the line up.

“Fish Tales” came to The Hive for a Shrewsbury Jazz Network promotion but it was a performance that I was unable to attend as it clashed with my annual visit to the EFG London Festival. This year Barnes and his octet visited a week earlier, which suited me well and also tied in neatly with Remembrance Day as they toured their new work “A Requiem”, a suite written as “A commemoration for all who have died in conflict over the century past and a call for peace”.

Once again the work features music by Barnes and McCarthy allied to words by Moon, the music and text both making allusions to the Requiem Masses of classical music. The accompanying recording, again issued on Woodville,  features a band comprised of Barnes, McCarthy, Masser, Atzmon, Yates, Nightingale, Green, de Krom and Moon and the work was again supported by Grimsby Jazz and by Arts Council England.

Tonight was the last night of a tour that began in July and saw Nightingale replaced by the young trombonist Robbie Harvey, who acquitted himself brilliantly, having only arrived in Shrewsbury about ninety minutes before the performance and with no prior knowledge of the music. His assured performance was a credit to his sight reading skills and to his overall musicianship.

Moon’s liner notes explain that “A Requiem” was originally her idea, conceived around the time of Remembrance Sunday in 2017 after witnessing homeless military veterans on the streets of Grimsby. “I wanted to write a requiem for the war dead of the century that had passed” she explains, “but more than that I wanted to write something that raised questions about war and the act of remembrance. I thought about what a Two Minute Silence means, given the global state of perpetual war and the brinkmanship of so many world leaders intent on using war as a solution to international tensions”.

Again collaborating with Barnes and McCarthy she knew that the work would not be finished in time for the 2018 commemorations of the end of World War 1 but the decision was taken not to rush and for the work not to be defined by one particular conflict. The album is dedicated to “all beings caught up in conflict and war, wherever they are in the world. May there be peace in our time.”

Barnes’ enduring popularity with jazz audiences ensured a near capacity crowd at The Hive and the audience paid rapt attention as the ensemble performed “A Requiem” in full, with the performance divided into two ‘Acts’ separated by an interval. A free four page programme had been printed for the tour, which ensured that listeners could easily follow the progress of the work – a nice touch.

The performance began with the octet playing “Epitaph”, a brief horn chorale that saw Barnes on clarinet and which functioned her as a kind of ‘overture’.

The first poem to be read by Moon was “Prelude”, also a kind of scene setter that made reference to “the Crow Men”, her term for politicians and war mongers, and in this instance perhaps First World War generals. It was an image to which she was to return – a jazz and poetry equivalent to Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”.

The next musical piece was “Waves”, which featured Moon reciting her words above the sensitive accompaniment of the octet.  Besides musing on the origins of life itself Moon’s poem also seemed to allude to British troops crossing the Channel to fight in the trenches of World War One. Tonight’s performance expanded on the recorded version to include a solos from Yates on trumpet and a shorter cameo from Barnes on clarinet.

“Seek the Light In The Darkness” presented Moon’s thoughts on acts of remembrance, particularly the Two Minutes Silence. While we in the West hold our breath on Remembrance Sunday wars still continue in other parts of the world. The poem also made reference to the famous Christmas Day truce in the trenches, a window of sanity quickly closed again by the orders of the Crow Men. The piece also made reference to those homeless veterans in Grimsby and of the town’s NEED to remember.

The band’s performance of “Inter-Trench Conversation” was a musical depiction of that famous truce, symbolised by the dialogues between the various instruments. Centred around McCarthy’s guitar motif and with Green and de Krom providing an impressive impetus the composition encouraged the discourse between the horns, with Barnes featuring on baritone sax. More extended solos came from the impressive Masser on tenor, Yates on trumpet and McCarthy on guitar.

“In Memory of Marion Scott and Ivor Gurney” represented Moon’s tribute to the troubled Gloucestershire composer and poet Ivor Gurney (1890-1937) and his close friend and literary editor Marion Scott. Gurney was wounded in the trenches during the First World War and later suffered from ‘shell shock’, although he had exhibited symptoms of what we now know as ‘bi-polar’ behaviour since his early teens. Moon’s poem again evoked the imagery of the Two Minutes Silence and The Crow Men before she handed over to the band for the Barnes’ composition “Gurney”, which included impressive solos from Harvey on trombone and Atzmon on soprano sax plus a shorter cameo from Masser on tenor.

“The Return of Shadows” represented Moon’s meditation’s on the flawed Treaty of Versailles and the growing unrest of the 1920s and 30s as the Crow Men eventually took the World back to war.

This was followed by McCarthy’s composition “Songs Without Words”, a reflective lament with a nocturnal, almost hymn like feel with Yates featuring on flugel and Barnes on clarinet. A more upbeat second section brought solos from Barnes and from Masser on tenor. I wasn’t previously familiar with Masser’s playing but throughout the evening he impressed with the robust beauty of his tone and his fluency as a soloist.

“Appeasement” represented Moon’s allegories on Neville Chamberlain and the failure of the peace negotiations, thwarted by the “Advance of the Death’s Head” and the “Wheeling of the Crow Men”.

The advent of the 1939 conflict was expressed musically by the strident sounds of the Barnes composition “Theatre of War”, with the five horns of the ensemble playing with the power of a ‘mini big band’ and creating a mightily impressive sound.
Moon then joined the band to recite her poem “The Days of Wrath”, her voice shadowed first by trombone and then by guitar. This ‘shadowing’ of the voice by different instruments was a device that was to be deployed again at the close of Act 2. Moon’s words here used Latin phrases in a direct parallel with classical Requiem Masses. The poem also featured some of her most striking verbal imagery - “the grudges of old men play out in the bodies of the young”.

The first Act then concluded with a reprise of “Waves”, featuring concise solos from Yates on trumpet and Barnes on clarinet, this followed by Moon reading the poem “How Peace Works”.

A shorter Act 2 commenced with the Barnes composition “Peace Returns”, a suitably warm sounding composition featuring the velvet fluency of Yates on flugel and the smooth elegance of McCarthy on guitar, plus Barnes himself on baritone, exhibiting an astonishing agility on the ‘big horn’.

Moon’s poem “When Souls are Returned to the Stars” was presaged by the startling fact that there has only been one true month of global peace since the end of World War 2 and that there are currently no fewer than forty wars going on in the world. The poem itself addressed death, loss and widowhood.

Barnes’ “Dark At The Edges” was centred around the composer’s insistent baritone sax vamp in an arrangement that featured Yates on muted trumpet and Atzmon on soprano sax. Powerful solos came from Masser on tenor sax and Harvey on trombone, with de Krom enjoying a series of fiery drum breaks. At times the piece reminded me of a Charles Mingus composition, which is praise indeed.

Moon’s poem “The Holy Places of the Earth” brought the war story right up to date and included a litany of names that we are used to hearing in the news – Baghdad, Aleppo, Damascus, Gaza, Basra.
While we remember Coventry and Dresden war continues elsewhere - “Cursed are the Crow Men, for they have inherited the Earth”.

McCarthy’s composition “Sacred Music” evoked something of a swing era jazz feel in a warm Barnes arrangement featuring Yates on muted trumpet and with a plangent alto sax solo coming from Atzmon.

The poem “Lambs at the Slaughter” represented Moon’s condemnation of the horrors of war and was subsequently complemented by Yates’ trumpet sounding the “Last Post” as part of a concise band arrangement by Barnes.

Light is a theme throughout the work, the concept of “lux aeterna, luceat eis”, that no matter how dark things become light always returns, a concept that informed Moon’s poem “Faith to Find The Light”.

In a diversion from the recorded version the octet now performed a composition called “All Quiet”, a piece that doesn’t actually appear on the CD. This then represented a considerable bonus, particularly as it contained a stunning, beautifully melodic double bass solo from Green plus an incisive alto sax solo from Atzmon, this followed by a more mellow feature from McCarthy.

Act 2 concluded with a segue of McCarthy’s “Liberation” and the Barnes/Moon collaboration “Deliver Me”.
McCarthy’s piece was vibrant and uplifting, with the octet again sounding like a ‘mini big band’.
A surging, swinging bass and drum groove fuelled vivid solos from Barnes on baritone, Yates on trumpet, Masser on tenor, Harvey on trombone, Atzmon on alto and McCarthy on guitar. All of these outstanding instrumentalists seemed to relish the chance to stretch out and there was even room for a brief feature from de Krom.
“Deliver Me” was more considered with Harvey and Masser taking it in turns to shadow Moon’s words, the work concluding with the phrase “when the darkness falls let us search for light”.

The audience, who had been quiet and attentive throughout gave the performers a terrific reception. This had been an excellent evening of words and music, with the timing of the event on the eve of Remembrance Sunday giving it an extra poignancy and sense of meaning.

I haven’t always been convinced by jazz and poetry collaborations but this one worked very well. Moon’s words were thoughtful and evocative and she delivered them with confidence, her recitative well served by Barnes’ sympathetic arrangements.

The band themselves were superb. I loved the rich timbres of the five man horn section, who brought even more colour to the already finely nuanced and textured compositions of Barnes and McCarthy. Within a tightly structured framework there was still room for some fine soloing, with every musician impressing in this respect at some point in the proceedings. Several listeners singled out Masser’s contribution on tenor, in particular his wonderful tone on the instrument.

Despite the seriousness of the subject matter Barnes still found room to inject a little humour into the proceedings, particularly during his band introductions, but it was good to see him stepping out of his comfort zone and tackling something weighty.

As an event this performance was highly impressive, and, in its own way highly enjoyable, particularly with regard to the superb musicianship. It dealt with some pretty heavy subject matter, but did so with a pleasing lightness of touch. The content, allied to the timing of the performance, certainly gave the listener plenty of cause for thought and reflection.

 

Snarky Puppy / Charlie Hunter & Lucy Woodward - Snarky Puppy / Charlie Hunter & Lucy Woodward, O2 Academy, Bristol, 08/11/2019. Rating: 4 out of 5 Ian Mann enjoys the "energy and precision" of headliners Snarky Puppy, plus an entertaining support slot from guitarist Charlie Hunter and vocalist Lucy Woodward.

Snarky Puppy /  Charlie Hunter & Lucy Woodward
O2 Academy, Bristol, 08/11/2019


At last! I’ve finally got to enjoy a live show by Snarky Puppy, the acclaimed international collective led by bassist and composer Michael League.

It had 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 they 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. 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” has seen them ‘on the road’ for most of the year, from April to the end of November,  criss-crossing the globe and playing dates in North America, Australasia, Japan and Europe. This current run of British and Irish shows comes towards the end of the tour, but on the evidence of this performance Snarky Puppy are exhibiting no signs of road weariness. No one could accuse this Dog of being tired.

Snarky Puppy was formed fifteen years ago and “Immigrance” represents the band’s thirteenth album. The majority of tonight’s material was sourced either from the latest album or its immediate predecessor, 2016’s award winning “Culcha Vulcha”. Such has been Snarky Puppy’s success that the band has now started its own GroundUP record label, the choice of name reflecting the hard working, ‘300 gigs a year’ ethic that helped to bring them to this position. They will also be curating their own GroundUP Festival in Mimi Beach, Florida in February 2020, which will feature the Pups alongside many other major jazz names, with leading saxophonist Chris Potter the artist in residence.

CHARLIE HUNTER & LUCY WOODWARD
Before the Snarkys hit the stage we were to enjoy a set from their friends and label mates Charlie Hunter and Lucy Woodward.

Hunter is a virtuoso guitarist who on specialises on seven or eight string models, allowing him to play bass and lead guitar simultaneously. It’s quite a trick. He has been on the scene since the early 1990s and as a bandleader he has recorded prolifically. Hunter’s playing embraces most of the genres that have helped to shape contemporary American music, effortlessly taking in jazz, blues, rock and funk and more. In 2016 I enjoyed a performance by him at Ronnie Scott’s as part of that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. Hunter was leading a quartet featuring his long term sparring partner Bobby Previte at the drums, the American duo supplemented by two young British horn players, Kieran McLeod (trombone) and Yelfris Valdes (trumpet). The young Brits acquitted themselves well but it was the chemistry between Hunter and Previte that was the defining aspect of an excellent and hugely entertaining and enjoyable performance. My account of this event can be found as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-2016-day-nine-saturday-19th-november-2016/

The Ronnie’s show revealed that Hunter is a musician who likes to have fun, a serious musician who doesn’t take himself too seriously. This was also apparent in his partnership with the vocalist Lucy Woodward as the pair opened tonight’s show performing songs from their recent album “Music!Music!Music!”.

Woodward has released four previous albums and enjoyed a degree of pop success.  She has also been part of the all female trio The Goods and has also worked as a jazz big band vocalist. Woodward sang with Snarky Puppy on their first “Family Dinner” album and her 2015 solo release “’Til They Bang On The Door”  was co-produced by Michael League. The links between tonight’s two acts are strong, and the Hunter & Woodward set was introduced by the Pups’ top dog.

Hunter and Woodward were joined by Japanese drummer / percussionist Keita Ogawa, a member of the Snarky Puppy collective and who appeared on “Immigrance”.

The title of the Hunter and Woodward album seemed particularly apposite as the pair, plus Ogawa, tackled a collection of songs sourced from a variety of musical genres, but all given a distinctive twist.

Woodward has a soulful and powerful voice and this was immediately evidenced on the bluesy opener “Soul Of A Man”, which also featured Hunter’s virtuoso soloing on (I think) seven string guitar. Hunter played seated and it wasn’t that easy to see him from the ‘mosh pit’, particularly among the forest of keyboards and percussion that was already on the stage ready for the Pups’ appearance.

“My Love Is Like A Mountainside” was an earthy blend of blues and funk, and a song that also contained much water imagery. A cover of the old Terence Trent Darby hit “Wishing Well” increased the funk quotient yet further and included a crowd pleasing scat vocal episode from Hunter.

Woodward encouraged Hunter to indulge in more vocalising as the trio tackled the Nina Simone song “Be My Husband”, which featured a powerful vocal performance from Woodward and a show stopping feature from Ogawa that found him deploying soft, squeaky toys as percussion, the squeaks deployed to replicate the sounds of a hip-hop DJ’s scratching. This was great fun, and naturally the crowd loved it, but there was real technical virtuosity behind the humour.

“You’re Never Going To Get It” saw a sultry Woodward encouraging the audience to sing along, while an unusual arrangement of “Don’t Let Me Be Understood” introduced a hint of reggae to all the other elements.

A hugely enjoyable set came to an end with the trio offering their distinctive take on “You’re The One That I Want” - yes, the one from “Grease”.  This was delivered as an insidious slow blues, whose swampy grooves, allied to Woodward’s sensuous vocals, gave the song an air of menace that even the inevitable sing along sections couldn’t entirely dispel Definitely an improvement on the irritating, overly cheerful original.

So ended an enjoyable opening set that warmed the sell out audience up nicely. This was great fun, but behind the good humour there was also some genuinely impressive singing and playing, most notably from Hunter, a musician who has developed a unique guitar style that draws on many influences. This tour will have brought his talents, and those of the similarly versatile Woodward, to the attention of a whole new audience.

SNARKY PUPPY

And so to the headliners. Snarky Puppy is routinely referred to as a ‘collective’ and “Immigrance” features the contributions of over twenty musicians, predominately
American, but hailing from all over the globe. The pool includes the highly talented British keyboard player and composer Bill Laurance, who also enjoys a successful parallel career as a solo artist.

Snarky Puppy’s live performances are delivered by a smaller group of key players, in tonight’s case a nine piece ensemble featuring the talents of;

Michael League – bass guitar

Mark Lettieri – electric guitar

Justin Stanton – keyboards, trumpet, flugelhorn

Shaun Martin – keyboards, voice

Chris Bullock – tenor sax, flute, alto flute

Bob Reynolds – tenor sax

Mike “Maz” Maher – trumpet, flugelhorn

Jason Thomas – drums

Marcelo Woloski – percussion

In a packed, standing only crowd making notes was difficult, so this isn’t going to be a tune by tune account, more an impression of the overall Snarky Puppy experience. Guest contributor
Mark Albini’s short, but highly enthusiastic, account of the group’s show at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith in 2015 had given me some idea of what to expect.  Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/snarky-puppy-eventim-apollo-hammersmith-london-06-10-2015/

Tonight was more like a rock gig than the average jazz concert and I found myself down in the ‘mosh pit’ among a much younger crowd than usual. Bristol’s large student population, in particular, seemed to be out in force. Snarky Puppy are a band who have acquired something of a cult following, and many of these people seemed to have seen the band before, six times in the case of one individual whose conversation I overheard, and knew every note of the tunes.

Snarrky Puppy have become ‘show biz’, without ever being overtly ‘show-bizzy’. The artwork from “Immigrance” was projected onto a screen behind the band, the same screen that had advertised the GroundUP Festival during the interval. Later close up black and white images of the musicians playing were projected, which was very helpful in terms of picking up details and appreciating the individual musicianship.

Routinely described as a”jam band” the success of Snarky Puppy’s music has always been based on memorable melodies and strong grooves. These qualities are to be found in abundance throughout “Immigrance”. Despite the studio embellishments both the new album and “Culcha Vulcha” represent a return to the band’s core values after their work with a whole series of guest vocalists, among them Lucy Woodward, on the two “Family Dinner” recordings.
“Sylva” (2015) then found them working, successfully, with an orchestra (the Netherlands based Metropole Orkest) for the first time.

As alluded to previously the majority of the material performed tonight was sourced from the two most recent albums, plus occasional forays into the impressive back catalogue. Pieces were frequently segued together and tune announcements were scant.

Snarky Puppy compositions are typically episodic affairs, allowing for plenty of variation in mood, pace and rhythm within the course of a single piece. The nine man line up, with its array of keyboards, and with several musicians doubling on different instruments, made for a rich, colourful sound, full of textural and dynamic contrasts. The lead changed hands frequently, although not in the conventional head-solos-head sense, with every musician featuring strongly at some point in the proceedings. This constant changing of roles, allied to the inherent sense of groove, helped to keep both band members and listeners on their toes. Individual solos and cameos were cheered wildly, and although they were tightly drilled one still sensed that the band members were having fun. Snarky Puppy exude a genuine gang mentality, a sense of being ‘all in this together’.

An opening salvo of (I think) “Alma”, Thing Of Gold” and Semente” included outstanding contributions from Stanton on electric piano, Woloski on percussion and Bullock on tenor sax. The impressive Stanton also doubled effectively on trumpet and flugel, and later on in the set soloed very effectively on trumpet,  he is a genuine, and highly talented, multi-instrumentalist.

In the early days Snarky Puppy was almost exclusively the compositional province of League. These days more and more of its members write for the group and Stanton’s “Bad Kids To The Back”, from “Immigrance”, proved to be a big crowd pleaser, with Reynolds delivering an incisive tenor sax solo amid the choppy funk grooves.

“Tarova” and “Palermo” saw the group digging into the “Culcha Vulcha” repertoire.  A feature of this sequence was Martin’s effective use of a voice bag, activated by synthesiser rather than guitar, which made the band’s grooves sound even dirtier and funkier. Like Stanton he also delivered a number of searing keyboard solos and was very much the ‘showman’ of the group, encouraging the audience to clap along and sing the melody lines, as on “Palermo”,  and reprimanding anybody who didn’t do so.

All members of the band impressed, Thomas weighed in with a couple of hard hitting drum features and his dynamic playing helped to drive the band throughout. Maher impressed with some powerful trumpet soloing, but also displayed delicacy when required, particularly on flugel.

Woloski’s mastery of a whole battery of percussion was also impressive, and he enjoyed several features over the course of the evening. The Argentinian is also part of the group’s growing rank of composers, with the anthemic “Palermo” coming from his pen.

Guitarist Lettieri came into his own with an incendiary solo on League’s rousing composition “Chonks”,  the high energy opening salvo on the “Immigrance” album and an absolute killer of a live track.

The only musician who didn’t really feature as a soloist was League himself, but his hard grooving bass playing represented the foundation stone of the band’s music as he presided over the night’s proceedings.

League encouraged the audience to clap along with his composition “Xavi”, a track from the “Immigrance” album that was inspired by the Gnawa music of Morocco. Here we were made to work, with League dividing the audience into separate sections clapping out different rhythms. It actually worked surprisingly well, with the energy of the crowd complementing that of the band. This piece also saw Ogawa returning to the stage together with guest British percussionist Felix Higginbottom, the two joining Woloski, as all three musicians roamed the percussion ‘cage’.

An encore of the crowd pleasing “Shofukan”, from the 2014 album “We Like It Here” saw Martin conducting the crowd in a mass sing along of the tune’s rousing and anthemic melodic hook. The concert became a community event as the audience radiated their love for the band and its music.

It had been early start with Hunter and Woodward on at 7.15 and the Pups at 8.15 prompt. It was now nudging ten o’clock and the Academy staff were keen to clear the venue before admitting a different audience for a club night scheduled to start at 10.30. Martin, however seemed reluctant to leave the stage, finally departing still singing. League had earlier revealed that on a sweltering summer night in the same venue in 2015 Snarky Puppy had stayed on to jam into the early hours of the morning, mostly at Martin’s insistence. If League is the group’s ‘benign dictator’  then Martin is its ‘wild card’, with both musicians united by a love of the music and an underlying work ethic. Snarky Puppy are disciplined and professional, but retain a vital energy, edge and spontaneity that prevents their music descending into mere ‘slickness’. The arrangements of several of tonight’s pieces had been ‘tweaked’ in an effort to keep the band sharp and retain a genuine jazz element.

They weren’t quite as loud as Mark’s review had led me to expect, but they were loud enough, and those “sassy and brassy” qualities that he mentioned also shone through with the punchy horn section complementing the multiple keyboards and guitars and the battery of percussion. It’s a big sound, high on energy, but also on precision, an award winning combination that has won Snarky Puppy a following that transcends the usual genre barriers.

On the evidence of tonight’s performance, and of the “Immigrance” album, this is a unit that even after fifteen years still has plenty of mileage in it.

The British and Irish leg of the Snarky Puppy world tour continues with dates as below. Catch them if you can.

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

 

Snarky Puppy / Charlie Hunter & Lucy Woodward, O2 Academy, Bristol, 08/11/2019.

Snarky Puppy / Charlie Hunter & Lucy Woodward

Monday, November 11, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Snarky Puppy / Charlie Hunter & Lucy Woodward, O2 Academy, Bristol, 08/11/2019.
Photography: Live image of Snarky Puppy courtesy of Republic Media

Ian Mann enjoys the "energy and precision" of headliners Snarky Puppy, plus an entertaining support slot from guitarist Charlie Hunter and vocalist Lucy Woodward.

Snarky Puppy /  Charlie Hunter & Lucy Woodward
O2 Academy, Bristol, 08/11/2019


At last! I’ve finally got to enjoy a live show by Snarky Puppy, the acclaimed international collective led by bassist and composer Michael League.

It had 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 they 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. 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” has seen them ‘on the road’ for most of the year, from April to the end of November,  criss-crossing the globe and playing dates in North America, Australasia, Japan and Europe. This current run of British and Irish shows comes towards the end of the tour, but on the evidence of this performance Snarky Puppy are exhibiting no signs of road weariness. No one could accuse this Dog of being tired.

Snarky Puppy was formed fifteen years ago and “Immigrance” represents the band’s thirteenth album. The majority of tonight’s material was sourced either from the latest album or its immediate predecessor, 2016’s award winning “Culcha Vulcha”. Such has been Snarky Puppy’s success that the band has now started its own GroundUP record label, the choice of name reflecting the hard working, ‘300 gigs a year’ ethic that helped to bring them to this position. They will also be curating their own GroundUP Festival in Mimi Beach, Florida in February 2020, which will feature the Pups alongside many other major jazz names, with leading saxophonist Chris Potter the artist in residence.

CHARLIE HUNTER & LUCY WOODWARD
Before the Snarkys hit the stage we were to enjoy a set from their friends and label mates Charlie Hunter and Lucy Woodward.

Hunter is a virtuoso guitarist who on specialises on seven or eight string models, allowing him to play bass and lead guitar simultaneously. It’s quite a trick. He has been on the scene since the early 1990s and as a bandleader he has recorded prolifically. Hunter’s playing embraces most of the genres that have helped to shape contemporary American music, effortlessly taking in jazz, blues, rock and funk and more. In 2016 I enjoyed a performance by him at Ronnie Scott’s as part of that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. Hunter was leading a quartet featuring his long term sparring partner Bobby Previte at the drums, the American duo supplemented by two young British horn players, Kieran McLeod (trombone) and Yelfris Valdes (trumpet). The young Brits acquitted themselves well but it was the chemistry between Hunter and Previte that was the defining aspect of an excellent and hugely entertaining and enjoyable performance. My account of this event can be found as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-2016-day-nine-saturday-19th-november-2016/

The Ronnie’s show revealed that Hunter is a musician who likes to have fun, a serious musician who doesn’t take himself too seriously. This was also apparent in his partnership with the vocalist Lucy Woodward as the pair opened tonight’s show performing songs from their recent album “Music!Music!Music!”.

Woodward has released four previous albums and enjoyed a degree of pop success.  She has also been part of the all female trio The Goods and has also worked as a jazz big band vocalist. Woodward sang with Snarky Puppy on their first “Family Dinner” album and her 2015 solo release “’Til They Bang On The Door”  was co-produced by Michael League. The links between tonight’s two acts are strong, and the Hunter & Woodward set was introduced by the Pups’ top dog.

Hunter and Woodward were joined by Japanese drummer / percussionist Keita Ogawa, a member of the Snarky Puppy collective and who appeared on “Immigrance”.

The title of the Hunter and Woodward album seemed particularly apposite as the pair, plus Ogawa, tackled a collection of songs sourced from a variety of musical genres, but all given a distinctive twist.

Woodward has a soulful and powerful voice and this was immediately evidenced on the bluesy opener “Soul Of A Man”, which also featured Hunter’s virtuoso soloing on (I think) seven string guitar. Hunter played seated and it wasn’t that easy to see him from the ‘mosh pit’, particularly among the forest of keyboards and percussion that was already on the stage ready for the Pups’ appearance.

“My Love Is Like A Mountainside” was an earthy blend of blues and funk, and a song that also contained much water imagery. A cover of the old Terence Trent Darby hit “Wishing Well” increased the funk quotient yet further and included a crowd pleasing scat vocal episode from Hunter.

Woodward encouraged Hunter to indulge in more vocalising as the trio tackled the Nina Simone song “Be My Husband”, which featured a powerful vocal performance from Woodward and a show stopping feature from Ogawa that found him deploying soft, squeaky toys as percussion, the squeaks deployed to replicate the sounds of a hip-hop DJ’s scratching. This was great fun, and naturally the crowd loved it, but there was real technical virtuosity behind the humour.

“You’re Never Going To Get It” saw a sultry Woodward encouraging the audience to sing along, while an unusual arrangement of “Don’t Let Me Be Understood” introduced a hint of reggae to all the other elements.

A hugely enjoyable set came to an end with the trio offering their distinctive take on “You’re The One That I Want” - yes, the one from “Grease”.  This was delivered as an insidious slow blues, whose swampy grooves, allied to Woodward’s sensuous vocals, gave the song an air of menace that even the inevitable sing along sections couldn’t entirely dispel Definitely an improvement on the irritating, overly cheerful original.

So ended an enjoyable opening set that warmed the sell out audience up nicely. This was great fun, but behind the good humour there was also some genuinely impressive singing and playing, most notably from Hunter, a musician who has developed a unique guitar style that draws on many influences. This tour will have brought his talents, and those of the similarly versatile Woodward, to the attention of a whole new audience.

SNARKY PUPPY

And so to the headliners. Snarky Puppy is routinely referred to as a ‘collective’ and “Immigrance” features the contributions of over twenty musicians, predominately
American, but hailing from all over the globe. The pool includes the highly talented British keyboard player and composer Bill Laurance, who also enjoys a successful parallel career as a solo artist.

Snarky Puppy’s live performances are delivered by a smaller group of key players, in tonight’s case a nine piece ensemble featuring the talents of;

Michael League – bass guitar

Mark Lettieri – electric guitar

Justin Stanton – keyboards, trumpet, flugelhorn

Shaun Martin – keyboards, voice

Chris Bullock – tenor sax, flute, alto flute

Bob Reynolds – tenor sax

Mike “Maz” Maher – trumpet, flugelhorn

Jason Thomas – drums

Marcelo Woloski – percussion

In a packed, standing only crowd making notes was difficult, so this isn’t going to be a tune by tune account, more an impression of the overall Snarky Puppy experience. Guest contributor
Mark Albini’s short, but highly enthusiastic, account of the group’s show at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith in 2015 had given me some idea of what to expect.  Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/snarky-puppy-eventim-apollo-hammersmith-london-06-10-2015/

Tonight was more like a rock gig than the average jazz concert and I found myself down in the ‘mosh pit’ among a much younger crowd than usual. Bristol’s large student population, in particular, seemed to be out in force. Snarky Puppy are a band who have acquired something of a cult following, and many of these people seemed to have seen the band before, six times in the case of one individual whose conversation I overheard, and knew every note of the tunes.

Snarrky Puppy have become ‘show biz’, without ever being overtly ‘show-bizzy’. The artwork from “Immigrance” was projected onto a screen behind the band, the same screen that had advertised the GroundUP Festival during the interval. Later close up black and white images of the musicians playing were projected, which was very helpful in terms of picking up details and appreciating the individual musicianship.

Routinely described as a”jam band” the success of Snarky Puppy’s music has always been based on memorable melodies and strong grooves. These qualities are to be found in abundance throughout “Immigrance”. Despite the studio embellishments both the new album and “Culcha Vulcha” represent a return to the band’s core values after their work with a whole series of guest vocalists, among them Lucy Woodward, on the two “Family Dinner” recordings.
“Sylva” (2015) then found them working, successfully, with an orchestra (the Netherlands based Metropole Orkest) for the first time.

As alluded to previously the majority of the material performed tonight was sourced from the two most recent albums, plus occasional forays into the impressive back catalogue. Pieces were frequently segued together and tune announcements were scant.

Snarky Puppy compositions are typically episodic affairs, allowing for plenty of variation in mood, pace and rhythm within the course of a single piece. The nine man line up, with its array of keyboards, and with several musicians doubling on different instruments, made for a rich, colourful sound, full of textural and dynamic contrasts. The lead changed hands frequently, although not in the conventional head-solos-head sense, with every musician featuring strongly at some point in the proceedings. This constant changing of roles, allied to the inherent sense of groove, helped to keep both band members and listeners on their toes. Individual solos and cameos were cheered wildly, and although they were tightly drilled one still sensed that the band members were having fun. Snarky Puppy exude a genuine gang mentality, a sense of being ‘all in this together’.

An opening salvo of (I think) “Alma”, Thing Of Gold” and Semente” included outstanding contributions from Stanton on electric piano, Woloski on percussion and Bullock on tenor sax. The impressive Stanton also doubled effectively on trumpet and flugel, and later on in the set soloed very effectively on trumpet,  he is a genuine, and highly talented, multi-instrumentalist.

In the early days Snarky Puppy was almost exclusively the compositional province of League. These days more and more of its members write for the group and Stanton’s “Bad Kids To The Back”, from “Immigrance”, proved to be a big crowd pleaser, with Reynolds delivering an incisive tenor sax solo amid the choppy funk grooves.

“Tarova” and “Palermo” saw the group digging into the “Culcha Vulcha” repertoire.  A feature of this sequence was Martin’s effective use of a voice bag, activated by synthesiser rather than guitar, which made the band’s grooves sound even dirtier and funkier. Like Stanton he also delivered a number of searing keyboard solos and was very much the ‘showman’ of the group, encouraging the audience to clap along and sing the melody lines, as on “Palermo”,  and reprimanding anybody who didn’t do so.

All members of the band impressed, Thomas weighed in with a couple of hard hitting drum features and his dynamic playing helped to drive the band throughout. Maher impressed with some powerful trumpet soloing, but also displayed delicacy when required, particularly on flugel.

Woloski’s mastery of a whole battery of percussion was also impressive, and he enjoyed several features over the course of the evening. The Argentinian is also part of the group’s growing rank of composers, with the anthemic “Palermo” coming from his pen.

Guitarist Lettieri came into his own with an incendiary solo on League’s rousing composition “Chonks”,  the high energy opening salvo on the “Immigrance” album and an absolute killer of a live track.

The only musician who didn’t really feature as a soloist was League himself, but his hard grooving bass playing represented the foundation stone of the band’s music as he presided over the night’s proceedings.

League encouraged the audience to clap along with his composition “Xavi”, a track from the “Immigrance” album that was inspired by the Gnawa music of Morocco. Here we were made to work, with League dividing the audience into separate sections clapping out different rhythms. It actually worked surprisingly well, with the energy of the crowd complementing that of the band. This piece also saw Ogawa returning to the stage together with guest British percussionist Felix Higginbottom, the two joining Woloski, as all three musicians roamed the percussion ‘cage’.

An encore of the crowd pleasing “Shofukan”, from the 2014 album “We Like It Here” saw Martin conducting the crowd in a mass sing along of the tune’s rousing and anthemic melodic hook. The concert became a community event as the audience radiated their love for the band and its music.

It had been early start with Hunter and Woodward on at 7.15 and the Pups at 8.15 prompt. It was now nudging ten o’clock and the Academy staff were keen to clear the venue before admitting a different audience for a club night scheduled to start at 10.30. Martin, however seemed reluctant to leave the stage, finally departing still singing. League had earlier revealed that on a sweltering summer night in the same venue in 2015 Snarky Puppy had stayed on to jam into the early hours of the morning, mostly at Martin’s insistence. If League is the group’s ‘benign dictator’  then Martin is its ‘wild card’, with both musicians united by a love of the music and an underlying work ethic. Snarky Puppy are disciplined and professional, but retain a vital energy, edge and spontaneity that prevents their music descending into mere ‘slickness’. The arrangements of several of tonight’s pieces had been ‘tweaked’ in an effort to keep the band sharp and retain a genuine jazz element.

They weren’t quite as loud as Mark’s review had led me to expect, but they were loud enough, and those “sassy and brassy” qualities that he mentioned also shone through with the punchy horn section complementing the multiple keyboards and guitars and the battery of percussion. It’s a big sound, high on energy, but also on precision, an award winning combination that has won Snarky Puppy a following that transcends the usual genre barriers.

On the evidence of tonight’s performance, and of the “Immigrance” album, this is a unit that even after fifteen years still has plenty of mileage in it.

The British and Irish leg of the Snarky Puppy world tour continues with dates as below. Catch them if you can.

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

 

Jaimie Branch - Fly or Die II; bird dogs of paradise Rating: 4-5 out of 5 Fuses brilliant jazz musicianship with a raw punk energy in a way that ends up sounding totally unique. “Fly or Die II” has the feeling of a major personal and political statement.

Jaimie Branch

“Fly or Die II; bird dogs of paradise

(International Anthem IARC0027)

Jaimie Branch – trumpet, voice, synths, sneaker squeaks, bells and whistles
Lester St. Louis – cello, Jason Ajemian- double bass, percussion, vocals, Chad Taylor – drums, mbira, xylophone

Guests;
Ban Lamar Gay, Marvin Tate – voices (track 2) Matt Schneider – 12 string guitar (track 2), Dan Bitney – percussion, synthesiser (track 8), Scott McNiece – egg (track 8)


New York based trumpeter and composer Jaimie Branch made a big impression with her 2017 début album “Fly or Die”, a recording that found its way onto the ‘Best of Year’ lists on both sides of the Atlantic.

Now aged thirty six Branch has spent time in New York, Chicago and Baltimore and has been involved in the music scenes of all three cities, playing everything from free jazz to punk rock. She has performed with leading cutting edge jazz musicians in both New York and Chicago, among them saxophonists Matana Roberts and Ken Vandermark, bassists Tim Daisy and William Parker and drummers Jason Nazary (the duo Anteloper) and Hamid Drake. She has also led her own rock group, Bomb Shelter, and worked as a sidewoman with a number of alternative rock bands, among them Atlas Math.

The first “Fly or Die” album featured Branch leading a core quartet comprised of cellist Tomeka Reid, bassist Jason Ajemian and drummer Chad Taylor, with cameo guest appearances by guitarist Matt Schneider and cornet players Ben Lamar Gay and Josh Berman.

The success of Branch’s début led to extensive touring, including a first visit to Europe. Branch’s itinerary included a visit to London during the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival that included a residency at Café Oto. Much of the music for this new album was written on the tour and during her time in London Branch and her band entered the studios at Total Refreshment Centre where seven of the nine tracks on this recording were documented. The remaining two pieces were captured at Oto. Editing and overdubbing later took place in Chicago, and this is presumably where the guest musicians added their contributions.

“Fly or Die II” , released on the Chicago based label International Anthem, features a core quartet of Branch, Ajemian and Taylor, with Lester St. Louis taking over from Reid on cello. In addition to her trumpet playing Branch also adds synthesiser and other electronic effects and also makes her vocal début on record.

Branch, whose lineage is part Latino, is a politically informed musician with a healthy distaste for the current state of affairs in US politics and American society as a whole. There’s a punk like anger and intensity about much of the music here with Branch remarking;
“So much beauty lies in the abstract of instrumental music, but being this ain’t a particularly beautiful time I’ve chosen a more literal path. The voice is good for that”.

The album commences with “Birds of Paradise” and the strummed and plucked sounds of cello, bass and mbira, creating a series of hypnotic, interlocking rhythms. Branch eventually joins the proceedings, sketching woozy, fragile trumpet melodies above the minimalist patterns. Other elements are also added, including wispy flute like sounds, presumably generated by Branch’s synths and other electronic devices. This opening piece is credited to Branch/St. Louis/Ajemian/Taylor, suggesting that it was freely improvised. It’s one of two items recorded during the Café Oto sessions

The effective and atmospheric opener acts as a kind of overture for the incendiary “Prayer for AmeriKKKa Part 1 & 2”, a near twelve minute epic that arguably represents the album’s centre piece. Note the spelling as Branch, the vocalist, rails against the “bunch of wide eyed racists” at the heart of the American political system. Branch has also described her country’s political elite as “liars and thieves”, and this track pulls no punches about telling you exactly what she feels and where she stands. “This is not my America” she has said. Musically the piece is as powerful as the message, a slow, down- tuned blues that advances in the implacable manner of a funeral march. Guests LaMar Gay and Tate answer her vocal lines in the manner of Danny Richmond on Charles’ Mingus’ “Fables of Faubus”, and Branch’s piece can be seen as an updating of that message, and of that of Archie Shepp too. Branch’s trumpeting is a clarion call that cuts through the underpinning rhythms like a scythe, and her singing is as impassioned as her playing. She may not be a trained singer but her vocalising is extremely effective and conveys her message more than adequately. “This is a warning honey, they’re coming for you”.

The apocalyptic “Prayer” is followed by “Lesterlude”, a brief but intense passage of solo improvised cello from St. Louis that features both bowed and plucked sounds.

“Twenty- Three n me, Jupiter Redux” commences with the throb of a synthesiser, quickly joined by the sound of St. Louis’ cello. The rest of the band then jump in with Branch doubling on trumpet and synths. The buoyant,  propulsive grooves and the almost celebratory theme present a band positively fizzing with energy. This is subsequently waylaid by a squalling free jazz episode that itself shades off into atmospheric, electronically enhanced abstraction, before seguing into the jointly credited improvisation “Whales”, largely a feature for Ajemian’s pizzicato bass.

It’s Ajemian that introduces “Simple Silver Surfer”, his plucked bass subsequently joined by St. Louis’ plucked cello, the pair later joined by Taylor’s rolling drum grooves. Again there’s a veritable forest of interlocking rhythms through which Branch’s trumpet cuts a bravura swathe. Once more there’s a feeling of joyousness about this music, alongside her righteous anger Branch’s music is also a celebration of alternative life styles. The track is also something of a showcase for bassist Ajemian, who features strongly as a soloist and is a commanding presence throughout.

“Bird Dogs of Paradise” is another improvised episode, this time featuring the grainy, droning arco sounds of cello and bass, eventually joined by the rolling thunder of drums. Taylor’s contribution evolves into a full on drum feature, augmented by the vocal howls of Branch and Ajemian, the “Bird Dogs of Paradise”.

This segues into the exuberant “Nuevo Roquero Estereo”, the title presumably a nod to Branch’s Colombian roots.  This is the second piece that was recorded at Oto, but in this case a degree of post production was added in Chicago. Again there’s a dense rhythmic backdrop, a veritable forest of sound enhanced by additional percussion, synth, the mysterious egg and excited vocal whoops. The post production techniques impart a certain ‘dubbiness’ to the music, with Branch’s horn soaring above it all, surfing the wave with her punchy, incantatory trumpeting.

The closing “Love Song” is subtitled “for Assholes and Clowns”. Apparently it was written more than a decade ago, but suddenly seems to have acquired a contemporary relevance and resonance, I can’t think why, can you? Branch sings the lyric with her tongue firmly in her cheek, but hers’ is a savage humour, and this is reflected in both the singing and the playing, which becomes more intense and unhinged as the piece progresses. Branch overdubs herself on trumpet and vocals and there’s a degree of electronic manipulation, but there are still traces of Mingus and Shepp in the music here.

I’ve yet hear the first “Fly or Die” album, but I have to say that I love this new recording. Of course the fact that it was recorded in London gives it an extra resonance to British listeners, but it’s a stunning work in any event.

“Fly or Die II” fuses brilliant jazz musicianship with a raw punk energy in a way that ends up sounding totally unique. Branch has stated that she places more importance on ‘sound’ as opposed to technique, but there’s some stunning playing here, not least from the leader. Crucially it doesn’t sound gratuitous or forced, the players deploying their formidable chops in the service of the music. And for all the skill involved there’s still an agreeable edge and roughness to the sound, with leader’s trumpet playing exhibiting a rare attacking intensity. Branch herself is a force of nature, whether vocally or on the trumpet, and there’s a real sense of danger about her music, a frisson that is rarely applicable to jazz these days. Her political sentiments will chime with left leaning people all over the globe; here in the UK we have our own “wide eyed racists” and “assholes and clowns”.

But this album is not just about anger, when Branch isn’t venting her spleen the music takes on an irrepressible joyousness, albeit one still underpinned by a sense of injustice and ‘otherness’. “Fly or Die II” has the feeling of a major personal and political statement.

Vivid and angry Branch’s music has a real punk spirit about it and her music deserves to be heard by a wide audience, not just hard core jazz and improv fans. This is music with enough bite and crackle to appeal adventurous rock listeners and Branch’s previous excursions into this world may help to encourage this. She has also worked with DJs and MCs as she endeavours to get her message across to a contemporary audience.

I was sorry to have missed Branch’s Oto residency but have heard great things about it from those that were there, among them one time Jazzmann contributor Tim Owen.

The success of the Oto shows has led to the return of Branch for the 2019 EFG London Jazz Festival. This time she, together with St. Louis, Ajemian and Taylor, will be playing a single date at the Church of Sound in Clapton on Friday November 22nd 2019 as part of a European tour. Although its been scheduled for some time it represents a late addition to the Festival programme and once again I will have to miss out as I am already committed to covering another event elsewhere. Having enjoyed this album so much I have to say that this does come as something of a disappointment. Still, I hope one day to see Jaimie Branch performing her music live. The UK clearly holds a special place in her heart and her band would be a natural fit for the Parabola Arts Centre programme at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, hint, hint.

Details of Jaimie Branch’s European tour dates including the London show can be found at http://www.jaimiebranch.com

See also http://www.efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk

 

 

 

Fly or Die II; bird dogs of paradise

Jaimie Branch

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4-5 out of 5

Fly or Die II; bird dogs of paradise

Fuses brilliant jazz musicianship with a raw punk energy in a way that ends up sounding totally unique. “Fly or Die II” has the feeling of a major personal and political statement.

Jaimie Branch

“Fly or Die II; bird dogs of paradise

(International Anthem IARC0027)

Jaimie Branch – trumpet, voice, synths, sneaker squeaks, bells and whistles
Lester St. Louis – cello, Jason Ajemian- double bass, percussion, vocals, Chad Taylor – drums, mbira, xylophone

Guests;
Ban Lamar Gay, Marvin Tate – voices (track 2) Matt Schneider – 12 string guitar (track 2), Dan Bitney – percussion, synthesiser (track 8), Scott McNiece – egg (track 8)


New York based trumpeter and composer Jaimie Branch made a big impression with her 2017 début album “Fly or Die”, a recording that found its way onto the ‘Best of Year’ lists on both sides of the Atlantic.

Now aged thirty six Branch has spent time in New York, Chicago and Baltimore and has been involved in the music scenes of all three cities, playing everything from free jazz to punk rock. She has performed with leading cutting edge jazz musicians in both New York and Chicago, among them saxophonists Matana Roberts and Ken Vandermark, bassists Tim Daisy and William Parker and drummers Jason Nazary (the duo Anteloper) and Hamid Drake. She has also led her own rock group, Bomb Shelter, and worked as a sidewoman with a number of alternative rock bands, among them Atlas Math.

The first “Fly or Die” album featured Branch leading a core quartet comprised of cellist Tomeka Reid, bassist Jason Ajemian and drummer Chad Taylor, with cameo guest appearances by guitarist Matt Schneider and cornet players Ben Lamar Gay and Josh Berman.

The success of Branch’s début led to extensive touring, including a first visit to Europe. Branch’s itinerary included a visit to London during the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival that included a residency at Café Oto. Much of the music for this new album was written on the tour and during her time in London Branch and her band entered the studios at Total Refreshment Centre where seven of the nine tracks on this recording were documented. The remaining two pieces were captured at Oto. Editing and overdubbing later took place in Chicago, and this is presumably where the guest musicians added their contributions.

“Fly or Die II” , released on the Chicago based label International Anthem, features a core quartet of Branch, Ajemian and Taylor, with Lester St. Louis taking over from Reid on cello. In addition to her trumpet playing Branch also adds synthesiser and other electronic effects and also makes her vocal début on record.

Branch, whose lineage is part Latino, is a politically informed musician with a healthy distaste for the current state of affairs in US politics and American society as a whole. There’s a punk like anger and intensity about much of the music here with Branch remarking;
“So much beauty lies in the abstract of instrumental music, but being this ain’t a particularly beautiful time I’ve chosen a more literal path. The voice is good for that”.

The album commences with “Birds of Paradise” and the strummed and plucked sounds of cello, bass and mbira, creating a series of hypnotic, interlocking rhythms. Branch eventually joins the proceedings, sketching woozy, fragile trumpet melodies above the minimalist patterns. Other elements are also added, including wispy flute like sounds, presumably generated by Branch’s synths and other electronic devices. This opening piece is credited to Branch/St. Louis/Ajemian/Taylor, suggesting that it was freely improvised. It’s one of two items recorded during the Café Oto sessions

The effective and atmospheric opener acts as a kind of overture for the incendiary “Prayer for AmeriKKKa Part 1 & 2”, a near twelve minute epic that arguably represents the album’s centre piece. Note the spelling as Branch, the vocalist, rails against the “bunch of wide eyed racists” at the heart of the American political system. Branch has also described her country’s political elite as “liars and thieves”, and this track pulls no punches about telling you exactly what she feels and where she stands. “This is not my America” she has said. Musically the piece is as powerful as the message, a slow, down- tuned blues that advances in the implacable manner of a funeral march. Guests LaMar Gay and Tate answer her vocal lines in the manner of Danny Richmond on Charles’ Mingus’ “Fables of Faubus”, and Branch’s piece can be seen as an updating of that message, and of that of Archie Shepp too. Branch’s trumpeting is a clarion call that cuts through the underpinning rhythms like a scythe, and her singing is as impassioned as her playing. She may not be a trained singer but her vocalising is extremely effective and conveys her message more than adequately. “This is a warning honey, they’re coming for you”.

The apocalyptic “Prayer” is followed by “Lesterlude”, a brief but intense passage of solo improvised cello from St. Louis that features both bowed and plucked sounds.

“Twenty- Three n me, Jupiter Redux” commences with the throb of a synthesiser, quickly joined by the sound of St. Louis’ cello. The rest of the band then jump in with Branch doubling on trumpet and synths. The buoyant,  propulsive grooves and the almost celebratory theme present a band positively fizzing with energy. This is subsequently waylaid by a squalling free jazz episode that itself shades off into atmospheric, electronically enhanced abstraction, before seguing into the jointly credited improvisation “Whales”, largely a feature for Ajemian’s pizzicato bass.

It’s Ajemian that introduces “Simple Silver Surfer”, his plucked bass subsequently joined by St. Louis’ plucked cello, the pair later joined by Taylor’s rolling drum grooves. Again there’s a veritable forest of interlocking rhythms through which Branch’s trumpet cuts a bravura swathe. Once more there’s a feeling of joyousness about this music, alongside her righteous anger Branch’s music is also a celebration of alternative life styles. The track is also something of a showcase for bassist Ajemian, who features strongly as a soloist and is a commanding presence throughout.

“Bird Dogs of Paradise” is another improvised episode, this time featuring the grainy, droning arco sounds of cello and bass, eventually joined by the rolling thunder of drums. Taylor’s contribution evolves into a full on drum feature, augmented by the vocal howls of Branch and Ajemian, the “Bird Dogs of Paradise”.

This segues into the exuberant “Nuevo Roquero Estereo”, the title presumably a nod to Branch’s Colombian roots.  This is the second piece that was recorded at Oto, but in this case a degree of post production was added in Chicago. Again there’s a dense rhythmic backdrop, a veritable forest of sound enhanced by additional percussion, synth, the mysterious egg and excited vocal whoops. The post production techniques impart a certain ‘dubbiness’ to the music, with Branch’s horn soaring above it all, surfing the wave with her punchy, incantatory trumpeting.

The closing “Love Song” is subtitled “for Assholes and Clowns”. Apparently it was written more than a decade ago, but suddenly seems to have acquired a contemporary relevance and resonance, I can’t think why, can you? Branch sings the lyric with her tongue firmly in her cheek, but hers’ is a savage humour, and this is reflected in both the singing and the playing, which becomes more intense and unhinged as the piece progresses. Branch overdubs herself on trumpet and vocals and there’s a degree of electronic manipulation, but there are still traces of Mingus and Shepp in the music here.

I’ve yet hear the first “Fly or Die” album, but I have to say that I love this new recording. Of course the fact that it was recorded in London gives it an extra resonance to British listeners, but it’s a stunning work in any event.

“Fly or Die II” fuses brilliant jazz musicianship with a raw punk energy in a way that ends up sounding totally unique. Branch has stated that she places more importance on ‘sound’ as opposed to technique, but there’s some stunning playing here, not least from the leader. Crucially it doesn’t sound gratuitous or forced, the players deploying their formidable chops in the service of the music. And for all the skill involved there’s still an agreeable edge and roughness to the sound, with leader’s trumpet playing exhibiting a rare attacking intensity. Branch herself is a force of nature, whether vocally or on the trumpet, and there’s a real sense of danger about her music, a frisson that is rarely applicable to jazz these days. Her political sentiments will chime with left leaning people all over the globe; here in the UK we have our own “wide eyed racists” and “assholes and clowns”.

But this album is not just about anger, when Branch isn’t venting her spleen the music takes on an irrepressible joyousness, albeit one still underpinned by a sense of injustice and ‘otherness’. “Fly or Die II” has the feeling of a major personal and political statement.

Vivid and angry Branch’s music has a real punk spirit about it and her music deserves to be heard by a wide audience, not just hard core jazz and improv fans. This is music with enough bite and crackle to appeal adventurous rock listeners and Branch’s previous excursions into this world may help to encourage this. She has also worked with DJs and MCs as she endeavours to get her message across to a contemporary audience.

I was sorry to have missed Branch’s Oto residency but have heard great things about it from those that were there, among them one time Jazzmann contributor Tim Owen.

The success of the Oto shows has led to the return of Branch for the 2019 EFG London Jazz Festival. This time she, together with St. Louis, Ajemian and Taylor, will be playing a single date at the Church of Sound in Clapton on Friday November 22nd 2019 as part of a European tour. Although its been scheduled for some time it represents a late addition to the Festival programme and once again I will have to miss out as I am already committed to covering another event elsewhere. Having enjoyed this album so much I have to say that this does come as something of a disappointment. Still, I hope one day to see Jaimie Branch performing her music live. The UK clearly holds a special place in her heart and her band would be a natural fit for the Parabola Arts Centre programme at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, hint, hint.

Details of Jaimie Branch’s European tour dates including the London show can be found at http://www.jaimiebranch.com

See also http://www.efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk

 

 

 

Nicolas Meier World Group - Peaceful Rating: 3-5 out of 5 An engaging musical voyage around the Mediterranean and beyond. Meier performs with his usual skill and flair and everybody in the band plays well, with each musician a distinctive presence.

Nicolas Meier World Group

“Peaceful”

(MGP Records MGPCD022)

Nicolas Meier – nylon fretted & fretless six string guitars, acoustic twelve string guitar, glissentar
Kevin Glasgow – six string electric bass
Richard Jones – violin
Demi Garcia - percussion


“Peaceful” is the latest album from the Swiss born, London based guitarist Nicolas Meier. It continues Meier’s exploration of the fusion of jazz and Middle Eastern music that has previously been documented on such excellent albums as “Orient” (2006), “Journey” and “Breeze” ( both 2010) and “From Istanbul to Cueta with a Smile” (2013), all reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann.

Meier is a prolific composer and has released a total of twelve albums as a solo artist. He is also half of an acclaimed guitar duo with fellow fretboard wizard Pete Oxley, a partnership that is also well documented on disc.

Meier’s skill and versatility earned a lengthy stint as a member the great rock guitarist Jeff Beck’s band, while his 2017 trio album “Infinity” was made in the company of US jazz heavyweights Jimmy Haslip (bass) and Vinnie Colaiuta (drums).

Meier has also worked with cellist Shirley Smart, bassist Nick Kacal’s Guerilla Sound group, drummer Robert Castelli’s Boom Quartet and the genre hopping quartet Eclectica! He also played on, and produced, the 2018 release “Across The Bridge”, the latest album by the Belgian born vocalist and songwriter Gabrielle Ducomble. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/gabrielle-ducomble-across-the-bridge/

The guitarist’s fascination with the music of the Middle East is inspired by his Turkish wife, Songul, who acts as his muse and also provides the distinctive artwork that has graced the covers of many of Meier’s recordings.

More than two dozen musicians have passed through the ranks of various Meier groups but “Peaceful” features his current working quartet, or World Group, featuring violinist Richard Jones, six string electric bass specialist Kevin Glasgow and the Spanish percussionist Demi Garcia. Glasgow and Garcia were part of an edition of the Meier group that I saw at the now defunct Forge venue in Camden as part of the 2013 EFG London Jazz Festival. The band that night also included violinist and vocalist Lizzie Ball and kit drummer Laurie Lowe. A review of that event is included as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-2013-part-two/

As its title suggests the new recording is a largely acoustic affair, a long way removed from the versatile Meier’s Seven7 and My Dark Side heavy metal projects! Indeed Meier describes this quartet as “an acoustic world jazz group”.

Opener “Besiktas Café”, sets the scene, a beguiling blend of Turkish and gypsy jazz influences that variously transports the listener between Paris and Istanbul. The interplay between Meier’s guitars and Jones’ violin is particularly striking, while Garcia’s percussion provides a subtle rhythmic impetus.

Initially influenced by Pat Metheny, Meier’s writing also exhibits something of the American’s gift for melody. The largely breezy “Manzanita Samba” puts his distinctive world jazz slant on an episodic, seven minute composition that incorporates impressive solos from Jones, Glasgow and Meier, and even features Garcia, presumably, blowing a whistle, as if to emphasise the authenticity of the tune’s samba credentials.

The languid title track features more exquisite interplay between guitar and violin while Garcia adds delightful percussive details. At seven and a half minutes plus it’s another episodic piece, and as befits the name of the quartet the sound again hints at the music of several cultures, Meier’s playing again evokes the flavours of the Middle East while Garcia’s percussion introduces a subtle Indian element.

If anything the atmospheric “Caravan of Anatolia” is even more evocative with Meier effecting an oud like sound. This is presumably achieved on his Godin manufactured glissentar, an eleven string fretless guitar designed to sound similar to the oud, the lute like instrument common throughout the Middle East, North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean. 

Garcia’s percussion introduces “Water Lilies”, a flamenco flavoured piece that intersperses vibrant, highly rhythmic passages with gentler, more reflective episodes. Typically the piece features some dazzling soloing from the leader and Garcia continues to feature strongly, his rapid fire percussion imparting the music with a considerable rhythmic drive.

The title of “Princes’ Islands” references the cluster of small islands in the Sea of Marmara, just south east of Istanbul. They are famed for their beauty and Meier and his colleagues bring an authentically Turkish feel to the music in a richly atmospheric performance, with both Meier and Jones impressing as soloists.

“City of the 3 Rivers” offers another example of Meier’s episodic and highly evocative writing as it develops out of rippling guitar arpeggios to embrace a typically broad range of influences, including a return of those earlier flamenco flavourings. The playing is typically excellent and includes extended solos from Meier and Jones.

“The Island” re-introduces a more overt Middle Eastern sound with Meier again deploying an oud like sound as he dovetails effectively with Jones’ violin.

The album concludes with “Soho Square”, the title acknowledging Meier’s current status as a London resident. It’s the most conventionally ‘jazz’ sounding piece on the album, with a theme that threatens to allude to standards such as “Georgia” and “Sunny Side of the Street”. There are subtle blues inflections, but the patter of Garcia’s percussion helps to imbue the music with an exotic sheen that reflects the cosmopolitan nature of 21st century London.

“Peaceful” represents an engaging musical voyage around the Mediterranean, with excursions to Brazil, and maybe even India, before finally ending up in London. The broad range of influences certainly justifies the quartet’s ‘World Group’ moniker.

Meier performs with his usual skill and flair and everybody in the band plays well, with each musician representing a distinctive instrumental presence. “Peaceful” builds on the success of Meier’s earlier solo work and it’s probably fair to say that he’s created an entire ‘world jazz’ sub genre of his own by now.

If anything “Peaceful” is almost a little too tasteful, and despite the universally high standard of musicianship on display it’s possible that some listeners may find these elegant musical travelogues a trifle bloodless.

Having witnessed Meier in live performance on several occasions, both as a band leader and as a sideman, it’s probably fair to say that he’s one of those musicians who has to be seen in the flesh for one to appreciate just how talented a player he really is. Meier is a stunning technician on a wide range of guitars and related instruments, fretted and fretless, acoustic and electric, and with any number of strings.

I’m currently looking forward to seeing Meier and the World Group performing this music live at midday on Friday 22nd November at the Culford Room, Cadogan Hall as part of the 2019 EFG Jazz Festival. The event forms part of Cadogan Hall’s ‘Out to Lunch’ programme and admission is free.
https://cadoganhall.com/whats-on/ljf19-nicolas-meier-world-group/

Peaceful

Nicolas Meier World Group

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Peaceful

An engaging musical voyage around the Mediterranean and beyond. Meier performs with his usual skill and flair and everybody in the band plays well, with each musician a distinctive presence.

Nicolas Meier World Group

“Peaceful”

(MGP Records MGPCD022)

Nicolas Meier – nylon fretted & fretless six string guitars, acoustic twelve string guitar, glissentar
Kevin Glasgow – six string electric bass
Richard Jones – violin
Demi Garcia - percussion


“Peaceful” is the latest album from the Swiss born, London based guitarist Nicolas Meier. It continues Meier’s exploration of the fusion of jazz and Middle Eastern music that has previously been documented on such excellent albums as “Orient” (2006), “Journey” and “Breeze” ( both 2010) and “From Istanbul to Cueta with a Smile” (2013), all reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann.

Meier is a prolific composer and has released a total of twelve albums as a solo artist. He is also half of an acclaimed guitar duo with fellow fretboard wizard Pete Oxley, a partnership that is also well documented on disc.

Meier’s skill and versatility earned a lengthy stint as a member the great rock guitarist Jeff Beck’s band, while his 2017 trio album “Infinity” was made in the company of US jazz heavyweights Jimmy Haslip (bass) and Vinnie Colaiuta (drums).

Meier has also worked with cellist Shirley Smart, bassist Nick Kacal’s Guerilla Sound group, drummer Robert Castelli’s Boom Quartet and the genre hopping quartet Eclectica! He also played on, and produced, the 2018 release “Across The Bridge”, the latest album by the Belgian born vocalist and songwriter Gabrielle Ducomble. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/gabrielle-ducomble-across-the-bridge/

The guitarist’s fascination with the music of the Middle East is inspired by his Turkish wife, Songul, who acts as his muse and also provides the distinctive artwork that has graced the covers of many of Meier’s recordings.

More than two dozen musicians have passed through the ranks of various Meier groups but “Peaceful” features his current working quartet, or World Group, featuring violinist Richard Jones, six string electric bass specialist Kevin Glasgow and the Spanish percussionist Demi Garcia. Glasgow and Garcia were part of an edition of the Meier group that I saw at the now defunct Forge venue in Camden as part of the 2013 EFG London Jazz Festival. The band that night also included violinist and vocalist Lizzie Ball and kit drummer Laurie Lowe. A review of that event is included as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-2013-part-two/

As its title suggests the new recording is a largely acoustic affair, a long way removed from the versatile Meier’s Seven7 and My Dark Side heavy metal projects! Indeed Meier describes this quartet as “an acoustic world jazz group”.

Opener “Besiktas Café”, sets the scene, a beguiling blend of Turkish and gypsy jazz influences that variously transports the listener between Paris and Istanbul. The interplay between Meier’s guitars and Jones’ violin is particularly striking, while Garcia’s percussion provides a subtle rhythmic impetus.

Initially influenced by Pat Metheny, Meier’s writing also exhibits something of the American’s gift for melody. The largely breezy “Manzanita Samba” puts his distinctive world jazz slant on an episodic, seven minute composition that incorporates impressive solos from Jones, Glasgow and Meier, and even features Garcia, presumably, blowing a whistle, as if to emphasise the authenticity of the tune’s samba credentials.

The languid title track features more exquisite interplay between guitar and violin while Garcia adds delightful percussive details. At seven and a half minutes plus it’s another episodic piece, and as befits the name of the quartet the sound again hints at the music of several cultures, Meier’s playing again evokes the flavours of the Middle East while Garcia’s percussion introduces a subtle Indian element.

If anything the atmospheric “Caravan of Anatolia” is even more evocative with Meier effecting an oud like sound. This is presumably achieved on his Godin manufactured glissentar, an eleven string fretless guitar designed to sound similar to the oud, the lute like instrument common throughout the Middle East, North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean. 

Garcia’s percussion introduces “Water Lilies”, a flamenco flavoured piece that intersperses vibrant, highly rhythmic passages with gentler, more reflective episodes. Typically the piece features some dazzling soloing from the leader and Garcia continues to feature strongly, his rapid fire percussion imparting the music with a considerable rhythmic drive.

The title of “Princes’ Islands” references the cluster of small islands in the Sea of Marmara, just south east of Istanbul. They are famed for their beauty and Meier and his colleagues bring an authentically Turkish feel to the music in a richly atmospheric performance, with both Meier and Jones impressing as soloists.

“City of the 3 Rivers” offers another example of Meier’s episodic and highly evocative writing as it develops out of rippling guitar arpeggios to embrace a typically broad range of influences, including a return of those earlier flamenco flavourings. The playing is typically excellent and includes extended solos from Meier and Jones.

“The Island” re-introduces a more overt Middle Eastern sound with Meier again deploying an oud like sound as he dovetails effectively with Jones’ violin.

The album concludes with “Soho Square”, the title acknowledging Meier’s current status as a London resident. It’s the most conventionally ‘jazz’ sounding piece on the album, with a theme that threatens to allude to standards such as “Georgia” and “Sunny Side of the Street”. There are subtle blues inflections, but the patter of Garcia’s percussion helps to imbue the music with an exotic sheen that reflects the cosmopolitan nature of 21st century London.

“Peaceful” represents an engaging musical voyage around the Mediterranean, with excursions to Brazil, and maybe even India, before finally ending up in London. The broad range of influences certainly justifies the quartet’s ‘World Group’ moniker.

Meier performs with his usual skill and flair and everybody in the band plays well, with each musician representing a distinctive instrumental presence. “Peaceful” builds on the success of Meier’s earlier solo work and it’s probably fair to say that he’s created an entire ‘world jazz’ sub genre of his own by now.

If anything “Peaceful” is almost a little too tasteful, and despite the universally high standard of musicianship on display it’s possible that some listeners may find these elegant musical travelogues a trifle bloodless.

Having witnessed Meier in live performance on several occasions, both as a band leader and as a sideman, it’s probably fair to say that he’s one of those musicians who has to be seen in the flesh for one to appreciate just how talented a player he really is. Meier is a stunning technician on a wide range of guitars and related instruments, fretted and fretless, acoustic and electric, and with any number of strings.

I’m currently looking forward to seeing Meier and the World Group performing this music live at midday on Friday 22nd November at the Culford Room, Cadogan Hall as part of the 2019 EFG Jazz Festival. The event forms part of Cadogan Hall’s ‘Out to Lunch’ programme and admission is free.
https://cadoganhall.com/whats-on/ljf19-nicolas-meier-world-group/

Binker Golding - Abstractions of Reality Past and Incredible Feathers Rating: 3-5 out of 5 A collection of engaging original compositions allied to some dynamic performances from all the musicians involved.

Binker Golding

“Abstractions of Reality Past and Incredible Feathers”

(Gearbox Records GB1555CD)

Binker Golding – tenor saxophone, Joe Armon-Jones – piano, Daniel Casimir – double bass, Sam Jones - drums


London born saxophonist Binker Golding is one of the leading figures on the capital’s contemporary jazz scene, part of the young crop of musicians behind the latest jazz ‘revival’, one which has seen the music reaching out to appeal to a younger, more diverse demographic.

Golding is probably best known for Binker & Moses,  his free-wheeling, award winning duo with drummer Moses Boyd. In 2015 I was lucky enough to catch a typically exciting and energetic show from these two at a packed Ray’s Jazz at Foyle’s as part of that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. My review of that event can be found as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-2015-second-friday-20-11-2015/

The edgy urgency of the duo’s live performances was captured on the acclaimed vinyl only release “Dem Ones”  (Gearbox Records, 2015). Binker & Moses followed this with the ambitious, semi-conceptual double set “Journey To The Mountains Of Forever” (2017), which placed a greater emphasis on composition and featured an expanded line up that included free jazz doyen Evan Parker. A club performance of this material, also featuring Parker, was documented on the live album “Alive in the East?” (2018).

Golding has also forged a successful duo alliance with pianist Elliot Galvin, with whom he released the wholly improvised vinyl album “Ex Nihilo”, recorded in April 2018 at London’s famous Vortex Jazz Club and released on the boutique record label ByrdOut. Review here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/binker-golding-and-elliot-galvin-ex-nihilo/

Golding is a product of the Tomorrow’s Warriors programme (founded by Gary Crosby and Janine Irons) and continues to be associated with the organisation. Currently he is the Musical Director of the Tomorrow’s Warriors Youth Orchestra and he has also conducted, and written for, the Nu Civilisation Orchestra.

As a prolific sideman Golding has performed with an impressive array of cross-generational jazz talent including  vocalist Zara McFarlane, pianists Sarah Tandy and Ashley Henry and bands such as Boyd’s Exodus, Mr. Jukes, Maisha and drummer Lorraine Baker’s Ed Blackwell inspired group Eden. Others with whom he has worked include bassist Gary Crosby and fellow saxophonists Steve Williamson, Jason Yarde, Denys Baptiste and Gilad Atzmon.

Parallel to his other musical activities Golding also leads a long running quartet featuring the talents of three more rising stars of the London jazz scene, pianist Joe Armon-Jones, bassist Daniel Casimir and drummer Sam Jones. These three regularly work together as a unit and also form part of saxophonist Nubya Garcia’s highly regarded quartet.

“Abstractions…” represents Golding’s much anticipated début in the classic saxophone led quartet format. The album was recorded at the famous Abbey Road Studios in London and mixed in New York by the celebrated recording engineer James Farber, who has worked with such giants of the music as saxophonists Joe Lovano and Michael Brecker and pianist Brad Mehldau.

Of the inspirations behind the recording Golding, now aged thirty one, says;
“It’s about experiences I had throughout my teenage years and twenties. It’s about remembering, forgetting, thinking you’ve forgotten and remembering again. It’s about people and friends that you’ll never see again and times that you can’t go back to, so you have to settle for the memory of them instead, whilst holding on to some hope for the future”.

In this wholly acoustic quartet format Golding’s playing has been compared to that of saxophone greats such as Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Indeed there’s something re-assuringly ‘conventional’ about Golding’s sound here, particularly when compared to his more abstract, freely structured recordings with Boyd and Galvin.

This new album also places a greater focus on Golding the composer. Despite the enigmatic nature of the titles his writing here is firmly within the jazz ‘tradition’, mixing the sounds of 60s hard bop and modal jazz with elements of 70s fusion and more contemporary developments such as hip hop.

Casimir’s bass introduces the opening “I Forgot Santa Monica”, which gets the album off to an invigorating start. Golding solos with great fluency over the propulsive grooves laid down by his colleagues, with drummer Jones a particularly busy presence, sometimes channelling the spirit of his namesake, Elvin. Golding’s three accompanists played with Nubya Garcia’s quartet at this year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival and I recall being hugely impressed by the contribution of Armon-Jones, then playing an electric keyboard. He positively dazzles here with a barnstorming solo on acoustic piano as Golding and his colleagues set their stall out from the off.

“Exquisite She-Green”  effectively combines contemporary broken beat grooves with old style tenor sax soulfulness and lyricism as Golding stretches out, followed by Armon-Jones at the piano. Both soloists impress with their fluency and invention as they subtly steer the music in unexpected directions.

Casimir sets the ball rolling again on “Skinned Alive, Tasting Blood”, helping to establish a rolling groove that underscores the leader’s tenor sax ruminations. Golding’s soloing here has been compared to Rollins and he probes with an appropriate eloquence and rigour, again followed by the impressive Armon-Jones at the keyboard. Once more the pianist is in inspired form, avoiding the obvious licks and phrases and sounding positively Tyner-esque at times. The performance also includes a closing drum feature from Jones, who performs with great sensitivity and intelligence throughout the piece.

“…. And I Like Your Feathers” is positively playful, with a light airy soul-jazz style theme that forms the framework for a delightfully melodic double bass solo from Casimir, followed by a joyously inventive excursion from Armon-Jones at the piano. Golding himself keeps things pretty simple, but Jones drums with great colour, wit and invention throughout. This is the sound of a band having fun.

“You, That Place, That Time” continues with the soul- jazz feel and features the leader at his most melodic. Armon-Jones maintains his high level of creativity at the keyboard and when Golding finally does stretch out he does so with considerable power and authority, urged on by Jones’ dynamic drumming.

The piece segues directly into “Strange – Beautiful Remembered”, with its arresting descending melodic motif. This represents the jumping off point for typically inventive solos from Armon-Jones and Golding himself, supported by similarly imaginative drums and bass.

The closing “Fluorescent Black” features Golding at his most Coltrane-like as he stretches out on tenor around an infectious riff based theme. The leader solos with power and authority and his colleagues respond with a dynamic group performance that includes some bravura drumming from the brilliant Sam Jones.

“Abstractions…” represents an impressive full leadership from Golding and one suspects that this quartet must be a hugely exciting live act. Besides the Rollins, Coltrane and Brecker comparisons Golding’s writing has been likened to that of the great Wayne Shorter, which is praise indeed.

This new album has been very well received and it features a collection of engaging original compositions allied to some dynamic performances from all the musicians involved. By jazz standards it’s probably a release that will do very well commercially.

And yet, there’s still a nagging feeling that Golding has played it safe. It’s certainly a more ‘conventional’ jazz recording than any of his duo releases and is very much in the ‘tradition’.
It could be a Blue Note or Impulse! record from the 1960s.

I appreciate that this album only represents one side of Golding’s musical personality and that he has done more radical work elsewhere. “Abstractions…” is a good record, and one that will doubtless bring great pleasure to a good many listeners. Nevertheless I’m still left feeling slightly disappointed that it doesn’t deliver something more obviously contemporary and cutting edge.

Meanwhile Golding’s experimental side will be in evidence at the forthcoming EFG London Jazz Festival when he and Elliot Galvin perform as a duo at Ray’s Jazz at Foyle’s at 6.00 pm on the evening of Wednesday 20th November 2019.

 

Abstractions of Reality Past and Incredible Feathers

Binker Golding

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

Abstractions of Reality Past and Incredible Feathers

A collection of engaging original compositions allied to some dynamic performances from all the musicians involved.

Binker Golding

“Abstractions of Reality Past and Incredible Feathers”

(Gearbox Records GB1555CD)

Binker Golding – tenor saxophone, Joe Armon-Jones – piano, Daniel Casimir – double bass, Sam Jones - drums


London born saxophonist Binker Golding is one of the leading figures on the capital’s contemporary jazz scene, part of the young crop of musicians behind the latest jazz ‘revival’, one which has seen the music reaching out to appeal to a younger, more diverse demographic.

Golding is probably best known for Binker & Moses,  his free-wheeling, award winning duo with drummer Moses Boyd. In 2015 I was lucky enough to catch a typically exciting and energetic show from these two at a packed Ray’s Jazz at Foyle’s as part of that year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. My review of that event can be found as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-2015-second-friday-20-11-2015/

The edgy urgency of the duo’s live performances was captured on the acclaimed vinyl only release “Dem Ones”  (Gearbox Records, 2015). Binker & Moses followed this with the ambitious, semi-conceptual double set “Journey To The Mountains Of Forever” (2017), which placed a greater emphasis on composition and featured an expanded line up that included free jazz doyen Evan Parker. A club performance of this material, also featuring Parker, was documented on the live album “Alive in the East?” (2018).

Golding has also forged a successful duo alliance with pianist Elliot Galvin, with whom he released the wholly improvised vinyl album “Ex Nihilo”, recorded in April 2018 at London’s famous Vortex Jazz Club and released on the boutique record label ByrdOut. Review here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/binker-golding-and-elliot-galvin-ex-nihilo/

Golding is a product of the Tomorrow’s Warriors programme (founded by Gary Crosby and Janine Irons) and continues to be associated with the organisation. Currently he is the Musical Director of the Tomorrow’s Warriors Youth Orchestra and he has also conducted, and written for, the Nu Civilisation Orchestra.

As a prolific sideman Golding has performed with an impressive array of cross-generational jazz talent including  vocalist Zara McFarlane, pianists Sarah Tandy and Ashley Henry and bands such as Boyd’s Exodus, Mr. Jukes, Maisha and drummer Lorraine Baker’s Ed Blackwell inspired group Eden. Others with whom he has worked include bassist Gary Crosby and fellow saxophonists Steve Williamson, Jason Yarde, Denys Baptiste and Gilad Atzmon.

Parallel to his other musical activities Golding also leads a long running quartet featuring the talents of three more rising stars of the London jazz scene, pianist Joe Armon-Jones, bassist Daniel Casimir and drummer Sam Jones. These three regularly work together as a unit and also form part of saxophonist Nubya Garcia’s highly regarded quartet.

“Abstractions…” represents Golding’s much anticipated début in the classic saxophone led quartet format. The album was recorded at the famous Abbey Road Studios in London and mixed in New York by the celebrated recording engineer James Farber, who has worked with such giants of the music as saxophonists Joe Lovano and Michael Brecker and pianist Brad Mehldau.

Of the inspirations behind the recording Golding, now aged thirty one, says;
“It’s about experiences I had throughout my teenage years and twenties. It’s about remembering, forgetting, thinking you’ve forgotten and remembering again. It’s about people and friends that you’ll never see again and times that you can’t go back to, so you have to settle for the memory of them instead, whilst holding on to some hope for the future”.

In this wholly acoustic quartet format Golding’s playing has been compared to that of saxophone greats such as Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Indeed there’s something re-assuringly ‘conventional’ about Golding’s sound here, particularly when compared to his more abstract, freely structured recordings with Boyd and Galvin.

This new album also places a greater focus on Golding the composer. Despite the enigmatic nature of the titles his writing here is firmly within the jazz ‘tradition’, mixing the sounds of 60s hard bop and modal jazz with elements of 70s fusion and more contemporary developments such as hip hop.

Casimir’s bass introduces the opening “I Forgot Santa Monica”, which gets the album off to an invigorating start. Golding solos with great fluency over the propulsive grooves laid down by his colleagues, with drummer Jones a particularly busy presence, sometimes channelling the spirit of his namesake, Elvin. Golding’s three accompanists played with Nubya Garcia’s quartet at this year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival and I recall being hugely impressed by the contribution of Armon-Jones, then playing an electric keyboard. He positively dazzles here with a barnstorming solo on acoustic piano as Golding and his colleagues set their stall out from the off.

“Exquisite She-Green”  effectively combines contemporary broken beat grooves with old style tenor sax soulfulness and lyricism as Golding stretches out, followed by Armon-Jones at the piano. Both soloists impress with their fluency and invention as they subtly steer the music in unexpected directions.

Casimir sets the ball rolling again on “Skinned Alive, Tasting Blood”, helping to establish a rolling groove that underscores the leader’s tenor sax ruminations. Golding’s soloing here has been compared to Rollins and he probes with an appropriate eloquence and rigour, again followed by the impressive Armon-Jones at the keyboard. Once more the pianist is in inspired form, avoiding the obvious licks and phrases and sounding positively Tyner-esque at times. The performance also includes a closing drum feature from Jones, who performs with great sensitivity and intelligence throughout the piece.

“…. And I Like Your Feathers” is positively playful, with a light airy soul-jazz style theme that forms the framework for a delightfully melodic double bass solo from Casimir, followed by a joyously inventive excursion from Armon-Jones at the piano. Golding himself keeps things pretty simple, but Jones drums with great colour, wit and invention throughout. This is the sound of a band having fun.

“You, That Place, That Time” continues with the soul- jazz feel and features the leader at his most melodic. Armon-Jones maintains his high level of creativity at the keyboard and when Golding finally does stretch out he does so with considerable power and authority, urged on by Jones’ dynamic drumming.

The piece segues directly into “Strange – Beautiful Remembered”, with its arresting descending melodic motif. This represents the jumping off point for typically inventive solos from Armon-Jones and Golding himself, supported by similarly imaginative drums and bass.

The closing “Fluorescent Black” features Golding at his most Coltrane-like as he stretches out on tenor around an infectious riff based theme. The leader solos with power and authority and his colleagues respond with a dynamic group performance that includes some bravura drumming from the brilliant Sam Jones.

“Abstractions…” represents an impressive full leadership from Golding and one suspects that this quartet must be a hugely exciting live act. Besides the Rollins, Coltrane and Brecker comparisons Golding’s writing has been likened to that of the great Wayne Shorter, which is praise indeed.

This new album has been very well received and it features a collection of engaging original compositions allied to some dynamic performances from all the musicians involved. By jazz standards it’s probably a release that will do very well commercially.

And yet, there’s still a nagging feeling that Golding has played it safe. It’s certainly a more ‘conventional’ jazz recording than any of his duo releases and is very much in the ‘tradition’.
It could be a Blue Note or Impulse! record from the 1960s.

I appreciate that this album only represents one side of Golding’s musical personality and that he has done more radical work elsewhere. “Abstractions…” is a good record, and one that will doubtless bring great pleasure to a good many listeners. Nevertheless I’m still left feeling slightly disappointed that it doesn’t deliver something more obviously contemporary and cutting edge.

Meanwhile Golding’s experimental side will be in evidence at the forthcoming EFG London Jazz Festival when he and Elliot Galvin perform as a duo at Ray’s Jazz at Foyle’s at 6.00 pm on the evening of Wednesday 20th November 2019.

 

Joachim Caffonnette Trio - Vers L’Azur Noir Rating: 0 out of 5 An impressive offering from this excellent Franco-Belgian trio. Caffonnette reveals himself to be a composer and arranger of considerable imagination in addition to being a technically gifted pianist.

Joachim Caffonnette Trio

“Vers L’Azur Noir”

(Neuklang Records NCD4205N – Proper Music Distribution)

Joachim Caffonnette – piano, Alex Gilson – bass, Jean-Baptiste Pinet – drums

The Joachim Caffonnette Trio is about to embark on a week’s tour of the UK, so now represents a good time to take a look at their new album, released on the German record label Neuklang Records.

Thirty year old Caffonnette is a Belgian born pianist and composer who has established himself as a regular presence on his country’s jazz scene, including a long running residency at Sounds Jazz Club in Brussels. He studied at music colleges in his home city of Brussels, where his tutors included his fellow countryman Eric Legnini. Caffonnette works regularly as a sideman and has also collaborated on theatre productions. Outside Belgium he has performed elsewhere in Europe and also in New York.

In 2011 Caffonnette formed his own quintet, a band that focussed exclusively on the pianist’s own compositions. In 2015 this group released the album “Simplexity” for AZ productions.

In 2016 Caffonnette formed his current trio and the bulk of this new release was recorded in the studio in late 2017, when the band were coming off the back of a twelve date tour. Three more pieces were documented at the Brussels jazz club Cellule 133a in September 2018. The material includes six Caffonnette originals, a version of Thelonious Monk’s “Monk’s Dream” , and two pop-rock covers, The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and the title song from the documentary film “Sugar Man”.

Joining Caffonnette are two French musicians, bassist Alex Gilson and drummer Jean-Baptiste Pinet, both born in 1990. Each has an impressive pedigree as a sideman and both have worked extensively with a wide range of leading European and American jazz musicians.

Besides his work as a pianist and composer Caffonnette is the chairman of the Belgian jazz association “Les Lundis d’Hortense”, a forty three year old entity dedicated to the promotion of Belgian jazz which organises concerts, tours and workshops and fights for the rights of musicians.

Caffonnette’s credentials as a musician with a social conscience are also evidenced by his album notes, with some compositions being inspired by political or social events, even though the album is far from being a ‘political’ or ‘protest’ record.

Caffonnette’s playing has been compared to that of Wynton Kelly and Herbie Hancock but as this album reveals he is a musician and composer who has absorbed several influences. The pianist was classically taught in his early years before studying jazz piano with Legnini at the Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles and composition and arrangement with Kris Defoort at Koninklijk Conservatorium, also in Brussels. As his choice of covers reveals he has also been influenced by the sounds of pop, rock and the cinema.

The album commences with the Caffonnette composition “Perspectives”, introduced by the leader alone at the piano but subsequently joined by the tick of Pinet’s cymbals and the anchor of Gilson’s melodic bass. Initially the leader’s rippling piano arpeggios seem to symbolise the concept of shifting perspectives but the trio are soon getting into something knottier and more improvisatory as Caffonnette embarks on his solo, inviting Gilson and Pinet to respond. The rapport that the trio have developed since their formation is reflected in this fiercely interactive performance.

The title of “Inner Necessity” is inspired by a quote from the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky (1866 – 1944)  and the music represents another example of this trio’s vigorous interplay. It’s a fast moving piece with an agreeably contemporary feel about it as Caffonnette’s fingers dance around the keyboard complemented by energetic bass and drums. There’s also an extended drum feature for Pinet during the latter stages of the tune.

There’s a change of style and pace with the ballad “Tripoli’s Sorrow”, a beautiful but sombre solo piano performance that Caffonnette dedicates to the victims of modern day slavery. “And in the twenty-first century, slavery continues in full view of everybody. But most of us look away”.

The first cover is Caffonnette’s re-writing of the Lennon-McCartney classic “Hey Jude”, which the pianist dedicates to his partner, Judith. Caffonnette re-harmonises the tune, centring it around the thrum of Gilson’s bass. It’s a surprisingly effective treatment that actually enhances the beauty of the familiar melody and also provides the springboard for the trio’s subsequent improvisations.
It’s less arch than a Bad Plus cover and one can imagine its new dedicatee being quite delighted with this inventive, but heartfelt, re-imagining of the song.

The name of the title track is sourced from a line in a poem by Arthur Rimbaud and means “Towards The Black Azure”. Caffonnette uses these words to draw attention to the plight of migrants in the Mediterranean the thousands who “full of mad hope launch themselves towards the black azure”. The album as a whole is dedicated to castaways everywhere.
The first part of the tune is, if anything, even more sombre than the earlier “Tripoli’s Sorrow”, and is a melancholy reflection on the harsh realities of the refugee crisis. Subsequently bass and drums are added in a measured trio performance that combines sadness with a delicate lyricism.

“Sugar Man” is Caffonnette’s arrangement of a song by the American musician Sixto Rodriguez, the subject of the acclaimed 2012 documentary film “Searching For Sugar Man”, directed by the late Malik Bendjelloul. The trio’s version commences with a ruminative passage of unaccompanied piano before entering into a passage of more spirited and energetic trio interplay. The piece also includes a dexterous double bass solo from Gilson, accompanied by the leader’s sparse piano chording and the patter of Pinet’s drums.

The final three tracks were recorded live in a jazz club environment and the positive audience reactions are testament to the quality of the performances.

The first of these is “A Mawda”, dedicated to the memory of a two year old migrant girl, who was killed after a Belgian policeman opened fire on the vehicle that she was travelling in. Although elegiac at times the performance also possesses a bristling energy that becomes more pronounced as the trio stretch out. Finally this is reined in again with the gentle coda.

Documented at the same performance the trio version of “Monk’s Dream” was included on the album due to the fond memories the performance evokes among the trio’s members. Caffonnette demonstrates his bop chops on a lively, swinging, highly interactive trio performance that includes an extended drum feature from Pinet. The three musicians sound as if they’re having great fun, and that spirit of joie de vivre communicates itself both to the audience on the night and to the listener at home. Caffonnette sounds remarkably like Monk at times, and one senses that Thelonious himself would have approved.

The album concludes with the Caffonnette original “Jax And Reddy” of which the composer notes;
“In 2017, in Kentucky, a five year old boy called Jax asked for a haircut just like his best friend Reddy. The two classmates were convinced that, given their resemblance, their teacher would be unable to tell them apart, and they found this hilarious. Our twisted adult minds will smile when we learn that Jax is white and Reddy is black. It felt right to conclude this record on such a note of hope”.
Musically the performance captures the innocence and impishness of its subjects as it develops from an introductory passage of unaccompanied piano to embrace some typically brisk, crisp, playful trio interplay. This includes a show stopping set piece that sees Gilson using the body of his bass as auxiliary percussion in a particularly dazzling passage of rhythmic interaction. The performance is actually edited out before it reaches its conclusion, which is a pity.

This minor cavil aside this is an impressive offering from this excellent Franco-Belgian trio. Caffonnette reveals himself to be a composer and arranger of considerable imagination in addition to being a technically gifted musician and an inventive piano soloist. Gilson and Pinet also acquit themselves well in well integrated and highly interactive trio, and grab their soloing opportunities with relish. The music embraces a broad range of moods, styles and influences and the forthcoming tour should see the trio expanding their British fanbase following their successful UK début at Edinburgh Jazz Festival earlier in the year.

The trio kick off their tour with a return to Edinburgh but unfortunately they won’t be coming anywhere near me, which is a shame. However I’d urge anyone reading this to check them out, if you can, at one of the following dates;

2019;

Sun. 3 November - 21.00
EDINBURGH The Jazz Bar, 1a Chambers Street Edinburgh EH1 1HR / £5-6 http://www.thejazzbar.co.uk/

Tues. 5 November - 19.30
GLASGOW The Blue Arrow, 323 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow G2 3HW / £8 https://www.thebluearrow.co.uk/

Wed. 6 November - 21:00
MANCHESTER -Matt & Phreds, 64 Tib Street, Northern Quarter, M4 1LG /  free https://mattandphreds.com/

Thurs. 7 November - 19.00
LONDON - Kansas Smitty’s, 63-65 Broadway Market E8 4PH.  / £9 https://www.kansassmittys.com/     

Friday 8 November – 21.00
LUTON The Bear Club, 24a Guildford Street, Mill Yard, Luton LU1 2NR / £10 http://www.the-bear.club/ 

Sat. 9 November – 20.30
NOTTINGHAM Peggy’s Skylight, 3 George Street, Nottingham NG1 3BH /  £12   https://www.peggysskylight.co.uk/

Sun. 10 November – 20.00
HOVE The Brunswick, 1-3 Holland Road, Hove BN3 1JF / £8-10 http://www.thebrunswick.net/2019/05/joachim-caffonnette-trio-sunday-10th-nov-2019/

Vers L’Azur Noir

Joachim Caffonnette Trio

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

0 out of 5

Vers L’Azur Noir

An impressive offering from this excellent Franco-Belgian trio. Caffonnette reveals himself to be a composer and arranger of considerable imagination in addition to being a technically gifted pianist.

Joachim Caffonnette Trio

“Vers L’Azur Noir”

(Neuklang Records NCD4205N – Proper Music Distribution)

Joachim Caffonnette – piano, Alex Gilson – bass, Jean-Baptiste Pinet – drums

The Joachim Caffonnette Trio is about to embark on a week’s tour of the UK, so now represents a good time to take a look at their new album, released on the German record label Neuklang Records.

Thirty year old Caffonnette is a Belgian born pianist and composer who has established himself as a regular presence on his country’s jazz scene, including a long running residency at Sounds Jazz Club in Brussels. He studied at music colleges in his home city of Brussels, where his tutors included his fellow countryman Eric Legnini. Caffonnette works regularly as a sideman and has also collaborated on theatre productions. Outside Belgium he has performed elsewhere in Europe and also in New York.

In 2011 Caffonnette formed his own quintet, a band that focussed exclusively on the pianist’s own compositions. In 2015 this group released the album “Simplexity” for AZ productions.

In 2016 Caffonnette formed his current trio and the bulk of this new release was recorded in the studio in late 2017, when the band were coming off the back of a twelve date tour. Three more pieces were documented at the Brussels jazz club Cellule 133a in September 2018. The material includes six Caffonnette originals, a version of Thelonious Monk’s “Monk’s Dream” , and two pop-rock covers, The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and the title song from the documentary film “Sugar Man”.

Joining Caffonnette are two French musicians, bassist Alex Gilson and drummer Jean-Baptiste Pinet, both born in 1990. Each has an impressive pedigree as a sideman and both have worked extensively with a wide range of leading European and American jazz musicians.

Besides his work as a pianist and composer Caffonnette is the chairman of the Belgian jazz association “Les Lundis d’Hortense”, a forty three year old entity dedicated to the promotion of Belgian jazz which organises concerts, tours and workshops and fights for the rights of musicians.

Caffonnette’s credentials as a musician with a social conscience are also evidenced by his album notes, with some compositions being inspired by political or social events, even though the album is far from being a ‘political’ or ‘protest’ record.

Caffonnette’s playing has been compared to that of Wynton Kelly and Herbie Hancock but as this album reveals he is a musician and composer who has absorbed several influences. The pianist was classically taught in his early years before studying jazz piano with Legnini at the Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles and composition and arrangement with Kris Defoort at Koninklijk Conservatorium, also in Brussels. As his choice of covers reveals he has also been influenced by the sounds of pop, rock and the cinema.

The album commences with the Caffonnette composition “Perspectives”, introduced by the leader alone at the piano but subsequently joined by the tick of Pinet’s cymbals and the anchor of Gilson’s melodic bass. Initially the leader’s rippling piano arpeggios seem to symbolise the concept of shifting perspectives but the trio are soon getting into something knottier and more improvisatory as Caffonnette embarks on his solo, inviting Gilson and Pinet to respond. The rapport that the trio have developed since their formation is reflected in this fiercely interactive performance.

The title of “Inner Necessity” is inspired by a quote from the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky (1866 – 1944)  and the music represents another example of this trio’s vigorous interplay. It’s a fast moving piece with an agreeably contemporary feel about it as Caffonnette’s fingers dance around the keyboard complemented by energetic bass and drums. There’s also an extended drum feature for Pinet during the latter stages of the tune.

There’s a change of style and pace with the ballad “Tripoli’s Sorrow”, a beautiful but sombre solo piano performance that Caffonnette dedicates to the victims of modern day slavery. “And in the twenty-first century, slavery continues in full view of everybody. But most of us look away”.

The first cover is Caffonnette’s re-writing of the Lennon-McCartney classic “Hey Jude”, which the pianist dedicates to his partner, Judith. Caffonnette re-harmonises the tune, centring it around the thrum of Gilson’s bass. It’s a surprisingly effective treatment that actually enhances the beauty of the familiar melody and also provides the springboard for the trio’s subsequent improvisations.
It’s less arch than a Bad Plus cover and one can imagine its new dedicatee being quite delighted with this inventive, but heartfelt, re-imagining of the song.

The name of the title track is sourced from a line in a poem by Arthur Rimbaud and means “Towards The Black Azure”. Caffonnette uses these words to draw attention to the plight of migrants in the Mediterranean the thousands who “full of mad hope launch themselves towards the black azure”. The album as a whole is dedicated to castaways everywhere.
The first part of the tune is, if anything, even more sombre than the earlier “Tripoli’s Sorrow”, and is a melancholy reflection on the harsh realities of the refugee crisis. Subsequently bass and drums are added in a measured trio performance that combines sadness with a delicate lyricism.

“Sugar Man” is Caffonnette’s arrangement of a song by the American musician Sixto Rodriguez, the subject of the acclaimed 2012 documentary film “Searching For Sugar Man”, directed by the late Malik Bendjelloul. The trio’s version commences with a ruminative passage of unaccompanied piano before entering into a passage of more spirited and energetic trio interplay. The piece also includes a dexterous double bass solo from Gilson, accompanied by the leader’s sparse piano chording and the patter of Pinet’s drums.

The final three tracks were recorded live in a jazz club environment and the positive audience reactions are testament to the quality of the performances.

The first of these is “A Mawda”, dedicated to the memory of a two year old migrant girl, who was killed after a Belgian policeman opened fire on the vehicle that she was travelling in. Although elegiac at times the performance also possesses a bristling energy that becomes more pronounced as the trio stretch out. Finally this is reined in again with the gentle coda.

Documented at the same performance the trio version of “Monk’s Dream” was included on the album due to the fond memories the performance evokes among the trio’s members. Caffonnette demonstrates his bop chops on a lively, swinging, highly interactive trio performance that includes an extended drum feature from Pinet. The three musicians sound as if they’re having great fun, and that spirit of joie de vivre communicates itself both to the audience on the night and to the listener at home. Caffonnette sounds remarkably like Monk at times, and one senses that Thelonious himself would have approved.

The album concludes with the Caffonnette original “Jax And Reddy” of which the composer notes;
“In 2017, in Kentucky, a five year old boy called Jax asked for a haircut just like his best friend Reddy. The two classmates were convinced that, given their resemblance, their teacher would be unable to tell them apart, and they found this hilarious. Our twisted adult minds will smile when we learn that Jax is white and Reddy is black. It felt right to conclude this record on such a note of hope”.
Musically the performance captures the innocence and impishness of its subjects as it develops from an introductory passage of unaccompanied piano to embrace some typically brisk, crisp, playful trio interplay. This includes a show stopping set piece that sees Gilson using the body of his bass as auxiliary percussion in a particularly dazzling passage of rhythmic interaction. The performance is actually edited out before it reaches its conclusion, which is a pity.

This minor cavil aside this is an impressive offering from this excellent Franco-Belgian trio. Caffonnette reveals himself to be a composer and arranger of considerable imagination in addition to being a technically gifted musician and an inventive piano soloist. Gilson and Pinet also acquit themselves well in well integrated and highly interactive trio, and grab their soloing opportunities with relish. The music embraces a broad range of moods, styles and influences and the forthcoming tour should see the trio expanding their British fanbase following their successful UK début at Edinburgh Jazz Festival earlier in the year.

The trio kick off their tour with a return to Edinburgh but unfortunately they won’t be coming anywhere near me, which is a shame. However I’d urge anyone reading this to check them out, if you can, at one of the following dates;

2019;

Sun. 3 November - 21.00
EDINBURGH The Jazz Bar, 1a Chambers Street Edinburgh EH1 1HR / £5-6 http://www.thejazzbar.co.uk/

Tues. 5 November - 19.30
GLASGOW The Blue Arrow, 323 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow G2 3HW / £8 https://www.thebluearrow.co.uk/

Wed. 6 November - 21:00
MANCHESTER -Matt & Phreds, 64 Tib Street, Northern Quarter, M4 1LG /  free https://mattandphreds.com/

Thurs. 7 November - 19.00
LONDON - Kansas Smitty’s, 63-65 Broadway Market E8 4PH.  / £9 https://www.kansassmittys.com/     

Friday 8 November – 21.00
LUTON The Bear Club, 24a Guildford Street, Mill Yard, Luton LU1 2NR / £10 http://www.the-bear.club/ 

Sat. 9 November – 20.30
NOTTINGHAM Peggy’s Skylight, 3 George Street, Nottingham NG1 3BH /  £12   https://www.peggysskylight.co.uk/

Sun. 10 November – 20.00
HOVE The Brunswick, 1-3 Holland Road, Hove BN3 1JF / £8-10 http://www.thebrunswick.net/2019/05/joachim-caffonnette-trio-sunday-10th-nov-2019/

Terri Lyne Carrington + Social Science - Waiting Game Rating: 4 out of 5 With its hard hitting political and social commentary, genre fluid music, and its impressive list of guest performers “Waiting Game” has the feel of an ‘important’ record.

Terri Lyne Carrington + Social Science

“Waiting Game”

(Motema Music)

Terri Lyne Carrington – drums, vocals, Aaron Parks – piano, keyboards, Matthew Stevens – guitar, Kassa Overall – MC/DJ, Debo Ray – vocals, Morgan Guerin – saxophone, EWI, bass
plus guest vocalists and instrumentalists


“Waiting Game” is the ambitious new double album from the American drummer and composer Terri Lyne Carrington and her new band Social Science.

Carrington has been selected as the Artist in Residence at the forthcoming EFG London Jazz Festival and will appear with a different band dubbed the Social Science Community on Saturday 16th November at Kings Place.
Later that same evening she will collaborate with a number of British musicians at the same venue as part of a performance billed as “Experiments in London”.

On the following afternoon, again at Kings Place, she will discuss her love of the “Nina Simone Black Gold” album as part of the “Classic Album Sundays” series. Details of all Carrington’s EFG London Jazz Festival performances can be found at http://www.efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk

Turning now to this recording, a double set presenting two sides of Carrington’s talents. Disc one, “Waiting Game”, features the Social Science band plus a number of illustrious guests, on eleven song based pieces addressing the social problems of modern America, particularly as seen from the perspective of a contemporary Afro-American woman. The music is hard hitting and politically aware and includes elements of jazz, hip hop, rock, soul, r & b and funk – all the components of modern Afro-American music.

The music on the “Waiting Game” is primarily written by Carrington, Parks and Stevens with the words written by the individual guest vocalists.

The second disc, “Dreams and Desperate Measures”, is more abstract, a single improvised suite, subsequently delineated into four parts, performed by Carrington, Parks and Stevens plus bassist Esperanza Spalding with additional orchestrations by Edmar Colon. It’s possible that some listeners may view this second disc as a ‘bit of a bonus’ and as secondary to “Waiting Game”, but for me it still represents an impressive artistic statement in its own right.

Carrington has enjoyed an impressive career as a sidewoman, performing with Herbie Hancock among many others, but in recent years she has emerged as a composer and bandleader of some stature. Her writing has always been politically engaged as evidenced by her 2013 album “Money Jungle; Provocative In Blue”, which challenged the tenets of modern capitalism, and by her all female Mosaic Project, which championed the rights of women within the male dominated music industry.

In 2013 Carrington performed at the EFG London Jazz Festival as part of the trio ACS, alongside Spalding on bass and vocals and the late, great Geri Allen on piano, at a concert at The Barbican. Unfortunately the performance was marred by a terrible sound mix and by the general air of preciousness exuded by the performers. I rather turned my back on Carrington after this and missed a later Festival visit featuring her ‘Power Trio’ with Allen and saxophonist David Murray.

On the evidence of this new recording I may have given up on Carrington too easily and too soon. Despite the presence of musical elements that I’m not usually a fan of (primarily rap, hip hop and what passes for r’n’b these days) I rather enjoyed the music on this recording. The writing is sharp, focussed and intelligent, and the playing and singing displays similar qualities. Carrington mixes the various elements into a convincing and cohesive whole and the way in which she and the band tackle the social concerns of contemporary America is perceptive, pertinent and incisive.

The first issue to be addressed is the mass incarceration of disadvantaged citizens, the majority of them from ethnic minorities, in the US penal system - the ‘prison industrial complex’ as it has been described. British listeners may recently have had a shocking insight into this unsavoury aspect of American society thanks to Simon Reeves’ ongoing “The Americas” television documentary series.
Musically the piece features the semi spoken vocals of Kassa Overall above the economic, grooves generated by Carrington, Stevens and Parks, with the guitarist and pianist also adding shards of spidery melody. Wordless vocals and sampled speech add to the claustrophobic atmosphere while Guerin’s smouldering sax soloing adds a more discernible jazz element. The music gathers momentum and anger as the piece develops and Overall’s delivery takes on an extra intensity. Taken as a whole the piece is haunting and effective, and, above all, thought provoking.

The seed for the “Waiting Game”  project was the composition “Bells (Ring Loudly)”, which began life as a tune by Parks for which Carrington wrote a lyric addressing the subject of police brutality, inspired by the shooting of Philando Castille in Falcon Heights, Minnesota.  His own words are spoken with considerable gravitas by the actor Malcolm-Jamal Warner and soulfully sung by Debo Ray, the pair forming a contrasting but effective duo. The words are poetic but hard hitting – opening with the line “sirens swell, morphing into church bells, signifying another unjustifiable death”, and also referencing the Black Lives Matter movement.

Homophobia and Christian Fundamentalism are tackled on the insistent “Pray The Gay Away”, which features guest appearances from DJ/MC Raydar Ellis and trumpeter Nicholas Payton. The lyric parodies US gospel singer Kim Burrell’s infamous homophobic sermon, changing her words to “pray the hate away”. Within the framework of the piece there’s some space for the instrumentalists with Stevens briefly stretching out and with Payton’s trumpet entering into dialogue with Guerin’s sax.

The hard hitting and evocative “Purple Mountains” addresses the subject of the genocide of Native Americans with an impassioned rap from Washington DC born MC Kokayi, his words complemented by a similarly powerful performance from Carrington and her band.

American jazz is more politicised now than at any time since the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s. I’ve never met a musician with a good word to say about Donald Trump and Carrington wrote the title track, “Waiting Game”, shortly after he was elected. “It’s about waiting for him to leave”, she explains, “but it’s also a metaphor for all the other things we’re waiting for”. It’s a hymn of defiance, sung with a soulful, gospel infused sincerity by guest artist Mark Kibble. Essentially it’s an acapella performance, with only minimal percussive assistance from the leader.

There’s more righteous anger on “The Anthem”, as female rapper Rapsody celebrates the solidarity of the sisterhood with a rousing battle cry of “breakdown the walls ‘til patriarchy falls”. Musically the band match the power of her delivery with Guerin’s saxophone, Stevens’ guitar and Parks’ piano all prominent in a jazz style arrangement driven by the march of Carrington’s drums.

With Parks featuring on electric keyboards “Love” is a more straightforward soul / r’n’b ballad that also incorporates the voices of Ray and Overall. Stevens also impresses on guitar, and its all pleasant enough, but lacks the political bite of the rest of the disc.

The political agenda is restored on “No Justice (for Political Prisoners) which features the sampled voices of the fugitive activist Assata Shakur and the imprisoned author and activist Mumia Abu-Jamal, the latter recoded in his prison cell in Pennsylvania. Guest artist Meshell Ndegeocello handles the song’s lead vocals.

“Over And Sons” is the first disc’s only instrumental and features the interplay of the core trio of Carrington, Stevens and Parks with bass duties presumably being undertaken by Guerin. It’s an agreeably relaxed performance, if slightly anomalous within the context of the disc as a whole, and features fluent solos from Stevens on acoustic guitar and Parks on piano as Carrington directs proceedings from the drum kit.

“If Not Now” I as second rallying cry for gender equality, a funky call to arms to the sisterhood from guest rapper Maimona Youssef (aka Mumu Fresh) that sees Carrington, in conjunction with Guerin’s bass, laying down some of her heaviest, most propulsive grooves of the set as Stevens takes flight on guitar and Parks doubles on acoustic and electric keyboards. Guerin throws in some soulful saxophone lines too.

Disc one concludes with a reprise of the title track, this time sung by Ray with accompaniment from Parks at the piano and with Stevens adding subtle guitar textures and colourings.

The second disc, “Dreams and Desperate Measures” inevitably sounds very different, consisting as it does of four freely structured improvisations, these later expanded with the addition of tasteful orchestral overdubs written by Edmar Colon.

Described as an “improvised suite” “Dreams and Desperate Measures”  is largely performed by the core quartet of Carrington, Stevens, Parks and Spalding. Stevens and Parks are key protagonists in the “Waiting Game” project as a whole, acting as Carrington’s co-producers as well as playing leading roles as instrumentalists.

The suite commences with the sprawling seventeen and a half minute “Part One”, a piece that embodies many of the now conventional tropes of freely improvised performances. It is introduced by a tentative dialogue between Carrington at the kit and Parks at the piano, subsequently joined by Parks and Spalding. Colon’s orchestrations add depth and colour to the delicate interplay between the four main players. Carrington’s role here is that of colourist, her mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers adding punctuation to Parks’  lyrical, melodic flourishes at the piano and the knottier improvised lines of Stevens’ scratchy guitar and Spalding’s resonant bass. Colon’s orchestration deploys woodwinds as well as strings to crate an even wider sonic palette. This is music that straddles the boundaries between the composed and the improvised, less frenetic than much free improv, and with the unusual component of orchestral material written in response to the initial improvisations of the core quartet. It’s a shadowy, atmospheric sound world that eschews bombast and bluster, and which is all the more effective for it.

The music segues into “Part 2”, which has more of a written feel about it, with Colon’s lush orchestrations adding colour and texture to the musings of the quartet. The mood subtly gravitates from pastoral and lyrical through sombre and atmospheric to subtly funky as Parks mixes acoustic and electric keyboard sounds. Spalding’s bass plays a key role in the proceedings and its good to hear her focussing on this side of her talent. Stevens’ distinctive acoustic guitar playing is sometimes reminiscent of that of the great Ralph Towner.

A second segue takes us into the lengthy “Part 3”, this time a twelve minute excursion that maintains the largely contemplative mood established by the previous two pieces. Parks reverts to acoustic piano, combining well with Stevens on guitar, while Colon’s orchestration plays an even greater role with its rich blend of strings and woodwinds. However a few minutes into the piece Carrington, hitherto a low profile but essential presence in the proceedings, delivers her first and only drum solo of the entire double album. It’s a passage of unaccompanied playing that is totally devoid of bombast as she continues in her ‘colourist’ role,  thoughtfully providing the link into the next ensemble section.
Indeed the drummer is a notably ego-less presence throughout the whole recording. Her technical abilities are undoubted, but as Carrington herself has said, she would prefer to be recognised for her political and societal legacy rather than as just ‘a great drummer’. It’s an approach that shapes her playing and writing throughout this whole double recording. “Waiting Game” never sounds anything remotely like a typical ‘drummer’s solo album’.

The second disc concludes with “Part 4” of the “Dreams and Desperate Measures” suite, emerging from gentle, wispy atmospheric beginnings to embrace a subtly propulsive funk groove which forms the bedrock for Stevens’ FX laden guitar explorations. Parks features on electric keyboards and the closing stages of the track feature a brief, but attention grabbing saxophone solo, presumably from Guerin.

“Dreams and Desperate Measures” is an impressive and distinctive piece of work in its own right, but inevitably the spotlight will focus on Disc 1, the “Waiting Game” half of this double set.

With its hard hitting political and social commentary, genre fluid music, and its impressive list of guest performers “Waiting Game” has the feel of an ‘important’ record. We all know by now that music itself can’t change the world overnight, but that doesn’t mean that musicians shouldn’t speak out about the injustices that they see around them. Through her music Carrington speaks out with intelligence and compassion, warning her listeners against complacency in an increasingly polarised world. She acknowledges that true liberation for all is a “Waiting Game”, but with this album she proves that she’s very much a ‘game changer’.

And Carrington is a musician who ‘puts her money where her mouth is’. She is the founder of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, dedicated to fighting the gender imbalance in music. The Institute’s slogan, coined by Carrington, is “Jazz Without Patriarchy”.

Carrington also supports, and draws inspiration from, the youth organisation Black Youth Project 100, founded in the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012.

Politics aside “Waiting Game” is a musical triumph in its own right, two discs of contrasting music covering a wide range of stylistic bases and featuring some excellent playing and singing.

Carrington’s residency at EFG LJF promises to be unique and thought provoking experience, enhanced by some exceptional music.

“Waiting Game” will be released by Motema Music on Friday 8th November 2019.

 

 

Waiting Game

Terri Lyne Carrington + Social Science

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Waiting Game

With its hard hitting political and social commentary, genre fluid music, and its impressive list of guest performers “Waiting Game” has the feel of an ‘important’ record.

Terri Lyne Carrington + Social Science

“Waiting Game”

(Motema Music)

Terri Lyne Carrington – drums, vocals, Aaron Parks – piano, keyboards, Matthew Stevens – guitar, Kassa Overall – MC/DJ, Debo Ray – vocals, Morgan Guerin – saxophone, EWI, bass
plus guest vocalists and instrumentalists


“Waiting Game” is the ambitious new double album from the American drummer and composer Terri Lyne Carrington and her new band Social Science.

Carrington has been selected as the Artist in Residence at the forthcoming EFG London Jazz Festival and will appear with a different band dubbed the Social Science Community on Saturday 16th November at Kings Place.
Later that same evening she will collaborate with a number of British musicians at the same venue as part of a performance billed as “Experiments in London”.

On the following afternoon, again at Kings Place, she will discuss her love of the “Nina Simone Black Gold” album as part of the “Classic Album Sundays” series. Details of all Carrington’s EFG London Jazz Festival performances can be found at http://www.efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk

Turning now to this recording, a double set presenting two sides of Carrington’s talents. Disc one, “Waiting Game”, features the Social Science band plus a number of illustrious guests, on eleven song based pieces addressing the social problems of modern America, particularly as seen from the perspective of a contemporary Afro-American woman. The music is hard hitting and politically aware and includes elements of jazz, hip hop, rock, soul, r & b and funk – all the components of modern Afro-American music.

The music on the “Waiting Game” is primarily written by Carrington, Parks and Stevens with the words written by the individual guest vocalists.

The second disc, “Dreams and Desperate Measures”, is more abstract, a single improvised suite, subsequently delineated into four parts, performed by Carrington, Parks and Stevens plus bassist Esperanza Spalding with additional orchestrations by Edmar Colon. It’s possible that some listeners may view this second disc as a ‘bit of a bonus’ and as secondary to “Waiting Game”, but for me it still represents an impressive artistic statement in its own right.

Carrington has enjoyed an impressive career as a sidewoman, performing with Herbie Hancock among many others, but in recent years she has emerged as a composer and bandleader of some stature. Her writing has always been politically engaged as evidenced by her 2013 album “Money Jungle; Provocative In Blue”, which challenged the tenets of modern capitalism, and by her all female Mosaic Project, which championed the rights of women within the male dominated music industry.

In 2013 Carrington performed at the EFG London Jazz Festival as part of the trio ACS, alongside Spalding on bass and vocals and the late, great Geri Allen on piano, at a concert at The Barbican. Unfortunately the performance was marred by a terrible sound mix and by the general air of preciousness exuded by the performers. I rather turned my back on Carrington after this and missed a later Festival visit featuring her ‘Power Trio’ with Allen and saxophonist David Murray.

On the evidence of this new recording I may have given up on Carrington too easily and too soon. Despite the presence of musical elements that I’m not usually a fan of (primarily rap, hip hop and what passes for r’n’b these days) I rather enjoyed the music on this recording. The writing is sharp, focussed and intelligent, and the playing and singing displays similar qualities. Carrington mixes the various elements into a convincing and cohesive whole and the way in which she and the band tackle the social concerns of contemporary America is perceptive, pertinent and incisive.

The first issue to be addressed is the mass incarceration of disadvantaged citizens, the majority of them from ethnic minorities, in the US penal system - the ‘prison industrial complex’ as it has been described. British listeners may recently have had a shocking insight into this unsavoury aspect of American society thanks to Simon Reeves’ ongoing “The Americas” television documentary series.
Musically the piece features the semi spoken vocals of Kassa Overall above the economic, grooves generated by Carrington, Stevens and Parks, with the guitarist and pianist also adding shards of spidery melody. Wordless vocals and sampled speech add to the claustrophobic atmosphere while Guerin’s smouldering sax soloing adds a more discernible jazz element. The music gathers momentum and anger as the piece develops and Overall’s delivery takes on an extra intensity. Taken as a whole the piece is haunting and effective, and, above all, thought provoking.

The seed for the “Waiting Game”  project was the composition “Bells (Ring Loudly)”, which began life as a tune by Parks for which Carrington wrote a lyric addressing the subject of police brutality, inspired by the shooting of Philando Castille in Falcon Heights, Minnesota.  His own words are spoken with considerable gravitas by the actor Malcolm-Jamal Warner and soulfully sung by Debo Ray, the pair forming a contrasting but effective duo. The words are poetic but hard hitting – opening with the line “sirens swell, morphing into church bells, signifying another unjustifiable death”, and also referencing the Black Lives Matter movement.

Homophobia and Christian Fundamentalism are tackled on the insistent “Pray The Gay Away”, which features guest appearances from DJ/MC Raydar Ellis and trumpeter Nicholas Payton. The lyric parodies US gospel singer Kim Burrell’s infamous homophobic sermon, changing her words to “pray the hate away”. Within the framework of the piece there’s some space for the instrumentalists with Stevens briefly stretching out and with Payton’s trumpet entering into dialogue with Guerin’s sax.

The hard hitting and evocative “Purple Mountains” addresses the subject of the genocide of Native Americans with an impassioned rap from Washington DC born MC Kokayi, his words complemented by a similarly powerful performance from Carrington and her band.

American jazz is more politicised now than at any time since the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s. I’ve never met a musician with a good word to say about Donald Trump and Carrington wrote the title track, “Waiting Game”, shortly after he was elected. “It’s about waiting for him to leave”, she explains, “but it’s also a metaphor for all the other things we’re waiting for”. It’s a hymn of defiance, sung with a soulful, gospel infused sincerity by guest artist Mark Kibble. Essentially it’s an acapella performance, with only minimal percussive assistance from the leader.

There’s more righteous anger on “The Anthem”, as female rapper Rapsody celebrates the solidarity of the sisterhood with a rousing battle cry of “breakdown the walls ‘til patriarchy falls”. Musically the band match the power of her delivery with Guerin’s saxophone, Stevens’ guitar and Parks’ piano all prominent in a jazz style arrangement driven by the march of Carrington’s drums.

With Parks featuring on electric keyboards “Love” is a more straightforward soul / r’n’b ballad that also incorporates the voices of Ray and Overall. Stevens also impresses on guitar, and its all pleasant enough, but lacks the political bite of the rest of the disc.

The political agenda is restored on “No Justice (for Political Prisoners) which features the sampled voices of the fugitive activist Assata Shakur and the imprisoned author and activist Mumia Abu-Jamal, the latter recoded in his prison cell in Pennsylvania. Guest artist Meshell Ndegeocello handles the song’s lead vocals.

“Over And Sons” is the first disc’s only instrumental and features the interplay of the core trio of Carrington, Stevens and Parks with bass duties presumably being undertaken by Guerin. It’s an agreeably relaxed performance, if slightly anomalous within the context of the disc as a whole, and features fluent solos from Stevens on acoustic guitar and Parks on piano as Carrington directs proceedings from the drum kit.

“If Not Now” I as second rallying cry for gender equality, a funky call to arms to the sisterhood from guest rapper Maimona Youssef (aka Mumu Fresh) that sees Carrington, in conjunction with Guerin’s bass, laying down some of her heaviest, most propulsive grooves of the set as Stevens takes flight on guitar and Parks doubles on acoustic and electric keyboards. Guerin throws in some soulful saxophone lines too.

Disc one concludes with a reprise of the title track, this time sung by Ray with accompaniment from Parks at the piano and with Stevens adding subtle guitar textures and colourings.

The second disc, “Dreams and Desperate Measures” inevitably sounds very different, consisting as it does of four freely structured improvisations, these later expanded with the addition of tasteful orchestral overdubs written by Edmar Colon.

Described as an “improvised suite” “Dreams and Desperate Measures”  is largely performed by the core quartet of Carrington, Stevens, Parks and Spalding. Stevens and Parks are key protagonists in the “Waiting Game” project as a whole, acting as Carrington’s co-producers as well as playing leading roles as instrumentalists.

The suite commences with the sprawling seventeen and a half minute “Part One”, a piece that embodies many of the now conventional tropes of freely improvised performances. It is introduced by a tentative dialogue between Carrington at the kit and Parks at the piano, subsequently joined by Parks and Spalding. Colon’s orchestrations add depth and colour to the delicate interplay between the four main players. Carrington’s role here is that of colourist, her mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers adding punctuation to Parks’  lyrical, melodic flourishes at the piano and the knottier improvised lines of Stevens’ scratchy guitar and Spalding’s resonant bass. Colon’s orchestration deploys woodwinds as well as strings to crate an even wider sonic palette. This is music that straddles the boundaries between the composed and the improvised, less frenetic than much free improv, and with the unusual component of orchestral material written in response to the initial improvisations of the core quartet. It’s a shadowy, atmospheric sound world that eschews bombast and bluster, and which is all the more effective for it.

The music segues into “Part 2”, which has more of a written feel about it, with Colon’s lush orchestrations adding colour and texture to the musings of the quartet. The mood subtly gravitates from pastoral and lyrical through sombre and atmospheric to subtly funky as Parks mixes acoustic and electric keyboard sounds. Spalding’s bass plays a key role in the proceedings and its good to hear her focussing on this side of her talent. Stevens’ distinctive acoustic guitar playing is sometimes reminiscent of that of the great Ralph Towner.

A second segue takes us into the lengthy “Part 3”, this time a twelve minute excursion that maintains the largely contemplative mood established by the previous two pieces. Parks reverts to acoustic piano, combining well with Stevens on guitar, while Colon’s orchestration plays an even greater role with its rich blend of strings and woodwinds. However a few minutes into the piece Carrington, hitherto a low profile but essential presence in the proceedings, delivers her first and only drum solo of the entire double album. It’s a passage of unaccompanied playing that is totally devoid of bombast as she continues in her ‘colourist’ role,  thoughtfully providing the link into the next ensemble section.
Indeed the drummer is a notably ego-less presence throughout the whole recording. Her technical abilities are undoubted, but as Carrington herself has said, she would prefer to be recognised for her political and societal legacy rather than as just ‘a great drummer’. It’s an approach that shapes her playing and writing throughout this whole double recording. “Waiting Game” never sounds anything remotely like a typical ‘drummer’s solo album’.

The second disc concludes with “Part 4” of the “Dreams and Desperate Measures” suite, emerging from gentle, wispy atmospheric beginnings to embrace a subtly propulsive funk groove which forms the bedrock for Stevens’ FX laden guitar explorations. Parks features on electric keyboards and the closing stages of the track feature a brief, but attention grabbing saxophone solo, presumably from Guerin.

“Dreams and Desperate Measures” is an impressive and distinctive piece of work in its own right, but inevitably the spotlight will focus on Disc 1, the “Waiting Game” half of this double set.

With its hard hitting political and social commentary, genre fluid music, and its impressive list of guest performers “Waiting Game” has the feel of an ‘important’ record. We all know by now that music itself can’t change the world overnight, but that doesn’t mean that musicians shouldn’t speak out about the injustices that they see around them. Through her music Carrington speaks out with intelligence and compassion, warning her listeners against complacency in an increasingly polarised world. She acknowledges that true liberation for all is a “Waiting Game”, but with this album she proves that she’s very much a ‘game changer’.

And Carrington is a musician who ‘puts her money where her mouth is’. She is the founder of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, dedicated to fighting the gender imbalance in music. The Institute’s slogan, coined by Carrington, is “Jazz Without Patriarchy”.

Carrington also supports, and draws inspiration from, the youth organisation Black Youth Project 100, founded in the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012.

Politics aside “Waiting Game” is a musical triumph in its own right, two discs of contrasting music covering a wide range of stylistic bases and featuring some excellent playing and singing.

Carrington’s residency at EFG LJF promises to be unique and thought provoking experience, enhanced by some exceptional music.

“Waiting Game” will be released by Motema Music on Friday 8th November 2019.

 

 

Radio Banska - Radio Banska, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 27/10/2019. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 An enjoyable and highly accomplished performance from Radio Banska that was well received by the Abergavenny audience. The standard of the musicianship was excellent throughout,

Radio Banska, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 28/10/2019.

Dave Spencer – electric guitar, Tony Barby – electric guitar, charango, Sol Ahmed – double bass,
Tim Robinson – drums


Tonight’s performance represented a welcome return to Abergavenny for the Bath based ensemble Radio Banska, who had first visited the town in 2015 when they appeared at BMJ’s annual Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, held that year at the Kings Arms hotel.

At the time I was totally unfamiliar with the band’s music, but I remember being very impressed by Radio Banska’s performance and also with the quality of their 2011 début album “The Balkan Courtesan”. My coverage of the band’s 2015 show can be read as part of my Wall2Wall Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/friday-and-saturday-at-wall2wall-jazz-festival-abergavenny-4th-and-5th-sept/

Radio Banska was formed in 2009 by guitarist Dave Spencer and violinist and accordionist Nina Trott, who had fronted the band at their 2015 performance. Disillusioned with constantly playing standards or gypsy jazz sets the pair set out to do something different, exploring a variety of musical genres within an instrumental context, among them the sounds of the Middle East, the Balkans and Latin America. However rather than drawing on traditional folk music the band decided to focus on writing its own music in these various styles, the majority of the compositions coming from the pen of the prolific and highly inventive Spencer.

Finding a category for Radio Banska’s music has proved to be a difficult task. The band’s website describes them as “an instrumental jazz/world quartet fusing Levantine mystery, Balkan passion and Latin rhythms into powerful original compositions”, which sums things up pretty nicely. The band have also described their output as “music from around the world”, while “world jazz” represents a neat catch all term for their distinctive sound.

The sad and untimely death of Nina Trott, aged 66, from breast cancer in 2017 inevitably resulted in the band going into a period of hiatus. Eventually it was decided that the remaining members should continue, with Spencer still needing an outlet for his numerous compositions.

The current edition of Radio Banska is a quartet, now led by Spencer on lead guitar and featuring fellow founder Tony Barby on second guitar and charango, long serving member Sol Ahmed on double bass, and for tonight only drummer Tim Robinson, who was deputising for regular incumbent Jon Clark. A number of rhythm players have passed through the Banska ranks over the years. “The Balkan Courtesan” recording features the pairing of bassist Roshan ‘Tosh’ Wijetunge and drummer Mark Whitlam.

The ill fated Radio Banska were due to play at BMJ in January 2018 but were forced to cancel due to illness. Other events that year saw them experimenting with a new line up featuring Spencer, Ahmed and Clark plus guitarist Phil Dawson and saxophonist Craig Cofton. It would seem that this combination didn’t quite work out and the group have now reverted to the quartet of Spencer, Ahmed, Clark and a returning Tony Barby.

Radio Banska had obviously made a good impression on the Abergavenny public with their Festival appearance back in 2015 and there was a pleasingly substantial turnout at the Melville Theatre on a cold, clear October night that followed a period of prolonged heavy rain – if it had been scheduled a night earlier the gig probably wouldn’t have gone ahead. Another pleasing aspect was the presence of a few new faces, evidence perhaps that Radio Banska have something of a cult following, or maybe that BMJ’s increasingly targeted publicity campaigns are becoming increasingly successful. Either way it was good to see.

Under Spencer’s guidance Radio Banska delivered two substantial sets of “95% original material”, including new arrangements of several pieces from the “Balkan Courtesan” album.

First up were two pieces that Spencer described as “Latin tunes”, commencing with the lively “She’s All Mayan”, which featured the sophisticated guitar interplay of Spencer and Barby, plus the solid rhythmic support of Ahmed and Robinson. I’m loath to describe Barby as a ‘rhythm guitarist’, as he did far more than just strum chords and keep time, so the title ‘second guitarist’ is probably more apt. Nevertheless it’s undeniable that all the soloing was undertaken by Spencer, a fluent and versatile guitarist with an exhaustive knowledge of global musical styles. His richly inventive compositions embraced a wide variety of rhythms and time signatures, and certainly kept his bandmates on their toes. Robinson, who was sight reading throughout, was the very model of concentration and acquitted himself well in the face of some very complex material.

“Get Over” was a slower Latin piece that embraced a variety of elements ranging from Brazilian to flamenco to a hint of the blues.

Spencer described much of his output as being “Middle Eastern and a bit weird”, adding that others have described it as being “genre defying”. To Illustrate the point we heard the Levantine styled sounds of “La Mezquita” (translating as “The Mosque”), the opening track from the band’s 2011 album. This saw the leader making judicious use of his various effects pedals.

From the same recording came “Chat Pitre”, a tune written by the French accordionist Richard Galliano. In Banska’s hands the piece was transformed into a patented brand of “Moroccan Reggae”, a beguiling blend of North African inspired melody and syncopated dub groove.

“Suleiman’s Dance” continued the Middle Eastern theme with its sophisticated guitar interplay and clipped rhythms, the sound further enriched by brief, but distinctive and melodic, arco bass flourishes from Ahmed.

Introducing his composition “Spice Caravan” Spencer described his group’s aim as being to “create original music that sounds like traditional tunes of other cultures”, which again seemed to sum up their approach very succinctly.

However the following “Lucid Dreamer” represented something of a contrast as the group edged closer to conventional jazz with both Spencer and Barby deploying a relatively orthodox ‘jazz guitar’ sound, with chord choices to match.

“Perfect Pitch” explored the possibilities of the “flattened fifth” or “blue note” and saw Spencer adopting a harder edged electric guitar sound as Ahmed enjoyed a brief cameo at the bass.

The title track of “The Balkan Courtesan” followed, introduced by Barby and again featuring the sound of Ahmed with the bow, here approximating the sound of Trott’s accordion on the recorded version. Meanwhile Spencer soloed on guitar with his customary fluency and inventiveness.

“Otono de Amor” marked a return to the group’s Latin side, a gentle piece featuring Spencer’s tasteful guitar soloing and Robinson’s softly brushed drums.

“Levantine Waltz”, described by Spencer as “tricky” took the music back to the Mediterranean prior to a final re-location for the final tune of the first set, the Nina Trott composition “Emo Latino”. A track from the group’s album this featured the distinctive sound of the Peruvian charango, a small, ten stringed instrument originally fashioned from the shell of a dead armadillo, but now made from wood. The interplay between Barby on charango and Spencer on guitar was particularly engaging with the guitarist sketching melody lines above the tautly strummed rhythms of the charango, with additional impetus coming from bass and drums.

The charango was also to feature at the beginning of the second set as the quartet delivered their arrangement of the John Zorn composition “Ravayah”, a piece that Spencer described as “contemporary klezmer”. Here the charango was deployed in more of a lead role and sounded very different. Zorn is a composure of some stature and this was a genuinely impressive performance that sounded distinctive and different.

Spencer’s love of wordplay was reflected in the title of “Budapest Control” with its loping rhythms and agile guitar soloing.

“10,000 Things” saw the group adopting a more contemporary, almost rock, sound on a piece with a title sourced from Buddhist philosophy, but which might also be applicable to the sheer diversity of the group’s music.

Barby introduced the gentle “A Country Mile”. As ‘second guitarist’ he would often create the motif or melody around which Spencer would solo. As befits its title this piece sometimes reminded me of the ‘Jazz Americana’ of Pat Metheny and, particularly, Bill Frisell.

The interplay between Barby and Spencer continued to impress on both “Ashkenazim” and “What a Frozen Waste”, the latter also including a dazzling solo from Spencer, a dizzying blend of sophisticated chording and lithe single note runs.

The Spencer composition “Isfahan”, not to be confused with the Billy Strayhorn tune of the same name, featured some of the most overtly “Middle Eastern” music of the set and featured another stunning solo from Spencer, whose guitar sometimes replicated the sound of an oud.

The breezy “Rio Coca” then took us back to Brazil before “Alkira”, with a title derived from the aboriginal word for “Sunrise”, added Australia to the list of musical destinations with Ahmed’s powerful bass lines helping to drive the piece.

Following all this sonic globe trotting the title of “We’re Not In Kansas Now” almost seemed like an understatement. The closing track on the band’s CD this composition was described by Spencer as being “slightly weird”. Introduced by the twin guitarists, who quickly combined with bass and drums to create a hypnotic groove, this was a piece that seemed to depict a meeting between America and all the other cultures whose music Radio Banska had explored during the course of the evening. The recorded version even features Barby on didgeridoo, a sound replicated here by Ahmed’s arco bass drone.

All in all this an enjoyable and highly accomplished performance from Radio Banska that was well received by the Abergavenny audience. The standard of the musicianship was excellent throughout, with leader Spencer particularly impressive, and with ‘dep’ Robinson navigating the complexities of the material admirably, a tribute to his sight reading skills.

But for all this, hand on heart, I can’t honestly say that I enjoyed this performance as much as I did the one in 2015. The reason for this, of course, was the absence of the irreplaceable Nina Trott.  As well as providing an essential additional instrumental voice Trott also gave the band a vital centre stage presence. Both Spencer and Barby are sit down guitarists and the current edition of the band lacks a strong visual focus.

Speaking to Barby after the show it’s clear that Trott’s band mates still miss her desperately. Besides her talent as a musician she was also a great organiser and music educator, “a force of nature”, as Barby put it, who also hustled for gigs for the band, also effectively acting as their manager. I remember Nina contacting me by email around five years ago looking for help in her search for gigs. I forwarded her email on to Mike Skilton at BMJ who then booked Radio Banska for Wall2Wall in 2015 and then invited them back this evening. I feel honoured and privileged to have played a small role in the life of the band.

It’s a shame that the experiment with Cofton didn’t come to fruition as Radio Banska really do need another front line instrumentalist, be it a saxophonist, or maybe a clarinettist, which I think could be a good fit given the Middle Eastern feel of so much of the band’s music. I suspect that they be wary of employing another violinist, out of deference to Trott and the fact that comparisons would inevitably be made.

However they may have to ‘bite the bullet’ if the band is to continue. Tonight’s show had much to commend it but the absence of an additional instrumental voice meant that it lacked a certain dynamism, both musically and visually. Spencer has written some great tunes, and they deserve to be heard, but having listened back to the “Balkan Courtesan” recording they really do sound at their best in a quintet format.

With regard to tonight’s show it was perhaps focussed too intensely on Spencer. The man is a master guitarist and played with consummate skill, but it would have been nice to have heard a little more from his colleagues. Admittedly Robinson was a ‘dep’, playing with the band for the first time, but it would have been nice to have seen Barby and Ahmed being given more opportunities to express themselves. The occasional use of charango and bowed bass added a welcome variety and splash of colour to music that largely inhabited the same dynamic range, despite the stylistic and cultural diversity of its sources.

Radio Banska is currently a band in transition, finding its feet again after the tragic loss of its co-founder. Once again I stress there was much to enjoy about tonight’s performance and that it’s not my attention for this article to sound overly critical. Let’s hope that the band can find a new front line partner that they can all feel comfortable working with as they continue the Radio Banska story. Spencer’s richly imaginative compositions deserve to be heard at their best, and one senses that this is what Nina Trott would have wanted.

 

Radio Banska, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 27/10/2019.

Radio Banska

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Radio Banska, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 27/10/2019.
Photography: Photograph by Pam Mann.

An enjoyable and highly accomplished performance from Radio Banska that was well received by the Abergavenny audience. The standard of the musicianship was excellent throughout,

Radio Banska, Black Mountain Jazz, Melville Centre, Abergavenny, 28/10/2019.

Dave Spencer – electric guitar, Tony Barby – electric guitar, charango, Sol Ahmed – double bass,
Tim Robinson – drums


Tonight’s performance represented a welcome return to Abergavenny for the Bath based ensemble Radio Banska, who had first visited the town in 2015 when they appeared at BMJ’s annual Wall2Wall Jazz Festival, held that year at the Kings Arms hotel.

At the time I was totally unfamiliar with the band’s music, but I remember being very impressed by Radio Banska’s performance and also with the quality of their 2011 début album “The Balkan Courtesan”. My coverage of the band’s 2015 show can be read as part of my Wall2Wall Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/friday-and-saturday-at-wall2wall-jazz-festival-abergavenny-4th-and-5th-sept/

Radio Banska was formed in 2009 by guitarist Dave Spencer and violinist and accordionist Nina Trott, who had fronted the band at their 2015 performance. Disillusioned with constantly playing standards or gypsy jazz sets the pair set out to do something different, exploring a variety of musical genres within an instrumental context, among them the sounds of the Middle East, the Balkans and Latin America. However rather than drawing on traditional folk music the band decided to focus on writing its own music in these various styles, the majority of the compositions coming from the pen of the prolific and highly inventive Spencer.

Finding a category for Radio Banska’s music has proved to be a difficult task. The band’s website describes them as “an instrumental jazz/world quartet fusing Levantine mystery, Balkan passion and Latin rhythms into powerful original compositions”, which sums things up pretty nicely. The band have also described their output as “music from around the world”, while “world jazz” represents a neat catch all term for their distinctive sound.

The sad and untimely death of Nina Trott, aged 66, from breast cancer in 2017 inevitably resulted in the band going into a period of hiatus. Eventually it was decided that the remaining members should continue, with Spencer still needing an outlet for his numerous compositions.

The current edition of Radio Banska is a quartet, now led by Spencer on lead guitar and featuring fellow founder Tony Barby on second guitar and charango, long serving member Sol Ahmed on double bass, and for tonight only drummer Tim Robinson, who was deputising for regular incumbent Jon Clark. A number of rhythm players have passed through the Banska ranks over the years. “The Balkan Courtesan” recording features the pairing of bassist Roshan ‘Tosh’ Wijetunge and drummer Mark Whitlam.

The ill fated Radio Banska were due to play at BMJ in January 2018 but were forced to cancel due to illness. Other events that year saw them experimenting with a new line up featuring Spencer, Ahmed and Clark plus guitarist Phil Dawson and saxophonist Craig Cofton. It would seem that this combination didn’t quite work out and the group have now reverted to the quartet of Spencer, Ahmed, Clark and a returning Tony Barby.

Radio Banska had obviously made a good impression on the Abergavenny public with their Festival appearance back in 2015 and there was a pleasingly substantial turnout at the Melville Theatre on a cold, clear October night that followed a period of prolonged heavy rain – if it had been scheduled a night earlier the gig probably wouldn’t have gone ahead. Another pleasing aspect was the presence of a few new faces, evidence perhaps that Radio Banska have something of a cult following, or maybe that BMJ’s increasingly targeted publicity campaigns are becoming increasingly successful. Either way it was good to see.

Under Spencer’s guidance Radio Banska delivered two substantial sets of “95% original material”, including new arrangements of several pieces from the “Balkan Courtesan” album.

First up were two pieces that Spencer described as “Latin tunes”, commencing with the lively “She’s All Mayan”, which featured the sophisticated guitar interplay of Spencer and Barby, plus the solid rhythmic support of Ahmed and Robinson. I’m loath to describe Barby as a ‘rhythm guitarist’, as he did far more than just strum chords and keep time, so the title ‘second guitarist’ is probably more apt. Nevertheless it’s undeniable that all the soloing was undertaken by Spencer, a fluent and versatile guitarist with an exhaustive knowledge of global musical styles. His richly inventive compositions embraced a wide variety of rhythms and time signatures, and certainly kept his bandmates on their toes. Robinson, who was sight reading throughout, was the very model of concentration and acquitted himself well in the face of some very complex material.

“Get Over” was a slower Latin piece that embraced a variety of elements ranging from Brazilian to flamenco to a hint of the blues.

Spencer described much of his output as being “Middle Eastern and a bit weird”, adding that others have described it as being “genre defying”. To Illustrate the point we heard the Levantine styled sounds of “La Mezquita” (translating as “The Mosque”), the opening track from the band’s 2011 album. This saw the leader making judicious use of his various effects pedals.

From the same recording came “Chat Pitre”, a tune written by the French accordionist Richard Galliano. In Banska’s hands the piece was transformed into a patented brand of “Moroccan Reggae”, a beguiling blend of North African inspired melody and syncopated dub groove.

“Suleiman’s Dance” continued the Middle Eastern theme with its sophisticated guitar interplay and clipped rhythms, the sound further enriched by brief, but distinctive and melodic, arco bass flourishes from Ahmed.

Introducing his composition “Spice Caravan” Spencer described his group’s aim as being to “create original music that sounds like traditional tunes of other cultures”, which again seemed to sum up their approach very succinctly.

However the following “Lucid Dreamer” represented something of a contrast as the group edged closer to conventional jazz with both Spencer and Barby deploying a relatively orthodox ‘jazz guitar’ sound, with chord choices to match.

“Perfect Pitch” explored the possibilities of the “flattened fifth” or “blue note” and saw Spencer adopting a harder edged electric guitar sound as Ahmed enjoyed a brief cameo at the bass.

The title track of “The Balkan Courtesan” followed, introduced by Barby and again featuring the sound of Ahmed with the bow, here approximating the sound of Trott’s accordion on the recorded version. Meanwhile Spencer soloed on guitar with his customary fluency and inventiveness.

“Otono de Amor” marked a return to the group’s Latin side, a gentle piece featuring Spencer’s tasteful guitar soloing and Robinson’s softly brushed drums.

“Levantine Waltz”, described by Spencer as “tricky” took the music back to the Mediterranean prior to a final re-location for the final tune of the first set, the Nina Trott composition “Emo Latino”. A track from the group’s album this featured the distinctive sound of the Peruvian charango, a small, ten stringed instrument originally fashioned from the shell of a dead armadillo, but now made from wood. The interplay between Barby on charango and Spencer on guitar was particularly engaging with the guitarist sketching melody lines above the tautly strummed rhythms of the charango, with additional impetus coming from bass and drums.

The charango was also to feature at the beginning of the second set as the quartet delivered their arrangement of the John Zorn composition “Ravayah”, a piece that Spencer described as “contemporary klezmer”. Here the charango was deployed in more of a lead role and sounded very different. Zorn is a composure of some stature and this was a genuinely impressive performance that sounded distinctive and different.

Spencer’s love of wordplay was reflected in the title of “Budapest Control” with its loping rhythms and agile guitar soloing.

“10,000 Things” saw the group adopting a more contemporary, almost rock, sound on a piece with a title sourced from Buddhist philosophy, but which might also be applicable to the sheer diversity of the group’s music.

Barby introduced the gentle “A Country Mile”. As ‘second guitarist’ he would often create the motif or melody around which Spencer would solo. As befits its title this piece sometimes reminded me of the ‘Jazz Americana’ of Pat Metheny and, particularly, Bill Frisell.

The interplay between Barby and Spencer continued to impress on both “Ashkenazim” and “What a Frozen Waste”, the latter also including a dazzling solo from Spencer, a dizzying blend of sophisticated chording and lithe single note runs.

The Spencer composition “Isfahan”, not to be confused with the Billy Strayhorn tune of the same name, featured some of the most overtly “Middle Eastern” music of the set and featured another stunning solo from Spencer, whose guitar sometimes replicated the sound of an oud.

The breezy “Rio Coca” then took us back to Brazil before “Alkira”, with a title derived from the aboriginal word for “Sunrise”, added Australia to the list of musical destinations with Ahmed’s powerful bass lines helping to drive the piece.

Following all this sonic globe trotting the title of “We’re Not In Kansas Now” almost seemed like an understatement. The closing track on the band’s CD this composition was described by Spencer as being “slightly weird”. Introduced by the twin guitarists, who quickly combined with bass and drums to create a hypnotic groove, this was a piece that seemed to depict a meeting between America and all the other cultures whose music Radio Banska had explored during the course of the evening. The recorded version even features Barby on didgeridoo, a sound replicated here by Ahmed’s arco bass drone.

All in all this an enjoyable and highly accomplished performance from Radio Banska that was well received by the Abergavenny audience. The standard of the musicianship was excellent throughout, with leader Spencer particularly impressive, and with ‘dep’ Robinson navigating the complexities of the material admirably, a tribute to his sight reading skills.

But for all this, hand on heart, I can’t honestly say that I enjoyed this performance as much as I did the one in 2015. The reason for this, of course, was the absence of the irreplaceable Nina Trott.  As well as providing an essential additional instrumental voice Trott also gave the band a vital centre stage presence. Both Spencer and Barby are sit down guitarists and the current edition of the band lacks a strong visual focus.

Speaking to Barby after the show it’s clear that Trott’s band mates still miss her desperately. Besides her talent as a musician she was also a great organiser and music educator, “a force of nature”, as Barby put it, who also hustled for gigs for the band, also effectively acting as their manager. I remember Nina contacting me by email around five years ago looking for help in her search for gigs. I forwarded her email on to Mike Skilton at BMJ who then booked Radio Banska for Wall2Wall in 2015 and then invited them back this evening. I feel honoured and privileged to have played a small role in the life of the band.

It’s a shame that the experiment with Cofton didn’t come to fruition as Radio Banska really do need another front line instrumentalist, be it a saxophonist, or maybe a clarinettist, which I think could be a good fit given the Middle Eastern feel of so much of the band’s music. I suspect that they be wary of employing another violinist, out of deference to Trott and the fact that comparisons would inevitably be made.

However they may have to ‘bite the bullet’ if the band is to continue. Tonight’s show had much to commend it but the absence of an additional instrumental voice meant that it lacked a certain dynamism, both musically and visually. Spencer has written some great tunes, and they deserve to be heard, but having listened back to the “Balkan Courtesan” recording they really do sound at their best in a quintet format.

With regard to tonight’s show it was perhaps focussed too intensely on Spencer. The man is a master guitarist and played with consummate skill, but it would have been nice to have heard a little more from his colleagues. Admittedly Robinson was a ‘dep’, playing with the band for the first time, but it would have been nice to have seen Barby and Ahmed being given more opportunities to express themselves. The occasional use of charango and bowed bass added a welcome variety and splash of colour to music that largely inhabited the same dynamic range, despite the stylistic and cultural diversity of its sources.

Radio Banska is currently a band in transition, finding its feet again after the tragic loss of its co-founder. Once again I stress there was much to enjoy about tonight’s performance and that it’s not my attention for this article to sound overly critical. Let’s hope that the band can find a new front line partner that they can all feel comfortable working with as they continue the Radio Banska story. Spencer’s richly imaginative compositions deserve to be heard at their best, and one senses that this is what Nina Trott would have wanted.

 

Quentin Collins Sextet - Quentin Collins Sextet, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 18/10/2019. Rating: 5 out of 5 "Jazz at its very best!". Guest contributor Trevor Bannister enjoys a five star performance by the Quentin Collins Sextet as they stop off in Reading on their 'Road Warrior' tour.

Jazz at Progress
 
The Quentin Collins Sextet ‘Road Warrior’ Tour
 
Progress Theatre, Reading Friday 18 October
 
Quentin Collins trumpet & flugelhorn, Tony Kofi alto saxophone, Brandon Allen tenor saxophone, Steve Hamilton keyboard, Larry Bartley bass, Shane Forbes drums
 

There’s something special about the shoe-box shape of Reading’s Progress Theatre and the intimacy of its stage to the steeply ranked 96-seats of the auditorium that casts its own magical spell and makes it a marvellous venue for jazz.  There’s no need for amplification, except for announcements, as each instrument finds its own balance and is perfectly audible within the natural acoustic. The audience can listen in comfort and there are no tinkling glasses or irritating conversations to distract the musicians. In short, the Progress has inspired many great performances throughout its seven-year association with Jazz in Reading, none more so than the breath-taking and utterly compelling visit by the Quentin Collins Sextet on Friday 18 October as part of its national ‘Road Warrior’ tour.
 
To describe Quentin Collins as a virtuoso is almost a disservice, but I can’t think of another superlative to adequately describe his astonishing technical skill, musicianship and feel for the music. He is THE complete trumpet player with a gorgeously burnished tone and an incredible range. He plays with unbelievable accuracy, expresses himself with a true sense of narrative, drawing on a seemingly infinite fund of ideas and can conjure the widest spectrum of sounds imaginable from his instrument without ever having to resort to a mute; a resonant growl at one end of the scale to an almost imperceptible wisp of sound at the other. And as if that wasn’t enough, like a latter-day Art Blakey, he leads his band with such strength and bravura, that his fellow musicians can’t fail to rise to the challenges of the music.
 
Add to the mix, writing of superb quality - more or less equally shared between Collins himself and his close compatriot Tom Harrison, plus a measure of blues from the great Oliver Nelson and a couple of standards; stir-in the tightest arrangements you’re likely to hear anywhere, honed to perfection on the early legs of the band’s tour and you arrive at a formula that burst into life on ‘Road Warrior’, the title track from Collins’ recently issued 5-star rated album. If the opening number impressed with its scorching solos and explosive ensemble sound, the tortuous ‘Float Flitter Flutter’, a dedication to the late Sonny Fortune, took the breath away with its knife-edge precision.

“How do they know when to come in?” asked one member of the audience in wide-eyed amazement during the interval. I guess the only simple answer is to say, “That’s the marvel of jazz at its very best!”
 
The mellow tones of Collins’ flugelhorn over drummer Shane Forbes’ tom-toms and cymbals opened ‘Jasmine Breeze’, its gentle mood sustained by the perfect support of Steve Hamilton on keyboard and Larry Bartley on bass and the haunting solos of Brandon Allen on tenor and Tony Kofi’s alto.
 
The joyful ‘Look Ahead (What Do You See?)’ took its inspiration from father-and-son conversations in the Collins’ household, and brilliantly evoked a vision of the infinite possibilities that might lay ahead for a ten-year-old boy, with perhaps just a touch of caution on the part of the father, and an ‘Oh, Dad’ shrug of the shoulders from the son.
 
The 12-bar bebop blues ‘Butch and Butch’, from Oliver Nelson’s classic 1961 album ‘Blues and the Abstract Truth’, closed the first set in storming fashion; a pattern of full-blooded riffs building the tension and driving along a string of free-flowing and perfectly executed solos, rounded off by a tour-de-force outing for Shane Forbes on drums. If Steve Hamilton succeeded in reducing the temperature at times, it was never at the expense of excitement. All this, I should add, was underpinned by the rich tones and immaculate bass of Larry Bartley.
 
The angular ‘Do You Know the Way?’, featuring the soaring alto saxophone of Tony Kofi, got the second set under way, while ‘The Hill’, Tom Harrison’s emotionally charged tribute to the abiding influence of the great saxophonist, composer and educator Jean Toussaint,  also served to trace a musical line of descent via Jean from the incomparable Art Blakey – whose ‘message’ is still a potent force today!
 
Despite its menacing undertones Art would have loved ‘El Farolito’, a high-octane impression of a fight that Tom Harrison had the misfortune to witness on a visit to San Francisco – scorching solos from Brandon Allen and Tony Kofi, while Collins’ provided the automatic gun-fire. A melee of sounds brought the piece to what we hope was a peaceful conclusion.
 
In complete contrast ‘Wide Horizons’ explored reflective territory, with Collins on flugelhorn to a gorgeous background of choral effects which drew to a beautiful ending with the repetition of a sub-theme over Shane Forbes’s drums.
 
In an evening of surprises there was none greater than the inclusion of ‘Oh, Look at Me Now’, written by pianist Joe Bushkin in 1941 and a huge hit for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra with a certain Mr. Frank Sinatra on vocal duties. This polished and swinging, medium-tempo arrangement expressed all the feeling of the original and featured the poised and lyrical playing of Tony Kofi on alto and the ‘booting’ tenor of Brandon Allen, as well as brass fireworks from the leader. Shane Forbes’ perfectly timed cymbal chime brought the piece to a close.
 
Like ‘Oh, Look at Me Now’, Victor Young’s ‘Stella by Starlight’ began life in the 1940s as the main theme for the now long-forgotten movie ‘The Uninvited’. The song, on the other hand, which has always seemed to me perilously difficult to successfully negotiate, has lived on as a favourite for jazz players across the years. In that respect Quentin Collins paid tribute to such legends as Harry James, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis amongst many others, to bring an exhilarating evening of music to a fitting close amid the rapturous applause of the near sell-out audience.
 
As ever, thanks to the Progress ‘House Team’ for their warm hospitality and attention to detail, which all helped to make the music ‘really happen’!


TREVOR BANNISTER

Future dates on the 2019 ‘Road Warrior’ tour are;

27th October - Wigan Jazz
28th October - NCEM, York
29th October - Flute & Tankard, Cardiff

More information at
https://www.quentincollinsmusic.com

Quentin Collins Sextet, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 18/10/2019.

Quentin Collins Sextet

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Reviewed by: Trevor Bannister

Live Review

5 out of 5

Quentin Collins Sextet, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 18/10/2019.
Photography: Photograph by Zoë White

"Jazz at its very best!". Guest contributor Trevor Bannister enjoys a five star performance by the Quentin Collins Sextet as they stop off in Reading on their 'Road Warrior' tour.

Jazz at Progress
 
The Quentin Collins Sextet ‘Road Warrior’ Tour
 
Progress Theatre, Reading Friday 18 October
 
Quentin Collins trumpet & flugelhorn, Tony Kofi alto saxophone, Brandon Allen tenor saxophone, Steve Hamilton keyboard, Larry Bartley bass, Shane Forbes drums
 

There’s something special about the shoe-box shape of Reading’s Progress Theatre and the intimacy of its stage to the steeply ranked 96-seats of the auditorium that casts its own magical spell and makes it a marvellous venue for jazz.  There’s no need for amplification, except for announcements, as each instrument finds its own balance and is perfectly audible within the natural acoustic. The audience can listen in comfort and there are no tinkling glasses or irritating conversations to distract the musicians. In short, the Progress has inspired many great performances throughout its seven-year association with Jazz in Reading, none more so than the breath-taking and utterly compelling visit by the Quentin Collins Sextet on Friday 18 October as part of its national ‘Road Warrior’ tour.
 
To describe Quentin Collins as a virtuoso is almost a disservice, but I can’t think of another superlative to adequately describe his astonishing technical skill, musicianship and feel for the music. He is THE complete trumpet player with a gorgeously burnished tone and an incredible range. He plays with unbelievable accuracy, expresses himself with a true sense of narrative, drawing on a seemingly infinite fund of ideas and can conjure the widest spectrum of sounds imaginable from his instrument without ever having to resort to a mute; a resonant growl at one end of the scale to an almost imperceptible wisp of sound at the other. And as if that wasn’t enough, like a latter-day Art Blakey, he leads his band with such strength and bravura, that his fellow musicians can’t fail to rise to the challenges of the music.
 
Add to the mix, writing of superb quality - more or less equally shared between Collins himself and his close compatriot Tom Harrison, plus a measure of blues from the great Oliver Nelson and a couple of standards; stir-in the tightest arrangements you’re likely to hear anywhere, honed to perfection on the early legs of the band’s tour and you arrive at a formula that burst into life on ‘Road Warrior’, the title track from Collins’ recently issued 5-star rated album. If the opening number impressed with its scorching solos and explosive ensemble sound, the tortuous ‘Float Flitter Flutter’, a dedication to the late Sonny Fortune, took the breath away with its knife-edge precision.

“How do they know when to come in?” asked one member of the audience in wide-eyed amazement during the interval. I guess the only simple answer is to say, “That’s the marvel of jazz at its very best!”
 
The mellow tones of Collins’ flugelhorn over drummer Shane Forbes’ tom-toms and cymbals opened ‘Jasmine Breeze’, its gentle mood sustained by the perfect support of Steve Hamilton on keyboard and Larry Bartley on bass and the haunting solos of Brandon Allen on tenor and Tony Kofi’s alto.
 
The joyful ‘Look Ahead (What Do You See?)’ took its inspiration from father-and-son conversations in the Collins’ household, and brilliantly evoked a vision of the infinite possibilities that might lay ahead for a ten-year-old boy, with perhaps just a touch of caution on the part of the father, and an ‘Oh, Dad’ shrug of the shoulders from the son.
 
The 12-bar bebop blues ‘Butch and Butch’, from Oliver Nelson’s classic 1961 album ‘Blues and the Abstract Truth’, closed the first set in storming fashion; a pattern of full-blooded riffs building the tension and driving along a string of free-flowing and perfectly executed solos, rounded off by a tour-de-force outing for Shane Forbes on drums. If Steve Hamilton succeeded in reducing the temperature at times, it was never at the expense of excitement. All this, I should add, was underpinned by the rich tones and immaculate bass of Larry Bartley.
 
The angular ‘Do You Know the Way?’, featuring the soaring alto saxophone of Tony Kofi, got the second set under way, while ‘The Hill’, Tom Harrison’s emotionally charged tribute to the abiding influence of the great saxophonist, composer and educator Jean Toussaint,  also served to trace a musical line of descent via Jean from the incomparable Art Blakey – whose ‘message’ is still a potent force today!
 
Despite its menacing undertones Art would have loved ‘El Farolito’, a high-octane impression of a fight that Tom Harrison had the misfortune to witness on a visit to San Francisco – scorching solos from Brandon Allen and Tony Kofi, while Collins’ provided the automatic gun-fire. A melee of sounds brought the piece to what we hope was a peaceful conclusion.
 
In complete contrast ‘Wide Horizons’ explored reflective territory, with Collins on flugelhorn to a gorgeous background of choral effects which drew to a beautiful ending with the repetition of a sub-theme over Shane Forbes’s drums.
 
In an evening of surprises there was none greater than the inclusion of ‘Oh, Look at Me Now’, written by pianist Joe Bushkin in 1941 and a huge hit for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra with a certain Mr. Frank Sinatra on vocal duties. This polished and swinging, medium-tempo arrangement expressed all the feeling of the original and featured the poised and lyrical playing of Tony Kofi on alto and the ‘booting’ tenor of Brandon Allen, as well as brass fireworks from the leader. Shane Forbes’ perfectly timed cymbal chime brought the piece to a close.
 
Like ‘Oh, Look at Me Now’, Victor Young’s ‘Stella by Starlight’ began life in the 1940s as the main theme for the now long-forgotten movie ‘The Uninvited’. The song, on the other hand, which has always seemed to me perilously difficult to successfully negotiate, has lived on as a favourite for jazz players across the years. In that respect Quentin Collins paid tribute to such legends as Harry James, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis amongst many others, to bring an exhilarating evening of music to a fitting close amid the rapturous applause of the near sell-out audience.
 
As ever, thanks to the Progress ‘House Team’ for their warm hospitality and attention to detail, which all helped to make the music ‘really happen’!


TREVOR BANNISTER

Future dates on the 2019 ‘Road Warrior’ tour are;

27th October - Wigan Jazz
28th October - NCEM, York
29th October - Flute & Tankard, Cardiff

More information at
https://www.quentincollinsmusic.com

Mike De Souza - Slow Burn Rating: 4 out of 5 An impressive début. The mix of electric and acoustic elements works well and the writing is intelligent and multi-faceted, with the trio embracing a variety of moods and musical styles.

Mike De Souza

“Slow Burn”

Mike De Souza is a young jazz guitarist and composer based in London and the self released “Slow Burn represents his album début as a leader, following in the wake of the earlier EP “Road Fork” (2018).

De Souza first came to my attention as a member of the quartet Big Bad Wolf, appearing on that group’s critically acclaimed début album “Pond Life” (2017).
Review here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/big-bad-wolf-pond-life/

Big Bad Wolf also features guitarist (and occasional vocalist) Rob Luft, trombonist Owen Dawson and drummer Jay Davis. On “Pond Life” De Souza played a Fender Bass VI electric bass, but he primarily regards himself as a guitarist.

De Souza studied at Leeds College of Music and at London’s Royal Academy of Music. His guitar tutors have included such leading exponents of the instrument as John Parricelli, Mike Outram, Mike Walker, Phil Robson and Gilad Hekselman. Other musicians with whom he has studied include saxophonists Iain Ballamy and Will Vinson, pianist Nikki Iles and vibraphonist Matt Moran.

As a sideman he has worked with US trumpeter Terence Blanchard as part of the Inner City Ensemble. Other regular engagements include work with groups led by three different saxophonists; Phil Meadows’ Beware of the Bear, Martin Speake’s Charukesi and Ronan Perrett’s Twospeak.

De Souza’s own trio features him on guitar with fellow Wolf Jay Davis at the drums. Bass duties are assumed by Huw V Williams, who is something of a rising star, and a bandleader in his own right.

De Souza acknowledges the influence of such jazz guitar greats as Pat Metheny, John Scofield and Kurt Rosenwinkel, plus adventurous rock bands like Radiohead and Deerhoof. “Slow Burn” attempts to blur the boundaries between the typical low key and intimate ‘jazz guitar trio’ record and the more orchestrated and produced sound of an alternative rock album. To this end acoustic and electric guitars are layered and judicious use is made of uncredited synths, piano and wordless vocals, all presumably overdubbed by De Souza and the other members of the trio.

Of his compositions for “Slow Burn” De Souza states;
“All the music I composed for “Slow Burn was written at the guitar. My mission was to reconcile my earliest musical influences with my more recent ones. It was an exciting challenge – how could I combine the energy of rock with the harmonic and rhythmic complexity of jazz whilst also creating something personal and honest?”

The title refers to the “lifelong path of growth for all musicians” with De Souza adding; “This describes my personal journey from rock music to jazz through blues and fusion, releasing ‘Pond Life’ with Big Bad Wolf, then my first EP ‘Road Fork’, to now, with the release of my début album”.

The material included with my review copy of “Slow Burn” includes De Souza’s album notes, which offer further insights into his working methods and influences and the sources of inspiration behind the individual tunes.

Opener “Living With Nuns” is one of two tracks to draw inspiration from Olivier Messiaen’s “Modes of Limited Transposition”. It’s a lively piece that makes judicious use of electronic effects, keyboard overdubs and wordless vocals and which combines spiky contrapuntal instrumental interplay with a discernible rock energy and urgency - with the leader spectacularly cutting loose on electric guitar in the second half of the piece.
Conceptually the tune is linked to the later “Late for Breakfast” as De Souza explains;
“The titles of both these tracks refer to an incident that took place in Graz whilst on tour with Big Bad Wolf, when we were provided with accommodation in a nunnery. The nuns warned us not to be late for breakfast, but we inevitably were!”.

“Going Places” takes its inspiration from the Deerhoof song “The Galaxist” and initially promises to be a rather gentler affair with De Souza featuring acoustic guitar alongside the bass clarinet of uncredited guest Sam Rapley. But soon the music is changing direction with some chunky, angular electric guitar riffing on a constantly evolving piece that takes in many moods, styles, time signatures and textures. It represents a successful attempt to mirror certain aspects of Deerhoof’s music, the constant evolution, the unexpected twists and turns, the effective blending of wildness and cohesion. The use of soaring wordless vocals and the episodic quality of the writing may also remind some listeners of Pat Metheny.

“Morning Mind” is the most obviously ‘jazz’ piece on the record and draws inspiration from the playing of De Souza’s one time tutor Gilad Hekselman, and also from one time Gary Burton guitarist Julian Lage, particularly with regard to their use of two part counterpoint. There’s an agreeable air of intimacy about the playing of the trio on this track, the music always sounding warm and melodic despite its complexities. Williams’ warm. woody, melodic bass is the perfect foil to the clean sounding ‘jazz’ guitar of the leader and Davis’ delicate brushwork is tasteful and supportive throughout.

De Souza doesn’t say anything about “Nunchucks”, so we’ll never know if the title is reference to that nunnery in Graz – the mind boggles!. The tune itself draws upon the world of experimental rock with its combination of chunky riffing and odd meter rhythms with more impressionistic, ambient passages. De Souza solos with a smouldering intensity, while Williams’ loping electric bass grooves and Davis’ crisp drumming provide the necessary support and propulsion.

The title track is a musical illustration of the meaning behind it, as outlined previously. The piece unfolds over a full nine minutes, gradually developing from quiet beginnings featuring interlocking guitar and bass arpeggios. The main melody draws inspiration from the music of Radiohead, and particularly the voice of Thom Yorke. De Souza’s own wordless vocals are included in the mix as the music continues to evolve via an acoustic guitar solo. As is typical of De Souza’s episodic and multi-faceted compositions there’s a sudden shift into a more dynamic ‘fusion-esque’ section with the leader delivering a searing solo on electric guitar, strongly supported by bass and drums.

“Late for Breakfast Intro” begins quietly, as if the lads are slowly awakening from their slumbers. Sequenced as a separate track this leads into “Late For Breakfast” itself, a far more urgent, scurrying affair that perhaps depicts the rush to the breakfast table. De Souza mixes acoustic and electric guitar sounds and the piece eventually slows and becomes less frenetic, a pause for reflection after the repast, perhaps? Williams’ acoustic bass plays a leading role in this section, but in a final twist the pace and intensity increases prior to a ‘widescreen’ finish featuring electric guitars and a veritable ‘wall of sound’.

The album concludes with “Veritas Lux Mea”, the Latin title translating as “Truth is my Light”, an entirely acoustic live performance that begins in almost ‘free jazz’ fashion with the sound of Williams’ bowed bass forming the backdrop for De Souza’s acoustic guitar pickings and scrapings. The piece then evolves into a more formal acoustic trio performance, almost folk like at times, with the sound of acoustic guitar and pizzicato double bass now augmented by Davis’ delicate and atmospheric brush work. There’s a calming quality about the music that befits the tune’s title, at times it almost sounds like one of Ralph Towner’s recordings for ECM.

“Slow Burn” represents an impressive début album from De Souza. The mix of electric and acoustic elements works well and the writing is intelligent and multi-faceted with the trio embracing a variety of moods and musical styles, often within the boundaries of a single piece.

After only previously hearing De Souza on electric bass it’s good to be able to finally appreciate his wide ranging talents as a guitarist. His technical expertise on both the electric and acoustic versions of the instrument is impressive throughout.

It’s very much the leader’s album but both Williams and Davis offer crucial and impeccable support. De Souza is also quick to thank mixing engineer Alex Killpartrick, who had previously worked on the Big Bad Wolf album, for his contribution to the soundscaping elements on selected tracks. This aspect of the music, allied to the use of wordless vocals, represents a clear link between the sound of Big Bad Wolf and De Souza’s own band.

“Slow Burn” is rich in terms of both colour and texture and the music ranges far beyond the usual parameters of the usual ‘jazz guitar trio’ recording thanks, to its embrace of other elements including rock, folk, classical and electronica.

The Mike De Souza Trio is currently touring the album extensively in the UK with dates in late October and throughout November 2019. One would imagine that a live performance from this line up would be a fascinating, exciting and enjoyable experience. Dates (in receding order) are listed below;


2020
February:
1st – Mike De Souza Trio @ Jazz at John’s, Cambridge
2019
November:
29th – Mike De Souza Trio @ Leeds College Of Music (Workshop 1-4pm)
20th – Twospeak @ Jazztrain, London
16th – Mike De Souza Trio @ Jazz at HEART, Leeds
15th – Mike De Souza Trio @ JATP Bradford
8th – Mike De Souza Trio @ Listen! Cambridge
5th – Mike De Souza Trio @ The Mad Hatter, Oxford
4th – Mike De Souza Trio (‘Slow Burn’ Album Launch) @ Pizza Express Dean Street
October:
31st – Mike De Souza Trio @ Peggy’s Skylight, Nottingham
30th – Mike De Souza Trio @ The Lescar, Sheffield
29th – Mike De Souza Trio @ Parr Jazz, Liverpool
28th – Mike De Souza Trio @ NQ Jazz, The Whiskey Jar, Manchester
27th – Mike De Souza Trio @ Jazz NE, The Bridge Hotel, Newcastle

Slow Burn is available for purchase from Mike De Souza’s Bandcamp page;
https://mikedesouzatrio.bandcamp.com/album/slow-burn

Also available for digital download at iTunes, Spotify, AppleMusic etc.

For further information on Mike De Souza please visit http://www.mikedesouza.co.uk

Slow Burn

Mike De Souza

Friday, October 25, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Slow Burn

An impressive début. The mix of electric and acoustic elements works well and the writing is intelligent and multi-faceted, with the trio embracing a variety of moods and musical styles.

Mike De Souza

“Slow Burn”

Mike De Souza is a young jazz guitarist and composer based in London and the self released “Slow Burn represents his album début as a leader, following in the wake of the earlier EP “Road Fork” (2018).

De Souza first came to my attention as a member of the quartet Big Bad Wolf, appearing on that group’s critically acclaimed début album “Pond Life” (2017).
Review here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/big-bad-wolf-pond-life/

Big Bad Wolf also features guitarist (and occasional vocalist) Rob Luft, trombonist Owen Dawson and drummer Jay Davis. On “Pond Life” De Souza played a Fender Bass VI electric bass, but he primarily regards himself as a guitarist.

De Souza studied at Leeds College of Music and at London’s Royal Academy of Music. His guitar tutors have included such leading exponents of the instrument as John Parricelli, Mike Outram, Mike Walker, Phil Robson and Gilad Hekselman. Other musicians with whom he has studied include saxophonists Iain Ballamy and Will Vinson, pianist Nikki Iles and vibraphonist Matt Moran.

As a sideman he has worked with US trumpeter Terence Blanchard as part of the Inner City Ensemble. Other regular engagements include work with groups led by three different saxophonists; Phil Meadows’ Beware of the Bear, Martin Speake’s Charukesi and Ronan Perrett’s Twospeak.

De Souza’s own trio features him on guitar with fellow Wolf Jay Davis at the drums. Bass duties are assumed by Huw V Williams, who is something of a rising star, and a bandleader in his own right.

De Souza acknowledges the influence of such jazz guitar greats as Pat Metheny, John Scofield and Kurt Rosenwinkel, plus adventurous rock bands like Radiohead and Deerhoof. “Slow Burn” attempts to blur the boundaries between the typical low key and intimate ‘jazz guitar trio’ record and the more orchestrated and produced sound of an alternative rock album. To this end acoustic and electric guitars are layered and judicious use is made of uncredited synths, piano and wordless vocals, all presumably overdubbed by De Souza and the other members of the trio.

Of his compositions for “Slow Burn” De Souza states;
“All the music I composed for “Slow Burn was written at the guitar. My mission was to reconcile my earliest musical influences with my more recent ones. It was an exciting challenge – how could I combine the energy of rock with the harmonic and rhythmic complexity of jazz whilst also creating something personal and honest?”

The title refers to the “lifelong path of growth for all musicians” with De Souza adding; “This describes my personal journey from rock music to jazz through blues and fusion, releasing ‘Pond Life’ with Big Bad Wolf, then my first EP ‘Road Fork’, to now, with the release of my début album”.

The material included with my review copy of “Slow Burn” includes De Souza’s album notes, which offer further insights into his working methods and influences and the sources of inspiration behind the individual tunes.

Opener “Living With Nuns” is one of two tracks to draw inspiration from Olivier Messiaen’s “Modes of Limited Transposition”. It’s a lively piece that makes judicious use of electronic effects, keyboard overdubs and wordless vocals and which combines spiky contrapuntal instrumental interplay with a discernible rock energy and urgency - with the leader spectacularly cutting loose on electric guitar in the second half of the piece.
Conceptually the tune is linked to the later “Late for Breakfast” as De Souza explains;
“The titles of both these tracks refer to an incident that took place in Graz whilst on tour with Big Bad Wolf, when we were provided with accommodation in a nunnery. The nuns warned us not to be late for breakfast, but we inevitably were!”.

“Going Places” takes its inspiration from the Deerhoof song “The Galaxist” and initially promises to be a rather gentler affair with De Souza featuring acoustic guitar alongside the bass clarinet of uncredited guest Sam Rapley. But soon the music is changing direction with some chunky, angular electric guitar riffing on a constantly evolving piece that takes in many moods, styles, time signatures and textures. It represents a successful attempt to mirror certain aspects of Deerhoof’s music, the constant evolution, the unexpected twists and turns, the effective blending of wildness and cohesion. The use of soaring wordless vocals and the episodic quality of the writing may also remind some listeners of Pat Metheny.

“Morning Mind” is the most obviously ‘jazz’ piece on the record and draws inspiration from the playing of De Souza’s one time tutor Gilad Hekselman, and also from one time Gary Burton guitarist Julian Lage, particularly with regard to their use of two part counterpoint. There’s an agreeable air of intimacy about the playing of the trio on this track, the music always sounding warm and melodic despite its complexities. Williams’ warm. woody, melodic bass is the perfect foil to the clean sounding ‘jazz’ guitar of the leader and Davis’ delicate brushwork is tasteful and supportive throughout.

De Souza doesn’t say anything about “Nunchucks”, so we’ll never know if the title is reference to that nunnery in Graz – the mind boggles!. The tune itself draws upon the world of experimental rock with its combination of chunky riffing and odd meter rhythms with more impressionistic, ambient passages. De Souza solos with a smouldering intensity, while Williams’ loping electric bass grooves and Davis’ crisp drumming provide the necessary support and propulsion.

The title track is a musical illustration of the meaning behind it, as outlined previously. The piece unfolds over a full nine minutes, gradually developing from quiet beginnings featuring interlocking guitar and bass arpeggios. The main melody draws inspiration from the music of Radiohead, and particularly the voice of Thom Yorke. De Souza’s own wordless vocals are included in the mix as the music continues to evolve via an acoustic guitar solo. As is typical of De Souza’s episodic and multi-faceted compositions there’s a sudden shift into a more dynamic ‘fusion-esque’ section with the leader delivering a searing solo on electric guitar, strongly supported by bass and drums.

“Late for Breakfast Intro” begins quietly, as if the lads are slowly awakening from their slumbers. Sequenced as a separate track this leads into “Late For Breakfast” itself, a far more urgent, scurrying affair that perhaps depicts the rush to the breakfast table. De Souza mixes acoustic and electric guitar sounds and the piece eventually slows and becomes less frenetic, a pause for reflection after the repast, perhaps? Williams’ acoustic bass plays a leading role in this section, but in a final twist the pace and intensity increases prior to a ‘widescreen’ finish featuring electric guitars and a veritable ‘wall of sound’.

The album concludes with “Veritas Lux Mea”, the Latin title translating as “Truth is my Light”, an entirely acoustic live performance that begins in almost ‘free jazz’ fashion with the sound of Williams’ bowed bass forming the backdrop for De Souza’s acoustic guitar pickings and scrapings. The piece then evolves into a more formal acoustic trio performance, almost folk like at times, with the sound of acoustic guitar and pizzicato double bass now augmented by Davis’ delicate and atmospheric brush work. There’s a calming quality about the music that befits the tune’s title, at times it almost sounds like one of Ralph Towner’s recordings for ECM.

“Slow Burn” represents an impressive début album from De Souza. The mix of electric and acoustic elements works well and the writing is intelligent and multi-faceted with the trio embracing a variety of moods and musical styles, often within the boundaries of a single piece.

After only previously hearing De Souza on electric bass it’s good to be able to finally appreciate his wide ranging talents as a guitarist. His technical expertise on both the electric and acoustic versions of the instrument is impressive throughout.

It’s very much the leader’s album but both Williams and Davis offer crucial and impeccable support. De Souza is also quick to thank mixing engineer Alex Killpartrick, who had previously worked on the Big Bad Wolf album, for his contribution to the soundscaping elements on selected tracks. This aspect of the music, allied to the use of wordless vocals, represents a clear link between the sound of Big Bad Wolf and De Souza’s own band.

“Slow Burn” is rich in terms of both colour and texture and the music ranges far beyond the usual parameters of the usual ‘jazz guitar trio’ recording thanks, to its embrace of other elements including rock, folk, classical and electronica.

The Mike De Souza Trio is currently touring the album extensively in the UK with dates in late October and throughout November 2019. One would imagine that a live performance from this line up would be a fascinating, exciting and enjoyable experience. Dates (in receding order) are listed below;


2020
February:
1st – Mike De Souza Trio @ Jazz at John’s, Cambridge
2019
November:
29th – Mike De Souza Trio @ Leeds College Of Music (Workshop 1-4pm)
20th – Twospeak @ Jazztrain, London
16th – Mike De Souza Trio @ Jazz at HEART, Leeds
15th – Mike De Souza Trio @ JATP Bradford
8th – Mike De Souza Trio @ Listen! Cambridge
5th – Mike De Souza Trio @ The Mad Hatter, Oxford
4th – Mike De Souza Trio (‘Slow Burn’ Album Launch) @ Pizza Express Dean Street
October:
31st – Mike De Souza Trio @ Peggy’s Skylight, Nottingham
30th – Mike De Souza Trio @ The Lescar, Sheffield
29th – Mike De Souza Trio @ Parr Jazz, Liverpool
28th – Mike De Souza Trio @ NQ Jazz, The Whiskey Jar, Manchester
27th – Mike De Souza Trio @ Jazz NE, The Bridge Hotel, Newcastle

Slow Burn is available for purchase from Mike De Souza’s Bandcamp page;
https://mikedesouzatrio.bandcamp.com/album/slow-burn

Also available for digital download at iTunes, Spotify, AppleMusic etc.

For further information on Mike De Souza please visit http://www.mikedesouza.co.uk

Sarah Morrow with the Dave Cottle Trio - Sarah Morrow with the Dave Cottle Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, Brecon Castle Hotel, Brecon, 22/10/2019. Rating: 4 out of 5 An excellent evening of music making from three of the leading figures on the South Wales jazz scene and their illustrious and highly talented American guest.

Sarah Morrow with the Dave Cottle Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, Brecon Castle Hotel, Brecon, 22/10/2019


Sarah Morrow – trombone, tambourine, vocals Dave Cottle – keyboard,
Alun Vaughan –  six string electric bass, Paul Smith – drums


Brecon Jazz Club’s October event saw the American trombonist and composer Sarah Morrow visiting the town in the company of the Swansea based Dave Cottle Trio.

The performance was the first of a short tour that was also to include dates in Swansea, Narberth and Bristol. It was made possible by the generous support of Arts Council Wales’ Noson Allan, or Night Out, scheme.

The necessity of staging the gig to tie in with the other dates on Morrow’s tour necessitated a change of date (from the second Tuesday of the month to the fourth) and consequently a change of venue. The unavailability of the Club’s regular haunt, The Muse Arts Centre, resulted in a move to the Ballroom at the Brecon Castle Hotel, a performance space that was probably already familiar to most members of the audience thanks to its use as a venue at Brecon Jazz Festival over many, many years.

Born in Houston, Texas but now based in Nashville, Tennessee Morrow first came to prominence as a member of Ray Charles’ touring band, which she joined in 1995. Charles heard her playing and asked “who is that guy on trombone? I want him in my band!”

Morrow has also worked extensively with another great figure of American music, the recently departed Dr. John with whom she worked as an instrumentalist, musical director and producer, staying with him for seven years and playing a key role on two of his later albums.

She has worked extensively as a sidewoman in both the US and Europe and lived and worked in France for five years. In recent years she has been writing soundtrack music for film and television and she is also an acclaimed music educator.

As a bandleader Morrow has released four albums across a variety of jazz styles, commencing with 2000’s “Greenlight”, which put the focus on her own writing. There have also been a couple of standards based sets while her latest recording, “Elektric Air” (2016) introduced electronics to her sound and featured the cutting edge contemporary musicians Robert Glasper (piano, keyboards), Derrick Hodge (bass) and Chris ‘Daddy’ Dave (drums).

The following list of artists, sourced from Morrow’s website http://www.sarahmorrow.com details some of the other musicians she has collaborated with during a productive and diverse career;
Bootsy Collins, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Van Morrison, Blind Boys of Alabama, The funky Drummers of James Brown (Clyde Stubblefield and Jabo Starks), drummer Bernard Purdie, Bonnie Raitt, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Anthony Hamilton, free form saxophonist David Murray, organists Rhoda Scott and Tony Monaco, tenor sax legends Pee Wee Ellis and Hal “Cornbread” Singer, Cuban rapper Telmary, Rickie Lee Jones, the American All-Stars in Paris, Mingus alumni Ted Curson and Ricky Ford, French star Anne Ducros, trumpeters Arturo Sandoval, Terence Blanchard, Marcus Belgrave and Nicholas Payton, saxophonist Branford Marsalis, DJ Jahi Sundance, underground hip hop sensation Mike Ladd,

Given Morrow’s credentials we were very lucky to be seeing such a multi-talented performer coming to Brecon. Accompanying the trombonist was a trio led by the Swansea based pianist Dave Cottle, who was joined by his regular rhythm team of electric bass specialist Alun Vaughan and drummer Paul Smith. Cottle is also a talented trumpeter and in addition works as a jazz promoter, having run the Jazzland club in Swansea for twenty three years as well as co-ordinating the annual Swansea International Jazz Festival.

Morrow last worked with Cottle in 2006 and it was good to see the pair renewing their musical partnership over the course of two sets featuring imaginative arrangements of standards interspersed with a smattering of Morrow’s own compositions.

The first set commenced with a standard, a blues to be precise. I recognised the tune but couldn’t pin a title on it, a fairly common occurrence for many jazz listeners I suspect. When I spoke to Sarah at half time she couldn’t identify it either, nor could Dave or Alun. So if some knowledgeable audience member can help us out, give me a shout. The players seemed pretty unconcerned about it all, at the end of the day it’s the music itself that counts.
Morrow’s playing has been endorsed by that great of the trombone Curtis Fuller and you could immediately hear why as she stated the theme and delivered the first solo, her sound an irresistible blend of warmth, power and fluency. Cottle followed, adopting an acoustic piano sound on his remarkably versatile Yamaha Motif XF keyboard. Next came Vaughan who exhibited a guitar like agility on his six string electric bass, his fluency and virtuosity reminding me of the great Steve Swallow.

Next we heard the first song that Morrow wrote, “Tisha’s Dance” from her début album “Greenlight”. This was introduced by a passage of solo hand drumming from Smith that helped to shape the vaguely Latin-esque groove. A pleasingly quirky composition packed with complex, twisting stop / start phrases the piece included solos from Morrow on trombone and Cottle at the keyboard, now adopting an electric piano or’Rhodes’ sound, with Morrow shaking a tambourine as Cottle soloed.

The final section of “Tisha’s Dance” also saw Morrow’s first use of extended trombone techniques,  the subtle deployment of vocalisations and over-blowing. This was continued on the unaccompanied introduction to the next tune, the avant garde flourishes suggesting that she may well have listened to the late, great Albert Mangelsdorff (1928-2005) during her time in Europe. It was certainly an unusual way in which to usher in the Bill Withers song “Ain’t No Sunshine”, which eventually settled into a subtly funky groove as Morrow’s playing took on more of a blues inflection. Cottle was featured at the piano and the performance was also notable for the lively dialogue between Morrow, again making use of vocalised techniques, and the impressive Smith, who was clearly enjoying the challenge and the experience of working with Morrow.

An arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” found Morrow and the trio back in more familiar jazz territory with cogent solos coming from all four musicians, culminating in a powerful drum feature from Smith.

A second Morrow original came in the shape of the gospel flavoured “Good Music Medicine”, which saw Cottle adopting a convincing Hammond organ sound on his Yamaha keyboard. Solos came from Cottle on organ, Vaughan on bass and Morrow on plunger muted trombone. This may have been unfamiliar material, but it was very much in the jazz tradition and the Brecon audience loved it, giving the tune a rapturous reception.

The first half concluded with a version of Lou Donaldson’s “Alligator Boogaloo” with Morrow using the tune as a vehicle to introduce the individual musicians, and to engage the audience in a little game of call and response as we sang back her trombone lines, culminating in “Frere Jacques”! Great fun.

Set two also commenced with a blues, with Duke Ellington’s “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be” proving to be far more identifiable! Morrow’s shuffle blues style arrangement dated from a time when she played with the late Al Grey (1925-2000), once of the Count Basie Orchestra. Tonight’s version featured a rasping, bluesy solo from Morrow plus further outings from Cottle on ‘acoustic’ piano and Vaughan at the bass.

In honour of her former employer, Dr. John, Morrow had arranged the standard Bernie’s Tune” (written by Bernie Miller) in a New Orleans style. Smith introduced the piece at the drums, his marching rhythms underpinning Morrow’s theme statement before Cottle launched into a rollicking New Orleans style piano solo. A Smith drum feature then paved the way for Morrow’s own, hard driving trombone solo.

A propulsive jazz-funk groove drove the Morrow original “Bonehoppin’” which saw the composer state the theme and take the first solo, her raunchy sound and fruity vocalisations clearly delighting the audience. Cottle’s solo embraced a variety of keyboard sounds while Vaughan’s feature added slap bass techniques to his usual fluency. Smith was also featured at the drums, entering into dialogue with Morrow’s vocalised trombone once more. The composer subsequently described the piece as “Southern funk”, adding “I like to experiment with rhythm”.

The calm after the storm came in the shape of the ballad “You’ve Changed”, which demonstrated Morrow’s mastery of this style of playing and saw Smith deploying brushes for the first time. Cottle was also featured on ‘acoustic’ piano.

“Hit The Road Jack” closed the second set and saw Morrow deliver a serviceable blues styled vocal within a slyly funky arrangement that saw Cottle mixing electric piano and organ sounds. The performance also included a rousing trombone solo from Morrow that left the audience wanting more.

This came in the shape of “Sweet Georgia Brown”, played as a homage to New Orleans ‘tailgate’ trombone pioneer Kid Ory (1886-1973). Morrow is the proud owner of one of the Kid’s handkerchiefs, given to her by a descendant. Morrow and the quartet fairly romped through the tune with Morrow stating the theme prior to solos from Cottle on honky tonk style piano, Vaughan, with a typically virtuosic electric bass feature, and Smith at the drums. Morrow’s trombone solo led into an animated dialogue with Cottle’s keyboards as the quartet ended the evening in invigorating fashion.

The excellence of the playing, the quality of the original writing and the inventiveness of the other arrangements all helped to ensure that this performance was a notch ahead of the usual ‘guest soloist with local trio’ standards set.

Of course it helped that Morrow is such a talented soloist and all round musician but the efforts of the Cottle trio shouldn’t be over looked with Cottle soloing imaginatively throughout and coaxing a broad variety of sounds from his instrument. I’ve always been an admirer of Vaughan’s playing and some of his soloing tonight was quite inspired. Smith also turned in a fine performance behind the kit, probably the best I’ve seen him play, as he linked up effectively with Morrow.

This was an excellent start to the quartet’s short tour and one would imagine that subsequent performances will be even better. Apparently Morrow has brought a set of foot pedals over from the US, but these weren’t compatible with UK electrics and couldn’t be used tonight. She hopes to get them working later on the tour so audiences in Swansea, Narberth and Bristol may get to see another facet of her playing, one that presumably draws on the “Elektric Air” album.

Not that anybody tonight could have felt short changed, this was an excellent evening of music making from three of the leading figures on the South Wales jazz scene and their illustrious and highly talented American guest.

My thanks to Sarah, Dave and Alun for speaking with me afterwards. Hope the rest of the tour is a great success.

Sarah Morrow and the Dave Cottle Trio play at;

Swansea Jazzland,  The Garage Music Venue, Uplands, Swansea 23rd October 2019

Span Jazz, Hotel Plas Hyfryd, Narberth, Pembrokeshire 24th October 2019

Sarah Morrow and the Andy Nowak Trio are at The Be-Bop Club, Bristol on 25th October 2019
http://www.thebebopclub.co.uk/index_files/WhatsOn.htm

 

 

Sarah Morrow with the Dave Cottle Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, Brecon Castle Hotel, Brecon, 22/10/2019.

Sarah Morrow with the Dave Cottle Trio

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Sarah Morrow with the Dave Cottle Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, Brecon Castle Hotel, Brecon, 22/10/2019.

An excellent evening of music making from three of the leading figures on the South Wales jazz scene and their illustrious and highly talented American guest.

Sarah Morrow with the Dave Cottle Trio, Brecon Jazz Club, Brecon Castle Hotel, Brecon, 22/10/2019


Sarah Morrow – trombone, tambourine, vocals Dave Cottle – keyboard,
Alun Vaughan –  six string electric bass, Paul Smith – drums


Brecon Jazz Club’s October event saw the American trombonist and composer Sarah Morrow visiting the town in the company of the Swansea based Dave Cottle Trio.

The performance was the first of a short tour that was also to include dates in Swansea, Narberth and Bristol. It was made possible by the generous support of Arts Council Wales’ Noson Allan, or Night Out, scheme.

The necessity of staging the gig to tie in with the other dates on Morrow’s tour necessitated a change of date (from the second Tuesday of the month to the fourth) and consequently a change of venue. The unavailability of the Club’s regular haunt, The Muse Arts Centre, resulted in a move to the Ballroom at the Brecon Castle Hotel, a performance space that was probably already familiar to most members of the audience thanks to its use as a venue at Brecon Jazz Festival over many, many years.

Born in Houston, Texas but now based in Nashville, Tennessee Morrow first came to prominence as a member of Ray Charles’ touring band, which she joined in 1995. Charles heard her playing and asked “who is that guy on trombone? I want him in my band!”

Morrow has also worked extensively with another great figure of American music, the recently departed Dr. John with whom she worked as an instrumentalist, musical director and producer, staying with him for seven years and playing a key role on two of his later albums.

She has worked extensively as a sidewoman in both the US and Europe and lived and worked in France for five years. In recent years she has been writing soundtrack music for film and television and she is also an acclaimed music educator.

As a bandleader Morrow has released four albums across a variety of jazz styles, commencing with 2000’s “Greenlight”, which put the focus on her own writing. There have also been a couple of standards based sets while her latest recording, “Elektric Air” (2016) introduced electronics to her sound and featured the cutting edge contemporary musicians Robert Glasper (piano, keyboards), Derrick Hodge (bass) and Chris ‘Daddy’ Dave (drums).

The following list of artists, sourced from Morrow’s website http://www.sarahmorrow.com details some of the other musicians she has collaborated with during a productive and diverse career;
Bootsy Collins, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Van Morrison, Blind Boys of Alabama, The funky Drummers of James Brown (Clyde Stubblefield and Jabo Starks), drummer Bernard Purdie, Bonnie Raitt, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Anthony Hamilton, free form saxophonist David Murray, organists Rhoda Scott and Tony Monaco, tenor sax legends Pee Wee Ellis and Hal “Cornbread” Singer, Cuban rapper Telmary, Rickie Lee Jones, the American All-Stars in Paris, Mingus alumni Ted Curson and Ricky Ford, French star Anne Ducros, trumpeters Arturo Sandoval, Terence Blanchard, Marcus Belgrave and Nicholas Payton, saxophonist Branford Marsalis, DJ Jahi Sundance, underground hip hop sensation Mike Ladd,

Given Morrow’s credentials we were very lucky to be seeing such a multi-talented performer coming to Brecon. Accompanying the trombonist was a trio led by the Swansea based pianist Dave Cottle, who was joined by his regular rhythm team of electric bass specialist Alun Vaughan and drummer Paul Smith. Cottle is also a talented trumpeter and in addition works as a jazz promoter, having run the Jazzland club in Swansea for twenty three years as well as co-ordinating the annual Swansea International Jazz Festival.

Morrow last worked with Cottle in 2006 and it was good to see the pair renewing their musical partnership over the course of two sets featuring imaginative arrangements of standards interspersed with a smattering of Morrow’s own compositions.

The first set commenced with a standard, a blues to be precise. I recognised the tune but couldn’t pin a title on it, a fairly common occurrence for many jazz listeners I suspect. When I spoke to Sarah at half time she couldn’t identify it either, nor could Dave or Alun. So if some knowledgeable audience member can help us out, give me a shout. The players seemed pretty unconcerned about it all, at the end of the day it’s the music itself that counts.
Morrow’s playing has been endorsed by that great of the trombone Curtis Fuller and you could immediately hear why as she stated the theme and delivered the first solo, her sound an irresistible blend of warmth, power and fluency. Cottle followed, adopting an acoustic piano sound on his remarkably versatile Yamaha Motif XF keyboard. Next came Vaughan who exhibited a guitar like agility on his six string electric bass, his fluency and virtuosity reminding me of the great Steve Swallow.

Next we heard the first song that Morrow wrote, “Tisha’s Dance” from her début album “Greenlight”. This was introduced by a passage of solo hand drumming from Smith that helped to shape the vaguely Latin-esque groove. A pleasingly quirky composition packed with complex, twisting stop / start phrases the piece included solos from Morrow on trombone and Cottle at the keyboard, now adopting an electric piano or’Rhodes’ sound, with Morrow shaking a tambourine as Cottle soloed.

The final section of “Tisha’s Dance” also saw Morrow’s first use of extended trombone techniques,  the subtle deployment of vocalisations and over-blowing. This was continued on the unaccompanied introduction to the next tune, the avant garde flourishes suggesting that she may well have listened to the late, great Albert Mangelsdorff (1928-2005) during her time in Europe. It was certainly an unusual way in which to usher in the Bill Withers song “Ain’t No Sunshine”, which eventually settled into a subtly funky groove as Morrow’s playing took on more of a blues inflection. Cottle was featured at the piano and the performance was also notable for the lively dialogue between Morrow, again making use of vocalised techniques, and the impressive Smith, who was clearly enjoying the challenge and the experience of working with Morrow.

An arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” found Morrow and the trio back in more familiar jazz territory with cogent solos coming from all four musicians, culminating in a powerful drum feature from Smith.

A second Morrow original came in the shape of the gospel flavoured “Good Music Medicine”, which saw Cottle adopting a convincing Hammond organ sound on his Yamaha keyboard. Solos came from Cottle on organ, Vaughan on bass and Morrow on plunger muted trombone. This may have been unfamiliar material, but it was very much in the jazz tradition and the Brecon audience loved it, giving the tune a rapturous reception.

The first half concluded with a version of Lou Donaldson’s “Alligator Boogaloo” with Morrow using the tune as a vehicle to introduce the individual musicians, and to engage the audience in a little game of call and response as we sang back her trombone lines, culminating in “Frere Jacques”! Great fun.

Set two also commenced with a blues, with Duke Ellington’s “Things Ain’t What They Used To Be” proving to be far more identifiable! Morrow’s shuffle blues style arrangement dated from a time when she played with the late Al Grey (1925-2000), once of the Count Basie Orchestra. Tonight’s version featured a rasping, bluesy solo from Morrow plus further outings from Cottle on ‘acoustic’ piano and Vaughan at the bass.

In honour of her former employer, Dr. John, Morrow had arranged the standard Bernie’s Tune” (written by Bernie Miller) in a New Orleans style. Smith introduced the piece at the drums, his marching rhythms underpinning Morrow’s theme statement before Cottle launched into a rollicking New Orleans style piano solo. A Smith drum feature then paved the way for Morrow’s own, hard driving trombone solo.

A propulsive jazz-funk groove drove the Morrow original “Bonehoppin’” which saw the composer state the theme and take the first solo, her raunchy sound and fruity vocalisations clearly delighting the audience. Cottle’s solo embraced a variety of keyboard sounds while Vaughan’s feature added slap bass techniques to his usual fluency. Smith was also featured at the drums, entering into dialogue with Morrow’s vocalised trombone once more. The composer subsequently described the piece as “Southern funk”, adding “I like to experiment with rhythm”.

The calm after the storm came in the shape of the ballad “You’ve Changed”, which demonstrated Morrow’s mastery of this style of playing and saw Smith deploying brushes for the first time. Cottle was also featured on ‘acoustic’ piano.

“Hit The Road Jack” closed the second set and saw Morrow deliver a serviceable blues styled vocal within a slyly funky arrangement that saw Cottle mixing electric piano and organ sounds. The performance also included a rousing trombone solo from Morrow that left the audience wanting more.

This came in the shape of “Sweet Georgia Brown”, played as a homage to New Orleans ‘tailgate’ trombone pioneer Kid Ory (1886-1973). Morrow is the proud owner of one of the Kid’s handkerchiefs, given to her by a descendant. Morrow and the quartet fairly romped through the tune with Morrow stating the theme prior to solos from Cottle on honky tonk style piano, Vaughan, with a typically virtuosic electric bass feature, and Smith at the drums. Morrow’s trombone solo led into an animated dialogue with Cottle’s keyboards as the quartet ended the evening in invigorating fashion.

The excellence of the playing, the quality of the original writing and the inventiveness of the other arrangements all helped to ensure that this performance was a notch ahead of the usual ‘guest soloist with local trio’ standards set.

Of course it helped that Morrow is such a talented soloist and all round musician but the efforts of the Cottle trio shouldn’t be over looked with Cottle soloing imaginatively throughout and coaxing a broad variety of sounds from his instrument. I’ve always been an admirer of Vaughan’s playing and some of his soloing tonight was quite inspired. Smith also turned in a fine performance behind the kit, probably the best I’ve seen him play, as he linked up effectively with Morrow.

This was an excellent start to the quartet’s short tour and one would imagine that subsequent performances will be even better. Apparently Morrow has brought a set of foot pedals over from the US, but these weren’t compatible with UK electrics and couldn’t be used tonight. She hopes to get them working later on the tour so audiences in Swansea, Narberth and Bristol may get to see another facet of her playing, one that presumably draws on the “Elektric Air” album.

Not that anybody tonight could have felt short changed, this was an excellent evening of music making from three of the leading figures on the South Wales jazz scene and their illustrious and highly talented American guest.

My thanks to Sarah, Dave and Alun for speaking with me afterwards. Hope the rest of the tour is a great success.

Sarah Morrow and the Dave Cottle Trio play at;

Swansea Jazzland,  The Garage Music Venue, Uplands, Swansea 23rd October 2019

Span Jazz, Hotel Plas Hyfryd, Narberth, Pembrokeshire 24th October 2019

Sarah Morrow and the Andy Nowak Trio are at The Be-Bop Club, Bristol on 25th October 2019
http://www.thebebopclub.co.uk/index_files/WhatsOn.htm

 

 

Yazz Ahmed - Polyhymnia Rating: 4-5 out of 5 Rich, powerful, colourful, exciting and highly evocative. Ahmed’s most ambitious and most successful work to date has the feel of a ‘major statement’ about it.

Yazz Ahmed

“Polyhymnia”

(Ropeadope Records RAD-506)

One of the main highlights of the 2019 Cheltenham Jazz Festival was the performance of the new work “Polyhymnia” by trumpeter and composer Yazz Ahmed, accompanied by a twelve piece ensemble representing an extended version of her regular Family Hafla septet.

The last few years have been exciting ones for Ahmed. Born to a British mother and a Bahrainian father she was brought up in England and developed a love of jazz through her British grandfather, the 1950s jazz trumpeter Terry Brown.

However she has also begun to explore her Bahraini roots, a process that first found musical expression in 2011 on her début release “Finding My Way Home”, which combined conventional jazz and bebop virtues with Middle Eastern elements.

The intervening years have seen Ahmed maturing musically and refining her approach, a process helped by the establishment of her regular working band, the Family Hafla, the name coming from an Arabic word meaning “friendly social gathering”.

Ahmed’s writing for her septet was documented on her second album “La Saboteuse”, released on Naim Records in 2017. This represented a major step forward and was widely acclaimed by critics and public alike, establishing Ahmed as a major new force on the UK jazz scene. Honed via regular live performance Ahmed’s compositions for “La Saboteuse” were her strongest to date, combining her jazz and Arabic influences with a judicious touch of electronica. This was exciting and exotic music created by an increasingly confident performer and composer.

In 2014 Ahmed was awarded a Jazz Fellowship from the Birmingham based Jazzlines association and as a result was commissioned to write her first large scale work. Based on the traditional songs of Bahraini pearl divers the nine part suite “Alhaan al Siduuri” was successfully premièred at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham in October 2015 by an extended version of the Family Hafla group. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/yazz-ahmed-alhaan-al-siduri-cbso-centre-birmingham-03-10-2015/

As Ahmed’s profile has continued to rise she has been the beneficiary of a number of other commissions, among them the “Polyhymnia” project. The suite was commissioned in 2015 by the Tomorrow’s Warriors organisation with support from the PRS Women Make Music scheme. Inspired by six courageous and influential women “Polyhymnia” was premièred at the Purcell Room on the South Bank as part of the 2015 Women Of The World Festival and was performed by an all female ensemble.

The Cheltenham show that I was fortunate enough to witness represented the first performance of the work outside London. I was hugely impressed by the quality of the writing and the excellence of the playing and the whole event was a triumph for Ahmed and her band. My account of that live performance can be read here as part of my Festival coverage;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/sunday-at-cheltenham-jazz-festival-05-05-2019/

The success of that Cheltenham performance helped to ensure that the “Polyhymnia” album has been one of the most keenly anticipated releases of the year as far as I’m concerned. The album appears on the American Ropeadope record label, the home of numerous other innovative UK jazz acts.

Like its predecessor, “La Saboteuse”, it features the distinctive artwork of Sophie Bass, who Ahmed considers to be very much a key member of her team. The elaborate album packaging features a Bass artwork representing each of the six movements of the “Polyhymnia” suite.

“Polyhymnia” also features a large and fluctuating cast of musicians, many of them female.

The full line up comprises of;

Yazz Ahmed – trumpet, flugelhorn, Kaoss Pad, hand-claps

Noel Langley – trumpet, flugelhorn, Fender Rhodes

Becca Toft, Alex Ridout, Chloe Abbott – trumpets

Helena Kay, Camilla George – alto saxes

Tori Freestone – tenor sax, soprano sax, alto flute

Nubya Garcia – tenor sax

Gemma Moore, Josie Simmons – baritone saxes

George Crowley – bass clarinet

Carol Jarvis – trombone, bass trombone

Rosie Turton - trombone

Johanna Burnheart – electric violin

Samuel Hallkvist, Shirley Tetteh – guitars

Sarah Tandy, Alcyona Mick, Naadia Sheriff - keyboards

Ralph Wylde – vibraphone

Charlie Pyne – bass guitar, double bass

Corinna Silvester – percussion

Sophie Alloway – drums

Tom Jenkins – additional synth programming

Sheila Maurice Grey – voice

“Polyhymnia” is named for the Greek Muse of music, poetry and dance, a figure that Ahmed describes as “A Goddess for the arts”. It is a suite of six movements that Ahmed dedicates to “six women of outstanding qualities, role models with whom I felt a strong connection”.

Since its inaugural performance in 2015 the music has developed further with Ahmed adding new elements and expanding the pool of collaborators. It was recorded at various UK and European locations over a three year period from 2016 to 2019, with Ahmed and her colleagues fitting recording sessions in with their various other commitments. Co-produced by Ahmed and Langley the album also features contributions from engineers Tom Jenkins, Robin Morrison, August Wanngren, Katrine Ambler and Marco Pasquariello.

The album actually features a different running order to the Cheltenham live performance and the arrangements are significantly different.  Here things commence with “Lahan Al-Mansour”, dedicated to Saudi Arabia’s first female film director Haifaa Al Mansour, director of the award winning film “Wadjda” (2012), which explores women’s issues in contemporary Saudi Arabia, winning plaudits in the West but attracting criticism and hatred at home. For Al-Mansour the sight of women secretly riding bicycles in Saudi Arabia represented a kind of freedom, something that Bass mirrors in her artwork.
Musically the piece begins with an ‘invocation to Polyhymnia’, an atmospheric improvisation featuring cameos from several members of the ensemble including Ahmed on flugel. Later the composition continues Ahmed’s experiments with Arabic music, the scales, the rhythms and the overall feel, to telling effect. Ancient collides with modern as Ahmed mutates the sound of her trumpet via her trusty and much loved Kaoss Pad. Others to shine include Freestone on soprano sax, George on alto and Tandy and Mick, both playing Fender Rhodes. The overall performance is rich, powerful, colourful, exciting and highly evocative.

“Ruby Bridges” is dedicated to the civil rights activist who was the first (and only) African-American pupil to attend a previously segregated school in Louisiana.  Born in 1954 Bridges enrolled at the William Frantz Elementary School in 1960 as part of a scheme supported by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) that was intended to lead to the full integration of the New Orleans school system. The angry reaction of the white parents (and most of the teachers) and the often violent protests outside the school gates meant that Bridges and her mother walked to school each day flanked by four Federal Marshalls to give them protection. Bridges was taught separately to the rest of the pupils in a one to one situation by Barbara Henry, a teacher originally from Boston.
Bass’s image reflects the “macabre carnival” of the protests while Ahmed’s music also conveys something of a ‘New Orleans’ feel, the composer stating;
“I wanted to write a piece invoking the spirit of a New Orleans carnival with a simple melody, conveying the innocent, pure viewpoint of a child, contrasted with harmonic dissonance, carrying an undercurrent of menace. ‘Ruby Bridges’ is my homage to the power of innocence to conquer evil’.
Alloway and Silvester establish the marching rhythm around which Mick spins inventive piano melodies, the horns subsequently adding weight to the arrangement and the guitars a twang of dissonance. Fluent and inventive solos come from Ahmed on flugel, Freestone on tenor and Mick on piano. The tune then changes pace with a ‘second line’ section in which Alloway and Silvester feature prominently.


Another pioneer of female education is celebrated on “One Girl Among Many”, a tune honouring Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistan born campaigner for the education of girls in fundamentalist Islamic communities. The survivor of a Taliban assassination attempt and the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize Yousafzai has become an inspirational figure, founding the Malala fund, speaking at the United Nations and embarking on a degree course at Oxford University.
Bass’ image for this composition graces the front cover of the album and depicts Malala as a shining light.
Ahmed’s music is based on Yousafzai’s speech to the United Nations on her sixteenth birthday in 2013. The composition includes instrumental melody lines directly reflecting cadences and phrases in Malala’s speech and the arrangement also features the massed, almost exclusively female, voices of the ensemble speaking key phrases and sentences from Yousafzai’s address, one of these representing the tune’s title. This display of solidarity is complemented by an evocative arrangement that ensures that the spoken proclamations never sound sanctimonious or forced. Ahmed is the featured soloist on flugel, and the piece is bookended by two passages of solo piano, the first performed by Mick, the other by Tandy.

“2857” pays homage to another US Civil Rights activist. 2857 was the number of the vehicle in Montgomery, Alabama where Rosa Parks made her now famous ‘bus protest’ in November 1955, refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger. It was an action inspired by the brutal murder just a few days earlier of Emmett Till, another well documented incident in the history of the Civil Rights movement. Parks’ arrest led to the boycott of Montgomery buses by the city’s black community. Parks later continued as a committed Civil Right activist and worked alongside Martin Luther King.
Ahmed’s piece draws inspiration from the number of the bus on which Parks made her protest, the numerals informing both the meter and the melody of the composition as Ahmed explains;  “It’s a piece of two halves, the first expressing the quiet dignity of her action, the second the storm of change to come”. The first section exudes that ‘quiet dignity’ via the warm colours of the arrangement and a gentle, but implacable groove. Freestone’s tenor sax cadenza forms the bridge into the angrier second section, this including what Ahmed describes as a “collective wild interlude”, a loosely structured squall featuring several members of the ensemble. Elsewhere powerful and insistent grooves predominate with Turton’s trombone prominent in the arrangement and with Ahmed producing some of her most belligerent trumpet soloing, her sound wilfully distorted by means of her Kaoss Pad.

“Deeds Not Words” honours freedom fighters nearer to home, the women of the Suffragette movement of the early 20th century. Ahmed’s composition takes its title from the movement’s motto, which found expression in increasingly radical acts of civil disobedience in the years leading up to World War 1. The actions of the Suffragettes allied to the effects of the war eventually led to the passing of the Representation of the People Act of 1918, which gave some women the vote, paving the way for universal suffrage some years later. Bass’ image depicts the Suffragette movement as a great wave, or tsunami.
Ahmed’s tune is based on a re-working of the Suffragette protest song “Shoulder to Shoulder”, which in turn was based on the Welsh battle hymn “The March of the Men of Harlech”. To this Ahmed has added jazz harmonies and Arabic scales to create something new and personal to her, an action she sees as being equivalent to the Suffragettes’ original adaptation of an existing song for their own purposes.
The performance commences with an evocative drum and percussion duet featuring Alloway and Silvester, signifying the growing rumble of discontent leading to the formation of the Suffragette movement. This evolves into a four way conversation between Ahmed on trumpet & Kaoss Pad, Simmons on baritone sax, Hallkvist on guitar and Wylde at the vibes. As the piece gathers momentum Pyne’s bass lines allude to “Men of Harlech” but it’s only later that the familiar melody finally, and triumphantly, breaks cover.


The closing piece, “Barbara”, pays tribute to one of Ahmed’s musical heroines, the saxophonist and composer Barbara Thompson and her fifty plus years career as a jazz musician. Ahmed came to Thompson’s music fairly late thanks to the 2012 documentary “Playing Against Time”, which charted Thompson’s struggles to continue working as a professional musician while suffering from the effects of Parkinson’s Disease. Thompson finally retired from live performance in 2015 but continues to compose, viewing the process as part of the management and treatment of her illness.
On a personal note I go back with Thompson’s music much further, to the late 70s and 80s and her bands Jubiaba and Paraphernalia, seeing the latter in live performance many times. Paraphernalia also featured the talents of Thompson’s husband, Jon Hiseman, drummer, producer and all round facilitator, who sadly died in 2018. Ahmed compares her own creative partnership with Langley with that of Thompson and Hiseman.
Musically Ahmed’s piece reflects an interest in minimalism and combines joyous melodies with polyrhytmic motifs, divided across all the instruments of the ensemble. Crowley’s bass clarinet is particularly prominent in the arrangement while further solos come from Ahmed on flugel,  Tetteh on multi-tracked guitar and Kay on alto sax. The mood of the piece is warm, reflective and richly evocative, eventually leading to a rousing and triumphant climax in C major that Ahmed declares to be “a celebration of human courage and an ode to Polyhymnia”.

As one of the most eagerly awaited releases of the year “Polyhymnia” doesn’t disappoint. Ahmed’s compositions tackle weighty themes without becoming ‘preachy’ or pretentious, the listener never feels as if they’re being beaten about the head, despite the seriousness of the underlying messages. Instead Ahmed does her talking through the music, although it’s undeniably illuminating to read about the inspirations behind the tunes and to enjoy Bass’ visual responses to them.

But at the end of the day it’s all about the music, which is multi-faceted and multi-hued, rich in terms of mood, colour and texture and superbly played by a well integrated ensemble, with Ahmed’s own playing at the heart of the arrangements. The skill and craft of the writing and playing is matched by the production, making for a superb package all round.

Having enjoyed the Cheltenham performance so much I just knew that I wouldn’t be disappointed by this album. “Polyhymnia” represents Ahmed’s most ambitious and successful work to date and has the feel of a ‘major statement’ about it, but a statement that bears its weightiness lightly.

Ahmed is currently touring the “Polyhymnia” project in Europe and the UK. For details of forthcoming dates please visit http://www.yazzahmed.com

 

Polyhymnia

Yazz Ahmed

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4-5 out of 5

Polyhymnia

Rich, powerful, colourful, exciting and highly evocative. Ahmed’s most ambitious and most successful work to date has the feel of a ‘major statement’ about it.

Yazz Ahmed

“Polyhymnia”

(Ropeadope Records RAD-506)

One of the main highlights of the 2019 Cheltenham Jazz Festival was the performance of the new work “Polyhymnia” by trumpeter and composer Yazz Ahmed, accompanied by a twelve piece ensemble representing an extended version of her regular Family Hafla septet.

The last few years have been exciting ones for Ahmed. Born to a British mother and a Bahrainian father she was brought up in England and developed a love of jazz through her British grandfather, the 1950s jazz trumpeter Terry Brown.

However she has also begun to explore her Bahraini roots, a process that first found musical expression in 2011 on her début release “Finding My Way Home”, which combined conventional jazz and bebop virtues with Middle Eastern elements.

The intervening years have seen Ahmed maturing musically and refining her approach, a process helped by the establishment of her regular working band, the Family Hafla, the name coming from an Arabic word meaning “friendly social gathering”.

Ahmed’s writing for her septet was documented on her second album “La Saboteuse”, released on Naim Records in 2017. This represented a major step forward and was widely acclaimed by critics and public alike, establishing Ahmed as a major new force on the UK jazz scene. Honed via regular live performance Ahmed’s compositions for “La Saboteuse” were her strongest to date, combining her jazz and Arabic influences with a judicious touch of electronica. This was exciting and exotic music created by an increasingly confident performer and composer.

In 2014 Ahmed was awarded a Jazz Fellowship from the Birmingham based Jazzlines association and as a result was commissioned to write her first large scale work. Based on the traditional songs of Bahraini pearl divers the nine part suite “Alhaan al Siduuri” was successfully premièred at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham in October 2015 by an extended version of the Family Hafla group. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/yazz-ahmed-alhaan-al-siduri-cbso-centre-birmingham-03-10-2015/

As Ahmed’s profile has continued to rise she has been the beneficiary of a number of other commissions, among them the “Polyhymnia” project. The suite was commissioned in 2015 by the Tomorrow’s Warriors organisation with support from the PRS Women Make Music scheme. Inspired by six courageous and influential women “Polyhymnia” was premièred at the Purcell Room on the South Bank as part of the 2015 Women Of The World Festival and was performed by an all female ensemble.

The Cheltenham show that I was fortunate enough to witness represented the first performance of the work outside London. I was hugely impressed by the quality of the writing and the excellence of the playing and the whole event was a triumph for Ahmed and her band. My account of that live performance can be read here as part of my Festival coverage;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/sunday-at-cheltenham-jazz-festival-05-05-2019/

The success of that Cheltenham performance helped to ensure that the “Polyhymnia” album has been one of the most keenly anticipated releases of the year as far as I’m concerned. The album appears on the American Ropeadope record label, the home of numerous other innovative UK jazz acts.

Like its predecessor, “La Saboteuse”, it features the distinctive artwork of Sophie Bass, who Ahmed considers to be very much a key member of her team. The elaborate album packaging features a Bass artwork representing each of the six movements of the “Polyhymnia” suite.

“Polyhymnia” also features a large and fluctuating cast of musicians, many of them female.

The full line up comprises of;

Yazz Ahmed – trumpet, flugelhorn, Kaoss Pad, hand-claps

Noel Langley – trumpet, flugelhorn, Fender Rhodes

Becca Toft, Alex Ridout, Chloe Abbott – trumpets

Helena Kay, Camilla George – alto saxes

Tori Freestone – tenor sax, soprano sax, alto flute

Nubya Garcia – tenor sax

Gemma Moore, Josie Simmons – baritone saxes

George Crowley – bass clarinet

Carol Jarvis – trombone, bass trombone

Rosie Turton - trombone

Johanna Burnheart – electric violin

Samuel Hallkvist, Shirley Tetteh – guitars

Sarah Tandy, Alcyona Mick, Naadia Sheriff - keyboards

Ralph Wylde – vibraphone

Charlie Pyne – bass guitar, double bass

Corinna Silvester – percussion

Sophie Alloway – drums

Tom Jenkins – additional synth programming

Sheila Maurice Grey – voice

“Polyhymnia” is named for the Greek Muse of music, poetry and dance, a figure that Ahmed describes as “A Goddess for the arts”. It is a suite of six movements that Ahmed dedicates to “six women of outstanding qualities, role models with whom I felt a strong connection”.

Since its inaugural performance in 2015 the music has developed further with Ahmed adding new elements and expanding the pool of collaborators. It was recorded at various UK and European locations over a three year period from 2016 to 2019, with Ahmed and her colleagues fitting recording sessions in with their various other commitments. Co-produced by Ahmed and Langley the album also features contributions from engineers Tom Jenkins, Robin Morrison, August Wanngren, Katrine Ambler and Marco Pasquariello.

The album actually features a different running order to the Cheltenham live performance and the arrangements are significantly different.  Here things commence with “Lahan Al-Mansour”, dedicated to Saudi Arabia’s first female film director Haifaa Al Mansour, director of the award winning film “Wadjda” (2012), which explores women’s issues in contemporary Saudi Arabia, winning plaudits in the West but attracting criticism and hatred at home. For Al-Mansour the sight of women secretly riding bicycles in Saudi Arabia represented a kind of freedom, something that Bass mirrors in her artwork.
Musically the piece begins with an ‘invocation to Polyhymnia’, an atmospheric improvisation featuring cameos from several members of the ensemble including Ahmed on flugel. Later the composition continues Ahmed’s experiments with Arabic music, the scales, the rhythms and the overall feel, to telling effect. Ancient collides with modern as Ahmed mutates the sound of her trumpet via her trusty and much loved Kaoss Pad. Others to shine include Freestone on soprano sax, George on alto and Tandy and Mick, both playing Fender Rhodes. The overall performance is rich, powerful, colourful, exciting and highly evocative.

“Ruby Bridges” is dedicated to the civil rights activist who was the first (and only) African-American pupil to attend a previously segregated school in Louisiana.  Born in 1954 Bridges enrolled at the William Frantz Elementary School in 1960 as part of a scheme supported by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) that was intended to lead to the full integration of the New Orleans school system. The angry reaction of the white parents (and most of the teachers) and the often violent protests outside the school gates meant that Bridges and her mother walked to school each day flanked by four Federal Marshalls to give them protection. Bridges was taught separately to the rest of the pupils in a one to one situation by Barbara Henry, a teacher originally from Boston.
Bass’s image reflects the “macabre carnival” of the protests while Ahmed’s music also conveys something of a ‘New Orleans’ feel, the composer stating;
“I wanted to write a piece invoking the spirit of a New Orleans carnival with a simple melody, conveying the innocent, pure viewpoint of a child, contrasted with harmonic dissonance, carrying an undercurrent of menace. ‘Ruby Bridges’ is my homage to the power of innocence to conquer evil’.
Alloway and Silvester establish the marching rhythm around which Mick spins inventive piano melodies, the horns subsequently adding weight to the arrangement and the guitars a twang of dissonance. Fluent and inventive solos come from Ahmed on flugel, Freestone on tenor and Mick on piano. The tune then changes pace with a ‘second line’ section in which Alloway and Silvester feature prominently.


Another pioneer of female education is celebrated on “One Girl Among Many”, a tune honouring Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistan born campaigner for the education of girls in fundamentalist Islamic communities. The survivor of a Taliban assassination attempt and the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize Yousafzai has become an inspirational figure, founding the Malala fund, speaking at the United Nations and embarking on a degree course at Oxford University.
Bass’ image for this composition graces the front cover of the album and depicts Malala as a shining light.
Ahmed’s music is based on Yousafzai’s speech to the United Nations on her sixteenth birthday in 2013. The composition includes instrumental melody lines directly reflecting cadences and phrases in Malala’s speech and the arrangement also features the massed, almost exclusively female, voices of the ensemble speaking key phrases and sentences from Yousafzai’s address, one of these representing the tune’s title. This display of solidarity is complemented by an evocative arrangement that ensures that the spoken proclamations never sound sanctimonious or forced. Ahmed is the featured soloist on flugel, and the piece is bookended by two passages of solo piano, the first performed by Mick, the other by Tandy.

“2857” pays homage to another US Civil Rights activist. 2857 was the number of the vehicle in Montgomery, Alabama where Rosa Parks made her now famous ‘bus protest’ in November 1955, refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger. It was an action inspired by the brutal murder just a few days earlier of Emmett Till, another well documented incident in the history of the Civil Rights movement. Parks’ arrest led to the boycott of Montgomery buses by the city’s black community. Parks later continued as a committed Civil Right activist and worked alongside Martin Luther King.
Ahmed’s piece draws inspiration from the number of the bus on which Parks made her protest, the numerals informing both the meter and the melody of the composition as Ahmed explains;  “It’s a piece of two halves, the first expressing the quiet dignity of her action, the second the storm of change to come”. The first section exudes that ‘quiet dignity’ via the warm colours of the arrangement and a gentle, but implacable groove. Freestone’s tenor sax cadenza forms the bridge into the angrier second section, this including what Ahmed describes as a “collective wild interlude”, a loosely structured squall featuring several members of the ensemble. Elsewhere powerful and insistent grooves predominate with Turton’s trombone prominent in the arrangement and with Ahmed producing some of her most belligerent trumpet soloing, her sound wilfully distorted by means of her Kaoss Pad.

“Deeds Not Words” honours freedom fighters nearer to home, the women of the Suffragette movement of the early 20th century. Ahmed’s composition takes its title from the movement’s motto, which found expression in increasingly radical acts of civil disobedience in the years leading up to World War 1. The actions of the Suffragettes allied to the effects of the war eventually led to the passing of the Representation of the People Act of 1918, which gave some women the vote, paving the way for universal suffrage some years later. Bass’ image depicts the Suffragette movement as a great wave, or tsunami.
Ahmed’s tune is based on a re-working of the Suffragette protest song “Shoulder to Shoulder”, which in turn was based on the Welsh battle hymn “The March of the Men of Harlech”. To this Ahmed has added jazz harmonies and Arabic scales to create something new and personal to her, an action she sees as being equivalent to the Suffragettes’ original adaptation of an existing song for their own purposes.
The performance commences with an evocative drum and percussion duet featuring Alloway and Silvester, signifying the growing rumble of discontent leading to the formation of the Suffragette movement. This evolves into a four way conversation between Ahmed on trumpet & Kaoss Pad, Simmons on baritone sax, Hallkvist on guitar and Wylde at the vibes. As the piece gathers momentum Pyne’s bass lines allude to “Men of Harlech” but it’s only later that the familiar melody finally, and triumphantly, breaks cover.


The closing piece, “Barbara”, pays tribute to one of Ahmed’s musical heroines, the saxophonist and composer Barbara Thompson and her fifty plus years career as a jazz musician. Ahmed came to Thompson’s music fairly late thanks to the 2012 documentary “Playing Against Time”, which charted Thompson’s struggles to continue working as a professional musician while suffering from the effects of Parkinson’s Disease. Thompson finally retired from live performance in 2015 but continues to compose, viewing the process as part of the management and treatment of her illness.
On a personal note I go back with Thompson’s music much further, to the late 70s and 80s and her bands Jubiaba and Paraphernalia, seeing the latter in live performance many times. Paraphernalia also featured the talents of Thompson’s husband, Jon Hiseman, drummer, producer and all round facilitator, who sadly died in 2018. Ahmed compares her own creative partnership with Langley with that of Thompson and Hiseman.
Musically Ahmed’s piece reflects an interest in minimalism and combines joyous melodies with polyrhytmic motifs, divided across all the instruments of the ensemble. Crowley’s bass clarinet is particularly prominent in the arrangement while further solos come from Ahmed on flugel,  Tetteh on multi-tracked guitar and Kay on alto sax. The mood of the piece is warm, reflective and richly evocative, eventually leading to a rousing and triumphant climax in C major that Ahmed declares to be “a celebration of human courage and an ode to Polyhymnia”.

As one of the most eagerly awaited releases of the year “Polyhymnia” doesn’t disappoint. Ahmed’s compositions tackle weighty themes without becoming ‘preachy’ or pretentious, the listener never feels as if they’re being beaten about the head, despite the seriousness of the underlying messages. Instead Ahmed does her talking through the music, although it’s undeniably illuminating to read about the inspirations behind the tunes and to enjoy Bass’ visual responses to them.

But at the end of the day it’s all about the music, which is multi-faceted and multi-hued, rich in terms of mood, colour and texture and superbly played by a well integrated ensemble, with Ahmed’s own playing at the heart of the arrangements. The skill and craft of the writing and playing is matched by the production, making for a superb package all round.

Having enjoyed the Cheltenham performance so much I just knew that I wouldn’t be disappointed by this album. “Polyhymnia” represents Ahmed’s most ambitious and successful work to date and has the feel of a ‘major statement’ about it, but a statement that bears its weightiness lightly.

Ahmed is currently touring the “Polyhymnia” project in Europe and the UK. For details of forthcoming dates please visit http://www.yazzahmed.com

 

Aki Rissanen - Art In Motion Rating: 4 out of 5 An impressive statement from a trio that has successfully synthesised its influences and which is at the peak of its creative powers.

Aki Rissanen

“Art In Motion”

(Edition Records EDN1134)

Aki Rissanen – piano, Antti Lotjonen – bass, Teppo Makynen - drums

“Art In Motion” is the third album release on the UK label Edition from the Finnish pianist and composer.

It follows “Amorandom” (2016) and “Another North” (2017), both of which are reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann.

Like its predecessors it features his long standing trio comprising bassist Antti Lotjonen and drummer Teppo Makynen.

Born in 1980 Rissanen is considered to be something of a rising star on the international jazz scene. Following studies in Finland, France, Germany and the US he has established a successful career as both a leader and a sideman and has collaborated with many leading musicians from both sides of the Atlantic, among them the American saxophonists Dave Liebman and Rick Margitza.


UK listeners will perhaps be familiar with his playing as a member of trumpeter Verneri Pohjola’s quartet. The pianist appeared on both of his compatriot’s albums for ACT, “Aurora” (2011) and “Ancient History” (2012) before making his Edition début on Pohjola’s first album for the label, “Bullhorn” (2015). In 2013 I was fortunate enough to witness Rissanen performing live as part of the Pohjola quartet at that year’s London Jazz Festival.

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

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

Rissanen has now appeared on ten albums as leader or co-leader, including two in the solo piano format. He has also played with the Finnish UMO Jazz Orchestra and collaborated with visual artists (Petri Ruikka) and playwrights (Kristian Smeds of the Finnish National Theatre).

Rissanen has also been part of numerous other productive, but now defunct units, over the course of the last decade, many of these international collaborations.

For all this it’s probably fair to say that the pianist’s primary creative outlet is this trio, a fact underlined by this new recording, the third album release from this line up in as many years. Lotjonen and Makynen are two of Finland’s leading exponents on their respective instruments and often work together as a unit, their credits including work with trumpeter Verneri Pohjola, saxophonist Timo Lassy and Makynen’s own Five Corners Quintet.

The title of Rissanen’s latest album, “Art In Motion”, is a play on the initial letters of ‘Aki Rissanen Trio’. It’s also a reference to the influence of art music from the European repertoire. Rissanen was originally trained as a classical musician and in his album notes he cites the composers Satie, Pergolesi, Bach, Ligeti and Stravinsky as being influences on his own writing. The material on the album includes arrangements of pieces by the Italian Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo and the contemporary Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara.

Alongside his classical training the young Rissanen also developed a love for electronic music and the attendant technology and actually acquired his first acoustic piano and first synthesiser at the same time. The rhythms of electronic dance music also inform his writing - “we are a rhythmically intense band inspired by the aesthetics of electronic music” he states.

Rissanen emphasises the level of interplay and interaction between the members of the trio, a process honed by a heavy touring schedule, and sees the group as “continuing the Nordic tradition as we see it”. He expands upon this by adding “we explore the roots of the current European jazz music from the outskirts of Europe with our perspective as Finnish artists with Nordic, Slavic and Western European heritage”. In these troubled times he is also keen to emphasise the message of “Unity in Diversity”.
He adds “We, as jazz musicians, are in constant motion because our art form doesn’t ever stand still”.

Rissanen’s writing for “Art In Motion” has seen him taking inspiration from his formative influences, as he explains;
“When I started to gather and compose the music for the new album I found myself noodling around tunes, moods and hooks that I had been absorbing when I was young”.

Not that there’s anything childish or unsophisticated about the sound of the Rissanen trio, although approaching the music from this direction does help to ensure that it is readily accessible, and rich in terms of both melody and rhythm. The blend of influences also ensures that the music embraces a variety of styles - “Unity in Diversity” indeed.

The album commences with Rissanen’s composition “Aeropeans”, an attention grabbing opener with its restless, interlocking rhythms immediately revealing something of that EDM influence. Meanwhile the leader’s piano melodies make fleeting allusions to classical music, while the performance as a whole is indubitably a jazz one. The rhythmic intensity of which Rissanen speaks is here in abundance during the course of a tightly focussed trio performance that sometimes reminds me of Edition label mates Phronesis, which is pretty much a recommendation in itself.

Makynen also has a background in electronic music and has worked in this field as a producer under the pseudonym Teddy Rok. His composition “Facts and Fiction”  also draws inspiration from this field with its tight, sometimes skittering grooves, initially instigated by the bass and drum team.
There’s no let up in the intensity of the music, which is constantly evolving and includes solos from both Rissanen and Lotjonen, while Mykanen himself delivers a virtuoso drum performance.

There’s a welcome change of mood and pace with the trio’s interpretation of “Moro Lasso al Miolo Duolo”, the piece written by the Italian Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo. With Makynen now deploying brushes, and concentrating on more of colourist’s role, Rissanen draws on the lyricism and romanticism of classical music, while still giving the work a contemporary jazz twist. 

The title of Rissanen’s own “Das Untemperierte Klavier” makes an obvious allusion to Bach but the rhythms that are deployed draw more obviously on hip hop and electronica. That said Bach himself was no stranger to rhythmic complexity and the advanced use of counterpoint. Rissanen’s piano melodies fleetingly allude to J.S. but it’s the relentless rhythms that best distinguish the track.

Rissanen’s own “Arborium” finds the trio adopting a slightly less frenetic approach as they combine flowing melodies with typically complex group interplay, with Makynen’s drums briefly coming to the fore.

The trio’s second classical interpretation finds them exploring “Cantus Arcticus, Melancholy”, written by the contemporary Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. The performance begins in atmospheric, lyrical fashion with Lotjonen’s melodic double bass prominent in the arrangement. As the piece develops the music becomes more intense as the instrumental interplay becomes more complex, but without losing the overall feel of the piece.

“Seemingly Radical” has been described as a “mutated bossa” and the piece features a particularly nimble contribution from Makynen, whose rhythmic percolations infuse the tune with much charm. The drummer also enjoys an extended feature towards the end of the piece, not the usual high octane hammering but a carefully constructed solo filled with nuance and colour. Rissanen himself, who solos at length, is relaxed and inventive at the keyboard throughout.

The simply titled “Love Song” is a solo piano performance that effectively finds Rissanen sparring with himself, with weighty left hand figures contrasting with lightly dancing right hand melodies. The pianist then brings everything together in a dramatic, virtuoso, high energy closing section.

The album concludes with the anthemic march of “Alava Maa”, a piece that features one of Rissanen’s simplest, but most effective melodies. A highlight here is Lotjonen’s melodic, but deeply resonant cameo on double bass just before the close.

With “Art In Motion” Rissanen and his trio continue to refine their approach as they build on the promise of their two previous Edition releases. The blend of jazz, classical and electronic influences works well as the trio continue to develop an increasingly personal sound.

The electronica influence isn’t as overt as, say. GoGo Penguin and is well integrated into the trio’s sound alongside the other components. The Rissanen Trio have inevitably been compared to E.S.T.
, but I don’t hear too much of that in their sound at all. The other obvious comparison is Brad Mehldau, which is nearer the mark, while I offer you Phronesis.

But at the end of the day the Rissanen trio is an increasingly distinctive and individual unit whose music is very much their own and transcends these comparisons. “Art In Motion” is an impressive statement from a band that has successfully synthesised its influences and which is at the peak of its creative powers.

There are a number of live dates scheduled in Germany and France in the coming months but let’s hope Edition can get the trio over to the UK at some point.

For details of forthcoming live performances please visit;

http://www.akarissanen.com

http://www.editionrecords.com

 

Art In Motion

Aki Rissanen

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Art In Motion

An impressive statement from a trio that has successfully synthesised its influences and which is at the peak of its creative powers.

Aki Rissanen

“Art In Motion”

(Edition Records EDN1134)

Aki Rissanen – piano, Antti Lotjonen – bass, Teppo Makynen - drums

“Art In Motion” is the third album release on the UK label Edition from the Finnish pianist and composer.

It follows “Amorandom” (2016) and “Another North” (2017), both of which are reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann.

Like its predecessors it features his long standing trio comprising bassist Antti Lotjonen and drummer Teppo Makynen.

Born in 1980 Rissanen is considered to be something of a rising star on the international jazz scene. Following studies in Finland, France, Germany and the US he has established a successful career as both a leader and a sideman and has collaborated with many leading musicians from both sides of the Atlantic, among them the American saxophonists Dave Liebman and Rick Margitza.


UK listeners will perhaps be familiar with his playing as a member of trumpeter Verneri Pohjola’s quartet. The pianist appeared on both of his compatriot’s albums for ACT, “Aurora” (2011) and “Ancient History” (2012) before making his Edition début on Pohjola’s first album for the label, “Bullhorn” (2015). In 2013 I was fortunate enough to witness Rissanen performing live as part of the Pohjola quartet at that year’s London Jazz Festival.

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

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

Rissanen has now appeared on ten albums as leader or co-leader, including two in the solo piano format. He has also played with the Finnish UMO Jazz Orchestra and collaborated with visual artists (Petri Ruikka) and playwrights (Kristian Smeds of the Finnish National Theatre).

Rissanen has also been part of numerous other productive, but now defunct units, over the course of the last decade, many of these international collaborations.

For all this it’s probably fair to say that the pianist’s primary creative outlet is this trio, a fact underlined by this new recording, the third album release from this line up in as many years. Lotjonen and Makynen are two of Finland’s leading exponents on their respective instruments and often work together as a unit, their credits including work with trumpeter Verneri Pohjola, saxophonist Timo Lassy and Makynen’s own Five Corners Quintet.

The title of Rissanen’s latest album, “Art In Motion”, is a play on the initial letters of ‘Aki Rissanen Trio’. It’s also a reference to the influence of art music from the European repertoire. Rissanen was originally trained as a classical musician and in his album notes he cites the composers Satie, Pergolesi, Bach, Ligeti and Stravinsky as being influences on his own writing. The material on the album includes arrangements of pieces by the Italian Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo and the contemporary Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara.

Alongside his classical training the young Rissanen also developed a love for electronic music and the attendant technology and actually acquired his first acoustic piano and first synthesiser at the same time. The rhythms of electronic dance music also inform his writing - “we are a rhythmically intense band inspired by the aesthetics of electronic music” he states.

Rissanen emphasises the level of interplay and interaction between the members of the trio, a process honed by a heavy touring schedule, and sees the group as “continuing the Nordic tradition as we see it”. He expands upon this by adding “we explore the roots of the current European jazz music from the outskirts of Europe with our perspective as Finnish artists with Nordic, Slavic and Western European heritage”. In these troubled times he is also keen to emphasise the message of “Unity in Diversity”.
He adds “We, as jazz musicians, are in constant motion because our art form doesn’t ever stand still”.

Rissanen’s writing for “Art In Motion” has seen him taking inspiration from his formative influences, as he explains;
“When I started to gather and compose the music for the new album I found myself noodling around tunes, moods and hooks that I had been absorbing when I was young”.

Not that there’s anything childish or unsophisticated about the sound of the Rissanen trio, although approaching the music from this direction does help to ensure that it is readily accessible, and rich in terms of both melody and rhythm. The blend of influences also ensures that the music embraces a variety of styles - “Unity in Diversity” indeed.

The album commences with Rissanen’s composition “Aeropeans”, an attention grabbing opener with its restless, interlocking rhythms immediately revealing something of that EDM influence. Meanwhile the leader’s piano melodies make fleeting allusions to classical music, while the performance as a whole is indubitably a jazz one. The rhythmic intensity of which Rissanen speaks is here in abundance during the course of a tightly focussed trio performance that sometimes reminds me of Edition label mates Phronesis, which is pretty much a recommendation in itself.

Makynen also has a background in electronic music and has worked in this field as a producer under the pseudonym Teddy Rok. His composition “Facts and Fiction”  also draws inspiration from this field with its tight, sometimes skittering grooves, initially instigated by the bass and drum team.
There’s no let up in the intensity of the music, which is constantly evolving and includes solos from both Rissanen and Lotjonen, while Mykanen himself delivers a virtuoso drum performance.

There’s a welcome change of mood and pace with the trio’s interpretation of “Moro Lasso al Miolo Duolo”, the piece written by the Italian Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo. With Makynen now deploying brushes, and concentrating on more of colourist’s role, Rissanen draws on the lyricism and romanticism of classical music, while still giving the work a contemporary jazz twist. 

The title of Rissanen’s own “Das Untemperierte Klavier” makes an obvious allusion to Bach but the rhythms that are deployed draw more obviously on hip hop and electronica. That said Bach himself was no stranger to rhythmic complexity and the advanced use of counterpoint. Rissanen’s piano melodies fleetingly allude to J.S. but it’s the relentless rhythms that best distinguish the track.

Rissanen’s own “Arborium” finds the trio adopting a slightly less frenetic approach as they combine flowing melodies with typically complex group interplay, with Makynen’s drums briefly coming to the fore.

The trio’s second classical interpretation finds them exploring “Cantus Arcticus, Melancholy”, written by the contemporary Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. The performance begins in atmospheric, lyrical fashion with Lotjonen’s melodic double bass prominent in the arrangement. As the piece develops the music becomes more intense as the instrumental interplay becomes more complex, but without losing the overall feel of the piece.

“Seemingly Radical” has been described as a “mutated bossa” and the piece features a particularly nimble contribution from Makynen, whose rhythmic percolations infuse the tune with much charm. The drummer also enjoys an extended feature towards the end of the piece, not the usual high octane hammering but a carefully constructed solo filled with nuance and colour. Rissanen himself, who solos at length, is relaxed and inventive at the keyboard throughout.

The simply titled “Love Song” is a solo piano performance that effectively finds Rissanen sparring with himself, with weighty left hand figures contrasting with lightly dancing right hand melodies. The pianist then brings everything together in a dramatic, virtuoso, high energy closing section.

The album concludes with the anthemic march of “Alava Maa”, a piece that features one of Rissanen’s simplest, but most effective melodies. A highlight here is Lotjonen’s melodic, but deeply resonant cameo on double bass just before the close.

With “Art In Motion” Rissanen and his trio continue to refine their approach as they build on the promise of their two previous Edition releases. The blend of jazz, classical and electronic influences works well as the trio continue to develop an increasingly personal sound.

The electronica influence isn’t as overt as, say. GoGo Penguin and is well integrated into the trio’s sound alongside the other components. The Rissanen Trio have inevitably been compared to E.S.T.
, but I don’t hear too much of that in their sound at all. The other obvious comparison is Brad Mehldau, which is nearer the mark, while I offer you Phronesis.

But at the end of the day the Rissanen trio is an increasingly distinctive and individual unit whose music is very much their own and transcends these comparisons. “Art In Motion” is an impressive statement from a band that has successfully synthesised its influences and which is at the peak of its creative powers.

There are a number of live dates scheduled in Germany and France in the coming months but let’s hope Edition can get the trio over to the UK at some point.

For details of forthcoming live performances please visit;

http://www.akarissanen.com

http://www.editionrecords.com

 

Pavillon - The Freedom of Movement Rating: 4 out of 5 Another impressive offering from Pavillon. Rattigan’s compositions and arrangements are rich, colourful and inventive and the playing, by a hand picked ensemble, is exceptional throughout.

Jim Rattigan’s Pavillon

“The Freedom of Movement”

(Three Worlds Records)


Jim Rattigan is the UK’s best known jazz French horn player. He is a busy musician who is the first call on his instrument across a variety of genres including jazz, folk, pop, classical and film and TV soundtracks. The latter include the James Bond and Lord of the Rings film series.

His list of credits is mind boggling, far too lengthy to list in full here, but includes six years with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and other classical ensembles plus session work with some of the biggest names in rock and pop, among them Paul McCartney, George Michael and Adele. I know him best for his work in jazz ensembles including bands led by Mike Gibbs, Hans Koller, Mark Lockheart, Carla Bley, Percy Pursglove and the late, great Charlie Haden. And as he proved with Pursglove’s “Far Reaching Dreams of Mortal Souls” ensemble Rattigan is also a skilled accordionist.

In his capacity as a jazz musician Rattigan has released a number of albums under his own name including “Unfamiliar Guise” (2000), “Jazz French Horn” (2004), and “Shuzzed” (2010), the latter  recorded by a quartet featuring guitarist Phil Robson, bassist Phil Donkin and drummer Gene Calderazzo.

In 2014 I reviewed his excellent trio set “Triplicity” which teamed him with the classical violinist Thomas Gould and the acclaimed jazz pianist Liam Noble. This was a chamber jazz recording that combined moments of pure beauty with an admirable improvisational rigour.
The full review can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/jim-rattigan-thomas-gould-liam-noble-triplicity/

It was his work with Mike Gibbs that inspired Rattigan to form his own twelve piece band, Pavillon. The group name comes from ‘pavillon’, the French word for the bell of the French horn.

In 2011 Pavillon recorded the album “Strong Tea”, a release that was re-issued in 2016 to tie in with a national tour being undertaken by the ensemble.  My review of that recording can be seen here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/jim-rattigan-pavillon-strong-tea/


The 2016 tour included an EFG London Jazz Festival performance at The Vortex and Pavillon returned to the Festival the following year with an excellent lunchtime show at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Dean Street, Soho. I was lucky enough to be able to attend that event and my review of the performance can be read as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-sunday-november-12th-2017/


The Pavillon line up has, of necessity, been rather fluid over the years, although many of its members have been involved since the inception of the ensemble.

For “The Freedom of Movement” the current edition of Pavillon lines up as follows;

Jim Rattigan – French horn, composer

Martin Speake – alto sax

Andy Panayi – tenor sax

Mick Foster – baritone sax

Percy Pursglove – trumpet & flugelhorn

Steve Fishwick – trumpet

Robbie Robson – trumpet

Mark Nightingale – tenor trombone

Sarah Williams – bass trombone

Hans Koller – piano

Dave Whitford – double bass

Martin France -drums

Of this latest Pavillon recording Rattigan says;
“I chose the title ‘The Freedom of Movement’ to reflect my career, not only travelling the world performing but also moving between many different genres of music. The freedom to do both these things has always excited me as a musician and in all the truly wonderful experiences that I have had the highlight has undoubtedly been forming the group Pavillon. It is a joy to write for these amazing and creative musicians and I leave space in the compositions for creativity through improvisation. The music in the ‘Freedom of Movement’ is reflective at times, but also optimistic and, I hope, uplifting”.
Rattigan’s album notes also add insights into the inspirations and influences behind the individual compositions.

Opener “Timbuckthree” takes its title from a spot of banter between Rattigan and his then young son. Musically the piece references three 20th century classical themes, Richard Strauss’ horn concertos one and two and Ravel’s G major piano concerto. As Rattigan explains it Ravel was inspired by Gershwin, who in turn was inspired by black American music, i.e. jazz.
And this rousing introductory piece is undoubtedly a jazz performance, with the twelve piece ensemble making an impressively big sound with plenty of jazz and blues elements present in the music. Fluent solos come from Foster on baritone sax, Rattigan on French horn and Fishwick on trumpet. The leader plays the French horn with a remarkable degree of fluency, expressiveness and agility. In Rattigan’s hands the French horn becomes a thoroughly convincing vehicle for jazz soloing.

The title of “See You Suddenly” represents another example of Rattigan’s love of wordplay. This time the inspiration came from an eccentric bassoon player of Rattigan’s acquaintance, who would answer the more usual “See you later” with this phrase. Colourful horn voicings allied to a loping groove initially characterise this piece before things shift up a gear with Fishwick’s mercurial trumpet solo, delivered above a now furiously swinging groove. The energy levels are maintained on Panayi’s garrulous tenor solo, as the underlying rhythms and meters continue to mutate.

The inspiration behind “Oh Yeah Great, Thanks” is more serious than the title might suggest, as Rattigan explains; “The thought of a future generation living on a parched earth whilst embroiled in wars over water and looking back at past generations and saying “oh yeah great, thanks”.
Musically the piece is less angry than one might expect after reading the above. Instead it’s a bitter-sweet ballad with unexpectedly warm, lush textures and an underlying, if melancholic lyricism. Gently melodic solos come from Whitford at the bass, Koller on piano and Rattigan himself on French horn.

“Eclipse”, simply named after Rattigan witnessed a total eclipse, maintains something of the fragile mood and includes features from the same three soloists, whose playing again demonstrates those same lyrical qualities.

“Sweet Tamarind” was originally written by Rattigan for the “Triplicity” trio featuring Gould and Noble. Originally written as a Bill Evans inspired jazz waltz the piece becomes thoroughly transformed in this new arrangement for Pavillon. Where once it was “light and airy” it’s now a rousing ‘mini big band’ piece that here features ebullient solos from trombonist Mark Nightingale and the three trumpeters Pursglove, Fishwick and Robson, who relish their three way, nine valve tussle. Rattigan describes it all as “just a bit of fun”, which seems to sum it up pretty nicely.

As its title suggests the beautiful “Ballad Blue” is a blend of, in Rattigan’s words, “a gentle ballad…and a slow blues”. There’s a nocturnal feel about the arrangement with its muted brass, brushed drums and thoughtful, lyrical, gently unfolding solos from Speake on alto, Koller on piano, Robson on trumpet and the leader on French horn.

“Why Ask” is another old tune that Rattigan has re-arranged for the purpose of this recording. Delivered at a medium to fast tempo the arrangement is typically rich and colourful. Rattigan’s orchestrations routinely draw comparisons to those of such masters as Gil Evans and Mike Gibbs, and rightly so. The solos here include a seductively snaking alto excursion from Speake, a fruitier offering from Nightingale on trombone and the distinctive, fluent sounds of Pursglove on flugel.

Rattigan hails from the village of Houghton Regis near Luton and the closing “Crout’n Confusion” celebrates his roots. Another Luton native is the poet John Hegley who wrote a poem about “the town of his upbringing and the conflict between his working class origins and the middle class status conferred upon him by a university education”. One suspects that Rattigan may have gone through a similar identity crisis as he became assimilated into the classical music world. “I remember Luton, as I’m swallowing my crout’n” wrote Hegley, helping to provide Rattigan with his title.
This is a rumbustious but complex piece, initially constructed around a rollicking horn vamp, that includes expansive solos from Pursglove on trumpet and Speake on alto plus a drum feature from the consistently inventive France. The piece sounds as if it’s probably something of a challenge to play, but it’s still shot through with some of the humour inherent in its title and its source of inspiration.

It’s also France who ushers in the concluding title track, his atmospheric cymbal work establishing the mood of the piece, its gentle fanfares eventually paving the way for a thoughtful solo from Koller, with the group temporarily in piano trio mode, subsequently joined by Rattigan’s horn.
The final section sees the full ensemble return as the music takes on more of an anthemic quality.

“The Freedom of Movement” represents another impressive offering from Pavillon. Rattigan’s compositions and arrangements are rich, colourful and inventive and the playing, by a hand picked ensemble, is exceptional throughout. It’s a recording that wears its undoubted sophistication lightly, and which injects a little welcome humour at appropriate moments. Credit is also due to the production and engineering team of Rattigan, Peter Beckman and Alex Bonney for the warmth and quality of the mix.

Once again Rattigan makes the French horn a thoroughly convincing jazz solo instrument and “The Freedom of Movement” is 100% a jazz record, and an excellent one at that. In no way is this some kind of tepid jazz/classical crossover. The presence of such an all star jazz line up immediately dispels that idea.

Rattigan and Pavillon are currently touring the UK with forthcoming dates as follows;


2019;
15th October - Norwich Jazz Club
19th October - Jazz Café Posk, London (album launch)
5th November - Hastings Jazz Club
7th November - Birmingham East Side Jazz Club
22nd November - The Bear Club, Luton

17th January 2020 - Fleece Jazz at Stoke by Nayland, Colchester

 

The Freedom of Movement

Pavillon

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

The Freedom of Movement

Another impressive offering from Pavillon. Rattigan’s compositions and arrangements are rich, colourful and inventive and the playing, by a hand picked ensemble, is exceptional throughout.

Jim Rattigan’s Pavillon

“The Freedom of Movement”

(Three Worlds Records)


Jim Rattigan is the UK’s best known jazz French horn player. He is a busy musician who is the first call on his instrument across a variety of genres including jazz, folk, pop, classical and film and TV soundtracks. The latter include the James Bond and Lord of the Rings film series.

His list of credits is mind boggling, far too lengthy to list in full here, but includes six years with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and other classical ensembles plus session work with some of the biggest names in rock and pop, among them Paul McCartney, George Michael and Adele. I know him best for his work in jazz ensembles including bands led by Mike Gibbs, Hans Koller, Mark Lockheart, Carla Bley, Percy Pursglove and the late, great Charlie Haden. And as he proved with Pursglove’s “Far Reaching Dreams of Mortal Souls” ensemble Rattigan is also a skilled accordionist.

In his capacity as a jazz musician Rattigan has released a number of albums under his own name including “Unfamiliar Guise” (2000), “Jazz French Horn” (2004), and “Shuzzed” (2010), the latter  recorded by a quartet featuring guitarist Phil Robson, bassist Phil Donkin and drummer Gene Calderazzo.

In 2014 I reviewed his excellent trio set “Triplicity” which teamed him with the classical violinist Thomas Gould and the acclaimed jazz pianist Liam Noble. This was a chamber jazz recording that combined moments of pure beauty with an admirable improvisational rigour.
The full review can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/jim-rattigan-thomas-gould-liam-noble-triplicity/

It was his work with Mike Gibbs that inspired Rattigan to form his own twelve piece band, Pavillon. The group name comes from ‘pavillon’, the French word for the bell of the French horn.

In 2011 Pavillon recorded the album “Strong Tea”, a release that was re-issued in 2016 to tie in with a national tour being undertaken by the ensemble.  My review of that recording can be seen here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/jim-rattigan-pavillon-strong-tea/


The 2016 tour included an EFG London Jazz Festival performance at The Vortex and Pavillon returned to the Festival the following year with an excellent lunchtime show at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Dean Street, Soho. I was lucky enough to be able to attend that event and my review of the performance can be read as part of my Festival coverage here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/features/article/efg-london-jazz-festival-sunday-november-12th-2017/


The Pavillon line up has, of necessity, been rather fluid over the years, although many of its members have been involved since the inception of the ensemble.

For “The Freedom of Movement” the current edition of Pavillon lines up as follows;

Jim Rattigan – French horn, composer

Martin Speake – alto sax

Andy Panayi – tenor sax

Mick Foster – baritone sax

Percy Pursglove – trumpet & flugelhorn

Steve Fishwick – trumpet

Robbie Robson – trumpet

Mark Nightingale – tenor trombone

Sarah Williams – bass trombone

Hans Koller – piano

Dave Whitford – double bass

Martin France -drums

Of this latest Pavillon recording Rattigan says;
“I chose the title ‘The Freedom of Movement’ to reflect my career, not only travelling the world performing but also moving between many different genres of music. The freedom to do both these things has always excited me as a musician and in all the truly wonderful experiences that I have had the highlight has undoubtedly been forming the group Pavillon. It is a joy to write for these amazing and creative musicians and I leave space in the compositions for creativity through improvisation. The music in the ‘Freedom of Movement’ is reflective at times, but also optimistic and, I hope, uplifting”.
Rattigan’s album notes also add insights into the inspirations and influences behind the individual compositions.

Opener “Timbuckthree” takes its title from a spot of banter between Rattigan and his then young son. Musically the piece references three 20th century classical themes, Richard Strauss’ horn concertos one and two and Ravel’s G major piano concerto. As Rattigan explains it Ravel was inspired by Gershwin, who in turn was inspired by black American music, i.e. jazz.
And this rousing introductory piece is undoubtedly a jazz performance, with the twelve piece ensemble making an impressively big sound with plenty of jazz and blues elements present in the music. Fluent solos come from Foster on baritone sax, Rattigan on French horn and Fishwick on trumpet. The leader plays the French horn with a remarkable degree of fluency, expressiveness and agility. In Rattigan’s hands the French horn becomes a thoroughly convincing vehicle for jazz soloing.

The title of “See You Suddenly” represents another example of Rattigan’s love of wordplay. This time the inspiration came from an eccentric bassoon player of Rattigan’s acquaintance, who would answer the more usual “See you later” with this phrase. Colourful horn voicings allied to a loping groove initially characterise this piece before things shift up a gear with Fishwick’s mercurial trumpet solo, delivered above a now furiously swinging groove. The energy levels are maintained on Panayi’s garrulous tenor solo, as the underlying rhythms and meters continue to mutate.

The inspiration behind “Oh Yeah Great, Thanks” is more serious than the title might suggest, as Rattigan explains; “The thought of a future generation living on a parched earth whilst embroiled in wars over water and looking back at past generations and saying “oh yeah great, thanks”.
Musically the piece is less angry than one might expect after reading the above. Instead it’s a bitter-sweet ballad with unexpectedly warm, lush textures and an underlying, if melancholic lyricism. Gently melodic solos come from Whitford at the bass, Koller on piano and Rattigan himself on French horn.

“Eclipse”, simply named after Rattigan witnessed a total eclipse, maintains something of the fragile mood and includes features from the same three soloists, whose playing again demonstrates those same lyrical qualities.

“Sweet Tamarind” was originally written by Rattigan for the “Triplicity” trio featuring Gould and Noble. Originally written as a Bill Evans inspired jazz waltz the piece becomes thoroughly transformed in this new arrangement for Pavillon. Where once it was “light and airy” it’s now a rousing ‘mini big band’ piece that here features ebullient solos from trombonist Mark Nightingale and the three trumpeters Pursglove, Fishwick and Robson, who relish their three way, nine valve tussle. Rattigan describes it all as “just a bit of fun”, which seems to sum it up pretty nicely.

As its title suggests the beautiful “Ballad Blue” is a blend of, in Rattigan’s words, “a gentle ballad…and a slow blues”. There’s a nocturnal feel about the arrangement with its muted brass, brushed drums and thoughtful, lyrical, gently unfolding solos from Speake on alto, Koller on piano, Robson on trumpet and the leader on French horn.

“Why Ask” is another old tune that Rattigan has re-arranged for the purpose of this recording. Delivered at a medium to fast tempo the arrangement is typically rich and colourful. Rattigan’s orchestrations routinely draw comparisons to those of such masters as Gil Evans and Mike Gibbs, and rightly so. The solos here include a seductively snaking alto excursion from Speake, a fruitier offering from Nightingale on trombone and the distinctive, fluent sounds of Pursglove on flugel.

Rattigan hails from the village of Houghton Regis near Luton and the closing “Crout’n Confusion” celebrates his roots. Another Luton native is the poet John Hegley who wrote a poem about “the town of his upbringing and the conflict between his working class origins and the middle class status conferred upon him by a university education”. One suspects that Rattigan may have gone through a similar identity crisis as he became assimilated into the classical music world. “I remember Luton, as I’m swallowing my crout’n” wrote Hegley, helping to provide Rattigan with his title.
This is a rumbustious but complex piece, initially constructed around a rollicking horn vamp, that includes expansive solos from Pursglove on trumpet and Speake on alto plus a drum feature from the consistently inventive France. The piece sounds as if it’s probably something of a challenge to play, but it’s still shot through with some of the humour inherent in its title and its source of inspiration.

It’s also France who ushers in the concluding title track, his atmospheric cymbal work establishing the mood of the piece, its gentle fanfares eventually paving the way for a thoughtful solo from Koller, with the group temporarily in piano trio mode, subsequently joined by Rattigan’s horn.
The final section sees the full ensemble return as the music takes on more of an anthemic quality.

“The Freedom of Movement” represents another impressive offering from Pavillon. Rattigan’s compositions and arrangements are rich, colourful and inventive and the playing, by a hand picked ensemble, is exceptional throughout. It’s a recording that wears its undoubted sophistication lightly, and which injects a little welcome humour at appropriate moments. Credit is also due to the production and engineering team of Rattigan, Peter Beckman and Alex Bonney for the warmth and quality of the mix.

Once again Rattigan makes the French horn a thoroughly convincing jazz solo instrument and “The Freedom of Movement” is 100% a jazz record, and an excellent one at that. In no way is this some kind of tepid jazz/classical crossover. The presence of such an all star jazz line up immediately dispels that idea.

Rattigan and Pavillon are currently touring the UK with forthcoming dates as follows;


2019;
15th October - Norwich Jazz Club
19th October - Jazz Café Posk, London (album launch)
5th November - Hastings Jazz Club
7th November - Birmingham East Side Jazz Club
22nd November - The Bear Club, Luton

17th January 2020 - Fleece Jazz at Stoke by Nayland, Colchester

 

Alison Rayner Quintet - Short Stories Rating: 4-5 out of 5 ARQ have come up with another impeccable album featuring warm, colourful, intelligent writing and some exceptional playing. It's a recording that is likely to appeal a broad listening constituency.

Alison Rayner Quintet

“Short Stories”

(Blow The Fuse Records BTF1914CD)

Alison Rayner – double bass, Buster Birch – drums, percussion, Deirdre Cartwright – guitar,
Diane McLoughlin – tenor & soprano saxophones, Steve Lodder - piano

The rise and rise of the Alison Rayner Quintet, or ARQ, has been one of the most heart warming stories of British jazz in recent years.

Bassist and composer Alison Rayner has been a stalwart of the UK jazz scene for many years and is probably best known for her membership of the Guest Stars, the all female group who emerged at the time of the 80s jazz boom along with Loose Tubes, Jazz Warriors and others. I’ve seen her perform live on a couple of occasions with trumpeter Chris Hodgkins’ quartet and Rayner’s other regular engagements include the Deirdre Cartwright Group and Terryazoome, the Greek flavoured jazz group led by guitarist/bouzouki player  Terry Hunt.

For more than twenty five years Rayner and guitarist Cartwright have run Blow The Fuse, an organisation dedicated to raising the profile of jazz in the UK with a particular emphasis on promoting the work of female jazz musicians. Besides organising the regular ‘Tomorrow the Moon’ club nights Blow The Fuse also runs its own record label.

An in demand sidewoman Rayner has played acoustic and electric bass across a variety of musical genres including jazz, funk and soul plus various types of world music. She has appeared on over thirty albums and her credits include work with guitarists Tal Farlowe and John Etheridge, vocalists Zoe Lewis and Ian Shaw, saxophonist Jean Toussaint and jazz poet Jayne Cortez.  Rayner is also an acclaimed educator who has taught at a wide array of colleges and summer schools. 

Rayner became a band leader at a comparatively late stage in her career, assembling the above line up and making her leadership début with the 2014 live set “August”, recorded at BTF’s spiritual home, the Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, north London. The album highlighted Rayner’s abilities as a composer and was greeted by a compelling amount of critical acclaim.

This was followed in 2016 by the studio set “A Magic Life”, which consolidated and built upon the success of “August” and also featured compositions by other members of the quintet. Again the response from both the critical fraternity and the British jazz audience as a whole was overwhelmingly positive.

ARQ have also developed a reputation for the consistently excellent quality of their live performances and I have been lucky enough to witness and review club and festival appearances in London, Birmingham, Shrewsbury, Brecon and Abergavenny.

The combination of ARQ’s critically acclaimed albums and their exciting and accessible live shows has led to the band being honoured at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards (Ensemble Of The Year, 2018) and the British Jazz Awards (Best Small Group, also 2018).

Rayner’s compositions are multi-faceted, featuring memorable melodies and rich colours and textures. They are often informed by personal experiences and many have a strong pictorial or cinematic quality about them. The compositions by the other quintet members in this well balanced ensemble also fit neatly into this now well established band template.

Rayner says of her own compositions for this recording;
“My music is allegorical and I write songs without words about experiences, places and feelings. ‘Short Stories’ was inspired by the sudden losses of three young people within close family and friends. Their stories were too short, but through my music I want to celebrate the joy they brought to our lives”.

“Short Stories” is also an apt title given the strong narrative quality of ARQ’s music. The album packaging also includes succinct liner notes from the individual composers offering valuable insights into the inspirations behind their pieces.

The album packaging doesn’t specify exactly when the album was recorded but a number of the featured tunes have been part of ARQ’s live sets for some time, so I would surmise that much of the music had been thoroughly ‘road tested’ before being committed to disc. The relaxed and assured nature of the performances certainly suggests that this was the case.

The album commences with Rayner’s “Croajingolong Bushwalk”, of which its composer says;
“Inspired by a bushwalk in Croajingolong, Victoria, this song is about the Australian bush, with its extraordinary birdsong, crazy wildlife, vast blue skies, orange earth and ancient people”.
Like all of ARQ’s music there’s a strong narrative quality and a real sense of place within the music. Sampled bird song combines with tribal rhythms at the outset with Cartwright’s guitar simulating the sound of a jews harp. The insistent rhythmic pulse is combined with evocative melodies with solos coming from McLoughlin on tenor sax, Rayner on melodic double bass and Lodder at the piano. The latter’s dazzling solo seems to embody the sheer dizzying joyousness of Rayner’s experience, something that is also echoed by Birch’s closing drum feature.

Also from the pen of Rayner comes “Here And Now”, of which its composer says;
“With age comes more past (and memories) than future. I try to focus on the present, because I know that life can change in an instant”.
This is a more reflective offering characterised by wistful melodies and more fine soloing from Lodder on piano, Cartwright on guitar and McLoughlin on tenor, their contributions all representing fluent statements on the power of the present.

Rayner dedicates her piece “There Is A Crack In Everything” to the memory of her late niece Pippa Handley (1978-2018), the title a quote from the lyric of a Leonard Cohen song. Rayner’s notes speak of Handley “cycling all around the hills and lochs of Scotland, and the world, in an effort to find that crack of light”.
The music is less sombre than one might imagine as Rayner seeks to celebrate Handley’s short life. Introduced by Birch at the drums there’s a considerable rhythmic drive, plus a folkish tinge to the melody that also reflects Rayner’s own Scottish ancestry. Lodder again stars with an extended passage of unaccompanied piano mid tune that embraces a variety of emotions. McLoughlin is the other featured soloist, probing gently on softly keening soprano sax.

McLoughlin’s composition “Buster Breaks A Beat” was written as a feature for Birch, with its composer commenting; “I wrote this piece to feature Buster, experimenting with broken beats, funk and retro dance music”.
Of course it isn’t just a drum solo, it’s a highly ingenious piece of writing that toys with melody and rhythm and embraces a variety of jazz styles. Lodder on piano, Cartwright on guitar and McLoughlin on tenor all weigh in with highly cogent solos before Birch’s dynamic feature at the close.

Rayner’s “A Braw Boy” is another piece written in remembrance, this time for the life of Craig Handley (1994-2017). Rayner says of Handley;
“Craig spent his working life around the Scottish coast and islands. He captured the big skies, dawns, sunsets and seascapes in the beautiful photographs that he left behind”.
This time the music does sound rather more like a lament, but there’s a quiet beauty in its wistful and gently melancholic melodies that also embodies the lonely beauty of the land that Handley photographed and called home. McLoughlin again features on softly piping soprano, sharing the solos with the cool elegance of Cartwright’s guitar and the gentle lyricism of Lodder at the piano.

Cartwright’s “Life Lived Wide” is also a dedication, as its composer explains;
“Originally a tribute to Esbjorn Svensson, I rewrote this tune for my dear friend Debbie Dickinson. Debbie was the seventh member of The Guest Stars and the second part of the song evokes some of the spirit of that group”.
As Cartwright implies this is very much a ‘tune of two halves’. It begins in gently wistful fashion with sound of the composer’s crystalline guitar, Rayner’s melodic double bass and Birch’s cymbal shimmers. McLoughlin adds shards of tenor sax melody as the piece gradually develops with Dickinson’s old band mates, Cartwright and Rayner, justifiably prominent in the arrangement. Later the piece gains greater momentum and a rock inspired heaviness as the music moves into “Guest Stars” mode with Lodder contributing a rollicking piano solo and McLoughlin stretching out on tenor.

Rayner describes her final composition, “Colloquy”, as; “three ideas rolled into one, this piece explores the nuances and shifting sands of conversation.”
Paced by Rayner’s bass motif and Birch’s mallet rumbles the piece begins in atmospheric fashion with Lodder’s piano melody subtly shadowed by Cartwright’s shimmering guitar FX. McLoughlin’s tenor subsequently takes over the theme, her phrases answered by Lodder at the piano before the thread passes to Cartwright on guitar.  Her soloing elicits answering phrases from sax and piano in a musical conversation that evokes measured spoken discourse.
Birch later establishes a more muscular funk style groove that elicits livelier exchanges and prompts more extended solos from McLoughlin on tenor and Lodder on piano.

The final piece comes from the pen of Lodder, a jazz waltz titled “Seeing Around Corners”, of which its composer remarks rather enigmatically;
“Is it good to know what’s ahead? Sometimes its agreeable – as in this track, I hope – other times you could do with a forewarning device…”
The music is suitably quirky with a blues tinged guitar solo from Cartwright and lightly dancing soprano sax from McLoughlin.  A jaunty up-tempo opening passage is followed by a gentler,  more reflective section, again featuring McLoughlin’s soprano and also incorporating a final melodic bass solo from Rayner.

Rayner thanks her band mates for their “amazing musicality” and this is a quality that imbues this whole album. ARQ have come up with another impeccable album featuring warm, colourful, intelligent writing and some exceptional playing. Again, this is an album that is likely to appeal a broad listening constituency (pat Metheny fans are likely to find much that appeals in ARQ’s music) and which will consolidate ARQ’s reputation as one of the best and most consistent working bands around. A worthy follow up to its two acclaimed predecessors “Short Stories” exhibits no falling off in terms of quality control. The members of this particularly well integrated ensemble are perfectly in tune with Rayner’s artistic vision.

ARQ are supported by Arts Council England and by the PRS Foundation’s Women Make Music Fund. Besides the dedicatees of the individual tunes “Short Stories” is also dedicated to the memories of Dave Wickins and Harry Lisle.

“Short Stories” will be released on October 25th 2019.

ARQ will be touring in the UK during November and December 2019 and into 2020. Dates as below;


November 8         Wakefield Jazz Club                   YORKSHIRE

November 9           The Verdict                             BRIGHTON

November 15                 Kings Place (Jazz Festival Launch)      LONDON

December 19         Hemel Hempstead Old Town Hall     HERTS

2020:

February 26           Pizza Express Jazz Soho               LONDON

March 12               Jazz Coventry                         MIDLANDS

March 13               Birmingham Jazz Club                 MIDLANDS

March 14               Shrewsbury Hive                       SHROPSHIRE

March 31               Liverpool Parr Jazz                     MERSEYSIDE

April 1                 Sheffield Lescar                       YORKSHIRE

April 2                 Nottingham Bonington Theatre       NOTTS

April 3                 Derby Jazz                             DERBYSHIRE

May 3                   Colchester Arts Centre             ESSEX

 

Short Stories

Alison Rayner Quintet

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4-5 out of 5

Short Stories

ARQ have come up with another impeccable album featuring warm, colourful, intelligent writing and some exceptional playing. It's a recording that is likely to appeal a broad listening constituency.

Alison Rayner Quintet

“Short Stories”

(Blow The Fuse Records BTF1914CD)

Alison Rayner – double bass, Buster Birch – drums, percussion, Deirdre Cartwright – guitar,
Diane McLoughlin – tenor & soprano saxophones, Steve Lodder - piano

The rise and rise of the Alison Rayner Quintet, or ARQ, has been one of the most heart warming stories of British jazz in recent years.

Bassist and composer Alison Rayner has been a stalwart of the UK jazz scene for many years and is probably best known for her membership of the Guest Stars, the all female group who emerged at the time of the 80s jazz boom along with Loose Tubes, Jazz Warriors and others. I’ve seen her perform live on a couple of occasions with trumpeter Chris Hodgkins’ quartet and Rayner’s other regular engagements include the Deirdre Cartwright Group and Terryazoome, the Greek flavoured jazz group led by guitarist/bouzouki player  Terry Hunt.

For more than twenty five years Rayner and guitarist Cartwright have run Blow The Fuse, an organisation dedicated to raising the profile of jazz in the UK with a particular emphasis on promoting the work of female jazz musicians. Besides organising the regular ‘Tomorrow the Moon’ club nights Blow The Fuse also runs its own record label.

An in demand sidewoman Rayner has played acoustic and electric bass across a variety of musical genres including jazz, funk and soul plus various types of world music. She has appeared on over thirty albums and her credits include work with guitarists Tal Farlowe and John Etheridge, vocalists Zoe Lewis and Ian Shaw, saxophonist Jean Toussaint and jazz poet Jayne Cortez.  Rayner is also an acclaimed educator who has taught at a wide array of colleges and summer schools. 

Rayner became a band leader at a comparatively late stage in her career, assembling the above line up and making her leadership début with the 2014 live set “August”, recorded at BTF’s spiritual home, the Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, north London. The album highlighted Rayner’s abilities as a composer and was greeted by a compelling amount of critical acclaim.

This was followed in 2016 by the studio set “A Magic Life”, which consolidated and built upon the success of “August” and also featured compositions by other members of the quintet. Again the response from both the critical fraternity and the British jazz audience as a whole was overwhelmingly positive.

ARQ have also developed a reputation for the consistently excellent quality of their live performances and I have been lucky enough to witness and review club and festival appearances in London, Birmingham, Shrewsbury, Brecon and Abergavenny.

The combination of ARQ’s critically acclaimed albums and their exciting and accessible live shows has led to the band being honoured at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards (Ensemble Of The Year, 2018) and the British Jazz Awards (Best Small Group, also 2018).

Rayner’s compositions are multi-faceted, featuring memorable melodies and rich colours and textures. They are often informed by personal experiences and many have a strong pictorial or cinematic quality about them. The compositions by the other quintet members in this well balanced ensemble also fit neatly into this now well established band template.

Rayner says of her own compositions for this recording;
“My music is allegorical and I write songs without words about experiences, places and feelings. ‘Short Stories’ was inspired by the sudden losses of three young people within close family and friends. Their stories were too short, but through my music I want to celebrate the joy they brought to our lives”.

“Short Stories” is also an apt title given the strong narrative quality of ARQ’s music. The album packaging also includes succinct liner notes from the individual composers offering valuable insights into the inspirations behind their pieces.

The album packaging doesn’t specify exactly when the album was recorded but a number of the featured tunes have been part of ARQ’s live sets for some time, so I would surmise that much of the music had been thoroughly ‘road tested’ before being committed to disc. The relaxed and assured nature of the performances certainly suggests that this was the case.

The album commences with Rayner’s “Croajingolong Bushwalk”, of which its composer says;
“Inspired by a bushwalk in Croajingolong, Victoria, this song is about the Australian bush, with its extraordinary birdsong, crazy wildlife, vast blue skies, orange earth and ancient people”.
Like all of ARQ’s music there’s a strong narrative quality and a real sense of place within the music. Sampled bird song combines with tribal rhythms at the outset with Cartwright’s guitar simulating the sound of a jews harp. The insistent rhythmic pulse is combined with evocative melodies with solos coming from McLoughlin on tenor sax, Rayner on melodic double bass and Lodder at the piano. The latter’s dazzling solo seems to embody the sheer dizzying joyousness of Rayner’s experience, something that is also echoed by Birch’s closing drum feature.

Also from the pen of Rayner comes “Here And Now”, of which its composer says;
“With age comes more past (and memories) than future. I try to focus on the present, because I know that life can change in an instant”.
This is a more reflective offering characterised by wistful melodies and more fine soloing from Lodder on piano, Cartwright on guitar and McLoughlin on tenor, their contributions all representing fluent statements on the power of the present.

Rayner dedicates her piece “There Is A Crack In Everything” to the memory of her late niece Pippa Handley (1978-2018), the title a quote from the lyric of a Leonard Cohen song. Rayner’s notes speak of Handley “cycling all around the hills and lochs of Scotland, and the world, in an effort to find that crack of light”.
The music is less sombre than one might imagine as Rayner seeks to celebrate Handley’s short life. Introduced by Birch at the drums there’s a considerable rhythmic drive, plus a folkish tinge to the melody that also reflects Rayner’s own Scottish ancestry. Lodder again stars with an extended passage of unaccompanied piano mid tune that embraces a variety of emotions. McLoughlin is the other featured soloist, probing gently on softly keening soprano sax.

McLoughlin’s composition “Buster Breaks A Beat” was written as a feature for Birch, with its composer commenting; “I wrote this piece to feature Buster, experimenting with broken beats, funk and retro dance music”.
Of course it isn’t just a drum solo, it’s a highly ingenious piece of writing that toys with melody and rhythm and embraces a variety of jazz styles. Lodder on piano, Cartwright on guitar and McLoughlin on tenor all weigh in with highly cogent solos before Birch’s dynamic feature at the close.

Rayner’s “A Braw Boy” is another piece written in remembrance, this time for the life of Craig Handley (1994-2017). Rayner says of Handley;
“Craig spent his working life around the Scottish coast and islands. He captured the big skies, dawns, sunsets and seascapes in the beautiful photographs that he left behind”.
This time the music does sound rather more like a lament, but there’s a quiet beauty in its wistful and gently melancholic melodies that also embodies the lonely beauty of the land that Handley photographed and called home. McLoughlin again features on softly piping soprano, sharing the solos with the cool elegance of Cartwright’s guitar and the gentle lyricism of Lodder at the piano.

Cartwright’s “Life Lived Wide” is also a dedication, as its composer explains;
“Originally a tribute to Esbjorn Svensson, I rewrote this tune for my dear friend Debbie Dickinson. Debbie was the seventh member of The Guest Stars and the second part of the song evokes some of the spirit of that group”.
As Cartwright implies this is very much a ‘tune of two halves’. It begins in gently wistful fashion with sound of the composer’s crystalline guitar, Rayner’s melodic double bass and Birch’s cymbal shimmers. McLoughlin adds shards of tenor sax melody as the piece gradually develops with Dickinson’s old band mates, Cartwright and Rayner, justifiably prominent in the arrangement. Later the piece gains greater momentum and a rock inspired heaviness as the music moves into “Guest Stars” mode with Lodder contributing a rollicking piano solo and McLoughlin stretching out on tenor.

Rayner describes her final composition, “Colloquy”, as; “three ideas rolled into one, this piece explores the nuances and shifting sands of conversation.”
Paced by Rayner’s bass motif and Birch’s mallet rumbles the piece begins in atmospheric fashion with Lodder’s piano melody subtly shadowed by Cartwright’s shimmering guitar FX. McLoughlin’s tenor subsequently takes over the theme, her phrases answered by Lodder at the piano before the thread passes to Cartwright on guitar.  Her soloing elicits answering phrases from sax and piano in a musical conversation that evokes measured spoken discourse.
Birch later establishes a more muscular funk style groove that elicits livelier exchanges and prompts more extended solos from McLoughlin on tenor and Lodder on piano.

The final piece comes from the pen of Lodder, a jazz waltz titled “Seeing Around Corners”, of which its composer remarks rather enigmatically;
“Is it good to know what’s ahead? Sometimes its agreeable – as in this track, I hope – other times you could do with a forewarning device…”
The music is suitably quirky with a blues tinged guitar solo from Cartwright and lightly dancing soprano sax from McLoughlin.  A jaunty up-tempo opening passage is followed by a gentler,  more reflective section, again featuring McLoughlin’s soprano and also incorporating a final melodic bass solo from Rayner.

Rayner thanks her band mates for their “amazing musicality” and this is a quality that imbues this whole album. ARQ have come up with another impeccable album featuring warm, colourful, intelligent writing and some exceptional playing. Again, this is an album that is likely to appeal a broad listening constituency (pat Metheny fans are likely to find much that appeals in ARQ’s music) and which will consolidate ARQ’s reputation as one of the best and most consistent working bands around. A worthy follow up to its two acclaimed predecessors “Short Stories” exhibits no falling off in terms of quality control. The members of this particularly well integrated ensemble are perfectly in tune with Rayner’s artistic vision.

ARQ are supported by Arts Council England and by the PRS Foundation’s Women Make Music Fund. Besides the dedicatees of the individual tunes “Short Stories” is also dedicated to the memories of Dave Wickins and Harry Lisle.

“Short Stories” will be released on October 25th 2019.

ARQ will be touring in the UK during November and December 2019 and into 2020. Dates as below;


November 8         Wakefield Jazz Club                   YORKSHIRE

November 9           The Verdict                             BRIGHTON

November 15                 Kings Place (Jazz Festival Launch)      LONDON

December 19         Hemel Hempstead Old Town Hall     HERTS

2020:

February 26           Pizza Express Jazz Soho               LONDON

March 12               Jazz Coventry                         MIDLANDS

March 13               Birmingham Jazz Club                 MIDLANDS

March 14               Shrewsbury Hive                       SHROPSHIRE

March 31               Liverpool Parr Jazz                     MERSEYSIDE

April 1                 Sheffield Lescar                       YORKSHIRE

April 2                 Nottingham Bonington Theatre       NOTTS

April 3                 Derby Jazz                             DERBYSHIRE

May 3                   Colchester Arts Centre             ESSEX

 

Time Zone - Clave Sin Embargo Rating: 4 out of 5 "Intelligent, highly personalised music that brings together the best aspects of jazz and traditional Cuban music". Ian Mann enjoys the unique music of trumpeter Loz Speyer's sextet Time Zone.

Loz Speyer’s Time Zone

“Clave Sin Embargo”

(Spherical Records SPR005)

Loz Speyer – trumpet, flugelhorn, Martin Hathaway – alto sax, bass clarinet, Stuart Hall – guitar,
Dave Manington – double bass, Maurizio Ravalico – congas, Andy Ball – drums


“Clave Sin Embargo”, roughly translating as “keys without restrictions”, is the third album by Time Zone, the sextet led by the British trumpeter and composer Loz Speyer. It follows the group’s eponymous 2004 début and 2011’s acclaimed follow up “Crossing The Line”. The latter was an innovative and highly personal recording that skilfully blended elements of European jazz with Cuban music. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/time-zone-crossing-the-line/

I first became aware of the music of London based Speyer back in 1999 when his quartet featuring guitarist Andy Jones, bassist Richard Jeffries and drummer Tony Bianco played on an open air bandstand at the inaugural Leamington Spa Jazz Festival. I was impressed and purchased a copy of their then latest album “Two Kinds Of Blue” (33 Records), I guess you don’t need me to tell you who one of the prime influences was.

Ten years later I reviewed the excellent album “Five Animal Dances”, recorded by a Speyer led quartet called Inner Space Music featuring Chris Biscoe (reeds), Julie Walkington (double bass) and Sebastian Rochford (drums). This chordless line up explored the interface between composed and improvised music, striking a perfect balance between the two on an album that made for highly satisfying listening. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/inner-space-music-five-animal-dances/

In 2017 Speyer followed this with “Life On The Edge”, another excellent recording in a similar vein credited to a quintet dubbed Loz Speyer’s Inner Space. Speyer and Biscoe remained in place, joined in the front line by Rachel Musson on tenor and soprano sax and with a new rhythm section featuring bassist Olie Brice and drummer Gary Willcox. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/loz-speyers-inner-space-life-on-the-edge/

The Time Zone project has its roots in Speyer’s domestic circumstances. His wife, Katiuska is Cuban and Speyer has spent the last few years travelling between London and Santiago de Cuba, crossing boundaries but also building bridges between the two countries.

Time Zone is the musical manifestation of this process with Speyer’s London based band incorporating Cuban elements into their jazz based improvising.  Speyer’s experiences of working with Son musicians in Santiago led to him forming his own London based ensemble. Time Zone was initially formed in 2003 and the current line up has been in place since 2012.

As with the previous release Speyer’s liner notes offer valuable insights into the inspirations behind the individual compositions, some of these highly personal, others relating to contemporary political events. Time Zone’s music deploys Cuban styles and rhythms, combining these with American and European jazz elements to create a sound that is highly distinctive. This is intelligent, ambitious, highly personalised music that extends far beyond the limits of the “let’s party” fluff that some listeners may associate as being synonymous with Cuban music.

The new album commences with “Stratosphere”, which Speyer describes as being “essentially one harmonic idea played out on three levels – the first close to the ground, a Latin tune with a 12 beat clave – the second, rhythms starting to shift and open up – the third, taking flight on a swing related fast 5/8”. The title comes from a comment made by a Cuban friend about Time Zone’s music, that it has the sound and feel of Cuban music, but instead of being rooted in the soil like the indigenous music of the island it has the ability to fly away elsewhere.
The subtly evolving rhythmic complexities of the piece are successfully negotiated by Manington, Ball and Ravalico while Hall’s guitar is subtly propulsive, helping to prompt incisive jazz style solos from Hathaway on alto and the leader on trumpet. There’s also a feature for the Italian born conganista Ravalico, who represents a vibrant and colourful presence throughout the album.

“Mood Swings” originally appeared on Time Zone’s eponymous 2004 début for 33 Records. Since then it has developed, acquiring new melodies and rhythms, and Speyer has also recorded the tune with Cuban musicians. The 2019 version features Hathaway on woody bass clarinet, soloing above a tricky eleven beat rhythm. The leader also features on trumpet, soloing thoughtfully and fluently above the rhythmic ferment bubbling beneath. There’s also a solo from Hall, a most distinctive guitarist whose quirky style first came to my attention when he was a member of Django Bates’  small group Human Chain. We also enjoy an extended feature from drummer Ball, aided and abetted by guitar, bass and percussion.

“Lost At Sea” combines 6/8 and 4/4 rhythms in unusual ways, the rhythmic changes and sudden accelerations of pace being reminiscent of bata music. The title references Cuban sea goddesses and the migration crises in the English Channel, the Mediterranean, and the seas between Cuba and the US. Yet Speyer still finds hope in all this, dedicating the tune to a woman whose parents found their way to the UK following the devastation of World War Two.
Musically the piece is played with feeling and urgency, the constantly mutating rhythms again provoking an incisive solo from Hathaway on biting alto, his tone sometimes reminiscent of Jackie McLean, or even Ornette Coleman. A brief passage of unaccompanied trumpet seems to act as a ‘last post’ for those desperate migrants lost at sea, and acts as the bridge into Speyer’s own solo during the very different second half of the tune.

In Speyer’s words “Full Circle” “closes the first half of the album on a peaceful note”. There’s a more laid back, orthodox jazz feel to this piece with Ball switching to brushes as Hathaway’s alto probes gently but intelligently. Hall’s guitar solo represents another excellent example of his idiosyncratic style, a kind of Anglicised, highly personalised version of Bill Frisell.

The title of “Checkpoint Charlie” references Speyer’s visit to Berlin in 1989, around the time that the wall came down. It’s also inspired by an incident in Cuba in 1980 when 10,000 dissidents occupied the grounds of the Peruvian embassy in Havana, demanding asylum. The Peruvians agreed to this, but ultimately couldn’t cope with the demand. Following urgent negotiations 125,000 Cubans eventually became US citizens following the Mariel Boatlift.
Speyer describes his tune as “cheerful” and there’s a palpable joyousness in the infectious rhythms, punchy horn lines and the ebullient solos from Speyer on trumpet and Hathaway on alto, the latter again probing incisively. Hall also adds more of his quirky magic with an inspired guitar solo.

“Guarapachanguero” is the name of a long, stretched out rhythm that Speyer learned from a Cuban musician known as Manolo (aka Rafael Cisneros), with whom he studied percussion and co-led the band Proyecto Evocacion, releasing the album “Roots en Route – Raices en Viaje” in 2010.
Speyer’s tune offers “a relatively slow take on the rhythm and is the only piece on the album that stays in clave throughout”. Despite the alleged ‘slowness’ the piece is hardly lacking in energy and conganista Ravalico plays a prominent part in an arrangement that features more fluent soloing from Hathaway on alto, Speyer on trumpet, Hall on guitar and the excellent Manington on double bass.

“Crossing The Line” is named after the second Time Zone album, although the piece didn’t actually appear on there. Speyer’s composition alternates between jazz and Cuban styles, but in this instance without making any attempt to fuse the two. “They remain separate and distinct, and yet it is all one piece of music” explains Speyer, who goes on to emphasise that “the boundaries by which we measure the world are largely artificial constructs, the equator, time zones, the Greenwich Meridian, even time itself”.
An introductory free jazz dialogue between Hathaway’s alto and Hall’s guitar segues into an almost exaggeratedly Cuban section featuring Speyer’s trumpet soloing. The second free jazz episode finds Ball joining Hall and Hathaway for a more extended improvisation prior to a return to the Cuban stylings, with Manington’s bass featuring as a solo instrument.

The album concludes with “Dalston Carnival”, a paean to Speyer’s North London neighbourhood. He describes the piece as “a dance, a kind of Punk-Comparsa, complete with the odd 2/4 bar, courtesy of Ornette Coleman”. There is indeed a genuine carnival atmosphere about this high energy romp with its busily percolating rhythms and joyous solos, Speyer going first on trumpet, followed by Hathaway on alto and Hall on guitar. There’s also an extended percussion ‘battle’ between Ravalico and Ball as the album concludes on an ebullient, celebratory note. Coleman notwithstanding, this is the kind of lively, salsa style music that most listeners probably associate with Cuba, but as Speyer and his colleagues demonstrate elsewhere there’s far more about the island’s music than that.

“Clave Sin Embargo” builds upon the virtues of Time Zone’s previous releases to deliver another set of intelligent, highly personalised music that brings together the best aspects of jazz and traditional Cuban music. Speyer’s sound is forged from a unique personal perspective and his Anglo-Cuban musical hybrid offers something that is both exciting and musically satisfying. His writing is colourful and insightful and the playing by a hand picked sextet is excellent throughout.

Given the title of the closing track it is perhaps appropriate that the album will be officially launched at The Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, London on the evening of Wednesday October 16th 2019. Time Zone will also be playing at Colchester Arts centre on December 1st 2019.

Meanwhile Speyer’s Inner Space will be appearing at the Grow venue in East London on the afternoon of Sunday November 17th as part of the 2019 EFG London Jazz Festival. Details here;
https://efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk/events/loz-speyers-inner-space

Clave Sin Embargo

Time Zone

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Clave Sin Embargo

"Intelligent, highly personalised music that brings together the best aspects of jazz and traditional Cuban music". Ian Mann enjoys the unique music of trumpeter Loz Speyer's sextet Time Zone.

Loz Speyer’s Time Zone

“Clave Sin Embargo”

(Spherical Records SPR005)

Loz Speyer – trumpet, flugelhorn, Martin Hathaway – alto sax, bass clarinet, Stuart Hall – guitar,
Dave Manington – double bass, Maurizio Ravalico – congas, Andy Ball – drums


“Clave Sin Embargo”, roughly translating as “keys without restrictions”, is the third album by Time Zone, the sextet led by the British trumpeter and composer Loz Speyer. It follows the group’s eponymous 2004 début and 2011’s acclaimed follow up “Crossing The Line”. The latter was an innovative and highly personal recording that skilfully blended elements of European jazz with Cuban music. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/time-zone-crossing-the-line/

I first became aware of the music of London based Speyer back in 1999 when his quartet featuring guitarist Andy Jones, bassist Richard Jeffries and drummer Tony Bianco played on an open air bandstand at the inaugural Leamington Spa Jazz Festival. I was impressed and purchased a copy of their then latest album “Two Kinds Of Blue” (33 Records), I guess you don’t need me to tell you who one of the prime influences was.

Ten years later I reviewed the excellent album “Five Animal Dances”, recorded by a Speyer led quartet called Inner Space Music featuring Chris Biscoe (reeds), Julie Walkington (double bass) and Sebastian Rochford (drums). This chordless line up explored the interface between composed and improvised music, striking a perfect balance between the two on an album that made for highly satisfying listening. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/inner-space-music-five-animal-dances/

In 2017 Speyer followed this with “Life On The Edge”, another excellent recording in a similar vein credited to a quintet dubbed Loz Speyer’s Inner Space. Speyer and Biscoe remained in place, joined in the front line by Rachel Musson on tenor and soprano sax and with a new rhythm section featuring bassist Olie Brice and drummer Gary Willcox. Review here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/loz-speyers-inner-space-life-on-the-edge/

The Time Zone project has its roots in Speyer’s domestic circumstances. His wife, Katiuska is Cuban and Speyer has spent the last few years travelling between London and Santiago de Cuba, crossing boundaries but also building bridges between the two countries.

Time Zone is the musical manifestation of this process with Speyer’s London based band incorporating Cuban elements into their jazz based improvising.  Speyer’s experiences of working with Son musicians in Santiago led to him forming his own London based ensemble. Time Zone was initially formed in 2003 and the current line up has been in place since 2012.

As with the previous release Speyer’s liner notes offer valuable insights into the inspirations behind the individual compositions, some of these highly personal, others relating to contemporary political events. Time Zone’s music deploys Cuban styles and rhythms, combining these with American and European jazz elements to create a sound that is highly distinctive. This is intelligent, ambitious, highly personalised music that extends far beyond the limits of the “let’s party” fluff that some listeners may associate as being synonymous with Cuban music.

The new album commences with “Stratosphere”, which Speyer describes as being “essentially one harmonic idea played out on three levels – the first close to the ground, a Latin tune with a 12 beat clave – the second, rhythms starting to shift and open up – the third, taking flight on a swing related fast 5/8”. The title comes from a comment made by a Cuban friend about Time Zone’s music, that it has the sound and feel of Cuban music, but instead of being rooted in the soil like the indigenous music of the island it has the ability to fly away elsewhere.
The subtly evolving rhythmic complexities of the piece are successfully negotiated by Manington, Ball and Ravalico while Hall’s guitar is subtly propulsive, helping to prompt incisive jazz style solos from Hathaway on alto and the leader on trumpet. There’s also a feature for the Italian born conganista Ravalico, who represents a vibrant and colourful presence throughout the album.

“Mood Swings” originally appeared on Time Zone’s eponymous 2004 début for 33 Records. Since then it has developed, acquiring new melodies and rhythms, and Speyer has also recorded the tune with Cuban musicians. The 2019 version features Hathaway on woody bass clarinet, soloing above a tricky eleven beat rhythm. The leader also features on trumpet, soloing thoughtfully and fluently above the rhythmic ferment bubbling beneath. There’s also a solo from Hall, a most distinctive guitarist whose quirky style first came to my attention when he was a member of Django Bates’  small group Human Chain. We also enjoy an extended feature from drummer Ball, aided and abetted by guitar, bass and percussion.

“Lost At Sea” combines 6/8 and 4/4 rhythms in unusual ways, the rhythmic changes and sudden accelerations of pace being reminiscent of bata music. The title references Cuban sea goddesses and the migration crises in the English Channel, the Mediterranean, and the seas between Cuba and the US. Yet Speyer still finds hope in all this, dedicating the tune to a woman whose parents found their way to the UK following the devastation of World War Two.
Musically the piece is played with feeling and urgency, the constantly mutating rhythms again provoking an incisive solo from Hathaway on biting alto, his tone sometimes reminiscent of Jackie McLean, or even Ornette Coleman. A brief passage of unaccompanied trumpet seems to act as a ‘last post’ for those desperate migrants lost at sea, and acts as the bridge into Speyer’s own solo during the very different second half of the tune.

In Speyer’s words “Full Circle” “closes the first half of the album on a peaceful note”. There’s a more laid back, orthodox jazz feel to this piece with Ball switching to brushes as Hathaway’s alto probes gently but intelligently. Hall’s guitar solo represents another excellent example of his idiosyncratic style, a kind of Anglicised, highly personalised version of Bill Frisell.

The title of “Checkpoint Charlie” references Speyer’s visit to Berlin in 1989, around the time that the wall came down. It’s also inspired by an incident in Cuba in 1980 when 10,000 dissidents occupied the grounds of the Peruvian embassy in Havana, demanding asylum. The Peruvians agreed to this, but ultimately couldn’t cope with the demand. Following urgent negotiations 125,000 Cubans eventually became US citizens following the Mariel Boatlift.
Speyer describes his tune as “cheerful” and there’s a palpable joyousness in the infectious rhythms, punchy horn lines and the ebullient solos from Speyer on trumpet and Hathaway on alto, the latter again probing incisively. Hall also adds more of his quirky magic with an inspired guitar solo.

“Guarapachanguero” is the name of a long, stretched out rhythm that Speyer learned from a Cuban musician known as Manolo (aka Rafael Cisneros), with whom he studied percussion and co-led the band Proyecto Evocacion, releasing the album “Roots en Route – Raices en Viaje” in 2010.
Speyer’s tune offers “a relatively slow take on the rhythm and is the only piece on the album that stays in clave throughout”. Despite the alleged ‘slowness’ the piece is hardly lacking in energy and conganista Ravalico plays a prominent part in an arrangement that features more fluent soloing from Hathaway on alto, Speyer on trumpet, Hall on guitar and the excellent Manington on double bass.

“Crossing The Line” is named after the second Time Zone album, although the piece didn’t actually appear on there. Speyer’s composition alternates between jazz and Cuban styles, but in this instance without making any attempt to fuse the two. “They remain separate and distinct, and yet it is all one piece of music” explains Speyer, who goes on to emphasise that “the boundaries by which we measure the world are largely artificial constructs, the equator, time zones, the Greenwich Meridian, even time itself”.
An introductory free jazz dialogue between Hathaway’s alto and Hall’s guitar segues into an almost exaggeratedly Cuban section featuring Speyer’s trumpet soloing. The second free jazz episode finds Ball joining Hall and Hathaway for a more extended improvisation prior to a return to the Cuban stylings, with Manington’s bass featuring as a solo instrument.

The album concludes with “Dalston Carnival”, a paean to Speyer’s North London neighbourhood. He describes the piece as “a dance, a kind of Punk-Comparsa, complete with the odd 2/4 bar, courtesy of Ornette Coleman”. There is indeed a genuine carnival atmosphere about this high energy romp with its busily percolating rhythms and joyous solos, Speyer going first on trumpet, followed by Hathaway on alto and Hall on guitar. There’s also an extended percussion ‘battle’ between Ravalico and Ball as the album concludes on an ebullient, celebratory note. Coleman notwithstanding, this is the kind of lively, salsa style music that most listeners probably associate with Cuba, but as Speyer and his colleagues demonstrate elsewhere there’s far more about the island’s music than that.

“Clave Sin Embargo” builds upon the virtues of Time Zone’s previous releases to deliver another set of intelligent, highly personalised music that brings together the best aspects of jazz and traditional Cuban music. Speyer’s sound is forged from a unique personal perspective and his Anglo-Cuban musical hybrid offers something that is both exciting and musically satisfying. His writing is colourful and insightful and the playing by a hand picked sextet is excellent throughout.

Given the title of the closing track it is perhaps appropriate that the album will be officially launched at The Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, London on the evening of Wednesday October 16th 2019. Time Zone will also be playing at Colchester Arts centre on December 1st 2019.

Meanwhile Speyer’s Inner Space will be appearing at the Grow venue in East London on the afternoon of Sunday November 17th as part of the 2019 EFG London Jazz Festival. Details here;
https://efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk/events/loz-speyers-inner-space

Kjetil Mulelid Trio - What You Thought Was Home Rating: 4 out of 5 An album that builds on the promise of the début and which should find favour with all lovers of contemporary piano jazz.

Kjetil Mulelid Trio

“What You Thought Was Home”

(Rune Grammofon RCD2208)

Kjetil Mulelid – piano, Bjorn Marius Hegge – double bass, Andreas Skar Winther - drums


“What You Thought Was Home” is the second release on the Rune Grammofon label by the Kjetil Mulelid Trio, the follow up to 2017’s acclaimed “Not Nearly Enough To Buy A House”, reviewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/kjetil-mulelid-trio-not-nearly-enough-to-buy-a-house/

Mulelid, aged 28, was raised in the small Norwegian village of Hurdal and has been playing piano since the age of nine, initially inspired by the music of Frederic Chopin. He later developed an interest in jazz and subsequently obtained a bachelor degree in jazz performance from the NTNU in Trondheim before becoming a professional jazz musician.

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

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

Now based in Copenhagen Mulelid a typical young jazz musician of today, involved in a variety of genre defying projects embracing a broad range of musical influences.  Lauv is no more but Mulelid leads his own piano trio (as featured here), forms half of the duo Kjemilie with vocalist Emilie Vasseljen Storaas and is part of the group Fieldfare, a song based, more pop orientated outfit featuring Winther, vocalist Siril Maldemal Hauge,and former Lauv bassist  Bardur Reinert Poulsen.

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

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

In 2018 Wako released a second quartet album, “Urolige Sinn”, for the Ora Fonogram label, a recording featuring compositions by both Olsen and Mulelid.

Mulelid also collaborates with Olsen as part of the saxophonist’s MMO Ensemble, a
jazz/classical quartet that also features vocalist Hauge and cellist Pettersen and is inspired by the poetry of Emily Dickinson.

Mulelid, Olsen and Hauge have also been part of the Norwegian sextet Wild Things Run Fast, a tribute to the music of Joni Mitchell.

As can be seen from the above the Norwegian jazz scene is something of a hothouse with the NTNU in Trondheim seemingly its epicentre. Bjorn Marius Hegge, bassist with the Mulelid trio, also studied there and appeared at the Trondheim Jazz Exchange in Cheltenham as recently as 2016. He has since turned professional and won a Norwegian Grammy for his début album with his quintet, a recording simply titled “Hegge”. The bassist also leads his own trio featuring pianist Oscar Gronberg and drummer Hans Hulbaekmo, two other Trondheim graduates. In June 2017 he released the album “Ideas”, leading an international quintet featuring Hulbaekmo, pianist Havard Wiik and the German musicians Rudi Mahall (bass clarinet) and Axel Dorner (trumpet).

Drummer Winther is also a Trondheim graduate. He is a member of the Fieldfare group and has recorded two albums as part of the septet Megalodon Collective, another group comprised of Trondheim alumni. Winther also appears on “Left Exit, Mr K”, a quartet recording on the Clean Feed label featuring Karl Hjalmar Nyberg and Klaus Holm (reeds) and Michael Duch (double bass). Winther is the younger brother of jazz guitarist Christian Skar Winther.

Turning now to this latest recording which features eight new original compositions from Mulelid, plus one from the pen of Hegge.

The album introduces itself quietly with Mulelid’s beautiful title track, which begins in almost subliminal fashion before Mulelid sketches out one of his most beguiling melodies at the piano. The piece unfolds slowly with the leader soloing in lyrical fashion, developing the flow of his ideas above the gentle bustle of Winther’s filigree cymbal work and the anchoring presence of Hegge’s bass. There’s an almost hymnal quality about the music that invites comparisons with the work of Mulelid’s fellow countryman Tord Gustavsen, something that Winther’s delicate, subtly detailed, Jarle Vespestad-like performance only encourages.

Mulelid’s next composition, “Folk Song”, raises the energy levels a touch and finds the trio improvising around an ongoing bass and piano vamp. This fulcrum actually affords the musicians, particularly Mulelid and Winther, a good deal of freedom, with the drummer playing a prominent role in the success of the performance. The interplay between him and Mulelid is particularly engrossing with the dialogue almost shading off into ‘free jazz’ on occasions.

More obviously influenced by Norwegian music is Hegge’s composition “Bruremarsj”, the title translating as “Wedding March”. Again this is a highly interactive performance from a very well balanced trio. Throughout the album Winther and Hegge are far more than mere ‘accompanists’, this is a highly contemporary trio who function together as a single entity.
As if to emphasise the point Hegge features as a soloist here, complementing Mulelid’s Jarrett like interpretations of the folk inspired melody.

Winther introduces “Tales” at the drums, setting the pace for another of Mulelid’s compositions, this one a brief fascinating balance between hymn like melody and almost free jazz like interplay; the apparently serene surface initially created subsequently pierced by shards of wilful dissonance.

“Far Away” is a beautiful solo piano performance from Mulelid that commences in gently lyrical fashion before gradually embracing a greater intensity and complexity. That early Chopin influence is particularly evident here.

Hegge and Winther return for “A Cautionary Tale Against A Repetitive Life”. It sounds like an E.S.T. title but the music is more gentle and considered, initially flowingly lyrical but leading to a series of repeated diminuendos, that presumably give the piece its name. Hegge’s bass helps to punctuate these moments and trio emerge on the other side with an expansive and discursive solo from Mulelid, before ending with another short sequence of diminuendos. It’s an intriguingly structured piece, that nevertheless manages to maintain the listener’s attention.

“Waltz For Ima” is an engaging jazz waltz that helps to reinforce the Bill Evans comparisons made about the trio’s début. Here Mulelid’s piano explorations are complemented by a lengthy bass solo from Hegge, who also enters into a spirited dialogue with the leader above the bustle of Winther’s brushed drums. Mulelid’s playing here manages to evoke both Evans and Jarrett, but still sounds fiercely individual.

“When Winter Turns To Spring”  features the trio at their most interactive as they coalesce around Mulelid’s darting, staccato piano motifs. The leader’s Jarrett style vocalising suggests that much of the performance is freely improvised with both Hegge and Winther busy presences within the mix. Having reached a peak with their energetic but intricate interplay the trio then effect a slower, minimalist style outro.

The final track is “Homecoming”, introduced by Mulelid at the piano, another piece with a strong melody and a decidedly hymn like quality. Hegge delivers a highly melodic double bass solo while Winther’s performance offers a final reminder that he is one of the most ‘musical’ drummers around, his playing rich in terms of nuance, colour and texture, it’s so much more than just ‘keeping the beat’.

At the time of writing “What You Thought Was Home”, which was released on August 30th 2019, seems to have attracted rather less media attention than its widely acclaimed predecessor. I’m not quite sure why this should be as its another excellent recording incorporating strong melodies, rich harmonies and rhythmic inventiveness. The quality and imagination of the writing helps to engage the listener’s attention throughout and the quality of the playing is exceptional.

Despite the Evans and Jarrett comparisons this record sounds more obviously Norwegian than its predecessor with Gustavsen perhaps more of an influence this time round. But it’s still very much Mulelid’s record, an album that builds on the promise of the début and which should find favour with all lovers of contemporary piano jazz.

For what is still a comparatively young band it’s a highly mature collection from a very well integrated, highly interactive, and finely balanced trio.

The Kjetil Mulelid Trio are about to embark on a European tour with a date at The Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, London on Thursday 31st October 2019. Full tour schedule below;

Kjetil Mulelid Trio
16.10 Stockholm (Glenn Miller Jazz Café), Sweden
17.10 Copenhagen (KoncertKirken), Denmark
18.10 Hamar (Jazzklubb), Norway
19.10 Hurdal (Kultursenter), Norway
20.10 Halden (Athletic Live), Norway
27.10 Paris (City Universitet Jazz Festival), Norway
31.10 Vortex (Jazz Club), UK
01.11 Brügge (27bFlat), Belgium
08.11 Ålesund (Parken Kulturhus), Norway
09.11 Fosnavåg (Konserthus), Norway
10.11 Trondheim (Antikvariatet), Norway

What You Thought Was Home

Kjetil Mulelid Trio

Monday, October 14, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

What You Thought Was Home

An album that builds on the promise of the début and which should find favour with all lovers of contemporary piano jazz.

Kjetil Mulelid Trio

“What You Thought Was Home”

(Rune Grammofon RCD2208)

Kjetil Mulelid – piano, Bjorn Marius Hegge – double bass, Andreas Skar Winther - drums


“What You Thought Was Home” is the second release on the Rune Grammofon label by the Kjetil Mulelid Trio, the follow up to 2017’s acclaimed “Not Nearly Enough To Buy A House”, reviewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/kjetil-mulelid-trio-not-nearly-enough-to-buy-a-house/

Mulelid, aged 28, was raised in the small Norwegian village of Hurdal and has been playing piano since the age of nine, initially inspired by the music of Frederic Chopin. He later developed an interest in jazz and subsequently obtained a bachelor degree in jazz performance from the NTNU in Trondheim before becoming a professional jazz musician.

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

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

Now based in Copenhagen Mulelid a typical young jazz musician of today, involved in a variety of genre defying projects embracing a broad range of musical influences.  Lauv is no more but Mulelid leads his own piano trio (as featured here), forms half of the duo Kjemilie with vocalist Emilie Vasseljen Storaas and is part of the group Fieldfare, a song based, more pop orientated outfit featuring Winther, vocalist Siril Maldemal Hauge,and former Lauv bassist  Bardur Reinert Poulsen.

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

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

In 2018 Wako released a second quartet album, “Urolige Sinn”, for the Ora Fonogram label, a recording featuring compositions by both Olsen and Mulelid.

Mulelid also collaborates with Olsen as part of the saxophonist’s MMO Ensemble, a
jazz/classical quartet that also features vocalist Hauge and cellist Pettersen and is inspired by the poetry of Emily Dickinson.

Mulelid, Olsen and Hauge have also been part of the Norwegian sextet Wild Things Run Fast, a tribute to the music of Joni Mitchell.

As can be seen from the above the Norwegian jazz scene is something of a hothouse with the NTNU in Trondheim seemingly its epicentre. Bjorn Marius Hegge, bassist with the Mulelid trio, also studied there and appeared at the Trondheim Jazz Exchange in Cheltenham as recently as 2016. He has since turned professional and won a Norwegian Grammy for his début album with his quintet, a recording simply titled “Hegge”. The bassist also leads his own trio featuring pianist Oscar Gronberg and drummer Hans Hulbaekmo, two other Trondheim graduates. In June 2017 he released the album “Ideas”, leading an international quintet featuring Hulbaekmo, pianist Havard Wiik and the German musicians Rudi Mahall (bass clarinet) and Axel Dorner (trumpet).

Drummer Winther is also a Trondheim graduate. He is a member of the Fieldfare group and has recorded two albums as part of the septet Megalodon Collective, another group comprised of Trondheim alumni. Winther also appears on “Left Exit, Mr K”, a quartet recording on the Clean Feed label featuring Karl Hjalmar Nyberg and Klaus Holm (reeds) and Michael Duch (double bass). Winther is the younger brother of jazz guitarist Christian Skar Winther.

Turning now to this latest recording which features eight new original compositions from Mulelid, plus one from the pen of Hegge.

The album introduces itself quietly with Mulelid’s beautiful title track, which begins in almost subliminal fashion before Mulelid sketches out one of his most beguiling melodies at the piano. The piece unfolds slowly with the leader soloing in lyrical fashion, developing the flow of his ideas above the gentle bustle of Winther’s filigree cymbal work and the anchoring presence of Hegge’s bass. There’s an almost hymnal quality about the music that invites comparisons with the work of Mulelid’s fellow countryman Tord Gustavsen, something that Winther’s delicate, subtly detailed, Jarle Vespestad-like performance only encourages.

Mulelid’s next composition, “Folk Song”, raises the energy levels a touch and finds the trio improvising around an ongoing bass and piano vamp. This fulcrum actually affords the musicians, particularly Mulelid and Winther, a good deal of freedom, with the drummer playing a prominent role in the success of the performance. The interplay between him and Mulelid is particularly engrossing with the dialogue almost shading off into ‘free jazz’ on occasions.

More obviously influenced by Norwegian music is Hegge’s composition “Bruremarsj”, the title translating as “Wedding March”. Again this is a highly interactive performance from a very well balanced trio. Throughout the album Winther and Hegge are far more than mere ‘accompanists’, this is a highly contemporary trio who function together as a single entity.
As if to emphasise the point Hegge features as a soloist here, complementing Mulelid’s Jarrett like interpretations of the folk inspired melody.

Winther introduces “Tales” at the drums, setting the pace for another of Mulelid’s compositions, this one a brief fascinating balance between hymn like melody and almost free jazz like interplay; the apparently serene surface initially created subsequently pierced by shards of wilful dissonance.

“Far Away” is a beautiful solo piano performance from Mulelid that commences in gently lyrical fashion before gradually embracing a greater intensity and complexity. That early Chopin influence is particularly evident here.

Hegge and Winther return for “A Cautionary Tale Against A Repetitive Life”. It sounds like an E.S.T. title but the music is more gentle and considered, initially flowingly lyrical but leading to a series of repeated diminuendos, that presumably give the piece its name. Hegge’s bass helps to punctuate these moments and trio emerge on the other side with an expansive and discursive solo from Mulelid, before ending with another short sequence of diminuendos. It’s an intriguingly structured piece, that nevertheless manages to maintain the listener’s attention.

“Waltz For Ima” is an engaging jazz waltz that helps to reinforce the Bill Evans comparisons made about the trio’s début. Here Mulelid’s piano explorations are complemented by a lengthy bass solo from Hegge, who also enters into a spirited dialogue with the leader above the bustle of Winther’s brushed drums. Mulelid’s playing here manages to evoke both Evans and Jarrett, but still sounds fiercely individual.

“When Winter Turns To Spring”  features the trio at their most interactive as they coalesce around Mulelid’s darting, staccato piano motifs. The leader’s Jarrett style vocalising suggests that much of the performance is freely improvised with both Hegge and Winther busy presences within the mix. Having reached a peak with their energetic but intricate interplay the trio then effect a slower, minimalist style outro.

The final track is “Homecoming”, introduced by Mulelid at the piano, another piece with a strong melody and a decidedly hymn like quality. Hegge delivers a highly melodic double bass solo while Winther’s performance offers a final reminder that he is one of the most ‘musical’ drummers around, his playing rich in terms of nuance, colour and texture, it’s so much more than just ‘keeping the beat’.

At the time of writing “What You Thought Was Home”, which was released on August 30th 2019, seems to have attracted rather less media attention than its widely acclaimed predecessor. I’m not quite sure why this should be as its another excellent recording incorporating strong melodies, rich harmonies and rhythmic inventiveness. The quality and imagination of the writing helps to engage the listener’s attention throughout and the quality of the playing is exceptional.

Despite the Evans and Jarrett comparisons this record sounds more obviously Norwegian than its predecessor with Gustavsen perhaps more of an influence this time round. But it’s still very much Mulelid’s record, an album that builds on the promise of the début and which should find favour with all lovers of contemporary piano jazz.

For what is still a comparatively young band it’s a highly mature collection from a very well integrated, highly interactive, and finely balanced trio.

The Kjetil Mulelid Trio are about to embark on a European tour with a date at The Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, London on Thursday 31st October 2019. Full tour schedule below;

Kjetil Mulelid Trio
16.10 Stockholm (Glenn Miller Jazz Café), Sweden
17.10 Copenhagen (KoncertKirken), Denmark
18.10 Hamar (Jazzklubb), Norway
19.10 Hurdal (Kultursenter), Norway
20.10 Halden (Athletic Live), Norway
27.10 Paris (City Universitet Jazz Festival), Norway
31.10 Vortex (Jazz Club), UK
01.11 Brügge (27bFlat), Belgium
08.11 Ålesund (Parken Kulturhus), Norway
09.11 Fosnavåg (Konserthus), Norway
10.11 Trondheim (Antikvariatet), Norway

Led Bib - It’s Morning Rating: 4 out of 5 "Just when you think you’ve got this group sussed they keep on surprising, always moving forwards". Ian Mann on a radical change of direction from Led Bib.

Led Bib

“It’s Morning”

(RareNoise Records RNR 108)


Mark Holub – drums, Chris Williams – alto sax, Pete Grogan – alto & tenor sax, Liran Donin- bass & backing vocals, Sharron Fortnam – lead vocals, Elliot Galvin – piano, keyboards

Guests; Jack Hues – vocals, Susanna Gartmayer – bass clarinet, Irene Kepl – violin, Noid - cello


Led Bib’s second album for the London based RareNoise record label represents a radical departure for the band with the first line up changes since its formation in 2004 and the first use of vocals and lyrics on a Led Bib recording.

Led by the American born drummer and composer Mark Holub Led Bib was founded at Middlesex University and the band have always relished their ‘outsider’ status on the British jazz scene. Strongly influenced by John Zorn their music has historically combined the power of rock with a passion for improvisation, resulting in a blend of ‘skronk’ or ‘punk’ jazz that invited comparisons with such bands as Acoustic Ladyland, Polar Bear and Get The Blessing and which resulted in an expanding cult following.

I’ve been following Led Bib’s music since 2006 after first discovering the band on a hot and sweaty night at the Vortex in North London. The enterprising quintet were curating their own mini festival dubbed the “Dalston Summer Stew”. The series was spread over three nights and I witnessed the first of these shows which featured sets from Led Bib themselves, a solo slot from that remarkable maverick of the piano Matthew Bourne and finally a second sonic attack from Nottingham noiseniks Pinski Zoo. Subsequent evenings featured the bands of Chris Batchelor and Iain Ballamy among others.

Led Bib themselves were loud and uncompromising but I enjoyed what I heard and purchased a copy of their début album “Arboretum”. I was most impressed by this and it remains something of a personal favourite.

In 2007 the band followed this with the equally impressive “Sizewell Tea”, which saw them broadening their range. Indeed every Led Bib album release has seen them building on their initial template and exhibiting clear signs of artistic growth. Initially Holub was the group’s sole composer, with the exception of the occasional inspired cover by the likes of David Byrne and David Bowie, and he has remained its principal writer. However later recordings have seen other group members bringing compositions to the table, expanding the range of the group, albeit within a well defined sonic framework. Interestingly enough “It’s Morning” is the first album to contain the credit “all music by Led Bib”, suggesting a radical change in the group’s working methods.

The first Led Bib album that I reviewed was the 2009 release “Sensible Shoes”, which received a Mercury Music Prize nomination and helped to raise their profile considerably. 2011’s “Bring Your Own” consolidated their position and was their most melodic record to date, while 2014’s “The People In Your Neighbourhood” saw them stretching out once more and placing a greater emphasis on the improvisational side of their music, an aspect explored even more deeply on the limited edition live recording “The Good Egg”.

Something of a hiatus followed with Holub re-locating from London to Vienna and concentrating on other projects, such as the trio Blublut (with Austrian guitarist Chris Janka and American theremin specialist Pamelia Stickney) and his duo with violinist Irene Kepl. The other members of the band also kept themselves busy, with Williams particularly active as a sideman with a broad range of jazz acts and the Israel born Donin forming his own 1000 Boats group, with which he released the excellent 2018 album “8 Songs”.

In 2017 Led Bib re-convened to release “Umbrella Weather”, their first album for RareNoise after a lengthy stint with Cuneiform Records. Suitably rejuvenated the band produced some of their best, and most dynamic, work on an album with a distinct political subtext. In the wake of Trump and Brexit Holub commented “there’s such a shit-storm outside it’s certainly Umbrella Weather”

Over the course of the last two years I’ve spoken to both Williams and Donin at gigs by other artists (Arun Ghosh, Sarah Gillespie, 1000 Boats) and both have told me that Led Bib have been working on something very special and that the next album was going to be very different to anything the band had ever recorded before.

On the evidence of “It’s Morning” one can hardly disagree with their assessment. The departure of the band’s original pianist and keyboard player Toby McLaren has seen the young, maverick talent of rising star Elliot Galvin added to the fold. Galvin had occasionally depped for McLaren and had obviously proved himself a good fit for the band.

Of even more significance is the expansion of the core line up to included singer and lyricist Sharron Fortnam, whose mezzo soprano vocals have been featured on recordings by the North Sea Radio Orchestra (of which she is a co-founder) and the bands Cardiacs and The Shrubbies.

Holub has said of his band’s change of direction;
“Led Bib has developed an identifiable improvisation language over the last fifteen years. After all that time we started to wonder what it might be like to take that language into a whole new area”.

This is a process that will be further expanded upon in the group’s forthcoming live appearances. The music of “It’s Morning” will be supplemented by a concert length film created by film-maker Dylan Pecora. This explores and expands upon the album and the cinematic images will be manipulated in live performances by VJ Oli Chilton.

“I want our shows to feel like Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests” explains Holub, “I’m hoping people will be transported somewhere else. The experience of just sitting down and being engrossed in something for an hour is a meaningful thing”.

The drummer has also mentioned the influence of ‘psychedelic’ bands such as Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead.  Although there’s little in Led Bib’s music that draws directly from those bands there still remains something of a conceptual link.

The album itself follows a strong narrative arc with a series of atmospheric miniatures punctuating lengthier, more obviously composed pieces. Opener “Atom Stories” falls somewhere between these two approaches with a passage of spacey, electronic sounds, presumably keyboard generated, leading to a more formal section featuring Fortnam’s fragile vocals.

This segues into “Stratford East”, a slice of inner city inspired dystopia that emerges out of a dirty, glitchy, fuzzed up synthesiser motif, this complemented by the primitive power of Holub’s drumming. Kepl’s violin dances lithely around these rhythms as the music gathers both momentum and complexity, sometimes lending an African flavour to the music. Fortnam sings Hues’ lyric, the sweetness of her voice providing an effective contrast with the bitterness of the words and the power of the music. One is also reminded of the Led Bib of old as the saxes break loose mid tune, one soloing incisively before entering into a thrillingly squalling dialogue with its companion.

There’s another segue into the thirty nine second title track, a fleeting but engaging dialogue between Fortnam’s breathy vocal and guest Susanna Gartmayer’s bass clarinet.

The album’s centre piece is the eleven minute composition “Fold”, which emerges from a spookily atmospheric extended intro featuring organ and synthesiser sounds. Other elements gradually join the fray, electric bass,  acoustic piano and finally the two saxes in an uncharacteristically gentle dialogue. Holub’s drums subsequently instigate a more forceful strand of sonic exploration on a piece that stays true to Holub’s ‘psychedelic’ theme while also embracing the world of free jazz. In the latter changes of the tune Fortnam’s ethereal vocals inform us that “time is a haunting memory” and implore us to “change the storyline” prior to an atmospheric outro featuring the crystalline tones of Galvin on acoustic piano.

If the lyrics of “Fold” help to emphasise the filmic nature of this project then “Cutting Room Floor” goes a stage further with Hues, once of the new wave band Wang Chung, adopting the role of director with his spoken exhortations to “let the film run backwards”. He and Fortnam combine to deliver the jointly written lyrics above a minimalist groove dominated by the ‘ratcheting’ sounds of Holub’s drums.

Fortnam’s lyrics for the wistful “To Dry In The Rain” evoke a cloud shrouded cityscape, her voice complemented by Galvin’s ever inventive keyboard shadings.  It’s perhaps the most conventionally ‘song structured’ piece of the set, growing from quiet beginnings to embrace an anthemic intensity as the rest of the band become fully involved. However there’s a twist in the tail as the piece resolves itself with a wistful, spacious passage of unaccompanied acoustic piano from Galvin that also acts as the link into the next piece, simply titled “O”. This is an atmospheric, slowly building composition that again tips its hat to minimalism, before evolving into something more obviously song like and building to an anthemic climax, then finally subsiding once more.

Fortnam’s lyrics for “Flood Warning”  (“forgot your umbrella, keep your eyelids tightly closed tonight”) seem to allude to Led Bib’s previous album. Musically the piece again cleverly offsets the sweetness of her voice with the harsh ferment of the music bubbling beneath.

The album concludes with the brief, but atmospheric and elegiac “Set Sail”, one and a half minutes of Fortnam’s pure, yearning, folk tinged vocals combined with eerie, wispy electronics.

Williams and Donin promised me “something very different” from Led Bib and that’s exactly what this radical new album delivers.  Thanks to what they had both told me I was kind of prepared for this, but nevertheless the album will still probably come as something of a shock to many of the band’s regular listeners.

Nevertheless I felt that the time had probably come for Led Bib to do something different. After six studio albums and two live recordings their sound had become very well defined, the twin sax attack, the powerhouse rhythm section, the technological wild card element of McLaren’s keyboards. Even allowing for the fact that each album offered a discernible artistic development and a subtle refinement of that sound the time was still ripe for change.

On the whole “It’s Morning” works very well. Fortnam’s voice brings a whole new dimension to the band and the mercurial and brilliant Galvin is the perfect replacement for the madcap McLaren.
The album is clearly a semi-conceptual affair with the cinematic element a key part of the work. In the main the composing is colourful, inventive and varied, introducing new aspects to the group’s music while still retaining something of the old Led Bib ‘bite’. That said I’d like to have heard a bit more from Williams and Grogan, who rarely get the chance to cut loose, but then even Holub maintains a low profile at times, occasionally sitting out altogether.

My promo copy of the CD didn’t include any transcripts of the lyrics, which is a shame, as I’m sure that the opportunity of a full reading of the words would have enhanced and heightened my enjoyment of the work.

I’m now looking forward to seeing the band performing the album in conjunction with Pecora’s film and Chilton’s video-manipulations at the Rio Cinema in Dalston, London on the afternoon of Sunday 24th November 2019 as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. Led Bib will also be performing at the Metronome in Nottingham on November 8th. Please visit http://www.ledbib.com for further details.

Following the success of this recording it will be interesting to see what Led Bib will do next and whether Fortnam will become a permanent member of the group. I still love the old five piece Led Bib but applaud their adventurousness and willingness to change. Just when you think you’ve got this group sussed they keep on surprising, always moving forwards.

It’s Morning

Led Bib

Friday, October 11, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

It’s Morning

"Just when you think you’ve got this group sussed they keep on surprising, always moving forwards". Ian Mann on a radical change of direction from Led Bib.

Led Bib

“It’s Morning”

(RareNoise Records RNR 108)


Mark Holub – drums, Chris Williams – alto sax, Pete Grogan – alto & tenor sax, Liran Donin- bass & backing vocals, Sharron Fortnam – lead vocals, Elliot Galvin – piano, keyboards

Guests; Jack Hues – vocals, Susanna Gartmayer – bass clarinet, Irene Kepl – violin, Noid - cello


Led Bib’s second album for the London based RareNoise record label represents a radical departure for the band with the first line up changes since its formation in 2004 and the first use of vocals and lyrics on a Led Bib recording.

Led by the American born drummer and composer Mark Holub Led Bib was founded at Middlesex University and the band have always relished their ‘outsider’ status on the British jazz scene. Strongly influenced by John Zorn their music has historically combined the power of rock with a passion for improvisation, resulting in a blend of ‘skronk’ or ‘punk’ jazz that invited comparisons with such bands as Acoustic Ladyland, Polar Bear and Get The Blessing and which resulted in an expanding cult following.

I’ve been following Led Bib’s music since 2006 after first discovering the band on a hot and sweaty night at the Vortex in North London. The enterprising quintet were curating their own mini festival dubbed the “Dalston Summer Stew”. The series was spread over three nights and I witnessed the first of these shows which featured sets from Led Bib themselves, a solo slot from that remarkable maverick of the piano Matthew Bourne and finally a second sonic attack from Nottingham noiseniks Pinski Zoo. Subsequent evenings featured the bands of Chris Batchelor and Iain Ballamy among others.

Led Bib themselves were loud and uncompromising but I enjoyed what I heard and purchased a copy of their début album “Arboretum”. I was most impressed by this and it remains something of a personal favourite.

In 2007 the band followed this with the equally impressive “Sizewell Tea”, which saw them broadening their range. Indeed every Led Bib album release has seen them building on their initial template and exhibiting clear signs of artistic growth. Initially Holub was the group’s sole composer, with the exception of the occasional inspired cover by the likes of David Byrne and David Bowie, and he has remained its principal writer. However later recordings have seen other group members bringing compositions to the table, expanding the range of the group, albeit within a well defined sonic framework. Interestingly enough “It’s Morning” is the first album to contain the credit “all music by Led Bib”, suggesting a radical change in the group’s working methods.

The first Led Bib album that I reviewed was the 2009 release “Sensible Shoes”, which received a Mercury Music Prize nomination and helped to raise their profile considerably. 2011’s “Bring Your Own” consolidated their position and was their most melodic record to date, while 2014’s “The People In Your Neighbourhood” saw them stretching out once more and placing a greater emphasis on the improvisational side of their music, an aspect explored even more deeply on the limited edition live recording “The Good Egg”.

Something of a hiatus followed with Holub re-locating from London to Vienna and concentrating on other projects, such as the trio Blublut (with Austrian guitarist Chris Janka and American theremin specialist Pamelia Stickney) and his duo with violinist Irene Kepl. The other members of the band also kept themselves busy, with Williams particularly active as a sideman with a broad range of jazz acts and the Israel born Donin forming his own 1000 Boats group, with which he released the excellent 2018 album “8 Songs”.

In 2017 Led Bib re-convened to release “Umbrella Weather”, their first album for RareNoise after a lengthy stint with Cuneiform Records. Suitably rejuvenated the band produced some of their best, and most dynamic, work on an album with a distinct political subtext. In the wake of Trump and Brexit Holub commented “there’s such a shit-storm outside it’s certainly Umbrella Weather”

Over the course of the last two years I’ve spoken to both Williams and Donin at gigs by other artists (Arun Ghosh, Sarah Gillespie, 1000 Boats) and both have told me that Led Bib have been working on something very special and that the next album was going to be very different to anything the band had ever recorded before.

On the evidence of “It’s Morning” one can hardly disagree with their assessment. The departure of the band’s original pianist and keyboard player Toby McLaren has seen the young, maverick talent of rising star Elliot Galvin added to the fold. Galvin had occasionally depped for McLaren and had obviously proved himself a good fit for the band.

Of even more significance is the expansion of the core line up to included singer and lyricist Sharron Fortnam, whose mezzo soprano vocals have been featured on recordings by the North Sea Radio Orchestra (of which she is a co-founder) and the bands Cardiacs and The Shrubbies.

Holub has said of his band’s change of direction;
“Led Bib has developed an identifiable improvisation language over the last fifteen years. After all that time we started to wonder what it might be like to take that language into a whole new area”.

This is a process that will be further expanded upon in the group’s forthcoming live appearances. The music of “It’s Morning” will be supplemented by a concert length film created by film-maker Dylan Pecora. This explores and expands upon the album and the cinematic images will be manipulated in live performances by VJ Oli Chilton.

“I want our shows to feel like Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests” explains Holub, “I’m hoping people will be transported somewhere else. The experience of just sitting down and being engrossed in something for an hour is a meaningful thing”.

The drummer has also mentioned the influence of ‘psychedelic’ bands such as Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead.  Although there’s little in Led Bib’s music that draws directly from those bands there still remains something of a conceptual link.

The album itself follows a strong narrative arc with a series of atmospheric miniatures punctuating lengthier, more obviously composed pieces. Opener “Atom Stories” falls somewhere between these two approaches with a passage of spacey, electronic sounds, presumably keyboard generated, leading to a more formal section featuring Fortnam’s fragile vocals.

This segues into “Stratford East”, a slice of inner city inspired dystopia that emerges out of a dirty, glitchy, fuzzed up synthesiser motif, this complemented by the primitive power of Holub’s drumming. Kepl’s violin dances lithely around these rhythms as the music gathers both momentum and complexity, sometimes lending an African flavour to the music. Fortnam sings Hues’ lyric, the sweetness of her voice providing an effective contrast with the bitterness of the words and the power of the music. One is also reminded of the Led Bib of old as the saxes break loose mid tune, one soloing incisively before entering into a thrillingly squalling dialogue with its companion.

There’s another segue into the thirty nine second title track, a fleeting but engaging dialogue between Fortnam’s breathy vocal and guest Susanna Gartmayer’s bass clarinet.

The album’s centre piece is the eleven minute composition “Fold”, which emerges from a spookily atmospheric extended intro featuring organ and synthesiser sounds. Other elements gradually join the fray, electric bass,  acoustic piano and finally the two saxes in an uncharacteristically gentle dialogue. Holub’s drums subsequently instigate a more forceful strand of sonic exploration on a piece that stays true to Holub’s ‘psychedelic’ theme while also embracing the world of free jazz. In the latter changes of the tune Fortnam’s ethereal vocals inform us that “time is a haunting memory” and implore us to “change the storyline” prior to an atmospheric outro featuring the crystalline tones of Galvin on acoustic piano.

If the lyrics of “Fold” help to emphasise the filmic nature of this project then “Cutting Room Floor” goes a stage further with Hues, once of the new wave band Wang Chung, adopting the role of director with his spoken exhortations to “let the film run backwards”. He and Fortnam combine to deliver the jointly written lyrics above a minimalist groove dominated by the ‘ratcheting’ sounds of Holub’s drums.

Fortnam’s lyrics for the wistful “To Dry In The Rain” evoke a cloud shrouded cityscape, her voice complemented by Galvin’s ever inventive keyboard shadings.  It’s perhaps the most conventionally ‘song structured’ piece of the set, growing from quiet beginnings to embrace an anthemic intensity as the rest of the band become fully involved. However there’s a twist in the tail as the piece resolves itself with a wistful, spacious passage of unaccompanied acoustic piano from Galvin that also acts as the link into the next piece, simply titled “O”. This is an atmospheric, slowly building composition that again tips its hat to minimalism, before evolving into something more obviously song like and building to an anthemic climax, then finally subsiding once more.

Fortnam’s lyrics for “Flood Warning”  (“forgot your umbrella, keep your eyelids tightly closed tonight”) seem to allude to Led Bib’s previous album. Musically the piece again cleverly offsets the sweetness of her voice with the harsh ferment of the music bubbling beneath.

The album concludes with the brief, but atmospheric and elegiac “Set Sail”, one and a half minutes of Fortnam’s pure, yearning, folk tinged vocals combined with eerie, wispy electronics.

Williams and Donin promised me “something very different” from Led Bib and that’s exactly what this radical new album delivers.  Thanks to what they had both told me I was kind of prepared for this, but nevertheless the album will still probably come as something of a shock to many of the band’s regular listeners.

Nevertheless I felt that the time had probably come for Led Bib to do something different. After six studio albums and two live recordings their sound had become very well defined, the twin sax attack, the powerhouse rhythm section, the technological wild card element of McLaren’s keyboards. Even allowing for the fact that each album offered a discernible artistic development and a subtle refinement of that sound the time was still ripe for change.

On the whole “It’s Morning” works very well. Fortnam’s voice brings a whole new dimension to the band and the mercurial and brilliant Galvin is the perfect replacement for the madcap McLaren.
The album is clearly a semi-conceptual affair with the cinematic element a key part of the work. In the main the composing is colourful, inventive and varied, introducing new aspects to the group’s music while still retaining something of the old Led Bib ‘bite’. That said I’d like to have heard a bit more from Williams and Grogan, who rarely get the chance to cut loose, but then even Holub maintains a low profile at times, occasionally sitting out altogether.

My promo copy of the CD didn’t include any transcripts of the lyrics, which is a shame, as I’m sure that the opportunity of a full reading of the words would have enhanced and heightened my enjoyment of the work.

I’m now looking forward to seeing the band performing the album in conjunction with Pecora’s film and Chilton’s video-manipulations at the Rio Cinema in Dalston, London on the afternoon of Sunday 24th November 2019 as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. Led Bib will also be performing at the Metronome in Nottingham on November 8th. Please visit http://www.ledbib.com for further details.

Following the success of this recording it will be interesting to see what Led Bib will do next and whether Fortnam will become a permanent member of the group. I still love the old five piece Led Bib but applaud their adventurousness and willingness to change. Just when you think you’ve got this group sussed they keep on surprising, always moving forwards.

Fat-Suit - Waifs & Strays Rating: 4 out of 5 Another impressive offering from Fat-Suit. The album combines intelligent writing and arranging with some excellent ensemble playing and some inspired individual soloing.

Fat-Suit

“Waifs & Strays”

(Equinox Records EQX006CD)

“Waifs & Strays” is the fourth album release from the young Scottish big band Fat-Suit and represents the follow up to 2016’s highly acclaimed “Atlas”.

Named because they are “a big outfit” Fat-Suit first came together at Strathclyde University” and was originally conceived as a Snarky Puppy tribute band. Taking their initial inspiration from the phenomenally successful Anglo-American act Fat-Suit developed quickly and now compose all of their material.

Fat-Suit has always maintained a fluid line up, its ranks including musicians drawn from the worlds of jazz, folk, rock and electronica. “Atlas” drew on a pool of twenty seven musicians while “Waifs & Strays” features even more, once its guest soloists become part of the equation.

For live work the band typically comprises of eight members for a club gig, fourteen for a concert hall or theatre engagement and up to thirty in the recording studio. “Waifs & Strays” was recorded, and also filmed,  over a four day period at the Drygate Brewery in Glasgow. Given the nature of the location I’m surprised they got any work done at all! I know I’d have been fatally distracted!

For this latest album the massed ranks of Fat Suit lined up as follows;

Mark Scobbie – drums

Stephen Henderson, Grant Cassidy, Martyn Hodge – percussion

Gus Sirrat – bass guitar

Dorian Cloudsley, Fraser Jackson – guitars

Craig McMahon, Alan Benzie, Moss Taylor, Ciaran McEneny – keyboards

Murray McFarlane, Alex Sharples – trumpets & flugels

Mateusz Sobieski – tenor sax

Liam Shortall – trombone & tuba

Mhairi Marwick, Laura Wilkie, Katie Rush, Rhona Macfarlane, Lissa Robertson, Colin McKee – violins

Sarah Leonard, Nicola Boag – violas

Rachel Wilson, David Munn – cellos

Guest Soloists;

Johnny Woodham – trumpet

Corrina Hewat – harp

Davie Dunsmuir – guitar

In 2015 I was fortunate enough to witness a performance by the fourteen piece version of Fat Suit in the Clore Ballroom at the Southbank as part of that year’s EFG Jazz Festival. My impressions of that event are reproduced below;

“Fat-Suit draw on many genres including jazz, funk, rock and folk and this was a performance to enjoy rather than analyse. With some dynamic grooves, crunching, razor sharp ensemble playing and some sparky solos from all sections of the band this was a technically proficient, but above all very exciting, performance. Fat-Suit are a great live band who are likely to appeal to a very broad constituency, not just hard core jazz fans. They work at their presentation but there’s no sense of them ‘dumbing down’ their music for their audience. Like their initial inspiration Fat-Suit are loud, sassy and brassy and the Clore audience absolutely loved them”.

My review of the “Atlas” album (which also incorporates the above paragraph) can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/fat-suit-atlas/

“Waifs & Strays” commences with the composition “Rumblings”, written by the band’s co-founder Dorian Cloudsley. Deep brass sonorities combine with electric keyboards and funky grooves to create an impressive barrage of sound. The punchy nature of the performance is a reminder of that Snarky Puppy influence, but there are more reflective episodes too, one eventually spawning a soaring guitar solo from featured musician Fraser Jackson that sees him gradually ratcheting up the tension before heading for the stratosphere. The band’s deployment of a wide range of keyboard colours and textures is also impressive, with both organ and synthesiser sounds being deployed in a rich and imaginative arrangement.

Bassist Gus Stirrat’s “Keo” offers another example of Fat-Suit’s impressive power, channelling 70s style funk and fusion for the 21st century, again deploying a rich mix of keyboard sounds. The featured musician here is Mateusz Sobieski, who weighs in with a muscular tenor sax solo above a powerful rhythmic groove spearheaded by Mark Scobbie’s dynamic drumming. Scobbie then enjoys an extended drum feature before a rousing collective finale featuring some truly gargantuan riffing.

Craig McMahon’s “The Crane And The Crow” begins in more reflective fashion, but gradually builds to embrace an impressive riff based dynamism featuring brass and reeds alongside the electric keyboards and guitars. The featured soloist is guest Johnny Woodham on trumpet, a musician known to me from his work with the artist Alfa Mist. Woodham delivers a thoughtful and fluent solo above a steadily escalating groove, his is an impressive and convincing contribution.

There’s a welcome change of mood, style and pace with the folk flavoured “Countryside Quiet”, written by the American harpist Rachel Clemente and arranged for Fat-Suit by bassist Stirrat. The strings feature more prominently here and the featured soloist is guest musician Corrina Hewat, whose delightfully delicate harp playing inevitably conjures up ethereal images of swirling Celtic mists. However it’s not all fey mysticism, the collective weight of Fat-Suit helps to ensure that there’s still plenty of heft and substance in Stirrat’s arrangement.
The composer of the piece, Clemente, was born in Ohio and is now based in New England. Thanks to her love of traditional Scottish music she came to study it at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, graduating in 2018. One suspects that although now resident in another country she is still a part of the Fat-Suit family.

Craig McMahon’s hard driving “Brum Doing A Wheelie” ups the pace once more and demonstrates the fun side of the band. Rock rhythms predominate with drummer Scobbie giving a particularly dynamic performance. The featured musician is Alan Benzie, one of the band’s four keyboard players, who delivers a searing synthesiser solo.

Cloudsley’s composition “Caretaker” builds gradually from simple and gentle beginnings to embrace rich horn and string textures before finally adapting a ferocious funk groove powered by Stirrat’s bass. Chunky guitars, funky keys and punchy horns add to the mix with Liam Shortall breaking ranks to deliver a rousing and rasping trombone solo. There’s also something of a feature for the band’s twin percussionists in addition to more scorching keyboard playing.

The trombonist features again on his own African flavoured “Uh Oh” with its joyous melodies and buoyant grooves. An ebullient ensemble performance is capped by another agile ‘bone solo from the composer, following which a shift in style and pace prompts an equally impressive solo from tenor man Sobieski.

Stirrat’s “Mombasa” is initially more reflective and is introduced by the cadences of the composer’s bass, subsequently joined by some subtle blues flavoured guitar, presumably played by the band’s final guest, guitarist Davie Dunsmuir. Although I know Dunsmuir’s playing from his work with Scottish drummer and composer Alyn Cosker he’s also been a regular member of drum superstar Billy Cobham’s band, establishing himself as one of Scotland’s leading jazz exports. After the thoughtful introduction Stirrat’s tune delights in some thrillingly complex seventies style fusion style riffery, reminiscent of Cobham’s classic “Spectrum” band. This really gives the impressive Dunsmuir the chance to demonstrate his chops with some dazzling, turbo-charged soloing.

The album concludes with the shimmering atmospherics of Cloudsley’s evocative and ethereal “Lunar Milk”, which offers some much needed room for the strings and includes a gently trilling electric piano solo from Benzie.

“Waifs & Strays” represents another impressive offering from Fat-Suit. The album combines intelligent writing and arranging with some excellent ensemble playing and some inspired individual soloing. Although frequently complex there’s always an underlying sense of groove allied to an overriding sense of fun. This is an ensemble that is serious about its music, but which doesn’t take itself too seriously, as is always the best way.

From previous experience I can confirm that Fat-Suit are a dynamic and hugely enjoyable live act. The eight piece version of the band is currently touring the UK in support of this current album.
Details of dates at http://www.fat-suit.co.uk

Waifs & Strays

Fat-Suit

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Waifs & Strays

Another impressive offering from Fat-Suit. The album combines intelligent writing and arranging with some excellent ensemble playing and some inspired individual soloing.

Fat-Suit

“Waifs & Strays”

(Equinox Records EQX006CD)

“Waifs & Strays” is the fourth album release from the young Scottish big band Fat-Suit and represents the follow up to 2016’s highly acclaimed “Atlas”.

Named because they are “a big outfit” Fat-Suit first came together at Strathclyde University” and was originally conceived as a Snarky Puppy tribute band. Taking their initial inspiration from the phenomenally successful Anglo-American act Fat-Suit developed quickly and now compose all of their material.

Fat-Suit has always maintained a fluid line up, its ranks including musicians drawn from the worlds of jazz, folk, rock and electronica. “Atlas” drew on a pool of twenty seven musicians while “Waifs & Strays” features even more, once its guest soloists become part of the equation.

For live work the band typically comprises of eight members for a club gig, fourteen for a concert hall or theatre engagement and up to thirty in the recording studio. “Waifs & Strays” was recorded, and also filmed,  over a four day period at the Drygate Brewery in Glasgow. Given the nature of the location I’m surprised they got any work done at all! I know I’d have been fatally distracted!

For this latest album the massed ranks of Fat Suit lined up as follows;

Mark Scobbie – drums

Stephen Henderson, Grant Cassidy, Martyn Hodge – percussion

Gus Sirrat – bass guitar

Dorian Cloudsley, Fraser Jackson – guitars

Craig McMahon, Alan Benzie, Moss Taylor, Ciaran McEneny – keyboards

Murray McFarlane, Alex Sharples – trumpets & flugels

Mateusz Sobieski – tenor sax

Liam Shortall – trombone & tuba

Mhairi Marwick, Laura Wilkie, Katie Rush, Rhona Macfarlane, Lissa Robertson, Colin McKee – violins

Sarah Leonard, Nicola Boag – violas

Rachel Wilson, David Munn – cellos

Guest Soloists;

Johnny Woodham – trumpet

Corrina Hewat – harp

Davie Dunsmuir – guitar

In 2015 I was fortunate enough to witness a performance by the fourteen piece version of Fat Suit in the Clore Ballroom at the Southbank as part of that year’s EFG Jazz Festival. My impressions of that event are reproduced below;

“Fat-Suit draw on many genres including jazz, funk, rock and folk and this was a performance to enjoy rather than analyse. With some dynamic grooves, crunching, razor sharp ensemble playing and some sparky solos from all sections of the band this was a technically proficient, but above all very exciting, performance. Fat-Suit are a great live band who are likely to appeal to a very broad constituency, not just hard core jazz fans. They work at their presentation but there’s no sense of them ‘dumbing down’ their music for their audience. Like their initial inspiration Fat-Suit are loud, sassy and brassy and the Clore audience absolutely loved them”.

My review of the “Atlas” album (which also incorporates the above paragraph) can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/fat-suit-atlas/

“Waifs & Strays” commences with the composition “Rumblings”, written by the band’s co-founder Dorian Cloudsley. Deep brass sonorities combine with electric keyboards and funky grooves to create an impressive barrage of sound. The punchy nature of the performance is a reminder of that Snarky Puppy influence, but there are more reflective episodes too, one eventually spawning a soaring guitar solo from featured musician Fraser Jackson that sees him gradually ratcheting up the tension before heading for the stratosphere. The band’s deployment of a wide range of keyboard colours and textures is also impressive, with both organ and synthesiser sounds being deployed in a rich and imaginative arrangement.

Bassist Gus Stirrat’s “Keo” offers another example of Fat-Suit’s impressive power, channelling 70s style funk and fusion for the 21st century, again deploying a rich mix of keyboard sounds. The featured musician here is Mateusz Sobieski, who weighs in with a muscular tenor sax solo above a powerful rhythmic groove spearheaded by Mark Scobbie’s dynamic drumming. Scobbie then enjoys an extended drum feature before a rousing collective finale featuring some truly gargantuan riffing.

Craig McMahon’s “The Crane And The Crow” begins in more reflective fashion, but gradually builds to embrace an impressive riff based dynamism featuring brass and reeds alongside the electric keyboards and guitars. The featured soloist is guest Johnny Woodham on trumpet, a musician known to me from his work with the artist Alfa Mist. Woodham delivers a thoughtful and fluent solo above a steadily escalating groove, his is an impressive and convincing contribution.

There’s a welcome change of mood, style and pace with the folk flavoured “Countryside Quiet”, written by the American harpist Rachel Clemente and arranged for Fat-Suit by bassist Stirrat. The strings feature more prominently here and the featured soloist is guest musician Corrina Hewat, whose delightfully delicate harp playing inevitably conjures up ethereal images of swirling Celtic mists. However it’s not all fey mysticism, the collective weight of Fat-Suit helps to ensure that there’s still plenty of heft and substance in Stirrat’s arrangement.
The composer of the piece, Clemente, was born in Ohio and is now based in New England. Thanks to her love of traditional Scottish music she came to study it at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, graduating in 2018. One suspects that although now resident in another country she is still a part of the Fat-Suit family.

Craig McMahon’s hard driving “Brum Doing A Wheelie” ups the pace once more and demonstrates the fun side of the band. Rock rhythms predominate with drummer Scobbie giving a particularly dynamic performance. The featured musician is Alan Benzie, one of the band’s four keyboard players, who delivers a searing synthesiser solo.

Cloudsley’s composition “Caretaker” builds gradually from simple and gentle beginnings to embrace rich horn and string textures before finally adapting a ferocious funk groove powered by Stirrat’s bass. Chunky guitars, funky keys and punchy horns add to the mix with Liam Shortall breaking ranks to deliver a rousing and rasping trombone solo. There’s also something of a feature for the band’s twin percussionists in addition to more scorching keyboard playing.

The trombonist features again on his own African flavoured “Uh Oh” with its joyous melodies and buoyant grooves. An ebullient ensemble performance is capped by another agile ‘bone solo from the composer, following which a shift in style and pace prompts an equally impressive solo from tenor man Sobieski.

Stirrat’s “Mombasa” is initially more reflective and is introduced by the cadences of the composer’s bass, subsequently joined by some subtle blues flavoured guitar, presumably played by the band’s final guest, guitarist Davie Dunsmuir. Although I know Dunsmuir’s playing from his work with Scottish drummer and composer Alyn Cosker he’s also been a regular member of drum superstar Billy Cobham’s band, establishing himself as one of Scotland’s leading jazz exports. After the thoughtful introduction Stirrat’s tune delights in some thrillingly complex seventies style fusion style riffery, reminiscent of Cobham’s classic “Spectrum” band. This really gives the impressive Dunsmuir the chance to demonstrate his chops with some dazzling, turbo-charged soloing.

The album concludes with the shimmering atmospherics of Cloudsley’s evocative and ethereal “Lunar Milk”, which offers some much needed room for the strings and includes a gently trilling electric piano solo from Benzie.

“Waifs & Strays” represents another impressive offering from Fat-Suit. The album combines intelligent writing and arranging with some excellent ensemble playing and some inspired individual soloing. Although frequently complex there’s always an underlying sense of groove allied to an overriding sense of fun. This is an ensemble that is serious about its music, but which doesn’t take itself too seriously, as is always the best way.

From previous experience I can confirm that Fat-Suit are a dynamic and hugely enjoyable live act. The eight piece version of the band is currently touring the UK in support of this current album.
Details of dates at http://www.fat-suit.co.uk

Somersaults - Somersaults, Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 06/10/2019. Rating: 3-5 out of 5 "Creative, stimulating, unique". Ian Mann on the music of the improvising trio Somersaults featuring Olie Brice (double bass), Tobias Delius (tenor sax, clarinet) and Mark Sanders (drums, percussion).

Somersaults, Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 06/10/2019.


Olie Brice – double bass, Tobias Delius – tenor sax, clarinet, Mark Sanders – drums, percussion


This performance by the freely improvising trio Somersaults was the latest event in the N-Ex-T series of events curated by Hermon Chapel promoters Barry Edwards and Claudia Lis.

Standing for ‘New Experimental Tones’ the N-Ex-T series has seen a number of the UK’s leading improvisers visiting Oswestry. It’s a genre of music that is close to the heart of Edwards, a guitarist who has recorded with such improvising musicians as Crux Trio members drummer Ed Gauden, bassist Colin Somervell and saxophonist Mark Hanslip.

Somersaults released their eponymous début album in 2015, a studio set featuring three extended improvisations, one of these lasting over half an hour. In 2019 they released a follow up, “Numerology of Birdsong”, a live recording documented in June 2018 at the Iklectik venue in Waterloo, London.

Brice and Sanders have both been regular presences on the Jazzmann web pages in a variety of musical contexts. The bassist’s extensive discography includes two albums as the leader of his own quintet.  “Immune To Clockwork” (2015) and “Day After Day” (2017) are superb recordings that expertly straddle the boundaries between composed and improvised music.

Sanders’ back catalogue is even more exhaustive and he is a musician with an international reputation who has worked with leading British, American and European improvisers. He and Brice frequently perform together as a rhythm team and have worked with musicians such as saxophonists Paul Dunmall, Rachel Musson and Ken Vandermark and guitarist / clarinettist Alex Ward.

I’ve been fortunate enough to witness both Brice and Sanders performing live on several occasions, often at that bastion of free jazz in the Welsh Borders, the Queens Head in Monmouth.

Delius however was a new face to me. Born in England  to an Argentinian father and a German mother, he made his name on the Amsterdam improvised music scene working with musicians such as drummer Han Bennink and cellist Tristan Honsinger.  He has been a key member of the Dutch improvising collective the Instant Composers Pool, or ICP,  originally founded in 1967 by Bennink, pianist Misha Mengelberg and saxophonist Willem Breuker.  Like Sanders Delius is a player with an international reputation who has worked with leading improvisers from a variety of different countries.

It was discussions between the rhythm pairing of Brice and Sanders that led to the formation of Somersaults. Both musicians agreed that Delius was one of their favourite saxophonists and that they would like to attempt a collaboration with him. Their first gig was so successful, with the trio immediately establishing a mutual rapport,  that Somersaults has now become a semi-permanent unit with tonight’s event forming part of a short series of British tour dates.

For the past two years Barry and Claudia have been steadily building an audience at the Hermon with their folk programme proving to be particularly successful in terms of attendances. Jazz has generally proved to be a harder sell and free jazz the hardest of the lot. Tonight’s attendance was barely in double figures but the stay-at-homes missed a night of challenging, but always creative and stimulating, music making.

Despite its emphasis on ‘freedom’ and ‘no rules or boundaries’ this brand of jazz has almost inevitably become idiomatic. Improv die hards (and despite tonight’s turn out there are more around than you might think,  with comedian Stewart Lee being the most famous example) would be sorely disappointed if musicians like Brice, Sanders and Delius turned up and decided to play a set of jazz standards or pop covers on the spur of the moment, just because they felt like it. Paradoxically even in the rarefied world of free improvisation there are still certain ‘expectations’.

I write this not as a criticism but as an observation. The improvised world is one I’ve grown into over the years, learning to appreciate its creativity, its subtleties, and ultimately it limitations. I’ll admit that I’ve had to work it, and I’m grateful to one time Jazzmann contributor Tim Owen of the Dalston Sound website, a great champion of experimental and improvised music, for helping to guide me down the path. Also to Tim’s namesake Lyndon Owen, himself a skilled saxophonist, who co-ordinates the improvised music programme at the Queens Head in Monmouth and who has brought many leading figures of the genre to this outpost in the Welsh Borders, among them Sanders, Brice, Paul Dunmall,  Alex Ward,  bassist Dominic Lash, drummer Paul Hession, saxophonists Alan Wilkinson and Tony Bevan and international figures such as guitarist Joe Morris, Necks drummer Tony Buck and saxophonist Hans Peter Hiby. These days I genuinely enjoy this highly demanding style of jazz, I wouldn’t have made the 120 mile round trip to Oswestry otherwise.

All this is by way of saying that tonight’s event was a ‘typical’ free jazz performance with two sets consisting of a single lengthy unbroken improvisation of around forty minutes duration, plus a shorter improvised encore. Despite the small attendance the quality of the first two sets drew such an enthusiastic response from the select few lucky enough to witness them that an encore became inevitable.

Besides being one of the favourite saxophonists of Brice and Sanders Delius also plays the clarinet, and his work on that instrument is just as distinctive as his remarkable saxophone playing.

But it was the sounds of Sanders’ drums that ushered in the first set, subsequently joined by Brice’s bass. Sanders augmented a conventional drum kit with an array of small cymbals, gongs and other small percussive devices, among them a woodblock. These were sometimes deployed on the skins to help create an often staggering panoply of percussive sounds, generated by a myriad variety of sticks, mallets, brushes, beaters and bare hands. Eschewing conventional rhythms and meters Sanders’ drumming was an ongoing polyrhythmic flow, highly inventive and creative, and rich in terms of tone, nuance and colour - but at the right moments also capable of generating an enormous, and undeniably impressive, power.

Meanwhile Brice’s bass was at the heart of the trio, the fulcrum around which the music revolved. His highly physical and powerful pizzicato playing provided both the anchor and the counterpoint to Sanders’ constantly evolving drum commentary and Delius’ explorations on tenor sax and clarinet. His creative use of the bow provided additional colour and texture at various junctures of the performance, as did his judicious use of various extended techniques.

Delius proved to be a highly distinctive and creative player on the two reeds. Less intense than Alan Wilkinson his playing on tenor retained a strong melodic quality throughout, no matter how deeply or far out he probed, I was reminded of Mark Hanslip in this regard. That said Delius’ sax playing was far from conventional, his use of overtones and his habit of punctuating his improvisations with vocalisations, a la Wilkinson, was highly distinctive and it’s fair to say that I’ve never heard anybody play quite like him. Although capable of playing with great power there was no sense of bombast or bluster about Delius’ playing.
His work on the clarinet was no less distinctive, again eschewing the conventional and sometimes adopting an unexpectedly harsh and guttural tone on the instrument. At other times there were hints of the Middle East and North Africa in his sound. Acker Bilk it most certainly was not.

The first of the trio’s improvisations ebbed and flowed, embracing extremes of dynamic contrasts as the first section developed out of the introductory drum and bass improvisations to embrace whispered shards of tenor sax melody, with Delius’ playing gradually becoming more assertive as the music gradually built to an apparent climax, albeit one punctuated by numerous asides and diversions along the way. A passage of unaccompanied bowed bass provided the link into the next section, which saw Delius taking up the clarinet, his sound soft and fluttering at first, before he evoked the sounds of the muezzin as he improvised in strident fashion, fuelled by Brice’s percussive bowing and Sanders’ volcanic drumming. Having peaked the next section, which eventually saw Delius moving back to tenor, evoked a fragile beauty before the trio began to stoke the collective fires once more, building to boiling point through a combination of wailing tenor, powerfully plucked bass and roiling drums. The power generated by Sanders’ solo drum feature took on a certain poignancy on the day that the death of Ginger Baker was announced. The final passage saw Delius moving back to clarinet and Brice picking up the bow, but this wasn’t quite the gentle coda that the listener might have anticipated as Delius’ playing became increasingly animated and guttural before climaxing with some almost impossibly long sustained notes. Astonishing stuff.

The second set was to prove no less intense as it grew out of an introductory passage featuring pecked tenor sax, bowed bass and brushed drums. This led into a passage of solo drumming from Sanders that was stunning in terms of both power and technique. If a rock drummer, like Baker, had delivered this at a stadium gig ten thousand people would have gone absolutely apeshit - we did our best to emulate them. Sanders’ feature helped to pave the way for some of Delius’ most forceful playing of the night as he rattled out a series of rapid tenor sax phrases, giving the volleys of notes an urgent, guttural edge. A passage of solo pizzicato bass provided the link into the next section with Delius taking up the clarinet to deliver high pitched, bird like noises as the trio injected an element of humour into the proceedings. This is music that can turn on a dime, and soon Delius was using his clarinet to deliver foghorn like blasts above a backdrop of monstrous bass and rolling drums, developing to a climax with a series of piercing high register squeaks. Next a more abstract passage featuring Brice’s use of the bow and his deployment of extended techniques. This provided the link into a final ‘freak out’ section that saw Delius moving back to tenor and playing with an incredible power as he contorted his body into improbable shapes, finally unleashing his inner Wilkinson and Brotzmann.

The small, but highly select, audience gave the trio a terrific reception and Barry Edwards was able to tempt them back for a well deserved encore. This began with the duo of Brice and Delius, I suspect Sanders may have been availing himself of the Hermon’s facilities! The opening bass / tenor dialogue was subsequently augmented by the sound of Sanders’ gongs. Delius then began to stretch out on tenor, ululating above Brice’s grounding bass and the softly rolling thunder of Sanders’ drums, a combination of mallets and bare hands on toms and the sound of softly shimmering cymbals. Concise and atmospheric this was an excellent way to end an evening of consistently creative, and, by its very nature, unique music making.

 

 

Somersaults, Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 06/10/2019.

Somersaults

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

3-5 out of 5

Somersaults, Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 06/10/2019.
Photography: Photograph by Pam Mann.

"Creative, stimulating, unique". Ian Mann on the music of the improvising trio Somersaults featuring Olie Brice (double bass), Tobias Delius (tenor sax, clarinet) and Mark Sanders (drums, percussion).

Somersaults, Hermon Chapel Arts Centre, Oswestry, Shropshire, 06/10/2019.


Olie Brice – double bass, Tobias Delius – tenor sax, clarinet, Mark Sanders – drums, percussion


This performance by the freely improvising trio Somersaults was the latest event in the N-Ex-T series of events curated by Hermon Chapel promoters Barry Edwards and Claudia Lis.

Standing for ‘New Experimental Tones’ the N-Ex-T series has seen a number of the UK’s leading improvisers visiting Oswestry. It’s a genre of music that is close to the heart of Edwards, a guitarist who has recorded with such improvising musicians as Crux Trio members drummer Ed Gauden, bassist Colin Somervell and saxophonist Mark Hanslip.

Somersaults released their eponymous début album in 2015, a studio set featuring three extended improvisations, one of these lasting over half an hour. In 2019 they released a follow up, “Numerology of Birdsong”, a live recording documented in June 2018 at the Iklectik venue in Waterloo, London.

Brice and Sanders have both been regular presences on the Jazzmann web pages in a variety of musical contexts. The bassist’s extensive discography includes two albums as the leader of his own quintet.  “Immune To Clockwork” (2015) and “Day After Day” (2017) are superb recordings that expertly straddle the boundaries between composed and improvised music.

Sanders’ back catalogue is even more exhaustive and he is a musician with an international reputation who has worked with leading British, American and European improvisers. He and Brice frequently perform together as a rhythm team and have worked with musicians such as saxophonists Paul Dunmall, Rachel Musson and Ken Vandermark and guitarist / clarinettist Alex Ward.

I’ve been fortunate enough to witness both Brice and Sanders performing live on several occasions, often at that bastion of free jazz in the Welsh Borders, the Queens Head in Monmouth.

Delius however was a new face to me. Born in England  to an Argentinian father and a German mother, he made his name on the Amsterdam improvised music scene working with musicians such as drummer Han Bennink and cellist Tristan Honsinger.  He has been a key member of the Dutch improvising collective the Instant Composers Pool, or ICP,  originally founded in 1967 by Bennink, pianist Misha Mengelberg and saxophonist Willem Breuker.  Like Sanders Delius is a player with an international reputation who has worked with leading improvisers from a variety of different countries.

It was discussions between the rhythm pairing of Brice and Sanders that led to the formation of Somersaults. Both musicians agreed that Delius was one of their favourite saxophonists and that they would like to attempt a collaboration with him. Their first gig was so successful, with the trio immediately establishing a mutual rapport,  that Somersaults has now become a semi-permanent unit with tonight’s event forming part of a short series of British tour dates.

For the past two years Barry and Claudia have been steadily building an audience at the Hermon with their folk programme proving to be particularly successful in terms of attendances. Jazz has generally proved to be a harder sell and free jazz the hardest of the lot. Tonight’s attendance was barely in double figures but the stay-at-homes missed a night of challenging, but always creative and stimulating, music making.

Despite its emphasis on ‘freedom’ and ‘no rules or boundaries’ this brand of jazz has almost inevitably become idiomatic. Improv die hards (and despite tonight’s turn out there are more around than you might think,  with comedian Stewart Lee being the most famous example) would be sorely disappointed if musicians like Brice, Sanders and Delius turned up and decided to play a set of jazz standards or pop covers on the spur of the moment, just because they felt like it. Paradoxically even in the rarefied world of free improvisation there are still certain ‘expectations’.

I write this not as a criticism but as an observation. The improvised world is one I’ve grown into over the years, learning to appreciate its creativity, its subtleties, and ultimately it limitations. I’ll admit that I’ve had to work it, and I’m grateful to one time Jazzmann contributor Tim Owen of the Dalston Sound website, a great champion of experimental and improvised music, for helping to guide me down the path. Also to Tim’s namesake Lyndon Owen, himself a skilled saxophonist, who co-ordinates the improvised music programme at the Queens Head in Monmouth and who has brought many leading figures of the genre to this outpost in the Welsh Borders, among them Sanders, Brice, Paul Dunmall,  Alex Ward,  bassist Dominic Lash, drummer Paul Hession, saxophonists Alan Wilkinson and Tony Bevan and international figures such as guitarist Joe Morris, Necks drummer Tony Buck and saxophonist Hans Peter Hiby. These days I genuinely enjoy this highly demanding style of jazz, I wouldn’t have made the 120 mile round trip to Oswestry otherwise.

All this is by way of saying that tonight’s event was a ‘typical’ free jazz performance with two sets consisting of a single lengthy unbroken improvisation of around forty minutes duration, plus a shorter improvised encore. Despite the small attendance the quality of the first two sets drew such an enthusiastic response from the select few lucky enough to witness them that an encore became inevitable.

Besides being one of the favourite saxophonists of Brice and Sanders Delius also plays the clarinet, and his work on that instrument is just as distinctive as his remarkable saxophone playing.

But it was the sounds of Sanders’ drums that ushered in the first set, subsequently joined by Brice’s bass. Sanders augmented a conventional drum kit with an array of small cymbals, gongs and other small percussive devices, among them a woodblock. These were sometimes deployed on the skins to help create an often staggering panoply of percussive sounds, generated by a myriad variety of sticks, mallets, brushes, beaters and bare hands. Eschewing conventional rhythms and meters Sanders’ drumming was an ongoing polyrhythmic flow, highly inventive and creative, and rich in terms of tone, nuance and colour - but at the right moments also capable of generating an enormous, and undeniably impressive, power.

Meanwhile Brice’s bass was at the heart of the trio, the fulcrum around which the music revolved. His highly physical and powerful pizzicato playing provided both the anchor and the counterpoint to Sanders’ constantly evolving drum commentary and Delius’ explorations on tenor sax and clarinet. His creative use of the bow provided additional colour and texture at various junctures of the performance, as did his judicious use of various extended techniques.

Delius proved to be a highly distinctive and creative player on the two reeds. Less intense than Alan Wilkinson his playing on tenor retained a strong melodic quality throughout, no matter how deeply or far out he probed, I was reminded of Mark Hanslip in this regard. That said Delius’ sax playing was far from conventional, his use of overtones and his habit of punctuating his improvisations with vocalisations, a la Wilkinson, was highly distinctive and it’s fair to say that I’ve never heard anybody play quite like him. Although capable of playing with great power there was no sense of bombast or bluster about Delius’ playing.
His work on the clarinet was no less distinctive, again eschewing the conventional and sometimes adopting an unexpectedly harsh and guttural tone on the instrument. At other times there were hints of the Middle East and North Africa in his sound. Acker Bilk it most certainly was not.

The first of the trio’s improvisations ebbed and flowed, embracing extremes of dynamic contrasts as the first section developed out of the introductory drum and bass improvisations to embrace whispered shards of tenor sax melody, with Delius’ playing gradually becoming more assertive as the music gradually built to an apparent climax, albeit one punctuated by numerous asides and diversions along the way. A passage of unaccompanied bowed bass provided the link into the next section, which saw Delius taking up the clarinet, his sound soft and fluttering at first, before he evoked the sounds of the muezzin as he improvised in strident fashion, fuelled by Brice’s percussive bowing and Sanders’ volcanic drumming. Having peaked the next section, which eventually saw Delius moving back to tenor, evoked a fragile beauty before the trio began to stoke the collective fires once more, building to boiling point through a combination of wailing tenor, powerfully plucked bass and roiling drums. The power generated by Sanders’ solo drum feature took on a certain poignancy on the day that the death of Ginger Baker was announced. The final passage saw Delius moving back to clarinet and Brice picking up the bow, but this wasn’t quite the gentle coda that the listener might have anticipated as Delius’ playing became increasingly animated and guttural before climaxing with some almost impossibly long sustained notes. Astonishing stuff.

The second set was to prove no less intense as it grew out of an introductory passage featuring pecked tenor sax, bowed bass and brushed drums. This led into a passage of solo drumming from Sanders that was stunning in terms of both power and technique. If a rock drummer, like Baker, had delivered this at a stadium gig ten thousand people would have gone absolutely apeshit - we did our best to emulate them. Sanders’ feature helped to pave the way for some of Delius’ most forceful playing of the night as he rattled out a series of rapid tenor sax phrases, giving the volleys of notes an urgent, guttural edge. A passage of solo pizzicato bass provided the link into the next section with Delius taking up the clarinet to deliver high pitched, bird like noises as the trio injected an element of humour into the proceedings. This is music that can turn on a dime, and soon Delius was using his clarinet to deliver foghorn like blasts above a backdrop of monstrous bass and rolling drums, developing to a climax with a series of piercing high register squeaks. Next a more abstract passage featuring Brice’s use of the bow and his deployment of extended techniques. This provided the link into a final ‘freak out’ section that saw Delius moving back to tenor and playing with an incredible power as he contorted his body into improbable shapes, finally unleashing his inner Wilkinson and Brotzmann.

The small, but highly select, audience gave the trio a terrific reception and Barry Edwards was able to tempt them back for a well deserved encore. This began with the duo of Brice and Delius, I suspect Sanders may have been availing himself of the Hermon’s facilities! The opening bass / tenor dialogue was subsequently augmented by the sound of Sanders’ gongs. Delius then began to stretch out on tenor, ululating above Brice’s grounding bass and the softly rolling thunder of Sanders’ drums, a combination of mallets and bare hands on toms and the sound of softly shimmering cymbals. Concise and atmospheric this was an excellent way to end an evening of consistently creative, and, by its very nature, unique music making.

 

 

Wendy Kirkland Quintet - Wendy Kirkland Quintet, Kidderminster Jazz Club, Kidderminster Town Hall, Kidderminster, 03/10/2019. Rating: 4 out of 5 Ian Mann enjoys a performance by pianist / vocalist Wendy Kirkland and her quintet at the launch of the new Kidderminster Jazz Club. He also takes a look at Wendy's latest album "The Music's On Me".

Wendy Kirkland Quintet, Kidderminster Jazz Club, Kidderminster Town Hall, Kidderminster, Worcs. 03/10/2019.


Wendy Kirkland – piano, vocals
Pat Sprakes – guitar
Roger Beaujolais – vibraphone
Paul Jefferies – double bass
Mitch Perrins – drums


This evening’s performance by pianist / vocalist Wendy Kirkland represented a highly significant event, the launch of Kidderminster Jazz Club.

The Club has been founded by the jazz vocalist Annette Gregory following her move to the area. Annette’s new venture has been generously supported by the local District Council and a full programme of events will be presented, usually on the first Thursday of the month, between October 2019 and June 2020. Future guests will include such well known names as saxophonist Alan Barnes and vocalist Tina May, plus Annette Gregory herself of course! The full programme for the coming months can be found at http://www.kidderminsterjazzclub.co.uk

Annette has clearly put a lot of hard work into publicising her new venture, whether through traditional printed methods or via social media. With a number of local radio stations also on board her endeavours were rewarded with an excellent turn out for this first night, which took place in the relaxed environment of Kidderminster Town Hall’s Corn Exchange Room, just off the main performance space. This more intimate setting proved to be ideal for jazz and the presence of the venue’s own Steinway grand piano was greatly appreciated, both by Kirkland and her grateful listeners.

Chesterfield based Kirkland has always gigged on a regular basis in the Midlands and the North of England with a variety of different musicians and in a wide range of jazz contexts. As a band leader her current projects include the Organik Trio, in which she plays Hammond organ, a group that is sometimes expanded to a four piece with the addition of a guest saxophonist to become the quartet Organik Fource.

In her role as a promoter she runs the successful Chesterfield and Peak Jazz Clubs and as a musician frequently leads the house band backing such visiting musicians as saxophonists Karen Sharp, Alan Barnes and Tony Kofi and guitarists Jim Mullen and Phil Robson.

However it was the release of her 2017 release “Piano Divas” that brought this hitherto ‘unsung heroine of British jazz’ to national attention. This was an album that paid homage to the great female pianist/vocalists of jazz including Diana Krall, Eliane Elias, Blossom Dearie, Nina Simone and Shirley Horn plus lesser known figures such as Dena Derose, Carol Welsman and Tania Maria. 

“Piano Divas”, Kirkland’s first recording since 2005’s “To The Top”, attracted the attention of the national jazz press and was widely praised by the critics, the resultant acclaim helping to raise Kirkland’s profile considerably. The “Piano Divas” show has toured widely all over the UK, including a number of appearances at London’s most prestigious jazz clubs.

My review of the “Piano Divas” album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/wendy-kirkland-quartet-piano-divas/

Given her hectic touring schedule it’s somewhat surprising, even to me, that tonight was the first time that I’d actually got to see Kirkland perform live. I contrived to miss her 2018 quartet show at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny, one of my regular haunts, because I was covering Cheltenham Jazz Festival at the time. It was left to guest reviewer David Hobbs to pen this very positive review of the “Piano Divas” show;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/wendy-kirkland-quartet-piano-divas-black-mountain-jazz-melville-centre-aber/

In July 2019 Kirkland released the album “The Music’s On Me”, the keenly anticipated follow up to “Piano Divas”. Rather than repeating the formula the new album is a more personal offering featuring a greater emphasis on original material with three of the eleven tracks co-written by Kirkland and Sprakes, the latter her husband as well as her guitarist. The original songs reflect the experiences and emotions of being on the road as touring musicians. Elsewhere Kirkland and Sprakes add their own words to the tunes of others, the art of ‘vocalese’ - “some of these melodies were crying out for lyrics, we felt!”, explains Kirkland.

“The Music’s On Me” features an extended line up. Kirkland, Sprakes and Jefferies remain from “Piano Divas” with Steve Wyndham taking over the drum chair. The core quartet is augmented on some pieces by vibraphonist Roger Beaujolais and saxophonist Tommaso Starace.

Kirkland is currently touring the new album, her schedule as punishing as ever. At Kidderminster the core of Kirkland, Sprakes and Jefferies were joined by Beaujolais on vibraphone and Midlands based sticks man Mitch Perrins at the drum kit. The focus was mainly on the material from the new album, but with a few old favourites and a couple of surprises thrown in for good measure.

The quintet commenced with a song from the new album, “Sunday In New York”, written by Peter Nero, a piece that introduced Kirkland’s warm, pure toned, well enunciated vocals. The instrumental solos also demonstrated her abilities as a jazz pianist, she started her jazz career as an instrumentalist before adding singing to her musical armoury. Further instrumental features came from Sprakes on guitar, Beaujolais on vibraphone, and Perrins with a series of crisply brushed drum breaks.

Each season Kidderminster Jazz Club is to have a musical ‘theme’. For this inaugural season that theme is the music of George Gershwin and every act is set to perform a couple of Gershwin songs. Kirkland’s initial choice was a samba style arrangement of “S’Wonderful” with the leader’s breezy vocal performance augmented by solos from herself on piano, Beaujolais on vibes and Sprakes on guitar.

A return to the new album repertoire for Kenny Rankin’s jazz waltz “Haven’t We Met”, tonight complete with apposite allusions to the jazz standard “Here’s That Rainy Day”. Aside from Kirkland’s vocal performance this piece was also notable for her fluent piano soloing and the lively exchanges between Sprakes on guitar and Beaujolais on vibes. As a guitarist Sprakes favours a clean, classic jazz guitar, sound and names Wes Montgomery as his primary influence. His solo here included quotes from Montgomery’s “Full House”, as if to emphasise the point.

The quintet dipped into the “Piano Divas” repertoire for “Some Other Time”, a song that appeared in the movie “On The Town”. Kirkland opened the song solo, accompanying herself on piano before Sprakes joined in to create a duo. Subsequently Jefferies impressed with a bowed bass solo, with further instrumental features coming from Beaujolais on vibes and Kirkland on piano.

Also from the previous album came “My Baby Just Cares For Me”, a song now indelibly associated with Nina Simone. However in a neat twist a new arrangement by Sprakes teamed it with the Al Jarreau song “We’re In This Love Together”. The guitarist also impressed as he soloed above an infectious, and very contemporary sounding, shuffle groove courtesy of Perrins. Beaujolais then dazzled on the vibes, demonstrating his mastery of the four mallet technique. Kirkland herself featured on both piano and scat vocals.

Kirkland delivered the lyrics to the Duke Pearson tune “Sandalia Dela” in Portuguese, her version inspired by a recording by Flora Purim. The Brazilian style rhythms fuelled instrumental solos from Kirkland on piano and Beaujolais on vibes plus Perrin with a closing drum feature. This lively rendition concluded an engaging first set that was well received by the appreciative Kidderminster audience.

The start of the second set found found the quintet returning to the Gershwin theme with a Kirkland and Sprakes’ arrangement of “Fascinating Rhythm”. Inspired by a version recorded by Sarah Vaughan this saw the quintet tackling the song in a variety of different jazz styles with instrumental solos coming from Kirkland, Sprakes, Jefferies, this time playing pizzicato, and Perrins with a series of brushed drum breaks.

One of the more intriguing items on the new album is a version of the late Don Grolnick’s composition “Pools”, to which Kirkland has added her own lyrics, the words inspired by a friend’s house in Italy. Kirkland’s singing was enhanced by some inspired ensemble playing, plus extended solos from the leader on piano and scat vocals and Beaujolais on vibraphone.

Kirkland paid homage to the great American singer and pianist Blossom Dearie with her version of the Bob Dorough / Dave Frishberg song “I’m Hip”, a satire on the typical fifties style hipster or beatnik. Amazingly this was the second time I’d seen this song performed live in a week! Bristol based singer Victoria Klewin had also featured the tune in her Blossom Dearie themed show at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny just a few days earlier.

Like the earlier Don Grolnick composition Wes Montgomery’s “West Coast Blues” represented another of those melodies that Kirkland and Sprakes felt was crying out for a lyric. Their words, a paean to an idealised California lifestyle, were also inspired by the painting of Pat’s father,  the artist John Sprakes, particularly his use of colour. Naturally Pat’s guitar featured substantially here alongside Beaujolais’ vibes and Perrins’  drums in this updated version of the sixties jazz classic.

Written in the 1930s by Brooks Bowman “East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon” actually represents a new addition to the Kirkland canon. Inspired by Diana Krall’s version of the song incorporated an extended scat vocal feature alongside instrumental solos from Sprakes and Beaujolais.

Having already featured their lyrics and arrangements Kirkland and Sprakes closed the show with one of their own compositions, the song “Travelling Home”, which also concludes the new album. This good natured reflection on the musical lifestyle and the joy of returning home after a successful gig featured a Metheny like melody and instrumental solos from Sprakes, Beaujolais and Kirkland.

It took little prompting from Annette Gregory for the quintet to remain on stage for a deserved encore, an arrangement of Peggy Lee’s “Love Being Here With You”, as filtered via Diana Krall, that Kirkland always likes to dedicate to her audiences. A splendidly swinging version of the song included features for all five musicians and brought a hugely successful evening to a most satisfactory conclusion.

This was an excellent performance from Kirkland and her colleagues that was musically satisfying and was also presented with warmth and wit by the leader. As well as delivering an assured vocal performance Kirkland also demonstrated her considerable abilities as a jazz piano soloist. The presence of Beaujolais was unexpected and represented a very welcome bonus. He’s a musician who has featured many times on the Jazzmann web pages, both as a leader and as a sideman with artists such as pianist Tim Richards, bassist Davide Mantovani and saxophonist Tommaso Starace.
My thanks to Roger and to Wendy for speaking with me after the show, it was good to meet both of them in person at last.

Most of this evening’s material was sourced from the “The Music’s On Me” album, although the record also includes several pieces not featured in tonight’s performance. These include the Sprakes / Kirkland originals “The Music In Me” and “O Gato Molhado”. The first of these, effectively the title track, is a muso’s song that name-checks Wes Montgomery, but ultimately emphasises the importance of feeling over technique. The second features Brazilian stylings and a playful mix of Kirkland’s own Portuguese and English lyrics.

The ‘vocalese’ items include “September Second”, a moving dedication to a late parent set to a Michel Petrucciani tune that includes a fluent solo from guest saxophonist Tommaso Starace. Then there’s “Playground”, which adds Kirkland’s words to a tune by guitarist Russell Malone, which posits the idea of jazz as a ‘musical playground’. Given that the recorded version includes a twinkling solo from a guesting Beaujolais it was perhaps a little surprising that the piece didn’t feature this evening.

The album also includes a brief but brisk romp through “Nothing Like You”, written by Bob Dorough and Fran Landesman.

Kirkland’s second album isn’t at all ‘difficult’, although it does expand her repertoire and places a greater focus on her original creativity. Once again it has received a highly positive response from the national jazz media.


Meanwhile the “Music’s On Me” tour continues with dates coming up as follows;

11th October, Marsden Jazz Festival – featuring Roger Beaujolais, vibraphone
12th October, Abbot’s Bromley Village Hall
13th October, Breadsall Village Hall
28th October, Bull’s Head, Barnes
6th November, Fougou Music, Brixham
7th November, The Acorn Theatre, Penzance
9th November, Lostwithiel Jazz Café, Duchy of Cornwall Estate
28th November, Grantham Conservative Club
14th December, Chesterfield Library (11:45 a.m.)
More details at http://www.wendykirkland.com

Huge congratulations are also due to Annette Gregory on the successful launch of Kidderminster Jazz Club, which will hopefully establish itself as a substantial presence on the Midlands jazz scene and beyond.
The remaining dates of this first season are as follows;

2019;

14th November – Swing From Paris

5th December – Annette Gregory

2020

6th February – Matheus Prado Mato Septet

5th March – Sue Richardson

2nd April – Wyre Forest Big Band

7th May – Alan Barnes

4th June – Tina May

Wendy Kirkland Quintet, Kidderminster Jazz Club, Kidderminster Town Hall, Kidderminster, 03/10/2019.

Wendy Kirkland Quintet

Monday, October 07, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Live Review

4 out of 5

Wendy Kirkland Quintet, Kidderminster Jazz Club, Kidderminster Town Hall, Kidderminster, 03/10/2019.

Ian Mann enjoys a performance by pianist / vocalist Wendy Kirkland and her quintet at the launch of the new Kidderminster Jazz Club. He also takes a look at Wendy's latest album "The Music's On Me".

Wendy Kirkland Quintet, Kidderminster Jazz Club, Kidderminster Town Hall, Kidderminster, Worcs. 03/10/2019.


Wendy Kirkland – piano, vocals
Pat Sprakes – guitar
Roger Beaujolais – vibraphone
Paul Jefferies – double bass
Mitch Perrins – drums


This evening’s performance by pianist / vocalist Wendy Kirkland represented a highly significant event, the launch of Kidderminster Jazz Club.

The Club has been founded by the jazz vocalist Annette Gregory following her move to the area. Annette’s new venture has been generously supported by the local District Council and a full programme of events will be presented, usually on the first Thursday of the month, between October 2019 and June 2020. Future guests will include such well known names as saxophonist Alan Barnes and vocalist Tina May, plus Annette Gregory herself of course! The full programme for the coming months can be found at http://www.kidderminsterjazzclub.co.uk

Annette has clearly put a lot of hard work into publicising her new venture, whether through traditional printed methods or via social media. With a number of local radio stations also on board her endeavours were rewarded with an excellent turn out for this first night, which took place in the relaxed environment of Kidderminster Town Hall’s Corn Exchange Room, just off the main performance space. This more intimate setting proved to be ideal for jazz and the presence of the venue’s own Steinway grand piano was greatly appreciated, both by Kirkland and her grateful listeners.

Chesterfield based Kirkland has always gigged on a regular basis in the Midlands and the North of England with a variety of different musicians and in a wide range of jazz contexts. As a band leader her current projects include the Organik Trio, in which she plays Hammond organ, a group that is sometimes expanded to a four piece with the addition of a guest saxophonist to become the quartet Organik Fource.

In her role as a promoter she runs the successful Chesterfield and Peak Jazz Clubs and as a musician frequently leads the house band backing such visiting musicians as saxophonists Karen Sharp, Alan Barnes and Tony Kofi and guitarists Jim Mullen and Phil Robson.

However it was the release of her 2017 release “Piano Divas” that brought this hitherto ‘unsung heroine of British jazz’ to national attention. This was an album that paid homage to the great female pianist/vocalists of jazz including Diana Krall, Eliane Elias, Blossom Dearie, Nina Simone and Shirley Horn plus lesser known figures such as Dena Derose, Carol Welsman and Tania Maria. 

“Piano Divas”, Kirkland’s first recording since 2005’s “To The Top”, attracted the attention of the national jazz press and was widely praised by the critics, the resultant acclaim helping to raise Kirkland’s profile considerably. The “Piano Divas” show has toured widely all over the UK, including a number of appearances at London’s most prestigious jazz clubs.

My review of the “Piano Divas” album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/wendy-kirkland-quartet-piano-divas/

Given her hectic touring schedule it’s somewhat surprising, even to me, that tonight was the first time that I’d actually got to see Kirkland perform live. I contrived to miss her 2018 quartet show at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny, one of my regular haunts, because I was covering Cheltenham Jazz Festival at the time. It was left to guest reviewer David Hobbs to pen this very positive review of the “Piano Divas” show;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/wendy-kirkland-quartet-piano-divas-black-mountain-jazz-melville-centre-aber/

In July 2019 Kirkland released the album “The Music’s On Me”, the keenly anticipated follow up to “Piano Divas”. Rather than repeating the formula the new album is a more personal offering featuring a greater emphasis on original material with three of the eleven tracks co-written by Kirkland and Sprakes, the latter her husband as well as her guitarist. The original songs reflect the experiences and emotions of being on the road as touring musicians. Elsewhere Kirkland and Sprakes add their own words to the tunes of others, the art of ‘vocalese’ - “some of these melodies were crying out for lyrics, we felt!”, explains Kirkland.

“The Music’s On Me” features an extended line up. Kirkland, Sprakes and Jefferies remain from “Piano Divas” with Steve Wyndham taking over the drum chair. The core quartet is augmented on some pieces by vibraphonist Roger Beaujolais and saxophonist Tommaso Starace.

Kirkland is currently touring the new album, her schedule as punishing as ever. At Kidderminster the core of Kirkland, Sprakes and Jefferies were joined by Beaujolais on vibraphone and Midlands based sticks man Mitch Perrins at the drum kit. The focus was mainly on the material from the new album, but with a few old favourites and a couple of surprises thrown in for good measure.

The quintet commenced with a song from the new album, “Sunday In New York”, written by Peter Nero, a piece that introduced Kirkland’s warm, pure toned, well enunciated vocals. The instrumental solos also demonstrated her abilities as a jazz pianist, she started her jazz career as an instrumentalist before adding singing to her musical armoury. Further instrumental features came from Sprakes on guitar, Beaujolais on vibraphone, and Perrins with a series of crisply brushed drum breaks.

Each season Kidderminster Jazz Club is to have a musical ‘theme’. For this inaugural season that theme is the music of George Gershwin and every act is set to perform a couple of Gershwin songs. Kirkland’s initial choice was a samba style arrangement of “S’Wonderful” with the leader’s breezy vocal performance augmented by solos from herself on piano, Beaujolais on vibes and Sprakes on guitar.

A return to the new album repertoire for Kenny Rankin’s jazz waltz “Haven’t We Met”, tonight complete with apposite allusions to the jazz standard “Here’s That Rainy Day”. Aside from Kirkland’s vocal performance this piece was also notable for her fluent piano soloing and the lively exchanges between Sprakes on guitar and Beaujolais on vibes. As a guitarist Sprakes favours a clean, classic jazz guitar, sound and names Wes Montgomery as his primary influence. His solo here included quotes from Montgomery’s “Full House”, as if to emphasise the point.

The quintet dipped into the “Piano Divas” repertoire for “Some Other Time”, a song that appeared in the movie “On The Town”. Kirkland opened the song solo, accompanying herself on piano before Sprakes joined in to create a duo. Subsequently Jefferies impressed with a bowed bass solo, with further instrumental features coming from Beaujolais on vibes and Kirkland on piano.

Also from the previous album came “My Baby Just Cares For Me”, a song now indelibly associated with Nina Simone. However in a neat twist a new arrangement by Sprakes teamed it with the Al Jarreau song “We’re In This Love Together”. The guitarist also impressed as he soloed above an infectious, and very contemporary sounding, shuffle groove courtesy of Perrins. Beaujolais then dazzled on the vibes, demonstrating his mastery of the four mallet technique. Kirkland herself featured on both piano and scat vocals.

Kirkland delivered the lyrics to the Duke Pearson tune “Sandalia Dela” in Portuguese, her version inspired by a recording by Flora Purim. The Brazilian style rhythms fuelled instrumental solos from Kirkland on piano and Beaujolais on vibes plus Perrin with a closing drum feature. This lively rendition concluded an engaging first set that was well received by the appreciative Kidderminster audience.

The start of the second set found found the quintet returning to the Gershwin theme with a Kirkland and Sprakes’ arrangement of “Fascinating Rhythm”. Inspired by a version recorded by Sarah Vaughan this saw the quintet tackling the song in a variety of different jazz styles with instrumental solos coming from Kirkland, Sprakes, Jefferies, this time playing pizzicato, and Perrins with a series of brushed drum breaks.

One of the more intriguing items on the new album is a version of the late Don Grolnick’s composition “Pools”, to which Kirkland has added her own lyrics, the words inspired by a friend’s house in Italy. Kirkland’s singing was enhanced by some inspired ensemble playing, plus extended solos from the leader on piano and scat vocals and Beaujolais on vibraphone.

Kirkland paid homage to the great American singer and pianist Blossom Dearie with her version of the Bob Dorough / Dave Frishberg song “I’m Hip”, a satire on the typical fifties style hipster or beatnik. Amazingly this was the second time I’d seen this song performed live in a week! Bristol based singer Victoria Klewin had also featured the tune in her Blossom Dearie themed show at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny just a few days earlier.

Like the earlier Don Grolnick composition Wes Montgomery’s “West Coast Blues” represented another of those melodies that Kirkland and Sprakes felt was crying out for a lyric. Their words, a paean to an idealised California lifestyle, were also inspired by the painting of Pat’s father,  the artist John Sprakes, particularly his use of colour. Naturally Pat’s guitar featured substantially here alongside Beaujolais’ vibes and Perrins’  drums in this updated version of the sixties jazz classic.

Written in the 1930s by Brooks Bowman “East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon” actually represents a new addition to the Kirkland canon. Inspired by Diana Krall’s version of the song incorporated an extended scat vocal feature alongside instrumental solos from Sprakes and Beaujolais.

Having already featured their lyrics and arrangements Kirkland and Sprakes closed the show with one of their own compositions, the song “Travelling Home”, which also concludes the new album. This good natured reflection on the musical lifestyle and the joy of returning home after a successful gig featured a Metheny like melody and instrumental solos from Sprakes, Beaujolais and Kirkland.

It took little prompting from Annette Gregory for the quintet to remain on stage for a deserved encore, an arrangement of Peggy Lee’s “Love Being Here With You”, as filtered via Diana Krall, that Kirkland always likes to dedicate to her audiences. A splendidly swinging version of the song included features for all five musicians and brought a hugely successful evening to a most satisfactory conclusion.

This was an excellent performance from Kirkland and her colleagues that was musically satisfying and was also presented with warmth and wit by the leader. As well as delivering an assured vocal performance Kirkland also demonstrated her considerable abilities as a jazz piano soloist. The presence of Beaujolais was unexpected and represented a very welcome bonus. He’s a musician who has featured many times on the Jazzmann web pages, both as a leader and as a sideman with artists such as pianist Tim Richards, bassist Davide Mantovani and saxophonist Tommaso Starace.
My thanks to Roger and to Wendy for speaking with me after the show, it was good to meet both of them in person at last.

Most of this evening’s material was sourced from the “The Music’s On Me” album, although the record also includes several pieces not featured in tonight’s performance. These include the Sprakes / Kirkland originals “The Music In Me” and “O Gato Molhado”. The first of these, effectively the title track, is a muso’s song that name-checks Wes Montgomery, but ultimately emphasises the importance of feeling over technique. The second features Brazilian stylings and a playful mix of Kirkland’s own Portuguese and English lyrics.

The ‘vocalese’ items include “September Second”, a moving dedication to a late parent set to a Michel Petrucciani tune that includes a fluent solo from guest saxophonist Tommaso Starace. Then there’s “Playground”, which adds Kirkland’s words to a tune by guitarist Russell Malone, which posits the idea of jazz as a ‘musical playground’. Given that the recorded version includes a twinkling solo from a guesting Beaujolais it was perhaps a little surprising that the piece didn’t feature this evening.

The album also includes a brief but brisk romp through “Nothing Like You”, written by Bob Dorough and Fran Landesman.

Kirkland’s second album isn’t at all ‘difficult’, although it does expand her repertoire and places a greater focus on her original creativity. Once again it has received a highly positive response from the national jazz media.


Meanwhile the “Music’s On Me” tour continues with dates coming up as follows;

11th October, Marsden Jazz Festival – featuring Roger Beaujolais, vibraphone
12th October, Abbot’s Bromley Village Hall
13th October, Breadsall Village Hall
28th October, Bull’s Head, Barnes
6th November, Fougou Music, Brixham
7th November, The Acorn Theatre, Penzance
9th November, Lostwithiel Jazz Café, Duchy of Cornwall Estate
28th November, Grantham Conservative Club
14th December, Chesterfield Library (11:45 a.m.)
More details at http://www.wendykirkland.com

Huge congratulations are also due to Annette Gregory on the successful launch of Kidderminster Jazz Club, which will hopefully establish itself as a substantial presence on the Midlands jazz scene and beyond.
The remaining dates of this first season are as follows;

2019;

14th November – Swing From Paris

5th December – Annette Gregory

2020

6th February – Matheus Prado Mato Septet

5th March – Sue Richardson

2nd April – Wyre Forest Big Band

7th May – Alan Barnes

4th June – Tina May

Mark Lockheart - Mark Lockheart, ‘Days On Earth’, Wilde Theatre, Bracknell, Berkshire, 27/09/2019. Rating: 5 out of 5 "An absolute musical triumph, rich in colour, texture, emotional depth and the vitality of the human spirit". Guest contributor Trevor Bannister is enthralled by this large ensemble performance.

Mark Lockheart ‘Days on Earth’
 
Wilde Theatre, Bracknell, Friday 27 September
 

Mark Lockheart tenor saxophone, Alice Leggett alto, Laura Jurd trumpet & flugelhorn, Rowland Sutherland flute & piccolo, Sam Rapley clarinet & bass clarinet, Liam Noble piano, Mike Outram guitar, Tom Herbert bass, Sebastian Rochford drums, Jim Rattigan, Anna Drysdale French horns, Emma Smith, Phil Granell, Richard Jones violins, Sergio Serra cello
 


Finding a performance  outlet for any new music, albeit jazz or classical, is notoriously difficult; staging something of the scale and ambition of Mark Lockheart’s ‘Days on Earth’ comprising seven movements, a jazz ensemble,  plus a 30-piece orchestra, which first began to take shape in his imagination in 2016, must at times have seemed nigh on impossible. By December 2017, when Lockheart took ‘Days on Earth’ into Mark Knopfler’s British Grove Studio to be recorded in its entirety under the baton of John Ashton Thomas, the project was gaining in momentum. It reached fruition on 9 January 2019 with the launch of the album and a live performance at London’s Milton Court Concert Hall with the Guildhall Studio Orchestra. There remained just one more thing to complete the project … to take ‘Days on Earth’ on the road.
 
At this moment providence played its hand. Jazz in Reading and Bracknell Jazz had already decided to combine their resources to present a ‘magnum opus’ at the Wilde Theatre, Bracknell; something which would stand apart from the usual gigs they promoted in their respective towns. What better choice than ‘Days on Earth’! But these things are never straightforward.  Now faced with the daunting challenge of reducing the size of his orchestra to suit a smaller venue and a reduced budget, would Lockheart succeed in retaining the aural splendour and emotional impact of his original work? We would have to wait until the second half of the concert for that question to be answered.
 
Meanwhile, as a foretaste to ‘Days on Earth’, Lockheart presented five original numbers with his octet, opening with the intriguing ‘Surfacing’. The first ever performance of ‘Fluorescences’ perfectly mirrored the subtle variations in colour and quality of light as it reflects on cut glass, the sharp edges of Liam Noble’s crystalline piano, Rowland Sutherland’s flute and Laura Jurd’s trumpet, contrasting beautifully with the dark shadows cast by Tom Herbert’s bass.
 
One was simply bowled over by the purity of the sound, especially from the lyrical alto of Alice Leggett, on  the John Zorn inspired ‘Dreamers’; another composition making its public début.
 
Wraith-like, violinist Emma Smith and bass clarinettist Sam Rapley appeared on stage to augment the octet for ‘Beautiful Man’, inspired by Geoff Dyer’s book about jazz and jazz musicians, ‘But Beautiful’ and the first of two pieces dedicated to Duke Ellington. One could picture Duke and Harry Carney on a road-trip in the depths of the night travelling across America between gigs; Carney at the wheel and Duke lost in thought with a pencil and manuscript paper at hand. Emma Smith’s exquisite violin and the resonant tones of Rapley’s bass clarinet evoked Ellington at his most reflective.  ‘My Caravan’, eschewed the hell-for-leather fury of many arrangements  for a subtle and gentle re-working of this Juan Tizol classic, much more in keeping with the original recording by the pre-war Ellington orchestra. However, the juxtaposition of old and new interpretations made for a thrilling climax to the first set.
 
The long-awaited presentation of ‘Days on Earth’ in the second half did not disappoint. I was not alone in declaring that it was an absolute musical triumph, rich in colour, texture, emotional depth and the vitality of the human spirit. Surely, Mark Lockheart now warrants a place in the Pantheon of British jazz composers alongside great figures such as Sir John Dankworth,  Graham Collier, the Mikes’ Gibbs, Garrick and Westbrook, Kenny Wheeler and Stan Tracey. This remarkably open and free-flowing piece presented contemporary music at its very finest. It held one’s attention so completely that the 60 minutes of its duration seemed to flash by in the blink of an eyelid.
 
Lockheart used the addition of clarinet, strings and French horns to generate even more power to the already formidable ensemble, and to weave an ever more intricate tapestry of beautifully blended sounds and rhythms to support individual solo voices, amongst which, Mark Lockheart’s own contributions on tenor sax were outstanding. It was a joyous, and often deeply moving, melting pot of different styles and influences with the metallic blues-soaked guitar of Mike Outram sitting comfortably with the formality of Sam Rapley’s clarinet and the wonderfully inventive rhythmic patterns laid down by Messrs. Noble, Herbert and Rochford. The sound of Laura Jurd’s trumpet, briefly muted with her hand, was alone worth the price of the admission ticket.
 
Lockheart gave away few verbal clues as to what inspired him to write ‘Days on Earth’, but as the titles unfolded, seemingly to emerge spontaneously from one another, we began to form some idea of his motivation - ‘A View from Above’, ‘Brave World’, ‘This Much is True’, ‘Party Animal’, ‘Believers’, ‘Triana’, and ‘Long Way Gone’. In other words, to borrow a sentence from Lockheart’s album sleeve notes, “Music is intrinsically linked to life, love, joy, frustration, acceptance and peace and all those feelings are here in this music for me.”
 
‘Long Way Gone’ stands out for me above all the other movements in ‘Days on Earth’. Born from the pages of Ishmail Beah’s harrowing account of his life as a child soldier in the civil war of Sierra Leone, its joyful optimism left one with the belief that even in the bleakest of moments there is a reason to find hope and to seek peace and reconciliation. Magnificent!
 
All praise to the technical team at the Wilde Theatre for the excellent quality of sound and lighting and to Jazz in Reading and Bracknell Jazz whose imaginative enterprise made possible this outstanding and unique performance of Mark Lockheart’s ‘Days on Earth’.
 
The album recording of ‘Days on Earth’ is available on Edition EDN 1120. For more information visit www.editionrecords.com


Further performances of the work, plus other live performances featuring Lockheart, are as follows;

October 4th - Days On Earth, Turner Sims, Southampton https://www.turnersims.co.uk/events/mark-lockheartss-days-on-earth/

October 10th - Days On Earth, RWCMD, Cardiff https://www.rwcmd.ac.uk/whats_on/events/mark_lockheart__guests.aspx

October 15th - ‘Salvator Mundi’ album launch, Mark Lockheart/Roger Sayer, Temple Church, London. For tickets go to Temple Music Foundation

October 30th - Days On Earth, Symphony Hall, Birmingham https://www.thsh.co.uk/event/mark-lockheart-days-on-earth

November 1st- New Day (with Huw Warren) , The Vortex, London

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


 
 

Mark Lockheart, ‘Days On Earth’, Wilde Theatre, Bracknell, Berkshire, 27/09/2019.

Mark Lockheart

Friday, October 04, 2019

Reviewed by: Trevor Bannister

Live Review

5 out of 5

Mark Lockheart, ‘Days On Earth’, Wilde Theatre, Bracknell, Berkshire, 27/09/2019.
Photography: Photographs by Zoë White

"An absolute musical triumph, rich in colour, texture, emotional depth and the vitality of the human spirit". Guest contributor Trevor Bannister is enthralled by this large ensemble performance.

Mark Lockheart ‘Days on Earth’
 
Wilde Theatre, Bracknell, Friday 27 September
 

Mark Lockheart tenor saxophone, Alice Leggett alto, Laura Jurd trumpet & flugelhorn, Rowland Sutherland flute & piccolo, Sam Rapley clarinet & bass clarinet, Liam Noble piano, Mike Outram guitar, Tom Herbert bass, Sebastian Rochford drums, Jim Rattigan, Anna Drysdale French horns, Emma Smith, Phil Granell, Richard Jones violins, Sergio Serra cello
 


Finding a performance  outlet for any new music, albeit jazz or classical, is notoriously difficult; staging something of the scale and ambition of Mark Lockheart’s ‘Days on Earth’ comprising seven movements, a jazz ensemble,  plus a 30-piece orchestra, which first began to take shape in his imagination in 2016, must at times have seemed nigh on impossible. By December 2017, when Lockheart took ‘Days on Earth’ into Mark Knopfler’s British Grove Studio to be recorded in its entirety under the baton of John Ashton Thomas, the project was gaining in momentum. It reached fruition on 9 January 2019 with the launch of the album and a live performance at London’s Milton Court Concert Hall with the Guildhall Studio Orchestra. There remained just one more thing to complete the project … to take ‘Days on Earth’ on the road.
 
At this moment providence played its hand. Jazz in Reading and Bracknell Jazz had already decided to combine their resources to present a ‘magnum opus’ at the Wilde Theatre, Bracknell; something which would stand apart from the usual gigs they promoted in their respective towns. What better choice than ‘Days on Earth’! But these things are never straightforward.  Now faced with the daunting challenge of reducing the size of his orchestra to suit a smaller venue and a reduced budget, would Lockheart succeed in retaining the aural splendour and emotional impact of his original work? We would have to wait until the second half of the concert for that question to be answered.
 
Meanwhile, as a foretaste to ‘Days on Earth’, Lockheart presented five original numbers with his octet, opening with the intriguing ‘Surfacing’. The first ever performance of ‘Fluorescences’ perfectly mirrored the subtle variations in colour and quality of light as it reflects on cut glass, the sharp edges of Liam Noble’s crystalline piano, Rowland Sutherland’s flute and Laura Jurd’s trumpet, contrasting beautifully with the dark shadows cast by Tom Herbert’s bass.
 
One was simply bowled over by the purity of the sound, especially from the lyrical alto of Alice Leggett, on  the John Zorn inspired ‘Dreamers’; another composition making its public début.
 
Wraith-like, violinist Emma Smith and bass clarinettist Sam Rapley appeared on stage to augment the octet for ‘Beautiful Man’, inspired by Geoff Dyer’s book about jazz and jazz musicians, ‘But Beautiful’ and the first of two pieces dedicated to Duke Ellington. One could picture Duke and Harry Carney on a road-trip in the depths of the night travelling across America between gigs; Carney at the wheel and Duke lost in thought with a pencil and manuscript paper at hand. Emma Smith’s exquisite violin and the resonant tones of Rapley’s bass clarinet evoked Ellington at his most reflective.  ‘My Caravan’, eschewed the hell-for-leather fury of many arrangements  for a subtle and gentle re-working of this Juan Tizol classic, much more in keeping with the original recording by the pre-war Ellington orchestra. However, the juxtaposition of old and new interpretations made for a thrilling climax to the first set.
 
The long-awaited presentation of ‘Days on Earth’ in the second half did not disappoint. I was not alone in declaring that it was an absolute musical triumph, rich in colour, texture, emotional depth and the vitality of the human spirit. Surely, Mark Lockheart now warrants a place in the Pantheon of British jazz composers alongside great figures such as Sir John Dankworth,  Graham Collier, the Mikes’ Gibbs, Garrick and Westbrook, Kenny Wheeler and Stan Tracey. This remarkably open and free-flowing piece presented contemporary music at its very finest. It held one’s attention so completely that the 60 minutes of its duration seemed to flash by in the blink of an eyelid.
 
Lockheart used the addition of clarinet, strings and French horns to generate even more power to the already formidable ensemble, and to weave an ever more intricate tapestry of beautifully blended sounds and rhythms to support individual solo voices, amongst which, Mark Lockheart’s own contributions on tenor sax were outstanding. It was a joyous, and often deeply moving, melting pot of different styles and influences with the metallic blues-soaked guitar of Mike Outram sitting comfortably with the formality of Sam Rapley’s clarinet and the wonderfully inventive rhythmic patterns laid down by Messrs. Noble, Herbert and Rochford. The sound of Laura Jurd’s trumpet, briefly muted with her hand, was alone worth the price of the admission ticket.
 
Lockheart gave away few verbal clues as to what inspired him to write ‘Days on Earth’, but as the titles unfolded, seemingly to emerge spontaneously from one another, we began to form some idea of his motivation - ‘A View from Above’, ‘Brave World’, ‘This Much is True’, ‘Party Animal’, ‘Believers’, ‘Triana’, and ‘Long Way Gone’. In other words, to borrow a sentence from Lockheart’s album sleeve notes, “Music is intrinsically linked to life, love, joy, frustration, acceptance and peace and all those feelings are here in this music for me.”
 
‘Long Way Gone’ stands out for me above all the other movements in ‘Days on Earth’. Born from the pages of Ishmail Beah’s harrowing account of his life as a child soldier in the civil war of Sierra Leone, its joyful optimism left one with the belief that even in the bleakest of moments there is a reason to find hope and to seek peace and reconciliation. Magnificent!
 
All praise to the technical team at the Wilde Theatre for the excellent quality of sound and lighting and to Jazz in Reading and Bracknell Jazz whose imaginative enterprise made possible this outstanding and unique performance of Mark Lockheart’s ‘Days on Earth’.
 
The album recording of ‘Days on Earth’ is available on Edition EDN 1120. For more information visit www.editionrecords.com


Further performances of the work, plus other live performances featuring Lockheart, are as follows;

October 4th - Days On Earth, Turner Sims, Southampton https://www.turnersims.co.uk/events/mark-lockheartss-days-on-earth/

October 10th - Days On Earth, RWCMD, Cardiff https://www.rwcmd.ac.uk/whats_on/events/mark_lockheart__guests.aspx

October 15th - ‘Salvator Mundi’ album launch, Mark Lockheart/Roger Sayer, Temple Church, London. For tickets go to Temple Music Foundation

October 30th - Days On Earth, Symphony Hall, Birmingham https://www.thsh.co.uk/event/mark-lockheart-days-on-earth

November 1st- New Day (with Huw Warren) , The Vortex, London

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


 
 

Scott Willcox Big Band - Scott Willcox Ten-Piece Big Band, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 20/09/2019. Rating: 3 out of 5 " The originality of Scott Willcox’s writing was brought to life, with jazz spirit, by world-class jazz musicians". Trevor Bannister enjoys the start of the new season of Jazz at Progress.

The Scott Willcox Ten-Piece Big Band
 

Progress Theatre, Reading Friday 20 September 2019
 

Scott Willcox directing Andy Gibson trumpet & flugelhorn; Gabriel Garrick trumpet, flugelhorn & trombone; Martin Gladdish trombone; Julian Costello tenor saxophone; Pete Hurt tenor saxophone & flute; Bob McKay soprano, alto and baritone saxophones & clarinet; Samuel Eagles alto saxophone; Dave Frankel keyboards; Marcus Penrose bass & bass guitar; Gary Willcox drums.
 


Scott Willcox and his ten-piece big band made a welcome return to Reading on Friday 20 September, after an interval of three years, to open a new season of Jazz at Progress with a jaunty arrangement of Carol King’s smash hit ‘I’m Into Something Good’, featuring the rolling piano of Dave Frankel and the dazzling brass of Andy Gibson and Martin Gladdish.

Though best known for his exuberant humour, risqué lyrics and hard driving stride piano, Fats Waller could also be a composer of great sensitivity as the band demonstrated to perfect effect with perhaps his most engaging composition, ‘Jitterbug Waltz’, drawing on all the instruments of the ensemble to produce a wonderful cascade of sound.
 
While ‘Jitterbug Waltz’ paid tribute to an early inspiration in Scott Willcox’s musical career, the atmospheric ‘La Gomera’, a Canary Island dear to his heart, introduced us to a source of his own creative impulses. His writing evoked the stunning contrast between the tranquillity of the island, its black-sanded beaches washed by the Atlantic Ocean and the potential violence of its volcanic origins. Great work here from Gary Willcox on percussion, the plaintive saxophones of Julian Costello and Bob McKay, and the fiery trumpets of Andy Gibson and Gabriel Garrick.
 
The continent of Africa on the other hand, is not a location that Scott has visited and so the brilliantly conceived ‘African Dance’ was very much an impression of how he imagined it might be. Rich in colour and rhythm, and with each instrument clamouring for attention, it was full of the joyful spirit that gave birth to jazz in the first place.
 
Dave Frankel’s piano transported us from the vivid sunlight of Africa to the gentle breeze of Brazil in his elegant introduction to the delightful ‘Ask me in Latin (Nolite a me)’, in which the tonal variety achieved by using different instruments in combination was particularly effective.

Wilcox used a similar device in the intriguing ‘Thinking About It’ to create a seemingly infinite number of subtle variations on a basic theme.
 
‘Song for a Special Friend’ brought a complete change of mood with a deeply moving solo by Bob McKay on soprano saxophone and a coda of heart-wrenching emotion expressed by the trumpets of Andy Gibson and Gabriel Garrick. Brilliant!
 
‘Slane’, introduced by Marcus Penrose on bass and based on a traditional Irish folk song using the familiar hymnal tune of ‘Lord of All Faithfulness’, maintained the air of reflection. Bob McKay’s soulful playing was once again to the fore, while Gabriel Garrick rounded things off beautifully on flugelhorn.
 
Gary Willcox’s powerhouse drums set the pace for ‘Bouncing Back’, a challenging number in 5/4 time, featuring a wailing solo from Sam Eagles, which built to a glorious climax to bring the first set to an exhilarating close.
 
Gabriel Garrick took up the trombone, a new arrival in his instrumental armoury, to join forces with Martin Gladdish and the baritone sax of Bob McKay (transposing ‘on sight’ the original part written for a third trombone!) to open the second set with ‘Can’t Complain’; a number that builds and builds in gripping intensity and leaves you slightly breathless when it reaches its sudden conclusion.
 
Scott’s approach to music is a far cry from that of Count Basie and yet ‘Second Thoughts’ had the feel of “Li’l Darlin’”, a Neal Hefti arrangement from the classic album ‘The Atomic Mr Basie’, described by one writer as ‘an object lesson in how to swing at a slow tempo’ and by another as ‘an exercise in how to play slow without falling apart’. The Willcox band held its nerve to successfully negotiate the tightrope walk thanks to the languid tenor of Pete Hurt, muted brass and delicate brushwork of Gary Willcox, only giving way to a shout of triumph with a spectacular flurry of high notes from Gabriel Garrick on the final step.
 
Playing both muted and open horn, trombonist Martin Gladdish took the solo spotlight on the Scott Willcox arrangement of ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’. He held the audience enthralled as he drew every ounce of emotion from the Harold Arlen classic.
 
‘Regular Fries’ has proved to be a popular item on the menu since the earliest days of the Willcox Big Band, while Irving Berlin’s ‘Puttin’ On the Ritz’’, a number forever associated with the impeccable footwork of Fred Astaire, provided scope for plenty of musical high-jinks – piano a la Les Dawson from Dave Frankel, slurring saxophones, the earthiest growl trumpet you’re likely to hear this side of New Orleans from Gabriel Garrick and a cheeky contribution from Pete Hurt on flute.

‘Make Mine Mambo’ with a declamatory statement from Martin Gladdish and searing alto solo from Sam Eagles, kept up the spirit of good fun, even if the title sounded as if it had been taken from a 1950’s Hollywood ‘B’ movie.
 
The penultimate number ‘Mixed Feelings’ proved to be exactly that; a haunting and enigmatic composition that perfectly balanced the tension between uninhibited free expression and beautiful lyricism.
 
‘All Change’, the title track of Scott’s most recent album, brought the evening to a show-stopping close and literally brought each member of the band to the tip of his toes in order to meet the challenge of its rapid changes in pace and time. One could only gaze in awe and wonder at the fantastic quality of the musicianship. As one player said afterwards, ‘Great music, but it’s exhausting reading all those charts!’
 
The Scott Willcox Ten-Piece Big Band opened the new season of Jazz at Progress in splendid fashion and the theatre itself provided the perfect platform in terms of space, atmosphere and acoustics for the originality of Scott Willcox’s writing, brought to life with jazz spirit by world-class jazz musicians.
 
As ever, our thanks to the Progress ‘house team’ whose warm hospitality and attention to detail ensure that the gigs always run so smoothly.
 

Scott Willcox Ten-Piece Big Band, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 20/09/2019.

Scott Willcox Big Band

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Reviewed by: Trevor Bannister

Live Review

3 out of 5

Scott Willcox Ten-Piece Big Band, Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, 20/09/2019.
Photography: Photograph by Zoë White

" The originality of Scott Willcox’s writing was brought to life, with jazz spirit, by world-class jazz musicians". Trevor Bannister enjoys the start of the new season of Jazz at Progress.

The Scott Willcox Ten-Piece Big Band
 

Progress Theatre, Reading Friday 20 September 2019
 

Scott Willcox directing Andy Gibson trumpet & flugelhorn; Gabriel Garrick trumpet, flugelhorn & trombone; Martin Gladdish trombone; Julian Costello tenor saxophone; Pete Hurt tenor saxophone & flute; Bob McKay soprano, alto and baritone saxophones & clarinet; Samuel Eagles alto saxophone; Dave Frankel keyboards; Marcus Penrose bass & bass guitar; Gary Willcox drums.
 


Scott Willcox and his ten-piece big band made a welcome return to Reading on Friday 20 September, after an interval of three years, to open a new season of Jazz at Progress with a jaunty arrangement of Carol King’s smash hit ‘I’m Into Something Good’, featuring the rolling piano of Dave Frankel and the dazzling brass of Andy Gibson and Martin Gladdish.

Though best known for his exuberant humour, risqué lyrics and hard driving stride piano, Fats Waller could also be a composer of great sensitivity as the band demonstrated to perfect effect with perhaps his most engaging composition, ‘Jitterbug Waltz’, drawing on all the instruments of the ensemble to produce a wonderful cascade of sound.
 
While ‘Jitterbug Waltz’ paid tribute to an early inspiration in Scott Willcox’s musical career, the atmospheric ‘La Gomera’, a Canary Island dear to his heart, introduced us to a source of his own creative impulses. His writing evoked the stunning contrast between the tranquillity of the island, its black-sanded beaches washed by the Atlantic Ocean and the potential violence of its volcanic origins. Great work here from Gary Willcox on percussion, the plaintive saxophones of Julian Costello and Bob McKay, and the fiery trumpets of Andy Gibson and Gabriel Garrick.
 
The continent of Africa on the other hand, is not a location that Scott has visited and so the brilliantly conceived ‘African Dance’ was very much an impression of how he imagined it might be. Rich in colour and rhythm, and with each instrument clamouring for attention, it was full of the joyful spirit that gave birth to jazz in the first place.
 
Dave Frankel’s piano transported us from the vivid sunlight of Africa to the gentle breeze of Brazil in his elegant introduction to the delightful ‘Ask me in Latin (Nolite a me)’, in which the tonal variety achieved by using different instruments in combination was particularly effective.

Wilcox used a similar device in the intriguing ‘Thinking About It’ to create a seemingly infinite number of subtle variations on a basic theme.
 
‘Song for a Special Friend’ brought a complete change of mood with a deeply moving solo by Bob McKay on soprano saxophone and a coda of heart-wrenching emotion expressed by the trumpets of Andy Gibson and Gabriel Garrick. Brilliant!
 
‘Slane’, introduced by Marcus Penrose on bass and based on a traditional Irish folk song using the familiar hymnal tune of ‘Lord of All Faithfulness’, maintained the air of reflection. Bob McKay’s soulful playing was once again to the fore, while Gabriel Garrick rounded things off beautifully on flugelhorn.
 
Gary Willcox’s powerhouse drums set the pace for ‘Bouncing Back’, a challenging number in 5/4 time, featuring a wailing solo from Sam Eagles, which built to a glorious climax to bring the first set to an exhilarating close.
 
Gabriel Garrick took up the trombone, a new arrival in his instrumental armoury, to join forces with Martin Gladdish and the baritone sax of Bob McKay (transposing ‘on sight’ the original part written for a third trombone!) to open the second set with ‘Can’t Complain’; a number that builds and builds in gripping intensity and leaves you slightly breathless when it reaches its sudden conclusion.
 
Scott’s approach to music is a far cry from that of Count Basie and yet ‘Second Thoughts’ had the feel of “Li’l Darlin’”, a Neal Hefti arrangement from the classic album ‘The Atomic Mr Basie’, described by one writer as ‘an object lesson in how to swing at a slow tempo’ and by another as ‘an exercise in how to play slow without falling apart’. The Willcox band held its nerve to successfully negotiate the tightrope walk thanks to the languid tenor of Pete Hurt, muted brass and delicate brushwork of Gary Willcox, only giving way to a shout of triumph with a spectacular flurry of high notes from Gabriel Garrick on the final step.
 
Playing both muted and open horn, trombonist Martin Gladdish took the solo spotlight on the Scott Willcox arrangement of ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’. He held the audience enthralled as he drew every ounce of emotion from the Harold Arlen classic.
 
‘Regular Fries’ has proved to be a popular item on the menu since the earliest days of the Willcox Big Band, while Irving Berlin’s ‘Puttin’ On the Ritz’’, a number forever associated with the impeccable footwork of Fred Astaire, provided scope for plenty of musical high-jinks – piano a la Les Dawson from Dave Frankel, slurring saxophones, the earthiest growl trumpet you’re likely to hear this side of New Orleans from Gabriel Garrick and a cheeky contribution from Pete Hurt on flute.

‘Make Mine Mambo’ with a declamatory statement from Martin Gladdish and searing alto solo from Sam Eagles, kept up the spirit of good fun, even if the title sounded as if it had been taken from a 1950’s Hollywood ‘B’ movie.
 
The penultimate number ‘Mixed Feelings’ proved to be exactly that; a haunting and enigmatic composition that perfectly balanced the tension between uninhibited free expression and beautiful lyricism.
 
‘All Change’, the title track of Scott’s most recent album, brought the evening to a show-stopping close and literally brought each member of the band to the tip of his toes in order to meet the challenge of its rapid changes in pace and time. One could only gaze in awe and wonder at the fantastic quality of the musicianship. As one player said afterwards, ‘Great music, but it’s exhausting reading all those charts!’
 
The Scott Willcox Ten-Piece Big Band opened the new season of Jazz at Progress in splendid fashion and the theatre itself provided the perfect platform in terms of space, atmosphere and acoustics for the originality of Scott Willcox’s writing, brought to life with jazz spirit by world-class jazz musicians.
 
As ever, our thanks to the Progress ‘house team’ whose warm hospitality and attention to detail ensure that the gigs always run so smoothly.
 

BATL Quartet - BATL Quartet Live Rating: 3-5 out of 5 Ian Mann enjoys this live debut album from the new quartet co-led by tenor saxophonist Brandon Allen and pianist Tim Lapthorn.

BATL Quartet

“BATL Quartet Live”

(RT Jazz Records RTJR002)

Brandon Allen – tenor saxophone, Tim Lapthorn – piano, Arnie Somogyi – double bass, Lloyd Haines – drums


BATL Quartet is a relatively new group founded and co-led by two stalwarts of the UK jazz scene, saxophonist Brandon Allen and pianist Tim Lapthorn, both bandleaders in their own right.

Allen and Lapthorn have played together in various aggregations for over seventeen years, often in various quartet formations as part of the Ronnie Scott’s house band. As Allen’s liner notes make clear he obviously has a great respect for Lapthorn’s musicianship and in 2018 the decision was made for the pair to form a regular working band.

BATL Quartet puts the emphasis on the pair’s original compositions, although live performances can also include the occasional standard, often by composers such as John Coltrane and Antonio Carlos Jobim. Allen cites these two as key influences on the quartet, alongside Stan Getz, Chick Corea,  Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter, Weather Report and Brazilian music in general.

It was originally intended that the quartet would tour intensively and then cut a studio album. 2019 has seen the group touring widely and their performance in March at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, London was documented by the Club’s in house engineer Luc Saint Martin. The quality of the performance and the musical chemistry between the performers, particularly the two co-leaders, forced a rethink, and the decision to make BATL Quartet’s début release a live album.

My review of the quartet’s performance at The Hive Music and Media Centre in Shrewsbury, with Tom Thornton on bass and Dave Ingamells at the drums, can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/brandon-allen-tim-lapthorn-quartet-the-hive-music-media-centre-shrewsbury-1/

“BATL Quartet Live” features many of the pieces that were played at Shrewsbury and the recording focusses on the original writing of Allen and Lapthorn exclusively. The compositions are firmly within the jazz tradition, drawing on swing and bebop and those previously detailed influences. The composers also draw inspiration from more contemporary jazz influences, and from their personal life experiences.

The album commences with Allen’s “Gone But Not Forgotten”, a piece dedicated to the memory of
Graham Wood, the late Australian pianist who was something of a mentor to the young Allen.  Wood was the founder of Perth Jazz and the first head of the jazz department at the Western Australian Academy of the Performing Arts in Allen’s native city of Perth. The recording itself is also dedicated to Wood’s memory.
Musically the piece exhibits a melodic urgency and has something of the feel of a hard bop standard about it. It commences in piano trio mode, with Lapthorn at the keyboard above a crisp bass and drum groove. Allen, on tenor, makes the occasional interjection but when his turn comes to solo he does so with power and authority, making effective use of his instrument’s upper registers. Elsewhere Lapthorn makes effective use of the Pizza’s Steinway with his fluent and inventive soloing, prompted by Haines’ neatly energetic drumming. The rhythm section also feature as soloists with an enjoyably melodic excursion from Somogyi and a concise but vigorous cameo from the effervescent Haines.

Also written by Allen “Lazy Days”, inspired by the arrival of summer,  develops out of Haines’ marching rhythms and takes its musical inspiration from the swing era with Allen generating a suitably warm and rounded sound on tenor. One of Allen’s previous projects has seen him updating the repertoire of the late American saxophonist Gene Ammons, and there’s something of Ammons in his sound here as he stretches out effectively. Lapthorn follows with a wryly witty solo that deservedly wins the approval of the knowledgeable Pizza audience.

Lapthorn makes his compositional bow with “Return To Life”, which embraces a more contemporary jazz feel. The composer takes the first solo, lithely dancing above the subtly propulsive bass and drum grooves. Allen then weighs in on incisive, but fluent, tenor, this followed by another melodic outing for Somogyi at the bass.

Allen’s speaking voice is heard as he introduces a second Lapthorn composition, the Ellington inspired ballad “Cuckoo”.  The piece is ushered in by a lyrical passage of unaccompanied piano before Allen takes up his tenor to demonstrate his skills as a balladeer. The saxophonist’s tone is warm, round and breathy, emotive, but still quietly authoritative. Lapthorn’s thoughtful piano solo follows, sympathetically supported by double bass and delicately brushed drums.  Following further melodic ruminations from Allen we hear Somogyi at his most lyrical on the bass with a perfectly paced solo, spacious but infused with a deep resonance.

Allen’s “Running Away With Me” lifts the tempo once more on a piece drawing inspiration from the works of Stan Getz, Bill Evans and Chick Corea, particularly the latter’s composition “Captain Marvel”. The BATL Quartet deliver a breezy, Latin tinged performance, galloping through Allen’s composition with great élan as the composer’s tenor swoops and soars, spurred on by Haines’ dynamic drumming. The youngest member of the group, Haines is a product of the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff but is now based in London. He acquits himself superbly throughout the album, playing with great power or with great sensitivity as required. Following Lapthorn’s solo Haines gets to enjoy his own feature, a dynamic drum solo that elicits whoops of approval from the audience.

Allen announces his own composition “Theodore”, a dedication to his infant son. Relaxed but playful this mid tempo tune is another that has something of the feel of jazz standard about it. Allen’s tone on tenor is appropriately warm while Lapthorn’s quotes during an expansive and brilliantly constructed solo are suitably impish. The composer subsequently stretches out more incisively on tenor, followed by the consistently impressive Somogyi at the bass.

At Shrewsbury Allen informed us that his jazz waltz “A Little Love Song” had been inspired by Weather Report. “I hope we sound like an acoustic version of that band” he declared. A delightful ballad style performance embraces many twists and turns and includes eloquent solos from Somogyi, Allen and Lapthorn.

The closing tune is “Frack The Right”, the title reflecting Allen’s environmental and political concerns. This is a fourteen minute tour-de-force that sees the composer adopting a harder edged tone on tenor as he channels his inner Coltrane during a barnstorming solo that sees Lapthorn, Somogyi and Haines filling the roles of Tyner, Garrison and Jones. Lapthorn’s own solo is similarly feverish and inventive and there’s another dynamic feature from young drum tyro Haines. BATL Quartet really tear things up here on a rousing group performance that gives full expression to Allen’s dissatisfaction with the current political climate. The album concludes with his acknowledgement of his fellow musicians and the cheers of the Pizza audience.

“BATL Quartet Live” is an excellent document of the group in live performance, the spontaneous nature of the event imparting the music with a vital edge that might have been lost in a studio situation. Allen concedes that live recordings can sometimes be a bit of a risk, but the ‘warts and all’ approach does nothing to harm anyone’s reputation. Allen and Lapthorn both play with power and conviction, their solos fluent and consistently imaginative. The experienced Somogyi is a steadying and commanding presence at the bass and weighs in with his fair share of convincing solos.

On a personal note I’m most excited by the performance of Lloyd Haines, a musician whose progress I have monitored since his days as a student at the RWCMD. It’s good to see him making his mark on the London music scene and his contribution to the success of this recording is immense. As I observed previously his playing is exceptional throughout the album.

The presence of the regular team plus the availability of a grand piano ensures that the recording is a notch above the Shrewsbury performance and the album as a whole represents very enjoyable listening.

Indeed the playing of all four musicians is of the highest standard. If there’s a criticism of BATL Quartet it’s that the writing is a little too generic, but even so Allen’s optimism about the creative potential of this ensemble is still very much justified.

BATL Quartet Live

BATL Quartet

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

BATL Quartet Live

Ian Mann enjoys this live debut album from the new quartet co-led by tenor saxophonist Brandon Allen and pianist Tim Lapthorn.

BATL Quartet

“BATL Quartet Live”

(RT Jazz Records RTJR002)

Brandon Allen – tenor saxophone, Tim Lapthorn – piano, Arnie Somogyi – double bass, Lloyd Haines – drums


BATL Quartet is a relatively new group founded and co-led by two stalwarts of the UK jazz scene, saxophonist Brandon Allen and pianist Tim Lapthorn, both bandleaders in their own right.

Allen and Lapthorn have played together in various aggregations for over seventeen years, often in various quartet formations as part of the Ronnie Scott’s house band. As Allen’s liner notes make clear he obviously has a great respect for Lapthorn’s musicianship and in 2018 the decision was made for the pair to form a regular working band.

BATL Quartet puts the emphasis on the pair’s original compositions, although live performances can also include the occasional standard, often by composers such as John Coltrane and Antonio Carlos Jobim. Allen cites these two as key influences on the quartet, alongside Stan Getz, Chick Corea,  Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter, Weather Report and Brazilian music in general.

It was originally intended that the quartet would tour intensively and then cut a studio album. 2019 has seen the group touring widely and their performance in March at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, London was documented by the Club’s in house engineer Luc Saint Martin. The quality of the performance and the musical chemistry between the performers, particularly the two co-leaders, forced a rethink, and the decision to make BATL Quartet’s début release a live album.

My review of the quartet’s performance at The Hive Music and Media Centre in Shrewsbury, with Tom Thornton on bass and Dave Ingamells at the drums, can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/brandon-allen-tim-lapthorn-quartet-the-hive-music-media-centre-shrewsbury-1/

“BATL Quartet Live” features many of the pieces that were played at Shrewsbury and the recording focusses on the original writing of Allen and Lapthorn exclusively. The compositions are firmly within the jazz tradition, drawing on swing and bebop and those previously detailed influences. The composers also draw inspiration from more contemporary jazz influences, and from their personal life experiences.

The album commences with Allen’s “Gone But Not Forgotten”, a piece dedicated to the memory of
Graham Wood, the late Australian pianist who was something of a mentor to the young Allen.  Wood was the founder of Perth Jazz and the first head of the jazz department at the Western Australian Academy of the Performing Arts in Allen’s native city of Perth. The recording itself is also dedicated to Wood’s memory.
M